Burly Chapter Eight


(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town.)
That night as Herman lay in bed he held Burly close. “Isn’t it exciting, Burly?” He didn’t hold his bear too close because it was hot in the loft. Three small windows were open by each of the beds. Herman slept in his undershorts, but there wasn’t enough breeze to keep him from sweating.
“Yes, it is exciting,” Burly said. “Nice things like that help keep your mind off how uncomfortable the heat is.”
“Tad said this man Harley is real funny. I don’t know what he does exactly, but I can’t wait for us to see it.”
“I’m glad you want Callie and Tad to have a good time too.”
Herman tickled Burly’s tummy. “No, I mean you. I can’t wait for you to see Harley.”
“No, Herman, I can’t go. They won’t want stuffed bears coming to their show.”
Frowning, Herman asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t know for sure. I just know if you asked your father he’d say no.”
Herman slumped down on his pillow. “I don’t know if I want to go if I can’t take you. It won’t be any fun without you.”
“Of course it will.” Burly paused to think. “Imagine how much fun you’ll have telling me all about it later.”
A smile crept across Herman’s face as his eyes fell heavily and a breeze finally blew across the bed.
Wednesday, the day of the tent show came to town, took on the same magical anticipation as Christmas. Each school day wound down slowly, and each chore at home took forever. Instead of twenty spelling words on the final test of the year, Herman could have sworn the teacher called out a thousand. And on the last day of school Herman was sure the teacher moved as though she were plowing through mud up to her waist. He didn’t even care about the grades on his report card, although they were very good.
“Hmph,” Tad said with disdain as he looked at Herman’s card, “grades don’t mean a thing.”
Herman would have been upset if he hadn’t seen Callie smile and wink at him.
Tuesday night was the longest night in Herman’s life, for there was nothing so exciting as the complete unknown. And that’s what the tent show was to him. What did Harley Sadler look like? Was he like a movie star? Big and good looking? Did he have a funny voice? What exactly did make Harley Sadler funny? Herman couldn’t wait to find out.
Tad, Callie and Herman got up early, ate quickly and ran out the door to go to town before the tent went up. As he flew out the door Herman heard his mother cough loudly and deeply. He paused to go back when Tad yelled at him to hurry up.
The hurly burly on the empty field next to the high school was enough to scare Herman, but Callie held his hand so everything was all right. Finally the tent was up and a short, fair man with sandy blond hair sauntered up to the large group of boys and girls eagerly awaiting the word. He had a funny, lopsided kind of grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“I don’t suppose I could find anybody here willing to put up a few chairs for me for a ticket to the show tonight?”
‘You bet, Toby!” Tad yelled out with all the other children.
So this was Harley Sadler. He certainly didn’t sound funny. He had a pretty deep voice. And he didn’t really look all that funny. Mostly he looked like a rich businessman. On the other hand, his smile, and the look in his eyes, they were funny, Herman decided. More than that, they were exciting because they hinted at funnier things to come.
“Well, Herman, come on.” Tad tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go!”
Herman was embarrassed he had been caught gawking at the famous actor, but Harley didn’t seem to mind. He just laughed and patted Herman on the head. There were so many children scrambling for chairs that Herman only got to set up three chairs before they were finished. At first he was afraid he hadn’t done enough work to earn the ticket, but he forgot that quickly as he was the first child Harley gave a ticket to.
“Now hang on to that,” Harley said, winking at Herman.
When all the tickets were distributed Harley said loudly, “Be sure to tell your folks that tonight is ladies night. All women get in free when brought by a man buying a ticket!”
“Oh boy!” Tad exclaimed as they hurried home. “Do you know what that means? It means papa will have to buy only one ticket! Mama’ll get in free!”
“This is going to be so much fun!” Callie giggled as she skipped beside Herman.
Life couldn’t be happier, Herman decided as he looked at his sister’s face and then his brother’s.
“And Burly will get in free too!” Herman chirped, forgetting what his little bear had warned him about the bear’s prediction he wouldn’t be allowed to go.
“Aww, Herman, you’re not going to drag along that toy bear, are you?” Tad moaned.
“If papa says it’s all right, why should you care?” Callie shot back, putting her arm around Herman.
When they came through the front door, they saw their father entering from his bedroom.
“Guess what!” Herman said loudly, “Mama can get in free!”
“Shush,” Papa hushed him with a finger to his lips as he motioned the children to the table to sit down. “Your mama’s not feeling good. She fainted this afternoon.”
“Oh no!” Callie gasped.
“Did you get the doctor?” Herman asked.
“Don’t be dumb,” Tad chided him. “We can’t afford the doctor.”
“That’s right, son,” his father said. “But—but I don’t think she’s too bad. I don’t think though we should go to the show tonight.”
All three children knew better than to protest, but Herman couldn’t help but let out a little groan.
“I know it’s a big letdown—“
“Woody!” mama called out weakly from the bedroom.
Papa stood and went into the bedroom. A few minutes later he came out. Herman tried to figure out what he was going to say from the look on papa’s face, but Herman couldn’t guess what the faraway look on his eyes meant.
“Hmm, your mama says she’s not that bad, that she wants us to go on to the show. She’ll be fine by herself.”
“I could let Burly stay with her,” Herman offered weakly.
Papa looked at him in a blur. “Who? Oh no, that’s all right.” He looked around the room as though he were helpless. “Hmm, Callie help me with supper. Tad, tend the animals in the barn.”
Tad left while Callie and papa turned to the kitchen. Herman quietly went to the loft and got Burly to take to his mother. He slowly opened the door so it wouldn’t creak and stepped in. He approached the bed where mama was sleeping restlessly. The dark spots under her eyes and the paleness of her skin became very real to him for the first time and it scared him.
“Mama?” he whispered.
Her eyes opened and she smiled. “Hi, baby.”
“Would you like Burly to keep you company tonight?”
She laughed and touched his cheek. “No, thank you, honey. It’s so sweet of you to offer.”
The door swung open and Herman heard his father’s voice.
“Herman, I thought I told you not to bother your mother.”
“That’s all right, Woody,” she said softly. “I wanted to see my baby.”
“Get out,” papa ordered. He paused to chuckle a bit. “Don’t you have chores to do?”
“Yes sir,” Herman replied meekly.
He hurriedly returned Burly to the loft and went outside. Supper went by very quietly, almost sadly, considering where they were going that evening. Papa took a tray of food into the bedroom and shut the door, staying with mama the entire meal. After he came out, Callie cast a quick glance at Herman and ventured a question.
“Could Herman take his bear to the show?
Papa turned to look at Callie and then at Herman. “Now why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t,” Herman protested.
“This afternoon he said he wanted to,” Callie replied.
Herman noticed Tad remained quiet during the exchange. He expected his brother to say something mean, but Tad almost never did what Herman expected.
Finally papa announced, “It’s time to go.” He actually was smiling. “Each of you may go in to see your mother, but don’t stay too long.”
“I want to go first!” Tad replied, heading for the bedroom.
“Don’t run and be quiet!” papa reminded him, causing Tad to slow down.
Callie went for a kiss. Then it was Herman’s turn. Mama gathered her baby into her arms and kissed him.
“Have a good time and obey your papa,” she whispered, her breath smelling of some foul medicine.
As Herman came out of his parents’ bedroom he noticed Tad had just come down the ladder from the loft.
“Come on, boys, or we’re going without you!” papa called from outside.

The Late Photographer


The photographer was late coming to mother’s birthday party, and she was not pleased.
The smallest of things always displeased mother so the use of the word party in connection with any event which involved her became a misnomer. The last people to walk this earth who could please her were her mother and father, and they had passed on years ago to their reward for carefully molding and leaving on humanity’s doorstep such a spoiled brat.
Grandfather had made his money selling shoes that fell apart after a five-mile march during the Civil War. When asked why he would sell such a shoddy product to the United States government he said they were meant for the Cavalry. Grandmother’s family came over on one of the early boats, not the Mayflower but one that came when Massachusetts became more suitable for habitation.
Mother made it a custom to have a photographer to come to her home in the Concord countryside to record for posterity all family gatherings, birthdays, weddings, wakes, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Fourth of July. Of course, she complained that no one remained straight and still enough for the portrait. She was as stiff as her freshly starched blouses. The only person not criticized for being stiff enough was the guest of honor in the casket at a wake.
“This is inexcusable,” she muttered as she sipped on her lemonade. “I have never had a photographer be this late at one of our events. We can’t cut the cake until the photographer arrives.”
“We just had a horrific summer thunderstorm, Mother dear,” I told her.
“No excuse,” she cut me off briskly. “Anyone of true breeding would have allowed time for such atmospheric disruptions.”
“No one else seems to mind. They’re having a good time talking among themselves.”
“That’s another thing,” she snapped. “They should at least be talking to me about how the photographer has ruined my birthday.”
“The only person who can ruin your birthday is you,” I said, immediately ruing the words that just came out of my mouth.
“I beg your pardon!” She bolted out of her chair and glared at me, all without spilling a single drop of her lemonade.
Fortunately, the telephone rang at that moment and I excused myself to answer it. Everyone in the parlor became silent and stared at me as I spoke into the receiver.
“Yes, yes. This is the Van Horne residence. I am Mrs. Van Horne’s son. Yes, we were expecting his arrival at any moment. Oh. I see. Thank you very much.”
I hung up and turned toward mother, who had already sat down. All the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandchildren parted like the Red Sea as I walked back to her.
“I don’t care what his excuse is,” she said, pursing her lips. “I shall never hire him again.”
“Mother, the photographer had a car accident on the way over to the house during the thunderstorm. He’s dead.”
“Well, that’s just another good reason never to hire him again.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Nineteen


Ernest Simpson
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David and Wallis are foiled in their attempt to protect a socialite’s jewels.

By Christmas 1926 Wallis was visiting her college chum Mary and her husband Jacque Raffray at their elegant apartment on Washington Square in New York City. Aunt Bessie was with her, like a proper chaperone, but she never got in the way of Wallis having a good time. When the two young women shopped and lunched, Bessie stayed in the apartment reading the latest fashion magazines. Wallis and Mary lingered in discreet cafes, sharing intimate details of mutual friends.
On Christmas Eve the Raffrays held a party for their dearest and closest acquaintances. Everyone admired the decorations, table settings and music, but the party didn’t really begin until the bootlegger arrived. Bessie retired to her room early, as was her custom on trips with Wallis. After all, she didn’t want to be in the way. Amidst the giggles and chatter, Mary caught Wallis by the crook of her arm and guided her to a couple on the far side of the tree. They looked more than a little bored.
“Wallis, I want you to meet a fascinating man,” Mary whispered. “He’s in the shipping business and holds dual American and English citizenship.”
Wallis had not quite focused on the introduction until she remembered the part about dual citizenship.
“Hello, I’d like you to meet my friend Mrs. Wallis spencer.” Mary nodded to the couple. “Wallis, this is Ernest and Dorothy Simpson.”
Wallis looked at him closely. He was more than passably handsome, and his wife looked like she was in a perpetual state of grump.
She scooted closer to her man.
Wallis smiled and extended her hand, pretending not to notice the wife smiled back and extended her hand. Wallis grabbed Ernest’s hand instead. A low grumble escaped Dorothy’s lips.
“I just love a man with dark hair and mustache,” Wallis mumbled.
Ernest’s eyes twinkled. “Aren’t your husband’s hair and moustache dark?”
“Well, “she paused so a naughty smile could flicker across her thin, heavily painted lips, “some moustaches are better than others.”
“Ernest,” Dorothy interrupted with in a brusque tenor that could not be ignored. She paused to smile. Her own shade of lipstick was a soft, lady-like coral. “As I was telling you, I am coming down with one of my dreadful headaches. Really, we must leave now. I want to feel my best at Christmas dinner tomorrow with Mommy.” After a second, she added, with a condescending air, “Dear.”
Wallis raised an eyebrow. “Oh. You aren’t attending the midnight candlelight service at your church?”
“Why, no.” Dorothy seemed to be caught off balance. “Are you?”
“No.” Wallis caught Ernest’s elbow to lead him away. “Ernest, darling, you must see the view from the terrace. It’s really quite remarkable. You can see all the way to Times Square.”
They stood outside and looked in vain for the lights of Broadway. The breeze caused Wallis to shudder.
“Hmm, I was sure you could see Times Square from here.” She leaned into him. “Oh dear, it is a bit chilly, isn’t it?” Looking up into his eyes, she asked, “Now how exactly do you come to hold dual citizenship? It sounds exquisite.”
Before he could respond, Dorothy stormed through the door, already wearing her fur and extending Ernest’s overcoat.
“I must insist we leave immediately.” She shoved the coat into his hands and pushed him away from Wallis’s side. “It was simply wonderful meeting you, Mrs. Simpson—Spencer. I hope you have a safe trip home.”
Early in the morning, the day after Christmas, the telephone rang. Mary answered, listened then extended the receiver to Wallis who took it and purred a hello. Bessie sat in a nearby easy chair, reading the New York Times women’s section, particularly the wedding announcements.
“Hello, Wallis. This is Ernest. I hope you had a truly merry Christmas day.”
“Thank you, Ernest. How kind of you to call.”
“Have you ever visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art?”
“Why, no. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
“Don’t you remember, dear,” Bessie said. “We were there last week.”
Wallis snatched the newspaper from Bessie’s hands and threw it on the floor while still talking on the phone. “I hate to admit it, but I’m much more of a country girl. Love tromping through the woods. I’m terrible, aren’t I?”
“Of course, not. I’m an outdoorsman myself.”
“Yes, you are terrible, Wallis.” Bessie bent over to pick up the papers. “Why on earth did you toss my paper on the floor?”
“Do I hear your aunt?” Ernest asked.
“Yes, the poor dear is having another one of her fits. It’s best that we ignore her.” Wallis wagged a skinny finger at Bessie. “I hope you are volunteering to take me to the museum.”
“Are you available this afternoon?” he asked.
“Of course, I am.”
“Think your aunt would like to join us?”
“She’s having one of her fits, remember? It’s best to leave her alone in her bedroom.”
“Well, I like that,” Bessie muttered good-naturedly.
“I really do want to be a cultured lady. What I don’t know about art I’m sure you could teach me. After all there’s more to life than…well, life.”
“Well spoken. I’ll pick you at noon for lunch and then we’ll take on the museum.”
After she hung up, Wallis giggled.
“You do know it’s just as easy to woo a single man as a married one.” Bessie settled back in her chair to resume her reading.”
“But I don’t want it to be easy. What’s the thrill in that?” Besides, Wallis thought, it was her duty to king and empire to seduce Mr. Simpson.
That afternoon Wallis took Ernest’s arm as they began to explore the galleries.
“It’s a shame Dorothy couldn’t join us.” She was surprised by how sincere she sounded.
“Yes, she has a terrible headache. Too much Christmas cheer, I think.”
He took time and particular relish to explain the impressionism found in a small Monet. After he finished Wallis pointed to the next painting. Her arm grazed across his chest.
“And what is that?” she asked with total innocence.
“That’s my chest,” he replied in amusement.
“What?”
“You have your hand on my chest.”
“So I do.” She patted it. “How nice. Eventually she removed it and pointed again at the other painting. “I mean what is that painting over there?”
He smiled and placed his arm around her shoulders. “Well, let’s go find out.”
It had not been a full week into the new year when Wallis rang up Ernest with the excited announcement that Rose-Marie was coming to Broadway again.
“I am beside myself. I love the music though I’ve never seen it on stage. Please tell me you will be available the night of the 27th. That’s the opening night. It would be so much fun if we could see it together. Oh, of course, Dorothy if the poor thing is feeling well. Does she still have that dreadful headache?”
Wallis waited for a moment while Ernest chuckled.
“I do adore listening to you talk, Wallis dear.”
“It’s what I do best, darling.” She knew that was a lie. She could not share with Ernest what she really did best yet. It might scare him off. “So, how is poor sweet little Dorothy feeling?”
“Actually, she feels rather jaunty this morning.”
“Well, we do have three weeks before the opening.”
And on the premiere night of Rose-Marie Dorothy was not feeling well, neither unfortunately was Aunt Bessie. Mary and Jacque Raffray had tickets to another show. Wallis kept leaning into Ernest to ask questions about the play and he leaned back into her with the answer. She decided his breath smelled only slightly of tobacco and an interesting, expensive brand of gin.
As the winter weather softened, Ernest took Wallis on a personal tour of the docks where the Simpson family freighters were being loaded for their next voyage to England. She was dutifully awed by the length and breadth of the Simpson fortune.
Wallis tried to find a chic night club Ernest had not frequented, but, alas, he had been to them all. They had a good time anyway. In a dark corner they sat for the midnight performance of rhythm and blues. Wallis and Ernest scooted closer and closer to each other. They pretended the noisy music necessitated the intimacy. One night they found themselves kissing.
By the time spring officially arrived, they were taking leisurely day trips to soak up the Hudson River ambience. They took time, as they strolled through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to kiss. Up the road a bit was the charming village of Wappingers Falls. The cascades were more like frothy rapids than actual falls, but that did not deter their stroll along the river bank.
“I know the most fascinating story of the Wappingers Indians and their role in the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch. Do you want to hear it?” Wallis asked.
“No.” Ernest took her into his arms and the fervent kiss took her breath away. When he finally pulled away from her lips, Ernest whispered, “I know you’re divorcing Win in Virginia. I want to divorce Dorothy. Then we can marry.”
Wallis was surprised. She was ahead of the agency’s schedule. Also, if she agreed to a future marriage, Ernest might pursue the possibility of premarital intercourse. She could not risk his being repulsed by her peculiar physical condition. If he were appalled after the wedding, it would make no difference because this wasn’t going to be a long-term relationship anyway.
“I don’t know. I think you’re wonderful but when I first met Win I thought he was wonderful too.”
“The difference between Win and me is that your unvarnished truth that you want a divorce would infuriate him. I, on the other hand, completely understand why you don’t to jump immediately into a romance with me.”

Making Memories


Blessed is the person who recognizes when happy memories are being born.

In the summer of 1960 my father, mother, brothers, a friend and I went to Devil’s Den, a rock formation park outside of Tishomingo, Oklahoma. It was privately owned and consisted of huge boulders in weird positions. They either looked like something or had a historical significance. Belle Star, among other notorious characters, used to hide out from the law there.
We had the brochure with the numbered formations and a brief explanation of their significance. My dad, who for some reason had my mother’s purse hanging in the crook of his elbow, stood in front of us staring at two huge rocks pressed together. Mom had the brochure and was trying to figure out what its title meant.
“You Name It” was what the brochure called it with no further details.
Suddenly she burst out laughing.
“I get it!” she shouted, looking first at my father’s backside and then at the two rocks squashed together. “It’s an old man’s fat behind!”
Even my father had to laugh at that one.
I was twelve years old and all of a sudden I grasped this was a moment to remember. It was the last time the entire family went some place for fun together. In a couple of years Mom would be dead of cancer, I drifted away from my friend because we had different interests, and my brothers and Dad just drifted away.
In 1985, my wife, son, daughter, mother-in-law and I went to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The day was nice, but what struck me as a memory I should keep was when we were walking out. I held my year-old daughter with one arm on my hip and held my 11-year-old son’s hand with the other. Instinctively I knew this would never happen again exactly this way. As my daughter grew up we held hands a lot when we left amusement parks, walking ahead of the slow pokes, my wife and son. Now she’s all grown up and living in New York. My son is an old hairy-legged prison guard. It would not be the same holding hands with him today as it was back when he was eleven.
A few years ago, my wife, son, daughter, her husband and my grand-nephew went to Disney Hollywood at Christmas. Again at the end of a long day of having fun I stopped a moment to look back up the street at the fire works going off over the park with all its decorations. First I knelt down with my grand-nephew who was six and told him to listen close to all the sounds and take a hard look at all the colors so he could remember this as one of the good times.
Then I took each of the others to the middle of the street and said the same thing to them. The two guys smiled and went along with the old man’s odd moment. My wife gave me a nice kiss, but my daughter looked at me and blurted out, “Oh my God! You’re going to die.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on it, at least not anytime soon.”
“But that’s the type of thing someone says just before they die,” she insisted.
It was still a nice moment to remember. My wife died of cancer. My daughter divorced that husband and now has a new one and a daughter. My grand-nephew is a teenager and doesn’t write. My son is still an old hairy-legged prison guard.
The point of all this is to remind you that no matter how busy you are and how tight the family budget is this year, make sure you do something fun with your family. You’ll be glad to have the memories later.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Forty-Three


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home.
Adam thought he was falling in love as he walked briskly from Jessie’s boardinghouse. A few minutes with her each evening made cleaning chamber pots bearable. His eyes widened when he thought of chamber pots which should have been emptied already. Fear of another scolding from Mrs. Lincoln hastened him down H Street. He counted down the intersections—Tenth Street, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and then New York Avenue. By the time he headed toward the Executive Mansion, Adam was in full gait, and breathing heavily. He stopped at the bottom of the mansion steps to catch his breath. Nodding curtly to John Parker at the door, Adam went straight to the service stairs, trounced the straw mats as he raced down, passed the kitchen, and reached the billiards room door. Again he paused to catch his breath and fish the keys from his pocket. Steeling himself against Mrs. Lincoln’s fury, he unlocked the door.
Inside, Mrs. Lincoln sat under the lamp which hung over the billiards table with the sewing kit and the ripped quilt. She looked up and smiled at Adam.
“Thank you so much for bringing the needle and thread. I’d forgotten how soothing mending can be.”
“I’m sorry for being late to empty the chamber pots,” he said.
“Oh, are you late? I hadn’t noticed.”
“I heard you come in,” Lincoln said as he walked through the curtain carrying one of the pots, “so I thought I’d help out.”
“Thank you, sir.” Adam retrieved the second one and headed for the door as Gabby appeared from behind his curtain, carrying his chamber pot. Adam’s hands were trembling as he unlocked the door.
“I finally had a bowel movement. It’s been two weeks. I think I’m finally getting used to living down here, and my bowels are loosening.” Gabby looked at Adam’s hands. “Are you nervous about something? My hands shake sometimes when I’m nervous. I hope you don’t get nervous like me, or the generals won’t let you stay in the army anymore.”
“It’s nothing. I thought Mrs. Lincoln might be upset with me for being late.”
“That’s all right, young man,” Lincoln said, patting him on the back. “She makes me nervous sometimes too.”
Adam left one pot outside the billiards room door and carried the other two through the kitchen to the service entrance door. He wondered if the architect had ever thought full chamber pots would come so close to the food prepared for the president.
“Do you want me to get the third pot?” Phebe asked, looking up from the stove.
“No, thanks,” he replied, quickening his step to the door to the driveway beneath the north portico. “I can get it.”
“It won’t kill you to accept help,” she said with humor as she went into the hall to pick up the third pot. As she walked, Phebe looked down at its contents. “This man must have been constipated for weeks.”
“You shouldn’t talk about that,” Adam muttered as he walked out the door and down the driveway to the deep gutter, where he emptied the two pots. Phebe joined him and dumped the third.
“I know they’re top-secret helpers with the war, and I haven’t said anything to anyone else, only to you.”
“I’d feel better if we didn’t talk about them at all.”
“Why? Aren’t they doing a good job? They never come out. Never get any fresh air.”
“I said, I don’t talk about it,” he said sharply as he picked up the pots to carry them to the water trough.
“Suit yourself,” Phebe said. She marched past Adam and plopped the third pot into the trough, splashing water on him.
Shaking his head, Adam washed out the pots and berated himself for not answering Phebe’s questions any better, but every time he was around her he was in awe of her dark, smooth skin, her full lips and slender torso flaring into ample hips. Stacking the three pots, he carried them back through the kitchen to the hall.
“The boy is still bilious,” Neal told Phebe outside her bedroom.
“Poor child,” Phebe replied. “I suppose Mrs. Lincoln is fretting over him.”
“Yes, but she’s not as nervous about it as she used to be.”
Adam’s breath quickened as he realized what they were talking about, and he walked to them.
“Tad’s not feeling well?” he asked.
“His mama’s trying to make him puke,” Neal replied.
“He was off his feed earlier today, and about an hour ago he started moaning with the bellyache,” Phebe explained.
“He’ll be all right, won’t he?” Adam shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as it gradually dawned on him: a moral dilemma was about to loom over him.
“I don’t know,” Neal said. “I never heard such moaning in my life.”
“I’m sure Mrs. Lincoln knows what to do,” Phebe said.

Burley Chapter Seven


(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. His sister was happy; his brother got mad, but he admitted he liked his bear.)
Life was happier for Herman now. He had Burly who had his parents, Pearly and Burly Senior. Tad seemed friendlier although he still was mean sometimes. However, the little burlap bear explained why Tad was upset so the hurt didn’t last long. Papa almost always was nice to him now, though Herman could tell this depressions thing continued to bother him. Callie was growing up to be as pretty as she was sweet. Mama was the same, except she seemed thinner and coughed a lot.
Even Herman was changing. At seven years old he began school. He wished he could have taken Burly with him, but his little bear assured him that it was all right.
“You better get used to it,” Burly warned him. “From now on, you’ll be going many places that I can’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t love me or I don’t love you. That will be just the way things will be.”
As always, Herman found that Burly was right. There were days at school, when the teacher asked him questions he didn’t know the answer to or when a bully named Marvin Berry picked on him that he wished he had Burly there to hug right away. Instead he just waited until he got home.
“I guess that’s part of growing up,” Herman said with a sigh one afternoon.
“That’s right,” Burly agreed.
Herman frowned. “It scares me.”
“What? Growing up?” Burly asked.
“Yes. There are so many things that I haven’t done that I’ll have to do. So many experiences. So many people.”
“Isn’t it exciting?” Burly said, trying to cheer Herman.
Herman moaned. “I guess.”
Just then Tad and Callie burst through the door and scrambled up the ladder to the loft.
“Guess what!” Tad squealed. “Toby’s coming to town!”
Herman wrinkled his brow. “Toby? Who’s Toby?”
“You dummy! Don’t you know who Harley Sadler is?” Tad said with a playful laugh in his voice.
Callie hit at him. “Don’t be nasty, Tad. Herman’s too young to remember the last time the show came through town.”
“A show?” Herman asked in awe.
“Yeah! A real funny show!” Tad exclaimed.
“Harley only brings his show this way every few years,” Callie explained, quite grown up. After all, she was ten years old now. “He mostly does his shows in West Texas.”
“I wish we lived in West Texas! Then we could see Toby every year,” Tad said with a sigh.
Herman was still confused. Scratching his head he asked, “But you call him Harley and Tad calls him Toby.”
“Dummy,” Tad muttered.
“Tad,” she reproved him. “Harley plays a character called Toby.”
“A funny cowboy who always outsmarts the bad guy,” Tad added.
“You were only three when he came to town last. Mama stayed home with you and papa took Tad and me.”
“I hope papa will take us this time,” Herman said, beginning to jump up and down.
“Oh sure,” Tad replied confidently. “Papa likes Toby too.”
That night around the dinner table Tad broke the news to his father who smiled broadly.
“So old Harley’s back in town,” he said. “Well, we’ll have to scrape up enough money to see him.” He reached over to squeeze his wife’s hand. “Do you remember when we were just courting, Opal? I took you to see Harley. Remember how between acts he came out and sang in a quartet and couldn’t remember the words?”
Herman tingled with happiness to hear his father laugh and giggle. He could swear papa’s eyes twinkled. His mother smiled, threw back her fragile head and laughed.
“Yes, and I remember how you almost got trampled trying to by a box of salt water taffy.”
Papa ducked his head. “Well, I was hoping to find the one with the diamond ring in it.” He touched the simple band on her left hand. “It would’ve been the only way I could get you one.”
She patted his cheek. “I like the ring I have just fine.”
“You mean they give away prizes?” Herman asked.
Tad elbowed him. “Of course they do. Don’t you know—“ He didn’t finish the sentence because his father cleared his throat ominously. “Yeah sure. You buy a box of candy and there’s tickets for all sorts of things.” Tad finished more politely than he had begun.
Papa returned to the business of eating. “Aw, I guess we can’t go this time, with three kids and all,” he muttered.
“I remember the last time some of the kids in town talking how they got free tickets for helping set up the chairs in the tent for Toby.”
“Harley,” Callie said.
“Don’t correct your brother,” mama lectured softly. She put her thin, pale hand to her mouth to cover a cough.
Papa looked at her and wrinkled his brow. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Opal?”
She shook off her cough, which emanated from her chest, and laughed. “Heavens, I’m as strong as a horse.”
“Papa? Did you hear? Free tickets. Callie and me and the kid there could set up chairs and get in free.”
“Huh? Oh. I guess. We’ll see. When will the show be in town?”
“Next Wednesday,” Tad replied. “The day after school lets out for the year, so we’ll be able to watch the tent go up in the morning, help with the chairs and get free tickets.”

Dancing, One of the More Fun Sins


Half a century ago when I was a little boy in a rural Texas town, I heard that people who danced were going to hell.
Decent people didn’t dance, smoke, drink or vote Republican.
And if they did, they had the good manners not to let anyone know.
Once I mentioned to a church lady on a Sunday morning that I had bought a cupcake from the high school student council. I didn’t really want it but the two girls selling the tray of cupcakes were really cute and kinda flirted with me so I gave up a couple of quarters and enjoyed the cupcake.
“That was supporting dancing!” the woman declared. “Which is the same as supporting the devil!”
When I asked why she said the only thing high school student councils do was organize dances so when I bought that cupcake for fifty cents I was supporting dancing.
Well, that took the sweet memory off that cupcake.
Once I had the audacity to ask the preacher why dancing was sinful since it wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments nor one of the abominations listed in Chronicles Chapter 12. The next Sunday night he preached an entire sermon about how the Bible didn’t specifically say dancing was a sin, it did record that every time some one danced, something bad happened to people.
When the Israelites got bored waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments they danced around and they got smote down and good. When David danced naked in front of the Ark of the Covenant as it came into Jerusalem, he was denied the privilege of building the Temple. When Salome danced in front of King Herod, John the Baptist lost his head.
Well, I think all the fornicating before, during and after the dancing was what got the Israelites in trouble with God and not specifically the dancing. Also, David put Bathsheba’s husband on the front lines of battle to kill him off so he could marry her. That probably kept David from building the Temple more than the dancing. Finally, King Herod was just plain crazy. He didn’t need a dancing girl to give him an excuse to kill anyone.
Anyway, I kept all those thoughts to myself while I was growing up. Besides, I had this terrible suspicion that if I did try to dance I wouldn’t be very good at it. I had two left feet.
Fortunately, I married Janet who two right feet. We just had fun on the dance floor and didn’t care if anyone noticed. The nice thing about people who like to dance is that they’re having too much fun to judge anyone else’s abilities. I kept telling Janet that we needed to get a video from the public library about easy ball room dancing steps but we never got around to it.
As old people we occasionally went to events that feature orchestras that played the Big Band sound. All around us were people who had rhythm in their feet and smiles on their faces as they danced to jazz, doo wop, Latin and especially Frank Sinatra. For three hours the world went away and everyone went happy. I don’t go dancing anymore because Janet died of cancer and I lost my two right feet. I don’t know if that is a sin but it is a crying shame.
As for that church lady, I have a sneaking suspicion that she didn’t know what she was talking about.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighteen


Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David and Wallis are foiled in their attempt to protect a socialite’s jewels.
Leon sat on the white sands of the Eleuthera beach watching little Sidney tentatively take his first steps towards him. His wife Jessamine jumped and clapped her hands. When Sidney reached him, Leon extended his arms to hug the boy on his success. The toddler waved his arms, turned slightly and kept moving.
“No! Walk more!”
Laughing, Leon rolled around to watch his son waddle past him. His smile faded as he saw a dark outline against the Bahamian sun. Pooka stood there, her arms folded and her head wagging.
“You’re a lucky man, Leon Johnson.”
“Yes, I know I am.”
“If you had stayed away another week you would have missed seeing your son take his first steps.”
“And if frogs had wings they wouldn’t bump their butts on the ground when they hopped.”
Pooka walked up, towering over him. “What exactly is it that you do, Leon Johnson?”
He rose his feet with the grace of a ballet dancer. “I thought you would know, being a high priestess of Obeah.”
Jessamine brushed by them on her way to intersect Sidney before his feet reached the water. “No, no. Wait for me!”
“You are fortunate Jessamine is such a good mother.” Pooka stared into Leon’s eyes. “But one day when you are not here she might not see evil coming his way.”
“Now why would you want to threaten me, Pooka? If you are a high priestess you must sense a strong aura of power around me.”
Raising her hands, Pooka demurred. “No, no. I am not threatening. I am offering my help. Obeah can keep your son safe.”
“I’m sure. If the price is right.” Leon smiled. “That is what you are saying, isn’t it, Pooka?”
She spat on the sand and stormed away as Jessamine walked up with Sidney in her arms.
“What did Pooka want?”
“Money.” Leon took the boy into his arms and walked back to the ocean spray. Wading into the water up to his waist, he held Sidney high over his head and jiggled him as he laughed. “We have nothing to fear, do we, my son?
This was the happiest time of his life, he decided. No matter how much money he might make through working for the organization, Leon was sure nothing could surpass the peace and satisfaction of this moment. His beautiful hacienda-style home was completely his. No one could ever take it away. He had the satisfaction of providing a secure comfortable old age for his mother. His wife was utterly devoted to him and walked with pride along the paths of their Bahamian paradise. And he was going to teach his son the way his father had taught him. All this was possible because of one trip to New York City and the Plaza Hotel.
It was so simple. The night before the American Labor Day Leon went to the Cotton Club where he caught an early evening show. In a display of sophistication, he leaned back in the chair in his fine linen suit, a cigarette between his fingers. The troupe of ebony dancers finished their act and dispersed around the room. One of them, a tall, buxom woman covered in white feathers, sat at his table, oozing seduction. “You look like a man who enjoys a good time,” she murmured, taking the cigarette and puffing on it.
“Always. If the price is right.”
“Ask for Abe in the custodial closet. His price is fifty dollars. Then go to the sixteenth floor. Suite 1601. First room on the right. Jewels in a large ornamental wooden box.”
She blew him a kiss as she sashayed away.
Leon took a cab downtown to the Plaza Hotel where he found and bribed custodian Abe for his work clothes, pass key, work cart and identification papers.
Shortly after sunset Labor Day Leon clocked in. The crowds which had gathered for the parade had dispersed. Most residents settled into their apartments for the night. Others donned their best apparel for dinner and partying. Leon with his cart of cleaning equipment took the service elevator up to the sixteen floor and room 1601.
By this time he had perfected a limp in his left leg, dragging his foot behind. His mouth twisted in a bizarre way which required Leon to wipe his lips every few minutes with a dirty handkerchief. Each hotel guest that passed him kept their eyes straight ahead.
“Yassa, you have a good evening, you hear?” Leon was quite proud of his American Negro accent, which he knew white Americans expected to hear.
All of them deliberately ignored him. Leon had become the invisible man. He lingered in the hallway, vigorously polishing the wooden floors. An older woman dressed as a nanny left the suite. When he flashed his toothy smile, she sighed deeply and quickened her step.
Leon used his service key to enter, paused to look around the large apartment. Complete darkness. Total silence. He assumed that his organization knew the occupants would be out for the evening. The children were fast asleep. Why else would have the nanny left? Going directly to the master bedroom, Leon dumped the jewelry box contents into a trash bag he had taken from the cart. He jogged down the stairs to the custodial locker room and changed into his street clothes. Emptying the jewels into a small, non-descript suitcase, Leon was out the basement door hailing a taxi in a matter of minutes. He directed the cabbie to a prominent hotel in Harlem. Once inside he checked in at the desk.
“Have there been any messages for John Doe in Room 312?” he asked the clerk.
“No, sir.”
“Very good.”
Fifteen minutes later there was a knock at his door. When he opened it, Leon saw a black female hand thrust into the room. In it was a thick envelope. He took it and handed the suitcase off. She grabbed him by his neck, pulled him into her and kissed him.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since I saw you in the Cotton Club last night.” The dancer winked.
“I hope you liked it.”
“Oh, I did.” She kissed him again. “I liked that one too.”
Leon was on the midnight train to Miami. By mid-morning he climbed into a shuttle craft to Freeport. His usual boatman waved when he saw Leon and ran to take his suitcase. As the sun set he walked through the courtyard of his hacienda and exulted in the welcome from his wife, child and mother. He trotted upstairs to unpack as Jessamine and Dorothy finished preparing his supper. Only then did he open the envelope and count the money. Leon could not help but smile at the amount. He did not know who these people were, and he did not care. There was enough cash in the envelope to allow him to stay home to watch his son grow up without another assignment for at least a year.
Two weeks later, Leon carried little Sidney out the door for romp time on the seashore when he noticed his flower pot was askew again. Frowning, he cursed under his breath and looked inside. A small bag of tobacco blended in with the soil. He opened it and found a large blue sapphire wrapped by a note.
“Special appreciation.”
“Jessamine! Hurry along! We want to play!”
Leon smiled and stuck the tobacco bag deep in his pocket. That was why he was so joyous with his family on the shore. Now he could stay home for three years. He hugged Sidney close to him as he sloshed out of the surf.
“Sidney, my son, it is time I taught you about our warrior ancestors in Africa. We were defeated, but we always remained proud.”

Dinner


“Now I want all of you to eat every bite of this,” Mother said as she sat down at the table. “I had another one of my headaches today while I was cooking.”
“Well, I helped cook,” Betty replied, sticking out her lower lip in a pout, as she spooned the turnip greens on her plate. “But I do love turnip greens, with lots and lots of bacon grease.”
“I don’t want any greens” Royce said. “Bacon grease upsets my stomach.”
“Bacon grease is yummy.”
“That’s why you’re a fat pig. You eat too much bacon grease.”
“Royce, if Betty wants to enjoy her food, that’s her right,” Mother said, putting a small dollop of potatoes on her plate. “These potatoes are delicious, but I don’t want to gain any more weight.”
Dad grunted as he piled the food on his plate and kept his head down.
Donny, the youngest, took the last cutlet, emptied the bowl of potatoes and covered them both with gravy.
“You little pig,” Royce said. “You took all the food. What if Dad wanted more? At least he works. I might have wanted more. I have a paper route. You don’t work. You don’t deserve to eat.”
“I help mother around the house,” Betty said, stuffing potatoes into her mouth. “If that’s not work, then I don’t know what is.”
Donny pushed the plate away and looked down.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Mother asked. “After all I went through to put it on the table.”
“Royce said I didn’t deserve to eat.”
“You’ve got to learn to not pay attention to what Royce says. Eat up or you’ll give me another headache.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“One of these days I’m gonna bop you over the head,” Betty mumbled, glaring at Royce. “Always picking on the baby.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“Then stop acting like one,” Royce spat.
“Father, what are we going to do? Donny won’t eat because Royce said something.”
“Eat your damn supper.” Father let out a belch before cutting another slice of cutlet.
“Why do you always have to upset the baby at supper?” Betty was on the verge of hysteria. “I think you’re just not happy unless you stir up a little hell.”
“Betty, mind your own business.” Mother ate the last forkful of potatoes on her plate. “Those potatoes were so delicious. I’m glad they’re all gone so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat anymore.”
“You’d have enough potatoes, Mother,” Royce said, “if the pig hadn’t put them all on his plate.”
“Oh no, if Donny thinks he can eat all those potatoes I want him to have them.” Mother sighed. “Go ahead and eat your potatoes, Donny.”
“Yeah, you little pig,” Royce added with a growl.
“Don’t call the baby a pig!” Betty’s face turned red.
“It’s just not fair!” Royce had tears in his eyes. “He gets away with everything ‘cause he’s the baby!”
“Father, what are we going to do with these children?” Mother shook her head. “It seems we can’t have a moment’s peace without somebody getting upset.”
“Everybody shut the hell up. And you eat your damn potatoes.”
“Yes, Father.” Donny slowly raised a forkful of food to his mouth.
“I’m just going to stop trying to fix a good meal anymore. Nobody ever wants to eat.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Forty-Two

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home.
Cordie turned her head to watch Adam’s animated description of the land and rivers and trees and skies of Ohio, which did not interest her in the least. At her age, one place was as good as the next to her, but what did interest her was the sparkle in his eyes. She worried Jessie underestimated her charms. It would be a shame to see a nice young man disappointed. Wondering why she cared about Adam, she looked again into his wide, intelligent, excited eyes. Cordie smiled to herself, and tears came to her eyes. Pulling out a handkerchief and wiping her moist cheeks, she knew what she saw—the spirit of young Gabby living on in the image of Adam. The omnibus’s grinding halt shook Cordie from her thoughts. Peering through the window, she nodded.
“It’s my stop.”
Her two companions did not hear her as they continued their enthusiastic conversation. Cordie looked fondly at them and regretted having to step past them to get out.
“Excuse me, my dears,” she said softly, still not catching their attention. She walked down the aisle feeling strangely content, even though her world had been turned upside down.
“Good night, me darlin’,” Jessie called out.
“Um, yes, good-bye, Miss Zook,” Adam said.
“Good night, children.” She turned and nodded.
Standing a moment at the curb on H Street to watch the omnibus clatter down the rough dirt road and disappear in the darkness, Cordie turned and walked up the steps to the front door of the three-story wooden clapboard boardinghouse occupied by a congenial older couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Edmonds. They leased it from a Maryland innkeeper who, the Edmondses said, rode in monthly to collect rent from boarders, mostly young men who needed mending done. That was where Cordie made her money.
As Cordie put her key in the lock, she heard Mrs. Edmonds’s sweet, low voice being drowned out by a stern, demanding female voice. She slipped through the door and tried to make her way silently to the stairs.
“Just a minute!” The other woman, middle-aged, with dark hair parted down the middle and tied tight in the back, approached Cordie. “Is this the woman you’re renting to?”
“Yes; Miss Zook,” Mrs. Edmonds said, “a dear soul who tends to our wounded Union soldiers at the Armory Square Hospital.”
The woman looked sharply at her, then at Cordie. “How long have you been living here and making a living off my boarders?”
“Not quite a year,” she replied.
“From now on, I’m charging two dollars more for using my house as a place of business.” Nodding curtly, she said, “Good night, Mrs. Edmonds.” Without another word, she put on her coat and bonnet and left.
“Gracious me,” Cordie said. “I hope I didn’t get you into trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it, my dear.” Mrs. Edmonds patted her hand. “I’m glad John had gone to bed. Mrs. Surratt’s tirade would have weakened his heart.”
“Is she always like this?”
“No, for the longest she was a sweet soul, not very talkative, but nice.” Mrs. Edmonds sighed. “Her husband drank too much. He died in August, and she hasn’t been the same since.”