prov·i·dence (prv-dns, -dns)
1. God or nature seen as a protective force that oversees people's lives
2. the foresight shown by a person in the management of his or her affairs
Pressing her hand firmly to her chest, Scarlett attempted to slow the rapid thumping of her heart. She could feel the blood pounding through her veins. Her head throbbed, seeming to pound in juxtaposition with her heart.
From the hall, the squeak of a floorboard outside her room ripped a cry of alarm from her still bleeding mouth. She'd fallen into the unconscious habit of gnawing on her bottom lip when ever she was feeling frazzled. Lately, she'd taken to biting the skin just inside her mouth, directly behind her top lip. It was either that or speak out, something that would only upset her mother. Better to bite her lip, quite literally, and remain silent, than upset Ellen.
Cupping a hand to her ear, Scarlett leaned against the door, but heard nothing. No one was in the hall. The atrocity she'd committed was still a secret, but for how much longer? Soon the whole family, indeed the whole county would know what she'd done.
Why had she done it, her conscience asked? It had been a moment of madness, she told herself, desperate to justify her actions. It was one horrifying moment that she never could have predicted. He wouldn't stop. That's why it happened. No matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried, he just wouldn't stop.
It was the wailing, that piercing ungodly noise, a sound that cut through her until she wanted to wail too. She hated him. She hated everything that he represented. She hated the way everyone expected her to croon at him and she hated the looks she got when she failed to quiet his cries. She hated waking up to his screaming drifting through the open doorway between her room and the makeshift nursery.
It wasn't fair. The unfairness of it all had long threatened to crush her. She only had a short taste of what life could be like for a beautiful girl and now...now that life was over. Gone, lost forever because of a promise given in haste and a ring taken without regard for its true symbolism. Her wonderful, carefree existence stolen from her first by Charles, then just when she'd found herself inexplicably free, stolen again from her by a squalling brat that she did not care about.
Only now she did care about him. Or rather, she cared about what she had just done to him.
But maybe...just maybe he was alright. Yes, he could be fine. She could have simply over reacted and even now he was simply sleeping. Forget that he never slept soundly through his afternoon naptime. Forget that his tiny pouting lips had be tinged blue when she'd come to her senses and fled his room. Forget that she had....
"Oh Mary mother of God," she whispered painfully, "please..."
Creeping through the door, ready to turn and dart away at a moment's notice, Scarlett slowly made her way to Wade's cradle. It was a gorgeous thing, the Hamilton cradle, sent by Charlie's Aunt Pitty only days before Wade had arrived. The tiny tumbling block quilt sewn by Mammy was still draped across his tiny body.
He was so still, concealed from sight beneath the covers. The way the quilt was arranged she couldn't tell for certain if his chest was rising and falling. Perhaps, there was a chance that he still lived. If he was still alive, then no one need know what she'd done...Please God, she thought, please.
"Wade," she whispered, her voice catching in her throat. "Wade, little baby, please wake up." But he was still, his eyes closed and there was a faint red blotch on his lip and chin.
With the tip of her shoe, she lightly prodded the side of his cradle. It swung lazily, the joints creaking loudly in the unnatural silence of the nursery
From the bookshelf, a rag doll regarded her with an accusatory stare. "I didn't mean to do this," she whimpered defensively, "I just wanted him to stop crying. Oh, God, please, I didn't mean this."
Sitting on the floor, she leaned her head forward into her hands and wept piteously. She was just seventeen, what did she know about taking care of a baby? As a child, her parents had not even allowed her a pet because they did not trust her to see to its needs. Then, by virtue of happenstance, she'd born a child. A child who she did not want, who she'd never would have wanted even if Charles hadn't died. Her mother had...
Mother, what would mother say when she told her what happened? Her gentle mother who cared for the sick and needy, she would never understand hating a baby enough to put a hand over its mouth to quiet it. And what about pa? Pa who'd acted so foolish over her newborn son, proclaiming that he would one day be the master of Tara, what would he say when he learned what she'd done.
Looking up, her gaze fell on the cherry wood cradle. The cradle remained motionless and she felt a wave of despair. She was monster. Plain and simple. He was only a baby, a helpless little baby and she'd killed him. Even if she hadn't wanted him, even if she begrudged him life, he was still only a baby. A mother was the person who was supposed to protect him from harm but in the end, she had been the one to hurt him; to kill him. She, Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton, was a murderess.
"I killed my baby," she whispered into the silence. "He wouldn't stop crying so I tried to make him stop. I just wanted him to stop, but not like this. Oh God what have I done."
Saying the words out loud, hearing them echo in her ears instead of in her mind, made her realize just how hollow, how false her story sounded. No one who'd seen her indifference toward the baby would believe that such a horrible thing could have occurred accidentally. They would believe that she had come into his room intending to kill him.
Then, inspiration struck. She was supposed to be napping. In fact, she had been lying down when Wade's cries had ripped her from dreams of Ashley and the last days they'd spent together before that God damn barbeque.
What if she simply went back to bed?
Years ago, Cathleen's mother, her real mother not the Yankee governess, had lost a baby. The baby, according to the gossip, had simply passed away quietly in her cradle one afternoon. Scarlett, concealed behind the parlor drapes, had heard the whole sad story. While listening to the ladies of her mother's acquaintance she'd heard Grandma Fontaine declare it was a shame, but such things were not completely uncommon. That she had a cousin who'd lost a baby that way, soon after its birth.
If it could happen to the Calvert's baby, if it happened to Grandma Fontaine's cousin, that it could have happened to her baby, Scarlett thought. Her conscience reeled at what she was about to do, but the animalistic need toward self preservation was strong within Scarlett and that instinct was now in charge. If she was to save herself, then she would have to act...and quickly.
First, she would check that the mark left on the baby when she covered his mouth before had faded away. If he still bore the mark of her hand, then she would think of a way to either conceal it or explain it if it was remarked upon. Then, if his face was unmarked, she would rearrange the blankets so that it looked as if he'd died undisturbed. Once everything was in order, she would return to her own room. Then, she would get back into bed. It would be impossible to sleep, lying there listening for the rustling of Mammy's skirts, but she would try. I would be better for her if she was found soundly asleep.
Once Mammy discovered what had happened, she would immediately fetch Ellen. Both Mammy and Ellen thought her in a delicate state so they would between them decide the best way to break the news. It would be her mother who would come to tell her.
Yes, her mother would be the one to come in and wake her. It would have to be mother. Such terrible news, it would fall on her mother to convey it. It had to be mother for if Mammy looked into her shadowed green eyes, she would see the guilt written on her heart. All her life, it was Mammy who had assessed her guilt and doled out the appropriate punishment. If she were the one to tell her about the baby, she would see what she'd done. What would the punishment be for suffocating her infant son? They would hang her. If anyone learned what she'd done...
Leaning over, she brushed her fingers across Wade's soft cheek. "I'm so sorry, I..."
His brown eyes snapped open. Seeing her leaning so close startled him and from his tiny rosebud mouth came a loud wailing cry.
Fleeing the baby's room for the safety of her own, Scarlett's knees finally buckled and she fell to the floor. From the nursery, Wade's cries continued for several minutes. She wanted to go to him, but she knew now that she was unable to do anything for him. There was only one thing she could do for him. From that moment on, she vowed, she would never again be alone with him. Not until he was old enough that she could trust herself.
She did not love him, but if God had seen fit in his infinite wisdom to spare his life, then she had a moral obligation to preserve it.
From his room she heard Mammy mumbling about how her lamb could sleep through anything. How wrong Mammy was, she thought as she crawled back into bed. In fact, she doubted that she would ever really rest easy again. How could she, knowing that she'd come so close to disaster only to be pulled back from the brink by providence.