Rhett returned to the hotel from leaving Scarlett at Pitty's and made his way to the bar, spotting Gerald immediately. He sat at the bar wearing a pair of tan trousers, a dark green jacket and a black cravat with his hair disheveled obviously from being windblown. Rhett laughed lightly at the ease with which Gerald sat amongst everyone not seeming to care that he might look the slightest bit unkempt. Rhett slid into the seat next to Gerald's after shaking his hand signaling to the bartender for a drink making sure Gerald's was fresh in the process.
Gerald had received Rhett's letter and had to admit at being intrigued by Rhett's request to meet with him. It was Gerald who suggested by telegram they meet in Atlanta rather than at Tara. He had his guesses as to Rhett's reasons for wanting to meet with Gerald and felt that this was for him to handle alone without the influence of Mrs. O'Hara.
He had arrived a little early and by the time Rhett had joined him was working on finishing his second drink. He returned Rhett's handshake with one of his own and a hearty greeting. Gerald had to admit to liking Rhett. He didn't know if he would say it aloud to anyone but he admired any man who stood his ground and for what he believed in. Even if it was only himself he was loyal to at least Rhett managed to stay true to his cause and was successful at it.
Rhett allowed Gerald to talk to him about the goings on at Tara and in the County, understanding why it was Scarlett was so fond of her father. But he couldn't help but wonder once again how it was the elegant, Savannah bred Ellen Robillard came to be married to this Irish immigrant sitting next to him. He rubbed off on you; he was jovial, pleasant, especially when he'd been drinking. He was also boisterous, not well read or bred but one got the sense from him that he would be there if you ever needed someone in a pinch. Loyalty. Gerald was not only loyal but would demand it in return.
When they had finished talking of cotton and other pleasantries, and after one drink had turned into a few, Rhett brought up the subject that had brought the two of them together on that evening. He fiddled with his glass hesitantly before he broached the subject.
"Mr. O'Hara, I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that I've paid a bit of attention to your eldest daughter over the past few years. I realize I never asked for your permission to court her, but I never saw what I was doing to be courting in all honesty. Somehow, over the past three years my fondness for Scarlett has grown and I would like your permission to ask for her hand. I realize you have no control over whether she says yes and I'd honestly rather the decision come from her than you anyway but I would still like to know I have your permission before I make my intentions known to her." He pulled the jewelry box out of his pocket, "Just so you understand I am sincere in my statement, Mr. O'Hara, I bought this for her on my last trip to London. Assuming all goes well, I'd like to ask her on Saturday at the ball." He showed the ring to Gerald who genuinely seemed surprised.
"Mr. Butler, I realized you requesting this visit had to do with my Katie Scarlett, but I was expecting you to ask for permission to court her. You've caught me by surprise." Gerald was silent for a moment as he mulled over what to say in his head.
Scarlett could certainly do worse than Rhett for a husband. Why, most of the men were going to come home from the war with nothing, not even a dime to put a roof over his daughter's head. Rhett on the other hand could provide her with everything she needed and for some reason Gerald got the feeling that Rhett understood his daughter. This spoke volumes to Gerald, who of course would have loved his daughter to be a good wife and mother. Gerald realized, however, that more than likely with Scarlett that would not happen.
Scarlett was beyond any stereotype.
"I believe, Mr. Butler, getting the response your searching for will be more difficult to get out of Scarlett than it will out of me. I give you my blessing if she says yes. I wish you the best of luck getting her to say yes. And if she does, Mr. Butler, I wish you luck keeping up with her."
Rhett laughed heartily at Gerald's statement. "Yes, it should be interesting. I doubt very highly she realizes I'm going to ask, I've never voiced any intentions as a suitor or otherwise. As far as keeping up with her. I fear it's that very concept that has attracted me to her and kept me coming back. Not only do I enjoy trying to keep up with her, but also she's the first woman I've encountered who can keep up with me. That's no small feat either. I'm sure it goes without saying, Mr. O'Hara, but I'll say it anyway. I'm a man of means and I will do whatever is in my power to make sure that Scarlett enjoys the life she's accustomed to, if not better than that. As long as I have breath in my body, sir, I will do my best to make her happy."
Gerald regarded Rhett. He knew Ellen wasn't overly fond of him, that she didn't trust him. Gerald knew that Rhett would not have asked for his permission if he weren't sincere. Of course, he had heard the rumors about Rhett, but Gerald knew better than anyone did that the right woman can change a man's thinking.
"Mr. Butler, I realize this and recognize in you the type of man who will do just that. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn't give you my blessing. Scarlett will say yes, she may not say yes the first time, but she will eventually say yes to you. I've seen how she is when it comes to you, and whether or not she realizes it she needs someone like you. Scarlett needs someone who will always be there to catch her when she falls, to hug her when she's sad, and to tell her everything's going to be all right even though it may not really be so. She needs someone to do these things for her without her being aware that he's doing them for her and you Mr. Butler are the first suitor I've seen accomplish that."
Rhett spent the rest of the evening with Gerald indulging in too much whiskey and listening to tales of Scarlett as a child that her father cared to spout. Rhett had no problems listening; it was obvious the man sitting next to him had a great deal of pride in all three of his daughters but most especially Scarlett. When the night drew to a close, the two men went their separate ways after a handshake and Gerald's words of well wishes and good luck to Rhett.
Rhett called on Scarlett only once during the week joining them for dinner at her father's invitation. With her father having remained in town, Rhett knew that Gerald would be less apt to have a loose tongue if Rhett just stayed away for the most part. He picked up Scarlett's dress from Mrs. Lowe's on Friday night and left it with Melanie who said she would keep it in her room until the following morning. Scarlett, Melanie had told him, was out for the evening with Cade. Rhett left after sitting with Melanie and Pitty for about an hour and spent the rest of his evening at Belle's.
Rhett made his appearance shortly before four o'clock the following afternoon. Dressed in a black tuxedo, a crisp white shirt, a burgundy waistcoat, and a burgundy bow tie with a black cape and hat; his engraved gold cufflinks were his only accessory. He waited in the parlor for Scarlett adjusting his cufflinks when he heard the parlor doors open. He turned towards her unable to take his eyes off her. Dressed in a figure hugging burgundy velvet dress with a three-tiered skirt and a pleated bust with a sculptured bodice and off the shoulder short sleeves decorated with gold satin bows, the dress was more than he could have hoped for. He was surprised Mrs. Lowe had gone through with it, even the neckline was daringly low. A pair of gloves, a pearl necklace, pearl earbobs and pearl hair combs completed the outfit. He tipped his hat politely. "I do believe, Miss O'Hara, that I will be the luckiest man at the ball tonight."
Scarlett cursed under her breath when Peter had come upstairs to tell her of Rhett's arrival. Prissy was taking forever to get the pearls in her hair. Melanie even pitched in to help and proved to be much more capable then Prissy was. Soon she was finished. She stood admiring herself in front of her mirror.
The dress looked fabulous on her she observed as she turned sideways to look at her figure. It clung to her every curve. It was almost scandalous it was so form hugging. The velvet was so soft to her touch; she had forgotten such lavish material existed. She put on her gloves and opened her bedroom door wondering what Rhett would be wearing. Whatever it was, she knew they would make a handsome couple. They always did.
She stood in the doorway uncomfortable with the way Rhett was looking at her but for some reason she couldn't move. With one hand remaining on the door handle, she glanced down suddenly feeling exposed. "I must commend you on your choice in patterns, Mr. Butler. The dress is beautiful, though I think it could have used a bit more fabric. Don't you? It's almost sinful." She smiled brightly, her eyes flashing mischievously knowing she looked good.
"Truthfully, Scarlett, I'd have liked there to be less but this isn't that kind of ball." He smirked slightly. "Are you ready for dinner, my dear?" He walked towards her offering her his arm saying good night to Melanie and Pitty before they left.
He took her to a restaurant on the other end of town, wanting to avoid the masses at the Atlanta Hotel for as long as he could. It was a small and intimate place and they were seated near the fireplace. Rhett couldn't get over how beautiful Scarlett looked. He owed Mrs. Lowe more than she probably realized; he doubted he could have had a more perfect dress designed elsewhere for more than it had cost him. He had thought about proposing at dinner, but thought better of it. He knew she would more than likely say no, at least at first, and he didn't really feel like being around other people when he was told no the first time he actually felt like proposing to someone. So instead, they enjoyed a quiet dinner of chicken, potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables, buttered rolls and chocolate cake for dessert.
On their way to the ball, Rhett asked the driver to stop and Rhett helped Scarlett out of the coach, placing her hand in the crook of his arm as they walked. "You enjoyed dinner, Scarlett?"
Scarlett looked at Rhett curiously when they stopped, she wanted to get to the ball and show off her new gown. She knew that Rhett had something on his mind, though, she could tell at dinner. He wasn't his normal conversational self. He talked, of course, but it was different and she was worried that he was going to tell her he was going away again. She hardened herself, preparing to be told that he was going to once again be gone for years. His question caught her off guard. "Dinner? It was delicious, Rhett. How you knew such a place existed I have no idea. I'll bet people who have lived in Atlanta all of their lives don't know about that place." It was cool out and it had grown cooler while they had been inside at dinner. She pulled her wrap around her bare shoulders, wondering when Rhett would get them to the ball.
"I believe you'd find I could show you many things others don't take the opportunity or the time to notice or appreciate if you gave me the chance to, Scarlett." He turned towards her. "I know you want to get to the ball, but there's something I wanted to say and I'm afraid I don't want to wait until later to say it." He paused slightly taking both of her hands in his, he released her left hand and reached into his jacket pocket. Having taken the ring out of its box earlier, he pulled it out on his pinky finger as he withdrew his hand from his jacket. He knew she spotted the glimmer of the metal and realized there was now no going back. "I've spoken with your father, Scarlett, and surely it can't have gone unnoticed by you that my feelings and admiration are sincere. If you didn't know before then, my inability to allow myself to compromise you should have tipped you off. I was wondering, Miss O'Hara, if you might find it in your heart to marry a cad like me." He took her left hand with both of his hands, sliding the ring on her finger hesitantly.
Scarlett stared at his hands and the ring on her finger, speechless. What did she say? What could she say? Rhett Butler, self-proclaimed bachelor was asking her to marry him. It wasn't exactly how she had imagined being proposed to, but she realized that like everything else he did it was his style to do just what he'd done. She went over his words in her head. He had talked to Pa. Why, of course, that made sense. She should have suspected something when Pa had come to town; he never came to Atlanta unless he had to. And in the close to eighteen months she'd been in Atlanta, he'd been there to visit her only twice.
She looked into his eyes, finally drawing her gaze away from their hands and the ring, which her left hand now donned. He wasn't joking, she realized finally. This wasn't a prank, this wasn't Brent or Stuart or Tony asking her for her hand out of obligation or a sense of duty. This was Rhett who she realized that if she said no to would more than likely leave Atlanta for good. This she knew to be true.
He wouldn't come back and ask her two or three more times, he would move on and perhaps not forget about her but he wouldn't look back either. She suddenly felt lightheaded and dizzy, her breathing quickened and she felt like she was going to faint. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Concerned, Rhett grabbed onto Scarlett's arms to keep her steady on her feet then helped her back to the coach. "Are you all right, Scarlett? Tell me this is just part of your feminine charm and that I haven't somehow offended you." He told the driver to wait, wanting to make sure she was all right before they started towards town again.
Taking a few minutes to collect her thoughts and clear her head, she felt better. Her breathing returned to normal, her head stopped spinning and she no longer felt dizzy. She wondered if she had fainted and dreamt Rhett proposing to her, but then she looked at her hand and the ring was still there. "If this is some type of joke, or an attempt at making me feel even more foolish for my behavior that day I don't find it amusing at all, Rhett Butler."
"I can't blame you for thinking that way, but I don't know that I've ever been more serious about anything before in my life. Would it help if I got down on bended knee, my dear?" He took her hand in his again his thumb gently rubbing the emerald stone located on her finger and knelt on the ground next to the coach. "So, I'll ask you again more formally this time. Scarlett O'Hara, surely it hasn't gone unnoticed by you that my feelings for you go beyond friendship. Every time I leave you I find myself wanting to return to your side again as soon as you are no longer in my sight. I find myself wanting to provide for you, love you and make you happy for the rest of your life. Will you marry me? Will you be my wife?"
Scarlett stared at him in disbelief. He was kneeling on the ground in front of her asking her again. She pulled him up with her hand. "Stand up, Rhett, you're going to get your suit filthy kneeling on the ground like that." She stood on the ground in front of him having regained her composure her head held high as she looked into his eyes.
He was serious, she realized. As serious as she'd ever seen him and she knew that this one answer would change her life one way or another.
"Yes, Rhett, I will marry you. How can I resist such a proposal?" She hadn't realized it, but she had tears in her eyes. She used her free hand to wipe them away quickly not wanting him to see that she was crying. She laughed slightly, realizing that her laughter revealed she was crying. She looked at the ring on her finger again, "How long have you been planning this? Obviously you didn't buy this in Atlanta, Rhett."
"Well, I honestly didn't plan it at all. I knew the day I called on you after I had acted respectably and saw you talking with Mr. Calvert that I had to do something. I bought the ring on my last trip overseas. And then I was told about the ball and being that it was Valentine's Day I thought it was an appropriate time to ask." He looked away then returned his gaze to her. "Now before we enter a ballroom full of people and you see your friend Mr. Calvert, I want you to tell me once again what your answer is Scarlett. I of course don't mind if you dance and go about your business with other people, but I want to know when I watch you from across the room that you understand that I'm serious about proposing. That this isn't a joke nor am I a schoolboy making a careless decision."
She peered up at him through her eyelashes raising her head slightly to look directly into her eyes. "If you didn't have a ring, Rhett, I would have thought it was some kind of joke. But it's more than apparent you're not joking."
Her thoughts went to Ashley briefly, Rhett wasn't Ashley but since she couldn't have Ashley she certainly couldn't do much better than Rhett as an alternative. He was good to her, treated her well, and would take care of her. He would make her happy she realized or at least try to do everything in his power to make her happy. "I said yes, Rhett. I meant it. I wouldn't say yes to a proposal on a whim, I believe even you know that." She looked up at him. "Dare I ask when you've thought of our marrying, or have you even thought that far out?"
"That would be entirely up to you and your mother, Scarlett. I am staying out of the wedding planning part; I'm not dumb and have seen engagements called off over disagreements about wedding plans. Just tell me what day and time to be there and I will be there. Whatever you need me to do whatever you need me to buy it will be taken care of. I just want to stay out of the planning part of it." He took her hands in his. "Scarlett, I've been out of things for too long for me to make any valuable contribution to the planning of a wedding. So, whatever you decide I agree to."
Scarlett watched him with slight amusement. He obviously had no idea what went into planning a wedding, at least not the kind she wanted to have. She wondered if he would be able to get her material for her dress, but realized he would of course take care of it as he did everything. She was glad he was letting her tend to everything she would be able to have the wedding of her dreams. "Can we go to the ball now?" She looked at her hand for a moment. "Do I have to take this off, Rhett? I mean, do we need to tell my parents first or is the fact Pa gave his approval enough?"
"Scarlett, I think your father giving his approval is enough. Besides, if I said you were unable to show your ring off to everyone tonight you'd get mad at me and would be liable to call off the wedding only hours after we were engaged." He walked back to the coach and helped her in, ensuring her skirts were out of the way before he shut the door.
They arrived at the ball and Rhett got out of the before handing her down, placing her arm in the crook of his arm as they entered the ballroom. He stopped before they got to the doors. "Scarlett, I didn't say this earlier and I'll say it now before the night gets away from me. I'll do whatever I can to make you happy." He turned from her without waiting for a response and presented his ticket for them to get in to the ballroom escorting her into the ballroom. "May I have the first dance, my dear?"
Scarlett smiled slightly, her eyes sparkling. "I do believe your name was on my dance card for this dance long ago, Mr. Butler." She followed him to the dance floor, and when he took her into his arms and the waltz began she felt incredibly comfortable. They had always danced well together, that she knew. She got angry sometimes thinking of all the other women that he had danced with and probably still danced with when he wasn't with her. She couldn't help but wonder if he danced as well with them as he did with her. Somehow, she didn't believe that to be possible for she sometimes got the impression that they were made for dancing together. Not even Ashley was as suitable a dance partner to her as Rhett was.
When the ball had come to an end, Rhett brought Scarlett home and walked with her to the door. "I suppose I should say good night from here then, it's late and I'm sure Pitty and Miss Melanie are sleeping. I'll be here for the rest of the week, but then I'll be gone for a few months again. I'm going to London and Paris, I was thinking while I was there I could have the material for your wedding dress ordered and have it shipped to Mrs. Lowe. But you have to tell me what you want. Do you think you can think about it and let me know what type of dress you'd like before I go? If we get married in December, you could have velvet even. Whatever you want, just let me know and I'll make sure there's enough material here for not only your dress but anything else you'd want."
Scarlett couldn't hide the disappointed look in her eyes when he announced he was leaving. "Do you really have to leave again so soon, Rhett? You just got back. And what if I need you? How will I get in touch with you if you're in London or Paris?"
The fact that she had survived for the past three years without knowing where he was didn't occur to her. She had always relied on him in some way, even if it was simply that he would return to see her. But now she was committed to him and she didn't like knowing he may not return and she would never know. Her eyes narrowed as she thought of Rhett dying on the ocean.
Rhett laughed loudly, brushing her cheek lightly with the back of his hand. "I'm flattered, Scarlett, that for some reason you think that because you're now engaged you'll need me when you never have in the past. I'll leave information with you on how you can get in touch with me. I would have left it for you long ago if you'd only asked me for it. My attorney always knows how to get in contact with me. I suppose now that I am betrothed to you, a telegram informing you of my whereabouts would be warranted on occasion. You know, Scarlett, this is all new and foreign to me, so if there's something specifically you want from me you'll need to ask. This is not a time to be shy or embarrassed about voicing your wants or needs to me. I want to make every effort to for once in my life do the right thing, and that includes living up to your expectations of me." He paused, as he thought then continued. "I do have to travel, you understand that don't you?"
She nodded her head as she spoke. "Yes, Rhett, I understand that. I mean I realize your work takes you from Atlanta often. But that doesn't mean I like it. I never really have, if you want to know the truth. I've always felt it made it too easy for you to come in and out of my life. You're here and then you leave for a few months, suddenly reappear then disappear again for a couple of years. And then when you are here, you go from seeing me to seeing that Belle Watling woman." She cast her eyes down and returned them to meet his gaze. "Are you in love with her, Rhett?"
Rhett gestured for Scarlett to sit on the porch swing sitting next to her as he took her hand in his holding it on his lap. "No, Scarlett, I don't love Belle. She's a dear friend who I have known for years. You perhaps don't understand this because there's nothing in your life that you do that others criticize, but I know that whatever I do or whatever I say Belle will be there for me unconditionally. Just as I will be for her." He paused hoping the conversation would go in a new direction.
"But you share her bed." Scarlett bit her lip for speaking so boldly, but she had to know. "I mean you stay there. You've admitted to me you stay there sometimes instead of your hotel room. I may not know a lot of things, but I can't imagine why else you would stay at that place over night. Did you go to her after you left me that day, Rhett? Did you? Did you turn down my advances because of that woman?" Tears started to form in her eyes as she spoke the words, but she wanted to ask.
Rhett laughed slightly. However, when he looked at her and realized she was starting to cry he knew she was serious. He placed his arm around her, removing a handkerchief from his pocket and blotted her tears away gently.
"Scarlett, honey, don't be silly. Why on earth would you think such a thing? Don't you understand that it's because of that day? Because of the fact that I was able to turn you away I knew I had to propose to you. Scarlett, I've been living on my own for almost eighteen years now and I've done many things in those eighteen years. Some I'm proud of, some I'm ashamed of, some I have no feelings towards whatsoever. Letting you sleep on the couch a few feet away from me is one of those things I'm proud of. I did not go from you to anyone. To Belle's disappointment I'm afraid, I couldn't go from you to anyone. There is only one Scarlett O'Hara after all, and no one but you could live up to that name."
There was so much more he wanted to tell her. The fact that whenever he made love to, or even kissed, another woman it was Scarlett he thought of. The fact that walking away from her that day was the hardest thing he had ever done. But he knew if he said these things that she would throw them back in his face, that someday they would come back to haunt him. Some evening when Ashley Wilkes was fresh on her mind and the happiness that she experienced with him was briefly forgotten. So, instead he withheld these bits of information.
She felt foolish for crying in front of him over something so silly, not to mention that she had asked such a question to begin with. She took the handkerchief from him and dried her eyes. She gave him a half smile. "You're right, of course. And thank you. I don't know whether or not I believe you, but your words made me feel better at least."
"With that, my dear, I'm going to bid you adieu." He stood offering her his hands to help her stand from the swing. He kissed her politely; mindful of the fact that even though the hour was late they weren't the only ones returning from the ball. "I'll see you before I go, perhaps even tomorrow."
Scarlett pouted slightly at the thought of his departure and the briefness of his kiss. Certainly if they were engaged, he could kiss her like he had that time in the parlor here. But she wasn't going to ask, wasn't going to throw herself at him again. She watched as he made his way down Pitty's porch steps, turning to go inside only after he had reached his carriage. She knew he wouldn't leave until he saw that she was inside, so there was no use in remaining outside any longer than she needed to.
Rhett did return the next day, Pitty insisted on it sending Peter down to his hotel with a note inviting him for dinner that evening. Rhett knew it was a courtesy; it being no secret to him that Pitty didn't care for him. He knew the invitation was because of his engagement to Scarlett and for no other reason. Dressed in a conservative dark gray suit, black cravat, and his gold cuff links and stickpin he arrived for dinner promptly at four o'clock. He kissed Scarlett's cheek politely before she led him to the dining room where Pitty and Melanie had already gathered. He kissed both ladies' hands and sat across from Scarlett at the table while they ate.
After dinner, they retired to the parlor where Rhett sat quietly while Scarlett was quizzed about what type of wedding she envisioned for herself and where she'd want to go for her honeymoon. Rhett stood in silence, as he was expected to. Weddings were women's business and he knew better than to interject anything.
He also knew that Scarlett would abide by any wishes he may have, but there were none that he had so that didn't matter. The only thing he wanted was to have full planning rights of the honeymoon, and an invitation to the wedding sent to his mother. He left shortly after the Meade's appeared to offer their congratulations, when the exchange of pleasantries turned into talk of the war. Rhett realized tonight was not the night for his frank discussion of the Cause and their effort. These people were here to see Scarlett, not him. He owed her at least that much to keep his mouth shut for this week before he left town again.
The week went by too fast for him, not once was he alone with Scarlett for more than a few minutes. Perhaps Pitty was afraid that he had proposed only to compromise Scarlett, perhaps that was just the way it worked out. With the war going on, the people of Atlanta had little to get excited about. What better thing to get excited about but a wedding, even if it was a union between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. He would never know, and he never questioned it. He performed his duty as the dutiful fiancÚ rather well. He dined at Pitty's every evening, made it a point to be seen leaving from Belle's every evening at a respectable hour, and never once laid an improper hand or kiss on Scarlett the entire time.
As promised, when it came time for him to leave he left his attorney's name and address with Scarlett and assured her he would write or send her a telegram occasionally so that she would not need to worry. His last evening in town, he and Scarlett managed to steal away for a few minutes alone in Pitty's backyard. As they said their good byes, this one much different from any of the others they had said in the past though they both tried to pretend on the surface that nothing was different about it at all. Rhett said good-bye, departing after a brief kiss to Scarlett's forehead and an almost feather like kiss to her hands.
He spent the next eight months onboard the Valiant between London and Paris. He had a list that Scarlett and Melanie had given him for musts for the wedding and he took care of those items as soon as he could and arranged for them to get to the States in good time.
He rolled his eyes realizing that he could not expect Scarlett's father to contribute much to the wedding expenses; his money would be tied into the maintenance of Tara. He ordered frocks, hats, shoes, parasols, stockings and everything else he could think of Scarlett would need for her trousseau. With the wedding stuff tended to, he focused on business. A second boat in his fleet was almost captured, but the captain managed to escape capture but only after veering off course so significantly he ended up in the northern part of the United States instead of Charleston where he needed to be.
Those goods finally arrived at their destination, just much later than they were expected. It was late August 1864 when Rhett was about to leave for the States; the blockades were getting more and more difficult to run. He knew that this would more than likely be his last successful trip. He wasn't sure if he would risk another. He had enough of the Confederacy's gold in London to purchase more goods than the south would know what to do with, but he left it there knowing that one of his fleet would make a last ditch effort at bringing goods into the States.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com