"I've often wondered what it was about you that made me always remember you, for I've known many ladies who were prettier than you and certainly more clever and, I fear, morally more upright and kind. But, somehow, I always remembered you. Even during the months since the surrender when I was in France and England and hadn't seen you or heard of you and was enjoying the society of many beautiful ladies, I always remembered you and wondered what you were doing."
Gone with the Wind
The ballroom was festive as befit the Christmas season. In place of the neverending bouquets of hothouse roses, ivy-wreaths adorned slender, bare arms and shoulders. Corsages of mistletone twined with silver and velvet ribbons rose and fell on trembling white bosoms, while chrysanthemums tumbled on silken curls side-by-side with heirloom pearls. In place of the traditional confectionery-hued watered-silks, stiff, rustling taffetas and brocades of richer, more somber hues had come into fashion. But the winter debutantes were as bright-eyed, as fresh-faced and as blithe-tongued as of yore.
A certain tall, distinguished American gentleman watched the youngest ladies with a sort of cool approval over his glass of punch. Young English ladies, with the bloom of their country meadows still fresh on their cheeks, were simply a delight. They did 'natural' and 'charming' so prettily that it was impossible to suspect them of roleacting - though some of them did. Not at all like those French girls who carried themselves like the madames of bordellos in their schooldays and then when they were a little older - and had wearied of worldly airs - tried to comport themselves like Dresden shepherdesses, not imagining how revolting they were. But then all French girls grew into Frenchwomen - absolutely delightful. And all English girls, most unfortunately, grew into Englishwomen - that stolid, square-jawed, red-faced country of fox-hunting, match-making mammas who were simply not to be borne.
They looked adorable enough to dance with, but he knew better. In the days of his rash boyhood he had once committed the error of asking a young lady of one of the first families to waltz with him - only to find out, after taking a turn with her, that apparently all English girls had Yankee dancing-masters. Nothing else could explain their most decidedly ungainly gait or the ghoulish delight they took in stepping on one's foot with their beastly heels ever so often - and then simpering, "You don't mind of course?" when one minded very, very much. It was a crime, Mr Butler had long since decided, to dance with any woman who wasn't born in either Virginia, Georgia or Carolina.
He stood and sipped his drink alone, while the young women turned their pretty heads to stare at him and whisper among themselves - as women always had, and he knew, always would about him. There was something of the air of a buccaneer about him, something that women of all ages and all nationalities noticed.
A sallow-complected, yellow-faced gentleman arrived late, with a slender, dark-haired girl on his arm. A knot formed around them almost instantly - clearly the father and daughter, for so they seemed, were of some consequence. She was tall, though whether it was her shoemaker's trick or a natural consequence of her own physiology, was difficult to discern from a distance.
"There's Mr Carrisford," he heard someone say and saw a red-faced gentleman of an inimitably English countenance anxiously patting his cravat. "We ought to pay our respects, my dear."
His wife, as red-faced and ungainly, as he, smoothed the string of opal beads gleaming over the expanse of her fat, powdered neck. "Quite right you are, Mr Shipley. My, doesn't Miss Crewe look remarkably well this season? She grows prettier by the day."
"Diamond heiresses are apt to," her husband said. "I do wonder where that young scallawag of a James is. If I've told him once, I've told him a million times-"
"Why he's with dear Miss Crewe!" the good gentlewoman said, smiling complacently. "Bending over her hand - Mr Carrisford looks charmed. Ah doesn't she look the picture of happiness?" Rhett wondered vaguely what young lady wouldn't look the picture of happiness, with half-a-dozen dandies dancing attendance on her. Scarlett would have considered her purpose at a grand ball accomplished if she received such an opening. To Miss Crewe's credit, she looked unimpressed - but then as Mayfair's heiress of the season she was probably tired of being made so much of.
Sara Crewe stood, as tall, graceful and unapproachable as an ice sculpture, in the centre of a growing cluster of gay young things. A tiara of diamonds - that Lavinia Gardner nee Herbert whispered she'd fished out of her own mines - glittered on the smooth coils of her black hair, but her face was stone-set and the velvety grey-green eyes petulant. She hadn't wanted to come, but Uncle Tom - driven, she suspected, by his ardent courtship of a certain beauteous widow whom he'd fancied since his Eton days - had, and she just couldn't refuse him.
"Oh Sara, I knew you'd come!" Ermengarde St. John jostled her way to the centre of the throng that inevitably formed around Sara at gatherings.
Sara's mechanical smile warmed into a genuine one, as she pressed Ermengarde's plump hand between her palms. "What a pity we can't dance together like we did at Miss Minchin's, Ermie," she said wistfully.
Ermengarde's pale blue eyes danced wickedly. "But surely," she protested, "you wouldn't want to deprive these fine gentlemen of the pleasure of your company, la belle dame sans merci." Ermengarde's pronounciation had improved to the point where people did not look up and stare when she peppered her conversation with French phrases.
For answer, Sara only drew her best friend's arm through hers and slipped over to a shaded window nook. She loped one slim, silk-gloved hand around the other. Against the darkness of the heavy velvet curtains, the ivory lines of her profile stood out, like that of Aphrodite's on the gold medallion that Ermengarde wore. "You look just like a princess," Ermengarde said affectionately. Tonight, as on nine nights out of ten, Sara eclipsed the other debutantes entirely. Her gown was a Parisian couturier's 'creation', a confection of hand-painted, wine-colored brocade scalloped to flaunt creamy, tiered satin petticoats. It had cost a small fortune and perhaps young Mrs Gardner was not entirely off the mark when she said it was too gaudy to be worn at anything but a state coronation.
"So I've been told by a dozen golddiggers, I believe," Sara yawned. "I wonder whether Lavinia told everyone that it used to be my pet fancy to be called 'princess' at school - I can't imagine how else so many people would know. I think," she added reflectively, "that I rather like pretending to be a princess, instead of being called one, and I'd rather not be if it's by people who want something from me." She pondered this and for a moment her face was as solemn and quaint as it used to be when she was a little girl 'thinking things over'. "Mayfair drawing rooms, Belgravia square ballrooms and hunting lodges in the shires," she sighed. "It's always the same crowd and the same gossip and the same compliments-"
"Only heiresses are entitled to the compliments," Ermengarde remarked. "Heavens knows, the rest of us must make do with the dowagers' vinegar while you glide on their honeyed tongues. Sara, Sara what are you looking at?"
Someone had finally caught Sara's attention and for the first time in her life she stared. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt a flush rising in her cheeks, for here was a man who seemed straight out of one of her stories. Yet he was not clad in sable cloak with jewelled dagger sheathed at silk-hosed knee, and no triumphant white charger whinnied by his side. He was impeccably dressed in the impeccably - to Sara - dull fashions of the nineteenth century, besuited and be-cravated and in possession of the customary, bland glass of punch served at all bland parties. There was nothing to recommend him at all except a physique that was quite impressive underneath his well-tailored clothes, a distinguished mien and comely, vaguely aristocratic features. And yet to Sara Crewe, the most desired young woman at the ball, he stood out.
He was color compared to the greyness that surrounded him. He was a flash of light in the vivid darkness of mediocrity. He was a man - the only man - in a soup of milksop dandies.
Of course she would never have dreamed tell Ermengarde all that - Ermie would only suggest that she lay aside the romance-reading for a time.
"Oh, nothing," Sara said off-handedly. Then seeing Ermengarde's eyebrows crawl upwards in a spot-on imitation of Miss Minchin she hastily added, "I was just thinking how well James Shipley looks this evening."
The good Miss St. John looked astonished at this information. Not that she doubted it's veracity - dashing young Mr Shipley had the uncanny ability to look well everywhere - but it was not Sara's wont to wax eloquent over any young gentleman who paid court to her diamond mines. "You ought to throw him a bone and dance with him, if you think so," she suggested. "Mrs Shipley will be over the moon." Her eyes challenged Sara. "I can't see why you like playing wallflower anyhow, you dance so beautifully and you've never a lack of partners to fill up your dancing card. Go dance with James and give the matchmaking mammas something to talk about."
As a child reading storybooks, Sara had often imagined balls - silken slippers twirling to the orchestra's melody by starlight and words of impassioned love whispered by petal-soft voices in the moonshine. When she'd come out, she'd suffered the disillusionment every romantic young girl faces - at the scratchy tunes the band strummed out, the indifferent scenery and the far-from-impassioned suitors whose lives revolved around the Turf and the Stock Exchange. But tonight-
A shiver of excitement crawled up her spine as she asked James who the gentleman she had glimpsed talking to Mrs Carey was. The question didn't seem quite out of place, seeing as Uncle Tom was courting Mrs Carey and half of London seemed to know it. James who had his mother's knack for collecting gossip proceeded to enlighten her. He was Mrs Carey nee Butler's cousin from the States, a gentleman blockadeer who'd made his fortune on the War and was now sitting pretty on millions stolen from the late Confederacy's gold. No, nothing of the sort had ever been proved against him, but he was the black sheep of a fine, old family that was not in the custom of turning out any but white sheep. He had been wild in his youth, speculating and gambling in the gold mines deep down south-
Naturally, all this only enhanced him in Sara's eyes. Young ladies have never been averse to black sheep with hearts of gold. If, in James' version, he did not seem to possess the aforementioned golden heart Sara was quite ready to imagine one for him.
"Miss Crewe, may I have this dance?"
She didn't glance back for Uncle Tom's approval, she didn't care for Lavinia's delicately-drawn brows as she whispered to Jessie that Sara Crewe really was too fast, she didn't hear Ermengarde's gasp. All she saw was the black-sleeved arm in front of her and rising, let it clasp her waist, feeling at once it's strength and the slenderness of her waist as it snaked around it. She could hear the violins stirring the air and the whisper of velvet on marble as the first dancers took the floor. Her breath came in short, heavy gasps and she looked up at her partner, all the innocence and sweetness of girlhood glowing in her eyes.
Rhett looked down into her green-grey eyes and for a moment he thought how like Scarlett she was - dark-haired and white-skinned with those pale green eyes edged with heavy eyelashes. But no, Scarlett was heavier in the bosom - charmante when she wore her favorite low-cut gowns -, her lips redder and her features coarser, more feline somehow. Miss Crewe was more Junoesque in her lines and though she would be a stately woman, as a girl she was too slim and coltish for his taste. But, credit where credit was due, she danced well. For an Englishwoman.
"Won't you thank me, Miss Crewe?"
"Thank you?" Sara's voice was oddly breathless, though she wasn't out of breath at all. She felt herself coloring under his gaze and oh that roguish smile... she was glad for his arm around her waist and the masterful way in which he led her through the steps. "For what, Mr Butler?" This wasn't how the heroines of her favorite French novels spoke - they were pert and vivacious and here she was, talking to the man of her dreams, like she'd been raised on milk pudding. Why, he must think her such a child because she was only seventeen!
"I thought to take you out of your misery," Rhett said gravely. He winked at her and she could feel her blush rising to her temples. "You've been staring at me all evening - not that I don't feel flattered, of course."
"I-" Sara began to deny it but then something told her that it would be of no use, that this man would see right through her lies - and would laugh at her while he did so. Her sense of humor got the better of her. "Yes," she said recklessly. "Yes I was." Hesitantly she added, "It's not something I'm accustomed to doing."
Rhett tipped her a mock-salute, in approval of her honesty. Sara felt a queer glow of pride. "No, I doubt diamond heiresses are seldom driven to it," he said. He looked down into her long-lashed, dreamer's eyes and felt the sensual heaviness of her gown swishing teasingly against his ankles. He thought about the days spent breaking rocks for gold with his gentleman's hands, hands which had been born to do naught but wield six-shooters and pick flowers for ladies. He thought about the nights skulking, wraithlike, in the seacoves, his gun trained to an invisible target. He thought about all the men who'd go through life picking at black caves hollowed out of the earth - her patch of earth - to find the elusive glitter and all for what? To keep this chit of a girl in silk gloves and diamond coronets? And suddenly he felt the rawness of a stinging passion that forced him to look away, least she see the unmuted contempt in his eyes.
Sara Crewe had been blessed with an imagination and and that imagination allowed her to discern a good many things that some would have thought quite beyond the possibilities of her age. Rhett Butler hadn't turned his face away quickly enough.
"I hate it," she said slowly. She looked straight up at him, her head held high, jaw tight. "Papa passed away when I was eleven - Mr Carrisford, my guardian, had had a reversal of fortune with his diamond mines."
"Yes, I know," Rhett said. It had been quite a Stock Market scandal at the time and all the investors had been just that close to ripping out their hair - or the vanished Carrisford's.
"I was left on the hands of the seminary-mistress a little pauper," she said, face blank. She had never told any outsiders of Miss Minchin's treatment of her. She did not know whether it was out of a sense of shame or of dignity, whether she wanted to protect Miss Minchin or herself. She did not care to investigate. There were depths which could not be plumbed.
"A woman of the world, I take it?" Rhett asked. Seminary-mistresses made remarkable businesswomen.
Sara dipped her head. "She saw to what my education lacked by way of dusting and running errands," she said, the simplicity of her tone belying the irony of her words.
"An episode of a princess's life among the paupers," Rhett said in the same tone. "An interesting interlude when typical drawing-room conversation palls."
Sara all but flinched. "Princesses - and perhaps princes - in exile must suffer privations." She smiled politely. "You would know something of it, Captain Butler."
"Ah, but the wise prince knows how to put his tattered rags to use when he ascends the gilded throne," Rhett said.
Sara had no answer for that. She looked down, humiliation patching color into her cheeks. He was correct.
"And the wise princess," Rhett continued blithely, "knows to take advice with the grace her royal breeding calls her." His voice was very kind, almost fatherly, when he asked her, "How old are you?"
"Seventeen," she said, her voice muffled.
"A charming age that most girls are content to dawdle away practicing fancy embroidery and learning to converse with adults," he said. Then more gravely, "You are very young, Miss Crewe." He tried to imagine Scarlett at seventeen - a widow already, with a child saddled to her hip notwithstanding the fact that she was little more than a child herself. As she would, perhaps, always be. Miss Crewe was different.
Sara looked up, confidence slowly growing in her eyes. She smiled timidly.
Rhett's smile twitched in a decidedly impudent grin. But it was a grin of camaraderie, binding one comrade to the other in a secret. Sara felt her polite parlor smile slipping into a child's impulsive, infectious, impertinent grin. "But," Rhett continued, "You converse well, though I haven't the faintest notion as to where you stand with regards to fancy embroidery."
"When I'm good, I'm very good," she said wryly.
He bent down to kiss her hand but he did not breathe chastely breathe over her knuckles as any other man would have done - and which would have been quite correct and decorous. Instead, in full view of the ballroom - which was manifestly fascinated in whatever Miss Crewe of the Diamond Mines did - he slid his fingers over her wrist and pressed a kiss on the underside. It seemed to burn through the sheer silk of her glove. She blushed and every dowager worth her salt frowned. Most forward, most inappropriate.
"And when I'm bad," he said drolly, "I'm better." He bowed and strode away, leaving Sara standing, a queer half-smile on her face. It was Ermengarde who finally dragged her to a window-seat, armed with cake and wine for comfort, to rest and recuperate.
"How glassy your eyes are," she observed, looking as scandalized as she did excited. Miss St. John was nothing if not the proper Victorian maiden, nurtured on elaborate soap-dramas that featured dashing swashbucklers ravishing noble virgins. "Do tell, was he really as dreadful as James Shipley made him out to be?"
"No, not very," Sara said absently. When Ermengarde looked faintly disappointed, she laughed as she had been wont to in former days - a gay, merry little laugh of comradeship. It came as a jolt to Ermengarde for Sara had not laughed so for months - her spirits had flagged since her debut. She patted Ermengarde's cheek affectionately. "That, my friend, is a tale for another time." She nodded towards the aggrieved-faced gallant who was heading her way. "I believe my support party awaits me to express their condolences. Though," she added, looking particularly roguish, "Dancing with Captain Butler does not, in itself, call for any condolences."
Rhett was heading towards his hotel. The London fog was not utterly unbearable in the crisp, frosty night and anything would be better than waiting in the ballroom, surrounded by distressed mammas and papas who were convinced that he was stealing their walking goldmine. They needn't have. Miss Crewe was graceful, poised and charming with the charm he held highest in women - the charm of intelligence. But she was just too... good? Bland? Too clever perhaps? It was the feet of clay that made the porcelain statuette beautiful. A woman a man could not tease held little fascination for him. He smiled to himself, remembering Scarlett - her childish tempers, provincial airs, the coquettry which almost - but not quite - descended into rank slatternliness - and her ironclad self-conceit. One of the greatest pleasures of his life had been poking holes through her vanity.
He lifted his head, the chill smarting against his cheeks, and blew a kiss westwards. He laughed silently at the foolishess of the act.
Thousands of miles away, a girl in a thrice-turned nightgown and slippers reinforced with pieces of her mother's carpet, bolted the bedroom shutters. She picked up the tallow candle and bent to give her sleeping son a kiss on his forehead. She felt guilty about slapping Wade just because she'd been a temper, when he really hadn't been naughty at all that day. She was always making resolutions at Christmas to be kinder and gentler, but they never seemed to hold. The thin, flickering flame cast the shadows of the sleepers in the bed over the bare walls - Melanie's bird-boned shoulders, the long line of Suellen's ugly nose and Carreen snuggled up beside Beau and Wade. It cast the shadow too of the pointessia wreath on the bureau that the girls had arranged to give the house a Christmassey air.
How frivolous. How foolish.
Well... Scarlett smiled thinly and blew out the candle. "Merry Christmas indeed," she muttered, before tucking herself in next to Melly.
The house-party was being conducted at a stately Colonial-style mansion at New Orleans. The hostess was ingenious and consequently the guest-list comprised a motley bunch of the pleasant and the picturesque of the 'right set'. The circles were being set up at tea-time when Rhett arrived, with Bonnie leading him. She wore her favorite suit - her blue silk riding habit - and a daisy-chain wreathed through her silky black curls. The ladies of the party were hearty in their approbation and lavish in their praise - Bonnie Butler attracted attention wherever she went.
"What a little beauty!" a snow-haired dowager, who'd hounded five husbands to the grave, crowed.
The hostess beamed indulgently - she hadn't wanted the bother of having a child at her house-party, but perhaps it would turn out for the best. Mr Butler was just so silly about his daughter - not that you'd think so, with the way it was rumored he kept his son... She bustled about, making introductions.
"Lady Meg - Mr Rhett Butler. Of Charleston, I must add. Rhett - Lady Margaret Scott."
"The pleasure's all mine."
"I might have agreed had I not had the delight of making your daughter's acquaintance, Mr Butler!"
"Sara, dear. Rhett - Miss Sara Crewe."
She was a stately lady with serene green-gray eyes and a queenly dignity of carriage. Rhett bowed and smiled. "We have met, if Miss Crewe cares to remember. Although I believed that the next time I saw you, it would be with a coronet of strawberry leaves gracing your brow."
Sara colored but said nothing. She had grown into her beauty with a grace that few women managed. At seventeen she had been girlish and girlishness had not became her as well as it became Scarlett. But at twenty-four she was a woman and more beautiful than Scarlett could ever hope to be.
"The newspapers have crowned dearest Sara the Princess of People's Hearts," the dowager said fondly. "Her charitable endeavours, her philanthropy - but there, I won't embarass you, Sara. How can a duchess's tiara compare to that?"
Bonnie, who was munching a petit-four and scattering crumbs over the Persian carpet - to the hostess's inevitable agony - looked up. She had evidently decided she liked Miss Crewe because she spoke to her. "You look a bit like Mother," she decided. "Black hair and green eyes."
Sara chuckled and smiled her kind, gentle smile. "Then I must be very beautiful if I can compare with your mother, dear," she said tenderly.
"Introduce me," Bonnie told her Daddy gravely. And then she added, "But you don't have to introduce yourself, Miss Crewe, cause I heard who you were."
"Mannerless cur," Daddy scolded, mock-scowling at her but Bonnie knew he wasn't angry at her. He never was. "You must excuse her, ladies, I haven't been able to whallop any social graces into her yet." The ladies chuckled politely. The infamous Captain Butler playing the doting papa was just too darling - really, Mrs Lindsay had excellent taste in house-guests. "Miss Crewe, may I present Miss Bonnie Butler?"
"No," Bonnie said, pouting. "It's Miss Eugenie Victoria Butler." She remembered her long, beautiful, ladylike name even if Daddy didn't. She curtseyed gravely and with gave her hand to Sara.
With equal gravity, Sara took it and kissed her chubby little fingers. "I'm honored." Her eyes sparkled as she added, knowing that it would make the little darling happy, "My little princess."
a spirit of friendly good-fellowship
A/N: My prompt was from Spottedhorse:
"When I'm good, I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better." (Mae West)
made it into a crossover because I assumed that most people who were
familiar with the GWTW fandom would be familiar with A Little
Princess. And I was thinking about how similar Sara and Scarlett are
in appearance but not in anything else. Plus I couldn't give up the
chance to write Fangirl!Sara. Btw, has anyone read 'Atlas Shrugged'?
Don't you think Dagny Taggart and Scarlett O'Hara are remarkably