Soon, aided by Grandpa’s bragging, word about Billy’s dogs spreads all over the countryside. One morning, Billy takes some corn into town so that Grandpa can grind it up into meal using the mill at his store. While Billy waits for his grandfather to finish up with a customer, he sees out the window that the Pritchard boys—a pair of brothers from a “no-account” family of “bootleggers [and] thieves”—are approaching. Rubin is two years older than Billy with broad shoulders and mean eyes. His small and antsy brother, Rainie, is Billy’s age. Rainie is positively obsessed with making bets.
Most of the people in Billy’s life are kind and supportive—the only difficulties he’s had with other human beings have been with the children in Tahlequah and, occasionally, with the braggadocious hunters who hang around Grandpa’s store. The introduction of the Pritchard brothers, however, signals that not all of the humans in Billy’s orbit are kind or hold the same values Billy does—the shifty, jealous brothers are foil against Billy’s good-natured openheartedness.
Sure enough, as soon as Rainie and Rubin come into the store and spy Billy, Rainie asks Billy if he wants to make a bet. Billy refuses him. Rubin and Rainie buy chewing tobacco for themselves—much to Grandpa’s disgust—and then Grandpa takes Billy out back to the mill. Rainie and Rubin follow them. Rainie continues pestering Billy, betting him that their blue tick hound can out-hunt both of Billy’s dogs. As Rainie continues pressing Billy to bet $2 that his dogs can tree the famous “ghost coon,” a giant, old, and wily raccoon native to their part of the mountains, Grandpa becomes agitated. Eventually, he insists Billy take the bet. He even gives Billy the $2 to buy in—but he orders all three boys to play fair and respect whomever the winner turns out to be.
In this passage, Rawls demonstrates the effect of Grandpa’s pride on behalf of Billy and his dogs. While Billy is eager to defend his dogs against anyone who questions their abilities, he is much more soft-spoken. Grandpa, however, is so proud of Billy, Dan, and Ann that he’s determined not to let a single slight get past him. Grandpa’s involvement in this moment will have terrible consequences for all three boys—but right now, all Grandpa is focused on is helping Billy prove himself.
Rainie and Rubin make a plan to meet Billy at a landmark near their home the following night. Billy agrees but he asks the boys not to bring their hound—his dogs are distracted, he says, when other dogs are around. As Rainie and Rubin, satisfied, walk away, Grandpa grows excited about the bet. He tells Billy how much he hopes that Dan and Ann will be able to catch the famous “ghost coon.” Even Billy is, in spite of himself, looking forward to the following night—but knowing his mother will worry about him associating with the Pritchard boys, he decides not to tell his parents about where he’s going.
Billy has gotten himself into a few dangerous situations over the last several weeks. Consequently, he feels that in spite of his anxiety about going onto the Pritchards’ territory in search of a ghostly animal, he’s up to the task. His dogs have taught them that with enough grit and devotion, he can conquer anything. Billy doesn’t realize that this bet will challenge him and his dogs in a way they’ve never been tested before.
The next night, Billy meets the Pritchards at the appointed spot. On the way, Billy gave his dogs a pep talk and he begged them to catch the “ghost coon” for him and Grandpa. As Rubin and Rainie approach, Billy sees that they have their blue tick hound with them. The Pritchard boys catch sight of Old Dan and Little Ann for the first time. They remark that the dogs “look too little to be any good” and then they insult Billy’s grandfather. Billy works not to lose his temper, instead choosing to focus on the hunt before him. With his lantern and ax in hand, Billy sends Old Dan and Little Ann out on the trail.
Billy has impressed upon his dogs how important this hunt is—he doesn’t yet realize how seriously Dan and Ann take his pleas. Billy tries to remain calm as the Pritchards taunt him and his dogs, determined to let his dogs’ actions speak for themselves.
Old Dan and Little Ann soon pick up on the scent of the fabled “ghost” raccoon and they start tracking it. Though the raccoon crosses the river several times, Ann and Dan stay on his trail. When Old Dan becomes intent on digging his way into a hollowed-out log which has formed a drift filled with water, Rubin and Rainie declare that the hunt is over—but Billy insists that he is not giving up until his dogs do. Rubin tries to get Billy to hand over the money, but Billy remains focused. Little Ann joins Old Dan in sniffing out the log—and soon, she chases the “ghost coon” from the drift beneath. It is the biggest raccoon Billy has ever seen.
Rubin and Rainie are determined to get Billy to give up early and surrender his money—they have no interest in a fair bet. When Billy and his dogs begin successfully sniffing out the “ghost coon,” Rubin and Rainie become defensive and irritated.
The dogs chase the raccoon. Billy and the Pritchard boys chase the dogs upriver through the swampy bottoms of the valley. As Billy looks over at Rubin and Rainie, he feels happy and excited in spite of his dislike of the boys. Rainie predicts that the raccoon is about to pull his signature “disappearing” trick by hiding in a nearby tree—sure enough, seconds later, Billy hears Old Dan let out the bark that signals he’s treed a raccoon. Billy rushes to catch up with Dan—but Rainie suggests that Billy get his money out and be ready to pay up once the raccoon disappears.
This passage shows how much pure, unadulterated joy Billy takes in hunting. His love for the sport, for his dogs, and for nature is enough to make even Rubin and Rainie seem tolerable.