Billy arrives at the depot feeling self-conscious and disheartened. He is afraid to go inside, but when he spies the friendly-looking stationmaster through the window attending to a pet canary he feels a little more secure about heading in. Inside, Billy greets the stationmaster and they engage in a little small talk about the weather. When the stationmaster asks where Billy is from and Billy answers, “Up the river,” the stationmaster tells him he has a package from a boy up the river named Billy Colman. Feeling his heart jump into his throat, Billy tells the stationmaster who he is. The stationmaster leads Billy around to the freight door and he helps Billy open the heavy crate in which his dogs are waiting. Billy hears whimpers as the stationmaster works on the crate with a hammer.
When Billy sees the stationmaster showing kindness to an animal, he knows that the man must be inherently good. This demonstrates the connection between humanity and the natural world that Billy so cherishes—anyone who understands and respects nature must surely understand and respect not just themselves, but their fellow men.
At last, the stationmaster gets the box open. He lifts the puppies out and he hands them to Billy: one is a girl, one is a boy, and they’re both a beautiful red color. The puppies are tiny, nervous, and adorable; as Billy holds them for the first time, he is so excited that he struggles to breathe. The stationmaster, observing the pups lick Billy, states that they “already [seem to] know” him. Billy buries his face in the puppies’ bodies and he cries as the stationmaster looks on in silence. Billy eventually recovers and he looks up. He asks the stationmaster if he owes anything, and the stationmaster replies that there is a small feeding fee but he assures Billy that it’s taken care of. The stationmaster helps Billy make two holes in a gunnysack and load the puppies into it. Wishing him “good hunting,” the stationmaster bids Billy farewell.
In this passage, Billy meets his beloved dogs for the first time. The moment is suffused with intense emotion and a kind of fatefulness. The stationmaster remarks that the puppies “already […] know” Billy after seeing the profound connection between them that exists immediately. He doesn’t know how hard Billy has worked for these dogs and how deeply Billy has dreamed of them for so long—and that these may be the reasons why Billy already knows, loves, and cares for these dogs. Billy prayed and worked for these dogs, and now they are a part of his life.
Walking back through the streets of Tahlequah, Billy feels proud and confident. He is sure that once the townspeople get a load of his hounds, no one will tease him or laugh at him. As Billy approaches the main square, however, he finds himself drawing the same stares and snickers he did before. The townspeople heckle Billy about his dogs as he walks down the street, and soon the children from earlier swarm around Billy and they taunt him once more by calling him “dog boy.” The leader of the gang of kids stomps on Billy’s bare foot, breaking a toenail and drawing blood. Billy grits his teeth and he continues on—but when the leader pulls on the long ears of one of the pups, Billy becomes enraged.
Even after suffering taunts and jeers, Billy still believes the best in people—he thinks that because his dogs are, to him, a symbol of hard work and achievement, the others in Tahlequah will recognize them as such, too. Unfortunately, Billy is wrong—the Tahlequah children are even crueler to Billy when they see him toting his hounds through the streets. Billy can handle being picked on himself—but when someone messes with his dogs, he decides that enough is enough and he jumps to his pups’ defense.
Billy sets his sack down and lets loose on the leader of the gang, socking him in the nose. The leader fights back. Soon, the other children join in and they begin beating on Billy too. Billy buries his face in his arms as the children kick at his body. Soon, the kicking stops—Billy looks up and sees the marshal shooing the children away. Billy is terrified that the marshal will hurt or arrest him, but instead the marshal kindly helps Billy get up and gather his sack. The marshal compliments Billy’s hounds, and Billy tells the marshal about saving up to buy them. The marshal, visibly moved, declares that “not a one in that bunch [of kids has] that kind of grit.” The marshal offers to buy Billy a soda pop before he gets back on the road. Billy has never had a pop in his life—he happily accepts the marshal’s invitation.
Though Billy was afraid of the marshal the first time he saw him, he now realizes that the marshal is perhaps his one true ally in this strange place. The marshal recognizes Billy’s strength of spirit and character and so he wants to reward him. Billy continues to inspire emotion and pride in the men he encounters—men who understand what it’s like to be a young boy with a dream.
After bidding the marshal farewell, Billy starts back out on the road. The journey back is more difficult—the pups are heavy and they cry and whimper as Billy winds his way into the hills. Soon, however, the pups fall asleep. As night falls, Billy seeks shelter in a cave near a stream. He makes a bed of leaves for the sleepy pups and he builds them all a fire. Cooking up some of the provisions he brought along, Billy prepares a meal for himself and a snack for the pups. Billy watches the dogs play, feeling contented and excited as he learns more about their personalities.
Billy clearly has a protective instinct toward his new hound pups; he wants to keep them safe and warm on their journey home. Entranced by their presence, Billy enjoys seeing that his hard work has paid off and his dream has come true.
The “bold and aggressive” boy dog is bigger than the girl. The girl pup is small, timid, and delicate—but what she lacks in size, Billy observes, she makes up for in smarts. Tired and happy, Billy falls asleep shortly after his dogs settle down for the night. In the middle of the night, however, they are all awakened when the sound of a high-pitched scream echoes through the cave. Billy realizes that a mountain lion is howling somewhere in the mountains. He watches as his dogs run to the mouth of the cave, sit, and howl back. Billy, initially frightened by the cat’s call, feels braver knowing his pups are with him. Billy joins them at the mouth of the cave, whooping alongside their bawls and tossing rocks down the mountain to warn the cat off.
Even though Billy hears the fearsome call of a mountain lion and he grows scared, having his pups howling beside him makes him feel less alone. Though Billy’s pups are young and they could never defend him against a mountain lion, just having them nearby makes him feel loved and protected. He has two hounds who would die for him—and for whom he would gladly give his own life.