After Twenty Years by O. Henry

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What happens in After Twenty Years?

"After Twenty Years" tells the story of two friends who made a pact to meet at a specific time and place. Bob, a noted criminal from Chicago, arrives on time and speaks to a policeman who happens to be walking by. Later, it's revealed that this policeman was Jimmy Wells, Bob's friend.

  • Bob and Jimmy were friends when they were younger. Before Bob left to try his luck in the West, he and Jimmy made a pact to meet again exactly twenty years later.

  • At the appointed time, Bob waits outside a hardware store. A policeman walks up and asks what he's doing. Bob explains, boasting about how well he has done for himself.

  • Later, a man claiming to be Bob's friend arrives. It turns out that this man is a plainclothes police officer sent to arrest Bob, a known criminal from Chicago. The original policeman, Jimmy Wells, didn't have the heart to arrest Bob, because Bob was his friend.

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It is approaching ten o'clock on the largely deserted avenue in New York. A policeman works his way up the street, carefully checking the locked doors of the businesses that have long since closed for the day. Suddenly, the officer of the peace encounters a man with an unlit cigar, standing in the doorway of a hardware store. Congenially, the man tells the policeman that he is waiting for a friend, whom he had agreed to meet with at that very spot, twenty years ago that day.

The waiting man strikes a match to light the cigar he is holding, and in the brief flash of illumination, the officer notes that the person before him has "a pale, square-jawed face with keen eyes, and a little white scar near his right eyebrow." On his scarf is a large diamond, indicating great wealth. The man explains that he and the friend for whom he is waiting, his "best chum" Jimmy Wells, had been raised in New York like brothers; when they had grown up, Jimmy had remained in the city, but he himself had headed West to make his fortune. Upon taking leave of each other, the two friends had agreed to meet again in exactly twenty years to the hour, "no matter what [their] conditions might be or from what distance [they] might have to come."

The waiting man pulls out a fancy watch, embellished with diamonds. The officer idly comments that he must have done "pretty well out West," and the man responds, "You bet!" and expresses the hope that Jimmy, whom he remembers as having been "a kind of plodder," has done even half as well. He is confident that his old friend will meet him that night if he is alive, no matter what his circumstances may be, because Jimmy always was "the truest, stanchest old chap in the world."

The policeman continues on his way, and the man in the doorway keeps vigil as a fine rain begins to fall. After a short time, a tall character in a long overcoat with the collar turned up to his ears approaches and inquires hesitantly, "Is that you, Bob?" The waiting man exuberantly responds in kind, "Is that you, Jimmy Wells?" and the two grasp hands. The friends exchange pleasantries; then the waiting man proudly...

(The entire section is 643 words.)