As the days got shorter and colder, Heyes was glad to be getting more words back. At Arnheim’s deli, where he got breakfast most mornings, the recovering man could say, “Plain bagel please, and black coffee.” He might seem almost normal sometimes – if you didn’t listen long or closely. The heavy pauses between words gave away his lingering troubles, as did his inability to say more than a few common words. To the man who had once been known for having a silver tongue, the process of recovery was terribly, frustratingly slow. He was far from home. Heyes was feeling down.
The displaced westerner had been looking forward to spending Christmas back in Louisville ever since he had left the Colorado town in the first place. But his recovery had not been fast enough to let him get along by himself on a four day train ride. He was still unable to write at all, or to say anything that was outside of a narrow routine. Any situation at all out of the ordinary would catch the recovering man totally unprepared. Doctor Leutze’s knowledge of his patient’s true identity made him even more reluctant than he would normally have been to let a new patient travel by himself for so long. So, since no one was available to go with him, Heyes couldn’t go back to Colorado for Christmas. It was a devastating disappointment.
As Heyes came in one chilly, grey early December day from the clinic, Jim was in front of the little rented room’s one mirror. Heyes’ roommate was carefully combing his hair and straightening his tie. Jim looked up at Joshua Smith. “J-joshua – w-would you like to c-c-come with me t-t-tonight t-t-to the p-p-arty at my uncle’s p-p-place? You’d-d b-b-be real welcome.”
Heyes looked up in surprise. “What is . . .?
Jim looked at his roommate welcomingly. “We’re celeb-b-brating Hanuk-k-kah. You know . . . ?”
Heyes shook his head. He had never heard of the holiday. He hadn’t exactly spent a lot of time around Jews until the last three months. His neighbors must have been discussing Hanukkah all around him in recent days. But they had been doing it in Yiddish, which Heyes was only beginning to learn.
“It’s a J-j-jewish holiday. Eight d-d-days of celeb-bration. It’s ab-bout a miracle a long t-t-time ago. P-p-please c-c-come. The food’s g-g-good. I t-t-told my family ab-bout you – they want t-to meet you. They want you t-t-to c-come.”
Heyes looked gratefully but uncertainly at Jim, unable to ask his many questions.
Jim looked his roommate in the eye. He was ready to reveal something that he had hidden until now. “Yeah, you already know - I’m as J-j-jewish as anybody on H-h-hester S-s-street. My r-real name is G-gelbfisch. Joachim G-gelbfisch. Smith is an alias – t-t-to help k-k-keep the gang who k-k-killed my father away. B-b-but t-t-tonight I’m a Gelbfisch again.”
Joshua’s mouth came open and he quickly shut it. He ached with the knowledge that he was unable to return his friend’s trust by telling Jim his own real name. He couldn’t endanger an innocent Jewish boy and his family that way. And he was unable to say his own name, anyway. But he was grateful to be given Jim’s trust and he had to say so. It was so hard for him to say anything as complicated as this required. Heyes finally settled for slowly saying, with his usual pause in front of each word, “Thank you. I will come. But I don’t know . . .”
“You d-d-don’t have to know anything about the r-religion. You would b-b-be our g-g-guest. J-just c-c-come and eat. P-p-please, Joshua!”
“Yes. But I don’t . . .” Joshua Smith gestured in frustration.
He didn’t have the vocabulary yet to say what he wanted. Jim understood. “You d-d-don’t need t-t-to b-b-bring anything. P-p-parents give t-t-to their children. Nob-body else g-gives g-gifts. They j-just s-sing. And you d-d-don’t have t-t-to . . .”
Heyes suddenly had an idea. He gestured to his guitar. “Could I . . .”
Jim grinned. “That’s a g-g-great idea! B-b-bring it!”
So Heyes washed up and dressed in his best suit and went with Jim carrying his guitar in an old feed sack. As they went down the street, Heyes looked at Jim felt very close to this young friend who had taken him into his home. Joshua Smith wanted so much to say something else that he couldn’t get out. All he could manage was, “Jim . . . thank you.” Even if he had had the words, Heyes couldn’t have spoken his real thoughts without weeping. Tonight, at a family seasonal celebration, each young man could be the other’s brother in place of the one that had been lost to violence.
Jim’s aunt and uncle lived in another crowded tenement on Hester Street. As they got close, Jim said, “D-d-don’t worry, J-joshua. My uncle s-speaks g-g-good English.”
When Jim knocked on the door, it was opened by a bearded little man in a worn black top hat. It was easy to see that he was a close relative of Jim’s. Behind their host, Heyes saw a room that was crowded with laughing people but as neat as a pin. The smell of good things baking flooded to meet the newcomers. Jim greeted his uncle, “Ah Lichtige H-h-hanukkah, F-f-feter. Here – I b-b-brought my roommate, Joshua Smith. Joshua, meet my uncle, Avrum G-Gelbfisch."
“Welcome, Joshua!” said Jim’s uncle warmly in the heavy accent that Heyes heard in the streets of his neighborhood every day.
Heyes shook his host’s hand with an awkward smile. “Thank you, sir. . .”
“Uncle,” said Jim, glancing compassionately at his roommate, “Joshua w-would like to wish you a h-h-happy H-h-hanukkah, I know, b-b-but he c-c-can’t say it y-yet. He c-can’t say new names, either. You underst-stand.”
Heyes nodded. Jim’s uncle gave Joshua Smith a warm, supportive look. “Oh, you’re like Joachim was. Don’t worry, young man. We understand. Such a curse! But we know you’ll get better, like my nephew did. Come and meet everyone. Most of them don’t speak much English except the youngsters like Joachim, here, so we will ask your understanding, as well.”
“Farshteyt zikh, mayn her,” said Heyes cautiously, hoping he had the right words for “Of course, sir.”
Mr. Gelbfisch looked up in delighted surprise. “You speak Yiddish! And so politely, too.”
“Etvos,” said Heyes modestly.
Mr. Gelbfisch laughed happily, “Oh, it sounds like more than a little – and with a good accent and nice manners!”
Soon Heyes was meeting such a procession of relatives and friends with strange-sounding Yiddish names that, even with his superb memory, he couldn’t keep them straight. Heyes hardly tried to speak to anyone – it was just too hard with so many strangers who didn’t speak much English. He tried only a few brief Yiddish phrases.
But a stunningly lovely young woman caught Heyes’ eye. She had flashing dark eyes and long, wavy black hair. Jim introduced her, “Joshua, this is my s-second-c-c-cousin D-devora. My father’s late c-cousin Ezra’s daughter.” Devora shyly gave Joshua Smith the loveliest smile he had ever seen. Jim explained, “D-devi, Joshua Smith is at the c-c-clinic. He’s like I was – h-hurt in the h-ead – c-c-can’t t-t-talk t-t-too good yet.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Devora, “I’m sorry.” She gestured gently to the wound on Smith’s temple, as if she wanted to heal it with a touch.
Heyes hated to be pitied, yet Devora’s gentle concern touched his heart. He looked helplessly at her. Devora bridged the gap easily. She gestured to the bag Heyes was carrying. “What is it in the bag, Mr. Smith?” Her voice was soft and warm. Heyes’ blood raced as he brought out his guitar. He began to play an old cowboy song and soon people were gathered around him. As he played, Devora gazed admiringly at him and he looked happily back. When Joshua Smith stopped playing, Devora began to sing a sweet, slow song in Yiddish, gesturing for Smith to follow her. He soon found himself learning the cords for some traditional Yiddish songs, while the family stood around him harmonizing beautifully.
When Heyes grew tired of playing, Devora began to teach her new friend some Yiddish words. She gestured to the eight-branched candle holder on the table and said to him, “Menora.” Heyes shook his head. He had never heard the word before and couldn’t get his mouth around it. Devora repeated it once, and then again. Heyes carefully imitated her and she smiled, coming so close that he felt his breath catch in his throat. But he wasn’t going to make a pass at this girl in front of her family – he felt their dark eyes on him. Devora pointed to the table and said, “Tish.” Heyes took a deep breath and stumbled over the short word. Devora laughed, but warmly, not cruelly. Heyes laughed with her.
“No,” thought Heyes sadly. “She’s beautiful and so nice, but I can’t let this happen. This girl isn’t more than seventeen or eighteen. I’m almost twice her age, and not of her faith. She doesn’t know who I am. She would terrified if she knew. And her family would be betrayed by their guest.” Heyes tried after that to stay away from the lovely Jewish girl.
But when Heyes sat at the table to join the family for dinner, Devora sat next to him. He could hardly tell her that she couldn’t sit there. Heyes tried to concentrate on eating rather than on the beautiful young woman. The food was wonderful and the family welcomed their gentile guest warmly, gladly teaching him their holiday customs. But Heyes and Devora still wound up laughing together.
After dinner came the lighting of the menorah. Heyes had never heard of a menorah before Devora had shown it to him. He had certainly never seen one lit or heard the beautiful prayers and singing that accompanied the ceremony. He was surprised by how deeply he was moved by witnessing these simple but profound acts that had such meaning for his hosts and that were utterly new to him.
Of course, Heyes had always enjoyed children. After dinner, he gladly got down on the floor to play dreidel with the kids. Devora was visiting with her female relatives, but Heyes could feel their eyes on him and hear their laugher. One of Heyes’ greatest regrets as an outlaw had always been that he had so little contact with children. Now, he began to realize how much it would mean to him when, or if, amnesty allowed him to reconnect with the family life he had missed so desperately since the violent events that had effectively ended his childhood.
After that, Heyes played and sang a few more cowboy and Civil War songs for his hosts. Again, Devora stood nearby in the admiring crowd. Even the newest immigrants could sing along with Home Sweet Home. Heyes could sing just fine, even words he couldn't yet speak, if he had known the songs before he had been shot. There wasn't room in the crowded tenement to dance, but his hosts promised that when it was warm enough to dance in the streets, they would teach him some of their dances.
But as Heyes put down his guitar and moved toward Devora, he saw a grey-haired man watching him very closely with the hint of a frown. He had been watching Joshua Smith with Devora all evening. Heyes moved away to talk with Jim. “Who is that man?” he whispered.
“That’s D-d-devora’s st-t-tep f-father, T-tevyev. He’s w-watching you c-c-closer than she is.” Joshua nodded. He understood. The people around him were friendly; they gladly welcomed a gentile into their home and to their celebration. But he doubted they would welcome one into their family. Joshua waved to Devora, but did not go close to say a proper good-bye. He could see a hurt look in her face – her step-father and her mother had spoken to her as Jim had spoken to his roommate. Heyes soon excused himself and walked home alone through the cold New York streets. With his past, he knew all too well what it was like to be warned off of a nice girl. After that, Heyes felt even more lonely in the cold, dark streets of New York’s worst slum.
It was a few days later that Joshua Smith got home from his therapy and Jim Smith met him at the door with a big, brown cardboard box in his hand. “Hey, Josh, you g-g-got a p-p-package from C-c-colorado.”
“Thanks, Jim.” Heyes took the package and sat on his bed with it. It was obviously his Christmas present. He sat and stared at the package with Cat’s familiar handwriting on it almost as if it brought his distant friends with it.
On Christmas day, in a Jewish neighborhood, there was no celebration. But there was no one at the clinic on the holiday, either. So Heyes stayed in the little slum flat. Jim had gone to visit his family, but Heyes sat alone on his bed and opened his Christmas present. It was as a big, leather-bound history of the American West. Heyes saw the marker his friends had put in. On that page was a passage that noted, “The most famous outlaws in the history of Wyoming are the bank and train robbers Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, the leaders of the Devil’s Hole Gang. They became famous for using sophisticated and unpredictable methods in stopping trains and robbing banks. Moreover, they are popular with the public due to their reputation for avoiding hurting people. In fact, they are reputed never to have killed anyone in any of their many robberies. Curry is said to be the fastest gunman ever seen west of the Mississippi River, while Heyes is said to be possibly the most intelligent criminal – or man of any kind - in that region.” Heyes shook his head, trying to smile but unable to do so. It felt to him as if he was reading about strangers he had never met.
Really, his favorite gift was a long letter filled with news about Christy's place. The Kid and Cat had gone to a lot of trouble to fill it with details of all the colorful miners and gamblers and cowboys who came and went and to describe the snowy mountains around them and the stove-warmed rooms of Christy's so that Heyes would feel almost like he was there with them. In fact, he felt terribly lonesome sitting by himself reading the letter by lamplight in his tiny, chilly, dark tenement room.
In his lesson with Elizabeth Warren, Heyes was advancing in mathematics by leaps and bounds. It was fun and he didn’t hide this from his teacher. But his work didn’t end with numbers. He couldn’t really write at all, but he could read. He was reading and answering questions about new topics beyond what he had ever had a chance to study before. Now he was happily beginning to work on American and world history, geography, British and American literature, and that was just the beginning.
One afternoon Joshua Smith’s tutor said to her prize student, “Mr. Smith, there’s a place I’d like to introduce you to. It will allow you to read whatever you like. This will allow you to really direct your own work.
Joshua looked at her eagerly. “Where is it?” he asked slowly.
“Have you ever used a public library?” Smith shook his head. He had heard of public libraries, of course, but never entered or even seen one. To a farm boy from rural Kansas who had a curiosity bigger than the whole prairie, the idea of a place where a person could get access to as many books as he wanted for free had seemed like a distant myth. And now he finally could get into such a place.
Miss Warren explained, “I’m talking about the Astor Library, on Lafayette Street. It’s open 9:00 to 5:00, Monday through Saturday, for free. Let’s go there tonight – we’ll take off early so we get there long enough before they close for you to get in and get a library card. It’s not far away. Alright?”
Joshua smiled broadly. “Yes! Thank you!”
That night two people in heavy coats hurried out of the clinic and down the street. After they had walked a few chilly blocked, Miss Warren pointed to a grand red-brick building with arched windows and grand arched doorways in the rusticated stone first floor façade. They climbed the front steps and went in the impressive doors. Heyes’ jaw dropped as he stepped into the elegant interior with its lofty Corinthian columns and high ceilings. He had never seen, much less entered, so impressive a place in all his life. And it was devoted to books - thousands of books.
Miss Warren took her student to the front desk where a lady smiled at the Leutze clinic tutor. “Miss Warren,” said the librarian, “is this one of your students from the clinic?”
“Yes, Miss Cassatt, this is Joshua Smith. He’s from Colorado. Mr. Smith, this is Rosemary Cassatt, a librarian who has helped many of our patients.”
“Welcome, Mr. Smith!” said the welcoming grey-haired librarian. “Would you like to have a library card?”
“Yes, please, Miss,” said Heyes, still unable to say new names He flushed in embarrassment as he continued with painful deliberation. “I can’t write . . . yet. Can Miss Warren do it for me, please?” This was still a very long sentence for Joshua Smith to manage.
“Of course, sir,” said the clerk with a warm smile. “We are happy to have you as a patron.”
“Mr. Smith reads wonderfully, Miss Cassatt,” said Miss Warren. “And he’s a regular whiz at mathematics – he can write numbers. He could write letters just fine until he was injured in October. Here, Mr. Smith, I’ll fill out the form for you and Miss Cassatt will make up a card.”
The librarian explained that while books could not be taken away from building, Mr. Smith could read as much of whatever he wanted in the reading room during business hours. She showed him the shelves and the desks where people could read. Heyes loved the quiet, elegant reading room immediately. There dozens of people, young and old, gathered to pour over all kinds of books.
Heyes was stunned as he saw the vast array of volumes available on every conceivable subject. It was hard for Heyes to leave the place when they closed at 5:00. After that thrilling evening, he got to the Astor Library as often as he could. He spent hours nearly every evening and Saturday sitting on one of the leather chairs at a polished wood table reading whatever he felt like or needed for his lessons.
Heyes could read about anything that interested him – like history and geography. He especially enjoyed reading about exotic places that were new to him. He couldn't help taking a special interest in South America, where he and the Kid had so often threatened to vanish. Then there was poetry; he developed a real fondness for John Donne's witty love poems, wishing he had a girl to try them on, and the ability to say all the lovely words. And he read about engineering, and, of course, mathematics. Even while it was impossible for him to write out anything that he was thinking and learning, he enjoyed reading by the hour. He couldn't help wondering, however, what the people there would think if they could know who he really was. It was quite a change from the dusty western bars where Heyes had spent so much time. Heyes was particularly entranced by reading Shakespeare's plays and pored over them many an evening.
Later in the winter, Miss Warren came to Joshua with another surprise as they finished a lesson on Shakespeare. “Mr. Smith, I’m taking a couple of students to a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing on Sunday afternoon. Would you like to come?”
“Would I ever!” exclaimed her enthusiastic student. They had recently read the play and he had loved it.
Heyes had been to a couple of crude theatricals in western towns, but nothing like this. The elegant theater was impressive, but the play itself was totally fascinating to him. The same intricate lines that he had read in class now came to life on the stage. The unfamiliar Elizabethan language, spoken aloud, suddenly made much better sense. He laughed in delight at the barbed wit exchanged by the leading man and woman in their elaborate renaissance costumes. The ex-outlaw had a truly wonderful time.
And yet, the play served as a pointed reminder of all he still could not do yet. The man who had used to have a silver tongue was certainly not up to verbal sparring like Benedick engaged in with the lovely Beatrice. Heyes was still hobbled by a very limited vocabulary that he could employ only very slowly. Besides, he had never dated a woman with such a ready wit as that. He wished he could afford to go to the theater more often. He also wished he could ever have the chance to meet, much less court, a smart lady like Beatrice. Now there was a woman who was the mental equal of any man – even the smartest man west of the Mississippi.
Historical note – the Astor Library was one of the ancestors of the current New York Public Library. The building where the Astor Library once was still stands. It is now the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.