With You Always
The cold wind howled as the temperature plummeted outside on the Kansas prairie. A family sat close to the fire for warmth in the sparsely furnished, two-room house. A father read aloud to his family, as his wife sewed a new shirt and his dark-haired toddler snuggled close to him and twisted the silver ring on his father's finger.
"…and fell into his place at once—a parish child—the orphan of a workhouse—the humble, half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none."
"Papa?" the little one interrupted the reading of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.
Making a mental note of where he stopped reading, James Heyes looked down at his son. "Yes, Hannibal?"
"What's dis?" he asked as he continued to twist the silver ring.
"It's a ring that belonged to my father. It was his wedding band."
"Why you have ring?"
James glanced at his wife, Mary, who was smiling at their inquisitive son. "When my mother died and I was leaving for the West, my father gave me his wedding ring to remind me of him and my mother."
"Does the ring remind me of my parents?" A small head nodded. "Yes it does, especially because of the words written on it."
A small hand lifted a much larger hand up for closer inspection. "I see it?"
The father smiled. "If you're very careful, I will take it off and let you see it. Don't drop it—I don't want
to lose it."
Big, brown eyes watched as his father removed the ring from his finger and handed it to his son. The little
fingers cautiously turned the ring in different angles to see the entire surface. When the inscription was found, a slender finger rubbed over the words. "Deese words…what's it say?"
"The inscription, or words, read 'With You Always'. Do you know what it means?" After a moment of thought, the small head slowly shook side to side. "It means that even though I might not be here, you can emember how much I love you and how important you are to me and your ma."
The ring slipped onto a finger. "Don't fit," Hannibal pouted.
His father chuckled. "It will, Hannibal, when you grow up like me. Someday this ring will be yours
and you can remember how much your mother and I love you—how proud we are of you."
The child carefully slipped the ring back on his father's finger and snuggled back into his father's chest.
"Are you ready for me to read more?" James asked as he ruffled his son's dark hair.
A yawn and a nod confirmed he was ready for more than the story.
"Now where was I…oh yes, right here."
"Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder…"
Nine Years Later -
Han sat on the ground gently rocking, his knees pulled up to his chest, his head buried. Jed knelt behind him and put a grubby hand on his back in support. Beside them were two bodies covered with a quilt. The boys had just finished digging one large grave—Han wanted his parents buried together and not separated. As they rested, Han silently mourned.
"Han…" Jed barely whispered not wanting to disturb his cousin, "sun's settin'."
Han looked up and his eyes rested on the quilt and then to a hand, his father's hand, not covered. He slowly crawled over to cover the hand when he saw the silver ring. He remembered how much the ring meant to his father and how he was supposed to have it one day. He twisted the ring off the finger and slipped it on his own.
"It's still too big," Han couldn't help but smile at a distant memory of an evening by a fire. As he fingered and read the words 'With You Always', he again remembered what his father said about the ring and its inscription. "Though I might not be here, you can remember how much I love you and how important you are to me and your ma."
Jed, patiently waiting, stood up and walked around what was left of the Heyes' farm. He searched near the burnt cabin and barn until he found what he was looking for. Jed ran back to his grieving cousin. "Look what I found," he exclaimed as he held out a long piece of twine.
Han gave him a puzzled look. "What's that for?"
"For your pa's ring. You said it was too big. You can tie it around your neck with this here twine so ya don't lose it."
Han nodded as he took the twine, looped the ring, and tied it around his neck. "Thanks, Jed, that's a real good idea you had there." Han sighed, "Let's get this over with."
Jed nodded and silently the boys buried another beloved pa and ma…another adored uncle and aunt. The twilight of the day-and the twilight of their childhood-came too soon. Han and Jed brushed the dirt from their hands, bowed their heads and said a final good-bye.
Nine Years Later -
Heyes sat at the table, where a high stakes poker game was unfolding. The rest of the Big Jim Santana's gang was hurrahing around him.
"Full house! Guess I'm having a lucky night, boys," Heyes exclaimed as he pulled the pile of money towards him and looked around the saloon for a gal to bring him another drink.
A cowhand was entering the saloon and Heyes almost dismissed him with a glance, but then took a second look. Was it…nah, he looked like Jed, but it wasn't him. He and Jed had separated about a year…sheesh, make that two years ago. They were fightin' all the time when Jed left saying he had enough of Heyes being bossy. He missed his cousin more than he wanted to admit. As he thought about the only family he had left, Heyes unconsciously twisted the silver ring he finally grew into and wore on his left hand.
The more bank and train robberies Heyes participated in, the more he found himself playing with the silver ring on his finger. The ring reminded him of his pa and ma—"someday this ring will be yours and you can remember how much your mother and I love you—how proud we are of you."
How proud they are of me…yeah right. The ring that once provided comfort became a guilty conscience.
Heyes lay on his bed in the bunkhouse one afternoon instead of playing poker. The rest of the gang noticed he was getting moodier lately and left him alone. As Heyes lay there, he took off the ring and read the inscription 'With You Always'. He closed his eyes and heard his father's voice explaining the words; "it means that even though I might not be here, you can remember how much I love you and how important you are to me and your ma." NO…you wouldn't love me or be proud of what I've become! Heyes made a decision and left the bunkhouse slamming the door behind him. The poker players watched him leave, shrugged their shoulders and resumed playing.
Heyes walked away from Devil's Hole and followed the creek up into the mountains around the hideout. The sun became a fiery ball as it began its descent into the horizon. Heyes found a grassy area by the creek where the water cascaded down as a waterfall. Nearby he saw a pile of rocks a safe distance from the creek. He found a distinctive looking rock with a beautiful quartz vein running through it. Moving the rock, he dug a small hole in the soft earth. He lovingly wrapped his father's silver ring in his bandana and placed it in the hole. He buried the ring as he had buried his folks many years ago and put the rock back as a monument to their love gone forever. He sat back and hugged his knees to his chest; Heyes allowed himself to grieve, gain, for his parents and their love.
At twilight, Heyes got up and quickly walked back into Devil's Hole. He sighed and opened the bunkhouse door. "Got room for one more in that game, fellas?"
As seasons changed, so did the Devil's Hole Gang.
Jed earned a reputation as the fastest gun in the West and the colorful name of Kid Curry. With that fame, men challenged him for the title at every turn. He had no one to watch his back during a very dangerous time. He was exhausted and realized the need for a partner….someone he could trust. The only person he had ever been able to trust was his cousin-Hannibal Heyes. He tracked his best friend to a town near the gang's hideout. Kid walked into a saloon where the Devil's Hole Gang was celebrating their latest heist and finally met up with his cousin. Heyes was as excited to see his little cousin as Kid was to finally find him. They realized they needed each other…one's weakest was the other's strength. Together, they were invincible.
The law captured Big Jim Santana, the leader of the gang. The Devil's Hole Gang voted Heyes and Kid as Santana's replacement. They lived for the day with no regard to their future, or their past. Quickly the gang became more famous and successful, resulting in Heyes and Kid having a large reward on their heads, and wanted dead or alive.
Following a robbery in Pine Hill, Heyes and Kid split from the rest of the gang with a posse right on their tails. After a hard ride, they lost the posse and rested their horses in a wooded area. They sat on the ground and leaned against a tree catching their own breaths and relaxing.
"Heyes?" the Kid broke the silence.
"I've been meanin' to ask you something for awhile."
"What's that?" Heyes interest piqued.
"Where's the ring?"
Caught off guard, Heyes looked puzzled. "Ring?"
"Yeah, you know…your pa's ring."
"Oh…I…I lost it."
"You lost it?" Kid asked incredulously.
"Yeah, I lost it," Heyes said defensively.
"I can see ya losing it when we was still kids, but now?" Kid paused. "Not in a poker game!"
"NO, not in a poker game. I lost it, okay? Just drop it." Heyes got up and wandered off, not wanting to continue the conversation. Yeah, he had lost it; well, lost the right to wear it.
"Sorry I asked," mumbled Kid. He knew his cousin was lying, but also knew Heyes was not going to tell him what happened to the ring.
Nine Years Later –
Heyes and the Kid had been trying to go straight for almost two years with the promise of amnesty daggling like a carrot before them. It wasn't easy becoming law-abiding citizens—money was always tight, jobs were scarce, and they were still wanted men with a $10,000 reward on their head. They may have wavered a little, but continued plodding forward hoping for the elusive amnesty. As they rode from town to town, they engaged in conversations about their hopes and dreams.
"Heyes, when d'ya think the governor's gonna give us our amnesty?" Kid asked, as he often did, on a hot, dusty trail between towns. "It's been close to two years."
"Tell me somethin' I don't know," muttered Heyes.
"What d'ya say?"
"I said I don't know. Same answer I always give you. Wish I knew…wish it was today."
"If we did get it today, what would you wanna do?"
Heyes thought for a moment. It seemed like the dream changed depending on his mood.
"Well, if we got it today, I would want to settle down and not travel from town to town. Maybe get a farm and…
"You on a farm? Like our folks…" Kid stopped midsentence looking remorseful. "Sorry."
Heyes looked back at Kid and shrugged his shoulders. "It's okay. If you'd have let me finish, I was gonna say and raise horses."
"Would you get married and have kids?"
"Sure. How about you?"
"Yeah, I wanna settle down and have a whole bunch of kids."
"Sounds noisy," Heyes replied.
There was silence for awhile between two former outlaws.
"Do you think they'd be proud of us?"
Heyes reined in his horse allowing Kid to come next to him.
"Our folks…I've been thinkin' about 'em a lot since we're tryin' so hard to be law abidin'."
"Oh…" Heyes paused and then sighed. "Ya know, I think they would be proud of us now." Heyes found himself reaching to touch a ring that was no longer on his finger. Maybe his parents would be proud of him now that he was trying so hard to go straight…maybe he could wear the ring again.
One dreary day, when a job had separated them, Heyes found himself near Devil's Hole as he traveled to Porterville to meet up with his partner. They had decided to meet there to find out the status of their amnesty from Lom. As he camped nearby, he made a decision; he wanted…no, needed his father's ring back to see him through the frustration of getting the amnesty.
He was quite familiar with the twisting paths and animal trails in the area having gone on many hikes to think out a job or a problem when he had been leading the gang. He also knew how to avoid an outlaw sentry from spotting him. Heyes made his way through the mountains around the area of Devil's Hole, found the creek and followed it to a grassy area near a waterfall. He looked around the area and recognized the rock with a quartz vein.
Heyes held his breath as he knelt and moved the rock away. He dug into the soft earth and was soon rewarded when he caught sight of a tattered blue bandana. Heyes slowly exhaled as he unwrapped the bandana and saw his pa's ring. He wiped the ring clean and placed it back on his finger.
"Sorry I let you down, ma and pa. I promise I'll make you proud of me and deserving of your love."
When he rode into Porterville, the Kid went straight to the hotel to see if Heyes had gotten there ahead of him. Seeing the familiar 'Joshua Smith' in the register, he got the key to their favorite room in the hotel facing the street. Once Kid dropped off his belongings into the room, he went down to the saloon to meet up with Heyes. He found his partner waiting for him at the bar nursing a glass of whiskey.
Spotting his cousin, Heyes broke out in a smile and motioned for the bartender to bring another glass and a refill for himself. Nodding toward an empty table in the back of the room, the Kid sat down as Heyes brought over the drinks.
"You're lookin' mighty cheerful," Kid exclaimed taking the glass from Heyes.
"Just glad you're back…I worry about what kind of trouble you're getting into when I'm not around."
Kid chuckled. "Trouble? I only get into trouble when you're around."
Heyes was taking a sip of whiskey when Kid noticed the ring.
"Heyes, you found it!" Kid quietly exclaimed with a grin.
"Yup," Heyes smiled. "I sure did."
"I knew you hadn't lost it. Where's it been all these years?"
"You buried it? Why?"
"Couldn't stand wearing it while I was robbin'; made me think of my folks and how much I let them down."
The Kid nodded his understanding. "And now?"
"And now thinking about them pushes me towards staying on the straight and narrow while we're working toward amnesty."
"Glad to see you wearin' it again. You stayin' on the straight and narrow keeps me on the same path since I'm right behind you watchin' your back."
"I'll drink to that!" Heyes and Kid clinked their glasses and swallowed the rest of their whiskey.
"We're supposed to meet Lom for dinner. Ready?"
"Right behind you, partner."