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
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 and bed.
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
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
"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
"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
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 on business.
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
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
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 for service.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Were they kind to you?" McLean regretted the question the minute it was
"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 being wanted."
"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
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,
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
"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.
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
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 Duncan's collie.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?" laughed
"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
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
"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,"
"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
"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
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 the birds.
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 outspread wings.
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
"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
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 could mention."
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!"
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 and company.
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
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 being
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
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
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 magnificent wings.
"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 one
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
"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
"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 the
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
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 heart ached.
"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
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
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
"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
"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 a
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
"Score one for the lady! I'll be umpiring this," volunteered
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
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 the boy.
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,
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
"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
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
"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; don't you?"
"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."
Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely
and Opens the
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
"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 that's needed."
"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
"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 told ye?"
"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
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
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 have
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
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
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
"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 find them."
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.
comes this way, so blithe and
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
"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
"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 your lives!"
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 me fortune?"
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
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 legal
"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
"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, could it?"
"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
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 to
"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?" he questioned.
Wessner looked the astonishment he felt. "Why, no, Freckles," he
"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
Wessner backed away, mumbling, "But I don't want to hurt you,
"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 the
"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
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
"Careful, now" he cautioned, "be careful, Freddy; there's danger of you
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:
the Dutch. It was the
Do you think it was the Irish hollered
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 meself alone."
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.
"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
"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.
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
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
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
"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 astonished eyes.
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
"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 precious chickens!"
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
"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 white chicken?"
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
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
"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 loving him!"
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.
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
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?"
"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
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
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
"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 chiseled it.
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
"Is it feeling any better?" he asked.
"Oh, it's well now!" cried the Angel. "It doesn't hurt at all, any
"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
"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
"This is a shame!" said Freckles. "You'll never be coming here
"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
"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
"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
"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 most emphatic!"
"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 to
"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
Freckles drew a deep breath.
"I'll be doing me very best," he promised, and from the deeps he meant
"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 far north."
"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
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 its
"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 father
"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
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,
McLean tightened his clasp a second longer, then he rode down the
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!"
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
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
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
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 and incredulous.
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
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
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
"I'd go to Chicago and sing in the First Episcopal choir,"
answered Freckles promptly.
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
"Good! That's business!" said the Angel. "You go over there
and stand before that hedge and sing something. Just anything you
think of first."
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
And all the realm
We'll see the sights so grand
That belong to
Its mysteries we will
Its beauties will unfold.
Oh, tra, la, la, oh, ha, ha, ha!
We're happy now as we can be,
welcome song we will prolong,
And greet you with our melody.
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
"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 deadly earnest.
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 scandalous
When the men reached the trail, Freckles yelled at the top of
his voice: "Head them off on the south, boys! Fire from the
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
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.
Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the
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
"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--" Freckles hesitated.
"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
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
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
Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by the
"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
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
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
"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 beautiful
"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
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,
"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
"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
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
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 get elsewhere."
"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,
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
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
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
"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 of commission."
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
"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 and potatoes."
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 over her.
"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 stay
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
"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
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 cracked
"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
As he had said to her that first day, she now cautioned him: "Be
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
"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
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
"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 just
"It's beginning to act stormy," she said. "If you hurry you
will just about make it. Now, good-bye."
Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs.
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
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
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
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
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 affirmed
McLean sat in the saddle and laughed.
Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards
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 a location.
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 sing!"
"And what is it I've to be proud of, ma'am?" politely inquired
"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
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
United on one stem,
Love, truth, and valor do they
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the Bird
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
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. Duncan's
"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
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
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
"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
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.
Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures
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,
They heard Freckles before they saw him. He came gliding down
the line swiftly, and as he rode he was singing softly:
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
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
"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
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
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 angry expression.
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'
"Say quick, or it's up with you right now, and whoever that is with
"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
"He ain't lying," volunteered Wessner. "I saw that tree
covered with butterflies and him watching around it when we were spying
on him yesterday."
"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
"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 they
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
"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
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
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 swamp."
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
"You tell her!" he pleaded. "Tell her to go by the trail. She
will for you."
The implication of this statement was so gratifying to Black Jack that
he seemed again to expand and take on increase before their very eyes.
"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
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 the trail.
"All right," she said, giving Jack a thrilling glance. "If you
say so, I'll return by the trail to please you. Good-bye,
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 caught
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 heard before.
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, half
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
"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," said
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 their possession.
Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse
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
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
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
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
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 the run.
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
"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
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 in him.
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
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'
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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,
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
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.
Wherein Freckles Nurses a Heartache and Black Jack
"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
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 had come.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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,
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
Wherein Freckles and the Angel Try Taking a Picture, and
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
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 coming destruction.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"How soon do you s'pose it will be finished?" came Freckles' strident
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
"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 dripping tripods.
"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 a
"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.
Wherein the Angel Locates a Rare Tree and Dines with the
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
The clear, ringing echo of strongly swung axes came crashing through the
"'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 him
"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
"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 tree, Angel!"
"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
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
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 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
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
"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
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
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.
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, and understood.
"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
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
A pitiful spasm swept Freckles' face. The sight of it washed
every vestige of color from the Angel's. She took hold of his
"Freckles, get up!" It was half command, half entreaty.
"Easy, Angel, easy! Let me rest a bit first!" implored
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 big watering-trough."
"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
"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
"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 as
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, must
"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
"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 fear-stiffened
"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 off quick!"
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
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
"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
"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?" he
"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 heart-breaking anxiety.
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
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 the cause?"
"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 closed mechanically.
"Does that mean that you know what he desires and cannot, or will not,
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 have
"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
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
"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
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
Wherein Freckles refuses Love Without Knowledge of Honorable
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,
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
"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 you, Freckles?"
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 be mean!"
"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 was crucified!"
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
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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
"Oh Angel! Will you go now? Will you be hurrying?" he
"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
"What will your father say?" groaned McLean.
"It strikes me," said the Angel, "that what Freckles said would be to
"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
"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
The woman looked at her in greater astonishment than the occasion
"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
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
"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.
"Did they leave an address? Where could I find them?"
interrupted the Angel.
"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 her own.
"I will take you there as quickly as any man could with a team," he said
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
"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 in Ireland."
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
"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 O'More's card.
"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,
"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 run hotly.
"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
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 you came."
"I will if I like you," said the Angel stoutly, "and if I don't, I
"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
The question was so earnestly asked that it met with equal
earnestness. The dark head moved caressingly against Lord O'More's
"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
"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 around her.
"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 know
"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 another matter!"
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 first
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."
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 firm grasp.
"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
"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
"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
"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 her
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
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
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
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
"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 McLean, Freckles."
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
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 intent thinking.
"Maybe I can be guessing," he whispered. "Will you be giving
me three chances?"
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
"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
"Angel," whispered Freckles, with his lips against her hair,
"you haven't learned your history book very well, or else you've
"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
"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
"No!" cried Freckles. "No! I don't remember anything of the
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 her
"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
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 before
"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."
Wherein Freckles returns to the Limberlost, and Lord O'More
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 and
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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 at once."
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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,
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 sent me."
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 black
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