“Leave?” Tom and Al said almost simultaneously. “We just got here a few minutes ago!”
“I’ve seen all I need to see,” I answered. “We need to get back to Major Mosby as soon as we can. So, let’s go.”
Al looked at Tom. Finally they just shrugged and got up from their sitting positions.
We went up the road and mounted the horses, and with Al in the lead, cautiously followed the narrow and very rutted old coaling trail around the northern end of the mountain. We made it to the west side of the Elk Ridge portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains without any mishap and followed the trail down the west side of the steep ridge line. In front of us was a road running north to south through this small valley created by Elk Ridge to the east and the small range of steep hills that formed the west side of the valley.
“Al, what is the name of the road we have to cross just up ahead?” I asked.
“Chestnut Grove Road,” he answered.
Our path downward would bring us to a small hamlet of about 5 houses clustered where our coaling road crossed the Chestnut Grove Road and then continued up and over the small range of hills ahead.
“You know anything about the people who inhabit those houses ahead?” I asked with a precarious tone. My tone must have spooked Al because he turned and answered, “Naw, I dunno nobody round ‘cheer.”
For some reason, I had a feeling of something being wrong. I quickly added, “How about we stop for a minute?”
We all reined in our cayuses about 100 yards above the valley floor. I grabbed my canteen. While taking a drink, I looked around the area. Al and Tom followed suit and also began to scan our immediate area in all directions. We could see the area pretty well because all the big trees had been harvested for coaling, and the secondary growth hadn’t obscured the terrain.
“What’s wrong?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know, but it don’t feel right.” I explained.
We continued to look around and finally I clarified, “I don’t see no children playing outside those houses down there. There ain’t no horses anywhere. And I don’t see any women doing any washing or outside chores.”
“Yeah, that is peculiar,” Tom commented. Al just nodded his head in the affirmative.
“Where you think they’re at?” I quizzed.
“Probly some are in tha howses, some are nawth of herah and some are sowth of herah, and I betcha some are straight ahead up on that therah coaling road we’s about to follar.”
“What’s the best way to go, if’n we want to get to Mosby in a hurry?” I asked.
“Sowth,” Al answered.
“Well, I ‘spect we better continue on down ‘til we hit the flat ground behind the houses. Then we can make a break for it off to our left and hightail it south,” I suggested.
Al added, “About a mile down the road is Frog Hollow road, what goes off to tha right. Follar it until it hits the C&O path. Then it’s a straight shot up to Mosby’s camp.”
Tom and I nodded. We made a big show of putting away our canteens and each of us surreptitiously pulled a Colt with our right hand and hid it behind our right leg. With our horses’ reins in our left hands we continued our slow descent to the valley floor.