Rascal: A Dog and His Boy
Rascal may be the happiest beagle ever to live. He used to live on Voclain’s Farm, with its whole jambalaya of dogs, but now he lives with his very own boy, Meely. Together they explore the Louisiana bayou, bunny chasin’, coon and squirrel huntin’, and crawfishin’. But when Meely gets stuck on a rotting bridge deep in the bayou, it’s up to Rascal—with a little help from his old friends at the farm—to save his boy from danger.
In the spirit of Huckleberry Finn, Rascal is a classic coming-of-age story, but from a dog’s perspective. With unforgettable characters, heart-stopping action, and charming black-and-white line drawings that capture it all, this zesty gumbo of a book is one to savor long after it is finished.
An Excerpt fromRascal: A Dog and His Boy
My name is Rascal, and the boy I got says I might be the happiest dog that God ever let live. Maybe I am! I used to live up at Voclain's Farm, but I don't no more and I'm glad I don't. Nonc Noon Voclain gave me away. He don't miss me. I chased his chickens, though I never caught one, and he chased me for chasin' 'em. He ain't too spry, Nonc, so he never caught me, though Tante Lo-Lo, his wife, once swiped me with the broom bristle. Some dogs woulda run off mad or scared, but I just run off laughin'. I'm a sweet dog. I am. I don't think I got the bite in me. Even for them rabbits I chase. But oh boy, do I chase 'em! Anyway, I wadn't the onliest dog around. Nonc's got him beaucoup dogs, a whole jambalaya of dogs, but he ain't so good at dogs. Me, I'm still just a pup, and I already know Nonc ain't no real dog man. Not like the boy I got me now. He's a real dog boy. He smells good. He knows what a dog's about. See, Nonc would feed us on slops he picks up from the schoolhouse and chicken bones and leftovers from the gumbo pot, and them turnips that he won't eat, no matter how many different ways Tante Lo-Lo fixes 'em. Now, a dog will eat most anything and be glad he ate it, but turnips? I'm with Nonc on that one. And if you get them chicken bones crossways in your throat, uhn-uhn. Uhn-uhn! Momma, 'fore she got run over on the shell road by that sugarcane truck, said, "You watch them bones, Rascal!" Problem is, a dog, when he's hungry, don't watch nuttin'. Ole Babette Redbone choked on a chicken bone last winter. The dogs said she danced 'round in a big circle with her eyes all bugged out, and then she run smack into the cistern post and died. Sad! Nonc did throw her a nice dog funeral, though. He even got the priest to come sprinkle water on the grave--I'm not lyin'. 'Course, she'd chased a lotta coons for that man. What he did was only right. Tante Lo-Lo, she fixes her gumbo heavy with cayenne pepper, and ain't a dog and pepper ever got along. Even Nonc gets red-faced after he eats that gumbo. He runs around the backyard fannin' hisself with his hands, pantin' and yellin', "Lawd, 'Ti' Claude,woman, you catchin' me a heart attack wit' that pepper! Ai-yi-yi!" You'd think he'd stop eatin' that gumbo, but there's no accountin' for people and the things they do. Anyway, a dog pretty much eats what's there, and there's a lot of leftover gumbo around Voclain's Farm. But after you eat it, you either barkin' all night or you eatin' grass all the next day. A dog don't eat grass 'cause he likes it. The onliest one who don't bark is Tubby LeBasset. He's about the onliest dog who don't get the gripe after eatin' Tante's leftovers. He's got a stomach hard as a black-iron syrup pot. He once drug a dead muskrat in the yard that had laid in the bayou fora couple of days. The garfish had already chewed on it and spit it out. The turtles--same thing. Wouldn't no other dog come close to it but Tubby; him, he ate on it all day, gnawed it down to the bones, then gnawed the bones down to nub. After he was done, he licked hisself proud and satisfied all over. When the buzzards come in the yard to get the rest, they didn't even get a snack. You ever seen anything uglier than a buzzard? I ain't. Now that I've moved away to my boy, who stays at Miz Henrietta's place, I miss Tubby, just like I miss Momma. I miss a lot of the dogs, and that big ole cat. But a dog ain't never gonna spend too much time bein' sad and lonesome. That ain't what a dog'sabout. A dog's about runnin' and chasin' and eatin' and barkin'. And love, love, love! The other thing about Tubby is that he's about the on?liest dog in the Voclain yard who ain't afraid of Big Maw. Tubby's too fat to be afraid of nuttin', I guess. Fattest beagle on this bayou, Nonc says. Maybe in Loosiana. Nonc says Tubby ain't worth nuttin' chasin' rabbits, and it's true he don't muss hisself up runnin' hard, though he can smell up them rabbits good as the next beagle. Nonc says he keeps Tubby 'cause Tubby's purebred--he got pure blood--and he wants himto spread that pure blood around. He bought Tubby from somethin' called a kennel way up in Tennessee and paid good money for him bein' purebred. Tubby's blood is so pure it's registered someplace. Tubby come in a fancy crate on the Greyhound bus, everybody says. He ain't no low-down Cajun bayou dog sneakin' in from the junkyard. He talks funny, he does. Twangy and such. He says "howdy" and "gosh durn." Tubby does like them lady dogs. Now and then, Nonc puts Tubby in a chicken wire pen with them lady dogs and they go rasslin' 'round. They carry on like they're havin' fun. I 'spect they are! I seen him and Momma in there one time. Momma told me Tubby is my daddy, though Tubby ain't ever said such to me. Maybe he don't know it. A pup is always closer to his momma than his daddy anyway. But he likes me. He woulda give me some of that muskrat he dragged in the yard had I wanted some. I said no thank you. I was startin' to tell you 'bout Big Maw. Even Bon-Bon and Mamou, them long-legged deer dogs, don't mess with Big Maw. Of course, them dogs don't have nuttin' to do with nobody, much less some mean ole cat. What is it about long-legged deer dogs that make 'em so stuck-up, ehn? OK, they can run fast, true, and they bark loud and deep as a tugboat horn. But have they actually ever caught a deer? No, same as I ain't never caught a rabbit. Now, I don't wanna really catch me no rabbit. But I think they really wanna catch a deer, and they always mad that they ain't caught one yet. Nonc goes out with Bon-Bon and Mamou, and he shoots at them deer while them hounds go runnin' and barkin' their fool heads off and scarin' the gumbo out of them poor deer. But Nonc ain't never caught him no deer, neither. He don't see good, Tante says. She says, "You blind as a baby possum, Noon! Only way you'll ever shoot a deer is if you give the gun to the deer and let 'em shoot their fool selves!" Nonc says, "I'm not blind, woman! I see good as the next man!" She says, "That's if the next man is a blind man! Get you some huntin' glasses, beb!" He says, "Like I tole you, woman, God ain't never gonna catch me in no huntin' glasses!" She says, "Well, then God ain't never gonna catch you wit' no deer, neither! Catch me some venison, cher!" Maybe Bon-Bon and Mamou are stuck-up 'cause Nonc don't feed 'em leftovers. He goes to town and buys 'em that store-bought food that comes in a burlap sack and smells like warm chickens when you mix it with water. Even Tubby don't get such food, even thoughhe's got pure blood. Them deer dogs stand over in the shade of the big oak tree and eat that store-bought food like they at the kitchen table, serious. Don't ax for a bite--they'll bite you. Funny thing about Big Maw--me and that lady get along. She'd tore up five or six dogs already before I was ever born. Gonna tear up a few more, I 'spect. I run into her before I knew I was s'posed to be scared. Momma never told me not to go over there. I have four brothers and two sisters, and Momma was tired all the time, feedin' and runnin' around after everybody. I could go where I pretty much wantedto. Big Maw lives out in Nonc Noon's barn raisin' her babies and givin' them rats a fit. Well, she used to give them rats a fit. Till she ate 'em all. Everybody thinks rats are smart, but I'm not so shore. Every rat on this bayou knows 'bout Big Maw, but a few still come sneakin' 'round tryin' to move into the barn. I don't really blame 'em. The barn's nice. All the dogs say it's a shame the cats havetook it over 'cause it's dark and cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A dog could be real happy sleepin' in the shade in the hot weather or snugglin' up in all that hay in the cold. Ain't no house dogs on Voclain's Farm. Most everybody else sleeps under the long front porch. One day, after I'd met Big Maw, I saw a young rat sneakin' along Nonc's fence line. I said, "Where you goin'?" "The barn." "I wouldn't if I was you--bad ole cat in there." He looked at me crossways. He said, "As if I'd listen to a dog." See what I mean about rats? I was just tryin' to help the fella out. I didn't say nuttin' back. He got ate the next day. I saw Big Maw chewin' on him myself, her and her babies. His tail was stickin' out of a kitten's mouth. I couldn't feel too bad about it, neither. Before I knew about Maw, I went in the barn one day 'cause a dog wants to go everyplace sooner or later. It ain't just cats that are curious. I saw them kittens and I didn't mind. Kittens smell good, too. I smelled them and they smelled me. We were smellin' away. Rubbin', too. Oh yeah! Next thing I know there's this cat just lookin' down at me from a bale of hay. Big ole cat. Way bigger'n me. Biggest cat you'll ever see. Gray and white. Whiskers like a broom bristle. She had scary yellow eyes, big as egg yolks. She said, "No dogs allowed in this barn." "Uh, I didn't know that." She said, "Who's your momma?" "Blanche Naquin. She come from Naquin's Farm down the bayou." She said, "Well, she ain't the worst dog." "No, ma'am, she ain't." "Now, look at you--polite." "Yes, ma'am." She said, "What you think of cats?" I said, "I guess I don't mind 'em, what I know of 'em. I don't know much yet." She said, "Hah, most dogs don't know much, ever!" She said, "What cats smell like?" I said, "They smell some like dogs, and a bit like flowers." "Mee-oww!" she said. "Listen to you!" She looked at me good, but them big ole yellow eyes went soft. "OK, you can play wit' my kitties, but no rough stuff. I know how you dogs are. And don't come over here too often 'cause I don't want them other dogs to think Maw's got soft." "No, ma'am." She said, "I'll be watchin' you good. I got these." She showed me her claws. They was big and sharp. "And these." She showed me her teeth. They was white and pointy, though one was broke off. She saw that I noticed that. "Oh, that one. That one's in a dog someplace." She said, "You know, all dogs turn out bad sooner or later." I said, "Uhn-uhn, that's not what Momma says." She looked at me cockeyed and said, "What is it your momma says?" "She says I gotta grow up to be a good dog." Big Maw smiled the way cats do. "You'd be the first one," she said. I said, "What about Tubby LeBasset? He's got pure blood." "Shuh, him? He act high-tone but he's a lazy good-for-nuttin', is what he is. Well, maybe he's funny. I might give him that much. He might not be the worst dog, neither." I didn't tell her she was talkin' 'bout my daddy. I played for a while, me and two of them li'l cats. Boozoo and Doopsie, they're called. We run and rolled around. They scratched me some, but I didn't bite 'em, not even playful. Not with that lady watchin' me. Boozoo bit my ear twice, but not hard. Doopsie bit my tail, same way. I didn't mind. I like rasslin'. Cats, dogs, don't matter. I might even rassle a rabbit if a rabbit would sit still long enough. I guess I wouldn't rassle no possum. Or a coon. The dogs say possums stink, plus they fall over dead if you look at 'em crossways. What fun is that? And coons rassle dirty. Coons will roll over and razor up a dog's belly with them back feet of theirs. Mean! Later, I axed Momma about that cat. She said, "Oh, did you go in the barn?" I said, "Yes, ma'am." "Maw has an excitable nature. You have to be careful around her." "You mean she bites?" "She can do worse than bite. Most dogs make her nervous. Of course, some dogs make me nervous." "Does Tubby make you nervous?" "Whatever do you mean, Rascal?" I shrugged. "I dunno. Just axin'. I see the way you act 'round him sometime. Kinda jumpy." Momma just smiled at that. She said, "Alida would never hurt a pup, though she might chase one off." "Who's that?" "That's Big Maw's real name." "Y'all friends?" "We talk. Woman talk. It's just the way of the world with dogs and cats. Some of us get along, but most of us don't. It's always been that way." When Momma got run over by that cane truck, Big Maw come outta the barn and into the yard to see me. She walked right through the middle of all them dogs. A few slunk off to the Big Ditch to hide. Not one of 'em growled or barked at her. I guess they knew better. Them deer dogs acted like they didn't even see her. As if. Big Maw said, "It's a doggone, low-down, swamp-stinkin', cat-wailin', rat-bitin' shame, Rascal. Them Cajun farmers drive them trucks too fast! Your momma wadn't the worst dog, no she wadn't." I said, "No, ma'am, she wadn't. But I never liked her chasin' them cane trucks. I told her not to, but . . . well . . ." Big Maw looked at me soft. "You know, Rascal, I talked to your momma 'bout that myself one time. I told her that it wadn't a smart thing to do, and you know what she said? She said, 'I know, Alida, I know. But I hear them ole wheels growlin' on that gravel road and somethin' justgets in me. I think them wheels are alive. I don't wanna catch them trucks--I just gotta chase 'em.' "