Rhett visits Scarlett and tells her that her decision to hire the convicts is the gossip of the town and that everyone thinks Johnnie Gallegher will work them to death.
Scarlett tells Rhett that she has heard a rumor that he is to marry a sweetheart in New Orleans. Secretly, she feels a pang of jealousy. But Rhett replies that if he ever marries, it will be because he could not get a woman he wanted in any other way - and he has never wanted a woman that much. He says the reason he has spent so long in New Orleans is that he is the legal guardian of a little boy there. He also had to go to Charleston because his father died. He does not feel sorrow, as his father always disapproved of him, threw him out of the house and could not forgive him when, in order to survive, he became a professional gambler. Rhett's father also forbade his mother to see him. Rhett's mother and sister have been almost destitute since the war, and Rhett has sent them money, but Rhett's father has sent the money back as "tainted."
Rhett tells Scarlett that he has come to discuss an unpleasant subject with her. He says that when he lent her the money to buy the mill, he stipulated that she must not use it to support Ashley. She agreed to this condition. Now, he has learnt that she has made Ashley a partner in the mill. Scarlett replies that because she has repaid Rhett his loan, she can do as she likes with her mill. Rhett points out that she would not even have a mill without his money. Rhett insists that he is not jealous of Ashley, but says that Ashley would be better off dead because he has lost his world and has no role in the New South. He says that Scarlett has not played straight with him and that he will never lend her money again. Scarlett admits that she is not as scrupulous as she should be, but she has been focusing on survival. When she is rich, she will be able to afford to be kind. But Rhett replies that plenty of other people are managing to do well with their integrity intact.
Before Rhett leaves, he advises Scarlett to tell Frank to stay at home at night more often. Scarlett thinks Rhett means that Frank is having an affair, but Rhett laughs and says that this was not what he meant.
The Yankees have placed Georgia under harsh military rule in retaliation for the state's refusal to give the vote to black people. The black people, on the basis that they have the support of the Yankee army, feel that they have free rein to commit crimes against white Southerners, which in turn are avenged by the Ku Klux Klan, the growing influence of which makes the Yankees crack down on the white Southerners all the more.
Without Archie to protect her, Scarlett is driving past Shantytown, where the freed slaves live, when she encounters Big Sam, the former foreman at Tara. He has been in the North working for a Yankee colonel. He says that though the Yankees treated him with outward respect, he felt that they did not like black people. He has had enough of freedom and wants to return to Tara. Scarlett tells him that Gerald and Ellen are dead, and offers him a job driving her around Atlanta. Big Sam tells her that he has to get out of Atlanta because he has killed a Yankee soldier who insulted him. Scarlett decides to send him back to Tara and asks him to meet her later.
Scarlett drives to the mill that Johnnie Gallegher manages. She finds the convict workers looking filthy, thin and sick. She asks Johnnie if he has been beating them. Johnnie will not give her a direct answer, only saying that she gave him a free hand in running the mill. Scarlett inspects the food that is being cooked for them and finds only peas and corn in the pot. There is also hardly any food in the store, although she has ordered large amounts of meat and other food. She realizes that Johnnie has been selling the food she has ordered for the men and pocketing the money.
Scarlett takes Johnnie aside and rebukes him, saying that in future, she will bring the provisions to the mill herself rather than just ordering them. Johnnie threatens to quit, but then suggests that Scarlett takes some money out of his wages and they call it square. Scarlett thinks of firing him, but then remembers that he is making money for her and decides simply to ensure that the convicts get their rations. She tells herself that she will think of the convicts later.
As she drives back through Shantytown, she is attacked by a poor white man and a black man. Big Sam appears and defends her. He grapples with the black man and knocks the white man to the ground. Sam leaps into Scarlett's buggy, grabs the reins and drives them away.
That evening, Frank sends Scarlett to Melanie's and Big Sam to Tara, and rides off with Ashley to a political meeting. Scarlett is furious that Frank should go to a meeting just after she has been attacked. She finds the ladies at Melanie's unusually nervous. Archie, instead of sleeping on the sofa, is sitting whittling a piece of wood. India Wilkes shoots a cold glance towards Scarlett, as if blaming her for something. Scarlett asks why she is looking at her in this way. India angrily accuses Scarlett of exposing herself to strange men around town and putting temptation in their way. This, she says, puts their own men's lives in danger.
Rhett appears at the door and demands to know from Melanie where Frank and Ashley have gone, saying it is a matter of life or death. Melanie says that they have gone to the old Sullivan plantation. Rhett rides off at a gallop. India tells Scarlett that she has probably caused Frank and Ashley's death. India adds that Scarlett seems more worried about Ashley than about her husband. Melanie silences India and tells Scarlett that Frank and Ashley, like all the other men they know, are in the Ku Klux Klan, but Scarlett always disapproved of the Klan so nobody told her. Scarlett realizes that the "political meetings" that Frank and Ashley have been going to are Klan meetings. She worries that the Yankees will confiscate her mills and Frank's store. Archie says that Frank and Ashley have gone to take revenge on Scarlett's attackers. If they are not killed, they will have to flee to Texas and it will be Scarlett's fault.
A Yankee captain arrives at the house with a group of soldiers and asks to see Ashley and Frank. Melanie tells them that they are not there. The soldiers surround the house, waiting for the men to return. To steady the ladies' nerves, Melanie reads aloud. Eventually, they hear horses' hooves and singing. Rhett arrives with Ashley and Hugh Elsing. All appear to be drunk. As they stagger into the house, the Yankee captain announces that Ashley and Hugh are under arrest. Melanie furiously screams that no one can be arrested for drunkenness. Scarlett dimly suspects that everyone is play-acting to fool the Yankees. Melanie crossly orders Rhett out of her house for getting Ashley drunk. The Yankee captain explains that Ashley and Hugh are under arrest for complicity in a Klan raid at Shantytown in which a black man and a white man were killed. But Rhett says that both men have been with him all evening at Belle Watling's. The captain is embarrassed and agrees to leave on condition that Ashley appear before the provost marshal the next day for questioning.
After the captain has gone, Scarlett sees blood seeping into the chair in which Ashley is sitting. Scarlett is the last to realize that Ashley is not drunk, but has been shot through the shoulder. Rhett explains that he brought Ashley home because he was too weak to travel to safety. He adds that the men may be released without charge because at his request, Belle has agreed to swear that they were at her house all evening. This story is lent plausibility by the fact that after the Klan raid, Rhett did take the Klansmen back to Belle's and ensured that they were visibly and loudly ejected.
Rhett orders Archie to ride to the Sullivan plantation and burn the Klan robes. Archie is to collect the bodies of two men from the cellar and dump them in the vacant lot behind Belle's, putting in their hands pistols with one shot discharged, to make it look as if they died in a drunken fight.
Scarlett is so concerned for Ashley that she almost forgets about Frank. Rhett tells her that Frank has been shot dead and that his body is one of the two that Archie is dumping near Belle's.
The next day, Belle Watling is questioned by a Yankee court and swears that all twelve men suspected of involvement in the Klan raid were at her house all evening.
The other man (apart from Frank) who was shot in the raid is Tommy Wellburn.
The townspeople have learned that Rhett and Belle Watling have effectively saved their men from hanging. They resent that they owe their men's lives to "Belle and Rhett, the town's best-known fancy woman and the town's most hated man." Mrs. Meade tells Dr Meade, one of the Klan raiders, that Rhett is taking a subtle revenge on them all for their dislike of him. He has trapped them so that in order to save their lives, they must lie and risk their reputation by saying that they were at Belle's brothel. The alternative is to tell the truth and keep their reputations pure but end up hanged. Mrs. Meade, fascinated by Belle's lifestyle, takes the opportunity to question Dr Meade about every detail of her house.
Scarlett feels responsible for, and guilty over, Frank's death. She thinks that God will punish her for cold-heartedly marrying him when he loved Suellen. The only thing she did to make him happy was to present him with Ella, and if she could have avoided having Ella, she would have done so. She reflects that he has almost killed Ashley, too, and if Ashley knew the truth about how she had lied to get Frank, he could never love her again. She drinks brandy to try to stifle her conscience.
Rhett arrives and gently asks what is wrong. Scarlett admits that she is frightened that she will go to hell. She tells him about how she lied to get Frank and shamed him by running her businesses herself, and now she has killed him. She wants to be kind, but then the nightmare comes back and frightens her so that she only wants to grab money from people. The nightmare is that everyone at Tara is starving and Scarlett vows that if she gets out of this, she will never be hungry again. She runs in a mist and something is chasing her. She thinks that if she gets there she will be safe, but she does not know where "there" is.
Rhett says that she would have acted in the same way if she had to do it all again. Frank was a free agent and didn't have to marry her: "The strong were made to bully and the weak to knuckle under."
Rhett proposes marriage to Scarlett. Scarlett replies that she does not love him and does not want to marry again, but Rhett says that she married once for spite and once for money, and has never tried marrying for fun. Scarlett silently reflects on the real reason she does not wish to marry: her love for Ashley. Everything she had ever done was for Ashley or Tara. Rhett knows that she is thinking of Ashley and calls her a fool. He kisses her passionately, and she kisses him back. Feeling faint, she agrees to marry him. He asks her why she said yes, and she admits that it was partly because of his money, and partly because she is fond of him, but also because he is the only man who can stand the truth from a woman. He claims that he is not in love with her, but "if I were, you would be the last person I'd ever tell," because she would break his heart.
The news of Scarlett's engagement to Rhett prompts disapproving gossip in Atlanta. The people still blame Scarlett for the Klan affair (including Frank's death) and resent owing the lives of their men to Rhett and his embarrassing alibi involving Belle Watling. Public hostility to the Yankees, Scalawags and carpetbaggers has reached an all-time high, and Rhett and Scarlett are associated with such people. The Yankees have succeeded in installing a Republican called Bullock as Georgia's governor by means of a voting fraud involving transporting trainloads of freed slaves from town to town, and having them vote in each town for the Republican candidate. Bullock is a friend of Rhett's.
Scarlett ignores society's disapproval of her marriage, feeling hurt only by Mammy's disapproval of Rhett as "trash." Rhett takes her to New Orleans for their honeymoon, where he intends her "to have fun."
Analysis of Chapters 43-47
Scarlett and Rhett are Atlanta's most unpopular citizens because between them they had outraged every tenet of the social code: "Reverence for the Confederacy, honor to the veterans, loyalty to old forms, pride in poverty, open hands to friends and undying hatred to the Yankees." Scarlett agrees to marry Rhett at a time when she is as much an outsider as he is. The reasons why society disapproves of Scarlett are many: she has stolen men belonging to other women; she has been engaged in trade and has used sharp practices and has leased convicts to achieve success; she is seen as having provoked an attack on her by driving around unprotected, thereby prompting a revenge attack by the Ku Klux Klan, which in turn endangers the men of the town, which in turn gives rise to anger and resentment from the women; and she married Rhett less than a year after Frank's death, which she caused. Scarlett herself is suffering pangs of conscience about how she stole Frank from Suellen and was later responsible for his death, and feels isolated in her guilt.
Like Scarlett, Rhett was an outsider from the beginning of his life, incurring his father's disapproval and compounding it by becoming a professional gambler after his father turned him out of the house. Both Rhett and Scarlett trade and associate with Yankees, Scalawags and carpetbaggers, making them all the more unacceptable to Southern society. It is possible that Scarlett agrees to Rhett's proposal at this point because she feels especially vulnerable as a result of her outcast status. Rhett is the only person to whom she tells the truth and the only person who sees her as she is and accepts her. Melanie, in contrast, accepts and loves Scarlett but does not see the bad in her.
Mitchell draws attention to society's hypocrisy in its dislike and contempt (particularly on the part of the women) for Rhett, to whom it owes the lives of some of its prominent men after his quick-thinking heroism in the Klan affair. But at the same time, Rhett, like Scarlett, has treated society's conventions and standards with contempt, and there is a price to be paid for that, even if those conventions and standards are often hollow and hypocritical. For example, Mitchell gently satirizes Atlanta society's hypocritical attitude to Belle Watling. Belle displays a similar heroism to Rhett in risking her freedom and possibly her life in giving the twelve Klansmen a false alibi. Mrs. Meade, the wife of Dr Meade, one of the Klansmen saved by Rhett's story, resents Rhett for bringing the men into disrepute using the alibi of a prostitute; but she is also fascinated with Belle's exotic lifestyle, and takes the opportunity to question her husband about her house and the girls she employs.
Melanie's strength and resourcefulness is evident after the Klan raid, when she fools the Yankee captain and his men with a highly skilled performance in which she pretends to be furious at Rhett for getting her husband drunk at Belle's. Scarlett, in contrast, lacks the perceptiveness to be anything but useless in this scene, having just enough understanding to keep quiet.
The limitations of Rhett and Scarlett's relationship are evident during the scene when he proposes to her, and these limitations will go on to blight their marriage. Several times, he seems to be fishing for a declaration of love from her, though he does not express his love for her straightforwardly but cloaks it in jokes and sardonic humor. He does this to protect himself because she is still pining for the unattainable Ashley, and Rhett intuitively knows it. He tells her, "I'm not in love with you, any more than you are with me, and if I were, you would be the last person I'd ever tell. God help the man who really loves you. You'd break his heart." Scarlett, being unsubtle and imperceptive when it comes to people, fails to see beyond the surface of his meaning. She assumes that he does not really love her and is eager to stress in return that she does not love him. Hence they are at an emotional stalemate.
Mitchell's prejudices about black people are particularly clear in these chapters. Scarlett is attacked by one of the 'bad' freed slaves whom Mitchell only ever mentions pejoratively as sources of violence, sexual aggression and political unrest; and she is saved by Uncle Peter, one of the 'good' slaves, who has tasted freedom, rejected it, and only wants to continue to look after Aunt Pittypat and be buried with her. Mammy, too, sees her place as by Scarlett's side in spite of Scarlett's attempt to sideline her after she voices disapproval of Rhett. Black people who use their freedom constructively are entirely absent from the novel. On the wider political stage, Mitchell draws attention to an injustice in which white Southerners are the victims and blacks are used by the Yankee whites as a means of political oppression, when blacks are transported from town to town in order to deliver multiple votes to ensure that the Yankee-approved Republican candidate is elected governor. In contrast, none of the many injustices in which blacks were the victims are presented.