In "After Twenty Years," how did Jimmy know that Bob would be waiting for him?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The policeman, who turns out to be Jimmy, has a conversation with the man standing in the doorway, who turns out to be "Silky" Bob. Bob explains to the policeman, and to the reader:

"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."

Bob seems certain that his friend Jimmy will keep the appointment:

"But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he's alive, for he always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world."

Jimmy, on the other hand, may not feel as certain that Bob will remember the appointment, or that he will remember and not wish to go to the trouble of keeping it, or that he will remember and might not be able to keep it. However, Jimmy has become a policeman, and by the sheerest coincidence the site of their appointment happens to be right in his beat. According to the opening sentences of the story, Jimmy is not there to keep the appointment but to patrol his beat, trying all the doors along the way to make sure they are locked. So Jimmy intended to be in the vicinity regardless of whether or not his old friend showed up.

Jimmy does not identify himself as Bob's old friend because almost immediately he recognizes him as the man who is wanted in Chicago. Jimmy could see Bob's face because he lighted a cigar, but Bob does not recognize Jimmy because it is dark and because Jimmy's appearance has naturally changed over twenty years. Besides that, the policeman's uniform would have a disguising effect. It never occurred to Bob that his friend might have become a policeman, although the description he gives of him suggests that Jimmy would probably make a good, dependable cop and that he might be the type of man who would like such a secure and socially useful occupation.

Bob describes his character in two important sentences:

"But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he's alive, for he always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world."


"He was a kind of plodder, though, good fellow as he was."

Jimmy would be satisfied with a routine sort of job that paid very poorly in O. Henry's day. And he was such a true and staunch old chap that he was forced to do his duty and have "Silky" Bob arrested.

O. Henry was fond of coincidences and noted for using them. Another good example is his story "A Municipal Report," which depends heavily on coincidences. The reader can hardly complain about the unlikely coincidence that Jimmy should be the patrolman on the beat where he had an appointment to meet Bob, because, after all, the fact that it was such a coincidence could be justified as O. Henry's reason for telling the story.