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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
A Barrel of Croaks

“When are we going to stop?” Andrew complained. “I’m thirsty.”

 “I’m thirsty too, Mama,” whined John.

“We’ll be stopping soon. There’s a river just over that hill,” she said, pointing to a small round knoll not far ahead. “Most of the water barrels are empty.”

“Boys, be patient. We’ll be there soon,” Papa added. It had been a difficult decision to bring his family across the prairies in a covered wagon. He knew times would be tough for them but the west is where they wanted to be. Within an hour the wagon train stopped along the banks of a gentle flowing river.

Andrew and John didn’t wait for the wagon to stop. They jumped out of the back and ran down to the river. Papa unhooked the oxen and tended to them and Mama began to unload a few things from the wagon.

After having a long drink, the boys sat on the banks and hung their legs into the water. CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! A large frog was sitting on a rock in the middle of the river.

Andrew and Jacob both heard it. “I’m going to catch that frog,” said John.

“I want one too,” his little brother begged.

Just then another frog hopped onto the rock beside the first one. CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! One frog called and the other one answered with an even louder croak. The boys waded out into the river and grabbed the frogs. They held them tightly in their hands as they made their way back to the muddy riverbank.

“I’m going to call my frog Bubbles!” Andrew announced.

John said, “I’m calling mine Calvin.”

The boys took their frogs back to the wagon to show their mama and papa. “You can play with them for now, but when we leave, you need to put them back in the river,” Papa warned. The boys nodded and ran off with their frogs.

The wagon train had stopped for two days to repair broken wheels and other items, so this gave Andrew and John a lot of time to play with their new pets. They had frog-jump races, fed them flies and moths, and gently petted them.

CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! Bubbles would say.

CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! Calvin would reply.

The two days passed and it was time for the wagon train to move on. Mama told Andrew and John to say goodbye to their frogs and let them go down by the river, like Papa had asked them to do. As they walked along the bank, Andrew complained, “I don’t want to leave Bubbles here. I love my frog.”

“I don’t want to leave Calvin,” John said. They stopped walking. “I have an idea. Let’s put Bubbles and Calvin in one of our water barrels. We can feed them moths and spiders. Mama and Papa will never know. When we stop for the night we can take them out and have frog-jump races.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s put them away right now while Mama and Papa are busy,” Andrew said.

They snuck up to the wagon, lifted the lid off one of the water barrels and dropped Bubbles and Calvin into the fresh, clean drinking water. They landed with a SPLASH! John put the lid back on tightly.

Just then, Papa came up towards them and asked, “Did you boys put those frogs back into the river?”

“Yes, Papa,” John lied. Andrew nodded in agreement when Papa looked at him.

“Let’s go then. Climb into the wagon and we’ll be on our way,” he said.

They traveled all day long, over bumps and through ditches. Luckily, whenever their mama or papa needed water, they took it out of the other barrel.

At night they camped and slept. John and Andrew woke up the middle of each night and would go in search of bugs to feed Bubbles and Calvin. They would lift the lid off the water barrel and drop moths and spiders into it. When the frogs began to croak, John whispered, “Shhh.” They were afraid to take them out and play with them, so the frogs stayed in the barrel all day and night.

The next seven days passed quickly.  The wagon train moved along through the tall grasses and wildflowers of the prairie. It was on the eighth day that the water ran out in the first barrel. Andrew and John listened frantically as their papa told their mama that she’d have to start using the water out of the second barrel. What would happen when Mama found Bubbles and Calvin?

Suppertime came and Mama asked John to go and get some water to boil for the potatoes that she’d just peeled. “I’ll help you, John,” Papa chimed in quickly. He walked over to the barrel and lifted the lid. When he looked down, he saw a lot of dead bugs floating on top of the water. “Mama, come over here and look at this,” he called to his wife. She ran over to join him at the barrel.

John and Andrew knew they were in trouble. They ran and hid in the bushes.

“How did all these insects get into our barrel?” Mama asked. Just then, two big frogs jumped out of the water. One landed on Papa’s head with a big KERPLOP! The other frog jumped on top of Mama’s bonnet. She let out a very loud scream.

Papa reached up and grabbed the frog off the top of her head. He took the one off his head and held them both out in front of him. “Boys!” Andrew and John came slowly out of the bushes. “Boys, didn’t I ask if you put the frogs back in the river?” Papa asked. Both boys nodded. “Then what were these two frogs doing in our water barrel, John? Andrew?”

“Papa, we’re sorry, but Andrew and I love Bubbles and Calvin so much. We didn’t want to leave them behind,” John answered.

Mama looked at Papa and said, “Boys, we understand how much you must love the frogs, but by disobeying your father and lying to us, you’ve ruined our barrel of fresh water. Now we have none until we reach the next river.”

Andrew and John felt bad. Papa handed them their frogs and told them to put them back in the barrel, since the water was already undrinkable. That night they couldn’t have potatoes for dinner. All they could eat were dry crackers and there was no water to wash them down. The next day there was no water for Mama to cook with. The boys were hungry and thirsty. There wasn’t any water to wash the mud off their hands or rinse their hair. Now they understood why Papa didn’t want the frogs brought along. What made it worse was that all day long they heard, CROAK, CROAK! The croaks came from inside the barrel, reminding them of how they had disobeyed.

That night the wagon train stopped. John and Andrew’s papa was able to find a small stream. He filled both the water barrels. “Take your frogs and let them go in the stream,” he told his sons. He watched as the boys carried Bubbles and Calvin away. Mama came up and put her arms around him and told him it was for the best.

Standing at the riverbank, Andrew held Bubbles in front of him. “Goodbye, Bubbles,” he mumbled as he petted the frog for the last time. He put it down and watched it leap into the stream.

John said goodbye to Calvin and let him go. It leapt into the mud and then into the stream. As they walked toward the wagon with tears in their eyes, they could hear the frogs croaking. CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! They both knew that the frogs hadn’t been happy being kept inside the dark water barrel.

That night the boys enjoyed a feast of boiled potatoes and carrots, and a drink of cool, clear water, with no moths, spiders or frogs in it.

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