A Word Between Gentlemen

Ok, this plot bunny has been haunting me all the way home from work on Friday night. I had mentioned at lunch how a former boyfriend of mine had warned his friend after we had broke up, and his friend was trying to cheer me up, but was getting a little too close. So, ok course I wondered….. WHat if Rhett had done the same with AShley after Melanie's death?

This will be book based, since I need Wade and Ella for the direction of the story.

So.. here it is….not sure if it will go into Chapters,,, we will see…

"A Word Between Gentlemen

Ok, this plot bunny has been haunting me all the way home from work on Friday night. I had mentioned at lunch how a former boyfriend of mine had warned his friend after we had broke up, and his friend was trying to cheer me up, but was getting a little too close. So, ok course I wondered….. WHat if Rhett had done the same with AShley after Melanie's death?

This will be book based, since I need Wade and Ella for the direction of the story.

So.. here it is….not sure if it will go into Chapters,,, we will see…

"Wade Hampton!" Scarlett called again from the bottom of the steps. Wade appeared at the landing and pulling on his coat and rushing down the steps. Scarlett had on her wool wrapper, and her eyes were red rimmed, but not from crying, but from the awful stomach flu that Ella had brought home three days ago. Ella had woken up in the middle of the night, and wandered into Scarlett's room, where she vomited on Scarlett's bed. Mammy had clean it up, but the exposure was enough that the next night, Scarlett awoke in much the same manner.

Wade stood in front of his Mother as she straightened his collar, and smoothed down his straight brown hair, looking into his large brown eyes.

"Are you feeling better, mother?"

"A little, I'm just very tired. Now mind your manners, and don't forget to thank Uncle Ashley for bringing you to the concert."

"I won't, I wish Ella and you could come."

"No, it's best Ella stays in bed one more day, and I just need some rest."

"I know how you love the Christmas songs, and I know you miss-"

"Wade, please, I hear the carriage now."

Wade shuffled out the house, and skipped down the steps toward Aunt Pitty's carriage. The truth was that Scarlett had been avoiding socializing for the past 6 weeks, and almost welcomed the stomach flu that had her down for two days, not to have to go to the children's Christmas concert, and put on a fake smile, when her heart was cold and broken.

Rhett had left, on the day Melanie died, and the only contact she had was a letter written to Wade announcing that Rhett would come and see the children shortly after the "New Year" with gifts. Scarlett had been living in a haze since the day they put Melanie to rest in the Oakland Cemetery, and she had carried on with all the right words while tending her store, but her heart was cold inside her chest, and at night when the house was quiet, the physical pain made her double over in fits of sobbing, and tears that would dry by dawn, and she carried on her day.

Safe upstairs in her bed, Scarlett sipped a hot cup of broth and another cup of tea as she heard Ella's voice protesting the broth down the hall. Ashley had called almost twice a week since Melly's death, and she had refused to see him. But this afternoon, Uncle Peter was sent over with a note, that Aunt Pitty and Ashley would take the boys to the Christmas concert at the school, since Wade had told them how sick Scarlett and Ella had been.

It was a chilly Friday night, and the line of carriages dropped off the families bundled in furs, wool and scarves in front of the school auditorium. Beau's face was ashen and white reviewing his lines in his head. Wade sat comfortably next to Aunt Pitty knowing that if he forgot the song, he could pretend to sing, after all he was singing with the chorus, and Beau had an actual "role".

As the boys made their way to the back door, Ashley helped Aunt Pitty up the steps to take their seats.

"Ashley, i'm so worried about Scarlett. Not coming to Wade's performance."

"AUntie, you heard how sick Ella and Scarlett was this week. But I know, it's like she's closing us out. Maybe, you could invite her to tea next week, when she's feeling better."

"I can only try. If only Melly was here."

Ashley's face darkened and he turned away. Ashley had tried to stay positive today for Beau's sake, and had tried his best to keep the conversation as banal as possible, without mentioning anything that would upset Beau or him. But, now Aunt Pitty had purged his tears to the surface. As they sat in the first row, and Aunt Pitty prattled on about Beau's recitation, Ashley quietly wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.

The truth was Ashley felt utterly alone, he missed Melanie terribly, but he also missed Scarlett and the energy she brought with her. It was a pale, fragile woman, who had stood by Pitty and India at Melanie's wake. Scarlett's voice was silented, and her expression was blank. She answered with the simplest words, but the life in her eyes were gone. Ashley had hugged and thanked Scarlett, and she answered, "You're welcome, I'm sorry for your lost." and her eyes didn't even make contact, but stared ahead, in a daze.

Ashley wished, he could sit and talk with Scarlett, unload his pain and grief to her and mourn Melly with someone who loved Melly, too. But, the strong and steadfast Scarlett was a shell of herself. Ashley suspected Rhett had something to do with her melancholy, so he had asked Scarlett, if Rhett was well. She couldn't even say his name, her answer, "He left, He went to Charleston."

Backstage, Beau drank gulps of water to moisten his dry, nervous throat. Wade stood in line with the chorus, he was glad he would go first, when a tap on his shoulder caused him to turn around, and his face creased into a grin, "Uncle Rhett!"

"It's me."

"But, when, did you go by the house?"

"No, son, I just came in town, and I saw this big shindig at the school, and I remembered the Christmas concert."

"Yeah, I'm in the chorus, again."

"I'll take my seat, and I'll meet you after the performance."

"Oh, you are going to watch?"

"Of course, I'll stand in the back. why? your Mother's out there?" Rhett's eye twinkled, knowing he was the last person Scarlett would welcome. And he didn't want to ruin Wade's night.

"No, Uncle Ashley and AUnt Pitty. Mother and Ella are sick."

"She's sick? How? WHy?"

"She's better now, Mother got the stomach flu from Ella."

Rhett chuckled,"Really? It really got her?"

"Oh, yeah, she was so miserable."

"I bet she was, if she couldn't eat."

Rhett left the boy with a pat on the back and took a seat instead on the second to last row, to have a panoramic view of the stage.

Afterwards, families gathered in the hall of the school for coffee, punch and cake. Aunt PItty and AShley greeted the boys with hugs. Beau's face was pinker, now that he had recited A Song for a Christmas Tree.

"Oh, Beau, it was just lovely," Pitty sang, as she hugged Beau close to her chest.

Wade stood apart, as Ashley clapped on his shoulder, "Wade, your Latin class did a fine job."

"Thank you, Uncle Ashley," Wade asnwered, as he looked over his shoulder.

Aunt Pitty and Beau headed for the refreshment table, and Ashley held back with Wade, then cleared his throat.

"Wade, how is your Mother, doing?"

"She's feeling… better."

"No, I mean, now, that your Uncle Rhett's in Charleston?"

"Oh, she isn't happy, but she never is when he goes away, and she's very sad about Aunt Melly. We all are, but I know she is quite sad."

"Yes, I know how sad she must be," Ashley noticing Wade's distraction, asked,"Who are you looking for Wade?"

"Um, nobody, I thought I saw,,"

The tall man in a gray suit strode toward them, with a gleam in his eye. Wade ran towards him, arms open for a hug.

"Unlce Rhett!"

Ashley slowly turned to see the dark figure embrace the boy, and see his congratulations to his stepson.

"Ashley," nodded Rhett, quietly, "Good evening."

Ashley could barely get out his name, "Rhett, it's good to see you back."

"Oh, I'm not back, happen to be passing through, and I noticed the hustle and bustle going on at school."

Aunt Pitty nearly dropped her punch as she saw the tall, bulky character hugging Wade.

"Captain Butler," she piped, as Ashley grabbed her punch.

"Aunt Pitty, lovely as always." Rhett bowed.

Wade interrupted, "Uncle Rhett, can you bring me home?"

"I'm afraid, I don't have my horse or carriage. Like I said, I'm passing through, I'm catching the nine o'clock train south. I'll be in Naussau for a few weeks, and I'll see the family, when I get back."

"Oh," Wade stated, as his face fell.

"We can still get some punch and cake, I'll stay and visit here."

Wade ran off to gather punch, and cake, as Rhett chuckled following behind him.

As they waited in line for punch, Rhett noticed Ashley's glare at him from across the room, and he asked Wade,"So, anybody's been coming to call on your mother?"

Wade fidgeted with his collar, "Not really, Mother's been at the store, and we have been at school. Mother is sad, Uncle Rhett."

"She told you that?"

"No, I know she is, she doesn't smile and she's tired alot. She gets like that when you go away, and I know she's sad about AUnt Melly."

"How do you know that, Wade?"

"She told Mammy that she looks for Aunt Melly on the street when she's driving home, and then she remembers, she's dead. Mother comes home, and her eyes are so red and puffy."

"Wade? You were eavesdropping," Rhett admonished.

"No, Mother was crying and yelling. I heard it late at night while I was trying to sleep."

"Your mother cries a lot?"

"SOmetimes, but she gets mad, too."

"Did she get mad at you?"

"No, Uncle Ashley."

"Really, Wade, tell me what made her mad?"

"Well, Uncle AShley comes by, and asks to see her, and Pork tells him, Mother doesn't want visitors. But Uncle Ashley says he's worried about her, and he wants to see her."

"Did she see him?"

"No, she yelled at Mammy, 'Tell him to go away, he ruined my life.'"

Rhett grinned, and then frowned at Wade, "Is that so? Did Uncle AShley come back?"

"Oh, yes, many times. But Mammy didn't tell Mother after that."

Soon they were in the front of the line, and Rhett handed Wade his punch, and walked back over to the Hamilton-Wilkes group. Ashley stood quietly nodding, as Pitty discussed her plans for Christmas Eve dinner.

The school hall was getting thinner around eight o'clock, and Rhett walked out with his group, and waited as the carriage pulled up, and Uncle Peter eyed Rhett pursing his lips together.

As they rode back to Peachtree Street, Ashley asked Uncle Peter to drop off Beau and Pitty first, and offered to ride with Wade to his house.

Once they were alone, Ashley closed the door and leaned in close to Wade.

"Wade, I don't think it is a very smart idea to mention that you saw your Uncle Rhett tonight."

"But, my Mother should know-"

"No! Wade, it will only upset her, and she's sick already."

"Uncle Ashley, why are you yelling at me?"

"Because, I care about your mother, and I don't want her to be hurt anymore. You need to listen to me."

Wade glanced at his uncle through his long lashes, and saw his eyes wet with tears,

"Yes, Uncle Ashley," Wade finally whispered, just as the buggy pulled up in front of his home.

Ashley held out an envelope sealed, and passed it to Wade, "Please, see that your mother gets this."

"Thank you for bringing me to the concert," Wade said, wary of his Uncle's emotional outburst.

"No, thank you, Wade, for understanding."

As Wade hurried up the stairs, he noticed his mother's bedroom door was ajar, and her lights were still lit. Wade stood by the door and knocked, and saw his mother turn over, rubbing her eyes. As she sat up in the bed, her nose was wet and her lips downturned. Wade mused, "Maybe Uncle Ashley is right."

"Wade, come in, darling."

"Are you feeling better, mother?"

"Yes, I ate some broth, but I'm just...How was your concert?"

"Fine. Beau was so nervous, but he did well."

"That's good," Scarlett tried to smile through her tears, "WHat do you have there?'

"A letter, from Uncle AShley."

Scarlett made a face, "Well, give it to me, and get yourself to bed,"

"Can I sit with you?"

"Wade Hampton, why you want to sit with me? You have school-"

"Mother, we are on holiday, Christmas is on Monday."

Scarlett cast her eyes down, "That's right. You don't need to worry about me."

"Everybody is worried about you. You are so sad, and I heard you yelling at Mammy about Auntie."

Scarlett blushed, "I'm sorry, Wade, I just get so upset sometimes-" tears streamed down her face again.

"Uncle Rhett."


"Are you sad about Uncle Rhett. He's coming here soon."

"Wade, i told you, don't believe that letter. I wish he would have written me instead."

"He is, He is, mother, He told me."

"When? When did he tell you?"

Wade crimsoned seeing a wild look in his mother's eyes, and studdered, "In,,,,in the letter."

"Wade, i don't want you to me as sad as me."

"I'm not sad. I'm happy. And why are you so mad at Uncle AShley?"

"I just can't bear to see him, because of AUnt Melly. DId he say if he used the money I sent to buy Beau his Christmas clothes?

Wade shrugged, "He didn't say."

"Wade, please go to bed. I need my rest."

Wade got off the chair and headed out the door, saying a "good night" over his shoulder.

Alone in her room, Scarlett looked at the letter wondering if it was something about the mills, but doubting it. She laid the letter on top of Wade's forgotten coat, and sank back into her bed, falling asleep.

It was well after midnight, that the front door opened, and a figure walked into the foyer, putting a leather valise down, and walking over to the red carpeted staircase. The room at the top of the landing, had a warm glow burning and casting shadows in the hallway. Rhett Butler had not been able to leave, hearing Wade's account of Scarlett's behavior, he had to check on his wife before he left for Nausau, a few days wouldn't make a difference, especially if Scarlett was ill.

Rhett approached her room carefully, and as he peeked around the door, he heard the low hum of her snoring. Her lights around the bed were still burning, and he noticed Wade's jacket on the bed with the ivory envelope on top with Scarlett's name printed in bold handwriting. Rhett glanced at Scarlett's pale face and closed eyes. She looked tired and ill, even though she was in a deep sleep, and her room was stifling, even with the cold weather outside. Rhett lifted the coat and letter and walked to the hallway placing the coat on a chair, and inspected the unopened letter, the writing was very masculine.

Rhett headed down to the dining room, and poured himself a brandy and tapped the envelope on the table. He finished his brandy, and then tore it open, the same blocked letters filled the sheet of paper, and the bottom had the name"AShley".

Rhett's anger flared, as he prepared to read the letter:

My Dear Scarlett,

I hope this letter finds you well. I miss your sweetest smile, and your laugh, but that is not what I want from you. I need you to stand by me, and grieve with me for our precious Melly. I know you send checks and pay for Beau's school, and I thank you, but monetary means is not what I need. I need to feel you in my arms, and your heart beating next to mine, so I can feel comfort in my pain. I need your strong shoulders to help me bear this burden of sadness and guilt. Those long nights in the Yankee prison, the memory of your kiss in AUnt Pitty's parlor gave me strength to yearn to hold you again. I need you now, just as I needed you then. I look forward to seeing you again. Please, don't shut me out, come and visit at AUnt Pitty's our door is always open to you. Always, AShley.

Rhett crumpled the letter and left it next to empty brandy glass. He grabbed his valise and started back to the train depot, as he walked in the cold night air his anger cooled and he realized, "Ashley is pleading to see her, and she is ignoring him?" Rhett smirked, but he kept walking, he couldn't stand to be in the middle of this triangle again, not just yet.

Pork was the first one to notice the empty glass and letter, and hurried into the kitchen and called Mammy. The two stood there, and looked at the letter, and the brandy. Mammy crossed herself and Pork nudged her, "What you doin'?"

"Dat must have been a ghost, Miz Scarlett's stomach too tender for brandy."

"It has a S on the letter, it must be hers?"

Mammy's eyes darted up at the bedroom, and mumbled what sounded like curses under her breath. As she reached Scarlett's room, she approached the bed, and Scarlett was still asleep, she leaned down to smell her breath, and Scarlett jolted out of sleep.

"Mammy? What is it?"

"You been done gone and drink dat brandy?"

"No, no, why?"

"I found yo glass and letter on da table."

Scarlett walked awkwardly down the stairs, her legs still weak, and stood in the doorway of the dining room, and stared at the scene. Scarlett tentatively took the letter and a shiver went down her back, not from the chilly house, but from knowing, sensing, Rhett.

"Oh! It was Rhett?"

Mammy looked at her, "WHat you say?"

"Rhett!" Scarlett called, walking toward the stairs. There was no answer, but Wade came dashing out of his room, and went down to Mammy, his eyes big as saucers. Mammy took him in her arms, "Come here, chile."

Wade watched his mother run from room, to room calling Rhett's name holding the letter in her hand. Scarlett made her way down to the dining room, with a smile and tears running down her face. Wade started crying in Mammy's arms.

Mammy left the child, and grabbed Scarlett's arm, "Miz Scarlett, you is scaring de chile."

Scarlett stopped and furiously spat at Mammy, "He was here! I know it."

"Miz Scarlett, he ain't comin'. Is that letter from him?"

"No, it's from AShley! Don't you see, he found this letter, and he took a drink and left, he got angry."

Wade was still crying, and Scarlett took her son's hand, "Did you see him?"

Wade nodded.

"You see, Mammy. Wade saw him."

Mammy turned the child around to see into his watery eyes, "You saw Mista Rhett?"

"Yes, yes," Wade was yelling, "I saw him at the concert, but Uncle Ashley said not to tell Mother!"

Mammy took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.

Wade sniffled into his hands, and Scarlett crumpled the letter in her hands.

Scarlett spent the morning in her room, and it wasn't until after dinner that Scarlett rang for Mammy to come dress her. Scarlett had a gray, wool suit with black trim on her bed from the closet.

"You feelin' betta', Miz Scarlett?"

"Not perfect, but I can make it."

Scarlett had a dull headache from lack of her regular diet, and her legs felt weak and crampy. Today was the first day she attempted solid food, but she needed to go to the store, with two days before Christmas, it would be busy. Scarlett felt the anxiety building, first about leaving the store for two days, and then she wondered if Rhett was still in town. Scarlett wasn't sure how Rhett ran off last night, but he had come to see her, of course in her sleep, but he was worried when Wade told him about her sickness.

Scarlett's ears pricked again, "Wade. Her son was so easily bullied into keeping secrets. " she thought. Scarlett didn't trust herself to see AShley, just yet. She helped in the way she could, she had promised Melly, but she was not ready to see him, or talk to him. Scarlett couldn't trust what she would say, and she didn't want to hurt him with her anger and grief, like she did Rhett after Bonnie died.

Ashley was finishing the last invoices before he went home for the holiday, when he heard a buggy stopping outside the door. He rushed to the window smiling, looking out the office, and he whispered, "Scarlett."

The door was flung open and the voice said, "I guess I wasn't who you were expecting?"

"Hello, Rhett. I thought you left last night."

"Well, I didn't. I needed to see someone before I left my family, alone."

Ashley snickered, "Your family?"

"Yes, I'd like to have a word with you, Mr. WIlkes. A word between gentlemen." Rhett's mouth was in a sneer, and he sat on the leather chair.

Ashley stood awkwardly at the door and closed it softly, just as Rhett lit a cigar.

Ashley sat opposite behind his desk and closed the books, "I was just leaving."

"Really? It's early yet."

"Well, Monday is CHristmas, and I was going to get a tree with Beau."

"Seems like the thing to do these days, funny Scarlett didn't have one this year."

"Well, I promised Beau last night."

"Promises. Promises are important to keep, like vows."

AShley's face turned crimson, and he nodded. Rhett was very lucid, and there was no trace or hint of alcohol, and Rhett had said they would have a gentlemanly conversation. AShley had done nothing wrong, so he didn't fear Rhett.

"So, tell me, Mr. WIlkes, you often make it a habit to write such beautiful letters to married women?"

AShley didn't answer.

"Well, answer me."

"Did Scarlett show you my letter? I'm very concerned about my dear friend."

"No, she didn't show me, I took it and read it. She hadn't even opened it."

Ashley's face blanched, and then his lines smoothed, "You read your wife's personal mail? You probably had much to read in all the weeks you were gone."

"Well, no, I just read yours. You should be ashamed-"

"Nothing in that letter was meant for anybody, but SCarlett."

Rhett laughed, "Is that so? Interesting, your wife is barely cold, and you are yearning for SCarlett?"

Ashley clenched his fists, "I yearned in the past. It was not a romantic letter. I am worried about her, as you should be."

Rhett stubbed his cigar, "Oh, I'm worried, too. I'm worried she'll use you to warm her bed, and then I'll have your brat on my last name."

Ashley stammered, "We have never-"

"Physically, huh, but mentally, I bet you have a dirty little mind."

Ashley's neck turned red as he clenched his jar.

Rhett continued as he puffed on his cigar, "Be glad she's hiding from you. Scarlett is not as sweet when she is grieving, I've been on the other end of her grief, she's a dragon."

AShley's eyes pricked with tears, "I wouldn't care, I need her. I would understand if she needed to yell foul words at me, or hit me, I would understand it."

Rhett looked at Ashley as he tried to fight the tears in his eyes, and shook his head.

"Mr. Ashley WIlkes, the golden boy. I don't see what she saw in you, and why she loved you? You see, Scarlett has professed her love to me, now I'm in her sights."

Ashley stared at this arrogant man, and yelled, "You!You are no gentleman!"

"You're not the first person to notice that, but I'll say what I need to say and leave."

"Please do."

"It's hard hearing the truth, huh Ashley?"

Ashley took a breath, "What do you want with me Rhett? Say it and please leave."

"I'm going on a trip to Nassau, and when I return, I intend to speak with my wife."

"And what does that have to do with me?"

"Well, I wanted to be a gentlemen and warn you, I'm not gone for good. I intend to come back to SCarlett."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, I had to leave. The pain was too much, so much pain, so much death. I was broken, and confused. Then, Scarlett decides in the throws of this pain and death, she wants to give me what I have wanted for twelve years, tell me she loves me. I couldn't take it, too much emotion."

"So, now you want her, as broken as she is?"

"No, I wanted to let her grieve. Scarlett is like a rabid dog when she's emotionally in pain. You have to give her a wide berth, and then she comes back as docile as a baby. I was giving time, but I do intend to come back."

"So, now you have said what you need to-"

"Not all of it. I want you to back off. I'm returning after my business is settled in Nasau and settle back in Atlanta."

"I'm her only friend that is left."

"And she's my wife, and I am asking you as a gentlemen, to leave her alone, she's mine."

Ashley looked at Rhett's black, fierce eyes, and all he could do was nod, he felt as Scarlett was slipping away from him. Ashley had longed for Scarlett to be there for him, and tell him everything was going to be fine, now Rhett was demanding him to avoid her.

Scarlett returned from town, and went directly to lay on her chaise, fully clothed.

Mammy entered the room and gasped, "Are you sick, again?"

Scarlett looked up, "I'm exhausted, I'll take supper up here."

"You gwine get in the bed, you should have never left the house."

Scarlett's head was pounding, and her hands had a shakiness to them, she did not argue with Mammy, and allowed her to undress her. Scarlett sipped the hot tea with lemon as she thankfully relaxed on her pillows. Ella came bounding in the room, her face still had heavy rings around her eyes. Wade ran after her, and stopped when he saw Scarlett in the bed.

"Mother, Wade said I can't see you!" Ella whined.

"I didn't, I told you Mother was still sick."

"Darlings, come here, you may sit on the bed. I'm just very tired, and I did too much today."

"You need a nap?" Ella asked

"Yes, I do, and some good food. Did you eat your dinner, yet?"

Wade shook his head, "No, we were waiting for you."

"Well, I'm eating in bed. You could eat in the dining room, or I'll ask Mammy to bring your trays up here."

Ella jumped up and down, "Yeah, a picnic!"

Scarlett smiled at her silly daughter, and nodded at Wade taking his hand.

"Mother, I'm sorry about-"

"I'm not mad. But don't you ever keep secrets from me, okay?"

Ella stopped, "What secret?"

"A christmas secret, don't we need a tree?"

Wade shook his head, "No, mother, you are sick, and Ella is just getting better now."

"Nonsense, I'll get Pork to take you tomorrow. You can pick it out Wade, and we'll decorate it on Sunday."

Ella hugged her brother, "Yes, Wade, get a big one, too!"

Wade's huge eyes looked into Scarlett's, "ARe you sure?"

"Well, Christmas is going to come, one way or the other," Scarlett stated as tears pricked her eyes. She had decided at the store, she needed to at least make an effort for the next two days for Wade and Ella's sake. They both lost a sister, aunt and stepfather, and her two remaining children deserved a Christmas as close to "joyful" as it could be, even if she had to go through the motions. Melanie would not want the children to have a sad and dismal holiday, Melanie had loved Christmas so much. Scarlett also realized the sooner Christmas was over, the sooner Rhett would be back.

Mammy came in with Scarlett's tray, and protested at the children to get downstairs. Scarlett raised her hand and said, "Mammy, let them be. Wade, go help Mammy bring up a tray for you and your sister."

Mammy motioned for the boy to follow her, just as Ella started to examine her mother's tray, "You got apple pie for dessert? Yummy! I miss Uncle Rhett's ice cream, Mother."

"We can't eat ice cream in December, it's too cold," stated Scarlett between bites of her chicken noodle soup, and toast. The simple food tasted so good, Scarlett felt like she hadn't eaten in days, and it was true.

"How many days until Uncle Rhett comes back?" Ella asked, rearranging her mother's hairbrush and combs on her vanity.

"I don't know, Ella."

"Wade said soon, how long is soon? I want my doll."

"You may get a new doll and a dollhouse for Christmas."

"Uncle Rhett brings the prettiest ones. I want one with red hair, Mother."

"Ella, go see what is keeping Wade," Scarlett was getting tired of her daughter's annoying prattle,"Go on, honey."

Ella started to the door, when Wade yelled, "Watch out, Ella."

Scarlett had finished her dinner and started eating the slice of apple pie, and Mammy smiled as she cleared her plates, "I guess you doin' betta. You feel betta if you eat all dat pie."

Scarlett nodded at Mammy as she chewed. Ella and Wade sat on the bed and started eating their noodles with chicken in silence, as Mammy discussed CHristmas dinner with Scarlett.

"Mammy, did you get the ham and the duck?"

"Yesm' and the sweet potatoes and we jes got the molasses fo' the pecan pies."

It was the first smile Mammy had seen in weeks, "Oh yes, the pecan pies, do make two Mammy."

Wade looked at his mother, and hoped this was the beginning of her being happy again. Her face was pale, but so much calmer, now, and he wondered if him seeing Uncle Rhett had made her happier.

Rhett got back to the hotel, just as the darkness crept into the city, and grabbed his bag, this was his third attempt to leave for Nassau, he needed to meet his boat in Florida. Now, that he had his say with Ashley Wilkes, Rhett felt more content about leaving Scarlett, although he had to chuckle at the fickle woman she was. As he settled on the train, his smile crept back across his face and he chuckled to himself, "That woman was incorrigible!"

An elderly man sitting across from him interjected, "You must be thinking of a sweetheart."

Rhett looked across at the man, and shook his head, "Yes, I guess you could say that."

"I wish I was your age again, don't wait too long to see her, times goes by too fast."

Rhett sat down, and waited for the train to leave, but his thoughts were occupied with Scarlett, and then Ashley, he was quite pushy when he wanted to be, especially that letter. Rhett knew Ashley's kind, he didn't love Scarlett, he wanted to use her to numb the pain, and Rhett had hoped she wouldn't be taken in by his nonsense.

Meanwhile, in a small house on Ivy Street, Ashley and Beau strung red cranberries for their tree. Ashley thoughts were not on the tree or Beau, but on Scarlett. She hadn't read the letter, but Rhett did. Had she even seen the letter? Had she seen Rhett? Ashley was confident that if Scarlett had read the letter, she would have written him a response, even a negative one.

Beau called his father's attention, "Move your berries down more."

Ashley fumbled with the strings, unaware how to do it, and Beau took it out of his hand, and prepared to restring them, "Father, you need to pay more attention."

"Beau, maybe AUnt India can help you when she comes home."

Beau looked up at his father, and redid the pitiful string Ashley had dropped in the bowl. His father always had a far off look, and now it was absolutely lost. The house had been so quiet after his mother died, nobody came to call or visit, and Beau spent most of his time at Aunt Pitty's with India. Beau missed Wade, ELla and Aunt Scarlett who never seemed to visit at the house, and Wade had only met up with him a few times a week to go to school. Beau missed his mother, and often cried himself to sleep at night, especially when he heard his father sobbing in the other room, it made Beau's eyes fill with tears again, as he thought about it.

Ashley stood by the window, looking out into the dark street, his breath making moisture on the window panes. He wondered what was going on at the Butler Mansion on Peachtree street, and wished he could see Scarlett.