A Secret Refuge [02] Sisters of the Confederacy
sticks. Help me stack them for the walls, like a cabin.” She set the sticks on top of each other to form a log cabin. What she wouldn’t give for one right now. But to care for all these, it would have to be huge.
    Thaddy had the walls several sticks up when Sammy stepped right in the middle of it. With a howl, Thaddy shoved Sammy smack on his rear. Sammy responded with a louder howl. Meshach scooped both boys up under his arms and strode down the hill with them, threatening to dump them both in the ice-cold creek if they didn’t hush.
    Jesselynn got to her feet and dusted her hands off on her britches. They’d not heard any more artillery fire, so maybe the battle ended the day before. She could hear the boys still giggling. She’d have to talk with Thaddeus about his temper. Stopping, she counted out the days. Why, he had a birthday in a few weeks. He would be three. “Little Marse,” as Meshach called him, should have a present of some sort for his birthday. Her mind flipped back to Twin Oaks. Birthdays had always been important celebrations in their family. Lucinda would bake a three-layer frosted cake. Lighter than air were Lucinda’s cakes.
    Jesselynn’s mouth watered at the memory. Would she ever taste one of Lucinda’s lemon cakes again? She dusted her hands and returned to the cave for her writing materials. While everyone was busy elsewhere, now was a good time to answer the precious letters. They could take them to the post office next time she went to Aunt Agatha’s.
    By the time she finished, the sun rode close to its zenith and Ophelia was calling her name.
    “She gettin’ weaker not stronger.”
    Jesselynn knelt by the sick woman. “She lost too much blood, I imagine. Poor thing. Come now, Sarah, you must try to drink more broth.” She held a cup to the woman’s mouth and propped up her head with the other hand.
    Sarah drank three or four swallows, then tipped her head away.
    “No will to live.” Jane Ellen wrung out another cloth and laid it over the sick woman’s forehead.
    “I know. Can’t say as I blame her.”
    The men filed into the cave again as if they were still chained together and sat in a row by the fire. They’d given their names, but Jesselynn still had no idea who was who, other than the boy and Sarah.
    That night Meshach gathered the fugitives around him and laid out his plan. They would go to the house in Springfield in the night. There, others would take them north to freedom. “But first you get strong enough for de trip.”
    Jesselynn brought over the two shirts she’d made from the blanket. “Sorry, the other isn’t done yet. I have more piecing to do on it.”
    The biggest man, Moses, brushed the nap of the shirt with a reverent hand. “I neber had such a good shirt.”
    “Put it on.” She mimicked pulling it over her head. “That should help keep you warm. Now if only we had something for your feet.”
    Ophelia had given them all hot water to wash with and then bandaged the sores that needed it. With the new shirts on, they looked almost human again, instead of like refuse left by the roadside.

    “Marse Jesse?” The voice woke her in the middle of the night.
    “Yes?”
    “I think Sarah done gone home to be with the Lord.” Jane Ellen’s voice was muffled with tears. “I tried to keep her alive, Marse Jesse, I tried.”
    “I know. You did all you could.” After checking to make sure the woman had truly left this world, Jesselynn covered the black woman’s face with the blanket. Rage at the cruelty of it all boiled red before her eyes.
    Fighting tears herself, Jesselynn gathered Jane Ellen into her arms and rocked her until she slept. Glancing up, she saw one of the men watching her with a puzzled look.
    Ah, if you only knew the whole story. What did it matter if they suspected she was Miss instead of Marse?

Did they bury those men? The ones they  . . . Jesselynn slammed the door of her mind.
    “De Lawd giveth and de Lawd taketh away. Blessed be

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