AT THE RISING OF THE SUN
by Caroline Masters 2012
Relating to my earlier story, Requiem for a Fine Man, this episode shows a little of the sibling love shared between Stacey and Elizabeth Grainger.
"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."
Requiem for a Fine Man
Something woke Elizabeth from her troubled sleep just before dawn. Her anxiety about Stacey had prevented her from sleeping at first as she kept reliving the moment Uncle Clay had shown her the telegram, the stark words piercing a knife into her heart: "IN JAIL STOP CHARGE MURDER STOP NEED HELP STOP STACEY". The telegram had been sent on Monday but had not reached Medicine Bow until yesterday, Thursday. Uncle Clay had, therefore, wasted no time in riding into town to get hold of his lawyer, Tom Manstead, so that together they could start the long journey south. Sleep had consequently been slow to come to Elizabeth and when she had finally succumbed to her tiredness it was images of Stacey which had filled her dreams: Stacey pushing her on a swing back home in Texas, Stacey racing with her across the range at Shiloh, and Stacey helping her gentle her beloved Aladdin.
She woke with a start as if someone had called her name. But there was no one there. She looked out of the window but all the hands were still sleeping in the bunkhouse, as the first rays of the morning sun had yet to climb above the horizon. Unsettled she got dressed and went downstairs. In the kitchen, she made herself a cup of coffee but pushed it aside when she realized she couldn't drink it. There was an ache in her stomach that she couldn't explain. She went out of the back door and walked along the short path to her grandfather's grave.
Trampas hadn't slept much that night either. He too had been worrying about Stace. He had wanted to go to Lexington with Mr Grainger but, with the Virginian away, his boss had insisted he stay behind to take care of the ranch. Something woke him early too and he had just come out of the bunkhouse when he saw Elizabeth. He climbed up the steps to join her.
"Couldn't you sleep?" he asked.
She shook her head.
He put his arm around her. "By now, the Virginian will be with Stace. He'll sort it all out, and they'll both be home in no time at all."
"I hope so."
"I'm sure they will."
Elizabeth shivered as a cold gust of wind suddenly blew across the hill.
"Hey, now, you're cold. You go back into the house and get a warm breakfast inside of you. I've got to go and rouse the troops."
Elizabeth nodded, and turned to see Aunt Holly standing by the kitchen door watching her. She tried to smile, to allay the concern shown on her aunt's face, but it seemed that a chill had entered her soul that could not be erased either by Trampas's comforting words or by the sun now slowly rising above the hill behind her.
The Virginian gave her Stacey's belongings the day after he brought her brother's body home. She was calmer then and had stopped crying – although the tears flowed again as she unpacked the small pouch.
She laid the contents out onto her bed one by one: the wallet she had made for his sixteenth birthday, to celebrate his first cattle drive, carefully embroidered with his initials, strangely empty of money but containing a small photograph, taken soon after their arrival in Wyoming, of the two of them with their grandfather at the top of the steps at Shiloh; his father's ring that he had worn every day since it was given to him by his grandfather on his eighteenth birthday; a small thin-bladed knife, used numerous times to dislodge stones from horses' shoes; a tortoiseshell comb, given to him by June Bear, his Shoshone friend; and two gold watches which resurrected even more memories of a long-dead past.
She clicked open the older watch and heard the familiar tune her parents had listened to so many years ago. It was the watch her grandfather had given her father, the watch that had been looted by the Indian trader and had miraculously turned up at Shiloh one day on Amos Tyke's wagon, the watch that had led Stacey on the journey that ultimately avenged their parents' deaths.
The other watch was no less precious to her, engraved as it was J Grainger From his men. The Virginian, Trampas and the other hands had clubbed together to present it to her grandfather on his 76th, and last, birthday. She remembered how proud her grandfather had been of this gift and how greatly he had treasured it.
With all Stacey's belongings now spread out on the bed, the pouch seemed empty, but on checking inside she found a slim envelope. Turning it over, she saw her name written in Stacey's handwriting. The tears ran down her face as she held the envelope tightly for several minutes, afraid to break the seal. Finally, using her brother's small knife, she slit it open, and began to read:
I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye. There are so many things that I want to tell you. For a start: I didn't kill the doctor (but I know you know that). I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Be patient with Aunt Holly and Uncle Clay. They may be over protective of you when I'm gone. I hope they let you have your freedom – to ride the range as you've always done.
Look after Shiloh for me. It's all yours now. I know that the Virginian, Trampas and Belden will help. They've been like brothers to us since we arrived. I know they'll watch over you. And one day I hope you'll find a good man to take care of the ranch – and of you.
I won't be alone either. It's been a long time since I saw Mom and Dad so we've got a lot of catching up to do. And there'll be Grandad too, of course.
But I'll be with you, Liz, whenever you need me, just as I've always been. Just close your eyes, and I'll take your hand and guide you through the darkest night until the sun rises the next morning.
Your loving brother,
The handwriting was clear and flowing. There were no crossings out or additions – perhaps because he wrote directly from his heart. It was as if it had been the easiest letter for him to write, though it must have been the hardest.
She broke down at the mention of the rising sun. When she'd heard that Stacey had been hanged just before dawn, she wondered how she could ever face sunrise again. But here was her brother anticipating her fears and trying to reassure her, even when he himself was facing the toughest test of all. It was almost too much for her to bear.