The Major's Wife - Page 38

Millie cleared her lungs with a long sigh, but it didn’t help. What kept her head spinning and belly churning the most, what turned her inside out, was that she didn’t want Seth to not like her. But he had to dislike her in order to divorce her, didn’t he? Divorced people didn’t like each other—at least she assumed they didn’t. She’d never known a divorced person.

“Do you like the lamp?” Mr. Jenkins asked.

She spun around, and walked to the counter. “Yes, it’s very pretty, but I have no need for it.” Pointing to the shelf behind him, at items that had caught her eye earlier, she asked, “Could I have one of those tablets, and a pencil holder and lead?”

“Do you like to draw?” he asked, stepping onto a stool to reach the paper.

“Yes, I do.” There was no reason to explain that she hadn’t spent much time drawing lately. She hadn’t done a lot of things she used to do. Lack of money. Lack of time. Lack of desire. The reasons just continued. Right now, she needed to draw. Needed something to occupy her mind.

“I have this new lead holder.” The shopkeeper held up a metal tube much larger than her miniature ones at home. “The men swear by it. They say the size is much easier to use. I have smaller ones if you prefer.”

“No, actually, I’d like to try the larger one, thank you. I’ll need a box of leads, as well.”

“Anything else?”

“No, that will do.” She pulled open the top of her wrist bag. “How much do I owe you?”

“I’ll just put it on the major’s account,” Mr. Jenkins said, arranging the boots, paper tablet and pencil set in a small crate.

“I’d rather not. I’ll just pay you.”

He was shaking his head. “Can’t do that, Mrs. Parker. The major would have my scalp, and I ain’t got much hair left to lose. If you wanna pay someone, pay your husband.” Jenkins turned then and shouted over his shoulder, “Wind, come carry this for the major’s wife.”

Short of arguing, insisting she’d pay for her supplies and causing undue distress for the shopkeeper, Millie closed her bag and hooked the string over her wrist. “I can carry the crate. There’s no need to trouble anyone.”

“Wind likes doing it,” Mr. Jenkins said as a young boy, no more than ten or so, came running through a blanket-draped doorway next to the long set of shelves behind the counter. “Don’t you, boy?”

“Haa.” The child nodded. “Yes.”

“Here then, follow the major’s wife to her place. But come back, and no dillydallying. We’ve got a lot of freight to put away.”

The boy grabbed the crate off the counter, looking at her expectantly with big brown eyes. His black hair hung to his shoulders, which were thin and bare, showing the sharp edges of his collarbones. The only clothing he wore was a pair of brown leather pants that stopped near his knees.

Smiling, Millie said, “Hello, Wind.”

“Maruawe, hello, Major’s wife.” Turning to the shopkeeper, Wind tipped his head toward the parasol. “That, too?”

Mr. Jenkins nodded.

“I can carry it.” She lifted the parasol off the counter. “Good day, Mr. Jenkins. Thank you for all your assistance.”

With a nod and a smile that was hard to see with all his facial hair, he said, “My pleasure.”

The day was warm, as most every day since she’d arrived had been, yet winter was around the corner. Popping open the parasol, she shielded both herself and the boy from the bright sunlight. “Do you live here, Wind, at the fort?” she asked, already thinking of the material in Mr. Jenkins’s shop, and wondering if the boy would let her sew clothes for him. Not that she knew how, but she could learn.

“Kee, no. We came for Per-Cum-Ske to talk to Major.”

“Per-Cum-Ske? Is he your father?”

“No. He Comanche leader.”

“A chief?

“Kee, no. A leader.” The boy hoisted the crate higher in his arms. “He go talk to Wash-ing-ton man. Tell him we need buffalo.”

“Washington man? Do you mean the president?”

“Haa. Yes.”

Sadness welled inside her. Congress couldn’t know there were children out here, hungry and without clothes. Surely they would have done something more if they did. Wouldn’t they? It would be nice to believe they would have, but deep down, she had an inclination they knew. The army had been out here for years. They would have reported such things. Another welling happened, one that filled her with warmth and pride. Seth would make them listen. He’d make things better.