Olivia breathed a sigh of relief, hearing the unmistakable sound of the truck as it parked near the barn. She rushed to the porch, squinting into the darkness as she tried to make out the shadowy figures.
"John?" she called softly. Surely he had found the children.
"Here, Liv," came the answer as he and John Boy stepped into the light of the porch. He held Elizabeth against his shoulder, cradled in his coat. Jim Bob walked next to his father, his hand held by his older brother.
"My goodness, you children will catch your deaths! Come now, upstairs and into a warm bath with you two!" As the children followed her, she didn't miss the apprehensive glances directed toward their father.
Steamy moisture permeated the air of the small bathroom. Water splashed softly as Olivia scrubbed them clean, scolding all the while.
"My goodness! You two are filthy! What on earth were you doing up the mountain in the dark? You know better than that! I was worried!" Jim Bob met her gaze.
"We—we took the calf. Mr. Hooper was gonna kill her! We took her up the mountain and hid her in a cave." Olivia sat back on her heels, appraising her two youngest children. Elizabeth piped up.
"We had to, Mama!" Her voice was teary. "We couldn't just leave her there!" She dropped her eyes. "Jim Bob asked Daddy if he was gonna spank us."
"Well, what did he say?" A tear slid down the little girl's cheek.
"He said, 'What do YOU think?'" Olivia nodded, lifting first one and then the other from the tub and drying them thoroughly. Nightgown and nightshirt in place, they stood before her. She looked into their worried eyes.
"You two wait here in the hall. I'll call you after I talk to your Daddy."
John sat in his chair before the fire, deep in thought. Olivia came down the stairs and pulled up her rocking chair beside him.
"Poor things, they're exhausted." She cast him a sideways glance. "…and afraid." He nodded, his eyes on the flames.
"They asked me if I was gonna give 'em a spankin'."
"They're still worryin'." When he was silent, she went on softly.
"John, what they did…they were just trying to save the calf. They didn't think of it as anything else." He speared her with a glance.
"Now, stop mother-hennin'. They've done wrong, and they need to be taught to realize it." He sighed. "I don't want to do it, Liv; but this is too serious of an issue. We've never allowed stealing of any kind, and we're not going to start now. Are they in their nightclothes?" She knew the significance of his question. They didn't wear anything under them for bed. She nodded, and called softly for the children.
"Jim Bob? Elizabeth?" Slowly the two came into view, clinging to each other's hands. They descended the stairs, eyes on their daddy. His look was stern.
"You took that calf, and he didn't belong to you. That is called stealing. I know you were trying to save him, but taking him was the wrong choice. You also worried your momma, goin' off like that without telling someone."
"Yes, sir," they chorused softly, as tears threatened.
"I'm going to give each of you a spanking, to help you remember that stealing is wrong- no matter what the reason is behind it. The next time you have a problem, come to me or your mama. If you had done that, we wouldn't be here now. Do you understand?" He waited until they both nodded.
"Elizabeth, you go on into the kitchen with your momma." When they were gone, he beckoned to Jim Bob with one finger, pointing downward to the spot in front of him. Reluctantly, the boy obeyed. His raised tear-washed eyes to his father.
"I-I'm sorry, Daddy."
"I'm afraid you're going to be a lot more sorry in a few minutes," was the reply as John settled his son over his knee and bared his bottom. Loud wails erupted as he administered the spanking, holding the boy firmly as he squirmed. Even though he only used his hand, Jim Bob's bottom was bright red when the spanking was finished. After John stood him on his feet, he grabbed for his sore behind and rubbed furiously as he sobbed.
"Go on to the kitchen, and send your sister in here to me." The boy ran, still hiccupping and rubbing. John waited, watching the kitchen door. His eyes softened at the sight of his small daughter in her white nightgown. He had to harden his heart. "Come here, Elizabeth," he said sternly. She came to him, tears rolling down her little cheeks as her hands covered her bottom.
"Please, Daddy! Please don't! I'm s-s-s-sorry!" she quavered.
"Yes, and you're going to be a lot more sorry in a few minutes." He put her over his knee, bared her bottom, and administered the spanking. Her cries were just as loud, and her bottom just as red, when he finished. As soon as he stood her up, she ran sobbing to the kitchen.
John remained in his chair, getting his own emotions under control. He hated having to punish the children, and these spankings in particular had been hard on him. The kids were usually well behaved, so neither of them had received one in a while. He knew their bottoms would be a mite sore tomorrow, because he'd not gone easy on them. When only sniffles could be heard from the kitchen, he called softly to his offspring.
"Jim Bob, Elizabeth…. come here."
The kitchen door swung open and they appeared, hesitating on the threshold. He knew that their reluctance stemmed from the fact that it was he who had just set their bottoms afire. He opened his arms, and they couldn't resist. John hugged them close, one in each arm. Wiping away the remaining tears, he spoke softly.
"I hope you've both learned a lesson tonight. I'm sorry that I had to put you over my knee, but it was necessary to help you learn. I love you both so much; that's why I need to teach you what's right. If I didn't love you, I wouldn't care what you did. Do you understand?" They nodded their heads against him as they snuggled close.
"Tomorrow we'll take the calf back over to Mr. Hooper, and I'll see if he'd be willing to sell her back to me." Two pairs of eyes swung to him, wide. He smiled.
"I know you love that calf. Even willing to take a spankin' for him." He stood and lifted them in his arms.
"Time for bed for you two." He took the stairs quietly, while Olivia turned out the lights and followed.