What does Ben Price do at the end of "A Retrieved Reformation"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ending of "A Retrieved Reformation" is clearly evidence of the sentimentality of O. Henry, who felt that all people possess an inherent goodness in them. After tracking Jimmy Valentine to the small town of Elmore, Arkansas, Ben Price, who knows the safe-cracker's modus operandi, decides to wait for Valentine around town and casually strolls into the town's bank. There the banker's daughter, accompanied by her fiance, Ralph D. Spencer, formerly known as Jimmy Valentine, join the family party to take a look at the new vault. As chance would have it, however, one of the little girls pushes another into the vault and bolts the door. The distraught mother is hysterical and Anna asks her beloved,

"Can't you do something, Ralph--try, won't you?"

The irony of this question is grasped by Valentine, who knows that her request will send him from her life. Asking for the rose she wears, he places it sentimentally in his vest pocket and throws open the suitcase he has intended to carry to Little Rock. Instead of nickel-plated shoehorns, there are safe-cracking tools inside. In ten minutes, the safe door is opened and little Agatha saved.

Resigned to his fate, Valentine closes the suitcase and starts to leave the bank; however, he is halted at the door by Ben Price. Jimmy speaks to him and is resigned to his arrest, "I don't know that it makes much difference now." Ironically, however, Ben Price feigns unrecognition. 

"Guess you're mistaken, Mr. Spencer," he said. "Don't believe I recognize you. Your buggy's waiting for you, ain't it?

And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.

Ben Price recognizes that what the warden has told Valentine is true:  "You're not a bad fellow at heart." Having observed Valentine's actions, the detective knows that Jimmy is in love and intends to "live straight." So, he grants the safe-cracker a reprieve, "a retrieved reformation."