It was Pork who helped Rhett, and Rhett felt foolish for not thinking of the man in the first place. He was quite sure Pork had had to deal with this a time or two in the past as Scarlett’s father’s valet. Once his stomach was settled and his head stopped feeling as if it were going to implode Rhett brought up a tray for Scarlett of eggs and dry toast. He realized she might not eat it, but recalling the empty brandy glass by her bed he assumed what was ailing him also ailed her. He opened the door to her room as quietly as he could. “Scarlett, I brought something for you to eat. Perhaps it will help settle your stomach.”
He had noticed. Scarlett smiled slightly to herself at the thought. “Thank you. I take it you found what you needed. You sound better.” She struggled slightly to sit up upset with herself that she would allow him to do one good deed and forget about what had happened the night before.
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to be ringing in the New Year much later than claiming my kiss at midnight, but Pork fed me some food and some strong coffee and got me a bath. Nothing much those three things can’t cure I imagine.” He set the tray over her lap once she had sat herself up in bed and pulled up a chair by the bed. He propped his feet on the foot of her bed.
“You presume too much if you expect me to kiss you, Rhett.” Scarlett ate as if she hadn’t eaten in days. She didn’t know if the food before her was Rhett’s doing or Mammy’s but it was exactly what she needed. The eggs were bland which made her scowl slightly but her stomach didn’t turn over and attempt to revolt as she ate them. Unable yet to stop being angry with him for the night before she watched him discreetly as she ate. He certainly didn’t come across as someone who was aware of what he had done the night before.
“There we go onto that subject again.” He watched as she first made a face at the eggs then proceeded to devour them. “I realize you’re not feeling altogether well, Scarlett. But do you think we can talk about the fact that you chose to leave me. I mean if that is in fact what you care to do then I have no reason to stay here tonight.”
“You couldn’t ride back to Atlanta, Rhett. I don’t know how you made it here in one piece.”
“That’ll be for me to worry about, but I appreciate your concern.” His words were biting and sarcastic, but that mattered little to him at the moment. He wasn’t overly concerned with whether or not his words hurt her, not until she told him why she chose to leave.
“I don’t plan on going back to Atlanta, at least with you. Not until I’ve had some time to think, Rhett.”
“Damn it, Scarlett. Think about what?”
“You don’t honestly expect me to believe that you don’t know.”
“Yes, I do expect you to believe that. I’ve no reason to lie to you. I don’t try to purge myself of any wrong doings by lying, Mrs. Butler.”
“So you’re admitting you know you did something wrong?”
“Well, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure that out, Scarlett. If I hadn’t you wouldn’t have felt the need to leave.”
Good point, she thought to herself.
“Well,” he said impatiently. “This is getting us nowhere. If you aren’t going to tell me and you aren’t going to return to Atlanta with me then I will contact your attorney with divorce papers. I have no reason to stay married to a woman who has taken it upon herself to leave me.”
“Divorce me? Leave it to you to think of that, Rhett. Only a cad would entertain something so vile.”
“You’d rather remain married to me and watch me publicly break our wedding vows? That would be real good for your reputation, my dear. For it’s you they would be gossiping about, not me. They already know I’m a cad, but six months after we’re married and I’m already seeking company from other women. They’ll realize you aren’t exactly keeping our marriage bed hot.”
“You saw to that last night,” she quipped angrily in reply.
He looked at her confused. “I did what?”
“Saw to it that I have no desire to keep our marriage bed even lukewarm.”
“I really don’t give a damn about that, Scarlett. But what I do give a damn about is the fact you left. And your leaving meant you missed out on an opportunity to show off a new ball gown.”
“Lower your voice. Do you want all of Tara to hear you?”
“Then answer me, Scarlett.”
“You raped me, Rhett,” she said barely above a whisper unable to meet his eyes as she said the words. To say such a thing about her husband, whether it was Rhett or Charles or anyone else was too much for her to actually think about.
“I did what?”
“You did. You were drunk. You came home from Belle’s and saw that I’d fallen asleep reading the book of sonnets Ashley gave us for our wedding gift and you went into a rage. I told you you shouldn’t have gone to Belle’s.”
Rhett walked to her window and looked outside, though he saw nothing. He couldn’t remember anything remotely similar to what Scarlett was claiming. Was it plausible? Of course it was. He could indeed see himself getting upset at finding her asleep in their bed reading a book Ashley Wilkes had given her. But to rape her? Forcing a woman to have sex with him was not exactly something Rhett found himself having to do. He raked his fingers through his hair. “No, Scarlett. I just can’t believe I’d do that. Drunk or not drunk.”
Scarlett got out of bed and started unbuttoning her nightdress as she walked towards him. “Yes, well, perhaps you can explain what this is then, Rhett Butler? And why I had to make sure that Mammy didn’t look at me from the waist up.” She pulled the material back revealing the bite mark still quite fresh on her breast.
Rhett would have been amused at Scarlett baring herself so easily in front of him if it weren’t for the nasty bite mark. It obviously wasn’t a love bite and not just a love bite taken too far either. “I could have been drunk and gotten carried away.”
Scarlett slapped him hard across the face. “After all the times I’ve given myself willingly to you. After all the times I’ve let you do whatever you wanted to do. And now you’re going to stand here and tell me I don’t know the difference between you making love to me and you raping me. I may not be as experienced as you are and I don’t believe I could ever come close. But I know the difference between giving myself to you and being taken against my will.”
Rhett had to agree on that point. “Did I hurt you? I mean aside from that,” he gestured to her breast fighting the urge to touch her and attempt to rub the mark away.
“I’ve some bruises. A couple on my arms and some,” she dropped her eyes, “in other places. But it’s not the bruises I’m upset about.”
He turned from her to look out the window once more. He didn’t know what to say, for once finding himself speechless. He had hurt her. The one person he had come to realize over the past few weeks that he cared about more than himself. “And this all happened over a book?”
“Yes,” Scarlett said simply.
“And if I promised it would never happen again?”
“That’s not good enough, Rhett. It should never have happened to begin with.” He was not going to get away with saying he was sorry and have life return to normal. She had forgiven him far too easily when he returned to Atlanta after being gone for months after she’d lost their baby. She wasn’t going to just let this go.
“Of course you’re right. But need I point out that if you were not in love with another man I wouldn’t need to worry about who you think of in our bedroom?”
“Be careful your jealousy may be construed as caring.”
“I’ve never denied that I care for you, Scarlett.”
“You have an odd way of showing it at times.”
He turned to look at her once more. “As do you. I’m not the one in love with another woman.”
“And what is Belle?”
“I am not in love with Belle, nor have I ever been, Scarlett.”
“Then why did you insist on going there last night? If you hadn’t gone none of this would have happened.” She felt tears starting to form in her. She blinked trying to fight them back. She couldn’t let him see her cry. Couldn’t let him see how much his going there had bothered her.
Rhett took hold of her arms and shook her gently. “Damn it, Scarlett, don’t you understand why I went there last night?”
Scarlett couldn’t respond so instead she shook her head. She didn’t understand why he went at all.
“I went for you. I know what people say about Belle and me, and I knew that if I didn’t go to a party at Belle’s with the other gentleman of Atlanta that it would cast even more suspicion on our relationship. I went so that everyone could see Belle treat me as a customer and nothing else. Surely if she were my mistress as the rumors floating about say I wouldn’t flaunt it in front of your friends, and they realize that.”
She looked up at him, not caring that there were tears in her emerald green eyes. “I don’t understand, Rhett.”
“Of course you don’t, because you don’t understand how men think. But I did it for you. For us. For our marriage. So that you could hold your head high in Atlanta and not have to worry about being whispered about as you walk down the street. Not anymore than you already are, of course. I can’t stop the gossip entirely on my own, but I can certainly put a stop to the pitying gossip feeling sorry for you that you entered into a marriage with a man who had a mistress he had no intentions of giving up.”
He paused releasing her arms knowing he had her attention without forcing her to look at him. “There will be those of course who still have doubts. Those who will think that it was all an act, but even they’ll come around after a while. I’m not going to stop going there, Scarlett. I’m not going to stop drinking whisky, playing poker, and talking to Belle or any of her girls. I wouldn’t make such a promise to you because I’d go back on it in no time.”
“That’s all well and good, Rhett,” Scarlett said regaining her composure. His words were nice, and she knew he was sincere. “But that still doesn’t excuse your behavior after you got home. If going there is going to make you act like that, I’d just as soon let everyone think every one of her girls were your mistresses.”
“Not to be difficult here, Scarlett, or to make light of your feelings in this matter. But has it occurred to you that I have the right to act as I did?” His eyes narrowed as he glanced at her. “I certainly won’t deny I’m ashamed that I behaved in such a manor. That’s not exactly how I’d like to think I got my reputation with women. And not that I’m making excuses for my unwelcome behavior, but I did have to sit and watch your beau all night and my mood was foul.” He walked towards her dresser and ran his finger over it collecting his thoughts. “And if as you say I found you with the book he gave you, that would explain my reaction in part. The other part I imagine was just drunken foolishness.”
“Scarlett, those three months I was gone, I tried to get you out of my mind. I made every attempt I could to bed other women hoping that that would do the trick. That it would enable me to get over you, but I couldn’t do it. It upsets me to no end to know that I’ve fallen for you and yet you love another man. It still doesn’t excuse my behavior, but perhaps it will make you understand what goes through my mind. If I could just get you out of Atlanta, away from Ashley Wilkes and everything else that reminds you of him. That’s an opportunity I’d welcome. We had a nice time in Savannah. At least I thought we did. I was able to spoil you and shower you with gifts and kind words and you were genuinely receptive. For those few weeks I felt that you truly had no thoughts of Ashley, that you were sincere in enjoying my company.”
Scarlett stared at his back. Of course he had turned his back on her on purpose. He was confessing he loved her, wasn’t he? He didn’t say it outright, but that was what she was getting out of this conversation. He loved her. Three words she had longed to hear him say so that she could turn them around and use them against him. But then another part of his confession struck a nerve with her. “You cheated on me? And you accuse me of being unfaithful? How dare you, Rhett.”
“I said I tried. I had left you, if you recall. You lost our child, the one thing holding you to me. There was no reason for me to continue on in Atlanta watching you lust over another woman’s husband. I made you no promises other than I wouldn’t divorce you and that I would return often enough to keep gossip to a minimum. I made no promise to keep wedding vows that were entered on false premises to begin with.”
“So you did marry me because you thought I was pregnant,” she said softly.
“Well, no. I certainly didn’t have to marry you, Scarlett. You aren’t the first girl I’ve slept with, and obviously with each there’s the possibility of getting with child. But, yes, I guess in some way I felt responsible. Your name was already tarnished enough with your behavior after young Mr. Hamilton’s death. I didn’t think it fair to add more fuel to the fire so to speak.”
He turned to her as a thought occurred to him. “Pray tell, Mrs. Butler. Why didn’t you accuse me of raping you that night at the Atlanta Hotel? I had no right whatsoever to be in your room let alone take you to bed. That would have sent me back to jail, you would have had your deed to Tara, and you would have been excused for being with child.”
Scarlett blushed profusely at his words. She had no idea what to say, how to respond to that. He was right, and suddenly she felt defeated but she wasn’t going to let him know that. “That night was different, Rhett. You didn’t hurt me. You were kind to me, I know now that you took the time to make sure I received some pleasure. And I hadn’t thought of the possibility of being with child until you mentioned it on our honeymoon. Perhaps if you had mentioned before your marriage proposal I might have thought of it and accused you then.” She placed her hands on her waist as a thought occurred to her. “Though I don’t think my accusations would have amounted to anything. You probably have the entire Atlanta legal society in your pocket.”
“I assure you, Scarlett, had you accused me of rape I don’t know that all the money in the world could have bought my freedom. Reputation or not, you were still Charles Hamilton’s widow and Gerald O’Hara’s daughter. Two names that carry a lot of weight and influence around these parts. And there are some who I’m sure would have enjoyed the opportunity to imprison me for something scandalous like rape.”
“Yes, stealing the Confederate’s gold supply wasn’t scandalous enough.”
Rhett chuckled. “Not as scandalous as rape. And I’m sure they would have used it against me to find out about the money. Used your being with child, my child, against me.” He moved closer to her, his mouth next to her ear. “It wouldn’t have worked, Scarlett. Just in case you’re wondering.”
Scarlett pulled away from him. “Are you staying the night or returning to Atlanta, Rhett?” She sat on the edge of her bed watching him.
“That all depends on you. If you’re still leaving me then I certainly have no reason to stay here.” He glanced at her bed. “Though I have to admit in all the years I’ve known you I don’t know that I’m quite ready to walk out of your bedroom. I used to think about this moment. You and me in here. Though arguing was never part of the picture.”
She smiled slightly pleased to know that he had thought about her before they were married. “Really, Rhett?”
“Yes, really, Scarlett.” He leaned back against her dresser, crossing one foot over the other and crossing his arms over his chest as he watched her. “I used to think about coming to Tara one day when everyone happened to be gone and somehow managing to get you to let down your defenses and allow me to seduce you.”
“I never knew.”
“Of course not, I never saw the need to tell you. A gentleman never confesses his fantasies to a lady.”
Scarlett couldn’t help but laugh. “And that stopped you from telling me yours? I don’t believe it.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well, I had to draw the line somewhere. And I had the feeling that telling you I fantasized about you would send you scurrying in the other direction.”
“Yes, you’re probably right.”
“Can we work through this, Scarlett?”
“I don’t know, Rhett. I need to think. This isn’t a simple argument that you can bring me roses and I forgive you.”
“Damn, I knew I forgot something.”
“Be serious, Rhett.”
He laughed lightly. “All right. I’m sorry, Scarlett.”
“I’d like to stay at Tara for a while. Without you,” she glanced up to meet his eyes wondering what his reaction to that would be. “I’ve not been well, I want Mammy. Prissy just doesn’t have Mammy’s touch.”
“We can bring Mammy back to Atlanta, you know.”
She shook her head. “I need time, Rhett.” She twisted the wedding ring on her finger. “If it had been Brent or Stu or anyone else I probably would have just accepted it as part of married life. I wouldn’t have liked it, mind you. But you’re not them. I know how truly kind and thoughtful you can be. You make it so that I don’t want our lovemaking to end.”
Rhett nodded simply waiting for her to continue.
“I just need time. You can stay here tonight and leave tomorrow because of unfinished business. You’ll be leaving me unwell in Mammy’s capable hands. You don’t want me to travel until you know I’m well. Or whatever excuse you want to think of. And you won’t set foot on Tara’s grounds until I tell you that you can.”
“That wouldn’t be very husbandly of me, Scarlett.” He held up a hand. “If I’m leaving you here because you’re not well, don’t you think I’d want to check on you? Suellen wouldn’t have too many kind words for me if I just left you here.”
Scarlett worried her lower lip in her teeth. He was right of course. And she didn’t want Suellen to think anything was wrong. “Yes, yes, of course. You could come for the afternoon once a week and leave after dinner.”
“You plan on being gone that long then,” Rhett sighed. “All right. Sunday’s.”
She looked up at him. “No more talk of divorce?”
“As long as a few weeks doesn’t turn into a few months, Scarlett. I’m not going to wait for you to make up your mind indefinitely. Being married doesn’t hold that much charm, not even being married to you. At least not if you’re going to be absent. If I’d wanted that type of marriage I would have married the girl my father wanted me to marry years ago.”
Scarlett glanced up at him. She wondered just what his views on marriage were. What type of marriage did he want? She really didn’t know. They hadn’t been married long enough for her to know. But she didn’t want the type of marriage that most people had either. There were some couples she knew that never got past the point of addressing one another formally. They were together to better one’s standing, property holdings or whatever else. Obviously Rhett hadn’t married her to do that. Though technically her share of Tara now belonged to him, she knew he didn’t need Tara or anything else she had to offer him.
“You have your time, Scarlett. Are we going to go downstairs and join your family? Or are we going to make them think that we’re celebrating the New Year early?”
She stood from the bed. “I can’t go down in my nightgown.” She went to her closet and removed her nightgown and quickly placed a simple green damask dress on. She walked over to Rhett so he could button the dress. “Thank you,” she said simply when he had finished.
They spent the rest of the evening in the sitting room with Suellen, Will and a few other neighbors who had come to celebrate the New Year with them. Though they spoke little, Rhett made sure to play the role of model husband as best he could. It wasn’t long after midnight after claiming his kiss from Scarlett that they excused themselves and went up to bed. “You’re not really going to make me sleep on the floor, are you? Suppose Mammy comes into the room during the night to check on you.”
Scarlett sighed slightly. “No, I suppose not. You aren’t drunk, so I think I’m relatively safe.”
He undressed and got into bed unable to stop himself from watching Scarlett undress and blow out the candles. He rolled over onto his side when she got into bed and started to reach for her.
“Rhett,” she said sharply.
“I’m not initiating anything, Scarlett. I was just going to hold you. Allow me that luxury for the evening?”
She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t make any effort to pull away from him either. She drifted off to sleep easily.
She woke the next morning, the first day of eighteen hundred sixty-seven feeling sick once more. She cursed softly as she was bent over the chamber pot. She had to be pregnant. She had been sick every morning now for days. Should she tell Rhett? If she did she’d be hard pressed to get him to leave Tara without her. She washed out her mouth and pulled on her dressing gown before realizing Rhett wasn’t in bed. She glanced at the clock on her dresser it wasn’t even six o’clock. She put a pair of slippers on and went downstairs hoping not to disturb anyone else at Tara, but wanting to know where he had gone.
“He’s gone, Scarlett,” came Will’s voice from the kitchen.
“Who?” Scarlett pulled her dressing gown about her tighter and belted it more securely. She took a seat across from Will and helped herself to some eggs, biscuits with gravy, and grits.
“I assumed you were looking for Rhett.”
“No, I just couldn’t sleep. I smelled the food and decided to come join you.” She took a bite of a biscuit with sausage gravy. “He got off to Atlanta all right then? He was worried about Sierra, he’s never been ridden so big a distance before.”
“Sierra was fine, Scarlett. Big Sam tended to him for you. And yes, he left about twenty minutes ago.” Will watched her closely as he poured himself some coffee. “Are things all right?”
Scarlett smiled, her eyes sparkling and flashing her dimples. “Of course. Why would you even bother to ask?”
“Well, Rhett indicated you weren’t feeling up to the ride home.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure a couple days of being here at Tara will do the trick. There’s nothing that ails me that Tara can’t cure.” She wished that were true.
Suddenly a thought occurred to her. No one knew she was pregnant. Though she figured Mammy might have guessed by now. She worried her lower lip as thoughts ran through her head. She’d heard about girls taking something to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. She frowned, she had no idea where to go to get these things. And if Rhett ever found out. She closed her eyes tightly not wanting to even think about what he would do if he found out she had deliberately gotten rid of a baby. But glancing up at Suellen as she entered the room, Scarlett wasn’t ready to look like that. She didn’t want to be fat and ugly with her feet and every other appendage swollen.
“Good morning, Suellen,” Scarlett said more cheerily than she felt.
“Good morning to you, Scarlett. You seem to be in a fine mood this morning. I don’t suppose that has anything to do with you and Rhett spending all day up in your bedroom yesterday. I’ve never been more embarrassed having to explain to Mrs. Fontaine why you hadn’t come downstairs to say hello.”
“All you had to do is come upstairs and get me, Suellen.” Scarlett met Suellen’s gaze evenly and held it. “Surely I would have come downstairs had I known there was someone worth coming down for.”
Will glared at the two of them. “All right, ladies. Can we not start out the day right away with this?”
Scarlett flushed slightly at being tongue lashed by Will. “Of course, Will. I didn’t start it, though.”
“Thank you,” he said softly. He stood and cleared his breakfast plate from the table. “I’m going out for a while. Try not to hurt one another while I’m gone. You managed for twenty years to live under the same roof; you can do it for a few more days I imagine.” He took his hat from the hook it hung from and went out the back door.
Scarlett said nothing as she mopped up the last of the sausage gravy with a biscuit. She watched as Suellen stood from the table and left the room without having eaten and without saying another word. Scarlett shrugged and poured herself some coffee when she heard a loud thump followed by a cry coming from the stairs. Scarlett jumped to her feet almost spilling the hot coffee on her as she went to the hallway. “Suellen,” she called shrilly. “Mammy!”
Scarlett saw the blood on Suellen’s dress and knew what was happening. Dear lord, maybe none of them were meant to carry babies. But she was so far along. Mammy appeared at the head of the stairs and Scarlett looked up seeing the look of surprise in Mammy’s eyes to see Scarlett holding Suellen’s head in her lap. “Tell Pork to run along and get Dr. Fontaine right away, Mammy.”
She bit her lip lightly trying to think of what she’d need in the meantime. “I guess bring me everything that goes into delivering a baby, Mammy. Water, blankets, everything. We have to move her upstairs. Big Sam and Will ought to be able to do that.”
Mammy and Pork both hurried about their assigned tasks. Mammy brought Scarlett a cloth to wipe Suellen off with before going to get Big Sam and Will, while Pork left for the Fontaine’s. “It’ll be all right, Suellen,” Scarlett murmured as she wiped off Suellen’s brow and face.
“You don’t have to lie, Scarlett. I can see it in your eyes.”
“Oh don’t talk silly. I lost a baby and I’m just fine.”
“You did? You never told anyone you were with child.”
“Of course I didn’t, we didn’t know for sure yet at the time for me to tell anyone.” Scarlett didn’t know if this was doing any good, but she reasoned that keeping Suellen talking was wise. So she kept talking.
“I was in bed for a while, but I’m fine now.” She was close to being six months along, Scarlett knew that that would mean the baby would have to be delivered dead or alive. She hated to think of anyone going through that, even Suellen. She remembered what Melanie had gone through to bring Beau into this world, but at least she had a live child to hold onto as a reward for her efforts.
Big Sam carried Suellen to Carreen’s old room with little effort and as gently as he could. Scarlett left the room and went downstairs to scrub the floor and the carpet where Suellen had bled. She wasn’t needed in the room, Mammy and Will were there and the doctor would be there soon.
She answered the door, wiping her brow with the back of her hand when Dr. Fontaine knocked. Scarlett led him up to the bedroom and turned to leave when the doctor told her to stay. He told the men to leave. He apparently thought that Suellen and Scarlett were closer than they were and that Scarlett’s presence would be a help. Scarlett remembered nothing about her miscarriage, but she knew that no one deserved to go through something like that alone. Scarlett had had Melanie and Rhett. So she stayed.
She sat on the edge of the bed and held Suellen’s hand tightly while the doctor did what needed to be done. Scarlett glanced at the baby, obviously not breathing, Dr. Fontaine held in his hands. A girl. Suellen refused to hold it. Dr. Fontaine left Suellen and Scarlett alone while he brought the baby downstairs hoping Will or Mammy would be of the mind to tend to her receiving a proper burial.
Scarlett didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, Suellen.” The words sounded so foreign coming out of her mouth. Scarlett couldn’t recall ever apologizing to Suellen.
“Oh, Scarlett, what’s the point in my being married now?”
“Oh, Suellen, there will be other babies,” Scarlett blushed as she thought of the child that more than likely was growing within her right now.
“I know. But you married Rhett because you love him. You obviously don’t mind going through the process of making them. I don’t love Will. At least not the way you and Rhett love one another. This means I’ll have to go through it again.”
Scarlett barely heard all of what Suellen said. She thought she and Rhett loved each other. Is that how people saw them? Were they that good at fooling everyone or was there maybe something more to it than an act? “Will isn’t going to make you try and have another one too soon, Suellen. He’s a nice enough man. It can’t be all bad.”
Suellen blushed slightly at having such an intimate conversation with Scarlett. “No. But surely you know what I mean. There has to be a difference between Charles and Rhett. I know you didn’t love Charles.”
Good lord, there certainly was a difference between Rhett and Charles. Charles was a boy and Rhett was a man, that’s where the differences began but they ran deeper than that. “I loved Charles in my own way, Suellen. He was a good man and a good husband. It wouldn’t be right for me to say anything ill of him.” Or to admit to her sister that she’d never shared a bed with him. “Things were different then anyway. The war. He went away so soon.” She smiled slightly. “You get some rest, Suellen. Let me go talk to the doctor.”
“No, Scarlett, don’t leave me. If you leave Will will come in here and I don’t want to see the disappointment on his face.”
So Scarlett stayed, making excuses to Will. She assured him he could see Suellen later that evening. Only Mammy was allowed into the room when she brought a food tray up. Scarlett picked at hers, Suellen slept through it.
The following Sunday when Rhett came for dinner Scarlett was surprised at how happy she was thinking of his coming. The past four days had been incredibly tedious and boring. She was glad that some of the rift between she and Suellen seemed to have been mended, but she didn’t want to sit by her sick bed all day, every day either. Her being ill seemed to have been completely forgotten about by everyone around Tara, too. Rhett’s coming meant she had an excuse to get out of the house for a while. Go for a walk with him. She had Mammy dress her in a green velvet dress that was almost low cut enough to be sinful. But Scarlett liked the way it looked on her, and she couldn’t wait to see the appreciative look on Rhett’s face when he saw her in it.
Rhett stood at the bottom of the stairs feeling once again like a suitor coming to call on Scarlett rather than her husband. But he waited. Everyone seemed rather distracted as was he when he saw Scarlett descend the stairs. “My, Mrs. Butler. Did you dress for me or were you expecting someone else today?”
“Don’t be silly, Rhett. I’m just glad to be able to wear something nice today.” She placed her hand on his forearm. “Let’s go outside and I’ll tell you about my week here at Tara.”
“You certainly seem to be in better spirits,” he said as he led her outside and down the porch steps.
“Well, I shouldn’t be but I do feel better. It must be the air, and being so close to my parents. Their memory.” She shrugged. “Suellen lost her baby. It was a girl.” She stopped walking and looked up at Rhett. “What if none of us can have children, Rhett? My mother had difficulty, losing three boys before she had the three of us girls.” Suddenly she felt better for giving voice to her fear and knowing that it was safe with Rhett, he would never tell a soul. She looked around Tara. Looked at Rhett and for a moment it was years ago, before the war and he was just a suitor come to call on her for the afternoon.
Rhett didn’t know what to say to ease her fears. “Well, from my perspective, it makes me little difference whether or not you can give me a child. I’d like one or two I admit, but it’s not that important to me.” He glanced back at the house. “Will, on the other hand. He’s going to want the free labor that comes with strapping boys.” He chuckled lightly. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me. Is Suellen all right?”
“Yes, she’s recovering nicely. You just missed Dr. Fontaine actually.”
“Ah,” Rhett said softly. “That’s who I passed on the roadway.”
“You mean that, Rhett? About not caring whether or not I can have babies.”
“Yes, Scarlett. I didn’t marry you just to have babies.”
She breathed out a sigh of relief. “I think I’m pregnant again, Rhett.”
“You what?” Rhett said somewhat distracted. He wasn’t a superstitious man, but he wondered if he hadn’t somehow had a hand in Suellen’s loss. Hadn’t he just the other day thought that it should be Scarlett having the first O’Hara grandchild? “You’re pregnant did you say?” He wasn’t sure whether to hug her or not, but went with his instincts which told him to hug her. “You’re obviously not too far along yet if you are. You’ve had symptoms then?”
“Yes, I’ve been ill almost every morning for at least a week.”
Rhett laughed lightly. “And here I thought you had had too much brandy.”
“No, I don’t drink that much brandy,” she blushed at admitting she actually drank any at all.
“So what does this do to your thoughts of needing more time, Scarlett? If you’re pregnant and not ill you can’t remain here at Tara forever.”
“I know.” She twisted her handkerchief around her fingers tightly thinking. “I’ll go back to Atlanta with you, but I want my own room for the time being.” She looked up at Rhett, her eyes searching for something in his. Thinking back to Suellen’s words the other day. “You know, Suellen said the strangest thing to me the day she lost the baby. Of course, she might have been delirious. But she said that we were in love. That our marriage was different because we loved one another.” She laughed lightly. “Isn’t that just the silliest thing you’ve ever heard?”
“I don’t think it’s that silly. And I’d wager she’s not the first person to think that, Scarlett.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. When you want to be, Scarlett, you can be the most charming wife known to mankind. That night at the Meade’s Christmas party for example. Take two dozen other wives and they would have slapped me or done something else to let me know I’d drawn the line with my comment about wanting to see you in your negligee. But you didn’t. You enjoyed the comment. You enjoyed knowing I wanted to see you in it.”
He stopped walking and turned to look at her fully.
“Ashley had it right when he talked about your passion for living, Scarlett. You’re full of it, and it’s for that reason I feel bad for that night. I had no right to take against your will what you so freely give me whenever I want it. And the most amazing thing about it is that you don’t just give it to me, you take from me as much as you give.” He smiled slightly. “I could see very easily why a number of people would think our marriage is one based on love. It’s certainly not a marriage of convenience, unless you’re trying to get your hands on my money.” He chuckled lightly. “But I wouldn’t have married you if that’s all it was.”
“No? Even after I had said no to your repeated invitations to be your mistress?”
“Even then. You forget that day at the jail you offered yourself to me for three hundred dollars. An offer, believe it or not I had no intention on taking you up on.”
“You didn’t? Why not?”
“Because I didn’t want our love making to be about money, Tara, a debt, or anything else. I wanted you to come back to me for me. I wanted you to want me as much as I wanted you.”
“Oh, Rhett, why didn’t you tell me these things a long time ago?”
“Two words, Mrs. Butler. Ashley Wilkes.”
Scarlett glanced up at him, her green eyes sincere searching his to see if he too was sincere. Apparently finding what she wanted she spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. “Who needs Ashley Wilkes, Rhett?”
“Last I checked, Scarlett, you did. Or thought you did.”
“Are you telling me you love me, Rhett Butler? Is that what you’re saying by agreeing with my sister?”
He was caught. He had dreaded this day for quite some time. He couldn’t lie to her. For if he did he knew it would come back to haunt him one day. “Yes,” he said simply.
“And you’re willing to let me live with you but still give me time?”
“Yes, Scarlett. Don’t talk to me in the privacy of our home. But in public, I want you the same as you have been until now.”
“Fair enough. You have yourself a deal, Mr. Butler. Truth be told, I can’t stay at Tara another day longer. It’s too depressing.”
Rhett chuckled lightly. “But apparently it’s what you needed.”
“Apparently so. It’s too bad it took my sister to open up my eyes.” She glanced up at him, still unable to believe he had admitted he loved her. “I think this marriage based on love thing may not be such a bad deal.”
“How do you figure that, Scarlett?”
“Oh, Rhett, how can you ask me that? Suellen made me see something else. She doesn’t enjoy marriage or making love with Will. She sees it as a duty. She was more upset to lose this child thinking that she would have to start the process all over again as soon as the doctor said she was able. I feel sorry for her, and anyone like her. I’m still mad at you for what you did, but maybe it happened for a reason. To open my eyes to what I have.”
“And what do you have, Scarlett?”
“A husband who loves me and one who I know would never intentionally hurt me. You were mad at me, and I understand it. I don’t know how I’d react if I came home to find you with a keepsake from Belle in your hand. I’m not saying what you did was right. It doesn’t excuse it, but I think I can understand things a little better.”
He slipped his arms around her waist. “And Suellen made you see all this?”
“Yes,” she said simply as she rested her head against his chest. “Who would have thought?”
“Who would have indeed,” Rhett said softly before he kissed her lightly on the lips.
Story Copyright Susan Matthews-DeWitt-Falk.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com