Disclaimer – I own nothing from Gone With the Wind, that honor and privilege is that of Margaret Mitchell's. So please, don't call any lawyers.
Author's Notices – My dear readers, I am dreadfully sorry for the lack of updates in weeks, months, so on and so forth. I am not going to bore you with all of the details, suffice to say that the real world interceded and proceeded to gag and chain my muse indefinitely. However, she shows traces of breaking free, and therefore, this chapter was born.
Please do feel free to shout, using the best grammar and diction as possible, in your reviews, that I'm sure you'll all fall over yourselves to leave.
Happy New Year and may 2007 be the best year possible for you and your families.
"Mother, do we have to go? I really wanted to go to the beach again with Uncle Rhett!" Ella's little voice stabbed at her mother's heart, though the little girl did not know it.
It had been one week since Doctor Miller had told her the good news, that she was to have another baby. Though Scarlett couldn't have been happier, she had never felt so despondent. It was very contradicting she knew, but pregnancy had never been a wonderful time for her. With Wade it had been frightening, she had only been seventeen and her body had barely finished the transition from girl to woman, before being forced to make the transition from woman to mother. She had only a few years until she once again experienced motherhood with Ella, then in a couple of years more, Bonnie. After that, well, it was best not to linger on that baby, the one she had wanted with all of her heart. Ella's innocent question and her mention of her Uncle Rhett almost caused Scarlett to burst into tears. She didn't want to leave Miss Eleanor either, it was comforting to have a mother-like figure around, to not have to worry about taking charge for once in her life. After Rhett had left, Eleanor had commanded the household and let Scarlett simply be. But yes, they had to leave Miss Eleanor now. Because Scarlett couldn't stand watching traces of Rhett disappear from the house as Miss Eleanor sent them to his forwarding address, one she did not share with Scarlett, and trying desperately not to be sick in the mornings when she realized that he wouldn't be waking her with a kiss, a smile, a taunt.
Wade must have realized something was wrong, because he had taken Ella's arm and lead her to the nursery, telling her about all the new toys they must have in Atlanta. Ella's cheery responses lessened the lump in her throat. Her eyes dried and the tears unshed remained that way, lingering but unnoticed. A little hand tugged on her skirts and she smiled down at her nephew and adopted son.
Beau smiled up at his Auntie Scarlett. She was always so nice to him and answered all his questions. Auntie India was mean, she always told him to mind his manners and that children weren't supposed to talk all the time and be such bothers.
"Auntie Scarlett, is my daddy going to be home?"
Scarlett's smile froze and lost a little of its surety. She thought about what to say. Ashley's last letter had mentioned that he was taking the next voyage home, and that he was bringing his new wife. A proper Englishwoman named Lydia Wilkes nee Grey. The Grey's were distant cousins of the Wilkes family and when there were no Hamilton's to marry, the Wilkes often turned to the Grey family. Ashley's letter had been very surprising; he had lost the tonelessness of letters past.
I have news for you and for Beau. I have taken a wife here. Her name is Lydia; she is of the respectable Grey family in London. We met once as children, and she was promised to Martin Collins, but he died of consumption last year. She has one child, a boy named Henry who is six years younger than Beau. He is a gracious child, much like your Wade Hampton was. His second birthday was only last week.
She needs a husband and I need a wife, our children need two loving parents. She is a kind, soft-spoken woman with a grace about her that is similar to Melanie's.
You will become fast friends, I am sure. Please understand Scarlett, that I am in no way replacing Melanie with Lydia, I would never dream of it, neither would she. Lydia and Melanie were great friends in their younger years. She will be a good mother to Beau and I will hope to become a better father for Beau and for little Henry. She has spoken of more children, Scarlett. What am I to tell her? How can I tell her no? Telling Melly no only killed her emotionally. Melly wanted a little girl so much, you know. She told me how jealous she was of you for Ella Lorena and Bonnie. Melanie loved children so much, and I can tell that Lydie shares that same love. But can I really grant that wish, when it was that wish that killed Melanie? I wish I could speak more freely with you, Scarlett. I know this is crossing boundaries of propriety, but you are the dearest friend to me and I value your advice so very much.
I do not wish you for you to break news such as this to Beau. Please tell him only that I aim to be home and with him on the thirtieth of this month and that I missed him very much. I will not have you shoulder another burden in regards to my son. Legally, you will not be his mother now that I have remarried, but Scarlett, you will always fulfill that role in a way that Lydia will be unable to. You are more like Melanie, just for having lived in the same house, raised your children together, grown up in the glorious South as a belle. You share the same spirit as Beau's mother, and I can think of no one else to step into that role more capable than you.
I might add, Scarlett, considering the promise I am sure Melly asked of you, that Lydia brings with her, her late husband's wealth. I do believe that my new family, as well as my old, shall never want again. It is a rather indelicate thing to speak of, but I know how you worry.
Rest assured that all will be well in time,
Your faithful friend,
"Yes, Beau," Scarlett smiled more warmly, "your daddy will be home very soon and he has a few new surprises for you. That is one of the reasons that we need to go home! Now why don't you run along and go tell Ella and Wade your good news?"
Beau grinned, an adorable sight with his two missing teeth, and hugged her around the waist before darting off to the nursery.
"Thanks, Auntie," he called over his shoulder, flashing her another smile.
Scarlett sagged against the wall as soon as he rounded the corner. White stars blinked across her eyes as she pressed her fingers to her eyelids and rubbed softly.
"You're welcome," she whispered into the silence of the hallways, alone once more.
"Do you think they will like me?" A hesitant voice broke the silence. The speaker was a pretty young woman of about seven-and-twenty with fair blonde hair and bright hazel eyes. Her smooth curls were pinned neatly under a simple hat and she cradled a sleeping toddler in her arms.
Ashley Wilkes smiled reassuringly at his new bride. "Of course they will, Lydie. Don't be silly."
Lydia bit her lip, but nodded as if convinced. It wouldn't do to worry Ashley too much. He had enough on his mind, his reunion with his son, introducing his family and friends to his new wife, and trying to become accustomed to her himself. Their marriage had been relatively quick, though there was no scandal involved. Lydia had been anxious to find a father for her little son, and a man to provide for her, since she could not work and the money was left in trust of her son until she married or he became of age. Ashley had swept into town, mourning his wife, and she became a kindred soul to him. It was he who proposed the idea, and she had gratefully accepted. Neither was in love with the other, though they understood each other perfectly. Lydia looked at her new husband and smiled. Perhaps they could grow to love each other. Not the passionate way they had loved those who came before, but in a different way. She was not looking for romance and youthful fantasies. Martin had been that for her, and no matter what happened between Ashley and her, Martin would be her true love, just as Melanie had been Ashley's. Henry fussed a little bit and she walked about the room, shushing him with comforting words.
She looked up at one point and saw Ashley watching her with a gentle smile in his eyes.
"I never saw Beau when he was that small. I was in the War and Melly had him for his first three years."
"Tell me about Beau," Lydia implored eager for details about her new step-son. "What is he like?"
"He's a wonderful boy," Ashley sighed, "he's kind and patient, but he's rambunctious and imaginative all at the same time. He loves to hear stories, especially fairy tales. He's her son. I couldn't ask for a better little boy."
Lydia smiled, though a small part of her was worried that Henry would never compare to his new brother.
"Would you..." Lydia hesitantly began, "no, never mind."
"No, please continue," Ashley urged her on, "you can ask me anything."
"Would you like to have more children?" Lydia rushed the question and closed her eyes tightly. She had always wanted a baby girl. Henry was not a disappointment in anyway. She loved her little boy with all her heart, but it had always been a dream to have a little girl to dress up and to have tea parties with.
Ashley was still for a moment. "Lydie, look at me." She peeked out from under her eyelashes demurely, waiting for rejection. Martin had only wanted boys and he had been content with only Henry.
"Did you have any trouble," he flushed pink, "when Henry was born?"
She shook her head, "No, it was relatively simple." She sighed in resignation, at least gained another child through Beau. Perhaps, she should be content with Henry. She was blessed to have him, even. She had been married for a long time before Henry had been born. Martin had confessed relieved one night after she had announced she was expecting that he was worried that one of them was sterile.
" Lydia," Ashley began hesitantly, "I don't want you to be hurt and I don't want you to die...but I want you to be happy. So, whatever happens and whatever children may be born, rest assured that they will be very welcome in my home and will always have a place in my heart, no matter the circumstance, just like the ones that Beau and Henry have..."
She smiled at him, a true smile that made her face look lovely in the beginning of dawn. Hearing that Ashley loved her son, a boy who was not his own, was so comforting for her to hear. It lifted a weight off of her shoulders that she had not known existed. She placed Henry in his little cot and walked to Ashley's side. Hesitantly, she placed a gloved hand on his arm and squeezed reassuringly. He placed a trembling hand on top of her own and turned towards her, gray eyes troubled.
" Lydia…" His lips formed words that made no sound, no effort to escape into air and be heard.
She smiled sadly at him, suddenly understanding everything that he could not say in words, "I know," she whispered comfortingly. "I do."
He drew her into his arms, and he wept. Through dry eyes, Lydia watched the sunrise and dawn a new beginning.
Wade Hampton Hamilton was a very bright boy, the brightest of Scarlett's children by far. It was not as if Ella was stupid or Bonnie had been dumb, or even that Beau was not very bright, but that Wade was simply smarter. He could connect things and see the forest from the trees, as it were. And Wade knew that something was wrong. Whenever Uncle Rhett went on trips without kissing Mother goodbye, something was wrong.
It was almost eerie to see the similarities between the last time Uncle Rhett had left, when Bonnie had gone with him, and this time. Mother had been quiet and sad and sick and then she had found out she was having a baby. It seemed like all it took was Uncle Rhett's trips to make his Mother give him a reason to stay, just a few weeks to late. His mother had drawn him aside from the other children and told him he was going to be a big brother just yesterday morning. She had looked so relieved to tell someone else her secret. She thought it was a good idea that he knew, just in case, she had whispered under her breath, thinking he had not heard. But this time, Wade was determined that this baby would be born. He wouldn't let his mother be sad or upset and he would take care of her. It would be nice to have a baby around the house. Babies always made people happy, that's what Aunt Melly had always said. She had wanted a new baby so much, and Wade had heard his mother talking about Auntie Melly to Uncle Ashley about the way she had died. She had lost a baby and it made her really weak and she had died. Uncle Ashley had cried and told Mother that it was all his fault and Wade had quickly gone back to the nursery, not wanting to hear anymore. Wade knew that babies could be dangerous too, so he was determined to protect his mother. It was his job, as man of the house. His mother had drawn him aside from the other children and told him he was going to be a big brother. She thought it was a good idea that he knew, just in case, she had whispered under her breath.
Wade Hampton Hamilton was a very bright boy, after all.
Scarlett watched in satisfaction as the last valise was packed and shut, carried downstairs and loaded into a waiting carriage. Yes, Scarlett was taking a carriage, however frowned upon they were in Charleston. Miss Eleanor had insisted, despite Scarlett's protests.
"Miss Eleanor, it simply isn't done! Rhett told me so; he said that I would like a carpet-bagger or a Yankee if I took one!"
Miss Eleanor frowned dismissively, "Oh, nonsense. If you weren't in such a delicate state, I might agree or have Sally Brewster drive you, but I'm not taking a chance with my grandbaby in there, nor with you and the children. It's dreadfully warm and you'll swoon if you try to walk that length. No, you must have a proper carriage."
"No buts, dear," Eleanor Butler frowned sternly, "surely, you don't think people will care that much, do you?"
"I don't want to embarrass you," Scarlett admitted quietly. "Rhett told me all about the customs of this town and you've been so good to me and to my children. I just...I didn't want to make you regret it, or think badly of me.
Eleanor softened and embraced her son's wife lovingly. "That's very kind of you, dear, but don't you fret. I'll ride with you to the station; no one would say a thing."
Scarlett simply relaxed into Eleanor's arms before reluctantly pulling away and agreeing. She excused herself and went to finish overseeing the packing. She would miss Rhett's mother a lot.
"And Scarlett, dear," Miss Eleanor called when she was nearly out the door, "I could never think badly of you."
She stopped dead in her tracks, concentrating for a moment, placing one hand on the swell under her neatly pressed frock. She waited a few more seconds before feeling the same flutter as before. An incredulous smile spread on her face. Surely, she could not already be quickening? Adding up the numbers and remembering the doctor's words, her eyes widened. She couldn't already be four months gone; it seemed like only yesterday had she received Doctor Miller's good news. Rhett would be so excited; she remembered how startled he had been one night, feeling the flutters beneath her nightgown. She had pretended to be unfazed at his wonderment.
Scarlett sighed, wishing she could toss and turn, but prevented by Rhett's arm across her growing stomach. She frowned. Perhaps if she was smaller and not pregnant, she could have slipped out from under his arm to move. But now she was as big as Mammy and couldn't do anything but be miserable.
Sighing again, she felt something poke her. Annoyed, she looked over at Rhett, but he was completely still. Feeling it again, she gasped, loud enough to wake up Rhett beside her.
"What is it, Scarlett?" He grumbled. He moved to sit up, but she grabbed his arm and pushed his hand onto her stomach. "What are you--?"
"Hush," she cried, "just wait." The flutters came again, stronger, as if the baby knew that someone else wanted to feel as well.
Rhett's face slowly creased into a grin, his dark eyes dancing. "Was that?"
A small smile appearing in response to his wide grin, she nodded.
"Do it again," he demanded, eager and giddy.
"God's nightgown, Rhett, I can't make it do that. Don't you know anything about babies?"
But her tone was not as cross as she had desired and the smile lingered in her eyes, she made no move to remove his hand and pretended to fall asleep as he eagerly waited for the baby to move again.
She leant against the wall a moment longer, closing her eyes as she thought about what she would say to her husband about this baby, a baby that they both wanted. Rhett would always welcome a baby, she knew that much. But Scarlett also knew that she, herself, was selfish enough that she didn't want him around if it was only for the children. After all this time, she just wanted to be happy.
And being happy for Scarlett meant being with Rhett.
Rhett heard the servants moving about noisily in the corridors from the study and put down his paper, wanting to know what was going on. As he opened the door and peered down the hallway, he saw trunks being loaded into the front hall. He looked at the sole trunk on its way up the stairs. The embossed letters on it made him groan.
Scarlett was on her way home, and no matter how fast he was at the train station, there was no way to delay this meeting. Looking back at the papers on the desk, he shuddered. He had never wanted it to come to this, but Scarlett had used up her last chance.
He left the study, studiously ignoring the trunks and valises being brought into the house, it was time to pay an old acquaintance a visit. He could use with a drink or two, and some advice from one of his dearest friends.
"Mah lamb sure has come home tah her ole' Mammy," Mammy stood in front of the stairs, looking unchanged and timeless. Her brown eyes were crinkled in happiness and a wide grin split her face pleasantly.
Scarlett dropped her handbag, ignoring the stares that would come, and ran to Mammy, throwing her arms around the older woman. "I've missed you so, Mammy," Scarlett whispered thickly, her eyes overflowing.
"Pansy, Prissy, yah take the child'en to the nurs'ry and put 'dem into bed for a rest, yah hear?"
Mammy didn't make another sound until the foyer had cleared itself of the whispers of the staff and the children. Finally, Scarlett stepped away from Mammy, wiping her eyes embarrassed.
"Now, I've gone and made a scene."
"Katie Scarlett, what have yah been up to in Charles'tan?"
"Oh, Mammy," Scarlett cried, "I've so much to tell you, I don't even know where to start."
"You might start with why you've come back to Atlanta," a clipped voice interrupted. Scarlett closed her eyes and winced, not wanting to face Rhett just yet. Slowly, she turned around.
"Hello, Rhett," she greeted her husband coolly.
"Scarlett," he bowed low at the waist, and Scarlett could feel the taunt in the haughty curve of his shoulders, the way he humbly placed the back of his neck in view, bending so low that he looked as if he would pitch forward. She felt her face grow hot, and before he straightened, shot a pleading glance to Mammy.
"Miss Scarlett, Pansy is gwan ta need ma help with the child'en's things, Ah'll just be in da nurs'ry if yah need me."
Rhett stood up straight, his dark eyes glinting with some foreign emotion that made Scarlett cross her arms in front of herself, protectively, striving not to place a hand over her curving belly and give it all away.
"If you would join me in my study, Mrs. Butler, I'd be much obliged."
She swept past him, a wry smile on her face, "I'd be delighted, Rhett."
I have one last card to play, both thought to themselves, so you'll just have to swallow your pride and hear me out.
Part One of A Wife Wandering (Chapter Eleven) is complete. Expect the next installment (Part Two of Chapter Eleven, which will be labeled as Chapter Twelve) before the week is up!