He wasn't going to show up. Scarlett glanced at the face on the grandfather clock in the library and knew as the minutes crept closer to two o'clock that Rhett was going to stand her up. It had all been some sort of cruel practical joke on his part just to get her to say yes. She toyed with the hem of her skirt frustrated. That made no sense. He would have taken her to bed if he had been joking with her. Never had she been so surprised in her life than that night, a night when she would have willingly given herself to Rhett Butler. She would never have considered becoming his mistress but she certainly would not have lain with him with the expectation of marriage.
But none of that changed the fact that here she was, with a priest out in the parlor ready to marry them with no evidence of the groom. She hadn't heard from him since she left New York a little more than a month ago. She received a letter from his attorney with some papers for her to look over and sign. It read like a business contract and Scarlett had replied to the attorney that she'd sign such papers over her dead body before talking them over with Rhett first. There was a call for the bearing of children in there, and she'd be damned if she'd give him more than one if the first one was a boy. Maybe she shouldn't have been so hasty in her reply to the attorney. Perhaps that's why Rhett wasn't here. But this wasn't a business contract, it was a marriage and Scarlett wasn't going to sign her name to anything beyond that which was required for the marriage certificate. She'd thrash him herself if she ever laid eyes on him again. No, better yet, she'd do to him just what she had done to that Yankee soldier. Only this time she'd enjoy it!
Suellen hadn't talked to her upon returning from New York with news that there would be a wedding at Tara in a month's time. Scarlett couldn't help it that she was going on her third husband and Suellen hadn't one of her own yet. The new foreman at Tara Scarlett had hired to stay on with them seemed to have had an interest in Carreen. Maybe with Carreen's being gone that interest would transfer itself to Suellen. He certainly wasn't Scarlett's type. Not that Frank Kennedy had been either, but he at least had all of his body parts. And he hadn't been a cracker.
All these thoughts running through her head made Scarlett unaware of the fact Mammy had come into the library. Her words sunk in quickly enough, though. Rhett had come. He was here and Pork was waiting to give her away. There was no one else for Scarlett to choose from, aside from Ashley. Scarlett couldn't bring herself to ask Ashley to give her away. That would mean that she considered him family, in a blood relation way, and that was the last thing she wanted Ashley to think she believed. She had dreamt far too long about her father walking her down the aisle to Ashley for her to let the man she loved walk her down the aisle to her future husband. A future husband that wasn't him.
Scarlett glanced once more at her reflection. She had worn her mother's wedding gown for her first wedding and had worn a simple and cheap dress for her second wedding. She could still fit into her mother's wedding gown, but decided that was inappropriate given this was her third wedding. She had decided on a long sleeved, satin ivory gown. The neckline was high with some sheer lace over her chest. It wasn't revealing, but Scarlett was happy with it. She hoped Rhett would be too. She imagined deciding on his attire for the day wasn't as difficult for him as it had been for her. She imagined, too, that he would look handsome as he always did.
She came out of the library and took Pork's arm. She was more nervous than she cared to admit, but outwardly nothing in her actions or demeanor reflected that nervousness. She offered Mammy a smile, grateful the woman had kept her opinion to herself. Scarlett knew full well Mammy didn't care for Rhett, but she didn't want to stay here on Tara living the miserable life of a widow for the rest of her life. If her mother and father couldn't be here, having both Pork and Mammy here was at least something. Both had been a part of Tara even longer than Scarlett had.
The ceremony was over before Scarlett knew it. Rhett had asked Ashley and Melanie to join them for dinner at the hotel in Atlanta they'd be staying at, but otherwise there would be no wedding celebration. It was more than she had after marrying Frank, so she wasn't going to complain. Scarlett had hoped Ashley would say no, but of course Ashley was too polite to turn Rhett down. And Melanie was even worse. She stood there with wide doe eyes, staring at Scarlett as if she'd been thrown from a horse or something strange. The woman thought Scarlett loved Rhett, and this just made Scarlett once again realize what a fool Melly was.
Scarlett was grateful when they were alone in their coach headed for Atlanta. She was more than ready for a confrontation with Rhett about those papers he had expected her to obediently sign. An afternoon of being overly polite and pretending that she was in love with this man who was now her husband left her in a foul mood.
"I'm surprised you came," she said bitingly not bothering to hide her annoyance. But in with her annoyance there was something else laced in with her tone, though Scarlett didn't realize it. Fear.
"I almost didn't to be perfectly frank, but I realized it's not every day I ask a woman to marry me. So I decided it was best I not break such a commitment. Lord knows you'd hold it against me for the rest of my life. And that just wasn't acceptable to me."
"Why wouldn't you have come? Because I refused to sign those awful papers?"
"That was part of it, but not really. I didn't expect you to sign them." And he hadn't. It was in part a test to see just why she was marrying him. In addition to the few stipulations he had had his attorney draw up, there were also stipulations for financial allowances for Scarlett. He was curious to know if she was willing to basically prostitute herself for money in exchange for giving him children. She hadn't and had passed his test very well. He knew she'd be madder than hell at him, but he also knew he'd have plenty of time to smooth her ruffled feathers.
"Then why did you even have them drawn up. I've never been so humiliated in my life. It's difficult to pretend I'm in love with you when you go to such great lengths to point out to everyone that love isn't a factor at all."
"I don't want you to pretend a damned thing, Scarlett. I never asked you to pretend you love me, hate me, or any other such thing. People will think what they want about us regardless of how we act. So why bother trying to please them?"
"Maybe I want them to believe that this time I married for the right reasons."
"And you didn't the first two times, Mrs. Butler?" He chuckled lightly, pushing back the coach window's curtain briefly to look outside at the passing scenery.
"You know damned well I didn't, Rhett. And stop with the Mrs. Butler. It makes me think you're talking to or about your mother."
"Yes, it sounds a little strange and foreign coming from my tongue too, I admit. You don't like it? You'd rather be Mrs. Hamilton-Kennedy again?"
Scarlett clenched her teeth together, trying to hold back her annoyance. "You know that's not it at all."
"Do I?" He glanced sharply at her. "The Kennedy part, yes I can be fairly certain you don't care whether you have that name. But now the Hamilton part is entirely different."
"Different how, Rhett?"
"Different in that it gives you a connection to Ashley Wilkes."
"Only by way of his kin."
"Ah yes, and you wouldn't want to be kin to him now would you," he asked though it was clear the question was rhetorical and he wasn't expecting an answer. He already knew the answer to that. "That would make it awful difficult for the ending with him you fantasize about."
Scarlett visibly paled at his statement. He had hit too close to home with that and it bothered her to no end that he saw her, knew her so clearly. "You don't know about my fantasies, Rhett Butler. So don't flatter yourself into thinking you know anything about what I think about Ashley."
"You're right, I wouldn't know anything about a grown woman holding onto a school girl crush on a man who couldn't make her happy with all the money in the world."
"If I didn't know better I'd think you were trying to instigate an argument so that we won't be able to join Ashley and Melanie for dinner tonight. It was your idea to invite them to join us so I don't know why you'd try and get out of it now."
"Just how is an argument going to stop us from having dinner with them?" He grew serious as he regarded her closely. Suddenly, he wasn't so sure he knew this woman as well as he thought he did if she was accusing him of what he believed she was just now. "You can't possibly believe I'd physically harm you, Scarlett. In all the years that I've known you, I've never raised a hand to strike you, despite a time or two when it probably would have done you a favor."
She rolled her eyes dramatically, his words unsettling her more than anything else. She imagined he was trying to settle her, but it wasn't working. Not because she believed he'd harm her, quite the contrary. Scarlett believed that regardless of what might happen verbally between them their sparring would never extend to physical violence. She wondered if Rhett was even capable of hurting a woman. She imagined he probably was if truly driven to it. She imagined, too, that she herself might be the type of woman to drive him to it. But not when the conversation was about Ashley. Scarlett got the impression at times that Rhett was laughing at her more than he was angry with her. And this only served to baffle her more at times.
"You were the one complaining about my calling you Mrs. Butler."
Scarlett toyed with a finger of her glove, tugging on it gently. "I wasn't complaining. It just sounds strange and it sounded like you were making fun of me. Or as if by that being my name it gives you some sort of right to me."
Rhett smiled widely with a shake of his head but said nothing. He watched as she nervously toyed with her glove and let her go on pretending that he had no right to any part of her he wanted, even Tara if his heart desired it. Not that he wanted a farm or wanted any part of her unwillingly. He had wondered more than once over the past month if he should have just gone to bed with her that night in New York when she was so willingly offering herself to him. Now that they were married would that willingness still be there? Or would he as some sort of fitting punishment for his lifestyle prior to marriage end up with a frigid wife?
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com