O’ Henry is the pen name of American short-story author William Sydney Porter (1862-1910)who is famous for writing stories with twisting and surprising endings, ready wit andconciseness. The story in question, “Hearts and Hands” is not an exception. The reader can comeacross a surprising jolt when the story ends with a sharp twist.The story starts with the description of the setting and place of the story that are train andDenver respectively. It is set in a train that is going from west to east coast.
This story occursduring the time of American westward expansion, when living in west was considered as anadventure, in comparison to live in already established east; and the people started to visit thewest often in search of ‘wild entertainment’. We can see the personification of those people inthe character of Miss Fairchild who is “an experienced traveler” and who is also one of the threemain characters of the story.After the description of the Ms. Fairchild as “pretty young woman” and of her “eleganttaste”, the author moves forward to describe the two young new comers who get the seat that isfacing the woman.
One of the two new comers is depicted as “handsome presence with a bold, frankcountenance and manner” who is Mr. Easton; while the other one is presented as a “ruffled,glum-faced person”, who is “heavily built” and “roughly dressed”. The author describes the twomen as a “linked couple” for they are handcuffed together, that is Mr. Easton’s right hand isbound to left hand of the glum-looking man.
After the description of the appearance of the three main characters of the story, thewriter proceeds the story by building the interaction among the characters. Miss Fairchild looksat the new comers seated in front of her with a swift and disinterested glance, but suddenly herface begins to have a “lovely smile” as she recognizes Mr. Easton as an old friend. Heridentification of Mr.
Easton brings a slight embarrassment to him as he clasps Ms. Fairchild’sheld out hand with his left hand by showing his handcuffed right hand to Mr. Fairchild. Here,Ms. Fairchild’s “lovely smile” changes to “bewildered horror”.
The other glum-looking person who reads the changing expression of Mr. Fairchild,interrupts their conversation explains the handcuffs by saying that he has been sentenced toseven years in jail for counterfeiting and Mr. Easton, a marshal, is taking him to the prison, andthat all the marshals handcuff themselves to their prisoners so they can’t get away.When, during the conversation, Ms. Fairchild says that the people who run after moneyare “stupid”, the glum faced man suddenly intervenes again by saying that he needs to smokeand have a drink.
So, the two “linked men” go to the smoker room.At this point in the story, two more characters enter in the story. They are passengers andhave been listening to the whole conversation among the trio. One of them says that Mr. Eastonis an amazing person as he holds the post of marshal at a very young age. The other persondisagrees with the former by rhetorically asking, “… did you ever know an officer to handcuff aprisoner to his right hand?” This is the moment in the story, when the reader comes to know thatit is actually Mr.
Easton who is going to prison for counterfeiting and the glum-faced person is amarshal in fact.Here, the question arises in the mind of the reader, “Why does the glum looking personsave Mr. Easton from embarrassment in the story, twice? The answer to this question actuallyexplains the title of the story “Hearts and Hands” too. Although, Mr. Easton and glum-facedperson share a contrasting relation of a prisoner and a marshal, and their hands are bound to eachother, so do their hearts too. He saves his convict from embarrassing himself in front of an oldfriend who seems to be fascinated by him. He senses the embarrassment of Mr.
Easton, as theirhearts go alike and he can feel the heartbeat of his prisoner. The story presents a compassion of amarshal to his convict.