Title: Secrets and Duty
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
From the diaries of Robert Fraser, RCMP
May 1st, 1975
There's nothing like the smell of freshly cleaned saddle leather in the spring. And I have to say that the sound of saddle leather creaking under you on your first ride out horseback in the spring after a long winter behind the dogs is quite exhilarating. The smell and feel of riding through country I covered only a few short weeks ago in deep snow always makes me feel brand new and quite young again. Feeling the leather reins on the flesh of my hands rather than my thick, winter gloves I feel free again. This is my horse, my spring, and my country.
I've heard men say how lonely they feel out here after a long winter. It's all in what you have to think about I guess. Winter's are to be survived and triumphed over, but spring; ah, spring. Spring brings color and light and smell and warm thoughts of my Caroline. She loved the spring. Winters were warm and cozy by the fire with Caroline. Springs were always filled with laughter, especially after the boy was born.
Egad, Benton's almost 16. I have the letter in my pocket that my father wrote over a month ago. I must say that that letter surprises me. I thought Mother would have learned from me and would have been prepared for this event and avoided the problem altogether. She sure dusted my breeches off when I was Benton's age. Well, it can't be helped; he's a growing boy. I'll go, but God help me, I don't know what to say.
May 2nd, 1975
Have just finished my breakfast. By noon I'll be with Benton. He's gone all gangly and coltish by my Father's account. Having just left one of my wintering spots, I can't help but compare the differences in raising girls over boys. That young Maggie is such a scamp. She's almost 5 now and brave as can be for a young child of any sex. Her mother encourages her to be up to all the tasks that need doing around a wilderness cabin. Egad, I'm glad I'm not the one to have to be thwacking the boys away when that child is grown. That little scamp Maggie's going to be a little beauty. I wonder which is worse, explaining the birds and the bee's things to a girl or to a boy. I can feel it in my gut; this isn't going to be easy.
He stood tall and gangly and felt embarrassed by the awkwardness of his once fluid movements. It wasn't that he was all that much taller than the rest of the boys but as Benton looked around his small group of friends he was well aware of the fact that he was the one who was rail thin, gawky, clumsy and uncomfortable in clothing he outgrew these days quicker than he could blink.
The boys milled around the edge of the small village hoping to catch glimpses of any young girls who just might happen to pass by them. It was an age-old ritual performed all over the world: the strutting of the young buck with his new antlers, the young peacock in his new plumage; each hoping to attract female attention. Ben watched his friends as they laughed and talked with the fervent wish that he could be as easy and free. He looked at his watch and blanched. It was almost lunchtime and he'd promised his Grandmother that he wouldn't be late again. He told his friends he needed to get home and began the short walk out of the village that would take him to the track home.
Ben stopped and turned to watch one of his best friends rushing up to him. He stood silently and waited for the boy to catch up.
Josh was the tubbiest boy in the village. He was almost the tubbiest male in the whole village. As he rushed up to Ben, he was out of breath and wheezing. "Thanks," the boy gasped and stood bent over with his hands on his knees.
"That's OK, Josh. Are you OK?" Ben watched Josh breath in deep, ragged hanks of air. "You know, Josh, you should walk more, get some exercise."
Josh pulled himself up and looked Ben square in the eye with bright laughter written all over his face. "I don't do sweaty well, Ben. Girls don't like sweaty you know."
Ben blushed rosily and agreed.
"Ah, Ben. Your Grandfather still holding the a, you know, the a."
"Yes. He is, although he hasn't mentioned it once since he told me the owner has to ask for it back, Josh." Ben looked down at his shoes and blinked rapidly.
"My Dad's going to be home soon Ben. He'll notice for sure that that thing is missing."
"Then you'll just have to go see my Grandfather."
"Why not? He's not going to punish you. And somehow I don't think he'd tell your Dad."
"You say that now. But all I can think of is my Dad walking in front of me as we walk to the woodshed."
"When does your Dad get home Josh?"
"Soon. I heard my Mom telling one of her friends that she expects him back by the end of this week." Josh closed his eyes and fisted his hands. "I'm a coward."
"No, you're not a coward Josh. We'll think of something." Ben put a gentle hand on his friends shoulder and turned towards the rise in the trail towards his Grandparents cabin.
Benton Fraser paled as he noted the flash of red atop a huge horse as horse and rider turned towards the Fraser cabin trail. He gulped and dropped his hand from Josh's shoulder. Josh looked up to see his best friend's Adams apple doing a jumping dance. Ben turned a glazed set of eyes towards his friend as he said, "My Dad. My Dddad's home." Benton stuttered a bit as he felt the need to rush off growing inside him.
Josh put a comforting hand on Ben's shoulder. "Maybe your Grandfather won't tell him."
Ben shook his head and squared his shoulders and began walking towards the trail cutoff. "I'll see you Josh. I think you better come by soon, OK."
Josh stood and watched Ben walk down the trail until Ben took the turn towards his Grandparents cabin. Josh turned and walked back towards the village with tears threatening to escape his dark eyelashes. "Coward, I'm a coward."
Martha Fraser stepped off the cabin porch and watched her son, Robert; ride up in his splendid red serge coat. The jingling harness sounded just right in her ears as her boy smiled in greeting.
Dismounting with his usual flourish of character, Robert looked around the cabin grounds. "Boy's not here?" He walked over and gave his mother a quick hug.
She looked up at her son's face as he held her in his arms and smiled. "He'll be home soon. Almost lunch time."
"Ah, thought I smelled biscuits baking."
She raised a small hand and hit him in the arm. "My cooking is not that bad. Though if you use Benton by an indicator, I'm failing horribly." Her eyes watched her son's face and noted the bright color setting into his cheeks.
"I got the letter, Mum."
"Thought you did, when I saw you coming down the track."
"I don't know how to do this, you know."
"Course you don't. No parent knows until they are confronted with it. You'll do fine."
"He's not going to listen to me, you know. I'm not around enough."
"You're his father, he loves you. He'll listen." She pulled away. "Put that animal up and come into the house. I don't want to burn lunch."
"Didn't know you could burn pemmican?" Robert jumped out of her way with a good-natured grin on his face and led his horse away.
Ben stood gazing down the last part of the trail that would take him home for lunch. He'd been standing there for almost 15 minutes when he heard the sound of his Grandfather's car approaching him. He dropped his head and tried to school his features so that his Grandfather wouldn't catch him red faced.
George Fraser pulled his car to a halt. He knew that Benton had heard him pull up. He watched the boy turn to face him and smiled. Nothing ever told him something was going on with the boy as well as the boy's own face. Most people said Ben usually looked closed off, but to George Fraser, Ben's coloring and expression was an open book to the boy's state of mind. Right now his grandson was nervous, very nervous. He watched Ben climb into the passenger seat with thinly shielded reluctance. Without a word George put the car in gear and drove them on towards the cabin.
Lunch was a quiet affair. Martha was displeased with her son's silence, but held her tongue in check. She had watched George and Ben enter the cabin in silence and knew for sure that her men were all in an embarrassed twit.
Martha's tensed shoulders relaxed when she heard the cabin door close behind Benton and Robert. She turned to see George sipping his coffee with a slight smile on his face.
"He'll do fine." George stated bluntly.
"Who, Robert or Benton?" Martha said with a wry smile. Both of those boys are cut from the same bolt of cloth George Fraser. They both treat their feelings like they were visiting a foreign country."
George set his cup down and gave Martha a direct look. "We're a quiet bunch, that's for sure." He smiled at her. "I always felt doing said things better than saying...right now, I'm not so sure about that."
The man walked beside the gawky boy with pride. He kept sneaking looks in short side glances and noted the boy's strong character set in his bones for others to see. He flicked a piece of lint off of his own red serge coat and cleared his throat.
"There comes a time," Robert cleared his throat again. "There comes a time in a man's life son, where things change like all get out. You know what I mean son?"
Benton raised his eyes quickly to his father's face and then quickly looked back at his feet. "Dad?"
"Oh God amighty. I'm talking about life. The birds. The bees." Robert flung an expansive gesture in the air with his hands. "You know about them, don't you boy?" Robert asked the question with a hopeful grin.
Benton shook his head as if he was clearing a fog out of it and looked his father directly in the eye. "Are you talking about sex, Dad?" The boy's face turned more crimson than the color of his father's serge coat after he asked the question.
"NO! I am not talking about sex." Robert spotted a fallen log and sat down hard on it. "I'm talking about love. Love, son. Love's quite different than sex. Your mother once told me the difference between love and sex was a pair of slobbery lips."
Benton's incredulous eyes answered his father's question.
"Well, she didn't use those words exactly. She was a lady. Your mother was a fine lady. She used flowery words all the time. But I knew what she meant. Yes, I did."
Robert watched the boy standing nervously in front of him and patted the log next to him. "Sit down. I can't talk to you when you're standing at attention."
Benton sat down quickly; his knees drawn up to his chest and plunked his chin down on them with an explosion of released tension as he wrapped his long fingers in a tight clasp across his knees.
"OK, let's start again." Robert smiled at the huddled form next to him. "What do you know about sex?"
Benton mumbled and took in a deep breath. "Sex is the method used between opposite genders of a species to procreate."
"Oh God. You've been at the books too long."
"Tell me what you know boy."
"We'd be here all day. No. Tell me what you actually know about sex." Robert looked down at his own feet and realized he was handling this badly.
"Males in the human species have sexual organs that consist of a penis, a set of..." Benton began to recite in his best classroom voice.
"No, boy. I don't want the clinical view. What do you know?"
"Do you have any experience with err…the opposite gender of our species."
Benton raised scandalized eyes up to his Father's face. "Oh, no Sir!"
"That's the problem then. You're curious. Natural. Most natural thing in the world."
"Yep. Natural. Part of life."
Ben sighed with relief. This conversation with his father was turning out rather better than he had hoped and the magazine hadn't been mentioned once.
"I heard about the incident, boy." Robert let his eyes slid sideways towards the boy. "Those pictures are just sex boy. Sex, pure and simple. Not that sex is bad mind you. No sir, sex is a good thing. Without it none of us would be here."
Ben turned a bit towards his father and waited. But he kept his eyes turned away from his father.
"Is there a girl you like Ben? You know one that you think about a lot?"
"Do I know the young lady?"
Ben's skin tone had become permanently red, as the two had talked. Now his face went chalk white. "You know her."
Robert cast about in his mind to remember bits and pieces of information his mother had sent him over the past months about Ben via her letters. No single comment revealed any information to him.
"She's the most beautiful girl."
"Live near here?"
Ben shook his head sadly. "No."
"Ah. What does her father do?"
Ben lowered his voice and mumbled, "RCMP."
"Hmmm. I believe I may be acquainted with him. That right, Benton?" Robert smiled. Boy had good taste.
"You know him." Ben felt like sick.
"Good man. Lovely family."
"Have you been on any dates son?"
Robert sighed. This wasn't going good. Not good at all. They were both too nervous.
Ben sat still on the log and felt the sweat running in streams down his back. His palms were gushing sweat and his stomach was about to explode. But he sat still and waited for his father to continue.
Robert sat on the log painfully aware of his son's physical problems. His serge was becoming more uncomfortable by the minute.
"Let's presume for the moment that you know about the mechanics of sex. You do know, don't you boy?"
Ben whispered, "Yes, Grandfather gave me a book."
"Good, good." Robert twitched a bit as he sat on the log. "Did your Grandfather explain to you the difference between enjoying, say a work of art or the human female form?"
"People have been capturing forms of beauty for years. Heavens the Greeks and the Romans had statues all over the place. Notice lots of them wear those little fig leaves." He eyed his son discreetly.
Ben smiled but kept his head down.
"Admiring beauty is a fine thing. Fine thing. Never be ashamed of looking at beautiful things." Robert watched Benton squirm on the log. "The thing is Ben, when you..." He paused as he felt his throat constricting again. "When you start looking at beauty or sex or love or anything in secret, you somehow take something and change it." Robert watched the boy and then continued. "When you love someone and the two of you, er a, share a certain intimacy...."
"Grandmother says sexual love is a private thing." Benton gushed the sentence out in one long gasp.
"Yes, that's true, very true. But just having sex, isn't love son. The birds and the bees have sex, son." He eyed the boy's flushed face. "Intimacy shared by two people in love makes the act of er, procreation into more than just sex. Understand son?" Robert looked hopefully at his son.
Ben's flushed face was turned again from his father's view. He cleared his throat. He felt his father's eyes on him and tried vainly to appear nonchalant. "How do you know that you what feel is love not sex?"
"Some people never figure it out Ben." Robert smiled as he remembered his life with Caroline. "Your mother and I knew. We just knew. I'd have jumped in front of roaring freight train to save her life." Robert's smile shadowed then grew. "Everything I felt for her made me want to protect her. We didn't always see eye to eye. Women are strange creatures son. Remember that." Robert sat silent for a moment then continued. "Your mother learned to skin and dress a deer. She was squeamish as all get out about such things. But she did it. Did it for us. I was that proud of her, made my teeth hurt from smiling." Robert sat quietly, lost in thoughts of the past.
"Yes son?" Robert's eyes jerked back to the present and he looked down at his son's concerned face. "Sorry. Men make their own rules son. But ultimately it comes down to the words you say when you marry the person you love: words like love, honor and cherish and until death due you part should mean something. They're not words to be taken lightly. No sir. No one will thank you for it, but there it is."
"But how do you really know, Dad, if it's just sex or love before you say the words?"
"Have you been listening son?"
Robert let his eyes roam over his son's taut form and smiled. "Shave yet son?"
"Ah." Robert settled back on his portion of the log and pulled one of his knees up and then stretched it out in front of him. "The human body is a wonderful thing. Changes all the time. People your age find their bodies doing all kinds of crazy things. You grow too fast, you grow too slow, either, of which can be terrible things to live with. Why, I was short, stunted. Didn't get any height until I was 17." Robert shrugged his body as if he was shaking off a chill. "It was horrible. Old Stubby was taller than me." Robert checked to see if his son was listening.
"Well, lets see. Now take that publication you were looking at, did you want to protect them or make a home and live with any of those women?"
Robert's turned several shades of red before he turned just plain blatantly scarlet. "When you a…when you had the publication in your hands – did your body talk to you?"
Ben turned his scarlet face from his father's gaze and gulped before whispering, "I did feel a little warm."
"OK. Anything else?"
Ben turned pleading eyes towards his father's and then looked at the ground.
"I'll take that as a yes." Robert whispered sympathetically. "OK. Now think about the young lady you like." He watched Ben closely. "Do you feel the same way about her?" He took pity on the boy and smiled. "She the kind of girl that makes you think of forever son?"
Ben looked up and grinned. "Yes, Sir!"
"That's the difference between just plain sex and love." Robert smiled. "Your mother always said she knew she was lost in love for good when she changed your first nappy. Makes no sense to me, but then I never did change one of your nappies boy."
Ben flushed with embarrassment and sat totally still waiting for his father's next hit.
"Your mother said love made up for the queasiness in her stomach when she dressed her first deer." Robert put a soft hand on son's shoulder. "She said she knew it made no sense, but there it was."
Both of them sat silent and still, hoping the other one would be the first to make the next move.
Robert leaned back and gazed up at the sky. "Nice afternoon."
Ben looked askance at his father then noticed the sky filtering down through the trees. "Yes, it is."
"Your Grandfather talk to you about duty and honor in love yet son?"
"Oh dear God." Robert said and felt the sweat breaking out all down his back.
Benton felt his stomach pull in against his spine as he heard his father's almost whispered words of "Oh dear God." He could feel the sweat breaking out in fresh rivulets down his already sweat streaked back. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and disappear, but this was the first time he could remember his father actually trying to communicate with him and he would endure, he would.
Robert noticed his son's resolute uptake of seated position and staunch set profile and for the first time in his life realized that he may have put off knowing his son too long. He watched Benton sitting still beside him and regretted every minute he'd been away from the boy. Regrets, his life seemed filled with regrets. He pulled from his memory one of the last times he had seen Caroline and the boy together before she was taken from them. The happy little boy dancing on happy feet beside her seemed so distant and joyless from the young teenager sitting beside him holding tightly to his burgeoning adult dignity. Robert held back the tears he knew threatened him and pasted another rather too bright smile on his face. He regretted the cowardess that hadn't let him face being anywhere that would remind him of Caroline.
"Your Grandfather explained 'honor' to you, did he?" Robert watched Benton and waited.
"Honor, in what concept Sir? The military, the familial, the criminal or perhaps the ethical." Benton looked sideways towards his father, still holding his body quite still.
"Egads, boy. Not every question I ask needs a schoolbook answer." Robert said with a guffaw and then was heartily sorry for it as the boy's face turned the brightest color of embarrassment Robert Fraser had ever seen on a person. "Words like: honor, duty, love are intangibles son. Did your Grandfather teach you the difference between an intangible concept and the more tangible things in life?"
Benton's eyes widened then narrowed in remembrance of the conversation he had had with his Grandfather concerning ethical concepts and realized that perhaps he had not quite understood what his Grandfather was trying to convey to him. Certain aspects of that conversation came back to him along with the reddened look on his Grandfather's face. "I believe he tried to explain the concept. I may not have understood his remarks fully at the time."
"It's becoming increasingly clear to you I take it."
"Yes, I think so."
"Well, then. Just so. Honor and Duty are concepts boy. Every man has his own definition for those words. Whole societies view the words differently. Some people hide behind honor son. And strangely enough you can honor someone without being honorable yourself. There's the 'honor system', the concept of honor of service, but anyway you look at the word what it comes right down to is how you feel about it and what you do about it. Honor is respect for yourself and others and holding true to that concept. It's doing what's right by law and moral code. It's an old word boy. Very old and it's concept is a personal thing. We're descended from Scots who held honor very high in their moral code. Honor can make you do things that are good for society but not for yourself." Robert paused for a quick look at the sun filtering down through the trees.
"Then honor is a good thing." Benton said thoughtfully and watched his father's profile.
Robert smiled and continued, "A knight's honor often had him shivering beside his horse after giving up his quarters to someone in distress because it was his chosen duty to take care of others. Honor can bind you like a hair shirt. It can hold you to things you don't want to do, but you'll do them anyway. You can be honor bound to do something, even when it seems the nonsensical thing to do. The word 'duty' is the same." Robert looked down at his boots and seemed to shut out the world for a few seconds before he continued. "But you can tarnish your honor son, and if you do that, it never leaves you. Never." He paused again. "Duty and Honor go hand in hand son. I think there's a book in the your Grandparent's library called 'Chivalry and Knightly Concepts'. You might want to take a look at that boy. Interesting, very interesting reading." Robert smiled at the thought of Benton reading tales of knightly honor and duty. Boy will enjoy reading about jousting and such Robert thought.
Benton looked thoughtfully at his knees and then glanced towards his father again. "So both words are like the concept of keeping one's word, right. And doing everything in your power to do that, no matter what the cost to yourself."
"Simply put, very simple put. But I think you could equate the concepts."
"Then what you're saying is that if you love someone, your honor or duty can bind you to them?"
"Yes. That's what I am trying to tell you."
Benton gathered his nerve and gushed out. "Grandmother said that knights believed that virginity was sacred and that it was high on their list in their code of honor. Is that what you're talking about Dad?"
Robert's eyes goggled and he stared down at Benton. He was nonplussed and his whole body sat rigid. "Have you reached the Victorian time period in history yet son?"
Robert watched his son's quick downturn of the head before putting out a hand to touch the boy's shoulder fleetingly. He glanced up at the late afternoon sky and stood up. "Come on Boy, walk with me. We better be getting back or your Grandmother will have both our hides."
Jumping to his feet as if he was propelled by a coiled spring, Ben glanced nervously at his father. He tried to tug his short sleeves down over his wrists before taking up a perfect 'at attention' pose before his father.
Grinning, Robert stood back and critically surveyed his son's military stance. There's no need to fash yourself young man. Relax." Robert began walking and turned back to Ben who still stood rooted in perfect form. "Well, come on. Your Grandmother doesn't suffer fools nor wait meals for the tardy."
The boy rushed to catch up almost tripping on his gangly feet. "Sorry, Sir."
"Now then, there are some things that are just not 'done'. Did your Grandfather discuss items of that nature with you boy?" Robert's light blue eyes stared down into eyes so like his own and waited.
Young Benton quickly ran a mental catalog through his mind of the things his Grandfather had been talking to him about recently. It was plain to Robert from the expression on the boy's face that the topic had not yet come up in his father's set curriculum. Ben looked bewildered and more than a tad non-plussed as to how he should answer his father's question. All Ben could manage was a slightly whispered, "Sir?"
"I'm not talking strict etiquette here boy." Robert coughed and used the moment to hide his face from his son. "Society has certain rules, and not all of them are out in plain sight for you to see. One of the simplest rules to follow is politeness. You can't go wrong being polite. Ladies like a gentleman to be polite. Doff your hat to em, smile, and be pleasant. If you can, keep your mouth shut. A man can get himself into more trouble with words. So my best advice is just be as precise as you can. Course some women are just plain contrary and you can't do a thing about it. If you say it's a good day, they'll tell you it's not a good day and spend twenty minutes giving you their reasons. I'm warning you now; if you live to be a hundred you'll never figure women out. No, Sir."
Ben walked along beside his father quietly. "Grandmother doesn't seem so complicated."
Robert laughed and slapped his knee, "You're Grandmother is like the rest of them. She likes nice manners, but she'll jaw your ear off if she thinks you don't understand her. And when she's done, your ears will be ringing for a week." He watched Ben striding beside him in silence and then continued, "Unwritten rules are the trickiest. If you take someone to a dance or a party, you're expected to be the one to take them home. If you invite someone to accompany you somewhere, you're implying that you are paying the tab and they are to be your guest. If you make a promise, you had best be prepared to keep it. Never forget a promise. Ladies like flowers, lots of them, remember that. Flowers come in handy when you want to apologize for something you did or didn't do whether or not you understand what you did or didn't do. Flowers can win over the most recalcitrant of ladies so they'll at least listen to you." Robert stopped walking and looked back over his shoulder along the path the two of them had traveled. "If you should ever, ah, if you should a... If you a, should ever meet a young lady and er, how shall I put this? Anticipate conjugal rights or do something to in any way to compromise the young ladies reputation. Well, then there are some people in society who would consider you honor bound to protect that young lady. And I am not talking about the kind of honor and rules that binds male friendships. Am I making myself clear?"
Ben looked his father squarely in the eye, "I think so, Sir. What if you love the lady?"
"If the young lady felt the same way, well, in that case, everything would work out fine, just fine, son."
"Why would someone want to anticipate conjugal rights?"
"Read Beau Geste yet?" Robert blanched as he watched his son's head shake negatively and sighed. "Come on, I can smell your Grandmother's biscuits burning from here."
The two Fraser's walked almost side by side through the waning noon sunshine. Benton ran everything his father had told him over and over in his head. Robert walked with that straight back and body set of rigidity that told the world he had done just as he ought by his son. Both of them thought that they understood the other quite well, both were dead wrong.
The cabin soon came into view before them and both of them sighed, then straightened their persons even further into upright figures and marched doggedly on to the cabin's porch.
George Fraser walked around the front of the cabin to see his son and grandson walking towards him, their forms in shadow. He tried in vain to see if he could tell whether or not Robert had had the 'talk' with Benton. George checked first one set of Fraser eyes then the other. Neither Robert nor Benton gave away the least hint of how things had gone between them.
"Get in and get cleaned up for dinner, Benton. Your Grandmother won't wait much longer." Robert put a hand on the boy's shoulder and nudged him towards the cabin.
George waited until the cabin door closed to look his son square in the eye. "How did it go?"
"It went." Robert grinned. "But just what have you been teaching that boy. He's got the strangest set of ideas in his head."
"Benton has been taught in the same manner that you were taught." George eyed his son with a rueful glance.
"I don't recall being taught to act in that 'military' fashion Benton uses."
"Benton didn't learn that from me or your Grandmother."
"Then where'd he pick it up?"
"Ever look in the mirror when you shave, Robert?" George put his hand on his son's shoulder and began moving towards the cabin door. "He may live with us, but it's you that he wants to be like."
"Why? He barely sees me."
"It's natural for a boy to want to be like his father. Young minds are impressionable…he rarely sees you in anything but that uniform."
Robert looked thoughtful, and then asked, "Then why am I a Mountie, not a librarian?"
It was George's turn to look slightly embarrassed; "We blame that on your Uncle Tiberius."
Robert broke out in a loud fit of laughter and slid past his father into the cabin.
Martha Fraser settled into her chair at the table as soon as she put the last serving dish in place. She unfolded her napkin with a snap and looked sharply around the table and prepared to eat. Her eyes roamed the table unobserved by the room's other occupants. She gave an inward, silent sigh as she noted Ben's posture and silence. The boy was drawn tighter than a bowstring into a rigid back and military attitude. The boy wasn't displaying even the most minor sign of a smile either. Martha drew herself up into an equally rigid sitting position and prepared for battle.
Ben held his eyes to the narrow field of his place setting at the table. His mind barely registered the simple meal his grandmother had prepared. Picking up a warm biscuit, he held it in his hand as he listened to the silence at the table. He noted his father's brisk movements as he settled down to eat knowing in some part of his consciousness that his grandfather's thoughts were directed towards him.
The fact did register in his brain that his face was burning in a visible color of red. He buttered his biscuit with almost robotic movements and lifted it to his lips. He took a bite out of the biscuit and tried valiantly to pretend it was just another meal the same as on any other day of his life.
"Well, Robert how long will you be out on patrol this time?" Martha put a piece of biscuit delicately into her mouth and watched her son's head pop up like a cork on a fishing line.
"First fair weather, Mother. You know that means a long run over my patrol area." He stopped chewing the bit of biscuit in his mouth and stared at her. She was upset with him he thought and danged if he knew why. His gray eyes stared fascinated at her expression trying divine what it was she was after this time.
"George, Benton is outgrowing all his clothing again. Perhaps, if Robert has the time, you could take the boy into town for whatever he needs."
Three pairs of grayish blue eyes turned her way. Benton held his breath waiting for an answer from his father. Martha's eyes danced as she noted the set of each pair of male eyes turned her way. She spooned up a bit of stew and gently slipped the spoon into her mouth. As she put her spoon back into the stew in her bowl, she gave each of her men a smile.
Robert felt his mother's eyes upon him and knew he had been commanded, not asked to do something for his son. He felt his father's eyes boring a hole in the back of his head and turned to level his gaze at his son. His lungs filled with an intake breath as he noted that the boy, his son, seemed to have frozen right in mid chew of his biscuit. Gad, he looks like a young deer caught in the headlights of a car, he thought. Well, leaving tomorrow would still get him to his patrol area on schedule.
"Your grandmother is right Benton. After dinner, would you like to go into town for some new duds?"
Benton dropped his biscuit into his stew from his suddenly nerveless fingers and grinned. "Yes, sir."
Martha exchanged a slight grin with her husband at the opposite end of the table. "Perhaps you can drop me off at the Thompson's. I pulled those books Mrs. Thompson wanted for Josh and I'd like to drop them off."
Ben nearly choked on the bite of stew he was eating and turned pale, very pale. His grandfather rose and patted him on the back and looked down sympathetically at the boy for he now knew the identity of the 'magazine thief'.
"You OK, boy?" George watched two bright red spots rise under the pale skin on the boy's face. George grinned at Martha over the boy's head. Leave it to her to figure out where the magazine had come from without Benton's confessing the lender's identity.
The four Fraser's rode into the village in George Fraser's car an hour later, where the vehicle stopped to drop Martha off at the Thompson home. Benton sat in the back seat next to his father and steadfastly looked anywhere but at the Thompson home. George watched the boy in his rear view mirror as he drove off. His eyes crinkled as he smiled.
Joshua Thompson stopped dead in his tracks as he saw the Fraser car pull up to his home and Martha Fraser step out of it. His palms got sweatier and he felt like falling to the ground and crying but he remembered that Ben had said he wasn't a coward. Well, he was, but Ben didn't think so. He determined to do what he had to do to get his father's magazine back. With grim determination, he turned and began walking slowly back into the village.
The clerk in the village store was awed when the three Fraser men walked into his establishment. He didn't recall ever seeing the three of them together, well, perhaps the once. But seeing them driving through the village was not the same as seeing the three of them walk into the store. He smiled as three sets of identical Fraser eyes took note of him.
"Boy needs some new duds. Where would we look for a boy this size?" Robert clapped a hand on Benton's shoulder as he talked and felt the heat of embarrassment rising off the boy's body. He took pity on the boy, "Ben, what do you need: jeans, shirts, underwear?"
Benton sagged under his father's hand and felt like disappearing right through the stores floorboards.
"Shoes, I know he needs those." George added without a glance at Benton. "Wide shoes, got any in stock?"
The clerk pointed off towards the far wall, "I think you'll find what you need over there. Shoes are on the back wall. Ben wears a 9 wide, right?"
George laughed, "If his feet are growing like the rest of him, he'll need a larger size." George let Robert know with a jerk of his head towards the clothing area to get Ben started. George himself leaned on a counter and waited. He looked over his shoulder and noted the Thompson boy coming doggedly down the village street. His grin widened.
Josh entered the store one slow step at a time and looked around for Ben. The Fraser car was parked right out in front of the store so he figured that they must be there. He heard the sounds of Ben's father the handing clothing over the fitting room door to Ben.
"Your grandmother said to get new unmentionables Ben. Said she new with spring coming your old ones wouldn't fit. When you come out, you can pick out new ones."
Josh started to turn away and turned directly into the form of George Fraser. He let his eyes drift up towards the older man's face and doggedly held his ground, but said nothing.
"Hello Josh." George waited.
"Hello Mr. Fraser." Josh said in a voice that carried just to where Ben was standing in the dressing room trying on jeans. Ben's feet suddenly became tangled in the legs of the jeans he was pulling up and he fell hard onto the floor.
"You OK in there son?" Robert said and knocked on the door.
Ben scrambled up and kicked the jeans off of his feet and began again. "Yes, I just tripped."
Josh's shoulders sagged and his face broke out in a sweat, but he remained standing in front of George Fraser.
"Something I can do for you Josh?" George tried to keep from laughing.
"Yes. I, uh. I lent something to Ben." Josh felt his tongue grow thick inside his mouth as he tried to talk calmly. "Ben told me I had to ask you for it. So, I'm asking. Please Mr. Fraser, I have to have it back. It doesn't belong to me."
George opened his jacket and lifted out a brown paper wrapped package. "Next time, son, get permission." George handed the young boy the package. He leaned over and whispered into Josh's ear. "What's in that package is fiction. Personally, I like the non-fiction version better. When you get older, I think you and Ben will too."
Josh jumped back and held the package tightly in his hands. "Thank you Mr. Fraser. I better get home now."
"Don't you want to stay and talk to Ben?"
"Not right now, I better return this."
"Well, when you get done with that stop by our place and I'll talk to you and Ben about a job for the summer."
When Ben heard his grandfather offering a summer job to Josh, his head bounced back and hit the wall of the fitting room. He righted himself and grinned.
"Boy, are you sure you're all right in there?" Robert knocked on the fitting room door.
"Yes, I'm fine." Ben licked his lips as he made the statement, fearing his father would at any moment open the door.
"All right then. How'd the shirt fit?"
Josh turned idolizing eyes up to Benton's grandfather and said, "Thank you. I'd like that." Ben was right forging ahead was better. The boy backed out of the store and began walking down the street. After a few steps he bolted into a run and soon was out of site.
Not much later, the Fraser's exited the village store with Ben the owner of four new pairs of jeans, two dress shirts for church, some t-shirts and new underwear. He rubbed one foot against the other in his new size 10 and 1/2 shoes, extra wide, that covered his feet.
They drove quickly to the Thompson's where Martha was ready to leave. She smiled as she approached the car. "Josh came in while I was there. He's such a nice boy. I'm glad you're his friend Ben. I invited the Thompsons over for Sunday dinner when Josh's father returns."
Ben sat in the back seat next to his father amidst his new belongings and sighed.
Robert Fraser leaned over to his son and whispered, "Is that the boy that lent you the a..."
Ben nodded and kept his mouth shut while his fingers worked the strings on one of his brown paper wrapped clothing packages.
"Good. Seems a good sort. Honorable, honorable. Nice to have a friend like that bound to you in friendship." Robert turned and looked out the side window then turned to his son again. "Have you read 'A Tale of Two Cities' yet?"
Benton slid down in his seat. It was going to be a long ride home.