This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


Ephraim's Blunder (or The Spirit Stealer)
(24th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long
Just to end up caught in a dream
where everything goes wrong.

("The Price You Pay" - Bruce Springsteen)

Etienne Meloche was a strange little man. A thin, balding head that didn't match the full, bushy beard. A narrow set of eyes that didn't match the long nose. In his bare feet he hardly stood five feet tall. Many a woman that passed him by was taller than Etienne. He didn't own a gun, and had never, as far as he could remember, held a rifle in his small hands.

But he could paint. As a boy in French Canadian Quebec, Sault-au-Mouton, he painted portraits of his family. He grew restless, longing for the wild, western frontier of America. Etienne headed south, crossing the border, then journeyed west.

Etienne Meloche squinted and tilted his head. "Monsieur Mosby. S'il vous plait. You must hold that pose, non?"

Clay Mosby sighed with the impatience of a great leader as he attempted to remain still. Robert Shelby suggested he pose similar to General Robert E. Lee in the famous Mathew Brady photograph taken after the War, with his hat resting in his lap. Clay opted for the engraving of Stonewall Jackson from a field sketch, one leg crossing the other while holding his hat against his shin. Both Ashley Jessup and cousin, Olivia Jessup, agreed with Clay's choice, saying it made him appear more dashing.

The vibrant and lovely Miz Ashley Jessup, hiked her dress slightly and walked across the whiskey-stained, wood floorboards and paused near Clay. She leaned down and cupped her smooth hand by his ear and with her warm breath, whispered, "Clay, dearest. Why, I feel inspired to paint you with no clothes on. You would also be naked and I would call it, The Colonel at attention, if you get my meaning." She giggled and stepped back as Clay was unable to hold his pose and turned to look at her.

"Pardonnez-moi, Mademoiselle! How can I finish my masterpiece if you disrupt my subject? And I am so close to the end." The little French Canadian man threw his hands up and walked over to the bar. He lifted his half-full glass of brandy and sipped just a little.

"Oh, posh!" Ashley replied. "Clay is not a statue. I'm weary from standing here. And I'm bored."

Olivia smirked as she glanced at Robert, then her impetuous cousin. "It's Sunday morning, Ashley. We cannot go out shopping or looking for dresses down the street in that little store run by those sisters."

Etienne Meloche returned to his canvas and continued painting Clay Mosby as the two ladies from New Orleans bickered.

****************************************

The next day Dr. Ephraim Cleese walked up to Clay Mosby inside the smoke-filled, dimly lit Ambrosia Club. The town doctor, whose wife, Victoria, was due to give birth to their first child later in the summer, was in a spirited mood.

"Good day, Mr. Mosby. I would appreciate a glass of beer and some information." Ephraim stood tall and straight, smiling.

Clay Mosby grinned as he filled a mug with beer and placed it in front of the usually teetotaler physician. "That was elementary enough. What, exactly, do you wish know?"

"I was hoping you could possibly inform me as to the whereabouts of Mr. Meloche, the painter? I desire to have him paint Victoria and I." Ephraim raised his mug of beer and awkwardly toasted Clay, then sipped the brew.

Clay shook his head. "As for Mr. Meloche, you are too late. He left this morning."

Dr. Cleese was quite shaken up at the revealing of this unexpected announcement. "Left? Where did he go?"

"He mentioned something about traveling south. Or, was it west? Apparently, Mr. Etienne Meloche has decided to paint the savage Red Man. He rode out with some half breed scout he hired to lead him to one of the winter camps of either the Crow or Lakota."

Ephraim stood quiet for a moment. Then his eyes lit up as one experiencing a grand revelation. "Then I shall find him."

"I beg your pardon?" Clay replied. It was a simple matter for him to doubt his hearing since the meek doctor never showed a spirit of adventure.

"Yes!" Ephraim said, his voice was full of excitement. "I will ask Call and his uncle to ride with me to find this artist. Surely these Indians he visits will receive us favorably?"

"As one would hope," Clay answered. "Wouldn't it be simpler to just pay your new brother-in-law to ride out alone and locate Mr. Meloche?"

"I suppose it would," Ephraim agreed as he lifted his beer and drank a substantial amount. "However, I doubt Call will be willing to leave his wife alone, now that she's pregnant."

"Well then, I wish you luck, Doctor," Clay said. "If you are going to be the company of Newt Call as well as his uncle, I expect the experience will be full of drama."

"I disagree," Ephraim remarked. "I have noticed that Call is less volatile. He is less likely to erupt into violence since he's been with Gretchen. He rarely drinks at the No.10 or here in your establishment."

Clay frowned. "Are you forgetting that display he caused recently? The street brawl." He shrugged. "Of course, it was his wife who was responsible for that disaster."

Ephraim wasn't listening. He had his mind now set on this brilliant plan and was busting at the seams to reveal it to his wife. He mumbled some incoherent word or two then hurried out of the saloon.

"Good luck, Ephraim," Clay Mosby quietly said, "you'll need it with that hothead Call leading you." He grabbed a dirty towel and wiped the beer the doctor had spilled on the counter in his excitement.

***************************************

Mattie Shaw couldn't take it any longer. She hadn't heard anything Unbob was saying as they sat finishing lunch in the Dove. She was obsessed over Miz Ashley Jessup and her equally annoying cousin, Miz Olivia Jessup. Well aren't they two of the most stuck up, rude so and so's, she brashly thought.

Mattie stood up. She completely ignored the bewildered Unbob and walked toward the doors, making sure she passed the table where the New Orleans cousins sat.

"Ooohh?! I didn't see you," Mattie said, pretending ignorance as she bumped roughly into Olivia's arm, causing her to spill her coffee on her smooth, soft hand. Mattie tightened her jaw, trying not to laugh.

"That was rather clumsy of you," Olivia bitterly replied. She stared contemptuously at the blond haired woman who dressed like a man. "Perhaps I should be more careful how I speak to you," she added, looking at the large pistol sitting in Mattie's holster. "I wouldn't want you to shoot me in anger."

"Oh, hush, Olivia," Ashley said, scolding her cousin. "Must you always ruin an occasion?"

"I hardly think being upset over something that I had nothing to do with warrants such a reaction as yours, Ashley." Olivia picked up her napkin and carefully wiped the spilled coffee off her hand. She ignored Mattie. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing more to be said. "Now, Ashley, as I was saying . . ."

Mattie fumed. She was also hurt by the remarks and quickly left the dining room, stepping outside where she gathered her wits in front of the hotel. Across the street, she noticed Gretchen Call excitedly exit the telegraph office. Mattie folded her arms and thought quick. She walked across the street, meeting up with Gretchen in front of the Brandt Sisters' dry goods store.

"Mrs. Call?"

Gretchen looked up from reading the telegram. She was still smiling. "Oh? Uh, hello, Miss Shaw."

"I was hoping we could talk some," Mattie replied.

Gretchen was surprised to hear those words from Mattie. The pants-wearing gunsmith had not been overly friendly to Gretchen since returning from Miles City and taking up residence in Curtis Wells. Gretchen just nodded.

Before Mattie spoke, the door to the dry goods opened and youngest sister, Paige, poked her head out. "Did you get it? Gretchen? Did it come?"

Gretchen turned. "Uh huh," she smiled and handed the telegram to her sister. "I'll be out back with Miss Shaw, Paige. Tell Victoria that we can talk as soon as I come back inside."

Paige nodded and rushed inside.

Gretchen turned to Mattie. "We can go behind the building. There's a bench we can sit at."

"I appreciate you taking the time," Mattie replied. "That telegram seemed urgent."

"It's from St. Joseph. Call's taking me there in two more months," Gretchen proudly revealed as she sat down on the bench Clay Mosby had generously provided for the sisters.

"That's kind of . . . what I want to talk about," Mattie said.

"You want to talk about Call?" Gretchen replied.

"Well, not exactly Call." Mattie sighed. "How did you do it, Mrs. Call? How did you win Call's love? And however did you get him to say he would marry you?"

Gretchen smiled as she thought about the day Call said he loved her and the day he said he wanted her to be his wife. "I think some folks are just meant for each other. But, I was very, very persistent with Call." She giggled. "I suppose I really was a pest. I treated him like he was the most wonderful man in the whole world. Which of course, he is. I believe I wore him down."

Mattie frowned. "No man's going to let himself be worn down unless he he has a mind to let it happen."

"I also read to him. The Song of Solomon in the Old Testament is some of the most beautiful literature ever written. Call didn't quite understand it but he enjoyed it. And all men, I'm sure, want a woman who can cook . . . although I tend to make mistakes far too often."

"Reading. Cooking. Pursuing," Mattie mumbled. "Hmm?"

"Well, I suppose you should decide just who you really want, then go after him. That's what I did with Call."

Mattie looked up the hill at the scatterings of birch. "You're right, Mrs. Call. Thank you." She stood up. "I won't keep you any longer."

*******************************************

Off to the south, a half dozen wild, black steers grazed. Off to the north, two dozen geese stood motionless in the creek. To the west, the sun was a blurry white ball, slightly above the crests of the distant hills, overshadowed by the smoky-gray smearing of clouds that quickly were vanishing. Out in the field, an unseen woodpecker hammered repeatedly in a lone pine. It was late in the afternoon and the temperature was dropping by the minute.

"It's too cold out here, Call." Gretchen began to shiver.

"Ain't hardly even half cold yet, Gretchen," Call replied.

Gretchen knew what would happen now. "No, Call!" She laughed and stepped back as Call reached out and touched her face with his hands, covering her cheeks. "Call!" she screamed. "It's freezing! That was mean!" She kicked him in the shin with her black, high buttoned shoe and then hiked her dress slightly and ran into the barn, laughing.

"Hey! That hurt!" Call moaned. He allowed her a five second head start then chased after her. Stepping inside the barn, he was surprised as Gretchen threw a fair sized handful of hay into his face. ""Pphfft!" Gretchen felt carefree as she giggled while Call spit the hay out of his mouth. "That'll teach you, Mr. Practical Joker Newt Call."

Call shook his head. Gretchen stepped close to her husband and helped brush away the strands of hay off his head and shirt. Call took hold of Gretchen's hands and pulled him and his wife down onto a pile of soft hay. He unbuttoned her white blouse and then continued to unbutton her light blue camisole, exposing her breasts.

"Seems to me you feel a mite bigger here than when we got hitched two months back, Gretchen," Call said as he gently fondled her exposed, firm breasts. He leaned in close and kissed each one, being sure to blow warm air on them, since it was cold in the barn.

Gretchen looked down at her chest. "It's because I'm pregnant, Call." She stared into his eyes and he stared back at her.

"I reckon you're the most beautiful woman I ever saw, Gretchen." He kissed her mouth.

***

An hour and a half later, Call and Gretchen emerged from the barn, straightening their clothes, wiping hay off their bodies. The sky was black. A vast multitude of twinkling stars dotted the expanse. The croaking love song of nearby frogs in the creek could be heard. Gretchen drew close to Call and put her arms around his neck.

"Mother and Father sent a telegram to me. They said they're excited about seeing me and can't wait to meet you, Call. They really did. They refer to you as the 'wild Texas boy.' Victoria was the one who started that. Isn't she a brat?" Gretchen giggled and hugged Call tight. "Oh, Call, my love. I feel so good and so close to you every time we make love together." She stepped back suddenly, then moved closer, her hand brushing her husband's crotch. "Call?! You're excited again! Did I do this?"

"Yep," he said, smiling at her.

Gretchen bit her lower lip as Call took her hand and ran toward the house. "Call! After we make love again we really should finish our chores," she giggled as she couldn't wait for him to take her clothes off again.

*************************************

"I rather like it," Clay Mosby admitted.

"I like it too, Clay," Ashley Jessup added. "That tiny, little man made you appear quite gallant and dashing." She stepped nearer the painting. "Daylight is better. It's far too dark now and these lamps flicker so that you seem to be jumping out of the chair."

"Well, my dear Ashley," Clay replied, handing her his glass of brandy, "as I recall, you were saying something about painting . . . or drawing me . . . a certain way?"

Ashley dipped her finger inside the glass then withdrew it, sliding her finger into her mouth. She smiled seductively at him and opened her silk robe, letting it fall off her arms as it bunched around her feet. Clay felt his breathing accelerate as he stared hungrily at her naked body. Ashley stepped over to Clay and began unbuttoning his trousers. As he stepped out of them, he said, "Colonel at attention, as you requested."

Ashley pushed Clay back onto the bed and quickly mounted him. "I shall address this matter in another way. That is, unless you object?"

Clay smiled. "No objections."

*************************************

The first signs of light had cracked the distant hills to the east. It was quiet and chilly as Gretchen Call walked over to the well that stood between the house and barn. She lowered the bucket into the well. She mumbled something about the cold Montana winter then began to quietly hum. Directly she began softly singing, "Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer."

She was unaware of the intruder that was closely watching her from the corral. As she pulled up the full bucket of water, the intruder quietly advanced on her, until he was close enough to grab her.

Gretchen suddenly turned. "Oh! Mason! I didn't hear you."

Call's uncle stood smiling at her. "You might tell that nephew of mine to keep a better eye on you."

"Call's inside getting ready, Mason. He was loading his Winchester and filling his holster belt with bullets. Come on inside. I'm just about to make fresh coffee and biscuits are hot off the stove."

"Here, give me that," Mason said, taking the heavy bucket from Gretchen. "You're going to have a baby."

Gretchen giggled. "I can tend to chores well enough. It's still plenty early."

Call stepped out into the doorway. He was pulling his holster belt around his waist. "You're late, Mason."

"Well now, I would of come calling an hour ago but it ain't in me to rouse newlyweds too early. It would be downright rude." He winked at his nephew. "Where's the Doc and your wife's sisters?"

"They'll show soon enough," Call said. Gretchen paused in the doorway and kissed her husband.

"You two sit at the table," she replied. "The coffee will be ready soon."

***

They were on their second cup when they heard the wagon pull to a stop outside. The door swung open and Paige stepped inside first, followed by Victoria and then Dr. Cleese.

"Isn't this going to be fun, Gretchen?" Paige excitedly said. "Morning, Call. Morning, Mason."

They both nodded.

"It would be so much more enjoyable if we did this during the summer," Victoria remarked, holding her arms close to her body. "Or at least in the springtime. Oh? That coffee looks so good, Gretchen."

"Sit down, Victoria," Gretchen smiled. "I'll pour you a cup."

"Paige and I want to see your music box Newt gave you as a wedding present," Victoria said. "We only have a moment. I know we have to get started."

Gretchen nodded. "Come in the bedroom, you two. There isn't a lot of room. It's sitting on top of our dresser, where I can gaze at it every morning and every night."

Mason turned to Dr. Cleese. "I'll wager you don't take much time away from your office, amigo?"

"I trust one day away from town will not be disastrous?" Ephraim said. "I would never forgive myself if something were to happen while I was away."

"It's just one day," Call replied. "Ain't likely folks can't wait." He stepped out into the doorway and threw the dregs of his coffee onto the cold ground. "Reckon it's time we pull out."

********************************

The party headed due west, angling a few degrees south as they moved slowly across the winter terrain. Call and Mason on horseback -- Ephraim leading the wagon -- Victoria sitting alongside him -- Gretchen and Paige huddled close together in the back of the wagon.

Disappointed over the departure of Etienne Meloche, the painter, Dr. Cleese settled for an outing at Field Glass Point, the cave in the Big Paw Mountains at the junction of the Flat Willow and Box Elder Creeks.

The wagon wheels had a rough time pulling through some of the rocky gullies. The added bouncing caused Victoria to feel sick, forcing the party to rest. The frigid temperatures of winter, even though the sun shone on a cloudless sky, provided for sizable grumbling.

"I should like to hope we could do this in the summer," Victoria commented. "A body is likely to freeze and turn into a corpse before ever arriving at one's destination."

"Yes, dear," Ephraim replied. He was meek. But he had thick skin when it came to tolerating his wife's griping. As a physician, he was more prepared and in tune to the changes taking place in her body. Changes Victoria might not even be fully aware of. This of course resulted in her being moody at times.

Call guided the Hellbitch around back of the wagon, where Gretchen and Paige sat huddled close together. All three Brandt Sisters wore long winter coats as well as mittens on their hands. Gretchen smiled warmly at Call. Her green eyes aglow as she stared at her husband. Paige tilted her face upward, feeling the cold sun caress her skin. It was small comfort, yet was appreciated a great deal in this far off western frontier country.

"Won't be long now," Call said to his wife. He extended his hand. "You wanna ride with me?"

An answer wasn't required. They both knew she did. She jumped up and climbed behind her husband and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. "I like it better this way, Call." She laid her head against his back and sighed contently. "Let's lose them all inside the cave. We can find a spot, just for us, Call."

"I got me a mind to turn around right here and ride back home and carry you into our bedroom, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen tugged his long hair. "I wish we could, Call. I guess we'll have to just wait till we get home."

*****************************

Olivia Jessup and her cousin, Ashley Jessup climbed the stairs and knocked on the door to Dr. Cleese's office. A small note had been taped to the door.

Apologies to any patients.

Will return tomorrow.

As they descended the stairs Mattie stepped out behind the gunsmith shop to look for Dewey. She could hear Olivia complaining.

"Why, I think it is simply appalling that the town's only doctor decides to not be available. What if someone were truly ill?"

Mattie turned toward Olivia. "Even Dr. Cleese deserves a day off. The poor man hasn't had a day since I can remember."

Olivia looked down at the pants-wearing Mattie. "That is beside the point. And I was not addressing you."

"Oh, hush, you meanie," Ashley scolded her cousin.

Olivia huffed off toward Josiah Peale, who stood outside the Montana Statesman.

"I declare," Ashley said, looking at Mattie. "Olivia can be as much fun as ants at a picnic. I should go step on her little ol' head." She giggled.

Mattie laughed. She was beginning to like Ashley. "Have you seen Dewey? He's nine years old and about this high," she said, holding her hand almost at chest level.

"Let me think. My mind is so fuddled because of that Clay Mosby. Oh! I did see four or five boys over by the windmill. They were climbing up it."

"Thank you, Miss Jessup. I better find him. He ran off and didn't do his chores again."

************************************************

Ephraim Cleese decided there was a chance they might have the good fortune to stumble upon Etienne Meloche. If he was painting portraits of Indians, it just made sense that they would be tame enough not to be a threat to the Brandt Sisters or anyone else. He thought a ride to the cave would be adventurous and he had a strange desire to be bold.

Field Glass Point was well named. The mouth of the cave stood about forty yards up a sloping hillside. The opening was shaped similar to the letter V. The cave itself was like a long field glass -- the stretch from one opening to the other opening too far to see the light of day. Crevices branched off sporadically, leading down avenues of steep descent.

Ephraim Cleese assured his wife, Victoria, and Call's wife, Gretchen, that the trek would not hinder or endanger the babies they carried inside their bodies. They left the wagon as well as Call and Mason's horses, and climbed the S-shaped hillside, reaching the dark and gloomy entrance in a matter of minutes. It was as cold as an ice house as they stepped into the solid limestone-walled chamber. Turning around, they looked down at the frigid waters of the intersecting creeks and the patchy snow-covered plains. Each man has his own lamp to lead one of the Brandt Sisters through the long, dark cave.

"I bet there's bats and icky crawlies staring at us right now," Paige mumbled, her hand in Mason's hand.

"I'll wager the critters that call this place home are further down these opening we're passing," Mason replied.

"Dewey would love this place, wouldn't he, Call?" Paige mentioned.

"I reckon I'd favor not thinking about Dewey and caves," Call replied, remembering the occasion when Dewey's mine experience nearly led to both Call and Mosby's death.

Gretchen tightened her grip on Call's hand, yanking just enough to give him pause. He turned to his wife. "Call," she whispered. The flickering light revealed watery eyes, as she too, remembered the near-tragic event that had occurred less than four months ago.

Call leaned in and kissed Gretchen. "It's all right, Gretchen. You ain't gonna lose me."

"No, Call. Not ever," she whispered. "I'll love you forever and ever."

"Don't fall behind, you two," Victoria commented. She was in the middle of the group, along with Ephraim. Mason and Paige led the way.

Call pulled Gretchen close and kissed her passionately on the mouth. "We best keep up with the others."

It required only four or five minutes to reach the other end of Field Glass Point. They moved slow and with caution over the rough hewn ground. One mistake in the dark corridor could lead to a broken ankle. With two pregnant women it was necessary that extreme care be exercised.

The back opening of the cave revealed a beautiful valley below them. Lust, fertile clusters of towering pine trees dotted the landscape on the rocky hills across the valley.

"Look!" Paige cried out, pointing down to the valley floor. "People!"

"Far as I can make out," Mason said, "it appears to be a dozen Indians." He shook his head and laughed. "Well now, that's about as unexpected as gunplay in a Bible class. I'll wager that's a white man painting some old chief."

"What?! A painter?! That's him! That's him!" Ephraim exclaimed. He let go of Victoria's hand and squeezed around Mason and Paige. "Where? I don't . . .? Yes, I do! There he is! That's Etienne Meloche! I found him!"

"That what this whole undertaking's about?" Call asked. "Bring these women out here around them Indians?"

Dr. Cleese turned to Call. "You don't understand, Call. Mosby said Mr. Meloche departed and was seeking to paint Indians. I have the utmost trust that the sisters will be safe as long as you and your uncle are present."

"Dammit, Ephraim!" Call said, still indignant. "You got no right putting these women in danger!"

"Simmer down, Newt," Mason replied in a soothing voice. "Take a look down there. Those Indians seem mighty poor. It's a small band. Cheyenne, by my estimation."

The three Brandt Sisters remained quiet, not sure whether to speak or await the decision of the men. "Well it's too late now," Mason said. "They've spotted us. Look. They're motioning for us to join them."

"They look friendly enough," Ephraim said. "Let's go down." He took Victoria's hand and emerged into the light of day. Paige grabbed Victoria's other hand and followed. Mason paused, gazing at his nephew. He winked and followed the others.

Ephraim's blunder had put Call in an angry state. He placed his lamp on the side of the opening and took hold of Gretchen's hand and joined the group. He held his sawed-off in his other hand.

As they zig-zagged down the sloping hillside, onto the valley floor, they were received by two Indians.

***************************

Sheriff Austin Peale's boots were resting comfortably atop his desk. They were big boots. Big feet for a tall man. When the stranger entered the sheriff's office he didn't immediately see Austin's face, since they were partially hidden by his boots.

"I'm busy," Austin sarcastically blurted out. "Make it quick."

The man strolled leisurely to the desk and looked around the room.

"Well? Are you deaf?"

"I'm looking for a woman. I believe she's here in this town. Her name's Jessup."

Austin removed his boots from the desk and sat up. He looked the man over a little closer. "Who the hell are you? And what do you want? There's two women in town that answer to the name Jessup."

The man appeared mildly surprised as he rubbed the three day old porcupine growth on his face. He stood about average height. Had short, dark hair. Nothing unusual jumped out when looking at him. "Well, I'm looking for Olivia Jessup."

"She's most likely in the hotel across the street. What's your business with her? I'm the sheriff. I expect to know what's going on in my town."

The man stood motionless as Austin stood up. He turned and walked toward the rack of rifles. Without any warning, the man drew his pistol and hammered it against Austin's head. Austin groaned and crumpled to the floor, unconscious. The man grunted as he labored to drag Austin's body into one of the empty jail cells. He grabbed a dirty towel sitting on the cot and wrapped it securely around Austin's mouth. He then locked the cell door and stepped quickly to the door and into the street.

**********************************

The Indians had revealed that they were Cheyenne. Just as Mason believed. They were the remnant of a much larger group that had come north four summers ago with chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf. They were part of the Cheyenne tribes that had fought at Greasy Grass in the summer of '76. The white eyes called it the Little Big Horn, where General Custer had been wiped out.

They were a poor band of Cheyenne. Babies were not being made as in days before when the buffalo roamed in large herds across the land. These Cheyenne had broken away from Dull Knife and Little Wolf. Now, after the running face sickness, there were less than twenty Cheyenne in this band.

Crooked Eyes was the half breed who guided the French Canadian painter, Etienne Meloche, to this location. Meloche had already painted No Hide, the old man who claimed to be chief of this remnant of Cheyenne. He was now finishing his second painting, a portrait of a young warrior called Flat Ears.

Dr. Ephraim Cleese was delighted at their good fortune in stumbling upon the location where Mr. Meloche was painting. It was his intention to plead, or for that matter bribe, if necessary, the artist into returning with them to Curtis Wells. Newt Call and Mason Dobbs made sure the three Brandt Sisters stayed especially close to them.

As Etienne Meloche finished the portrait of Flat Ears, he stood up and bowed before the few women and men counted among the Cheyenne camp and attempted to hand the painting to the young brave. Flat Ears tensed, possibly afraid to take hold of the piece of canvas that had captured his likeness. No white man had ever painted any of these Cheyenne, unlike the famous George Catlin, who had painted many a portrait of Indian chiefs in past years.

Flat Ears nodded gravely at the portrait. All seemed well enough. Dr. Cleese approached Etienne Meloche and introduced himself and proceeded to explain his desire to have the French Canadian paint him and his wife, Victoria. When Etienne Meloche agreed to return to Curtis Wells, Flat Ears suddenly became agitated and pushed Ephraim away from the painter. He began arguing with Etienne Meloche and old No Hide became animated, throwing his arms wildly in the air. This caused Gretchen and her sisters to fearfully cling to Call and Mason Dobbs.

"We will not let him go away with you," No Hide said. "He has stolen our spirits and put them inside these canvas squares. If we die and he is not here to put our spirit back, we will roam lost in the mist between light and dark."

Etienne Meloche had never experienced this type of behavior before and didn't know how to react. He feared the Cheyenne would kill him before allowing him his freedom. "I can prove you wrong," he said to No Hide. "I have painted a man. He is nearby. I left and he lives. His spirit is not in the canvas. I can prove it to you. Please? Give me a chance?" The painter's voice shook with fear.

"That's right!" Ephraim suddenly replied. "He painted Mosby. I saw it. It was quite good."

"There! You see? He tells you the truth, mon ami," Etienne pleaded.

The Cheyenne gathered and discussed this for a few moments. No Hide turned to Dr. Cleese and said, "you go. You return with this man who still has his spirit."

"No! I can't do it," Ephraim cried. He turned to Call. "Call? You can go. Mosby will listen to you."

"I don't care nothing about this fella," Call said, pointing his finger at Etienne Meloche. "I ain't ever gonna make a mistake and trust Gretchen to someone else." He turned to his uncle. "Sorry, Mason. I ain't set on leaving my wife. And I ain't of a mind to go off and leave her sisters here, either."

Mason nodded. "No offense taken, Newt. You made the right decision."

"But . . . but . . . how can Etienne Mel . . ."

"He can stay here till he rots far as I care!" Call angrily said. He refused to give any ground.

"I'd venture to say that there is a simple solution to this," Mason replied. "I'll go back! I can ride faster than Newt." He jabbed his angry nephew in the side. "I'll get Mosby and his painting and be back in a couple hours."

************************************

Inside the Lonesome Dove Hotel's dining room, Josiah Peale stepped in front of Amanda, causing her to put her hands out. "Josiah? What's the matter with you?"

"Have you seen Olivia? I was hoping to have lunch with her?"

"Robert Shelby took her riding. They should be back soon."

"I guess I should have asked her," he mumbled.

The man who had locked Austin in his own jail a few minutes ago sat quietly drinking a cup of coffee.

***********************************

Short of breath, Clay Mosby followed Mason Dobbs through the Field Glass Point and down into the Cheyenne camp. He felt Dr. Cleese was a good man who had never asked any favors before. He was glad to have an occasion to pay back the doctor's kindness, and if riding out to this location with his treasured new painting would help Ephraim, Clay was willing to do it.

***********************

The stranger waited until both Olivia Jessup and Ashley Jessup were seated at their table in the dining room before he approached them. "Which one of you is Olivia Jessup?"

"That is Miz Olivia Jessup," Olivia sternly replied.

The man looked around suspiciously. "I was sent here by Charles Langford II. Remember him?"

Olivia twisted and squirmed in her chair. "Of course I do. How is dear Charles?"

"He wants me to bring you back to Denver. You took something of his that doesn't belong to you. He wants it back. And he wants to see you in person."

"Ashley, dear?" Olivia said. "Please go find Clay."

"He isn't in town, Olivia," Ashley solemnly replied. "He rode out a little bit ago."

"Well, you can just go . . ."

Listen up, lady," the man said in a low, threatening tone. "You won't be the first woman I gun down in public. Now, both of you are going to stand up slow and easy like, hear? We all go upstairs to your room. You get the jewelry you stole from Charles Langford II. I collect my bounty and everyone's happy."

"Except me," Olivia replied. "I trust you'll allow me to tell my side?"

"All you can trust, lady, is that I will kill you and your friend here if you don't follow my orders."

Olivia and Ashley stood up quietly and walked up the stairs, the stranger following close behind. A few minutes later, Olivia and the man came back downstairs. Ashley was not with them. They walked quickly out into the street where the stranger ordered Olivia to mount up on one horse while he mounted another. They rode out of town, past the sheriff's office.

***********************************

Clay Mosby showed the Cheyenne the painting of himself that Etienne Meloche had done two days earlier. He told him he was called the chief of the wooden lodges by the Lakota and that his power was strong. He convinced them to release Etienne Meloche so he could return to Curtis Wells and paint Dr. Cleese and his wife, Victoria. The French Canadian painter vowed to return to this camp just as soon as he finished painting the doctor.

The party of eight now climbed the hill and returned through the long cave called the Field Glass Point. As they reached the opening of the tunnel they looked down to where they had left the wagon and the three horses.

"The horses are gone!" Mason yelled. "The wagon's gone, too!"

"What?!" Call loudly replied. It was true. The horses belonging to Mosby, Mason, and Call were all gone. The wagon had disappeared as well. "Sonofabitch!"

"We're stranded!" Mason said, looking at Cleese and the Brandt Sisters.

To be continued . . .
(Conclusion of the story will have a different title)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feed the author here!


AMBROSIA FANFIC CLUB:
[Homepage] [Reading Room] [Art Gallery]