Billy Colman leaves his office one pleasant spring day feeling that “everything is right” in the world—but as he walks home whistling, he stumbles upon a dogfight in a residential section of town. Billy moves out of the dogs’ way as they tussle but he can’t help looking at the brawl. He sees that a group of dogs have ganged up against an old red hound. As Billy watches the dog struggle to defend himself, his blood begins to rise. With the “memories [he has] in his heart,” it is impossible for Billy to watch such a beautiful hound face such violence. Billy removes his coat and he swings it at the mass of dogs, successfully scattering all but the red hound.
The novel’s introductory passages show that Billy Colman has a deep, profound love of dogs rooted in some mysterious memories from his past. The older Billy has clearly been taught lessons in solidarity, love, and loyalty—and as the novel unfolds, Rawls will show how the impact of a pair of dogs gave him knowledge of those things.
Billy calms the agitated dog and he beckons it toward him. As it approaches, he can see that the dog is dirty and starving. Billy can tell that the dog has strayed far from home as he looks at its worn paws. The dog’s collar, however, has a tag which reads “Buddie”—Billy imagines that the dog belongs to a little boy. His own “wonderful memories” of childhood begin rushing back to him, and he leads the dog home with him by the collar. At home, Billy gives the dog a bath, a rubdown, and a big dinner. Buddie sleeps all night and most of the next day but he begins growing restless when the sun starts to go down. As night falls, Billy opens up the back door and he lets the dog head on his way. Billy watches wistfully as Buddie leaves—he wishes he could keep the dog but he knows that to pen up a such a beautiful hound would be a “sin.”
Billy clearly knows how to take care of dogs; not only that, but he obviously has a deep, abiding reverence and respect for them. He saves Buddie when Buddie needs him most—but he is open, patient, and kind enough to let Buddie make his own choices and follow his own path through the world.
Billy knows that the dog will walk as long and as far as it needs to in order to get back home. As Billy envisions Buddie’s long journey, he’s overcome not by loneliness but by warmth and happiness. Memories of two hounds he loved and lost in his youth flood back to him. As he heads back inside, he makes sure to leave the gate open just in case Buddie decides to come back. Inside, Billy sits in front of the fireplace and he lights his pipe. He sits in his chair and he looks at two trophies on his mantelpiece: one tall golden cup and one small silver cup. He thinks of the story, now half a century old, behind the cups—the story of his boyhood days in the Ozarks.
The cups atop the mantlepiece jog Billy’s fond but winsome memories of his childhood in the Ozarks—and the dogs that were an integral part of his coming of age. As Billy drifts into memory, it becomes apparent that this chapter has been a precursor meant to demonstrate the lessons about love and care (and ultimately loss and acceptance) that Billy learned as a young man.