'Fiddle-dee-dee' thought Scarlett peevishly, trying to ignore the sounds of Rhett upstairs packing his suitcases. She sat in silent consternation on the expensive divan of dark red plush material and her memory transported her back to Mother's office, the smell of lemon verbena sachet and the carpet that had been worn threadbare by the traipse of tired Confederacy soldiers. Scarlett had always taken pride in her independency, but now she realised that her opulent surroundings and the revels she had hosted were all funded by Rhett. Her mind wandered back to Tara, to being desperately poor, and worst of all the uncertainty tomorrow had come to symbolise...the mist. This host of thoughts pressed on her as insistent as the voices at the many gaudy parties she had hosted so arrogantly, the true understated spirit of a lady evading her. She, Scarlett O'Hara could never be like Melly or her own mother Ellen, fragile but with indomitable spirits made of a substance stronger than steel. A clatter in the room above awoke her from her reverie drawing her back sharply into the present. To the casual observer she had it all; prosperity, wealth, why even Mrs. Merriweather and Mrs. Elsing couldn't look down their noses at her, much as they'd like to. Katie Scarlett O'Hara was a woman finally in control of her destiny unlike the scared but determined girl she had been at Tara; but that control was diminishing, slipping away with each movement Rhett made preparing to leave.
In her mind's eye she saw herself stumbling through the mist not so long ago, confused and alone. Imperilled as she had been in the mist the truth had dawned sharp as a ray of light. Who had she always clung to in the gale of her troubles? Yes, at first she had used Rhett for his money and had thought nothing of calling him 'that skunk, Captain Butler' but now she was disposed to see a side of him he scrupulously refused to show those he held in contempt. Who had come to her aid in the fire, the aftermath of the siege at Atlanta? She smiled weakly as she remembered her means of salvation, Rhett Butler astride a distinctly shabby looking nag on its last legs. He would always be her liberator from that scene impressed upon her memory as a nightmare of desolation and anarchy the air thick with smoke and flame. In those days she had thought that each day would surely be her last. A world without Rhett... she realised that this was the nightmare, not the foreboding of the mist or lurching forward in circles and never being able to find home. She remembered tenderly the way he had soothed her as though she were a child after the icy grip of her recurring nightmare. Rhett was her one true love, they were selfish and determined but they were each other's equals. Galvanised into action, she fled up the stairs – barely stopping to compose herself, bitterly regretting the day that Ashley Wilkes had intruded into her life and rueing the consequences that had meant woe for them all. She had to let Rhett know how she felt, that her love for him was not a feigned love or ruse for some selfish motive. All of her pleadings and prevarications she knew would fall on deaf ears, she wished she had been honest about her own emotions, had not duped herself into believing she was in love with Ashley.
As she ascended the staircase Scarlett fancied she saw Mammy's reproachful face, but even dependable Mammy's presence was denied her. Scarlett thought bitterly of the days when evading Mammy's jurisdictions and sharp questions had seemed just another part of her carefree spoilt existence, but now she longed to have her comforting presence nearby. Perhaps Mammy had foreseen this moment and chosen to go back to Tara to avoid being in the maelstrom when the inevitable clash of wills between Scarlett and Rhett was unleashed. There were too many thoughts unspoken and resentments that lurked just beneath the surface of their marriage. She entered his room without knocking. His demeanour was calm but under the exterior lurked a nervous tension evident in the abruptness of his movements and a stubborn refusal to meet her eye, as though he knew Scarlett's histrionics too well and did not want to incite them. He had tried to show her how much he truly loved her, had built her ridiculous chalet and bought her a ring he knew had symbolised nothing except wealth and power. He remembered the first time he ever saw the demure Scarlett O'Hara at the party at Twelve Oaks, surrounded by beaux and assailing them with her own weapons; dimples, smiles and laughs. How strange that he should have been an unknowing witness to her tryst with Ashley in the library that day. Her appearance as sophisticated belle of Clayton County masked her true egotistic personality, the threat of danger latent in her had exposed itself when she had hurled that vase across the library. So, she had suddenly renounced the wonderful Ashley to be with him. But this was Scarlett, and her nature had always been volatile, why should he believe her now?
His eyes lingered on the small bed beside his and betrayed the anguish and turmoil he sought to hide. He appeared to recuperate himself and continued noisily opening drawers and wardrobes. Scarlett had perceived his look and longed to tell him that she understood, but felt unable to after remembering the way she had inculpated him for Bonnie's death. Would he have spoiled Bonnie and lavished attention on her if she, Scarlett, had been a more devoted wife? She felt a sudden pang of remorse that perhaps Bonnie's death was not all Rhett's fault and suddenly her maxim 'I'll think about it tomorrow' was not sufficient to sustain her wearied mind. She had tried to live without regrets and the threat of Rhett's imminent departure was unable to contemplate. In the midst of her cogitations, she hadn't noticed Rhett had stopped momentarily in his frantic preparations. 'Why my dear, I do believe that you are thinking. Is that the spectre of remorse or pity I see on your face?' His blunt earnestness caught her off guard as she prepared to answer. 'I just never believed it would come to this, after all my hard work...' His face hardened into set lines she had not seen before giving him a beleaguered look as he replied 'lest Atlanta ever dare forget your great sacrifices and utter unselfishness these past few years'. His tone had a faint hint of irony, but was acerbic 'I suppose you payed for this house and your fine lady-like dresses, Mammy was right; a mule can still be disguised by a bonnet and other trumpery'. The resentment flashed in Scarlett's eyes, how dared Rhett speak to her in that insulting way when she was desperately trying to be reasonable. He soberly continued packing, his jaw set as though ready for another verbal onslaught. He expected one, of course, knowing full well the vehemence his wife could display when minded to. He always saw through her empty words to her true intentions, to the core of her selfish ways. The war had only intensified her single-mindedness and bred a lust for money. He did not understand her new hunger for protection, having spent so many years struggling to survive on her wits, looks and false charm – now, finally Scarlett wanted to seize the chance to feel totally safe from ever being poor, hungry or terrified again.
Never able to stand an insult Scarlett had strained every nerve against shouting back at Rhett. The shallowness of her own mind beset Rhett's weaknesses rather than appeal earnestly to him, which she saw as pleading to him and making her appear weak. 'What about little Wade and Ella?' she said tentatively. 'What about them? He replied callously, 'they'll finally be able to spend time with a mother they never see and have never bonded with'. Her plan was foiled; Rhett wanted her to take responsibility! He meant it then...that he wanted to lead a quiet, secluded life after his bootlegging to Nassau and trips to Liverpool speculating. For Rhett, the allure of making friends in high places had lost its magnetism, he had always despised those unpatriotic carpetbaggers he'd done business with and more so their tawdry wives, cheap imitations of true Southern gentlewomen like Melly Hamilton. Their feeble attempts to emulate so great a lady only cheapened them further in his eyes. The scion of society he'd been born into had renounced him, his own father had died preferring his family starve to an ignominious death in genteel poverty than revoke the sentence passed on his son and accept his help. Perhaps he had inherited the spirit of his grandfather, non-conformist, opportunist, and maverick, quick to seize the advantage and worry about appearances later. That spirit was also kindled in Scarlett's fiery temperament. He had known for many years that she was no lady, she merely masqueraded as one, content to use ostentatious clothes, parties and flattery to elevate her to high places. He didn't despise her because he recognised in her a spirit similar to his own – cope with what life offers or fall behind at your own peril. Ashley was one of those either to scared and reluctant of what the future held or immured in the honeyed memories of the past to live his life contentedly. And now Melly was dead...it was too late for Ashley to make amends, to realise he'd had what he wanted all along, a wife who was his equal in temperament, as Rhett had once said 'when like meets like' only then can a relationship succeed.
Scarlett stared wildly at Rhett, trying to read his thoughts. He had always been adept at reading hers, she remembered the first time he had done so, perhaps in not so mystical a manner, when she had thrown that vase at the fireplace – her unrestricted anger had sought this outlet. Suddenly, the same feeling of catharsis welled up inside her, hurting her chest as her quickened breathing caused her corset to dig into her ribs. 'Rhett, you will not leave' she exclaimed emphatically. 'My dear, you may bawl to your heart's content, soon I will no longer be here to hear your importunings wrench at my heart strings'. What did all of that mean? He was starting to sound alarmingly like Ashley when he had spoken of forms and used that long word in a foreign language she hadn't understood. She felt that she was fighting a losing battle. He had picked up a suitcase and was headed for the door. She felt like a bemused child denied of some luxury or expected gift, he really did mean to leave. Some instinct in her made her hasten towards him and grab hold of him like a child running into a fathers embrace.
He let go of the suitcase, his body still somewhat impassive. Scarlett leant her cheek against his shoulder. They stood still for what seemed like an age as Scarlett felt her tears soak through Rhett's white linen shirt. A wild hope clutched at her heart, Rhett won't leave! His arms began to move, he understood...he would return her embrace. A quick glance upwards dispelled this; her heart sank as she saw the grim determination in his eyes. He raised his hands and grasped her tightly by the shoulders making them throb with pain. His eyes were looking at her intensely and were searing with fury 'Mrs. Butler, you've revealed your true nature once more. It seems you vent your chagrin at Mr. Wilkes by throwing vases at him, and seek to ensnare your next victim by throwing yourself into his arms'. He smiled. The light of malice was in his eyes. Tears of hurt stung Scarlett's eyes as she tried to regain her composure. Her voice snapped along with her restricted emotions. 'I forget – the hero of the Confederacy never did a thing wrong, all his money came from legitimate means. Perhaps Belle from the saloon can confirm...' she didn't finish the sentence. She reeled backwards clutching at the side of her face. ' Belle was more of a lady than you'll ever be. Don't you understand? She comforted me after Bonnie's death, my beautiful child...' Her cheek felt sore and she was surprised by the words that escaped her lips involuntarily, 'Bonnie loved you, Rhett'. Her words were so simple but they astounded him because he had expected some blunt retort form his wife, even a sharp slap. She must be speaking honestly, a dim hope or perception let him think that maybe she'd forgiven him- that perhaps she hadn't thought he was the sole cause of Bonnie's death.
He saw the child laughing and running, remembered how they would walk hand in hand down the street, everyone stopping to compliment her. She had brought out the best in him, and now she was gone- like a light fading to shadow. Shadows...she had always been terrified of the night, but he had been there to protect her, to chide the servants and her idle mother who had allowed the candles to extinguish. Would there be light where she was now? Surely the aura surrounding her precious soul, so dear to him, could not have faded out forever? The idea stung at his chest, and suddenly the room was as hateful and oppressive as a prison or perhaps the whisky was playing tricks on his mind because he felt exhausted. There was something in Rhett's movements that alarmed Scarlett, his eyes were unfocused and misted in thought. She remembered him so many years before, the gallant, charming, roguish Captain Butler, tall and dark with merry eyes that surveyed a woman in one sweep. He looked like the shadow of his former self, the talk of Bonnie had obviously shaken him. Scarlett thought of Bonnie with poignancy, she had given her father a new lease of life, repaired his standing in the community but above all this she had loved him unconditionally.
There was pity shining in his wife's eyes, he did not want her pity...but he remembered he had seen those eyes before. They were Bonnie's eyes, there was a haunting beauty in them unsurpassed by any other persons. 'Oh Scarlett' he began in a strained voice. Scarlett felt a little more at ease, he had realised that slapping her had been cruel. Now she could tell him that she had only ever fostered a futile hope that she would be with Ashley, never a real love. She moved closer to him, ready to console him and explain she'd always loved him and not her imaginary version of Ashley Wilkes. He looked at her intently, scrutinising her face like in the old days looking for some emotion. He knew that despite her pleadings of selfless love his wife would be as implacable as ever if they continued to live together as man and wife. He realised that he wanted to lead a quiet life and that the much maligned and infamous Captain Butler should fade into retirement. In the years it had taken for Scarlett to realise how much she depended on Rhett his hopes of her ever loving him had guttered and flickered out. The carefully nurtured flame had finally been starved of oxygen the day Bonnie had died. Now all the bitter recriminations of the past few years re-surfaced in his mind, the presence of Ashley Wilkes pervading his marriage, forcing him into a separate bed and occasionally the arms of Belle Watling. He had finished packing and was headed towards the door, ignoring his wife's expression of dismay...in his heart he had adopted Scarlett's saying tomorrow was another day.