Inside, the Marshall was sitting at his desk, looking through the latest "wanted" posters that had arrived in the weekly mail. He heard him before he saw him...the 'clunk-drag, clunk-drag' as he came closer to the door. Before he had a chance to get out of his chair, the front door to the jail burst open, letting in the bitter cold from outside. Standing in the doorway was a man...slim in build, snow falling from his hat as he lifted it from his head. His eyes red and watery...were they tears or was it from the weather, the Marshall couldn't tell.
"Marshall Dillon! Marshall Dillon!" the man stammered as he stood in the doorway, unaware that he had failed to close it behind him.
"Close the door and come in Chester before you let all this heat out", the Marshall said as he walked over to the pot-belly stove to fill a tattered and dented cup with steaming coffee from the ever-present coffee pot of the top of the stove. "What brings you out in this storm tonight, Chester? "
Chester struggled to find the words, choking back his tears. His voice barely audible over the howling wind outside.
"It's Festus", he whispered. "Miss Kitty just helped me take him yonder over to Doc's office. I'm a feared he's really bad Marshall."
Immediately the Marshall straightened up and reached to the wall to grab his hat. Pulling on his oilskin coat, he looked at his friend standing in front of him...seemingly lost.
"What's wrong with him?", the Marshall asked. "Did he get shot or throwed from his horse?"
"That's jes it Marshall. I dunno...and Miss Kitty don't neither."
Bracing the cold wind, the Marshall and Chester pass back out into the dark winter night. They lean into the wind as they make their way back up the path Chester had made only moments before. His bootprints barely visible as the blowing snow seemed to erase any evidence that he had been there. As he approached the stairs leading up to Doc's office, the Marshall paused.
"What if he don't make it this time?", he wondered to himself. Festus had made many trips to old Doc Adam's office over the years he had served as his deputy. But something in his gut told him this time might be a little different. He slowly made his way up the wooded stairs, Chester following a few steps behind him. As he opened the door, Miss Kitty was in the outer room staring at the closed door of the room in the back.
She turned as she heard the men enter the room.
"Oh, Matt!", she cried as she leaned into him, burying her face in the hard fabric of his oil-skin jacket. "I've never seen Festus look this bad. He's bleeding in places he shouldn't be. Doc's in with him right now." As she looked up into the Marshall's face, tears slowly streaked down her face, leaving winding trails through her make-up.
Suddenly, all eyes moved to the door in the back of the room as it opened. The white-haired Doc emerged from the room, his face haggard and tired. He rubbed his hand over his face and down over his day-old whiskers.
"How is he Doc?", the Marshall asked. The room was as quiet as a mausoleum as the Doc slowly walked over and sat down. He looked up at the Marshall and then shifted his gaze, first to Miss Kitty and then to Chester.
"I'm pretty sure he's gonna make it...this time", the Doc said. "He seems to be messed up inside some, I dunno for sure...but I don't think it's cancer. I think maybe the bleeding's cuz he's been spending too much time sitting in his saddle."
The entire room seemed to let out its collective breath as the Doc's words sunk in. Festus was going to be OK...at least for now.
Growing up with only one channel on a black and white TV set that we first got when I was almost eight years old, the classic Western "Gunsmoke" was a weekly tradition in our home. Over the years, the characters on the program became almost as familiar as our own family. Among those characters was a scraggly-faced deputy sheriff named Festus. He wasn't my favorite character and he definitely was NOT attractive. And other than the Festus that we find in the Book of Acts in the Bible, he was the only one I ever knew who bore that name. That is...until I met MY Festus.
Festus is a beautiful cat who lives with my younger brother. Like his name-sake on Gunsmoke, I think Festus could have been on TV...as a "commercial actor". He has a face that belongs on a can of Friskie's cat food or some other product designed for felines. If there was such a thing as a "cat agent", Festus should have had one. He'd be a millionaire cat by now.
He's getting quite old...I'm not sure how many years, but I believe he's more than 15 years old. He is beginning to show his age...he moves slowly. He can't jump as high...either up or down. Just this past weekend, he tried to jump up on the desk as I was working on the computer...and he didn't make it. His pride was definitely hurt as he pretended that it was no big deal that he landed back on the floor instead of the desk top, slowly walking around the office as if nothing had happened. But we both knew. I gently reached down and picked him up and set him on the desk next to me where he likes to sit and watch as I read and write on the computer.
He did go to the doctor this week. He had been passing blood in his stool and my brother's wife was concerned that it might be cancer. He had seemed pretty lethargic all weekend and appeared to be in some kind of pain. While the tests weren't conclusive, it appeared that Festus is OK...at least for now.
I know that one of these times when I go to visit Geoff, my favorite cat isn't going to be there. Like the tears in Miss Kitty's eyes, I suspect that Lynn will have tears in her own eyes as she has to tell me that Festus is gone. And when that happens, I know a little part of me will be gone as well. I know that he is only a cat...but he is a cat who loves. That's not a trait readily found in cats.
The Marshall and Chester slowly walk back through the deserted streets toward the Marshall's office. They had just dropped Miss Kitty off at the Long Branch and as they reached the board-walk in front of the office, Chester turned to the Marshall.
"I wonder what it would be like if we lost Festus, Marshall? I dunno what I'd do."
What will it be like?