Smiling at the boy, she asked, “Mr. Jenkins hired you to help him?”
The child spoke well, better than some of the older Indians she’d encountered, yet a frown rippled his forehead as he asked, “Hired?”
“Yes, he pays you to help him. Gives you money?”
“Haa, yes. Trade. Gives sweet stick.”
A smile took up his entire face. “Haa. Good. Much good.”
“Candy?” she asked. “He pays you with candy?”
“Haa. Much good. My...my, uh, seester, she like.”
“You share it with your sister?” Imagining a little girl as adorable as Wind was easy, yet a candy stick wasn’t an appropriate payment. Though Millie had come to understand money meant nothing to the tribes. They bartered for everything.
“Haa,” he answered, still grinning.
They were approaching the house, where Russ stood near the corner talking with the three men who had been looking for snakes. “Corporal Kemper, may I speak with you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, and after nodding to the men, turned and met her on the short walkway leading to the porch. Standing stiff and straight, with his hands behind his back, he asked, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Parker?”
Already digging in her bag, she pulled out several coins. “Would you please escort Wind back to the trading post and purchase as much candy as this will buy for him?”
Russ’s green eyes went from sparkling to dull and filled with unease. “Ma’am, I don’t—”
“Corporal Kemper,” she interrupted, and though it felt wrong to use her status so, in this instance she would, and be glad of the power being a major’s wife allowed. “I wouldn’t want to tell my husband you’ve disappointed me.”
“No, ma’am.” Blushing red, the corporal took the coins.
“Just put the box right there, Wind.” She collapsed the parasol while waiting for the boy to set the crate on the bottom step, and then bent down in front of him. “Thank you very much for helping me. You follow Corporal Kemper back to Mr. Jenkins’s store and take what he gives you. It’s for you and your sister. It’s my trade for your assistance. For carrying the crate for me.”
His little shoulders squared with what she assumed to be dignity. “Haa. Ura.”
“Ura,” she repeated, watching the boy walk away. Pins seemed to prickle her skin. Wind had nothing, yet what he did have, he shared with his sister, whereas she and Rosemary, having whatever they’d wanted when they were his age, had rarely shared anything. Well, Millie had, but she’d always felt resentful. Another shameful thing to admit, even to herself. But it was the truth. She’d resented the fact that she owed her sister, and right now she resented what she was doing for payment of that debt.
Millie walked up the steps toward one of the high-back chairs. This trip had her thinking about things she’d never thought of before, seeing a side of herself she’d never admitted to having. Plopping into the chair and sending it rocking back and forth, she thought of the reason she was here. A baby, who someday would be a boy not so unlike Wind, or a girl, like his sister. A child who would need love and care, food and clothing, and a candy stick every now and again. A child who was depending on Millie this very moment.
“This just ain’t right,” Lola had said in the early morning dawn weeks ago, yet the words echoed in Millie’s mind as clearly as if the woman was standing beside her right now. “Your Papa wouldn’t like this, not at all.”
“I know,” Millie whispered, just as she had that morning—the day she’d left.
“That girl ain’t never gonna learn if you keep stepping in, righting her wrongs,” Lola had added.
A long sigh escaped as Millie continued to rock. Lola didn’t understand Rosemary’s need for affection. Never had, but Millie did. Not so unlike Rosemary, she’d always longed for their mother, too.
Big tears had cascaded down Lola’s coffee-hued cheeks when they’d hugged goodbye, and Millie had cried, too. She hadn’t wanted to go, but there had been no choice.
Rosemary had said she didn’t want Seth disgraced, which he certainly would be if others learned of her pregnancy, and now that Millie knew Seth, she felt even more strongly about that. He was such an honorable man, and truly didn’t deserve the way his wife had carried on with other men.
“I’ll wire you as soon as the child’s born,” Lola had said. “But once you get those papers signed, don’t you bring them back here. You mail them, and then go to Texas, tell that young Martin you’ll be the best wife he ever hoped to have.”