Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Stanton brings news of Gettysburg to the basement.
After announcing Gabby’s uncle General Samuel Zook was killed at Gettysburg, Stanton quickly left, locking the door behind him.
A groan escaped Gabby’s lips, and he sank to the floor. Mrs. Lincoln swept around the corner, dropped beside Gabby, and held his head in her arms.
“That wicked, wicked man,” she said. “He did that on purpose to hurt you.”
“Not Uncle Sammy. He was the successful one in the family. He was going to take care of us all. Who’s going to take care of us now?”
“Evil, evil. Why would he treat you like that? You dear, sweet, gentle man. What did you do to him to be treated so shamefully?”
“First, Papa died, then Joe, and now Uncle Sammy. What’s going to happen to me and Cordie? We can hardly take care of ourselves.”
“When this awful war’s over,” Mrs. Lincoln continued, patting his head, “and Mr. Lincoln is in office again, things will change. That Mr. Stanton will pay for his evil ways. He cannot crush people and go unpunished.”
“I wish Cordie was here.” His soulful eyes, glistening with tears, looked up at Mrs. Lincoln. “Her bosom is nice and big and soft. I could sink my head into her bosom and be comforted. The Bible says a rod and staff is supposed to comfort you, but I don’t think anything can comfort you better than a big, soft bosom.”
Her eyes widening and her jaw falling, Mrs. Lincoln stuttered, “I—I think Mr. Lincoln could comfort you better than I. He always knows the right thing to say.”
Standing, she bustled away. Gabby heard them fussing at each other for a few moments. Lincoln ambled around the crates and barrels, taking his time to sink to the floor and managing to cross his ungainly legs. He reached into his pocket and drew out a packet.
“Cordie says it makes my teeth look dirty.”
“Mother says the same thing.” Lincoln took a big chaw of it. “That’s why I like to eat it. It gives us something to talk about. If you want to talk about something, we can.” More silence ensued, punctuated by loud smacks and chews. “I don’t have any appointments in my book for tonight.”
“I thought the whole idea of sticking you in this room was to keep you from having appointments.”
“It was a joke.”
“I’m sorry you got involved in all this.” Lincoln finished his licorice, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his mouth. “If you had laid your rat traps earlier, you’d have missed getting caught.”
“Do you think the rebels killed Uncle Sammy?” Gabby asked as he looked into Lincoln’s deep-set eyes. “Or did Mr. Stanton kill him because he thought me or Cordie might write him? If he did, then Cordie and me killed Uncle Sammy.” Gabby’s eyes filled to overflowing. “Honest, Mr. Lincoln, I never tried to write Uncle Sammy. I couldn’t kill Uncle Sammy. I needed him to take care of me.”
“Mr. Zook, you could hardly kill rats. You couldn’t kill anybody. No. You didn’t kill your uncle. War killed Samuel Zook. It’s war, not you, nor I, nor Mr. Stanton. It’s war’s fault.”
Gabby could not hold his tears back any longer. He flung his head into Lincoln’s chest. He did not mind that it was bony. It was comforting, and that was all he needed.