Set in the American Midwest during the early 1900s, “A Retrieved Reformation” concerns the surprising fate of Jimmy Valentine, a skilled young safecracker who returns to society after he is paroled from prison. The story begins at the prison shortly before Jimmy Valentine if set free; the majority of the narrative occurs in Elmore, a small backwoods town in Arkansas where he settles. Major characters include Jimmy Valentine; Mike Dolan, his partner in crime; detective Ben Price, Jimmy’s nemesis; and Annabel Adams, the girl with whom Jimmy falls in love. Minor characters are the prison warden; Cronin, a prison guard; Mr. Adams, Annabel’s father; Annabel’s sister; Annabel’s two young nieces, May and Agatha; a hotel clerk; and a young boy who lives in Elmore.
As the story begins, Jimmy is called to the warden’s office. The warden hands Jimmy his pardon from the governor and advises him to stay out of trouble: “You’re not a bad fellow at heart,” he says. “Stop cracking safes, and live straight.” Jimmy laughs, feigning surprise, denying he had ever cracked a safe or committed the bank robbery that had sent him to prison.
Jimmy leaves prison the next day and takes a train to another town where he meets up with Mike Dolan, a friend and confederate. After picking up his key from Mike, Jimmy returns to his room above Mike’s restaurant where he had lived before detective Ben Price arrested him. Jimmy finds his safe cracking tools still hidden in the wall where he had left them. A week later, a string of bank safe burglaries in the Midwest comes to Ben Price’s attention; he knows Jimmy Valentine is back in business and sets out to catch him again.
Meanwhile, carrying his burglar tools in a suitcase, Jimmy arrives in small, remote Elmore, Arkansas, where he plans to rob the bank. Walking toward the hotel, he encounters a beautiful young woman. Their eyes meet, and in that instant, Jimmy undergoes a complete reformation: “Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man.” After talking to a boy on the street, Jimmy learns she is Annabel Adams, whose father owns the bank. Jimmy continues on to the hotel, where he registers as “Ralph D. Spencer.” In a conversation with the hotel clerk, Jimmy learns that Elmore does not have a shoe store and that business is good in the town. Jimmy Valentine does not rob the bank; instead, “Ralph Spencer” settles in Elmore, opens a profitable shoe store, becomes a social success, and makes the acquaintance of Annabel Adams.
A year elapses. Still using his “Ralph Spencer” alias, Jimmy enjoys great success. His business is growing, he and Annabel are soon to be married, and Annabel’s father and sister have accepted him as one of the family. To cut completely the ties with his past, Jimmy writes a letter to one of his former friends, asking the man to meet him in Little Rock. Jimmy plans to give the man his set of safe cracking tools. The day before Jimmy is to leave for Little Rock, Ben Price arrives in Elmore, spots Jimmy Valentine, and learns he is about to marry the banker’s daughter. Ben Price has other ideas.
The next day before leaving town, with his burglar tools in his suitcase, Jimmy goes to the bank with Annabel, Annabel’s sister, and the sister’s two little girls, May and Agatha. Annabel’s father wants to show off the new burglar-proof safe he has recently installed. While all are admiring the safe, Ben Price comes into the bank and watches the scene; he tells a bank teller “he was just waiting for a man he knew.” Jimmy is unaware of the detective’s presence.
Without warning, May playfully locks Agatha in the bank vault, throwing the bolts and spinning the combination lock as she had seen her grandfather perform the maneuver. The safe cannot be opened, Mr. Adams exclaims in horror, since the timer and the combination had not been set. Furthermore, Agatha will soon run out of air in the vault. Jimmy and the others...
(The entire section is 1,114 words.)