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The Robe of Peace: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

When a fashionable man goes missing, his friends find him nearly a year later in a surprising place. Find out more about this man's disappearance in this lesson, which will summarize and provide some analysis of O. Henry's 'The Robe of Peace.'

Mysterious Disappearance

Have you ever lost touch with a friend? Maybe you just kind of grew apart or had a falling out. Or maybe, as is the case in O. Henry's ''The Robe of Peace,'' that friend just seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth. In O. Henry's story, Johnny Bellchambers seemed to vanish into thin air. It's not like Bellchambers was an easy person to miss, either. As a man with ''high position in the ranks of society,'' Bellchambers was very well-known and popular. He was especially known for his fashion sense. Bellchambers' style was always perfect - especially his pants. Only perfect pants would do for him; he wouldn't be caught wearing pants with any kind of wear, patches, or wrinkles. To accomplish this, he would change outfits every three hours.

You can imagine that the disappearance of such a high-profile man was pretty shocking. He left no trail or clue to his whereabouts. His friends couldn't find any reason for his disappearance: ''he had no enemies, he had no debts, there was no woman.'' There was even a substantial amount of money left behind in his bank account! Truly strange behavior for a man who ''was of a particularly calm and well-balanced temperament.''

Found

It's been about a year since Bellchambers' mysterious disappearance, and at last, his friends discover some answers. These answers come about because a couple of Bellchambers' New Yorker friends, Tom Eyres and Lancelot Gilliam, decide to take a side trip. They've been spending time in Italy and Switzerland when they hear about a monastery in the Alps that's off the beaten path. This monastery supposedly has three things going for it: it makes good liquor, has a brass bell so perfect it has ''not ceased sounding since it was first rung three hundred years ago,'' and people claim no Englishman has ever visited it. These three reasons are enough to persuade Eyres and Gilliam that the monastery is worth the difficult trip it takes to get there.

It takes two days to get to the monastery, which sits ''upon a frozen, wind-swept crag with the snow piled about it in treacherous, drifting masses.'' Their welcome is decidedly warmer than the weather outside, and they enjoy the cordial, or liquor, and the sound of the bell. But their visit takes a turn for the strange when they witness the monks of the monastery filing past. While they're watching, Eyres grabs Gilliam and points at one of the monks - is it Bellchambers?

Friendly Conversation

As surprising as it may be, the monk in question is their lost friend. But what is he doing here? Since all the monks gave up their ''worldly names'' when they entered the monastery, the two men point their friend out to another monk and ask if they can talk with him privately. Any doubt they might have had is wiped away when Bellchambers walks into the room. It's definitely Bellchambers, but he does look different: his ''smooth-shaven face was an expression of ineffable peace, of rapturous attainment, of perfect and complete happiness'' and there is a ''serene and gracious light'' in his eye. But how can this be, when this known fashion horse is wearing ''a long robe of rough brown cloth, gathered by a cord at the waist, and falling in straight, loose folds nearly to his feet?''

Neither Eyres or Gilliam really know what to say at first. Eyres supposes he can see the benefit of getting away from the hectic city to have time for ''contemplation,'' but Bellchambers, better known as Brother Ambrose now, interrupts to ease their minds. Turns out, he only goes along with ''these thing-um-bobs with the rest of these old boys because they are the rules.'' They only have ten minutes to talk, so he wastes no time asking about the style of waistcoat Gilliam is wearing. Is that the new trend?

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