It was Christmas Eve, and Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were sitting by the fire, looking at the surprising array of cards and gifts that had found them this year.
“Heyes, look at this one.” Curry handed his partner an envelope.
“Thought we’d already got a card from Lom and Mrs. Lom,” said Heyes.
“Take a look inside,” his partner insisted.
When Heyes slipped the card out of the envelope, he broke into one of his broad grins. “. . . Jim Trevors, eh? Haven’t heard from young Jimmy in a couple of years.”
“Wait’ll you read what he has to say,” said Kid Curry, with a chuckle.
The card was a winter scene, depicting a house in a snowy field, seen by moonlight. The house had fir garlands and red ribbons winding around the porch, and a wreath on the door. Heyes smiled, because the cabin he and the Kid were staying in at the moment was in a very similar setting, though smaller and without the decorations on the porch. Or a porch at all, come to think of it. Through the window of the house in the picture, a decorated tree could be seen, and the hint of a fireplace hung with stockings. On the roof, was a sled drawn by eight reindeer.
Inside the card said, “’Twas the night before Christmas.” In surprisingly neat handwriting, it said, “Seasons Greetings, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones! Jim Trevors.”
Something fell out of the card. Heyes picked it up and saw that it was a couple of sheets of paper, which he unfolded, and began to read.
“Dear Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones – I’m sorry I didn’t make it to Uncle Lom’s wedding to Miss Porter last summer. Or Aunt Prudence, I should call her now. Uncle Lom’s certainly a lucky man.
It turned out that I had to head East to college too early to make it. I’ve just finished my first semester here at Oberlin College, in Ohio. Which is nowhere near Wyoming, unfortunately, but splendid all the same. I hear the two of you were there and had a fine old time, partly because you had something else to celebrate as well. Congratulations, by the way!
My English professor gave us a theme to write on the topic of “Never meet your heroes.” I wrote about how that was wrong. I thought you might like to read it.
I hope to see the two of you again, someday.
Professor Thomas Montgomery
“Never Meet Your Heroes”
It is a common conception that one should never meet one’s heroes. No one can live up to the ideas that we develop in our imaginations, and if we do, we are sure to be sorely disappointed. But I have met my heroes, two men who inspired me long before we were ever acquainted, and it turned out they were even better in real life. Better, because they were actual people, who did things that people do, not in storybooks, but in the world we all have to live in. Good things, and bad things, but in the end, they are men I am proud to call my friends.
I met Thaddeus Jones and Joshua Smith through my uncle Lom. Lom Trevors is my dad’s older brother, and he’s a sheriff out in Wyoming. When I was fifteen, my parents said I could spend part of the summer with him – pretty exciting for a boy from Illinois!
The train took me most of the way to Porterville, Wyoming, but I needed to catch a stagecoach for the last part of the journey. And Porterville was on the outskirts of outlaw country. So Uncle Lom sent Smith and Jones to accompany me back to Porterville. No need to reiterate Porterville three times – TM
There was something about Thaddeus Jones that reminded me of my hero, Kid Curry. Not only did he look like the Kid, with his brilliant blue eyes and his crisply curling wheaten locks, but he carried himself like Kid Curry would. Crisply curling wheaten locks? A bit much! -- TM. He was confident but not a braggart. I didn’t think Joshua Smith seemed so much like Hannibal Heyes, though, because everyone knew from the dime novels that Heyes had a long scar running all up and down one side of his face. Smith didn’t have that. Also, Heyes was devoted to his sweetheart in Mexico, who was waiting for him. But Mister Smith never once mentioned Rosalita, much less gazed on the miniature portrait she had given him. In every story, he looks at that picture a lot.
Plus, in the dime novels, Kid Curry was the leader, and Hannibal Heyes the follower. But Mister Smith and Mister Jones were equal partners. If anything, Mister Smith seemed kind of bossy, though Jones was good natured about it.
I’m not sure when I first realized that, in fact, Mister Jones WAS Kid Curry and Mister Smith WAS Hannibal Heyes. It could have been that first time, when our stagecoach was held up, and they scared off the gang who were robbing us. Or the next time they came to town, when they managed to foil a robbery at the bank my Aunt Prudence runs. Later on, Uncle Lom told me the robbers were members of their old gang, the Devil’s Hole Gang, but since they didn’t actually get any money, they let them get away. Again, robbing, rob, robbery. Watch out for repetition. – TM
I knew for sure who they were last summer, though, when I read in the papers that Sheriff Lom Trevors, of Porterville, Wyoming, had worked with the Governor of Wyoming to get an amnesty for two notorious outlaws, who’d gone straight for some years now. And those outlaws were Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah “Kid” Curry, who robbed the banks and the railroads, but never regular folks. They even went to Uncle Lom’s wedding, but I couldn’t go because of school.
Thaddeus Jones, who was really Kid Curry, was kind, and brave, and patient with me. It was clear just from talking with him that he was the heroic type. I could tell he’d only become an outlaw because of some bad breaks in his childhood. He was so handsome, too – the girls just stared as he walked past, but you knew he was a gentleman with them. If I could grow up to be like anyone, it would be him. Only without the outlaw part, of course.
And Mister Smith, who was really Hannibal Heyes, well, I didn’t take to him so quickly. He was kind of impatient, and he wanted to go play cards instead of spending time with me. It wasn’t like I needed to be kept out of trouble, by the way, but Smith and Jones took Uncle Lom’s suggestions pretty seriously. But when I got to know Joshua Smith, I saw that he was smarter than most folks, which might be why he got impatient with them. More importantly, he was a good man who cared about people but wasn’t so sure he wanted everyone to know it. He asked me about the dime novels I was reading about him and the Kid, and laughed at them. But he asked about what else I was doing for schooling and he was real interested in it. I think he’d have liked to have come to college at some place like Oberlin if he’d had the chance, but he never did, because of being an orphan at a young age. So he used his brains to survive, and to run the Devil’s Hole Gang until he didn’t anymore.
When I saw them in situations where they had to be heroes, they both were. They respected and liked each other. Not only that, but they’d given up their life of crime while they were still ahead. They were successful outlaws, but they chose to be honest. How many of us so-called “honest” folks can say that, even?
Never meet your heroes? I’m glad I met my heroes, Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, and I hope I meet them again, someday.
James, you have quite an imagination! I hope you will consider joining the college literary magazine; I think you would be well suited for it. But everyone knows that Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes are just characters in a series of dime novels. It happens that I went to Princeton with the fellow who writes them, and he lives in New York City, and has never ridden a horse or met an outlaw in his life. Of course, everyone read the news about the two men under those names who got an amnesty from the governor of Wyoming last summer, but I understand that they really were a pair of drifters named Smith and Jones, not the other way around. They say that the governor was looking for a good story to end his term in office.
You’re a talented writer, and if you stick closer to the truth in this class, you’re sure to do well.
Heyes laughed, and folded up the letter. “That’s wonderful, Kid. Especially the part where his professor wouldn’t believe we were actually us. I feel pretty real, don’t you?”
“Real enough that the cold got into my bones out there, when I rode into town this afternoon. I have to admit, I never really thought so far as what our first Christmas would be like after getting amnesty.” Curry looked into the fire. “Guess I thought it would different than this.”
“Thought it might be more adventurous? More glamorous and exciting? We could have spent it with Soapy, in San Francisco. Wine, women, and song. Probably some high stakes gambling, too.”
“Dunno. We’ve done all that. Maybe I dreamed that we might have ourselves a real home, not just a cabin? With some wives or something?”
“How many wives apiece were you thinking?” Heyes winked at his friend.
Kid Curry shook his head. “Just the one each. Heyes, I don’t even know if I want to settle down, at least maybe not just yet. I guess it’s Christmas. Makes you think of family.”
“’Spose we could go traveling. Europe or South America. Not because we have to, but because we want to.”
“Yeah, or start a business. Doin’ . . . something. Maybe open a saloon? Folks might want to come and meet us, maybe.”
“Not a bad idea, Kid. Or, I don’t know. Maybe figure out how to use the stuff we’re already good at? Anyway, if we don’t want to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere forever, I guess we’re gonna have to make an honest living. But at least not doing odd jobs anymore.”
Curry nodded. The two men got up, and went to the window. The snow on the ground made everything look somehow magical. The sky was clear now, and the stars sparkled brilliantly overhead.
“But we don’t have to decide anything, just yet,” Heyes said softly. “Think about everything that’s possible for us now.”
“Which makes this the best Christmas yet – and the amnesty the best present we could have gotten. Even if it was a few months early.”
“Merry Christmas, Kid.”
“The World was all before them . . . .” – John Milton, Paradise Lost
Lom Trevors’s nephew Jimmy features in my past Advent Calendar stories. You can find the whole series on An Archive of Our Own. And if you were wondering, Christmas cards date back to 1843.