Roads of Destiny

William_Sydney_Porter_by_doubledayRoads of Destiny is a collection of short stories from prolific American author O. Henry (William Porter) published in 1909.

The title story, and the longest in the collection, sets the theme that ties all of the stories together. In this story, O. Henry presents us with a story in three parts. Or rather, one story, told three times. The theme this sets is that in life, we all make choices, and some of those choices can have drastically different results, but some things are inevitable, no matter which path we choose.

One of O. Henry’s favourite settings is the American “Wild West”. Cowboys and bandits made for convenient and interesting vehicles for O. Henry. Several of the stories here are set in that time period, and the rest are set in the South or in New York City. The stories are quick and easy reads.

In case you are wondering what the “O” stands for in “O. Henry”, it’s “Olivier”, Olivier Henry was another pen name that Porter used.

The stories included are:

1) Roads of Destiny – A sheep farmer in a small town, the main character gets restless, walks out on his fiancee after an argument and travels down the road to see where his fortunes lie. He comes to an intersection, and has three directions to choose: turn left; turn right, or; continue straight ahead. Each different path takes him on very different adventures, but the ultimate outcome in each is our adventurer’s death.

2) The Guardian of the Accolade – Uncle Bushrod, a long-time Southern servant to the Weymouth banking family does his best to keep the family’s reputation intact when the head of the household is about to make a poorly calculated move.

3) The Discounters of Money – A rich suitor tries to win the hand of a fair New York maiden, and receives assistance from an unlikely pair of homeless young lovebirds.

4) The Enchanted Profile – An odd tale of an old maid who takes a young stenographer as something of a protege.

5) “Next to Reading Matter” – A man with a story to tell finds a man willing to listen at a New York hotel. The story has a surprise twist at the end enat leaves the listener disillusioned with the story-teller.

6) Art and the Bronco – The Texas Legislature proposes to buy the painting of a descendant of a Texas state founder, but all does not go as planned.

7) Phœbe – Some people belive they have lucky stars, some think they have unlucky stars, but what happens when the star you think has been influencing your life turns out to not be a star at all?

8) A Double-dyed Deceiver – A gambler on the run beats feet from a card game in Texas to refuge in a country in South America, where he accidentally settles into a new life from which he does not want to be removed.

9) The Passing of Black Eagle – The identity of a borderlands bandid by the name of Black Eagle is revealed.

10) A Retrieved Reformation – A career bank safe-cracker gets a chance at the good life after a stay in prison. Does he take it or does he go back to his safe-cracking ways?

11) Cherchez la Femme – Two reporters try to track down a café owner’s investment and in the process bring down a public figure.

12) Friends in San Rosario – A bank examiner auditing a bank discovers a large amount of missing securities, with an unorthodox explanation.

13) The Fourth in Salvador – A handful of Americans in Salvador celebrate their 4th of July by unwittingly tipping the scales in a revolution.

14) The Emancipation of Billy – A well-respected former Governor and his son discuss future ambitions, as the son is being offered a Federal Judgeship. The Governor, well-advanced in years and requiring daily assistance, doesn’t want the son to leave him.

15) The Enchanted Kiss – A drug store clerk dreams about stealing a kiss from his employer’s (and landlord’s) daughter.

16) A Departmental Case – A young Texan wife, estranged form an abusive husband, seeks help from her government. She stumbles into the office of the Commisioner of Insurance, Statistics and History, who recognizes her as the daughter of a close friend and helps her in the most extreme way possible.

17) The Renaissance at Charleroi – The last remnant of one of New Orleans’ most influential families throws a nostalgic gala only to make the discovery of his life.

18) On Behalf of the Management – Two scheming friends aim to assist a foreign General in winning an election in his foreign country that would overthrow their current government.

19) Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking – A tramp foils a robbery attempt that would deprive a plantation of their Christmas payroll, but is made uncomfortable by the family’s attempt to repay him. An interesting bit of trivia – this story, originally published in 1899, was the first writing where Porter used the pen name of O. Henry.

20) The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss – A man with a secretive past who is working as a polearm-bearing armoured mascot at a German-themed New York restaurant has his past catch up to him in that restaurant.

21) Two Renegades – An American ex-pat in Panama finds himself in trouble and in prison. Desperate for help, he reaches out to the defunct government of the Confederate States for help.

22) The Lonesome Road – Two former cattle rustlers and generally bad guys meet up and decide to paint the town red one night, for old time’s sake, but one of them has “softened” – gotten married and settled down to a quieter life, making the romp more comedic than calamitous.

Roads_of_Destiny_-_1921The title story was made into a stage play by Channing Pollock, which ran for 101 Broadway performances. The play was then adapted for silent film by Goldwyn Pictures in 1921. Sadly, no print of the film is known to exist anywhere, and is thus considered to be a lost film. The film told a variation on the title story, in which a “love quadrangle” between two brothers and two women is quickly resolved through three different dreams in which the inevitability of outcomes is revealed to the two brothers by Fate, and they each decide which woman they will marry. (The two women involved in this love quadrangle apparently aren’t part of the decision tree)

The book can be found for free at Project Gutenberg, at the Internet Archive from the University of Michigan archives, and the New York Public Library, and at Feedbooks, and you can listen to the book read aloud at Librivox.org

A copy of the Pressbook, sent to theatres by Goldwyn studios for the 1921 film can be seen at the Internet Archive.

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