It looked like a good thing, but wait until I tell you. This is how the ironic story of The Ransom of Red Chief begins. It is the story of two moronic kidnappers and one holy terror of a child. This story will make baby-sitters everywhere cringe and potential kidnappers think twice. Our story, narrated by Sam, one of the kidnappers, begins when Bill and Sam deiced that a good get-rich-quick scheme would be to kidnap and hold a kid for ransom. Doesnt sound too far-fetched, but what a child for these two poor guys to choose.
Finally settling on Ebenzer Dorset, the most prominent of a small town community, they catch his son, Johnny Dorset. They whisk Johnny away to cave bordering the town outskirts, and wait. Their first experience with Red Chief are not so bad. They kid plays Indians and decrees Sam and Bill to be executed at dawn. Hes basically a rambunctious little boy with a flapping jaw, who settles down after supper and goes to bed. But in the morning, Sam awakes to blood-curdling screams! Who but Red Chief is sitting and preparing to scalp Bill!
From that moment on, Bill does not trust this little demon. Later on, Johnny only cause more trouble for Bill. He puts a boiled potato down Bills back and smashes it. Then he almost smashes him with a rock. After that, Red Chief sling shots rocks at Bill, until one hits him in the head, and he falls right into the camp fire. Sam decides now would be a good time to send a ransom note… Ebenezer Dorset, Esq. : We have your son concealed in a place far from Summit. It is useless for you or the most skillful detectives to attempt to find him.
Absolutely, the only terms on which you can have him restored are these: We demand Fifteen hundred in large bills for his return: the money to be left midnight at the same spot…. The ransom note runs on, and Sam leaves Red Chief and Bill alone, while he delivers the ransom note… Oh poor, poor Bill! If this experience does not turn him from a life of crime, what will? Johnny decides to play Black Scout and forces Bill, the hoss to ride ninety miles to the fort, then, upon arriving there, eat sand to pretend for play oats.
Then he spend hours answering the boys mindless questions, Finally, out of desperation, Bill sends the kid home, giving him a fantastic kick in the pants to help him on his way. While telling Sam all this, Johnny comes back to the cave. Yikes! Afterwards, when Sam goes to collect the boys ransom, he finds a rather disturbing letter…. Dear Desperate Men Gentlemen. I received you letter today by post, in regard to the ransom you ask for the return of my son. I think you are a little high in your demands, and I hearby make you a counter-proposition, which I am inclined to believe you will accept.
You bring Johnny home and pay me two-hundred and fifty dollars cash, and I will agree to take him off your hands. You better come at night, for the neighbors believe him lost, and I couldnt be responsible for what they would do to anyone they saw bringing him back. Very respectfully, Ebenezer Dorset Well what do you think of that? Sure enough however, that night the kid was delivered home. And getting only a ten minute head start, Bill and Sam ran faster Than they ever would ever again. About the Author O. Henry was the pen name of William Sydney Porter, a popular American short-story writer famous for his surprise endings.
With little formal education, Porter left North Carolina for Texas, where he worked as a ranch hand, bookkeeper, bank teller, and, eventually, as the editor of a weekly, The Rolling Stone. Indicted in 1894 for embezzling funds from a bank in Austin and arrested in 1896, Porter protested his innocence but fled to Honduras, and later to South America. He returned to Austin in 1897, stood trial, and was convicted in 1898, after which he served more than three years in the federal penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.
There he wrote short stories under various pseudonyms; “O. Henry” finally superseded all others. His first published short story was “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking. ” Following his release from prison, O. Henry lived in Pittsburgh for a short time but in 1902 settled in New York City, which he celebrated in his second collection of stories, The Four Million , with its still-popular tale “The Gift of the Magi. ” (O. Henry’s first collection, Cabbages and Kings, was published in 1904). There followed in rapid succession eight more collections, published from 1907 to 1910.
Financial problems and alcoholism contributed to O. Henry’s early death in 1910, yet enough material was left unpublished for three additional volumes of stories to appear after he died. He was addicted to the surprise ending, a type of story that delighted his readers then as they do today. His humor, displayed in “The Ransom of Red Chief” and elsewhere, is undoubted, and his sympathetic understanding of the common man ensures his reputation as a writer of permanent interest. Hollywood recognized his talents by filming three of his stories, in O. Henry’s Full House.
And, to memorialize his place in American literature, in 1918 the Society of Arts and Sciences established the O. Henry Award, which was to be given to the authors of the best stories printed each year in American magazines. The first collection of award stories was published in book form in 1919 by Doubleday and Co. , Inc. , under the title Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Doubleday has continued to choose and publish Prize Stories yearly. Among the many writers honored by the award at early stages in their careers have been Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Joyce Carol Oates.