Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Part 2 out of 5
McLean was so troubled that, an hour later, he mounted Nellie and
followed Wessner to his home in Wildcat Hollow, only to find that
he had left there shortly before, heading for the Limberlost.
McLean rode at top speed. When Mrs. Duncan told him that a man
answering Wessner's description had gone down the west side of the
swamp close noon, he left the mare in her charge and followed on foot.
When he heard voices he entered the swamp and silently crept close
just in time to hear Wessner whine: "But I can't fight you, Freckles.
I hain't done nothing to you. I'm away bigger than you, and you've
only one hand."
The Boss slid off his coat and crouched among the bushes, ready to
spring; but as Freckles' voice reached him he held himself, with a
strong effort, to learn what mettle was in the boy.
"Don't you be wasting of me good time in the numbering of me
hands," cried Freckles. "The stringth of me cause will make up
for the weakness of me mimbers, and the size of a cowardly thief
doesn't count. You'll think all the wildcats of the Limberlost
are turned loose on you whin I come against you, and as for me
cause----I slept with you, Wessner, the night I came down the
corduroy like a dirty, friendless tramp, and the Boss was for
taking me up, washing, clothing, and feeding me, and giving me a
home full of love and tinderness, and a master to look to, and
good, well-earned money in the bank. He's trusting me his heartful,
and here comes you, you spotted toad of the big road, and insults
me, as is an honest Irish gintleman, by hinting that you concaive
I'd be willing to shut me eyes and hold fast while you rob him of
the thing I was set and paid to guard, and then act the sneak
and liar to him, and ruin and eternally blacken the soul of me.
You damned rascal," raved Freckles, "be fighting before I forget the
laws of a gintlemin's game and split your dirty head with me stick!"
Wessner backed away, mumbling, "But I don't want to hurt you, Freckles!"
"Oh, don't you!" raged the boy, now fairly frothing. "Well, you
ain't resembling me none, for I'm itching like death to git me
fingers in the face of you."
He danced up, and as Wessner lunged in self-defense, ducked under
his arm as a bantam and punched him in the pit of the stomach so
that he doubled with a groan. Before Wessner could straighten
himself, Freckles was on him, fighting like the wildest fury that
ever left the beautiful island. The Dutchman dealt thundering blows
that sometimes landed and sent Freckles reeling, and sometimes missed,
while he went plunging into the swale with the impetus of them.
Freckles could not strike with half Wessner's force, but he could
land three blows to the Dutchman's one. It was here that the boy's
days of alert watching on the line, the perpetual swinging of the
heavy cudgel, and the endurance of all weather stood him in good
stead; for he was tough, and agile. He skipped, ducked, and dodged.
For the first five minutes he endured fearful punishment.
Then Wessner's breath commenced to whistle between his teeth, when
Freckles only had begun fighting. He sprang back with shrill laughter.
"Begolly! and will your honor be whistling the hornpipe for me to
be dancing of?" he cried.
SPANG! went his fist into Wessner's face, and he was past him into
"And would you be pleased to tune up a little livelier?" he gasped,
and clipped his ear as he sprang back. Wessner lunged at him in
blind fury. Freckles, seeing an opening, forgot the laws of a
gentleman's game and drove the toe of his heavy wading-boot in
Wessner's middle until he doubled and fell heavily. In a flash
Freckles was on him. For a time McLean could not see what
was happening. "Go! Go to him now!" he commanded himself,
but so intense was his desire to see the boy win alone that he
did not stir.
At last Freckles sprang up and backed away. "Time!" he yelled as
a fury. "Be getting up, Mr. Wessner, and don't be afraid of
hurting me. I'll let you throw in an extra hand and lick you to
me complate satisfaction all the same. Did you hear me call
the limit? Will you get up and be facing me?"
As Wessner struggled to his feet, he resembled a battlefield, for
his clothing was in ribbons and his face and hands streaming blood.
"I--I guess I got enough," he mumbled.
"Oh, you do?" roared Freckles. "Well this ain't your say. You come
on to me ground, lying about me Boss and intimatin' I'd stale from
his very pockets. Now will you be standing up and taking your
medicine like a man, or getting it poured down the throat of you
like a baby? I ain't got enough! This is only just the beginning
with me. Be looking out there!"
He sprang against Wessner and sent him rolling. He attacked the
unresisting figure and fought him until he lay limp and quiet and
Freckles had no strength left to lift an arm. Then he arose and
stepped back, gasping for breath. With his first lungful of air
he shouted: "Time!" But the figure of Wessner lay motionless.
Freckles watched him with regardful eye and saw at last that he was
completely exhausted. He bent over him, and catching him by the
back of the neck, jerked him to his knees. Wessner lifted the face
of a whipped cur, and fearing further punishment, burst into
shivering sobs, while the tears washed tiny rivulets through the
blood and muck. Freckles stepped back, glaring at Wessner, but
suddenly the scowl of anger and the ugly disfiguring red faded from
the boy's face. He dabbed at a cut on his temple from which issued
a tiny crimson stream, and jauntily shook back his hair. His face
took on the innocent look of a cherub, and his voice rivaled that of
a brooding dove, but into his eyes crept a look of diabolical mischief.
He glanced vaguely around him until he saw his club, seized and
twirled it as a drum major, stuck it upright in the muck, and
marched on tiptoe to Wessner, mechanically, as a puppet worked by
a string. Bending over, Freckles reached an arm around Wessner's
waist and helped him to his feet.
"Careful, now" he cautioned, "be careful, Freddy; there's danger of
you hurting me."
Drawing a handkerchief from a back pocket, Freckles tenderly wiped
Wessner's eyes and nose.
"Come, Freddy, me child," he admonished Wessner, "it's time little
boys were going home. I've me work to do, and can't be entertaining
you any more today. Come back tomorrow, if you ain't through yet,
and we'll repate the perfarmance. Don't be staring at me so wild like!
I would eat you, but I can't afford it. Me earnings, being honest,
come slow, and I've no money to be squanderin' on the pailful of
Dyspeptic's Delight it would be to taking to work you out of my innards!"
Again an awful wrenching seized McLean. Freckles stepped back as
Wessner, tottering and reeling, as a thoroughly drunken man, came
toward the path, appearing indeed as if wildcats had attacked him.
The cudgel spun high in air, and catching it with an expertness
acquired by long practice on the line, the boy twirled it a second,
shook back his thick hair bonnily, and stepping into the trail,
followed Wessner. Because Freckles was Irish, it was impossible to
do it silently, so presently his clear tenor rang out, though there
were bad catches where he was hard pressed for breath:
"It was the Dutch. It was the Dutch.
Do you think it was the Irish hollered help?
It was the Dutch. It was the Dutch----"
Wessner turned and mumbled: "What you following me for? What are
you going to do with me?"
Freckles called the Limberlost to witness: "How's that for the
ingratitude of a beast? And me troubling mesilf to show him off me
territory with the honors of war!"
Then he changed his tone completely and added: "Belike it's
this, Freddy. You see, the Boss might come riding down this trail
any minute, and the little mare's so wheedlesome that if she'd
come on to you in your prisint state all of a sudden, she'd stop
that short she'd send Mr. McLean out over the ears of her.
No disparagement intinded to the sinse of the mare!" he added hastily.
Wessner belched a fearful oath, while Freckles laughed merrily.
"That's a sample of the thanks a generous act's always for
getting," he continued. "Here's me negictin' me work to eschort you
out proper, and you saying such awful words Freddy," he demanded
sternly, "do you want me to soap out your mouth? You don't seem to
be realizing it, but if you was to buck into Mr. McLean in your
prisint state, without me there to explain matters the chance is
he'd cut the liver out of you; and I shouldn't think you'd be
wanting such a fine gintleman as him to see that it's white!"
Wessner grew ghastly under his grime and broke into a staggering run.
"And now will you be looking at the manners of him?" questioned
Freckles plaintively. "Going without even a `thank you,' right in
the face of all the pains I've taken to make it interesting for him!"
Freckles twirled the club and stood as a soldier at attention until
Wessner left the clearing, but it was the last scene of that
performance. When the boy turned, there was deathly illness on his
face, while his legs wavered beneath his weight. He staggered to
the case, and opening it he took out a piece of cloth. He dipped it
into the water, and sitting on a bench, he wiped the blood and grime
from his face, while his breath sucked between his clenched teeth.
He was shivering with pain and excitement in spite of himself.
He unbuttoned the band of his right sleeve, and turning it back,
exposed the blue-lined, calloused whiteness of his maimed arm,
now vividly streaked with contusions, while in a series of circular
dots the blood oozed slowly. Here Wessner had succeeded in setting
his teeth. When Freckles saw what it was he forgave himself the
kick in the pit of Wessner's stomach, and cursed fervently and deep.
"Freckles, Freckles," said McLean's voice.
Freckles snatched down his sleeve and arose to his feet.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "You'll surely be belavin' I thought
McLean pushed him carefully to the seat, and bending over him,
opened a pocket-case that he carried as regularly as his revolver and
watch, for cuts and bruises were of daily occurrence among the gang.
Taking the hurt arm, he turned back the sleeve and bathed and bound
the wounds. He examined Freckles' head and body and convinced
himself that there was no permanent injury, although the cruelty of
the punishment the boy had borne set the Boss shuddering. Then he
closed the case, shoved it into his pocket, and sat beside Freckles.
All the indescribable beauty of the place was strong around him,
but he saw only the bruised face of the suffering boy, who had
hedged for the information he wanted as a diplomat, argued as a
judge, fought as a sheik, and triumphed as a devil.
When the pain lessened and breath reieved Freckles' pounding heart,
he watched the Boss covertly. How had McLean gotten there and how
long had he been there? Freckles did not dare ask. At last he
arose, and going to the case, took out his revolver and the wire-
mending apparatus and locked the door. Then he turned to McLean.
"Have you any orders, sir?" he asked.
"Yes," said McLean, "I have, and you are to follow them to
the letter. Turn over that apparatus to me and go straight home.
Soak yourself in the hottest bath your skin will bear and go to
bed at once. Now hurry."
"Mr. McLean," said Freckles, "it's sorry I am to be telling you,
but the afternoon's walking of the line ain't done. You see, I was
just for getting to me feet to start, and I was on time, when up
came a gintleman, and we got into a little heated argument.
It's either settled, or it's just begun, but between us, I'm that
late I haven't started for the afternoon yet. I must be going
at once, for there's a tree I must find before the day's over."
"You plucky little idiot," growled McLean. "You can't walk the line!
I doubt if you can reach Duncan's. Don't you know when you are
done up? You go to bed; I'll finish your work."
"Niver!" protested Freckles. "I was just a little done up for the
prisint, a minute ago. I'm all right now. Riding-boots are far
too low. The day's hot and the walk a good seven miles, sir. Niver!"
As he reached for the outfit he pitched forward and his eyes closed.
McLean stretched him on the moss and applied restoratives.
When Freckles returned to consciousness, McLean ran to the cabin to
tell Mrs. Duncan to have a hot bath ready, and to bring Nellie.
That worthy woman promptly filled the wash-boiler, starting a
roaring fire under it. She pushed the horse-trough from its base
and rolled it to the kitchen.
By the time McLean came again, leading Nelie and holding Freckles
on her back, Mrs. Duncan was ready for business. She and the Boss
laid Freckles in the trough and poured on hot water until he squirmed.
They soaked and massaged him. Then they drew off the hot water and
closed his pores with cold. Lastly they stretched him on the floor
and chafed, rubbed, and kneaded him until he cried out for mercy.
As they rolled him into bed, his eyes dropped shut, but a little
later they flared open.
"Mr. McLean," he cried, "the tree! Oh, do be looking after the tree!"
McLean bent over him. "Which tree, Freckles?"
"I don't know exact" sir; but it's on the east line, and the wire
is fastened to it. He bragged that you nailed it yourself, sir.
You'll know it by the bark having been laid open to the grain
somewhere low down. Five hundred dollars he offered me--to be--
selling you out--sir!"
Freckles' head rolled over and his eyes dropped shut. McLean towered
above the lad. His bright hair waved on the pillow. His face was
swollen, and purple with bruises. His left arm, with the hand
battered almost out of shape, stretched beside him, and the right,
with no hand at all, lay across a chest that was a mass of purple welts.
McLean's mind traveled to the night, almost a year before, when he
had engaged Freckles, a stranger.
The Boss bent, covering the hurt arm with one hand and laying the
other with a caress on the boy's forehead. Freckles stirred at his
touch, and whispered as softly as the swallows under the eaves:
"If you're coming this way--tomorrow--be pleased to step over--
and we'll repate--the chorus softly!"
"Bless the gritty devil," muttered McLean.
Then he went out and told Mrs. Duncan to keep close watch on
Freckles, also to send Duncan to him at the swamp the minute he
came home. Following the trail to the line and back to the scent
of the fight, the Boss entered Freckles' study quietly, as if his
spirit, keeping there, might be roused, and gazed around with
How had the boy conceived it? What a picture he had wrought in
living colors! He had the heart of a painter. He had the soul of
a poet. The Boss stepped carefully over the velvet carpet to touch
the walls of crisp verdure with gentle fingers. He stood long
beside the flower bed, and gazed at the banked wall of bright bloom
as if he doubted its reality.
Where had Freckles ever found, and how had he transplanted
such ferns? As McLean turned from them he stopped suddenly.
He had reached the door of the cathedral. That which Freckles had
attempted would have been patent to anyone. What had been in the
heart of the shy, silent boy when he had found that long, dim
stretch of forest, decorated its entrance, cleared and smoothed
its aisle, and carpeted its altar? What veriest work of God was
in these mighty living pillars and the arched dome of green!
How similar to stained cathedral windows were the long openings
between the trees, filled with rifts of blue, rays of gold, and the
shifting emerald of leaves! Where could be found mosaics to match
this aisle paved with living color and glowing light? Was Freckles
a devout Christian, and did he worship here? Or was he an untaught
heathen, and down this vista of entrancing loveliness did Pan come
piping, and dryads, nymphs, and fairies dance for him?
Who can fathom the heart of a boy? McLean had been thinking of
Freckles as a creature of unswerving honesty, courage, and
faithfulness. Here was evidence of a heart aching for beauty, art,
companionship, worship. It was writ large all over the floor,
walls, and furnishing of that little Limberlost clearing.
When Duncan came, McLean told him the story of the fight, and they
laughed until they cried. Then they started around the line in
search of the tree.
Said Duncan: "Now the boy is in for sore trouble!"
"I hope not," answered McLean. "You never in all your life saw a
cur whipped so completely. He won't come back for the repetition of
the chorus. We surely can find the tree. If we can't, Freckles can.
I will bring enough of the gang to take it out at once. That will
insure peace for a time, at least, and I am hoping that in a month
more the whole gang may be moved here. It soon will be fall, and
then, if he will go, I intend to send Freckles to my mother to
be educated. With his quickness of mind and body and a few years'
good help he can do anything. Why, Duncan, I'd give a hundred-
dollar bill if you could have been here and seen for yourself."
"Yes, and I'd `a' done murder," muttered the big teamster. "I hope,
sir, ye will make good your plans for Freckles, though I'd as soon
see ony born child o' my ain taken from our home. We love the lad,
me and Sarah."
Locating the tree was easy, because it was so well identified.
When the rumble of the big lumber wagons passing the cabin on the
way to the swamp wakened Freckles next morning, he sprang up and
was soon following them. He was so sore and stiff that every
movement was torture at first, but he grew easier, and shortly did
not suffer so much. McLean scolded him for coming, yet in his
heart triumphed over every new evidence of fineness in the boy.
The tree was a giant maple, and so precious that they almost dug it
out by the roots. When it was down, cut in lengths, and loaded,
there was yet an empty wagon. As they were gathering up their tools
to go, Duncan said: "There's a big hollow tree somewhere mighty
close here that I've been wanting for a watering-trough for my
stock; the one I have is so small. The Portland company cut this
for elm butts last year, and it's six feet diameter and hollow for
forty feet. It was a buster! While the men are here and there is an
empty wagon, why mightn't I load it on and tak' it up to the barn
as we pass?"
McLean said he was very willing, ordered the driver to break line
and load the log, detailing men to assist. He told Freckles to ride
on a section of the maple with him, but now the boy asked to enter
the swamp with Duncan.
"I don't see why you want to go," said McLean. "I have no business
to let you out today at all."
"It's me chickens," whispered Freckles in distress. "You see, I was
just after finding yesterday, from me new book, how they do be
nesting in hollow trees, and there ain't any too many in the swamp.
There's just a chance that they might be in that one."
"Go ahead," said McLean. "That's a different story. If they happen
to be there, why tell Duncan he must give up the tree until they
have finished with it."
Then he climbed on a wagon and was driven away. Freckles hurried
into the swamp. He was a little behind, yet he could see the men.
Before he overtook them, they had turned from the west road and had
entered the swamp toward the east.
They stopped at the trunk of a monstrous prostrate log. It had been
cut three feet from the ground, over three-fourths of the way
through, and had fallen toward the east, the body of the log still
resting on the stump. The underbrush was almost impenetrable, but
Duncan plunged in and with a crowbar began tapping along the trunk
to decide how far it was hollow, so that they would know where to cut.
As they waited his decision, there came from the mouth of it--on
wings--a large black bird that swept over their heads.
Freckles danced wildly. "It's me chickens! Oh, it's me chickens!"
he shouted. "Oh, Duncan, come quick! You've found the nest of me
Duncan hurried to the mouth of the log, but Freckles was before him.
He crashed through poison-vines and underbrush regardless of any
danger, and climbed on the stump. When Duncan came he was shouting
like a wild man.
"It's hatched!" he yelled. "Oh, me big chicken has hatched out me
little chicken, and there's another egg. I can see it plain, and
oh, the funny little white baby! Oh, Duncan, can you see me little
Duncan could easily see it; so could everyone else. Freckles crept
into the log and tenderly carried the hissing, blinking little bird
to the light in a leaf-lined hat. The men found it sufficiently
wonderful to satisfy even Freckles, who had forgotten he was ever
sore or stiff, and coddled over it with every blarneying term of
endearment he knew.
Duncan gathered his tools. "Deal's off, boys!" he said cheerfully.
"This log mauna be touched until Freckles' chaukies have finished
with it. We might as weel gang. Better put it back, Freckles.
It's just out, and it may chill. Ye will probably hae twa the morn."
Freckles crept into the log and carefully deposited the baby beside
the egg. When he came back, he said: "I made a big mistake not to
be bringing the egg out with the baby, but I was fearing to touch it.
It's shaped like a hen's egg, and it's big as a turkey's, and the
beautifulest blue--just splattered with big brown splotches,
like me book said, precise. Bet you never saw such a sight as it
made on the yellow of the rotten wood beside that funny
leathery-faced little white baby."
"Tell you what, Freckles," said one of the teamsters. "Have you
ever heard of this Bird Woman who goes all over the country with a
camera and makes pictures? She made some on my brother Jim's place
last summer, and Jim's so wild about them he quits plowing and goes
after her about every nest he finds. He helps her all he can to
take them, and then she gives him a picture. Jim's so proud of what
he has he keeps them in the Bible. He shows them to everybody that
comes, and brags about how he helped. If you're smart, you'll send
for her and she'll come and make a picture just like life. If you
help her, she will give you one. It would be uncommon pretty to
keep, after your birds are gone. I dunno what they are. I never see
their like before. They must be something rare. Any you fellows
ever see a bird like that hereabouts?"
No one ever had.
"Well," said the teamster, "failing to get this log lets me off
till noon, and I'm going to town. I go right past her place.
I've a big notion to stop and tell her. If she drives straight
back in the swamp on the west road, and turns east at this big
sycamore, she can't miss finding the tree, even if Freckles ain't
here to show her. Jim says her work is a credit to the State she
lives in, and any man is a measly creature who isn't willing to
help her all he can. My old daddy used to say that all there was
to religion was doing to the other fellow what you'd want him to
do to you, and if I was making a living taking bird pictures,
seems to me I'd be mighty glad for a chance to take one like that.
So I'll just stop and tell her, and by gummy! maybe she will give
me a picture of the little white sucker for my trouble."
Freckles touched his arm.
"Will she be rough with it?" he asked.
"Government land! No!" said the teamster. "She's dead down on
anybody that shoots a bird or tears up a nest. Why, she's half
killing herself in all kinds of places and weather to teach people
to love and protect the birds. She's that plum careful of them that
Jim's wife says she has Jim a standin' like a big fool holding an
ombrelly over them when they are young and tender until she gets a
focus, whatever that is. Jim says there ain't a bird on his place
that don't actually seem to like having her around after she has
wheedled them a few days, and the pictures she takes nobody would
ever believe who didn't stand by and see."
"Will you he sure to tell her to come?" asked Freckles.
Duncan slept at home that night. He heard Freckles slipping out
early the next morning, but he was too sleepy to wonder why, until
he came to do his morning chores. When he found that none of his
stock was at all thirsty, and saw the water-trough brimming, he
knew that the boy was trying to make up to him for the loss of the
big trough that he had been so anxious to have.
"Bless his fool little hot heart!" said Duncan. "And him so sore it
is tearing him to move for anything. Nae wonder he has us all
Freckles was moving briskly, and his heart was so happy that he
forgot all about the bruises. He hurried around the trail, and on
his way down the east side he went to see the chickens. The mother
bird was on the nest. He was afraid the other egg might be
hatching, so he did not venture to disturb her. He made the round
and reached his study early. He ate his lunch, but did not need
to start on the second trip until the middle of the afternoon.
He would have long hours to work on his flower bed, improve his study,
and learn about his chickens. Lovingly he set his room in order and
watered the flowers and carpet. He had chosen for his resting-place
the coolest spot on the west side, where there was almost always a
breeze; but today the heat was so intense that it penetrated even there.
"I'm mighty glad there's nothing calling me inside!" he said.
"There's no bit of air stirring, and it will just be steaming.
Oh, but it's luck Duncan found the nest before it got so unbearing hot!
I might have missed it altogether. Wouldn't it have been a shame to
lose that sight? The cunning little divil! When he gets to toddling
down that log to meet me, won't he be a circus? Wonder if he'll be
as graceful a performer afoot as his father and mother?"
The heat became more insistent. Noon came; Freckles ate his dinner
and settled for an hour or two on a bench with a book.
Wherein an Angel Materializes and a Man Worships
Perhaps there was a breath of sound--Freckles never afterward could
remember--but for some reason he lifted his head as the bushes
parted and the face of an angel looked between. Saints, nymphs, and
fairies had floated down his cathedral aisle for him many times,
with forms and voices of exquisite beauty.
Parting the wild roses at the entrance was beauty of which
Freckles never had dreamed. Was it real or would it vanish as the
other dreams? He dropped his book, and rising to his feet, went a step
closer, gazing intently. This was real flesh and blood. It was in
every way kin to the Limberlost, for no bird of its branches swung
with easier grace than this dainty young thing rocked on the bit of
morass on which she stood. A sapling beside her was not straighter
or rounder than her slender form. Her soft, waving hair clung
around her face from the heat, and curled over her shoulders.
It was all of one piece with the gold of the sun that filtered
between the branches. Her eyes were the deepest blue of the iris,
her lips the reddest red of the foxfire, while her cheeks were
exactly of the same satin as the wild rose petals caressing them.
She was smiling at Freckles in perfect confidence, and she cried:
"Oh, I'm so delighted that I've found you!"
The wildly leaping heart of Freckles burst from his body and fell
in the black swamp-muck at her feet with such a thud that he did
not understand how she could avoid hearing. He really felt that if
she looked down she would see.
Incredulous, he quavered: "An'--an' was you looking for me?"
"I hoped I might find you," said the Angel. "You see, I didn't do
as I was told, and I'm lost. The Bird Woman said I should wait in
the carriage until she came back. She's been gone hours. It's a
perfect Turkish bath in there, and I'm all lumpy with mosquito bites.
Just when I thought that I couldn't bear it another minute,
along came the biggest Papilio Ajax you ever saw. I knew how
pleased she'd be, so I ran after it. It flew so slow and so low
that I thought a dozen times I had it. Then all at once it went
from sight above the trees, and I couldn't find my way back to save me.
I think I've walked more than an hour. I have been mired to my knees.
A thorn raked my arm until it is bleeding, and I'm so tired and warm."
She parted the bushes farther. Freckles saw that her blue cotton
frock clung to her, limp with perspiration. It was torn across
the breast. One sleeve hung open from shoulder to elbow. A thorn
had torn her arm until it was covered with blood, and the gnats and
mosquitoes were clustering around it. Her feet were in lace hose
and low shoes. Freckles gasped. In the Limberlost in low shoes!
He caught an armful of moss from his carpet and buried it in the
ooze in front of her for a footing.
"Come out here so I can see where you are stepping. Quick, for the
life of you!" he ordered.
She smiled on him indulgently.
"Why?" she inquired.
"Did anybody let you come here and not be telling you of the
snakes?" urged Freckles.
"We met Mr. McLean on the corduroy, and he did say something about
snakes, I believe. The Bird Woman put on leather leggings, and a
nice, parboiled time she must be having! Worst dose I ever endured,
and I'd nothing to do but swelter."
"Will you be coming out of there?" groaned Freckles.
She laughed as if it were a fine joke.
"Maybe if I'd be telling you I killed a rattler curled upon that
same place you're standing, as long as me body and the thickness
of me arm, you'd be moving where I can see your footing,"
he urged insistently.
"What a perfectly delightful little brogue you speak," she said.
"My father is Irish, and half should be enough to entitle me to
that much. `Maybe--if I'd--be telling you,'" she imitated, rounding
and accenting each word carefully.
Freckles was beginning to feel a wildness in his head. He had
derided Wessner at that same hour yesterday. Now his own eyes were
filling with tears.
"If you were understanding the danger!" he continued desperately.
"Oh, I don't think there is much!"
She tilted on the morass.
"If you killed one snake here, it's probably all there is near; and
anyway, the Bird Woman says a rattlesnake is a gentleman and always
gives warning before he strikes. I don't hear any rattling. Do you?"
"Would you be knowing it if you did?" asked Freckles, almost impatiently.
How the laugh of the young thing rippled!
"`Would I be knowing it?'" she mocked. "You should see the swamps
of Michigan where they dump rattlers from the marl-dredgers three
and four at a time!"
Freckles stood astounded. She did know. She was not in the
least afraid. She was depending on a rattlesnake to live up to
his share of the contract and rattle in time for her to move.
The one characteristic an Irishman admires in a woman, above all
others, is courage. Freckles worshiped anew. He changed his tactics.
"I'd be pleased to be receiving you at me front door," he said,
"but as you have arrived at the back, will you come in and be seated?"
He waved toward a bench. The Angel came instantly.
"Oh, how lovely and cool!" she cried.
As she moved across his room, Freckles had difficult work to keep
from falling on his knees; for they were very weak, while he was
hard driven by an impulse to worship.
"Did you arrange this?" she asked.
"Yis," said Freckles simply.
"Someone must come with a big canvas and copy each side of it," she
said. "I never saw anything so beautiful! How I wish I might remain
here with you! I will, some day, if you will let me; but now, if
you can spare the time, will you help me find the carriage? If the
Bird Woman comes back and I am gone, she will be almost distracted."
"Did you come on the west road?" asked Freckles.
"I think so," she said. "The man who told the Bird Woman said that
was the only place the wires were down. We drove away in, and it
was dreadful--over stumps and logs, and we mired to the hubs. I
suppose you know, though. I should have stayed in the carriage, but
I was so tired. I never dreamed of getting lost. I suspect I will
be scolded finely. I go with the Bird Woman half the time during
the summer vacations. My father says I learn a lot more than I do
at school, and get it straight. I never came within a smell of
being lost before. I thought, at first, it was going to be horrid;
but since I've found you, maybe it will be good fun after all."
Freckles was amazed to hear himself excusing: "It was so hot
in there. You couldn't be expected to bear it for hours and not
be moving. I can take you around the trail almost to where you were.
Then you can sit in the carriage, and I will go find the Bird Woman."
"You'll be killed if you do! When she stays this long, it means
that she has a focus on something. You see, when she has a focus,
and lies in the weeds and water for hours, and the sun bakes her,
and things crawl over her, and then someone comes along and scares
her bird away just as she has it coaxed up--why, she kills them.
If I melt, you won't go after her. She's probably blistered and
half eaten up; but she never will quit until she is satisfied."
"Then it will be safer to be taking care of you," suggested Freckles.
"Now you're talking sense!" said the Angel.
"May I try to help your arm?" he asked.
"Have you any idea how it hurts?" she parried.
"A little," said Freckles.
"Well, Mr. McLean said We'd probably find his son here"
"His son!" cried Freckles.
"That's what he said. And that you would do anything you could for
us; and that we could trust you with our lives. But I would have
trusted you anyway, if I hadn't known a thing about you. Say, your
father is rampaging proud of you, isn't he?"
"I don't know," answered the dazed Freckles.
"Well, call on me if you want reliable information. He's so proud
of you he is all swelled up like the toad in AEsop's Fables. If you
have ever had an arm hurt like this, and can do anything, why, for
pity sake, do it!"
She turned back her sleeve, holding toward Freckles an arm of
palest cameo, shaped so exquisitely that no sculptor could have
Freckles unlocked his case, and taking out some cotton cloth, he
tore it in strips. Then he brought a bucket of the cleanest water
he could find. She yielded herself to his touch as a baby, and
he bathed away the blood and bandaged the ugly, ragged wound.
He finished his surgery by lapping the torn sleeve over the cloth
and binding it down with a piece of twine, with the Angel's help
about the knots.
Freckles worked with trembling fingers and a face tense with earnestness.
"Is it feeling any better?" he asked.
"Oh, it's well now!" cried the Angel. "It doesn't hurt at all, any more."
"I'm mighty glad," said Freckles. "But you had best go and be
having your doctor fix it right; the minute you get home."
"Oh, bother! A little scratch like that!" jeered the Angel.
"My blood is perfectly pure. It will heal in three days."
"It's cut cruel deep. It might be making a scar," faltered Freckles,
his eyes on the ground. "'Twould--'twould be an awful pity.
A doctor might know something to prevent it."
"Why, I never thought of that!" exclaimed the Angel.
"I noticed you didn't," said Freckles softly. "I don't know much
about it, but it seems as if most girls would."
The Angel thought intently, while Freckles still knelt beside her.
Suddenly she gave herself an impatient little shake, lifted her
glorious eyes full to his, and the smile that swept her sweet,
young face was the loveliest thing that Freckles ever had seen.
"Don't let's bother about it," she proposed, with the faintest hint
of a confiding gesture toward him. "It won't make a scar. Why, it
couldn't, when you have dressed it so nicely."
The velvety touch of her warm arm was tingling in Freckles' fingertips.
Dainty lace and fine white ribbon peeped through her torn dress.
There were beautiful rings on her fingers. Every article she wore
was of the finest material and in excellent taste. There was the
trembling Limberlost guard in his coarse clothing, with his cotton
rags and his old pail of swamp water. Freckles was sufficiently
accustomed to contrasts to notice them, and sufficiently fine to be
hurt by them always.
He lifted his eyes with a shadowy pain in them to hers, and found
them of serene, unconscious purity. What she had said was straight
from a kind, untainted, young heart. She meant every word of it.
Freckles' soul sickened. He scarcely knew whether he could muster
strength to stand.
"We must go and hunt for the carriage," said the Angel, rising.
In instant alarm for her, Freckles sprang up, grasped the cudgel,
and led the way, sharply watching every step. He went as close the
log as he felt that he dared, and with a little searching found
the carriage. He cleared a path for the Angel, and with a sigh of
relief saw her enter it safely. The heat was intense. She pushed
the damp hair from her temples.
"This is a shame!" said Freckles. "You'll never be coming here again."
"Oh yes I shall!" said the Angel. "The Bird Woman says that these
birds remain over a month in the nest and she would like to make a
picture every few days for seven or eight weeks, perhaps."
Freckles barely escaped crying aloud for joy.
"Then don't you ever be torturing yourself and your horse to be
coming in here again," he said. "I'll show you a way to drive
almost to the nest on the east trail, and then you can come around
to my room and stay while the Bird Woman works. It's nearly always
cool there, and there's comfortable seats, and water."
"Oh! did you have drinking-water there?" she cried. "I was never so
thirsty or so hungry in my life, but I thought I wouldn't mention it."
"And I had not the wit to be seeing!" wailed Freckles. "I can be
getting you a good drink in no time."
He turned to the trail.
"Please wait a minute," called the Angel. "What's your name? I want
to think about you while you are gone." Freckles lifted his face
with the brown rift across it and smiled quizzically.
"Freckles?" she guessed, with a peal of laughter. "And mine is----"
"I'm knowing yours," interrupted Freckles.
"I don't believe you do. What is it?" asked the girl.
"You won't be getting angry?"
"Not until I've had the water, at least."
It was Freckles' turn to laugh. He whipped off his big, floppy
straw hat, stood uncovered before her, and said, in the sweetest of
all the sweet tones of his voice: "There's nothing you could be but
the Swamp Angel."
The girl laughed happily.
Once out of her sight, Freckles ran every step of the way to
the cabin. Mrs. Duncan gave him a small bucket of water, cool from
the well. He carried it in the crook of his right arm, and a basket
filled with bread and butter, cold meat, apple pie, and pickles, in
his left hand.
"Pickles are kind o' cooling," said Mrs. Duncan.
Then Freckles ran again.
The Angel was on her knees, reaching for the bucket, as he came up.
"Be drinking slow," he cautioned her.
"Oh!" she cried, with a long breath of satisfaction. "It's so good!
You are more than kind to bring it!"
Freckles stood blinking in the dazzling glory of her smile until he
scarcely could see to lift the basket.
"Mercy!" she exclaimed. "I think I had better be naming you
the `Angel.' My Guardian Angel."
"Yis," said Freckles. "I look the character every day--but today
"Angels don't go by looks," laughed the girl. "Your father told us
you had been scrapping. But he told us why. I'd gladly wear all
your cuts and bruises if I could do anything that would make my
father look as peacocky as yours did. He strutted about proper.
I never saw anyone look prouder."
"Did he say he was proud of me?" marveled Freckles.
"He didn't need to," answered the Angel. "He was radiating
pride from every pore. Now, have you brought me your dinner?"
"I had my dinner two hours ago," answered Freckles.
"Honest Injun?" bantered the Angel.
"Honest! I brought that on purpose for you."
"Well, if you knew how hungry I am, you would know how thankful
I am, to the dot," said the Angel.
"Then you be eating," cried the happy Freckles.
The Angel sat on a big camera, spread the lunch on the carriage
seat, and divided it in halves. The daintiest parts she could
select she carefully put back into the basket. The remainder
she ate. Again Freckles found her of the swamp, for though she was
almost ravenous, she managed her food as gracefully as his little
yellow fellow, and her every movement was easy and charming. As he
watched her with famished eyes, Freckles told her of his birds,
flowers, and books, and never realized what he was doing.
He led the horse to a deep pool that he knew of, and the tortured
creature drank greedily, and lovingly rubbed him with its nose as
he wiped down its welted body with grass. Suddenly the Angel cried:
"There comes the Bird Woman!"
Freckles had intended leaving before she came, but now he was glad
indeed to be there, for a warmer, more worn, and worse bitten
creature he never had seen. She was staggering under a load of
cameras and paraphernalia. Freckles ran to her aid. He took all he
could carry of her load, stowed it in the back of the carriage, and
helped her in. The Angel gave her water, knelt and unfastened the
leggings, bathed her face, and offered the lunch.
Freckles brought the horse. He was not sure about the harness, but
the Angel knew, and soon they left the swamp. Then he showed them
how to reach the chicken tree from the outside, indicated a cooler
place for the horse, and told them how, the next time they came,
the Angel could find his room while she waited.
The Bird Woman finished her lunch, and lay back, almost too tired
"Were you for getting Little Chicken's picture?" Freckles asked.
"Finely!" she answered. "He posed splendidly. But I couldn't do
anything with his mother. She will require coaxing."
"The Lord be praised!" muttered Freckles under his breath.
The Bird Woman began to feel better.
"Why do you call the baby vulture `Little Chicken'?" she asked,
leaning toward Freckles in an interested manner.
"'Twas Duncan began it," said Freckles. "You see, through the
fierce cold of winter the birds of the swamp were almost starving.
It is mighty lonely here, and they were all the company I was having.
I got to carrying scraps and grain down to them. Duncan was
that ginerous he was giving me of his wheat and corn from his
chickens' feed, and he called the birds me swamp chickens.
Then when these big black fellows came, Mr. McLean said they were
our nearest kind to some in the old world that they called
`Pharaoh's Chickens,' and he called mine `Freckles' Chickens.'"
"Good enough!" cried the Bird Woman, her splotched purple face
lighting with interest. "You must shoot something for them
occasionally, and I'll bring more food when I come. If you will
help me keep them until I get my series, I'll give you a copy of
each study I make, mounted in a book."
Freckles drew a deep breath.
"I'll be doing me very best," he promised, and from the deeps he
"I wonder if that other egg is going to hatch?" mused the Bird Woman.
"I am afraid not. It should have pipped today. Isn't it a beauty!
I never before saw either an egg or the young. They are rare this
"So Mr. McLean said," answered Freckles.
Before they drove away, the Bird Woman thanked him for his kindness
to the Angel and to her. She gave him her hand at parting, and
Freckles joyfully realized that this was going to be another person
for him to love. He could not remember, after they had driven away,
that they even had noticed his missing hand, and for the first time
in his life he had forgotten it.
When the Bird Woman and the Angel were on the home road, she told
of the little corner of paradise into which she had strayed and
of her new name. The Bird Woman looked at the girl and guessed
"Did you know Mr. McLean had a son?" asked the Angel. "Isn't the
little accent he has, and the way he twists a sentence, too dear?
And isn't it too old-fashioned and funny to hear him call his
"It sounds too good to be true," said the Bird Woman, answering the
last question first. "I am so tired of these present-day young men
who patronizingly call their fathers `Dad,' `Governor,' `Old Man"
and `Old Chap,' that the boy's attitude of respect and deference
appealed to me as being fine as silk. There must be something rare
about that young man."
She did not find it necessary to tell the Angel that for several
years she had known the man who so proudly proclaimed himself
Freckles' father to be a bachelor and a Scotchman. The Bird Woman
had a fine way of attending strictly to her own business.
Freckles turned to the trail, but he stopped at every wild brier to
study the pink satin of the petals. She was not of his world, and
better than any other he knew it; but she might be his Angel, and
he was dreaming of naught but blind, silent worship. He finished
the happiest day of his life, and that night he returned to the
swamp as if drawn by invisible force. That Wessner would try for
his revenge, he knew. That he would be abetted by Black Jack was
almost certain, but fear had fled the happy heart of Freckles.
He had kept his trust. He had won the respect of the Boss.
No one ever could wipe from his heart the flood of holy adoration
that had welled with the coming of his Angel. He would do his best,
and trust for strength to meet the dark day of reckoning that he
knew would come sooner or later. He swung round the trail, briskly
tapping the wire, and singing in a voice that scarcely could have
been surpassed for sweetness.
At the edge of the clearing he came into the bright moonlight and
there sat McLean on his mare. Freckles hurried to him.
"Is there trouble?" he inquired anxiously.
"That's what I wanted to ask you," said the Boss. "I stopped at the
cabin to see you a minute, before I turned in, and they said you
had come down here. You must not do it, Freckles. The swamp is none
too healthful at any time, and at night it is rank poison."
Freckles stood combing his fingers through Nellie's mane, while the
dainty creature was twisting her head for his caresses. He pushed
back his hat and looked into McLean's face. "It's come to the
`sleep with one eye open,' sir. I'm not looking for anything to be
happening for a week or two, but it's bound to come, and soon.
If I'm to keep me trust as I've promised you and meself, I've to live
here mostly until the gang comes. You must be knowing that, sir."
"I'm afraid it's true, Freckles," said McLean. "And I've decided to
double the guard until we come. It will be only a few weeks, now;
and I'm so anxious for you that you must not be left alone further.
If anything should happen to you, Freckles, it would spoil one of
the very dearest plans of my life."
Freckles heard with dismay the proposition to place a second guard.
"Oh! no, no, Mr. McLean," he cried. "Not for the world! I wouldn't
be having a stranger around, scaring me birds and tramping up me
study, and disturbing all me ways, for any money! I am all the
guard you need! I will be faithful! I will turn over the lease with
no tree missing--on me life, I will! Oh, don't be sending another
man to set them saying I turned coward and asked for help. It will
just kill the honor of me heart if you do it. The only thing I want
is another gun. If it railly comes to trouble, six cartridges ain't
many, and you know I am slow-like about reloading." McLean reached
into his hip pocket and handed a shining big revolver to Freckles,
who slipped it beside the one already in his belt.
Then the Boss sat brooding.
"Freckles," he said at last, "we never know the timber of a man's
soul until something cuts into him deeply and brings the grain
out strong. You've the making of a mighty fine piece of furniture,
my boy, and you shall have your own way these few weeks yet.
Then, if you will go, I intend to take you to the city and educate
you, and you are to be my son, my lad--my own son!"
Freckles twisted his finger in Nellie's mane to steady himself.
"But why should you be doing that, sir?" he faltered.
McLean slid his arm around the boy's shoulder and gathered him close.
"Because I love you, Freckles," he said simply.
Freckles lifted a white face. "My God, sir!" he whispered. "Oh, my God!"
McLean tightened his clasp a second longer, then he rode down the trail.
Freckles lifted his hat and faced the sky. The harvest moon looked
down, sheeting the swamp in silver glory. The Limberlost sang her
night song. The swale softly rustled in the wind. Winged things of
night brushed his face; and still Freckles gazed upward, trying to
fathom these things that had come to him. There was no help from
the sky. It seemed far away, cold, and blue. The earth, where
flowers blossomed, angels walked, and love could be found, was better.
But to One, above, he must make acknowledgment for these miracles.
His lips moved and he began talking softly.
"Thank You for each separate good thing that has come to me," he
said, "and above all for the falling of the feather. For if it
didn't really fall from an angel, its falling brought an Angel, and
if it's in the great heart of you to exercise yourself any further
about me, oh, do please to be taking good care of her!"
Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight
The following morning Freckles, inexpressibly happy, circled the
Limberlost. He kept snatches of song ringing, as well as the wires.
His heart was so full that tears of joy glistened in his eyes.
He rigorously strove to divide his thought evenly between McLean and
the Angel. He realized to the fullest the debt he already owed the
Boss and the magnitude of last night's declaration and promises.
He was hourly planning to deliver his trust and then enter with
equal zeal on whatever task his beloved Boss saw fit to set him next.
He wanted to be ready to meet every device that Wessner and Black Jack
could think of to outwit him. He recognized their double leverage,
for if they succeeded in felling even one tree McLean became liable
for his wager.
Freckles' brow wrinkled in his effort to think deeply and strongly,
but from every swaying wild rose the Angel beckoned to him. When he
crossed Sleepy Snake Creek and the goldfinch, waiting as ever,
challenged: "SEE ME?" Freckles saw the dainty swaying grace of the
Angel instead. What is a man to do with an Angel who dismembers
herself and scatters over a whole swamp, thrusting a vivid reminder
upon him at every turn?
Freckles counted the days. This first one he could do little but
test his wires, sing broken snatches, and dream; but before the
week would bring her again he could do many things. He would carry
all his books to the swamp to show to her. He would complete his
flower bed, arrange every detail he had planned for his room, and
make of it a bower fairies might envy. He must devise a way to keep
water cool. He would ask Mrs. Duncan for a double lunch and an
especially nice one the day of her next coming, so that if the Bird
Woman happened to be late, the Angel might not suffer from thirst
and hunger. He would tell her to bring heavy leather leggings, so
that he might take her on a trip around the trail. She should make
friends with all of his chickens and see their nests.
On the line he talked of her incessantly.
"You needn't be thinking," he said to the goldfinch, "that because
I'm coming down this line alone day after day, it's always to be so.
Some of these times you'll be swinging on this wire, and you'll
see me coming, and you'll swing, skip, and flirt yourself around,
and chip up right spunky: `SEE ME?' I'll be saying `See you?
Oh, Lord! See her!' You'll look, and there she'll stand.
The sunshine won't look gold any more, or the roses pink, or the
sky blue, because she'll be the pinkest, bluest, goldest thing
of all. You'll be yelling yourself hoarse with the jealousy of her.
The sawbird will stretch his neck out of joint, and she'll turn the
heads of all the flowers. Wherever she goes, I can go back
afterward and see the things she's seen, walk the path she's walked,
hear the grasses whispering over all she's said; and if there's
a place too swampy for her bits of feet; Holy Mother! Maybe--maybe
she'd be putting the beautiful arms of her around me neck and letting
me carry her over!"
Freckles shivered as with a chill. He sent the cudgel whirling
skyward, dexterously caught it, and set it spinning.
"You damned presumptuous fool!" he cried. "The thing for you to be
thinking of would be to stretch in the muck for the feet of her to
be walking over, and then you could hold yourself holy to be even
of that service to her.
"Maybe she'll be wanting the cup me blue-and-brown chickens raised
their babies in. Perhaps she'd like to stop at the pool and see me
bullfrog that had the goodness to take on human speech to show me
the way out of me trouble. If there's any feathers falling that
day, why, it's from the wings of me chickens--it's sure to be, for
the only Angel outside the gates will be walking this timberline,
and every step of the way I'll be holding me breath and praying that
she don't unfold wings and sail away before the hungry eyes of me."
So Freckles dreamed his dreams, made his plans, and watched his line.
He counted not only the days, but the hours of each day. As he
told them off, every one bringing her closer, he grew happier in
the prospect of her coming. He managed daily to leave some offering
at the big elm log for his black chickens. He slipped under the
line at every passing, and went to make sure that nothing was
molesting them. Though it was a long trip, he paid them several
extra visits a day for fear a snake, hawk, or fox might have found
the baby. For now his chickens not only represented all his former
interest in them, but they furnished the inducement that was
bringing his Angel.
Possibly he could find other subjects that the Bird Woman wanted.
The teamster had said that his brother went after her every time he
found a nest. He never had counted the nests that he knew of, and
it might be that among all the birds of the swamp some would be
rare to her.
The feathered folk of the Limberlost were practically undisturbed
save by their natural enemies. It was very probable that among his
chickens others as odd as the big black ones could be found. If she
wanted pictures of half-grown birds, he could pick up fifty in one
morning's trip around the line, for he had fed, handled, and made
friends with them ever since their eyes opened.
He had gathered bugs and worms all spring as he noticed them on the
grass and bushes, and dropped them into the first little open mouth
he had found. The babies gladly had accepted this queer tri-parent
addition to their natural providers.
When the week had passed, Freckles had his room crisp and glowing
with fresh living things that represented every color of the swamp.
He carried bark and filled all the muckiest places of the trail.
It was middle July. The heat of the past few days had dried the
water around and through the Limberlost, so that it was possible to
cross it on foot in almost any direction--if one had an idea of
direction and did not become completely lost in its rank tangle of
vegetation and bushes. The brighter-hued flowers were opening.
The trumpet-creepers were flaunting their gorgeous horns of red
and gold sweetness from the tops of lordly oak and elm, and below
entire pools were pink-sheeted in mallow bloom.
The heat was doing one other thing that was bound to make Freckles,
as a good Irishman, shiver. As the swale dried, its inhabitants
were seeking the cooler depths of the swamp. They liked neither the
heat nor leaving the field mice, moles, and young rabbits of their
chosen location. He saw them crossing the trail every day as the
heat grew intense. The rattlers were sadly forgetting their
manners, for they struck on no provocation whatever, and did not
even remember to rattle afterward. Daily Freckles was compelled to
drive big black snakes and blue racers from the nests of his chickens.
Often the terrified squalls of the parent birds would reach him far
down the line and he would run to rescue the babies.
He saw the Angel when the carriage turned from the corduroy into
the clearing. They stopped at the west entrance to the swamp,
waiting for him to precede them down the trail, as he had told them
it was safest for the horse that he should do. They followed the
east line to a point opposite the big chickens' tree, and Freckles
carried in the cameras and showed the Bird Woman a path he had
cleared to the log. He explained to her the effect the heat was
having on the snakes, and creeping back to Little Chicken, brought
him to the light. As she worked at setting up her camera, he told
her of the birds of the line, while she stared at him, wide-eyed
They arranged that Freckles should drive the carriage into the east
entrance in the shade and then take the horse toward the north to
a better place he knew. Then he was to entertain the Angel at his
study or on the line until the Bird Woman finished her work and
came to them.
"This will take only a little time," she said. "I know where to set
the camera now, and Little Chicken is big enough to be good and too
small to run away or to act very ugly, so I will be coming soon to
see about those nests. I have ten plates along, and I surely won't
use more than two on him; so perhaps I can get some nests or young
birds this morning."
Freckles almost flew, for his dream had come true so soon. He was
walking the timber-line and the Angel was following him. He asked
to be excused for going first, because he wanted to be sure the
trail was safe for her. She laughed at his fears, telling him that
it was the polite thing for him to do, anyway.
"Oh!" said Freckles, "so you was after knowing that? Well, I didn't
s'pose you did, and I was afraid you'd think me wanting in respect
to be preceding you!"
The astonished Angel looked at him, caught the irrepressible gleam
of Irish fun in his eyes, so they stood and laughed together.
Freckles did not realize how he was talking that morning. He showed
her many of the beautiful nests and eggs of the line. She could
identify a number of them, but of some she was ignorant, so they
made notes of the number and color of the eggs, material, and
construction of nest, color, size, and shape of the birds, and went
to find them in the book.
At his room, when Freckles had lifted the overhanging bushes and
stepped back for her to enter, his heart was all out of time
and place. The study was vastly more beautiful than a week previous.
The Angel drew a deep breath and stood gazing first at one side,
then at another, then far down the cathedral aisle. "It's just
fairyland!" she cried ecstatically. Then she turned and stared at
Freckles as she had at his handiwork.
"What are you planning to be?" she asked wonderingly.
"Whatever Mr. McLean wants me to," he replied.
"What do you do most?" she asked.
"Watch me lines."
"I don't mean work!"
"Oh, in me spare time I keep me room and study in me books."
"Do you work on the room or the books most?"
"On the room only what it takes to keep it up, and the rest of the
time on me books."
The Angel studied him closely. "Well, maybe you are going to be a
great scholar," she said, "but you don't look it. Your face isn't
right for that, but it's got something big in it--something really great.
I must find out what it is and then you must work on it. Your father
is expecting you to do something. One can tell by the way he talks.
You should begin right away. You've wasted too much time already."
Poor Freckles hung his head. He never had wasted an hour in his life.
There never had been one that was his to waste.
The Angel, studying him intently, read the thought in his face.
"Oh, I don't mean that!" she cried, with the frank dismay of
sixteen. "Of course, you're not lazy! No one ever would think that
from your appearance. It's this I mean: there is something fine,
strong, and full of power in your face. There is something you are
to do in this world, and no matter how you work at all these other
things, or how successfully you do them, it is all wasted until you
find the ONE THING that you can do best. If you hadn't a thing in
the world to keep you, and could go anywhere you please and do
anything you want, what would you do?" persisted the Angel.
"I'd go to Chicago and sing in the First Episcopal choir," answered
The Angel dropped on a seat--the hat she had removed and held in
her fingers rolled to her feet. "There!" she exclaimed vehemently.
"You can see what I'm going to be. Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
You can sing? Of course you can sing! It is written all over you."
"Anyone with half wit could have seen he could sing, without having
to be told," she thought. "It's in the slenderness of his fingers
and his quick nervous touch. It is in the brightness of his hair,
the fire of his eyes, the breadth of his chest, the muscles of his
throat and neck; and above all, it's in every tone of his voice,
for even as he speak it's the sweetest sound I ever heard from the
throat of a mortal."
"Will you do something for me?" she asked.
"I'll do anything in the world you want me to," said Freckles
largely, "and if I can't do what you want, I'll go to work at once
and I'll try `til I can."
"Good! That's business!" said the Angel. "You go over there and
stand before that hedge and sing something. Just anything you think
Freckles faced the Angel from his banked wall of brown, blue, and
crimson, with its background of solid green, and lifting his face
to the sky, he sang the first thing that came into his mind. It was
a children's song that he had led for the little folks at the Home
many times, recalled to his mind by the Angel's exclamation:
"To fairyland we go,
With a song of joy, heigh-o.
In dreams we'll stand upon that shore
And all the realm behold;
We'll see the sights so grand
That belong to fairyland,
Its mysteries we will explore,
Its beauties will unfold.
Oh, tra, la, la, oh, ha, ha, ha! We're happy now as we can be,
Our welcome song we will prolong, and greet you with our melody.
O fairyland, sweet fairyland, we love to sing----"
No song could have given the intense sweetness and rollicking
quality of Freckles' voice better scope. He forgot everything but
pride in his work. He was singing the chorus, and the Angel was
shivering in ecstasy, when clip! clip! came the sharply beating
feet of a swiftly ridden horse down the trail from the north. They
both sprang toward the entrance.
"Freckles! Freckles!" called the voice of the Bird Woman.
They were at the trail on the instant.
"Both those revolvers loaded?" she asked.
"Yes," said Freckles.
"Is there a way you can cut across the swamp and reach the chicken
tree in a few minutes, and with little noise?"
"Then go flying," said the Bird Woman. "Give the Angel a lift
behind me, and we will ride the horse back where you left him and
wait for you. I finished Little Chicken in no time and put him back.
His mother came so close, I felt sure she would enter the log.
The light was fine, so I set and focused the camera and covered
it with branches, attached the long hose, and went away over a
hundred feet and hid in some bushes to wait. A short, stout man
and a tall, dark one passed me so closely I almost could have reached
out and touched them. They carried a big saw on their shoulders.
They said they could work until near noon, and then they must lay
off until you passed and then try to load and get out at night.
They went on--not entirely from sight--and began cutting a tree.
Mr. McLean told me the other day what would probably happen here,
and if they fell that tree he loses his wager on you. Keep to the
east and north and hustle. We'll meet you at the carriage. I always
am armed. Give Angel one of your revolvers, and you keep the other.
We will separate and creep toward them from different sides and
give them a fusillade that will send them flying. You hurry, now!"
She lifted the reins and started briskly down the trail. The Angel,
hatless and with sparkling eyes, was clinging around her waist.
Freckles wheeled and ran. He worked his way with much care, dodging
limbs and bushes with noiseless tread, and cutting as closely where
he thought the men were as he felt that he dared if he were to
remain unseen. As he ran he tried to think. It was Wessner, burning
for his revenge, aided by the bully of the locality, that he was
going to meet. He was accustomed to that thought but not to the
complication of having two women on his hands who undoubtedly would
have to be taken care of in spite of the Bird Woman's offer to help him.
His heart was jarring as it never had before with running. He must
follow the Bird Woman's plan and meet them at the carriage, but if
they really did intend to try to help him, he must not allow it.
Allow the Angel to try to handle a revolver in his defence? Never!
Not for all the trees in the Limberlost! She might shoot herself.
She might forget to watch sharply and run across a snake that was
not particularly well behaved that morning. Freckles permitted
himself a grim smile as he went speeding on.
When he reached the carriage, the Bird Woman and the Angel had the
horse hitched, the outfit packed, and were calmly waiting. The Bird
Woman held a revolver in her hand. She wore dark clothing. They had
pinned a big focusing cloth over the front of the Angel's light dress.
"Give Angel one of your revolvers, quick!" said the Bird Woman.
"We will creep up until we are in fair range. The underbrush is so
thick and they are so busy that they will never notice us, if we
don't make a noise. You fire first, then I will pop in from my
direction, and then you, Angel, and shoot quite high, or else very low.
We mustn't really hit them. We'll go close enough to the cowards
to make it interesting, and keep it up until we have them going."
The Bird Woman reached over, and, taking the smaller revolver from
his belt, handed it to the Angel. "Keep your nerve steady, dear;
watch where you step, and shoot high," she said. "Go straight at
them from where you are. Wait until you hear Freckles' first shot,
then follow me as closely as you can, to let them know that we
outnumber them. If you want to save McLean's wager on you, now you
go!" she commanded Freckles, who, with an agonized glance at the
Angel, ran toward the east.
The Bird Woman chose the middle distance, and for a last time
cautioned the Angel as she moved away to lie down and shoot high.
Through the underbrush the Bird Woman crept even more closely than
she had intended, found a clear range, and waited for Freckles' shot.
There was one long minute of sickening suspense. The men
straightened for breath. Work was difficult with a handsaw in the
heat of the swamp. As they rested, the big dark fellow took a
bottle from his pocket and began oiling the saw.
"We got to keep mighty quiet," he said, "and wait to fell it until
that damned guard has gone to his dinner."
Again they bent to their work. Freckles' revolver spat fire. Lead
spanged on steel. The saw-handle flew from Wessner's hand and he
reeled from the jar of the shock. Black Jack straightened, uttering
a fearful oath. The hat sailed from his head from the far northeast.
The Angel had not waited for the Bird Woman, and her shot scarcely
could have been called high. At almost the same instant the third
shot whistled from the east. Black Jack sprang into the air with
a yell of complete panic, for it ripped a heel from his boot.
Freckles emptied his second chamber, and the earth spattered
over Wessner. Shots poured in rapidly. Without even reaching
for a weapon, both men ran toward the east road in great leaping
bounds, while leaden slugs sung and hissed around them in
Freckles was trimming his corners as closely as he dared, but if
the Angel did not really intend to hit, she was taking risks in a
When the men reached the trail, Freckles yelled at the top of his
voice: "Head them off on the south, boys! Fire from the south!"
As he had hoped, Jack and Wessner instantly plunged into the swale.
A spattering of lead followed them. They crossed the swale, running
low, with not even one backward glance, and entered the woods
beyond the corduroy.
Then the little party gathered at the tree.
"I'd better fix this saw so they can't be using it if they come
back," said Freckles, taking out his hatchet and making saw-teeth fly.
"Now we must leave here without being seen," said the Bird Woman to
the Angel. "It won't do for me to make enemies of these men, for I
am likely to meet them while at work any day."
"You can do it by driving straight north on this road," said Freckles.
"I will go ahead and cut the wires for you. The swale is almost dry.
You will only be sinking a little. In a few rods you will strike
a cornfield. I will take down the fence and let you into that.
Follow the furrows and drive straight across it until you come to
the other side. Be following the fence south until you come to a
road through the woods east of it. Then take that road and follow
east until you reach the pike. You will come out on your way back
to town, and two miles north of anywhere they are likely to be.
Don't for your lives ever let it out that you did this," he
earnestly cautioned, "for it's black enemies you would be making."
Freckles clipped the wires and they drove through. The Angel leaned
from the carriage and held out his revolver. Freckles looked at her
in surprise. Her eyes were black, while her face was a deeper rose
than usual. He felt that his own was white.
"Did I shoot high enough?" she asked sweetly. "I really forgot
about lying down."
Freckles winced. Did the child know how close she had gone?
Surely she could not! Or was it possible that she had the nerve
and skill to fire like that purposely?
"I will send the first reliable man I meet for McLean," said the
Bird Woman, gathering up the lines. "If I don't meet one when we
reach town, we will send a messenger. If it wasn't for having the
gang see me, I would go myself; but I will promise you that you
will have help in a little over two hours. You keep well hidden.
They must think some of the gang is with you now. There isn't a
chance that they will be back, but don't run any risks. Remain
under cover. If they should come, it probably would be for
their saw." She laughed as at a fine joke.
Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the Trail
Round-eyed, Freckles watched the Bird Woman and the Angel drive
away. After they were from sight and he was safely hidden among the
branches of a small tree, he remembered that he neither had thanked
them nor said good-bye. Considering what they had been through,
they never would come again. His heart sank until he had
palpitation in his wading-boots.
Stretching the length of the limb, he thought deeply, though he was
not thinking of Black Jack or Wessner. Would the Bird Woman and the
Angel come again? No other woman whom he ever had known would.
But did they resemble any other women he ever had known? He thought
of the Bird Woman's unruffled face and the Angel's revolver practice,
and presently he was not so sure that they would not return.
What were the people in the big world like? His knowledge was so
very limited. There had been people at the Home, who exchanged a
stilted, perfunctory kindness for their salaries. The visitors who
called on receiving days he had divided into three classes: the
psalm-singing kind, who came with a tear in the eye and hypocrisy
in every feature of their faces; the kind who dressed in silks and
jewels, and handed to those poor little mother-hungry souls worn
toys that their children no longer cared for, in exactly the same
spirit in which they pitched biscuits to the monkeys at the zoo,
and for the same reason--to see how they would take them and be
amused by what they would do; and the third class, whom he
considered real people. They made him feel they cared that he was
there, and that they would have been glad to see him elsewhere.
Now here was another class, that had all they needed of the world's
best and were engaged in doing work that counted. They had things
worth while to be proud of; and they had met him as a son and brother.
With them he could, for the only time in his life, forget the
lost hand that every day tortured him with a new pang. What kind
of people were they and where did they belong among the classes
he knew? He failed to decide, because he never had known others
similar to them; but how he loved them!
In the world where he was going soon, were the majority like them,
or were they of the hypocrite and bun-throwing classes?
He had forgotten the excitement of the morning and the passing of
time when distant voices aroused him, and he gently lifted his head.
Nearer and nearer they came, and as the heavy wagons rumbled down
the east trail he could hear them plainly. The gang were shouting
themselves hoarse for the Limberlost guard. Freckles did not feel
that he deserved it. He would have given much to he able to go
to the men and explain, but to McLean only could he tell his story.
At the sight of Freckles the men threw up their hats and cheered.
McLean shook hands with him warmly, but big Duncan gathered him
into his arms and hugged him as a bear and choked over a few words
of praise. The gang drove in and finished felling the tree.
McLean was angry beyond measure at this attempt on his property,
for in their haste to fell the tree the thieves had cut too high
and wasted a foot and a half of valuable timber.
When the last wagon rolled away, McLean sat on the stump and
Freckles told the story he was aching to tell. The Boss scarcely
could believe his senses. Also, he was much disappointed.
"I have been almost praying all the way over, Freckles," he said,
"that you would have some evidence by which we could arrest those
fellows and get them out of our way, but this will never do.
We can't mix up those women in it. They have helped you save me
the tree and my wager as well. Going across the country as she
does, the Bird Woman never could be expected to testify against them."
"No, indeed; nor the Angel, either, sir," said Freckles.
"The Angel?" queried the astonished McLean.
The Boss listened in silence while Freckles told of the coming and
christening of the Angel.
"I know her father well," said McLean at last, "and I have often
seen her. You are right; she is a beautiful young girl, and she
appears to be utterly free from the least particle of false pride
or foolishness. I do not understand why her father risks such a
jewel in this place."
"He's daring it because she is a jewel, sir," said Freckles, eagerly.
"Why, she's trusting a rattlesnake to rattle before it strikes her,
and of course, she thinks she can trust mankind as well. The man
isn't made who wouldn't lay down the life of him for her. She doesn't
need any care. Her face and the pretty ways of her are all the
protection she would need in a band of howling savages."
"Did you say she handled one of the revolvers?" asked McLean.
"She scared all the breath out of me body," admitted Freckles.
"Seems that her father has taught her to shoot. The Bird Woman told
her distinctly to lie low and blaze away high, just to help scare them.
The spunky little thing followed them right out into the west
road, spitting lead like hail, and clipping all around the heads
and heels of them; and I'm damned, sir, if I believe she'd cared a
rap if she'd hit. I never saw much shooting, but if that wasn't the
nearest to miss I ever want to see! Scared the life near out of me
body with the fear that she'd drop one of them. As long as I'd no
one to help me but a couple of women that didn't dare be mixed up
in it, all I could do was to let them get away."
"Now, will they come back?" asked McLean.
"Of course!" said Freckles. "They're not going to be taking that.
You could stake your life on it, they'll be coming back. At least,
Black Jack will. Wessner may not have the pluck, unless he is
half drunk. Then he'd be a terror. And the next time--"
"It will be a question of who shoots first and straightest."
"Then the only thing for me to do is to double the guard and bring
the gang here the first minute possible. As soon as I feel that we
have the rarest of the stuff out below, we will come. The fact is,
in many cases, until it is felled it's difficult to tell what a
tree will prove to be. It won't do to leave you here longer alone.
Jack has been shooting twenty years to your one, and it stands to
reason that you are no match for him. Who of the gang would you
like best to have with you?"
"No one, sir," said Freckles emphatically. "Next time is where I run.
I won't try to fight them alone. I'll just be getting wind of
them, and then make tracks for you. I'll need to come like
lightning, and Duncan has no extra horse, so I'm thinking you'd
best get me one--or perhaps a wheel would be better. I used to do
extra work for the Home doctor, and he would let me take his
bicycle to ride around the place. And at times the head nurse would
loan me his for an hour. A wheel would cost less and be faster than
a horse, and would take less care. I believe, if you are going to
town soon, you had best pick up any kind of an old one at some
second-hand store, for if I'm ever called to use it in a hurry
there won't be the handlebars left after crossing the corduroy."
"Yes," said McLean; "and if you didn't have a first-class wheel,
you never could cross the corduroy on it at all."
As they walked to the cabin, McLean insisted on another guard, but
Freckles was stubbornly set on fighting his battle alone. He made
one mental condition. If the Bird Woman was going to give up the
Little Chicken series, he would yield to the second guard, solely
for the sake of her work and the presence of the Angel in the
Limberlost. He did not propose to have a second man unless it were
absolutely necessary, for he had been alone so long that he loved
the solitude, his chickens, and flowers. The thought of having a
stranger to all his ways come and meddle with his arrangements,
frighten his pets, pull his flowers, and interrupt him when he
wanted to study, so annoyed him that he was blinded to his real
need for help.
With McLean it was a case of letting his sober, better judgment be
overridden by the boy he was growing so to love that he could not
endure to oppose him, and to have Freckles keep his trust and win
alone meant more than any money the Boss might lose.
The following morning McLean brought the wheel, and Freckles took
it to the trail to test it. It was new, chainless, with as little
as possible to catch in hurried riding, and in every way the best
of its kind. Freckles went skimming around the trail on it on a
preliminary trip before he locked it in his case and started his
minute examination of his line on foot. He glanced around his room
as he left it, and then stood staring.
On the moss before his prettiest seat lay the Angel's hat. In the
excitement of yesterday all of them had forgotten it. He went and
picked it up, oh! so carefully, gazing at it with hungry eyes, but
touching it only to carry it to his case, where he hung it on the
shining handlebar of the new wheel and locked it among his treasures.
Then he went to the trail, with a new expression on his face and
a strange throbbing in his heart. He was not in the least afraid
of anything that morning. He felt he was the veriest Daniel, but
all his lions seemed weak and harmless.
What Black Jack's next move would be he could not imagine, but that
there would be a move of some kind was certain. The big bully was
not a man to give up his purpose, or to have the hat swept from his
head with a bullet and bear it meekly. Moreover, Wessner would
cling to his revenge with a Dutchman's singleness of mind.
Freckles tried to think connectedly, but there were too many places
on the trail where the Angel's footprints were vet visible. She had
stepped in one mucky spot and left a sharp impression. The afternoon
sun had baked it hard, and the horses' hoofs had not obliterated
any part of it, as they had in so many places. Freckles stood
fascinated, gazing at it. He measured it lovingly with his eye.
He would not have ventured a caress on her hat any more than
on her person, but this was different. Surely a footprint on a
trail might belong to anyone who found and wanted it. He stooped
under the wires and entered the swamp. With a little searching, he
found a big piece of thick bark loose on a log and carefully
peeling it, carried it out and covered the print so that the first
rain would not obliterate it.
When he reached his room, he tenderly laid the hat upon his
bookshelf, and to wear off his awkwardness, mounted his wheel and
went spinning on trail again. It was like flying, for the path was
worn smooth with his feet and baked hard with the sun almost all
the way. When he came to the bark, he veered far to one side and
smiled at it in passing. Suddenly he was off the wheel, kneeling
beside it. He removed his hat, carefully lifted the bark, and gazed
lovingly at the imprint.
"I wonder what she was going to say of me voice," he whispered.
"She never got it said, but from the face of her, I believe she was
liking it fairly well. Perhaps she was going to say that singing
was the big thing I was to be doing. That's what they all thought
at the Home. Well, if it is, I'll just shut me eyes, think of me
little room, the face of her watching, and the heart of her
beating, and I'll raise them. Damn them, if singing will do it,
I'll raise them from the benches!"
With this dire threat, Freckles knelt, as at a wayside spring, and
deliberately laid his lips on the footprint. Then he arose,
appearing as if he had been drinking at the fountain of gladness.
Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by the Encounter
"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan.
Freckles stood before her, holding the Angel's hat.
"I've been thinking this long time that ye or Duncan would see that
sunbonnets werena braw enough for a woman of my standing, and ye're
a guid laddie to bring me this beautiful hat."
She turned it around, examining the weave of the straw and the
foliage trimmings, passing her rough fingers over the satin
ties delightedly. As she held it up, admiring it, Freckles'
astonished eyes saw a new side of Sarah Duncan. She was jesting,
but under the jest the fact loomed strong that, though poor,
overworked, and with none but God-given refinement, there was
something in her soul crying after that bit of feminine finery,
and it made his heart ache for her. He resolved that when he
reached the city he would send her a hat, if it took fifty
dollars to do it.
She lingeringly handed it back to him.
"It's unco guid of ye to think of me," she said lightly, "but I maun
question your taste a wee. D'ye no think ye had best return this
and get a woman with half her hair gray a little plainer headdress?
Seems like that's far ower gay for me. I'm no' saying that it's
no' exactly what I'd like to hae, but I mauna mak mysel' ridiculous.
Ye'd best give this to somebody young and pretty, say about sixteen.
Where did ye come by it, Freckles? If there's anything been
dropping lately, ye hae forgotten to mention it."
"Do you see anything heavenly about that hat?" queried Freckles,
holding it up.
The morning breeze waved the ribbons gracefully, binding one around
Freckles' sleeve and the other across his chest, where they caught
and clung as if magnetized.
"Yes," said Sarah Duncan. "It's verra plain and simple, but it
juist makes ye feel that it's all of the finest stuff. It's exactly
what I'd call a heavenly hat."
"Sure," said Freckles, "for it's belonging to an Angel!"
Then he told her about the hat and asked her what he should do with it.
"Take it to her, of course!" said Sarah Duncan. "Like it's the only
ane she has and she may need it badly."
Freckles smiled. He had a clear idea about the hat being the only
one the Angel had. However, there was a thing he felt he should do
and wanted to do, but he was not sure.
"You think I might be taking it home?" he said.
"Of course ye must," said Mrs. Duncan. "And without another
hour's delay. It's been here two days noo, and she may want it,
and be too busy or afraid to come."
"But how can I take it?" asked Freckles.
"Gang spinning on your wheel. Ye can do it easy in an hour."
"But in that hour, what if----?"
"Nonsense!" interrupted Sarah Duncan. "Ye've watched that
timber-line until ye're grown fast to it, lad. Give me your boots
and club and I'll gae walk the south end and watch doon the east
and west sides until ye come back."
"Mrs. Duncan! You never would be doing it," cried Freckles.
"Why not?" inquired she.
"But you know you're mortal afraid of snakes and a lot of other
things in the swamp."
"I am afraid of snakes," said Mrs. Duncan, "but likely they've gone
into the swamp this hot weather. I'll juist stay on the trail and
watch, and ye might hurry the least bit. The day's so bright it
feels like storm. I can put the bairns on the woodpile to play
until I get back. Ye gang awa and take the blessed little angel her
"Are you sure it will be all right?" urged Freckles. "Do you think
if Mr. McLean came he would care?"
"Na," said Mrs. Duncan; "I dinna. If ye and me agree that a thing
ought to be done, and I watch in your place, why, it's bound to be
all right with McLean. Let me pin the hat in a paper, and ye jump
on your wheel and gang flying. Ought ye put on your Sabbath-day clothes?"
Freckles shook his head. He knew what he should do, but there was
no use in taking time to try to explain it to Mrs. Duncan while he
was so hurried. He exchanged his wading-boots for shoes, gave her
his club, and went spinning toward town. He knew very well where
the Angel lived. He had seen her home many times, and he passed it
again without even raising his eyes from the street, steering
straight for her father's place of business.
Carrying the hat, Freckles passed a long line of clerks, and at the
door of the private office asked to see the proprietor. When he had
waited a moment, a tall, spare, keen-eyed man faced him, and in
brisk, nervous tones asked: "How can I serve you, sir?"
Freckles handed him the package and answered, "By delivering to
your daughter this hat, which she was after leaving at me place the
other day, when she went away in a hurry. And by saying to her and
the Bird Woman that I'm more thankful than I'll be having words to
express for the brave things they was doing for me. I'm McLean's
Limberlost guard, sir."
"Why don't you take it yourself?" questioned the Man of Affairs.
Freckles' clear gray eyes met those of the Angel's father squarely, and
he asked: "If you were in my place, would you take it to her yourself?"
"No, I would not," said that gentleman quickly.
"Then why ask why I did not?" came Freckles' lamb-like query.
"Bless me!" said the Angel's father. He stared at the package, then
at the lifted chin of the boy, and then at the package again, and
muttered, "Excuse me!"
"It would be favoring me greatly if you would deliver the hat and
the message. Good morning, sir," and he turned away.
"One minute," said the Angel's father. "Suppose I give you permission
to return this hat in person and make your own acknowledgments."
Freckles stood one moment thinking intently, and then he lifted
those eyes of unswerving truth and asked: "Why should you, sir?
You are kind, indade, to mention it, and it's thanking you I am for
your good intintions, but my wanting to go or your being willing to
have me ain't proving that your daughter would be wanting me or
care to bother with me."
The Angel's father looked keenly into the face of this
extraordinary young man, for he found it to his liking.
"There's one other thing I meant to say," said Freckles. "Every day
I see something, and at times a lot of things, that I think the
Bird Woman would be wanting pictures of badly, if she knew.
You might be speaking of it to her, and if she'd want me to,
I can send her word when I find things she wouldn't likely
"If that's the case," said the Angel's father, "and you feel under
obligations for her assistance the other day, you can discharge
them in that way. She is spending all her time in the fields and
woods searching for subjects. If you run across things, perhaps
rarer than she may find, about your work, it would save her the
time she spends searching for subjects, and she could work in
security under your protection. By all means let her know if you
find subjects you think she could use, and we will do anything we
can for you, if you will give her what help you can and see that
she is as safe as possible."
"It's hungry for human beings I am," said Freckles, "and it's like
Heaven to me to have them come. Of course, I'll be telling or
sending her word every time me work can spare me. Anything I can do
it would make me uncommon happy, but"--again truth had to be told,
because it was Freckles who was speaking--"when it comes to
protecting them, I'd risk me life, to be sure, but even that
mightn't do any good in some cases. There are many dangers to be
reckoned with in the swamp, sir, that call for every person to
look sharp. If there wasn't really thieving to guard against, why,
McLean wouldn't need be paying out good money for a guard. I'd love
them to be coming, and I'll do all I can, but you must be told that
there's danger of them running into timber thieves again any day, sir."
"Yes," said the Angel's father, "and I suppose there's danger of
the earth opening up and swallowing the town any day, but I'm
damned if I quit business for fear it will, and the Bird Woman
won't, either. Everyone knows her and her work, and there is no
danger in the world of anyone in any way molesting her, even if he
were stealing a few of McLean's gold-plated trees. She's as safe
in the Limberlost as she is at home, so far as timber thieves
are concerned. All I am ever uneasy about are the snakes, poison-
vines, and insects; and those are risks she must run anywhere.
You need not hesitate a minute about that. I shall be glad to tell
them what you wish. Thank you very much, and good day, sir."
There was no way in which Freckles could know it, but by following
his best instincts and being what he conceived a gentleman should
be, he surprised the Man of Affairs into thinking of him and seeing
his face over his books many times that morning; whereas, if he had
gone to the Angel as he had longed to do, her father never would
have given him a second thought.
On the street he drew a deep breath. How had he acquitted himself?
He only knew that he had lived up to his best impulse, and that is
all anyone can do. He glanced over his wheel to see that it was all
right, and just as he stepped to the curb to mount he heard a voice
that thrilled him through and through: "Freckles! Oh Freckles!"
The Angel separated from a group of laughing, sweet-faced girls and
came hurrying to him. She was in snowy white--a quaint little
frock, with a marvel of soft lace around her throat and wrists.
Through the sheer sleeves of it her beautiful, rounded arms showed
distinctly, and it was cut just to the base of her perfect neck.
On her head was a pure white creation of fancy braid, with folds on
folds of tulle, soft and silken as cobwebs, lining the brim; while
a mass of white roses clustered against the gold of her hair, crept
around the crown, and fell in a riot to her shoulders at the back.
There were gleams of gold with settings of blue on her fingers, and
altogether she was the daintiest, sweetest sight he ever had seen.
Freckles, standing on the curb, forgot himself in his cotton shirt,
corduroys, and his belt to which his wire-cutter and pliers were
hanging, and gazed as a man gazes when first he sees the woman he adores
with all her charms enhanced by appropriate and beautiful clothing.
"Oh Freckles," she cried as she came to him. "I was wondering about
you the other day. Do you know I never saw you in town before.
You watch that old line so closely! Why did you come? Is there
any trouble? Are you just starting to the Limberlost?"
"I came to bring your hat," said Freckles. "You forgot it in the
rush the other day. I have left it with your father, and a message
trying to ixpriss the gratitude of me for how you and the Bird
Woman were for helping me out."
The Angel nodded gravely, then Freckles saw that he had done the
proper thing in going to her father. His heart bounded until it
jarred his body, for she was saying that she scarcely could wait for
the time to come for the next picture of the Little Chicken series.
"I want to hear the remainder of that song, and I hadn't even
begun seeing your room yet," she complained. "As for singing,
if you can sing like that every day, I never can get enough of it.
I wonder if I couldn't bring my banjo and some of the songs I
like best. I'll play and you sing, and we'll put the birds out
Freckles stood on the curb with drooped eyes, for he felt that if
he lifted them the tumult of tender adoration in them would show
and frighten her.
"I was afraid your ixperience the other day would scare you so that
you'd never be coming again," he found himself saying.
The Angel laughed gaily.
"Did I seem scared?" she questioned.
"No," said Freckles, "you did not."
"Oh, I just enjoyed that," she cried. "Those hateful, stealing
old things! I had a big notion to pink one of them, but I thought
maybe someway it would be best for you that I shouldn't. They needed it.
That didn't scare me; and as for the Bird Woman, she's accustomed
to finding snakes, tramps, cross dogs, sheep, cattle, and goodness
knows what! You can't frighten her when she's after a picture.
Did they come back?"
"No," said Freckles. "The gang got there a little after noon and
took out the tree, but I must tell you, and you must tell the Bird
Woman, that there's no doubt but they will be coming back, and they
will have to make it before long now, for it's soon the gang will
be there to work on the swamp."
"Oh, what a shame!" cried the Angel. "They'll clear out roads, cut
down the beautiful trees, and tear up everything. They'll drive
away the birds and spoil the cathedral. When they have done their
worst, then all these mills close here will follow in and take out
the cheap timber. Then the landowners will dig a few ditches, build
some fires, and in two summers more the Limberlost will be in corn
They looked at each other, and groaned despairingly in unison.
"You like it, too," said Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel, "I love it. Your room is a little piece
right out of the heart of fairyland, and the cathedral is God's
work, not yours. You only found it and opened the door after He had
it completed. The birds, flowers, and vines are all so lovely.
The Bird Woman says it is really a fact that the mallows, foxfire,
iris, and lilies are larger and of richer coloring there than in
the remainder of the country. She says it's because of the rich
loam and muck. I hate seeing the swamp torn up, and to you it will
be like losing your best friend; won't it?"
"Something like," said Freckles. "Still, I've the Limberlost in me
heart so that all of it will be real to me while I live, no matter
what they do to it. I'm glad past telling if you will be coming a
few more times, at least until the gang arrives. Past that time I
don't allow mesilf to be thinking."
"Come, have a cool drink before you start back," said the Angel.
"I couldn't possibly," said Freckles. "I left Mrs. Duncan on the
trail, and she's terribly afraid of a lot of things. If she even
sees a big snake, I don't know what she'll do."
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