Tag Archives: Civil War

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty


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.
“Licorice?”
“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.”
“Oh.”
“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.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Nine


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. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.

Gabby finished his supper with one ear tuned to hear a knock at the door waiting for news–something mighty wonderful must have happened at Gettysburg. The first day’s news brought by Stanton was not good. The rebels had gained ground outside of town. The second day went well, thanks to the boys from Maine. Gabby tried to remember if any of his West Point friends were from Maine, but his mind was clouded, and the only friend he could remember was Joe, and he was from New York, and he was dead. Gabby could not do anything about it, just as he could not do anything about the soldiers dying at Gettysburg. His eyes strayed to his shirt front, and now he cared more about the stray drops of gravy there; that way, his heart did not hurt so much.
The door opened, and Gabby hoped it was Adam. Maybe today would be the day he would think of the right things to say to make Adam stop being so gloomy all the time. Instead it was Stanton.
“I’ve the latest news from Gettysburg,” the war secretary announced.
Gabby sagged and stared at his plate; he did not want to see Stanton. He did not like the man; more than that, he was scared of him.
“What is it?” Lincoln asked, scooting a chair from the billiards table and plopping down.
“Please say it’s a victory,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Total victory,” Stanton replied. “The rebels attempted a foolhardy charge up a hill strongly manned by our forces, and they were decimated.”
“Yes! Yes!” Lincoln said.
“Oh,” Mrs. Lincoln murmured.
Gabby detected compassion in her voice. Perhaps some of her Kentucky relatives were in the charge, but you cannot worry about relatives at war, he told himself. Uncle Sammy was fighting, but Gabby could not think about losing someone else close to him—first had been his kind father and second his friend Joe. Losing Uncle Sammy was too painful to comprehend.
“Bobby Lee’s slipping,” Lincoln said. “In his prime he would’ve never made such a strategic blunder.”
“I know the Lees very well,” Mrs. Lincoln added. “They’re fine and genteel folk.”
“Now, Mother, we’re not talking about hosting a party, at which I’m sure they excel. We’re talking about military tactics.”
“Still, I can’t glory in the death of any young man, be he from north or south.”
“Yes, yes, of course, Mother,” Lincoln replied. “War’s terrible, but terrible battles end a war fast so no more men die.”
Adam unlocked the door and entered.
“What are you doing here?” Stanton said in a huff.
“I—I came to get the dishes.”
“Oh,” Stanton said. “Get on with it.”
Gabby heard the clattering of china against the wooden tray. Adam turned the corner into his little safe haven.
“I’m sorry I didn’t bring my plate out to you, but that man scares me,” Gabby whispered.
“He scares me too.”
“Don’t be scared,” Gabby said. “Don’t be sad. Keep yourself cleaned up. You don’t want to end up like me.”
Adam patted Gabby’s shoulder and then turned to leave. He shut the door quietly and locked it.
“So,” Lincoln said. “Do we have General Lee in custody?”
“Um, no. They retreated across the border. General Meade said his men were tired, and so he felt it was enough to force the enemy from our soil.”
A giant slap against the felt covering of the billiards table made Gabby jump.
“Father,” Mrs. Lincoln said with a gentle gasp.
“Excuse me, Mother, but my patience is at an end. He has the audacity to hold us in the White House basement because I’m incompetent, but he lets Bobby Lee escape!”
“Sir, I share your anger that General Meade didn’t pursue Lee, but it was his mistake and not mine.”
“If I were still in control, this would have never happened!”
Lincoln’s outburst was not very presidential, Gabby told himself. Squinting, once again he wrestled with the question of whether he was the president or not.
“On another front,” Stanton continued, “General Grant will successfully conclude his siege of Vicksburg tomorrow.”
“And who will Grant let slip through his fingers?” Lincoln sighed.
“No one, sir,” Stanton replied.
“So. We do have a general who knows how to win battles the right way.”
Stanton grunted.
“I want…” Lincoln paused. “I recommend you send for General Grant as soon as possible. He should take on Bobby Lee.”
“He drinks too much,” Stanton said.
“And you think too much of yourself, but that hasn’t stopped you from attempting to lead this country.”
“Father.”
Gabby heard the fear in Mrs. Lincoln’s voice. She was right. Lincoln was out of control, but Gabby could not be harsh with him. Melancholia made people act queerly. Gabby should know. He had been acting queerly for years.
“You must forgive me.” Lincoln sighed again. “Cabin fever, that’s what it is. Did you ever have cabin fever, Mr. Stanton?”
“No, sir, I don’t think I have.”
“How about you, Mother, have you ever had cabin fever?”
“I’m having it right now.”
After a pause, Lincoln spoke, now more composed.
“Do as you like, but I believe General Grant would head the Army of the Potomac effectively.”
“Gideon Welles agrees with you.”
“He told you that?”
“Not me. The man upstairs.”
“God? When did you find time to speak to God?”
“The man upstairs, meaning your replacement.” Stanton paused a moment. “You know what I meant.”
“Of course, but I need a good laugh to get through the day, and if it can be at your expense, so much the better.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” Stanton replied, hardly containing his temper. “I’ll take under consideration your opinion.”
He walked to the door, stopped, taking a few steps to the side so he could see inside Gabby’s little nook behind the crates and barrels. Gabby shuddered when he saw Stanton’s beady eyes trained on him.
“By the way,” he said to the Lincolns, “I regret to report we lost several generals at Gettysburg. Among them was General Samuel Zook.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Eight


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. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
As Duff rode back from Anderson Cottage, he thought about Alethia and Tad. His heart raced as he remembered the touch of her soft skin. The tenderness in her eyes raised hopes that she loved him as much as he loved her. But there were secrets, secrets, secrets—even the clanging of the carriage wheels pounded out the secrets, secrets, secrets. Duff smiled as he thought of how much Tad had matured in the last year. He had been inconsiderate, brash, and irresponsible, never thinking of others’ feelings; now, he put aside his enjoyment of the street parade to comfort a woman he knew was not his mother.
Back at the Executive Mansion, with the sun already setting beyond the Potomac River, Duff listened for the impending march, pounding of drums, and crackling of torches down Pennsylvania Avenue. He looked forward to the parade, an event yet to be experienced, even though those around him thought he had experienced it before.
“The parade’s turning the corner,” Tom Pendel said. “The window’s all prepared, sir. All the candles are lit.”
Smiling at the white-haired doorman, he tried to find a stance that Lincoln would take. Duff breathed in deeply as Pendel pulled open the curtains and breathed out in relief as he heard the roar of the crowd on the street. Pendel held the tall candle just out of view at window’s edge. Feeling the warmth of the flame, Duff briefly felt imbued with confidence, until he realized the candlelight lit his neck and chin, not his full face. Glancing down, he saw Pendel looking at the floor, his arm raised routinely high enough to illuminate Lincoln’s face. Evidently, Duff was slightly taller than the president. An awful moment of revelation passed slowly when Pendel’s eyes moved up and he became aware the candlelight was in the wrong place. Quickly he raised the candle, but his eyes stayed fixed on Duff’s face. Duff was flushed with humiliation. What would Pendel say? Several minutes passed as Duff waved to the crowd before it went down the street and turned toward the Mall, where a stack of old wood and trash waited to become a bonfire. As the lights dimmed from sight and the bonfire lit the evening sky, Duff turned to Pendel and forced a smile.
“Too bad Tad decided to stay at Anderson Cottage. He always liked the candlelight parades and bonfires.”
“Yes, sir.” Pendel kept his head down as he blew out the long candle.
Duff excused him and fled to his bedroom, where he threw off his clothes and put on his nightshirt. He did something he had not done in years. He fell on his knees, clasped his fingers together, and emitted moans from his heart only God could hear.
“Forgive me,” Duff said in guttural tones from the bottom of his belly. “Forgive me for my sin, my secrets, and my many offenses.”
“Father?”
Recognizing Robert Lincoln’s voice, Duff stood, buttoned the top of his nightshirt, and turned, hoping Robert had not heard him.
“I heard what you were praying.” Robert sounded uncertain.
“Robert, I thought you weren’t coming home.” Duff stood, grabbed the bedpost, and smiled. “Your mother’s fine.”
“No, she’s worse. The train stopped at Anderson Cottage long enough for me to see her. She got worse after you left. Tad’s there.” He paused. “I know I haven’t been as cooperative as I should.” Robert’s eyes went to the floor. “When I saw those bandages on Mother’s head, I realized parents don’t live forever.”
“It’s not all your fault, son. Sometimes, I’m sure, you feel I don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Father,” Robert said. “I know you have to keep secrets from me, and I know you feel responsible for all the deaths in the war. God forgives you.” He scrunched his face in pain. “But I need you to forgive me. Please forgive me.” He stumbled toward Duff with his arms outstretched, pleading. As Duff hugged him, he burst into tears.
“I forgive you,” Duff whispered, even though his mind wandered to Alethia and if she would forgive him if she knew his secrets, his deep, horrible secrets.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Seven


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. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.
Entering the small hospital room next to Anderson Cottage, Duff was taken aback by how small Alethia looked in the bed, how fragile, with gauze wrapping the side of her head. She appeared asleep, but when he closed the door, she opened her eyes and smiled, her cheeks moist with perspiration.
“How’s Tad? Was he upset he couldn’t see me?”
“First words out of his mouth were about you. He’s calm. He told me to say he loved you.”
“He’s such a dear boy.” Her head relaxed on the damp pillow. “Even though he knows I’m not his mother, he loves me.”
“He says I’ve a fat butt, but that’s all right.”
“Don’t make me laugh. I’ve this frightful headache.” She closed her eyes. “Is Mr. Forbes all right? They haven’t told me anything since he wrecked the carriage. I overheard someone say the bolts had been loosened on the driver’s seat.” She sighed. “Someone’s trying to kill you, Father.”
“Can I get you anything?” Duff sat on the edge of the bed and patted her hand.
“Send Mrs. Keckley up here tomorrow. I hate to take the nurses away from the men. I know she won’t mind waiting on me.” Alethia paused. “She’s so kind. I think she knows who I am—or rather, who I’m not—but she doesn’t care.”
“I thought you might like to read this,” he said, pulling from his pocket Rose Greenhow’s book and handing it to her. “My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington.”
“Rose wrote a book!” Her eyes widened. “I didn’t know she was out of prison.”
“The book says she was released last fall to the Confederates. She went to London, found a publisher, and wrote her memoirs.”
“I knew she could talk her way out of anything.” Alethia opened the front page and squinted at the dedication. “To Alethia Haliday, our unknown hero who disappeared in Old Capitol Prison while in service to the Confederacy.” Her mouth flew open. “There’s my name!”
“Shush. Don’t tell anyone.” Duff smiled as he squeezed her hand.
“At least I know Rose is alive and well.” Alethia smiled and squeezed his hand back, lifting it to her lips to kiss.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m sure.” She paused. “Does Robert know?”
“I sent him a wire.”
Touching her head, Alethia moaned.
“Let me get the doctor.”
“No, not yet. I’m enjoying your company.”
“Then I won’t return to Washington tonight.”
“With the nation celebrating a victory? You have to be there for the candlelight parade.”
“You would’ve have been a wonderful politician’s wife.”
“Besides, Tom Pen wouldn’t get to light the oval room window as you stand waving to the crowd. He’d be so disappointed.” Her smile faded as she moaned again.
“I must get the doctor.” Duff left the room and grabbed the first doctor he saw to have him attend to Alethia’s head wound.
Back at Anderson Cottage, Tad waited, sitting on the floor, meticulously unraveling the rug, strand by strand. When he saw Duff, he jumped up and opened the screen door.
“Is she all right? Does she still have a fever?”
“Yes, the fever’s returned, but it’ll pass. She asked about you.”
“She did? I’m glad.”
“Do you want to go back to town with me? There’s going to be a candlelight parade tonight.”
“With bonfires?”
“I suppose.”
“And Tom Pen’s going to light the window with candles, and you and me can stand there waving to all the people?”
“Of course.”
“Gee, I ain’t stood in the lighted window with Papa—I mean, with—I ain’t stood in the window since last July Fourth. There ain’t been no big battles won since—in a long time.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time.”
“She still ain’t feeling good, is she?” Tad looked off at the long white barracks where Alethia lay, wracked with aches and fever.
“No, she isn’t.”
“It’d make her feel good if I stayed here and sat with her tonight, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would.”
“There’ll be other candlelight parades.” He narrowed his eyes in deep thought and sighed. “The lady needs me right now.”
“You’re a good boy, Tad.” Duff hugged him and bent down to whisper in his ear, “I’d be proud to have you as my own son.”
“You better go now.” Tad stepped back and rubbed his nose across his arm. “The people need you.”

Lincoln in the Basement, Chapter Fifty-Six


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. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident.
His pounding heart drowned out the horses’ hooves as Duff’s carriage bumped and clanged along the rocky path into the Maryland foothills to the Soldiers’ Home. He sensed a cool breeze in his face, yet not cool enough to relieve the burning on the back of his neck. Alethia’s gentle voice, the touch of her loving fingers, and her soft bosom on which he had laid his head and cried himself to sleep—they all were important to him now. The clopping slowed, and his eyes focused on Scott Dormitory, a large building filled with wounded and ill soldiers, and Anderson Cottage on the right. A smile flickered across Duff’s broad, thick lips when he saw Tad waiting for him on Anderson Cottage’s large, covered porch, outlined in white gingerbread trim.
“Is she going to be all right?” Tad whispered.
“I haven’t seen her yet.”
“I want her to be all right.” He hugged Duff tightly around his waist. “I like her very much.” His hands slid down Duff’s backside. “Your butt’s fatter than Papa’s.” Tad’s eyes softened. “But it’s a nice butt.”
“Thank you, Tad.”
“You better check up on her. Tell her I love her.” Tad lowered his eyes and backed away.
Duff walked through Scott Dormitory’s front door into a long ward of cots along each wall. Wide, tall open windows allowed cool foothill air to waft in. Within seconds, soldiers struggled from their cots to stand or at least sit up to applaud. Duff ducked his head, trying to hide his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. A doctor rushed to him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. President,” he said pumping Duff’s hand. “There have been complications, but I felt the wording of the telegraph was overly dramatic.”
“Where is she?”
“In that small room.” He pointed to a door at the end of the ward.
“Thank you.” Duff stopped to talk to the men, patting their thin backs as he walked to the rear. One particular man with an arm missing lowered his head when Duff approached.
“I know I ain’t the best lookin’ man in the world,” said Duff, “but it can’t hurt your eyes too much to look at me.”
“It ain’t that, Mr. President. I’m ashamed.”
“Ashamed of what? That you gave only one arm for your country?”
“We ran away.” He rolled over.
“What?” Duff walked to the other side. “I didn’t catch what you said.”
“We ran. All of us. Like scared rabbits.”
“Hmm.” Duff thought of his own experience, and then touched the soldier’s shuddering shoulder. “That reminds me of a story I heard back in New Salem. This boy and his girl were caught in an embarrassing situation by her father, who took umbrage—and a gun—to the boy. Well, he lit out down the road. As luck would have it, a rabbit was runnin’ down the road. ‘Git out of the road, old hare,’ the boy says, ‘and let somebody run that knows how.’”
Others laughed, and the soldier smiled and wiped tears from his eyes.
“We all run faster than the rabbit at one time or another,” Duff said.
He rose and was about to enter the small room, when another soldier, older and more grizzled, intercepted him.
“I hope the missus is all right, Mr. President.”
“The doc says she’s on the mend.”
“Don’t take no offense, Mr. Lincoln, but if this accident had happened a year ago, no one would’ve much cared. But she’s changed in her ways, and we noticed it. I mean no offense…”
“No offense taken,” Duff said, trying to hide his pleasure that they cared more for the woman he loved than the woman she pretended to be. “You know, Mrs. Lincoln led a sheltered life before she married me. It took her awhile to get used to my backwoods ways.”
“I knew you’d understand.” He flashed a grin interrupted by large gaps between the brown teeth. “You’re one of us. We’re all praying for her.”
“Thank you, sir.” Duff liked talking with honest, rough men who were what he wished he had been.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Five


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 forms his own opinions about cabinet members, including Navy Secretary Gideon Welles.
Duff paused to look at the executive office second-story window and found Stanton gone. That meant the secretary of war was waiting. He feared what Stanton wanted to tell him. He climbed the service stairs, trying to compose his thoughts. When he entered the second-floor hallway and passed through the etched glass panel into the office, Duff heard Stanton instructing Hay.
“You may have your dinner hour now.”
“But I’ve a couple of questions about my notes,” Hay replied.
“I’ve a private appointment with the president which may last hours.”
“Would you like for me to stay to take notes?”
“I said I want you to leave the building. I’ve been quite clear.”
Duff detected a pause.
“Oh. Yes, sir.”
Entering the office with all the casualness as he could feign, Duff smiled at them. “Ah, Mr. Stanton, you remembered my order to stay for a couple of hours.” Taking pleasure from Stanton’s pinched Cupid’s bow lips, Duff winked at Hay and laughed. “I shouldn’t be too hard on the old man.”
Stanton’s cheeks burned bright red, and Duff flung one of his long, gangling arms around Hay’s shoulders. “I hope Secretary Stanton didn’t try to boss you into forgoing your dinner to take notes on our strategy session.”
“No, sir.”
“That’s good. I’ve noticed Mr. Stanton oversteps his authority by ordering around my personal staff.” Duff laughed again. “You know, he reminds me of the barnyard cock who strutted around the hens, thinking his crowing made the sun rise.”
As Hay chuckled, Duff pushed him out the door, firmly shutting it behind him.
“That,” Stanton said in an angry whisper, “was totally uncalled for.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Duff replied. “I thought it sounded like something Mr. Lincoln would say.” He sat behind the large oaken desk, hoping to hide his shaking leg.
“Yes, and you know where his arrogance got him.”
“Mr. Stanton, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about Lincoln in the basement.” He looked grave. “What do you want?”
“You know very well.” Stanton walked to the desk, planting both fists on it. “What did Mr. Welles say to you?”
“That bewigged, doddering old fool? Merely gossip.”
“Gossip? What kind of gossip?”
“The campaign in Vicksburg will end successfully, possibly today.”
“And?”
“He wants Grant to replace Meade.”
“Why replace the victor of Gettysburg?”
“Circumstances change quickly. Our record of changing generals suggests that trend will continue.”
“You see-it’s futile to keep a secret from me.” Stanton cocked his head to eye Duff. “You’ve another secret.”
“Nothing serious.” Duff stalled Stanton, thinking of some crumb to toss him, something to appease him, something somewhat related to the war—but not connected to Alethia.
“It’s foolish to defy me. Spit it out.”
“It’s something Mr. Hay said. Don’t blame him. He thought he was reporting it to the proper authority.”
“What?”
“He came to my bedroom several months ago…”
“You waited to tell me?”
“I had my reasons. One being concern for your personal life.”
Stanton took a step back.
“As I was saying, he visits me often late at night to share stories he’s heard at some party. I didn’t know social gossip interested you. Besides, it involves someone you know.”
“Who?”
“Jean H. Davenport Lander.”
“Don’t believe gossip.” He shuffled his feet. “I was between marriages when Jean and I—enjoyed each other’s company. This was before she married Colonel Lander.”
Duff gained confidence; for once, he held the upper hand. Smiling at Stanton, Duff was certain he saw beads of perspiration across his brow.
“Mr. Hay, it seems, talked to her at this party.”
“Go on.”
“She seemed concerned, he said, about a young Virginian she had met who boasted of a great, daredevil thing.”
“A daredevil thing?”
“What if he were planning an assassination?”
“That’s highly unlikely.”
“I thought, how ironic if I were killed instead of Mr. Lincoln.”
“Did she mention his name?”
“I don’t know.”
“If Mr. Hay mentions it again, tell me.”
Before Duff responded, office messenger Tom Cross rapped softly at the door and opened it. He timidly stepped in, his eyes wide with apprehension.
“Yes, Tom. What is it?” Duff asked.
“We just received a message from the Soldiers’ Home.” He paused to swallow hard. “They want you to come immediately. Mrs. Lincoln’s condition, it’s worse. She’s got a fever and is in and out of consciousness.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Four


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 forms his own opinions about cabinet members.
As the Cabinet members left, Welles turned to Duff.
“Mr. President, would you walk with me to the gate?”
“No,” Stanton interjected. “He’s much too preoccupied.”
“I’m not preoccupied at all.”
“Good,” Welles replied, taking Duff by the crook of his arm and leading him down the hall. “How’s Mrs. Lincoln after her carriage accident?”
“Very well,” Duff said, ignoring the exasperated grunts from Stanton behind them. “Doctors at the Soldiers’ Home said her head injuries were minor. It’ll be good for her to recuperate in the cool Maryland foothills.”
“Yes, it can be quite sweltering in Washington during the summer months.”
They began down the grand staircase.
“You know, Mrs. Welles always inquires about Mrs. Lincoln. She’s quite fond of her. Often she has protested the unfair attacks on her in the newspapers.”
When they reached the foyer, Welles gave a wary glance up the stairs and then at the front door guard, John Parker, who was already red in the face from drinking.
“Good morning, Mr. Parker,” Duff said. “I’m escorting Mr. Welles to the gate. I won’t be long.”
“Very well, sir.” Parker’s voice was thick with whiskey.
As they walked down the steps, Welles leaned into Duff.
“I wanted a private word with you, Mr. President,” Welles said in a hushed voice. “It seems Mr. Stanton has been omnipresent the last few months.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.” Duff raised an ingenuous eyebrow.
“Mr. President, I wish I had your gentle wit.” Welles chuckled and shook his bewigged head.
They took a sharp turn to stroll through the garden to the turnstile gate.
“What’s on your mind, Mr. Secretary?”
“I was less than forthcoming during the Cabinet meeting,” he whispered. He stopped to examine a rose bush. “I wish I still had my sense of smell. Roses have a marvelous bouquet.” Again Welles looked up, this time at the second-story window, where Stanton stood glaring at them.
“I assume you weren’t forthcoming because of Mr. Stanton.”
“I don’t trust him.” Welles straightened and looked at Duff. “He exudes the aura of frustrated ambition. Put quite bluntly, Mr. President, he covets your job.”
“So do Mr. Chase and Mr. Seward.”
“But not as much as Mr. Stanton.”
“So what do you want to tell me?”
“I’ve my sources at Gettysburg,” he whispered as he gripped the top of the turnstile gate. “On both sides. I don’t want Mr. Stanton to know.”
“What is it?”
“On the Confederate side, my sources say General Lee isn’t well.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s his heart,” Welles said, leaning into Duff. “His appearance indicated a heart attack. If that’s so, his judgment’s impaired. He’ll make mistakes. His decision to attack Little Round Top was disastrous. There’s no question his decision to charge the center of the Union line today will be an unequivocal failure.”
“So that’s good for us, correct?”
“Not necessarily. My sources on our side tell me General Meade errs on the side of caution to the extent he won’t pursue Lee when he retreats.”
“That wouldn’t be good.”
“Your understatement is amusing,” Welles said wryly. “You—we—will need a replacement for General Meade.”
“Of course.”
“Before Mr. Stanton makes his suggestion, I’d like to recommend General Grant.”
“But he’s mired in the Mississippi mud outside Vicksburg,” Duff said. “And my sources tell me he’s disappeared in the bottle.”
“My sources,” Welles said, shaking his head, “which I assure you are faster and more accurate, say Mrs. Grant arrived in camp, and the drinking stopped.” His mouth went close to Duff’s ear. “They also say he’s close to a great victory. Vicksburg’s capitulation may come as soon as tomorrow.”
“Thank you for your information,” Duff said, glancing over his shoulder to the second-story window, where Stanton still glared down upon them. “I’ll consider your recommendation of General Grant most seriously—as I’ll consider nominations from other Cabinet members.”
“Don’t let Stanton sway you.” Welles grabbed Duff’s arm. “He’s one of that breed who believes it’s impossible that he could be wrong, therefore any action he takes is justified.”
“We all, at one time or another, have to fight such delusions,” Duff said with a slight smile.
“If, sir, you’re implying I’m suffering from that delusion,” Welles said, pulling away from Duff, “you’re wrong.”
Deciding to allow prudence to prevail, Duff nodded and extended his hand. A moment passed before Welles took it. He turned abruptly, went through the turnstile, and walked down the path to the War Department.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Three


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 forms his own opinions about cabinet members.
Leaning back in his chair, Duff relaxed, confident of handling the Cabinet meeting. He was learning to deal with the egos of all the self-important men around the table. He liked some more than others. Attorney General Edward Bates reminded him of himself, little formal education and even less pretension. Duff still mourned the death of Interior Secretary Caleb Smith, a Midwesterner like himself. Smith’s replacement, John Usher, was a mystery to him. Since Stanton had recommended him, Duff did not to trust Usher.
“Mr. President, the gallant men of Maine should receive special commendation for their defense of Little Round Top yesterday,” Stanton said. “They saved Gettysburg from falling to the rebels.”
Absolute loathing covered Duff like a cold, wet wool blanket, and he remembered that sensation from his days prior to the first battle of Manassas. As much as he was choked with fear at the battle and as much as he was smothered by terror when he was captured, Duff felt even stronger emotions toward Stanton, who was adjusting his pebble glasses on his little nose. Duff nodded in acknowledgement of Stanton’s announcement but said nothing. He learned this was the safest response to any comment during a Cabinet meeting.
“The latest telegraph reports indicate today’s events should be the most pivotal since the second Manassas,” Stanton continued.
“Ah, fireworks for the Fourth of July,” Duff replied.
Laughter filled the room and boosted his self-esteem and eased his hatred toward Stanton. Among the others around the table, only one merited Duff’s respect: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. He had to be careful not to be too friendly. The real Lincoln found Welles senile and altogether ludicrous in his large, ill-fitting white wig. Duff, on the other hand, found Welles to be profoundly wise.
“When was the last wire received?” Seward asked.
Duff did not trust Seward, whom he found hard to decipher; in other words, he could not tell if Seward believed him to be Lincoln.
“Wires within the last hour indicate Lee’s forces appear ready to advance on the center of General Meade’s line,” Stanton replied.
“Is this necessarily a bad thing?” Chase intoned.
Chase evoked mere disdain from Duff, who saw him as a sanctimonious fool. He did not worry if Chase realized he was not Lincoln, because Chase never looked him in the eye or listened to what he said, as though Duff were inconsequential.
“We don’t know at this time,” Stanton said.
Most of all, Duff hated Stanton for his contemptuous attitude Stanton of Alethia, whom he had grown to love over the past year. Duff hesitated to tell her, because then he would have to tell her his secrets, and if she learned of all the horrible sins he had committed, she would surely hate him.
“Will you keep us informed?” Welles asked.
“Of course.” Stanton smiled with condescension.
“I was talking to Mr. Lincoln,” Welles retorted.
“Everyone at this table has access to the telegraph wires at the War Department,” Duff said, noticing the grimace on Stanton’s face.
“I know that.” Welles nodded. “I just wanted to hear it from you. Sometimes it becomes a bit weary, learning official war news from Mr. Stanton.”
“Mr. Welles, may I remind you I’m the secretary of war; therefore, by definition, all information concerning the war should come through me.”
“Forgive me, Mr. Stanton, but as attorney general,” Bates interjected, “it’s my obligation to remind you that the Constitution names the president as commander in chief of the armed forces, therefore superseding you as the ultimate authority on releasing war news.”
“I stand corrected.” Stanton pursed his Cupid’s bow lips.
Duff could hardly restrain the smile creeping across his lips; instead, he surveyed the room, trying to look wise. No one seriously doubted he was president, he decided, except Stanton.
On his staff, the only person who might suspect something was Nicolay, so Duff had sent him on a special mission to Colorado. With any luck, the war would end by the time he had returned. While Duff never thought himself to be bright, he prided himself on detecting intelligence in others, and he deemed Nicolay one of the smartest men in Washington, which made him dangerous.
“Mr. Hay, do you have all this commotion on paper?” Duff asked.
“Yes, sir.”
“And it was all clear as mud, correct?”
Hay laughed and nodded his head.
He was a good boy, Hay was, but not as bright as Nicolay, Duff thought. Perhaps he was as smart as Nicolay, but he was so preoccupied with pretty women and strong liquor that his keener senses were unnaturally blunted. Hay did not consider it strange that Duff sent him to a bookstore to buy a copy of Rose Greenhow’s prison memoirs, My Imprisonment and First Year of Abolitionist Rule in Washington, not questioning why President Lincoln would be interested in a book written by a rebel spy.
“Is there any other business?” He looked pointedly into the eyes of each Cabinet member. When no one spoke, Duff sighed. “Then, let us adjourn to prepare for Independence Day.”
FIFTY-FOUR

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Two


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.

Have a seat, Mr. Secretary,” Lincoln said. Scratching of chairs covered another comment which Gabby couldn’t understand. Lincoln chuckled and Stanton harrumphed.
“The information from Chancellorsville was late yesterday afternoon. There was a surprise attack led by General Jackson.”
“How bad was it?” the president asked.
“Hooker was caught off-guard and—“
“More lives lost.” Lincoln sighed. “More lives will be lost.”
“Meade acquitted himself well, but it was not enough.”
“Meade’s a good man.”
“Hooker must be replaced,” Stanton said.
Gabby became aware of an awkward pause.
“Or perhaps he should be given another opportunity,” Stanton offered. His tone was softer.
He wanted Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought, but Stanton did not want to say so. The war secretary wanted the president to say what he would tell the cabinet upstairs, except he was still locked in the basement. The president, Gabby repeated in his mind. If he—Gabby–were actually president, then perhaps Stanton was waiting for him to step from behind the crates and barrels to tell him what to do. Gabby moved a foot slightly before two other thoughts seeped into his mind: he did not know what to do, and if he were indeed president, he would follow the adage that the leader who leads least, leads best.
“And if Hooker were replaced,” Stanton continued after another long silence, “who’d replace him?”
Again, stinging silence controlled the room.
“You’ve nothing to say?” Stanton asked.
“Oh. You expected a response,” Lincoln ingeniously replied. “I presumed you were merely thinking out loud.”
“You know very well I wasn’t.” Stanton spat. “If I wish to think aloud I needn’t come here.”
Gabby heard Lincoln’s sigh and respected his remarkable restraint.
“Where will you put me if I’m wrong this time, Old Capitol Prison?”
Stanton began to gurgle in indignation.
“I apologize,” Lincoln said. Gabby thought he should not have. “Try to forget what I said. I seem to be in the middle of a malaise. Why I should be melancholy I don’t know—once again I slide into irony. It’s the Union’s future that’s important, and not me.”
“Thank you, sir,” Stanton whispered.
“Replace Hooker with Meade. With whom we shall eventually replace Meade can be discussed another day.”
Very wise that I stepped back to allow Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought. He did well. Chairs shuffled about, indicating Stanton was leaving.
“Mr. Stanton?” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was subdued.
“Yes?” he wearily replied.
“I’m worried about Private Christy. His clothes are disheveled and his hair—“
“His appearance is his own business.” Stanton turned away.
“I’m not complaining about his appearance,” Mrs. Lincoln persisted. “It’s the reason for his appearance. He’s not happy.”
“We’re at war.” H emitted a brutal laugh. “No one’s happy.”
Before she could reply, the door opened. Gabby could see that it was Adam returning the chamber pots. Stanton left, and Lincoln disappeared behind his curtain. Mrs. Lincoln just stood there, eyeing Adam with sympathy. Gabby wanted to help. After Adam put the pots in their respective places, Gabby remembered what the strange man in the straw hat said to him. He reached out to touch the private’s arm.
“Ocean waves taught me always to see beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.”
“Huh?”
Gabby followed Adam to the door.
“Young men are meant to laugh and play.”
“All right.” Adam wrinkled his brow as he unlocked the door to leave.
“Do you have a strong, lean, white belly?” Gabby reached out to touch his midsection, but Adam opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
As he heard the key locking the door, Gabby earnestly added, “Your nation needs you.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-One


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.

Lingering at the corner of the crates and barrels, Gabby watched Mrs. Lincoln pick up the picture frame, focus her small brown eyes on it, and turn a bright scarlet. Her cheeks puffed out. Lincoln stopped when he saw his wife staring at it. Gabby knew yelling was about to begin, and his stomach tied into knots. He lost his appetite for his fried eggs. The air in the basement room became hotter and thicker. This wasn’t any of his business, but Gabby had to listen to it. He had no place to go. He was trapped like one of the rats he used to set traps for. Even as scared as he was, Gabby couldn’t help but peek around first stack of crates.
“Oh,” was the only word Lincoln could say. His head went down, and he stuck his hands in his pockets.
“I thought you left this photograph in Springfield.” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was soft, but intense.
He cocked his head and shrugged. “Looking at it makes me forget for a few minutes about this awful war.”
“Looking at me is supposed to do that.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m your wife. I’m supposed to give you comfort. But it seems you don’t want any comfort from me!”
What kind of picture would provoke Mrs. Lincoln to such anger, Gabby wondered as he peered around the crates. The frame was small, perhaps three by five inches, not ornate but plain. Could it be a photograph of their first child who died? Shaking his head, Gabby decided that was not it. He would be very happy to have picture of his father, and no one could get mad for him having it.
Lincoln awkwardly tried to but his long arms around her tiny body, but she jerked away in holy indignation.
“You promised me you wouldn’t bring it.” After a cold moment of silence, Mrs. Lincoln flung the picture across the room.
Gabby’s eyes widened as Lincoln scrambled to pick up the frame, running his bony fingers over it, to check to see if the glass had broken. Lincoln returned it to his coat pocket and walked slowly to his wife.
“She was only a child. And now she’s dead.” Lincoln’s voice almost cracked. “She’s not a threat to you.”
“Not a threat!” Mrs. Lincoln’s face twisted. “That trollop has tormented me through my entire marriage!”
“Don’t call her that.” Lincoln’s hand impulsively reached to the pocket holding the photograph. “She was a sweet, innocent child who encouraged my dreams.”
“I didn’t encourage your dreams?” Mrs. Lincoln’s hysteria grew.
“I’ve told you; it isn’t even her in the photograph.”
“But it looks like her. That’s why you bought it.” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes narrowed.
Gabby wondered who the girl in the picture was to create such a torrent of emotions between the Lincolns. She must have been a former girlfriend of Lincoln. She supported his dreams, Gabby sighed. Joe had encouraged his dreams, and he had supported Joe’s dreams. Joe had died, and all their dreams vanished with him. Gabby’s thoughts turned to his sister Cordie. He couldn’t her ever saying anything about his dreams. She was too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads and making sure they had something to eat.
“You’ve never loved me.” Tears rolled down Mrs. Lincoln’s cheeks. “Ann Rutledge won your heart, and she has it still.”
Lincoln took a deep breath, and Gabby expected a reasoned reply from him, but the door opened, and Stanton strode in, breaking the tension. Mrs. Lincoln, wiping her tears away, turned to disappear behind her French lace curtains, barely acknowledging the secretary of war. Shuddering, Gabby retreated further into his corner with his plate of fried eggs. Stanton scared the hell out of him. He cocked his head to eavesdrop.