home | authors | books | about

Home -> O. Henry -> A Technical Error

A Technical Error

Short Stories


A Bird of Bagdad

A Blackjack Bargainer

A Call Loan

A Chaparral Christmas Gift

A Chaparral Prince

A Comedy in Rubber

A Cosmopolite in a Cafe

A Departmental Case

A Dinner at--------*

A Double-Dyed Deceiver

A Fog in Santone

A Harlem Tragedy

A Lickpenny Lover

A Little Local Colour

A Little Talk about Mobs

A Madison Square Arabian Night

A Matter of Mean Elevation

A Midsummer Knight's Dream

A Midsummer Masquerade

A Municipal Report

A Newspaper Story

A Night in New Arabia

A Philistine in Bohemia

A Poor Rule

A Ramble in Aphasia

A Retrieved Reformation

A Ruler of Men

A Sacrifice Hit

A Service of Love

A Snapshot at the President

A Strange Story

A Technical Error

A Tempered Wind

According to Their Lights

After Twenty Years

An Adjustment of Nature

An Afternoon Miracle

An Apology

An Unfinished Christmas Story

An Unfinished Story

Aristocracy Versus Hash

Art and the Bronco

At Arms With Morpheus

Babes in the Jungle


Between Rounds

Bexar Scrip No. 2692

Blind Man's Holiday

Brickdust Row

Buried Treasure

By Courier

Calloway's Code


Cherchez La Femme

Christmas by Injunction

Compliments of the Season

Confessions of a Humorist

Conscience in Art

Cupid a La Carte

Cupid's Exile Number Two


Dougherty's Eye-Opener

Elsie in New York

Extradited from Bohemia

Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled

Friends in San Rosario

From Each According to His Ability

From the Cabby's Seat

Georgia's Ruling


He Also Serves

Hearts and Crosses

Hearts and Hands

Helping the Other Fellow

Holding Up a Train

Hostages to Momus

Hygeia at the Solito

Innocents of Broadway

Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet

Jimmy Hayes and Muriel

Law and Order

Let Me Feel Your Pulse

Little Speck in Garnered Fruit

Lord Oakhurst's Curse

Lost on Dress Parade

Madame Bo-Peep, of the Ranches

Makes the Whole World Kin

Mammon and the Archer

Man About Town

Masters of Arts

Memoirs of a Yellow Dog

Modern Rural Sports

Money Maze

Nemesis and the Candy Man

New York by Camp Fire Light

Next to Reading Matter

No Story

October and June

On Behalf of the Management

One Dollar's Worth

One Thousand Dollars

Out of Nazareth

Past One at Rooney's


Proof of the Pudding

Psyche and the Pskyscraper

Queries and Answers

Roads of Destiny

Roses, Ruses and Romance

Rouge et Noir

Round the Circle

Rus in Urbe

Schools and Schools

Seats of the Haughty

Shearing the Wolf



Sisters of the Golden Circle


Sociology in Serge and Straw

Sound and Fury

Springtime a La Carte

Squaring the Circle

Strictly Business

Strictly Business

Suite Homes and Their Romance

Telemachus, Friend

The Admiral

The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes

The Assessor of Success

The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear

The Badge of Policeman O'Roon

The Brief Debut of Tildy

The Buyer From Cactus City

The Caballero's Way

The Cactus

The Caliph and the Cad

The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock

The Call of the Tame

The Chair of Philanthromathematics

The Champion of the Weather

The Church with an Overshot-Wheel

The City of Dreadful Night

The Clarion Call

The Coming-Out of Maggie

The Complete Life of John Hopkins

The Cop and the Anthem

The Count and the Wedding Guest

The Country of Elusion

The Day Resurgent

The Day We Celebrate

The Defeat of the City

The Detective Detector

The Diamond of Kali

The Discounters of Money

The Dog and the Playlet

The Door of Unrest

The Dream

The Duel

The Duplicity of Hargraves

The Easter of the Soul

The Emancipation of Billy

The Enchanted Kiss

The Enchanted Profile

The Ethics of Pig

The Exact Science of Matrimony

The Ferry of Unfulfilment

The Fifth Wheel

The Flag Paramount

The Fool-Killer

The Foreign Policy of Company 99

The Fourth in Salvador

The Friendly Call

The Furnished Room

The Gift of the Magi

The Girl and the Graft

The Girl and the Habit

The Gold That Glittered

The Greater Coney

The Green Door

The Guardian of the Accolade

The Guilty Party - An East Side Tragedy

The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss

The Hand that Riles the World

The Handbook of Hymen

The Harbinger

The Head-Hunter

The Hiding of Black Bill

The Higher Abdication

The Higher Pragmatism

The Hypotheses of Failure

The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson

The Lady Higher Up

The Last Leaf

The Last of the Troubadours

The Lonesome Road

The Lost Blend

The Lotus And The Bottle

The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein

The Making of a New Yorker

The Man Higher Up

The Marionettes

The Marquis and Miss Sally

The Marry Month of May

The Memento

The Missing Chord

The Moment of Victory

The Octopus Marooned

The Passing of Black Eagle

The Pendulum

The Phonograph and the Graft

The Pimienta Pancakes

The Plutonian Fire

The Poet and the Peasant

The Pride of the Cities

The Princess and the Puma

The Prisoner of Zembla

The Proem

The Purple Dress

The Ransom of Mack

The Ransom of Red Chief

The Rathskeller and the Rose

The Red Roses of Tonia

The Reformation of Calliope

The Remnants of the Code

The Renaissance at Charleroi

The Roads We Take

The Robe of Peace

The Romance of a Busy Broker

The Rose of Dixie

The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball

The Rubber Plant's Story

The Shamrock and the Palm

The Shocks of Doom

The Skylight Room

The Sleuths

The Snow Man

The Social Triangle

The Song and the Sergeant

The Sparrows in Madison Square

The Sphinx Apple

The Tale of a Tainted Tenner

The Theory and the Hound

The Thing's the Play

The Third Ingredient

The Trimmed Lamp

The Unknown Quantity

The Unprofitable Servant

The Venturers

The Vitagraphoscope

The Voice of the City

The Whirligig of Life

The World and the Door

Thimble, Thimble


To Him Who Waits

Tobin's Palm

Tommy's Burglar

Tracked to Doom

Transformation of Martin Burney

Transients in Arcadia

Two Recalls

Two Renegades

Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

Ulysses and the Dogman

Vanity and Some Sables

What You Want

While the Auto Waits

Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking

Witches' Loaves

I never cared especially for feuds, believing them to be even more
overrated products of our country than grapefruit, scrapple, or
honeymoons. Nevertheless, if I may be allowed, I will tell you of an
Indian Territory feud of which I was press-agent, camp-follower, and
inaccessory during the fact.

I was on a visit to Sam Durkee's ranch, where I had a great time
falling off unmanicured ponies and waving my bare hand at the lower
jaws of wolves about two miles away. Sam was a hardened person of
about twenty-five, with a reputation for going home in the dark with
perfect equanimity, though often with reluctance.

Over in the Creek Nation was a family bearing the name of Tatum. I
was told that the Durkees and Tatums had been feuding for years.
Several of each family had bitten the grass, and it was expected that
more Nebuchadnezzars would follow. A younger generation of each
family was growing up, and the grass was keeping pace with them. But I
gathered that they had fought fairly; that they had not lain in
cornfields and aimed at the division of their enemies' suspenders in
the back--partly, perhaps, because there were no cornfields, and
nobody wore more than one suspender. Nor had any woman or child of
either house ever been harmed. In those days--and you will find it
so yet--their women were safe.

Sam Durkee had a girl. (If it were an all-fiction magazine that I
expect to sell this story to, I should say, "Mr. Durkee rejoiced in a
fiancee.") Her name was Ella Baynes. They appeared to be devoted to
each other, and to have perfect confidence in each other, as all
couples do who are and have or aren't and haven't. She was tolerably
pretty, with a heavy mass of brown hair that helped her along. He
introduced me to her, which seemed not to lessen her preference for
him; so I reasoned that they were surely soul-mates.

Miss Baynes lived in Kingfisher, twenty miles from the ranch. Sam
lived on a gallop between the two places.

One day there came to Kingfisher a courageous young man, rather small,
with smooth face and regular features. He made many inquiries about
the business of the town, and especially of the inhabitants
cognominally. He said he was from Muscogee, and he looked it, with
his yellow shoes and crocheted four-in-hand. I met him once when I
rode in for the mail. He said his name was Beverly Travers, which
seemed rather improbable.

There were active times on the ranch, just then, and Sam was too busy
to go to town often. As an incompetent and generally worthless guest,
it devolved upon me to ride in for little things such as post cards,
barrels of flour, baking-powder, smoking-tobacco, and--letters from

One day, when I was messenger for half a gross of cigarette papers
and a couple of wagon tires, I saw the alleged Beverly Travers in a
yellow-wheeled buggy with Ella Baynes, driving about town as
ostentatiously as the black, waxy mud would permit. I knew that
this information would bring no balm of Gilead to Sam's soul, so I
refrained from including it in the news of the city that I retailed
on my return. But on the next afternoon an elongated ex-cowboy of
the name of Simmons, an old-time pal of Sam's, who kept a feed store
in Kingfisher, rode out to the ranch and rolled and burned many
cigarettes before he would talk. When he did make oration, his words
were these:

"Say, Sam, there's been a description of a galoot miscallin' himself
Bevel-edged Travels impairing the atmospheric air of Kingfisher for
the past two weeks. You know who he was? He was not otherwise than
Ben Tatum, from the Creek Nation, son of old Gopher Tatum that your
Uncle Newt shot last February. You know what he done this morning?
He killed your brother Lester--shot him in the co't-house yard."

I wondered if Sam had heard. He pulled a twig from a mesquite bush,
chewed it gravely, and said:

"He did, did he? He killed Lester?"

"The same," said Simmons. "And he did more. He run away with your
girl, the same as to say Miss Ella Baynes. I thought you might like
to know, so I rode out to impart the information."

"I am much obliged, Jim," said Sam, taking the chewed twig from his
mouth. "Yes, I'm glad you rode Out. Yes, I'm right glad."

"Well, I'll be ridin' back, I reckon. That boy I left in the feed
store don't know hay from oats. He shot Lester in the back."

"Shot him in the back?"

"Yes, while he was hitchin' his hoss."

"I'm much obliged, Jim."

"I kind of thought you'd like to know as soon as you could."

"Come in and have some coffee before you ride back, Jim?"

"Why, no, I reckon not; I must get back to the store."

"And you say--"

"Yes, Sam. Everybody seen 'em drive away together in a buckboard,
with a big bundle, like clothes, tied up in the back of it. He was
drivin' the team he brought over with him from Muscogee. They'll be
hard to overtake right away."

"And which--"

"I was goin' on to tell you. They left on the Guthrie road; but
there's no tellin' which forks they'll take--you know that."

"All right, Jim; much obliged."

"You're welcome, Sam."

Simmons rolled a cigarette and stabbed his pony with both heels.
Twenty yards away he reined up and called back:

"You don't want no--assistance, as you might say?"

"Not any, thanks."

"I didn't think you would. Well, so long!"

Sam took out and opened a bone-handled pocket-knife and scraped a
dried piece of mud from his left boot. I thought at first he was
going to swear a vendetta on the blade of it, or recite "The Gipsy's
Curse." The few feuds I had ever seen or read about usually opened
that way. This one seemed to be presented with a new treatment.
Thus offered on the stage, it would have been hissed off, and one of
Belasco's thrilling melodramas demanded instead.

"I wonder," said Sam, with a profoundly thoughtful expression, "if the
cook has any cold beans left over!"

He called Wash, the Negro cook, and finding that he had some, ordered
him to heat up the pot and make some strong coffee. Then we went into
Sam's private room, where he slept, and kept his armoury, dogs, and the
saddles of his favourite mounts. He took three or four six-shooters
out of a bookcase and began to look them over, whistling "The Cowboy's
Lament" abstractedly. Afterward he ordered the two best horses on the
ranch saddled and tied to the hitching-post.

Now, in the feud business, in all sections of the country, I have
observed that in one particular there is a delicate but strict
etiquette belonging. You must not mention the word or refer to the
subject in the presence of a feudist. It would be more reprehensible
than commenting upon the mole on the chin of your rich aunt. I found,
later on, that there is another unwritten rule, but I think that
belongs solely to the West.

It yet lacked two hours to supper-time; but in twenty minutes Sam and
I were plunging deep into the reheated beans, hot coffee, and cold

"Nothing like a good meal before a long ride," said Sam. "Eat hearty."

I had a sudden suspicion.

"Why did you have two horses saddled?" I asked.

"One, two--one, two," said Sam. "You can count, can't you?"

His mathematics carried with it a momentary qualm and a lesson. The
thought had not occurred to him that the thought could possibly occur
to me not to ride at his side on that red road to revenge and justice.
It was the higher calculus. I was booked for the trail. I began to
eat more beans.

In an hour we set forth at a steady gallop eastward. Our horses were
Kentucky-bred, strengthened by the mesquite grass of the west. Ben
Tatum's steeds may have been swifter, and he had a good lead; but if
he had heard the punctual thuds of the hoofs of those trailers of
ours, born in the heart of feudland, he might have felt that
retribution was creeping up on the hoof-prints of his dapper nags.

I knew that Ben Tatum's card to play was flight--flight until he
came within the safer territory of his own henchmen and supporters.
He knew that the man pursuing him would follow the trail to any end
where it might lead.

During the ride Sam talked of the prospect for rain, of the price of
beef, and of the musical glasses. You would have thought he had never
had a brother or a sweetheart or an enemy on earth. There are some
subjects too big even for the words in the "Unabridged." Knowing
this phase of the feud code, but not having practised it sufficiently,
I overdid the thing by telling some slightly funny anecdotes. Sam
laughed at exactly the right place--laughed with his mouth. When I
caught sight of his mouth, I wished I had been blessed with enough
sense of humour to have suppressed those anecdotes.

Our first sight of them we had in Guthrie. Tired and hungry, we
stumbled, unwashed, into a little yellow-pine hotel and sat at a
table. In the opposite corner we saw the fugitives. They were bent
upon their meal, but looked around at times uneasily.

The girl was dressed in brown--one of these smooth, half-shiny,
silky-looking affairs with lace collar and cuffs, and what I believe
they call an accordion-plaited skirt. She wore a thick brown veil down
to her nose, and a broad-brimmed straw hat with some kind of feathers
adorning it. The man wore plain, dark clothes, and his hair was
trimmed very short. He was such a man as you might see anywhere.

There they were--the murderer and the woman he had stolen. There we
were--the rightful avenger, according to the code, and the
supernumerary who writes these words.

For one time, at least, in the heart of the supernumerary there rose
the killing instinct. For one moment he joined the force of

"What are you waiting for, Sam?" I said in a whisper. "Let him have
it now!"

Sam gave a melancholy sigh.

"You don't understand; but _he_ does," he said. "_He_ knows. Mr.
Tenderfoot, there's a rule out here among white men in the Nation that
you can't shoot a man when he's with a woman. I never knew it to be
broke yet. You _can't_ do it. You've got to get him in a gang of men or
by himself. That's why. He knows it, too. We all know. So, that's
Mr. Ben Tatum! One of the 'pretty men'! I'll cut him out of the herd
before they leave the hotel, and regulate his account!"

After supper the flying pair disappeared quickly. Although Sam haunted
lobby and stairway and halls half the night, in some mysterious way
the fugitives eluded him; and in the morning the veiled lady in the
brown dress with the accordion-plaited skirt and the dapper young man
with the close-clipped hair, and the buckboard with the prancing nags,
were gone.

It is a monotonous story, that of the ride; so it shall be
curtailed. Once again we overtook them on a road. We were about
fifty yards behind. They turned in the buckboard and looked at us;
then drove on without whipping up their horses. Their safety no
longer lay in speed. Ben Tatum knew. He knew that the only rock of
safety left to him was the code. There is no doubt that, had he
been alone, the matter would have been settled quickly with Sam
Durkee in the usual way; but he had something at his side that
kept still the trigger-finger of both. It seemed likely that he
was no coward.

So, you may perceive that woman, on occasions, may postpone instead of
precipitating conflict between man and man. But not willingly or
consciously. She is oblivious of codes.

Five miles farther, we came upon the future great Western city of
Chandler. The horses of pursuers and pursued were starved and weary.
There was one hotel that offered danger to man and entertainment to
beast; so the four of us met again in the dining room at the ringing
of a bell so resonant and large that it had cracked the welkin long
ago. The dining room was not as large as the one at Guthrie.

Just as we were eating apple pie--how Ben Davises and tragedy
impinge upon each other!--I noticed Sam looking with keen
intentness at our quarry where they were seated at a table across the
room. The girl still wore the brown dress with lace collar and cuffs,
and the veil drawn down to her nose. The man bent over his plate,
with his close cropped head held low.

"There's a code," I heard Sam say, either to me or to himself, "that
won't let you shoot a man in the company of a woman; but, by thunder,
there ain't one to keep you from killing a woman in the company of a

And, quicker than my mind could follow his argument, he whipped a
Colt's automatic from under his left arm and pumped six bullets into
the body that the brown dress covered--the brown dress with the lace
collar and cuffs and the accordion-plaited skirt.

The young person in the dark sack suit, from whose head and from whose
life a woman's glory had been clipped, laid her head on her arms
stretched upon the table; while people came running to raise Ben Tatum
from the floor in his feminine masquerade that had given Sam the
opportunity to set aside, technically, the obligations of the code.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary