فصل 15

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فصل 15

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Return to the Pantanal

On Friday afternoon, Phil drove Nate to the Baltimore-Washington airport. In nine hours he would be in Corumba.

He and Josh had written a trust document for Rachel. The money she received would be placed in a trust, named the Rachel Trust. The money itself wouldn’t be touched, but the trustees could invest it and use the profits for charity work. If Rachel wanted, she would never see or touch the money. It would take only a quick signature and the Phelan estate would be closed. If she didn’t agree to sign, then she must write a letter to say that she didn’t want the money. She could decline the gift, but she had to tell the court. The law would then give the money to the Phelan children.

How would she react when he arrived? He hoped that she would be delighted to see him, but he wasn’t sure. He remembered her waving to his boat as he left. She was standing among her people, waving him away, saying goodbye forever. She didn’t want to be bothered with the things of the world.

Valdir had hired a helicopter which took him to the trading post in the Pantanal. His old friends Jevy and Welly were waiting for him on the ground.

Time was precious. Nate feared storms, darkness, floods, and mosquitoes, and he wanted to move as quickly as possible. Nate and Jevy quickly climbed into the boat and set off. Jevy thought it would take them three hours to reach the Indian settlement.

The trees on both sides of the river grew thicker, and Nate began to recognize the territory. Finally, they stepped off the boat where Rachel had waved goodbye. A young Indian ran toward them. He told them to stay there, by the river, until further orders. He seemed scared.

As they waited, Jevy talked about his efforts to find Rachel in Corumba. “I tell you,” he said, “I have listened to people on the river and the lady did not come. She was not in the hospital. You were dreaming, my friend.”

Nate didn’t want to argue. He wasn’t sure himself.

A mosquito circled Nate’s hand. He wanted to crush it, but instead he waited. Would his super repellent work? His ears, neck, and face were covered in oil. The mosquito made a sudden dive toward the back of his hand, then stopped. It pulled away and disappeared. A second attack of dengue would probably kill him. Nate wasn’t taking any chances.

Nate watched the village. He expected to see Rachel move elegantly between the huts and along the path to greet them. By now she knew the white man was back.

They saw the chief walking slowly toward them, followed by an Ipica who Nate recognized. They stopped about twenty meters from the bench. They weren’t smiling; in fact, the chief looked very unpleasant. In Portuguese, he asked, “What do you want?”

“Tell him we want to see the missionary” Nate said, and Jevy translated.

“Why?” came the reply.

Nate remembered the chief as a man with a quick smile and a big laugh. Now his face had little expression. His eyes looked hard. He stood as far away from them as possible. Something was wrong. Something had changed.

He told them to wait, then left again and went back to the village. Half an hour passed. By now Rachel knew who they were; the chief would have told her. And she wasn’t coming to meet them.

When the chief came back, he was alone. They followed him for fifty meters, then moved behind the huts on another trail. Nate could see the area around the village. It was empty; there was not a single Ipica walking about. No children were playing. No women were cooking and cleaning. There was no sound. The only movement was the smoke from their fires.

Then he saw faces at the windows. They were being watched. The chief kept them away from the huts as if they were carrying diseases. He turned onto another trail, one that led through the woods for a few moments. When they came to the end of it, they were near Rachel’s hut.

There was no sign of her. The chief led them past the front door and to the side. Under the thick shade of the trees, they saw the graves.

The matching white crosses were made of wood. They were small and stuck into the fresh dirt at the far end of both graves.

The chief began talking.

“The woman is on the left; Lako is on the right,” Jevy translated. “Malaria has killed ten people since we left.”

The chief went on talking. Nate looked at the pile of dirt on the left. Rachel Lane was buried there, the bravest person he’d ever known because she had no fear of death. She welcomed it. She was at peace, her soul finally with God, her body lying forever among the people she loved.

She wouldn’t want anyone to be sad. She wouldn’t approve of tears, and Nate had none to give her. He’d hardly known her, but his heart ached anyway. He’d thought about her every day since he left the Pantanal. He’d dreamed about her, felt her touch, heard her voice, remembered her wisdom. She’d taught him to pray and given him hope. He’d never met anyone like Rachel Lane and he missed her greatly.

“The chief says we can’t stay long,” Jevy said. “The spirits blame us for the malaria. It arrived when we came the first time. They are not happy to see us. He has something to show you.” Slowly Nate followed the chief into Rachel’s hut. The chief pointed to a box on a small table.

“There are things in that box for you,” Jevy translated.

“For me?”

“Yes. She knew she was dying. She asked the chief to guard her hut. If the American came, then show him the box.”

Inside the box there were three letters from World Tribes. Nate didn’t read them because at the bottom of the box he saw her will. On it, she had written: “Last Testament of Rachel Lane Porter.”

It read:

I, Rachel Lane Porter, child of God, resident of His world, citizen of the United States, am sane and healthy. This is my last testament.

This is my first and last will. Every word is written by my hand. I have a copy of the last testament of my father, Troy Phelan, dated December 9, 1996. He left me most of his fortune. I do not reject any of Troy Phelan’s estate. Nor do I want to receive it. Place it in a trust. The income from the trust can be used to: a) continue the work of World Tribes missionaries around the world, b) spread the word of Christ, c) protect the native people in Brazil and South America, d) feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, and save the children. I appoint my friend Nate O’Riley to manage the trust. Signed, the sixth day of January 1997, at Corumba, Brazil. RACHEL LANE PORTER There was a second letter, typed and written in Portuguese.

Nate read the will again. January 6 was the day he walked out of the hospital in Corumba. She wasn’t a dream. She’d touched him and told him he wouldn’t die. Then she’d written her will.

Nate gave the second letter to Jevy and told him to read it.

“It’s from a lawyer,” Jevy said. “He says he saw Rachel Lane Porter sign her testament in his office in Corumba. She was mentally OK, and she knew what she was doing. It is signed by some other people as well.”

They stepped into the sunlight. The chief had his arms folded over his chest - he wanted them to leave. Nate removed the camera from his bag and took pictures of the hut and the graves. He made Jevy hold her will while he knelt by her grave.

They found the trail and headed for the woods. As the trees grew thicker, Nate turned for one last look at her hut. He wanted to take it with him, somehow transport it to the States and preserve it. Then the millions of people she helped would have a place to say thanks. But that was the last thing she would want.

The chief said something as they got into their boat.

“He says he doesn’t want us to come back,” Jevy said.

“Tell him he has nothing to worry about.”

The chief was already walking away, toward his village. Nate wondered if he missed Rachel. She’d been there for eleven years. Was he sorry she was gone? Or was he relieved that his gods and spirits now ruled again? What would happen to the Ipicas who were Christians now?

Jevy stopped the motor and guided the boat with a paddle. The current was slow and the water was smooth. Nate carefully opened the satellite phone. Within two minutes, he was talking to Josh.

“Tell me she signed the letter!” Josh shouted.

“You don’t have to shout, Josh. I can hear you.”

“Sorry. Tell me she signed it.”

“She signed a letter, but not ours. She’s dead, Josh. She died two weeks ago. Malaria. She left a will, just like her father.”

“Do you have it?”

“Yes. It’s safe. Everything goes into a trust. I’m the trustee. What happens now?”

“Nothing happens,” Josh said. “Troy Phelan’s will is paid out. His estate goes to Rachel. It happens all the time in car accidents. The husband dies one day then the wife dies the next day. The money goes from estate to estate. The settlement has already been agreed. The other heirs will get their money or what’s left of it after the lawyers take their cuts. Read the will to me.”

Nate read it, very slowly.

“Hurry home,” Josh said.

Jevy had listened to every word of the will. When Nate put the phone away, he asked, “Is the money yours?”

“No. The money goes into a trust.”

“What is a trust?”

“It’s like a big bank account. Every day it earns more money and I decide where that extra money goes.”

They found the boat late in the afternoon. Welly was fishing. Nate called Josh again.

“Call the jet back from Corumba,” he said. “I don’t need it. I’m going to take my time coming home. The Phelan lawsuit is settled. There’s no rush.”

Jevy was at the wheel of the boat. Welly sat below, in the front, his feet just above the water. Nate tried to sleep, but the noise of the engine kept him awake. He watched the river.

Somehow she’d known that he wasn’t a drunk anymore, that his addictions were gone. She’d seen something good in him. Somehow she knew he was searching. She’d found a purpose for him. God told her.

Jevy woke him after dark. “We have a moon,” he said. They sat in the front of the boat, following the light of the full moon as the river flowed toward the Paraguay.

“The boat is slow,” Jevy said. “Two days to Corumba.”

Nate smiled. He didn’t care if the journey took a month.

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