After the Intermission, we rejoin Scarlett in the final stages of the Civil War. She and her sisters Suellen and Carreen shoulder most of the burden of keeping Tara running, while Melanie is still very weakened from childbirth and spends most of her time abed.
Melanie wants to make herself useful, though, and gets out of bed more than once. On one of these occasions, a Union soldier breaks in searching for valuables. Scarlett shoots him with the gun Rhett gave her while they were fleeing Atlanta and relieves the corpse of his money and valuables. She and Melanie then dispose of the body, promising to tell no one what happened.
When the war ends, Tara becomes a way station for returning Confederate soldiers, much to Scarlett’s displeasure. One of them is Frank Kennedy, Suellen’s much-older suitor. (In the book, he’s about thirty years older.) Another soldier brings news of Ashley, who’s in a prison camp. Scarlett is thrilled when he arrives a few months later, but Mammy holds her back from rushing to embrace him.
Reconstruction brings high taxes which threaten Tara’s ownership. Scarlett begs Ashley to run away to Mexico with her, and he kisses her and admits he still loves her. However, he refuses to leave the sickly Melanie and their little boy Beau. Ashley also tells Scarlett she should love Tara more than anyone, and adds he plans to move his family to NYC to start over.
Scarlett, always prone to dramatics, pitches a fit which draws Melanie’s attention. To cover what really happened, Scarlett says she wants Melanie and Ashley to stay at Tara to help her, and Ashley, weak-willed as always, gives in without a battle.
Jonas Wilkerson, Tara’s former overseer, makes Scarlett an offer which she angrily refuses. Mr. O’Hara chases after him on horseback as he departs. Sadly, he’s killed when the horse falls while trying to jump a fence.
After the funeral, Scarlett turns to Rhett for help, believing he has more than enough money to save Tara. However, he’s now in jail in Atlanta, and will be hanged unless he turns over his Confederate gold. His prewar money is in London banks.
Mammy makes Scarlett a new dress from a green curtain for the occasion, and accompanies her so she won’t get into trouble in the big city or at this minimum security prison. Scarlett pretends to be Rhett’s sister.
Scarlett pretends life at Tara is swell, but Rhett knows it’s a ruse when he sees her work-worn hands. This doesn’t deter Scarlett at all; on the contrary, she shamelessly begs for money and even offers to become Rhett’s mistress. Rhett refuses, saying if he helped her, he’d get in a lot of trouble.
While walking through Atlanta afterwards, Scarlett encounters Frank Kennedy, now a successful businessman in the hardware and wood industry. He tells Scarlett he’s saving all his money to marry Suellen and bring her to Atlanta.
Never one to let an opportunity slip through her fingers, Scarlett lies Suellen is married to another man, and offers herself as a wife. Mammy is horrified, and Suellen is heartbroken, but Frank’s money saves Tara.
Scarlett becomes very wealthy from the lumber and hardware store she manages, though she refuses credit to impoverished neighbors. Thanks to the cake deals she makes with Northern businessmen, she’s able to buy a sawmill, and Tara gradually returns to its glory.
Scarlett also employs convicts and a former prison overseer. Ashley doesn’t like this at all, but his protests hold no sway.
Sometime later, Scarlett runs across Rhett, who’s now free and once again wealthy. He tells he she could’ve married him and shared in the riches if she’d waited, but Scarlett brushes him off and continues on to the sawmill.
Rhett warns her about travelling through a shantytown on the way there, full of Army deserters and dangerous criminals, but Scarlett insists the gun he gave her will protect her.
Scarlett gets attacked in the shantytown, before she has a chance to pull out the gun. Big Sam, a former slave at Tara, rescues her from an attempted rape.
Word gets around quickly, and the menfolk go to a supposed political meeting. During the evening, Rhett visits and says Ashley and Frank are in a vigilante group which is in danger of being busted by the Union Army. In the book, they’re in the KKK, and lynch the guys who attacked Scarlett.
Melanie gives Rhett the address, and later that night he returns with Ashley and Dr. Meade. They’re accompanied by Union soldiers, who were fed a fish story about a visit to Belle Watling’s brothel.
After the soldiers leave, Ashley reveals he’s wounded, and Rhett says Scarlett’s attackers are dead. Scarlett cares only for Ashley’s welfare, and is shocked back into reality when Rhett says Frank is lying dead in the road.
Several days later, Rhett visits again and proposes to Scarlett. She says she’ll always love only Ashley, but that she’ll marry Rhett for his money. Rhett doesn’t care about the lack of love, since they’re two of a kind. They honeymoon in New Orleans, and Tara is restored to its former splendor after their return. Rhett also buys a mansion in Atlanta.
Rhett and Scarlett soon have a daughter, Bonnie Blue, whom Rhett absolutely dotes on. Scarlett, meanwhile, wants no more children and declares she’ll never sleep with Rhett again. Rhett threatens divorce, but relents for the sake of avoiding scandal.
In 1871, Scarlett and Ashley are caught in an embrace, which sets in motion a disastrous, snowballing series of events threatening Scarlett and Rhett’s already shaky marriage. By the time Scarlett realises Rhett is the only man for her, it might be too late to salvage their relationship.