Chapter 1

Scarlett lay down on the deepest sofa in the library and gently massaged her aching head. The sounds of the carriage pulling down the driveway came to her ears. The carriage had come to take Rhett to the station. If she had walked up to the windows, she could have seen Rhett's tall, dark form skipping lightly down the steps, handing over his one bag to the coachman and swinging himself into the carriage without taking another look back at the Peachtree house, his home of five years. But Scarlett could not bear the sight of him leaving. Besides witnessing such a dismal sight would dampen her determination to get Rhett back. The light in the room seemed to fade. Suddenly, there appeared a gleaming candlestick on the table beside her. Scarlett watched the soft, glimmering flame in drowsy, listless sleep. "One of the servants must have kept it" thought Scarlett, distantly. She sighed. The world always seemed to march right on irrespective of her troubles. "Aunt Pittypat, India and Ashley would be making preparations for Melly's funeral, her own children idling their time away in some part of this great house and Will managing the fields of Tara- And here she was, heartbroken and confused and no one spared a thought about her-"

Scarlett opened her eyes, realizing for the first time how very tired she was from her trip back from Marieta. And she was hungry too.

"Miss Scarlett ma'am? "

Scarlett looked up and saw Pork standing at the doorway with the tea tray in his hands. Her face brightened with gratitude. "Oh, set it down here, Pork. I'm so tired and famished-"

She munched into the sandwiches and gulped down her coffee. Pork lingered for a while and then ventured,

"We was wondering when Miss. Melly's funeral going to be held because we would like to pay our respects too.."

"Melly's funeral?", wondered Scarlett, blankly. She collected her thoughts with an effort. " I suppose it will be held tomorrow afternoon, Pork. And of course you and the others can come to the burial. " A fresh wave of pain distorted her pale face. "Pork, did you see Captain Butler off to the train? "

"Yes, ma'am"

"Did you see him get into the coach?"

"Yes, ma'am"

"I see", mumbled Scarlett sinking back into the chair. So, Rhett had left Atlanta after all.

"I thought that Mist. Rhett would have stayed for Miss. Melly's funeral. He always set a store by her.. her being a mighty fine lady"

"Yes, yes, I know he did." snapped Scarlett, impatiently. She was in no mood to discuss Melly's goodness when her whole being was ravaged with pain. "Pork, tell Prissy to pack my bags. Right after the funeral, we are leaving for Tara. And bring my writing case and some papers. I suppose Aunt. Pitty would already have written to Will and Suellen about Melanie's death but I'll write to them just the same. "

Initially, the fact that Rhett no longer loved her was the only thing that seemed to register in Scarlett mind. But as the night wore on, a few points in their last conversation began to strike her as odd. For one thing, how could one's love possibly wear out? If Rhett wanted to bring her to her knees by ending his relationship with her, then he had certainly succeeded and she did deserve it for all the times she had scorned and rebuffed him. But to declare that he no longer loved her must be a lie. Why they have shared so much together. They built this fine house, ran the mills and strengthened Tara- Rhett seemed to talk as if these things didn't matter! If he hadn't married her, he never would have had Bonnie and drinking himself silly was his own idea of getting over Bonnie death. The only blunder she had made was her stubborn chase after Ashley. She should have known that he was hardly a match for her nature. She remembered Gerald's words and rued her doggedness that began during that fateful barbecue at Twelve Oaks.

"Rhett loved me all along..." realized Scarlett, still marveling at this truth. "He loved me even when he saw me yelling hysterically at Ashley. I was taking of love and lashing out in hate... and he watched it all and loved me.."

Another puzzling question rose in her head. The idea of Rhett being afraid to speak of his love because she might laugh at him. She couldn't remember a time when she did. In fact she could remember several times when he had ridiculed, baited and embarrassed her. The only time she had taunted him was that night after Melly's that was only because he was so nasty and disgustingly drunk. She had told him off and she had always meant to make him jump through hoops but she never actually did. Come to think of it, she had never laughed openly at Frank or Charles. It was as if Rhett had read too much into her occasional rants and assumed that she would laugh at him.

"He assumed so many silly lies and now the biggest lie of all.. that he no longer loves me-"

Scarlett finished her letters and had them dispatched at once. Now the thing to do was to make quick repairs to her appearance and return to Ashley's house. Everyone would be wondering where Melly's sister-in-law was.

"I'm going as far away from Ashley as possible. I won't give anymore room for gossip" thought Scarlett fervently. Then once again she remembered something Rhett had said. He had said something about her always thinking of Ashley.

"I admit I did-" thought Scarlett." But that night at New Orleans was the only time I had longed for Ashley's presence. Other times, I was too busy to even think of Ashley. I was having such a good time with Rhett!" Scarlett frowned. Somehow Rhett assumed that she thought of Ashley all the time!

Scarlett climbed up the grand staircase with an illusion of vigor which a cup of strong, bitter coffee usually gives. She knew that she must look a terrible sight since she had ran all the way from Ashley's house. Prissy sprang to her feet when she saw Scarlett for she had momentarily sat down on the thick luxurious bedroom rug to admire the delicate lace on Scarlett's inner wear.

"I told you to pack my bags! What are you doing on the floor, you silly goose ? Now, leave that mess and come fix my hair. I should have been at Ashley's house ages ago-"

Dressed anew in a freshly pressed mourning gown, Scarlett made her final touches to the little black lace that covered her face and pulled on her delicate lace gloves. She picked up her purse and counting the notes, she hurriedly left the room. As she passed one of the several rooms on her way back to the stairs, she saw the door to one of the rooms ajar. There was no light in the room save for the misty evening light that illuminated the large window. A small figure was scrunched up awkwardly on the window set. Muffled sounds of someone crying came to her ears.

"Wade?" called Scarlett as she entered the room. "Whatever are you doing here in the dark?!" Then she realized that two of the people who had encouraged and loved Wade were gone. She remembered Wade's wild hoops with Melly and his carefree chatter with Rhett, Without them mollycoddling him, Wade would probably retreat back into his frightened shell. But Scarlett decided firmly that she wouldn't let him. "Wade honey, come here- You remember that fine piece of music that you played on the piano at Aunt. Melly's house? I know you've been practicing to play at Bonnie's funeral service.. that hymn about our forefathers and God and the land across the ocean- I think Uncle Ashley would like you to play that after the service tomorrow- "

"But Uncle Rhett didn't want me to play at all during Bonnie's service-"

"Uncle Rhett had a hard time staying strong, Wade. He just couldn't bear losing her and that's why we kept the service short. But tomorrow, we are going to have a full formal service because lots of people in Atlanta loved your Aunt and they are going to come and pay their respects. If you played for them, why, even Aunt Melly might smile down at you from Heaven above-"

Wade reluctantly jumped down from the window seat and rubbing his eyes with his sleeve, sauntered up to Scarlett. She laid a hand on his shoulder and led him out.