After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

Sleep was difficult to attain. Each time Jerry began to doze off, he woke up with a start, certain that someone had just intruded on his berth to aim a gun at him. But there were no real intruders, and eventually he slept.

The tenth of April dawned without further serious incident. Berths were turned back into seats, and the day began to drag by, like the other dull days of the trip before it. In Pennsylvania Jerry and Colleen changed trains again, the interior of the new coach being almost indistinguishable from the one they had just left. If anyone on the old train had noticed the loss of one or two passengers during the night, no one so far was making a fuss about it.

One after another the cities and towns of the victorious North crept slowly past the windows of the train. Each town no matter how small was decked out in bright bunting. American flags were everywhere. And it seemed that each settlement had found at least one cannon of some kind with which to fire salutes to passing trains. And everywhere, in every town, the churchbells rang. They seemed to go on ringing from morning to night without interruption. Jerry could not always hear them, he could usually hear nothing but the train itself, but again and again he saw the bells dancing in their little church towers of wood or brick as the train rolled past.

It all proclaimed that the War, after four years of blood and death, was over.

All that Jerry could overhear among the other passengers confirmed it: the fighting had essentially ground to a halt, though still it had not officially or entirely ceased. In scattered places there were still Rebel soldiers in the field, and some of them were still capable of offering resistance. But the Confederate government had fled from Richmond days ago, just before the city fell, dissolving itself in the process; and now that Grants arch-opponent Lee had surrendered in Virginia, the back of organized resistance had been broken. Lee himself at Appomatox had scotched any idea of a prolonged guerrilla war, by saying to his men that if anything of the kind should happen he would feel bound in honor to give himself up to the Federal authorities as being in violation of the surrender agreement he had signed.

It was necessary to change trains yet once again—for the last time, Colleen and the timetable promised. The next set of cars were more crowded. And, perhaps because they were now getting close to Washington, the talk aboard became ever more political. Jerry had it confirmed for him that Stanton, Secretary of War, was indeed a great power in the land; Stanton’s name was mentioned even more than that of Lincoln. And Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice-President, was evidently at best a non-entity. All Jerry could hear of Johnson were a few snickers at the way the man from Tennessee had disgraced himself by taking too much to drink before last month’s inauguration ceremonies.

And then at last, on Tuesday the eleventh of April, Jerry realized that the train was passing through Maryland, and Washington was very near.


The church bells of the city of Washington cried peace and victory with a thousand voices. The great national celebration, begun on Palm Sunday, was continuing. Not only continuing, it seemed to be picking up steam.

The train that would convey Jerry and Colleen Monahan into Washington had halted at a watering-stop, and they, along with a number of other passengers, had got out to stretch their legs, and enjoy the feeling of solid silent earth beneath their feet once more. There was no town here, only three or four houses in the midst of Maryland woods and fields. The train, currently six or eight wooden coaches long, waited with most of its windows open. Birds sang amid spring foliage in a nearby grove; the stationary engine grumbled to itself as it drank from an elevated watering-tank beside the track.

“How far from here to Washington?” Jerry asked in a low voice, squinting ahead along the track. They must be entering the South, he thought; here even the April sun was strong enough to make the distant rails shimmer.

“Just about ten miles. Why?”

Jerry didn’t answer right away. He had been evolving a plan in his own mind, and he decided this was the time to put it into effect.

When he spoke again it was to try another question: “Will Stan ton have anyone meeting us in Washington?”

The two of them were strolling trackside, now far enough from the other passengers to let Colleen answer plainly. “Don’t see how he could. He won’t even know what train we’re coming in on. No one but he and Peter Watson know he sent you to Missouri, or sent me to warn you and bring you back.”

Colleen had previously mentioned Peter Watson a couple of times, saying enough to let Jerry identify the man as some kind of high-level assistant at the War Department. Now he said: “Some of Baker’s people obviously know about me now. And about you. Who we are, what train we’re on.”

“Looks that way.”

Jerry had stopped walking, and was standing looking up and down the track. “We leave the train here,” he said at last, decisively.

She took his meaning at once. “All right, if you think best. What about our baggage? Just leave it aboard?”

He hesitated. “I don’t see how that would help. If anybody’s watching us they’ll know we’ve gone, whether we take the bags along or not. And it’ll just take us a minute to get the things off the train.”

“If Baker still has an agent on the train, and he sees us go?”

“If he follows us, we’ll have a chance to see who it is. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose us.” Jerry raised his eyes, looking for branching trackside wires. “There’s no station here, no telegraph. He won’t be able to send word on ahead.”

Colleen nodded. “Then let’s get moving.”

Within two minutes the two of them had retrieved their bags from the train, and were hiking a path across a muddy field, in the general direction of the nearest house.

“We’ll hire a wagon here,” Jerry decided. “Or else we’ll walk until we find a place where we can hire one.”

And after they had found new transportation, Jerry added silently to himself, would come the next step. It might be trickier, but somehow he would accomplish it.

Over the past few hours he had been thinking over his situation as intensely as the hypnotic jolting of the train would allow. In Washington, as Colleen had just confirmed, only Stanton himself, and probably his aide Peter Watson, were able to recognize Jim Lockwood on sight. Jerry’s trouble was that he was not Jim Lockwood, and the best he could expect from his first meeting with the Secretary of War was to be thrown into a cell. There would be no prospect of getting out any time soon. Habeas corpus had been suspended for several years now, and the leaders of Lincoln’s administration seldom hesitated to jail suspected traitors and subversives first and investigate them later. At best, Jerry would certainly be prevented from stationing himself inside Ford’s Theater on Friday evening, three days from now.

“Getting off the train is not enough,” said Jerry presently, casting a look back to see if they were being followed. “We’re going to split up here.”

Colleen was taken aback for a moment; this was the first time since she had met Jim Lockwood that he was making a serious effort to take charge. But her male partner’s assertion of authority really came as no surprise. She only looked at her companion thoughtfully and did not argue.

Jerry, who had his own argument ready, brought it forth anyway: “Baker’s people know the two of us are traveling as husband and wife. Don’t they?”

Colleen, still thoughtful, nodded.

“Then it makes sense for us to split up. You go on ahead as fast as you can, in the first wagon we can hire, and make your report to Stanton. I can give you some money for traveling expenses if you need it. I’ll get to the War Department my own way, in good time.”

“Traveling expenses? I could walk there from here in three hours. And why don’t you go first?”

“I may get there first.” Jerry, walking quickly, looked back again over his shoulder toward the train. A couple of the leg-stretching passengers were looking after the two deserters but so far no one appeared inclined to follow them. “But I want you to start ahead of me.”

“All right.” But Colleen was plainly somewhat puzzled and reluctant.

The second of the local houses that they tried proved to have a well-equipped stable, as well as a man eager to carry passengers into the city for a fee. Presently Jerry was waving Colleen on her way.

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