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ICSE Class 10 Poems and Short Stories Hearts and Hands (O. Henry)

Hearts and Hands Synopsis and Important Questions


‘Hearts and Hands’ is a short story written by William Sydney Porter under the pen name O. Henry. It is a witty, humorous story with a surprise ending. William Sydney Porter changed his name to O. Henry to shield his true identity and continue writing. A twist of plot, which turns on a strange circumstance leading to a surprise ending, is a typical characteristic in his stories.

O. Henry’s story ‘Hearts and Hands’ describes a surprise encounter between two acquaintances on a train. Mr Easton is not on a normal journey but is going to be imprisoned. The marshal who is taking him along shows an act of kindness to save Mr Easton from embarrassment. Spontaneously, both Easton and the marshal pull off a lie to save face in front of Miss Fairchild, who ends up being impressed with Mr Easton. The truth is unveiled by the conversation of the two neighbouring passengers.

This story is set on a train to Denver. An elegantly dressed lady named Miss Fairchild is seated in the train. The train is crowded, so two men who arrive take the seat in front of Miss Fairchild. Miss Fairchild happened to notice the two men unintentionally and realised that she is acquainted with one of them. Her expressions changed, and with a bright smile, she initiated the conversation. The man she knew was Mr Easton. He was handcuffed to the other man beside him. Therefore, Miss Fairchild felt embarrassed and uncomfortable talking to him. Mr Easton, on the other hand, referred to the handcuffs and asked Miss Fairchild to excuse him for his other hand being engaged. The glow faded from Miss Fairchild’s cheeks. It was an awkward situation for both of them. The glum-faced man who was handcuffed with Easton broke the awkwardness and said that he is sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in Leavenworth for counterfeiting. He did not say it directly but requested Miss Fairchild to say a word to Easton since they are friends so that it gets easier for him. This made it clear to Miss Fairchild that Easton had become a police officer. She breathed a sigh of relief, and the glow on her face returned. However, this was not the truth. Easton was the one who was sentenced to prison for counterfeiting. The glum-faced man was the marshal. He lied to save Easton from the embarrassment from Miss Fairchild. Miss Fairchild also failed to notice that Easton shook his left hand with her and his right hand was handcuffed just like any other criminal. Easton carried on with the lie and continued the conversation with Miss Fairchild.

Miss Fairchild was fascinated by the fact that Easton had become a marshal. Easton also did not leave any chance to impress Miss Fairchild. He justified that he had to do something to earn his livelihood. He had to survive in the West, and so he took up this job. Easton also tried to grab more information regarding Miss Fairchild’s personal life by passing a remark saying, “Marshalship isn’t quite as high a position as that of ambassador”. Miss Fairchild reacted immediately that she did not like the ambassador and is no longer in touch with him. This was her way of saying that the ambassador stood no chance in front of Easton. She was more interested in his life. She asked him if he missed the East or if he was too happy being a dashing hero in the West. She observed the handcuffs again. The glum-faced man was vigilant about it and understood her thoughts. He reassured her that Mr Easton knew his duty really well as a marshal. She asked Easton if he would be visiting Washington anytime soon. They exchanged their views about the West and kept the conversation going. They seemed to like the little talk they were having. It also specified their concern for each other as friends. The glum-faced man interrupted their conversation again. He requested Easton to take him to the smoker. He hadn’t had a smoke in the entire day and was craving for one. Mr Easton flaunted about being a marshal in front of Miss Fairchild by saying that he cannot deny duty calls. They bid her farewell and leave. Miss Fairchild felt sad about Easton’s departure.

The two passengers sitting nearby had listened to the entire conversation and one of them remarks that Mr Easton seemed too young to be a marshal. The other passenger concluded that Mr Easton was the counterfeiter. He asked if ever there was an officer handcuffing his right hand with a prisoner. The situation is not at all expected by the readers and deepens the mystery. It also conveys that it was a minor observation missed by Miss Fairchild that made her believe that Mr Easton was the marshal, when rather he was the one to be taken to prison.

This story depicts a casual, unassuming atmosphere. The end of the story is its best part because it reveals the truth. It makes the entire plot very amusing and light. It also concludes a moral that looks are deceptive.

Short Answer Questions

  1. Where does the story take place?
    Describe the coach of the train.
    Ans. There is a crowd of passengers in the coaches of the eastbound B. & M. Express. In one coach is seated a very pretty young woman dressed elegantly and surrounded by all the luxurious comforts. The two passengers enter. One of them is handsome and has bold looks, while the other has a heavy structure and is dressed roughly. They were handcuffed together and seated themselves on the vacant seat just opposite the elegant lady.

  2. How was the appearance of Miss Fairchild?
    Ans. Miss Fairchild is a young woman who is pretty and elegantly dressed. She has a lovely smile and pink cheeks. She is one of the main characters of the story. She is sitting in a compartment surrounded by all the luxurious comforts of travelling.

  3. Why are the two passengers called a linked couple?
    Ans. The two passengers are the two men who happened to sit in front of the young woman Miss Fairchild. They are called a linked couple because they are handcuffed together. After seeing them, it is very clear that one of them must be a criminal and the other a policeman. As both of them are handcuffed, they have to walk or sit together.

  4. Why was Miss Fairchild bewildered?
    Ans. Miss Fairchild recognises one of the passengers sitting in front of her who happens to be her old friend Mr Easton. She is happy to see him and starts a conversation with him. Easton, on the other hand, is handcuffed with another glum-faced man. Easton greets Miss Fairchild by raising his left hand as the right is handcuffed. When Miss Fairchild notices the handcuffs, she is horrified and bewildered.

  5. Why does Easton ask Miss Fairchild to excuse his other hand?
    Ans. Easton enters the coach of the train with a glum-faced man having a heavy structure and dressed roughly. He is handcuffed with him. When Miss Fairchild initiates a conversation with Easton, he is embarrassed as his right hand is handcuffed with the other man. He, therefore, asks Miss Fairchild to excuse him as he greets her with his left hand.

  6. What explanation is provided by the glum-faced man on behalf of Mr Easton?
    Ans. The glum-faced man tells Miss Fairchild that her acquaintance Mr Easton is the marshal. He intervened in the conversation as soon as he noticed that Miss Fairchild became uncomfortable after spotting the handcuffs. He told her that he is going to prison for 7 years. He also requested her to speak a word for him to Mr Easton so that things become easier for him in prison.

  7. What request was placed by the glum-faced man to Miss Fairchild? What was its effect?
    Ans. The glum-faced man requested Miss Fairchild to speak a word of kindness for him to Mr Easton, the marshal. This would make things easier for him. In order to save Mr Easton from the embarrassment, he convicted himself as the criminal. The young lady is extremely happy on finding out that her friend has become a marshal. Her expressions changed from horror and bewilderment to fascination and relief.

  8. What is Miss Fairchild’s reaction after the remark by the glum-faced man?
    Ans. When the glum-faced man tells Miss Fairchild that Easton is a marshal and that they are heading towards Leavenworth prison, the young woman is relieved. She was horrified after she saw him handcuffed. She is relieved to know that her friend has become a marshal, a job one should be proud of. Her facial glow returns after this remark.

  9. Who says “Marshalship isn't quite as high a position as that of ambassador” and why?
    Ans. After the glum-faced man saves Easton from embarrassment and declares him the marshal, Easton continues the conversation with Miss Fairchild. He justifies that he had to take up something to earn and survive in Washington. Easton thought that Miss Fairchild is involved with an ambassador. He therefore mentions that his job does not pay him like how an ambassador is paid.

  10. What are Miss Fairchild’s views about the West?
    Ans. Miss Fairchild seems to be fascinated by the West. Perhaps she has been living in the West and is quite used to the western way of life. As seen by her attire, she has adapted herself to this life and even enjoys it. So, she says that she loves the West where she can live the way she wants. She also mentions that she spent the summer in Denver with her mother and went home a week ago. She likes living in the West and thinks the air there agrees with her. This is her way of saying that she would prefer living in the West.

  11. What excuse does Mr Easton make to say goodbye to the young girl? Where does he go?
    Ans. The glum-faced man asks Mr Easton to accompany him to the smoking room to smoke. Both are handcuffed to each other; hence, they have to go together. So, Mr Easton tells the young lady that he is going to the smoking room as he cannot let the thief go alone. It is the call of duty for him, and since work comes first, he has to bid her farewell.

  12. What crime did the glum-faced man declare for himself? Was it true?
    Ans. The glum-faced man had handcuffed himself to a convict Mr Easton who he was taking to prison. On the train, Mr Easton met an old friend, Miss Fairchild. He felt slightly embarrassed to talk to her because of the handcuffs. The glum-faced man who was actually the marshal wanted to save Mr Easton from the embarrassment, and so he declared himself as the criminal and told Miss Fairchild that Mr Easton is the marshal who is taking him to prison.

Long Answer Questions

  1. Describe Miss Fairchild’s character.
    Ans. Miss Fairchild is an interesting character. She is an important character of the story and is an attractive young woman who is elegantly dressed and spoke in a sweet yet firm voice. She is a simple person and has some peculiarities. She believes others easily. When the real marshal told her that Easton was the marshal and he was taking him to Leavenworth prison, she believes him easily. She does not use common sense in analysing that Easton was too young to be a marshal. Moreover, she is unaware of the fact that a marshal handcuffs his left hand with the right hand of a prisoner. So, we can call her gullible. She is too blinded by her feelings that she could not see past them and allowed herself to be misled. She is a human being who does not and cannot always act with style and manner. This characteristic was showed when she began to talk simply about the West to the two men with shining eyes and said that money is not everything. So, we can say that the traits of being rich, elegant, stylish and pretty describe Miss Fairchild.

  2. Write the characteristics of Mr Easton.
    Ans. Mr Easton is the main character of the story. He is a counterfeiter who has been caught by the police and is travelling with the marshal who is taking him to Leavenworth prison. He is tall and handsome and can draw anybody’s attention. This we may see when the elegantly dressed Miss Fairchild starts talking to him. She was ignoring other men. This shows that Mr Easton possesses a charming personality. He is very embarrassed as he finds himself in an awkward situation when a beautiful woman who is his old friend sees him handcuffed. He has no way to escape but to face the situation. He is a good actor too and demonstrates his art by playing the role of the real marshal. When the glum-faced man understanding the awkwardness of the situation, calls him the marshal, he does not counter him. Instead shows himself as the marshal and tries to convince Miss Fairchild that he is a real marshal in every way possible. He is an adept liar as the way he talks is commendable. He does not let Miss Fairchild suspect him as long as he talks to her. He makes statements supporting his fake identity which can be done only by a good liar.

  3. What is the character sketch of the marshal?
    Ans. The ruffled, glum-faced man plays a significant role in the story. He is the real marshal. He is heavily built and roughly dressed but is very kind and helpful. He is a kind-hearted person and therefore extends a helping hand to Mr Easton. He is handcuffed with Mr Easton. Both are going to Leavenworth prison. They enter the train and seat themselves in front of an elegantly dressed woman named Miss Fairchild. Mr Easton and Miss Fairchild engage themselves in conversation because they know each other. Miss Fairchild is surprised to see Mr Easton in handcuffs, so she becomes embarrassed and stares at them. The other man is observant and intelligent, and he observes that both of them are feeling awkward. So, he comes to their rescue and to ease the concern of Miss Fairchild. He explains that Mr Easton is a marshal and is taking him to Leavenworth prison. He is sympathetic and helpful. He saves a criminal from an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation. He is witty too for he knows if they continue talking, Miss Fairchild will somehow know the truth and make the situation more awkward. So, to deter such a situation, he cunningly takes Mr Easton to the smoker. He also assures Miss Fairchild during the conversation that Mr Easton knows his duty well. This acts as an assurance for Miss Fairchild, and they are able to pull off the situation well. The marshal has exhibited a very good illustration of companionship by this gesture.

  4. Justify the title of the story.


    State the importance of ‘hearts’ and ‘hands’ in the story.
    Ans. The story begins with two people Easton and the glum-faced man handcuffed together. It is the handcuffing that leads to the ‘hands’ part of the title. In fact, it is the hands which are significant for revealing the true identities of the two men. Miss Fairchild was misled by the unnamed man about the identity of Mr Easton as he wanted to save him from an embarrassing situation. Easton was a convict and was being taken to prison. It was a passenger in the coach who discovered that a marshal would not handcuff his own right hand with a convict as was the case with Mr Easton and the marshal. It is the hearts part of the title that explains the theme. It is because of having a compassionate heart that the marshal lied to Miss Fairchild. He told Miss Fairchild that Easton was the marshal and he was the convict who was being taken to prison by Mr Easton. The glum-faced man had a golden heart. The effect of the lie is immediate on Miss Fairchild. She was relieved that Easton was not the convict. The author has titled the story ‘Hearts and Hands’ because by having the marshal lie about his hand, he shows his heart for the convict and highlights the theme of compassion. The word ‘Hearts’ also indicates the kind of friendship that existed between Miss Fairchild and Mr Easton. So, we can say it is an apt title.

  5. What is the moral conveyed by this story?
    Ans. The story presents us with three characters a marshal, a convict and a young lady on a train to Denver. This was a chance meeting between a young lady and a convict who happened to be old friends. The author has artfully depicted in the story that appearance can misrepresent reality. When the marshal and the convict boarded the train, their physical appearances are described in such a way that it misled not only Miss Fairchild but also the readers. Mr Easton is described as a handsome person with bold, frank countenance, while the other as ruffled, heavily built, roughly dressed and glum-faced. Therefore, when the real marshal tells Miss Fairchild that he is the convict who is being taken to prison by Mr Easton who is a marshal, it appears to be true. Miss Fairchild does not notice at that instance that Easton’s right hand is handcuffed. She believes that her old friend is indeed the marshal. Appearances deceive; thus, O. Henry suggests that people often jump to conclusions that are not true and ignore seemingly obvious details.

  6. How is compassion depicted in the story?
    Ans. In the story, compassion is portrayed by a ruffled glum-faced marshal. He would not let Easton reveal their true identities to Miss Fairchild to prevent him from any kind of embarrassment. When the marshal realises that Miss Fairchild was a person who weighed social images more than reality, he prevented him from speaking and said that Mr Easton was the marshal and was taking him to prison for counterfeiting. The marshal was also a very keen and vigilant observer. He observed Mr Easton's hesitation in recognising Miss Fairchild and also her bewildered horror on seeing Mr Easton being handcuffed. The marshal understood the gravity of the situation and saved Mr Easton from the humiliation of being recognised as a convict in front of an old friend. He did not care for his own prestige but tagged himself as the convict. He not only declared himself a convict but also made sure that Miss Fairchild is convinced by the remark. He also managed to get Easton out of the situation without any revelations which could damage the friendship. Thus, the marshal’s willingness to lie for Mr Easton depicted that he was compassionate to people in need.

  7. List down examples of situational and verbal irony.
    Ans.Situational irony occurs when there is a contrast between what is expected to happen and what actually happens at the beginning of the story. When the two men enter the train, there is a mismatch between their appearances and the reality which is revealed at the end of the story. Out of the two men, the handsome-looking man appears to be a marshal, whereas the other man who was fat, rough and glum-faced appears to be a prisoner. In reality, the handsome bold man, Mr Easton, was a counterfeiter, whereas the other man was a marshal. This is situational irony.Verbal irony occurs when a character says one thing and its meaning is entirely different. Here are some examples of verbal irony in the story:
    • Mr Easton told Miss Fairchild, “I had to do something.”
      Mr Easton does not want Miss Fairchild to understand what something truly was since this something that he did was actually an illegal activity.
    • The glum-faced man said, “Mr Easton knows his business.”
      The business Easton knows is not the business of being a marshal but of being a counterfeiter.
    • Mr Easton says, “My butterfly days are over.”
      Here, he means that he will be in prison for a long while; however, it could be interpreted that his social days (of being in the circle of friends) are over since he has shifted to the West.

  8. Explain the twist at the end of the story.
    Ans. The author is well known for surprise endings in his short stories. This story too ends in an unexpected manner.
    The story depicts a brief episode in a train to Denver. It involves three main characters and two minor characters. A young and pretty lady named Miss Fairchild is seated in the train when two men arrive and take the seat facing her. She started conversing with one of them who happens to be her friend but becomes baffled and shocked on seeing him in handcuffs. Her friend, Mr Easton, is also embarrassed. The other man who himself is the marshal comes to the rescue and gives an explanation that Mr Easton is the marshal and is taking him to Leavenworth prison. The story presents an ironical situation with a surprise ending. The unexpected revelation about Mr Easton surprises the young lady. The story is narrated in simple but elaborate language and the two minor characters notice the minor technicality which Miss Fairchild had missed. The remarks made by the two passengers at the end of the story are significant because it reveals the truth about the main characters.

  9. What is the relationship between Mr Easton and the young woman?
    Ans. Mr Easton and the young woman named Miss Fairchild knew each other and were old friends. She was quite attached to her old friend, Mr Easton. She was very happy and pleased when she recognised Mr Easton sitting in front of her. On being asked about the ambassador by Mr Easton, she replied in a warm manner stating that she was not interested in him. Easton also did not want to be embarrassed in front of her as she was an old acquaintance. The word ‘hearts’ in the title is indicative that the relationship between Miss Fairchild and Mr Easton is something more than friendship.

  10. Do you like the way the story ends? Give a reason to justify your answer.
    Ans. Yes, I like the way the story ends. There is an ironical twist at the end of the story which truly reveals the significant characters. The use of irony brings out a humorous aspect to the story. Although it is sad that Miss Fairchild is fooled and mislead in the story, she was too gullible and easily believed the marshal. It has a good feeling because there is a display of compassion by the marshal and it also saved Mr Easton from embarrassment. They were sensible enough to not continue the conversation for a long time so that Miss Fairchild would be able to discover the truth. The end is one of contrast of main characters, irony and amusement.

  11. How did the glum-faced man save Mr Easton from embarrassment?
    Ans. When Miss Fairchild sees that her old friend Mr Easton is handcuffed, she feels embarrassed and awkward. Even Mr Easton is uncomfortable with the situation. The glum-faced man is a keen observer and vigilant about this discomfort. Therefore, in order to save Mr Easton from embarrassment, he comes forward with an explanation and says that Easton is a marshal and the two are heading for Leavenworth prison. The glum-faced man also states that since Miss Fairchild knows Mr Easton, she could help him by speaking some words of kindness to Mr Easton so that prison is not difficult for him. He wanted to lighten the mood for both Miss Fairchild and Mr Easton and so he called himself the criminal. This shows that he is a kind-hearted, helpful and compassionate person.

  12. Elaborate on the contrast in views about the West between Miss Fairchild and Mr Easton.
    Ans. There was a difference of outlook in the way Mr Easton and Miss Fairchild thought about the West. Easton saw the opportunities in the West. These opportunities that he pursued turned out to be illegal, and he was taken in for counterfeiting. He thought that a lot of money was required in order to live in the West. The glum-faced man had convicted himself as the criminal and portrayed Mr Easton as the marshal in order to save him from embarrassment. Miss Fairchild was surprised to know that Easton has preferred living in the West to become a marshal over living in Washington. She considered living in the West more savage and adventurous as compared to living a luxurious life in the East. Miss Fairchild loved living in the West though. She expressed her fascination for the West and indicated that she would like settling there. She also mentioned that the air in the West seems to agree with her.