home | authors | books | about

Home -> O. Henry -> A Retrieved Reformation

A Retrieved Reformation

Short Stories


A Bird of Bagdad

A Blackjack Bargainer

A Call Loan

A Chaparral Christmas Gift

A Chaparral Prince

A Comedy in Rubber

A Cosmopolite in a Cafe

A Departmental Case

A Dinner at--------*

A Double-Dyed Deceiver

A Fog in Santone

A Harlem Tragedy

A Lickpenny Lover

A Little Local Colour

A Little Talk about Mobs

A Madison Square Arabian Night

A Matter of Mean Elevation

A Midsummer Knight's Dream

A Midsummer Masquerade

A Municipal Report

A Newspaper Story

A Night in New Arabia

A Philistine in Bohemia

A Poor Rule

A Ramble in Aphasia

A Retrieved Reformation

A Ruler of Men

A Sacrifice Hit

A Service of Love

A Snapshot at the President

A Strange Story

A Technical Error

A Tempered Wind

According to Their Lights

After Twenty Years

An Adjustment of Nature

An Afternoon Miracle

An Apology

An Unfinished Christmas Story

An Unfinished Story

Aristocracy Versus Hash

Art and the Bronco

At Arms With Morpheus

Babes in the Jungle


Between Rounds

Bexar Scrip No. 2692

Blind Man's Holiday

Brickdust Row

Buried Treasure

By Courier

Calloway's Code


Cherchez La Femme

Christmas by Injunction

Compliments of the Season

Confessions of a Humorist

Conscience in Art

Cupid a La Carte

Cupid's Exile Number Two


Dougherty's Eye-Opener

Elsie in New York

Extradited from Bohemia

Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled

Friends in San Rosario

From Each According to His Ability

From the Cabby's Seat

Georgia's Ruling


He Also Serves

Hearts and Crosses

Hearts and Hands

Helping the Other Fellow

Holding Up a Train

Hostages to Momus

Hygeia at the Solito

Innocents of Broadway

Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet

Jimmy Hayes and Muriel

Law and Order

Let Me Feel Your Pulse

Little Speck in Garnered Fruit

Lord Oakhurst's Curse

Lost on Dress Parade

Madame Bo-Peep, of the Ranches

Makes the Whole World Kin

Mammon and the Archer

Man About Town

Masters of Arts

Memoirs of a Yellow Dog

Modern Rural Sports

Money Maze

Nemesis and the Candy Man

New York by Camp Fire Light

Next to Reading Matter

No Story

October and June

On Behalf of the Management

One Dollar's Worth

One Thousand Dollars

Out of Nazareth

Past One at Rooney's


Proof of the Pudding

Psyche and the Pskyscraper

Queries and Answers

Roads of Destiny

Roses, Ruses and Romance

Rouge et Noir

Round the Circle

Rus in Urbe

Schools and Schools

Seats of the Haughty

Shearing the Wolf



Sisters of the Golden Circle


Sociology in Serge and Straw

Sound and Fury

Springtime a La Carte

Squaring the Circle

Strictly Business

Strictly Business

Suite Homes and Their Romance

Telemachus, Friend

The Admiral

The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes

The Assessor of Success

The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear

The Badge of Policeman O'Roon

The Brief Debut of Tildy

The Buyer From Cactus City

The Caballero's Way

The Cactus

The Caliph and the Cad

The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock

The Call of the Tame

The Chair of Philanthromathematics

The Champion of the Weather

The Church with an Overshot-Wheel

The City of Dreadful Night

The Clarion Call

The Coming-Out of Maggie

The Complete Life of John Hopkins

The Cop and the Anthem

The Count and the Wedding Guest

The Country of Elusion

The Day Resurgent

The Day We Celebrate

The Defeat of the City

The Detective Detector

The Diamond of Kali

The Discounters of Money

The Dog and the Playlet

The Door of Unrest

The Dream

The Duel

The Duplicity of Hargraves

The Easter of the Soul

The Emancipation of Billy

The Enchanted Kiss

The Enchanted Profile

The Ethics of Pig

The Exact Science of Matrimony

The Ferry of Unfulfilment

The Fifth Wheel

The Flag Paramount

The Fool-Killer

The Foreign Policy of Company 99

The Fourth in Salvador

The Friendly Call

The Furnished Room

The Gift of the Magi

The Girl and the Graft

The Girl and the Habit

The Gold That Glittered

The Greater Coney

The Green Door

The Guardian of the Accolade

The Guilty Party - An East Side Tragedy

The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss

The Hand that Riles the World

The Handbook of Hymen

The Harbinger

The Head-Hunter

The Hiding of Black Bill

The Higher Abdication

The Higher Pragmatism

The Hypotheses of Failure

The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson

The Lady Higher Up

The Last Leaf

The Last of the Troubadours

The Lonesome Road

The Lost Blend

The Lotus And The Bottle

The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein

The Making of a New Yorker

The Man Higher Up

The Marionettes

The Marquis and Miss Sally

The Marry Month of May

The Memento

The Missing Chord

The Moment of Victory

The Octopus Marooned

The Passing of Black Eagle

The Pendulum

The Phonograph and the Graft

The Pimienta Pancakes

The Plutonian Fire

The Poet and the Peasant

The Pride of the Cities

The Princess and the Puma

The Prisoner of Zembla

The Proem

The Purple Dress

The Ransom of Mack

The Ransom of Red Chief

The Rathskeller and the Rose

The Red Roses of Tonia

The Reformation of Calliope

The Remnants of the Code

The Renaissance at Charleroi

The Roads We Take

The Robe of Peace

The Romance of a Busy Broker

The Rose of Dixie

The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball

The Rubber Plant's Story

The Shamrock and the Palm

The Shocks of Doom

The Skylight Room

The Sleuths

The Snow Man

The Social Triangle

The Song and the Sergeant

The Sparrows in Madison Square

The Sphinx Apple

The Tale of a Tainted Tenner

The Theory and the Hound

The Thing's the Play

The Third Ingredient

The Trimmed Lamp

The Unknown Quantity

The Unprofitable Servant

The Venturers

The Vitagraphoscope

The Voice of the City

The Whirligig of Life

The World and the Door

Thimble, Thimble


To Him Who Waits

Tobin's Palm

Tommy's Burglar

Tracked to Doom

Transformation of Martin Burney

Transients in Arcadia

Two Recalls

Two Renegades

Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

Ulysses and the Dogman

Vanity and Some Sables

What You Want

While the Auto Waits

Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking

Witches' Loaves

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!" said 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 arrest him.

Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in
the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suit-case. 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 nine hundred dollars they had cost him to have made at
----, a place where they make such things for the profession.

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 suit-case 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

"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 on
the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick get-aways, 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 suit-case 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 side-walk
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 coloured 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 suit-
case, and went her way.

"Isn' that young lady Polly Simpson?" asked Jimmy, with specious

"Naw," said the boy. "She's Annabel Adams. Her pa owns this bank.
Why'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
gave information.

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 suit-case, 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 a 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 venture out.

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 suit-
case. 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's 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
suit-case down. Annabel, whose heart was bubbling with happiness and
lively youth, put on Jimmy's hat, and picked up the suit-case.
"Wouldn't I make a nice drummer?" said Annabel. "My! Ralph, how heavy
it is? Feels like it was full of gold bricks."

"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

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 of terror.

"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 keen

"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 suit-case 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?"

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary