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Lincoln's Dreams

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Lincoln's Dreams

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Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 1987

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Historical Fantasy
Contemporary Fantasy
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For Jeff Johnston, a young historical reseacher for a Civil War novelist, reality is redefined on a bitter cold night near the close of a lingering winter. He meets Annie, an intense and lovely young woman suffering from vivid, intense nightmares. Haunted by the dreamer and her unrelenting dreams, Jeff leads Annie on an emotional odyssey through the heartland of the Civil War in search of a cure. On long-silenced battlefields their relationship blossoms: two obsessed lovers linked by unbreakable chains of history, torn by a duty that could destroy them both.



They bred such horses in Virginia then,
Horses that were remembered after death
And buried not so far from Christian ground
That if their sleeping riders should arise
They could not witch them from the earth again
And ride a printless course along the grass
With the old manage and light ease of hand.
-- Stephen Vincent Benet

Traveller died of lockjaw two years after Robert E. Lee died. I looked that up one day in February, the day I went out to see where Abraham Lincoln's son Willie had been buried. I had been looking for the grave for over a year, and when I finally found it in a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, I ran out of the library still carrying the book. It set off an alarm, and one of the librarians came out on the steps and shouted after me, "Jeff, are you all right? Jeff!"

It was snowing hard that day, a wet spring snow. It took me nearly an hour to drive out to the old cemetery in Georgetown. I don't know what I thought I'd find, some clue maybe to where Annie was and what had happened to her, some message that would tell me what had happened to all of them, Tom Tita and Ben and the rest of the soldiers who had died in the Civil War and were buried together under granite squares no larger than a scrap of paper.

But there wasn't anything there, not even Willie Lincoln's body, and I went back to Broun's house and got out Freeman's four-volume biography of Lee and tried to find out what had happened to Traveller.

As with everything else that had happened, there were both too many clues and not enough. But eventually I found out what I needed to know, the way I had found out where Willie had been, the way I had found out what was causing Annie's dreams. After all, that was what I was good at, wasn't it, looking up obscure facts? Traveller had lived two years. He had picked up a nail and gotten lockjaw. They had had to shoot him.

I met Annie two years ago, the night of Broun's press reception. The reception was supposed to be an advance publication party for Broun's twelfth novel, The Duty Bound, with bound galleys passed out to the press, but there weren't any galleys. There wasn't even a finished book.

The press reception had been scheduled for the last week in March, but at the end of February Broun was still fiddling with the copyedited manuscript, making changes and then changing the changes, and a week before the reception I was back in West Virginia, trying to find out exactly when Lee had bought Traveller.

It was a detail that didn't matter one way or the other to the book, since Lee had definitely been riding Traveller at Antietam in September of 1862, but it was the kind of thing Broun had been fussing over the entire book, and it worried me.

He was having all kinds of trouble with The Duty Bound. He usually turned out his Civil War novels like clockwork: proposal to outline to manuscript to corrected galleys, which was why his publisher, McLaws and Herndon, had gone ahead and scheduled this reception before they had the copyedited manuscript back.

I might have done the same thing. In the four years I'd been doing research for Broun, he'd never missed a deadline. But with The Duty Bound, he hadn't made a deadline yet, and when I called him from West Virginia he was still making major changes.

"I'm thinking of adding a chapter at the beginning of the book, Jeff," he said. "To explain why Ben Freeman enlists."

"I thought you'd already sent the copyedited manuscript back," I said.

"I did, son. Three weeks ago. But then I got to worrying about Ben. He signs up just like that, for no reason. Would you do that?"

"No, but a lot of recruits did. Listen, I'm calling because I've run into some trouble with Traveller. In a letter to one of his daughters, Lee says he bought Traveller in the fall of 1861, but the records here show he didn't buy him until 1862, during the Carolina campaign."

"They must have had some reason for enlisting," Broun said. "What if Ben's courting a girl who's in love with somebody else?"

McLaws and Herndon would kill Broun if he started adding new characters at this late date. "I think the beginning's fine," I said. "Ben doesn't have to have a good reason to sign up. Nobody else in the Civil War did. Most of the recruits couldn't have told you what the war was even being fought about, let alone why they were in it. I'd go ahead and leave it as is, and that goes for Traveller, too. I'm going up to Lewisburg tomorrow to check the courthouse records, but I'm almost sure Lee didn't buy the horse in 1861."

"Will you be home in time for the reception?" Broun asked.

"I thought they'd postpone it since the book's late."

"The invitations were already out. Try to get home for it, son. I need you here to explain why the book's taking so long."

I wanted to ask him to explain it to me, but I didn't. Instead, I chased all over Greenbrier County for three days, trying to find a scribbled note or a preliminary agreement that would settle the matter one way or the other, and then drove home through an awful snowstorm, but I made it in time for the reception.

"You look like you've been through a campaign, son," Broun said when I got there late in the afternoon.

"I have," I said, pulling off my parka. The snow had followed me all the way from White Sulphur Springs and then turned into icy rain fifty miles from D.C. I was glad Broun had a fire going in his upstairs study. "I found out what you wanted to know about Traveller."

"Good, good," he said, taking books off a straight-backed chair and setting it in front of the fire. He draped my wet parka over the back of it. "I'm glad you're home, Jeff. I think I've finally got a handle on the book. Did you know Lincoln dreamed about his own assassination?"

"Yes," I said, wondering what on earth this had to do with a novel about Antietam. "He dreamed he saw his dead body in the White House, didn't he?"

"He dreamed he woke up and heard the sound of crying," Broun said, dumping his Siamese cat out of his big leather armchair and pulling it around to face the fire. He didn't seem to be in any hurry, even though the reception was supposed to start at seven. He was wearing the ratty-looking gray cardigan he usually wrote in and a pair of baggy pants, and he apparently hadn't shaved since I'd left. Maybe they'd canceled the reception after all.

Broun motioned me to sit down. "When he went downstairs he couldn't see anyone," he went on, "but there was a corpse lying in a coffin in the East Room. The corpse's face was covered by a black cloth, and Lincoln asked the guard standing at the door who was dead, and the guard answered, 'The President. He was killed by an assassin.'"

He was looking at me eagerly, waiting for me to say something, but I didn't have a clue of what that something was supposed to be. "He had the dream, what, a month before he died?" I said lamely.

"Two weeks. April the second. I'd read it before, but while you were gone, McLaws and Herndon's publicist called and asked me what book I was going to do after The Duty Bound. She needed it for the press release they're going to pass out at the reception tonight, and I told her I didn't know, but then I got to thinking about the Lincoln book."

The Lincoln book. That was what all this was about. I supposed I should be glad. If he got involved in a new book, maybe he'd quit messing with The Duty Bound. The only problem was that the Lincoln book wasn't a new book. Broun called it his midlife crisis book, even though he hadn't started it till he turned sixty. "I was afraid I'd die before I wrote anything important, and I still might. I never could get a handle on the damned thing," he'd told me laughingly when I first came to work for him, but I suspected he was more than half serious. He'd tried working on it again a year later, but it still wasn't much more than an outline.

"Tomorrow I want you to go out to Arlington, Jeff." He scratched at the grayish stubble on his cheek. "I need to know if Willie Lincoln was buried there."

"He's buried in Springfield. In the Lincoln tomb."

"Not where he's buried now. During the Civil War. His body wasn't sent back to Springfield until 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated. Willie died in 1862. I want to know where he was buried for those three years."

I had no idea what Willie Lincoln had to do with Lincoln's assassination dream, but I was too tired to ask. "You aren't still having the reception, are you?" I said, hoping against hope that he would say they weren't. "The roads are terrible."

"No, it's still on." Broun looked at his watch. "I've got to go get dressed. Those damned reporters always come early." I must have looked like I felt, because he said, "The battle won't be joined till eight o'clock, and I'll take care of the preliminary skirmishes. Why don't you go have a nap?"

"I think I'll take you up on that," I said, and heaved myself up out of the chair.

"Oh, would you do one favor for me first?" Broun said. "Would you call Richard Madison and make sure he's coming tonight? His girlfriend said they'd be here, but I'd like you to call and make sure."

Lincoln's dreams and Willie Lincoln's body and now my old college roommate. I gave up even trying to look like I knew what he was talking about.

"He called while you were gone," Broun said, scratching at the stubble. "Said he had to get in touch with you right away. I told him I didn't have a number for you but you'd be calling in and could I give you some kind of message, but he just said to tell you to call him, and then when you called I didn't have a chance to pass the message on, so I called him to tell him you'd be back today."

There had to be a connection here somewhere. "You invited him to the reception?" I asked.

Copyright © 1987 by Connie Willis


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