To field-trial people, the Ames Plantation is sacred.  A hundred years ago, Hobart Ames, a tool forging tycoon from Boston, discovered the country and quietly bought--until he held eighteen thousand acres.  Then he let it out on shares to the farmers who lived on it already, keeping the hunting privileges for himself.  He became interested in the new sport of field trials.  From his dying Boston neighbor, Edward Dexter, first president of the National Championship, he bought the Charlottesville Field Trial Kennels, which held the best setter and pointer blood of the day.  Cuthbert E. Buckle, Dexter's English-born manager, moved to Grand Junction as Ames' superintendent.  For the next thirty years, Buckle managed the plantation to Ames' high standards.  Besides legendary quail hunting, he produced world champion Angus cattle and Percheron draft horses--Ames demanded the best, and Buckle shared his perfectionist obsession.

    Early on, Hobart Ames adopted the National Bird Dog Championship as his responsibility and made his plantation its permanent grounds.  After Ames' death in 1945, his wife Julia continued to sponsor the National, and when she died in 1950, she created the Hobart Ames Foundation to manage the plantation for the University of Tennessee and as a place for the National Championship.
For a century the land has been farmed and the timber managed with quail in mind.  The cultivated fields have broad weedy edges; other fields are fallowed each year to grow up in weeds.  Hundreds of feed patches line the field edges.  The woodlands are control-burned in March, so insects, vital to young quail, flourish.  The gently rolling courses are first narrow and twisting, then open and sweeping--a perfect stage for a horseback-handled bird dog.

    "Just getting a dog around these courses for three hours is tougher than shooting a round of golf under par at Augusta National," Jack said.

    In years past, Doc and Jack had often come to the Ames Plantation, Doc as spectator, Jack as a competing handler.  As we drove up Buford Ellington Road toward the massive white-clapboard manor house, Jack and Doc were filled with memories.    After showing me the house and grounds and the massive fifty-stall brick horse barn Ames built in 1913, we went to the plantation's assembly hall for the drawing.  The hall was packed with field-trial people from all over the U.S. and Canada.  Doc and Jack seemed to know them all--and they all knew about Flip. Flip drew the last brace, to be run on the morning course, paired with a pointer female named Miss Lydia, who had qualified at the last minute.

    "Did you hear about James Goodlowe?" Jack asked on our ride back to Harry Winston’s.  "He's accused of stealin' a dog from Tom Woodward, his best customer.  I don't believe for a minute that James is guilty.  James may be cantankerous, but he's not a thief.  His great-granddaddy was my great-granddaddy's commanding officer in the Civil War.  James is going to be tried in Booneville on Tuesday.  Believe I'll go over and watch."

    So Tuesday morning Jack and I drove the fifty miles to Booneville and parked by the brick courthouse in the central square. The old couple sat erect on the front bench.  The morning sun shone through the tall windows upon dark, stern portraits of Confederate officers and long-dead judges.  The old man  on the bench resembled a brigadier general of cavalry whose portrait hung on the wall:  same broad forehead, broad shoulders and piercing eyes.  The resemblance was more than a coincidence, for the general, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was the old man's grandfather. The old man's thick white hair was neatly combed above his long straight nose and high cheekbones.  His face was ruddy from a lifetime spent mostly outdoors.  His large hands were arthritic and calloused, but immaculate.  He wore his only suit, a blue serge, old but unwrinkled, worn before today only to church, to field-trial drawings and to friends' funerals, which came  frequently now.  Before this, he had been inside the courtroom only for jury duty; today he came to be tried for grand larceny, accused of the theft of a pointer dog.

    James Goodlowe's wife was short and rotund, her face florid. Her blue pin-dot dress was a shade lighter than the old man's suit.  Her blue-white hair was piled neatly under her hat.  She busied her fingers with knitting needles, which she worked without looking.  She saw only the dust thick upon the portraits, glowing like velvet in the bright morning sun.  Unconsciously she shook her head at the county's poor housekeeping.
They had come early, a lifetime habit.  In fifty years as a field-trial handler, James Goodlowe had never missed a breakaway.  At eight-thirty when the bailiff arrived, he was startled to see them already in the courtroom.  "Excuse me, but ya'll have to go through the metal detector."  When they returned to their seats, she was embarrassed; the bailiff had taken her sewing scissors and locked them in a drawer.
The courtroom began to fill with spectators. They glanced at James Goodlowe with perplexed curiosity.  None would meet his eyes.  He was surprised some were field-trial people from far away--then he remembered the National was running; they had come over from Grand Junction to watch this different kind of trial.  When we arrived, Jack walked down and put a hand upon his shoulder.  James Goodlowe turned in his seat and smiled, pleased to see his old rival and friend.  We took seats behind the couple.

    The old man had taken the dog, no doubt about it, and the State of Mississippi could prove it.  Someone had seen his truck and written down his license number.  Then they had matched the mud on his tires to the mud on Tom Woodward's kennel road.  The prosecutor had offered to reduce the charge to trespass if he would return the dog, but he had refused to say anything.  His lawyer said conviction was certain, that he ought to plead guilty and make a deal.  James Goodlowe refused.

    The crime was the talk of the county, eclipsing the story of Woodward's death, even though the dead man was the county's wealthiest citizen, owner of a bottling plant and a beer distributorship.  Dog theft ranked high on the rural Mississippi scale of heinous crime.  No one could figure James Goodlowe's motive.  It couldn't be money--the dog was eleven years old, retired from competition, about through as a stud.  His lawyer had wanted to try to get the charge reduced to petty larceny, for the dog was worth less than five hundred dollars, but James Goodlowe wouldn't have it--an insult to the dog.  Could the motive have been revenge--some grudge against Woodward for a slight of honor?  So far as anyone knew, a cross word had never passed between the two men.  Woodward had been Goodlowe's patron for thirty years.  And where was the dog?
The old man's young lawyer was a year out of Ol' Miss law school and scrambling to build a practice on minor criminal cases, a little real estate, divorce.  As a small boy he had gone with his father to the old man's farm to talk dogs.  The old man had never needed a lawyer before, but when he was arrested he thought of the boy.
    "Get a copy of Tom Woodward's will.  My defense is in it," was all the old man would say to his lawyer.

    Woodward's family had refused to show the will.  When the young lawyer explained this, the old man said, "Talk to Judge Burks."
So the young lawyer had driven to Tupelo, where Judge Burks, long retired, languished in a nursing home.  He arrived after visiting hours, and the lady in charge refused at first to let him see the judge.  She finally relented when he said it was a matter of life and death.  Judge Burks lay paralyzed from a stroke, but his mind was unimpaired, and he could speak.

    By nine o'clock the courtroom was jammed.  The young lawyer stood at the defense counsel table and motioned James Goodlowe to join him.

    "All rise," boomed the bailiff.

    The black-robed judge, short, thin and bald, with rimless glasses and a humorless face, whisked through the door behind the bench and plopped in his chair, visible now only above the knot of his tie.

    "Silence is commanded upon pain of imprisonment while The Honorable Judge of the Circuit Court of Prentiss County is sitting.  All persons having motions to make, pleas to enter, or other business before this court, come forward and ye shall be heard."  The bailiff's got his part down to a tee, I thought.

    "Be seated," the Judge said glumly.
    "State of Mississippi versus James Goodlowe.  One count of grand larceny of a pointer dog.  Is the State ready?" The prosecutor nodded gravely.
    "Is the defense ready?"
    "Yes, Your Honor," said the young lawyer, his nervousness obvious in his voice.  
    "All right, gentlemen.  Both sides have waived a jury and opening statements.  Are there any motions before we hear the evidence?"
    "The defense has one, your honor.  If our motion is granted, we will stipulate the prosecution's evidence putting my client at Tom Woodward's kennel at two a.m. on the morning of the dog's disappearance and that he took the dog."  A murmur of surprise went through the spectators.
    "Are you saying that your client will change his plea to guilty?"
    "No, Your Honor.  He will stipulate he took the dog, but we will offer a defense.  We can put on that defense through the testimony of one witness, but to do that we'll need some special consideration, Your Honor,     and that's my motion.  The witness is in a nursing home and can't come to court.  We have arranged for him to testify by speaker telephone, and we've got a court reporter standing by to administer the oath."
    "This is highly unusual.  What is the State's position, Mr. Prosecutor?"
    "We have no objection, Your Honor," said the prosecutor, relieved to avoid the tedium of putting on his evidence.
    The bailiff placed the speakerphone on the bench.  The two lawyers stood at side bar.  The young lawyer dialed a number, and a female voice answered, "Judge Burks' room, this is Sally Wilson speaking."
    "We're calling from the courtroom.  Is Judge Burks ready to testify?"
    The court reporter answered yes and swore the witness.  Then the judge in the courtroom said, "Good morning, Judge Burks.  It's an honor to have you in court with us this mornin'. I hope you're feelin' well."
    "Well enough," wheezed the feeble, disembodied voice from the speakerphone.  I thought of the Wizard of Oz.
    "You may proceed," said the judge in the courtroom, nodding to the young lawyer.
    "Judge Burks, would you tell the court why you believe James Goodlowe was justified in taking Tom Woodward's pointer, Bigbee Ben, from his kennel without permission on the night of Tom Woodward's death?"    
    The courtroom was deadly quiet.The voice of the witness came from the speaker, halting at first, but stronger as he warmed to his story.  He told how he and his best friend, Tom Woodward, had enjoyed bird dogs together over fifty years, how they loved to ride together on James Goodlowe's training grounds along the banks of the Tombigbee’ how Woodward wanted to own a great field-trial dog, but seemed always plagued by bad luck, and how, finally, Bigbee Ben had come along to win four championships.

    "When they gave him the title at the Southern, James Goodlowe announced his own retirement and the dog's.  Tom Woodward tried to give James the dog right there so he could get the stud fees, but James wouldn't take him, said Tom loved that dog too much."

    The witness stopped talking.  The young lawyer was terrified--had Judge Burks suffered another stroke?

    "Judge Burks, can you tell us now why Mr. Goodlowe was justified in taking the dog?"

    The disembodied voice returned, and the young lawyer relaxed.
    "Yes.  Tom Woodward--like a lot of men who love their dogs--had an abiding fear that they wouldn't be looked after properly when he died.  He always said he was providing
in his will for his dogs to be euthanized when he died.  That's why James Goodlowe took the dog--to save its life."

    The prosecutor interrupted, "Your honor, I have Tom Woodward's will.  It does not direct that his dogs be put to sleep."  The prosecutor handed a paper to the Judge in the courtroom, who read from it:
I leave my foxhounds to Harry Winston of Winston's Corner with the request that he give them to boys in his neighborhood.  I leave my beagles to the Reverend Sam Johnson of Ebenezer Baptist Church at Faulker with the request that he give them to boys in his Sunday school.  I leave my bird dogs to James Goodlowe, Jr., son of my field-trial handler and friend, James Goodlowe.  I leave the frozen semen from my champion Bigbee Ben to the said James Goodlowe.

The young lawyer looked like he was going to faint, but James Goodlowe was calm as ever.

    "I know that," Judge Burk's irritated voice came from the phone.  "After I had my stroke, Tom Woodward came to see me in the hospital.  He said, 'Charlie, is there anything I can do for you?' I said, 'Yes, damn you, Tom Woodward, you can change the part in your will about putting your dogs to sleep.' Then I told him how he should leave his dogs in his will.  James Goodlowe didn't know about the change, of course.”

    "Thank you, Judge Burks.  The defense has no more questions."

    The prosecutor rose.  "Your Honor, we have no questions of the witness.  We will move that the charges against Mr. Goodlowe be dismissed--if he will return the dog."

    James Goodlowe rose to his full six feet three.
    "The dog is over at my son's training kennel in Stanton, Tennessee--where Tom Woodward's will says he's supposed to be."
    "Case dismissed," said the Judge from the bench, whacking down his gavel.  Cheers erupted in the courtroom.  Even the Judge smiled.
    "Court's adjourned.  Good to have you with us, Judge Burks."

    James Goodlowe turned and shook hands with Jack, who introduced me to the old man and his wife.  We walked together to a cafe_ across the square for coffee.  Jack invited James to come ride with us at the National, but he said no.

    "Don't care for trials much now that I'm not competing," James Goodlowe said.
    "I understand," Jack replied.  

    The old man and his wife walked slowly to their pickup parked on the courthouse square.  We watched the truck disappear, the old man tall and erect behind the wheel, his wife's hat barely showing above the passenger seat.  Just as we were getting into Jack's truck, they reappeared, having circled the block.  The old man stopped opposite the entrance to the courthouse, and his wife got out, waddled up the stairs and entered.  In a moment she returned, her sewing scissors in hand.

    The weather for the opening week of the National was ideal:  cool, crisp and overcast but dry days, with light winds, good footing for dogs and horses.  After twenty-eight dogs out of the thirty entered had run, the gallery consensus had Takeover Bill as top dog.  He'd scored ten evenly spaced finds, two backs, two plausible unproductives where it seemed likely the birds had left him, and he’d hunted wide and forward.  As was usual for dogs handled by John Proud Bear, Takeover Bill had responded to his handler as if he were on a string.

    "He'll be hard to beat," Jack said.

    "Yes," Doc said. “but damn, I hate to see Norman Klensch own a National Champion."

    Jack, Doc and I led our horses to the breakaway.  Flip strained against the lead I held tightly.  Harry Winston waited on horseback at the front of the galley.
Flip had come to understand, as smart dogs do, the meaning of a gallery—competition; his eyes said he understood today.    The three judges waited astride their horses.  Jack greeted them and looked over his shoulder at the assembled riders--faces Jack had known for years, owners of dogs, other professional handlers, and a few Jack's age and older, the old guard of the fraternity, men and women who came to the Ames Plantation each year to see the best dogs and, perhaps more important, to see one another.

    One by one they touched their fingers to their caps and nodded a silent "good luck"--except, of course, Norman Klensch, unsmiling on his black Walker.  Unless something extraordinary happened in this last brace, the National Champion would be his Takeover Bill.    Beyond the familiar faces, hundreds of horses, ponies and mules, mounted by men, women and children, milled about like a disheveled cavalry troop.  God help the dog that gets behind and has to run through that to get back to the front, Jack thought.

    "May I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen," the assistant secretary called loudly.
    "This is the last brace of this year's National Championship.  We have Halifax Flip, a setter derby, handled and co-owned by Jack Slone of West Virginia.  Doctor James Bates, the dog's co-owner, will be scouting, and the other partner in the dog, David Burch, will be riding front.  And we have as his bracemate the pointer female Miss Lydia, handled by Ray Blount for her owner Marvin Roop of Atlanta, who couldn't be here today.
"There are over sixteen hundred mounted for this brace--perhaps a new record for any field trial--and the danger when this many horses are together is obvious to you all. Please pay careful attention to the instructions of the marshals.  Anyone who does not will be ordered off the course.  Let's be courteous; let's be careful; and remember: walk--do not canter--to the points."

    A judge lifted in his stirrups, "All right, gentlemen, let 'em go."

    With that, I released Flip from the left, and Blount's scout released Lydia from the right.  The two dogs struck out for opposing edges, Flip emitting his trademark departing yip of glee.
A front was moving in from the northwest, and with it the prospect of snow.

    "If that doesn't get the birds moving, I don't know what will," Doc said.  "Just the kind of bird hunting day we prayed for as boys."

    Quail were feeding, and at the end of the first hour, each dog had scored four dandy finds.  The gallery began to buzz that Takeover Bill just might be bested, though it was still unlikely.

    "You know," Doc said after one of Flip's finds, "a setter hasn't won this thing since Johnny Crockett in seventy.  This gallery will go nuts if we get close to the end and it looks like Flip has a shot."
    "Don't worry about that."  Norman Klensch had eased his horse up behind us to eavesdrop.  "My Takeover Bill's got this National Championship locked up."
    "That egotistical SOB," Doc muttered after Norman had ridden off.  "He wouldn't know a bird dog from a Pekingese."
    At the end of the second hour, Flip had scored four more finds, including a sparkling relocation on a running covey in the edge of a swamp.  Lydia had scored two more good finds and a back.  The gallery was enthralled by Flip's "yip signal" when his birds had run.    The handlers entered a soybean-stubble field with woods on each side.  Flip took the right edge, and Lydia the left.  The dogs stretched out along the opposing edges, each hunting at a torrid pace.  They seemed as fresh as when released more than two hours before.    Just as the dogs neared the end of the field, Lydia whirled to a stand.  Flip, unaware, entered the woods to the right in the area known as No Man's Land.

    "Judge, permission to send a scout," Jack yelled.

    The judge nodded permission, and Doc cantered into the woods, expecting to find Flip on point.    In days to come, we would relive the nightmare a thousand times. We all heard Flip's rapid barking.  Doc nearly scraped himself off on a pine limb, but got to Flip too late.  White feathers mingled with the falling snow.  Chickens flopped about.

    "Where in hell did these chickens come from?"  Then Doc spotted the fine black plastic netting--the kind used to keep birds off raspberries.  Someone had brought the chickens into the woods and planted them under netting--someone who knew of Flip's hatred of chickens.

    Doc leashed Flip, now completely unwound, and led him back to the field edge.  A murmur spread through the gallery when they saw Flip leashed.  Doc had withdrawn Flip from the contest.
Doc called Jack in with three quick whistle blasts, and he rode up at a canter.

    "What the hell--Flip was winning this trial, Doc.  Why have you leashed him?" Jack shouted in exasperation.  Then he saw the white feathers on Flip's jaws, and he understood.
Jack fitted Flip in a roading harness from his saddle, and we rode slowly in silence behind the gallery.  Doc began to chuckle.

    "Well, boys, we knew it was too good to be true.  Let's go see what Miss Lydia does.  I believe she's got a shot at knocking off Takeover Bill--if the birds keep moving."
The snow suddenly turned to sleet.

    "Uh oh," Doc said, "we're in for it now."

    With thirty-five minutes left in the heat, Lydia had scored nine finds, just one unproductive, and two good backs.

    "With sleet the birds are going to be under the cedar trees, not moving, and it's going to be tough for Lydia to get what she needs in the time she's got left," Doc said.

    A tense hush came over the gallery.  Mud squished beneath horses' hooves, saddle leather squeaked, bit chains rattled faintly, the sleet made a soft, tinkling sound as it struck the freezing ground.  From far ahead came the handler's eerie chant.    Lydia, sensing that birds were no longer out on the edges, dug into the woods.  With five minutes left, she had scored two more perfect finds.  Then she disappeared, and the minutes ticked away.  Everyone knew Lydia would have to be shown to the judges again to win.

    "God, Almighty," Doc said, "it can't end like this."

    The judges looked at their watches.  "There's one minute left in the grace period," one called out.  Lydia's handler could be heard far ahead, calling for Lydia.  It was hopeless now.

    "Point . . . Point" came from across the pasture, three hundred yards east of us.  A hat lifted from the head of a horseman on a paint, barely visible through the pelting sleet.  

    "It's Proud Bear," Doc said.

    Despite the marshal's admonitions, the gallery cantered to the point, close behind the judges, who galloped, contrary to their own rule.  Sure enough, thirty yards into the woods stood Lydia, her dainty white form barely visible in the snow-covered underbrush.

    "I protest," Norman Klensch yelled.  "That dog was found by an unauthorized scout."

    The judges gave him a withering stare.    A judge deputized Jack to handle the find.  Jack flushed and fired, and the little dog stood and watched the birds fly as if she were made of stone.
Roy Blount returned at a canter on his blowing horse at the sound of Jack's shot.  Jack lifted Lydia up to him for the traditional ride to the kennels.  The gallery followed, strangely silent, each rider savoring images from the heat that would be remembered for the rest of a lifetime.

    Norman Klensch called John Proud Bear aside.  While we could not hear Klensch's words, we all knew about what was being said.    Proud Bear turned his horse and cantered to catch up with Jack, and the two rode in together, Flip pulling ahead in his roading harness.

    "You know, Jack, I had nothing to do with that chicken trick."
    "I know that, John.  You didn't have to tell me.  I guess Klensch took his dogs from you, didn't he?" said Jack.
    "No, I sent them back to him first," Proud Bear said grinning.
    "Ladies and gentlemen, the new National Champion is Miss Lydia.”

    As always, the secretary spoke from the front porch of the Ames manor house with the club officials and judges standing beside him.  The gathered crowd--the biggest anyone could remember--let out a roar.
Norman Klensch's black Jaguar sped down Buford Ellington Road, its tires throwing gravel and snow.    Riding in the gallery for Flip’s bid had been the octogenarian Ed Mack Farrior, who cherished more field-trial memories than any living man or woman.  He recalled his father’s bid for the National with the pointer Muscle Shoals’ Jake in 1923, thwarted by Jake’s incurable weakness for livestock—Jake had attacked a flock of goats on the Ames Plantation.  Jake would try to win the National four more times under another hander, but always his blood lust would undo him.    I sure hope they can cure that setter’s passion for chickens, Ed Mack thought.

    When Doc had brought Flip out of the woods on leash, Harry Winston saw the white feathers on the dog's jaws, and a seed of suspicion germinated.  A week before, Harry had sold two dozen white pullets to Levi Scruggs, a reclusive alcoholic who lived in an abandoned shack a mile down the road from Winstons Corner.  Scruggs had paid with crisp new twenty-dollar bills.  At the time Harry thought it odd, for Scruggs usually filled his poultry needs by nocturnal larceny or road kill.  Harry had watched in amusement as Levi had tottered away from the store, the tongue of his Radio Flyer wagon in one hand, the other hand steadying bouncing chicken coops.

    "I'm goin' into the egg business," Levi had said in an obvious lie.

    The day after the National’s close, Doc removed Washington Grimes' cataracts and implanted new lens.  Afterwards, Harry Winston, who had driven Mr. Grimes to Memphis for the surgery, took Doc aside.

    “Wash Grimes is a genius at curing dogs of problems.  He raises all my fox-hound puppies for me, and when we get a young hound that wants to go after deer, we take it to Wash, and he gets the dog true on fox in no time.  Nobody knows how he does it, but he's got a way of making dogs know what's wanted of 'em."

    Mr. Grimes had said to Doc before the surgery,
    "Doctor Bates, if you will leave your setter with me for a little while, I will cure him of killing chickens. "

    When Doc went to Mr. Grimes' cabin next day to check on his eyes a final time, he left Flip behind.  It created the biggest row ever between Jack and Doc.

    "That old man can't break Flip of chicken killing," Jack yelled.  "He doesn't know a thing about bird dogs--he's a hound man, if anything.  Like as not he'll ruin Flip."  But Doc insisted.

    After the National, Jack and I drove home to Greenbrier County.  On the way we stopped at Shiloh Battlefield, and Jack showed me Yankee cannons with "Ames" engraved in the breech--Hobart Ames family, Jack said.  He showed me where his great grandfather had seen action.  We made it home in thirty hours, driving straight through, alternating turns at the wheel.    Two weeks after we got home, Harry Winston called Jack.

    "I'm shipping Flip to you tomorrow," he said.  "Wash Grimes says he's broke of killing chickens."

    Sure enough he was--from then on he ignored barnyard chickens.  We had no idea how Mr. Grimes accomplished it, and Mr. Grimes wouldn’t say.

(to be continued)