Rhett woke the following morning with an ache in his head more powerful than he’d experienced in quite some time. He turned over gently not wanting to wake Scarlett only to realize as he reached for her that she was gone. He opened one eye hesitantly to look at the nautical clock that sat on his nightstand. Surely it couldn’t be after noon, but as much as he’d like to doubt the time piece’s indication that it was one o’clock it had been a dependable time piece for over ten years.
He ran his fingers through his very rumpled hair and sat up slowly hoping to stall his head from spinning and his stomach from turning. He dressed slowly, rinsing his mouth and washing his face with the cool water in the washbasin. The silence that greeted him overwhelmed him when he made his way downstairs. Melissa scurried into the pantry almost as if to avoid speaking to him when he entered the kitchen.
Rhett liked Melissa; she was a nice enough girl and seemed to take to Atlanta life. He had hired her when he found out she was out of work, having met her a time or two at the household of one of his cronies who high tailed it out of Atlanta shortly after the war ended. He knew she had taken his offered job with the hope that once their household grew and flourished she would be delegated to household duties rather than kitchen duties. He almost hated to let her go from that position, because quite honestly she cooked very well. He watched as she busied herself in the pantry, seeming to take an inordinate amount of time to do a simple task. “Melissa, do you think it might be possible for me to get some breakfast? I realize it’s after noon, but I believe breakfast food will be best.”
Melissa glanced at Mr. Butler, brushing a stray blonde hair that had fallen from her braid.
“Aye, Mr. Butler. There must be something going around. The Mrs. indicated before she left this morning that she wasn’t feeling very well either.” She expected him to leave then and was surprised when she returned to the room with the eggs and other things to make his breakfast. “Is there anything else, Mr. Butler?”
“You say my wife left this morning? Did she say when she’d be back?” He had expected her to be getting ready for the ball that was being held at the Atlanta Hotel later this evening, or at the very least resting by now. It’s all she had been talking about for the past week.
Melissa dropped an egg and blushed, apologizing under her breath. She didn’t know what to say, Mrs. Butler had asked her not to say anything, but it was Mr. Butler who paid her salary and she imagined it was he who would promote her when the time came. She cleaned up the broken egg.
“I gathered from the bags that she took with her that she wasn’t planning on returning this afternoon, Mr. Butler.”
“She took luggage with her?”
“Yes, sir. She asked me not to say anything, but well I couldn’t have it on my conscious should something happen to her.”
“Did she happen to mention where she was going or even better still why?”
“She mentioned a name, Sir, that I’m afraid I didn’t recognize nor do I remember. As far as why, I’m afraid I wasn’t privy to that information. She took her maid with her, though, and your man took her to the depot. Perhaps he would know why.”
Melissa had her suspicions as to why Mrs. Butler had left so suddenly, and obviously it wasn’t just an unexpected departure to the staff. Even though the house was large, sounds traveled well enough and Melissa had been in the upstairs hallway putting linens in the linen closet and had heard the Butler’s arguing. It wasn’t her place to comment, husbands and wives argued all the time. Her employers were no different.
Rhett nodded and left the room, finding Manigo in the stables tending to the coach.
“I understand you took my wife to the depot this morning, Manigo.”
“Yes, Sir, Mr. Butler, I felt it my duty to do as she wished.”
“Without telling me? Manigo, I believe you’ve forgotten who it is you’re employed by and who exactly it is you work for.”
“No, Sir, I haven’t. She asked me and I took her. I knew she had plans to return before the holidays and I just assumed you’d be joining her. If I made a mistake I apologize, Mr. Butler. But she can be rather persuasive at times, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
“Yes, I’m well aware of that Manigo. No harm done. I just don’t understand why in the hell she left without telling me.” Rhett sensed Manigo was either not going to tell him anything further or did not know anything further so he returned to the house and went to his study pouring himself a whiskey. As the whiskey met his lips his stomach lurched, he still hadn’t eaten that day and he now felt as if he was going to be sick. Clearly, he had drunk more than his fair share last. He had to wonder for a minute how he managed to get home.
His mind started to clear even though his stomach still threatened to revolt against him. He went into the kitchen to see about his breakfast surprising Melissa by taking his breakfast at the large table she, Prissy, and Manigo ate at. There was no need to sit at the large dining room table alone. He didn’t bother trying to engage her in conversation, eating swiftly and getting out of her way.
Scarlett arrived in Jonesboro and wasn’t quite sure what to do from there. She had sent a telegram ahead of her departure hoping that Will would be able to meet her at the depot. Dressed in a royal blue frock with black accents, a matching hat with black gloves Scarlett stepped off the train and left Prissy to collect their bags while she went to see if anyone was there to meet her. She had taken great care in what she chose to wear that day, not wanting to give Suellen reason to believe there was anything wrong. She breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted Will coming out of the post office. She walked towards him and offered him a smile. “Hello Will, I hope you received my telegram.”
“You know I did, Scarlett. I had to come into town anyway so I hope you don’t mind riding back with the supplies.”
The bags collected and placed in the back of the wagon with the supplies Will had come for where Prissy sat. Scarlett sat next to Will on the wooden plank that served as the seat wishing once more the man would take some money from her for things such as a new wagon. She understood pride, but the idea that people saw someone from Tara riding around like this bothered her a great deal. She realized the Tarleton’s, Fontaine’s, and the other neighbors were in the same position – or some even in worse positions – but it still bothered her. For once in her life, Scarlett allowed someone to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, despite her boredom. She was pleased not to have to answer questions about her absent husband.
Scarlett hadn’t realized exactly how long it had been since she’d been away from Tara, but as she saw the white house take form in front of the late afternoon sun she knew it had been entirely too long. Gone was Pa and Mother, gone was the fine plantation that once was, but this was still her home. As nice as the house she shared with Rhett was, she didn’t know that it would ever feel like home. She got out of the wagon without Will’s assistance almost before he had brought the wagon to a complete stop.
Drying her hands on her apron as she stood at the front door Suellen was sickened to see Scarlett show up dressed so well when she was still wearing rags. She couldn’t help but wonder why Frank had never come for her, his letters had just suddenly stopped coming. And when Rhett and Scarlett married, she knew that Will’s idea for them to marry was the wise thing to do. They couldn’t live at Tara alone and unmarried and Tara obviously needed him.
So, they’d spent the last six months as husband and wife, married two days after Scarlett left with Rhett. Scarlett got a honeymoon to Savannah and was able to come home to a new house that she was able to furnish from head to toe. Suellen found herself with child immediately and now stood to welcome Scarlett, the one person she really didn’t care to see, six months along. She spared any attempt at a smile; Scarlett would know it was forced and false.
“Where’s Rhett, Scarlett? I was surprised when your telegram came; I figured it would be another six months or the next time your husband traveled for months at a time before we’d hear from you again.”
Scarlett removed her hat, holding it in her still gloved hands.
“Rhett’s in Atlanta, Suellen. I certainly have the right to come home whenever I’d like. It seems to me that I’m the one who came up with the money needed a little over a year ago to keep Tara as our home. Perhaps you’d rather be having that baby out in the woods like the wild animals.”
Scarlett brushed past Suellen and went to find Mammy and Dilcey in the kitchen. She wished she could talk to one of the two of them about Rhett, but until she decided what she wanted to do she could give no indication she wasn’t happy with Rhett. Mammy didn’t like him as it was, Scarlett wasn’t going to give the woman who had been with her and her mother since birth any more reason to dislike him.
Big Sam stood in the front foyer obviously waiting for direction. He was clearly conflicted as he cleared his throat. Scarlett smiled when she came out of the kitchen genuinely pleased to see Big Sam. One of the only field hands who had come back to Tara after the war and was willing to work for nothing. The next time she spoke to Rhett she’d have to talk to him about repaying Sam somehow.
“You can bring the bags up to my old room, Sam.” Scarlett glared at Suellen daring her to deprive her of her room; she had only been gone six months not years. She ascended the steps following Sam waiting until he had left the room before she closed the door and sat on her bed. Her bed, not the bed she shared with Rhett. She found herself laying back and staring at the canopy above her and without realizing it she succumbed to tiredness and fell asleep.
It took Manigo little time to saddle up Rhett’s gelding, Sienna. A name Rhett cursed, but it fit the steed’s coloring well. Rhett had won the animal in a card game shortly after being released from jail and though Rhett didn’t care for geldings, the horse suited his need for a ride. Manigo seemed to sense Rhett’s urgency and asked no questions of his master when he left for Tara with nightfall approaching well before the amount of time it would take him to get there. Rhett wanted to ask his manservant if there was something he should be made aware of before he arrived at Tara, but he refrained. Whatever Scarlett’s reason was for leaving, Rhett would find out soon enough. He left shortly before four o’clock in the afternoon; his last instructions to Manigo were to send their apologies for missing the ball that evening.
Rhett spent the two hours it took to get to Tara trying to figure out what in the hell Scarlett was trying to pull now. It wasn’t like her to miss an opportunity to show off in front of Atlanta’s old guard. His mind carried some memories of the prior night, but some he found were quite hazy and other portions seemed to be completely missing. He wondered if those moments had anything to do with her sudden departure. He frowned as he dismounted and allowed Sienna to rest for a short while about twenty minutes from Tara.
About forty minutes later he found himself approaching Tara. He realized that he hadn’t been here since the day he and Scarlett married, and wondered briefly if she was met with the same thoughts when she got here earlier in the day. He secured Sienna to the hitching post, hoping there was someone who would take him to the stables for him for the night. He ascended the porch steps, a slight smile crawling to his lips as he briefly thought of the times he and Scarlett had bantered on this porch and these steps.
Switching his bag from his right to his left hand to ring the bell, he stood at the door somewhat surprised that no one had heard his approach. Either that or they’d been told not to acknowledge him. He dismissed the thought, Scarlett might do a lot of things but admit in front of Suellen there was any hint of a problem in their marriage was not something he envisioned her doing.
Suellen answered the door, gone were the days of only servants delegated to such a task. She smiled slightly at Rhett, a somewhat knowing look in her eye when she saw that he held a bag only large enough for one or two days' worth of clothes.
“Good evening, Rhett. Somehow I’m not as surprised to see you as I imagine my sister will be.”
Rhett chuckled lightly, as he glanced over Suellen’s figure. The thought that Scarlett would be a little further along with their child at this point saddened him. He wondered if Suellen even knew about the child, he doubted it. Scarlett wouldn’t share that bit of information with her. “I imagine you might be right, Suellen. You’re looking well. Marriage seems to be agreeing with you at any rate.”
“As well as can be expected,” she rested one hand on her now visible stomach. “Will and Mammy are obviously pleased.”
“I’ll just bet they are.” Rhett found himself a little upset that Scarlett had lost that baby; somehow he felt she had the right to have Gerald and Ellen’s first grandchild. But apparently the forces of fate saw differently, and he had to accept there was a reason. Perhaps there had been something wrong with the babe, or perhaps Scarlett would have had trouble carrying it the entire time and speculation would have ensued about their marriage. “May I see my wife, Suellen? Or am I to stand out here in the cold New Year’s Eve air?”
“Of course. She’s upstairs in her room, I believe. She hasn’t been down since she arrived. Mammy’s been up to check on her, but I haven’t seen her since.” Suellen stepped aside allowing him to pass.
It was odd to Rhett to be able to walk up the stairs leading to Scarlett’s bedroom. How many times over the years had he thought of doing just this? Though the situation was always pictured a little differently than his reasons for ascending them at the moment. He had always imagined it would have been a moment of passion that swept them both away, not because his wife had essentially left him. And she had left him; he had come to grips with that on his ride here. This wasn’t a last minute decision to come here. This was her escaping, evidently him.
Rhett gave a moment’s hesitation before just walking into Scarlett’s room. It was after all her room not his or theirs. But he realized he needed the advantage and if she was upset with him, he didn’t need the entire household hearing her slam the door in his face.
The sound of the door opening once more sounded incredibly loud to Scarlett at that moment. Apparently the train ride and an hour-long ride on a wooden plank didn’t bode well for whatever it was that ailed her. She was not yet willing to admit the fact that she was pregnant. This was far worse than the first time had been, she had rarely been sick then. She had been so sick on this day that no matter what she had tried to eat it came back up. Assuming it was Mammy coming to check on her, Scarlett remained with her back to the door hoping that Mammy would think she was asleep and leave her be.
Rhett recognized by now the difference in Scarlett when she was awake and when she was asleep, and he knew she was awake when he closed the door behind him. He unbuttoned his overcoat, not having bothered to remove it downstairs, and set his bag down on the bare wooden floor next to the door. “Scarlett, surely you know by now I’m not your Mammy or Suellen.”
Scarlett rolled her eyes; more because she was annoyed he was right than his actual presence in her room. She had expected he’d follow her here, she had acted without thinking and she realized as she ate a dinner she didn’t think was suitable to feed servants let alone her family that there was a ball that evening. She had completely forgotten about it being New Year’s Eve when she left this morning. She exhaled slightly, hoping he knew how annoyed she was. “Yes, Rhett, they don’t smell anything like you,” she said sharply.
He removed his overcoat and draped it over a table by the door. “I didn’t realize you missed Tara so much that you’d feel the need to leave without saying good bye.”
“Why not? You were going to leave months ago without saying good bye to me. Why should you expect me to perform a courtesy you yourself didn’t see the need to perform?”
“Touché, Mrs. Butler. I take it that you’re leaving me then?” His words were biting and harsh, but he really didn’t care at the moment. His head and stomach still hadn’t fully recovered from the prior night’s indulgences. “If you recall those were the circumstances surrounding my last departure.”
“Yes,” she said sharply then caught herself. “I don’t know, Rhett. What did you expect me to do after what you did to me last night?”
Rhett actually paused as he walked to the side of the bed Scarlett was facing. What in the hell was she talking about? He knew he had done some crazy things in the past. Most of them had been with Belle, but he had never dreamed he would carry those behaviors into marriage. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” he said finally as he sat on the edge of the bed by her legs.
“Rhett, please, don’t sit there looking at me like I am a fool or try to make me recount the details.” She moved her legs slightly not wanting any part of her to be so close to him at the moment. “I don’t believe you were that drunk to be unaware of your behavior.”
Rhett lowered his face into his hands, his elbows resting on his thighs. “Scarlett, you took it upon yourself to leave me I think I have the right to know why. Aside from that, I’ve never known you to turn your back on an opportunity to snub your nose at the people of Atlanta. So I would like you to tell me what in the hell made you decide to leave.”
“Keep your voice down, Rhett. Suellen’s already been asking me questions about why I came here alone so unexpectedly I don’t want to give her anything to gossip about.”
Rhett scoffed. “You should have thought about that before you left, Scarlett. Did you think no one would find out you’d decided to leave? Because unlike you, I have no desire to stay in Atlanta.”
Scarlett’s stomach was upset, but she had to admit when she made the effort to look at Rhett he looked far worse than she did. She shook her head, clenching her fist tightly. She refused to show him any sympathy. “Just get out of here, please, Rhett. I have nothing to say to you.”
Rhett laughed loudly. “Mrs. Butler, I have no desire to leave here at least before tomorrow. And you can’t kick me out of your room, as you said Suellen’s already been asking questions.”
Scarlett groaned lightly. He was right of course. He was so infuriating when he was right. “Then make yourself a pallet on the floor and lay there. I refuse to share my bed with you.”
“Surely you jest, Scarlett. It’s going to get below freezing tonight and you’re going to make me sleep on the floor. I’ll have Mammy make up a bed in another room. Carreen’s room out to be available since she’s left.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Scarlett sat up quickly, regretting the movement as soon as it had been done. She glared at Rhett as she struggled to get off the bed, but he was sitting in the way from her getting her legs out. “Would you kindly move?”
She was relieved he seemed to sense her urgency and moved without further ado. She rushed from the bed, returning after she had emptied her stomach pale but feeling much better. She got in on the other side of the bed, not wanting to deal with getting past Rhett again. “You can’t ask Mammy to prepare a bed for you somewhere else. Why not just announce to everyone we’re having a row?”
“Scarlett, you packed your trunks and left even engaging MY servant to help you. This is more than a row. And if you’re leaving me, you may as well get used to people knowing. I have no desire to protect your reputation if you’re the one doing the leaving.”
Scarlett’s head was throbbing and her stomach was turning inside out, and Rhett’s talking wasn’t helping her at all. She hadn’t thought the whole process through, only thought far enough to get herself to Tara and away from him. She closed her eyes trying to clear her thoughts. Surely if she hadn’t wanted him to find her she would have chosen somewhere other than Tara to come to. She could have gone to some of Charles’ relatives in Macon; they would have let her visit. His cousin Daniel was always asking when she was going to pay them a visit.
She glanced at Rhett, able to recognize that he was telling the truth claiming he didn’t know why she had left. He had the look about him that suggested he truly had no clue what transpired between them. Had her father behaved that way to her mother? The thought made her shudder with revulsion. It was especially revolting because she knew how loving Rhett could be.
“Sleep wherever you want then. Just don’t touch me and if you do anything to lead Suellen to believe we’re not the epitome of a happily married husband and wife I’ll never speak to you again.”
Rhett couldn’t help but laugh, though the effort made him cringe slightly. “I think I need to see Mammy about something for my head. Do I have the lady’s permission to do that? Or does admitting I may have indulged too much last evening tarnish that image you so wish to present?”
“Do whatever you want. I don’t care. If you had half a brain you’d know I didn’t want you to come here to begin with.”
“Of course you did. If you didn’t want me to find you you wouldn’t have chosen the most obvious place to go.”
She groaned loudly in reaction to him saying aloud what she had just moments ago thought. “Go see about your head, maybe mine will stop hurting once you’ve gone.” She frowned slightly as she watched him stand from the bed and walk across the room. Surely he had to notice she had gotten sick a few minutes ago, and yet he said nothing about it.
“Thank you for your concern, my pet.” He left the room and found Mammy downstairs, knowing if anyone would know about curing a whiskey induced headache it would be she.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com