AFTER TWENTY YEARS
by O. Henry
The policeman on the beat moved up the avenue
impressively. The impressiveness was habitual
and not for show, for spectators were few. The
time was barely 10 o'clock at night, but chilly
gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had
well nigh depeopled the streets.
Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with
many intricate and artful movements, turning now
and then to cast his watchful eye adown the pacific
thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form
and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a
guardian of the peace. The vicinity was one that
kept early hours. Now and then you might see the
lights of a cigar store or of an all-night lunch
counter; but the majority of the doors belonged
to business places that had long since been closed.
When about midway of a certain block the policeman
suddenly slowed his walk. In the doorway of a
darkened hardware store a man leaned, with an
unlighted cigar in his mouth. As the policeman
walked up to him the man spoke up quickly.
"It's all right, officer," he said, reassuringly.
"I'm just waiting for a friend. It's an appointment
made twenty years ago. Sounds a little funny to
you, doesn't it? Well, I'll explain if you'd like
to make certain it's all straight. About that long
ago there used to be a restaurant where this store
stands--'Big Joe' Brady's restaurant."
"Until five years ago," said the policeman. "It
was torn down then."
The man in the doorway struck a match and lit his
cigar. The light showed a pale, square-jawed face
with keen eyes, and a little white scar near his
right eyebrow. His scarfpin was a large diamond,
"Twenty years ago to-night," said the man, "I
dined here at 'Big Joe' Brady's with Jimmy Wells,
my best chum, and the finest chap in the world. He
and I were raised here in New York, just like two
brothers, together. I was eighteen and Jimmy was
twenty. The next morning I was to start for the
West to make my fortune. You couldn't have dragged
Jimmy out of New York; he thought it was the only
place on earth. 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. We figured that in twenty years each of us
ought to have our destiny worked out and our
fortunes made, whatever they were going to be."
"It sounds pretty interesting," said the policeman.
"Rather a long time between meets, though, it seems
to me. Haven't you heard from your friend since you
"Well, yes, for a time we corresponded," said the
other. "But after a year or two we lost track of
each other. You see, the West is a pretty big
proposition, and I kept hustling around over it
pretty lively. But I know Jimmy will meet me here
if he's alive, for he always was the truest,
stanchest old chap in the world. He'll never forget.
I came a thousand miles to stand in this door
to-night, and it's worth it if my old partner
The waiting man pulled out a handsome watch, the
lids of it set with small diamonds.
"Three minutes to ten," he announced. "It was
exactly ten o'clock when we parted here at the
"Did pretty well out West, didn't you?" asked
"You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well.
He was a kind of plodder, though, good fellow
as he was. I've had to compete with some of the
sharpest wits going to get my pile. A man gets
in a groove in New York. It takes the West to
put a razor-edge on him."
The policeman twirled his club and took a step
"I'll be on my way. Hope your friend comes around
all right. Going to call time on him sharp?"
"I should say not!" said the other. "I'll give
him half an hour at least. If Jimmy is alive on
earth he'll be here by that time. So long, officer."
"Good-night, sir," said the policeman, passing
on along his beat, trying doors as he went.
There was now a fine, cold drizzle falling, and
the wind had risen from its uncertain puffs into
a steady blow. The few foot passengers astir in
that quarter hurried dismally and silently along
with coat collars turned high and pocketed hands.
And in the door of the hardware store the man who
had come a thousand miles to fill an appointment,
uncertain almost to absurdity, with the friend of
his youth, smoked his cigar and waited.
About twenty minutes he waited, and then a tall
man in a long overcoat, with collar turned up to
his ears, hurried across from the opposite side
of the street. He went directly to the waiting
"Is that you, Bob?" he asked, doubtfully.
"Is that you, Jimmy Wells?" cried the man in the
"Bless my heart!" exclaimed the new arrival,
grasping both the other's hands with his own.
"It's Bob, sure as fate. I was certain I'd find
you here if you were still in existence. Well,
well, well!--twenty years is a long time. The
old restaurant's gone, Bob; I wish it had lasted,
so we could have had another dinner there. How
has the West treated you, old man?"
"Bully; it has given me everything I asked it
for. You've changed lots, Jimmy. I never thought
you were so tall by two or three inches."
"Oh, I grew a bit after I was twenty."
"Doing well in New York, Jimmy?"
"Moderately. I have a position in one of the
city departments. Come on, Bob; we'll go around
to a place I know of, and have a good long talk
about old times."
The two men started up the street, arm in arm.
The man from the West, his egotism enlarged by
success, was beginning to outline the history of
his career. The other, submerged in his overcoat,
listened with interest.
At the corner stood a drug store, brilliant with
electric lights. When they came into this glare
each of them turned simultaneously to gaze upon
the other's face.
The man from the West stopped suddenly and released
"You're not Jimmy Wells," he snapped. "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 one,"
said the tall man. "You've been under arrest for
ten minutes, 'Silky' Bob. Chicago thinks you may
have dropped over our way and wires us she wants
to have a chat with you. Going quietly, are you?
That's sensible. Now, before we go on to the
station here's a note I was asked to hand you.
You may read it here at the window. It's from
The man from the West unfolded the little piece
of paper handed him. His hand was steady when he
began to read, but it trembled a little by the
time he had finished. The note was rather short.
"Bob: I was at the appointed place on time.
When you struck the match to light your cigar
I saw it was the face of the man wanted in
Chicago. Somehow I couldn't do it myself, so
I went around and got a plain clothes man to
do the job.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~