Author Study O. Henry a writer by Profession


Download 94.78 Kb.
Date conversion23.12.2016
Size94.78 Kb.
Author Study

O. Henry

A Writer by Profession

"It was never intended that I should write novels. . . . I was designed, created, and set going to write short stories, and as long as I stick to that I will have my measure of success. . . ."


O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter, who was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Will's mother died when he was three years old, leaving him to be raised by his aunt Lina, who ran a small private school. Under her guidance, Will developed a taste for literature and a talent for humorous drawing. He began by devouring dime novels but eventually moved on to one of his lifetime favorites, The Arabian Nights, as well as other classics.

Will left school at 15 and trained to be a pharmacist. The teenager spent many hours at his uncle's drugstore and gained a reputation as a prankster. Will would amuse the regular customers with his skillful caricature drawings of them or of the town elders.


By the age of 19, Porter was a licensed pharmacist, but a racking cough caused him concern. Both his mother and grandmother had died of tuberculosis, and Porter was terrified that he, too, might have the disease. In 1882, he moved to Texas—a state noted for its dry, healthy climate—where he lived on a cattle ranch. But Porter turned out to be an unusual cowboy, sometimes carrying a small dictionary in one pocket and a book of poems in the other.

Later, Porter moved to Austin. In his free time he would stroll the sidewalks absorbing the atmosphere and noting the colorful characters he met. Many of the short stories he would later write contain vivid profiles of Texas Rangers, cattle rustlers, train robbers, and other Westerners.

In 1887 Porter married a local girl, Athol Estes, whose connections helped him find work as a bank teller in Austin. To earn extra money, he submitted sketches to newspapers and magazines. In 1894, while still working at the bank, he started The Rolling Stone, a humorous weekly newspaper.

1862 Born September 11 Greensboro, North Carolina

1861-1865 Lincoln presidency; Civil War

1865 Mother dies; family moves in with aunt and grandmother.

1869 U.S. transcontinental railroad completed; joins East and West

1877 Works in uncle's drugstore

1876 Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.

1882 Moves to Texas

1886 Statue of Liberty is erected in New York Harbor.

1887 Marries Athol Estes

1894 Publishes The Rolling Stone

1898 Spanish-American-Cuban War

1898-1901 In prison

1902 Moves to New York City

1907 Marries Sara L. Coleman

1908 Henry Ford introduces the Model T.

1910 Dies June 5 in New York City

Did You Know?

O. Henry wrote about 300 short stories, most of them in the last ten years of his life.

He had only 23¢ in his pocket when he was admitted to a hospital just before his death.

His funeral service was mistak­enly scheduled for the same time as a wedding ceremony— a classic O. Henry touch.

One of America's most presti­gious literary prizes, the O. Henry Award, was established in 1918 in his honor.

While working in Austin, Texas, O. Henry started a weekly humor newspaper.


The paper lasted barely a year. Rumors were that Porter had used some of the money from the bank where he was working to finance his failing paper.


In 1896, Porter was arrested and charged with stealing funds. He fled to Honduras, although his family and friends believed he was merely an innocent victim. Porter returned to Texas several months later to keep watch at the bedside of his wife, who was to die, at 29, of tuberculosis.

It was while awaiting trial that Porter had his first short story published. In 1898 he was convicted and sentenced to five years in a federal prison. While serving his time, he supported his daughter, Margaret, by working as a pharmacist and writing stories about life in Central America and the Southwest. On his early release after only three years, Porter left behind his shameful identity as a convict. He changed his name to O. Henry, a name that soon would be known throughout America.

In 1902 O. Henry moved to New York City, where he was to live until his death writing weekly stories for newspapers and magazines. The vibrant city with its variety of inhabitants became the setting for 0. Henry's most famous stories, including "After Twenty Years." (page 155) In 1904 O. Henry published his first book of stories, Cabbages and Kings. With his next collection, The Four Million (1906), O. Henry became famous worldwide.

In 1907 O. Henry remarried. Unhappily, his health was failing, and, as was true for most of his life, he had no money. He continued to write at a furious pace, however, producing seven collections of short stories in the last three years of his life. When he died in 1910, O. Henry steadfastly refused to admit to his birth name.



Because O. Henry guarded the secret of his past so carefully, biographers have drawn heavily on his stories to explain the author himself. Certainly, he lived as colorful a life as many of his characters, and his stories show a unique understanding of people on both sides of the law.

Most of O. Henry's famous "Westerns" were inspired by his years in Texas, and one of his most popular characters— Jimmy Valentine of

"A Retrieved Reformation" (page 164)—was based on a safe­cracker he met while in prison. His tales are famous for their surprise endings, and the later stories are based on 0. Henry's life in New York City.


O. Henry lived on a cattle ranch in Texas in the 1880s. Cattle ranching had begun in Texas when settlers from Mexico arrived in the 1700s. After the Civil War, a new demand for beef turned ranching into big business. Cattle "kingdoms" spread over Texas.

The largest of these covered more then three million acres! Ranchers didn't fence their property but relied on cowboys to watch the cattle and drive them to market. Cowboys could be on a cattle drive for several months, depending on where they took the cattle.

More than 35,000 cowboys rode herd along the Texas cattle trails. Although folklore and picture postcards depicted the cowboy as Anglo-American, about 25 percent were African American and another 12 percent were Mexican vaqueros—cowboys who had worked in Texas since the days before Texas's independence. There were Native American cowboys, too, and a few women. O. Henry did not actually stray far from the ranch where he lived, but the forty-or-so stories he set in Texas are rich in the details and characters of frontier life.



After Twenty Years


Connect toYour Life

Into the Future In this story, two friends meet again after twenty years. They discover that their lives have taken different paths. Have you ever wondered what your life might be like in twenty years? In a small group, describe how you see yourself twenty years from now. How will you be different? What choices might you have made in order to achieve your goals?

Build Background


The main character in "After Twenty Years" has just returned to New York from the West, where he made his fortune. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, adventure seekers poured into the American West hoping to get rich.

WORDS TO KNOW Vocabulary Preview






Focus Your Reading


Surprise endings may be a sudden turn in the action or offer a new realization about the story. Usually there are events in the story that hint at, or foreshadow, future action. As you read "After Twenty Years," look for events that foreshadow the surprise ending.


When you read a story or other literary work, it helps to pause occasionally and monitor, or check your understanding. Keep in mind the reading strategies you have learned and apply a different one if you are having difficulty. Stopping and rereading descriptive passages or dialogue will help you understand twists in the plot.

READER'S NOTEBOOK As you read "After Twenty Years," make notes of points in the story that help you monitor, or keep track of, how the main characters are described by the author and by other characters in the story.



by O. Henry

Illustration by Stephen Peringer


---see picture

Rainy Night
(1929-30), Charles Ephraim Burchfield. Watercolor over pencil on paper, 30" x 42", San Diego Museum of Art. Gift of Anne R. and Amy Putnam.


The policeman on the beat moved up the avenue impressively. The impressiveness was habitual and not for show, for spectators were few. The time was barely ten o'clock at night, but chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh depeopled the streets.

Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye down the pacific1 thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a guardian of the peace. The vicinity was one that kept early hours. Now and then you might see the lights of a cigar store or of an all-night lunch counter, but the majority of the doors belonged to business places that had long since been closed.

When about midway of a certain block, the policeman suddenly slowed his walk. In the doorway of a darkened hardware store a man leaned, with an unlighted cigar in his mouth. As the policeman walked up to him, the man spoke up quickly.

"It's all right, officer," he said reassuringly. "I'm just waiting for a friend. It's an appointment made twenty years ago. Sounds a little funny to you, doesn't it? Well, I'll explain if you'd like to make certain it's all straight. About that long ago there used to be a restaurant where this store stands—`Big Joe' Brady's restaurant."

"Until five years ago," said the policeman. "It was torn down then."

The man in the doorway struck a match and lit his cigar. The light showed a pale, square- jawed face with keen eyes and a little white

1. pacific: calm and peaceful.


habitual (hə-bĭch'oo-əl) adj. established by long use

vicinity (vĭ-sĭn'ĭ-tē) n. neighborhood


scar near his right eyebrow. His scarf pin was a large diamond, oddly set.

"Twenty years ago tonight," said the man, "I dined here at 'Big Joe' Brady's with Jimmy Wells, my best chum and the finest chap in the world. He and I were raised here in New York, just like two brothers, together. I was eighteen and Jimmy was twenty. The next morning I was to start for the West to make my fortune. You couldn't have dragged Jimmy out of New York; he thought it was the only place on earth. Well, we agreed that night that we would meet here again exactly twenty years from that date and time, no matter what our conditions might be or from what distance we might have to come. We figured that in twenty years each of us ought to have our destiny2 worked out and our fortunes made, whatever they were going to be."

"It sounds pretty interesting," said the policeman. "Rather a long time between meets, though, it seems to me. Haven't you heard from your friend since you left?"

"Well, yes, for a time we corresponded," said the other. "But after a year or two we lost track of each other. You see, the West is a pretty big proposition, and I kept hustling3 around over it pretty lively. But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he's alive, for he always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world. He'll never forget. I came a thousand miles to stand in this door tonight, and it's worth it if my old partner turns up."

The waiting man pulled out a handsome watch, the lids of it set with small diamonds.

"Three minutes to ten," he announced. "It was exactly ten o'clock when we parted here at the restaurant door."

"Did pretty well out West, didn't you?" asked the policeman.

"You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a kind of plodder, though, good fellow as he was. I've had to compete with some of the sharpest wits going to get my pile. A man gets in a groove4 in NewYork. It takes the West to put a razor edge on him."

The policeman twirled his club and took a step or two. "I'll be on my way. Hope your friend comes around all right. Going to call time on him sharp?"

"I should say not!" said the other. "I'll give him half an hour at least. If Jimmy is alive on earth, he'll be here by that time. So long, officer."

"Good night, sir," said the policeman, passing on along his beat, trying doors as he went.

There was now a fine, cold drizzle falling, and the wind had risen from its uncertain puffs into a steady blow. The few foot passengers astir in that quarter hurried dismally and silently along with coat collars turned high and pocketed hands. And in the door of the hardware store the man who had come a thousand miles to fill an appointment,

2. destiny: the fate or outcome of a person's life.

3. hustling (hŭs'əl-ĭng): moving or working energetically and rapidly.

4. groove: a long funnel or narrow channel; slang for a settled routine.


staunchest (stônch'əst) adj. strorest; most determined; most firm

dismally (dĭz'məl-1ē) adv in a gloomy or depressed manner


---see picture

Unfinished Portrait of Tadeusz Lempicki (about 1928), Tamara de Lempicka. Oil on canvas, 126 cm x 82 cm, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris. Copyright © 1999 Estate of Tamara de Lempicka/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


uncertain almost to absurdity, with the friend of his youth, smoked his cigar and waited.

About twenty minutes he waited, and then a tall man in a long overcoat, with collar turned up to his ears, hurried across from the opposite side of the street. He went directly to the waiting man.

"Is that you, Bob?" he asked, doubtfully.

"Is that you, Jimmy Wells?" cried the man in the door.

"Bless my heart!" exclaimed the new arrival, grasping both the other's hands with his own. "Yes Bob, sure as fate. I was certain I'd find you here if you were still in existence. Well, well, well!—twenty years is a long time. The old restaurant's gone, Bob; I wish it had lasted, so we could have had another dinner there. How has the West treated you, old man?"

"Bully5 it has given me everything I asked it for. You've changed lots, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall by two or three inches."

"Oh, I grew a bit after I was twenty."

"Doing well in New York, Jimmy?"

"Moderately, I have a position in one of the city departments. Come on, Bob; we'll go around to a place I know of and have a good long talk about old times."

The two men started up the street, arm in arm. The man from the West, his egotism6 enlarged by success, was beginning to outline the history of his character. The other, submerged in his overcoat, listened with interest.

At the corner stood a drugstore, brilliant with electric lights. When they came into this glare, each of them turned simultaneously to gaze upon the other's face.

The man from the West stopped suddenly and released his arm.

"You're not Jimmy Wells," he snapped. "Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to change a man's nose from a Roman to a pug."7

"It sometimes changes a good man into a bad one," said the tall man. "You've been under arrest for ten minutes, 'Silky' Bob. Chicago thinks you may have dropped over our way and wires us she wants to have a chat with you. Going quietly, are you? That's sensible. Now, before we go to the station, here's a note I was asked to hand to you. You may read it here at the window. It's from Patrolman Wells."

The man from the West unfolded the little piece of paper handed him. His hand was steady when he began to read, but it trembled a little by the time he had finished. The note was rather short.

Bob: I was at the appointed place on time. When you struck the match to light your cigar, I saw it was the face of the man wanted in Chicago. Somehow I couldn't do it myself, so I went around and got a plainclothes man to do the job.


5. bully: excellent; great.

6. egotism (ēgə-tĭz'əm): a sense of one's own great importance; conceit.

7. "change a man's nose from a Roman to a pug": a Roman nose has a high, prominent, bony ridge, whereas a pug nose is short and turned up at the end.


simultaneously (sī'məl-tā'nē-əs-1ē) adv happening or done at the same time



Connect to the Literature

1. What Do You Think? What are your feelings about the ending of this story? Explain.

Comprehension Check

How does "Silky" Bob describe his friend Jimmy to the policeman?

How has "Silky" Bob made his fortune?

Why doesn't Jimmy identify himself to "Silky" Bob right away?

Think Critically

2. Why do you think Jimmy turned his friend in?

Think About:

the arrangement Jimmy made with "Silky" Bob twenty years earlier

his loyalties as a police officer

his loyalty as a friend

3. Jimmy and "Silky" Bob promise to meet after twenty years. What does that say about their friendship twenty years earlier?


Review the notes you made in your READER'S NOTEBOOK. Compare the descriptions of the two main characters—Jimmy Wells and "Silky" Bob. How do they differ? How are they alike?

Extend Interpretations

5. Different Perspectives What if the story had been told from Jimmy Wells's perspective? Explain how the story would have been different.

6. Connect to Life What would you do if you were faced with the decision Jimmy had to make? Use details from the story when you respond.

Literary Analysis

SURPRISE ENDING A surprise ending is an unexpected outcome in the plot of a story. In "After Twenty Years," the moment when "Silky" Bob is arrested comes as a surprise.

The revelation that Jimmy Wells has become a police officer gives a new meaning to many details in the story. "Silky" Bob's description of Jimmy as the "truest, staunchest old chap," as a "kind of plodder," and as a "good fellow" are seen to mean something different from what "Silky" Bob meant when he first spoke the words.

Paired Activity With a partner, go back through the story and identify events in the plot that foreshadow the future outcome. What clues were there to Jimmy Wells's character? to "Silky" Bob's?

REVIEW CHARACTER The people who appear in stories are called characters. Both major and minor characters have traits and motives. Traits are qualities of the character's personality that are consistent, or aren't easily changed. Motives are emotions, wants, or needs that cause characters to act the way they do. Name some of Jimmy's and "Silky" Bob's traits and motives.



Grammar in Context: Subjects in Unusual Order

O. Henry surprises the reader with twists and turns in plot in "After Twenty Years." Similarly, he writes sentences with subjects that do not always come at the beginning of the sentence.

Twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, the officer. with his stal­wart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a guardian of the peace. ... When about midway of a certain block, the policeman suddenly slowed his walk. In the doorway of a darkened hardware store, a man leaned with an unlighted cigar in his mouth.

Many sentences use the basic subject-verb pattern.

I was eighteen. Jimmy was twenty. The officer spoke, The man stopped suddenly.

Placing the subject somewhere other than at the beginning of the sentence is one way to make your writing more interesting. Here are some suggestions:

1. Begin with an introduction.

Twenty years ago, I dined here with Jimmy Wells.

If Jimmy is alive on earth, he'll be here.

2. Another way to add variety to your writing is to invert the traditional subject-verb order.

At the corner stood a drug store.

3. Sentences that start with here or there always invert the subject-verb order.

Here is a note.

There were two strangers by the hardware store.

WRITING EXERCISE "After Twenty Years" ends with a note from Jimmy to Bob. Compose a reply (four sentences) from Bob to Jimmy. Use two of the methods discussed above to add variety to your writing.



Choose the word or group of words that means the opposite, or nearly the opposite, of the underlined Word to Know in each sentence.

1. Bob's clothing showed his wealth and habitual elegance.

A typical

B spontaneous

C unusual

D uncomfortable
2. Bob thought Jim the staunchest friend anybody could have.

F smartest

G most disloyal

H most honest

J strongest
3. Bob stood waiting in the vicinity of the darkened hardware store.

A doorway

B shadow

C block opposite

D neighborhood

4. Under the bright light of the electric streetlamps, the policeman and Bob turned simultaneously to see each other.

F separately

G instinctively

H quickly

I at the same time
5. Bob stood on the dark street, dismally reading Jim's letter.

A happily

B calmly

C slowly

D gloomily

Vocabulary Handbook See p. R24: Context Clues.


A Retrieved Reformation


Connect toYour Life

Making Friends In small groups, think up a list of characters in stories, books, and movies—or of people that you know—who change for the better or for the worse. How do you explain the reasons for the change in each of these characters? What do you think some of the most powerful motives for change are?

Build Background


Banks played an important role in the economy of small towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The National Banking Act of 1863 helped establish a system of federally chartered banks. In the late 1800s, Will Porter, who would later take the pen name 0. Henry, worked as a teller for the First National Bank in Austin, Texas.

FocusYour Reading


The plot of a story is usually set in motion by a conflict between opposing forces or characters. As the story moves ahead, the conflict increases until the moment of greatest intensity—the climax, or turning point. After the climax, the central conflict of the story is usually resolved in a part of the plot called the falling action. As you read, note how the conflict in "A Retrieved Reformation" is resolved.


Drawing connections between the different literary works you read will help you understand them better and enjoy them more. All of the important aspects of stories may be compared, including plot, characters, setting, point of view, and theme.

READER'S NOTEBOOK As you read "A Retrieved Reformation," note similarities and differences between the main characters of the story and those of "After Twenty Years." Also think about point of view in the two stories. Is the point of view the same in each? How does the point of view affect the way each story is told?

WORDS TO KNOW Vocabulary Preview












A Retrieved Reformation


---see picture

Portrait of Prince Eristoff (1925), Tamara de Lempicka, Courtesy of Barry Frideman Ltd., New York, Copyright © 1996 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SPADEM, Paris.


A guard came to the prison shoe shop, where Jimmy Valentine was assiduously stitching uppers, and escorted him to the front office. There the warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way. He had served nearly ten months of a four- year sentence. He had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest. When a man with as many friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had is received in the "stir" it is hardly worthwhile to cut his hair.

"Now, Valentine," said the warden, "you'll go out in the morning. Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You're not a bad fellow at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight."

"Me?" said Jimmy, in surprise. "Why, I never cracked a safe in my life."

"Oh, no," laughed the warden. "Of course not. Let's see, now. How was it you happened to get sent up on that Springfield job? Was it because you wouldn't prove an alibi for fear of compromising somebody in extremely high- toned society? Or was it simply a case of a mean old jury that had it in for you? It's always one or the other with you innocent victims."

"Me?" said Jimmy, still blankly virtuous. "Why, warden, I never was in Springfield in my life!"

"Take him back, Cronin," smiled the warden, "and fix him up with outgoing clothes. Unlock him at seven in the morning, and let him come to the bull-pen. Better think over my advice, Valentine."

At a quarter past seven on the next morning Jimmy stood in the warden's outer office. He had on a suit of the villainously fitting, ready- made clothes and a pair of the stiff, squeaky shoes that the state furnishes to its discharged compulsory guests.

The clerk handed him a railroad ticket and the five-dollar bill with which the law expected him to rehabilitate himself into good citizen­ship and prosperity. The warden gave him a cigar, and shook hands. Valentine, 9762, was chronicled on the books "Pardoned by Governor," and Mr. James Valentine walked out into the sunshine.

Disregarding the song of the birds, the waving green trees, and the smell of the flowers, Jimmy headed straight for a restaurant. There he tasted the first sweet joys of liberty in the shape of a broiled chicken and a bottle of white wine—followed by a cigar a grade better than the one the warden had given him. From there he proceeded leisurely to the depot. He tossed a quarter into the hat of a blind man sitting by the door, and boarded his train. Three hours set him down in a little town near the state line. He went to the cafe of one Mike Dolan and shook hands with Mike, who was alone behind the bar.

"Sorry we couldn't make it sooner, Jimmy, me boy," said Mike. "But we had that protest from Springfield to buck against, and the governor nearly balked. Feeling all right?"

"Fine," said Jimmy. "Got my key?"

He got his key and went upstairs, unlocking the door of a room at the rear. Everything was just as he had left it. There on the floor was still Ben Price's collar-button that had been torn from that eminent detective's shirt-band when


assiduously (ə-sĭj'oo-əs-lē) adv. in a steady and hard-working way

virtuous (vûr'choo-əs) adj. morally good; honorable

compulsory (kəm-pŭl'sa-rē) adj. that which must be done; required

rehabilitate (rē'ha-bil'i-tāt') v to restore to useful life, as through therapy and education

balk (bôk) v to refuse to move or act

eminent (ĕm'ə-nənt) adj. better than most others; very famous


they had overpowered Jimmy to arrest him.

Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suitcase. He opened this and gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar's tools in the East. It was a complete set, made of specially tempered steel, the latest designs in drills, punches, braces and bits, jimmies, clamps, and augers, with two or three novelties invented by Jimmy himself, in which he took pride. Over nine hundred dollars they had cost him to have made at ______________, a place where they make such things for the profession.

In half an hour Jimmy went downstairs and through the café. He was now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes, and carried his dusted and cleaned suitcase in his hand.

"Got anything on?" asked Mike Dolan, genially.

"Me?" said Jimmy, in a puzzled tone. "I don't understand. I'm representing the New York Amalgamated Short Snap Biscuit Cracker and Frazzled Wheat Company."

This statement delighted Mike to such an extent that Jimmy had to take a seltzer-and-milk on the spot. He never touched "hard" drinks.

A week after the release of Valentine, 9762, there was a neat job of safe-burglary done in Richmond, Indiana, with no clue to the author. A scant eight hundred dollars was all that was secured. Two weeks after that a patented, improved, burglar-proof safe in Logansport was opened like a cheese to the tune of fifteen hundred dollars, currency; securities and silver untouched. That began to interest the rogue catchers. Then an old-fashioned bank safe in Jefferson City became active and threw out of its crater an eruption of banknotes amounting to five thousand dollars. The losses were now high enough to bring the matter up into Ben Price's class of work. By comparing notes, a remarkable similarity in the methods of the burglaries was noticed. Ben Price investigated the scenes of the robberies, and was heard to remark: "That's Dandy Jim Valentine's autograph. He's resumed business. Look at that combination knob—jerked out as easy as pulling up a radish in wet weather. He's got the only clamps that can do it. And look how clean those tumblers were punched out! Jimmy never has to drill but one hole. Yes, I guess I want Mr. Valentine. He'll do his bit next time without any short-time or clemency foolishness."

Ben Price knew Jimmy's habits. He had learned them while working up the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick get-aways, no confed­erates,1 and a taste for good society—these ways had helped Mr. Valentine to become noted as a successful dodger of retribution. It was given out that Ben Price had taken up the trail of the elusive cracksman, and other people with burglar-proof safes felt more at ease.

1. confederates (kən-fĕd'ər-ĭts): accomplices or associates in crime.


retribution (rĕt' rə-byoo'shən) n. punishment for bad behavior

elusive (ĭ-loo' sĭv) adj. escaping from capture as by daring, cleverness, or skill


One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suitcase climbed out of the mailhack in Elmore, a little town five miles off the railroad down in the blackjack country of Arkansas. Jimmy, looking like an athletic young senior just home from college, went down the board sidewalk toward the hotel.

A young lady crossed the street, passed him at the corner, and entered a door over which was the sign "The Elmore Bank." Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man. She lowered her eyes and colored slightly. Young men of Jimmy's style and looks were scarce in Elmore.

Jimmy collared a boy that was loafing on the steps of the bank as if he were one of the stockholders, and began to ask him questions about the town, feeding him dimes at intervals. By and by the young lady came out, looking royally unconscious of the young man with the suitcase, and went her way.

"Isn't that young lady Miss Polly Simpson?" asked Jimmy, with specious guile.2

"Naw," said the boy. "She's Annabel Adams. Her pa owns this bank. What'd you come to Elmore for? Is that a gold watch- chain? I'm going to get a bulldog. Got any more dimes?"

Jimmy went to the Planters' Hotel, registered as Ralph D. Spencer, and engaged a room.

He leaned on the desk and declared his platform to the clerk. He said he had come to Elmore to look for a location to go into business. How was the shoe business, now, in the town? He had thought of the shoe business. Was there an opening?

The clerk was impressed by the clothes and manner of Jimmy. He, himself, was something of a pattern of fashion to the thinly gilded youth of Elmore, but he now perceived his shortcomings. While trying to figure out Jimmy's manner of tying his four-in-hand3 he cordially gave information.

Yes, there ought to be a good opening in the shoe line. There wasn't an exclusive shoe store in the place. The dry-goods and general stores handled them. Business in all lines was fairly good. Hoped Mr. Spencer would decide to locate in Elmore. He would find it a pleasant town to live in, and the people very sociable.

Mr. Spencer thought he would stop over in the town a few days and look over the situation. No, the clerk needn't call the boy. He would carry up his suitcase, himself; it was rather heavy.

Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix4 that arose from Jimmy Valentine's ashes—ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alterative attack of love—remained in Elmore, and prospered. He opened a shoe store and secured a good run of trade.

Socially he was also a success and made many friends. And he accomplished the wish of his heart. He met Miss Annabel Adams, and became more and more captivated by her charms.

At the end of a year the situation of Mr. Ralph Spencer was this: he had won the respect of the community, his shoe store was flourishing, and he and Annabel were engaged to be married in two weeks. Mr. Adams, the typical, plodding, country banker, approved of Spencer. Annabel's pride in him almost equaled her affection. He was as much at home in the family of Mr. Adams and that of Annabel's married sister as if he were already a member.

2. specious guile (spē'shəs gīl): innocent charm masking real slyness.

3. four-in-hand: a necktie tied in the usual way, that is, in a slipknot with the ends left hanging.

4. phoenix (fē'nĭks): a mythological bird that lived for over 500 years and then burned itself to death, only to rise out of its own ashes to live another long life. The phoenix is a symbol of immortality.


One day Jimmy sat down in his room and wrote this letter, which he mailed to the safe address of one of his old friends in St. Louis:


I want you to be at Sullivan's place, in Little Rock, next Wednesday night, at nine o'clock. I want you to wind up some little matters for me. And, also, I want to make you a present of my kit of tools. I know you'll be glad to get them—you couldn't duplicate the lot for a thousand dollars. Say, Billy, I've quit the old business—a year ago. I've got a nice store. I'm making an honest living, and I'm going to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now. It's the only life, Billy—the straight one. I wouldn't touch a dollar of another man's money now for a million. After I get married I'm going to sell out and go West, where there won't be so much danger of having old scores brought up against me. I tell you, Billy, she's an angel. She believes in me; and I wouldn't do another crooked thing for the whole world. Be sure to be at Sully's, for I must see you. I'll bring along the tools with me.

Your old friend,


On the Monday night after Jimmy wrote this letter, Ben Price jogged unobtrusively into Elmore in a livery buggy. He lounged about town in his quiet way until he found out what he wanted to know. From the drugstore across the street from Spencer's shoe store he got a good look at Ralph D. Spencer.

"Going to marry the banker's daughter are you, Jimmy?" said Ben to himself, softly. "Well, I don't know!" The next morning Jimmy took breakfast at the Adamses. He was going to Little Rock that day to order his wedding suit and buy something nice for Annabel. That would be the first time he had left town since he came to Elmore. It had been more than a year now since those last professional "jobs," and he thought he could safely venture out.

After breakfast quite a family party went down together—Mr. Adams, Annabel, Jimmy, and Annabel's married sister with her two little girls, aged five and nine. They came by the hotel where Jimmy still boarded, and he ran up to his room and brought along his suitcase. Then they went on to the bank. There stood Jimmy's horse and buggy and Dolph Gibson, who was going to drive him over to the railroad station.

All went inside the high, carved oak railings into the banking room—Jimmy included, for Mr. Adams's future son- in-law was welcome anywhere. The clerks were pleased to be greeted by the good- looking, agreeable young man who was going to marry Miss Annabel. Jimmy set his suitcase down. Annabel, whose heart was bubbling with happiness and lively youth, put on Jimmy's hat and picked up the suitcase. "Wouldn't I make a nice drummer?" said Annabel. "My! Ralph, how heavy it is. Feels

WORDS TO KNOW unobtrusively (ŭn'əb-troo'sĭv-1ē) adv in a way that attracts little or no attention


like it was full of gold bricks."

"Lot of nickel-plated shoehorns in there," said Jimmy, coolly, "that I'm going to return. Thought I'd save express charges by taking them up. I'm getting awfully economical."

The Elmore Bank had just put in a new safe and vault. Mr. Adams was very proud of it, and insisted on an inspection by everyone. The vault was a small one, but it had a new patented door. It fastened with three solid steel bolts thrown simultaneously with a single handle, and had a time lock. Mr. Adams beamingly explained its workings to Mr. Spencer, who showed a courteous but not too intelligent interest. The two children, May and Agatha, were delighted by the shining metal and funny clock and knobs.

While they were thus engaged Ben Price sauntered in and leaned on his elbow, looking casually inside between the railings. He told the teller that he didn't want anything; he was just waiting for a man he knew.

Suddenly there was a scream or two from the women, and a commotion. Unperceived by the elders, May, the nine-year-old girl, in a spirit of play, had shut Agatha in the vault. She had then shot the bolts and turned the knob of the combination as she had seen Mr. Adams do.

The old banker sprang to the handle and tugged at it for a moment. "The door can't be opened," he groaned. "The clock hasn't been wound nor the combination set."

WORDS TO KNOW unperceived (ŭn'pər-sēvd') adj. not seen


Agatha's mother screamed again, hysterically.

"Hush!" said Mr. Adams, raising his trembling hand. "All be quiet for a moment. Agatha!" he called as loudly as he could. "Listen to me." During the following silence they could just hear the faint sound of the child wildly shrieking in the dark vault in a panic of terror.

"My precious darling!" wailed the mother. "She will die of fright! Open the door! Oh, break it open! Can't you men do something?"

"There isn't a man nearer than Little Rock who can open that door," said Mr. Adams, in a shaky voice. "My God! Spencer, what shall we do? That child—she can't stand it long in there. There isn't enough air, and, besides, she'll go into convulsions from fright."

Agatha's mother, frantic now, beat the door of the vault with her hands. Somebody wildly suggested dynamite. Annabel turned to Jimmy, her large eyes full of anguish, but not yet despairing. To a woman nothing seems quite impossible to the powers of the man she worships.

"Can't you do something, Ralph—try, won't you?"

He looked at her with a queer, soft smile on his lips and in his keen eyes. "Annabel," he said, "give me that rose you are wearing, will you?"

Hardly believing that she had heard him aright, she unpinned the bud from the bosom of her dress, and placed it in his hand. Jimmy stuffed it into his vest pocket, threw off his coat and pulled up his shirt sleeves. With that act Ralph D. Spencer passed away and Jimmy Valentine took his place.

"Get away from the door, all of you," he commanded, shortly.

He set his suitcase on the table, and opened it out flat. From that time on he seemed to be unconscious of the presence of anyone else. He laid out the shining, queer implements swiftly and orderly, whistling softly to himself as he always did when at work. In a deep silence and immovable, the others watched him as if under a spell.

In a minute Jimmy's pet drill was biting smoothly into the steel door. In ten minutes—breaking his own burglarious record— he threw back the bolts and opened the door.

Agatha, almost collapsed, but safe, was gathered into her mother's arms.

Jimmy Valentine put on his coat, and walked outside the railings toward the front door. As he went he thought he heard a faraway voice that he once knew call "Ralph!" But he never hesitated. At the door a big man stood somewhat in his way.

"Hello, Ben!" said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. "Got around at last, have you? Well, let's go. I don't know that it makes much difference, now."

And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.

"Guess you're mistaken, Mr. Spencer," he said. "Don't believe I recognize you. Your buggy's waiting for you, ain't it?"

And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.



Connect to the Literature

1. What Do You Think? How did you react to Jimmy's decision to crack the safe? Explain.

Comprehension Check

Why was Jimmy sent to prison?

What successes does Jimmy have in Elmore?

How does Ben Price react when Jimmy cracks the safe?

Think Critically

2. Why do you think Ben Price lets Jimmy go free?

3. What is your opinion of Jimmy Valentine?

Think About:

Jimmy's history and what the warden says about his character

Jimmy's motives for changing

what Jimmy risks in opening the vault

4. How do you think Jimmy will explain his actions to Annabel?

5. Both Jimmy Valentine and Ben Price make important decisions. Who showed more courage? Explain.

Extend Interpretations

6. What If? Suppose Agatha had not been locked in the safe. Do you think Jimmy ever would have confessed his past to Annabel?


Review the notes you made in your READER'S NOTEBOOK. How would you describe the similarities and differences between the main characters in "A Retrieved Reformation" and "After Twenty Years"? Explain your response.

8. Connect to Life In both "After Twenty Years" and "A Retrieved Reformation," police officers have to make difficult decisions about turning someone in. If you were in the same situation as Ben Price, what would you do? Use details from the story to support your response.

Literary Analysis

FALLING ACTION The series of events that make up a story is its plot. The part of the plot in which the conflict intensifies is called the rising action. The point of highest tension is called the climax, or turning point. In "A Retrieved Reformation" the climax comes when Jimmy decides to crack the safe and free Agatha.

Jimmy's decision affects the resolution, or falling action, of the story. Because Jimmy has decided to sacrifice his own reputation to save Agatha, Ben makes the decision not to arrest Jimmy. In this way, the conflict that has moved the action of the story forward is resolved.

Group Activity Working with a small group, go back through the story and create a plot diagram. Identify events that advance the plot of "A Retrieved Reformation': Include events in the rising action, the climax, and the falling action (also called denouement).



Grammar in Context: Kinds of Sentences

Notice how O. Henry uses four types of sentences in "A Retrieved Reformation."

"Did the mean old jury have it in for you?"

The warden handed Jimmy his pardon.

"Stop cracking safes, and live straight."

"I never cracked a safe in my life!"

There are four types of sentences.

1. Declarative sentences make a statement. They end with a period (.):

The warden handed Jimmy his pardon.

2. Exclamatory sentences express strong emotion. They end with an exclamation point (!):

I never cracked a safe in my life!

3. Interrogative sentences ask a question. They are punctuated with a question mark (?):

Did the mean old jury have it in for you?

4. Imperative sentences issue a command. They end with a period (.):

Stop cracking safes, and live straight.

Connect to the Literature Reread the third paragraph on page 170. The mother whose daughter is trapped in the bank vault speaks almost entirely in exclamatory sentences. This series of exclamations expresses her intense anxiety for her daughter's well-being.

Usage Tip Use exclamation points sparingly in your writing unless you want to convey intense emotion.

WRITING EXERCISE Remember when you were five years old. Imagine how you would feel if, like Agatha in the story, you had been trapped in a bank vault. Write a short paragraph about your imagined experience. Use each sentence type—declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, and imperative. Be careful to use end punctuation correctly.

Connect to the Literature Look at page 165 of "A Retrieved Reformation!' Find an example of the four types of sentences.


EXERCISE: WORD MEANING On your paper, write True if the statement is true. Write False if the statement is false.

1. A prison sentence is common retribution for a serious crime.

2. A police officer may refuse a compulsory assignment and not suffer any consequences.

3. A virtuous person shows concern for others.

4. An unperceived crime is one observed by several eyewitnesses.

5. Lazy people work assiduously.

6. An eminent detective is likely to be new to the job.

7. To rehabilitate a criminal means to restore the person to honest ways.

8. You will attract much attention by entering a room unobtrusively.

9. Most thieves would not balk at stealing jewels.

10. An elusive criminal is easy to catch.

Vocabulary Handbook See p. R24: Context Clues.





Build Background

Not long after the motion picture's potential for visual storytelling was recognized, the first movies dealing with specific subject matters, or genres, began to appear.

Detective and gangster movies, westerns, adventure movies, science fiction and horror movies, dramatizations of literary classics, filmed versions of Shakespeare's plays, wacky comedies, and lavish musicals—all of these genres were introduced in the early years of filmmaking and remain popular with audiences today.

Although O. Henry would not live to see a movie himself, his story "A Retrieved Reformation" (page 164) played an important part in launching a popular type of American film, the gangster movie. In 1909, the year before O. Henry's death, playwright Paul Armstrong dramatized O. Henry's story of the reformed bank robber and gave it the title Alias Jimmy Valentine. The play was one of the biggest hits on Broadway in the years before World War I. O. Henry was delighted with the play's early popularity, but died without ever suspecting how truly successful the play would become.

The popularity of Alias Jimmy Valentine sparked a fashion for plays about the lives of criminals and the detectives who pursued them. This fashion occurred just as a new kind of artistic expression, motion pictures, was coming into being. In 1905 the first movie theater opened in the United States. Soon there were theaters across the nation.

By 1913 a number of studios producing motion pictures had established themselves in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, named Hollywood. Audiences were eager to see motion pictures, and Hollywood was on the lookout for screen plays to film. Alias Jimmy Valentine was filmed a total


of three times. In 1915 Maurice Touneur directed the first silent version. Audiences were fascinated with the reformed safe cracker and the detective who showed him mercy. Within five years, another silent version of the play was filmed. In 1927 the first "talkie," or movie with sound effects and dialogue, The Jazz Singer, was shown to the public. The next year Alias Jimmy Valentine made its third appearance, this time with spoken dialogue.

The demand for crime and detective films only grew during the "Roaring" Twenties and on into the 1930s, the years of the Great Depression. Certain actors, such as Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and Paul Muni became famous for their portrayal of "underworld" figures. Three of the most famous of these early films are Little Caesar (1930), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932).

As popular as movies about gangsters were movies that told of the detectives who hunted the gangsters down. Two masterpieces of the detective movie are The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Key Largo (1948).

The popularity of crime and detective films has not diminished since the time when Alias Jimmy Valentine made its first appearance as a silent film about a hundred years ago. This type of film remains a staple of the movie industry today. What movies have you seen that fit the crime and detective genre?


1. What insights into O. Henry did you gain from reading this expository essay?

2. Alias Jimmy Valentine became very popular as a play and three films. Do you think that O. Henry's original title, "A Retrieved Reformation," would have had the same appeal? Why or why not?

3. Connect to Life Have you watched a movie or video version of a story you read first as a book? Or has a favorite movie or video sent you looking for the the book it was based on? Talk about your experiences with your classmates.


The Author's Style

O. Henry's Lively Description

O. Henry said he wrote his stories for the busy, ordinary people who wanted a quick, interesting story to distract them now and then. O. Henry's lively descriptions helped him accomplish his goal.

Key Style Points

Well-Chosen Modifiers O. Henry uses adjectives and adverbs to create vivid, interesting images in his writing. In the passage from "A Retrieved Reformation," look for the adjectives and adverbs and the words they modify.

Well-Chosen Modifiers

... Jimmy stood in the warden's outer office. He had on a suit of the villainously fitting, ready-made clothes and a pair of the stiff, squeaky shoes that the state furnishes to its discharged compulsory guests.

—"A Retrieved Reformation"

Simple Sentences O. Henry sometimes uses a series of simple sentences, one following the other, to give a feeling of rapid movement or urgency. Remember that simple sentences contain one independent clause and no dependent clauses. Identify the simple sentences in this passage from "After Twenty Years!'

Simple Sentences

"You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a kind of a plodder, though, good fellow as he was. I've had to compete with some of the sharpest wits going to get my pile. A man gets in a groove in New York. It takes the West to put a razor-edge on him."

—"After Twenty Years"

Specific Details Part of O. Henry's talent for description lies in his use of specific details in his writing. What specific details stand out in the passage below from "After Twenty Years"?

Specific Details

Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye down the pacific thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture . . .

—"After Twenty Years"


1. Active Reading With a partner, look back at the O. Henry stories. Identify well-chosen modifiers, simple sentences, and specific details. Find three examples of each element of description.

2. Writing Write a letter describing a typical day in summer. Use the three elements of O. Henry's style listed above. Underline vivid adjectives and adverbs, simple sentences, and specific details.

3. Speaking and Listening Choose one of the passages above that has plenty of vivid adjectives and adverbs. Rewrite it, substituting weak, less vivid adjectives and adverbs. Then, read it to a partner and discuss how the feeling of the passage has changed.




Supervisor's Report Suppose you are Ben Price. Write a report to your supervisor explaining why you have closed the case on Jimmy Valentine. Save the report in your Working Portfolio.

Speaking & Listening

Short Story and Video View the video "Alias Jimmy Valentine!' How does the video differ from "The Retrieved Reformation" on which it was based?

Research & Technology

Back in Time Using informational materials like history books, the Internet, and other factual media, find out what life was like in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. Choose three things to focus your research on. You might want to find information about the population, landmarks, social customs, economy, politics, the arts, or other aspects of city life about which you are curious. Research and Technology Handbook See p. R110: Getting Information.

Author Study Project

Creating a Scene

Working with a small group, retell one of the stories, or parts of it, in dialogue form.

1. Choose a Dramatic Scene With your group, decide which scene you will act out. Think about which scenes can best be adapted to dialogue; then narrow your choice to one.

2. Write a Script Write the script for your scene. You may want to include dialogue from the story.

3. Revise the Script Read through the script, checking for ways to tighten the organization or make better word choices. Make changes that members of your group agree will improve the script.

4. Rehearse the Skit Once you have completed the script, have members of your group decide which of the roles they will play—the director, characters in the scene, members of the stage crew, and so on.

5. Perform the Skit Performers should practice speaking clearly, making eye contact with the audience, and pacing the performance according to the dialogue of the script.


Other Works by O. HENRY

O. Henry is an acknowledged master of the surprise story ending. His stories remain popular today, however, not just for their plot twists, but because O. Henry was such a keen observer of ordinary human beings—rich and poor, winners and losers, con artists and cops. In his stories, O. Henry described in stark simplicity the tragedies, comedies, conflicts, and motives of ordinary men and women.

The Gift of the Magi

This story, O. Henry's most famous, tells the tale of a poor young husband and wife, each of whom sacrifices a treasured possession in order to buy a Christmas gift for the other. This beloved story has been dramatized for the stage and made into a movie and several television dramas.

The Ransom of Red Chief

Two dim-witted hoodlums carry out a kidnapping, planning to collect a large ransom from their victim's father. Hilariously, the boy they kidnap is so troublesome the two end up paying the boy's father to take his son off their hands.

One Thousand Dollars

A spendthrift nephew inherits a thousand dollars from a rich uncle. The inheritance is merely a small part of the uncle's great wealth, and it comes with a stipulation: the nephew must account for how he spends every cent of the inheritance. This story tells of the nephew's secret act of generosity.

You may find the three stories mentioned above, as well as many others, in various collections of the stories of O. Henry.



The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page