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.
Gabby finished his supper with one ear tuned to hear a knock at the door waiting for news–something mighty wonderful must have happened at Gettysburg. The first day’s news brought by Stanton was not good. The rebels had gained ground outside of town. The second day went well, thanks to the boys from Maine. Gabby tried to remember if any of his West Point friends were from Maine, but his mind was clouded, and the only friend he could remember was Joe, and he was from New York, and he was dead. Gabby could not do anything about it, just as he could not do anything about the soldiers dying at Gettysburg. His eyes strayed to his shirt front, and now he cared more about the stray drops of gravy there; that way, his heart did not hurt so much.
The door opened, and Gabby hoped it was Adam. Maybe today would be the day he would think of the right things to say to make Adam stop being so gloomy all the time. Instead it was Stanton.
“I’ve the latest news from Gettysburg,” the war secretary announced.
Gabby sagged and stared at his plate; he did not want to see Stanton. He did not like the man; more than that, he was scared of him.
“What is it?” Lincoln asked, scooting a chair from the billiards table and plopping down.
“Please say it’s a victory,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Total victory,” Stanton replied. “The rebels attempted a foolhardy charge up a hill strongly manned by our forces, and they were decimated.”
“Yes! Yes!” Lincoln said.
“Oh,” Mrs. Lincoln murmured.
Gabby detected compassion in her voice. Perhaps some of her Kentucky relatives were in the charge, but you cannot worry about relatives at war, he told himself. Uncle Sammy was fighting, but Gabby could not think about losing someone else close to him—first had been his kind father and second his friend Joe. Losing Uncle Sammy was too painful to comprehend.
“Bobby Lee’s slipping,” Lincoln said. “In his prime he would’ve never made such a strategic blunder.”
“I know the Lees very well,” Mrs. Lincoln added. “They’re fine and genteel folk.”
“Now, Mother, we’re not talking about hosting a party, at which I’m sure they excel. We’re talking about military tactics.”
“Still, I can’t glory in the death of any young man, be he from north or south.”
“Yes, yes, of course, Mother,” Lincoln replied. “War’s terrible, but terrible battles end a war fast so no more men die.”
Adam unlocked the door and entered.
“What are you doing here?” Stanton said in a huff.
“I—I came to get the dishes.”
“Oh,” Stanton said. “Get on with it.”
Gabby heard the clattering of china against the wooden tray. Adam turned the corner into his little safe haven.
“I’m sorry I didn’t bring my plate out to you, but that man scares me,” Gabby whispered.
“He scares me too.”
“Don’t be scared,” Gabby said. “Don’t be sad. Keep yourself cleaned up. You don’t want to end up like me.”
Adam patted Gabby’s shoulder and then turned to leave. He shut the door quietly and locked it.
“So,” Lincoln said. “Do we have General Lee in custody?”
“Um, no. They retreated across the border. General Meade said his men were tired, and so he felt it was enough to force the enemy from our soil.”
A giant slap against the felt covering of the billiards table made Gabby jump.
“Father,” Mrs. Lincoln said with a gentle gasp.
“Excuse me, Mother, but my patience is at an end. He has the audacity to hold us in the White House basement because I’m incompetent, but he lets Bobby Lee escape!”
“Sir, I share your anger that General Meade didn’t pursue Lee, but it was his mistake and not mine.”
“If I were still in control, this would have never happened!”
Lincoln’s outburst was not very presidential, Gabby told himself. Squinting, once again he wrestled with the question of whether he was the president or not.
“On another front,” Stanton continued, “General Grant will successfully conclude his siege of Vicksburg tomorrow.”
“And who will Grant let slip through his fingers?” Lincoln sighed.
“No one, sir,” Stanton replied.
“So. We do have a general who knows how to win battles the right way.”
“I want…” Lincoln paused. “I recommend you send for General Grant as soon as possible. He should take on Bobby Lee.”
“He drinks too much,” Stanton said.
“And you think too much of yourself, but that hasn’t stopped you from attempting to lead this country.”
Gabby heard the fear in Mrs. Lincoln’s voice. She was right. Lincoln was out of control, but Gabby could not be harsh with him. Melancholia made people act queerly. Gabby should know. He had been acting queerly for years.
“You must forgive me.” Lincoln sighed again. “Cabin fever, that’s what it is. Did you ever have cabin fever, Mr. Stanton?”
“No, sir, I don’t think I have.”
“How about you, Mother, have you ever had cabin fever?”
“I’m having it right now.”
After a pause, Lincoln spoke, now more composed.
“Do as you like, but I believe General Grant would head the Army of the Potomac effectively.”
“Gideon Welles agrees with you.”
“He told you that?”
“Not me. The man upstairs.”
“God? When did you find time to speak to God?”
“The man upstairs, meaning your replacement.” Stanton paused a moment. “You know what I meant.”
“Of course, but I need a good laugh to get through the day, and if it can be at your expense, so much the better.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” Stanton replied, hardly containing his temper. “I’ll take under consideration your opinion.”
He walked to the door, stopped, taking a few steps to the side so he could see inside Gabby’s little nook behind the crates and barrels. Gabby shuddered when he saw Stanton’s beady eyes trained on him.
“By the way,” he said to the Lincolns, “I regret to report we lost several generals at Gettysburg. Among them was General Samuel Zook.”