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
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.