Wacky Wednesday – “Sic Temper Tyrannis”

22 Aug

It was cold and grey, and the mud of the street slurried together under clacking cartwheels and hooves. A handsome man with the slender grace and upright bearing of an accomplished thespian shook the muck from his boots, and walked across the wet grass of the lawn towards the gathering crowd under the White House façade.

He nudged a portly gentleman with profuse side whiskers. “What’s going on?”

“The president’s giving a speech. Impromptu, I should think.”

Above them, leaning out the window of the Oval Office, President Abraham Lincoln was speaking slowly and passionately in his low, reedy voice. The man had to strain to hear him over the muffled noises of the crowd. Lincoln leaned on the sill with one hand and waved the other in the air emphatically, looking every bit the triumphant leader.

“…and it is my firm belief also, that given due cooperation from our Congress, we shall see the formation of many new and radical policies taking shape within the decade. Understand that I mean ‘radical’ not in any negative way, but rather in the sense that they shall represent significant change from policies this institution has held sacred for many years. Change, after all, is something for which we Americans have a hearty appetite.”

This elicited a smattered appreciative chuckle from the crowd, and several calls of assent. The handsome man stayed silent, his jaw set as he ground his teeth. Why must we endure this, he thought. This crumbling empire, this once proud nation…like ancient Rome before it, a ruin, writhing in agony under a tyrant’s yoke.

Lincoln continued. “One such new policy, which I plan to champion personally in our democratic forum, shall be to prohibit any government of this country from denying any citizen the right to vote, whether he be white, black, or any colour in the rainbow.”

This statement was met with a decidedly mixed reaction from the crowd, some shouting fervent agreement and others booing and hissing as though they were watching a disappointing play. The big-whiskered man chortled and nudged his handsome neighbour. “First he sets the darkies loose, now he wants ’em to elect our president? That’ll be the day, eh?”

The handsome man smiled winningly. “Well, in any case,” he said in a slight Southern drawl, doffing his hat and turning away, “I imagine that’s the last speech we’ll ever hear from dear old Honest Abe.”

**

Some hours later, his mail in hand, he patted the neck of the horse he had hired. It was a lovely gelding, chestnut brown and hearty, with a glossy coat and an attitude of impatience. That was good, he thought. He’d need a horse who didn’t much enjoy staying in one spot. He roped the reins around the hitching post, and strode into the theatre. As he walked in he noticed the poster advertising “Tonight’s Performance”: Our American Cousin. The man laughed. He knew the show well; some of the members of his company heralded it as the new Great American Comedy. A farce! It couldn’t be more perfect, even if it was Shakespeare. He grinned, and swung open the doors to enter the theatre.

**

He sat on the soft carpet of the floor, his back to the dark wood panelling of the wall. It was much like stage fright, he thought, this calm before the storm. He felt the familiar churning in his gut, the same flushing of sweat on his forehead that he had experienced countless times before under the heat of the stage lights. He craned his neck around and smushed his face against the wall, pressing his eye to the tiny hole, and smiled at what he saw in the space beyond.

The Presidential Box was lavish, with golden curtains framing the white pillared walls and luxurious red velvet chairs. Everyone was seated, and the play was nearly halfway finished. Through the peephole, the man could see a top hat sitting on the floor behind a chair, shining under the candelabra above. Just the sight of it set his nerves ablaze, and he steeled himself with every ounce of his spirit.

He wasn’t sure he was ready. He was certainly ready to do it; this more than ever was the time for decisive action. Something must be done, and he was the man for the job. His uncertainty went deeper than that. His years on the stage had cultivated a flair for the dramatic, but even his histrionic mind understood the gravity of what he was about to undertake.

They’ll know my name forever, thought John Wilkes Booth, as he ran a hand through his hair and twirled his Derringer.

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