It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down
South, in Alabama--Bill Driscoll and myself--when this kidnapping
idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, "during a
moment of temporary mental apparition"; but we didn't find that out
There was a town down there, as flat as a flannel-cake, and called
Summit, of course. It contained inhabitants of as undeleterious and
self-satisfied a class of peasantry as ever clustered around a
Bill and me had a joint capital of about six hundred dollars, and
we needed just two thousand dollars more to pull off a fraudulent
town-lot scheme in Western Illinois with. We talked it over on the
front steps of the hotel. Philoprogenitiveness, says we, is strong
in semi-rural communities; therefore and for other reasons, a
kidnapping project ought to do better there than in the radius of
newspapers that send reporters out in plain clothes to stir up talk
about such things. We knew that Summit couldn't get after us with
anything stronger than constables and maybe some lackadaisical
bloodhounds and a diatribe or two in the _Weekly Farmers' Budget_.
So, it looked good.
We selected for our victim the only child of a prominent citizen named
Ebenezer Dorset. The father was respectable and tight, a mortgage
fancier and a stern, upright collection-plate passer and forecloser.
The kid was a boy of ten, with bas-relief freckles, and hair the
colour of the cover of the magazine you buy at the news-stand when you
want to catch a train. Bill and me figured that Ebenezer would melt
down for a ransom of two thousand dollars to a cent. But wait till I
About two miles from Summit was a little mountain, covered with a
dense cedar brake. On the rear elevation of this mountain was a cave.
There we stored provisions. One evening after sundown, we drove in a
buggy past old Dorset's house. The kid was in the street, throwing
rocks at a kitten on the opposite fence.
"Hey, little boy!" says Bill, "would you like to have a bag of candy
and a nice ride?"
The boy catches Bill neatly in the eye with a piece of brick.
"That will cost the old man an extra five hundred dollars," says Bill,
climbing over the wheel.
That boy put up a fight like a welter-weight cinnamon bear; but, at
last, we got him down in the bottom of the buggy and drove away. We
took him up to the cave and I hitched the horse in the cedar brake.
After dark I drove the buggy to the little village, three miles away,
where we had hired it, and walked back to the mountain.
Bill was pasting court-plaster over the scratches and bruises on his
features. There was a fire burning behind the big rock at the entrance
of the cave, and the boy was watching a pot of boiling coffee, with
two buzzard tail-feathers stuck in his red hair. He points a stick
at me when I come up, and says:
"Ha! cursed paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the
terror of the plains?
"He's all right now," says Bill, rolling up his trousers and examining
some bruises on his shins. "We're playing Indian. We're making
Buffalo Bill's show look like magic-lantern views of Palestine in the
town hall. I'm Old Hank, the Trapper, Red Chief's captive, and I'm to
be scalped at daybreak. By Geronimo! that kid can kick hard."
Yes, sir, that boy seemed to be having the time of his life. The fun
of camping out in a cave had made him forget that he was a captive
himself. He immediately christened me Snake-eye, the Spy, and
announced that, when his braves returned from the warpath, I was to be
broiled at the stake at the rising of the sun.
Then we had supper; and he filled his mouth full of bacon and bread
and gravy, and began to talk. He made a during-dinner speech
something like this:
"I like this fine. I never camped out before; but I had a pet 'possum
once, and I was nine last birthday. I hate to go to school. Rats ate
up sixteen of Jimmy Talbot's aunt's speckled hen's eggs. Are there
any real Indians in these woods? I want some more gravy. Does the
trees moving make the wind blow? We had five puppies. What makes your
nose so red, Hank? My father has lots of money. Are the stars hot? I
whipped Ed Walker twice, Saturday. I don't like girls. You dassent
catch toads unless with a string. Do oxen make any noise? Why are
oranges round? Have you got beds to sleep on in this cave? Amos Murray
has got six toes. A parrot can talk, but a monkey or a fish can't.
How many does it take to make twelve?"
Every few minutes he would remember that he was a pesky redskin, and
pick up his stick rifle and tiptoe to the mouth of the cave to rubber
for the scouts of the hated paleface. Now and then he would let out a
war-whoop that made Old Hank the Trapper shiver. That boy had Bill
terrorized from the start.
"Red Chief," says I to the kid, "would you like to go home?"
"Aw, what for?" says he. "I don't have any fun at home. I hate to
go to school. I like to camp out. You won't take me back home again,
Snake-eye, will you?"
"Not right away," says I. "We'll stay here in the cave a while."
"All right!" says he. "That'll be fine. I never had such fun in all
We went to bed about eleven o'clock. We spread down some wide
blankets and quilts and put Red Chief between us. We weren't afraid
he'd run away. He kept us awake for three hours, jumping up and
reaching for his rifle and screeching: "Hist! pard," in mine and
Bill's ears, as the fancied crackle of a twig or the rustle of a leaf
revealed to his young imagination the stealthy approach of the outlaw
band. At last, I fell into a troubled sleep, and dreamed that I had
been kidnapped and chained to a tree by a ferocious pirate with red
Just at daybreak, I was awakened by a series of awful screams from
Bill. They weren't yells, or howls, or shouts, or whoops, or yawps,
such as you'd expect from a manly set of vocal organs--they were
simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams, such as women emit
when they see ghosts or caterpillars. It's an awful thing to hear a
strong, desperate, fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.
I jumped up to see what the matter was. Red Chief was sitting on
Bill's chest, with one hand twined in Bill's hair. In the other he
had the sharp case-knife we used for slicing bacon; and he was
industriously and realistically trying to take Bill's scalp, according
to the sentence that had been pronounced upon him the evening before.
I got the knife away from the kid and made him lie down again. But,
from that moment, Bill's spirit was broken. He laid down on his side
of the bed, but he never closed an eye again in sleep as long as that
boy was with us. I dozed off for a while, but along toward sun-up I
remembered that Red Chief had said I was to be burned at the stake
at the rising of the sun. I wasn't nervous or afraid; but I sat up
and lit my pipe and leaned against a rock.
"What you getting up so soon for, Sam?" asked Bill.
"Me?" says I. "Oh, I got a kind of a pain in my shoulder. I thought
sitting up would rest it."
"You're a liar!" says Bill. "You're afraid. You was to be burned at
sunrise, and you was afraid he'd do it. And he would, too, if he
could find a match. Ain't it awful, Sam? Do you think anybody will pay
out money to get a little imp like that back home?"
"Sure," said I. "A rowdy kid like that is just the kind that parents
dote on. Now, you and the Chief get up and cook breakfast, while I go
up on the top of this mountain and reconnoitre."
I went up on the peak of the little mountain and ran my eye over the
contiguous vicinity. Over toward Summit I expected to see the sturdy
yeomanry of the village armed with scythes and pitchforks beating the
countryside for the dastardly kidnappers. But what I saw was a
peaceful landscape dotted with one man ploughing with a dun mule.
Nobody was dragging the creek; no couriers dashed hither and yon,
bringing tidings of no news to the distracted parents. There was a
sylvan attitude of somnolent sleepiness pervading that section of the
external outward surface of Alabama that lay exposed to my view.
"Perhaps," says I to myself, "it has not yet been discovered that
the wolves have borne away the tender lambkin from the fold. Heaven
help the wolves!" says I, and I went down the mountain to breakfast.
When I got to the cave I found Bill backed up against the side of it,
breathing hard, and the boy threatening to smash him with a rock half
as big as a cocoanut.
"He put a red-hot boiled potato down my back," explained Bill, "and
then mashed it with his foot; and I boxed his ears. Have you got a gun
about you, Sam?"
I took the rock away from the boy and kind of patched up the argument.
"I'll fix you," says the kid to Bill. "No man ever yet struck the Red
Chief but what he got paid for it. You better beware!"
After breakfast the kid takes a piece of leather with strings wrapped
around it out of his pocket and goes outside the cave unwinding it.
"What's he up to now?" says Bill, anxiously. "You don't think he'll
run away, do you, Sam?"
"No fear of it," says I. "He don't seem to be much of a home body.
But we've got to fix up some plan about the ransom. There don't seem
to be much excitement around Summit on account of his disappearance;
but maybe they haven't realized yet that he's gone. His folks may
think he's spending the night with Aunt Jane or one of the neighbours.
Anyhow, he'll be missed to-day. To-night we must get a message to his
father demanding the two thousand dollars for his return."
Just then we heard a kind Of war-whoop, such as David might have
emitted when he knocked out the champion Goliath. It was a sling that
Red Chief had pulled out of his pocket, and he was whirling it around
I dodged, and heard a heavy thud and a kind of a sigh from Bill, like
a horse gives out when you take his saddle off. A niggerhead rock the
size of an egg had caught Bill just behind his left ear. He loosened
himself all over and fell in the fire across the frying pan of hot
water for washing the dishes. I dragged him out and poured cold water
on his head for half an hour.
By and by, Bill sits up and feels behind his ear and says: "Sam, do
you know who my favourite Biblical character is?"
"Take it easy," says I. "You'll come to your senses presently."
"King Herod," says he. "You won't go away and leave me here alone,
will you, Sam?"
I went out and caught that boy and shook him until his freckles
"If you don't behave," says I, "I'll take you straight home. Now, are
you going to be good, or not?"
"I was only funning," says he sullenly. "I didn't mean to hurt Old
Hank. But what did he hit me for? I'll behave, Snake-eye, if you
won't send me home, and if you'll let me play the Black Scout to-day."
"I don't know the game," says I. "That's for you and Mr. Bill to
decide. He's your playmate for the day. I'm going away for a while,
on business. Now, you come in and make friends with him and say you
are sorry for hurting him, or home you go, at once."
I made him and Bill shake hands, and then I took Bill aside and told
him I was going to Poplar Cove, a little village three miles from the
cave, and find out what I could about how the kidnapping had been
regarded in Summit. Also, I thought it best to send a peremptory
letter to old man Dorset that day, demanding the ransom and dictating
how it should be paid.
"You know, Sam," says Bill, "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. He's
got me going. You won't leave me long with him, will you, Sam?"
"I'll be back some time this afternoon," says I. "You must keep the
boy amused and quiet till I return. And now we'll write the letter to
Bill and I got paper and pencil and worked on the letter while Red
Chief, with a blanket wrapped around him, strutted up and down,
guarding the mouth of the cave. Bill begged me tearfully to make the
ransom fifteen hundred dollars instead of two thousand. "I ain't
attempting," says he, "to decry the celebrated moral aspect of
parental affection, but we're dealing with humans, and it ain't human
for anybody to give up two thousand dollars for that forty-pound chunk
of freckled wildcat. I'm willing to take a chance at fifteen hundred
dollars. You can charge the difference up to me."
So, to relieve Bill, I acceded, and we collaborated a letter that ran
_Ebenezer Dorset, Esq.:_
We have your boy concealed in a place far from Summit. It is useless
for you or the most skilful detectives to attempt to find him.
Absolutely, the only terms on which you can have him restored to you
are these: We demand fifteen hundred dollars in large bills for his
return; the money to be left at midnight to-night at the same spot
and in the same box as your reply--as hereinafter described. If
you agree to these terms, send your answer in writing by a solitary
messenger to-night at half-past eight o'clock. After crossing Owl
Creek, on the road to Poplar Cove, there are three large trees about
a hundred yards apart, close to the fence of the wheat field on the
right-hand side. At the bottom of the fence-post, opposite the
third tree, will be found a small pasteboard box.
The messenger will place the answer in this box and return
immediately to Summit.
If you attempt any treachery or fail to comply with our demand as
stated, you will never see your boy again.
If you pay the money as demanded, he will be returned to you safe
and well within three hours. These terms are final, and if you do
not accede to them no further communication will be attempted.
TWO DESPERATE MEN.
I addressed this letter to Dorset, and put it in my pocket. As I was
about to start, the kid comes up to me and says:
"Aw, Snake-eye, you said I could play the Black Scout while you was
"Play it, of course," says I. "Mr. Bill will play with you. What
kind of a game is it?"
"I'm the Black Scout," says Red Chief, "and I have to ride to the
stockade to warn the settlers that the Indians are coming. I'm tired
of playing Indian myself. I want to be the Black Scout."
"All right," says I. "It sounds harmless to me. I guess Mr. Bill will
help you foil the pesky savages."
"What am I to do?" asks Bill, looking at the kid suspiciously.
"You are the hoss," says Black Scout. "Get down on your hands and
knees. How can I ride to the stockade without a hoss?"
"You'd better keep him interested," said I, "till we get the scheme
going. Loosen up."
Bill gets down on his all fours, and a look comes in his eye like a
rabbit's when you catch it in a trap.
"How far is it to the stockade, kid?" he asks, in a husky manner of
"Ninety miles," says the Black Scout. "And you have to hump yourself
to get there on time. Whoa, now!"
The Black Scout jumps on Bill's back and digs his heels in his side.
"For Heaven's sake," says Bill, "hurry back, Sam, as soon as you can.
I wish we hadn't made the ransom more than a thousand. Say, you quit
kicking me or I'll get up and warm you good."
I walked over to Poplar Cove and sat around the postoffice and
store, talking with the chawbacons that came in to trade. One
whiskerando says that he hears Summit is all upset on account of Elder
Ebenezer Dorset's boy having been lost or stolen. That was all I
wanted to know. I bought some smoking tobacco, referred casually to
the price of black-eyed peas, posted my letter surreptitiously and
came away. The postmaster said the mail-carrier would come by in an
hour to take the mail on to Summit.
When I got back to the cave Bill and the boy were not to be found. I
explored the vicinity of the cave, and risked a yodel or two, but
there was no response.
So I lighted my pipe and sat down on a mossy bank to await
In about half an hour I heard the bushes rustle, and Bill wabbled out
into the little glade in front of the cave. Behind him was the kid,
stepping softly like a scout, with a broad grin on his face. Bill
stopped, took off his hat and wiped his face with a red handkerchief.
The kid stopped about eight feet behind him.
"Sam," says Bill, "I suppose you'll think I'm a renegade, but I
couldn't help it. I'm a grown person with masculine proclivities and
habits of self-defense, but there is a time when all systems of
egotism and predominance fail. The boy is gone. I have sent him
home. All is off. There was martyrs in old times," goes on Bill,
"that suffered death rather than give up the particular graft they
enjoyed. None of 'em ever was subjugated to such supernatural
tortures as I have been. I tried to be faithful to our articles of
depredation; but there came a limit."
"What's the trouble, Bill?" I asks him.
"I was rode," says Bill, "the ninety miles to the stockade, not
barring an inch. Then, when the settlers was rescued, I was given
oats. Sand ain't a palatable substitute. And then, for an hour I
had to try to explain to him why there was nothin' in holes, how
a road can run both ways and what makes the grass green. I tell
you, Sam, a human can only stand so much. I takes him by the neck
of his clothes and drags him down the mountain. On the way he
kicks my legs black-and-blue from the knees down; and I've got to
have two or three bites on my thumb and hand cauterized.
"But he's gone"--continues Bill--"gone home. I showed him 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 is puffing and blowing, but there is a look of ineffable peace
and growing content on his rose-pink features.
"Bill," says I, "there isn't any heart disease in your family, is
"No," says Bill, "nothing chronic except malaria and accidents. Why?"
"Then you might turn around," says I, "and have a took behind you."
Bill turns and sees the boy, and loses his complexion and sits down
plump on the round 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 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 is 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 professional
kidnappers. 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 any one to
come for the note they could see him a long way off crossing the
fields or in the road. But no, sirree! At half-past eight I was up in
that tree as well hidden as a tree toad, waiting for the messenger to
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 toward
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 Bill. It was written with a
pen in a crabbed hand, and the sum and substance of it was this:
_Two Desperate Men.
Gentlemen:_ I received your letter to-day by post, in regard to the
ransom you ask for the return of my son. I think you are a little
high 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
neighbours believe he is lost, and I couldn't be responsible for
what they would do to anybody they saw bringing him back. Very
"Great pirates of Penzance!" says I; "of all the impudent--"
But I glanced at Bill, and hesitated. He had the most appealing 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 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
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
"How long can you hold him?" asks Bill.
"I'm not as 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.