It only took a few moments for me and the trooper, who acted as my substitute, to exchange clothes. I dismissed him with a hand shake and a “well done.” He saluted and left for the cavalry camp.
The ladies returned the purloined pillowcases to the hotel clerk. They had been taken from their rooms for the purpose of being stuffed with clothes to look like female occupants in the carriage.
He accepted the articles with a stoic countenance, mixed with a look of pure distain, if that is even possible.
However, the ladies didn’t pay him any attention. They were happy and joyful in their own stead. Mrs. Douglas was pleased to get back home and out of harm’s way. Hattie was itching to get back to her family and relate her version of all that had happened. Undoubtedly, her brandishing of her part would gain her one-upmanship over her brothers.
Daphne was eager to be out of the local area and in a more hospitable environment. Also, she was looking forward to our life together. I was grateful that we all came out of the valley of death in one piece and was thankful of having Daphne for my wife.
The three ladies and I climbed into the carriage. John Lee flicked the reins of the carriage team, and we began the seventeen-mile trip to Shepherdstown, and beyond, to Ferry Hill. We didn’t have room in the carriage for Al, so he rode along behind us on his cayuse.
Stonewall drifted along with the carriage. Sometimes he loped ahead, and sometimes he fell behind. He was having fun just being free to move where and when he wanted to.
I fell into a deep sleep for part of the trip. Lifting the stress of impending death to my friends resulted in the dissipation of the adrenalin high that I had been living with for such a long time.
As we reached the area about two miles south of Shepherdstown, I woke up and yawned. Looking at the other occupants of the coach, they all seemed to be snoozing comfortably. Daphne’s head was resting on my left arm. Her breathing was deep and steady.
I had another chance to look closely at her beautiful continence. I loved to look at how her raven black hair framed her gorgeous face. She could be categorized as one of those women who was, and would be, beautiful all her life. I know I am prejudiced, but in my estimation, she fit into the elite classification of womanhood such as Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and Catherine the Great.
I let out a sigh of contentment, which unfortunately, aroused my beloved.
She blinked awake and, looking up at me with those big brown eyes, gave me a mischievous smile.
I whispered, “I love ya with all my heart.”
I didn’t mean for my declaration of affection to touch her the way it did, but she teared up and buried her head in my shoulder. Then she muttered in a muffled voice, “I love ya too Jim.”
I put my left arm around Daphne, and we held on to each other as if it was our last day together. I guess we both knew that our survival was not guaranteed and that each moment had to be enjoyed to the fullest. So we clung together with a raw lust for each other’s presence. The pure passion of the moment brought tears to my eyes and the longing for a full lifetime as husband and wife.
We both released the fierce holds we had on each other when we entered the southern outskirts of Shepherdstown. It was fully dark as I sat forward and began to focus on my surroundings. The town streets were deserted. Everyone was in the cradle of their families.
We made it through town and came to the covered bridge over the Potomac. I could see a detachment of Confederate cavalry up ahead as we came to the entrance to the bridge. We stopped, and Al rode ahead to speak with the Sergeant of the Guard. He must have known all the correct passwords, because we were admitted to the bridge. The Sergeant of the Guard, along with his contingent of troopers, saluted as we passed. I returned the salute and sat back into my seat.
On the other side of the bridge, we were ushered through the opening without being required to stop. Either Al had some pretty powerful mojo, or he had fashioned a tale that impressed our boys in gray.
Once we made it to Ferry Hill, the house became alive with the hustle and bustle of activity. We vacated the coach, and the first person to meet us was Ezra. He and I shook hands like two long lost friends. Then he took charge of the unpacking of the carriage, plus the distribution of all the contents to the appropriate mansion environs.
We were finally home. It might be a temporary home, but it was home for a while anyway.
We all staggered into the mansion.