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Carla smiled, a questioning look on her face. "What y'all conversing so serious about? Gonna up and join with the Rebels?"
Harvey's face tightened and he flashed Dulsey a somber look.
Catching the look, Carla added, without missing a beat, "Or fall in with the Yankees?"
Dulsey reached out and touched Harvey's arm. "Don't fret," she assured him. "You can trust Carla to keep things to herself."
Harvey coughed and shuffled his feet. "I shouldn't have spoken out," he muttered quietly.
Carla looked at him appraisingly. "I take it you're planning to pull foot as soon as possible. Am I right?"
"My plans have always been to leave," Harvey said, his voice stony.
Carla glanced at Dulsey, then back at Harvey. "How about some company? I could prove to be mighty helpful to you."
Passing a hand across his face, he shook his head. "Well, I believe Miss Carpenter was first in line," he said.
"Oh?" Carla turned to Dulsey. "You planning on leaving with him?" Her voice held an edge.
"I asked him if he would take me and Purdy to where Uncle Seth is in Arkansas."
Carla scowled and turned back to Harvey. "Are you taking them?"
"Wasn't intending on taking anyone," Harvey answered. "I can't see myself saddled with a bunch of women, especially as young as the lot of y'all."
"You won't find me a bother," Carla asserted. "I can take care of myself. As for Dulsey, I reckon she can hold her own." Carla looked at Dulsey and lowered her voice. "You'd best leave Purdy here, Dulsey. You can come back for her when you find your uncle."
Dulsey's spine stiffened. "No, when I leave, so will Purdy. I'm not leaving her here, not with all the talk offighting."
Carla cut Harvey a sharp glance. "You not partial to either cause?"
Harvey shrugged. "I won't fight against my own family."
"Fair enough," Carla nodded. "Myself, I don't hold none with owning slaves. They should have the same freedoms as the rest of us. But Papa, he doesn't see it that way. He says it's about more than just slavery." Carla gave each of them a wise look. "It doesn't pay to voice your opinion to Papa. He'd as soon whup you as he would his own dog." Carla pulled her shawl tighter around her arms. "What do you have in the way of provisions?"
Bewildered by her remark, it took a moment for Harvey to respond. "I don't need much. I have my horse, bedroll, a few supplies, my rifle and ammunition. Can't think of much else I'd need."
"Your horse can fall and break your leg, then what? You need company. Dulsey and I are strong. We both have our own horses and know how to dress and cook wild game. We'll be of no burden to you. When we reach Fort Smith, you'll be shut of us." Carla's gaze never wavered from Harvey's face. "Otherwise, a young man of fighting age leaving this area might be taken as running from the cause." She smiled slyly. "But accompanying helpless women to the home of their long, lost uncle might look downright noble."
Harvey rubbed his chin and gave Carla a hard look. "Only as far as Fort Smith?"
Carla and Dulsey's eyes locked, then both turned and nodded.
Without looking at them, he pushed his hat back down on his head. "Come sunup this Saturday I'll be at the trail junction on Packenpaw Ridge. I won't wait." He stared at the group of men for a moment before returning his gaze to Carla. "Carla," he said softly, "my decision to take you both with me has nothing to do with what you said. And I don't justify anything I do, to anyone." Abruptly he turned and strode toward his horse.
"I can't believe it," Dulsey whispered. "We're actually leaving."
"Took a bit of tail-twisting," Carla said, grinning. "Think I may have also gotten his dander up some," she added, "but we have our way out. Will you be able to get the young mare from your ma and enough provisions ready by Saturday?"
"I'll take care of it," Dulsey answered firmly. "You worry about yourself."