CHAPTER THREE

    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 house.
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 time.)
    "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 one dog.
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, 301/555-1817.

    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 closed?
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 quarantine.
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 the charges.

"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 for me.

As I pulled in, I spotted a pickup with a horse trailer.
    Jack Slone
    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.
    A friend

    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, David?"
"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, David?"
″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, David?"
″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 squirrel.
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?"
"Yes, sir."
"Your punishment is to build twelve wood-duck houses and put them out on Watkins Swamp before nesting season.  Think you can get that done?"

    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 dog, Bob.

    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 hospital bill.
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:

Dear David,

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.
Your cousin,
Jack Slone

I wrote back:

Dear Mr. Slone,

Thanks for the pictures.  How about Halifax Flip for a name?
Take good care of him and yourself.
Sincerely,
David Burch

    I taped the snapshots of Flip to the mirror over my dresser.  He 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 Judge Anderson.  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 of shame.

(to be continued)