An Outtake: The Lincolns Meet the Strattons

During the editing of The First Lady and the Rebel, some sacrifices had to be made, and the following is one of them: a deleted scene where the Lincolns play host to Charles and Lavinia Stratton, better known as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb. So here it is!

“You should wear pink more often, Molly,” the President said. “It becomes you.”

           Paying these sort of compliments was quite out of character for Mr. Lincoln, but then, the evening was very much out of character for him–and the entire war-weary Union. General Tom Thumb, Mr. P. T. Barnum’s Lilliputian wonder, had married the equally Lilliputian and arguably  even more wondrous Miss Lavinia Warren on February 10, and for days, the war had been eclipsed by the small couple’s large nuptials, held in New York’s fashionable Grace Church with the cream of society in attendance. Afterward, the pair had held their reception at Mary’s favorite New York hotel, the Metropolitan. Mary had ordered a splendid pair of Chinese fire screens for the couple, but her contribution had paled beside those of ladies like Mrs. Vanderbilt, who gave a coral and gold brooch set, earrings, and studs, and Mrs. Roosevelt, who gave a 127-piece dinner set of porcelain and gold. But those ladies could not host the newlyweds at the White House, as Mary had most gladly agreed to do when Mr. Barnum, a steadfast Republican and supporter of the President, had suggested it.

            Bob, visiting from school but in a sulk over Mary’s continuing refusal to allow her son to put himself in the way of being blown to pieces, loftily refused to attend, but his friends the presidential secretaries did, looking jauntily jaded as they strolled into the Green Room. Secretary of War Stanton was there, looking so mild and cheerful that Mary barely recognized him. The Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, arrived a bit early, all the better, Mary surmised, for Miss Chase, his daughter, to sweep her skirts around to the best effect.

            As the President  had noted, Mary, eschewing mourning for the occasion, had worn a pink silk gown with a multitude of flounces, while her consort wore a black suit, well cut, with white kid gloves–an unfortunate color for his large hands, but one dictated by fashion.  Beside them was Tad, who though willing to be guided by his older brother in many areas was not in this one. He tugged at his father’s hand. “Pa! Do you think they’ll come in a little carriage, pulled with little horses?”

            The President gave this thought, as he did to all of Tad’s questions. “I don’t think so, Son. It wouldn’t be safe among all of the regular-sized carriages. I imagine they’ll travel in the usual manner, with some adjustments for their situation.”

            Tad nodded. “I guess that’s true.”

            The clock struck eight, and Edward flung open the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Stratton!”

           Mr. and Mrs. Stratton entered. Mary had seen their photographs–they could be bought at any photographer’s studio, like those of the Lincolns–but she still was disposed to admire the couple’s chief charm: their proportionality, so that each was a miniature of a full-sized adult. Dressed in their wedding clothes–a broadcloth suit with a while silk vest and blue undervest for the groom, a white satin gown with a two-yard train for the bride, whose parure of diamonds caused her neck, ears, and wrists to glitter as she moved–the couple made their way at a stately pace toward the President, who had to bend to take their hands. “Mr. and Mrs. Stratton, I wish you much happiness in your union.” He then presented them to Mary, who rather to her chagrin did not have to bend much at all to greet her guests.      

            Tad gave each spouse’s hand a hearty shake. “Delighted to make your acquaintance,” he said. He titled his head toward Mary. “Mother, if you were a little woman like Mrs. Stratton, you would look just like her.”

            Miss Chase gave a distinct titter, but Mary, considering that Mrs. Stratton was only about twenty years of age, with an intelligent and engaging face and with a fine head of dark hair that unlike Mary’s had no touches of gray, chose to take Tad’s words as a compliment, which they certainly were. “Indeed, I think you are right, Tad.” She smiled at Mrs. Stratton. “And I am of no great height myself. I think you will agree that we small people depend very much on our brains.”

            Mrs. Stratton laughed. “You are certainly right about that!”

           “Tell me about your travels, Mr. Stratton,” the President prompted as the Strattons joined them on the couch, Tad making a great point of arranging their refreshments so as to be within easy reach. “Mrs. Lincoln wishes to go to Europe when we leave this place, and I have a hankering to see it myself.”

            Mr. Stratton, who had been touring since he was a small boy, happily obliged, and Mary listened with some envy as he told of his meeting with Queen Victoria, who had been in deep mourning since the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861 and showed no inclination to come out of it. The President had written a letter of condolence to her, which despite the regrettable occasion for it had rather pleased Mary–imagine, being in a position to comfort royalty! “I hope she will receive us when we tour Europe,” Mrs. Stratton said. “I am sure she would enjoy seeing my husband again, and I of course have never met her, as this will be my first time abroad.”

            “I am sure she will want to see the two of you, having taken so much interest in Mr. Stratton as a lad,” Mary said. “Maybe you will be what draws her out of her seclusion.”

           “I daresay she loved Prince Albert dearly, but there is such a thing as excessive mourning,” Miss Chase said decidedly. “It is rather self-indulgent.”

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