Saturday, March 13, 2010

1. RHETT'S SIDE OF THE STORY

I’m still around, but I can’t live with the likes of GONE WITH THE WIND, the biography of Scarlett O’Hara.  It rewrites history, and portrays my papa, Rhett Butler, may he rest in peace, as a crook and playboy.  Even his own grandchildren believe it.
The book called me “Rhett’s ward," as if I had no place in the man’s heart - - worse than a stepchild.  Only Scarlett’s biographer, Mrs. Mitchell, knows why she wrote it that way, and only I know the harm it’s done to Papa and me, since it was published last year.
I'm his adopted son, and I was an eyewitness to most of GONE WITH THE WIND, back when it happened.  I’ll be damned if I won’t tell Papa’s side of the story, for the sake of the grandchildren, before the book catches on. 
Papa cared about no one but Scarlett, until Bonnie’s birth.  He was too steadfast for his own good, allowing everyone their turn to betray him, including me.  He seemed to consider my treachery against him a mere trifle, as compared to Scarlett’s treachery.  That’s why he was able to salvage some of his fondness for me in the end.  I’ll confess my own sins at the end of this memoir, lest anyone should take me to task. 
The worst cheater of all was GONE WITH THE WIND’s author, Margaret Mitchell.  She waited until now - 1936! - to slander Papa, when he can’t ridicule her in reply. 
       *            *            *
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful,” is the only true thing GONE WITH THE WIND says.  It has to be true, since it’s the first sentence of the book, but everything that followed it is hogwash, as Papa would say, concocted by Mrs. Mitchell to make Scarlett seem pretty and clever as a parakeet.  Scarlett, herself began rewriting history before Sherman’s fires had died, in her own letters.  She was still in her twenties!  Feebler folks’ memories of the actual facts had already begun to fail.  Rhett, however, remembered just fine, though near twenty years Scarlett’s senior.  Unlike her, he didn’t care how folks remembered him.  Scarlett’s letters traveled everywhere, to Suellen and Will Benteen at Tara, and to the Charleston kin.  Enclosed were bribes such as perfumes and pressed flowers (store-bought) for the ladies, and cash, which Mr. Benteen needed for goods like lamp oil that he couldn’t barter for.  Later, Mrs. Mitchell the biographer cobbled Scarlett’s letters together and called it GONE WITH THE WIND.
            Scarlett’s versions of events continually sparked hot repartee with Papa and the guests that frequented their new Swiss Chalet on Peachtree Street, as they sipped gin and reminisced at the cocktail hour.  Papa never cared to get the last word, but that is my aim now, because of GONE WITH THE WIND.  I was an eyewitness and I kept my own notes.  It was my habit, as a stenographer.  Even my profession I owe to Rhett Butler, which I’ll explain later.

SLAP AND SLAM  

         Papa and Scarlett always goaded each other, but Papa never insulted her in public, as GONE WITH THE WIND claims he did.  For instance, on the first day they met, she said he was “no gentleman.”  He replied that she was “no lady,” but the book censored the rest of their argument, leaving the false impression that Papa was mean to Scarlett and disrespectful of his hosts, the Wilkeses.  This argument appeared during the chapter devoted to Scarlett’s discovery that Ashley Wilkes had jilted her in favor of Melanie. 

          The actual story of Ashley’s announcement of his engagement to Melanie is well known, or it used to be.  Prior to the Yankee’s attack on Fort Sumter in 1862, the Wilkes’s had thrown a ball at their home and everyone, including the newcomer Rhett, was in attendance.  Scarlett claimed that her vow was spoken to Ashley early in the day, prior to his announcement.  Scarlett claimed that her solemn vow was conveniently witnessed by none other than Rhett, the only person disgraceful enough to hide himself and eavesdrop upon Scarlett and Ashley’s confessions and the slap Scarlett gave to Ashley.

          After Ashley left the room, Rhett came out of hiding forthrightly.  Scarlett was chagrinned to discover that he had witnessed her tantrum with Mr. Wilkes, unbeknownst to her.  In retaliation, she insulted his gentlemanliness.  Referring to her tantrum, he replied that she was “no lady.”

             Scarlett’s version of events ended there, the version that later appeared in GONE WITH THE WIND.  But she didn’t get the last word, no matter how loud it banged, since she chose the quietest moment of the day to slam the door, and it prompted Ashley Wilkes’s alarm. 

               “Who’s in there?” he said, having returned to the same stairway he had just descended.  Rhett heard his voice through the library door, so he came forth.  But Ashley Wilkes himself looked a sight, still red from Scarlett’s slap.  Needless to say, he hadn’t provoked it.

          Scarlett stopped midway down the staircase, and turned around.  Rhett was following her against her wishes.  “That's enough, sir.”

        “You haven’t denied what I said,” Rhett said.

        “Rhett!” Ashley Wilkes said.  “You heard us?”

        “Of course.  I told you I was going to the library.”

        “So you did.”

        “That’s no excuse for spying on us,” Scarlett said.

        “She knew I was there all along.  She staged the whole event by following me there and luring you along with her.”

        “Liar,” Scarlett said.  “It’s clever, but it’s a lie.  Don’t expect him to believe you.  Nobody puts any stock in your word.”

         Rhett shrugged, “Like a prospector for gold, you’re the first to stake your claim on Mr. Wilkes.  From now on, you’ll call any other woman a trespasser.”

        “How dare you!” From her perch on the steps she tried to go after Rhett,  but couldn’t manage her skirt in the process.  She almost lost her balance and began teetering on the edge.

        “Scarlett!” Ashley said, and he bounded up the steps to steady   her,  while Rhett came from above.   Rhett gathered her to his chest, despite her protests, and they all descended together. 

        “Prospector, yourself,” she sneered, and squirmed free of Rhett.  She clutched at Ashley as they went.

        Ashley said, “In the territory of the heart, there are no stakes to be claimed.” 

        Nevertheless, Scarlett’s antics didn’t hinder Ashley from announcing his engagement to Melanie, or from marrying her straight Away.  Indeed, in Scarlett’s mind she possessed a claim on Ashley’s heart forevermore, no matter what.  Henceforth, she obsessively flirted with Ashley, despite his sacred vow to Melanie. 

        Papa never passed judgment upon her for flirting, but the gossips in Atlanta certainly did.  Scarlett complained about them in letters to her aunts in Charleston.  “Jezebel!  That’s what they think of me, but I was the first to vow my love to Ashley, before Melanie ever made a peep to him.  To this day, my conscience is clear for confessing my sincere feelings for him, since they were pure and innocent from the first, unspoilt by jealousy.”

        Regardless whether Scarlett was first to stake her claim to Ashley, she lost him.  Nevertheless, she spent the rest of her life flirting with him and suffering the consequences to her own reputation.  Her letters were her own best efforts to rehabilitate herself.  Now, in 1936, Mrs. Mithchell has tried again to rehabilitate Scarlett's reputation, by writing GONE WITH THE WIND with a bias.

2. A NEEDFUL KISS

From the beginning, GONE WITH THE WIND depicts Papa as generally arrogant.  However, he seldom was, unless he was with Scarlett.  When it came to courting Scarlett, his arrogance was purposeful.  His best advantage was to keep her outraged.  Otherwise she’d have been as shrewd as she was with the Tarletons and Charles Hamilton.  This strategy won Papa his first kiss from Scarlett. 
Prior to that day, Papa had nobly refrained from the language of seduction in her presence.  In this manner he showed respect to her as well as her husbands, Charles and Frank.  But later, after she was widowed, she sought favors from Papa, such as rides around town in his buggy, and Papa endeavored to get the best of her. 
As GONE WITH THE WIND tells it, the needful kiss occurred when Scarlett had been “volunteering” her services at the hospital.  Courtesy wasn’t the only reason why Papa, heretofore, had avoided the language of seduction in her presence.  He knew Scarlett was the master of that art - - flirtation - - since it was her main occupation at that time in her life.  If he gave her the chance, she’d manipulate him to his knees before he knew what happened.  She had tried in vain to whisper to Rhett in the privacy of Miss PittyPat’s parlor,  and hadn’t relented unless he had insulted or otherwise distracted her from the mood.  Papa sought a public place to talk with her, like Five Points in broad summer daylight  - -  no place for whispering, seducing, or kissing - - safe for raising the subject of romance.  Even she was too timid to seduce him in public.
I’ll digress here, for Scarlett’s sake, to describe her passion for Rhett, lest the reader should perceive that her life was bereft of tenderness.  In private, Scarlett deeply indulged in kissing.  She’d run to him and lay on his arm like a tango dancer and look up, only to be stared down again by him, till her hair swept the floorboards beneath her.
Rhett could subdue anyone with his wit, and Scarlett was more vulnerable to his wit than anyone else, since she never shied of him.  She’d blurt out her nags and protests without hesitation, whereas Rhett never spoke without thinking, even in the midst of a panic. 
She seemed to believe she was his match, no matter how often he made a fool of her.  Other times, however, she was strangely meek towards him, not to say submissive.  These occasions were such a pleasant surprise to me that I pondered the change in her.  Was she “under the weather?”  Clues to  Rhett’s secret power domination were probably obvious at the time, but I was too young to recognize adult lust.
What prompted Papa to give Scarlett the needful kiss were Scarlett’s obvious signs of frustration, which he recognized.  He offered the remedy, when he said, “You should be kissed, and by someone who knows how.”  He implied that kisses from novices wouldn’t help her, which was undeniable.  Moreover,   Ashley Wilkes was too intimidated by her to attempt a kiss, and Charles Hamilton never had his way with her.  They’d have never consummated their marriage if Scarlett hadn’t seen to it.
Only Rhett was her match in wits.  Indeed, Rhett wasn’t talking of kissing at all when he told her what she needed.  The word was a euphemism for grown-up, uninhibited sex. 
Scarlett didn’t deny she needed  Rhett, since it was undeniable.  “Her eyes fell in sudden confusion” because she wasn’t accustomed to submission.  He had subdued her verbally, and won the first bout of a very long contest between them.  

3. DID RHETT DESERT SCARLETT ON THE HIGHWAY?

GONE WITH THE WIND’s tawdriest insult to Rhett was that he deserted her and left her in harm’s way during the war.  Before they were married, Scarlett needed to flee Atlanta because it was under siege. All of north Georgia was infested with Yankees.  Years later, Scarlett accused him of deserting her.  After he heard her accusation for the first time, he said, “You lived to tell the tale, didn’t you, Scarlett my dear?  In fact, you never needed that pistol you carried, since you were on the shortcut road that no Northerner knew of.   You hardly missed a meal, since you were safe at home the next day.  Surviving the siege of Atlanta with all limbs intact, was your hope and prayer at the time, and your prayer was answered.  Shall I remind you of the names of the innocent civilians who died that night?”
Scarlett turned away from him, still shaking her head.  “It’s low down to ditch a woman, no matter when –“
“The Yankees spared you and you passed right through their lines.  Traveling unescorted was your only hope.  With a man packing iron by your side, you’d have been a target for Yankee snipers.”
“You saved yourself.”
“I was doomed already, there was no saving myself.  I starved and suffered exposure for the next six months, as a barefoot prisoner.  You, on the other hand, arrived at Tara without a scratch, ate home cookin’, and lived happily ever after.” 
“You survived too, Rhett, as you often remind me.”
“Alright.  But I was kind to help you flee Atlanta.  You were a sitting duck at Pittypat’s, and when the bombardment started, you were stunned.  I took you out of harm’s way, as far as the
Jonesboro Road
, where you knew your own way home without getting lost.”
She granted him that.
“That night on the road to Tara, when I departed from you, I was disgusted with your plan to rendezvous with Ashley Wilkes at Tara, under pretense of escorting Melly - - his own wife!  She was your lure, so Wilkes would return to Tara.  You hoped he’d become beholden to you, which has been your chief goal in life.
“Chief goal?  No, I’ve always placed my family above my personal concerns, high above romance.”
“Wilkes is family, in your mind,” Rhett said. 
“You’re silly.  You even call him by his family name.” 
“The name you wanted for yourself.”
“I didn’t want it enough to ask him to marry me.  If I wanted something, I wasn’t timid.  You know that.”
Rhett tugged at his mustache and said, “Timidity is like a chameleon.  It’s always peculiar, no matter how it changes.”
“I had my own scheme for helping you flee Atlanta. I had wanted some leverage on you and make you obliged to me in return.  I procured a horse and carriage for you and escorted you way down that road, despite the fact that, without a doubt it was Wilkes whom you adored, not me.  After I had you where I wanted you, however, I refrained from taking advantage of you.  Rather than forcing you to agree to be my mistress, or heaven forbid, to submit to my advances, I took pity upon you.  I didn’t bid adieu to you until you were in your own backyard - - Jonesboro, where you knew every horse trail blindfolded.  When I saw my scheme was hopeless, I quit.  No leverage could be had while you were longing for Wilkes.”  
 “You were jealous even when he was far away at war?  He was dead, as far as we knew!”
“Yep.  Why shouldn’t I be jealous?  You were in love with him when I was the one holding your hand.  You lived every moment for him, whether he was dead or alive.  You still do.” 
“Stop it,” she said.
“Even now, at this very minute, he’s the one you’re reminiscing about,” he said.  “You thought he was so noble, you couldn’t do enough to please him.  You’ll never stop reliving those days.”
“I’ve told you, I never really loved him.”
“You said that after he was gone.  If he appeared before you right now, you’d kiss his feet.”
As if she didn’t hear him, she said, “It took me a lifetime to realize it.”
 “Do you mean you wouldn’t play second fiddle to Ashley, so you gave up and quit loving me?” Scarlett said.
 “Yep, for the moment.  Not like I quit my father - - I quit him and his kin forever.  I could never please him, so I quit trying.  I quit them and the rest of Charleston, too, until he died.  I was an outsider - - a black sheep, a scoundrel.”
 “A loser?”
“That’s the modern word for it, but it’s not a word my father would’ve used.”
She nodded.
“I was a scoundrel when you met me, and I haven’t changed much since then.”
“It’s nothing to brag about.”
“You liked me well enough,” he grinned, “Scoundrel, loser or what-have-you.  You’re pleased with me and all of my circumstances,” he said, and spread his palms widely.
“Bragging - - that’s the difference between you and Ashley.  He doesn’t know how to brag, and he wouldn’t if his life depended on it.  You are an expert braggart, or should I say a professional –“
He shrugged.  “There’s an art to bragging, and I believe I’ve got the knack.”  
 “Yes, your formula’s at least two parts charm to one part gall.”
 She said, “Instead of deserting me on the Jonesboro Road, why didn’t you just tell me you were jealous, and give me a chance to reassure you, to pledge my devotion to you -“
“It was futile, since Tara was your only refuge.  And I protected you from the Yankees as long as I was able.  Any longer, and I’d have only drawn their attention.  With me, ya’ll were sitting ducks.  Without me, ya’ll could hope for mercy.  Besides, I wasn’t ready to die.  My only chance was to go it alone.”
“You had no cause to be jealous of Ashley.  He was true blue to Melanie while she was still alive.”
 “I had cause!  Listen to you now, adoring him.  You’ve always talked that way of him, and you always meant to have him for yourself.  With him at Tara, I’d never have your attention.  I bowed out and I got out of harm’s way.”
“Out of harm’s way?  You got straight into it, by joining the Georgia Militia.”
“I never joined.  Did you ever see me in a uniform?  Never.  I was dressed in civvies when you found me in the Yankee brig.”
 Scarlett said, “I don’t remember, it’s been years.”
“You’re the one who always calls me Captain, as if we live in a tug boat, not a mansion.”
         They both paused.  “I’ve been by your side for years, Scarlett.  You’re my wife - - my one and only.  You were my true love, even while married to other men.  But if I haven’t been devoted enough, I’ll probably keep trying.  It’s my nature to try to please you.”

4. JACQUES BOUDREAU, RHETT'S ADOPTED SON

My mother, the mysterious Liza Boudreau, was Scarlett’s rival, though they never met.  Early in Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage, she feared that a woman in New Orleans was luring Rhett away from her, and she was right.  Mother was no mystery to him, only to everyone else, including me, since she died of typhoid before I knew her very well.  Henceforth, Papa and me had a close bond, having both been on intimate with her. 
Mother had lain for months on a typhoid clinic sickbed.  Meanwhile, I was raised by Rags, the Boudreau’s yellow mongrel.  My uncles left home each morning before the sun was up, so I was alone with the mutt, who growled at every move I made and barked loud as thunder.  When I escaped their fence of cracked wooden slats, he’d stay on my heels and bark, wherever I went, until I gave up and returned home.  Rags,who always seemed older and bigger than me, must’ve been part sheep dog.
 Rhett called me his son to all the world, including Scarlett.  I’d have never known why Papa took an interest in me, out of all the waifs in New Orleans, if my mother hadn’t been so beautiful.  I was her bastard son, not of Rhett or any other man in town.  She died of typhoid, they say, but I was too young to recognize the symptoms in her.  I only remember her lying on the sickbed at the clinic for weeks, where I wasn’t allowed, except to visit.    
It was cruel of Aunt Scarlett to call me Rhett’s “ward,” in letters she wrote to folks everywhere, and worse that her words were later quoted in GONE WITH THE WIND.  Rhett called me his adopted son, not “ward.” 
Granted, Papa said “Jacques is a perfect hellion.  I wish he’d never been born.”  He was joking harmlessly when he said it, whereas Scarlett truly wished me ill.  Papa teased everyone coarsely, most of all Scarlett.  Even little Bonnie he teased to a tizzy.  She and I were the only two kids on earth who could be hellions around Rhett and get away with it, without being tossed out the door, onto the cobblestones of
Peachtree Street
.  Of course, Bonnie didn’t grow up in the school for hellions at the wharf in New Orleans, like me, or sleep every night with one eye open.  But she was headed down her own path of mischief full tilt, before tragedy struck her.
Ironically, Scarlett herself ultimately brought me to the chalet in Atlanta to live.  It was one of the strangest turns of events in my life, since she already secretly scorned me at that early age, though she had not yet met me.
Before he met Scarlett, Rhett was in the habit of visiting New Orleans twice a year or more, either by land or by sea, to call upon his commercial partners.  I didn’t know him then, despite the fact that he had adopted me and was supporting me.  Subsequently, I have learned from him of his liaison with my mother.  His generosity was a favor to her personally, rather than to me.  Scarlett was suspicious of it from the beginning, it seems. 

5. PAPA AND THE CHIlDREN

Bonnie was already six years old by the time I arrived at the Papa's chalet in Atlanta, and she thought she ran the place.  She would have, if not for Scarlett and Mammy.  She and her mother were too much alike to get along, even her hair and blue eyes favored the O’Haras.  “Spoiled,” Scarlett called her, but it never stuck when she said it, because Papa didn’t care.  Bonnie was Scarlett in miniature - - uncontrollable - - which Rhett seemed to adore, unfortunately.  A lot of fathers dote on their daughters.  But mothers don’t resent their own babies, not the way Scarlett resented Bonnie’s strong will.
She seemed in charge on the day I arrived, as it was her, rather than Scarlett, who swing open the front door for me.  For a moment she stood her ground and looked me over.
Without a word to me, she suddenly turned and yelled, “Jacques is here.”  I hadn’t even spoken!  She turned her back and ran upstairs, leaving the door wide open.  Mammy appeared a moment later and helped with my bags.
Bonnie had learned to answer the door by watching Ella, her eight-year-old step sister.  Ella was big enough to actually swing the massive, oak door by herself, but she only dared do it with Scarlett’s permission.  Ella worshipped Scarlett, and earning her favor meant everything.  Ella was chubby and dull, in both coloring and wit, like her father Frank.  Like him, contentment for her lay in pleasing Scarlett, and being as near to her as possible.  Scarlett demanded nothing less.  Mammy noticed how little Ella withdrew into herself when she was idle, but she sprung to life whenever Scarlett called.  It was an unfair footrace between little Ella and Prissy, Scarlett’s colored attendant, to run out of the kitchen, down the hallway and upstairs.  Mammy sometimes intervened, reining in Prissy’s skirt while Ella scampered away.    
 I learned quick that I dared not tangle with Bonnie, any more than I’d tangle with Scarlett.  On the contrary, her tantrums against her mother came in handy to me.  Once, Bonnie’s tantrum won permission for us to share Rhett’s Louisiana coffee. I had been missing coffee since I left home, since Scarlett had refused to serve it to “the children.” 
It happened when I was only ten, and taking my meals with Bonnie, Ella, and Wade in the kitchen.  I was still new to the family.  Wade was just eleven, and the girls were still wearing bibs.  They served us in stoneware bowls.  Mammy hovered over us and kept Bonnie in check.  Rhett hardly ever came into the kitchen, so Bonnie didn’t always get her way.  Tantrums irritated Mammy.  Those were the only times I remember when I could bear sitting at table with that child, bless her soul.
It was Bonnie, strangely enough, who demanded coffee.  She had developed a taste for sugary cafĂ© au lait after tasting papa’s.  He had fed her sips from his own cup.  She demanded it whenever she smelled coffee brewing.  When Mammy told her she wasn’t allowed, she stomped her foot and spilled half-a-cup of milk on the table.  Rather than spank her, Rhett told Mammy to serve us all.  Bonnie was happy until she got what she asked for.  One sip of bitter black coffee with chicory cured her of her cravings, and Wade and Ella too.  I proceeded to thicken it with sugar and drank all four cups.  Bonnie seemed jealous of me, but kept quiet.
The summer I arrived at the chalet, Wade Hamilton was too busy with swimming and bicycle racing to take any notice of me at all.  I was terribly envious of him, since Papa devoted so much time and attention to him.  I suppose Papa’s kindness to Wade was part pity, because Wade had been fatherless all his life.  By the same token, I myself was desperately needy.  But I was no equal to Wade, since he was almost a year older.  I could barely swim and I’d never ridden a bicycle.  Thanks to Papa’s affection for him, Wade had become a dynamo for his age, and I couldn’t keep up, trailing behind him on foot. 
The nearest race course for cyclers was over a mile away, at Piedmont Park, made of hard-pack clay that circled the pond.  It was Atlanta’s biggest swimming pond, and everybody came out on sunny days.  Wade’s cycle was a heavy steel rig by Starley of England, called a “Velocipede.”  I never dared mount it, since it had no kick stand, like the later bicycles did.  No inflatable rubber tires existed yet either, although the rumor of them was everywhere.  Cyclists rode on hard wheels over courses of hard packed clay.  Needless to say, the bricktop of Piedmont Road was too smooth for hard wheels, so cyclists took a lot of falls.  Cobblestone alleys on the other hand, were too bumpy.  Wade was scraped and scarred from wrecks and scrapes.  Of course, Scarlett always shrieked at him for his recklessness, but he was a horse out of the barn.  Rhett himself had bought him the Starley, after weeks of his begging and pleading.  Wade had pledged to ride only on the hard-packed course at the Park, and never on the streets.  
Rhett and Scarlett took me along with the family to the park to watch Wade race on one of my first Saturdays in town.  Rhett wore a wide brim and Scarlett, Bonnie, and Ella wore sun bonnets, because it was September.  The carriage’s canvas top and awning kept us from burning.  The pond was still open for swimming, and we had brought our swimming suits.  The starting line was right in front of the bath house. 
Papa parked our carriage on the curb of the race course and it made a nice perch above the heads of spectators.  From behind, we got the shouts of swimmers, almost close enough to splash us.  Soon our running boards were loaded down with strangers who began crowding each other for a view.  Back at the rear, a couple of scruffs elbowed each other for the last spot of runner space.  One had an eye out, the other hobbled on a crutch.  Up in the driver’s seat, Rhett stood up, reached back over our heads with his riding crop and poked them both off the end, and they stumbled away.
“Curs.”
The rest of us forgot about them, but Papa knew better.  A few minutes later he looked back over his shoulder and swatted them again, back on the carriage.  The one-eye was on the running board, and the lame one was perched on the fender, which was bending under his weight.  Before we knew it, Rhett had hopped out and lit upon the lame man with his riding crop in one hand and his derringer in the other, cocked and aimed.  “Filthy ass!  Provoke me will you?”  Scarlett muffled her own screech, but another woman screamed at the sight of the gun.  Rhett whacked the cur’s shoulder so hard it tore his shirt.  Mercifully, Rhett checked his second swing. The cur kept his footing somehow, and hobbled away through the crowd.  All the strangers on the running board had scampered, by the time Rhett turned around again, and he stooped to examine the carriage’s fender for damage.  He stood up again, tossed his crop over to me, pocketed his derringer.  He looked to the frightened woman who was shielding her small daughter from the sight.  “I beg your pardon Ma’am.”
She blinked, then nodded her head.
He pointed to the running board and said, “Be my guest, please, you and the girl.  Scarlett!  Give’em a hand.”
Scarlett hardly noticed, as she was fretting over Wade.  He was already scraped and scarred on the elbows, and he’d refused to wear long sleeves or gloves. 
“Too hot,” he’d said.  Now, in his tank top and goggles, he was lost in the crowd of cyclists at the starting line, crouched over their handlebars, and poised for the gun.  I managed to recognize him, although the goggle straps pushed his light brown hair up on end.  I pointed. 
“Where?” Scarlett and the girls begged.  I held my index finger up to her eye.  She squinted and said, “There?”  The girls scrambled into her lap to see.
The starting gun cracked, and soon the cyclists were out of sight. 
A few minutes later, the girls were getting bored and hot.  The leading cyclists appeared again to complete their first lap.  Wade wasn’t among them, as far as we could tell.  Rhett looked to Scarlett and to me, and none of us could recognize Wade or keep count of his laps.  An eight lap race would take some time, so we decided to take our leave, and return later for the finish. 
Bonnie and Ella were dying to go swimming in the pond, where most of the other children were. 
Scarlett said, “It’s too hot, you’ll get burned.  Stay here in the shade.”
Both girls turned to Rhett and climbed up onto the front seat to tug at his shirt, begging “Take us, please.”
“Who’ll guard your Mamma from those curs?” he said, and pulled Bonnie’s arms up and put them round his neck.  Nose to nose, Bonnie shook her head, and frowned and fussed.  He chuckled at her, which vexed her more. 
He couldn’t refuse her for long, which she seem to know.  He dodged her nose and turned to me.  “Maybe your cousin Jacques will watch over Mamma.”
I was hot, and I wanted a swim. Nevertheless, I obeyed Rhett,  since I owed him everything I had in the world.
Would he jump in too?  Standing before me in polished boots and felt hat, I couldn’t imagine him ducking into the bathhouse stall and emerging barefooted.  But I hadn’t yet learned that nothing was out of the question to him, if Bonnie begged for it.  Rhett was a different man around her, and I hated to see it.
Scarlett obviously had never had any intention of swimming, but she had packed bathing suits for the girls, which Prissy unpacked.  For Rhett too, she’d packed bathing attire, folded neatly with the rest.  I suspected that it was fancier than the common overalls that the working men wore, but I couldn’t guess what it would look like.  When Rhett seemed willing, I was amazed. 
“Papa, you need a suit.”  
“Yep.  Can’t wear trousers into the drink.  You sit here and mind your Aunt.”  He took a fresh cigar between his teeth and handed me the reins to the carriage.  He climbed to the ground, then lifted Bonnie off her seat and into the air.  Then Ella.  Prissy followed them, feeling her way down the running board like a blind girl, toting a mound of bathing suits and towels.
When Rhett emerged from the bathhouse, he didn’t brandish a sailor’s tattoo or wear a captain’s cap.  After all of Aunt Scarlett’s exaggeration of his high seas blockade-running, folks might’ve expected him to shout “Ahoy,” and raise the Jolly Roger over the dock and bathhouse.  Rather,   he was dapper as ever in his serge knickers and long sleeve bloomer - - vain actually - - compared to the half-naked hicks all around him, in their cut-off overalls.  Fashionable dress was such a habit that I’d never seen him barefoot, and heaven forbid he should appear bare-chested at a public pond.  So, I actually blushed on his behalf when I caught sight of his calves and feet, that were pink as a sow’s.  For his sake, I hoped the sand would quickly coated his legs, to veil their paleness.  I assumed that his vanity was taking a bruising, since he had never shone bare skin in public.  Rather, he had worn every fashionable accessory his haberdasher could provide, from dickeys to handkerchiefs. 
I had seen how much pleasure Rhett took in his own adornment, before I ever arrived in Atlanta.  In New Orleans, he had gotten irate with a certain tailor over a pair of silk gloves the tailor had made.  Rhett had wanted them dyed the color forest green, to exactly match the color of woolen waistcoat of that hue that the tailor had previously made him.
His broad brimmed hat held firm to his brow, and he pulled matches from his pocket and lit his cigar, water be damned.  Wading was so far from his mind that he didn’t even test the water’s chill. 
Rhett refused to go near the water until Bonnie came out, dripped all over him, and pulled him down the sloping beach.  He finally put his toes in, since he was practically soaked already, and his cigar had been doused.
Bonnie couldn’t swim, and she was too impatient to listen to Ella’s advice about holding her breath.  She had no fear since she’d never been dunked before.  When she saw kids noisily jumping off the dock, was determined to jump off the dock and splash like the expert swimmers.  Fathers were standing chest-deep and catching kids as young as toddlers, so she begged Rhett to do the same.  After she had coaxed Rhett into the water, she turned around, got out, hopped up onto the dock.  While Rhett was only ankle deep, she ran up to the deep end, toed the edge and yelled, “Geronimo!”
“Bonnie!  Get back - - Stop.”  He shoved past a fellow in rolled-up street pants, who stumbled and splashed to his knees.  Fortunately, the man’s curses were drowned by Rhett’s hollering.  I’d never heard Rhett holler before, and I never again saw any man thrash the water as he did at that moment.  His sturdy serge togs dragged against his submerged thighs. 
Rather than discouraging her, Rhett’s reaction invited her to jump with abandon, since jumping was now safe.  A six-year-old’s leap is short, however, and she couldn’t reach Papa’s arms. She flailed and squealed.  Her hair was the only thing that floated.
Rhett later told me that underwater, Bonnie’s bloomers filled like balloons and anchored her down.  Underwater to his chest, he hoisted with all his might, and almost sunk.
Bonnie spewed a mouthful of green and gasped, while Rhett held her tight, wiped her eyes, and waded back to dry land.
From that day on, Rhett and Bonnie’s fates seemed forever tied to the brutality of nature.  Rhett had fought it that day, but we knew who was stronger.  Later, I remembered it as a portent of tragedy to come to Bonnie.
Shivering from fright though wrapped in a towel, Bonnie was a different child, humbled for the moment by mother nature herself. 
Meanwhile, the official had announced the final lap.  Excited race fans had swarmed to the finish line.  They crowded the track, craning for a chance to see the first cyclist round the final turn.  Cheers greeted him, as soon as he appeared in the distance, and hats and visors flew into the air above him as he as he streaked across the finish line.  Applause continued for a few moments, as dozens of riders arrived home, and but Scarlett and I hardly clapped, since Wade was nowhere in sight.  Soon, we feared an awful coincidence had occurred, such that he’d suffered some accident along the race course somewhere, and it had occurred simultaneously with his half-sister Bonnie’s little mishap.
Having failed to finish, Wade coasted slowly into view on a wobbly front wheel.  Noisy spectators had already crowded the track and mobbed the winner,   who sat perched on his cycle just past the finish line, wearing a ribbon.  
Wade seemed exhausted.  He brightened-up when a fellow cyclist approached and gave a hearty shout.  He consoled Wade and wrapped arms around him.  They examined Wade’s dented wheel and cursed his rotten luck. 
With Bonnie in his arms, Papa patted Wade’s back.  I was amazed at his tenderness, since it was the only time I saw Papa touch him in public.  We all returned to the carriage and Wade began strapping his bicycle to the running board.
Papa allowed me to brace his elbow as he stepped up and laid Bonnie on the seat.  For once in her life, Bonnie was docile, with bloodshot eyes.
Scarlett seemed annoyed about the accident at the lake.  “That’ll teach you, Miss Precocious.  You’ll learn to be careful.”  She turned to Papa.  “More of that would do her good, Rhett.  Hear me?  You should spank that child when she acts up.  She’d be sweeter.”
“She’s already the sweetest in the world.  It wouldn’t be healthy to be any sweeter.”
“She’s got no more respect for her elders than a bumble bee.  Father O’Kelley says, ‘If you spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child.’  Why don’t you spank her?”
         “Same reason you don’t, I suspect.”
         “It’s the father’s place.”  Scarlett turned back to the children.  “Sit up now, and always listen to your elders.”
Ella heard her, but Bonnie didn’t budge.  When Papa was around, she ignored Scarlett altogether. 
 “They’re too waterlogged to listen,” Rhett said.  “Besides, Mammy prods and nags these girls from morning to night.  She knows a lot more about home training than Father O’Kelley.  From the driver’s seat, Rhett turned to Bonnie and said, “Mammy keeps after you, doesn’t she, Honey Pie?”
“I hate Mammy.” 
As soon as Rhett took up the reins, Trotter, the former harness racer, tossed his head and kicked the dust.  I rushed to the front seat by Rhett, and looked for a way to be useful to him.  After we were out of the crowd, he slapped the reins and Trotter lurched ahead to her natural pace.  Soon everyone was quiet and tired from all the excitement.  With an unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth, and the reins in his hand, Rhett began talking over his shoulder to Wade, who sat right behind him, facing rear.  Rhett took the opportunity to reminisce on his own past, like father to son, to pass along his insight.  I wasn’t jealous of Wade for getting all Papa’s attention, since Papa spoke it straight into my ear.  “My old man promised to teach me to ride, but we never got out of the barn - - I swear - - he never meant to do it in the first place.  He only promised it to please my mot  her, who had always wanted to see her son riding down Broad Street in the New Year’s Parade, in formation with the Mounted Militia.”
RHETT WAS NEVER A SEA CAPTAIN
The accident at the pond gave the lie to her fantasies of Rhett being a seafaring blockade-runner.   Rhett had no brine in his veins, and he was better suited to Atlanta’s red clay than to water. 
At the pond, Scarlett had been pleased with the effect of Papa’s dashing swimming attire, despite the fact that he detested the water.  He was never a sea captain, as GONE WITH THE WIND said, though he owned a cargo ship.  The myth had served Scarlett’s purposes, as eager as she was to help his reputation.  It made him seem loyal to the Confederacy.
Everyone knew of his disloyal profiteering from Georgians during the war.  Shrewdly, Scarlett said he was gallant and loyal to The Cause because he imported essentials like sewing needles and sugar, which had become scarce.  In reality, Papa never personally ran a blockade.  A cargo ship that he owned gained passage, but only rarely.  Otherwise the Yankees’ blockade of Charleston would have failed. 
Concerning profiteering, he never denied it.  His prices were indeed exorbitant.  He admitted gouging his own people in their time of need.  To deny these things would only have made him a liar in their eyes.  Ultimately, it was his own honesty that impressed Atlantans, whether or not they ever forgave him for profiteering.
Later in the evening of the accident at the lake, I found Papa and Scarlett sitting in rockers on the front porch.  “Scarlett said, you sometimes piloted the Stardancer yourself.  I never knew you were a seafarer.”
“Hogwash.  I’m the owner, not the pilot.”
“Owner - - Captain - - no difference,” she said.
“No sailor wears a suit like this.  Only a city slicker,” Rhett said.
“A gentleman.  It’s handsome.”
“A Navy Captain would wear oil skins,” I said.
“Navy?  How would a Navy Captain make a living in Atlanta, Georgia?  Canoeing the Chattahoochee?  Think business.  Think money!  And stop arguing with your aunt.”
I never swallowed her bait again, about Rhett or anyone else, and I determined to know Rhett for myself, man to man.    

6. THE WORDS OF RHETT BUTLER

Scarlett’s letters told tales about Papa that he ridiculed whenever he got wind of them.  Nevertheless, her tales formed the basis for GONE WITH THE WIND, which now being read all over town.  Papa’s ridicule of them has survived too, verbatim!  Back then, I took shorthand notes of everything he said. I was always by his side, busily practicing my skills as his personal secretary-in-training.  He was paying me by the word!  At age eleven, I didn’t know the difference between business negotiations and banter,  so everything went into my steno book.  Today, it’s my mission to reveal my contemporaneous notes of those events, to tell Papa’s side of the story.
For my benefit as a novice, Papa spoke slower and louder when he gave his opinions.  He’d squint at Aunt Scarlett and clear his throat, and he’d lecture her like a priest in the pulpit.  Papa had forbidden my stenographer’s pad at the dinner table, so it required ingenuity on my part to get his words down.  I kept my book in my vest pocket, and learned to scribble in my lap, under cover of the table cloth.  Later, when I had learned to listen well, I could keep more of his words in my head. 
 On the day when he presented me with my first professional stenographer’s pen, I had been writing shorthand for six months and I was showing some skill.  I had made do with the leaky steel fountain pen he had originally supplied to me, despite the mess it made of my cuffs and handkerchiefs.  The day was no special occasion, which only added to my surprise.  He had returned to the chalet after he was done for the day with business in the city.  It was the cocktail hour when he often entertained guests in our huge living room, but no guests were expected that evening. 
I responded to his call and found him sitting alone in his over-stuffed, high back chair.  He was removing his collar and cuff links, with an unlit cigar in his mouth.  Before him, on the coffee table was his usual glass of brandy and a small, black oblong box of dark leather, with the name Dunlop embossed in gold leaf.
He looked at me. “I’m tired of those black fingernails.”  He picked up the box and presented it to me with a wink of assurance, that it was the proper tool for the job I had undertaken.  He was eager for me to be of use to him, rather than a disgraceful lad with ink on his shirt.  I took it as a gift just the same, a token of his affection for me.  I also felt papa’s high expectations of me when I read the printing on its wrapper. 
The Dunlop Stylograph was no doodler’s tool, since it was “in use by over 50,000 ‘knights of the quill.’”  
“Look here!” I said, and held up the label. “It’s ‘a pencil that writes ink.’  No more stains.”
*                               *                                  *
My notes from that particular evening were trivial, since I was testing my new instrument.  After dinner,  I overheard Scarlett’s  exasperation with Rhett for his remarks about Ashley Wilkes.
“I’m not jealous of Wilkes, just because you’ve made him your pet over at the mill.”
  “You hate him.”
“No I don’t.  He nauseates me, that’s all.  He’s no threat to me, since he’s utterly gutless.”
 “You despise Ashley.”
“Wilkes?  If I despised him, I would’ve challenged him to a duel long ago.  It’d be a turkey shoot.  Why do you want me to hate him?”
“And don’t call him my ‘pet.’  It’s insulting, as you well know.”
         “I insult you constantly, yet I don’t hate you.  The same goes for Lieutenant Wilkes.”
“You never respected him.”
“I don’t trust him with your money.  He’s as bad as a thief, he’s so incompetent.  Trust is different from esteem, my dear.  Isn’t it?”
“Queer.  You called him queer!”
“Not me.  Your father, Gerald called him that, back before he wore the uniform.”
“He never said –“
“You told me so yourself, Scarlett!  I wish I’d been there to hear him say it.”
         Scarlett said, “Way ack before I met you, father said to me, ‘The Wilkes boy can play poker with the best, but his heart’s not in it.  One or two hands and he’s done.’  I said, ‘Ashley drinks at the bar.’”
“’Mixed drinks,’ father said, ‘He turns up his nose at beer.  He’d rather recite poetry.  I want ten grandchildren and he isn’t gonna sire any.  He’s too queer to take a roll in the hay with you.’”
“Ten children!  One baby’s plenty for me.”
“’One?  I’ll send you to the nunnery, Child, if you ever say that again!  God said be fruitful and multiply, damn it.  That’s why he put us on earth.  There’s a whole plantation here to plow, and one son can’t do it by himself.’”
“Fiddledie dee!”
“Father shouted, ‘The nunnery for you, I say, for wishing barrenness on your own family!  Wilkes should put himself in the monastery.’  He stomped around the room, until he noticed I hadn’t replied.  I was pretending to cry.”
“’He ain’t worth crying over,’ father said.”
“I whimpered, ‘You never shouted at me before - - except once or twice.’  He finally calmed down and came over and kissed my forehead.”
Rhett said,” I’ll say this for him, he’s no queer.  Hell, Wilkes lusts after you more than any man in Clayton county!  I admire his taste in women, since he’s been my chief rival for your affections.” 
“Shame on both of you.”
“He’s learning from his mistakes, lately.  He’s quit cavorting with the Clan.  He’s begun to see the light, after he got himself shot at Shanty Town.” 
“Ashley doesn’t trust you,  Rhett.”
He shrugged.  “Sorry, Scarlett, but there’s no jealousy between Wilkes and I.  You wish there was, don’t you?  You’d have us both where you want us, fighting with each other for your favor.  Sorry, but I don’t give a damn.  Frankly, I pity Wilkes for lusting after a woman like you.”
She went to slap him, and he didn’t bat an eye, since his right cheek was used to it.  “Don’t give a damn?  That’s why I cherish Ashley’s kindness.  He does give a damn.”
“Not enough to steal you from me.  He’s been racked with guilt since the day he got caught smooching you over at the mill.  Why should I worry?”
“How dare you accuse us of smooching.”
“You can’t deny it.  You haven’t banish him from the mill even after folks caught you in passionate embrace!  Nothing has  changed.”  
“Embrace, that’s all.  Not smooching!  Archie never told you we were smooching.  I’m so sick of it.  It’s them - - India and Archie, always stirring it up.  They get my goat, so I seem to keep on explaining myself over and over.”
“It’s a curse to keep on living in the past.”
“That’s exactly what I was telling Ashley that day those people intruded upon us.”  It seemed that Scarlett needed to get it off her chest.  She described the scene at the mill.  All the mill workers had quit for the day it seemed they were alone.  The inner office, a windowless room with a large desk for bookkeeping, was cluttered with extra crates of papers.  It was a tight squeeze for the two of them.  “I said, ‘Looking back keeps you constantly discontented, and fearful of the future, too.’  Now, a year later, I feel stuck like him.”
She had signs of discontent all over her, and soon thereafter she told Papa they were no longer husband and wife.  He may have suspected her feelings, since Scarlett was constantly bemoaning something, and Rhett always got the brunt of it.  The halls of that house constantly echoed with her voice, whether she was shrieking or nagging.  No one had any peace. 

7. RHETT AND ASHLEY, FACE TO FACE

Later, Papa got Ashley’s own view of his treachery with Scarlett at the mill.  The two of them met by chance a week or two after the trespass occurred, and it was the first conversation between them I recorded. 
Papa spied Mr. Wilkes (as I called him at the time) from a distance and eventually approached him.  Seated alone, he had looked tall, despite his baldness.  Papa offered a handshake.  Ashley stiffly got to his feet and shook.  He offered Papa a seat at his table.  Rhett introduced me and I too took a seat.  It was around my thirteenth birthday, and I ordered my first gin in a public place.  The bar of the Hotel Excelsior was no saloon, however, and waiters served the drinks.  The chandelier above us banished all shadows from the room, and ladies with escorts were being seated.  Ladies were served iced tea. 
As of 1872, Ashley’s fair hair was gone, except at his temples.  He had pink scalp and blue English eyes, and alongside Rhett, he looked pale. 
Papa said, “My arch rival.”
“Thanks Rhett, but nobody rivals you.” 
Papa acknowledged the compliment, but said, “No rivals for my throne?  Then I should expect a heap more admiration.  My daughter’s the only one - - she and Jacques here - - who loves me anymore.”
“Your wife loves you, sir.”
 Papa’s face straightened.  “You’re a terrible liar, Wilkes.  I know a superb liar,   who could give you want a few tips.”
Ashley kept a stone face.
“Forgive me.  That’s what’s unique about you - - you wish me no harm, and you believe what Scarlett tells you.”  Rhett abruptly turned and spoke to the waiter,   seemingly done with the topic of truthfulness. 
“Anyone can see it.”
“How noble of you, sir.  Every time our rivalry for Scarlett heats up, you willingly forfeit your advantage.” 
Ashley’s good nature seemed to wear thin.  “I know very well how a loving wife acts and so do you, my friend.”  Our drinks arrived and they both went for one.  “A rival to you?”  A appealed to the heavens,” How many times have I spurned that woman?”
“Not enough times.  She won’t be spurned by you or by me.” 
“You’d never quit Scarlett, and I’m no rival to you.  That’s why you don’t carry out your threat.”
“What threat?”
“If we had dueled, I’d be dead.  Thank god you kept your head.”
“Dueled?” Rhett slammed his glass on the table.  “I never threatened to shoot you!  Who said so, Scarlett?” 
A nodded.
“Goddamn that woman!  I haven’t shot you because you don’t really love Scarlett.”  Rhett looked him in the eye.  “Do you love anyone?” 
“Yes,” Ashley said with gritted teeth.  Somehow, he could never be goaded, no matter how sharp the prod. 
Papa raised his glass.  “To the Wilkses.” 
*                                  *                                  *
            Scarlett always felt she was plain, as compared to her mother’s beauty, and she worried about it constantly.  I know because I heard her one afternoon, fretting after Rhett attempted to compliment her.
            He said, “Bonnie’s got your eyes.  They’re blue like Gerald’s, but still they’re yours.  I’ve always said they make me wonder what you will do if I take you in my arms.”
            “No, no. Bonnie will be like my mother.”   
“They’re captivating.”
“’A girl must be beautiful,’ Mother told us.  She was, and she expected us to be beautiful too - - not vamps.”
Rhett squinted at her.  “Don’t say ‘vamp.’” 
“I got scolded the most, being the oldest, for vamping around.  Careen and Suellen got it a little, but they were both late to puberty.  I was five feet tall before my eleventh birthday.  Of course, everybody in the house knew it, when I reached puberty, since we wore white knickers - - impossible to keep white.That day, Mother called to me, instead of sending Dilsey for me.  ‘Woooo,’ Suellen said, ‘you’re in for it.’ 
Scarlett continued, “I tried to wipe the grit from the yard off my face.  Nothing could be done about black fingernails, since the water in the basin wasn’t fresh.  Mother was seated at her vanity, with three mirrors reflecting the different facets of her face.  She was surely the Queen of her kingdom on earth.  No matter what she was preparing to say to me, it seemed it would shake my world.”
"Momma said,’Scarlett, I’ve been calling you ‘young lady’ since you were born, but now it’s the truth - - you look grown.  So there’ll be no more girlyness.’  She reached for my bows and loosed my pigtails.  ’No more lap-child,’ she said.  She’d been saying that too, since I’d grown tall, but I was surprised to see her rise and offer me her own place at her glamorous vanity.  She led me by the hand, and soon I was face-to-face with my own image from three different perspectives.  ’Without a vanity of your own, you’ll never be beautiful, which is above all things, for a lady.  She rolled up her cuffs.  ’We must to boost you up a bit,’ she said, and unrolled her measuring tape.  From then on, I sat in front of those black-haired images every morning, but I never learned to like them much."
Scarlett continued, "The day came when I got frustrated with primping and I dropped my expensive boar’s hair brush on the floor.  I fled the vanity, flopped on my bed and stared at the ceiling.  Mother came in and almost stumbled over the brush.  She always wore her hair in a bun, but she wouldn’t allow us to wear a bun.  Standing over me, she looked taller and more majestic than ever."
"Momma said, ‘Serves you right to have bushy hair, the way you neglect it.  A hundred strokes only takes –‘
“Only takes ten minutes’ I mimicked. “Takes an hour, really.”
‘Takes you an hour.’
“You’re blonde, Momma.  It’s flat whether you brush it or not.  Bushy’s the way I am.”
"Momma said, ’Black hair’s not a curse.  Anyway, you’ve never brushed a hundred strokes in your life, so how do you know?  Where’s Prissy?’  She went straight to the door and called her.
“No, not Prissy” I said.  “She brushes it hard, like her own nappy head.”
’It serves you right Katie Scarlett, to have a nappy bush like hers.’  
Momma!” I covered my mouth, since I’d never before heard Mother stoop to spitefulness toward any of the negroes.  ’Shame on both of us,’ she said.  She held her chin up, despite her confession.  Even her blouse had a high buttoned collar that seemed to choke her neck.  ‘I was mean to Prissy, when it’s you, Katie Scarlett who’s disgusting.  You come here and kneel.  Let us both say ten mea culpas and ten hail Marys.’
Scarlett said, "I rolled over and buried my face in my pillow and mumbled, ‘Again?  My knees are raw.’  Mother whacked my fanny.  I slid off and knelt by her mother with hands folded, and didn’t peep again till mother had hailed Mary to her heart’s content.  I did the O’Hara girls proud by reciting her hail Marys quicker than the days of the week.  The trick Careen had taught me was to say the words ‘Mary mother of God’ on the inhale, and to exhale ‘mea culpa.’”
Ten years hence, sitting with Rhett at the Chalet, Scarlett’s hair lay much flatter, thanks to Mammy’s stroking.  She never wore Ellen’s collars or cuffs, and kept her chin tucked, since it wasn’t worth flaunting.  “I know I’m not beautiful, so your compliments sounded like flattery, Rhett.”
“Your eyes captivated me, remember?”
“I was pitiful back then.”
“Captivating.  The belle of Clayton County.”
“That was a long time ago.  After the devastation there were no belles or beaus.  I never sunk so low as that day I came begging to you.”
“For the loan.  It was business.”
“You took advantage.  You knew I was desperate, and you came to me wearing your money on your sleeve.”
“I turned you down.  Didn’t touch you.”
“You baited me shrewdly, so I acted a vamp.”
“Flirtation was your nature, Scarlett, and my nature too.  Still is!  Not one word of it mattered.” 
  “A woman never forgets the first time she plays the harlot.  A gentleman would have scolded me for even thinking of it.  Not you, Rhett Butler.  A woman’s honor didn’t interest you.  You got me for cheap.”
He spread wide his arms.  “It hasn’t been cheap for me to keep you.”
*                                  *                                  *
I never met Gerald O’Hara, since he passed away long before I arrived in Atlanta, I remember seeing a miniature evergreen wreath from his funeral that Aunt Scarlett had kept as a memento.  Its printed card said “Blessed Virgin, receive our beloved Gerald.” 
Papa said Gerald was “the only mariner in Clayton County.”  They both had been raised around their hometown wharves, Papa in Charleston and Gerald in Belfast, Ireland.  They both disliked country squires like Ashley Wilkes, who had never seen the Ocean or fended for themselves.  Maybe that’s why Gerald had never called Papa a scalawag or joined with Mr. Fontaine and the other Old Guards, who did.
Papa once told me of an encounter he had had with Gerald and Frank Kennedy, Scarlett’s husband.  The three met at Kennedy’s store in Jonesboro.  Papa had been summoned by Gerald and Kennedy, to discuss the rates of freight to England for cotton.  Frank, who was almost as old as Gerald, had aspirations to broker cotton for export out of Charleston.  Gerald was keen to sell his cotton nearby, rather than in Gainesville, ten miles away.  Tactfully, Papa showed them what he thought of his plan.
Papa didn’t patronize Kennedy.  “Where do you plan on storing your product?  The dust in here’s as thick as chicken feed.  You need a full time broom and dust pan if you expect to move cotton through here.”
“It ain’t a cotton brockerage yet,” Gerald said, in Kennedy’s defense.
Papa scooped some cotton seed with his bare hand, took one look at it, and said to Gerald, “You buy here?”
Frank Kennedy, whose whiskers looked as tarnished as brass, said, “Gerald gets a good yield from it.” 
“Seventy-two bales good middling.”
“All good middling?” Papa said.
“Yessir.” 
“Every boll,” said Kennedy.  
“That’s real fine, Mr. O’Hara.  Who graded it?”
“I did,” Kennedy said.
“Congratulations, Mr. O’Hara.  You must have gotten a premium for a whole crop of good middling.”
Gerald kept quiet on the subject of the sale price.
After me and Papa left them at Kennedy’s, he said to me, “We’ll never be back there again.”
“Bad businessmen?”
“They’ll never have a cotton brockerage.  Kennedy’s lucky folks will buy feed and seed from him.”  
Later, the place was converted to “Bait & tackle.”  I snickered when I noticed the new owner’s homespun style, because the letter “t” on the sign wasn’t properly capitalized.  Papa whispered, “His tackle must be second rate!”
The owner was from Macon, over a hundred miles away.  Why he took a shine to Kennedy’s spot was obvious after he announced that fish bait was his business.  Deepstep Lake was nearby, which sounded to Atlanta slickers like a good place for bass.  None were ever caught there, since it was just a pond, but the sunnies they caught were plentiful and good in the fry pan.
 Mr. Benteen never spoke of the owner by name, even when we visited his shop.  He said strangers always think they know better about a place than the folks who cleared the land for settlement in the first place.  The man would never become a local if he kept trying to change things.  He scooped out the former feed bins, lined them with tin, and shoveled in clods of peat moss full of earthworms.  The cider barrels that were still water-tight held fresh water - - very fresh, Mr. Benteen said - - full of slender minnows who stood in stillness with their lips to the surface.
Mosquitoes clung to the new metal screen door, and a hungry cat darted across the dirt floor.  I wasn’t inside a minute before I gagged on the stink and busted out again.
 When he came out, Papa said, “Sure, it smells a bit rare, but this place has never been cleaner.  Can’t allow varmints if he expects to sell anything.”
GONE WITH THE WIND NEGLECTED TO MENTION RHETT"S FONDNESS FOR SUELLEN
Papa and Suellen had a warm relationship, much better than the relations of the sisters themselves.  For example, Suellen showed her kindness to Papa when he most needed solace from a woman.  It occurred after Scarlett had become outraged at Papa for admitting he was visiting Belle Watling.  Scarlett had asked Rhett to move out of the master suite of the chalet.   In return, Rhett had been indignant as hell at Scarlett, for the scandal she had caused by kissing Mr. Wilkes at the mill. 
When he and Suellen talked, Papa had never before met privately with her.  She was a half-a-day’s ride from Atlanta, living at Tara, and running the farm with the support of Will Benteen. 
Rhett and Suellen sat alone in the parlor.  They left the door ajar, so I eavesdropped upon their conversation. 
“Mother scolded her over marrying for money.  They battled over Charles, because she knew Scarlett didn’t love him.  She refused her consent to their marriage, since she had admitted it was all she was after.”
“Refused?  Good Lord!  I never knew.”
“We were all ashamed of it, of course.  Father had consented to the marriage right away, so Mother’s refusal only served to insult the Hamiltons and Miss Pittypat.  They didn’t speak to her for months.
 “Meanwhile, Scarlett was carrying a torch for Wilkes, which she still carries today,” Rhett said.
“She adored Ashley back then, but he’s lost his charm.  Anyway, you’re the only one she married for love.  Otherwise, I’d have raised Cain, just like I did when she married Frank Kennedy for his money.  I’m like Mamma that way.”
“How could you be so sure?  ‘Cuz Mamma said so?”
“Yes Sir.”  The dimples in her cheeks gave her away.  “I’ve never needed a good reason to oppose Scarlett.  She never had any reason for anything, since she acted on pure impulse.  So my good reasons were wasted on her. 
“Lord ‘a mercy, I know,” he said.
“She loves you.  That’s what I’m tellin’ you, Rhett.  She’s loves you and she’d never betray you or hurt you on purpose.  I’m the one she hates.”
He objected but she kept on.  “Everybody knows what she did to me, so I’m not going into it.  But afterward, she never regretted it one bit.  She’ll do it again, if I let her.  That’s why I’ll never leave Tara.  If I ever do, I’ll never get back in.  I’ll be in the slaves’ quarters forever after.”
“Family never gets along unless they keep their distance from each other.  My brothers ran me out of Charleston.” 
“Brothers?”
He nodded.
“Family,” she said, “We gotta put up with her.”  It sounded like the O’Hara credo.
“Which proves that we love her, ”  he said and shrugged. 
“She puts up with you too, doesn’t she?”  Suellen waited his reply.
He nodded.  “So far.”
“Well then?" 
He dropped it.