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Hearts and Hands by O. Henry is a story about two acquaintances who meet on a train. When Mr. Easton encounters Miss Fairchild, he is handcuffed to another man. Miss Fairchild gets excited when she learns that her old friend from Washington has become a marshal. One passenger on the train, however, realizes that things are not as they seem.


Extract I

“As they passed down the aisle … accustomed to speak and be heard.”

Question (i): Which coach is referred to in this extract? How can you conclude that the coach was crowded?

Answer (i): The coach of the eastbound B&M Express is referred to in this extract. The only vacant seat left was a “reversed one facing the attractive woman”. This tells us that the coach was crowded.

Question (ii): Name the young woman in the coach. What is said about her just before the extract?

Answer (ii): The young woman in the coach is named Miss Fairchild. She is described as an elegantly dressed, pretty young woman who had all the luxuries and who loved travelling.

Question (iii): Which linked couple is referred to in the extract above? In what way were they linked?

Answer (iii): The linked couple referred to in the extract is Mr. Easton and marshal. They were handcuffed together.

Question (iv): Describe the reaction of the young woman on seeing the two men.

Answer (iv): At first, she saw them indifferently with a ‘distant, swift disinterest’. As soon as she recognized Mr Easton she smiled at them and started conversing.

Question (v): What was the relationship between Mr. Easton and the young woman?

Answer (v): Mr. Easton and the young woman were old friends.


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Extract II

“It’s Miss Fairchild … from his keen, shrewd eyes”.

Question (i): Who said, “It’s Miss Fairchild”? Which hand of his was engaged? How?

Answer (i): Mr. Easton said “It’s Miss Fairchild”. Mr Easton’s right hand was engaged as it was handcuffed to the left hand of the marshal.

Question (ii): Why did the young lady’s look changed to bewildered horror? What changes were seen in her due to horror?

Answer (ii): As soon as the young lady saw Mr Easton handcuffed to another man, the glad look in her eyes changed to bewildered horror. She got upset, ‘the glow faded from her cheeks and her lips parted in a vague, relaxing distress’.

Question (iii): What did the glum-faced man say about the marshal? As per the context here where was the glum-faced man being taken? Why?

Answer (iii): The glum-faced man had been keenly observing the countenance of Miss Fairchild change from glad to horror when she saw her old friend Mr Easton handcuffed. To bring her some relief he said that he was a convict and Mr. Easton was a marshal who was taking him to Leavenworth prison on charges of counterfeiting .

Question (iv): With reference to question (iii) above explain what happened in reality.

Answer (iv): In reality, the glum-faced man was the marshal and Mr Easton was the convict. Mr Easton was handcuffed to the marshal and was being taken to prison. The marshal came to know in the train that Mr. Easton and Miss Fairchild were old friends. To save Mr. Easton from humiliation in front of old friend and at the same time to assure Miss Fairchild, the marshal introduced himself as a convict.

Question (v): Explain the significance of ‘hands’ in the story.

Answer (v): The real marshal presented himself as a convict to save Mr. Easton from humiliation in front of old friend Miss Fairchild. He also dispelled her doubts when he lied about Mr. Easton being a marshal. An astute passenger who was sitting nearby noticed that Mr Easton right hand was handcuffed. A marshal would never handcuff his right hand to the left hand of a convict, and in fact Mr Easton was the convict and not the glum-faced man who posed himself as convict. The handcuffed ‘hands’ were significant for revealing the true identities of Mr. Easton and the marshal.


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Extract III

“Oh! said the girl, with deep breath … position as that of ambassador, but–“

Question (i): Why did Miss Fairchild call Easton, a marshal? What was he in reality?

Answer (i): Miss Fairchild called Easton a Marshal because the real marshal made her believe so by lying for him. In reality, Easton was a convict and was being taken to prison by the real marshal on charges of counterfeiting.

Question (ii): Explain why Easton was going to Leavenworth.

Answer (ii): Easton was going to Leavenworth prison because he was convicted of counterfeiting.

Question (iii): Give the meaning of:

(a) Money has a way of taking wings unto itself.

Answer (a): Mr. Easton is referring to the idea that money goes away too quickly and their lives in Washington were expensive.

(b) to keep step with our crowd.

Answer (b): Mr. Easton is referring to the idea that money is required to attract dignity and acceptance among the wealthy upper class of Washington.

Question (iv): What did Easton say he was doing in the past?

Answer (iv): Easton said that he was making money in the past but it was not enough to keep up with high society in Washington that is why he took up the position of a marshal in the West.

Question (v): What did Fairchild say about Easton’s life in Washington? Why was she not likely to see Easton in Washington soon?

Answer (v): Fairchild was surprised to learn that Easton had discarded his adventurous life in Washington to become a duty-bound marshal out West. She was not likely to see Easton in Washington soon because she believed that he was now a responsible marshal and the nature of his duty would not allow him to travel to East when he wished.


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Extract IV

“The girl’s eyes, fascinated, went back……my butterfly days are over.”

Question (i): Why were the girl’s eyes fascinated? Who were handcuffed? Why?

Answer (i): The girl eyes fascinated with the handcuffs. She imagined that her old friend Easton was like those dashing Western heroes who ride and shoot and get into all kind of dangers to catch criminals.

Easton was handcuffed to the marshal.

He was convicted on charges of counterfeiting and was being taken to the Leavenworth prison .

Question (ii): Why did the glum-faced man say, “ Mr Easton knows his business’?

Answer (ii): The glum-faced man tried to assure her that it was normal for a marshal to handcuff himself to his prisoner to keep him from getting away.

Question (iii): What kind of relationship existed between Mr Easton and Miss Fairchild?

Answer (iii): When Miss Fairchild saw Mr Easton, there appeared a lovely smile on her face and her cheeks turned pink. She started flirting with Mr. Easton and wanted him to know that she liked him in Washington more than she liked the ambassador, and she is hinting that she is interested in living in the West where he is. Her eyes were shining softly when she said this. It shows that they had shared intimate relationship in the past.

Question (iv): Why won’t Easton be in Washington in the near future? What is meant by ‘my butterfly days are over’?

Answer (iv): Mr. Easton is now a marshal, he has gone from living on the East coast to living in the West, and he has a possibility of a relationship with Miss Fairchild. This is similar to a butterfly because of the metamorphosis a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly, the migration butterflies take on, and how they search for other butterflies. Mr. Easton could also mean that he is not as fancy anymore since moving to the west where things are less refined. He also has to wear handcuffs instead of being “free to fly” so to speak.

Question (v): How is the mistaken identity used in the plot of the story?

Answer (v): Mistaken identity is used by the author as a means to end the story with an element of surprise.


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Extract V

“The two men sidled down the aisle……..a prisoner to his right hand?”

Question (i): What did the glum-faced man do to cut short the conversation between Easton and Miss Fairchild? What could be the reason for his action?

Answer (i): The glum-faced man complained that Easton and Miss Fairchild had been in conversation for long time and it was not fair to keep a man from having his drink and smoke.

The marshal had shown favour to Easton by not revealing his true identity in front of old friend Miss Fairchild. Easton, on other hand, seemed unappreciative of the compassionate marshal, got himself engrossed in conversation with his flirtatious friend. That could have annoyed the marshal and by interrupting the conversation he wanted to subtly assert Easton, without alarming Miss Fairchild, that he is the one in control.

Question (ii): What reason did the glum-faced man give for his going for a smoke?

Answer (ii): The glum-faced man said he was in need of a drink and a smoke. He asked Mr Easton to accompany him to the smoker car as he was ‘half dead for a pipe.

Question (iii): Which hand of an officer is handcuffed to the hand of the convict? Why is this information necessary to end the story?

Answer (iii): Generally, an officer’s left hand is handcuffed to the right hand of the convict because he would need to use it.

In the beginning of the story Easton is embarrassed to shake hand with Miss Fairchild because his right hand was cuffed. Easton is a young man with a handsome presence and a bold, frank countenance and manner. He is accompanied with a ruffled, glum-faced person, heavily built and roughly dressed who looks like a criminal. This creates a doubt in reader’s mind as to why Easton is feeling embarrassed about this. All doubts get cleared when the story ends by revealing the reader that in reality Mr Easton was the convict and the glum-faced man was the marshal.

Question (iv): Do you like the way the story ends? Give reason to justify your opinion.

Answer (iv): Yes, the story ends with a surprise. Throughout the length of the story the reader is made to believe that Mr. Easton was a marshal and the glum-faced man was the convict. This wrong belief is reinforced in the minds of reader by portraying Easton as a handsome, well-dressed man and the marshal as glum-faced, roughly-dresses man. Mr. Easton is shown as a gentleman who belonged to high class society in Washigton and who has close friendship with a cultured and sophisticated lady Miss Fairchild. The end brings surprise to the reader when the author reveals through a fellow passenger that handcuffing indicates that in reality Easton was a convict and the glum-faced man was a marshal.

Question (v): What role do the ‘hearts’ and ‘hands’ play in the plot of the story?

Answer (v): ‘Hearts’ and ‘Hands’ is directly related to the theme of showing compassion and not judging people in a few key ways. To begin, the story starts with two people, Mr. Easton and the marshal, handcuffed together. It is this handcuffing that lends to the “Hands” part of the title. The entire story is based on the premise that there are two men held together by their hands.

It is the ‘heart’ which constitutes the core of the overall theme of the story. The marshal told a lie for Mr. Easton to prevent him from humiliation in front of his friend. The marshal’s willingness to play along with the lie of Mr. Easton shows that he is understanding and compassionate to people in need. This makes readers see that we should have compassion for others.


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