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William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), popularly known as O’ Henry, was a noted short story writer from the United States of America. His famous short story collections include Cabbages and Kings (1904), The Trimmed Lamp (1910) and The Gentle Grafter (1919). This short story has been taken from the collection Roads of Destiny (1909). The story is marked by humour and sentimentality. The surprise at the end is a typifying characteristic of O’ Henry’s short stories.
Jimmy Valentine– a very skilled safe-burglar
Ben Price– the detective who put Jimmy in jail
Mr Adams– the owner of The Elmore Bank
Annabel Adams– Mr Adams’ daughter
May and Agatha– Annabel’s sister’s daughters
Jimmy Gets Out of Prison
A guard came up to Jimmy Valentine in prison and took him to the warden who handed him his Governor’s pardon. The warden told him to stop cracking safes and lead an honest life, although Jimmy insisted that he was innocent.
The next morning, Jimmy stood in the warden’s office in ill-fitting clothes that the state provided to its discharged prisoners. The clerk gave him a railway ticket and some money and the warden handed him a cigar as he walked out.
Jimmy headed to a restaurant first and had some good food. Then he boarded a train to a little town near the state line, where he went to a café owned by Mike Dolan.
He took a key from Mike and entered a room at the back to get his suitcase, which contained the finest set of burglar’s tools. When he left the cafe half an hour later, he was dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes and carried his suitcase.
Soon, many high-profile safe-burglaries began to take place. They came to the attention of Detective Ben Price. On investigating the crime scenes, Ben Price remarked that they seemed to be Jimmy Valentine’s work. He had learnt his habits while working on the Springfield case which had landed Jimmy in jail.
Jimmy Comes to Elmore
One afternoon Jimmy came to a little town known as Elmore. There he saw a young lady on the street and fell in love with her. He got to know that she was Annabel Adams, and her father owned The Elmore Bank.
Jimmy went to the Planters’ Hotel and registered as Ralph D. Spencer. He told the clerk that he was going to open a shoe store and had come to Elmore looking for a good location to go into business.
Mr Ralph D. Spencer, or the newly reformed whom Jimmy Valentine, remained in Elmore and prospered. He opened a successful shoe store, made many friends and got engaged to be married to Miss Annabel Adams. She loved him a lot. Her family approved of him and treated him like he was already a member.
One day Jimmy wrote a letter to his old friends telling them of his new life. He said he wanted to meet them at Old Rock to give up his kit of tools. A few days after that Ben Price came to Elmore and found out about Jimmy’s new life.
The next morning Jimmy had breakfast with the Adamses. He was going to Little Rock that day to buy his wedding suit and get something nice for Annabel. After breakfast the family went downtown together. Jimmy got his suitcase from his hotel and they proceeded to the bank.
Jimmy Saves Agatha
The Elmore Bank had just put in a new safe and vault and Mr Adams proudly showed it off to everyone. Annabel’s sister’s daughters, May and Agatha, were delighted by the shining metal and funny knobs and began playing with the vault.
Suddenly there was a scream from the women and a commotion. While playing May had shut Agatha in the vault and then shot the vaults and turned the combination knob like she had seen her grandfather do.
Agatha was shrieking in terror from inside the dark vault as her frightened mother began wailing. Nobody knew what to do. Annabel turned to Jimmy and pleaded with him to do something.
Jimmy told everyone to get away from the door and took out his burglary tools from his suitcase. Then he set about working as though nobody else was present. In ten minutes, the safe was open and Agatha was safely in her mother’s arms again.
Without any hesitation, Jimmy started walking towards the front door although Annabel was calling out to him. There he encountered Ben Price. He surrendered himself to the detective.
However, Ben Price acted rather strangely and addressing Jimmy as “Mr Spencer”, said that he did not recognise him. He told Jimmy his buggy was waiting for him and walked away.
Although, a former crook, Jimmy changes after he meets Annabel, and starts leading an honest life. He is forced to become the old Jimmy again to save Agatha, and thinks that this will ruin his new life. However, Ben Price realises that Jimmy is a good person and lets him go, rewarding his reformed character. This shows us that it is possible for people with dark pasts to embrace their goodness and lead happy lives.