After Twenty Years

by O. Henry
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"After Twenty Years" is about an appointment between two friends. What is special about their appointment?

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The appointment in O. Henry's "After Twenty Years" is a prearranged meeting between two friends who parted one night and agreed to meet again two decades later at 'Big Joe' Brady's restaurant. One of the friends remained in New York City; the other headed out West.

As he awaits his old friend, the man from the West who stands in the empty doorway of the restaurant that closed years ago tells the policeman on the beat that when he was eighteen and Jimmy Wells was twenty, they parted in front of their favorite restaurant. He was heading out West to make his fortune, but nothing could pull Jimmy from New York. So, they agreed to meet twenty years later after they worked out their respective destinies.

Of course, with O. Henry's ironic reversal, Bob, the man from the West, unknowingly is talking to Patrolman Jimmy Wells, who recognizes "Silky Bob," as a man wanted in Chicago. But, since he does not have the heart to arrest his old friend, Jimmy does not reveal himself. Instead, he sends a plainclothes policeman in his place later to make the arrest and give Bob a note from him.

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In O'Henry's short story, Bob is waiting for his friend, Jimmy Wells. This is a very special appointment because this appointment was made twenty years ago.

Accordingly, twenty years ago, both men made a promise to meet at the same time and place in New York City in order to confirm the rightness of their individual decisions. It appears that, at the time, Bob was determined to seek his fortune elsewhere, but Jimmy insisted on staying and working out his destiny in New York City. Each was equally persuaded that his own conviction was the right one.

They chose to meet after twenty years because both felt sure that this would be an adequate period for either man to carve out their own destiny and their own fortunes, 'whatever they were going to be.'

Bob tells the policeman that he is certain Jimmy would meet him because 'he always was the truest, stanchest old chap in the world.' He asserts that if his old friend turned up, it would be worth the thousand miles he had to travel to meet with him.

As is O'Henry's style, Jimmy does turn up, but Bob is in for the surprise of his life when his old friend sends another detective to arrest him. Even after twenty years, Jimmy recognizes his old friend, who is a wanted man in Chicago. Staying true to his humanity and to his duty as an officer of the law, Jimmy manages to capture a wanted criminal while preserving the memories of a shared camaraderie from years ago.

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