What surprise does Billy find when his father and the judge push the hollow box elder down in Where the Red Fern Grows?

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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When Billy's father and the judge push the hollow box elder down, they discover three big coons which roll out of the broken old trunk. With their hiding place destroyed, the coons each head off in different directions; Old Dan catches one and Little Ann nabs another, while the third coon climbs up a steep bank close to Billy. Although he falls from the top of the bank and goes after Billy when the boy throws a stick at him, the coon eventually tries to get away again, and temporarily makes it, over the bank and into the thick cane.

When hunters arrive, they are stunned to hear that there are three coons holed up in one tree. Upon examining the inside of the hollow box elder, they discover that it is half-full of leaves and grass, "a regular old den tree." One of the men remembers a similar occurrence, over in the Red River bottoms, when four coons were found by two beagles in an old hollow snag.

When Old Dan and Little Ann have each dispatched a coon, they take off after the third one and refuse to give up on it, even though they are almost frozen in the wake of a fierce blizzard. Everyone is amazed that they have stayed with their prey so tenaciously, and some wonder if they somehow sense that they need to get one more coon for Billy for him to win the prize. Mr. Kyle thinks it is more than that; he believes that the hounds sacrifice themselves just because of their love for Billy, "the deepest kind of love" (Chapter 18).

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