This story is a continuation of END OF AN ERA. There are several minor characters who are the invention of my slightly warped mind. I profit nothing from these stories but the enjoyment of writing them.

THE MOST WONDERFULLEST FORD COUNTY SOCIABLE EVER

Marshal Newly O'Brien walked down the street to the jail. It was 7a.m. Wednesday morning and his first full day as marshal, temporary though the job might be. He was already tired.

It had been a long night for him. Within a few minutes of his going into the jailhouse last night, Dodge citizens had swarmed the small room asking about the Marshal and Miss Kitty. Eventually, Festus had pushed his way in through the crowd, and yelled, "Now ya'll, git out of here. Git along. Shoo!" With the room finally empty of people, Festus said, "Miss Kitty and Matthew are awaiting fer you at the Long Branch to buy you a drank."

Newly had stood up and followed Festus, "Thanks for getting rid of that crowd because I could sure use a drink right about now."

As they walked into the Long Branch, Kitty motioned to him and Festus to sit down, "Newly, I'm glad you could make it. We've been catching up."

"Glad I could make it, too. Festus had to chase everyone out of the jailhouse." Newly took a sip of his drink the bartender had handed to him. He sat back and relaxed for the first time that evening. "Miss Kitty, I wanted to tell you yesterday that Dodge wasn't the same without you."

Doc jumped in, "Newly, no truer words were ever spoken. The loveliest woman in Dodge was gone, and the light had gone out of our fair city. And, this overgrown lug sitting here on my left was miserable."

Matt ducked his head but didn't disagree.

"Now, Doc, don't you start spouting poetry. And, Newly, I'm glad to be back. I missed everyone including a certain law official." Matt reached under the table and gently squeezed Kitty's hand. Kitty then lifted her glass with her free hand and said, "Here's to the new Marshal. May he never be injured in the line of duty."

After a few more drinks, everyone headed out to their respective beds. Newly headed toward his room behind his shop. Matt and Kitty walked over to the Dodge House, arm in arm, Festus jangled his way to the jailhouse, and Doc shuffled his way slowly to his office.

Just as Newly opened his shop, Mr. Jonas ran up to him. "Newly, I mean, Marshal, you need to go to the Iversons. They're fighting again." Newly sighed, wanting nothing more than his bed but hurried to the Iverson's home to find that Mel Iverson had had one too many again. When Mel staggered in his front door, his wife was waiting with an iron skillet which she began using on his head. Newly managed to wade in between the two of them and finally got the skillet away from Ma Iverson. He put Mel to bed and made Ma promise that she'd behave, at least until Mel came home drunk again. Newly left their house with a bruise on his shoulder from one of Ma's swings with the skillet.

Tuesday had turned into Wednesday before Newly finally made it to bed and fell into a deep sleep. His last thoughts were of wondering how Matt had managed to get much sleep in twenty years.

Newly was awakened early by the sound of someone banging on his shop door. It was Festus. "Newly, you better get down to the jail. You got a heap of them 'fluential folks a drinking up all our coffee and waiting to see you." Newly dressed quickly, forgoing a shave, and hurried to the jail. He found it crowded with most of the town's leading citizens, the town council and mayor.

Newly looked at them somewhat askance but said, "Good morning, can I help you gentlemen?"

Mayor Tompkins stood up and shook Newly's hand before putting his thumbs in his vest pocket and strutting about within the crowded room, "The town council and a few of the citizens and I have come to discuss your temporary job as marshal. While we agree you are an excellent choice, we feel that Marshal Dillon should have asked for our opinion when he retired and picked you take the job."

Festus, who was sitting in the back, said "Hmmph." Newly cast an eye at him.

"Gentlemen, I do plan on applying for the job. You all know me, and I think I can do a good job."

"Yes, well, time will tell on that." The Mayor then droned on about how the Marshal's office should be run with an occasional interruption from one of the other men. "Now, about the Ford County Sociable this Saturday, we want to be sure that you understand that we expect you to keep it peaceable."

"I assure you that Festus and I will do our best."

The Mayor frowned for a moment, "Well, we don't want any hooligans ruining it. The merchants are hoping for a profitable day with all the people expected in town. Now, as the morning is half gone, and we all have things to do, we bid you a good day, Marshal. You, too, Festus. To Newly's relief, they left.

Festus stood up when the room emptied, "Newly, of all the gall! Them bunch of folks coming in here atelling you what to do. I ain't felt that much hot air moving around since the last tornado passed by Dodge."

Newly shrugged. "Comes with the territory, I guess. Matt warned me about them but I was hoping they'd wait until I had some breakfast. Let's go eat. I'm buying."

Over breakfast, Festus remarked, "Newly, I figger there'll be a lot more folks coming to Saturday's Sociable since the news got out about Miss Kitty's returning and Matthew's retiring. Newly nodded in agreement.

As soon as they returned to the jail, Doc wandered in and sat down. "What 's going on? I saw a crowd leaving here earlier."

"Got visited by all them high faluting folks, including the mayor, if'n it's any of yor business. Where was you when all them city busy bodies were in here blowing hot air at Newly atelling him how to do his job?"

"Oh, did I miss the Mayor in here bloviating? I hate I missed it."

"Well, he was blowing hot air. I don't know anything about blowing any vie ating."

Doc laughed and shook his head. "Oh, by the way, I just had breakfast with Matt and Kitty. They seem to be getting along fine. Hopefully, there won't be a repeat of her throwing and breaking things like she did at the Long Branch right before she left Dodge."

Festus asked, "Doc, did you ever find out what that fight was about?"

"No, and I suspect we never will. But, I think they've spent these months apart regretting it."

Doc got up to pour himself a cup of coffee only to find the pot empty. "Say, what happened to the coffee?"

Festus said, "Them officials is what happened."

The door opened as Matt walked in. "Newly, just thought I'd come by, see if you have any questions."

"No, sir. We've been talking about the Sociable this Saturday night. Festus seems to think there will be a bigger than usual turnout."

"Well, in the past years when there's been a big turnout, I've roped off Front Street to keep the street free of horses. You might consider doing that. By the way, Newly, I've written a letter of recommendation for you to the government and asked several of the town's leading citizens to do the same."

"I appreciate it. When I get time today, I'm going to send in my application for the job. I hope I can do half the job you did."

"You'll do fine. I wouldn't have asked you to take the job if I hadn't thought you were the man for the job." Matt continued, "We're looking forward to the Sociable, especially Kitty."

Doc raised an eyebrow at that. He knew Matt didn't like to dance.

Festus said, "There'll be a full moon that night. It's a romantical thing, the full moon is. Brings out the loonies though."

Doc looked at him, "That's just folklore."

"Ain't so, it's the truth. Why back in the hills. . . ."

Matt interrupted, "I, uh, I think I'll leave this to you to settle, Newly. See you later."

A few minutes later Festus looked out the window and saw Matt ride out. "Lookee there. Matthew done rode off somewheres. Wonder where he's a going?"

Doc said, "If he wanted us to know, he'd have told us."

"Oh, pshaw, I know that. I'm just curious."

"No, you are nosy. There's a world of difference."

"Hmph. I got better thangs to do than sit here a jawing with you. Ain't you got some doctoring to do?" Festus didn't wait for an answer as he left to stroll down the street past the Long Branch. As was his habit, he looked inside. He was surprised to see Miss Kitty sitting in the back with Hannah. He walked in, hoping for a free drink.

Kitty looked up, "Buy you a drink, Festus?" She motioned to the bartender.

"Why, shore, Miss Kitty. Say, I saw Matthew riding out. Ol' Matthew got some place he needs to be?" Festus waited for a reply but Kitty skirted the question.

"Have a seat, Festus. I came by to ask Hannah when would be a good time to pick up some clothes I left in my room. How're things at the jail house?"

"Oh, me and Newly been a talking 'bout the Sociable. I'm gonna do some calling at the dance that evening."

"I look forward to that. Maybe you could sing a song or two. I've missed hearing you sing."

"Oh, shucks, Miss Kitty. My singing is just tolerable."

"Oh, Festus, you have a beautiful voice. Sing a few of my favorites for me."

"I'll do 'er. You just let me know what you want me to sing. Well," he stood up, "guess I better get back to work." He put his empty glass down and sauntered out the door.

It was almost suppertime when Festus saw Matt riding back into town. He could tell Matt was hurting. Festus ran over and took his horse's reins. "Kin I put up Buck fer you?"

"I'd appreciate it, Festus." Matt struggled to stand on his bad leg.

"You must have had a long ride."

"Long enough."

"Matt," Kitty ran up and wrapped her arm around his waist. "You doing all right?"

"I'm fine, Kitty. I'm glad to be off that horse, and I sure could use some dinner."

"Let's have dinner in our room."

Matt nodded in agreement as he grit his teeth.

"Matt," she whispered, "You should have gone in a buggy." She turned to Festus, "Can you pick up whatever the special is at Del Monico's and bring it to our room?"

"Be glad to, Miss Kitty. Soon as I get ol' Buck took care of."

Festus watched the two of them slowly make their way into the Dodge House. Festus shook his head as he headed to pick up the meals. He was glad Miss Kitty was back to take care of Matthew.

Festus managed to get the meals up to the hotel room in record time. He knocked on the door, and Kitty opened it. Matt was stretched out on the bed, obviously in pain. "Got your meals here, Miss Kitty," as he sat them on the table. "Matthew, is there anything else I can do fer you?"

"No thanks, Festus. Thanks for taking care of my horse."

"Glad to do it. See you two tomorry."

"Festus," Kitty followed him out into the hall and shut the door. "How long has his leg been this bad?

"It's been a getting worse and worse, Miss Kitty. You ought to talk to ol' Doc about it. I know he's been a fussing at Matthew for quite a while."

"I will. See you tomorrow?"

"Sure thang. You make him stay off that leg for the rest of the evening."

"I will."

"Good night."

"Good night, Festus." She walked back in the room and closed the door. Festus stood for a moment, thinking again how glad he was that she'd come back.

Merchants were out early Thursday morning readying their stores for the influx of potential customers. Everything, however, came to a stop when Matt Dillon walked out of the Dodge House with Kitty and helped her get into a buggy. As the buggy passed Festus and Doc, Kitty waved at them.

"Doc, whar are Matthew and Miss Kitty going?

Doc said. "No idea. Maybe they just wanted to take a ride."

"Well, them two's up to something, I bet. Ain't you the least bit curious?"

"Festus, patience is a virtue. We'll find out in time."

"Doc, I ain't never heerd of such a thang. What's your patients got to do with this? Whar do you come up with these peculiar sayings?"

Doc looked at him in astonishment as he swiped his moustache. "Oh, never mind. And, just to shut you up, I'll buy you a drink."

"Well, I'm glad Matthew is taking a buggy. It plum hurt my heart to see him climb down off that horse yesterday. And, when I took him his supper, he couldn't stand up. Miss Kitty said she was gonna talk to you about it."

"Not a lot I can do for him but if he'd stay off that blamed horse, it would help. Are you coming or not? You can't see where they are going standing there."

"Hold your taters. I'm coming as fast as I can. I shore wish I could figure out what

they're doing." Festus hurried to catch up with Doc as he turned down the street.

Friday morning Kitty slipped away to Doc's office while Matt was working with Newly. She tapped on the door.

"Well, don't stand out there. Come in."

"Doc?"

"Oh, it's you, Kitty. Come in, come in."

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Let me guess – you're worried about Matt."

"Doc, should I be worried?"

"Sit down. Well, Kitty, his body is pretty well beat up from all the years of fights, bullet and knife wounds and dealing with the elements out on the trail. But you know that. And, after you left, his spirits got so low. Kitty, if you'd seen the look in his eyes when you left . . . . well, it was like a light went out of his eyes. But, you're back, and that's the best medicine for him because he loves you."

"Well, that's laying it on the line. I once said I couldn't live without him, and I was right. But, I feel guilty about the way I left. In the long run, though, I think it was for the best."

Doc patted her on the shoulder, "I think so, too. It made him finally realize that he had to give up his job. And, if you keep him off a horse, let him rest, he'll be in better shape soon."

"I'll do my best, Doc."

"Of course, you will."

"You made me feel better," she said as she walked to the door, "See you later."

That afternoon Matt and Kitty walked into the Long Branch and climbed the stairs to Kitty's old room. They both stood quietly in the doorway for a few moments.

Matt broke the silence. "Kitty, what is it you want to get?"

"I left some dresses and a few knick knacks."

"Pretty sure you broke all the knick knacks."

"Matt, you better watch it." She laughed as he grabbed her for a quick hug.

Matt teased, "I'll buy you some knick knacks if you promise never to throw them at me."

"How about replacing that soup tureen I broke trying to wake you up once? You slept straight through the night!"

"Well, I did wake up. . . . eventually." He smirked and then cast his eyes at the big brass bed. "lotta good memories there." Then, the look on his face changed. "Kitty, honey, I know I said it already but I'm sorry for these past months. I sure missed you."

She pulled him into a hug, and they rocked together for a moment before she said anything. "Matt, I'm sorry I left the way I did. I should have stayed and talked to you but I was so hurt. I missed you too. " She cupped his face with her hand and lightly kissed him. He put his hand over her hand and deepened the kiss.

She pulled away but kept her hand on his cheek, "Why don't we see if we can come back later and get the bed?" She paused, "Now, let's get my dresses."

She went to the chifferobe and opened it. There were four unworn dresses, all bought for special occasions that Matt had missed. She pulled them out, pausing to stroke the fabric of her favorite one in blue. Pulling a small trunk over to her from the corner, she began to pack them carefully. Once done, Matt hoisted the now full trunk up over his shoulder with ease. As they walked to the door, Kitty stopped and looked back, "yep, a lot of good memories." Matt smiled as he took her hand, and they started back to the Dodge House.

Saturday arrived with people scurrying about town finishing up the last details for the Sociable. People were pouring into town. Festus ran into Newly and Doc as they walked down Front Street. "Newly, the clerk at the train station just told me thar's some diginituries on the train." Newly looked confused for a moment, "You mean dignitaries?"

"That's what I said, don't ya' see?"

"Maybe I better go see what's going on?" Newly turned to Doc, "See you in a while."

"Oh, I'm going with you," said Doc. "I haven't seen a diginitury in quite a while."

"See, Doc knew what I said." Festus followed along with them.

The three got to the train station in time to see Judge Brooker and his wife get off followed by several state senators and last, but not least, was the governor and his wife.

Newly said, "Lot of politicians. I wasn't expecting that."

Doc tugged at his ear as he said, "Well, it is election year. I guess we are in for some politicking before the day is over." Newly went up to greet them while Doc and Festus eased back to Front Street hoping to miss any political speeches. The mayor passed them, flustered and out-of-breath, hurrying to welcome the politicians.

Evening arrived, and the barn dance started. Festus had taken the time to put on his good shirt as he always did when he was doing the calling for the dance. Newly, in hopes of keeping troublemakers out, was standing by the door greeting people when Matt and Kitty arrived. She was dressed in a pale blue dress with matching hat. Matt had his dress coat on with a blue shirt the same shade as Kitty's dress, and a string tie.

Two hours into the dance, the governor stepped onto the bandstand. When the crowd saw him and quieted down, he began, "Good evening. I hope everyone is having a good time. I know my wife and I are. Now, you'll be glad to know I'm not here to campaign. Although . . . . if you want to vote for me, I'd appreciate it."

He continued, now in a solemn tone, after the laughter stopped, "When I was informed of Matt's decision to retire, I decided that I must come here and speak about this great man and thank him for the service he has rendered to this city, to this state and yes, to his country. In all the years that I've held public office, I've never met a more honorable man. And, he only once asked a favor from me, and sadly, I could not grant it to him. To this day, I regret the fact that I was unable to do the one thing he asked. I asked his and Kitty's forgiveness for it, and they was kind enough to grant it." He paused for a moment remembering. "But, I digress. I want to read this proclamation, which I have in my hand. Matt, Kitty, please step up front." He cleared his throat. "As governor of the great state of Kansas, I hereby declare the following:

As Matthew Dillon has served with honor and distinguished himself as United States Marshal for the State of Kansas, I hereby declare that the following Monday will be declared Matthew Dillon Day throughout the state of Kansas. "

After the applause and cheers fell away, he said, "Judge Brooker now has a few words to say." There was some grumbling as the judge stepped up. No one wanted another speech.

As Judge Brooker stepped forward, Doc noticed that he had a Bible in his hand. Doc grabbed Newly by the arm and whispered, "Is this what I'm thinking?"

Newly said confusedly, "I don't know. What are you thinking?"

Judge Brooker looked at the crowd and smiled before he said, "At the request of Matt and Kitty, I've been asked to perform a wedding ceremony."

Festus let out a yelp, and a murmur ran through the crowd.

"So, if everyone will kindly be quiet, I will do something that I've wanted to do for years, and that's perform this ceremony for these two folks."

"Kathleen Russell, do you solemnly vow to take this man for better or worse from this day forward in sickness or in health? Do you promise to love, honor and cherish him from this day forward?"

Kitty looked at Matt and said joyfully, "I do."

"Matthew Dillon, do you take solemnly vow to take this beautiful woman for better or worse from this day forward in sickness or in health? Do you promise to love, honor and cherish her from this day forward?"

Matt's voice rang out clearly, "I do."

"Matt, do you have a ring?" Matt nodded yes and took it out of his shirt pocket.

Kitty held out her left hand. Matt took her hand and slipped a wide gold band onto her ring finger. Then, he brought her hand up and gently kissed the palm of her hand before turning back to Judge Brooker.

"If anyone has any objections, please speak now or forever hold your peace." There was complete silence although a sniff of derision from Edsel Pry could be heard. Doc cast her a withering look that promptly silenced her.

Judge Brooker rocked back on his heels and said loudly, "By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Matt, for heaven's sake, kiss your bride."

Matt reddened somewhat but then pulled Kitty to him and kissed her gently.

The crowd cheered and not a few of the ladies wiped their eyes with their lacy handkerchiefs.

Doc worked himself through the crowd of people congratulating the couple. Matt and Kitty were signing their marriage certificate with the Judge by their side. The Judge patted Matt on the back, kissed Kitty's cheek and walked away to find his wife.

Doc said, "Matt, Kitty, well, I, I'm just speechless. I've never been so surprised in my life. How did you two manage this with no one finding out? And, may I add, it's about time."

Matt explained with a laugh, "I rode to the Judge's home Wednesday to ask him to perform the ceremony. He told me a little while ago that he contacted the governor who decided to come, and he brought the senators using my retirement as a cover story."

"Kitty, may I kiss the bride?"

"Oh, Doc, you can kiss me any old time." She leaned over, and he kissed her cheek.

"I'm happy for you, both of you. This past year, well, anyway, I'm just delighted. You should see the grin on Festus' face. I bet it was as big as mine. Matt, you better be good to her or you'll answer to me."

"Now, Doc, why would you say such a thing?" Matt laughed knowing Doc was joking.

The band started playing a slow song. Kitty looked at Matt and said, "Dance, Cowboy?"

"Now, Kitty, you know I'm an awful dancer? But, if you are patient and go slow. . . ."

"Oh, you know how I like to go slow."

Matt reddened and whispered, "Woman!"

Doc guffawed.

Deciding that dancing with Kitty was better than listening to Doc laugh, Matt took her out on the dance floor. The crowd slowly edged away until they were the only two dancing. When the dance ended, the crowd clapped. Matt and Kitty made their way back to Doc. Newly was standing by his side. "My congratulations to the both of you. I think this was the biggest and best surprise Dodge has had in quite a while."

Festus scurried over to their side, "Matthew, Miss Kitty, I am shore tickled pink for the two of you. Didn't I say a full moon was romantical? Guess we need to have us a shivaree."

Kitty glared at him and said, "If you even try, Festus, I'll meet you at the door with a loaded shotgun."

Festus cleared his throat and had the grace to look abashed. "Yes'm." He walked back towards the musicians for the last song muttering "my ma shore was right about a red haired woman."

Newly asked, "If you don't mind me asking, are you two planning on staying in Dodge?"

Kitty said, "For awhile. We went out to the Roniger's on Thursday. They rented a cabin to us. It's at the edge of their property, and we hope they'll sell it to us eventually."

Doc was startled for a moment as he realized the significance of that piece of property. He had promised to divulge it to anyone, and he never had. Matt nor Kitty noticed Doc's expression as Matt added, "Kitty and I want a place to come back to after we do some traveling. She wants to take me to New Orleans for a visit. I want to go back to Texas."

As the last song ended and the music faded away, people began streaming out the door.

Matt turned to Kitty, "Ready to leave, Mrs. Dillon."

She smiled happily, "Yes, I am, Mr. Dillon." She turned to Doc and said, "Good night, Doc." Doc nodded as they slipped out the door to a waiting buggy.

Festus came to stand next to him. "Doc, did you know about them getting married tonight?"

"No, I sure didn't. It was wonderful surprise though."

Festus nodded, "It shore was. Doc, I think this was the most wonderfullest Ford County Sociable ever.

"Festus, for once, I can't argue with anything you just said. Let's go to my office and drink a toast to the nuptials."

"Well, there ya' go, Doc. Didn't I tell you?"

The sounds of their voices faded as they walked away. Newly walked outside, breathing in the cool air, relieved that the evening was over, no fights or disagreements had occurred. He looked up at the full moon, and thought, "Maybe Festus was right. The full moon was romantical."

THE END

This story will continue in Doc's Diaries. What does Doc know?