Marie tiptoed across the plank bridge toward the stable. She still hadn't decided whether to take her black riding horse or Bess, the gentle mare she'd ridden on the Cuchara expedition. Both were good mounts, but the remembrance of Bess's easy gait and comfortable ride weighed heavily in her favor. Besides, the black could be uppity of a morning, and Bess never was. In the end, Marie chose the more comfortable horse, and led Bess from the darkness of the stable so she could tie her bundle behind the saddle.
Do I have all I'll need? she questioned herself before she mounted. She'd brought no trinkets or baubles, but only a change of clothes, the cooking utensils she'd selected earlier in the day, the poke weighing heavily where she'd hidden it inside her bodice, and food and water for the journey. She left behind a letter, written on the sly, saying she was heading north with "my own true love," and that the next time anyone from the homestead saw her, she would "be a married woman."
Once in the saddle atop Bess's broad back, she surveyed the meadow, with the embers of all the campfires scattered across it, looking for the surest route through them. If she bent her way south around the Bates's camp, then between the Campbells and the Hilbrands, she should soon be out of harm's way.
Gently putting her heels to the horse's sides, she sat forward, and Bess moved out into the night, nickering softly.
"Oh hush, Bess," Marie whispered. Perhaps she should have blindfolded the mare and led her? It's too late for that, she acknowledged to herself, and merely patted the mare's neck and whispered soft encouragement.
Once she heard voices, and froze, reining Bess to a halt. She listened, and located the sounds as coming from the far side of the meadow. A couple up late, romancing? She couldn't tell, as no clear words came to her ears. Judging the late-night chatterers to be no threat to her, she clucked to Bess, and got the animal moving again. In only a few moments more, she would be through the visitors' camps, and well away.