Stealing a bird dog, maybe crime does pay
Doctor Dick White was sitting at his usual T-Ville Diner booth and Uncle Evander stopped by his table to chat. Dick was getting on in years now, and I presumed he didn’t see well any more. He’d always had the well-shaved and well-scrubbed look of a wealthy man, but now, his shave had missed some spots where he had wrinkles. There were white whiskers in the creases of his face and his hair didn’t look quite perfect the way I remembered him from years before. I went on to the far end of the lunch counter and sat where we usually sat, waiting for Evander to finish talking to him.
“I don’t know why you always make over that old guy,” I said when Evander sat on his stool. “He always calls you “Pritchert” and talks down to you like you’re just a kid. He acts like he owns the world.”
Evander frowned and looked annoyed, the same way he looked when I backlashed one of his reels or made a scratch on a nice shotgun of his. “I’ve spent twelve years on you and you’re no smarter than you were when you were ten years old,” he grumbled. “When did we stop respecting someone just because they don’t act like us?”
Evander was right, but what I said was true. Doctor Dick always acted superior. He talked about his trips to Africa; he showed off his high grade Parker and Boss shotguns; his boat was nicer than anyone else’s and he always drove a new truck. He talked about tying his own flies, and wing-bone turkey calls that were 75 years old and he seemed to believe that expensive stuff should impress people. I thought he had an elevated opinion of himself and it frustrated me that he acted superior to Evander who could shoot better, caught more fish, and never bragged in a serious way.
“He may be a bit pretentious, but his heart’s in the right place,” Evander leaned in and looked serious. “Besides, I treated him badly when I was a boy and he treated me well. I think I kind of owe him.” There was a certain look on Evander Pritchart’s face when he was going to tell a serious story. I knew this was a serious one.
It was an amazing tale, and I was surprised to have some insight into my uncle when he was a young man. I began to think maybe there was hope for me when I learned what a sneaky and low down thing he’d done to poor old Doctor Dick and realized why he felt guilty.
It seems that when Evander was about 12 years old, Doctor Dick had taken young Evander bird hunting. Evander’s family, like most of mine, didn’t put emphasis on hunting unless it was to put food on the table and they’d have scoffed at training a dog to hunt birds and shooting at quail when they were flying. Doctor Dick was a neighbor, and he invited young Evander to go with him on a Saturday morning hunt. Doctor Dick had a great old pointer named Belle, and she was a heck of a bird dog.
Evander was fascinated with the whole process of bird hunting, and he actually hit some birds. Doctor Dick made over him and after the hunt when they stopped at the store for a Coca Cola and some peanuts, he told everyone at the store about how Evander was his quail hunting protégé, a word Evander had to look up in the dictionary once he got home.
Evander really enjoyed the quail hunting but he didn’t get to go as much as he wanted because Dick worked a lot of Saturdays. Being a doctor in those days was different from now. Doctors made house calls and often worked late and on Saturdays. Sometimes their supper was interrupted, but it came with the territory.
In desperation, Evander decided to try quail hunting on his own, without the dog, and he invited his school friend, Joe Clodfelter, to go with him. They took shotguns and walked over the same ground where Doctor Dick had taken Evander but didn’t find a single bird. They made a big loop and their hunt carried them past the back side of Doctor Dick’s place. As they covered the field, old Belle was raising cane in her kennel; she saw the guns and knew what they were doing.
Young Evander came up with an idea. He slipped up to the kennel and let Belle out. She instantly began covering the field and locked up in the broom sedge, on point, at the edge of the woods, not twenty yards from where the boys had walked. They looked at each other in disbelief and walked back to where she was. They waded in, and the birds flushed. They shot five times and only got one bird, but when Evander told her to fetch it up like he’d seen Doctor Dick do, she took off like a rocket and brought it right back. He patted her head and she took off for the singles.
The boys hunted about three more hours, and wound up with five birds. They’d have gotten a lot more if their shooting had been better, but they realized the value of a good bird dog. When they took Belle back to put her in the kennel, Doctor Dick was cleaning up around the barn where the kennel was. They were busted.
Evander always had a sharp mind, though, and he instantly thought up a story. “Doctor Dick, we found Belle wandering out behind Jim Loggins’ place and I figured she got out of her lot. We know how much she means to you, and we came by to bring her back.”
Doctor Dick looked pleased, he smiled broadly. “Boys, that’s a fine thing you did. I know it’s a long walk from Jim Loggins’ place and I want to give you something. Here’s a dollar apiece for your trouble.”
The boys walked off fast after thanking him and when they were out of earshot, they both snickered at their wit. To think they had “borrowed” old Belle, had a great hunt, and got paid off, to boot; it was just too much.
At this point, I broke in. “I can’t believe you did that,” I said. “What if something would have happened to that dog?”
Evander looked ashamed. “That’s not the worst of it; we did it a bunch of times, and most of the time, the old coot would see us bring her back and give us another dollar. It was like he was watching for us. I still feel guilty, but I just don’t have the sand to tell old Dick how we flimflammed him.”
About that time I sensed a presence and as I turned my head slightly, I saw old Doctor Dick standing there, white whiskers and all. He had a particular tortured look on his face and as I realized he was there, Uncle Evander did at the same time.
When Dick saw the shock on Evander’s face when he realized the cat was out of the bag, he guffawed and laughed so hard, I thought the old man would have a heart attack.
“You boys cracked me up,” he laughed. You and Joe would come and “borrow” Belle on the mornings I was working and I didn’t mind at all. You did a great job and I knew you’d take good care of her. I knew what you were doing from the get-go. She needed to hunt to stay sharp and I was working. I was glad you were taking her.
Evander was white as a ghost and his mouth was open. “Then why did you always give us a dollar for bringing her back?” he stammered.
Dick’s face turned dead calm. “Cause I was afraid you boys might not have enough money for shotgun shells.” While we stood there dumbfounded, Doctor Dick picked up our check and headed for the cash register. Over his shoulder he said, “Lunch is on me today, Pritchart. You gave me more fun today than I’ve had in a year.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org