O. Henry is known for entertaining and clever short stories. Here is a sampling of some of his stories with a short summary for each. This page contains some of O. Henry’s best and well known stories as well as lesser known works. A link is provided where possible for easy online reading.
Good news if you’d like a collection—The Complete Works of O. Henry has all the short stories and more. This volume is huge.
O. Henry Stories
“A Retrieved Reformation” | 2,800 words
Jimmy Valentine, an expert safe-cracker, is released from jail after serving nearly ten months. The warden urges him to go straight. He goes to see Mike Dolan at his café; Jimmy’s room is upstairs. Starting a week after Jimmy’s release, there’s a string of burglaries. When Jimmy starts going straight he’s faced with a dilemma.
This story can be read in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other New York Stories. (14% in)
“The Gift of the Magi” | 2,080 words
A poor, married couple try to figure out how to get each other a nice Christmas present.
This is the first story in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories.
“The Last Leaf” | 2,375 words
A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia, and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.
This is the fourth story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories.
“The Coming-Out of Maggie” | 2,500 words
Maggie, a wallflower, is escorted to a dance by a man who attracts a lot of attention.
This story can be read in the preview of Complete Stories. (In the table of contents, select The Four Million, then “The Coming-Out of Maggie”)
“The Skylight Room” | 2,300 words
A young woman stays in the cheapest room at a boarding house. She’s very popular with her fellow guests.
This story can be read in the above preview of Complete Stories. (In the table of contents, select “The Four Million, then the “The Skylight Room)
“The Cop and the Anthem” | 2,265 words
Soapy, a vagrant, is in the park. Winter is in the air. To meet his needs, he wants to be sent to jail for about three months. He decides on a few petty crimes that will result in the desired sentence.
This story can be read in the above preview of Complete Stories. (In the table of contents, select The Four Million, then “The Cop and the Anthem”)
“Memoirs of a Yellow Dog” | 1,775 words
A dog gives a brief account of his life, which has been lived mostly in New York. He was sold as a pup to a doting fat lady. He felt sorry for the woman’s henpecked husband.
This story can be read in the above preview of Complete Stories. (In the table of contents, select The Four Million, then “Memoirs of a Yellow Dog”)
“A Cosmopolite in a Café” | 2,160 words
The narrator is sitting in a crowded café when he is joined by a true citizen of the world. E. Rushmore Coglan talks about his travels and his familiarity with the globe. He proclaims his impartiality and decries any attachment to a particular place.
This is the second story in the preview of The Very Best Short Stories of O. Henry. (Pg. 7, Go into Kindle preview first, then select Hardcover)
“The Plutonian Fire” | 2,350 words
A short story writer who had some fiction published in the South struggles to get an editor’s approval in New York.
This is the first story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry.
“The Princess and the Puma” | 2,325 words
Josepha, princess of a large ranch, and Ripley, a ranch foreman, have an encounter with a Mexican lion.
This is the second story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry, above.
“By Courier” | 1,420 words
A man and woman who aren’t on speaking terms use a young boy to run messages to each other in a park.
This is the third story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry, above.
“The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein” | 1,750 words
To ensure his planned elopement goes smoothly, a man goes to a druggist for a love potion. The druggist also loves the woman in question, so he tries to derail the man’s plan.
This is the fifth story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry, above.
“Mammon and the Archer” | 2,300 words
The son of a millionaire is distressed because the young woman he loves is leaving the country in two days. She’s an aristocrat with a full social calendar, so he can’t even see her and doesn’t think his father’s money can help. His father disagrees.
This is the sixth story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry, above.
“Makes the Whole World Kin” | 1,500 words
A burglar enters a residence through a window. He lights a cigarette, looks around, and takes his time. There’s a dim light coming from the back room. He hopes to find something valuable there, like money or a watch.
“The Brief Début of Tildy” | 2,200 words
Aileen and Tildy are waitresses at Bogle’s Restaurant. Aileen is beautiful and lively and gets a lot of attention from the predominantly male customers. Tildy is dumpy and plain, and no one pays her any attention except when she’s bringing the food.
“After Twenty Years” | 1,260 words
A policeman makes his rounds, checking that the shop doors are secured for the night, when he sees a man waiting in an entrance way. The man explains that he and a friend made arrangements twenty years ago to meet there that night.
“Brickdust Row” | 2,900 words
Blinker is a wealthy landowner and landlord. He decides to go to Coney Island. On the ferry ride, he meets Florence, a young working-class woman.
“The Caballero’s Way” | 4,650 words
A ranger, Lieutenant Sandridge, searches for the Cisco Kid, a murderer with a quick temper and quick draw.
“The Cactus” | 1,270 words
A man returns home after attending the wedding of his ex. He thinks about their courtship, and how much she adored him; he wonders why things went wrong.
“The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock” | 2,250 words
A very wealthy man poses as homeless and looks for opportunities to help people.
“Calloway’s Code” | 2,600 words
Calloway is on assignment as a war correspondent for the New York Enterprise. He manages to inform his paper of the details of the decisive battle on the day it occurs, even though outgoing communication is censored. The paper received a cablegram of perplexing nonsense from Calloway. His coworkers searched without success for some meaning, until it was shown to Vesey, a young reporter.
“The Count and the Wedding Guest” | 2,370 words
Mr. Donovan comforts a fellow boarder, Miss Conway, who is mourning the death of her fiancé.
“The Defeat of the City” | 2,330 words
Robert Walmsley, a former country boy, is a successful Manhattan lawyer and respected city gentleman. He married a high-status, inaccessible woman, Alicia Van Der Pool. One day she finds a letter from Robert’s mother, inviting them to visit the farm.
“The Dream” | 1,200 words
Murray is in a cell on death row. The time for his execution is almost here. He talks to his friend Bonifacio in a nearby cell. He is also visited by a reverend.
This is O. Henry’s last story and is incomplete. An editor fills in some information at the end.
“The Duel” | 1,880 words
When someone goes to live in New York, whether rich or poor and for whatever reason, they have to fight. The battle is between becoming a New Yorker and friend of the city, or remaining an outsider and enemy. William, a business man, and Jack, an artist arrive in New York at the same time. Four years later they meet for lunch.
Read “The Duel”
“The Duplicity of Hargraves” | 4,760 words
Major Pendleton Talbot and his daughter, Miss Lydia, move into a boarding house. They’ve come down in the world. The Major is finishing up his memoirs. Another boarder, Hargraves, is a comedian at a vaudeville theater. He takes a liking to the Major and listens to his stories.
“From Each According to His Ability” | 2,340 words
Vuyning is bored with the company at his club—the members always say the same things. He is also preoccupied with Miss Allison, who has refused his proposals five times. While out walking, he meets Schrumm, a con-man and thief. Vuyning is pleased that something is changing his usual routine.
“The Furnished Room” | 2,480 words
A young man searches boarding houses looking for the woman he loves, a small-town girl trying to break in to show business. He’s been at it for five months now, questioning any relevant people he finds.
“The Girl and the Habit” | 2,000 words
Miss Merriam is a cashier at a downtown restaurant. She sits at a desk behind woven wire fencing. It’s very busy. She’s capable and lovely. On top of her official duties, she has to fend off the invitations, offers and advances of the male patrons.
“The Green Door” | 2,750 words
A man is handed a card on the street for “The Green Door”. Endowed with a strong spirit of adventure, he locates the door and knocks.
“Hearts and Hands” | 870 words
A marshal boards a train handcuffed to a prisoner. They sit opposite a beautiful woman who recognizes the marshal.
“The Hiding of Black Bill” | 4,460 words
A traveler is hired to herd sheep on a ranch. He and the owner talk about a robber, Black Bill, who’s being tracked in the area.
“The Higher Pragmatism” | 2,700 words
Jack is in love with Mildred, a woman above him socially and financially. He explains his situation to a vagrant. The vagrant, an ex-boxer, tells Jack the story of his career, which he believes serves as a parallel to Jack’s situation—he couldn’t stand up to the professionals.
“Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet”
Jeff Peters relates a scheme he was involved in while posing as a medicine man. After being shut down by the constable, he meets Andy, a man with a similar trade. They want to go in on something together. Jeff gets an emergency summons from the mayor; he is sick and the local doctor is out of town.
“A Lickpenny Lover” | 2,160 words
A wealthy aristocrat tries to woo a ditzy salesgirl.
“A Little Talk About Mobs” | 1,140 words
A tall man and a New Yorker talk about mob action in New York. The tall man explains that New York mobs are harmless, and don’t really have bad intentions.
“Lost on Dress Parade” | 2,350 words
Mr. Chandler, a man of modest means, saves his money for an occasional night out. On one such excursion, he helps a young woman who has fallen, and asks her to dine with him.
This is also the plot for O. Henry’s play, “A Night Out“.
“The Memento” | 3,400 words
Tired of the men she has to deal with as a vaudeville performer, Rosalie Ray retires to a small town.
“A Municipal Report” | 6,150 words
The narrator goes to Tennessee for a meeting with Azalea Adair. He represents a literary magazine that is interested in publishing Adair’s work. During his stay he meets Major Caswell, a widely disliked man considered a nuisance and loafer. The narrator remarks that if he had been able to avoid associating with Caswell a murder wouldn’t have occurred.
“A Newspaper Story” | 1,300 words
The movement of a daily newspaper is tracked, along with the uses it is put to.
“The Ransom of Red Chief” | 4,160 words
The narrator and Bill have a scheme that requires a little more capital. They decide on a kidnapping, choosing the son of Ebenezer Dorset as their target. They find the young boy outside his house throwing rocks. He puts up a tremendous fight, but they manage to get him back to their hideout. Carrying out the plan is more difficult than they imagined.
“The Robe of Peace” | 1,585 words
Almost a year ago, Johnny Bellchambers disappeared suddenly and mysteriously. He was from the highest of high society, known for his exquisite wardrobe. He was especially particular about his trousers, not wearing the same pair more than three hours. He had a hired man employed only to press them.
Read “The Robe of Peace”
“The Romance of a Busy Broker” | 1,380 words
Amid the rush of a workday, Harvey Maxwell, a broker, is overcome with feeling for a stenographer, Miss Leslie.
“Schools and Schools” | 3,730 words
A young woman goes to live with her uncle, forming a love-triangle with his adopted son and step-niece.
Meeks comes to New York to find his sister, Mary, a fifty-two year old widow living in a tenement house. He’s informed she moved out over a month ago without leaving any contact information. He seeks help from the police without any success. He decides to go to the famous detective Shamrock Jolnes.
“The Social Triangle” | 1,900 words
Three men get to shake hands with people they really wanted to meet.
“Springtime à la Carte” | 2,200 words
A young woman has an arrangement to type the daily menu of a restaurant; one day the menu makes her cry.
“A Strange Story” | 360 words
When the little Smother’s girl gets sick her father goes out for medicine. He doesn’t come back.
“Telemachus, Friend” | 2,900 words
Telemachus Hicks tells the story of his mutilated left ear, which he claims is a relic of true friendship. He spent all his time with his best friend Paisley Fish. When they meet the Widow Jessup they are both attracted to her. The make a pact that they will court her fairly and equally, and that it won’t interfere with their friendship.
“Transients in Arcadia” | 2,050 words
A young woman and young man get acquainted at an expensive, but little-known, summer resort.
“Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen” | 2,000 words
An older, upper-class man has a tradition of treating a local destitute man to a hearty Thanksgiving meal. One year, the poor man arrives at their meeting place in a state that puts their tradition in jeopardy.
“While the Auto Waits” | 1,930 words
A young man strikes up a conversation with a young woman on a park bench. She complains about her life of wealth and luxury.
“Witches’ Loaves” | 1,265 words
Miss Martha is a forty-year-old woman who owns a small bakery. She has a regular customer, a middle-aged man who always buys two loaves of stale bread, never anything else. She takes an interest in him, and tries to find a way to get to know him.
“The World and the Door” | 4,865 words
Mr. Hedges goes out drinking with two younger friends, Merriam and Wade. Hedges gets quarrelsome and swings a chair at Merriam. He ducks and shoots Hedges.
As I come across more O. Henry short stories they will be added to this page.