Daphne finished her crying and silently started to finish packing. She included the hotel pillows that the ladies were going to use for the replicas of themselves they would create later in the day.
A gloomy mood was prevalent in the room. Daphne believed I was a dead man walking. Mrs. Douglas was exhausted due to all the excitement over the last three days. Hattie was fearful that I might be killed. She had saved my life once before, and she didn’t want her efforts to go for naught.
John Lee and I were antsy. We just wanted to get the show on the road.
When the ladies declared they were finished packing, John Lee and I went to the livery via the back door of the hotel and harnessed the team of four horses for the carriage. I saddled Stonewall, who also seemed eager to be on the trail again.
We brought the carriage and Stonewall to the front of the hotel.
Gingerly, John Lee, the desk clerk (who was thrilled we were leaving) and I transferred the ladies parcels, boxes, accessories and clothing from the third and second floors to the front porch of the hotel. I might add that the whole process was strictly managed by our three supervisors.
It took John Lee and me about an hour to pack, strap and tie down the abundant load that was to be transported to Shepherdstown. During the time we labored under frequent orders from our monitors, who solemnly sat on the hotel porch in rocking chairs. During the complicated process, I happened to look across the road to the trees that lined the Potomac. Stonewall had lapsed into one of his meditative states and exemplified the epitome of rest and relaxation.
It got to me, so I yelled, “Stonewall, wake up.”
My faithful steed, who knew when I was messing with him, just snored and continued to enjoy his state of bliss.
Once the carriage was ready to go, I asked the ladies, “Please take your seats.”
Reluctantly, they abdicated their thrones of authority and, with our help, climbed into the carriage. When they were seated, John Lee and I quickly entered the hotel lobby.
We retrieved our 19th century version of Kevlar vests from behind the registration desk. They had been surreptitiously delivered by a cavalry unit the night before. The bullet-proof devices were actually iron plates about twenty-four inches long by eighteen inches wide by one inch thick. A hole had been bored on each side of our plates at the top through which a long leather strap had been looped and whose ends were knotted on the outside of the plate. It allowed John Lee and me to drape the straps over our necks and let the plate hang down over our chests. This, supposedly, would protect us from a sniper’s shot to the body. With the plates in place, we buttoned our coats and went out to the carriage.
John Lee mounted the carriage and occupied the driver’s seat while I wedged into the carriage next to Daphne. The interior and exterior of our 19th century version of a SUV was packed to the gills. In fact, our four-horse team had a bit of a strain to break the inertia to get us moving.
We had proceeded down the street a few hundred feet when John Lee turned and asked, “Where to?”
“Halltown Road by way of Bolivar Heights,” I replied.
John Lee nodded his affirmation at my pick of routes to follow. At the end of the street, John Lee turned the horses to climb the hill toward Bolivar Heights. At that point, I turned around to see if Stonewall was following, and sure enough, he was to the right of the carriage and just behind me.
The seating arrangement was dictated by me before we left the hotel. Hattie and Mrs. Douglas were seated with their backs to John Lee, facing Daphne and me. I was seated on the right side of the carriage and facing forward, while Daphne was to my left and facing forward. Letting me sit on the right side allowed me to have my right hand free to draw my Colt at a moment’s notice. Also, it allowed me to bring Stonewall alongside the moving vehicle and jump into his saddle, if need be.
During the trek up the steep incline, John Lee had to stop and let the horses rest twice. It was my job at these times to get the back wheels chocked so the carriage would be stationary and not pull backwards against the horses.
When we finally made it to the top of the heights, John Lee turned the carriage toward the Confederate outpost. Our horses were plum tuckered out and needed some time to regain their horse power after their climbing effort.
When John Lee halted the carriage in front of the outpost, the ladies were ushered into the outpost by the duty sergeant, seated and given cool water to drink. John Lee and I unencumbered ourselves of the iron plates and laid them on the porch of the outpost. Almost immediately, I was enlisted by John Lee to help get the team unharnessed and watered. When the job was completed, the team was taken behind the outpost and put in the shade of the barn, I left John Lee to wipe down and curry comb the horses.
Entering the outpost from the rear of the outpost, I saw that the ladies had restructured their seating arrangement. They had moved their chairs very close together and were having an animated conversation.
I caught a few phrases that aroused my attention, such as, “…was it a ghost…I like tha name…how many do ya want.” The “Gang of Three” hadn’t heard me enter, but their happy babble, which was a far cry from their previous doom and gloom moods, was a delight to behold.
They must have sensed my presence as I stood transfixed at the entrance to the room, because they suddenly went silent and turned to look at me. All three turned five shades of red and, gyrating back to face each other, began to giggle.
I gave a chuckle at the ancient female practice of covert planning that inundated all aspects of daily life and pulled out my pocket watch to view the time. It was 12:30 pm. Walking toward the front door of the outpost, I stated, “I’m gonna take a quick ride while tha horses are resting.”
The ladies could have cared less. They immediately began a whispered conversation that entailed something about which only heaven knows.
I looked for Stonewall and saw him resting at the side of the outpost that was still in the shade. I whistled and he trotted to the front steps of the outpost.
Climbing into his saddle, I muttered, “Where can we get a good view of the area?”