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"The Ransom of Red Chief" is a 1910 short story by O. Henry. It follows two men who kidnap and attempt to ransom a wealthy Alabaman's son; eventually, the men are driven to distraction by the boy and end up having to pay the boy's father to take him back.
The story and its main idea have become a part of popular culture, with many children's television programs using a version of the story as one of their episodes.
Two thieves, Bill and Sam, plot to kidnap the son of an important citizen named Ebenezer Dorset, demand a ransom of $2,000, quickly collect the payoff, and be on their way. However, once they actually kidnap the boy and make their way to a hideout in the nearby hills, their plan quickly begins to unravel. Their young captive, a malevolent, redheaded brat who calls himself Red Chief (real name: Johnny Dorset), actually enjoys his stay with his kidnappers, and thinks he is on a camping trip.
Red Chief proceeds to drive his captors to distraction with pranks and demands that they play wearying games with him, such as pretending to be a scout and using Bill as his horse. Bill and Sam are soon desperate to be rid of the little terror; they lower the price and ask $1,500. They later receive a reply to their ransom letter from Red Chief's father; knowing perfectly well what a handful Red Chief is, he rejects their ransom but instead offers to take the boy back off their hands for $250. When the men bring Red Chief to his home, he does not want to leave, loudly protesting that he was having fun "playing" with Bill and Sam. He then tries to stay with the two kidnappers but is held back by his father, who quickly whispers to the kidnappers to flee town before Red Chief sneaks out of the house and finds them for more "play". The kidnappers then flee in terror.
Like some other Henry works, "The Ransom of Red Chief" has become a familiar cultural trope. Television series, especially for children, often include an episode based on its idea; see for example the capture of Perfuma on She-Ra: Princess of Power, or of Louise Lamour on Disney's TaleSpin (in an episode titled "The Ransom of Red Chimp") or the Dennis the Menace film.
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