A RETRIEVED REFORMATION
by O. Henry
A guard came to the prison shoe-shop, where Jimmy Valentine was
assiduously stitching uppers, and escorted him to the front office.
There the warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed
that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of
way. He had served nearly ten months of a four-year sentence. He
had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest. When
a man with as many friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had
is received in the "stir" it is hardly worth while to cut his hair.
"Now, Valentine," said the warden, "you'll go out in the morning.
Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You're not a bad fellow at
heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight."
"Me?" said Jimmy, in surprise. "Why, I never cracked a safe in my
"Oh, no!" laughed the warden. "Of course not. Let's see, now. How
was it you happened to get sent up on that Springfield job? Was
it because you wouldn't prove an alibi for fear of compromising
somebody in extremely high-toned society? Or was it simply a case
of a mean, old jury that had it in for you? It's always one or the
other with you innocent victims."
"Me?" said Jimmy, still blankly virtuous. "Why, warden, I never
was in Springfield in my life!"
"Take him back, Cronin!" smiled the warden, "and fix him up with
outgoing clothes. Unlock him at seven in the morning, and let him
come to the bull-pen. Better think over my advice, Valentine."
At a quarter past seven on the next morning Jimmy stood in the
warden's outer office. He had on a suit of the villainously-fitting,
ready-made clothes and a pair of the stiff, squeaky shoes that
the state furnishes to its discharged, compulsory guests.
The clerk handed him a railroad ticket and the five-dollar bill
with which the law expected him to rehabilitate himself into good
citizenship and prosperity. The warden gave him a cigar, and shook
hands. Valentine, 9762, was chronicled on the books, "Pardoned by
Governor," and Mr. James Valentine walked out into the sunshine.
Disregarding the song of the birds, the waving green trees, and
the smell of the flowers, Jimmy headed straight for a restaurant.
There he tasted the first sweet joys of liberty in the shape of a
broiled chicken and a bottle of white wine--followed by a cigar a
grade better than the one the warden had given him. From there he
proceeded leisurely to the depot. He tossed a quarter into the hat
of a blind man sitting by the door, and boarded his train. Three
hours set him down in a little town near the state line. He went
to the cafe of one Mike Dolan and shook hands with Mike, who was
alone behind the bar.
"Sorry we couldn't make it sooner, Jimmy, me boy," said Mike. "But
we had that protest from Springfield to buck against, and the
governor nearly balked. Feeling all right?"
"Fine," said Jimmy. "Got my key?"
He got his key and went upstairs, unlocking the door of a room at
the rear. Everything was just as he had left it. There on the floor
was still Ben Price's collar-button that had been torn from that
eminent detective's shirt-band when they had overpowered Jimmy to
Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in
the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suitcase. He opened this
and gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar's tools in the East.
It was a complete set, made of specially-tempered steel, the latest
designs in drills, punches, braces and bits, jimmies, clamps, and
augers, with two or three novelties, invented by Jimmy himself, in
which he took pride. Over seven hundred dollars they had cost him
to have made at--a place where they make such things for the
In half an hour Jimmy went down-stairs and through the cafe. He was
now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes, and carried his
dusted and cleaned suitcase in his hand.
"Got anything on?" asked Mike Dolan, genially.
"Me?" said Jimmy, in a puzzled tone. "I don't understand. I'm
representing the New York Amalgamated Short Snap Biscuit Cracker
and Frazzled Wheat Company."
This statement delighted Mike to such an extent that Jimmy had to
take a seltzer-and-milk on the spot. He never touched "hard" drinks.
A week after the release of Valentine, 9762, there was a neat job of
safe-burglary done in Richmond, Indiana, with no clue to the author.
A scant eight hundred dollars was all that was secured. Two weeks
after that a patented, improved, burglar-proof safe in Logansport
was opened like a cheese to the tune of fifteen hundred dollars,
currency; securities and silver untouched. That began to interest
the rogue-catchers. Then an old-fashioned bank-safe in Jefferson
City became active and threw out of its crater an eruption of
bank-notes amounting to five thousand dollars. The losses were now
high enough to bring the matter up into Ben Price's class of work.
By comparing notes, a remarkable similarity in the methods of the
burglaries was noticed. Ben Price investigated the scenes of the
robberies, and was heard to remark:
"That's Dandy Jim Valentine's autograph. He's resumed business. Look
at that combination knob--jerked out as easy as pulling up a radish
in wet weather. He's got the only clamps that can do it. And look
how clean those tumblers were punched out! Jimmy never has to drill
but one hole. Yes, I guess I want Mr. Valentine. He'll do his bit
next time without any short-time or clemency foolishness."
Ben Price knew Jimmy's habits. He had learned them while working up
the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick getaways, no confederates,
and a taste for good society--these ways had helped Mr. Valentine to
become noted as a successful dodger of retribution. It was given out
that Ben Price had taken up the trail of the elusive cracksman, and
other people with burglar-proof safes felt more at ease.
One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suitcase climbed out of
the mail-hack in Elmore, a little town five miles off the railroad
down in the black-jack country of Arkansas. Jimmy, looking like an
athletic young senior just home from college, went down the board
sidwalk toward the hotel.
A young lady crossed the street, passed him at the corner and
entered a door over which was the sign, "The Elmore Bank." Jimmy
Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became
another man. She lowered her eyes and colored slightly. Young
men of Jimmy's style and looks were scarce in Elmore.
Jimmy collared a boy that was loafing on the steps of the bank as
if he were one of the stockholders, and began to ask him questions
about the town, feeding him dimes at intervals. By and by the young
lady came out, looking royally unconscious of the young man with the
suitcase, and went her way.
"Isn't that young lady Polly Simpson?" asked Jimmy, with specious
"Naw," said the boy. "She's Annabel Adams. Her pa owns this bank.
What'd you come to Elmore for? Is that a gold watch-chain? I'm going
to get a bulldog. Got any more dimes?"
Jimmy went to the Planters' Hotel, registered as Ralph D. Spencer,
and engaged a room. He leaned on the desk and declared his platform
to the clerk. He said he had come to Elmore to look for a location
to go into business. How was the shoe business, now, in the town?
He had thought of the shoe business. Was there an opening?
The clerk was impressed by the clothes and manner of Jimmy. He,
himself, was something of a pattern of fashion to the thinly gilded
youth of Elmore, but he now perceived his shortcomings. While trying
to figure out Jimmy's manner of tying his four-in-hand he cordially
Yes, there ought to be a good opening in the shoe line. There wasn't
an exclusive shoe-store in the place. The dry-goods and general
stores handled them. Business in all lines was fairly good. Hoped
Mr. Spencer would decide to locate in Elmore. He would find it a
pleasant town to live in, and the people very sociable.
Mr. Spencer thought he would stop over in the town a few days and
look over the situation. No, the clerk needn't call the boy. He
would carry up his suitcase, himself; it was rather heavy.
Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine's
ashes--ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alterative attack of
love--remained in Elmore, and prospered. He opened a shoe-store and
secured a good run of trade.
Socially he was also a success, and made many friends. And he
accomplished the wish of his heart. He met Miss Annabel Adams, and
became more and more captivated by her charms.
At the end of a year the situation of Mr. Ralph Spencer was this:
he had won the respect of the community, his shoe-store was
flourishing, and he and Annabel were engaged to be married in two
weeks. Mr. Adams, the typical, plodding, country banker, approved
of Spencer. Annabel's pride in him almost equalled her affection.
He was as much at home in the family of Mr. Adams and that of
Annabel's married sister as if he were already a member.
One day Jimmy sat down in his room and wrote this letter, which he
mailed to the safe address of one of his old friends in St. Louis:
DEAR OLD PAL:
I want you to be at Sullivan's place, in Little Rock, next
Wednesday night, at nine o'clock. I want you to wind up
some little matters for me. And, also, I want to make you
a present of my kit of tools. I know you'll be glad to get
them--you couldn't duplicate the lot for one thousand dollars.
Say, Billy, I've quit the old business--a year ago. I've got
a nice store. I'm making an honest living, and I'm going
to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now. It's
the only life, Billy--the straight one. I wouldn't touch a
dollar of another man's money now for a million. After I get
married I'm going to sell out and go West, where there won't
be so much danger of having old scores brought up against
me. I tell you, Billy, she's an angel. She believes in me;
and I wouldn't do another crooked thing for the whole world.
Be sure to be at Sully's, for I must see you. I'll bring
along the tools with me.
Your old friend,
On the Monday night after Jimmy wrote this letter, Ben Price jogged
unobtrusively into Elmore in a livery buggy. He lounged about town
in his quiet way until he found out what he wanted to know. From the
drug-store across the street from Spencer's shoe-store he got a good
look at Ralph D. Spencer.
"Going to marry the banker's daughter, are you, Jimmy?" said Ben to
himself, softly. "Well, I don't know!"
The next morning Jimmy took breakfast at the Adamses. He was going
to Little Rock that day to order his wedding-suit and buy something
nice for Annabel. That would be the first time he had left town
since he came to Elmore. It had been more than a year now since
those last professional "jobs," and he thought he could safely
After breakfast quite a family party went downtown together--Mr.
Adams, Annabel, Jimmy, and Annabel's married sister with her two
little girls, aged five and nine. They came by the hotel where
Jimmy still boarded, and he ran up to his room and brought along
his suitcase. Then they went on to the bank. There stood Jimmy's
horse and buggy and Dolph Gibson, who was going to drive him over
to the railroad station.
All went inside the high, carved oak railings into the
banking-room--Jimmy included, for Mr. Adams' future son-in-law
was welcome anywhere. The clerks were pleased to be greeted by
the good-looking, agreeable young man who was going to marry Miss
Annabel. Jimmy set his suitcase down. Annabel, whose heart was
bubbling with happiness and lively youth, put on Jimmy's hat, and
picked up the suitcase. "Wouldn't I make a nice drummer?" said
Annabel. "My! Ralph, how heavy it is? Feels like it was full of
"Lot of nickel-plated shoe-horns in there," said Jimmy, coolly,
"that I'm going to return. Thought I'd save express charges by
taking them up. I'm getting awfully economical."
The Elmore Bank had just put in a new safe and vault. Mr. Adams
was very proud of it, and insisted on an inspection by every one.
The vault was a small one, but it had a new, patented door. It
fastened with three, solid steel bolts thrown simultaneously with
a single handle, and had a time-lock. Mr. Adams beamingly explained
its workings to Mr. Spencer, who showed a courteous, but not too
intelligent interest. The two children, May and Agatha, were
delighted by the shining metal and funny clock and knobs.
While they were thus engaged Ben Price sauntered in and leaned on
his elbow, looking casually inside between the railings. He told
the teller that he didn't want anything; he was just waiting for
a man he knew.
Suddenly there was a scream or two from the women, and a commotion.
Unperceived by the elders, May, the nine-year-old girl, in a spirit
of play, had shut Agatha in the vault. She had then shot the bolts
and turned the knob of the combination as she had seen Mr. Adams do.
The old banker sprang to the handle and tugged at it for a moment.
"The door can't be opened," he groaned. "The clock hasn't been
wound nor the combination set."
Agatha's mother screamed again, hysterically.
"Hush!" said Mr. Adams, raising his trembling hand. "All be quite
for a moment. Agatha!" he called as loudly as he could. "Listen to
me." During the following silence they could just hear the faint
sound of the child wildly shrieking in the dark vault, in a panic
"My precious darling!" wailed the mother. "She will die of fright!
Open the door! Oh, break it open! Can't you men do something?"
"There isn't a man nearer than Little Rock who can open that door,"
said Mr. Adams, in a shaky voice. "My God! Spencer, what shall we
do? That child--she can't stand it long in there. There isn't enough
air, and, besides, she'll go into convulsions from fright."
Agatha's mother, frantic now, beat the door of the vault with
her hands. Somebody wildly suggested dynamite. Annabel turned to
Jimmy, her large eyes full of anguish, but not yet despairing.
To a woman nothing seems quite impossible to the powers of the
man she worships.
"Can't you do something, Ralph--try, won't you?"
He looked at her with a queer, soft smile on his lips and in his
"Annabel," he said, "give me that rose you are wearing, will you?"
Hardly believing that she heard him aright, she unpinned the bud
from the bosom of her dress, and placed it in his hand. Jimmy
stuffed it into his vest-pocket, threw off his coat and pulled
up his shirt-sleeves. With that act Ralph D. Spencer passed away
and Jimmy Valentine took his place.
"Get away from the door, all of you," he commanded, shortly.
He set his suitcase on the table, and opened it out flat. From
that time on he seemed to be unconscious of the presence of any
one else. He laid out the shining, queer implements swiftly and
orderly, whistling softly to himself as he always did when at
work. In a deep silence and immovable, the others watched him
as if under a spell.
In a minute Jimmy's pet drill was biting smoothly into the steel
door. In ten minutes--breaking his own burglarious record--he threw
back the bolts and opened the door.
Agatha, almost collapsed, but safe, was gathered into her mother's
Jimmy Valentine put on his coat, and walked outside the railings
towards the front door. As he went he thought he heard a far-away
voice that he once knew call "Ralph!" But he never hesitated.
At the door a big man stood somewhat in his way.
"Hello, Ben!" said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. "Got
around at last, have you? Well, let's go. I don't know that it
makes much difference, now."
And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.
"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.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~