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Robert A. Mills

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AURA LEE - PART TEN
12/23/2009 11:15:37 AM
AURA LEE PART TEN


Scoffie Goodis and Hunter Worboys thought of deserting the army in almost the same instant. The business of the execution wedged into their psyches with the cloying torment of a hot needle driven under their fingernails, and although their diurnal activities as batmen for General Jackson left them little time for reflection, their nights were miserable. Sleeplessly rolling and turning on their cots, swimming in seas of perspiration flushed out by phantom visions as the scene was reenacted nightly, with blessed relief not coming until just before dawn when utter fatigue took over, and an hour’s unconsciousness prevailed at last. The fact that neither had fired directly at the miscreants and done nothing more than contributed to the quick, surprising demise of two unsuspecting quail did little to alleviate the young men’s belief that they had somehow broken a major Commandment. The intent, reasoned Scoffie, was there; he’d—they’d—been assigned to be part of an execution team, and they had acquiesced in response to the simple command Ready! Aim! Fire! without a modicum of protest, notwithstanding their shots deliberately drifted a dozen inches off-target. Intent. The intent, the allegiance, the fealty was there. Thus, in their minds, so was the guilt. In Hunter’s conscience, as in Scoffie’s, they had taken human lives as surely as if they had pointed their rifles right down their victim’s throats and pulled the triggers.

“I’ll never fire that rifle again,” Hunter vowed, simultaneously wondering how he could possibly avoid it.

Of course, he knew he could not. The war was reaching an apogee of the most atrocious carnage known to the human race. The slaughter of Americans was out of control, and as each battle took place, as each day went by, the body counts on both sides grew to unbelievable and astronomical equations.

A French journalist, Jean Decazes, sent a communiqué back to his editor which was printed under duress* several weeks later:

It is difficult to comprehend the killing that begins early in the morning and keeps growing in intensity as the day moves on. A battle two days ago at a crossroads called Chancellorsville, containing little more than a large house, a tavern actually, and a barn, and a few other insignificant houses, resulted in more than 13,000 Confederate casualties and, similarly, 17,000 Union troops, most of whom were killed outright by the worst display of military cruelty this reporter has ever seen. These incredible Minié balls soldiers fire at each other have a destructive power unlike any I can recall. Shots to the hip will disengage an entire leg and send it flying a hundred yards. Cannon balls and grapeshot hurled at point-blank range render a torso in two pieces, and I have seen men running in one direction while their arms, shoulders, and heads are blown off and sent flying in an entirely different one. When gunpowder runs out, they come at each other with bayonets, and this may be the cruelest of all. This is personal killing, close and swift and not always clean. The bayonet, protruding from the end of a rifle, is a narrow, pick-sharp stiletto at least a foot long, and when soldiers are ‘giving them the bayonet’, their faces are but a few feet, sometimes inches, apart, and from a distance it appears they might be just talking, exchanging the courtesies of the day. But of course, that is not what they are doing. They are saying horrible things to each other, and they are doing even more horrible things to each other. The thrust of the bayonet enters its target with the dull, wet sound of a small rock being dropped in the mud, and no sooner has the rifle been pulled away than the aggressor moves quickly to his next victim—assuming one of the enemy has not come upon him from behind and impaled him on his own dripping bayonet, or worse yet, beheaded him with a single swipe of an officer’s saber. And the bodies continue to pile up. Mountains of bodies, rotting in fields and by the roadsides. Bodies of men, boys, often women, mingled in the mud and dust with the horses and mules and the acrid burned out and smoldering desolation of war’s insanity. The scene is brilliant crimson pandemonium. This conflict is beyond bizarre. From a journalist’s viewpoint, it matters not a whit which side emerges from this mad folly the victor: this republic is doomed.
Le Monde Libere, August 26, 1864

(Scoffie and Hunter never read this remarkable account.)

*The article nearly did not make it to the printed page. Certain French politicians—one of which was Aristide Courbet, the publisher of Le Monde Libere—sought to squelch the story as being inflammatory and risking European disfavor with the Americans’ insane but romantic desire to annihilate each other. It was felt, at high levels, best to play down the conflict that was well on its way to disemboweling the United States altogether; the French, Germans, Spaniards, Italians, and many Englishmen considered this “idiotic squabble” between the North and South little more than a regional skirmish soon to be done with and forgotten; the British and the French in particular were very close to coming to the aid of the Confederacy, and, in matter of fact, were merely awaiting a request from Jefferson Davis. The story was finally printed only because one Jacques Boyer, an occasional editor, knew the truth and slipped it in on a dare. Unfortunately, Courbet took issue and was mortified; Boyer was summarily fired, and he, along with Decazes, found gainful employment almost immediately with Le Monde Libere’s major competitor.

* * *



Abraham Lincoln did not look intently at people; he gazed at them, studied them, his eyes often narrowed as he made calculated evaluations. Sitting across from the president was sometimes disconcerting, because Lincoln regarded you with what appeared to be impassive eyes. He did not stare. He did not squint to bring you into sharper focus. He did not smother you with ocular attention. He blinked occasionally, perhaps to let you know he was awake, and from behind and somewhat beneath his heavy lids he continually photographed his visitors with an indelible memory of their features and body impressions.

Lincoln was certain the man across from him was nervous, uncomfortable, and not being totally truthful. But, good Lord, he was devastatingly handsome!

“Mr. Booth,” the president murmured, “Booth, ah, Booth—why is it I feel we have met before? Your name is familiar . . . ”

John Wilkes Booth slid his smooth-trousered rump across the seat of the molded wooden chair and crossed his legs. He was not a tall man, noted by Lincoln when he’d first come in and they’d shaken hands, but he was a compact, athletic and well-portioned young fellow of no more than twenty-five or so. He was thin, actually, and tightly constructed, his face elongated, his nose narrow, aquiline, and his moustache drooped with proper nonchalance over curved, sensuous lips. His hair was a his second most sensational feature, Lincoln thought: jet black and shiny, curled in thick ringlets at just the right places over his forehead and beside his ears—not in the least feminine, but quite Herculean, or better yet, D’Artagnan, as though he were about to draw his rapier and lunge from the pages of a Dumas novel.

“Sir,” he said, “I cannot recall—I don’t believe we’ve met before.”

“Probably not,” Lincoln agreed. “You just . . . seem remarkably familiar to me.”

It was his eyes, the president thought; his eyes were his most distinguishing feature. The eyes of a scholar but not of an intellectual; there was the slight downcast to each under-lid, reminding Lincoln of glowing blue sunsets against brilliant white skies; a visceral window to a brain-mass wallowing in unctuous sophistry. I don’t think this is a man for whom I might harbor much affection, the president mused.

Booth asked, “Do you find time to attend the theater, Mr. President?”

Lincoln looked up and snapped his fingers with sudden revelation, a sharp and startling fillip of which his bony digits were masters. “Yes, of course! I should have recognized you right away, when you walked in. John Wilkes Booth! Of course! I have seen you in . . . in . . . ” His voice trailed off.

“Perhaps Shakespeare,” Booth offered. “I’ve done several—King Henry, Hamlet, Macbeth, Pericles, even Puck . . . ”

“Yes, yes, of course! I think your Marc Antony was superb; you were so very—young.” Lincoln seemed to become genuinely immersed in a river of reminiscence. He exclaimed, “I think I saw you play Marc Antony to your father’s Caesar!”

Booth nodded his elegant head. “That you may have—about twelve years ago. I was very young; probably miscast.”

“No, no! Junius Booth, your father. Yes. Julius Caesar performed by our most auriferous thespian: Junius Brutus Booth. Now there was an actor!”

“Yes. My father might have been the greatest of his time, and I thank you for the compliment. My brother Edwin and I can only hope to faintly follow in his immortal shadow. As I sense you know, he has been gone now over a decade.”

Lincoln nodded, pursuing the subject no further. The actor and the president regarded each other for silent seconds until suddenly, from an antechamber, Gideon Welles rolled majestically into the room.

“Ha! Oh! Not alone!” he flustered, embarrassed to be an intruder. “Didn’t know you had a guest! Sorry!” He spun about to leave, somewhat a rotund, errant top.

Lincoln stopped him. “Hold on, Gideon! Someone I want you to meet.”

The Secretary of the Navy skidded sideways and came to a halt. “Good Lord!” He bent his head forward and he squinted at the handsome visitor.

“Booth! John Wilkes Booth! Really, really you, now, isn’t it! Say, now!”

The actor stood at once and took three steps to shake the secretary’s hand. “Most pleased to meet you, Mr. Secretary. Your reputation, particularly as it’s enhanced by the brilliant battle in Baltimore Harbor, precedes you. I am your most honored servant.” And with that Booth stepped back and bowed deeply, his left arm ending in a flourish against his waist.

Welles’ ruddy, cherubic countenance became even ruddier and more cherubic. “Sir, I have admired your work on the, ah, boards—along with your brother and illustrious father—more often that I should admit to; but I am most equally honored to make your acquaintance.” With that, he looked at Lincoln, awaiting further direction.

The president chuckled softly and said, “Gideon, I’m delighted you happened in. Take a seat—I’m sure whatever Mr. Booth has to address with me will be of interest to my cabinet as well.” He looked at Booth as both his visitors took seats in front of him.

For a moment Welles and Booth took stock of each other, and the impression Lincoln grasped was that it was a tocsin; neither was certain if, in fact, the other should be present. The president chose to speak first: “I can only say Mr. Booth is a rara avis whose visit here today is a most pleasant surprise, and I am more than anxious to learn what brought him to us.” And with that, the chief executive slumped somewhat in his chair, brought his left fist up under his chin, and regarded the thespian in casual anticipation.

Gideon Welles, on the other hand, began groping in the vest beneath his morning coat, both garments stretching to cover his ample frame, in search of a pencil and paper upon which to record potentially momentous dialogue.

Lincoln reached forward with his right hand and slid a fresh pad across the desk toward the secretary. “Mr. Booth,” he said, softly, “you must forgive my cabinet secretary: he takes his title literally. I hope you don’t mind if he jots a few notes.”

“Not at all, sir. I am honored that so distinguished a scribe might think my prattling of significant consequence.”

My God, Gideon thought, the man speaks with autoschediastic nonchalance as though the Bard himself were feeding him lines from the prompter’s box!

“Well, then . . .”

For the first time, Booth gently cleared his throat, as if that simple, quiet act would serve to also clear his mind.

“Well, then, let me commence by saying that I have come here today on a mission; a mission, if you will, that is sui generis in nature and may, in all likelihood, if I may be so bold, change the course of history. This war, this abominable Civil War, is destroying our beloved nation, and in particular it is crushing the life and soul from the South. Even though the Confederacy appears to be the habitual victor at this juncture, the wrath of destruction has decimated both sides to the point that no matter who emerges the conqueror, neither shall reconstruct and recover in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our children. Sir, it must cease, the killing and the pillage, all of it, it must cease, be ended and done with. Neither side can endure much more, the North especially, and the South, moving forward but suffering, oh, suffering so much!—all of them, both sides, all of us, out of ethnological control!” Booth’s voice climbed half an octave, and he was speaking with animated velocity. Lincoln noted beads of perspiration were forming a hedgerow above the actor’s eyebrows. Booth lowered his head, as might a bull about to charge, narrowed his eyes and gazed hard at the president.

“Forgive my impudence—I cannot avoid excoriating the conduct of your administration, sir,” Booth said, between clenched teeth, “nor can I condone Richmond’s timidity in stifling Stonewall Jackson when he could bring it all to completion with one mighty march across the Rappahannock and Potomac. I beseech you heed my solution before it is too late, too late, too late—”

Booth slumped back in his chair and said no more. The acute silence caused Gideon Welles to raise his head and glance at the now nervous thespian; the secretary noticed, with some amusement, spumescent specks at one corner of Booth’s mouth.

Lincoln was tempted to nod his head in agreement, but he did not. The remark about the administration’s conduct could not be ignored.

“Sir,” the president cautioned, “if you have cause to demean the functions of this office, you are, of course, as an American citizen, especially one of such a piquant spirit, free as a bird to speak your mind. And, rest assured, no one will offer more rapt attention than I—for, unlike you, I have no ‘solution’ at hand. Should you posses one, we are all ears, as they say.” As though some gesture was necessary, Lincoln lifted his hand beside his ear, cupping it slightly; and Welles noted (but did not write) that the president’s hand, huge as it was, was only a tad larger than the ear itself.

Booth let his head bounce just slightly, three or four times, before continuing, letting Lincoln know he understood he was less than a sentence or two from having gone too far.

“Mr. President, the solution is not mine alone,” he said, “but the combined effort of a patriotic group who has selected me to champion their cause and, as eloquently as possible, persuade you to take under advisement a means of bringing this dreadful, disastrous era to a close. Be confident that I am not an arriviste in this role. I am as concerned, perhaps more so, as the so-called man on the street—who is in a confused swivet.”

The president puckered his ample lips in quiet acquiescence. “Go on, sir.”

Somewhere in the office there was a clock ticking, and its bifurcating—tick, tock; tick, tock; tick, tock—momentarily drew their attention. Welles unconsciously began keeping time with the muffled sound by tapping his pen on the desk’s hard surface.

Lincoln and Booth spoke simultaneously: “Gideon, please” – “A coalition government.”

Lincoln: “A coalition—”

Welles: “Sorry, Mr. President—”

Booth: “Yes, a government run by the two factions—by Washington and Richmond—by the North and the South—by Lincoln and Davis. One government—two heads—co-presidents—elected senators and congressmen from all states, as they are now, but representing two distinct ideologies. Not Republicans and Democrats, as we now know them, but rather leaders with perspicuous purpose who can truly serve a united America. Knights of states’ rights, defenders of obverse thought, soldiers who can put down all invidious radicals by the heavy hand of righteous sovereignty. . .”

“The Constitution— ” Lincoln began, but was cut off.

“Sir,” asserted Booth, “the Constitution must at all costs remain intact, sacrosanct, immutable—but it can be altered, adjusted, tweaked, if you will, to serve the larger constituency, and yet remain whole and workable. Even the Declaration of Independence— ”

Lincoln stifled a mellow guffaw. “Yes, the Declaration of Independence—something there about all men being created equal.”

Gideon Welles stopped writing and looked at the president. He started to say something but Lincoln stopped him. The fire emanating from Booth’s eyes mesmerized the president, and for several seconds he said nothing.

Finally, “Mr. Booth, you are a most eloquent advocate, and I am quite taken by you. We both have what appears to be a natural tendency to bloviate—”

“Sir!— ”

“No, please, let me finish. I think—I think you have hit upon a most intriguing idea, one that I would relish as a noble experiment, almost a riposte, if I may be so bold—one that if it were put into practice might actually work, or at least have a chance of working, were it not immediately seen as some sort of hybrid kakistocracy.

“But would it work? Could it? Ah, as you might be prone to utter, there is the rub. Would that it might work, given every empirical stratagem, and in time settle into a routine of government and administration that every citizen might cheer. Well, not every citizen, of course, because the black man would be compelled to revert to permanent, hopeless, inescapable slavery—“

“Sir— ”

This time Lincoln held up his index finger, the gesture similar to one employed on an unruly child who will not remain silent despite frequent admonishments.

“The merchants and landowners would likewise be compelled to accept federal and state tariffs and ad velorum tax impositions designed to bankrupt, not enhance. The governors of sovereign states in answering to their charges would not be still a moment allowing the federal mandate to override the lives of their sundry citizens. The citizens themselves would move like the wind from civil war to revolution, and then, in all likelihood, back to civil war.

“No, your suggestion, my dear Mr. Booth, is not as unique as we might suspect; nor is it as innocuous. Picture it objectively for one circadian period: Mr. Davis and I working side by side at a desk, or twin desks, here in my septenenrional Presidential Sanctorum—here or in Richmond, it would make no difference. Our staffs meandering about the halls, bantering over policies and principles. Senators and congressmen debating ideas for and over legislation. Governors’ representatives from every state coagulating like festering maggots in corridors and cloakrooms. Men of the press vilifying us at every turn. Military dreamers and men of action, whether real or apocryphal, staring down each other, champing at the bit, planning and plotting how to capture, maim, and annihilate their counterparts and their leaders. Mr. Booth, within a year we would not have a government; we would have anarchy. Jefferson Davis and I would be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on rails, or worse—and all things considered, we might rather have taken a carriage. Come to think of it, it would be better for this country, for this tattered Union, if I were to simply wire Mr. Davis and admit defeat. It would be better for the memory of all who have paid the highest price, if I—or he—would simply lay down our swords . . . and commit to study war no more. That, rather than your fantasy of a stygian coalition government, would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.” With that, the president smiled his most charming, and Gideon Welles placed his pen atop the pad in front of him. John Wilkes Booth knew the interview was at an end and that his mission had miserably, irreparably failed. Lincoln left no room for debate; his conclusions were uttered in his unique flat tone of final determination.

Booth also knew, having finished this scene from Julius
Caesar, that an alternate plan already fomenting in the minds of many must now be refined and carried out.

TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright©2009 by Robert A. Mills

BONUS BLOG – “Alex’s Second Christmas” will be posted on Monday, December 28.


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• SUITS! - Saturday, March 24, 2012
• BOBBYS - Saturday, March 17, 2012
• NUNDA FUN DAYS – PT II - Saturday, March 10, 2012
• NUNDA FUN DAYS - PART 1 - Saturday, March 03, 2012
• HUTSON IS ONE! - Thursday, February 23, 2012
• TôT OU TARD! - Saturday, February 18, 2012
• MINE! - Saturday, February 11, 2012
• SOUP! - Saturday, February 04, 2012
• BUCK STOP - Saturday, January 28, 2012
• FOLLIES - Saturday, January 21, 2012
• MISFITS - Saturday, January 14, 2012
• MOHS - Saturday, January 07, 2012
• GOODBYE! - Saturday, December 31, 2011
• CITY SLICKERS -- Week of Dec 24 - Saturday, December 24, 2011
• HEADLINES - Saturday, December 17, 2011
• FIRE! - Saturday, December 10, 2011
• YEP, THE SKY IS FALLING! - Saturday, December 03, 2011
• HOBNAIL BOOTS - Saturday, November 26, 2011
• GIRL o’ WAR - Saturday, November 19, 2011
• CAIN IS NOT ABEL - Saturday, November 12, 2011
• JOHNNY CAN’T READ - Saturday, November 05, 2011
• HOLY SMOKE! - Saturday, October 29, 2011
• CELL PHONE - Saturday, October 22, 2011
• 60 MINUTES - Saturday, October 15, 2011
• BANKS CLOSED - Saturday, October 08, 2011
• ANNUAL PHYSICAL - Saturday, October 01, 2011
• A T W IN 80 MINUTES - Saturday, September 24, 2011
• HUTSON! - Saturday, September 17, 2011
• A TIME TO REMEMBER - Saturday, September 10, 2011
• TOMB AT ARLINGTON - Saturday, September 03, 2011
• GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY - Saturday, August 27, 2011
• NOTHNAGLE - Saturday, August 20, 2011
• A CLUTTERED BELFRY - Saturday, August 13, 2011
• CFS, FOR SHORT - Saturday, August 06, 2011
• THE MINSTREL SHOW - Saturday, July 30, 2011
•  BIRTHDAY BOY RIDES (MARTA) AGAIN - Saturday, July 23, 2011
• KNOCK, KNOCK! WHO’S THERE? DEATH! - Saturday, July 16, 2011
• COMMENCEMENT - Saturday, July 09, 2011
• 234th 4th OF JULY - Saturday, July 02, 2011
• MIDNIGHT RIDE OF BOORTZ/DUPREE - Saturday, June 25, 2011
• OH, MY PAPA (& MAMA, TOO) . . . - Saturday, June 18, 2011
• ROLLING STONES - Saturday, June 11, 2011
• I DOUBLE D’AIR YA! - Saturday, June 04, 2011
• WOW—SUM BEACH - Monday, May 30, 2011
• GRAMP ON THE TOWN - Saturday, May 21, 2011
• THE UNSOCIABLE NETWORK - Saturday, May 14, 2011
• DING DONG, THE WICKED SUMBITCH IS DEAD - Saturday, May 07, 2011
• KATE PLUS MATE - Saturday, April 30, 2011
• GOP IS TRUMPED - Monday, April 25, 2011
• SNIFFING JOCKS IN ATLANTA - Saturday, April 16, 2011
• BOEHNER BLINKED - Saturday, April 09, 2011
• ROY ROGERS - Saturday, April 02, 2011
• SWEAT MORE, BLEED LESS - Saturday, March 26, 2011
• HE STILL DESERVES BETTER - Saturday, March 19, 2011
• AFTRA & EARTHQUAKES - Saturday, March 12, 2011
• ALEX IN WONDERLAND - Saturday, March 05, 2011
• THE OSCARS - 2011 - Wednesday, March 02, 2011
• FIRST BIRTHDAY, PART THREE - Thursday, February 24, 2011
• FIRST BIRTHDAY, PART II - Tuesday, February 22, 2011
• MY FIRST BIRTHDAY - Saturday, February 19, 2011
• IDES OF FEB, MINUS ONE DAY - Saturday, February 12, 2011
• FUN AT THE ICE PALACE - Saturday, February 05, 2011
• VACATION FROM HELL - Saturday, January 29, 2011
• BARBERSTOWN CASTLE - Saturday, January 22, 2011
• TRYING TO TAKE TUCSON – a bonus blog - Wednesday, January 19, 2011
• THE “BOBBYS” - Saturday, January 15, 2011
• POLITICS 101 - Saturday, January 08, 2011
• THE SNOWS OF KILIMANGEORGIA - Saturday, January 01, 2011
• WRITER'S CRAMP - Saturday, December 25, 2010
• BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY - Saturday, December 18, 2010
• PATTY ROBERTS, Part Two - Wednesday, December 15, 2010
• SECRET SANTA - Saturday, December 11, 2010
• PATTY ROBERTS - Thursday, December 09, 2010
• GETTING MY GOAT(EE) - Saturday, December 04, 2010
• IN FLIMFLAMS FIELDS . . . - Saturday, November 27, 2010
• PLYMOUTH ROCKS - Saturday, November 20, 2010
• LACED FOR ACTION - Saturday, November 13, 2010
• PEER PRESSURE - Saturday, November 06, 2010
• POLL CATS - Saturday, October 30, 2010
• FRIENDS - Saturday, October 23, 2010
• MY COUSIN DOUGIE - Saturday, October 16, 2010
• LOBSTER POTTED - Sunday, October 10, 2010
• A PRECIOUS GOLDEN BOBBY - Thursday, September 30, 2010
• THE KING IS DEAD (or at least in his throes) - Saturday, September 25, 2010
• STAND PAT - Saturday, September 18, 2010
• EGGS ROSAKOVIA - Saturday, September 11, 2010
• POLL CATS - Saturday, September 04, 2010
• KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE - Saturday, August 28, 2010
• (Bonus Blog) BUT WHO’S COUNTING? - Wednesday, August 25, 2010
• PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS - Saturday, August 21, 2010
• LUCKY STRIKE GREEN - Saturday, August 14, 2010
• AMERICARE vs. OBAMACARE - Saturday, August 07, 2010
• THE MAN WHO WOULD (temporarily) BE PRESIDENT - Saturday, July 31, 2010
• THE WEDDING - Saturday, July 24, 2010
• BUTTERFLIES ARE HAPPY - Saturday, July 17, 2010
• HATTERS ARE MAD - Saturday, July 10, 2010
• WHAT DOES THE BOSTON TEA PARTY AND THE REPUBLICAN TEA PARTY HAVE IN COMMON? - Friday, July 02, 2010
• MILQUETOAST HEADLINES - Saturday, June 26, 2010
• JAMIE DUPREE DESERVES BETTER - Saturday, June 19, 2010
• WHAT BARACK OBAMA AND HELEN THOMAS HAVE IN COMMON - Saturday, June 12, 2010
• GRANDNIECE LEIGH IS OFF TO HONDURAS - Saturday, June 05, 2010
• MEMORIAL HOLE-IN-ONE - Saturday, May 29, 2010
• GRANDNIECE EMILY GRADUATES - Wednesday, May 26, 2010
• THE MOON IS ROQUEFORT - Saturday, May 22, 2010
• LENO VS. O’BRIEN – TEMPEST IN A TV POT - Saturday, May 15, 2010


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