Before me on the table lies a small brass latch-key. It has a worn-out look, as if it had served its time and had been honorably discharged, but if it had a tongue few other keys could tell so notable a history. During the administrations of seventeen successive Presidents of the United States, it opened the front door of the Executive Mansion at Washington. The lock it belonged to was put on when that house was built, and was replaced by a new one in the time of President Grant. In my own mind and memory, this key is associated with the years which I spent in and about the White House; the years of Lincoln's administration; the days of the Civil War; the terrible furnace time, during which, as it then and ever since has seemed to me, the old nation melted away and a new nation was moulded.
This is the year 1861, and although it is so early in the spring the weather is warm. Suppose we stroll toward the White House.
The short, thin, smiling, humorous-looking elderly Irishman in the doorway is Old Edward, the all but historic doorkeeper, who has been so great a favorite through so many administrations. He is as well liked by his seventh President as he was by even General Taylor. There is no end of quiet fun in him as well as intelligence, and his other name is Fidelity. He is said to have been the first man met in the White House by Mr. Lincoln who succeeded in making him laugh.
"Mr. Secretary"--and he is holding out something upon the palm of his open hand--"I've been getting some new latch-keys for the young gentlemen. I don't know what's become of the keys we had. Maybe they've gone South and mean to come back, some day, and open the door."
Two of the keys are bright and new, but one is old and tarnished.
"There's one for Mr. Nicolay, and one for Mr. Hay, and one for yourself. That's the old one, that belonged to the lock when it was put on."