"The Duplicity of Hargraves" is a short story by the American author William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pseudonym of O. Henry. Written while Porter was in prison, the story was first published in The Junior Munsey in February1902 and later included in the anthology Sixes and Sevens (1911). The story has since appeared in many short story collections.
In the story, Major Talbot, an old-fashioned Southern gentleman, is in Washington with his middle-aged daughter to find a publisher for his book of reminiscences. The major loves to talk about the old plantation days, and his stories attract the attention of a young actor named Henry Hopkins Hargraves. They become good friends and Major Talbot is happy to share his anecdotes until, one evening, he sees Hargraves at the theater playing the role of a Southern Colonel who bears an uncanny resemblance to him. Outraged by the impersonation, Major Talbot rejects Hargraves' apologies the following day. Having lost a friend and also having run out of money, the Talbots are desperate when help arrives from an unexpected direction.
"The Duplicity of Hargraves" was adapted as a silent film in 1917.
Major Pendleton Talbot, an old-fashioned Southern gentleman from Alabama, is staying at a boarding house in Washington with his middle-aged daughter, Miss Lydia Talbot. Major Talbot's mind still lives in the old days before the Civil War when his family owned a plantation, and he still exudes the antiquated aristocratic pride and honor. He also wears old-fashioned clothes. The major loves to talk about the traditions and history of the South, and he is writing a book of reminiscences. His daughter is also old-fashioned, but she is more practical and takes care of their finances.
Another boarder, a well-mannered young man named Henry Hopkins Hargraves, appears to take an interest in the major and his stories. Hargraves is a dialect comedian performing at a vaudeville theater. Although he is known for his large repertoire of foreign and regional accents, his ambition is to succeed at "legitimate" comedy. Major Talbot, who does not approve of Hargraves' profession, is initially hesitant, but he is eventually won over by the young man's agreeable manner and interest in his stories.
It becomes a custom for Major Talbot to read his manuscript to Hargraves in the afternoon and talk about the old days. The major lingers on details, such as the name of the slave who held his horse and dates of some minor happenings, but Hargraves is always eager to listen and ask questions. They become such good friends that the major even prepares a special Southern treat, the mint julep, for Hargraves.
After four months in Washington, Miss Lydia realizes that they have run out of money. The manuscript is complete, but Major Talbot has not found a publisher. With only two dollars left in his pocket, the major goes out to see the congressman who has promised to help him expedite the effort.
In the evening, Major Talbot comes home enraged. According to the congressman, the publisher wants the manuscript cut down to half to remove all the sectional and class prejudice. Miss Lydia asks for the two dollars so she can send a telegraph to her uncle for some money. Major Talbot produces tickets to a play instead, having spent his last dollars on them. They are to see a new war drama at the theater involving the South. Miss Lydia throws up her hands in despair.
Major Talbot and Miss Lydia attend the opening night of A Magnolia Flower which is set on a Southern plantation. To their surprise, the part of Colonel Calhoun is being played by Hargraves, in what is apparently his first "legitimate" role. When he enters in the second act, they are horrified to find that Colonel Calhoun is made up and dressed to look like Major Talbot, down to his signature long frock coat. Hargraves has the major's speech and manners down to perfection. In the third act, he even makes juleps and entertains his friends with anecdotes from Major Talbot's book. The audience roars and applauds in appreciation.
The following afternoon, Hargraves comes to the major's room with a newspaper review praising his performance. Major Talbot frigidly mentions that he saw the play. Disconcerted, Hargraves tells the major not to get offended and explains that he is playing a type, not an individual. Major Talbot, however, is insulted by the impersonation and also feels his confidence betrayed. Hargraves apologizes and assures him that no insult was intended. He then says to the major that he did not to come to talk about the play but to offer a loan of a couple hundred dollars. Major Talbot thinks Hargraves is trying to buy forgiveness and orders him to leave. Later that day, Hargraves moves out of the boarding house to live closer to the theater.
Soon the rent comes due and Major Talbot is forced to make excuses. The financial situation is quite desperate when an old colored man comes to visit Major Talbot. The man introduces himself as a freed slave named Mose. Major Talbot remembers a slave by that name who worked with horses. "Uncle Mose" says that the major's father let him take a pair of mule colts after the war. He moved to Nebraska, sold the colts for three hundred dollars, and used the money to start a business. Mose, now a prosperous man, is in Washington for the Baptist convention. Having learned from an acquaintance that Major Talbot is also in town, he has come over to pay his debt. He offers the major three hundred dollars for the colts. Major Talbot, touched by the loyalty, tearfully and gladly accepts the payment.
After Mose leaves, Miss Lydia cries tears of joy. Shortly thereafter, Major Talbot finds a publisher who is willing to work with his manuscript, and peace is restored for the Talbots.
A week after Uncle Mose's visit, Miss Lydia receives a letter from New York. It is from Hargraves who is now playing Colonel Calhoun in New York and making two hundred dollars a week. He writes that he wants Miss Lydia to know, but not tell Major Talbot, that he was anxious to make amends. Since the major refused the loan, Hargraves confesses, he found his own way. He then asks "How did I play Uncle Mose?"
As Major Talbot enters the room looking for their mail, Miss Lydia hides the letter under a fold of her dress.
- ↑ William Sydney Porter was convicted for embezzlement in 1898 and sentenced to five years in prison. The conviction was based on circumstantial evidence and Porter maintained his innocence. He was released early for good behavior in 1901.