Where The Red Fern Grows: Chapter 13,14
Summary – Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen
The tree is a ‘huge bur oak’ and is ‘rather low and squatty’. The Pritchards say it will not be in there, but Billy climbs it anyway.
He comes down when he cannot find it and tells Old Dan to stop his bawling. He looks for Little Ann and finds her ‘far up the old fence row’. He knows she must have found the coon’s trail. She then comes to Billy and Rubin leers and asks if he has given up. He replies that he will give up when his dogs do. He goes back up the tree and says he will pay up if he cannot find it this time. He comes down and pays them the two dollars as he still has not found it.
However, just before he leaves the wind blows and Little Ann whines. He realizes she is only able to catch the scent when this happens. She walks to the large gate post and ‘bawled the most beautiful tree bark I ever heard in my life’.
He climbs up the post and sees it is hollow. He uses a long Jimson weed as a prod and the coon comes out of the gap and hits the ground. It fights for its life with the dogs and manages to reach the tree. It makes a mournful sound and something comes over Billy and he says he no longer wants to kill it.
Rubin says he is going up the tree to bring the coon down and tells Billy he will beat him ‘half to death’ if he stops his dogs from killing it. Just as he starts to climb the tree, they hear something come in the darkness. It is the Pritchards’ large blue tick hound. Rubin says it makes no difference what Billy thinks now as his dog will kill the coon.
Billy does not want to see the coon die, though, and tells Rubin to give him his money back and he will leave. The brothers disagree and say he should have killed the coon to win the bet, but Billy says he only bet that he would ‘tree’ it. Rubin continues to refuse to re-pay him and asks threateningly what he will do about it. Billy is frightened and turns to go, and then reminds them what his grandfather said he would do.
Rubin attacks him and pins him down, and lets him know that if he tells on them he will find him one night when he is hunting and take his knife to him. They hear their dogs fighting and Rubin lets go of him when Rainie says ‘they’ are killing Old Blue (which is their dog).
Rubin takes hold of Billy’s ax and says he will kill them. He trips as he approaches them, but when Billy reaches the dogs he sees Old Blue is ‘almost gone’ by now. He pulls Old Dan off, but Little Ann has locked her jaws on the dog’s throat. He prises her mouth open and moves them both away.
He looks round to Rubin and sees he is still laid on the floor. He notices his body is bent in a ‘U’ shape and he ties the dogs up and goes to him. Rainie is paralyzed with fright and his face is as white as chalk. When Billy touches him, he screams and runs off. Billy now sees that Rubin has fallen on the ax and it has sunk into his stomach. He hears Rubin whisper for him to remove it. He does so and blood gushes from the wound. Rubin moves as if to get up, but falls to the ground and Billy knows he has died at this point. He leads the dogs away and sees the bright eyes of the ‘ghost coon’ in the tree.
At home, he tells his parents everything. His mother cries and his father says he will fetch Grandpa as he has authority to move the body. He tells Billy to fetch Old Man Lowery and the Bufords too and to tell them to meet him at his grandfather’s place.
His father is away until late into the next afternoon and when he returns he explains that the Pritchards now have Rubin’s body and they will bury him in the graveyard on their land. They also say they do not want to bother people about them coming to the funeral.H
After Rubin’s death, Billy has nightmares and no longer feels like hunting. He tells his mother that he wants to do something, but does not know what. She says she feels the same, and explains that there are many families like the Pritchards and she describes them as living ‘in little worlds of their own’. Because of this, they do not like outside interference of any kind.
Back in his room he remembers he has some home-made floral decorations his sisters had made. He takes these to the Pritchards’ place and leaves them on Rubin’s grave. Mrs Pritchard notices the flowers and he sees from a distance that she wipes her eyes. He feels better for paying his respects.
In Chapter Fourteen, Billy’s grandfather sends for him a few days later and Billy pays a visit the next day. His grandfather wants him to talk about how Rubin died and when he does so his grandfather apologizes for what he describes as letting those boys get under his skin. He also tells Billy to never blame himself and to try to forget about it.
He goes on to tell Billy that he wanted to see him for another reason too. He shows him a newspaper notice that says, ‘Championship Coon Hunt to be Held’. His grandfather is excited and explains he has been working on this for months. He has also been keeping a record of all the coons his dogs have caught and says their catch is ‘up there’ with the best of them. He has paid the entry fee and everything is fixed. All they have to do now is take part.
Grandpa explains further that it is due to start in six days time and they have to leave the day before it starts to reach it in time. He says he will take them there in his buggy and tells him to ask his father if he wants to come too.
Billy tells his family about the hunt when he goes home and at first his father is reluctant to accompany him. His mother says she will be fine for months yet and only then does Billy notice that she is pregnant. He feels guilty for not realizing this before now and puts his arms around her. Finally, his father agrees to come too and Billy’s youngest sister asks if she can have the gold cup (if he wins). He promises faithfully that he will do as she asks.
On the day of setting off, Billy, the dogs and his father reach the store and Billy notices his ax is in the buggy. His grandfather watches for his response when he says they might need it. Billy agrees and says there is no use in throwing it away. The chapter ends with their departure.
Analysis – Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen
The violence that permeates this novel comes to a head with the death of Rubin. The hunting scenes and the capture and killing of coons has been a central concern of Billy’s and is a naturalized part of his life and those around them. The death of Rubin is admittedly accidental, but is also in some ways unexpected as death and murder and the cutting short of lives underpins this work.
Billy’s acceptance of this death is made clear when he agrees to enter the championship coon hunt. Although he has been attributed with some regret at the death of Rubin, it is nevertheless passed over relatively quickly as Billy’s story moves on to its next instalment.