Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seventy-Four

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Johnson grants a reprieve for Mrs. Surratt, but it arrives too late. Lamon and Baker join forces to bring down Stanton. The Senate fails to remove Johnson from office. Booth tells Stanton he will kill him someday.
Gabby and Whitman rode the train out of Washington City and across the rolling Maryland countryside back to Brooklyn, feeling the warm breeze rushing through the open window. Gabby watched the scenery slide by them. Every once in a while Gabby glanced over to see Whitman jotting words on a worn notepad.
“Are you writing a new poem?”
Whitman looked up and smiled. “Perhaps. But I don’t think anyone would believe it. Maybe. Someday.”
“People don’t understand the poems you’ve already written. I don’t know what you’re talking about most of the time. But I’m a little daft, so that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gabby.” Whitman chuckled. “I published one of my books of poetry right after the end of the war. My boss at the time, Mr. James Harlan with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, took offense when he read it so he fired me. He said I was setting a bad example for the other clerks, all able young men, morally, physically and politically.” He put his hand to his whiskered cheek. “I was totally devastated. I was unemployed until the next morning when I went to work in the Attorney General’s office. Remember this, Mr. Gabby, for every person who hates you, there are at least two or three who love you. It makes life more bearable.” He looked into his companion’s eyes. “Are you going to be all right staying with my mother and family? I have to go back to work in the Attorney General’s office next Monday.”
“Oh, I like Mrs. Walt very much. And if the screaming gets too bad I can go for a walk, maybe buy some peanuts. The store will let me come back and sweep floors, won’t they?”
“I’m sure they will.”
Gabby looked back out the window and smiled. Tranquility settled over his brain, which he had not experienced in years. Thank God, he told himself, he no longer had to fear the short, red-haired mean man or Edwin Stanton. They had no reason to kill him anymore. He could live his life without shame or in anticipation of certain doom. He tried to remember when life was so unencumbered and filled with hope. Finally, it came to him, that day on Long Island beach when he and his best friend Joe VanderPyl played in the surf just before they left for West Point. Oddly, Mr. Walt was there too, only Gabby didn’t know who he was then.
“The ocean waves taught me always to look beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment,” he mumbled, repeating what the friendly stranger had said to the two boys that day.
“You’re still quoting me, I see,” Whitman said as he put his pad and pencil away and turned in his seat to give Gabby his full attention. “You mentioned that day on the beach to me before, and I don’t think I gave you a satisfactory answer.” He paused, as to compose his thoughts. “Mr. Gabby, you are the perfect example of what that poem means. You’ve lived your life just surviving the waves crashing against you, leaving you beleaguered, baffled and overwhelmed. All you had to do is look up at the horizon. We never know what’s coming over the horizon. It may be good or it may be bad, but it is coming nonetheless. Take joy in the anticipation.”
Gabby cocked his head, remembering what happened next on the beach that day. Mr. Walt had the audacity to run his hand over the dripping wet shirt which clung to Joe’s flat belly. “Why did you touch Joe?”
“What’s wrong with touching something beautiful?” Whitman responded, smiling.
The Whitman family welcomed them back to Brooklyn and made a celebration of their return with holiday-sized meals on both Saturday and Sunday. Gabby was quite pleased to be around his adopted family who all tried to be on their best behavior. Jesse, the brother with syphilis, only threw one plate of food at the dining room wall.
When Monday arrived, Whitman caught the train back to the Capital, and Gabby resumed his duties sweeping floors at the general store down the street. At night, he performed the same duties in the Whitmans’ basement apartment. Each day his mind became clearer, and happiness made a hesitant return to his life. At one point, Gabby noticed that Whitman received several letters during the week, which he read on a Saturday and put away in a box under his bed.
As they settled into their bed for the night one Saturday, Gabby asked, “Mr. Walt, what are all those letters you get? I mean, who are they from?”
“They’re from the soldiers I cared for at the hospital during the war. And from the families of the boys whose hands I patted as they departed from this earth.” Whitman’s voice sounded weary, as though his mind demanded that he fall off to sleep.
“May I read them someday?” he asked.
“Of course you may.” Whitman had almost succumbed to slumber.
On that coming Monday Gabby began digging the letters out and reading them. Gratitude and love filled the pages. They told Whitman how much they appreciated his letters informing them of their boy’s death. In words only a poet would select he described the joyful reunion of soldier and his Maker. Those who did survive to live again announced with pride when they had become fathers and had named their sons Walter Whitman in honor of the man who nursed them back to health. Each letter calmed and elated Gabby in a way nothing else could have.
One evening, after Gabby had eaten supper and swept each room, he said good night and went to his bed. Louisa followed him, stood in the door and asked, “Mr. Gabby, you said your last name was Zook, correct?”
“Yes, Miss Louisa.” His mind had cleared so much, it didn’t make much sense to call her Mrs. Walt anymore.
“Was your father a lawyer?” Friendly expectation filled her voice.
“Why, yes, he was. My father was a very good lawyer. He didn’t make much money but he helped members of our neighborhood when they got in trouble with the law.” His dull eyes lit. “I had forgotten how proud I was of him. I never had to pay for apples or peanuts on the street where we lived. It was the vendors’ way of saying thank you to him, I guess.” Then he smiled. “Thank you, Miss Louisa, for reminding me of that.”
“I have a dear friend who always talks about the nice man who saved her son from hanging for a murder he didn’t commit. She just lives about three blocks from here. Would you like it if I took you to visit her tomorrow? I’m sure the store won’t mind. They tell me all the time what a good worker you are.”
The next morning Gabby awoke early, and after breakfast he and Louisa went first to the store to tell them he would not be working today. Louisa informed them Mr. Gabby was going to visit friends from the neighborhood where he grew up. His bosses thought that was a fine idea and waved at them as they walked up the street. After a substantial time, they arrived at an old brownstone, which had English Ivy creeping up around the windows. They knocked, and an old woman opened the door. At first she didn’t understand why this strange little man stared at her with intensity. But then Louisa introduced him. A grin broke out on her wrinkled face, and she gave Gabby a huge hug and led them into the parlor. She called for her daughter to come into the room. When she realized this was the son of the lawyer who saved the lives of many men in the neighborhood, the daughter ran out the door.
Gabby watched her as she went from house to house, knocking on doors, and waving excitedly back at her home. Within moments, a crowd lined up on the steps. Each one waited their turn to tell Gabby what his father had done to help a family member in trouble with the law. They cried when Gabby told them Cordie died while nursing soldiers in Washington City. Gabby straightened his shoulders and announced he was not as strange as he was before the war broke out, they cried again for the return of his health.
Mr. Walt was right, Gabby thought as he basked in the love from his former neighbors. One never knew what was coming over the horizon.
By the first of August, Gabby felt so self-assured that he asked Whitman to accompany him on a trip up the Hudson River to the Army Academy at West Point. As they sat on the deck of the steamboat Daniel Drew, Gabby took in the view of high bluffs, trees and bushes, which the sun dabbled with all shades of green.
“I read those letters,” he whispered.
“So you now know the true meaning of wealth,” Whitman replied with serenity.
When the steamboat docked at West Point, Gabby and Walt disembarked and watched the Daniel Drew continue its journey to Albany. Then they took a leisurely walk up the knoll to the academy. After an hour or so, Gabby recognized a dusty path leading north. He touched Whitman’s arm. “Let’s go that way.”
They hadn’t gone far on the lonely road when Gabby recognized the boulders and tall trees. He stopped. “This is it. This is where the accident happened. The officer had ordered me to drive his carriage to somewhere up this road. I tried to tell him I was a city boy and didn’t know how to handle a team of horses, but he insisted I do it anyway. I asked Joe to go with me. There was something about Joe that always calmed me down.” Gabby kneeled to touch the ground. “This is the exact spot where the carriage landed on Joe and killed him. I decided if growing up meant watching your friend die, I didn’t want to grow up. So I went home.” He stood, looked into Whitman’s gentle gray eyes and smiled. “I think I want to grow up now.”

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