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The Long Journey Home

Part 3

Danny Bardwell | https://gundogcentral.com/contributors | All Hunting Articles
Posted 04/14/2024




Belle’s favorite pastime time lately, was to become perfectly still, and at the most opportune time snap and catch one of the deer flies that tormented her. That’s what her life had become. She hadn’t known freedom for a year now and her spirit was weak, waning, nearly broken. She had plenty to eat, that wasn’t a problem. Brown Man brought meat scraps to her, and he kept her water clean too. But her whole world lay within the radius of the chain she was shackled to. She had grown to accept the chain, but not willingly. After a while she learned it best to not dream of home and Randall. She rested solely in the fact that Pup was growing strong, and that Brown Man was not a cruel man.

One morning in late January, like many mornings before, Belle and Pup lifted their heads toward the whine and stutter of Brown Man’s jeep in the distance. They listened as the sound drew closer. They heard the jeep stop for a few moments at the gate and then continued to listen as the the noise of the Jeep made its way through the ravine and dry creek bed, and eventually to where the two dogs were hidden.

This morning, however, would be different. Brown Man was not alone. Belle sat up and spied the difference. The new man had a leash in his hand and a collar. This could not be good thought Belle. She rushed to the end of her chain, and though she knew the exact limits of her new world, the length of chain came quickly and threw Belle over onto her back. Pup sensed a newness too. He slunk back under the trailer and peered out as Belle, leaning into her chain, growled at the two men approaching.

Then Brown Man spoke. “Esta bien madre. ningún mal te sucederá si estás conmigo.” Belle relaxed from her chain. Brown Man can be trusted. She dipped her head and lowered her tail slightly, submitting her and Pup’s future into his hands.

There was a kindred spirit between them, for Brown Man’s spirit had once been broken too. It was against his nature to keep Belle chained for all those months, and it hurt him. But he had been broken badly, not daring to disobey and unchain Belle. He, like Belle, took his only solace in Pup, in Pup’s youth and in his exuberance, and ambition. He sought the joy Pup brought him every day. Brown Man’s spirit was healing, but it was not healed, and Belle knew this.

When the new man spoke, Belle realized he wasn’t a new man at all. He was the same man Belle had heard the first night she arrived with Ben Pruitt. The man who beat against the trailer, and who’s voice she had heard, an evil man. Belle knew she must be on guard. “Put this collar on the pup and take ‘em both to up to Guymon. Have the vet look at her. If she can’t have pups, get rid of her. Preston dudn’t want any sign of her. You sabe? And take the pup on up to the camp. If he’s as good as you say he is, you might make a few pesos. You sabe?”

With that, Brown Man took the leash from the man’s hand and snapped it to Belle’s collar. He led Belle to the edge of the trailer and reached to Pup with his free hand. “Todo estará bien mi pequeño hombre. ven conmigo.”

Pup timidly came from under the trailer, and Brown Man deftly placed the new collar around Pup’s neck. Pup followed Brown Man and Belle to the jeep. Brown Man lifted Pup up and into an open dog box. He shut the thin door and Pup coiled up, resolved to follow Brown Man and Belle anywhere. After Pup was stowed, Brown Man lifted Belle to the tailgate of the jeep. He unsnapped the leash, which left Belle unshackled for the first time in over a year. She looked eastward out across the open prairie and sensed she had begun her long journey home.

Brown Man wheeled the jeep to behind the vet’s office in Guymon. He parked in the shade for Pup’s benefit and then led Belle to the rear door of the office. It was well after regular office hours, but Preston’s crew did not sit in lobbies. Brown Man knocked a time or two and the door was opened by the vet, who glanced instinctively around the back lot to make sure Brown Man wasn’t being followed. “Bring her in here,” the vet said, pointing to an examining room. The examination didn’t take long. An ultrasound showed scars from the strenuous birthing Belle had endured. “No, nope, nope. Tell Preston she’s done as a brood bitch. Want me to put her down?”

Belle knew Brown Man wasn’t healed, but Brown Man did not realize it until then. As Brown Man stood there, scars from many years ago began to stretch and tear. Brown Man had been kneaded into shape by hard evil men. Before he made the decision, Brown Man’s mind recoiled to how his captors dealt with those who didn’t follow orders. He knew his answer to the vet was supposed to be, “si”. But the remnants of the scars that refused to heal, those intestinal muscles of basic goodness, and of right and of courage began to acutely pain him. With all the strength he could summon, using those damaged muscles for the first time in years, he whispered. “No, Senor.”

Brown Man snapped the leash to Belle and the pair quickly made their way out of the office to the jeep. At the jeep, Brown Man was writhing in fright and pain. Those muscles were screaming, trying to heal. Brown Man surreally, but instinctively bent over and unsnapped the leash. He opened the door and motioned toward the seats. Belle jumped into the front seat of the Jeep and the trio sped away. With that, and with whatever else may happen, Brown Man knew he was healed, and Belle knew she had been rescued.

Randall had suspected Ben Pruitt when he didn’t show at Bent Pine until several weeks after Belle had disappeared. He showed up in late February to ask if Randall had heard who had won the National at Ames. It was a question Ben Pruitt could have had answered at a dozen other places and from a dozen other people, people and places a lot closer than the forty-five minutes he had taken drive to Bent Pine.

“How you doing Mister Randall?” Ben Pruitt asked out of the window of his pick-up truck. Ben Pruitt talked nervously, not stopping for answers. “Just passing by, thought I’d stop in and see you. Didn’t see you at Ames last week. Did you hear who won? Heard you lost Belle. What you reckon happened to her?” Ben Pruitt knew he would get a nice gratuity from Preston for that answer.

But he didn’t get an answer. What he got instead was a question. “Hello, Ben. Not sure where she’s at. Where’d you get all this yellow mud on your fenders?”

“Oh, must have picked it up at Ames. Well, I better be getting on. Good luck on finding Belle. She sure is a good one.”

Randall’s suspicions only grew. There was no yellow clay at Ames. If Ben was at Ames last week, he would have known who won. It ended on Monday of that very week. And while everyone else Randall had spoken to mentioned Belle in the past tense, only Ben Pruitt mentioned her in the present. No, Ben Pruitt didn’t ring true to Randall.

But for a year, Randall couldn’t make his suspicions come to fruition. He made visits to kennels around the country. He spoke with trainers and owners alike to no avail. Months passed, conversations and visits weakened in content and strengthened in doubt that Belle would ever be found.

In late January, over a year after Belle was taken, Randall made a visit to Preston’s kennel near Guymon. That almost fell flat too. Randall walked the rows and rows of pens talking with Butch Crow, Preston’s head trainer. “No, sir, Mister Randall, we ain’t seen nothing of her out here. Mister Preston dudn’t allow no outside dogs here. We breed all our own.” The conversation ended innocuously enough. “We s‘posed to be going to Ames in a few weeks. I’ll keep my eyes open.”

It was Randall’s ride back down through Abilene that turned the tide. Randall stopped at dusk to gas up and get a room for the night. The next morning Randall had breakfast at a café full of local ranchers. As Randall was leaving, he noticed yellow mud on all of the fenders parked in the lot. At that moment all of the pieces fell into place.


Epilogue



This story doesn’t end with the details of how Randall and Belle were reunited. That Brown Man hid out for three weeks until showing up at the National is minutia. That Belle barked from a box when she heard the voice of Randall passing by, and that Randall recognized it are unnecessary details. One needn’t know how Randall pressed Ben Pruitt into a confession, and that the confession was the beginning of the downfall of William Preston. This story could end with the testimony of Brown Man telling about his family and twenty-six others suffocating in a PPC storage container. If that were the ending, one would have to tell of how being the only survivor, Brown Man, disclosed the grave site sending all involved to prison, all more needless detail.

Instead, this story ends with victory. Most would say it ends a couple years later, on the steps of the main house at Ames, at the trial Belle never won, with Belle and Randall posing behind the winning handler and his National Champion. Two lone survivors, they’d be called, Brown Man and Pup.

But I’d rather say this story comes to rest several years later. Comes to rest in the barn lot with oak and beech leaves drifting down in a fall breeze, and Belle rising from under her rail to look far out across the long bottom. Satisfied, she lies back down after catching a glimpse of Brown Man and Pup coming home.
 


About the Author : Danny Bardwell
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Danny Bardwell is a construction superintendent who builds large commercial buildings in the Baton Rouge / New Orleans area. For peace of mind and escape from the stress of building, Danny raises and trains pointers with his thirteen year old grandson, Lane.

Danny is a story teller at heart, and often when relaxing he is inspired by some little event or phrase. Lane appears in most of Danny's stories. His stories have appeared in local publication as well as national circulations such as Sporting Classics Magazine.

 
 


About the Artist : Kate Hall
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Kate Hall is an outdoor artist who resides on an Angus cattle farm in Tennessee, where she began hunting at an early age. During her 13 years as a flight attendant, Kate visited 27 countries and all 50 states. She now spends her time traveling across the country in search of rising trout and upland birds with her husband and their English Setter. In his first two seasons they hunted on public lands in MT, KS, SC, AL, NC, KY and TN for quail, ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse, woodcock, pheasant, prairie chickens, and hungarian partridge. Upland hunting has enriched Kate's life and influences much of her colored pencil work.

 
 

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The Long Journey Home

Posted on Wednesday 31st December 1969 06:00:00 PM

It would have been different had Belle been at home. She would have found a safe warm spot near the hay loft. Randall would have looked in on her throughout the day, more than likely bringing her bits of leftover bacon and biscuits and making sure the pups had a clean place to be whelped. She was royalty at Bent Pine and didn’t kennel with the other dogs. She had the run of the plantation. Her favorite place to lie, be it summer or winter, was under the rail fence of the barn lot. There, she was shaded in the summer by huge spreading oak and beech trees. In the winter she was warmed by the sun shining through those same trees then leafless and unable to fend off the warm welcomed rays. She laid under the bottom rail that was positioned just right to offer a scratch to her long back whenever she chose to do so. It was perfect. The spot seemingly offered a respite, though actual work didn’t exist for Belle. Maybe she enjoyed the spot for reflection, that now, she had aplenty. From her favorite spot she could view anything approaching the main house, as well as view over a mile of cleared bottomland, a bottom that stretched eastward to the Black Warrior River and south for three miles farther than Belle could see from the rails even on a clear day.

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THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

Posted on Wednesday 31st December 1969 06:00:00 PM

‘Why’, is a man question, not a dog question. Whether hate, or malice, or greed, or power, was someone’s motive for her circumstances mattered not to Belle. ‘What’ mattered to Belle. What could she do for her pup? ‘Who’ mattered also. Who could she trust, and who could she not trust? ‘Where’ mattered too. Where was she, and where was home? She sensed ‘When’ was important also, but she’d have to bide her time for now.

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