Rhett devotes his time and attention to Bonnie and to the Democratic Party. He reveals that he and Ashley disbanded Georgia’s Ku Klux Klan by convincing its members that it was counterproductive. By October of 1871, the efforts of men like Rhett and Ashley bring back a Democratic majority in the state legislature, effectively ending Reconstruction.
Bonnie becomes increasingly spoiled, and Rhett does nothing to curb her desires. She likes to ride, so he buys her a little Shetland pony and teaches her to jump obstacles. One day Bonnie asks Rhett for a higher bar, and, against his better judgment, Rhett complies. Her eyes flashing like Gerald’s, Bonnie calls out to Scarlett to “watch me take this one!” Remembering her father uttering the same words before his death, Scarlett cries out to Bonnie to stop, but it is too late. The pony misses the jump, throwing Bonnie to her death. Rhett sequesters himself in his room with the dead child, refusing to bury her because of her fear of the dark. Scarlett accuses Rhett of murdering Bonnie, and Rhett responds that Scarlett never cared for Bonnie. Melanie hurries to Rhett’s side. She persuades him to let Bonnie’s funeral go forward and sits up all night with Bonnie’s body as Rhett sleeps.
Some weeks after the funeral, Scarlett grows afraid and lonely and wishes Rhett would comfort her, but he is constantly drunk, hostile, and bitter. His physical condition deteriorates and he spends much of his time at Belle Watling’s. Scarlett longs to tell him that she does not blame him for Bonnie’s death but she cannot approach him. She even longs for the company of her old friends, but she has alienated everyone except Melanie, Ashley, and Aunt Pittypat.
Scarlett is in Marietta, Georgia, when she receives an urgent telegram from Rhett saying that Melanie is dying. Scarlett rushes home, where she finds Melanie on her deathbed. Although Melanie was forbidden to have more children because of her frailty, she got pregnant and had a miscarriage, and the effort has doomed her. Suddenly realizing how much strength she has drawn from Melanie over the years, how much Melanie has done to protect her, and how much she has wronged Melanie, Scarlett feels a desperate sense of loss. At Melanie’s bedside, Scarlett promises to look after Ashley and Beau. She seeks Ashley to take comfort in his strength, but when she sees him broken and weak, she realizes that she must have loved a fantasy that she created, not the man before her.
Scarlett goes outside to clear her head, distraught by the loss of both Melanie and her fantastical love for Ashley. Walking through a thick mist, she realizes with terror that her surroundings exactly mirror those of her recurring nightmare in which she runs through a fog looking for something, not knowing what she hopes to find. She begins to run, and suddenly she realizes that she wants to find Rhett. Immediately she understands that she loves him and that he has loved her all along. No longer afraid and sad, she runs joyfully home to him.
My dear, I don’t give a damn.See Important Quotations Explained
When Scarlett confesses her feelings to Rhett, he tiredly tells her that his love for her has worn out and that he is going away. Unmoved by her passionate pleas, Rhett says he is going to search for a calm, dignified life like the one he and the South lost in the war. Scarlett asks what she will do if he leaves her, and he says their relationship cannot be fixed. He parts with the words, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” Scarlett collapses in misery and shock, but suddenly she decides she must go back to Tara. There, she thinks, Mammy will comfort her. Scarlett believes she will recuperate and grow strong again and find a way to win Rhett back, just like the spirited people in the Old South “who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face.” Scarlett feels comforted and stronger and refuses to think of her pain until tomorrow, falling back on her mantra, “tomorrow is another day.”