February 25, 1862, Springfield, Missouri, Schmidt Boarding House, 3 AM
In her boarding house room, Cyntha Favor rose in total darkness at the slight knock on her door. She had slept in her dress, her dreams filled with dread. Her crinoline hoop, shoved in the corner, would be left behind. This was an escape, not a time for propriety.
She tip-toed to the closed door. “Just a moment,” she whispered, shivering. The shock of cold within the room took her breath away. Though having lived through snowstorms in Iowa, this cold was like a knife of ice. She was shivering not just from the cold but from the trepidation at what she was about to do. In her recollection, she had never made such a reckless decision.
Her mind swam back and forth. I must escape! They will surely catch us! I must escape.
She believed with no doubt that she had no other recourse than to flee Springfield and the clutch of the Union army to rescue Joseph’s tormented soul. Joseph was dead, that much she had been informed of by the colonel of his Iowa regiment after the battle of Wilson Creek.
Mrs. Grunewald, the convincing spiritualist with the Tarot cards that she had consulted but a few days previously, had assured her that his soul was trapped and needed Cyntha to speak to his soul through a medium who had the capacity to speak to those beyond the grave. She believed without a doubt that only she could dissuade him of his fears and free his soul.
A further pressing reason to rush headlong into certain danger was she felt driven to find her brother who was accused from stealing from his bank. Please, dear Lord, give me strength. Her prayers spilled in whispered intensity.
Her breaths were short, and her heart beat erratically like loose shutters, battered by a gale.
She fumbled for the matches on the dresser, found them, and lit the oil lamp, turning the flame low. She sat before the crazed and speckled mirror of the dark dresser, lacing her high- topped shoes. Tying her long black hair tight in a bun was an ordeal with her hands shaking so, and pinning a snood to hold it in place seemed to take interminably long.
For a moment, she looked at her face in the mirror, admiring it but a little, her smooth white complexion, her green eyes and slim, pert nose. She never thought herself a beauty, though many beaus offered her the title.
If she were caught, perhaps her appearance might earn some mercy. She had never tried to use what some called womanly wiles to gain special treatment. It would have been beneath her. She knew that comely women seldom were held as accountable as homely ones. Could a cheery smile divert imprisonment?
She deeply desired the Union army to vanquish the Rebels, and thus free the slaves, for slavery wore so heavily on her heart. She realized the irony that she could be imprisoned by the very army she supported. She had been warned by the officious captain and townfolks that travel on roads out of Springfield was forbidden.
Donning her hooded cape, and folding a heavy blanket over her arm, she turned out the lamp and took a deep breath. I don’t care if General Curtis has restricted all civilians from the roads beyond Springfield, I will prevail.
She opened the door.
In the hallway, Constance Carver, dressed in a shaggy buffalo hide coat over her coal black dress with the starched white collar, stood beside two Negro maids of the boarding house, each holding candles. Constance held a doctor’s kit filled not with medicine but with her few clothes and sundry items. At Constance’s direction, the maids entered the room and hoisted Cyntha’s clothes chest. The four quietly descended the stairs, Constance shushing the maids often. A guard dozed on the boarding house parlor sofa. The clock glimmering in the candlelight indicated just past three.
They tip-toed to the door and slipped out into the frigid night. The sharp-toothed wind bit at Cyntha’s cheeks, and all their breath rose in white plumes. A shallow bowl of a moon perched on the horizon. In the still street before them, Reynolds, the tall freeman and her loyal friend, stood shivering in his long coat and holding the bridle of a horse hitched to their carriage. The gig was covered with a layer of ice. The horse snorted and stamped its feet. A second horse, to be used to trade out in pulling the carriage, was tied behind.
The maids loaded the chest onto the rear of the gig atop heavy blankets, ropes, and a canvas tent that Cyntha had purchased at an exorbitant price from a sutler. Though she knew of a boarding house in Rolla where they could stay, the long journey to St. Louis would require that they camp, and she was determined not to freeze to death by the side of the road.
The maids hugged Constance and crept back to the porch.
“Don’t go gettin’ caught by dem soldiers, y’hear, Miss Constance,” the maid named Abagail whispered. “You dark enough, they think you a colored woman like us.” The maids sneaked inside the boarding house.
Reflecting on Abagail’s remark, Cyntha remembered that her new companion was half Cherokee. Constance and she climbed into the carriage.
“Mr. Reynolds,” Constance whispered. “you best let me stow your pistol. If the army catches us, you won’t want them to find that pistol on you.”
The stout Negro slipped the gun from under his coat and handed it to her. She placed it deep in the medicine bag.
Reynolds led the shivering horse, his hand on the harness. In his other hand, he held a lantern with only one pane shedding a sliver of light. They continued at a tedious pace down an alley, followed by another alley, then into a field that had been trodden by soldiers into a grass-less, muddy plot. To their left, they witnessed a few paltry campfires among hundreds of tents, most of which had been walled around with logs and boards. The tents, turned into shanties, sported chimneys, and from them, lazy smoke drifted out into the stars.
Here and there outside the tents, they saw several glowing lanterns swinging on tall staffs, and near them, shadowy figures of soldiers on guard duty.
“Are you sure the army can’t hear us?” Cyntha asked in a whisper.
“No, I ain’t sure,” Constance replied.