“The Listener,” Friend, Aug. 1991, 12
The warm August sun gave Margaret a feeling of peace and happiness as she gingerly set one foot exactly in front of the other and balanced herself with outstretched arms. The abandoned, rusty train track glowed like a long brown ribbon as it ran off into the distance. Jeff, her brother, was right behind her.
“C’mon, slowpoke,” he chided her as he accidentally stepped on the back of her shoe.
“Oh, Jeff, look what you’ve done! This is the first time I’ve stepped off the track since we began. You go ahead of me if you’re in such a great hurry.”
She glanced across at her best friend on the other rail and grinned. Allison was having a harder time staying on, and she reminded Margaret of a circus tight-rope walker. Cory, Allison’s brother, was quite far ahead of them. He’d had more practice at rail walking, but it seemed to Margaret that he skipped off often, even though he moved faster.
Looking down the track, Margaret had warm memories of past days when her father came home from the mine with coal dust on his face, hands, and clothes, set the wooden kitchen chair in the middle of newspapers spread out on the floor, and carefully removed his boots. Even more carefully he shook out his tucked-in pant legs. Margaret liked the sound of the coal particles falling onto the paper, and she mentally compared each little pile with the previous night’s. She missed those days. Diesel engines and other inventions had almost eliminated the need for coal, and many of her father’s friends and coworkers had had to move. It will be all right as long as Allison and Cory Anderson stay here, she thought now.
Cory was now out of sight around the bend and headed toward the forest. It was full of wonderful paths created by the miners when they’d walked between the town and the mine. The children spent hours galloping through the trees on pretend horses or playing king and queen on the large boulders in the woods. “Pretend” was always their favorite game, and Cory had a new variation in mind as he waited for them.
“Let’s pretend we’re miners,” he suggested, “and that we’re searching for gold. We must find it by dark so that we can take it to the wicked king and free the good prince before the rats go into his dungeon. Rats always come out at night, you know, and the prince hates them—they scare him almost to death!”
The four friends galloped through the forest toward the old tipple. Margaret was surprised at how quickly the three-story gray building where the coal had been washed and sorted had deteriorated. A few of the windows were broken, and the whole building seemed to be sagging as they stared at it in the shadows of the late afternoon.
To their dismay, they saw that fencing had been put up and that no-trespassing signs had been posted.
“Well,” sighed Jeff, “so much for finding gold.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Cory argued. “We aren’t going to let a little fence stop us. We can find a place to climb through.”
They found a sagging wire, and each crawled through as they held the other wires apart.
Just then something very strange happened to Margaret. She thought she heard a very quiet whisper: “Don’t go in there!” She wasn’t sure where the sound came from, but it seemed to come from deep inside her. Or did it? Maybe she had just imagined it. But as they climbed the hill to the back of the tipple, her spine seemed to tingle.
The four friends peered into the opening where the coal cars had once rolled on tracks into the building and were filled. It was dark and foreboding, and, of course, the boys had to hoot like owls and make ghostly sounds as they entered.
“Jeff,” Margaret pleaded, “it’s time for us to go home. Please, Jeff, don’t go any farther in there! Allison, Cory! Let’s go home now. Please!”
“Ha! Look at Margaret. She’s afraid.”
“No, I’m not. I just don’t want to go in there, that’s all.”
“C’mon, Margaret,” pleaded Allison. “It sounds like such a fun game, and I don’t want those two boys teasing me about being a scaredy cat. We’ll only be in there for a few minutes.”
“C’mon, Margaret,” begged Jeff. “This is the most fun we’ve had in a long time. All we have to do is cross the boardwalk and dig up the gold on the other side. It will only take a minute, and then you can run right back out.”
Margaret could see the board walkway just inside the big entryway. It seemed like only yesterday when she had stood with her father, watching the coal pickers standing on the boards next to the conveyor belt. It was their job to sort the “bony” coal, which was full of rocks, from the good ore by throwing the bony lumps over their shoulders into a huge bin behind them. The good coal continued on to a waiting coal car, which hauled it away to be processed. Even with her father there beside her, Margaret hated the steep drop behind the boardwalk. Now, standing just inside the old, dilapidated tipple, she felt much more uneasy. “I know what I’ll do!” she said. “I’ll stay here on guard while you three get the gold. If the wicked king’s men appear in the forest, I’ll hoot like an owl three times.”
“Good idea!” Cory seemed relieved that Margaret’s fears hadn’t discouraged the others. “You wait here, but hide inside the door. Spies might be crawling all over the forest, and you wouldn’t want to be captured and thrown in with the rats too!”
Margaret watched them scamper across the boards and into the dark shadows. She sighed as she glanced outside. Early evening was usually her favorite time of day because it was so peaceful. However, she wasn’t feeling very peaceful just then.
Her thoughts were shattered by a loud crash and the sound of splitting wood. She heard a scream and more splitting wood, then silence. She froze for an instant with the deepest fear she had ever known. Filled with panic, she ran to the edge of the boardwalk. She could see nothing, and she could hear only her own heavy breathing.
“Jeff! Allison! Cory! Somebody answer me. Jeff, please—answer me!” She tried hard not to breathe as she listened for a sound. None came.
She sobbed, then fell to her knees. “Please, Heavenly Father, help us. Help them not to be hurt!” Scrambling up, she ran out of the tipple, down the hillside, back through the fence, and through the forest. She slipped and fell, rolled and tripped for what seemed miles to her home.
When she gasped out what had happened, her father’s face went white. As he grabbed his miner’s hat and other equipment he thought he might need, he said, “I’ll stop by the Andersons’ on my way. I may need all the help I can get.”
“We’re going too!” Margaret’s mother was emphatic. “I’ll get some blankets and coats.”
Five very grim faces retraced the path to the tipple. Five very serious pleas were silently sent heavenward.
When they reached the entrance of the dark, rickety building, the two mothers and Margaret waited while the men lit the lights on their hard hats, gathered the ropes, and cautiously advanced to the edge of the bony bin.
“Jeff! Cory! Allison! Are you all right?”
Jeff answered. “Yes, Dad. I think I’ve broken my arm, but otherwise we’re fine.”
The two women and one very relieved Margaret gave thanks as they hugged each other with joy.
The house seemed extra cozy to Margaret when her parents tucked her into bed later that night. Cory and Allison were bruised, badly shaken, and very dirty. And Jeff had broken his arm. How grateful they all were that the bony bin had been half full instead of empty and that only the wind knocked out of them had prevented them from answering or even functioning for a few minutes. It had taken a while for them to crawl through the dark bin to find each other, but they were glad to be together until help came.
“Margaret,” her mother asked when she bent to kiss her good night, “why didn’t you go farther into the tipple with the other three?”
“My Primary teacher taught us the same thing you and Dad did about the still, small voice and how it speaks to us when we need comfort or are in danger. She said that it sometimes is so quiet that you can hardly hear it and that at other times it is clear and loud. Well, I heard it this afternoon when we were on our way to the tipple. I should have told the others about it, but I wasn’t sure until the boardwalk caved in. All I know is that it caused me to be afraid, even though I didn’t feel that way at first.”
Her father gently hugged her. “I’m grateful for your teacher—and for a daughter who paid attention in class. It might have taken days for us to find you. However, there was one thing you didn’t pay attention to when you played around the tipple. Do you remember what that was?”
Margaret thought very hard, then said, “Yes, Dad. We should never have crossed the fence that had those no-trespassing signs. That was very wrong. You taught us to regard warning signs and to not trespass on other people’s property. We were so excited about our new game that we just ignored those rules. None of this would have happened if we’d listened to our consciences right at the beginning.”
“That’s right, honey. We all learn through our experiences, and Jeff has learned the same lessons you have. I’m sure that Cory and Allison have learned them too. One of the greatest tools we can use in helping us through this life is to become a listener. We’re grateful that you did listen the second time.”
Eight hearts gave thanks that night to Heavenly Father, who also had listened that day, just as He always listens.