A few days later, Billy gets word that Grandpa wants to see him. Billy is sure that Grandpa wants to ask him about Rubin’s death. He heads nervously to the general store with Little Ann and Old Dan following behind. Sure enough, when Billy gets to Grandpa’s store, Grandpa asks to hear the story of Rubin’s death and how the bet went so wrong. When Billy finishes relaying his tale, Grandpa, in a quavering voice, admits that everything is his own fault. He apologizes profusely to Billy for suggesting he go along with the bet. Billy tells his grandfather that the incident was no one’s fault—just a terrible accident. Grandpa tells Billy that they won’t speak of it anymore—though he warns Billy that Billy will always think of what happened “now and then” throughout his life.
This conversation represents another manly heart-to-heart which Billy feels both privileged to have and intimidated by. Grandpa tries to comfort Billy by telling him to forget about the incident with Rubin—but at the same time, Grandpa is prepared to level with the boy by admitting that he has endured something large and life-changing and that he may find himself thinking of it from time to time as he grows older.
Grandpa changes the subject—he says he has something else he wants to talk to Billy about. He pulls out a newspaper and shows Billy an ad for a championship raccoon hunt that’s coming up soon. Grandpa explains that he’s wanted to go to one all his life—he wants Billy to enter Old Dan and Little Ann in the hunt. Billy feels scared and excited all at once. Grandpa tells Billy that he’s been keeping track of all the raccoons Dan and Ann have caught, and that their record is “up there with the best of them.” The entrance fee is already paid, Grandpa says, and on top of it all, the winner gets to take home a golden cup. Billy happily agrees to enter the hunt.
Grandpa doesn’t want to linger too long on sad things—he has an exciting opportunity for Billy. When confronted with the idea of entering the hunting competition, Billy is nervous at first. His grandfather’s faith in him and his dogs, however, changes Billy’s mind and gives Billy the strength to believe in what his dogs can do even after hunting for only one season.
Grandpa calls Little Ann and Old Dan into the shop and feeds them each a big hunk of cheese. He calls them “the best darn […] hounds in these Ozark Mountains.” Billy is full of excitement and anticipation. Grandpa says that the hunt starts in six days, so they’ll need to leave in five. He tells Billy that they can travel in his buggy, and that Papa can come along if he’s free. Grandpa tells Billy to run home—but he reminds Billy to let the dogs rest for the next several days to get them ready for the rigorous hunt. Grandpa sends Billy home with a sack of candy.
Grandpa is determined to give Dan and Ann the royal treatment in the days leading up to the hunt—he knows that they deserve a break from their hard work and a chance to have their devotion repaid before their skills are put to the ultimate test.
As Billy runs home with his dogs by his side, he feels especially tuned into the sounds and sights of the beautiful country all around him. He hears the calls of various birds, the rustling of squirrels in the trees, and the shifting of leaves in the breeze. Every sound and sight is, to Billy, a “God-sent gift.” As Billy takes stock of his life—his beautiful hounds, his loving family, the opportunity to attend a giant hunt—he is overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
In this moment, Billy’s high-flying emotions allow him to feel an even deeper reverence for nature than usual. He feels that his relationship with nature is a blessing from God—and that God has, in fact, allowed him to experience all the good things in his life. In reality, Billy’s own hard work and devotion have allowed him to attain his achievements and experiences.
At home, Billy tells his parents about Grandpa’s plans for the hunt. He begs Papa to agree to go with them. Papa is hesitant and he insists that Mama needs his help around the house. Mama says she won’t need Papa’s help for “several months yet.” As Billy looks at his mother, he is stunned to realize that she is pregnant and he’s amazed that he didn’t notice sooner. Papa excitedly agrees to go along on the hunt. One of Billy’s little sisters declares that Old Dan and Little Ann will bring home the cup for sure. Billy begins to cry tears of happiness. He promises his little sister that if he wins the cup, he will give it to her as a gift.
This passage shows how wrapped up in his hounds Billy has been over the last several months—he hasn’t even noticed that his mother is expecting a baby; expanding their family; and wrestling with her own private flood of emotions, excitements, and anxieties. Billy realizes that he needs to share his winnings with his family and to bring his focus back to them once the competition is over.
The next several days are full of excitement and anxiety. When it is at last time to leave for the hunt, Billy and Papa walk together with Old Dan and Little Ann to Grandpa’s general store, musing all the way about what skilled hunters—and what loving dogs—Dan and Ann really are. At the store, Grandpa and Grandma are loading up the buggy. Billy puts his things in the back and sees that his ax—the one which was lodged in Rubin’s stomach—has been cleaned and packed up along with everything else. The sight of it fills Billy with a strange uneasiness, but he admits to himself that there’s no use in throwing a perfectly good ax away.
Billy is confronted with his old ax—an object which reconnects him to the trauma of the night Rubin Pritchard died. Billy doesn’t necessarily balk at the sight of the ax, however. He understands more about the circle of life and the necessity of death now—he takes a minute to get over his uneasiness and then he decides practically to use the ax after all. It is an even more meaningful object now because of the lesson it has come to represent.
Grandpa urges Billy to go into the barn and grab some hay to make beds for the dogs in the back of the buggy—and instructs him to fetch a jug of corn liquor and hide it in the buggy where Grandma won’t see it. Once everything is packed, Grandma bids the men goodbye and she urges them to be safe and “have a little sense” on their trip.
Billy is excited to be on a real men’s trip for the first time in his life. His father and grandfather are treating him as an equal, a fact which moves and gratifies him.