Rhett returned to Atlanta after another visit with Scarlett ended badly. He sat in his hotel room, having changed into attire more appropriate for an evening of poker, whiskey, cigars and women that lay ahead. He hung his suit, the box he had presented to Scarlett falling out of a pocket onto the floor in the process. He picked up the box, opened it and took the handkerchief out. Eyeing it as his finger traced the embroidered letters that spelled her name.
This girl was difficult. He hadn't yet concluded whether she was playing at it or truly difficult. She was good at it either way. He wondered briefly under what circumstances he might have reason to see her again. If he called upon her again, his intentions would be called into question. Not only by her, but by her parents as well of that he was certain. Inquiries would be made; his reputation would be called into question as it always was.
He wondered briefly if the O'Hara's even knew he had called on her. Perhaps that was why she refused to accept the gift. Acceptance of the gift would have meant an explanation to her parents was warranted. He was quite certain Scarlett wasn't ready to explain his presence at Tara to her parents. How could she know his reasons behind his visits when he himself didn't?
Returning the handkerchief to its place in the box and tossing the box into his suitcase, he left his hotel room and made his way to Belle's where he spent the evening taking advantage of the drunken Atlanta natives who thought they knew how to play cards.
He spent the next three nights as he usually did when he was in Atlanta, with Belle, returning to his hotel room mid-morning to bathe, shave and change.
The day before he was scheduled to leave Atlanta, Belle was furious when he once again announced he would be gone for the day. He hadn't told her about his visits to Clayton County, and he did not know if she had any idea that it was a woman that he was visiting while he was absent. He had never made any promises to Belle; their relationship was open. Surely, she had to realize he was with other women when his travels took him away from Atlanta.
In his room, he changed into a charcoal gray suit, a lighter gray waistcoat, and a burgundy cravat. Placing his gold cufflinks in his shirt cuffs, he once again placed the still boxed handkerchief in his jacket pocket and made his way out to Tara. When he got there, he was once again taken in by the feeling it gave off. It somehow exuded happiness, something foreign to Rhett since being on his own.
He again was greeted by the tall, graying black man, who allowed Rhett to wait in the parlor on this day while he went to get Scarlett from upstairs. He returned to the parlor announcing Scarlett's intentions to be down shortly and left. Rhett stood when he heard someone approach the room, and with a slight bow said, "Twice in one week, Miss O'Hara. If I'm not careful, people will begin to talk about us. A scandal will ensue. As I'm sure you're aware, that would be nothing new for me. I'm just not sure how well you'd take to being a part of one. Though I'd love to help you find out." He smirked broadly, the ends of his moustache curling up slightly in unison with the smile.
Scarlett couldn't believe it when Pork had told her Mr. Butler was there to see her for a second time in less than a week's time. He must be in love with me, she thought to herself. Why else would he call again so soon? She ran a brush through her hair before grabbing the new emerald green bonnet that Pa had bought for her. Maybe she'd get him to take her for a walk again. She wondered briefly if he would try and kiss her, unaware of the smile that crawled to her lips at the thought.
She found herself thinking about Rhett as she descended the stairs. He'd already proven himself to be different; she found herself curious as to how different he really was. She descended the stairs faster than she had intended to, wondering what she was in a hurry for. Certainly not wanting him to think it was him she was rushing to see, she slowed her pace slightly as she hit the last three steps, a smile coming to her lips despite her best efforts to stifle it as she entered the room.
"Why, Mr. Butler, what a surprise it is to see you again, and so soon after your last visit. I hope you didn't come all this way simply to see little ol' me. I can hardly be worth so much effort." She batted her eyelashes, while flashing her dimples, as she sat on the love seat setting her skirt about her properly. She toyed with the bonnet that lay on her lap, "What brings you to Tara today, Mr. Butler?" Without lifting her head, she lifted her eyes to meet his in a flirtatious manner.
"Truthfully, yes, I did come all this way to see you. Though it really did not require that much effort on my part, I trust it's acceptable to you. I know your type, Miss O'Hara, and you thrive on attention. I know if you didn't want me here, you would have told me after my first visit not to come back."
He leaned back, placing his arm about the back of the couch he sat on. "That's a lovely bonnet you have there, it seems a shame to let something as nice as that go to waste. Could I interest you in going for a ride with me, I'd love to see the grounds of Tara."
He smiled knowing she was intrigued with him, if not down right interested in him. He wondered how much of his reputation she was familiar with, and whether or not it aroused her curiosities. He was sure it had, and was quite certain it didn't offend her. He knew very few girls, even those who pretended to be true ladies, who weren't intrigued by him and his reputation of being ill bred and unreceived. If there was one thing he knew about the girl sitting before him; underneath the silk and lace and ladylike charms, she was no lady.
Scarlett looked at him curiously, wondering briefly what he was thinking. Quickly dismissing it, as his words of a ride came to her, realizing that she would get to show off her new bonnet after all.
"Yes, Mr. Butler, I will go with you. It will give me a perfect opportunity to break in the new bonnet Pa brought me from town."
She tied the bonnet around her chin with a smile, flashing her dimples at him as she lowered her eyes slightly. He is handsome, she found herself thinking, not realizing that she thought that every time he was in her presence. As they passed a mirror on the way out the door, she couldn't help but notice how they even looked good together.
What am I thinking that for, she wondered? It's almost as if I was fond of him, which I know is not true. He's a cad and I'm quite certain he's only coming to see me for one reason.
Rhett helped Scarlett into his carriage, and they went on a ride throughout the grounds of Tara. He could tell that Scarlett's father had instilled in her a certain respect for the land Tara was on, and what it meant. Rhett knew that to an Irishman, land was almost as important as God.
After an hour, they approached a wooded area that ran alongside a creek. Rhett realized they must have been close to where they had walked to on his first visit to Tara a month or so prior. Stopping the carriage, he got out, securing the horse to a nearby tree, before offering Scarlett his hand to help her as she exited the carriage.
"I thought we could sit a spell if you don't mind, Miss O'Hara. The view here is quite breathtaking. Your father certainly knew what he was doing when he chose this piece of land. Though I wasn't only speaking of the land."
Rhett had done a little research, and knew the land Tara was on had been owned previously by someone prior to when Gerald O'Hara came by it. What Rhett had not been able to decipher is how exactly the title to this vast piece of land had come to lie in Mr. O'Hara's hands. He was a man of meager means up until that point, of that much Rhett was certain. He somehow doubted Scarlett would know any of the details, but he still couldn't help but be intrigued
Scarlett watched Rhett, obviously in thought. She only knew because it was obvious his mind was elsewhere but on her, Scarlett could always tell when a man was paying attention to her. But he had at last paid her a compliment; a smile crawled to her lips. He does love me, she thought. He's taken me here to propose, why else would he have stopped in such a private spot.
"What seems to be on your mind this afternoon, Mr. Butler? If I may inquire that is."
She cast her eyes down, fluttering her eyelids innocently. She knew better than to ask what was on the mind of a man who wasn't thinking about her, because this ultimately led to a conversation outside of her interests, which were quite simply, her. She hoped he wouldn't disappoint her and begin talking about war or so many other things the County boys were talking about.
"Just admiring the land that Tara encompasses, and the girl whose company I am in. I quite honestly don't know that Tara would be complete or as effective without said girl in its presence."
Rhett was flirting with her, and was hoping that this comment would lead to her softening toward him a bit. Perhaps if he kept up his complimentary statements, he would get a kiss from Miss O'Hara. He guessed that while she was no stranger to giving kisses she was selective about who got them. Rhett had decided on this visit, he would do whatever he could to ensure they didn't end up in an argument. Even if he didn't get a kiss out of her today, if he played his cards right he'd leave with Scarlett wanting to see more of him; whether she realized it or not. Rhett was a gambling man, and he rarely lost. He felt the cards were in his favor.
A blush crept to Scarlett's cheeks, as she lowered her eyes. These things her mother had taught her, though it seemed she didn't have to be taught them at all. It appeared as though Scarlett was a natural at wrapping a beau around her finger; it was the other aspects of being a lady that escaped her at times.
"Such things you say, Mr. Butler. I think you're right, though; I don't know that I could live anywhere but Tara. I'm as much a part of it as it is of me."
She shrugged slightly, wondering where that had come from. She had never really given Tara a second thought until now. Her father's words came back to her, and in the back of her mind she knew they rang true. She had never thought about living anywhere else until now, and the thought of her future briefly entered her mind and just as quickly was dismissed.
Scarlett wasn't in the mood to think about such things. She was young and could have the pick of any man in three counties if she felt the urge to settle down and marry, but she'd think about that tomorrow. For today, she had a handsome man in front of her who was obviously smitten with her; she needed to concentrate her efforts on him. She wasn't sure why, but she wanted Rhett to come back.
"I couldn't imagine you living anywhere else myself. Tara suits you. It, like you, stands alone. You're both unique and beautiful in your own way. So, tell me, Scarlett, what is it you do when I'm not here to take you for walks and talk to you?" He was curious to hear her answer to this question. If she answered him at all, he would know she was at least comfortable with him. A lady would never divulge what she did in a man's absence.
Scarlett was startled by the question. Men simply didn't ask women what they did with their time. Unsure of what he wanted her to say, she spoke cautiously.
"Well, Mr. Butler, I help Mother with some of the household chores. She seems to think I need to be made aware of how to run a household. I sew, ride horses, and take walks. I read, though I really don't enjoy reading too well. Of course, I dance whenever I get the chance to. Are those acceptable answers? I do hope you weren't expecting me to answer with some sentimental answer about pining away for you. Scarlett O'Hara doesn't pine away for any man, least of all you." She held her head high as she spoke those words. She belonged to no one, and wouldn't allow herself to be controlled or so weepy that she felt she had to see a man in order to be happy.
Rhett laughed lightly.
"No, I wasn't expecting that at all, Miss O'Hara. If you had said it, I would have known you were lying. One thing I'll tell you right here and now, I will not tolerate being lied to. Whatever you do, regardless of how long our relationship lasts, do not lie to me." He held up his hand as he continued, "I'm not suggesting we have or are going to have a relationship, I'm just stating a fact. I will, of course, extend you the same courtesy."
He ran the toe of his shoe through the grass in front of him. "Though, I have to admit, the idea of Miss O'Hara pining away for me does have its appeal. Hearts would break clear across Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia if that were to happen. Have I mentioned what a lovely bonnet your father chose for you?"
Scarlett looked at him curiously. She never knew how to read him. Things he said had many different possibilities as to their meaning. She couldn't tell if Rhett was being sincere or sarcastic the comment had come so suddenly and seemingly from out of nowhere, but choose to assume the latter.
"Yes, Pa likes to see me dressed in pretty things. Suellen hates me for it, of course. As if I have anything to do with it, or could even stop him from buying me things if I tried. Not that I'd try mind you."
She paused, looking at Rhett wondering if she had drawn the line. Instead of appearing bored and uninterested, he seemed to be listening to her rather intently. He can't be interested in hearing her rattle on about her wretched sister.
"But surely I'm boring you, Mr. Butler."
Without thinking she sat on the ground, removing her shoes and placed her feet by her side. The fact that this was something she wouldn't do even in the presence of Brent or Stuart Tarleton didn't seem to enter her mind. For some reason she was comfortable with Rhett, feeling as though she could be herself with little worry of him judging her.
Rhett watched her get comfortable, pleased she felt able to do that in his presence.
"You're not boring me at all, Miss O'Hara. I rather enjoy listening to you speak. As far as your sister's attitude, while I haven't seen her so I can only base my opinion on objective reasoning, she can't help but be jealous of you. I would imagine when you're in a room the men just naturally flock to you and vie for your attention, much like they were that day at Twelve Oaks. I can only imagine that she's not near as pretty as you are or as good at using her feminine charms as you are. That's got to drive her positively insane with jealousy. Let me guess, you've stolen a beau or two from her in the past, intentionally or not." He raised his eyebrows, almost daring her to lie to him.
"Yes, you're right. There has been one or two who for whatever reason decided to stop calling on her and start calling on me. And now all she has is that old maid in breeches, Frank Kennedy. As if I have anything to do with the fact that boys don't like her."
Rhett smiled at her.
"On the contrary, Miss O'Hara, I would imagine you are the reason boys don't like her. They perhaps begin to like her, but when they come to Tara and see you they figure why settle for second best. Most men think like me, whether they care to admit it or not. Why settle for a day old apple when you can take one that's fresh from the tree. I know I certainly wouldn't."
Rhett stood from the tree he had been leaning against, brushing off his pants and the back of his jacket.
"I suppose, Miss O'Hara, I should be returning to Atlanta. I have an engagement for dinner tonight and since I'm leaving tomorrow I can't delay it." He wanted to end this visit on a good note, not wanting to come back again feeling like he had to make up for what he had lost on his last visit.
Scarlett's face dropped, but she quickly recovered. "Of course. I didn't realize I was keeping you from anything, Mr. Butler."
She tried to read him, thinking perhaps that he was playing games with her to see whether she would get jealous. Whom was he having dinner with? She was sure it was another woman, and found herself curious as to whom the woman would be. Surely someone pretty and glamorous, she didn't see Rhett spending time on anyone who lacked those qualities.
"On the contrary, Miss O'Hara, had I known how pleasant today's visit with you was going to be I wouldn't have made the plans at all. I would have just met my friend later for a drink, but basing today's visit on the previous visits I hadn't planned on staying more than a couple of hours. Here it's been three."
He helped her off the grass after she had replaced her shoes. The thought entered his mind that if she were to ask him to stay, he would indeed do just that. Belle would be none too happy with him if he was not to show for dinner but he could soothe her later. He held Scarlett's hand for a moment longer than necessary, under the pretense of making sure she was steady on her feet, noticing she didn't pull her hand away.
Scarlett was startled again by the sensation of his touch, color rose to her cheeks when she realized that he had not released her hand. Normally his forward behavior should have been met with him getting slapped but once again he did it in such away that it wasn't necessarily improper.
"Yes, I suppose we did manage to get along today without an argument ensuing. You must find me difficult, but then that must be attractive in a woman to you or you wouldn't keep coming back. Is that true, Mr. Butler? That you like difficult women, I mean."
She cast her eyes down, why she was being so bold and blatantly asking him such a question she did not know. She did notice, however, that he offered her his arm. Something he had not done until now. In fact, other than the few instances when he had offered his hand to help her out of his carriage or up from the ground he hadn't initiated any contact with her at all. Not at all what she had expected from what Cathleen had told her that day at Twelve Oaks. She had gotten the impression he was a monster who couldn't keep his hands to himself.
Rhett chuckled lightly as she took his offered arm and walked with her toward his carriage. "Miss O'Hara," he helped Scarlett back into the carriage. "As far as my liking difficult women, I really couldn't give you an answer to that. I've never met one that was all that difficult, but I will admit I enjoy a challenge." He averted her gaze as they started back toward the house.
When they returned to Tara, Rhett secured the horse. Before taking Scarlett's hand, he reached into his pocket and took out the boxed handkerchief.
"Miss O'Hara, I do hope you will do me the honor of accepting this gift. Hide it in your dresser underneath your old pantalets if that makes you more comfortable, but I obviously purchased it for you and would like you to have it. I certainly won't tell a sole you accepted a gift from the likes of me."
Scarlett looked from his face to the small box and back to his face. "Very well, Mr. Butler. I will accept your gift on one condition. This gift by no means obligates me to you."
Rhett handed her the box, which she took in her delicate, gloved hand.
"I'm not sure what exactly you're insinuating, Miss O'Hara, but I rather enjoy the thought." He laughed again, "Of course, I'm teasing you, Scarlett. Your acceptance of the handkerchief in no way obligates you to me. Though I would like to think if I were to invite you to dinner some evening on my next trip through Atlanta you might be inclined to accept."
Scarlett removed the handkerchief from the box, placing the box on the seat beside her in the carriage. Unfolding the handkerchief, she was able to take in its beauty. It was dainty and feminine. Rhett surely had wonderful taste in more than just men's fashions she was learning. Not only was her name embroidered in emerald green, but there was a flower she did not recognize as well. She traced over it with her finger, looking into Rhett's eyes not wanting to ask and appear stupid.
"It's a camellia, a flower I'm fond of. I had no idea what type of flower you're fond of, so I took advantage and had a bit of me placed on the handkerchief as well. I'm glad you are finally accepting it. So, is that a yes or no to dinner?" He watched as she folded the handkerchief and placed it in the palm of her hand.
"Well, it would be rather difficult for me to commit to something in the future. I may have a beau by that time and be unable to accompany you." She glanced up at him, "But assuming the circumstances are appropriate, yes, I imagine I could fit in having dinner with you one evening." She extended her hand, indicating she was ready to go inside, which Rhett took once again releasing it when she had exited the carriage.
Rhett stopped at the porch steps. "I think I will say good bye from here today, Miss O'Hara." He took her hand, once again barely grazing her wrist with his lips. "Thank you again for a nice afternoon. I will attempt to send you a telegram when I know my travels will bring me back to Atlanta."
He bowed politely before turning away from her and returning to his carriage. After unsecuring the horse, he turned his attention once again to Scarlett who was watching him from the porch steps. He tipped his hat with a slight smile and once again turned his attention to the red dirt road of Tara, his thoughts on the fact he had to leave the following day.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com