A Tale of Three Puppies
Lily of the West

Every ranch should have a dog, and with a little prodding from his middle son, Ben Cartwright had finally decided to acquire a barn dog for the Ponderosa, to keep down the rats and scare away the foxes that wreaked havoc in Hop Sing’s chicken coop.

On this lovely spring evening, he pulled up in front of the Saunter’s modest homestead to look at a litter of ten weeks old puppies. Jack Saunter greeted his visitor on the porch.

“Howdy, Ben, what brings ye over?”

“Evening to you, Jack, I hear you’ve got puppies to sell?”

“Yep, three of ‘em, all male. Why don’t ye come in the house, Ben, and I show ‘em to you.”

In a large wooden crate by the fireplace, three very different looking puppies were playfully milling about. One was black, one quite small and dark brown, and the largest was a sunny light brown with blue eyes.

“Those sure are nice looking pups, Jack.“ Ben sat on the chair next to the crate and pointed to the small brown one. “That one’s a bit skinny, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, ain’t he the cutest one? He’s the runt fer sure, but he’s a little hellion, iffen ye pardon my language. Cain’t be still a minute. Ye might hafta tie ‘im up to keep him from gettin’ in trouble.”

Ben picked up the small brown pup to have a closer look at it. It squirmed in his hands and yipped in protest at the confinement. But as soon as he set it down, it jumped frantically at his legs, begging to be picked up once more.

“Well, he sure likes the attention”, smiled Ben. He lifted the little runt back in the crate and then pointed at the big light brown puppy. “Lets have a look at that other one.”

“The fat one, yeah. Not the brightest, mebbe, but he got the sweetest temper of ‘em all. Exceptin’ when ye try to take his food away. But he’s gonna be loyal to the bone.”

Ben lifted the fat pup onto his lap. It just sat there and stared at him happily out of clear blue eyes. “So you’re a loyal one, hm?” By way of an answer, the pup stood on its chubby hind legs, placed its front paws on Ben’s chest and gave him a single slow, warm lick across the face.

“I see”, Ben laughed and stroked its broad little head. “Jack, did you say this one was not as smart?”

Jack thought about this for a while. “I wouldn’t put it that way, Ben. He jus’ don’ think as fast as the other two.”

“Uh huh. And what about that black one?” He carefully placed the fat pup back into the crate.

“Yeah, that there’s the smartest one. First one to be housebroke. My missus whooped ‘im real good when he peed on the rug, an’ he ain’t never done it agin. Never knew a pup to catch on so quick.”

Frowning at this tale of cruel treatment, Ben reached for the black pup and pulled it to his chest. It growled and sank its razor sharp teeth into his hand, deep enough to draw two tiny points of blood. “Ow, easy there, fellow.”

“Careful with that’un, he’s kinda gruff. Gotta mind how ye hold’im, he don’t like cuddlin’ too much.”

‘No wonder’, thought Ben, ‘if he’s had it so rough when he was younger’. He dropped the pup onto his lap where it sat stiffly, facing away from him. Ben thought it looked a bit lonely. He gazed affectionately at the sullen little creature, although he didn’t dare to pet it again. ‘This one’s going to be tricky to handle’, he thought and transferred it quickly back to its littermates.

For a long time, Ben studied each pup in its turn, all the while rubbing his chin. “Jack, which one do you think I should take? I don’t seem to be able to make up my mind somehow.”

“Well, let’s see, the smart’un is gonna make a purdy sleek lookin’ dog, once he’s grown”, Jack ventured, trying to be helpful. “Then agin, thinkin’ ‘bout it, the cute’un is purdy smart, too, iffen ye can hold his attention fer long enough. An’ the fat’un is really kinda cute, in his own special way. An’ he sure ain’t what I’d call dumb, not on any day.”

Ben shook his head, puzzled. “Hmm, not sure what it is, Jack, but those pups of yours kind of get to me. I don’t think I can pick one over the others. Tell you what, I’ll buy all three from you.”

Jack scratched his whiskers at this. “Yer sure ‘bout that, Ben? I mean, they’re gonna be a handful. I gotta warn ye, they don’ always get along. They like to fight, ‘specially the runt and the black’un.”

“They’ll grow out of it, I’m sure.”

Jack frowned doubtfully. “Iffen ye say so, Ben. Well then, good luck to you, ye’re gonna need it”


Later that night, Ben Cartwright hesitated before entering the Ponderosa’s front door. He could hear the voices of his three grown sons inside, bickering loudly over some trifle at the dinner table. A sudden dread overcame him, like a man coming out of a trance. He looked down at the squirming armload of puppies inside his shirt, realizing that this would be very difficult to explain to his sons. ‘Three of them!’ he thought, awakening to the foolishness of it all, ‘Ben Cartwright, you sentimental old idiot! What in blazes have you saddled yourself with this time!’

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