After Twenty Years by O Henry
The policeman on the beat moved up the avenue impressively. The
impressiveness was habitual and not for show, for spectators were
few. The time was barely 10 o'clock at night, but chilly gusts of
wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh depeopled the
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
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
"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
"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
"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 gone, Bob; I wish it had
lasted, so we could have had another dinner there. How has the West
treated you, old man?"
"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
"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 arm.
"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
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."~