Two Shorts and a Long

By Coleen C. Heaton

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    “Circle up!”

    The wagon master signaled the wagon train of Danish immigrants to form their evening circle. It was a bit early to make camp, and it was sunny there in the valley, but black clouds had been pouring their rain on the Rocky Mountains rising grandly before them for a good while. The storm seemed to be moving toward them. It would be miserable to make camp in the rain, so everyone quickly began their assigned duties.

    Maren dropped her last armful of limbs onto the pile of firewood. As she brushed at the bits of bark clinging to her dress, she heard happy laughter, then an impatient exclamation from her mother. Turning, Maren felt like laughing, too, as her mother tried to brush away the dust that made a squirming little boy look more like a coal miner after work than her four-year-old brother.

    “Maren,” Mother pleaded, “please take Rasmus down to the stream and clean him off as best you can.”

    Wearily Mother turned back to her cooking, only to see six-year-old Jens poking a handful of dry grass into the fire. Too late, the curious boy dropped the flaming grass and shook a burned finger in the air.

    “Mother,” Maren quickly said, “I’ll take Jens down to the stream, too, while you finish supper. I’ll watch them there, and you can call us when it’s ready.”

    Mother’s face softened. “Thank you, dear. It shouldn’t be more than an hour or so.”

    On her way across the circle of covered wagons, Maren saw Annie sitting on an overturned bucket, idly scratching lines in the dirt with a stick. Maren had been thrilled to find another 11-year-old girl in the company of covered wagons. Together they shared their dreams of what they thought Zion would be like. They had become close friends despite being very different. Maybe Annie would like to go down to the stream too.

    “Yes, Annie may go with you,” Sister Christensen said, eyeing Maren’s two brothers. “It looks as if you could use some help, anyway. Be sure to stay together, and don’t be late for dinner.”

    The climb down the high bank of the ravine was steep. Years of spring flooding from the great mountains beyond had slowly cut deeper and deeper into the rolling plain, carrying the dirt far away to some distant river valley. But it was midsummer now, and only a thin trail of water wandered down the streambed. The ravine would probably be completely dry by fall.

    “Surely there’s deeper water than this!” Annie made a face at the shallow stream. “Maybe there’s a pool around that bend.” She headed downstream. Whooping, Jens slapped his make-believe horse and galloped out of sight behind her.

    “Wait for us!” Maren shouted. She hoisted little Rasmus up onto her hip and struggled along as fast as she could. But her brother and her friend weren’t just around the bend when she got there. They weren’t around the next one, either.

    When Maren finally found them, Annie was joyfully wading through a lovely pool. Jens was staring at frog eggs he’d found clinging to the grass at the edge of the water. Annie splashed water at Maren and laughed. “Come on, slowpokes. There’s even a sandy bottom.”

    In no time, there was no dirt at all left on the boys. Rasmus’s cheeks were pink from the scrubbing, and his hair was shiny in the sun.

    Contented, the two girls sat in the soothing quiet and watched the boys toss pebbles into the pool, making ripples that rocked leaf boats across the crystal surface. If it hadn’t been so quiet, they never would have heard the whistle. It drifted ever so faintly down to them—two shorts and a long.

    Annie looked up curiously. “What kind of bird was that?”

    At once alert, Maren stood up. “It sounds like Father. In Denmark that was his signal for me to herd the cows back to the farm. We’d better go back now.”

    “But it hasn’t been near an hour since we left camp,” Annie protested. “Just think how long it’s been since we’ve been able to enjoy water like this!” Annie’s pretty mouth was beginning to pout.

    The whistle came again—two shorts and one long. Maren searched the top of the ravine. She put her fingers to her lips and blew a piercing whistle in reply. “I’m sure that’s Father. We need to go and find out what he wants. Come on, Rasmus,” she coaxed. “You, too, Jens. Father must have some reason for us to come now.”

    Annie’s face was as dark and cloudy as the western sky. “No!” she protested again. “You go if you want. I’ll stay here a while longer. Your father has work for you to do, not me.”

    “But your mother said we must stay together. I can’t leave you here alone. We must go. Please come, Annie. Please?” Maren’s kind eyes begged Annie.

    They heard the whistle once more. It was closer now.

    Annie could not resist Maren’s worried expression. “Very well,” she finally said with a sigh. “You’re probably right. You usually are. Let’s go.”

    With a relieved smile, Maren led the way to the wall of the ravine. With some difficulty the four children scrambled up the steep bank. At the top, they could see three men running toward them along the edge of the ravine.

    As the children paused to catch their breath, even above their own puffing, they could hear a grating roar. Frightened, they looked everywhere but could not tell where the terrifying sound was coming from. Seeing that two of the three men hurrying toward them were their fathers, they ran to meet them.

    Then they saw what was making the strange noise. Rushing and crashing down the ravine was a 10-foot-high wall of water! The heavy rain of the mountain thunderstorm had funneled into the ravine and tumbled trees and boulders before it as if they were feathers. Ripping out sagebrush and whole chunks of earth from the steep banks of the stream, the raging torrent swept up everything in its path, roaring past them and around the bend to where the cool, quiet pool lay with leaf boats floating on its glassy surface.

    Father knelt to gather his shivering children into his strong arms. “I thought we’d never find you,” he choked, blinking his eyes to clear the wetness.

    Annie tearfully hugged her own father closely and whispered, “It was Maren who saved us. She heard and obeyed.”

    Illustrated by Paul Mann