Sometime later a noise below had Millie scurrying into her bedroom. There, drained, she crawled onto the bed and curled into a ball against the pain.
Tears still blurred her vision, but her gaze went to where her trunks sat. The divorce decree was in one, the papers Rosemary had drawn up—ones that said Seth had to give her a small fortune. Papa’s money was all gone, and her sister insisted they’d need the money to care for the baby. Ultimately, that was the reason Millie was here.
Rosemary wouldn’t care that her demands were hurting Seth, but she did, and she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t hurt him. It left her feeling disgraced beyond all she’d ever experienced.
The noise below had long since ended—the maidens gathering the dishes, no doubt. Millie rolled onto her back. Seth had explained how some Indian names translated into English, whereas others didn’t—not into anything comparable, anyway. To-She-Wi meant Silver Brooch. He’d said she’d given herself that name a few years ago when Briggs had given her a brooch. Su-Ma meant Number One, and Ku-Ma-Quai was Woman Who Eats Buffalo Meat. If Millie were a Comanche her name would mean One That Lies and Lies and Lies.
She hadn’t lied about the divorce papers, but there was little solace to be found for one truth in a stack of deceit.
Pushing herself off the bed, Millie walked across the room, and looked out the window without really seeing anything, as she was too busy gazing inward. The thick, dreadful gloom inside her was massive, and grew when her eyes snagged on the other houses and buildings. Her deceit embraced so much.
Spinning around, she found the trunks lining the walls seemed to jeer at her, and the room threatened to close in, suffocating her. She had to get away from everything, everyone, at least for a few minutes.
Once she was downstairs, Seth’s demand of how she appear in public had her repairing her hair and washing her face, while ghosts of their argument screamed at her from the kitchen, increasing her need to escape. Grabbing her sketchbook and pencil, she left the house and didn’t stop walking until she’d exited the wide gates of the fort.
A short distance from the stone-and-wooden walls a cluster of tepees had a large number of people mingling around them. The sight of Indians no longer startled her; instead she found interest in their clothing and way of life. That was due to Seth. He held such respect when he spoke of them and their ways.
Moving closer, she found a rock to rest against, and sat down. The sound of a child crying reached her ears and she lifted her gaze, watched a woman pick up a toddler and cuddle it close.
The ache in her heart increased. Millie drew a breath, trying to control it, yet at the same time she couldn’t pull her focus off the scene before her—how children need love and protection.
The child was soon consoled and waddled off again, but Millie continued watching the Indians, mainly the women and children.
Her mind played havoc on her emotions, recalling specific events that left her eyes burning with more unshed tears. She’d never met anyone who’d known her mother. Not even Lola had. Father had moved them to Richmond shortly afterward. He never spoke of what had happened.
Yet Ilene had said she’d known her. Millie shook her shoulders, repressing a quiver.
Your mother wasn’t the only wife to succumb to the loneliness.
Loneliness? Millie understood loneliness, had for years. Truth was, the only time she hadn’t felt it had been since arriving at the fort. Not once in the past few days, even while Seth had been out with troops or over at headquarters, had she been lonely. She’d missed him, but knew he’d be home soon, and people stopped in to see her continuously. Moments of the past few days, times of laughter and joy, flashed through her mind, and then came the poignant moment of the argument with Seth.
The air in her lungs grew stale, and she let it out slowly. If he told her to leave...
Millie pressed a hand to her aching forehead. Her mind was exhausted, couldn’t comprehend that event right now.
Flipping open her tablet, she picked up the pencil to let whatever wanted to be drawn appear on the paper.
The first few pictures included Seth, but eventually her fingers copied what lay before her, the Indian village. Page after page, she drew images. Some of single people—a woman building a fire—and some of groups: three children chasing each other; young boys caring for a herd of horses grazing on the stiff brown grass; women dumping ingredients into large wooden bowls and then mixing everything together with their hands.
The sun was low in the sky when Millie felt her heartbeat speed up. Only one person did that to her. She closed her eyes when an elongated shadow fell over her paper.