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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter VII: The Martyr

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Washington, May 14.

I am sitting in the President's office. He was here very lately, but he will not return to dispossess me of this high-backed chair he filled so long, nor resume his daily work at the table where I am writing.

There are here only Major Hay and the friend who accompanies me. A bright-faced boy runs in and out, darkly attired, so that his fob-chain of gold is the only relief to his mourning garb. This is little Tad., the pet of the White House. That great death, with which the world rings, has made upon him only the light impression which all things make upon childhood. He will live to be a man pointed out everywhere, for his father's sake; and as folks look at him, the tableau of the murder will seem to encircle him.

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The room is long and high, and so thickly hung with maps that the color of the wall cannot be discerned. The President's table at which I am seated, adjoins a window at the farthest corner; and to the left of my chair as I recline in it, there is a large table before an empty grate, around which there are many chairs, where the cabinet used to assemble. The carpet is trodden thin, and the brilliance of its dyes is lost. The furniture is of the formal cabinet class, stately and semi-comfortable; there are book cases sprinkled with the sparse library of a country lawyer, but lately plethoric, like the thin body which has departed in its coffin. They are taking away Mr. Lincoln's private effects, to deposit them wheresoever his family may abide, and the emptiness of the place, on this sunny Sunday, revives that feeling of desolation from which the land has scarce recovered. I rise from my seat and examine the maps; they are from the coast survey and engineer departments, and exhibit all the contested grounds of the war: there are pencil lines upon them where some one has traced the route of armies, and planned the strategic circumferences of campaigns. Was it the dead President who so followed the march of empire, and dotted the sites of shock and overthrow?

Here is the Manassas country--here the long reach of the wasted Shenandoah; here the wavy line of the James and the sinuous peninsula. The wide campagna of the gulf country sways in the Potomac breeze that filters in at the window, and the Mississippi climbs up the wall, with blotches of blue and red to show where blood gushed at the bursting of deadly bombs. So, in the half-gloomy, half-grand apartment, roamed the tall and wrinkled figure whom the country had summoned from his plain home into mighty history, with the geography of the republic drawn into a narrow compass so that he might lay his great brown hand upon it everywhere. And walking to and fro, to and fro, to measure the destinies of arms, he often stopped, with his thoughtful eyes upon the carpet, to ask if his life were real and if he were the arbiter of so tremendous issues, or whether it was not all a fever-dream, snatched from his sofa in the routine office of the Prairie state.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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