Civil War Transcendence, part 343

 

In the parlance of my 21st Century jargon, Stonewall had arrived.

The highwayman’s horse landed on its left side, throwing the rider out of his saddle. The desperado actually arced away from his cayuse for a while, until the stirrup holding his right leg snapped him back to Mother Earth in a whiplash. He landed with a crunch that must have broken multiple bones in his body. His mount slowly rose, and once it had regained its footing, began to trot off to the north, which was opposite to the way we were going. The rider, whose right leg remained trapped in the stirrup, was dragged along like a rag doll.

I turned to see Stonewall standing in the middle of the pike looking at the horse and rider receding in the moonlight. I walked up to him and began to examine him for any injuries.  He was still heaving from his exertion, but didn’t seem to be any the worst for wear, except for a small area of swelling on his chest where he had collided with the highwayman’s mount. Taking his head in my hands and pulling it down to my chest, I began massaging his jaws. He immediately went into what I like to call his meditative state.

After a few seconds with tears in my eyes, I murmured, “Well, old pal, ya saved my bacon again. I don’t know how I can ever repay ya. Daphne’s love and your friendship are tha most prized possessions I have. I love ya old friend.”

He nuzzled me and gave me one of his famous snorts.  I moved around to his side and hugged his neck.

By this time Ahab had disembarked from the carriage’s driver seat and was helping the ladies exit the carriage. I could see they were shaken but physically fine.

As I walked toward the carriage with Stonewall following, I approached the face-down lifeless body of the highwayman that had been trampled by our team and turned him over.  I couldn’t make out his features, but searching in my coat pocket for a small box of Lucifers (matches), I pulled one out and lit it with a thumbnail. In the initial light from the flare, I recognized Marshal Gill’s deputy from Harpers Ferry.

I made a vow that there was going to be recompense for what had occurred here and for the attempted assassination of Major Mosby. I now had evidence that could be the basis for a number of actions once we got to Harpers Ferry.

Looking at Ahab and the ladies, I asked, “Could y’all please come forward and help identify this killer?”

As the ladies moved reluctantly toward me with Ahab in tow, I changed out the spent Colt cylinders and replaced them with loaded ones. It didn’t take any time at all to complete the task, and once finished, I put the pistols back in my belt.

When the ladies and Ahab had gathered round the body, I lit another match near the dead man’s face and heard a gasp from Daphne followed by a grunt from Ahab. Bessie didn’t utter a sound.

I looked at the group and asked, “Do y’all recognize this man?”

Daphne nodded and said, “Its tha deputy marshal from Harpers Ferry.”

I looked at Ahab and he returned my stare. We glared at each other for a few seconds. Then he looked down at the body and acknowledged, “Yep, that’s him alright.”

Raising his gaze to me he declared, “Ya didn’t give ‘em much chance.

I returned to that quiet place that had surfaced since I had entered this universe. My eyes narrowed to slits and I retorted, “They didn’t deserve a chance for what they were gonna do to me, the ladies and you. They didn’t wear any masks, which meant they were gonna kill all of us because we could recognize ‘em.”

This took Ahab by surprise. He looked at me with his mouth agape for a brief few seconds, but soon receded back into his gruff mien. Daphne gasped and put her hands over her heart. Bessie’s head jerked to look at me with a concerned expression, but she didn’t make a sound.

I looked at Ahab and ordered, “Help me put this body over Stonewall’s saddle. We’ll need it for evidence.”

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Civil War Transcendence, part 342

 

Bessie looked away and brushed the tear from her cheek.

Daphne was still looking at me with a fond smile. I grinned back and asked, “Where are we?”

Ahab answered immediately, “We’s at Kearneysville crossroads.”

“Where do we go from here?” I questioned.

“We’ll go ‘cross tha Kearneysville Pike and keep going straight for a while. Then we’ll follow switchbacks until we hit tha Shepherdstown Pike. That’ll take us into Halltown,” he informed me.

“’Bout how long ya think ‘til we hit Halltown?” I quizzed.

“Takes about three more hours ‘til we get to tha Shepherdstown Pike. Then it’ll be another three hours ‘til we get to Halltown,” he explained.

“I see,” I acknowledged.

At that, Ahab flicked the horses’ reins, and we continue heading in a southeasterly direction.

I looked behind me, and Stonewall was munching on some grass along the roadside. He must have felt me looking at him because he raised his head and snorted. I smiled and turned around.

For a carriage laden to the gills with baggage, we had progressed rather rapidly. Borrowing any unforeseen calamities, I figured we would get to Halltown at 9:00 p.m. I really didn’t want to travel rural roads at night, but this time it couldn’t be helped.

Three hours later, the sun had just set as we pulled onto the Shepherdstown Pike and headed south. I pulled my watch out, and in the twilight, I could barely make out the dials on my pocket watch, which displayed 5:45p.m.

Ahab kept resting the team whenever he could, but you could tell they were tiring. His entreaties to keep moving were getting more vociferous.

A west wind began to rustle the night air, which brought action from Bessie and Daphne. They extracted blankets from the top of the baggage stacked beside Bessie. Daphne got two blankets to cover us, while Bessie laid a blanket across Ahab’s wide shoulders. Then she got a blanket for herself. I looked back to see if I could see Stonewall, but it was too dark to see if he was there. However, I did hear a snort letting me know he was following. As an added precaution I pulled one of my Colts from my belt and laid it beside my right thigh.

Finally the moon came out, which allowed Ahab to clearly see the road and not have to totally trust the horses’ to follow the pike.

We had proceeded about thirty minutes from intersecting the pike when we suddenly stopped. I heard Ahab ask, “What do ya want?”

Due to the carriage configuration, we were behind Ahab and lower than his driver’s seat. We couldn’t see what was ahead of us, and anyone in front of the carriage couldn’t see us.

Somebody answered him, but I couldn’t hear what was said. I came out from under the blankets and whispered, “You ladies. Get down in the floor.”

They quickly took a prone position in bottom of the carriage. I pulled both Colts from my belt, and keeping a low profile, I stepped in the spaces between the ladies as I began to exit the carriage on the left side. I let myself down gently from the vehicle to keep it from swaying. Next, I bent low as I inched toward the front of the carriage.

I was just in time to hear a man say, “We’re looking for somebody. Maybe ya can help us find him.”

“Who?” Ahab responded.

“A Lieutenant Hager,” was the answer.

I continued forward until I was at the hind quarter of the last horse on the left nearest the carriage.  I took off my hat and rising just an inch at a time I finally was able to see two men on horseback in front of our team of horses.  They had pistols drawn and pointed at Ahab.

I think Ahab sensed my presence and he delayed his answer by mumbling in the most southern jargon, “Yowsir, he done died back in Martinsburg.”

The two men looked at each other, and I took the opportunity of cocking both Colts as I brought them up and fired them simultaneously.

Five things happened in sequence.

First, for some reason, our team of horses didn’t like the idea of being used as shields, plus being fired over in a gun fight. They bolted forward and rammed into the two highwaymen’s horses.

The second thing that occurred was, one of the men fell from his saddle into the road while his horse was forced to the left of the carriage and summarily rammed into a tree line bordering the pike.

The third thing that occurred was, Ahab exerted all his strength to get control of our team of horses. Through Herculean efforts, he got them stopped after they had traveled about twenty-five yards, but only after they had trampled the downed highwayman.

The fourth thing that happened was, the second highwaymen’s horse was forced to the right side of the carriage when our horses bolted. He fought to control his mount.

The fifth thing that happened was, I cocked my Colts and waited until the carriage had rumbled passed. Then I advanced toward the second highwayman alternatively firing my pistols. His horse began to buck, and he held on for dear life. I continued advancing and firing, but the rounds never found their mark, due to the panicked movement of the cayuse.

Suddenly, a shadowy shape came flying out of the darkness and rammed into the right side of the terrified animal. There was a loud crack, and both horse and rider were temporarily airborne.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 341

 

I have to say that I wasn’t back to my normal state of health, but I wasn’t an invalid either.  Each step I took back toward the main house seemed to help me gain a little bit more strength. However, I wasn’t going to push it by riding Stonewall back to Harpers Ferry.

I reached the back entrance to Uncle Jamison’s manor and stood for a moment watching Daphne supervise the loading of the carriage for our trip. Darting back and forth, she was a whirlwind of activity in getting our baggage attached to the small platform on the back of the coach. Ahab acted as her body guard, and with the servants under his constant glare, every order given by my Beloved was instantaneously obeyed.

Bessie acted as her quality control officer. If an item of work wasn’t performed to her liking, she would chastise the servant until it was. The packing was efficiently and rapidly completed.

Presently, Daphne saw me standing and admiring the efficiency of the triune team.  I grinned at her and nodded my respect. She gave me a little smile of pride, and since the carriage team of four horses was already harnessed, she motioned for me to get in.

I nodded my obedience and turned toward Stonewall. I put both hands on either side of his jaw and gently pulled him toward me. He ambled forward and lowered his head to rest on my chest. I began a slow massage of his jawline and muttered, “I want ya to follow us. I might need ya, if we get ambushed by any Yanks, so please stay close. Don’t take orders from anybody but me.”

He snorted, and letting go of his head, I stood back. I draped his reins over the saddle. When I turned back to go to the carriage, I had accumulated quite an audience. All work had stopped and everyone was watching Stonewall and me.

Ahab was the first to react, “Get back to work,” he ordered in a gruff voice.

All the servants jumped and began to finish packing the few items left of our baggage.  Daphne just grinned and shook her head at my antics.  Bessie got in the carriage and sat in a seat that faced the rear of the vehicle. She had boxes and a small trunk in the seat next to her.

Ahab checked the security of the baggage and then climbed up on the driver’s seat. Daphne and I got in the carriage and sat in the seats facing the front of the American version of a hansom.

Daphne said, “Let’s go,” and Ahab snapped the reins. For some reason I perceived we were off on another adventure.

We left town on Queen Street and headed north, which quickly got my attention. I put my hands on the butts of my Colts.  However, any apprehension was soon put to rest when we turned due east on a road and headed in a southeasterly direct. I relaxed the grips on my weapons and looked at Bessie. She had the same unperturbed look on her face that she carried all the time. I believe a herd of buffalo could stampede next to our carriage and she wouldn’t react.

I was sitting on the right side of the carriage and Daphne was on my left.  She gripped my left arm and moved closer to my side. Almost immediately, she drifted off to the Land of Nod with her head resting on my left shoulder. I knew she was exhausted from taking care of me, but how she slept with all the machinations of our carriage over some rough patches of road is beyond me.

Ahab kept the horses moving at an easy gait, with periods of walking to rest them. We had left about 11:00 a.m. and I checked my watch when we came to a well- traveled crossroads. It was about 2:00 p.m.  My movement must have woken Daphne because she asked, “Are ya hungry?”

I turned and looked down at this beautiful countenance surrounded by a loose fitting bonnet with ebony tresses escaping in cascades on either side of her face to land on her shoulders.  I was totally captivated. All I could do was look into those dark brown pools of devotion and sigh.

Daphne sat up straight and looked at me like I was having a relapse of weakness. She ventured, “Are ya feeling alright?”

I just smiled whimsically and murmured, “I couldn’t feel any better.”

“Then why are ya looking at me that way?” she asked.

“You don’t know, do ya?” I queried.

“Know what?” she returned.

“Just how absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous you are,” I answered.

“Drop-dead gorgeous?” she asked with a puzzled expression.

I nodded and added, “Where I come from that means ya are so gorgeous that a man could drop dead just from looking at yar beautiful face.”

My explanation made her blush. I chuckled, and she blushed even more.

After a few awkward moments, she gathered herself and said, “Thank you, Jim. That was nice of you to tell me how you feel. You are such a romantic, and I love ya for it. ”

I smiled that I had told her in some small measure of how much I adored her even if it was rather crude.

I was so lost in emotion that I hadn’t even noticed Bessie, who was sitting as still and as silent as the Sphinx. I suddenly became aware of her and looked in her direction.  As usually she maintained her stoic façade but with one exception, a tear was slowly making its meandering way down her right cheek.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 340

 

With Daphne at my side, I walked gingerly to the horse barn where Stonewall had been housed during my convalescence. The barn was constructed of three stalls on each side of the barn facing the central walkway.

I believe Stonewall either smelled me or sensed me before I entered the barn because he let out one of his famous whinnies, which made me smile.

Daphne took hold of my arm and asked, “How does he know that ya were coming?”

As I entered the barn, I glanced up to see Stonewall looking at me out of the middle stall on the right side of the barn. I laughed and answered Daphne, “We have a special rapport.”

In a disbelieving voice, she queried, “Ya and a horse have a special rapport?”

I kept walking toward my faithful steed and affirmed, “Yes. We do.”

Once I got to Stonewall, he lowered his head through the open top of the two tiered gate and I moved to where his head was touching my chest and began our ritual of rubbing his jaws, which sent him into his meditative state. I closed my eyes also, and we held this posture for a long time. I guess we both reached that spiritual position where we were content and peaceful at the same time, because I stepped back as Stonewall raised his head.

I looked at Daphne, who had remained silent while Stonewall and I communed together. She had the most bewildered expression on her face. She reluctantly admitted, “I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it. Y’all do have a special bond.”

I nodded my affirmation. Then I asked, “Who’s gonna saddle Stonewall?”

Just after my question had been uttered, Ahab entered the barn and said, “I will.”

I looked at him, and making sure my coat was open to my pistols, nodded for him to proceed.

However, Stonewall’s ears immediately lay back and his body went tense when he saw Ahab. I smiled and suggested, “I don’t think so. He might hurt you.”

Ahab came to stand in front of Stonewall’s stall and witnessed the cayuse’s disposition. He didn’t dispute my observation.

I asked if there was another person that could saddle Stonewall. Ahab didn’t offer any help. However, I espied a young servant who had come out of a stall across the walk way. He was no more than eighteen but volunteered, “I can saddle ‘em.”

I nodded and instructed, “He likes the saddle to be clinched tight, but the bridle with plenty of play in the bit.”

Ahab left the barn in a huff as the servant moved to retrieve all of the saddle and tack.  With the disappearance of a malicious presence, Stonewall’s ears perked back up and his body relaxed into his usual peaceful state.

Daphne said, “I’ll go supervise the loading of the carriage.” I kissed her on the cheek as we hugged. Then she walked out of the barn toward the house.

The young man expertly saddled and bridled Stonewall, and for some reason, his movements seemed familiar. Then I remembered where I had witnessed the same competent expertise. In a low voice I hinted, “Ya wouldn’t perchance know a horseman by the name of John Lee, would ya?”

The young man snapped his head around to look at me in surprise and answered, “Yas sur. He’s my grandpa. How’d ya know dat?”

“Ya have the same movements and the same way with animals as John Lee. They trust ya and aren’t afraid of ya,” I explained.

The young man said, “Thank ya, sir. I ‘preciate it.”

When he had finished saddling Stonewall, I handed him a greenback and said, “Thanks for coming to our rescue, and tell John Lee hello for me.”

The young man accepted the dollar and summarily put it in his pocket while looking left and right to make sure no one saw the exchange.  Then he asked, “What’s the name I can tell grandpa?”

“Tell him Jim Hager said hello,” I submitted.

The young man’s eyes lit up and he said, “I heard tell of ya from grandpa.”

I smiled and said, “If’n it hadn’t been for yar grandpa, Miss Daphne and I would not be here today. He saved our lives.”

The man’s eyes widened and he said, “He nevah told us that.”

“It’s quite a story. Ya need to get him to tell it so ya can pass it down to your chillen and grandchillen,” I urged.

He nodded in agreement.

I offered my hand, which he self-consciously took, and we shook hands. Then pulling gently on Stonewall’s reins, my equine spirit animal and I walked out of the barn toward the big house.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 339

 

Daphne entered the room holding the clothes that I had been wearing when she absconded with me from Harpers Ferry. She brought them to me and laid them on the bed for me to begin dressing. I couldn’t help but smell the fresh washed aroma that emanated from them. Something came to mind immediately that I hadn’t contemplated previously. I was now swathed in bedclothes. Who had undressed me and put me in this temporary apparel? I flushed red as a beet and glanced at her with a questioning look.

She must have read my mind, which she was forever accomplishing to my amazement and anxiety, because she let out a deep hearted laugh.

I tentatively asked, “Did ya?”

Between laughter and giggles she answered, “What do ya think?”

I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, I was able to radiate some semblance of dignity and return, “Daphne Jane Newcomer, you are a stinker.”

This triggered another round of laughter that caused her to grip her sides and take a seat on the side of my bed. I have to admit that, after a bit, I smiled, chuckled, and finally joined in the hilarity.

With tears running down her face, she was finally able to stammer, “Ya should have seen yar face.” Then she had another round of mirth at my expense.

I laughed too. I could just picture my discomposure.  We gradually ceased our merriment just as Ahab and Bessie came into the room to see what all the amusement was about.

We looked at them and began to laugh again. They looked at each other, shrugged and left the room.

I looked down at the black civilian clothes I had been wearing since their purchase in Shepherdstown. I suggested, “I guess ya better vacate tha area so I can get dressed.”

“Nonsense,” she exclaimed, “I have two brothers. I have seen tha male anatomy before, besides ya might have problems with yar balance while dressing.”

Looking at her with a serious expression, I firmly stated, “Ya might have viewed yar brothers without clothes, but ya haven’t …” I stopped without finishing my statement. I just pointed at the bedroom door and commanded, “Get.”

She laughed, and with an amused expression, left the room.

I readily got undressed and put on my drawers. However, it took me a few tries to get on my socks and few more tries to don my trousers which, thank heavens, already had the bracers attached. I was sweating by the time I got on my shirt. Daphne must have been listening at the door, because she entered just as I reached for my boots.

‘I’ll help with those,” she informed me.

Then she proceeded to put a boot on my left foot and helped me to pull it up as far as it would go. Next, she acted as a crutch, so I could stand up and stomp my foot into the leather sheath. While I was still standing, she draped a boot over my right foot, and I was able to seat it in the buckskin scabbard.

I was somewhat light headed, but was feeling better due to the exercise.

Even though I had bracers, I ran a black leather belt through the belt loops I had sown on my trousers during one of our many nights in camp.  Then I jammed my Navy Colts in the belt, and with Daphne’s help, slipped into my black coat. Lastly, I donned my black wide-brim hat.

I turned to Daphne and said, “I want to thank ya from tha bottom of my heart for taking care of me, for washing my clothes, for feeding me, and most of all, for loving me.”

I opened my arms, and she glided expertly into my embrace. We remained in that position for a few moments. Then we unclenched and kissed. We broke contact just as Uncle Jamison entered the room.

With an excited and cheerful tone, he blustered, “I understand that y’all are leaving for Harpers Ferry.”

We both nodded.

Turning to Daphne, he lied, “Well, I am glad that ya chose my home for tha recuperation of Lieutenant Hager.”

Turning to me, he further lied, “I wish ya all tha best in tha defense of our country, Lieutenant.”

I nodded and said, “Thank ya for allowing me to use yar home for tha healing of my wound, sir.”

I didn’t offer my hand, but simply gave a short bow and walked out to the stables with Daphne close behind.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 338

 

A young corporal was ushered into the room. The bright yellow piping on his Confederate uniform signified he was in the cavalry.

He saw me and advanced to within a few feet of the bed, saluted and uttered, “Sir, I have orders from Colonel Daniels for you. I am to wait for your reply, sir.”

He handed me an envelope, saluted and left the room.

I immediately broke open the seal and unfolded three sheets of papers.  The first one read:

 

“There has been an attempt on Major Mosby’s life. He was shot from ambush and was grievously wounded.  It was not a mortal wound, but it will take time for him to heal. He talked with me and requested specifically that you take over his post as soon as possible. He indicated you had knowledge of a possible organization operating in the area that was responsible for his being shot and for other traitorous acts. I have acceded to his appeals and the enclosed attachments authorize your new post. You were to be promoted to Captain for your efforts during the mission to Frederick, MD in one month, but circumstances have required this advancement in rank to be as of October 25, 1862.”

 

I quickly shifted to the second sheet of paper. In very calligraphic writing it read:

 

“Lieutenant James Hager is hear-by promoted to the rank of Captain with said rank to be established as of October 25, 1862.”

 

The third sheet of paper was in the same handwriting as the first, and I presumed it, too, was written by Colonel Daniels:

 

“You will immediately report to me at Harpers Ferry Garrison. Your new post will be Executive Officer under my command. You shall occupy this post until Major Mosby has recuperated. I will brief you on your specific duties when you arrive.”

Colonel William Daniels

Commander, Harpers Ferry Garrison

Confederate States of America

 

I nodded and a great determination came over me. As the tumblers of my mind locked into place, I became resolved to implement a complete eradication of all the covert and open hostile forces in our area of Virginia.

I began to get up, but Daphne said, “Y’are not well enough to go to Harpers Ferry!”

I stopped and declared, “Daphne, I’m in tha cavalry. I have been ordered to return to my post.  I have to go.”

She gave me a look of dismay and then just shook her head. Then, her face lit up as she gained an insight to the problem. She declared, “We’ll take ya in tha carriage. That way ya won’t have as hard a trip as on horseback.”

I looked at her for a long few seconds, debating the pros and cons of her announcement. One, Ahab would not hazard killing me while in the company of Daphne. Two, although I would like to be back in the saddle, it would behoove me to take it easy as long as I could. Three, the carriage had a decent suspension system by 19th century standards and would make for a less bumpy journey.

Daphne was looking at me with much trepidation, but when I smiled and nodded my head in affirmation, she grinned and let out a sigh of relief. Immediately, she turned to Ahab and Bessie, who had entered the room to see what the hubbub was about, and said, “Get the carriage ready for travel to Harpers Ferry and load our things plus Lt. Hager’s possessions.”

I held up my hand in abeyance. Every eye turned toward me. I stated emphatically, “I want Stonewall saddled in my presence. He will be allowed to accompany the carriage at his leisure. Is that clear?”

The bluntness of my orders shocked Daphne, while it made Ahab’s face break into a wolfish grin.

I met his grin with an evil smile, while gently raising the Colts against the sheets that covered my weapons of mass destruction.

His grin turned to a look of pure hatred.  Then he left the room to begin the packing of baggage for our trip. Bessie had witnessed our ethereal exchange without any sign of emotion. She abruptly turned and exited the room to begin her duties.

Daphne viewed the exchanges with a look of fear.

I turned to her and said, “Please have the courtier sent to me.”

She hurried from the room, and almost immediately, the courtier entered the room and saluted.

I saluted and directed, “Please relay to Colonel Daniels that we will leave for Harpers Ferry instantly. We should be there by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”

The courtier responded, “Yes, sir.”

He saluted, which I returned, and he left the room.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 337

I took another long searching look at my Beloved and just sighted at the beauty of this lovely woman.  If I wanted to have a life with her, I had to find a way to thwart Mr. Newcomer’s plan of eradicating me by using his instrument of death, Ahab Duggan. Also, if feasible, I needed not to send Ahab to a well-deserved grave. He was an asset to the Newcomer family and probably the community of Harpers Ferry and its environs.  But how to accomplish these monumental tasks had me stumped.

I must have been thinking too much on resolutions to my problems because Daphne uttered, “Jim, are ya alright? You seem to be looking at me so strangely.”

I had been so wrought up in trying to design a plan that I must have had a bewildered look on my face.  I quickly refocused on Daphne and stammered, “I’m alright. I was just lost in thought.”

Daphne gave one of her raised eyebrow looks that denoted I had better watch my step or I would be summarily chastised. I grinned back at her, and she immediately changed to a narrow-eyed gaze that signified I was, at this moment, a scoundrel in her estimation.

I couldn’t help but chuckle, and the levity broke the ice. Daphne just shook her head and said, “What am I gonna do with ya?”

I retorted, “I have some ideas on that accord, but Uncle Jamison has disallowed any further displays of affection between us.”

I thought this would shock Daphne, but to my amazement she whispered, “What Uncle Jamison doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

I recoiled in surprise and realized that Daphne had turned the tables on me when she laughed and pointed at my astonished expression.

I joined in the merriment with her.  We both collapsed in laughter while recalling the distressed look on Uncle Jamison’s face when he caught us in each other’s arms.

We finally were able to control ourselves until Uncle Jamison entered the room with that “holier than thou” look to see what all the amusement was about. Just seeing his expression caused another wave of hilarity on our part that embarrassed him and sent him from the room, shaking his head at the antics of our generation.

Daphne sat down in a chair next to my bed.  Suddenly, a handkerchief mysteriously appeared in her hand with which she dabbed at the tears of mirth streaming down her face.  I had to wipe tears from my cheeks also.

We slowly became coherent and Daphne offered, “Are ya hungry?”

I thought for a moment and then confessed, “I could take a morsel or two. Maybe eight or ten.”

Daphne giggled, and getting up, departed on her mission of food foraging.

I began to look at some facts that had been staring me in the face, but I was too addled to see them.

bare knuckles boxing

One; from the information I had gathered from Bessie, Ahab has been told to kill me. He could have killed me with my own pistols earlier, but he didn’t. It was probably because of Daphne’s presence, plus he considered it professional courtesy to let it be known he was gunning for me.

Two; he must perform his mission without Daphne knowing it was sanctioned by her father, or that Ahab was the instrument of her father’s will.

Three; to fulfill what I believed were the conditions of his assignment, Ahab would have to eliminate me from afar, or if he wanted to achieve his revenge while facing me, he would have to do it when Daphne wasn’t around and during the night.

So what were the solutions to this dilemma?

First, I needed to get out of Daphne’s presence. No matter how well Ahab tried to conduct my assassination, she could be collateral damage. Next, the safest place for me right now was with the cavalry. Then, I had to perform some exploit that would change Mr. Newcomer’s mind and allow me to live, plus allow Daphne and I to marry.  Finally, the last and the hardest, was to change Ahab’s mind which was set on revenge for breaking his wrist.

I was just starting to fashion some pretense for joining the cavalry when Daphne rushed into the room. Her face was ashen and she was wringing her hands.

She haltingly stated, “There’s a courier at the door. Mosby’s been shot and Colonel Daniels, the commander at Harpers Ferry wants ya to report to him immediately.”

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Civil War Transcendence, part 336

 

“Wow!” I finally uttered in an adoring tone.

“What’d ya mean, wow?” Daphne questioned.

“Where I come from, that means fantastic or great or wonderful,” I informed her.

“Oh!” she spoke in an embarrassed tone and turned a reddened face to avert my gaze.

“Daphne, you were magnificent. Don’t be self-conscious. Ya never cease to amaze me,” I stated with awe in my voice.

Blushing profusely, she smiled and nervously pulled at her dress.

I held out my arms to her. She sat on the edge of my bed, and leaning forward, she laid her head on my chest. Then she began to softly cry.  I put my arms around her and gently caressed her beautiful hair. I began to quietly hum Lorena and slowly rock back and forth. She was so tired that she went to sleep in my arms. I must have gone to sleep, also.

We both were awakened by Bessie noisily starting to straighten up some of the paraphernalia that had been scattered throughout the room during the time I was unconscious and recuperating.

Daphne rose from my arms and stood up. She was wobbly for a moment, but quickly regained her equilibrium. She then stated, “I need to freshen up. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

She looked at me imploringly, as if to say, “Is that alright?”

I smiled at her and jokingly said, “I promise to not go anywhere.”

“Ah, ya rascal. I bet you might try,” she returned accusingly.  Then she left the room.

I turned to see Bessie looking intently at me. She had heard our banter. She held my gaze with an impartial stare and then turned back to her cleaning.

I ventured, “Ya have something to say, Bessie?”

She turned, faced me and announced, “Ya know that Marse Newcomer ain’t nevah gonna let ya marry Daphne, don’t cha?”

The questioning statement took me by surprise.  I just looked at her as comprehension slowly came to my mind and then must have shown in my face.  Without showing any triumphant expression or exulting in what she must have believed was going to be an evident end to my life, she turned back to her housework. With this fortuitous but dire warning in mind, I began to create a plan to counter Marse Newcomer and his minions.

I was aroused from deep contemplation when Daphne sashayed into the room. I swear the room brightened with her entrance. She was wearing a light green dress that accentuated her coal-black hair and dark brown eyes. Her hair, which was so long that it reached down her back to her waist, was entwined into one large braid.  Whenever light from a candle or lantern touched her hair at just the right angle, her tresses emitted a greenish luster. It gave a mysterious enchantment to her being that would have beguiled a saint, let along an average Joe like myself. I just loved having the privilege of viewing all this loveliness.

Daphne swiftly became an insatiable flirt when she saw I was ogling her so intently. Giving me that ‘come hither’ stare, she blatantly asked, “How do I look?”

I laughed and enthusiastically reported,”Ya look breath-taking.”

She gave me a smile, bowed, and in her best coquettish southern belle-type voice, returned, “Why, thank ya, Mr. Hager. You’re too kind.”

I was so amused at her antebellum repartee that I laughed and declared, “Daphne, you’re something else.”

This confused her. She cocked her head, and with a questioning tone, reiterated, “I am ‘something else’?”

I saw her puzzlement, and rather than have her think I was making fun of her, I explained, “Where I come from, that means there’s no one that comes close to being like ya, and Darling, you are the most gorgeous woman in the world.”

She was at once mollified, and her brilliant smile seemed to illumine even the darkest parts of the room.

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Civil War Transcendence, part 335

 

Daphne stood up from my embrace and stammered, “Uncle Jamison, I wasn’t expecting ya for another two days.”

Looking reproachfully at Daphne he blustered, “Apparently not.”

Turning his censorious gaze on me, he bellowed, “Sir, who might you be?”

In an embarrassing tone, I hesitantly muttered, “I’m Lieutenant Jim Hager.”

The man’s eyebrows arched so high I thought they would touch the beginning of his hairline. In an exasperated voice he croaked, “Oh yes, I’ve definitely heard of you. My brother has filled me on yar exploits both at his home, at my sister’s home and with Major Mosby. Ya have put all of our family in jeopardy on more than one occasion.  We don’t need the likes of ya in Virginia. Ya will kindly vacate my home at once.”

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Image from Gone with the Wind © 1939 MGM/Warner Bros.

Daphne stomped her foot and cried, “Ya will not address a deliverer of me, my aunt and her household from the clutches of the Yankees, plus renderer of  courageous service for the Confederate cause in such an abusive manner. He has just returned from a very dangerous and successful campaign, which Major Mosby informed me couldn’t have been achieved without his able assistance. I was told by Major Mosby himself that Jim will be promoted to the rank of captain for the great service he provided.”

Two things occurred simultaneously. One; I jerked my head in Daphne’s direction,  and I swear, my mouth gaped open so wide that my lower jaw hit my chest. And two; Uncle Jamison’s eyeballs almost bulged out of their sockets.

“Don’t you talk to me like that young lady,” he roared.

If Uncle Jamison thought his would cower Daphne Jane Newcomer, he was totally mistake.

Bending over from the waist with a snarl, clinched fists and the scrunched-up face of a demon, Daphne advanced on her uncle with such malevolence that the man actually took two steps backwards.  I definitely learned one aspect of my Beloved’s character that day.  Apparently Daphne had a penchant for violence if pushed too far.  I made a note to never, ever get her really mad.

Uncle Jamison quickly brought up his hands in front of his chest as if to ward off an attack. “Well, now, maybe I was a little too hasty,” he uttered as he sidled back another step. “But you never should conduct yourself in such an improper manner in which I discovered you today,” he returned, trying to gain some semblance of righteousness for his previous utterance.

If possible, Daphne looked even more horrible when she declared through gritted teeth, “I will act any way I desire with my husband to be.”

Again, two things happened at once. One; my eyebrows arched so high that I thought they touched my hairline. And two; Uncle Jamison’s jaw gaped open so wide that it almost hit his chest.

Then Daphne straightened, while still facing her uncle, and fired the killer volley of her assault. “Major Mosby sent for me, once he had returned to Harpers Ferry, and asked me to take care of Lieutenant Hager, who was wounded when a Yankee saber blow to the back of his head befell him while leading a flanking attach on the enemy’s cavalry. I will not abandon such a brave officer and my future husband. As soon as we can gather our possessions together, we will be leaving, and you can rest assured, that my father and the proper Confederate authorities will hear of this.”

Uncle Jamison was so devastated and deflated from his niece’s onslaught that he staggered to a chair and sat down.  He took out a handkerchief from a vest pocket and wiped the sweat from his brown, while looking at the floor.  A moment later he looked at Daphne and conceded, “Okay, you can stay, but please conduct yourselves in a proper manner within the bounds of responsible courtship in the future.”

Daphne just continued to stare at him with an eagle-eyed stern gaze until the man threw up his hands and left the room.

I turned to stare with a newfound sense of respect and awe at this beautiful young woman, who imbued both the personification of the Goddess of War and the Goddess of Love in one small frame.

She let out a triumphant huff, and coming back to my bed, said, “Well, I guess we have a place to stay for a few more days.”

All I could do was gawk at this female Stonewall Jackson and nod my assent.

 

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Civil War Transcendence, part 334

 

Seeing this vengeful Angel of Death standing over me with my only means of self-defense in his possession, shocked me. My whole body tensed, and my face must have displayed a look of fear and trepidation. Then a thought crept into my consciousness from long ago, “Today is a good day to die.”

Looking pointedly at Ahab, I smiled and relaxed my feeble body back into the caresses of my bed.

This ploy wiped the smile off Ahab’s face. He was hoping for me to show constant signs of terror and dread.

I continued to look him in the eye and said, “Go ahead. Do your worst. I can’t stop ya.”

He looked down at me with a hatred that could melt iron.  I quit smiling, but looked at him with all the malice I could conjure.  This must have been more to his liking because he nodded his acceptance that we would always be enemies. He dropped the Colts on the bed, turned and stalked out of the room.

It took me a few moments to let both my mind and body catchup with what had just happened. My heart was still pounding to beat 60. My mind was racing with all the scenarios that could have happened.  When I finally got both settled down, I realized that I had to be on my guard around Ahab from now on because I was fair game.

Letting out a deep breath, I murmured, “So be it.”

With trembling hands I picked up the Colts, checked them to see if they were actually loaded, which they were, and put them under the bed covers.

Bessie came into the room and put my saddlebags on the bed so that I could reach them. I hazarded a look at her, and when she saw that I was looking at her, she averted her gaze.

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“How long have ya been married to Ahab?” I asked.

She was caught completely by surprise with my query, but answered proudly, “We jumped tha broom ‘bout five years ago, after I was bought to replace one of tha house servants that died. We married right off.”

I looked at her thoughtfully for a few seconds. She returned my gaze with equanimity. She wasn’t playing the game of being a servile person anymore. She revealed her true character, a strong and mature woman.

Then she quietly asked, “How come you’re alive? He came in here to kill ya. What did ya do?”

“That’s between him and me,” I retorted and looked at her with a new level of understanding of the undercurrents that ran through the Newcomer household.

She just nodded, put on her demeanor of servitude, turned and walked rapidly out of the room.  I looked after her and thought, “That’s another one to be leery of. She’s as dangerous as Ahab.”

Daphne traipsed into the room with her toothbrush and a look of contentment until she saw my countenance.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded.

“Nothing. I just had an insight as to how things really work in Virginia,” I chuckled.

With a worried look she questioned, “How do ya mean?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Let’s brush our teeth in unison. Can we get a communal bowl of water for the baptism?” I quipped.

This must have tickled her funny bone because she laughed out loud and yelled, “Bessie, fetch us a bowl of water.”

From the hall we heard, “Yes’m.”

In a jiffy, Bessie entered the door with a half filled bowl of well water and left the room.

I asked Daphne, “Can you help me sit up for this necessary health procedure?”

She laughed again and said, “I sure can. Just don’t do too much too soon.”

I raised my hand and said, “I promise. Scout’s honor.”

I could tell she had never heard of this 20th century colloquialism. I had made a faux pas. So I reached out with my arms and said, “Help me up.”

She rushed to help me, and after a few moments of maneuvering, I was able to get propped to a sitting position in bed.  I extracted my dental paraphernalia from my saddlebags. Daphne picked up the bowl and sat down on the edge of the bed. We immersed our brushes in the water, put dental powder in our palms and dipped the brushes in the cleaning solution, which coated our cleaning instruments. We looked at each other like two kids about to embark on an adventure and began the age old brushing motion we learned in our youths.  The sweet-tasting dental powder quickly enticed a swift flow of saliva for which we weren’t ready. Soon we had white foam coming out of our mouths and must have look like we had hydrophobia.  We got to laughing so hard that we were spraying foam over each other and the bed covers.  Finally, we spit enough of dental cleanser into the bowl to regain some control of our taste buds.  Then we went on laughing for a few minutes.  Once we had regained some semblance of propriety, we looked at each other and again collapsed into howls of laughter.

We hugged and gradually she rested with her head on my chest.  I reached down and took her beautiful face in my hands and said, “I love you.”

She was too choked with emotion to respond, but kissed me deeply with tears running down her cheeks.

Suddenly, from the doorway we heard, “Here, here, what is all this?”

We looked up to see a squat-body man viewing us with an appalled glare.

 

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