Chapter 4: Setting Into Motion
When you're young, the world can still look good to you, despite all of the turmoil around it, my Aunt Melly had observed to Mother about Beau and I once when we were young. We had been playing King of the Hill at Tara while the adults around us toiled in the cotton field. My mother had scoffed back, "They'd best grow up fast. You lie to yourself enough, you start to believe your own lies, Melly."
I wondered then if that was what had happened to her. Had she lied to herself when she married my father? Or Mr. Kennedy? Or Uncle Rhett, for that matter?
The evening was so nice that as soon as dinner was finished, Uncle Rhett asked if I wanted to accompany him for a walk by the river.
In spite of myself, as soon as we left the house, I found my spirits lifting. A breeze was coming off the water and the air felt like silk. You could almost drink it. The Battery was peaceful, its cobblestones shining clean. There was a big park at the end of the lane, and the pickaninny children were sitting on the grass and the whole picture was framed by an orange haze from the setting sun.
Other people of better social standing were strolling around, some with young children.
I missed Ella, and I wondered if Uncle Rhett was missing Bonnie.
"I'm very happy to have you here, Wade," he said softly.
Breathing in, I calmed myself, choosing to believe the lie.
I didn't say anything to him about Miss Rosemary's plan to bring my mother to the…what had she called it…the family sailing trip?
I would not break the peace in the place. They had all been kind to me, Uncle Rhett included.
And that was how the next few days went. My job was to read to the older ladies during the day for an hour or two while they congregated in the parlor. I served the guests tea or lemonade and changed into my second suit for dinner and helped Miss Rosemary to her seat. Uncle Rhett took me to town to buy another new suit, which seemed to make the one Mother bought me in Jonesboro look downright ratty.
And Uncle Rhett seemed friendly to everyone in town. Unlike Atlanta, where he associated with all manner of folks, not just those of quality, he seemed here to move in a different circle. I heard him say to the tailor that he would be taking his business to New York before the year was out. I wondered what that would mean for me, and for Mother. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if he might take me with him to New York. And then I remembered Mother and Ella and felt sick to my stomach.
Be a man, Wade Hampton… Well, what sort of a man would contemplate leaving his women-kin?
The odd moment passed and we collected the new suit and cotton shirts and the finest looking velvet waistcoat I had ever seen, let alone worn, and Uncle Rhett offered me a trip to sweetshop, which sounded nice. We took a detour to McCrady's Tavern instead, where Uncle Rhett said that George Washington had once eaten a thirty course meal.
He ordered a whiskey for himself, then ordered a cider for me, which I probably drank too fast. It made me giddy, and he ordered another, which he had to help me finish.
I felt a little sick, but I didn't care. Men sat in taverns and drank beer or whiskey with their fathers. I wouldn't make myself unworthy of the place I had found with him, however tenuous it was.
Miss Rosemary was waiting for us in the solar, serene and smiling. She seemed to know that we had stopped at the tavern, or perhaps she saw that I was starting to sway from the cider, and said that it was time for lunch, which was ready in the kitchen.
"Take it out to the back garden where there's a nice breeze," she said. "If it's not too hot… Oh and Rhett, darling, I've a message for you. Scarlett sent word around earlier. She and Ella will be here early tomorrow morning."
She smiled as she handed him a folded telegram.
He did not smile.
"Scarlett has…" he cleared his throat. "…not been in touch with me."
His eyes darted over to me, and he looked awfully mad.
Rosemary smiled, "This is all Mother and my doing, I'm afraid. I invited her to join us for the family reunion and the sailing excursion next weekend, and she wanted to come straightaway. I know that Scarlett must be anxious to see how Wade has been faring. The first time she's been separated from him, I gather."
I felt a sense of dread.
Uncle Rhett stood there, looking down at me.
I was in trouble; I could sense it. Maybe not as much as Miss Rosemary, who positively beamed.
There was dead coldness in his voice. "How very nice of you."
In the morning I took breakfast at the large dining room table, although Mrs. Butler was still asleep and Uncle Rhett was out riding, according to Miss Rosemary, who was overseeing the preparations for Mother's arrival.
I sat there, worrying. Surely Uncle Rhett would be kind to Mother, at least in front of his own Mother and sister.
And surely Mother would be on her best behavior. For all of her quirks, she was a lady underneath her tough exterior.
"I was just in the kitchen," Miss Rosemary breezed by me, setting a vase with fresh flowers in the center of the table. Cookie has stuffed salmon and new potatoes in the oven for lunch. They smell divine. I hope they are to Scarlett's liking."
She smiled at me. "I feel as nervous as a school girl. You'd think your mother is coming to pass judgment on me."
She was wearing a gown the color of a ripe Georgia peach with a square neck that Mother would have only worn in her bedroom, never to greet guests.
Just then, I heard a rap from the foyer, and Miss Rosemary clapped her hands with excitement and started toward the door before the butler had a chance to answer it.
My mother's black hair was shining in the morning sunlight, and she was wearing an ivory colored silk dress with a high, proper neckline that made Miss Rosemary look positively scandalous by comparison.
Our eyes met immediately, although Miss Rosemary had practically pounced on her in a hurried introduction, which included a warm hug.
Ella ran straight past Miss Rosemary, her skirt flying, to hug me.
Mother looked worried and a little lost.
"You must be tired, Scarlett," Rosemary took her arm gently. "Ella, dear, I am your Auntie Rosemary. You must come give me a kiss."
Ella looked up at Mother for permission, then gingerly walked up to Rosemary and gave her the tiniest of pecks on the cheek.
"Come, join me in the parlor and I'll call for tea," Rosemary continued to beam. "Mother isn't up yet, but she should be soon. Rhett is out riding, and he might be gone for half the day."
Mother's face looked a little white at the mention of his name, but she looked grateful at the prospect of tea.
"Speak for yourself, dear sister," his voice was quiet.
We all turned with a start, toward the front doorway, which Rosemary had neglected to close behind Mother and Ella.
I felt the blood pounding to my cheeks as I watched a flurry of emotions appear on Mother's face.
Rhett just stood there on the doorstep, looking besieged. He had clearly ridden hard and his chest was heaving with exertion. His face was covered in sweat.
I just stared.
Every movement he made seemed to last an eternity. Ella got up from her chair, but did not run to him, as he seemed to expect her to.
Rosemary seemed to notice something was amiss, and she grabbed Ella's shoulders and moved to steer her toward the kitchen.
"How would you like something to eat, darling? Be a good girl and come with me."
She closed the door to the hallway behind them, leaving me behind with Mother. I hadn't been dismissed, so perhaps I was invited to stay.
I said nothing, just standing behind the chair Rosemary had vacated.
"I wonder, why you felt that you had the right to come here?" His voice was harsh, but measured.
I recognized the tone. It was the voice he used when he was angriest. He never yelled or screamed. Just awful, harsh and uncaring.
Always, it had sent Ella to tears. Me too, more than I wanted to admit.
Not Mother. Mother wouldn't allow anyone to make her cry.
"I came because I was invited," she said.
"Ah, yes. My sister invited you out of courtesy, and you felt the need to accept. Despite my explicit wishes, no, command, my pet – that you leave me to my business. In return, I allowed you full access to the house, my funds, anything you might wish."
She interrupted him. "It would have been rude not to accept. I would never have dreamt of coming if you hadn't had Wade Hampton here already."
At the mention of my name, my ears began to buzz with heat, and his attention turned to me, as if he had forgotten I was there.
"You had no right to come here, Scarlett."
"No right?" she smiled that coquettish smile, "I am your wife, and I am Wade's mother. It is customary to accept an invitation that is offered, particularly, to a family gathering. Now Wade, darling, would you ask Rosemary if she would be kind enough to show me to Rhett's bedroom?"
That brought his anger to the surface. He stared at Mother as if he would have hit her if he could have.
"You dare – " he started, but she cut him off.
"Oh Rhett, please, don't let's start talking like that now. Please."
He shook a warning finger at her. "You will stay in your own quarters. You will be the pinnacle of politeness but you are not to attempt to befriend my sister and Mother, you will say nothing of the circumstances between us and you damned sure will remove yourself from this house after the events of next weekend are concluded. Do I make myself clear?"
"Abundantly," she said, with more than a little sarcasm. "So I am to be cold and ungracious to my mother by marriage and sister-in-law?"
He got red in the face and his hand started to shake. "That unfortunate familiarity exists – for now – but this is not your home, Scarlett. These are not your people. You will not make them family to you. You are my wife in name, but no more!"
Silence in the room. Terrible silence.
"Don't speak to Mother like that, Uncle Rhett." It was all I could think to say.
I half expected him to holler at me. Or Mother, alternatively, for interrupting.
"I'm speaking the truth, Wade Hampton, only your mother doesn't wish to hear it."
"I hear you fine, Rhett," Mother shook her head. "I only thought that when you brought Wade up here, to introduce him to your family, you might…"
"Do you know what I have had to do here to regain my respect, Scarlett? Have you any idea?"
"Well, you brought Wade to attempt to paint yourself a loving father, I suppose –"
His eyes narrowed. "I am not his father."
I just stared at him. It felt like he punched me to the gut.
He left the room, bowing slightly before closing the door behind him.
I must have looked stricken enough to frighten the dead.
Mother patted my shoulder. "It's alright, Wade Hampton."
I hoped beyond hope that Rosemary hadn't heard the commotion from the kitchen, nor Ella or any of the servants. What would they think if they had? What would become of Uncle Rhett's carefully cultivated respect?
I shouldn't care, I thought to myself. He doesn't care about me. I'm no son to him just as Mother is no wife to him. But I must admit that that realization caused a certain wrenching in my heart.