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An Unlikely Friendship

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An Unlikely Friendship

  An Unlikely Friendship


  Ann Rinaldi

  * * *


  Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London

  * * *

  Copyright © 2007 by Ann Rinaldi

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted

  in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy,

  recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without

  permission in writing from the publisher.

  Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be

  submitted online at or mailed to the

  following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,

  6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Rinaldi, Ann.

  An unlikely friendship: a novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and

  Elizabeth Keckley/Ann Rinaldi.

  p. cm.—(Harcourt great episodes)

  Summary: Relates the lives of Mary Todd Lincoln, raised in a wealthy Virginia family,

  and Lizzy Keckley, a dressmaker born a slave, as they grow up separately then become

  best friends when Mary's childhood dream of living in the White House comes true.

  1. Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818–1882—Juvenile fiction. 2. Keckley, Elizabeth, ca. 1818-1907—

  Juvenile fiction. [1. Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818–1882—Fiction. 2. Keckley, Elizabeth, ca.

  1818-1907—Fiction. 3. Slavery—Fiction. 4. Friendship—Fiction. 5. United States—

  History—19th century—Fiction.] I. Title. II. Series.

  PZ7.R459Unl 2007

  [Fic]—dc22 2005030210

  ISBN-13: 978-0-15-205597-4 ISBN-10: 0-15-205597-5

  Text set in Adobe Garamond

  Designed by Cathy Riggs

  First edition

  A C E G H F D B

  Printed in the United States of America

  An Unlikely Friendship is a work of fiction based on historical figures and events.

  Some details have been altered to enhance the story.

  * * *

  To Mr. Paul, who helps me out

  with all my disasters with the computer

  * * *

  Prologue: Friday, April 14, 1865

  "TAD, GIVE ME that rebel flag."

  "I won't, Wobert. It's mine."

  Coming down the hallway in the family residence of the White House, Mary Lincoln heard her two sons arguing before she got to the dining room.

  "Do you think," Robert asked, "that it's right to be waving a rebel flag around here when the war is just over?"

  "It's been over for five whole days," Tad answered. At twelve, Taddy could not read or write, was just learning to say his r's, but was smart enough for two. His tutor taught him by reading to him, by telling him things. He learned by talking to everyone who crossed his path. By listening. He was their baby.

  "Where did you get it, anyway?" Robert demanded. "Who around here has rebel flags? Tell me and I'll tell father." Robert, the older by ten years, was just back from the front last night, from Appomattox Court House. An aide to General U. S. Grant, he'd been present at the surrender of General Lee.

  "Won't tell where I got it," Tad said firmly. "And I know where to get more, too, if you take it fwom me."

  "Not going to take it from you, you poor little begger," Robert said. "I'll let Father do that."

  "He won't, either. Didn't he have the army band play 'Dixie' last night? Didn't he?"

  "Boys, boys." Mary Lincoln swept into the sun-filled family dining room in her white cashmere morning sacque. Both boys rose as she entered and she kissed them, one after another. "Don't fuss. Remember, today is Good Friday and a day of thanksgiving in the North as proclaimed by your father. A day of peace. Robert, did you sleep well?"

  "No, Mother. I'm not used to sleeping in a bed. These last few weeks Grant's staff has been sleeping all over the place. On the ground, on porches."

  "You poor dear." She sat as he held out her chair. He was her darling boy, more handsome than ever now in his captain's uniform. Oh, she'd been proud of him when he'd gone off to Exeter to study, then Harvard. But now, home from the war, even with a three-day beard on his face, he was more precious than ever.

  Not that he'd actually gone off to war these last few years. His "enlistment" had been recent, but only because she'd begged her husband not to let him go. Robert even had wanted to go back in Harvard. It was public criticism that had finally made her relent, and so her husband pulled some strings and had got Robert on General Grant's staff. But she was proud of him nevertheless.

  "Where's Pa?" Tad asked petulantly.

  "He'll be along directly," Robert said. "He has a cabinet meeting. Mother, do I have to go to the theater with you both tonight?"

  "Everybody expects us, dear. The play is Our American Cousin."

  "I thought you saw that already," Robert reminded her.

  "We did. But your father likes the humor. And I'd say he needs all the humor he can get these days."

  "Well, I'm going to have to beg off. I'm just too tired, Mother."

  "Of course, darling."

  Over her shoulder James, who served at table, poured her steaming coffee into a delicate china cup. The table was set with the good sterling, crystal, and china she'd purchased from the New York importers E. V. Haughwout. With its imported Irish linen cloth, the table looked lovely.

  James served her eggs, bacon, and then some fresh fish and biscuits before he passed the steaming platters to Robert, who helped Tad.

  "Are General Grant and his wife going with you?" Robert asked.

  "Your father invited them, but they declined. I don't think Julia Grant likes me," she told him.

  "Now Mother," Robert chided, "don't say that."

  "No, Mother, don't." He came into the room, rubbing his hands together briskly, a tall man in black trousers and black frock coat. He bent over, kissing her. And he smelled of his shaving cream and lemon. "Good morning, everyone."

  "Good morning, Papa." The boys stood. Robert called him "sir." And then all proceeded to eat.

  "Father, you've got to ask Tad where he got the rebel flag," Robert persisted.

  "By jings, so he does have one. Simon, my valet, told me and I didn't believe it. Where did you get it, son?" Abraham Lincoln asked.

  "Fwom someone in the army band," Tad confessed.

  "The army band!" his father exclaimed. "So we have a traitor amongst us." And he laughed.

  "You gonna take it fwom me?" Tad's lips quivered.

  "Well," Abraham Lincoln allowed, "it doesn't look so good for a son of the President of the United States to go running around with a Confederate flag now, does it?"

  "You got a picture of Genewal Lee. Wobert gave it to you. I heard about it."

  Abraham Lincoln laughed. "By jings, I think I'll bring you into a cabinet meeting," he said. Then, "What's wrong, Mary? Don't fret. Senator Ira Harris's daughter, Clara, and her fiancé, Major Henry Rathbone, will come to the theater with us tonight."

  "It isn't that," Mary said. "I have a headache." She didn't tell him that sometimes her vision got blurry, too. That it had been this way for two weeks now, ever since she'd fallen out of her carriage and hit her head on a rock, coming home from their summer retreat, the Soldiers' Home, where she'd gone to oversee some repairs.

  "You should rest this afternoon then," he told her.

  "I've a fitting this morning with Lizzy Keckley," she said, "for my dress for tonight. A
nd you and I are going for a carriage ride this afternoon, remember? I've got to get you away from here or the hordes of people will eat you alive."

  "I'd be poor pickins'." He chuckled.

  "Wobert, tell us about the suwwender," Tad said.

  "I told Father last night."

  "Tell me and Mama then."

  "Yes, tell us, do, dear." In spite of her headache, Mary's eyes beamed.

  "Well, I'll tell you some of it," Robert said. "They used the McLean house. It was the nicest place in Appomattox Court House."

  "What was Lee like?" Tad begged.

  "All spiffed up. All dandified," Robert told them. "He wore a new gray uniform, with polished buttons and a wonderful sword with jewels in the hilt. And his spurs looked like silver."

  "I hear he's a handsome man," Mary said.

  "He's the enemy," Tad said.

  "No, son," his father told him solemnly. "He is no longer the enemy. The war is over. We must be friends now. We're all Americans."

  Tad grimaced, but Robert went on.

  "Grant, on the other hand, wore his usual blue uniform. It had nothing but shoulder straps to designate his rank. I tried to get the jacket from him that morning, to brush it off, but he wouldn't let me. I tried to get him to have his orderly shine his boots, but he said no. He had no spurs." Robert shook his head sadly. "He wouldn't hear of any of it."

  "He didn't need all the show," Tad said. "He won."

  "That's right, son," his father told him. "He won. Now how would you like to make a bargain with me?"

  Tad eyed him suspiciously.

  "How would you like to go to Grover's Theater this afternoon with your tutor and see The Wonderful Lamp, a play about Aladdin's lamp?"

  "What do I have to do?" Tad asked.

  "Give me that Confederate flag," his father coaxed.

  Tad studied on the matter for a few minutes, then finally pushed the small flag across the white tablecloth to his father. "I always wanted to see that play," he said.

  "Well, I have my appointment with Lizzy Keckley," Mary said.

  The three men stood as she pushed back her chair and swept from the room.

  IN HER DRESSING ROOM Mary allowed Lizzy Keckley to slip the taffeta gown over her head and adjust it as it fell to the floor. "Remember the first summer you sewed for me, Lizzy?" Mary asked. "You made me fifteen or sixteen dresses."

  "I remember," Lizzy said through a mouthful of pins. She took them out of her mouth and knelt to pin up the hem, working her way around the bottom of the dress while kneeling on the floor. "And after that you never made me do any plain sewing again. No more darning, mending, or patching." She giggled, remembering.

  "Well, Mary Ann, the Irish servant I hired in New York to take care of all that, turned out well, don't you think?"

  "I certainly do, ma'am."

  "Until now I thought the white silk you made for me for the second inauguration was the best you ever did," Mary told her. "But now that I see this, I've changed my mind. You've outdone yourself with this, Lizzy." And she whirled around in front of the full-length mirror, admiring the black taffeta with the tiny white flowers, the scooped neck with the beribboned ruffle, and even the lace headpiece Lizzy had made for the top of her hair. "I don't look fat in this dress," she pronounced.

  "You never look fat," Lizzy assured her.

  "You know what Mr. Lincoln is going to say about this dress, don't you, Lizzy? He's going to say, 'Our cat has a long tail tonight.'"

  They both laughed. Lizzy stood, her pinning finished. "I'll sew up that hem this afternoon," she said.

  The two women beamed at each other for a few seconds. The look carried across over four years of intimate friendship now.

  "You've always been there for me," Mary said. "For us. You were with us when my baby Willie died. Through that nightmare I don't know what I would have done without you. And afterward, during the terrible months of mourning. You got me a spiritualist for the'séances we had right here at the White House. They helped me. Oh, they did, Lizzy."

  "And you were there for me when my son was killed in the war," Lizzy returned.

  "Yes, and now this." Mary sighed. "Now the war is over."

  "Yes, ma'am. Now the war is over."

  "Your people are free, Lizzy."


  "When I was a child, do you know what my Mammy Sally said to me when I told her I never wanted to leave her?" Mary asked. "She said, 'you'll find yourself another Mammy Sally, don't you worry.' And that's what you've been for me, Lizzy. A Mammy Sally. And more than that, a true friend."

  Lizzy knelt to adjust a ruffle at the bottom of the dress. "Better stitch this up, this afternoon, or it'll fall and you'll trip on it," she said. "Don't want any accidents at Ford's Theater tonight."

  "And now what, I wonder," Mary said wistfully, "now that the war is over."

  "Now you all will finish your term in the White House," practical Lizzy said, "and, Lord willin', I'll be with you."

  "Why, of course you will be, Lizzy. I couldn't go it without you."

  Lizzy looked up. Then she stood. As if on cue, the two women, one who'd been a slave for years, the other who'd grown up as a pampered Kentucky darling, hugged.

  Lizzy drew away first and wiped a tear from her eye. "I wonder, ma'am," she said.


  "I wonder what's going to happen to that General Lee now that the war's over."

  "He'll be fine. My husband is practicing clemency toward the South."

  "In October of '60, before I knew you, I made a dress for his wife. Everyone liked it so much I got important ladies like Mrs. Jeff Davis for my clients. And that General Lee was awful kind to me. 'Course, he wasn't a general yet. But he was so kind! I won't forget it."

  "Of course you won't. And you shouldn't."

  "You can take the dress off now, ma'am. I'll have it ready for tonight. And I'll be here to fix your hair, too. Your head hurt again?"

  "Yes, Lizzy. Most terrible."

  "You sit down and rest. And I'll get you a laudanum. There you go. Lizzy'll take care of that head for you. You'll see."

  THE LINCOLNS' BAROUCHE, pulled by a matching set of black horses and driven by their man, Jacob, made its way steadily down Pennsylvania Avenue, which was still full of people celebrating the end of the war.

  They drove under triumphal arches decorated with flowers. The fire of gasoline torchlights was everywhere. Some of the paraders were doing victory dances.

  "The last time we were at Ford's Theater we saw Martha," Mary reminded her husband. "And before that we saw John Wilkes Booth in The Marble Heart."

  "None are as humorous as this one," he allowed.

  "Oh, I think you just like the star, Laura Keene."

  "She is a pretty one all right. But you know, Mother, it wouldn't have taken me much to stay home tonight. And be quiet with a beautiful lady like you."

  "Except that it wouldn't be quiet," she reminded him. "The place is full of favor seekers. How many favors did you grant today, Abraham?"

  He was quiet for a moment. "The last one would interest you. A mother of a young Northern boy, a deserter who was sentenced to be shot, came to me. She was from New York. A nice, plain woman. She begged me to pardon him. He was Robert's age."

  "And did you?"

  "I did, Mother. I figured, the war is over. We lost enough Roberts on both sides. Let him go home and be a productive citizen. Anyway, he's his mother's mainstay."

  Mary put her hand on her husband's arm. "And he'll always have you to thank for his life," she said.

  THEIR BAROUCHE MADE its way down the cobblestoned streets to a brick Georgian house, the front of which was aglow with gaslight. There they picked up Clara Harris and Major Rathbone, both handsome enough and high enough in Washington society as to please Mary Lincoln.

  They went on to Tenth Street, between E and F, and the barouche stopped outside the canopied front door of Ford's Theater. Mr. Ford's brother came out to meet them and a valet helped Mary down
from the carriage and escorted them into the theater and up to the presidential box.

  They were half an hour late and the play had already started, but the actors and actresses paused so the band could play "Hail to the Chief." Seventeen hundred people in the theater cheered and applauded. President Lincoln took off his stovepipe hat and waved it, and Mary settled her taffeta skirts into a plush chair next to the president's rocker.

  The presidential box was decorated with red, white, and blue bunting and Nottingham lace curtains. As the second act started, the place got drafty.

  "Put on your overcoat, dear," Mary told her husband.

  "Do you think it would be proper?"

  "Of course. You mustn't catch cold. We have the most exciting times coming."

  "We do, don't we?" He got up and put on his overcoat. In doing so he noticed that the guard sent to protect them had seated himself in the anteroom. But he said nothing, and let the man enjoy the play.

  As he sat down again, he took Mary's hand. "As soon as my second term is up, we're going to make that trip to Europe you always wanted," he whispered. "Then we'll go back to Illinois and I'll reopen my law office. And we'll live happily ever after. Maybe Robert will come with us and practice law with me. And you can be the Queen of Springfield or Chicago or wherever we go."

  She gazed up at him adoringly. "Oh, Abraham." She hugged his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. "I've never been so happy."

  MARY DIDNT KNOW which sound she heard first, the scream of a woman or the loud bang, which was like a firecracker. It was well into the third act, and she thought, Firecrackers aren't part of the play. Then she saw her husband's head slump forward, felt someone brush past her, and suddenly the form of a man holding a derringer stood poised before her on the railing of the box, half hidden by the Nottingham lace curtains.

  "Stop that man! Stop him!" It was Major Rathbone's voice, shouting, as he threw himself at the dark form.

  "Abraham! Abraham!" Mary shouted. "Oh, and they have shot my husband!"

  She saw blood dripping from the back of Abraham's head, through the dark hair. His eyes were open but glassy. He could not see or hear her.

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