'Frank?' Ben's voice raised over the sound of chopping wood and stopped his younger brother in his work.
'Yeah, Ben?' Frank replied, throwing the cut kindling into the pile and picking out another log for the block.
'Have you seen your brother?' the older man asked, scanning the yard as he did so in hopes of seeing a mop of bronze curls.
'You mean Gideon?' Frank asked, bringing the axe down and splitting the log easily. He was only fourteen but the hard work of a homestead had toughened his young muscles, especially when there were seven bodies in need of warming by a good fire. 'Naw Ben, I ain't seen him.'
Ben huffed out an exasperated breath. 'I swear that boy ain't done an inch of work since breakfast.'
'Most likely he's in the fields, chasing rabbits,' Frank said. His name had afforded him a serious nature but it didn't take much to get him riled; his brother's next statement saw to that.
'Well, I'll go look for him. In the mean time the water needs fetching for dinner and the potatoes need peeling.'
'Aw, Ben, that's Gid's job!' Frank whined.
'And Gideon isn't here so I'm asking you to do it,' Ben snapped, his temper also wearing thin. 'Either you do that or none of us are eating today. You want to explain that to Caleb and Daniel?'
Frank pouted but saw the sense in his brother's command. He let the axe thunk down into the block and slapped his dusty palms on his britches. 'All right brother, but when you find him you just make sure you give him some swats from me too, okay?'
Ben chuckled. 'Oh he'll be getting swats a plenty, don't you worry about that!'
Gideon lay in the tall grass of the high field, watching the clouds drifting by and making shapes from them. He twirled a blade of grass around in his fingers and thought of nothing much, letting the sun warm him and feeling quite sleepy. He'd spent the hours after breakfast tickling trout in a stream and had a fair number on a string attached to a stick to bring home with him. He was sure this peace offering would calm his brother Ben; it was his chore to fetch all the ingredients for dinner after all. Ben was much more easy going about things than Adam was, and with the oldest of the Pontipee brothers away in town with Ephraim the past two days things had been fairly relaxed for the rest of them.
He sat up, thinking he could hear some noise on the wind. He listened for a moment and then shook his head; he must have imagined it.
Gideon stood, taking his stick and slinging his catch over a shoulder, making for the tree line which would lead him, on a very roundabout route, back to the house. He leapt on fallen logs and boulders, dancing and balancing on them as he went. The child would never walk in a straight line if he could help it.
This time the voice was much clearer. Gid looked around and spotted his big brother Ben through the trees. As he came closer the boy could see that Ben's mouth behind his bushy red beard was curved down and his brow was creased in a frown.
'Hey, big brother, were you looking for me? I caught some fish for lunch!' Gideon called, smiling and waving the stick above his head.
'Gideon Pontipee, what have you been doing?!' Ben demanded angrily, causing his younger sibling's smile to fade somewhat.
'Er...' was all the youngster could manage.
'Because it sure wasn't fetching the water, or preparing the vegetables, or any of your other chores,' Ben said, striding forwards to stand in front of the boy, his hands on his hips and his legs splayed.
Gideon stepped back a little. 'Aw Ben, I'll do all of that when I'm home. There's plenty of time.'
'That's not the point and you know it!' Benjamin snapped, taking another step forwards. Gideon jumped back. 'Gee, sorry Ben. I didn't mean to make you mad,' he apologised. 'It was just such a good day and I knew the fish'd be real easy to catch.'
'That's your excuse for slacking off?' Ben asked. 'I'm sure that'll make Frank all the sweeter knowing he did your chores so that you could spend your morning playing in the stream.'
'He didn't have to-!'
'Yes he did because I asked him to,' Ben interrupted. 'It's only a short while to midday, Gideon and that food needed to be ready. Water takes time to boil you know.'
'Gee, Ben, I'm sorry,' Gideon said sincerely. 'I'll do all of Frank's chores when I get back too.'
'Yes, you will,' his big brother said sternly. 'Gideon, I know I'm not as strict on you as Adam but I still expect you to mind me.'
Gideon's temper started growing thin at his older brother's overbearing tone. 'Heck Ben, I was only gone a few hours. There's still plenty of time for me to do my chores.'
'That's it, boy,' Ben snapped, striding forwards and catching his brother's arm. Gideon pulled back and then the world suddenly flipped. They had been standing near a hill and Gideon's step had taken him over the edge. As Ben was holding onto the boy the pair of them fell, rolling down the bank to land in a pile of autumn leaves at the bottom.
'Gid! Are you all right?' Ben pushed himself up to a kneeling position, staring in panic at his younger brother.
Gideon sat up, a few scuffs and scratches the only result of the tumble. 'I'm fine,' he said, a little shakily and then he caught sight of his brother and his eyes widened. A hand shot up to his mouth to cover a snort. 'Oh brother, you look like a wild man!' he sniggered and then erupted into gales of laughter.
Ben tried to look down on himself and saw that his beard was full of bits of leaf and twig from the descent, the action made him go slightly cross-eyed which sent his younger sibling off into another fit of giggles.
Ben's usually calm demeanour snapped at this. He laughed, but unknown to Gideon this was not a good sign. He waded through the leaves, still kneeling, until he reached his brother's side and then, quick as lightning and still laughing in a deep, booming voice, pulled him across his bent knee.
'No!' Gideon shouted, his mirth cut short and replaced with fear. 'Big brother, don't!'
But it was too late. Benjamin's large, work-worn hand came down hard on the young boy's backside.
'OW!' Gideon shrieked as another swat landed, and then another. 'Stop! Ben, please!'
'Oh no, little brother, you've earned this one,' Ben said merrily, raining down blow after blow on the boy's rear. 'You disappear for hours, worry me sick, skip your chores and then laugh at me.'
'I'll never do it again, I swear!'
'All of it!' Gideon howled, scrunching his eyes tight so that the tears that had gathered there spilled over. He clutched handfuls of dry leaves and kicked his legs, squirming in his brother's grip as the spanking continued. He let out little yelps at each swat, crying now in earnest as his big brother set his bottom afire.
'I'll be good,' he finally moaned, giving in completely and sagging over the man's knee.
Ben stopped immediately, knowing the boy had learnt his lesson. He got to his feet, giving Gideon a brief bear-hug before swinging him up and over his shoulder like a sack of corn.
'Lemme down, big brother,' the boy whined, kicking feebly.
'Not a chance, little brother,' Ben grinned, his expression hidden from the boy's view. 'I'm not letting you out of my sight for the rest of the day. And when we get home you are going to go apologise to your brother, all right?'
'Yes sir,' Gideon said miserably. His backside was stinging terribly and he wished that Ben would let go of him so that he could rub it properly. Every step that the man took jolted him and set off a fresh wave of soreness on his rear. He vowed then and there never to skip out on doing his chores ever again!
Two days later Gideon and Frank were sitting by the creek, dipping their feet in the cool water after a morning's hard work.
'Adam!' Gideon jumped up, beaming to see his brother home from town. He rushed forwards, hugging Adam's legs in greeting. Frank, a little too old now for such public displays of affection, tilted his head backwards, his feet still in the water, and grinned at their older brother. 'Howdy brother, how was town?'
'Good,' Adam smiled. 'I got a good price for our crops and the bullock,' he looked down at Gideon and patted the boy fondly on the head. 'Frank, would you go help your brothers unload the cart? I need to talk to our youngest.' When he saw the boy about to object he continued. 'I got some liquorice from the store too, might be your brothers haven't finished it all off yet.'
Frank needed no second bidding and jumped up, pulling on his boots almost at the same time as breaking into a run for the house.
Gideon was looking at his big brother warily. 'What's the matter, Adam?'
The eldest Pontipee sighed and led the boy to the stream's edge where he bade him sit beside him.
'I hear that Ben gave you a lickin' while I was gone,' he said.
Gideon blushed. 'Aw, Adam...' he mumbled, embarrassed. His head shot up suddenly. 'I done all my chores today Adam, and Frank's, and I asked Ben if we could come dipping, I did!'
It was true; Gideon had worked hard after his little "talk" with Ben and had made sure all his work was finished fast and without prompting. He had even taken on more work once the chores were done; he'd been a model of reform.
'I know, young'n,' Adam said kindly, patting the boy on the shoulder. 'Correct me if I'm wrong though, but I recall you promising me to give your brother no trouble whilst I was gone.'
Gideon swallowed nervously. 'Yes, but-'
'And what is it called if you break a promise, Gideon?'
His little brother looked down at the grass between his legs miserably. 'A lie,' he mumbled almost inaudibly.
'And what happens when you lie to me, or to any one for that matter?' Adam prompted.
'I get a whoopin',' Gideon said softly, tears forming in his eyes. 'But Adam! I already got spanked by Ben; it hurt real bad too!'
'That was for skipping chores and making your brothers worry,' Adam said. 'This is for lying and breaking your promise to me.' Saying this Adam reached over and gently pulled his youngest brother to him, bringing him face down over his lap and then reaching for the boy's braces.
'Ada~am,' Gideon whined as he felt the two clasps being undone and then the coolness of the mountain breeze touch his exposed bottom as the britches were pulled down.
'You know what you get if you lie,' Adam said gruffly, trying very hard to steel his heart against the pitiful sobs that had already started beneath him. The boy's backside was barely even pink still from Ben's spanking the other day, precisely the reason why he had wanted the punishment to be done bare. Now there was no chance of the boy being hurt by an overzealous punishment, but Adam would make very certain the boy would learn to mind for a long while to come.
Gideon was bawling by the end of the spanking. Altogether he only received thirty or so hard smacks from the man and was crying more from shame and self-pity than actual pain.
When it was done Adam drew the boy's breeches back up and refastened the buckles. Then he pulled his little brother into a big hug, standing up as he did so. Gideon clung to him, crying deeply and promising faithfully never to disobey again.
Adam was very sure that the boy meant it- at least until the next time. He hugged his little brother to him as he set off back to the house. 'Don't you worry about it anymore, little one. Now, I saved you some liquorice from the store so how about we go on back to the house and see if we can wrassle it from your brothers?'
Gideon nodded, sniffing hard and wiping his eyes roughly. 'Yeah,' he smiled weakly. 'Thank you, big brother.'
Adam returned the smile, cradling the boy as the pair made their way back to the house.