After Twenty Years – O Henry

  1. How did the policeman on beat move? Why?
    The policeman on the beat moved up the avenue impressively. The impressiveness was habitual and not for show, for spectators were few.
  2. The time was barely 10 o’clock at night, but chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh de-peopled the streets.
  3. Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye adown the pacific 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.
  4. 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 scar near his right eyebrow. His scarfpin
    was a large diamond, oddly set.
    “Twenty years ago to-night,” 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 destiny 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 hustling around
    over it pretty lively. But I know Jimmy will meet me here if
    he’s alive, for he always was the truest, stanchest old chap in
    the world. He’ll never forget. I came a thousand miles to
    stand in this door to-night, 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 groove in New York. 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, 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. “It’s 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
    “Bully; 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 egotism enlarged by success, was
    beginning to outline the history of his career. The other,
    submerged in his overcoat, listened with interest.
    At the corner stood a drug store, 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
    “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.”
    “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 on
    to the station here’s a note I was asked to hand 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 plain clothes man to do
    the job. JIMMY.”


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