ROUND THE CIRCLE
by O. Henry
"Find yo' shirt all right, Sam?" asked Mrs. Webber,
from her chair under the live-oak, where she was
comfortably seated with a paper-back volume for
"It balances perfeckly, Marthy," answered Sam,
with a suspicious pleasantness in his tone. "At
first I was about ter be a little reckless and
kick 'cause ther buttons was all off, but since
I diskiver that the button holes is all busted
out, why, I wouldn't go so fur as to say the
buttons is any loss to speak of."
"Oh, well," said his wife, carelessly, "put on
your necktie--that'll keep it together."
Sam Webber's sheep ranch was situated in the
loneliest part of the country between the Nueces
and the Frio. The ranch house--a two-room, box
structure--was on the rise of a gently swelling
hill in the midst of a wilderness of high chaparral.
In front of it was a small clearing where stood
the sheep pens, shearing shed, and wool house.
Only a few feet back of it began the thorny jungle.
Sam was going to ride over to the Chapman ranch to
see about buying some more improved merino rams.
At length he came out, ready for his ride. This
being a business trip of some importance, and
the Chapman ranch being almost a small town in
population and size, Sam had decided to "dress up"
accordingly. The result was that he had transformed
himself from a graceful, picturesque frontiersman
into something much less pleasing to the sight.
The tight white collar awkwardly constricted his
muscular, mahogany-colored neck. The buttonless
shirt bulged in stiff waves beneath his unbuttoned
vest. The suit of "ready-made" effectually concealed
the fine lines of his straight, athletic figure.
His berry-brown face was set to the melancholy
dignity befitting a prisoner of state. He gave
Randy, his three-year-old son, a pat on the head,
and hurried out to where Mexico, his favorite
saddlehorse, was standing.
Marthy, leisurely rocking in her chair, fixed her
place in the book with her finger, and turned her
head, smiling mischievously as she noted the havoc
Sam had wrought with his appearance in trying to
"Well, ef I must say it, Sam," she drawled, "you
look jest like one of them hayseeds in the picture
papers, 'stead of a free and independent sheepman
of ther State o' Texas."
Sam climbed awkwardly into the saddle.
"You're the one ought to be 'shamed to say so,"
he replied hotly. "'Stead of 'tendin' to a man's
clothes you al'ays settin' around a-readin' them
billy-by-dam yaller-back novils."
"Oh, shet up and ride along," said Mrs. Webber,
with a little jerk at the handles of her chair;
"you al'ays fussin' 'bout my readin'. I do a-plenty;
and I'll read when I wanter. I live in the bresh
here like a varmint, never seein' nor hearin'
nothin', and what other 'musement kin I have?
Not in listenin' to you talk, for it's complain,
complain, one day after another. Oh, go on, Sam,
and leave me in peace."
Sam gave his pony a squeeze with his knees and
"shoved" down the wagon trail that connected his
ranch with the old, open Government road. It was
eight o'clock, and already beginning to be very
warm. He should have started three hours earlier.
Chapman ranch was only eighteen miles away, but
there was a road for only three miles of the
distance. He had ridden over there once with one
of the Half-Moon cowpunchers, and he had the
direction well-defined in his mind.
Sam turned off the old Government road at the
split mesquite, and struck down the arroyo of the
Quintanilla. Here was a narrow stretch of smiling
valley, upholstered with a rich mat of green,
curly mesquite grass; and Mexico consumed those
few miles quickly with his long, easy lope. Again,
upon reaching Wild Duck Waterhole, must he abandon
well-defined ways. He turned now to his right up
a little hill, pebble-covered, upon which grew
only the tenacious and thorny prickly pear and
chaparral. At the summit of this he paused to
take his last general view of the landscape, for,
from now on, he must wind through brakes and
thickets of chaparral, pear, and mesquite, for
the most part seeing scarcely farther than twenty
yards in any direction, choosing his way by the
prairie-dweller's instinct, guided only by an
occasional glimpse of a far-distant hilltop, a
peculiarly shaped knot of trees, or the position
of the sun.
Sam rode down the sloping hill and plunged into
the great pear flat that lies between the
Quintanilla and the Piedra.
In about two hours he discovered that he was lost.
Then came the usual confusion of mind and the
hurry to get somewhere. Mexico was anxious to
redeem the situation, twisting with alacrity along
the tortuous labyrinths of the jungle. At the
moment his master's sureness of the route had
failed his horse had divined the fact. There were
no hills now that they could climb to obtain a
view of the country. They came upon a few, but so
dense and interlaced was the brush that scarcely
could a rabbit penetrate the mass. They were in
the great, lonely thicket of the Frio bottoms.
It was a mere nothing for a cattleman or a
sheepman to be lost for a day or a night. The
thing often happened. It was merely a matter of
missing a meal or two and sleeping comfortably
on your saddle blankets on a soft mattress of
mesquite grass. But in Sam's case it was different.
He had never been away from his ranch at night.
Marthy was afraid of the country--afraid of
Mexicans, of snakes, of panthers, even of sheep.
So he had never left her alone.
It must have been about four in the afternoon
when Sam's conscience awoke. He was limp and
drenched--rather from anxiety than the heat or
fatigue. Until now he had been hoping to strike
the trail that led to the Frio crossing and the
Chapman ranch. He must have crossed it at some
dim part of it and ridden beyond. If so he was
now something like fifty miles from home. If he
could strike a ranch--a camp--any place where
he could get a fresh horse and inquire the road,
he would ride all night to get back to Marthy
and the kid.
So, I have hinted, Sam was seized by remorse.
There was a big lump in his throat as he thought
of the cross words he had spoken to his wife.
Surely it was hard enough for her to live in
that horrible country without having to bear
the burden of his abuse. He cursed himself
grimly, and felt a sudden flush of shame that
overglowed the summer heat as he remembered
the many times he had flouted and railed at
her because she had a liking for reading
"Ther only so'ce ov amusement ther po' gal's got,"
said Sam aloud, with a sob, which unaccustomed
sound caused Mexico to shy a bit. "A-livin with
a sore-headed kiote like me--a low-down skunk
that ought to be licked to death with a saddle
cinch--a-cookin' and a-washin' and a-livin' on
mutton and beans--and me abusin' her fur takin'
a squint or two in a little book!"
He thought of Marthy as she had been when he
first met her in Dogtown--smart, pretty, and
saucy--before the sun had turned the roses in
her cheeks brown and the silence of the chaparral
had tamed her ambitions.
"Ef I ever speaks another hard word to ther
little gal," muttered Sam, "or fails in the
love and affection that's comin' to her in
the deal, I hopes a wildcat'll t'ar me to
He knew what he would do. He would write to
Garcia & Jones, his San Antonio merchants
where he bought his supplies and sold his wool,
and have them send down a big box of novels and
reading matter for Marthy. Things were going to
be different. He wondered whether a little piano
could be placed in one of the rooms of the ranch
house without the family having to move out of
In nowise calculated to allay his self-reproach
was the thought that Marthy and Randy would
have to pass the night alone. In spite of their
bickerings, when night came Marthy was wont to
dismiss her fears of the country, and rest her
head upon Sam's strong arm with a sigh of peaceful
content and dependence. And were her fears so
groundless? Sam thought of roving, marauding
Mexicans, of stealthy cougars that sometimes
invaded the ranches, of rattlesnakes, centipedes,
and a dozen possible dangers. Marthy would be
frantic with fear. Randy would cry, and call
for "dada" to come.
Still the interminable succession of stretches
of brush, cactus, and mesquite. Hollow after
hollow, slope after slope--all exactly alike--all
familiar by constant repetition, and yet all
strange and new. If he could only arrive somewhere.
The straight line is Art. Nature moves in circles.
A straightforward man is more an artificial
product than a diplomatist is. Men lost in the
snow travel in exact circles until they sink,
exhausted, as their footprints have attested.
Also, travelers in philosophy and other mental
processes frequently wind up at their starting-point.
It was when Sam Webber was fullest of contrition
and good resolves that Mexico, with a heavy sigh,
subsided from his regular, brisk trot into a slow
complacent walk. They were winding up an easy slope
covered with brush ten or twelve feet high.
"I say now, Mex," demurred Sam, "this here won't
do. I know you're plumb tired out, but we got ter
git along. Oh, Lordy, ain't there no mo' houses
in the world!" He gave Mexico a smart kick with
Mexico gave a protesting grunt as if to say:
"What's the use of that, now we're so near?" He
quickened his gait into a languid trot. Rounding
a great clump of black chaparral, he stopped short.
Sam dropped the bridle reins and sat, looking
into the back door of his own house, not ten
Marthy, serene and comfortable, sat in her
rocking-chair before the door in the shade of
the house, with her feet resting luxuriously
upon the steps. Randy, who was playing with a
pair of spurs on the ground, looked up for a
moment at his father and went on spinning the
rowels and singing a little song. Marthy turned
her head lazily against the back of the chair
and considered the arrivals with emotionless
eyes. She held a book in her lap with her finger
holding the place.
Sam shook himself queerly, like a man coming
out of a dream, and slowly dismounted. He
moistened his dry lips.
"I see you are still a-settin'," he said,
"a-readin' of them billy-by-dam yaller-back
Sam had traveled round the circle and was
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~