A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Eleven
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
"Probably you don't think I can do it," Andy accused Laura, "but I can. Watch!"
He took a running leap off the high riverbank and completed almost two full somersaults before he hit the water with a great splash. Andy popped back up to the surface grinning and waved at Laura, high above him.
"See! Now you come. But no fancy stuff! Just jump and I'll make sure you're okay. "
Laura shuddered at the thought of jumping that great distance, but it never occurred to her not to do it. Andy was a terrible daredevil. He talked Laura into doing many things she would never have thought of doing herself. But he was very protective of her, too and never encouraged her to do anything he wasn't sure she could do. If he said she would be all right, she would be.
Laura took a deep breath, closed her eyes and jumped off the bank.
Hitting the water, she plummeted toward the bottom. The depth of her plunge scared her. She wondered if she would keep sinking until ran out of air and drowned. But finally the momentum of her jump slowed and the water started carrying her back to the surface.
Laura stroked with her arms and kicked her feet to rise faster. Soon she broke through to the taste of fresh air.
Spitting and sputtering, she tread waters and wiped at her eyes to see where Andy could be.
There he was, right beside her.
"You did great," he congratulated her. "Next time, try not to close your eyes!"
"Hey, you two, come here!"
Andy and Laura tilted their heads back and looked up to see Tony kneeling on the bank above.
"Come on, there's something you'll really like and it's not far."
School was closed for the summer. Vacation time was in full swing.
Now that the long, slow process of healing had begun in Laura's heart, she found herself more involved in her present day world and with the twins.
She and the twins hopped onto their bikes almost every morning and set out to explore the woods and river that flowed a mile or so from their house.
Tony, the most knowledgeable woodsman of the family, always found something fascinating and new wherever he went.
Andy and Laura swam to the river's edge, climbed the steep bank and joined him at the top.
"Come and see."
Tony started to lead the way down river.
"Remember the big meadow that has the little stream running through it. The one that joins the river?" he asked, as they made their way through the brush, climbing over broken branches and fallen trees.
"Of course," Andy answered indignantly, "Why would I forget it?"
He and Tony found the large meadow in the midst of the forest valley a few years earlier. The previous summer their parents let them camp there.
"Just prepare yourself," Tony warned mysteriously.
When they drew near the place where the little stream branched off the main river the bush was less dense. The three youngsters were able to walk side by side.
After only a few steps, Tony halted the others and said, "Now, close your eyes and take my hands. I'll lead you the rest of the way, so it will be a real surprise."
"Tony!" complained Andy. "What's the big mystery here? I don't want to close my eyes and take your hand!"
Tony wasn't at all ruffled by his brother's irritation; and Andy relented.
He never could hold out for long against Tony's steady good nature; nobody could. Tony had never yet led him astray
"Okay, okay, let's go." Andy said and closed his eyes. Laura had more doubts, but she trusted Tony and Andy, so she shut her eyes firmly and held out her hand.
Tony led them carefully another fifty yards or so along the riverbank.
"We're going to turn to the right now, but don't open your eyes yet."
"How much farther do we have to do this?"
Andy's impatience began to return.
"Only a little bit farther."
Laura wasn't sure she liked being led along with her eyes closed. But Tony and Andy seemed to think it was all right. For nobody else, she was sure, would she do such a thing. She liked to be in control of where she was going and to see what lay ahead of her.
In a very short time after the turn, Tony stopped.
"Okay," he said, letting go of their hands. "You're facing the right way. You can look now."
Andy and Laura opened their eyes, blinked a couple times to get used to the light and stared ahead of them.
"Wow'!" shouted Andy. "Can you believe it! What happened?"
"It's pretty," Laura said, "but I thought you were taking us to a meadow."
"This is the meadow!"
They were standing at the edge of a very large, quiet pond tucked away in the bush.
"Beavers?" Andy asked.
Tony nodded. "I'll show you their dam."
He began walking alongside the pond toward the far end.
Eagerly, the other two followed him. Before long they reached their destination.
Where the pond ended and the little stream the boys had known trickled off into the trees stretched a large beaver dam. A long mound of sticks, logs and dried mud blocked off the main flow of the stream and held the waters of the new pond behind it.
Andy shook his head and started walking around to look at the nearby area. He found a couple of narrow, well-worn paths leading from the bush toward the pond and the dam. Along these paths he found short pointed tree stumps. These were the remains of the trees the beavers had chewed down with their teeth for the logs and sticks of the dam
Satisfied with his findings, Andy started back down one of the paths to the dam, joining Tony and Laura. They were on their hands and knees, almost right on top of the dam, leaning out as far as they could to peer into the pond.
"See the ditch in the mud at the bottom?" Tony was asking Laura. "That's the beavers' entrance. The dam is their house. Let's go over to the other side now. I bet we'll find another entrance."
All three of them scrambled around to the other side of the dam and bent out over the water again.
"There it is!"
The excitement in Laura's voice made Tony and Andy smile.
"Beavers almost always have two entrances, in case they need an extra escape hatch," Tony explained to her.
Laura thought that made good sense. There had been plenty of times in her life when she, too, had wished for an extra escape hatch. All at once, looking down at the beavers' underwater ditch Laura realized that for several weeks she had hardly felt the need to escape.
The thought that, without even knowing it, she had let down her guard so much scared her. Anxiety and uncertainty flooded into her heart. "I should know better," she told herself. She jumped to her feet and walked quickly away from the dam and the twins. "Hey!" they both shouted after her.
"Where are you going?"
Laura, at the sound of their voices, paused in her flight and turned to face them.
"I - I don't know...just going."
The boys looked at Laura in surprise. This cousin, this friend of theirs, sure could be a puzzle sometimes.
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