Tag Archives: historical fiction

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Stanton brings news of Gettysburg to the basement.

After announcing Gabby’s uncle General Samuel Zook was killed at Gettysburg, Stanton quickly left, locking the door behind him.
A groan escaped Gabby’s lips, and he sank to the floor. Mrs. Lincoln swept around the corner, dropped beside Gabby, and held his head in her arms.
“That wicked, wicked man,” she said. “He did that on purpose to hurt you.”
“Not Uncle Sammy. He was the successful one in the family. He was going to take care of us all. Who’s going to take care of us now?”
“Evil, evil. Why would he treat you like that? You dear, sweet, gentle man. What did you do to him to be treated so shamefully?”
“First, Papa died, then Joe, and now Uncle Sammy. What’s going to happen to me and Cordie? We can hardly take care of ourselves.”
“When this awful war’s over,” Mrs. Lincoln continued, patting his head, “and Mr. Lincoln is in office again, things will change. That Mr. Stanton will pay for his evil ways. He cannot crush people and go unpunished.”
“I wish Cordie was here.” His soulful eyes, glistening with tears, looked up at Mrs. Lincoln. “Her bosom is nice and big and soft. I could sink my head into her bosom and be comforted. The Bible says a rod and staff is supposed to comfort you, but I don’t think anything can comfort you better than a big, soft bosom.”
Her eyes widening and her jaw falling, Mrs. Lincoln stuttered, “I—I think Mr. Lincoln could comfort you better than I. He always knows the right thing to say.”
Standing, she bustled away. Gabby heard them fussing at each other for a few moments. Lincoln ambled around the crates and barrels, taking his time to sink to the floor and managing to cross his ungainly legs. He reached into his pocket and drew out a packet.
“Licorice?”
“Cordie says it makes my teeth look dirty.”
“Mother says the same thing.” Lincoln took a big chaw of it. “That’s why I like to eat it. It gives us something to talk about. If you want to talk about something, we can.” More silence ensued, punctuated by loud smacks and chews. “I don’t have any appointments in my book for tonight.”
“I thought the whole idea of sticking you in this room was to keep you from having appointments.”
“It was a joke.”
“Oh.”
“I’m sorry you got involved in all this.” Lincoln finished his licorice, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his mouth. “If you had laid your rat traps earlier, you’d have missed getting caught.”
“Do you think the rebels killed Uncle Sammy?” Gabby asked as he looked into Lincoln’s deep-set eyes. “Or did Mr. Stanton kill him because he thought me or Cordie might write him? If he did, then Cordie and me killed Uncle Sammy.” Gabby’s eyes filled to overflowing. “Honest, Mr. Lincoln, I never tried to write Uncle Sammy. I couldn’t kill Uncle Sammy. I needed him to take care of me.”
“Mr. Zook, you could hardly kill rats. You couldn’t kill anybody. No. You didn’t kill your uncle. War killed Samuel Zook. It’s war, not you, nor I, nor Mr. Stanton. It’s war’s fault.”
Gabby could not hold his tears back any longer. He flung his head into Lincoln’s chest. He did not mind that it was bony. It was comforting, and that was all he needed.

Burly Chapter Twenty-Three


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old.)
A few days later Herman brought a couple of his friends home after school. Burly watched them carefully. They didn’t seem as bad as Tad’s friends. Actually, Burly decided, they were quite nice. Gerald was a chubby boy a little shorter than Herman. Marvin was about Herman’s height and weight but was red-haired and covered with freckles.
“Does your father hate us or something?” Gerald asked, his brow knitted. “When I said hello all he did was grunt.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Herman replied. “That’s just the way he is.”
“We’re not keeping you from any chores, are we?” Marvin asked. “We can study algebra anytime.”
Herman waved his hand as he plopped on the floor by Tad’s bed. “I’ll do them later. He knows I’ll do them.”
“My father isn’t like that,” Gerald said, joining Herman on the floor. “If I have a chore he expects it done right after school.”
“Mine too,” Marvin added.
Herman turned a little red and opened his book. “Um, let’s get started on this.”
For the next half hour the three tried to figure out the mysteries of algebra, with Herman deciphering the numbers best.
Marvin finally closed his book. “That’s enough for me. I’m just getting confused.”
“I’m with you,” Gerald said with a laugh.
“Okay,” Herman replied.
The two friends looked at each other and then Marvin gently poked Herman in the arm. “Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? You’ve been quiet all day.”
“Aww nothing.” Herman shrugged.
“If this is nothing, I’d hate to see something,” Gerald said.
Herman looked at each of them and sighed. “It’s really nothing. It’s just that this morning I heard Leonard Smith died in a car wreck last night.”
“Oh, that old drunk,” Marvin said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Hey, it means something to Herman,” Gerald protested. “I didn’t know you knew him.”
“Who would want to know him,” Marvin asked, but it was more of a statement and didn’t need a reply.”
“Marvin,” Gerald protested.
“No, that’s okay,” Herman said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Then why the long face?” Marvin asked.
“Well, it’s a long story,” Herman began. “He was one of my brother’s friends. He faked his army physical to get out of going to war.”
“Sounds like him,” Marvin interjected.
Gerald punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, he showed up at the memorial service for Tad. He was drunk. My sister Callie—she lives in Houston with my aunt and uncle—told him off good.”
“And he’s been drinking ever since,” Marvin completed the story. “But why should his finally killing himself in a car accident upset you so much?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it brings back so many bad memories,” Herman answered.
“Well, let’s talk about something that will make those memories go away,” Marvin said. “Guess who I heard talking about you at lunch today?”
“I don’t know.” Herman wasn’t ready to start playing guessing games.
“May Beth Webster.”
Herman couldn’t help but smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, she thinks you’re the best thing in school,” Marvin replied.
Gerald poked Herman again. “What do you think about that?”
“Yeah, I think she’d say yes if you asked her to the school Thanksgiving party,” Marvin continued.
Herman shook his head but still smiled. “Aww, I can’t date. What would I do? Drive up in papa’s banged-up old pickup?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a double date, dummy?” Marvin asked happily. “You could come with Betsy and me.”
Herman looked up and grinned at the idea. Burly was happy for Herman even though he didn’t know what a date was. But then Herman’s expression changed. Burly was puzzled because he had never seen it before. It was a combination of shame, fear and anxiety. Suddenly Burly knew what was bothering Herman and what he was looking at. Herman was looking at Burly.
Jumping up, Herman tried to look carefree as he plopped on his bed and slid Burly under the pillow. “Gosh, do you really think we could do it?” Herman asked, with a forced happiness in his voice.
Gerald squinted. “Of course, you goof. Boy you must really be crazy about this girl to start hopping around like that.”
“Have you had a date yet, Gerald?” Marvin asked.
Ducking his head, Gerald admitted, “Well no.”
“Then you don’t know how girls can affect guys, right Herman?”
Herman smiled nervously. “Yeah, right.”
Burly didn’t like what was happening at all. The boys talked quite a few more minutes before Herman suggested that they go outside.
While they were gone Burly was trying to decide what to say to Herman when he came to bed that night. Should he be angry? No. A stuffed bear can’t very well be angry. He has no way to fight back at young humans, as his father found out many years ago with Tad. His father, Burly moaned. Oh, what if he ended his existence the same way his father did? That would be terrible, he thought. Shaking his little burlap head, Burly tried to tell himself that Herman was not like Tad. He was much nicer. But he was a teen-ager now. He was growing up, and maybe there was something inside teen-agers that forced them to break all ties to their childhoods, like cuddling favorite blankets, depending on mothers and fathers and loving little stuffed bears.
Eventually, Herman climbed the ladder to the loft and took his clothes off to get ready to sleep.
“Did you have fun with your friends?” Burly asked, trying to be friendly and forget that Herman hid him.
“Yeah.”
“So you’re going to have a date,” Burly continued. “What’s a date?”
Herman sat on the edge of the bed and picked up Burly. “Burly, you know what happened this afternoon?”
At first Burly thought to lie, but he knew it was no use to lie around Herman. “Yes. You were ashamed I was on your bed.”
“Now I know how Tad felt that day.”
Burly didn’t want to ask this question. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to let my friends tear you up,” Herman said with a strong nod of his head.
“They seem like nice boys,” Burly offered. “I don’t think they would be as mean as Tad’s friends.”
“Could be,” Herman conceded, “but that’s not the point. The point is,” and Herman took a deep breath, “I am too old to have a teddy bear.”
“Oh no. A person is never too old to have a friend. And that’s what I am. Your friend. Not just a teddy bear,” Burly said with desperation.
Herman shook his head and carried Burly to the old trunk at the end of the room. “No, Burly. It’s time I began to grow up. And part of growing up is giving up you.”
“No, Herman, please,” Burly pleaded.
“I guess I’ve known this moment would come ever since Tad tore up Burly Senior,” Herman continued, his voice strangely calm. “I didn’t want it to come, but I knew it had to come.”
“No, please,” Burly said, near to tears, if he had any tears. “I’ll never embarrass you again. I love you too much to hurt you.”
“I can’t take that chance.” Herman lifted the lid to the trunk.
“Please, don’t hurt me. I can still give you advice. I’ve always told you the right thing to do, haven’t I?”
“Good bye, Burly.”
And the trunk lid closed, leaving Burly in the dark and Herman alone for the first time in many, many years.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Five


Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David and his brother George go to Buenos Aires where George is seduced by sex, drugs and booze.
David and the mercenary, carrying naked Prince George, hurried down the steps of Jorge Ferrara’s mansion. The taxi driver jumped out and opened the back door. The man dropped George on the seat, pushed his body across then sat next to him. David slid in, the driver went back to the wheel and they sped off.
“I need you to perform another task for me,” David said to the man in the tan uniform.
“That was not part of our original negotiations.”
“What do you want now?” David became easily impatient with the lower classes who only thought in terms of how much money was in it for them.
“What were you planning on giving me for rescuing your brother?” His piercing black eyes bore into David.
“My diamond stick pin and 24-karat gold cuff-links.” He regarded the urban scenery passing by the window and raised his chin.
The mercenary observed at the clothes crumpled on the floorboard. “I want his stick pin and cuff-links too.”
“Deal.” God, I hate dealing with rabble like this.
The man extended his palm turned up. “Give them to me now.”
David extracted his accoutrements and handed them over. He nodded to George’s clothes. “You can get his.”
“You get them. He’s your brother.”
Sighing in exasperation, David bent over, unfastened the stick pin and cufflinks from George’s attire and plopped them in the mercenary’s hand. He felt like bathing in disinfectant.
The man carefully folded everything into a handkerchief and tucked it into a pouch down inside his pants between his legs. “What do you want me to do?”
“Tell the driver to take us to the nearest Catholic Church,” David began. “You go in and tell the priest two men are seeking sanctuary. Two brothers. One is trying to wean the other off of drugs. They need an isolated room, food and complete privacy. Tell him we will reward the church generously for this charity. Tell him I am a man of integrity. You will vouch for me. Of course, who will vouch for you, God only knows.”
The mercenary turned to the driver and spoke in Spanish with a Bahamian accent. In a few blocks the taxi pulled in front of a large cathedral. The man pushed at David so he could get out.
Who the hell does he think he is? Pushing me around like that? I’m a damned prince, for God’s sake!
He trotted up the steps with the confidence of a world-weary mercenary at the top of his game. Without hesitation he threw the door open and barged in.
David leaned over and looked at George. “Wake up. Put on your clothes. “
George moaned.
“I mean it.” He kicked his brother. “At least put on pants and a shirt.” He nudged George again. “Are you dying on me?” David leaned back and looked out the window.
That would be just like you, George. Leave me in the taxi with a dead naked prince. Most inconsiderate bloke I’ve ever known.
David saw the church door open and the mercenary marched down the steps followed by an old priest and two young ones. David picked up George’s clothes and got out of the car just as the men arrived. The two young ministers crawled into the back seat to drag out George. The man in the tan uniform jumped into the taxi, tapped the driver’s shoulder, and the car sped off into the night.
David followed the priests as they carried George around the corner to steps leading down to the basement. They entered a long dark corridor which seemed to lead to an older, less civilized century. The old priest unlocked a door and stepped aside so the younger clergy could carry George to a cot and dump him. They left the room and locked the door, leaving David to consider his new surroundings.
Another cot sat against the opposite wall. The only other object was a galvanized bucket. No pillows, blankets or towels. David could only hope they would bring food in the morning. It was a church after all. He collapsed on the cot and fell into a deep sleep.
A light tap at the door roused David. He stumbled to the door and mumbled, “Que?”
It opened, and a nun handed him a tray, shut the door and locked it back. On the tray were a pewter pitcher of water and a casket with a loaf of bread, a small wheel of cheese, several hard-boiled eggs and oranges.
“George?”” David sat on the edge of the cot. “We’ve got food.”
He just moaned and rolled over to face the crumbling stone wall.
“I’ll kill Kiki if I ever see her again.” David crunched into the crusty bread.
The next morning George opened his eyes long enough to vomit, urinate and defecate before passing out again. He didn’t speak until the third day.
“Where am I?”
“The pit of hell,” David whispered. “And the fool that I am, I followed you here.”
“Huh?”
“You’re in withdrawal.”
“Again?”
“It’s your own fault.”
George twitched. “Are there bugs in here?”
“Bugs have more sense than to come here.”
Writhing, he cried, “The worms. The worms are back. I hate the worms. Why do I do this to myself?”
“Drink some water.” David lifted the pitcher to George’s lips. “You vomited so much you’re dehydrated.”
“I want to die. I can’t take it anymore.”
“Of course you can. You’re a Windsor. If you can sit through an eight-course dinner with our blithering idiot father, you can take anything. Now drink.”
George knocked the pitcher away. “No! I want to die!”
David grabbed each side of his brother’s face with his hands and pulled him so close their noses touched.
“I won’t let you die! They won’t let you die! Do you know what Papa and Mama will do to you if I bring you home like this? The same thing they did with little Johnny. Do you remember him? Our youngest brother? The sweetest soul that ever lived on this earth? He was different so they locked him in a room at Windsor Castle and pulled curtains so he could see out and nobody could see in. Then he dropped dead when he was only fourteen years old. Do you think you could have taken being treated like that? Johnny took it! He was a better man than you’ll ever be!”
By the time George fell asleep he had eaten some bread, a couple of bites of cheese and a hard-boiled egg, which his brother had to peel for him. David stared at him while he slept. Then he looked around the room. He felt anger welling up inside him like he had not felt since the bullies tortured him at school. David set his jaw firm. He could take that and he would take this.
Eventually, George’s body began to shiver like he was in a vat of ice. He slit his eyes open and glanced about. “Why is it so cold in here?” he asked.
“You’re naked,” David replied in a flat tone.
George pulled on his slacks and shirt and slept better than he had in days. On the fifth day when the nun knocked on the door, George stood on wobbly legs and walked over, moaning the entire time. The nun unlocked the door.
“I want to go home now.”
The nun guided them to the basement door and pointed down the street.
“Don’t worry. You will be properly rewarded,” David assured her as they stepped out.
She smiled and closed the door. They walked a few blocks and saw the British embassy.
“How did she know to direct us here?” George asked.
“You spoke in a British accent, stupid.”
“How are we ever going to explain this?” George sniffed. “We smell like hell.”
David put his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “We don’t have to explain anything. We are the Brothers Royale.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Nine


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Stanton selects Duff, an AWOL convict,to impersonate Lincoln. Duff learns how to conduct cabinet meetings. Alethia, the woman playing Mrs. Lincoln, has had a carriage accident. He goes to see her at the hospital in Maryland.

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

Burly Chapter Twenty-Two


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Burly was frightened; Herman was seventeen, the same age Tad was when he destroyed Burly Senior. He knew he really had nothing to worry about. Herman was much kinder than Tad ever was and would never tear him to pieces. Still, Herman was no longer the sad-eyed little boy who cried on him and gave him life many years ago. Herman was tall, straight and strong. He worked harder and longer than Tad had when he was on the farm. Now in the middle of the afternoon Burly would notice papa coming in the door and going to his room to nap while Herman stayed out in the field or in the barn. Of an evening after supper dishes were washed, Herman pored over his school books, completing his homework and studying the next lesson beyond that. Burly was very proud when Herman showed him his report cards and there were all As.
“Very good, Herman,” Burly told him.
Herman shrugged his now broad shoulders. “I’m not that good. The teachers in Cumby are impressed, though.”
“But your father isn’t impressed,” Burly offered.
“I don’t know if he is or not.”
Burly shook his head. “Then who are you trying to impress?”
Herman smiled. “Me, I guess. The more I read the more I see how little I know.”
“Now you are getting smart,” Burly said, impressed with his young friend.
Herman put Burly aside. “I’ve got to study now.” Then he opened his book and didn’t speak to Burly the rest of the night.
That was what scared Burly. For years they had talked into the night until Herman slumbered away in mid-sentence. Now he fell asleep with his face in a book. In fact, there were days when Herman wouldn’t speak to Burly at all.
“Are you mad at me?” Burly asked one night after almost a week of being ignored.
“Hmm?” Herman muttered, his eyes still on his book.
“I said, are you mad at me?”
Herman put down the book and gave Burly a quizzical smile. “Why would you say that?”
Burly turned his little button eyes down. “Well, you haven’t talked to me in several days.”
Picking the bear up and hugging him, Herman said, “I’m sorry. You know I still love you.”
Feeling a bit more secure, Burly asked, “What are you reading?”
“Government.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes.”
“What is government?”
Herman put the book down again. “I guess a burlap bear wouldn’t know anything about government, would he?”
“No, I don’t,” Burly replied, embarrassed.
“It’s the system by which all the people in the country operate,” Herman tried to explain. “It’s laws, rules we live by, so we don’t hurt each other and help us help each other better.”
“Can’t people just decide to love each other without making laws?” Burly asked.
Herman laughed. “But that doesn’t get any roads built. Or schools run. And it doesn’t defend our country either.”
“Oh.”
“It’s really interesting. I think I like this subject more than anything else in school.”
“That’s nice.”
“In fact,” Herman said, turning more to Burly, “I’ve decided to become a lawyer when I get out of school.”
“A lawyer?” Burly asked. “What’s that?”
“That’s a person who makes it his business to make sure the laws are carried out properly.”
“You mean like a sheriff?” Burly remembered the night the sheriff came to the house to help when Herman’s mother died.
“No, a lawyer’s paid by individual people to represent them in court and to make sure their businesses follow all the laws.”
“Court?”
Herman smiled and shook his head. “Let’s just say that’s what I want to do. It’s too complicated to explain.”
Burly felt sad. “I’m sorry I don’t understand. I’ve spent all my life in this loft so I really don’t know much.”
Hugging Burly again, Herman assured him, “You know the most about what counts, love.”
Feeling encouraged, Burly asked another question. “What kind of law would you do, the kind for businesses or—what did you called them?”
“Courts,” Herman supplied the missing word. “Courts.” He gathered Burly close as though he were sharing a secret. “Remember the Johnsons? The black people who helped us one year? And remember that show we went to, how all the black people had to sit in one place? Well, I want to help them, all the black people, so they won’t be treated differently anymore.”
“That’s very nice, Herman.”
He blushed. “Well, it’s something I think should be done.”
Burly thought a moment and then asked, “You won’t be able to do all that and stay here on the farm, will you?”
“No.” Herman looked nervous and picked up his book.
Burly didn’t ask any more questions that night. He was afraid of the answers he might receive.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Eight


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

Burly Chapter Twenty-One


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Then Leonard walked up at Tad’s memorial service, bumping into people and tripping over his own feet. He was drunk. Grabbing papa’s hand, Leonard pumped for several moments. “I’m sorry, Mr. Horn. I’m very sorry,” he mumbled.
Papa pulled his hand away. “Don’t you know any better than to show up here like that?”
Leonard shuffled his feet. “I know. I know I shouldn’t have. But you see—“
Papa turned and walked away. “I see that you’re drunk.”
Lunging toward papa, Leonard tried to stop him but papa quickened his steps. Then Leonard turned to Callie and Herman. “We just got word today. Stevie was killed some place called New Guinea out in the Pacific.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Herman said, not changing his expression. “We’ve got to go now.”
“No, wait,” Leonard pleaded with them. “I’ve got to apologize.”
“What for?” Callie looked at him with a blank face.
Leonard wiped his nose. “Because they’re dead, and I’m still here.” He paused to look down. “You see, I cheated on the physical. There’s nothing wrong with me. I just knew some tricks to make it look like there was something wrong with me.”
Herman felt sorry for him. Leonard’s puffy eyes and pitiful expression nearly erased the memory of the cocky, wise-cracking youngster who teased him to the point of tears. Herman couldn’t quite forget Leonard probably was the one who made Tad destroy Burly Senior.
Callie, however, was not sympathetic. “You’re wrong, Leonard. There is something wrong with you. It’s something that would never show up on any doctor’s test. You have absolutely nothing worthwhile inside you.” Grabbing her brother’s arm, Callie walked away, leaving Leonard standing there crying, trying to explain to others in the crowd who also turned their backs to him.
Herman rode back to the farm in Uncle Calvin’s car with Callie. Papa had refused to ride with them but instead took his pickup.
“I guess Woody will never change,” Uncle Calvin said.
Aunt Joyce eyed Herman and Callie. “No, I suspect not.”
No one spoke in the car on the ride home. Uncle Calvin was about to pull onto the dirt road leading to papa’s farm when Callie put her arm around Herman. “Come live with us in Houston,” she whispered.
Herman looked at his sister and frowned. “But Papa needs me.”
“Has he said so?” she asked.
His eyes went out the window to watch the approaching farm house. “You know he would never say so. But I know he needs me.”
“You think he’s going to love you for doing this for him?” Callie continued, becoming a little angry. “You could bury yourself on this farm all your life and he will never love you.”
“Callie,” Aunt Joyce said with sadness, “it’s not nice to say things like that about your father.”
“Well, they’re true,” Callie replied.
“No,” Herman interrupted. “It’s just that he can’t show love.”
“Woody Horn was never one to show how he felt, even in the old days,” Uncle Calvin offered.
Herman looked Callie in the eyes. “And I’m not going to bury myself on this farm. I’ll stay here as long as I’m in school. But then I’m leaving. I’m going to college and I’m going to have a life of my own.”
“There’s a lot of good colleges in Houston,” Aunt Joyce said.
Callie hugged Herman tightly. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
Herman got out, and they left. He watched the car pull back on the blacktop and fade down the road before he went inside. Papa was in his bedroom with the door shut. Herman politely rapped and said, “They’ve left.”
After he climbed the ladder to the loft and took off his Sunday clothes and put on his work clothes, Herman came back down to fix supper. He ate his meal, knocked on the door and said, “The food’s on the stove.” He then went back to the loft and watched his father slowly come out of the door and eat a few bites.
“He doesn’t walk as tall as he used to,” Herman said to Burly. “And he doesn’t have worms on his arms anymore.”
Burly nodded. “That means he’s getting older.”
“Do you think he’ll live a long time?”
“I don’t know,” Burly replied. “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you afraid you’ll lose another member of your family?”
Herman shook his head. “No.”
“You don’t want him to die, do you?”
Herman paused a long while and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
After papa ate and went back into his room, Herman came down to clean the dishes and straighten the kitchen. When he finished he turned to go to the loft but stopped by his father’s door to say, “I’m going to bed now.” Of course, there wasn’t a reply, but Herman told him anyway.
“You still love your father, don’t you?” Burly asked, a little worried.
Herman hugged him as he settled into bed. “Of course I do. It’s just that—“ he paused to collect his thoughts and continued, “I’ve gotten to the age to know he’s never going to love me the way I want him to, that’s all.”
Burly leaned into him. “Poor Herman.”
Herman chuckled sadly. “Yes, poor Herman.”
He tried to go to sleep, because he knew he would have a full day of work on the farm tomorrow since they had missed so much for the memorial service, but for some reason he couldn’t.
Then he was aware of someone coming up the ladder. For an instant he thought it was Tad, that the years had rolled back and everything was like it was before mama died. But that thought didn’t last long. He soon saw that it was papa coming up with the American flag under his arm. For another instant Herman considered saying something but he figured papa had waited this long to come up so he would be asleep. Therefore, he pretended to be asleep because he knew that’s what papa wanted. Through half slit eyes he watched his father open the lid to the old trunk at the end of the room. Papa gently lifted mama’s wedding dress, smelled it and kissed it tenderly. Then with a sad pat, papa put the flag in the trunk and closed the lid. Herman thought he would go back down the ladder but instead papa walked over to Herman’s bed. It made Herman nervous, but he continued to pretend to be asleep.
Papa picked up Burly. “Well, little bear, he talks a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Herman tried not to stir.
“I wonder what all he says?” After a pause he added in a cracked voice. “I know he wants to talk to me, tell me all the things he tells you, but I can’t let him. I don’t know why I can’t, but I just can’t.”
And then papa cried softly. Herman wanted to jump up and hug him and tell him everything was going to be all right, but Herman knew everything was not going to be all right. He also knew if he let papa know he was listening it would embarrass him. So he just lay there until papa put Burly down and went down the ladder to his room.
“You see,” Burly said softly. “Your papa does love you.”
But Herman didn’t answer. He was sobbing into his pillow.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Three


Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Each are on the Tanganyika Express to get their hands on the stolen Crown Jewels. David and Wallis officially meet at Thelma’s party.
Finally the Prince of Wales stood to excuse himself from the parlor filled with card players to retire to his bedroom. Wallis noticed he took particular effort to avoid eye contact. She also noticed that Thelma was aghast her hunting weekend party had just had a deathly pall descend upon it. Wallis shrugged. She couldn’t help herself. Then she watched General Trotter stand and go to the prince’s side to whisper. He turned to guide Edward to her.
“What a wonderful evening,” Trotter announced in a strong baritone that could be heard across the room. He leaned in for the ears of the prince and Wallis alone. “The three of us must have breakfast on the terrace.”
“We must?” The prince wrinkled his handsome brow.
“That won’t be necessary,” Wallis demurred.
“Yes, it will.” Trotter’s tone was tinged with an iron will developed through years of ordering soldiers into battle. “Wallis, meet your new companion in espionage, code name David. “
David and Wallis stood at attention.
In the morning General Trotter insisted they take breakfast on the terrace even though the temperature was brisk. The surrounding garden was filled with plants, birds and squirrels. All three were seated wearing appropriately heavy sweaters and scarves. The only purpose, Wallis decided, was to ensure they would be alone in their discussions.
Wallis and David sipped their coffee and began to cut triangles off their toast as General Trotter spoke in a soft, authoritative voice.
“You must have realized by now that MI6 had selected you to marry each other within five years. Last night was your first official meeting, surely to be recorded in the society pages of newspapers around the world.”
“It didn’t exactly go well, did it?” Wallis paused to puff on her cigarette.
“Which couldn’t have been better.” Trotter smiled with a smugness developed through years of well thought-out military strategy. “Your next encounter will be equally awkward. Wallis, you and your husband will be presented at court.”
“Ugh.” David choked on his toast. “Will that be necessary?”
Wallis looked at him askance. “I will not miss an opportunity to wear a pretty dress.” She smirked. “And Ernest won’t miss a chance to wear a pretty uniform.”
“Sometimes even a pretty dress cannot rescue a disaster in the making.” David lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Wallis’ direction.
Her hard eyes looked him up and down. “You’re skinnier than I thought. Frankly you look like a fourteen-year-old boy who’s lost his way.”
David sat erect. “Fourteen year old, perhaps; lost his way? Hardly. You’d be surprised what I did at ten.”
“Nothing about you would surprise me.”
“And that would be your downfall.”
“You wouldn’t have a chance against me in a fight.”
He leaned back. “Perhaps, but you had better kill me because if I survive, I will track you down in the middle of the night slit your throat, dissect your body and bury the parts in my garden at Fort Belvedere.”
Wallis blew smoke through her nostrils. “Kinky. I think I could fall in love with you after all.”
Trotter coughed. “So glad you resolved your differences. In the meantime, David must tour South America with Prince George.”
“Does he know yet?” David asked.
“No, that’s your job,” the general replied. “Officially the trip is to cut the opening ribbon at the British Empire Trade Exposition in Buenos Aires.”
“And unofficially?” David tapped out his cigarette in his poached egg.
“George is on heroin and cocaine again,” Trotter explained. It’s up to you to sweat it out of him.”
“So why do I have to know about this?” Wallis flicked her cigarette into a nearby potted plant and lit another.
“You travel in much the same circles as George,” Trotter explained. “If you hear certain things from certain people, you need to tell us.”
“What people?” she asked.
“Kiki Preston,” Trotter replied.
“Kiki!” Wallis guffawed. “I thought George had better taste than that! Isn’t she the socialite known as the girl with the silver syringe? Silver? How tacky! Please tell me he’s bedded someone better than Kiki.”
“Jessie Matthews.”
“Loved her shows.” Wallis smiled.
“So did George.” David crossed his legs and looked away.
“This is getting fascinating.” She picked up her coffee. “Tell me more.”
“Noel Coward and Barbara Cartland.”
Wallis spewed coffee across the table. “My God, sounds like a smorgasbord.”
General Trotter stood. “Kiki is our main concern, but also listen for gossip about this American James Donohue.
Both David and Wallis leaned forward, their brows furrowed and their moods subdued.
“He’s the one who spirited George away last night,” David said.
“He’s the one with the ugly wife and diamonds.” Wallis put her cigarette aside in an ash tray and folded her hands under her chin.
“You both bungled that one,” Trotter announced with a hint of judgement in his voice. “We think Donohue and his wife were behind the Crown Jewel heist. That’s why we want to keep him away from George.”
“That’s a big order.” Wallis lowered her hands. “Keeping anyone away from George.”
“I don’t know. I always thought the most dangerous person who might influence George was—“David began in hesitation.
“I know what you mean,” Wallis interrupted. “The man who tried to steal the jewels from me on the Tanganyika Express was a German. He said something about Von Ribbentrop being surprised that I was involved.”
Trotter frowned. “Von Ribbentrop knows you?”
“Yes.” Wallis picked up her cigarette. “He gave me a white carnation one time.”
“So what are you saying?” The general was becoming impatient.
“Don’t laugh at our suspicion,” David said.
“Our suspicion?” Wallis was a bit incredulous.
“I had the same idea.” David shrugged. “Of course, unless you were thinking of someone else.”
Now Wallis was irritated. “I think it was Adolph Hitler. He would do anything to make England look bad thereby increasing his chances of becoming German chancellor.”
“I agree. Adolph German.” He glanced at the general. “That’s why I asked you not to laugh. It’s rather ludicrous, isn’t it?”
Trotter was stoic. “I would never laugh about Adolph Hitler.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifty-Seven


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

Burly Chapter Twenty


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. When World War II began, Tad enlisted.)
Herman did as Tad asked him; he wrote to Callie and gave her Tad’s address when he received it. The exchanging of letters between the three seemed to draw them closer together than they ever had been living in the same house. Callie and Herman exchanged bits of information that Tad would put in one letter but not in the other. And Herman would pass on news to Tad that Callie forgot to write him.
Every now and again Herman would offer to let papa read one of Tad’s letters, and, to his surprise, papa said yes. Herman watched his father read the letter and noticed how his brow would knit in concern. Another thing he saw, something he had never noticed before, was that his father moved his lips as he read and he read painfully slow. It seemed odd to Herman who read very fast.
“Your father doesn’t read very much,” Burly explained when Herman mentioned this trait to him, “and if you don’t do something very often you don’t do it well.”
Reading was something that Herman did very well. Ever since Callie left, Herman retreated to the loft and to conversations with Burly and reading every book in the school library. He would tell Burly about the stories in the books in his own words and Burly bounced up and down in excitement, for he didn’t know much of the world beyond the loft. Herman’s interest in reading grew as he wrote Callie about the books he was reading, and she suggested other books to him. Callie, it turned out, loved to read too, and their letters would be filled with debates over which books were better and which writers could bring people springing from the pages to live in their minds.
His letters to Tad were different, however. Herman wrote mostly about what was happening on the farm, how papa was and how his friends in town were. Prices were good for the crops and the last year they could afford to hire a young Mexican-American man named Manuel to be a farm hand. Papa was the same–hardworking and silent. Leonard was still in town, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn’t dumb enough to volunteer. Stevie joined the Marines, but no one knew where he was stationed.
Herman smiled a bit when he got Tad’s letter in return. Tad warned about trusting the farm hand. You know how “those” people were, he wrote. And he sounded a bit hurt that papa hadn’t written directly to him, but he was glad Herman was keeping him informed about the “old man.” Tad wasn’t surprised Leonard was still hanging around town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a way out of the draft, Tad joked. And he hoped Stevie didn’t get sent anywhere too dangerous. The Marines were the first to go into unsafe places, he told Herman.
“I hope nothing happens to Tad,” Herman said to Burly one night after reading one of his brother’s letters. “He’s changed a lot since he’s been in the army. He looked down at his little burlap friend and smiled. “Or am I the one who has changed?”
“You both have changed,” Burly replied. “You both are growing up.”
Yes, Herman told himself, the last couple of years had gone very fast. He was now a big fourteen-year-old and could work almost as long and as hard as his father. Papa no longer walked by and told him he had worked enough for the day while the sun was still high in the sky. When he told Herman to stop he was walking back to the house himself.
Mr. Cochran didn’t help out anymore, since they had hired Manuel. But every time Mr. Cochran saw them in town he would smile and wave. “You’ve got a good boy there, Horn,” he always said, winking at Herman.
And papa always said nothing.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much anymore that your father doesn’t brag about you, does it?” Burly asked.
Looking out the loft window, Herman replied, “What’s there to say?”
The next day Herman received two letters, one from Tad and one from Callie. Tad was all excited because his unit was ready to move out of England. He couldn’t say where they were going or exactly when but that it could mean the end of the war. By this time Tad had made sergeant, a fact which made papa very proud and caused him to call out the news to Mr. Cochran when he saw him in town. Callie’s letter was filled with anticipation of her senior year in high school. She just knew it would be the happiest year of her life. Herman could see from the pictures she had sent him Callie had become a beautiful fair-haired young woman, triggering Herman’s fading memories of his mother. She said Tad had written her that he might be home soon, that “we were going to win the war any time now.”
“I hope he’s right,” Herman said with a sigh.
“I hope so too,” Burly agreed.
Herman continued to read Callie’s letter. She said she had a special shelf in her room for Pearly Bear and had made her a pretty new dress. All of her girlfriends who spent the night with her thought Pearly was very cute.
Burly shuffled a bit. If he weren’t made of burlap he would cry. He missed his mother very much, but he was happy she was being treated well. Not like poor papa bear.
Callie asked in her letter if Herman had read in the newspaper about the big invasion of France in June. They called it D-Day and expected it to be the beginning of the end of the war. “At least I hope so. By the way, have you heard from Tad lately? I last got a letter from him sometime in May.”
Herman looked at the postmark on his letter from his brother. It was postmarked in early May. Oh well, he thought, mail always ran slow from servicemen.
The next day a telegram from the government arrived. From talk at school Herman knew what it was, and he froze.
“Well, open it, son” papa said.
Herman slowly opened the telegram and began to read the words, “We regret to inform you—“
Papa grabbed the telegram from Herman’s hands and stared at the words on the paper. His lips quivered as they moved along with his eyes. Finally he wadded it up and walked into the house without saying anything.
His son was dead.
Herman’s first impulse was to go to his father and put his arms around him and cry with him, but something inside told him to leave his father alone. Perhaps it was his memory of when his mother died and the men had to fight papa away from his wife’s side. At any rate, Herman let his father grieve by himself.
Burly didn’t have to be told. “Tad’s dead, isn’t he?”
Herman nodded as he crawled into his bed. “How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I heard your father slam his bedroom door and cry.” Burly nestled into Herman’s side. “I’m sorry, Herman.”
And then Herman cried.
There could be no funeral because Tad’s body was buried in France somewhere, but the Army was going to present a flag to papa at a memorial service. Herman went to Mr. Cochran’s house to call Callie in Houston.
“Hello?” Aunt Joyce answered.
“This is Herman,” he said soberly. “May I speak to Callie?”
“It’s Woody, isn’t it?” she asked.
“No.”
“Oh no,” she gasped.
Herman heard muffled sounds as Aunt Joyce put her hand over the receiver to call Callie to the phone.
“Herman, Tad’s dead, isn’t he?” Callie asked.
“Yes.” Herman couldn’t say anymore because he was afraid he would cry again.
“I could tell by the way Aunt Joyce was acting. Are you all right?”
“I guess.”
“I’ll be home tomorrow.”
And Callie, accompanied by Uncle Calvin and Aunt Joyce, was back on the farm near Cumby the next day. She tried to hug her father but he pulled away. This time she didn’t look hurt, just sad.
There was no bear family reunion; Callie left Pearly in Houston. Burly was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything to Herman. He could tell his young master had other things on his mind.
The ceremony was held the next day at the local cemetery. A veterans group had bought a plot and placed a large tombstone with the names of the war dead from Cumby whose bodies would never return to Texas. A military color guard went through its paces, marching the flag to the monument. The flag was folded and presented to papa who received it without emotion. Callie held Herman’s hand tightly.