|In Your Eyes: Part OneThe Veil
Author: Joyce LaKee PM
War and Reconstruction changed the lives of Atlanta's prominent families forever. A young drifter enters, observes, and is swept up into their dramas, hatreds and loves...Review!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 54 - Words: 156,930 - Reviews: 384 - Favs: 26 - Follows: 25 - Updated: 10-20-08 - Published: 12-05-06 - id: 3275540
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Margaret Mitchell owns "Gone With the Wind" and all its characters. I own a handful of OC's and a story idea. Book-verse. Not "Scarlett" compliant.
"Wade Hampton, will you take Mary Elizabeth, here present..."
Marybeth knelt by Wade's side in her silvery pink dress, veil over her head; not a misty white wedding veil--it wouldn't be fitting--but an ordinary veil for church. Although she listened intently to the words of the priest, she couldn't help that her mind wandered just a bit: Dear Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love him so much, make me a good wife to Wade. Don't let him ever have reason to be ashamed of me or regret me. If I could have done my life differently, I would never have allowed Miklos to maneuver me alone, I would never have even talked to Alex...Everybody here thinks I'm marrying for the second time. I wish it could have been different. I wish I hadn't told people I was married before. I hate myself for lying to everybody who was so good to me.
"Mary Elizabeth, will you take Wade Hampton..."
But what else could I have done? Maybe people could have overlooked falling into disgrace once, but twice? Who would have hired me? How could I have supported my children? Maybe I should have never talked to Wade. I knew fully well he was falling in love with me, and the unselfish thing would have been to cut him immediately. But I didn't want to cut Wade. I was falling in love with him too. Deep down, I didn't want to be alone and I do love him. I don't want to live without Wade. But I wish it could have been different. What would he think of me if he knew the whole truth? What if I stood up right now, in front of all these people and confessed everything and gave the decision to him--let him choose whether or not he still wanted me? That would be the right and honorable thing to do. What would happen then? Would he still marry me? Would he be disgusted, angry, say something cruel? What if he got up, walked back down that aisle and left me? What would everybody else think? What would they do? Of course, if it weren't for my children, I might do just that. But what would happen to them? After I brought disgrace on all of us? Would I be allowed to return to the Meades'? I just can't risk it. It wouldn't be fair to Edward and Christina. I must keep my secret carefully guarded. But at the same time, I do have to make it up to Wade--this deception. I must be loving and kind and hard working, not complaining or nagging and never give him a reason to regret marrying me. I need to be that much better of a wife to make up for my lies. And I will do it. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me.
Wade took her right hand in his to promise his troth...
Marybeth was still thinking feverishly: I will get through this ceremony, then I will get through the ball. After that we will be alone...Marybeth turned pale with apprehension at the thought...
"I join you together in marriage, in the name of the Father..."
The priest blessed the married couple. Wade looked down at Marybeth who smiled wanly back at him. He thought: She's so beautiful; I'm the happiest man in the world. Why does she look so pale, although her eyes shine when she looks at me? Please, Lord, make me a good husband to her, let me be worthy of her.
"With this ring I wed you," said Wade, slipping the ring on Marybeth's finger, "and I pledge you my fidelity."
Mrs. Meade, sitting in the pew, dabbed her eyes as she thought: Our little Marybeth is such a pretty bride. And she's come a long way since Dr. Meade brought her home two years ago. She's acquired culture and accomplishments. She would be a credit to any man. And see how they love each other. He can barely keep from looking at her and she looks like she'll swoon when she meets his eyes.
"...Your own institution, whereby You have provided for the propagation of mankind..."
Scarlett watched from her pew, listening to the words of a priest for the first time in more years than she could count. Not so for Wade--Marybeth went to church, and somehow she had not only Wade Hampton going regularly, but Ella also going every once in a while, even though she had never had Ella baptized. Gerald and Ellen, who would have seen to it, were dead by the time she arrived, and little things like baptism seemed unimportant. Bonnie and the little one she miscarried were never baptized either, and sometimes the thought disturbed Scarlett, who could only suppose they wandered around limbo now. But then she would put the thought away--something to think about "tomorrow".
Besides, Scarlett's mind was unable to pursue mystic abstractions, and quickly turned to more practical matters. I hope the orchestra has arrived. They were supposed to be there before we left for the church. The food and beverages should last through the evening. I certainly ordered enough. I'm glad Wade and Marybeth finally saw reason and let me plan this party for them. I really wanted them to have a bigger wedding ceremony than this, but Marybeth was so adamant I finally gave in, but the reception was a must. I suppose she was correct about not making a big deal about the wedding, since it's not her first time doing this, and it would be a rather shocking breach of etiquette. But at least they'll have something lovely to remember about this day when they look back.
"May the God of Israel join you together: and may He be with you..."
Rhett has been surprisingly well behaved these last several days. In fact, he's been downright engaging. I don't know what's gotten into him. I know he doesn't like Marybeth very much and he's been so opposed to this marriage. I know it and Marybeth knows it. But I admire Marybeth's spunk in standing up to him--I know they had words over it. And Rhett can be fearsome when angered...
"Even thus ought husbands also love their wives as their own bodies..."
Beau, who was standing up as Wade's best man, thought: Good for Cousin Wade. He looks truly happy and she's a fine girl, even if she's not in his class. She's really become quite a sweet girl, just like Ella and the other girls always maintained. She's lost that icy aloofness and is warm and friendly. I'm glad she'll be in our family.
"Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home..."
But oh, Ella! That emerald green frock makes her complexion look even more delicate and translucent. She looks simply beautiful today. Of course to Beau, she always looked beautiful. He knew that wasn't the consensus among their friends. She was described as bewitching, charming, elfin, and even cute. But Beau saw things in her that others didn't and to him she was beautiful. Aunt Scarlett insisted on throwing the bridal couple a party after the wedding, with music and dancing. And Beau knew what he could expect--Raoul and Albert looking daggers at each other as they jockeyed over who would dance with her. The air between the two young men was sure to be filled with tension, but Beau didn't care. He would get his share of dances with her even if it meant taking on both of them at the same time...
"May the Lord send you help from the sanctuary, from Sion may He sustain you..."
Dr. Meade stood by his wife and thought: I never thought I would have the chance to give a bride away--having only had sons. Marybeth looks so fetching, but I hope I have some smelling salts on me, because she looks like she's about to faint. She can't be having second thoughts, can she? Wade Hampton is a fine young man and thank Heaven the Hamilton side of him has exerted itself over the O'Hara side. Gerald and Ellen were fine people, but Scarlett was a handful for so long. I've often thought the same about Ella Lorena. She's chock full of mischief, that one, but rather harmless. Again, the Kennedy in her seems to have overridden the O'Hara.
"...Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause? But He answered and said..."
Rhett thought: I swear I don't know what he sees in her. There's something about her that doesn't sit right. She looks at him adoringly, but there's something else in her eyes, too. Nobody else seems to see it. I was so certain she was only after money, and I'm not sure I was completely wrong, but maybe it isn't only money that she wants. Maybe it's respectability and an old family name. Maybe she hoped to marry out of her class all along. I'm not sure if Elsie Wellburn would have been the worse choice after all. Except that she's a cold-hearted little flirt...
And then there's the fact that Marybeth's bringing two children with her into the marriage already. Just like Scarlett. Just like Scarlett...
"Accept, we beseech You, O Lord, the gifts offered for the sacred bond of marriage..."
Rhett looked down at his wife standing by his side. He would have died before he admitted it to any other living soul, but she took his breath away when he saw her descending the stairs of the mansion to leave for the church. She was dressed modestly, as fitting for Church, in the deepest emerald silk that was certain to turn her tip-tilted eyes emerald as well. But even in her matronly garb, it was clear the years had been kind to her. She didn't look like a woman who was forty-one and about to see her oldest son married. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement, probably over the prospect of throwing a large party--she so used to love throwing parties--and she gave him a smile of genuine joy, not the guarded smiles he was used to seeing on her face ever since he left her the night of Melanie's death, smiles that were wary and never completely hid the pain she felt. He was reminded of the young girl she had been before the War, the day of the barbecue at Twelve Oaks. And yet, she was even different from that girl--for that girl had had only one thought; ensnare Ashley. She had outgrown that childish fantasy. Scarlett was no longer a girl. Scarlett was a woman.
"...You made man in your image, and appointed woman to be his inseparable helpmate..."
I hope she enjoys this party. She worked hard enough on it and it's her first one since before Bonnie died. Wade and Marybeth didn't ask for it, but he was too polite to refuse, and Marybeth ...well, who knows what she thought?
"...Look, in Your mercy, upon this Your handmaid, about to be joined in wedlock..."
Wade is fatuously happy with Marybeth. I guess when I stopped living with Scarlett, only returning to Atlanta often enough to keep gossip down, I lost some of my rights as a stepfather over Wade and Ella. I still believe it would have done Wade a world of good to have spent some time at Belle's before marrying Marybeth. It's bad business for a man to go into marriage with a woman who knows more about life than he does. But he wouldn't hear of it. He prattled on and on about fidelity and true love and in the end he refused to consider keeping company with any other woman, even if it were only for one night and he wasn't even married yet. God knows I love the boy as if he were my own flesh and blood, but sometimes he can be such a ninny.
"...in Christ. Let her ever follow the model of holy women: let her be dear to her husband..."
Ella, Marybeth's maid of honor, thought: Marybeth looks so pretty today. That style and color really suit her. I remember the first time I met her and she was so sedate looking in that dark dress. And her heart was in the grave. And now she's marrying my brother. I'm so glad to have her for a sister and not that nasty little Elsie. Of course, Elsie will be at the party later. We simply couldn't not invite her. But it will be good for her to see that there was one man she couldn't hold on to.
"Let her be true to one wedlock and shun all sinful embraces..."
The reception will be grand. Mother's planned something special. And this dress is quite fetching on me. I hope Raoul and Albert will like it. Cousin Beau looks handsome today. I wish he would find a sweet girl to court..."
"...Let her be grave in demeanor, honorable for her modesty, learned..."
Ashley, in a pew by himself, a little apart and behind the others, thought: The first wedding of this generation. Life has a way of pushing on despite the little heartbreaks and big tragedies we bring on ourselves. Melanie loved Wade so much--she would have been pleased to be here today. How I miss her--even the years haven't lessened the pain. My sweet, gentle Melanie who could never bear to cause anybody pain or see anybody hurt...she would have loved the romance of this day and been happy in Wade's happiness.
"...may He fulfill His blessing in you: that you may see your children's children..."
Beau can barely keep his eyes off Ella. He thinks his feelings for her are a secret, and maybe they are to most other people, but I know. Ella never lacks for suitors--she's somewhat like her mother that way. But where Scarlett always knew the effect she had on men, Ella seems to be only partly aware. And, Ella would never keep a boy she didn't like dangling on a string--she would let him go kindly and right away she was aware of it. Maybe she inherited that from her father--a disinclination to hurt people. I'm certain she's not aware of Beau's feelings. She's too easygoing towards him to be aware of it. But it's nothing that any of us older people can do anything about. They must work out their own destinies.
As they were leaving the church, Mrs. Meade broke away from Dr. Meade's arm, strode across the marble floor to Scarlett and brushed her lips against the younger woman's cheek. She was too happy about the good match Marybeth made with Wade to harbor any petty resentments against his mother.
"Isn't this a happy day, Scarlett?"
Scarlett returned the kiss, too startled not to. "Yes, Mrs. Meade. A very happy day."
Mrs. Meade looked over her shoulder at the Doctor, then turned again to Scarlett. Lowering her voice, she said, "We are both looking forward to your ball supper tonight. And what lovely weather you'll have for it."
Her expression was serious, but there was a twinkle in her eye as she looked at Scarlett that took her by surprise for a second time.
Mrs. Meade doesn't disapprove of this party in Wade's and Marybeth's honor! Scarlett realized with surprise. Not that it would have stopped me, but I was so sure she wouldn't approve. Well, well. Wonders never cease!
There were several hours to fill between the wedding and the party, and Wade and Marybeth weren't sure what to do with themselves. They eluded the others and waved off Beau's and Ella's offer to accompany them.
"It's too early to check in to the Atlanta Hotel, our suite won't be ready yet," Wade mused. They planned to spend the first night there, then in the morning catch a train to Kentucky, where they would be spending their honeymoon on the plantation of one of Wade's college friends. "I suppose we should go visit Aunt Pitty, let her know about our marriage."
And so they did, and wound up spending most of that day in seclusion at Aunt Pitty's, with only Cousin India there besides. She planned to live with Pitty until the Hamiltons were back from their honeymoon. Then she would move back in with her brother to keep house for him.
"I wonder what the future holds in store for us?" Wade mused as they sat all alone on the back porch. India had discreetly withdrawn to the sickroom. Whatever the newly married couple wished to do was certainly none of her business anymore.
"Oh, Wade," Marybeth breathed. "My head is in such a whirl I can barely think past this afternoon until your mother's party."
He leaned back in his chair, and clasped his hands behind his head. "Well, here's what I picture. You and I. Living in our own home...eventually. And someday all our little children around us."
"All of them?" She asked teasingly. "Do you want one dozen or two?"
Wade shouted with laughter. "We'll find out eventually, won't we? But back to our future--after all that, God willing, I picture us growing old together. What do you think?"
"Sounds lovely, although I have a hard time picturing us old, like the Meades. Or even as old as your parents. I just hope it all works out the way you say."
"Hope? What are you talking about--hope? Listen here, woman! We can make all that happen." He jumped up and grabbed her hands, pulling her out of her chair. "Look at the two of us! We're young, we're healthy, we have our whole lives ahead of us. The world is our oyster! With my growing practice and you by my side, there won't be anything that can lick us. And besides, you'll be as beautiful when you're eighty as you are today."
Marybeth grinned. His enthusiasm was infectious.
"Then let's do it, Wade. Let's make everything happen just the way you say."
"Now wait just a minute. Have you thought about what you want? I have no intention of being one of those domineering husbands with a timid, cowed wife."
Marybeth winked saucily. "Don't worry. I have no intention of being domineered. I want what you want. Success, happiness, and yes, a family of our own."
In later years, Marybeth was barely able to remember Scarlett's ball. In her mind, it was a blur of glittering lights, and loud music, and the press of people offering congratulations and kisses, and being led onto the dance floor, by Wade mostly, but there were others who came forward for the honor of a dance. One of these others was her new father-in-law, Rhett Butler.
Even at the age of nineteen, even despite everything she had gone through, she was an innocent when it came to the intrigues of the world. And so she was genuinely surprised when Rhett approached her and held him hand out to her for a dance.
"I really must congratulate you, Mrs. Hamilton," Rhett said conversationally as he put his arm around her waist.
"Why?" Marybeth asked warily as she adjusted her steps to his lead--an easy enough task, for Rhett was a smooth dancer.
"For two reasons. The first of which is you are quite the consummate little actress, aren't you? Nobody looking on at us dancing would ever imagine how much we dislike each other."
Marybeth tossed her head slightly. "Now that I'm married to Wade, I would never dream of giving people reason to speculate about him or me."
"That's the other reason you deserve congratulations. You won Wade after all. Despite your deficiencies of ancestry, without having any family to vouch for your past, you carefully positioned yourself in such a way as to catch his eye, then manipulated him to win his heart. Very sneaky. Congratulations. You now have him. And his fortune."
Angry, but aware they were being watched, lowered her eyes and smiled modestly. "I do, don't I? And nobody can take him away from me. Divorce is out of the question, of course, because we're Catholic. I suppose I've outdone you. And if I may be so bold, you are no gentleman, Captain Butler...no pardon me--Uncle Rhett. I may call you that of course, now that I've won Wade." Unable to resist taunting him further, she added, "Over your threats and objections."
He gripped her hand painfully. "You're only partly right. I'm no gentleman, and never will be. And so, if I ever learn that you've made my step-son's life miserable--or if you bring shame on his good name--I won't hesitate to take you down--even to your own ruin."
Marybeth kept her demure expression but hissed like a cat. "I will be a good wife to him. But not at your bidding. Wade will be happy, but you don't get the credit for that."
Some time later, Rhett was standing by the punch bowl, watching the dancers, when Wade bounded up to him. He was flushed and happy, much to Rhett's disgust, although he didn't show it. Wade took the cup held out to him, and looked like he was about to cut a caper.
"I can't believe this day finally got here!" Wade grinned.
"She's a lovely girl, son."
Wade nodded. "Got any words of advice?"
"Actually, yes", he replied, watching Wade carefully from under hooded lids. "Justly or unjustly, beautiful women are often the targets of unwanted attention. Any treasure worth having is also worth guarding."
"I don't have to worry on that score. Marybeth is very modest and reserved around other men."
"Of course, son, of course. But just watch," Rhett said.
They turned to see Dr. Grant, one in a crowd who had gathered to give Marybeth their best wishes. Like the others, he bent down to kiss her on the cheek.
"There," Rhett said. "Do you see what I mean?"
"Everybody kisses the bride after a wedding--it's good luck. Besides, he knows her through working for Dr. Meade."
"No," Rhett replied impatiently. "Look at his face."
Wade peered more closely. There was something in the young doctor's expression he recognized instantly. It was faint, most observers probably wouldn't notice. But Dr. Grant's feelings towards Marybeth were more than brotherly. Wade was a little shocked. He hadn't thought Andrew Grant would be a rival for her attention.
Rhett watched the play of emotions on Wade's face, and put a hand reassuringly on his shoulder. "Obviously, Marybeth doesn't return his feelings," he said soothingly. "But all the same--you would be smart to keep her out of harms' way."
Ella was standing by the punch bowl, waiting for the servant to hand her a cup when she was approached by Frankie Bonnell. She greeted him courteously, but had no idea of talking to him further. However he had other plans.
"Fine, party, isn't it?" Frankie asked casually.
"Atlanta will be talking about this one for years. I already congratulated Wade."
"Oh, that's nice.'" And then, because he didn't seem to want to leave, she asked him, "And how have you been, Frankie?
"I?" He answered, all innocence. "Well. Very well. Virgie Simmons and I have been keeping company."
Of course, Ella knew. Everybody knew. But she nodded politely. "How nice for you. Virgie's a sweet girl."
"She is, that. Sweet, and talented and beautiful. Such a combination is hard to find, I assure you. But she's also innocent and unaffected. She would never court one man and string another along at the same time. She's not that kind of girl. So naturally, we're very happy together."
Ella bristled slightly. She knew that was a direct jab at her, and the way she saw him and Albert at the same time. But she was her mother's daughter, and refused to rise to the bait. "How nice for you. Now, if you don't mind, I must rejoin my friends..."
"No, wait, Ella. Don't go. Not yet. It was rude of me to say that. But I am concerned for you."
"That's very kind, but I have no need of your concern," and she tried to pass by him, but he put a hand gently on her arm and leaned in.
"You're wrong. You have to hear this. When was the last time you saw Albert?"
"Oh, about an hour ago. Then he went with his friends and I had some things to talk over with Marybeth--Mrs. Hamilton..."
"Well, I just saw him and he's madder than a hornet. Ella, what's been between you and Raoul Picard? Because there's been some gossip."
With all her might, Ella tried to stay calm. Gossip was nothing. In her crowd, gossip was everywhere. "Is that right?" She answered as if she hadn't a care in the world.
"Yes," Frankie, answered. "And I can see Albert coming now." He turned to Ella, his face concerned, but he still seemed to be relishing this. "Would you like me to stay with you? I'm not sure I'd want to face him alone, if I were you."
Rhett Butler walked slowly through one of the ballroom doors that led towards the back of the house, to the back stairs. These were the servant's stairs, the ones that led to their quarters, and the kitchen, and were used solely by the servants so they could do their work unobtrusively as they served their employers. He descended the stairs slowly, relieved for a chance to be alone to think.
So he had his revenge, back there in the ballroom. Nothing surprising there, Rhett always got his revenge--he was a fighter his whole life. In his youth he rebelled against a set of rules that made no sense to him. He lived on the most intimate terms with the lowest strata of society and learned their tricks for survival. He worked for the Confederacy when it suited him, then worked hand in glove with the Yankees to his own advantage. In his personal life, he'd fought the long, protracted battle to win Scarlett's love.
And then he'd punished Scarlett's cold-heartedness with abandonment and a relentless glacial, coldness of his own. But for that matter, after holding the upper hand over her all these years, in the past months she was inexorably slipping away from him. He was very aware that his aloofness these past years bound her to him more tightly than anything else could have, and he took a shameful (or was it shameless?) enjoyment in it. After all, that's what he always wanted--for Scarlett to love him. But it wasn't working anymore. What's more, it was no longer satisfying.
He felt a sense of shame, moreover, at what he'd done to Wade. He knew it was truly beneath him to take on an adversary as puny as Marybeth, no matter how much she taunted him, and the thought was galling. Not because he felt remorse towards her, but because he felt it belittled him. Not to mention, it failed to have the desired effect. He hadn't driven a wedge between Wade and Marybeth, but he'd planted the seeds of doubt in Wade's mind. Although he trusted Marybeth utterly, there would always be some enmity between him and Dr. Grant from this day on. So. His stepson was married, and his daughter-in-law hated him.
His own mortality, the consciousness of which pressed on him at all times, was particularly weighty this festive evening. Wade--who he'd known from a baby--who he'd helped raise, was now a grown man, with a wife of his own and opinions of his own. Ella would be married soon. Who to was anybody's guess, at this point. But it didn't matter. Although she wasn't as popular as Scarlett had been, she was no wallflower, either.
And then what? At age fifty-eight, besides his money, (which was no inconsiderable amount), he didn't have much to show for his life of fighting. He prided himself on not being gullible, but on being alert and cunning, able to cut right through the lies and polite evasions of his society, able to wrest what he wanted from the world by main force, and yet... he had been brought to this pass by the machinations of women. Oh, he had been loved--by his mother and Rosemary, Ella and Melanie. They loved him and they civilized him. It was only for their sakes that he returned to Scarlett time after time. And he had been desired-- by Belle and sometimes by Scarlett. Amazing how alike they were--smart women who were forced by circumstances to make their own ways in the world. But what was a mean streak in Scarlett was merely a streak of cunning in Belle. But Belle was no angel, either. She could manipulate circumstances to make things happen the way she wanted. In all the years he'd known her, he always needed to stay a couple steps ahead of her or he might have wound up marrying her, whore or not. He lumped Marybeth into their category--Belle's and Scarlett's. Her hooks were firmly sunk into Wade. Marybeth Hamilton. Indeed.
Bonnie--as a woman? No. Bonnie was a case apart.
Women! May the devil take the whole tribe of them, he thought savagely. He wished he could live without them altogether. Except for one woman--Scarlett. It always comes back to Scarlett. She could not civilize him because she was barely civilized herself, under that Great Lady exterior. Even when I'm thinking about other women, it is always in their relationship to her. Scarlett, Scarlett. Always Scarlett. I leave her, she haunts me. I come back, and I can scarcely endure to live in the same house as her. Is it worth the fight? Do I even have the strength to fight anymore?
As if he conjured her by some arcane magician's trick, Scarlett was heading towards him down the hall--no, not towards him, towards the kitchen. She was carrying a nearly empty pitcher in one hand and balancing a little tray piled high with linen napkins. She was flushed and tired, but clearly happy.
"You're as pretty as a picture," he said as he stepped out of the shadow at the bottom of the staircase.
Startled, she gasped and staggered, nearly upsetting the tray. He clamped his cigar in his teeth, took the tray from her and put it on a sideboard. Then he took the pitcher from her, as she gaped at this evidence of chivalry. He set the pitcher down on the sideboard too, and that brought an immediate reaction.
"Oh, it will leave a ring..."
"You little hypocrite, forever thinking about how things look," he said, but he grinned to soften his words. She was reaching past him to pick up the pitcher. "You've been working really hard lately."
"I don't have time for anything else," she answered curtly as she picked up the pitcher and rubbed the varnish underneath with one of the discarded napkins, hoping to thwart the dreaded ring from forming.
"You need a vacation. Run away with me, Scarlett."
She stopped in her tracks, stared at him hard, and then, forgetting the pitcher and the damage it was about to inflict on the varnish, pulled him down the hallway, away from the hearing of the servants.
"This is no time for your silly jokes."
Rhett put his hand over his heart, as if he were grievously offended. "Scarlett, this is no joke."
"What--of course it is! You left me nearly thirteen years ago, remember?"
"I haven't forgotten."
She looked at him as if she thought he was insane. "And so you just waltz in and want me to forgive that?"
"I did nothing to be forgiven for, taking into account your affair with Ashley."
Somehow, Scarlett forgot she had placed all the blame on herself, anyway. "You haven't lost an ounce of your cheek, have you?"
"Would you have loved me all these years if I had?"
"No, I suppose I wouldn't have..." She stopped abruptly and blushed at being trapped into admitting her love for him. Just as she forgot her self-blame, she had forgotten her declaration of love for him the night Melanie died
"But you do love me, Scarlett, don't you? Of course, I'm not sure why I'm asking you when I can see it in your eyes. You never stopped loving me."
Scarlett stood there, part of her feeling humiliated and naked at the casual way he was discussing her tenderest emotions. But on the other hand, this was Rhett, who knew her better than anybody, even better than she knew herself. She could live through this humiliation--and there were no witnesses to it--but she didn't know what he was doing here, or why he was talking to her like this, either. She decided her best strategy was transparent honesty. Straightening her shoulders, she looked him directly in the eye. "You're right, Rhett, I never stopped loving you. And I never stopped wanting you to come back to me. But," she said pointedly, "I gave up all hope of that happening"
"You gave up a bit prematurely, I should say. Because I want you, Scarlett. I want to live with you."
Scarlett's palms were getting clammy. For so long she wanted to hear words like this from him. But she noticed that he hadn't said love. "I must say, I'm confounded by this abrupt turnaround. Up until now, you did an excellent job of showing me your ongoing contempt."
"Do you mean all the times I came to Atlanta to keep gossip down?"
"Yes. Not that it actually kept gossip down, but yes."
"All the times I came to Atlanta?"
"Yes. All the times you came to Atlanta."
What was he trying to say? "Yes, Atlanta, Atlanta. What is that, some sort of magical word? Like abracadabra? Atlanta!"
He stood back and folded his arms. "Then there you have it."
Scarlett heard a crash from the kitchen, Prissy's voice babbling excuses and Dilcey's voice scolding
"What do I have?" She asked in desperation. Her brow was wrinkled in consternation. "Oh, never mind. I don't have time for riddles, and I don't have time for your jokes. Can we talk about this later?" And she turned to go.
With a hand on her shoulder, he whirled her around to face him. "You honestly don't understand? No, of course you wouldn't. You don't understand anything that isn't spelled out plainly. Think Scarlett! What was the one time we were completely happy? Not the thin, superficial fun that passes for happiness in this day and age, but the type of happiness you feel deep in your bones. Because we were happy once, Scarlett. Remember?"
He hadn't moved his hand from her shoulder and her pulse was speeding up. "Oh...I don't know--our honeymoon?"
"Exactly. That was the only time we were away from Atlanta and the old cats and the clacking tongues and all the in-laws. We had our money and we had each other. Maybe that's where we went wrong. Maybe rather than settling in Atlanta, where both our reputations were thoroughly spotted, we should have lived free as the wind, going where our inclinations led us. Nothing to tie us down--but off to the next city, the next country, the next adventure--at our own whim."
Scarlett stared at him, drawn to him--his face looked years younger as he fanaticized a gypsy lifestyle for them. She felt a stirring deep inside her...but she had no time for fantasies. She had a party to run. "That wouldn't have been practical. We couldn't have possibly done that with little Wade and Ella in tow."
He shook his head. "They would have loved it. Besides, we had servants to look after them."
Scarlett took a deep breath. "You haven't forgotten the terrible thing I said after Bonnie's death?" She said, sure she was delivering the death knell to his burgeoning feelings, but unable to leave it unsaid.
He looked straight into her eyes. "That was so long ago."
"I accused you of murdering her by teaching her how to jump," Scarlett was relentless. "I accused you--who loved Bonnie more than anything in the whole world."
She was sure she'd see hate in his eyes as she cast up the past to him. But he looked at her without flinching and without change of expression. "It was cruel of you, Scarlett, and no, I haven't forgotten."
His unflinching stance gave her courage. If he could look at that episode in all sober honesty, she would not shrink from what she wanted to say next. She wrung her hands, and her brow puckered. "From the bottom of my heart, Rhett I wish I had left those words unsaid. I won't even give you the excuse that I spoke out of grief. It was cruel--furthermore, it was on purpose--and I'm abjectly sorry."
"I believe you and I forgive you. I don't want it to stand in our way."
"You say our way as if you really do expect me to run away with you..."
"Why not? You haven't done anything to set tongues wagging lately. You're overdue for a scandal." He was in his teasing mood now, and Scarlett couldn't resist smiling back wanly. He was always unpredictable, but this topped everything. His hand was caressing her shoulder gently, and she was starting to get dizzy. She wanted to run away so she could think. Things were moving a little too fast for her.
"No, no. This is completely unbelievable. How can you have a change of heart after thirteen years?"
"As I recall, you chased Ashley Wilkes for the first twelve years I knew you, then abruptly changed your mind."
"That was different. It took the tragedy of Melanie's death to make me realize how I felt about you."
"Well then, if you can make such an abrupt change because of a sorrow, then why can't it take a happy occasion for me to make an equally momentous change?"
"Well for one thing, because you're not happy about this marriage."
"Point taken. I'm not happy to see Wade throw himself away. But it has made me think. Hence I want you to run away with me."
"That makes no sense at all..." The unreality of this meeting made Scarlett wonder if her mind weren't playing tricks on her. All the years she played the Great Lady for his benefit, and he was scarcely civil to her. Now, without any wrangling on her part, he was offering her a life together with him. Albeit, a strange, unconventional life, but he was still offering himself. Her head swam. Furthermore, strangely, now that the moment she'd dreamed of was here, she quailed a bit. Her pursuit of him had been such a part of her life for so many years, she was really at a loss what to do now that she had him. But wait--she didn't quite have him. Not yet. Steeling herself, she strove to keep her mind's eye on the ultimate victory.
Rhett was still speaking. "Let's talk about this Scarlett--not here, not with the servants around. Let's find some place we can be alone..."
"I can't right now. I have guests."
"After your guests are gone, then. Depend upon it, I will talk to you, Scarlett. And I will get an answer."
Laughing, and with mischief in his eyes, Wade drew Marybeth away from the ballroom. Taking her by the hand, he led her speedily down the back stairs--the servants' stairs--looking to see if they were observed, then he pulled her into the library and locked the door. When he was assured they were alone, he drew the curtains, turned up the gaslights and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her mouth and caressed her boldly, which made her gasp and cling to him. He lifted her up and buried his face in her neck.
"You are so tempting and we're here all alone," he muttered and she giggled nervously. But then he gave her a smacking kiss on the mouth and plunked her back down on the floor. He took her hands and grinned down at her. "But not here, not with a house full of people roaming about. I suppose I can wait until we're at the Hotel Atlanta...If only all those guests would leave, already. But I'm sure we can slip out early."
Marybeth was too overwhelmed to answer. She merely nodded.
Then he laughed joyfully. "You've made me the happiest man on Earth! We're going to be so happy together--you'll see."
At that moment, Ella was in the dining room facing down an irate Albert Whiting.
"What do I have to do to make sure you're faithful to me? What do I have to say?" He asked furiously.
"You've been listening to gossip," she raised her hands in a placating gesture as she tried to be calm.
"You seem to inspire a lot of it."
Ella laughed carelessly. "This is all a tempest in a teapot. Do you want to know the truth? Fine. I did receive other callers while you were at University."
"Again? Didn't we go through all this last year? What is wrong with you?"
"Me? Me?" She spluttered and her eyes grew large as she considered the unfairness of his implication. "Me? But it's all you! You're the one who can never tell me what you're thinking about. I have no idea what's happening in your mind or your heart. First you get jealous like a lover, then when everybody else is out of the way, you start treating me like a sister again. I can't live like that."
"And I can't court an unfaithful woman. I'm tired of this. We're through."
Dr. Grant declined the Meades' offer of a ride home and instead wended his way slowly to his boarding house in the sultry night, deep in thought and wallowing in self-disgust as he puffed on his pipe. He wasn't sure which was worse--that he was an idiot, or that he never even recognized his own idiocy. He had needed to see her at Wade's side before he could convince himself that the marriage was an irrevocable fact. He shook his head at his own foolishness in the matter. What had he thought? That somehow Marybeth's engagement would never come to fruition? And then what? That she would grieve for a while, then he, Andrew, would be there to console her? And then she would fall into his arms...
He laughed harshly into the night. This was real life--not one of those romantic penny dreadfuls some foolish girls were so fond of. Marybeth was married. She was the wife of another man. Andrew was no choirboy, but neither had he ever touched or even cast longing eyes on the wife of another man. And he decided that he was not going to start now.
His pipe went out and he stopped to relight it. Penelope Stour from prayer meeting had been giving him the friendly eye for the last two months, but he never encouraged her while he still had some hope of Marybeth, no matter how remote...
This Wednesday, if Penny were at prayer meeting, and she were so kind as to look upon him in friendly-wise...he wouldn't be so foolish as to turn her away...
In the bridal suite at the Atlanta Hotel Marybeth stood in her nightdress, staring at herself in the mirror. The nightdress was quite pretty, with ruffles around the wide, scooped neckline and at the wrists. With her hair down her back, she looked so natural it seemed wanton, and she blushed before she turned away from her own image.
Wade was in his dressing room, doing Heaven-only-knew-what, and Marybeth's anxiety was mounting as she waited for him. She was too nervous to climb into the bed, so she stood, clutching the bedpost, trying to calm her whirling thoughts.
Nobody, not even Mrs. Meade, had thought to talk to her about what was to happen on her wedding night. And why should they? After all, in the eyes of all her women friends, she was a widow and therefore should know what was going to happen, so there was nothing to discuss. She thought bitterly of the fathers of her children. They had only used her and caused her pain. She had listened to the obstetric discussions the older women were fond of having, desperately hoping for information or nuggets of advice, but they only discussed the "after" of pregnancy--never the "before". What would Wade expect of her, she wondered feverishly. What was she supposed to do?
She heard the door to the dressing room open, and she turned to Wade with one hand still clutching the bedpost and trying not to faint.
He entered the bedroom and was surprised to find Marybeth standing next to the bed. He approached her with a little puzzled smile on his face. "Is everything all right?" He asked, taking her hand. Marybeth nodded and he pulled her into his arms. He was shocked at how rigid her body felt against his, and he held her away from him to look into her face. It was difficult to see her expression in the moonlight, but she looked like she was trying to be brave. He picked up her hand and kissed it, feeling its trembling. He was a little taken aback; after all, it wasn't as if she didn't know what happened between men and women. But obviously, something was bothering her. Still holding her by the hand, he led her over to an armchair that was in a corner of the room. He sat down and pulled her into his lap, with his arms loosely around her. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his neck, hardly daring to breathe. It was her first night as a wife and she was failing miserably. At least, she thought she was--she really didn't know for sure, and that thought brought a lump to her throat.
Wade stroked her back gently, at a loss what to do. She hadn't fought him, she had come to him without hesitation, but she was clearly frightened of something. She would do whatever he wanted, but that wasn't good enough. He wanted her desire.
"What is it you want, Marybeth?" He asked quietly.
"Just your love," she whispered back.
"You never have to ask." He stroked her back and her hair and he could feel the tension in her body. Maybe if he distracted her...
"You know, this morning at our wedding...?"
"When I first saw you in the church in that pink dress..."
He smiled a little, but wasn't going to be distracted. "I was minded of a poem:
When as in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (me thinks) how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes. Robert Herrick wrote it."
She smiled, too. "How strange you would think of that."
"No, it's not. You looked lovely. Just like a poem. You still look lovely."
She sighed happily. She liked when he told her sweet nothings. He noticed the tension was starting to ease in her body. Of course, as lightly dressed as they both were, he was noticing a lot of things. He shifted uncomfortably.
"You know, we have an early train tomorrow," he murmured.
Marybeth sat up and looked at him then. Wade took her hands. "I think it's time we go to sleep." She didn't look enthusiastic, but at least she had lost that frightened look. He kissed her lightly and put her on her feet. Then he heaved himself out of the chair and took her hand again. She climbed into bed first, and he lay down carefully next to her, his only contact with her being the hand he took up again. As they lay side by side, Marybeth stayed awake, thinking. He hasn't forced me, he hasn't used me, he actually wants to please me--he wants me to be happy. She thought about these things for quite awhile. The warmth of his hand was pleasant to her, after all. She decided that she liked not being alone at night. Maybe there wasn't anything to be afraid of after all. Maybe things would be different with Wade.
She rolled towards him and he opened his eyes at her movement. She was inching closer to him, he could feel her thigh touching his and he blinked. He had no intention of forcing his marital rights, but at the same time, he wasn't made out of stone. He sincerely hoped she wasn't intending to tease him. He propped himself up on his elbow.
She took his hand and held it over her heart. "I want to be your wife, Wade. In every sense of the word."
"Are you sure?" He whispered, hoping. If only he didn't have to wait any longer...
"Absolutely sure," she murmured as she brought her mouth up to meet his...
Beau Wilkes was one of the last party guests left. No, make that the last of the sober party guests. The whiskey and champagne he drank earlier had entirely worn off, and he picked his way across the littered ballroom, past the orchestra that continued to play as long as anybody wanted to dance (the Butlers were rich--they could afford it), around some weary, drunken couples in various stages of dalliance and ran down the stairs. Here and there were some guests left, some few final stragglers who would either find a spare, unlocked bedroom to sleep off this night, or would find their way home by hook or by crook. Or if not home, some inviting stretch of lawn. He ignored the drunks and made his way through the parlor and out onto the terrace. He looked around and saw nobody, but when his shoes rang out on the flagstones, he saw a couple who had been lingering in the shadows step away from the light quickly and dart around the corner for more privacy. Beau sighed, then wandered the grounds of the mansion, not sure what to do with himself. Wade and Marybeth were at the hotel by now. Father went home hours ago. He had no idea where Aunt Scarlett was, but she had disappeared some time ago.
He stepped down onto the lawn and strode between the azaleas in bloom towards the back paddock. Beau wanted to wish Ella one last good night, but come to think of it, he hadn't seen her in a really long time, either. He'd made up his mind that she was already in bed and was about to turn towards home, when he heard crying.
And there she was, crumpled under the iron stag.
"Ella, are you hurt?" He crouched down next to her, frightened.
"Oh, Cousin Beau," she sniffed, then dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "Hurt? Not at all. Nobody has misused me, if that's what you mean."
In spite of himself, Beau blushed at her forthrightness.
She wailed louder and he looked around desperately. He couldn't be seen bringing her into the house crying, tongues would surely wag. Also, some of the drunken guests were single men who might be tempted to try her door once she was inside. He didn't want to put any ideas in their heads. On the other hand, he couldn't stay out here with her all night, either. Then he saw the carriage house. He could take her there until she had her cry. Then he would have to get her safely to her room afterward. There was no help for it.
"Come on, Ella," he said as he put a hand firmly under her elbow. He had to practically lift her off the ground and to her feet. She was still sobbing hysterically. "You can't stay out here all night, what will people think?"
She made an effort to compose herself and Beau knew he'd have to be satisfied with that. Looking around to make sure they weren't observed, he led her to the carriage house. Just to make sure there was no chance of people misunderstanding, he kept the large door wide open. Then he climbed up onto one of the carriages and pulled her up beside him to sit.
"I always mess it up," Ella sniffed. "Albert's left me because I was receiving Raoul."
Beau sighed. "Do you love Albert that much?"
"And what about Raoul?"
"Oh, that was just a flirtation. Just a stupid flirtation. Albert's not a very attentive beau, Beau. Sometimes I wonder if he cares about me at all. But then if I look at any other man, he's furious."
Maybe the problem is she isn't really in love with Albert at all, thought Beau. Maybe he's sort of a habit she fell into a couple years ago and doesn't know she wants to give it up. I think that's the situation. In fact, I know that's the situation. If she could only be made to see her feelings for Albert for what they really are, maybe there would be a chance for me. He casually took her hand in both of his, and rested it on his knees.
"Ella," he started. "Have you considered..."
"Ella? Ella?" They heard a voice calling, and they both looked towards the door. Albert was standing on the threshold, looking uncertain. "I thought I heard you in here. Oh, hello, Beau."
Albert obviously wasn't worried to see Ella alone with Beau, and Beau bristled at this casual dismissal of himself.
"Ella," Albert asked. "Might I have a word with you? Alone?"
Ella turned to Beau, and her eyes were dark in the moonlight. "D'you mind? I really should go talk to him."
Beau didn't think so at all, but he climbed down from the wagon and swung Ella down. She joined Albert and they walked out of the carriage house together. But Beau didn't follow them. He went out the door opposite and walked home.
Scarlett Butler turned her head and looked out the window where she could see the tops of the trees. There wasn't going to be any sleep for her tonight--she would not. She felt, deep in her bones, that the only chance for her now, the only chance for her sanity and self-respect lay in keeping her wits about her. Because that was the only way she could put her plan into motion.
There was peace in her heart now, but it was only in the form of a reprieve. Right now she could lay here in her own bed and contemplate the trees in drowsy sentimentality, but at the earliest possible moment she would have to get up and leave the house, leave Atlanta, flee to Tara. She'd barely been to Tara in the last several years, at least not enough to suit her, but from now on, she vowed, she would live at Tara and not waste her life in Atlanta waiting for a man who dangled her on a string. Even if he was the man she loved.
But be fair, she thought to herself, he didn't dangle you at all. He insisted over and over he didn't want you and you refused to listen, just like you always refused to listen to things you didn't like to hear, by putting them off until tomorrow.
Scarlett was almost appalled at how her plan had formed itself so completely and flawlessly in her mind, as if some power outside herself had a hand in it. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she would get out of bed, throw on a dress, any old dress, make Pork hitch the carriage and have him take her to the train station. Of course, Prissy and Ella would have to follow her, but she would leave the message for them with Pork.
As for the mansion, she didn't care what happened to it. She could leave it to Wade Hampton and that little bride of his. They would need it someday. Marybeth came into the marriage with two children already and she was just the type to have dozens more. They were planning to live with Aunt Pittypat, but that situation wouldn't work forever.
She heard a sigh and turned her eyes from the window to the head of the man sleeping with his head on her chest and his arms wound tightly around her. She kissed his hair. It was all gray now. But then, beside Frank, Rhett was the oldest beau she'd ever had. Right now she luxuriated in his touch, his pleasant weight upon her and the memory of the night they had just spent. Scarlett had won. After all these years, she had won. Furthermore, he was quite sober when he claimed her, so her victory was doubly sweet. But she had won at such a price! Years of her life gone, taking with them her youth and enormous amounts of her own pride.
She was waiting for him to let her go, to loosen his arms and she would slip away, before he could wake up and say anything to break the spell. She might have won, but she was still thoroughly under his power and she knew how weakened she was from the years of struggle. She could never face him in the morning--she was too afraid he would say something nasty, something that would leave more scars that would never heal. Therefore, she would leave. He could follow her or not. Her destination was to be no secret. But whatever he chose to do, she would always know that their last encounter had ended in her victory.