Rhett woke the next morning with his hand throbbing. It took him a moment to realize exactly why it hurt, but then it quickly came back to him. The previous night's events: the ball, dancing, Scarlett, Mr. Whiting, bringing Scarlett home.
He recalled the softness in her eyes when he had taken care of her, for a moment it appeared she cared for him. It all seemed as if it was a dream, as if it hadn't really happened. He dressed for the day in a tan summer suit and made his way to Belle's before heading toward Jonesboro and Clayton County to make some inquiries about this Mr. Whiting he had seen handling Scarlett.
He could tell from her demeanor as he entered that she was still not pleased with him as he approached the bar.
"Morning, Belle," he uttered with a smirk on his face which more than likely irritated her more. He watched as she pretended to ignore him by drying off some glasses behind the bar. "Now, Belle, what have I done that's gotten you sore at me? Or are you just in a bad mood in general and taking it out on me?" He took a seat in front of her at the bar placing his hat on the seat next to him as he watched her curiously.
Belle saw Rhett walk through the door and tried to stifle her anger. She made herself look busy by tending to some glasses that she had washed and needed to put away. Then he sat in front of her and she could no longer avoid his gaze. She dried off her hands, poured him a glass of whiskey without him having to ask for it and put her hands on her hips.
"No, Rhett, I'm not sore at you. Just had a slow night last night and I have to admit I was expecting you to come back here after you'd grown bored of that ball. I mean I know why you went but I also know how much you hate them. I figured an hour after it started I'd see you walking through my doors ready to tie one on and gamble your frustrations away."
Truthfully, her night ended in her spending it alone. There were times that really bothered her. All of her girls had been kept busy, but these days she could afford to be selective and only saw a few select patrons. Last night none of them came in, all at the ball she imagined. Her invitation had obviously been misplaced, as they always did. She watched Rhett curiously, waiting for his version of the night's festivities. She had heard that Rhett hadn't gone up to his room, that he had in fact been seen leaving with a woman. She couldn't help but wonder who the woman had been. As far as Belle knew, Rhett really didn't know anyone else in town. Sure, she knew he'd had occasion to meet people but she never gave thought to the fact that he might know someone socially besides her. The way he talked, he despised all the people he dealt with here.
Rhett nursed his drink. "Well, actually, I didn't find the evening as bad as I expected to, Belle. I even managed to get in a couple of dances. You know me, where there's a good time to be had, I'm there. By the time I was ready to leave, I wasn't in the mood for cards, gambling or drinking. So, I went for a walk and then to bed."
He kept his eyes on his glass as he spoke; he hated lying to Belle. One thing about their friendship that they were both always able to count on was honesty, until now. He never thought he'd see the day where he had something to lie to her about. His travels to Atlanta until recently had been solely business related, and what he did outside of Atlanta was of no concern to her. True, he went to functions like he had gone to the night before, but only because he enjoyed making his appearance and listening to the other men's tales of the powerful Confederate Army. Men, Rhett noticed, who hadn't been to the front lines.
"I'm sorry to hear business was slow last night, I'm sure most of the men were occupied with the ball. Tell me something, are you familiar with the Whiting family?" He removed his gold cigarette case from his pocket, took out a cigarette, offering one to Belle before he replaced the case in his pocket.
Belle took the cigarette, watching him before she responded. What could he want with the Whiting's? As far as she knew, Rhett was happy with the contacts he had made down here. Was there no end to this man's ambition?
"Well, I know of them, Rhett, sure. They live about twenty miles from here, outside of Jonesboro; cotton and corn are their main businesses if I'm not mistaken. Tell me you're not thinking of getting into the corn business now, Rhett."
She started wiping down the area of the bar that lay between them. She didn't think the Whiting's had any daughters. Of course, she didn't know that for certain, but in her line of work you get to know things about everybody and a daughter was something she had never heard of the Whiting's having.
Rhett finished his drink; laid some money on the bar for Belle and left telling Belle he'd be back that evening for cards and some female companionship from whichever one of her girls she thought would suit him. It was nothing personal against Belle, there were just times he didn't want to contend with her and their friendship. Times he just needed to satisfy his needs without conversation and putting on any pretenses of friendship.
Tonight was one of those nights.
He made his way to Jonesboro, traveling near the railroad tracks that led there from Atlanta. Stopping at the store in town he discreetly found the information he was searching for. Not knowing what he was going to be confronted with, he was careful to make certain no one knew it was he who had requested the information and started on his way toward the Whiting plantation. He truly meant the boy no harm; he just wanted to talk to him to make sure he understood Rhett's threat from the prior night wasn't an idle one.
While he had no claim to Scarlett in any way he somehow felt that it was necessary. Men who treated women the way he had seen young Mr. Whiting treat Scarlett just got under his skin for some reason. Granted, he had known some women in his time that he wouldn't have thought twice about treating that way. But everything he knew and had observed about Scarlett led him to believe she was not one of those girls. She enjoyed flirting, craved attention in an almost childlike way, and had the ability to make a man feel as if she were doting on his every word, but a man had to know what was flirtation and courtship and when advances were not warranted or welcome.
The trip to the Whiting plantation went quickly; he dismounted his horse letting a servant tie it off as he made his way to the front door. He straightened his tie and shirt cuffs before he knocked. An older black woman who asked him to come inside and wait for William answered the door. Rhett entered and remained standing in the hallway while waiting rather than taking a seat in the parlor. What Rhett had to say did not need to be said within earshot of nosy house servants. He turned when he heard someone walk toward him and scowled at the boy who stood before him in recognition. Rhett raised his eyebrow curiously at the boy and said, "I think it best if we go outside for a moment, wouldn't you agree?" Rhett opened the front door and waited for William to go out before he walked outside himself.
William had been in the kitchen eating warmed up breakfast. He had slept in that morning not wanting to have to explain to his parents how his nose had been broken. He honestly couldn't remember much of it himself. He remembered being at the ball and offering to take Scarlett O'Hara home. He'd had too much to drink through the course of the night and had made advances to her, that much he remembered.
Anything else was just not clear to him. Surely, Scarlett hadn't broken his nose. He laughed at the idea. When Bertie had come into the kitchen telling him a gentleman was here to see him, it suddenly came back to him. He had hit Scarlett and someone seemingly from out of nowhere had appeared and hit him in return. His head, nose and jaw were throbbing as he finished his breakfast and made his way to the front door. He didn't recognize the man who stood before him but he assumed it was the man from last night. And when he suggested they go outside to talk he knew it was. Dear God, did he come here to kill me? He hadn't hit Scarlett that hard and as far as he knew Scarlett had no real beau.
Rhett closed the door behind him and placed his hand on William's shoulder while they walked a fair distance from the house. He offered William a cigarette as they walked. They had walked far enough and to a clear enough spot where Rhett was fairly certain their conversation would go unheard. Not that he cared really, but if the boy had just been drunk and succumb to lust there was really no use in causing him further trouble or embarrassment at home than he was going to likely get from Gerald O'Hara. His grip on the boy's shoulder tightened as he began to speak.
"William. I assume I can call you William. I will even if it bothers you because you're not really in a position to contradict me right now. I've come to reiterate my statement to you of last evening. I realize that it may have been the booze that caused your actions, but I nonetheless repeat that if you ever lay another hand on Miss O'Hara I will kill you. Dead. Now, I have no interest in the girl, so don't go thinking you've ruffled her beau's feathers because that's simply not the case. In case you don't recognize me my name is Butler. Rhett Butler. I'm sure you're somewhat familiar with who I am and of my reputation." He stopped talking for a moment as he thought. "Now I imagine her father will be coming out here to talk to you and I don't think you need to mention to him or to Miss O'Hara I paid you a visit today. This is simply between you and me, my boy. Are we clear? And I'd probably do well to let you know that if I have to come out here again, it won't be to talk."
William heard the words Rhett said, and nodded his head almost dumbly when he asked if he understood. Of course he understood. He had never meant to hurt Scarlett, but there was no use in saying that now. This man wouldn't care what his intentions were. William was not overly familiar with Rhett's reputation being rather young yet he wasn't privy to some of the conversations of the older men and boys but he wasn't stupid either. He knew this man who stood before him was serious. He bowed his head slightly in shame. "Yes, sir, I understand. And it surely won't happen again. Not just to Miss O'Hara either, to anyone. I'm afraid I let the idea of Scarlett O'Hara allowing me to take her home get the best of me. I certainly had no reason to act as I did."
Rhett turned around and began walking toward the house; William quickly followed him realizing their discussion was over. "Mr. Butler. Sir. Is she all right? Miss O'Hara I mean. I didn't hurt her, did I?" His eyes looked pleadingly at Rhett, not wanting to hear the answer but knowing he had to know.
"Other than frightening her and a nice bruise on her cheek she was relatively unharmed. You're lucky. If that hadn't been the case you wouldn't be standing before me today. I assure you of that." They had returned to the house by this point. Rhett shook the boy's hand. "Mr. Whiting I hope the next time I have the occasion to see you it is under far better circumstances than last night and today. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon." Rhett's horse was brought to him, whom he got on and rode away without turning to look back at the boy he left standing on the roadway in front of his house.
Rhett returned to Atlanta that evening and went to his hotel to wash up. He dressed in casual attire for a night of cards, good drink and perhaps a good woman or two to go with it. Upon entering Belle's he noticed a few of the gentleman from the county were there, tipping his hat in acknowledgement as he walked past their group he made his way to the back room where the card games were held. He removed his jacket and hat, placing them behind the bar where Belle normally held them for him and sat on a stool waiting for a spot at one of the five tables set up in the room for cards.
Belle noticed Rhett when he came in, and while she had hoped he would have chosen her to spend his night she understood it was not to be. She looked at the girls she had working tonight, eight of them in total this particular night. She was proud of the business she ran; the girls were like family to her, not having one of her own they were the best that she could do. Most of them didn't have families either, that's how they ended up working for her. Some were runaways, some escaped abusive home environments, and some simply had to make money to keep food on their tables while their husbands, boy friends, or fathers were off fighting the war.
She shook her head slightly, recalling what it was that brought her to Atlanta almost fifteen long years ago. Who would have thought she would have flourished into owning her own business? Of course, Rhett helped her, more than he probably realized. It wasn't just financial backing either he helped her with. He was one of the only men she'd ever met that gave women credit for having brains and who didn't mind them using them.
He'd even taught her to read. She'd known how to read before she met him, but not very well and he'd taken the time to encourage her to learn. To help her he always brought her books when he came to visit. Sometimes when he'd pay for her services, he wouldn't even so much as kiss her; he would just sit with her and help her read. He always paid her generously, those times being no different. It was probably one of the main reasons she had fallen for him. He tried to say he wasn't a gentleman, but his Charleston upbringing showed through more than he would have liked. Perhaps others didn't get the same opportunity to see it as she did, but it was there.
Brought back to the present, she quickly chose Jaclyn and Lydia to take care of Rhett and his party. She gave Lydia a bottle of Rhett's favorite whiskey and reminded the girl that Rhett was one of her prized customers. He was to be treated with the utmost respect and was not to be told no under any circumstances. Jaclyn didn't need to be told anything she had dealt with Rhett in the past.
Belle didn't like putting new girls on Rhett by themselves for fear they would do something wrong or irritate him in some way. He was a fairly easygoing man, but when he played cards he was particular about not being distracted. A girl stood to make a fair amount of money off Rhett if he had a good night at cards and if he was pleased with her performance later. The girls learned that there were far worse ways to spend their evenings then keeping Rhett occupied while he gambled; they usually found themselves ending the night with more than they would have made seeing customers during that time. A short while passed and after Belle was satisfied that Rhett was pleased with her choice in his company for the evening she pulled Jaclyn away from the card game leaving Lydia for Rhett to enjoy.
Rhett had a good night. The cards were in his favor, the whiskey was going down just right, and as always Belle seemed to know exactly what he liked in a girl. When finished playing cards, he accompanied Lydia to her room upstairs. As it turned out she was relatively new, which Rhett assumed was more than likely why Belle chose her over some of the other girls she knew he'd liked in the past.
Belle liked her girls to know that there were good men in their line of work. Lord knows Rhett had handled many a difficult situation for Belle over the years. Most of the men settled down with reason. Some needed physical force and some left never to be heard from again. Where exactly they went to only Rhett knew. Rhett was protective over Belle and her girls, sometimes he took it too seriously, but someone had to. Belle was too stubborn to hire someone to protect the place.
After Rhett and Lydia had finished, he dressed and made his way downstairs after giving her a generous payment for her services that evening. He said good night to the few people that remained in the bar. He didn't bother inquiring as to Belle's presence in the bar; he knew she didn't enjoy talking to him on nights like this when he'd chosen to spend his time with someone other than her. Most of the time, as tonight, when he came downstairs she was nowhere to be seen.
Rhett woke the next morning and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of money he had returned to his room with the night before. He always rated a night of gambling on whether or not he left with more than he came in with. Even five dollars more was something. The prior evening netted him thirty dollars, not bad at all after paying for his liquor, cigars, and his time with Lydia. He had a slight headache; indicative of the fact that he had perhaps drank too much or had gotten too little sleep. He cleaned himself up, shaved, and dressed for his day in one of his more casual suits.
He spent the morning just east of Atlanta tending to some business. He had taken an interest in lumber knowing that not only could the war be profitable to him but also the aftermath of the war and the reconstruction that went with it. People would need their homes rebuilt. There would be others here because of the war who decided to stay and would build their own houses. The lumber business, like cotton, may not bring him a hefty profit right away, but he was quite certain he'd get more than his money's worth out of any deal he could make.
He returned to the hotel at around noon in plenty of time to get ready for his evening with Scarlett. He took pains in picking out his attire for that evening. He had mentioned dancing, hadn't he? He couldn't recall, but knew the girl liked dancing so assumedly dancing would be in store for him that night. After he had set out his clothes for the evening, he bathed and shaved taking the time to trim his moustache, something he had neglected to do that morning. Dressed in a robe, he took the time to enjoy a cigar and read the day's paper before dressing for the evening. He wasn't sure what the night held in store for him, but one thing he was certain of was the fact it would be interesting. He had no expectations of anything because one thing he knew was that Scarlett was unlike any other woman he had met before. If he were to expect anything, somehow she would know and only do something intentionally to disappoint him.
Dressed in a three-piece gray suit, white shirt, and a black cravat he put his engraved gold cuff links in place as well as his tie tack and made his way downstairs. He had left instructions for his horse to be hitched up to his carriage upon his return earlier that afternoon. Athena was a beautiful animal; one of two he kept here in Atlanta, Belle having the other.
This one was brown with some tan and white at its hooves, nose and ears; its mane was a darker brown. Since she wasn't used to being hitched up to a carriage, Rhett normally just rode her without a carriage, he was grateful for the trip to Tara being as long as it was. It would give both him and the horse time to get adjusted to one another under these circumstances.
He stopped at a store to pick up a flower for the lapel of his jacket and going by the proprieties of a date bought Scarlett a small gift as well. He took a moment he'd already given her flowers and he'd given her a handkerchief. He realized the handkerchief was about as personal as he should get, certainly she had given him enough trouble in accepting that. He was looking at some gloves, when a bonnet caught his attention. It was a big floppy straw sunbonnet with an emerald green ribbon going around the base of the hat, tying in a ridiculously gaudy bow. He eyed it then returned his gaze to the gloves, but his attention kept shifting to that bonnet. Why he wondered? It was certainly not something he would normally buy for anyone, but he went with his instinct and purchased it. He put the hatbox, secured with emerald green and sheer silver ribbon, on the seat beside him in the carriage and started on his way to Tara.
Three hours later, he arrived at Tara. He alighted the carriage, tossed the reins to a servant and, leaving the box on the carriage seat, walked toward the front door of Tara. He straightened out his vest and jacket before he knocked on the door. The tall older gentleman who had greeted him before answered the door and without a word allowed Rhett into the house. He showed him into the parlor closing the doors behind him as he left with the non-committal words, "Miss O'Hara should be down momentarily."
Rhett sat on a loveseat his back to a window, which faced out onto Tara's front lawn. He crossed his legs, his right ankle resting on his left knee, his hat placed on his right knee. He removed his cigarette case from the left breast pocket of his suit, removed a cigarette and was about to light it when he heard the door open. Expecting Scarlett, he returned the cigarette to the case and put it back in his suit jacket pocket. It wasn't until after he stood he realized it was Scarlett's father who entered. He breathed in slightly as he nodded slightly in Gerald's direction. Here it comes, he thought. He wasn't even courting the girl and here her father to ask him his intentions.
Gerald told Pork he wanted a word with Mr. Butler before Scarlett was to come downstairs. True enough he had heard many things about this Mr. Butler. However, he also knew people and how they gossiped and realized that perhaps things weren't exactly what they seemed. Ellen didn't like the idea until Gerald had told her how Rhett had saved her the other night. While she had softened somewhat, she still didn't like the idea of her daughter going to dinner with a man with Rhett's reputation.
Knowing that Gerald had spoken to him on previous occasions and she had not, she had to concede that perhaps he deserved a chance. Her words came back to him as he entered the room.
"I just hope that he's not taking our Scarlett out because she thinks she's vulnerable or fallen."
Gerald honestly didn't believe that was the case for there were easier women to be gotten if that was what he was after, but he still found himself questioning his judgment.
"Please, Mr. Butler, don't put the cigarette away on my behalf." Gerald walked toward him and shook his hand. "I just wanted to take a moment before Katie Scarlett joined you and thank you again for the other night. It appears I owe you more than I could possibly repay you." Gerald held up his hand as Rhett started to talk. "There's no need to protest, Mr. Butler, or to try and make light of what you did. The Whiting's are good people and while I'm sure young William meant no harm, the truth was my Katie Scarlett was scared. And you were there to aid her. She may not tell you herself, but she appreciates it. As do I." He lowered his voice, his hand resting on Rhett's shoulder. "Mr. Butler, I'm allowing you to take out my daughter, something I must be quite frank with you and tell you my wife is not approving of. Not simply because of whom you are, but also in light of what happened the other night. I do hope that you will respect her and have her home at a reasonable hour."
Rhett once again pulled out his cigarette case offering Gerald one. After lighting it, he took it from his mouth holding it in his hand. Unsure of what exactly he had been expecting, this wasn't it. It had been years since he had been in this position, requiring the permission of a girl's father in order to take her out. He had half expected to be met with some resistance, threats, something. He cleared his throat quietly before he spoke.
"Mr. O'Hara, I appreciate the confidence you have instilled in me in allowing me to take out your daughter. I will of course have her home by whatever hour you deem appropriate. I had planned on bringing her into Jonesboro for dinner and, if time allowed, some dancing."
At that moment, Pork returned to the room, requesting Gerald's presence in another area of the house. Gerald excused himself leaving Rhett alone once again. Rhett looked at his pocket watch; it seemed as though he had been there for hours already when in actuality it had only been fifteen minutes. He finished his cigarette throwing the butt into the fireplace then walking to the window. He looked out onto the green grass and red dirt of Tara that sprawled out before him from his view. He was lost in thought, inattentive as the doors behind him opened.
Scarlett was upstairs in her room arguing with Mammy about which frock she should wear that night when Pork knocked on the door announcing that Rhett had arrived. Scarlett knew her father wanted to speak with him. She felt guilty when she thought about it, but she had listened at her parents' door the night before. She didn't do it often, but she had found through the years that it was most enlightening. She had found out about Emmy Slattery having a baby that way, something she would have never known otherwise. She had learned the night before that her mother was concerned that somehow the prior night's incident would make Rhett think he was entitled to certain privileges that gentlemen normally wouldn't try to take. Scarlett wasn't totally clear on what her mother was referring to; she certainly wouldn't kiss Rhett in exchange for his efforts the other night.
Surely, her mother should know her better than that. Shockingly, Gerald's persistence paid off this one time. He felt just the opposite, that Mr. Butler most certainly would act the role of gentleman and if they tried to prevent Scarlett from going out again that she would grow frightened. She had to stifle a giggle with that comment.
She had been scared that night and woke the next morning horrified as she recalled the prior night's events. Her cheek and eye throbbed; she realized she must look a sight. Quickly, she had thrown the quilt from on top of her and ran to her vanity to look in the mirror. The whole left side of her face was one big bruise, from below her cheek to under her eye. There was no way she could show her face looking like this, not to Pa. Not to anyone. Color grew to her cheeks as she grew hot with embarrassment as her thoughts turned to Suellen. She would never let her forget this.
Then her thoughts turned to Rhett; he had asked her to dinner. Oh dear lord, she thought. He's going to take one look at my face and return to Atlanta without me. Not that she could blame him and Mammy wouldn't hear of allowing her to apply makeup to it to cover it up. Lessen the effect of the bruise. She bit her lip slightly; not realizing the disappointment she felt as she thought of yet another opportunity to go someplace with Rhett was going to be foiled. This time it was going to be through no fault of either of theirs, though. And she so wanted to go. She knew Suellen would be pea green with envy when she saw that Scarlett's caller had clothes that bore no holes in them. And clothes that actually fit him well and matched something that was so rare these days. Rhett wasn't all that bad looking either, she thought as she placed her hand on her cheek, trying to cover it from her vision, another aspect that was sure to make Suellen writhe in jealousy. In fact, if she allowed herself to be honest, he was roguishly handsome.
She thought of getting her father to send Rhett a telegram, but she wasn't even sure where exactly he stayed when he was in town. So, Scarlett spent the day keeping busy, helping her mother with chores that she normally showed no interest in. While she sat with her mother, darning socks, doing needlework and other odd sewing jobs she found the silence between them haunting.
Why, isn't anyone going to even ask me what happened? She knew of course that her father would have told her mother, but Suellen and Carreen acted as if they didn't notice or even care to notice. She went to bed straight after dinner not wanting to come down for prayers. Something her mother must have understood, normally even if they were sick it was a requirement they come down for prayers.
Scarlett wanted to scream to stop the silence. Instead, she sat in a chair looking out her window, a book sitting in her lap untouched, her index finger running along the binding. It wasn't bad enough that someone she had known virtually all her life tried to take advantage of her, but no one seemed to care that she had been struck. Why, she could have been raped.
To add insult to injury, she was sure that Rhett was going to take one look at her and her bruised face, laugh at her for being a foolish child and leave. And this time she was sure he wouldn't return. He probably thought that she had done something to provoke William's actions, that she was loose. First, he witnessed her unladylike display at Twelve Oaks and then the scene with William. Was there no end to the things Rhett knew about her? Things that she could just crawl under the bed and never come out over the fact that anyone knew. She fell asleep in the chair, the book still in her hand.
She woke the next morning unaware of how she got undressed or into her bed, but she knew that Mammy had tended to her. She stretched her arms above her head, cringing in pain as she dropped her hands to her eyes to rub the sleep from them. Mammy came in to open her curtains, Scarlett watched her in silence waiting to get out of bed until after Mammy had left the room. She went to her vanity once again looking at her reflection in the mirror and wanting to cry. This wasn't the face of Scarlett O'Hara. Tears came to her eyes which she brushed away furiously with her hands.
She would not cry she could not let anyone see her cry.
After Mammy had helped her dress, she went downstairs for breakfast; she was famished for some reason that morning. It didn't occur to her that she had been so distraught the day before over what had happened that she had eaten little. She spent the day following her father around Tara almost like his shadow. She was hoping he would forbid her from going out with Rhett that night, but he said nothing. She could just scream she didn't know that she could bear being rejected. Scarlett O'Hara wasn't accustomed to being rejected by any man.
She wasn't exactly sure what time Rhett was going to be there. If he had mentioned a time she couldn't recall it, no wonder either she had been rather frazzled that night. She sat in her room waiting for Mammy to come help her retie her corset and get her dressed for the evening.
She had three dresses lying on her bed, one she wanted to wear, the second she knew Mammy would let her wear and one she was sure she could get Mammy to compromise with her on. She brushed her hair our, Carreen came in and helped her put it up. Scarlett wasn't very fond of Carreen, she was too nice but it was at times like these that she could tolerate her. She was so gentle, yet good with Scarlett's hair.
Carreen was full of questions that Scarlett couldn't answer. Questions about where they were going to be eating, what they were going to do afterward, whether they were going to go dancing. Carreen was at the age where she was too young to go to the balls, but old enough to know what she was missing. One thing Scarlett knew, Carreen would get many offers to dance when her time came next year.
Scarlett looked at her youngest sister's face in the mirror. She was pretty in a rather plain sort of way, her brown doe-like eyes she had seen batted flirtatiously when Brent Tarleton came to call. She just had to come out of her shell a little bit, perk up, and be more upbeat and noticeable. Yes, there was hope for Carreen unlike their other sister, Suellen.
Carreen inadvertently touched Scarlett's bruised cheek, she pulled back quickly with an apology. Scarlett faked a smile trying to make Carreen think it hadn't hurt her as badly as it had. She wondered when the pain would go away. Then her thoughts crossed once again to the gentle way in which Rhett had touched her cheek. His hands, big and strong, that she had heard he had committed murder with. Hands that she was sure could have caused her great harm had he wanted to use them that way. He hadn't. He had been gentle in his touch. Tender. He had even gone to great lengths to get ice for her wounded cheek. His actions were almost fatherly in nature, but she had realized even then how enticing those hands could be construed as being.
Suddenly, she bit her lip as a thought entered her mind that had never occurred to her before. Here for the past four months she had attributed Rhett's attentions to a fondness for her.
What if that wasn't the case at all? What if his interest for her had nothing to do with fondness or courtship? What if he saw in her a child who needed some attention and he was there to provide it? What if she was making a fool of herself by having her hair done, going to great lengths picking out a dress?
She shook her head. That couldn't be possible.
Or could it?
Well, she would do her best to find out tonight. There were ways of finding out what his intentions were without asking directly. The thought that she should have been offended when she thought of his hands touching her being enticing never occurred to her.
As Scarlett expected, Mammy agreed to the second dress. She laced her corset, buttoned the dress, and helped her with her slippers. Scarlett looked in the mirror once more before making her way downstairs. She glanced at Mammy who looked at Scarlett with pride. When Scarlett wanted to be she could be the spitting image of Ellen.
Looks weren't everything, and Scarlett was proof they could be deceiving. For underneath her ribbons and silk, her temper was always there waiting to erupt.
Dressed in an off the shoulder salmon colored frock with a layer of ivory colored lace over the skirt she walked downstairs. The dress was modest, but it accentuated her elegant neck. Carreen had used an ivory hairpiece and hairpins to keep her hair in place, her mother's pearl ear bobs were her only other adornment. She entered the parlor; a slight smile came to her lips when she realized Rhett wasn't aware of her entry. She closed the doors behind her quietly and then turned around one of her hands still on a door handle. "Why, Mr. Butler is this how you treat a lady when she agrees to an evening out with you? If I didn't know better I'd think you were dreading spending the evening with me." She batted her eyelashes slightly, casting her eyes downward as she fiddled with the handle careful to keep the left side of her face toward the door. Even though he knew what had happened, she was embarrassed to let him see her like this.
Rhett turned from the window, his left hand holding the lapel of his jacket. "Miss O'Hara, how charming it is to see you again. My apologies for seeming to be inattentive. To the contrary I was enjoying the picturesque view of your beloved Tara. It made me a little homesick truth be told."
He walked toward her slowly curious as to why she hadn't ventured further into the room.
"What's this? I trust you're feeling well. Surely you're not embarrassed to let me look at your face." He paused briefly as he realized that's exactly what it was. Taking his right hand and placing it gently against her left cheek, "Miss O'Hara, surely you can't think." His eyes lit up in understanding as he realized how hesitant she was to let him turn her to face him. He changed his approach. "I didn't come all the way out here dressed like this to go away empty handed again, if that's what you think. If you don't want to have dinner with me, that's an entirely different story and I will of course take my leave if that's what you bid me to do. I, however, could care less if your hair were as purple as I am sure that cheek of yours must be. If I were going to pay any mind to what your cheek might have looked like, I would never have asked you to join me for dinner. You can't hide your face from me all evening."
Scarlett bit her lip, her head still lowered as she responded to Rhett's touch and his words. "No, I suppose I can't do that." She lifted her head to look him in the eye. Something she knew she wasn't supposed to do with a man, but somehow with Rhett none of that seemed to matter letting her cheek rest against his hand. "I suppose we should go then, Mr. Butler. Before you change your mind and decide you'd rather not be seen with me. I assume Pa has spoken with you already. Spoken to you about having me home on time or did he change his speech for you? I'm sure he realizes you're a little different then the other boys who take me to dinner." She smiled, her dimples flashing for the moment forgetting her embarrassment.
Rhett laughed the white of his teeth flashing briefly. "Yes, I suppose you're quite right there, Miss O'Hara. And, yes, your father came in here and I assured him I would treat you with nothing but respect and have you home at a decent hour." He withdrew his hand from her face, and offered her his left arm as he opened the door with his right hand. "Well then, Miss O'Hara shall we? I believe I've waited long enough to enjoy dinner with you. I imagine we'll be the talk of the restaurant, people will wonder what I've done to you. What's left of my reputation will be gone tomorrow." He snickered as she took his offered arm as they walked through the doors into the hallway and out the front door.
He released her arm as they reached the porch steps, allowing her to pull her skirt up slightly as she descended the steps. She put her arm through his once again when they reached the lawn and walked toward his carriage. He took her right hand with his, his left arm going to the small of her back as he helped her in the carriage. He noticed her glance at the hatbox that lay on the seat and did his best to hide the smile he wore as he walked to his side of the carriage. A servant had unfastened the horse and carriage when he saw them walk through the front door, so they didn't have to wait to leave. Mammy sat unhappily in the back seat of the carriage. She made her feelings for Rhett no secret, something that amused Rhett more than it offended him.
Scarlett couldn't help but feel elated when he seemed to read her mind. Normally she found it disconcerting, but this time she welcomed it. He, as always, seemed to know exactly what was on her mind and put her doubts to rest at least almost all of them. He seemed not to even think twice about the fact that people would undoubtedly stare at them wherever they dined. She took that to heart.
If he didn't care then why should she?
She took his arm and tried to think of something to say to his comment as they walked to his carriage. She glanced at the hatbox sitting on the seat curiously while he walked to his side of the carriage. It had to be for her. He wouldn't leave a gift for somebody else out in the open for her to see. Her curiosity heightened when he moved the box to the back seat next to where Mammy sat when he got in the carriage.
Then she thought back to the woman she had seen him having lunch with the day she had been in town with her friends and she couldn't help but admit she was curious as to who the woman was. He had said she wasn't his wife, but that was all he had said. That and their lunch hadn't been a date. That left so many other possibilities.
She stole a glance at him as he got the carriage headed on the road that was going to take her away from Tara for the evening, her first evening away from Tara accompanied by a gentleman in what seemed like ages. She unthinkingly looped her left arm through Rhett's right arm as she watched the red dirt of Tara pass before them. Somehow, it didn't seem strange or foreign to be sitting next to Rhett like this. She had ridden next to him the other night, but she couldn't recall much of that ride if any of it. This was different it was more formal than the prior ride. The proprieties of courtship and dating were their obstacles this evening, where the other day they had not been. There had been no Mammy in the back seat accompanying them.
Rhett was pleasantly surprised when Scarlett put her arm through his and while they made idle chit chat about Tara's cotton and corn crop expectations for that season the hour-long ride to Jonesboro was quite uneventful. While Mammy was content sitting in the carriage and waiting for them, Rhett insisted she find someplace to eat and gave her money to do so with. If Rhett had his way, it would be hours before they would be returning to Tara but he suggested to Mammy she return to the carriage in two hours time.
Rhett offered Scarlett his arm, which she took as they walked toward the nicest restaurant Jonesboro had to offer. There were far better in Atlanta, but it would have to do. Another time he could impress her with what Atlanta has to offer. Since he had not been able to come to Jonesboro first, there was a slight wait for their table. Rhett would settle for nothing but the best and that included seating.
He wanted privacy with Scarlett not to be surrounded by ten other tables filled with people. When the time came for them to be seated, Rhett held her chair for her while she sat asking for a bottle of their best wine to be brought to their table at once. He watched her in silence for a moment, taking in for perhaps the first time the girl who sat before him. "Is there a reason you have gone back to being on such a formal basis with me, Miss O'Hara? Or is it just during times of distress you feel comfortable enough to call me by my Christian name? I thought I had made mention of the fact that you can do without the formalities of addressing me as Mr. Butler."
Scarlett closed the menu, deciding she would let Rhett order for her. She wasn't exactly sure what a man like him would expect of her appetite under these circumstances so she figured she would take his cue from him. "No, there's no reason." She blushed slightly, her cheeks flushing with color. "I just thought perhaps the situation had made you say something you didn't mean. I didn't want to insult you, and I certainly wouldn't have brought it up, Rhett."
Her cheeks flushed further as she spoke his name as the waiter brought their wine. Rhett ordered for the both of them as Scarlett took a sip of her wine it was a very good Chardonnay. Was there no end to what this man could accomplish? She also couldn't help but notice he hadn't commented on her appearance. She took such pains picking out this dress making sure it wasn't one he had seen before, and it had taken Carreen close to an hour to finish her hair. Maybe he didn't notice or maybe he just didn't want to notice. Her mind wandered back to her question from earlier in the day and she got embarrassed slightly as she realized that perhaps his interest in her was indeed merely friendly. It couldn't be, she thought.
"Well, I do hope from this point forward you will forego with the Mr. Butler's and simply call me Rhett. I understand if in front of your parents or others you would still address me formally, but I hope that one day you will disregard the formalities altogether." He took a sip of the wine after passing the goblet underneath his nose. Pleased with the choice he set the wineglass on the table. "I do hope that one day you'll be at that point, Miss O'Hara. I've always thought it rather ridiculous that two people who are on friendly terms are not allowed to address one another by their given names."
Scarlett thought a moment about what he had just said. It was something she had never thought about until now, but he did have a point. She addressed Ashley, Stuart, and Brent by their first name, why should it seem so odd that she would address him by his first name once they had gotten to know one another. Did she know him? She couldn't help but wonder about that.
He knew her there was no doubt about that. He could read her better than she would have ever thought possible. It was disconcerting at times, the way in which he seemed to read her mind. And the way in which he put her at ease. She felt as though she could say anything to him and it would neither shock nor offend him. What was more, he seemed to enjoy hearing her talk. That was something Scarlett was most definitely not accustomed to. She was raised that you speak only when it was necessary or to reassure a man you were listening to what they were saying.
They enjoyed their dinner of game hens, stuffing, potatoes, corn, yams and more wine, the first bottle seemed to disappear rather quickly as they talked while they waited for the meal. The meal passed uneventfully, Scarlett forgetting for a short while she had a bruise the size of Georgia on her face. No one even seemed to pay it any attention, either that or they pretended very well. She wasn't sure which was true.
When they had finished their meal, Rhett laid his napkin on the table in front of him noticing Scarlett's fingertips resting on the tablecloth near her wineglass. "Might I interest you in some dancing as well tonight, Miss O'Hara, or has dinner worn you out already?" He raised his eyebrow slightly.
Scarlett's eyes brightened at the mention of dancing. "If you're sure it's not too late, Rhett, I'd love to dance. I feel as if I could dance the whole night." Her eyes sparkled as she finished the wine that was in her glass.
Rhett laughed. "I believe it was the interest in dancing all night that got you into trouble the other night, though I know the difference between a girl's desire to dance and her desire to do more than that. You can be certain of that."
He paid for the meal and stood, going over to her chair to help her up. "Though I assure you all men hope to get more than a dance out of a lady and any man who claims otherwise is a liar. Most of us just know when it's appropriate to act in the effort of fulfilling our hopes. There are unfortunately some like your friend, what was his name, who just allow circumstances and a moment to get the better of them." He took hold of Scarlett's elbow politely as they walked from the restaurant.
Scarlett's face paled slightly at Rhett's comment. She turned to look at him knowing she would be unable to get out of his grasp even if she tried. "You needn't talk like that, Rhett. If you're trying to shock me, you'll do well not to bother. I know full well what William's intentions were and I thanked you for your help that night. What else can I do?" Her cheeks flushed again as she realized what she had said.
Rhett arched an eyebrow as he stopped walking, turning her to face him. "You are doing it right now, Miss O'Hara. I asked you to dinner. That's not to say that perhaps someday I won't expect more than dinner. I don't do things without expecting some sort of payment eventually. Believe it or not, I'm not an overly kind person. Only when I think it could benefit me do I go out of my way, and I believe one day you will provide for me more than I could ever hope for." He smiled wickedly, his hands still holding her arms.
Scarlett narrowed her eyes. "Take your hands off me, Rhett. I wouldn't go looking so far into the future if I were you. You can't think I will marry you simply because you performed a kindness. You're a fool if that's what you think, and no better then Mr. Whiting for that matter."
Rhett dropped his hands with a smug grin. "Fear not, Miss O'Hara. I'm not asking for your hand in marriage, I don't believe those will be words you'd hear coming out of my mouth. Marriage is something that holds little appeal to me. Why should I marry when I can have the pleasure of the good benefits without the nuisance of the bad?" He laughed at the shocked look on Scarlett's face. "I've shocked you. My apologies, I thought you were ready to give up that proper upbringing and hear things as they really are. Shall we discontinue the conversation then and dance before I upset you so much that you just want me to take you home." He smiled gallantly, with an exuberant bow as he offered her his hand.
Scarlett couldn't help but laugh at the picture he made, but truthfully she just wanted to dance. She didn't care how mad he tried to make her she wasn't going to let him get out of the dancing he had promised her. The barbecues and balls were rare these days, so to be able to dance twice in the same week was unheard of.
She took his offered hand, "I suppose discontinuing the conversation would suit me, Rhett. But only because I know you're a skunk and a cad, so nothing you say can surprise me anymore." She turned her eyes to him, sparkling and jubilant as she batted them coyly. "I hope that I live up to your expectations as a dance partner. The other night may have just been a run of Irish luck that I managed to keep my left foot straight from my right."
Rhett laughed, pleased to see the sparkle back in her eyes. "Somehow I doubt you could disappoint me, Scarlett, in dancing or in any other regard. So far, you've satisfied me beyond my imagination. Well, maybe not all of my imagination. There are a few things yet I have yet to discover about you. All in due time, I imagine." He kissed the back of her hand properly and then continued escorting her down the walkway to the hall where the dancing that evening was. He held the door open for her with a sarcastic bow, allowing her to enter first.
Scarlett flushed slightly at his lips on her hand. There was nothing improper about the kiss. On the contrary, he was almost too polite and proper about it. Almost as if there was something hidden underneath, but it wasn't anything she could put her finger on. She put her arm through his once more as they entered the ballroom if that's what you could call it she thought. She realized that she wasn't in a position to be choosy, nobody was during these times. She wasn't going to worry about wars or anything else. Tonight she was going to have fun and worry about all of that tomorrow.
When they got inside Rhett found them a table, ordering himself a whiskey and Scarlett a glass of wine. The next three hours were spent dancing. Rhett surprised Scarlett by allowing her to dance with other gentlemen who asked for dances. He took the opportunity to watch her and the men who competed for her attention and her dances in amusement. Rhett wasn't the jealous type; not that he had any reason to be jealous. He had no claims to Scarlett, nor would he try to stake any in a girl like her. As the night drew to a close he sought her out for the last set of dances.
Scarlett had been enjoying her evening of dancing. Her cheek having been forgotten when the dance invitations started coming in, she danced as if she might never have the opportunity to dance again anytime soon. When others asked her to dance at first she'd said no until Rhett insisted she dance with whomever she liked. She was shocked; it was most unusual that someone who took her out let her dance with other men, certainly not as many as she'd like.
Somehow she wasn't surprised; nothing about Rhett surprised her anymore. He had been more than kind and she had had such a good time. She didn't want the night to end, not that she would ever tell him that. Though she was sure he was able to tell. She noticed the time and realized he had allowed her to stay longer than he should have. Why, it was almost as if he really did want her to have a nice time. Most of the time she had found that the men who took her out didn't really care whether or not she enjoyed herself, so long as they got to be seen with her. They wouldn't have been happy about her dancing the whole night with dance partners other than themselves, but with Rhett it was different.
It was almost as if he didn't care and for some reason that bothered her. Why was he taking her to dinner then? Why did he continue to call on her? She had to admit she couldn't help but notice the looks that they were both getting.
She was accustomed to men looking at her, but she wasn't overly accustomed to her date being looked at by other girls. Usually when girls looked it was because they were jealous of Scarlett and while she realized that was probably the case now too she did allow herself to appreciate the fact that Rhett was rather handsome. When he approached her about going home, she granted him the last set of dances, three waltzes in a row. She wondered if he'd planned it that way so they had to dance close to one another.
As the third waltz ended, Rhett escorted Scarlett from the dance floor stopping to say good-bye to a few people before they made their way out the door. When they got to the carriage, Mammy was waiting in the back of the carriage obviously displeased at the lateness of the hour. Rhett laughed as he helped Scarlett into the carriage, kissing her hand properly when she was seated his eyes taking her in sitting there before him in the moonlight.
Once again, he noticed that she wasn't overly beautiful, but she had a way about her, her attitude toward herself and others. She was still young and na´ve, that he was sure. He knew she didn't appreciate what she had, where she came from, what her parents had done to get where they were. He knew she took for granted certain things about her existence, and as the war raged on these things she took for granted and counted on would be called into question as they were stripped from her and those around her. War had an odd way of doing that to people. He walked over to his side of the carriage, taking the reins as he got in and started the horse on its way back to Tara.
When they returned to Tara, Mammy hesitantly went into the house leaving Rhett and Scarlett outside in the carriage alone. Rhett got out and walked over to Scarlett's side, helping Scarlett out and retrieving the hatbox from the backseat before they walked to the porch. Rhett noted that Scarlett held onto his arm without his prompting her to. He led her to the porch swing, helping her to sit.
"I'm sure the suspense of this has been eating at you all night and I must apologize. There really wasn't an appropriate moment to give it to you until now." He gave her the box. "And I swear to you, Miss O'Hara, if you tell me you can't accept it it will be the last gift you ever receive from me."
Scarlett glanced up at him; her eyes lowered slightly so as not to look him directly in the eye. He couldn't be serious.
Or could he?
She wouldn't put it past him to follow through with a statement like that. In addition, he was the only one able to bring her gifts anymore. She undid the ribbon, opening the box to expose the hat he had bought earlier in the day. She took it out and held it up by the light of the outside lights, a smile coming to her face.
Her eyes went from the hat to him and back to the hat again. She placed it on her head wishing she had a mirror to look into. She was sure it looked wonderful. She just knew it did. "It's beautiful, Rhett, but what would my mother say if I accepted it?"
She bit her lip as she removed the hat from her head and looked at it admiringly. Her eyes went from the hat once again up to him where they remained.
"Just tell her I thought it was time you needed a new sunbonnet, Miss O'Hara. Tell her I insisted you take it. Tell her whatever you want; I'm sure you can think of something clever to justify your acceptance of it. Something tells me you've done it before, maybe not for a sunbonnet but for something. I'm glad you like it. I don't know what drew my attention to it, but something did. You're not as easy as most girls are to buy things for." He eyed her with a slight smile as her eyes dropped back to the bonnet.
"I don't care to hear about other girls you buy gifts for, Rhett. I mean I realize you must but you don't need to be a cad all the time." She thought a moment as her fingertips lightly traced the satiny ribbons on the bonnet. "Yes, I can think of something to tell my mother. But, Rhett, why did you buy me something? You certainly don't have to." She owed him. At least she saw it that way.
"I'm fully aware of what I do and don't have to do, Miss O'Hara. I was in the store shopping for a friend of mine and I saw the bonnet and something about it made me think of you. It's as simple as that. There is no reason behind it, at least none that I'm willing to tell you about right now. One day I'll tell you and you'll realize what it is I expect in return for all my kind gestures." He laughed heartily as her smile fell into a confused frown. "Don't worry, Miss O'Hara, I'm not here to compromise your innocence." He lowered his voice as he spoke the last few words.
Scarlett tried to get angry, but couldn't. She stood from the swing, the bonnet in her hand, the hatbox still on the swing. "Thank you for the bonnet, Rhett. But I really should be getting to bed." She walked to the door with her empty hand on the handle when she turned to look at him. "I had a nice time tonight, Rhett. Really, I did." She turned her head to look at him again dropping her hand from the door handle. "I don't suppose I need to ask if I'll see you again. You seem to show up when I least expect it, trying to keep me on my toes I presume." She smiled slightly, her dimples not visible in the darkness as she cast her eyes down slightly.
"Yes, Miss O'Hara. I imagine I shall pay a visit to Tara again sometime. My business will be taking me away from Atlanta for a while. I will return, I'm sure, as you say when you least expect it. Maybe even where you least expect it." He took her hand in his, kissing it properly above the wrist not releasing it for a moment as he looked into her eyes. "I'm glad you enjoyed your evening. You're a girl who needs to be taken out dancing often. And I hope you'll grant me the privilege of taking you out again when I return."
Scarlett withdrew her hand hesitantly. For some reason she didn't want to remove it from his. She didn't want to go upstairs to bed. Her tone changed suddenly, softening as she spoke.
"Yes, Mr. Butler, I imagine I would grant you the privilege. Your company isn't so bad after all," she teased. "Good luck on your trip then." What a stupid thing to say, she thought. She smiled at him, her eyes looking into his.
"Good night, Rhett."
She opened the door, closing it quietly behind her. Mammy as Scarlett expected was standing in the hallway within earshot of the door. Her fingers again traced the ribbon on the bonnet as she smiled her eyes full of mischief. She walked toward the staircase feeling Mammy's eyes on her she turned to face her with a smile. "Well, come unlace me, Mammy." She walked upstairs with Mammy trudging behind her.
Rhett returned to his carriage, which he got in and started on his way back to Atlanta. He was pleased that the evening had seemed to go well. Scarlett seemed to have enjoyed herself. She had accepted the hat and she had allowed him to hold her hand for a moment longer than was necessary. It was going to be a long trip back and he contemplated returning to Jonesboro and staying the night there instead.
A few hours later he arrived in Atlanta and made his way to his room. The thought of visiting Belle's never entered his mind. He slept well, waking the next morning and packing for his departure. He stopped at the Western Union office, sending a telegram to a few of his contacts at his next few stops. He was heading south this time around, south to Macon, Savannah and then northeast to Charleston. Where he would go after Charleston he wasn't exactly sure. Traveling abroad entered his mind, Paris or London perhaps. After sending his telegrams and leaving the Western Union office, he stopped in at Belle's for the hour or so until he had to leave for the train depot.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com