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In Chapter 1 of Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy Coleman comes across a dogfight on his way home from the office one spring day. From where he stands, he is amazed when the underdog, an old redbone hound, fiercely fights his way through the throng of attacking dogs. The hound takes refuge under a hedge.
Resolved to help the unfortunate hound, Billy takes off his coat, swings it at the dogs, and yells loudly at all of them. After the dogs disperse, Billy gently tries to coax the wounded hound from his hiding place. Billy is almost moved to tears when he sees that the dog's body exhibits obvious signs of starvation. As he examines the hound's paws, he realizes that the dog has probably traveled quite a distance. Billy takes the hound home and bathes him. Satisfied, he gives the hound milk to drink and meat to eat.
The next evening, the hound is ready to be on his way again. Billy willingly lets the dog go; he reasons that it would be a great cruelty to tie up the dog in his yard. The dog would likely lose his spirit and the will to live if he did such a thing. As the dog walks away from him, Billy feels a strange happiness. He decides to leave the gate unlocked in case the hound ever comes back.
Billy goes back into the house, builds a fire, pulls out his rocker, and lights a pipe. As he does so, he notices the two special cups on the mantle. He gets up and takes the cups down. As he caresses the smooth surfaces of the cups, he starts to reminisce about the story behind those two special cups. This last action leads us into Chapter 2, where Billy starts telling his story.
Billy doesn't say much in the first chapter; when he does, most of his words are directed at the hound. He speaks his first words to the hound when he tries to coax the dog to come out from his hiding place under the hedge. Billy invites the hound to head home with him for something to eat. Later, when the hound appears to be getting restless, Billy tells the dog that he understands his desire to be on his way again.
When the hound is ready to leave, he thanks Billy with a wag of his tail. Billy quietly tells him that he could have stayed as long as he wanted to. His last words to the dog are
Goodbye, old fellow. Good luck, and good hunting!
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