The Baxter family consists of Penny Baxter, his plump wife, Ora, and their son, Jody. They live in a simple cabin in the Florida scrub country, where patient, hardworking Penny ekes out a meager living by farming and hunting. Young Jody still sees life through the eyes of a child and finds a boy’s pleasure in building a flutter mill (a water wheel) at the spring when he should have been hoeing the garden patch.
One spring morning, the family discovers that Betsy, their black brood sow, has been killed by a bear. Penny recognizes the tracks as those of Old Slewfoot, a giant black bear with one toe missing. Determined to be rid of this offender, he corners the animal in the scrub, but his old gun will not fire, and the bear escapes.
Unable to afford a new gun, Penny trades a worthless dog to his neighbors, the Forresters, for a new double-barreled shotgun of fine make. The Forrester family consists of the old parents, six gigantic, lawless boys, and Fodder-Wing, a deformed and disabled boy who is Jody’s best friend. Penny is reluctant to dupe his neighbors, but his very living depends on the destruction of Old Slewfoot. He eases his conscience by telling the Forrester boys truthfully that the dog cannot be trained for hunting. His words convince the suspicious Forresters that the dog is even more valuable than they had thought, and they insist on the trade.
After his father’s old gun is repaired, it becomes Jody’s great pride. One day, while hunting with his father, he shoots a buck, and Penny sells the venison at the store in Volusia. Afterward, Penny and Jody go to see Grandma Hutto, at whose house they spend the night. In the morning, everyone is made glad by the unexpected arrival of Oliver Hutto, Grandma’s son, just home from the sea. Later that day, Oliver goes downtown, where he meets Lem Forrester. Both of the men have been courting the same girl, Twink Weatherby. When the two start to fight, all of Lem’s brothers join in against Oliver. Wiry Penny and small Jody also enter the fight with Oliver, because the odds against him are so heavy. Jody is knocked unconscious, and Oliver leaves the fight badly battered. To keep people from talking, Twink leaves town on the riverboat the next morning.
A short time later, Penny discovers that his hogs have disappeared. He suspects the Forresters of having trapped them to get revenge for the shotgun deal, and he and Jody start to track the hogs. During the search, a rattlesnake bites Penny on the arm. He saves himself by shooting a doe and applying the animal’s liver to the bite to draw out the poison. Even in the excitement, Jody notices that the doe has a fawn. While Penny staggers homeward, Jody goes to the Forresters to ask them to ride and fetch Doc Wilson.
The Forresters, with the exception of Lem, evidently hold no grudge over the trading of the dog and the fight in town, and they do all they can for the Baxters. One of the boys brings Doc Wilson to the Baxters’ cabin, and later...
(The entire section is 1228 words.)