By late evening, Billy is exhausted from chopping when he hears someone coming: it is Grandpa in his buggy. Grandpa asks how Billy’s doing, and Billy confesses that he’s about ready to give up. Grandpa, however, insists that Billy can’t give up—what he needs is some rest and some food. Billy, however, states that if he leaves the tree, the raccoon will escape. Grandpa reaches into his buggy and he pulls out the materials to make a scarecrow, explaining to Billy that the scarecrow will help keep the raccoon in the tree while Billy returns home to eat, sleep, and rest.
Grandpa is a seasoned hunter and he knows that while Billy is devoted to trapping this raccoon and proving his devotion to his dogs, the young man still needs to take care of himself. Grandpa arrives to help Billy out by teaching him a new trick that will let Billy show his dogs that it’s important to preserve one’s own wellbeing even in the face of a major task.
Together, Billy and his grandfather build and erect their scarecrow, laughing and talking all the while. Grandpa helps Billy and the dogs into the buggy and they all set off for home. On the way, Grandpa compliments Billy on his hard work on the tree. Back at the house, Mama greets Billy and she fawns over him. She has prepared one of his favorite dinners: chicken and dumplings. Over dinner, Billy and Grandpa continue talking about raccoon hunting and the various tricks raccoons pull to try and get hunting dogs off their trails. Grandpa reassures Billy that his dogs will soon enough learn how to handle any trick a raccoon throws their way. After dinner and a hot bath, Billy lets Mama cover him in liniment and then he falls into bed and he sleeps deeply through the night.
Surrounded by his family’s love and warmth, Billy begins to rest up and feel like himself again. He understands that backing off of a task doesn’t mean one has to abandon it. Prioritizing one’s own health in tricky or difficult situations is important, and Billy is coming to see how sometimes half the battle is taking care of oneself.
In the morning, Billy is stiff and tired, but Papa assures Billy that he’ll limber up as soon as he starts swinging his ax. Papa says that he heard a hound howling all night; Billy looks out the window and realizes that Old Dan isn’t in the doghouse. Billy declares that Old Dan must have returned to the sycamore in the middle of the night, determined not to let the raccoon get away. Billy grabs his things and hurries back out to the woods with Little Ann close behind, determined to prove to Old Dan that he’s just as committed to catching the raccoon as the dog is.
Old Dan’s ironclad commitment to making sure that the raccoon stays treed—and that Billy will be able to capture it—is representative of his love, loyalty, and devotion to the boy who has raised and trained him.
Back at the old sycamore, Billy notices that there are two small beds made of leaves. He realizes that Little Ann must have come out here to sleep beside Old Dan, then returned to fetch Billy at first light. Further moved by his dogs’ determination, Billy gets back to chopping. He limbers up soon enough—but as the day progresses, Billy begins developing blisters on his palms. He wraps them in rags, but his preventative measures are no use—the blisters burst and they cause Billy excruciating pain. By late afternoon, Billy realizes that he is in too much pain to keep going.
This passage illustrates how committed and loyal Old Dan and Little Ann are not just to Billy or to the hunt, but to each other as well. Little Ann and Old Dan take care of and look out for each other—they are inseparable and intensely devoted.
Billy kneels between his dogs and he prays, asking God to give him “the strength to finish the job.” As Billy stands, he hears a gust of wind approach. Billy watches as the wind tangles in the branches of the big sycamore and it starts to blow the tree over. Fascinated, Billy pulls his dogs out of the tree’s way and watches as it falls with a “cyclone roar.” Sure enough, as soon as the tree hits the ground, a large brown raccoon scrambles out of it. Billy sics Old Dan on the racoon, and Dan and Ann hurry after it.
This passage represents another instance in which Billy’s faith changes his understanding of the world. Billy prays for help finishing the job—but whether or not it is God who sends the breeze, the fact remains that Billy worked so hard that he made the tree vulnerable to a strong wind.
Billy watches as Old Dan and Little Ann trap and kill the racoon in a “savage and brutal” manner, tearing his flesh amidst his “dying squalls.” Billy feels a sadness in his heart as he retrieves the raccoon from his dogs—but at the same time, he is excited to have made his first kill. As Billy walks back through the woods, passing the large sycamore, he feels a sense of sorrow at the giant tree’s fall. He apologizes to the tree for his role in felling it.
As Billy again bears witness to the brutal death of a raccoon, he understands even more about the circle of life and the necessary evils of the natural world. Billy feels he owes a debt to nature—he wants to do right by the world around him.
As Billy arrives home, he sees that his whole family is waiting out on the porch for him. He holds up the raccoon triumphantly, and Papa offers to help him skin it out back in the smokehouse. As Billy and Papa work together on the skin, Billy asks if Papa noticed any gusts of wind earlier. Papa says he didn’t. Billy tells Papa about praying to God for the strength to fell the tree, and the sudden gust of wind that took it out. Billy asks Papa if God answered his prayer. Papa says it’s up to Billy to decide for himself. Billy quietly decides that he did, by some blessing, receive God’s help in felling the tree.
Papa is not as vocal about his religion or beliefs as Mama is—he wants Billy to decide what to believe in for himself. Billy is convinced of God’s love and constant presence in his life, however, and in this he passage gives thanks for all that God has done for him.