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the way he kicks my legs black-and-blue from the knees down; and I've got two or three bites on my thumb and hand cauterized."
"But he's gone"-continues Bill—"gone home. I showed him 5 the road to Summit and kicked him about eight feet nearer there
at one kick. I'm sorry we lose the ransom; but it was either that or Bill Driscoll to the madhouse."
“Bill,” says I, “there isn't any heart disease in your family, is there?”
“No,” says Bill, “nothing chronic except malaria and accidents. Why?"
"Then you might turn around," says I, "and have a look behind you.”
Bill turns and sees the boy, and loses his complexion and sits 15 down plump on the ground and begins to pluck aimlessly at grass
and little sticks. For an hour I was afraid for his mind. And then I told him that my scheme was to put the whole job through immediately and that we would get the ransom and be off with
it by midnight if old Dorset fell in with our proposition. So Bill 20 braced up enough to give the kid a weak sort of a smile and a
promise to play the Russian in a Japanese war with him as soon as he felt a little better.
I had a scheme for collecting that ransom without danger of being caught by counterplots that ought to commend itself to 25 professional kidnapers. The tree under which the answer was
to be left—and the money later on—was close to the road fence with big, bare fields on all sides. If a gang of constables should be watching for anyone to come for the note they could see him
a long way off crossing the fields or in the road. But no sirree! 30 At half-past eight I was up in that tree as well hidden as a tree toad, waiting for the messenger to arrive.
Exactly on time, a half-grown boy rides up the road on a bicycle, locates the pasteboard box at the foot of the fence post,
slips a folded piece of paper into it, and pedals away again back 35 toward Summit.
I waited an hour and then concluded the thing was square. I slid down the tree, got the note, slipped along the fence till I struck the woods, and was back at the cave in another half an
hour. I opened the note, got near the lantern, and read it to 5 Bill. It was written with a pen in crabbed hand, and the sum
and substance of it was this:
Two Desperate Men.
Gentlemen: I received your letter today by post, in regard to the ransom you ask for the return of my son. I think you are a little high 10 in your demands, and I hereby make you a counter-proposition, which
I am inclined to believe you will accept. You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands. You had better come at night, for the neighbors believe
he is lost, and I couldn't be responsible for what they would do to any15 body they saw bringing him back.
“Great pirates of Penzance!” says I, "of all the impudent
But I glanced at Bill, and hesitated. He had the most appeal20 ing look in his eyes I ever saw on the face of a dumb or a talking brute.
"Sam," says he, "what's two hundred and fifty dollars, after all? We've got the money. One more night of this kid will send
me to a bed in Bedlam. Besides being a thorough gentleman, I 25 think Mr. Dorset is a spendthrift for making us such a liberal offer. You ain't going to let the chance go, are you?”
“Tell you the truth, Bill,” says I, “this little he ewe lamb has somewhat got on my nerves, too. We'll take him home, pay the ransom, and make our get-away."
We took him home that night. We got him to go by telling him that his father had bought a silver-mounted rifle and a pair of moccasins for him, and we were going to hunt bears the next day.
It was just twelve o'clock when we knocked at Ebenezer's front
door. Just at the moment when I should have been abstracting the fifteen hundred dollars from the box under the tree, according to the original proposition, Bill was counting out two hundred and fifty dollars into Dorset's hand.
When the kid found out we were going to leave him at home he started up a howl like a calliope and fastened himself as tight as a leech to Bill's leg. His father peeled him away gradually, like a porous plaster.
"How long can you hold him?" asks Bill.
"I'm not so strong as I used to be," says old Dorset, "but I think I can promise you ten minutes."
"Enough," says Bill. "In ten minutes I shall cross the Central, Southern, and Middle Western States, and be legging it trippingly for the Canadian border."
And, as dark as it was, and as fat as Bill was, and as good a runner as I am, he was a good mile and a half out of Summit before I could catch up with him.
NOTES AND QUESTIONS
Biography. William Sidney Porter (1862-1910), better known by his pen name, O. Henry, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. child he read widely and showed a natural gift for sketching. While a mere boy, he went to Texas, where he spent two years on a sheep ranch. He became a reporter for the Daily Post of Houston, Texas, and later wrote extensively for the leading magazines. In 1902 he went to New York City to live; and from that time on he devoted himself almost exclusively to short-story writing. O. Henry holds a prominent place among the world's great short-story writers. Among his well known books are Whirligigs, from which this story is taken, Heart of the West, portraying life in Texas, and The Four Million. His stories are mainly drawn from real situations, and they picture the various types found in American life. They are noted for the surprises that characterize their endings, and for their human sympathy.
Discussion. 1. Show that this is a typical short story. 2. What is the climax? 3. Can you think of an outcome that would furnish greater surprise than the proposals contained in Dorset's letter? 4. Find examples of comic exaggeration. 5. What other selection by this author have you read? 6. What did you learn in the Introduction, pages 335 and 336, about the value to America of the spirit of laughter and good humor? What evidence do you find in newspapers and magazines that humor plays a prominent part in American thought today? 7. Find in the Glossary the meaning of: apparition; diatribe; welterweight; incontinently; surreptitiously; renegade; counter-proposition. 8. Pronounce: bas-relief; reconnoiter; contiguous; somnolent; casually; palatable.
Phrases for Study
mental apparition, 462, 4 mortgage fancier, 462, 23
King Herod, 467, 14
Class Reading. Make a list of passages containing good examples of humor, to be read aloud in class.
Outline for Testing Silent Reading. Make an outline to guide you in telling the story.
Library Reading. Other stories from Whirligigs.
Newspaper Reading. Bring to class and read the best example of a humorous short story you can find in a newspaper or a magazine.
Work that springs from the heart's desire,
Oh, what is so good as the heat of it, .
Thank God for the pride of it,
Thrilling the arteries, cleansing the blood,