Well, that introduces Doc and Jack; now it’s
time to meet me, David Burch. I got involved in the story by way
of rebellion, deceit and crime. Not long after Doc decided to
change his life with a sabbatical from medicine, a big white bird dog
changed my life . .
I was hunting alone. Quail rose before the
point of my father's dogs, just out of gun range. I followed . .
. they lifted again out of range, flew a hundred yards and lit in
broomsedge. . . .
Then came the smell of frying bacon and the sound of my father's
footsteps on the stairs, and I realized I was dreaming. It was the same
dream that had come to me, just before waking, each day since October,
when we'd started getting the dogs in shape.
As I came awake, a thrill surged through
me--Saturday, no school, my day to hunt quail with my father! But
then disappointment hit me like a hammer. It was February second,
Virginia's quail season had ended. Resentment came next as I
remembered my father would be hunting this morning. He and Judge
Anderson were going with a farmer in North Carolina--the season was
still open in North Carolina, a few miles south of our farm. I
wasn't invited. I lay in the bed, drowsy. Below, pans clanked, a
cabinet door shut, and my mother's light footsteps crossed the
floor. My parents talked low so as not to wake me.
I was coming under the spell of Demon Adolescence. I was beginning to
doubt, to resent, to sulk. My body and mind were changing in ways
I didn't understand.
I rolled from under the covers, pulled on jeans and a flannel shirt,
walked barefoot down the stairs. The voice of the farm-news
announcer came from the radio, and my father sat at the kitchen table,
pencil in hand, listening for two statistics--price of corn and price
of hogs. Until last summer the calculation he made daily from
these statistics told him his profit or loss on the pigs whose
ubiquitous smell filled our lives. Now working the formula for
the corn-hog ratio was just an academic exercise. Abruptly in August,
my father had given up the hogs. He'd accepted the deathbed
advice of my grandfather, who'd sensed how much my mother hated the hog
business. Rising feed and falling meat prices, drought and
disease, all seemed to conspire against us. The day the last load
of hogs left the farm, my mother piled all our clothes (except the set
on our backs) in the boar lot, poured on kerosene, and lit the
match. There's no way to get the hog smell out of clothes.
Now my father's main cash crop was tobacco. He
still ran a few grade beef cows to keep his hand in on the animal side
of farming, his first love.
Tobacco farming was hard work, but it left November to March pretty
free. With the hogs gone, stress had melted from my parents'
faces. They seemed always cheerful now, in spite of my new
moodiness. Instead of a hunt once a week, Dad could hunt every
day if he chose--and in that first season out of the hog business,
that's what he'd done. My mother had taken up tennis again--she'd
been captain of her high school team--and my father had time for the
bird dogs he loved.
Dad sat, as always, at the head of the table.
Until July the empty chair at his right had been his father's.
Grandfather had consumed the crop that supported him, smoking
cigarettes he rolled from little Bull Durham sacks in his shirt
pocket. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in May, and in
July my father had buried him beside Grandmother on a knoll east of the
Grandfather had been a small man, five foot six, one hundred forty
pounds, but muscular and quick. He had a gift for things
mechanical, which he passed on to me. I had often watched his
strong fingers turn a wrench, knot a leader, skin a squirrel, shuffle
dominoes--or hold a volume of Harris, Twain, Kipling, Service or
London, while he read to me in baritone, my earliest memory of
him. Although he hadn't been to college, Grandfather wasn't
uneducated. A good teacher in a one-room school had made him a
lifelong reader of books.
My mourning at Grandfather's death had been intense
but brief. I missed him, but his absence seemed a part of the
natural order. But Grandfather's death had planted in me a seed
of concern for my parents' health. As a young man, my father had
lost the little and adjoining fingers of his left hand in the drive
belts of a hammer mill. For me his mangled hand symbolized his
and my mother's vulnerability. I stared now at the hand. My
father noticed and mistook my concern for disgust. He said
nothing, but the thought of that exchange of glances haunts me still.
"I thought you'd be sleeping in this morning,
David," my mother said as she put bacon and scrambled eggs before me.
"Son, I'm sorry I can't take you today," Dad
said. "This will be a good day for you to clean and oil the reels
and scout for bream beds in the creek. It's going to be fishin'
season before you know it."
Fishing season's prospect didn't raise my
spirits. Hunting season had been magic for me. Opening day
my father had handed me Grandfather's Iver Johnson twenty gauge and a
box of shells. The year before I had carried the gun, but without
shells, relegated to dry firing--this season would be the real thing.
At first I missed every shot, but by Christmas I was getting a bird
every other shot on the covey rise and doing better on singles.
And then the season ended, seemingly before it began.
Breakfast over, my father pulled on his green rubber boots.
"I'll be taking just Bob today. Pat's out of
season, I think, but I'm not sure." (Pat was my father's pride
and joy, a daughter of Bozeann's Mosley, the leading setter sire of all
"We'll leave her in the corn crib a few more
days. David, be careful not to let her get out when you feed her."
I pulled galoshes over my bare feet and followed Dad to the dog
pen. Released from the kennel, Bob bounced in the pickup, tail
wagging, aware of the promise of the day.
I gave Dad a look that said, "How can you do this to me?" and he in
turn produced a guilty smile and patted me on the shoulder. A
cloud of dust followed him down the lane. When the dust settled,
I went back in the house where Mom was finishing the dishes.
"I'm going into Danville for some shopping,
David. I'll be back by three. Can I bring you anything--or
do you want to come with me and see a movie?"
"No, I'll stick around here."
After Mom left I wandered around
the yard. Resentment mixed with the let down of hunting season's
end.Through the slats of the corn crib Pat barked a greeting. I
let myself in and knelt to scratch her behind the
ears. "Good girl, Pat. You wanted to go, too,
didn't you? Well, we'll get our chance again next year."
She licked my arms and face and whined.
The idea came to me like a line drive to shortstop.
Grandfather said the best bird hunting is what you do alone, with just
I ran to the house, pulled on my hunting trousers, boots and vest,
stuffed my pockets with shells, and grabbed the Iver Johnson. Pat
and I trotted across the pasture. A perfect day--50°,
overcast, a gentle breeze from the west.
Our small farm lay wedged between big tracts of
paper-company woodlands. The crop fields were small and
irregular, their shape dictated by the land's contours. The
surrounding woodlands were of two types: seed spawned mixed
woods--pine and native hardwood (red and white oak, gum, poplar, ash
and hickory, with dogwood and holly beneath), or man planted pine
plantations. In the plantations, loblolly pines grew from
seedlings set eight feet apart. Clear-cutting leaves the land
bare, except for stumps and laps (the unsalable limbs). To
reforest, bulldozers pull big rotary drums, called choppers, over the
laps to break them up. Then the laps are burned. The burn makes
potash, which nourishes ragweed, partridge pea, beggars lice.
Migrant Mexican workers--the same ones who work the tobacco--plant pine
seedlings for six cents each. For a few years the clear-cuts make
near perfect habitat for quail.
The two-thousand-acre Epps Tract, adjoining our farm
to the south, had grown uncut through Grandfather's life. He had
hunted it for squirrel, 'coon, fox, turkey, deer, wood duck, but mostly
he had simply watched the wildlife and the trees through the seasons
and the years. When the logging crews had arrived, Grandfather
had gone into mourning. For a year the chain saws whined, and
truckload after truckload of logs from the Epps Tract rumbled out
across our farm. The burn on the Epps Tract had been
hot, and the weed crop rank and high, making it difficult to hunt; but
two weeks before, a deep wet snow had flattened the weeds and, when it
melted, left the land in perfect shape for quail hunting. That's
where Pat and I headed.
Equal measures of guilt and excitement filled me--I
knew I was breaking the law, and defying my father's direction by
taking Pat out . . . but what the heck, I wouldn't take more than a
bird or two, and there weren't any male dogs around to bother
Pat. As we neared the end of the pasture field, a
pair of field larks lifted from the grass. Pat stopped and marked
their flight. Then she recognized they were not game birds and
paid them no more mind. While my grandfather would
have scoffed at anyone who called him a bird watcher or a naturalist,
he had been both. Whenever a bird flew he identified it and told me its
food sources, migratory pattern, nesting habits. In
the Epps Tract, Pat crisscrossed before me, gliding over stumps and
gullies, her head high and tail whipping above her back like an
inverted metronome. Then on a patch of bare ground she snapped
into a point.
"No birds there, Pat," I said.
But Pat was not pointing the scent of birds--she was honoring the point
of another dog. Fifty yards ahead stood a big white dog, on point
in a patch of lespedeza. At first I thought it was a
pointer. Then I noticed a tuft of long hair near the tip of its
tail. An English setter.
I approached the strange, ghostlike dog. He was tall, with the
longest legs I'd ever seen, and a deep chest curving back to a narrow
waist. I thought, Dad would love his conformation. The
muscles of his hindquarters bulged like the thighs of a boxer and
quivered with the intensity of his point. His large dark eyes
seemed to glow. He stood mesmerized by the scent. His
nostrils and lips moved as he breathed (a mannerism Dad called "smokin'
his pipe on his birds").
His coat had been clipped short, except near the end
of his tail. At a distance the dog appeared solid
white. Up close I could see faint tan spots, like freckles, on
his ears and around his coal black nose and a small square tan spot on
his right shoulder. His head was blocky with a deep muzzle and a
distinct stop, or brow, at the eyes, his ears long and set low.
Except for his high tail, he reminded me of a setter from a
turn-of-the-century DuPont ammo calendar--the kind of calendar my
father looked for in antique shops while my mother rummaged for flat
silver in her grandmother's pattern.
For a long time I studied the dog, wondering if he was an
hallucination. I took a step, and a dozen quail exploded at my
feet, fanning out as they flew for cover. In one reflex action, I
raised the little gun and cocked it. With the bang and jolt came
the startling sight of a falling bird.
Pat had it in her mouth in an instant. As she brought it to me, I
realized the big dog had not moved! I was frightened. Was
this the rigidity of a hypoglycemia seizure?
Then I realized he was simply still on point. I had never seen a
dog stay on point after the birds flushed--our dogs were all "country
broke," allowed to follow their instincts and
go in after the shot to seek downed birds. I reached down to pat
the big dog behind his ears. On my touch he moved. He and
Pat became playful until Pat growled and snapped, and then the two dogs
commenced to hunt independently.
The huge cutover lay before us, gently rolling like
an ocean frozen in
long swells. Thanks to the snowstorm a dog could be seen easily,
even at long distances.
The big white dog struck out before me with the speed of a racehorse,
his tail waving back and forth above his back with each smooth
stride. In seconds he was nearly out of sight, coursing along a
dip. Fearing he would disappear if he continued along the
depression, I blew my whistle. He shot ahead faster (I did not
know then that field-trial dogs are taught to go out on a whistle
blast, rather than come in to one). Luckily, he cut toward a
ridge top, and I kept him in sight.
I decided I would call him Boy. It seemed to
work, for when I
called as loud as I could "Here, Boy, here . . ." he cast toward me,
momentarily. But when I walked toward him, he turned again and
cast away with six-foot strides. At the top of a ridge three
hundred yards ahead, he whirled into point.
As I ran to him, stumbling in ruts and over stumps, Pat approached from
the left, saw him and froze. It was the prettiest sight I'd ever
seen, the big dog on the ridge with the morning sun glistening on him,
Pat honoring thirty yards behind, just as stylish as
he. Wouldn't Dad love to see this? I thought.
Out of breath, I stopped, broke open the Iver
Johnson and inserted a
shell, clasping a second in my left hand in the hope of reloading for a
second shot on a late-rising sleeper. I flushed a large
covey. Again I raised the little gun and fired, and again a bird
fell and Pat retrieved. Our hunt continued the rest of the morning in
this way, and I kept
asking myself, Is this a dream? At noon I had seven quail in my vest,
each from a different covey. And I realized I lacked only one
bird for my first-of-a-lifetime limit of quail. Then
the big dog vanished. I called and whistled for him long and
loud. I ran frantically from high spot to high spot, looking in
the briar-filled gullies and on the slopes. Meanwhile, Pat hunted
calmly before me at her natural moderate range. The
hill ahead had not burned cleanly, and hollow hardwood logs
(worthless for lumber) lay on it pell-mell. A narrow deer path
wound through a jungle of blackberry vines to the ridge top. My
hands and wrists scratched and bleeding, I plowed on, obsessed with
finding the big dog. Finally I made the ridge top and struggled
onto a hickory stump for a view. Pat snapped into a point; ten
yards in front of her the big white dog was pointing, his tail tip
bloodied by the punishing briars.
From the stump I stared at the two valiant dogs buried in the
thicket. I asked myself, How will I ever flush the birds?
No man could walk through that thicket. I broke off a two-foot
length of rotting limb, loaded theIver Johnson, closed it gently to
avoid the noisy click, and heaved the limb. The covey
erupted from the briars in a tight ball, and I shot from the
stump on reflex, barely conscious of the jolt and the bang. One
bird fell. Another beside it seemed to flinch, but flew with the
rest of the covey into the adjoining uncut woods.
Pat scrambled to retrieve, passing the big white
dog, still frozen on
point as after each of my earlier shots. Pat caught the downed
bird, struggled back through the briars and stood on her hind legs with
her front paws on the stump offering me the cock bird, pride in her
eyes, her tail wagging. It was the final bird in my first-ever
limit. I pulled Pat up, rubbed her behind the ears
and sweet-talked her.
How do I get the big dog off point? I couldn't reach him to touch
him on the head (I had figured out that was his release signal).
Whenever I had blown my whistle the big dog had moved faster and
away--and so I gave him a toot. Sure enough, he moved off point .
. . in the direction of the covey's flight!
Again I panicked--I wanted to get hold of him, read
the name on his
collar, get him back to his owner. But call as I might, he
ignored me and hunted on through the jungle of briars toward the big
woods. He disappeared into a gully, and I
despaired. On the stump with Pat at my feet,
surrounded by a sea of briars, I
suddenly realized where I was. The hickory stump was all that
remained of the tree where I had shot my first squirrel, three years
before. Grandfather had brought me here before daylight on
opening day. Beneath this very tree, we had waited for the
squirrels to come for the hickory nuts. And come they had that
morning, jumping from limb to limb, just as the sun cast first light
through the leaves.
"Wait 'til a half dozen get to cuttin' nuts in the
tree. They'll get
caught up in the competition," Grandfather had whispered. When
the first squirrel ran out on the limb above me, waving his bushy tail
like a flag, I had trembled with the urge to shoot. But I minded
Grandfather, and waited for his signal. When the nuts were
falling like raindrops, it came; I pointed the little Iver Johnson
straight up--and pulled the trigger. The recoil bowled me over,
but the squirrel fell at my feet, and Grandfather picked it up with one
hand and pulled me up with the other . . . . I was
sure Grandfather's spirit had guided me today to the hickory
stump, guided the strange white dog to the last covey in the jungle of
briars, the covey that would produce my first limit of quail.
Leaves rustled at the woods edge. The big
white dog was coming
toward me, holding in his mouth a quail, its wings still
fluttering. He had watched the bird that had flinched, realized
it was hit and followed it.
He came at a gallop, then slowly breasted his way through the briar
patch, blinking his big dark eyes to avoid the thorns. Then like
Pat he put his front feet up on the stump, offering me the bird.
(He's got a soft mouth, I thought. Dad would like
that.) I took the bird, grabbed his collar and pulled
him up. The three
of us stood together on the stump of the giant hickory, proud as
Wellington at the end of the day at Waterloo. I read the brass
tag on the collar: No Sevens Kennel, Droop, West Virginia,
What in the world was a dog from West Virginia doing
running loose in
Halifax County, Virginia, on Groundhog's Day with the quail season
Determined that the big dog would not get away from me again, I took
off my belt for a leash and struck out for home. It was awkward
carrying my gun, holding up my trousers, leading the big setter.
Once on the logging road I said, "Heel," and the big white dog got
behind and followed. I decided to see if I could trust him to
heel without the lead, so I dropped the belt to the ground, ready to
step on it if he bolted. But he heeled perfectly, so I took the
belt from his collar and put it back through my trouser loops, where it
was sorely needed (I was in the gangly stage, thin as a rail with no
hips at all).
I double-timed to the farm, dogs at heel, vest heavy with nine
quail. On the way I relived the morning, asking myself over and
over, Am I dreaming? and waiting for guilt to overcome me. It did
not come, but its cousin, fear, did. Fear of detection for my
triple offenses: hunting out of season, shooting over the limit,
and most serious, disobeying Dad's orders by taking Pat out of
I looked at my watch--two o'clock. Mom had forecast her return
for three o'clock, but she might get home early. I finally
reached the barnyard at two-thirty and saw with relief that Mom's car
was not parked by the house. My luck holds, I thought.
I reached for Pat's collar to return her to the
corncrib. The big white
setter approached. Before I knew what had happened, the dogs were
locked in the mating embrace. I was dumbfounded. I sat down
on the corn crib steps. There was nothing to do but
wait. I read again the phone number on the collar,
went to the kitchen and
dialed collect. A man with a mountain twang said he would accept
"My name's David, and I found a big white setter with your phone number
on his collar."
"Where you at?" asked the mountain man.
"On our farm in Halifax County, Virginia," I replied.
"Is that near Danville?"
"Yes, just east of Danville."
"Well, the dog's name is Montana Flip, and Jack Slone, his handler, is
at the field trial near Danville. Flip must'a got away from Jack
and ended up on your farm. Do you know where the field-trial
grounds is at?" (Of course I knew--we passed the Leggett farm
every time we went to Danville, but I hadn't known a trial was being
held there this weekend.)
"Yes, the Leggett farm's on the big bend in the Dan River, about six
miles from here. I'll get Flip back to Mr. Slone. He sure
is a nice dog."
"Yeah--but a deer chaser. Thanks for callin'. Jack'll give
you a little reward."
Relief . . . then panic. How could I
return Flip to his
owner without getting caught? I ran to the barn and started up
the old unlicensed pickup, "farm truck" painted on the doors, legal on
the highway for "farm business" only. I didn't have my driver's
license yet, but I had learned to drive around the
farm. In ten minutes, Pat and Flip released, and I
returned her to the corn
crib, put him in the truck cab beside me and headed for
Leggett's. On the hill above the Dan River stood a cluster of
pickup trucks, horse trailers and campers. On the low ground
beside the river, twenty riders moved east, two out front, and far in
front of them, two pointers hunted swiftly, as Montana Flip had hunted
As I pulled in, I spotted a pickup with a horse trailer.
No Sevens Kennels
Field Trial and Gun Dogs
Droop, West Virginia
Dog tails thumped against the walls of the trailer's
compartments. I found an empty one and slipped Montana Flip in,
making sure its air vent was open. I scribbled a note and placed
it under the windshield wiper.
Your dog Flip is in your trailer—front box on the
right. He sure is a nice dog.
I drove for home, praying Mom would not beat me
there. My luck
held--her car was not in the driveway. It was three-thirty.
I worried now about my Mom, who was never late.
I eased the old pickup under the shed and ran to the house.
Hurriedly I skinned my nine quail, put them in zip-lock bags and buried
them deep in the freezer, finishing just as Mom's tires crunched on the
gravel. Close! I ran up the steps to change into jeans.In
the bathroom, I washed my briar scratched hands. Dead
giveaway. I'll have to keep 'em in my pockets. I spotted
Mom's pancake makeup.
When my father's lights came up the drive just after dark, I went out
to meet him. The pole-top floodlight lit the kennel runs. I
stayed in the shadows.
"How'd you do?" I asked.
"Terrible," he responded. "Two coveys all day. Only fired
once. That's it for me 'til next season. How was your day,
"Well, it was all right," I said (the understatement of the century).
"Tell your mother we're going to have a guest for supper and to spend
the night. I stopped by the field-trial grounds and ran into our
cousin from West Virginia, Jack Slone--he'll be along any
minute." (I'd had no idea Jack Slone was kin to us--the day's
coincidences were spooky.)
My heart went to my throat. Had anyone seen me
put Montana Flip
back in Jack Slone's trailer? If they had, my goose was cooked.
Headlights appeared down our lane, and in minutes Dad was introducing
Jack Slone, whose maternal grandmother had been a sister of
Grandfather's mother. During supper I learned all about the
field-trial career of "Cousin Jack," as my father called him. I
fell asleep to the melodious twang of his mountaineer accent drifting
up the stairs from the kitchen.
Next morning when I came down to breakfast, Mr. Slone had already left
for the field trial, and my father was at the kitchen table looking
grim. Mom did not turn from the stove to greet me.
My father said, "Do you want to tell me about yesterday?"
"What about yesterday?" My voice cracked.
"You hunted Pat, didn't you?" It was not a question.
"How'd you know?" I asked.
"You forgot to pull the sheep burrs out of her ears. That was the
first clue. Then I found nine skinned quail in the freezer--your
grandfather would be ashamed of you for not picking them . . . .
″You must've shot pretty well--nine birds. In fact, one over the
limit. Hunt by yourself?"
″Yes, sir." There had been no other human with me, which was how I
chose to interpret his question.
After a few minutes of silence that seemed like a year, I asked,
″What are you going to do to me?"
″When you're finished your breakfast we're going to see Billy Webster,"
my father replied.
William Webster was the game warden for our end of
the county. I
had visited him often with Grandfather who in his last years served as
an unofficial deputy, keeping Webster posted on poachers, jack lighters
and others my grandfather regarded as suspicious characters.
Grandfather had been an honorary member of the deer-hunting club that
leased land in our neighborhood and served as their unpaid caretaker,
watching out for poachers, trash dumpers and teens who liked to use the
woods roads to park. We reached the gray double-wide
with small neat yard. The ominous
dark green patrol car, bristling with antenna like a porcupine, sat in
the driveway of the Webster house. I envisioned my
punishment--thirty days in jail, confiscation of the Iver Johnson,
and--most dread of all--lifetime forfeiture of my hunting
license. Officer Webster, about thirty, crewcut and
until now invariably
cheerful, came to the door looking serious.
"What's the problem, Mr. Slone?" he asked.
"David has something to tell you."
We pulled up chairs at the kitchen table.
″What is it you want to tell me, David?"
For a moment my voice would not work.
″I hunted quail yesterday, sir."
An interminable silence followed, and then my father said, ″What else,
″I shot one over the limit--but that was an accident. Got two
with my last shot." My voice cracked on the last word.
Officer Webster's tone became grave.
″I see . . . . Well, those are serious violations of the law,
David. The penalty for hunting out of season . . . let's see . .
. ." He reached across the table for the booklet of game laws I
had seen before on the seat of his patrol car.
Then he stopped and said, "Have you ever violated the game laws before,
″No, sir," I said--and immediately realized it was a lie. I had
killed one squirrel over the limit back in September when I'd shot up
into a hickory and accidentally killed two with one shot. I
decided against more truthfulness since I figured I had at least a
technical defense. Besides, my father didn't know about the
A long silence followed before Officer Webster said, ″David, out of
respect for your grandfather's memory and since you came to me to
confess, I'm going to give you a chance to redeem yourself. Are
you taking shop class this year?"
"Your punishment is to build twelve wood-duck houses and put them out
on Watkins Swamp before nesting season. Think you can get that
I ducked my head to hide my involuntary smile of
relief. You have
just thrown me in the briar patch, I thought. I loved working in
the shop. I had already made two wood-duck houses, using plans
from Ducks Unlimited; it would be a snap to make ten
more. Officer Webster delivered a stern lecture on
the seriousness of the
game laws. When he finished, we said goodbye and apologized for
bothering him on Sunday morning. On the way home I looked out the
window to hide my face from my father.
"That your mother's pancake makeup on your
hands?" I heard the
tease in his voice, and I knew it would be all right.
Four weeks later as we sat down for supper, Dad said, ″You know, I
believe Pat is having a false pregnancy. Her udder is
swelling." A week after that our vet confirmed she was
pregnant. Dad believed she'd had an undetected encounter with his
Right after that, the accident happened--on March
15. We were
driving home at night on Route 58 from Danville. The semi passed
us and cut back too quickly, forcing our car off the road. We hit
an oak tree head on. Dad and Mom were killed instantly, and I
spent six weeks in traction. The truck didn't stop, and I hadn't
noticed its markings, so we never knew whose it was. That meant
that Dad's uninsured motorist coverage was all there was--fifty
thousand dollars--just enough to bury him and Mom and pay some of my
When I finally got out of the hospital, my uncle, Mom's brother, took
me to his home in Richmond. He was the only close family I had
and the person Mom and Dad had named as my guardian in their
wills. I had physical therapy all that summer, and by school time
I could walk with just a little limp. My uncle and his wife were
kind, but I missed Mom and Dad so, and I missed the farm--I'd never
spent time in a city. I brooded, wouldn't talk. My uncle
had to sell our farm to cover the mortgage, and I was going away to
Blue Ridge School near Charlottesville. I was so miserable, and I
was making my uncle and aunt miserable too. I'm sure they were
relieved when they left me at school at the end of August.
Blue Ridge School wasn't so bad at first. It
was in the foothills
on the east slope of the mountains, away from any town; I was glad to
be back in the country. The food was pretty good-- nothing to
compare with Mom's cooking of course--and I liked most of the teachers,
the small classes. But I was lonely, and the other boys were all
city boys, most from families with money. They made fun of the
way I talked, nicked-named me ″Country. "
My uncle had sent Pop's bird dogs to Jack Slone. Right after I
got to Blue Ridge, a note with snapshots arrived:
Here's your new pup, whelped April 3. He's going to be a big
one. Pick a name and write me so I can register him. Pat
only had this one. He had a ball in South Dakota this
summer. Come see me, and I'll show you what he's learned so far.
I wrote back:
Dear Mr. Slone,
Thanks for the pictures. How about Halifax Flip for a name?
Take good care of him and yourself.
I taped the snapshots of Flip to the mirror over my
and our other dogs, Bob and Pat, were my only link to the farm, to my
parents. I was desperate to see them. The second weekend in
October I was supposed to visit my uncle, but when he got to Blue Ridge
to pick me up, I was gone. I'd hitched a ride to White Sulphur
Springs--told the family of a classmate I had another uncle
there. When they dropped me in town, I called Jack Slone, and he
came to get me. On the truck seat beside him was a gangling white
setter pup with a small tan spot on its right shoulder.
"This is your Halifax Flip. I think he's going to make a good
one, but he may be too much dog for foot huntin'," Jack said.
I put my duffel in the pickup bed and got in. Flip licked my
face. For the first time in eight months, my spirits
lifted. Jack drove for his farm.
On the way, I asked about our other dogs. Jack looked embarrassed.
"You didn't know? Your uncle sold them to
He paid a big price--that's what paid your way to Blue Ridge School."
I had been sad, but now I was angry. How could my uncle sell our
dogs--and not even tell me. The thought of my father's friend,
Judge Anderson, paying big for our dogs as charity brought a deep sense
(to be continued)