Both men’s eyes got as big as saucers. They looked at each other and then back at me. The quizzical expression on their faces asked for more information.
I held up my hands with my palms outward and said, “That’s all I can tell ya at tha present time, but let me add that this mission really could change history.”
I let the importance of our task sink in and then I added, “We are going to be riding down tha C & O Canal path toward Washington City. Thar are seven Union check points along tha path that we will have to either go-around or bluff our way through. To allay suspicion we can’t be armed to tha teeth. So, only bring two pistols and four extra loaded cylinders.”
I stopped to let them register what I said. Then I began again, “We have to perform tha destruction during tha night. Since tha White House is next to tha Treasury, we’re gonna kidnap Lincoln and let him watch his Treasury building burn down.”
I took a deep breath and continued, “Tha distance from across tha Potomac here at Shepherdstown to Georgetown is about 75 miles. I want to start tha journey at night and end it at night, so we’ll leave tomorrow night and head south. I figure it will take us three nights of travel ‘cause we’re gonna hide during the day. As far as food, bring enough food for three days. I’ll fill y’all in with more information when we get on tha road. So let’s meet here tomorrow night at 8 ‘o’clock.”
The men were still in shock with the enormity of the mission and were still trying to process the information I had bestowed. Almost absentmindedly they nodded, rose from their seats like zombies and filed out.
I took a few moments to completely douse the fire in the fireplace and make sure all the windows were closed and locked. I took one more look at the interior of the schoolhouse. Being a teacher to the wonderful young men and women of the region had been one of the highlights of my life. I sighed and closed the door.
When I walked out on the porch, Stonewall was standing at the bottom of the porch steps looking at me. I climbed down the steps and walked over to him. He immediately placed his forehead against my chest, and I began our massage ritual.
Once he was in his meditative trance, I said, “I don’t know how this mission is gonna turn out. So, I wanted to say that it has been a privilege to know ya and for us to be pards. Ya have saved my life on numerous occasions, and I just wanted to thank ya for all ya’ve done for me.”
When I finished, Stonewall gently raised his head and, putting his mouth against my cheek, moved his lips in what I would describe as a kiss. Tears ran down my cheeks as I hugged his neck. He whinnied in response.
I stood back and looked at him. It struck me, all of a sudden, that he was the epitome of the horse I had dreamed of riding when I was a kid and wanted to be a cowboy hero like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Hop-along Cassidy.
Stonewall made a sound that was what I would call a snicker.
I looked at him for a long moment. Then I put my foot in his left stirrup and mounted. All I said was, “Ferry Hill.”
He trotted out of the school yard and headed home.
When we got to the Ferry Hill stables, I found John Lee and gave Stonewall to him. As they were walking away, Stonewall looked back at me and snickered again. I don’t know what he was trying to tell me, but it was something I needed to understand.
I turned, walked to the backdoor and entered the famed mansion. There was some sort of merriment going on in the right parlor. I took off my coat and hung it on the hall coatrack. I decided to keep my pistols stuck in my belt.
As I walked into the parlor, I came to an abrupt halt.
Mr. Newcomer and Mrs. Newcomer were sitting on the two-seat divan with cups in their hands. Daphne rose from a chair opposite her parents, set down her cup on a small table, and came to me.
“Jim, Momma and Poppa came to see us. They heard they were gonna be grandparents and wanted to see us,” she explained.
I looked at her and nodded, but I was glad that I hadn’t left my pistols in the hall.
Mr. Newcomer rose from his chair, looked at Daphne and me, and awkwardly stammered, “I wanna apologize for all tha trouble I’ve caused Daphne and ya. I was wrong and I, ah….”
Running out of things to say, he looked back at Mrs. Newcomer for guidance.
Mrs. Newcomer took up where he left off and said, “We’re sorry for how we have treated ya. Please accept our heartfelt apology.”
I smiled at the couple and nodded my acceptance.
They both smiled.
I looked at Daphne and she let out a breath she had been holding and smiled also.