Rhett comes to visit and reminds Scarlett that he loaned her the money to buy the mill on condition that she refrain from using the money to help Ashley. Noting that Ashley is now being paid to run the mill, Rhett tells Scarlett she has become unscrupulous. Scarlett insists that she had no choice and says she will be kind once she is rich and secure. Laughing, Rhett tells her to urge Frank to spend more nights at home. Scarlett thinks Rhett is insinuating that Frank is having an affair, but Rhett laughs and departs, leaving Scarlett confused and angry.
By March, Georgia has come under harsh military rule for its refusal to grant the vote to blacks. Tensions mount between the freed blacks, the Confederate whites, the Yankee soldiers, and the Ku Klux Klan. One day, driving through the dangerous black area of Shantytown, Scarlett encounters Big Sam, who is wanted for killing a Yankee. Scarlett decides to help him escape to Tara and tells him to meet her in the same spot that night. She rides to the mill, where she finds that Johnnie Gallegher has been starving and whipping the convicts. She flies into a rage, but Johnnie threatens to quit unless she gives him free reign to do as he pleases. Remembering that he has doubled the mill’s productivity, Scarlett lets the matter drop. On her way back through Shantytown, Scarlett is attacked by a poor white man and his black companion. Big Sam appears and fights the attackers. He then jumps into Scarlett’s carriage and drives her to safety as she collapses in sobs.
That night, Frank sends Scarlett to Melanie’s house while he and Ashley attend a political meeting. At Melanie’s, the other women and Archie seem strangely tense. Rhett appears and asks Melanie where Ashley and Frank have gone, saying that it is a matter of life and death. Melanie tells him they have gone to the old Sullivan plantation, and Rhett disappears. Melanie explains to Scarlett that Frank and Ashley are Klansmen, as are all the men they know, and they have gone to avenge the attack on Scarlett.
A Yankee regiment bursts in and demands to know the men’s location. At last Rhett, Ashley, and a man named Hugh Elsing stumble in drunkenly. Rhett tells the Yankee captain that he and the other men were at Belle Watling’s house all night. The Yankee, a friend of Rhett’s, is suspicious but embarrassed, and he quickly departs. Rhett dispatches Archie to burn the Klan robes and dispose of two unspecified dead bodies. Ashley is not drunk but wounded, and Scarlett realizes the whole scene has been a desperate cover-up. In her concern for Ashley, Scarlett hardly notices Frank’s absence. Rhett finally informs her that Frank has been shot through the head.
The next day, a Yankee court calls Belle, Ashley, and Rhett to testify about the events of the preceding evening, and their convincing alibi clears them of all charges. Melanie expresses her gratitude and admiration to Belle, who is dumbstruck that a great lady like Melanie has stooped to speak to a prostitute. The other Confederate women in Atlanta look down on Scarlett for her connection to the preceding evening’s events.
Scarlett sits alone in her bedroom, drinking brandy and feeling sick with guilt. She believes that she manipulated Frank into marrying her and then caused his death. Rhett arrives and proposes to Scarlett. Surprised, Scarlett refuses and tells Rhett that she does not love him. Rhett tells her to marry him for fun. He takes her in his arms and kisses her deeply. Feeling dizzy and faint, Scarlett accepts the proposal. Rhett says he must leave for a long trip but that they will be married when he returns. Atlanta is scandalized to hear about Scarlett’s engagement to Rhett, but Scarlett ignores the gossip, marries Rhett, and goes to New Orleans for a long honeymoon.