The judge's chamber door opened. Clare and George came out, heads
lowered. Sandy's heart sank. Ray picked up Natty and held her tightly, maybe for the last time. He felt like bolting out the door with Natty and running to the riverboat and casting off but he knew that he probably wouldn't even make it past the door. Clare put her hands on both Ray's and Sandy's shoulder.
"Well kids, I'm sorry to tell you this but you are as of now in the custody of George Stewart and Clare Lacomb, address, the Miss Misty."
Sandy jumped up and put her arms around Clare's neck, expelling squeals of joy and excitement, then turned smiling to look at Natty in Ray's arms. Natty continued to smile and sway while singing gayly, “Ya, ya, ya,” in Ray's arms.
"She had known all along, her little mind had somehow known," Sandy said to Ray, smiling.
"Who are you talking about, Honey?," Clare asked, brushing Sandy's hair back with her hand.
“Natty, she's been bubbling over with gaiety from the time she got up this morning." Sandy told her.
"Come to think of it she has been a mite beaming hasn't she? Is she always like this?," Clare asked.
"Most times when things are stable, but today she's been more bubbly than usual, if that's possible with Natty. She's acting more like when she's alone with her best friends Doc and Tim or when she senses something good is about to happen," Sandy explained.
"You've just answered your own puzzle, she senses things. The night you two went to the carnival she was very quiet and subdued. That was around the same time the dog and cat disappeared,” said Clare, thoughtfully.
"Come to think of it I haven't seen Doc and Tim since that night either," Ray added. I wonder what happened to them. Did they jump ship in Helena?
"Dac, Tm, Nat no!," Natty babbled brightly, waving her hands as she tried to speak.
"Does she know something we don't?," Clare asked Ray and Sandy.
"Any thing is possible with Sprite, isn't it?" Ray asked
looking at Natty in his arms. Natty gave him a gushy kiss on the
cheek in response. Ray wiped at his cheek with his shirt sleeve.
"I suggest we get out of here before the judge changes his mind," George said, putting his arm around Clare's waist.
Back at the river boat Natty ran into the living room then into Ray and Sandy's room to find her friends. They were still under Ray's bed
where they had been for the last several days, too frightened to come out.
That night before Dan came Natty had climbed out of her crib while Clare slept in the bed. Making her way into the kitchen she had taken Doc's and Tim's water and food dish from under the table into Ray's and Sandy's bedroom. Setting them on the floor she returned to the kitchen to get more water with a cup, spilling most of it on her trip back to the bedroom.
Thinking that wasn't enough she had taken some more dishes from
the sink while making more trips back and forth for more food and water. Satisfied, she then pushed the overflowing dishes under Ray's bed.
Back at the door, she had turned and said, “Lav Dac, Tm,” and then had closed the bedroom door behind her.
Natty had felt the same uneasy anticipation as Doc and Tim had all that afternoon. They had not wanted to come out from under the bed all day and she had wanted to stay there with them. She had climbed into the bed along side of Clare. A feeling of dread had made her draw up close to Clare for solace. Clare had thought her to be fast asleep, unaware she could climb in and out of the crib by herself, until the night when she had awakened to find Natty all snuggled up at her tummy, shivering as though from cold. It was warm in the room but never the less Clare covered her with the comforter.
Natty came tearing out of the living room shrilling in delight, pursued by Doc and Tim.
"I think it's time to do away with the crib and get this girl a bed of her own,” Clare announced.
Ray and Sandy laughed and said, "Yeah, and her own bedroom, too."
That day Clare had swung the double doors opened to what use to be the gaming room of the river boat. This room had been once used
during better times by the Everetts as a dinning and rec room combination. It had remained unused since the children's mother dis- appeared. With the combined effort of the entire family, a family is what they were now, Ray reflected, they had it cleaned and ready by mid afternoon. Clare did the final touch cleaning and polishing the
big marble dinning table and set it for the meal they were going
to have on this special occasion.
This special meal was to commemorate George's and Clair's upcoming wedding day. Ray cleaned and put new candle sticks in the big chandelier above the table, and Sandy cleaned and dusted all the cabinets and their contents. When they were done the gaming room had the appearance of an elegant foyer.
One morning Clare came into the living room to find Natty sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor eating pudding out of a container with a spoon.
"How long has it been since this kid learned to climb out of that crib anyway?," Clare asked Sandy who was preparing the coffee
at the kitchen counter. Sandy laughed.
"What's so funny?" Clare asked.
"She's been climbing out of that old crib ever since she was just a little over one year old,” Sandy declared. “We've just been going along with it pretending we weren't aware of it. We would sometimes hide and watch what she does when she thought she was alone. She learned to potty train her self, to feed her self from the refrigerator, and, to some degree, dress her self while playing,
without any ones help.” “Just like a girl, she empties all her
dresser drawers onto the floor before she finds some thing she
“Her ability of learning to fend for herself came in handy after mom disappeared, especially when we were in school. I know that wasn't a smart thing to do but we couldn't go to baby sitters if we wanted people to think mom was still with us. We wouldn't have been able to afford it out of the mothers allowance check anyway.”
Sandy continued: “She also knows pretty well what is dangerous and she stays away from those things. Like I've told you, Natty is very intelligent and ahead of her self for a two year old.”
Just then Doc ran out from under the table yapping and whining,
running around in circles trying to catch his tail. At the end of
his tail was a clothes pin. Natty giggled gleefully under the
table. George laughed till tears ran down his cheeks. “I somehow
don't think I made a mistake undertaking this family thing,” he
thought. "I think this is going to prove to be a very interesting and
fulfilling experience. My river friends and my soon to be wife,
what more can a man ask?"
Clare put her arm around George and kissed him. Ray and Sandy whistled and clapped hands while Natty held Clare by her right leg.
“This man must really love me and his river friends to have followed us half way up the Mississippi, to put his life at risk and now to be willing to commit to all this,” she thought.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Natty stretched for the shining red apple that was just out of reach on the shelf above her. There was a loud pop when the rivets in the frame work of the shelves let go. Natty found herself sitting in the aisle surrounded with shiny red apples among other interesting fruit.
"So there's our little thief," a voice came from above her. The attendant bent down smiling to pick her up. Natty struck him in the right eye with the half eaten apple she held then toddled away to the other side of the aisle. The attendant, rubbing his eye, got up from his stooped position and started again towards her, talking calmly to her all the while.
"Come on honey I won't hurt you, let's go see if we can find your mommy and daddy." Natty threw the other apple she held in her other hand at him, hitting him in the groin, The attendant let out a plaintive groan and sank to the floor on his knees, both hands clutched at his crotch.
Natty toddled off for the next aisle. She was having a good time building a castle out of spaghetti boxes until a lady came around the corner with her cart and knocked it down.
"You shouldn't be here by yourself playing in the aisle, sweety, you could get hurt," the lady said bending over to pick her up. Natty whacked her on the left foot with a spaghetti box. The lady let out a cry worthy of a first-class opera singer.
"Here we go again! Never mind I'll just follow the line of
screaming voices,” Ray said to the clerk.
Ray and Sandy closed in on her at the frozen produce section where there issued a muffled scream. A woman's legs pumping up and down stuck out from one of the freezers. On top of the lady was a pile of frozen goods on which Natty stamped up and down singing, “Ya, ya, ya!”
"How much did that set us back," Ray asked George?
"Almost a hundred dollars worth of fruit." George responded.
That will go well with all the left over vegetables we got two weeks ago." Clare disclosed.
"Is this child capable of such damage very often?," George asked.
"Nah! this was Natty's off day," Sandy deadpanned.
George looked at Sandy and asked, "Are you serious?"
Once out in the parking lot Sandy couldn't hold it any longer and burst out laughing. Everyone else followed suit. George looked from one to the other confused then threw his arms up and joined in the laughter as well. Ray danced around the parking lot with Natty up on his shoulders.
"Did you see that lady beating the clerk over the head with a bag of onions, threatening to sue him for her broken bunion toe?," Ray asked Sandy.
"Yes but why was she buying onions when she already had a bunion?," Sandy asked then burst out in new laughter.
"Don't pay any attention to those two, that'll go on until their tummies hurt too much to laugh any more," Clare told George.
They cast off and said farewell to New Lenox, Illinois. Soon they would be entering Lake Michigan. George felt elated and
anxious. Here he could really give the Missy a run for her money.
He had always wanted to give her a go on the Gulf but had never
found the time to sail down to the Gulf from Morgansa. Now he was
going to sail her on a legendary lake on which supposedly you
couldn't see the distant shore. Ray had been pestering George to
go with him on the lake sailing since they had left Columbus,
Kentucky. He had never seen any waterways bigger than the
Mississippi before. If this lake proves to be as big as they claim, he feared that George may change his mind.
"A river rat may not take to such open waters," George had teased Ray.
"Oh yeah! Wait and see!," Ray shot back.
It was a beautiful sunny day with a light westerly wind. Ray
stood at the bow holding onto the new railing George had erected.
His hair fluttered in the wind as he reveled in the freedom and
the sight of the open water. His heart soared every time a gentle
swell lifted the Missy on its crest then let her down gently
again in the valleys between swells.
"It's like a fresh water ocean!" Ray shouted back to George
"Yes it is, son, at that. It's hard to believe it's a body of
fresh water. It's so beautiful and it's clear like the ocean. If
We find a bay some where to anchor for the night we can go
swimming in it." Ray looked at George doubtfully,
"You mean you can actually swim in this water?" Ray asked in amazement.
"Yes, if it isn't too cold," George responded. His long thick
hair whipped in the wind. With the beard George reminded Ray of
a hairy koala. “A school teacher that wore his hair long like a
hippy and looked like a koala,” Ray thought and burst out
laughing. It was a free and joyous laugh.
Sandy came up from below one of the hulls with sandwiches and soft drinks.
"What might my brother be laughing about now?" Sandy asked George. George shrugged his shoulders saying, "Maybe it's the freedom you feel out here, it can be kind of intoxicating." Sandy stood beside him smiling. Yes, she couldn't remember the last time she had felt so happy.
"It's so wonderful to just be a kid again, and it's wonderful to have you and Clare as our custodians, I have so much to be grateful for,” Sandy reminded him. “I also want to thank you for caring for us for the past two years, even if it was from a distance."
"Sweet heart, every time I went by the river boat I use to fantasize you three as being my family, My heart would ache for you when ever I would hear the screaming and crying. I wished with all my heart that I could have taken you away from all the misery and pain.”
“I would some times anchor out a short distance and watch you and Ray play with Natty along the river bank. You reminded me of a family of river rats, free and fun-loving. I used to call you my little river rats. I also watched you many times singing to Natty. You have a very beautiful and profound voice."
Sandy put her arm around him and leaned her head against his
shoulder and said, "These last few days have been the happiest in my life. I hope with all my heart that nothing will ever change that."
It had begun to cloud over and the wind had picked up coming in
"I think we should go back to the river boat, It feels like there might be a storm brewing," George informed them. By the time they had reached the river boat the water had become so rough that it was difficult to board the river boat with the surging and swaying decks.
"Take her into shore as fast as you can,” George ordered Clare. “I
think were in for a big one. I'm not familiar with open waters like this but I don't think either of these vessels are designed for the kind of storms they get out here." The swells had begun to whitecap before they had even turned toward shore.
"Shut off the engine and just go with the stern to the swells. If we try to fight this we'll capsize,” George advised her. “I have to go back out and help Ray lash down anything that's loose on deck."
There was a crash and Natty cried. George turned to look. The cupboard doors over the sink had flown open and all the china had spewed out missing Natty by inches. Ray nailed every one of those cupboard doors shut.
"Sandy!” he shouted, “Anything that's lying around loose that could fall and hurt someone, throw it down the hatch below deck or tie it down." A swell nearly capsized the river boat and the wheel jerked out of Clare's hands and spun out of control.
The deck tilted at an unbelievable angle, knocking her off her feet.
She fell off the helm platform and slid most of the way across the cabin floor toward the bedroom. The floor tilted the other way and she began to slide back toward the cabin door when another swell had heaved the river boat in the opposite direction.
George let go of the forward railing and reeled drunkenly toward the helm. Ray screamed, pointing to the starboard side. George looked to the star board side to see what Ray was pointing at. A wall of water approximately twenty feet high was coming straight for them. George shouted over the freight train rumbling, "Everyone secure yourself to any thing you can grab that is stationary."
Arriving at the helm seconds before the wave hit he started the engine and turned the river boat stern side to the wave. Luckily, the
huge wave had become a comber just before it hit them. It surged under the river boat instead of over it, lifting it up to the clouds, then crashed down again in a huge white spray. "Shore!," George bellowed, after the spray had cleared and he could see ahead.
"To be close to shore in this kind of storm could spell disaster!," he yelled to them. “Within seconds we could be reduced to splinters on those rocky crags!,” he pointed to the rocky shoreline. They could now make out the individual jagged rocks that made up the shore line.
Try as he did to steer away, the waves drove him ever closer. Turning the river boat port side or bow side with the engine pushing forward away from shore would swamp them under the next breaker. He could only go port side for short periods of time between swells, otherwise there was no way to go except with the swells which took them
relentlessly closer to shore.
George soon discovered that he had another concern. Whenever a comber lifted them up from the stern, the Missy would get struck broad side then sucked under the surface. He did not worry so much about whether the Missy would sink but rather of where it would turn up when she popped-up to the surface like a cork. As long as the two hatches were
fastened down tightly the Missy was close to unsinkable. What he
feared mostly was of her coming up under them. He had debated cutting her loose, but it would be much to hazardous for any one
to venture out on deck under these conditions.
It appeared that there was no escaping inevitable disaster. The next wave would smash them against the rocks. George shouted for every one to brace themselves. A huge swell inexorably picked up the river boat on its crest and carried them away from the shore line towards the mouth of a small bay.
George slammed the Misty into full throttle towards the opening.
The swells once again tried to draw him back but he fought against the pull of the swells then discovered that the undertow of the breakers on the port side shore balanced out the pull of the huge combers.
On entering the mouth of the bay, he found that the water was much calmer and was able to maneuver the river boat to the inner shore where they would be sheltered from the brunt of the storm. With relief, George let out his breath that he had been holding, for how long he had no idea.
Turning off the engine George sat at the edge of the platform and said,
"Ray, would you get the anchor please? This is as far as we go today." He continued to sit on the edge of the control platform holding his head in his hands.
Clare went to his side. “Why so down? It's time to be thankful, especially for your quick thinking back there," Clare pointed out.
"I didn't do it, I didn't do anything,” he revealed. “That wave... I don't know,” he shook his head, “But that last wave turned us away from certain, imminent death, like it had a mind of its own. If it wouldn't have been for that wave the next surge would have, by all rights, smashed us against those rocks but what ever it was out there, it chose to spare us."
Clare was silent and held a man who shivered like a frightened child that had just come through a terrible nightmare.
"Natty stepped away from her crib and made her way to the kitchen where she was greeted by an overeager Doc who proceeded to give her a face washing. Natty giggling, fell on her bottom with a plop. “Lav dac ta,” she said, then proceeded on hands and knees to the refrigerator. At the bottom of the refrigerator sat the storm-scrambled pieces of a strawberry pie, her favorite. Sitting on the floor she dug in with both hands.
Tim, who had come to investigate, got Natty to wondering what a red cat would look like. Natty proceeded to pet the cat with hands full of strawberries while Doc licked the strawberries on her face and arms.
Clare, feigning sleep, had watched Natty climb out of her crib. Thinking that Natty had taken her fill and by now had gone on to awaken Sandy and Ray, got up to prepare for the day.
"Oh my God!,” Clare exclaimed. Going back to the bedroom she
shook George urging him to get up. “You just have to see this!” George turned towards her groaning. “Natty found our little present alright, but wait till you see the present she has for us!” Ray and Sandy, overhearing this, ran out to see what the surprise was also.
Laughter could be heard from shore to shore. After cleaning up the cat and Natty, Clare decided they would have breakfast on deck. While awaiting breakfast Sandy sat on the deck with Natty who seemed a little upset at having a grown up butting in on her usually undisturbed forays. She sang to her, putting into the song all her emotions and feelings which fitted right in with the mood of the surrounding environment.
George stood by the door way listening. The mood of her song was
not unlike the way he felt when he was free under the sails.
"George, when can we go sailing again?," Ray asked enthusiastically.
George, who had closed his eyes and was lost in the mood of Sandy's singing, jumped at Ray's voice.
"Well, sailor boy, it goes like this. Come out here and sit
for a minute.” George sat beside Sandy and put his arm around her
then Ray; Natty sat on his lap.
"My river rats, a few weeks ago I would never have believed that I would be sitting here doing things with you. I think I'm about the happiest man in the world. You can sail with me any time and as often as you want to. Out there with the water and the wind you are truly free. The Missy is going to need a few repairs and some cleaning up first, though.," George finished.
"I'll help you," both Sandy and Ray responded eagerly.
"Can you sing?" Sandy asked.
"Sure can, sweetheart," George responded, and started to sing. Sandy and Ray covered their ears while Natty tried to keep the beat but soon gave up and went and sat with Doc. Doc covered his head with his paws.
"That's it! I'm never singing again! There are just too many
critics!,” George exclaimed. laughing. “But what the hell, who hasn't
started a career without a few critics?," George resumed to sing
Clare rushed out, spatula in hand, thinking some one had gotten hurt. Every one laughed except Clare who stood dumbfounded looking from one to the other. Doc stood behind her, looking around her legs at George.
The clouds had begun to break up promising a nice day. All were seated. Natty sat on Clare's lap, happily feeding Doc her scraps under the table. Natty looked up behind Ray and Sandy, suddenly she pointed to the sky shouting ecstatically, “Fie! fie!”
Ray and Sandy turned to see where the fire was. The sun had come
out of the clouds illuminating the biggest and most brilliant
rainbow that anybody on board the Missy had ever seen in their
lives. From where they sat the rainbow appeared to end at the
stern of the Missy.
"This is indeed the end of the rainbow," Sandy said to the people that sat at the table. She turned to look at them; they appeared to reflect the brilliance of the rainbow. Natty danced on the table and sang, “Fie, fie ,fie.”
The birds in the near by woods sang gaily as though awakened from a long sleep. Sandy leaned on the railing and began to sing. Her angelic voice mingled with that of the singing birds. The resulting echo from the shore was like the multifarious sounds of heavenly hosts.
As for the uncle, they never found him. All they had found was an abandoned cottage that may or may not have been the home of Sal Everett. It appeared that it hadn't been inhabited for many years. A family of raccoons now inhabited the cabin and they were not too impressed with the intrusion.
In a back room Sandy found an old, decaying pair of deerskin moccasins. This could very well be the last memoir of our Uncle Sal, may he rest in peace, she thought returning the moccasins where she had found them.
Leaving the room quietly she rejoined the others who were in the
front parlor trying to seduce the raccoons with pieces of
sandwiches they had brought with them.
Outside Natty chased after a bright yellow monarch butterfly saying in a sing song fashion, "Pety bird, pety bird." Doc yapped and jumped up and down gayly behind her.
It was indeed the end of the rainbow.