Thinking of Brendan as his birthdate is tomorrow, March 10, and this is the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads – a pivotal moment for Brendan.
In my very early research into blockade running, I read about Frank Bonneau and decided to take his surname for my hero. I haven’t found out much about him, but this tells a bit, at: https://archive.org/stream/essexinstitutehi61esse/essexinstitutehi61esse_djvu.txt “In the afternoon we dropped quietly down to the mouth of Cape Fear River. The ‘Ella and Annie’ was a side wheel steamer, and suspended from the cover of the wheel to the water and weighted down, was canvas to deaden the sound of the revolutions of the wheel. Shortly after dark had settled down, I remember Captain Bonneau, a splendid, handsome, courtly gentleman of about 30, saying to either Mr. Marshall or Mr. Pemberton that the time had come and they were going to ‘make the break.’
‘In the early morning of November 9th, 1863, the “Ella and Annie,” commanded by Captain F. N. Bonneau of Charleston, was intercepted off New Inlet, near Masonboro, by the United States steamer, “Niphon,” which attempted to press her ashore. Several other cruisers preventing the escape of the “Ella and Annie,” Captain Bonneau at once resolved upon the desperate expedient of running the “Niphon” down. He accordingly put his ship at reckless speed straight at the war vessel and struck her with great force, carrying away the bowsprit and stem and wounding three of the men. The “Niphon,” by able management, avoided the full effect of the blow, and fired all her starboard guns into the “Ella and Annie,” wounding four of her men. As soon as the vessels came together, the “Niphon” carried the “Ella and Annie” by boarding, and made her a prize. [A boarding party from Niphon captured Ella and Annie and her valuable cargo, and a prize crew took her to Boston, Massachusetts. Captain Bonneau was later convicted of piracy by a Boston court, but the presiding officer, who had been a flag officer himself, suspended the sentence on the grounds that he would have acted in a like manner had he been in similar circumstances.] The Ella and Annie afterwards became the United States flagship “Malvern.”’
FOLLOWING IS A SCENE IN BRENDAN’S CROSS, Christmas 1864, where Brendan Bonneau has come home for the first time in four years. His mother had banished him from their South Carolina plantation when he refused to dishonor his oath and beliefs by leaving the United States Navy and joining in efforts to form a Confederate States Navy. He served on the U.S.S. Congress until the battle of Hampton Roads (March 8-9, 1862), when his boyhood friend and former shipmate Jems Barkley boarded the doomed ship and demanded his surrender. He survived the battle, but Jems did not, and Brendan found he could no longer serve if it meant fighting against family and friends. When he goes to resign his commission, his superior officer convinces him to serve another way – on a Confederate blockade runner, working to bring food and essential supplies into the Confederacy while collecting intelligence for the Union.
He has moved his mother and aunt to their neighbor’s much smaller plantation of Laurelton set off from the road, and not likely to draw the attention of Federal troops on their way north. As relieved as he is to have them settled, Brendan is exhausted, worried about their home Fleur-de-Lys, and also about his sweetheart, Arabella, Jem’s little sister, who he had just learned that night was seen at a waterfront brothel in Wilmington. He was determined to find her and help her before returning to duty aboard the Kendal.
Part of Brendan’s Cross is the mystery of just what kind of man he is… I think these scenes help to show him to advantage!
GRATEFUL AT HANNAH’S INSISTENCE he stay the night, Brendan was stretched out on the comfortable old sofa in the parlor. Candles were out, and the room dark except for the firelight that set the crystal and silver ornaments on the tree to sparkling.
Laurelton, already significantly smaller than Fleur-de-Lys, had a leaky roof that put their two guest rooms out of commission until Edgar and Gabe could make repairs, and left Wilson’s bedroom to Aunt Sarah and his mother. He glanced around the parlor, remembering chess matches most often lost to Wilson, and the wrestling matches he most often won… and most often resulting in broken trinkets and vigorous scoldings from Hannah.
Little Amelia had always been somewhere near, too, like tonight. His eyes rested on the shadow of mistletoe in the door frame, his heart still touched by the evidence of her enduring infatuation. An infatuation only intensified by his absence, not to mention the denial of friends and social interaction for far too long. Trying to steer him towards the mistletoe, each time, to the amusement of the others, he would be led almost near enough, only to turn around, step aside or back away, while pretending never to notice the bundle of greenery above them.
Until she maneuvered him towards the doorway once more after Hannah announced the last carol, and he finally feigned surprise and chivalrous delight at finding himself so placed. So sweet, he thought, smiling, remembering her tightly puckered lips in a face that was much too similar to Wilson’s, although he would never admit that thought crossing his mind at such a moment, especially not to Wilson.
Tomorrow he would find the Fleur-de-Lys documents and prepare his will. Impossible to know what might happen in the coming months, setting his own affairs in order before going back to the ship was now of prime importance. While he wanted to provide for Lilién, he could not risk leaving their home and his mother’s livelihood in the hands of Edward Cherrington.
He knew also, any discussion about safeguarding some of the more precious possessions and documents would need to be broached cautiously with his mother, not wanting to risk upsetting her into moving back home prematurely. This social visit had to extend at least until the danger from the approaching Union forces had passed.
Comfortable as he was, it pained him to know that Fleur-de-Lys was completely empty and alone for the first time in its existence, left vulnerable.
Pretty Arabella, too, was also alone and even more vulnerable. Mistreatment at the hands of her conquerors would be without the justification of being spoils of war but she was every bit as much a victim of the war as her brother.
It was Jems who had called him a prude when he had declined to go into a Kingston brothel when the Dolphin had put in for supplies a month into their first mission. For days afterwards, he suffered through his crewmember’s descriptive tales of all he had missed, mentally wavering between regretting his decision and gratitude for his prudishness.
Not prudish, he thought. Prudent. And influenced by two early experiences that had determined his moral code much more effectively than a lengthy, dogmatic catechism.
He had been on his own with Louis Charles in Charleston, who promised his sixteen-year-old brother a night on the town full of surprises. As they walked down a narrow lane, Brendan remembered how curious it was that the windows in one of the houses were covered in crimson draperies, the light behind them casting a soft red glow into the darkness of Beresford Street. Louis had walked into a big, brick building as though he owned it, and within moments and without a backward glance to his little brother, walked up a wide, thickly carpeted stairway, laughing with a bold, voluptuous woman in a revealing dress of emerald green satin.
Brendan, trembling near the door and slowly waking to the nature of the surprise, was appraised by four other women still seated in the parlor, who whispered and giggled as he politely drew off his hat. The hostess nodded to a girl who sat quietly to one side, brown hair drawn up into a knot, wearing a floaty, pale gown that reminded him of the wispy pink clouds at dawn. Before he knew what to think, she had his arm and was guiding him towards the same stairway where he had last seen Louis, looking up and smiling sweetly, saying words he was not quite able to comprehend.
The small room to which she led him was just big enough for the large bed and a table that held a crystal decanter and two glasses. Phoebe was young and demure enough not to frighten him, experienced enough to reassure and instruct. After two, rapidly consumed glasses of wine and several deep kisses, he was a willing student.
Never sure how many hours later, he followed a servant downstairs, slightly dizzy, weak-kneed and in love. As he followed Louis out of the establishment, he glanced around in the hopes of seeing Phoebe, who had disappeared from the tiny bedroom during his prolonged state of oblivion. She was now the only girl in the parlor, lips rouged and every hair in place, and wearing a lavender gown every bit as enticing as the pink. Brendan saw the madam nod towards her, and not acknowledging his presence, Phoebe went and took the arm of a beefy old fellow with a hearty laugh and big hands.
The next instant Brendan was outside puking in the gutter and Louis had laughed at him all the way back to their hotel.
Not long after returning home, Charles realized his younger son was laboring under the weight of a very guilty conscience. During a long walk on the plantation, his father adroitly approached the topics of human nature and a young man’s natural urges, following deftly with an admonition about his obligations to control those urges and honor the weaker sex.
“What if they do not honor themselves, sir?” he had asked, echoing Louis’s justification the one time he had tried to talk to his brother about the experience, immediately cringing inside at the disappointment which had crossed his father’s face.
Charles had frowned and shaken his head. “Son, your conscience is troubling you because you know your obligation is to care for and protect those who are weak and helpless, not to take advantage of that vulnerability.”
Charles ended the talk as they neared the house with practical counsel about the risks involved in engaging in such behavior and frequenting such establishments, which Brendan swore fervently never to do again.
After a big one-armed hug, Charles walked away, reminding Brendan over his shoulder that Father Fortiér was visiting and would be available for confession before Mass the next morning. Brendan groaned, certain he heard his father chuckle as he walked up the path towards the house.
The soft whisper did not belong to the shimmery pink vision or the searing, intense memory of Phoebe’s whispered encouragements, her body beneath his, her legs around him, slowly taking him in…
“Brendan?” the whisper repeated with some urgency, a small, warm hand shaking him. “Kiss me again. Please?”
As her lips touched his, his arms went around her, pulling her on top of him, crushing her to him. While his tongue explored her sweet mouth, his hands explored her body and tugged at the delicate drapery of her dress.
The sound of tearing fabric, followed by a small shriek and thump on the floor beside him had the effect of a pitcher of ice-cold water, banishing both the dream and his physical reaction to it. He opened his eyes to see the firelit parlor of Laurelton, and little Amelia sobbing against his shoulder.
“What…? Amelia? What are you doing?”
“I just wanted another kiss. A real kiss! What were you doing?”
“Oh, God!” He sat up abruptly, pulling away from her. “I’m sorry, so sorry. I didn’t realize it was you… I was dreaming… I think…”
The more he apologized, the more she sobbed and given the circumstances, it seemed the height of boorishness to tell her not to cry.
“Miss Amelia, please do not rouse the house,” he beseeched, peering through the long veil of her light blonde hair she endeavored to hide behind. “It would be most distressing for all concerned to end my visit with your father switching me all the way back to Fleur-de-Lys.”
She peeped back, meeting his mischievous eyes, and a hiccup that might have been a giggle slowed and quieted her crying.
“I am so sorry, please forgive me!”
“I do forgive you,” she insisted, lifting her head and looking at him with a timid sort of defiance, “but …I …just…”
During the long pause where he feared more sobs were in the offing, he watched her delicate profile in the firelight. He reached out and gently touched her cheek.
“Just what, dear?”
She gave a deep, shaking sigh. “…I really liked it.”
Laughing, he resisted the urge to kiss her again, fearing it might very well seal their betrothal.
He gently tousled her curls instead. “Amelia?”
“Go back to bed.”
Brendan waited until the golden circle of light from her candle faded away and the top step creaked, as it always had as long as he could remember. Once he heard the door to her room close softly, he fell back on the pillow, covered his face with his hands and swore.
ALTHOUGH HANNAH INVITED HIM to stay again at Laurelton, he politely declined, truthfully explaining he wanted to spend his last night at Fleur-de-Lys and not mentioning his desire to avoid another nocturnal visit. He had spent the remainder of the night on guard, more alert than when crossing all three cordons of the blockading squadron into Wilmington during a full moon.
Miss Amelia did not venture downstairs in the morning.
Before leaving for Camden he asked to talk with Edgar privately. Better to tell her father the whole truth to his face and take whatever ire the old man wanted to throw at him, than have Amelia tell anyone half-truths where he would certainly seem, at the very least, like an opportunistic roué.
No sooner had the door closed and Brendan standing in front of Edgar Hall trying to formulate the speech to protect Miss Amelia’s honor and his own hide, when Edgar succumbed to a fit of laughter so long and so hard it threw him into a prolonged paroxysm of coughing. Brendan stood by helplessly, about to call Hannah when Edgar regained his voice.
“‘Oh God!’” Edgar emitted a fairly precise imitation of Brendan’s panicked exclamation of the night before, despite the laughter still burbling out of him. “God Almighty, son! I meant to make you confess the whole damn story but couldn’t hold it back any longer! I been wantin’ to let go of that since last night!”
Unable to sleep, he had ventured downstairs to read in his small study near the parlor, Edgar explained between sporadic bouts of laughter. When he heard Brendan moan in his sleep he listened closely, at first with concern followed by alarm, hearing Amelia’s urgent whispering, which had soon changed to the squeal and thump to the floor.
Brendan’s high color and facial expressions seemed to add to his amusement.
“I never thought to be so pleased to be eavesdropped upon, sir,” he said, as they shook hands, relieved beyond measure at the old man’s insomnia and sense of humor.
“And I haven’t been so entertained since comin’ home from the war!” Edgar continued to chuckle as Brendan walked from the room.