In the morning, Billy puts his puppies into their sack and they continues on their way. At about midday, Billy begins to recognize the terrain around him and he knows he is close to home. Billy is relieved to be in familiar territory—but he’s also nervous about facing his mother and father and explaining why he ran away from home. After deciding that he’ll simply tell his parents the truth and “weather the storm,” he relaxes and enjoys watching his puppies play. He thinks of different names he could give them, but traditional dog names don’t fit.
Billy is no longer too worried about what his parents will think, say, or do when they learn about his puppies—being with the pups seems to imbue Billy with confidence, strength, and courage.
As Billy looks around, he sees two names, Dan and Ann, carved into a nearby sycamore tree, a heart drawn around them. Billy settles on “Old Dan” for the boy dog and “Little Ann” for the girl dog. As soon as he finishes naming the dogs, he looks around and he realizes that he is in the fishermen’s camp where he first found the magazine ad. He marvels at how, in the very place he first asked God to help him get his hound pups, he has named them.
In this passage, Billy again reflects upon how his faith has allowed him to achieve so much. Billy perceives God’s unseen hand in all that has transpired since he prayed in this riverbed years ago—so much so that he doesn’t give himself credit for putting in the hard work that made his reality reflect his innermost hopes, prayers, and dreams.
Billy walks the final stretch home along the river and he nervously arrives at the front porch of his house. As he steps inside, he sees his family gathered together in the living room. His mother looks up at him—Billy can see that her face is full of worry and grief. Papa, however, greets Billy warmly and happily and he asks to see the puppies—he reveals that after Billy went missing, he himself went to Grandpa’s store, where Grandpa spilled the beans as to what Billy had been up to with the dogs. Billy apologizes profusely to his mother for causing her such worry. He then opens his sack and pulls out all the presents he bought at the general store—bolts of cloth for his mother, overalls for his father, and candy for his sisters.
Billy knows that in chasing his dreams, he has put his family’s peace of mind second to his own wants and needs. Here, he attempts to make amends for that choice by showing them that he was thinking of them the whole way along his big journey. Billy never makes a decision without considering the emotional consequences as well as the physical repercussions—a fact that makes him a good son and that will soon make him a good hunter.
Billy tells his family all about his adventure, from the kindness of the stationmaster to the treachery of the mountain lion’s call on the way back. When Billy’s father asks him how he liked town, Billy replies that he hated it and that he’d never want to live anywhere near other people. Billy’s father’s face grows solemn. Papa tells Billy that he and Mama don’t intend to live in the mountains forever—one day, Billy and his sisters may very well have to get used to living in town. The mountains, Papa says, are “no place to raise a family.” Mama quietly says that she’s been praying every day for the opportunity to give her children a life and an education in a town nearby.
This passage foreshadows a major tension at the heart of Billy’s family: Mama and Papa’s desire to move their family out of the Ozarks, and Billy’s hatred of town and his fear of leaving the natural world behind. Mama’s prayers all revolve around giving her children a better and different life—but Billy’s prayers have all revolved around making a life for himself that is as wild and free as the mountains themselves.
The next morning, Billy gets right to work building a doghouse. Papa fashions collars for the dogs out of tough leather. That night, Billy confides in his mother about how hard he prayed for his dogs. He also tells her about the coincidence of finding his dogs’ names carved on the sycamore tree in the fishermen’s camp. Mama asks Billy if he believes God helped him after hearing his prayer, and Billy says that he knows in his heart that was the case.
In this passage, Billy and Mama bond over the strength of their shared faith in God’s power to transform a life. Billy internalizes the idea that prayers from the heart are always answered—an idea that will fuel how he moves through the world in the months to come.