Rhett knew eventually they would get around to talking about the matter at hand, but for the first month after Scarlett's arrival in Philadelphia, she seemed content to be shown around. He took her to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin's house, Gettysburg, and some shops that he thought she'd be interested in. He included four nights in New York as well, knowing Scarlett would enjoy the shops and theater New York offered. Things were strained but they both did a suitable job in attempting to act normally. It was obvious neither wanted to bring up the subject of Rhett's son, though both knew it was on the other's mind.
It was mid-April when they decided to leave for Atlanta, their luggage being brought to the train station while the two of them ate breakfast alone. Scarlett had shown the desire to have Geraldine home at Tara for Easter, being away from Tara on holidays was hard on Scarlett and it was important to her that her daughter enjoy as many there as she could.
Scarlett was the first to bring up the subject on the train ride home. She hadn't wanted to bring it up because Rhett had been trying so hard to show her a good time. She had never been so far north before and she had to admit that Rhett was a wonderful escort. It seemed like everywhere they went they ran into someone Rhett knew through business or otherwise. She sat in their cabin; Prissy and Geraldine were in the dining car when she broached the subject. "I guess now that the vacation is over and we're returning to Atlanta we should discuss what you're going to do about your son."
"Yes, I figured we'd get to that eventually. I was sort of waiting for you to address it. I knew when you were ready to you would and there was no sense in my bringing it up until then, Scarlett."
"I suppose you're right. And I have no idea what to tell you or what you want me to say. He's your son. And while I certainly don't approve of the fact he's here, he is. It's not fair to him to portray yourself as his uncle, though I do understand why you did it. Had he seen you with Belle over the years he would have believed one day you'd end up together if he knew you were his father. But you're married now, to me, with a daughter of our own and he's certainly old enough to understand now that you and she won't end up together."
"And what do you propose I do, Scarlett? Tell him the truth. Just like that I go from being his uncle to his father."
"Well, he seemed like a well behaved enough child the couple of times I saw him." Scarlett bit her lip and turned her attentions to the passing scenery out the tiny window. "Maybe you could bring him to Tara for a few days, let him get used to me and to Geraldine. I'll bet he's never ridden a pony and we should get Geraldine one anyway. Pretty soon she'll be old enough to ride on her own."
Rhett tried to hide his surprise. "And you would do that, Scarlett? Allow my son into your home?"
She inhaled sharply twisting the handkerchief she held in her hands. "I don't know, Rhett. You can't hide him forever and if you don't tell him now and he finds out some other way he'll end up hating you. And as much as the prospect of that may undeniably appeal to me I know it would crush you. I know you love Geraldine, but he's your son. Something we don't know as of yet whether or not I can give you."
"No, Scarlett. I mean of course he's my son, but there's a hell of a difference between Robert and the children you and I have together."
"Why do you say that, Rhett? A child is a child. And if you claim him," she paused unable to continue. She didn't like thinking about Tara going to anyone but Geraldine.
Rhett removed his hands from his pockets and stood placing his hand at her cheek so she had to look at him. "Because Belle was nothing to me, Scarlett. She's my friend who I happen to share something deeper with, but it's nothing else. I would never tell Robert that he was an accident, but that is what he was. And he's changed Belle for the better; she finally has something that's hers. Something besides her bar to live for and perhaps you don't understand how lonely it can be having nothing to live for because you always have. But I do know what it's like and it leaves you very empty and after a while you stop caring because there's little point."
Scarlett pulled away from him unable to look at him. "No, you're right. I've never experienced that sort of thing. I always had Mother, Pa or Tara to lean on." She looked at him finally, "and you. I try sometimes to remember life before you were in it, Rhett, and I can't. It just hurts to know that he was alive when you first met me and yet through it all, everything we've been through together you felt unable to tell me about him. I trusted you with my life, Rhett, on more than one occasion."
"Telling you about my illegitimate son is a little more than trusting you with my life, Scarlett. If you recall when I first met you you weren't exactly kind to me. The thought of giving you one more reason to dislike me wasn't overly pleasing. And, well, I don't think your mother would have allowed me to set foot on the grounds of Tara. And that wasn't acceptable to me."
She rolled her eyes. "It still doesn't explain why you haven't told me at some point over the past six years. Surely at some point you realized I wasn't about to tell you to leave."
He raised a brow. "No, Scarlett, I never realized that. I've always gotten the impression that you were looking for any excuse you could think of to tell me to leave." He took a cigarette out of its case and lit it after replacing the case in his jacket pocket.
"Surely you don't believe that, Rhett. Of course there were times I wanted to tell you to go to the devil, but I never did. And we've been married for almost three years now, certainly that counts for something. You could have told me then and I would have had little to say about it."
Rhett stared out the window at the passing scenery. "Yes and just when was I supposed to have this heart to heart with you, my dear? When I came home to find you quite pregnant with my child? In between tilling the soil, planting the cotton and corn or harvesting the crops? After our daughter was born?" He exhaled sharply, bringing the cigarette down to waist level as he turned from the window to look at her.
"There's been no time, Scarlett. I had hoped that we could take this trip and spend some time together, get to know one another as a husband and wife should without war and ten other mouths to feed. I can't promise you that I would have told you on this trip, but if you think about it, Scarlett." He turned his back to her once more. "I know a lot more about you and your secrets than you do of me and mine."
"Yes, and that's how it's supposed to be, isn't it? Always convenient for the man. You could have a dozen mistresses and I'm supposed to just grin and bear it and pretend I cherish the ground you walk on. And give you a dozen children on top of it."
"That is the way of things, Scarlett. Not that I've ever claimed I expected a dozen children nor do I have the time or the energy to keep one mistress let alone a dozen. You like that number," he said with a slight smirk. "Or are you supposed to give me one child for every mistress. It's supposed to be the other way around. You're supposed to give me the boy I need and the mistresses are supposed to have the rest of them."
She frowned slightly trying to figure out what exactly he was trying to tell her. In Rhett's riddles always laid the truth, Scarlett knew this. Was he telling her that he had no mistress? "And if I can't have a boy, we keep trying until when you grew tired of me because I'm big as a house and can't fit into my dresses any longer?"
Rhett laughed heartily as he crushed his cigarette in the ashtray. "My dear, you couldn't get as big as a house if you tried. And I don't know how many times you need me to tell you I don't care if Geraldine and the child you're now carrying are the only two we have. If this one is a girl as well and you don't want anymore well then I'll settle for two beautiful and charming daughters."
"We're getting off the subject," Scarlett said bitterly. She didn't like talking about pregnancy with him. "This boy you've fathered is not our child. What are we, what are you, going to do about him?"
"Whatever I can that will cause you to be hurt less," he said simply. "I'm not sure what course of action that might be. If I acknowledge him, you're going to look like a fool. Unless you act as though you've known all along and that I waited only until Tara was able to stand on its own before doing anything about him."
"Why do we have to tell anyone anything, Rhett?" She felt tears begin to form in her eyes and fought them back. "No one at Tara is going to say anything. My parents aren't here to judge you. Suellen would probably have some sassy thing to say, but Carreen is too good to judge you based on that. So what if the people of Atlanta see you with him. Haven't they seen you with him before?"
"No, Scarlett, I've avoided being seen with him in public for the obvious reason that he looks quite like me."
Scarlett sat on the edge of their bed unable to stop the tears any longer. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you did this on purpose, Rhett Butler."
Rhett knelt before her taking her hands in his and resting them in her lap. "Scarlett, my pet, that's so far from the truth. If I could go back eight years knowing that I would end up married to you I might do things differently. But I doubt it. Robert is here for a reason, I'm not an overly religious man but I believe that he is."
Scarlett swiped at the tears as she listened to Rhett. He was right, of course. She didn't even want to know exactly how many women other than Belle there had been. She didn't even know exactly how old Rhett was, but she imagined him to be close to forty and for Robert to be the only child he had did indicate that perhaps it was some working of God. A thought occurred to Scarlett and she glanced at him. "If Belle hadn't had him. I mean, if Robert weren't here you wouldn't have had reason to be in Atlanta during the war would you have?"
Rhett saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel of darkness he found himself in for the past few minutes. She was approaching this rationally and he thanked God that he had married this woman. He nodded, "that's more than probably an accurate statement, Scarlett. While I enjoyed Atlanta and Belle's company, there were plenty of other things I could have done with my time during the war than spend time there."
She stood and went to the washbasin, splashing water on her face. "Okay, we've talked about this enough for the day. It's apparent you shouldn't disown the child and it's equally apparent you can't go on as you have been as his uncle. So now I guess we just need to figure out how to make the transition from uncle to father." She felt the baby inside her kick suddenly and she let out a slight gasp. This was much earlier than with Geraldine, she hoped that wasn't a bad sign. She saw the concerned look on Rhett's face and reassured him. "It's just the baby, he's kicking me."
Rhett stood and walked the few feet to her, placing his hand on her belly. He looked at her closely as he waited hoping to feel a kick himself. Feeling nothing, he pulled away somewhat disappointed. "I missed these things when you were pregnant with Geraldine. I look forward to experiencing them with you this time." He wrapped his arms around her. "You're referring to it as a boy. I hope you're not disappointed, my dear."
Scarlett smiled up at him, the baby's movements within her feeling like butterflies fluttering against her insides. "I want to give you a boy, Rhett. You know my mother wasn't able to give Pa one and I worry so that I won't be able to either."
"Nonsense. Besides, if you give me a boy," he said as he nuzzled against her neck affectionately, "that means I'll have to take up with a mistress or two." He chuckled lightly as he felt her swat at him, which caused him to bite her neck unintentionally.
"Mistress my foot, Rhett Butler. You say you don't have the energy now, how much more energy do you think you will have with two children under foot."
"Scarlett," he said as his lips closed around her earlobe. "You are my mistress, don't you understand that."
Scarlett tried to pull back, her hands on his shoulders trying to put distance between them. What in heaven's name was he talking about? "What?"
Rhett groaned lightly, clearly not interested in explaining this to her but realizing she wouldn't let him continue with what was on his mind if he didn't. "Scarlett, the point of a mistress is that she offers something to the man that the wife doesn't offer. Typically, it's sexual but many times it's not. Believe it or not my relationship with Belle was not purely physical. Sometimes it was nice to have dinner with someone who I could carry a conversation with. Someone I knew accepted me as I was, made no demands of me." He brushed her cheek lightly with the back of his hand. "You, Scarlett, offer me pretty much everything I could ask for. You're warm and welcoming to me in our bed, you listen to me when I need to talk, you stitch me when I need mending, you're fiery and feisty to me at times when it's required, yet I know that you would do nothing to dishonor me."
"No, I couldn't do that, Rhett. No matter how mad at you I might get." She looked up at him, her green eyes twinkling with mischief. "Besides you know far too much about me for me to chance upsetting you."
Rhett laughed heartily. "Indeed, Mrs. Butler. For a price I shall keep your secrets."
"I'm not sure I'll be able to pay your price, Mr. Butler. I've heard you put a high price on things."
"Only on those things that deserve it." He started unfastening the buttons on her dress.
"And I deserve it?" Her breath caught briefly as she spoke. How he still made her feel like this she had no idea. Even knowing she was really too far along in her pregnancy for them to be doing anything she found herself responding to him.
"I'd say so, yes. Of course I may be a little biased in my assessment," he said softly. He brushed aside the arms of her dress, exposing her bare shoulders for him to touch.
"Rhett," she said softly. "The baby." Even as she said it, she shifted under his touch allowing the dress to drop to her feet. She knew Rhett would never hurt her.
"The baby will be fine, Scarlett." He lifted her chemise over her head letting it drop to her side. "You do trust me, Scarlett?"
She nodded, "yes of course I do, Rhett. Even if I thought you might hurt me, I know you'd never do anything to hurt a child - born or unborn."
Scarlett lay in Rhett's arms laughing lightly at how much room she took on the small bed they shared. How different things were with her this time around being pregnant. When she was pregnant with Geraldine she was ashamed of how she looked, the changes her body had gone through, afraid that Rhett would come home and suddenly no longer find her desirable. But he had proved her so wrong in her fears that this time she thought nothing of remaining in bed with him with no clothes on. If there was any doubt in her mind about Rhett becoming disinterested in her he always seemed to prove her wrong. "I think I'd like to hire a wet nurse this time, Rhett."
Rhett ran his fingers through her hair lightly caressing her scalp. He was surprised she was still awake, her breathing had slowed to the point he thought she had fallen asleep. He pulled the blanket around them when she spoke. "Well, that's certainly your option. I know when you had Geraldine you didn't because you were worried about money. But you don't need to worry about that anymore, so if you'd like to have a wet nurse by all means."
"Well, I like the idea of not being stuck at home all the time. And to be able to sleep during the night."
"Wet nurse or no wet nurse you'll still wake up when the baby wakes up at night, Scarlett. You were worse than I was with Geraldine fretting at the slightest noise she made."
"Well, it was much different when it was Beau," she said softly clearly drifting off to sleep. "I mean I never realized I could worry so much about another living thing. But I did worry about her, she was so quiet sometimes." She smiled slightly. "Like the time I hadn't heard her make a sound for what seemed like hours, I grew so worried. I should have known she was fine, of course. But I didn't rest easy until I checked anyway. And there she was laying in her crib with her hand clutching her little toes." Scarlett turned to look at Rhett. "You know I stood there in the doorway for what seemed like an hour watching her. I imagine we were all like that as babies, curious enough to be fascinated at the discovery of our toes. But to watch it happen was amazing. And now look at her, she'll be two soon and you couldn't get her to lie still and grip her toes if you promised her a lollipop."
"How true," he said amused. How he would have loved to tease her about her sentimental statement. It was so uncharacteristic of her to talk like that. But he knew if he did she would refrain from saying such things in the future. It pleased him to hear her talk that way about their daughter. Rhett had been captivated with the girl since the day she was born, but Rhett had sensed that Scarlett tried to keep her distance from her for some reason. But he was pleased to know she took some pleasure in the little things.
Scarlett woke to Rhett shaking her gently. "Scarlett, we're almost to Atlanta. I'd suggest you get yourself dressed and make yourself presentable." He secured his shirt cuffs as he spoke. "You can spend the rest of the day in bed at Tara once we get there."
"I don't need to rest any more, Rhett. It's not my fault you wore me out." She narrowed her eyes to look at him as she sat up in bed pulling the blanket around her. "You did that on purpose, didn't you? We never did finish talking about Robert."
Rhett looked in the mirror the small cabin provided over the washbasin and secured his tie with a stickpin before answering her. "Well, I think I like your idea of bringing him to Tara for a day or two. Let him get used to you and Geraldine before we, pardon me before I spring such news on him. If he likes you before he knows I'm his father he may be apt to continue liking you. Whereas if I told him before he got to know you he may resent you."
Scarlett waited until Rhett had finished and stepped into her gown, allowing him to button her up. "That sounds logical, Rhett. Do you think Belle will mind?"
"She'd better not. I've never said no to anything she's requested of me regarding Robert, she'd do well to remember that if she tried to stop me from seeing him."
Scarlett glanced up at him, sensing his mood and grateful that she wasn't on the receiving end of his determination this time. "But you're not just seeing him, Rhett. You're going to be claiming him."
"But she won't know that. I won't tell her that until I'm ready to tell him, if that time ever comes." He turned her away from him, his arms inching across her waist to rest on her pregnant stomach. "What will you tell the people at Tara?"
"As little as they need to know. I don't want to outright lie to them, but I don't think they need to know the truth either. Didn't you once tell me you had a ward? Perhaps you could introduce him that way. It's not really a lie, just a partial truth."
"Are we going to get through this, Scarlett?" He sighed, rubbing his cheek lightly against her hair. "Or will this be too much for you to bear when it gets down to it. As much as I hate to put voice to the words, if you wish to divorce me I'd understand."
Scarlett twisted in his arms. "How dare you speak of such a thing after just having made love to me, Rhett. I have no desire to divorce you. Have you forgotten my condition? I'm not about to leave our children fatherless." She glared at him. "Because something tells me that if I were to divorce you I wouldn't see you again."
"I'm just trying to give you a way out should you decide you need one. I wouldn't contest it if you did decide to pursue it and I would never leave our children without a father."
"Of course you wouldn't, I know that. But you'd send your mother or a nanny to come fetch them rather then come face me yourself. I know you too well to know that you'd set foot on Tara again if we weren't married."
He laughed lightly, though he had to admit she was right. Two years ago he would have rushed to disagree with her, but now his blood and sweat was intermixed with her father's and the other workers that had fought and slaved over Tara and her soil. It would be difficult for him to see it again as a visitor. To look up the staircase knowing he had no right to carry Scarlett up it. "All right, I won't speak of it again. And please don't take that as an indication I want a divorce. I'm just trying to keep you happy."
"I'll be much happier should you get the notion of divorce out of your head. I married you for better or for worse, Rhett Butler, until death do us part. Or don't you remember those words? And while my word may mean little in the grand scheme of things, I don't take my promises to God very lightly."
He tightened his embrace. "I know, Scarlett. Besides, I think if it came down to it I'd fight you. I want to be a divorced man even less than I wanted to be a married one." He kissed her lightly, holding her steady with one arm as he grabbed onto the strap to keep them secure as the train came to a stop. "Well, we are home, my dear."
"And so we are. I have a feeling Suellen is going to be surprised and eating crow when she sees me walk through the door of Tara with you. She seemed to know you'd left and I think she was enjoying the thought."
"For her sake I shall play the role of loving husband so that you can gloat." He opened the door to their cabin and walked along the passageway to the exit. He paid the porter to take care of their bags and once Prissy and Geraldine were found they started on their way back to Tara. Rhett was exhausted as the coach began its journey. It had been a very long five months. Had he known that things would have ended as they were he might have never left. But he needed to know that she would come for him, somehow he knew that it was an important aspect of their relationship that had been missing even before their marriage. He sat in the coach, feeling her knee pressing against his and squeezed her hand lightly watching out the window as the horse led coach made its way through the muddy streets of Clayton County to Tara.
He wasn't sure quite what he had expected; surely he knew that between Will and Big Sam Tara would be tended to very well. But he had to admit it was a little disheartening to think that despite all of his hard work over the past couple of years Tara didn't need him.
Like Scarlett, Tara would thrive in his absence. Of this he was certain. He watched as she made her way up the stairs, her condition more than obvious now at about six months along. He went into the office to find a bottle of whiskey and pour himself a drink.
It was good to be home, he thought quietly, grateful that Will didn't make any effort to join him in the office.
He looked around him at the small office where Gerald O'Hara, the former master of Tara, had sat for years tending to the books. Was it possible that he had spent his life running away only to find himself returning to the one thing he thought he hated most - tradition and family? He felt at peace here and despite his love for New York and Philadelphia and the cities overseas that offered so much more than Tara and Atlanta offered he found himself feeling oddly content. He just hoped that contentment remained intact when he started bringing Robert around.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com