Saturday, March 13, 2010

13. MY TREACHERY

I didn’t do it - - what I had planned - - yet. 
She glared at me and shook her head whenever I passed the door to her dressing room.  At the dinner table, she wouldn’t eat.  She sipped her wine and stared off into the distance until her food was cold.  Papa finally commented upon it, she snapped, "Don’t worry yourself over a pork chop.  Does food matter more to you than family?”  She glared at me too, as if I had given offense.
At first, Papa didn’t take the bait.  He’d been coping with her moodiness for years.  “I’m right here with you.  I could have gotten food somewhere else.”
“Your heart is somewhere else - - over on Broad Street."
“I’m here so much, I know immediately when you’re irritable.”
“Yes, it seems more often these days.  There’s a good reason for it.” 
“I forgive your irritability.  Never fear.”
“It’s easy to forgive when you don’t care - - when you’ve got one boot out the door.  Bonnie’s mad too.”
“Bonnie?  She’s happy as a junebug.”
Suddenly, Scarlett shocked me when she nodded at me and said, “Would you please excuse him from the table?  I feel outnumbered.”
“Don’t be silly.  He’s here to eat.  Has Jacques run afoul of you too?”
She dropped it, but Papa pressed her.  “You want Jacques to leave?  You just complained that you’ve been lonely.  I fear you’d pitch a fit if he ever left your sight.”
“Never mind.  I’ll mind my own feelings, thank you - - mine and Bonnie’s.  After all, I see her much more than you do.”
“That’s not true.”
“How would you know?  As a matter of fact, last night she spent half the night in my bed.  Yours was empty and cold.”
“Scarlett, don’t tell stories.”
“I may lie about myself, but not about an innocent child.  Ask Bonnie yourself, if you care.  Of course, it’s dinner time now.  Too late to ask a child what happened the night before.”  She shook her head at him.  “Too late,  Rhett.”
“Stop it.  I wouldn’t quiz Bonnie about you or anyone else.  That’s shameful.”
“Indeed it is.  And I do feel shame sometimes, unlike you.  You’ll go anywhere –“
He jumped up.  “Stop it.  You don’t have to provoke me to make me leave you.  Just give me Bonnie.”  He spread his arms.  “Keep all of this for yourself and Ashley Wilkes to enjoy.”  He let that sink in.  “Just Bonnie.”
“Ashley wouldn’t set foot in this house without a personal invitation from you.”
“I just made him one.  Hell, I gave him the keys to the place!”
AN ERRAND FOR A BUGGY
I never spoke the name Belle Watling to anyone, not even Papa, until the day arrived to work Scarlett’s plan.  I knew Miss Watling, of course, had known who she was since the day I hit town.  I knew I should have been ashamed - - in Papa’s words - - when I spoke to Bonnie, the “innocent child” about visiting Belle’s.  But, that’s why I knew Scarlett’s plan would succeed.  It was shrewd, and easy as pie, so I felt no shame at all, until later.
I found Bonnie in the kitchen, at table with Ella.  Mammy occupied the rest of the room, from cupboard to counter, while giving orders to two other house niggers in completely separate rooms of the house.  It was the last time I ever lunched with “the babies.”  After the scandal that erupted over my naughty conversation with Bonnie, I was forbidden to eat with the babies anymore.  I had seldom dined there anyway, since I had been a seated as a guest in the dining room since I first arrived.  Until the day I was forbidden, I could sit at table in the kitchen like anyone else, anyone who could find a seat there.  Wade had been allowed into the dining room about the time I had arrived, for basically the same reason - - arguing with the babies.
As long as us babies were chatting between ourselves contentedly, Mammy pay us no mind.  It gave me a chance to plant the crucial idea in Bonnie’s mind. 
“She’s got lemon drops.”
“Gum drops?”
“Yep, those too.  Cherry and orange.”
“Bring me some?”
“No, it’s not a store.  I have to eat ‘em there.”
“Why?”  Before she’d heard my reply, she turned and ran for Scarlett, begging to go to Belle Watling’s house.  I turned and made for the stables where the buggy was parked.
Driving the buggy belonging to Scarlett and Bonnie across town that day felt like the rottenest thing I’d ever done.  The Awful consequences to Papa would be unavoidable.  Like planting a murder weapon in his front yard - - he’d be judged for it.  In turn, he’d surely judge me.  Anybody would.  I reassured myself that I simply wanted to pay a call on Belle, or anyone else at home, in order to make my presence known.  I’d claim to be searching for Papa, then up and scram before anyone was the wiser. 
That buggy was all for show, as broad as a big laundry basket with an interior of overstuffed calf skin, dyed white as cotton.  The running board was slung low to the pavement, so a lady could climb aboard without carrying her hoopskirt in her arms.  I couldn’t even hear Bonnie’s voice from up front, unless she climbed up the seat and shouted at the back of my head.  Back there, she looked even tinier than she was.  Driving around empty, it looked like I forgotten somebody.  Pedestrians peeked in.  Like everything else about Scarlett, it drew attention to itself.
I panicked before I ever arrived at Belle’s.  I had reached the last block of the street approaching her house, and I needed to check if the coast was clear.  I didn’t want to be caught in the act by Papa, if he happened to be sitting on Belle’s front porch.  I parked the buggy in front of a neighbor’s house, dismounted and walked away, leaving it and the horse, Trotter, unattended.  This act alone was probably the most damnable thing I’d done since I’d been with Papa.  Trotter was likely to spook any second, since he was nervous - - already neighing.  He wouldn’t stand to be deserted by me on the side of the road in a strange place. 
I stopped in my tracks, in utter confusion, thinking of Papa, who had fatherly pride in his voice when he first handed me the reins of the buggy and said,” Soon you’ll be my second chauffer.”  Why was I squandering his trust?  I had an urge to face up to Papa and confess what was on my mind. 
Several times before, I’d called his attention to some dilemma I’d been worrying about.  Usually, he simply ignored me and kept focused upon the task at hand, which was usually his horsemanship, while on Nag.  Thus he’d indicated he thought my dilemma was too trivial to discuss.  But he never snapped at me for begging his attention, or scolded me for trifling.  He had scolded me for everything else I did, but not for that.  In fact, the matters he’d scolded me hardest for was fearfulness, and squeamishness, and timidity.  “You’re as flighty as a hen,” he said, the first time I saw Nag rear up.  After picking up a nail, Nag had suddenly neighed and reared, then gone lame.  By the time we could calm her down, her hoof was one big messy clot.  We had to find the nail before she could take another step, but my stomach had already turned at the sight of blood.  I wouldn’t even hold her leg stationary, until Papa snatched me by the sleeve and wrapped my trembling hands around it.  I’d have gotten a lashing on the spot if I hadn’t gripped that leg like a banister.  I didn’t let loose till Papa himself gave the word.  I had learned that Papa despised cowards. 
Now, I stood there in the burning glare, mid-way between performing my bravest stunt in years, and shrinking back in fear.  If Papa caught me and lashed me for it, at least he’d respect my daring.  On the other hand, when he heard that I’d gone half-way to Belle’s only to lose my nerve and quit, he’d surely whack me just the same, out of pure disgust.  In Papa’s mind, cowardice coupled with treacherous intentions would be worse than actually striking him a treacherous blow outright. 
Trotter neighed at me from where I had left him.  Finally, I remembered Scarlett’s words, “It’s best for Rhett, yet he can’t help himself.  Only you can do this for him.”  Anyway, the deed was almost done.  All I had to do was pull into Belle’s driveway, yell yoo hoo, and turn around and scram. 
I told the horse to shut up, and ran up to Belle’s driveway.  Her house looked deserted.  Neither man nor beast in sight.
I turned around and ran back toward Trotter, and a speeding wagon approached him from the rear.  It was rattling down the middle of the road, stirring up a cloud.  A near miss, and Trotter would spook into a gallop.  They whipped up so much dust, Trotter and our buggy disappeared.  After they passed us, I could finally see that it had veered way left of Trotter, leaving room to spare.  Dust and noise were all that hit him, so he hardly stirred.  I ran to him and hugged his neck.
I proceeded into Belle’s driveway.  A thin woman came out the front door and slouched on the bench.  She wore wrinkled, sleeveless frock and her oily hair hung across her face.  She looked up, all bloodshot and grey circles.  I asked for Belle and she replied, but she seemed have no strength to get up.  I tied Trotter to the hitching post and I looked up again, the woman had gone. 
Belle’s voice sounded from inside, fussing at Ruthie.  Belle invited me in.  She looked officious, for a madam, with bifocal glasses balanced on her nose and hair pinned up in a bun.  She hadn’t bothered with slippers.  Even barefoot, she was my same height, which was tall for a white woman.  Still, she was plump, and most of it was up top.  Her cleavage always competed with her eyes for attention.  Her shawl gave her cozy look, more like a librarian than a madam.
“Is Scarlett outside?  I put on shoes,” she said.
“Oh no.  Nobody’s out there.”
“You chauffeured Scarlett somewhere?” 
I nodded.
“Get that thing out of here, before the whole world sees it.  What are you trying to do?”
She was onto me.  I tried to scat.
She caught me by the arm.  “Scarlett put you up to this, didn’t she?  She’s trying to catch Rhett with his pants down.  You’re in cahoots with the devil.”
I denied it and claimed to have a message for Rhett.
“A message, eh?  Tell me.”  She tried to shake me.
“Scarlett - - um - - needs some money - - for the florist.”  My own words sounded shaky, and I could hardly complete the sentence.
“Rat!”  I tried to flee but she followed me to her front door.
“Listen here, you gotta do better than that, or Rhett’ll murder you.  Don’t try to outsmart him.  Drive that thing up to the bakery and have yourself a biscuit, and forget that you ever came here.”  I got the door open while she fussed in my ear.  “You gotta get Scarlett’s claws out of you, or she’ll ruin you.  She’s already ruined Rhett.”  I slipped out the door and she kicked me in the pants.  Of course, she couldn’t do any harm, kicking me with her boots off.
            Out in the buggy was Ruthie, laying flat on her face across the seat where Scarlett had sat, just an hour ago.  Again, I startled the woman, and when she sat up, she left a spot of red lipstick on the white upholstery.  I shooed her away and wiped the seat with my handkerchief.
            With my tail already between my legs, I needed some reassurance from Scarlett, my partner in deception.  All the way home, I imagined her welcoming me into her private sitting room, shutting the door behind me and kissing me on the cheek.  She’d listen gratefully as I told her of my mission accomplished. 
When I entered the driveway, I passed under the dining room window.  I looked up and saw Scarlett in her yellow housecoat.  I halted and gave her the thumbs up.  She threw up the sash and demanded, “What’s that?”  I turned around to see what she was pointing at. From above, the red spot on the seat looked huge.
I looked back at her, and she was pulling Papa to the window.  He glared at the buggy and cursed me.  I could read his lips.
I got into the stable and barely had wiped off the upholstery before Papa burst through the gate.  In his boots and waistcoat, he hadn’t been home long enough to dress for dinner.  He grabbed me by the lapel.  “Did you drive it to Belle’s?”
“It was all harnessed up.  I thought you needed it - - went lookin’ for you.  It was all harnessed up.”
“You know I keep it harnessed.”  His eyes pierced me.  “What happened to it?”
“A woman wiped some lip stick -”
“You damn fool!  Scarlett saw it and she’s raisin’ Cain.”
“Scarlett’s mad?”
“You had a whore in her buggy!”  He shook me.  “You talked to Bonnie about it too.” 
“I said she couldn’t ride with me.”
“Never say ‘Belle’ again.  Stay away from there, too.  You hear?”  He shoved me away from him.
I had nothing to say for myself.
He slammed the stable gate behind him.  At that moment, I couldn’t remember why in the world I had double-crossed Papa.  The words “Who do you think you are?” were on my mind, although Papa hadn’t yet said them.  I lugged myself up to the hay loft and slumped.
The hay loft was my home for a few of days, a very long time, even in mild weather.  Indeed, I watched from the barn as Scarlett evicted me.  Dilsey and Prissy brought my clothes, papers and pens out the back door of the house.  Scarlett was on their heels, pointing to the gutter.  They made a neat pile on the curb.  She swore at them for disobeying, and she herself kicked my fine woolens and parchments into the muck.  Of course, Scarlett knew where I was, so her rage was meant for my eyes, and for the coloreds, who would report straight to Papa.
Later, I saw Mammy in the driveway, who was indignant with me. “What got into you?”  She told me I wasn’t ever coming back inside.  “I hope Rhett Butler is gone too.  Let him go where he belongs.”
“It wasn’t his fault.” 
As I said it, she looked me in the eyes.  “The both of you, then.  This house too fine for your kind.”  The only sympathy she gave me was, “I’ll send a basket for your dirty clothes.”
*                                  *                                  *
 Another morning, the sun woke me early.  I climbed down from the loft and I was startled to see Bonnie.  She was sitting alone in the buggy, which was parked in its stall.  With a wary look, she seemed to be holding her place there.  She said, “I know you’re up there.”
“I’m not hiding.”
“Are you leaving?”
“I don’t know.”  I shooed her, “Get down and go inside.”
“I’m leaving too, with Papa.”
“Who said Papa’s leaving?”
“Mama.”
“Want did Papa say?”
“I can’t remember,” Bonnie said,  “But he’ll take me with him.”
“You can get down from there.  He won’t leave you.”
“It’s mine.”  She stroked the upholstery.
            “It’s not yours.”
            “Uh huh,” she nodded hard. 
Of course, she was right, but I wouldn’t let her boss me.  “I’m the driver.”
            “Nuh uh.  Papa is.” 
“I’ve driven it, for real,” I said.
“Mama fussed at you.”
I shrugged.  “She’s done fussing, now.”
“Then come home, Jacques.  Right now.”
“Maybe.”  I took her hand and we went out in the daylight.
Scarlett herself didn’t miss her chance to berate me.  She was sitting in the gazebo in the lawn on the Euclid Street side of the house, painting her nails.  I crept past within range of her voice.
“You ruined everything.”  I stepped closer, lest someone should hear.  “You ran off without permission.”
“But he’s here, Aunt Scarlett.  He’s not moving.”
“You were to wait - - wait till you had a proper reason - - legitimate - - a charitable - - yes a charitable reason - - like returning a lost glove or -”
“I went looking for Papa,” I lied, and my face turned red.
“That’s my buggy!  Not his.  I don’t go near whore houses.  I shudder to think what goes on there.  Shame on you, for sneaking over there, as if you had something nasty in mind.”
I kept my mouth shut.
She stretched out on the bench, yawned, and
said,” Never take my buggy again, without permission.”
            I begged to take my leave.  Before I could get away, she called me.  I gritted my
teeth and returned. 
She held out her hand, keeping a straight face.  Five dollars!
*                        *                       *
            Papa never moved to Miss Watling’s, so I should’ve been “home free” and finally
 welcomed back into the Chalet.  But Scarlett wanted to do an encore of her role as the
 scandalized spouse, and she hadn’t yet finished betraying me, her  co-conspirator.  Of
course, when Scarlett had something to say about someone, the whole household heard it,
and from there, the whole town as well.  Actually, I heard it second hand, like the rest of
Atlanta, since Scarlett hadn’t yet invited me back inside. 
            I got it from Mammy, of all people.  She herself appeared at my stable gate,
delivering my laundered clothes back to me.  Instead of handing it to me, she held it on
 her hip for a moment.  “I’ll tell you what they said about you.  Scarlett said, ‘He doesn’t
 seem to like it here, despite everything I’ve done for him.  He seems to like it over at that brothel.’
 ‘He goes wherever I go.  He’s mine.”
‘He’s your ward.  Bonnie’s your child.’
I asked Mammy if I could return home. 
“Wait till after dinner.”  She handed me the basket.
*                                  *                                  *
From then on, I minded my business and made myself useful to Papa.  I felt lucky to be with him, luckier than ever, since I was so undeserving.  I had never deserved Papa’s kindness.  Now, after having betrayed him, I deserved his fist. 
About a week later, he asked me to follow him on horseback, on an errand.  When I realized we were headed to Belle’s, I said,” I haven’t been near there since before, when I went astray.”
“Nag hates it there too, since there’s no barn.  You’re a better man than I, Jacques Boudreau.  Lord knows I can’t keep away from Belle’s.”
“Not me.  I like it better here.”  I nodded toward the hayloft.
“Don’t be a tramp, or you’ll never set foot in my parlor again.”  He sounded like my papa again.  “I used to be restless, until now.  With Bonnie here, I feel at home for the first time in my life.  I’m Baron von Butler, with my daughter and my estate to tend to.”
“Not Captain Butler anymore?”
“It was just a nickname.  I was never a ship captain.”  I probably sighed with relief to hear him talk of home.
*                    *                    *
I couldn’t keep Scarlett’s plot a secret very long.  I had to set things right with Papa, and I had no business protecting Scarlett.  After a couple weeks, tempers had cooled and he disappeared again at night.  Since his last disappearance, he had installed a lock on his bedroom door that kept passersby from checking whether he was home in bed, or not.
But I knew, of course, because I knew what to look for.  He never left home before Bonnie was asleep, or before Scarlett had retired to her dressing room.  On his way out, he never removed his cloak from its hook in the mud room. 
The stable contained the earliest clue of his intent to skip out.  When he kept Nag saddled, rather than having her brushed and blanketed for the night, I knew he planned to steal away, after his girls had gone to bed.
One evening before supper,   I went to checked how he had left Nag.  She stood in her stall with a saddle on her back and her head in a bucket of oats.  To mount up, all Papa need do was strap on her bridle, which hung on a nail overhead.
After supper, Papa seemed quite settled in the library in his overstuffed chair,   wearing his housecoat and slippers and reading specs.  In one hand was a snifter of brandy, in the other was a paper invoice.
I walked in and sat in the matching chair without interrupting him.  After a sip of brandy he said, “Anything amiss in the stable?”
I was stunned by his interest in me, for the hundredth time.  Why a whopper of a man like Rhett Butler would be aware of a twelve your old kid like me was beyond me. 
“No, no Sir.” 
He looked me in the eye.
“Yes Sir,”  I said,” Something’s amiss.  Nag needs to be [unsaddled] and groomed.”
“You’re very kind to worry about that animal.  Anything else amiss?”
“Nothing in the stable’s amiss –“  I was lying again, like a snake.  I had to stop it or I’d have to choke myself.
“Anything else?”
“I - - Scarlett says that you’re – you were gonna move out.”
“When?  When did she say that?  Back before you messed up?”  Already, he began nodding his head, having figured it all out.   “I’ll be damned.  You stabbed me in the back, didn’t you?  You and her.”  He had a look I’d never seen before, not a blush, not a sneer.  
“I didn’t mean no harm, Papa.”
“Not to me - - couldn’t harm my reputation if you tried - - but what about Bonnie?  Bonnie at a brothel?”
“I’d never take her there.”  I couldn’t explain myself, since I was so ashamed.
“I know Scarlett talked you into it.  But why didn’t you tell me?”
“She said your mind was made up.  No more talk.”
He sneered.  “Do you think you won? - - that you kept me from moving?”
He knew my mind, since Scarlett and me had gotten our way.  I mumbled, “I was an idiot.”
He nodded.  “Scarlett makes idiots of everyone, especially me.”
“You?” 
He spread his arms wide. “Hell, I hitched my whole wagon train to that woman.  But she gave me Bonnie, so I’m content.”
“You’re staying here at the Chalet for good?”
“That’s my business.  You mind your own.  Hear me?”
I agreed.  It sounded easy, after what I’d been doing lately.

1 comment:

  1. As for our Scarlett, she's one tough cookie, but I don't think she ever truly recognized her own power until later in her life. She was too busy surviving to stop and realize what she could accomplish on her own. Once that happened, she was truly unstoppable--and hopefully more gracious in her approach.

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