The man standing in my way was the lockkeeper.
“Whar ju think yar goin?” he rasped.
His grin revealed two missing front teeth on his upper row and three on his lower row. He was stout and must have weighed about 170 pounds. He was a little taller than I, but it looked as if he was all muscle.
I pulled down my hat so my face was hard to see and spoke in my deepest Southern drawl.
“Ova ta tha ottah side of the rivah,” I replied.
“Ya gonna have ta pay toll for that thar privilege,” he said with a pleased smirk on his face.
I bent down, as if to put my hand in a pants pocket, brought the flat of my palm up toward his face from a crouch and said, “Well here ‘tis!”
My hand barely touched his chin, but the movement made him jerk his head, and therefore his upper torso, back so violently that he became airborne. His body was, for a split second, about two feet above and parallel to bridge.
He didn’t know how to take a martial arts fall. He didn’t relax his body, or slap his arms at a 45 degree angle, just before hitting the ground. He definitely didn’t curl his neck toward his chest upon impact to keep from hitting his head on the floor of the bridge.
His head smacked the bridge deck, and he was out cold. I felt for a pulse in his neck, and his heart was still beating. I figured I needed to vacate the area as quickly as possible.
I crossed over the bridge, walked down to the river shore line, and headed south to Boteler’s Ford. I didn’t know how long the lockkeeper would be out or if anyone had seen our little tussle. So I hurried along the river’s edge for about 500 yards.
The sun was up, and there were a few feet of fog suspended over the river. Looking across the water, I saw an old mill. I had read about the ford and the old mill that used to be on the Virginia side, and from those descriptions, I knew this was the place.
The river was down, and even though it was foggy, I could hear the rushing of water coursing over rocks. I took off my brogans and socks, and I walked down into the river. The water was cool and came up to my shins.
The Potomac acted as an elixir and felt really good to me. I began to gingerly walk across the river, testing each step for anything sharp. About half way across, I shifted my weight backward too far on my left leg as I stepped forward with my right. On the slick, slimy river bottom my feet went out from under me, and I spilled backwards with a yell.