Chapter Twenty

Samuel looked up and saw Wayne coming towards him, his face pinched and pale.

Wayne! What’s wrong?” he asked in concern as he put his hand on Wayne’s shoulder.

“S-Samuel, I n-n-need your help!” Wayne stammered in a high-pitched voice.

“What is it? Calm down!” Samuel put an arm around the younger man’s shoulders and grimly steered him over to a fallen tree, pulling him down to sit with him.

Having made up his mind to tell, Wayne quickly blurted out the whole story to his companion. How he had taken the puppy on impulse, how he had felt forced into telling Galen in order to get scraps, and how he had just seen Galen and Thomas returning the puppy to Kelby.

“What do I do now? They’ll be coming to get me!” The panic was obvious in Wayne’s eyes and speech.

Samuel was stunned. He couldn’t believe his ears. He was quiet for about two minutes as he thought things over. “Wayne, I think the best thing would be talk with Thomas and to get everything straightened out. Okay? I’ll be right with you. Come what may, we’ll face this together. It’ll be alright. Come along now!”

Wayne nodded his head reluctantly. He knew it was time to face the inevitable and it terrified him. But with Samuel next to him and sounding so calm, he felt stronger.

Wes saw Wayne heading into the woods. ‘This has gone on long enough. I’m gonna find out once and for all what the hell he’s been up to,’ he thought and took off after his brother. He watched Wayne run over to Samuel and crept closer to hear what was being said.

Wes could not catch the whole conversation, but he made out enough to feel a wave of anger and protectiveness sweep through him. Wayne’s tale left Wes infuriated. ‘Don’t worry, Wayne! I will get him for ratting on you,’ he vowed vehemently to himself before hastening back to camp.

Wes tramped with determined strides towards Galen, his eyes glinting angrily. ‘How dare that runt tattle on my brother,’ he fumed to himself. Wes fought often with Wayne and sometimes fiercely too, but that was different. He would not allow anyone else to hurt his twin in any way.

“Hey you!” Wes called out and as Galen looked up, swung a left hook that almost brought the smaller man to his knees.

“And that,” Wes said with satisfaction as he watched the blood seep from Galen’s nose, “is for tattling on Wayne!”

Nathan came out of the storage tent just in time to see Wes’ attack on Galen. He rushed over, placed a firm hand on Wes’ shoulder, spun him around and demanded, “what the hell do you think you are doing?”

Wes was breathing hard as he looked into Nathan’s eyes. Without thinking, he brushed Nathan’s hand away and snapped, “get off me!”

Nathan griped Wes’ arm and gave him a shake. “I asked a question and I expect an answer, young man!”

Some of the fury left Wes’ eyes but his voice was far from apologetic. “Well, I’m not sorry. That little bastard there ...”

Nathan turned Wes slightly and landed a solid swat on his backside. “There’ll be none of that vulgar name-calling!”

“Ow!” Wes let out a loud yelp. “What was that for?” he demanded angrily, even as the blush crept up his face when he realised there were spectators around.

“You are a smart man, so I’ll let you figure it out for yourself. Now, I am still waiting for an explanation of your actions.”

Wes pointed an accusing finger at Galen and hollered, “he is nothing but a lousy squealer! And he deserved to get a bloody nose!”

Thomas took gentle hold of the shocked Galen and put a clean handkerchief under the younger man’s nose to stem the flow of blood. He turned to look at Wes, his face red with anger over the unprovoked attack. “If you are accusing Galen of having told on Wayne for taking the puppy, you are sadly mistaken. Despite being repeatedly asked, he kept Wayne’s confidence. Up until this moment, I had no idea it was your brother who stole the dog.”

Wes glared at Thomas for a moment, then turned disbelieving eyes first to Galen and finally to Nathan. The flush in his cheeks grew darker. “You mean, Galen didn’t ... um ..”

“No, he didn’t. However, I am calling a council meeting forthwith to discuss how we will be dealing with your brother’s thievery and your assault on Galen. Be aware that both are serious charges.” Thomas turned to the handsome tailor. “Nathan, I will leave Wesley to you for the time being as I need to get Galen’s nose looked at. We will hold a council meeting immediately after supper. Would you please see to it that Wesley is there and if you can, track down Wayne as well?”

“Samuel and I will make sure both of them are in attendance, Thomas,” Nathan assured him.

Thomas wrapped his arm around Galen and led him towards the infirmary. “Are you in much pain?” he asked as he guided his young charge across the compound. “We need to get Lakota to look at your nose and make sure it isn’t broken.”

Not getting a response, Thomas turned Galen’s face upward to enable the younger man to see his lips. Then he repeated the question.

“Ah, n-no. It’s kinda n-numb.” Galen answered as he meekly allowed himself to be led to the medical tent. He was in a bit of a stupor and not fully mindful of what was going on around him. He clung onto Thomas when finding his legs shaking and seemingly unwilling to hold him upright.

Thomas pulled the flap back on the infirmary tent and called out, “Lakota, we’re in need of your services!”

Becoming aware of where he was, Galen held back. He had been visiting the doctor regularly since his initial check-up and felt it was already more than enough.

Lakota looked up from the logbook he’d been writing in, took in the blood-soaked handkerchief being held against Galen’s face and went immediately to lead the young man to the examination table.

“Galen, I want you to sit up here so I can have a closer look at what damage has been done. Thomas, bring me the lamp from my desk please, as I’ll need the extra light,” Lakota ordered. “You mind telling me what happened?” he requested, offering the young man a helping hand.

“Someone punched me,” Galen mumbled through the red-stained cloth in his hand. Still in a daze, he didn’t even notice the burn returning to his recently spanked bottom.

Lakota threw a questioning look towards Thomas, but the other man gave a small shake of the head and mouthed ‘later’, so the doctor returned his attention to his patient. “Let me take the handkerchief and have a look at what we’ve got here.” He pulled the cloth away and peered at the bloody, swollen nose. “I’m going to touch it very gently, Galen. I know it’s sore, but I need to see if it’s broken, okay? I may need your assistance, Thomas, as Yancey is tending our other patient at the moment.”

Galen started to pull away but knowing how futile that would be, let the doctor check him out.

Thomas laid a reassuring hand on Galen’s shoulder. “Easy, honey. I’m here with you.”

Lakota gently felt the nose, noting that the bleeding was lessening.

“Oww!” Galen cried and tried to push the hand away.

“Galen, you need to sit still for me. I know it hurts but I have to examine your nose,” Lakota softly chastised.

Galen responded with a scowl but did as he was told.

“Thomas, there is a basin of cold water on the crate in the corner. Please bring it to me along with the stack of small towels beside it. Galen, I don’t think your nose is broken, so we’re just going to clean it up and hold some cold compresses on it to make it feel better, okay?”

“Alright,” the young man muttered reluctantly, suspiciously watching every move the older men made.

Thomas gathered the requested supplies and brought them to the examining table. He soaked one of the cloths, wrung it out and handed it to the doctor. 

Lakota took it and carefully washed away the caked-on blood as well as mopping up what was still slowly dripping out. He tossed the stained cloth aside and took the next one Thomas handed to him. “I want you to hold this over your nose and as it warms we’ll need to change it every few minutes until the bleeding has stopped. Okay?”

Thomas took Galen’s free hand in his and rubbed it reassuringly. “Are you feeling any better now?” he asked worriedly.

“Uh-huh,” Galen nodded and leaned towards the bigger man, seeking comfort and finding it.

Thomas glanced questioningly at the doctor, who gave him a smile. “He’ll be fine, Thomas, but I’m afraid his nose will be swollen and bruised. There is also a good chance that he’ll end up with a black eye or two as the bruising spreads. But there will be no permanent damage.”

Thomas’ look of relief slowly changed to one of wrath as he thought of the unprovoked attack to this young man he was so fond of. He knew he would have to compose himself before dealing with the situation. He could not be a fair judge of things while he was feeling nothing but anger.

Galen’s eyes moved from one man to the other as he slowly relaxed and gave himself up to their care. He was unaware of Thomas’ mounting fury or of the man’s inward battle to control it.

Lakota could see the lines of tension around Thomas’ eyes and decided the man needed something to do to get his mind off the situation for a few minutes. “Thomas, I’d like to get Galen to drink something warm, but I’ve let the fire go out in our pot-bellied stove. Would you mind going to the mess hall and bringing me back a small pot of boiled water? I have some herbs here for tea.”

Thomas looked up, startled from his reverie by the doctor’s request. “Oh... sure, Doctor, that would be fine. I’ll be right back.”

“I don’t even like tea,” Galen whispered bewilderingly as he watched Thomas leave the tent.

The doctor smiled. “I wanted Thomas to take a break and calm down. He’s pretty upset about you being hurt,” he explained. “And I’ll have you know, this is my own blend of herbal tea and it is delicious,” he added.

“Do you p-put sugar in it?”

“I have some honey if you would like.”

“Okay, I’ll try it even though I really p-prefer m-milk.”

Lakota laughed. He liked this young man, so honest and spunky. “Drink your tea and you can have some milk with your supper,” he promised.

“I think, Wesley, it is time you and I had a little talk,” Nathan sternly suggested and began to gently but firmly lead Wes around the back of the mess hall and into the woods.

Wes tried to pull away. “Nathan, no! I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Do you remember what we talked about earlier this morning?”

“A-about what?” Wes cocked his head to one side, looking deceptively perplexed.

“I seem to recall explaining to you what my response would be to fighting, especially publicly.”

“But, Nathan, I wasn’t fighting!” He rushed on as Nathan raised his eyebrows. “It wasn’t a fight! It was, er ..just a little misunderstanding because I thought ...” he trailed off as he felt the stern eyes on him. “I was mistaken, okay? Honest!”

Nathan looked into dark brown eyes and softy inquired, “young man, are you seriously telling me you think punching someone in the face, someone I might add who is much smaller than you are and making his nose bleed because you think he did something against your brother, is acceptable behaviour?”

Somehow that soft voice made Wes’ knees tremble more than if he had been shouted at. He stared back at Nathan, for once at a loss for words.

“It isn’t, Wesley!” Nathan’s sharp tone made Wes flinch. “The council will not put up with it. I certainly will not put up with it!” Nathan could see the wheels turning in Wes’ head. The young man before him suddenly transformed into a picture of contrition and when he spoke, he sounded deeply remorseful. Nathan secretly found Wes’ attempt to manipulate him amusing but he wasn’t deceived for a moment, nor was he going to let the incident pass unaccounted for.

“Nathan, I’m very sorry. It was an honest mistake!” Wes mumbled to the ground, looking the picture of dejection. He chanced a peek up, saw Nathan’s eyes still on him and quickly ducked his head once again.

“I am sorry too, Minx, but there are consequences to be faced.” Nathan took Wes’ hand and led him further along the path. Once they were out of hearing distance from the campsite, he sat down on a log with Wes standing in front of him.

Wes’ eyes were wide. “You aren’t really doing this, are you Nathan? It was just one punch and not a very hard one at that. Nathaaaaan, you can’t be serious.”

Nathan shook his head to let Wes know his pleading was accomplishing nothing. He reached out for the obviously unrepentant young man standing before him, steadily pulling on his arm until he was face down across his well-muscled thighs.

With the dread mixing with anticipation in the pit of his stomach, Wes yielded to Nathan’s strength. As he felt himself tipped over and Nathan’s arm holding him down, he suddenly gave a gurgle of amusement, which he did nothing to hide. It was more from nervousness than anything else.

Nathan gritted his teeth in tender exasperation; fully aware Wes could not see him doing so. ‘This cheeky lad still thinks this is a game,’ he thought. Aloud he said, “I am afraid you are in for a bit of an unpleasant surprise, young man,” he announced. “Do you think this is a game?” he snapped as he smacked the seat of Wes’ pants.

Wes jerked, the amusement dying abruptly. ‘Man, but that swat stung!’

Nathan tightened his left arm around Wes’ waist, his right arm rising and falling as he applied a dozen very hard swats to the upturned bottom. He paused. “Do you know why you are being spanked, Wesley?”

Wes lay still for the duration of about four spanks, probably in shock, and then struggled with all his might. He could not believe this was happening. The spanks hurt, but his dignity hurt more. “Let me up! Let me up!” he protested, his eyes stinging with angry tears.

Nathan ignored him and landed another dozen smacks, stopping to rest his hand on the seat of Wes’ pants. He could feel the heat beginning to radiate from them. “That is not the answer I am looking for, Wesley.”

“Ow!” Wes groaned as the warmth continued to build in his nether region. “Please! Don’t spank me anymore, Nathan! Stop!”

Nathan gently rubbed his hand across the backside he had been spanking. “Then tell me why you are being punished, please.”

“I don’t know! Wait!” Wes cried when he felt the hand lift off his butt. “Okay, it’s for punching that squealer.” Another spank landed, harder than the others. “NO!” Wes wailed.

Nathan waited. Both knew what was expected.

Wes swallowed his tears. Then in a shaking voice, he whimpered, “it’s for punching Galen.”

“That’s right!” Nathan quietly confirmed. “I said no public brawling. No means no! I do not want to see it happening again, Wesley. Do you hear me?”

“Yessssssss!” Wes hissed.

“Good! Then let’s finish up here.” Nathan mercilessly landed additional hard swats on Wes’ sit-spot to end the spanking.

Wes was wearing thin cotton pants which did nothing to dull the pain. He jerked and yelled and continued crying even when it finally stopped. The last round of smacks stung on his already sore bottom even more.

Nathan let Wes slide to the ground. He gently caressed the soft black hair falling against his leg. He wanted to comfort the young man but was unsure of what Wes’ reaction would be to being soothed by his chastiser.

Wes sobbed as if his heart was breaking. “You hit me!” he whispered accusingly.

“No, Minx. I didn’t hit you. I spanked your pant-clad bottom. And I am giving you fair-warning, should this ever need to be repeated, rest assured it will not be over clothing. Do you understand me, Wesley?”

Wes cried out at the harshness, but Nathan made him look up, brushing his tears away with a touch that was both gentle and loving.

Wes began to look at Nathan with new eyes. The older man was both castigator and comforter, and he had enough resolve to ensure Wes did not wallow in self-pity. Instead, he had issued a stern warning of what would happen were Wes caught fighting again. Wes trembled. He allowed Nathan to tug him onto his lap. He leaned into him, nestling into the broad shoulder and secretly admitted to himself that he could definitely live with this man.

Nathan was relieved when the young man cuddled against him, not minding in the least when a wet, snotty face rubbed across his shirt. 

The mess hall slowly cleared out as the well-fed men went in search of some badly needed leisure time. The last two men to eat were late for the evening meal, so they quietly entered, collected their laden plates and left just as inconspicuously. The council prepared for an upcoming meeting for the second time in a little over a week as Walker lowered the canvas walls, lit a couple of oil lamps and ushered his young assistants out of the tent.

At exactly seven o’clock, Thomas called the meeting to order. He’d had time to cool down and felt confident of his ability to act objectively. He looked towards the young twins sitting beside the older men who had befriended them. Wesley and Wayne looked grim-faced while Samuel and Nathan tried to present a calm image. To Thomas’ right were Lakota and Larry; to his left sat Aiden and Troy.

Although the other members of the council had been informed of the charges, they were still finding it difficult to assimilate the sordid details and all were saddened by the implications.

“Gentlemen, we have some serious business to discuss here this evening. Wayne Bentley, it has come to the attention of this council that you have taken a puppy which was not yours and secreted that puppy from its rightful owner for a somewhat lengthy period of time. Do you admit to this?”

Not knowing what was expected of him, the young man merely nodded.

“Stand up and address the council out loud, Wayne,” Samuel firmly admonished.

Wayne got to his feet and cleared his throat self-consciously. “Yes. Yes, I admit it.”

Five pairs of eyes seemed to bore into him. 

“Can you please explain to the council why you did it?” The tone was unexpectedly gentle, much kinder than he would have expected.

“I .. ah …” Suddenly his mind went blanked. He had no idea what to say.

Samuel whispered behind him. “Go on, Wayne; say what’s in your heart.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat, he slowly looked at each of the council members sitting at the table in front of him. There was a mixture of expressions in their faces: curiosity, sternness, anticipation. Wayne’s stomach fluttered and he let out a little sigh of relief. He had so feared he would find condemnation and disgust.

“It was a mistake. I didn’t mean to. I acted without thinking. Everyone was so excited about having their own pets and I felt left out because there was none for me. Not just the puppy, but everything that had been taken away. I was angry and miserable. I am sorry.” It was not the most eloquent of speeches, but it came from his heart and it struck a chord in the hearts of each member of the council.

There was a moment of silence as the council studied the dejected figure before them. Wayne fidgeted and dropped his eyes to the ground.

Thomas turned to the other twin.

“Wesley Bentley, you committed an unprovoked assault on another member of this community. Do you admit to this?” Thomas asked.

Without prompting, Wes got up and stood next to his brother. “Well, I guess you could say that. But it’s a matter of opinion whether there was any provocation, y’know?”

A strangled sound came from behind him and Nathan hissed, “drop the cockiness, young man. You don’t need any more trouble.”

Wes glanced back, ducked his head and then muttered, “yes, I admit I punched Galen in the face.”

A few heads shook solemnly while one pair of eyes shone with secret amusement at the irrepressible young man. As unacceptable as Wes’ actions had been, Aiden still appreciated the lad’s provocative nature.

“Your brother has explained why he stole the puppy. Do you have anything to offer in the way of explanation or excuse for your behaviour? Remember please, that what you say can be used to sway the decision regarding your punishment either for the positive or the negative,” Thomas instructed seriously.

Wes looked up and his voice shook despite his efforts to mask it. “I knew Wayne was in trouble. I thought Galen ratted on him. That’s why I went after the kid. I was mistaken but I honestly thought … oh well, my mistake. I know my brother and I fight all the time, but it’s different when someone else hurts him. I won’t stand by and just let it happen, and I know Wayne wouldn’t stand for it either if someone was trying to hurt me. For whatever reasons Wayne took the puppy, I know he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Everyone makes mistakes and it’s been hard enough being thrown together here like this, so we don’t need more …” Wes’ voice broke.

Wayne reached out and touched his arm. Looking up at the voiceless faces regarding the two of them, he pleaded, “it’s my fault Wes is in trouble. He was only trying to protect me, not start a fight. What I did was wrong, and I admit that, so take it out on me. He was just being a good brother by looking out for me. Please leave him out of this! I acted on impulse. I am the one who is in the wrong; not Wes!”

“Thank you, gentlemen, for your responses. They will definitely be taken under consideration.” Thomas kindly presented this assurance before requesting that the twins and their mentors wait outside while the council discuss the necessary consequences.

The four men complied and adjourned to a small secluded grove not far from the mess hall. The twins nervously paced while Nathan and Samuel sat calmly thinking over what had already transpired.

Inside the large tent, the meeting was progressing smoothly as members of the council voiced their opinions.

Shifting in his seat, Larry quietly spoke on Wes and Wayne’s behalf. “I do believe their overall attitudes and their defence for one another says a lot for their understanding of the errors in judgement they are guilty of.”

“Aye! They do seem remorseful. Ach, the follies of youth! They all too easily reacted to their emotions and soon found themselves in o’er their wee heads.”  

“They both deserve to be commended for admitting up front that their actions were improper.” Lakota softly expressed his thoughts.

“Yes, but we cannot give any thought to Wayne’s plea not to punish Wesley. The young man punched Galen and he too deserves to be punished.” Troy’s comments met with agreeing nods from the other men seated at the table.

“Of course, it goes without saying that both of them will have to render apologies to the young men who have been wronged.” Larry sadly shook his head.

“Aye, and I dinna think extra chores would be amiss,” Aiden offered.

“They’ve done some field work to date have they not?” Troy asked.

“Yes, they have also helped with the laundry in the past,” Larry confirmed.

“Given that, I would suggest they be made to do all the laundry for the next two weeks,” Troy stated.

“I personally consider one week of laundry duty sufficient,” Larry counter-proposed.

The doctor nodded. “Yes, it is a very heavy job and I think one week is enough.”

“I also feel ’twould be appropriate as an example setter for them to be denied social contact for a short period of time, such as the lost privilege of attending the evening firesides,” Aiden resignedly suggested.

“Have we reached a consensus, gentlemen?” the head of the council inquired.

“Aye, ye have my vote to the apologies, three nights of no firesides and one week of laundry duty,” Aiden replied.

“Sounds reasonable to me,” Lakota agreed.

“I also concur,” Larry responded.

“And you, Troy?” Thomas questioned.

Troy offered his agreement. “I too acquiesce!”

“Alright, let’s bring them back in. Larry, would you do the honours, please?”

“Of course, Thomas.” Larry got to his feet, walked over to open the flap of the tent and summoned the four men who were anxiously waiting outside.

The twins trudged in and stood in front of the council with heads humbly bowed this time. Their confessions followed by the few minutes of quiet time with Samuel and Nathan along with the tension of waiting for the council decision had completely drained them and they were too exhausted to display any other emotions except contrition and remorse.

Thomas regarded the two young men in front of him with genuine concern for how they would accept the council’s ruling. “Wesley and Wayne, the council has reached a decision, but first I would like you both to know that we all have only your best interests at heart; yours and the rest of our little community. You fully understand that your actions have gone against the rules which this council brought forth not so long ago. What you both did was wrong, but under the circumstances, not irreparable. Although we understand your reasons, you have still left us little choice in how this has to be handled. We cannot stand back and allow such behaviour to go without censure, no matter what the promptings or provocations.” He paused to let his words sink in before indicating that Troy was to say a few words.

“As Thomas said, we do understand how hard it’s been on you; indeed, on all of us. However, having said that, your actions were clearly unacceptable. They were conscious decisions which brought about pain to others. This could have been avoided if more rational thought had been put to it.” Troy’s voice was firm but lacked any sign of insensitivity.

“We also took into consideration your willingness to admit fault, how you stood up for one another and your pleas for the other, which we frankly found very praiseworthy. It has been a positive factor in our discussion.” Lakota softly added his comments while Aiden and Larry nodded their agreement.

“It is the judgement of this council that you be deprived of the evening fireside gatherings for the next three days, that you will be responsible for all the community laundry for the next week and finally, but perhaps most importantly, that you offer public apologies immediately after breakfast tomorrow morning to those whom you have wronged. Do you have anything to say regarding these censures?” Thomas asked after pronouncing sentence.

As the head of the council finished speaking, Wayne and Wes let out their breaths slowly. The punishment sounded harsh yet was not as severe as they had feared. Wayne once again touched Wes’ arm and a silent message passed between them.

“We understand and we accept your decision and will abide by it.” Wayne said, nodding at his twin. “Once again, I want to say how sorry I am for creating this whole mess and for getting Wes into trouble.”

“Nathan, Samuel, the council would appreciate your assistance in overseeing the carrying out of these sanctions. Would either of you feel uncomfortable doing this?” Thomas politely requested.

“I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’ll do whatever is required to put this situation to rest,” Nathan responded. “I think the council has shown understanding and fairness in the way they have conducted this entire procedure.”

“Yes, they most certainly have. I agree and I also have no problem with the council’s decision,” Samuel quietly stated.


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