A Secret Refuge [02] Sisters of the Confederacy
breathe again.” She slapped the reins, and the horses picked up a fast trot. If they loped, the wagon might fall apart for sure. By the time they arrived back at the ridge, the moon had set and clouds hid the stars.
    “Snow.” Meshach shivered as he unhooked the traces. “No one be able to track dem back to here, and dey not know de way.”
    Jesselynn knew he meant if someone forced the black men to talk, they wouldn’t be able to tell where they’d been. For all they knew they’d been north or east of Springfield, from the roundabout way they entered town. And snow would cover any trails that had built up around the camp. Now if only they could figure out what to do with all the extra horses until they could be sold. Even with putting them farther back in the cave, feeding and watering them took more effort.
    But selling them would bring in the money they so desperately needed, and the Union army was always looking for horses. Now they could keep Chess longer.
    “God do provide,” Meshach said with a grin and a pat on her shoulder. Jesselynn tried to ignore him, but his joy was as catching as a yawn. She caught herself whistling under her breath as she went about her chores.

    They woke in the morning to a drift of snow halfway into the cave and to their own shivering, even though the fire had been kept going all night.
    “Now I wish we had those extra deer hides to stretch across that opening.” Jesselynn shook her head. “And to keep us warm.” To think she’d gone to sleep dreaming of selling the extra horses today and bringing home bacon and lard, even eggs and peppermint candy for the boys of all sizes. And coffee. How wonderful a cup of coffee would taste on a cold morning like this.
    The storm settled in and howled around the cave for the next two days. It let up, then returned with a vengeance. Meshach built a partial wall at the cave mouth to keep out the worst of the wind and cold. While they took most of the horses down to the creek to drink, Jesselynn chose to melt snow for the mares. She didn’t want them slipping and sliding going down the hill as the others had.
    She doled out the oats, wishing she had some for the others when Ahab nickered for a treat too.
    “Sorry, old son, but the mamas need this worse than you.”
    That’s something else she would buy—oats for the horses and hay if she could find some.
    On the good days, Daniel and Benjamin each brought in a deer, and Meshach stretched the hides over a bar at the top and hung another at the bottom so his swinging door could be pushed aside when they took the horses out.
    The cave instantly felt warmer, though darker.
    “Good thing we got de horses. Dey help keep us warm.”
    “I wonder how Aunt Agatha is. With that hole in her roof . . .” Jesselynn shook her head. “Stubborn old woman.” Runs in the family, giggled her inner voice. But the concern for Aunt Agatha wouldn’t leave her alone. She went to sleep with it and woke up with it.
    As soon as the snow stopped coming down and started melting, she decided to head for Springfield. They couldn’t take the wagon yet, but they could take the horses into the army encampment and offer to sell them to the Union soldiers. If the Confederates were in charge, she’d sell them there if they would pay her in gold.
    She gathered some of the dried venison for Aunt Agatha, along with the day’s catch of rabbits, but as she got ready, she thought more and more about the Confederates having taken Springfield. They would conscript the horses, pay her in Confederate dollars, and wish her well. She knew that as well as she knew her own name. Only the Yankees had gold.
    “Meshach, do you think the folks that own the barn we kept the wagon in would mind if we tied some horses there for a while?”
    “Dey not mind. Why?”
    “Can’t take them in if the Confederates are in power.”
    He nodded. “I take Roman, you ride Chess?”
    She nodded. No sense trying to go alone. “We can stop at

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