One night, Little Ann gets into a “predicament” while out hunting in a deep fall of fresh snow. Billy is determined to take his dogs out in spite of the icy weather that has been plaguing the mountains for days. As Old Dan and Little Ann begin chasing a raccoon toward the river, Billy excitedly anticipates how they’ll outsmart the many tricks the raccoon will surely play in an attempt to disguise its snowy tracks. Billy, however, also remembers something Grandpa told him: “When the nights are dark and the ground is frozen and slick, [raccoons] can pull some mean tricks [that] can be fatal.”
Grandpa has been a steadfast and reliable source of advice for Billy since his obsession with raccoon hunting began. Here, Billy recalls some important wisdom Grandpa once shared—wisdom which Billy perhaps thought he wouldn’t need to worry about, but which will perhaps become important as Billy and the hounds navigate the wilderness during this bitterly cold weather.
As Billy follows his dogs down to the river, he loses track of their voices. He calls to them and waits for them to howl or bawl back, but in spite of his whoops, he receives no answer. Down at the river, Billy realizes that the water is partially frozen and he gets an uneasy feeling. Halfway across the stream, he hears a gurgling and he notices that the water in the middle of the river is still running. Billy walks down the riverbank until he hears Old Dan—but rather than bawling to announce he’s caught the scent of a raccoon, Dan is letting out a horrible long cry. Soon, Billy comes upon Dan out on the ice pack with his tail tucked between his legs. Billy instantly knows that something is wrong with Little Ann.
Old Dan and Little Ann are intimately devoted to each other and they’re profoundly connected. When one is in trouble, the other experiences that trouble too. Here, as the proud and vicious Old Dan cowers and whines, Billy realizes just how serious things are for Little Ann and he knows he must take action to find and rescue her quickly.
Billy realizes that Little Ann probably slipped into the icy water while trying to leap from one frozen section of the river to the other in pursuit of the raccoon. Billy knows that he must do something to save Little Ann. He runs toward the sound of her cries and whines, using a stick of wild cane as a lantern pole to better see where Little Ann is. As he catches sight of her clinging to the ice along the far bank with her front paws, Billy breaks down in tears himself. Billy attempts to go out onto the ice toward Little Ann but he falls through into the freezing water. He drags himself out and he rushes back to the bank, fearing all is lost.
Billy realizes that Little Ann has gotten herself in a profoundly dangerous situation—the deadliest one the three of them have encountered so far. Billy has no idea what to do. Though he is devoted to his dogs and deeply attached to them emotionally, he fears he will be unable to save Little Ann from the treachery of nature.
Billy is just about to give up and head for home, leaving Ann for dead. He prays for God to help him once more. Soon, he hears the peculiar sound of metal hitting metal. As he realizes that the handle of his lantern has fallen from an upright position to clang against the side of itself, he suddenly understands what he must do. After prying off the handle and bending a hook in one end, he affixes the metal handle to the cane using a shoelace. Billy strips naked and he wades into the icy water—able to touch the bottom of the river with his feet—while holding the hook out in front of him and attempting to hook Ann’s collar. Eventually, Billy catches hold of Ann and he drags her back across the rushing river.
Once again, Billy finds himself in a situation in which his prayers are seemingly magically answered by an unseen presence—a presence he takes to be God. The wind which blows the lantern handle over gives Billy the idea of using the handle to make a hook which will allow him to rescue Ann. His plan is successful, and Billy attributes Ann’s rescue not to his own ingenuity but to God’s influence on the situation.
Once Billy has Ann back on land, he wraps her in his coat and he builds a fire. He massages the life and warmth back into Ann’s frigid limbs, and soon she’s is ready to head for home. On the way back to the house, Billy spots the giant sycamore and he says a prayer of thanks to the “miracle” of the lantern which saved Ann’s life. Back at home, Billy catches a cold and is stuck in bed for several days. While convalescing, Billy asks his mother about prayer one afternoon. He asks her if every prayer offered up to God is answered. Mama replies that only ones that come “from the heart” are heard. She asks Billy what made him curious, but Billy, afraid to tell his mother about the incident with Little Ann, says he was just wondering.
Billy continues to believe that his triumphs and successes in the face of hardship are owed entirely to God’s benevolence. Rawls, however, shows that while God may or may not have intervened, Billy’s faith has allowed him to feel stronger and more capable—a sensation which makes him feel more in control of his own reality. Rawls purposefully blurs the lines between divine intervention and human determination in order to show the important role that faith and prayer can play in an ordinary life.