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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.
Phebe and her family were sold at auction
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Cook Phebe sees all and tries to tell butler Neal what she thinks.
“Why would I get mad?” Neal demanded of Phebe.
“Because you’re always mad, especially at the white folks,” Phebe said. “I see it in your eyes. You really hate them, and I don’t get it. I mean, you’re born free—”
“Yes, I’m free, for what good that does me,” he interrupted her angrily, spitting on the floor.
“I—I don’t understand…”
“I was born the son of a freeman in the city of Boston. He was the son of a freeman, all in a long line of tutors, teaching French to Boston merchants who traded with Haiti and other points in the Caribbean.”
“You speak French?”
“Yes. So what?” He paused. “My mother, as a child, came to Boston in the middle of the night in her mother’s arms, a slave from a Virginia tobacco plantation.”
“A runaway slave,” Phebe murmured.
“She grew up cooking and sewing in wealthy New England homes. That’s where she met my father, who tutored the master of the house. They married, found a comfortable apartment, and had me. I was supposed to be the one to climb the next rung on the racial equality ladder, perhaps the ministry, law, or medicine. But it was not to be. Ever heard of the Fugitive Slave Law?”
“Slave owners tracked down runaways in Free states, and local authorities and ordinary citizens had to help.”
“So they came for your grandmother?” Phebe asked.
“No. She was dead. They came for my mother. My grandmother stole my mother from the farmer, who wanted her back.” Neal paused. “And her offspring. Any child from her womb was his property too.”
Phebe jumped when she realized he was talking about himself.
“I remember when they took my mother. Her cries woke me up. At first my father was angry, shouting at her. He didn’t know he’d married a runaway. He stopped yelling when she said she didn’t remember anything before life in Boston kitchens. White men banged at the door, demanding they come out. My father took me from my bed and pulled down the attic ladder. He told me to be quiet, and my mother kissed me, her lips still moist from her tears. He had just closed the attic ladder when the slave catchers broke through. I cried as I heard them drag her away. I never saw her again. ”
“I haven’t seen my mother in a long time either, but I still have hope.” Immediately Phebe wished she had not spoken.
“You’ve been bought and freed, all legal. You got hope because you don’t know no better. No, I don’t have to worry about being taken South anymore. But I don’t have a chance for a profession now.” Neal sighed and mellowed. “When my father told me he’d arranged a job for me in Washington, I thought it might lead to something, but when I arrived at the White House, they sent me to the basement to be a butler.”
“Butler is a good job,” Phebe said, trying to be encouraging. “Why, on the plantation the butler was—”
“This ain’t the plantation, girl,” he interrupted. “This is the world. This is life. We may be free, but we ain’t white.”
“Well, tell me,” he said. “Who do you think the woman in the billiards room is?”
“I was talking to Mrs. Keckley. She’s the lady who sews the Mrs. Lincoln’s clothes. I said to her things had been odd for the last few months. She got real quiet, looked around, then pulled me closer and made me promise not to tell anyone.”
“Not to tell what?”
“She said when she went to fit the Mrs. Lincoln for a new dress the middle of September she saw right off something was different. The Mrs. Lincoln was bigger, across her chest. The missus looked real flustered, Mrs. Keckley said, laughing and rambling on about gaining too much weight. When a woman gets fat, it goes on her butt or hips or belly first.”
“Just what are you trying to tell me?”
“I’m still scared how you’ll take it.”
“You still think like a slave.” Neal snorted.
“Well,” Phebe said softly. “It’s all I know.”
Her owner was Pierce Butler, whose grandfather authored the fugitive slave clause in the United States Constitution. Her earliest memories were of being held by his beautiful wife, who was rumored to be a fancy actress from England. Then the master’s wife had gone away. When Phebe asked about her, she was told to hush and mind her own business. The rest of her childhood was uneventful, though filled with hard work, until all the slaves on the plantation were loaded on a ship and taken down the Altama River to Savannah, where they were taken to the Kimbrough Race Track during a torrential downpour. Men prodded them, looked in their mouths, tested their muscles, and stood back, cocking their heads in judgment.
Earlier in the day she had watched her father being led away, and later her mother, her eyes filled with tears. Feeling all was lost, Phebe used all her willpower to keep from crying. Soon it was her turn to stand on the block, and a miracle happened. When the bidding was over, Phebe met her new owner, Mortimer Thompson, a reported for the New York Tribune, who said she would be freed as soon as they arrived in New York City. But what will I do? Phebe had asked him; How will I support myself? He had taken her hand.
“I know an old friend of yours,” he said.
Her old friend was Mrs. Butler, whose stage name, Fanny Kemble, was in large letters across a theater marquee.
“What a pretty face,” Mrs. Butler said with a gush as she patted Phebe’s cheeks.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Phebe said shyly.
“I wish I could afford to employ another maid, but I can’t.” When Phebe’s face fell, she added, “But don’t give up hope. I’ve friends all over, here in New York, in London, and in Washington.” She smiled at Phebe. “How would you like a job in the Republican administration? I’ve many contacts with abolitionists.”
By the time the whirlwind had ended, Phebe lived in the basement of the Executive Mansion, cooking meals and witnessing the nation’s business first hand. Which brought her back to Neal’s question about who she thought was in the billiards room. Before she spoke, Phebe realized she risked not only Neal’s ridicule, but also the loss of her job—a step backward toward slavery she did not want to take.
“I don’t know.” She walked to the door and opened it. “Now that I think about it, there’s nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all.”
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy tells the Lincoln Tad has become ill. Lincoln demands the boy be brought to them. Cook Phebe sees Adam take Tad in the room.
For an hour, Phebe kept an eye to her slightly ajar door, watching comings and goings of the white people. At times she could swear she heard a woman screaming something about my baby, my baby, and other times she thought she heard laughter. When Adam reappeared in the hall carrying Tad she felt an impulse to confront them again, but decided to stay prudently hidden. After they entered the service stairs, Phebe went to the next door and knocked.
She heard a soft moan, followed by grumbling and padding of stocking feet across the room. Phebe stepped back when she saw Neal’s light coffee face speckled with nutmeg jut out the door and scowl.
“What do the white folk want now?” He paused before adding, “Tell them to get it for themselves. I’m off duty.”
“It ain’t the white folk.”
A smile, slightly soured by the hint of a smirk, crossed his lips.
“It’s about the white folks,” Phebe said in clarification.
“Oh.” The smile faded, replaced by a quizzical furrowing of his brow.
“Let me in.”
Opening the door wide, Neal stepped aside, absently buttoning the top of his woolen long underwear.
“I hope you don’t think this is anything improper, nothing romantic.” Phebe stepped inside, turned sharply, her eyes widening.
“I know.” Neal smiled and softened his gaze as he went to a small table to light a kerosene lamp.
“No,” Phebe said. “Don’t light the lamp.”
“Well,” Neal replied, “This room’s pretty black without light.”
“I don’t want anyone to know we’re talking.”
“Shut the door.”
“We won’t be able to see each other.”
“Shut the door.”
He shrugged and closed the door, leaving them in complete darkness. “I feel foolish,” he said after a moment.
“I do too,” Phebe replied. “That’s why I don’t want you to see me.” She paused and added timidly, “And I don’t want to see the scorn in your eyes.”
“I never look at you with scorn.” A hurt tone clouded his voice.
“Yes, you have. But we don’t have time to fight over it.” She sucked in air. “There’s something strange going on.”
“And I don’t want to hear no scorn in your voice neither,” she said, interrupting him. “Please listen.”
Phebe closed her eyes to compose her thoughts. So many images raced through her mind that she had trouble deciding where to begin.
“The soldier boy—that Private Christy—carried Tad down here. They went into the billiards room. After a while they came back out, Private Christy looking around like he didn’t want to be seen.”
“So he didn’t see you?”
“Coming down they did,” Phebe said. “Tad said hello. The private turned red and looked away. On their way out, I just cracked the door.”
“What do you think it means?”
“If I tell you, you’ll laugh at me.”
“I’ve laughed at you before.”
“But those times you laughed because you thought I was funny. This time you’ll laugh because you think I’m crazy.”
“All right.” Neal paused. “No laughing at you. Tell me what you think is going on.”
“Well, I fixed the same meals for the Lincolns upstairs as I do for those important, secret people who stay locked away in the basement. Mr. Lincoln has peculiar eating habits, an apple and milk for lunch, just picking at a decent supper. Ever since September, when those mysterious important folks arrived, I never saw nobody go into that room.”
“Sure, a whole mess of folks go in there,” Neal said, “that soldier boy and Secretary Stanton.”
“You see? Don’t you think that’s queer, only two visitors, ever?”
“I don’t make it a practice to keep up with what the white folks do.”
“The lunch being sent downstairs now comes back with nothing eaten but the apple and milk.”
Neal remained silent. Phebe heard the cot creak as he sat. She had him interested, so she continued.
“About a month ago, the private came out of the billiards room with a laundry basket balanced on his hip as he tried to lock the door. Well, he lost his grip and dropped the basket.”
Neal snorted. “I always thought he was clumsy.”
“There was women’s underthings in the basket—I mean, all over the floor. I came out to help him pick everything up. When it dawned on me what I held in my hand, he snatched it from me and gave me this look like he wished I’d never seen those panties. But I did see them and that meant only one thing.”
“There’s a woman in that room.”
“So whoever heard of a woman advising men-folk about war?”
“Maybe she’s the wife of some diplomat,” he offered.
“No woman would stay in a locked basement room just to be with her husband, under her own free will, that is.”
“So who do you think the woman is?”
“Stop playing games with me.” Neal’s voice sounded impatient.
“If you don’t believe me, you’ll laugh. If you do believe me, you’ll get mad.”
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy tells the Lincoln Tad has become ill. Lincoln demands the boy be brought to them.
“Oh, I’m so excited,” Tad said with a bit of a giggle. “I bet Mama’s going to cry.”
“Of course she’ll cry.” Alethia hugged him. “I’m about to cry just thinking about it. Enjoy every minute of it.”
“You can come with me,” Tad offered as he sat up.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.” Alethia cast a worried glance toward Adam. “You see, um, the fewer people going downstairs, the better. We don’t want a grand parade to the basement, do we?”
“I guess not.” Tad lowered his head in disappointment. He looked up at Adam. “We better go now.”
Bending over to pick up Tad, Adam was surprised by how light the boy was. Hardly any meat on his bones, he thought, just like me when I was that age. He held the child close to him.
“I’ll open the door for you.” Alethia pulled on the knob. “Wait a minute.” She peeked out and looked both ways down the long, dark hallway, barely lit by flickering gas lamps. “Tom Pen makes his rounds soon to put out the lights.” She smiled at Adam. “It’s clear.”
Tad lifted his head, which he had snuggled into Adam’s shoulder, and smiled, waving his hand. “See you later.”
“Yes, see you later, my darling.”
Adam quickly crossed the hall to the service stairs, where he opened the door, looked back to see Alethia smiling through the crack of Tad’s bedroom door, and then shut it and started down the straw-matted steps with the sickly, perspiration-drenched boy, scented by medicines and faint traces of urine, who snuggled and moaned.
“You’re much nicer than I first thought,” Tad murmured, not lifting his face but nuzzling in deeper. “You don’t have to be a lieutenant.”
“Where did Papa find you?”
“Mr. Stanton recommended me,” Adam replied after an awkward pause. “He’s from my hometown.”
“Oh.” Tad wiped his running nose on Adam’s rumpled blue tunic. “I don’t like Mr. Stanton. He’s mean.”
“He’s…” Adam stumbled over his words, trying to find the right one to describe the secretary of war. “He’s professional.”
“I don’t know what that means.” He turned his nose into Adam’s armpit. “You smell like you ain’t had a bath in a week.”
“That’s all right. I hate baths too.”
“Do you want me to tell you what professional means?” Adam stopped at the basement door.
“No. It probably means he’s mean but got a good reason to be.”
Adam opened the door and searched the vaulted basement hall. Finding no one around, he quickly entered, closed the door, and hastened his pace to the billiards room. Suddenly Phebe stepped from her room, fixed Adam in her gaze, and crossed her arms. Like a deer trapped by a poised hunter, he said nothing, did nothing, except to let his chin droop.
“Hello, Phebe,” Tad said, with a chirp as he lifted his head and smiled. “I gotta go puke.”
“You don’t get sick in your room?” Her eyes widened.
“Stinks up the place, Mama says,” he replied. “’Course, sometimes I don’t know it’s comin’ up until it’s too late. One time I got vomit over one of Mama’s fancy dresses. Boy, did she get mad.”
“I can imagine,” Phebe said.
“Vomit won’t hurt a uniform much,” Tad informed her.
“So, Private Christy. You’ve been given puke patrol.”
“Puke patrol.” Tad laughed. “That’s funny.”
“Yes,” Adam replied with a tight smile, “so if you’ll excuse us, we’ve serious regurgitation business to tend to.”
Phebe shook her head and waved them on, as she went back to her room.
“Reach down in my pocket and get the keys.”
“All right.” Tad retrieved them. “Here they are.”
As Adam opened the door and carried Tad through, he noticed Phebe’s door across the hall. It was slightly ajar. That might be a point of concern, but Adam dismissed it as he presented the boy to his parents.
“Oh, my Taddie! Oh, my baby! Oh, my baby!” Mrs. Lincoln grabbed her son from Adam, and immediately dropped to the floor, sobbing and clutching him to her bosom.
“See, I told you she’d cry,” Tad said, his voice muffled.
“Thank you.” Lincoln walked up and put a large hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“You’re welcome, Mr. President.”
“I’m sorry I grabbed you. I should have never lost control.”
“I understand, Mr. President.”
“Have you had subnitrate of bismuth?” Mrs. Lincoln held Tad’s face in her hands.
“It tastes awful.”
“But it made you feel better, didn’t it?”
“I suppose that woman isn’t completely incompetent.” Mrs. Lincoln held his head close to her breast.
“Oh no. She’s a nice lady,” Tad said, pulling away to look at his mother. “She looks just like you.” He smiled. “’Course, I knew the very first day.”
“You did? How bright of you,” Lincoln said, kneeling down to his wife and son. “And how did you figure that out so fast?”
“She doesn’t get mad like you do, Mama.”
“Tad!” Mrs. Lincoln’s mouth flew open. She looked at her husband. “Mr. Lincoln!”
Lincoln tried to be serious, but began to smile, which gave way to a chuckle. Mrs. Lincoln slapped at him, but could not help but join him. Tad, happy he had made his parents happy, giggled.
Adam smiled until he glanced over at the boxes and crates to see Gabby with his homemade quilt clutched tightly around his shoulders, and remembered this was not a happy ending, but merely a respite in their ordeal.
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home. Tad Lincoln becomes ill.
Mrs. Lincoln would know what to do, Adam Christy told himself, but she is not the woman tending to Tad right now.
“I suppose so,” he muttered.
“I don’t know,” Neal said. “If it’s his appendix, it could bust right soon, and he’d be dead before morning if nobody does anything about it.”
“Neal.” Phebe slapped his arm.
They walked off fussing at each other as Adam nervously unlocked the door. Could Tad die? He was worried, as he entered with the three pots.
Gabby took his. “That Mr. Stanton, do you talk with him often?” He kept his eyes down.
“Please tell him—in a nice way, because I don’t want to get him mad, since he’s so hot-tempered in the first place—to be nice to Cordie.”
“She doesn’t feel well.”
“I think she has the family disease.”
Gabby turned to scurry behind the boxes and crates. Mrs. Lincoln came from behind her curtain combing her hair out, and for the first time since Adam had known her, wore a look of quiet resignation instead of pent-up anger. She smiled at him.
“Back already? My, you’re quick like a bunny rabbit.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam felt his face flush as he thought of Tad and his bilious condition. As had become the custom, he placed the chamber pots down outside the curtain and turned to go.
“Private Christy, is there anything wrong? You’ve the oddest expression on your face.”
“No, ma’am.” He turned back and felt his face turn redder. “There’s nothing wrong.”
“Nonsense.” She clutched the comb in both hands. “Your face is as red as a beet.”
“Well, I—I well…”
“Spit it out, boy,” Mrs. Lincoln ordered.
Lincoln, his collar undone, exposing masses of black hair on a bony chest, stepped from his private corner and put an arm around his wife’s waist and squeezed.
“It’s—it’s personal, and private.”
“You’re lying,” she declared.
“No, I’m not!”
“Now, Molly, no need to harass the boy so late at night. He needs his rest, and you need yours. I definitely need mine.”
“It’s Tad,” she whispered. “Something’s wrong with Tad.”
Adam’s eyes went to the floor.
“It is.” Her voice began to mount to its usual stridency. “I can tell. Oh, my God! Something’s wrong with my baby.”
“Come on, Private, we don’t believe in killing the messenger of sad tidings,” Lincoln said. “What is it?”
“The kitchen help said your son wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “They said he was bilious.”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Lincoln replied.
“Not so bad!” Mrs. Lincoln struggled to free herself from his grip. “What imbecility is that? Haven’t you heard of appendicitis? Food poisoning? It could be any number of terrible, terrible things, and you say not so bad?”
Lincoln turned to Adam. “Why don’t you go upstairs and do a little reconnaissance work for us?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam left and went up the service stairs, his heart pounding so hard he could barely hear the straw mats crunching under his boots. On the second floor, he went straight to Tad’s room, where he found Alethia wiping the boy’s head with a wet cloth. To the side was a bucket filled with vomit.
“Poor child,” Alethia said as she looked up at Adam, “he must have eaten green fruit again.”
“No, I didn’t,” Tad protested.
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Oh, I think so.” Alethia smiled and stroked his cheek. “I gave him a dose of subnitrate of bismuth.”
“It tasted awful,” Tad said.
“But you haven’t thrown up since,” Alethia said.
Adam breathed deeply “That’s good.”
“I want Mama.” Tad looked from Alethia to Adam and back again. “My real mama.”
“Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alethia replied.
“I think you’re a very nice lady who looks like Mama, but you’re not her. And that man isn’t Papa,” Tad whispered conspiratorially. “It’s part of a war plan. I got that part figured out.” His bottom lip crinkled. “But I don’t feel good, and I want Mama.”
Adam stared at Alethia, not knowing what to do, and hoping she had some answer, but the scared look on her face revealed she knew as little as he did. He jumped a little as he suddenly became aware of Duff’s presence in the room.
“What do you think?” he asked him, frowning.
“I think you should tell his parents that he’s received medicine and is feeling some better, but wants to see them. They deserve to know that much.” Duff looked at Tad and smiled. “I knew you were a smart boy. Thanks for keeping our secret.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “But I still want Mama.”
“Of course, it’s not my decision,” Duff said to Adam, “but I think it’d behoove us to keep this child happy and willing to go along with our game. Isn’t that right, Tad?”
“I don’t know.” Adam shook his head. “I don’t know what Mr. Stanton would say.”
“What difference does it make what that old poop thinks?” Tad chimed. “My papa is in charge of this switch, ain’t he?”
“Of course, he is,” Duff said.
Adam and Alethia exchanged nervous glances.
“This young fellow here just likes to keep everybody involved in this caper happy,” Duff continued, smiling at the boy and reaching to muss his hair.
“Hmph, I don’t care if old Mr. Stanton is happy or not,” Tad said in a pout.
“I’ll see what Mr. Lincoln wants.” Adam’s stomach tightened as he lied to Tad. More and more, he feared the threads of Stanton’s tapestry were unraveling—the war continued, the boy knew and could talk, and the kitchen help was curious, too curious.
“Yes.” Alethia patted Tad’s cheek. “Soon you’ll get a hug from your mama. But you must promise not to tell anyone.”
“Not even Robert?” he asked.
“Especially not your brother,” Duff replied.
“Good.” Tad smiled impishly. “I like keeping secrets from my brother.”
In a few minutes, Adam was in the basement again, unlocking the door to the billiards room. Inside, Mrs. Lincoln rushed to him, grabbing his arm.
“How’s Taddie? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. The lady thinks he has just a plain old bellyache. She gave him subnitrate of bismuth.”
“How much?” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes widened. “Subnitrate is powerful medicine. If a child is overmedicated…”
“Now, Molly, I’m sure the lady upstairs knew the right amount to give him,” Lincoln interrupted as he walked up.
Adam noticed the look in Lincoln’s eyes did not match the moderation in his voice. Not even on the day he had brought the president to the basement did he see such anguish as he observed now. It made him nervous.
“Something else is wrong,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “I can tell. Your emotions are written on your face like Mr. Dickens writes stories on a page. What is it?”
“Tad is all right,” Adam repeated.
“What is it, son?” Lincoln asked ominously.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me!” she demanded, trying to control her hysteria, as Lincoln’s big hands clutched her shoulders tightly.
“He wants to see his mother.” Adam’s eyes wandered around the room and spotted Gabby peeking from his corner. He must have courage, or else he would dissolve into another Gabby Zook.
“So he knows that woman is a fake.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled with vindication.
“Of course he does,” Lincoln said, relaxing a bit. “He’s smart, just like his mama.”
“Then bring him down here. It won’t hurt. He already knows,” Mrs. Lincoln insisted.
“He’s kept the secret for two months now,” Lincoln added. “He can be trusted.”
“Oh, I know he can be trusted,” Adam agreed. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Lincoln’s tone became ominous again.
“I don’t know if Mr. Stanton will approve.”
“Stanton! That evil man!” Mrs. Lincoln’s hands began to flail about.
“Now, Molly,” Lincoln said, forcing her hands down, “let me handle this.” He solemnly looked at Adam. “Go get Mr. Stanton’s approval right now.”
“He doesn’t like to be disturbed,” he explained.
“This woman’s already lost two babies.” Lincoln suddenly grabbed the front of Adam’s rumpled blue tunic, pulling him off his feet to eye level. “She gets fearful upset when another is ailing and she can’t pet him,” Lincoln stated softly, coldly. “So I suggest you get Mr. Stanton’s permission to bring that boy down here.”
Adam gasped in surprise as he nodded obediently. He quickly, painfully, became aware of Lincoln’s strength and anger. Scrambling for the door and fumbling for the keys, he followed the orders of the president of the United States.
Omnibus from the 1860s
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home.
“Miss Zook, Miss Home,” Adam said, straightening his shoulders as a grin covered his face. “I thought you had fallen into a bit of trouble, you were so late.”
“Don’t worry, me laddie,” Jessie said. “I daresay I can defend meself and me friend better than ye could.”
“Maybe so.” He ducked his head and ran his fingers through his red hair. Looking up, Adam smiled again. “Did you have a good day at the hospital?”
“How is Gabby? Is he eating well?” Cordie chose to ignore his pleasantries.
“He’s fine, Miss Zook,” Adam replied. A cloud crossed his face. “Oh. There’s one thing.”
“Oh my Lord,” Cordie whispered, putting her hand to her ample bosom.
“He’s all right,” he said, trying to reassure her. “His quilt got—cut up. He needs a new one.”
“Cut up?” Jessie interjected. “Merciful heavens, what happened?”
“Someone cut it.” Adam breathed in deeply, and then knitted his brow. “He—they thought something might be in it.”
“There are only socks in it,” Jessie said.
“Who could be so mean?” Cordie shook her head, unable to understand what was going on, why her brother was in the Executive Mansion in the first place, and now a perfectly good Gabby quilt ripped to shreds.
“Mr. Gabby would like another,” Adam said.
“Of course,” Cordie replied. “I don’t want him to catch a chill, not with winter coming.”
“Private Christy,” Jessie said, “ye never answered the question. Who ripped the quilt?”
“I can’t tell.” His eyes pleaded with her. “Please don’t ask anymore. We all could get into big trouble.”
“The saints forbid ordinary people be privy to the goin’s on in the White House,” she said.
“Please don’t be mad at me,” Adam said, impulsively taking a step toward Jessie, who stood her ground. “It’s not my fault. I didn’t rip the quilt. I—I just can’t tell who did. I agree with you. It was a mean thing for him—them—to do. But I can’t do anything about it.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Cordie patted his hand. “It’s done and can’t be undone. A Gabby quilt is easy enough to make. I’ll start a new one tonight.”
“Thank you, Miss Zook.” He smiled at her and then glanced shyly at Jessie. “Do you forgive me, Miss Home?”
“Let me see, ye upset us dreadfully,” she said slowly, a twinkle in her eyes.
“Don’t tease the boy, Jessie,” Cordie said, watching the agony in Adam’s face. “I can’t stand to see a young man as unhappy as he is.” She smiled to herself over the skills Jessie used around men, skills she herself did not know how to use, nor did she possess the looks to make them effective. Cordie was too old to be jealous, so she just enjoyed watching men swoon at Jessie’s feet.
“I’ll tell ye true, laddie, if ye want to atone, ye may accompany us to our boardinghouses,” Jessie said. “’Tis much too late for respectable ladies to walk the streets alone.”
“Yes.” Adam vigorously nodded. “I’ll pay for omnibus fare, for all three of us.”
“Faith, I didn’t know the army paid so well,” she said.
“Oh, it doesn’t.” He smiled. “But it would be well worth it.” Adam hailed one of the lumbering omnibuses pulled by two large, bored horses and proudly paid the fares, stepping aside to allow the women to pass him and select seats.
“You can have the window seat, me dear,” Jessie said to Cordie, who knew very well her young companion was more interested in sitting next to the private than allowing her to have the view of the dark streets of Washington. After Adam settled into the seat next to her, Jessie leaned into him. “So, from Ohio, ye are.”
“Yes, Miss Home.”
“Bein’ from Scotland, I know nothin’ about Ohio. I crave to learn, though.”
When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing recently the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?
Old city canal
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home.
Cordie and Jessie both laughed as they stepped out the front door of the hospital onto the Mall and into the rancid smell of the old city canal, broken into little cesspools of urine, rotting animal carcasses, and scum-covered water. Discreetly, they both pulled out handkerchiefs to cover their noses. Cordie tried to maintain her composure as they walked past the neatly landscaped grounds of the Smithsonian. Soon her eyes were searching the shadowy corners of the large, red, castle-like building. The many bushes around its walls provided perfect hiding places after dark for the roving gangs of thieves which preyed upon passersby foolish enough to come near.
“Are you sure we’ll be safe?” Cordie whispered.
“Of course, me darlin’,” Jessie replied with a laugh. “If anyone dared to jump from the dark to grab me, they’d better be ready for a swift kick and jab of me elbow. Scottish lasses are strong, and loud. I’d scream like a banshee and more help than we could imagine would appear in the twinklin’ of an eye!”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I am of me red hair and Scottish brogue.” Jessie put her arm around Cordie and firmly squeezed. “Ye worry too much, me love.”
All the same, they increased their pace as they mounted the steps of the iron bridge over the stagnant canal, putting them out of harm’s way from the Smithsonian gangs. Cordie tried to compose her thoughts and control her heavy breathing.
“I’ve never been one of the smart ones,” she began slowly and humbly.
“Why, what a thing to say! You’re sharp as a tack, ye are!” Jessie gently slapped at her shoulder.
“No, I’m not really that bright when it gets beyond cleaning a floor or washing clothes or sewing.” Cordie shook her head. “Believe it or not, Gabby was the smart one. You wouldn’t know it now. When we were young, he was so bright and smart. I pinned my hopes on him. I always saw myself taking care of Gabby’s clothes and house, and he’d take care of me, always provide a roof over my head.” She paused to laugh ruefully. “I knew I wasn’t going to find a husband, the way I look.”
“What’s wrong with the way ye look?”
“Bless your sweet heart.” Cordie patted Jessie’s back. “You’re so pretty and attract men so easily, you don’t really understand how hard it is for plain women to find a husband.”
“I’m not that pretty.”
They stepped off the bridge and walked briskly up Thirteenth Street to escape the canal’s stench. Turning west on F Street, they slowed their pace as the air cleared, and they put away their handkerchiefs.
“Now Gabby was a handsome boy, smart and handsome,” Cordie continued. “Put him in a lieutenant’s uniform, and I knew he’s be irresistible to the young ladies. But I hoped he’d find one who wouldn’t mind having his old-maid sister live with them as their maid and nanny to their children.” She breathed deeply. “It was a good life I imagined. But it all ended when he went to West Point.” Cordie paused, halfway expecting a question from Jessie, and was relieved when it did not come. Turning north on Fifteenth Street, she mustered the strength to finish her story. “When he came home,” she said, “his mind was gone. I realized I would have to support him, to be the smart one.”
She stopped talking to keep from crying. Looking ahead at the corner, Cordie saw Adam standing under the streetlight in Lafayette Square, his shoulders slumped and his head down. She noticed a change in him over the last two months—not as dramatic as the change in Gabby, but a change nonetheless—that scared her. Cordie did not want to witness another young man wasted by the insatiable needs of the war machine.
“There’s me private,” Jessie said with a chirp, quickening her step to reach the park.
Cordie practically had to run to keep up with her, but she did not mind. Watching young love bloom brightened her life and relieved her of the constant worry about Gabby and why he must stay in the Executive Mansion.
Tending the wounded
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Duff and Alethia find pretending to be the Lincolns difficult. Alethia finds herself romantically attracted to Duff.
Another day found Cordie Zook putting away her mop and broom in a small closet of Armory Square Hospital. The sun had already set beyond the Potomac River, which caused her to worry about walking home. If only Miss Dorothea Dix honored her original agreement to allow volunteers to leave before dusk, all would be fine; but as more war casualties filled the long, parallel sheds of the hospital, the volunteers were forced to work later and later. More than ever, Cordie wished she had never left New York City, sure she could have found a job as a maid in a Park Avenue mansion, and Gabby could have been a janitor on Wall Street. Her lip began to quiver, but she commanded herself not to cry. It would do no good. It helped no one, not Gabby, not herself, not these poor broken boys lying in neat rows of cots in front of her.
Gathering her wits, Cordie went to the nurses’ cloak room, where she picked up her coat and hat and went down the line to get Jessie Home’s smart little tam-o’-shanter and plaid jacket. Jessie had become a good friend, Cordie admitted as she left the cloak room and started wandering up and down the aisles of cots, even though the young Scottish woman tried her patience from time to time. For instance, Jessie was never ready to leave when Cordie was desperate to go to Lafayette Park to hear about Gabby from the nervous private. She stopped short in the middle of an aisle and found herself forced to smile as she watched Jessie competently pull a fresh nightshirt over the head of an embarrassed, thin, shockingly pale soldier, who still self-consciously tried to hide the reddish nub that once had been his left arm.
“Now there’s no need for ye to be shamed in front of me,” Jessie said cheerfully as she grabbed the recovering nub and stuffed it into the white, coarse cotton sleeve. “You’re a national hero, and heroes should hold themselves proud.”
“But—but my arm,” the soldier stammered.
She smoothed the shirt down his chest and abdomen. “That’s your badge of manhood,” she replied smoothly. Smiling, she rubbed his white, gaunt cheek with her hand. “That shows you’re no longer a boy. What woman worth being a wife wants to be yoked with a pretty boy when she could have a real man?”
Cordie watched a smile creep across his lips, and she forgot about her fear of crossing the Mall after dark. This was thevolunteers’ purpose, to make the boys smile when other senses told them to cry. If they can do that, they can face the thieves and robbers who hid in the bushes surrounding the Smithsonian.
“It’s time to leave, Jessie,” Cordie said.
The young man looked up at Cordie, and then to Jessie. “You have to leave? You can’t stay a little longer?”
“I’d love to, me hero,” Jessie said, “but Miss Dix wouldn’t hear of it. If she found out I stayed late to sit by ye, she’d think I was tryin’ to romance ye, and then she’d fire me. Ye wouldn’t want me fired, now would ye?”
“I guess not.” His head fell a bit.
“Keep the faith, me hero.” Jessie took her coat from Cordie and put it on. “I’ll see ye again tomorrow.”
“Thank you.” His face brightened.
They walked away and put on their hats as several voices rang out.
“Good night, Miss Home.”
“Thank you, Miss Home.”
“God bless you, Miss Home.”
“I suppose the old lady who mops the floors don’t need a thank you,” Cordie said with a smile, trying not to sound jealous.
“They appreciate ye,” Jessie replied.
“Good night, Miss Zook,” an older voice called out.
“See?” Jessie grinned and grabbed Cordie’s arm. “It just takes maturity to recognize a true angel.”
“You don’t have to use your flowery words on me,” Cordie said, giggling. “Don’t forget. I’m a tough old Yankee.”