by Gene Stratton-Porter
all good Irishmen
CHARLES DARWIN PORTER
FRECKLES, a plucky waif who guards the Limberlost timber leases
and dreams of Angels.
THE SWAMP ANGEL, in whom Freckles' sweetest dream materializes.
MCLEAN, a member of a Grand Rapids lumber company, who befriends Freckles.
MRS. DUNCAN, who gives mother-love and a home to Freckles.
DUNCAN, head teamster of McLean's timber gang.
THE BIRD WOMAN, who is collecting camera studies of birds for a book.
LORD AND LADY O'MORE, who come from Ireland in quest of a lost relative.
THE MAN OF AFFAIRS, brusque of manner, but big of heart.
WESSNER, a Dutch timber-thief who wants rascality made easy.
BLACK JACK, a villain to whom thought of repentance comes too late.
SEARS, camp cook.
CHAPTER I. Wherein Great Risks Are Taken and the Limberlost Guard Is Hired
Freckles came down the corduroy that crosses the lower end of
the Limberlost. At a glance he might have been mistaken for a
tramp, but he was truly seeking work. He was intensely eager
to belong somewhere and to be attached to almost any enterprise
that would furnish him food and clothing.
Long before he came in sight of the camp of the Grand Rapids Lumber
Company, he could hear the cheery voices of the men, the neighing
of the horses, and could scent the tempting odors of cooking food.
A feeling of homeless friendlessness swept over him in a sickening wave.
Without stopping to think, he turned into the newly made road and
followed it to the camp, where the gang was making ready for supper
The scene was intensely attractive. The thickness of the swamp
made a dark, massive background below, while above towered
gigantic trees. The men were calling jovially back and forth as
they unharnessed tired horses that fell into attitudes of rest and
crunched, in deep content, the grain given them. Duncan, the brawny
Scotch head-teamster, lovingly wiped the flanks of his big bays
with handfuls of pawpaw leaves, as he softly whistled, "O wha will
be my dearie, O!" and a cricket beneath the leaves at his feet
accompanied him. The green wood fire hissed and crackled merrily.
Wreathing tongues of flame wrapped around the big black kettles,
and when the cook lifted the lids to plunge in his testing-fork,
gusts of savory odors escaped.
Freckles approached him.
"I want to speak with the Boss," he said.
The cook glanced at him and answered carelessly: "He can't use you."
The color flooded Freckles' face, but he said simply: "If you will
be having the goodness to point him out, we will give him a chance
to do his own talking."
With a shrug of astonishment, the cook led the way to a rough board
table where a broad, square-shouldered man was bending over some
"Mr. McLean, here's another man wanting to be taken on the gang,
I suppose," he said.
"All right," came the cheery answer. "I never needed a good man
more than I do just now."
The manager turned a page and carefully began a new line.
"No use of your bothering with this fellow," volunteered the cook.
"He hasn't but one hand."
The flush on Freckles' face burned deeper. His lips thinned to a
mere line. He lifted his shoulders, took a step forward, and thrust
out his right arm, from which the sleeve dangled empty at the wrist.
"That will do, Sears," came the voice of the Boss sharply. "I will
interview my man when I finish this report."
He turned to his work, while the cook hurried to the fires.
Freckles stood one instant as he had braced himself to meet the
eyes of the manager; then his arm dropped and a wave of whiteness
swept him. The Boss had not even turned his head. He had used
the possessive. When he said "my man," the hungry heart of
Freckles went reaching toward him.
The boy drew a quivering breath. Then he whipped off his old hat
and beat the dust from it carefully. With his left hand he caught
the right sleeve, wiped his sweaty face, and tried to straighten
his hair with his fingers. He broke a spray of ironwort beside
him and used the purple bloom to beat the dust from his shoulders
and limbs. The Boss, busy over his report, was, nevertheless, vaguely
alive to the toilet being made behind him, and scored one for the man.
McLean was a Scotchman. It was his habit to work slowly
and methodically. The men of his camps never had known him to be
in a hurry or to lose his temper. Discipline was inflexible, but
the Boss was always kind. His habits were simple. He shared camp
life with his gangs. The only visible signs of wealth consisted
of a big, shimmering diamond stone of ice and fire that glittered
and burned on one of his fingers, and the dainty, beautiful
thoroughbred mare he rode between camps and across the country
No man of McLean's gangs could honestly say that he ever had been
overdriven or underpaid. The Boss never had exacted any deference
from his men, yet so intense was his personality that no man of
them ever had attempted a familiarity. They all knew him to be a
thorough gentleman, and that in the great timber city several
millions stood to his credit.
He was the only son of that McLean who had sent out the finest
ships ever built in Scotland. That his son should carry on this
business after the father's death had been his ambition. He had
sent the boy through the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, and
allowed him several years' travel before he should attempt his
first commission for the firm.
Then he was ordered to southern Canada and Michigan to purchase
a consignment of tall, straight timber for masts, and south to
Indiana for oak beams. The young man entered these mighty forests,
parts of which lay untouched since the dawn of the morning of time.
The clear, cool, pungent atmosphere was intoxicating. The intense
silence, like that of a great empty cathedral, fascinated him.
He gradually learned that, to the shy wood creatures that darted
across his path or peeped inquiringly from leafy ambush, he
was brother. He found himself approaching, with a feeling of
reverence, those majestic trees that had stood through ages of
sun, wind, and snow. Soon it became difficult to fell them.
When he had filled his order and returned home, he was amazed
to learn that in the swamps and forests he had lost his heart
and it was calling--forever calling him.
When he inherited his father's property, he promptly disposed of
it, and, with his mother, founded a home in a splendid residence in
the outskirts of Grand Rapids. With three partners, he organized a
lumber company. His work was to purchase, fell, and ship the timber
to the mills. Marshall managed the milling process and passed the
lumber to the factory. From the lumber, Barthol made beautiful and
useful furniture, which Uptegrove scattered all over the world from
a big wholesale house. Of the thousands who saw their faces
reflected on the polished surfaces of that furniture and found
comfort in its use, few there were to whom it suggested mighty
forests and trackless swamps, and the man, big of soul and body,
who cut his way through them, and with the eye of experience doomed
the proud trees that were now entering the homes of civilization
When McLean turned from his finished report, he faced a young man,
yet under twenty, tall, spare, heavily framed, closely freckled,
and red-haired, with a homely Irish face, but in the steady gray
eyes, straightly meeting his searching ones of blue, there was
unswerving candor and the appearance of longing not to be ignored.
He was dressed in the roughest of farm clothing, and seemed tired
to the point of falling.
"You are looking for work?" questioned McLean.
"Yis," answered Freckles.
"I am very sorry," said the Boss with genuine sympathy in his every
tone, "but there is only one man I want at present--a hardy, big
fellow with a stout heart and a strong body. I hoped that you would
do, but I am afraid you are too young and scarcely strong enough."
Freckles stood, hat in hand, watching McLean.
"And what was it you thought I might be doing?" he asked.
The Boss could scarcely repress a start. Somewhere before accident
and poverty there had been an ancestor who used cultivated English,
even with an accent. The boy spoke in a mellow Irish voice, sweet
and pure. It was scarcely definite enough to be called brogue, yet
there was a trick in the turning of the sentence, the wrong sound
of a letter here and there, that was almost irresistible to McLean,
and presaged a misuse of infinitives and possessives with which he
was very familiar and which touched him nearly. He was of foreign
birth, and despite years of alienation, in times of strong feeling
he committed inherited sins of accent and construction.
"It's no child's job," answered McLean. "I am the field manager of
a big lumber company. We have just leased two thousand acres of
the Limberlost. Many of these trees are of great value. We can't
leave our camp, six miles south, for almost a year yet; so we have
blazed a trail and strung barbed wires securely around this lease.
Before we return to our work, I must put this property in the hands
of a reliable, brave, strong man who will guard it every hour of
the day, and sleep with one eye open at night. I shall require the
entire length of the trail to be walked at least twice each day, to
make sure that our lines are up and that no one has been trespassing."
Freckles was leaning forward, absorbing every word with such
intense eagerness that he was beguiling the Boss into explanations
he had never intended making.
"But why wouldn't that be the finest job in the world for me?"
he pleaded. "I am never sick. I could walk the trail twice,
three times every day, and I'd be watching sharp all the while."
"It's because you are scarcely more than a boy, and this will be a
trying job for a work-hardened man," answered McLean. "You see, in
the first place, you would be afraid. In stretching our lines, we
killed six rattlesnakes almost as long as your body and as thick as
your arm. It's the price of your life to start through the
marshgrass surrounding the swamp unless you are covered with
heavy leather above your knees.
"You should be able to swim in case high water undermines the
temporary bridge we have built where Sleepy Snake Creek enters
the swamp. The fall and winter changes of weather are abrupt and
severe, while I would want strict watch kept every day. You would
always be alone, and I don't guarantee what is in the Limberlost.
It is lying here as it has lain since the beginning of time, and it
is alive with forms and voices. I don't pretend to say what all of
them come from; but from a few slinking shapes I've seen, and
hair-raising yells I've heard, I'd rather not confront their owners
myself; and I am neither weak nor fearful.
"Worst of all, any man who will enter the swamp to mark and steal
timber is desperate. One of my employees at the south camp, John
Carter, compelled me to discharge him for a number of serious reasons.
He came here, entered the swamp alone, and succeeded in locating
and marking a number of valuable trees that he was endeavoring
to sell to a rival company when we secured the lease. He has
sworn to have these trees if he has to die or to kill others to
get them; and he is a man that the strongest would not care to meet."
"But if he came to steal trees, wouldn't he bring teams and men
enough: that all anyone could do would be to watch and be after
you?" queried the boy.
"Yes," replied McLean.
"Then why couldn't I be watching just as closely, and coming as
fast, as an older, stronger man?" asked Freckles.
"Why, by George, you could!" exclaimed McLean. "I don't know as
the size of a man would be half so important as his grit and
faithfulness, come to think of it. Sit on that log there and we
will talk it over. What is your name?"
Freckles shook his head at the proffer of a seat, and folding his
arms, stood straight as the trees around him. He grew a shade
whiter, but his eyes never faltered.
"Freckles!" he said.
"Good enough for everyday," laughed McLean, "but I scarcely can
put `Freckles' on the company's books. Tell me your name."
"I haven't any name," replied the boy.
"I don't understand," said McLean.
"I was thinking from the voice and the face of you that you
wouldn't," said Freckles slowly. "I've spent more time on it than
I ever did on anything else in all me life, and I don't understand.
Does it seem to you that anyone would take a newborn baby and row
over it, until it was bruised black, cut off its hand, and leave it
out in a bitter night on the steps of a charity home, to the care
of strangers? That's what somebody did to me."
McLean stared aghast. He had no reply ready, and presently in a low
voice he suggested: "And after?"
"The Home people took me in, and I was there the full legal age and
several years over. For the most part we were a lot of little
Irishmen together. They could always find homes for the other
children, but nobody would ever be wanting me on account of me arm."
"Were they kind to you?" McLean regretted the question the minute
it was asked.
"I don't know," answered Freckles. The reply sounded so hopeless,
even to his own ears, that he hastened to qualify it by adding:
"You see, it's like this, sir. Kindnesses that people are paid to
lay off in job lots and that belong equally to several hundred
others, ain't going to be soaking into any one fellow so much."
"Go on," said McLean, nodding comprehendingly.
"There's nothing worth the taking of your time to tell,"
replied Freckles. "The Home was in Chicago, and I was there all
me life until three months ago. When I was too old for the
training they gave to the little children, they sent me to the
closest ward school as long as the law would let them; but I was
never like any of the other children, and they all knew it.
I'd to go and come like a prisoner, and be working around the
Home early and late for me board and clothes. I always wanted
to learn mighty bad, but I was glad when that was over.
"Every few days, all me life, I'd to be called up, looked over,
and refused a home and love, on account of me hand and ugly face;
but it was all the home I'd ever known, and I didn't seem to
belong to any place else.
"Then a new superintendent was put in. He wasn't for being like
any of the others, and he swore he'd weed me out the first thing
he did. He made a plan to send me down the State to a man he said
he knew who needed a boy. He wasn't for remembering to tell that man
that I was a hand short, and he knocked me down the minute he found
I was the boy who had been sent him. Between noon and that evening,
he and his son close my age had me in pretty much the same shape in
which I was found in the beginning, so I lay awake that night and
ran away. I'd like to have squared me account with that boy before
I left, but I didn't dare for fear of waking the old man, and I
knew I couldn't handle the two of them; but I'm hoping to meet him
alone some day before I die."
McLean tugged at his mustache to hide the smile on his lips, but he
liked the boy all the better for this confession.
"I didn't even have to steal clothes to get rid of starting in me
Home ones," Freckles continued, "for they had already taken all me
clean, neat things for the boy and put me into his rags, and that
went almost as sore as the beatings, for where I was we were always
kept tidy and sweet-smelling, anyway. I hustled clear into this
State before I learned that man couldn't have kept me if he'd
wanted to. When I thought I was good and away from him, I
commenced hunting work, but it is with everybody else just as it
is with you, sir. Big, strong, whole men are the only ones for
"I have been studying over this matter," answered McLean. "I am not
so sure but that a man no older than you and similar in every way
could do this work very well, if he were not a coward, and had it
in him to be trustworthy and industrious."
Freckles came forward a step.
"If you will give me a job where I can earn me food, clothes, and
a place to sleep," he said, "if I can have a Boss to work for like
other men, and a place I feel I've a right to, I will do precisely
what you tell me or die trying."
He spoke so convincingly that McLean believed, although in his
heart he knew that to employ a stranger would be wretched business
for a man with the interests he had involved.
"Very well," the Boss found himself answering, "I will enter you on
my pay rolls. We'll have supper, and then I will provide you with
clean clothing, wading-boots, the wire-mending apparatus, and
a revolver. The first thing in the morning, I will take you the
length of the trail myself and explain fully what I want done.
All I ask of you is to come to me at once at the south camp and
tell me as a man if you find this job too hard for you. It will not
surprise me. It is work that few men would perform faithfully.
What name shall I put down?"
Freckles' gaze never left McLean's face, and the Boss saw the
swift spasm of pain that swept his lonely, sensitive features.
"I haven't any name," he said stubbornly, "no more than one
somebody clapped on to me when they put me on the Home books, with
not the thought or care they'd name a house cat. I've seen how they
enter those poor little abandoned devils often enough to know.
What they called me is no more my name than it is yours. I don't
know what mine is, and I never will; but I am going to be your man
and do your work, and I'll be glad to answer to any name you choose
to call me. Won't you please be giving me a name, Mr. McLean?"
The Boss wheeled abruptly and began stacking his books. What he was
thinking was probably what any other gentleman would have thought
in the circumstances. With his eyes still downcast, and in a voice
harsh with huskiness, he spoke.
"I will tell you what we will do, my lad," he said. "My father
was my ideal man, and I loved him better than any other I have
ever known. He went out five years ago, but that he would have been
proud to leave you his name I firmly believe. If I give to you the
name of my nearest kin and the man I loved best--will that do?"
Freckles' rigid attitude relaxed suddenly. His head dropped, and
big tears splashed on the soiled calico shirt. McLean was not
surprised at the silence, for he found that talking came none too
easily just then.
"All right," he said. "I will write it on the roll--James Ross McLean."
"Thank you mightily," said Freckles. "That makes me feel almost as
if I belonged, already."
"You do," said McLean. "Until someone armed with every right comes
to claim you, you are mine. Now, come and take a bath, have some
supper, and go to bed."
As Freckles followed into the lights and sounds of the camp, his
heart and soul were singing for joy.
CHAPTER II. Wherein Freckles Proves His Mettle and Finds Friends
Next morning found Freckles in clean, whole clothing, fed,
and rested. Then McLean outfitted him and gave him careful
instruction in the use of his weapon. The Boss showed him around
the timber-line, and engaged him a place to board with the family
of his head teamster, Duncan, whom he had brought from Scotland with
him, and who lived in a small clearing he was working out between
the swamp and the corduroy. When the gang was started for the
south camp, Freckles was left to guard a fortune in the Limberlost.
That he was under guard himself those first weeks he never knew.
Each hour was torture to the boy. The restricted life of a great
city orphanage was the other extreme of the world compared with
the Limberlost. He was afraid for his life every minute. The heat
was intense. The heavy wading-boots rubbed his feet until they bled.
He was sore and stiff from his long tramp and outdoor exposure.
The seven miles of trail was agony at every step. He practiced at
night, under the direction of Duncan, until he grew sure in the use
of his revolver. He cut a stout hickory cudgel, with a knot on the
end as big as his fist; this never left his hand. What he thought
in those first days he himself could not recall clearly afterward.
His heart stood still every time he saw the beautiful marsh-grass
begin a sinuous waving AGAINST the play of the wind, as McLean had
told him it would. He bolted half a mile with the first boom of
the bittern, and his hat lifted with every yelp of the sheitpoke.
Once he saw a lean, shadowy form following him, and fired his revolver.
Then he was frightened worse than ever for fear it might have been
The first afternoon that he found his wires down, and he was
compelled to plunge knee deep into the black swamp-muck to restring
them, he became so ill from fear and nervousness that he scarcely
could control his shaking hand to do the work. With every step, he
felt that he would miss secure footing and be swallowed in that
clinging sea of blackness. In dumb agony he plunged forward,
clinging to the posts and trees until he had finished restringing
and testing the wire. He had consumed much time. Night closed in.
The Limberlost stirred gently, then shook herself, growled, and
awoke around him.
There seemed to be a great owl hooting from every hollow tree, and
a little one screeching from every knothole. The bellowing of big
bullfrogs was not sufficiently deafening to shut out the wailing of
whip-poor-wills that seemed to come from every bush. Nighthawks swept
past him with their shivering cry, and bats struck his face.
A prowling wildcat missed its catch and screamed with rage.
A straying fox bayed incessantly for its mate.
The hair on the back of Freckles' neck arose as bristles, and his
knees wavered beneath him. He could not see whether the dreaded
snakes were on the trail, or, in the pandemonium, hear the rattle
for which McLean had cautioned him to listen. He stood motionless
in an agony of fear. His breath whistled between his teeth.
The perspiration ran down his face and body in little streams.
Something big, black, and heavy came crashing through the swamp
close to him, and with a yell of utter panic Freckles ran--how far
he did not know; but at last he gained control over himself and
retraced his steps. His jaws set stiffly and the sweat dried on
his body. When he reached the place from which he had started to
run, he turned and with measured steps made his way down the line.
After a time he realized that he was only walking, so he faced
that sea of horrors again. When he came toward the corduroy,
the cudgel fell to test the wire at each step.
Sounds that curdled his blood seemed to encompass him, and shapes
of terror to draw closer and closer. Fear had so gained the mastery
that he did not dare look behind him; and just when he felt that he
would fall dead before he ever reached the clearing, came Duncan's
rolling call: "Freckles! Freckles!" A shuddering sob burst in the
boy's dry throat; but he only told Duncan that finding the wire
down had caused the delay.
The next morning he started on time. Day after day, with his heart
pounding, he ducked, dodged, ran when he could, and fought when he
was brought to bay. If he ever had an idea of giving up, no one
knew it; for he clung to his job without the shadow of wavering.
All these things, in so far as he guessed them, Duncan, who had
been set to watch the first weeks of Freckles' work, carried to the
Boss at the south camp; but the innermost, exquisite torture of the
thing the big Scotchman never guessed, and McLean, with his finer
perceptions, came only a little closer.
After a few weeks, when Freckles learned that he was still living,
that he had a home, and the very first money he ever had possessed
was safe in his pockets, he began to grow proud. He yet side-
stepped, dodged, and hurried to avoid being late again, but he
was gradually developing the fearlessness that men ever acquire
of dangers to which they are hourly accustomed.
His heart seemed to be leaping when his first rattler disputed the
trail with him, but he mustered courage to attack it with his club.
After its head had been crushed, he mastered an Irishman's inborn
repugnance for snakes sufficiently to cut off its rattles to
show Duncan. With this victory, his greatest fear of them was gone.
Then he began to realize that with the abundance of food in the
swamp, flesh-hunters would not come on the trail and attack him,
and he had his revolver for defence if they did. He soon learned to
laugh at the big, floppy birds that made horrible noises. One day,
watching behind a tree, he saw a crane solemnly performing a few
measures of a belated nuptial song-and-dance with his mate.
Realizing that it was intended in tenderness, no matter how it
appeared, the lonely, starved heart of the boy sympathized with them.
Before the first month passed, he was fairly easy about his job; by
the next he rather liked it. Nature can be trusted to work her own
miracle in the heart of any man whose daily task keeps him alone
among her sights, sounds, and silences.
When day after day the only thing that relieved his utter
loneliness was the companionship of the birds and beasts of the
swamp, it was the most natural thing in the world that Freckles
should turn to them for friendship. He began by instinctively
protecting the weak and helpless. He was astonished at the
quickness with which they became accustomed to him and the
disregard they showed for his movements, when they learned that
he was not a hunter, while the club he carried was used more
frequently for their benefit than his own. He scarcely could
believe what he saw.
From the effort to protect the birds and animals, it was only a
short step to the possessive feeling, and with that sprang the
impulse to caress and provide. Through fall, when brooding was
finished and the upland birds sought the swamp in swarms to feast
on its seeds and berries, Freckles was content with watching them
and speculating about them. Outside of half a dozen of the very
commonest they were strangers to him. The likeness of their actions
to humanity was an hourly surprise.
When black frost began stripping the Limberlost, cutting the ferns,
shearing the vines from the trees, mowing the succulent green
things of the swale, and setting the leaves swirling down, he
watched the departing troops of his friends with dismay. He began
to realize that he would be left alone. He made especial efforts
toward friendliness with the hope that he could induce some of them
to stay. It was then that he conceived the idea of carrying food to
the birds; for he saw that they were leaving for lack of it; but he
could not stop them. Day after day, flocks gathered and departed:
by the time the first snow whitened his trail around the Limberlost,
there were left only the little black-and-white juncos, the
sapsuckers, yellow-hammers, a few patriarchs among the flaming
cardinals, the blue jays, the crows, and the quail.
Then Freckles began his wizard work. He cleared a space of swale,
and twice a day he spread a birds' banquet. By the middle of
December the strong winds of winter had beaten most of the seed
from the grass and bushes. The snow fell, covering the swamp, and
food was very scarce and difficult to find. The birds scarcely
waited until Freckles' back was turned to attack his provisions.
In a few weeks they flew toward the clearing to meet him. During the
bitter weather of January they came halfway to the cabin every
morning, and fluttered around him as doves all the way to the
feeding-ground. Before February they were so accustomed to him, and
so hunger-driven, that they would perch on his head and shoulders,
and the saucy jays would try to pry into his pockets.
Then Freckles added to wheat and crumbs, every scrap of refuse food
he could find at the cabin. He carried to his pets the parings of
apples, turnips, potatoes, stray cabbage-leaves, and carrots, and
tied to the bushes meat-bones having scraps of fat and gristle.
One morning, coming to his feeding-ground unusually early, he found
a gorgeous cardinal and a rabbit side by side sociably nibbling a
cabbage-leaf, and that instantly gave to him the idea of cracking
nuts, from the store he had gathered for Duncan's children, for the
squirrels, in the effort to add them to his family. Soon he had
them coming--red, gray, and black; then he became filled with a
vast impatience that he did not know their names or habits.
So the winter passed. Every week McLean rode to the Limberlost;
never on the same day or at the same hour. Always he found Freckles
at his work, faithful and brave, no matter how severe the weather.
The boy's earnings constituted his first money; and when the Boss
explained to him that he could leave them safe at a bank and carry
away a scrap of paper that represented the amount, he went straight
on every payday and made his deposit, keeping out barely what was
necessary for his board and clothing. What he wanted to do with his
money he did not know, but it gave to him a sense of freedom and
power to feel that it was there--it was his and he could have it
when he chose. In imitation of McLean, he bought a small pocket
account-book, in which he carefully set down every dollar he earned
and every penny he spent. As his expenses were small and the Boss
paid him generously, it was astonishing how his little hoard grew.
That winter held the first hours of real happiness in Freckles' life.
He was free. He was doing a man's work faithfully, through
every rigor of rain, snow, and blizzard. He was gathering a
wonderful strength of body, paying his way, and saving money.
Every man of the gang and of that locality knew that he was under
the protection of McLean, who was a power, this had the effect of
smoothing Freckles' path in many directions.
Mrs. Duncan showed him that individual kindness for which his
hungry heart was longing. She had a hot drink ready for him when he
came from a freezing day on the trail. She knit him a heavy mitten
for his left hand, and devised a way to sew and pad the right
sleeve that protected the maimed arm in bitter weather. She patched
his clothing--frequently torn by the wire--and saved kitchen scraps
for his birds, not because she either knew or cared anything about
them, but because she herself was close enough to the swamp to be
touched by its utter loneliness. When Duncan laughed at her for
this, she retorted: "My God, mannie, if Freckles hadna the birds
and the beasts he would be always alone. It was never meant for a
human being to be so solitary. He'd get touched in the head if he
hadna them to think for and to talk to."
"How much answer do ye think he gets to his talkin', lass?"
"He gets the answer that keeps the eye bright, the heart happy,
and the feet walking faithful the rough path he's set them in,"
answered Mrs. Duncan earnestly.
Duncan walked away appearing very thoughtful. The next morning
he gave an ear from the corn he was shelling for his chickens to
Freckles, and told him to carry it to his wild chickens in
the Limberlost. Freckles laughed delightedly.
"Me chickens!" he said. "Why didn't I ever think of that before?
Of course they are! They are just little, brightly colored cocks
and hens! But `wild' is no good. What would you say to me `wild
chickens' being a good deal tamer than yours here in your yard?"
"Hoot, lad!" cried Duncan.
"Make yours light on your head and eat out of your hands and
pockets," challenged Freckles.
"Go and tell your fairy tales to the wee people! They're juist
brash on believin' things," said Duncan. "Ye canna invent any
story too big to stop them from callin' for a bigger."
"I dare you to come see!" retorted Freckles.
"Take ye!" said Duncan. "If ye make juist ane bird licht on your
heid or eat frae your hand, ye are free to help yoursel' to my
corn-crib and wheat bin the rest of the winter."
Freckles sprang in air and howled in glee.
"Oh, Duncan! You're too, aisy" he cried. "When will you come?"
"I'll come next Sabbath," said Duncan. "And I'll believe the birds of
the Limberlost are tame as barnyard fowl when I see it, and no sooner!"
After that Freckles always spoke of the birds as his chickens, and
the Duncans followed his example. The very next Sabbath, Duncan,
with his wife and children, followed Freckles to the swamp.
They saw a sight so wonderful it will keep them talking all the
remainder of their lives, and make them unfailing friends of all
Freckles' chickens were awaiting him at the edge of the clearing.
They cut the frosty air around his head into curves and circles of
crimson, blue, and black. They chased each other from Freckles, and
swept so closely themselves that they brushed him with their
At their feeding-ground Freckles set down his old pail of scraps
and swept the snow from a small level space with a broom improvised
of twigs. As soon as his back was turned, the birds clustered over
the food, snatching scraps to carry to the nearest bushes. Several of
the boldest, a big crow and a couple of jays, settled on the rim and
feasted at leisure, while a cardinal, that hesitated to venture,
fumed and scolded from a twig overhead.
Then Freckles scattered his store. At once the ground resembled the
spread mantle of Montezuma, except that this mass of gaily colored
feathers was on the backs of living birds. While they feasted,
Duncan gripped his wife's arm and stared in astonishment; for from
the bushes and dry grass, with gentle cheeping and queer, throaty
chatter, as if to encourage each other, came flocks of quail.
Before anyone saw it arrive, a big gray rabbit sat in the midst of
the feast, contentedly gnawing a cabbage-leaf.
"Weel, I be drawed on!" came Mrs. Duncan's tense whisper.
"Shu-shu," cautioned Duncan.
Lastly Freckles removed his cap. He began filling it with handfuls
of wheat from his pockets. In a swarm the grain-eaters arose around
him as a flock of tame pigeons. They perched on his arms and the
cap, and in the stress of hunger, forgetting all caution, a
brilliant cock cardinal and an equally gaudy jay fought for a
perching-place on his head.
"Weel, I'm beat," muttered Duncan, forgetting the silence imposed
on his wife. "I'll hae to give in. `Seein' is believin'. A man
wad hae to see that to believe it. We mauna let the Boss miss that
sight, for it's a chance will no likely come twice in a life.
Everything is snowed under and thae craturs near starved, but
trustin' Freckles that complete they are tamer than our chickens.
Look hard, bairns!" he whispered. "Ye winna see the like o' yon
again, while God lets ye live. Notice their color against the ice
and snow, and the pretty skippin' ways of them! And spunky!
Weel, I'm heat fair!"
Freckles emptied his cap, turned his pockets and scattered his
last grain. Then he waved his watching friends good-bye and
started down the timber-line.
A week later, Duncan and Freckles arose from breakfast to face the
bitterest morning of the winter. When Freckles, warmly capped and
gloved, stepped to the corner of the kitchen for his scrap-pail, he
found a big pan of steaming boiled wheat on the top of it. He wheeled
to Mrs. Duncan with a shining face.
"Were you fixing this warm food for me chickens or yours?" he asked.
"It's for yours, Freckles," she said. "I was afeared this cold
weather they wadna lay good without a warm bite now and then."
Duncan laughed as he stepped to the other room for his pipe; but
Freckles faced Mrs. Duncan with a trace of every pang of starved
mother-hunger he ever had suffered written large on his homely,
splotched, narrow features.
"Oh, how I wish you were my mother!" he cried.
Mrs. Duncan attempted an echo of her husband's laugh.
"Lord love the lad!" she exclaimed. "Why, Freckles, are ye no
bright enough to learn without being taught by a woman that I am
your mither? If a great man like yoursel' dinna ken that, learn it
now and ne'er forget it. Ance a woman is the wife of any man, she
becomes wife to all men for having had the wifely experience she kens!
Ance a man-child has beaten his way to life under the heart of a
woman, she is mither to all men, for the hearts of mithers are
everywhere the same. Bless ye, laddie, I am your mither!"
She tucked the coarse scarf she had knit for him closer over his
chest and pulled his cap lower over his ears, but Freckles,
whipping it off and holding it under his arm, caught her rough,
reddened hand and pressed it to his lips in a long kiss. Then he
hurried away to hide the happy, embarrassing tears that were coming
straight from his swelling heart.
Mrs. Duncan, sobbing unrestrainedly, swept into the adjoining room
and threw herself into Duncan's arms.
"Oh, the puir lad!" she wailed. "Oh, the puir mither-hungry lad!
He breaks my heart!"
Duncan's arms closed convulsively around his wife. With a big,
brown hand he lovingly stroked her rough, sorrel hair.
"Sarah, you're a guid woman!" he said. "You're a michty guid woman!
Ye hae a way o' speakin' out at times that's like the inspired
prophets of the Lord. If that had been put to me, now, I'd `a' felt
all I kent how to and been keen enough to say the richt thing; but
dang it, I'd `a' stuttered and stammered and got naething out that
would ha' done onybody a mite o' good. But ye, Sarah! Did ye see
his face, woman? Ye sent him off lookin' leke a white light of
holiness had passed ower and settled on him. Ye sent the lad away
too happy for mortal words, Sarah. And ye made me that proud o' ye!
I wouldna trade ye an' my share o' the Limberlost with ony king ye
He relaxed his clasp, and setting a heavy hand on each shoulder, he
looked straight into her eyes.
"Ye're prime, Sarah! Juist prime!" he said.
Sarah Duncan stood alone in the middle of her two-roomed log cabin
and lifted a bony, clawlike pair of hands, reddened by frequent
immersion in hot water, cracked and chafed by exposure to cold,
black-lined by constant battle with swamp-loam, calloused with
burns, and stared at them wonderingly.
"Pretty-lookin' things ye are!" she whispered. "But ye hae juist
been kissed. And by such a man! Fine as God ever made at His
verra best. Duncan wouldna trade wi' a king! Na! Nor I wadna
trade with a queen wi' a palace, an' velvet gowns, an' diamonds
big as hazelnuts, an' a hundred visitors a day into the bargain.
Ye've been that honored I'm blest if I can bear to souse ye in
dish-water. Still, that kiss winna come off! Naething can take it
from me, for it's mine till I dee. Lord, if I amna proud! Kisses on
these old claws! Weel, I be drawed on!"
CHAPTER III. Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born
So Freckles fared through the bitter winter. He was very happy.
He had hungered for freedom, love, and appreciation so long!
He had been unspeakably lonely at the Home; and the utter
loneliness of a great desert or forest is not so difficult to
endure as the loneliness of being constantly surrounded by crowds
of people who do not care in the least whether one is living or dead.
All through the winter Freckles' entire energy was given to keeping
up his lines and his "chickens" from freezing or starving. When the
first breath of spring touched the Limberlost, and the snow receded
before it; when the catkins began to bloom; when there came a hint
of green to the trees, bushes, and swale; when the rushes lifted
their heads, and the pulse of the newly resurrected season beat
strongly in the heart of nature, something new stirred in the
breast of the boy.
Nature always levies her tribute. Now she laid a powerful hand on the
soul of Freckles, to which the boy's whole being responded, though
he had not the least idea what was troubling him. Duncan accepted
his wife's theory that it was a touch of spring fever, but Freckles
knew better. He never had been so well. Clean, hot, and steady
the blood pulsed in his veins. He was always hungry, and his most
difficult work tired him not at all. For long months, without a
single intermission, he had tramped those seven miles of trail twice
each day, through every conceivable state of weather. With the
heavy club he gave his wires a sure test, and between sections,
first in play, afterward to keep his circulation going, he had
acquired the skill of an expert drum major. In his work there was
exercise for every muscle of his body each hour of the day, at
night a bath, wholesome food, and sound sleep in a room that never
knew fire. He had gained flesh and color, and developed a greater
strength and endurance than anyone ever could have guessed.
Nor did the Limberlost contain last year's terrors. He had been
with her in her hour of desolation, when stripped bare and
deserted, she had stood shivering, as if herself afraid. He had
made excursions into the interior until he was familiar with every
path and road that ever had been cut. He had sounded the depths of
her deepest pools, and had learned why the trees grew so magnificently.
He had found that places of swamp and swale were few compared with
miles of solid timber-land, concealed by summer's luxuriant undergrowth.
The sounds that at first had struck cold fear into his soul he now
knew had left on wing and silent foot at the approach of winter.
As flock after flock of the birds returned and he recognized the
old echoes reawakening, he found to his surprise that he had
been lonely for them and was hailing their return with great joy.
All his fears were forgotten. Instead, he was possessed of an
overpowering desire to know what they were, to learn where they had
been, and whether they would make friends with him as the winter
birds had done; and if they did, would they be as fickle? For, with
the running sap, creeping worm, and winging bug, most of Freckles'
"chickens" had deserted him, entered the swamp, and feasted to such
a state of plethora on its store that they cared little for his
supply, so that in the strenuous days of mating and nest-building
the boy was deserted.
He chafed at the birds' ingratitude, but he found speedy
consolation in watching and befriending the newcomers. He surely
would have been proud and highly pleased if he had known that many
of the former inhabitants of the interior swamp now grouped their
nests beside the timber-line solely for the sake of his protection
The yearly resurrection of the Limberlost is a mighty revival.
Freckles stood back and watched with awe and envy the gradual
reclothing and repopulation of the swamp. Keen-eyed and alert
through danger and loneliness, he noted every stage of development,
from the first piping frog and unsheathing bud, to full leafage and
the return of the last migrant.
The knowledge of his complete loneliness and utter insignificance
was hourly thrust upon him. He brooded and fretted until he was in
a fever; yet he never guessed the cause. He was filled with a vast
impatience, a longing that he scarcely could endure.
It was June by the zodiac, June by the Limberlost, and by every
delight of a newly resurrected season it should have been June in
the hearts of all men. Yet Freckles scowled darkly as he came down
the trail, and the running TAP, TAP that tested the sagging wire
and telegraphed word of his coming to his furred and feathered
friends of the swamp, this morning carried the story of his
discontent a mile ahead of him.
Freckles' special pet, a dainty, yellow-coated, black-sleeved, cock
goldfinch, had remained on the wire for several days past the
bravest of all; and Freckles, absorbed with the cunning and beauty
of the tiny fellow, never guessed that he was being duped. For the
goldfinch was skipping, flirting, and swinging for the express
purpose of so holding his attention that he would not look up and
see a small cradle of thistledown and wool perilously near his head.
In the beginning of brooding, the spunky little homesteader had clung
heroically to the wire when he was almost paralyzed with fright.
When day after day passed and brought only softly whistled
repetitions of his call, a handful of crumbs on the top of a locust
line-post, and gently worded coaxings, he grew in confidence.
Of late he had sung and swung during the passing of Freckles, who,
not dreaming of the nest and the solemn-eyed little hen so close above,
thought himself unusually gifted in his power to attract the birds.
This morning the goldfinch scarcely could believe his ears, and
clung to the wire until an unusually vicious rap sent him spinning
a foot in air, and his "PTSEET" came with a squall of utter panic.
The wires were ringing with a story the birds could not translate,
and Freckles was quite as ignorant of the trouble as they.
A peculiar movement beneath a small walnut tree caught his attention.
He stopped to investigate. There was an unusually large Luna
cocoon, and the moth was bursting the upper end in its struggles
to reach light and air. Freckles stood and stared.
"There's something in there trying to get out," he muttered.
"Wonder if I could help it? Guess I best not be trying. If I hadn't
happened along, there wouldn't have been anyone to do anything, and
maybe I'd only be hurting it. It's--it's----Oh, skaggany! It's just
Freckles gasped with surprise. The moth cleared the opening, and
with many wabblings and contortions climbed up the tree. He stared
speechless with amazement as the moth crept around a limb and clung
to the under side. There was a big pursy body, almost as large as
his thumb, and of the very snowiest white that Freckles ever had seen.
There was a band of delicate lavender across its forehead, and its
feet were of the same colour; there were antlers, like tiny,
straw-colored ferns, on its head, and from its shoulders hung
the crumpled wet wings. As Freckles gazed, tense with astonishment,
he saw that these were expanding, drooping, taking on color, and
small, oval markings were beginning to show.
The minutes passed. Freckles' steady gaze never wavered.
Without realizing it, he was trembling with eagerness and anxiety.
As he saw what was taking place, "It's going to fly," he breathed
in hushed wonder. The morning sun fell on the moth and dried its
velvet down, while the warm air made it fluffy. The rapidly growing
wings began to show the most delicate green, with lavender
fore-ribs, transparent, eye-shaped markings, edged with lines of
red, tan, and black, and long, crisp trailers.
Freckles was whispering to himself for fear of disturbing the moth.
It began a systematic exercise of raising and lowering its
exquisite wings to dry them and to establish circulation. The boy
realized that soon it would be able to spread them and sail away.
His long-coming soul sent up its first shivering cry.
"I don't know what it is! Oh, I wish I knew! How I wish I knew!
It must be something grand! It can't be a butterfly! It's away
too big. Oh, I wish there was someone to tell me what it is!"
He climbed on the locust post, and balancing himself with the wire,
held a finger in the line of the moth's advance up the twig.
It unhesitatingly climbed on, so he stepped to the path, holding
it to the light and examining it closely. Then he held it in the
shade and turned it, gloating over its markings and beautiful coloring.
When he held the moth to the limb, it climbed on, still waving those
"My, but I'd like to be staying with you!" he said. "But if I was
to stand here all day you couldn't grow any prettier than you are
right now, and I wouldn't grow smart enough to tell what you are.
I suppose there's someone who knows. Of course there is! Mr. McLean
said there were people who knew every leaf, bird, and flower in
the Limberlost. Oh Lord! How I wish You'd be telling me just this
The goldfinch had ventured back to the wire, for there was his
mate, only a few inches above the man-creature's head; and indeed,
he simply must not be allowed to look up, so the brave little
fellow rocked on the wire and piped, as he had done every day for
a week: "SEE ME? SEE ME?"
"See you! Of course I see you," growled Freckles. "I see you day
after day, and what good is it doing me? I might see you every
morning for a year, and then not be able to be telling anyone
about it. `Seen a bird with black silk wings--little, and yellow
as any canary.' That's as far as I'd get. What you doing here, anyway?
Have you a mate? What's your name? `See you?' I reckon I see you;
but I might as well be blind, for any good it's doing me!"
Freckles impatiently struck the wire. With a screech of fear, the
goldfinch fled precipitately. His mate arose from the nest with a
whirr--Freckles looked up and saw it.
"O--ho!" he cried. "So THAT'S what you are doing here! You have
a wife. And so close my head I have been mighty near wearing a bird
on my bonnet, and never knew it!"
Freckles laughed at his own jest, while in better humor he climbed
to examine the neat, tiny cradle and its contents. The hen darted
at him in a frenzy. "Now, where do you come in?" he demanded, when
he saw that she was not similar to the goldfinch.
"You be clearing out of here! This is none of your fry. This is the
nest of me little, yellow friend of the wire, and you shan't be
touching it. Don't blame you for wanting to see, though. My, but
it's a fine nest and beauties of eggs. Will you be keeping away, or
will I fire this stick at you?"
Freckles dropped to the trail. The hen darted to the nest and
settled on it with a tender, coddling movement. He of the yellow
coat flew to the edge to make sure that everything was right.
It would have been plain to the veriest novice that they were
partners in that cradle.
"Well, I'll be switched!" muttered Freckles. "If that ain't both
their nest! And he's yellow and she's green, or she's yellow and
he's green. Of course, I don't know, and I haven't any way to find
out, but it's plain as the nose on your face that they are both
ready to be fighting for that nest, so, of course, they belong.
Doesn't that beat you? Say, that's what's been sticking me all
of this week on that grass nest in the thorn tree down the line.
One day a blue bird is setting, so I think it is hers. The next day
a brown bird is on, and I chase it off because the nest is blue's.
Next day the brown bird is on again, and I let her be, because I
think it must be hers. Next day, be golly, blue's on, and off I
send her because it's brown's; and now, I bet my hat, it's both
their nest and I've only been bothering them and making a big fool
of mesilf. Pretty specimen I am, pretending to be a friend to the
birds, and so blamed ignorant I don't know which ones go in pairs,
and blue and brown are a pair, of course, if yellow and green
are--and there's the red birds! I never thought of them! He's red
and she's gray--and now I want to be knowing, are they all different?
Why no! Of course, they ain't! There's the jays all blue, and
the crows all black."
The tide of Freckles' discontent welled until he almost choked with
anger and chagrin. He plodded down the trail, scowling blackly and
viciously spanging the wire. At the finches' nest he left the line
and peered into the thorn tree. There was no bird brooding.
He pressed closer to take a peep at the snowy, spotless little eggs
he had found so beautiful, when at the slight noise up raised four
tiny baby heads with wide-open mouths, uttering hunger cries.
Freckles stepped back. The brown bird alighted on the edge and
closed one cavity with a wiggling green worm, while not two minutes
later the blue filled another with a white. That settled it.
The blue and brown were mates. Once again Freckles repeated his
"How I wish I knew!"
Around the bridge spanning Sleepy Snake Creek the swale spread
widely, the timber was scattering, and willows, rushes, marsh-
grass, and splendid wild flowers grew abundantly. Here lazy,
big, black water snakes, for which the creek was named, sunned on
the bushes, wild ducks and grebe chattered, cranes and herons
fished, and muskrats plowed the bank in queer, rolling furrows.
It was always a place full of interest, so Freckles loved to linger on
the bridge, watching the marsh and water people. He also transacted
affairs of importance with the wild flowers and sweet marsh-grass.
He enjoyed splashing through the shallow pools on either side of
Then, too, where the creek entered the swamp was a place of
unusual beauty. The water spread in darksome, mossy, green pools.
Water-plants and lilies grew luxuriantly, throwing up large, rank,
green leaves. Nowhere else in the Limberlost could be found
frog-music to equal that of the mouth of the creek. The drumming
and piping rolled in never-ending orchestral effect, while the full
chorus rang to its accompaniment throughout the season.
Freckles slowly followed the path leading from the bridge to
the line. It was the one spot at which he might relax his vigilance.
The boldest timber thief the swamp ever had known would not have
attempted to enter it by the mouth of the creek, on account of the
water and because there was no protection from surrounding trees.
He was bending the rank grass with his cudgel, and thinking of the
shade the denser swamp afforded, when he suddenly dodged sidewise;
the cudgel whistled sharply through the air and Freckles sprang back.
From the clear sky above him, first level with his face, then skimming,
dipping, tilting, whirling until it struck, quill down, in the path
in front of him, came a glossy, iridescent, big black feather. As it
touched the ground, Freckles snatched it up with almost a continuous
movement facing the sky. There was not a tree of any size in a
large open space. There was no wind to carry it. From the clear sky
it had fallen, and Freckles, gazing eagerly into the arch of June
blue with a few lazy clouds floating high in the sea of ether,
had neither mind nor knowledge to dream of a bird hanging as if
frozen there. He turned the big quill questioningly, and again
his awed eyes swept the sky.
"A feather dropped from Heaven!" he breathed reverently. "Are the
holy angels moulting? But no; if they were, it would be white.
Maybe all the angels are not for being white. What if the angels of
God are white and those of the devil are black? But a black one has
no business up there. Maybe some poor black angel is so tired of
being punished it's for slipping to the gates, beating its wings
trying to make the Master hear!"
Again and again Freckles searched the sky, but there was no
answering gleam of golden gates, no form of sailing bird; then he
went slowly on his way, turning the feather and wondering about it.
It was a wing quill, eighteen inches in length, with a heavy spine,
gray at the base, shading to jet black at the tip, and it caught the
play of the sun's rays in slanting gleams of green and bronze.
Again Freckles' "old man of the sea" sat sullen and heavy on his
shoulders and weighted him down until his step lagged and his
"Where did it come from? What is it? Oh, how I wish I knew!" he
kept repeating as he turned and studied the feather, with almost
unseeing eyes, so intently was he thinking.
Before him spread a large, green pool, filled with rotting logs and
leaves, bordered with delicate ferns and grasses among which lifted
the creamy spikes of the arrow-head, the blue of water-hyacinth,
and the delicate yellow of the jewel-flower. As Freckles leaned,
handling the feather and staring at it, then into the depths of the
pool, he once more gave voice to his old query: "I wonder what it is!"
Straight across from him, couched in the mosses of a soggy old log,
a big green bullfrog, with palpitant throat and batting eyes,
lifted his head and bellowed in answer. "FIN' DOUT! FIN' DOUT!"
"Wha--what's that?" stammered Freckles, almost too much bewildered
to speak. "I--I know you are only a bullfrog, but, be jabbers, that
sounded mightily like speech. Wouldn't you please to be saying it over?"
The bullfrog cuddled contentedly in the ooze. Then suddenly he
lifted his voice, and, as an imperative drumbeat, rolled it again:
"FIN' DOUT! FIN' DOUT! FIN DOUT!"
Freckles had the answer. Something seemed to snap in his brain.
There was a wavering flame before his eyes. Then his mind cleared.
His head lifted in a new poise, his shoulders squared, while his
spine straightened. The agony was over. His soul floated free.
Freckles came into his birthright.
"Before God, I will!" He uttered the oath so impressively that the
recording angel never winced as he posted it in the prayer column.
Freckles set his hat over the top of one of the locust posts used
between trees to hold up the wire while he fastened the feather
securely in the band. Then he started down the line, talking to
himself as men who have worked long alone always fall into the
habit of doing.
"What a fool I have been!" he muttered. "Of course that's what I
have to do! There wouldn't likely anybody be doing it for me.
Of course I can! What am I a man for? If I was a four-footed thing
of the swamp, maybe I couldn't; but a man can do anything if he's
the grit to work hard enough and stick at it, Mr. McLean is always
saying, and here's the way I am to do it. He said, too, that there
were people that knew everything in the swamp. Of course they have
written books! The thing for me to be doing is to quit moping and be
buying some. Never bought a book in me life, or anything else of much
account, for that matter. Oh, ain't I glad I didn't waste me money!
I'll surely be having enough to get a few. Let me see."
Freckles sat on a log, took his pencil and account-book, and
figured on a back page. He had walked the timber-line ten months.
His pay was thirty dollars a month, and his board cost him eight.
That left twenty-two dollars a month, and his clothing had cost him
very little. At the least he had two hundred dollars in the bank.
He drew a deep breath and smiled at the sky with satisfaction.
"I'll be having a book about all the birds, trees, flowers,
butterflies, and----Yes, by gummy! I'll be having one about the
frogs--if it takes every cent I have," he promised himself.
He put away the account-book, that was his most cherished
possession, caught up his stick, and started down the line.
The even tap, tap, and the cheery, gladsome whistle carried
far ahead of him the message that Freckles was himself again.
He fell into a rapid pace, for he had lost time that morning; when
he rounded the last curve he was almost running. There was a chance
that the Boss might be there for his weekly report.
Then, wavering, flickering, darting here and there over the sweet
marsh-grass, came a large black shadow, sweeping so closely before
him that for the second time that morning Freckles dodged and
sprang back. He had seen some owls and hawks of the swamp that he
thought might be classed as large birds, but never anything like
this, for six feet it spread its big, shining wings. Its strong
feet could be seen drawn among its feathers. The sun glinted on its
sharp, hooked beak. Its eyes glowed, caught the light, and seemed
able to pierce the ground at his feet. It cared no more for
Freckles than if he had not been there; for it perched on a low
tree, while a second later it awkwardly hopped to the trunk of a
lightning-riven elm, turned its back, and began searching the blue.
Freckles looked just in time to see a second shadow sweep the grass;
and another bird, a trifle smaller and not quite so brilliant
in the light, slowly sailed down to perch beside the first.
Evidently they were mates, for with a queer, rolling hop the
first-comer shivered his bronze wings, sidled to the new arrival,
and gave her a silly little peck on her wing. Then he coquettishly
drew away and ogled her. He lifted his head, waddled from her a few
steps, awkwardly ambled back, and gave her such a simple sort of
kiss on her beak that Freckles burst into a laugh, but clapped his
hand over his mouth to stifle the sound.
The lover ducked and side-stepped a few feet. He spread his wings
and slowly and softly waved them precisely as if he were fanning
his charmer, which was indeed the result he accomplished. Then a
wave of uncontrollable tenderness moved him so he hobbled to his
bombardment once more. He faced her squarely this time, and turned
his head from side to side with queer little jerks and
indiscriminate peckings at her wings and head, and smirkings that
really should have been irresistible. She yawned and shuffled away
indifferently. Freckles reached up, pulled the quill from his hat,
and looking from it to the birds, nodded in settled conviction.
"So you're me black angels, ye spalpeens! No wonder you didn't
get in! But I'll back you to come closer it than any other birds
ever did. You fly higher than I can see. Have you picked the
Limberlost for a good thing and come to try it? Well, you can be
me chickens if you want to, but I'm blest if you ain't cool for
new ones. Why don't you take this stick for a gun and go skinning
Freckles broke into an unrestrained laugh, for the bird-lover was
keen about his courting, while evidently his mate was diffident.
When he approached too boisterously, she relieved him of a goodly
tuft of feathers and sent him backward in a series of squirmy
little jumps that gave the boy an idea of what had happened up-sky
to send the falling feather across his pathway.
"Score one for the lady! I'll be umpiring this," volunteered Freckles.
With a ravishing swagger, half-lifted wings, and deep, guttural
hissing, the lover approached again. He suddenly lifted his body,
but she coolly rocked forward on the limb, glided gracefully
beneath him, and slowly sailed into the Limberlost. He recovered
himself and gazed after her in astonishment.
Freckles hurried down the trail, shaking with laughter. When he
neared the path to the clearing and saw the Boss sitting motionless
on the mare that was the pride of his heart, the boy broke into a run.
"Oh, Mr. McLean!" he cried. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting very
long! And the sun is getting hot! I have been so slow this morning!
I could have gone faster, only there were that many things to keep
me, and I didn't know you would be here. I'll hurry after this.
I've never had to be giving excuses before. The line wasn't down,
and there wasn't a sign of trouble; it was other things that were
making me late."
McLean, smiling on the boy, immediately noticed the difference
in him. This flushed, panting, talkative lad was not the same
creature who had sought him in despair and bitterness. He watched
in wonder as Freckles mopped the perspiration from his forehead and
began to laugh. Then, forgetting all his customary reserve with
the Boss, the pent-up boyishness in the lad broke forth. With an
eloquence of which he never dreamed he told his story. He talked
with such enthusiasm that McLean never took his eyes from his face
or shifted in the saddle until he described the strange bird-lover,
and then the Boss suddenly bent over the pommel and laughed with
Freckles decorated his story with keen appreciation and rare
touches of Irish wit and drollery that made it most interesting as
well as very funny. It was a first attempt at descriptive
narration. With an inborn gift for striking the vital point, a
naturalist's dawning enthusiasm for the wonders of the Limberlost,
and the welling joy of his newly found happiness, he made McLean
see the struggles of the moth and its freshly painted wings, the
dainty, brilliant bird-mates of different colors, the feather
sliding through the clear air, the palpitant throat and batting
eyes of the frog; while his version of the big bird's courtship won
for the Boss the best laugh he had enjoyed for years.
"They're in the middle of a swamp now" said Freckles. "Do you
suppose there is any chance of them staying with me chickens?
If they do, they'll be about the queerest I have; but I tell you, sir,
I am finding some plum good ones. There's a new kind over at the
mouth of the creek that uses its wings like feet and walks on all
fours. It travels like a thrashing machine. There's another, tall
as me waist, with a bill a foot long, a neck near two, not the
thickness of me wrist and an elegant color. He's some blue and
gray, touched up with black, white, and brown. The voice of him is
such that if he'd be going up and standing beside a tree and crying
at it a few times he could be sawing it square off. I don't know
but it would be a good idea to try him on the gang, sir."
McLean laughed. "Those must be blue herons, Freckles," he said.
"And it doesn't seem possible, but your description of the big
black birds sounds like genuine black vultures. They are common
enough in the South. I've seen them numerous around the lumber
camps of Georgia, but I never before heard of any this far north.
They must be strays. You have described perfectly our nearest
equivalent to a branch of these birds called in Europe Pharaoh's
Chickens, but if they are coming to the Limberlost they will have
to drop Pharaoh and become Freckles' Chickens, like the remainder of
the birds; won't they? Or are they too odd and ugly to interest you?"
"Oh, not at all, at all!" cried Freckles, bursting into pure brogue
in his haste. "I don't know as I'd be calling them exactly pretty,
and they do move like a rocking-horse loping, but they are so big
and fearless. They have a fine color for black birds, and their
feet and beaks seem so strong. You never saw anything so keen as
their eyes! And fly? Why, just think, sir, they must be flying
miles straight up, for they were out of sight completely when the
feather fell. I don't suppose I've a chicken in the swamp that can
go as close heaven as those big, black fellows, and then----"
Freckles' voice dragged and he hesitated.
"Then what?" interestedly urged McLean.
"He was loving her so," answered Freckles in a hushed voice. "I
know it looked awful funny, and I laughed and told on him, but if
I'd taken time to think I don't believe I'd have done it. You see,
I've seen such a little bit of loving in me life. You easily can be
understanding that at the Home it was every day the old story of
neglect and desertion. Always people that didn't even care enough
for their children to keep them, so you see, sir, I had to like him
for trying so hard to make her know how he loved her. Of course,
they're only birds, but if they are caring for each other like
that, why, it's just the same as people, ain't it?"
Freckles lifted his brave, steady eyes to the Boss.
"If anybody loved me like that, Mr. McLean, I wouldn't be spending
any time on how they looked or moved. All I'd be thinking of would
be how they felt toward me. If they will stay, I'll be caring as
much for them as any chickens I have. If I did laugh at them I
thought he was just fine!"
The face of McLean was a study; but the honest eyes of the boy were
so compelling that he found himself answering: "You are right,
Freckles. He's a gentleman, isn't he? And the only real chicken
you have. Of course he'll remain! The Limberlost will be paradise
for his family. And now, Freckles, what has been the trouble
all spring? You have done your work as faithfully as anyone could
ask, but I can't help seeing that there is something wrong. Are you
tired of your job?"
"I love it," answered Freckles. "It will almost break me heart when the
gang comes and begins tearing up the swamp and scaring away me chickens."
"Then what is the trouble?" insisted McLean.
"I think, sir, it's been books," answered Freckles. "You see, I
didn't realize it meself until the bullfrog told me this morning.
I hadn't ever even heard about a place like this. Anyway, I wasn't
understanding how it would be, if I had. Being among these
beautiful things every day, I got so anxious like to be knowing and
naming them, that it got to eating into me and went and made me
near sick, when I was well as I could be. Of course, I learned to
read, write, and figure some at school, but there was nothing
there, or in any of the city that I ever got to see, that would
make a fellow even be dreaming of such interesting things as there
are here. I've seen the parks--but good Lord, they ain't even
beginning to be in it with the Limberlost! It's all new and strange
to me. I don't know a thing about any of it. The bullfrog told me
to `find out,' plain as day, and books are the only way; ain't they?"
"Of course," said McLean, astonished at himself for his
heartfelt relief. He had not guessed until that minute what it
would have meant to him to have Freckles give up. "You know
enough to study out what you want yourself, if you have the books;
"I am pretty sure I do," said Freckles. "I learned all I'd the
chance at in the Home, and me schooling was good as far as it went.
Wouldn't let you go past fourteen, you know. I always did me sums
perfect, and loved me history books. I had them almost by heart. I
never could get me grammar to suit them. They said it was just born
in me to go wrong talking, and if it hadn't been I suppose I would
have picked it up from the other children; but I'd the best voice
of any of them in the Home or at school. I could knock them all
out singing. I was always leader in the Home, and once one of the
superintendents gave me carfare and let me go into the city and
sing in a boys' choir. The master said I'd the swatest voice of
them all until it got rough like, and then he made me quit for
awhile, but he said it would be coming back by now, and I'm railly
thinking it is, sir, for I've tried on the line a bit of late and
it seems to go smooth again and lots stronger. That and me chickens
have been all the company I've been having, and it will be all I'll
want if I can have some books and learn the real names of things,
where they come from, and why they do such interesting things. It's
been fretting me more than I knew to be shut up here among all
these wonders and not knowing a thing. I wanted to ask you what
some books would cost me, and if you'd be having the goodness to
get me the right ones. I think I have enough money"
Freckles offered his account-book and the Boss studied it gravely.
"You needn't touch your account, Freckles," he said. "Ten dollars
from this month's pay will provide you everything you need to start on.
I will write a friend in Grand Rapids today to select you the very
best and send them at once."
Freckles' eyes were shining.
"Never owned a book in me life!" he said. "Even me schoolbooks were
never mine. Lord! How I used to wish I could have just one of them
for me very own! Won't it be fun to see me sawbird and me little
yellow fellow looking at me from the pages of a book, and their
real names and all about them printed alongside? How long will it
be taking, sir?"
"Ten days should do it nicely," said McLean. Then, seeing Freckles'
lengthening face, he added: "I'll have Duncan bring you a
ten-bushel store-box the next time he goes to town. He can haul it
to the west entrance and set it up wherever you want it. You can
put in your spare time filling it with the specimens you find until
the books come, and then you can study out what you have. I suspect
you could collect specimens that I could send to naturalists in the
city and sell for you; things like that winged creature, this morning.
I don't know much in that line, but it must have been a moth, and
it might have been rare. I've seen them by the thousand in
museums, and in all nature I don't remember rarer coloring than
their wings. I'll order you a butterfly-net and box and show you
how scientists pin specimens. Possibly you can make a fine
collection of these swamp beauties. It will be all right for you to
take a pair of different moths and butterflies, but I don't want to
hear of your killing any birds. They are protected by heavy fines."
McLean rode away leaving Freckles staring aghast. Then he saw the
point and smiled. Standing on the trail, he twirled the feather and
thought over the morning.
"Well, if life ain't getting to be worth living!" he said wonderingly.
"Biggest streak of luck I ever had! `Bout time something was
coming my way, but I wouldn't ever thought anybody could strike
such magnificent prospects through only a falling feather."
CHAPTER IV. Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely and Opens the Way for New Experiences
On Duncan's return from his next trip to town there was a big
store-box loaded on the back of his wagon. He drove to the west
entrance of the swamp, set the box on a stump that Freckles had
selected in a beautiful, sheltered place, and made it secure on its
foundations with a tree at its back.
"It seems most a pity to nail into that tree," said Duncan.
"I haena the time to examine into the grain of it, but it looks as
if it might be a rare ane. Anyhow, the nailin' winna hurt it deep,
and havin' the case by it will make it safer if it is a guid ane."
"Isn't it an oak?" asked Freckles.
"Ay," said Duncan. "It looks like it might be ane of thae
fine-grained white anes that mak' such grand furniture."
When the body of the case was secure, Duncan made a door from the
lid and fastened it with hinges. He drove a staple, screwed on a
latch, and gave Freckles a small padlock--so that he might fasten
in his treasures safely. He made a shelf at the top for his books,
and last of all covered the case with oil-cloth.
It was the first time in Freckles' life that anyone ever had done
that much for his pleasure, and it warmed his heart with pure joy.
If the interior of the box already had been covered with the rarest
treasures of the Limberlost he could have been no happier.
When the big teamster stood back to look at his work he laughingly
quoted, "`Neat, but no' gaudy,' as McLean says. All we're, needing
now is a coat of paint to make a cupboard that would turn Sarah
green with envy. Ye'll find that safe an' dry, lad, an' that's all
"Mr. Duncan," said Freckles, "I don't know why you are being so
mighty good to me; but if you have any jobs at the cabin that I
could do for you or Mrs. Duncan, hours off the line, it would make
me mighty happy."
Duncan laughed. "Ye needna feel ye are obliged to me, lad. Ye mauna
think I could take a half-day off in the best hauling season and go
to town for boxes to rig up, and spend of my little for fixtures."
"I knew Mr. McLean sent you," said Freckles, his eyes wide and
bright with happiness. "It's so good of him. How I wish I could do
something that would please him as much!"
"Why, Freckles," said Duncan, as he knelt and began collecting his
tools, "I canna see that it will hurt ye to be told that ye are
doing every day a thing that pleases the Boss as much as anything
ye could do. Ye're being uncommon faithful, lad, and honest as old
Father Time. McLean is trusting ye as he would his own flesh and blood."
"Oh, Duncan!" cried the happy boy. "Are you sure?"
"Why I know," answered Duncan. "I wadna venture to say so else.
In those first days he cautioned me na to tell ye, but now he
wadna care. D'ye ken, Freckles, that some of the single trees
ye are guarding are worth a thousand dollars?"
Freckles caught his breath and stood speechless.
"Ye see," said Duncan, "that's why they maun be watched so closely.
They tak', say, for instance, a burl maple--bird's eye they call it
in the factory, because it's full o' wee knots and twists that look
like the eve of a bird. They saw it out in sheets no muckle thicker
than writin' paper. Then they make up the funiture out of cheaper
wood and cover it with the maple--veneer, they call it. When it's
all done and polished ye never saw onythin' grander. Gang into a
retail shop the next time ye are in town and see some. By sawin' it
thin that way they get finish for thousands of dollars' worth of
furniture from a single tree. If ye dinna watch faithful, and Black
Jack gets out a few he has marked, it means the loss of more money
than ye ever dreamed of, lad. The other night, down at camp, some
son of Balaam was suggestin' that ye might be sellin' the Boss out
to Jack and lettin' him tak' the trees secretly, and nobody wad
ever ken till the gang gets here."
A wave of scarlet flooded Freckles' face and he blazed hotly at the insult.
"And the Boss," continued Duncan, coolly ignoring Freckles' anger,
"he lays back just as cool as cowcumbers an' says: `I'll give a
thousand dollars to ony man that will show me a fresh stump when we
reach the Limberlost,' says he. Some of the men just snapped him op
that they'd find some. So you see bow the Boss is trustin' ye, lad."
"I am gladder than I can ever expriss," said Freckles. "And now
will I be walking double time to keep some of them from cutting a
tree to get all that money!"
"Mither o' Moses!" howled Duncan. "Ye can trust the Scotch to
bungle things a'thegither. McLean was only meanin' to show ye all
confidence and honor. He's gone and set a high price for some dirty
whelp to ruin ye. I was just tryin' to show ye how he felt toward
ye, and I've gone an' give ye that worry to bear. Damn the Scotch!
They're so slow an' so dumb!"
"Exciptin' prisint company?" sweetly inquired Freckles.
"No!" growled Duncan. "Headin' the list! He'd nae business to set
a price on ye, lad, for that's about the amount of it, an' I'd nae
right to tell ye. We've both done ye ill, an' both meanin' the
verra best. Juist what I'm always sayin' to Sarah."
"I am mighty proud of what you have been telling me, Duncan,"
said Freckles. "I need the warning, sure. For with the books
coming I might be timpted to neglect me work when double watching
is needed. Thank you more than I can say for putting me on to it.
What you've told me may be the saving of me. I won't stop for
dinner now. I'll be getting along the east line, and when I come
around about three, maybe Mother Duncan will let me have a glass
of milk and a bite of something."
"Ye see now!" cried Duncan in disgust. "Ye'll start on that
seven-mile tramp with na bite to stay your stomach. What was it I
"You told me that the Scotch had the hardest heads and the softest
hearts of any people that's living," answered Freckles.
Duncan grunted in gratified disapproval.
Freckles picked up his club and started down the line, whistling
cheerily, for he had an unusually long repertoire upon which to draw.
Duncan went straight to the lower camp, and calling McLean aside,
repeated the conversation verbatim, ending: "And nae matter what
happens now or ever, dinna ye dare let onythin' make ye believe
that Freckles hasna guarded faithful as ony man could."
"I don't think anything could shake my faith in the lad," answered McLean.
Freckles was whistling merrily. He kept one eye religiously on
the line. The other he divided between the path, his friends of the
wire, and a search of the sky for his latest arrivals. Every day
since their coming he had seen them, either hanging as small, black
clouds above the swamp or bobbing over logs and trees with their
queer, tilting walk. Whenever he could spare time, he entered the
swamp and tried to make friends with them, for they were the tamest
of all his unnumbered subjects. They ducked, dodged, and ambled
around him, over logs and bushes, and not even a near approach
would drive them to flight.
For two weeks he had found them circling over the Limberlost
regularly, but one morning the female was missing and only the big
black chicken hung sentinel above the swamp. His mate did not
reappear in the following days, and Freckles grew very anxious.
He spoke of it to Mrs. Duncan, and she quieted his fears by raising
a delightful hope in their stead.
"Why, Freckles, if it's the hen-bird ye are missing, it's ten to
one she's safe," she said. "She's laid, and is setting, ye silly!
Watch him and mark whaur he lichts. Then follow and find the nest.
Some Sabbath we'll all gang see it."
Accepting this theory, Freckles began searching for the nest.
Because these "chickens" were large, as the hawks, he looked among
the treetops until he almost sprained the back of his neck. He had
half the crow and hawk nests in the swamp located. He searched for
this nest instead of collecting subjects for his case. He found the
pair the middle of one forenoon on the elm where he had watched
their love-making. The big black chicken was feeding his mate; so
it was proved that they were a pair, they were both alive, and
undoubtedly she was brooding. After that Freckles' nest-hunting
continued with renewed zeal, but as he had no idea where to look
and Duncan could offer no helpful suggestion, the nest was no
nearer to being found.
Coming from a long day on the trail, Freckles saw Duncan's children
awaiting him much closer the swale than they usually ventured, and
from their wild gestures he knew that something had happened.
He began to run, but the cry that reached him was: "The books
How they hurried! Freckles lifted the youngest to his shoulder, the
second took his club and dinner pail, and when they reached Mrs.
Duncan they found her at work on a big box. She had loosened the
lid, and then she laughingly sat on it.
"Ye canna have a peep in here until ye have washed and eaten
supper," she said. "It's all ready on the table. Ance ye begin on
this, ye'll no be willin' to tak' your nose o' it till bedtime, and
I willna get my work done the nicht. We've eaten long ago."
It was difficult work, but Freckles smiled bravely. He made himself
neat, swallowed a few bites, then came so eagerly that Mrs. Duncan
yielded, although she said she very well knew all the time that his
supper would be spoiled.
Lifting the lid, they removed the packing and found in that box
books on birds, trees, flowers, moths, and butterflies. There was
also one containing Freckles' bullfrog, true to life. Besides these
were a butterfly-net, a naturalist's tin specimen-box, a bottle of
cyanide, a box of cotton, a paper of long, steel specimen-pins, and
a letter telling what all these things were and how to use them.
At the discovery of each new treasure, Freckles shouted: "Will you
be looking at this, now?"
Mrs. Duncan cried: "Weel, I be drawed on!"
The eldest boy turned a somersault for every extra, while the baby,
trying to follow his example, bunched over in a sidewise sprawl and
cut his foot on the axe with which his mother had prized up the
box-lid. That sobered them, they carried the books indoors. Mrs.
Duncan had a top shelf in her closet cleared for them, far above
the reach of meddling little fingers.
When Freckles started for the trail next morning, the shining new
specimen-box flashed on his back. The black "chicken," a mere speck
in the blue, caught the gleam of it. The folded net hung beside the
boy's hatchet, and the bird book was in the box. He walked the line
and tested each section scrupulously, watching every foot of the
trail, for he was determined not to slight his work; but if ever a
boy "made haste slowly" in a hurry, it was Freckles that morning.
When at last he reached the space he had cleared and planted around
his case, his heart swelled with the pride of possessing even so
much that he could call his own, while his quick eyes feasted on
the beauty of it.
He had made a large room with the door of the case set even with
one side of it. On three sides, fine big bushes of wild rose
climbed to the lower branches of the trees. Part of his walls were
mallow, part alder, thorn, willow, and dogwood. Below there filled
in a solid mass of pale pink sheep-laurel, and yellow St. John's
wort, while the amber threads of the dodder interlaced everywhere.
At one side the swamp came close, here cattails grew in profusion.
In front of them he had planted a row of water-hyacinths without
disturbing in the least the state of their azure bloom, and where
the ground arose higher for his floor, a row of foxfire, that soon
would be open.
To the left he had discovered a queer natural arrangement of the
trees, that grew to giant size and were set in a gradually
narrowing space so that a long, open vista stretched away until
lost in the dim recesses of the swamp. A little trimming of
underbush, rolling of dead logs, levelling of floor and carpeting
with moss, made it easy to understand why Freckles had named this
the "cathedral"; yet he never had been taught that "the groves were
God's first temples."
On either side of the trees that constituted the first arch of this
dim vista of the swamp he planted ferns that grew waist-high thus
early in the season, and so skilfully the work had been done that
not a frond drooped because of the change. Opposite, he cleared a
space and made a flower bed. He filled one end with every delicate,
lacy vine and fern he could transplant successfully. The body of
the bed was a riot of color. Here he set growing dainty
blue-eyed-Marys and blue-eyed grass side by side. He planted
harebells; violets, blue, white, and yellow; wild geranium,
cardinal-flower, columbine, pink snake's mouth, buttercups, painted
trilliums, and orchis. Here were blood-root, moccasin-flower,
hepatica, pitcher-plant, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and every other flower
of the Limberlost that was in bloom or bore a bud presaging a
flower. Every day saw the addition of new specimens. The place
would have driven a botanist wild with envy.
On the line side he left the bushes thick for concealment, entering
by a narrow path he and Duncan had cleared in setting up the case.
He called this the front door, though he used every precaution to
hide it. He built rustic seats between several of the trees,
leveled the floor, and thickly carpeted it with rank, heavy,
woolly-dog moss. Around the case he planted wild clematis,
bittersweet, and wild-grapevines, and trained them over it until it
was almost covered. Every day he planted new flowers, cut back
rough bushes, and coaxed out graceful ones. His pride in his room
was very great, but he had no idea how surprisingly beautiful it
would appear to anyone who had not witnessed its growth and construction.
This morning Freckles walked straight to his case, unlocked it, and
set his apparatus and dinner inside. He planted a new specimen he
had found close the trail, and, bringing his old scrap-bucket from
the corner in which it was hidden, from a near-by pool he dipped
water to pour over his carpet and flowers.
Then he took out the bird book, settled comfortably on a bench, and
with a deep sigh of satisfaction turned to the section headed. "V."
Past "veery" and "vireo" he went, down the line until his finger,
trembling with eagerness, stopped at "vulture."
"`Great black California vulture,'" he read.
"Humph! This side the Rockies will do for us."
"Well, we ain't hunting common turkeys. McLean said chickens, and
what he says goes."
"`Black vulture of the South.'"
"Here we are arrived at once."
Freckles' finger followed the line, and he read scraps aloud.
"`Common in the South. Sometimes called Jim Crow. Nearest
equivalent to C-a-t-h-a-r-t-e-s A-t-r-a-t-a.'"
"How the divil am I ever to learn them corkin' big words by mesel'?"
"`--the Pharaoh's Chickens of European species. Sometimes stray
north as far as Virginia and Kentucky----'"
"And sometimes farther," interpolated Freckles, "'cos I got them
right here in Indiana so like these pictures I can just see me big
chicken bobbing up to get his ears boxed. Hey?"
"Golly! I got to be seeing them!"
"`--big as a common turkey's, but shaped like a hen's, heavily
splotched with chocolate----'"
"Caramels, I suppose. And----"
"`--in hollow logs or stumps.'"
"Oh, hagginy! Wasn't I barking up the wrong tree, though? Ought to
been looking close the ground all this time. Now it's all to do
over, and I suspect the sooner I start the sooner I'll be likely to
Freckles put away his book, dampened the smudge-fire, without which
the mosquitoes made the swamp almost unbearable, took his cudgel
and lunch, and went to the line. He sat on a log, ate at
dinner-time and drank his last drop of water. The heat of June was
growing intense. Even on the west of the swamp, where one had full
benefit of the breeze from the upland, it was beginning to be
unpleasant in the middle of the day.
He brushed the crumbs from his knees and sat resting awhile and
watching the sky to see if his big chicken were hanging up there.
But he came to the earth abruptly, for there were steps coming down
the trail that were neither McLean's nor Duncan's--and there never
had been others. Freckles' heart leaped hotly. He ran a quick hand
over his belt to feel if his revolver and hatchet were there,
caught up his cudgel and laid it across his knees--then sat quietly,
waiting. Was it Black Jack, or someone even worse? Forced to do
something to brace his nerves, he puckered his stiffening lips and
began whistling a tune he had led in his clear tenor every year of
his life at the Home Christmas exercises.
"Who comes this way, so blithe and gay,
Upon a merry Christmas day?"
His quick Irish wit roused to the ridiculousness of it until he
broke into a laugh that steadied him amazingly.
Through the bushes he caught a glimpse of the oncoming figure. His
heart flooded with joy, for it was a man from the gang. Wessner had
been his bunk-mate the night he came down the corduroy. He knew him
as well as any of McLean's men. This was no timber-thief. No doubt
the Boss had sent him with a message. Freckles sprang up and called
cheerily, a warm welcome on his face.
"Well, it's good telling if you're glad to see me," said Wessner,
with something very like a breath of relief. "We been hearing down
at the camp you were so mighty touchy you didn't allow a man within
a rod of the line."
"No more do I," answered Freckles, "if he's a stranger, but you're
from McLean, ain't you?"
"Oh, damn McLean!" said Wessner.
Freckles gripped the cudgel until his knuckles slowly turned purple.
"And are you railly saying so?" he inquired with elaborate politeness.
"Yes, I am," said Wessner. "So would every man of the gang if they
wasn't too big cowards to say anything, unless maybe that other
slobbering old Scotchman, Duncan. Grinding the lives out of us!
Working us like dogs, and paying us starvation wages, while he
rolls up his millions and lives like a prince!"
Green lights began to play through the gray of Freckles' eyes.
"Wessner," he said impressively, "you'd make a fine pattern for the
father of liars! Every man on that gang is strong and hilthy, paid
all he earns, and treated with the courtesy of a gentleman! As for
the Boss living like a prince, he shares fare with you every day of
Wessner was not a born diplomat, but he saw he was on the wrong
tack, so he tried another.
"How would you like to make a good big pile of money, without even
lifting your hand?" he asked.
"Humph!" said Freckles. "Have you been up to Chicago and cornered
wheat, and are you offering me a friendly tip on the invistment of
Wessner came close.
"Freckles, old fellow," he said, "if you let me give you a pointer,
I can put you on to making a cool five hundred without stepping out
of your tracks."
Freckles drew back.
"You needn't be afraid of speaking up," he said. "There isn't a
soul in the Limberlost save the birds and the beasts, unless some
of your sort's come along and's crowding the privileges of the
"None of my friends along," said Wessner. "Nobody knew I came but
Black, I--I mean a friend of mine. If you want to hear sense and
act with reason, he can see you later, but it ain't necessary. We
can make all the plans needed. The trick's so dead small and easy."
"Must be if you have the engineering of it," said Freckles. But he
heard, with a sigh of relief, that they were alone.
Wessner was impervious. "You just bet it is! Why, only think,
Freckles, slavin' away at a measly little thirty dollars a month,
and here is a chance to clear five hundred in a day! You surely
won't be the fool to miss it!"
"And how was you proposing for me to stale it?" inquired Freckles.
"Or am I just to find it laying in me path beside the line?"
"That's it, Freckles," blustered the Dutchman, "you're just to
find it. You needn't do a thing. You needn't know a thing.
You name a morning when you will walk up the west side of the
swamp and then turn round and walk back down the same side again
and the money is yours. Couldn't anything be easier than that,
"Depinds entirely on the man," said Freckles. The lilt of a lark
hanging above the swale beside them was not sweeter than the
sweetness of his voice. "To some it would seem to come aisy as
breathing; and to some, wringin' the last drop of their heart's
blood couldn't force thim! I'm not the man that goes into a scheme
like that with the blindfold over me eyes, for, you see, it manes
to break trust with the Boss; and I've served him faithful as I knew.
You'll have to be making the thing very clear to me understanding."
"It's so dead easy," repeated Wessner, "it makes me tired of the
simpleness of it. You see there's a few trees in the swamp that's
real gold mines. There's three especial. Two are back in, but one's
square on the line. Why, your pottering old Scotch fool of a Boss
nailed the wire to it with his own hands! He never noticed where
the bark had been peeled, or saw what it was. If you will stay on
this side of the trail just one day we can have it cut, loaded, and
ready to drive out at night. Next morning you can find it, report,
and be the busiest man in the search for us. We know where to fix
it all safe and easy. Then McLean has a bet up with a couple of
the gang that there can't be a raw stump found in the Limberlost.
There's plenty of witnesses to swear to it, and I know three that will.
There's a cool thousand, and this tree is worth all of that, raw.
Say, it's a gold mine, I tell you, and just five hundred of it
is yours. There's no danger on earth to you, for you've got McLean
that bamboozled you could sell out the whole swamp and he'd never
mistrust you. What do you say?"
Freckles' soul was satisfied. "Is that all?" he asked.
"No, it ain't," said Wessner. "If you really want to brace up and
be a man and go into the thing for keeps, you can make five times
that in a week. My friend knows a dozen others we could get out in
a few days, and all you'd have to do would be to keep out of sight.
Then you could take your money and skip some night, and begin life
like a gentleman somewhere else. What do you think about it?"
Freckles purred like a kitten.
"'Twould be a rare joke on the Boss," he said, "to be stalin' from
him the very thing he's trusted me to guard, and be getting me wages
all winter throwed in free. And you're making the pay awful high.
Me to be getting five hundred for such a simple little thing as that.
You're trating me most royal indade! It's away beyond all I'd
be expecting. Sivinteen cints would be a big price for that job.
It must be looked into thorough. Just you wait here until I do
a minute's turn in the swamp, and then I'll be eschorting you out
of the clearing and giving you the answer."
Freckles lifted the overhanging bushes and hurried to the case.
He unslung the specimen-box and laid it inside with his hatchet
and revolver. He slipped the key in his pocket and went back
"Now for the answer," he said. "Stand up!"
There was iron in his voice, and he was commanding as an
outraged general. "Anything, you want to be taking off?"
Wessner looked the astonishment he felt. "Why, no, Freckles," he said.
"Have the goodness to be calling me Mister McLean," snapped Freckles.
"I'm after resarvin' me pet name for the use of me friends!
You may stand with your back to the light or be taking any
advantage you want."
"Why, what do you mean?" spluttered Wessner.
"I'm manin'," said Freckles tersely, "to lick a quarter-section of
hell out of you, and may the Holy Vargin stay me before I leave you
here carrion, for your carcass would turn the stummicks of me chickens!"
At the camp that morning, Wessner's conduct had been so palpable
an excuse to force a discharge that Duncan moved near McLean and
whispered, "Think of the boy, sir?"
McLean was so troubled that, an hour later, he mounted Nellie and
followed Wessner to his home in Wildcat Hollow, only to find that
he had left there shortly before, heading for the Limberlost.
McLean rode at top speed. When Mrs. Duncan told him that a man
answering Wessner's description had gone down the west side of the
swamp close noon, he left the mare in her charge and followed on foot.
When he heard voices he entered the swamp and silently crept close
just in time to hear Wessner whine: "But I can't fight you, Freckles.
I hain't done nothing to you. I'm away bigger than you, and you've
only one hand."
The Boss slid off his coat and crouched among the bushes, ready to
spring; but as Freckles' voice reached him he held himself, with a
strong effort, to learn what mettle was in the boy.
"Don't you be wasting of me good time in the numbering of me
hands," cried Freckles. "The stringth of me cause will make up
for the weakness of me mimbers, and the size of a cowardly thief
doesn't count. You'll think all the wildcats of the Limberlost
are turned loose on you whin I come against you, and as for me
cause----I slept with you, Wessner, the night I came down the
corduroy like a dirty, friendless tramp, and the Boss was for
taking me up, washing, clothing, and feeding me, and giving me a
home full of love and tinderness, and a master to look to, and
good, well-earned money in the bank. He's trusting me his heartful,
and here comes you, you spotted toad of the big road, and insults
me, as is an honest Irish gintleman, by hinting that you concaive
I'd be willing to shut me eyes and hold fast while you rob him of
the thing I was set and paid to guard, and then act the sneak
and liar to him, and ruin and eternally blacken the soul of me.
You damned rascal," raved Freckles, "be fighting before I forget the
laws of a gintlemin's game and split your dirty head with me stick!"
Wessner backed away, mumbling, "But I don't want to hurt you, Freckles!"
"Oh, don't you!" raged the boy, now fairly frothing. "Well, you
ain't resembling me none, for I'm itching like death to git me
fingers in the face of you."
He danced up, and as Wessner lunged in self-defense, ducked under
his arm as a bantam and punched him in the pit of the stomach so
that he doubled with a groan. Before Wessner could straighten
himself, Freckles was on him, fighting like the wildest fury that
ever left the beautiful island. The Dutchman dealt thundering blows
that sometimes landed and sent Freckles reeling, and sometimes missed,
while he went plunging into the swale with the impetus of them.
Freckles could not strike with half Wessner's force, but he could
land three blows to the Dutchman's one. It was here that the boy's
days of alert watching on the line, the perpetual swinging of the
heavy cudgel, and the endurance of all weather stood him in good
stead; for he was tough, and agile. He skipped, ducked, and dodged.
For the first five minutes he endured fearful punishment.
Then Wessner's breath commenced to whistle between his teeth, when
Freckles only had begun fighting. He sprang back with shrill laughter.
"Begolly! and will your honor be whistling the hornpipe for me to
be dancing of?" he cried.
SPANG! went his fist into Wessner's face, and he was past him into
"And would you be pleased to tune up a little livelier?" he gasped,
and clipped his ear as he sprang back. Wessner lunged at him in
blind fury. Freckles, seeing an opening, forgot the laws of a
gentleman's game and drove the toe of his heavy wading-boot in
Wessner's middle until he doubled and fell heavily. In a flash
Freckles was on him. For a time McLean could not see what
was happening. "Go! Go to him now!" he commanded himself,
but so intense was his desire to see the boy win alone that he
did not stir.
At last Freckles sprang up and backed away. "Time!" he yelled as
a fury. "Be getting up, Mr. Wessner, and don't be afraid of
hurting me. I'll let you throw in an extra hand and lick you to
me complate satisfaction all the same. Did you hear me call
the limit? Will you get up and be facing me?"
As Wessner struggled to his feet, he resembled a battlefield, for
his clothing was in ribbons and his face and hands streaming blood.
"I--I guess I got enough," he mumbled.
"Oh, you do?" roared Freckles. "Well this ain't your say. You come
on to me ground, lying about me Boss and intimatin' I'd stale from
his very pockets. Now will you be standing up and taking your
medicine like a man, or getting it poured down the throat of you
like a baby? I ain't got enough! This is only just the beginning
with me. Be looking out there!"
He sprang against Wessner and sent him rolling. He attacked the
unresisting figure and fought him until he lay limp and quiet and
Freckles had no strength left to lift an arm. Then he arose and
stepped back, gasping for breath. With his first lungful of air
he shouted: "Time!" But the figure of Wessner lay motionless.
Freckles watched him with regardful eye and saw at last that he was
completely exhausted. He bent over him, and catching him by the
back of the neck, jerked him to his knees. Wessner lifted the face
of a whipped cur, and fearing further punishment, burst into
shivering sobs, while the tears washed tiny rivulets through the
blood and muck. Freckles stepped back, glaring at Wessner, but
suddenly the scowl of anger and the ugly disfiguring red faded from
the boy's face. He dabbed at a cut on his temple from which issued
a tiny crimson stream, and jauntily shook back his hair. His face
took on the innocent look of a cherub, and his voice rivaled that of
a brooding dove, but into his eyes crept a look of diabolical mischief.
He glanced vaguely around him until he saw his club, seized and
twirled it as a drum major, stuck it upright in the muck, and
marched on tiptoe to Wessner, mechanically, as a puppet worked by
a string. Bending over, Freckles reached an arm around Wessner's
waist and helped him to his feet.
"Careful, now" he cautioned, "be careful, Freddy; there's danger of
you hurting me."
Drawing a handkerchief from a back pocket, Freckles tenderly wiped
Wessner's eyes and nose.
"Come, Freddy, me child," he admonished Wessner, "it's time little
boys were going home. I've me work to do, and can't be entertaining
you any more today. Come back tomorrow, if you ain't through yet,
and we'll repate the perfarmance. Don't be staring at me so wild like!
I would eat you, but I can't afford it. Me earnings, being honest,
come slow, and I've no money to be squanderin' on the pailful of
Dyspeptic's Delight it would be to taking to work you out of my innards!"
Again an awful wrenching seized McLean. Freckles stepped back as
Wessner, tottering and reeling, as a thoroughly drunken man, came
toward the path, appearing indeed as if wildcats had attacked him.
The cudgel spun high in air, and catching it with an expertness
acquired by long practice on the line, the boy twirled it a second,
shook back his thick hair bonnily, and stepping into the trail,
followed Wessner. Because Freckles was Irish, it was impossible to
do it silently, so presently his clear tenor rang out, though there
were bad catches where he was hard pressed for breath:
"It was the Dutch. It was the Dutch.
Do you think it was the Irish hollered help?
It was the Dutch. It was the Dutch----"
Wessner turned and mumbled: "What you following me for? What are
you going to do with me?"
Freckles called the Limberlost to witness: "How's that for the
ingratitude of a beast? And me troubling mesilf to show him off me
territory with the honors of war!"
Then he changed his tone completely and added: "Belike it's
this, Freddy. You see, the Boss might come riding down this trail
any minute, and the little mare's so wheedlesome that if she'd
come on to you in your prisint state all of a sudden, she'd stop
that short she'd send Mr. McLean out over the ears of her.
No disparagement intinded to the sinse of the mare!" he added hastily.
Wessner belched a fearful oath, while Freckles laughed merrily.
"That's a sample of the thanks a generous act's always for
getting," he continued. "Here's me negictin' me work to eschort you
out proper, and you saying such awful words Freddy," he demanded
sternly, "do you want me to soap out your mouth? You don't seem to
be realizing it, but if you was to buck into Mr. McLean in your
prisint state, without me there to explain matters the chance is
he'd cut the liver out of you; and I shouldn't think you'd be
wanting such a fine gintleman as him to see that it's white!"
Wessner grew ghastly under his grime and broke into a staggering run.
"And now will you be looking at the manners of him?" questioned
Freckles plaintively. "Going without even a `thank you,' right in
the face of all the pains I've taken to make it interesting for him!"
Freckles twirled the club and stood as a soldier at attention until
Wessner left the clearing, but it was the last scene of that
performance. When the boy turned, there was deathly illness on his
face, while his legs wavered beneath his weight. He staggered to
the case, and opening it he took out a piece of cloth. He dipped it
into the water, and sitting on a bench, he wiped the blood and grime
from his face, while his breath sucked between his clenched teeth.
He was shivering with pain and excitement in spite of himself.
He unbuttoned the band of his right sleeve, and turning it back,
exposed the blue-lined, calloused whiteness of his maimed arm,
now vividly streaked with contusions, while in a series of circular
dots the blood oozed slowly. Here Wessner had succeeded in setting
his teeth. When Freckles saw what it was he forgave himself the
kick in the pit of Wessner's stomach, and cursed fervently and deep.
"Freckles, Freckles," said McLean's voice.
Freckles snatched down his sleeve and arose to his feet.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "You'll surely be belavin' I thought
McLean pushed him carefully to the seat, and bending over him,
opened a pocket-case that he carried as regularly as his revolver and
watch, for cuts and bruises were of daily occurrence among the gang.
Taking the hurt arm, he turned back the sleeve and bathed and bound
the wounds. He examined Freckles' head and body and convinced
himself that there was no permanent injury, although the cruelty of
the punishment the boy had borne set the Boss shuddering. Then he
closed the case, shoved it into his pocket, and sat beside Freckles.
All the indescribable beauty of the place was strong around him,
but he saw only the bruised face of the suffering boy, who had
hedged for the information he wanted as a diplomat, argued as a
judge, fought as a sheik, and triumphed as a devil.
When the pain lessened and breath reieved Freckles' pounding heart,
he watched the Boss covertly. How had McLean gotten there and how
long had he been there? Freckles did not dare ask. At last he
arose, and going to the case, took out his revolver and the wire-
mending apparatus and locked the door. Then he turned to McLean.
"Have you any orders, sir?" he asked.
"Yes," said McLean, "I have, and you are to follow them to
the letter. Turn over that apparatus to me and go straight home.
Soak yourself in the hottest bath your skin will bear and go to
bed at once. Now hurry."
"Mr. McLean," said Freckles, "it's sorry I am to be telling you,
but the afternoon's walking of the line ain't done. You see, I was
just for getting to me feet to start, and I was on time, when up
came a gintleman, and we got into a little heated argument.
It's either settled, or it's just begun, but between us, I'm that
late I haven't started for the afternoon yet. I must be going
at once, for there's a tree I must find before the day's over."
"You plucky little idiot," growled McLean. "You can't walk the line!
I doubt if you can reach Duncan's. Don't you know when you are
done up? You go to bed; I'll finish your work."
"Niver!" protested Freckles. "I was just a little done up for the
prisint, a minute ago. I'm all right now. Riding-boots are far
too low. The day's hot and the walk a good seven miles, sir. Niver!"
As he reached for the outfit he pitched forward and his eyes closed.
McLean stretched him on the moss and applied restoratives.
When Freckles returned to consciousness, McLean ran to the cabin to
tell Mrs. Duncan to have a hot bath ready, and to bring Nellie.
That worthy woman promptly filled the wash-boiler, starting a
roaring fire under it. She pushed the horse-trough from its base
and rolled it to the kitchen.
By the time McLean came again, leading Nelie and holding Freckles
on her back, Mrs. Duncan was ready for business. She and the Boss
laid Freckles in the trough and poured on hot water until he squirmed.
They soaked and massaged him. Then they drew off the hot water and
closed his pores with cold. Lastly they stretched him on the floor
and chafed, rubbed, and kneaded him until he cried out for mercy.
As they rolled him into bed, his eyes dropped shut, but a little
later they flared open.
"Mr. McLean," he cried, "the tree! Oh, do be looking after the tree!"
McLean bent over him. "Which tree, Freckles?"
"I don't know exact" sir; but it's on the east line, and the wire
is fastened to it. He bragged that you nailed it yourself, sir.
You'll know it by the bark having been laid open to the grain
somewhere low down. Five hundred dollars he offered me--to be--
selling you out--sir!"
Freckles' head rolled over and his eyes dropped shut. McLean towered
above the lad. His bright hair waved on the pillow. His face was
swollen, and purple with bruises. His left arm, with the hand
battered almost out of shape, stretched beside him, and the right,
with no hand at all, lay across a chest that was a mass of purple welts.
McLean's mind traveled to the night, almost a year before, when he
had engaged Freckles, a stranger.
The Boss bent, covering the hurt arm with one hand and laying the
other with a caress on the boy's forehead. Freckles stirred at his
touch, and whispered as softly as the swallows under the eaves:
"If you're coming this way--tomorrow--be pleased to step over--
and we'll repate--the chorus softly!"
"Bless the gritty devil," muttered McLean.
Then he went out and told Mrs. Duncan to keep close watch on
Freckles, also to send Duncan to him at the swamp the minute he
came home. Following the trail to the line and back to the scent
of the fight, the Boss entered Freckles' study quietly, as if his
spirit, keeping there, might be roused, and gazed around with
How had the boy conceived it? What a picture he had wrought in
living colors! He had the heart of a painter. He had the soul of
a poet. The Boss stepped carefully over the velvet carpet to touch
the walls of crisp verdure with gentle fingers. He stood long
beside the flower bed, and gazed at the banked wall of bright bloom
as if he doubted its reality.
Where had Freckles ever found, and how had he transplanted
such ferns? As McLean turned from them he stopped suddenly.
He had reached the door of the cathedral. That which Freckles had
attempted would have been patent to anyone. What had been in the
heart of the shy, silent boy when he had found that long, dim
stretch of forest, decorated its entrance, cleared and smoothed
its aisle, and carpeted its altar? What veriest work of God was
in these mighty living pillars and the arched dome of green!
How similar to stained cathedral windows were the long openings
between the trees, filled with rifts of blue, rays of gold, and the
shifting emerald of leaves! Where could be found mosaics to match
this aisle paved with living color and glowing light? Was Freckles
a devout Christian, and did he worship here? Or was he an untaught
heathen, and down this vista of entrancing loveliness did Pan come
piping, and dryads, nymphs, and fairies dance for him?
Who can fathom the heart of a boy? McLean had been thinking of
Freckles as a creature of unswerving honesty, courage, and
faithfulness. Here was evidence of a heart aching for beauty, art,
companionship, worship. It was writ large all over the floor,
walls, and furnishing of that little Limberlost clearing.
When Duncan came, McLean told him the story of the fight, and they
laughed until they cried. Then they started around the line in
search of the tree.
Said Duncan: "Now the boy is in for sore trouble!"
"I hope not," answered McLean. "You never in all your life saw a
cur whipped so completely. He won't come back for the repetition of
the chorus. We surely can find the tree. If we can't, Freckles can.
I will bring enough of the gang to take it out at once. That will
insure peace for a time, at least, and I am hoping that in a month
more the whole gang may be moved here. It soon will be fall, and
then, if he will go, I intend to send Freckles to my mother to
be educated. With his quickness of mind and body and a few years'
good help he can do anything. Why, Duncan, I'd give a hundred-
dollar bill if you could have been here and seen for yourself."
"Yes, and I'd `a' done murder," muttered the big teamster. "I hope,
sir, ye will make good your plans for Freckles, though I'd as soon
see ony born child o' my ain taken from our home. We love the lad,
me and Sarah."
Locating the tree was easy, because it was so well identified.
When the rumble of the big lumber wagons passing the cabin on the
way to the swamp wakened Freckles next morning, he sprang up and
was soon following them. He was so sore and stiff that every
movement was torture at first, but he grew easier, and shortly did
not suffer so much. McLean scolded him for coming, yet in his
heart triumphed over every new evidence of fineness in the boy.
The tree was a giant maple, and so precious that they almost dug it
out by the roots. When it was down, cut in lengths, and loaded,
there was yet an empty wagon. As they were gathering up their tools
to go, Duncan said: "There's a big hollow tree somewhere mighty
close here that I've been wanting for a watering-trough for my
stock; the one I have is so small. The Portland company cut this
for elm butts last year, and it's six feet diameter and hollow for
forty feet. It was a buster! While the men are here and there is an
empty wagon, why mightn't I load it on and tak' it up to the barn
as we pass?"
McLean said he was very willing, ordered the driver to break line
and load the log, detailing men to assist. He told Freckles to ride
on a section of the maple with him, but now the boy asked to enter
the swamp with Duncan.
"I don't see why you want to go," said McLean. "I have no business
to let you out today at all."
"It's me chickens," whispered Freckles in distress. "You see, I was
just after finding yesterday, from me new book, how they do be
nesting in hollow trees, and there ain't any too many in the swamp.
There's just a chance that they might be in that one."
"Go ahead," said McLean. "That's a different story. If they happen
to be there, why tell Duncan he must give up the tree until they
have finished with it."
Then he climbed on a wagon and was driven away. Freckles hurried
into the swamp. He was a little behind, yet he could see the men.
Before he overtook them, they had turned from the west road and had
entered the swamp toward the east.
They stopped at the trunk of a monstrous prostrate log. It had been
cut three feet from the ground, over three-fourths of the way
through, and had fallen toward the east, the body of the log still
resting on the stump. The underbrush was almost impenetrable, but
Duncan plunged in and with a crowbar began tapping along the trunk
to decide how far it was hollow, so that they would know where to cut.
As they waited his decision, there came from the mouth of it--on
wings--a large black bird that swept over their heads.
Freckles danced wildly. "It's me chickens! Oh, it's me chickens!"
he shouted. "Oh, Duncan, come quick! You've found the nest of me
Duncan hurried to the mouth of the log, but Freckles was before him.
He crashed through poison-vines and underbrush regardless of any
danger, and climbed on the stump. When Duncan came he was shouting
like a wild man.
"It's hatched!" he yelled. "Oh, me big chicken has hatched out me
little chicken, and there's another egg. I can see it plain, and
oh, the funny little white baby! Oh, Duncan, can you see me little
Duncan could easily see it; so could everyone else. Freckles crept
into the log and tenderly carried the hissing, blinking little bird
to the light in a leaf-lined hat. The men found it sufficiently
wonderful to satisfy even Freckles, who had forgotten he was ever
sore or stiff, and coddled over it with every blarneying term of
endearment he knew.
Duncan gathered his tools. "Deal's off, boys!" he said cheerfully.
"This log mauna be touched until Freckles' chaukies have finished
with it. We might as weel gang. Better put it back, Freckles.
It's just out, and it may chill. Ye will probably hae twa the morn."
Freckles crept into the log and carefully deposited the baby beside
the egg. When he came back, he said: "I made a big mistake not to
be bringing the egg out with the baby, but I was fearing to touch it.
It's shaped like a hen's egg, and it's big as a turkey's, and the
beautifulest blue--just splattered with big brown splotches,
like me book said, precise. Bet you never saw such a sight as it
made on the yellow of the rotten wood beside that funny
leathery-faced little white baby."
"Tell you what, Freckles," said one of the teamsters. "Have you
ever heard of this Bird Woman who goes all over the country with a
camera and makes pictures? She made some on my brother Jim's place
last summer, and Jim's so wild about them he quits plowing and goes
after her about every nest he finds. He helps her all he can to
take them, and then she gives him a picture. Jim's so proud of what
he has he keeps them in the Bible. He shows them to everybody that
comes, and brags about how he helped. If you're smart, you'll send
for her and she'll come and make a picture just like life. If you
help her, she will give you one. It would be uncommon pretty to
keep, after your birds are gone. I dunno what they are. I never see
their like before. They must be something rare. Any you fellows
ever see a bird like that hereabouts?"
No one ever had.
"Well," said the teamster, "failing to get this log lets me off
till noon, and I'm going to town. I go right past her place.
I've a big notion to stop and tell her. If she drives straight
back in the swamp on the west road, and turns east at this big
sycamore, she can't miss finding the tree, even if Freckles ain't
here to show her. Jim says her work is a credit to the State she
lives in, and any man is a measly creature who isn't willing to
help her all he can. My old daddy used to say that all there was
to religion was doing to the other fellow what you'd want him to
do to you, and if I was making a living taking bird pictures,
seems to me I'd be mighty glad for a chance to take one like that.
So I'll just stop and tell her, and by gummy! maybe she will give
me a picture of the little white sucker for my trouble."
Freckles touched his arm.
"Will she be rough with it?" he asked.
"Government land! No!" said the teamster. "She's dead down on
anybody that shoots a bird or tears up a nest. Why, she's half
killing herself in all kinds of places and weather to teach people
to love and protect the birds. She's that plum careful of them that
Jim's wife says she has Jim a standin' like a big fool holding an
ombrelly over them when they are young and tender until she gets a
focus, whatever that is. Jim says there ain't a bird on his place
that don't actually seem to like having her around after she has
wheedled them a few days, and the pictures she takes nobody would
ever believe who didn't stand by and see."
"Will you he sure to tell her to come?" asked Freckles.
Duncan slept at home that night. He heard Freckles slipping out
early the next morning, but he was too sleepy to wonder why, until
he came to do his morning chores. When he found that none of his
stock was at all thirsty, and saw the water-trough brimming, he
knew that the boy was trying to make up to him for the loss of the
big trough that he had been so anxious to have.
"Bless his fool little hot heart!" said Duncan. "And him so sore it
is tearing him to move for anything. Nae wonder he has us all
Freckles was moving briskly, and his heart was so happy that he
forgot all about the bruises. He hurried around the trail, and on
his way down the east side he went to see the chickens. The mother
bird was on the nest. He was afraid the other egg might be
hatching, so he did not venture to disturb her. He made the round
and reached his study early. He ate his lunch, but did not need
to start on the second trip until the middle of the afternoon.
He would have long hours to work on his flower bed, improve his study,
and learn about his chickens. Lovingly he set his room in order and
watered the flowers and carpet. He had chosen for his resting-place
the coolest spot on the west side, where there was almost always a
breeze; but today the heat was so intense that it penetrated even there.
"I'm mighty glad there's nothing calling me inside!" he said.
"There's no bit of air stirring, and it will just be steaming.
Oh, but it's luck Duncan found the nest before it got so unbearing hot!
I might have missed it altogether. Wouldn't it have been a shame to
lose that sight? The cunning little divil! When he gets to toddling
down that log to meet me, won't he be a circus? Wonder if he'll be
as graceful a performer afoot as his father and mother?"
The heat became more insistent. Noon came; Freckles ate his dinner
and settled for an hour or two on a bench with a book.
CHAPTER V. Wherein an Angel Materializes and a Man Worships
Perhaps there was a breath of sound--Freckles never afterward could
remember--but for some reason he lifted his head as the bushes
parted and the face of an angel looked between. Saints, nymphs, and
fairies had floated down his cathedral aisle for him many times,
with forms and voices of exquisite beauty.
Parting the wild roses at the entrance was beauty of which
Freckles never had dreamed. Was it real or would it vanish as the
other dreams? He dropped his book, and rising to his feet, went a step
closer, gazing intently. This was real flesh and blood. It was in
every way kin to the Limberlost, for no bird of its branches swung
with easier grace than this dainty young thing rocked on the bit of
morass on which she stood. A sapling beside her was not straighter
or rounder than her slender form. Her soft, waving hair clung
around her face from the heat, and curled over her shoulders.
It was all of one piece with the gold of the sun that filtered
between the branches. Her eyes were the deepest blue of the iris,
her lips the reddest red of the foxfire, while her cheeks were
exactly of the same satin as the wild rose petals caressing them.
She was smiling at Freckles in perfect confidence, and she cried:
"Oh, I'm so delighted that I've found you!"
The wildly leaping heart of Freckles burst from his body and fell
in the black swamp-muck at her feet with such a thud that he did
not understand how she could avoid hearing. He really felt that if
she looked down she would see.
Incredulous, he quavered: "An'--an' was you looking for me?"
"I hoped I might find you," said the Angel. "You see, I didn't do
as I was told, and I'm lost. The Bird Woman said I should wait in
the carriage until she came back. She's been gone hours. It's a
perfect Turkish bath in there, and I'm all lumpy with mosquito bites.
Just when I thought that I couldn't bear it another minute,
along came the biggest Papilio Ajax you ever saw. I knew how
pleased she'd be, so I ran after it. It flew so slow and so low
that I thought a dozen times I had it. Then all at once it went
from sight above the trees, and I couldn't find my way back to save me.
I think I've walked more than an hour. I have been mired to my knees.
A thorn raked my arm until it is bleeding, and I'm so tired and warm."
She parted the bushes farther. Freckles saw that her blue cotton
frock clung to her, limp with perspiration. It was torn across
the breast. One sleeve hung open from shoulder to elbow. A thorn
had torn her arm until it was covered with blood, and the gnats and
mosquitoes were clustering around it. Her feet were in lace hose
and low shoes. Freckles gasped. In the Limberlost in low shoes!
He caught an armful of moss from his carpet and buried it in the
ooze in front of her for a footing.
"Come out here so I can see where you are stepping. Quick, for the
life of you!" he ordered.
She smiled on him indulgently.
"Why?" she inquired.
"Did anybody let you come here and not be telling you of the
snakes?" urged Freckles.
"We met Mr. McLean on the corduroy, and he did say something about
snakes, I believe. The Bird Woman put on leather leggings, and a
nice, parboiled time she must be having! Worst dose I ever endured,
and I'd nothing to do but swelter."
"Will you be coming out of there?" groaned Freckles.
She laughed as if it were a fine joke.
"Maybe if I'd be telling you I killed a rattler curled upon that
same place you're standing, as long as me body and the thickness
of me arm, you'd be moving where I can see your footing,"
he urged insistently.
"What a perfectly delightful little brogue you speak," she said.
"My father is Irish, and half should be enough to entitle me to
that much. `Maybe--if I'd--be telling you,'" she imitated, rounding
and accenting each word carefully.
Freckles was beginning to feel a wildness in his head. He had
derided Wessner at that same hour yesterday. Now his own eyes were
filling with tears.
"If you were understanding the danger!" he continued desperately.
"Oh, I don't think there is much!"
She tilted on the morass.
"If you killed one snake here, it's probably all there is near; and
anyway, the Bird Woman says a rattlesnake is a gentleman and always
gives warning before he strikes. I don't hear any rattling. Do you?"
"Would you be knowing it if you did?" asked Freckles, almost impatiently.
How the laugh of the young thing rippled!
"`Would I be knowing it?'" she mocked. "You should see the swamps
of Michigan where they dump rattlers from the marl-dredgers three
and four at a time!"
Freckles stood astounded. She did know. She was not in the
least afraid. She was depending on a rattlesnake to live up to
his share of the contract and rattle in time for her to move.
The one characteristic an Irishman admires in a woman, above all
others, is courage. Freckles worshiped anew. He changed his tactics.
"I'd be pleased to be receiving you at me front door," he said,
"but as you have arrived at the back, will you come in and be seated?"
He waved toward a bench. The Angel came instantly.
"Oh, how lovely and cool!" she cried.
As she moved across his room, Freckles had difficult work to keep
from falling on his knees; for they were very weak, while he was
hard driven by an impulse to worship.
"Did you arrange this?" she asked.
"Yis," said Freckles simply.
"Someone must come with a big canvas and copy each side of it," she
said. "I never saw anything so beautiful! How I wish I might remain
here with you! I will, some day, if you will let me; but now, if
you can spare the time, will you help me find the carriage? If the
Bird Woman comes back and I am gone, she will be almost distracted."
"Did you come on the west road?" asked Freckles.
"I think so," she said. "The man who told the Bird Woman said that
was the only place the wires were down. We drove away in, and it
was dreadful--over stumps and logs, and we mired to the hubs. I
suppose you know, though. I should have stayed in the carriage, but
I was so tired. I never dreamed of getting lost. I suspect I will
be scolded finely. I go with the Bird Woman half the time during
the summer vacations. My father says I learn a lot more than I do
at school, and get it straight. I never came within a smell of
being lost before. I thought, at first, it was going to be horrid;
but since I've found you, maybe it will be good fun after all."
Freckles was amazed to hear himself excusing: "It was so hot
in there. You couldn't be expected to bear it for hours and not
be moving. I can take you around the trail almost to where you were.
Then you can sit in the carriage, and I will go find the Bird Woman."
"You'll be killed if you do! When she stays this long, it means
that she has a focus on something. You see, when she has a focus,
and lies in the weeds and water for hours, and the sun bakes her,
and things crawl over her, and then someone comes along and scares
her bird away just as she has it coaxed up--why, she kills them.
If I melt, you won't go after her. She's probably blistered and
half eaten up; but she never will quit until she is satisfied."
"Then it will be safer to be taking care of you," suggested Freckles.
"Now you're talking sense!" said the Angel.
"May I try to help your arm?" he asked.
"Have you any idea how it hurts?" she parried.
"A little," said Freckles.
"Well, Mr. McLean said We'd probably find his son here"
"His son!" cried Freckles.
"That's what he said. And that you would do anything you could for
us; and that we could trust you with our lives. But I would have
trusted you anyway, if I hadn't known a thing about you. Say, your
father is rampaging proud of you, isn't he?"
"I don't know," answered the dazed Freckles.
"Well, call on me if you want reliable information. He's so proud
of you he is all swelled up like the toad in AEsop's Fables. If you
have ever had an arm hurt like this, and can do anything, why, for
pity sake, do it!"
She turned back her sleeve, holding toward Freckles an arm of
palest cameo, shaped so exquisitely that no sculptor could have
Freckles unlocked his case, and taking out some cotton cloth, he
tore it in strips. Then he brought a bucket of the cleanest water
he could find. She yielded herself to his touch as a baby, and
he bathed away the blood and bandaged the ugly, ragged wound.
He finished his surgery by lapping the torn sleeve over the cloth
and binding it down with a piece of twine, with the Angel's help
about the knots.
Freckles worked with trembling fingers and a face tense with earnestness.
"Is it feeling any better?" he asked.
"Oh, it's well now!" cried the Angel. "It doesn't hurt at all, any more."
"I'm mighty glad," said Freckles. "But you had best go and be
having your doctor fix it right; the minute you get home."
"Oh, bother! A little scratch like that!" jeered the Angel.
"My blood is perfectly pure. It will heal in three days."
"It's cut cruel deep. It might be making a scar," faltered Freckles,
his eyes on the ground. "'Twould--'twould be an awful pity.
A doctor might know something to prevent it."
"Why, I never thought of that!" exclaimed the Angel.
"I noticed you didn't," said Freckles softly. "I don't know much
about it, but it seems as if most girls would."
The Angel thought intently, while Freckles still knelt beside her.
Suddenly she gave herself an impatient little shake, lifted her
glorious eyes full to his, and the smile that swept her sweet,
young face was the loveliest thing that Freckles ever had seen.
"Don't let's bother about it," she proposed, with the faintest hint
of a confiding gesture toward him. "It won't make a scar. Why, it
couldn't, when you have dressed it so nicely."
The velvety touch of her warm arm was tingling in Freckles' fingertips.
Dainty lace and fine white ribbon peeped through her torn dress.
There were beautiful rings on her fingers. Every article she wore
was of the finest material and in excellent taste. There was the
trembling Limberlost guard in his coarse clothing, with his cotton
rags and his old pail of swamp water. Freckles was sufficiently
accustomed to contrasts to notice them, and sufficiently fine to be
hurt by them always.
He lifted his eyes with a shadowy pain in them to hers, and found
them of serene, unconscious purity. What she had said was straight
from a kind, untainted, young heart. She meant every word of it.
Freckles' soul sickened. He scarcely knew whether he could muster
strength to stand.
"We must go and hunt for the carriage," said the Angel, rising.
In instant alarm for her, Freckles sprang up, grasped the cudgel,
and led the way, sharply watching every step. He went as close the
log as he felt that he dared, and with a little searching found
the carriage. He cleared a path for the Angel, and with a sigh of
relief saw her enter it safely. The heat was intense. She pushed
the damp hair from her temples.
"This is a shame!" said Freckles. "You'll never be coming here again."
"Oh yes I shall!" said the Angel. "The Bird Woman says that these
birds remain over a month in the nest and she would like to make a
picture every few days for seven or eight weeks, perhaps."
Freckles barely escaped crying aloud for joy.
"Then don't you ever be torturing yourself and your horse to be
coming in here again," he said. "I'll show you a way to drive
almost to the nest on the east trail, and then you can come around
to my room and stay while the Bird Woman works. It's nearly always
cool there, and there's comfortable seats, and water."
"Oh! did you have drinking-water there?" she cried. "I was never so
thirsty or so hungry in my life, but I thought I wouldn't mention it."
"And I had not the wit to be seeing!" wailed Freckles. "I can be
getting you a good drink in no time."
He turned to the trail.
"Please wait a minute," called the Angel. "What's your name? I want
to think about you while you are gone." Freckles lifted his face
with the brown rift across it and smiled quizzically.
"Freckles?" she guessed, with a peal of laughter. "And mine is----"
"I'm knowing yours," interrupted Freckles.
"I don't believe you do. What is it?" asked the girl.
"You won't be getting angry?"
"Not until I've had the water, at least."
It was Freckles' turn to laugh. He whipped off his big, floppy
straw hat, stood uncovered before her, and said, in the sweetest of
all the sweet tones of his voice: "There's nothing you could be but
the Swamp Angel."
The girl laughed happily.
Once out of her sight, Freckles ran every step of the way to
the cabin. Mrs. Duncan gave him a small bucket of water, cool from
the well. He carried it in the crook of his right arm, and a basket
filled with bread and butter, cold meat, apple pie, and pickles, in
his left hand.
"Pickles are kind o' cooling," said Mrs. Duncan.
Then Freckles ran again.
The Angel was on her knees, reaching for the bucket, as he came up.
"Be drinking slow," he cautioned her.
"Oh!" she cried, with a long breath of satisfaction. "It's so good!
You are more than kind to bring it!"
Freckles stood blinking in the dazzling glory of her smile until he
scarcely could see to lift the basket.
"Mercy!" she exclaimed. "I think I had better be naming you
the `Angel.' My Guardian Angel."
"Yis," said Freckles. "I look the character every day--but today
"Angels don't go by looks," laughed the girl. "Your father told us
you had been scrapping. But he told us why. I'd gladly wear all
your cuts and bruises if I could do anything that would make my
father look as peacocky as yours did. He strutted about proper.
I never saw anyone look prouder."
"Did he say he was proud of me?" marveled Freckles.
"He didn't need to," answered the Angel. "He was radiating
pride from every pore. Now, have you brought me your dinner?"
"I had my dinner two hours ago," answered Freckles.
"Honest Injun?" bantered the Angel.
"Honest! I brought that on purpose for you."
"Well, if you knew how hungry I am, you would know how thankful
I am, to the dot," said the Angel.
"Then you be eating," cried the happy Freckles.
The Angel sat on a big camera, spread the lunch on the carriage
seat, and divided it in halves. The daintiest parts she could
select she carefully put back into the basket. The remainder
she ate. Again Freckles found her of the swamp, for though she was
almost ravenous, she managed her food as gracefully as his little
yellow fellow, and her every movement was easy and charming. As he
watched her with famished eyes, Freckles told her of his birds,
flowers, and books, and never realized what he was doing.
He led the horse to a deep pool that he knew of, and the tortured
creature drank greedily, and lovingly rubbed him with its nose as
he wiped down its welted body with grass. Suddenly the Angel cried:
"There comes the Bird Woman!"
Freckles had intended leaving before she came, but now he was glad
indeed to be there, for a warmer, more worn, and worse bitten
creature he never had seen. She was staggering under a load of
cameras and paraphernalia. Freckles ran to her aid. He took all he
could carry of her load, stowed it in the back of the carriage, and
helped her in. The Angel gave her water, knelt and unfastened the
leggings, bathed her face, and offered the lunch.
Freckles brought the horse. He was not sure about the harness, but
the Angel knew, and soon they left the swamp. Then he showed them
how to reach the chicken tree from the outside, indicated a cooler
place for the horse, and told them how, the next time they came,
the Angel could find his room while she waited.
The Bird Woman finished her lunch, and lay back, almost too tired
"Were you for getting Little Chicken's picture?" Freckles asked.
"Finely!" she answered. "He posed splendidly. But I couldn't do
anything with his mother. She will require coaxing."
"The Lord be praised!" muttered Freckles under his breath.
The Bird Woman began to feel better.
"Why do you call the baby vulture `Little Chicken'?" she asked,
leaning toward Freckles in an interested manner.
"'Twas Duncan began it," said Freckles. "You see, through the
fierce cold of winter the birds of the swamp were almost starving.
It is mighty lonely here, and they were all the company I was having.
I got to carrying scraps and grain down to them. Duncan was
that ginerous he was giving me of his wheat and corn from his
chickens' feed, and he called the birds me swamp chickens.
Then when these big black fellows came, Mr. McLean said they were
our nearest kind to some in the old world that they called
`Pharaoh's Chickens,' and he called mine `Freckles' Chickens.'"
"Good enough!" cried the Bird Woman, her splotched purple face
lighting with interest. "You must shoot something for them
occasionally, and I'll bring more food when I come. If you will
help me keep them until I get my series, I'll give you a copy of
each study I make, mounted in a book."
Freckles drew a deep breath.
"I'll be doing me very best," he promised, and from the deeps he
"I wonder if that other egg is going to hatch?" mused the Bird Woman.
"I am afraid not. It should have pipped today. Isn't it a beauty!
I never before saw either an egg or the young. They are rare this
"So Mr. McLean said," answered Freckles.
Before they drove away, the Bird Woman thanked him for his kindness
to the Angel and to her. She gave him her hand at parting, and
Freckles joyfully realized that this was going to be another person
for him to love. He could not remember, after they had driven away,
that they even had noticed his missing hand, and for the first time
in his life he had forgotten it.
When the Bird Woman and the Angel were on the home road, she told
of the little corner of paradise into which she had strayed and
of her new name. The Bird Woman looked at the girl and guessed
"Did you know Mr. McLean had a son?" asked the Angel. "Isn't the
little accent he has, and the way he twists a sentence, too dear?
And isn't it too old-fashioned and funny to hear him call his
"It sounds too good to be true," said the Bird Woman, answering the
last question first. "I am so tired of these present-day young men
who patronizingly call their fathers `Dad,' `Governor,' `Old Man"
and `Old Chap,' that the boy's attitude of respect and deference
appealed to me as being fine as silk. There must be something rare
about that young man."
She did not find it necessary to tell the Angel that for several
years she had known the man who so proudly proclaimed himself
Freckles' father to be a bachelor and a Scotchman. The Bird Woman
had a fine way of attending strictly to her own business.
Freckles turned to the trail, but he stopped at every wild brier to
study the pink satin of the petals. She was not of his world, and
better than any other he knew it; but she might be his Angel, and
he was dreaming of naught but blind, silent worship. He finished
the happiest day of his life, and that night he returned to the
swamp as if drawn by invisible force. That Wessner would try for
his revenge, he knew. That he would be abetted by Black Jack was
almost certain, but fear had fled the happy heart of Freckles.
He had kept his trust. He had won the respect of the Boss.
No one ever could wipe from his heart the flood of holy adoration
that had welled with the coming of his Angel. He would do his best,
and trust for strength to meet the dark day of reckoning that he
knew would come sooner or later. He swung round the trail, briskly
tapping the wire, and singing in a voice that scarcely could have
been surpassed for sweetness.
At the edge of the clearing he came into the bright moonlight and
there sat McLean on his mare. Freckles hurried to him.
"Is there trouble?" he inquired anxiously.
"That's what I wanted to ask you," said the Boss. "I stopped at the
cabin to see you a minute, before I turned in, and they said you
had come down here. You must not do it, Freckles. The swamp is none
too healthful at any time, and at night it is rank poison."
Freckles stood combing his fingers through Nellie's mane, while the
dainty creature was twisting her head for his caresses. He pushed
back his hat and looked into McLean's face. "It's come to the
`sleep with one eye open,' sir. I'm not looking for anything to be
happening for a week or two, but it's bound to come, and soon.
If I'm to keep me trust as I've promised you and meself, I've to live
here mostly until the gang comes. You must be knowing that, sir."
"I'm afraid it's true, Freckles," said McLean. "And I've decided to
double the guard until we come. It will be only a few weeks, now;
and I'm so anxious for you that you must not be left alone further.
If anything should happen to you, Freckles, it would spoil one of
the very dearest plans of my life."
Freckles heard with dismay the proposition to place a second guard.
"Oh! no, no, Mr. McLean," he cried. "Not for the world! I wouldn't
be having a stranger around, scaring me birds and tramping up me
study, and disturbing all me ways, for any money! I am all the
guard you need! I will be faithful! I will turn over the lease with
no tree missing--on me life, I will! Oh, don't be sending another
man to set them saying I turned coward and asked for help. It will
just kill the honor of me heart if you do it. The only thing I want
is another gun. If it railly comes to trouble, six cartridges ain't
many, and you know I am slow-like about reloading." McLean reached
into his hip pocket and handed a shining big revolver to Freckles,
who slipped it beside the one already in his belt.
Then the Boss sat brooding.
"Freckles," he said at last, "we never know the timber of a man's
soul until something cuts into him deeply and brings the grain
out strong. You've the making of a mighty fine piece of furniture,
my boy, and you shall have your own way these few weeks yet.
Then, if you will go, I intend to take you to the city and educate
you, and you are to be my son, my lad--my own son!"
Freckles twisted his finger in Nellie's mane to steady himself.
"But why should you be doing that, sir?" he faltered.
McLean slid his arm around the boy's shoulder and gathered him close.
"Because I love you, Freckles," he said simply.
Freckles lifted a white face. "My God, sir!" he whispered. "Oh, my God!"
McLean tightened his clasp a second longer, then he rode down the trail.
Freckles lifted his hat and faced the sky. The harvest moon looked
down, sheeting the swamp in silver glory. The Limberlost sang her
night song. The swale softly rustled in the wind. Winged things of
night brushed his face; and still Freckles gazed upward, trying to
fathom these things that had come to him. There was no help from
the sky. It seemed far away, cold, and blue. The earth, where
flowers blossomed, angels walked, and love could be found, was better.
But to One, above, he must make acknowledgment for these miracles.
His lips moved and he began talking softly.
"Thank You for each separate good thing that has come to me," he
said, "and above all for the falling of the feather. For if it
didn't really fall from an angel, its falling brought an Angel, and
if it's in the great heart of you to exercise yourself any further
about me, oh, do please to be taking good care of her!"
CHAPTER VI. Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight
The following morning Freckles, inexpressibly happy, circled the
Limberlost. He kept snatches of song ringing, as well as the wires.
His heart was so full that tears of joy glistened in his eyes.
He rigorously strove to divide his thought evenly between McLean and
the Angel. He realized to the fullest the debt he already owed the
Boss and the magnitude of last night's declaration and promises.
He was hourly planning to deliver his trust and then enter with
equal zeal on whatever task his beloved Boss saw fit to set him next.
He wanted to be ready to meet every device that Wessner and Black Jack
could think of to outwit him. He recognized their double leverage,
for if they succeeded in felling even one tree McLean became liable
for his wager.
Freckles' brow wrinkled in his effort to think deeply and strongly,
but from every swaying wild rose the Angel beckoned to him. When he
crossed Sleepy Snake Creek and the goldfinch, waiting as ever,
challenged: "SEE ME?" Freckles saw the dainty swaying grace of the
Angel instead. What is a man to do with an Angel who dismembers
herself and scatters over a whole swamp, thrusting a vivid reminder
upon him at every turn?
Freckles counted the days. This first one he could do little but
test his wires, sing broken snatches, and dream; but before the
week would bring her again he could do many things. He would carry
all his books to the swamp to show to her. He would complete his
flower bed, arrange every detail he had planned for his room, and
make of it a bower fairies might envy. He must devise a way to keep
water cool. He would ask Mrs. Duncan for a double lunch and an
especially nice one the day of her next coming, so that if the Bird
Woman happened to be late, the Angel might not suffer from thirst
and hunger. He would tell her to bring heavy leather leggings, so
that he might take her on a trip around the trail. She should make
friends with all of his chickens and see their nests.
On the line he talked of her incessantly.
"You needn't be thinking," he said to the goldfinch, "that because
I'm coming down this line alone day after day, it's always to be so.
Some of these times you'll be swinging on this wire, and you'll
see me coming, and you'll swing, skip, and flirt yourself around,
and chip up right spunky: `SEE ME?' I'll be saying `See you?
Oh, Lord! See her!' You'll look, and there she'll stand.
The sunshine won't look gold any more, or the roses pink, or the
sky blue, because she'll be the pinkest, bluest, goldest thing
of all. You'll be yelling yourself hoarse with the jealousy of her.
The sawbird will stretch his neck out of joint, and she'll turn the
heads of all the flowers. Wherever she goes, I can go back
afterward and see the things she's seen, walk the path she's walked,
hear the grasses whispering over all she's said; and if there's
a place too swampy for her bits of feet; Holy Mother! Maybe--maybe
she'd be putting the beautiful arms of her around me neck and letting
me carry her over!"
Freckles shivered as with a chill. He sent the cudgel whirling
skyward, dexterously caught it, and set it spinning.
"You damned presumptuous fool!" he cried. "The thing for you to be
thinking of would be to stretch in the muck for the feet of her to
be walking over, and then you could hold yourself holy to be even
of that service to her.
"Maybe she'll be wanting the cup me blue-and-brown chickens raised
their babies in. Perhaps she'd like to stop at the pool and see me
bullfrog that had the goodness to take on human speech to show me
the way out of me trouble. If there's any feathers falling that
day, why, it's from the wings of me chickens--it's sure to be, for
the only Angel outside the gates will be walking this timberline,
and every step of the way I'll be holding me breath and praying that
she don't unfold wings and sail away before the hungry eyes of me."
So Freckles dreamed his dreams, made his plans, and watched his line.
He counted not only the days, but the hours of each day. As he
told them off, every one bringing her closer, he grew happier in
the prospect of her coming. He managed daily to leave some offering
at the big elm log for his black chickens. He slipped under the
line at every passing, and went to make sure that nothing was
molesting them. Though it was a long trip, he paid them several
extra visits a day for fear a snake, hawk, or fox might have found
the baby. For now his chickens not only represented all his former
interest in them, but they furnished the inducement that was
bringing his Angel.
Possibly he could find other subjects that the Bird Woman wanted.
The teamster had said that his brother went after her every time he
found a nest. He never had counted the nests that he knew of, and
it might be that among all the birds of the swamp some would be
rare to her.
The feathered folk of the Limberlost were practically undisturbed
save by their natural enemies. It was very probable that among his
chickens others as odd as the big black ones could be found. If she
wanted pictures of half-grown birds, he could pick up fifty in one
morning's trip around the line, for he had fed, handled, and made
friends with them ever since their eyes opened.
He had gathered bugs and worms all spring as he noticed them on the
grass and bushes, and dropped them into the first little open mouth
he had found. The babies gladly had accepted this queer tri-parent
addition to their natural providers.
When the week had passed, Freckles had his room crisp and glowing
with fresh living things that represented every color of the swamp.
He carried bark and filled all the muckiest places of the trail.
It was middle July. The heat of the past few days had dried the
water around and through the Limberlost, so that it was possible to
cross it on foot in almost any direction--if one had an idea of
direction and did not become completely lost in its rank tangle of
vegetation and bushes. The brighter-hued flowers were opening.
The trumpet-creepers were flaunting their gorgeous horns of red
and gold sweetness from the tops of lordly oak and elm, and below
entire pools were pink-sheeted in mallow bloom.
The heat was doing one other thing that was bound to make Freckles,
as a good Irishman, shiver. As the swale dried, its inhabitants
were seeking the cooler depths of the swamp. They liked neither the
heat nor leaving the field mice, moles, and young rabbits of their
chosen location. He saw them crossing the trail every day as the
heat grew intense. The rattlers were sadly forgetting their
manners, for they struck on no provocation whatever, and did not
even remember to rattle afterward. Daily Freckles was compelled to
drive big black snakes and blue racers from the nests of his chickens.
Often the terrified squalls of the parent birds would reach him far
down the line and he would run to rescue the babies.
He saw the Angel when the carriage turned from the corduroy into
the clearing. They stopped at the west entrance to the swamp,
waiting for him to precede them down the trail, as he had told them
it was safest for the horse that he should do. They followed the
east line to a point opposite the big chickens' tree, and Freckles
carried in the cameras and showed the Bird Woman a path he had
cleared to the log. He explained to her the effect the heat was
having on the snakes, and creeping back to Little Chicken, brought
him to the light. As she worked at setting up her camera, he told
her of the birds of the line, while she stared at him, wide-eyed
They arranged that Freckles should drive the carriage into the east
entrance in the shade and then take the horse toward the north to
a better place he knew. Then he was to entertain the Angel at his
study or on the line until the Bird Woman finished her work and
came to them.
"This will take only a little time," she said. "I know where to set
the camera now, and Little Chicken is big enough to be good and too
small to run away or to act very ugly, so I will be coming soon to
see about those nests. I have ten plates along, and I surely won't
use more than two on him; so perhaps I can get some nests or young
birds this morning."
Freckles almost flew, for his dream had come true so soon. He was
walking the timber-line and the Angel was following him. He asked
to be excused for going first, because he wanted to be sure the
trail was safe for her. She laughed at his fears, telling him that
it was the polite thing for him to do, anyway.
"Oh!" said Freckles, "so you was after knowing that? Well, I didn't
s'pose you did, and I was afraid you'd think me wanting in respect
to be preceding you!"
The astonished Angel looked at him, caught the irrepressible gleam
of Irish fun in his eyes, so they stood and laughed together.
Freckles did not realize how he was talking that morning. He showed
her many of the beautiful nests and eggs of the line. She could
identify a number of them, but of some she was ignorant, so they
made notes of the number and color of the eggs, material, and
construction of nest, color, size, and shape of the birds, and went
to find them in the book.
At his room, when Freckles had lifted the overhanging bushes and
stepped back for her to enter, his heart was all out of time
and place. The study was vastly more beautiful than a week previous.
The Angel drew a deep breath and stood gazing first at one side,
then at another, then far down the cathedral aisle. "It's just
fairyland!" she cried ecstatically. Then she turned and stared at
Freckles as she had at his handiwork.
"What are you planning to be?" she asked wonderingly.
"Whatever Mr. McLean wants me to," he replied.
"What do you do most?" she asked.
"Watch me lines."
"I don't mean work!"
"Oh, in me spare time I keep me room and study in me books."
"Do you work on the room or the books most?"
"On the room only what it takes to keep it up, and the rest of the
time on me books."
The Angel studied him closely. "Well, maybe you are going to be a
great scholar," she said, "but you don't look it. Your face isn't
right for that, but it's got something big in it--something really great.
I must find out what it is and then you must work on it. Your father
is expecting you to do something. One can tell by the way he talks.
You should begin right away. You've wasted too much time already."
Poor Freckles hung his head. He never had wasted an hour in his life.
There never had been one that was his to waste.
The Angel, studying him intently, read the thought in his face.
"Oh, I don't mean that!" she cried, with the frank dismay of
sixteen. "Of course, you're not lazy! No one ever would think that
from your appearance. It's this I mean: there is something fine,
strong, and full of power in your face. There is something you are
to do in this world, and no matter how you work at all these other
things, or how successfully you do them, it is all wasted until you
find the ONE THING that you can do best. If you hadn't a thing in
the world to keep you, and could go anywhere you please and do
anything you want, what would you do?" persisted the Angel.
"I'd go to Chicago and sing in the First Episcopal choir," answered
The Angel dropped on a seat--the hat she had removed and held in
her fingers rolled to her feet. "There!" she exclaimed vehemently.
"You can see what I'm going to be. Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
You can sing? Of course you can sing! It is written all over you."
"Anyone with half wit could have seen he could sing, without having
to be told," she thought. "It's in the slenderness of his fingers
and his quick nervous touch. It is in the brightness of his hair,
the fire of his eyes, the breadth of his chest, the muscles of his
throat and neck; and above all, it's in every tone of his voice,
for even as he speak it's the sweetest sound I ever heard from the
throat of a mortal."
"Will you do something for me?" she asked.
"I'll do anything in the world you want me to," said Freckles
largely, "and if I can't do what you want, I'll go to work at once
and I'll try `til I can."
"Good! That's business!" said the Angel. "You go over there and
stand before that hedge and sing something. Just anything you think
Freckles faced the Angel from his banked wall of brown, blue, and
crimson, with its background of solid green, and lifting his face
to the sky, he sang the first thing that came into his mind. It was
a children's song that he had led for the little folks at the Home
many times, recalled to his mind by the Angel's exclamation:
"To fairyland we go,
With a song of joy, heigh-o.
In dreams we'll stand upon that shore
And all the realm behold;
We'll see the sights so grand
That belong to fairyland,
Its mysteries we will explore,
Its beauties will unfold.
Oh, tra, la, la, oh, ha, ha, ha! We're happy now as we can be,
Our welcome song we will prolong, and greet you with our melody.
O fairyland, sweet fairyland, we love to sing----"
No song could have given the intense sweetness and rollicking
quality of Freckles' voice better scope. He forgot everything but
pride in his work. He was singing the chorus, and the Angel was
shivering in ecstasy, when clip! clip! came the sharply beating
feet of a swiftly ridden horse down the trail from the north. They
both sprang toward the entrance.
"Freckles! Freckles!" called the voice of the Bird Woman.
They were at the trail on the instant.
"Both those revolvers loaded?" she asked.
"Yes," said Freckles.
"Is there a way you can cut across the swamp and reach the chicken
tree in a few minutes, and with little noise?"
"Then go flying," said the Bird Woman. "Give the Angel a lift
behind me, and we will ride the horse back where you left him and
wait for you. I finished Little Chicken in no time and put him back.
His mother came so close, I felt sure she would enter the log.
The light was fine, so I set and focused the camera and covered
it with branches, attached the long hose, and went away over a
hundred feet and hid in some bushes to wait. A short, stout man
and a tall, dark one passed me so closely I almost could have reached
out and touched them. They carried a big saw on their shoulders.
They said they could work until near noon, and then they must lay
off until you passed and then try to load and get out at night.
They went on--not entirely from sight--and began cutting a tree.
Mr. McLean told me the other day what would probably happen here,
and if they fell that tree he loses his wager on you. Keep to the
east and north and hustle. We'll meet you at the carriage. I always
am armed. Give Angel one of your revolvers, and you keep the other.
We will separate and creep toward them from different sides and
give them a fusillade that will send them flying. You hurry, now!"
She lifted the reins and started briskly down the trail. The Angel,
hatless and with sparkling eyes, was clinging around her waist.
Freckles wheeled and ran. He worked his way with much care, dodging
limbs and bushes with noiseless tread, and cutting as closely where
he thought the men were as he felt that he dared if he were to
remain unseen. As he ran he tried to think. It was Wessner, burning
for his revenge, aided by the bully of the locality, that he was
going to meet. He was accustomed to that thought but not to the
complication of having two women on his hands who undoubtedly would
have to be taken care of in spite of the Bird Woman's offer to help him.
His heart was jarring as it never had before with running. He must
follow the Bird Woman's plan and meet them at the carriage, but if
they really did intend to try to help him, he must not allow it.
Allow the Angel to try to handle a revolver in his defence? Never!
Not for all the trees in the Limberlost! She might shoot herself.
She might forget to watch sharply and run across a snake that was
not particularly well behaved that morning. Freckles permitted
himself a grim smile as he went speeding on.
When he reached the carriage, the Bird Woman and the Angel had the
horse hitched, the outfit packed, and were calmly waiting. The Bird
Woman held a revolver in her hand. She wore dark clothing. They had
pinned a big focusing cloth over the front of the Angel's light dress.
"Give Angel one of your revolvers, quick!" said the Bird Woman.
"We will creep up until we are in fair range. The underbrush is so
thick and they are so busy that they will never notice us, if we
don't make a noise. You fire first, then I will pop in from my
direction, and then you, Angel, and shoot quite high, or else very low.
We mustn't really hit them. We'll go close enough to the cowards
to make it interesting, and keep it up until we have them going."
The Bird Woman reached over, and, taking the smaller revolver from
his belt, handed it to the Angel. "Keep your nerve steady, dear;
watch where you step, and shoot high," she said. "Go straight at
them from where you are. Wait until you hear Freckles' first shot,
then follow me as closely as you can, to let them know that we
outnumber them. If you want to save McLean's wager on you, now you
go!" she commanded Freckles, who, with an agonized glance at the
Angel, ran toward the east.
The Bird Woman chose the middle distance, and for a last time
cautioned the Angel as she moved away to lie down and shoot high.
Through the underbrush the Bird Woman crept even more closely than
she had intended, found a clear range, and waited for Freckles' shot.
There was one long minute of sickening suspense. The men
straightened for breath. Work was difficult with a handsaw in the
heat of the swamp. As they rested, the big dark fellow took a
bottle from his pocket and began oiling the saw.
"We got to keep mighty quiet," he said, "and wait to fell it until
that damned guard has gone to his dinner."
Again they bent to their work. Freckles' revolver spat fire. Lead
spanged on steel. The saw-handle flew from Wessner's hand and he
reeled from the jar of the shock. Black Jack straightened, uttering
a fearful oath. The hat sailed from his head from the far northeast.
The Angel had not waited for the Bird Woman, and her shot scarcely
could have been called high. At almost the same instant the third
shot whistled from the east. Black Jack sprang into the air with
a yell of complete panic, for it ripped a heel from his boot.
Freckles emptied his second chamber, and the earth spattered
over Wessner. Shots poured in rapidly. Without even reaching
for a weapon, both men ran toward the east road in great leaping
bounds, while leaden slugs sung and hissed around them in
Freckles was trimming his corners as closely as he dared, but if
the Angel did not really intend to hit, she was taking risks in a
When the men reached the trail, Freckles yelled at the top of his
voice: "Head them off on the south, boys! Fire from the south!"
As he had hoped, Jack and Wessner instantly plunged into the swale.
A spattering of lead followed them. They crossed the swale, running
low, with not even one backward glance, and entered the woods
beyond the corduroy.
Then the little party gathered at the tree.
"I'd better fix this saw so they can't be using it if they come
back," said Freckles, taking out his hatchet and making saw-teeth fly.
"Now we must leave here without being seen," said the Bird Woman to
the Angel. "It won't do for me to make enemies of these men, for I
am likely to meet them while at work any day."
"You can do it by driving straight north on this road," said Freckles.
"I will go ahead and cut the wires for you. The swale is almost dry.
You will only be sinking a little. In a few rods you will strike
a cornfield. I will take down the fence and let you into that.
Follow the furrows and drive straight across it until you come to
the other side. Be following the fence south until you come to a
road through the woods east of it. Then take that road and follow
east until you reach the pike. You will come out on your way back
to town, and two miles north of anywhere they are likely to be.
Don't for your lives ever let it out that you did this," he
earnestly cautioned, "for it's black enemies you would be making."
Freckles clipped the wires and they drove through. The Angel leaned
from the carriage and held out his revolver. Freckles looked at her
in surprise. Her eyes were black, while her face was a deeper rose
than usual. He felt that his own was white.
"Did I shoot high enough?" she asked sweetly. "I really forgot
about lying down."
Freckles winced. Did the child know how close she had gone?
Surely she could not! Or was it possible that she had the nerve
and skill to fire like that purposely?
"I will send the first reliable man I meet for McLean," said the
Bird Woman, gathering up the lines. "If I don't meet one when we
reach town, we will send a messenger. If it wasn't for having the
gang see me, I would go myself; but I will promise you that you
will have help in a little over two hours. You keep well hidden.
They must think some of the gang is with you now. There isn't a
chance that they will be back, but don't run any risks. Remain
under cover. If they should come, it probably would be for
their saw." She laughed as at a fine joke.
CHAPTER VII. Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the Trail
Round-eyed, Freckles watched the Bird Woman and the Angel drive
away. After they were from sight and he was safely hidden among the
branches of a small tree, he remembered that he neither had thanked
them nor said good-bye. Considering what they had been through,
they never would come again. His heart sank until he had
palpitation in his wading-boots.
Stretching the length of the limb, he thought deeply, though he was
not thinking of Black Jack or Wessner. Would the Bird Woman and the
Angel come again? No other woman whom he ever had known would.
But did they resemble any other women he ever had known? He thought
of the Bird Woman's unruffled face and the Angel's revolver practice,
and presently he was not so sure that they would not return.
What were the people in the big world like? His knowledge was so
very limited. There had been people at the Home, who exchanged a
stilted, perfunctory kindness for their salaries. The visitors who
called on receiving days he had divided into three classes: the
psalm-singing kind, who came with a tear in the eye and hypocrisy
in every feature of their faces; the kind who dressed in silks and
jewels, and handed to those poor little mother-hungry souls worn
toys that their children no longer cared for, in exactly the same
spirit in which they pitched biscuits to the monkeys at the zoo,
and for the same reason--to see how they would take them and be
amused by what they would do; and the third class, whom he
considered real people. They made him feel they cared that he was
there, and that they would have been glad to see him elsewhere.
Now here was another class, that had all they needed of the world's
best and were engaged in doing work that counted. They had things
worth while to be proud of; and they had met him as a son and brother.
With them he could, for the only time in his life, forget the
lost hand that every day tortured him with a new pang. What kind
of people were they and where did they belong among the classes
he knew? He failed to decide, because he never had known others
similar to them; but how he loved them!
In the world where he was going soon, were the majority like them,
or were they of the hypocrite and bun-throwing classes?
He had forgotten the excitement of the morning and the passing of
time when distant voices aroused him, and he gently lifted his head.
Nearer and nearer they came, and as the heavy wagons rumbled down
the east trail he could hear them plainly. The gang were shouting
themselves hoarse for the Limberlost guard. Freckles did not feel
that he deserved it. He would have given much to he able to go
to the men and explain, but to McLean only could he tell his story.
At the sight of Freckles the men threw up their hats and cheered.
McLean shook hands with him warmly, but big Duncan gathered him
into his arms and hugged him as a bear and choked over a few words
of praise. The gang drove in and finished felling the tree.
McLean was angry beyond measure at this attempt on his property,
for in their haste to fell the tree the thieves had cut too high
and wasted a foot and a half of valuable timber.
When the last wagon rolled away, McLean sat on the stump and
Freckles told the story he was aching to tell. The Boss scarcely
could believe his senses. Also, he was much disappointed.
"I have been almost praying all the way over, Freckles," he said,
"that you would have some evidence by which we could arrest those
fellows and get them out of our way, but this will never do.
We can't mix up those women in it. They have helped you save me
the tree and my wager as well. Going across the country as she
does, the Bird Woman never could be expected to testify against them."
"No, indeed; nor the Angel, either, sir," said Freckles.
"The Angel?" queried the astonished McLean.
The Boss listened in silence while Freckles told of the coming and
christening of the Angel.
"I know her father well," said McLean at last, "and I have often
seen her. You are right; she is a beautiful young girl, and she
appears to be utterly free from the least particle of false pride
or foolishness. I do not understand why her father risks such a
jewel in this place."
"He's daring it because she is a jewel, sir," said Freckles, eagerly.
"Why, she's trusting a rattlesnake to rattle before it strikes her,
and of course, she thinks she can trust mankind as well. The man
isn't made who wouldn't lay down the life of him for her. She doesn't
need any care. Her face and the pretty ways of her are all the
protection she would need in a band of howling savages."
"Did you say she handled one of the revolvers?" asked McLean.
"She scared all the breath out of me body," admitted Freckles.
"Seems that her father has taught her to shoot. The Bird Woman told
her distinctly to lie low and blaze away high, just to help scare them.
The spunky little thing followed them right out into the west
road, spitting lead like hail, and clipping all around the heads
and heels of them; and I'm damned, sir, if I believe she'd cared a
rap if she'd hit. I never saw much shooting, but if that wasn't the
nearest to miss I ever want to see! Scared the life near out of me
body with the fear that she'd drop one of them. As long as I'd no
one to help me but a couple of women that didn't dare be mixed up
in it, all I could do was to let them get away."
"Now, will they come back?" asked McLean.
"Of course!" said Freckles. "They're not going to be taking that.
You could stake your life on it, they'll be coming back. At least,
Black Jack will. Wessner may not have the pluck, unless he is
half drunk. Then he'd be a terror. And the next time--"
"It will be a question of who shoots first and straightest."
"Then the only thing for me to do is to double the guard and bring
the gang here the first minute possible. As soon as I feel that we
have the rarest of the stuff out below, we will come. The fact is,
in many cases, until it is felled it's difficult to tell what a
tree will prove to be. It won't do to leave you here longer alone.
Jack has been shooting twenty years to your one, and it stands to
reason that you are no match for him. Who of the gang would you
like best to have with you?"
"No one, sir," said Freckles emphatically. "Next time is where I run.
I won't try to fight them alone. I'll just be getting wind of
them, and then make tracks for you. I'll need to come like
lightning, and Duncan has no extra horse, so I'm thinking you'd
best get me one--or perhaps a wheel would be better. I used to do
extra work for the Home doctor, and he would let me take his
bicycle to ride around the place. And at times the head nurse would
loan me his for an hour. A wheel would cost less and be faster than
a horse, and would take less care. I believe, if you are going to
town soon, you had best pick up any kind of an old one at some
second-hand store, for if I'm ever called to use it in a hurry
there won't be the handlebars left after crossing the corduroy."
"Yes," said McLean; "and if you didn't have a first-class wheel,
you never could cross the corduroy on it at all."
As they walked to the cabin, McLean insisted on another guard, but
Freckles was stubbornly set on fighting his battle alone. He made
one mental condition. If the Bird Woman was going to give up the
Little Chicken series, he would yield to the second guard, solely
for the sake of her work and the presence of the Angel in the
Limberlost. He did not propose to have a second man unless it were
absolutely necessary, for he had been alone so long that he loved
the solitude, his chickens, and flowers. The thought of having a
stranger to all his ways come and meddle with his arrangements,
frighten his pets, pull his flowers, and interrupt him when he
wanted to study, so annoyed him that he was blinded to his real
need for help.
With McLean it was a case of letting his sober, better judgment be
overridden by the boy he was growing so to love that he could not
endure to oppose him, and to have Freckles keep his trust and win
alone meant more than any money the Boss might lose.
The following morning McLean brought the wheel, and Freckles took
it to the trail to test it. It was new, chainless, with as little
as possible to catch in hurried riding, and in every way the best
of its kind. Freckles went skimming around the trail on it on a
preliminary trip before he locked it in his case and started his
minute examination of his line on foot. He glanced around his room
as he left it, and then stood staring.
On the moss before his prettiest seat lay the Angel's hat. In the
excitement of yesterday all of them had forgotten it. He went and
picked it up, oh! so carefully, gazing at it with hungry eyes, but
touching it only to carry it to his case, where he hung it on the
shining handlebar of the new wheel and locked it among his treasures.
Then he went to the trail, with a new expression on his face and
a strange throbbing in his heart. He was not in the least afraid
of anything that morning. He felt he was the veriest Daniel, but
all his lions seemed weak and harmless.
What Black Jack's next move would be he could not imagine, but that
there would be a move of some kind was certain. The big bully was
not a man to give up his purpose, or to have the hat swept from his
head with a bullet and bear it meekly. Moreover, Wessner would
cling to his revenge with a Dutchman's singleness of mind.
Freckles tried to think connectedly, but there were too many places
on the trail where the Angel's footprints were vet visible. She had
stepped in one mucky spot and left a sharp impression. The afternoon
sun had baked it hard, and the horses' hoofs had not obliterated
any part of it, as they had in so many places. Freckles stood
fascinated, gazing at it. He measured it lovingly with his eye.
He would not have ventured a caress on her hat any more than
on her person, but this was different. Surely a footprint on a
trail might belong to anyone who found and wanted it. He stooped
under the wires and entered the swamp. With a little searching, he
found a big piece of thick bark loose on a log and carefully
peeling it, carried it out and covered the print so that the first
rain would not obliterate it.
When he reached his room, he tenderly laid the hat upon his
bookshelf, and to wear off his awkwardness, mounted his wheel and
went spinning on trail again. It was like flying, for the path was
worn smooth with his feet and baked hard with the sun almost all
the way. When he came to the bark, he veered far to one side and
smiled at it in passing. Suddenly he was off the wheel, kneeling
beside it. He removed his hat, carefully lifted the bark, and gazed
lovingly at the imprint.
"I wonder what she was going to say of me voice," he whispered.
"She never got it said, but from the face of her, I believe she was
liking it fairly well. Perhaps she was going to say that singing
was the big thing I was to be doing. That's what they all thought
at the Home. Well, if it is, I'll just shut me eyes, think of me
little room, the face of her watching, and the heart of her
beating, and I'll raise them. Damn them, if singing will do it,
I'll raise them from the benches!"
With this dire threat, Freckles knelt, as at a wayside spring, and
deliberately laid his lips on the footprint. Then he arose,
appearing as if he had been drinking at the fountain of gladness.
CHAPTER VIII. Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by the Encounter
"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan.
Freckles stood before her, holding the Angel's hat.
"I've been thinking this long time that ye or Duncan would see that
sunbonnets werena braw enough for a woman of my standing, and ye're
a guid laddie to bring me this beautiful hat."
She turned it around, examining the weave of the straw and the
foliage trimmings, passing her rough fingers over the satin
ties delightedly. As she held it up, admiring it, Freckles'
astonished eyes saw a new side of Sarah Duncan. She was jesting,
but under the jest the fact loomed strong that, though poor,
overworked, and with none but God-given refinement, there was
something in her soul crying after that bit of feminine finery,
and it made his heart ache for her. He resolved that when he
reached the city he would send her a hat, if it took fifty
dollars to do it.
She lingeringly handed it back to him.
"It's unco guid of ye to think of me," she said lightly, "but I maun
question your taste a wee. D'ye no think ye had best return this
and get a woman with half her hair gray a little plainer headdress?
Seems like that's far ower gay for me. I'm no' saying that it's
no' exactly what I'd like to hae, but I mauna mak mysel' ridiculous.
Ye'd best give this to somebody young and pretty, say about sixteen.
Where did ye come by it, Freckles? If there's anything been
dropping lately, ye hae forgotten to mention it."
"Do you see anything heavenly about that hat?" queried Freckles,
holding it up.
The morning breeze waved the ribbons gracefully, binding one around
Freckles' sleeve and the other across his chest, where they caught
and clung as if magnetized.
"Yes," said Sarah Duncan. "It's verra plain and simple, but it
juist makes ye feel that it's all of the finest stuff. It's exactly
what I'd call a heavenly hat."
"Sure," said Freckles, "for it's belonging to an Angel!"
Then he told her about the hat and asked her what he should do with it.
"Take it to her, of course!" said Sarah Duncan. "Like it's the only
ane she has and she may need it badly."
Freckles smiled. He had a clear idea about the hat being the only
one the Angel had. However, there was a thing he felt he should do
and wanted to do, but he was not sure.
"You think I might be taking it home?" he said.
"Of course ye must," said Mrs. Duncan. "And without another
hour's delay. It's been here two days noo, and she may want it,
and be too busy or afraid to come."
"But how can I take it?" asked Freckles.
"Gang spinning on your wheel. Ye can do it easy in an hour."
"But in that hour, what if----?"
"Nonsense!" interrupted Sarah Duncan. "Ye've watched that
timber-line until ye're grown fast to it, lad. Give me your boots
and club and I'll gae walk the south end and watch doon the east
and west sides until ye come back."
"Mrs. Duncan! You never would be doing it," cried Freckles.
"Why not?" inquired she.
"But you know you're mortal afraid of snakes and a lot of other
things in the swamp."
"I am afraid of snakes," said Mrs. Duncan, "but likely they've gone
into the swamp this hot weather. I'll juist stay on the trail and
watch, and ye might hurry the least bit. The day's so bright it
feels like storm. I can put the bairns on the woodpile to play
until I get back. Ye gang awa and take the blessed little angel her
"Are you sure it will be all right?" urged Freckles. "Do you think
if Mr. McLean came he would care?"
"Na," said Mrs. Duncan; "I dinna. If ye and me agree that a thing
ought to be done, and I watch in your place, why, it's bound to be
all right with McLean. Let me pin the hat in a paper, and ye jump
on your wheel and gang flying. Ought ye put on your Sabbath-day clothes?"
Freckles shook his head. He knew what he should do, but there was
no use in taking time to try to explain it to Mrs. Duncan while he
was so hurried. He exchanged his wading-boots for shoes, gave her
his club, and went spinning toward town. He knew very well where
the Angel lived. He had seen her home many times, and he passed it
again without even raising his eyes from the street, steering
straight for her father's place of business.
Carrying the hat, Freckles passed a long line of clerks, and at the
door of the private office asked to see the proprietor. When he had
waited a moment, a tall, spare, keen-eyed man faced him, and in
brisk, nervous tones asked: "How can I serve you, sir?"
Freckles handed him the package and answered, "By delivering to
your daughter this hat, which she was after leaving at me place the
other day, when she went away in a hurry. And by saying to her and
the Bird Woman that I'm more thankful than I'll be having words to
express for the brave things they was doing for me. I'm McLean's
Limberlost guard, sir."
"Why don't you take it yourself?" questioned the Man of Affairs.
Freckles' clear gray eyes met those of the Angel's father squarely, and
he asked: "If you were in my place, would you take it to her yourself?"
"No, I would not," said that gentleman quickly.
"Then why ask why I did not?" came Freckles' lamb-like query.
"Bless me!" said the Angel's father. He stared at the package, then
at the lifted chin of the boy, and then at the package again, and
muttered, "Excuse me!"
"It would be favoring me greatly if you would deliver the hat and
the message. Good morning, sir," and he turned away.
"One minute," said the Angel's father. "Suppose I give you permission
to return this hat in person and make your own acknowledgments."
Freckles stood one moment thinking intently, and then he lifted
those eyes of unswerving truth and asked: "Why should you, sir?
You are kind, indade, to mention it, and it's thanking you I am for
your good intintions, but my wanting to go or your being willing to
have me ain't proving that your daughter would be wanting me or
care to bother with me."
The Angel's father looked keenly into the face of this
extraordinary young man, for he found it to his liking.
"There's one other thing I meant to say," said Freckles. "Every day
I see something, and at times a lot of things, that I think the
Bird Woman would be wanting pictures of badly, if she knew.
You might be speaking of it to her, and if she'd want me to,
I can send her word when I find things she wouldn't likely
"If that's the case," said the Angel's father, "and you feel under
obligations for her assistance the other day, you can discharge
them in that way. She is spending all her time in the fields and
woods searching for subjects. If you run across things, perhaps
rarer than she may find, about your work, it would save her the
time she spends searching for subjects, and she could work in
security under your protection. By all means let her know if you
find subjects you think she could use, and we will do anything we
can for you, if you will give her what help you can and see that
she is as safe as possible."
"It's hungry for human beings I am," said Freckles, "and it's like
Heaven to me to have them come. Of course, I'll be telling or
sending her word every time me work can spare me. Anything I can do
it would make me uncommon happy, but"--again truth had to be told,
because it was Freckles who was speaking--"when it comes to
protecting them, I'd risk me life, to be sure, but even that
mightn't do any good in some cases. There are many dangers to be
reckoned with in the swamp, sir, that call for every person to
look sharp. If there wasn't really thieving to guard against, why,
McLean wouldn't need be paying out good money for a guard. I'd love
them to be coming, and I'll do all I can, but you must be told that
there's danger of them running into timber thieves again any day, sir."
"Yes," said the Angel's father, "and I suppose there's danger of
the earth opening up and swallowing the town any day, but I'm
damned if I quit business for fear it will, and the Bird Woman
won't, either. Everyone knows her and her work, and there is no
danger in the world of anyone in any way molesting her, even if he
were stealing a few of McLean's gold-plated trees. She's as safe
in the Limberlost as she is at home, so far as timber thieves
are concerned. All I am ever uneasy about are the snakes, poison-
vines, and insects; and those are risks she must run anywhere.
You need not hesitate a minute about that. I shall be glad to tell
them what you wish. Thank you very much, and good day, sir."
There was no way in which Freckles could know it, but by following
his best instincts and being what he conceived a gentleman should
be, he surprised the Man of Affairs into thinking of him and seeing
his face over his books many times that morning; whereas, if he had
gone to the Angel as he had longed to do, her father never would
have given him a second thought.
On the street he drew a deep breath. How had he acquitted himself?
He only knew that he had lived up to his best impulse, and that is
all anyone can do. He glanced over his wheel to see that it was all
right, and just as he stepped to the curb to mount he heard a voice
that thrilled him through and through: "Freckles! Oh Freckles!"
The Angel separated from a group of laughing, sweet-faced girls and
came hurrying to him. She was in snowy white--a quaint little
frock, with a marvel of soft lace around her throat and wrists.
Through the sheer sleeves of it her beautiful, rounded arms showed
distinctly, and it was cut just to the base of her perfect neck.
On her head was a pure white creation of fancy braid, with folds on
folds of tulle, soft and silken as cobwebs, lining the brim; while
a mass of white roses clustered against the gold of her hair, crept
around the crown, and fell in a riot to her shoulders at the back.
There were gleams of gold with settings of blue on her fingers, and
altogether she was the daintiest, sweetest sight he ever had seen.
Freckles, standing on the curb, forgot himself in his cotton shirt,
corduroys, and his belt to which his wire-cutter and pliers were
hanging, and gazed as a man gazes when first he sees the woman he adores
with all her charms enhanced by appropriate and beautiful clothing.
"Oh Freckles," she cried as she came to him. "I was wondering about
you the other day. Do you know I never saw you in town before.
You watch that old line so closely! Why did you come? Is there
any trouble? Are you just starting to the Limberlost?"
"I came to bring your hat," said Freckles. "You forgot it in the
rush the other day. I have left it with your father, and a message
trying to ixpriss the gratitude of me for how you and the Bird
Woman were for helping me out."
The Angel nodded gravely, then Freckles saw that he had done the
proper thing in going to her father. His heart bounded until it
jarred his body, for she was saying that she scarcely could wait for
the time to come for the next picture of the Little Chicken series.
"I want to hear the remainder of that song, and I hadn't even
begun seeing your room yet," she complained. "As for singing,
if you can sing like that every day, I never can get enough of it.
I wonder if I couldn't bring my banjo and some of the songs I
like best. I'll play and you sing, and we'll put the birds out
Freckles stood on the curb with drooped eyes, for he felt that if
he lifted them the tumult of tender adoration in them would show
and frighten her.
"I was afraid your ixperience the other day would scare you so that
you'd never be coming again," he found himself saying.
The Angel laughed gaily.
"Did I seem scared?" she questioned.
"No," said Freckles, "you did not."
"Oh, I just enjoyed that," she cried. "Those hateful, stealing
old things! I had a big notion to pink one of them, but I thought
maybe someway it would be best for you that I shouldn't. They needed it.
That didn't scare me; and as for the Bird Woman, she's accustomed
to finding snakes, tramps, cross dogs, sheep, cattle, and goodness
knows what! You can't frighten her when she's after a picture.
Did they come back?"
"No," said Freckles. "The gang got there a little after noon and
took out the tree, but I must tell you, and you must tell the Bird
Woman, that there's no doubt but they will be coming back, and they
will have to make it before long now, for it's soon the gang will
be there to work on the swamp."
"Oh, what a shame!" cried the Angel. "They'll clear out roads, cut
down the beautiful trees, and tear up everything. They'll drive
away the birds and spoil the cathedral. When they have done their
worst, then all these mills close here will follow in and take out
the cheap timber. Then the landowners will dig a few ditches, build
some fires, and in two summers more the Limberlost will be in corn
They looked at each other, and groaned despairingly in unison.
"You like it, too," said Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel, "I love it. Your room is a little piece
right out of the heart of fairyland, and the cathedral is God's
work, not yours. You only found it and opened the door after He had
it completed. The birds, flowers, and vines are all so lovely.
The Bird Woman says it is really a fact that the mallows, foxfire,
iris, and lilies are larger and of richer coloring there than in
the remainder of the country. She says it's because of the rich
loam and muck. I hate seeing the swamp torn up, and to you it will
be like losing your best friend; won't it?"
"Something like," said Freckles. "Still, I've the Limberlost in me
heart so that all of it will be real to me while I live, no matter
what they do to it. I'm glad past telling if you will be coming a
few more times, at least until the gang arrives. Past that time I
don't allow mesilf to be thinking."
"Come, have a cool drink before you start back," said the Angel.
"I couldn't possibly," said Freckles. "I left Mrs. Duncan on the
trail, and she's terribly afraid of a lot of things. If she even
sees a big snake, I don't know what she'll do."
"It won't take but a minute, and you can ride fast enough to make
up for it. Please. I want to think of something fine for you, to
make up a little for what you did for me that first day."
Freckles looked in sheer wonderment into the beautiful face of
the Angel. Did she truly mean it? Would she walk down that street
with him, crippled, homely, in mean clothing, with the tools of his
occupation on him, and share with him the treat she was offering?
He could not believe it, even of the Angel. Still, in justice to
the candor of her pure, sweet face, he would not think that she
would make the offer and not mean it. She really did mean just what
she said, but when it came to carrying out her offer and he saw the
stares of her friends, the sneers of her enemies--if such as she
could have enemies--and heard the whispered jeers of the curious,
then she would see her mistake and be sorry. It would be only a
manly thing for him to think this out, and save her from the
results of her own blessed bigness of heart.
"I railly must be off," said Freckles earnestly, "but I'm thanking
you more than you'll ever know for your kindness. I'll just be
drinking bowls of icy things all me way home in the thoughts of it."
Down came the Angel's foot. Her eyes flashed indignantly. "There's
no sense in that," she said. "How do you think you would have felt
when you knew I was warm and thirsty and you went and brought me a
drink and I wouldn't take it because--because goodness knows why!
You can ride faster to make up for the time. I've just thought out
what I want to fix for you."
She stepped to his side and deliberately slipped her hand under his
arm--that right arm that ended in an empty sleeve.
"You are coming," she said firmly. "I won't have it."
Freckles could not have told how he felt, neither could anyone else.
His blood rioted and his head swam, but he kept his wits. He bent
"Please don't, Angel," he said softly. "You don't understand."
How Freckles came to understand was a problem.
"It's this," he persisted. "If your father met me on the street, in
my station and dress, with you on me arm, he'd have every right to
be caning me before the people, and not a finger would I lift to
The Angel's eyes snapped. "If you think my father cares about my
doing anything that is right and kind, and that makes me happy to
do--why, then you completely failed in reading my father, and I'll
ask him and just show you."
She dropped Freckles' arm and turned toward the entrance to
the building. "Why, look there!" she exclaimed.
Her father stood in a big window fronting the street, a bundle of
papers in his hand, interestedly watching the little scene, with
eyes that comprehended quite as thoroughly as if he had heard
every word. The Angel caught his glance and made a despairing little
gesture toward Freckles. The Man of Affairs answered her with a
look of infinite tenderness. He nodded his head and waved the
papers in the direction she had indicated, and the veriest dolt
could have read the words his lips formed: "Take him along!"
A sudden trembling seized Freckles. At sight of the Angel's father
he had stepped back as far from her as he could, leaned the wheel
against him, and snatched off his hat.
The Angel turned on him with triumphing eyes.
She was highly strung and not accustomed to being thwarted.
"Did You see that?" she demanded. "Now are you satisfied?
Will you come, or must I call a policeman to bring you?"
Freckles went. There was nothing else to do. Guiding his wheel, he
walked down the street beside her. On every hand she was kept busy
giving and receiving the cheeriest greetings. She walked into the
parlors exactly as if she owned them. A clerk came hurrying to meet her.
"There's a table vacant beside a window where it is cool. I'll save
it for you," and he started back.
"Please not," said the Angel. "I've taken this man unawares, when
he's in a rush. I'm afraid if we sit down we'll take too much time
and afterward he will blame me."
She walked to the fountain, and a long row of people stared with
all the varying degrees of insolence and curiosity that Freckles
had felt they would. He glanced at the Angel. NOW would she see?
"On my soul!" he muttered under his breath. "They don't aven touch her!"
She laid down her sunshade and gloves. She walked to the end of the
counter and turned the full battery of her eyes on the attendant.
"Please," she said.
The white-aproned individual stepped back and gave delighted assent.
The Angel stepped beside him, and selecting a tall, flaring glass,
of almost paper thinness, she stooped and rolled it in a tray of
"I want to mix a drink for my friend," she said. "He has a long,
hot ride before him, and I don't want him started off with one of
those old palate-teasing sweetnesses that you mix just on purpose
to drive a man back in ten minutes." There was an appreciative
laugh from the line at the counter.
"I want a clear, cool, sparkling drink that has a tang of acid in it.
Where's the cherry phosphate? That, not at all sweet, would be good;
don't you think?"
The attendant did think. He pointed out the different taps, and the
Angel compounded the drink, while Freckles, standing so erect he
almost leaned backward, gazed at her and paid no attention to
anyone else. When she had the glass brimming, she tilted a little
of its contents into a second glass and tasted it.
"That's entirely too sweet for a thirsty man," she said.
She poured out half the mixture, and refilling the glass, tasted
it a second time. She submitted that result to the attendant.
"Isn't that about the thing?" she asked.
He replied enthusiastically. "I'd get my wages raised ten a month
if I could learn that trick."
The Angel carried the brimming, frosty glass to Freckles. He removed
his hat, and lifting the icy liquid even with her eyes and looking
straight into them, he said in the mellowest of all the mellow
tones of his voice: "I'll be drinking it to the Swamp Angel."
As he had said to her that first day, she now cautioned him:
"Be drinking slowly."
When the screen-door swung behind them, one of the men at the
counter asked of the attendant: "Now, what did that mean?"
"Exactly what you saw," replied he, rather curtly. "We're accustomed
to it here. Hardly a day passes, this hot weather, but she's
picking up some poor, god-forsaken mortal and bringing him in.
Then she comes behind the counter herself and fixes up a drink
to suit the occasion. She's all sorts of fancies about what's what
for all kinds of times and conditions, and you bet she can just hit
the spot! Ain't a clerk here can put up a drink to touch her.
She's a sort of knack at it. Every once in a while, when the Boss
sees her, he calls out to her to mix him a drink."
"And does she?" asked the man with an interested grin.
"Well, I guess! But first she goes back and sees how long it is
since he's had a drink. What he drank last. How warm he is. When he
ate last. Then she comes here and mixes a glass of fizz with a
little touch of acid, and a bit of cherry, lemon, grape, pineapple,
or something sour and cooling, and it hits the spot just as no spot
was ever hit before. I honestly believe that the INTEREST she takes
in it is half the trick, for I watch her closely and I can't come
within gunshot of her concoctions. She has a running bill here.
Her father settles once a month. She gives nine-tenths of it away.
Hardly ever touches it herself, but when she does she makes me mix it.
She's just old persimmons. Even the scrub-boy of this establishment
would fight for her. It lasts the year round, for in winter it's some
poor, frozen cuss that she's warming up on hot coffee or chocolate."
"Mighty queer specimen she had this time," volunteered another.
"Irish, hand off, straight as a ramrod, and something worth while
in his face. Notice that hat peel off, and the eyes of him?
There's a case of `fight for her!' Wonder who he is?"
"I think," said a third, "that he's McLean's Limberlost guard, and
I suspect she's gone to the swamp with the Bird Woman for pictures
and knows him that way. I've heard that he is a master hand with
the birds, and that would just suit the Bird Woman to a T."
On the street the Angel walked beside Freckles to the first
crossing and there she stopped. "Now, will you promise to ride fast
enough to make up for the five minutes that took?" she asked.
"I am a little uneasy about Mrs. Duncan."
Freckles turned his wheel into the street. It seemed to him he had
poured that delicious icy liquid into every vein in his body
instead of his stomach. It even went to his brain.
"Did you insist on fixing that drink because you knew how
intoxicating `twould be?" he asked.
There was subtlety in the compliment and it delighted the Angel.
She laughed gleefully.
"Next time, maybe you won't take so much coaxing," she teased.
"I wouldn't this, if I had known your father and been understanding
you better. Do you really think the Bird Woman will be coming again?"
The Angel jeered. "Wild horses couldn't drag her away," she cried.
"She will have hard work to wait the week out. I shouldn't be in
the least surprised to see her start any hour."
Freckles could not endure the suspense; it had to come.
"And you?" he questioned, but he dared not lift his eyes.
"Wild horses me, too," she laughed, "couldn't keep me away either!
I dearly love to come, and the next time I am going to bring my
banjo, and I'll play, and you sing for me some of the songs I like
best; won't you?"
"Yis," said Freckles, because it was all he was capable of saying
"It's beginning to act stormy," she said. "If you hurry you will
just about make it. Now, good-bye."
CHAPTER IX. Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs. Duncan and Freckles Comes to the Rescue
Freckles was halfway to the Limberlost when he dismounted. He could
ride no farther, because he could not see the road. He sat under a
tree, and, leaning against it, sobs shook, twisted, and rent him.
If they would remind him of his position, speak condescendingly, or
notice his hand, he could endure it, but this--it surely would kill him!
His hot, pulsing Irish blood was stirred deeply. What did they mean?
Why did they do it? Were they like that to everyone? Was it pity?
It could not be, for he knew that the Bird Woman and the Angel's
father must know that he was not really McLean's son, and it did
not matter to them in the least. In spite of accident and poverty,
they evidently expected him to do something worth while in the world.
That must be his remedy. He must work on his education. He must
get away. He must find and do the great thing of which the
Angel talked. For the first time, his thoughts turned anxiously
toward the city and the beginning of his studies. McLean and the
Duncans spoke of him as "the boy," but he was a man. He must face
life bravely and act a man's part. The Angel was a mere child.
He must not allow her to torture him past endurance with her frank
comradeship that meant to him high heaven, earth's richness, and
all that lay between, and NOTHING to her.
There was an ominous growl of thunder, and amazed at himself,
Freckles snatched up his wheel and raced toward the swamp. He was
worried to find his boots lying at the cabin door; the children
playing on the woodpile told him that "mither" said they were so
heavy she couldn't walk in them, and she had come back and taken
them off. Thoroughly frightened, he stopped only long enough to
slip them on, and then sped with all his strength for the Limberlost.
To the west, the long, black, hard-beaten trail lay clear; but far
up the east side, straight across the path, he could see what was
certainly a limp, brown figure. Freckles spun with all his might.
Face down, Sarah Duncan lay across the trail. When Freckles turned
her over, his blood chilled at the look of horror settled on her face.
There was a low humming and something spatted against him.
Glancing around, Freckles shivered in terror, for there was a swarm
of wild bees settled on a scrub-thorn only a few yards away.
The air was filled with excited, unsettled bees making ready to
lead farther in search of a suitable location. Then he thought he
understood, and with a prayer of thankfulness in his heart that she
had escaped, even so narrowly, he caught her up and hurried down
the trail until they were well out of danger. He laid her in the
shade, and carrying water from the swamp in the crown of his hat,
he bathed her face and hands; but she lay in unbroken stillness,
without a sign of life.
She had found Freckles' boots so large and heavy that she had gone
back and taken them off, although she was mortally afraid to
approach the swamp without them. The thought of it made her
nervous, and the fact that she never had been there alone added to
her fears. She had not followed the trail many rods when her
trouble began. She was not Freckles, so not a bird of the line was
going to be fooled into thinking she was.
They began jumping from their nests and darting from unexpected
places around her head and feet, with quick whirs, that kept her
starting and dodging. Before Freckles was halfway to the town, poor
Mrs. Duncan was hysterical, and the Limberlost had neither sung nor
performed for her.
But there was trouble brewing. It was quiet and intensely hot, with
that stifling stillness that precedes a summer storm, and feathers
and fur were tense and nervous. The birds were singing only a few
broken snatches, and flying around, seeking places of shelter.
One moment everything seemed devoid of life, the next there was an
unexpected whir, buzz, and sharp cry. Inside, a pandemonium of
growling, spatting, snarling, and grunting broke loose.
The swale bent flat before heavy gusts of wind, and the big black
chicken swept lower and lower above the swamp. Patches of clouds
gathered, shutting out the sun and making it very dark, and the
next moment were swept away. The sun poured with fierce, burning
brightness, and everything was quiet. It was at the first growl of
thunder that Freckles really had noticed the weather, and putting
his own troubles aside resolutely, raced for the swamp.
Sarah Duncan paused on the line. "Weel, I wouldna stay in this
place for a million a month," she said aloud, and the sound of her
voice brought no comfort, for it was so little like she had thought
it that she glanced hastily around to see if it had really been she
that spoke. She tremblingly wiped the perspiration from her face
with the skirt of her sunbonnet.
"Awfu' hot," she panted huskily. "B'lieve there's going to be a
big storm. I do hope Freckles will hurry."
Her chin was quivering as a terrified child's. She lifted her
bonnet to replace it and brushed against a bush beside her.
WHIRR, almost into her face, went a nighthawk stretched along a limb
for its daytime nap. Mrs. Duncan cried out and sprang down the trail,
alighting on a frog that was hopping across. The horrible croak it
gave as she crushed it sickened her. She screamed wildly and jumped
to one side. That carried her into the swale, where the grasses
reached almost to her waist, and her horror of snakes returning,
she made a flying leap for an old log lying beside the line.
She alighted squarely, but it was so damp and rotten that she sank
straight through it to her knees. She caught at the wire as she
went down, and missing, raked her wrist across a barb until she
tore a bleeding gash. Her fingers closed convulsively around the
second strand. She was too frightened to scream now. Her tongue
stiffened. She clung frantically to the sagging wire, and finally
managed to grasp it with the other hand. Then she could reach the top
wire, and so she drew herself up and found solid footing. She picked
up the club that she had dropped in order to extricate herself.
Leaning heavily on it, she managed to return to the trail, but
she was trembling so that she scarcely could walk. Going a few
steps farther, she came to the stump of the first tree that had
been taken out.
She sat bolt upright and very still, trying to collect her thoughts
and reason away her terror. A squirrel above her dropped a nut, and
as it came rattling down, bouncing from branch to branch, every
nerve in her tugged wildly. When the disgusted squirrel barked
loudly, she sprang to the trail.
The wind arose higher, the changes from light to darkness were more
abrupt, while the thunder came closer and louder at every peal.
In swarms the blackbirds arose from the swale and came flocking
to the interior, with a clamoring cry: "T'CHECK, T'CHECK."
Grackles marshaled to the tribal call: "TRALL-A-HEE, TRALL-A-HEE."
Red-winged blackbirds swept low, calling to belated mates:
"FOL-LOW-ME, FOL-LOW-ME." Big, jetty crows gathered close to her,
crying, as if warning her to flee before it was everlastingly
too late. A heron, fishing the near-by pool for Freckles' "find-out"
frog, fell into trouble with a muskrat and uttered a rasping note
that sent Mrs. Duncan a rod down the line without realizing that
she had moved. She was too shaken to run far. She stopped and
looked around her fearfully.
Several bees struck her and were angrily buzzing before she
noticed them. Then the humming swelled on all sides.
A convulsive sob shook her, and she ran into the bushes,
now into the swale, anywhere to avoid the swarming bees, ducking,
dodging, fighting for her very life. Presently the humming
seemed to become a little fainter. She found the trail again,
and ran with all her might from a few of her angry pursuers.
As she ran, straining every muscle, she suddenly became aware that,
crossing the trail before her, was a big, round, black body, with
brown markings on its back, like painted geometrical patterns.
She tried to stop, but the louder buzzing behind warned her she
dared not. Gathering her skirts higher, with hair flying around her
face and her eyes almost bursting from their sockets, she ran straight
toward it. The sound of her feet and the humming of the bees
alarmed the rattler, so it stopped across the trail, lifting its
head above the grasses of the swale and rattling inquiringly--rattled
until the bees were outdone.
Straight toward it went the panic-stricken woman, running wildly
and uncontrollably. She took one leap, clearing its body on the
path, then flew ahead with winged feet. The snake, coiled to
strike, missed Mrs. Duncan and landed among the bees instead.
They settled over and around it, and realizing that it had found
trouble, it sank among the grasses and went threshing toward its
den in the deep willow-fringed low ground. The swale appeared as if
a reaper were cutting a wide swath. The mass of enraged bees darted
angrily around, searching for it, and striking the scrub-thorn,
began a temporary settling there to discover whether it were a
suitable place. Completely exhausted, Mrs. Duncan staggered on a
few steps farther, fell facing the path, where Freckles found her,
and lay quietly.
Freckles worked over her until she drew a long, quivering breath
and opened her eyes.
When she saw him bending above her, she closed them tightly, and
gripping him, struggled to her feet. He helped her, and with his
arm around and half carrying her, they made their way to the clearing.
She clung to him with all her remaining strength, but open her eyes
she would not until her children came clustering around her.
Then, brawny, big Scotswoman though she was, she quietly keeled
over again. The children added their wailing to Freckles' panic.
This time he was so close the cabin that he could carry her into
the house and lay her on the bed. He sent the oldest boy scudding
down the corduroy for the nearest neighbor, and between them they
undressed Mrs. Duncan and discovered that she was not bitten.
They bathed and bound the bleeding wrist and coaxed her back
to consciousness. She lay sobbing and shuddering. The first
intelligent word she said was: "Freckles, look at that jar on the
kitchen table and see if my yeast is no running ower."
Several days passed before she could give Duncan and Freckles any
detailed account of what had happened to her, even then she could
not do it without crying as the least of her babies. Freckles was
almost heartbroken, and nursed her as well as any woman could have
done; while big Duncan, with a heart full for them both, worked
early and late to chink every crack of the cabin and examine every
spot that possibly could harbor a snake. The effects of her morning
on the trail kept her shivering half the time. She could not rest
until she sent for McLean and begged him to save Freckles from
further risk, in that place of horrors. The Boss went to the swamp
with his mind fully determined to do so.
Freckles stood and laughed at him. "Why, Mr. McLean, don't you
let a woman's nervous system set you worrying about me," he said.
"I'm not denying how she felt, because I've been through it meself,
but that's all over and gone. It's the height of me glory to fight it
out with the old swamp, and all that's in it, or will be coming to
it, and then to turn it over to you as I promised you and meself
I'd do, sir. You couldn't break the heart of me entire quicker than
to be taking it from me now, when I'm just on the home-stretch.
It won't be over three or four weeks yet, and when I've gone it
almost a year, why, what's that to me, sir? You mustn't let a
woman get mixed up with business, for I've always heard about how
it's bringing trouble."
McLean smiled. "What about that last tree?" he said.
Freckles blushed and grinned appreciatively.
"Angels and Bird Women don't count in the common run, sir," he
McLean sat in the saddle and laughed.
CHAPTER X. Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him
The Bird Woman and the Angel did not seem to count in the common
run, for they arrived on time for the third of the series and found
McLean on the line talking to Freckles. The Boss was filled with
enthusiasm over a marsh article of the Bird Woman's that he just
had read. He begged to be allowed to accompany her into the swamp
and watch the method by which she secured an illustration in such
The Bird Woman explained to him that it was an easy matter with the
subject she then had in hand; and as Little Chicken was too small
to be frightened by him, and big enough to be growing troublesome,
she was glad for his company. They went to the chicken log
together, leaving to the happy Freckles the care of the Angel, who
had brought her banjo and a roll of songs that she wanted to hear
him sing. The Bird Woman told them that they might practice in
Freckles' room until she finished with Little Chicken, and then she
and McLean would come to the concert.
It was almost three hours before they finished and came down the
west trail for their rest and lunch. McLean walked ahead, keeping
sharp watch on the trail and clearing it of fallen limbs from
overhanging trees. He sent a big piece of bark flying into the
swale, and then stopped short and stared at the trail.
The Bird Woman bent forward. Together they studied that imprint of
the Angel's foot. At last their eyes met, the Bird Woman's filled
with astonishment, and McLean's humid with pity. Neither said a
word, but they knew. McLean entered the swale and hunted up the bark.
He replaced it, and the Bird Woman carefully stepped over. As they
reached the bushes at the entrance, the voice of the Angel stopped
them, for it was commanding and filled with much impatience.
"Freckles James Ross McLean!" she was saying. "You fill me with
dark-blue despair! You're singing as if your voice were glass and
might break at any minute. Why don't you sing as you did a week ago?
Answer me that, please."
Freckles smiled confusedly at the Angel, who sat on one of his
fancy seats, playing his accompaniment on her banjo.
"You are a fraud," she said. "Here you went last week and led me to
think that there was the making of a great singer in you, and now
you are singing--do you know how badly you are singing?"
"Yis," said Freckles meekly. "I'm thinking I'm too happy to be
singing well today. The music don't come right only when I'm
lonesome and sad. The world's for being all sunshine at prisint,
for among you and Mr. McLean and the Bird Woman I'm after being
THAT happy that I can't keep me thoughts on me notes. It's more
than sorry I am to be disappointing you. Play it over, and I'll be
beginning again, and this time I'll hold hard."
"Well," said the Angel disgustedly, "it seems to me that if I had
all the things to be proud of that you have, I'd lift up my head
"And what is it I've to be proud of, ma'am?" politely inquired Freckles.
"Why, a whole worldful of things," cried the Angel explosively.
"For one thing, you can be good and proud over the way you've kept
the timber thieves out of this lease, and the trust your father has
in you. You can be proud that you've never even once disappointed
him or failed in what he believed you could do. You can be proud
over the way everyone speaks of you with trust and honor, and about
how brave of heart and strong of body you are I heard a big man say
a few days ago that the Limberlost was full of disagreeable
things--positive dangers, unhealthful as it could be, and that
since the memory of the first settlers it has been a rendezvous for
runaways, thieves, and murderers. This swamp is named for a man
that was lost here and wandered around `til he starved. That man I
was talking with said he wouldn't take your job for a thousand
dollars a month--in fact, he said he wouldn't have it for any
money, and you've never missed a day or lost a tree. Proud! Why, I
should think you would just parade around about proper over that!
"And you can always be proud that you are born an Irishman. My
father is Irish, and if you want to see him get up and strut give
him a teeny opening to enlarge on his race. He says that if the
Irish had decent territory they'd lead the world. He says they've
always been handicapped by lack of space and of fertile soil.
He says if Ireland had been as big and fertile as Indiana, why,
England wouldn't ever have had the upper hand. She'd only be an
appendage. Fancy England an appendage! He says Ireland has the
finest orators and the keenest statesmen in Europe today, and when
England wants to fight, with whom does she fill her trenches?
Irishmen, of course! Ireland has the greenest grass and trees, the
finest stones and lakes, and they've jaunting-cars. I don't know
just exactly what they are, but Ireland has all there are, anyway.
They've a lot of great actors, and a few singers, and there never
was a sweeter poet than one of theirs. You should hear my father
recite `Dear Harp of My Country.' He does it this way."
The Angel arose, made an elaborate old-time bow, and holding up the
banjo, recited in clipping feet and meter, with rhythmic swing and
a touch of brogue that was simply irresistible:
"Dear harp of my country" [The Angel ardently clasped the banjo],
"In darkness I found thee" [She held it to the light],
"The cold chain of silence had hung o'er thee long" [She muted the
strings with her rosy palm];
"Then proudly, my own Irish harp, I unbound thee" [She threw up her
head and swept a ringing harmony];
"And gave all thy chords to light, freedom, and song" [She crashed
into the notes of the accompaniment she had been playing for Freckles].
"That's what you want to be thinking of!" she cried. "Not darkness,
and lonesomeness, and sadness, but `light, freedom, and song.'
I can't begin to think offhand of all the big, splendid things an
Irishman has to be proud of; but whatever they are, they are all
yours, and you are a part of them. I just despise that `saddest-
when-I-sing' business. You can sing! Now you go over there
and do it! Ireland has had her statesmen, warriors, actors, and
poets; now you be her voice! You stand right out there before the
cathedral door, and I'm going to come down the aisle playing that
accompaniment, and when I stop in front of you--you sing!"
The Angel's face wore an unusual flush. Her eyes were flashing and
she was palpitating with earnestness.
She parted the bushes and disappeared. Freckles, straight and
tense, stood waiting. Presently, before he saw she was there, she
was coming down the aisle toward him, playing compellingly, and
rifts of light were touching her with golden glory. Freckles stood
as if transfixed.
The cathedral was majestically beautiful, from arched dome of
frescoed gold, green, and blue in never-ending shades and
harmonies, to the mosaic aisle she trod, richly inlaid in choicest
colors, and gigantic pillars that were God's handiwork fashioned
and perfected through ages of sunshine and rain. But the fair young
face and divinely molded form of the Angel were His most perfect
work of all. Never had she appeared so surpassingly beautiful.
She was smiling encouragingly now, and as she came toward him, she
struck the chords full and strong.
The heart of poor Freckles almost burst with dull pain and his
great love for her. In his desire to fulfill her expectations he
forgot everything else, and when she reached his initial chord he
was ready. He literally burst forth:
"Three little leaves of Irish green,
United on one stem,
Love, truth, and valor do they mean,
They form a magic gem."
The Angel's eyes widened curiously and her lips parted. A deep
color swept into her cheeks. She had intended to arouse him.
She had more than succeeded. She was too young to know that in the
effort to rouse a man, women frequently kindle fires that they
neither can quench nor control. Freckles was looking over her head
now and singing that song, as it never had been sung before, for
her alone; and instead of her helping him, as she had intended, he
was carrying her with him on the waves of his voice, away, away
into another world. When he struck into the chorus, wide-eyed and
panting, she was swaying toward him and playing with all her might.
"Oh, do you love? Oh, say you love
You love the shamrock green!"
At the last note, Freckles' voice ceased and he looked at the Angel.
He had given his best and his all. He fell on his knees and
folded his arms across his breast. The Angel, as if magnetized,
walked straight down the aisle to him, and running her fingers into
the crisp masses of his red hair, tilted his head back and laid her
lips on his forehead.
Then she stepped back and faced him. "Good boy!" she said, in a
voice that wavered from the throbbing of her shaken heart.
"Dear boy! I knew you could do it! I knew it was in you!
Freckles, when you go into the world, if you can face a big
audience and sing like that, just once, you will be immortal,
and anything you want will be yours."
"Anything!" gasped Freckles.
"Anything," said the Angel.
Freckles arose, muttered something, and catching up his old bucket,
plunged into the swamp blindly on a pretence of bringing water.
The Angel walked slowly across the study, sat on the rustic bench,
and, through narrowed lids, intently studied the tip of her shoe.
On the trail the Bird Woman wheeled to McLean with a dumbfounded look.
"God!" muttered he.
At last the Bird Woman spoke.
"Do you think the Angel knew she did that?" she asked softly.
"No," said McLean; "I do not. But the poor boy knew it. Heaven help him!"
The Bird Woman stared across the gently waving swale. "I don't see
how I am going to blame her," she said at last. "It's so exactly
what I would have done myself."
"Say the remainder," demanded McLean hoarsely. "Do him justice."
"He was born a gentleman," conceded the Bird Woman. "He took
no advantage. He never even offered to touch her. Whatever that
kiss meant to him, he recognized that it was the loving impulse of a
child under stress of strong emotion. He was fine and manly as any
man ever could have been."
McLean lifted his hat. "Thank you," he said simply, and parted the
bushes for her to enter Freckles' room.
It was her first visit. Before she left she sent for her cameras
and made studies of each side of it and of the cathedral. She was
entranced with the delicate beauty of the place, while her eyes
kept following Freckles as if she could not believe that it could
be his conception and work.
That was a happy day. The Bird Woman had brought a lunch, and they
spread it, with Freckles' dinner, on the study floor and sat,
resting and enjoying themselves. But the Angel put her banjo into
its case, silently gathered her music, and no one mentioned the concert.
The Bird Woman left McLean and the Angel to clear away the lunch,
and with Freckles examined the walls of his room and told him all
she knew about his shrubs and flowers. She analyzed a
cardinal-flower and showed him what he had wanted to know all
summer--why the bees buzzed ineffectually around it while the
humming-birds found in it an ever-ready feast. Some of his
specimens were so rare that she was unfamiliar with them, and
with the flower book between them they knelt, studying the
different varieties. She wandered the length of the cathedral
aisle with him, and it was at her suggestion that he lighted his
altar with a row of flaming foxfire.
As Freckles came to the cabin from his long day at the swamp he saw
Mrs. Chicken sweeping to the south and wondered where she was going.
He stepped into the bright, cosy little kitchen, and as he reached
down the wash-basin he asked Mrs. Duncan a question.
"Mother Duncan, do kisses wash off?"
So warm a wave swept her heart that a half-flush mantled her face.
She straightened her shoulders and glanced at her hands tenderly.
"Lord, na! Freckles," she cried. "At least, the anes ye get from
people ye love dinna. They dinna stay on the outside. They strike
in until they find the center of your heart and make their
stopping-place there, and naething can take them from ye--I doubt
if even death----Na, lad, ye can be reet sure kisses dinna wash off!"
Freckles set the basin down and muttered as he plunged his hot,
tired face into the water, "I needn't be afraid to be washing,
then, for that one struck in."
CHAPTER XI. Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the Bird Woman
"I wish," said Freckles at breakfast one morning, "that I had some
way to be sending a message to the Bird Woman. I've something at
the swamp that I'm believing never happened before, and surely
she'll be wanting it."
"What now, Freckles?" asked Mrs. Duncan.
"Why, the oddest thing you ever heard of," said Freckles; "the
whole insect tribe gone on a spree. I'm supposing it's my doings,
but it all happened by accident, like. You see, on the swale side
of the line, right against me trail, there's one of these scrub
wild crabtrees. Where the grass grows thick around it, is the
finest place you ever conceived of for snakes. Having women about
has set me trying to clean out those fellows a bit, and yesterday
I noticed that tree in passing. It struck me that it would be a
good idea to be taking it out. First I thought I'd take me hatchet
and cut it down, for it ain't thicker than me upper arm. Then I
remembered how it was blooming in the spring and filling all the
air with sweetness. The coloring of the blossoms is beautiful, and
I hated to be killing it. I just cut the grass short all around it.
Then I started at the ground, trimmed up the trunk near the height
of me shoulder, and left the top spreading. That made it look so
truly ornamental that, idle like, I chips off the rough places neat,
and this morning, on me soul, it's a sight! You see, cutting off
the limbs and trimming up the trunk sets the sap running. In this
hot sun it ferments in a few hours. There isn't much room for more
things to crowd on that tree than there are, and to get drunker
isn't noways possible."
"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan. "What kind of things
do ye mean, Freckles?"
"Why, just an army of black ants. Some of them are sucking away
like old topers. Some of them are setting up on their tails and
hind legs, fiddling with their fore-feet and wiping their eyes.
Some are rolling around on the ground, contented. There are
quantities of big blue-bottle flies over the bark and hanging on
the grasses around, too drunk to steer a course flying; so they
just buzz away like flying, and all the time sitting still.
The snake-feeders are too full to feed anything--even more sap to
themselves. There's a lot of hard-backed bugs--beetles, I
guess--colored like the brown, blue, and black of a peacock's tail.
They hang on until the legs of them are so wake they can't stick a
minute longer, and then they break away and fall to the ground.
They just lay there on their backs, fably clawing air. When it
wears off a bit, up they get, and go crawling back for more, and they
so full they bump into each other and roll over. Sometimes they
can't climb the tree until they wait to sober up a little.
There's a lot of big black-and-gold bumblebees, done for entire,
stumbling over the bark and rolling on the ground. They just lay
there on their backs, rocking from side to side, singing to
themselves like fat, happy babies. The wild bees keep up a steady
buzzing with the beating of their wings.
"The butterflies are the worst old topers of them all. They're just
a circus! You never saw the like of the beauties! They come every
color you could be naming, and every shape you could be thinking up.
They drink and drink until, if I'm driving them away, they stagger
as they fly and turn somersaults in the air. If I lave them alone,
they cling to the grasses, shivering happy like; and I'm blest,
Mother Duncan, if the best of them could be unlocking the front
door with a lead pencil, even."
"I never heard of anything sae surprising," said Mrs. Duncan.
"It's a rare sight to watch them, and no one ever made a picture of
a thing like that before, I'm for thinking," said Freckles earnestly.
"Na," said Mrs. Duncan. "Ye can be pretty sure there didna. The
Bird Woman must have word in some way, if ye walk the line and I
walk to town and tell her. If ye think ye can wait until after
supper, I am most sure ye can gang yoursel', for Duncan is coming
home and he'd be glad to watch for ye. If he does na come, and na
ane passes that I can send word with today, I really will gang
early in the morning and tell her mysel'."
Freckles took his lunch and went to the swamp. He walked and
watched eagerly. He could find no trace of anything, yet he felt a
tense nervousness, as if trouble might be brooding. He examined
every section of the wire, and kept watchful eyes on the grasses of
the swale, in an effort to discover if anyone had passed through
them; but he could discover no trace of anything to justify his fears.
He tilted his hat brim to shade his face and looked for his chickens.
They were hanging almost beyond sight in the sky.
"Gee!" he said. "If I only had your sharp eyes and convenient
location now, I wouldn't need be troubling so."
He reached his room and cautiously scanned the entrance before he
stepped in. Then he pushed the bushes apart with his right arm and
entered, his left hand on the butt of his favorite revolver.
Instantly he knew that someone had been there. He stepped to the
center of the room, closely scanning each wall and the floor.
He could find no trace of a clue to confirm his belief, yet so
intimate was he with the spirit of the place that he knew.
How he knew he could not have told, yet he did know that someone
had entered his room, sat on his benches, and walked over his floor.
He was surest around the case. Nothing was disturbed, yet it
seemed to Freckles that he could see where prying fingers had tried
the lock. He stepped behind the case, carefully examining the
ground all around it, and close beside the tree to which it was
nailed he found a deep, fresh footprint in the spongy soil--a long,
narrow print, that was never made by the foot of Wessner. His heart
tugged in his breast as he mentally measured the print, but he did
not linger, for now the feeling arose that he was being watched.
It seemed to him that he could feel the eyes of some intruder at
his back. He knew he was examining things too closely: if anyone
were watching, he did not want him to know that he felt it.
He took the most open way, and carried water for his flowers and
moss as usual; but he put himself into no position in which he was
fully exposed, and his hand was close his revolver constantly.
Growing restive at last under the strain, he plunged boldly into
the swamp and searched minutely all around his room, but he could
not discover the least thing to give him further cause for alarm.
He unlocked his case, took out his wheel, and for the remainder of
the day he rode and watched as he never had before. Several times
he locked the wheel and crossed the swamp on foot, zigzagging to
cover all the space possible. Every rod he traveled he used the
caution that sprang from knowledge of danger and the direction from
which it probably would come. Several times he thought of sending
for McLean, but for his life he could not make up his mind to do it
with nothing more tangible than one footprint to justify him.
He waited until he was sure Duncan would be at home, if he were
coming for the night, before he went to supper. The first thing he
saw as he crossed the swale was the big bays in the yard.
There had been no one passing that day, and Duncan readily agreed
to watch until Freckles rode to town. He told Duncan of the
footprint, and urged him to guard closely. Duncan said he might
rest easy, and filling his pipe and taking a good revolver, the big
man went to the Limberlost.
Freckles made himself clean and neat, and raced to town, but it was
night and the stars were shining before he reached the home of the
Bird Woman. From afar he could see that the house was ablaze
with lights. The lawn and veranda were strung with fancy lanterns and
alive with people. He thought his errand important, so to turn back
never occurred to Freckles. This was all the time or opportunity
he would have. He must see the Bird Woman, and see her at once.
He leaned his wheel inside the fence and walked up the broad
front entrance. As he neared the steps, he saw that the place was
swarming with young people, and the Angel, with an excuse to a
group that surrounded her, came hurrying to him.
"Oh Freckles!" she cried delightedly. "So you could come? We were
so afraid you could not! I'm as glad as I can be!"
"I don't understand," said Freckles. "Were you expecting me?"
"Why of course!" exclaimed the Angel. "Haven't you come to my party?
Didn't you get my invitation? I sent you one."
"By mail?" asked Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel. "I had to help with the preparations, and I
couldn't find time to drive out; but I wrote you a letter, and told
you that the Bird Woman was giving a party for me, and we wanted
you to come, surely. I told them at the office to put it with Mr.
"Then that's likely where it is at present," said Freckles.
"Duncan comes to town only once a week, and at times not that.
He's home tonight for the first in a week. He's watching an
hour for me until I come to the Bird Woman with a bit of work
I thought she'd be caring to hear about bad. Is she where I
can see her?"
The Angel's face clouded.
"What a disappointment!" she cried. "I did so want all my friends
to know you. Can't you stay anyway?"
Freckles glanced from his wading-boots to the patent leathers of
some of the Angel's friends, and smiled whimsically, but there was
no danger of his ever misjudging her again.
"You know I cannot, Angel," he said.
"I am afraid I do," she said ruefully. "It's too bad! But there is
a thing I want for you more than to come to my party, and that is
to hang on and win with your work. I think of you every day, and I
just pray that those thieves are not getting ahead of you.
Oh, Freckles, do watch closely!"
She was so lovely a picture as she stood before him, ardent in his
cause, that Freckles could not take his eyes from her to notice
what her friends were thinking. If she did not mind, why should he?
Anyway, if they really were the Angel's friends, probably they were
better accustomed to her ways than he.
Her face and bared neck and arms were like the wild rose bloom.
Her soft frock of white tulle lifted and stirred around her with the
gentle evening air. The beautiful golden hair, that crept around
her temples and ears as if it loved to cling there, was caught back
and bound with broad blue satin ribbon. There was a sash of blue at
her waist, and knots of it catching up her draperies.
"Must I go after the Bird Woman?" she pleaded.
"Indade, you must," answered Freckles firmly.
The Angel went away, but returned to say that the Bird Woman was
telling a story to those inside and she could not come for a short time.
"You won't come in?" she pleaded.
"I must not," said Freckles. "I am not dressed to be among your
friends, and I might be forgetting meself and stay too long."
"Then," said the Angel, "we mustn't go through the house, because
it would disturb the story; but I want you to come the outside way
to the conservatory and have some of my birthday lunch and some
cake to take to Mrs. Duncan and the babies. Won't that be fun?"
Freckles thought that it would be more than fun, and followed delightedly.
The Angel gave him a big glass, brimming with some icy, sparkling
liquid that struck his palate as it never had been touched before,
because a combination of frosty fruit juices had not been a
frequent beverage with him. The night was warm, and the Angel most
beautiful and kind. A triple delirium of spirit, mind, and body
seized upon him and developed a boldness all unnatural. He slightly
parted the heavy curtains that separated the conservatory from the
company and looked between. He almost stopped breathing. He had
read of things like that, but he never had seen them.
The open space seemed to stretch through half a dozen rooms, all
ablaze with lights, perfumed with flowers, and filled with
elegantly dressed people. There were glimpses of polished floors,
sparkling glass, and fine furnishings. From somewhere, the voice of
his beloved Bird Woman arose and fell.
The Angel crowded beside him and was watching also.
"Doesn't it look pretty?" she whispered.
"Do you suppose Heaven is any finer than that?" asked Freckles.
The Angel began to laugh.
"Do you want to be laughing harder than that?" queried Freckles.
"A laugh is always good," said the Angel. "A little more
avoirdupois won't hurt me. Go ahead."
"Well then," said Freckles, "it's only that I feel all over as if
I belonged there. I could wear fine clothes, and move over those
floors, and hold me own against the best of them."
"But where does my laugh come in?" demanded the Angel, as if she
had been defrauded.
"And you ask me where the laugh comes in, looking me in the face
after that," marveled Freckles.
"I wouldn't be so foolish as to laugh at such a manifest truth as
that," said the Angel. "Anyone who knows you even half as well as
I do, knows that you are never guilty of a discourtesy, and you
move with twice the grace of any man here. Why shouldn't you feel
as if you belonged where people are graceful and courteous?"
"On me soul!" said Freckles, "you are kind to be thinking it.
You are doubly kind to be saying it."
The curtains parted and a woman came toward them. Her silks and
laces trailed across the polished floors. The lights gleamed on her
neck and arms, and flashed from rare jewels. She was smiling
brightly; and until she spoke, Freckles had not realized fully that
it was his loved Bird Woman.
Noticing his bewilderment, she cried: "Why, Freckles! Don't you
know me in my war clothes?"
"I do in the uniform in which you fight the Limberlost," said Freckles.
The Bird Woman laughed. Then he told her why he had come, but she
scarcely could believe him. She could not say exactly when she
would go, but she would make it as soon as possible, for she was
most anxious for the study.
While they talked, the Angel was busy packing a box of sandwiches,
cake, fruit, and flowers. She gave him a last frosty glass, thanked
him repeatedly for bringing news of new material; then Freckles
went into the night. He rode toward the Limberlost with his eyes on
the stars. Presently he removed his hat, hung it to his belt, and
ruffled his hair to the sweep of the night wind. He filled the air
all the way with snatches of oratorios, gospel hymns, and dialect
and coon songs, in a startlingly varied programme. The one thing
Freckles knew that he could do was to sing. The Duncans heard him
coming a mile up the corduroy and could not believe their senses.
Freckles unfastened the box from his belt, and gave Mrs. Duncan and
the children all the eatables it contained, except one big piece of
cake that he carried to the sweet-loving Duncan. He put the flowers
back in the box and set it among his books. He did not say
anything, but they understood it was not to be touched.
"Thae's Freckles' flow'rs," said a tiny Scotsman, "but," he added
cheerfully, "it's oor sweeties!"
Freckles' face slowly flushed as he took Duncan's cake and started
toward the swamp. While Duncan ate, Freckles told him something
about the evening, as well as he could find words to express
himself, and the big man was so amazed he kept forgetting the treat
in his hands.
Then Freckles mounted his wheel and began a spin that terminated
only when the biggest Plymouth Rock in Duncan's coop saluted a new
day, and long lines of light reddened the east. As he rode he sang,
while he sang he worshiped, but the god he tried to glorify was a
dim and faraway mystery. The Angel was warm flesh and blood.
Every time he passed the little bark-covered imprint on the trail
he dismounted, removed his hat, solemnly knelt and laid his lips on
the impression. Because he kept no account himself, only the
laughing-faced old man of the moon knew how often it happened; and
as from the beginning, to the follies of earth that gentleman has
ever been kind.
With the near approach of dawn Freckles tuned his last note.
Wearied almost to falling, he turned from the trail into the path
leading to the cabin for a few hours' rest.
CHAPTER XII. Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures Jack
As Freckles left the trail, from the swale close the south
entrance, four large muscular men arose and swiftly and carefully
entered the swamp by the wagon road. Two of them carried a big saw,
the third, coils of rope and wire, and all of them were heavily armed.
They left one man on guard at the entrance. The other three made
their way through the darkness as best they could, and were soon
at Freckles' room. He had left the swamp on his wheel from the
west trail. They counted on his returning on the wheel and circling
the east line before he came there.
A little below the west entrance to Freckles' room, Black Jack
stepped into the swale, and binding a wire tightly around a scrub
oak, carried it below the waving grasses, stretched it taut across
the trail, and fastened it to a tree in the swamp. Then he
obliterated all signs of his work, and arranged the grass over
the wire until it was so completely covered that only minute
examination would reveal it. They entered Freckles' room with
coarse oaths and jests. In a few moments, his specimen case with
its precious contents was rolled into the swamp, while the saw was
eating into one of the finest trees of the Limberlost.
The first report from the man on watch was that Duncan had driven
to the South camp; the second, that Freckles was coming. The man
watching was sent to see on which side the boy turned into the
path; as they had expected, he took the east. He was a little tired
and his head was rather stupid, for he had not been able to sleep
as he had hoped, but he was very happy. Although he watched until
his eyes ached, he could see no sign of anyone having entered the swamp.
He called a cheery greeting to all his chickens. At Sleepy Snake
Creek he almost fell from his wheel with surprise: the saw-bird
was surrounded by four lanky youngsters clamoring for breakfast.
The father was strutting with all the importance of a drum major.
"No use to expect the Bird Woman today," said Freckles; "but now
wouldn't she be jumping for a chance at that?"
As soon as Freckles was far down the east line, the watch was
posted below the room on the west to report his coming. It was only
a few moments before the signal came. Then the saw stopped, and the
rope was brought out and uncoiled close to a sapling. Wessner and
Black Jack crowded to the very edge of the swamp a little above the
wire, and crouched, waiting.
They heard Freckles before they saw him. He came gliding down the
line swiftly, and as he rode he was singing softly:
"Oh, do you love,
Oh, say you love----"
He got no farther. The sharply driven wheel struck the tense wire
and bounded back. Freckles shot over the handlebar and coasted down
the trail on his chest. As he struck, Black Jack and Wessner were
upon him. Wessner caught off an old felt hat and clapped it over
Freckles' mouth, while Black Jack twisted the boy's arms behind him
and they rushed him into his room. Almost before he realized that
anything had happened, he was trussed to a tree and securely gagged.
Then three of the men resumed work on the tree. The other followed
the path Freckles had worn to Little Chicken's tree, and presently
he reported that the wires were down and two teams with the loading
apparatus coming to take out the timber. All the time the saw was
slowly eating, eating into the big tree.
Wessner went to the trail and removed the wire. He picked up
Freckles' wheel, that did not seem to be injured, and leaned it
against the bushes so that if anyone did pass on the trail he would
not see it doubled in the swamp-grass.
Then he came and stood in front of Freckles and laughed in
devilish hate. To his own amazement, Freckles found himself
looking fear in the face, and marveled that he was not afraid.
Four to one! The tree halfway eaten through, the wagons coming
up the inside road--he, bound and gagged! The men with Black
Jack and Wessner had belonged to McLean's gang when last he
had heard of them, but who those coming with the wagons might
be he could not guess.
If they secured that tree, McLean lost its value, lost his wager,
and lost his faith in him. The words of the Angel hammered in
his ears. "Oh, Freckles, do watch closely!"
The saw worked steadily.
When the tree was down and loaded, what would they do? Pull out,
and leave him there to report them? It was not to be hoped for.
The place always had been lawless. It could mean but one thing.
A mist swept before his eyes, while his head swam. Was it only last
night that he had worshiped the Angel in a delirium of happiness?
And now, what? Wessner, released from a turn at the saw, walked to
the flower bed, and tearing up a handful of rare ferns by the
roots, started toward Freckles. His intention was obvious.
Black Jack stopped him, with an oath.
"You see here, Dutchy," he bawled, "mebby you think you'll wash his
face with that, but you won't. A contract's a contract. We agreed
to take out these trees and leave him for you to dispose of whatever
way you please, provided you shut him up eternally on this deal.
But I'll not see a tied man tormented by a fellow that he can
lick up the ground with, loose, and that's flat. It raises my gorge
to think what he'll get when we're gone, but you needn't think
you're free to begin before. Don't you lay a hand on him while
I'm here! What do you say, boys?"
"I say yes," growled one of McLean's latest deserters. "What's more,
we're a pack of fools to risk the dirty work of silencing him.
You had him face down and you on his back; why the hell didn't
you cover his head and roll him into the bushes until we were gone?
When I went into this, I didn't understand that he was to see all
of us and that there was murder on the ticket. I'm not up to it.
I don't mind lifting trees we came for, but I'm cursed if I want
blood on my hands."
"Well, you ain't going to get it," bellowed Jack. "You fellows
only contracted to help me get out my marked trees. He belong to
Wessner, and it ain't in our deal what happens to him."
"Yes, and if Wessner finishes him safely, we are practically in for
murder as well as stealing the trees; and if he don't, all hell's
to pay. I think you've made a damnable bungle of this thing; that's
what I think!"
"Then keep your thoughts to yourself," cried Jack. "We're doing
this, and it's all planned safe and sure. As for killing that
buck--come to think of it, killing is what he needs. He's away too
good for this world of woe, anyhow. I tell you, it's all safe
enough. His dropping out won't be the only secret the old
Limberlost has never told. It's too dead easy to make it look like
he helped take the timber and then cut. Why, he's played right into
our hands. He was here at the swamp all last night, and back again
in an hour or so. When we get our plan worked out, even old fool
Duncan won't lift a finger to look for his carcass. We couldn't
have him going in better shape."
"You just bet," said Wessner. "I owe him all he'll get, and be
damned to you, but I'll pay!" he snarled at Freckles.
So it was killing, then. They were not only after this one tree,
but many, and with his body it was their plan to kill his honor.
To brand him a thief, with them, before the Angel, the Bird Woman,
the dear Boss, and the Duncans--Freckles, in sick despair, sagged
against the ropes.
Then he gathered his forces and thought swiftly. There was no hope
of McLean's coming. They had chosen a day when they knew he had a
big contract at the South camp. The Boss could not come before
tomorrow by any possibility, and there would be no tomorrow for
the boy. Duncan was on his way to the South camp, and the Bird Woman
had said she would come as soon as she could. After the fatigue of
the party, it was useless to expect her and the Angel today, and
God save them from coming! The Angel's father had said they would
be as safe in the Limberlost as at home. What would he think of this?
The sweat broke on Freckles' forehead. He tugged at the ropes
whenever he felt that he dared, but they were passed around the
tree and his body several times, and knotted on his chest.
He was helpless. There was no hope, no help. And after they had
conspired to make him appear a runaway thief to his loved ones,
what was it that Wessner would do to him?
Whatever it was, Freckles lifted his head and resolved that he
would bear in mind what he had once heard the Bird Woman say.
He would go out bonnily. Never would he let them see, if he
grew afraid. After all, what did it matter what they did to his
body if by some scheme of the devil they could encompass his disgrace?
Then hope suddenly rose high in Freckles' breast. They could not
do that! The Angel would not believe. Neither would McLean. He would
keep up his courage. Kill him they could; dishonor him they could not.
Yet, summon all the fortitude he might, that saw eating into the
tree rasped his nerves worse and worse. With whirling brain he
gazed into the Limberlost, searching for something, he knew not
what, and in blank horror found his eyes focusing on the Angel.
She was quite a distance away, but he could see her white lips and
Last week he had taken her and the Bird Woman across the swamp over
the path he followed in going from his room to the chicken tree.
He had told them the night before, that the butterfly tree was on the
line close to this path. In figuring on their not coming that day,
he failed to reckon with the enthusiasm of the Bird Woman. They must
be there for the study, and the Angel had risked crossing the swamp
in search of him. Or was there something in his room they needed?
The blood surged in his ears as the roar of the Limberlost in the
wrath of a storm.
He looked again, and it had been a dream. She was not there.
Had she been? For his life, Freckles could not tell whether he
really had seen the Angel, or whether his strained senses had
played him the most cruel trick of all. Or was it not the kindest?
Now he could go with the vision of her lovely face fresh with him.
"Thank You for that, oh God!" whispered Freckles." `Twas more than
kind of You and I don't s'pose I ought to be wanting anything else;
but if You can, oh, I wish I could know before this ends, if `twas
me mother"--Freckles could not even whisper the words, for he
hesitated a second and ended--"IF `TWAS ME MOTHER DID IT!"
"Freckles! Freckles! Oh, Freckles!" the voice of the Angel
came calling. Freckles swayed forward and wrenched at the rope
until it cut deeply into his body.
"Hell!" cried Black Jack. "Who is that? Do you know?"
Jack whipped out a revolver and snatched the gag from Freckles' mouth.
"Say quick, or it's up with you right now, and whoever that is with you!"
"It's the girl the Bird Woman takes with her," whispered Freckles
through dry, swollen lips.
"They ain't due here for five days yet," said Wessner. "We got on
to that last week."
"Yes," said Freckles, "but I found a tree covered with butterflies
and things along the east line yesterday that I thought the Bird
Woman would want extra, and I went to town to tell her last night.
She said she'd come soon, but she didn't say when. They must be
here. I take care of the girl while the Bird Woman works. Untie me
quick until she is gone. I'll try to send her back, and then you
can go on with your dirty work."
"He ain't lying," volunteered Wessner. "I saw that tree covered
with butterflies and him watching around it when we were spying on
"No, he leaves lying to your sort," snapped Black Jack, as he undid
the rope and pitched it across the room. "Remember that you're
covered every move you make, my buck," he cautioned.
"Freckles! Freckles!" came the Angel's impatient voice, closer and closer.
"I must be answering," said Freckles, and Jack nodded. "Right here!"
he called, and to the men: "You go on with your work, and
remember one thing yourselves. The work of the Bird Woman is known
all over the world. This girl's father is a rich man, and she is
all he has. If you offer hurt of any kind to either of them, this
world has no place far enough away or dark enough for you to be
hiding in. Hell will be easy to what any man will get if he touches
either of them!"
"Freckles, where are you?" demanded the Angel.
Soulsick with fear for her, Freckles went toward her and parted the
bushes that she might enter. She came through without apparently
giving him a glance, and the first words she said were: "Why have
the gang come so soon? I didn't know you expected them for three
weeks yet. Or is this some especial tree that Mr. McLean needs to
fill an order right now?"
Freckles hesitated. Would a man dare lie to save himself? No.
But to save the Angel--surely that was different. He opened his lips,
but the Angel was capable of saving herself. She walked among them,
exactly as if she had been reared in a lumber camp, and never
waited for an answer.
"Why, your specimen case!" she cried. "Look! Haven't you noticed
that it's tipped over? Set it straight, quickly!"
A couple of the men stepped out and carefully righted the case.
"There! That's better," she said. "Freckles, I'm surprised at your
being so careless. It would be a shame to break those lovely
butterflies for one old tree! Is that a valuable tree? Why didn't
you tell us last night you were going to take out a tree this morning?
Oh, say, did you put your case there to protect that tree from
that stealing old Black Jack and his gang? I bet you did!
Well, if that wasn't bright! What kind of a tree is it?"
"It's a white oak," said Freckles.
"Like those they make dining-tables and sideboards from?"
"My! How interesting!" she cried. "I don't know a thing about
timber, but my father wants me to learn just everything I can. I am
going to ask him to let me come here and watch you until I know
enough to boss a gang myself. Do you like to cut trees, gentlemen?"
she asked with angelic sweetness of the men.
Some of them appeared foolish and some grim, but one managed to say
Then the Angel's eyes turned full on Black Jack, and she gave the
most natural little start of astonishment.
"Oh! I almost thought that you were a ghost!" she cried. "But I see
now that you are really and truly. Were you ever in Colorado?"
"No," said Jack.
"I see you aren't the same man," said the Angel. "You know, we
were in Colorado last year, and there was a cowboy who was the
handsomest man anywhere around. He'd come riding into town every
night, and all we girls just adored him! Oh, but he was a beauty!
I thought at first glance you were really he, but I see now he
wasn't nearly so tall nor so broad as you, and only half as handsome."
The men began to laugh while Jack flushed crimson. The Angel joined
in the laugh.
"Well, I'll leave it to you! Isn't he handsome?" she challenged.
"As for that cowboy's face, it couldn't be compared with yours.
The only trouble with you is that your clothes are spoiling you.
It's the dress those cowboys wear that makes half their attraction.
If you were properly clothed, you could break the heart of the
prettiest girl in the country."
With one accord the other men looked at Black Jack, and for the
first time realized that he was a superb specimen of manhood, for
he stood six feet tall, was broad, well-rounded, and had dark, even
skin, big black eyes, and full red lips.
"I'll tell you what!" exclaimed the Angel. "I'd just love to see
you on horseback. Nothing sets a handsome man off so splendidly.
Do you ride?"
"Yes," said Jack, and his eyes were burning on the Angel as if he
would fathom the depths of her soul.
"Well," said the Angel winsomely, "I know what I just wish you'd do.
I wish you would let your hair grow a little longer. Then wear
a blue flannel shirt a little open at the throat, a red tie, and a
broad-brimmed felt hat, and ride past my house of evenings.
I'm always at home then, and almost always on the veranda, and, oh!
but I would like to see you! Will you do that for me?" It is impossible
to describe the art with which the Angel asked the question. She was
looking straight into Jack's face, coarse and hardened with sin and
careless living, which was now taking on a wholly different expression.
The evil lines of it were softening and fading under her clear gaze.
A dull red flamed into his bronze cheeks, while his eyes were
growing brightly tender.
"Yes," he said, and the glance he gave the men was of such a nature
that no one saw fit even to change countenance.
"Oh, goody!" she cried, tilting on her toes. "I'll ask all the
girls to come see, but they needn't stick in! We can get along
without them, can't we?"
Jack leaned toward her. He was the charmed fluttering bird, while
the Angel was the snake.
"Well, I rather guess!" he cried.
The Angel drew a deep breath and surveyed him rapturously.
"My, but you're tall!" she commented. "Do you suppose I ever will
grow to reach your shoulders?"
She stood on tiptoe and measured the distance with her eyes. Then she
developed timid confusion, while her glance sought the ground.
"I wish I could do something," she half whispered.
Jack seemed to increase an inch in height.
"What?" he asked hoarsely.
"Lariat Bill used always to have a bunch of red flowers in his
shirt pocket. The red lit up his dark eyes and olive cheeks and
made him splendid. May I put some red flowers on you?"
Freckles stared as he wheezed for breath. He wished the earth would
open and swallow him. Was he dead or alive? Since his Angel had
seen Black Jack she never had glanced his way. Was she completely
bewitched? Would she throw herself at the man's feet before them all?
Couldn't she give him even one thought? Hadn't she seen that
he was gagged and bound? Did she truly think that these were
McLean's men? Why, she could not! It was only a few days ago that
she had been close enough to this man and angry enough with him to
peel the hat from his head with a shot! Suddenly a thing she had
said jestingly to him one day came back with startling force:
"You must take Angels on trust." Of course you must! She was
his Angel. She must have seen! His life, and what was far more,
her own, was in her hands. There was nothing he could do but
trust her. Surely she was working out some plan.
The Angel knelt beside his flower bed and recklessly tore up by the
roots a big bunch of foxfire.
"These stems are so tough and sticky," she said. "I can't
break them. Loan me your knife," she ordered Freckles.
As she reached for the knife, her back was for one second toward
the men. She looked into his eyes and deliberately winked.
She severed the stems, tossed the knife to Freckles, and walking to
Jack, laid the flowers over his heart.
Freckles broke into a sweat of agony. He had said she would be safe
in a herd of howling savages. Would she? If Black Jack even made a
motion toward touching her, Freckles knew that from somewhere he
would muster the strength to kill him. He mentally measured the
distance to where his club lay and set his muscles for a spring.
But no--by the splendor of God! The big fellow was baring his head
with a hand that was unsteady. The Angel pulled one of the long
silver pins from her hat and fastened her flowers securely.
Freckles was quaking. What was to come next? What was she planning,
and oh! did she understand the danger of her presence among those
men; the real necessity for action?
As the Angel stepped from Jack, she turned her head to one side and
peered at him, quite as Freckles had seen the little yellow fellow
do on the line a hundred times, and said: "Well, that does the trick!
Isn't that fine? See how it sets him off, boys? Don't you forget
the tie is to be red, and the first ride soon. I can't wait
very long. Now I must go. The Bird Woman will be ready to start,
and she will come here hunting me next, for she is busy today.
What did I come here for anyway?"
She glanced inquiringly around, and several of the men laughed.
Oh, the delight of it! She had forgotten her errand for him!
Jack had a second increase in height. The Angel glanced helplessly
as if seeking a clue. Then her eyes fell, as if by accident, on
Freckles, and she cried, "Oh, I know now! It was those magazines
the Bird Woman promised you. I came to tell you that we put them
under the box where we hide things, at the entrance to the swamp
as we came in. I knew I would need my hands crossing the swamp,
so I hid them there. You'll find them at the same old place."
Then Freckles spoke.
"It's mighty risky for you to be crossing the swamp alone," he said.
"I'm surprised that the Bird Woman would be letting you try it.
I know it's a little farther, but it's begging you I am to be
going back by the trail. That's bad enough, but it's far safer than
The Angel laughed merrily.
"Oh stop your nonsense!" she cried. "I'm not afraid! Not in
the least! The Bird Woman didn't want me to try following a path
that I'd been over only once, but I was sure I could do it, and I'm
rather proud of the performance. Now, don't go babying! You know
I'm not afraid!"
"No," said Freckles gently, "I know you're not; but that has
nothing to do with the fact that your friends are afraid for you.
On the trail you can see your way a bit ahead, and you've all the
world a better chance if you meet a snake."
Then Freckles had an inspiration. He turned to Jack imploringly.
"You tell her!" he pleaded. "Tell her to go by the trail. She will
The implication of this statement was so gratifying to Black Jack
that he seemed again to expand and take on increase before their
"You bet!" exclaimed Jack. And to the Angel: "You better take
Freckles' word for it, miss. He knows the old swamp better than any
of us, except me, and if he says `go by the trail,' you'd best do it."
The Angel hesitated. She wanted to recross the swamp and try to
reach the horse. She knew Freckles would brave any danger to save
her crossing the swamp alone, but she really was not afraid, while
the trail added over a mile to the walk. She knew the path.
She intended to run for dear life the instant she felt herself from
their sight, and tucked in the folds of her blouse was a fine
little 32-caliber revolver that her father had presented her for
her share in what he was pleased to call her military exploit.
One last glance at Freckles showed her the agony in his eyes, and
immediately she imagined he had some other reason. She would follow
"All right," she said, giving Jack a thrilling glance. "If you say
so, I'll return by the trail to please you. Good-bye, everybody."
She lifted the bushes and started toward the entrance.
"You damned fool! Stop her!" growled Wessner. "Keep her till we're
loaded, anyhow. You're playing hell! Can't you see that when this
thing is found out, there she'll be to ruin all of us. If you let
her go, every man of us has got to cut, and some of us will be
Jack sprang forward. Freckles' heart muffled in his throat.
The Angel seemed to divine Jack's coming. She was humming a
little song. She deliberately stopped and began pulling the heads
of the curious grasses that grew all around her. When she straightened,
she took a step backward and called: "Ho! Freckles, the Bird Woman
wants that natural history pamphlet returned. It belongs to a set
she is going to have bound. That's one of the reasons we put it
under the box. You be sure to get them as you go home tonight, for
fear it rains or becomes damp with the heavy dews."
"All right," said Freckles, but it was in a voice that he never had
Then the Angel turned and sent a parting glance at Jack. She was
overpoweringly human and bewitchingly lovely.
"You won't forget that ride and the red tie," she half asserted,
Jack succumbed. Freckles was his captive, but he was the Angel's,
soul and body. His face wore the holiest look it ever had known as
he softly re-echoed Freckles' "All right." With her head held well
up, the Angel walked slowly away, and Jack turned to the men.
"Drop your damned staring and saw wood," he shouted. "Don't you
know anything at all about how to treat a lady?" It might have been
a question which of the cronies that crouched over green wood fires
in the cabins of Wildcat Hollow, eternally sucking a corncob pipe
and stirring the endless kettles of stewing coon and opossum, had
taught him to do even as well as he had by the Angel.
The men muttered and threatened among themselves, but they began
working desperately. Someone suggested that a man be sent to follow
the Angel and to watch her and the Bird Woman leave the swamp.
Freckles' heart sank within him, but Jack was in a delirium and
past all caution.
"Yes," he sneered. "Mebby all of you had better give over on the
saw and run after the girl. I guess not! Seems to me I got the
favors. I didn't see no bouquets on the rest of you! If anybody
follows her, I do, and I'm needed here among such a pack of idiots.
There's no danger in that baby face. She wouldn't give me away!
You double and work like forty, while me and Wessner will take the
axes and begin to cut in on the other side."
"What about the noise?" asked Wessner.
"No difference about the noise," answered Jack. "She took us to be
from McLean's gang, slick as grease. Make the chips fly!"
So all of them attacked the big tree.
Freckles sat on one of his benches and waited. In their haste to
fell the tree and load it, so that the teamsters could start, and
leave them free to attack another, they had forgotten to rebind him.
The Angel was on the trail and safely started. The cold
perspiration made Freckles' temples clammy and ran in little
streams down his chest. It would take her more time to follow the
trail, but her safety was Freckles' sole thought in urging her to
go that way. He tried to figure on how long it would require to
walk to the carriage. He wondered if the Bird Woman had unhitched.
He followed the Angel every step of the way. He figured on when she
would cross the path of the clearing, pass the deep pool where his
"find-out" frog lived, cross Sleepy Snake Creek, and reach the carriage.
He wondered what she would say to the Bird Woman, and how long it
would take them to pack and start. He knew now that they would
understand, and the Angel would try to get the Boss there in time
to save his wager. She could never do it, for the saw was over half
through, and Jack and Wessner cutting into the opposite side of
the tree. It appeared as if they could fell at least that tree,
before McLean could come, and if they did he lost his wager.
When it was down, would they rebind him and leave him for Wessner
to wreak his insane vengeance on, or would they take him along to
the next tree and dispose of him when they had stolen all the
timber they could? Jack had said that he should not be touched
until he left. Surely he would not run all that risk for one tree,
when he had many others of far greater value marked. Freckles felt
that he had some hope to cling to now, but he found himself praying
that the Angel would hurry.
Once Jack came to Freckles and asked if he had any water. Freckles
arose and showed him where he kept his drinking-water. Jack drank
in great gulps, and as he passed back the bucket, he said: "When a
man's got a chance of catching a fine girl like that, he ought not
be mixed up in any dirty business. I wish to God I was out of this!"
Freckles answered heartily: "I wish I was, too!"
Jack stared at him a minute and then broke into a roar of rough laughter.
"Blest if I blame you," he said. "But you had your chance!
We offered you a fair thing and you gave Wessner his answer.
I ain't envying you when he gives you his."
"You're six to one," answered Freckles. "It will be easy enough for
you to be killing the body of me, but, curse you all, you can't
blacken me soul!"
"Well, I'd give anything you could name if I had your honesty,"
When the mighty tree fell, the Limberlost shivered and screamed
with the echo. Freckles groaned in despair, but the gang took heart.
That was so much accomplished. They knew where to dispose of it
safely, with no questions asked. Before the day was over, they
could remove three others, all suitable for veneer and worth far
more than this. Then they would leave Freckles to Wessner and
scatter for safety, with more money than they had ever hoped for in
CHAPTER XIII. Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse of Black Jack Falls upon Her
On the line, the Angel gave one backward glance at Black Jack, to
see that he had returned to his work. Then she gathered her skirts
above her knees and leaped forward on the run. In the first three
yards she passed Freckles' wheel. Instantly she imagined that was
why he had insisted on her coming by the trail. She seized it and
sprang on. The saddle was too high, but she was an expert rider and
could catch the pedals as they came up. She stopped at Duncan's
cabin long enough to remedy this, telling Mrs. Duncan while working
what was happening, and for her to follow the east trail until she
found the Bird Woman, and told her that she had gone after McLean
and for her to leave the swamp as quickly as possible.
Even with her fear for Freckles to spur her, Sarah Duncan blanched
and began shivering at the idea of facing the Limberlost. The Angel
looked her in the eyes.
"No matter how afraid you are, you have to go," she said. "If you
don't the Bird Woman will go to Freckles' room, hunting me, and
they will have trouble with her. If she isn't told to leave at
once, they may follow me, and, finding I'm gone, do some terrible
thing to Freckles. I can't go--that's flat--for if they caught me,
then there'd be no one to go for help. You don't suppose they are
going to take out the trees they're after and then leave Freckles
to run and tell? They are going to murder the boy; that's what they
are going to do. You run, and run for life! For Freckles' life!
You can ride back with the Bird Woman."
The Angel saw Mrs. Duncan started; then began her race.
Those awful miles of corduroy! Would they never end? She did not
dare use the wheel too roughly, for if it broke she never could
arrive on time afoot. Where her way was impassable for the wheel,
she jumped off, and pushing it beside her or carrying it, she ran
as fast as she could. The day was fearfully warm. The sun poured
with the fierce baking heat of August. The bushes claimed her hat,
and she did not stop for it.
Where it was at all possible, the Angel mounted and pounded over
the corduroy again. She was panting for breath and almost worn out
when she reached the level pike. She had no idea how long she had
been--and only two miles covered. She leaned over the bars, almost
standing on the pedals, racing with all the strength in her body.
The blood surged in her ears while her head swam, but she kept a
straight course, and rode and rode. It seemed to her that she was
standing still, while the trees and houses were racing past her.
Once a farmer's big dog rushed angrily into the road and she
swerved until she almost fell, but she regained her balance, and
setting her muscles, pedaled as fast as she could. At last she
lifted her head. Surely it could not be over a mile more. She had
covered two of corduroy and at least three of gravel, and it was
only six in all.
She was reeling in the saddle, but she gripped the bars with new
energy, and raced desperately. The sun beat on her bare head and
hands. Just when she was choking with dust, and almost prostrate
with heat and exhaustion--crash, she ran into a broken bottle.
Snap! went the tire; the wheel swerved and pitched over. The Angel
rolled into the thick yellow dust of the road and lay quietly.
From afar, Duncan began to notice a strange, dust-covered object in the
road, as he headed toward town with the first load of the day's felling.
He chirruped to the bays and hurried them all he could. As he
neared the Angel, he saw it was a woman and a broken wheel. He was
beside her in an instant. He carried her to a shaded fence-corner,
stretched her on the grass, and wiped the dust from the lovely face
all dirt-streaked, crimson, and bearing a startling whiteness
around the mouth and nose.
Wheels were common enough. Many of the farmers' daughters owned and
rode them, but he knew these same farmers' daughters; this face was
a stranger's. He glanced at the Angel's tumbled clothing, the
silkiness of her hair, with its pale satin ribbon, and noticed that
she had lost her hat. Her lips tightened in an ominous quiver.
He left her and picked up the wheel: as he had surmised, he knew it.
This, then, was Freckles' Swamp Angel. There was trouble in the
Limberlost, and she had broken down racing to McLean. Duncan turned
the bays into a fence-corner, tied one of them, unharnessed the
other, fastened up the trace chains, and hurried to the nearest
farmhouse to send help to the Angel. He found a woman, who took a
bottle of camphor, a jug of water, and some towels, and started on
Then Duncan put the bay to speed and raced to camp.
The Angel, left alone, lay still for a second, then she shivered
and opened her eyes. She saw that she was on the grass and the
broken wheel beside her. Instantly she realized that someone had
carried her there and gone after help. She sat up and looked
around. She noticed the load of logs and the one horse. Someone was
riding after help for her!
"Oh, poor Freckles!" she wailed. "They may be killing him by now.
Oh, how much time have I wasted?"
She hurried to the other bay, her fingers flying as she set him free.
Snatching up a big blacksnake whip that lay on the ground, she
caught the hames, stretched along the horse's neck, and, for
the first time, the fine, big fellow felt on his back the quality
of the lash that Duncan was accustomed to crack over him. He was
frightened, and ran at top speed.
The Angel passed a wildly waving, screaming woman on the road, and
a little later a man riding as if he, too, were in great haste.
The man called to her, but she only lay lower and used the whip.
Soon the feet of the man's horse sounded farther and farther away.
At the South camp they were loading a second wagon, when the Angel
appeared riding one of Duncan's bays, lathered and dripping, and
cried: "Everybody go to Freckles! There are thieves stealing trees,
and they had him bound. They're going to kill him!"
She wheeled the horse toward the Limberlost. The alarm sounded
through camp. The gang were not unprepared. McLean sprang to
Nellie's back and raced after the Angel. As they passed Duncan, he
wheeled and followed. Soon the pike was an irregular procession of
barebacked riders, wildly driving flying horses toward the swamp.
The Boss rode neck-and-neck with the Angel. He repeatedly commanded
her to stop and fall out of line, until he remembered that he would
need her to lead him to Freckles. Then he gave up and rode beside
her, for she was sending the bay at as sharp a pace as the other
horses could keep and hold out. He could see that she was not
hearing him. He glanced back and saw that Duncan was close.
There was something terrifying in the appearance of the big man, and
the manner in which he sat his beast and rode. It would be a sad day
for the man on whom Duncan's wrath broke. There were four others
close behind him, and the pike filling with the remainder of the
gang; so McLean took heart and raced beside the Angel. Over and
over he asked her where the trouble was, but she only gripped the
hames, leaned along the bay's neck, and slashed away with the
blacksnake. The steaming horse, with crimson nostrils and heaving
sides, stretched out and ran for home with all the speed there was
When they passed the cabin, the Bird Woman's carriage was there and
Mrs. Duncan in the door wringing her hands, but the Bird Woman was
nowhere to be seen. The Angel sent the bay along the path and
turned into the west trail, while the men bunched and followed her.
When she reached the entrance to Freckles' room, there were four
men with her, and two more very close behind. She slid from the
horse, and snatching the little revolver from her pocket, darted
toward the bushes. McLean caught them back, and with drawn weapon,
pressed beside her. There they stopped in astonishment.
The Bird Woman blocked the entrance. Over a small limb lay
her revolver. It was trained at short range on Black Jack and
Wessner, who stood with their hands above their heads.
Freckles, with the blood trickling down his face, from an ugly cut
in his temple, was gagged and bound to the tree again; the
remainder of the men were gone. Black Jack was raving as a maniac,
and when they looked closer it was only the left arm that he raised.
His right, with the hand shattered, hung helpless at his side,
while his revolver lay at Freckles' feet. Wessner's weapon
was in his belt, and beside him Freckles' club.
Freckles' face was white, with colorless lips, but in his eyes was
the strength of undying courage. McLean pushed past the Bird
Woman crying. "Hold steady on them only one minute more!"
He snatched the revolver from Wessner's belt, and stooped for Jack's.
At that instant the Angel rushed past. She tore the gag from
Freckles, and seizing the rope knotted on his chest, she tugged at
it desperately. Under her fingers it gave way, and she hurled it
to McLean. The men were crowding in, and Duncan seized Wessner.
As the Angel saw Freckles stand out, free, she reached her arms to him
and pitched forward. A fearful oath burst from the lips of Black Jack.
To have saved his life, Freckles could not have avoided the glance
of triumph he gave Jack, when folding the Angel in his arms and
stretching her on the mosses.
The Bird Woman cried out sharply for water as she ran to them.
Someone sprang to bring that, and another to break open the case
for brandy. As McLean arose from binding Wessner, there was a cry
that Jack was escaping.
He was already far in the swamp, running for its densest part in
leaping bounds. Every man who could be spared plunged after him.
Other members of the gang arriving, were sent to follow the tracks
of the wagons. The teamsters had driven from the west entrance, and
crossing the swale, had taken the same route the Bird Woman and the
Angel had before them. There had been ample time for the drivers to
reach the road; after that they could take any one of four directions.
Traffic was heavy, and lumber wagons were passing almost constantly,
so the men turned back and joined the more exciting hunt for a man.
The remainder of the gang joined them, also farmers of the region
and travelers attracted by the disturbance.
Watchers were set along the trail at short intervals. They patrolled
the line and roads through the swamp that night, with lighted torches,
and the next day McLean headed as thorough a search as he felt could
be made of one side, while Duncan covered the other; but Black Jack
could not be found. Spies were set around his home, in Wildcat
Hollow, to ascertain if he reached there or aid was being sent in
any direction to him; but it was soon clear that his relatives were
ignorant of his hiding-place, and were searching for him.
Great is the elasticity of youth. A hot bath and a sound night's
sleep renewed Freckles' strength, and it needed but little more to
work the same result with the Angel. Freckles was on the trail
early the next morning. Besides a crowd of people anxious to witness
Jack's capture, he found four stalwart guards, one at each turn.
In his heart he was compelled to admit that he was glad to have
them there. Close noon, McLean placed his men in charge of Duncan,
and taking Freckles, drove to town to see how the Angel fared.
McLean visited a greenhouse and bought an armload of its finest
products; but Freckles would have none of them. He would carry
his message in a glowing mass of the Limberlost's first goldenrod.
The Bird Woman received them, and in answer to their eager
inquiries, said that the Angel was in no way seriously injured,
only so bruised and shaken that their doctor had ordered her to lie
quietly for the day. Though she was sore and stiff, they were
having work to keep her in bed. Her callers sent up their flowers
with their grateful regards, and the Angel promptly returned word
that she wanted to see them.
She reached both hands to McLean. "What if one old tree is gone?
You don't care, sir? You feel that Freckles has kept his trust as
nobody ever did before, don't you? You won't forget all those long
first days of fright that you told us of, the fearful cold of
winter, the rain, heat, and lonesomeness, and the brave days, and
lately, nights, too, and let him feel that his trust is broken?
Oh, Mr. McLean," she begged, "say something to him! Do something to
make him feel that it isn't for nothing he has watched and suffered
it out with that old Limberlost. Make him see how great and fine it
is, and how far, far better he has done than you or any of us expected!
What's one old tree, anyway?" she cried passionately.
"I was thinking before you came. Those other men were rank
big cowards. They were scared for their lives. If they were the
drivers, I wager you gloves against gloves they never took those
logs out to the pike. My coming upset them. Before you feel bad any
more, you go look and see if they didn't lose courage the minute
they left Wessner and Black Jack, dump that timber and run. I don't
believe they ever had the grit to drive out with it in daylight.
Go see if they didn't figure on leaving the way we did the other
morning, and you'll find the logs before you reach the road.
They never risked taking them into the open, when they got away
and had time to think. Of course they didn't!
"And, then, another thing. You haven't lost your wager! It never
will be claimed, because you made it with a stout, dark, red-faced
man who drives a bay and a gray. He was right back of you, Mr.
McLean, when I came yesterday. He went deathly white and shook on
his feet when he saw those men probably would be caught. Some one
of them was something to him, and you can just spot him for one of
the men at the bottom of your troubles, and urging those younger
fellows to steal from you. I suppose he'd promised to divide.
You settle with him, and that business will stop."
She turned to Freckles. "And you be the happiest man alive, because
you have kept your trust. Go look where I tell you and you'll find
the logs. I can see just about where they are. When they go up that
steep little hill, into the next woods after the cornfield, why,
they could unloose the chains and the logs would roll from the
wagons themselves. Now, you go look; and Mr. McLean, you do feel
that Freckles has been brave and faithful? You won't love him any
the less even if you don't find the logs"
The Angel's nerve gave way and she began to cry. Freckles could not
endure it. He almost ran from the room, with the tears in his eyes;
but McLean took the Angel from the Bird Woman's arms, and kissed
her brave little face, stroked her hair, and petted her into
quietness before he left.
As they drove to the swamp, McLean so earnestly seconded all that
the Angel had said that he soon had the boy feeling much better.
"Freckles, your Angel has a spice of the devil in her, but
she's superb! You needn't spend any time questioning or bewailing
anything she does. Just worship blindly, my boy. By heaven! she's
sense, courage, and beauty for half a dozen girls," said McLean.
"It's altogether right you are, sir," affirmed Freckles heartily.
Presently he added, "There's no question but the series is over now."
"Don't think it!" answered McLean. "The Bird Woman is working for
success, and success along any line is not won by being scared out.
She will be back on the usual day, and ten to one, the Angel will
be with her. They are made of pretty stern stuff, and they don't
scare worth a cent. Before I left, I told the Bird Woman it would
be safe; and it will. You may do your usual walking, but those four
guards are there to remain. They are under your orders absolutely.
They are prohibited from firing on any bird or molesting anything
that you want to protect, but there they remain, and this time it
is useless for you to say one word. I have listened to your pride
too long. You are too precious to me, and that voice of yours is
too precious to the world to run any more risks."
"I am sorry to have anything spoil the series," said Freckles, "and
I'd love them to be coming, the Angel especial, but it can't be.
You'll have to tell them so. You see, Jack would have been ready to
stake his life she meant what she said and did to him. When the
teams pulled out, Wessner seized me; then he and Jack went to
quarreling over whether they should finish me then or take me to
the next tree they were for felling. Between them they were pulling
me around and hurting me bad. Wessner wanted to get at me right
then, and Jack said he shouldn't be touching me till the last tree
was out and all the rest of them gone. I'm belaying Jack really
hated to see me done for in the beginning; and I think, too, he was
afraid if Wessner finished me then he'd lose his nerve and cut, and
they couldn't be managing the felling without him; anyway, they
were hauling me round like I was already past all feeling, and they
tied me up again. To keep me courage up, I twits Wessner about
having to tie me and needing another man to help handle me. I told
him what I'd do to him if I was free, and he grabs up me own club
and lays open me head with it. When the blood came streaming, it
set Jack raving, and he cursed and damned Wessner for a coward and
a softy. Then Wessner turned on Jack and gives it to him for
letting the Angel make a fool of him. Tells him she was just
playing with him, and beyond all manner of doubt she'd gone after
you, and there was nothing to do on account of his foolishness but
finish me, get out, and let the rest of the timber go, for likely
you was on the way right then. That drove Jack plum crazy.
"I don't think he was for having a doubt of the Angel before, but
then he just raved. He grabbed out his gun and turned on Wessner.
Spang! It went out of his fist, and the order comes: `Hands up!'
Wessner reached for kingdom come like he was expecting to grab hold
and pull himself up. Jack puts up what he has left. Then he leans
over to me and tells me what he'll do to me if he ever gets out of
there alive. Then, just like a snake hissing, he spits out what
he'll do to her for playing him. He did get away, and with his
strength, that wound in his hand won't be bothering him long.
He'll do to me just what he said, and when he hears it really was
she that went after you, why, he'll keep his oath about her.
"He's lived in the swamp all his life, sir, and everybody says it's
always been the home of cutthroats, outlaws, and runaways. He knows
its most secret places as none of the others. He's alive. He's in
there now, sir. Some way he'll keep alive. If you'd seen his face,
all scarlet with passion, twisted with pain, and black with hate,
and heard him swearing that oath, you'd know it was a sure thing.
I ain't done with him yet, and I've brought this awful thing on her."
"And I haven't begun with him yet," said McLean, setting his teeth.
"I've been away too slow and too easy, believing there'd be no
greater harm than the loss of a tree. I've sent for a couple of
first-class detectives. We will put them on his track, and rout him
out and rid the country of him. I don't propose for him to stop
either our work or our pleasure. As for his being in the swamp now,
I don't believe it. He'd find a way out last night, in spite of us.
Don't you worry! I am at the helm now, and I'll see to that
gentleman in my own way."
"I wish to my soul you had seen and heard him!" said Freckles, unconvinced.
They entered the swamp, taking the route followed by the Bird Woman
and the Angel. They really did find the logs, almost where the
Angel had predicted they would be. McLean went to the South camp
and had an interview with Crowen that completely convinced him that
the Angel was correct there also. But he had no proof, so all he
could do was to discharge the man, although his guilt was so
apparent that he offered to withdraw the wager.
Then McLean sent for a pack of bloodhounds and put them on the
trail of Black Jack. They clung to it, on and on, into the depths
of the swamp, leading their followers through what had been
considered impassable and impenetrable ways, and finally, around
near the west entrance and into the swale. Here the dogs bellowed,
raved, and fell over each other in their excitement. They raced
back and forth from swamp to swale, but follow the scent farther
they would not, even though cruelly driven. At last their owner
attributed their actions to snakes, and as they were very valuable
dogs, abandoned the effort to urge them on. So that all they really
established was the fact that Black Jack had eluded their vigilance
and crossed the trail some time in the night. He had escaped to the
swale; from there he probably crossed the corduroy, and reaching
the lower end of the swamp, had found friends. It was a great
relief to feel that he was not in the swamp, and it raised the
spirits of every man on the line, though many of them expressed
regrets that he who was undoubtedly most to blame should escape,
while Wessner, who in the beginning was only his tool, should be
left to punishment.
But for Freckles, with Jack's fearful oath ringing in his ears,
there was neither rest nor peace. He was almost ill when the day
for the next study of the series arrived and he saw the Bird Woman
and the Angel coming down the corduroy. The guards of the east line
he left at their customary places, but those of the west he brought
over and placed, one near Little Chicken's tree, and the other at
the carriage. He was firm about the Angel's remaining in the
carriage, that he did not offer to have unhitched. He went with the
Bird Woman to secure the picture, which was the easiest matter it
had been at any time yet, for the simple reason that the placing of
the guards and the unusual movement around the swamp had made Mr.
and Mrs. Chicken timid, and they had not carried Little Chicken the
customary amount of food. Freckles, in the anxiety of the past few
days, had neglected him, and he had been so hungry, much of the
time, that when the Bird Woman held up a sweet-bread, although he
had started toward the recesses of the log at her coming, he
stopped; with slightly opened beak, he waited anxiously for the
treat, and gave a study of great value, showing every point of his
head, also his wing and tail development.
When the Bird Woman proposed to look for other subjects close about
the line, Freckles went so far as to tell her that Jack had made
fearful threats against the Angel. He implored her to take the
Angel home and keep her under unceasing guard until Jack was
located. He wanted to tell her all about it, but he knew how dear
the Angel was to her, and he dreaded to burden her with his fears
when they might prove groundless. He allowed her to go, but
afterward blamed himself severely for having done so.
CHAPTER XIV. Wherein Freckles Nurses a Heartache and Black Jack Drops Out
"McLean," said Mrs. Duncan, as the Boss paused to greet her in
passing the cabin, "do you know that Freckles hasna been in bed the
past five nights and all he's eaten in that many days ye could pack
into a pint cup?"
"Why, what does the boy mean?" demanded McLean. "There's no
necessity for him being on guard, with the watch I've set on
the line. I had no idea he was staying down there."
"He's no there," said Mrs. Duncan. "He goes somewhere else.
He leaves on his wheel juist after we're abed and rides in close
cock-crow or a little earlier, and he's looking like death and
nothing short of it."
"But where does he go?" asked McLean in astonishment.
"I'm no given to bearing tales out of school," said Sarah Duncan,
"but in this case I'd tell ye if I could. What the trouble is I
dinna ken. If it is no' stopped, he's in for dreadful sickness, and
I thought ye could find out and help him. He's in sair trouble;
that's all I know."
McLean sat brooding as he stroked Nellie's neck.
At last he said: "I suspect I understand. At any rate, I think I
can find out. Thank you for telling me."
"Ye'll no need telling, once ye clap your eyes on him," prophesied
Mrs. Duncan. "His face is all a glist'ny yellow, and he's peaked as
a starving caged bird."
McLean rode to the Limberlost, and stopping in the shade, sat
waiting for Freckles, whose hour for passing the foot of the lease
Along the north line came Freckles, fairly staggering. When he
turned east and reached Sleepy Snake Creek, sliding through the
swale as the long black snake for which it was named, he sat on the
bridge and closed his burning eyes, but they would not remain shut.
As if pulled by wires, the heavy lids flew open, while the outraged
nerves and muscles of his body danced, twitched, and tingled.
He bent forward and idly watched the limpid little stream flowing
beneath his feet. Stretching into the swale, it came creeping
between an impenetrable wall of magnificent wild flowers, vines,
and ferns. Milkweed, goldenrod, ironwort, fringed gentians,
cardinal-flowers, and turtle-head stood on the very edge of the
creek, and every flower of them had a double in the water.
Wild clematis crowned with snow the heads of trees scattered
here and there on the bank.
From afar the creek appeared to be murky, dirty water. Really it
was clear and sparkling. The tinge of blackness was gained from its
bed of muck showing through the transparent current. He could see
small and wonderfully marked fish. What became of them when the
creek spread into the swamp? For one thing, they would make mighty
fine eating for the family of that self-satisfied old blue heron.
Freckles sat so quietly that soon the brim of his hat was covered
with snake-feeders, rasping their crisp wings and singing while
they rested. Some of them settled on the club, and one on
his shoulder. He was so motionless; feathers, fur, and gauze were
so accustomed to him, that all through the swale they continued
their daily life and forgot he was there.
The heron family were wading the mouth of the creek. Freckles idly
wondered whether the nerve-racking rasps they occasionally emitted
indicated domestic felicity or a raging quarrel. He could not decide.
A sheitpoke, with flaring crest, went stalking across a bare
space close to the creek's mouth. A stately brown bittern waded
into the clear-flowing water, lifting his feet high at every
step, and setting them down carefully, as if he dreaded wetting
them, and with slightly parted beak, stood eagerly watching around
him for worms. Behind him were some mighty trees of the swamp
above, and below the bank glowed a solid wall of goldenrod.
No wonder the ancients had chosen yellow as the color to represent
victory, for the fierce, conquering hue of the sun was in it.
They had done well, too, in selecting purple as the emblem of royalty.
It was a dignified, compelling color, while in its warm tone there
was a hint of blood.
It was the Limberlost's hour to proclaim her sovereignty and triumph.
Everywhere she flaunted her yellow banner and trailed the purple of
her mantle, that was paler in the thistle-heads, took on strength
in the first opening asters, and glowed and burned in the ironwort.
He gazed into her damp, mossy recesses where high-piled riven trees
decayed under coats of living green, where dainty vines swayed and
clambered, and here and there a yellow leaf, fluttering down,
presaged the coming of winter. His love of the swamp laid hold of
him and shook him with its force.
Compellingly beautiful was the Limberlost, but cruel withal; for
inside bleached the uncoffined bones of her victims, while she had
missed cradling him, oh! so narrowly.
He shifted restlessly; the movement sent the snake-feeders skimming.
The hum of life swelled and roared in his strained ears.
Small turtles, that had climbed on a log to sun, splashed clumsily
into the water. Somewhere in the timber of the bridge a
bloodthirsty little frog cried sharply. "KEEL'IM! KEEL'IM!"
Freckles muttered: "It's worse than that Black Jack swore to do to
me, little fellow."
A muskrat waddled down the bank and swam for the swamp, its pointed
nose riffling the water into a shining trail in its wake.
Then, below the turtle-log, a dripping silver-gray head, with
shining eyes, was cautiously lifted, and Freckles' hand slid to his
revolver. Higher and higher came the head, a long, heavy, furcoated
body arose, now half, now three-fourths from the water. Freckles
looked at his shaking hand and doubted, but he gathered his forces,
the shot rang, and the otter lay quiet. He hurried down and tried to
lift it. He scarcely could muster strength to carry it to the bridge.
The consciousness that he really could go no farther with it made
Freckles realize the fact that he was close the limit of
human endurance. He could bear it little, if any, longer.
Every hour the dear face of the Angel wavered before him, and
behind it the awful distorted image of Black Jack, as he had sworn
to the punishment he would mete out to her. He must either see
McLean, or else make a trip to town and find her father. Which should
he do? He was almost a stranger, so the Angel's father might not be
impressed with what he said as he would if McLean went to him.
Then he remembered that McLean had said he would come that morning.
Freckles never had forgotten before. He hurried on the east trail
as fast as his tottering legs would carry him.
He stopped when he came to the first guard, and telling him of his
luck, asked him to get the otter and carry it to the cabin, as he
was anxious to meet McLean.
Freckles passed the second guard without seeing him, and hurried to
the Boss. He took off his hat, wiped his forehead, and stood silent
under the eyes of McLean.
The Boss was dumbfounded. Mrs. Duncan had led him to expect that
he would find a change in Freckles, but this was almost deathly.
The fact was apparent that the boy scarcely knew what he was doing.
His eyes had a glazed, far-sighted appearance, that wrung the heart of
the man who loved him. Without a thought of preliminaries, McLean
leaned in the saddle and drew Freckles to him.
"My poor lad!" he said. "My poor, dear lad! tell me, and we will
try to right it!"
Freckles had twisted his fingers in Nellie's mane. At the kind
words his face dropped on McLean's thigh and he shook with a
nervous chill. McLean gathered him closer and waited.
When the guard came with the otter, McLean without a word motioned
him to lay it down and leave them.
"Freckles," said McLean at last, "will you tell me, or must I set
to work in the dark and try to find the trouble?"
"Oh, I want to tell you! I must tell you, sir," shuddered Freckles.
"I cannot be bearing it the day out alone. I was coming to you when
I remimbered you would be here."
He lifted his face and gazed across the swale, with his jaws set
firmly a minute, as if gathering his forces. Then he spoke.
"It's the Angel, sir," he said.
Instinctively McLean's grip on him tightened, and Freckles looked
into the Boss's face in wonder.
"I tried, the other day," said Freckles, "and I couldn't seem to
make you see. It's only that there hasn't been an hour, waking or
sleeping, since the day she parted the bushes and looked into me
room, that the face of her hasn't been before me in all the
tinderness, beauty, and mischief of it. She talked to me
friendly like. She trusted me entirely to take right care of her.
She helped me with things about me books. She traited me like I
was born a gintleman, and shared with me as if I were of her own blood.
She walked the streets of the town with me before her friends with all
the pride of a queen. She forgot herself and didn't mind the Bird
Woman, and run big risks to help me out that first day, sir.
This last time she walked into that gang of murderers, took their
leader, and twisted him to the will of her. She outdone him and
raced the life almost out of her trying to save me.
"Since I can remimber, whatever the thing was that happened to me
in the beginning has been me curse. I've been bitter, hard, and
smarting under it hopelessly. She came by, and found me voice, and
put hope of life and success like other men into me in spite of it."
Freckles held up his maimed arm.
"Look at it, sir!" he said. "A thousand times I've cursed it,
hanging there helpless. She took it on the street, before all the
people, just as if she didn't see that it was a thing to hide and
shrink from. Again and again I've had the feeling with her, if I
didn't entirely forget it, that she didn't see it was gone and I
must he pointing it out to her. Her touch on it was so sacred-like,
at times since I've caught meself looking at the awful thing near
like I was proud of it, sir. If I had been born your son she
couldn't be traiting me more as her equal, and she can't help
knowing you ain't truly me father. Nobody can know the homeliness
or the ignorance of me better than I do, and all me lack of birth,
relatives, and money, and what's it all to her?"
Freckles stepped back, squared his shoulders, and with a royal lift
of his head looked straight into the Boss's eyes.
"You saw her in the beautiful little room of her, and you can't be
forgetting how she begged and plead with you for me. She touched
me body, and `twas sanctified. She laid her lips on my brow, and
`twas sacrament. Nobody knows the height of her better than me.
Nobody's studied my depths closer. There's no bridge for the great
distance between us, sir, and clearest of all, I'm for realizing it:
but she risked terrible things when she came to me among that gang
of thieves. She wore herself past bearing to save me from such an
easy thing as death! Now, here's me, a man, a big, strong man, and
letting her live under that fearful oath, so worse than any death
`twould be for her, and lifting not a finger to save her. I cannot
hear it, sir. It's killing me by inches! Black Jack's hand may not
have been hurt so bad. Any hour he may be creeping up behind her!
Any minute the awful revenge he swore to be taking may in some way
fall on her, and I haven't even warned her father. I can't stay
here doing nothing another hour. The five nights gone I've watched
under her windows, but there's the whole of the day. She's her own
horse and little cart, and's free to be driving through the town and
country as she pleases. If any evil comes to her through Black Jack,
it comes from her angel-like goodness to me. Somewhere he's hiding!
Somewhere he is waiting his chance! Somewhere he is reaching out
for her! I tell you I cannot, I dare not be bearing it longer!"
"Freckles, be quiet!" said McLean, his eyes humid and his voice
quivering with the pity of it all. "Believe me, I did not understand.
I know the Angel's father well. I will go to him at once. I have
transacted business with him for the past three years. I will make
him see! I am only beginning to realize your agony, and the real
danger there is for the Angel. Believe me, I will see that she
is fully protected every hour of the day and night until Jack
is located and disposed of. And I promise you further, that if I
fail to move her father or make him understand the danger, I will
maintain a guard over her until Jack is caught. Now will you go
bathe, drink some milk, go to bed, and sleep for hours, and then be
my brave, bright old boy again?"
"Yis," said Freckles simply.
But McLean could see the flesh was twitching on the lad's bones.
"What was it the guard brought there?" McLean asked in an effort to
distract Freckles' thoughts.
"Oh!" Freckles said, glancing where the Boss pointed, "I forgot it!
`Tis an otter, and fine past believing, for this warm weather.
I shot it at the creek this morning. `Twas a good shot, considering.
I expected to miss."
Freckles picked up the animal and started toward McLean with it,
but Nellie pricked up her dainty little ears, danced into the
swale, and snorted with fright. Freckles dropped the otter and ran
to her head.
"For pity's sake, get her on the trail, sir," he begged. "She's
just about where the old king rattler crosses to go into the
swamp--the old buster Duncan and I have been telling you of.
I haven't a doubt but it was the one Mother Duncan met. 'Twas down
the trail there, just a little farther on, that I found her, and
it's sure to be close yet."
McLean slid from Nellie's back, led her into the trail farther down
the line, and tied her to a bush. Then he went to examine the otter.
It was a rare, big specimen, with exquisitely fine, long, silky hair.
"What do you want to do with it, Freckles?" asked McLean, as he stroked
the soft fur lingeringly. "Do you know that it is very valuable?"
"I was for almost praying so, sir," said Freckles. "As I saw it
coming up the bank I thought this: Once somewhere in a book there
was a picture of a young girl, and she was just a breath like the
beautifulness of the Angel. Her hands were in a muff as big as her
body, and I thought it was so pretty. I think she was some queen,
or the like. Do you suppose I could have this skin tanned and made
into such a muff as that?--an enormous big one, sir?"
"Of course you can," said McLean. "That's a fine idea and it's
easy enough. We must box and express the otter, cold storage, by the
first train. You stand guard a minute and I'll tell Hall to carry
it to the cabin. I'll put Nellie to Duncan's rig, and we'll drive
to town and call on the Angel's father. Then we'll start the otter
while it is fresh, and I'll write your instructions later. It would
be a mighty fine thing for you to give to the Angel as a little
reminder of the Limberlost before it is despoiled, and as a
souvenir of her trip for you."
Freckles lifted a face with a glow of happy color creeping into it
and eyes lighting with a former brightness. Throwing his arms
around McLean, he cried: "Oh, how I love you! Oh, I wish I could
make you know how I love you!"
McLean strained him to his breast.
"God bless you, Freckles," he said. "I do know! We're going to have
some good old times out of this world together, and we can't begin
too soon. Would you rather sleep first, or have a bite of lunch,
take the drive with me, and then rest? I don't know but sleep will
come sooner and deeper to take the ride and have your mind set at
ease before you lie down. Suppose you go."
"Suppose I do," said Freckles, with a glimmer of the old light
in his eyes and newly found strength to shoulder the otter.
Together they turned into the trail.
McLean noticed and spoke of the big black chickens.
"They've been hanging round out there for several days past,"
said Freckles. "I'll tell you what I think it means. I think the
old rattler has killed something too big for him to swallow, and he's
keeping guard and won't let me chickens have it. I'm just sure,
from the way the birds have acted out there all summer, that it is
the rattler's den. You watch them now. See the way they dip and
then rise, frightened like!"
Suddenly McLean turned toward him with blanching face
"Freckles!" he cried.
"My God, sir!" shuddered Freckles.
He dropped the otter, caught up his club, and plunged into the swale.
Reaching for his revolver, McLean followed. The chickens
circled higher at their coming, and the big snake lifted his head
and rattled angrily. It sank in sinuous coils at the report of
McLean's revolver, and together he and Freckles stood beside Black Jack.
His fate was evident and most horrible.
"Come," said the Boss at last. "We don't dare touch him. We will get
a sheet from Mrs. Duncan and tuck over him, to keep these swarms of
insects away, and set Hall on guard, while we find the officers."
Freckles' lips closed resolutely. He deliberately thrust his club
under Black Jack's body, and, raising him, rested it on his knee.
He pulled a long silver pin from the front of the dead man's shirt
and sent it spinning into the swale. Then he gathered up a few
crumpled bright flowers and dropped them into the pool far away.
"My soul is sick with the horror of this thing," said McLean, as he
and Freckles drove toward town. "I can't understand how Jack dared
risk creeping through the swale, even in desperation. No one knew
its dangers better than he. And why did he choose the rankest,
muckiest place to cross the swamp?"
"Don't you think, sir, it was because it was on a line with the
Limberlost south of the corduroy? The grass was tallest there, and
he counted on those willows to screen him. Once he got among them,
he would have been safe to walk by stooping. If he'd made it past
that place, he'd been sure to get out."
"Well, I'm as sorry for Jack as I know how to be," said McLean,
"but I can't help feeling relieved that our troubles are over, for
now they are. With so dreadful a punishment for Jack, Wessner under
arrest, and warrants for the others, we can count on their going
away and remaining. As for anyone else, I don't think they will
care to attempt stealing my timber after the experience of these men.
There is no other man here with Jack's fine ability in woodcraft.
He was an expert."
"Did you ever hear of anyone who ever tried to locate any trees
excepting him?" asked Freckles.
"No, I never did," said McLean. "I am sure there was no one
besides him. You see, it was only with the arrival of our company
that the other fellows scented good stuff in the Limberlost, and
tried to work in. Jack knew the swamp better than anyone here.
When he found there were two companies trying to lease, he wanted
to stand in with the one from which he could realize the most.
Even then he had trees marked that he was trying to dispose of.
I think his sole intention in forcing me to discharge him from
my gang was to come here and try to steal timber. We had no idea,
when we took the lease, what a gold mine it was."
"That's exactly what Wessner said that first day," said Freckles eagerly.
"That 'twas a `gold mine'! He said he didn't know where the marked
trees were, but he knew a man who did, and if I would hold off and
let them get the marked ones, there were a dozen they could get out
in a few days."
"Freckles!" cried McLean. "You don't mean a dozen!"
"That's what he said, sir--a dozen. He said they couldn't tell how
the grain of all of them would work up, of course, but they were
all worth taking out, and five or six were real gold mines. This
makes three they've tried, so there must be nine more marked, and
several of them for being just fine."
"Well, I wish I knew which they are," said McLean, "so I could get
them out first."
"I have been thinking," said Freckles. "I believe if you will leave
one of the guards on the line--say Hall--that I will begin on the
swamp, at the north end, and lay it off in sections, and try to
hunt out the marked trees. I suppose they are all marked something
like that first maple on the line was. Wessner mentioned another
good one not so far from that. He said it was best of all. I'd be
having the swelled head if I could find that. Of course, I don't
know a thing about the trees, but I could hunt for the marks.
Jack was so good at it he could tell some of them by the bark, but all
he wanted to take that we've found so far have just had a deep chip
cut out, rather low down, and where the bushes were thick over it.
I believe I could be finding some of them."
"Good head!" said McLean. "We will do that. You may begin as soon
as you are rested. And about things you come across in the swamp,
Freckles--the most trifling little thing that you think the Bird
Woman would want, take your wheel and go after her at any time.
I'll leave two men on the line, so that you will have one on either
side, and you can come and go as you please. Have you stopped to
think of all we owe her, my boy?"
"Yis; and the Angel--we owe her a lot, too," said Freckles. "I owe
her me life and honor. It's lying awake nights I'll have to be
trying to think how I'm ever to pay her up."
"Well, begin with the muff," suggested McLean. "That should be fine."
He bent down and ruffled the rich fur of the otter lying at his feet.
"I don't exactly see how it comes to be in such splendid fur in summer.
Their coats are always thick in cold weather, but this scarcely
could be improved. I'll wire Cooper to be watching for it.
They must have it fresh. When it's tanned we won't spare any
expense in making it up. It should be a royal thing, and some way
I think it will exactly suit the Angel. I can't think of anything
that would be more appropriate for her."
"Neither can I," agreed Freckles heartily. "When I reach the city
there's one other thing, if I've the money after the muff is finished."
He told McLean of Mrs. Duncan's desire for a hat similar to
the Angel's. He hesitated a little in the telling, keeping sharp
watch on McLean's face. When he saw the Boss's eyes were full of
comprehension and sympathy, he loved him anew, for, as ever, McLean
was quick to understand. Instead of laughing, he said: "I think
you'll have to let me in on that, too. You mustn't be selfish,
you know. I'll tell you what we'll do. Send it for Christmas.
I'll be home then, and we can fill a box. You get the hat.
I'll add a dress and wrap. You buy Duncan a hat and gloves.
I'll send him a big overcoat, and we'll put in a lot of little
stuff for the babies. Won't that be fun?"
Freckles fairly shivered with delight.
"That would be away too serious for fun," he said. "That would
be heavenly. How long will it be?"
He began counting the time, and McLean deliberately set himself to
encourage Freckles and keep his thoughts from the trouble of the
past few days, for he had been overwrought and needed quiet and rest.
CHAPTER XV. Wherein Freckles and the Angel Try Taking a Picture, and Little Chicken Furnishes the Subject
A week later everything at the Limberlost was precisely as it had
been before the tragedy, except the case in Freckles' room now
rested on the stump of the newly felled tree. Enough of the vines
were left to cover it prettily, and every vestige of the havoc of
a few days before was gone. New guards were patrolling the trail.
Freckles was roughly laying off the swamp in sections and searching
for marked trees. In that time he had found one deeply chipped and
the chip cunningly replaced and tacked in. It promised to be quite
rare, so he was jubilant. He also found so many subjects for the
Bird Woman that her coming was of almost daily occurrence, and the
hours he spent with her and the Angel were nothing less than golden.
The Limberlost was now arrayed as the Queen of Sheba in all her glory.
The first frosts of autumn had bejewelled her crown in flashing
topaz, ruby, and emerald. Around her feet trailed the purple
of her garments, while in her hand was her golden scepter.
Everything was at full tide. It seemed as if nothing could grow
lovelier, and it was all standing still a few weeks, waiting
The swamp was palpitant with life. Every pair of birds that had
flocked to it in the spring was now multiplied by from two to ten.
The young were tame from Freckles' tri-parenthood, and so plump and
sleek that they were quite as beautiful as their elders, even if in
many cases they lacked their brilliant plumage. It was the same
story of increase everywhere. There were chubby little ground-hogs
scudding on the trail. There were cunning baby coons and opossums
peeping from hollow logs and trees. Young muskrats followed their
parents across the lagoons.
If you could come upon a family of foxes that had not yet
disbanded, and see the young playing with a wild duck's carcass
that their mother had brought, and note the pride and satisfaction
in her eyes as she lay at one side guarding them, it would be a
picture not to be forgotten. Freckles never tired of studying the
devotion of a fox mother to her babies. To him, whose early life
had been so embittered by continual proof of neglect and cruelty in
human parents toward their children, the love of these furred and
feathered folk of the Limberlost was even more of a miracle than to
the Bird Woman and the Angel.
The Angel liked the baby rabbits and squirrels. Earlier in the
season, when the young were yet very small, it so happened that at
times Freckles could give into her hands one of these little ones.
Then it was pure joy to stand back and watch her heaving breast,
flushed cheek, and shining eyes. Hers were such lovely eyes.
Freckles had discovered lately that they were not so dark as he had
thought them at first, but that the length and thickness of lash,
by which they were shaded, made them appear darker than they really
were. They were forever changing. Now sparkling and darkling with
wit, now humid with sympathy, now burning with the fire of courage,
now taking on strength of color with ambition, now flashing
indignantly at the abuse of any creature.
She had carried several of the squirrel and bunny babies home, and
had littered the conservatory with them. Her care of them was perfect.
She was learning her natural history from nature, and having much
healthful exercise. To her, they were the most interesting of all,
but the Bird Woman preferred the birds, with a close second in the
moths and butterflies.
Brown butterfly time had come. The edge of the swale was filled
with milkweed, and other plants beloved of them, and the air was
golden with the flashing satin wings of the monarch, viceroy,
and argynnis. They outnumbered those of any other color three to one.
Among the birds it really seemed as if the little yellow fellows
were in the preponderance. At least, they were until the redwinged
blackbirds and bobolinks, that had nested on the upland, suddenly
saw in the swamp the garden of the Lord and came swarming by hundreds
to feast and adventure upon it these last few weeks before migration.
Never was there a finer feast spread for the birds. The grasses
were filled with seeds: so, too, were weeds of every variety.
Fall berries were ripe. Wild grapes and black haws were ready.
Bugs were creeping everywhere. The muck was yeasty with worms.
Insects filled the air. Nature made glorious pause for holiday
before her next change, and by none of the frequenters of the
swamp was this more appreciated than by the big black chickens.
They seemed to feel the new reign of peace and fullness most of all.
As for food, they did not even have to hunt for themselves these
days, for the feasts now being spread before Little Chicken
were more than he could use, and he was glad to have his parents
come down and help him.
He was a fine, big, overgrown fellow, and his wings, with quills of
jetty black, gleaming with bronze, were so strong they almost
lifted his body. He had three inches of tail, and his beak and
claws were sharp. His muscles began to clamor for exercise.
He raced the forty feet of his home back and forth many times every
hour of the day. After a few days of that, he began lifting and
spreading his wings, and flopping them until the down on his back
was filled with elm fiber. Then he commenced jumping. The funny
little hops, springs, and sidewise bounds he gave set Freckles and
the Angel, hidden in the swamp, watching him, into smothered
chuckles of delight.
Sometimes he fell to coquetting with himself; and that was the
funniest thing of all, for he turned his head up, down, from side
to side, and drew in his chin with prinky little jerks and tilts.
He would stretch his neck, throw up his head, turn it to one side
and smirk--actually smirk, the most complacent and self-satisfied
smirk that anyone ever saw on the face of a bird. It was so comical
that Freckles and the Angel told the Bird Woman of it one day.
When she finished her work on Little Chicken, she left them the
camera ready for use, telling them they might hide in the bushes
and watch. If Little Chicken came out and truly smirked, and they
could squeeze the bulb at the proper moment to snap him, she would
be more than delighted.
Freckles and the Angel quietly curled beside a big log, and with
eager eyes and softest breathing they patiently waited; but Little
Chicken had feasted before they told of his latest accomplishment.
He was tired and sleepy, so he went into the log to bed, and for an
hour he never stirred.
They were becoming anxious, for the light soon would be gone, and
they had so wanted to try for the picture. At last Little Chicken
lifted his head, opened his beak, and gaped widely. He dozed a
minute or two more. The Angel said that was his beauty sleep.
Then he lazily gaped again and stood up, stretching and yawning.
He ambled leisurely toward the gateway, and the Angel said:
"Now, we may have a chance, at last."
"I do hope so," shivered Freckles.
With one accord they arose to their knees and trained their eyes on
the mouth of the log. The light was full and strong. Little Chicken
prospected again with no results. He dressed his plumage, polished
his beak, and when he felt fine and in full toilet he began to
flirt with himself. Freckles' eyes snapped and his breath sucked
between his clenched teeth.
"He's going to do it!" whispered the Angel. "That will come next.
You'll best give me that bulb!"
"Yis," assented Freckles, but he was looking at the log and he made
no move to relinquish the bulb.
Little Chicken nodded daintily and ruffled his feathers. He gave
his head sundry little sidewise jerks and rapidly shifted his point
of vision. Once there was the fleeting little ghost of a smirk.
"Now!--No!" snapped the Angel.
Freckles leaned toward the bird. Tensely he waited. Unconsciously
the hand of the Angel clasped his. He scarcely knew it was there.
Suddenly Little Chicken sprang straight in the air and landed with
a thud. The Angel started slightly, but Freckles was immovable.
Then, as if in approval of his last performance, the big, overgrown
baby wheeled until he was more than three-quarters, almost full
side, toward the camera, straightened on his legs, squared his
shoulders, stretched his neck full height, drew in his chin and
smirked his most pronounced smirk, directly in the face of the lens.
Freckles' fingers closed on the bulb convulsively, and the Angel's
closed on his at the instant. Then she heaved a great sigh of
relief and lifted her hands to push back the damp, clustering hair
from her face.
"How soon do you s'pose it will be finished?" came Freckles'
For the first time the Angel looked at him. He was on his knees,
leaning forward, his eyes directed toward the bird, the
perspiration running in little streams down his red,
mosquito-bitten face. His hat was awry, his bright hair rampant,
his breast heaving with excitement, while he yet gripped the bulb
with every ounce of strength in his body.
"Do you think we were for getting it?" he asked.
The Angel could only nod. Freckles heaved a deep sigh of relief.
"Well, if that ain't the hardest work I ever did in me life!"
he exclaimed. "It's no wonder the Bird Woman's for coming out of
the swamp looking as if she's been through a fire, a flood, and a
famine, if that's what she goes through day after day. But if you
think we got it, why, it's worth all it took, and I'm glad as ever
you are, sure!"
They put the holders in the case, carefully closed the camera, set
it in also, and carried it to the road.
Then Freckles exulted.
"Now, let's be telling the Bird Woman about it!" he shouted, wildly
dancing and swinging his hat.
"We got it! We got it! I bet a farm we got it!"
Hand in hand they ran to the north end of the swamp, yelling "We
got it!" like young Comanches, and never gave a thought to what
they might do until a big blue-gray bird, with long neck and
trailing legs, arose on flapping wings and sailed over the Limberlost.
The Angel became white to the lips and gripped Freckles with
both hands. He gulped with mortification and turned his back.
To frighten her subject away carelessly! It was the head crime in
the Bird Woman's category. She extended her hands as she arose,
baked, blistered, and dripping, and exclaimed: "Bless you, my
children! Bless you!" And it truly sounded as if she meant it.
"Why, why----" stammered the bewildered Angel.
Freckles hurried into the breach.
"You must be for blaming it every bit on me. I was thinking we got
Little Chicken's picture real good. I was so drunk with the joy of
it I lost all me senses and, `Let's run tell the Bird Woman,' says I.
Like a fool I was for running, and I sort of dragged the Angel along."
"Oh Freckles!" expostulated the Angel. "Are you loony? Of course,
it was all my fault! I've been with her hundreds of times. I knew
perfectly well that I wasn't to let anything--NOT ANYTHING--scare
her bird away! I was so crazy I forgot. The blame is all mine, and
she'll never forgive me."
"She will, too!" cried Freckles. "Wasn't you for telling me that
very first day that when people scared her birds away she just
killed them! It's all me foolishness, and I'll never forgive meself!"
The Bird Woman plunged into the swale at the mouth of Sleepy Snake
Creek, and came wading toward them, with a couple of cameras and
"If you will permit me a word, my infants," she said, "I will
explain to you that I have had three shots at that fellow."
The Angel heaved a deep sigh of relief, and Freckles' face cleared
"Two of them," continued the Bird Woman, "in the rushes--one
facing, crest lowered; one light on back, crest flared; and the
last on wing, when you came up. I simply had been praying for
something to make him arise from that side, so that he would fly
toward the camera, for he had waded around until in my position I
couldn't do it myself. See? Behold in yourselves the answer to the
prayers of the long-suffering!"
Freckles took a step toward her.
"Are you really meaning that?" he asked wonderingly. "Only think,
Angel, we did the right thing! She won't lose her picture through
the carelessness of us, when she's waited and soaked nearly two hours.
She's not angry with us!"
"Never was in a sweeter temper in my life," said the Bird Woman,
busily cleaning and packing the cameras.
Freckles removed his hat and solemnly held out his hand. With equal
solemnity the Angel grasped it. The Bird Woman laughed alone, for
to them the situation had been too serious to develop any of the
elements of fun.
Then they loaded the carriage, and the Bird Woman and the Angel
started for their homes. It had been a difficult time for all of
them, so they were very tired, but they were joyful. Freckles was
so happy it seemed to him that life could hold little more. As the
Bird Woman was ready to drive away he laid his hand on the lines
and looked into her face.
"Do you suppose we got it?" he asked, so eagerly that she would
have given much to be able to say yes with conviction.
"Why, my dear, I don't know," she said. "I've no way to judge.
If you made the exposure just before you came to me, there was yet
a fine light. If you waited until Little Chicken was close the
entrance, you should have something good, even if you didn't catch
just the fleeting expression for which you hoped. Of course, I
can't say surely, but I think there is every reason to believe that
you have it all right. I will develop the plate tonight, make you
a proof from it early in the morning, and bring it when we come.
It's only a question of a day or two now until the gang arrives.
I want to work in all the studies I can before that time, for they
are bound to disturb the birds. Mr. McLean will need you then, and
I scarcely see how we are to do without you."
Moved by an impulse she never afterward regretted, she bent and
laid her lips on Freckles' forehead, kissing him gently and
thanking him for his many kindnesses to her in her loved work.
Freckles started away so happy that he felt inclined to keep
watching behind to see if the trail were not curling up and rolling
down the line after him.
CHAPTER XVI. Wherein the Angel Locates a Rare Tree and Dines with the Gang
From afar Freckles saw them coming. The Angel was standing, waving
her hat. He sprang on his wheel and raced, jolting and pounding,
down the corduroy to meet them. The Bird Woman stopped the horse
and the Angel gave him the bit of print paper. Freckles leaned the
wheel against a tree and took the proof with eager fingers.
He never before had seen a study from any of his chickens.
He stood staring. When he turned his face toward them it was
transfigured with delight.
"You see!" he exclaimed, and began gazing again. "Oh, me Little
Chicken!" he cried. "Oh me ilegant Little Chicken! I'd be giving
all me money in the bank for you!"
Then he thought of the Angel's muff and Mrs. Duncan's hat, and
added, "or at least, all but what I'm needing bad for something else.
Would you mind stopping at the cabin a minute and showing this
to Mother Duncan?" he asked.
"Give me that little book in your pocket," said the Bird Woman.
She folded the outer edges of the proof so that it would fit into
the book, explaining as she did so its perishable nature in
that state. Freckles went hurrying ahead, and they arrived in time
to see Mrs. Duncan gazing as if awestruck, and to hear her bewildered
"Weel I be drawed on!"
Freckles and the Angel helped the Bird Woman to establish herself
for a long day at the mouth of Sleepy Snake Creek. Then she sent
them away and waited what luck would bring to her.
"Now, what shall we do?" inquired the Angel, who was a bundle of
nerves and energy.
"Would you like to go to me room awhile?" asked Freckles.
"If you don't care to very much, I'd rather not," said the Angel.
"I'll tell you. Let's go help Mrs. Duncan with dinner and play with
the baby. I love a nice, clean baby."
They started toward the cabin. Every few minutes they stopped to
investigate something or to chatter over some natural history wonder.
The Angel had quick eyes; she seemed to see everything, but Freckles'
were even quicker; for life itself had depended on their sharpness
ever since the beginning of his work at the swamp. They saw it at
the same time.
"Someone has been making a flagpole," said the Angel, running the
toe of her shoe around the stump, evidently made that season.
"Freckles, what would anyone cut a tree as small as that for?"
"I don't know," said Freckles.
"Well, but I want to know!" said the Angel. "No one came away here
and cut it for fun. They've taken it away. Let's go back and see if
we can see it anywhere around there."
She turned, retraced her footsteps, and began eagerly searching.
Freckles did the same.
"There it is!" he exclaimed at last, "leaning against the trunk of
that big maple."
"Yes, and leaning there has killed a patch of dried bark," said
the Angel. "See how dried it appears?"
Freckles stared at her.
"Angel!" he shouted, "I bet you it's a marked tree!"
"Course it is!" cried the Angel. "No one would cut that sapling and
carry it away there and lean it up for nothing. I'll tell you! This
is one of Jack's marked trees. He's climbed up there above anyone's
head, peeled the bark, and cut into the grain enough to be sure.
Then he's laid the bark back and fastened it with that pole to mark it.
You see, there're a lot of other big maples close around it. Can you
climb to that place?"
"Yes," said Freckles; "if I take off my wading-boots I can."
"Then take them off," said the Angel, "and do hurry! Can't you see
that I am almost crazy to know if this tree is a marked one?"
When they pushed the sapling over, a piece of bark as big as the
crown of Freckles' hat fell away.
"I believe it looks kind of nubby," encouraged the Angel, backing
away, with her face all screwed into a twist in an effort to
intensify her vision.
Freckles reached the opening, then slid rapidly to the ground.
He was almost breathless while his eyes were flashing.
"The bark's been cut clean with a knife, the sap scraped away, and
a big chip taken out deep. The trunk is the twistiest thing you
ever saw. It's full of eyes as a bird is of feathers!"
The Angel was dancing and shaking his hand.
"Oh, Freckles," she cried, "I'm so delighted that you found it!"
"But I didn't," said the astonished Freckles. "That tree isn't my
find; it's yours. I forgot it and was going on; you wouldn't give
up, and kept talking about it, and turned back. You found it!"
"You'd best be looking after your reputation for truth and
veracity," said the Angel. "You know you saw that sapling first!"
"Yes, after you took me back and set me looking for it," scoffed Freckles.
The clear, ringing echo of strongly swung axes came crashing
through the Limberlost.
"'Tis the gang!" shouted Freckles. "They're clearing a place to
make the camp. Let's go help!"
"Hadn't we better mark that tree again?" cautioned the Angel.
"It's away in here. There's such a lot of them, and all so
much alike. We'd feel good and green to find it and then lose it."
Freckles lifted the sapling to replace it, but the Angel motioned
"Use your hatchet," she said. "I predict this is the most valuable
tree in the swamp. You found it. I'm going to play that you're
my knight. Now, you nail my colors on it."
She reached up, and pulling a blue bow from her hair, untied and
doubled it against the tree. Freckles turned his eyes from her and
managed the fastening with shaking fingers. The Angel had called
him her knight! Dear Lord, how he loved her! She must not see his
face, or surely her quick eyes would read what he was fighting to hide.
He did not dare lay his lips on that ribbon then, but that night
he would return to it. When they had gone a little distance,
they both looked back, and the morning breeze set the bit of blue
waving them a farewell.
They walked at a rapid pace.
"I am sorry about scaring the birds," said the Angel, "but it's
almost time for them to go anyway. I feel dreadfully over having
the swamp ruined, but isn't it a delight to hear the good, honest
ring of those axes, instead of straining your ears for stealthy
sounds? Isn't it fine to go openly and freely, with nothing worse
than a snake or a poison-vine to fear?"
"Ah!" said Freckles, with a long breath, "it's better than you can
dream, Angel. Nobody will ever be guessing some of the things I've
been through trying to keep me promise to the Boss, and to hold out
until this day. That it's come with only one fresh stump, and the
log from that saved, and this new tree to report, isn't it grand?
Maybe Mr. McLean will be forgetting that stump when he sees this
"He can't forget it," said the Angel; and in answer to Freckles'
startled eyes she added, "because he never had any reason to
remember it. He couldn't have done a whit better himself. My father
says so. You're all right, Freckles!"
She reached him her hand, and as two children, they broke into a
run when they came closer the gang. They left the swamp by the west
road and followed the trail until they found the men. To the Angel
it seemed complete charm. In the shadiest spot on the west side of
the line, at the edge of the swamp and very close Freckles' room,
they were cutting bushes and clearing space for a big tent for the
men's sleeping-quarters, another for a dining-hall, and a board
shack for the cook. The teamsters were unloading, the horses were
cropping leaves from the bushes, while each man was doing his part
toward the construction of the new Limberlost quarters.
Freckles helped the Angel climb on a wagonload of canvas in the shade.
She removed her leggings, wiped her heated face, and glowed with
happiness and interest.
The gang had been sifted carefully. McLean now felt that there was
not a man in it who was not trustworthy.
They all had heard of the Angel's plucky ride for Freckles' relief;
several of them had been in the rescue party. Others, new since
that time, had heard the tale rehearsed in its every aspect around
the smudge-fires at night. Almost all of them knew the Angel by
sight from her trips with the Bird Woman to their leases. They all
knew her father, her position, and the luxuries of her home.
Whatever course she had chosen with them they scarcely would have
resented it, but the Angel never had been known to choose a course.
Her spirit of friendliness was inborn and inbred. She loved
everyone, so she sympathized with everyone. Her generosity was only
limited by what was in her power to give.
She came down the trail, hand in hand with the red-haired, freckled
timber guard whom she had worn herself past the limit of endurance
to save only a few weeks before, racing in her eagerness to reach
them, and laughing her "Good morning, gentlemen," right and left.
When she was ensconced on the wagonload of tenting, she sat on a
roll of canvas as a queen on her throne. There was not a man of the
gang who did not respect her. She was a living exponent of
universal brotherhood. There was no man among them who needed her
exquisite face or dainty clothing to teach him that the deference
due a gentlewoman should be paid her. That the spirit of good
fellowship she radiated levied an especial tribute of its own, and
it became their delight to honor and please her.
As they raced toward the wagon--"Let me tell about the tree,
please?" she begged Freckles.
"Why, sure!" said Freckles.
He probably would have said the same to anything she suggested.
When McLean came, he found the Angel flushed and glowing, sitting
on the wagon, her hands already filled. One of the men, who was
cutting a scrub-oak, had carried to her a handful of crimson leaves.
Another had gathered a bunch of delicate marsh-grass heads for her.
Someone else, in taking out a bush, had found a daintily built and
lined little nest, fresh as when made.
She held up her treasures and greeted McLean, "Good morning, Mr.
Boss of the Limberlost!"
The gang shouted, while he bowed profoundly before her.
"Everyone listen!" cried the Angel, climbing a roll of canvas.
"I have something to say! Freckles has been guarding here over a year
now, and he presents the Limberlost to you, with every tree in it
saved; for good measure he has this morning located the rarest one
of them all: the one in from the east line, that Wessner spoke of
the first day--nearest the one you took out. All together!
Everyone! Hurrah for Freckles!"
With flushing cheeks and gleaming eyes, gaily waving the grass above
her head, she led in three cheers and a tiger. Freckles slipped
into the swamp and hid himself, for fear he could not conceal his
pride and his great surging, throbbing love for her.
The Angel subsided on the canvas and explained to McLean about
the maple. The Boss was mightily pleased. He took Freckles and
set out to re-locate and examine the tree. The Angel was interested
in the making of the camp, so she preferred to remain with the men.
With her sharp eyes she was watching every detail of construction;
but when it came to the stretching of the dining-hall canvas she
proceeded to take command. The men were driving the rope-pins, when
the Angel arose on the wagon and, leaning forward, spoke to Duncan,
who was directing the work.
"I believe if you will swing that around a few feet farther, you
will find it better, Mr. Duncan," she said. "That way will let the
hot sun in at noon, while the sides will cut off the best breeze."
"That's a fact," said Duncan, studying the conditions.
So, by shifting the pins a little, they obtained comfort for which
they blessed the Angel every day. When they came to the
sleeping-tent, they consulted her about that. She explained the
general direction of the night breeze and indicated the best
position for the tent. Before anyone knew how it happened, the
Angel was standing on the wagon, directing the location and
construction of the cooking-shack, the erection of the crane
for the big boiling-pots, and the building of the store-room.
She superintended the laying of the floor of the sleeping-tent
lengthwise, So that it would be easier to sweep, and suggested a
new arrangement of the cots that would afford all the men an equal
share of night breeze. She left the wagon, and climbing on the
newly erected dining-table, advised with the cook in placing his
stove, table, and kitchen utensils.
When Freckles returned from the tree to join in the work around the
camp, he caught glimpses of her enthroned on a soapbox, cleaning beans.
She called to him that they were invited for dinner, and that they
had accepted the invitation.
When the beans were steaming in the pot, the Angel advised the cook
to soak them overnight the next time, so that they would cook more
quickly and not burst. She was sure their cook at home did that
way, and the CHEF of the gang thought it would be a good idea.
The next Freckles saw of her she was paring potatoes. A little later
she arranged the table.
She swept it with a broom, instead of laying a cloth; took the
hatchet and hammered the deepest dents from the tin plates, and
nearly skinned her fingers scouring the tinware with rushes.
She set the plates an even distance apart, and laid the forks and
spoons beside them. When the cook threw away half a dozen
fruit-cans, she gathered them up and melted off the tops, although
she almost blistered her face and quite blistered her fingers doing it.
Then she neatly covered these improvised vases with the Manila paper
from the groceries, tying it with wisps of marshgrass. These she
filled with fringed gentians, blazing-star, asters, goldenrod,
and ferns, placing them the length of the dining-table. In one of
the end cans she arranged her red leaves, and in the other the
fancy grass. Two men, watching her, went away proud of themselves
and said that she was "a born lady." She laughingly caught up a
paper bag and fitted it jauntily to her head in imitation of a
cook's cap. Then she ground the coffee, and beat a couple of eggs
to put in, "because there is company," she gravely explained to
the cook. She asked that delighted individual if he did not like it
best that way, and he said he did not know, because he never had a
chance to taste it. The Angel said that was her case exactly--she
never had, either; she was not allowed anything stronger than milk.
Then they laughed together.
She told the cook about camping with her father, and explained that
he made his coffee that way. When the steam began to rise from the
big boiler, she stuffed the spout tightly with clean marshgrass, to
keep the aroma in, placed the boiler where it would only simmer,
and explained why. The influence of the Angel's visit lingered with
the cook through the remainder of his life, while the men prayed
for her frequent return.
She was having a happy time, when McLean came back jubilant, from
his trip to the tree. How jubilant he told only the Angel, for he
had been obliged to lose faith in some trusted men of late, and had
learned discretion by what he suffered. He planned to begin
clearing out a road to the tree that same afternoon, and to set two
guards every night, for it promised to be a rare treasure, so he
was eager to see it on the way to the mills.
"I am coming to see it felled," cried the Angel. "I feel a sort of
motherly interest in that tree."
McLean was highly amused. He would have staked his life on the
honesty of either the Angel or Freckles; yet their versions of the
finding of the tree differed widely.
"Tell me, Angel," the Boss said jestingly. "I think I have a right
to know. Who really did locate that tree?"
"Freckles," she answered promptly and emphatically.
"But he says quite as positively that it was you. I don't understand."
The Angel's legal look flashed into her face. Her eyes grew tense
with earnestness. She glanced around, and seeing no towel or basin,
held out her hand for Sears to pour water over them. Then, using
the skirt of her dress to dry them, she climbed on the wagon.
"I'll tell you, word for word, how it happened," she said, "and
then you shall decide, and Freckles and I will agree with you."
When she had finished her version, "Tell us, `oh, most learned
judge!'" she laughingly quoted, "which of us located that tree?"
"Blest if I know who located it!" exclaimed McLean. "But I have a
fairly accurate idea as to who put the blue ribbon on it."
The Boss smiled significantly at Freckles, who just had come, for
they had planned that they would instruct the company to reserve
enough of the veneer from that very tree to make the most beautiful
dressing table they could design for the Angel's share of the discovery.
"What will you have for yours?" McLean had asked of Freckles.
"If it's all the same to you, I'll be taking mine out in music lessons--
begging your pardon--voice culture," said Freckles with a grimace.
McLean laughed, for Freckles needed to see or hear only once to
absorb learning as the thirsty earth sucks up water.
The Angel placed McLean at the head of the table. She took the
foot, with Freckles on her right, while the lumber gang, washed,
brushed, and straightened until they felt unfamiliar with
themselves and each other, filled the sides. That imposed a slight
constraint. Then, too, the men were afraid of the flowers, the
polished tableware, and above all, of the dainty grace of the Angel.
Nowhere do men so display lack of good breeding and culture as
in dining. To sprawl on the table, scoop with their knives, chew
loudly, gulp coffee, and duck their heads as snapping-turtles for
every bite, had not been noticed by them until the Angel, sitting
straightly, suddenly made them remember that they, too, were
possessed of spines. Instinctively every man at the table straightened.
CHAPTER XVII. Wherein Freckles Offers His Life for His Love and Gets a Broken Body
To reach the tree was a more difficult task than McLean had supposed.
The gang could approach nearest on the outside toward the east,
but after they reached the end of the east entrance there was
yet a mile of most impenetrable thicket, trees big and little, and
bushes of every variety and stage of growth. In many places the
muck had to be filled to give the horses and wagons a solid
foundation over which to haul heavy loads. It was several days
before they completed a road to the noble, big tree and were ready
to fell it.
When the sawing began, Freckles was watching down the road where it
met the trail leading from Little Chicken's tree. He had gone to the
tree ahead of the gang to remove the blue ribbon. Carefully folded,
it now lay over his heart. He was promising himself much
comfort with that ribbon, when he would leave for the city next
month to begin his studies and dream the summer over again.
It would help to make things tangible. When he was dressed as other
men, and at his work, he knew where he meant to home that precious
bit of blue. It should be his good-luck token, and he would wear it
always to keep bright in memory the day on which the Angel had
called him her knight.
How he would study, and oh, how he would sing! If only he could
fulfill McLean's expectations, and make the Angel proud of him!
If only he could be a real knight!
He could not understand why the Angel had failed to come. She had
wanted to see their tree felled. She would be too late if she did
not arrive soon. He had told her it would be ready that morning,
and she had said she surely would be there. Why, of all mornings,
was she late on this?
McLean had ridden to town. If he had been there, Freckles would
have asked that they delay the felling, but he scarcely liked to
ask the gang. He really had no authority, although he thought the
men would wait; but some way he found such embarrassment in framing
the request that he waited until the work was practically ended.
The saw was out, and the men were cutting into the felling side of
the tree when the Boss rode in.
His first word was to inquire for the Angel. When Freckles said she
had not yet come, the Boss at once gave orders to stop work on the
tree until she arrived; for he felt that she virtually had located
it, and if she desired to see it felled, she should. As the men
stepped back, a stiff morning breeze caught the top, that towered
high above its fellows. There was an ominous grinding at the base,
a shiver of the mighty trunk, then directly in line of its fall the
bushes swung apart and the laughing face of the Angel looked on them.
A groan of horror burst from the dry throats of the men, and
reading the agony in their faces, she stopped short, glanced up,
"South!" shouted McLean. "Run south!"
The Angel was helpless. It was apparent that she did not know which
way south was. There was another slow shiver of the big tree.
The remainder of the gang stood motionless, but Freckles sprang past
the trunk and went leaping in big bounds. He caught up the Angel
and dashed through the thicket for safety. The swaying trunk was
half over when, for an instant, a near-by tree stayed its fall.
They saw Freckles' foot catch, and with the Angel he plunged headlong.
A terrible cry broke from the men, while McLean covered his face.
Instantly Freckles was up, with the Angel in his arms, struggling on.
The outer limbs were on them when they saw Freckles hurl the
Angel, face down, in the muck, as far from him as he could send her.
Springing after, in an attempt to cover her body with his own,
he whirled to see if they were yet in danger, and with outstretched
arms braced himself for the shock. The branches shut them from
sight, and the awful crash rocked the earth.
McLean and Duncan ran with axes and saws. The remainder of the gang
followed, and they worked desperately. It seemed a long time before
they caught a glimpse of the Angel's blue dress, but it renewed
their vigor. Duncan fell on his knees beside her and tore the muck
from underneath her with his hands. In a few seconds he dragged her
out, choking and stunned, but surely not fatally hurt.
Freckles lay a little farther under the tree, a big limb pinning
him down. His eyes were wide open. He was perfectly conscious.
Duncan began mining beneath him, but Freckles stopped him.
"You can't be moving me," he said. "You must cut off the limb and
lift it. I know."
Two men ran for the big saw. A number of them laid hold of the limb
and bore up. In a short time it was removed, and Freckles lay free.
The men bent over to lift him, but he motioned them away.
"Don't be touching me until I rest a bit," he pleaded.
Then he twisted his head until he saw the Angel, who was wiping
muck from her eyes and face on the skirt of her dress.
"Try to get up," he begged.
McLean laid hold of the Angel and helped her to her feet.
"Do you think any bones are broken?" gasped Freckles.
The Angel shook her head and wiped muck.
"You see if you can find any, sir," Freckles commanded.
The Angel yielded herself to McLean's touch, and he assured
Freckles that she was not seriously injured.
Freckles settled back, a smile of ineffable tenderness on his face.
"Thank the Lord!" he hoarsely whispered.
The Angel leaned toward him.
"Now, Freckles, you!" she cried. "It's your turn. Please get up!"
A pitiful spasm swept Freckles' face. The sight of it washed every
vestige of color from the Angel's. She took hold of his hands.
"Freckles, get up!" It was half command, half entreaty.
"Easy, Angel, easy! Let me rest a bit first!" implored Freckles.
She knelt beside him. He reached his arm around her and drew
her closely. He looked at McLean in an agony of entreaty that
brought the Boss to his knees on the other side.
"Oh, Freckles!" McLean cried. "Not that! Surely we can do something!
We must! Let me see!"
He tried to unfasten Freckles' neckband, but his fingers shook so
clumsily that the Angel pushed them away and herself laid Freckles'
chest bare. With one hasty glance she gathered the clothing
together and slipped her arm under his head. Freckles lifted his
eyes of agony to hers.
"You see?" he said.
The Angel nodded dumbly.
Freckles turned to McLean.
"Thank you for everything," he panted. "Where are the boys?"
"They are all here," said the Boss, "except a couple who have gone
for doctors, Mrs. Duncan and the Bird Woman."
"It's no use trying to do anything," said Freckles. "You won't
forget the muff and the Christmas box. The muff especial?"
There was a movement above them so pronounced that it attracted
Freckles' attention, even in that extreme hour. He looked up, and
a pleased smile flickered on his drawn face.
"Why, if it ain't me Little Chicken!" he cried hoarsely. "He must
be making his very first trip from the log. Now Duncan can have his
"It was Little Chicken that made me late," faltered the Angel.
"I was so anxious to get here early I forgot to bring his breakfast
from the carriage. He must have been hungry, for when I passed the
log he started after me. He was so wabbly, and so slow flying from
tree to tree and through the bushes, I just had to wait on him, for
I couldn't drive him back."
"Of course you couldn't! Me bird has too amazing good sinse to go
back when he could be following you," exulted Freckles, exactly as
if he did not realize what the delay had cost him. Then he lay
silently thinking, but presently he asked slowly: "And so `twas me
Little Chicken that was making you late, Angel?"
"Yes," said the Angel.
A spasm of fierce pain shook Freckles, and a look of uncertainty
crossed his face.
"All summer I've been thanking God for the falling of the feather
and all the delights it's brought me," he muttered, "but this looks
He stopped short and raised questioning eyes to McLean.
"I can't help being Irish, but I can help being superstitious,"
he said. "I mustn't be laying it to the Almighty, or to me bird,
"No, dear lad," said McLean, stroking the brilliant hair.
"The choice lay with you. You could have stood a rooted dolt like
all the remainder of us. It was through your great love and your
high courage that you made the sacrifice."
"Don't you be so naming it, sir!" cried Freckles. "It's just
the reverse. If I could be giving me body the hundred times over to
save hers from this, I'd be doing it and take joy with every pain."
He turned with a smile of adoring tenderness to the Angel. She was
ghastly white, and her eyes were dull and glazed. She scarcely
seemed to hear or understand what was coming, but she bravely tried
to answer that smile.
"Is my forehead covered with dirt?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"You did once," he gasped.
Instantly she laid her lips on his forehead, then on each cheek,
and then in a long kiss on his lips.
McLean bent over him.
"Freckles," he said brokenly, "you will never know how I love you.
You won't go without saying good-bye to me?"
That word stung the Angel to quick comprehension. She started as if
arousing from sleep.
"Good-bye?" she cried sharply, her eyes widening and the color
rushing into her white face. "Good-bye! Why, what do you mean?
Who's saying good-bye? Where could Freckles go, when he is hurt
like this, save to the hospital? You needn't say good-bye for that.
Of course, we will all go with him! You call up the men. We must
start right away."
"It's no use, Angel," said Freckles. "I'm thinking ivry bone in me
breast is smashed. You'll have to be letting me go!"
"I will not," said the Angel flatly. "It's no use wasting precious
time talking about it. You are alive. You are breathing; and no
matter how badly your bones are broken, what are great surgeons for
but to fix you up and make you well again? You promise me that
you'll just grit your teeth and hang on when we hurt you, for we
must start with you as quickly as it can be done. I don't know what
has been the matter with me. Here's good time wasted already."
"Oh, Angel!" moaned Freckles, "I can't! You don't know how bad it is.
I'll die the minute you are for trying to lift me!"
"Of course you will, if you make up your mind to do it," said
the Angel. "But if you are determined you won't, and set yourself to
breathing deep and strong, and hang on to me tight, I can get you out.
Really you must, Freckles, no matter how it hurts, for you did this
for me, and now I must save you, so you might as well promise."
She bent over him, trying to smile encouragement with her
"You will promise, Freckles?"
Big drops of cold sweat ran together on Freckles' temples.
"Angel, darlin' Angel," he pleaded, taking her hand in his.
"You ain't understanding, and I can't for the life of me be
telling you, but indade, it's best to be letting me go.
This is my chance. Please say good-bye, and let me slip
He appealed to McLean.
"Dear Boss, you know! You be telling her that, for me, living is
far worse pain than dying. Tell her you know death is the best
thing that could ever be happening to me!"
"Merciful Heaven!" burst in the Angel. "I can't endure this delay!"
She caught Freckles' hand to her breast, and bending over him,
looked deeply into his stricken eyes.
"`Angel, I give you my word of honor that I will keep right
on breathing.' That's what you are going to promise me," she said.
"Do you say it?"
"Freckles!" imploringly commanded the Angel, "YOU DO SAY IT!"
"Yis," gasped Freckles.
The Angel sprang to her feet.
"Then that's all right," she said, with a tinge of her old-
time briskness. "You just keep breathing away like a steam
engine, and I will do all the remainder."
The eager men gathered around her.
"It's going to be a tough pull to get Freckles out," she said, "but
it's our only chance, so listen closely and don't for the lives of
you fail me in doing quickly what I tell you. There's no time to
spend falling down over each other; we must have some system.
You four there get on those wagon horses and ride to the sleeping-tent.
Get the stoutest cot, a couple of comforts, and a pillow. Ride back
with them some way to save time. If you meet any other men of the
gang, send them here to help carry the cot. We won't risk the jolt
of driving with him. The others clear a path out to the road; and
Mr. McLean, you take Nellie and ride to town. Tell my father how
Freckles is hurt and that he risked it to save me. Tell him I'm
going to take Freckles to Chicago on the noon train, and I want him
to hold it if we are a little late. If he can't, then have a
special ready at the station and another on the Pittsburgh at Fort
Wayne, so we can go straight through. You needn't mind leaving us.
The Bird Woman will be here soon. We will rest awhile."
She dropped into the muck beside Freckles and began stroking his
hair and hand. He lay with his face of agony turned to hers, and
fought to smother the groans that would tell her what he was suffering.
When they stood ready to lift him, the Angel bent over him in a
passion of tenderness.
"Dear old Limberlost guard, we're going to lift you now," she said.
"I suspect you will faint from the pain of it, but we will be as
easy as ever we can, and don't you dare forget your promise!"
A whimsical half-smile touched Freckles' quivering lips.
"Angel, can a man be remembering a promise when he ain't knowing?"
"You can," said the Angel stoutly, "because a promise means so much
more to you than it does to most men."
A look of strength flashed into Freckles' face at her words.
"I am ready," he said.
With the first touch his eyes closed, a mighty groan was wrenched
from him, and he lay senseless. The Angel gave Duncan one panic-
stricken look. Then she set her lips and gathered her forces again.
"I guess that's a good thing," she said. "Maybe he won't feel how
we are hurting him. Oh boys, are you being quick and gentle?"
She stepped to the side of the cot and bathed Freckles' face.
Taking his hand in hers, she gave the word to start. She told the
men to ask every able-bodied man they met to join them so that they
could change carriers often and make good time.
The Bird Woman insisted upon taking the Angel into the carriage and
following the cot, but she refused to leave Freckles, and suggested
that the Bird Woman drive ahead, pack them some clothing, and be at
the station ready to accompany them to Chicago. All the way the
Angel walked beside the cot, shading Freckles' face with a branch,
and holding his hand. At every pause to change carriers she
moistened his face and lips and watched each breath with
She scarcely knew when her father joined them, and taking the branch
from her, slipped an arm around her waist and almost carried her.
To the city streets and the swarm of curious, staring faces she
paid no more attention than she had to the trees of the Limberlost.
When the train came and the gang placed Freckles aboard, big
Duncan made a place for the Angel beside the cot.
With the best physician to be found, and with the Bird Woman and
McLean in attendance, the four-hours' run to Chicago began. The Angel
constantly watched over Freckles; bathed his face, stroked his
hand, and gently fanned him. Not for an instant would she yield
her place, or allow anyone else to do anything for him. The Bird
Woman and McLean regarded her in amazement. There seemed to be no
end to her resources and courage. The only time she spoke was to
ask McLean if he were sure the special would be ready on the
Pittsburgh road. He replied that it was made up and waiting.
At five o'clock Freckles lay stretched on the operating-table of
Lake View Hospital, while three of the greatest surgeons in Chicago
bent over him. At their command, McLean picked up the unwilling
Angel and carried her to the nurses to be bathed, have her bruises
attended, and to be put to bed.
In a place where it is difficult to surprise people, they were
astonished women as they removed the Angel's dainty stained and
torn clothing, drew off hose muck-baked to her limbs, soaked the
dried loam from her silken hair, and washed the beautiful
scratched, bruised, dirt-covered body. The Angel fell fast asleep
long before they had finished, and lay deeply unconscious, while
the fight for Freckles' life was being waged.
Three days later she was the same Angel as of old, except that
Freckles was constantly in her thoughts. The anxiety and
responsibility that she felt for his condition had bred in her a
touch of womanliness and authority that was new. That morning she
arose early and hovered near Freckles' door. She had been allowed
to remain with him constantly, for the nurses and surgeons had
learned, with his returning consciousness, that for her alone would
the active, highly strung, pain-racked sufferer be quiet and obey
orders. When she was dropping from loss of sleep, the threat that
she would fall ill had to be used to send her to bed. Then by
telling Freckles that the Angel was asleep and they would waken her
the moment he moved, they were able to control him for a short time.
The surgeon was with Freckles. The Angel had been told that the
word he brought that morning would be final, so she curled in a
window seat, dropped the curtains behind her, and in dire anxiety,
waited the opening of the door.
Just as it unclosed, McLean came hurrying down the hall and to the
surgeon, but with one glance at his face he stepped back in dismay;
while the Angel, who had arisen, sank to the seat again, too dazed
to come forward. The men faced each other. The Angel, with parted
lips and frightened eyes, bent forward in tense anxiety.
"I--I thought he was doing nicely?" faltered McLean.
"He bore the operation well," replied the surgeon, "and his wounds
are not necessarily fatal. I told you that yesterday, but I did not
tell you that something else probably would kill him; and it will.
He need not die from the accident, but he will not live the day out."
"But why? What is it?" asked McLean hurriedly. "We all dearly love
the boy. We have millions among us to do anything that money
can accomplish. Why must he die, if those broken bones are not
"That is what I am going to give you the opportunity to tell me,"
replied the surgeon. "He need not die from the accident, yet he is
dying as fast as his splendid physical condition will permit, and
it is because he so evidently prefers death to life. If he were
full of hope and ambition to live, my work would be easy. If all of
you love him as you prove you do, and there is unlimited means to
give him anything he wants, why should he desire death?"
"Is he dying?" demanded McLean.
"He is," said the surgeon. "He will not live this day out, unless
some strong reaction sets in at once. He is so low, that preferring
death to life, nature cannot overcome his inertia. If he is to
live, he must be made to desire life. Now he undoubtedly wishes for
death, and that it come quickly."
"Then he must die," said McLean.
His broad shoulders shook convulsively. His strong hands opened and
"Does that mean that you know what he desires and cannot, or will
not, supply it?"
McLean groaned in misery.
"It means," he said desperately, "that I know what he wants, but it
is as far removed from my power to help him as it would be to give
him a star. The thing for which he will die, he can never have."
"Then you must prepare for the end very shortly" said the surgeon,
turning abruptly away.
McLean caught his arm roughly.
"You look here!" he cried in desperation. "You say that as if I
could do something if I would. I tell you the boy is dear to me
past expression. I would do anything--spend any sum. You have
noticed and repeatedly commented on the young girl with me. It is
that child that he wants! He worships her to adoration, and knowing
he can never be anything to her, he prefers death to life. In God's
name, what can I do about it?"
"Barring that missing hand, I never examined a finer man," said the
surgeon, "and she seemed perfectly devoted to him; why cannot he
"Why?" echoed McLean. "Why? Well, for many reasons! I told you he
was my son. You probably knew that he was not. A little over a year
ago I never had seen him. He joined one of my lumber gangs from
the road. He is a stray, left at one of your homes for the friendless
here in Chicago. When he grew up the superintendent bound him to a
brutal man. He ran away and landed in one of my lumber camps. He
has no name or knowledge of legal birth. The Angel--we have talked
of her. You see what she is, physically and mentally. She has
ancestors reaching back to Plymouth Rock, and across the sea for
generations before that. She is an idolized, petted only child, and
there is great wealth. Life holds everything for her, nothing for him.
He sees it more plainly than anyone else could. There is nothing
for the boy but death, if it is the Angel that is required to save him."
The Angel stood between them.
"Well, I just guess not!" she cried. "If Freckles wants me, all he
has to do is to say so, and he can have me!"
The amazed men stepped back, staring at her.
"That he will never say," said McLean at last, "and you don't
understand, Angel. I don't know how you came here. I wouldn't have
had you hear that for the world, but since you have, dear girl, you
must be told that it isn't your friendship or your kindness
Freckles wants; it is your love."
The Angel looked straight into the great surgeon's eyes with her clear,
steady orbs of blue, and then into McLean's with unwavering frankness.
"Well, I do love him," she said simply.
McLean's arms dropped helplessly.
"You don't understand," he reiterated patiently. "It isn't the love
of a friend, or a comrade, or a sister, that Freckles wants from
you; it is the love of a sweetheart. And if to save the life he has
offered for you, you are thinking of being generous and impulsive
enough to sacrifice your future--in the absence of your father, it
will become my plain duty, as the protector in whose hands he has
placed you, to prevent such rashness. The very words you speak, and
the manner in which you say them, prove that you are a mere child,
and have not dreamed what love is."
Then the Angel grew splendid. A rosy flush swept the pallor of fear
from her face. Her big eyes widened and dilated with intense lights.
She seemed to leap to the height and the dignity of superb womanhood
before their wondering gaze.
"I never have had to dream of love," she said proudly. "I never
have known anything else, in all my life, but to love everyone and
to have everyone love me. And there never has been anyone so dear
as Freckles. If you will remember, we have been through a good deal
together. I do love Freckles, just as I say I do. I don't know
anything about the love of sweethearts, but I love him with all the
love in my heart, and I think that will satisfy him."
"Surely it should!" muttered the man of knives and lancets.
McLean reached to take hold of the Angel, but she saw the movement
and swiftly stepped back.
"As for my father," she continued, "he at once told me what he
learned from you about Freckles. I've known all you know for
several weeks. That knowledge didn't change your love for him
a particle. I think the Bird Woman loved him more. Why should
you two have all the fine perceptions there are? Can't I see how
brave, trustworthy, and splendid he is? Can't I see how his soul
vibrates with his music, his love of beautiful things and the pangs
of loneliness and heart hunger? Must you two love him with all the
love there is, and I give him none? My father is never unreasonable.
He won't expect me not to love Freckles, or not to tell him so,
if the telling will save him."
She darted past McLean into Freckles' room, closed the door, and
turned the key.
CHAPTER XVIII. Wherein Freckles refuses Love Without Knowledge of Honorable Birth, and the Angel Goes in Quest of it
Freckles lay on a flat pillow, his body immovable in a plaster
cast, his maimed arm, as always, hidden. His greedy gaze fastened
at once on the Angel's face. She crossed to him with light step and
bent over him with infinite tenderness. Her heart ached at the
change in his appearance. He seemed so weak, heart hungry, so
utterly hopeless, so alone. She could see that the night had been
one long terror.
For the first time she tried putting herself in Freckles' place.
What would it mean to have no parents, no home, no name? No name!
That was the worst of all. That was to be lost--indeed--utterly and
hopelessly lost. The Angel lifted her hands to her dazed head and
reeled, as she tried to face that proposition. She dropped on her
knees beside the bed, slipped her arm under the pillow, and leaning
over Freckles, set her lips on his forehead. He smiled faintly, but
his wistful face appeared worse for it. It hurt the Angel to the heart.
"Dear Freckles," she said, "there is a story in your eyes this
morning, tell me?"
Freckles drew a long, wavering breath.
"Angel," he begged, "be generous! Be thinking of me a little.
I'm so homesick and worn out, dear Angel, be giving me back me promise.
Let me go?"
"Why Freckles!" faltered the Angel. "You don't know what you
are asking. `Let you go!' I cannot! I love you better than
anyone, Freckles. I think you are the very finest person I ever knew.
I have our lives all planned. I want you to be educated and learn
all there is to know about singing, just as soon as you are well enough.
By the time you have completed your education I will have
finished college, and then I want," she choked a second, "I want
you to be my real knight, Freckles, and come to me and tell me that
you--like me--a little. I have been counting on you for my
sweetheart from the very first, Freckles. I can't give you up,
unless you don't like me. But you do like me--just a little--don't
Freckles lay whiter than the coverlet, his staring eyes on the
ceiling and his breath wheezing between dry lips. The Angel awaited
his answer a second, and when none came, she dropped her crimsoning
face beside him on the pillow and whispered in his ear:
"Freckles, I--I'm trying to make love to you. Oh, can't you help me
only a little bit? It's awful hard all alone! I don't know how,
when I really mean it, but Freckles, I love you. I must have you,
and now I guess--I guess maybe I'd better kiss you next."
She lifted her shamed face and bravely laid her feverish, quivering
lips on his. Her breath, like clover-bloom, was in his nostrils, and
her hair touched his face. Then she looked into his eyes with reproach.
"Freckles," she panted, "Freckles! I didn't think it was in you to
"Mean, Angel! Mean to you?" gasped Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel. "Downright mean. When I kiss you, if you had
any mercy at all you'd kiss back, just a little bit."
Freckles' sinewy fist knotted into the coverlet. His chin pointed
ceilingward while his head rocked on the pillow.
"Oh, Jesus!" burst from him in agony. "You ain't the only one that
The Angel caught Freckles' hand and carried it to her breast.
"Freckles!" she wailed in terror, "Freckles! It is a mistake? Is it
that you don't want me?"
Freckles' head rolled on in wordless suffering.
"Wait a bit, Angel?" he panted at last. "Be giving me a little time!"
The Angel arose with controlled features. She bathed his face,
straightened his hair, and held water to his lips. It seemed a long
time before he reached toward her. Instantly she knelt again,
carried his hand to her breast, and leaned her cheek upon it.
"Tell me, Freckles," she whispered softly.
"If I can," said Freckles in agony. "It's just this. Angels are
from above. Outcasts are from below. You've a sound body and you're
beautifulest of all. You have everything that loving, careful
raising and money can give you. I have so much less than nothing
that I don't suppose I had any right to be born. It's a sure
thing--nobody wanted me afterward, so of course, they didn't
before. Some of them should have been telling you long ago."
"If that's all you have to say, Freckles, I've known that quite a
while," said the Angel stoutly. "Mr. McLean told my father, and he
told me. That only makes me love you more, to pay for all you've missed."
"Then I'm wondering at you," said Freckles in a voice of awe.
"Can't you see that if you were willing and your father would come
and offer you to me, I couldn't be touching the soles of your feet,
in love--me, whose people brawled over me, cut off me hand, and
throwed me away to freeze and to die! Me, who has no name just as
much because I've no RIGHT to any, as because I don't know it.
When I was little, I planned to find me father and mother when I
grew up. Now I know me mother deserted me, and me father was maybe a
thief and surely a liar. The pity for me suffering and the watching
over me have gone to your head, dear Angel, and it's me must be
thinking for you. If you could be forgetting me lost hand, where I
was raised, and that I had no name to give you, and if you would be
taking me as I am, some day people such as mine must be, might come
upon you. I used to pray ivery night and morning and many times the
day to see me mother. Now I only pray to die quickly and never risk
the sight of her. 'Tain't no ways possible, Angel! It's a wildness
of your dear head. Oh, do for mercy sake, kiss me once more and be
letting me go!"
"Not for a minute!" cried the Angel. "Not for a minute, if those
are all the reasons you have. It's you who are wild in your head,
but I can understand just how it happened. Being shut in that Home
most of your life, and seeing children every day whose parents did
neglect and desert them, makes you sure yours did the same; and yet
there are so many other things that could have happened so much
more easily than that. There are thousands of young couples who
come to this country and start a family with none of their
relatives here. Chicago is a big, wicked city, and grown people
could disappear in many ways, and who would there ever be to find
to whom their little children belonged? The minute my father told
me how you felt, I began to study this thing over, and I've made up
my mind you are dead wrong. I meant to ask my father or the Bird
Woman to talk to you before you went away to school, but as matters
are right now I guess I'll just do it myself. It's all so plain
to me. Oh, if I could only make you see!"
She buried her face in the pillow and presently lifted it, transfigured.
"Now I have it!" she cried. "Oh, dear heart! I can make it
so plain! Freckles, can you imagine you see the old Limberlost trail?
Well when we followed it, you know there were places where ugly,
prickly thistles overgrew the path, and you went ahead with your
club and bent them back to keep them from stinging through my clothing.
Other places there were big shining pools where lovely, snow-white
lilies grew, and you waded in and gathered them for me. Oh dear
heart, don't you see? It's this! Everywhere the wind carried
that thistledown, other thistles sprang up and grew prickles;
and wherever those lily seeds sank to the mire, the pure white
of other lilies bloomed. But, Freckles, there was never a
place anywhere in the Limberlost, or in the whole world, where the
thistledown floated and sprang up and blossomed into white lilies!
Thistles grow from thistles, and lilies from other lilies.
Dear Freckles, think hard! You must see it! You are a lily,
straight through. You never, never could have drifted from the
"Where did you find the courage to go into the Limberlost and face
its terrors? You inherited it from the blood of a brave father,
dear heart. Where did you get the pluck to hold for over a year a
job that few men would have taken at all? You got it from a plucky
mother, you bravest of boys. You attacked single-handed a man
almost twice your size, and fought as a demon, merely at the
suggestion that you be deceptive and dishonest. Could your mother
or your father have been untruthful? Here you are, so hungry and
starved that you are dying for love. Where did you get all that
capacity for loving? You didn't inherit it from hardened, heartless
people, who would disfigure you and purposely leave you to die,
that's one sure thing. You once told me of saving your big bullfrog
from a rattlesnake. You knew you risked a horrible death when you
did it. Yet you will spend miserable years torturing yourself with
the idea that your own mother might have cut off that hand. Shame on
you, Freckles! Your mother would have done this----"
The Angel deliberately turned back the cover, slipped up the
sleeve, and laid her lips on the scars.
"Freckles! Wake up!" she cried, almost shaking him. "Come to
your senses! Be a thinking, reasoning man! You have brooded too much,
and been all your life too much alone. It's all as plain as plain
can be to me. You must see it! Like breeds like in this world!
You must be some sort of a reproduction of your parents, and I am not
afraid to vouch for them, not for a minute!
"And then, too, if more proof is needed, here it is: Mr. McLean
says that you never once have failed in tact and courtesy. He says
that you are the most perfect gentleman he ever knew, and he has
traveled the world over. How does it happen, Freckles? No one at
that Home taught you. Hundreds of men couldn't be taught, even in
a school of etiquette; so it must be instinctive with you. If it
is, why, that means that it is born in you, and a direct
inheritance from a race of men that have been gentlemen for ages,
and couldn't be anything else.
"Then there's your singing. I don't believe there ever was a mortal
with a sweeter voice than yours, and while that doesn't prove
anything, there is a point that does. The little training you had
from that choirmaster won't account for the wonderful accent and
ease with which you sing. Somewhere in your close blood is a
marvelously trained vocalist; we every one of us believe that, Freckles.
"Why does my father refer to you constantly as being of fine
perceptions and honor? Because you are, Freckles. Why does the Bird
Woman leave her precious work and come here to help look after you?
I never heard of her losing any time over anyone else. It's because
she loves you. And why does Mr. McLean turn all of his valuable
business over to hired men and watch you personally? And why is he
hunting excuses every day to spend money on you? My father says
McLean is full Scotch-close with a dollar. He is a hard-headed
business man, Freckles, and he is doing it because he finds you
worthy of it. Worthy of all we all can do and more than we know how
to do, dear heart! Freckles, are you listening to me? Oh! won't you
see it? Won't you believe it?"
"Oh, Angel!" chattered the bewildered Freckles, "are you truly
maning it? Could it be?"
"Of course it could," flashed the Angel, "because it just is!"
"But you can't prove it," wailed Freckles. "It ain't giving me a
name, or me honor!"
"Freckles," said the Angel sternly, "you are unreasonable! Why, I
did prove every word I said! Everything proves it! You look here!
If you knew for sure that I could give you a name and your honor,
and prove to you that your mother did love you, why, then, would
you just go to breathing like perpetual motion and hang on for dear
life and get well?"
A bright light shone in Freckles' eyes.
"If I knew that, Angel," he said solemnly, "you couldn't be killing
me if you felled the biggest tree in the Limberlost smash on me!"
"Then you go right to work," said the Angel, "and before night I'll
prove one thing to you: I can show you easily enough how much your
mother loved you. That will be the first step, and then the
remainder will all come. If my father and Mr. McLean are so anxious
to spend some money, I'll give them a chance. I don't see why we
haven't comprehended how you felt and so have been at work weeks ago.
We've been awfully selfish. We've all been so comfortable, we never
stopped to think what other people were suffering before our eyes.
None of us has understood. I'll hire the finest detective in
Chicago, and we'll go to work together. This is nothing compared
with things people do find out. We'll go at it, beak and claw, and
we'll show you a thing or two."
Freckles caught her sleeve.
"Me mother, Angel! Me mother!" he marveled hoarsely. "Did you say
you could be finding out today if me mother loved me? How? Oh, Angel!
Nothing matters, IF ONLY ME MOTHER DIDN'T DO IT!"
"Then you rest easy," said the Angel, with large confidence.
"Your mother didn't do it! Mothers of sons such as you don't do things
like that. I'll go to work at once and prove it to you. The first
thing to do is to go to that Home where you were and get the
clothes you wore the night you were left there. I know that they
are required to save those things carefully. We can find out almost
all there is to know about your mother from them. Did you ever see them?"
"Yis," he replied.
"Freckles! Were they white?" she cried.
"Maybe they were once. They're all yellow with laying, and brown
with blood-stains now" said Freckles, the old note of bitterness
creeping in. "You can't be telling anything at all by them, Angel!"
"Well, but I just can!" said the Angel positively. "I can see from
the quality what kind of goods your mother could afford to buy.
I can see from the cut whether she had good taste. I can see from
the care she took in making them how much she loved and wanted you."
"But how? Angel, tell me how!" implored Freckles with trembling eagerness.
"Why, easily enough," said the Angel. "I thought you'd understand.
People that can afford anything at all, always buy white for little
new babies--linen and lace, and the very finest things to be had.
There's a young woman living near us who cut up her wedding clothes
to have fine things for her baby. Mothers who love and want their
babies don't buy little rough, ready-made things, and they don't
run up what they make on an old sewing machine. They make fine
seams, and tucks, and put on lace and trimming by hand. They sit and
stitch, and stitch--little, even stitches, every one just as careful.
Their eyes shine and their faces glow. When they have to quit to
do something else, they look sorry, and fold up their work
so particularly. There isn't much worth knowing about your mother
that those little clothes won't tell. I can see her putting the
little stitches into them and smiling with shining eyes over
your coming. Freckles, I'll wager you a dollar those little clothes
of yours are just alive with the dearest, tiny handmade stitches."
A new light dawned in Freckles' eyes. A tinge of warm color swept
into his face. Renewed strength was noticeable in his grip of her hands.
"Oh Angel! Will you go now? Will you be hurrying?" he cried.
"Right away," said the Angel. "I won't stop for a thing, and I'll
hurry with all my might."
She smoothed his pillow, straightened the cover, gave him one
steady look in the eyes, and went quietly from the room.
Outside the door, McLean and the surgeon anxiously awaited her.
McLean caught her shoulders.
"Angel, what have you done?" he demanded.
The Angel smiled defiance into his eyes.
"`What have I done?'" she repeated. "I've tried to save Freckles."
"What will your father say?" groaned McLean.
"It strikes me," said the Angel, "that what Freckles said would be
to the point."
"Freckles!" exclaimed McLean. "What could he say?"
"He seemed to be able to say several things," answered the
Angel sweetly. "I fancy the one that concerns you most at present
was, that if my father should offer me to him he would not have me."
"And no one knows why better than I do," cried McLean. "Every day
he must astonish me with some new fineness."
He turned to the surgeon. "Save him!" he commanded. "Save him!"
he implored. "He is too fine to be sacrificed."
"His salvation lies here," said the surgeon, stroking the Angel's
sunshiny hair, "and I can read in the face of her that she knows
how she is going to work it out. Don't trouble for the boy.
She will save him!"
The Angel laughingly sped down the hall, and into the street, just
as she was.
"I have come," she said to the matron of the Home, "to ask if you
will allow me to examine, or, better yet, to take with me, the
little clothes that a boy you called Freckles, discharged last
fall, wore the night he was left here."
The woman looked at her in greater astonishment than the occasion demanded.
"Well, I'd be glad to let you see them," she said at last, "but the
fact is we haven't them. I do hope we haven't made some mistake.
I was thoroughly convinced, and so was the superintendent. We let his
people take those things away yesterday. Who are you, and what do
you want with them?"
The Angel stood dazed and speechless, staring at the matron.
"There couldn't have been a mistake," continued the matron, seeing
the Angel's distress. "Freckles was here when I took charge, ten
years ago. These people had it all proved that he belonged to them.
They had him traced to where he ran away in Illinois last fall, and
there they completely lost track of him. I'm sorry you seem so
disappointed, but it is all right. The man is his uncle, and as
like the boy as he possibly could be. He is almost killed to go
back without him. If you know where Freckles is, they'd give big
money to find out."
The Angel laid a hand along each cheek to steady her chattering teeth.
"Who are they?" she stammered. "Where are they going?"
"They are Irish folks, miss," said the matron. "They have been in
Chicago and over the country for the past three months, hunting him
everywhere. They have given up, and are starting home today. They----"
"Did they leave an address? Where could I find them?" interrupted
"They left a card, and I notice the morning paper has the man's
picture and is full of them. They've advertised a great deal in the
city papers. It's a wonder you haven't seen something."
"Trains don't run right. We never get Chicago papers," said
the Angel. "Please give me that card quickly. They may escape me.
I simply must catch them!"
The matron hurried to the secretary and came back with a card.
"Their addresses are there," she said. "Both in Chicago and at
their home. They made them full and plain, and I was to cable at
once if I got the least clue of him at any time. If they've left
the city, you can stop them in New York. You're sure to catch them
before they sail--if you hurry."
The matron caught up a paper and thrust it into the Angel's hand as
she ran to the street.
The Angel glanced at the card. The Chicago address was Suite
Eleven, Auditorium. She laid her hand on her driver's sleeve and
looked into his eyes.
"There is a fast-driving limit?" she asked.
"Will you crowd it all you can without danger of arrest? I will
pay well. I must catch some people!"
Then she smiled at him. The hospital, an Orphans' Home, and the
Auditorium seemed a queer combination to that driver, but the Angel
was always and everywhere the Angel, and her methods were strictly
"I will take you there as quickly as any man could with a team," he
The Angel clung to the card and paper, and as best she could in the
lurching, swaying cab, read the addresses over.
"O'More, Suite Eleven, Auditorium."
"`O'More,'" she repeated. "Seems to fit Freckles to a dot. Wonder if
that could be his name? `Suite Eleven' means that you are pretty
well fixed. Suites in the Auditorium come high."
Then she turned the card and read on its reverse, Lord Maxwell
O'More, M. P., Killvany Place, County Clare, Ireland.
The Angel sat on the edge of the seat, bracing her feet against the
one opposite, as the cab pitched and swung around corners and
past vehicles. She mechanically fingered the pasteboard and stared
straight ahead. Then she drew a deep breath and read the card again.
"A Lord-man!" she groaned despairingly. "A Lord-man! Bet my
hoecake's scorched! Here I've gone and pledged my word to Freckles
I'd find him some decent relatives, that he could be proud of, and
now there isn't a chance out of a dozen that he'll have to be
ashamed of them after all. It's too mean!"
The tears of vexation rolled down the tired, nerve-racked Angel's cheeks.
"This isn't going to do," she said, resolutely wiping her eyes with
the palm of her hand and gulping down the nervous spasm in her throat.
"I must read this paper before I meet Lord O'More."
She blinked back the tears and spreading the paper on her knee, read:
"After three months' fruitless search, Lord O'More gives up the
quest of his lost nephew, and leaves Chicago today for his home
She read on, and realized every word. The likeness settled any doubt.
It was Freckles over again, only older and well dressed.
"Well, I must catch you if I can," muttered the Angel. "But when I
do, if you are a gentleman in name only, you shan't have Freckles;
that's flat. You're not his father and he is twenty. Anyway, if the
law will give him to you for one year, you can't spoil him, because
nobody could, and," she added, brightening, "he'll probably do you
a lot of good. Freckles and I both must study years yet, and you
should be something that will save him. I guess it will come out
all right. At least, I don't believe you can take him away if I say no."
"Thank you; and wait, no matter how long," she said to her driver.
Catching up the paper, she hurried to the desk and laid down Lord
"Has my uncle started yet?" she asked sweetly.
The surprised clerk stepped back on a bellboy, and covertly kicked
him for being in the way.
"His lordship is in his room," he said, with a low bow.
"All right," said the Angel, picking up the card. "I thought he
might have started. I'll see him."
The clerk shoved the bellboy toward the Angel.
"Show her ladyship to the elevator and Lord O'More's suite," he
said, bowing double.
"Aw, thanks," said the Angel with a slight nod, as she turned away.
"I'm not sure," she muttered to herself as the elevator sped
upward, "whether it's the Irish or the English who say:
`Aw, thanks,' but it's probable he isn't either; and anyway,
I just had to do something to counteract that `All right.'
How stupid of me!"
At the bellboy's tap, the door swung open and the liveried servant
thrust a cardtray before the Angel. The opening of the door created
a current that swayed a curtain aside, and in an adjoining room,
lounging in a big chair, with a paper in his hand, sat a man who
was, beyond question, of Freckles' blood and race.
With perfect control the Angel dropped Lord O'More's card in the
tray, stepped past his servant, and stood before his lordship.
"Good morning," she said with tense politeness.
Lord O'More said nothing. He carelessly glanced her over with
amused curiosity, until her color began to deepen and her blood to
"Well, my dear," he said at last, "how can I serve you?"
Instantly the Angel became indignant. She had been so shielded
in the midst of almost entire freedom, owing to the circumstances
of her life, that the words and the look appeared to her as
almost insulting. She lifted her head with a proud gesture.
"I am not your `dear,'" she said with slow distinctness. "There
isn't a thing in the world you can do for me. I came here to see if
I could do something--a very great something--for you; but if I
don't like you, I won't do it!"
Then Lord O'More did stare. Suddenly he broke into a ringing laugh.
Without a change of attitude or expression, the Angel stood looking
steadily at him.
There was a silken rustle, then a beautiful woman with cheeks of
satiny pink, dark hair, and eyes of pure Irish blue, moved to Lord
O'More's side, and catching his arm, shook him impatiently.
"Terence! Have you lost your senses?" she cried. "Didn't you
understand what the child said? Look at her face! See what she has!"
Lord O'More opened his eyes widely and sat up. He did look at the
Angel's face intently, and suddenly found it so good that it was
difficult to follow the next injunction. He arose instantly.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "The fact is, I am leaving Chicago
sorely disappointed. It makes me bitter and reckless. I thought you
one more of those queer, useless people who have thrust themselves
on me constantly, and I was careless. Forgive me, and tell me why
"I will if I like you," said the Angel stoutly, "and if I don't, I won't!"
"But I began all wrong, and now I don't know how to make you like
me," said his lordship, with sincere penitence in his tone.
The Angel found herself yielding to his voice. He spoke in a soft,
mellow, smoothly flowing Irish tone, and although his speech was
perfectly correct, it was so rounded, and accented, and the
sentences so turned, that it was Freckles over again. Still, it was
a matter of the very greatest importance, and she must be sure; so
she looked into the beautiful woman's face.
"Are you his wife?" she asked.
"Yes," said the woman, "I am his wife."
"Well," said the Angel judicially, "the Bird Woman says no one in
the whole world knows all a man's bignesses and all his
littlenesses as his wife does. What you think of him should do
for me. Do you like him?"
The question was so earnestly asked that it met with equal earnestness.
The dark head moved caressingly against Lord O'More's sleeve.
"Better than anyone in the whole world," said Lady O'More promptly.
The Angel mused a second, and then her legal tinge came to the fore again.
"Yes, but have you anyone you could like better, if he wasn't all
right?" she persisted.
"I have three of his sons, two little daughters, a father, mother,
and several brothers and sisters," came the quick reply.
"And you like him best?" persisted the Angel with finality.
"I love him so much that I would give up every one of them with dry
eyes if by so doing I could save him," cried Lord O'More's wife.
"Oh!" cried the Angel. "Oh, my!"
She lifted her clear eyes to Lord O'More's and shook her head.
"She never, never could do that!" she said. "But it's a mighty big
thing to your credit that she THINKS she could. I guess I'll tell
you why I came."
She laid down the paper, and touched the portrait.
"When you were only a boy, did people call you Freckles?" she asked.
"Dozens of good fellows all over Ireland and the Continent are
doing it today," answered Lord O'More.
The Angel's face wore her most beautiful smile.
"I was sure of it," she said winningly. "That's what we call him,
and he is so like you, I doubt if any one of those three boys of
yours are more so. But it's been twenty years. Seems to me you've
been a long time coming!"
Lord O'More caught the Angel's wrists and his wife slipped her arms
"Steady, my girl!" said the man's voice hoarsely. "Don't make me
think you've brought word of the boy at this last hour, unless you
"It's all right," said the Angel. "We have him, and there's no
chance of a mistake. If I hadn't gone to that Home for his little
clothes, and heard of you and been hunting you, and had met you on
the street, or anywhere, I would have stopped you and asked you who
you were, just because you are so like him. It's all right. I can
tell you where Freckles is; but whether you deserve to know--that's
Lord O'More did not hear her. He dropped in his chair, and covering
his face, burst into those terrible sobs that shake and rend a
strong man. Lady O'More hovered over him, weeping.
"Umph! Looks pretty fair for Freckles," muttered the Angel.
"Lots of things can be explained; now perhaps they can explain this."
They did explain so satisfactorily that in a few minutes the Angel
was on her feet, hurrying Lord and Lady O'More to reach the hospital.
"You said Freckles' old nurse knew his mother's picture instantly,"
said the Angel. "I want that picture and the bundle of little clothes."
Lady O'More gave them into her hands.
The likeness was a large miniature, painted on ivory, with a frame
of beaten gold. Surrounded by masses of dark hair was a delicately
cut face. In the upper part of it there was no trace of Freckles,
but the lips curving in a smile were his very own. The Angel gazed
at it steadily. Then with a quivering breath she laid the portrait
aside and reached both hands to Lord O'More.
"That will save Freckles' life and insure his happiness," she
said positively. "Thank you, oh thank you for coming!"
She opened the bundle of yellow and brown linen and gave only a
glance at the texture and work. Then she gathered the little
clothes and the picture to her heart and led the way to the cab.
Ushering Lord and Lady O'More into the reception room, she said to
McLean, "Please go call up my father and ask him to come on the
She closed the door after him.
"These are Freckles' people," she said to the Bird Woman. "You can
find out about each other; I'm going to him."
CHAPTER XIX. Wherein Freckles Finds His Birthright and the Angel Loses Her Heart
The nurse left the room quietly, as the Angel entered, carrying the
bundle and picture. When they were alone, she turned to Freckles
and saw that the crisis was indeed at hand.
That she had good word to give him was his salvation, for despite
the heavy plaster jacket that held his body immovable, his head was
lifted from the pillow. Both arms reached for her. His lips and
cheeks flamed, while his eyes flashed with excitement.
"Angel," he panted. "Oh Angel! Did you find them? Are they white?
Are the little stitches there? OH ANGEL! DID ME MOTHER LOVE ME?"
The words seemed to leap from his burning lips. The Angel dropped
the bundle on the bed and laid the picture face down across his knees.
She gently pushed his head to the pillow and caught his arms in a
"Yes, dear heart," she said with fullest assurance. "No little
clothes were ever whiter. I never in all my life saw such dainty,
fine, little stitches; and as for loving you, no boy's mother ever
loved him more!"
A nervous trembling seized Freckles.
"Sure? Are you sure?" he urged with clicking teeth.
"I know," said the Angel firmly. "And Freckles, while you rest and
be glad, I want to tell you a story. When you feel stronger we will
look at the clothes together. They are here. They are all right.
But while I was at the Home getting them, I heard of some people
that were hunting a lost boy. I went to see them, and what they
told me was all so exactly like what might have happened to you that
I must tell you. Then you'll understand that things could be very
different from what you always have tortured yourself with thinking.
Are you strong enough to listen? May I tell you?"
"Maybe 'twasn't me mother! Maybe someone else made those little stitches!"
"Now, goosie, don't you begin that," said the Angel, "because I
know that it was!"
"Know!" cried Freckles, his head springing from the pillow. "Know!
How can you know?"
The Angel gently soothed him back.
"Why, because nobody else would ever sit and do it the way it
is done. That's how I know," she said emphatically. "Now you
listen while I tell you about this lost boy and his people, who
have hunted for months and can't find him."
Freckles lay quietly under her touch, but he did not hear a word
that she was saying until his roving eyes rested on her face; he
immediately noticed a remarkable thing. For the first time she was
talking to him and avoiding his eyes. That was not like the Angel
at all. It was the delight of hearing her speak that she looked one
squarely in the face and with perfect frankness. There were no side
glances and down-drooping eyes when the Angel talked; she was
business straight through. Instantly Freckles' wandering thoughts
fastened on her words.
"--and he was a sour, grumpy, old man," she was saying. "He always
had been spoiled, because he was an only son, so he had a title,
and a big estate. He would have just his way, no matter about his
sweet little wife, or his boys, or anyone. So when his elder son
fell in love with a beautiful girl having a title, the very girl of
all the world his father wanted him to, and added a big adjoining
estate to his, why, that pleased him mightily.
"Then he went and ordered his younger son to marry a poky kind of
a girl, that no one liked, to add another big estate on the other
side, and that was different. That was all the world different,
because the elder son had been in love all his life with the girl
he married, and, oh, Freckles, it's no wonder, for I saw her!
She's a beauty and she has the sweetest way.
"But that poor younger son, he had been in love with the village
vicar's daughter all his life. That's no wonder either, for she was
more beautiful yet. She could sing as the angels, but she hadn't a
cent. She loved him to death, too, if he was bony and freckled and
red-haired--I don't mean that! They didn't say what color his hair
was, but his father's must have been the reddest ever, for when he
found out about them, and it wasn't anything so terrible, HE JUST CAVED!
"The old man went to see the girl--the pretty one with no money, of
course--and he hurt her feelings until she ran away. She went to
London and began studying music. Soon she grew to be a fine singer,
so she joined a company and came to this country.
"When the younger son found that she had left London, he followed her.
When she got here all alone, and afraid, and saw him coming to her,
why, she was so glad she up and married him, just like anybody
else would have done. He didn't want her to travel with the troupe,
so when they reached Chicago they thought that would be a good
place, and they stopped, while he hunted work. It was slow
business, because he never had been taught to do a useful thing,
and he didn't even know how to hunt work, least of all to do it
when he found it; so pretty soon things were going wrong. But if he
couldn't find work, she could always sing, so she sang at night,
and made little things in the daytime. He didn't like her to sing
in public, and he wouldn't allow her when he could HELP himself;
but winter came, it was very cold, and fire was expensive.
Rents went up, and they had to move farther out to cheaper and
cheaper places; and you were coming--I mean, the boy that is lost
was coming--and they were almost distracted. Then the man wrote and
told his father all about it; and his father sent the letter back
unopened with a line telling him never to write again. When the
baby came, there was very little left to pawn for food and a
doctor, and nothing at all for a nurse; so an old neighbor woman
went in and took care of the young mother and the little baby,
because she was so sorry for them. By that time they were away in
the suburbs on the top floor of a little wooden house, among a lot
of big factories, and it kept growing colder, with less to eat.
Then the man grew desperate and he went just to find something to
eat and the woman was desperate, too. She got up, left the old
woman to take care of her baby, and went into the city to sing for
some money. The woman became so cold she put the baby in bed and
went home. Then a boiler blew up in a big factory beside the little
house and set it on fire. A piece of iron was pitched across and
broke through the roof. It came down smash, and cut just one little
hand off the poor baby. It screamed and screamed; and the fire kept
coming closer and closer.
"The old woman ran out with the other people and saw what had happened.
She knew there wasn't going to be time to wait for firemen or
anything, so she ran into the building. She could hear the baby
screaming, and she couldn't stand that; so she worked her way to it.
There it was, all hurt and bleeding. Then she was almost scared
to death over thinking what its mother would do to her for
going away and leaving it, so she ran to a Home for little
friendless babies, that was close, and banged on the door. Then she
hid across the street until the baby was taken in, and then she ran
back to see if her own house was burning. The big factory and the
little house and a lot of others were all gone. The people there
told her that the beautiful lady came back and ran into the house
to find her baby. She had just gone in when her husband came, and
he went in after her, and the house fell over both of them."
Freckles lay rigidly, with his eyes on the Angel's face, while she
talked rapidly to the ceiling.
"Then the old woman was sick about that poor little baby. She was
afraid to tell them at the Home, because she knew she never should
have left it, but she wrote a letter and sent it to where the
beautiful woman, when she was ill, had said her husband's people lived.
She told all about the little baby that she could remember:
when it was born, how it was named for the man's elder brother,
that its hand had been cut off in the fire, and where she had put
it to be doctored and taken care of. She told them that its mother
and father were both burned, and she begged and implored them to
come after it.
"You'd think that would have melted a heart of ice, but that old
man hadn't any heart to melt, for he got that letter and read it.
He hid it away among his papers and never told a soul. A few months
ago he died. When his elder son went to settle his business, he
found the letter almost the first thing. He dropped everything, and
came, with his wife, to hunt that baby, because he always had loved
his brother dearly, and wanted him back. He had hunted for him all
he dared all these years, but when he got here you were gone--I
mean the baby was gone, and I had to tell you, Freckles, for you
see, it might have happened to you like that just as easy as to
that other lost boy."
Freckles reached up and turned the Angel's face until he compelled
her eyes to meet his.
"Angel," he asked quietly, "why don't you look at me when you are
telling about that lost boy?"
"I--I didn't know I wasn't," faltered the Angel.
"It seems to me," said Freckles, his breath beginning to come in
sharp wheezes, "that you got us rather mixed, and it ain't like you
to be mixing things till one can't be knowing. If they were telling
you so much, did they say which hand was for being off that lost boy?"
The Angel's eyes escaped again.
"It--it was the same as yours," she ventured, barely breathing in
Still Freckles lay rigid and whiter than the coverlet.
"Would that boy be as old as me?" he asked.
"Yes," said the Angel faintly.
"Angel," said Freckles at last, catching her wrist, "are you trying
to tell me that there is somebody hunting a boy that you're
thinking might be me? Are you belavin' you've found me relations?"
Then the Angel's eyes came home. The time had come. She pinioned
Freckles' arms to his sides and bent above him.
"How strong are you, dear heart?" she breathed. "How brave are you?
Can you bear it? Dare I tell you that?"
"No!" gasped Freckles. "Not if you're sure! I can't bear it!
I'll die if you do!"
The day had been one unremitting strain with the Angel.
Nerve tension was drawn to the finest thread. It snapped suddenly.
"Die!" she flamed. "Die, if I tell you that! You said this morning
that you would die if you DIDN'T know your name, and if your people
were honorable. Now I've gone and found you a name that stands for
ages of honor, a mother who loved you enough to go into the fire
and die for you, and the nicest kind of relatives, and you turn
round and say you'll die over that! YOU JUST TRY DYING AND YOU'LL
GET A GOOD SLAP!"
The Angel stood glaring at him. One second Freckles lay paralyzed
and dumb with astonishment. The next the Irish in his soul arose
above everything. A laugh burst from him. The terrified Angel
caught him in her arms and tried to stifle the sound. She implored
and commanded. When he was too worn to utter another sound, his
eyes laughed silently.
After a long time, when he was quiet and rested, the Angel
commenced talking to him gently, and this time her big eyes, humid
with tenderness and mellow with happiness, seemed as if they could
not leave his face.
"Dear Freckles," she was saying, "across your knees there is the
face of the mother who went into the fire for you, and I know the
name--old and full of honor--to which you were born. Dear heart,
which will you have first?"
Freckles was very tired; the big drops of perspiration ran together
on his temples; but the watching Angel caught the words his lips
formed, "Me mother!"
She lifted the lovely pictured face and set it in the nook of his arm.
Freckles caught her hand and drew her beside him, and together
they gazed at the picture while the tears slid over their cheeks.
"Me mother! Oh, me mother! Can you ever be forgiving me? Oh, me
beautiful little mother!" chanted Freckles over and over in exalted
wonder, until he was so completely exhausted that his lips refused
to form the question in his weary eyes.
"Wait!" cried the Angel with inborn refinement, for she could no
more answer that question than he could ask. "Wait, I will write it!"
She hurried to the table, caught up the nurse's pencil, and on the
back of a prescription tablet scrawled it: "Terence Maxwell O'More,
Dunderry House, County Clare, Ireland."
Before she had finished came Freckles' voice: "Angel, are you hurrying?"
"Yes," said the Angel; "I am. But there is a good deal of it. I have
to put in your house and country, so that you will feel located."
"Me house?" marveled Freckles.
"Of course," said the Angel. "Your uncle says your grandmother left
your father her dower house and estate, because she knew his father
would cut him off. You get that, and all your share of your
grandfather's property besides. It is all set off for you and
waiting. Lord O'More told me so. I suspect you are richer than
She closed his fingers over the slip and straightened his hair.
"Now you are all right, dear Limberlost guard," she said. "You go
to sleep and don't think of a thing but just pure joy, joy, joy!
I'll keep your people until you wake up. You are too tired to see
anyone else just now!"
Freckles caught her skirt as she turned from him.
"I'll go to sleep in five minutes," he said, "if you will be doing
just one thing more for me. Send for your father! Oh, Angel, send
for him quick! How will I ever be waiting until he comes?"
One instant the Angel stood looking at him. The next a crimson wave
darkly stained her lovely face. Her chin began a spasmodic
quivering and the tears sprang into her eyes. Her hands caught at
her chest as if she were stifling. Freckles' grasp on her tightened
until he drew her beside him. He slipped his arm around her and
drew her face to his pillow.
"Don't, Angel; for the love of mercy don't be doing that,"
he implored. "I can't be bearing it. Tell me. You must tell me."
The Angel shook her head.
"That ain't fair, Angel," said Freckles. "You made me tell you
when it was like tearing the heart raw from me breast. And you was
for making everything heaven--just heaven and nothing else for me.
If I'm so much more now than I was an hour ago, maybe I can be
thinking of some way to fix things. You will be telling me?" he
coaxed, moving his cheek against her hair.
The Angel's head moved in negation. Freckles did a moment of
"Maybe I can be guessing," he whispered. "Will you be giving me
There was the faintest possible assent.
"You didn't want me to be knowing me name," guessed Freckles.
The Angel's head sprang from the pillow and her tear-stained face
flamed with outraged indignation.
"Why, I did too!" she cried angrily.
"One gone," said Freckles calmly. "You didn't want me to have
relatives, a home, and money."
"I did!" exclaimed the Angel. "Didn't I go myself, all alone, into
the city, and find them when I was afraid as death? I did too!"
"Two gone," said Freckles. "You didn't want the beautifulest girl
in the world to be telling me.----"
Down went the Angel's face and a heavy sob shook her. Freckles'
clasp tightened around her shoulders, while his face, in its
conflicting emotions, was a study. He was so stunned and bewildered
by the miracle that had been performed in bringing to light his
name and relatives that he had no strength left for elaborate
mental processes. Despite all it meant to him to know his name at
last, and that he was of honorable birth--knowledge without which
life was an eternal disgrace and burden the one thing that was
hammering in Freckles' heart and beating in his brain, past any
attempted expression, was the fact that, while nameless and
possibly born in shame, the Angel had told him that she loved him.
He could find no word with which to begin to voice the rapture of
his heart over that. But if she regretted it--if it had been a
thing done out of her pity for his condition, or her feeling of
responsibility, if it killed him after all, there was only one
thing left to do. Not for McLean, not for the Bird Woman, not for
the Duncans would Freckles have done it--but for the Angel--if it
would make her happy--he would do anything.
"Angel," whispered Freckles, with his lips against her hair, "you
haven't learned your history book very well, or else you've forgotten."
"Forgotten what?" sobbed the Angel.
"Forgotten about the real knight, Ladybird," breathed Freckles.
"Don't you know that, if anything happened that made his lady
sorry, a real knight just simply couldn't be remembering it? Angel,
darling little Swamp Angel, you be listening to me. There was one
night on the trail, one solemn, grand, white night, that there
wasn't ever any other like before or since, when the dear Boss put
his arm around me and told me that he loved me; but if you care,
Angel, if you don't want it that way, why, I ain't remembering that
anyone else ever did--not in me whole life."
The Angel lifted her head and looked into the depths of Freckles'
honest gray eyes, and they met hers unwaveringly; but the pain in
them was pitiful.
"Do you mean," she demanded, "that you don't remember that a
brazen, forward girl told you, when you hadn't asked her, that
she"--the Angel choked on it a second, but she gave a gulp and
brought it out bravely--"that she loved you?"
"No!" cried Freckles. "No! I don't remember anything of the kind!"
But all the songbirds of his soul burst into melody over that one
little clause: "When you hadn't asked her."
"But you will," said the Angel. "You may live to be an old, old
man, and then you will."
"I will not!" cried Freckles. "How can you think it, Angel?"
"You won't even LOOK as if you remember?"
"I will not!" persisted Freckles. "I'll be swearing to it if you
want me to. If you wasn't too tired to think this thing out
straight, you'd be seeing that I couldn't--that I just simply
couldn't! I'd rather give it all up now and go into eternity alone,
without ever seeing a soul of me same blood, or me home, or hearing
another man call me by the name I was born to, than to remember
anything that would be hurting you, Angel. I should think you'd be
understanding that it ain't no ways possible for me to do it."
The Angel's tear-stained face flashed into dazzling beauty.
A half-hysterical little laugh broke from her heart and bubbled over
"Oh, Freckles, forgive me!" she cried. "I've been through so much
that I'm scarcely myself, or I wouldn't be here bothering you when you
should be sleeping. Of course you couldn't! I knew it all the time!
I was just scared! I was forgetting that you were you! You're too
good a knight to remember a thing like that. Of course you are!
And when you don't remember, why, then it's the same as if it
never happened. I was almost killed because I'd gone and spoiled
everything, but now it will be all right. Now you can go on and do
things like other men, and I can have some flowers, and letters,
and my sweetheart coming, and when you are SURE, why, then YOU can tell
ME things, can't you? Oh, Freckles, I'm so glad! Oh, I'm so happy!
It's dear of you not to remember, Freckles; perfectly dear!
It's no wonder I love you so. The wonder would be if I did not.
Oh, I should like to know how I'm ever going to make you understand
how much I love you!"
Pillow and all, she caught him to her breast one long second; then
she was gone.
Freckles lay dazed with astonishment. At last his amazed eyes
searched the room for something approaching the human to which he
could appeal, and falling on his mother's portrait, he set it
"For the love of life! Me little mother," he panted, "did you
hear that? Did you hear it! Tell me, am I living, or am I dead and
all heaven come true this minute? Did you hear it?"
He shook the frame in his impatience at receiving no answer.
"You are only a pictured face," he said at last, "and of course you
can't talk; but the soul of you must be somewhere, and surely in this
hour you are close enough to be hearing. Tell me, did you hear that?
I can't ever be telling a living soul; but darling little mother,
who gave your life for mine, I can always be talking of it
to you! Every day we'll talk it over and try to understand the
miracle of it. Tell me, are all women like that? Were you like me
Swamp Angel? If you were, then I'm understanding why me father
followed across the ocean and went into the fire."
CHAPTER XX. Wherein Freckles returns to the Limberlost, and Lord O'More Sails for Ireland Without Him
Freckles' voice ceased, his eyes closed, and his head rolled back
from exhaustion. Later in the day he insisted on seeing Lord and
Lady O'More, but he fainted before the resemblance of another man
to him, and gave all of his friends a terrible fright.
The next morning, the Man of Affairs, with a heart filled with
misgivings, undertook the interview on which Freckles insisted.
His fears were without cause. Freckles was the soul of honor
"Have they been telling you what's come to me?" he asked without
even waiting for a greeting.
"Yes," said the Angel's father.
"Do you think you have the very worst of it clear to your understanding?"
Under Freckles' earnest eyes the Man of Affairs answered soberly:
"I think I have, Mr. O'More."
That was the first time Freckles heard his name from the lips
of another. One second he lay overcome; the next, tears filled his
eyes, and he reached out his hand. Then the Angel's father understood,
and he clasped that hand and held it in a strong, firm grasp.
"Terence, my boy," he said, "let me do the talking. I came here
with the understanding that you wanted to ask me for my only child.
I should like, at the proper time, to regard her marriage, if she
has found the man she desires to marry, not as losing all I have,
but as gaining a man on whom I can depend to love as a son and to
take charge of my affairs for her when I retire from business.
Bend all of your energies toward rapid recovery, and from this hour
understand that my daughter and my home are yours."
"You're not forgetting this?"
Freckles lifted his right arm.
"Terence, I'm sorrier than I have words to express about that,"
said the Man of Affairs. "It's a damnable pity! But if it's for me
to choose whether I give all I have left in this world to a man
lacking a hand, or to one of these gambling, tippling, immoral
spendthrifts of today, with both hands and feet off their souls,
and a rotten spot in the core, I choose you; and it seems that my
daughter does the same. Put what is left you of that right arm to
the best uses you can in this world, and never again mention or
feel that it is defective so long as you live. Good day, sir!"
"One minute more," said Freckles. "Yesterday the Angel was telling
me that there was money coming to me from two sources. She said
that me grandmother had left me father all of her fortune and her
house, because she knew that his father would be cutting him off,
and also that me uncle had set aside for me what would be me
father's interest in his father's estate.
"Whatever the sum is that me grandmother left me father, because
she loved him and wanted him to be having it, that I'll be taking.
'Twas hers from her father, and she had the right to be giving it
as she chose. Anything from the man that knowingly left me father
and me mother to go cold and hungry, and into the fire in misery,
when just a little would have made life so beautiful to them, and
saved me this crippled body--money that he willed from me when he
knew I was living, of his blood and on charity among strangers, I
don't touch, not if I freeze, starve, and burn too! If there ain't
enough besides that, and I can't be earning enough to fix things
for the Angel----"
"We are not discussing money!" burst in the Man of Affairs.
"We don't want any blood-money! We have all we need without it.
If you don't feel right and easy over it, don't you touch a cent
of any of it."
"It's right I should have what me grandmother intinded for me
father, and I want it," said Freckles, "but I'd die before I'd
touch a cent of me grandfather's money!"
"Now," said the Angel, "we are all going home. We have done all we
can for Freckles. His people are here. He should know them. They are
very anxious to become acquainted with him. We'll resign him to them.
When he is well, why, then he will be perfectly free to go to
Ireland or come to the Limberlost, just as he chooses. We will go
McLean held out for a week, and then he could endure it no longer.
He was heart hungry for Freckles. Communing with himself in the
long, soundful nights of the swamp, he had learned to his
astonishment that for the past year his heart had been circling the
Limberlost with Freckles. He began to wish that he had not left him.
Perhaps the boy--his boy by first right, after all--was being neglected.
If the Boss had been a nervous old woman, he scarcely could have
imagined more things that might be going wrong.
He started for Chicago, loaded with a big box of goldenrod, asters,
fringed gentians, and crimson leaves, that the Angel carefully had
gathered from Freckles' room, and a little, long slender package.
He traveled with biting, stinging jealousy in his heart. He would
not admit it even to himself, but he was unable to remain longer
away from Freckles and leave him to the care of Lord O'More.
In a few minutes' talk, while McLean awaited admission to Freckles'
room, his lordship had chatted genially of Freckles' rapid
recovery, of his delight that he was unspotted by his early
surroundings, and his desire to visit the Limberlost with Freckles
before they sailed; he expressed the hope that he could prevail
upon the Angel's father to place her in his wife's care and have
her education finished in Paris. He said they were anxious to do
all they could to help bind Freckles' arrangements with the Angel,
as both he and Lady O'More regarded her as the most promising girl
they knew, and one who could be fitted to fill the high position in
which Freckles would place her.
Every word he uttered was pungent with bitterness to McLean. The
swamp had lost its flavor without Freckles; and yet, as Lord O'More
talked, McLean fervently wished himself in the heart of it. As he
entered Freckles' room he almost lost his breath. Everything was changed.
Freckles lay beside a window where he could follow Lake Michigan's
blue until the horizon dipped into it. He could see big soft
clouds, white-capped waves, shimmering sails, and puffing steamers
trailing billowing banners of lavender and gray across the sky.
Gulls and curlews wheeled over the water and dipped their wings in
the foam. The room was filled with every luxury that taste and
money could introduce.
All the tan and sunburn had been washed from Freckles' face in
sweats of agony. It was a smooth, even white, its brown rift
scarcely showing. What the nurses and Lady O'More had done to
Freckles' hair McLean could not guess, but it was the most
beautiful that he ever had seen. Fine as floss, bright in color,
waving and crisp, it fell around the white face.
They had gotten his arms into and his chest covered with a finely
embroidered, pale-blue silk shirt, with soft, white tie at the throat.
Among the many changes that had taken place during his absence,
the fact that Freckles was most attractive and barely escaped
being handsome remained almost unnoticed by the Boss, so great
was his astonishment at seeing both cuffs turned back and the
right arm in view. Freckles was using the maimed arm that
previously he always had hidden.
"Oh Lord, sir, but I'm glad to see you!" cried Freckles, almost
rolling from the bed as he reached toward McLean. "Tell me quick,
is the Angel well and happy? Can me Little Chicken spread six feet
of wing and sail to his mother? How's me new father, the Bird
Woman, Duncans, and Nellie--darling little high-stepping Nelie?
Me Aunt Alice is going to choose the hat just as soon as I'm mended
enough to be going with her. How are all the gang? Have they found
any more good trees? I've been thinking a lot, sir. I believe I can
find others near that last one. Me Aunt Alice thinks maybe I can,
and Uncle Terence says it's likely. Golly, but they're nice,
ilegant people. I tell you I'm proud to be same blood with them!
Come closer, quick! I was going to do this yesterday, and somehow
I just felt that you'd surely be coming today and I waited.
I'm selecting the Angel's ring stone. The ring she ordered for me
is finished and they sent it to keep me company. See? It's an
emerald--just me color, Lord O'More says."
Freckles flourished his hand.
"Ain't that fine? Never took so much comfort with anything in
me life. Every color of the old swamp is in it. I asked the Angel
to have a little shamrock leaf cut on it, so every time I saw it I'd
be thinking of the `love, truth, and valor' of that song she was
teaching me. Ain't that a beautiful song? Some of these days I'm
going to make it echo. I'm a little afraid to be doing it with me
voice yet, but me heart's tuning away on it every blessed hour.
Will you be looking at these now?"
Freckles tilted a tray of unset stones from Peacock's that would
have ransomed several valuable kings. He held them toward McLean,
stirring them with his right arm.
"I tell you I'm glad to see you, sir" he said. "I tried to tell me
uncle what I wanted, but this ain't for him to be mixed up in,
anyway, and I don't think I made it clear to him. I couldn't seem
to say the words I wanted. I can be telling you, sir."
McLean's heart began to thump as a lover's.
"Go on, Freckles," he said assuringly.
"It's this," said Freckles. "I told him that I would pay only three
hundred dollars for the Angel's stone. I'm thinking that with what
he has laid up for me, and the bigness of things that the Angel did
for me, it seems like a stingy little sum to him. I know he thinks
I should be giving much more, but I feel as if I just had to be
buying that stone with money I earned meself; and that is all I
have saved of me wages. I don't mind paying for the muff, or the
drexing table, or Mrs. Duncan's things, from that other money, and
later the Angel can have every last cent of me grandmother's, if
she'll take it; but just now--oh, sir, can't you see that I have to
be buying this stone with what I have in the bank? I'm feeling that
I couldn't do any other way, and don't you think the Angel would
rather have the best stone I can buy with the money I earned meself
than a finer one paid for with other money?"
"In other words, Freckles," said the Boss in a husky voice, "you
don't want to buy the Angel's ring with money. You want to give for
it your first awful fear of the swamp. You want to pay for it with
the loneliness and heart hunger you have suffered there, with last
winter's freezing on the line and this summer's burning in the sun.
You want it to stand to her for every hour in which you risked your
life to fulfill your contract honorably. You want the price of that
stone to be the fears that have chilled your heart--the sweat and
blood of your body."
Freckles' eyes were filled with tears and his face quivering with feeling.
"Dear Mr. McLean," he said, reaching with a caress over the Boss's
black hair and his cheek. "Dear Boss, that's why I've wanted you so.
I knew you would know. Now you will be looking at these? I don't
want emeralds, because that's what she gave me."
He pushed the green stones into a little heap of rejected ones.
Then he singled out all the pearls.
"Ain't they pretty things?" he said. "I'll be getting her some of
those later. They are like lily faces, turtle-head flowers,
dewdrops in the shade or moonlight; but they haven't the life in
them that I want in the stone I give to the Angel right now."
Freckles heaped the pearls with the emeralds. He studied the
diamonds a long time.
"These things are so fascinating like they almost tempt one, though
they ain't quite the proper thing," he said. "I've always dearly
loved to be watching yours, sir. I must get her some of these big
ones, too, some day. They're like the Limberlost in January, when
it's all ice-coated, and the sun is in the west and shines through
and makes all you can see of the whole world look like fire and
ice; but fire and ice ain't like the Angel."
The diamonds joined the emeralds and pearls. There was left a
little red heap, and Freckles' fingers touched it with a new
tenderness. His eyes were flashing.
"I'm thinking here's me Angel's stone," he exulted. "The
Limberlost, and me with it, grew in mine; but it's going to bloom,
and her with it, in this! There's the red of the wild poppies, the
cardinal-flowers, and the little bunch of crushed foxfire that we
found where she put it to save me. There's the light of the
campfire, and the sun setting over Sleepy Snake Creek. There's the
red of the blood we were willing to give for each other. It's like
her lips, and like the drops that dried on her beautiful arm that
first day, and I'm thinking it must be like the brave, tender,
clean, red heart of her."
Freckles lifted the ruby to his lips and handed it to McLean.
"I'll be signing me cheque and you have it set," he said. "I want
you to draw me money and pay for it with those very same dollars, sir."
Again the heart of McLean took hope.
"Freckles, may I ask you something?" he said.
"Why, sure," said Freckles. "There's nothing you would be asking
that it wouldn't be giving me joy to be telling you."
McLean's eyes traveled to Freckles' right arm with which he was
moving the jewels.
"Oh, that!" cried Freckles with a laugh. "You're wanting to know
where all the bitterness is gone? Well sir, 'twas carried from me
soul, heart, and body on the lips of an Angel. Seems that hurt was
necessary in the beginning to make today come true. The wound had
always been raw, but the Angel was healing it. If she doesn't care,
I don't. Me dear new father doesn't, nor me aunt and uncle, and you
never did. Why should I be fretting all me life about what can't
be helped. The real truth is, that since what happened to it last
week, I'm so everlastingly proud of it I catch meself sticking it
out on display a bit."
Freckles looked the Boss in the eyes and began to laugh.
"Well thank heaven!" said McLean.
"Now it's me turn," said Freckles. "I don't know as I ought to be
asking you, and yet I can't see a reason good enough to keep me
from it. It's a thing I've had on me mind every hour since I've had
time to straighten things out a little. May I be asking you a question?"
McLean reached over and took Freckles' hand. His voice was shaken
with feeling as he replied: "Freckles, you almost hurt me. Will you
never learn how much you are to me--how happy you make me in coming
to me with anything, no matter what?"
"Then it's this," said Freckles, gripping the hand of McLean strongly.
"If this accident, and all that's come to me since, had never
happened, where was it you had planned to send me to school?
What was it you meant for me to do?"
"Why, Freckles," answered McLean, "I'm scarcely prepared to
state definitely. My ideas were rather hazy. I thought we would
make a beginning and see which way things went. I figured on taking
you to Grand Rapids first, and putting you in the care of my mother.
I had an idea it would be best to secure a private tutor to coach you
for a year or two, until you were ready to enter Ann Arbor or the
Chicago University in good shape. Then I thought we'd finish in
this country at Yale or Harvard, and end with Oxford, to get a
good, all-round flavor."
"Is that all?" asked Freckles.
"No; that's leaving the music out," said McLean. "I intended to
have your voice tested by some master, and if you really were
endowed for a career as a great musician, and had inclinations that
way, I wished to have you drop some of the college work and make
music your chief study. Finally, I wanted us to take a trip through
Europe and clear around the circle together"
"And then what?" queried Freckles breathlessly.
"Why, then," said McLean, "you know that my heart is hopelessly in
the woods. I never will quit the timber business while there is
timber to handle and breath in my body. I thought if you didn't
make a profession of music, and had any inclination my way, we
would stretch the partnership one more and take you into the firm,
placing your work with me. Those plans may sound jumbled in the
telling, but they have grown steadily on me, Freckles, as you have
grown dear to me."
Freckles lifted anxious and eager eyes to McLean.
"You told me once on the trail, and again when we thought that I
was dying, that you loved me. Do these things that have come to me
make any difference in any way with your feeing toward me?"
"None," said McLean. "How could they, Freckles? Nothing could make
me love you more, and you never will do anything that will make me
love you less."
"Glory be to God!" cried Freckles. "Glory to the Almighty! Hurry
and be telling your mother I'm coming! Just as soon as I can get on
me feet I'll be taking that ring to me Angel, and then I'll go to
Grand Rapids and be making me start just as you planned, only that
I can be paying me own way. When I'm educated enough, we'll
all--the Angel and her father, the Bird Woman, you, and me--all of
us will go together and see me house and me relations and be taking
that trip. When we get back, we'll add O'More to the Lumber
Company, and golly, sir, but we'll make things hum! Good land, sir!
Don't do that! Why, Mr. McLean, dear Boss, dear father, don't be
doing that! What is it?"
"Nothing, nothing!" boomed McLean's deep bass; "nothing at all!"
He abruptly turned, and hurried to the window.
"This is a mighty fine view," he said. "Lake's beautiful
this morning. No wonder Chicago people are so proud of their city's
location on its shore. But, Freckles, what is Lord O'More going to
say to this?"
"I don't know," said Freckles. "I am going to be cut deep if he
cares, for he's been more than good to me, and Lady Alice is next
to me Angel. He's made me feel me blood and race me own possession.
She's talked to me by the hour of me father and mother and
me grandmother. She's made them all that real I can lay claim to them
and feel that they are mine. I'm very sorry to be hurting them, if
it will, but it can't be changed. Nobody ever puts the width of the
ocean between me and the Angel. From here to the Limberlost is all
I can be bearing peaceable. I want the education, and then I want
to work and live here in the country where I was born, and where
the ashes of me father and mother rest.
"I'll be glad to see Ireland, and glad especial to see those little
people who are my kin, but I ain't ever staying long. All me heart
is the Angel's, and the Limberlost is calling every minute.
You're thinking, sir, that when I look from that window I see the
beautiful water, ain't you? I'm not.
"I see soft, slow clouds oozing across the blue, me big black
chickens hanging up there, and a great feather softly sliding down.
I see mighty trees, swinging vines, bright flowers, and always
masses of the wild roses, with the wild rose face of me Ladybird
looking through. I see the swale rocking, smell the sweetness of
the blooming things, and the damp, mucky odor of the swamp; and I
hear me birds sing, me squirrels bark, the rattlers hiss, and the
step of Wessner or Black Jack coming; and whether it's the things
that I loved or the things that I feared, it's all a part of the day.
"Me heart's all me Swamp Angel's, and me love is all hers, and I
have her and the swamp so confused in me mind I never can be
separating them. When I look at her, I see blue sky, the sun
rifting through the leaves and pink and red flowers; and when I
look at the Limberlost I see a pink face with blue eyes, gold hair,
and red lips, and, it's the truth, sir, they're mixed till they're
one to me!
"I'm afraid it will be hurting some, but I have the feeing that I
can be making my dear people understand, so that they will be
willing to let me come back home. Send Lady O'More to put these
flowers God made in the place of these glass-house ilegancies, and
please be cutting the string of this little package the Angel's
As Freckles held up the package, the lights of the Limberlost
flashed from the emerald on his finger. On the cover was printed:
"To the Limberlost Guard!" Under it was a big, crisp, iridescent