''Hearts and Hands'' by O. Henry

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 14011

This short story by O. Henry focuses on three passengers on a train. Two recognize each other and have a pleasant conversation. Enjoy the twist at the end and get some practice with word connotations!


Comprehension, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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William Sydney Porter wrote over 300 short stories under the pen name of O. Henry.

Learn about his life and writing career as you watch the following video.

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Many of O. Henry's short stories end with a twist, a surprise ending that the reader doesn't see coming.

His story, "Hearts and Hands," is one of them. It takes place on a train traveling through Colorado.

Before you begin reading, review the concept of word connotations. Remember that words can have a dictionary meaning, denotation, and a separate connotation.

Connotation refers to the thoughts, impressions, and associations a word brings to mind. The connotation can be positive, negative, or neutral.

Look at these examples.

  • Clara is very confident.
  • Clara is very assertive.
  • Clara is very pushy.

The words confident, assertive, and pushy have similar meanings, but each has a different connotation.

Confident has a more positive connotation than pushy, which is harmful. Assertive is more neutral. You would have to know how Clara acted out that assertiveness before you could judge whether it is positive or negative.

As you read the first section of "Hearts and Hands," write down each bold word and describe its connotation in the sentence.

  • Is it positive, negative, or neutral?

You're welcome to use a dictionary if unsure of the meaning.

"Hearts and Hands" by O. Henry

At Denver there was an influx of passengers into the coaches on the eastbound B. & M. Express. In one coach there sat a very pretty young woman dressed in elegant taste and surrounded by all the luxurious comforts of an experienced traveler. Among the newcomers were two young men, one of handsome presence with a bold, frank countenance and manner; the other a ruffled, glum-faced person, heavily built and roughly dressed. The two were handcuffed together.

As they passed down the aisle of the coach the only vacant seat offered was a reversed one facing the attractive young woman. Here the linked couple seated themselves. The young woman's glance fell upon them with a distant, swift disinterest; then with a lovely smile brightening her countenance and a tender pink tingeing her rounded cheeks, she held out a little gray-gloved hand. When she spoke her voice, full, sweet, and deliberate, proclaimed that its owner was accustomed to speak and be heard.

"Well, Mr. Easton, if you will make me speak first, I suppose I must. Don't you ever recognize old friends when you meet them in the West?"

The younger man roused himself sharply at the sound of her voice, seemed to struggle with a slight embarrassment which he threw off instantly, and then clasped her fingers with his left hand.

"It's Miss Fairchild," he said, with a smile. "I'll ask you to excuse the other hand; "it's otherwise engaged just at present."

He slightly raised his right hand, bound at the wrist by the shining "bracelet" to the left one of his companion. The glad look in the girl's eyes slowly changed to a bewildered horror. The glow faded from her cheeks. Her lips parted in a vague, relaxing distress. Easton, with a little laugh, as if amused, was about to speak again when the other forestalled him. The glum-faced man had been watching the girl's countenance with veiled glances from his keen, shrewd eyes.

"You'll excuse me for speaking, miss, but, I see you're acquainted with the marshal here. If you'll ask him to speak a word for me when we get to the pen he'll do it, and it'll make things easier for me there. He's taking me to Leavenworth prison. It's seven years for counterfeiting."

"Oh!" said the girl, with a deep breath and returning color. "So that is what you are doing out here? A marshal!"

"My dear Miss Fairchild," said Easton, calmly, "I had to do something. Money has a way of taking wings unto itself, and you know it takes money to keep step with our crowd in Washington. I saw this opening in the West, and--well, a marshalship isn't quite as high a position as that of ambassador, but--"

"The ambassador," said the girl, warmly, "doesn't call any more. He needn't ever have done so. You ought to know that. And so now you are one of these dashing Western heroes, and you ride and shoot and go into all kinds of dangers. That's different from the Washington life. You have been missed from the old crowd."

The girl's eyes, fascinated, went back, widening a little, to rest upon the glittering handcuffs.

"Don't you worry about them, miss," said the other man. "All marshals handcuff themselves to their prisoners to keep them from getting away. Mr. Easton knows his business."

"Will we see you again soon in Washington?" asked the girl.

"Not soon, I think," said Easton. "My butterfly days are over, I fear."

to be continued

  • Did you write down the bold words and their connotations?

If so, you're ready to move to the Got It? section to read the rest of the story and practice more word connotations!

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