May 25, 2022

#08-211: The Ransom of Red Chief

"From that moment Bill's spirit was broken"

Note: "O. Henry" is famous for his surprise endings; this story features one of the best!

Get Ready: Have you ever had to deal with a difficult child? How did he or she behave? How did you deal with it?

William Sydney Porter, under the pen name "O. Henry," remains one of America's most popular short story writers, though he died in 1910. (You may know him for the story "The Gift of the Magi," in which a young couple makes sacrifices to buy each other a Christmas present.) Another of his best-known stories is "The Ransom of Red Chief," which exhibits O. Henry's trademark: the surprise ending. It has been filmed several times, sometimes under other titles.

In the story, two comic, bumbling "desperados" named Bill and Sam kidnap a 10-year-old red-headed boy named Johnny, "the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset." They plan to ask for $2,000 in ransom.

When they find Johnny, he is throwing rocks at a kitten, and when they offer him a ride in their buggy, he hits Bill in the eye with a piece of brick! "That will cost the old man an extra five hundred dollars," Bill says.

They struggle him into the buggy and take him to a mountain cave they had prepared. Johnny actually seems to be enjoying himself, taunting the kidnappers and calling himself "Red Chief." He chatters constantly, asks difficult questions ("How many does it take to make twelve?"), plays pranks on the men, and insists they play games with him. In short, he wears them out, and leaves quite a few scrapes and bruises on poor Bill.

When the time comes to write the ransom note, Bill suggests they lower the price to $1,500, saying, "It ain't human for anybody to give up two thousand dollars for that forty-pound chunk of freckled wildcat." Sam agrees, and they lower the requested ransom.

The note is sent, and they await the delivery of the cash. To their surprise, "Red Chief's" father has made a counter-offer: "You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands."

They agree! Anything to get rid of this troublesome child--in fact, they're thankful that the father asked for so little. And so the "ransom" in the title is the $250 the kidnappers had to pay Johnny's father to take him back!


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. buggy
  2. bumbling
  3. chunk
  4. desperados
  5. freckled
  6. pranks
  7. prominent
  8. ransom
  9. taunting
  10. trademark

  1. with red spots on the skin
  2. "bad guys"
  3. money paid to get a kidnapped person released
  4. a light-weight wagon drawn by a horse
  5. tricks; practical jokes
  6. respectable; leading
  7. making fun of; teasing
  8. behaving foolishly; not skillful
  9. a piece
  10. a point for which someone or something is famous

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 25, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. h; 3. i; 4. b; 5. a; 6. e; 7. f; 8. c; 9. g; 10. j