It was a most unusual sound, not at all fitting with the play he was watching.
It came from somewhere behind him, he leaned back in his rocking chair and glanced over his shoulder. There was nothing there, but the noise filled him with a premonition of danger.
For a few weeks, he had been haunted by the dreams of his own demise, attending his own funeral. He had dismissed the bullet hole in his hat the prior year as someone unaware of who he was. Besides, he did not want to worry his wife. But something was amiss about this evening, and for once he was concerned for his own safety.
While trying to look engaged in the antics on the stage below him, he strained to listen for other sounds that something was not as it should be. There was a soft creaking, almost like someone intentionally trying to be quiet, approaching the inner door, the one but a few feet behind him.
He slid his hand into his suit coat, grasping the handle of the small revolver he decided to bring along on nothing more than a hunch. His wife might have protested that he was tempting fate and inviting danger by arming himself, but he would never have told her that he was resorting to such a thing.
She had tried to beg off the engagement altogether, perhaps ill, but more likely sick with the idea of the company that was to join them. The feelings were mutual to some extent, and the invitation was extended to the daughter of a friend and her fiancee. His wife offered only passive resistance at this point. He thought it might be to keep up the impression that she had been sick, to further that excuse as one for not attending since her main objection to the engagement was now gone.
The fuss was enough to make him want to stay home, but he felt obligated. A promise was a promise. People expected him to be there.
He paused for a moment and thought of that very same obligation. People expected his presence, possibly even those who wished to do him harm. He listened more intently as he was certain he heard the inner door being carefully opened.
The crowd did not help, there were roars in delight as the comedy played out on the stage. For his part, he had to feign laughter as well, lest he give away that his attention was keenly divided. There could be no doubt, the door had been opened, albeit it briefly, and he felt as if someone was behind him.
The figure did not speak, nor it attempt to get his attention, both things pointed to something sinister as far as he was concerned. He grasped the small pistol and pulled it gently from his coat. He glanced quickly at his wife, who did not spy the weapon or notice his eyes fixed upon her. Then he sprang from the chair and whirled about in one motion, leveling the weapon at the figure behind him.
The man in the theater box was in the process of producing his own weapon. Without hesitation, he fired upon the intruder before the interloper's weapon could be brought to bear, felling the man with a shot to the upper chest. The commotion was not immediately heard outside the box, the incident occurring at a part of the play that elicited an eruption of laughter from the crowd just as the shot was fired.
On the floor lay a face he recognized, a well-known man to this theater, a young actor of some talent: John Wilkes Booth. Booth's sympathies for the South were not unknown to him, and the President could no control his anger that the young man wished to do him harm.
"Sic semper actores!" he bellowed, as the crowd's attention focused on his box. The barricade to the box, which Booth had too noisily put in place moments before, was lifted, but it was too late to save the dying actor.
Newspapers were ablaze the following day. Depending on where their sympathies lay, either Abraham Lincoln gunned down a well-wisher in cold blood, or the heroic President defended himself against a would-be assassin.