Chapter Nine: Fear
Rhett couldn't leave Ella crying alone, but he couldn't go to her either. So, he chose a third option.
Back in the hall Scarlett was dancing with a new partner, although her enthusiasm had waned after Rhett's abrupt departure. Whilst she was pondering this she felt a tap on shoulder and turned around to see Rhett.
"Your sister needs you. She is out in the gardens."
Scarlett frowned at his tone, but went out into the gardens to find her sister.
She found Ella sitting on a bench hidden by tall bushes. As she approached she realised Ella was sobbing into her hands and rushed over to sit next to her.
"Ella! What's the matter?"
"Scarlett, I need to tell you what happened in Atlanta."
Rhett discreetly made his way back to his hiding place behind the bushes to eavesdrop on the sisters. He needed to know how Ella felt.
"Finally! I knew something had happened, you've been acting so strange since you got back."
"While I was there I ran into Captain Butler. I was down by the docks watching the ocean while he was readying his ship to sail to England. We ended up talking and began to meet every morning. He taught me about sailing and his ship and told me stories about all the places he's been to."
Scarlett watching Ella as she spoke noticing her blissful expression and she knew her sister must have feelings for Captain Butler. Rhett was pained at how happy their talks had made Ella.
"Then the night before I left for Atlanta I attended a ball. Oh, Scarlett our aunts gave me the most beautiful dress. I felt like a princess that night. You would have been so jealous."
She winked at Scarlett in jest.
"Rhett came to the ball. He said he had to see me again and we danced all night. Oh Scarlett, he's such a wonderful dancer, but I guess you knew that already."
Rhett winced as guilt overcame him.
"Oh, Ella. I had no idea! I would have refused to dance with him if I had known. You've never been interested in men before, so I didn't think…"
Suddenly it all clicked in her mind.
"You fell because you couldn't stand seeing us dance together! Oh Ella, I'm so sorry! I'm sorry I didn't see if you were alright after your fall. I was so excited and distracted by the attention and being belle of the ball again. I haven't danced since before the Wilkes barbeque and I didn't want it to end. I got swept up in the excitement. Oh Ella, can you ever forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive. You didn't know."
"Why didn't you tell me about Rhett before?"
"Because that's not all that happened."
Scarlett looked at Ella expectantly.
"He left. Mid dance he stopped and left."
"Just walked out of the room without a word. I went down to the docks the next day and his ship had gone."
Rhett couldn't believe it. Ella had come looking for him, even after the way he left her that night. How could he hurt such a kind woman?
"He ran away."
"I suppose that one way to look at it."
"I feel like such a fool acting that way when he was just using me."
"What do you mean using you?"
"Captain Butler danced with me because he loves you."
"Scarlett that makes absolutely no sense…"
"Yes, it does. He was distracted when he was dancing with me, obviously he really wanted to be dancing with you!"
Rhett was surprised at Scarlett's insight. Did he love Ella? He wasn't sure if he was capable of love, but he knew he really wanted to dance with Ella.
"I can't decide whether you are insane or a genius."
"Let's go with genius."
The sisters laughed. Scarlett took Ella's hands in hers.
"Ella, Captain Butler was the one who told me you needed me and where you were. He must have gone looking for you after you left."
"But, why didn't he…"
Scarlett hugged Ella.
"I don't know, fear? If he came to you himself he would have had to explain his actions and face his feelings."
"So much for him being a man."
Rhett took that blow hard. Mostly because Ella was right. What kind of man was he? He ran away from her, hurt her and then couldn't face her to offer an explanation.
"Come on. Let's go home."
Rhett just couldn't stay away. When he got back from his latest blockade run he made the trip to Atlanta straight away. He made sure to bring lots of hospital supplies with him, knowing Mrs Melanie Wilkes would thank him for them.
He had been in Atlanta a week before he got up the courage to visit the Hamilton house. He knew the O'Hara sisters were unlikely to be welcoming, but he hoped he could win Scarlett over with his gift.
Luckily it was Mrs Wilkes who opened the door. She graciously received him and thanked him for all the supplies that the hospital had so desperately needed.
"I was hoping to speak with Scarlett and Ella."
"I'll go tell them you're here Captain Butler.
Rhett waited in the parlour wondering if either sister would agree to see him.
"Scarlett. Is your sister home?"
"Yes, but she… is unable to greet you."
"I see. I…"
"What are you doing here Captain Butler?"
"Such formality Scarlett, I thought we'd got pass that. In any case, I have a gift for you."
Scarlett's eyes lit up at the word gift. No, I'm mad at him for how he treated Ella, focus Scarlett, she thought.
"Whatever made you think I'd want anything from you."
"I'm sure I can find another young lady to take this bonnet off my hands."
"A velvet green Rue de la Paix bonnet."
"Oh! Let me see. Show it to me Rhett."
As Rhett predicted Scarlett couldn't resist having something new. The war had turned once pretty dresses into rags. He took a box out of the bag he had brought with him and held it out to Scarlett, who practically ripped it out of his hands in her haste to open it.
"Oh Rhett, its darling!"
"I'm glad you like it Scarlett."
Scarlett, who was in front of a mirror trying on the bonnet, frowned. Why was Rhett giving her such a lavish gift?
"You don't fool me Rhett Butler. I assume you've come to apologise for your treatment of my sister?"
"I never apologise."
Rhett reached into his bag and brought out a collection of books which he handed to Scarlett who was scowling at him.
"I came to give these to Ella."
"I'll give them to her. If you'll just wait here a moment."
Scarlett made her way upstairs to Ella's room with the books.
"Has he gone Scarlett?"
"Not yet. He wanted to give you these."
Scarlett placed the books on the bed next to Ella who picked one of them up. It was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Looking at the rest of the books she realised it was Jane Austen's entire collection.
"Are they good books then Ella?"
"Yes, but please inform Captain Butler that I am not a woman who can be bought."
As Scarlett turned to leave Ella noticed the bonnet.
"Scarlett, what is that?"
"I know fashion has all but died out because of the war, but surely you still remember what a bonnet looks like Ella?"
"I meant, where did you get it?"
"I think you already know the answer Ella."
"He knows just how to get to you Scarlett. Don't fall for his tricks."
"I'll be fine. More than fine if he brings anymore gifts!"
Ella shook her head as her sister left her room. Apparently, Scarlett was a woman who could be bought. At least she had the courage to face the man. Here Ella was hiding in her room, but she just couldn't face him. At least not yet. She wanted to sort out her feelings for him, before she faced him. Although deep down she knew that was just an excuse. Ella knew exactly how she felt about Rhett Butler.
Downstairs Scarlett found Rhett exactly where she had left him.
"Did she like the books?"
"Ella is not a woman who can be bought Captain Butler."
Seeing that Scarlett had not returned with the books Rhett felt confident they were well received.
"Good day Scarlett."
Grinning, Rhett bowed and left the house. From that one small action, he was filled with hope. He would win back Ella's favour, but in his state of denial, Rhett didn't ask himself what he would do once he had it. Apparently, he wasn't sure exactly how he felt about Ella O'Hara.