Overheard

Part 7

A/N: I love GWTW to pieces. I don't enjoy much the happenings in the last chapters, true, but without them the book wouldn't be the same. And we wouldn't be here writing fanfiction to it either, I suppose. Anyway, there is a thing that bothers me a lot in the last chapters of GWTW – namely Scarlett's trip to Marietta just before Melanie's death. I don't understand why she would go there – they have no relatives there, she has very few friends – all of them living in Atlanta (Melanie and Ashley) or around Tara. And, face it, she is also not a person to do a sight-seeing. So why Marietta? It simply doesn't make sense. Therefore I went through the book once more and found out that Frank had some business connection in Marietta – and here we are, I decided that Scarlett had a supplier there for her shop. I hope you will all agree with this solution. (-:

A/N 2: Many thanks to skyebugs for beta reading. (-:

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Rhett had finished reading the newspaper and was now pacing the room up and down, becoming increasingly impatient. Finally, he turned to Scarlett, who was bent over a letter to her supplier in Marietta, a substitute for what had originally been planned a personal visit to that town in the upcoming weeks. In the current situation, Scarlett refused to leave Atlanta, fearful that something bad might happen to Melanie during her absence.

Her mind completely focused on the possible loss of Melanie, Scarlett rather conveniently forgot that the trip to Marietta had originally been planned as a respite for Wade and Ella as well. Similarly to their parents, the children were greatly affected by Bonnie's death, behaving now more timidly than ever, and living in their mourning household obviously wasn't helping them at all. Fond of Melanie as he was, Rhett had approved of the change in Scarlett's plans with a single nod while he was making his way through an article on the current business standings right after breakfast.

Now, two hours later, Scarlett had her letter to Marietta almost finished. When Rhett interrupted her with a question, she looked at him therefore without the frown that usually threatened when she was disturbed while dealing with her business.

"When is the good doctor supposed to come, Scarlett?" Rhett questioned, longing to leave the grief-stricken house, terribly quiet now that Wade and Ella sat with their books in one of the rooms across the hall.

Scarlett rubbed her eyes. "He said he would come late in the morning or early in the afternoon, but most likely before lunch." She paused, gazing at the clock that displayed ten after one – the lunch would be served in twenty minutes. She frowned a bit and added in an angrier tone: "I only hope he is taking the time to scold Melly for her foolishness. The ninny has certainly earned it for risking this much. I only regret that I wasn't able to give her a piece of my mind yesterday."

Rhett raised an eyebrow, taking in Scarlett's harsh words and the unmatching tone in which his hot-tempered wife pronounced the word "ninny." It was no pretense, he reassured himself, Scarlett had finally come to appreciate Miss Melanie.

"My pet," Rhett said fondly, an amused smirk appearing on his lips, "if you with your sharp tongue were not able to scold Mrs. Wilkes, don't count on the good doctor to do it in your place. The lady is well loved in Atlanta and I cannot imagine a person raising their voice at her – with the single exception of you, her beloved sister-in-law." The last words were meant to hurt and they indeed did cut to Scarlett's heart. But before she could defend herself, Rhett continued. "Either you gather the courage, my dear, or nobody would tell Miss Melanie how very unwise her doing was."

Scarlett frowned at him, not exactly sure if he was teasing her or trying to make her angry. "I assure you that I won't keep silent. Melly would not be with child again if not for Ashley and I fully intend to tell him what I think of cowards like him as soon as I see him!" she snapped in Rhett's direction and finished her half-abandoned letter with an angry signature.

Rhett smirked once more, for a moment forgetting the great emptiness in his heart – and for whatever reason enjoying their quarrel. They had been impersonally polite to each other in the last two years since the miscarriage and especially in the recent month after Bonnie's death, and having this row of sorts with her felt simply alive. "I would very much like to see that, my dear," Rhett said lazily, awaiting a furious reaction from her side.

When it never came, he marveled once more at the change in his wife. "You still manage to surprise me, Scarlett," he said quietly, sincerely, the mocking put aside for the moment as he recalled, with returning pain, the reasons for the change in her. Then the old fear that she would use his weakness against him coupled with a new concern over how this changed Scarlett might react, and Rhett turned from her, reaching for his cigars. "I will be on the front porch," he announced casually and swiftly left the room that had once more started to suffocate him, leaving Scarlett dumbfounded over his last words.

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It was well after lunch when Doctor Meade, delayed by a hypochondriac patient of his, finished his inspection of Ella's injury and rebandaged the little girl's arm. "There you go, my brave young lady. Keep the bandage dry and clean and I will come along in a few days to pull out the stitches."

"Will it hurt?" Ella wanted to know, suspiciously eying her new bandage.

"Only a little, my dear. Nothing like yesterday, I promise." The old man smiled kindly at the child.

Ella nodded. "Then you can come and pull them out," she agreed, immediately blushing. She would have deserted the room then but Scarlett caught her before she had the chance. "Have you not forgotten something, Ella?" Scarlett asked sternly, relieved to somewhat delay the moment she and Rhett would be alone with Doctor Meade and he would be able to tell them the news about Melanie.

Ella looked at her mother, somewhat frightened, and Scarlett sighed. "Now, Ella Lorena, I trust you know your manners?"

The little girl blushed once more, finally understanding what her mother wanted from her. She turned back to the old doctor and said timidly: "Thank you, Doctor Meade." It didn't seem enough to her, however, so she politely added: "Please, come soon to pull out the stitches."

Scarlett made a face, shocked at Ella's behavior, Rhett's tired face brightened with a fleeting smile, and the doctor openly laughed at the invitation. "Done, I will come along in a few days just as I have promised. Good-bye, Miss Ella."

Ella returned the greeting, wide-eyed at the grown-up address, and ran out of the room.

Now Scarlett and Rhett were alone with the doctor, who was packing his satchel. When he finished, he sighed and turned to the pair. "Scarlett, there is another matter I would like to speak to you about."

Scarlett nodded, bracing herself. "Is it alright if Rhett stays as well?" she asked hesitantly, licking her suddenly dry lips.

Doctor Meade looked at Rhett, who had remained in the room for the whole time the doctor tended to Ella. While the man had a glass of whiskey in his hand, he was exceptionally sober. "The matter I would like to address is rather private, Scarlett," Doctor Meade said, turning his eyes back to her. "It would be highly unorthodox to speak of it in the presence of a man."

Scarlett nodded, not about to argue. To Rhett she looked like a lost little girl once more, and he suddenly felt a new desire to protect her against the whole world. "We think we know what you would like to talk about," Rhett said cautiously, addressing the Doctor. "If it is the unfortunate state of Mrs. Wilkes, Scarlett was the one to send Miss Melanie to see you. She has my promise to support Mrs. Wilkes's healing in any way possible."

Rhett turned to Scarlett and took her hand. He squeezed it in silent support and was about to leave when the old doctor interrupted him, changing his mind at the sight. "You may stay, Captain Butler. I understand that your wife might need your support. God knows you have been through a lot recently."

"Thank you," Scarlett whispered rather than said, still holding on to Rhett's warm hand. She welcomed his presence and care.

The doctor nodded. "Very well then. You seem to already know the most important part. I thank you, Scarlett, for making Miss Melanie come and see me already now. I know you ladies prefer to wait a bit but this time it is very lucky that we know about this pregnancy early."

Scarlett nodded. She raised her eyes at the doctor and after a moment of hesitance reluctantly asked: "I... I have heard that... please, don't get me wrong, Doctor Meade, but in this situation I do not see any other possibility... I know that some women were helped to have a miscarriage. Would it be a solution... would you be prepared to do it for Melanie?"

Doctor Meade eyed Scarlett sternly. "Yes, young lady," he said, his tone as strict as his demeanor. "This is indeed happening in some places. But, as I think you well know, I see each life as a gift from God and I would indeed not be prepared to terminate it. Moreover, I can assure you that your sister-in-law very much wishes to have this child and would be unwilling to go through such a procedure even if I was of another opinion."

Scarlett bowed her head. "I know," she whispered brokenly and Doctor Meade thought to hear a few sobs escaping the iron woman. Captain Butler in the very least pulled out his handkerchief and handed it wordlessly to his wife.

"What can be done then?" Rhett asked pragmatically, while Scarlett dried her eyes.

Doctor Meade sighed. "Not much, I am afraid. But there are a few things that may hopefully make the difference." He looked at Scarlett again. "You were a war bride, Scarlett, weren't you? Is it right to assume that you do not know much about Charles's and Melanie's mother?"

Scarlett gave a nod. "We had been married for less than 2 months before Charles died, and engaged for 2 weeks. I only knew that both his parents were dead. Melly doesn't speak of her mother much."

"She hardly knew her, Scarlett. Mrs. Hamilton died when Melanie was as old as your Ella Lorena is now."

"Oh. I didn't know," Scarlett looked taken aback.

"That's quite alright. What you should know is that she died of tuberculosis and I have feared for a time that Miss Melly has inherited the illness from her. You probably know that her and Ashley's wedding was postponed because she was ill, am I right?"

Scarlett mutely nodded.

"That was the time I really feared for the girl. But somehow she managed to get better and she even survived the war, mostly thanks to you I suppose, without getting worse. But you know how the situation was after the war and how much money Ashley Wilkes really brings home, don't you?" These were things people usually didn't speak about, at least not outside the family. But Doctor Meade was clearly determined to make Scarlett see.

Scarlett folded the borrowed handkerchief, taking her time to answer. "Ashley is not... very good in business, if that is what you want me to say, Doctor Meade. I never knew he would be like that when I asked him to run the mill. He probably would have done much better in the bank that he wanted to join, up in the North. I... I am sorry I kept him and Melanie here."

This information was clearly new for Doctor Meade, since he looked startled. "So that was your doing, Scarlett," he said thoughtfully. "I was almost sure that Frank asked him to assist you. In that case, I suppose we should be thankful to you for keeping Miss Melly in Atlanta – not the other way around. It was probably also beneficial for her health, for in the North it is much colder."

"As I was saying," he continued, "Miss Melanie has a tendency to tuberculosis, or more precisely the bodily weakness that is one of its preliminary stages. There are three main ways to fight the illness – living in a mild climate, getting enough rest and regularly eating substantial meals. The last one is crucial, to be completely frank with you – and I think that all of us know that this is not exactly what Miss Melanie allows herself. I would like you, Scarlett, to persuade her to take better care of herself now – for as much as I have ordered her to stay on bed rest, it will not help her unless the other things change too. It was unfortunate that Ashley preferred to enlarge his share in the mills to support his family."

The doctor finished with a sigh and was about to reach for his bag and leave when he noticed the look Scarlett was giving Rhett. "He couldn't do differently, could he?" she asked quietly, interested despite herself.

Rhett was returning her stare, not sure if he wanted to answer, and more particularly if he wanted to do so in front of Doctor Meade. But Scarlett had already asked in the other man's presence, so there was not much to change about that. "No, he couldn't," he said finally, equally quietly. "Mrs. Wilkes took care of that."

Scarlett nodded and looked at Doctor Meade once more. "I will do what I can. Thank you for telling me – and coming to see Ella."

Doctor Meade was eying the pair with a strangely respectful glimmer in his eyes. So Captain Butler was the one to send the mysterious money to Ashley, so that the man could overtake the mills. And the despised, headstrong O'Hara girl saved Miss Melanie for Atlanta when Ashley was all prepared to move up North. He shook his head. Miracles were obviously happening – hopefully God would grant them another one and preserve Miss Melly and her child.

"You are quite welcome, Scarlett." Doctor Meade said aloud and astonished Scarlett when he reached for her hand, bowed over it and kissed it – something he hadn't done since her dance at the Bazaar.

The doctor stepped back then and looked at the Butlers. "Please, take care of yourself – the both of you," he said, pointedly looking at the glass of whiskey in Rhett's hand. "I will send word through Betsy when I will come to pull Ella's stitches out. Have a good day!"

Scarlett stared behind him. "Can you explain to me what has just occurred?" she asked Rhett bewildered when the house door closed behind the doctor's back.

"I would say that the good doctor has just discovered that your stubbornness has its uses – and decided that he was willing to overlook some of your flaws for the sake of Miss Melly," Rhett laughed quietly. "Congratulations, Scarlett, it certainly took you shorter to regain his respect than it did me."

"I will go for a walk now," he added, looking at her bemused face with long-forgotten tenderness. "We can speak of what can be done for Miss Melanie when I return."

Scarlett wordlessly nodded, still wondering about the strange occurrence. Rhett was already by the house door when she spoke again. "Thank you," he heard her saying. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob and gave a nod. "You are welcome," he whispered for himself and swiftly left the house.

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