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A Retrieved Reformation – O Henry

Jimmy Valentine Leaves the Prison
  1. What was Jimmy Valentine’s tenure in the prison? Why was he releases from the prison before his time was up?
  2. What were the prison officer’s advice for Jimmy at the time of his release?
  3. Why did Jimmy say that ‘he had never broken safes?’
Jimmy Valentine Returns to his Hotel
  1. What did Jimmy tell Mike Dolan about his new job? What was Mr. Dolan’s reaction to that?
  2. What were the three safe-breaks that followed Jimmy Valentine’s release?
  3. Who was Ben Price? What conclusion did he reach about Jimmy after the three robberies?
  4. Why was it difficult to arrest Jimmy?
Jimmy at Elmore

Jimmy came to the city of Elmore. Here he met Annabel Adams, the beautiful young daughter of a rich man here. As Mr. Ralph Spencer, a new name to hide his real identity, Jimmy put on the best clothes and presented himself as a gentleman who wished to start business in the city. He checked in at a plush Hotel and opened his exclusive shoe shop.

  1. With what name did Jimmy register at the Elmore hotel?
  2. How did Mr. Ralph Spencer (Jimmy) win everyone’s heart in Elmore?
  3. What did Mr. Ralph Spencer (Jimmy) write to his old friend about his tools and his new life?
  4. Why did Mr. Ralph Spencer (Jimmy) make up his mind to open a shoe-shop.
Jimmy Breaks a Safe
  1. Why did Ben Price tell Jimmy that he didn’t know him?
Writing Section
  1. Write a story with the following opening lines:

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 worth
while 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 hightoned
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!” said 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 café
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 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 suit-case.
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
In half an hour Jimmy went down stairs and through the
café. He was now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting
clothes, and carried his dusted and cleaned suit-case in his
“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 roguecatchers.
Then an old-fashioned bank-safe in Jefferson City
became active and threw out of its crater an eruption of
bank-notes 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 getaways,
no confederates, 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.
One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suit-case climbed
out of the mail-hack in Elmore, a little town five miles off
the railroad down in the black-jack country of Arkansas.
Jimmy, looking like an athletic young senior just home from
college, went down the board side-walk 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
coloured 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 suit-case,
and went her way.
“Isn’t that young lady Polly Simpson?” asked Jimmy, with
specious guile.
“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
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-hand he cordially gave
Yes, there ought to be a good opening in the shoe line.
There wasn’t an exclusive shoe-store in the place. The drygoods
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 suit-case, himself; it was
rather heavy.
Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix 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 shoestore
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 equalled 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.
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:
Dear Old Pal:
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 drug-store 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 downtown
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 suit-case. 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 suit-case. “Wouldn’t I make a nice drummer?” said
Annabel. “My! Ralph, how heavy it is? Feels like it was full
of gold bricks.”
“Lot of nickel-plated shoe-horns 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 every one. 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-yearold
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.”
Agatha’s mother screamed again, hysterically.
“Hush!” said Mr. Adams, raising his trembling hand. “All be
quite 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
“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
Hardly believing that she 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,
He set his suit-case on the table, and opened it out flat.
From that time on he seemed to be unconscious of the
presence of any one 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 towards the front door. As he went he thought he
heard a far-away voice that he once knew call “Ralph!” But
he never hesitated.

What do you think?

Anniversary – Anton Chekhov

One Word Substitution