Obligations of the Heart
Gunsmoke fan fiction ~ written for my own amusement, with no intent to profit. Warning ... there is a death of a major character in the telling of this tale. Please be advised that my version of canon and your version might differ. This is not a history lesson, so please do not take it as such.
Matt Dillon's heart was broken, and no one doubted the fact. He went about his job, performing his responsibilities to duty and the badge, but the fire that lit the light in his eyes had gone out. He made a weekly pilgrimage to the still fresh grave nestled safely between Sam and Louie. He took some comfort in the fact that the place to the right of her had been set-aside for him when he passed. He couldn't deny the fact he looked forward to the day.
The irony of her death was not lost to him. Just when their life and love together seemed more a possibility than a daydream of a far-off someday she had been taken from him. Her disease had been swift, so swift that many things were left unsaid and it was perhaps for this reason, that peace of heart and mind seemed so allusive to him now.
He distanced himself from any connection to her estate, leaving all legal matters to her lawyer, Roman Gundrum. Dillon was aware of course the bulk of her assets were left to him. But, her attorney had seen to the selling of the saloon and the disbursement of funds intended for those friends who formed the nucleus of their family. He had no need for her money; it would never make him a wealthy man. For riches had been his when he had her and without her he would never be more than a pauper.
The new owner of the saloon urged him to clean out her room and remove those personal possessions he wished to keep. Doc Adams had offered to help, but Dillon couldn't bring himself to do it. How could he bear to step foot into that room which had been the heart of their universe?
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The lawman sat at his desk after his day's work was finished, as he had every night since her death. He slowly sipped a small glass of rye whiskey while trying to come to terms with the emptiness. Tucked away safely in the middle drawer was a sealed envelope. Her attorney had handed it to him after the funeral. The knowledge of its presence haunted him like no other ghost of the past. He knew it was an obligation of love to read what she had to say to him, but his heart was too sore to bear another wound. The need of a connection to her was strong, and he reckoned just holding the envelope might ease the loneliness. He finished his glass and poured another to buck up his courage before opening the drawer and pulling out the letter. Closing his eyes he held it to his nose and inhaled the scent of her, which clung to the paper folds. He breathed her name while keeping his body motionless. Moisture formed at the corners of his eyes. Finally, when he'd gained a measure of control he opened them to study the sealed document. Her writing had always been strong, not the usual loops and flourishes associated with the feminine hand. It was addressed to him, "Matthew Dillon, to be delivered in the event of my death."
He made a move to open it, tearing a small corner, but stopped. Courage didn't often fail the man but it did now. Hastily, he placed the envelope back in the drawer and shut it. Finishing his drink he rose from the chair, undid the heavy buckle, which secured his gun belt and slid the leather strap to its hook on the wall. With a sigh, he sat down on his comfortless cot and pulled off his boots. As he lay down he thought about how weary he was. He closed his eyes and welcomed a deep dreamless sleep aware the morning would come to bring another day and another lonely night.
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"Everyone" had long said Matt Dillon was married to his job; the badge pinned to his chest represented a contract as binding as any wedding vow. Kitty Russell was his mistress; of course, not in the true sense of the word, for one such as she, could never be a kept woman. But "everyone" realized his allegiance was to duty first. It was not for public knowledge that talks had been taking place to form dissolution of that union of man and badge. A proposal had been presented and accepted, with the addendum that the new union would take place when a suitable surrogate was found to wear the badge.
Matt and Kitty had spent precious hours together talking about their future. Her eyes would sparkle with happy tears when she said the word 'our home' and he'd thought there was never a word so sweet as that. They had scoured the county searching for the perfect location to settle in. Carefully they drew plans for their house taking each other's preferences into consideration. When the home site had been found, her attorney had seen to the purchase of the property, and the ordering of lumber and building supplies. Work had begun on the structure, a solid two story framed home, when she died. In his grief, Matt Dillon had ordered the attorney to have the half-built house burned to the ground. The workers were never aware of whose house they had been building and whose house they were ordered to destroy.
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Dodge City was a far cry from the wild cattle town he'd tamed a couple of decades earlier. The peace of respectability allowed the lawman too much time to dwell on his losses. Word from the Federal Marshal's office that trouble was brewing near the Mexican border had given Dillon respite from his mourning. It felt right to rededicate heart and soul to his original calling and he didn't look back as he rode out of town. The badge had him for good now, he figured. As it was before, it was now; Matt Dillon was a man with no strings attached to him.
It was near to five weeks later when he rode back into the quiet prairie town. Familiar faces smiled and waved their hellos from the neatly swept boardwalks, "Good to have you back, Marshal." They called and he nodded his head and tipped his hat in reply.
Dillon brought his horse to a stop in front of his office and stiffly dismounted. As he slipped the gelding's reins over the hitching post, he could hear Festus Hagen arguing with Doc Adams from inside the closed door. The lawman masked a smile behind a frown, thinking it was good to be home. He paused before opening the door to catch the drift of their discussion.
"I'm a tellin you Doc, he don't know nothing about this."
"Well good heavens I know that, he'd never have left if he did, that's why we've got to get word to Matt to get back here."
Dillon's frown deepened in earnest as he opened the door, foregoing a salutation he asked, "What don't I know about?"
Hagen and Adams exchanged an anxious look; the older man swiped a hand over his face and whiskers in an attempt to hide his nervousness. However, he smiled with genuine pleasure to see his good friend. "Welcome back Matt, we were getting worried."
Festus moved forward to take Dillon's hand in a vigorous shake, "Well if you ain't a look some sight for sore eyeballs. Good to have you back Matthew, everything go all right for you, did it?" He asked.
Dillon's eyes were narrowed suspiciously at the pair; he nodded and said, "Fine. How are things here?"
Running an uneasy finger around the edge of his shirt collar, Adams began, "Well Matt …"
Dillon let his gear fall to the floor, he was tired, and not in the mood for games, "Yeah?" he prompted.
Doc Adams was seldom at a loss for words; his talent for eloquent oration had served him well over the years. "The thing is . . ." This was not to be one of those occasions. He tried another tact, "About two weeks ago . . ."
Growing frustrated with the old man, Festus interrupted, "Doncha see Ol' Doc, you gotta have him read that there letter of Miss Kitty's."
Dillon flinched at the mention of Kitty's name. "What letter?" he asked.
"The one Roman Gundrum done gived you at Miss Kitty's funeral."
Dillon's blue eyes turned to ice, "What do you know about that letter?"
"It appears a heap more than you do Matthew. There's some things a go'n on around here, and I think Miss Kitty'd be better a tellin' you about it then me or Ol' Doc here."
Dillon moved to his desk and opened the middle drawer. "It ain't in there no more." Festus confessed.
"Where..." Matt began. But Doc was already pulling it out from the inside pocket of his suit coat. The seal was broken and Dillon's anger at this obvious invasion of his privacy was undeniable.
"Matt, I want you to know, under normal circumstances we would never have opened that letter; it's just that, well about two weeks ago..."
A tidal wave of emotion was drowning Matt Dillon, but he found the breath to say, "Shut up Doc."
Turning his back to his friends the lawman slid the paper from the envelope.
My dear Matt,
If you are reading this, it must mean I am dead. Let me assure you I am quite healthy at this writing and cannot foresee any event, which might lead to my demise.
Please do not mourn my passing, I have had a wonderful life, filled with love and adventure and true happiness. For that I have you to thank, sharing these years with you has made all the difference. I must confess, and this is very difficult to do, and I pray you will be able to understand, but we share more than years.
There was a commotion coming from outside the building, once again duty came between Matt and Kitty, forcing Dillon to leave her words unread on the page. Quickly, he folded the letter and put it in his pocket as the office door flew opened.
Ma Smalley's frazzled head appeared at the doorway, bobbing in and out of view. She was obviously still struggling with her combatant outside the door's frame. Unlike her male counterparts, Ma was in no mood to mince words. "Well Marshal, It's about time you got back. I've been tending to a little obligation of yours, but now that you're here..." With a yank the older woman pulled her opponent into full view of the lawman.
A belligerent little girl not more than seven years of age stood before them. She had wild red hair, a smattering of freckles across her cheeks, and deep set blue eyes, which turned to ice as she stared at her startled audience.
With a flourish Ma Smalley introduced, "Marshal Dillon, I present to you, Miss Matilda."