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Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Four


Lincoln and secretaries, Hay and Nicolay
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lamon comes to the White House to find out for himself.

Nicolay and Hay have not changed, Lamon thought, as he entered the room. Hay looked up from his desk where he was addressing envelopes, and smiled broadly.
“Hello, Ward.”
“Ward, we haven’t seen you in a while.” Nicolay said as he looked up from his letter opening. He smiled only briefly, yet Lamon took it as a warm reception since it came from the cold, bland Bavarian.
Lamon sat near Hay, throwing his feet up on the desk, as was his wont during Lincoln’s first year, when all was normal. He liked the secretaries immensely, Hay’s boyish charm and Nicolay’s reserved intelligence; still, Lamon had to learn what they knew about the president’s disappearance.
“Marshal’s office has been keeping me busy.” He looked from one to the other. “You two look no worse for the wear.”
“Thank you,” Hay replied, “and same to you.”
Taking a deep breath, Lamon continued, “I wish I could say the same about the old man.” His observation was met with silence. Perhaps he was being too subtle, so he turned directly to Hay, whom he considered the weak link. “Johnny, haven’t you noticed a difference in Mr. Lincoln?”
“Remember when we used to have booger-flicking contests?” Putting a finger up one nostril, Hay innocently returned Lamon’s gaze. “You always won.”
Lamon could not help but laugh, realizing, however, that Hay had not answered his question, deliberately or not, so he turned his attention to the inscrutable Nicolay.
“And you, John, have you noticed any changes in the president?”
“Mr. Lincoln hasn’t changed since those days in Springfield when we all first met him.” Ripping open a letter, Nicolay studiously read the contents.
“Those were the good old days with the president, weren’t they?” Lamon asked.
“Yes, Mr. Lincoln smiled more then,” Nicolay replied.
“Even the first year in the White House, the president made a few jokes,” Lamon continued.
“That was when we all, including Mr. Lincoln, still had hopes of an early resolution to the war.”
Narrowing his eyes at Nicolay, who kept his attention on the letters, Lamon then asked, “But since the time I saw him last, two months ago, Mr. Lincoln seems to have lost his spirit.”
“The president has had good days this fall. You just haven’t seen them.”
“Well, I guess I’ve been lazy long enough,” Lamon announced, putting his feet down and standing.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Hay cheerfully said.
Ja, come back soon,” Nicolay added, finally raising his eyes.
Lamon walked out, very proud of himself, feeling he had outfoxed Nicolay, who did not want to tell a lie, yet did not want to betray a confidence, but by playing his word games had revealed what Lamon wanted to know. In talking about Lincoln, Nicolay called him by his name; however, when Lamon referred to the man in the president’s office as Mr. Lincoln, Nicolay followed up by calling the man Mr. President. That proved they knew the current president was not Mr. Lincoln; what Lamon still did not know was if they knew this was the plan of Mr. Lincoln, the man they called Mr. President, or, worst of all, Mr. Stanton.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Three


Ward Hill Lamon
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything. Janitor Gabby Zook, caught in the basement room with the Lincolns, begins to think he is president. Mrs. Lincoln decides to befriend him.

One mid-afternoon, after two months of ruminations about his confrontation with Secretary of War Stanton and his henchman Lafayette Baker over the disappearance of Abraham Lincoln and the substitution of a double, Ward Lamon climbed the steps of the Executive Mansion,. Entering the door, he nodded at guard John Parker, who, he noticed, was already glazed of eye from an early beer. Coming down the stairs was Stanton; Lamon quickened his step. Stopping abruptly when he saw Lamon, Stanton pursed his lips.
“Mr. Lamon, what are you doing here?”
“Remember, it was your idea I come back,” Lamon replied. “After all, Abraham Lincoln is a personal friend of mine. He allowed me to pretend I was his law partner once. Even if I don’t work for him anymore, I’m still his friend.”
“Lamon…”
“And people might wonder why I never visit my old friend anymore.”
Stanton puffed, stammered, but ultimately walked away. Lamon mounted the grand stairway, skipping every other step, eager to meet the impostor. Going down the hall, Lamon looked around and spotted the new Mrs. Lincoln, obviously a double because she had kinder eyes than the real Mary Lincoln. Opening the door, Tad smiled at Lamon.
“Mr. Lamon! I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age!”
“Good to see you, Tad.” He patted the boy’s shoulder. Despite the opinions of others, Lamon liked Lincoln’s rambunctious son, because he reminded Lamon of himself as a child. If Tad survived his childhood, he would make a good bodyguard or policeman. “The marshal’s office has kept me busy. I promise not to be a stranger anymore.”
“Good.” Tad ran down the hall. “Tom Pen! Tom Pen!”
Continuing the other way, Lamon was eager to see the double, wondering if he measured up to the original. He went through the glass panels and turned right into the first office. The bearded man at the desk looked up, momentarily went blank, then smiled in recognition.
“Mr. Lamon, so good to see you again.”
Frowning, Lamon carefully shut the door, pulled a chair close to the president’s desk, then sat and leaned close the double.
“You’ve never met me before in your life and you know it.”
“I—I don’t know what you mean.”
“I know you’re a fraud, supposedly because my Mr. Lincoln is hiding out somewhere. I don’t believe it. Abraham Lincoln never hid from anybody.” He paused to examine the man’s eyes to detect what lurked behind them. “Where’s Mr. Lincoln?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Why not?”
“Mr. Stanton wouldn’t like it.”
“I don’t care what Mr. Stanton likes. What would Mr. Lincoln like?”
“I assume Mr. Lincoln wouldn’t like it either. After all, this entire situation is Mr. Lincoln’s idea. If he wanted Mr. Stanton to tell you, you’d know.”
Fluttering eyelashes betrayed him. Lamon decided the double was afraid of Stanton and couldn’t tell the truth. Standing, Lamon patted him on the shoulder.
“Well, we shall be friends then,” he said. “Don’t be bothered if I drop in from time to time for an aimless chat. I visited Mr. Lincoln often, and he enjoyed it.”
“Then I shall enjoy your visits too.”
Lamon left and went to the secretaries’ office. He had known Nicolay and Hay since the carefree days in Illinois. Lingering at their door, he listened to their conversation.
“…and she’s a senator’s daughter, in addition to being attractive and extremely well-mannered,” Hay said. “I think she’s potential matrimonial material.”
“Ja,” Nicolay replied. “And the president can give you away.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Thirty-Two


Tad Lincoln
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything. Janitor Gabby Zook, caught in the basement room with the Lincolns, begins to think he is president. Stanton rips Gabby’s quilt from his sister Cordie and then proceeds with a strategy meeting with the President.

“You haven’t told us how Taddie is doing,” Mrs. Lincoln said impulsively, her hand reaching for Stanton’s sleeve but pulling back quickly.
“He’s fine.”
“Are his lessons going well? Is Mr. Williamson still his tutor? Has Tad learned to understand his Scottish accent better?”
“I really don’t have time.”
“Take time.” Lincoln stepped forward. “This is our son. We’ve a right to know about him. Even you have to concede that.”
“As far as I’ve observed, Master Tad’s lessons are proceeding as usual in the oval family room with Alexander Williamson. Whether he understands Mr. Williamson’s brogue is beyond my interest.”
“Why don’t you make it your interest?” Lincoln leaned forward, his hollowed eyes narrowing with contained anger.
He said that well, Gabby observed from his seat by the billiards table. If he ever returned to the president’s office, he must remember to use that tone when giving orders to whomever the president gives orders. Under his breath he tried to sound imposing in an unthreatening way. It would take practice.
“Very well.”
“Is he happy?” Mrs. Lincoln tried to smile. “Is Tom Pen keeping him amused?”
“Tom Pen?” Stanton asked.
“Thomas Pendel,” Lincoln explained. “He’s the doorman, and kind enough to play with Taddie.”
“Oh yes, Pendel. I seem to remember seeing them running in the garden together. He’s a bit old to be participating in such games.”
“Some people put the feelings for others ahead of their own interests,” Mrs. Lincoln said, with a hint of reproof in her voice. “Also Mr. Forbes. He’s been Taddie’s companion around town.”
“The coachman,” Lincoln offered.
“Between Mr. Williamson’s Scottish and Mr. Forbes’s Irish accent, it’s no wonder the poor boy can’t speak properly.” Mrs. Lincoln giggled.
“Well, Molly, I think we should allow Mr. Stanton to go.” Lincoln turned her shoulders away. “I’m sure he’ll make a greater effort to keep us informed about Tad.”
As the Lincolns walked away, Gabby noticed Stanton’s gaze fixed on him, which caused his legs to twitch. That man made him nervous, and he wanted to escape to his little corner behind the crates and barrels. He stood, and was almost to his Promised Land when Stanton called out. Gabby clutched Cordie’s quilt tightly.
“Mr. Zook. Come over here.”
“Yes, sir?” Slowly Gabby turned and shuffled to him. “Yes, sir?”
“Will you swear your sister didn’t sew a secret message into one of the squares?” Stanton tapped the quilt with his index finger.
“If she did, I haven’t found it.”
“Very well.” Stanton sniffed in derision.
Gabby heard keys jangling at the door which opened suddenly, hitting Stanton in the back.
“Be careful when you open that door,” Stanton said in a huff. “I always knock first.”
Walking away, Gabby heard Stanton mutter to Adam, “Be sure to tell me everything—and I mean everything—that the sister wants you to tell her brother.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Stanton left, shutting the door with more force than was necessary.
“Mr. Zook?” Adam asked.
Being called Mr. Zook was still unusual for Gabby. Mr. Zook was his father. General Zook was his uncle. It was good he had not finished West Point, or else he might be a general too.
“Call me Mr. Gabby, like the Lincolns do.” He smiled at Adam, trying to make the troubled-looking soldier feel better.
“Um, your chamber pot. Does it need cleaning?”
“Not that I know of. Let me go look.”
Going through the curtain, Gabby heard Adam walk across the room.
“Mr. Lincoln? Mrs. Lincoln?” he said.
“Yes?” Mrs. Lincoln replied.
“Chamber pots, ma’am?”
“Here they are,” Lincoln said. “I’ll carry them to the door for you.”
“Oh. I don’t think Mr. Stanton locked it,” Adam said with a stammer.
“Young man, I don’t think I’m going to bolt out the door after two months,” Lincoln said. “It’d be too disconcerting for Mr. Stanton.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Private Christy,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Yes, ma’am?”
“I want to apologize for my attitude,” she said. “Mr. Gabby pointed out to me you’re good at heart.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Gabby looked in his chamber pot to find it empty. He came around the curtain just as Adam opened the door and was scooting the pots out into the hall.
“Private, it’s clean as a whistle. Sorry. Maybe I’ll have something for you by lunchtime.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gabby.” Adam smiled.
Gabby was glad his presidential skills were working and lifting the young man’s spirits. Adam was about to close the door when Gabby stuck his hand out.
“Will you tell Cordie to make another quilt? It’s for Mrs. Lincoln. You know, a Gabby quilt is good for the soul.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Nine


General Samuel Zook, Gabby’s uncle

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything. Janitor Gabby Zook, caught in the basement room with the Lincolns, begins to think he is president.

“I used to like the military,” Gabby said, watching Lincoln retreat behind the curtain with his newspaper. “Uncle Sammy went to West Point first. He was the smart one in the family. He’s a general now.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Lincoln said in friendly agreement. “I’ve heard of General Samuel Zook. He may have his turn as commander of the Army of the Potomac before this war is over.”
“Now I don’t like the military anymore.” He paused to look down and bite his lip. “They said I killed my best friend Joe.”
“Oh no,” she gasped.
“That colonel said the whole thing was my fault. He said I was the one driving the team. I was supposed to be in charge of the horses, and I didn’t control the horses, and the colonel was hurt and Joe was killed.”
“But he ordered you to drive the carriage over your objections.”
“It didn’t make any difference, they said.” Gabby shook his head. “I was the one driving the team so I was the one responsible, they said. They said I was a murderer. They said they were doing me a favor by just throwing me out of West Point and not hanging me. They said—”
“Please, Mr. Gabby, no more,” Mrs. Lincoln said, holding her handkerchief to her face. “I can’t stand to hear anymore.”
“They told Mama and Cordie I was no use to them and for them to take me home.”
“That’s dreadful,” she said. “I’m sorry I had you tell me.”
“That’s all right.” Gabby tried to smile as he wiped a tear from his eyes. “Most days, I don’t even remember what happened. I just know I don’t think as good as I used to.” He shrugged. “I don’t know why I remembered everything today.”
“I’m so sorry for my behavior.” Mrs. Lincoln reached across the billiards table to touch Gabby’s hand. “If I’d known what caused your misery, I’d have been kinder.”
“I know.” He found the courage to squeeze her hand before withdrawing it. “I think—and please don’t get mad at me—you’re a little like me. Sometimes we can’t help the way we act.”
“Mr. Gabby, I do declare I think you’re more perceptive than many of the intelligent men running this war at this very moment.” She cocked her head coquettishly.
“Oh yes, I know I’m smart, except when I forget to be—smart, that is.”
“You must spend more time out here in the room with us, Mr. Gabby.” Mrs. Lincoln laughed as she stood. “You really must.”
“Thank you,” he said. “But I think that would make me too nervous.”
“I know all about being nervous. Well, as you wish.” She turned to go to her cot.
“Would you like a quilt?” Gabby asked.
“A what?” She turned to smile at him.
“A quilt,” Gabby explained. “My sister Cordie makes them. She made me one. Just a minute, I’ll show it to you.” Quickly padding to his corner, Gabby grabbed the quilt and brought it out, proudly displaying a crudely sewn composition of rumpled squares of old cloth of different colors, textures, and patterns. “Cordie calls them Gabby quilts. She named them for me.”
“How nice.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled as she touched it.
“She cuts squares out of old dresses, shirts, and things she has around, and sews two of them together with an old sock in the middle, and then she sews the squares together, and you got a Gabby quilt.”
“So each square is a memory of a loved one.” Her eyes sparkled as she stroked it.
He pointed to a square of dark brown. “Mama wore this dress all the time. And this,” he said, tapping a swatch of gabardine, “was part of Papa’s best suit when he was a lawyer.”
“How wonderful.”
“Oh, they’re really not worth much. Used to, Cordie would make fancy patterns with the squares. Now she just sews them up any old way. That way you can really use it. If you’re sick and feel like you need to throw up, you can just let it go on a Gabby quilt. It doesn’t make any difference.”
Mrs. Lincoln withdrew her hand.
“I haven’t been sick on this one.”
“Oh.”
“Cordie used to say Gabby quilts were like love. Love isn’t something pretty to look at. Love is for everyday use. When you get sick you can wrap up in love—like an old Gabby quilt—and feel better.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Seven

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting. Then he told Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything. Janitor Gabby Zook, caught in the basement room with the Lincolns, begins to think he is president.

Gabby hunched his shoulders and wished he had kept his presidential opinions to himself. His hand shook as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Now, Molly, Mr. Gabby’s trying to make the best of the situation,” Lincoln said. “You should, too.”
“He’s out of his mind! It’s plain as the mottled nose on his pitiful face that he’s addled! And you’re no better!”
“Let me know when the newspaper arrives.” Lincoln looked at Gabby, shook his head, and retreated behind his curtain to his cot.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Gabby turned to escape into his own corner.
“You’re just like Cousin Fitzhugh on Mother’s side of the family,” Mrs. Lincoln began, her voice edged with faint contrition. “He wasn’t a Todd. Heavens, no. I don’t think he ever stepped a foot inside a Todd household. He wasn’t even of Granddaddy’s family. I don’t even remember his surname. No one really wanted to claim him, and I only met him on sad occasions when one of Mother’s elderly kin passed on. He was always there at the wake and the funeral. I just shuddered every time he walked into the laying-out room.”
“We laid Papa out in the parlor,” Gabby said. “We didn’t have a special room for that. Our apartment wasn’t that big, and we didn’t have people die that often, so we didn’t see any need for a special laying-out room.”
“The parlor,” Mrs. Lincoln said, sighing deeply, and nervously rattling her cup against the saucer, “was the laying out room.”
“Oh.”
“As I was saying, I just shuddered when Cousin Fitzhugh arrived. I’ve a naturally pleasant turn of mouth, which makes me look friendlier than I often wish to be, and he thought I wanted him to approach me and tell me all sorts of nonsensical things. Rambled, that’s all he did. Rambled.” Pausing to sip her coffee, Mrs. Lincoln wrinkled her nose. “Tepid. Just as I thought it would be.” Her eyes darted to Gabby. “Just like you.”
“I’m tepid?”
“Oh no.” She giggled, and her eyes twinkled, creating for a split second the image that Gabby surmised was what her husband had fallen in love with many years ago. “No, ramble. You ramble just like Cousin Fitzhugh.”
“Oh.”
“Mama always said there was no reason to be afraid of Cousin Fitzhugh. He was gentle as a lamb.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled and nodded to the chair across the billiards table from her. “Please have your breakfast out here. We may as well learn to be sociable. We’re going to be here for a while, it seems.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Gabby sat in the chair and put his plate on the green top of the billiards table. After taking a bite of egg from the plate, which now sat uncomfortably near his chin, he looked over at her.
“I don’t like that Mr. Stanton.”
“You’re certainly correct about that, Mr. Gabby.”
Part of his presidential skills was being diplomatic. That was another class in which he excelled, diplomacy. He prided himself for finding ground for common interests.
“I sure miss my sister Cordie.”
“I imagine you do.” She paused. “She takes care of you, doesn’t she?”
Gabby nodded.
“I miss my little boy,” Mrs. Lincoln whispered.
“Of course, a mama would miss her child.”
“People don’t understand Tad.” Mrs. Lincoln clasped her hands in front of her and looked off, as though in confession. “I know that they think he’s wild and undisciplined, but he has a problem. His palate is malformed. Do you know what the palate is?”
“It’s right here.” Gabby nodded and pointed to his open mouth.
“Yes, Mr. Gabby.” Mrs. Lincoln momentarily closed her eyes because Gabby still had semi-masticated egg on his tongue. “That’s right.” She smiled at him. “You’re smarter than most people give you credit for.”
“I went to West Point,” he offered.
“Taddie is smarter than people think too. He speaks haltingly and baby-like sometimes, and that makes people think he’s stupid. But he’s not stupid.” She chuckled. “The things that boy can think to say. You can’t be stupid and come up with things like that to say.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Six

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting even though there were some complications. Then he skillfully maneuvered Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats. Lincoln’s secretaries realize something is wrong but are afraid to say anything.

Gabby Zook awoke to disappointment again. Every morning for the last two months he had come from his night’s sleep, forgetting he was on the floor in the basement of the Executive Mansion; he needed the comfort of his sister Cordie, who kept his world intact. With his head aching, Gabby wrestled with his identity, and longed for more mornings when he knew exactly who he was. Thinking back to his days at West Point, he tried to take comfort in memories of some of the courses in which he had excelled. He thought of his logic class, in which his teacher always said he was the best—and if Gabby ever needed logic it was now. Furrowing his brow Gabby fetched scattered bits and pieces from his fragmented brain: let’s see, he mumbled, if a = b and b = c, then a = c.
“That young man is late with our breakfast again, Father,” Mrs. Lincoln said, just loud enough for Gabby to hear from his corner.
He shuddered, for this woman scared him with all her tantrums and orders. Gabby did not like being locked in the basement either, but common sense told him yelling, screaming, and throwing things would not change the situation—at least on those days he had common sense. While it was an elusive quality for him, he was certain he captured its essence more often than she did.
“The scandal of all this will rock the nation, Mr. Lincoln,” she continued with her Southern lilt. “The audacity of holding the president of the United States captive in the White House basement…”
“Yes, I know, Molly,” Lincoln said. Gabby smiled; he liked him. “I’ve heard your scenarios of trials before the Supreme Court every day for two months.”
The president of the United States is being held in the basement. Gabby began using his pattern of logic. That was a = b. I am being held in the basement. That was b = c; so, he hypothesized, I am president of the United States. Gabby shook his head. That could not be right; he never remembered running for election. Jangling keys at the locked door started Gabby’s salivary glands flowing. Breakfast had arrived. He stood to look around the stacks of crates and barrels to see Adam put a tray of breakfast foods on the billiards table.
“You’re later and later every morning, young man,” Mrs. Lincoln chided.
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam mumbled. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
Lincoln ambled over. “Were you able to get me a pear?”
“Yes, sir. Right here, sir.”
“I hope the coffee is still warm,” Mrs. Lincoln said.
“Yes, ma’am. Just brewed, ma’am.”
“Got some fried eggs?” Gabby ventured to the billiards table.
“Right here.”
“And the morning newspaper,” Lincoln added.
“Sorry, sir.” Adam hung his head. “I’ll get your newspaper right away.”
Gabby watched the private go to the door. He did not have the same spring in his step as he had in September. Now, in November, Adam shuffled his feet and rarely made eye contact with anyone. On the off chance Gabby’s exercise in logic was correct and he was, indeed, president of the United States, he decided he should do something presidential and comfort the downcast soldier. He walked up behind Adam as he unlocked the door to leave and patted him on the back.
“Everything is going to be fine, Private,” he said.
“What?” Adam frowned at him.
“All this will be over soon,” Gabby said.
“Oh.”
“Things will get better.”
Adam sadly smiled and left the room. Feeling satisfied that he had acted presidential, Gabby went back to the billiards table, took a plate, and proceeded to scoop two fried eggs on to it.
“He’s a good boy,” Gabby said.
“What?” Mrs. Lincoln asked.
“He said, Private Christy is a good boy,” Lincoln said. “And Mr. Gabby’s right. He’s a good boy.”
“He is not!” Mrs. Lincoln sputtered, almost choking on a blueberry muffin. “He’s holding us here against our will! How on earth can you say that young man is a good boy?”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Five

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John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting even though there were some complications. Then he skillfully maneuvered Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats.

John Hay lay restlessly in his bed awaiting John Nicolay to finish ripping open letters in the office across the hall. As much as he tried, Hay was unable to go to sleep, because something odd struck him about the events of the afternoon and evening.
Hay had met Nicolay in Springfield, Illinois, and both of them met the gentleman who was a lawyer for the railroads. When Lincoln ran for president, he employed Nicolay to take care of his correspondence, and when he was elected, he took Nicolay’s advice to hire Hay. Few secrets were held from the two men, and that was why Hay was he left his bed and slipped on his pants. Walking barefoot, Hay entered to see Nicolay in the dimly lit office, efficiently opening letters, scanning the contents, and assigning them to various piles. Flashing in the kerosene lamp was Nicolay’s Bavarian wood-carving knife.
“Still busy?” Hay asked.
“Ja,” Nicolay replied in a tired accent.
“I couldn’t sleep. This afternoon and evening were so strange.”
“In what way?”
“First of all,” Hay began, while sitting on the edge of Nicolay’s desk, “the whole idea of Mr. Lincoln’s wanting both of us to take Tad to the Willard for pie and cake.”
“It takes two men to contain the boy.”
“I think he wanted both of us out of the building so we wouldn’t witness what was going on.” Hay’s eyes searched his friend’s face, hoping for an answer that would calm his fears.
“And what would that be?” Nicolay kept his eyes down as he continued opening and reading letters.
“Will you please look at me while I’m speaking?”
“I must have these letters ready for the president tomorrow morning. The unexpected trip to the Willard and the late Cabinet meeting put me behind in my correspondence.”
“But didn’t you think it was strange he’d call a Cabinet meeting so late, yet not come to any decision?” Hay’s nerves were being unsettled by Nicolay’s resistance to offer any solutions to his problems.
With a heavy sigh, Nicolay put down his Bavarian carving knife and placed his hands to his chin, narrowing his eyes on Hay, whose left eye was twitching a bit. “What is your job?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what are you paid to do?”
“Take notes at meetings.” Hay knew it would be folly to be esoteric. “Screen visitors to his office. Represent the president at events he doesn’t wish to attend.”
“Correct.” Nicolay continued his duties. “At no time did you mention making unpopular observations.”
“But it’s our obligation—”
“My obligation is to open letters, read them, and assign them to various piles.” He put the letter currently in his hand into the wastepaper basket. “That letter merited nothing. Others I pass on to you—social events and such. Some I pass on to Cabinet secretaries. And very few are forwarded to the president. That’s my job.”
“Are you saying,” Hay said, wrinkling his brow, “you didn’t notice anything?”
“I noticed the president was a half-inch taller,” Nicolay replied. “He spoke in a dialect more likely found in Michigan than Illinois, and there were no stray black hairs peeking above his collar. But those observations are not part of my job.”
“But that’s not right.” Hay shook his head.
“This is another letter from Mr. Herndon.” He held up an envelope. “He’s probably asking for another favor, obviously illegal or at least unethical, and which will certainly be approved by the president.” Nicolay placed the letter unopened in the stack going directly to the president. “If I did the right thing, the ethical thing, I’d take it to the Congress and report the president for impeachable behavior, but that’s not my job, and I won’t embarrass the president.”
“But don’t we have an obligation to the Constitution to reveal possible corruption?” Hay stood to lean over the desk toward Nicolay, who quickly rose and placed his knife to Hay’s throat.
“You do know men have had their throats slit for trying to uphold the Constitution?”
“Yes, sir.” Hay quavered, looking down at the knife.
“Don’t worry, Johnny.” Nicolay smiled, put his knife down, and patted Hay’s pale cheek. “I wouldn’t hurt you. And you’re right—Mr. Lincoln has disappeared and been replaced by a poor substitute. But if you ask questions about the change, I’m afraid someone might use a knife across your neck to keep you quiet.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Four

Ellen Stanton
Edwin Stanton’s melancholic wife Ellen

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting even though there were some complications. Then he skillfully maneuvered Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon into believing Lincoln and his wife were in hiding because of death threats.

Stanton entered his home, found the downstairs dark and empty, and proceeded upstairs to his bedroom, where he expected to see his wife, most likely polishing the urn. His steps slowed as he recalled how the death of his son James in February had not sparked the public sorrow and sympathy that did the death of Lincoln’s spoiled boy Willie. His son was a saint compared to the Lincoln brat, but no one gave notice to their grief. Shaking his head to rid it of such feminine thoughts, Stanton tried to tell himself that such slights did not enter into his decision to take control of the government’s executive branch. That would indicate a woman’s emotional disposition in his character, and he would never accept that. When he reached his bedroom door he paused to look in to see his wife Ellen, still wearing black, standing by the fireplace, just staring at the urn. She was fifteen years younger than Stanton and still considered a fine-looking woman of child-bearing age, but in her eyes—her dark, soulful, heavy-lidded eyes—was a silent burden which aged her.
“You’re home.” She kept her gaze on the urn. “You must be hungry.”
“I had a quick supper at the Willard.”
“Very well.”
“It was kind of you to wait up for me.” He stepped into the room, went to her, and lightly touched her shoulder.
“Think nothing of it.”
In the last few months, their conversations had been restricted to courtesies and pleasantries. She rarely smiled, and when she did it was at great emotional cost, as though betraying the memory of her son. This was, of course, all supposition on the part of Stanton, because he had never understood his second wife, unlike his first, Mary, who had been his promise of goodness and light. After Mary died in 1844, three years after their daughter’s death, Stanton had refused the notion of remarriage. Twelve years of aggressively pursuing his law practice and political aspirations had passed before he noticed Ellen Hutchinson, stately, grand, and slightly taller than he. She was quiet, compliant, and sweet in a mysterious manner. Their son James had brought out the sparkle in her eyes, which Stanton had not taken time to appreciate because he had been busy seeking national political power. Now the sparkle was gone.
“Would you care for a cup of warm milk?” Ellen looked at him without emotion.
“No, thank you.”
Could she suspect he was involved in an action that, if discovered, could ruin his career? Stanton wondered as he walked to his armoire, removing his coat. If she did know, would she approve? He softly grunted for worrying about what she would think. What he was doing was for the good of the nation, and he would not change his course now even if she did know and begged him to stop.
“What?” Ellen asked.
“What?”
“I thought I heard a laugh,” she said.
“As Mr. Lincoln says, sometimes one must laugh to keep from crying.”
“Oh.”
Would she care her opinion did not matter to him? Perhaps that was the reason for Ellen’s reserve. She knew her place was behind the deceased wife and children.
“Fine,” Ellen said. “I’ll prepare to retire as well.”
Stanton sat in his large stuffed chair to remove his shoes. He watched her remove the white lace collar and the breast pin from her black silk dress. For all his sorrow and anger that aged him, he reminded himself that he still was only forty-seven years old.
“Did you see Mrs. Lincoln today?” she asked.
“Yes.” Stanton stiffened.
“You don’t like her, do you, Edwin?”
“What makes you think that?”
“The tone of your voice.” She let down her shining hair. “Is she still suffering?”
“Suffering?”
“Mourning.”
“Oh. Yes.”
“I feel sorry for her.”
Her compassion stirred him. The flickering lamp revealed her clear white cheeks to be too cold and stolid. Her pale lips never departed from their downward turn. Suddenly he was aware of his passion for her. Stanton, pulling the suspenders down from his trousers, walked to her.
“I think it’s admirable you’re able to be concerned about Mrs. Lincoln through your own grief.” He paused, hoping for a response. “I don’t want you to be unhappy.”
“I know,” she replied as she combed out her hair. “I don’t want to be unhappy either.”
“I want to make you happy.” He tenderly touched her shoulder.
“You make me happy,” she automatically said.
“Do I truly?”
“Of course.”
Her emotionless tone drained his ardor, and he turned away. Stanton may force his will upon the nation, but not upon his wife.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Three

WardhillLamon

Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln’s personal bodyguard

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting even though there were some complications.

As the carriage arrived at the Stanton home on Avenue K, Stanton saw two imposing figures waiting for him. This next meeting would be the linchpin to secure his plan’s success. He had to convince Lincoln’s personal bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, the taller of the two men standing in the dark outside his house, that the president suddenly had been whisked away before Lamon could be notified of new assassination reports.
Stanton leaned out of the carriage and called up to the driver, “If you could be so kind, let these two gentlemen join me in the carriage for a brief conversation before you return to the War Department.”
The shorter of the two men, Stanton’s private bodyguard, Lafayette C. Baker, entered the carriage first. Stanton took a deep breath as Lamon plopped on the seat opposite him. A fellow Illinois lawyer and close Lincoln friend, he would not be easily deluded.
“What’s this about the president?” Lamon said.
“Yes, you were out of pocket this afternoon…”
“That’s because this man of yours had me out in the countryside looking for quinine in a young woman’s skirt,” Lamon said in a huff. “So what if a Southern belle wants to sneak a few bottles of quinine to Virginia?”
“That young woman was the niece of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair,” Baker interjected. Stanton could see the resentment in Baker’s eyes as he looked at Lamon, which delighted him. Baker had been a mechanic before the war, while Lamon had been a lawyer. Jealousy made Baker the perfect accomplice.
“Reports were intercepted indicating immediate danger to the president’s life,” Stanton continued. “He’s in a safe place, along with his wife, until such time as the danger passes. To insure no public panic, we have placed a man and woman who look like the Lincolns in the White House.”
“Where is the president, Anderson Cottage?”
“I can’t tell.”
“I’m his personal bodyguard, dammit!”
“Don’t let your ego get in the way of national security,” Baker said.
“I have no ego,” Lamon said, sitting up stiffly.
“I’ll communicate with the president, and transmit his orders to the impersonator, who’ll inform the Cabinet of the decisions.”
“This is damned foolishness.”
Baker smiled. “Why? Because you didn’t think of it first?”
Stanton held his breath as Lamon shuffled uncomfortably. This moment would make the scheme. If Lamon could be convinced, then all others would be easy to control.
“How long?”
Stanton shrugged. “Until the threat subsides.”
“That could be to the end of the war.”
“Exactly,” Baker said.
“So I’m just district marshal now.” Lamon blew out a long sigh.
“Oh no. You’re still needed.” Stanton tried to hide his relief in the shadows of the carriage. “The double still needs to be protected.”
“Damn.”
“Don’t let him or the woman know you’re aware they’re not the real Lincolns.” Stanton tapped his foot. “That’s it. That’s all you need to know.”
“All I need to know?”
“That’s what the secretary said,” Baker replied.
“You may leave now.”
Lamon exited the carriage, mumbling obscenities, and disappeared into the night. Stanton leaned back, pleased with his progress.
“So. Tell me how it went with Miss Buckner.”
“Why, she’s in the Old Capitol to spend the night.” Baker brushed back his light brown hair and smiled.
“Very good.”
“And her mother and—who else was in the party going to Virginia?”
“A minister, Buck Bailey.”
“I can imagine the quality of sermon Buck Bailey would deliver.” Stanton grunted with disdain. “Are they incarcerated as well?”
“No, sir. I tried, but Lamon stopped it. He said they looked too shocked when I found the quinine bottles sewn into Miss Buckner’s dress to be part of the plot.”
“What was her defense?”
“She showed her military governor’s pass, signed by Major Doster, and a note from the president, and she said her uncle had supplied the money for the shopping trip.”
Leaning forward, Stanton said, “Major Doster, huh? Well, rouse the provost marshal from bed and tell him I want to see the memorandum of Mr. Blair’s recommendation first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Shall I inform the postmaster general of his niece’s unfortunate incarceration?”
“Of course.” Stanton began to get out of the carriage, then paused. “Tonight. Mr. Blair has been a bit outspoken at Cabinet meetings lately. Perhaps this will dampen his spirit.”
“Yes, sir.” Baker followed him to the street curb.
Stanton tapped the seat of the carriage. “You may go.”
“Your plan is going well, sir,” Baker said as the carriage began to pull away.
“There have been a few developments I didn’t foresee.” He nodded thoughtfully. “But, yes, it’s going well.” He looked at Baker. “Be about your duties.”
“Yes, sir.” He disappeared in the shadows to pursue his dark missions.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Twenty-Two

edwin-stanton_bio_180x180
Edwin Stanton never forgot or forgave an insult.

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton held President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. He guided his substitute Lincoln through his first Cabinet meeting even though there were some complications.

As Stanton sat back during his carriage ride to his home on Avenue K in Washington, D.C., he assessed how the day had gone, and decided to be quite pleased with himself. A few complications had arisen, like the janitor in the basement, and the fact he was unable to force the Cabinet to remove General McClellan, but perhaps such stumbling blocks made the situation he had created seem more real, less manipulated. Leaning his cheek on the back of the leather-padded carriage seat, he breathed the late night air and tried to relax. Quickly he pulled his head back, remembering he did not want to risk a new asthma attack. Stanton had not experienced one of his seizures for more than a year, and did not want a new episode at the beginning of the most challenging endeavor of his life, saving the Union from destruction.
His eyes closed, the war secretary could not help but think of the first time his lungs had refused to work, at age ten, in Steubenville, Ohio. His mother had held his slender little body as it was wracked by hacking coughs, while his father, a pious Methodist, prayed unceasingly over him. As the seizure subsided and his parents hugged him, he was aware of their moist cheeks pressed against his own, as though a baptism in tears. While the asthma regularly shadowed his early years, its effect was abated by the comforting knowledge that both of his parents loved him dearly. That assurance made the death of his father near Christmas when he was thirteen even more unbearable. Added to that trauma was the discovery that his father had left no money. With four children and generous donations to the church, Stanton’s father had nothing in reserve to protect his family in the event of his death; therefore, being the oldest, Stanton was apprenticed to a bookseller, James Turnbell, who kindly filled in as a father figure and overlooked his bouts of asthma and his tendency to ignore customers while reading.
His Cupid’s bow lips now turning up in a smile, he approached his Avenue K home, acknowledging that, while life had not been easy for him, there had been kind people along the way: Turnbell, his father’s friend, had loaned him money to go to college and, when the money ran out, allowed him to come back to work in the bookstore; his mother’s lawyer had tutored him on the bar exam, and a judge first took him into his practice and then turned it over to him upon being elected to the United States Senate. In a bit of irony, Stanton considered how Abraham Lincoln had favored him and named him secretary of war, a position he used to depose his patron, at least temporarily. He smiled to himself. Well, perhaps not temporarily.
The smile faded as he thought of the death of his first daughter and, three years later, of his first wife, followed two years later by the suicide of his brother and then the shattering blow of the death of his son by his second wife in February 1862. He had the boy cremated and kept the ashes in an urn on the fireplace mantel in his bedroom. Stanton knew he would have to dispose of the ashes sometime and move on with his life, but that deliberate action would be the permanent admission that two of his babies were gone. So until he could bring himself to that realization, the urn stayed in his bedroom, and his second wife dusted and polished it daily.
More than anything, Stanton’s black heart could neither forget nor forgive the sins committed against him. No one lived the good Methodist life better than he—chaste, moral, crusading against the evils of slavery—so no one deserved the ridicule and harassment heaped upon him. His eyes opened and narrowed as he remembered his teen-aged years in Steubenville. Short and slight of build, he could not attract the prettiest girls because they always liked tall, robust boys who ran and played games better than he did. When the daughter of the owner of his family’s boardinghouse paid him attention, he was enamored. At lunch one summer day in 1833, the girl’s brother declared he would rather see his sister dead than in love with Stanton. She had slapped her brother, which pleased Stanton. That night, when he returned home from the bookstore, he learned the girl had died of a quick bout of cholera. Fearing contagion, her family had buried her immediately. In his delirium of sorrow, Stanton believed the brother had buried his sister when the cholera had placed her merely in a state of unconsciousness. He disinterred the girl’s coffin to see for himself. As he stroked her cold cheek, Stanton had to admit she was dead.
In the carriage he clenched his fists as he remembered what had happened next. His ears still rung with the laughter above him when he looked up from the grave to see the brother.
“You have to rob graves to find girls?” the brother said, his face barely lit by the lantern in his hand, creating evil shadows across his face.
“I wanted to make sure,” Stanton said.
“I should beat the tar out of you for desecrating my sister’s grave, but you ain’t worth it. Bury her back proper.”
Even in the carriage in Washington, Stanton felt his neck burn with humiliation. But no longer. Besides winning the war, Stanton was avenging the most humiliating moment of his life, for the girl’s brother who had treated him with such contempt was the father of Private Adam Christy. The father’s letter had come fortuitously to complete Stanton’s plan. Momentarily, Stanton saddened, because the private did resemble his aunt in the face, fresh and innocent, but he resolved that Adam’s father had to pay for his insolence.