Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Five

Doorman Thomas Pendel
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon that Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lamon comes to the White House to find out for himself.

Old Tom Pendel walked down the hall on the second floor, lighting the gas lamps as the last rays of the sun faded, creating vague, sad shadows lurking around the corners. Giggling, Tad ran in front of him, trying to trip him up. Alethia stood in the doorway of her bedroom and watched. Pendel was kind, patient, and understanding to the little boy with a lisp. She knew she should not, but she was falling in love with the Lincolns’ son. She and Tad had come to a silent agreement: he knew she was not his mother, nor the man his father, but they both were kind and meant no harm to him, so he accepted them and went along with the “game.”
“Taddie, it’s time for supper,” she said as the boy approached.
“Aww, do I have to?” Tad scrunched up his face.
“It’s best that you eat, Master Tad,” Pendel said as he continued down the hall lighting the lamps. “Or else you’ll end up funny-looking like me when you grow up.”
Tad giggled as Alethia ran her fingers through his hair. She could not help but think how wonderful it would have been if she were married and had children.
“You know, he’s right. I don’t know why you have to put up a fuss.”
“But tonight I really don’t feel good, honest.” He looked up earnestly with his light brown eyes.
“Have you been into your father’s licorice again?”
“No, honest.”
“Very well.” She felt his forehead, and he did seem a little warm. “But if you don’t eat, you must go straight to bed.”
“That’s all right by me.” And Tad scampered down the hall to his room, stopping only to pull on Pendel’s coat one last time, which caused the old man to put up a comical protest, eliciting more giggles from the boy as he closed his door.
“So Tad isn’t eating with us tonight?” Duff said as he stepped from his bedroom.
“No, Father, he says he’s not feeling well.” She smiled, and her eyes lit. Here was another person of whom she felt herself growing fond. When Duff stood close and towered over her, she imagined it was how the Virgin Mary felt when she was overcome by the Holy Spirit, and conceived.
“Then we’d best be on our way,” Duff said with a smile.
Alethia took his arm, and they went down by the service stairs. She leaned into him as they crunched on the straw mats.
“Do you imagine I could get away with eating his dinner too?” he asked.
“I don’t see why not.” Alethia laughed, squeezed his hand, and chose to ignore his stiffening at her show of affection.
They settled into the dining room chairs and graciously thanked Phebe as she placed bowls of potato soup before them. Their sipping of the chunky broth and chatting about the day’s events abruptly ended when the door opened and Stanton marched in.
“Stand up,” he ordered.
Duff meekly put down his spoon and stood. Alethia watched as his eyes glazed over with acquiescence. Her heart ached to see him humiliated.
“Unbutton your coat.”
Duff obeyed the order, and Stanton brusquely placed his small hand on the long expanse of Duff’s abdomen. Alethia turned her head away, unable to watch the ritual the war secretary had been conducting for the past two months. Her eyes closed as she heard Stanton’s low grunt.
“You’re gaining too much weight.” Stanton glanced at the bowl of soup. “You may finish the soup, but tell the cook you don’t want the main course. The same tomorrow night also.”
“Yes, sir.”

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