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            After Twenty Years

                                                                      - From Short Stories of 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 caste his watchful eye adown the pacific thorough fare, 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 the business places that had long since been closed.

When at the 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 am just waiting for a friend, its and appointment made twenty years ago. Sounds a little funny to you, doesn't it? Well, I shall 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 white eyebrow. His scarf pin was a large diamond, oddly set.

    "Twenty years ago to-night said the man," 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 together here in New York, just like brothers. 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 the 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 may 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 are 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 left?"

    "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 turns up."

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 here when we parted at the restaurant door."

    "Did pretty well out west, didn't you?" asked the policeman.

    "You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a kind of a plodder, though a good fellow he was. 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 or two.

    "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 here on the earth he'll be here bny 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 cool drizzle falling, and the wind had risen from its uncertain puffs into a steady blow. A few foot passengers astir in that quarter hurried dismally and silently along with coat collars high and pocketed hands. And in the door of the hardware store the man who had come a thousand miles to fill and appointment, uncertain almost to absurdity, with the friend of his youth, smoked a 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 man.

    "Is that you, Bob?" he asked, doubtfully.

    "Is that you, Jimmy Wells?" cried that man in the door.

    "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 would find you here if you were still in existence. Well, well, well-twenty years is a long time. The old restaurant is 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 knew 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 the 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 his arm.

    "You are 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 have been under arrest for ten minutes, 'Silky" Bob. Chicago thinks you might have dropped our way and wires us that she wants to have a chat with you. Going quietly, are you? That's sensible. Now before we go to the station, here's a note I was asked hand to you. You may read it here at the window. It's from Patrolman Wells."

The man from the West unfolded the little piece of paper. 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 your 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 and got around a plain clothes man to do the job.

                        Jimmy

 


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