Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Part 1 out of 5
all good Irishmen
CHARLES DARWIN PORTER
FRECKLES, a plucky waif who guards the Limberlost timber leases
and dreams of Angels.
THE SWAMP ANGEL, in whom Freckles' sweetest dream materializes.
MCLEAN, a member of a Grand Rapids lumber company, who befriends Freckles.
MRS. DUNCAN, who gives mother-love and a home to Freckles.
DUNCAN, head teamster of McLean's timber gang.
THE BIRD WOMAN, who is collecting camera studies of birds for a book.
LORD AND LADY O'MORE, who come from Ireland in quest of a lost relative.
THE MAN OF AFFAIRS, brusque of manner, but big of heart.
WESSNER, a Dutch timber-thief who wants rascality made easy.
BLACK JACK, a villain to whom thought of repentance comes too late.
SEARS, camp cook.
I Wherein Great Risks Are Taken and the Limberlost Guard Is Hired
II Wherein Freckles Proves His Mettle and Finds Friends
III Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born
IV Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely and Opens the Way for
V Wherein an Angel Materializes and a Man Worships
VI Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight
VII Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the Trail
VIII Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by
IX Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs. Duncan and Freckles
Comes to the Rescue
X Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him
XI Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the
XII Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures Jack
XIII Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse of Black
Jack Falls upon Her
XIV Wherein Freckles Nurses a Heartache and Black Jack Drops Out
XV Wherein Freckles and the Angel Try Taking a Picture, and Little
Chicken Furnishes the Subject
XVI Wherein the Angel Locates a Rare Tree and Dines with the Gang
XVII Wherein Freckles Offers His Life for His Love and Gets a Broken Body
XVIII Wherein Freckles Refuses Love Without Knowledge of Honorable
Birth, and the Angel Goes in Quest of it
XIX Wherein Freckles Finds His Birthright and the Angel Loses Her Heart
XX Wherein Freckles Returns to the Limberlost, and Lord O'More
Sails for Ireland Without Him
Wherein Great Risks Are Taken and the Limberlost Guard Is Hired
Freckles came down the corduroy that crosses the lower end of
the Limberlost. At a glance he might have been mistaken for a
tramp, but he was truly seeking work. He was intensely eager
to belong somewhere and to be attached to almost any enterprise
that would furnish him food and clothing.
Long before he came in sight of the camp of the Grand Rapids Lumber
Company, he could hear the cheery voices of the men, the neighing
of the horses, and could scent the tempting odors of cooking food.
A feeling of homeless friendlessness swept over him in a sickening wave.
Without stopping to think, he turned into the newly made road and
followed it to the camp, where the gang was making ready for supper
The scene was intensely attractive. The thickness of the swamp
made a dark, massive background below, while above towered
gigantic trees. The men were calling jovially back and forth as
they unharnessed tired horses that fell into attitudes of rest and
crunched, in deep content, the grain given them. Duncan, the brawny
Scotch head-teamster, lovingly wiped the flanks of his big bays
with handfuls of pawpaw leaves, as he softly whistled, "O wha will
be my dearie, O!" and a cricket beneath the leaves at his feet
accompanied him. The green wood fire hissed and crackled merrily.
Wreathing tongues of flame wrapped around the big black kettles,
and when the cook lifted the lids to plunge in his testing-fork,
gusts of savory odors escaped.
Freckles approached him.
"I want to speak with the Boss," he said.
The cook glanced at him and answered carelessly: "He can't use you."
The color flooded Freckles' face, but he said simply: "If you will
be having the goodness to point him out, we will give him a chance
to do his own talking."
With a shrug of astonishment, the cook led the way to a rough board
table where a broad, square-shouldered man was bending over some
"Mr. McLean, here's another man wanting to be taken on the gang,
I suppose," he said.
"All right," came the cheery answer. "I never needed a good man
more than I do just now."
The manager turned a page and carefully began a new line.
"No use of your bothering with this fellow," volunteered the cook.
"He hasn't but one hand."
The flush on Freckles' face burned deeper. His lips thinned to a
mere line. He lifted his shoulders, took a step forward, and thrust
out his right arm, from which the sleeve dangled empty at the wrist.
"That will do, Sears," came the voice of the Boss sharply. "I will
interview my man when I finish this report."
He turned to his work, while the cook hurried to the fires.
Freckles stood one instant as he had braced himself to meet the
eyes of the manager; then his arm dropped and a wave of whiteness
swept him. The Boss had not even turned his head. He had used
the possessive. When he said "my man," the hungry heart of
Freckles went reaching toward him.
The boy drew a quivering breath. Then he whipped off his old hat
and beat the dust from it carefully. With his left hand he caught
the right sleeve, wiped his sweaty face, and tried to straighten
his hair with his fingers. He broke a spray of ironwort beside
him and used the purple bloom to beat the dust from his shoulders
and limbs. The Boss, busy over his report, was, nevertheless, vaguely
alive to the toilet being made behind him, and scored one for the man.
McLean was a Scotchman. It was his habit to work slowly
and methodically. The men of his camps never had known him to be
in a hurry or to lose his temper. Discipline was inflexible, but
the Boss was always kind. His habits were simple. He shared camp
life with his gangs. The only visible signs of wealth consisted
of a big, shimmering diamond stone of ice and fire that glittered
and burned on one of his fingers, and the dainty, beautiful
thoroughbred mare he rode between camps and across the country
No man of McLean's gangs could honestly say that he ever had been
overdriven or underpaid. The Boss never had exacted any deference
from his men, yet so intense was his personality that no man of
them ever had attempted a familiarity. They all knew him to be a
thorough gentleman, and that in the great timber city several
millions stood to his credit.
He was the only son of that McLean who had sent out the finest
ships ever built in Scotland. That his son should carry on this
business after the father's death had been his ambition. He had
sent the boy through the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, and
allowed him several years' travel before he should attempt his
first commission for the firm.
Then he was ordered to southern Canada and Michigan to purchase
a consignment of tall, straight timber for masts, and south to
Indiana for oak beams. The young man entered these mighty forests,
parts of which lay untouched since the dawn of the morning of time.
The clear, cool, pungent atmosphere was intoxicating. The intense
silence, like that of a great empty cathedral, fascinated him.
He gradually learned that, to the shy wood creatures that darted
across his path or peeped inquiringly from leafy ambush, he
was brother. He found himself approaching, with a feeling of
reverence, those majestic trees that had stood through ages of
sun, wind, and snow. Soon it became difficult to fell them.
When he had filled his order and returned home, he was amazed
to learn that in the swamps and forests he had lost his heart
and it was calling--forever calling him.
When he inherited his father's property, he promptly disposed of
it, and, with his mother, founded a home in a splendid residence in
the outskirts of Grand Rapids. With three partners, he organized a
lumber company. His work was to purchase, fell, and ship the timber
to the mills. Marshall managed the milling process and passed the
lumber to the factory. From the lumber, Barthol made beautiful and
useful furniture, which Uptegrove scattered all over the world from
a big wholesale house. Of the thousands who saw their faces
reflected on the polished surfaces of that furniture and found
comfort in its use, few there were to whom it suggested mighty
forests and trackless swamps, and the man, big of soul and body,
who cut his way through them, and with the eye of experience doomed
the proud trees that were now entering the homes of civilization
When McLean turned from his finished report, he faced a young man,
yet under twenty, tall, spare, heavily framed, closely freckled,
and red-haired, with a homely Irish face, but in the steady gray
eyes, straightly meeting his searching ones of blue, there was
unswerving candor and the appearance of longing not to be ignored.
He was dressed in the roughest of farm clothing, and seemed tired
to the point of falling.
"You are looking for work?" questioned McLean.
"Yis," answered Freckles.
"I am very sorry," said the Boss with genuine sympathy in his every
tone, "but there is only one man I want at present--a hardy, big
fellow with a stout heart and a strong body. I hoped that you would
do, but I am afraid you are too young and scarcely strong enough."
Freckles stood, hat in hand, watching McLean.
"And what was it you thought I might be doing?" he asked.
The Boss could scarcely repress a start. Somewhere before accident
and poverty there had been an ancestor who used cultivated English,
even with an accent. The boy spoke in a mellow Irish voice, sweet
and pure. It was scarcely definite enough to be called brogue, yet
there was a trick in the turning of the sentence, the wrong sound
of a letter here and there, that was almost irresistible to McLean,
and presaged a misuse of infinitives and possessives with which he
was very familiar and which touched him nearly. He was of foreign
birth, and despite years of alienation, in times of strong feeling
he committed inherited sins of accent and construction.
"It's no child's job," answered McLean. "I am the field manager of
a big lumber company. We have just leased two thousand acres of
the Limberlost. Many of these trees are of great value. We can't
leave our camp, six miles south, for almost a year yet; so we have
blazed a trail and strung barbed wires securely around this lease.
Before we return to our work, I must put this property in the hands
of a reliable, brave, strong man who will guard it every hour of
the day, and sleep with one eye open at night. I shall require the
entire length of the trail to be walked at least twice each day, to
make sure that our lines are up and that no one has been trespassing."
Freckles was leaning forward, absorbing every word with such
intense eagerness that he was beguiling the Boss into explanations
he had never intended making.
"But why wouldn't that be the finest job in the world for me?"
he pleaded. "I am never sick. I could walk the trail twice,
three times every day, and I'd be watching sharp all the while."
"It's because you are scarcely more than a boy, and this will be a
trying job for a work-hardened man," answered McLean. "You see, in
the first place, you would be afraid. In stretching our lines, we
killed six rattlesnakes almost as long as your body and as thick as
your arm. It's the price of your life to start through the
marshgrass surrounding the swamp unless you are covered with
heavy leather above your knees.
"You should be able to swim in case high water undermines the
temporary bridge we have built where Sleepy Snake Creek enters
the swamp. The fall and winter changes of weather are abrupt and
severe, while I would want strict watch kept every day. You would
always be alone, and I don't guarantee what is in the Limberlost.
It is lying here as it has lain since the beginning of time, and it
is alive with forms and voices. I don't pretend to say what all of
them come from; but from a few slinking shapes I've seen, and
hair-raising yells I've heard, I'd rather not confront their owners
myself; and I am neither weak nor fearful.
"Worst of all, any man who will enter the swamp to mark and steal
timber is desperate. One of my employees at the south camp, John
Carter, compelled me to discharge him for a number of serious reasons.
He came here, entered the swamp alone, and succeeded in locating
and marking a number of valuable trees that he was endeavoring
to sell to a rival company when we secured the lease. He has
sworn to have these trees if he has to die or to kill others to
get them; and he is a man that the strongest would not care to meet."
"But if he came to steal trees, wouldn't he bring teams and men
enough: that all anyone could do would be to watch and be after
you?" queried the boy.
"Yes," replied McLean.
"Then why couldn't I be watching just as closely, and coming as
fast, as an older, stronger man?" asked Freckles.
"Why, by George, you could!" exclaimed McLean. "I don't know as
the size of a man would be half so important as his grit and
faithfulness, come to think of it. Sit on that log there and we
will talk it over. What is your name?"
Freckles shook his head at the proffer of a seat, and folding his
arms, stood straight as the trees around him. He grew a shade
whiter, but his eyes never faltered.
"Freckles!" he said.
"Good enough for everyday," laughed McLean, "but I scarcely can
put `Freckles' on the company's books. Tell me your name."
"I haven't any name," replied the boy.
"I don't understand," said McLean.
"I was thinking from the voice and the face of you that you
wouldn't," said Freckles slowly. "I've spent more time on it than
I ever did on anything else in all me life, and I don't understand.
Does it seem to you that anyone would take a newborn baby and row
over it, until it was bruised black, cut off its hand, and leave it
out in a bitter night on the steps of a charity home, to the care
of strangers? That's what somebody did to me."
McLean stared aghast. He had no reply ready, and presently in a low
voice he suggested: "And after?"
"The Home people took me in, and I was there the full legal age and
several years over. For the most part we were a lot of little
Irishmen together. They could always find homes for the other
children, but nobody would ever be wanting me on account of me arm."
"Were they kind to you?" McLean regretted the question the minute
it was asked.
"I don't know," answered Freckles. The reply sounded so hopeless,
even to his own ears, that he hastened to qualify it by adding:
"You see, it's like this, sir. Kindnesses that people are paid to
lay off in job lots and that belong equally to several hundred
others, ain't going to be soaking into any one fellow so much."
"Go on," said McLean, nodding comprehendingly.
"There's nothing worth the taking of your time to tell,"
replied Freckles. "The Home was in Chicago, and I was there all
me life until three months ago. When I was too old for the
training they gave to the little children, they sent me to the
closest ward school as long as the law would let them; but I was
never like any of the other children, and they all knew it.
I'd to go and come like a prisoner, and be working around the
Home early and late for me board and clothes. I always wanted
to learn mighty bad, but I was glad when that was over.
"Every few days, all me life, I'd to be called up, looked over,
and refused a home and love, on account of me hand and ugly face;
but it was all the home I'd ever known, and I didn't seem to
belong to any place else.
"Then a new superintendent was put in. He wasn't for being like
any of the others, and he swore he'd weed me out the first thing
he did. He made a plan to send me down the State to a man he said
he knew who needed a boy. He wasn't for remembering to tell that man
that I was a hand short, and he knocked me down the minute he found
I was the boy who had been sent him. Between noon and that evening,
he and his son close my age had me in pretty much the same shape in
which I was found in the beginning, so I lay awake that night and
ran away. I'd like to have squared me account with that boy before
I left, but I didn't dare for fear of waking the old man, and I
knew I couldn't handle the two of them; but I'm hoping to meet him
alone some day before I die."
McLean tugged at his mustache to hide the smile on his lips, but he
liked the boy all the better for this confession.
"I didn't even have to steal clothes to get rid of starting in me
Home ones," Freckles continued, "for they had already taken all me
clean, neat things for the boy and put me into his rags, and that
went almost as sore as the beatings, for where I was we were always
kept tidy and sweet-smelling, anyway. I hustled clear into this
State before I learned that man couldn't have kept me if he'd
wanted to. When I thought I was good and away from him, I
commenced hunting work, but it is with everybody else just as it
is with you, sir. Big, strong, whole men are the only ones for
"I have been studying over this matter," answered McLean. "I am not
so sure but that a man no older than you and similar in every way
could do this work very well, if he were not a coward, and had it
in him to be trustworthy and industrious."
Freckles came forward a step.
"If you will give me a job where I can earn me food, clothes, and
a place to sleep," he said, "if I can have a Boss to work for like
other men, and a place I feel I've a right to, I will do precisely
what you tell me or die trying."
He spoke so convincingly that McLean believed, although in his
heart he knew that to employ a stranger would be wretched business
for a man with the interests he had involved.
"Very well," the Boss found himself answering, "I will enter you on
my pay rolls. We'll have supper, and then I will provide you with
clean clothing, wading-boots, the wire-mending apparatus, and
a revolver. The first thing in the morning, I will take you the
length of the trail myself and explain fully what I want done.
All I ask of you is to come to me at once at the south camp and
tell me as a man if you find this job too hard for you. It will not
surprise me. It is work that few men would perform faithfully.
What name shall I put down?"
Freckles' gaze never left McLean's face, and the Boss saw the
swift spasm of pain that swept his lonely, sensitive features.
"I haven't any name," he said stubbornly, "no more than one
somebody clapped on to me when they put me on the Home books, with
not the thought or care they'd name a house cat. I've seen how they
enter those poor little abandoned devils often enough to know.
What they called me is no more my name than it is yours. I don't
know what mine is, and I never will; but I am going to be your man
and do your work, and I'll be glad to answer to any name you choose
to call me. Won't you please be giving me a name, Mr. McLean?"
The Boss wheeled abruptly and began stacking his books. What he was
thinking was probably what any other gentleman would have thought
in the circumstances. With his eyes still downcast, and in a voice
harsh with huskiness, he spoke.
"I will tell you what we will do, my lad," he said. "My father
was my ideal man, and I loved him better than any other I have
ever known. He went out five years ago, but that he would have been
proud to leave you his name I firmly believe. If I give to you the
name of my nearest kin and the man I loved best--will that do?"
Freckles' rigid attitude relaxed suddenly. His head dropped, and
big tears splashed on the soiled calico shirt. McLean was not
surprised at the silence, for he found that talking came none too
easily just then.
"All right," he said. "I will write it on the roll--James Ross McLean."
"Thank you mightily," said Freckles. "That makes me feel almost as
if I belonged, already."
"You do," said McLean. "Until someone armed with every right comes
to claim you, you are mine. Now, come and take a bath, have some
supper, and go to bed."
As Freckles followed into the lights and sounds of the camp, his
heart and soul were singing for joy.
Wherein Freckles Proves His Mettle and Finds Friends
Next morning found Freckles in clean, whole clothing, fed,
and rested. Then McLean outfitted him and gave him careful
instruction in the use of his weapon. The Boss showed him around
the timber-line, and engaged him a place to board with the family
of his head teamster, Duncan, whom he had brought from Scotland with
him, and who lived in a small clearing he was working out between
the swamp and the corduroy. When the gang was started for the
south camp, Freckles was left to guard a fortune in the Limberlost.
That he was under guard himself those first weeks he never knew.
Each hour was torture to the boy. The restricted life of a great
city orphanage was the other extreme of the world compared with
the Limberlost. He was afraid for his life every minute. The heat
was intense. The heavy wading-boots rubbed his feet until they bled.
He was sore and stiff from his long tramp and outdoor exposure.
The seven miles of trail was agony at every step. He practiced at
night, under the direction of Duncan, until he grew sure in the use
of his revolver. He cut a stout hickory cudgel, with a knot on the
end as big as his fist; this never left his hand. What he thought
in those first days he himself could not recall clearly afterward.
His heart stood still every time he saw the beautiful marsh-grass
begin a sinuous waving AGAINST the play of the wind, as McLean had
told him it would. He bolted half a mile with the first boom of
the bittern, and his hat lifted with every yelp of the sheitpoke.
Once he saw a lean, shadowy form following him, and fired his revolver.
Then he was frightened worse than ever for fear it might have been
The first afternoon that he found his wires down, and he was
compelled to plunge knee deep into the black swamp-muck to restring
them, he became so ill from fear and nervousness that he scarcely
could control his shaking hand to do the work. With every step, he
felt that he would miss secure footing and be swallowed in that
clinging sea of blackness. In dumb agony he plunged forward,
clinging to the posts and trees until he had finished restringing
and testing the wire. He had consumed much time. Night closed in.
The Limberlost stirred gently, then shook herself, growled, and
awoke around him.
There seemed to be a great owl hooting from every hollow tree, and
a little one screeching from every knothole. The bellowing of big
bullfrogs was not sufficiently deafening to shut out the wailing of
whip-poor-wills that seemed to come from every bush. Nighthawks swept
past him with their shivering cry, and bats struck his face.
A prowling wildcat missed its catch and screamed with rage.
A straying fox bayed incessantly for its mate.
The hair on the back of Freckles' neck arose as bristles, and his
knees wavered beneath him. He could not see whether the dreaded
snakes were on the trail, or, in the pandemonium, hear the rattle
for which McLean had cautioned him to listen. He stood motionless
in an agony of fear. His breath whistled between his teeth.
The perspiration ran down his face and body in little streams.
Something big, black, and heavy came crashing through the swamp
close to him, and with a yell of utter panic Freckles ran--how far
he did not know; but at last he gained control over himself and
retraced his steps. His jaws set stiffly and the sweat dried on
his body. When he reached the place from which he had started to
run, he turned and with measured steps made his way down the line.
After a time he realized that he was only walking, so he faced
that sea of horrors again. When he came toward the corduroy,
the cudgel fell to test the wire at each step.
Sounds that curdled his blood seemed to encompass him, and shapes
of terror to draw closer and closer. Fear had so gained the mastery
that he did not dare look behind him; and just when he felt that he
would fall dead before he ever reached the clearing, came Duncan's
rolling call: "Freckles! Freckles!" A shuddering sob burst in the
boy's dry throat; but he only told Duncan that finding the wire
down had caused the delay.
The next morning he started on time. Day after day, with his heart
pounding, he ducked, dodged, ran when he could, and fought when he
was brought to bay. If he ever had an idea of giving up, no one
knew it; for he clung to his job without the shadow of wavering.
All these things, in so far as he guessed them, Duncan, who had
been set to watch the first weeks of Freckles' work, carried to the
Boss at the south camp; but the innermost, exquisite torture of the
thing the big Scotchman never guessed, and McLean, with his finer
perceptions, came only a little closer.
After a few weeks, when Freckles learned that he was still living,
that he had a home, and the very first money he ever had possessed
was safe in his pockets, he began to grow proud. He yet side-
stepped, dodged, and hurried to avoid being late again, but he
was gradually developing the fearlessness that men ever acquire
of dangers to which they are hourly accustomed.
His heart seemed to be leaping when his first rattler disputed the
trail with him, but he mustered courage to attack it with his club.
After its head had been crushed, he mastered an Irishman's inborn
repugnance for snakes sufficiently to cut off its rattles to
show Duncan. With this victory, his greatest fear of them was gone.
Then he began to realize that with the abundance of food in the
swamp, flesh-hunters would not come on the trail and attack him,
and he had his revolver for defence if they did. He soon learned to
laugh at the big, floppy birds that made horrible noises. One day,
watching behind a tree, he saw a crane solemnly performing a few
measures of a belated nuptial song-and-dance with his mate.
Realizing that it was intended in tenderness, no matter how it
appeared, the lonely, starved heart of the boy sympathized with them.
Before the first month passed, he was fairly easy about his job; by
the next he rather liked it. Nature can be trusted to work her own
miracle in the heart of any man whose daily task keeps him alone
among her sights, sounds, and silences.
When day after day the only thing that relieved his utter
loneliness was the companionship of the birds and beasts of the
swamp, it was the most natural thing in the world that Freckles
should turn to them for friendship. He began by instinctively
protecting the weak and helpless. He was astonished at the
quickness with which they became accustomed to him and the
disregard they showed for his movements, when they learned that
he was not a hunter, while the club he carried was used more
frequently for their benefit than his own. He scarcely could
believe what he saw.
From the effort to protect the birds and animals, it was only a
short step to the possessive feeling, and with that sprang the
impulse to caress and provide. Through fall, when brooding was
finished and the upland birds sought the swamp in swarms to feast
on its seeds and berries, Freckles was content with watching them
and speculating about them. Outside of half a dozen of the very
commonest they were strangers to him. The likeness of their actions
to humanity was an hourly surprise.
When black frost began stripping the Limberlost, cutting the ferns,
shearing the vines from the trees, mowing the succulent green
things of the swale, and setting the leaves swirling down, he
watched the departing troops of his friends with dismay. He began
to realize that he would be left alone. He made especial efforts
toward friendliness with the hope that he could induce some of them
to stay. It was then that he conceived the idea of carrying food to
the birds; for he saw that they were leaving for lack of it; but he
could not stop them. Day after day, flocks gathered and departed:
by the time the first snow whitened his trail around the Limberlost,
there were left only the little black-and-white juncos, the
sapsuckers, yellow-hammers, a few patriarchs among the flaming
cardinals, the blue jays, the crows, and the quail.
Then Freckles began his wizard work. He cleared a space of swale,
and twice a day he spread a birds' banquet. By the middle of
December the strong winds of winter had beaten most of the seed
from the grass and bushes. The snow fell, covering the swamp, and
food was very scarce and difficult to find. The birds scarcely
waited until Freckles' back was turned to attack his provisions.
In a few weeks they flew toward the clearing to meet him. During the
bitter weather of January they came halfway to the cabin every
morning, and fluttered around him as doves all the way to the
feeding-ground. Before February they were so accustomed to him, and
so hunger-driven, that they would perch on his head and shoulders,
and the saucy jays would try to pry into his pockets.
Then Freckles added to wheat and crumbs, every scrap of refuse food
he could find at the cabin. He carried to his pets the parings of
apples, turnips, potatoes, stray cabbage-leaves, and carrots, and
tied to the bushes meat-bones having scraps of fat and gristle.
One morning, coming to his feeding-ground unusually early, he found
a gorgeous cardinal and a rabbit side by side sociably nibbling a
cabbage-leaf, and that instantly gave to him the idea of cracking
nuts, from the store he had gathered for Duncan's children, for the
squirrels, in the effort to add them to his family. Soon he had
them coming--red, gray, and black; then he became filled with a
vast impatience that he did not know their names or habits.
So the winter passed. Every week McLean rode to the Limberlost;
never on the same day or at the same hour. Always he found Freckles
at his work, faithful and brave, no matter how severe the weather.
The boy's earnings constituted his first money; and when the Boss
explained to him that he could leave them safe at a bank and carry
away a scrap of paper that represented the amount, he went straight
on every payday and made his deposit, keeping out barely what was
necessary for his board and clothing. What he wanted to do with his
money he did not know, but it gave to him a sense of freedom and
power to feel that it was there--it was his and he could have it
when he chose. In imitation of McLean, he bought a small pocket
account-book, in which he carefully set down every dollar he earned
and every penny he spent. As his expenses were small and the Boss
paid him generously, it was astonishing how his little hoard grew.
That winter held the first hours of real happiness in Freckles' life.
He was free. He was doing a man's work faithfully, through
every rigor of rain, snow, and blizzard. He was gathering a
wonderful strength of body, paying his way, and saving money.
Every man of the gang and of that locality knew that he was under
the protection of McLean, who was a power, this had the effect of
smoothing Freckles' path in many directions.
Mrs. Duncan showed him that individual kindness for which his
hungry heart was longing. She had a hot drink ready for him when he
came from a freezing day on the trail. She knit him a heavy mitten
for his left hand, and devised a way to sew and pad the right
sleeve that protected the maimed arm in bitter weather. She patched
his clothing--frequently torn by the wire--and saved kitchen scraps
for his birds, not because she either knew or cared anything about
them, but because she herself was close enough to the swamp to be
touched by its utter loneliness. When Duncan laughed at her for
this, she retorted: "My God, mannie, if Freckles hadna the birds
and the beasts he would be always alone. It was never meant for a
human being to be so solitary. He'd get touched in the head if he
hadna them to think for and to talk to."
"How much answer do ye think he gets to his talkin', lass?"
"He gets the answer that keeps the eye bright, the heart happy,
and the feet walking faithful the rough path he's set them in,"
answered Mrs. Duncan earnestly.
Duncan walked away appearing very thoughtful. The next morning
he gave an ear from the corn he was shelling for his chickens to
Freckles, and told him to carry it to his wild chickens in
the Limberlost. Freckles laughed delightedly.
"Me chickens!" he said. "Why didn't I ever think of that before?
Of course they are! They are just little, brightly colored cocks
and hens! But `wild' is no good. What would you say to me `wild
chickens' being a good deal tamer than yours here in your yard?"
"Hoot, lad!" cried Duncan.
"Make yours light on your head and eat out of your hands and
pockets," challenged Freckles.
"Go and tell your fairy tales to the wee people! They're juist
brash on believin' things," said Duncan. "Ye canna invent any
story too big to stop them from callin' for a bigger."
"I dare you to come see!" retorted Freckles.
"Take ye!" said Duncan. "If ye make juist ane bird licht on your
heid or eat frae your hand, ye are free to help yoursel' to my
corn-crib and wheat bin the rest of the winter."
Freckles sprang in air and howled in glee.
"Oh, Duncan! You're too, aisy" he cried. "When will you come?"
"I'll come next Sabbath," said Duncan. "And I'll believe the birds of
the Limberlost are tame as barnyard fowl when I see it, and no sooner!"
After that Freckles always spoke of the birds as his chickens, and
the Duncans followed his example. The very next Sabbath, Duncan,
with his wife and children, followed Freckles to the swamp.
They saw a sight so wonderful it will keep them talking all the
remainder of their lives, and make them unfailing friends of all
Freckles' chickens were awaiting him at the edge of the clearing.
They cut the frosty air around his head into curves and circles of
crimson, blue, and black. They chased each other from Freckles, and
swept so closely themselves that they brushed him with their
At their feeding-ground Freckles set down his old pail of scraps
and swept the snow from a small level space with a broom improvised
of twigs. As soon as his back was turned, the birds clustered over
the food, snatching scraps to carry to the nearest bushes. Several of
the boldest, a big crow and a couple of jays, settled on the rim and
feasted at leisure, while a cardinal, that hesitated to venture,
fumed and scolded from a twig overhead.
Then Freckles scattered his store. At once the ground resembled the
spread mantle of Montezuma, except that this mass of gaily colored
feathers was on the backs of living birds. While they feasted,
Duncan gripped his wife's arm and stared in astonishment; for from
the bushes and dry grass, with gentle cheeping and queer, throaty
chatter, as if to encourage each other, came flocks of quail.
Before anyone saw it arrive, a big gray rabbit sat in the midst of
the feast, contentedly gnawing a cabbage-leaf.
"Weel, I be drawed on!" came Mrs. Duncan's tense whisper.
"Shu-shu," cautioned Duncan.
Lastly Freckles removed his cap. He began filling it with handfuls
of wheat from his pockets. In a swarm the grain-eaters arose around
him as a flock of tame pigeons. They perched on his arms and the
cap, and in the stress of hunger, forgetting all caution, a
brilliant cock cardinal and an equally gaudy jay fought for a
perching-place on his head.
"Weel, I'm beat," muttered Duncan, forgetting the silence imposed
on his wife. "I'll hae to give in. `Seein' is believin'. A man
wad hae to see that to believe it. We mauna let the Boss miss that
sight, for it's a chance will no likely come twice in a life.
Everything is snowed under and thae craturs near starved, but
trustin' Freckles that complete they are tamer than our chickens.
Look hard, bairns!" he whispered. "Ye winna see the like o' yon
again, while God lets ye live. Notice their color against the ice
and snow, and the pretty skippin' ways of them! And spunky!
Weel, I'm heat fair!"
Freckles emptied his cap, turned his pockets and scattered his
last grain. Then he waved his watching friends good-bye and
started down the timber-line.
A week later, Duncan and Freckles arose from breakfast to face the
bitterest morning of the winter. When Freckles, warmly capped and
gloved, stepped to the corner of the kitchen for his scrap-pail, he
found a big pan of steaming boiled wheat on the top of it. He wheeled
to Mrs. Duncan with a shining face.
"Were you fixing this warm food for me chickens or yours?" he asked.
"It's for yours, Freckles," she said. "I was afeared this cold
weather they wadna lay good without a warm bite now and then."
Duncan laughed as he stepped to the other room for his pipe; but
Freckles faced Mrs. Duncan with a trace of every pang of starved
mother-hunger he ever had suffered written large on his homely,
splotched, narrow features.
"Oh, how I wish you were my mother!" he cried.
Mrs. Duncan attempted an echo of her husband's laugh.
"Lord love the lad!" she exclaimed. "Why, Freckles, are ye no
bright enough to learn without being taught by a woman that I am
your mither? If a great man like yoursel' dinna ken that, learn it
now and ne'er forget it. Ance a woman is the wife of any man, she
becomes wife to all men for having had the wifely experience she kens!
Ance a man-child has beaten his way to life under the heart of a
woman, she is mither to all men, for the hearts of mithers are
everywhere the same. Bless ye, laddie, I am your mither!"
She tucked the coarse scarf she had knit for him closer over his
chest and pulled his cap lower over his ears, but Freckles,
whipping it off and holding it under his arm, caught her rough,
reddened hand and pressed it to his lips in a long kiss. Then he
hurried away to hide the happy, embarrassing tears that were coming
straight from his swelling heart.
Mrs. Duncan, sobbing unrestrainedly, swept into the adjoining room
and threw herself into Duncan's arms.
"Oh, the puir lad!" she wailed. "Oh, the puir mither-hungry lad!
He breaks my heart!"
Duncan's arms closed convulsively around his wife. With a big,
brown hand he lovingly stroked her rough, sorrel hair.
"Sarah, you're a guid woman!" he said. "You're a michty guid woman!
Ye hae a way o' speakin' out at times that's like the inspired
prophets of the Lord. If that had been put to me, now, I'd `a' felt
all I kent how to and been keen enough to say the richt thing; but
dang it, I'd `a' stuttered and stammered and got naething out that
would ha' done onybody a mite o' good. But ye, Sarah! Did ye see
his face, woman? Ye sent him off lookin' leke a white light of
holiness had passed ower and settled on him. Ye sent the lad away
too happy for mortal words, Sarah. And ye made me that proud o' ye!
I wouldna trade ye an' my share o' the Limberlost with ony king ye
He relaxed his clasp, and setting a heavy hand on each shoulder, he
looked straight into her eyes.
"Ye're prime, Sarah! Juist prime!" he said.
Sarah Duncan stood alone in the middle of her two-roomed log cabin
and lifted a bony, clawlike pair of hands, reddened by frequent
immersion in hot water, cracked and chafed by exposure to cold,
black-lined by constant battle with swamp-loam, calloused with
burns, and stared at them wonderingly.
"Pretty-lookin' things ye are!" she whispered. "But ye hae juist
been kissed. And by such a man! Fine as God ever made at His
verra best. Duncan wouldna trade wi' a king! Na! Nor I wadna
trade with a queen wi' a palace, an' velvet gowns, an' diamonds
big as hazelnuts, an' a hundred visitors a day into the bargain.
Ye've been that honored I'm blest if I can bear to souse ye in
dish-water. Still, that kiss winna come off! Naething can take it
from me, for it's mine till I dee. Lord, if I amna proud! Kisses on
these old claws! Weel, I be drawed on!"
Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born
So Freckles fared through the bitter winter. He was very happy.
He had hungered for freedom, love, and appreciation so long!
He had been unspeakably lonely at the Home; and the utter
loneliness of a great desert or forest is not so difficult to
endure as the loneliness of being constantly surrounded by crowds
of people who do not care in the least whether one is living or dead.
All through the winter Freckles' entire energy was given to keeping
up his lines and his "chickens" from freezing or starving. When the
first breath of spring touched the Limberlost, and the snow receded
before it; when the catkins began to bloom; when there came a hint
of green to the trees, bushes, and swale; when the rushes lifted
their heads, and the pulse of the newly resurrected season beat
strongly in the heart of nature, something new stirred in the
breast of the boy.
Nature always levies her tribute. Now she laid a powerful hand on the
soul of Freckles, to which the boy's whole being responded, though
he had not the least idea what was troubling him. Duncan accepted
his wife's theory that it was a touch of spring fever, but Freckles
knew better. He never had been so well. Clean, hot, and steady
the blood pulsed in his veins. He was always hungry, and his most
difficult work tired him not at all. For long months, without a
single intermission, he had tramped those seven miles of trail twice
each day, through every conceivable state of weather. With the
heavy club he gave his wires a sure test, and between sections,
first in play, afterward to keep his circulation going, he had
acquired the skill of an expert drum major. In his work there was
exercise for every muscle of his body each hour of the day, at
night a bath, wholesome food, and sound sleep in a room that never
knew fire. He had gained flesh and color, and developed a greater
strength and endurance than anyone ever could have guessed.
Nor did the Limberlost contain last year's terrors. He had been
with her in her hour of desolation, when stripped bare and
deserted, she had stood shivering, as if herself afraid. He had
made excursions into the interior until he was familiar with every
path and road that ever had been cut. He had sounded the depths of
her deepest pools, and had learned why the trees grew so magnificently.
He had found that places of swamp and swale were few compared with
miles of solid timber-land, concealed by summer's luxuriant undergrowth.
The sounds that at first had struck cold fear into his soul he now
knew had left on wing and silent foot at the approach of winter.
As flock after flock of the birds returned and he recognized the
old echoes reawakening, he found to his surprise that he had
been lonely for them and was hailing their return with great joy.
All his fears were forgotten. Instead, he was possessed of an
overpowering desire to know what they were, to learn where they had
been, and whether they would make friends with him as the winter
birds had done; and if they did, would they be as fickle? For, with
the running sap, creeping worm, and winging bug, most of Freckles'
"chickens" had deserted him, entered the swamp, and feasted to such
a state of plethora on its store that they cared little for his
supply, so that in the strenuous days of mating and nest-building
the boy was deserted.
He chafed at the birds' ingratitude, but he found speedy
consolation in watching and befriending the newcomers. He surely
would have been proud and highly pleased if he had known that many
of the former inhabitants of the interior swamp now grouped their
nests beside the timber-line solely for the sake of his protection
The yearly resurrection of the Limberlost is a mighty revival.
Freckles stood back and watched with awe and envy the gradual
reclothing and repopulation of the swamp. Keen-eyed and alert
through danger and loneliness, he noted every stage of development,
from the first piping frog and unsheathing bud, to full leafage and
the return of the last migrant.
The knowledge of his complete loneliness and utter insignificance
was hourly thrust upon him. He brooded and fretted until he was in
a fever; yet he never guessed the cause. He was filled with a vast
impatience, a longing that he scarcely could endure.
It was June by the zodiac, June by the Limberlost, and by every
delight of a newly resurrected season it should have been June in
the hearts of all men. Yet Freckles scowled darkly as he came down
the trail, and the running TAP, TAP that tested the sagging wire
and telegraphed word of his coming to his furred and feathered
friends of the swamp, this morning carried the story of his
discontent a mile ahead of him.
Freckles' special pet, a dainty, yellow-coated, black-sleeved, cock
goldfinch, had remained on the wire for several days past the
bravest of all; and Freckles, absorbed with the cunning and beauty
of the tiny fellow, never guessed that he was being duped. For the
goldfinch was skipping, flirting, and swinging for the express
purpose of so holding his attention that he would not look up and
see a small cradle of thistledown and wool perilously near his head.
In the beginning of brooding, the spunky little homesteader had clung
heroically to the wire when he was almost paralyzed with fright.
When day after day passed and brought only softly whistled
repetitions of his call, a handful of crumbs on the top of a locust
line-post, and gently worded coaxings, he grew in confidence.
Of late he had sung and swung during the passing of Freckles, who,
not dreaming of the nest and the solemn-eyed little hen so close above,
thought himself unusually gifted in his power to attract the birds.
This morning the goldfinch scarcely could believe his ears, and
clung to the wire until an unusually vicious rap sent him spinning
a foot in air, and his "PTSEET" came with a squall of utter panic.
The wires were ringing with a story the birds could not translate,
and Freckles was quite as ignorant of the trouble as they.
A peculiar movement beneath a small walnut tree caught his attention.
He stopped to investigate. There was an unusually large Luna
cocoon, and the moth was bursting the upper end in its struggles
to reach light and air. Freckles stood and stared.
"There's something in there trying to get out," he muttered.
"Wonder if I could help it? Guess I best not be trying. If I hadn't
happened along, there wouldn't have been anyone to do anything, and
maybe I'd only be hurting it. It's--it's----Oh, skaggany! It's just
Freckles gasped with surprise. The moth cleared the opening, and
with many wabblings and contortions climbed up the tree. He stared
speechless with amazement as the moth crept around a limb and clung
to the under side. There was a big pursy body, almost as large as
his thumb, and of the very snowiest white that Freckles ever had seen.
There was a band of delicate lavender across its forehead, and its
feet were of the same colour; there were antlers, like tiny,
straw-colored ferns, on its head, and from its shoulders hung
the crumpled wet wings. As Freckles gazed, tense with astonishment,
he saw that these were expanding, drooping, taking on color, and
small, oval markings were beginning to show.
The minutes passed. Freckles' steady gaze never wavered.
Without realizing it, he was trembling with eagerness and anxiety.
As he saw what was taking place, "It's going to fly," he breathed
in hushed wonder. The morning sun fell on the moth and dried its
velvet down, while the warm air made it fluffy. The rapidly growing
wings began to show the most delicate green, with lavender
fore-ribs, transparent, eye-shaped markings, edged with lines of
red, tan, and black, and long, crisp trailers.
Freckles was whispering to himself for fear of disturbing the moth.
It began a systematic exercise of raising and lowering its
exquisite wings to dry them and to establish circulation. The boy
realized that soon it would be able to spread them and sail away.
His long-coming soul sent up its first shivering cry.
"I don't know what it is! Oh, I wish I knew! How I wish I knew!
It must be something grand! It can't be a butterfly! It's away
too big. Oh, I wish there was someone to tell me what it is!"
He climbed on the locust post, and balancing himself with the wire,
held a finger in the line of the moth's advance up the twig.
It unhesitatingly climbed on, so he stepped to the path, holding
it to the light and examining it closely. Then he held it in the
shade and turned it, gloating over its markings and beautiful coloring.
When he held the moth to the limb, it climbed on, still waving those
"My, but I'd like to be staying with you!" he said. "But if I was
to stand here all day you couldn't grow any prettier than you are
right now, and I wouldn't grow smart enough to tell what you are.
I suppose there's someone who knows. Of course there is! Mr. McLean
said there were people who knew every leaf, bird, and flower in
the Limberlost. Oh Lord! How I wish You'd be telling me just this
The goldfinch had ventured back to the wire, for there was his
mate, only a few inches above the man-creature's head; and indeed,
he simply must not be allowed to look up, so the brave little
fellow rocked on the wire and piped, as he had done every day for
a week: "SEE ME? SEE ME?"
"See you! Of course I see you," growled Freckles. "I see you day
after day, and what good is it doing me? I might see you every
morning for a year, and then not be able to be telling anyone
about it. `Seen a bird with black silk wings--little, and yellow
as any canary.' That's as far as I'd get. What you doing here, anyway?
Have you a mate? What's your name? `See you?' I reckon I see you;
but I might as well be blind, for any good it's doing me!"
Freckles impatiently struck the wire. With a screech of fear, the
goldfinch fled precipitately. His mate arose from the nest with a
whirr--Freckles looked up and saw it.
"O--ho!" he cried. "So THAT'S what you are doing here! You have
a wife. And so close my head I have been mighty near wearing a bird
on my bonnet, and never knew it!"
Freckles laughed at his own jest, while in better humor he climbed
to examine the neat, tiny cradle and its contents. The hen darted
at him in a frenzy. "Now, where do you come in?" he demanded, when
he saw that she was not similar to the goldfinch.
"You be clearing out of here! This is none of your fry. This is the
nest of me little, yellow friend of the wire, and you shan't be
touching it. Don't blame you for wanting to see, though. My, but
it's a fine nest and beauties of eggs. Will you be keeping away, or
will I fire this stick at you?"
Freckles dropped to the trail. The hen darted to the nest and
settled on it with a tender, coddling movement. He of the yellow
coat flew to the edge to make sure that everything was right.
It would have been plain to the veriest novice that they were
partners in that cradle.
"Well, I'll be switched!" muttered Freckles. "If that ain't both
their nest! And he's yellow and she's green, or she's yellow and
he's green. Of course, I don't know, and I haven't any way to find
out, but it's plain as the nose on your face that they are both
ready to be fighting for that nest, so, of course, they belong.
Doesn't that beat you? Say, that's what's been sticking me all
of this week on that grass nest in the thorn tree down the line.
One day a blue bird is setting, so I think it is hers. The next day
a brown bird is on, and I chase it off because the nest is blue's.
Next day the brown bird is on again, and I let her be, because I
think it must be hers. Next day, be golly, blue's on, and off I
send her because it's brown's; and now, I bet my hat, it's both
their nest and I've only been bothering them and making a big fool
of mesilf. Pretty specimen I am, pretending to be a friend to the
birds, and so blamed ignorant I don't know which ones go in pairs,
and blue and brown are a pair, of course, if yellow and green
are--and there's the red birds! I never thought of them! He's red
and she's gray--and now I want to be knowing, are they all different?
Why no! Of course, they ain't! There's the jays all blue, and
the crows all black."
The tide of Freckles' discontent welled until he almost choked with
anger and chagrin. He plodded down the trail, scowling blackly and
viciously spanging the wire. At the finches' nest he left the line
and peered into the thorn tree. There was no bird brooding.
He pressed closer to take a peep at the snowy, spotless little eggs
he had found so beautiful, when at the slight noise up raised four
tiny baby heads with wide-open mouths, uttering hunger cries.
Freckles stepped back. The brown bird alighted on the edge and
closed one cavity with a wiggling green worm, while not two minutes
later the blue filled another with a white. That settled it.
The blue and brown were mates. Once again Freckles repeated his
"How I wish I knew!"
Around the bridge spanning Sleepy Snake Creek the swale spread
widely, the timber was scattering, and willows, rushes, marsh-
grass, and splendid wild flowers grew abundantly. Here lazy,
big, black water snakes, for which the creek was named, sunned on
the bushes, wild ducks and grebe chattered, cranes and herons
fished, and muskrats plowed the bank in queer, rolling furrows.
It was always a place full of interest, so Freckles loved to linger on
the bridge, watching the marsh and water people. He also transacted
affairs of importance with the wild flowers and sweet marsh-grass.
He enjoyed splashing through the shallow pools on either side of
Then, too, where the creek entered the swamp was a place of
unusual beauty. The water spread in darksome, mossy, green pools.
Water-plants and lilies grew luxuriantly, throwing up large, rank,
green leaves. Nowhere else in the Limberlost could be found
frog-music to equal that of the mouth of the creek. The drumming
and piping rolled in never-ending orchestral effect, while the full
chorus rang to its accompaniment throughout the season.
Freckles slowly followed the path leading from the bridge to
the line. It was the one spot at which he might relax his vigilance.
The boldest timber thief the swamp ever had known would not have
attempted to enter it by the mouth of the creek, on account of the
water and because there was no protection from surrounding trees.
He was bending the rank grass with his cudgel, and thinking of the
shade the denser swamp afforded, when he suddenly dodged sidewise;
the cudgel whistled sharply through the air and Freckles sprang back.
From the clear sky above him, first level with his face, then skimming,
dipping, tilting, whirling until it struck, quill down, in the path
in front of him, came a glossy, iridescent, big black feather. As it
touched the ground, Freckles snatched it up with almost a continuous
movement facing the sky. There was not a tree of any size in a
large open space. There was no wind to carry it. From the clear sky
it had fallen, and Freckles, gazing eagerly into the arch of June
blue with a few lazy clouds floating high in the sea of ether,
had neither mind nor knowledge to dream of a bird hanging as if
frozen there. He turned the big quill questioningly, and again
his awed eyes swept the sky.
"A feather dropped from Heaven!" he breathed reverently. "Are the
holy angels moulting? But no; if they were, it would be white.
Maybe all the angels are not for being white. What if the angels of
God are white and those of the devil are black? But a black one has
no business up there. Maybe some poor black angel is so tired of
being punished it's for slipping to the gates, beating its wings
trying to make the Master hear!"
Again and again Freckles searched the sky, but there was no
answering gleam of golden gates, no form of sailing bird; then he
went slowly on his way, turning the feather and wondering about it.
It was a wing quill, eighteen inches in length, with a heavy spine,
gray at the base, shading to jet black at the tip, and it caught the
play of the sun's rays in slanting gleams of green and bronze.
Again Freckles' "old man of the sea" sat sullen and heavy on his
shoulders and weighted him down until his step lagged and his
"Where did it come from? What is it? Oh, how I wish I knew!" he
kept repeating as he turned and studied the feather, with almost
unseeing eyes, so intently was he thinking.
Before him spread a large, green pool, filled with rotting logs and
leaves, bordered with delicate ferns and grasses among which lifted
the creamy spikes of the arrow-head, the blue of water-hyacinth,
and the delicate yellow of the jewel-flower. As Freckles leaned,
handling the feather and staring at it, then into the depths of the
pool, he once more gave voice to his old query: "I wonder what it is!"
Straight across from him, couched in the mosses of a soggy old log,
a big green bullfrog, with palpitant throat and batting eyes,
lifted his head and bellowed in answer. "FIN' DOUT! FIN' DOUT!"
"Wha--what's that?" stammered Freckles, almost too much bewildered
to speak. "I--I know you are only a bullfrog, but, be jabbers, that
sounded mightily like speech. Wouldn't you please to be saying it over?"
The bullfrog cuddled contentedly in the ooze. Then suddenly he
lifted his voice, and, as an imperative drumbeat, rolled it again:
"FIN' DOUT! FIN' DOUT! FIN DOUT!"
Freckles had the answer. Something seemed to snap in his brain.
There was a wavering flame before his eyes. Then his mind cleared.
His head lifted in a new poise, his shoulders squared, while his
spine straightened. The agony was over. His soul floated free.
Freckles came into his birthright.
"Before God, I will!" He uttered the oath so impressively that the
recording angel never winced as he posted it in the prayer column.
Freckles set his hat over the top of one of the locust posts used
between trees to hold up the wire while he fastened the feather
securely in the band. Then he started down the line, talking to
himself as men who have worked long alone always fall into the
habit of doing.
"What a fool I have been!" he muttered. "Of course that's what I
have to do! There wouldn't likely anybody be doing it for me.
Of course I can! What am I a man for? If I was a four-footed thing
of the swamp, maybe I couldn't; but a man can do anything if he's
the grit to work hard enough and stick at it, Mr. McLean is always
saying, and here's the way I am to do it. He said, too, that there
were people that knew everything in the swamp. Of course they have
written books! The thing for me to be doing is to quit moping and be
buying some. Never bought a book in me life, or anything else of much
account, for that matter. Oh, ain't I glad I didn't waste me money!
I'll surely be having enough to get a few. Let me see."
Freckles sat on a log, took his pencil and account-book, and
figured on a back page. He had walked the timber-line ten months.
His pay was thirty dollars a month, and his board cost him eight.
That left twenty-two dollars a month, and his clothing had cost him
very little. At the least he had two hundred dollars in the bank.
He drew a deep breath and smiled at the sky with satisfaction.
"I'll be having a book about all the birds, trees, flowers,
butterflies, and----Yes, by gummy! I'll be having one about the
frogs--if it takes every cent I have," he promised himself.
He put away the account-book, that was his most cherished
possession, caught up his stick, and started down the line.
The even tap, tap, and the cheery, gladsome whistle carried
far ahead of him the message that Freckles was himself again.
He fell into a rapid pace, for he had lost time that morning; when
he rounded the last curve he was almost running. There was a chance
that the Boss might be there for his weekly report.
Then, wavering, flickering, darting here and there over the sweet
marsh-grass, came a large black shadow, sweeping so closely before
him that for the second time that morning Freckles dodged and
sprang back. He had seen some owls and hawks of the swamp that he
thought might be classed as large birds, but never anything like
this, for six feet it spread its big, shining wings. Its strong
feet could be seen drawn among its feathers. The sun glinted on its
sharp, hooked beak. Its eyes glowed, caught the light, and seemed
able to pierce the ground at his feet. It cared no more for
Freckles than if he had not been there; for it perched on a low
tree, while a second later it awkwardly hopped to the trunk of a
lightning-riven elm, turned its back, and began searching the blue.
Freckles looked just in time to see a second shadow sweep the grass;
and another bird, a trifle smaller and not quite so brilliant
in the light, slowly sailed down to perch beside the first.
Evidently they were mates, for with a queer, rolling hop the
first-comer shivered his bronze wings, sidled to the new arrival,
and gave her a silly little peck on her wing. Then he coquettishly
drew away and ogled her. He lifted his head, waddled from her a few
steps, awkwardly ambled back, and gave her such a simple sort of
kiss on her beak that Freckles burst into a laugh, but clapped his
hand over his mouth to stifle the sound.
The lover ducked and side-stepped a few feet. He spread his wings
and slowly and softly waved them precisely as if he were fanning
his charmer, which was indeed the result he accomplished. Then a
wave of uncontrollable tenderness moved him so he hobbled to his
bombardment once more. He faced her squarely this time, and turned
his head from side to side with queer little jerks and
indiscriminate peckings at her wings and head, and smirkings that
really should have been irresistible. She yawned and shuffled away
indifferently. Freckles reached up, pulled the quill from his hat,
and looking from it to the birds, nodded in settled conviction.
"So you're me black angels, ye spalpeens! No wonder you didn't
get in! But I'll back you to come closer it than any other birds
ever did. You fly higher than I can see. Have you picked the
Limberlost for a good thing and come to try it? Well, you can be
me chickens if you want to, but I'm blest if you ain't cool for
new ones. Why don't you take this stick for a gun and go skinning
Freckles broke into an unrestrained laugh, for the bird-lover was
keen about his courting, while evidently his mate was diffident.
When he approached too boisterously, she relieved him of a goodly
tuft of feathers and sent him backward in a series of squirmy
little jumps that gave the boy an idea of what had happened up-sky
to send the falling feather across his pathway.
"Score one for the lady! I'll be umpiring this," volunteered Freckles.
With a ravishing swagger, half-lifted wings, and deep, guttural
hissing, the lover approached again. He suddenly lifted his body,
but she coolly rocked forward on the limb, glided gracefully
beneath him, and slowly sailed into the Limberlost. He recovered
himself and gazed after her in astonishment.
Freckles hurried down the trail, shaking with laughter. When he
neared the path to the clearing and saw the Boss sitting motionless
on the mare that was the pride of his heart, the boy broke into a run.
"Oh, Mr. McLean!" he cried. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting very
long! And the sun is getting hot! I have been so slow this morning!
I could have gone faster, only there were that many things to keep
me, and I didn't know you would be here. I'll hurry after this.
I've never had to be giving excuses before. The line wasn't down,
and there wasn't a sign of trouble; it was other things that were
making me late."
McLean, smiling on the boy, immediately noticed the difference
in him. This flushed, panting, talkative lad was not the same
creature who had sought him in despair and bitterness. He watched
in wonder as Freckles mopped the perspiration from his forehead and
began to laugh. Then, forgetting all his customary reserve with
the Boss, the pent-up boyishness in the lad broke forth. With an
eloquence of which he never dreamed he told his story. He talked
with such enthusiasm that McLean never took his eyes from his face
or shifted in the saddle until he described the strange bird-lover,
and then the Boss suddenly bent over the pommel and laughed with
Freckles decorated his story with keen appreciation and rare
touches of Irish wit and drollery that made it most interesting as
well as very funny. It was a first attempt at descriptive
narration. With an inborn gift for striking the vital point, a
naturalist's dawning enthusiasm for the wonders of the Limberlost,
and the welling joy of his newly found happiness, he made McLean
see the struggles of the moth and its freshly painted wings, the
dainty, brilliant bird-mates of different colors, the feather
sliding through the clear air, the palpitant throat and batting
eyes of the frog; while his version of the big bird's courtship won
for the Boss the best laugh he had enjoyed for years.
"They're in the middle of a swamp now" said Freckles. "Do you
suppose there is any chance of them staying with me chickens?
If they do, they'll be about the queerest I have; but I tell you, sir,
I am finding some plum good ones. There's a new kind over at the
mouth of the creek that uses its wings like feet and walks on all
fours. It travels like a thrashing machine. There's another, tall
as me waist, with a bill a foot long, a neck near two, not the
thickness of me wrist and an elegant color. He's some blue and
gray, touched up with black, white, and brown. The voice of him is
such that if he'd be going up and standing beside a tree and crying
at it a few times he could be sawing it square off. I don't know
but it would be a good idea to try him on the gang, sir."
McLean laughed. "Those must be blue herons, Freckles," he said.
"And it doesn't seem possible, but your description of the big
black birds sounds like genuine black vultures. They are common
enough in the South. I've seen them numerous around the lumber
camps of Georgia, but I never before heard of any this far north.
They must be strays. You have described perfectly our nearest
equivalent to a branch of these birds called in Europe Pharaoh's
Chickens, but if they are coming to the Limberlost they will have
to drop Pharaoh and become Freckles' Chickens, like the remainder of
the birds; won't they? Or are they too odd and ugly to interest you?"
"Oh, not at all, at all!" cried Freckles, bursting into pure brogue
in his haste. "I don't know as I'd be calling them exactly pretty,
and they do move like a rocking-horse loping, but they are so big
and fearless. They have a fine color for black birds, and their
feet and beaks seem so strong. You never saw anything so keen as
their eyes! And fly? Why, just think, sir, they must be flying
miles straight up, for they were out of sight completely when the
feather fell. I don't suppose I've a chicken in the swamp that can
go as close heaven as those big, black fellows, and then----"
Freckles' voice dragged and he hesitated.
"Then what?" interestedly urged McLean.
"He was loving her so," answered Freckles in a hushed voice. "I
know it looked awful funny, and I laughed and told on him, but if
I'd taken time to think I don't believe I'd have done it. You see,
I've seen such a little bit of loving in me life. You easily can be
understanding that at the Home it was every day the old story of
neglect and desertion. Always people that didn't even care enough
for their children to keep them, so you see, sir, I had to like him
for trying so hard to make her know how he loved her. Of course,
they're only birds, but if they are caring for each other like
that, why, it's just the same as people, ain't it?"
Freckles lifted his brave, steady eyes to the Boss.
"If anybody loved me like that, Mr. McLean, I wouldn't be spending
any time on how they looked or moved. All I'd be thinking of would
be how they felt toward me. If they will stay, I'll be caring as
much for them as any chickens I have. If I did laugh at them I
thought he was just fine!"
The face of McLean was a study; but the honest eyes of the boy were
so compelling that he found himself answering: "You are right,
Freckles. He's a gentleman, isn't he? And the only real chicken
you have. Of course he'll remain! The Limberlost will be paradise
for his family. And now, Freckles, what has been the trouble
all spring? You have done your work as faithfully as anyone could
ask, but I can't help seeing that there is something wrong. Are you
tired of your job?"
"I love it," answered Freckles. "It will almost break me heart when the
gang comes and begins tearing up the swamp and scaring away me chickens."
"Then what is the trouble?" insisted McLean.
"I think, sir, it's been books," answered Freckles. "You see, I
didn't realize it meself until the bullfrog told me this morning.
I hadn't ever even heard about a place like this. Anyway, I wasn't
understanding how it would be, if I had. Being among these
beautiful things every day, I got so anxious like to be knowing and
naming them, that it got to eating into me and went and made me
near sick, when I was well as I could be. Of course, I learned to
read, write, and figure some at school, but there was nothing
there, or in any of the city that I ever got to see, that would
make a fellow even be dreaming of such interesting things as there
are here. I've seen the parks--but good Lord, they ain't even
beginning to be in it with the Limberlost! It's all new and strange
to me. I don't know a thing about any of it. The bullfrog told me
to `find out,' plain as day, and books are the only way; ain't they?"
"Of course," said McLean, astonished at himself for his
heartfelt relief. He had not guessed until that minute what it
would have meant to him to have Freckles give up. "You know
enough to study out what you want yourself, if you have the books;
"I am pretty sure I do," said Freckles. "I learned all I'd the
chance at in the Home, and me schooling was good as far as it went.
Wouldn't let you go past fourteen, you know. I always did me sums
perfect, and loved me history books. I had them almost by heart. I
never could get me grammar to suit them. They said it was just born
in me to go wrong talking, and if it hadn't been I suppose I would
have picked it up from the other children; but I'd the best voice
of any of them in the Home or at school. I could knock them all
out singing. I was always leader in the Home, and once one of the
superintendents gave me carfare and let me go into the city and
sing in a boys' choir. The master said I'd the swatest voice of
them all until it got rough like, and then he made me quit for
awhile, but he said it would be coming back by now, and I'm railly
thinking it is, sir, for I've tried on the line a bit of late and
it seems to go smooth again and lots stronger. That and me chickens
have been all the company I've been having, and it will be all I'll
want if I can have some books and learn the real names of things,
where they come from, and why they do such interesting things. It's
been fretting me more than I knew to be shut up here among all
these wonders and not knowing a thing. I wanted to ask you what
some books would cost me, and if you'd be having the goodness to
get me the right ones. I think I have enough money"
Freckles offered his account-book and the Boss studied it gravely.
"You needn't touch your account, Freckles," he said. "Ten dollars
from this month's pay will provide you everything you need to start on.
I will write a friend in Grand Rapids today to select you the very
best and send them at once."
Freckles' eyes were shining.
"Never owned a book in me life!" he said. "Even me schoolbooks were
never mine. Lord! How I used to wish I could have just one of them
for me very own! Won't it be fun to see me sawbird and me little
yellow fellow looking at me from the pages of a book, and their
real names and all about them printed alongside? How long will it
be taking, sir?"
"Ten days should do it nicely," said McLean. Then, seeing Freckles'
lengthening face, he added: "I'll have Duncan bring you a
ten-bushel store-box the next time he goes to town. He can haul it
to the west entrance and set it up wherever you want it. You can
put in your spare time filling it with the specimens you find until
the books come, and then you can study out what you have. I suspect
you could collect specimens that I could send to naturalists in the
city and sell for you; things like that winged creature, this morning.
I don't know much in that line, but it must have been a moth, and
it might have been rare. I've seen them by the thousand in
museums, and in all nature I don't remember rarer coloring than
their wings. I'll order you a butterfly-net and box and show you
how scientists pin specimens. Possibly you can make a fine
collection of these swamp beauties. It will be all right for you to
take a pair of different moths and butterflies, but I don't want to
hear of your killing any birds. They are protected by heavy fines."
McLean rode away leaving Freckles staring aghast. Then he saw the
point and smiled. Standing on the trail, he twirled the feather and
thought over the morning.
"Well, if life ain't getting to be worth living!" he said wonderingly.
"Biggest streak of luck I ever had! `Bout time something was
coming my way, but I wouldn't ever thought anybody could strike
such magnificent prospects through only a falling feather."
Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely and Opens the Way
for New Experiences
On Duncan's return from his next trip to town there was a big
store-box loaded on the back of his wagon. He drove to the west
entrance of the swamp, set the box on a stump that Freckles had
selected in a beautiful, sheltered place, and made it secure on its
foundations with a tree at its back.
"It seems most a pity to nail into that tree," said Duncan.
"I haena the time to examine into the grain of it, but it looks as
if it might be a rare ane. Anyhow, the nailin' winna hurt it deep,
and havin' the case by it will make it safer if it is a guid ane."
"Isn't it an oak?" asked Freckles.
"Ay," said Duncan. "It looks like it might be ane of thae
fine-grained white anes that mak' such grand furniture."
When the body of the case was secure, Duncan made a door from the
lid and fastened it with hinges. He drove a staple, screwed on a
latch, and gave Freckles a small padlock--so that he might fasten
in his treasures safely. He made a shelf at the top for his books,
and last of all covered the case with oil-cloth.
It was the first time in Freckles' life that anyone ever had done
that much for his pleasure, and it warmed his heart with pure joy.
If the interior of the box already had been covered with the rarest
treasures of the Limberlost he could have been no happier.
When the big teamster stood back to look at his work he laughingly
quoted, "`Neat, but no' gaudy,' as McLean says. All we're, needing
now is a coat of paint to make a cupboard that would turn Sarah
green with envy. Ye'll find that safe an' dry, lad, an' that's all
"Mr. Duncan," said Freckles, "I don't know why you are being so
mighty good to me; but if you have any jobs at the cabin that I
could do for you or Mrs. Duncan, hours off the line, it would make
me mighty happy."
Duncan laughed. "Ye needna feel ye are obliged to me, lad. Ye mauna
think I could take a half-day off in the best hauling season and go
to town for boxes to rig up, and spend of my little for fixtures."
"I knew Mr. McLean sent you," said Freckles, his eyes wide and
bright with happiness. "It's so good of him. How I wish I could do
something that would please him as much!"
"Why, Freckles," said Duncan, as he knelt and began collecting his
tools, "I canna see that it will hurt ye to be told that ye are
doing every day a thing that pleases the Boss as much as anything
ye could do. Ye're being uncommon faithful, lad, and honest as old
Father Time. McLean is trusting ye as he would his own flesh and blood."
"Oh, Duncan!" cried the happy boy. "Are you sure?"
"Why I know," answered Duncan. "I wadna venture to say so else.
In those first days he cautioned me na to tell ye, but now he
wadna care. D'ye ken, Freckles, that some of the single trees
ye are guarding are worth a thousand dollars?"
Freckles caught his breath and stood speechless.
"Ye see," said Duncan, "that's why they maun be watched so closely.
They tak', say, for instance, a burl maple--bird's eye they call it
in the factory, because it's full o' wee knots and twists that look
like the eve of a bird. They saw it out in sheets no muckle thicker
than writin' paper. Then they make up the funiture out of cheaper
wood and cover it with the maple--veneer, they call it. When it's
all done and polished ye never saw onythin' grander. Gang into a
retail shop the next time ye are in town and see some. By sawin' it
thin that way they get finish for thousands of dollars' worth of
furniture from a single tree. If ye dinna watch faithful, and Black
Jack gets out a few he has marked, it means the loss of more money
than ye ever dreamed of, lad. The other night, down at camp, some
son of Balaam was suggestin' that ye might be sellin' the Boss out
to Jack and lettin' him tak' the trees secretly, and nobody wad
ever ken till the gang gets here."
A wave of scarlet flooded Freckles' face and he blazed hotly at the insult.
"And the Boss," continued Duncan, coolly ignoring Freckles' anger,
"he lays back just as cool as cowcumbers an' says: `I'll give a
thousand dollars to ony man that will show me a fresh stump when we
reach the Limberlost,' says he. Some of the men just snapped him op
that they'd find some. So you see bow the Boss is trustin' ye, lad."
"I am gladder than I can ever expriss," said Freckles. "And now
will I be walking double time to keep some of them from cutting a
tree to get all that money!"
"Mither o' Moses!" howled Duncan. "Ye can trust the Scotch to
bungle things a'thegither. McLean was only meanin' to show ye all
confidence and honor. He's gone and set a high price for some dirty
whelp to ruin ye. I was just tryin' to show ye how he felt toward
ye, and I've gone an' give ye that worry to bear. Damn the Scotch!
They're so slow an' so dumb!"
"Exciptin' prisint company?" sweetly inquired Freckles.
"No!" growled Duncan. "Headin' the list! He'd nae business to set
a price on ye, lad, for that's about the amount of it, an' I'd nae
right to tell ye. We've both done ye ill, an' both meanin' the
verra best. Juist what I'm always sayin' to Sarah."
"I am mighty proud of what you have been telling me, Duncan,"
said Freckles. "I need the warning, sure. For with the books
coming I might be timpted to neglect me work when double watching
is needed. Thank you more than I can say for putting me on to it.
What you've told me may be the saving of me. I won't stop for
dinner now. I'll be getting along the east line, and when I come
around about three, maybe Mother Duncan will let me have a glass
of milk and a bite of something."
"Ye see now!" cried Duncan in disgust. "Ye'll start on that
seven-mile tramp with na bite to stay your stomach. What was it I
"You told me that the Scotch had the hardest heads and the softest
hearts of any people that's living," answered Freckles.
Duncan grunted in gratified disapproval.
Freckles picked up his club and started down the line, whistling
cheerily, for he had an unusually long repertoire upon which to draw.
Duncan went straight to the lower camp, and calling McLean aside,
repeated the conversation verbatim, ending: "And nae matter what
happens now or ever, dinna ye dare let onythin' make ye believe
that Freckles hasna guarded faithful as ony man could."
"I don't think anything could shake my faith in the lad," answered McLean.
Freckles was whistling merrily. He kept one eye religiously on
the line. The other he divided between the path, his friends of the
wire, and a search of the sky for his latest arrivals. Every day
since their coming he had seen them, either hanging as small, black
clouds above the swamp or bobbing over logs and trees with their
queer, tilting walk. Whenever he could spare time, he entered the
swamp and tried to make friends with them, for they were the tamest
of all his unnumbered subjects. They ducked, dodged, and ambled
around him, over logs and bushes, and not even a near approach
would drive them to flight.
For two weeks he had found them circling over the Limberlost
regularly, but one morning the female was missing and only the big
black chicken hung sentinel above the swamp. His mate did not
reappear in the following days, and Freckles grew very anxious.
He spoke of it to Mrs. Duncan, and she quieted his fears by raising
a delightful hope in their stead.
"Why, Freckles, if it's the hen-bird ye are missing, it's ten to
one she's safe," she said. "She's laid, and is setting, ye silly!
Watch him and mark whaur he lichts. Then follow and find the nest.
Some Sabbath we'll all gang see it."
Accepting this theory, Freckles began searching for the nest.
Because these "chickens" were large, as the hawks, he looked among
the treetops until he almost sprained the back of his neck. He had
half the crow and hawk nests in the swamp located. He searched for
this nest instead of collecting subjects for his case. He found the
pair the middle of one forenoon on the elm where he had watched
their love-making. The big black chicken was feeding his mate; so
it was proved that they were a pair, they were both alive, and
undoubtedly she was brooding. After that Freckles' nest-hunting
continued with renewed zeal, but as he had no idea where to look
and Duncan could offer no helpful suggestion, the nest was no
nearer to being found.
Coming from a long day on the trail, Freckles saw Duncan's children
awaiting him much closer the swale than they usually ventured, and
from their wild gestures he knew that something had happened.
He began to run, but the cry that reached him was: "The books
How they hurried! Freckles lifted the youngest to his shoulder, the
second took his club and dinner pail, and when they reached Mrs.
Duncan they found her at work on a big box. She had loosened the
lid, and then she laughingly sat on it.
"Ye canna have a peep in here until ye have washed and eaten
supper," she said. "It's all ready on the table. Ance ye begin on
this, ye'll no be willin' to tak' your nose o' it till bedtime, and
I willna get my work done the nicht. We've eaten long ago."
It was difficult work, but Freckles smiled bravely. He made himself
neat, swallowed a few bites, then came so eagerly that Mrs. Duncan
yielded, although she said she very well knew all the time that his
supper would be spoiled.
Lifting the lid, they removed the packing and found in that box
books on birds, trees, flowers, moths, and butterflies. There was
also one containing Freckles' bullfrog, true to life. Besides these
were a butterfly-net, a naturalist's tin specimen-box, a bottle of
cyanide, a box of cotton, a paper of long, steel specimen-pins, and
a letter telling what all these things were and how to use them.
At the discovery of each new treasure, Freckles shouted: "Will you
be looking at this, now?"
Mrs. Duncan cried: "Weel, I be drawed on!"
The eldest boy turned a somersault for every extra, while the baby,
trying to follow his example, bunched over in a sidewise sprawl and
cut his foot on the axe with which his mother had prized up the
box-lid. That sobered them, they carried the books indoors. Mrs.
Duncan had a top shelf in her closet cleared for them, far above
the reach of meddling little fingers.
When Freckles started for the trail next morning, the shining new
specimen-box flashed on his back. The black "chicken," a mere speck
in the blue, caught the gleam of it. The folded net hung beside the
boy's hatchet, and the bird book was in the box. He walked the line
and tested each section scrupulously, watching every foot of the
trail, for he was determined not to slight his work; but if ever a
boy "made haste slowly" in a hurry, it was Freckles that morning.
When at last he reached the space he had cleared and planted around
his case, his heart swelled with the pride of possessing even so
much that he could call his own, while his quick eyes feasted on
the beauty of it.
He had made a large room with the door of the case set even with
one side of it. On three sides, fine big bushes of wild rose
climbed to the lower branches of the trees. Part of his walls were
mallow, part alder, thorn, willow, and dogwood. Below there filled
in a solid mass of pale pink sheep-laurel, and yellow St. John's
wort, while the amber threads of the dodder interlaced everywhere.
At one side the swamp came close, here cattails grew in profusion.
In front of them he had planted a row of water-hyacinths without
disturbing in the least the state of their azure bloom, and where
the ground arose higher for his floor, a row of foxfire, that soon
would be open.
To the left he had discovered a queer natural arrangement of the
trees, that grew to giant size and were set in a gradually
narrowing space so that a long, open vista stretched away until
lost in the dim recesses of the swamp. A little trimming of
underbush, rolling of dead logs, levelling of floor and carpeting
with moss, made it easy to understand why Freckles had named this
the "cathedral"; yet he never had been taught that "the groves were
God's first temples."
On either side of the trees that constituted the first arch of this
dim vista of the swamp he planted ferns that grew waist-high thus
early in the season, and so skilfully the work had been done that
not a frond drooped because of the change. Opposite, he cleared a
space and made a flower bed. He filled one end with every delicate,
lacy vine and fern he could transplant successfully. The body of
the bed was a riot of color. Here he set growing dainty
blue-eyed-Marys and blue-eyed grass side by side. He planted
harebells; violets, blue, white, and yellow; wild geranium,
cardinal-flower, columbine, pink snake's mouth, buttercups, painted
trilliums, and orchis. Here were blood-root, moccasin-flower,
hepatica, pitcher-plant, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and every other flower
of the Limberlost that was in bloom or bore a bud presaging a
flower. Every day saw the addition of new specimens. The place
would have driven a botanist wild with envy.
On the line side he left the bushes thick for concealment, entering
by a narrow path he and Duncan had cleared in setting up the case.
He called this the front door, though he used every precaution to
hide it. He built rustic seats between several of the trees,
leveled the floor, and thickly carpeted it with rank, heavy,
woolly-dog moss. Around the case he planted wild clematis,
bittersweet, and wild-grapevines, and trained them over it until it
was almost covered. Every day he planted new flowers, cut back
rough bushes, and coaxed out graceful ones. His pride in his room
was very great, but he had no idea how surprisingly beautiful it
would appear to anyone who had not witnessed its growth and construction.
This morning Freckles walked straight to his case, unlocked it, and
set his apparatus and dinner inside. He planted a new specimen he
had found close the trail, and, bringing his old scrap-bucket from
the corner in which it was hidden, from a near-by pool he dipped
water to pour over his carpet and flowers.
Then he took out the bird book, settled comfortably on a bench, and
with a deep sigh of satisfaction turned to the section headed. "V."
Past "veery" and "vireo" he went, down the line until his finger,
trembling with eagerness, stopped at "vulture."
"`Great black California vulture,'" he read.
"Humph! This side the Rockies will do for us."
"Well, we ain't hunting common turkeys. McLean said chickens, and
what he says goes."
"`Black vulture of the South.'"
"Here we are arrived at once."
Freckles' finger followed the line, and he read scraps aloud.
"`Common in the South. Sometimes called Jim Crow. Nearest
equivalent to C-a-t-h-a-r-t-e-s A-t-r-a-t-a.'"
"How the divil am I ever to learn them corkin' big words by mesel'?"
"`--the Pharaoh's Chickens of European species. Sometimes stray
north as far as Virginia and Kentucky----'"
"And sometimes farther," interpolated Freckles, "'cos I got them
right here in Indiana so like these pictures I can just see me big
chicken bobbing up to get his ears boxed. Hey?"
"Golly! I got to be seeing them!"
"`--big as a common turkey's, but shaped like a hen's, heavily
splotched with chocolate----'"
"Caramels, I suppose. And----"
"`--in hollow logs or stumps.'"
"Oh, hagginy! Wasn't I barking up the wrong tree, though? Ought to
been looking close the ground all this time. Now it's all to do
over, and I suspect the sooner I start the sooner I'll be likely to
Freckles put away his book, dampened the smudge-fire, without which
the mosquitoes made the swamp almost unbearable, took his cudgel
and lunch, and went to the line. He sat on a log, ate at
dinner-time and drank his last drop of water. The heat of June was
growing intense. Even on the west of the swamp, where one had full
benefit of the breeze from the upland, it was beginning to be
unpleasant in the middle of the day.
He brushed the crumbs from his knees and sat resting awhile and
watching the sky to see if his big chicken were hanging up there.
But he came to the earth abruptly, for there were steps coming down
the trail that were neither McLean's nor Duncan's--and there never
had been others. Freckles' heart leaped hotly. He ran a quick hand
over his belt to feel if his revolver and hatchet were there,
caught up his cudgel and laid it across his knees--then sat quietly,
waiting. Was it Black Jack, or someone even worse? Forced to do
something to brace his nerves, he puckered his stiffening lips and
began whistling a tune he had led in his clear tenor every year of
his life at the Home Christmas exercises.
"Who comes this way, so blithe and gay,
Upon a merry Christmas day?"
His quick Irish wit roused to the ridiculousness of it until he
broke into a laugh that steadied him amazingly.
Through the bushes he caught a glimpse of the oncoming figure. His
heart flooded with joy, for it was a man from the gang. Wessner had
been his bunk-mate the night he came down the corduroy. He knew him
as well as any of McLean's men. This was no timber-thief. No doubt
the Boss had sent him with a message. Freckles sprang up and called
cheerily, a warm welcome on his face.
"Well, it's good telling if you're glad to see me," said Wessner,
with something very like a breath of relief. "We been hearing down
at the camp you were so mighty touchy you didn't allow a man within
a rod of the line."
"No more do I," answered Freckles, "if he's a stranger, but you're
from McLean, ain't you?"
"Oh, damn McLean!" said Wessner.
Freckles gripped the cudgel until his knuckles slowly turned purple.
"And are you railly saying so?" he inquired with elaborate politeness.
"Yes, I am," said Wessner. "So would every man of the gang if they
wasn't too big cowards to say anything, unless maybe that other
slobbering old Scotchman, Duncan. Grinding the lives out of us!
Working us like dogs, and paying us starvation wages, while he
rolls up his millions and lives like a prince!"
Green lights began to play through the gray of Freckles' eyes.
"Wessner," he said impressively, "you'd make a fine pattern for the
father of liars! Every man on that gang is strong and hilthy, paid
all he earns, and treated with the courtesy of a gentleman! As for
the Boss living like a prince, he shares fare with you every day of
Wessner was not a born diplomat, but he saw he was on the wrong
tack, so he tried another.
"How would you like to make a good big pile of money, without even
lifting your hand?" he asked.
"Humph!" said Freckles. "Have you been up to Chicago and cornered
wheat, and are you offering me a friendly tip on the invistment of
Wessner came close.
"Freckles, old fellow," he said, "if you let me give you a pointer,
I can put you on to making a cool five hundred without stepping out
of your tracks."
Freckles drew back.
"You needn't be afraid of speaking up," he said. "There isn't a
soul in the Limberlost save the birds and the beasts, unless some
of your sort's come along and's crowding the privileges of the
"None of my friends along," said Wessner. "Nobody knew I came but
Black, I--I mean a friend of mine. If you want to hear sense and
act with reason, he can see you later, but it ain't necessary. We
can make all the plans needed. The trick's so dead small and easy."
"Must be if you have the engineering of it," said Freckles. But he
heard, with a sigh of relief, that they were alone.
Wessner was impervious. "You just bet it is! Why, only think,
Freckles, slavin' away at a measly little thirty dollars a month,
and here is a chance to clear five hundred in a day! You surely
won't be the fool to miss it!"
"And how was you proposing for me to stale it?" inquired Freckles.
"Or am I just to find it laying in me path beside the line?"
"That's it, Freckles," blustered the Dutchman, "you're just to
find it. You needn't do a thing. You needn't know a thing.
You name a morning when you will walk up the west side of the
swamp and then turn round and walk back down the same side again
and the money is yours. Couldn't anything be easier than that,
"Depinds entirely on the man," said Freckles. The lilt of a lark
hanging above the swale beside them was not sweeter than the
sweetness of his voice. "To some it would seem to come aisy as
breathing; and to some, wringin' the last drop of their heart's
blood couldn't force thim! I'm not the man that goes into a scheme
like that with the blindfold over me eyes, for, you see, it manes
to break trust with the Boss; and I've served him faithful as I knew.
You'll have to be making the thing very clear to me understanding."
"It's so dead easy," repeated Wessner, "it makes me tired of the
simpleness of it. You see there's a few trees in the swamp that's
real gold mines. There's three especial. Two are back in, but one's
square on the line. Why, your pottering old Scotch fool of a Boss
nailed the wire to it with his own hands! He never noticed where
the bark had been peeled, or saw what it was. If you will stay on
this side of the trail just one day we can have it cut, loaded, and
ready to drive out at night. Next morning you can find it, report,
and be the busiest man in the search for us. We know where to fix
it all safe and easy. Then McLean has a bet up with a couple of
the gang that there can't be a raw stump found in the Limberlost.
There's plenty of witnesses to swear to it, and I know three that will.
There's a cool thousand, and this tree is worth all of that, raw.
Say, it's a gold mine, I tell you, and just five hundred of it
is yours. There's no danger on earth to you, for you've got McLean
that bamboozled you could sell out the whole swamp and he'd never
mistrust you. What do you say?"
Freckles' soul was satisfied. "Is that all?" he asked.
"No, it ain't," said Wessner. "If you really want to brace up and
be a man and go into the thing for keeps, you can make five times
that in a week. My friend knows a dozen others we could get out in
a few days, and all you'd have to do would be to keep out of sight.
Then you could take your money and skip some night, and begin life
like a gentleman somewhere else. What do you think about it?"
Freckles purred like a kitten.
"'Twould be a rare joke on the Boss," he said, "to be stalin' from
him the very thing he's trusted me to guard, and be getting me wages
all winter throwed in free. And you're making the pay awful high.
Me to be getting five hundred for such a simple little thing as that.
You're trating me most royal indade! It's away beyond all I'd
be expecting. Sivinteen cints would be a big price for that job.
It must be looked into thorough. Just you wait here until I do
a minute's turn in the swamp, and then I'll be eschorting you out
of the clearing and giving you the answer."
Freckles lifted the overhanging bushes and hurried to the case.
He unslung the specimen-box and laid it inside with his hatchet
and revolver. He slipped the key in his pocket and went back
"Now for the answer," he said. "Stand up!"
There was iron in his voice, and he was commanding as an
outraged general. "Anything, you want to be taking off?"
Wessner looked the astonishment he felt. "Why, no, Freckles," he said.
"Have the goodness to be calling me Mister McLean," snapped Freckles.
"I'm after resarvin' me pet name for the use of me friends!
You may stand with your back to the light or be taking any
advantage you want."
"Why, what do you mean?" spluttered Wessner.
"I'm manin'," said Freckles tersely, "to lick a quarter-section of
hell out of you, and may the Holy Vargin stay me before I leave you
here carrion, for your carcass would turn the stummicks of me chickens!"
At the camp that morning, Wessner's conduct had been so palpable
an excuse to force a discharge that Duncan moved near McLean and
whispered, "Think of the boy, sir?"
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