ANother chapter, I'm on a roll! Thanks for all my loyal readers who have waited for my update. I'm sorry, but life gets crazy!
I love the reviews, and heresvivi is always so supportive! ENJOY!
The letter was dated April 14, 1880, as Scarlett ran her fingers over the slanted elegant script, and saw his name delicately scrawled at the bottom "Ashley". Rhett sat on the floor with Rosalie lining up the soldiers, but his eyes glanced up at her, to see her face. Scarlett kept a curious inspection of the words.
"Anything, interesting?" Rhett smirked.
Scarlett's concentration was broken, "What? Uh, I'm reading."
"Care to read aloud?"
"Well, India must have published it in the newspaper, that we were having another child! The first paragraph is all about that."
Rhett smirked, "He isn't berating you?"
Rosalie chimed in, "Pa, it's your turn, move your soldiers!"
Scarlett smirked back, "No, he didn't."
Scarlett read on, she had seen Ashley only two years before at the boys' graduation in Atlanta, just before they had said their goodbyes to their sons, who headed off for Europe. Ashley had looked happy, and content with his life in New York. It was with misgivings that he had married the "spiritualist", but as Scarlett had made her peace with it, and India and Pitty had conceded, so did Atlanta.
This letter now written, on Ashley's forty-fifth birthday, was a letter filled with gratitude, appreciation, and kindness. Ashley always lived in a "dream", and he still was the dreamer, and his wife was one who created dreams for grieving souls, and Scarlett was confident that Ashley was happy, and that Catherine Sinclair Wilkes was doing the best by him. They had their own small family now, two toddlers, Helen and Julia. Even though his wife could not attend the graduation due to her confinement with their oldest, Ashley assured that all was well.
Rhett smirked, "Does Ashley's wife send her regards?"
Scarlett blushed, "He doesn't say."
Rhett left Rosalie with her soldiers, and walked over, gingerly taking the letter, "Do you think she told him?"
Scarlett sighed, "How you do run on. No, I believe that conversation was kept between us."
Rhett snickered, "Yes, the she devils' conference."
Rhett skimmed the letter full of words, and references, Scarlett would never understand, and sighed, "Looks like the new Wilkes have made their own utopia in New York. Sounds like a man, that has finally realized that he could never have made it on his own if it wasn't for the women in his life. Seems like the new little family will be in Atlanta for Christmas, did you get that far?"
Scarlett's eyes opened wide and she turned from John's bassinet, "No, the prattle got boring."
"Yes, it seems the wife is coming, too."
Scarlett smirked, "Hm, really?"
"Perhaps, we could ride in for the day or two, and have dinner at India's with them, Ashley suggested it."
"Perhaps," Scarlett giggled, "It will be interesting to see that woman again."
Rhett kissed her cheek, "I can't wait, myself."
Mammy and the nurse, a wiry girl named Vella, came in to gather the children, so the Butlers could have their first dinner together in more than a month. As Rosalie protested, Rhett waved them off, "Miss Rosalie can stay, Mammy, you help Vella with the baby."
Rosalie bounded off holding her Pa's hand to the dining room, as another place was set next to him.
Rosalie wrinkled her nose, "What's that nasty smell?"
Scarlett answered, "Darling, that's dinner, it's not nasty, It's gumbo."
"It stinks like fish!"
Rhett chuckled, "Well, if you are eating with us, that's what you're going to eat."
"I just want bread!" Rosalie protested.
Scarlett waved her hand, knowing her daughter's appetite, "We'll see."
As they sat down, Rhett busied himself with serving Rosalie her gumbo, rice and bread. Scarlett's mind drifted to when she first met the current Catherine Sinclair Wilkes in Atlanta.
Rhett had recounted the meeting with the Sinclair sisters, and himself. Scarlett felt both sickened and angry at the abuse that Rhett had to endure, how could Ashley allow this. But as she withdrew into her bedroom, and laid restlessly in her bed, Scarlett's mind worked furiously, and she turned over all the words and jabs that Rhett had hurled at Ashley through the years, and somehow, it all came together.
First, Ashley was a dreamer, and Catherine SInclair offered a dream world to grieving people, and Ashley had been a perfect target for her. Second, Ashley had loved Melanie for so long, that the pain without her was unbearable, and perhaps the fascinating Ms. Catherine offered him a replacement, maybe not the deep love, but a bandage for his lonely heart, and lastly, Scarlett had made it quite understood, should Ashley or Beau be hurt in anyway, Catherine SInclair would have to deal with her.
It was the following day, that Scarlett woke early enough to join Rhett at breakfast. As she came down the stairs in her pale gray silk suit, and her navy hat with an ivory plume Rhett could see she was on a mission.
As Scarlett buttered her toast, over a steaming plate of eggs, Rhett glanced at her, "What is your plan today?"
Scarlett put the toast down with a clang, and dimpled, "I have some visiting to do."
Rhett smirked, "I hope your first is to knock some sense into Ashley Wilkes."
Scarlett hummed as she stirred her grits, "No, it's not. I'm going to visit Ms Sinclair."
Rhett's blood ran cold, "No, you-"
"Shush, Rhett, I have invited her to tea at India's, all the necessary letters have been sent."
Rhett stared, and roared, "At India's?"
"Yes, we are going to have a civilized afternoon, to discuss things without spooks and spirits.."
Rhett shook his head, "Don't listen to that bi-" he glanced at Ella and Wade sitting mouths gaped at the other end of the table, "Don't be drawn into-"
"Rhett," Scarlett put her cool hand over his, "You went to her "gathering". I'm not dealing with her as a reader, I'm dealing with her as a business proposal."
Wade piped up, "You're going to give her money to leave?"
Scarlett cut eyes at her too tall son, "Wade, mind your business."
Rhett smirked, "What are you planning?"
Scarlett shook her head, "I will hear her out, and then we are going discuss this like civil adults, the same way I would deal with anybody marrying into my family."
"You mean, you wouldn't care if he marries her?"
"Well, provided she is doing right by him, maybe this is what Ashley needs."
Rhett chuckled, and shook his head, "Oh to be a fly on the wall."
Following Scarlett's rounds at the store, she sent Wade back with the carriage as she knocked on India and Pitty's door. India answered the door, and greeted Scarlett with clammy hands, and a pinched white face.
As Scarlett walked in and pulled off her gloves, she surveyed the parlor where the tea service was set for three, and steaming slices of Dilcey's pound cake sat in dishes, "Where's Pitty? She can't join us?"
"She is taken to her bed, Auntie can't believe you insisted on inviting that Witch to our home."
Scarlett eyed India, who bit her lip to control the puddles gathering in her eyes, "Catherine Sinclair is not a witch, she is a manipulative woman, and I intend to interrogate her, she may be in love, and if she is, maybe Ashley is looking for just that."
Scarlett!" India's tears rolled down her face, "You can't mean, you will let -"
"Let? Ashley is a grown man, and for him to have a wife would be better than drinking himself to death or spending nights in a brothel."
India raised her bowed head, with furious eyes on Scarlett, "You would bring that up!"
"I'm stating all the trouble Ashley has gotten into since poor Melly died, and believe me, if it isn't Catherine Sinclair, another woman will come along, and she may not be as respectable."
India steamed, and her hand itched to slap Scarlett, instead she hurled out, "You know, I would rather Ashley marry you, and I can't believe I'm saying that!"
Scarlett could not help, but chuckle at the irony, and she added, "India, go wash your face, your guest is here."
India hurried to upstairs, as Scarlett opened the door just as Catherine reached the top step of the porch, and she greeted the petite woman with rosy cheeks from the summer heat, and her hair glistened in the afternoon sun, in golden waves, pulled up under a pale lavender hat which matched the tiny rosebud calico of her simple dress. "Good AFternoon, Mrs. Butler?"
Scarlett smiled, and nodded looking into her laughing amber colored eyes, that showed no malice, but intrigue.
"Yes, Call me Scarlett."
Catherine's hand was soft and warm, unlike the frightened and frazzled India, who lurched down the stairs to meet them in the parlor.
"How do you do Miss Sinclair?" India asked coolly, taking her offered hand.
As Scarlett began to pour the tea, Catherine spoke first, "I really do want to apologize for upsetting your husband, but I-"
Scarlett dimpled as she replaced the teapot, and reached over patting her hand, "Ms. Sinclair, my husband has been quite emotional over our daughter's accident, and I didn't call you here today to discuss spirits."
"But, I just wanted to say, that I try to be as truthful as I can to the living, when the spirits call."
"Ms. Sinclair," Scarlett said and pinned her with her eyes, "I don't want to discuss spirits. I wanted to get to know the lady who has captured Ashley's heart, as it is I am responsible for his and Beau's welfare."
"Call me Cait, I knew the strength and force that you are, I can see your aura."
India lashed out, "Don't start using your spells on us!"
Scarlett hushed India and turned to Cait, "Dear, please, I wish to talk like civil adults, and without any nonsense of spooks, ghosts and aura. Can we agree on that, Cait?"
India settled and gave Cait a look of triumph, of a child who just got their sibling in trouble. Cait sighed, and Scarlett continued to pour the last cup of tea, "Cait, you are on my ground, now. And I control what we discuss, you can save your haunts for your house, where you can get paid."
Cait took the offered cup and stirred the lump of sugar, and nodded, "Fine, what do you want to know?"
India clanged her spoon around, as Scarlett crossed her hands in her lap, and gleamed at Cait, "Well, first of all, how did you and Ashley meet?"
Cait smiled, "It was at the Summer Dance at the City Hall. We were so very new in town, and Mrs. Meade had told my sister, Susan and I about the Dance. As we didn't have escorts, Dr. Meade and Mrs. Meade brought us. Ashley was there with India, and he being the gentleman asked all the ladies at the table to dance."
Scarlett glanced at India and smiled, "Yes, Ashley is quite the gentleman."
Cait's face blushed a red, and she smiled, "When we danced, I had to ask him, about the sadness I felt from him, and he confided that he had a terrible time since his wife died. I told him that I was a empathy and psychic and could help him, if he would like."
Scarlett looked at India, "Did Ashley mention this?"
India shook her head, "No, not until after he had been seeing her."
Cait placed her cup down and held out a hand of protest, "No, we weren't seeing each other, Ashley had some reservations, and after I told him the Meades would come often, he decided to come with them. We have always been chaperoned I am an unmarried woman, like yourself, India, I would never allow a man to have any such liberties."
Scarlett patted her hand, "Of course not, but when did Ashley decide to marry you?"
"Ashley has tried to fight it, he feels guilty because of Melanie, and then he knew any new wife would be a problem for his family, and he asked me to go away, but after a week, he came to my window, throwing pebbles at my window, and asked me to marry him. He was in tears, and Susan took him in and we gave him tea, but he was inconsolable, he said he knew Melanie would never forgive him."
Scarlett sighed, "Ashley was very dependent on his first wife, as well as me after the war."
"Ashley is a new soul, he hasn't had to face opposition, so he refuses to confront it. He needs people in his life to guide him."
India puffed up like a frog, and hissed, "He has me and Auntie."
Cait turned soft eyes on India, "He loves you, really, but he needs to feel like his own man, and he does when he's in love."
Scarlett nodded, "So, you understand that Ashley may not be in love with you, but just needs you to feel complete, and you still want him?"
Cait nodded, "There are different kinds of love, Scarlett. Don't you know that, you have been widowed and remarried often?"
Scarlett eyes grew large, "Well, each husband was different, in their own way."
"But did you love them less?"
Scarlett could not answer that, but narrowed her eyes, "No, but why would-"
"I'm used to people "needing" me, I help them grieve, and with Ashley, I guess I need him, too. He offers me love, companionship, and a family. I'm almost twenty-six, I'm not spring rose anymore."
India stiffened and glanced out the window, as the afternoon rain pattered on the porch.
Scarlett looked Cait, and her voice became clear, and cold, "Like I said, Melanie trusted me to look after Ashley and make sure he and Beau were safe and cared for, and I just want to let you know, if Ashley is hurt in anyway, you will have me to deal with, and I'm not a gentile sort of person."
Cait smirked, "I met your husband, and if you can handle him, believe me, I don't want any trouble."
India wiped a tear away, "Scarlett, is this wise? I mean Beau-"
Scarlett wanted to tear into her pound cake, and she took India's hand, "No, Beau will not be leaving. I have paid his schooling until graduation, so he will have to finish and graduate, so he will remain in Atlanta with Wade, and his AUnt Pitty."
Cait didn't say a word, she knew once Scarlett's mind was made up, nobody was changing it.
India sniffled and hugged Scarlett, "I guess it's up to Ashley, now."
Cait reached over and touched India's shoulder, "Miss Wilkes, I would so much like us to be civil. I'm not a witch, I have a gift."
India jerked her shoulder away, "I don't wish to hear about your "gift". I will be civil with you, if you are my brother's wife, but I will never call you a sister like Melanie."
Cait took that last line, as her time to leave. She rose and thanked the woman, as she searched for Scarlett to walk her to the door. As Uncle Peter handed her her hat and shawl, Cait turned to Scarlett, "I know your husband and you perhaps don't want to know all about my gifts either, but I must tell you."
Scarlett was curious, but she was careful, "Tell me, then."
"Your daughter loved and misses you terribly. I don't mean to upset you, and your parents are thankful that you were there to help your family and sisters."
Scarlett felt a lump expand in her throat, "Really?"
Scarlett smiled, "Thank you, but I am very tight with my money and I don't waste it on what I already know is true."
Cait laughed as she stepped out onto the wet porch, "Ashley said you were very practical and forthright. You know he loved you, but not in the way, you would have accepted."
Scarlett lifted her chin, "Yes, I know that is true, I need passion."