Title: Life Goes On
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Robert Fraser listened outside his son's bedroom door. He could hear the faint mewling of the small puppy his partner Buck Frobisher had brought over the previous day. He hoped to hear a small boy laughing in that room but the sound was not there for him to hear. He sighed and continued on into the Fraser Cabin's kitchen.
His mother was up before him and busy at her stove. She was small and wiry and enjoyed her morning work. Her dark hair was beginning to turn gray and she had forced it into a tight bun at the back of her head. She looked up to give him a smile as she poured some water into a pot to boil.
"Morning Robert." She wiped her hands off with a towel and gave him a quick good morning hug.
"Morning Mother." He stooped to pick up the firewood basket and went out the door.
The early morning light was still some way off, but the cabin's clearing was visible by the waning the moon's rays. Robert walked down the steps and listened. The fog Robert had been living in for so many weeks now was beginning to lift, leaving in it's place a burning desire to pursue the madman who had taken the mother of a six-year-old boy. He wouldn't feel Benton or his parents would be safe until he finished what that evil thing had started. He could still remember finding Benton sitting next to his mother's body his hand held tightly in hers, the boy pale and unmoving. He remember Ben's cry for his mother as he lifted the child away. He remembered the boy asking, pleading for his mother to wake up. And he remembered the boy wanting to know when mum was going to wake up.
Robert forced those thoughts from his too active mind. Time enough to dwell on all that. He was ready now to seek justice for his son, for Caroline, for himself. With those thoughts he filled the wood basket and then returned to the kitchen.
Ben was sitting at the table swinging his little feet back and forth holding the puppy in his hands. A slight easing could be seen in his usually closed expression. He didn't look up when he father entered the room.
Smiling Robert was glad to see the puppy drawing Ben out of his shell, but it did not belong at that table. "Ben, put the puppy in it's box and go wash your hands."
"He's ok Dad."
"I know he's ok. But puppies are not allowed at the kitchen table. You may bring his box out here, but he stays there until after breakfast. Understood."
"Yes, sir." The little boy slid of the chair and walked slowly down the hall without a glance back at his father.
"Robert, that was unkind." Martha Fraser frowned as she stirred Ben's oatmeal.
"Mother, you know as well as I do that working animals are not pets. I'm surprised you allowed him to do that."
Martha turned stern eyes onto Robert. "That boy needs a little slack right now, Robert."
Robert looked back at her with a hurt expression in his blue eyes. "I know that Mother. But if that dog is going to help Ben, he's going to have to treat it right from the start. Proper preparation prevents poor performance."
Martha cut him off with a whack of the spoon on the oatmeal pot. "Hogwash, Robert. You know as well as I do, that the reason your father's teams always won races was because they knew he loved them. They'd die for him Robert, that's what love does. And I've seen you sneak extra treats out to that team of yours. So don't tell me Ben shouldn't teach that puppy love."
"Puppy still doesn't belong at the table." Robert said with a twitch of his right eye.
A few minutes later young Ben carried the puppy's box into the kitchen and set it down by the stove. He made sure the puppy's cloth and clock were inside.
"Gran, may I have a bowl of water for the puppy?" Ben stood looking down at the puppy as it settled into a small round ball of fluff.
"Get that old bowl of yours I used when you were a baby, Ben. That should hold enough water for the little guy." Martha said with a grin as she watched Ben run to the cabinets to retrieve the bowl and carefully put a little water in it.
The little boy wiped his tongue across his lips as he walked back to the box trying determinedly not to spill any water. He carefully placed the bowl in the corner of the box. Then he ran back to the sink and dragged his stool over to it so he could wash his hands.
Ben walked back to the kitchen table and sat down next to his father. "Dad, how long are puppies puppies?"
"Buck said the puppy was a tad over 9 weeks old. He's old enough to be away from his mum, but he's still a puppy. So how long are puppies puppies?"
"I guess the answer would be they are puppies for as long as it takes."
"As long as it takes to what?" Ben said plopping his head down on his upraised hand with an expectant look at his father.
"As long as it takes for them to grow up."
"What else? How do you know a puppy is growed up?" The blue eyes were riveted on his father expecting more.
"Heaven's, Ben. Most people feel a puppy is grown at about 9 to 10 months old. Then they call them a young dog."
"When do they get to become part of a team?" Ben asked.
"That's up to the owner. Dog's got to have strong bones, got to have team spirit. The dog's got work with other dogs. There isn't any one good sign Ben. You train them to the team young. Some grow with it, some don't. It's like people. Some are never grown up, some grow up far too soon." He watched the boy quietly.
"How does a dog get to be a leader?" Ben asked as he seriously considered the box by the stove, listening for activity in it.
"Not every dog makes a good leader. It's up to the driver to watch his dogs and learn which ones seem to pull the others along."
"What do I teach him to be a leader?" Ben tilted his head and looked hid father square in the eyes.
"You do the best you can, son. You do the best you can and hope he learns what you have to teach."
Ben looked down at his hands with a sad look in his eyes. "I don't have anything to teach him. Guess he won't make Buck's team."
"Sure you can teach the pup, Ben. You're already teaching him."
"Sure. Who took care of him last night? Who settled him next to the warm stove. Who put water in the box? You, Ben, you. He's learning to trust you."
Ben looked thoughtfully at the box again. "Dad, What's trust?"
Before Robert answered, Martha left the kitchen for a moment and returned with a 3-inch thick book. She laid it on the table next to Ben with a smile. Ben looked at the cover and saw words he couldn't read and the picture of a beautiful Siberian Husky on the cover. "That book will help, Ben."
Ben cautiously opened the cover and saw more words and squiggles he didn't know. He carefully flipped through the pages and found more pictures of puppies and adult dogs and teams and team set up's. "Grandma, I can't read this."
"You'll be able to read parts of it soon, Ben. I'll help you look through the book after breakfast."
Robert looked over Ben's shoulder as the boy thumbed through the pages of the book. Ben was looking at a diagram of the inside of a female husky. He ran a finger around the inside of his collar before turning away before Ben could ask him what the picture was about.
"What does w...e...a...n...e...d spell?" Ben's head was resting on his hands as he looked at a picture of small puppies feeding at their mother's side.
Robert looked at the picture and read the caption. "The word is weaned. That's a word people use to mean that the puppy won't be fed by the mother anymore."
"Why? Doesn't she want to feed the puppies?"
Martha sighed and put her towel down. She walked over to the table and smiled at Ben. "All animals grow at their own rate, Ben. Small puppies get their food in the form of milk from their mother when they're tiny. Nature gives them sharp little teeth so they can start eating other kinds of food. Their mother knows when to stop feeding them and pushes them away. Animal mothers do this so their babies will eat more adult food."
She watched Ben absorbing the information and went back to set the table and put breakfast out. Ben closed his book and set it on floor by the puppy's box. Then he climbed back up into his chair.
When Ben's grandpa came in from his chores they sat down to eat. The adults ate their meal in silence. Ben ate his oatmeal in spurts, while he eyed his glass of milk. He turned the glass round and round but didn't take a sip out of it. When he thought each of the adults wasn't looking young Ben looked at the drinks beside each of the adult. They were each drinking coffee according to their own preferences.
"I guess I'm not weaned yet." He downed a small sip of milk and set the glass down.
Ben sighed and finally lifted his glass of milk to take another drink.
Three adult sets of eyes met across the table. Martha lifted her napkin to her mouth to hide her amusement. Ben's grandpa rose from the table and went to the cabinet; he pulled out a glass and set back down. He poured himself a glass of milk and drank some of it. He watched his grandson look at him in confusion.
"Grandpa, you're not weaned either?"
It was too much for Robert; he guffawed, wiped his face and left the table without a word. His mother motioned for Ben to wipe his mouth. She looked at her husband with a you better answer the boy look on her face.
"Humans are a different than their animal cousins, Ben." The elder Fraser gave the boy a smile. "When humans find something they like, say like milk, they cultivate the taste. We don't keep milk in the house as a rule. But when it's here I like a nice cold glass of it once in awhile."
"Then am I weaned?" Ben asked seriously.
"Yes, I'd say you were."
By this time the puppy was scrabbling around in its box and making lots of puppy racket.
Ben raised his head and tried to see into the box without rising from his chair. He absent-mindedly ate a few more bits of oatmeal and asked to be excused.
"You have a name for that little scamp yet, Ben?" His grandfather asked.
Ben put his breakfast dishes in the sink and walked up to his grandfather. "What's a scamp?"
"Scamp is a word that applies to that puppy because it knows it can what it wants and get away with it."
"Is that bad?"
"Not necessarily. Only if he doesn't learn to listen to you when it counts. If you're going to train him, he's got to know he has to listen to you. No hesitations, any sled dog worth his weight has to know when it's time to get down to business. But you have to learn to trust your lead dog too. Once in a lifetime, you might find one special lead dog. If you do son, follow that dog and he'll follow you. Their instincts are invaluable, a savvy lead dog can save his pack mates and you."
Ben nodded his head and went to lift the yammering puppy out of the box. He was about to put the puppy down on the floor when his grandmother grabbed his shirt collar and dragged him and the puppy to the cabin door. She knelt next to the boy and smiled. "Oh no you don't you little Scamps. From now on, when you get up, you take him out first. I won't allow my kitchen to smell like a barn. OK."
"Yes grandma." Ben carried the puppy outside and down the steps off the porch. He set the little bundle down in the grass and went back to sit on the steps. The sun was rising over the clearing and the grass was wet with morning dew. The puppy didn't like it. He bounded back to Ben and yapped. Ben shook his head and said, "NO!" The puppy moved closer and yapped again. Ben said, "No, Grandmother won't let us back in the warm kitchen until you're done out here. Go on, I'll wait."
The puppy watched him for a minute then bounded off into the wet grass. He sniffed around and inspected his new territory, making sure he had the little being that seemed to be taking care of him in sight.
Martha Fraser stood in the kitchen door listening. She smiled. She was sure things were going to get better now. Life was finally moving on for them.