Annotations to O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years”

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The story has the two main characters: Jimmy Wells and his old friend, Bob. Since Bob left for the West to earn his wealth, they have lived far from each other for twenty years. Then, they meet again in New York where Bob still lives, although it is too dark to see each other’s face without light…

After Twenty Years

The policeman on the beat1 moved up the avenue2 impressively3. The impressiveness was habitual4 and not for show5, for6 spectators7 were few. The time was barely8 10 o’clock at night, but chilly9 gusts of wind10 with a taste11 of rain in them had well nigh12 de-peopled13 the streets.

Trying14 doors as he went, twirling15 his club16 with many intricate17 and artful18 movements, turning19 now and then20 to cast21 his watchful22 eye adown23 the pacific24 thoroughfare25, the officer, with his stalwart26 form and slight swagger27, made a fine28 picture of a guardian of the peace. The vicinity29 was one that kept early hours30. Now and then you might see the lights of a cigar store or of an all-night31 lunch counter32; but the majority of the doors belonged to business places33 that had long since been closed.

When about midway34 of a certain block35 the policeman suddenly slowed his walk. In the doorway36 of a darkened37 hardware38 store a man leaned39, with an unlighted40 cigar41 in his mouth. As the policeman walked up to42 him the man spoke up43 quickly44.

“It’s all right, officer,” he said, reassuringly45. “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 certain46 it’s all straight47. About that long ago there used to be a restaurant where this store stands—‘Big Joe48’ Brady’s restaurant.”

Until49 five years ago,” said the policeman. “It was torn down50 then.”

The man in the doorway struck a match51 and lit his cigar. The light showed a pale52, square-jawed53 face with keen54 eyes, and a little white scar55 near his right eyebrow. His scarfpin56 was a large diamond, oddly57 set58.

“Twenty years ago to-night59,” said the man, “I dined60 here at ‘Big Joe’ Brady’s with Jimmy Wells, my best chum61, and the finest62 chap63 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 for64 the West65 to make my fortune66. You couldn’t have dragged67 Jimmy out of New York; he thought it was the only place on earth. Well, we agreed that68 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 figured69 that in twenty years each of us ought70 to have our destiny71 worked out72 and our fortunes made, whatever they were going to be.”

“It sounds pretty interesting,” said the policeman. “Rather73 a long time between meets74, though75, it seems to me. Haven’t you heard from76 your friend since you left?”

“Well, yes, for a time77 we corresponded78,” said the other. “But after a year or two we lost track of79 each other. You see, the West is a pretty big proposition80, and I kept hustling81 around82 over83 it pretty84 lively85. But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he’s alive, for he always was the truest86, stanchest87 old88 chap in the world. He’ll never forget. I came a thousand miles89 to stand in this door to-night, and it’s worth it90 if my old partner turns up91.”

The waiting man pulled out92 a handsome93 watch, the lids of it set with small diamonds.

“Three minutes to ten,” he announced94. “It was exactly ten o’clock when we parted here at the restaurant door.”

Did95 pretty well out West96, didn’t you?” asked the policeman.

You bet!97 I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a kind of98 plodder99, though100, good fellow as he was101. I’ve had to compete with some of102 the sharpest wits103 going to104 get my pile105. A man gets in a groove106 in New York. It takes107 the West to put a razor-edge on him108.”

The policeman twirled his club and took a step109 or two.

I’ll be on my way110. Hope your friend comes around111 all right112. Going to call time on113 him sharp114?”

I should say not!115” said the other. “I’ll give him half an hour at least. If Jimmy is alive on earth he’ll be here by116 that time. So long117, officer.”

Good-night118, sir,” said the policeman, passing on along his beat, trying doors as he went.

There was now a fine119, cold drizzle120 falling, and the wind had risen121 from its uncertain122 puffs123 into a steady124 blow125. The few126 foot passengers127 astir128 in that quarter129 hurried130 dismally131 and silently along with coat collars turned high and pocketed132 hands. And in the door of the hardware store the man who had come a thousand miles to fill an appointment, uncertain almost to133 absurdity134, with the friend of his youth135, 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 man.

“Is that you, Bob?” he asked, doubtfully136.

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

Bless my heart!137exclaimed138 the new arrival139, grasping140 both the other’s hands with his own. “It’s Bob, sure as fate141. I was certain I’d find you here if you were still in existence142. Well, well, well!143—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 treated144 you, old man145?”

Bully146; 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 well147 in New York, Jimmy?”

Moderately148. I have a position in one of the city departments149. Come on, Bob; we’ll go around to150 a place I know of151, and have a good long talk about old times152.”

The two men started up153 the street, arm in arm154. The man from the West, his egotism155 enlarged by success, was beginning to outline156 the history of his career157. The other, submerged158 in his overcoat159, listened160 with interest.

At the corner stood a drug store, brilliant161 with electric lights. When they came into this glare162 each of them turned163 simultaneously164 to gaze165 upon the other’s face.

The man from the West stopped suddenly and released his arm.

“You’re not Jimmy Wells,” he snapped166. “Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to change a man’s nose from a Roman to a pug167.”

It168 sometimes changes a good man into a bad one,” said the tall man. “You’ve been under arrest for ten minutes, ‘Silky169’ Bob. Chicago thinks you may have dropped over170 our way and wires171 us she wants to have a chat with you. Going quietly, are you? That’s sensible172. Now, before we go on to the station173 here’s a note I was asked to hand you. You may read it here at the window. It’s from Patrolman174 Wells.”

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 time175. When you struck the match to light your cigar I saw it was the face of the man wanted176 in Chicago. Somehow I couldn’t do it myself, so I went around and got a plain clothes man to do the job.


The collection, “The Four Million,” (O. Henry, 1906) has some short stories, including “After Twenty Years.”
I retrieved English definitions and synonyms from the online version of WordNet (Princeton University, 2010). For irretrievable ones, I made example sentences instead. I do not guarantee the exactness or correctness of any annotations.

  1. beat, round (a regular route for a sentry or policeman). 순찰길.
    Those police officers on the beat are trying doors. 

  2. avenue, boulevard (a wide street or thoroughfare). 

  3. impressively, imposingly (in an impressive manner);
    impressive (making a strong or vivid impression);
    impression, effect (an outward appearance). 

  4. habitual, accustomed, customary, wonted (commonly used or practiced; usual). 

  5. show, appearance (pretending that something is the case in order to make a good impression). 

  6. for = ((old-fashioned or literary)) because. 

  7. spectator, witness, viewer, watcher, looker (a close observer; someone who looks at something (such as an exhibition of some kind)). 구경꾼, 관객. 

  8. barely, just (by a little). 

  9. chilly, parky (appreciably or disagreeably cold). 

  10. gust, blast, blow (a strong current of air). 돌풍. 

  11. taste (a brief experience of something).
    I’ve got a taste of what is going to happen. 

  12. well-nigh, about, almost, most, nearly, near, nigh, virtually ((of actions or states) slightly short of or not quite accomplished; all but). 거의 다. 

  13. depeople = depopulate, desolate (reduce in population). 

  14. I will try the door to see whether it is locked. 

  15. twirl, whirl, birl, spin (cause to spin). 

  16. club (stout stick that is larger at one end). 

  17. intricate (having many complexly arranged elements; elaborate). 복잡한. 

  18. artful (marked by skill in achieving a desired end especially with cunning or craft). 기교 있는. 

  19. turn (change orientation or direction, also in the abstract sense). 

  20. now and then, occasionally, on occasion, once in a while, now and again, at times, from time to time (sporadically and infrequently) 

  21. I cast an eye on his writings to see whether they are good enough. 

  22. watchful, alert (engaged in or accustomed to close observation). 

  23. adown = ((archaic)) down. 

  24. pacific, peaceable (disposed to peace or of a peaceful nature). 

  25. thoroughfare (a public road from one place to another). 

  26. stalwart, hardy, stout, sturdy (having rugged physical strength; inured to fatigue or hardships). 

  27. swagger, strut, prance (a proud stiff pompous gait);
    gait (a person’s/horse’s manner of walking). 

  28. fine (characterized by elegance or refinement or accomplishment). 

  29. vicinity, locality, neighborhood, neighbourhood, neck of the woods (a surrounding or nearby region) 

  30. To keep late hours is to get up and go to bed late, so to keep early hours means to get up and go to bed early. 

  31. all-night, nightlong, overnight (lasting, open, or operating through the whole night). 

  32. Why don’t we go to that lunch counter and grab a bite? 

  33. Business places: banks, stores, etc. 

  34. midway, halfway (at half the distance; at the middle) 

  35. block, city block (a rectangular area in a city surrounded by streets and usually containing several buildings) 

  36. doorway, door, room access, threshold (the entrance (the space in a wall) through which you enter or leave a room or building; the space that a door can close). 

  37. darkened (become or made dark by lack of light). 

  38. hardware, ironware (instrumentalities (tools or implements) made of metal). 

  39. lean, tilt, tip, slant, angle (to incline or bend from a vertical position). 

  40. unlighted, unlit (not set afire or burning). 

  41. cigar (a roll of tobacco for smoking). 

  42. She walked up to me and said I am not to blame. 

  43. speak up, opine, speak out, animadvert, sound off (express one’s opinion openly and without fear or hesitation). 

  44. quickly, promptly, quick (with little or no delay). 

  45. reassuringly (in a reassuring manner);
    reassuring (restoring confidence and relieving anxiety). 

  46. I have to make certain another bad thing doesn’t happen. 

  47. straight (in keeping with the facts). 

  48. big, large (above average in size or number or quantity or magnitude or extent).
    Hey, I’m not an average Joe. 

  49. ((My thoughts: “Until A” means something changes and ends at a timepoint of A. Thus, both “The shop will be closed until Monday,” and “The shop will be open until Monday,” indicate that the shop will open at a timepoint of Monday. I need to familiarize myself with a difference between the words, “까지” and “until.”)) 

  50. Please tear down that building later. 

  51. He is going to strike a match to light these candles. 

  52. pale, pallid, wan (abnormally deficient in color as suggesting physical or emotional distress). 

  53. jawed (of animals having jaws of a specified type). 

  54. keen, acute, discriminating, incisive, knifelike, penetrating, penetrative, piercing, sharp (having or demonstrating ability to recognize or draw fine distinctions). 예리한. 

  55. scar, cicatrix, cicatrice (a mark left (usually on the skin) by the healing of injured tissue). 

  56. scarfpin, tie tack, tiepin (a pin used to hold the tie in place). 

  57. oddly, queerly, strangely, funnily (in a strange manner). 

  58. set (fix in a border). 

  59. to-night = ((archaic)) tonight. 

  60. dine (have supper; eat dinner). 

  61. chum, buddy, brother, crony, pal, sidekick (a close friend who accompanies his buddies in their activities). 

  62. finest: the superlative of “fine”
    ((The word, “finest,” means the police force (of a specified city), too.)) 

  63. chap, fellow, feller, fella, lad, gent, blighter, cuss, bloke (a boy or man). 

  64. I will start for Seoul at night. 

  65. West, western United States (the region of the United States lying to the west of the Mississippi River). 

  66. fortune (a large amount of wealth or prosperity).
    I make my fortune doing something special. 

  67. drag (persuade to come away from something attractive or interesting).
    ((My notes))

    • He couldn’t come. (He was not able to come.)
    • He couldn’t have come. (It is impossible for him to have come.)
    • For affirmative sentences, use “could” about personal ability; “was/were able to” or “managed to,” about doing something in a specific situation. e.g. (1) He is a great bowling player. He could beat anyone. (2) There was a big fire last night and our heroes were able to save people’s lives.

  68. 그날(의).
    That afternoon I hung out with my friends. 

  69. figure, calculate, estimate, reckon, count on, forecast (judge to be probable). 

  70. I ought to be the victor tomorrow. 

  71. destiny, fate (an event (or a course of events) that will inevitably happen in the future). 

  72. work out (happen in a certain way, leading to, producing, or resulting in a certain outcome, often well). 

  73. rather, quite (to a degree (not used with a negative)). 

  74. a meet = ((informal)) a meeting. 

  75. though ((postpositive) however). 

  76. hear (receive a communication from someone). 

  77. I was curious for a time until I find a great book. 

  78. correspond (exchange messages). 

  79. lose track (fail to keep informed or aware). 

  80. proposition (a task to be dealt with). 

  81. hustle, bustle, bustle about (move or cause to move energetically or busily). 

  82. around, about (all around or on all sides). 

  83. over (throughout an area). 

  84. pretty, reasonably, moderately, jolly, somewhat, fairly, middling, passably (to certain extent or degree). 

  85. lively, alert, brisk, merry, rattling, snappy, spanking, zippy (quick and energetic). 

  86. true, dependable, honest, reliable (worthy of being depended on). 

  87. stanch = staunch, steadfast, unswerving (firm and dependable especially in loyalty). 

  88. old ((used for emphasis) very familiar). 

  89. ((My notes))
    1 foot = 12 inches;
    1 yard = 3 feet;
    1 mile = 1760 yards = 5280 feet = 63 360 inches = about 1.60934 km. 

  90. It might be dangerous but it’s worth it. 

  91. turn up, come on, come out, surface, show up (appear or become visible; make a showing). 

  92. pull out, draw, pull, get out, take out (bring, take, or pull out of a container or from under a cover). 

  93. handsome, fine-looking, good-looking, better-looking, well-favored, well-favoured (pleasing in appearance especially by reason of conformity to ideals of form and proportion). 

  94. announce, denote (make known; make an announcement). 

  95. I’m doing pretty well. 

  96. I’m going to move out west next year. 

  97. you bet, and how, you said it (an expression of emphatic agreement). 

  98. kind of, rather, kinda, sort of (to some (great or small) extent). 

  99. plodder, slogger (someone who works slowly and monotonously for long hours). 

  100. though = but. 

  101. good fellow as he was = although he was a good fellow. 

  102. of = having. 

  103. wits, marbles (the basic human power of intelligent thought and perception). 

  104. She is going to clean her room. 

  105. pile, batch, deal, flock, good deal, great deal, hatful, heap, lot, mass, mess, mickle, mint, mountain, muckle, passel, peck, plenty, pot, quite a little, raft, sight, slew, spate, stack, tidy sum, wad ((often followed by ‘of’) a large number or amount or extent) “a batch of letters”; “a deal of trouble”; “a lot of money”; “he made a mint on the stock market”; “see the rest of the winners in our huge passel of photos”; “it must have cost plenty”; “a slew of journalists”; “a wad of money.” 

  106. groove, rut (a settled and monotonous routine that is hard to escape).
    I’m in a groove because everything I do is just boring. 

  107. take, occupy, use up (require (time or space)). 

  108. razor edge (an edge that is as sharp as the cutting side of a razor).
    Don’t put me on a razor edge. 

  109. step (the act of changing location by raising the foot and setting it down). 

  110. I’ll be on my way = I’m leaving. 

  111. He will come around sooner or later. 

  112. Fortunately, I got there all right. 

  113. Why do you want to call time on your life? 

  114. sharp, sharply, acutely (changing suddenly in direction and degree). 

  115. “Will I win the first place?” “I should say not!” 

  116. This should be done by this Friday. 

  117. so long, adieu, adios, arrivederci, auf wiedersehen, au revoir, bye, bye-bye, cheerio, good-by, goodby, good-bye, goodbye, good day, sayonara (a farewell remark). 

  118. good night (a conventional expression of farewell). 

  119. fine (thin in thickness or diameter). 

  120. drizzle, mizzle (very light rain; stronger than mist but less than a shower). 

  121. rise (a growth in strength or number or importance). 

  122. uncertain, changeable, unsettled (subject to change). 

  123. puff, puff of air, whiff (a short light gust of air). 

  124. steady (not subject to change or variation especially in behavior). 

  125. blow, gust, blast (a strong current of air). 

  126. few (a quantifier that can be used with count nouns and is often preceded by “a”; a small but indefinite number). 

  127. a foot passenger = a pedestrian. 

  128. astir, about (on the move). 

  129. quarter (a district of a city having some distinguishing character). 

  130. hurry, travel rapidly, speed, zip (move very fast). 

  131. dismally, drearily (in a cheerless manner). 

  132. pocket (put in one’s pocket). 

  133. She cried to death. 

  134. absurdity, fatuity, fatuousness, silliness (a ludicrous folly). 

  135. youth (the time of life between childhood and maturity). 

  136. doubtfully, dubiously (in a doubtful manner);
    doubtful, dubious (fraught with uncertainty or doubt). 

  137. bless my heart = bless my soul

  138. exclaim, cry, cry out, outcry, call out, shout (utter aloud; often with surprise, horror, or joy). 

  139. arrival (the act of arriving at a certain place). 

  140. grasp, hold on (hold firmly). 

  141. sure as fate = sure as you live

  142. in existence = now existing. 

  143. _Well, well, well. Look who’s here!_ 

  144. treat, handle, do by (interact in a certain way). 

  145. old man, old boy (a familiar term of address for a man). 

  146. bully, bang-up, corking, cracking, dandy, great, groovy, keen, neat, nifty, not bad, peachy, slap-up, swell, smashing, old (very good). 

  147. I’m doing well in Seoul. 

  148. moderately, reasonably, pretty, jolly, somewhat, fairly, middling, passably (to certain extent or degree). 

  149. department, section (a specialized division of a large organization). 

  150. Why don’t we go around to his house? 

  151. I know of one place that you mentioned yesterday. 

  152. old times, auld lang syne, lang syne, good old days (past times remembered with nostalgia). 

  153. I was walking up the road when I found her dog. 

  154. We walked arm in arm by the road. 

  155. egotism, ego, self-importance (an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others). 

  156. outline, sketch, adumbrate (describe roughly or briefly or give the main points or summary of). 

  157. career, life history (the general progression of your working or professional life). 

  158. submerge, inundate, deluge (fill or cover completely, usually with water). 

  159. overcoat, greatcoat, topcoat (a heavy coat worn over clothes in winter). 

  160. listen, hear, take heed (listen and pay attention). 

  161. brilliant (full of light; shining intensely). 

  162. glare, blaze, brilliance (a light within the field of vision that is brighter than the brightness to which the eyes are adapted). 

  163. turn (direct at someone). 

  164. simultaneously, at the same time (at the same instant). 

  165. gaze, stare (look at with fixed eyes). 

  166. snap, snarl (utter in an angry, sharp, or abrupt tone). 

  167. pug, pug-dog (small compact smooth-coated breed of Asiatic origin having a tightly curled tail and broad flat wrinkled muzzle). 

  168. “It” refers to the twenty years. 

  169. He has such a silky voice. 

  170. Drop over right now. I’m waiting for you. 

  171. wire, cable, telegraph (send cables, wires, or telegrams);
    telegram, wire (a message transmitted by telegraph). 

  172. sensible, reasonable (showing reason or sound judgment). 

  173. station (a facility equipped with special equipment and personnel for a particular purpose). The station here refers to the police station. 

  174. patrolman, flatfoot (a policeman who patrols a given region). 

  175. on time, punctually (at the expected or proper time). 

  176. wanted (desired or wished for or sought). 수배 중인. 

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