Tag Archives: Civil War

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.”
“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?”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You’re a good man, Neal.” Looking at him, she smiled.

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 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.”
“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.”
“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.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy

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. Lincoln’s friend Ward Lamon tries to figure out what’s going on.
A miracle occurred one early August morning, 1864, in a corner of the billiards room in the basement of the Executive Mansion. Gabby awoke refreshed and clear-minded. This day, reality embraced his brain like an old friend. To maintain emotional stability, he knew he had to stay busy, sweeping floors, dusting, anything to keep his mind occupied. Standing, Gabby subconsciously straightened his shoulders and walked out to the billiards table, where Mrs. Lincoln sat brushing her hair. When her eyes caught sight of him, she stopped in mid-stroke.
“Mr. Gabby, you seem different somehow.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He bowed. “I feel particularly refreshed.”
“I pray you remain refreshed.” She smiled.
“I appreciate your concern.” Gabby glanced at the curtained corner where Lincoln still slept. “If you wish, I could move your chamber pots to the door. It’d be much more pleasant for you that way.”
Mrs. Lincoln appeared to ready to say something, but her mouth stayed agape with no words coming out. Keys rattling broke the silence, and Adam entered. This situation would not end well for the boy, Gabby reflected. Stanton could not be trusted to keep promises. His impulse was to tell Adam to leave, this very hour, to go out west where the government could not find him, but he knew the boy would ignore him.
“Breakfast!” He walked to Adam to help him with the tray.
“Here, Private Christy, I can help too,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Thank you, Mr. Gabby; Mrs. Lincoln,” he replied with a smile. Taking the chamber pots, he left.
“Mr. Lincoln will want his usual apple and milk. I somehow don’t feel like a double helping of eggs.”
“Yes, Mr.—Zook—I think you’re right.” She took the tray and placed it on the billiards table. “You may have your breakfast at the table if you like.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
As they began to eat, Gabby noticed he was sitting aright, his left hand in his lap and his right hand delivering proper amounts of egg to his mouth.
“I apologize for anything I’ve done or said that was improper.”
“Why, thank you.” She sighed. “And I apologize for my behavior.”
Gabby slowly chewed, swallowed, and smiled. “Thank you.”
They ate in silence.
“Mr. Zook,” Mrs. Lincoln said, “do you think this—this clarity will last?”
“I don’t know,” Gabby whispered. “I hope so.” He paused. “I fear it won’t.” He looked into her eyes. “I don’t want to go back to thinking I’m president.”
“At times you thought you were president?” Mrs. Lincoln leaned forward.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Gabby looked at the remnants of egg. “Mrs. Lincoln, if at any time I express that delusion, please pity me and ignore it.”
Before she could reply, Adam returned with cleaned chamber pots. Gabby stood and took the pots from him. Lincoln came out, stretched, went to the tray, and picked up the apple and bit into it.
“Good morning, Private Christy; Mr. Gabby.”
“It’s Mr. Zook,” Mrs. Lincoln said, correcting him.
“Mr. Zook.” Lincoln looked at Gabby’s posture and clear eyes. He cocked his head. “Yes; Mr. Zook.”
Gabby took the pots and placed them in their respective places. Stacking the plates on the tray, he turned to Adam.
“Is there anything else I can do for you this morning?”
“No, thank you,” he replied. “Anything I can bring you, Mr. Lincoln?”
“Nothing, Private,” Lincoln said. “Thank you.”
Gabby enjoyed the structured line of conversation he had initiated. Efficiency and courtesy flourished in routine, a lesson Gabby had learned at West Point. He frowned; he did not what to think about West Point. Negative emotions sapped his mental energy.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-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. Lincoln’s friend Ward Lamon tries to figure out what’s going on.
Ward Lamon knew the double was lying; Abraham Lincoln never hid from his enemies. Edwin Stanton had put the president somewhere and replaced him with this fellow who was a very bad liar. Nicolay and Hay knew Lincoln was gone, but he did not think they knew where he was. The private was the linchpin, but Lamon could not get to him. He was everywhere, yet nowhere, and no one would help.
Once or twice, while in the president’s office, he saw the red-haired private walk by.
“Who’s that?” he had asked the double.
“My adjutant, Private Adam Christy.”
“Where is he going?”
“About his duties.”
Questioning Nicolay and Hay had not been any more helpful; once Lamon had talked to Tad about him.
“He’s only a private. We used to have a lieutenant.”
“Yeah. Too bad. Where does he come from?”
“He told me, but I forgot.”
“Does he know where your papa is?”
Tad looked at him quizzically. “Are you in on it?”
“In on what?”
“If you have to ask, then you’re not.”
“Oh, you mean ‘it,’” Lamon said, trying to trick the boy.
“You’re pulling my leg now.”
“No, I’m not.” Lamon became flustered.
“I gotta go.” Tad scampered away down the hall and disappeared down the stairs.
Lamon tried to figure out why Tad did not want to tell him if Private Adam Christy knew the whereabouts of his parents. The “it” was the switch of presidents, which Tad was in on, but obviously the boy thought his father was in charge. Throughout the afternoon, as he sat in his district marshal office reading reports on the whereabouts of spies in the capital, Lamon considered the almost two years that had passed since Lincoln disappeared. He felt stupid, first for having just accepted what Stanton had told him, and second for not figuring out why Lincoln was missing and where he might be.
As evening approached, he sighed and went to a small restaurant to eat. After he sat and began sipping a beer, he noticed across the room a young couple, both red-haired, the man in a blue, rumpled private’s uniform. The soldier’s back was to Lamon, who wondered if this was the elusive presidential adjutant. When the waiter came up, the private turned his head, and Lamon saw that it was Adam. After the waiter left, he went to the table. The girl, young and vivacious, saw him first and smiled, but when Adam looked up, his face sobered.
“Mr. Lamon,” Adam said as he stood and extended his hand. “We’ve yet to meet. Always just missing each other.” He turned to the girl. “Jessie, this is Mr. Lincoln’s personal bodyguard, Ward Lamon. He’s also the district marshal.”
“Pleased to meet ye, Mr. Lamon.”
“Nice meeting you, Miss…”
“Home,” Adam supplied.
“Miss Home.” Lamon smiled. “Do you work in the White House too?”
“No,” Adam interrupted. “She volunteers at Armory Square Hospital.” He looked at Lamon. “Is there a problem with the president?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, his smile disappearing. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I have to go powder me nose, gentlemen,” Jessie said, standing. “I’ll let ye talk business in private.” Before they could reply, she had disappeared into the crowd.
“Sit,” Adam told him.
“Very pretty young lady,” Lamon remarked. “How did you meet?”
“Through mutual friends.”
“Oh, might I know them?”
“What do you want to ask about Mr. Lincoln?” Adam asked, sipping his coffee.
“Where is he?”
“Retired to his bedroom, I suppose.”
“No, I mean the real Mr. Lincoln.”
“I only know of one Mr. Lincoln.” Adam stared into Lamon’s eyes.
“When did you start working at the White House?”
“September of sixty-two; why?”
“It was about that time that Mr. Lincoln grew half an inch.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that.” Adam sipped his coffee again. “I just do what I’m told to do.”
“You stay busy, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“But not always on the second floor.”
“That’s true.” Again Adam stared at Lamon. “The Lincolns have me doing chores all over the place.” After a pause, he asked, “Mr. Lamon, what do you want?”
“Well,” Lamon replied with a small laugh, “I think it’s like finding out if you know the same secret I do without telling the secret, if that makes any sense.”
“What secret?”
Lamon looked deep into Adam’s face, his eyes, his mouth, trying to detect some nervous tic which would let him know if the boy was lying to him.
“That’s a pretty good job for a private to get, presidential adjutant,” Lamon said, deciding to go in another direction. “How did you get it?”
“Mr. Stanton.” Adam looked down at his plate and pushed string beans around with his fork. “He’s from my home town. My father grew up with him.” He looked up with a smile. “Sometime, when we can spare a few hours, I’ll have to tell you some funny stories about him.”
“Well, I don’t care for Mr. Stanton much.”
“Neither do I.” He speared some beans and put them in his mouth.
“Do you know why Mr. Stanton picked you for such an important job?”
“Like I said, he knows my family.”
“Hmm. Tad’s a handful, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Does he ever tell you things?”
“Mr. Pendel is his main playmate.” Adam sipped his coffee. “He doesn’t like the fact I’m only a private and not a lieutenant.”
“So you must really like your job.”
Adam stopped and swallowed hard. Lamon thought he detected a tic in his left eye, and then Adam smiled and stood. “Jessie.”
Looking around to see her walking back, a twinkle in her eyes for Adam.
“So, did me darlin’ tell you what you needed to know about Mr. Lincoln?”
“I don’t know.” Lamon stared at Adam’s face. The tic vanished, if it had been there in the first place.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Eight

The torture did not end. Days extended into weeks. May arrived, the rain continued, and Duff again heard Stanton coughing.
“The news is not good from Chancellorsville,” Stanton said, wiping spit from his chin.
“What is it?”
“Grant has engaged Lee in a forest called the Wilderness.”
“That’s what we wanted, isn’t it?”
“Heavy losses.” Stanton coughed again.
“So you’re going to replace Grant?”
“I don’t know.” He leaned back in the chair and moaned. “I haven’t seen Lincoln yet.”
Stanton sat up and coughed. “I haven’t given it much thought yet.”
“You talk to…” Duff paused to look at the door behind Stanton. “You go to the basement?”
“It’s not your concern.” Stanton straightened his shoulders. “You will be informed of our—my decision eventually.”
“Oh.” Duff tried not to smile.
The next morning Stanton announced to him that he had decided to stay the course with General Grant.
“Grant’s determination will prevail in the end, like the little dog hanging on to the traveling salesman’s trouser leg,” Stanton said, acting a little delirious. “We’ll stay out of Grant’s way.”
“Very astute,” Duff replied.
In another few days, Stanton relayed news of a devastating defeat at Spotsylvania.
“Perhaps I should write a letter of encouragement to General Grant,” Duff said.
“Yes,” Stanton replied, pursing his Cupid’s bow lips.
On the last day of May 1864, the rain finally stopped, and Duff walked out of the Executive Mansion to the turnstile on his way to the War Department, wanting to find out details on the battle at Cold Harbor. Stanton was suffering from another hacking asthma attack in Duff’s office. Deep in his heart, Duff wished Stanton would stop coughing and just die. Looking up, Duff found Lamon blocking the turnstile.
“Mr. President.”
“I was on my way to the War Department telegraph office.”
“Yes. It doesn’t look good.”
“We’re staying the course.” Duff’s eyes went to the ground. “With Grant.”
“I can see you’re staying the course.” Lamon paused. “Where’s Stanton?”
“In my office. Wrestling with his asthma.”
“He’s still sick?”
“Maybe he’ll die.”
“Maybe.” Duff looked up.
Lamon laughed as he stepped out of the way to let Duff go through the turnstile.
“I’m here when you need me, Mr. President.”
“Thank you.”
Lamon stopped the turnstile, blocking Duff in the gate. He looked deep into Duff’s eyes for a long moment and then leaned in close.
“I can’t help if you lie to me.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-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. Impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South.
Late April found the capital drenched in an eternal cold, tingling drizzle. Duff, well into the second year of pretending to be Abraham Lincoln, stared out of his office window at the people running through the rain, trying to jump around mud holes. In many ways, he felt content with his life as husband to Alethia, though he had not found the courage to consummate their love, fearing the intimacy would require that he reveal his secrets to her. He liked Tad better each day, and enjoyed his contact with the Cabinet members. On the other hand, Duff hated himself for lying to Lamon, for fearing Stanton, and for allowing the Lincolns to waste away in the basement.
“Mr. President, Secretary Stanton is here to see you.” Hay broke Duff’s trance with his announcement.
“Very well.”
Hay stepped aside to allow Stanton, wheezing and coughing, to enter. After the young man closed the door, Stanton sat and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Have you seen your doctor?”
“Yes, this morning.” A hacking cough erupted. “Damn asthma. Damn nuisance.”
“You should take to your bed.”
“That’s what my doctor said.” He looked up at Duff. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d have Ward Lamon here and tell him the whole story.”
“How do you know I haven’t already told him?”
“Because Lamon hasn’t stormed the building.” Stanton coughed. “And because you know if Lincoln’s freed now, you’ll return to prison to hang.”
“Maybe not.”
“I don’t think you’re willing to take the chance.”
“In any case, you’re not willing to give me the chance.”
Stanton laughed and coughed at the same time. Putting his head in his hands, he continued, “The newspapers are responding well to the announcement that you named General Grant to head of the Army of the Potomac. He’s taken control of the troops, and they seem to be responding favorably to him. In the next few days, you should send a series of letters to him, reiterating your support.”
“Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know.” Stanton stood. “I’m going home, but I’ve instructed Private Christy to spend more time with you in the office. After all, he is your adjutant.”
“Yes, sir.”
“He’ll be here in a few minutes.” Stanton turned for the door. “I’ll return this evening, with news from the telegraph room.”
How he loathed the man, Duff thought as he returned his gaze to the rain outside his window.
“Mr. President?” Hay hesitantly asked as he stepped into the office. “May I have a word with you?”
Duff nodded. Hay looked back before he closed the door.
“I think I should mention something, but you may not want to hear it.”
Stiffening, Duff remained silent but motioned for Hay to sit.
“Mr. President,” Hay began with his eyes down, “as you know, I enjoy my night life, going to bars late into the evening. Often I hear gossip, and I dismiss it as gossip, but recently soldiers, many of them just released from army hospitals, were complaining about lack of medical supplies.”
“We’re funding the military as well as we can,” Duff replied.
“They aren’t blaming you or Congress. It’s Mr. Stanton.”
“It’s gossip.”
“They say you were going to fire him—back in sixty-two.” Hay stressed the year, cocking his head.
Duff smiled. “Have you heard the one that Mrs. Lincoln’s a Southern spy? Not only that, she stole my State of the Union address and sold it to the newspapers. Best of all is the story that I’m totally insane.”
“You haven’t been yourself for almost two years,” Hay whispered. He looked startled and then dropped his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Duff did not know whether to be relieved or threatened. Hay knew. If he knew, Nicolay knew, yet they had said nothing all this time. Duff wondered why Hay had chosen this time to broach the topic. Putting his hand to his mouth, he thought perhaps the asthma outbreak had weakened Stanton’s determination. Maybe it had. Maybe this was the time. Duff leaned forward in his chair to confide in his staff. A knock interrupted him.
“It’s me, sir, Private Christy.” Adam paused at the door. “Mr. Stanton said you needed me.”
For a moment Duff made eye contact with Hay, then decided the opportunity had passed.
“Come in, Private.”
Adam entered, and Duff was impressed. He looked sharp in his uniform. Maybe he was filling it out, too. His eyes no longer looked glazed over.
“What do you need, Mr. President?”
“A letter delivered to the War Department,” Duff said, watching Hay slump back in his chair. “For General Grant. Ready for dictation, Mr. Hay?”
“Yes, sir.” Hay pulled a pad and pencil from his pocket.
“Dear General Grant…”
Duff leaned back in his chair and tried to think of the right words to say while he watched Adam’s eyes wander out the window and a smile land softly on his lips.
“I want to take this occasion to express my confidence…”
Adam was in love, Duff decided. He had been young once. He remembered how it felt. He knew how it felt even now when Alethia walked into the room. Did love make his intolerable job tolerable? Duff wondered. Perhaps. Love created hope, and hope meant there was going to be a tomorrow.
“Reports say the troops are responding well to your leadership…”
And what kept Hay going? Duff switched his attention to his secretary. He did not believe Hay was in love, except for his love of life. Maybe that is what gave him the courage to speak the unspeakable and the hope for something better.
“Please feel free to correspond with me any time…”
And what kept himself? Was it love, hope, or pure, simple fear that he would be discovered? His cowardice and his evil desperation could be exposed to the world for condemnation. As long as he lied and walked the tightrope of deception, his world would continue.
“Best wishes, A. Lincoln.”
Duff turned to look out of the window.
“That will be all, gentlemen.”
Hay and Adam left, and after they shut the door, Duff choked back tears. This was torture, but he feared more what awaited him beyond the torture.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-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. Impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South.
Adam and girlfriend Jessie enjoy the parade celebrating the Gettysburg victory.
Cordie awoke early, went downstairs to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee and a muffin with Mrs. Edmonds. After that she solicited sewing jobs from other boarders, and asked if anyone wanted a nice, sturdy, plain quilt, cheap. Several young men gave her socks, and Cordie slowly climbed the steps. She had to finish her mending by noon, so she could volunteer at Armory Square Hospital. Every morning was similar: busy, hectic, and tense. She never knew when Mrs. Surratt would appear and demand information from the Executive Mansion. Her chest was beginning to hurt, but she decided it was just a bellyache and chose to ignore it. Settling in her chair by the window, she jumped when she heard a forceful knock at the door. Only Mrs. Surratt knocked that hard.
“Miss Cordie? Are you there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Surratt,” she replied. “Come in.”
The landlady entered, her hands cupped together, a smile cemented to her face and her eyes hardened with determination.
“Isn’t it a beautiful November morning, Miss Cordie?”
“Yes, ma’am, very nice.” She kept her eyes on her darning.
“May I sit on your bed?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Surratt sat primly on the edge of the mattress, her back stiff. “Have you heard from your brother lately, dear?”
“Yes. He’s doing quite well, thank you.”
“And the young man, the private. How is he?”
“Very well, too, ma’am.” Before she knew it, she was blathering. “He has a new spring to his step. Keeping himself groomed, clothes washed.”
“It’s very rude not to look at people when they talk to you, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” Cordie looked up, her eyes beginning to well with tears.
“You mustn’t sound so contrite,” Mrs. Surratt said. “After all, we are comrades in the good fight.” She looked into Cordie’s eyes. “And there’s no need to cry. You start to cry every time I visit you.”
“I—I don’t have anything to say,” Cordie whispered. “I don’t want to be put out in the street.”
“That young man is still being uncooperative? After all these months?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She fought the urge to return her eyes to her darning.
“That’s a Yankee for you. Never thinking of others.”
“He’s very considerate. He’s nice to me. And to his lady friend, Miss Home. But then we’re nice to him. I mean, I don’t mean you’re not nice, ma’am.”
“I swear, if you call me ma’am one more time…” she said lightly, then paused to laugh. “I shouldn’t say such things. You take them so seriously. So what are we going to do about this situation?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Surratt,” Cordie replied. “He doesn’t seem like he’s going to change. Maybe he doesn’t know anything to tell.”
“Hmm.” Mrs. Surratt opened her hands, revealing several gold coins. “I think I have another way the Confederacy can help you.”
Looking over, Cordie saw the coins, and her eyes widened.
“What do I have to do for that?” she asked, thinking she could never do anything wicked enough to earn that much money.
“Oh, dear me.” Mrs. Surratt laughed. “This isn’t for you. Your reward is staying here. These coins are for our gallant men in Virginia.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Downstairs I have two dresses, and you will sew the coins into the hems,” she explained. “Tightly, so no one can hear them as the ladies move around.”
“I’m busy with my darning.”
Mrs. Surratt took the torn socks.
“What do we have here? Oh. These can wait,” she said, tossing them to the floor.
“But the boy needs them…”
“I don’t care what the boy needs.” She stood and put the coins in Cordie’s lap. “I’ll bring the dresses right up.”
“This doesn’t sound right.”
“Some terribly sweet lady friends of mine wish to wear these skirts when they take a leisurely carriage ride through the Virginia countryside tomorrow morning. What is wrong with that?”
Cordie sighed deeply, causing Mrs. Surratt to put her hands on her hips.
“Now what?”
“It’s just that…” Cordie searched for the right words. “I feel guilty.”
“You feel guilty?” Mrs. Surratt took a deep breath. “It’s the damnyankees who should feel guilty!”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” Cordie said softly, looking down. “I’m a Yankee.”
“Haven’t I told you how they’ve burned whole towns?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Taken livestock, food, left our people to starve?”
“Yes, you’ve told me.”
“Do you think I’m lying?” Mrs. Surratt’s eyes narrowed. “Am I not a woman of honor? Am I not letting you stay in my boardinghouse?”
“You said I can stay in your boardinghouse only if I sew the coins in the dresses.”
“I didn’t put it that crudely,” Mrs. Surratt said with a sniff, “but it’s a reason for you not to feel guilty then, isn’t it?”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Adam and girlfriend Jessie enjoy the parade celebrating the Gettysburg victory.
Duff’s mouth went dry when Stanton informed him he had to deliver an address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Four months after the battle, the war dead were being memorialized. Duff Read, private citizen, had never spoken in public; as Abraham Lincoln, he must speak as a seasoned orator.
“Do I have to do this?”
“Yes,” Stanton replied. “Don’t blame me. I don’t want you talking in front of reporters.”
“Then why do I have to go?”
“Because David Wells of the Gettysburg Cemetery Association asked. Ward Lamon suggested it and managed to have himself named procession grand marshal.”
“What will I say?”
“Lincoln will write the speech.”
The day arrived, and Duff was on the train to Gettysburg along with Hay, Nicolay, Lamon, and Cabinet members Seward, Blair, and Usher. The new treasurer, Francis E. Spinner, refused to attend, saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Stanton also declined to go. Reading the speech as he sat in the rail car, Duff noticed it was short. He smiled in relief. When the train arrived at Gettysburg station, Seward spoke to the crowd. The next morning Lamon lead the procession to the new cemetery, exuberantly waving to the people on the roadside. Duff shifted uneasily in his chair, as he listened to Edward Everett’s two-hour oration. When time came for Duff to speak, he stood on wobbly legs and tried to find his voice as he stared out on the assembly. A photographer set up his camera.
The words were good, sturdy, Anglo-Saxon words with depth and meaning, yet when he tried to give them voice, Duff choked. Taking a sip of water, he began Lincoln’s speech, though softly and without much projection. When he finished, half the crowd did not know he had begun. A photographer’s flash caught him just as he returned to his seat.
Afterwards, most of the reporters seemed interested in getting a copy of Edward Everett’s speech; however, a few did request Lincoln’s address, which Duff obliged by handing out copies Stanton had provided. Stanton insisted he tell them the original had been composed on the back of an envelope. If this were true, Duff did not know; but Stanton swore the shred of information was the stuff that history was of.
On the train back the next morning, Duff sat alone watching Seward, Blair, and Usher dictating letters to their secretaries. His secretaries were laughing at Lamon, who was singing and dancing.
“All the grand ladies who live in big cities…”
Hay laughed out loud at the rhyming end of the next line, while Nicolay smiled and shook his head.
“Mr. Lincoln did well on his speech, didn’t he, John?” Lamon asked, huffing after his dance.
Ja,” Nicolay said. “The president did quite well.”
With that reply, Lamon laughed and danced a few more irregular steps before concentrating on Hay.
“Johnny, how would you compare today’s speech to those Mr. Lincoln made on the campaign stump back in Illinois?”
“I haven’t noticed.” Hay looked up, wide-eyed.
Again Lamon laughed and jigged his way to sit next to Duff. Lamon slapped him on the knee.
“Well, Mr. Lincoln,” Lamon exclaimed, “you did yourself proud, sir.”
“I don’t know,” Duff replied in a mumble. “No one seemed much impressed.”
“They will.” Lamon leaned into him to whisper, “Modesty is a good touch. My friend would have been reticent, too.”
Duff’s eyes roamed out the train window to see crowds gathered by the tracks.
“You should let the people see you,” Lamon said so all the others in the car could hear. “Wave to them. They love you.”
Standing, Duff leaned out the window to gesture with his right hand, while resting his left hand on the sill. Soon he was aware Lamon’s hand was on top his.
“Say nothing,” Lamon advised under his breath, “and continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it.”
Duff quaked inside: one of his terrible secrets was that he was innately a coward.
“Is this plan really the idea of Mr. Stanton?”
He could not make his hand move. Lamon lifted his weight from it, making it easy for Duff to make a fist if he wanted to.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
His fingers quickly went to a fist. If Duff were going to lie, he had to do it without hesitation.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
Duff’s hand went flat, and he hated himself for lying the second time.
“Are you afraid?”
His hand stayed flat, but it shook. Lamon patted it.
“Wave to the people, Mr. President.”