Requiem for A Fine Man

by Caroline Masters

(alternative ending to "Requiem for a Country Doctor")

"Requiem for a Country Doctor" (teleplay by Chester Krumholz; story by Judith and Robert Guy Barrows) is one of my favorite episodes but I felt that, with a different ending, it could be used to explain why Stacey Grainger disappeared from the series. This, therefore, is my alternative ending. In order for it to work, the episode should be seen as taking place at the end of series 6, not in its original place in series 5. The first part of this episode stays the same up to the point when the Virginian is attacked – except that, as John Grainger died midway through series 6, it is Stacey's uncle, Clay Grainger, who is in charge of Shiloh Ranch, and so Stacey and the Virginian would have sent their telegrams to him, and not to John. Some of the wording in this alternative ending comes directly from the original episode.

I'd like to dedicate this short piece of fan fiction to everyone who worked on 'The Virginian' and helped to make it the wonderful series it was.

When he finally regained consciousness, he felt the sun burning the dried blood on his face. His head throbbed as if it had been crushed by a herd of stampeding cattle. Gradually the events of the previous night came back to him. He remembered leaving the sheriff's office on his way to the saloon and then the vicious attack by the two men: one had held him tightly while the other punched and kicked. The Virginian could hold his own against one man but the odds were stacked against him this time and he had soon been pummelled into the dust. He had heard the townspeople gathering to watch and caught the flash of the Deputy Sheriff's badge flickering in the moonlight just before he collapsed into darkness.

At last he managed to open his eyes fully. But, with the noonday sun blazing down upon him, it wasn't the pain from his wounds that then stabbed him like a knife – it was the realization that he had been unconscious for many hours. Somehow he managed to drag himself up and stumble down the alleyway into the main street.

The wooden gallows were still there but the rope had been taken down – along with the young man who had been hanged there, just before dawn when the streets were empty.

The Sheriff, who had come out of his office a few moments earlier, crossed the street: "Well, the problem is to show strength – swift justice. Like a big sign at the crossroad: mind your ways when you walk in here, mister, because we'll send you out feet first if you don't – and we'll do it fast. So that's what we did. It's all over now, so you can go on back to Medicine Bow – and take his body with you."

He could not answer. What words could express the despair and disbelief, the pain and sorrow that overwhelmed him? All he could see was his friend's face looking at him from behind the bars of the town's jail. All he could hear was the promise he had made to him: "Don't worry about it, Stacey, I'll get you out."

He knew that he would never forget the look on Stacey's face, that it would haunt him for the rest of his days. Often described by his grandfather as "hot-tempered", the young man had not shouted or raged against the treatment he had received from that "nervous" town. Instead, he had sat quietly in his prison cell, hoping, but not believing, that the Virginian would discover the real murderer in the few hours he had left. How strange that just a couple of days earlier he had complained so loudly to everyone in the saloon after losing that poker game, and yet now, when the stakes were so much higher, he said so little.

The Virginian stood there looking at the Sheriff but not seeing or hearing him.

"Don't worry about it, Stacey, I'll get you out."

"And if you don't?"

The words burned into his memory as permanently as the brand on Shiloh cattle.

The journey back took four days. He had to take the long route across the flat lands because he was driving the cart. He passed through no towns and met no people. As he travelled through the country, he didn't notice the trees and the grassland starting to wither in preparation for the approaching winter; instead he saw Stacey, with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall of his prison cell, looking up through the barred window to the blue sky above.

Deputy Sheriff Emmet Ryker had just eaten an early lunch in the saloon when he saw the Virginian pull up the cart outside the undertaker's and go into the parlor. He quickly followed him.

"What are you doing here? We got Stacey's wire about his arrest. Mr Grainger and his lawyer left straightaway. Perhaps you met them on the road? But why did you come back early? I thought you'd stay with Stacey until the trial."

"I didn't see them. They must have taken the short route over the mountains. But they're too late. Stacey was hanged on Friday."

Ryker stared hard at the Virginian, saying nothing.

"I tried to stop it. I'd just found out who really killed the Doctor when two men beat me up. When I came to, it was too late." The Virginian's voice faltered and he slumped into a chair, dropping his head into his hands, no longer able to face Ryker's look of horror and disbelief.

"The sheriff of that town said a man had a right to die in private – so that's what they did. They hanged him in the darkness before dawn. And there was no one there to help him."

Ryker still said nothing. What could he say? He wanted to tell the Virginian that it was all right, but of course it wasn't all right. Stacey was dead. It would never be all right again – not for Stacey, not for the Virginian, not for any of those who had known and loved the young man.

That morning Trampas had come into town to collect stores for the ranch. Elizabeth, anxious for news of her brother, had insisted on accompanying him so that she could check for messages at the telegraph office. As Trampas was loading a sack onto the cart, he saw Ryker leave the undertaker's and walk towards him.

"Who's died?" Trampas asked.

Ryker took off his hat and started to fiddle with it. "Stacey."

"What? What are you talking about?"

Ryker didn't reply. He just continued to twist his hat in his hands.

Trampas dropped the sack and ran towards the funeral parlor as fast as if he were chasing a runaway horse. He crashed open the door and only stopped when he came face to face with his dark-haired friend.

"Is it true? Is Stacey dead?"

"I couldn't stop it. I tried, Trampas. Oh God, I tried."

Then all the emotion that had been building up inside him during those last five days burst out and the Virginian started to weep. Trampas threw his arms around him, partly to comfort his friend but partly to comfort himself, for he found that he too was crying like a child.

When Elizabeth came out of the telegraph office, they were waiting for her – Ryker, Trampas and the Virginian. The pain in their eyes revealed what their words could never express.

The Virginian took her arm and guided her across the street into the sheriff's office and sat her down in a chair while Mark Abbott brought her a cup of strong black coffee which she could not swallow. Trampas and Ryker stood hesitantly by the door, as if they wanted to escape and race their horses into the hills.

It was only then that the Virginian told her – quietly, gently and with love. Trying to control his own grief, he held her in his arms as she wept silent tears for her beloved brother.

She had faced loss before – her parents, in that terrifying Indian attack, and her grandfather, when the years had finally caught up with him – but each time Stacey had been there, to protect and comfort her: first as a stubborn little boy who simply refused to show any fear even when faced with that threatening warrior; then as a fine young man who had learnt from his grandfather how to combine strength with gentleness.

Now it was Stacey who was gone. And although she knew that the Virginian, Trampas, Emmet Ryker and even the Sheriff, would help her in the coming days – and, of course, Uncle Clay and Aunt Holly – the one person whose support she really needed was the one she was grieving for and would see no more.

"Are you crying?" he'd asked that day in Medicine Bow after Mrs Calder had made her public apology for all the trouble she had caused when they'd first arrived in town.

"What if I am?" she'd replied. Her tears had quickly stopped then, as she linked arms with her brother and grandfather, and they had walked down the street on their way home.

They buried him on the hill not far from the house, next to his grandfather's grave. It was the last beautiful day that year. The sun shone and those birds, that had been so reassuring to Elizabeth in those difficult days when Mrs Miles had tried to destroy the family, sang for one last time under the eaves.

That evening after her aunt and uncle had retired to bed, Elizabeth slipped out and returned to the hillside. The Virginian, standing on the bunkhouse porch and seeing her still silhouette, put on his jacket and joined her.

"He died alone. That's what I can't bear. He died alone without any of us there."

"I know, Liz. I know. It tortures me too. But he's not alone now. He's back here at Shiloh, where he belongs. He's at peace now, here with your grandfather – and with all of us."

"Yes," she said slowly. "Yes. You're right. You brought him home. He'll never be alone again."

When Elizabeth stood on the hillside, as she did every morning before she collected the eggs from her prize-winning flock, she would watch the hands saddling the horses, loading the wagons and receiving their instructions from the Virginian for the day ahead. Their old friends were all there – men she and Stacey had grown to know and trust and love in those few short years since their arrival from Texas – men like Trampas and Belden. Later there were new faces, strangers to Stacey, some of whom found themselves on the receiving end of Belden's favorite welcoming trick of loosening the cinch of a saddle so that its rider would fall to the ground, much to the amusement of the old hands. Gradually, as the months and years passed, Elizabeth learned to trust these newcomers, men like David Sutton and James Joseph Horn. They helped to fill the gap in her life that Stacey had left, and with them, at times, she laughed and danced and rode her horse with such joy that these strangers never realized the sorrow that hid behind the smiling face.

It was only the Virginian and Trampas who knew that every evening she returned to that hillside to reflect on the passing of another day without her brother.