Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Two

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Lincoln’s friend Lamon interviews Mrs. Surratt and others in prison.The doctor who attended Lincoln on his deathbed, attends the trial.
Leale stepped back, afraid he had irritated Lincoln’s stepbrother with his question. “I beg your pardon, sir. I know my interest seems out of place, but, you see, I was the attending physician at President Lincoln’s bedside that night.” He noticed the old man’s mouth gape a bit.
“You were there for Mr. Lincoln’s last breath?”
“Yes, sir, I was, so you can understand why I have an undue curiosity about the case.”
“I would say so.” The corners of Johnston’s mouth went up in a slight smile. “Then we must make every effort to be companions during this proceeding. We have so much to learn from each other.”
“I have only two seats left!” the guard called out. After a moment, he pointed at the old man and waved him forward. “You, sir! I remember you. You’re related to the president. Please, come this way.”
Johnston took Leale by the elbow and guided him forward. “This is my friend,” he paused to lean into the doctor. “What is your name?”
“Dr. Charles Leale.”
“Yes, my good friend Dr. Charles Leale.”
The guard frowned. “That liar? I turned him away yesterday! Said he was there the night the president died! Nonsense!”
“It is not nonsense at all,” Johnston replied, his voice dropping which caused the guard to step closer.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I said,” the old man repeated in an even softer voice, “it is not nonsense. Dr. Leale was there the night my stepbrother died. I am in poor health myself and need the attendance of a physician during such trying circumstances.” By the time Johnston finished, his voice was barely above a whisper.
Leale could tell by the expression on the guard’s face that he had not understood most of what the old man said. The guard stepped back, tipped his hat and bowed.
“Anything you say, sir.”
Johnston glanced at Leale. “I hope you remembered to bring my medication.”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, Mr. Johnston. Of course I did.” Leale patted his breast pocket. “We need to be on our way. You shouldn’t be exposed to the glare of the sun, sir.” Once they were inside the prison, the old man guided Leale toward the staircase. The doctor stopped. “Stairs? Do you think you will be able to climb those?”
“Of course, I can,” Johnston replied. “I’m in perfect health, except for this bum leg, but I have my cane.” He cocked his head. “Don’t act so shocked that I lied. You wanted in, didn’t you? And you lied about having my medication. Lying is part of life.” He chuckled. “Who do you think taught my half-brother how to be a politician, eh?”
Leale felt taken aback by the brazen frankness but recovered to take Johnston’s elbow to guide him up the stairs to the third floor courtroom. Even though he was only twenty-five years old, the doctor found himself breathing hard by the time they sat in the row of chairs against the far wall of the room. Johnston’s inhalation was normal. After composing himself, Leale leaned into the old man to observe, “A smaller room than I expected.”
“The room was not chosen to accommodate the public but to control the flow of information. There is much more going on here, young man, than a mere murder trial.”
During the next month and a half, Leale arrived early each day and searched for Johnston. A few things struck the doctor odd about the old man; for instance, he always politely declined any dinner invitations and changed the subject when Leale asked questions about Lincoln as a youth, sometimes using the same ploy with him as he had with the guard, gradually talking in softer and softer tones until he was incomprehensible. The doctor in due course found the president’s stepbrother to be inscrutable. Rarely speaking, Johnston nodded often, leaning in to hear witnesses as they spun stories of the day of the assassination. The drunken innkeeper at the Surrattsville tavern stumbled over testimony that Mrs. Surratt, accompanied by a boarder called Louis Weichmann, arrived in the afternoon to retrieve “those firearms” left by Booth.
“What do you think?” Leale whispered. “Do you think the woman was part of the conspiracy?”
“Absolutely not.” The reply came quickly with a touch of antagonism. Johnston cleared his throat. “Forgive me for holding the views of my generation. Ladies never involved themselves in matter so distasteful as politics, war and—how shall I phrase it—murder? And one has only to observe Mrs. Surratt to see that she is a lady in every sense of the word.”
Leale, as was his lifelong predilection, studied the old man’s face. In fact, one reason he acquiesced to his wife’s wishes to attend the theater that night was for the off-chance that he might be able to study President Lincoln’s facial contours and how emotions played across them. Before he could make much of an assessment, Leale observed that Johnston noticed the attention and turned his head away.
Johnston exposed his emotions to the utmost on the day Louis Weichmann testified against Dr. Mudd, claiming he was present one day in January when Booth, his friend John Surratt and Dr. Mudd met in a Washington hotel room. He impatiently tapped his cane on the rough wooden floor. The unexpected clatter drew Leale’s attention, and he wrinkled his brow and smiled in curiosity at the old man.
“He’s lying,” Johnston blurted. His head shuddered as he continued in a softer, calmer tone. “I have made it a habit to study certain subtle gestures that reveal the truth behind what men say. If you noticed, when he spoke he looked away, as though to avoid a confrontation over his statement. Also, notice the gentle tapping of his left foot, an undeniable sign of nervousness. Why would he be nervous if he were not lying?”
Since this was the same interest that Leale held, he discerned that Johnston, himself, glanced away in the direction of the military judges’ table as he spoke and could not control the incessant rapping of his cane.
“I also find it fascinating to study human tics and reflexes.”
“Well, take care, young Dr. Leale, it takes a lifetime of observations to draw accurate conclusions. You cannot assume a set of random behaviors to mean what you think it might mean.”
“So you think the man Weichmann knows more than he is letting on?”
“Indeed, the opposite,” Johnston replied without pause. “He knows nothing at all, but he’s afraid he will be drawn into the web of conspiracy so he is saying anything to exculpate himself, even damning good, honest, innocent people. You need only to peruse his countenance to determine he is a weak, foolish man, controlled by his own personal demons.”
“Your assessment may very well be true, sir. Through my military contacts I have learned Secretary of War Stanton himself gave strict orders that Weichmann be spared legal prosecution if he gives enough evidence to convict the others.”
Johnston broke his custom and looked directly at Leale. “Secretary Stanton? And why would he take such a personal interest in this case?”
“Why, I suppose he—isn’t it standard prosecutorial procedure to offer immunity in certain cases to ensure a conviction?” The doctor blinked several times in reaction to the old man’s eruption.
“I suppose you are right.” Johnston leaned back in his chair and returned his gaze at the row of the accused conspirators. “It’s just that,” he paused as though to collect his thoughts, “I have heard Mr. Stanton’s name in several instances that do not reflect well upon his character.”
Leale smiled. “He is not a pleasant person if that is what you mean. On the night of the assassination, Mr. Stanton tried to take over everything at the boardinghouse, even questioning my treatment of the president—“
“Sshh.” Johnston’s hand went up as he leaned forward to listen to Weichmann’s testimony.
“I never could understand the sympathy and affection which existed between Booth and Surratt,” Weichmann stated.
Weichmann’s voice, Leale thought, though clear and articulate, lacked strength and—what? Perhaps courage?
“…so dissimilar in their natures, education and the social position they held in life…never were two individuals thrown together so utterly at variance with one another,” the witness continued.
The cane tapping stopped. Leale watched the old man’s knuckles whitened as his fingers clutched the top of his walking stick. At the end of the day, he mumbled his farewell and quickly left Johnston still seated, leaning forward, staring into void.
By the next morning, Leale noticed his companion’s conviviality had returned and his reaction to the testimony of the conspirators was muted. Johnston chuckled as David Herold’s attorney described him as an eleven-year-old boy in a twenty-two year old man’s body. George Atzerodt was called a complete coward, incapable of performing any violent criminal act, and Lewis Paine was painted as a brave hero deranged by the ravages of war.
As the trial dragged on, promising little entertainment with the defense of the stable boy and two childhood friends of Booth, Johnston decided, with a sigh, that his failing patience could not endure another moment of ennui. The panel of judges had just adjourned for the day.
“I promised mother to witness the trial,” he whispered to Leale, “but what would it avail her if I died of boredom before I could return home and report the more interesting aspects to her? I understand the verdict will be announced through the newspapers and not at a public hearing. Perhaps I shall be home with mother when she reads the news. I think she would like that. She’s always looked to me for comfort.” Johnston rose and extended his hand. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Leale. Do take care.”
The doctor’s smile faded as he looked at the clasp of their hands. The old man’s grip was extraordinarily firm for a man of his years. He also became aware of a sort of greasy grittiness to Johnston’s hand. As he pulled his own hand away, Leale noticed a smear of what appeared to be make-up in his palm.
He looked up to comment on this enigmatic situation, but the old man had disappeared, immersed in the ambling crowd.

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