Melanie throws a surprise birthday party for Ashley, and Scarlett goes to the lumberyard to delay Ashley. Scarlett and Ashley talk wistfully about the old days before the war. Scarlett finally allows herself to look back on old memories and begins to understand that Ashley’s unhappiness stems from the loss of the Southern gentleman’s way of life. Her passion for Ashley feels dim now, replaced by a friendly, sympathetic love. Scarlett begins to cry and Ashley takes her in his arms to comfort her. Ashley stiffens, and Scarlett turns to see that Archie and India, Ashley’s sister, have been watching them.
Archie tells Rhett about the scene. Scarlett, knowing the story will spread, dreads facing the party. Rhett berates her, calls her a coward, and forces her to go to the party. Scarlett realizes that she cares about no one’s judgment but Melanie’s. When Scarlett enters the party, everyone falls silent and turns to stare. Melanie emerges from the crowd, takes Scarlett’s hand, and asks Scarlett to receive the guests with her.
That night Scarlett paces frantically in her room, unable to abandon the memory of Melanie’s fierce faithfulness to her. She slips downstairs to find some brandy and encounters Rhett, who is drunk and angry. He tells Scarlett that he loves her and that he would kill her if he thought it could take Ashley from her mind. Suddenly Rhett seizes her in his arms and carries her upstairs, tearing her clothes off and kissing her roughly. After a wild night, Scarlett wakes with new passion for Rhett. She is nervous and excited to see Rhett again, but he has left and does not return for several days. He returns and nonchalantly tells her he has been at Belle’s. They exchange harsh words, and Rhett tells Scarlett that he is taking Bonnie on a long trip.
Melanie continues to support Scarlett faithfully and openly breaks with India’s camp. All of Atlanta’s prominent families choose sides, and the feud splits the town in two, ending Ashley’s relationship with India and Melanie’s relationship with Aunt Pittypat, in whose house India lives. Scarlett reflects that both she and Ashley must now hide behind Melanie’s protective strength.
Rhett stays away for three months, and Scarlett misses him terribly. She discovers that she got pregnant the night before Rhett left and for once the news of pregnancy makes her happy. Rhett mocks Scarlett upon returning. She angrily tells him of her pregnancy and he replies, “Cheer up, maybe you’ll have a miscarriage.” Enraged, Scarlett swings at him. Rhett steps out of the way, and Scarlett falls down a long staircase. As a result of her fall, she loses the baby and nearly dies. Melanie stays by her side. Rhett, frantic with guilt, weeps and tells Melanie that he loves Scarlett and fears that he has killed her with his crazed jealousy.
A month later, Scarlett goes to Tara to recuperate. Rhett tells Melanie he wants Ashley to buy the mills from Scarlett. He will anonymously give Ashley the money to make the purchase, and Melanie must encourage Ashley to buy the mills. Hopeful that if Ashley owns the mills Beau might attend Harvard and Scarlett might worry less, Melanie reluctantly agrees. Ashley buys the mills, and the four have a little party to celebrate. But Scarlett denounces Ashley’s plan to fire Johnnie Gallegher and send away the convicts. Ashley replies that ill-gotten money cannot make anyone happy. Scarlett protests, but when Rhett asks her sardonically whether her money has made her happy, she falls silent.