A Retrieved Reformation
Vocabulary from the Selection
During Reading Strategy
A guard came to
the prison shoe shop, where Jimmy Valentine was assiduously
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 worthwhile
to cut his hair.
Guided Reading Question 1
Why does Jimmy expect to get out of prison before he does?
“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 bullpen.1
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
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 chicken dinner. From
there he proceeded leisurely to the depot 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?”
Guided Reading Question 2
For what does Mike apologize to Jimmy?
“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
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, 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 downstairs and through the café. 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.”
What does Mike mean by his questions, and what is Jimmy’s response?
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:
What happens shortly after Jimmy Valentine is released from prison?
“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
What do the crimes have in common, and why is Ben Price so interested?
Ben Price knew Jimmy’s
habits. He had learned them while working up the Springfield case.
Long jumps, quick getaways, 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 suitcase climbed out of the mail
hack in Elmore, a little town five miles off the railroad down in the blackjack
country of Arkansas. Jimmy, looking like an athletic young senior just
home from college, went down the board sidewalk 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 colored 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 suitcase,
and went her way.
“Isn’t that young lady Miss 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 gilded2 youth of
Elmore, but he now perceived his shortcomings. While trying to figure
out Jimmy’s manner of tying his four-in-hand,3 he cordially gave
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 suitcase, himself; it was rather heavy.
Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix4 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.
In what way does Jimmy change? What causes these changes in his life?
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,
On the Monday night
after Jimmy wrote this letter, Ben Price jogged unobtrusively
in a livery buggy.5
He lounged about town in his quiet way until he found
out what he wanted to know. From the drugstore 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!’’
Does Ben think Jimmy will marry the banker’s daughter? Why, or why
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 suitcase. 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. Adam’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 suitcase down.
Annabel, whose heart was bubbling with happiness and lively youth, put on
Jimmy’s hat, and picked up the suitcase. “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 shoehorns 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 everyone. 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.
How does Mr. Spencer respond
to seeing the new safe?
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.
What happens while the family is viewing the new safe?
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 quiet 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
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 suitcase on the table, and opened it out flat. From that time
on he seemed to be unconscious of the presence of anyone 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
Jimmy Valentine put on his coat, and walked outside the railings toward 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
And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.
What does Ben Price do when Jimmy says hello?