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The narrator, Billy, is coming home from work, in a good mood. Suddenly some dogs roar up the street, fighting. They are picking on a redbone hound. Billy goes in and saves it and cares for it through the night. It reminds him of his childhood.
Billy lives on a farm in the Ozark Mountains of northeastern Oklahoma; he is ten years old. He wants two good coonhounds very badly; he calls this "puppy love." But his Papa cannot afford to buy him the dogs. For many months, Billy tries to content himself with some rodent traps his papa gives him, but he still wants a dog. Then one day he finds a sportsman's catalog in an abandoned camp. In it he sees an ad for good hounds, at $25 each. He resolves to save $50 and order two hounds. He finds a K.C. Baking Powder can to put his money in. Billy works hard, selling fruit and bait to fishermen, and gathering fruit that he sells to his grandfather at his store.
He gives the money to his grandfather, who orders the dogs for him, although Billy asks him to keep it a secret. When a notice comes that they have arrived at the mail depot in the nearby town of Tahlequah, they decide to go into town on the next week's buggy. But that night, Billy decides he can't wait any longer. He packs himself a little food, and heads off for town, following the river through the woods. He walks all night, and finally reaches town in the morning.
There, people stare and laugh at the young hillbilly. With his leftover money, he buys some clothes as gifts for his parents. He sees children playing at recess, and tries to play on a slide. He finally collects his dogs and walks back out of town with their small heads sticking out of his bag. Some schoolchildren mob around him and knock him down, but the town marshal rescues him and buys him a strawberry soda. The marshal is impressed with Billy's determination, and says he has grit.
That night, Billy camps in a cave with his two puppies. They awake in the middle of the night to hear the call of a mountain lion. Billy builds up the fire to keep them safe, while the bigger of the two dogs, the male, defiantly bawls out into the night air. The next morning he stops in the campsite where he found the catalog. There he sees the names "Dan" and "Ann" carved into a tree. He decides to name his dogs Old Dan and Little Ann, and he is pleased with the coincidence. He can see that Old Dan is very brave, and that Little Ann is very smart. However, he is nervous to return to his house, fearing that his parents will be worried and angry with him for leaving unexpectedly. But they are not--his grandfather has told them everything. They are proud, and they love the clothes he has brought.
This will be a novel about determination. Even before Billy gets his hounds, we see how determined he has to be to get them. But even before that, in the opening chapter, we see how the older Billy cherishes the memories of his redbone hounds. That opening chapter serves to set a tone. As the narrator sits down by his fire, we know that it will be a sentimental tale.
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