Beau John the Younger, fiction by Jim Chandler

Of all the mem­bers of the Jour­nal fam­i­ly, none was more eccen­tric that Beau John, the younger broth­er of Sen­a­tor Hogan Jour­nal.

"Beau John lives too much in the past." That was a sen­ti­ment fre­quent­ly expressed by many of the cit­i­zens of West­bridge. "Beau John don't know the Civ­il War is over and he damn sure don't know we lost it!"

And that was true to some degree. Beau John Jour­nal believed, in some deep place inside even he could not define, that "The South" would rise again, that the "just war" had sim­ply been put on hold for a spell when Lee hand­ed over his sword at that Vir­ginia cour­t­house.

Beau John owned the Way­far­er Inn and it was as close to a Con­fed­er­ate muse­um as the likes of New Hope Coun­ty would ever see. Sit­ting down a shady lit­tle lane on a bluff over­look­ing a bend in the riv­er, the huge build­ing looked on the out­side like one of those ante­bel­lum homes straight from the late movie, state­ly and impres­sive. It stood an impos­ing sight there on the riv­er, a two-sto­ry struc­ture of cypress weath­ered a Con­fed­er­ate shade of gray. Out­side, above the mas­sive dou­ble iron doors one might expect to find on a Euro­pean cas­tle, rest­ed the Jour­nal coat of arms, com­prised of mut­ed shades of red and blue. High above it all flut­tered a huge Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag once car­ried by Gen­er­al Nathan Bed­ford For­rest, the Stars and Bars bold as South­ern pride.

But that was just the start of Beau John's dis­play of old South­ern sym­bol­ism. Out in the vast yard near the riv­er bluff sat a well-pre­served can­non, its dead­ly snout peer­ing out over the riv­er below. It did not require a great deal of imag­i­na­tion to envi­sion it tak­ing apart any Blue Bel­ly skiff that might come wan­der­ing up or down the mud­dy riv­er. And vis­i­tors could imag­ine, with­out undue effort, a rank of South­ern lads lin­ing the rim of the bluff, train­ing their long rifles on blue-clad inter­lop­ers attempt­ing to man­age the escarp­ment and impose Fed­er­al­ism upon the free South.

Inside, the Inn was even more impres­sive. It was com­posed of numer­ous small­er din­ing areas set in alcoves designed for pri­va­cy, Beau John had filled every inch of vacant space with Civ­il War memorabilia–all of it Con­fed­er­ate of course. Brass-bound glass dis­play cas­es lined the foy­er and every avail­able space around the walls of the huge build­ing. They were filled with old swords, pis­tols, uni­forms and sam­ples of shot of all sizes. Flags of all types, from the Stars and Bars of Jef­fer­son Davis' empire to reg­i­men­tal flags from a score of South­ern mili­tias, cov­ered the walls.

And then there were sev­er­al por­traits of Colonel Beau John Jour­nal, his great-great grand­fa­ther and name­sake. Near the foy­er was the largest, a huge oil on can­vas depict­ing the bold young Colonel sit­ting tall in the sad­dle, his hat tilt­ed at a rak­ish angle and his black eye patch shin­ing with men­ace. Anoth­er, some­what small­er, depict­ed the colonel lead­ing a charge from the back of his snow-white steed, his sword thrust for­ward as he rode hard to meet the Blue Bel­lies, his face set in a mask of pure South­ern right­eous­ness and courage.

In truth, Colonel Beau John Jour­nal had sur­vived the war by "play­ing pos­sum" when shot from the sad­dle of his horse dur­ing the bat­tle of Shiloh. A piece of Yan­kee grapeshot had ripped the colonel's left eye clean­ly from its sock­et on August sev­enth of 1862, the sec­ond day of the big bat­tle. Colonel Journal's troops had tak­en part in Gen­er­al A. S. Johnson's sur­prise rout of Buell, before Gen­er­al Grant had saved the Yankee's day with twen­ty thou­sand fresh troops and turned the tide of the bat­tle.

Colonel Jour­nal had lain upon the ground near Bloody Pond, con­scious all the while of the screams and cries of the ter­ri­bly wound­ed around him, until the bat­tle petered out late in the day. He man­aged to slip away with the fall of night and, his once proud troop dec­i­mat­ed by the slaugh­ter and threw in his lot with a band of guer­ril­las under the com­mand of Gen­er­al Mar­cus Spode. Spode was among the very few com­man­ders of such undis­ci­plined units who main­tained much of his sense of human­i­ty. He did not per­mit his troops to wan­ton­ly plun­der and mur­der. His attempts to con­trol his rag-tag unit, com­posed in many instances of men who delight­ed in the shed­ding of blood mere­ly for the sake of see­ing it flow, result­ed in his own mur­der. A pis­tol shot to the brain as he slept one evening, just weeks before Lee sur­ren­dered 27,000 troops and his sword at Appo­mat­tox cour­t­house, killed Spode.

After the war, Colonel Jour­nal returned to West­bridge. As the scion of a fam­i­ly of great wealth and posi­tion, the young for­mer colonel—a dash­ing­ly hand­some man with his tall and stur­dy build and his one good eye gleam­ing fierce­ly black—set out to live the good life of an aris­to­crat­ic South­ern rake. By the time Colonel Jour­nal had con­struct­ed the Way­far­er Inn in 1869, his feats as a drinker, wom­an­iz­er and gam­bler had become leg­endary not only in New Hope Coun­ty, but through­out the entire region.

Hav­ing poured through the diaries left by his ances­tor, the con­tem­po­rary Beau John knew that his ances­tor had car­ried an evil streak that was not evi­dent to the out­side world. Fol­low­ing the war, when the coun­try­side seemed over­run by Yan­kee "Car­pet­bag­gers," Colonel Jour­nal had kept his anti-North­ern sen­ti­ments alive by destroy­ing Yan­kees every chance he got. A nat­ur­al pok­er play­er who appeared to have luck beyond any­thing nor­mal, the Colonel was also a mas­ter at manip­u­la­tion of the cards; a man of hon­or, he would nev­er cheat a South­ern­er, not if it meant the loss of every­thing he owned. But Yan­kees, he believed, were beyond recog­ni­tion as hon­or­able peo­ple. They deserved what­ev­er they received, and he gave them what they deserved with­out mer­cy or con­science.

Beau John had dis­cov­ered an even dark­er secret con­cern­ing his name­sake, one so hor­ri­ble that he had read the pas­sage numer­ous times before the awful truth final­ly sunk in. His great-great grand­fa­ther had, in the year 1873, mar­ried a South­ern belle named Sarah Smythe. Her fam­i­ly owned thou­sands of acres of Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta farm­land and was wealthy beyond belief; far more so than the Jour­nals, who were among the largest landown­ers in west­ern Ten­nessee. Sarah Smythe had borne the Colonel two sons, Jef­fer­son Jour­nal and Robert E. Jour­nal, the lat­ter Beau John's own great grand­fa­ther.

Sarah had dis­ap­peared one day in June of 1881 and was nev­er seen again. Accord­ing to fam­i­ly leg­end, all of the men folk of the area had searched for her for weeks. It was believed that she had been spir­it­ed away, raped and mur­dered by a mean Negro who had killed sev­er­al white peo­ple in the area, a mur­der­ous rene­gade named Ned Fry. Fry was cap­tured four months after Sarah dis­ap­peared and went to his death on the gal­lows pro­claim­ing him­self inno­cent of her abduc­tion; and many believed the griz­zled Negro was telling the truth, as he bragged con­tin­u­al­ly about the whites he had killed.

And so the secret of Sarah Smythe Journal's dis­ap­pear­ance had remained an enig­ma for all those years–until Beau John found the diaries hid­den behind a secret pan­el in the wall on the sec­ond floor of the Inn.

Read­ing it for the first time, he found it dif­fi­cult to believe the man whose name he bore wrote it. It was writ­ten by a man deep in the throes of men­tal anguish, torn com­plete­ly apart by guilt. It was penned in the year 1895. That was the year Colonel Beau John Jour­nal, then fifty-five years of age, placed a Colt .45 cal­iber pis­tol to his right tem­ple and com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Upon read­ing the diary, Beau John learned that his great-great grand­moth­er had suf­fered from a ter­ri­ble afflic­tion. An insa­tiable sex­u­al appetite had plagued Sarah Smythe Jour­nal. Her hus­band, who did not take kind­ly to betray­al, had caught her in the act with a black field hand.

After dis­cov­er­ing this piece of infor­ma­tion in the last of his namesake's jour­nals, Beau John recalled some of the oth­er com­ments he had read ear­li­er that had made lit­tle sense at the time. At one point, the orig­i­nal Beau John had said that his young bride "seems locked in the embrace of some Dev­il over which she appar­ent­ly has no con­trol." And lat­er he spoke of her "bois­ter­ous nature that makes ful­fill­ment seem near to impos­si­ble."

After read­ing the last vol­ume, Beau John the Younger had learned what that meant. His great-great grand­moth­er had suf­fered from what they called nympho­ma­nia nowa­days.

If his great-great grand­fa­ther had ever sus­pect­ed that his wife had stepped out­side the bonds of mar­riage, it was nev­er men­tioned. Read­ing the scrawled hand­writ­ing describ­ing the ter­ri­ble moment of truth, Beau John could in some way sym­pa­thize with what his grand­fa­ther had felt.

The first Beau John had not been look­ing for prob­lems that day. Indeed, he had been in the barn for a con­sid­er­able length of time, assist­ing one of his mares in foal­ing. He was head­ed back to the house to eat a bite of lunch when he heard the sounds com­ing from the smoke house.

At first he thought it was one of the field hands, one of those for­mer slaves who were now in his employ. They some­times slipped off from their chores to have a go at one of the house girls. It wouldn't be the first time that had hap­pened, but a good chastis­ing would make sure that, at least with that cou­ple, it wouldn't hap­pen again. Of course, Beau John still believed as many of his white con­tem­po­raries did: that blacks were basi­cal­ly farm ani­mals and one had to expect such behav­ior from them. Abe Lin­coln might have said they were all humans just like the rest of us, but that don't make it so. You can turn a man loose, but you can't make him a reg­u­lar human being just by say­ing he's one, Beau John fig­ured.

He was just before yank­ing the door open when he stopped dead still. He had heard the woman's voice, and it had turned the blood cold in his veins. It was his wife's voice he heard com­ing from with­in that awful shed.

You don't ever get enough, do you? he heard the voice say in a mock­ing tone. He heard a male voice grunt some­thing in return. And you're big, too… I wish my hus­band had one like that and knew what to do with it…Ohhhh, that feels soooo good!…Yes, there, when you pull almost out, and then shove it in hard…hard!…Oh, I'm get­ting tingly again!

The Beau John of old could bare­ly remem­ber what occurred next, accord­ing to his secret diary. Some­how, there was a dou­ble-bit ax in his hand. He vague­ly recalled see­ing Big Sweat, the field hand, turn as he kicked the door open. The big man's over­alls were down around his bro­gans. Sarah was sit­ting on a shelf, her heels spread wide on the rough planks, her bot­tom naked; lat­er, Beau John would recall that her vagi­na was gaped open and very red, remind­ing him of a rooster's comb.

The first blow of the ax caught Big Sweat in the front of his right shoul­der, cut­ting a hor­ri­ble rent and knock­ing him off his feet. Oh please mas­sa! Sweat cried out, try­ing to shield his face with his arm. Beau John swung again, find­ing home this time, the blow mak­ing a wet plop and caus­ing gray mat­ter to fly all over the inside of the smoke­house. Big Sweat rolled over onto his face, his body quiv­er­ing and jerk­ing like a chick­en with its neck wrung.

Sarah had uttered not one sound dur­ing all this. As Beau John turned to face her, she still said noth­ing, nor did she offer to move. Her face, as he lat­er recalled, was a vir­tu­al mask of blank­ness, as though she had con­signed her­self to what­ev­er fate wait­ed.

With­out so much as a sec­ond thought, Beau John killed her with one true blow, bury­ing the ax to its han­dle in the top of her head. Unlike Big Sweat, she nev­er twitched fol­low­ing the mor­tal blow, but sim­ply lay over onto the shelf on her side. Her eyes, still open and vacant, seemed to lock onto her husband's; it was that which tor­ment­ed Beau John for the rest of his days, the thought of her life­less eyes burn­ing into his.

Beau John locked the bod­ies in the shed until well after dark. Then, he swore Old Bob to secre­cy. Old Bob had been his slave when he was a child, and he would trust the gnarled old man with his life. That night, he and Old Bob wrapped the bod­ies in can­vas and placed them in the wag­on. They hauled their fright­en­ing car­go out into the edge of Big Bog, a swampy, low marsh filled with cot­ton­mouths and quick­sand. Once there, they weighed the bod­ies down and slipped then into one of the holes of near liq­uid sand. After a few moments, the bags slid out of sight with only a small liq­uid gulp to note their pass­ing. Once back at the farm, they cleaned up all traces of blood and gore in the smoke­house. No one will miss Big Sweat, Beau John had told Old Bob. He's only been here two weeks and he was just pass­ing through when I took him on. If any­body asks, he packed up and left.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Beau John report­ed his wife miss­ing. He had slept very lit­tle the night before, a prob­lem that would haunt him for the remain­der of his days. When­ev­er he closed his eyes, he could see her eyes star­ing at him. He knew that–even down where she was in the bog– her eyes were still open and star­ing.

Beau John the orig­i­nal had lived 14 years after that awful night. If his papers could be believed, he nev­er again touched a woman. My life end­ed the day I done that awful deed, he had writ­ten near the end. I often think of what might have hap­pened if I had not chanced past the smoke­house that day, if I'd lived on in bliss­ful igno­rance of what Sarah was up to. I might have gone to my grave a cuck­old, but at least I would have known a few pleas­ant days in between. With what hap­pened, my life has been hell on earth. The only thing I have to look for­ward to now is the real Hell, where I know I am sure­ly bound. I go there glad­ly.

The con­tem­po­rary Beau John could not imag­ine the guilt his great-great grand­fa­ther had felt. He him­self had felt tremen­dous guilt him­self when his beloved Wan­da died, and he had no part in that; many a time he had prayed that the can­cer would some­how leave her wracked body and come to rest in him, that God would let him take on her bur­den.

But of course that hadn't hap­pened. Wan­da had suf­fered and suf­fered, beg­ging him final­ly to kill her as the can­cer gnawed away inside her. He had wept and prayed, beg­ging first for her to be made whole and well again, and final­ly plead­ing with God just to take her out of her mis­ery. Those prayers didn't seem to work for a long, long time, and when it was fin­ished, Beau John was fin­ished with God. On the night of the day she had been laid to rest, he had stood over her grave in a pour down rain and cursed God at the top of his lungs. He had cursed and rant­ed and raved for hours, so ter­ri­ble did he feel his loss.

By day­light, he was total­ly exhaust­ed and suf­fer­ing from expo­sure near to the point of death him­self. He was tak­en to a hos­pi­tal with dou­ble pneu­mo­nia and wan­dered in and out of delir­i­um for sev­er­al days. Final­ly, almost mirac­u­lous, he pulled through.

It was the good Lord that brought you through, his Aunt Net­tie had said. The Lord was at your side dur­ing it all.

I don't want to hear any more about the Lord, Beau John had scowled. The Lord didn't have a damn thing to do with it. Even if he exist­ed, I wouldn't ask him for his god­damn help!

It's the sick­ness, his aunt told some of the med­ical staff. He's still half out of his mind and don't know what he's say­ing.

That was four­teen years ago, and two things still hadn't changed for Beau John: he still missed Wan­da and he still denied the Lord. He'd had made a liv­ing will in recent times, to make damn cer­tain there wouldn't be any "Holy Rollin'" over him when he was gone. Beau John didn't believe he'd ever see Wan­da or any of his oth­er loved ones when he was gone, because he didn't believe in the here­after.

We're noth­ing more than a dead dog when we're put in the ground, he once told Hogan. Just dead meat that rots.

I hope you're wrong, his old­er broth­er had replied, his tone not con­vinc­ing. If that's true, then all this shit is a big waste of time.

So, you final­ly fig­ured that out, eh?

Beau John was only 38 when his wife died and he could have had his pick of women; he was hand­some and wealthy. But he vowed nev­er again to form any kind of real rela­tion­ship that could result in the kind of pain he had known.

Unlike his fore­fa­ther, he did not total­ly for­sake women–there were the girls in the cat hous­es over in Cat­low Coun­ty, and every once in a while he would date one of the younger girls who worked at the Way­far­er. It hadn't tak­en him long to learn that such was unwise, as the girls invari­ably then tried to use their con­nec­tion with him to their advan­tage by push­ing their work off on some­one else. One even went so far as to claim that Beau had sired the child grow­ing in her bel­ly. He had laughed and told her that such was impos­si­ble, as he had had a vasec­to­my.

Of course, that was a lie, but the girl didn't know it. And she more than like­ly knew who the real father was any­way, he rea­soned. In any case, she quit about a month lat­er and he was glad to see her go.

At 52, Beau John didn't have a hell of a lot more he want­ed to do. He'd been in the Navy as a young man, locked in time there between the end of the Kore­an con­flict and the begin­ning of Viet­nam, and he'd seen his share of the world. His ship, the U.S.S. Walk­er, a "tin-can" destroy­er escort, had made all the ports in the "West Pac" cruise, from Yoko­su­ka to Subic Bay to Buck­n­er Bay to Hong Kong, had even dropped anchor in Aus­tralia and New Zealand. As with most of the men, Beau John had his share of whores; he and a bud­dy, a Mex­i­can by the name of Fer­nan­dez, had dur­ing one wild day in Yoko­su­ka attempt­ed to see how many women they could be with in that span of time. They had stopped after eleven–although what they did with the last five or six might not have

count­ed.

Beau had returned to West­bridge after his stint in the ser­vice and had gone to work for his father. Unlike his broth­er, Beau John had no inter­est in col­lege; by that time, Hogan was becom­ing fair­ly well known as a crim­i­nal tri­al lawyer, but pol­i­tics was still in the future. So Beau John had gone to work first help­ing his dad run the big farm, and then, after his father died, he took over the Way­far­er. He had reac­quaint­ed him­self with Wan­da, whom he had known in high school, and they were soon mar­ried. He soon saved enough mon­ey to buy out Hogan's share of the Inn–it turned lit­tle prof­it in those days and Hogan had no time for any ven­ture that didn't pro­duce the rev­enue.

Beau John and Wan­da had tried to have chil­dren, but nev­er suc­ceed­ed; final­ly, they learned that Wan­da was infer­tile. They were in the process of adop­tion when the can­cer was dis­cov­ered, so that was the end of that.

He had no idea what would become of the Inn after he was gone. He had no heir to leave it to, but had thought of will­ing it to his nephew, Cody. At oth­er times, he thought he might just burn the place down before he died. If he had time, that is. Beau John had made up his mind to one thing: he'd nev­er lie around and suf­fer like his wife had.

If the Big C came call­ing on him, he had the solu­tion in his bed­side draw­er.

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