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The Yellow Oval Room, the White House, Washington
July 9th 1850, dawn
The heavy, velvet drapes of the Yellow Oval Room were drawn back and through the windows the pale, first light of dawn could be seen spreading over the South Lawns. The gas lamps still burned brightly and the light reflected from the walls, papered as they were in deep yellow with gilded stars, gave both men in the room a somewhat jaundiced tinge.
The man standing at the window looking out was fifty years old and wore a baggy black suit. Of middle height and full figure, his thick fair hair, fleshy jowls, and plentiful chin gave the impression of a man who would smile and chuckle easily, a comfortable, jolly man. But not imposing. In no way could he be described as a man whose bearing alone would command attention, respect, and obedience. His aspect was, if anything, avuncular. Yet in a few days this man would command considerable attention though not, regrettably, respect or obedience. It would be paid to him by the highest in the land in no less a place than Capitol Hill where he would be sworn in as the thirteenth president of the United States.
Millard Fillmore turned away from the window. He looked tired, as indeed he was. He had been working non-stop through the night and when he spoke there was no disguising the weariness in his voice.
‘President Taylor won’t last the day. The medical men are all agreed that he will probably die sometime this morning.’
‘Thank God they are finally able to agree on something.’
The man who spoke stood by the presidential desk. Daniel Webster was a man whose appearance very much might commanded attention and, among some, respect and obedience. Of no great height he was sixty-eight years old and thin, but he stood ram-rod erect in a superbly cut, dove-grey suit. He looked at the world through sunken, dark, eyes shaded by heavy eyebrows. What straggly hair he still possessed lay brushed back flat and his high, prominent cheekbones emphasised a cruel mouth. His face, his bearing and manner gave him an air of supreme arrogance. And they did not lie.
Vice President Fillmore nodded in agreement.
‘Aye, they haven’t covered themselves in any glory in this business.’ He let his eyes wander abstractedly around the room. ‘You know, once it was clear that Taylor would die, almost the first thing Abigail said was that she wanted to turn this room into a library. She wants me to ask Congress for the money.’
‘A fine woman, Abigail, but impetuous and disconnected from the greater affairs of the nation as women are. For myself, I doubt that upon the death of President Taylor a new presidential library will be one of your most pressing concerns.’
‘No, I don’t suppose it will.’
The vice president turned and gazed out of the window once more and the man by the desk waited in silence for a short while, but he was not a patient man.
‘Well, Mr Vice President, are you going to gaze out of that window much longer or will you tell me why you have brought me here at this ungodly hour?’
Millard Fillmore came back to the desk and sat down.
‘I want President Taylor buried.’
‘And when he’s dead he will be. When he’s gone his body will be put in the public vault in the Congressional Cemetery until it’s taken back to Kentucky.’
‘I mean I want him buried in every sense of the word. I want his remains in the ground with every ceremony proper to a president and a hero of the Mexican War.’ The new president-in-waiting sat back, folded his hands together, and looked at Webster, ‘And then I want him forgotten.’