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I'm trying to pin down a certain short story by O. Henry. I remember the plot quite well, but not the title, nor which book collection of O. Henry's stories I first encountered it within. And let's face it: That man (otherwise known as William Sydney Porter) wrote a huge number of short stories.

A little Googling failed to turn it up when I searched for words and phrases I thought I remembered. And when I looked for a collection of online summaries of O. Henry's works, I failed to find this one. For instance, it is not one of the stories summarized here or here.

What I remember about the characters and plot:

  1. As the story begins, a young man is speaking to a young lady. It appears that they have known each other all their lives, and in recent years he has been thinking that he is love with her. Now he is begging her to marry him. (It may not have been the first time.) She seems fond of him, but for some reason or other she has turned him down. I got the impression that she was highly sensitive about the fact that his family was wealthy and hers was poor, which he may have been so foolish as to mention as a good reason for her to marry him. The girl's family's "genteel poverty" may have been a fairly recent change in their circumstances, however, since I think the two families lived near one another in a "good part of town." (Implicitly she resided in a large house which her family had owned, free and clear, for a long time, or so I gathered.)

  2. She even goes so far as to say that she is going to return all his gifts. He blinks, and claims she has never done him the honor of accepting any of the gifts he has tried to give her. (Implicitly: Within the last few years, after he started getting really interested in her in romantic terms.) She gently but firmly sets him straight on that point. Evidently he has forgotten that once upon a time, when she was just a little girl (4? 6? Something like that?), and he was a few years older, he gave her a toy bear (I think) which was hollow and filled with candy. She ate the candy, but she still has the bear, and will return it to him as soon as possible as a sign that she doesn't want to receive any other gifts from him.

  3. After this highly unsatisfactory conversation, this young man goes walking through a park (Central Park?). He sees another young couple sitting side by side on a park bench, and he somehow learns or deduces that they have nowhere else to spend the night, and it promises to be a fairly cold night. (Not actually snowing, if memory serves, but bound to be uncomfortable for people spending all the hours of darkness outdoors.)

  4. The two young gentlemen confer, and the stranger in town says that he and the young lady are eloping. I think they were from "old Southern families"; I forget how they ended up here (in what I'm almost sure is New York City, where so many of O. Henry's tales were set). They have little or no money at the moment, and no friends or relatives in this city who would put them up for the night, and they can't get properly married until tomorrow morning. Of course it would never do for them to share sleeping quarters inside a room somewhere when they were not yet a married couple.

  5. The wealthy young gentleman would be happy to lend or give enough funds to let these two lovebirds each have a separate hotel room, but soon realizes that their Southern pride won't allow them to accept such charity from a total stranger. After chewing on the problem, he does suggest a compromise which would not require any money to change hands. He assures the Southern gentleman that he, the wealthy young man, is very well-acquainted with a young lady of impeccable moral fiber who would be happy to share her accommodations with another well-bred young lady (the Southern girl). The Southern gentleman is, of course, welcome to sit on the park bench all night if he feels the honorable obligation to do it that way, but wouldn't it be nice for his young lady to protect her health by finding shelter with another young lady? This suggestion is finally accepted.

  6. At the end of the story, the wealthy young gentleman receives that toy bear back (by messenger, I believe), and there is something inside it -- or accompanying it -- to strongly suggest (in some symbolical way which escapes me) that his young lady has decided the time is right for them to get married after all, now that he's somehow "proved" something-or-other about himself.

Does anyone recognize this story? If I went digging around in all the online e-texts I could find that collect material by O. Henry, I might eventually unearth it, but I'm hoping that this approach will be much faster. (Since my Googling efforts didn't work.)

  • This does sound like an O. Henry story that much is for certain :-) – ShreevatsaR Mar 3 '17 at 5:07
  • I've forgotten how much I liked O. Henry. Time to read him again, this time in English. – Gallifreyan Mar 3 '17 at 9:34
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    @Gallifreyan - As you might guess: Yesterday, when I was searching online for that particular story, I got sidetracked a few times by other O. Henry stories which I knew were not the "right" one, but of which I wanted to refresh my memory when I stumbled across 'em again for the first time in several years! :-) – Lorendiac Mar 4 '17 at 0:18
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The story is called The Discounters of Money. It occurs in the collection of O. Henry stories called Roads of Destiny. It occupies pages 379 to 384 in this book.

…and there you have young Howard Pilkins with 4,000,000; and a good fellow at that. He was an agreeable, modestly arrogant young man, who implicitly believed that money could buy anything that the world had to offer.

[…]

One evening Pilkins went down to the red brick house in Gramercy Square, and made what he thought was a proposal to Alice v. d. R.  Alice, with her nose turned down, and thinking of his money, considered it a proposition, and refused it and him. Pilkins, summoning all his resources as any good general would have done, made an indiscreet references to the advantages that his money would provide. That settled it. The lady turned so cold that…

[…]

“You’ve forgotten,” said Alice v. d. R., with a little smile. “It was a long time ago when our families were neighbours. You were seven, and I was trundling my doll on the sidewalk. You have me a little gray, hairy kitten, with shoe-buttony eyes. Its head came off and it was full of candy. You paid five cents for it—you told me so. I haven’t the candy to return to you—I hadn’t developed a conscience at three, so I ate it. But I have the kitten yet, and I will wrap it up neatly to-night and send it to you tomorrow.”

And the event with the park bench and cold night etc. happen exactly as you described in the question.

[In case you're curious: I found this by looking for "The Complete Works of O. Henry" on the Internet Archive, then downloading the plain text version, and searching through the entire text first for "park" (gave up after a few occurrences), then for "bear" and finally for "candy" which led to this.]

  • @ShreevatsaR - Thank you! I had no idea that somewhere on the Web all of O. Henry's stories were collected into one massive document. (I did look for his works on Project Gutenberg yesterday, but chose not to click into, and search through, a great many e-books in succession.) It appears my Googling failed yesterday because of imperfect memory. 1) I thought it was a "bear" instead of a "kitten," and 2) I thought Alice had offered to return "gifts" instead of "presents." So when my searches included "O. Henry" + "full of candy" + "your gifts" + "bear," etc., I didn't get very far. – Lorendiac Mar 3 '17 at 23:46
  • @Lorendiac Thanks for the interesting question with so much useful detail :-) I too did look on Project Gutenberg but like you I was put off by the large number of books. (I did click on a couple and searched for "park" but gave up after looking at the number of results: O. Henry mentions a park in what feels like at least half his stories.) Then I searched for "The Complete Works of O. Henry" and found mainly Amazon-like results; searching with site:archive.org was the last trick that helped. – ShreevatsaR Mar 4 '17 at 3:16

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