Katie took a sip of tea burning her mouth as a result of her inattentiveness. She barely noticed, though she set the cup down quickly as a reflex. In the recesses of her mind she heard the mantel clock in Will's living room signal that it was midnight. Where had the time gone? She had been reading for over five hours. She did stop periodically to refresh her tea, but otherwise she had been engrossed in the journal enough to keep her stuck to the chair.
The journal, Katie, had found was more a telling of Ella's mother's life and the effects it had on Ella and her brother Wade. Katie wondered if Ella hadn't written it as an attempt to justify some of Scarlett's behaviors, some were questionable even by today's progressive standards. Katie found it enthralling to read. The people on the pages, Scarlett, Rhett, Ella, Wade, Ashley, Melanie, Beau, Pittypat, Suellen, Carreen and others all distant relatives many generations removed from Katie, seemed as vivid and alive to Katie as her kin that were alive and well today. She knew without a doubt that this journal was just a snapshot of their lives, despite her feelings of familiarity with these people she would never truly know them.
Katie just started reading about Wade and Ella's little sister, Bonnie. Wade and Ella both seemed to get along with their step-father, Rhett. Rhett seemed to treat both Scarlett's children well, Rhett had brought a young Wade Hampton gifts, toys that he loved playing with even before his mother was married to Rhett. Their mother hadn't been attentive to Wade during the War, so Wade had been happy to receive these things. Rhett's gifts not only kept Wade occupied but kept him from thinking and being terribly frightened of the Yankees and what they would do if they caught a little boy.
How terrible for the boy to live in such fear! Katie wondered if those who talked about things being better in the past knew about stories like this. A little boy living in fear that someone would come into his house or yard and take him merely because of where he lived was a tragic thing. Sure, children were abducted for lesser reasons today in Katie's world, but things didn't seem that safe or secure for a young Wade Hampton either. Katie imagined there were more children like him.
It was clear from Ella's writing, despite her being a little girl at the time of some of these events, that the marriage between her mother and step-father was stormy. Katie had come to learn, too, that she had been named for Ella's mother. She hadn't been told her name was a family name. But Ella's mother's name was Katie Scarlett after her Grandmother O'Hara who resided in Ireland. Ella's descriptions led Katie to believe that she resembled Scarlett too. From her chestnut hair to her green eyes that many had said were the color of emeralds and her petite but womanly figure she sounded eerily like this woman on these pages.
For some reason as Katie read this journal she felt a kinship to Scarlett and wondered if this was why. Katie had even married an Irishman, Ryan Patrick O'Casey. Katie knew she was descendant from a well to do French family, it seemed those who had researched her family tree had focused on the Robillard and Kennedy side of her family rather than the O'Hara side. Maybe some were ashamed of Scarlett and her Irishman father, Katie didn't think they had any reason to be ashamed. She was only human after all, doing what she could to survive and to protect her children from starving.
Katie began reading about Wade's suspicions that their mother was drinking too much brandy. He believed this was the reason their mother didn't do much with them, slept late in the mornings and didn't look so well when she emerged from her bedroom. Katie felt like a voyeur to the scenes playing out and wondered if maybe she shouldn't be reading this after all.
Did she really want to know about Scarlett's drinking? To know that Wade believed Rhett had a mistress? A woman whom Wade had reason to meet when he accompanied Rhett on business to the bank. Katie wasn't sure, but no matter the guilt she felt about reading about these people's private lives she was too engrossed to stop.
Scarlett had obviously been a strong person and had survived despite the odds that she shouldn't have. Ella made a point of praising Scarlett's strengths at great length and skimmed over the negatives, such as her drinking and using convicts as labor for a lumber mill she owned. But the negatives were there as plain as day, and some of them were more personal to Ella than they would have been to anyone else. Some were things that only Ella or Wade could have known about living under the same roof as she did. Katie doubted many knew that Scarlett drank, as Ella made it sound like her mother tried to hide it even from Rhett.
Katie laughed out loud at the revelation of the lumber mill workers. Imagine, a woman at that time owning such a dirty business, she wondered how Scarlett managed to do it and stay neat and tidy. Ella had emphasized in her writing that her mother was rarely seen outside of her bedroom looking anything but impeccably groomed.
As she read about Bonnie, Katie grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes wondering if Ella had any planned on anyone reading this journal. She went into great length of her jealousy of Bonnie because her mother and Rhett doted on her so much, almost as if Wade and Ella hadn't been wanted and Bonnie had been. Ella knew her mother wasn't fond of children, everyone knew that, which to Ella made it worse that she openly loved Bonnie so much.
Not knowing her father Ella had to wonder if her mother's dislike for Wade Hampton and herself was because both children looked like their fathers. Ella learned eventually that Scarlett hadn't loved either man. She learned, too, the circumstances as to how she had come by her first two husbands and wrote about it, too.
Ella wrote quite a bit about Ashley Wilkes, who Ella, Wade and Bonnie all had called Uncle Ashley. It seemed that Ashley marrying his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, who happened to be Charles Hamilton's sister, led to Scarlett marrying Charles, Wade's father. Ella blamed Ashley for quite a bit of the problems between Rhett and Scarlett as well as Scarlett's waywardness and feeling of incompleteness in her life for so many years.
The writings about Scarlett's marriage to Frank Kennedy, Ella's father, were interesting to Katie. Apparently, Frank was Scarlett's sister, Suellen's, beau, but Scarlett deceived him into marriage to keep from losing Tara after asking Rhett for a loan had failed. While Charles' death had been sudden and he had not seen active duty, he had died of illness before he could get to the front lines, but he had died a military man nonetheless. Wives, mothers and girl friends know when their man goes to fight a war he might not come back.
Frank's death on the other hand, seemed rather senseless and Katie had to agree with Ella on this point. Scarlett had not pulled the trigger of the gun that had shot Frank through the head, but had she not been so flamboyant about her trips to and from the lumber mill she might not have been attacked and Frank might not have died that night. It was clear Frank and Scarlett were not suited for one another and that their marriage was cordial at best. At least if Scarlett curbed some of her actions Ella would have known her father instead of being a six month old infant who had no recollection of the man whose hair color she had inherited.
Katie had been to the Tara Ella spoke of, the plantation Scarlett had married a man she neither loved nor liked in her efforts to save it. The plantation, though smaller now, was still in the family, Will was next in line to take over the upkeep of it whenever Will's father passed it down or passed into the afterlife.
Apparently there had been some difficulty surrounding this as Suellen O'Hara had resided at Tara while Scarlett lived in Atlanta with Frank and then Rhett. Suellen had married a man and borne him a son, a Gerald Benteen after Scarlett's father, and expected that Tara would go to him. Somehow it had ended up as Wade's though. Katie wasn't that far into the journal to know how Wade came to have rights to the property. She was glad that it was still in her family, Scarlett's family, and not someone's family who hadn't been raised on the property from its beginning. Tara was Hamilton property now, not O'Hara, but it still had O'Hara blood, sweat and tears on its red soil just as the Hamilton and Kennedy kin had O'Hara blood coursing through them.
Will's grandfather had gone through a lot of time, energy and spent money to restore Tara to the way it had looked before the War. One had only to look at a portrait of Tara from eighteen hundred sixty and the structure today and they would believe they were looking at a painting of the home from today rather than one hundred forty years ago. Katie had always loved Tara, though she hadn't been there in quite some time. It was modernized now, of course, but there were still some things left from its original time.
Reading of the hardships Scarlett and others went through to keep Tara running and from falling into the hands of the Yankees made Katie proud of her ancestors. All of them. She was after all related to Scarlett's sisters, too, and their families. For some reason, though, the Hamilton and Kennedy kin kept in touch better than the Benteen kin. It was obvious from Ella's writing that there was no love lost between Scarlett and Suellen. Carreen had become a nun, never married and therefore had no children, but there were still plenty of the Benteen kin around. Katie saw them, about once every five years they'd all gather at Tara for a big reunion. Those were always fun, especially when the cousins brought a new child to the party, yet another generation brought into the close knit group of being a product of that land that had been fought so hard over to keep.
Katie sipped her tea, more cautiously this time, as she heard the mantel clock chime one. The hours were flying by. She couldn't believe Bonnie had received her own pony. No wonder Ella had been jealous; Katie would have been, too. It did seem that young Bonnie had been quite spoiled, whether that was necessarily Scarlett's fault Katie didn't know. She suspected by some of the things Ella wrote that it had been Rhett in favor of spoiling the child more than Scarlett. Regardless, Rhett should have thought about his step-children and the things they would see and how they would interpret those things.
The feelings of empathy for Ella passed as Katie read about Bonnie's death. No wonder she didn't know anything about this distant aunt of hers, she had died before turning five. She read through the details, the memories Ella wrote. How painful it must have been to as an adult not just recall but write down such frightening feelings. She had been a seven year old girl and watched as her parents, and Ella and Wade both considered Rhett their father more than they did their step-father neither having any recollection of their real fathers, fought and said horrible things to one another.
Ella thought Rhett had died too because he wouldn't come out of Bonnie's room for days. Ella was supposed to be in bed, but hid and remembered being relieved at seeing her Aunt Melanie come. Finally, the arguing and morbid feeling in the house would cease, Ella despite her young age knew that Melanie Wilkes would fix everything. Ella had been relieved to see Rhett alive and her little sister finally laid to rest.
As if things couldn't get worse about two months later Wade and Ella's Aunt Melanie died. Ella hadn't understood until she was an adult that Melanie had died due to complications from pregnancy, a pregnancy that she should not have been going through to begin with. So Ashley Wilkes was left without a wife and Beau was left without a mother. No longer could Ella seek the hugs and kisses that Melanie bestowed upon her without question. There were times Ella wondered if Melanie wouldn't have preferred a daughter to Beau and maybe that was why she had risked another pregnancy. She certainly had doted on Ella.
Ella and Wade's world tumbled down that night as their step-father who despite his favoritism to Bonnie had been placed on some sort of pedestal left by the brother and sister. Wade heard the entire exchange between their mother and step-father and relayed it later to Ella when their mother claimed that Rhett had gone on a trip. Wade didn't want Ella to falsely believe their step-father would come back any time soon.
Wade heard Scarlett plead and insist with Rhett that she had never loved Ashley and that she must have loved Rhett all along but had been too selfish and blind to see it. Wade heard Rhett say more hateful things to Scarlett and for once Wade had felt sympathy for his mother. Something he didn't quite understand, but Ella did when she set about writing the journal. Rhett believed that with Melanie's asking Scarlett to take care of Ashley and Beau it was only a matter of time, with Melanie's permission, that Scarlett would want to take Melanie's place as Mrs. Ashley Wilkes. Rhett knew that Scarlett, if she wanted to, could twist Melanie's dying wish into meaning just about anything and convince Ashley in his heartbroken state that Scarlett was telling the truth.
Little more in the journal was said about Rhett. Scarlett, however, remained at their home in Atlanta until Ella married her husband, Paul, when she was eighteen. Wade was already married by this time to his wife, Colleen. Once Ella was married, she returned to Tara where she lived out her life. She and Rhett remained married, but as far as Ella knew the marriage was in name only from that horrible and sad night forward. She imagined by that point so much had been said and done it was just beyond repair.
Ella believed, as did Katie based on what she'd read, that the two never could initiate a final ending to their lives together. They had been a significant part of one another's lives for so long, even before they had been married, that getting a divorce would have been like cutting a piece of themselves away. This combined with the fact that divorce was still frowned upon by the church Ella believed led to a divorce not being sought. Scarlett wasn't overly religious but Carreen was a nun and Wade, Ella and Beau did turn to the church for comfort during the difficult events that transpired in eighteen hundred seventy-three. Ella also didn't believe, when all was said and done, that Rhett would do anything to disgrace Scarlett. Ella believed that Rhett waited for Scarlett to initiate the proceedings, wanting to know just when it was he could expect Scarlett to add a fifth last name to her long line of them.
The two were never seen together, aside from the weddings of Wade, Ella and Beau. They had sat together as was expected of husband and wife and Rhett had given Ella away and ensured that her trousseau had been provided for. Scarlett paid for the actual wedding herself. Ella thought despite their working together for her wedding that a resolution to their problems was as distant years later as it had been that fateful night when she was seven and Rhett left claiming he didn't give a damn.
Ella wrote as an aside on Rhett, and her last mention of her step-father in the journal, that she believed quite the contrary was true. She believed that despite those last bitter and hurtful words to Scarlett he had cared, cared too much and that was why he had left. Why he had never returned once it became obvious she had no intentions on seeking out Ashley in any capacity other than that as friend, sister in-law by marriage and aunt to Beau, and to fulfill her promise to a dying Melanie by looking after Ashley and Beau Ella didn't know. Rhett obviously just didn't want to see what others saw. And others saw a melancholy Scarlett who just wasn't the same as before, Bonnie and Melanie's death had taken a lot out of her, but she missed Rhett and it had been obvious to everyone old enough to realize what was wrong with her.
Unfortunately, the journal ended after the birth of Ella's third child in eighteen hundred ninety when she was twenty-four. So Katie had no idea if Rhett and Scarlett did resolve their problems and come to some sort of way to live out their lives together. From everything Ella had written about the pair, things that Melanie, Pittypat and others had relayed to Ella about the two they belonged together. Most believed that despite Scarlett's faults, or those things others viewed as faults, Scarlett in Rhett had finally found that soul mate everyone wants to find. Ashley and Melanie Wilkes had found it, but their life together had tragically been cut short. Rhett and Scarlett's had ended abruptly amidst a few months of tragedy and turmoil, but they both lived and had a chance of putting the pieces back together again.
Katie had to believe that eventually, if they were truly soul mates, two parts to a puzzle that fit together perfectly that they would come to resolve their problems. By the end of the journal, Scarlett was forty-five and Rhett was sixty-two. Hopefully, Katie could only hope that the man who loved the sea, to travel, and to do things that others wouldn't do would ultimately want to live out his life with the woman he had loved for almost thirty years. And Katie after reading Ella's heartfelt writing believed that Rhett had loved Scarlett all along, just as she had him.
Done with the journal, Katie set it on the glass coffee tabletop and sat back in the chair. She held the teacup in both hands, the bottom of the cup cradled in her palm. She wondered if anyone knew what had happened to Rhett and Scarlett. She wondered if there were more journals with Will's grandfather's things that might answer that question and other questions that Katie had after reading about the lives of her relatives. What had happened that Ella stopped writing? Katie knew that Ella hadn't died until after World War II, so it wasn't due to her death.
She finished the last of the tea and walked to the kitchen to rinse the cup out and tidy up for the night. It was almost three o'clock in the morning and Katie now felt the exhaustion one feels when they've been on an emotional rollercoaster that has finally stopped after doing several loopy de loops. Turning off the lights before making her way upstairs to her room for the next month, Katie decided tomorrow she would call Will's grandpa and find out what he knew about the journal and Rhett and Scarlett and all of the rest.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com