Title: New Beginnings in a New World
Fandom: Gone with the Wind
Pairings: None at the moment. Previous pairings as in book (Scarlett/Ashley, Ashley/Melanie, Rhett/Scarlett) may possibly be slash in future- there is none in this chapter though.
Summary: There is nothing left for Asley in the the New World he never had a place in. So taking Beau he leaves, going to live in Europe. Yet his old life in the form of visits from Rhett, and letters from Scarlett can never leave him fully. No pairings.
The bar is quiet, dim and musty with a thousand and departed drinks scent floating in the air. The air is almost rancid, the tables are congealed with dust, and slops, the only window a small glass one, covered over with dirt and grime, almost no light penetrates into the room. It is early afternoon, so the candles have not yet been lit. Four people sit there, disassociated from each other. A heavily painted bad woman, her feet aching, with a glass of stout in her hands, hoping for some custom in even such a place, a querelous old man in the corner who does not seem to know where he is, the languid bartender polishing a dirty glass with an even dirtier cloth, and a man in the corner, his head sunk down into his hands. He is of different quality to the rest, his clothes cleaner, and neater, a gentleman's cut, and on his slender hand is a gold ring. His hair is dimmed by the darkness, but appears to be a dusty blond sprinkled with silver. A glass sits half drained by his side, the liquid some sort of brandy, and he seems utterly unaware of the world around him.
The door opens and someone else walks in, a tall man, well-set, who ignoring the others who stare at him curiously, makes his way to the gentleman and shakes him roughly. "Are you drunk?" he asks laconically, as though nothing would surprise him. "Your ship sails in an hour."
The other looks up with no appearance of surprise. "What are you doing here?" he murmurs with no surprise. "I'm not drunk, and I'm not going to miss my ship."
"I am here for one reason only. Your wife was a good woman, perhaps the only good woman I have ever met, and I am going to do this for her, if nothing else. Your son is waiting for you, everyone is while you languish in a filthy hole in supposed repentance for your sins. Now rise. I have a carriage outside." Rhett Butler pulls Ashley Wilkes up from his seat, and half propels him from the room. In the carriage, he stares shrewdly at him. Ashley looks younger. Despite the silver strands in his hair, and the utter ness in his eyes, he seems to have reverted back to a youthful stage, as though he is no longer in control of himself or his life. As though all purpose and meaning have fled. Rhett sits forward roughly. "Look at me," he says commandingly, and after a few seconds pass, Ashley does so, emptily. Rhett stares at his face, eyes assessing and calculating. Finally he leans back, and pulls a card out of his pocket. "My address in England," he says, and scrawls on the back. "My banker in London. You may call on him for assistance should you need it."
For the first time, a dull flame is kindled in the eyes. "I would not touch a penny of your money, if the devil would take me for not doing so." Rhett laughs as though bitterly amused about something.
"So you are not after all. I am giving you this card, just in case. You can also pass letters through it to your relatives, I know how unreliable the ships are for mail." He tucks the card in Ashley's pocket. "Your son is waiting for you at the docks. Where do you plan to go?"
Ashley shrugs as though he hadn't thought that far ahead. As far ahead as actually living somewhere, as existing in a world he had never understood. Looking at him Rhett thought there was no-one more unsuitable to care for a child. This man could barely care for himself. Scarlett dimly percieving the same thing had offered to look after the child, along with her own for Melanie's sake, and Rhett thought sourly that, that would be a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. If he'd been a different man, and Ashley less proud, he'd have offered to take the child himself. Beau could barely understand what was going on, why he was suddenly wreathed in black, and wept over, why his father seemed so utterly distant from him all of a sudden, and why his mother was no longer there. He'd been told that they were going to Europe, a far-away frightening place, he had only heard rumours of. In his story-books it bristled with dragons, knights, monsters and beautiful princesses, Kings and Queens and ancient warrior tribes, and he could not help but think with a certain dread of going there. Wade had told him, they didn't speak English over there, except in England, and he wondered how he would understand them. Finally Ashley replied. "Perhaps Rome."
Rhett could not help but look impatient. "It will be the beginning of summer when you get there Ashley. The place will be rife with fever, no place for a child at all. Lodgings will be impossible."
Ashley looked vacant. "Perhaps Paris then," he said with no interest. "Or maybe London." He stared out the window as though the subject was finished with, and Rhett asked him no more, in this state he was worse than useless. And Rhett wonders why he is here. He's not interested in Ashley Wilkes, or his life, but there is something that holds him here, until the journey is finished, all ends tied. For the web that has been wound is not something that can disintegrate in seconds. All the heart-ache and grief has not died a simple , along with Melanie, was not buried in the ground alongside her simple corpse. Ashley Wilkes is the last link of the chain that bound Scarlett to Rhett, the final nail, and he is leaving. There is a precision, a perfection to the ending, an exquistively ironic note in a dirge. The man who came between them for so long, is making his departure, and Scarlett could not care less.
They are all three of them, bound together, by the memory of a dying woman, a woman who each of them, even if they never realised it, loved in their own way, almost more than anything else. Those threads which have disintegrated between them, are still there, yet unseen and unfelt, the source of them lying in a lonely grave. Rhett sees the docks approaching and shakes Ashley roughly. "We're here."
Ashley climbs down, almost stumbling. A crowd of people are waiting for him, waiting to see him off. Mrs Elsing, Mrs Merriwether and Mrs Meade, the triumivirate are there in state, as is every face in their small company. Rhett turns his head, the merest twitch, and sees her. Scarlett has come to see Ashley off. She stands there alone but for Wade and Beau, who are talking as fast as they can, somehow conscious this is the last time they will see each other. Her eyes do not seek those of Rhetts, nor even meet Ashley. They join her, an awkward trio now that no Melanie exists to smooth the , and keep up the facade. Silence reigns, until Ashley says vaguely. "Come Beau." he ruffles his sons hair absentmindly, and looks at the two silent adults. "Goodbye Scarlett," he says, and for a moment there is just a flicker of the old Ashley, the warmth and friendship he once felt, dancing in his eyes, before it again dies away. He kisses her cheek briefly, and presses her small gloved hands. "Be well," he says gravely, for there is nothing more to be said. The night before, they had said their goodbyes. Then he shakes hands with Wade, and turns to Rhett, holding out a hand. Rhett takes it, noting absently its coldness, and strength, and shakes it firmly. Then he turns away from them, and makes his way into the crowd, swallowed up by their benificence and farewells, their tears and their partings. Most of decent Atlanta is here to see him off, and he does not board until the last second. He stands with Beau on deck, who waves as though his small heart is breaking. Ashley locks eyes with the two at the back, and raises his hand briefly. Then the boat is away, and he turns to face his new life.
He had planned to go to Rome first, but warned by Rhett, decided on Paris. The journey was long, and Beau, restless as a small animal, had at first swarmed all over the ship, until he knew every nook and cranny, and had then sunken into a state of semi-stupor, from which little roused him, apart from meals. Ashley spent his time in the small library, writing letters in his head to Melanie. They always started the same way. My dearest wife, I miss you beyond anything. The books held no interest for him anymore. What could they give him, that she had been unable to? To the women on the ship, he was a slightly tragic figure, his antecedents unknown, but so obviously in pain.
Paris was a nightmare, a busy jostling city, where you could not move for fear of tripping over the seething mass of humanity. Ashley rented lodgings in a quieter part of the city, and sent Beau to the local lycee. At nights he helped Beau with his French, though the boy was bewildered by the langauge, and lonely in the strange sea of faces.Ashley walked down strange streets, sunk deep into his thoughts as always, and after three months, he decided that London would be better. Beau made little protest, content to be swept along in the moment. They left Paris, and journeyed slowly through the countryside, through golden cornfields, resplendent with the gifts of nature, blue lakes of icy water, hot and humid landscapes, that seemed almost insane in their intensity. He did not notice any of it.
Autumn came with a shock. They were in England now, making their way to London. It was different scenery, orchards laden with scarlet and golden fruits, rolling green fields and hills, hedgesides covered in small star-like flowers. Beau clung to his father's hand as they travelled. Ashley had a job in London, a friend he had done a favour once had offered him a place in an office, with a generous salary, and with little thought Ashley had taken him up. London was different to how he remembered it, more fashionable and busy. He did not remember the area, and had to ask directions. He engaged the first lodging house he saw, and left Beau there, while he went to take up his position. It was not strenuous work, it mostly involved organization and a little book-keeping, just enough to keep him occupied. There he wrote his first letter to Scarlett, a very short epistlemerely to keep her informed as she had asked.
I have spent three months in Paris with Beau, who was learning to speak French very well. I have a position in London, and can be contacted at the address below. I hope you are very well, and that you are thriving. Please thank Mr Butler for the use of his bank's postal service, and forgive me for not having written before. I am thinking of you all, everyone in the town, and Beau especially asks me to send his love to Wade. He is to start school soon. With all of my affection
The letter was stilted, and awkward, from the hand of a man, to whom letters had come so easy, far easier than social interaction. None of the grace of phrase that usually illuminated his prose, came to his aid now. He folded and sealed the letter, and having spoken to Rhett's banker, a grave old gentleman, it was sent off. Ashley forgot about it, the moment it was sent. Beau had started school now, and liked it very little. Used to the gentle tuition of his mother, the large, cold stone school he was sent to seemed like anathema, and the work was very different to what he was used to. He had his father's brains, and his mother's quiet unassuming charm, and so he survived well enough, these resources pulling him past the gaps in his knowledge. Ashley had harboured vague plans of travelling Europe, especially going to Rome, but three months passed, and his will to leave faded.
One morning brought a letter from Scarlett.
Dear Ashley, he read, in her characteristic scrawl.
All the town misses you very much, and wishes you would come home. I wish you would come home as well. As a friend I write this Ashley. We are afraid for you and Beau, alone with no family or friends in London. Melanie would not want you to be alone. Wade sends his love back to Beau, and asks him if he likes his school very much. He askes very often if Beau will come to visit, and I wish I could tell him yes. You know Mr Butler and I, are estranged, but he was in town a week ago, and I expressed your thanks. He told me to tell you, that he may be visiting London soon, and will perhaps meet you there. Here her letter departed from the usual forms and courtesies, that she so seldom observed and became all Scarlett. Ashley what am I to do? Our lives are so changed, so different, and everything is so wrong. The one person I could count on is gone from me, Melanie has been taken, and all of a sudden nothing makes sense. What do I fight for now Ashley? How do I win back, what I have lost, when all my heart cries out to do is rest. I have no skill with words Ashley, to write this is hard enough for me, and I do not know why I ask you, except that there is no-one else. No-one. Do your books have an answer?
With every affection
He read it through gravely, in the morning, as the landlady served toast and tea in the small breakfast room, and smiled a little at Scarlett's efforts to articulate her feelings on paper. The , the woman had never been good at so much as thinking of why she felt, let alone trying to change. But Melanie's had changed them both, in ways they had never thought of.
That night, he sat sunk in a brown study, as Beau did the work left over from prep at the table, then taking up his pen, he began to compose his answer.
I am honoured at the affection the town holds for me, and if I could return home I would. I know Beau would love to do so, though he seems to like his school, he talks often of Wade, and his friends, and of you. I cannot return though Scarlett. It is haunted for me by Melanie, everything reminds me of her. You do as well, everytime I saw you, or heard you, the love she held for you was brought back into my mind. You were truly her sister. If you see Mr Butler, tell him he is welcome to visit, though between us both, I see little point.
Scarlett we are all lost without Melanie. You write to a man who did not know how he could continue to walk, to talk after she was gone. She meant everything to me, the dream that never did fade, in the cold light of day, in reality.
Scarlett you are so much more alive and vital than I ever was, or ever would be, that to ask me for advice would seem strange, but I will give you the only advice I can give you. Fight Scarlett for yourself and the children, for what you want and need, and then let peace grow upon you. Fight yourself, and your urge to battle the world without ceasing. My books hold no answers Scarlett. They cannot resurrect the dead, or rekindle love, but they can comfort and guide. You never needed anyone as a shield to defend you, or as a staff to lean on, and you do not now, your own strength is enough. I do not offer you prayers to a God you do not believe in, but I can offer hope.
With hope Scarlett
He sealed it, and put it aside to continue working. Weeks went by, after the letter was sent, and it wasn't until a Wednesday that something unusual happened. By this time, Ashley had rented a small house, rather than stay with the landlady longer, and when he came home something seemed different. Beau was laughing upstairs, obviously not alone. Ashley took the stairs two at a time, to find Beau and Rhett Butler talking in the tiny room that served as Ashley's study. Rhett seemed older than when Ashley had last seen him, but his face was animated as he talked to Beau, using his hands to gesture something. Ashley coughed discreetly, and Beau ran to meet him enthusiastically. "I had a wonderful day papa," he enthused. "Mr Butler obtained permission to let me leave school early, and we looked all around London."
Ashley smiled at his son. "That sounds lovely," he said trying to summon up interest. He glanced at Rhett, and thanked him politely not voicing the obvious question of why Rhett was in their rooms, and from the looks of things accompanied by presents. Rhett interpreted his glance and smiled easily.
"When I mentioned I would be visiting London, people insisted despite their dislike of me, on sending with them, both their heartiest good wishes, and more substancial avowals of their regard. I also have a handful of letters, which you shall read presently."
At this moment Beau interrupted. "Papa look at what Mr Butler brang for me."
"Brought for me," Ashley corrected gently, and looked at the othersized toy in the child's hands. A large brightly coloured assortment of items, including toy soldiers of the sort Beau cherished. It was wildly expensive, and Ashley shook his head. "I hope you thanked Mr Butler properly," he said, and turned back to the other man. "Thank you," he said politely. "I haven't seen Beau so animated in a long time."
They paused unsure of what remained to be said. Beau unaware of the awkward silence, prattled on gaily, giving Ashley an excuse to gently remind him to be quiet. The clock ticked quietly in the corner, offsetting the silence, now that Beau had gone to his room to add to his collection of soldiers. Ashley gestured Rhett to a seat, and offered him a drink. Rhett refused, then suddenly spoke. "If you have not plans for tonight, I would be pleased if you accepted an invitation to dinner at my London house." Ashley looked unsure.
"I have Beau to think of," he excused himself.
Rhett cut in. "Your neighbour is more than happy to keep an eye on him. She is charmed by him, says he is welcome to stay in her rooms for the evening." He ran a finger down the side of his chair. "We need to talk on certain matters, and it would be easier without Beau around."
It appeared Ashley had no choice but to accept, and Rhett arranged for the phanteon to be sent around at eight, late for dinner. He dressed in a decent dinner suit, thinking about the last time he had worn it, to a dinner party at his friend's house. He didn't socialise much, and the obvious attentions of the daughter of the house, who appeared smitten by him, had made the situation doubly as awkward. He had been irreproachable in conduct, but he knew how these things could spiral out of control. He was surprised that Rhett himself had attended the coach, rather than leaving it to a groom. Fortunately the other seemed to show no inclination to talk.
Rhett's house was the very opposite of the house he had commisioned to be built for Scarlet. Its lines were classic Georgian, of stone rather than brick, and evidently old. Ivy crept over two walls, obscuring the clean cut lines, providing some relief from the stark simplicity. The door was heavy oak. Inside the house, rather than the heavy furniture that most houses relied upon to give them gravitas was a veritable paradise of light, utterly at odds to the gloom outside the window. The hall was pure white, the floor tiled with Delft tiles in white with blue trim. A bust of Helen rested on a plinth, but apart from the bowl for calling cards was the only ornamentation. The sweeping stairs were wooden, with a runner of blue velvet carpet, and white wooden handrails.
With his peculiar talent for guessing the minds of others, Rhett smiled. "Being an American I can get away with such eccentricity," he remarked gravely. "Don't be alarmed, the rest of the house is more traditional."
Shaking his head, Ashley reminded himself not to stare. "Not at all," he excused his rudeness. "I was admiring your taste. It is different, yet compelling in it's contrast." He spoke truthfully. The house both repulsed him, and attracted him. Its stark interior, and elderly exterior were both of a style alien to conventional Americans, but Ashley had the advantage of admiring European architecture, and the clean lines demonstrated by lack of ornament, was resting.
Rhett had not lied, the room into which he was shown next was more conventional, but even here the idionsycracies Rhett displayed, had full evidence. There was something subtly different about the arrangements of furniture, that was perfectly respectable, yet had the look of being staged. Rhett's obvious taste for lightness pervaded even here, the furniture was dark mahogany, yet set upon a light blue carpet and against white walls. A table stood between two armchairs, a carved chessboard resting upon it. The room boasted a number of mirrors, each near a light, which had the advantage of multiplying the radiance to a magnificent extent. The chandelier was of Waterford crystal, beautifully lit by the myriad of small candles attached to it. On the walls were the conventional style portraits, and in the corner behind the door was a Remembrandt sketch Ashley instantly recognised. Only Rhett Butler would hide Remembrandt behind a door, he thought wryly, especially an original sketch of such quality.
They sat near the chessboard, and Rhett explained the lack of servants. "They have a general day off on Friday afternoon," he clarified. "I rarely entertain, as I am rarely here, and even when I am here, I do not entertain on a Friday, so I am afraid we must make do with a cold supper," he apologized. Ashley made the right noises, secretly rather glad. Formality may have provided a refuge, but it also meant unavoidable difficulties in conversation. Their conversation was light, mostly regarding mutual aquaintances in America.
After a little time Rhett consulted his watch, and excused himself for a moment. Ashley stood, habit driving him to the bookcase. The selection was not one, he would have associated with a man like Rhett Butler, though perhaps he couldn't have said what he thought would be there. The books were cleanly cut, leather trimmed and obviously untouched, containing such useful works as the Encyclopedia Francaise, Dickens and Shakespeare's Histories. They looked like show books, books merely there to fill a space. ens sent a pang through Ashley's heart. Melanie had been so fond of his works especially Great Expectations, it had been one of the few things they had disagreed upon.
Rhett entered on silent cat's feet, observing with impenetrable eyes, the brooding of his guest. A slight cough alerted him, though his posture did not change perceptibly. "I can show you my library," he said, and his voice had an edge of mockery that Ashley did not miss.
"Not books I would have thought you read," Ashley replied calmly, fingers tracing the Shakespeare.
Rhett's eyes were shadowed. "Tell me Mr Wilkes, what do you think I should read?"
"I don't suggest reading matter for you Mr Butler. I merely hazard a guess as to what you actually read." He paused, but Rhett was obviously waiting. Ashley did not volunteer his answers, and after a moment Rhett turned, obviously expecting Ashley to follow. They climbed the stairs, and entered the library's doors. Library it styled itself, as most grand houses did, though it was small. Rhett bypassed the shelves with barely a glance, and unlocked a tall bookcase of dark wood, displaying its contents. Ashley read them with no change of countenance. There were books there of every sort, rioting wildly together with no sense of form or display. Laclois rubbed shoulders with Flaubert, Shakespeare with Homer, Hugo and Defoe elbowed each other for room. Voltaire peeked candidely from behind the slouched countenance of Catullus. The literary history of a continent lay exposed before his eyes. The German philosophers had their own quiet huddle, while Balzac shared secrets with Dumas. Ashley could not help raising an eyebrow at the lonely volume of Tocqueville's 'De la democratie en Amerique,' abandoned by itself.
He had never suspected such a collection, such a bookcase and contained within the house of Rhett Butler, a man who though he had never lacked culture, seemed to scorn its manifestation in the intellectuals of society. Perhaps something of this showed on his face, for Rhett said, lifting a shoulder perhaps they should leave. Ashley shook his head, perhaps in a little wonderment. Some of these books were a matter of public indecency and utterly unavaliable in America. He had read them in hurried editions, before deciding whether they were suitable for Melanie. Such scandulous classics as Madame Bovary, Moll Flanders, and some of the Latin poets more indiscreet panegyrics he had concealed from her eyes, reading them with mingled distaste and fascination himself. Laclois's Les Liasions Dangereuse, Boccaccio's Decameron, and of course that pinnacle of mythical literature the original Arabian Nights. He did not ponder where on earth, or indeed why a man like Rhett Butler had acquired these volumes, sensing for the first time some affinity of taste between himself and the man.
The sound of a bell chimed, and with a flourish Rhett led the way from the room, locking the door of the bookcase carefully. Ashley followed him down the stairs, wondering why on earth Rhett had shown him such a thing. A man who had made no bones about concealing his dislike for him, had gone out of his way to forge a connection with him. They sat down to table, to the cold cuts of meat, and trifles the cook had provided, eating lightly, supplemented with the excellent wine. They talked about noneities- until the time for brandy came. "How is Scarlett?" asked Rhett abruptedly.
Ashley started from his revery. "Have you not seen her?" he asked. A surly silence was answer enough, and he began to speak.
I'm going to leave it there for tonight. I don't really expect any reviews, but if you do drop one in, you will be rewarded with a very big smile, and lots of thanks!