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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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The main conflict in O. Henry's humorous tall tale entitled "The Ransom of Red Chief" involves the two con men, Bill and Sam, and the boy they kidnap.

Sam narrates the tale of his and Bill's kidnapping of the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset. Dorset is a "mortgage fancier," and Sam calculates that he will "melt down" for two thousand dollars. Dorset lives in the town of Summit, Alabama, a town with a small population and little more than a few constables to enforce the law.

When Sam and Bill pull their buggy alongside the red-haired, freckled boy, they have no idea what conflicts they will encounter. First of all, Johnny Dorset hits Bill in the eye with a piece of brick and refuses to come along with them. After they finally get this boy on the floor of the buggy, they ride to the cave where they plan to hide. Sam takes the buggy back to town. When he returns, he finds Bill tending to several injuries suffered at the hands of the boy. Johnny has stuck two "buzzard feathers" in his hair and insists on being called Red Chief. After this incident, others occur as the boy talks nonstop and terrorizes Bill. In a few days, Bill tells Sam,

I’ve stood by you without batting an eye in earthquakes, fire and flood—in poker games, dynamite outrages, police raids, train robberies and cyclones. I never lost my nerve yet till we kidnapped that two-legged skyrocket of a kid.

Worst of all, Johnny's father seems unconcerned that his son is missing. Sam and Bill's hopes for money fail as they must pay Mr. Dorset to take his son back instead of receiving a large ransom.

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