A Story by Mike Keenan



Hi William,


Today’s word is shipshape

Define & sentence please.


Definition:      (adjective) Of places; characterized by order and neatness; free from disorder.

Synonyms:      trim, well-kept

Usage: Toys were strewn everywhere in the playroom, but we worked together to clean it up and soon had the place shipshape.


Okay, let’s finish Ransom-


What’s Johnny’s new ‘game?”




Sam tells Johnny that Bill will play his new game, warning Bill that he should keep the child occupied until he returns from delivering the ransom note. As Sam leaves the two, Bill gets down on all fours to play the part of Black Scout’s horse, with Johnny on his back. Sam admonishes Bill to keep the boy interested, saying “Loosen up.” Bill discovers it’s 90 miles to the stockade in Johnny’s fantasy, as Johnny digs his heels into Bill’s side. Bill asks Sam to hurry back and wishes aloud they had made the ransom only $1000.



Abused by Johnny, ridden like a horse, bitten, kicked black-and-blue, and forced to eat sand as if it were oats, Bill finally has snapped and, he believes, sent Johnny home because he can no longer tolerate “supernatural tortures.” Pathetically, he describes in detail his reasons for sending this young boy home -something that did not, in fact, happen. So far, Bill has been more aware of the acute reality of their challenges with Johnny than Sam has been, but here he takes a turn towards fantasy, believing that Johnny is gone when the boy is, in fact, right behind him.


What is Ebenezer’s answer?




Ebenezer’s letter declares that Sam’s ransom demand is too high, and he makes a counter-proposition: they are to return the boy and pay Ebenezer $250 to take Johnny back. Ebenezer recommends that they come at night, since he can’t be responsible for the actions of his neighbors (who believe Johnny is lost) should Sam and Bill be seen during the day bringing back his troublesome boy.


In his letter of response, Ebenezer turns the tables and suggests that it’s Bill and Sam who should pay to end this disaster, not he. This reversal is a climax of the plot, establishing Ebenezer as the dominant actor, credibly threatening them in order to get what he wants. Amusingly, it is somewhat unclear if the neighbors would be angry with Sam and Bill for taking Johnny or for bringing him back. In any case, his signature (“very respectfully”) is the sort of business-like formality that is a recognizable feature of otherwise cut-throat business communications.


How do Sam and Bill react?


Sam is shocked at the audacity of Ebenezer’s response, but Bill is relieved to think their ordeal may finally be at an end. Bill argues that $250 is a low price for freedom from Johnny, and he urges Sam to agree to the counter offer. Sam agrees Johnny is too much trouble and that they should cut their losses. They lie to Johnny that his father bought him a silver-mounted rifle and moccasins, and they say that they will take him bear-hunting if he will agree to go home.


At midnight, Sam and Bill bring Johnny to Ebenezer’s house in Summit and pay him $250. Johnny, upset when realizing his friends are leaving, clings to Bill’s leg and has to be peeled away by his father. Old Dorset restrains his son, saying, “I’m not as strong as I used to be… but I think I can promise you ten minutes.” Bill outruns Sam, as the two of them leg it out of town, headed perhaps to the Canadian border.



Another popular O. Henry short story is “The Cop and the Anthem.” It’s about a big city tramp. What’s a tramp?


Okay, “Soapy” who sleeps outdoors on a New York City bench, is starting to get cold as winter approaches, and he has a strategy - for three months, he wants to get somewhere warm and that has food. (jail) He will go to an expensive restaurant and not pay. But this doesn’t work so…so he tries another strategy and another to get jailed. More IRONY typical of O. Henry




You will notice that O. Henry deliberately uses language (vocabulary) that is exaggerated. This is called hyperbole or exaggeration.


Watch -

It will be close to 10.30 when we are done. BYE!



© 2022 Mike Keenan

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Added on March 18, 2022
Last Updated on March 18, 2022


Mike Keenan
Mike Keenan

Kanata, Ontario, Canada

A retired English/Phys-Ed-teacher-Librarian, I write primarily poetry, humour and travel, published in many newspapers & magazines. For poetry feedback, please read my 'Poetry Evaluations' and 'Poetry.. more..