Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.
Have a seat, Mr. Secretary,” Lincoln said. Scratching of chairs covered another comment which Gabby couldn’t understand. Lincoln chuckled and Stanton harrumphed.
“The information from Chancellorsville was late yesterday afternoon. There was a surprise attack led by General Jackson.”
“How bad was it?” the president asked.
“Hooker was caught off-guard and—“
“More lives lost.” Lincoln sighed. “More lives will be lost.”
“Meade acquitted himself well, but it was not enough.”
“Meade’s a good man.”
“Hooker must be replaced,” Stanton said.
Gabby became aware of an awkward pause.
“Or perhaps he should be given another opportunity,” Stanton offered. His tone was softer.
He wanted Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought, but Stanton did not want to say so. The war secretary wanted the president to say what he would tell the cabinet upstairs, except he was still locked in the basement. The president, Gabby repeated in his mind. If he—Gabby–were actually president, then perhaps Stanton was waiting for him to step from behind the crates and barrels to tell him what to do. Gabby moved a foot slightly before two other thoughts seeped into his mind: he did not know what to do, and if he were indeed president, he would follow the adage that the leader who leads least, leads best.
“And if Hooker were replaced,” Stanton continued after another long silence, “who’d replace him?”
Again, stinging silence controlled the room.
“You’ve nothing to say?” Stanton asked.
“Oh. You expected a response,” Lincoln ingeniously replied. “I presumed you were merely thinking out loud.”
“You know very well I wasn’t.” Stanton spat. “If I wish to think aloud I needn’t come here.”
Gabby heard Lincoln’s sigh and respected his remarkable restraint.
“Where will you put me if I’m wrong this time, Old Capitol Prison?”
Stanton began to gurgle in indignation.
“I apologize,” Lincoln said. Gabby thought he should not have. “Try to forget what I said. I seem to be in the middle of a malaise. Why I should be melancholy I don’t know—once again I slide into irony. It’s the Union’s future that’s important, and not me.”
“Thank you, sir,” Stanton whispered.
“Replace Hooker with Meade. With whom we shall eventually replace Meade can be discussed another day.”
Very wise that I stepped back to allow Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought. He did well. Chairs shuffled about, indicating Stanton was leaving.
“Mr. Stanton?” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was subdued.
“Yes?” he wearily replied.
“I’m worried about Private Christy. His clothes are disheveled and his hair—“
“His appearance is his own business.” Stanton turned away.
“I’m not complaining about his appearance,” Mrs. Lincoln persisted. “It’s the reason for his appearance. He’s not happy.”
“We’re at war.” H emitted a brutal laugh. “No one’s happy.”
Before she could reply, the door opened. Gabby could see that it was Adam returning the chamber pots. Stanton left, and Lincoln disappeared behind his curtain. Mrs. Lincoln just stood there, eyeing Adam with sympathy. Gabby wanted to help. After Adam put the pots in their respective places, Gabby remembered what the strange man in the straw hat said to him. He reached out to touch the private’s arm.
“Ocean waves taught me always to see beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.”
Gabby followed Adam to the door.
“Young men are meant to laugh and play.”
“All right.” Adam wrinkled his brow as he unlocked the door to leave.
“Do you have a strong, lean, white belly?” Gabby reached out to touch his midsection, but Adam opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
As he heard the key locking the door, Gabby earnestly added, “Your nation needs you.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama then one night mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
Christmas came that year without much fanfare in Herman’s house. In fact they didn’t talk about it at all, except one night when they had all gone to bed and Herman said something to Tad.
“Don’t you think it would be nice if you and I made something for papa?” Herman whispered from across the room.
“What? Are you stupid?” Tad scolded with a hiss. “That would just make papa feel worse. I think we should just pretend Christmas doesn’t exist.”
By not saying anything in reply, Herman agreed that Tad was right. And he tried to ignore Christmas but when December twenty-fifth arrived Herman felt as though he would burst if he didn’t do something for his papa. His problem was Tad. If he made anything real big Tad would see it and get mad. And Herman didn’t know if he could make anything that papa would use in the first place. So finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to make papa a Christmas card. He pulled out some paper from school and drew a Christmas tree with his crayons. He folded the paper and on the inside he wrote, “Merry Christmas. I love you, papa.”
He looked down from the loft to see papa sitting at the kitchen table drinking his cup of coffee, the room lit only by a single kerosene lamp. The little scene was pretty, the solitary figure in the glow of the lamp, Herman thought. But it was sad too, so lonely.
Herman scampered down the ladder, ran over to his papa, tossed the card on the table and turned to run back to the loft. Papa grabbed his arm while he looked at the card. It was not an angry grab, like he had done in the past, but a gentle restraint. Herman was afraid to look at papa, but finally he managed to glance into the face awash in the kerosene lamp glow. At first he couldn’t tell if the expression papa’s face was changing or not. Then he spotted a small tear brimming on the eyelid.
Papa pulled Herman to him, hugged him and kissed him on the neck. “I’m sorry, son. I’m so relieved you still love me. And I love you. I wish I could show you more often, but I can’t. Just take my word for it. I do love you.”
Christmas morning was like any other morning. Papa, Tad and Herman ate a silent breakfast before heading for the barn to do their chores. Suddenly there was the sound of a car pulling up outside. Herman didn’t think anything about it until he heard the front door open.
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” Callie roared, her face beaming and her arms filled with presents. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Calvin were standing behind her.
Herman jumped to his feet and ran to his sister. She put the packages down so she could hug her brother.
“What are you doing here?” papa asked without showing any surprise or happiness or, for that matter, anger.
Aunt Joyce laughed a little and put her hands on her hips. “Why, Woody, what a thing to say to your little girl! It’s Christmas!”
Papa looked down. “Oh, I had forgotten.”
Herman knew that wasn’t so, but he forgave his father for lying.
“We were going to work in the barn today,” Tad said, trying to sound as though the visitors were intruding, but Herman noticed Tad couldn’t keep his eyes off the packages on the floor.
“There’s time enough for that tomorrow,” Uncle Calvin replied. “Today’s Christmas.”
Callie walked across the room and put her arms around Tad. “I know you won’t hug me, so I’ll hug you.”
Then she looked at her father, her head down. “Hello, papa.”
Herman could have sworn the next moment lasted all day. Callie stood there, with her head down, her shoulders beginning to shake a little like she was about to cry because papa wouldn’t hug her. Tad pretended he was interested in eating the pancakes on his plate, but Herman knew that wasn’t true because they were cold already. Uncle Calvin shuffled his feet and acted like he’d really rather be somewhere else. Aunt Joyce kept her hands on her hips and stared at papa. And papa continued to stare into space, his eyes so blank he might as well be as dead as mama was. Finally papa’s face changed, but Herman could see the eyes take on a sorrow of the whole house. His cheeks scrunched up and his lips pursed as his eyes closed tight, as though they were trying to keep the tears from getting out. He thrust his arms out to Callie who ran into them. Papa cried softly and kissed Callie on her cheeks and mumbled words like “I love you” and I’m so glad you’re home.” Even Tad got up from his chair, forgetting his cold pancakes, and patted Callie on the back. Uncle Calvin stopped shuffling, and Aunt Joyce smiled.
“Now that’s better,” she announced. “I didn’t think you menfolk were going to make a fuss over Christmas so we brought Christmas dinner and all the trimmings to you.”
“I’ll go to the car and get it,” Uncle Calvin said and disappeared out the door.
Herman could tell his uncle was glad he had something to do other than stand around and shuffle his feet. Aunt Joyce cleared the breakfast dishes and cleaned around the kitchen, fussing to herself that it takes a woman to keep a house really clean. Callie presented each of her Christmas gifts. Herman’s was the biggest, and he stole glances at Tad to see if he were jealous.
“Oh boy, Herman! Hurry and open it!” Tad said, sounding happier than he had in a long time.
Relieved that his brother wasn’t jealous, Herman ripped the paper off to see a brightly painted wooden car, just right for Burly to ride on. Herman hugged it, but not too tightly because he didn’t want to break it. “Callie, this is beautiful! Thank you!”
“Uncle Calvin actually made it,” Callie said, looking at her uncle with an appreciative grin.
He turned around from his unpacking of food to smile shyly. “Aww, it wasn’t hard to do. Callie did the hard part. She painted it.”
Herman’s hand glided across the smooth, red surface. “Burly’s going to love it.”
Tad poked at him. “Burly’s going to love it? Why, he’s nothing but burlap and stuffing. How can he love anything?”
Callie looked at him straight, like she was annoyed. “Herman can use his imagination, can’t he? That’s more than you ever do.” She paused and then poked at Tad. “Go ahead and open your present.”
“I’m getting too old for toys,” Tad said gruffly but his voice sounded too excited to be all grown up.
“Who said it was a toy?” Callie replied.
By that time Tad had the wrapping torn away and was awed by a hunting knife. “Gosh,” was all he could say.
Aunt Joyce looked over her shoulder as she scrubbed the kitchen sink. “Now you take good care of that knife, Tad. It was my papa’s.”
Tad smiled. “Oh, I’ll take real good care of it.”
“Thank you,” Joyce,” papa said with difficulty. “That’s mighty kind of you.”
Aunt Joyce reached over to pat papa on the shoulder. “Think nothing of it, Woody.”
Callie handed papa a small, flat square package. “Merry Christmas, papa,” she whispered.
Papa kissed her on the cheek and then carefully removed the paper. His eyes began to fill with tears as he looked at a small framed picture of his daughter.
“It’s so you won’t forget what I look like.”
Papa hugged her. “I’d never do that, baby. Never.”
Callie pulled away, her eyes now filled with a bit of hope. “Well, then do you think—“
Papa gently put his fingertips to her mouth. “Don’t ask, please. Just believe it’s all for the best, all right?”
Callie nodded and stood. “I guess I better help Aunt Joyce with the dinner.”
Herman had the biggest urge to jump up and run over to papa and Callie and pull them back together and yell, “No! It’s not for the best! Please, papa, let Callie come home!” But he remembered what Burly said. Callie looked too much like mama for papa to let her stay. That wasn’t for the best, but there was nothing Herman could do to change papa’s mind. He remained silent.
Callie looked around at Herman and smiled. “Herman, guess who I have out in the car?”
Herman’s eyes brightened. “Pearly Bear!”
“Yes!” Callie replied. “Why don’t you go out and get her and play bear family while we’re cooking dinner?”
“Play bear family?” Tad said with a sneer, then stopped to clear his throat. “That sounds like fun.”
Papa reached over and patted Tad on the back. Herman went out to Uncle Calvin’s car for Pearly and took her and the toy car up the ladder to the loft.
He gathered Burly and Burly Senior on his bed.
“Pearly!” Burly Senior exclaimed. “I knew we would be together again!”
The bear parents exchanged a burlap embrace. “I’m so happy to see you again,” Pearly said. She looked at Burly Junior in his new car. “How do you like it, Burly?”
Burly made car engine sounds. “It’s great.”
Herman sighed. “I wish papa would let Callie come home.”
Burly stopped his pretend driving and looked at his friend. “I know you do. You love your sister very much. And you can see how happy she makes your father if he will let her.” Burly paused to pat Herman’s arm. “But you know, down deep, that he will never let her make him happy.”
Herman nodded and was about to cry.
“Now this is silly,” Pearly Bear announced. “You should be happy and laughing because this is a wonderful day.”
“Yes,” Burly Senior added. “Don’t make it sad by wishing for things you know can’t be.”
Herman hugged all three and looked over the edge of the loft. Papa and Tad were sitting close together looking at his brother’s new knife. Uncle Calvin hugged Callie.
“They really seem to like Callie,” Herman said.
“Of course they do,” Burly replied.
“It would be hard not to like Callie,” Pearly added.
Herman hugged all three bears again. “Merry Christmas, bear family.”
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest.
The November air in Berchtesgaden 1929 was bracing. Joachim Von Ribbentrop stood on the balcony of his hotel taking in the view of the beauty of the Bavarian Mountains covered in snow. Berchtesgaden was on the southern border of Germany and Austria, not far from Munich and the Black Forest. Although the weather and scenery always reinvigorated his spirit, Ribbentrop could not help but think back to his exotic encounter with Wallis Spencer in Paris over a year ago. Wallis expertly removed every layer of clothing from his body but only stripped down to her satin slip. She could do things with her hands and mouth that threw him into a sensual madness.
He read in the newspaper she recently married Ernest Simpson. He hoped she remembered it was his help with finding a lawyer that made her new-found happiness possible. Ribbentrop felt he had to be with her again and give her another white carnation in tribute to their experience.
A knock at the door broke his revelry. A slender young man dressed in a crisp shirt and slacks and a jacket with a swastika on the sleeve, stood attention when Ribbentrop opened the door. He knew he was looking at an emissary from Herr Adolph Hitler, the most powerful politician in Germany.
“Herr Hitler requests your presence at Berghof.”
Ribbentrop smartly clicked his heels, put on his overcoat and followed the young man downstairs to a waiting black limousine. He settled into a comfortable position in the back seat while the brown-shirted boy sat in front with the driver. On the long, winding drive through the mountains, Ribbentrop congratulated himself in his skillful manipulation of his socially influential friends to gain an audience with the man who one day would rule Germany—indeed, all of Europe with an iron hand. His mind, however, could not help but wander back to Wallis. He knew she would be impressed when she learned he was close friends with Adolph Hitler.
When the car made a final turn to reach its mountaintop destination, Ribbentrop was disappointed to see that Berghof was a rather small, unimpressive hunting chalet. He expected Herr Hitler to have more awesome accommodations. The limousine came to a stop in front of the entrance, and a teen-aged girl scurried out, opened his door and curtsied.
“Herr Hitler is waiting for you in parlor,” she said as she escorted him into a plain vestibule, turned right and opened a door to a darkened room.
All the curtains were closed and a movie screen hung on the far wall. Several comfortable chairs were centered in front. A black and white cartoon of a dancing mouse on the deck of a boat played across the screen. A catchy little tune filled the room along with male laughter.
“Herr Von Ribbentrop?” a voice called out.
Ribbentrop thought how he could be late since he could go nowhere until Hitler’s limousine arrived at the hotel.
“Don’t worry. No one can live up to my exacting standards.”
Hitler stood and turned toward Ribbentrop, his face illuminated by the glare of the movie projector, a dancing mouse flitting across his forehead.
“I have heard many good things about you. You are an excellent salesman of a totally useless product—champagne. I admire that. That’s what a good leader is, you know, a salesman.” He patted the armchair next to his. “Come, sit.”
As Ribbentrop sat, Hitler stared at him and raised a knowing eyebrow. “I am sure you are thinking how this man can be the future of Germany and live in such an ordinary house. Well, I am renting it from Herr Wachenfield. I plan to buy it soon and turn it into a show place to rival the grandest castles on the Rhine.” He sat back to continue to watch the cartoon, which played over and over again. “That mouse, he’s very funny. He’s small but he always wins, always. That’s like Germany, you know. It’s small, but it can win, always win, when it has the right man at the helm of the steamboat.” He glanced at his visitor. “Do you think I’m a good steamboat captain?”
“Yes, Herr Hitler.”
“Good. You have skills beneficial to my cause. You are a celebrity among the London social crowd, are you not? You can do much to win them over. They are particularly vulnerable since they already open to the idea of following a supreme leader like a king.” He spat in derision. “That stupid man. I tried to interest the Prince of Wales in our Princess Stephanie. She’s a Jew, but nevertheless beautiful and completely loyal to me.”
“I know Stephanie very well,” Ribbentrop interjected. “She asked to introduce her to the prince.”
“Yes, I know,” Hitler replied with a sly smile. “I know everything.”
“What can I do for you, mein fuhrer?” He swallowed hard.
“Since Stephanie was unable to seduce the prince into being our surrogate,” Hitler explained, “we have to find a way to demoralize the English people to the point of discarding their own government and welcome me as their ruler.”
“How can I do that?”
Hitler leaned in, but first peeked at the screen and smiled at the mouse’s antics. “I love how that little mouse dances. Walt Disney is the only American I have any respect for.” After a pause, he continued, “Help me to steal the crown jewels of England.”
“What?” Ribbentrop blinked.
“This is not a new idea. It was in an English novel. Arthur Conan Doyle. One of those Sherlock Holmes mysterious.” He raised an eyebrow. “You must read British literature, don’t you?”
Ribbentrop blinked again. “I prefer the German classics.”
“Well, of course. But you must open your mind to new ideas, even if they come from the English.”
“Of course, mein fuhrer.”
“Once the English people realize I was able to steal the jewels from the Tower of London, they will see their government is completely impotent, incompetent. Demoralized, they will turn to me to lead them.”
“How can we steal the jewels.” Ribbentrop felt himself getting drawn into Hitler’s vision.
“Out of your many acquaintances in London, surely someone has a connection with a person who works at the Tower of London. Use your influence to have them steal the diamonds.”
Ribbentrop smiled. “I think I know such a woman. A Mrs. Barnes. Her husband is the ambassador to Tanganyika. They are currently in London but will return to Africa within the month. I have had desperate telephone calls from her begging for a rendezvous before she leaves.”
“Does she love you?” Hitler looked up to the projectionist. “That’s enough for today. Come back tomorrow.”
“She loves sex.”
“Are you sure she’s British?”
“Yes. I’ve found it is mostly the men who are the cold fish, especially the rich ones.”
“Continue.” Hitler showed no emotion.
“She talks all the time about her brother-in-law who is the assistant administrator at the Tower of London. She’s having sex with him too and is afraid her husband will find out. Her lover has direct access to the crown jewels. The little idiot doesn’t even understand the importance of what she said.”
“Can you trust her?”
“Of course not. She doesn’t have the sense to be trusted. That’s why I would not tell her who will get the jewels eventually.” Ribbentrop pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He began to relax with the fuhrer “I have an idea. I’ll tell her I have connections to a secret world-wide crime organization which will pay handsomely for the diamonds. They will be able to re-cut them and sell them on the open market. She will receive a handsome payment.”
Hitler’s face clouded in suspicion. “Is there such an organization?”
“Oh.” His eyes widened in surprise. “No. Of course not. I just thought of it. You inspired my imagination.”
“Of course I did.” Hitler leaned back with a smug smile.
“Then I’ll instruct her to take the jewels with her back to Africa for transfer to the, um, organization.” He waved his cigarette about nervously. “Ambassadors’ luggage is rarely inspected by customs agents. Then one of your men can secure the diamonds from her on the train in Tanganyika.”
Hitler grimaced in deep thought then stood. “Good. Do it. You may leave now.”
Ribbentrop stood, clicked his heels and bowed. He found it hard to smile because Hitler stepped closer to examine his face. Perhaps the fuhrer sensed he was lying about the organization.
“I momentarily considered sticking my tongue into the dimple on your chin.” Hitler extended a finger and touched Ribbentrop’s cleft. “But I changed my mind.”
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.
Lingering at the corner of the crates and barrels, Gabby watched Mrs. Lincoln pick up the picture frame, focus her small brown eyes on it, and turn a bright scarlet. Her cheeks puffed out. Lincoln stopped when he saw his wife staring at it. Gabby knew yelling was about to begin, and his stomach tied into knots. He lost his appetite for his fried eggs. The air in the basement room became hotter and thicker. This wasn’t any of his business, but Gabby had to listen to it. He had no place to go. He was trapped like one of the rats he used to set traps for. Even as scared as he was, Gabby couldn’t help but peek around first stack of crates.
“Oh,” was the only word Lincoln could say. His head went down, and he stuck his hands in his pockets.
“I thought you left this photograph in Springfield.” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was soft, but intense.
He cocked his head and shrugged. “Looking at it makes me forget for a few minutes about this awful war.”
“Looking at me is supposed to do that.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m your wife. I’m supposed to give you comfort. But it seems you don’t want any comfort from me!”
What kind of picture would provoke Mrs. Lincoln to such anger, Gabby wondered as he peered around the crates. The frame was small, perhaps three by five inches, not ornate but plain. Could it be a photograph of their first child who died? Shaking his head, Gabby decided that was not it. He would be very happy to have picture of his father, and no one could get mad for him having it.
Lincoln awkwardly tried to but his long arms around her tiny body, but she jerked away in holy indignation.
“You promised me you wouldn’t bring it.” After a cold moment of silence, Mrs. Lincoln flung the picture across the room.
Gabby’s eyes widened as Lincoln scrambled to pick up the frame, running his bony fingers over it, to check to see if the glass had broken. Lincoln returned it to his coat pocket and walked slowly to his wife.
“She was only a child. And now she’s dead.” Lincoln’s voice almost cracked. “She’s not a threat to you.”
“Not a threat!” Mrs. Lincoln’s face twisted. “That trollop has tormented me through my entire marriage!”
“Don’t call her that.” Lincoln’s hand impulsively reached to the pocket holding the photograph. “She was a sweet, innocent child who encouraged my dreams.”
“I didn’t encourage your dreams?” Mrs. Lincoln’s hysteria grew.
“I’ve told you; it isn’t even her in the photograph.”
“But it looks like her. That’s why you bought it.” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes narrowed.
Gabby wondered who the girl in the picture was to create such a torrent of emotions between the Lincolns. She must have been a former girlfriend of Lincoln. She supported his dreams, Gabby sighed. Joe had encouraged his dreams, and he had supported Joe’s dreams. Joe had died, and all their dreams vanished with him. Gabby’s thoughts turned to his sister Cordie. He couldn’t her ever saying anything about his dreams. She was too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads and making sure they had something to eat.
“You’ve never loved me.” Tears rolled down Mrs. Lincoln’s cheeks. “Ann Rutledge won your heart, and she has it still.”
Lincoln took a deep breath, and Gabby expected a reasoned reply from him, but the door opened, and Stanton strode in, breaking the tension. Mrs. Lincoln, wiping her tears away, turned to disappear behind her French lace curtains, barely acknowledging the secretary of war. Shuddering, Gabby retreated further into his corner with his plate of fried eggs. Stanton scared the hell out of him. He cocked his head to eavesdrop.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
The next day after Callie left, papa got up extra early, roused the boys and took them fishing. Herman couldn’t believe it. Papa mostly took them fishing so they wouldn’t go hungry that night. Maybe Papa was going to make up for the way he’d been acting since mama died, Herman hoped. He and his brother fixed a picnic lunch and jumped into the cab of the pick-up.
Tad eyed Herman closely. “You didn’t bring that stupid bear, did you?”
Herman pushed Burly behind him. “No,” he lied but not very well.
Tad smirked and reached around and pulled out Burly. “Oh yes you did. Don’t try to lie to me, Herman. I know you too well.”
Herman looked down. “I don’t know what it’d hurt, for Burly to come along.”
“Nothing, I guess.” Tad sighed. “Just don’t let papa see it.”
“Don’t let papa see what?” their father bellowed out, glancing over at the two boys.
“Uh oh,” Tad murmured.
“It’s just Burly,” Herman replied bravely, holding up his teddy bear.
“Oh that,” he said with a snort. “I thought it was something you shouldn’t have.”
Herman felt happy—no, that wasn’t the word for it, Herman corrected himself. No one could be happy having just lost their mama and sister in the same week, but Herman did feel peaceful, perhaps hopeful that this new life thrust upon him would not be as bad as he feared.
Papa sat on the bank of the Sulphur River under a tree for hours staring at the water flowing by, not caring if any fish pulled on his line or not. Tad tried very hard to be the good fisherman and catch something for their dinner that night, but he couldn’t keep the bait on the hook long enough. Herman just ran up and down the bank with Burly playing make-believe battles and other wonderful adventures.
It was a happy—no, peaceful and hopeful—day for Herman, but one, as he thought back on it, that was not entirely real because no one spoke. Papa didn’t look at the boys. Tad mumbled to himself about his fishing bad luck, and Herman whispered excitedly to Burly. When they returned home, Herman volunteered to cook supper, which ended up being burnt bacon and eggs, but papa didn’t complain. For once Tad didn’t pick on him. He offered to help him learn how to watch the food on the stove. Finally papa got up from the table with a sigh and went to his room. Herman jumped up, ran over and wrapped his arms about his father’s waist.
“Oh, papa, I love you.” Herman surprised himself because he almost cried before he got the sentence out.
When papa didn’t return the hug but just stood there looking off in the distance, the tears and the reason for them seemed to leave him as the dew disappeared from the grass on a hot summer morning. Herman turned to climb the ladder to the loft. As he was about to undress for bed he heard papa call Tad into his room. Leaning over the edge of the loft Herman could barely make out what papa was saying.
“I’m going to have to rely on you, son,” papa whispered. “You’re beginning to grow up, and all this means you’re going to have to grow up even faster. I’m sorry about that.”
Once again Herman felt a tinge of jealousy because papa loved Tad more than him. His father spoke some more and Tad spoke, but their words were so soft Herman couldn’t understand. A sad pain shot through his body when he saw papa give Tad a long, tight hug. Flinging himself on his bed Herman tried to hold back the tears, but he couldn’t. He held Burly close to him.
“Why doesn’t papa love me anymore?” he asked between the sobs.
“He loves you very much,” Burly replied.
“You keep saying that, but I heard him say that he loved Tad the most. And—and now he won’t even look at me.”
“Do you know why?” Burly asked.
Herman stuck his bottom lip out. “Because he doesn’t love me anymore.”
Burly waited for Herman to blow his nose. “Do you remember why your father said he loved Tad the most?”
Herman thought back. “Because he said Tad looked like him.”
“Have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the mirror real hard?”
“Why no.” Herman wrinkled his brow. He didn’t know what Burly was aiming at.
“Then you don’t know. You’ve never seen it,” Burly said, smiling a little. “You look just like your mother. So does Callie.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“That’s why he sent Callie away. That’s why he’s not looking at you now,” Burly explained. “You and your sister remind him too much of your mother. And he loved her very much.”
“Never think too little of a man’s love for his wife,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “Your father’s love for your mother almost killed him in the last few days. I’d say he’s having a tough time talking himself into living.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know he felt that way,” Herman confessed.
“I feel the same about Pearly,” Burly Senior continued. The only thing that keeps me from being as sad as your father is the fact that I will get to see Pearly again someday. We might even get to live together again.”
“So don’t be jealous,” Burly said. “Times are going to be hard enough as it is without you causing trouble with Tad because you’re jealous.”
So for the next few weeks and months Herman held his tongue and tried to look the other way when papa spoke to Tad and gave him an extra pat on the back. One reward for Herman’s behavior was that Tad seemed nicer. Maybe he knew he was getting special treatment from papa.
“You’re becoming a pretty good cook for a nine-year-old,” Tad said at supper one night near Christmas.
Herman smiled. “Thanks.”
He quickly glanced at papa who was concentrating on his food. Herman could have sworn papa had been looking at him. Sometimes as they worked in the field or as he helped in the barn Herman had the odd sensation papa was staring at him. When he told Burly about it, his little bear smiled.
“He’s coming out of his sadness a little,” Burly said. “Give him more time.”
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol and marries Ernest. In one of their first assignments working separately, they fail to stop the theft of Jessie Donahue’s jewels.
Jessie Donahue sat in the tea pavilion of Cielito Lindo, her Palm Beach mansion, on a late morning of October 1929. She puffed on a cigarette between sips of champagne and black hot coffee, occasionally pausing to nibble at a buttered croissant.
Even in her early thirties, her receding chin was disappearing in crepe-like fat. All the jewels she wore could not hide her frumpy figure. All the latest Paris fashions could not hide the fact she looked like a fishmonger’s wife.
But she found comfort in the fact she did not have to be beautiful. Her father was Woolworth of five-and-dime fame, and it was impossible for her to spend all her money in her lifetime. All her millions could not buy her entry into the prestigious Four Hundred which irritated her like an itch on her back she could not scratch. One thing her money could buy was James Donahue. He was tall, handsome, dark hair, bright blue eyes, a wonderful dancer and a glib conversationalist. He came from a relatively rich family in the fat rendering business. Also, when it came to sexual attraction he held no prejudice against either gender.
Old man Woolworth cried on Jessie’s wedding day. He stopped long enough to walk her down the aisle. Her mother did not object to the marriage; of course, by that time she was institutionalized for dementia. James paid attention to Jessie long enough to give her two sons Wooly and Jimmy.
James, dressed in elegant mauve silk lounging pajamas, finally emerged from their mansion and wandered to the tea pavilion. He plopped in a chair, ignored the coffee and went straight to the champagne.
“Good morning, darling,” he purred with a lazy smile.
Jessie put out her cigarette in a half-eaten grapefruit.
“Jim, you know I adore you. You are a beautiful, delightful creature. You have given me two wonderful sons.”
And I worship you, dearest.”
I don’t mind that you are unfaithful to me. I don’t mind you lose millions gambling each year. Anything to make you happy.”
“I appreciate your tolerance, sweetheart.” He leaned over to peck her cheek. “And I am happy. Deliriously happy.”
Jessie pushed him back and leaned into his face, her eyes narrowing into evil, angry slits. “But I don’t like losing my jewels.”
“Of course, Jessikins.”
“You took them.”
Jim’s mouth fell open as he bit into a croissant. “Why, I thought that detective Noel Scaffa—whatever his name was—took them and pretended to retrieve them from the alleged thief for an exorbitant ransom. He spent six months in prison, didn’t he?”
“He was convicted of perjury, not theft.”
“What difference does it make? He shrugged his broad shoulders. “You got your jewels back.”
“I didn’t get back my blue sapphire. I loved that blue sapphire.”
“Remember, Jessie,” Jim interrupted in a tutorial tone, “it was just a cold, unfeeling stone. It could never love you back.”
“You stole my jewels. You broke my trust and my heart!”
He pulled out a cigarette out of her pack on the table, lit it and took several rapid puffs in irritation. “The Fifth Avenue boys arrive on the noon train. They’re coming over this afternoon for a swim party. I hope you had the pool house cleaned properly. The glass must be crystal clear so the sun can properly heat the water. And I don’t want to be embarrassed if they smell that awful pond scum, or whatever it is.”
“I’ve never had any dirt on my estate in my life and you know it. You always pull that when you know you’re losing an argument. Just because you grew up in a house that smelled of pig fat doesn’t mean there are odors in my house.”
“Whatever. Can I go change now? I bought five new bathing suits and I don’t know which one to wear for the party.” He petulantly blew smoke through his nostrils.
“I want you to obtain new jewels for me,” she continued.
Her voice lowered which made Jim drop his nonchalant attitude and listen.
“Special jewels that will have to be re-cut before I can wear them. No one must know what they really are, but I will know. Perhaps then I will forgive you.” Jessie reached out, took his hand and squeezed hard until he grimaced. “Believe me. For you own safety, you want me to forgive you.”
Snatching his hand away, Jim took a quick gulp of champagne. “And how the hell am I supposed to do that?” He tried to expel a masculine grunt, but it sounded more like a whimper.
“Contact the same organization which stole my jewels.”
He stood and paced about the pavilion. “A special mysterious organization that knows how to get away with crime? You’re delusional.”
“No,” Jessie replied with slow sinister composure. “You’re delusional if you thought you could hide your crime from me. I knew about this organization before we met.”
“You did?” Jim blinked, and his cigarette slipped from his fingers. “How?”
“My father told me about it.” She sat back and lifted her double chin. “You don’t think he made all that money selling trinkets, did you?”
“Jessie, darling, I’m sorry.” He began to speak rapidly. “I did it for you. I was being blackmailed. I didn’t want you to be embarrassed by the publicity. I’ll never steal from you again. If a bastard tries to blackmail me, I’ll have him killed. Honest, we’ll work together on it—“
“Shut up, Jim.”
“So enjoy your little party with the boys; but right after that, make your contacts. I want new jewels.”
“How long do I have?”
“I’m generous. A year. Two at most.” She stood to walk back inside her mansion. Looking over her shoulder, Jessie added, “And pick up your damned cigarette butt.”
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
Jangling keys and the turning of a lock jarred Gabby’s thoughts from the past to his empty stomach and his full chamber pot. Gabby carried it carefully around the crates and barrels, depositing the pot by the door. He waited for Adam and the breakfast tray.
“Private Christy,” Mrs. Lincoln said graciously as she emerged from her French lace curtains. “Good morning.”
Adam kept his eyes down as he put the tray on the billiards table. Gabby could tell he was sinking into melancholia, a place Gabby himself visited many times and for extended periods. If the boy tarried there too long, he might find it hard to return. Gabby frantically tried to figure how to throw Adam a lifeline.
“Is it going to be another sweltering day, Private?” Mrs. Lincoln persisted in her pleasantries. “It’s been absolutely stifling. I’ve been glowing, absolutely glowing.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam said in muted tones. “Another warm day.” He avoided eye contact and went to the door.
“I appreciate your kindness, Private. Really I do.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Adam turned to her and managed a weak smile.
“Father?” Mrs. Lincoln called out after Adam had left, and she had heard the lock clank shut.
The tall, bearded man—who Gabby sometimes thought was president of the United States when he was not certain he himself held that title—walked out of his makeshift bedroom, brushing his shaggy hair away from his brow.
“Now what, Molly?” he asked in a tired voice, which sounded like Adam’s sad, muted tones.
Gabby frowned as he realized the similarities between Adam and Mr. Lincoln—the long, unruly locks and vacant stares. This was a time for him to keep his wits about him, Gabby told himself as he subconsciously brushed his own hair out of his eyes.
“I want you to talk to Private Christy,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“He seems to be suffering from some malaise,” she replied, walking to the billiards table to look at the tray. “Fried eggs again.” She looked up. “Mr. Gabby, come get your breakfast.”
“Fried eggs again?” His head down, Gabby shuffled toward the table. “I like fried eggs. Eggs taste good. Rooster eggs are best. Once the roosters jump on the back of the hens and pump them then the eggs can become chicks, if we don’t eat them first. Wonder what it is about the rooster’s stuff that makes the eggs taste better?”
“I have no idea, Mr. Gabby,” she replied with reserved disgust. “This isn’t actually a proper topic for conversation.”
“Do you know if these are rooster eggs?” he asked, ignoring her comment. “I guess you don’t since you haven’t been out of this room for almost a year. I haven’t been out of this room for almost a year, almost a year without Cordie. Cordie doesn’t like fried eggs. She doesn’t like the runny part—”
“Mr. Gabby.” Closing her eyes, Mrs. Lincoln firmly grasped his hands. Her voice was frantic, but soft and fragile. After inhaling deeply, she continued. “I’m so glad you like fried eggs.”
“You can have mine,” Lincoln offered.
“No, thank you, sir.” Gabby examined Lincoln’s loose-fitting suit. “You need to eat all you can get your hands on. You’re a bag of bones. I haven’t seen a bag of bones like yours since my father died.” Responding to the sudden squeeze on his hands from Mrs. Lincoln, he stopped. After looking at each of them, he took his plate. “I think I better eat my breakfast now.”
Settling on the floor behind the crates and barrels, Gabby began to eat, his head slightly cocked to hear the conversation between the Lincolns.
“I wish he’d taken the fried eggs,” Lincoln said, a hint of humor shading his voice. “Do you want them?”
“Heavens no!” Mrs. Lincoln replied. “I keep telling Private Christy I prefer poached eggs, but I suppose my poached eggs go to that woman upstairs.” She paused to sip her coffee. “Mr. Gabby’s right, you know. You’re too thin. You should eat more.”
Gabby smiled with pride as he wiped dribbled egg yolk from the corner of his mouth. Mrs. Lincoln knew he was smart. That colonel at West Point was wrong. He said Gabby was stupid after the accident. He said West Point never made a mistake. Stupid people get people killed, the colonel said. But Mrs. Lincoln did not think he was stupid.
“Father,” Mrs. Lincoln announced, “I was wrong to think being locked up in this basement was the worst thing that could happen to a human being.”
Her remark shook Gabby. He did not want her to be wrong about something. Mrs. Lincoln thought he was smart, and he did not want her to think she made mistakes.
“I’ve concluded it’s much worse to be the guard at the door,” she continued. “At least we’ve the peace of mind of knowing we’re sinned against. How horrible to live knowing you are the sinner.”
“Mother.” Lincoln paused to sigh. “You’re too profound for this early hour of the morning.”
“It’s Private Christy, Mr. Lincoln,” she persisted. “His appearance, his demeanor. He knows he’s a sinner—an innocent sinner compared to that devil Stanton, but a sinner all the same—and that terrible knowledge is killing his soul.”
“You expect me to save his soul?” Lincoln muttered. “My dear, I’m not divine.”
Gabby’s head turned as he heard the door unlock. Adam came sooner and sooner every day for the breakfast plates, Gabby grumbled. He stuffed an entire bran muffin in his mouth. Soon he would not have time even to finish his eggs. Gabby stood to take his plate to the billiards table. Adam gathered the others, accepted Gabby’s plate, mumbled thank you, and turned away. Gabby noticed Mrs. Lincoln nudging her husband.
“Say something,” she whispered.
Lincoln scowled at her, then turned and forced a smile on his face. “Son, do you like licorice?”
“What?” Adam stopped on his way to the door, startled.
“Licorice. Do you like to suck on it?”
“Licorice?” Mrs. Lincoln said, hissing at her husband under her breath.
“I suppose. I ain’t had much.”
“Well, then, let me give you some.” Lincoln walked toward him, patting his pockets. When he pulled out a white paper wrapping the licorice, a small framed picture fell to the floor.
“Thank you, sir,” Adam said, taking the candy and leaving.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died.)
When he awoke the next morning he heard a woman’s voice in the kitchen. It sounded like his mother’s voice. Herman looked across the loft to see Tad in his bed, and he heard a soft moan from behind the sheet where Callie slept. Did he dream his mother died last night? Was it all just a terrible nightmare? Herman hoped it was and crawled to the edge of the loft to peek over. His heart sunk when he saw his Aunt Joyce—his mother’s sister—in the kitchen and her husband, Uncle Calvin, sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee.
Aunt Joyce looked up and saw Herman. She smiled and said, “Hello, little boy. Come on down, and I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
Aunt Joyce looked very much like mama except she was heavier and had rosier cheeks. Her hair was streaked with gray and there were deep lines by her eyes and mouth.
“Have a good night’s sleep?” she asked softly, putting a bowl of oatmeal in front of him.
Herman took a couple of bites then looked up. “It’s real, isn’t it?”
Aunt Joyce looked at her husband and then directly into Herman’s eyes. “Yes, little boy. Your mama’s dead. Your papa’s still asleep in there. The doc gave him quite a shot last night to put him out, I understand. Your Uncle Calvin and I drove in from Texarkana when the sheriff called last night. We’ll stay to help out until after the funeral.”
Uncle Calvin cleared his throat. “And, of course, I’ll help the coloreds and you kids with bringing in the cotton. I don’t think your papa will be able to work the field, according to what the sheriff said. The last think he needs now is to lose the cotton crop.”
So it was work as usual for Herman, Tad and Callie that day, with Uncle Calvin and the Johnsons out in the field picking cotton. At lunch Mrs. Johnson told no stories and sang no songs. Even Tad kept quiet. Every now and then Callie would come over and give Herman a hug. When they came in for supper, papa’s bedroom door was still shut. The children had just finished eating when papa came out wearing his Sunday suit. Herman would have ordinarily smiled and told his papa how handsome he looked, but tonight he said nothing. Papa’s eyes told him to say nothing.
“Do you want to eat anything, Woody?” Aunt Joyce asked softly.
“Are you sure? It’s been since yesterday you put anything on your stomach.”
“Maybe later.” Then he left the house.
“Your papa’s going into town to the funeral parlor to pick out a coffin,” she announced as she cleared away the dishes.
The children were in bed when papa returned that night. He dropped into a chair by the kitchen table while Aunt Joyce fixed him a bowl of soup. Herman looked down at him and felt sorry for his papa. He was about to cry again.
“Go down and tell him how much you love him,” Burly whispered.
And Herman did. Without a word he crawled into his father’s lap and hugged him. “I love you, papa,” he said in a tiny, tear-choked voice. He waited a moment, hoping for those long, stringy, strong arms to enfold around him, but they didn’t.
“Joyce, get him to bed,” papa ordered, not looking at Herman.
Aunt Joyce rushed around the chair and guided Herman back to the ladder. “I think it would best to leave your papa alone for the next few days,” she whispered.
She hugged him and kissed him. While it felt nice, Herman decided it wasn’t the same as one of papa’s strong embraces.
The long day in the field, the hot sun and the aching back from leaning over the cotton plants were almost a relief for Herman, because the work took his mind off how his world was changing. The funeral—Aunt Joyce told him—would be the next day. Herman wished it was already over.
In the small church all their friends and neighbors gathered. The family approached the coffin to view mama for the last time. Papa completely collapsed, screaming and crying. Herman wished he hadn’t taken on so. Callie wept as she gripped Herman in her arms. Tad simply stood there, without a tear or showing any emotion. Herman thought that was strange until he realized he was doing the same thing. He wondered if Tad were thinking the same about him. Finally the day was over, and the next was life as usual, picking cotton with the hired hands. Except instead of papa, Uncle Calvin was the boss.
Uncle Calvin was a nice man who seemed to take life easier than papa. When Callie was whispering more than she was picking, Uncle Calvin simply said, “Let’s pick that cotton before it rots.” Papa would have barked an order while glaring at her. Instead Uncle Calvin just smiled and winked.
By the end of the week the crop was picked, and the Johnsons were in their wagon, which was pulled by a pair of gray mules. Before they left, Mrs. Johnson gave Herman one last hug.
“Believe in the Lord,” she whispered. “He will make all things right.” She paused to add, “Now don’t you trouble your little head about that turtledove. That little thing didn’t kill your mama.”
Herman decided life was returning to normal when Tad walked up and scolded, “Didn’t I tell you not to let that woman touch you?”
“Now, Tad,” Uncle Calvin said, patting him on the shoulder, “she didn’t do any harm.”
Tad knocked his hand away. “You’re not my papa.”
Uncle Calvin backed off and looked down. “No, I guess I’m not.” Then he walked to the barn.
Callie looked Tad in the face. “You didn’t have to be mean to him. He’s been good to us. Aunt Joyce too.”
Tad glared at his sister as though he was going to say something nasty, but instead he ran as hard as he could through the field and into the woods. Callie smiled at Herman and hugged him.
“Don’t worry about Tad. He’s taking it hard now, but he’ll get over it. No, don’t you worry. We’ll make it just fine. We’ll make it because we’re a family and we love each other. Down deep we really do.”
Herman smiled a moment and then frowned when he remembered why Tad had yelled at him in the first place. “Is it wrong to let Mrs. Johnson touch me?”
Callie shook her head. “Of course not.”
Herman was confused. “Then why does she want to touch me?”
Callie hugged him again. “Why do I want to touch you?”
“Because you love me.” Herman paused. “Does Mrs. Johnson love me?”
Callie looked down the road at the wagon as it disappeared on the horizon. “I think she has enough love in her for every child she meets.”
Feelings of motherly love began to flow from Callie to Herman. Yes, Herman told himself, Callie was growing up right before his eyes and was going to help take the place of mama. His hopes didn’t last long. When he and Callie walked into the house he saw papa and Aunt Joyce sitting at the kitchen table in deep conversation. She was telling him something, and he was shaking his head. When they saw the children, they stopped. Aunt Joyce smiled, but papa just stared off into space.
“You better tell her now,” papa said.
Aunt Joyce extended her arm. “Come here, Callie dear.” She hugged Callie, pulled her away to stare into her eyes. “Your papa’s decided it would be best for you to come live with your Uncle Calvin and me.”
“For how long?” Callie asked cautiously.
Aunt Joyce glanced at papa and then back at Callie. “Well, until you grow up. You see, your papa doesn’t think he can do a good job of raising a girl as she’s becoming, well, a young woman, so he wants me to do it.”
Callie took a step toward her father. “Papa?”
He looked away. Finally Callie turned to go to the loft. She looked back. “When do we leave?”
Aunt Joyce smiled. “Today. As soon as you pack.”
Callie slowly climbed the ladder, followed by Herman. Once at the top Herman grabbed her around the waist and whispered, “I don’t want you to go.”
She hugged him back. “I don’t want to go, but once papa makes up his mind there’s no arguing with him.”
Tears began to fill Herman’s eyes. “It was bad enough to lose mama, but to lose you too….” His little voice just went away.
“It’s not like we’ll never see each other again,” Callie said, trying to be cheerful. She piled her clothes and belongings in the middle of her sheet and tied the four corners. Callie headed for the ladder, but Herman stopped her.
“You forgot Pearly,” Herman said, holding the bear out to her.
Callie smiled. “You can keep her if you want.”
Herman almost agreed but thought better of it. “Don’t you want her?”
“Of course, I want Pearly,” Callie replied. “I love Pearly.”
He stuck the burlap bear in her hands. “Then you take her. I’ve still got Burly.”
Callie hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Herman.”
Herman couldn’t stand to go downstairs to see his sister off. He was afraid he would really cry then. Instead he went to the window by his bed and looked out. He saw Uncle Calvin put their bags into his black Ford sedan. Aunt Joyce tried to hug Tad but he stiffened and pulled away. Callie was not going to be put off, and she grabbed her brother and kissed him on the cheek as he squirmed. Herman saw Callie look up at the window and waved. He couldn’t help it; he cried anyway.
In a few minutes Tad came up the ladder and stormed toward Herman who was drying his tears in the pillow. “You stupid little dummy! Don’t you have any more sense than not to come down stairs to say goodbye to your own sister?” he demanded.
Herman looked up from his pillow, his cheeks still wet from the tears and his eyes puffy and red.
Tad stopped short in his tirade. Sighing, he patted Herman on the shoulder and headed back to the ladder. “You and I will have to take turns cooking now,” he said. “I’ll start tonight.”
Herman rubbed his head in the pillow to finish drying his tears. He felt a scratchy paw on his arm.
“Herman,” Burly said, “now I know how you felt to lose your mother because now I’ve lost mine.”
Hugging his bear, Herman cried, ”Oh Burly, what are we going to do?”
“Keep on loving each other,” Burly replied.
“And keep on loving your father and Tad,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “They’re going to need your love more than ever. And they’ll fight it more than ever too, which is going to make it even harder on you.”
Burly snuggled close to Herman. “But Herman can do it. I know he can.”
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol and marries Ernest. In the meantime David has an affair with Freda Ward and Thelma Furness. MI6 wants him to seduce Princess Stephanie of Austria.
A month later Joachim von Ribbentrop invited David to a party at his elegant suite at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly across from Green Park and down the street from Buckingham Palace. Neither Freda nor Thelma were available so the prince went stag. As he exited his Ace roadster outside the hotel, a beggar woman walked up and extended him an apple. He waived her off.
“Oh, bugger you, David,” she rasped. It was the MI6 contact. “The Austrian princess is in the house. Don’t muck it up.”
As he rode the elevator to the von Ribbentrop apartment, David lit a cigarette and mused how much a bore all this was. He was joking with himself, of course. He loved to crack wise with himself. Once inside, the attendant took his hat and overcoat. David scanned the room and identified a new woman in attendance. Good posture accentuated her height; shiny dark hair surrounded piercing eyes, and rouged lips screamed to be kissed. It had to be Stephanie. He was sure and took decisive steps in the other direction, seeking out some middle-aged, paunchy, balding diplomat for a boring conversation. One can never be too obvious when seducing a new woman.
Within a few minutes, David felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned he saw Lady Elvira Chatsworth. Oh hell. He had no time for her now.
“Elvira, what a lovely surprise,” he purred, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “I don’t think I’ve seen you since that trip to Shanghai. You know, I’ll always consider that crossing to be one of the happiest moments in my life.”
She giggled. “My husband is out of town for two weeks.”
“What a shame. So am I.”
After another quick peck, David slipped away toward the foyer to retrieve his coat and hat. This was not working out the way he anticipated. Perhaps he was playing too hard to get. Ah well, he told himself, other opportunities would present themselves.
“Your highness,” a deep male voice called out, “I hope you are not leaving so soon.”
David recognized it to be his host Von Ribbentrop. He turned and smiled. “Of course not. I just saw someone on the other side of the room I didn’t know and wanted to strike up a conversation.” He extended his hand. “And how are you, Herr Von Ribbentrop?”
“Never better.” As Ribbentrop shook hands he made a proficient bow and clicked his heels.
David tried not to roll his eyes. He hated men who clicked their heels. He felt as though they were about to break out in a tap dance. Instead, he lifted his head to survey the room.
“And where are your lovely wife and children?”
“Ah. My wife Anna is probably busy in the kitchen attending to the final details of the dinner. She is such a hausfrau. And the children are back in Berlin with Anna’s aunt. London can be such a tiresome place for German children.”
“Is that so? English children don’t seem to mind it so much. Of course, they’re used to it.”
“Quite so.” Von Ribbentrop gently touched David’s elbow. “Actually, the reason I came over is because I wanted you to meet my guest of honor, Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe.”
“I would have thought a man of your reputation would have heard of Princess Stephanie of Austria.” His index finger smoothed through his moustache.
“Oh, that Princess Stephanie. Show her to me.”
They wriggled through the crowd to Stephanie who was holding court in front of a battery of dashing young men, who were enthralled by her every word. Ribbentrop tried to intervene to introduce the prince. She gracefully held up a gloved hand.
“Please. I must finish my story.”
David smiled as he observed Ribbentrop flushing. A moment later, the attending beaux applauded politely, and Stephanie turned, flashing a brilliant smile.
“Yes. May I help you?”
“I would like to introduce His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales,” Ribbentrop said with the utmost pomp and circumstance.
Stephanie let forth with a rapid succession of sentences in German. She stopped abruptly and a hand went to her cheek. “Oh. I’m sorry. You’re British, aren’t you, and you don’t speak German, do you?”
Without a pause, David replied in fluent German. “You see, it is my mother tongue.”
“My, you are clever.” She smiled again. “So how may I help you?”
“Stephanie, I told you. This is the future king of England,” Ribbentrop replied in a measured tone.
“Then you don’t need my help, do you?” She nodded toward David.
“Oh, you would be surprised,” David replied, focusing his squinty eye on the bodice of her gown.
The doors to the dining room opened, and Anna Von Ribbentrop appeared and announced, “Dinner is served.”
“Oh, thank God,” Ribbentrop muttered as he began prodding his guests to the table.
David extended his arm, and Stephanie took it. Remarkably, they were seated next to each other and exchanged witty repartee for the next two hours. And then he proved his excuse to Elvira Chatsworth to be true by driving the Austrian princess out of the city to Fort Belvedere.
“We just finished the renovations last week. You can still smell paint. Full staff. They’re from one of Mama’s places up north. They know their jobs.”
It was after midnight when they arrived. He unlocked the door and escorted her in.
“Be quiet,” he whispered. “The servants have retired and if they hear us, they will be tedious in their efforts to attend us.”
“But I can’t spend the night,” Stephanie protested. “All I have, in clothing, is what I have on. Whatever shall I wear to bed?”
David took her into his arms and kissed her on the mouth. “We’ll think of something.” As he led her upstairs, he added, “You can send for your things in the morning. By the way, where are you staying?”
“Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair.”
“Ah, not far from the Ritz. That will make directions for my man easy.” He paused to grin. “After all, you will be staying for a couple of weeks.”
She stopped on the last step before reaching the second landing. “Two weeks! Why would I want to stay two weeks?”
“You do want to get to know me, don’t you?” David took her hand and kissed it. “It takes a good two weeks of constant companionship to know me extremely well.”
Stephanie took the last step to the bedroom floor. “As long as you put it that way.”
Phebe and her family were sold at auction
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Cook Phebe sees all and tries to tell butler Neal what she thinks.
“Why would I get mad?” Neal demanded of Phebe.
“Because you’re always mad, especially at the white folks,” Phebe said. “I see it in your eyes. You really hate them, and I don’t get it. I mean, you’re born free—”
“Yes, I’m free, for what good that does me,” he interrupted her angrily, spitting on the floor.
“I—I don’t understand…”
“I was born the son of a freeman in the city of Boston. He was the son of a freeman, all in a long line of tutors, teaching French to Boston merchants who traded with Haiti and other points in the Caribbean.”
“You speak French?”
“Yes. So what?” He paused. “My mother, as a child, came to Boston in the middle of the night in her mother’s arms, a slave from a Virginia tobacco plantation.”
“A runaway slave,” Phebe murmured.
“She grew up cooking and sewing in wealthy New England homes. That’s where she met my father, who tutored the master of the house. They married, found a comfortable apartment, and had me. I was supposed to be the one to climb the next rung on the racial equality ladder, perhaps the ministry, law, or medicine. But it was not to be. Ever heard of the Fugitive Slave Law?”
“Slave owners tracked down runaways in Free states, and local authorities and ordinary citizens had to help.”
“So they came for your grandmother?” Phebe asked.
“No. She was dead. They came for my mother. My grandmother stole my mother from the farmer, who wanted her back.” Neal paused. “And her offspring. Any child from her womb was his property too.”
Phebe jumped when she realized he was talking about himself.
“I remember when they took my mother. Her cries woke me up. At first my father was angry, shouting at her. He didn’t know he’d married a runaway. He stopped yelling when she said she didn’t remember anything before life in Boston kitchens. White men banged at the door, demanding they come out. My father took me from my bed and pulled down the attic ladder. He told me to be quiet, and my mother kissed me, her lips still moist from her tears. He had just closed the attic ladder when the slave catchers broke through. I cried as I heard them drag her away. I never saw her again. ”
“I haven’t seen my mother in a long time either, but I still have hope.” Immediately Phebe wished she had not spoken.
“You’ve been bought and freed, all legal. You got hope because you don’t know no better. No, I don’t have to worry about being taken South anymore. But I don’t have a chance for a profession now.” Neal sighed and mellowed. “When my father told me he’d arranged a job for me in Washington, I thought it might lead to something, but when I arrived at the White House, they sent me to the basement to be a butler.”
“Butler is a good job,” Phebe said, trying to be encouraging. “Why, on the plantation the butler was—”
“This ain’t the plantation, girl,” he interrupted. “This is the world. This is life. We may be free, but we ain’t white.”
“Well, tell me,” he said. “Who do you think the woman in the billiards room is?”
“I was talking to Mrs. Keckley. She’s the lady who sews the Mrs. Lincoln’s clothes. I said to her things had been odd for the last few months. She got real quiet, looked around, then pulled me closer and made me promise not to tell anyone.”
“Not to tell what?”
“She said when she went to fit the Mrs. Lincoln for a new dress the middle of September she saw right off something was different. The Mrs. Lincoln was bigger, across her chest. The missus looked real flustered, Mrs. Keckley said, laughing and rambling on about gaining too much weight. When a woman gets fat, it goes on her butt or hips or belly first.”
“Just what are you trying to tell me?”
“I’m still scared how you’ll take it.”
“You still think like a slave.” Neal snorted.
“Well,” Phebe said softly. “It’s all I know.”
Her owner was Pierce Butler, whose grandfather authored the fugitive slave clause in the United States Constitution. Her earliest memories were of being held by his beautiful wife, who was rumored to be a fancy actress from England. Then the master’s wife had gone away. When Phebe asked about her, she was told to hush and mind her own business. The rest of her childhood was uneventful, though filled with hard work, until all the slaves on the plantation were loaded on a ship and taken down the Altama River to Savannah, where they were taken to the Kimbrough Race Track during a torrential downpour. Men prodded them, looked in their mouths, tested their muscles, and stood back, cocking their heads in judgment.
Earlier in the day she had watched her father being led away, and later her mother, her eyes filled with tears. Feeling all was lost, Phebe used all her willpower to keep from crying. Soon it was her turn to stand on the block, and a miracle happened. When the bidding was over, Phebe met her new owner, Mortimer Thompson, a reported for the New York Tribune, who said she would be freed as soon as they arrived in New York City. But what will I do? Phebe had asked him; How will I support myself? He had taken her hand.
“I know an old friend of yours,” he said.
Her old friend was Mrs. Butler, whose stage name, Fanny Kemble, was in large letters across a theater marquee.
“What a pretty face,” Mrs. Butler said with a gush as she patted Phebe’s cheeks.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Phebe said shyly.
“I wish I could afford to employ another maid, but I can’t.” When Phebe’s face fell, she added, “But don’t give up hope. I’ve friends all over, here in New York, in London, and in Washington.” She smiled at Phebe. “How would you like a job in the Republican administration? I’ve many contacts with abolitionists.”
By the time the whirlwind had ended, Phebe lived in the basement of the Executive Mansion, cooking meals and witnessing the nation’s business first hand. Which brought her back to Neal’s question about who she thought was in the billiards room. Before she spoke, Phebe realized she risked not only Neal’s ridicule, but also the loss of her job—a step backward toward slavery she did not want to take.
“I don’t know.” She walked to the door and opened it. “Now that I think about it, there’s nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all.”