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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Student Question

How does Bill react when he returns to the cave in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Quick answer:

Bill initially reacts with relief when he returns to the cave, content with forfeiting the ransom to rid himself of the young boy who "tortures" him. When he turns around to find that the boy has followed him back to the cave, Bill turns white and collapses to the ground, unable to stand.

Expert Answers

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Close to the end of the story, the narrator, Sam, returns to the cave and cannot find Bill or the young boy they've kidnapped. He yodels to try to locate them, but there isn't a reply.

About a half an hour later, Bill wobbles out of the bushes alone. He is fatigued and tells Sam that the boy is gone. After being "tortured" by the boy, he has reached his limits and is willing to forfeit the ransom. Bill tells Sam that he has taken the boy back down the mountain and has shown him the road back to his home.

At this point, Sam asks if Bill has any heart disease in his family. Bill says that he does not; Sam is preparing his friend for quite a shock. Sam asks Bill to turn around and look behind him. Bill realizes that the boy has followed him back to the cave and now stands behind him.

Poor Bill is so disheartened and stunned that he turns white, completely "los[ing] his complexion." He cannot even stand, having to sit down on the ground to try to recover. Sam watches him for an hour and is worried about the state of Bill's mind. Bill's state of shock only begins to recover slightly when Sam tells him that they will construct the scheme for ransom immediately; Bill forces a weak smile at this proposition.

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