The Presence of My Enemies
The next morning, Eleanor accosted me at breakfast. “You did not join us for dinner last night. I sent Arthur up three times and you did not respond to his knocking. I expected your company and will require it at all meals forthcoming. Do I make myself clear?” She fixed me with an angry glare.
I put down my fork and addressed her calmly. “I was sleeping the sleep of the dead. I have had precious little opportunity to rest, and when I have, the hard ground made it impossible to sleep well. I was insensible to any sound, even a loud knocking.”
“I find that hard to believe. I think you were trying to avoid me.”
I could have done that, I thought, but I didn’t. “You may believe what you wish. I know the truth.”
She stared at me, but said nothing further about the matter, filling the air with accounts of the parties she had been to and the famous people she met at those gatherings. I couldn’t help but contrast her enjoyment of food and company away from any threat of battle with the miserable life of soldiers. She claimed to want to help Southern troops with my mission while at the same time not doing any of the work herself. She was an odd creature, to be sure.
“I have directed Arthur to lay out your new uniform for our visit to the Secretary’s office and to burn your present one. It has an odor to it that will not admit of its use in the presence of such a powerful man.”
That scent was the result of protecting people like you and the Secretary, I thought, but I said nothing.
Breakfast done, I went to my room and donned my new uniform, thinking that it was another lie among many. I never did hold with lying, but strove to be an honest man who always gave an accurate account of all I did or saw or heard. This run of falsehoods had a bad effect on me, so much so that I became physically ill when I thought too much of it.
I came downstairs to find Eleanor dressed in a green gown such as she might wear to one of her parties. “My, but you are handsome in your new clothes. I will be pleased for you to take my arm and escort me to our meeting.” She put her hand in the crook of my elbow. I imagined her touch burned, and tried to put that idea out of mind so I did not react and give her cause for further reproach. We climbed in her carriage and went our way to the War Department.
When we reached the building, I was surprised to find that it stood to the west of the White House. I had never ventured that far or paid attention in that area only to the Executive Mansion, our games being played on the other side of the President’s House. I said to Eleanor, “I did not know this was the location of the War Department.”
“That surprises me. You played your baseball game within sight of it.”
“Yes, but because I did not know it was there, I did not look for it.”
She smiled slightly. “If you are to be of service to me, you must become more observant.”
I did not think that one instance of anything should be proof of a larger inclination, but I said nothing. I knew it would be fruitless to argue with her on this matter, and many others as well.
We went in the front entrance which was guarded by a private on either side of the door. They saluted when they saw my bars, and being new to my “rank,” I did not return their salute. Eleanor caught me by the arm and dug her fingernails through the cloth of my uniform and into my skin. “You must salute when another soldier salutes you,” she hissed. “Again you have made me wonder if I have chosen the correct individual for this mission.”
“I will gladly be relieved of my charge,” I said, looking down at my arm where she had grabbed me and seeing the blood welling from the area. Fortunately, I had a bandana with me and was able to remove all traces of the stain.
She smiled at me in such a way that made my blood run cold. “Oh, no. You are mine, and you will continue to be so. These errors will be corrected by any means necessary.”
“Do mean that you might harm my family?”
She laughed. That is exactly what I mean. And you would do well to never forget that.”
Eleanor took me by the arm again, this time without harming me, and guided me to the office of the Secretary. I was surprised that there was neither sentry nor secretary at his door, which stood open. He stood at a large desk facing us, and smiled when he saw Eleanor.
“Eleanor, my dear, please come in.” He came from behind his desk and kissed her on the cheek. Apparently they knew each other well.
He turned to me. “And you must be Lieutenant Dillard.” I saluted him, which he waved away.
“We don’t stand on ceremony here, Lieutenant. Takes too much time. There’s a war to be won, lad.”
He picked up a piece of paper. “According to this, you will be sitting in meetings with me and taking notes.”
“Thank you, sir. I did not know the exact nature of my duties, but I will certainly be equal to the challenge.”
He chuckled. “Your biggest challenge will be staying awake while these gasbag generals and politicians go on and on about very little.” He sighed. “It’s enough to make me want to go somewhere else, but, as I said, we have a war to win. When can you start?”
I looked at Eleanor. She mouthed the word ,“Now.”
I turned back to Stanton. “I can begin right away, sir.”
“Very good. I will have someone give you writing materials. And we meet in–” he consulted a watch he pulled from a pocket on his vest—“fifteen minutes. Right here. Make yourself ready.”
“That sounds very good, sir.”
Stanton came over and kissed Eleanor on the cheek again. “Lovely to see you, my dear. Are you coming to the party this Friday?”
Eleanor smiled. “I am. And I am to have the handsome lieutenant as my escort.”
She had said nothing to me about this social event, but I knew I had little choice but to do everything she wanted. How I hated this state of affairs! I had to find a way out, short of killing her, although I had thought of that a time or two.
“I must be going,” Eleanor said. She turned to me. “I will send the carriage for you at five.” She turned to Stanton. “Is that not when you cease your labors?”
The Secretary smiled. “My labors go long into the evening, but I allow those who help me to leave at five, yes.”
Eleanor embraced me and tried to kiss me on the lips, but I turned my head. I saw her eyes flash, and know she would have berated me had we been alone. Stanton of course saw this happen and raised an eyebrow. I suspected he would ask my what was going on later. It would be but thin excuse to say we were brother and sister, for so she wanted me to represent myself, but no sister I knew of would do such as she did with a brother. I would have to see what Stanton’s thoughts on this matter were.
“Very well,” she said to me. “I will see you at my house, and I hope you will manage a more suitable greeting for your dear sister.” With that, she turned and walked out the door.
Stanton looked at me. “What is the nature of your relationship with Mrs. Perry?”
“We are brother and sister. That is all.”
He frowned. “That was not a sisterly kiss she attempted to favor you with.”
“Yes, sometimes she becomes excited and overcome with the passion of the moment.”
He grunted. “I suppose I shall find out more about you and Mrs. Perry as time goes on.”
I don’t want you to find out too much, I thought. I must tell Eleanor of this exchange and warn her that such displays jeopardize her interests.
I busied myself looking at pictures and samplers on the wall of Stanton’s office while he worked at his desk. That did not take me long, so I shifted from one foot to another until Stanton said, “Would it make you less restless if you sat down?”
“Oh, I’m sorry sir. I didn’t realize I was distracting you.”
He looked at me from under his brows. “I have marvelous powers of concentration, but you would try the hardiest soul with your machinations.”
In truth, my motion was barely perceptible. The Secretary must have a nature that is easily distractible, I thought.
“In answer to your question, my movement would be eased if I were to sit down. I have become accustomed to standing during my service, and once again I beg your pardon if I were a cause of distraction to you.”
He simply grunted at this and went back to his work. I looked around the office as if my head were on a swivel, even though there was little to see. After a couple of minutes, Stanton snapped shut the report he was reading and glowered at me.
“You are little better seated than standing. Is there anything I can do to calm you?”
“Again, I am sorry. If I had some task to occupy me, that would calm my spirit.” Just then a general and his aides walked in.
“Ah! Here comes my salvation—and yours, lieutenant. I was about to have your sent back to Richmond had the present state of affairs continued.” He turned to greet his visitors. “General Kilpatrick, lieutenants, you are welcome. We shall commence our business shortly. In the meantime, let me introduce to you a new face, Lieutenant Perry, who had been specially attached to this office for the foreseeable future.”
The general and his aides shook my hand, and one of them looked hard at my face. “Were you not with a regiment in the Winchester area?”
“That I was.”
“Then you must know Major Smithfield, my former commanding officer.”
“Of course I do.” I had to be careful how I answered, because I of course had no idea who he was talking about.
“How is the Major?”
“He is well. I shall tell him you asked about him when next we meet.”
“Yes, that would be well.” He looked at me sideways, and I took that to mean that he suspected something. I would have to listen to him carefully and make my replies to his questions as short and general as possible. Although I should think that Eleanor would verify my identity and presence should it come to that.
An aide came into the office and presented Stanton with pen and paper. He gave these to me and pointed to a small field desk. “You will take notes over there, Lieutenant, and I trust that shall occupy you sufficiently to ease your mind so you do not twitch like someone with St. Vitus’ dance.”
General Kilpatrick and his aides assumed puzzled expressions, but Stanton made no word of explanation. He was no doubt a man who felt he did not have to explain himself to anyone, even the President, as I later heard.
The meeting commenced, and, in truth, if Eleanor had intended for me to find out the highest state secrets, she was going to be disappointed. The Kilpatrick and Stanton started a long dialogue about supplies and troop support so dull and so lacking in interest, I found it hard to keep my eyes open. I saw Stanton looking over at me several times, and he no doubt caught me with my eyes closed at several points. Mercifully, the meeting only lasted thirty minutes, else I would have been done for.
The general and his assistants left, and Stanton turned on me. “Would it be helpful to you if we brought in a bed so you could rest in the times you are not taking notes? Mrs. Perry told me you were quick and alert, but I have seen no evidence of either today.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Secretary. You must remember I was on the battlefield two days ago after we made a long trip from Winchester, and then I made way here.”
He harrumphed. “I will grant you being in the way of shot and shell, but your journeys were by train. I cannot see that that means of transport should fatigue you so.”
“In that case, I have no excuse, and I remind you that I serve at your pleasure.”
He smirked. “It is more like you serve at Mrs. Perry’s pleasure. I would let you go, but then I would have to face her, which I do not wish to do.”
“I know what you mean.”
He smiled at this. We had the same reaction to the woman.
“Very well. That is all I require of you for today. I expect you tomorrow at 8 AM, and I will brook no tardiness.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be here promptly and ready to work.”
I was happy to be let go early, but dreaded the coming prospect of being alone in the house with Elanor. She had become more forthright with her demands that I disregard my marriage vows, and I would have to think hard for ways to resist her.
The Secretary provided a horse for me, for which I thanked him profusely. “You’re lucky it isn’t a mule. I expect this animal to be well-treated and brought back tomorrow. After that, you will be left to your own devices for a way to come here.” He turned his back to me, and I left. This had not been a propitious day for me, and I feared it would only get worse. And so I returned to Georgetown full of trepidation.