Union Colony Christmas

Dana DeVos

 

“You’ll die of dullness in five hours.”

Fellow train passenger’s warning to author

Grace Greenwood not to stop in Union Colony in 1871

 

“Ingrate!  That’s what he is!”  Hannibal Heyes said, raising his voice for emphasis despite being the only person in the small hotel room.  Outside his window the sky was promising snow and was certain to fulfill that pledge by nightfall.  Disgusted, he threw himself down into the room’s only chair, glanced over at his pocket watch on the table, and groaned. 

 

It was only 9:00, not even late enough to give him an excuse to hunt down lunch and some company.  Exhaling, he got up and walked back over to the window, noting the main street had become alive with shoppers finishing up last-minute errands.  Of all the towns to be trapped in on Christmas Eve!

 

Prowling like a caged bear, he once more cursed his cousin, his temper and his luck.  Luck, hell.  Kid had tricked him good and proper.  Knowing he’d had it coming did not improve Heyes’ mood at the remembrance.  As soon as he saw Kid again, he was going to flatten him.  As soon as he saw him and made sure he was all right.  No reason he shouldn’t be; he took the pleasant job, escorting three good-looking women on the train from Cheyenne to Denver.  Probably spending his pay already, planning a great Christmas celebration, whether Heyes got there or not.  Ingrate.  Heyes repeated the cycle of chair to window to pacing once more, then with a growl, jammed on his hat and coat and started out to the street.  The room was starting to feel like a cell.

 

Heyes had noticed the empty cells, looking over Lom’s shoulder as he explained the jobs two weeks ago.  Catching Kid’s glance, he knew the bars were spooking him a little too, although they knew they were visiting Lom for a good purpose:  he had work for them.  One job, if they wanted to stick together; two, if they were willing to split up for a couple weeks for the sake of two payrolls.  And it was work that would ingratiate them with the governor – the governor’s wife’s brother needed some protection on two endeavors.  Two payrolls right before Christmas sounded just fine, so Lom sent them to Bradford Harrington’s saddle factory in Cheyenne with a letter to introduce them. 

 

Bradford Harrington was burly, loud, and profane as he explained his needs.  Not mean, not even unfriendly, just a big guy who lived large.  In between shouting at various workers, he explained that he needed to be in two places at once, starting the next day.  He was already behind on fulfilling a contract for saddles and tack for Fort Laramie’s battalion and the shipment he had ready must go now.  Because of the last two shipments being partially lost to an Indian raid and an ordinary robbery, it was critical to future business that nothing happen this time.  He was going along himself, for one thing, taking everyone from the factory he could spare as extra guards, but Lom had recommended taking at least one experienced gunman with him. 

 

“Had you thought about hiring professionals?”  Heyes asked, thinking surely a businessman of this caliber would have thought of it. 

 

“You mean like those damned Bannermans?”  was the response.  “That’s who lost me half the last shipment to those highwaymen.  Feller just about talked my manager’s ear off all the way up, then lost his head and wasn’t worth a hoot in hell when the shooting started.” 

 

Kid couldn’t stand it – he had to ask.  “Fellow’s name wasn’t Harry Briscoe, was it?”  He sort of regretted the question as Harrington’s florid face got redder. 

 

“He ain’t a friend of yours, is he?  If that’s what kind of help you’d be – ”

 

Heyes smoothly reassured him they were not friends, just had crossed paths a couple of times, signaling Shut up! to Kid.  “No, we were disappointed in Briscoe ourselves before, Mr. Harrington.  But it might not be fair to judge the whole Bannerman organization by him.” 

 

Harrington’s anger subsided as quickly as it flared up.  “That’s what Bannerman himself said, to tell you the truth.  He’s offered me two men at the same price this trip, so they’ll be along, too.  I want to leave for Fort Laramie tomorrow, early.  The job is to protect my merchandise up to the fort, and you can get home whatever way you want to after you get paid.  Pay’s a hundred and twenty-five.” 

 

Heyes nodded, consulting silently with Kid.  “You mentioned you had a second protection job, Mr. Harrington.  What’s that one?” 

 

The big man hesitated, scratching his auburn beard.  “Well, it sounds silly, maybe, but I’m supposed to be taking my wife and two daughters to Denver this week, to spend Christmas with her brother’s family.  Now I need to be going along to Laramie, but I don’t want them traveling without some sort of protection.  The pay’s the same.  They’d probably be just fine, but…” his voice trailed off and he seemed to be braced for some sort of argument. 

 

“It’s not silly, Mr. Harrington,” Kid softly responded.  “A man wants to protect his family.” 

 

Harrington sighed, smoothing back his receding brown hair.  “Over-protect is what my oldest girl says,” he admitted.  “But there’s nothing more precious to me than them three womenfolks.” 

 

Kid and Heyes silently reached agreement; two payrolls it would be.  “We’ll take both jobs, Mr. Harrington.  Mr. Jones will be here in the morning to go to Laramie.  When should I meet your wife and daughters?” 

 

Kid interrupted, “Well, we need to talk about who takes which job, Mr. Smith.  Does it make any difference to you, Mr. Harrington?”  No, it didn’t, Lom had recommended both of them highly, and that’s what mattered to the businessman.  He gave them directions to his house, so they could come by after supper and let him know their decision.

 

Heyes barely waited until they were out of earshot.  “What is there to talk about, Kid?  You’re the better gunman, you should be on the Laramie trip.” 

 

“While you make the sacrifice of riding the train with three probably pretty women?  It’s a wonderful thing, how you put yourself out for this partnership, Heyes.”   Kid’s blue eyes had that steely stubborn look in them.  “Harrington doesn’t need a fast draw, Heyes, he just needs someone with sense enough to pay attention and keep his guard up.  Doesn’t matter which one of us goes to Laramie.” 

 

The argument went on through supper, Kid implacable to Heyes’ silver-tongued disputations.  Heyes finally went to his last resort.  “Then let’s just flip a coin, Kid, we’re never gonna solve this arguing.”  He began digging in his vest pocket for the silver dollar he always used for this purpose.  For once, Kid didn’t accuse him of having a rigged coin, just waited for the flip and called Heads as he always did.  Heyes caught the spinning disc, slapped it on his wrist and announced, “Nope, it’s ta—”  But it wasn’t.  He stared, disbelieving, at the heads-up dollar, then looked up to see Kid choking back laughter.  The blond partner was also holding up a silver dollar. 

 

“You switched coins on me!” 

 

“Why, Heyes, what difference could that make?”  Kid could no longer keep the laughter in.  His cousin’s indecision was too much – he couldn’t object to the toss without admitting he’d been using a rigged coin for years.  When Kid could talk again, he confessed, “I switched them night before last.  I even nicked the edge a little to match yours.” 

 

Glowering, Heyes responded, “Boy, you think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” 

 

“Just smart enough, Heyes, just smart enough.”  He laid money on the table for the meal and stood, putting on his hat.  “Let’s go meet the women I’ll be escorting to Denver.” 

 

Maybe the Harrington women weren’t the most beautiful in the world, but they were nonetheless restful on the eyes.  Mrs. Harrington was reserved, though with a penetrating gaze and a set to her mouth that might indicate a strong will, at that.  She and Mr. Harrington received their visitors in the formal parlor, darkly but richly furnished, the horsehair upholstery shiny and slick enough the visitors planted their boots firmly as they carefully held delicate china coffee cups.  The daughters, Susannah and Elspeth, had tactfully taken farther chairs after serving around the coffee, but were paying attention to the conversation and glancing at the handsome visitors as often as they could and still be ladylike.  They were almost identical – about the same height, brown-almost-auburn hair and cornflower blue eyes, delicate oval faces with quick, shy smiles.   Kid was beginning to enjoy this assignment already.

 

“Any special reason you switched jobs after you talked it about it?”  Mr. Harrington asked conversationally.  Before Heyes could answer, Curry had his own response ready. 

 

“Well, Mr. Harrington, it’s just that on your supply wagon job, you might have need to Joshua’s special skills.”  He avoided Heyes’ gaze and added, “You see, it could happen you’d need to follow someone, and Joshua has been called the champeen tracker of southern Utah.” 

 

“Listen, Thaddeus– ”

 

“No, Joshua, I know you wouldn’t say it yourself, but you know how true that is.”  Curry sipped politely at his coffee, innocent blue eyes meeting Mr. Harrington’s. 

 

Their new boss was clearly impressed.  “Then you’re right.  Mr. Smith should be along with us going to Laramie.  Does that sound all right with you, dearest?”  He deferred the question to his wife, who hesitated only slightly. 

 

“Yes, that sounds reasonable.  Gentlemen, I don’t wish to offend you, but I’m sure you understand my hesitation about traveling in the charge of a complete stranger.”  Curry and Heyes indicated that, of course, they did.  “After Bradford’s experience with that dreadful Bannerman detective, I have not been inclined to look to that agency for protection.  The girls and I are quite willing to travel alone,” she smiled gently at her husband so that she was nearly as pretty as the girls, “but my husband worries about us so.” 

 

Harrington’s answering grin was mischievous.  “It may well be it’s the Denver and Pacific Railroad that needs protection from this wild bunch of women, Jones.” 

 

Amid the laughter, Curry promised to do his best to protect both.  Travel arrangements were made.  The day after tomorrow was the fifteenth; three days on the train would put them in Denver a week before Christmas, as they had hoped to be.  Mr. Harrington’s supply train would need four days to get to Laramie, after which Mr. Smith was free to go.  The new employees made their farewells; after all, Mr. Smith had an early deadline in the morning.  

 

The two ex-outlaws had already agreed Kid would simply wait for Heyes and they’d get through Christmas together in Denver.  At least, Heyes grumbled on their way back to the hotel, with Denver’s hotels and entertainments, and some money to spend, it would be better than some recent holiday seasons.  “That’s the way, Heyes, keep Christmas in your heart.”  Curry reined his horse suddenly to the right, out of Heyes’ reach, and chuckled when his cousin almost overreached and barely kept himself in the saddle.  Heyes growled and swore, but eventually gave in to Kid’s good humor.  They’d had worse Christmases, after all. 

 

Looking back at things, Heyes had little to complain of except boredom on his supply wagon job.  Mr. Harrington, though loud and profane, was a decent boss who even took his full share of night watching.  It was cold in Wyoming, of course, but the group had food and fire enough, not much snow along the way, even.  Even the two Bannerman detectives were an improvement over Harry Briscoe (almost had to be, though, Heyes and Harrington had agreed one night on watch).   Best of all, Mr. Harrington got his delivery made early enough to take a bonus, which he shared with everyone on the trip. 

 

With his pay and an extra thirty-seven dollars safely pocketed, Heyes bid his erstwhile boss farewell and went to check train schedules.  He was enormously cheered to find a train back toward Cheyenne and then Denver that left early that same Tuesday evening.  Kid should be in Denver by today, Heyes reflected, and went searching for a telegraph office before he did a little Christmas shopping.  He expected to join up with Kid in Denver sometime Monday, Christmas Eve – perfect timing.  Heyes loved it when things went according to plan.

 

Good thing for him, then, that he wasn’t along with Kid on the “simple” trip to Denver from Cheyenne.  From the very beginning, there was tension among the women, especially between Mrs. Harrington and the older daughter, Susannah.  Some row had gone on before Curry even reached the house Saturday morning, although the women’s new protector was not privileged to know what it was.  When he politely refused to join in the Please tell my daughter/please tell my mother gambit, Mrs. Harrington became excessively polite and condescending.  Curry could stand that – he’d known a few stuck-up women in his time – but it annoyed him how bad a traveler the older woman was.  The seats were uncomfortable.  It was cold with the window open.  It was stuffy with the window closed.  She needed something out of her trunk in the baggage car; would Mr. Jones go back with Elspeth and get it?  Susannah, what are you looking for out that window?  It had better not be what I suspect it is…Saturday was a long day for Jed Curry. 

 

Sunday was quieter, chiefly because none of the women was speaking to another.  Mrs. Harrington had somewhat come down from her high horse, seeing it made no impression on her family guard, or maybe she wasn’t really so snooty, just upset about something yesterday.  Curry was grateful for that improvement, but uncomfortable with the animosity among his charges.  He had a new appreciation for the Devil’s Hole method of just punching the person you were mad at and getting it fought out and over with.  Mrs. Harrington read her Bible (it was Sunday, after all).  Elspeth had her Bible, too, but Curry could see the dime novel she was hiding with it, and grinned conspiratorially at her when she noticed his glance.  Susannah, sober-faced and looking older than her twenty-one years, stared out the window as long as there was daylight, twisting her lace handkerchief over and through her fingers.  Sunday was a long day, too. 

 

Everyone’s mood lifted a little on their last traveling day, though.  Despite the grime and discomfort of being in the same clothes for three days (the Denver and Pacific boasted no Pullman cars yet), knowing their journey was nearing its end cheered everyone, at least a little.  Mrs. Harrington was almost friendly with Curry, hardly troublesome or demanding at all.  Elspeth’s youth began to tell on her as she eagerly watched for signs of town and told Curry about their Christmas plans with Uncle Jonathan and the rest of the family.  Susannah, though, was puzzling Curry.  She became the bossy one, downright proddy, thinking of errands for him in the baggage car and reminding him (unnecessarily) that he needed to get all their luggage organized when the train got in.  Like he couldn’t figure out his job, both as the paid employee and the only man in the bunch.  She’d been so quiet and undemanding all along; it just raised Kid’s suspicions.  He was trying to phrase a polite question about it when Elspeth spied her quarry. 

 

“Look!  There’s Denver!  Look, Mama!  Mr. Jones!  Susie, we’re almost there!”  It was hard not to catch her excitement, especially when a man knew it meant trading in these females for his pay.  Uncle Jonathan was beginning to seem like his best friend; Curry couldn’t wait to hand off his sister and nieces to him. 

 

The station was typically busy:  passengers getting off, greeters looking for them, the usual amount of noise, bustle, and cinders for a large city’s depot.  Kid helped his charges down to the platform, counting their various parcels and hand luggage.  Just as he was asking Mrs. Harrington if she’d prefer he wait with them, look for her brother, or go for the trunks, Elspeth spotted her uncle and waved her handkerchief madly.  “Uncle Jonathan!  We’re over here!” 

 

“Elspeth,” her mother reminded her for not the first time, “a lady does not shout.”  She did join in the waving, though, and told Kid to go for the trunks in the baggage car.  Susannah suggested perhaps she should go help him, but Curry was already headed that way and didn’t wait for Mrs. Harrington’s answer.  He figured if a lady didn’t shout, she sure enough wouldn’t tote trunks off the baggage car, either.  It took a spell, but with a generous tip to a porter, Kid got the trunks onto a hand cart and found his family group again, by now augmented by the presence of Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Marguerite.  As he got within earshot, the details of which cousin was where at the moment were almost finished.  Mrs. Harrington looked at Kid in surprise and asked, “Mr. Jones, where’s Susannah?  She insisted on going to help you identify the trunks.” 

 

Curry shook his head.  “No, ma’am, she wasn’t at the baggage car.  I just walked the length of the train to here, and I didn’t see her anywhere.  You’re sure that’s where she was going?”  A cold sense of dread was building up in him; something was wrong.  Susannah had been…different…all that day. 

 

“But she said…” Mrs. Harrington’s voice trailed off and a sudden recognition flashed in her eyes.  “Oh, no.  Oh, Jonathan, Marguerite, do you suppose…?” 

 

“Oh, Agatha, not that boy!”  Marguerite’s horror was evident.  But Elspeth had another take on the situation. 

 

“Mama!  Do you think they eloped?  How romantic!”  Her enthusiasm withered under her mother’s outraged look, though. 

 

Curry looked to his only male ally, Uncle Jonathan.   Mrs. Harrington made belated introductions, and Curry suggested perhaps the ladies should all go home and he and Mr. Worthing could institute a search.  “That is, if there’s someone else there to help unload the baggage and such,” he concluded.  There would be help at the house, and despite protests from the three women, Mr. Worthing’s long-suffering driver was soon on his way, barraged with weeping and frantic speculations from his charges. 

 

Kid and Mr. Worthing searched the platform first and had the conductor walk through the train.  He wouldn’t let the two unticketed men go themselves, but Curry’s firm gaze (and perhaps his hand resting on his pistol) convinced him to look on their behalf.  Curry and Worthing had turned to go through the depot building next when Elspeth came up behind them. 

 

“Elspeth!” Worthing shouted.  “Why aren’t you with your mother and Marguerite?  We have enough trouble with one of you missing!” 

 

“But Uncle Jonathan, I can help!  Mama knows I came back, she knows I’m with you.  You’re going in to search the depot, aren’t you?  How are you going to search the ladies’ retiring room?  See, I can so help!”  The two men exchanged glances; she had a point about the retiring room. 

 

Worthing answered his niece, “All right, Elspeth.  But you stay with us and do what we say and nothing else.  Are you clear on that?”  She claimed to be, and the trio started a sweep of the building. 

 

No Susannah.  It had been an hour or more since they arrived; she could be far off by now.  And it was not certain she was eloping; it was still possible she’d been abducted against her will.  Regretfully, Worthing asked the ticket clerk for directions to the nearest police station.  While he knew Elspeth was right that “Mama will have a hissy fit,” Susannah’s welfare was more important than her mother’s social awareness. 

 

The police were not especially helpful.  Elspeth was useful here, though; since to look on her was to see Susannah’s face, it gave the officer a clear description to hand around.  She also had a detailed description of Susannah’s probable companion:  Jeffrey Browne, a young law clerk the family had met last Christmas, a friend of one of Worthing’s business partners.  They had been corresponding ever since, and Susannah was quite definitely in love with him.  The officer raised an eyebrow at that piece of information, dutifully taking down the details of Mr. Browne’s “romantic green eyes” and “dark curls like Lord Byron’s.”  He felt obliged to add, though, “But I have to say, Mr. Worthing, if your niece is twenty-one and gone willingly, there’s no legal reason to make her come back.”  Elspeth suddenly burst into tears, nestling into Curry’s arms as he automatically tried to comfort her; it had suddenly borne in on her that she might not see her sister again. 

 

At a loss for what else to do, Worthing led the other two, Elspeth still sniffling, to a hansom cab, and they went to the family home.  Hardly had they set foot to cobblestones when the two women burst out the front door, Mrs. Harrington waving a telegram.  Susannah and her young man had been courteous enough (Curry’s opinion) to send word that they were together by choice, that there had been no foul play, but they were determined to marry despite Mr. and Mrs. Harrington’s objections.  Jeffrey would not always be just a law clerk, and Susannah had no intention of waiting until her parents decided he made enough money to suit them. 

 

“Oh, my poor girl!”  wailed Mrs. Harrington.  “To have her think we won’t want to see her, that she has to cut herself off!  I could have talked Bradford around, if I’d known how serious she was!”  She collapsed into the arms of her sister-in-law and set off on a first-rate round of weeping.  Elspeth felt obliged to join them, and the two men looked uncomfortably at each other.  Curry longed desperately to collect his money and leave – his original job was done, after all, he had got the three Harrington women to Denver, and it wasn’t his responsibility if Susannah had plans once she got there. 

 

Worthing nodded toward the door, and Curry followed him into a study, or maybe it should be called a library.  At any rate, it was free of females, which seemed an improvement to the former outlaw.  He was preparing to tell Worthing what he’d been thinking, when Worthing instead basically told him the same thing.  Pulling out a lockbox from his desk, he asked Curry what was owed to him. 

 

“Mr. Harrington promised me a hundred and twenty-five for bringing his family here.  But I don’t think he meant for you to –”

 

Worthing held up a hand to stop him.  “It’s all right.  I’ll settle up later with Agatha; I’m sure she has your money with her.  You’re absolutely right, Mr. Jones, that you don’t owe us anything further.  But I’m asking:  if there’s anything you can do to help me locate my niece, won’t you do it?  I’ll double this payment if you’ll try.  Bradford wired me that you came highly recommended as very capable when difficulties arise.  What do you say?”  He had poured generous whiskeys for both of them and sipped at his while he waited for Curry’s answer. 

 

Kid toyed with his drink, thinking.  He had so looked forward to a few peaceful days between delivering the women and dealing with Heyes’ Christmas melancholy.  However, doubling his pay was a pleasant prospect.  And truth to tell, he didn’t like having one of his charges disappear the minute his back was turned.  With a sigh, he answered Worthing.  “I’ll try, Mr. Worthing.  I know a couple of people in Denver I might could ask for help.  But you know the boy’s employer, don’t you?  You neighbor who brought him round last year?  Maybe he knows something about how to find Browne.  And you ought to get the Bannermans on the case.”  Preferably not one certain Bannerman man, he thought privately. 

 

So the search continued.  Kid was glad enough to see Clementine and her father again; the man’s banking connections might be of some help.  He had hoped to find Diamond Jim Guffy, too, but Jim was away on some pursuit or other.  The Worthings’ neighbor was not any use; seemed young Browne had changed employers in October when he passed the bar exam.  The new employer had no information other than Browne had requested and been given a few days off for personal business.  It was certainly to be hoped there would not be a scandal from the young lawyer.  Theirs was a well-established conservative firm, etc., etc.  Frustrated as the days went by, Curry fervently wished he had let Heyes win this “easy” job back in Cheyenne. 

 

Near to the time Curry and his flock of females got off their train, Heyes had boarded one in Laramie.  Pleased with the leather and fleece coat he’d bought for his cousin – and downright tickled with the two new dime novels about themselves that he’d bought to annoy Kid, as well as two Jules Verne books he’d never read for himself – Heyes was dreading Christmas less than he had for a long time.  The long train ride might be wearisome, but it still beat riding horseback to Denver in the cold.  Funny how the job he thought would be the harder one turned out to be downright pleasant; it was nice to think they’d both had an easy time of it right before Christmas. 

 

Three days passed; then four.  While Curry chased around Denver looking for a young bride who didn’t want to be found and listening to wailing women in between times, Heyes read and snoozed his way through Journey to the Center of the Earth and started in on From the Earth to the Moon.  If the heavy snow held off, he’d be in Denver in another day, on the 23rd. 

 

Heyes’ luck ran out the night of the 22nd.  The heavy snow didn’t hold off long enough, and late that night, a few miles outside of Union Colony, the rails iced over, forcing the train to a standstill.  Most of the passengers were used to western winters, fortunately, and convinced the few newcomers that they would be safe overnight with the coal stoves in the cars.  And by morning, when the train didn’t arrive, help would be on its way.  They were right; by mid-morning, with coal to spare in the stoves, a dozen or more sleighs arrived to ferry the passengers into town.  Heyes secured his hotel room and a late breakfast, then went to telegraph Curry about his delay.  Another problem:  the telegraph lines were down from ice, too.  The telegrapher would send the message as soon as he could, of course…

 

Heyes went to explore the town, only partly in search of a saloon.  He found a tannery, a couple of banks and hotels, a few general stores, a smithy, and a produce warehouse near the train station.  He found two flour mills, three opera houses, and no less than seven churches.  He did not find a saloon.  Back in the hotel, he made inquiries.  The desk clerk laughed genially.  “You must be new to Union Colony, son.  There are no saloons here.  This is a temperance town.”  Heyes blinked, trying to accommodate this idea.  Here he was in northern Colorado territory, but somehow it had become Puritan New England.  A western town with no saloon.  And, his query was answered, no bottles of whiskey sold anywhere else, either.  Poker?  Well, not likely.  It was possible he could drum up a game of whist later on at the hotel…well, not today, of course, since it was the Sabbath.  Heyes had never considered himself too much of a drinker, certainly not a slave to Demon Rum like the temperance ladies bewailed, but it irritated his sensibilities to be outright denied a simple drink or two.  He read late into the night that night.

 

Even so, he was awake early, for him, and by 9:00 a.m. was going from window to chair to pacing until he stormed out of the room.  Maybe being around people would be a distraction at least…maybe some food and coffee would improve his mood…maybe the telegraph lines were up.  Not only was that not true, since the ice storm had moved south, the lines in Denver were probably down, too.  By then, though, Heyes had had enough coffee to appreciate the fact that Kid would not expect to hear from him right away in that case.  It sure looked likely they’d be apart this Christmas, though, which was depressing to think on.  Other than the one when they’d been estranged years ago, they’d always had Christmas together.  Heyes strode along one boardwalk after another, trying not to give into the black mood stalking his mind.  Of all the places to be stuck alone at Christmas!  How had the desk clerk described it when he was explaining about having no liquor?  A community based on temperance, religion, education, agriculture, irrigation, cooperation, and family values.  It sounded like the Home for Waywards with irrigation ditches, Heyes grumbled to himself.  It was a little more lively, though, with folks on the street, shopping, greeting each other, kids running around throwing snowballs.  As he passed one more of the churches, it was apparently choir practice, and the ancient carols only fed his melancholy.  Eventually he was cold and tired enough to think kindly of his hotel room and finished the circuit of mid-town Union Colony there.  The sleighs were back and a dozen or so new guests were in the lobby; the northbound train had also iced over a little ways out of town.  Heyes escaped up to his room, hoping it wouldn’t be necessary to share it with anyone besides Jules Verne. 

 

The early dusk reminded Heyes he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and he wandered dejectedly down to the dining room.  To his surprise, a Christmas tree had been put up, candles ready to light, and a few other geegaws decorated the mantelpiece and window sills as well.  When the waiter came to his table, Heyes asked, “Someone having a party?”

 

Startled, the server answered, “No one told you?  It’s our Christmas tradition at the Hanover House.  So many of our guests are, well, stranded here that Mr. and Mrs. Hanover started celebrating their family Christmas with everyone who happens to be here.  Those who want to have a gift exchange and it’s sort of encouraged – but not necessary – to chip in something for the Christmas dinner at the orphans’ home.  Mr. and Mrs. Hanover always provide a lot of food for that every year.  Do stay down for the party, Mr. Smith.  It’s quite a ‘do’.”  Heyes promised to think about it and ordered his dinner.  It arrived in the hands of Mrs. Hanover herself, flushed and fragrant from the kitchen.  After serving Heyes, she sat down in the opposite chair and explained to him that he would, in fact, attend her party.  “You’ve spent enough time holed up in that room by yourself, young man, and I won’t stand for it tonight.  It would break my heart.  Are we clear on this, now?” 

 

Heyes dimpled his grin at her, knowing he was defeated.  “Yes, ma’am.”  Satisfied, Mrs. Hanover patted his shoulder as she left for her kitchen again. 

 

She was right.  In spite of his Christmas dread, once the music and games were underway, Heyes did begin to enjoy himself.  He hadn’t played Charades since before his parents died, but when two of the Hanover girls begged him to be on their team, he gave in, and they beat all comers.  Although drink was a sin in Union Colony, dancing was obviously not, and the handsome, dark-eyed guest was a popular partner.  At midnight, as everyone toasted Christmas with hot spiced cider, Heyes thought once more of his cousin and hoped he was having a good time, too.  Mr. Hanover proposed another toast, this time to “our newlywed couple, Mr. and Mrs. Browne.”  Raising his cup of cider, Heyes looked directly into the eyes of Susannah Harrington, now the bride in the toast.  She clutched the arm of her new husband, whispered something to him, and they began to sidle back into the crowd.  Heyes made his way around the bunch and cut off their escape to the staircase. 

 

“Miss Susannah?  It is you – we met in Cheyenne, I’m Joshua Smith, Thaddeus Jones’ friend.”  Trapped, she introduced her husband, who warily received Heyes’ congratulations.  “So you were going to Denver to get married; I hadn’t realized that.”

 

Susannah looked to Jeffrey.  He explained, “It was rather sudden.  In fact, we eloped, Mr. Smith, and until the ice changed our plans, we were on our way to Cheyenne to square things with Mr. Harrington.  I’m not comfortable with the subterfuge and it’s worrying both of us that we can’t get a telegraph through.” 

 

Heyes agreed with the nagging desire to communicate.  Amazing how dependent folks became on a new invention in a relatively short time.  “Do you mind telling me, Miss…Mrs. Browne, did Thaddeus know of your plans?  I’m concerned he’s in some sort of trouble over not getting you properly to Denver.”  Behind the polite conversation, his dark eyes showed how concerned he would be, in fact, if Thaddeus suffered somehow from the newlyweds’ flight. 

 

“No, he didn’t know, but we left word at Uncle Jonathan’s house explaining.  Surely no one could blame him for our elopement, Mr. Smith.  But, Jeffrey, maybe that’s another sign we should go back to Denver instead of all the way to Cheyenne.”  Obviously this was a subject they’d hashed over several times, and Heyes soon left them to it.  It was late enough and he’d danced enough to sleep now, even without a whiskey.  And somewhere south in Denver, Curry looked up from his poker hand to notice it was after midnight and silently toasted his melancholy cousin, hoping he would get through Christmas Eve tolerably well. 

 

For many years, Heyes had wished, prayed, done everything but offer sacrifices on an altar, to have snow for Christmas morning.  This time, though, the prevailing wish was for a Christmas thaw, and by noon Christmas Day the cry was going through town:  the ice is melting!  It’s thirty-six degrees!  The trains can run tomorrow!  The former outlaw was one of many who felt they’d been given a gift with that news.  Checking with the ticket office at the depot, Heyes arranged to be on the first train out, mid-morning the next day (assuming the thaw held).  The telegraph lines were still down, so he could deliver his message in person faster than Western Union could do it.  The Brownes were in the same condition – they had, after all, decided to go back to Denver first.  Just before noon on the 27th, Heyes and the newlywed couple disembarked together.  Mr. Browne went to claim baggage while Heyes, carrying all his luggage with him, stayed with Susannah.  She suddenly clutched his arm with a startled cry of “Jeffrey!”  Two men had accosted the young groom.  At her cry, they looked her direction, and the taller of the two shouted, “Joshua!”  It was Curry and Jonathan Worthing.  By the time the pair and the trio reached each other, everyone was talking at once, so it took a little time to sort out the circumstances.  But at last the family members were headed home, leaving Curry and Heyes together on the platform.  Heyes bent to pick up his valise, handing off the second bag to his cousin.  “Are we at the Butler like before?”  he asked Curry, referring to the hotel. 

 

“Yeah.  Your Christmas present’s there, too.  Were you…okay over Christmas?”  The tone was carefully casual, but Heyes knew Jed had worried about him. 

 

“Actually, except for you not being there, I had the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time; went to a lively party, danced with a bunch of pretty girls, it was nice.  Real homey.  Ow!”  Curry had slugged him one on the shoulder.  “What was that for?”

 

“For me worrying about you, and you’re off partying.  Think I’ll take back my present.” 

 

Heyes rubbed his arm with his free hand.  “What is it?”

 

“Bottle of real good whiskey.”  Curry frowned at his cousin.  “What are you laughing about?”

 

“There really is a Santa Claus, after all,” Heyes finally managed to say.  “Christmas might have been messed up, Kid, but I think things are shaping up for a hell of a good new year.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Info on Greeley and Union Colony, Colorado

 

1870 A.D. Denver and Pacific Railroad is constructed to connect Denver with Union Pacific at Cheyenne, Wyoming; the Kansas Pacific enters Colorado from Missouri River. Union Colony is established by Horace Greeley and Nathan C. Meeker at Greeley, and first irrigation canal surveyed there. The Greeley Tribune established. Population of Colorado territory 39,864.

 

While traveling in Colorado in 1871, fellow parlor car passengers warned author Grace Greenwood not to stop in Greeley: “You’ll die of dulness in less than five hours. There is nothing there but irrigation. Your host will invite you out to see him irrigate his potato-patch; your hostess will excuse herself to go and irrigate her pinks and dahlias. Every young one has a ditch of his own to manage; there is not a billiard-saloon in the whole camp, nor a drink of whiskey to be had for love or money. The place is humbug. Its morality and Greeleyisms will bust it up some day.” Spunky Greenwood took her chances on Greeley, praising the character of its citizens and their progress in transforming the “Great American Desert” into a “Garden of Eden.”

The fledgling town of 1200 was founded in 1870 by members of a joint stock colonization company called the Union Colony of Colorado, organized by Nathan Meeker, agricultural editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. Meeker visited Colorado Territory in October, 1869, and his observations on the people and places in the West were published in the Tribune. Meeker was smitten with the Rocky Mountain scenery, the energy and friendliness of its citizens, and the opportunity to inexpensively purchase or homestead fertile tracts of land in a climate renowned for its pure air, moderate temperatures and “perpetual” sunshine. His dream of starting a utopian community based on temperance, religion, education, agriculture, irrigation, cooperation, and family values was rekindled. He penned an appealing article, “A Western Colony” for the Tribune’s December 14, 1869 edition, in which he encouraged literate and temperance individuals with high moral standards and money to join him in a colony venture in Colorado Territory.

More than 3000 responded to his persuasive prose. Over 700 of the best applicants were chosen as members, and a membership fee of $155 was collected from everyone whose name appeared on the list of selected colonists. This money was used to purchase land west of the confluence of the South Platte and Cache la Poudre Rivers. Some colonists were investors only; 90 had “second thoughts” and requested the colony “refund” their membership fees, but the majority settled on a new life in Greeley, C.T. They were a homogenous lot: white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, thrifty, conservative, hard-working, Union veterans, predominantly Republican, and committed to Nathan Meeker’s vision. They built two ditches and an expensive fence around the Colony to keep the open range cattle from destroying newly planted gardens and crops. Residences, businesses, schools, churches, hotels, buffalo-tanning factories, flour mills, produce warehouses and opera houses sprang up between 1870 and 1885. The colonists negotiated with the railroad for equitable rates to ship their famous Greeley spuds to market, “electrified” the downtown in 1886, installed telephones in 1893, and expanded the network of irrigation ditches and reservoirs for greater crop production and diversity. They survived the locust plaques and blizzards of the 1870s, the boom in businesses and more blizzards of the 1880's and the depression of the 1890s.