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Chapter LI (51)
Scarlett pays a visit to her mills and is alarmed to discover that Ashley has barely covered his expenses in contrast to Johnny Gallagher who has made a tidy sum of money. Ashley tells her that he could do better if she would let him hire free issue blacks instead of convicts, but she won’t hear of it. She tells Ashley that he just needs to be harder on the convicts.
Ashley accuses Scarlett of changing from her former "sweet" self and of becoming hard and cruel, poisoned by her husband. Scarlett acknowledges to herself that Rhett had nothing to do with the changes in her, but she doesn’t mind if Ashley thinks otherwise. He says enough to make her think that he is still in love with her. She fantasizes that it would be "sweet" if the two of them were faithful to each other even though they are married to someone else and can never actually fulfill their secret love.
Upon arriving home, Scarlett tells Rhett that she doesn’t want any more children-which is actually her way of telling him that she wants separate bedrooms. Surprisingly, he tells her that her bed no longer holds any charms for him. She can have her sanctity, as there are other beds full of women for him. Scarlett wishes she had said nothing, for there is no way to tell Ashley that she and Rhett are no longer living as man and wife. She realizes she will miss the long talks in bed in the middle of the night.
In trying to act on her fantasy, Scarlett hurts herself. She is assuming that Melanie and Ashley do not sleep together on the basis that Melanie has been told not to have any more children. Rhett's response is one of self-defense. He loves Scarlett and wants her very much, but he doesn't want her to think that she is in control. She could apologize and get him back, but she is too proud.
Ashley thinks Scarlett has changed. She has, but so has he. He has virtually given up on life and is just plodding through, taking whatever fate hands him. She has always been determined to live to the fullest regardless of what people thought, but she also ignores problems she can't handle. One example is the convicts she has leased. She could not influence or control Johnny Gallagher, so she pretends the problem doesn't exist. He makes money for her, so she is able to ignore the way he gets it. Ashley is unable to drive the convicts, so his mill is less successful. Her advice to make them work harder shows a change in her feelings regarding the way they are treated. The hard shell that she has built around herself is partly her own doing, but is also a defense mechanism against the superficial manners and haughty judgment dished out by the people of Atlanta.