Chapter Twenty-Three
Word Count: 3,786

December 1866

The month before Christmas passed quickly. While things between Rhett and Scarlett improved they both seemed to approach one another with an air of caution that until now hadn't existed. For the first time Rhett found himself truly wishing that there were no Geraldine at the moment. But he was determined to work around it and somehow gain Scarlett's affections. It was with these intentions in mind that he took time the few weeks before Christmas to visit his lumber mills in Marietta and Savannah to make sure all was well and running smoothly before he took an extended leave.

Rhett was expected home later in the afternoon but Scarlett decided to spend the day in town visiting the stores and the things they had just gotten in in time for Christmas. She had also visited Dr. Meade who confirmed her suspicions that she was pregnant. She wasn't happy about it, but she was happier than she had been when she was pregnant with Geraldine. At least this time she'd know what to expect. Rhett would be here with her and Dr. Meade would not be so busy as he was when she carried Geraldine.

If Scarlett's estimations were correct, the children would be two years apart. She thought that was a good enough gap and hoped that it would be a boy so that Rhett would be content with the two. Like Geraldine, she didn't know if it was intentional or not. He claimed not to care about children, but Scarlett could tell by the way that he was with Geraldine that he loved them.

It was with these distracted thoughts that she ran into a woman on the sidewalk outside Rhett's tailor's store. This was to be Scarlett's last stop for the day, she was there to pick up some shirts for Rhett that she had had made for him. "Pardon me I wasn't looking where I was going." Scarlett said with a slight laugh before she actually saw whom she ran into. Her eyes grew wide in recognition. "How do you do, Mrs. Watling?"

"I'm fine, thank you. I hope you and your family have a nice holiday." Belle was trying to be polite for Robert's sake more than anything. Had she had her choice she would have enjoyed telling Scarlett to drop dead, but she didn't think that would bring Rhett back to her anyway.

Ironically, Belle thought that it would be Rhett who mourned for Scarlett upon her death more than the other way around. "If you'll excuse me, Mrs. Butler. I need to get back to work." She needed to get Robert away from Scarlett before it was too late. She felt him tugging on her sleeve, but ignored him hoping he wouldn't say anything.

"Mommy, that lady has the same name as Uncle Rhett."

Scarlett hadn't even noticed the child standing next to Belle who was now trying to politely tug on his mother's dress to gain her attention. He was a well-dressed boy, obviously Belle made more money than Scarlett gave her credit for assuming this was the tailor that made the boy's clothes. When the boy looked from Belle to Scarlett, Scarlett offered a smile until she saw the boy's face. Her confusion was apparent as she looked from the boy to Belle, he had said Uncle Rhett. The last thing Scarlett remembered was seeing the look of horror on Belle's face.

Belle watched as recognition clicked and she could almost see the thoughts run through Scarlett's mind. It wasn't hard to figure out what she was thinking. The boy looked just like Rhett and yet he had called him Uncle Rhett not Daddy. She started to make an excuse when Scarlett fainted.

"Damn," she cursed softly. "Rhett's going to think I did this intentionally somehow." She turned to Robert. "Robert, honey. Go back into the store and tell Mr. Jacobson that Rhett's wife fainted out here and ask him if he'd please get a doctor for us."

She had no idea what to do she didn't know if Rhett was in town or at their plantation. Her first instinct was to just leave, to leave this woman who had caused her nothing but grief lying on the street. Belle knew that she couldn't do that, it really wasn't Scarlett's fault Rhett fell in love with her. Scarlett probably didn't want him to anymore than Belle had.

Mr. Jacobson rushed out of his store and picked Scarlett up, bringing her into his store where it was warm before sending his apprentice to get Dr. Meade. He looked from Belle to her son and realized perhaps what had caused Scarlett to faint. "Perhaps, Miss Watling, it would be best if you left before she comes to."

"I'd thought of that, Mr. Jacobson." Belle smiled wryly. "Believe me I had, but I should stay."

Mr. Jacobson nodded as Belle explained to Robert that Scarlett was Rhett's wife. When Dr. Meade showed up, he looked at Belle and frowned. "Miss Watling, I usually hold my tongue but if you've done something to cause her to lose her baby you won't hear the end of it." He frowned further when he realized what he had said, more for the fact that Rhett more than likely didn't know yet than because he had spoken of her condition.

"Dr. Meade I assure you I've done nothing. I simply walked out of Mr. Jacobson's store and she ran into us. I've stayed simply to make sure she's all right. I had no idea of her condition, but she did faint in front of me. I had no idea she was so delicate."

Belle smiled somewhat knowing full well that Scarlett didn't have a delicate bone in her body, wondering why she was in any hurry to come to Rhett's aid. She should just leave and let him clean up his own mess.

"Well then, Miss Watling, why don't you make yourself useful and meet the train Mrs. Butler mentioned her husband was coming in on this afternoon and bring him here. That's the best way I can think of for you to help her right now." It was unintentional, but the words Mrs. Butler and her husband had been emphasized.

Belle nodded, and couldn't say no when she saw the look of excitement on Robert's face. So she went and waited for Rhett's train to arrive. When it had arrived and Belle saw him get off the train she couldn't recall a worse feeling than what she felt at that moment having to restrain her son from running up to greet his father. Instead, she walked calmly up to him and explained to him what happened and that Dr. Meade had asked her to send for him.

"I had no idea she was pregnant, Rhett. I'm sorry."

"She's what?" Rhett stared at her wondering how on earth Belle would know she was pregnant before he did. She couldn't be that far along for Belle to notice it. Rhett had seen her without clothes on just two weeks ago and certainly hadn't noticed the effects of pregnancy.

Belle didn't know what to say. "I just assumed you knew. The way Dr. Meade spoke so plainly about it, I figured it was common knowledge." Realization dawned on her. "She must have just found out today, Rhett. Dr. Meade knew your train was coming in this afternoon. Scarlett must have seen him today." Though she felt bad and noted the worried look in his eyes she was pleased to note that Rhett had picked up Robert and after tugging gently on his cap asked him if he was ready for his birthday.

"It's all right, Belle, I won't tell her you told me. I guess that messes up my plans. Not to mention my marriage could be ruined. Damn it, Belle."

"Don't turn this into my fault, Rhett. How could I possibly know she was going to go there today? I was there to bring Robert's jacket in to get the sleeves shortened before his party."

"Well, you can just go on home and let me handle this." He tugged on Robert's hat once more and walked with Belle briefly until they went their separate ways, Rhett towards the tailor and Belle towards her bar.

Scarlett was sitting on a chair apologizing when Rhett came in, and he was grateful that he had not walked any further with Belle than he had. He smiled slightly, acting as if he knew nothing was awry or about her condition. "Mrs. Butler, I understand you were trying to make me a widower this afternoon. Surely you have something better to do two days before Christmas."

Scarlett wasn't amused on top of being embarrassed. "Just take me home, Rhett," she spat. She turned to Dr. Meade and Mr. Jacobson thanking them both for their help. Taking Rhett's arm she led him to where Manigo waited with the coach. She glared at him, not even knowing where to begin.

Rhett couldn't help but be amused; though he tried to hide the fact. His efforts at conversation went nowhere so he let her stew and told her of his visits to the mills.

When they had turned onto the road that led to Tara, Scarlett looked at him finally. "Were you ever going to tell me you had a son?"

"Is that what she told you? That he's mine?"

"God's nightgown, Rhett. She didn't need to tell me. All I had to do was look into his eyes and see it, just as I'm sure everyone else in Atlanta knows. I can't believe I didn't hear about him years ago." She tried not to cry, but she couldn't help it. She didn't know which was worse, the fact that he had a child or who the child's mother was. "How could you, Rhett? Don't you think I had the right to know?"


She stared at him wide eyed. "What?"

"You heard me, no. It's none of your business what I did before we married. I'm not a saint and you never asked me about children."

"But what about our children? What if we were to have a son one day? He won't be your heir."

"Nonsense. I have never claimed him as mine. He knows me as his uncle, Belle's friend. I'm his legal guardian, which is the only thing on paper identifying his having any association with me. As far as I'm concerned, Geraldine is my first child. I'd never turn my back on the boy, Scarlett, but there's no guarantee he's mine. I admit the resemblance is uncanny, and that's the only reason I've accepted any responsibility at all."

"You mean he doesn't know who you are?" Scarlett's brow furrowed slightly, she wasn't sure if she liked that idea either. It didn't seem like Rhett to run away from something, but at the same time he had a point. Given Belle's occupation, how could he be sure? "That still doesn't make it right you didn't tell me about him. And you wonder why I worry about you going to see her."

"That's right, Scarlett, every time I go to see her we end up in bed together. Is that what you want to hear? If she weren't a whore I would have married her. She provided me a son where you provided me a daughter so I'm going to run off with her one day. What? What is it you want me to tell you? And why in the hell did you wait until we were fifteen minutes from home to initiate this conversation? We're not going inside until we're done talking about this. I'm not going to have all of Tara know my business."

He got out of the coach, letting Scarlett get down of her own accord since she brushed by him without even looking at his hand. He thought for a minute she was going to go into the house, but was pleased to see her walk around to the back of the house. He followed and met her at the benches by the pond.

"And what is it you expect from me, Rhett? I find out today after knowing you for over five years that you have a son. A child that you had before you even met me mind you. And this is supposed to please me? I suppose if you had your way we'd go upstairs right now after being apart for two weeks and make love. But I'm afraid that's not going to happen today and it will not happen for quite some time. I don't want you to share my bed with me either."

Rhett sighed heavily. "You realize, Scarlett, I have grounds for divorce with that statement. You're not performing your wifely duties and in turn denying me my right to sire heirs."

"Well, see there, you don't have anything to worry about because I'm already breeding for you like a good mare should." She looked at him, her green eyes cold.

"That is not what I said nor have I ever treated you that way, Scarlett. Believe me Scarlett, if I wanted to treat you that way you'd be on our third child already not our second. I didn't marry you to breed with you, though I've never heard you complain too much about the process that gets you in this position."

She stood and instinctively slapped him hard across the face. "How dare you, Rhett Butler. Of all the low down, caddish things for you to say." She turned on her heels and started to walk away. "I will have Manigo put your things in the spare room."

"There you go, Scarlett. Why don't you announce to Suellen and all the rest of Tara that we've had an argument? Why don't you just go right on in there and tell them I have a son and be done with it? If you don't want me to sleep in the same bed as you, so be it. I'll sleep in Geraldine's room and you can just tell everyone I went in there when she woke up during the night and fell asleep or whatever you want to tell them. Why the hell am I thinking of a way around telling your family that you've turned your husband out of your bed?"

He stood and walked to her, taking hold of her arm. "My things will not be moved out of the room and I will continue to get ready for bed as I normally do every night. You don't like it, make yourself scarce. Though there are some aspects of your wifely duties that I will still require, unless you want your sister seeing me without my trousers and shirt on." He smirked slightly. "Such things you think, Mrs. Butler. That's not at all what I was suggesting. I was referring to your capable nursing hands."

She managed to get her arm from his grasp, knowing that she was able to only because he allowed her to. "I wouldn't let Suellen do that anyway, Rhett. She'd probably kill you instead of heal you. I'm going inside now do as you please with your sleeping arrangements. Your parents sent a telegram; they're unable to come for Christmas. Apparently your father has taken ill so it will just be Melanie and Ashley for the day. I think I can pretend for a day that there's nothing wrong."

"Don't bother. If my father is ill, Geraldine and I will leave tomorrow to visit him. And don't argue with me about taking her. I'm taking her and that's all there is to it."

Scarlett opened her mouth to argue, but then a thought occurred to her. Surely if he had Geraldine with him he would be far less likely to give into the temptations that Miss Miller might offer. And while she had no desire to have him touch her right now, she didn't want him running to another woman either. She nodded her head in acceptance. "Very well, she can open her presents when you get home then."

Rhett and Geraldine arrived in Charleston the day before Christmas, Rhett knew his mother sensed there was more to his visit then simply concern about his father's condition. It was just a mild case of influenza she assured him, nothing that he wouldn't recover from after a week or so of bed rest.

Eleanor enjoyed having her granddaughter with her for Christmas and made the most of her being there. The child's curiosity about the gift-wrap and the tree ornaments were so genuine. Even Rhett couldn't help but be amused by her wide-eyed innocence taking in everything for the first time. True, it was her second Christmas, but there was a drastic difference between a child that is four months old and one that is sixteen months old.

Scarlett was somewhat pleased Rhett had chosen to leave; though she missed Geraldine terribly. His father's illness had given him an excuse to leave and in turn given her opportunity to pretend that there was nothing wrong between them. She returned to her room after Ashley, Melanie and Beau had been shown to their rooms and as she brushed out her hair thought back to the prior Christmas. Rhett had given her a lovely gown and tickets to the New Year's ball. This year it appeared as though he had gotten her nothing, though she didn't believe that were true. He probably just didn't give it to her to punish her for turning him out of their bed. She finished getting ready for bed and was about to get in bed when she noticed a box on her pillow. Mammy must have put it there she realized though she noticed that the wrapping style was obviously Rhett's. She opened the box and smiled unknowingly as she opened Rhett's note. He hadn't forgotten.

My dearest Scarlett,

This was to be your Christmas present this year, a trip to New York and Philadelphia. Geraldine and I will be leaving for New York from Charleston once I'm assured my father will be well. You will find enclosed your ticket as well as my itinerary. I do hope you will join us, but understand if you are unable or unwilling to. Either way I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy 1867.

Scarlett replaced the top on the box and set it on the night table by her bed. That was just like him to give her a gift that now that he was gone she had to make the decision whether or not to seek him out. He left for her, regardless of his father's illness had she not gotten upset with him he would not have left and she knew that. She wondered briefly how Roger was; surely Rhett would have sent her a telegram had he been seriously ill. But then again, would he? Would he bother to inform her of anything right now? She doubted it.

Two days after Christmas Scarlett still had not decided what to do. She had gotten more depressed the day after Christmas when Will asked Scarlett when she was meeting Rhett and whether she would be gone for as long as he had planned on being gone.

So Rhett had spoken with Will before leaving she realized. When they had spoken she did not know and she hesitated to ask. Perhaps he had arranged things with Will prior to planning their trip up north. Obviously from his itinerary he was planning on their being gone for quite some time. She decided finally to seek out the advice of a priest. It had been so long since she'd been to confession or even church, and she knew how disappointed her mother would be with her.

Not yet willing to talk about this situation with anyone that she knew she went to a church in Atlanta. She spent what to her seemed like hours with the priest and left feeling no more certain of what she should do than when she had gone there. She shouldn't have wasted her time she realized as she re-boarded the coach. She frowned slightly as she recalled her conversation with the priest.

What had she expected the man to say after all? Of course he was going to tell her that he was her husband and she was bound to him by marriage and that it wasn't her role to question his transgressions. Certainly not something that had happened before they were even married or had known one another.

This depressed her further. Of course she knew what she should do but she didn't know what she wanted to do. She sighed heavily unsure of what she was going to do then before visiting the priest. Having the priest tell her what her duties were made her want to fight what was expected of her.

As if on cue, Scarlett had a feeling of nausea rush over her, reminding her once more of the child she carried. She had no idea what Rhett's plans were, but somehow she didn't picture him remaining at Tara sleeping in the nursery for the rest of his life.

No, she imagined that if she continued on the path she was headed he would leave her. Whether or not he would keep Geraldine with him she didn't know, but now there was another child to think about. Would he leave her knowing there was a second child on the way? She couldn't remember if he had even made a comment about her being pregnant.

She returned to Tara and decided to go for a walk outside despite the chill in the air to clear her head. She didn't want to be around Mammy or anyone else and the house seemed dreadfully quiet without Geraldine - especially today.

She returned to the house after her walk instructing Pork to get the coach prepared to take her into town again and asking Prissy to pack her bags for a couple of nights stay in Atlanta. She arrived in Atlanta late in the evening and decided against bothering Ashley and Melanie and got a room at the Atlanta Hotel.

The following morning she had her message delivered before she could lose her nerve and after breakfast left for the lake outside of town wondering what exactly she was doing. She arrived a few minutes early and waited in the coach until she heard the familiar sounds of an approaching coach. She exited the coach her head held high after a few minutes to make reasonably sure that she was doing the right thing.

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