In this humorous story, Sam and Bill are two inept criminals who kidnap ten-year-old Johnny, the son of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset.
In a ransom letter to Johnny's father, Sam and Bill demand fifteen hundred dollars for Johnny's safe return. Upon receipt of the ransom money, the two crooks promise Johnny will be returned within three hours.
When he receives the letter, however, Mr. Dorset is nonchalant about the contents. He writes back and proposes a counter-offer, where the two criminals will pay him two hundred and fifty dollars for taking Johnny off their hands. Mr. Dorset adds that he thinks the two men will be inclined to accept his generous offer. He also advises them to bring Johnny back at night, as he confesses he can't be responsible for what his neighbors will do to anyone they see bringing Johnny back.
Even though Mr. Dorset's response is humorous, we must understand that he knows his son very well and imagines Johnny must be more trouble to the criminals than he's worth. This explains his lack of concern at having received such a letter. Also, it appears as if none of Mr. Dorset's neighbors are especially inclined to see Johnny home, either. Mr. Dorset responds to the letter calmly and with an almost disinterested tone; he isn't the least bit worried and doesn't betray any fear.
Bill and Sam both decide having Johnny for an extra night is a trial they don't intend to endure. They resolutely conclude that paying a ransom to Mr. Dorset to take Johnny back would be the better deal. The story ends with Bill and Sam dropping off Johnny at the front door, and Bill pays two hundred and fifty dollars to Mr. Dorset. Then, with Mr. Dorset promising to hold on to Johnny for about ten minutes, both men make a hasty getaway.