The old man peering out the window seemed harmless. They told me he was a murderer.
I watched him from a distance. I always did with new patients. I wanted to watch them interact with others. I wanted to see how they spent their days.
He sat muttering out names and shaking his head. He would occasionally lower his head in resignation.
“What do you think, doctor?” Helga knew the old man well, having been his nurse for a number of years.
“I think he blames himself for what happened,” I answered. “And I think he’s in denial about what he did.”
“Henry sometimes has better days than this one,” Helga said. “Some days he admits to killing Clara. Most days, though, he doesn’t.”
I walked over to him and pulled a chair next to his, gazing out the same window he was.
“Nice day today, isn’t it?” I liked to engage in conversation to help put the patients at ease.
“The sun is shining,” Henry replied. “That’s the only thing nice about it.”
“They say your name is Henry. Mine is Klaus.”
“You’re not the same as the other doctors here, Klaus.” Henry didn’t bother to even look at me as he responded.
“What makes you think I’m a doctor?” I asked him.
“Because you’re not slobbering on yourself or ranting incoherently like the rest of us.”
I studied him closer, noticing the long scar on his left arm, running from his elbow to his shoulder. He caught me staring.
“It’s my fault, doctor. I couldn’t stop him.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Henry.” I was hoping to draw the story out from him, even though I already knew many of the details from reading his chart.
“I was right there, and I didn’t do anything. Grabbed the scoundrel’s coat, but nothing else.” He paused for a moment, clasping his trembling hands together.
“He, he was so angry, so full of rage. I was scared. I was scared, doctor. A major in the Army and I was terrified of that face!” The emotion of reliving the moment caused tears to begin streaming down his face.
“It’s not your fault, Henry,” I said.
“It is my fault, I tried to tackle him. I needed to stop him. I was too scared!” He put his hands over his face and began to weep.
“Let’s talk about something else, Henry.” I tried to think of something else to discuss, perhaps a current event or some other memory that wasn’t as traumatic.
“No one wants to talk about anything else!” he shouted. “The reporters, the doctors, they all want to know about it. It’s been 40 years, and they still won’t leave me alone!”
“I’m sorry, Henry,” I said. “I won’t ask again about it.”
We sat there silently for a few minutes, just staring out the window.
“You said you were in the Army, I thought I read you were in some major battles,” I said, trying to change the subject.
“A few. Fredericksburg and Antietam. Not much to tell from my end.” He stared at a branch outside the window, watching the bird which had just landed there.
“What kind of bird is that?” I asked.
“I couldn’t say, doctor. I don’t really have much interest in bird watching,” he said. “I’d like to go home to Clara and the kids now.”
Now it was my turn to watch the bird, trying to think of the best way to dodge the request.
“But Henry, you’re still not well,” I finally said. “I wouldn’t be a very good doctor if I let to you leave before you were better.”
He turned his head quickly toward me, his face suddenly full of anger.
“I’ve told you before!” he yelled. “Someone broke into our home! I didn’t kill Clara! He stabbed me, I couldn’t…stop…” His voice trailed off.
“I need a drink,” he said. “Please. A nice glass of sherry. Perhaps some scotch. Yes, scotch. Scotch? No. Some bourbon, please.”
He became so agitated he shot to his feet far more quickly than a man of nearly 70 years should. I reached out to steady him.
“Where are you going, Henry?”
“To fetch myself a nice beer,” he answered. “The beer garden will be closing soon.”
I motioned discreetly for the orderlies to come assist me, I knew he was getting too agitated.
“Why don’t we go to your room, Henry? I’ll have a beer brought to you.”
“I tried to stop him! I’m sorry, Mrs. Lincoln! I couldn’t stop him!” He turned and glared at me.
“Booth! You scoundrel! You’ll not leave this theatre alive!”
He lunged toward me, but I was able to easily avoid his grasp.
As was the case all too often, the orderlies had to roughly escort Mr. Rathbone back to his room.
“No! No, you fools! You’re letting him get away!”
The Real History:
Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, were guests of the Lincolns at Ford’s Theater that fateful night. Rathbone was viciously stabbed by Booth as he tried to apprehend him.
The guilt followed him the rest of his life. He drank excessively and eventually killed Clara in a fit of rage. He spent the last 28 years of his life in a mental institution.