A Retrieved Information

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 life.”

“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 café 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 café. 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 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 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’t that young lady Polly Simp­son?” asked Jimmy, with spe­cious guile.

“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 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 phœnix 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,

Jimmy.

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 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 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 eyes.

“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 arms.

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.


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