“Well, let’s see, there’s Mrs. Ketchum, and...”
By the time Ben Cutter was done explaining exactly who the other four women at the fort were, Millie was full of additional questions, which he readily answered.
She listened carefully as he explained that the fort had been built ten years ago, when General Sheridan was campaigning to stop Indian raids on white settlers in Kansas and Texas. He also explained Grant’s peace policy. How it promised tribes provisions if they moved onto reservation land, and how special Indian agents had been assigned to oversee the activities.
Cutter went on to tell her how when General Sherman arrived at Fort Sill several years ago, he’d found several chiefs boasting about the raids they’d initiated on wagon trains and when he’d ordered their arrests, the general had almost been assassinated.
Some tribes accepted the agreement, but others didn’t, and considered the reservations safe havens. A place where no one could retaliate against them.
Millie was fascinated by all this. General Sherman and her father had been close acquaintances. During one of his visits to their Richmond home, he’d appointed her father to oversee the men assigned to this fort.
Years ago she’d learned that Seth was a West Point graduate, and had been in Richmond, the day he’d married Rosemary, to deliver a report to their father about the raids and how rations weren’t being delivered.
Millie asked a few more questions, mainly about the Indians, and Cutter answered them, praising the major for his bravery and leadership in dealing with various tribes. The man made it sound as if everyone at the fort was alive because of Seth’s valor.
Having plenty to think about, Millie thanked Mr. Cutter for all his information, and allowed him to move her trunks into her room before he took his leave.
Papa had rarely spoke about such things with her, but Lola did. The housekeeper insisted Indians were as misunderstood as Negros, and that white folks shouldn’t talk about things they didn’t understand.
Mr. Cutter had just explained that the army was the only law in Indian Territory. He’d also said their duties included protecting the Indians and civilians, while teaching the former how to farm in order to feed their families. More importantly, he’d told her Indians didn’t steal women.
Pacing the floor of the dreary cabin, Millie imagined just how irritated Rosemary would be by all this. Her sister wouldn’t just be frustrated with the surroundings, she’d be furious at the way Seth had purposely frightened her.
A hint of a grin formed. Maybe being Rosemary could be fun, after all.
* * *
The report Jasper was reading aloud—about how the declining cattle drives would leave more tribes without food for the winter—wasn’t holding Seth’s attention. It wasn’t anything he didn’t already know. At one time the cattle drives had run directly through Indian Territory, and the ranchers had been more than happy to exchange a few head of cattle for safe travels, but the growing rail lines were replacing the drives. They’d had only half as many this year as last.
The window was what held Seth’s interest. More so, the activity happening across the courtyard. His so-called wife had beckoned to Ben Cutter a short time ago, and shortly afterward the man had led two of Briggs’s maidens to the cabin. Since then Seth had barely been able to keep up with the comings and goings. Clean linens were carried in—he’d noticed them in one of the bundles—but for the number of trips the women made there would have to have been a dozen beds instead of one. Well, two if you count his, but he highly doubted she’d have his bedding changed.
Intuition was gnawing at him again. If this was Millie, as he still believed, why was she here, if she was engaged to Martin Clark? Or was Rosemary engaged to the man? Then why hadn’t she just signed his divorce papers? Or was this Rosemary, and now that Millie was engaged...
His mind was churning faster than the crank on a Gatling gun as he watched the door of his cabin. Over the years, remembering only his wife’s personality, he’d forgotten her looks. Every man in the fort had noticed her beauty. That had been overly apparent during the introductions.
What he did clearly remember was that the woman he’d married was too full of herself to be concerned about anyone else. Yet the one he’d introduced to his men had taken the time to learn about the people living at the fort.
Frustrated, Seth ran a hand through his hair. Had he been out here so long, gotten so used to deciphering the cause behind every action, he could no longer accept actions—or people—without overanalyzing them?