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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Student Question

Why does the narrator walk to Poplar Cove in "The Ransom of Red Chief?"

Quick answer:

The narrator walks to Poplar Cove in order to gauge the reaction of the townspeople of Summit and Poplar Cove to the kidnapping.

Expert Answers

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The narrator walks to Poplar Cove, "a little village three miles from the cave" where he and his partner are hiding out with their would-be kidnap victim, to get a feel for the reaction to the kidnapping in nearby Summit. Although he and Bill had chosen the area for the site of their scheme because of its semi-rural, laid-back character, they had expected at least a little commotion when it was discovered that the son of a prominent citizen had been apprehended. The narrator, who is the brains behind the illicit operation, expects that "the sturdy yeomanry of the village" would be out in force, combing the countryside for the "dastardly kidnappers," but from the vantage-point of a nearby mountain, he sees nothing but "a sylvan attitude of somnolent sleepiness" surrounding the little town. He calculates that he will get a better idea about the reaction to the crime by going to the neighboring village of Poplar Cove.

In Poplar Cove, the narrator sits outside the post-office and local store, "talking with the chawbacons that (come) in to trade." One "whiskerando" mentions that he has heard that Summit is "all upset on account of Elder Ebenezer Dorset's boy having been lost or stolen," telling the narrator all he needs to know.

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