One day, while Billy is at his grandfather's store, he sees a buggy approach. Driving it are Ruben and Rainie Pritchard, two of the meanest boys in the area. They say they don't think his hounds look very tough, and they say that his grandfather is crooked. Billy's mama always tells him not to mind the Pritchard boys, as they are beaten and can't help being mean. They dare Billy to a bet. His grandfather is so mad, that he accepts the bet for Billy. Now Billy has to meet the Pritchard boys by their land and try to catch the legendary "ghost coon." He is apprehensive, but he has to accept.
At first, the chase goes well. When the sounds of the chase die down, Ruben and Rainie suggest that Billy should get up. But as the night wears on and the dogs prove their ability, Ruben tells his younger brother to shut up so they can listen to the chase. Finally, it seems the ghost coon has disappeared. Ruben says the coon always climbs a certain tree, in the middle of the field, and then disappears. The same thing has happened. Even Little Ann gives up, when suddenly the wind picks up and she catches a scent on the wind. Discovering the coon in a nearby hollow fence post, she goes crazy.
When the coon is finally treed, Billy thinks of how impressive it is and doesn't want to kill it. Just then, the Pritchard's hound, Old Blue, appears. Ruben wrestles Billy to the ground, planning to let Old Blue kill the coon. Suddenly, Rainie shouts out. Old Dan and Little Ann are fighting Old Blue, and winning. Ruben leaps off of Billy and runs, axe in hand, to kill Billy's hounds. Billy shouts and runs after him but knows he is going to be too late. Suddenly, Ruben trips on a stick. Blazing past him, Billy pulls his dogs off the old hound. The old blue hound seems almost dead. Suddenly, Rainie shouts. Billy ties up his dogs, and then goes to look. Ruben has fallen on the axe. He is dead. Very scared, Billy immediately runs for home.
His father and other men go and take care of things. Billy feels very bad for days. He doesn't feel like hunting; his dogs don't understand. Finally, he goes and puts some dried flowers he finds on Ruben's grave. He feels much better, and goes camping that night.
Death enters the novel. Violence has been common, with fights between dogs and coons. Now, all of a sudden, a fight between three dogs breaks out at the same time as a fight between two boys. It is as if the dogs have come to Billy's rescue. Although Billy is not very strong himself, his dogs are more than a match for the Pritchard's Old Blue. Throughout the novel, although Billy is a boy, his dogs do amazing things. They grow up quickly. Part of the excitement of the book is seeing Billy accomplish all that he does, as only a little boy. Because he is good, and dedicated to his dogs, he doesn't need strength. His dogs willingly provide it for him.
Throughout the novel, the only really "bad" characters are the Pritchard boys. They are mean, ugly, and no reader will want to sympathize with them. Yet Billy's mother reminds him not to hate them, because they have hard lives and can't help being strange. Not only does this underscore the strong moral feeling that seems to guide all the characters in the novel but the Pritchards, it also makes the tragedy of Ruben all the more tragic. This will not be the first time in the book that Rawls seems to want to make events as poignant and moving as possible.
-should billy have gone into town
-should billy have gotten coons
-should billys grandfather have agreed w/o consulting his parents first