Gone with the wind (Chapter 50)

Chapter 50

Rhett never deviated from his smooth, imperturbable manners, even in their most intimate moments. But Scarlett never lost the old feeling that he was watching her covertly, knew that if she turned her head suddenly she would surprise in his eyes that speculative, waiting look, that look of almost terrible patience that she did not understand.

Sometimes, he was a very comfortable person to live with, for all his unfortunate habit of not permitting anyone in his presence to act a lie, palm off a pretense or indulge in bombast. He listened to her talk of the store and the mills and the saloon, the convicts and the cost of feeding them, and gave shrewd hard-headed advice. He had untiring energy for the dancing and parties she loved and an unending supply of coarse stories with which he regaled her on their infrequent evenings alone when the table was cleared and brandy and coffee before them. She found that he would give her anything she desired, answer any question she asked as long as she was forthright, and refuse her anything she attempted to gain by indirection, hints and feminine angling. He had a disconcerting habit of seeing through her and laughing rudely.

Contemplating the suave indifference with which he generally treated her, Scarlett frequently wondered, but with no real curiosity, why he had married her. Men married for love or a home and children or money but she knew he had married her for none of these things. He certainly did not love her. He referred to her lovely house as an architectural horror and said he would rather live in a well-regulated hotel than a home. And he never once hinted about children as Charles and Frank had done. Once when trying to coquet with him she asked why he married her and was infuriated when he replied with an amused gleam in his eyes: “I married you to keep you for a pet, my dear.”

No, he hadn’t married her for any of the usual reasons men marry women. He had married her solely because he wanted her and couldn’t get her any other way. He had admitted as much the night he proposed to her. He had wanted her, just as he had wanted Belle Watling. This was not a pleasant thought. In fact, it was a barefaced insult. But she shrugged it off as she had learned to shrug off all unpleasant facts. They had made a bargain and she was quite pleased with her side of the bargain. She hoped he was equally pleased but she did not care very much whether he was or not.

But one afternoon when she was consulting Dr. Meade about a digestive upset, she learned an unpleasant fact which she could not shrug off. It was with real hate in her eyes that she stormed into her bedroom at twilight and told Rhett that she was going to have a baby.

He was lounging in a silk dressing gown in a cloud of smoke and his eyes went sharply to her face as she spoke. But he said nothing. He watched her in silence but there was a tenseness about his pose, as he waited for her next words, that was lost on her. Indignation and despair had claimed her to the exclusion of all other thoughts.

“You know I don’t want any more children! I never wanted any at all. Every time things are going right with me I have to have a baby. Oh, don’t sit there and laugh! You don’t want it either. Oh, Mother of God!”

If he was waiting for words from her, these were not the words he wanted. His face hardened slightly and his eyes became blank.

“Well, why not give it to Miss Melly? Didn’t you tell me she was so misguided as to want another baby?”

“Oh, I could kill you! I won’t have it, I tell you, I won’t!”

“No? Pray continue.”

“Oh, there are things to do. I’m not the stupid country fool I used to be. Now, I know that a woman doesn’t have to have children if she doesn’t want them! There are things —”

He was on his feet and had her by the wrist and there was a hard, driving fear in his face.

“Scarlett, you fool, tell me the truth! You haven’t done anything?”

“No, I haven’t, but I’m going to. Do you think I’m going to have my figure ruined all over again, just when I’ve gotten my waist line down and am having a good time.”

“Where did you get this idea? Who’s been telling you things?”

“Mamie Bart — she —”

“The madam of a whore house would know such tricks. That woman never puts foot in this house again, do you understand? After all, it is my house and I’m the master of it. I do not even want you to speak to her again.”

“I’ll do as I please. Turn me loose. Why should you care?”

“I don’t care whether you have one child or twenty, but I do care if you die.”

“Die? Me?”

“Yes, die. I don’t suppose Mamie Bart told you the chances a woman takes when she does a thing like that?”

“No,” said Scarlett reluctantly. “She just said it would fix things up fine.”

“By God, I will kill her!” cried Rhett and his face was black with rage. He looked down into Scarlett’s tear-stained face and some of the wrath faded but it was still hard and set. Suddenly he picked her up in his arms and sat down in the chair, holding her close to him, tightly, as if he feared she would get away from him.

“Listen, my baby, I won’t have you take your life in your hands. Do you hear? Good God, I don’t want children any more than you do, but I can support them. I don’t want to hear any more foolishness out of you, and if you dare try to — Scarlett, I saw a girl die that way once. She was only a — well, but she was a pretty sort at that. It’s not an easy way to die. I—”

“Why, Rhett!” she cried, startled out of her misery at the emotion in his voice. She had never seen him so moved. “Where — who —”

“In New Orleans — oh, years ago. I was young and impressionable.” He bent his head suddenly and buried his lips in her hair. “You’ll have your baby, Scarlett, if I have to handcuff you to my wrist for the next nine months.”

She sat up in his lap and stared into his face with frank curiosity. Under her gaze it was suddenly smooth and bland as though wiped clear by magic. His eyebrows were up and the corner of his mouth was down.

“Do I mean so much to you?” she questioned, dropping her eyelids.

He gave her a level look as though estimating how much coquetry was behind the question. Reading the true meaning of her demeanor, he made casual answer.

“Well, yes. You see, I’ve invested a good deal of money in you, and I’d hate to lose it.”

* * * * *

Melanie came out of Scarlett’s room, weary from the strain but happy to tears at the birth of Scarlett’s daughter. Rhett stood tensely in the hall, surrounded by cigar butts which had burned holes in the fine carpet.

“You can go in now, Captain Butler,” she said shyly.

Rhett went swiftly past her into the room and Melanie had a brief glimpse of him bending over the small naked baby in Mammy’s lap before Dr. Meade shut the door. Melanie sank into a chair, her face pinkening with embarrassment that she had unintentionally witnessed so intimate a scene.

“Ah!” she thought. “How sweet! How worried poor Captain Butler has been! And he did not take a single drink all this time! How nice of him. So many gentlemen are so intoxicated by the time their babies are born. I fear he needs a drink badly. Dare I suggest it? No, that would be very forward of me.”

She sank gratefully into a chair, her back, which always ached these days, feeling as though it would break in two at the waist line. Oh, how fortunate Scarlett was to have Captain Butler just outside her door while the baby was being born! If only she had had Ashley with her that dreadful day Beau came she would not have suffered half so much. If only that small girl behind those closed doors were hers and not Scarlett’s! Oh, how wicked I am, she thought guiltily. I am coveting her baby and Scarlett has been so good to me. Forgive me, Lord. I wouldn’t really want Scarlett’s baby but — but I would so like a baby of my own!

She pushed a small cushion behind her aching back and thought hungrily of a daughter of her own. But Dr. Meade had never changed his opinion on that subject. And though she was quite willing to risk her life for another child, Ashley would not hear of it. A daughter. How Ashley would love a daughter!

A daughter! Mercy! She sat up in alarm. I never told Captain Butler it was a girl! And of course he was expecting a boy. Oh, how dreadful!

Melanie knew that to a woman a child of either sex was equally welcome but to a man, and especially such a self-willed man as Captain Butler, a girl would be a blow, a reflection upon his manhood. Oh, how thankful she was that God had permitted her only child to be a boy! She knew that, had she been the wife of the fearsome Captain Butler, she would have thankfully died in childbirth rather than present him with a daughter as his first-born.

But Mammy, waddling grinning from the room, set her mind at ease — and at the same time made her wonder just what kind of man Captain Butler really was.

“W’en Ah wuz bathin’ dat chile jes’ now,” said Mammy, “Ah kinder ‘pologized ter Mist’ Rhett ‘bout it not bein’ a boy. But, Lawd, Miss Melly, you know whut he say? He say, ‘Hesh yo’ mouf, Mammy! Who want a boy? Boys ain’ no fun. Dey’s jes’ a passel of trouble. Gals is whut is fun. Ah wouldn’ swap disyere gal fer a baker’s dozen of boys.’ Den he try ter snatch de chile frum me, buck nekked as she wuz an’ Ah slap his wrist an’ say ‘B’have yo’seff, Mist’ Rhett! Ah’ll jes’ bide mah time tell you gits a boy, an’ den Ah’ll laff out loud to hear you holler fer joy.’ He grin an’ shake his haid an’ say, ‘Mammy, you is a fool. Boys ain’ no use ter nobody. Ain’ Ah a proof of dat?’ Yas’m, Miss Melly, he ack lak a gempmum ‘bout it,” finished Mammy graciously. It was not lost on Melanie that Rhett’s conduct had gone far toward redeeming him in Mammy’s eyes. “Maybe Ah done been a mite wrong ‘bout Mist’ Rhett. Dis sho is a happy day ter me, Miss Melly. Ah done diapered three ginrations of Robillard gals, an’ it sho is a happy day.”

“Oh, yes, it is a happy day, Mammy. The happiest days are the days when babies come!”

To one person in the house it was not a happy day. Scolded and for the most part ignored, Wade Hampton idled miserably about the dining room. Early that morning, Mammy had waked him abruptly, dressed him hurriedly and sent him with Ella to Aunt Pitty’s house for breakfast. The only explanation he received was that his mother was sick and the noise of his playing might upset her. Aunt Pitty’s house was in an uproar, for the news of Scarlett’s sickness had sent the old lady to bed in a state with Cookie in attendance, and breakfast was a scant meal that Peter concocted for the children. As the morning wore on fear began to possess Wade’s soul. Suppose Mother died? Other boys’ mothers had died. He had seen the hearses move away from the house and heard his small friends sobbing. Suppose Mother should die? Wade loved his mother very much, almost as much as he feared her, and the thought of her being carried away in a black hearse behind black horses with plumes on their bridles made his small chest ache so that he could hardly breathe.

When noon came and Peter was busy in the kitchen, Wade slipped out the front door and hurried home as fast as his short legs could carry him, fear speeding him. Uncle Rhett or Aunt Melly or Mammy surely would tell him the truth. But Uncle Rhett and Aunt Melly were not to be seen and Mammy and Dilcey sped up and down the back stairs with towels and basins of hot water and did not once notice him in the front hall. From upstairs he could hear occasionally the curt tones of Dr. Meade whenever a door opened. Once he heard his mother groan and he burst into sobbing hiccoughs. He knew she was going to die. For comfort, he made overtures to the honey-colored cat which lay on the sunny window sill in the front hall. But Tom, full of years and irritable at disturbances, switched his tail and spat softly.

Finally, Mammy, coming down the front stairs, her apron rumpled and spotted, her head rag awry, saw him and scowled. Mammy had always been Wade’s mainstay and her frown made him tremble.

“You is de wustes’ boy Ah ever seed,” she said. “Ain’ Ah done sont you ter Miss Pitty’s? Gwan back dar!”

“Is Mother going to — will she die?”

“You is de troublesomes’ chile Ah ever seed! Die? Gawdlmighty, no! Lawd, boys is a tawment. Ah doan see why de Lawd sen’s boys ter folks. Now, gwan way from here.”

But Wade did not go. He retreated behind the portieres in the hall, only half convinced by her words. The remark about the troublesomeness of boys stung, for he had always tried his best to be good. Aunt Melly hurried down the stairs half an hour later, pale and tired but smiling to herself. She looked thunderstruck when she saw his woebegone face in the shadows of the drapery. Usually Aunt Melly had all the time in the world to give him. She never said, as Mother so often did: “Don’t bother me now. I’m in a hurry” or “Run away, Wade. I am busy.”

But this morning she said: “Wade, you’ve been very naughty. Why didn’t you stay at Aunt Pitty’s?”

“Is Mother going to die?”

“Gracious, no, Wade! Don’t be a silly child,” and then, relenting: “Dr. Meade has just brought her a nice little baby, a sweet little sister for you to play with, and if you are real good you can see her tonight. Now, run out and play and don’t make any noise.”

Wade slipped into the quiet dining room, his small and insecure world tottering. Was there no place for a worried little seven-year-old boy on this sunshiny day when the grown-ups acted so curiously? He sat down on the window still in the alcove and nibbled a bit of the elephant’s ear which grew in a box in the sun. It was so peppery that it stung his eyes to tears and he began to cry. Mother was probably dying, nobody paid him any heed and one and all, they rushed about because of a new baby — a girl baby. Wade had little interest in babies, still less in girls. The only little girl he knew intimately was Ella and, so far, she had done nothing to command his respect or liking.

After a long interval Dr. Meade and Uncle Rhett came down the stairs and stood talking in the hall in low voices. After the door shut behind the doctor, Uncle Rhett came swiftly into the dining room and poured himself a large drink from the decanter before he saw Wade. Wade shrank back, expecting to be told again that he was naughty and must return to Aunt Pitty’s, but instead, Uncle Rhett smiled. Wade had never seen him smile like that or look so happy and, encouraged, he leaped from the sill and ran to him.

“You’ve got a sister,” said Rhett, squeezing him. “By God, the most beautiful baby you ever saw! Now, why are you crying?”

“Mother —”

“Your mother’s eating a great big dinner, chicken and rice and gravy and coffee, and we’re going to make her some ice cream in a little while and you can have two plates if you want them. And I’ll show you your sister too.”

Weak with relief, Wade tried to be polite about his new sister but failed. Everyone was interested in this girl. No one cared anything about him any more, not even Aunt Melly or Uncle Rhett.

“Uncle Rhett,” he began, “do people like girls better than boys?”

Rhett set down his glass and looked sharply into the small face and instant comprehension came into his eyes.

“No, I can’t say they do,” he answered seriously, as though giving the matter due thought. “It’s just that girls are more trouble than boys and people are apt to worry more about troublesome people than those who aren’t.”

“Mammy just said boys were troublesome.”

“Well, Mammy was upset. She didn’t mean it.”

“Uncle Rhett, wouldn’t you rather have had a little boy than a little girl?” questioned Wade hopefully.

“No,” answered Rhett swiftly and, seeing the boy’s face fall, he continued: “Now, why should I want a boy when I’ve already got one?”

“You have?” cried Wade, his mouth falling open at this information. “Where is he?”

“Right here,” answered Rhett and, picking the child up, drew him to his knee. “You are boy enough for me, son.”

For a moment, the security and happiness of being wanted was so great that Wade almost cried again. His throat worked and he ducked his head against Rhett’s waistcoat.

“You are my boy, aren’t you?”

“Can you be — well, two men’s boy?” questioned Wade, loyalty to the father he had never known struggling with love for the man who held him so understandingly.

“Yes,” said Rhett firmly. “Just like you can be your mother’s boy and Aunt Melly’s, too.”

Wade digested this statement. It made sense to him and he smiled and wriggled against Rhett’s arm shyly.

“You understand little boys, don’t you, Uncle Rhett?”

Rhett’s dark face fell into its old harsh lines and his lip twisted.

“Yes,” he said bitterly, “I understand little boys.”

For a moment, fear came back to Wade, fear and a sudden sense of jealousy. Uncle Rhett was not thinking of him but of some one else.

“You haven’t got any other little boys have you?”

Rhett set him on his feet.

“I’m going to have a drink and so are you, Wade, your first drink, a toast to your new sister.”

“You haven’t got any other —” began Wade and then seeing Rhett reach for the decanter of claret, the excitement at being included in this grown-up ceremony diverted him.

“Oh, I can’t, Uncle Rhett! I promised Aunt Melly I wouldn’t drink till I graduated from the university and she’s going to give me a watch, if I don’t.”

“And I’ll give you a chain for it — this one I’m wearing now, if you want it,” said Rhett and he was smiling again. “Aunt Melly’s quite right. But she was talking about spirits, not wine. You must learn to drink wine like a gentleman, son, and there’s no time like the present to learn.”

Skillfully, he diluted the claret with water from the carafe until the liquid was barely pink and handed the glass to Wade. At that moment, Mammy entered the dining room. She had changed to her best Sunday black and her apron and head rag were fresh and crisp. As she waddled, she switched herself and from her skirts came the whisper and rustle of silk. The worried look had gone from her face and her almost toothless gums showed in a wide smile.

“Burfday gif’, Mist’ Rhett!” she said.

Wade stopped with his glass at his lips. He knew Mammy had never liked his stepfather. He had never heard her call him anything except “Cap’n Butler,” and her conduct toward him had been dignified but cold. And here she was beaming and sidling and calling him “Mist’ Rhett!” What a topsy-turvy day!

“You’d rather have rum than claret, I suppose,” said Rhett, reaching into the cellaret and producing a squat bottle. “She is a beautiful baby, isn’t she, Mammy?”

“She sho is,” answered Mammy, smacking her lips as she took the glass.

“Did you ever see a prettier one?”

“Well, suh, Miss Scarlett wuz mout nigh as pretty w’en she come but not quite.”

“Have another glass, Mammy. And Mammy,” his tone was stern but his eyes twinkled, “what’s that rustling noise I hear?”

“Lawd, Mist’ Rhett, dat ain’ nuthin’ but mah red silk petticoat!” Mammy giggled and switched till her huge bulk shook.

“Nothing but your petticoat! I don’t believe it. You sound like a peck of dried leaves rubbing together. Let me see. Pull up your skirt.”

“Mist’ Rhett, you is bad! Yeah-O, Lawd!”

Mammy gave a little shriek and retreated and from a distance of a yard, modestly elevated her dress a few inches and showed the ruffle of a red taffeta petticoat.

“You took long enough about wearing it,” grumbled Rhett but his black eyes laughed and danced.

“Yassuh, too long.”

Then Rhett said something that Wade did not understand.

“No more mule in horse harness?”

“Mist’ Rhett, Miss Scarlett wuz bad ter tell you dat! You ain’ holin’ dat again’ dis ole nigger?”

“No. I’m not holding it. I just wanted to know. Have another drink, Mammy. Have the whole bottle. Drink up, Wade! Give us a toast.”

“To Sissy,” cried Wade and gulped the liquid down. Choking he began to cough and hiccough and the other two laughed and beat him on the back.

From the moment his daughter was born, Rhett’s conduct was puzzling to all observers and he upset many settled notions about himself, notions which both the town and Scarlett were loath to surrender. Whoever would have thought that he of all people would be so shamelessly, so openly proud of fatherhood? Especially in view of the embarrassing circumstance that his first-born was a girl and not a boy.

The novelty of fatherhood did not wear off. This caused some secret envy among women whose husbands took offspring for granted, long before the children were christened. He buttonholed people on the street and related details of his child’s miraculous progress without even prefacing his remarks with the hypocritical but polite: “I know everyone thinks their own child is smart but —” He thought his daughter marvelous, not to be compared with lesser brats, and he did not care who knew it. When the new nurse permitted the baby to suck a bit of fat pork, thereby bringing on the first attack of colic, Rhett’s conduct sent seasoned fathers and mothers into gales of laughter. He hurriedly summoned Dr. Meade and two other doctors, and with difficulty he was restrained from beating the unfortunate nurse with his crop. The nurse was discharged and thereafter followed a series of nurses who remained, at the most, a week. None of them was good enough to satisfy the exacting requirements Rhett laid down.

Mammy likewise viewed with displeasure the nurses that came and went, for she was jealous of any strange negro and saw no reason why she could not care for the baby and Wade and Ella, too. But Mammy was showing her age and rheumatism was slowing her lumbering tread. Rhett lacked the courage to cite these reasons for employing another nurse. He told her instead that a man of his position could not afford to have only one nurse. It did not look well. He would hire two others to do the drudgery and leave her as Mammy-inchief. This Mammy understood very well. More servants were a credit to her position as well as Rhett’s. But she would not, she told him firmly, have any trashy free issue niggers in her nursery. So Rhett sent to Tara for Prissy. He knew her shortcomings but, after all, she was a family darky. And Uncle Peter produced a great-niece named Lou who had belonged to one of Miss Pitty’s Burr cousins.

Even before Scarlett was able to be about again, she noticed Rhett’s pre-occupation with the baby and was somewhat nettled and embarrassed at his pride in her in front of callers. It was all very well for a man to love his child but she felt there was something unmanly in the display of such love. He should be offhand and careless, as other men were.

“You are making a fool of yourself,” she said irritably, “and I don’t see why.”

“No? Well, you wouldn’t. The reason is that she’s the first person who’s ever belonged utterly to me.”

“She belongs to me, too!”

“No, you have two other children. She’s mine.”

“Great balls of fire!” said Scarlett. “I had the baby, didn’t I? Besides, honey, I belong to you.”

Rhett looked at her over the black head of the child and smiled oddly.

“Do you, my dear?”

Only the entrance of Melanie stopped one of those swift hot quarrels which seemed to spring up so easily between them these days. Scarlett swallowed her wrath and watched Melanie take the baby. The name agreed upon for the child was Eugenie Victoria, but that afternoon Melanie unwittingly bestowed a name that clung, even as “Pittypat” had blotted out all memory of Sarah Jane.

Rhett leaning over the child had said: “Her eyes are going to be pea green.”

“Indeed they are not,” cried Melanie indignantly, forgetting that Scarlett’s eyes were almost that shade. “They are going to be blue, like Mr. O’Hara’s eyes, as blue as — as blue as the bonnie blue flag.”

“Bonnie Blue Butler,” laughed Rhett, taking the child from her and peering more closely into the small eyes. And Bonnie she became until even her parents did not recall that she had been named for two queens.

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