Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eleven

Previously in the book: Secretary of War Stanton has placed Lincoln under guard in the White House basement and has charged Private Adam Christy with taking care of their needs. He’s gone upstairs to retrieve items for Mrs. Lincoln.
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam smiled as Alethia padded from the room to retrieve Mrs. Lincoln’s unmentionables. He liked this Mrs. Lincoln very much. Not that he disliked the other Mrs. Lincoln; mostly, she scared him. Perhaps under the best of circumstances the real Mrs. Lincoln could be as sweet and charming as the lady returning with a bundle of clothing wrapped in a sheet.
“Looking in the drawers, I found this paregoric,” Alethia said with a smile, holding up the bottle.
“Yes,” Adam said, “she asked for it.” He took it from her, and then smiled sheepishly. “You know, I don’t think I know exactly what paregoric is.”
“Oh, just a little bit of opium in a liquid that’s touched with alcohol.” Alethia shrugged, and her eyes twinkled. “It keeps the nerves calm, so I’m told. I’ve never really been the nervous type.” She turned to Duff. “How about you, Mr. Lincoln? Are you the nervous type?”
“No, not at all,” Duff said, “until—well, you know.” He glanced at Adam. “They’ll need chamber pots.”
“Three,” Adam said.
“Three?” Alethia repeated.
“There’s been a complication. I don’t know if I should tell you.” Adam looked apprehensive.
“Then don’t tell,” Duff said. “The less we know, the better.” He shook his head. “Remember, our main goal here is survival. Don’t forget that.”
“I thought our goal was to end the war.” Adam furrowed his brow.
“No, that’s Mr. Stanton’s goal.” Duff wagged a finger. “And he would strike us down to reach his goal.” He nervously grinned. “I talk too much.” Taking the bundle from Alethia, Duff added, “I’ll help you carry this stuff down.”
“Mrs. Lincoln also wants the lace curtains from the bedroom windows.”
“The lace curtains?” Alethia said.
“For a drape across the room,” Adam explained. “For privacy.”
“Anything she wants,” Duff said, putting down the bundle and walking to the window to take down the curtains. “Get the ones in your room, Molly.”
“Will you help me, Private?” Alethia asked as she left the room.
As they took the last curtain down, Tad bounded through the door yelling, “Oh, Mama, Papa, I had the best dinner I ever had. Pie, ice cream, cake, three ciders—” He stopped abruptly when he saw Adam. “Oh. You’re still here.”
Alethia dropped the curtains on the floor and walked swiftly toward the boy. “Yes, Taddie, my dear. Private Adam Christy is our new adjutant.”
Adam observed the gleam in her eyes as she patted Tad’s shoulders and ran her fingers through his unkempt locks.
“Our last aide was a lieutenant, Lieutenant Elmer Ellsworth,” Tad said in a huff. “Don’t we deserve a lieutenant?”
“We deserve the best man for the job,” Duff said, entering with the clothing bundle under one arm and the curtains in the other. “And right now Private Christy is the best man for the job.”
“Yes, Papa.” Tad cocked his head. “Why are you taking down the curtains? I thought mama liked them.”
“Well, you know your mother.” Duff smiled as he picked up the curtains from the floor. “She always wants new curtains and such.”
“Father, that isn’t fair,” Alethia said, trying to play her role. “The Executive Mansion must always have the best.”
“Oh, Mama never changes.” Tad laughed.
“No, I never change,” Alethia said in a whisper.
Adam and Duff left and went down the service stairs. As their feet crunched on the straw mats, Adam cleared his throat, again feeling uneasy by the stifling silence engulfing them.
“All this is for the best. Don’t you think so, sir?”
“What?” Duff looked around, aroused from deep thought.
“All this,” Adam repeated earnestly. “All this is for the best. To end the war. Mr. Lincoln was going—”
“I am Mr. Lincoln, Private Christy,” Duff interrupted sternly, stopping to look deeply into Adam’s eyes. “Don’t ever say otherwise. Don’t think otherwise.” A fatherly smile danced across his lips before they started walking again, the straw crunching once more underfoot.
After a few moments of silence, Adam said softly, “Yes, sir.”
“You’re a good man, Private Christy,” Duff said evenly, with a sad glance at him. “Take some advice. Be careful. Watch what you say. This is a dangerous time for all of us.”
“Dangerous?” Adam shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t try to understand.” Duff smiled sagely. “Just be careful.”
When they reached the bottom and entered the hallway, Duff nodded to the door to the left. “That’s the kitchen, right?”
“I think I should put in an appearance,” Duff said, stopping in front of the door. “Please open it, Private Christy.”
Pushing the door aside, Adam smiled when he saw Phebe sitting at the rough table, one shoe off, massaging her toes.
“Oh.” Phebe quickly slipped her shoe back on her foot and stood awkwardly. “Excuse me, Mr. President. I was just resting my feet.”
“Phebe,” Duff continued uneasily, looking down and shuffling his feet, “we’re staying in town tonight, so you’ll have to cook for us.”
“Yes, sir; I know. Mr. Stanton told me.”
“Also, I have to confide something in you.”
Adam’s eyes widened, not believing this man chosen to replace President Lincoln might confide his deepest secret to the kitchen help.
“I’ve asked three very important, very intelligent persons to help me conjure up some winning strategies for this war,” Duff said, finding more assurance as he spoke, his eyes rising to meet hers. “Now, I’m not saying they’re from England, but if the folks out there thought the president was being told what to do by some foreigners—well, you can see…”
“Yes, sir,” Phebe murmured, nodding in agreement.
“We’ve already snuck them into the billiards room.” Duff nodded down the hall. “If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate it if you’d fix three of your best meals three times a day for these friends of mine.”
“Of course, Mr. Lincoln.” Phebe paused, and then looked at Adam. “That’s why you needed the cots.”
“Yes.” Adam smiled. “Of course. I didn’t think I should tell.”
“I’ll leave you to your work, Miss Phebe.” Duff looked away, and then added, “Oh. You might want to have a pot of coffee brewing. We’re having a Cabinet meeting later tonight.”
“It’ll be ready, Mr. President.”
Adam shut the door, and they walked across the hall to the billiards room. Duff hesitated, then handed the bundles to Adam.
“It might be best if you go in alone.”
“I think you’re right.” Nodding, Adam loaded his arms with the bundles and smiled. “You’re going to do just fine, Mr. President. All of us will do just fine.”
Duff shook his head sadly, stared at him, and said, “Don’t forget the chamber pots.”

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