Here are sixteen of the best stories by one of America's most popular storytellers. For nearly a century, the work of O. Henry has delighted readers with its humor, irony and colorful, real-life settings. The writer's own life had more than a touch of color and irony. Born William Sidney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1862, he worked on a Texas ranch, then as a bank teller in Austin, then as a reporter for the Houston "Post." Adversity struck, however, when he was indicted for embezzlement of bank funds. Porter fled to New Orleans, then to Honduras before he was tried, convicted and imprisoned for the crime in 1898. In prison he began writing stories of Central America and the American Southwest that soon became popular with magazine readers. After his release Porter moved to New York City, where he continued writing stories under the pen name O.
HenryThough his work earned him an avid readership, O. Henry died in poverty and oblivion scarcely eight years after his arrival in New York. But in the treasury of stories he left behind are such classics of the genre as "The Gift of the Magi," "The Last Leaf," "The Ransom of Red Chief," "The Voice of the City" and "The Cop and the Anthem" — all included in this choice selection. A selection of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
About the Author
O. Henry was the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910) was a prolific American short story writer. Initially trained as a pharmacist, Porter began his writing career as a journalist and worked on his stories on the side. After being accused of embezzling money from a bank he worked for, he fled to Honduras. He returned to the US upon the death of his wife and was sentenced to five years in prison. It was during this time that he began to have his first stories published. He later moved to New York and began writing stories in earnest. Some of his most famous stories include "Gift of the Magi" and "The Caballero's Way" which introduced the character, the Cisco Kid.
Read an Excerpt
A guard came to the prison shoe shop, where JimmyValentine was assiduously stitching uppers, and escort-ed him to the front office. There the warden handedJimmyhis pardon, which had been signed that morning by thegovernor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way. He had servednearlyten months of a four-year sentence. He had expected tostay only about three months, at the longest. When a manwith asmany friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had isreceived in the "stir" it is hardly worthwhile 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," smiled 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 nextmorning Jimmy stood in the warden's outer office. He had on a suit of the villainously fitting ready-made clothes and a pair of stiff, squeaky shoes that the state furnishesto 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 suitcase. 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, jemmies, 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 downstairs and through the cafe He was now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes, and carried his dusted and cleaned suitcase 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 banknotes, 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."The Gift of the Magi. Copyright © by O. Henry. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
From The Four Million (1906)
The Gift of the Magi
The Cop and the Anthem
Springtime a la Carte
The Green Door
After Twenty Years
The Furnished Room
From Heart of the West (1907)
The Pimienta Pancakes
From The Trimmed Lamp (1907)
The Last Leaf
From The Voice of the City (1908)
The Voice of the City
While the Auto Waits
From Roads of Destiny (1909)
A Retrieved Reformation
From Strictly Business (1910)
A Municipal Report
From Whirligigs (1910)
A Newspaper Story
The Ransom of Red Chief
From Sixes and Sevens (1911)
A Ghost of a Chance
Makes the Whole World Kin