Monday, January 2, 2012
After Twenty Years - O. Henry
Name: After Twenty Years
Author: O. Henry (William Sidney Porter)
Book: The Four Million – this book is available from project Gutenberg. The short story can also be read online from this location http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/636/
Story Number: 2
It’s time to go back to my childhood days where it all started. Everyone has that one story or one book which they come across in their earlier years which has such an impact on the mind that it turns them into a lover of books for life. For me that book turned out to be ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. And the short story (which happens to be the only one that I remember from all those 10 years of school education) which made me a fan of the short story format happens to be O. Henry’s After Twenty Years. This story was featured in our 10th grade English textbook. And the author needs no introduction as I would believe every literate man on this planet would have come across one of his stories in some form or the other.
Bob & Jimmy, two very close friends decide to go their separate ways to make their fortune in the world. While Jimmy stays back in New York, Bob decides to go to the west. But before they do that, they come to an understanding to meet exactly 20 years later. The story starts after these twenty years have elapsed. A policeman is doing the rounds of the city making sure that everything is in order on his beat. He meets Bob in the doorway of a darkened hardware store. Bob quickly explains his reason for lurking there – he tells the policeman his story about his appointment with his best friend and the policeman continues on his beat after hearing Bob’s story. After sometime, Bob is joined by another gentleman who enquires him whether he is Bob? Thinking that it is his friend Jimmy, they exchange pleasantries and continue to walk arm in arm to go to a place which they knew as young men so that they can catch up on all the lost years.
When they reach a corner where there’s abundant light, both gentlemen get a chance to look at each other’s face and Bob immediately complains that the other person is not his friend. The other gentleman informs him that he has been under arrest for some time and hands over a note to Bob. The note is from his buddy Jimmy and it tells him that he indeed kept the appointment at the intended time and place and that he recognized Bob as a wanted man in Chicago and hence not having the heart to arrest him (as Jimmy is the patrolman on duty) requested a plain clothes man to do the job for him. If one goes back and reads the story again, one can see the clues cleverly planted just like in a detective story to anticipate the twist ending. This story for me is a model of succinct technique.