Rhett stood in front of Scarlett who stood before him dressed in a royal blue satin gown shimmering with silver, daringly low cut and off the shoulder with a similarly shimmering wrap adjusting his cravat. A simple silver choker and a pair of diamond earbobs set in silver were her only adornment. Her curls were now piled atop her head and secured with a band that glittered with precious stones. She looked like a princess in every sense of the word, and she knew it.
Rhett was dressed in a black tuxedo with a white shirt, gray waistcoat and cravat with his gold stickpin and cufflinks. He admitted to himself that he was nervous. He was presenting to all of Charleston Scarlett as his wife and it was admittedly a little alarming.
While most had already met her, only a handful had actually seen them together until tonight. They also had never had the opportunity to see Scarlett at a ball, only Rhett was aware of how exactly Scarlett thrived in that environment. He was determined not to stand in her way of having a good time; he knew how she loved to dance and that this would be their first ball without having to worry about Geraldine. Truthfully he wanted to keep every dance for himself, but he knew that this would not be possible.
Ross had bothered him endlessly about being brave enough to bring Scarlett to Charleston for the first time ever and leaving her alone for eight weeks. Ross was quick to point out that there were many men that would have been all too willing to seek revenge on Rhett for at one point in time stealing the affections of a girl. Rhett shrugged this off; one thing about Scarlett he didn't fear was her being faithful.
He knew her to be capable of many things, but even if it was simply because she knew that he would divorce her if he were to find out he was confident she would never cheat. She'd be in for a rude awakening if she ever did because not only would he divorce her but he'd also take Geraldine with him.
Scarlett wasn't a bad mother, but she wasn't the best one either and without Rhett's financial support Scarlett wouldn't be able to provide for the girl adequately. And while Rhett would have no qualms about giving Scarlett money for the child, he somehow didn't have confidence that the money would be entirely spent on Geraldine. Scarlett could be selfish at times, and Rhett knew this as well as anyone.
Rhett watched Scarlett with admiration as she put the finishing touches on her hair, adjusting one of her hairpins when she asked him to. They made their way to Geraldine's room, saying good night before they went downstairs to meet his parents.
Roger still had said little to his son, but Rhett was determined not to let it get to him this evening. They were going to be leaving Charleston in two days and he wouldn't have to deal with his father anymore. Riding in the coach with them was a little too close for comfort for both men, but the ride to the Charleston Arms Hotel where the ball was to be held that evening was short so they had to endure one another's close company for only a short while.
Rhett handed Scarlett out of the carriage after his parents had exited and held her hand on his arm, silently demonstrating his hesitation at giving her up for the evening. Things had seemed to be going well since he had returned from Europe. Now that Geraldine was no longer nursing, Scarlett was willing to remain in bed with him for a little longer each morning.
It wasn't even about making love to her though he never seemed to be able to get enough of that after being gone for two months. He just enjoyed lying with her and hearing her tell him stories of how she spent her time in Charleston while he was away. It had amused him that he was unable to get a word in edge wise, but he took this as a sign that she'd had a good time and that things had gone well in his absence.
Scarlett entered the ballroom on Rhett's arm and was quite taken back by the extravagance and elegance of the room; even after the war it looked beautiful. She had realized over the past eight weeks the drawbacks of having spent her life living near a city that was barely older than she was. Atlanta didn't have this air about it.
It was almost as if by its buildings the people of Charleston were able to snub the Union and their troops, which still occupied Charleston. Everything was perfect and Scarlett admitted to never having seen a more beautiful scene as the one before her. It was obvious that everyone had spent what little money they could afford on new gowns for the occasion. For a moment it felt as if they had stepped back in time to before the war had come and torn their city apart.
Scarlett knew that for all the new frocks and shoes that were being worn today something at each and every household had been sacrificed so that the women could be presented at this ball in highest fashion.
She looked up at Rhett; a sense of pride filled her. She realized that while she hadn't been happy with the trips Rhett had made overseas that if it weren't for those she wouldn't have anything she had now. She granted him the first waltz, and was planning on granting him the first reel. He was her husband after all. She was slightly surprised when he bowed slightly after the waltz had finished and said he was going to talk to someone. She knew she should follow him, that this was the first time many of these people were seeing them together. But when Mr. Clay asked for her to join him in the reel she couldn't refuse. The mindset of being the belle of the ball took precedence over being Rhett's wife.
Rhett stood at the bar for a moment after getting his whiskey watching as Randall Clay and Scarlett danced. He was watching Randall more than he was Scarlett. He was one of the men in Charleston that Rhett wasn't very fond of. He was worse than Rhett was in that he fooled you into believing he was honorable and good.
At least Rhett never tried to hide what he really was from anyone. He was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn't hear Constance walk up to him. He only became aware of her presence when he felt a delicate hand loop through his arm and rest on his elbow. He smiled politely as he turned his attentions from his wife to the woman who stood beside him. "Good evening, Miss Miller. You look lovely though I'm sure it wasn't difficult for Mrs. Talbot to accomplish that task with a model such as yourself to sew for."
"How you do go on. You're just as flattering as always. Now what would it take I wonder to get you out on the dance floor? You're far too handsome to be a wallflower, Mr. Butler."
"I didn't realize you came alone, Constance, or I would have asked you myself." He set his drink down and with a polite bow led her out to the dance floor. "No chaperone this evening? Whatever will the good citizens of Charleston say?"
She laughed lightly as she pressed herself against Rhett closer than she should have. "Let them talk, I say. I'm far too old to care anymore. I love this song, don't you?" She looked into his eyes briefly then dropped her eyes coquettishly. Sensing that her flirtations were getting her nowhere, she decided another approach. "Your wife is charming, Rhett. She obviously loves to dance, but shouldn't it be you she's dancing with?"
"Well, we did dance a waltz Constance, and I'm sure I'll get one or two more in before the night draws to a close. Why should it bother me that she enjoys dancing? Surely I can't expect her to dance with only me for the rest of her life. That would make for a very unhappy Butler household I'm afraid, and over something so petty I don't think I'm ready to invoke a war. Besides, I rather like knowing that my wife's company is desirable."
One dance with Constance turned into several. It wasn't intentional, and Rhett did dance with his mother, his sister and a few other women but Constance was always there when he lacked for a partner. And Scarlett was always busy dancing with someone else. It was nice to dance with Constance she had always been a good friend throughout their childhood and someone Rhett could always count on for a good time when they got older. In truth, had he not met Scarlett and decided to marry, Constance would have been a decent choice. He sensed when she allowed herself to get too close to him and distanced himself from her as best as he could.
Scarlett was enjoying herself, all the different dance partners she got to choose from. It was quite an experience, and so different from Atlanta where they all knew her. As much as she was having a good time, she noticed that whenever Rhett had the opportunity to sit out a dance Constance was right by his side wanting to dance.
She wondered just who Constance was to Rhett and knew that she would never get a truthful answer out of him. She decided to turn her charms onto her dance partner, Jeff Isaacson. Taking the time to compose herself and to collect her thoughts she paused a moment before making her inquiries. "So, Mr. Isaacson, I noticed that both you and Miss Miller are without dates this evening. Why didn't you come together?"
Jeff looked from Scarlett to Constance briefly. He had noticed that Constance was paying a bit too much attention to Rhett, he wondered if Scarlett had noticed as well and this was her reason for asking. "Constance, er, Miss Miller and I don't see eye to eye on enough things to accompany one another to such an event. She's a nice enough woman, mind you. I don't mean to suggest anything."
"Oh, I understand. My sister and I wouldn't see eye to eye on something if our lives depended on it, so I perfectly understand what you mean. She and Rhett seem awfully comfortable as dance partners, one would get the impression they had quite a bit of experience dancing together." She smiled, her dimples flashing, as she spoke not letting on how serious she was in asking the question.
"Oh well, not for a number of years of course. Though I imagine Constance is a might jealous of you, though she'd never admit it to you. She never had any claims to Rhett or anything if that's what you're thinking, Mrs. Butler. I think she's just enjoying the fact that Rhett is so generous with allowing you to dance."
"Oh no, Mr. Isaacson, Rhett can dance as he pleases. I can hardly tell him not to dance with others when he's so free in allowing me to dance as I please." She watched over Jeff's shoulder as Constance tried to maneuver herself closer to Rhett and found herself exhaling sharply in relief when she noticed Rhett politely maneuver her away from him. She smiled unaware that she was doing it.
Jeff smirked a bit having noticed the same thing Scarlett noticed. He wondered briefly how Rhett and Scarlett had met and ended up together. He knew he wasn't the first to wonder, and he knew that Rhett and Scarlett had both successfully avoided giving a definite answer to anyone up to this point.
When the night drew to a close, it was Scarlett who sought Rhett out for the last waltz of the evening. She had hardly seen him at all and it bothered her a bit. In Atlanta it had always been different, because he wasn't well liked so not many other women would dance with him. But here in Charleston, there seemed far too many women willing to dance with him so neither of them lacked for dance partners.
Scarlett couldn't complain. She'd had a nice evening even if she could have done without Constance hanging all over her husband. She'd have to talk to Rhett about that, Scarlett didn't dance with the same man more than twice and never in a row. She walked up to Rhett who was still talking with Constance and smiled pleasantly. "Rhett, there you are. I've been looking for you everywhere. It's the last dance of the night and I was beginning to think I wouldn't be able to share it with you."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Scarlett. I apologize, I didn't realize it was so late." He offered Scarlett his arm and bowed slightly in Constance's direction. "Thank you for the dances and the company this evening, Constance. In case I don't see you again before we leave for Atlanta it was a pleasure to see you again."
He turned his attentions to Scarlett able to tell by her eyes that she was unhappy. They got out to the dance floor and he brought her close to him not saying a word. They danced so well together; he didn't want it ruined by an argument. After the dance, they said good bye to those that were left and found that his parents had left earlier sending the coach back to fetch the two of them. Rhett led Scarlett to the coach, sitting across from her wondering at her mood shift. He gathered it had to do with Constance, but what did she expect him to do sit there all evening by himself. Scarlett knew him better than that; she'd just have to get used to seeing him around people who were his friends.
Scarlett wanted to ask, wanted to say something but she really didn't know where to begin. She suddenly realized how Rhett must have felt watching her dance with all of her old beaux whenever they went out dancing in Atlanta. She felt a twinge of remorse for some of her behavior in the past because truthfully she had done it with the intention of trying to make Rhett jealous. But he never did get jealous or at least he never seemed to.
He would take her home as he always did, kiss her hand politely and leave as if he hadn't given her being so desirable a second thought. She wondered silently how many times he had gone from her house to Belle's and she flushed slightly at the thought. Especially now that she knew what he was like in bed. "Constance certainly didn't let you out of her sights this evening, did she?"
Rhett peered at her from the window, letting the curtain fall back into place. "No, I don't suppose she did." He shrugged, "I didn't really take the time to notice."
"How you do go on, Rhett. How could you not notice? She was never more than two feet away from you, and that's putting it kindly. If I didn't know better I'd say she was trying to seduce you right there on the dance floor."
Rhett chuckled lightly. It wouldn't have been the first time. Constance had never been one to hide her desires very well, even in public. "Well, how could I notice when my eyes were focused on my beautiful wife all evening? You give me little credit it seems. Why would I even look at someone like Constance when I've got all I could ask for in a woman in you? I've got a wife who could turn the heads of the Norse gods if she wanted to. And why on earth would I do that in front of you and everyone else to witness? Be realistic, Scarlett. I acted appropriately. I distanced myself from her when she got too close. It's Constance who will have to answer to some people, not me."
"I just don't understand why she had to pick on you. As if there weren't plenty of single men there for her to paw at."
"To put it bluntly, Constance doesn't want an unmarried man. At least that's my take on the matter. Otherwise she would have been married long ago. Home to take care of her sick father, my foot. She's hoping to find someone who will keep her in Charleston without having to marry them, so she can continue going out and dancing but still have some of the benefits of a man."
Scarlett stared at him dumbly for a moment, not wanting to believe that there were women like that. But surely there must be. Why even the rumors about Belle Watling being Rhett's mistress struck too close to home now and again.
Scarlett had vowed that she would never give Rhett reason to seek another woman's company. Perhaps the fact that she had a face and name to go with the prospective 'other woman' played a role in it, but she was not about to give anyone the satisfaction of thinking she couldn't satisfy Rhett completely. And she believed so far that she had done that. But the fact was, if anything Rhett said was true, there were plenty of wives who were not good at keeping their husbands happy. She didn't even need Rhett to tell her that. Obviously, places like Belle's wouldn't be in business otherwise. "You mean there are women, respectable women, who would do that?"
Rhett laughed heartily. "Scarlett, the world is made up of all types of people, both men and women. And I'm quite certain for every quirk a man can desire in a woman it could be found somewhere."
Scarlett didn't know how to respond to that, she imagined it was true. So instead she said nothing else as they rode the rest of the way back to Rhett's parents' house in silence. She took his offered hand as he helped her out of the coach and up to their room. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she did not check on Geraldine. She asked Prissy to come undress her and help her get ready for bed, Rhett had been the one to help her undress since his return but Scarlett just wasn't in the mood tonight to encourage him. She went to bed, briefly wondering what was keeping Rhett as she drifted off to sleep.
Rhett remained downstairs in the parlor, unsure exactly what was keeping him awake. He poured himself a brandy and was surprised when his father entered the room, apparently unable to sleep as well. Rhett finished his brandy and started to leave the room. He was in no mood to argue with the man who had sired him tonight, and for all intense and purposes that was all Rhett saw him as anymore. He set his snifter down and was surprised when his father filled it again after filling his own.
Roger had been unable to sleep, he knew that Rhett and his family would be leaving in two days and it was apparent Rhett wasn't going to make any attempts at closing the gap between them. Of course he wouldn't, why should Roger be surprised. Rhett was just like his own father, both free spirited and stubborn at the same time. He heard his daughter in-law as she came upstairs alone and figured that Rhett had remained downstairs. Roger wasn't a religious man, he didn't believe in fate, but perhaps this was God's way of telling him it was now or never if he ever wanted peace with his son.
He put his robe on, tying the belt securely at his waist and made his way downstairs. He knew when he entered the parlor that Rhett was preparing to leave. He didn't know how to voice his desire for his oldest child to remain in the room, so instead he filled Rhett's empty snifter with more brandy knowing the man would take the hint. He sat in his smoking chair and after lighting a cigar, gestured for his son to sit.
Rhett did as bid, curious as to what the sudden turnaround in his father's attitude was. True, he had noticed a slight softening in his mannerisms towards him since his return from England. But he had still yet to say a word to him. He took a sip of the brandy, realizing his father would initiate the conversation when he saw fit.
Roger watched Rhett carefully before speaking, not really knowing what to say. How do you start talking to someone you haven't spoken to in close to twenty years? "I don't know what I was expecting when Mother told me you'd taken a wife, but I must admit to being satisfied with your choice."
Rhett raised an eyebrow slightly as he took in his father's words. "Certainly better than the choice you tried to make for me years ago. Are you admitting that perhaps I was wise in not doing what was expected of me years ago?"
"No, my son, that's not what I'm saying. I still think a gentleman has a responsibility to do what's right and honorable."
How long had it been since he'd heard his father use the words 'my son' in reference to him. Years. Too long was all Rhett knew. "I suppose you're right, but at the time I didn't see it that way. I still don't agree with trying to force me into marriage. More because I know you love Mother, loved her when you married her, and I couldn't believe you would have wanted me to settle for anything less."
Roger's eyes narrowed slightly. "And do you love her, this Irish lass who while she did fine in Charleston these past eight weeks you know as well as I do wouldn't last much longer here amongst our people?"
"Your people, Father. They're not my people, and I won't sit here and have you insult my wife. Who gives a damn if she's Irish, French or Italian? And had I any doubts about her ability to stand her own ground while I was gone I wouldn't have brought her with me."
"That she did, and managed to wrap quite a few of our citizens around her finger quite aptly. But you must admit to knowing you're better than she is. Tell me, son. Did you marry her for pity? Out of duty? Or did she trick you into it?"
Rhett stood suddenly. "I must have been a fool to think you actually came here to talk to me. I should have known you came down here to do nothing but throw insults at the integrity of my marriage and me. What is it you find so hard to believe, Father? Or is it that I've gone and disappointed you again? You haven't wanted me to set foot in Charleston over the years, so how is it I was supposed to come by a Charlestonian wife? Not that I would have wanted one anyway, I knew the moment I saw Scarlett five years ago that there was no place in my heart for anyone but her. If you find the idea of my marrying her so insulting then we'll just have to go back to not being on speaking terms. I refuse to have this conversation with you."
Roger chuckled lightly at his son, recognizing once again the aspects of his own father that Rhett had inherited but that for some reason Roger was sorely lacking. Rhett had passion. Something Roger never had. Roger had tried so hard to turn the Butler name into something good and honorable that he had forgotten that perhaps his own father had wanted to do nothing but the same just in a different way.
"Sit down, son. I was testing you. I wanted to see if you still had that fire in your belly, and I wanted to see if you were as in love with the girl as I thought. Do you not realize that I know by now you wouldn't have married anyone for reasons other than your wanting to marry? Even that temptress that you have taken as your wife, though I could fully understand if you married her just to avoid having to deal with her marrying someone else." He raised his eyebrows slightly and laughed as Rhett stiffened at his comment. "That's it, isn't it?"
Rhett stared at his father in disbelief. "It's why I proposed, yes. I was going overseas and knew that if I didn't I'd return to Atlanta to find her already betrothed or worse yet married. I couldn't stand for that. You did realize that we were engaged for quite some time before we married, or didn't Mother bother to tell you that detail?"
He stood and walked the short way to Rhett, placing his hand on Rhett's shoulder. "I knew, but didn't know the circumstances. Nor did your mother either, I imagine. Well, I can certainly appreciate why you felt the way you did. Though, I have to wonder, who says you ever had to return to Atlanta to begin with? I know you own some business properties there, but surely they could run themselves without you. They do when you travel abroad."
Rhett turned slightly to face his father. It was the first time he'd allowed himself to really look at the man since being in Charleston. He had aged so much since last they spoke almost eighteen years ago. Of course, Rhett expected that. His father was now in his early sixties, but he still looked very much the distinguished gentleman he had tried so hard to make Rhett into. "Nothing says I had to return, Father. The problem was I couldn't stay away. No matter how much distance I tried to put between Atlanta and myself it was to no avail. I was always drawn back."
Roger laughed again as he set his brandy snifter down with a knowing shake of his head. "Well, my son, I'm off to bed before your mother wonders where I've run off to and comes in search of me. She might even think I've grown a heart if she sees I'm down here talking with you. Please say you won't stay away so long the next time. Even if it is only a brief visit with us like this one was your wife and daughter will always be welcome if you need to go overseas."
Rhett watched as his father walked out of the room heard his footsteps as they quietly ascended the stairs and then all was quiet again. He wasn't sure what to make of the conversation with his father. It seemed almost dreamlike in nature that after so long they could just pick up and have a conversation about Scarlett as if it had only been a matter of months since they'd spoken rather than almost two decades. But it was a start nonetheless. He tended to the fire and went up to join Scarlett in bed. He had sensed her desire to get ready for bed alone and stayed downstairs, or maybe it was something else entirely different that had drawn him to the parlor that evening. He would never know.
The last two days of their stay in Charleston went by quickly. Scarlett needed a new trunk because of all the new clothes she had. Geraldine was learning that good bye's were not a good thing, and she wanted no part of leaving her grandmother and grandfather until Rhett reminded her how much Talisman and Amulet must have missed her. Her eyes brightened at the mention of her furry friends, and good bye didn't seem quite as painful when it was promised that she would see her grandparents again soon. On their last day in Charleston, Rhett took Scarlett to see one of his ships that happened to be in port. He wouldn't have normally, but it was the ship that he had captained when he did his blockade running and he thought she might find it interesting to see how he had lived while at sea.
Scarlett walked with Rhett aboard his ship, SS Valiant, and couldn't help but be impressed with what she saw. She knew he had a ship, but hadn't given it much thought. Now he had four and he had made mention of acquiring a fifth. She wondered if they were all as nice as the Valiant was though she somehow imagined they were.
He gave a well-guided tour starting at the bottom, which was the hold and also the sailors quarters. The second deck held the officer's quarters, the galley, the arms storage, the captain's quarters in the stern, and additional storage. The top deck had the masts, two masts with a foremast, and square-rigging. The forecastle was where the wheel was and all other navigational things, which Rhett briefly tried to explain to her to no avail. The forecastle was elevated from the main deck. The aft housed the stairs to get below and was also raised, providing the captain with relatively spacious accommodations and a meeting room.
She had to admit to being impressed. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but for some reason this wasn't it. Seeing the cannons and the weapons aboard ship made the realization come to her fully of how dangerous what Rhett did during the war had been. She hadn't given it much thought until now.
Rhett left Scarlett to explore for a little while he checked on some paperwork Henry had left aboard. They had made good time on this last trip, which meant they would be able to get out of port and get another shipment of goods up north before the harsh elements of winter were in full force. Rhett scrawled a quick note to Henry telling him if they timed it right they could not only make it home for Christmas but everyone would have a nice sum of money to spend on gifts for their families. He found Scarlett in the captain's cabin and chuckled lightly. "You know, you could be accused of spying entering a captain's cabin without permission."
Scarlett turned to him surprised. She hadn't even heard him come upon her, so engrossed had she been in the cabin. The bunk, the massive desk that took up most of the room, the trunk, the wash basin, and the table and chairs. She imagined that these were all things Rhett had touched and used at one time. She had never thought about what weeks at sea had meant until now. "This is where you slept, worked and ate when you were at sea all those months." It was more a statement than a question.
"Indeed. This was my home at sea."
He sat at the desk, the chair was new but the desk was the one he had used for years. "I penned many a letter to you at this desk, Scarlett. Most of which ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic. I just never seemed to know what to say. I would receive word of the things happening in Atlanta and near Tara and it bothered me so that I couldn't be there to help you. And my words filled with sentiment about how I wished I could be there to help you seemed so useless when an entire ocean and then some kept me from you."
Scarlett listened to him with interest. "I never realized, Rhett. I honestly thought you left Atlanta and gave anyone, including me, little thought. Other than that Watling woman."
"I never had to give Belle much thought, Scarlett. She could survive a hundred wars and I knew when I left Atlanta that she was well taken care of from a business perspective. She has the type of business that it doesn't matter which side you fight on. All men want to drink their woes away and to feel a warm woman against them after they've been in battle with nothing but men for weeks or months. It doesn't matter if they're English or American, Union or Confederate."
"And you, Rhett, did you seek that out once you had gotten out of the army before coming home to Tara?"
"What would make you think that, Scarlett? I've told you I went from serving in the army to jail and then from jail to Tara. Manigo can account for my activities and my whereabouts both during and after my release from jail."
"Yes, but what about in between getting out of the army and going to jail? You were going to Atlanta for some reason, or you would have come to Tara and wouldn't have been caught."
"I had to claim Apollo, Scarlett, and I had clothes at Belle's. I wasn't about to come home to you filthy and in torn clothes that wouldn't have been worth using even as rags." He looked at her in disbelief. "Are you accusing me of being unfaithful to you, Scarlett?"
"Yes. No." She shook her head. "I don't know, Rhett."
"Scarlett, had I known that you were pregnant and that I was going to have to go even months longer than I already had without enjoying your company as my wife the temptation might have been there. But I had no idea you were in the family way so there was no temptation to seek out the comforts of a woman elsewhere. I was full well expecting to come home and spend days or weeks in bed with my wife." He blocked her as she attempted to slap him; he recognized the anger in her eyes. "What the devil? Where is this coming from, woman?"
Scarlett had no idea where this line of questioning had come from, but for some reason she had to know. And when he had admitted to the possibility of being tempted she grew furious. "You might have been tempted?" She tried to keep her voice from being shrill, but it didn't work.
She squirmed to get out of his grasp, but he was so much stronger than she was and she knew he wasn't even trying to keep her restrained. "You mean to say that our marriage vows mean so little to you that had you known about my condition you would have sought out the company of that woman because my being with a child that I didn't even want would have inconvenienced you for a few months. What about me, Rhett? What about my inconvenience for the nine months I carried our child, seven of which were spent not knowing if our baby would have a father or not? Not to mention the delivery and the months afterward that I couldn't be away from the house for more than an hour or two because the baby would need to be fed? But you could come and go as you pleased." Somewhere in the back of her mind she realized this argument was futile, that there was no logic to it.
Rhett's eyes narrowed with her words. "Come and go as I pleased, Scarlett? Have you gone daft? Has someone taken over your body and not told me about it? Other than the few days I've taken to visit my mills in Marietta and Savannah and this trip I took to London I have never been away from Tara. When have I ever come and gone as I pleased? And I never said that I would have sought out the company of another woman. I said had I known of your condition the temptation might have indeed been there. Would you rather I lie? All right, I'll stand here and tell you that I would never have dreamed of seeking out the comfort of another woman knowing that after seven months of suffering without you I'd have to go another four or five months. Or even longer if you had decided to punish me for getting you with child. Do you realize how many times I came so close to saying to hell with your condition and taking you anyway? I had to exercise every amount of self-control I could muster just to sleep with you every night. I told you a long time ago I can take anything you dish out to me but a lie, and I'm no hypocrite."
"Take your hands off me, Rhett." She felt his hold on her wrists loosen though he didn't release them entirely.
"I'll tell you this much, Scarlett O'Hara Butler, if you'd listen to me without opening your mouth to interrupt me. I never in my life dreamed myself capable of remaining faithful to a woman. That was one of the reasons I swore to never marry. I lived my life not caring whom I hurt or what I did to hurt them. I never took the time to look behind me at what I'd left in my path. I've stolen, killed, fought, boozed it up, gambled, womanized and every other sin imaginable and I never once thought of changing my ways. Until I asked you to marry me. The day I asked you to be my wife was the day I knew I had to stop the womanizing, the rest wasn't going to hurt you. I knew it made my skin crawl thinking about you with another man and I'm not a hypocrite. I couldn't stand there and expect you to remain chaste and virtuous if I was out there chasing any skirt I could get my hands on. I won't stand here and deny that since I've known you there haven't been other women, but since the day I asked you to marry me there has been no other." He released her hands completely, the suddenness of it almost causing her to fall to the floor. He stormed out of the cabin and made his way to the forecastle to look out over the water from one of his favorite vantage points.
Scarlett went to the cabin's bunk and sat. She had no idea why Rhett's revelations had startled her so, but they had. She had really never given it much thought, his remaining faithful. She supposed she had never brought it up before because she assumed that was part of being a man, and if gentlemen were unfaithful surely Rhett would be too. But just like a lot of other aspects of Rhett that remained a mystery to her, she had sorely misjudged him.
She knew how difficult it had been for him when she was carrying Geraldine. She saw it in his eyes the moment she first saw him that while excited at the prospect of a baby his plans of being reunited had been thwarted, at least for a few months. But she honestly had believed those few months had been good for them. It gave them a chance to get to know one another as husband and wife living in the same house without the complications of lovemaking. And lovemaking could complicate things Scarlett knew this.
She stood from the bed and started to leave the cabin when a picture caught her eye. It looked like a drawing of some sort tucked away behind the captain's, Henry she thought she remembered Rhett saying his name was, coat on the door. She knew she had no right to be nosy, but curiosity got the best of her and she looked. She gasped aloud when she saw a picture of herself on the paper. It wasn't her exactly but there was no denying it was she.
She was dressed in a green riding habit; the shade of green Rhett loved so much for her to wear, with a matching bonnet and crisp white gloves. And she was sitting sidesaddle on Jasmine, holding the reins in her gloved hands. In the background she could see their tree at Tara. The picture was so detailed, so vivid, and so real. It was as if the artist had been there, but Rhett had never seen Scarlett actually riding Jasmine so she had no idea how or when he could have had the picture done. She brought the back of her hand to her mouth as she moved the coat further to see the artist's signature in the lower right hand corner and her eyes fixated on the R.K.B., Spring 1862 that was in that spot.
Rhett had drawn the picture during his extended time away from Atlanta and her. She had no idea that Rhett even knew how to draw, let alone as well as this. It wasn't anything that would sell at a store, but it wasn't anything to hide on the back of a door either.
Why hadn't he brought it home she wondered. And then she realized he probably had no intentions of her ever seeing it. It was his vision of her, a picture he had stored in his mind that he had transferred to paper and it was meant for no one's eyes but his own. And now Henry's. She wondered if Henry knew she and the woman in the picture were one in the same. She had never met Henry so the only way he would know is if Rhett had told him. Somehow the thought that Henry thought Rhett drew pictures of women other than her didn't sit well with her. She hoped he knew.
Suddenly she felt stupid and foolish. She left the cabin and started to mount the stairs to apologize, but Rhett looked so angry still that she didn't want to disturb him. "I'll return to your parent's house, Rhett. Don't forget you have to pack yet tonight." When he said nothing, she left quietly not wanting to push the matter any further. She would have the entire trip home to apologize to him. Before leaving the ship, though, she stopped to take one more look at her drawing, his drawing, whoever's drawing it was. How could someone who claimed to feel so little for her draw something so vivid and real? She was so deep in thought she didn't hear Rhett come down from above and enter the room.
"I thought you'd gone back to the house." He wasn't necessarily annoyed, but he had assumed she'd left and was looking forward to some time alone aboard his ship. He wanted to spend some time going through Henry's books. He was a bit more paternal about the Valiant than with his other ships; this was his baby. The one that had started Rhett's run of good luck many years ago.
He saw what she had been looking at but said nothing. He remembered the first time Henry had seen the drawing; he had made all sorts of obscene comments about the woman in Rhett's picture. Comments that Rhett couldn't deny having thought himself.
He would like to draw that picture again now that he was familiar with what lay underneath Scarlett's layers of clothes. Henry was quick to be quiet when he heard Rhett talk about Scarlett. It's easy to tell when a seaman talks about a woman if she's a harlot or a lady and Rhett had made it abundantly clear that Scarlett was a lady Rhett held in high regard.
"I did. I mean I had planned to." She wasn't sure what she meant. She wanted to know how it was he was able to draw her so well. She also wanted to know if other women saw that picture. He had claimed to be faithful to her only since they had become betrothed, this picture was drawn well before then. And surely Henry wouldn't have hung it where it was, so it had to have already been there. It was flattering and unsettling at the same time to know he had thought so much of her as to put her face on paper. Perhaps he had planned on giving it to her, which would explain Jasmine being in the picture since he had drawn it shortly after the horse had died.
Rhett stood quietly watching Scarlett. He wondered what thoughts were going through her mind and he knew full well that her mind was working diligently. He could tell by the look in her eye and the way that she bit her lower lip slightly. It was a habit that perhaps others wouldn't catch onto, but Rhett had had occasion to watch Scarlett even without her aware of it for over five years now and he was well aware of her nervous habits.
Scarlett felt Rhett's eyes on her and realized he wasn't going to offer her any information. When she looked in his direction he had taken a seat at the desk and was looking through a ledger. "I'll send the carriage back for you." She turned swiftly and left the cabin, the crisp rustling of her skirts and the slight scent of lavender signaling her departure.
Rhett spent the rest of the afternoon onboard, leaving when the sun started to set but instead of going home to his parents and Scarlett he found himself in front of Constance's house. He remembered her saying her father was ill, he wondered just how ill the old man really was. He brushed off his suit jacket as he waited for the door to be answered. He smiled genuinely with a slight tip of his hat when Constance herself answered the door. "Good evening, Miss Miller. I'm not interrupting dinner am I?"
Constance was surprised to say the least to find Rhett at her door and at such an hour. She wasn't dressed for company, dressed in a simple white cotton frock with light pink flowers. "Of course not, Rhett. Father takes his dinner in his room alone and I don't find myself with an appetite until a little later in the evening. Won't you come in?" She stepped aside allowing him to enter as she led him to the parlor and offered him a drink.
He took the offered brandy and sat in a chair not exactly sure why he was there. "How is your father? You didn't mention his status at the ball the other night."
"He's doing all right, Rhett." She smoothed out her skirts as she sat in a chair nearby. "I trust you didn't come here to talk about my father. Surely there are more exciting topics of conversation to engage in." She raised her eyes slightly to look at him. He looked pained; his eyes looked cold and distant. "Problems at home perhaps?"
"Is it that obvious?" He looked from the amber brown of the brandy to her as she knelt before him and placed her hands on his knees and removed the glass from his hand setting it on the table beside them.
Constance had no idea why Rhett had chosen her but she wasn't about to let the opportunity pass her by. She ran her hands along the front of his shirt as she reached up to kiss him, removing his stickpin and loosening his cravat at the same time. She was a little surprised when he didn't kiss her back, but she dismissed it and kissed his neck as she started to unbutton his shirt.
He removed her hands from his shirt his eyes clouded with indecision as his strong hands held her at bay. "Constance, this isn't why I came here."
"I know it's not, but I'm still offering. No strings attached."
He laughed lightly at those words. Women always said that, but there were always strings. And for Constance the strings would be the knowledge that he had not been able to remain faithful to his wife. Scarlett would see this woman again and Constance would feel like she had an edge. "No, Constance, I sought you out as a friend, nothing more. If I've misled you in any way I apologize."
She pulled her hands from his grasp as if burned. "You didn't mislead me, Rhett. I just figured that's why you came here. You are going back to Atlanta tomorrow, aren't you? Why else would you come here instead of being with your family?"
"I don't know. Maybe it was my warped way of reassuring myself I've made the right decisions." He stood, pulling her up with him as he straightened his shirt and cravat and then kissed her on the cheek politely. "Good night, Constance. I shouldn't be here and I do apologize for my conduct. It wasn't fair to you or Scarlett. Greet your father for me, please." He left; indecisively standing by the carriage for a moment before making what he felt was the right decision and returned home.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com