فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Rhett Butler

Early the next morning, Gerald told his plantation manager, Jonas Wilkerson, to pack his things and leave. Jonas, Ellen had discovered, was the father of Emmie Slattery’s dead baby, and now Ellen would not have him working at Tara. Jonas was a Yankee and hated all Southerners, and he was angry at losing the best manager’s job in the neighbourhood.

Ellen told Gerald that she was not going to the party at Twelve Oaks. ‘I must check Jonas’s figures in the plantation books,’ she said. ‘Mammy will stay and help me.’

So Gerald rode on his horse beside the carriage that took Scarlett and her two sisters down the road to Twelve Oaks.

Scarlett thought about her plans to marry Ashley. ‘No one must suspect anything,’ she thought, ‘so I’ll flirt with every man there, from old Frank Kennedy to shy Charlie Hamilton. It will be cruel to Ashley, but it will make him want me more.’

‘I don’t know why you look so happy this morning,’ said her sister, Suellen, looking at Scarlett. ‘You know Ashley’s going to marry Melanie, Pa said so. And I know you love Ashley!’

‘Suellen, that’s not true!’ said Careen, the youngest of the three. ‘It’s Brent that Scarlett cares about.’

The whole family knew that Careen loved Brent Tarleton. But he never gave her a thought except as Scarlett’s baby sister. ‘I don’t care about Brent,’ said Scarlett, smiling, ‘and he doesn’t care about me. He’s waiting for you to grow up!’

Careen went red in the face, ‘Oh, Scarlett, is he really?’ she said.

They went over the hill, and saw Twelve Oaks. The house was white and beautiful under the blue sky. Lunch was going to be served outside, and Scarlett saw the Tarleton twins with their two brothers, Boyd and Tom; and Alex and Tony Fontaine; and the two Calvert boys, Raiford and Cade.

‘Good! Everyone is here!’ thought Scarlett.

John Wilkes stood on the entrance steps, a silver-haired man with a quiet charm that was as warm as a summer sun. Next to him was his daughter, Honey Wilkes. His other daughter, India, was nowhere to be seen, and Scarlett guessed that she was in the kitchen giving final orders to the servants.

‘Poor India,’ thought Scarlett. ‘She’s been so busy looking after Twelve Oaks since her mother died that she’s had no time to catch any man except Stuart Tarleton, and it’s not my problem if he thinks I’m prettier than her.’

John Wilkes helped Scarlett from the carriage, and Frank Kennedy hurried to give a helping hand to Suellen, who went red but looked delighted. Frank was forty, with a thin red beard. He was nervous with women and was surprised when Scarlett, remembering her plan, gave him one of her best smiles.

Stuart and Brent Tarleton moved towards her, and Scarlett looked around as she talked and laughed with them. Suddenly, she noticed a stranger standing alone. He looked at least thirty-five and was tall and strong, with a black moustache. Scarlett went red as he stared at her with a cool smile. Then he turned away as someone called, ‘Rhett! Rhett Butler!’

Rhett Butler? Did she know the name? Scarlett’s thoughts turned to Ashley and she forgot about the smiling man.

‘I must go and comb my hair,’ she told Stuart and Brent. ‘You boys wait for me, and don’t run off with any other girl!’

As she went up the wide stairs, a shy voice behind her called her name. Scarlett turned and saw Charles Hamilton, a nice-looking boy with soft brown hair and deep brown eyes.

She gave him her biggest smile. ‘Why, Charles Hamilton, you handsome old thing! I’m sure you came all the way from Atlanta just to break my poor heart!’

Charles almost fainted. This was the way girls talked to other boys, not to him!

‘Now you wait here until I come back,’ said Scarlett. ‘And don’t talk to those other girls or I’ll be very jealous!’

‘I - I won’t,’ he said.

Scarlett saw Rhett Butler, a few feet away. He was smiling again, and had a strange look in his eye as he stared at her. Scarlett went red again and hurried on up the stairs.

Cathleen Calvert was in the bedroom.

‘Cathleen,’ said Scarlett, ‘who is that nasty man Butler?’

‘My dear, don’t you know?’ whispered Cathleen, excitedly. ‘He’s from Charleston, but his family won’t speak to him!’

‘Really?’ said Scarlett. ‘Why?’

‘He took a girl out riding in a carriage one afternoon and they stayed out nearly all night! When they finally arrived home, he said that the horse ran away and that they got lost in the forest. And guess what?’

‘Tell me,’ said Scarlett, hoping for the worst.

‘He refused to marry her the next day!’

‘Oh,’ said Scarlett, disappointed.

‘He said that he did nothing to her, but her brother invited him to fight - and Mr Butler shot him! Well, after that, Mr Butler had to leave Charleston.’

‘Did she have a baby?’ whispered Scarlett.

‘No,’ said Cathleen, ‘but no one will ever marry her now.’

‘I wish Ashley would stay out all night with me,’ thought Scarlett. ‘He’s too much of a gentleman not to marry me afterwards.’

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