A CHAPARRAL CHRISTMAS GIFT
by O. Henry
The original cause of the trouble was about twenty
years in growing.
At the end of that time it was worth it.
Had you lived anywhere within fifty miles of Sundown
Ranch you would have heard of it. It possessed a
quantity of jet-black hair, a pair of extremely frank,
deep-brown eyes and a laugh that rippled across the
prairie like the sound of a hidden brook. The name of
it was Rosita McMullen; and she was the daughter of
old man McMullen of the Sundown Sheep Ranch.
There came riding on red roan steeds--or, to be more
explicit, on a paint and a flea-bitten sorrel--two
wooers. One was Madison Lane, and the other was the
Frio Kid. But at that time they did not call him the
Frio Kid, for he had not earned the honors of special
nomenclature. His name was simply Johnny McRoy.
It must not be supposed that these two were the sum of
the agreeable Rosita's admirers. The bronchos of a dozen
others champed their bits at the long hitching rack of
the Sundown Ranch. Many were the sheeps'-eyes that were
cast in those savannas that did not belong to the flocks
of Dan McMullen. But of all the cavaliers, Madison Lane
and Johnny McRoy galloped far ahead, wherefore they are
to be chronicled.
Madison Lane, a young cattleman from the Nueces country,
won the race. He and Rosita were married one Christmas
day. Armed, hilarious, vociferous, magnanimous, the
cowmen and the sheepmen, laying aside their hereditary
hatred, joined forces to celebrate the occasion.
Sundown Ranch was sonorous with the cracking of jokes
and sixshooters, the shine of buckles and bright eyes,
the outspoken congratulations of the herders of kine.
But while the wedding feast was at its liveliest there
descended upon it Johnny McRoy, bitten by jealousy,
like one possessed.
"I'll give you a Christmas present," he yelled, shrilly,
at the door, with his .45 in his hand. Even then he had
some reputation as an offhand shot.
His first bullet cut a neat underbit in Madison Lane's
right ear. The barrel of his gun moved an inch. The
next shot would have been the bride's had not Carson,
a sheepman, possessed a mind with triggers somewhat
well oiled and in repair. The guns of the wedding party
had been hung, in their belts, upon nails in the wall
when they sat at table, as a concession to good taste.
But Carson, with great promptness, hurled his plate of
roast venison and frijoles at McRoy, spoiling his aim.
The second bullet, then, only shattered the white petals
of a Spanish dagger flower suspended two feet above
The guests spurned their chairs and jumped for their
weapons. It was considered an improper act to shoot
the bride and groom at a wedding. In about six seconds
there were twenty or so bullets due to be whizzing in
the direction of Mr. McRoy.
"I'll shoot better next time," yelled Johnny; "and
there'll be a next time." He backed rapidly out the
Carson, the sheepman, spurred on to attempt further
exploits by the success of his plate-throwing, was
first to reach the door. McRoy's bullet from the
darkness laid him low.
The cattlemen then swept out upon him, calling for
vengeance, for, while the slaughter of a sheepman
has not always lacked condonement, it was a decided
misdemeanor in this instance. Carson was innocent;
he was no accomplice at the matrimonial proceedings;
nor had any one heard him quote the line "Christmas
comes but once a year" to the guests.
But the sortie failed in its vengeance. McRoy was on
his horse and away, shouting back curses and threats
as he galloped into the concealing chaparral.
That night was the birthnight of the Frio Kid. He became
the "bad man" of that portion of the State. The rejection
of his suit by Miss McMullen turned him to a dangerous man.
When officers went after him for the shooting of Carson,
he killed two of them, and entered upon the life of an
outlaw. He became a marvelous shot with either hand. He
would turn up in towns and settlements, raise a quarrel
at the slightest opportunity, pick off his man and laugh
at the officers of the law. He was so cool, so deadly, so
rapid, so inhumanly bloodthirsty that none but faint
attempts were ever made to capture him. When he was at
last shot and killed by a little one-armed Mexican who
was nearly dead himself from fright, the Frio Kid had the
deaths of eighteen men on his head. About half of these
were killed in fair duels depending upon the quickness
of the draw. The other half were men whom he assassinated
from absolute wantonness and cruelty.
Many tales are told along the border of his impudent
courage and daring. But he was not one of the breed of
desperadoes who have seasons of generosity and even of
softness. They say he never had mercy on the object of
his anger. Yet at this and every Christmastide it is
well to give each one credit, if it can be done, for
whatever speck of good he may have possessed. If the
Frio Kid ever did a kindly act or felt a throb of
generosity in his heart it was once at such a time and
season, and this is the way it happened.
One who has been crossed in love should never breathe
the odor from the blossoms of the ratama tree. It stirs
the memory to a dangerous degree.
One December in the Frio country there was a ratama tree
in full bloom, for the winter had been as warm as
springtime. That way rode the Frio Kid and his satellite
and co-murderer, Mexican Frank. The Kid reined in his
mustang, and sat in his saddle, thoughtful and grim,
with dangerously narrowing eyes. The rich, sweet scent
touched him somewhere beneath his ice and iron.
"I don't know what I been thinking about, Mex," he
remarked in his usual mild drawl, "to have forgot all
about a Christmas present I got to give. I'm going to
ride over to-morrow night and shoot Madison Lane in his
own house. He got my girl--Rosita would have had me if
he hadn't cut into the game. I wonder why I happened to
overlook it up to now?"
"Ah, shucks, Kid," said Mexican, "don't talk foolishness.
You know you can't get within a mile of Mad Lane's house
to-morrow night. I see old man Allen day before yesterday,
and he says Mad is going to have Christmas doings at his
house. You remember how you shot up the festivities when
Mad was married, and about the threats you made? Don't you
suppose Mad Lane'll kind of keep his eye open for a certain
Mr. Kid? You plumb make me tired, Kid, with such remarks."
"I'm going," repeated the Frio Kid, without heat, "to go
to Madison Lane's Christmas doings, and kill him. I ought
to have done it a long time ago. Why, Mex, just two weeks
ago I dreamed me and Rosita was married instead of her and
him; and we was living in a house, and I could see her
smiling at me, and--oh! h--l, Mex, he got her; and I'll
get him--yes, sir, on Christmas Eve he got her, and then's
when I'll get him."
"There's other ways of committing suicide," advised
Mexican. "Why don't you go and surrender to the sheriff?"
"I'll get him," said the Kid.
Christmas Eve fell as balmy as April. Perhaps there was
a hint of far-away frostiness in the air, but it tingled
like seltzer, perfumed faintly with late prairie blossoms
and the mesquite grass.
When night came the five or six rooms of the ranch-house
were brightly lit. In one room was a Christmas tree, for
the Lanes had a boy of three, and a dozen or more guests
were expected from the nearer ranches.
At nightfall Madison Lane called aside Jim Belcher and
three other cowboys employed on his ranch.
"Now, boys," said Lane, "keep your eyes open. Walk around
the house and watch the road well. All of you know the
'Frio Kid,' as they call him now, and if you see him, open
fire on him without asking any questions. I'm not afraid
of his coming around, but Rosita is. She's been afraid
he'd come in on us every Christmas since we were married."
The guests had arrived in buckboards and on horseback,
and were making themselves comfortable inside.
The evening went along pleasantly. The guests enjoyed
and praised Rosita's excellent supper, and afterward the
men scattered in groups about the rooms or on the broad
"gallery," smoking and chatting.
The Christmas tree, of course, delighted the youngsters,
and above all were they pleased when Santa Claus himself
in magnificent white beard and furs appeared and began to
distribute the toys.
"It's my papa," announced Billy Sampson, aged six. "I've
seen him wear 'em before."
Berkly, a sheepman, an old friend of Lane, stopped
Rosita as she was passing by him on the gallery,
where he was sitting smoking.
"Well, Mrs. Lane," said he, "I suppose by this Christmas
you've gotten over being afraid of that fellow McRoy,
haven't you? Madison and I have talked about it, you
"Very nearly," said Rosita, smiling, "but I am still
nervous sometimes. I shall never forget that awful time
when he came so near to killing us."
"He's the most cold-hearted villain in the world," said
Berkly. "The citizens all along the border ought to turn
out and hunt him down like a wolf."
"He has committed awful crimes," said Rosita, "but--I--don't--know.
I think there is a spot of good somewhere in everybody. He
was not always bad--that I know."
Rosita turned into the hallway between the rooms. Santa
Claus, in muffling whiskers and furs, was just coming
"I heard what you said through the window, Mrs. Lane,"
he said. "I was just going down in my pocket for a
Christmas present for your husband. But I've left one
for you, instead. It's in the room to your right."
"Oh, thank you, kind Santa Claus," said Rosita, brightly.
Rosita went into the room, while Santa Claus stepped into
the cooler air of the yard.
She found no one in the room but Madison.
"Where is my present that Santa said he left for me in
here?" she asked.
"Haven't seen anything in the way of a present," said
her husband, laughing, "unless he could have meant me."
The next day Gabriel Radd, the foreman of the X O Ranch,
dropped into the post-office at Loma Alta.
"Well, the Frio Kid's got his dose of lead at last," he
remarked to the postmaster.
"That so? How'd it happen?"
"One of old Sanchez's Mexican sheep herders did it!--think
of it! the Frio Kid killed by a sheep herder! The Greaser
saw him riding along past his camp about twelve o'clock
last night, and was so skeered that he up with a Winchester
and let him have it. Funniest part of it was that the Kid
was dressed all up with white Angora-skin whiskers and a
regular Santy Claus rig-out from head to foot. Think of
the Frio Kid playing Santy!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~