"After Twenty Years": Please summarize the story and include details on the setting, conflict(s), and the characterization.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"After Twenty Years" is a typical O. Henry story as it has local color and melodrama and an empathy for ordinary people along with ironic reversal. The story opens with a New York City policeman walking his usual beat, checking doorways and locks. Suddenly, the policeman stops as he notices a man leaning in the unlit doorway of a hardware store. As the policeman approaches, the man speaks up quickly.

"It's all right officer....I'm just waiting for a friend. It's an appointment made twenty years ago. Sounds a little funny to you, doesn't it?....About that long ago there used to be a restaurant where this store stands...."

The policeman informs the man that the restaurant was torn down about five years ago. Just then, the man strikes a match and lights his cigar, and in this light the policeman discerns that the man has a square jaw with keen eyes, and a small white scar near his right eyebrow. He is wearing a large and unusually set diamond in his necktie. The waiting man explains to the policeman that he and a friend parted ways after saying goodbye twenty years ago at this restaurant because he went out West, but his friend just could not leave New York. Before going on his way, the policeman asks if the man has done well out West; the man in the doorway replies that he has despite the sharp competition. The policeman backs up some and asks if he is going to wait past the time for his friend. "I should say so!" replies the other, adding that Jimmy will show up if he is still alive. "Good night, sir," the policeman says and, expressing a hope that his friend will appear, continues on his route.

As the wind picks up and the weather chills, the man who has come a thousand miles to meet his old friend still waits in the doorway while others have hurried away. After twenty minutes, a tall man in a long coat with the collar upturned hurries across the street to the waiting man.

"Is that you Bob?" he asked.
"Is that you, Jimmy Wells?" cried the man in the door.

The other man greets Bob with enthusiasm and asks how things have gone in the West. After responding "Bully," Bob remarks, "You've changed lots, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall by two or three inches." The other man says that he has grown since he was twenty. When asked if he is doing well, he replies that he has a job with one of the city departments. He invites Bob to accompany him to a place he knows well where they can have a long talk. As they walk, the men pass a street light which reveals to Bob that Jimmy now has a different nose. With sudden surprise, Bob stops,

"You're not Jimmy Wells....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 man," says the tall man. "You've been under arrest for ten minutes 'Silky' Bob."

Shocked at the betrayal, 'Silky' Bob is handed a note from his own friend Jimmy, who ironically has already met Bob--he is the policeman. The note explains that he recognized Bob from wanted posters of Chicago. But he did not have the heart to arrest his old friend then, so he sent a plain clothes man back in his place.