Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook.
Adam walked back to his room and collapsed on his cot, his mind racing. What to do? Collecting his thoughts, he decided to go directly to the metropolitan police station. Turning himself in to the police would be the right thing—but would it be what Stanton would want, he wondered. Going to Stanton for every decision was part of his nature now; he could not change. Adam went to the wash table to clean his flushed face and his sweaty arms and neck. On Pennsylvania Avenue he caught an omnibus to K Street. Night breezes cooled his heated face, but to no avail; his skin still burned from anxiety. Finally the omnibus stopped at the block of Stanton’s house. As he walked down the street, Adam noticed how slowly he walked. He mounted the steps, imagining that this was how it would be when he went to the gallows.
“Yes?” the maid said, answering the door.
“I need to speak to Secretary Stanton.”
“That’s out of the question,” she replied.
“This is an emergency.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?”
“Tell him Private Adam Christy is here.”
“Very well.” The maid pursed her lips as she surveyed Adam.
Within a few moments, Stanton appeared in his dressing gown, his eyes glaring.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve killed someone.”
Stanton came out of the door, shut it, and hunched his shoulders against the cold night air. He stepped close to Adam.
“Say that again.”
“I killed the butler. He tried to keep me from raping the cook.”
“You’re a damned fool.” Stanton shivered as he looked out at the fog. “Damn you.” He paused. “Damn you.” He looked at Adam. “Flag down a carriage while I get dressed.”
In a few minutes, they were riding down the dirt street. Stanton barked an order to the carriage driver, who nodded and turned north at the next corner.
“Where are we going? The police station?”
“You’re a damned fool.”
Several minutes passed before the carriage stopped in front of a dark, two-story frame boardinghouse.
“Mr. Baker’s room is the first one at the top of the stairs.” Stanton narrowed his eyes. “Go get him.” He put a hand to his mouth to muffle a cough.
Jumping from the carriage, Adam bounded up the steps, entered, climbed the stairs, and knocked at the first door.
“What?”
“Secretary Stanton wants you.”
“Oh.”
Adam could hear a female voice complain and Baker calming her. Baker came out, buttoning his coat, and descended the stairs with Adam following closely. In the carriage Baker leaned into Stanton, who whispered to him as the carriage went to the Executive Mansion. Once they had arrived at the service driveway, Stanton motioned to Adam to get off with him and waved on the carriage with Baker still aboard.
“Where is he going?”
“To get a War Department carriage.”
They entered the service entrance and walked through the kitchen.
“Down there,” Adam said, leading Stanton to Phebe’s room.
Stanton walked in and examined Neal, ignoring Phebe, tied up on the floor. After a close study of the body, he crossed over to her.
“Young woman, if you keep your mouth shut, eyes closed to this, you’ll live. If someone should ask you someday, whatever happened to…” He turned to Adam. “What was his name?”
“Neal.”
“Whatever happened to Neal, you say you don’t know anyone by that name. I’ll have a new butler here tomorrow. He’ll be the only butler you remember. If you don’t, you die, and disappear as quickly as Neal. Do you understand? Nod if you understand.”
Phebe slowly moved her head up and down, her eyes filled with tears.
As Adam pulled Neal’s body into the hall, Baker bounded in from the kitchen. Baker lifted the corpse, threw it over his shoulder, and left as quickly as he had come.
“Go to his room, wrap up all his possessions in a sheet, and take them out to Mr. Baker.”
“Yes, sir.”
Stanton coughed deeply, turned, and walked through the kitchen to the service entrance door. Adam went to Neal’s room, lit a candle, pulled the sheet loose from the cot, and began tossing shoes, coats, shirts, pants, and underwear into it. He turned his attention a stack of books on the wash table. Holding them close to the candle flame, he read the titles—Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Constitution of the United States of America, On Civil Disobedience. There was also a diary. Adam turned to the last entry.
“‘I finally confessed to Phebe I loved her,’” Adam mumbled. “‘She rejected me. I won’t give up.’”
“No time for reading,” Baker said, snatching the book from his hand. Placing the last of the items in the sheet, Baker pulled the corners together and tied a knot. Before leaving he turned. “Don’t mess up again, or else I’ll make you disappear too.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Nine

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary Lincoln talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk.
Entering the basement hallway, Adam had another thought. If nothing made a difference, then why the hell not go ahead and be bad? Adam thrust his head forward, pursed his lips, went to Phebe’s room, grabbed the knob and entered. As the door swung open, Adam saw, in the light of hallway whale oil lamp, Phebe lying in bed. Her smooth black skin, lithe figure, full lips, and large eyes—now wide open, startled by the sudden shaft of light—drew him into the dark room. Instinctively, he unbuttoned his shirt.
“What? What is it?” Phebe mumbled, putting up her hand to shield her eyes from the light.
“It’s me.”
“Oh.” She sat up. “What was that noise? It sounded like yelling and banging about.”
“It was nothing.”
“Anything you say.” She yawned and fell back. “Just let me sleep.”
“You still smell of soap.” Adam shut the door. Walking toward the bed, he paused at its edge, breathing deeply. “So clean.”
“You’re scaring me.” Phebe sat up and pulled the covers up to her chin. “Please leave.”
“You don’t want me to leave. I know. Your eyes tell me you’re happy when I walk in. You always have something to say.” He sat at the bottom of the bed. “You want me as much as I want you.”
“You’re drunk.”
Adam leaned forward to grab Phebe, but she rolled out of the bed onto the floor. Grappling with the sheets, he found them empty.
“Dammit! Come back here!”
Adam scrambled from the bed, and by the time he was on his feet, Phebe opened the door, allowing him to see exactly where she was. Lunging, he caught her by the crook of her elbow and swung her around.
“Help!” she yelled. “For God’s sake, somebody, help!”
“Shut up!” Throwing her back on the cot, Adam put his hand over her mouth as he planted his sweaty body over her.
“Help! Help me!” Phebe bit his hand, causing him to pull it back in pain.
“What the hell is going on?” Neal stood in the doorway wearing his nightshirt.
“Neal!” Phebe frantically pulled her head away from Adam, her eyes searching for him. “Please stop him!”
“You sumbitch!” Neal raced to the bed and grabbed Adam’s feet to drag him off onto the floor.
Adam’s face bashed into the hard surface. The acrid taste of blood seeped onto his tongue, which only infuriated him. He jumped up, grabbed Neal by the armpits and threw him out the door, just as Lincoln had manhandled him earlier. Turning his back to Neal so he could focus on Phebe, cowering on the bed, Adam walked toward her.
“Damn you!” Neal screamed as he jumped on Adam’s back.
Instinctively, Adam did as he had done earlier when Gabby had attacked him; he fell backward with a great moan, trapping Neal under him. His head turned toward the door when he heard pounding from the billiards room.
“Stop that!” Gabby yelled. “Stop that hollering! And stop hurting people!”
Adam rolled over and pinned Neal’s shoulders with his knees. He struck Neal with his fists. His eyes were wide and glassy from the alcohol and his anger.
“Stop hurting people!”
Adam felt a sheet fall across his face and settle around his neck. He turned to see Phebe twisting the sheet with all her strength.
“Let Neal go, or by God, I’ll kill you!” she screamed.
“Stop hurting people!” Gabby repeated from the billiards room.
Adam jerked the sheet from her hands and knocked Phebe away. He tied a knot in the middle of the sheet, wrapped it around Neal’s neck, and pulled hard.
“Stop hurting people!”
Adam strained his muscles, pulling the sheet tighter into Neal’s neck. Neal’s veins were bulging, his eyes popping out of his head.
“You’ll never talk back to me again!”
“No, no,” Phebe whimpered from the floor.
“Stop hurting people!”
Neal’s tongue lolled out and spittle dripped from the corner of his mouth. Finally, Adam felt the body go limp.
Phebe crawled over to look at Neal’s blank eyes staring at the ceiling.
“Oh my God! He’s dead! You killed him!”
“Shh.” Adam turned to put his hand over her mouth. His knuckles were bloody, and he wiped them on his tunic. He glanced at Phebe who shivered and cried. “Don’t worry.”
“Murderer,” she said softly.
“Shh.” He looked down and grabbed the sheet.
“Oh my God! No!”
“Shh. I’m going to stick this in your mouth to keep you quiet.”
“Murderer…”
The knot went into her mouth. Adam took the lower bedsheet, tore it and tied her hands together. Slowly, methodically, he tore another strip from the sheet to tie her feet.
“Stop hurting people!”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Eight

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary Lincoln talks Gabby into attacking Adam.
Adam hurried out the front door, past guard John Parker, catching a whiff of the whiskey on his breath, and deciding it smelled good. Kicking the dirt on Pennsylvania Avenue, he meandered several blocks before being drawn by the dim lights and noise of a small bar which he frequented. While acquiring a taste for alcohol, Adam had heard the rumors about Stanton’s malevolent arrogance. It was a good place for Adam to forget how stupid he was.
Inside, he sat on a stool, reached into his pockets for some change and threw some coins on the counter.
“Your usual ale, buddy?” the bartender asked.
“No, whiskey.”
“You got it.”
He wanted to stop the arguments in his brain. In his heart of hearts, he knew he loved Jessie Home. She knew who he was, because that was who she was too. Jessie had seen his dark side and did not care. She was going to save his soul. When this hell with Stanton and the Lincolns and the basement ended, she would be there to help him forget it. If he knew this so deeply, he asked himself, why was he drawn to Phebe? It was not like she was a temptress, actively seducing him away from his beloved. Adam did not know if she even liked him. It was not that she was more beautiful than Jessie. Jessie was a light that drew life to her. Any man would gladly want her, and Adam did want her more than he had ever wanted any woman. So why had he kissed Phebe?
“Here you go, general.”
Quickly downing the shot, Adam pushed the glass back toward the bartender.
“Another.”
Phebe smelled of soap, he thought. Adam could not recall what Jessie smelled of. He was too busy being engaged by her eyes, her smile, and her smart conversation. How stupid could one man be?
“Another.”
The pain was not going away. He had to forget. For just this one night, he wanted to drink himself into oblivion, forgetting how stupid he was, how he had almost thrown away the love of his life.
“Another.”
Cringing, he remembered how he had almost killed Gabby, the most innocent, defenseless man he had ever met. He did not want to remember that either.
“Isn’t it late for you to be out, soldier?”
Adam looked up to see Lamon, another person he did not want to think about. He gulped another shot.
“Take it easy,” Lamon said. “Most men sip their whiskey.”
“I can handle it.”
“Sure you can.”
Adam wanted to retort with something smart, but his mind was becoming numb. All sorts of thoughts to put Lamon in his place crowded his brain, and Adam felt he was strong enough to beat the bigger man in a fist-fight too.
“Feel like talking about Mr. Lincoln?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because.” He looked at the bartender. “Another.”
“You better not,” Lamon said. “Your face is as red as your hair.”
“So?”
“When liquor hits a man like that, he’d better go home and go to bed.”
“Mind your business.”
“I am.” Lamon smiled. “Tell me where Mr. Lincoln is.”
Adam stared at the last shot glass of whiskey and fought the impulse to throw it in Lamon’s face. His head swirled with all the anger he had kept trapped down inside his gut for the past two years. Life was not fair. He was a good boy. He had always done what his mother said, what his father said, what Stanton said, and he was still in the shit barrel.
“Well, when you get tired of being Mr. Stanton’s stooge, talk to me.” Lamon said. “I’m in the district marshal’s office.”
After Lamon walked away, Adam took the glass in his fist and squeezed it, finally throwing it across the room.
“Whoa, cowboy,” the bartender said. “No more for you.”
“Sorry,” he said in a mumble, dropping more coins on the counter as he left.
Stumbling along the street back to the Executive Mansion, Adam became angrier, because all that whiskey had not made him forget a thing. It just made him think about Jessie, Phebe, Gabby, and Lamon more. What the hell, his clouded mind thought, what difference did it make? What difference did anything make? Putting Lincoln in the basement did not make a difference. The war was still going on. Being in love with Jessie did not make a difference. He still longed for someone else. Being good did not matter. People still thought he was bad.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Seven

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam.
Bellowing, Gabby jumped on Adam’s back, causing the soldier’s knees to buckle.
“Good!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed. “Force him to the floor! You’ve got him now! You’ve got him down!”
Gabby bounced on Adam’s back, trying to break him and force him to his knees, and then prone on the ground.
“That’s it! Ride him down! Break him!”
With a groan from the pit of his stomach, Adam regained his balance and allowed himself to fall backwards. Gabby landed flat on his back on the cold hard floor, heard a noticeable crack in his spine, and whimpered. Adam rolled off him and pounced on Gabby’s chest, pinning his shoulders to the floor with his knees.
“What the hell are you doing?” Adam slapped Gabby’s face several times.
“Stop it!” Mrs. Lincoln screamed as she tried to pull Adam off Gabby. “It’s not his fault! I made him do it!”
“What the hell’s going on?” Lincoln, in his nightshirt, appeared through the lace curtains.
“Quick, Father!” Mrs. Lincoln stopped pulling on Adam and ran to her husband. “Kill him! Get us out of here!”
“Molly! Shut up!” Lincoln yelled. He charged Adam, who was still on Gabby. “Get the hell off him!”
Before Adam could do anything, Lincoln grabbed him by his armpits and threw him across the room. After gasping for air, he reached for Gabby, who cringed and pulled away.
“No, Mr. Gabby, you’re all right. Does anything hurt?”
“I don’t think so.” Gabby sat up carefully and reached around to feel his back. “I thought I heard something crack, but it must not have been important, because it doesn’t hurt now.”
“That’s good.”
“I guess it was bad to jump him like that.”
“Try to forget it.” Lincoln went down on his haunches to smile into Gabby’s face. “Don’t take seriously anything that Mrs. Lincoln says.”
“Then I’m not president?”
“No.”
“And you’re president?”
“Yes.”
“Good,” Gabby said. “It works out better that way.”
Lincoln stood and walked to Adam, offering him a hand to help him up.
“This is Mrs. Lincoln’s fault. She’s not stable. It’s your responsibility as the military authority here to keep a handle on things.”
“Yes, sir.” Adam straightened his back.
“Good. Now go about your duties.”
Adam looked down, avoiding eye contact with Gabby and Mrs. Lincoln, and left the room.
“You fool!” Mrs. Lincoln snarled, rushing her husband. “You could have killed him, and no one would have cared! One word from you, and Mr. Stanton would be off to the Old Capitol Prison in chains!”
“And if the nation discovered someone had put the president in the White House basement for two years and no one knew, what confidence would the people have then to fight a war?”
“So you’re on Mr. Stanton’s side?”
“I’m on the Union’s side,” he replied. “Only the Union is important.”
“Yes, sir.” She pursed her lips.
“Don’t do this again, Molly.” Lincoln pointed at Gabby. “You could get him killed. You could get us all killed.” He sighed deeply. “I think it’s time to sleep.” He disappeared behind the French lace curtains.
“So you’re not my wife?” Gabby stared a long time into Mrs. Lincoln’s face, expecting to detect a trace of remorse.
“No.”
“I knew I kept having memories of New York and not Illinois.” He paused to compose his thoughts as well as he could. “Why did you do it?”
“Because I want to get out of here.”
“Well, that’s all right. I’d rather have Cordie as a sister than you as a wife, anyway.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Six

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Christy kisses the cook Phebe. Neal the butler becomes jealous.
Gabby’s head turned sharply when he thought he heard the crash of a plate. Something was happening out there, he could sense it, and his body shook with fear. Since that morning in August when he had been able to think again, Gabby had become increasingly nervous, never knowing when his mind would clear and when it would cloud, when the people in the basement with him would be nice and when they would be mean, and when would he ever see Cordie again.
Mrs. Lincoln came to the edge of Gabby’s crates and barrels. He shuddered, wondering if he had done something wrong again.
“Mr. Gabby,” she said, “may I come in for a visit?”
“That’s all right, ma’am.” He stood. “I’ll come out.”
“No, I don’t mind.” She swept around the corner and stood just inside his curtain and smiled. “Sit, so we can chat.”
Chatting with her husband, that is what she should be doing, Gabby thought. It was not right for her to be chatting with him. Cordie should be chatting with him, but she could not, because he had to be in the basement and she had to be at the hospital tending sick soldiers.
“Please sit.”
“All right.” Gabby sat on the far end of his pallet.
“Mr. Gabby, do you remember the things you told me?”
“What things?”
“Sweet things.” She sat on his pallet.
“Did you hear a crash or something?”
“No. You’re right about Mr. Stanton.”
“I thought I heard a crash. I’m not sure of anything anymore.”
“He’s evil.”
“I don’t even know what month this is.” He looked at her. “What month is this?”
“It’s the middle of October.” She clenched her jaw. “Pay attention to me. You’re right about Mr. Stanton being evil.”
“Then it’s been two months since…”
“Only an evil man would put good people in an awful place like this.”
“There were rats here.”
“Yes, you told me.”
“I think I caught them all.”
“Thank you.” She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.
“You’re welcome.”
“Mr. Stanton’s calling people by the wrong names. There’s people upstairs he’s calling Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln.”
“I know.”
“He’s calling you Mr. Gabby…”
“He doesn’t call me Mr. Gabby,” he interrupted. “He doesn’t call me anything.”
“But you’re Mr. Lincoln, my husband and president of the United States.”
“What?” Could those thoughts lingering in the back of his mind be true?
“For reasons known only to himself, Mr. Stanton calls the White House janitor Mr. Lincoln, and you the janitor.”
“Oh.”
“But this has gone on too long. It can’t continue. When Private Christy comes in with the clean chamber pots, jump him, wrestle him down, and get the keys so we can escape. You can do it.”
“All right.” Gabby knew he was strong. He remembered how he could wrestle Joe into submission every time they wrestled on Long Island beach. But if he were Lincoln, how would he know Joe? Maybe Joe had been Lincoln’s friend, but that meant they had to be from Illinois. How could they have wrestled on Long Island beach? Gabby fretted. Maybe it had been on the shores of the Ohio River.
“So when Private Christy comes in,” Mrs. Lincoln was saying, “I’ll distract him, and you jump him and get the keys.”
“You don’t want me to kill him, do you?”
“No.” A shadow crossed her face. “I don’t want him dead. I just want to be free.”
“Should we take Mr. Zook with us?” Gabby asked. “After all, he might have a sister or somebody waiting for him.”
“Yes, we’ll take Mr. Zook with us.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled. “I wouldn’t want to leave him behind.”
“Good,” he replied. “He needs to see his sister.”
Adam unlocked the door, fumbling with the pots. Both Gabby and Mrs. Lincoln jerked their heads to the door.
“I’ve got to go.” She stood. With a flourish of her billowing skirt, she disappeared through the curtains.
Gabby went to the edge of the crates and barrels to listen.
“Mrs. Lincoln,” Adam said, “are you busy right now? I mean, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Of course,” she replied. Looking at him closely, she added, “Private Christy, you’ve a touch of blood at your temple.”
“I know. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Come over here, and I’ll straighten everything out for you.”
Gabby stepped out around the corner to see that Adam had left all three chamber pots by the door. He stood next to Mrs. Lincoln by the billiards table, his back to Gabby. Looking down at the chamber pots, he wondered if he should use one to bash Adam’s head. No, that would kill him, and they just wanted to be free.
“I did a bad thing tonight,” Adam said.
“Tell me what you did, and I’ll tell you whether it was bad or not.” Mrs. Lincoln looked over Adam’s shoulder to make eye contact with Gabby. Get it over with, she seemed to be saying.
“I kissed Phebe.”
“The colored cook?” Her eyebrow rose.
“Yes. I know it was wrong. She hit me with a plate.”
Gabby knew he had heard something. He frowned. He liked Phebe. She was one of the few people he ever knew who treated him nice. Adam was right. He did a bad thing.
“Was it one of the good plates?” Mrs. Lincoln asked, holding her breath.
“No.”
“That’s good,” she said in a murmur. “Did the girl do anything to provoke you, make you think she wanted you to kiss her?”
Gabby did not like that question. Phebe was a good girl. She would not do anything like that. She was too honest. Gabby was ready to hit somebody.
“No, not really, I guess,” Adam replied.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Five

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Christy kisses the cook Phebe.
Neal was not big; Adam was taller than him by a head, and Adam was only average size. Neal’s face was very pale for a Negro and covered with light brown freckles. Her mother had told her if one of the light-skinned servants in the big house wanted to marry her, she should let him; but when Phebe looked at Neal, who, by her mother’s standards, measured up to be the perfect husband, all she saw was a feisty, friendly, constantly yapping dog.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“It was my fault.” She concentrated on the last of the dishes, wanting to finish her chores, disappear into her room and forget what had happened.
“Who touched you, girl?” Neal took her arm and turned her toward him. He looked into her eyes.
“No one.” Phebe pulled away from him. “Forget it. I’ve got to finish the dishes. It’s late.”
“No.” Neal positioned himself between her and the sink. “It was the soldier boy, wasn’t it?”
“I handled it. I hit him upside the head with a plate.”
“What did he do?”
“He kissed me.”
“I’m gonna whip his ass!” Spinning around, Neal rushed to the door.
“No, you’re not,” she said, following him. “You’re a Negro. He’s white. You’re a butler. He’s a soldier.” Phebe now stood between him and the door. “Whose side do you think the law is gonna come down on?”
“Damn the law!”
“No! The law will damn you!” She sighed in guilt, having yelled at Neal. “Please,” she said, “we’re Negroes in a white man’s town. There are things going on in this house. Evil things.” Phebe stepped closer. “He told me something’s bad’s going on. He said if word got out, Tad could die. He said he could die. He even said I could die.”
“Did he threaten you?”
“He didn’t threaten me. He warned me. Neal, if I could die, you could die.”
He was quiet a long time. Then, staring at her intently, he asked, “Did you like it?”
“Like what?”
“Did you like the kiss?”
“No. If I had, I wouldn’t have broken a perfectly good plate.”
“Have you ever had a good kiss?” Neal stepped closer.
“Yes.” It was a lie. She did not want him to kiss her.
“I know how to kiss.” He pulled in his lips, moistening them so they shined in the whale oil light.
“So find somebody who cares,” Phebe said as she pushed past him to return to the sink. Washing the last glass, she dropped her head. “I’m sorry, Neal. I like you. But I don’t want to kiss you any more than I want to kiss Private Christy.”
“Why?”
“Because I hope for a better life.” She turned to look at him, drying her hands on a ragged cloth and twisting in fear. “If I kiss you—or any man—I might relent and allow you to have me. Then, alone with a baby, I’d have no chance for a better life.”
“I wouldn’t do that. If you let me kiss you, I know you’d love me. I want to marry you.” He paused. “I’m not a common dog.”
“I know, Neal.” What an unfortunate choice of words. Phebe restrained herself, not wanting to hurt him anymore.
“I love you, Phebe, but you’ll never love me, will you?”
“I’m sorry.”
A long sigh escaped Neal’s lips as he turned to leave, softly adding, “I lied about kissing. No girl ever let me kiss her.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Four

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Lincoln substitute Duff confesses his sins to Alethia.
Phebe washed and dried the last of the pots and pans, rubbing hard as she thought about the past two years and Adam’s lies. The door opened and he entered with the evening tray. She had not lit the whale oil lamp yet, so deep shadows fell across his face.
“I’m sorry the dishes are so late.”
He was on his way out the door when Phebe said, “I hope Mr. Gabby enjoyed his meal.”
Adam stopped and turned. Wiping his red locks off his forehead, he opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Mr. Gabby’s in there, ain’t he? When those people moved into the billiards room, Mr. Gabby disappeared. Nobody would fire him. From what he said, he got his job because his uncle was a general.”
“General Zook died at Gettysburg. Then he could be fired.” Adam looked down. “Mr. Stanton didn’t like him.”
“Mr. Gabby disappeared almost a full year before Gettysburg.”
“Your memory isn’t that good.”
“My memory is just fine.”
“I’m tired tonight,” he said. “I could explain all this real good, but my mind’s fuzzy.”
“What about Master Tad?”
“What about him?”
“You carried him down here.”
“I don’t even remember that.”
“Don’t remember?” Phebe grunted. “You’re too big of a coward to tell the truth.”
“I’m not a coward.” Adam stepped toward her. “Don’t call me that.” He sank into a chair. “Don’t press me on this. You don’t understand. If I say too much,” he said, choosing each word carefully, “Tad could die. I could die.” He looked up. “You could die.”
“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip, fearing she had been too hard on him; after all, she did not dislike him. If anything, she liked him more than she wanted to admit. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You don’t know how hard this is.” Adam put his head in his hands. “I’d never been out of Steubenville until I came here.”
Phebe had never been off the plantation until she was sold, so she knew those feelings of isolation and fear.
“My mother is dead—she died when I was young,” he said. “She was the one who always solved problems for me.”
Her mother had been sold before her eyes. She had been Phebe’s protector, her hope, her salvation, and her key to all knowledge—language, arithmetic, religion.
“I’ve said too much.” Adam sniffed and looked at Phebe. “I’m sorry I’ve been mean. From the first time I saw you, I liked you very much.” He paused as she looked away. “I like the way you smell like soap.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to smile. “It’s late. I have to wash those dishes.” Phebe went to the sink.
“Let me help you.” Adam came up behind her. “To make up for me being such a fumble-mouth.”
“That’s all right—” Phebe turned and was startled by his closeness. She looked into his open, naïve blue eyes, and could not complete her sentence.
“I…” Adam could not finish his sentence either.
Slowly they came closer, until he impulsively kissed her. Phebe’s eyes widened, startled. Her hand frantically reached for the sink; she grabbed a plate and shattered it against his head.
“I’m sorry.” Adam staggered back, fingering his temple to find blood.
Phebe wanted to lash out indignantly, but the words were not there; perhaps she felt sorry for him, and maybe she was angry at herself for hitting him.
“Pardon me.” Adam stumbled toward the door. “I should have never…” Then he was gone.
Phebe knelt to pick up the shards of plate from the floor, berating herself. Mama would be wagging her finger if she were here. There was no excuse. After putting the bits of broken plate in the trash barrel, she returned to the sink and vigorously scrubbed the rest of the dishes.
Walking into the room and removing his butler’s jacket, Neal asked, “Do you want me to dry?” After she nodded, he joined her at the sink and started wiping. “Those white folks get later and later finishing their supper, don’t they?”
“Will you please stop it about the white folks?” Phebe said, tensing her back.
“All right,” he replied, glancing over at her. After a few moments, he asked, “What’s wrong, Phebe?”
“Nothing.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You’re a good man, Neal.” Looking at him, she smiled.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Three

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Alethia closed the door and walked to her room. Her eyes shut, she enjoyed the cool breeze. The cottage in the Maryland foothills was charming and romantic. Before going in, she looked into Duff’s bedroom and found him sitting on the edge of the bed, drinking from a flask.
“Father? Are you all right?”
“Molly, come in. Sit next to me.” He turned around, and his face was wet with tears.
“You look troubled.”
“Demons.” Duff sipped his whiskey. “Old demons. I’ve kept secrets from you, Molly.” He paused. “No, I’ve kept secrets from Alethia. Molly knows everything she needs to know, but I want Alethia to know everything.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me.” Her heart pounded so hard she feared she would faint.
“I wasn’t just captured at the first Manassas,” he said. “The Confederates caught me and a bunch of pals as we were deserting.”
“You still spent time in prison,” she offered.
“Belle Isle Prison at Richmond. The worst time of my life. Rotten food, rotting flesh. The hunger.” He looked at her. “I told you I was a big boy. I was always hungry. I’m still hungry.”
“There’s no shame in that. No one knows you were running away. Everyone was running away. Most of them were running back to the army, and some didn’t know where they were running—just running. They can’t prove anything. You got more punishment than you deserved.”
“No,” he whispered. “I deserved even more. Back in Michigan everyone thought I had courage to match my size. Many men challenged me to fight so they could brag they whupped the biggest man in the county. I ran away. I always ran away. I always was a coward. That’s what they called me. Big Yeller. When the war broke out, my friends told me if I wanted to shake that Big Yeller name I’d better join.”
“Courage isn’t beating men. Courage is admitting you can’t handle things. You’re smart, cautious, and brave.”
“After a while in prison, when a cell mate would die, I wouldn’t tell the guards for a few days. They never came in, just pushed the plates through the slot. I didn’t tell so I could eat the dead man’s food.”
“This is war.” Her eyes fluttered. “You do what you have to do to survive.”
“Soon,” he continued, with his head down, “I think they caught on to what I was doing. So they started putting healthier men in with me. I suffocated them in the middle of the night so I could get their food.”
“Oh.” Alethia could not help but be shocked. Only a monster could do that, but Duff was not a monster. War made monsters; prisons made monsters; a normal life made him normal again.
“Next they put a man as big as me in the cell. We figured a way to get out.”
“Did he know what you had done?”
“No. But the men in the cell block knew. When we all broke out and made it back to the Union lines, the others told. My last cell mate spit in my face when he found out. They court-martialed me and sent me to Old Capitol to be hanged. At least the food was good. Stanton found me, said I looked like Mr. Lincoln, and gave me a chance to escape hanging.” His eyes narrowed with intensity. “I hate him.” He looked at Alethia. “You hate me now, don’t you?”
“Do you want me to hate you?”
“No.”
“Good,” she replied. “I love you too much to hate you.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Lighting the last of a dozen candles around Tad’s room, Alethia settled next to him on his bed at Anderson Cottage and cuddled.
“The candles look nice,” Tad murmured, resting his head on her full bosom. “Mama always said candles were romantic.”
“They can be.” Alethia caressed his brow. “But they can also be comforting, soothing, nurturing for the soul.”
“Could you sing me that Gloria song? It’s nice.”
Softly and off-key, Alethia sang, and Tad hummed along.
“I don’t know what language that is, but it’s pretty. I like this. It makes me feel good and calm. I sleep better. I’m gonna miss it when Mama comes back.”
“I’m glad.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the way Mama puts me to bed. I still want her back. But I’ll miss you…”
“Hush, Taddie, my baby.” Wrapping her arms around his head, she continued, “I know what you mean.”
Moments went by without a word, and Alethia relished the intimacy.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Tad whispered. “I got worried about you last summer. Your head was all bloody. I thought you were going to die.”
“No need to worry.”
“I don’t think we could find another lady who looked like Mama and who was so nice.” He paused. “I liked going to the White Mountains with you and Robert.”
“It was so cool there,” Alethia said. “The wind gently blowing against my brow made my head feel better.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go hiking with Bob and me. It was fun.” He looked at her. “But you would have got a headache. I don’t want you to have headaches like Mama. They’re awful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “I loved watching you two from the veranda. I could tell by the way Bob put his hand on your shoulder he loves you very much.”
“I know,” he said with a chirp. His face clouded. “He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, but he still loves me.”
“And I love both of you.”
“Mama does too,” Tad said. “It’s just that…”
“What?”
“What Mama calls love, some folks might call bossing people around.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You love up on me, but Mama fusses at me about brushing my teeth and combing my hair.”
“She means well,” Alethia said. “She loves both of you.” She smiled. “I’m sure she was as proud as I was when Bob graduated from college in June.”
“He wants to join the army, but Mama’s scared he’ll get killed. She’s lost two sons already, and she doesn’t want to lose another. I can sound like Mama when she’s fussing at Bob. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, thank you.” Alethia paused to take all this information in. “So should I keep him out of the army?”
“If you don’t want him to find out you’re not Mama. I don’t think he’d play along with it like I do.” Tad frowned. “There’s something else Bob told me as a secret. I don’t know if I should tell.”
“Please.”
“He’s afraid you’ll make him go to law school next month.”
“I see. Thank you for the help.”
The candles began to wane.
“There’s something else about Bob.”
“What?”
“Bob’s got a girlfriend.”
“How sweet.” Alethia smiled. “What should my reaction be?”
“Fight it at first—Mama would, until you find out who the girl is. She’s a doozy.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“A senator’s daughter. A big shot with the Republicans. Mama will love that.” Tad smiled. “Do you want me to show you how she’ll yell when Bob tells her?”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I can imagine.”
“The candles are just about out.” Yawning, Tad settled down into bed.
“Then that means it’s time to go to sleep.” She hugged him again. “Let me pray for you.” She mumbled sweet words and then kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, my love.”
Standing to leave, Alethia went to each candle to make sure it was out and then walked to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mama. When the war’s over, and Mama and Papa come back, and you go, I hope you have a happy life.”
“Thank you, my love.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. One day Gabby wakes up with a clear head.
Everyone looked to the door as it was unlocked. Stanton entered. Adam lowered his head, took the tray, and left quickly. Mrs. Lincoln stiffened and went behind her French lace curtains, and Lincoln stopped eating his apple. Gabby could feel the tension rise in the room. He found the broom to begin sweeping.
“I thought you might be interested in General Grant’s latest plans,” Stanton said as he sat, motioning to Lincoln to do the same. “General Grant’s in favor of multiple large attacks on the Confederacy to destroy rail lines.” He pulled out a notepad, put on his glasses, and began to read. “Banks’s forces at New Orleans will move east to Mobile, then on to Georgia; Sherman will advance on Atlanta and then to the coast; and Grant’s army to Suffolk, Virginia, and then to Raleigh, North Carolina.” He paused to glare at Gabby, who was at his shoulder. “Must he be hovering?”
“He’s not hovering; he’s sweeping.”
“As I was saying, Grant thinks the enemy would be forced to evacuate Virginia and East Tennessee.”
“What do you think, Mr. Zook?”
“I think if General Grant moves to North Carolina,” Gabby said, keeping his eyes on the floor, “he’ll leave the capital unprotected.”
“Thank you, Mr. Zook,” Lincoln said. “I agree.”
“I’m not defending the proposal; I’m merely relaying it to you.” Stanton stared at him. “Very well.” He turned to Lincoln, crossing his arms across his chest. “What’s your opinion?”
“Mind you, I don’t think his entire plan is without merit.” Lincoln leaned forward. “Just not properly focused.”
“What does that mean?”
“He means General Grant is spreading his forces too thin,” Gabby mumbled
“For instance, General Bates attacking Mobile is good,” Lincoln continued, “but he should not march on Georgia too. General Sherman will do that. But General Sigel should attack the Shenandoah, and General Butler should move against Petersburg and then Richmond. Leave Grant’s Army of the Potomac where it is.”
Shutting his notebook, Stanton stood, grumbling to himself. Lincoln reached to touch his sleeve.
“I’m concerned about Mr. Nicolay. The trip out West kept him occupied, but now…” Lincoln paused to collect his thoughts. “He’s a good man. I don’t want him hurt if he figures out what’s going on.”
Gabby had not thought about what danger awaited those who knew about Stanton’s plan. He might be killed; and because of him, Cordie might be killed. His mind began to feel a dull pain.
“I’ve kept him busy,” Stanton curtly replied. “I sent him to New York to talk to Thurlow Weed, who was not pleased with the appointment of Chase’s friend John Hogeboom as appraiser in the New York Customs House. Nicolay tried to appease him and shore up support for your re-nomination. He went to the Republican convention, and now he’s busy with plans for the fall campaign.”
“Good.” Lincoln stood and disappeared behind his curtain.
Stanton grabbed Gabby’s arm and shook at finger at him.
“And don’t you ever speak like that again.”
Gabby wanted to reply, but became aware his mind could not compose thoughts. His shoulders slumped.
“Yes, sir.”
As Stanton left, Gabby’s eyes felt heavy, and he walked to his corner to rest. Mrs. Lincoln stepped from behind her curtain and gasped.
“Mr. Zook, are you all right?”
“Just fine, ma’am.” His eyes went to the floor. “Just fine.”
Lying on his pallet, Gabby thought about what had just taken place. As president, he should have that man, Stanton, punished for his insolence. That is—Gabby’s mind clouded, and he closed his eyes in pain—if he were president.