While O. Henry’s usually liked to write about New York City, The Caballero’s Way takes place in Texas.
In the story, there are frequent references to a forest of pear. This refers to the prickly pear cactus, an interesting plant, but laden with spines.
The Cisco Kid liked to kill people. Sometimes he killed because he lost his temper or to avoid arrest, but he often killed merely to amuse himself. He was quick as a rattlesnake when he was compelled to draw his gun and shoot a hostile opponent, so sometimes he killed a person in a fair fight.
The Cisco Kid loved a girl named Tonia Perez. Tonia loved him in return and even admired his murderous daring.
Tonia lived in a grass-roofed hut called a jacal. In back of this humble dwelling was a forest of large cacti. She lived alone with her drunken father. There were no other residences bordering on her jacal, but there was a Mexican settlement a short distance away.
Hearing about the lawlessness of the Cisco Kid, the adjutant general of the state put pressure on the rangers at Laredo to deal with the matter.
The rangers had a man that was as awesome as the Cisco Kid. His name was Lieutenant Sandridge. He was the very man qualified to set things right.
He mounted his horse and rode to the Mexican village near Tonia’s jacal and asked the local residents to give him information concerning the troublesome outlaw. However, they merely shrugged their shoulders and professed ignorance. They were all afraid of the notorious killer.
Sandridge had more luck with a storekeeper named Fink. He told the lawman about the girl friend of the Cisco Kid.
Sandridge immediately rode to her residence. As he approached, Tonia was standing at the door of her house. They immediately fell in love with one another.
Sandridge taught Tonia how to plait a six-strand rawhide stake rope. It was hard to learn, so he had to visit her often. He knew that the Cisco Kid might visit Tonia at any time, so he kept his eyes open while he was there.
One day the Cisco Kid shot up a saloon in a nearby village. He killed the town marshal, but he was not satisfied. It was no fun killing an old man who had an inferior gun. So he decided to visit his girl friend so that she would cheer him up.
As he rode through the pear flat that separated him from the jacal of Tonia, he started to sing. He was not a good singer. He sounded like a coyote with bronchitis, and he knew only one song. Its lyrics were as follows: “Don’t you monkey with my Lulu girl or I’ll tell you what I’ll do, etc.”
Fortunately, no one was present to listen to his squawking except his roan, and the horse did not mind. Eventually his laryngeal muscles grew weary, so he stopped singing.
As he approached the jacal of his girl friend, he evidently noticed something suspicious. He dismounted and crept forward noiselessly on foot. When he reached the end of the pear thicket, he stationed himself in a hiding place from which he could observe his girl friend.
He saw Tonia plaiting a rawhide lariat. Her head was resting against the chest of Sandridge, and the arm of Sandridge was around her.
The Cisco Kid grabbed for his gun but decided not to fire. Instead, he listened to their conversation.
He listened as they expressed their love for one another and discussed the danger that Sandridge would face if the Cisco Kid found him there. He also heard how they planned to trap him.
Tonia told Sandridge that she expected the Cisco Kid to visit her soon. She asked him not to visit her any more until she sent him a message informing him that the Cisco Kid had arrived. A boy named Gregorio would deliver the message.
Tonia emphasized that the Cisco Kid had to be killed. Otherwise they would never be safe. He urged Sandridge to bring some men along, but Sandridge wanted to face the outlaw alone.
After Sandridge had left, the Cisco Kid crept back to his horse. He waited for a half hour, and then started singing again as he approached the jacal of Tonia.
Tonia greeted him affectionately, and they seemed to be lovers. To the superficial observer, it seemed as if nothing had changed.
The Cisco Kid was in a dilemma. He had the ideals of a caballero (a knight0, and he was proud of his courteous treatment of ladies. In fact, the girls esteemed him and refused to believe that he was bad.
A man of his temperament could not simply ignore what had happened. Sandridge did not pose a problem. The Cisco Kid could kill his rival if he did not get killed first. But how could he wreak vengeance on Tonia. It was totally contrary to his code of ethics to lay a hand on a lady.
When Tonia asked the Cisco Kid how long he would be staying with her, he said that he wanted to rest up for two or three days. However, a half hour later he told her that he had a case of nerves. He felt as if somebody was behind every bush and tree waiting to shoot him. So he decided to leave early the next morning.
At midnight, a horseman named Domingo Sales rode into the camp of the rangers with a message for Sandridge. The message revealed that the Cisco Kid had come to visit Tonia shortly after Sandridge had left. It explained that the Cisco Kid originally planned to stay a few days but then changed his mind. He was going to leave the next morning while it was still dark.
The message also stated that the Cisco Kid had become suspicious of her. He thought that she had joined a conspiracy against him and that her confederates would be waiting to kill him as he rode away from the house. He was going to wear Tonia’s clothes as he rode away. He asked Tonia to prove her love for him by putting on his clothes and riding away first so that he would know whether Tonia was true to him or whether she had confederates who were lying in wait for him.
The message also instructed him to hide in a little shed near the jacal and to shoot the Cisco Kid quickly after she rode away in the clothes of the Cisco Kid.
As Sandridge waited in the wagon-shed, two figures emerged from the jacal. One was dressed in woman’s clothes, the other wore the garb of a man. After the latter rode away, Sandridge addressed the figure in woman’s clothes, saying: “Throw up your hands.” When the figure did not comply, he started shooting. There was no danger of missing, even though it was dark.
However, instead of killing the Cisco Kid, he had killed Tonia. From Tonia’s father, Sandridge learned that the Cisco Kid had written the message that he had received.
A mile away, the Cisco Kid was singing the only song he knew. Someone had indeed monkeyed with his Lulu girl, and he had acted. He had avenged himself without violating his code of ethics. He had not laid a finger on the lady.
Archive: Selected Stories from O. Henry