Once upon a time, there was a small town on the banks of the great Mississippi River. The town manager had recently retired, and a new manager was stepping up to take his place. This man held his town in high esteem, and took it as his personal duty to make sure it remained the perfect, picturesque, tiny tourist attraction it currently was. One day, he was going over some old records and found the latest population survey for that town. He began skimming it uninterestedly, but by the time his eyes had reached the bottom of the page, he was sitting bolt upright in his fancy, swiveling, leather desk chair with his eyes fairly glued to the page. It was unbelievable! Impossible! The population of his perfect country town was shooting up! Why, there were ten more children, according to the report, than there were the year before! This must be stopped. Something must be done, and quickly. He pounded his fist on the polished surface of his desk and called loudly for his secretary. The huge double doors before him immediately swung open, and a young lady cowered in.
“Yes s-s-sir? Y-y-you called?”
“Yes I did call, and a good long time you took in answering too!” the manager glared at his secretary. “Anyway, have a look at this population report, will you? Something must be done,” he continued, “the population of our town is growing. Growing! Unheard of. How can we maintain our reputation as the smallest, most picturesque tourist attraction this side of the Mississippi if we expand at such an awful rate? Do something about it. Don’t look at me like that, it’s YOUR job to come up with a solution, not mine! I don’t care what you do, just do something! Pitch the kids in the river if you have to! Now get!” The manager sat back in his leather chair and fiddled angrily with his gold pen as his secretary fled the scene.
The next day, the fruits of the secretary’s dutiful labor were seen posted all over town. From every street lamp, in every window, and on every street corner were signs bearing the notice that each and every male baby was to be pitched in the river, by order of the town manager. The secretary was really a kind woman at heart, and rather pitied the poor mothers, but she didn’t dare go against her manager. He said to pitch them in the river, so into the river they must go. However, she managed to ease her conscience by only ordering the male babies to be gotten rid of.
There was much wailing and weeping in the town that day. Mothers could be seen, holding on to their precious little ones and storming the office of the manager, asking for pity. Of course, he had none to spare for anything other than the lamentable fact that one of the castors in his swiveling leather desk chair needed oiling, so he could no longer twirl around when he got bored. Which was rather often.
One woman, however, did not heed the notices. She simply picked up her darling baby boy from the stroller in the yard where he was sleeping, took him into the house, and shut him in the back room with his sister. For three months she managed to keep him there, safe and sound, while the other mothers were making trips to the river to “dispose of” their children. However, after three months had passed, the baby began to make louder noises than ever before, and his poor mother got the idea that her neighbors were beginning to grow suspicious. So she devised a plan.
One evening, as the sun was setting, she made her way stealthily down to the Mississippi River with her two children in tow. Once she arrived at the banks, she crept downstream to a small secluded spot. Uncovering a small raft that she kept there in case of emergencies, she lashed the sleeping baby boy to the top of it. With tears in her eyes, she set the small bundle adrift with a whispered goodbye. If all went well, her darling boy would be found by someone in a different town further downstream and thus saved.
Turning to go, she beckoned to her daughter. “Come, Maria, before someone sees us. Your brother will be just fine,” she said tearfully.
“No, mother! I’m going to follow the raft downstream and make sure he is all right. I will keep out of sight, and bring you news of him when I return.”
Maria’s mother agreed to her proposition, and bid farewell to her daughter. Stepping into the gathering dusk, Maria wound her way between the trees at the bank of the river, always keeping the small raft in sight.
That evening, the town manager’s daughter happened to be out on the river with her boyfriend, taking a romantic steamboat ride in the golden sunset. As she leaned out over the railing, her bright pink, furry muff swinging precariously and her long string of fake pearls clanking against the side of the boat, she suddenly grabbed her boyfriend’s arm.
“Ralph! Oh Ralph, do look at that! It’s a little raft! And there’s something on it…Oh I do love a good mystery! Be a good boy, darling Ralphie, and go bring me whatever is on that thing. Wont’ you please do it, Ralphie? For me?” she batted her makeup-covered eyelids and offered a charming smile to her beau.
“Well…yes, I suppose I could,” darling Ralphie replied naively, not realizing in his fascination with his beloved’s beauty that he would have to jump off the boat to get to the raft, and get soaked in the process. He took one look at the river, another look at his grinning girlfriend, and dived over the railing.
“Man overboard!” the crewmen on the steamboat called, and instantly set about flinging a rope to the floundering Ralph. However, Ralphie kept his promise to his girlfriend, and grabbed the small raft and its load before taking hold of the rope and getting hauled back to the steamboat.
Standing dripping and triumphant on the deck of the boat again, Ralph handed the wet bundle from the raft to his girlfriend, who slowly unwrapped the sodden blankets that surrounded it. She let out a gasp of delight when she saw what the blankets contained. “Oh Ralphie!! Look at the little cherub! Isn’t he precious? Can I keep him? It’s a little baby boy, Ralphie! I’m going to ask dad if I can have him for mine!” She bounced up and down joyfully and wrapped the baby in her pink fluffy muff, causing the poor boy to begin wailing. “Oh Ralphie, how beautiful!” She sighed rapturously, causing poor Ralphie to look with envy at the baby.
Meanwhile, Maria had seen all that transpired from the bank of the river where she watched. Smiling in satisfaction, she ran ahead to the dock, and stood waiting when the manager’s daughter came rushing off the boat with a glowering, forgotten darling Ralphie in tow. Sidling up to the woman, who now had a rather damp, squalling baby in her arms, Maria tugged on her coat to get her attention.
“Excuse me, Ma’am!” she shouted over the noise of her baby brother’s screaming, “Would you be wanting a nurse for that little scrap? He sounds awful unhappy.”
“A nurse? Why…why yes, that’s a wonderful idea!” the manager’s daughter replied with relief. “In fact, if you could meet me at my dad’s house (he’s the town manager, you know. Lives up in the big mansion on the hill. Can’t miss it), that would be splendid! Do you have anyone in mind for a nurse?” she asked.
“Why yes, I think so,” Maria replied. “My mother would make a wonderful nurse for your baby. What’s his name, by the way?”
“Oh,” the manager’s daughter replied, “I’ve decided to call him Moses. What do you say to that, little Mosey?” she crooned, and headed off up the dock towards her home. Darling Ralphie followed at a distance, glaring, and Maria laughed at their retreating backs as she turned to find her mother.