Picture of Surprise by Diana L. Pierce….alias…..Dee Grainger

No copyright infringement intended.

It was a warm sunny spring day at the Shiloh ranch. Holly was busy beating rugs that hung over the clothesline, a long side the house. Clay was sitting on the porch talking to an eastern gentleman who had just arrived there. Clay asks, "You say you're an artist, aye? I never heard of a door to door artist peddling his goods, Mr. North." The gentleman trying to get a sale; "I paint portraits of those wealthy enough to afford my services and I can show you samples of my work." The man unfolds a large assortment of paintings he has fastened together and explains, "I get a good start on canvas with the faces of my subjects, outline the rest and then finish it at another time when I'm back at my hotel room that I have converted into an art studio." Holly comes out where the men are talking, "I thought I heard you talking to someone, Clay." The man showed her samples from his collection, "Oh, Clay we should have him paint the girls picture together." He agrees it sounded like a good idea. "How much would you charge to do a picture of my two lovely nieces?" Mr. North scratches his head, "Depends how big the canvas and the surrounding of the subjects. How patient they are at modeling for me and what not." Clay grins, "Now, Mister you came to us remember? Now you're beating around the bush for a price?" The man says, "You're right, sir. I can paint a large portrait of the two girls for around forty bucks?" Clay shakes his head, "That, sir is outrages. I can hire a cowhand for a month of hard labor for forty bucks." The man could see even these well to do ranch owners were tight wads out here in Wyoming. "Well, sir, what if I told you I could do one of you and your wife as a bonus?" Holly says, "There's one of the girls riding to the barn now. Isn't she pretty and the other one is too." Mr. North nods as he watches Dee lead her horse into the barn. Elizabeth walks out onto the porch, "Aunt Holly, want me to put over some coffee for you and your guest?" Holly grins, "Elizabeth, this is Mr. North. He's an artist who paints portraits your Uncle Clay is going to hire him to paint one of you and Dee together." Elizabeth smiles at him, "Hello. I never had anyone paint my picture before. It sounds exciting." Clay could see he better take the offer. "Okay, Mr. North, it's a deal. When can you do it?" The man asks, "Tomorrow suitable for you?" Clay shakes his head. "Sure will be. Now, you want to come in for coffee?" Mr. North says, "No, I better get back to town and work on my other projects. See you tomorrow."

At the barn, Dee is wiping down her red and white paint mare, Patches, with a rag. The Virginian comes into the barn, "Dee, you ought to start slowing down these runs before long, she's getting closer to her time, you know?" Dee looks at him, "Her time?" He grins, "Don't you tell me you didn't know she's going to foal soon." She couldn't believe she hadn't noticed, "No, I didn't. Just thought it was winter weight from her not getting much exercise." He laughs, "Dee, you make me laugh. Let me show you." He holds her hand firmly against the horse's side. They could feel the foal moving. Dee smiles, "She's never had one before. I never noticed her being in season, either." The Virginian explains, "I noticed it. When you paraded her around all those stallions I thought that's what you had in mind." Dee shakes her head in amazement, "Glad you kept track. How soon do you think?" He answers, "If my figuring's right I'd say a week, maybe." She smiles at him, "Guess you know I don't know beans about horses." He agrees, "At least not as much as you thought. Guess you better stick to dogs." They both walk to the house.

Later at the house the Graingers and the Virginian are drinking coffee at the dining room table and discussing their day. Clay tells the girls about the artist coming to do their portraits. "He better be what he says he is at that price." The Virginian speaks up, "Want me to see what I can find out about him next time I'm in Medicine Bow?" Clays looks at him, "He'll be here tomorrow to start the paintings. Don't make a special trip to town. We'll see how the pictures turn out." Elizabeth asks, "Should we dress up fancy or just everyday stuff?" Dee says, "Hope not fancy. Think I only got a couple dresses pretty enough for a picture anyways." Holly grins, "He'll paint you as fancy as you like. He says he only does the faces and outlines the rest, while you pose for him. He does most his work in his studio at the hotel." Waiting for a good chance to change the subject, the Virginian grins, "Dee found out something today bet she can't wait to tell you." Dee laughs, "You're the one that can't wait for me to tell them how stupid I am." He jokes, "Tell them, Dee. I bet they already knew it." Clay looks at Dee, "Tell us what?" She jokes, "Well, guess I'm gonna be a grandma." They all laugh at her. Clay chuckles. "Oh, the horse?" Dee asks, "You knew already? Wish someone would have told me, I thought she was just fat." Elizabeth stares at the foreman, "Don't feel bad, Dee. We can't all be smart as some of these men. I gave up on that notion a long time ago." Holly grins, "Congratulations, Dee. Foals are so cute."

Mr. North is outside the house with the two young women, trying to decide what would make a good pose for the painting. Elizabeth has on her new green dress. Dee decides on a blue one. Both dresses are long and have high collars, each trimmed with lace. Joe, the Virginian's horse is tied out front. Mr. North has the two, stand in front of the horse one on each side of his head. Mr. North smiles, "This is perfect." He begins his work with Holly watching from a bench on the porch. It was a huge canvas about three feet by five. Holly could picture it hanging in the living room. She was deep in thought as the Virginian steps out the door and interrupts, "Say, Joe in this picture, too?" Holly smiles, "Yeah, wasn't that a nice idea? He seems to like posing with the girls." The foreman smiles; "Guess, I can't blame him." Sometime later, he's curious about what the picture looks like and walks up behind the artist. The girl's faces are life like and so is the horse. The outline of the girl's hair and body is now complete. Mr. North said, "That's all I need I can finish it later in town." He leaves it to dry. He asks, "You and Mr. Grainger ready to sit for me now, ma'am?" Holly smiles, "Yes, I'll get Mr. Grainger." The artist has the couple sit on a bench in the dooryard with trees as their background. A couple hours later the paintings are dry enough for him to head to town with them.

Mr. North brings both of the beautiful painted pictures back to them a few days later all framed and ready for Holly to hang on her wall. Holly is so pleased, "Clay, help me hang these. Aren't they nice?" Clay agrees, "The horse was a good idea. Joe's standing there so proud." Holly grins, "I know. You would have thought the Virginian himself was in the painting, to hear him go on and on about it." Clay smiles, "Guess he could have been." They both stand back and admire the masterpieces.

It's Saturday night and a long overdue night on the town for the men from Shiloh. The Virginian and Trampas are the last of the bunch to enter the saloon. At the far end of the establishment they notice their fellow cowhands standing with Mr. North. One of the men they call Hank begins to shove him. The two hurry to intervene. Hank yells, "Mister! You're lower than rattlesnake." Trampas stops the man as he starts to take a swing at the artist. "What's this about?" By this time the Virginian is looking at a painting of two young women standing on each side of a white horse. The faces are those of the beloved Grainger nieces, but the wardrobe painted on them, are very revealing. Tempers fly and so do fist. The Virginian hauls off and knocks Mr. North clear across the room where Trampas picks him up by the seat of his pants and throws him over the bar. Chaos quickly erupts. Chairs are flying, bottles crashing and the Shiloh hands right in the middle of it all. As the sheriff walks in, the Virginian is ripping the painting from the wall. The saloon keeper shouts, "Sheriff, I paid fifty dollars for that painting. Don't let him out of here with it." The sheriff takes one look at it and says, "I'll show you what we'll do with that." He takes it out into the street, strikes a match catching his bandana on fire and torches the painting. He says to his friend, "This one's on me. Sorry, but you fellas are going to have to call it a night, early." The sheriff arrested Mr. North for disturbing the peace and starting a bar room brawl. He then looked at all the paintings he had in his art studio to make sure there were no more deceptions.

As the cowhands ride back toward Shiloh, Trampas says, "Mr. Grainger's going to think we're all sick coming back so soon." The Virginian asks, "What else can we do?" Hank speaks up, "We'll I got a bottle. Reckon we could stop right here and have us a campfire party." One of the others say, "I got one too, Boss. Sounds like we may as well." The Virginian laughs, "Well, why not?" The group sat around the fire talking for hours. Trampas chuckles, "Too bad the sheriff burned that picture, boss man. It sure would have looked fine hanging in the bunkhouse." His boss laughs, "And the Graingers would have us hanging right there with it."

When the cowhands return to the ranch, they see a light on in the barn. The Virginian walks into the barn to find the four Graingers admiring a brand new colt. Holly says, "Isn't he beautiful? Oh, Dee he's all red. Don't think he even has any spots does he, dear?" Dee notices they have company. "Well, glad you guys finally made it back. Good thing Uncle Clay was here, Patches needed a little help getting this pretty fella." Clay looks at his foreman, "Not much help we managed. I am still capable of a few things you know." The Virginian said, "Sorry, sir. I checked on her before we left. Didn't think it would be tonight." Elizabeth smiles, "Did you hear that Dee? Even experts don't know it all." Dee says, "Yeah, but we'll forgive him this time."

The next day the Virginian and Trampas are in the living room with the Graingers. Holly smiles, "I forgot you boys haven't seen our portraits yet. Aren't the girls and Joe beautiful?" Trampas admiring the artwork, "They sure are ma'am. Bet it was rather warm for them posing all that time with those dresses covering them from head to toe." Holly grins, "Guess it would have been but he did most the painting on the dresses in his studio." Trampas grins, "Guess that's where he dresses most of his victims. I mean subjects or whatever you call 'em." The Virginian stares at him, "We know what you mean. No need to explain."

THE END