Ike sat the basket on the table in the bunkhouse, grabbed a change of clothes, and headed for the shower.  He had been helping Emma in the garden and he was streaked with dirt and sweat.

It was worth it though, Ike thought as he remembered the contents of his basket.  Emma had let him have the tender weeds they’d pulled up, and best of all, several scraggily carrots when they’d thinned out the row of carrots.  Ike smiled happily, thinking about how Samson would enjoy his treat tonight.

As he entered the bunkhouse, Ike’s smile faded.  Cody stood next to the table, a carrot in each hand while Lou wore a look of disgust.

“Cody, you’re not actually gonna eat those are you?” Lou wrinkled her nose at the pitiful looking vegetables.

“’Course he will. Cody’ll eat anything that don’t eat him first.” Jimmy’s voice came from his bunk.

Ike slammed the door.  The other three turned to look at their friend.  Stalking across the room, Ike snatched the carrots from Cody.  Signing angrily, ** Those are Samson’s, not yours **, the mute rider grabbed the basket and stormed back out.

The trio looked at each other in shock.

“I don’t know why he’s so upset. It’s only a couple of carrots.” Cody said in a huff.

“But Ike said they were for Samson.” Lou countered.

“What difference does it make which jackass eats ‘em?” Jimmy asked just before a pillow hit him in the face.

As Ike sat the basket down next to Samson’s enclosure, the little donkey trotted over to his friend.  After a few pats, Samson stuck his nose toward the basket.  Ike smiled at his greedy pet.  At least if he fed Samson now the carrots would be safe from Cody.

The donkey was soon munching contentedly on his treat while Ike leaned on the fence, just relaxing.  Then the young man became aware of another sound.  It sounded oddly like crying.  Ike looked around, puzzled.  After concentrating hard, he was able to discern that the sound was coming from the pile of hay in the pen, but there was nothing there.  Ike approached cautiously and saw movement.  A wide grin broke out as he located the source of the crying.

A small, dirty, yellowish puppy was cowering and whimpering in the hay.  His ratty coat blended in almost perfectly, making it hard to see the pup.  Ike stooped down and picked up the little wanderer.  Patting the pup’s head, Ike was rewarded with a wet kiss.  He carried the pup back to the bunkhouse.

Lou and Jimmy looked up when he came in, but Cody pretended to ignore him.  Ike set the pup on the floor.

“Oh, how cute.” Lou cooed and promptly sat down to play with the puppy.

“Looks kinda puny if you ask me.” Jimmy studied the little creature.  Ike’s glare told him plainly that no one had asked him.

By now Cody had stopped sulking and came over.  “He ain’t much in size, but maybe he’ll grow.”  The pup yipped as if in agreement.

“The poor thing looks half starved.” Lou rubbed the skinny little body. “Where’d you find him, Ike?”

** In the hay in Samson’s pen ** Ike signed.

“Where do you reckon he came from?” Jimmy wondered as he patted the pup a little roughly.  “Damn!” he yelled the next minute, shaking his hand. “He’s got sharp teeth!”

** Don’t yell at him ** Ike signed with a sharp look at Jimmy.

“Don’t yell at him?! He just bit the heck out of my finger!” Jimmy complained, examining the tiny teeth marks.

** You’ll live ** Ike informed him with a grin.

“Fine. I’m goin’ wash up for supper.” Jimmy paused at the door. “You’d better hide him ‘fore Emma sees him in here.”

Ike looked futilely around the bunkhouse, but there were no good hiding places.  The puppy would quickly be spotted under the table or under the bunks.

“You could put ‘im in your trunk.” Cody suggested with an impish grin.

Lou slapped his arm. “Quit bein’ mean. Why don’t you put him in the barn in that empty stall where we store the boxes?” she suggested. “You could move the boxes to kinda pen him in.”

Ike nodded and took the pup to the barn.  The stall Lou had mentioned was at the far end of the barn and Ike had to rearrange the boxes to keep the pup secure.  The rider put the little animal in the makeshift pen and started to walk away, only to hear whines and yips.  Turning back, Ike shook his head at the pup and pressed a finger to his lips.  After giving the puppy a reassuring pat, Ike tried again to leave.  This time the pup was quiet and Ike went back to the bunkhouse for supper.

Emma smiled at the helpfulness of the riders after supper.  They offered to clean up and promised to dispose of the remains of the meal.  Little did she know that a small yellow puppy with a very round tummy spent the night in the bunkhouse.

Within a few days a routine had developed.  Kid and Buck had returned from their runs and been informed of the new addition.  They all took turns helping to sneak the pup in and out of the bunkhouse and salvaging scraps for him.  But they couldn’t agree on a name for the pup, until that fateful day.

Teaspoon was away on company business, Emma was in her house, and all the riders were in the bunkhouse, along with the puppy.  The rain that was gently falling outside had a soothing effect and it had lulled Jimmy and Buck almost to sleep.  They lay on their bunks, dozing.  Lou was writing a letter to her sister and brother, Ike was busy with his journal, and Kid and Cody were playing checkers.

Suddenly the puppy scratched on the door and whined.  He had gotten pretty good about asking to go out.

“Pup’s gotta go out.” Kid commented as he contemplated his next move.

“So let him out.” Cody said.

“It’s my move. You let him out.” Kid returned.

Then together they called, “Lou!”

“In a minute. I’m busy too, ya know.” Lou responded.

Ike put down his pencil and looked up, but the pup wasn’t at the door.  Ike shrugged and turned back to his journal.

Moments later Lou finished her letter and hopped down from her bunk. “C’mon pup, I’ll let you out.”  The pup eyed her from under Cody’s bunk.  “Come on.” Lou snapped her fingers.  When the pup didn’t come, Lou walked over.  Suddenly, she clasped a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle.

“What is it, Lou?” Kid and Cody were watching her now.  Giving in to the giggles, Lou pointed at the floor.  A puddle was around Cody’s boots.  Kid howled with laughter.

Cody, on the other side of the table, stood up to see what was so funny.  “That’s it!” he roared. “I’m gonna kill that mutt!”

Buck and Jimmy sat up in time to see Cody seize a rolled up newspaper and lunge for the fleeing puppy.

“What’s goin’ on?” Buck asked.

“The pup wet on Cody’s boots!” Lou gasped between laughs.  Of course, that sent Jimmy and Buck into hysterical laughter.

Cody was chasing the dog around the room, waving the newspaper.  Ike, in an effort to protect his pet, tried to grab Cody and the two riders fell into the shelf where Emma stored the cooking supplies.  A jar of molasses toppled to the floor and shattered, sending the sticky mess everywhere.  Cody scrambled to his feet and began the chase anew.  The pup took refuge under Kid’s bed.  Throwing down the newspaper, Cody grabbed the broom and began punching it under the bed.

“Cody! Wait!” Kid’s warning came too late.  There was a crash and then a sickly sweet smell assailed their nostrils.

“What is that?” Jimmy choked.  They all looked at Kid.

“It was an expensive bottle of perfume I was savin’ for Lou’s birthday.  The lady told me it was a lovely new scent.” Kid informed them.

“Thanks, Kid, it was a nice thought.” Lou told him with a strained smile as she tried not to gag from the overpowering smell.

Buck threw open the door in an attempt to let in some fresh air, and the pup, seeing his opportunity, hightailed it past them like a rocket and out the door.

Buck watched the fleeing menace and commented. “I think I know a good name for that pup. Trouble.”

“You got that right.” Kid agreed.

“I only speak the truth.” Buck grinned.

“Trouble is exactly what it’s gonna be if Emma sees this mess.” Jimmy stated.

Never in their lives had they worked so hard and so fast with no quarrelling.  Everything was cleaned and straightened by suppertime, although a faint odor of perfume lingered.

When Emma came in, they were all sitting at the table patiently waiting.  Emma raised an eyebrow.  Something was most definitely going on.  She hastily scanned the room, but nothing looked out of the ordinary.  But what was that smell, Emma sniffed.

“Do ya’ll smell something?” she asked.

“Ah, well, it’s just my new perfume that Kid got me.” Lou spoke up.

Emma tried to smile. “Well, Loulabelle, I think you might want to use a little less next time. It’s kinda…strong.” Emma said as the boys choked back laughter.

After supper Emma went back to her house.  Cody had calmed down and Ike went and found Trouble hiding behind the woodpile and brought the pup back to the bunkhouse.  But that was far from the end of Trouble.

The riders had all gone to town for supplies, leaving Emma and Teaspoon at the station.  Things were fine until the riders returned and begin unloading the supplies.  Emma headed to the bunkhouse with a  box full of supplies.  Upon opening the door, disaster met her eyes.  The pillows from the bottom bunks were chewed and torn to shreds.  Pieces of a feather boa were scattered around, as well as pages from a book.  And beside Ike’s bed, chewing calmly on an old shoe was - Trouble.

“BOYS!” Emma yelled.  They all looked at each other and ran for the bunkhouse.  Emma just pointed.

They all stared past Emma into the room.  How in the world could one tiny puppy make such a mess!

Emma took a deep breath.  “Get it cleaned up. Then I want to see all of you in my house.  We’re gonna have a talk.” She strode furiously across the yard.

The riders exchanged glances and then pinned their glares on the ball of fluff. Trouble.

Never had an animal been so aptly named, Ike thought as he cleaned alongside the rest.  And that four-footed Trouble now had all of them in a heap of trouble.

“Hey, Ike.” Cody called.  “Was this yours?”  He held up the tattered remains of the feather boa.

Ike nodded. ** From our trip with Jed, remember? **

Buck grinned at his friend. “I didn’t know you saved that.”  Ike’s cheeks were flaming with embarrassment by now.  He glared at Buck in warning and turned back to work.

When the bunkhouse was restored to some semblance of order the riders went to face Emma’s wrath.  Trouble had followed them over to the house, but when Emma answered their knock with a stern, “Come in,” the little dog tucked his tail and slunk around the corner out of sight.  The riders all looked like they would have loved to have followed.  Instead they entered Emma’s parlor and stood in a line before her.  Not a one of them looked her in the eye.  They stood with their heads down, hands behind their backs, like a bunch of school boys about to be chastised.

“Well, would somebody like to tell me what happened?” Emma asked in a controlled voice.

“It was Ike’s fault.” Cody was quick to pin the blame.

“You were supposed to let the dog out this morning,” Jimmy reminded Cody.

“Well, I thought you did it!” Cody shot back.

“Hold it!” Emma raised her voice. “I don’t care who was supposed to let the dog out. What I want to know is where it came from in the first place.”

** I found him ** Ike signed.

“When? Where?” Emma prompted.

** Couple of weeks ago in Samson’s pen ** Ike told her.

Emma regarded them.  “So you’ve all been sneakin’ this dog in the bunkhouse?”  They all nodded.

“At first he was good.” Lou ventured quietly.

“And then?” questioned Emma.

Bit by bit they told her about the day Trouble earned his name.  Emma gave a small laugh and Jimmy glanced up at the promising sound.  Then the others raised their heads and soon they were all laughing.

“Oh, Lord, what am I gonna do with you all?” Emma shook her head with a smile.  They looked at her hopefully.  “Well, first of all, you have to find another home for that dog. And second, I’d better have clean stalls and a spotless bunkhouse for the next two weeks, understand?”  They all nodded.  “Alright, get on with you.” Emma shooed them out and sank into her chair, laughing again.

A month later, the riders were in town when little Alicia Griffin approached them.  On a rope next to her was a yellow dog.  “I just wanted to thank you all again for my puppy,” she smiled.  “But I still can’t figure out why you named him Trouble.  He’s always so good for us.  He’s just the best dog ever.”

The riders looked at the dog and they all could have sworn that Trouble grinned at them.

Email Paige