Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1862, William Sydney Porter went on to write some of the most memorable short stories of all times. Having given up formal education at the age of fifteen to apprentice under a pharmacist, he later changed his mind and worked as a bookkeeper in a Texas ranch while also working as a teller in the National Bank of Austin. He had to serve a five-year sentence, for embezzling funds from the bank, at the Federal Penitentiary, Columbus, Iowa. It was in prison that he started writing short stories under the pseudonym of “O. Henry”.
His first collection of stories Cabbages and Kings was published in 1904. The second, The Four Million, got published two years later which included his well-known stories The Gift of the Magi and The Furnished Room. The brilliant author went on to write more than six hundred stories and published ten collections in his lifetime. However, he died like a pauper in 1910 due to the excessive abuse of alcohol.
The story Hearts and Hands was written and published by the author in the year 1902. It is one of many from the vast corpus of literary work that O. Henry has left behind. These beautifully written stories not only give the reader a chance to get acquainted with some of the best known of his works but also bear ample evidence of the wide range of his writings. Humorous and energetic, O. Henry’s stories are marked by coincidence and surprise endings. They speak of all human afflictions like love, hate, wealth, poverty, gentility, disguise and crime. O. Henry’s depiction of characters and their unique situation continues to weave their magic over readers even a hundred years after the author created them. This story is an extremely appealing classic and it continues to resonate with readers of all ages.
Hearts and Hands Summary by O. Henry
The story Hearts and Hands is rife with plot twists and surprise happenings. In the city of Denver, the people always seem to be travelling in train coaches. The eastbound B. & M. Express is also one such mode of transport where in one of the compartments a beautiful young woman sat prettily dressed in a manner reeking of sophistication and rich taste. She appeared to be a well-seasoned traveler because she had already made use of all the luxurious travel assets. When a new set of passengers boarded the train at the next stop, two young men also boarded with them. One was quiet handsome and had the bold airs of a frank, confident person. But the other man accompanying him, looked quiet glum and disturbed about something. He was heavily built and casually dressed with his shirts untucked and dirty. They were both handcuffed to each other.
As these men walked down the aisle of the train, looking for a place to sit, they came across the pretty woman in the coach. In fact, the only available seat in the entire coach was the seat opposite to the attractive lady and the two linked men decided to sit there. The young woman gave them a quick passing gaze and she seemed uninterested for a moment. After she looked away, a slow smile crept up her pretty face as she blushed. With a fresh and radiant countenance she extended a gloved little hand towards them. She even started a conversation with them, her sweet assertive voice, insinuating that she was used to people listening to her. She addressed to one of them as Mr. Easton and asked him if he could recognize her as she was an old friend to him. At this, the young handsome man turned his face sharply and looked at her piercingly before replying. He appeared to be bashfully shy at the young woman’s direct question. His smooth confidence gone he looked startled at seeing the woman.
He too extended his hand with an embarrassed smile and indulged in a brief handshake before pulling off. Here, the readers come to know that these two young people were indeed old acquaintances and Easton identifies her to be a Ms. Fairchild. She then begins questioning him about the handcuffs which had her little worried. She wondered if he had gotten into some kind of a legal trouble. Hearing this question and sensing Easton’s discomfort, the second man interrupts the conversation and explains to Ms. Fairchild that Mr. Easton is a marshal and he was within his legal rights to transfer him to the Leavenworth prison since he had just been ordered seven years of imprisonment for counterfeiting by the court. This provides the worried Ms. Fairchild some relief as she didn’t want to think anything bad about her dear old friend. Thus, the conversation flowed between the two lost young souls as they had a lot to catch up with. Mr. Easton told Ms. Fairchild about his new job as a marshal in the west.
Apparently, he had sacrificed his previously luxurious life in Washington for this new job because he wanted to serve. At this, the young Ms. Fairchild exclaimed in surprise that she herself had always dreamed of living in the West. The second man speaks up in that very moment and demands to be taken to the smoking room as he had not smoked the entire day. Thus, Mr. Easton had to break away from his camaraderie with the beautiful young woman and he gets up to leave with the other man, bidding goodbye to the woman. A couple of other passengers had overheard the entire conversation and they started discussing how at such a young age the person had achieved the rank of a marshal. Then this discussion lead to a new perspective when one of them observed that they had never seen a marshal and a criminal handcuffed together like that. At this point the obvious conclusion dawned upon them that the glum-faced person was the marshal in reality and the young bashful man was the criminal offender. The kind marshal had actually presented the reverse story to save the young man’s face in front of the pretty lady.
Conclusion: Hearts and Hands by O. Henry
The author O. Henry has created a unique place for himself in the field of literature and the charming personality which he brings to his writing is irresistible. His stories are both at once predictable and unpredictable. Predictable when, if the reader knows anything about the author, then they are definitely expecting a surprise ending and unpredictable because of the way he twists the tale at the very end, just when you are least expecting it. All in in all, his stories provide an interesting read and the story, Hearts and Hands is no exception.