The Ransom of Red Chief - O. Henry

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THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF

Part One
It looked like a good thing, but wait until I tell you. Bill Driscoll and I were in Alabama when he had the kidnapping idea. There is a town in Alabama called Summit. The inhabitants of the town were very normal people.
Bill and I had about six hundred dollars. We needed two thousand dollars more for our scheme in Illinois. We discussed everything in front of our hotel.
«Summit is the best place for kidnapping,» I said. «Parents love their children in small towns.»
«And Summit doesn't have an important newspaper with curious reporters,» said Bill.
«You're right. Summit probably has only one lazy sheriff. It looks like the perfect place for kidnapping,» I said.
We chose our victim carefully. He was the only child of an important man named Ebenezer Dorset. Mr Dorset was respectable and stingy. The kid was a boy of ten with red hair.
«I'm sure Ebenezer Dorset will pay the ransom of two thousand dollars for his little boy,» I said to Bill. But wait until I tell you.
About two miles from Summit there was a little mountain and a forest. We found a cave here. It was the perfect hiding place for us. We bought food and drink and put it in the cave.
One evening we passed by the Dorsets' house with a horse and buggy. The kid was in the street. He was throwing stones at a little cat.
«Hey, little boy!» cried Bill.
The boy threw a stone at Bill's eye.
«This will cost Mr Dorset five hundred dollars more!» said Bill angrily.
The boy fought like a bear but at last we put him in the buggy. We drove away quickly and took him to the cave. That evening I took the horse and buggy back to the village and then I returned to the cave.
When I arrived there was a camp fire at the entrance of the cave. Bill had some scratches on his face.
The boy had two big feathers in his red hair and said, «Ha! This is the camp of Red Chief, the great Indian warrior!»
«He's all right now,» said Bill. He was examining some scratches on his legs. «We're playing Indians. I'm a hunter called Old Hank and I'm Red Chief's prisoner. He's going to scalp me early tomorrow morning.»
The boy was having a lot of fun. He forgot he was our prisoner because he loved camping out in the cave.
He looked at me and said, «Your name is now Snake Eye. You're a spy. When the Indians return they will cook you on the fire!»
We had dinner, and the kid ate a lot and talked a lot.
«I like this place. I never camped out before. I hate school. Are there any real Indians in the forest? I want some more food. What makes your nose so red, Hank? My father has lots of money. Are the stars hot? I don't like girls. Why are oranges round? Are there any beds in this cave? A parrot can talk but a fish can't.»
The kid had a very loud voice and he scared Bill.
«Red Chief,» I said, «do you want to go home?»
«Why?» he asked. «I don't have fun at home. I hate school. I like to camp out. Please don't take me home.»
«All right,» I said. «We'll stay here in the cave for a while.»
«Oh, good!» he said. «I never had so much fun in all my life.»
We went to bed at about eleven o'clock. Red Chief was between us. We couldn't sleep for three hours because he jumped up and down and screamed. He was still playing Red Chief. At last I fell asleep but I had bad dreams.
I woke up because Bill was screaming like a frightened woman. It was terrible to hear a big, strong, fat man scream in that way. I jumped up and what did I see? Red Chief was sitting on Bill. He was pulling Bill's hair with one hand. In the other hand he had a knife. He was trying to take Bill's scalp!
I took the knife from the kid but Bill was still terrified. He tried to sleep but he couldn't. I slept a little but then I remembered something. Red Chief wanted to cook me on the fire that morning.
«Sam, do you think the kid's father will pay money for the little devil?»
«Sure,» I said. «Parents love noisy little devils. Now you cook breakfast and I'll come back in a few minutes.»
I walked to the top of the little mountain and looked down. The town of Summit was quiet. No one was looking for the kid or the kidnappers. I expected to see the men of the village running about with pitchforks. But everything was silent. I only saw one man working quietly in the country with his horse.
«The parents don't know about the kidnapping yet,» I thought.
When I returned to the cave Bill was furious and his face was red. The boy wanted to throw a big rock at Bill.
«He put a hot potato down my back,» said Bill. «And I hit him.»
«Be careful!» said the kid to Bill. «No one ever hit Red chief before!»
After breakfast the kid took a sling shot out of his pocket and went outside the cave.
«Do you think he'll run away, Sam?» asked Bill.
«No, he won't. Today we have to send a message to his father. We must ask him for the ransom money.»
Just then we heard a loud cry. Red Chief was playing with the sling shot. Suddenly a rock hit Bill behind his left ear. He fell in the fire across a pot of hot water. I pulled him up and poured cold water on his head for half an hour. When Bill could finally speak he said, «Don't go away and leave me alone with the kid, please.»
I went outside the cave and said angrily, «If you don't behave, I'll take you home. Now, are you going to be good?»
«I was only playing,» he said sadly. «I didn't want to hurt old Hank. But why did he hit me? I'll behave, Snake Eye, but please don't send me home. Can I play Black Scout today?»
«I don't know the game,» I said. «You and Bill can decide. I'm going away for a while. Now come in and apologize to Bill.»
We went into the cave and the kid apologized. Then I spoke to Bill.
«Today I'm going to Poplar Cove to send a letter to Mr Dorset. I'm asking for the ransom money.»
«You know, Sam, in the past we did many dangerous things together. I was with you during earthquakes, fires, floods, cyclones, train robberies and police raids. And I was never afraid of anyone or anything. But now I'm afraid of this kid. So come back soon.»
«I'll come back this afternoon. Now let's write this letter.»
Part Two
Bill and I started writing the letter. Red Chief played outside the cave.
«Let's ask Mr Dorset for $1,500 instead of $2,000. I don't think anyone will pay $2,000 for that terrible kid,» Bill said.
This is the letter we prepared:
Dear Mr Dorset,
We have your son. He is far from Summit. Don't try to find him. We want $1,500 and we will return your son to you. Send a messenger with your answer tonight at 8.30 p.m. Tell the messenger to come to Poplar Cove. At Poplar Cove, near the old bridge, there is a big tree with a small wooden box under it. The messenger must put your answer in that box. This is the same tree and the same box where you will put the ransom money at midnight.
Do you want to see your son again? Then pay the money and you will see him soon.
Two Desperate Men
I put the letter in my pocket. The kid looked at me and said, «Snake Eye, I want to play Black Scout.»
«You can play Black Scout now. Bill will play with you. What's the game like?»
«I'm the Black Scout, I have to ride to the fort to help the pioneers,» said the kid.
«All right,» I said. «I think Bill will play with you.»
«What must I do?» asked Bill.
«You're the horse,» said the Black Scout. «Get down on your hands and knees. I must ride to the fort.»
Bill got down on his hands and knees. He was scared.
«How far is it to the fort?» he asked.
«Ninety miles,» said the Black Scout. «And you must gallop fast because the pioneers are in danger.»
The Black Scout jumped on Bill's back and started kicking him.
«Please, Sam, come back soon,» Bill said. «Listen, kid, don't kick me or I'll...»
I went to Poplar Cove and talked to some people at the post office. One man said, «Old Mr Ebenezer Dorset of Summit is upset because he can't find his son. The boy's probably lost or kidnapped.»
That was all I wanted to know. I mailed my letter and asked, «When is the mailman taking the mail to Summit?»
«In an hour,» said a man at the post office.
When I returned to the cave there was no one. I looked around but I couldn't find the kid or Bill. So I sat down and waited. After half an hour I heard a noise behind me. I saw Bill. The kid was behind him. He was walking silently like a scout and he had a big smile on his face. Bill stopped and took off his hat. He was very tired.
«Sam,» said Bill, «I'm not a coward, but that kid is impossible. I sent him home. He's gone! He rode on me for ninety miles. I had to eat sand for lunch. He asked me hundreds of questions and I had to answer them. Then he kicked my legs and… But now he's gone. I'm sorry to lose the ransom, Sam, but that kid was horrible. I was going crazy!»
«Bill,» I said, «do you have heart disease?»
«No. Why?»
«Turn around and look behind you.»
Bill turned around and saw the kid. Poor Bill, he was very surprised. He suddenly sat down on the grass and he couldn't speak.
After some time I said, «This evening at 8.30 p.m. we'll have an answer from Dorset. And at midnight we'll have the money! Then we can leave this place.» Bill finally smiled weakly.
I had a great plan for collecting the ransom money that evening. It was a professional plan. I found a tree at Poplar Cove near the road with big fields on all sides. I went to hide in the big tree and I waited for the messenger. He arrived at 8.30 p.m. on a bicycle. He put a piece of paper in the box and returned to Summit.
I waited an hour, climbed down the tree, got the letter and returned to the cave. I read the letter to Bill.
TO TWO DESPERATE MEN
Gentlemen, I received your letter today. I think the ransom you want is too big. I have an offer that you will probably accept. YOU bring Johnny home and pay ME $250, and you will never see Johnny again, I promise. Please come tonight.
Very respectfully,
Ebenezer Dorset
«WHAT? I can't believe it...» I cried.
Bill looked at me and said, «Sam, we've got $250. I don't want to spend another night with that kid. I'm going crazy. Let's accept Dorset's offer.»
«You know, Bill, you're right. I'm really tired of the kid too. We'll take him home, pay the ransom and leave this place.»
We decided to take the kid home that night.
«Listen, kid,» I said, «your father bought you a new rifle and a pair of Indian moccasins. Tonight we're going home to get the rifle and the moccasins. Tomorrow we're going to hunt bears in the forest.»
It was midnight when we arrived at Ebenezer's house. Bill gave him the $250. When the kid saw that we wanted to leave him at home he was furious. He started screaming loudly and took Bill's leg. His father pulled him away with great difficulty.
«How long can you hold him?» asked Bill.
«I'm not very strong but I can probably hold him for ten minutes,» said Mr Dorset.
«Good,» said Bill. «In ten minutes I'll run across most of the United States and reach Canada!»
Bill was fat and he was not a good runner. But that night no one ran faster than Bill.
— THE END -
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