Chapter 6 – Matters Are Settled
July 5th dawned bright and clear, but it was quite late in the morning by the time Matt and Kitty were awake and seated at their favorite table drinking coffee. Thad came through the batwing doors with Horace and Mattie Buckley and sullenly sat down with them at the table. The boy came because he knew his future was being discussed and he wanted to make sure they understood how he felt. He needed them to understand his desire was to have nothing, or at least as little as possible, to do with his Aunt Kitty's lawman friend.
"Thad, if Kitty is willing as your official guardian and you agree to it, we'd like to raise you as our own out on our farm. It would mean most of your schooling would be from Mattie except for what I can teach you about farming. We'd want to legally adopt you," Horace explained.
"I'd like that a whole lot, Uncle Horace, Aunt Mattie. I reckon I'd have to start calling you ma and pa once it's official."
"That certainly would be fine, if you feel comfortable with it all Thad," Mattie replied. "Kitty, it appears Thad likes our idea. What do you think?"
"It's better than what I can offer him – boarding school or what little time I can spend raising him, although, if you were troubled about something, Thad, I'd make time to listen. You have to know that. I'm not pushing you away and will visit you on the farm and spend time with you whenever you're in town. You can always go to Matt for advice if he's available."
"I know you care about me Aunt Kitty or you wouldn't want anything to do with me after the way I acted toward you yesterday. I'm real sorry about that. I'll be happy to see you as often as possible. I just don't want to see Marshal Dillon, a man who won't even acknowledge his own son," he added as if Matt wasn't sitting right there. "My pa may have been an outlaw and cruel, but at least he cared enough about me to try and find me."
"Thad, your father didn't love you. You were only another possession to him. Just like your mother was. If he had loved you, he wouldn't have beaten your mother to death because she loved you enough to keep you safe. I know the kind of man your mother wished you to become, the exact opposite of your father and more like Matt. She didn't want you to experience the kind of influence a man like your father would have on you. Horace and Mattie will continue to raise you so you grow into a good man and that includes respecting others. You owe Matt an apology. I know you think he's being hateful to your friend, but he has very sound reasons for not claiming Matthew as his. I hope both of you realize sooner rather than later that Matt's decision is for Matthew's sake, not his."
Despite Kitty's admonishment, Thad refused to apologize. Instead, he continued to ignore Matt as they walked out of the saloon and across the alley so the Buckleys could load their wagon with supplies before the three of them headed home. When all of them entered the general store another couple was already keeping Mr. Jonas busy. The man happened to look up as they entered. He walked hesitantly up to Matt and offered his hand.
"Mister, you look very much a fella I knew in the army in Texas back during the war. I don't know what you'd be doing in Kansas and as a marshal at that, but there can't be many as tall as him who came to the army from a deputy's job. The fella's name was Matt Dillon. That wouldn't be you, would it?"
"I'm Matt Dillon, but you've got me at a disadvantage. I thought you looked familiar at the dance last night, but couldn't place you."
Jeb Ivers supplied Matt with his name and promptly introduced his wife, Millie. Matt, in turn, supplied the names of all the people with him, including Doc, who had come down the stairs from his office. He also told him about Matthew Duffy and his Uncle Pete, just as Thad, who was helping to load both families' wagons, came back inside. With his usual "See ya, later," Matt left the two farmers and the women talking with Mr. Jonas and Doc to see if Chester was in the office and had managed to get around to getting the mail. He'd just passed the Long Branch when he heard his name shouted by a man standing 30 yards farther along Front Street.
"Dillon, your time's up! Are you ready to at the very least give your boy your name or are ya gonna draw?"
"Duffy, I'm not gonna own up to something that's not true. Matthew's father is here in town, but it's not me. I'm telling you the truth and if you wait, maybe he can convince you."
Pete Duffy didn't wait. Instead he went for his gun. He was quick, but Matt was just a shade faster and more accurate. Matt's bullet struck his gun arm causing his aim to be off enough so Matt was only creased in the left shoulder before the force of Matt's bullet caused Duffy to drop his gun. The gunshots brought Dodge City's citizens out of the shops and saloons to see what was happening. Kitty ran straight to Matt's side while Doc, after Matt waved him off, went to Duffy, who was now standing holding his arm. Thad and Matthew, who'd watched the fight from an alley next to the Dodge House, came out from the shadows. The Buckleys and Ivers soon joined them. Ivers took one look at the brown-haired Matthew and saw the resemblance right away.
"Son, now that I know you exist, I've got something to tell you and your uncle," he informed Matthew. No matter what you might think, Matt Dillon ain't your pa. It's just as he told you, I am. I was a different man back then and thought women were for the taking if you fancied them. What they wanted was of no account. In the case of your ma, I half convinced her she wanted me, but she wasn't too keen on gettin' more physical without us marryin' up. I sure enough wanted all of her before our unit pulled out, so I forced myself on her and had my way with her, although, I gotta say in my defense, she wasn't completely unwillin'. You were the result. Matt got there just a bit too late, but, even so, she was grateful for his help once the impact of what we'd done hit her. That's what you saw and why his name was on her lips as she birthed you."
"Why should I believe you? I know the marshal talked to you in the store. He must have told you to back him up."
"Matthew," Thad called as he moved closer to his friend's side. "You can believe him. Heck, even I can see you kinda look like him. The marshal didn't even recognize him at first. He had to tell Uncle Matt his name was Ivers from back in Amarillo during the war. Uncle Matt, I'm sorry I doubted you're the man Aunt Kitty always said you were. I should have realized that because of how she feels about you compared to how she felt about my father. Hope you don't mind me calling you Uncle Matt," he added as Matt nodded his consent.
Two weeks went by during which time Matt and Jeb Ivers caught up on each other's lives. He and Millie also spent time with Matthew and his Uncle Pete, whose arm was out of the sling within a week. Thad came back into town with Horace and Mattie the day Judge Brookings was to finalize their adoption of Thad. It was also the day Matthew Duffy would officially take on his father's name. They gathered in the judge's room at the Dodge House along with Matt and Kitty.
"Unless you folks want to make this more formal than need be, I'm willing to sit and listen to why these two boys should have new names. We'll begin with the adoption of the orphan Thad Farron. Miss Kitty, from the papers I have, it's apparent his mother gave you guardianship upon her death and that his father is also verifiably deceased. You needn't go into details of how this came about, but I'd like to know how the Buckleys came to be caring for young Thad."
In as few sentences as possible Kitty told about hiding Thad at the Buckley's farm to fulfill her promise to his dying mother to keep his father from finding him. She also stated that as an unmarried woman running a saloon she wasn't in the best position to properly raise a young boy. Then the Buckleys told of their growing attachment to the lad and Thad agreed that he wanted to become a member of their family.
"I wish all adoptions were so simple. Thad, from this day forth you are Thad Buckley and all official records will be changed to indicate the same. Now, as I understand it, this is not quite the case with Matthew Duffy. Peter Duffy, as the boy's blood uncle, I'd like to hear from you first. Please explain the circumstances of his birth and how this brought you to Dodge City."
"I was just Matthew's age, 10 years old, when I saw my sister with a man. I assumed from what I saw that the man was Matthew's father because my sister was not the kind to run around with a lot of men. Besides, she spoke his name with her dying breath while birthing him, or so my mother told me. I was raised believing the tall young soldier I saw was indeed the one. When my folks passed I sold off our small Texas farm outside Amarillo and using the money from the sale to live on, set out in search of the man. Once we reached Dodge City and I heard his name and saw him I became convinced Matt Dillon was that man. Based on his reputation I expected him to acknowledge his son and take responsibility for raising him. I reckoned I'd stay close and get some job nearby; maybe settle down with a local girl. Marshal Dillon denied my claim and said someone else was Matthew's father. I didn't believe him, but what he told me turned out to be true."
After Matt related how Jeb Ivers suddenly appeared in town with his wife Millie, Jeb took over the telling. He began by saying how wild he was as a youth and what he thought about a woman's place back when he and Matt were in the army and found themselves in Amarillo.
"Matt had his wild side too back in those days, but unlike me, he was brought up to respect women of all sorts. I thought even a good girl like Amy Duffy was for the taking and that's just what I did while Matt tried to pick up the pieces of the mess I'd made by consoling her that the war permitting I'd return to her. By the time we got out of the army I didn't give Amy a second thought. There were too many others who came after her. I felt that way until I met Millie. She spurned my advances until I could show her I was a responsible man. I reckon the challenge she represented along with her charming ways and good looks made me fall head over heels in love with her, so much so that I couldn't treat her as anything less than the jewel she is even after she accepted me. A few months back, after looking for a suitable place to settle, we bought a farm southwest of Dodge. When I saw Matt in the general store it was our first trip into town since we settled on the place. We thought the July Fourth festivities were a good chance to get to know the nearest town and get our supplies. Matt was already dealing with Peter and Matthew Duffy's mistaken beliefs. When things got out of hand, I collaborated what Matt had told them. Mattie and I have spent these past two weeks getting to know my son and his uncle."
Upon hearing from Mattie, Peter and Matthew that they had indeed formed a family unit on the Ivers' farm, Judge Brookings granted the paternity petition from Jeb Ivers. It was still early in the day, so everyone in the room, except the judge agreed to have dinner at Delmonico's.
Dinner was a relaxed affair, but with the distance the Buckleys in particular had to travel, they brought it to a close. Matt and Kitty exchanged farewells with the two families. The boys vowed to see each other as often as possible despite living in opposite directions from Dodge City as did the parents. Pete Duffy, who had apologized to Matt while Doc was treating his arm after the gunfight, was happy to give his nephew's new family the extra help they needed with the farm since they were relatively new to farming out west. It didn't hurt that their nearest neighbor had a most eligible daughter whom Pete was already sweet on and she on him. Of course, whenever either or both families were in town they would spend time with Matt and Kitty and Kitty, the woman he'd known all his life, would continue to be Aunt Kitty to Thad in more than just name.