20 October 2016


By O. Henry

(Abridged and adapted)

People often say that friendship lasts forever. In this story, O. Henry tells about the friendship between Bob and Jimmy. The two friends grew up in New York like two brothers. They arrange to meet after twenty years of separation.

The policeman moved up the road slowly and looking important. Looking serious and important was his habit and not for show, for there were not many people watching him. The time was nearly ten o'clock at night, and the streets were almost empty because of the strong wind and rain, which had forced most people to stay at home.

Testing whether doors were locked as he went along, moving his club and looking from time to time at everything around him, the police officer looked a fine sight. The area was one that kept early hours. From time to time, you might see the lights of a store or an all-night restaurant. However, the majority of the doors belonged to business places that had been closed hours before.

In the middle of one street, the policeman suddenly slowed his walk. In the dark doorway of a hardware store a man was standing, with a cigar in his mouth. As the policeman walked up to him, the man spoke up quickly.

“It's all right, officer,” the man said, in a confident manner. “I'm just waiting for a friend. It's an appointment that we made twenty years ago. Sounds a little funny, doesn't it? Well, I'll explain if you'd like to be sure everything is alright. About twenty years ago there used to be a restaurant where this store stands now— ‘Big Joe’ Brady's restaurant.”

“Yes, until five years ago, it was here,” said the policeman. “Joe Brady's restaurant was pulled down five years ago.”

The man in the doorway lit his cigar. In the light, the policeman saw that the man’s face was pale, and square, with sharp eyes. There was a little white scar near the man’s right eye. The man was wearing a scarf, and the ends of the scarf were held together by a gold pin. There was a large shining and sparkling diamond in the center of the pin.

“Twenty years ago tonight,” said the man, “I ate dinner here at ‘Big Joe’ Brady's with Jimmy Wells, my best friend, and the finest person in the world. He and I grew up together. We were raised here in New York, and we were as close as two brothers. I was eighteen, and Jimmy was twenty. The next morning I was going to leave for the Western part of America to make my fortune. But you couldn't have pulled Jimmy out of New York. He thought that New York was the best 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 happened, whatever our conditions might be or no matter how far we had to travel. We thought that in twenty years, each of us ought to have our destiny worked out and our fortunes made, whatever they were going to be.”

“That sounds interesting,” said the policeman. “Rather a long time between meets, though, it seems to me. In fact, twenty years is a long time to wait before getting together.  Have you heard from your friend since you parted?”

“Well, yes, for a time we wrote letters to each other,” said the other. “But after a year or two, we stopped writing and we did not keep in touch after that. You see, the West is a pretty big, and I was very busy. But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he's alive, for he always was the truest, most reliable person in the world. He'll never forget. I came a thousand miles to stand at this door tonight, and it's worth it if my old friend shows up.”

The waiting man pulled out a beautiful watch. The policeman saw that the hands of the watch were made of small diamonds.

“It’s three minutes to ten,” the waiting man said. “It was exactly ten o'clock when we parted here at the restaurant door twenty years ago.”

“You did very well out there in the West, didn't you?” asked the policeman.

“Sure did! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was not as bold as I was, though, good man though he was. I've had to compete with some of the smartest people in the world to become rich. I managed to make a lot of money. You have to be quite smart to do well in New York, but out West, I learned how to be very smart".

The policeman walked back a few steps.

“I'll be on my way now. I need to go. I hope that your best friend comes around all right. How long are you going to wait for him if he does not arrive?”

“I will wait!” said the man from the West. “I'll wait for 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 along the street, testing the doors as he went.

The rain was falling lightly, and the wind had become stronger. The few people who were out on the street hurried along in their thick coats and with their hands in their pockets. And in the door of the hardware store stood the man who had come a thousand miles to keep an appointment with the friend of his youth. He smoked his cigar and waited.

He waited about twenty minutes. After twenty minutes had passed, a tall man in a long coat hurried across from the opposite side of the street. Most of his face was covered by his scarf. The tall man went directly to the man waiting at the door.

The tall man asked doubtfully, “Is that you, Bob?”

“Is that you, Jimmy Wells?” shouted the man who was standing at the door. "I knew you would come, and here you are!"

“Bless my heart!” shouted the tall man, throwing his arms around the other man. “It's Bob, for sure. I was certain I would find you here if you were still alive. Well, well, well!—twenty years is a long time. The old restaurant's gone, Bob. I wish it had lasted so that we could have had another dinner there now. How has the West treated you?”

“The West treated me well. It has given me everything I wanted to have. You have changed a lot, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall. You look two or three inches taller than you were at the time when I saw you last.”

“Oh, I grew a bit taller after I was twenty.”

“Are you doing well in New York, Jimmy?”

“I am doing OK. I have a good job in one of the New York City departments. Come on, Bob. We'll go to a place I know, and have a good long talk about old times.”

The two men started to walk up the street, arm in arm. The man from the West felt happy about his successful life. He started telling his success story to his friend. He talked about his life in the West and his history. The other man, covering his face with his scarf, listened with interest.

At the corner of the street, there was a store, with very bright electric lights. When they came into these lights, each of them turned at the same time to look at the other's face.

The man from the West stopped suddenly and released the other man's arm.

“You're not Jimmy Wells,” he said in a sad voice. “Twenty years is a long time. However, twenty years’ time is not long enough to change the shape of a nose. Your nose is not Jimmy’s nose.”

“Twenty years sometimes changes a good man into a bad one,” said the tall man. “You've been under arrest for ten minutes. Chicago police thought you might have arrived in New York. They sent us a message telling us that they want to talk with you. Now, walk quietly, please. Don’t try to run away. Be reasonable. Before we go to the police station here's a letter I was asked to give you. You may read it here at the window. It's from Police Officer Jimmy Wells.”

The man from the West looked at the little piece of paper that was given to him. His hand was steady when he began to read, but it shook a little by the time he had finished. The letter was very short:

Bob: I was at our appointment place on time – I was the policeman. When I saw your face, it was the face of the criminal wanted in Chicago. Somehow, I couldn't arrest you. I couldn’t do it. So I went around and got a tall plain clothes policeman to do the job. JIMMY.

Abridged and adapted from the original version by Algirdas Makarevicius
After Twenty Years, by O'Henry

Comprehension Questions

I. Twenty years after they make the promise the two friends
meet at the appointed place and time.

(a) Do the men recognize each other? If the patrolman
recognized Bob, why did he not say it?

(b) When they separated twenty years ago to make their
destiny, what were their feelings for each other?

(c) Have their feelings changed in the long years?

II. The patrolman goes away and a tall man, declaring himself
to be Jimmy Wells, greets the man from the west. At the
drug store, each of them turns to gaze upon the other’s face.

 (a) What does the man from the west realize about his

 (b) How did he know that the tall man was not Jimmy

III. The tall man gives ‘Silky’ Bob a note from Patrolman Wells,
 (a) Why did Bob’s hand tremble when he finished reading
the note?


Pointing out Jimmy Well’s dilemma when he meets ‘Silky’
Bob after twenty years, discuss whether or not you would
maintain that he did the only thing he should have done.

Read the Original Story

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