July 4, 1874
Rhett had no idea what he was doing here. It was an impulse and he knew by now where Scarlett was concerned it was best to curb his impulses and do just the opposite of what he wanted to do. No such luck with this particular impulse, he was on the first train out of Charleston for Savannah without a second thought.
Yes, it was good to see his mother, but the fact of the matter was, he just did not belong there. It no longer mattered if he was a received gentleman or not. He knew in his heart where he stood and he would be damned before he started letting the opinions of others regulate his actions.
The train had arrived on time in Savannah where he immediately paid a porter to ensure his bags were brought to the hotel he would be staying at while in town. The streets outside the depot were busy, people waiting for arriving passengers and dropping off those who were leaving. Loved ones were crying under both circumstances and Rhett could not help but recall the last time he had seen Scarlett.
She had been crying, tears that seemed so genuine but Rhett believed at the time she was up to her usual tricks. When Carreen had written to him informing him of Scarlett's whereabouts he was mystified his sister-in-law would take such a bold step. That had been months ago, so he honestly had no idea if Scarlett was still in Savannah or had moved on.
His first stop was the Robillard household. Scarlett's grandfather refused to see him, but the butler was gracious enough to inform him that Scarlett could perhaps be found with her other kin. For a moment Rhett had stood at the doorway mystified who Scarlett's other kin could have been until he recalled Scarlett's father having relatives in Savannah. This he had to see, Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler slumming with people who more than likely barely had enough money to put food on their table.
That had been yesterday. Rhett had not found it difficult to find Scarlett's O'Hara kin but he had not been ready to see her yet and so he had taken the information he had found and slept on it. He had to be careful or Scarlett would see it as Rhett coming back to her. Yet, that was what he was doing, was it not? Eight months away was surprisingly healing to Rhett's ego despite the years of abuse it had taken from Scarlett.
He dressed casually for the day, unsure of what to expect from her, her family, or the day as a whole and stood on the street outside his hotel while the doorman hailed him a hired carriage.
"Where are you headed on this fine day, Mister Butler," asked the doorman as a carriage began its approach.
"To visit some family. The O'Hara's," Rhett offered given the man's thick Irish brogue.
Rhett could not help but notice the look of appraisal the man gave him. Apparently, he liked what he saw because he spoke. "Most likely you'd be finding them by the river then, sir."
"You know them?"
"Aye, I do, sir, I am brother to Maureen O'Hara."
"Where did you say this river was?"
"I'll get you there, sir," he said and informed his driver where to take him. "Enjoy your day."
"I hope to," Rhett said as the driver left.
Rhett was expecting a large group of people, but the area the driver had taken him was full of people there to celebrate the holiday. Rhett found it a little amusing Irishmen were celebrating, but he supposed if they came here under circumstances like Gerald O'Hara had they might celebrate their independence as well.
He stood back, taking in the scene before him, looking at the wide array of attire and then he saw her. He would spot her anywhere, just as eye catching at twenty-eight as she had been at sixteen. She was laughing with a child of about four on her lap, as others in the group she was with animatedly telling a story. One man was clearly a relation to Gerald O'Hara, his brother Rhett imagined.
He had seen her, the hired carriage was still nearby waiting for him in case he decided to return to town and cut this visit short. He should leave now that he had first hand knowledge that she was in fact all right, but instead he waved the driver away and began to walk towards Scarlett and her kin.
The child she had been holding got up from Scarlett's lap and walked toward another adult more than willing to hold her. Rhett noticed even from the distance the unshed tears in her eyes as she watched the young girl's retreat. No doubt she was reminded of Bonnie. And then she did the most remarkable thing, she began looking around her as if she knew she was being watched.
Scarlett could not help but feeling like she was being watched. She would not put it past her grandfather to send someone to spy on her. The stingy old man could not stand the idea of Scarlett spending time with any relations that were not Robillards. Never mind that the Robillard's were stuffy and snooty just like her mother had been. She crossed herself instinctively with the nasty thought of her mother who Scarlett had loved and revered until her passing.
With little Maggie no longer seated on her lap, Scarlett stood trying to figure out where this feeling of being watched was coming from. There were quite a few people here today, the O'Hara clan being among the largest of the groups, and she was looking forward to an afternoon of food, games, dancing, and an evening of fireworks.
She spotted him with ease, their eyes met as they had twelve years ago; as if they knew the other was there despite not knowing who the other was all those years ago. Scarlett recognized him clearly as her destiny, if she had not been pigheaded and dimwitted enough to let him go. Seeing him made her recall all those years after infatuating after Ashley Wilkes who she realized now was no more than a dolt who she adored only as a friend.
Her heart began to pound against her chest, surely a visit from Rhett this long after his leaving her could only indicate bad news. She had stayed away from Atlanta so that he would not feel obligated to put on airs in front of the old guard. In truth, she could not stand spending another day in that house alone. It was bad enough that Bonnie died, but did she have to lose Rhett too?
No one seemed to notice her panic or to pay any attention to the handsome scoundrel of a man who walked in a decisive manner toward her. How could he go unnoticed? She would know him anywhere. The look in his eyes was throwing her off. He looked positively predatory as he ambled toward her as if he had not walked out on her eight months ago shortly after she had declared she loved him.
Until today, she had maintained that never again would she make such a fool of herself in front of him. She had been stupid to give him such power over her in the first place. He had told her years ago he wanted to hear those words from her and her reward for granting that wish had been his leaving. "Blackguard," she muttered. But she still loved him and if he was here to find out if she still felt that way about him she would shout it from the rooftops if she had to.
His eyes met hers, unreadable from the distance but the mere fact he was there at all gave her hope. He had come back for her. He would not have sought her out in such a public place if he was here to argue with her. Everything around her seemed to fade to black except the man walking toward her until finally he was there, in front of her, just as she had imagined it for months now. And of course he had chosen a day when she was dressed down in a simple green day dress. While it was nice it was certainly not designed to catch anyone's eye. It was a dress she could play with her cousins in, dance in, and eat in without worrying about ruining it.
"Mrs. Butler," he said politely, the tone nowhere near as formal as it should have been.
"Rhett," she whispered afraid if she spoke any louder she would come to finding this was another one of her dreams.
"What are you doing here?" She watched as a dark brow arched in unasked question. "I mean, we weren't expecting you."
"The children," she said, scanning the group for Wade and Ella. Wade was easy to spot, tossing horseshoes with some of his cousins, but Ella was nowhere to be seen just then. She was probably by herself somewhere reading a book. Typical Ella.
"So you're unescorted to today's festivities?"
"Unescorted," she said surprised at his question. "I am a married woman, who would I get to escort me?"
"I doubt you would lack for candidates if you truly wanted one, Scarlett."
"Well, I don't, Rhett."
"You look nice," he said after a long pause.
"How you do go on, Rhett. You catch me on a day when I look like a servant girl rather than a lady of means and you try and flatter me?"
"I never cared what you were wearing, Scarlett. I liked you just the same twelve years ago in muslin. I would still like you if all you could afford was burlap sacks."
"Really," he said simply just as Wade Hampton approached them. "Hello, son," he said, extending his hand to Wade. Scarlett watched as her son took Rhett's offered hand.
"Hello, sir," he said, the confusion written clearly on his face.
"I thought we had overcome this sir business long ago, Wade. You can call me Rhett."
"Yes, sir. I mean, Rhett. I'm going to go back to the game, I just wanted to see if it was really you."
"Have a good time," Rhett said.
"Be careful, Wade," Scarlett called after him.
"He's no longer a young boy, Scarlett."
"I'm well aware of that, Rhett, but that doesn't mean I don't still worry about him. Charles was not exactly a strong man."
"No, I don't suppose he was. So, are you going to introduce me to these people or leave me to guess who is who."
"You want to meet them?"
She regarded him through lowered lashes, not in an attempt to be coquettish but rather trying to figure out what he was about. "You'll pardon me for saying so, Rhett, but I'm a little stumped as to why you're here. You show up here today of all days as if we had just seen one another yesterday."
"Do we have to be so serious, Scarlett? Can't we just enjoy the day, enjoy the fireworks, and worry about what it all means later?"
"I don't put things off until tomorrow any longer, Rhett. That Scarlett is gone."
"I'm not suggesting we put it off until tomorrow, but you came here to have some fun. As did I for that matter. So, let's have fun. We can talk tonight. I presume the children can go with a relative."
"You're suggesting I go back to your room with you?"
He shrugged. "It seems the most private place to talk. We are husband and wife, no one would think poorly of you."
"Talk, that's all you want?"
She watched as his eyes roamed over her body, knowing full well he knew what every inch of her looked like underneath her gown. She did not look away, she refused to give him that. "I think it's a good place to start at any rate. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I suppose. So, you're spending the day here."
"If you'll have me."
"I'd be honored, Rhett Butler. Come then," she said as she extended her hand. The gesture far more daring than she realized until she had actually done it and it was too late to take it back. If he did not take her hand, she would look like a fool. As if reading her mind, he took it without question and without pause. "It will take all day just to introduce you to everybody. There's plenty of food and I'm sure the men will have plenty of whisky and ale to offer you."