Tag Archives: conspiracy

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-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-Three

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.
Walking down the Executive Mansion steps to Pennsylvania Avenue, Adam inhaled and exhaled deeply, thinking of Jessie. In the beginning, just the mention of her name had been enough to make his heart race and his spirits lift. Now he had to rely on a few gulps of whiskey. Pulling a flask from the pocket of his blue jacket, he popped the cap and lifted it to his mouth. The clanging of an omnibus caused him to jump and quickly cap the flask and return it to his pocket. Perhaps Jessie was on the bus, and he did not want her to see him drinking. She did not like it. He brushed aside his unruly red hair and smoothed out the wrinkles in his uniform. Standing on one foot, then the other, Adam eagerly waited for the omnibus doors to open. His heart sank when he saw Cordie appear. He wanted an evening alone with Jessie, but he forced a smile as Cordie walked toward him.
“I mended these pants for Gabby.”
Her hands were trembling, Adam noticed. Perhaps she was tired. His spirits rose when he decided to suggest that she go back home to rest. He wanted time alone with Jessie.
“Of course, I’ll give them to Mr. Gabby. You look very tired.”
“I’m fine. Jessie wanted me here tonight.”
“And how are you? Did you have a hard day?”
“It wasn’t bad.” Adam glanced down the avenue, hoping Jessie would appear.
“How’s Gabby?”
“Very good. He’s always eager to get his food.”
“That’s good. At least he’s eating well.” Her eyes went down. “I hope the war’s over soon, then Gabby and I can be together.”
“Yeah, I hope it’s over soon,” he said, distracted. He looked at Cordie. “Do you know why she’s so late?”
“Don’t ask me.” Cordie laughed. “I don’t know anything. You’re the one in the White House. You must know more than me.”
“Hmm.” His attention was down the dark avenue.
“I bet you even know what happened at Gettysburg today.”
“I bet you know how many soldiers got killed; where the army’s going next.”
“Troop movement?” Adam shook off his distraction to focus on her. “Casualty numbers? Why would you want to know that?”
“I don’t want to know.” Her eyes fluttered. “I was just saying you must know.”
“You’ve never asked questions like this before.”
“I was just making conversation.”
Her hands trembled more, making Adam think something was wrong.
“People don’t make casual conversation about troop movements,” Adam said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t even say that. I only asked about your day.”
“No. You asked where the Union army was going next.”
“I didn’t ask anything. I never asked a question.” Cordie’s voice rose to a high pitch. “I said I bet you knew where the Union soldiers were going next. That’s all.”
“Don’t try to play games with me. I like you, Miss Zook, but I think you’re up to something bad.” Adam heard his voice, but did not recognize it, which frightened him. “Who put you up to this? I know you. You wouldn’t do anything like this on your own.”
“No one put me up to it!”
“Was it a Confederate spy?”
“She’s not a spy.”
“She? Who’s she?”
“Nobody! I—I didn’t say anything about a woman.” Her voice began to crack.
“Don’t lie to me.” Adam stared into Cordie’s watery eyes until she looked down at the hard dirt street. “Who is she?” He took her chin and lifted her face.
“My landlady.” She averted her eyes again. “She forced me to tell her about Gabby. And she wanted more information.”
“Did she give you money?”
“Enough for the omnibus,” she whispered.
“More to come later?”
“Only if I could find things out.”
“Are you that bad off?” Adam softened the tone of his voice. “If you needed money, I could have gotten some for you.”
“She was going to raise my rent.” Cordie took a handkerchief from her pocket to daub her cheeks. “She was going to put me out on the street.”
“You didn’t want to tell her anything?”
“No. But she scared me, just like you’re scaring me now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Could you make something up for me to tell her, so she won’t raise my rent?”
“I don’t know enough to make up a good lie.” Adam ran his hand through his coarse red hair. “Tell her I’m a mean cuss who won’t tell you anything. Tell her it might take months to soften me up. By then, maybe the war will be over.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes focused on the trousers stuck under his arm. “Make sure Gabby gets his pants.” She sighed. “I’m tired, but I don’t want to disappoint Jessie.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Adam said hoarsely.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Here’s omnibus fare.” He held coins out to her.
Cordie looked as though she were about to decline his offer, but instead smiled and took the money.
“Thank you. Tell Jessie I’ll see her tomorrow.” She walked toward an approaching omnibus.

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.”
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.”
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-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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.