The boy bowed his head respectfully. “Haa. Yes.”
After he took the coin, she leaned down and kissed his cheek.
“I’d have given you a peppermint stick if I’d known that was the exchange,” Mr. Jenkins said, rousing a chuckle from many of the people standing nearby.
At her side, with a hand on her back, Seth replied, “I may have something to say about that, Jenkins.” His retort brought more laughter from the crowd.
Jubilance tussled with a hint of embarrassment as Millie glanced up, saw the mirth in his eyes. Rubbing her back, he nodded, directing her to continue along the pathway.
Ilene Ketchum stepped forward from where she stood next to the wagon as they made their way to the end of the line. After giving her a solid hug, the woman said, “I’m assuming you have my list.”
“Yes, it’s safely packed away,” Millie answered.
“Feel free to substitute if you need.” Ilene had been to Washington several times and had created a list of very specific items, with substitute options, to be purchased at just as specific stores.
“I’ll do my best,” Millie promised.
The woman gave her one more hug. “I’m going to miss you,” she said. “But I’m glad you’re going. You’ve become the perfect major’s wife, and I’m very proud of you.”
Millie had to squeeze her eyelids tight to keep the moisture in.
Mrs. Ketchum turned then and gave Seth a long hug. “Godspeed, Major. I’d tell you to take care of your wife, but I know you will. We’ll all be joyous to celebrate your return.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I leave knowing the fort is in most capable hands, both your husband’s and yours.”
The woman nodded, and Seth took Millie’s elbow, leading her around the first wagon. “Would you prefer to ride in the wagon or on horseback?”
Stunned, she looked down at her traveling suit and then up at him. “I didn’t know I had an option.”
“My apologies,” he said, with a solemn expression. “I should have told you. Are you able to ride in that outfit? We have time if you want to change.”
“No, I can ride in this,” she assured him, noting the wide width of the skirt. “And I’d like to, for a ways at least.” Bouncing for miles upon miles in the wagon hadn’t been something she’d been looking forward to, but she would have done it without a word of complaint.
“I’d assumed that,” he said, gesturing toward a small buckskin mare. “Allow me to assist you in mounting.”
“You are so very thoughtful,” she said, placing a foot in his clasped hands and a hand on his shoulder. “I fear I’ve become spoiled since I arrived here.”
Once she was settled in the saddle, with her skirt flared to cover her ankles, he handed her the reins. His thumb caught her chin then and tugged slightly, encouraging her to bend toward him.
“And what,” he asked, “is wrong with that?”
He kissed her briefly, and she was still recovering, knowing the entire crowd had witnessed the action, when he walked around her animal and mounted his.
Moments later they led the procession out the wide gates, side by side. The pride Millie felt for Seth had her spine straight and her shoulders squared. As if he knew she was thinking of him, he turned and gave her one of his sweet, heart-teasing winks.
A short time later Seth held up a hand, his elbow squared, to stop the men and wagons behind them as they approached Per-Cum-Ske and four of his braves, who were ready to mount their horses.
Stepping out of the crowd nearby, Leah-Widd-I-Kah smiled at Millie, but walked straight to Seth and spoke in a hushed tone.
Nodding, he dismounted and then walked around the head of the buckskin to arrive at Millie’s side, where he grasped her waist. “Leah-Widd-I-Kah has a gift for you.”
“Goodness, I certainly didn’t expect all this,” Millie whispered, resting her hands on his shoulders as he lifted her to the ground.
Others, including the leader’s additional wives, followed as Leah-Widd-I-Kah walked forward, holding out a necklace that had Millie pressing a hand to her chest. It was a bride’s necklace, the Indians’ equivalent of a wedding band. The woman had shown her hers.
Seth took the necklace and placed it around her neck, lifting the braid she’d styled her hair in— given what the wind did to combs and coiffures—and letting it fall down her back again once the thin leather strap was around her neck.