Synopsis of Hearts and Hands by O. Henry from Treasure Trove

Synopsis of Hearts And Hands by O. Henry

About The Author of Hearts and Hands

O. Henry was an American writer whose actual name was William Sydney Porter. His short stories are known for wit, wordplay, humour and twisted endings. He was born on 11th September 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina. His father, Algernon Sidney Porter, was a medical doctor. When he was only three years old, his mother died and his grandmother and aunt raised him. He left the school at the age of 15 and did many jobs. In 1896 he was accused of embezzlement. He was sentenced to five years in jail. While in prison, he began writing short stories and his first published story was Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking in 1899. He used a pseudonym, Olivier Henry, only to hide his identity as he did not want his readers to know that he was in jail. His twelve stories were published when he was in prison. He was released from jail only in three years because of his good behaviour. He moved to New York City in 1902 and wrote a story a week for the New York World. His first collection of stories was Cabbages and Kings and the next collection was The Four Million. His success brought excessive pressure and he suffered from alcohol addiction. He died of cirrhosis of the liver on 5th June 1910 in New York.

Summary of Hearts and Hands

"Hearts and Hands" by O. Henry is a short story which describes the encounter of two acquaintances, Miss Fairchild and Mr Easton. The story is set on a train to Denver. A very pretty young woman named, Miss Fairchild is sitting in one coach. Meanwhile, two men enter the coach who are handcuffed to one another. Miss Fairchild greets one of them who she must know well and when she finds him bound at the wrist by shining bracelet to his companion, her smile changes to that of bewilderment. The glum-faced man with the Easton senses his embarrassment and gives an explanation, he tells that Easton is a marshal and he is taking him to Leavenworth prison. Its seven years for counterfeiting. With the advancement of conversation, Mr Easton tells that he prefers to become a marshal in the West rather than life in Washington. The young woman finds it fascinating but continues to look upon the glittering handcuffs. To comfort her, the other man tells her that the marshals handcuff themselves to the prisoners to prevent them from escaping. After this, the glum-faced man wishes to smoke and both leaves for the smoker and the pretty woman bids goodbye to Mr Easton.
After they are gone, one of the two passengers sitting nearby remarks on Easton's looks that he seems too young to be a marshal. He then exclaims that Mr Easton is the counterfeit by saying," Did you ever know an officer to handcuff a prisoner to his right hand?"

Theme of Hearts and Hands

Looking at the title of the story one must have the opinion that the theme will display heart, means the selfless kindness. But the theme is that 'sometimes looks can be deceiving. One must not jump to the conclusion randomly. Another theme is that of compassion shown by the ruffled Marshal who had sympathetic consciousness for Easton. The irony at the end of the story makes it more interesting.

The setting of the story is in a train to Denver. A glum-faced man introduces Mr Easton as the marshal to ease the pretty woman's doubt on seeing him handcuffed. She is relieved to know that he is not a prisoner. He speaks on his behalf on reaching Leavenworth prison, which displays his kindness. He also saves Easton from getting humiliated in front of the pretty lady. He does not care for his own prestige.
There is a blast of irony here. Mr Easton who is handsome and good looking is criminal whereas glum-faced, rough-looking, heavily built man is Marshal. That's why when the real Marshal tells the lady that he is the criminal and is being taken to prison by Mr Easton who is the Marshal, she quickly believes. She doesn't notice that Easton's right hand is handcuffed.

The twist appears in the end when the two co-passengers remarks that Easton is the counterfeit and the other man is the true marshal and. This situation is not at all expected by the readers and it deepens the mystery. Therefore it is suggested that often jumping to quick conclusions results in ignoring the truth.

Character Sketches from Hearts and Hands

Character Sketch of Miss Fairchild 

She is a pretty young woman with a lovely smile and a remarkable dressing sense. She seems to be a smart and elegant woman with a fascination for travelling. Her travelling experience is obvious from all the luxurious comforts she is surrounded by. Her hands are covered with gloves. Her voice is sweet and there is a tender pink colour on her cheeks when she smiles. But at the same time, she possesses the quality of arrogance which is obvious when she asks Mr Easton to be given the opportunity to speak first. She seems to be interested in handsome Mr Easton that's why she starts a conversation with him. She is astonished to see him handcuffed with another rough-looking man. Rather she is horrified. But she is so much attracted towards him that there is no place of doubt in her mind.

When she is told that Mr Easton is the Marshal and the other ruffled man is the convict, she feels relieved. It shows her innocence that she believes in whatever the glum-faced man tells her. She assumes Mr Easton to be the hero when she says, "And so now you are one of these dashing Western heroes". On his being talking about his butterfly days, she thinks that he is talking about his free days. She also shows her interest in the West when she comes to know that he is settled in the West. She is more socialite than emotional. When her father was ill, she didn't go to see him, rather she preferred to remain in Denver.

Character Sketch of Mr Easton

He is handsome with a bold, honest face. It misleads the readers and they think that he is a real Marshal. He knows Miss Fairchild since he was in Washington. When he enters the coach, he hears a familiar voice of Miss Fairchild, initially, he feels embarrassed as he is handcuffed but soon he rouses and shakes off his embarrassment and clasps her fingers with his left hand and speaks to her with a smile on his face. Easton is clever enough to manipulate things. As soon as he sees the expression of horror on her face, he immediately changes his expression. He tells the young woman that he has discarded the Washington life to become a Marshal in the West. But being guilty he becomes more and more conscious with the advancement of conversation with Miss Fairchild. He knows that it won't be possible for him to carry on their relationship further as she is more a social animal and materialistic than a real person. He ironically replies to her that his butterfly days are over which means that he will be put in prison later and not be free whereas Miss Fairchild thinks that he is talking in general. He is sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in Leavenworth prison for counterfeiting. He is handcuffed by his right hand. This is another irony that he is handsome and charming but a criminal.

Character Sketch of Marshal

He is ruffled, the glum-faced person who is heavily built and roughly dressed. But he is compassionate and kind-hearted. He is handcuffed by his left hand with the criminal which is another example of irony. He pretends to be the prisoner in order to save Mr Easton from embarrassment in front of Miss. Fairchild. He has a good judgmental quality of human behaviour. He is witty to sense the embarrassment felt by Mr Easton and so delivers an explanation on his behalf. He tells Miss Fairchild that all the Marshals handcuff themselves to their prisoners to keep them from getting away when she continues to stare at the handcuffs. He does not want to humiliate Easton in front of an old friend and even doesn't care for his own reputation. At one point when the conversation between Mr Easton and Miss. Fairchild is going on, he remains quiet and listens to them calmly and at a situation when he thinks that Easton might not reveal the truth mistakenly, he makes an excuse and goes along with him in the smoker room. This shows his humbleness and large-heartedness.


influx - the arrival of a large number of people;
elegant - graceful and stylish;
countenance - facial expression;
ruffled - upset;
aisle - a passage between rows of seats;
tingeing - slight colouring:
proclaimed - announced something publically;
accustomed - used to;
embarrassment - awkward feeling:
clasped - grasp something tightly;
bewildered - puzzled or confused;
vague - not clearly explained;
forestalled - prevent by taking action first;
veiled glances - indirect looks:
pen - enclosure, prison;
counterfeiting - forging:
petition - an appeal or request especially a written one;
sidled - advance in a timid way.

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