Litenburg could not see a closed carriage that had reined up in the shadow of a high fence on Carpenter Street near the P., W. & B. station. He didn't notice a somberly dressed, slender young woman who hurried to join three men alighting from the carriage. He would have recognized her as the punctual passenger who had already presented tickets for the last three sections of the last sleeping car of the Washington train. To be occupied, she had said, by a family party included her "invalid brother" and herself!
She, was even now greeting her brother, a tall man, dark and lanky, wrapped in a heavy traveling shawl. As they neared the last car the sister explained that she had arranged with the porter to have the rear door left unlocked. For easier, less conspicuous access -- as her brother agreed.
Thus protectively, with great respect and tenderness, she helped him aboard the sleeper. Few sisters in all America that February night could have felt such respect and concern for a brother as this woman felt for the lean, angular man she escorted.
He was neither sickly nor her brother. He was Abraham Lincoln, on his way to be inaugurated the 16th President of the United States. She was Kate Warne, an operative of the Pinkerton Agency, the first woman detective in America, probably the first women anywhere to make a career of detective work.
Mr. Lincoln now crowded himself and his worn traveling bag into the second of the last three sections of the sleeper. Kate Warne's was the end section, between Mr. Lincoln's and the door. Her chief article of baggage was a loaded pistol.
Allan Pinkerton would occupy no berth, but elected to ride all the way on the rear platform. His veteran lieutenant, George Bangs, was placed to safeguard the front of the car. Ward Lamon, Lincoln's devoted friend had taken the first of the three sections engaged by Mrs. Warne. Thus the little protective force deployed for a crucial night journey. At 10:55 Litzenburg signaled the departure. Kate settled herself for her armed vigil. She knew about Allan Pinkerton's immense precautions.
Hadn't she been one of the team of Pinkerton who had brought back the first frightening intelligence? In Baltimore a desperate scheme was brewing; even if it meant bloodshed, even assassination, the plotters were determined to prevent Abraham Lincoln's inauguration on March 4th.
The 10:50 rolled on through the frigid night. At every bridge and crossroad Pinkerton agents were posted.
Kate peered out through slightly parted window curtains. Pinkerton's men were using dark lanterns to report to their chief on the windswept car platform.
Two winking flashes, twice repeated. "All's well! -- All's well!"
In her girlhood, Kate Warne reflected wryly, she had dreamed of becoming an actress. Family opposition had kept her from going on the stage. She had married instead, but soon had been widowed, her husband killed in an accident. Yet here she was, only four years later, playing a leading role.
Sister of the President-elect!
The train was halting a Perryville -- first critical point of the journey -- to be slowly ferried across the Susquehanna.
Without mishap the train plunged on, running through the very stronghold of Lincoln's angriest border opponents. Now a jolting stop at 3:30a.m. -- Baltimore -- exactly on time. Kate peered out at a city she knew to be aboil with plots of disunion.
In the manner of the pioneer railroad facilities of this period, Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore cars bound for the capital had to be drawn through Baltimore streets by horses to the station of the Washington line. Here, Kate knew, was the crisis!
Life was throbbing in this quarter of the city, with revelry and singing. A connecting train from the west was reported two hours late. As they tensely waited, Kate once or twice felt the partisan revelers milling dangerously close. She wondered if she really had learned to shoot a pistol.
Finally the train was ready and puffing slowly out of Baltimore.
On this final run to Washington there were still the crossroad Pinkerton signals -- "All's well!" --but no further incident.
Just before seven o'clock in the morning of February 23rd the momentous secret journey dropped safely into the record of those Secessionist times. All the Pinkerton operatives on the case remained anonymous until long after the war.
That same day of the 23rd, however, Mr. Lincoln asked the detectives to call upon him, so that he might thank them.
To Kate Warne of the honest dark blue eyes he said: "I am sensible; ma'am, of having put you to some inconvenience -- not to speak of placing you in danger."
He spoke drily to Allan Pinkerton: "I believe it has not hitherto been one of the perquisites of the presidency to acquire in full bloom so charming and accomplished a female relation."
Kate looked up into the kindly face of the President-elect. She knew now there was something more rewarding than the applause of a theatre audience -- it was the soundless but deeply felt gratitude of a nation that needed this great man.