Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Nine


Tending the wounded
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Duff and Alethia find pretending to be the Lincolns difficult. Alethia finds herself romantically attracted to Duff.
Another day found Cordie Zook putting away her mop and broom in a small closet of Armory Square Hospital. The sun had already set beyond the Potomac River, which caused her to worry about walking home. If only Miss Dorothea Dix honored her original agreement to allow volunteers to leave before dusk, all would be fine; but as more war casualties filled the long, parallel sheds of the hospital, the volunteers were forced to work later and later. More than ever, Cordie wished she had never left New York City, sure she could have found a job as a maid in a Park Avenue mansion, and Gabby could have been a janitor on Wall Street. Her lip began to quiver, but she commanded herself not to cry. It would do no good. It helped no one, not Gabby, not herself, not these poor broken boys lying in neat rows of cots in front of her.
Gathering her wits, Cordie went to the nurses’ cloak room, where she picked up her coat and hat and went down the line to get Jessie Home’s smart little tam-o’-shanter and plaid jacket. Jessie had become a good friend, Cordie admitted as she left the cloak room and started wandering up and down the aisles of cots, even though the young Scottish woman tried her patience from time to time. For instance, Jessie was never ready to leave when Cordie was desperate to go to Lafayette Park to hear about Gabby from the nervous private. She stopped short in the middle of an aisle and found herself forced to smile as she watched Jessie competently pull a fresh nightshirt over the head of an embarrassed, thin, shockingly pale soldier, who still self-consciously tried to hide the reddish nub that once had been his left arm.
“Now there’s no need for ye to be shamed in front of me,” Jessie said cheerfully as she grabbed the recovering nub and stuffed it into the white, coarse cotton sleeve. “You’re a national hero, and heroes should hold themselves proud.”
“But—but my arm,” the soldier stammered.
She smoothed the shirt down his chest and abdomen. “That’s your badge of manhood,” she replied smoothly. Smiling, she rubbed his white, gaunt cheek with her hand. “That shows you’re no longer a boy. What woman worth being a wife wants to be yoked with a pretty boy when she could have a real man?”
Cordie watched a smile creep across his lips, and she forgot about her fear of crossing the Mall after dark. This was thevolunteers’ purpose, to make the boys smile when other senses told them to cry. If they can do that, they can face the thieves and robbers who hid in the bushes surrounding the Smithsonian.
“It’s time to leave, Jessie,” Cordie said.
The young man looked up at Cordie, and then to Jessie. “You have to leave? You can’t stay a little longer?”
“I’d love to, me hero,” Jessie said, “but Miss Dix wouldn’t hear of it. If she found out I stayed late to sit by ye, she’d think I was tryin’ to romance ye, and then she’d fire me. Ye wouldn’t want me fired, now would ye?”
“I guess not.” His head fell a bit.
“Keep the faith, me hero.” Jessie took her coat from Cordie and put it on. “I’ll see ye again tomorrow.”
“Thank you.” His face brightened.
They walked away and put on their hats as several voices rang out.
“Good night, Miss Home.”
“Thank you, Miss Home.”
“God bless you, Miss Home.”
“I suppose the old lady who mops the floors don’t need a thank you,” Cordie said with a smile, trying not to sound jealous.
“They appreciate ye,” Jessie replied.
“Good night, Miss Zook,” an older voice called out.
“See?” Jessie grinned and grabbed Cordie’s arm. “It just takes maturity to recognize a true angel.”
“You don’t have to use your flowery words on me,” Cordie said, giggling. “Don’t forget. I’m a tough old Yankee.”

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