After Twenty Years by O. Henry

After Twenty Years

by O. Henry

Text …

THE COP MOVED ALONG THE STREET, LOOKING strong and important. This was the way he always moved. He was not thinking of how he looked. There were few people on the street to see him. It was only about ten at night, but it was cold. And there was a wind with a little rain in it. He stopped at doors as he walked along, trying each door to be sure that it was closed for the night. Now and then he turned and looked up and down the street. He was a fine-looking cop, watchful, guarding the peace. People in this part of the city went home early. Now and then you might see the lights of a shop or of a small restaurant. But most of the doors belonged to business places that had been closed hours ago.

In other words .. It was a location somewhere in New York. A smart and robust looking  cop was on his night errand ensuring people were safe, and nothing untoward was happening. It was a wet night. At around 10pm, the road was desolate and people had retreated into their homes. The cop made sure all front doors were bolted from inside. His eyes were alert.

Then the cop suddenly slowed his walk. Near the door of a darkened shop a man was standing. As the cop walked toward him, the man spoke quickly. “It’s all right, officer,” he said. “I’m waiting for a friend. Twenty years ago we agreed to meet here tonight. It sounds strange to you, doesn’t it? I’ll explain if you want to be sure that everything’s all right. About twenty years ago there was a restaurant where this shop stands. ‘Big Joe’ Brady’s restaurant.” “It was here until five years ago,” said the cop. The man near the door had a colorless square face with bright eyes, and a little white mark near his right eye. He had a large jewel in his necktie. “Twenty years ago tonight,” said the man, “I had dinner here with Jimmy Wells. He was my best friend and the best fellow in the world. He and I grew up together here in New York, like two brothers. I was eighteen and Jimmy was twenty. The next morning I was to start for the West. I was going to find a job and make a great success. You couldn’t have pulled Jimmy out of New York. He thought it was the only place on earth. “We agreed that night that we would meet here again in twenty years. We thought that in twenty years we would know what kind of men we were, and what future waited for us.” “It sounds interesting,” said the cop. “A long time between meetings, it seems to me. Have you heard from your friend since you went West?” “Yes, for a time we did write to each other,” said the man. “But after a year or two, we stopped. The West is big. I moved around everywhere, and I moved quickly. But I know that Jimmy will meet me here if he can. He was as true as any man in the world. He’ll never forget. I came a thousand miles to stand here tonight. But I’ll be glad about that, if my old friend comes too.” The waiting man took out a fine watch, covered with small jewels. “Three minutes before ten,” he said. “It was ten that night when we said goodbye here at the restaurant door.”

In other words. .. The cop spotted a man standing alone near a dark shop. A bit curious, he approached the man. Almost involuntarily, the man explained that he was waiting for his friend whom he was going to see in the same place, at the same time as per an arrangement made twenty years ago.  He narrated how a restaurant by the name Big Joe Brady stood there, and he and his friend, Jimmy Wells, had dinner there. The two were buddies. Later, the man ventured to go West to make his life, leaving behind Jimmy who was happy with his life in New York. While parting, the two promised to meet again after twenty years in the same restaurant around the same time the man was talking to the police man, i.e, at around 10pm. They intended to exchange notes on the careers they had made and the money they had earned. The man told that he had lost contact with Jimmy Wells, although initially they used to exchange letters. The man told his friend would surely come there at 10 p.m. On being asked by the policeman what he would do if Jimmy didn’t turn up, the man said he would wait for half an hour more, say till 10.30pm.

“You were successful in the West, weren’t you?” asked the cop. “I surely was! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a slow mover. I’ve had to fight for my success. In New York a man doesn’t change much. In the West you learn how to fight for what you get.” The cop took a step or two. “I’ll go on my way,” he said. “I hope your friend comes all right. If he isn’t here at ten, are you going to leave?” “I am not!” said the other. “I’ll wait half an hour, at least. If Jimmy is alive on earth, he’ll be here by that time. Good night, officer.” “Good night,” said the cop, and walked away, trying doors as he went.

In other words .. The man told that he had been fairly successful in the West. He hoped that his friend Jimmy had been successful too. The police man took leave and left on his errand.

There was now a cold rain falling and the wind was stronger. The few people walking along that street were hurrying, trying to keep warm. And at the door of the shop stood the man who had come a thousand miles to meet a friend. Such a meeting could not be certain. But he waited. About twenty minutes he waited, and then a tall man in a long coat came hurrying across the street. He went directly to the waiting man. “Is that you, Bob?” he asked, doubtfully. “Is that you, Jimmy Wells?” cried the man at the door. The new man took the other man’s hands in his. “It’s Bob! It surely is. I was certain I would find you here if you were still alive. Twenty years is a long time. The old restaurant is gone, Bob. I wish it were here, so that we could have another dinner in it. Has the West been good to you?” “It gave me everything I asked for. You’ve changed, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall.” “Oh, I grew a little after I was twenty.” “Are you doing well in New York, Jimmy?” “Well enough. I work for the city. Come on, Bob, We’ll go to a place I know, and have a good long talk about old times.” The two men started along the street, arm in arm. The man from the West was beginning to tell the story of his life. The other, with his coat up to his ears, listened with interest.

In other words .. It was getting windier and colder. The road had few pedestrians. The man was quite hopeful to see his old friend, Jimmy. Around 10.20pm, a tall man came near him. He wore a long over coat. The two flaps on either side of his shoulder were raised to cover his ears. Quite jovially, he asked, ‘Is that Bob?’ The man instantly replied, “Is that Jimmy Wells’? The duo was very happy to meet each other. They exchanged pleasantries, and asked each other about how life had been in the last twenty years. They set out for a walk, tightly holding one another’s arm in great warmth. Bob narrated his story in detail, where as Jimmy (the man in the overcoat) listened keenly.

At the corner stood a shop bright with electric lights. When they came near, each turned to look at the other’s face. The man from the West stopped suddenly and pulled his arm away. “You’re not Jimmy Wells,” he said. “Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to change the shape of a man’s nose.” “It sometimes changes a good man into a bad one,” said the tall man. “You’ve been under arrest for ten minutes, Bob. Chicago cops thought you might be coming to New York. They told us to watch for you. Are you coming with me quietly? That’s wise. But first here is something I was asked to give you. You may read it here at the window. It’s from a cop named Wells.” The man from the West opened the little piece of paper. His hand began to shake a little as he read. “Bob: I was at the place on time. I saw the face of the man wanted by Chicago cops. I didn’t want to arrest you myself. So I went and got another cop and sent him to do the job. JIMMY.”

In other words … The two friends walked along with Bob doing most of the talking. The duo neared a shop that was brightly lit. It gave the two friends to look at one another’s face intently. Bob, the friend from the West was aghast to see that the man beside him looked so much different from Jimmy Wells. He took off his hand and told the other man that the latter was not Jimmy Wells, his friend. Even if twenty years had gone by, a person can’t have such a massive change in his face. What happened then came like a bolt from the blue for Bob. The other man told that he has already been arrested since the time the two met ten minutes earlier.

The second man, in fact, was from Chicago police.  Bob had committed some crimes and had remained a fugitive. His name and photo were displayed in police stations nationwide. The police man took out a piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to Bob to read. The letter was scribbled by his friend Jimmy Wells, who worked for Chicago Police. Jimmy knew his friend Bob was a proclaimed offender, and he was due in Chicago that night at 10pm at the same place. Jimmy met Bob, no doubt, but his duty as a police man was to arrest him. However, he Jimmy, the police, couldn’t bring himself to arrest his old friend. So, he walked back to the police station, and sent his colleague to go and arrest Bob. The small note scribbled by Jimmy clarified the situation. Bob had no option but to head to the police station.


Questions and answers …

Q1. What fatal mistake Bob did that led to his arrest?

Q2. Do you think Jimmy did the right thing by betraying his friend, Bob?

Answers will be posted soon. If you have more questions, please mail them to

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