Scarlett recovered relatively quickly from both the miscarriage and the blow to her head. Within a matter of days she was out of bed and walking around, within a week she begged Rhett to take her for a ride outdoors. She spent the time trying to analyze Rhett's mood. She made no effort to bring up their argument that night at dinner before her accident, and she noticed that he didn't either.
She knew the less she brought up Ashley the better off she was. Melanie came by every day to check on her, and Scarlett suspected to check on Rhett as well. Scarlett had to admit to being worried about him, too. Though the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she was more worried about her when it came to Rhett. If what she thought was true, that he had married her because there was the chance she was pregnant that reason was now gone. She wondered if with the miscarriage Rhett would leave as well. With these thoughts her nightmares returned, nightmares that in the few short months with Rhett had subsided.
As if on cue, as soon as Dr. Meade gave Scarlett permission to return to her regular schedule Rhett made arrangements to go to Europe. He was leaving under the pretense of having to hire and train a crew for his ship to replace the people he had to let go. Rhett had no plans on returning to Atlanta any time soon either, though he wasn’t about to tell Scarlett that. As long as there was a child he knew he would have a part of Scarlett Ashley Wilkes could never get, a visible demonstration of it.
Now that there was no child he wasn’t of the mind to remain in town and watch the two of them carry on. It made his head hurt the more he thought of the countless opportunities they’d have to do just that under the pretense of work. Mrs. Wilkes might be naïve enough to believe that they were up to nothing but work, but Rhett knew better. He knew that sooner or later Ashley Wilkes would give into the temptation. He knew without a doubt that this child was his, and while he honestly didn’t believe Ashley would disrespect Melanie by taking Scarlett to bed he wouldn’t put it past him. Nor would he risk wondering the next time Scarlett got pregnant whether or not it was his.
Scarlett came home to find him packing and she couldn’t help but notice that it appeared he wasn’t just packing for an extended trip. He hadn’t slept with her since the miscarriage. He had slept with her, in the same room when she’d had a nightmare and had woken up screaming or when she simply wanted him to talk to her so she knew someone was there. And she had to admit even over Mammy, she chose Rhett every time. Even when he was angry or in a foul mood his voice was soothing – at least to her.
“You’re leaving so soon? If I didn’t know better I’d think you were leaving me.”
Rhett met her gaze sharply. “Very astute observation, Miss O’Hara.”
She tried to hide the shock in her green eyes. “You mean you are? Leaving me I mean. You’re not just going away?”
“Don’t look so shocked, Scarlett. Without a child you have little need for me now, and I don’t generally stick around where I’m a third wheel.” He snorted slightly. “Let me clarify that, I generally don’t find myself in this type of situation at all.”
“But what will I tell people? What about the house? Surely you didn’t buy this house and have me do all this work on it just to sell it.”
“No, Scarlett, you can keep the house and I imagine I’ll be back now and then. I do have some business interests here in Atlanta, including your housing project. As far as telling people, tell them whatever you want. I’m sure it won’t be any big surprise to the people of Atlanta that I’m traveling. And I’ll try not to stay away too long to prevent the good citizens of Atlanta from thinking you’ve done anything wrong.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong, Rhett. I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”
“Just keep convincing yourself of that, Scarlett, and you should be fine.”
“What on earth are you talking about? If you’re accusing me of some transgression at least have the manners to tell me exactly what it is I’ve supposedly done.”
“Well, for one giving the lumber business to Mr. Wilkes. For another, the little display I came home to here a few months back. Not only were you a married woman looking at someone who wasn’t your husband in a way that should be reserved only for your husband, but you were pregnant as well. With my child, damn it. And I could see what was running through your mind that evening at dinner.” He glanced from his luggage to her. “Yes, I can read you like a book, Scarlett. You were wishing the child you carried were his. And I refuse to live like that. It’s bad enough knowing that I have to share my bed with him, but I refuse to share you with him during the day when you’re awake. I never asked for your heart, I don’t believe you have one of those anyway. But I refuse to let someone else have possession of your mind.”
“You are incorrigible, Rhett. Honestly. I have no idea what you’re going on about.” Of course she did, and she knew he knew as well. “What happens if I get sick or take ill? It’s only been a few weeks.”
“Then I’m sure Melanie will take care of you. You don’t need me for anything, Scarlett.” He closed and fastened the bag he had been packing and looked at her. “Pardon me, I’m wrong. You don’t need me for anything but money. Don’t worry, I have no plans on cutting off your funds but I will be watching exactly what you buy and if I feel my generosity is being taken advantage of I may rethink my decision on that matter.”
“You wouldn’t?” Of course he would, he was a heartless cad who wouldn’t think twice about the possibility that she might starve. “You are heartless.”
“Far from it, Scarlett, but it’s hard to open up my heart to a cat who bears its claws or to a woman who hasn’t a heart to begin with.” He walked towards her and stopped inches from her. “And bear in mind before you go telling anyone I’ve left or that I’m heartless or any other slanderous possibilities. You, my dear, were pregnant before we got married. I could divorce you for that you know.”
She stared at him wide-eyed. “But it was yours.”
“So you say. How do I know if during my two weeks in Charleston you didn’t turn to Mr. Wilkes or any other of your countless beaux?”
She slapped him hard across the face and stormed out of the room, her fists clenched trying to control her fury.
He chuckled lightly as he watched her leave the room, he couldn’t help himself. He knew he was in effect running away from his problems with Scarlett, but at the moment he had no desire to deal with them in any other fashion. If Ashley weren’t in the picture, his thinking might be different. He also realized that by leaving he might be in fact pushing Scarlett into Ashley’s arms, but if that’s how she was going to be he wanted to know it now not two years from now when he’d invested more into the marriage. He’d be back; he was more than anything curious about what Scarlett would do in his absence.
He finished packing and had Manigo brings his bags down to the coach for him. He went to find Scarlett and found her in the back parlor; it was obvious she had been crying by her puffy and reddened eyes.
“Scarlett, I’ll try not to be gone too long, to avoid people speculating any further about the two of us. I’ve set up a line of credit for you at the bank, which I will replenish but again only if I see that you’re not being careless. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, Scarlett. But it seems rather obvious you don’t want to be married, at least to me, so why make things more difficult.”
She didn’t hear a word he’d said until he mentioned her not wanting to be married to him.
“Oh but that’s not true, Rhett. I hadn’t even thought about my, er, condition when I accepted your proposal. So I have no idea why you think I don’t want to be married to you.”
“Mm, yes, perhaps the fact that you’re in love with a man other than myself. That could be a good indicator.”
“You’re such a fool, Rhett. You knew what I felt about Ashley before you made love to me that night, of course I doubt Ashley was on your mind you were so drunk.”
“Well, I had no idea that he occupied your mind and your soul in addition to your heart. I assumed incorrectly it seems that I’d be able to have control of at least those, and I was willing to dismiss his having your heart. But I have neither. When you dream of another man in my bed, there’s a problem. When you wake up and dress in the morning based on whether or not you’re going to see another man, there’s a problem.”
“I … but I don’t dress for him, Rhett. Surely you know that. I dress to impress everyone, not just Ashley or Melanie or anyone else specific.”
She stood and boldly took hold of his hand, squeezing it lightly. “Rhett you have no idea what it was like to go for two years with no new frocks, no new shoes, wearing the same chemise every day. You came out of the war better than you entered it, not all of us were that fortunate. You were living it up eating meat while I was feeding a dozen people on sweet potatoes and turnips day in and day out. I don’t expect you to empathize with me, Rhett. But God’s nightgown, surely you can understand why I crave the things you can afford to give me.”
“Yes, of course I do, Scarlett. But that’s the most frustrating thing about it. You’re in love with a man who couldn’t provide you the lifestyle you want.”
“Oh Rhett, you married me knowing I didn’t love you. I’ve never claimed to love you, nor have you ever claimed to love me. As you say, we’re alike you and I. I’ve already come to that conclusion. Maybe you expect more from me than I offered.”
He knew she was right and he was tempted to stay, but he couldn’t. Even if it meant hurting her temporarily, he knew that in the long run if he wanted things better between them he had to go. He couldn’t let her take him for granted.
“It’s not about love, Scarlett. It’s about loyalty. It’s about knowing that I can turn my back on you without worrying about what you’re doing. I refuse to be made a fool of, and I refuse to be gossiped about because of your behavior. It’s entirely different than being gossiped about based on my own actions.” This was getting them nowhere and he knew it. “I have to go, Scarlett. My train leaves in under an hour.” Had she asked him to stay, come out and said she didn’t want him to go he would have stayed. But she didn’t so without another word he left, hoping the picture of the hurt and disbelief he read in her eyes would not be etched on his memory forever.
Scarlett watched as he left, walking to the front parlor and watching from the window as the carriage pulled away from in front of their house. She turned away in disgust, the sound of the horse’s hooves along the street ringing in her ears long after she could hear them. And while she was disgusted and angry with Rhett she couldn’t help but wonder if the disgust wasn’t with herself as well. She had no time to think about that now she had to figure out what to tell people so she pushed the thoughts from her mind determined to think about it tomorrow.
The first thing she did was go upstairs and move everything of Rhett’s from the guest room back into their room, somehow it helped soothe her. The next thing she did was ask Prissy to get her bath water ready, she decided to go check on the status of her houses. Picking out one of her finer gowns knowing she might run into Ashley she bathed, had Prissy wash her hair and dress her. Downstairs in the parlor while waiting for the carriage to be readied, it took Tom forever to ready the carriage; she poured herself a glass of brandy. She swirled it around in the glass before closing her eyes and downing it quickly, the amber liquid burning the back of her throat. She opened her eyes, wiping her mouth hoping her eyes would stop tearing. After the initial sensations passed over her, she realized that she was fine and poured herself another. She drank it just as swiftly as the last, only this time she left her eyes open. She set the glass down and went outside hoping to find Tom was done, already she missed Manigo and his efficiency.
After stopping at the site where the homes were being built, Scarlett was pleased that the exterior of three homes were almost entirely finished, she had Tom take her out to Ashley’s mill. She exited the carriage gracefully and entered his office with a bright smile, one reserved only for Ashley, on her lips.
“Good afternoon, Ashley. I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.” She stood in the doorway, holding her now closed parasol in both hands. She looked a vision dressed in royal blue from head to toe, and she longed for the appreciative look in Ashley’s eyes.
“Not at all, Scarlett,” Ashley replied before he turned to look at Scarlett. He closed the ledger he had been working on after marking the page and stood from his desk. He glanced in her direction finally and smiled a deceptive smile he knew because inwardly his heart leapt at the sound of her voice. “What brings you all the way out here today, surely the workers aren’t complaining about being out of lumber already.” Part of him hoped she was here on business, while another part of him hoped it had nothing to do with business.
“No, no complaints at all, Ashley. I just thought I’d come say hello; it’s one of the first days after Dr. Meade told me I could get out of bed. I got to feeling so cooped up indoors I thought I’d tour the site and pay you a visit. It seemed like forever since I’d last seen you,” she smiled brightly, her green eyes glimmering flirtatiously.
“I apologize for not visiting you, Scarlett, but I’ve been following your recovery through Melanie.” He glanced down at her hands clutching her parasol then back up to her face. “I was sorry to hear about the baby, Scarlett. I hope Rhett’s not taking it too hard.” He cursed himself for bringing Rhett’s name into their conversation, but something told Ashley he needed to.
“Oh, I don’t know, Ashley. He must not be he left for out of town today.” Scarlett shrugged, “I didn’t want any babies anyway. I wouldn’t be able to wear this dress again if I had one, and it’s one of my favorites.” She smoothed down her skirt slowly, almost caressingly.
“I can see way, Scarlett. It’s very becoming, then again I can’t imagine anything not looking fetching on you.” He stepped towards her, “forgive my rudeness, Scarlett. Here you’ve just gotten permission to be out of bed after losing your baby and I’m making you stand in the doorway like a visitor.” He gestured to a chair and waited until she walked gracefully across the room towards the chair, the scent of lavender wafting to his nose as she passed by him. “How are things at Tara?”
“Tara?” Scarlett looked at him blankly as if he were speaking another language. Then realization dawned on her. “Things are fine. Carreen sent me a letter just the other day; Will is doing wonders with Tara. And she’s joining a convent she says.”
“Carreen?” Ashley looked surprised, but the more he thought about it the less surprised he truly was. “I can see that, actually. She so loved Brent, even though he never thought of her as more than your little sister. None of us did.”
“Yes, I was thinking of going there for a few days while Rhett was away to try and talk her out of it.”
“Oh.” Ashley paused slightly, not sure if he wanted to be on the receiving end of Scarlett’s wrath. But he decided to chance it. “Scarlett, she’s old enough to make her own decisions, and I’m sure she’s thought it through. How old is she now anyway, eighteen?”
Scarlett rolled her eyes, not wanting to be reminded that Carreen was eighteen, because if Carreen was eighteen that meant Scarlett was twenty-one. “Yes, she’s eighteen. But she’s still my baby sister and with Pa not being all there anymore I need to go make sure she understands what she’s doing. Surely there are better men out there than Brent Tarleton. I surely never thought I’d find anyone better than you, but I found Rhett.” She regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, but he had pricked her anger and her pride. She dropped her eyes to her parasol and then chanced a look at Ashley.
Ashley swallowed hard; she thought Rhett was better than him. She had said it so smoothly, without hesitation that he had to believe she spoke the truth. And in some ways, he had to wonder if she was right though it killed him to think that. But deep down, Ashley knew he could never provide Scarlett the type of life she wanted. Melanie was happy with a couple handfuls of gowns, a house that wasn’t completely furnished and what furnishings they did have were refinished and refurbished. They had one another and that was enough for Melanie. Where Scarlett on the other hand would settle for what Ashley offered her, but she would not have been happy. And he had to wonder if having one another would have been enough for Scarlett. He offered her a smile, “well, just be gentle on her, Scarlett. I doubt very highly she’s come to this decision irresponsibly. And you’re right; she’d find someone to love again eventually. Maybe not someone who made her forget about Brent, I don’t think one ever truly gets over their first love.”
“I don’t know that marriage has anything to do with love, Ashley. Do you? I think it just clouds things. What exactly is love anyway? An emotion that makes people act irrationally.”
“Is that how Rhett is better than me, Scarlett? You don’t love him? I find it hard to believe you of all people would marry someone you didn’t love. Why you had offers from every man in the county at least once, and I imagine during the war you got quite a few from wounded soldiers you nursed back to health as well.”
“I don’t love him like I love you, Ashley. I never could. I know I told you I’d never throw myself at you again, and I hope you don’t think that that’s what I’m doing right now. Because I’m certainly not going to stand here and deny that I love you.”
“You shouldn’t talk like that, Scarlett. Not here,” though he couldn’t help but realize that her words felt like a caress to him. She loved him, how long had it been since she’d said those three words to him. He couldn’t remember, and he wondered if he’d ever hear them again. While he hoped he would, something in the back of his mind tugged at him telling him it was better if he didn’t. “I should walk you out to your carriage before people wonder why you’ve been in here for so long. We don’t get many people who come out this way, but anyone who does knows you and your carriage.” He walked towards her and offered his hand to help her from the chair. He stood transfixed by her gloved hand for a moment. The vision of her hands calloused and bruised from overuse after the war fresh on his mind, a way of life Rhett was able to save her from. Something Ashley even had there been no Melanie would have been unable to do.
His eyes locked with hers, he could read her thoughts they were written quite plainly on her face. He didn’t know how long they stood like that with him holding her hand looking into her eyes, but he finally broke out of whatever spell it was that had been cast and cleared his throat lightly as he looked away. He didn’t look away fast enough, however, to miss the look of confusion in Scarlett’s eyes. Somehow his legs moved, how he wasn’t sure because they felt like lead to him at the moment, and he was leading Scarlett up the stairs and out the door. He handed her into her carriage and kissed her gloved hand politely, his lips barely grazing the exposed skin at her wrist.
“Thank you for coming by, Scarlett.” How forced his words sounded. “I’ll tell Melanie you are up and around, she’ll be thrilled to hear it. You had us all worried, I never thought I’d see the day anything could keep Scarlett O’Hara in bed.” He released her hand and stepped away from the carriage watching as she was taken away from him.
Scarlett sat in the parlor at home a month after her visit with Ashley. There were things she should be doing, but at the moment she had no desire to do them. She visited the housing site daily, made weekly visits to the lumber mill, and made every attempt to sit in on events with Atlanta’s women. No matter how hard she tried, however, she was no more apt to sit and sew than she had been four years ago during the war.
She sat in the dimly lit room holding her teacup and saucer not recalling Melissa bringing it to her. She stood absent-mindedly and placed a drop or two of brandy in the tea and returned to the love seat, her eyes dropping to the book that Ashley had brought over what now seemed like eons ago even though it had only been little more than a few months. She set her spiked tea down and picked up the book, tears formed in her eyes when she opened it realizing what it was that Ashley had given her.
Here she thought he had given her some stupid book. That would be something both Ashley and Melanie would do. But instead, it was his mother’s book, a book that Ashley had brought over to Tara and sat with her on the porch steps or beneath the shade of a tree and read from to her. She had always been bored with it, having no interest in Shakespeare’s, or anyone’s, sonnets. But Scarlett could have listened to his voice forever. From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty's rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decrease, His tender heir might bear his memory … That had always been her favorite for some reason, and now that she reread it she had to admit that Shakespeare had had a way with words. She set the book down frustrated that she allowed herself to cry, there was no use crying over things that couldn’t be helped. She wasn’t Ashley’s wife, Melanie was. It was Melanie who had the right to hear Ashley’s voice utter words of undying love, not Scarlett. But she couldn’t help but cry when she was now stuck here with nothing, nobody only a big house full of servants, only one of which she knew, and nothing else – no husband, no baby, no family.
She had married Rhett for security, it certainly wasn’t out of desperation there had been plenty of beaux for her to choose from had she simply wanted to marry. And despite the fact he had left, Rhett had implied he would continue to take care of her, at least financially. And from what she could tell so far, he had been telling the truth. She hadn’t heard from him since the day he left, no telegrams, no letters, no word even from their lawyer or banker for her. But over the past month Scarlett had found something missing, something that Ashley couldn’t fill even though she tried like the devil to make it so.
Scarlett missed talking to Rhett; she never imagined she’d grow accustomed to talking about topics that didn’t revolve around her, but listening to Rhett talk of his travels, his businesses, world events, and politics held an interest for her. He talked to her as he would an equal, not a woman who deserved to have things glossed over and beautified. And she realized as she sipped her tea wishing she had put a little more brandy in it but not wanting to make the effort to get up and add more that there was no one else she could talk to about her business. None of the women of Atlanta engaged in business aside from nursing or selling baked goods, so they certainly had no knowledge about accounts receivables and accounts payables or how to tell a good builder from a shady one. And the men were really no better than the women; they refused to take Scarlett seriously. Refused, that was, until they realized that Scarlett’s homes were going to be quality homes that sold for a fair price.
It was almost Christmas and Scarlett was making the last minute arrangements to close up the house before leaving for Tara. She would spend the next month there and come back to Atlanta after the New Year.
Eighteen hundred sixty-seven. She would be twenty-two soon but she had no desire to think of that now. She stood in the back parlor by the window overlooking the backyard having a glass of brandy. The doors closed she had no fear of being caught so she paid no attention to her back being turned to the door. Her chestnut brown hair had been brushed out to a brilliant sheen that morning, Prissy doing an unusually thorough job. Dressed simply in a white damask gown with a green floral print she was prepared for the uncomfortable train ride from Atlanta to Jonesboro and the bumpy ride from the depot to Tara. She was startled out of her thoughts when she heard the double doors behind her open without warning.
“I’m not ready to leave yet, Tom. I’ve plenty of time to meet the train, when I’m ready I’ll let you know.” Annoyed at the intrusion she didn’t turn to look at him merely continued to look out the window. When she realized she held the glass of brandy in her hand she grew more annoyed because she realized that she couldn’t turn around even had she wanted to. God’s nightgown, why was he standing there? Why wasn’t he leaving? And then suddenly he was behind her and Scarlett knew it wasn’t Tom.
“Going somewhere I presume, Mrs. Butler.”
Rhett smirked slightly, his hat and gloves held by his side with his right hand. Dressed handsomely in a dark gray wool overcoat and a dark red, almost crimson in color scarf. He set his hat and gloves on the sofa nearby and walked over to the decanter running his finger over the stopper before turning his attentions back to Scarlett. She was glaring at him, whether it was that she was genuinely upset with him or upset that she had been caught with a glass of brandy in her hand he wasn’t sure.
“I was going to spend Christmas at Tara with my family. Thanksgiving was bad enough having to impose on Ashley and Melanie, I wasn’t going to do that again for Christmas.”
“Yes, I must apologize for my absence. I made an effort to return before now; however, my delay was unavoidable.”
“Of course it was, and Western Union and the post office were closed the entire three months you’ve been gone as well.”
She clutched the glass she held tightly, trying to control her temper. This wasn’t how she saw his homecoming going at all. She didn’t know what she had envisioned, she wasn’t a silly schoolgirl with visions in her head of his missing her so badly he had to carry her to their bed and ravish her on the spot. But still, something more than this would have been nice.
“Not at all, I never promised I’d write. Why on earth would I bother leaving you if I had the desire to write to you, Scarlett? The purpose, if you didn’t know, of leaving someone is to get away from them.”
“Then why bother coming home at all? If you were compelled to leave me alone on Thanksgiving, what difference does Christmas make?”
He chuckled lightly. “And what makes you think I’ve come to see you at all?” That was cruel and he knew it, but it needed to be said. The last thing he needed was Scarlett thinking he’d been unable to get her off his mind these past eleven weeks. He broke the gaze first, dropping his eyes to the glass she held in her hand.
“Well, I would never be so presumptuous, Rhett Butler, aside from the fact that other than myself and Belle Watling you have no friends here in Atlanta that would want you at their table for Christmas. And since you’ve returned to our home, I’m assuming it’s not that woman you’ve come to visit. Something tells me you never completely moved your things from your room there.”
“Isn’t that calling the kettle black? Are you accusing me of committing adultery?”
“Are you denying it?”
“Does it matter? Either way you won’t believe me.”
“You’re incorrigible, Rhett. Despicable.”
“Tell me something I haven’t heard, Scarlett.” He paused and something about the way she looked at him caused him to soften slightly. “Are you going to Tara then?” He leaned against the table gently, both hands rested on the edge of the table by his sides.
She lifted her head, meeting his gaze trying to determine if that was a question, a statement, or a request. She wanted to go to Tara, but she knew he wouldn’t go with her and despite everything she found herself wanting to be with him. To hear about where he’d been, what he’d been doing, and to tell him about everything in Atlanta, and as foolish as she thought she was for feeling that way she did.
“Were you counting on spending Christmas alone?”
“I didn’t come home to spend Christmas alone.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com