Saturday, March 13, 2010

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. 

2 comments:

  1. This is fun night for ghost stories. Just a joke guys!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tanja NachnamevorhandenApril 15, 2010 at 5:57 AM

    I will read your story. Cool idea! :-D

    ReplyDelete