Will's words played across Scarlett's mind for several days following the ride home from Atlanta. Additionally, as much as she hated to admit it, Scarlett thought he was probably correct. Still, she wasn't entirely convinced it should be her that should be making the effort to fix it. Hadn't she told Rhett how she felt? She hadn't abandoned her family, he had. This was his mess to clean up. Wasn't it?
The next few weeks passed by somewhat quickly as Tara's summer harvest demanded the majority of Scarlett's attention. She was determined that Tara would be profitable this year, more so than any year before, and for that to happen, she spent almost every waking minute making sure she was going to get the most money for their crops. So, when a letter arrived from Rhett two weeks after she'd seen him, it got buried beneath papers for another two weeks, with Scarlett never having so much as seen the envelope Mammy placed on her desk.
One evening, in the first week of August, she spotted the familiar scrawl of her husband's handwriting, and tore the envelope open:
"Scarlett," it began, and she couldn't help but noticed it was neither prefaced or ended with any terms of endearment.
"Given the way we parted last, I'm sure you're as surprised to receive this letter, as I am at writing it. I would have enclosed letters to the children, but the circumstances surrounding this letter might negate that particular need." Scarlett scoffed, but continued reading. "Upon my arrival back in Charleson, my mother became ill. She'd suffered from mild complaints in the last few months, but this is the worst it's ever been.
The doctor's fear that she might not make it. I write this letter to ask you to come to Charleston, and bring the children if you choose. She's asking for you. She wants to meet her Daughter-in-law before she meets her maker. I shall await your response. Rhett."
Scarlett sat the letter back down on her desk and leaned back in her chair. In all the years that she'd been married to Rhett, she'd never once met his mother. In the early years, he was determined to never go back to Charleston, and in the later years, they were both determined to spend as little time as possible in each other's company. Scarlett was in two minds. One was shouting at her to refuse. Why should she meet her mother-in-law, when her husband was determined to no longer be her husband. The other was pleading for her to go. She knew that Rhett hadn't penned the letter with ease, and despite their current difficulties, she knew well what it was like to lose a mother, and she didn't want Rhett to be alone if that were to happen.
Within fifteen minutes the battle within her was over, and the pleading side had won. She'd sought out Mammy, and told her to make preparations for her and the children to leave in the morning. Scarlett didn't send a reply to Rhett, knowing that she would make it to Charleston before the letter did, and there had already been a delay as evidence by the date he'd penned on the letter.
"Are we almost there yet, mother?" Eight year old Ella was sitting anxiously at the edge of her seat within the carriage. The entire trip to Charleston had been filled with questions, and Scarlett wasn't able to answer many at all.
"The driver said we would be there soon, I'm sure he knows what he's talking about. Now, sit back and calm down." Scarlett.
Wade's response to the trip had been far less excited, and more skeptical. "Why does Uncle Rhett's mother want to meet us now? Why does she care just because she might be dying?"
"Death has a funny way of making people think about life, Wade."
Wade nodded, but said nothing, he sat back in the carriage with his thoughts until they finally came to a stop. "Well, we're here." Scarlett said, though her voice was not as steady as she'd expected.
The driver hopped down onto the street, and opened the door. Ella, no longer able to wait, jumped down, not waiting for her brother or mother, and immediately began commenting on her surroundings. Scarlett gestured for Wade to follow his sister, taking a final breath by herself before exiting. The driver offered his hand as she stepped down, and she got her first look at her mother-in-law's home. The driver placed their trunks on the ground beside them, Scarlett paid the man, and he left. She was trying to decide upon how best to make their presence known, when the front door of the house opened, and Rhett appeared in the doorway.
His hair was somewhat disheveled and his eyes looked as if he hadn't slept much. He walked towards them, looking down at Wade and Ella first. "Wade, Ella, I'm glad to see you."
Wade offered a non-committal sound, and Ella stepped forward slightly. "We missed you Uncle Rhett."
"I've missed you too. Go ahead inside, they're running around trying to set up a room for you." The children did as he bade, and walked into the unfamiliar house in front of them.
Rhett's attention turned to Scarlett. "It's just like you to come unannounced, Scarlett. Though I guess I should say my thanks for coming at all."
"I didn't see your letter until the night before we left, I thought I'd get here before my response, so I didn't send one."
A few men came from inside the house and went towards them, intent on getting the bags and trunks he'd brought along, inside. "Thank you," Rhett said to them, "Please make sure Mrs. Butler's things are placed in her dressing room."
Once the staff were out of earshot, Scarlett arched an eyebrow in Rhett's direction. "My dressing room? Don't you mean my bedroom?"
"Why, no, my dear. You might have noticed that this house isn't quite as large as your house, or even Tara, for that matter. We'll be sharing a room, but you have been given your own dressing room, separate from mine, to protect your modesty." Rhett finished his sentence with a smirk.
Scarlett chose not to reward him with a remark, and instead asked of his mother. "Is she better?"
"I'm afraid not. It appears the doctors were right. She grows weaker by the day- her heart they say."
"I am sorry, Rhett, no matter what you think of me, I hope you know I mean that, at least."
Rhett's face softened. "I know you do. Thank you for coming. I think she'd like to believe that I am a happy family man before she leaves this world."
Perhaps he didn't hate her after all, Scarlett mused to herself, or maybe it was just the grief talking. "If you'll give me a moment to freshen up, I'll meet her whenever you're ready."
"Follow me. I'll show you where you'll be staying."
Scarlett followed Rhett into the house and up the stairs, arriving at a door at the end of the hall. "Our room, Mrs. Butler. He opened the door, gesturing for her to enter.
The room was directed in the complete opposite fashion as her own room in Atlanta. The furniture was nice, but not ornate, the various fabrics were all simple, combinations of pastels and natural colors, nothing bold. She could see now what he'd wanted when he'd come here to find the peace and gentility he'd mentioned. It was everything that Scarlett was not, or at least, had not been for some time. "Thank you, Rhett. I'll just be a moment." Then, without allowing him the opportunity to follow her inside, she shut the door behind her, and prepared herself to meet the other Mrs. Butler.