Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
As Duff rode back from Anderson Cottage, he thought about Alethia and Tad. His heart raced as he remembered the touch of her soft skin. The tenderness in her eyes raised hopes that she loved him as much as he loved her. But there were secrets, secrets, secrets—even the clanging of the carriage wheels pounded out the secrets, secrets, secrets. Duff smiled as he thought of how much Tad had matured in the last year. He had been inconsiderate, brash, and irresponsible, never thinking of others’ feelings; now, he put aside his enjoyment of the street parade to comfort a woman he knew was not his mother.
Back at the Executive Mansion, with the sun already setting beyond the Potomac River, Duff listened for the impending march, pounding of drums, and crackling of torches down Pennsylvania Avenue. He looked forward to the parade, an event yet to be experienced, even though those around him thought he had experienced it before.
“The parade’s turning the corner,” Tom Pendel said. “The window’s all prepared, sir. All the candles are lit.”
Smiling at the white-haired doorman, he tried to find a stance that Lincoln would take. Duff breathed in deeply as Pendel pulled open the curtains and breathed out in relief as he heard the roar of the crowd on the street. Pendel held the tall candle just out of view at window’s edge. Feeling the warmth of the flame, Duff briefly felt imbued with confidence, until he realized the candlelight lit his neck and chin, not his full face. Glancing down, he saw Pendel looking at the floor, his arm raised routinely high enough to illuminate Lincoln’s face. Evidently, Duff was slightly taller than the president. An awful moment of revelation passed slowly when Pendel’s eyes moved up and he became aware the candlelight was in the wrong place. Quickly he raised the candle, but his eyes stayed fixed on Duff’s face. Duff was flushed with humiliation. What would Pendel say? Several minutes passed as Duff waved to the crowd before it went down the street and turned toward the Mall, where a stack of old wood and trash waited to become a bonfire. As the lights dimmed from sight and the bonfire lit the evening sky, Duff turned to Pendel and forced a smile.
“Too bad Tad decided to stay at Anderson Cottage. He always liked the candlelight parades and bonfires.”
“Yes, sir.” Pendel kept his head down as he blew out the long candle.
Duff excused him and fled to his bedroom, where he threw off his clothes and put on his nightshirt. He did something he had not done in years. He fell on his knees, clasped his fingers together, and emitted moans from his heart only God could hear.
“Forgive me,” Duff said in guttural tones from the bottom of his belly. “Forgive me for my sin, my secrets, and my many offenses.”
Recognizing Robert Lincoln’s voice, Duff stood, buttoned the top of his nightshirt, and turned, hoping Robert had not heard him.
“I heard what you were praying.” Robert sounded uncertain.
“Robert, I thought you weren’t coming home.” Duff stood, grabbed the bedpost, and smiled. “Your mother’s fine.”
“No, she’s worse. The train stopped at Anderson Cottage long enough for me to see her. She got worse after you left. Tad’s there.” He paused. “I know I haven’t been as cooperative as I should.” Robert’s eyes went to the floor. “When I saw those bandages on Mother’s head, I realized parents don’t live forever.”
“It’s not all your fault, son. Sometimes, I’m sure, you feel I don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Father,” Robert said. “I know you have to keep secrets from me, and I know you feel responsible for all the deaths in the war. God forgives you.” He scrunched his face in pain. “But I need you to forgive me. Please forgive me.” He stumbled toward Duff with his arms outstretched, pleading. As Duff hugged him, he burst into tears.
“I forgive you,” Duff whispered, even though his mind wandered to Alethia and if she would forgive him if she knew his secrets, his deep, horrible secrets.