Note : This part is very visual, and I advise you to consult the site (references at the bottom of the page), where you can see the famous Pink House of the Battery from which I was inspired, especially so that you can imagine the choreography of the fourteen models.
In recounting that famous evening, I wanted to get into the mood, and I discovered some wonderful folk songs from before and during the Civil War. Each song quoted is an integral part of the story and thrilled me. I recommend reading, along with listening to the links on Youtube. Chapters 24 and 25 will also be filled with many songs, with the corresponding links.
I had to listen to Lorena dozens of times to try to convey in writing the emotion of Rhett, Scarlett and Duncan...
"La Mode Duncan", really the "Pink House, 26s Battery Charleston (source estately com - listings - 26 S South Battery )
Saturday, May 27, 1876, 7:15 p.m., Charleston, "La Mode Duncan" garden
"A double whiskey, please! »
Mrs. Butler made a face of apprehension.
"If he starts with a double whiskey..."
Rosemary's arguments were convincing enough that Rhett decided to please his mother and come to the reception.
He glanced around: lights flooding the garden and the mansion, the most beautiful finery worn by the ladies, gentlemen in distinguished poses, prestigious military costumes... No doubt, his neighbor had done things in style.
The women around the table greeted him with surprised and pleased looks. Charmingly, he paid his respects to Cathleen Vayton, her daughter, and kissed the hand of young Roselyne, who blushed with pleasure.
Mother and son looked at each other. She squinted her eyes in thanks for coming to join them.
"Rosemary is right. I have neglected them too much. Tonight I'm going to make an effort to forget what undermines me, and enjoy being among my own in my hometown. Asking the ladies to dance will be enough of a diversion. Unless the parade of mannequins excits me! "he scoffed himself.
He noted the four empty seats. A bit odd for the hosts' table! In front of him stood the master of the festivities, turning his back to their table, his eyes riveted to the illuminated piazza.
"Que la fête commence ! "(Let the show begin!) decreed an energized Rhett in French.
From the side of the stage, speaking through a metalic sound enhancer, a member of the orchestra announced: "It's 7:14. The fashion show of the prestigious Charleston fashion house is about to begin. I wish you all a great evening! »
Immediately, the bustle of scattered discussions died down, followed by a disciplined silence. All eyes turned to the magnificent Charlestonian mansion, even more impressive under the lights. (*)
The first instrumental measures of the famous "Carolina" (*1), interpreted by the pianist, the violinist, and the mandolin player rose solemnly.
Duncan felt excitement wash over him. "Finally!"
Installed in the front row, the Vaytons' table, like all the other guests, was watching for the slightest movement that would come out of the vast exhibition room on the first floor.
At the first notes of "Carolina", two silhouettes in blue and white tones were visible at the back of the room, then they split up, one coming out of the arch of the right french window, the other one from the left.
In synchronization, they took counted steps on the loggia encircling the immense room, and disappeared each one by the arch leading to the second French window, like evanescent beauties, to then cross each other inside and emerge each one by the next opposite door.
This ballet was repeated identically with the third french window, except that they appeared together at the end through the balcony door facing the garden and the guests.
As they descended the last step, the singer of the orchestra, who had been entrusted with the function of master of ceremonies during the défilé, announced :
"La Mode Duncan" is proud to honor our beloved Old South states, and in particular its flora and fauna, through its creations tonight. These first two pieces represent the flag of our beloved South Carolina!“
The applause was unanimous.
The two young women turned elegantly on themselves and went down the stairs.
Together they walked slowly down the wide, parqueted center aisle, their footsteps muffled by the carpets, to cover the distance between them and the last tables, before heading back the other way.
This clever choreography ensured that everyone at the party didn't miss any of the details of the Duncan Fashion Collection.
Comments were whispered between neighbors sitting nearby, so as not to break the magic of the moment, and disturb the score of the South Carolina Confederate anthem.
The ladies admired the originality of the outfits, the men preferred to appreciate the curves of the mannequins, or to imagine their wives or mistresses in such attire.
Indigo blue, dear to the South Soft plantation, was the dominant coloring of these two dresses, as it would be for the twelve models. The fabric chosen by the great couturier was damask, a fabric whose silk weave, a mode of interweaving warp and weft threads, resulted in a contrast of brilliance between the background and the woven design. What a remarkable achievement the Vayton & Harvey mill had made, worthy of the Lyon silks in France!
The military officers were the first to be won over by the patriotic motif of these two creations, which was recognized by all spectators. It was a palm tree under a crescent moon, symbols of the Southern state flag, which had been inlaid in white on the matte face of the satin. An ivory-colored overskirt, dotted with small palm leaves in folded and sewn organza, was draped so that it came up the middle to the top of the knees, while the fullness of the fabric fell back to mid-calf. The bustier, buttoned at the front with gold metallic thread beads, was the same ivory tone in lustrous satin. Its „sister outfit“ had a different color combination, blue and golden yellow.
Fine leather and silk ballerinas echoed the colors of the ensemble, with the central theme of the palm tree embroidered on the front.
Around their waist, a silk velvet belt, cut in the manner of an inverted "V", stood out by its emerald color, embroidered with delicate palm leaves in golden metallic thread.
The two young women carried carelessly on the shoulder a stole, pricked of small feathers of birds to the white dominants strewn with a cameo of blue downs, which they had passed under their forearms gloved with fine lace of Calais.
The hat put the final touch to the toilet by taking the same fabric as the main skirt, transformed into ribbons with complex folds. Those gripped two curled blue jay feathers. The seams extended by a border of palm leaves were in gold and silver thread.
The return of the first two young women to the front of the stage was greeted by ovations, which went up pleasantly to the delighted ears of the great couturier.
The timing was perfect between the end of the music played and the first notes of a familiar tune, the disappearance of the two mannequins towards the main entrance of the building and the simultaneous appearance of silhouettes in the illuminated lounge.
The privileged participants in this high-class show let out a few cries of surprise as they discovered the shadows whose shapes became more precise as the ballet took place. This time, there were four of them, each one entering through an archway, crossing each other inside and emerging on the other side, to finally turn with majesty all around the loggia.
The inventor of ballet was delighted with the visual result. What a great idea to have chosen this Italianate house as the home of "La Mode Duncan"! It was built for southern belles to parade around in, Duncan convinced himself.
The group descended the steps, two by two, and curtsied.
The master of ceremonies announced: "The great designer Duncan Vayton brings to life, through these four sets, the Mississippi Magnolia, the South Carolina Yellow jessamine, the Alabama Camellia and the Georgia Cherokee Rose. (**)
His intervention was rewarded with a round of applause.
The four models walked down the main aisle.
So that no sophisticated ornament would escape the intrusive eye of fashion lovers, the mannequins stopped every eighty inches, turning in a double towards the seated people, then, in a light round, changed sides, before resuming their cadenced walk.
John and Petyr had thus all leisure to detail the anatomy of the beautiful New Yorkers, the curve of the hips or the chest magnified by the bustier. Rebecca preferred to compare the four models with those who had preceded them.
Accustomed to wearing the richest fabrics, she immediately recognized the distinctive silk brocade richly woven with embroidered flowers in relief, whose contours had been embroidered with metallic gold thread. The ivory background further highlighted the pattern of the pale pink camellia flora, or the delicacy of the white Georgia rose.
It was the turn of the draped overskirt and bustier to be colored in indigo blue. Remarkable work of the seamstresses of "La Mode Duncan" who had succeeded to perfection in reproducing, by fine embroidery decorated with pearls, the flowers similar to the skirt. Shoes, hats and emerald belt adopted the same embroidery pattern.
"An exceptional work of finesse! " Rebecca puffed out her chest with pride at having such a flamboyant artist as her lover. »
The four mannequins returned to the main entrance of the building, another tune was played by the orchestra, and three new girls resumed their choreography outside the first floor loggia.
At this precise moment, one heard "Oh!" of surprise: the second floor was in its turn invaded by a farandole of six silhouettes turning around the piazza, marking a time of stop under the arch of the balcony, so that all the spectators could rejoice in this enchantment of colors.
The Louisiana Iris, the Florida Orange Blossom, and the Texas Bluebonnet were paraded down the main aisle.
Then it was the turn of three more young women, this time transformed into symbols of American wildlife.
When the speaker announced the South Carolina Wren, followed by the Georgia Brown Thrasher and the McCown Longspur, in honor of a Southern general, people were eager to see the embroidered plumage of these symbolic birds.
The audience felt transported back in time to a world of sweetness, where the senses were satiated. The richness of the fabrics and the exclusivity of the artistic creation, combined with the dancers on both floors who continued to crisscross gracefully, in cadence with the music of the orchestra, all contributed to the guests present feeling privileged to experience a historic festive moment for the city of Charleston.
At the Vayton table, the women were enthusiastic. "How proud I am of my brother! "Melina exclaimed. Her mother said nothing, but her features softened. "Aymeric would have been pleased with the work his heir has done. »
The three youngest women were chatting among themselves, comparing toilets. Rosemary had preferred the simplicity of the wrench, while Roselyne raved about the flamboyance of the South Carolina jessamine.
Rhett appreciated his mother serene look. "It is true that Vayton has succeeded in his trick. Charleston's charm and grace are on full display tonight. »
This reflection that came from afar, got stuck in the deepest part of him, without him being aware of it. A definitive sentence pronounced in Atlanta, a bitter taste in his mouth...
He was thirsty! Damn, he was thirsty! How much longer was this dress debauchery going to last? He was getting impatient. Looking at the pretty girls in their beautiful finery had amused him for a few minutes, but he had quickly grown bored. He could hardly wait for the sommelier to show up at their table, and for the ball to begin, so that he could fulfill his duty as a good son by dancing with his mother. Then, he would return to his den where nothing could reach him anymore.
He chose to question Melina. As the designer's sister, she should know the answer.
"Do you know how many other dresses are to be presented? »
Melina was attracted to Rhett. Not sentimentally, but because she found this character amazing, whimsical, secret, adventurous. In short, everything that would make many young girls like her dream. She was happy to answer :
"My brother told me about fifteen models. So we should see the last three young ladies appear in a few moments. »
Indeed, the trio of Birds had just reached the main building. There was an unusual break in the frantic pace that had been established since the beginning of the evening. The silhouettes on the floor had frozen.
Melina commented, "This is the grand finale. My brother must be on hot coals! »
Throughout the performance, Duncan had been attentive to the slightest movement of the Iron Palace models, not caring about their bodies but about the fall of the fabric, and the success of the cut made by his "little hands“. He was proud of them tonight, and of Blanche. What would he have done without her to organize this show, in addition to having perfectly directed his seamstresses? And this was only the beginning...
"Soon, soon, I'll have my reward... Just a few more minutes, and I'll be able to admire it, just like I've been dreaming about for months! »
He had warned Blanche. He did not want to see his masterpiece worn by Madame O'Hara before the show. It was his pleasure, his fantasy, to make the surprise of admiring his muse in the light sheath he had imagined for her, last as long as possible. Just the thought of it made his heart race. He laughed at himself. "I might have a heart attack soon under these conditions! »
"Mother, is it our turn soon? We've been waiting a long time. The dresses are beautiful from here, but I can't wait to show mine. »
Scarlett let out a small, discreet laugh, answering her daughter's restrained impatience. From where she and her two children were seated, at the back of the huge room on the first floor, they had a bird's eye view of the models performing their choreography, inside and around the balcony of the loggia. As she and Wade stood, they could see the models parading along the tables in the lighted garden. Ella had watched them, standing on a chair.
Scarlett didn't regret not being in the audience. "He saved Ella and me for last. For me to wear the chef d’oeuvre of the 'La Mode Duncan' collection, as the Frenchwoman says. I would find that perfectly romantic.... If dear Duncan had been honest from the start. »
Wade stood, looking calm. But an underlying anxiety nagged at him more and more. He was afraid that his little sister would be impressed by the crowd, that she would panic, that she would not dare to take another step. He looked at his mother. So beautiful.... She would protect her, as she had always done.
"Blanche has just warned us. The two ladies in the green dresses are going to march down to the garden first, and then they'll come to get you. Don't worry, I'm here, and I'll be with you very soon. »
Then, addressing her son: "Wade, Blanche explained to you what you should do, didn't she? I'm counting on you! "As a sign of encouragement, she lightly stroked his sleeve.
Invested with his mother's trust, the boy replied, "Do not wory. I will watch over my sister."
Scarlett, decidedly won over by unusual maternal impulses, allowed herself a caress in her daughter's hair. Ella Lorena Kennedy transformed into the evening fairy in the most uptight twon in the South!
"As for me... I'd rather not imagine what will happen when the ex Mrs. Butler is recognized! Courage ! I've faced Sherman's army. I imagine I'll be able to face the hostile gaze of any Charlestonian tonight. »
The minute's pause that followed the discovery of the twelve Haute Couture outfits allowed the assembly to discuss more freely with their table neighbors. The conclusion of the fashion show was already drawn: a complete success, the event of the year in Charleston, or even of the decade, according to some commentators who were a little too excessive.
The night was beginning to flood the street of the Battery. It did not matter. The profusion of hanging torches and table lamps lit up the garden as if in broad daylight. The two floors of "La Mode Duncan" were as brightly lit as the flames of a fireplace. The sconces hanging around the outside railings gave the arches extra dimension, and turned the female figures into mysterious will-o’-the-wisps.
Suddenly, the first notes of the piano were heard. „Shushes" were whispered on both sides of the garden.
The famous Aura Lea (*2) rose in the night, adding to the magic of the moment.
At the same time, the perimeter of the two loggias was invaded by a swarm of young girls. Six models on the second floor, the other six on the ground floor, had just resumed their choreography of disappearances, crossings, farandoles inside, and reappearances, to the languorous rhythm of one of the most famous sentimental ballads of the wartime.
Then, on the balcony facing the garden, two elegant women appeared who were astonished by the predominantly green tones of their dresses.
In a solemn tone, the Master of Ceremonies announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, The Peach and its Flower, The Atlanta Peach Tree! »
From the four corners of the tables, unanimous applause answered him. Except for one person.
Her heart leapt: "peachtree, Atlanta". Peachtree Street, his house, Scarlett, the kids, his family.
His discomfort must have been evident on his face, because Roselyne's hand came to rest on his, "Are you feeling ill, Rhett?"
He mimed his usual nonchalant smile. But it did not reach his eyes. "A little temporary trouble. Everything is fine, my dear Roselyne. I'm touched that you're worried about me. It's doing me too much honor. »
These caressing words had the expected effect: Roselyne blushed, her hand trembled, she withdrew it and put it wisely on the table.
The thirteenth and fourteenth mannequins had also just walked down the center aisle carpet.
The ladies of Charleston scrutinized the garment tribute to the Georgian city. The silk velvet skirts were in the famous Charleston dark green. One was embroidered with peach blossoms with delicate pink petals, accented with gold thread around the edges. The other featured fleshy peaches with variegated skin in red, pink and light green, all accented with silver thread. The bustier, like the draped and pulled-up overskirt, was made of pale green taffeta, decorated with the same peaches and flowers, in tiny metallic thread embroidery. Green parakeet down dotted the stole with white feathers. The same emerald silk belt was the accessory, with the metallic thread embroideries, giving cohesion to the fourteen models.
When the Atlanta Peaches were near the stairs again, they paused and turned toward the steps.
The twelve silhouettes had frozen outside the two loggias.
The piano solo was immediately accompanied by the soft sounds of the violin and the cheerful notes of the banjo, giving Aura Lea a light touch. (*3)
The spectators held their breath, waiting for the final bouquet.
Duncan stomped around, no longer hiding his impatience.
Melina, like many of the ladies present, was excited to discover the fifteenth model, Duncan Vayton's masterpiece.
"What a wonderful set up to make the surprise complete! " Turning to the only male opinion within reach, she asked, "Don't you think so, Rhett?"
This one nodded while forcing his enthusiasm. He decided to indulge the mood of his young and friendly neighbor, and turned, too, towards the stairs.
It was not one person, but two, who walked through the door.
"Oh!" Cries of exclamation could be heard all the way to the back of the garden, "Oh!" The stunt had been successful. Two children had come to rest at the top of the steps.
A handsome teenager, elegantly dressed as a true Southern gentleman, held the hand of a little girl.
Under the effect of the many lighted torches, the child glittered with a thousand fires produced by a rain of silver stars poured on the soft and glossy green fabric of the dress. Her long red hair seemed about to catch fire, so much the strong luminosity intensified the coppery reflections of her curls intermingled with the fine silver braids. The magical effect was crowned by the gold threads embroidered on the belt, the hem and the seams of the blouse.
Her white stacherd petticoat exceeded the skirt. She was clutching in one arm a porcelain doll, with the same red hair and green starry dress. This detail added to the enchanting spirit of this apparition, out of a fairy tale for children.
Men and women were won over by the sweetness of the picture.
Cathleen was moved. She had dreamed so much about having offspring for Duncan and Melina, and her heart melted at the sight of her two well-behaved children.
The second they walked through the door, Rhett's heart raced. His hand gripped the back of the chair, threatening to break the wood.
"This is another one of my hallucinations. My mind has been so fogged up with alcohol for months that the mere mention of "peachtree" made me think of them. They are just two children who look like them because she has red hair and he is taller. Besides, how could I recognize them. It's been more than two and a half years since I've seen them. How old was Ella when I left? Six and a half? And Wade almost ten? The boy in front of me almost looks like a young man now. So tall... and looking more and more like Charles Hamilton. I don't get it. I'm going crazy! »
He let out a groan and held his head in his hands.
Around him, the women were surprised by his sudden distress. Mrs. Butler looked more closely at the two children facing them. "Why the reaction? Would it be? No! Why would Scarlett's children be in Charleston, being part of our neighbor's fashion show ? »
Then her son raised his head and watched her. It was a child's look for help to his mother, before he went mad. She didn't know what to say. Simply: "Rhett! "in a tone that was meant to be as soothing as possible.
He looked at her in panic. "A frightened animal waiting for the hallalay! "She recognized sadly. Then he fixed again his glance on the two children.
Cathleen allowed herself to quietly question her neighbor. "Is your son not feeling well? »
Wearily, Eleonor admitted: "No, these two little ones remind him, weirdly, of his two stepchildren, the children of his ex-wife. »
"Ah, I feel sorry for him. Your son has suffered so much with the loss of your little girl, you told me. It is normal for the sight of a child to move him. »
But Cathleen thought, deep down, that Captain Butler was really fragile to have his mood altered by the mere sight of a random infant.
Rhett told himself that it was all a dream. But deep down, he knew. He had been there a few months after Wade was born. He had dreamed that the child Scarlett was carrying was his, instead of Frank's. He had held them in his arms, comforted them. And, during his marriage to Scarlett, he had felt like he was treating them as his own. Well... not really, not like his Bonnie. What did it all mean? Could it be because of the Robillard aunts? Maybe they were on vacation at their house, and Vayton had stumbled upon them and then introduced them to his fashion exhibition ? »
All these long speculations were issued in a flash. He witnessed the moment when Wade - Wade? Really? - holding his sister firmly by the hand, helped her down the stairs. At the bottom of them, he saw the boy lift his hat to greet her. He bent down and kissed her hand, as if to a Lady of Atlanta.
Rhett caught Ella's stunned look, and she almost burst out laughing to see her brother so chivalrous with her.
After greeting her like a gentleman, he walked away in the direction of Vayton, replaced immediately by the Peachtree models from Atlanta.
"It's so obvious! Of course they are my stepchildren! »
The thirteenth and fourteenth models framed the little girl and held her hand. The speaker solemnly announced:
"It is my pleasure to introduce The Princess of Atlanta! ».
We heard "Bravo! Bravo! "from all sides. They communicated from table to table, congratulating their host for having graced them with such a charming surprise.
Cathleen and the women who accompanied her applauded loudly.
One hand still clutching the back of the chair, as if afraid of collapsing, the other closed in a tight spot,
Rhett's eyes had grown misty. "How pretty you are, my little girl! Scarlett would be so proud to see you dazzle all of Charleston! »
His heart sank at the sight of Wade, the ever-loving Wade, now standing beside his neighbor.
It was at this point that Ella's two companions let go of her hand to disappear discreetly through the main entrance of the building.
Frank Kennedy's shy daughter stood alone in front of the crowd watching her. "Mother told me to be brave. I have to honor her. All these people are smiling at me, and they applauded me. Does that mean they think I'm pretty?" She blushed with pleasure at this dream-like possibility. "Mother assured me that the wait would only last a minute. »
She turned to her left, and met the eyes of her mother's friend who had sewn her princess dress. He was smiling gently at her. "Don't be afraid," she reassured herself. "He's protecting you too. »
Everybody was surprised to see this little girl waiting. "For what? For whom? Another model? There were only supposed to be fifteen of them. "The party attendees were wondering who was going to appear from the balcony again.
The notes of Aura Lea fade into one of the most famous love songs popular during the war, Lorena (*4)
The haunting sound of the violin gave goose bumps to more than one lady present, announcing the story of an impeded love and two broken hearts.
Rhett never took his eyes off Ella. He was at one with her. He waited, caught in a vortex where all thought was frozen. Only his body was reacting, his muscles tense and waiting for a release.
First a rustle of fabric. The slamming of high heels pumps on the floor of the piazza. His hearing perceived the onomatopoeias - "Oh!", "Ah!", "Whoa! ", of surprise and wonder, thrown across the garden.
He stubbornly stared for a few moments at the end of the shoes protruding from a golden skirt. His heart beat so quickly that he had the sensation that, if he raised the head a little more, he was going to stop breathing, frozen by the disappointment.
Because, even if he lacked the courage to raise his gaze on the one who was advancing, his body had detected her. All his nerve endings were leading to connect with her, by a familiar recognition. He pushed even more the nails in his palms, so that the pain of his bruised skin makes him return to the reason, or rather so that it continues to make live this mad hope, that it is her.
The waltz of torches, lanterns and table lamps transformed the flaming wicks into incandescent luminosity that enveloped, like a spectrum, the contours of the figure. Each strand of metallic thread, embroidered on the luxurious silk, captured the slightest evanescent light, only to release it in a burst of sparks of gold, silver and precious stones. For Rhett's dark iris, drowned by emotion, only transmitted to his brain multicolored sparks blurring his vision.
The eye went up on the hips with curves magnified by the silk corolla, and stopped on the waist shapely by the creamy bustier. This so fine waist that he had coveted to encircle her between his arms, since a famous barbecue of 1861, in the hope to be able to retain it forever prisoner.
Lightnings of emerald, with the sharp angles, threatened to strike the one who would dare to embrace this waist, at the precise place where a voluptuous bulge announced the birth of the breast.
Rhett's throat was dry. Water might have been enough to keep him hydrated, but he wouldn't - couldn't - risk taking his eyes off those hypnotic curves for a moment to pour himself a drink.
The figure was moving slowly. Not the divine ancient priestess Karomama, more than two thousand years old, who, in his hallucinations, had managed to mutate into an ersatz wife, but the real Scarlett, made of flesh and blood, whose hips swayed sensually in his direction. Or at least he tried madly to convince himself that her body had recognized him, and was coming to join him so that they could be united.
His breathing became breathless - he didn't care if anyone could hear it around him. His hearing could only perceive the frantic bubbling of the blood that flowed through his veins until it sporadically hit his temples.
The roundness of her breasts. He ran his tongue over his lips to try to moisten them. When was the last time? Yes! Of course, how could he hide from his memory the last night when he had dared to imprison them in his hands, to make the nipple reddened by the desire twitch, until the moment of ecstasy when his mouth had enjoyed it.
The generous indentation of the bodice revealed the pearly complexion of her skin. Long black curls married its forms.
Her hair was spread out, without the restriction of a bun.
His blood ran cold. "How dare he? »
Like a flash, he identified the source of his anger, his neighbor. "Vayton! That bastard! "He did not understand - was not able to analyze - why Scarlett was in this damned fashion show tonight. One certainty was obvious for the moment: "He was the one who had the impudence to make her put on this too low-cut outfit, and let her hair down without restraint, while she only allowed herself to do so in the privacy of the bedroom. »
Her hair... Only he had the right to free it from its constraint. He alone had the right to admire the cascade of her long locks, dark as ebony, streaming on her naked shoulders. He alone was in right to make them drown in the intimate fold separating the two globes of her breasts.
But this hairstyle, revealed in full view of all the males present this evening, made him drunk with jealousy. "This bastard exposed it to the eyes of all, while I alone..."
"No, I don't have any rights anymore. I am the one who divorced", he had to admit bitterly.
Nightmarish images passed by. Vayton removing the pins from her hair, stretching without restraint her silky locks on her body, caressing them, smelling them, kissing them...
"No!" A cry of rebellion burst from deep within his gut.
Rhett's digressions had lasted only a minute, barely enough for Scarlett to start taking a few steps out onto the balcony.
He didn't even realize that he had gotten up from the table at the first sound of footsteps.
Cathleen, Melina and Roselyne looked at him, dumbfounded. "What's wrong with him? Why is he showing off in front of all of us? "Duncan's mother couldn't believe her eyes. She leaned discreetly toward her neighbor.
Eleonor and Rosemary were devastated. Now, this Scarlett was back in their lives, in Charleston, among their friends, showing off as a model! Would she ever stop besmirching Rhett's name?
"I hope you won't mind my saying that, my dear Eleonor. But your son seems to have seen a ghost! »
Her neighbor nodded sadly. "That's exactly it. The woman standing before us is his ex-wife. »
The three Charleston women were stunned. Duncan Vayton's mother expressed incomprehension. "But...Scarlett O'Hara is in business with my son. I had her in our home less than three months ago. I would never have thought... Between us, I can confess to being very surprised that my son chose her to represent his creation, when he barely knows her. Who are the adorable little girl and boy? »
Eleonor replied laconically, "They are Scarlett's children. »
Roselyne did not miss a word of the conversation.
Mrs. Vayton still had not solved a mystery: "Mrs. O'Hara did not tell us in any way that the house next door to ours was her ex-mother-in-law's. »
Eleonor looked embarrassed. "I honestly don't think she had any idea. I never had her in my house. »
Both Vayton women almost fell out of their chairs. Neither of them dared to question Mrs. Butler further, but it seemed strange that Rhett's wife had never been invited by her mother-in-law.
"Again he, to stand out and create a scandal! "remarked one of the guests gathered in the garden. "Only one is standing - besides the host - and that's Rhett Butler! "I'm not surprised. It is common knowledge that he is drunk every night. This is another of his drunken displays! " remarked another gentleman in the audience, who tutted the fact that if he was in a position to divulge this information, it was because he was an assiduous frequenter of the Gentlemen's Club, and in particular the second floor of the Haven.
Among the good ladies in the audience, Eulalie and Pauline Robillard were upset. Everything had started so well! They knew that being Savannah natives would not have allowed them to be among the privileged few invited by the prestigious Vayton family. And then Scarlett's ex-husband showed up again! Of course, with the help of their niece, the scandal would once again taint the Robillard family.
Rhett's exclamation of revolt made Wade turn around. Seeing his former stepfather standing there staring at his mother, he thought sadly that his presence among them would surely spoil the fairy tale atmosphere.
From the first note of Lorena, Duncan had been deaf to any sound other than the music dedicated to Scarlett, blind to any image other than that of the young woman's radiant beauty.
The object of his fantasies for a hundred days was standing upright, her step masterfully synchronized to the rhythm of the violin, her haughty bearing equal to a queen, his queen, he had decreed.
The intricate juxtapositions of enameled sequins, colored glass beads and metallic threads, interwoven into the sophisticated drapery and folds, had succeeded in creating the desired effect.
Under the prism of the light, the dress had become incandescent. The fire began to enter the shining ribbons slipped between the flounces of the skirt, went up, then dispersed in hundreds of emerald and silver nuggets thrown on the corolla. It finally took back forces by being magnified by the emerald flashes of the bustier.
The lightning had struck the shoulder pads and the arm contour frame, igniting the spiky embers of the golden and silver filaments.
The tulle of diaphanous organza, thrown in the back, tried to calm the fire which smoldered under this dress passion. It was a lost battle, because a myriad of burning sequins transformed into jewels the emerald eyes of Scarlett.
This unique artistic composition ended with the iridescent parade of a metallic blue and green peacock feather, lying on a delicate and long silver brooch attached to the top of the hair cascade.
"Undeniably the most beautiful masterpiece I would have accomplished in my life as a Haute Couture designer! But how could it have been otherwise with such a muse for inspiration? »
The designer's gaze wandered for a moment to admire his entire collection: the fourteen models had gathered on the first floor balcony, unfurling a fan of white dove feathers and down. With delicate movements, they undulated in waves to the rhythm of the music. "Beautiful work! "he congratulated himself.
He would dedicate this same compliment to Blanche Bonsart tomorrow. She had joined the crowd in the garden, but had remained in the front row to complete her check as Director of the prestigious Couture House. The woman from Lille was radiating with pride. "Well deserved! "concluded her employer.
He didn't waste another second to revel in the appearance of the one who had upset the rhythm of his heartbeat at first sight.
From the piazza, Scarlett looked around for Duncan, and found him standing next to her son. With her dimples out, she responded to the talented designer's devastating smile.
She glared at the stunned audience. "Charleston, here I am, stronger than ever! Let's see what your reaction will be when you realize that your darling child is being honored by the presence of the one you've been raving about, the scandalous divorcée of your native Rhett Butler! "Fortunately, her smirk directed at the ladies and gentlemen of good society could not be guessed by them at this distance.
She grabbed the edge of her train to hang from the discreet ring sewn for it, inducing an elegant drape, and prepared to "step into the arena" safely.
A resounding shout broke the reverent silence of the guests who were waiting for the next part of the show. Scarlett instinctively turned her head toward the spot from which an intelligible "No!" had just emerged.
That's when she saw him, only a few meters away from her. Standing there. Pale. Frozen like a statue. His black gaze sealed to her.
She felt as if the blood was leaving her face. She clenched her teeth, afraid that the tingling of contradictory emotions that assailed her would cross her lips in a stream of incoherent sentences.
"What are you doing here? Are you going to spoil everything again, the moment I raise my head? Are you afraid that I will disturb the charm and grace of your well-meaning society tonight? You can't hurt me anymore, Rhett Butler, even though your insults to force me into a divorce have burnt me! »
The raised chin signalling the beginning of the hostilities, her irises threw lightnings to him, of a green more intense than those which ignited her bustier.
But he didn't move. No ironic sneer, no raising of the eyebrows to announce a mocking remark. Only eyes riveted to her.
The tremor that ran through her made her fear to collapse there, in front of the crowd. She had the impression that his rapacious look was able to see her breasts rise anarchically under the irregular beating of her heart.
"Saperlipopette ! How did he keep the same power to impress me just by his presence alone? »
Insensitive to the proximity of the hundred or so people who had their attention riveted on the two of them, she, the leading model of the fashion show, he, anachronistically standing and immobile, the couple started an impudent fight, with their looks as only weapons.
There was no way to escape. The first one to look down would be defeated.
Duncan, who'd caught the slightest flutter of Scarlett's eye since she appeared on the loggia, immediately noted her change in mood. Intrigued, he followed the point to which she was directing her attention.
"Rhett Butler! "He flinched. Contrary to what Eleonor had said, her son had finally come to accept his "invitation. God knows Duncan hadn't encouraged his mother to send him a card. But she had unknowingly reassured him from the start that the Butlers' eldest son wouldn't be coming, no matter how much his mother had begged him to.
He was the helpless witness of their reunion. Worse! He was the instigator by having played with fire, by accepting to invite his neighbors, by assuming that his luck would continue to protect him.
And now they were face to face. Duncan felt rejected by what was happening in front of him. A tragedy? A charade? A settlement of scores? Anything but a love match, because he couldn't handle the idea of that.
"I need to calm down, trust Scarlett. He hurt her. She won't let him back into her life. Scarlett is mine now. It has to! "His manicured nails dug into his palm, but the physical pain he felt could not compete with the pain that overwhelmed him at seeing the two ex-spouses hypnotized by each other.
In the middle of the crowd, they were alone in the world. Their dilated pupils engaged in a waltz where Rhett's dark irises went from right to left, following the slightest flicker of Scarlett's green eyes, which were trying to escape, only to turn back, and finally come to stick to those of his opponent.
Words were useless, as their story was theirs. It was enough for them to look at each other to understand - or to think they understood - what the other was thinking at that moment. A game of repulsion, attraction, love and hate began.
Scarlett's rage, her anger thrown violently in Rhett's face; his shame; his revealed regrets; the resentment of having been humiliated, put lower than the ground during their fatal conversation of November 1873; the years of humiliation of the castrated male who was denied conjugal duty; the jealousy of the woman cheated in the sight and sound of all Atlanta; the slow poison injected into Rhett's veins during twelve years - and even more! - spying on the slightest soft modulation of Scarlett's voice, the imperceptible flutter of an eyelash masking her trouble, a sudden flush coloring her upper chest externalizing a sensual impulse, all these passionate signs addressed to someone other than himself, to Wilkes.
Scarlett could no longer bear that accusing, suffering look. She wanted to get away from it but, with a power that only Rhett Butler could show, he captured her eyes again to tell her another story.
Their eyes clouded over with memories of their little girl's shared love; the turmoil of Rhett's tumultuous kisses; Scarlett's dimples; her husband's comforting arms as she emerged from a nightmare; his wife's soft, soft skin, her discovery of pleasure, their tender words whispered during their last night.
The features of the young woman softened, answering the shy smile of her ex-husband, as an invitation to resume their joyful complicity of former days.
Scarlett's heart was beating frantically, madly disturbed. She had hoped, she had believed, she had convinced herself, that her love for her husband, revealed late in life, had faded so quickly after his cruel attitude. "Could it be that everything is not over?"
Her eyes left those of her former love for a moment, disturbed by a movement beside him. A young and pretty blonde, stuck to Rhett's chair, put her hand on his sleeve in a possessive way, as if to attract him and make him sit down.
"The high society young woman Rhett wants to marry..."
Disgusted, the cheated ex-wife raised her chin, gave him a last icy look, and disdainfully turned away from this man who now belonged to her past.
Shocked by this rejection that stabbed him in the heart, Rhett collapsed in his chair.
The two former spouses could have felt as if their visual communication had lasted an eternity, so intense had it cut them off from the surrounding world.
In fact, Scarlett had only been standing at the top of the stairs for two minutes. Two long minutes during which the orchestra continued to play the romantic air of "Lorena". Two minutes a little longer than that was necessary for the fifteenth dress to be formally exposed to the eyes of the admirers; enough for the game they had just witnessed to elicit half-hearted comments from some who thought they "knew".
"Butler staring at this woman. Doesn't she fit the description of his wife? " The gentleman at the next table responded to this speculation. "She's his ex-wife. They are divorced. Do you realize that? One of the oldest families in the South soiled by divorce? " Another replied, "It's been a long time since either of them sank into scandal. »
And then the voices died out. The beauty wearing the prestigious designer's masterpiece had just descended the last step.
Immediately, according to the precise instructions given beforehand to the orchestra, the piano and the banjo accompanied the violin (*5). The music made the young girls in love and the ladies who were crying for the loss of their beloved shiver.
The foot on the ground, Scarlett clutched firmly the hand of Ella who had waited quite patiently, unconscious of the tension to which her mother had just faced, so much she was fascinated by her magic dress. A real complicity passed between the mother and the daughter. A common pride, the conscience to live a unique shared moment which they would remember all their life.
As soon as this picture of filial love was painted, the turmoil felt a few minutes before, and the slander that had followed, were forgotten. Frenzied applause broke out across the garden, the fourteen models did the same on the balcony, and the soldiers ceremoniously pulled their hats in admiration.
Scarlett didn't even have to look for Duncan. He was already at her side.
The master of ceremonies made his final announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the infinite honor of presenting to you the Prince of Fashion's work of art, entitled "The Thunderbolt of Georgia".
The cheering started again.
Scarlett gripped Ella's hand tighter. This was the moment she had been dreading since the beginning of the show: the moment when she and Ella would walk down the main aisle and be watched by those Charlestonians who would undoubtedly be hostile to her.
She had a fit of panic, which Duncan saw immediately. Without a word, he bent down to kiss her hand. The blue of his eyes had practically disappeared, eaten away by his pupils dilated by the turmoil that had made him shudder with jealousy a few minutes ago, and by the emotion that embraced him, so proud was he to have brilliantly completed his exhibition alongside the dazzling Scarlett O'Hara.
Gently, he put his arm around her, and looked at Ella: "Are you ready, Princess? »
The little girl murmured a small "Yes" as she returned his smile.
Duncan said to Scarlett, glitter in his eyes, "Let's go make thunder sound around us! »
He pulled her a little closer to him, and led them both down the aisle.
Ella was beaming, holding her doll to her heart, and clutching her mother with the other hand. She glanced at Wade who was proud as peacock to see them both in the spotlight.
Scarlett was amused by this incongruous situation: "What a great comeback in this snobbish city! »
The ones seated in front, who had the privilege to admire, before the others, the details of the hallucinating toilet of Scarlett, were stunned by the similarity of the outfits of the master of the place and the lady on his side.
Look!" was heard. Duncan Vayton's vest is the same emerald color as the young woman's lightning bolts. "Another lady commented, "You're right: Such attention to detail on his lavaliere, the same embroidered lightning bolt. And our famous Charleston green proudly displayed on them both. "She concluded, "What a wonderfully matched couple! They are young, they are beautiful! »
This praise was amply heard by the members of the head table.
Melina had stars in her eyes. "I am so proud of my brother. Mrs. O'Hara looks like she's out of a fairy tale. She's glowing like crazy! »
Cathleen looked at her, and nodded silently. "How can she not feel the tension that has fallen upon us? »
Eleanor and Rosemary were silent, scandalized by the fact that this woman they hated was being showcased among "their own people" in their beloved city. And they were fully aware of the thunderbolt that had just struck Rhett.
He was trying to control the tremors that had come over him the second he saw her, and which increased in intensity when Duncan grabbed Scarlett's arm. And now Ella was with them. As a family...
"He had the vulgarity to make their outfits match. Like a couple. »
He had only one desire, to leave the table and run away. But he could feel his mother's worried gaze upon him. If he did so, she would see his departure as an affront by the Butlers to the Vaytons. And he would once again be the initiator of a scandal.
Not daring any more to direct his sight on Scarlett, for fear of cracking of emotion, he threw a black eye on the man who tightened so much her arm around his that their hips were obliged to brush themselves.
Since the first time he had seen Scarlett, Rhett had never been confronted with a formal rivalry with other men. Sure, there was Wilkes, but it was all unspoken. Thanks to Miss Melly, this coward had been forced to hide his obscene impulses in public. The other men, the many admirers who had surrounded Scarlett, before and after their marriage, did not count for her. They had had right only to crumbs of her minauderies, for better practising to make her claws on "her Ashley". Even if her airs of coquette secretly put Rhett in rage, he knew that he had nothing to fear from all these vulgar males.
But, for the first time, Scarlett was openly displayed on the arm of another man.
The worst part is that she had the right to do so. She was divorced...
And what a man! Rosemary had been harping on him with their neighbor. "So handsome, so young, so smart, so talented, so rich, horribly rich, among the ten richest in America, so generous, so respected by all, so..., so..."
Rhett had to restrain himself. Either he would smash everything in front of him, or he would irreparably disfigure that vain blond man with his air of conquest, a cockerel parading as if Scarlett already belonged to him.
The Princess of Atlanta, The Thunderbolt of Georgea and her Prince Charming walked majestically before South Carolina's most worthy representatives.
Duncan caught a few furtive inquisitive looks in Scarlett's direction. No doubt from those who had heard of Mrs. Butler. "To hell with them all! Scarlett is superior to them in every way." In response, he tightened his embrace even more, to the point where it might have been considered indecent-if this behavior had not come from the Vayton heir, the most respected and respectable family in the Old South.
Scarlett spotted her aunts, among other old ladies. They were stunned! "Our niece, whose actions have always been questioned-with good reason"-thought Eulalie, "the daughter of that peasant O'Hara, honored by the best of all the gentlemen in Charleston! "It was simply incomprehensible.
Ella, in all innocence, was happy to give them a little nod of recognition. "This is the best day of my life! "she decreed.
Their niece had no trouble reading their minds. She gave them her best hypocritical smile, and Duncan followed suit, knowing from Scarlett's reaction that they were the Robillard ladies. He had to make them his allies.
One heard ecstatic remarks on the masterpiece of the great couturier. One was amazed by the richness of the embroidery. One tried to pierce the mystery of manufacture which had transformed this attractive lady into diamond, so much it glittered of the head to the feet.
John hailed his friend without further ado. "Fantastique! "he shouted in French, exaggerating his accent, to force the line of the great Parisian couturier. "Congratulations! You are definitely the best.»
His remark was immediately approved by their other childhood friends beside him. Duncan gave him a little sign, the meaning of which only John knew, a language they had developed at school when they wanted to communicate without the other students knowing.
Rebecca, too, had deciphered their codes. But she no longer had the heart to play. How dare this stranger girl strut on the arm of his lover? "He is mine. Whoever you are, you'll have no chance of him falling into your clutches! »
The trio returned, satisfied with this harvest of praise that was still pouring in.
"Oh look at the Princess of Atlanta. With her twin doll and the rain of stars on her dress, she looks like an angel! "Ella didn't understand where this incredible compliment came from, but she turned red with delight.
She looked at her mother, who simply nodded her head in agreement. "Mother is proud of me. " This was so unexpected that she hugged the golden dress a little tighter.
They distinctly heard a young female voice: "They look like a couple out of a fairy tale. How beautiful they are! »
Duncan's white teeth glistened under his mustache as he asked Scarlett, "What do you think? They're right, aren't they? »
Scarlett took advantage of the opportunity. She lowered her voice as much as possible to make sure no one could guess her words. "You're a sweet dreamer, my dear Duncan. So dreamy that you failed to reveal one or two pieces of information to me. " Her tone was light. But the hint was clear enough to make Duncan pale.
A panic attack, the fear that everything would fall apart when he lied to her, that she would end their story that hadn't even begun... Duncan felt trapped in a vise. He took a deep breath and looked her straight in the eye : „In a minute, if you'll allow me. »
"One minute? In front of all these people? »
She didn't have time to laugh at his answer. The trio had returned to their starting point at the bottom of the stairs.
Duncan picked up the horn and spoke to the audience.
"My dear friends, my family and I thank you warmly for having honored us with your attendance. As you have already understood, this evening is a vibrant tribute to our Old South, which we all love so much! You've gotten a great glimpse of it through the collection I created specifically for Charleston and South Carolina. »
"I am very touched that you have enjoyed this fashion show personified by the elegant young women here. " With a wave of his hand, he pointed to the models gathered behind him on the balcony. "I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the employer of these talented models, Mr. Alexander Turney Stewart, owner of the famous Iron Palace in New York, my friend, who passed away on April 10.(*6) " His employees gave a symbolic clap of thanks.
Duncan said more lightly, "In the next few minutes, you'll be treated to more surprises. Don't worry. It will be a short interlude, so you can finally enjoy our appetizing hot and cold buffets. " This last sentence was greeted, especially by the gentlemen present. The Southern Ladies continued by tradition, as before the war, to reveal only a small appetite.
Duncan still had not let go of Scarlett's hand. He continued, "Once you've restored yourselves, I know you'll be delighted to dance to the music we all love! »
New applause interrupted him for a moment. Then he continued:
"Before the festivities resume, let me thank, from the bottom of my heart, the one without whom I would never have found the inspiration to create "The Thunderbolt of Georgia", the one who embodies beauty and prestige tonight, the one who has become the muse of "La Mode Duncan » ! »
Looking Scarlett in the eye, he announced: "Mrs. Scarlett O'Hara! »
A chorus of hand clapping and admiring onomatopoeia from all corners of the garden replaced the music, which had stopped, as expected, as soon as Duncan Vayton joined the podium.
The master of the evening added, this time speaking directly to Scarlett: "I can't begin to express my gratitude to you for agreeing to represent the „Mode Duncan“ brand, along with your lovely daughter, Ella, and your son, Wade. It is a tremendous honor. »
Scarlett was moved. Truly moved. When was the last time she received such recognition? Since... never actually. "Rhett has never put me in the spotlight. Duncan just shook up his reputation by forcing me into his protected circle. »
He was staring at her intensely, with a look on his face that looked like... Scarlett barely dared to formulate her thought in her head. "Like what? Not a simple infatuation. No! His eyes are too fixed, too dark. Passion? »
She had no more time to think. Duncan finished his tribute, "Scarlett, would you do me the honor of sharing this dance with me? »
He had dropped the metal cone and bent over to kiss her hand. A single blink of the eyelids was enough for Scarlett to give her consent.
He dragged her towards the dance floor under the cheers. Then silence fell.
The orchestra emitted the first notes of "Lorena", this time driven by the velvety voice of the singer.
Rhett gritted his teeth so hard that Roselyne was almost frightened by the hardness of his features.
The joints of his closed fists were white, so much the intensity of his rage was big. He forced himself to immobilize them on his thighs.
Ready to fight!
Author : Arlette Dambron.
#gone with the wind, #fashion, #old south, #confederate music, #romance, #fanfiction, #GWTW
Notes on Chapter 23 :
(*) The illuminated mansion of "La Mode Duncan": I was inspired by an italianesque style house settled on 26 Battery Street on the Battery in Charleston, to describe the interior, the facade, the outbuildings (the sewing room and Blanche's house), and also to "see" the models circling the illuminated loggias. I did a major change though, adding a door leading diretly on the side of the garden. Check out the photos at : estately com - listings - 26 S South Battery - https://www.estately.com/listings/info/26-s-south-battery
(**) The symbolic flowers and birds were selected by each state in America in the early 20th century. For my story, I assumed that they had a particular meaning already in the 19th century, and existed in profusion, in these southern states.
(*1) The instruments shown in the novel do not correspond exactly to those shown in the youtube clips. But these videos will allow you to "live" the evening at Duncan Vayton's.
(*1)Carolina - (music by Armand Edward Blackmar, music editor) "Written shortly after the end of the Civil War, this sad song tells of how not only the States of the Union, but also the Confederate States, chose to blame South Carolina for opening hostilities at Fort Sumter - Youtube, Carolina, Tom Roush - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbwjARzTqAA&list=LL&index=18
(*2) Aura Lea, 1861, music George R.Poulton - instrumental piano version : Youtube, Aura Lee, John Falloon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5rMURQTvas
(*3) Aura Lea (or Aura Lee), 1861 music George R. Poulton - Popular among Southern and Northern soldiers. The song that inspired Elvis Presley for "Love Me Tender" - Instrumental version, Youtube, Aura Lee, James Ledrick - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJVSlskPgaY&list=LL&index=1
(*4) Lorena, 1857 - music Joseph Philbrick Webster - instrumental version, Youtube, Lorena, Instrumental, Blaine Sprouse, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBBBP0Z_g7M&list=LL&index=4
(*5) Lorena, 1857, -music Joseph Philbrick Webter - instrumental version, Youtube, Lorena Confederate tune, CRS official - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcZzCQhBvpI&list=LL
(*6) Alexander Turney Stewart, Iron Palace, New York. October 12th 1803 – April 10th 1876.
Disclaimers : I have no rights on the story and the characters of Gone with the Wind which belong to Margaret Mitchell. I created the "world" of Duncan Vayton and the one of Blanche Bonsart.