Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Part 3 out of 5
"It won't take but a minute, and you can ride fast enough to make
up for it. Please. I want to think of something fine for you, to
make up a little for what you did for me that first day."
Freckles looked in sheer wonderment into the beautiful face of
the Angel. Did she truly mean it? Would she walk down that street
with him, crippled, homely, in mean clothing, with the tools of his
occupation on him, and share with him the treat she was offering?
He could not believe it, even of the Angel. Still, in justice to
the candor of her pure, sweet face, he would not think that she
would make the offer and not mean it. She really did mean just what
she said, but when it came to carrying out her offer and he saw the
stares of her friends, the sneers of her enemies--if such as she
could have enemies--and heard the whispered jeers of the curious,
then she would see her mistake and be sorry. It would be only a
manly thing for him to think this out, and save her from the
results of her own blessed bigness of heart.
"I railly must be off," said Freckles earnestly, "but I'm thanking
you more than you'll ever know for your kindness. I'll just be
drinking bowls of icy things all me way home in the thoughts of it."
Down came the Angel's foot. Her eyes flashed indignantly. "There's
no sense in that," she said. "How do you think you would have felt
when you knew I was warm and thirsty and you went and brought me a
drink and I wouldn't take it because--because goodness knows why!
You can ride faster to make up for the time. I've just thought out
what I want to fix for you."
She stepped to his side and deliberately slipped her hand under his
arm--that right arm that ended in an empty sleeve.
"You are coming," she said firmly. "I won't have it."
Freckles could not have told how he felt, neither could anyone else.
His blood rioted and his head swam, but he kept his wits. He bent
"Please don't, Angel," he said softly. "You don't understand."
How Freckles came to understand was a problem.
"It's this," he persisted. "If your father met me on the street, in
my station and dress, with you on me arm, he'd have every right to
be caning me before the people, and not a finger would I lift to
The Angel's eyes snapped. "If you think my father cares about my
doing anything that is right and kind, and that makes me happy to
do--why, then you completely failed in reading my father, and I'll
ask him and just show you."
She dropped Freckles' arm and turned toward the entrance to
the building. "Why, look there!" she exclaimed.
Her father stood in a big window fronting the street, a bundle of
papers in his hand, interestedly watching the little scene, with
eyes that comprehended quite as thoroughly as if he had heard
every word. The Angel caught his glance and made a despairing little
gesture toward Freckles. The Man of Affairs answered her with a
look of infinite tenderness. He nodded his head and waved the
papers in the direction she had indicated, and the veriest dolt
could have read the words his lips formed: "Take him along!"
A sudden trembling seized Freckles. At sight of the Angel's father
he had stepped back as far from her as he could, leaned the wheel
against him, and snatched off his hat.
The Angel turned on him with triumphing eyes.
She was highly strung and not accustomed to being thwarted.
"Did You see that?" she demanded. "Now are you satisfied?
Will you come, or must I call a policeman to bring you?"
Freckles went. There was nothing else to do. Guiding his wheel, he
walked down the street beside her. On every hand she was kept busy
giving and receiving the cheeriest greetings. She walked into the
parlors exactly as if she owned them. A clerk came hurrying to meet her.
"There's a table vacant beside a window where it is cool. I'll save
it for you," and he started back.
"Please not," said the Angel. "I've taken this man unawares, when
he's in a rush. I'm afraid if we sit down we'll take too much time
and afterward he will blame me."
She walked to the fountain, and a long row of people stared with
all the varying degrees of insolence and curiosity that Freckles
had felt they would. He glanced at the Angel. NOW would she see?
"On my soul!" he muttered under his breath. "They don't aven touch her!"
She laid down her sunshade and gloves. She walked to the end of the
counter and turned the full battery of her eyes on the attendant.
"Please," she said.
The white-aproned individual stepped back and gave delighted assent.
The Angel stepped beside him, and selecting a tall, flaring glass,
of almost paper thinness, she stooped and rolled it in a tray of
"I want to mix a drink for my friend," she said. "He has a long,
hot ride before him, and I don't want him started off with one of
those old palate-teasing sweetnesses that you mix just on purpose
to drive a man back in ten minutes." There was an appreciative
laugh from the line at the counter.
"I want a clear, cool, sparkling drink that has a tang of acid in it.
Where's the cherry phosphate? That, not at all sweet, would be good;
don't you think?"
The attendant did think. He pointed out the different taps, and the
Angel compounded the drink, while Freckles, standing so erect he
almost leaned backward, gazed at her and paid no attention to
anyone else. When she had the glass brimming, she tilted a little
of its contents into a second glass and tasted it.
"That's entirely too sweet for a thirsty man," she said.
She poured out half the mixture, and refilling the glass, tasted
it a second time. She submitted that result to the attendant.
"Isn't that about the thing?" she asked.
He replied enthusiastically. "I'd get my wages raised ten a month
if I could learn that trick."
The Angel carried the brimming, frosty glass to Freckles. He removed
his hat, and lifting the icy liquid even with her eyes and looking
straight into them, he said in the mellowest of all the mellow
tones of his voice: "I'll be drinking it to the Swamp Angel."
As he had said to her that first day, she now cautioned him:
"Be drinking slowly."
When the screen-door swung behind them, one of the men at the
counter asked of the attendant: "Now, what did that mean?"
"Exactly what you saw," replied he, rather curtly. "We're accustomed
to it here. Hardly a day passes, this hot weather, but she's
picking up some poor, god-forsaken mortal and bringing him in.
Then she comes behind the counter herself and fixes up a drink
to suit the occasion. She's all sorts of fancies about what's what
for all kinds of times and conditions, and you bet she can just hit
the spot! Ain't a clerk here can put up a drink to touch her.
She's a sort of knack at it. Every once in a while, when the Boss
sees her, he calls out to her to mix him a drink."
"And does she?" asked the man with an interested grin.
"Well, I guess! But first she goes back and sees how long it is
since he's had a drink. What he drank last. How warm he is. When he
ate last. Then she comes here and mixes a glass of fizz with a
little touch of acid, and a bit of cherry, lemon, grape, pineapple,
or something sour and cooling, and it hits the spot just as no spot
was ever hit before. I honestly believe that the INTEREST she takes
in it is half the trick, for I watch her closely and I can't come
within gunshot of her concoctions. She has a running bill here.
Her father settles once a month. She gives nine-tenths of it away.
Hardly ever touches it herself, but when she does she makes me mix it.
She's just old persimmons. Even the scrub-boy of this establishment
would fight for her. It lasts the year round, for in winter it's some
poor, frozen cuss that she's warming up on hot coffee or chocolate."
"Mighty queer specimen she had this time," volunteered another.
"Irish, hand off, straight as a ramrod, and something worth while
in his face. Notice that hat peel off, and the eyes of him?
There's a case of `fight for her!' Wonder who he is?"
"I think," said a third, "that he's McLean's Limberlost guard, and
I suspect she's gone to the swamp with the Bird Woman for pictures
and knows him that way. I've heard that he is a master hand with
the birds, and that would just suit the Bird Woman to a T."
On the street the Angel walked beside Freckles to the first
crossing and there she stopped. "Now, will you promise to ride fast
enough to make up for the five minutes that took?" she asked.
"I am a little uneasy about Mrs. Duncan."
Freckles turned his wheel into the street. It seemed to him he had
poured that delicious icy liquid into every vein in his body
instead of his stomach. It even went to his brain.
"Did you insist on fixing that drink because you knew how
intoxicating `twould be?" he asked.
There was subtlety in the compliment and it delighted the Angel.
She laughed gleefully.
"Next time, maybe you won't take so much coaxing," she teased.
"I wouldn't this, if I had known your father and been understanding
you better. Do you really think the Bird Woman will be coming again?"
The Angel jeered. "Wild horses couldn't drag her away," she cried.
"She will have hard work to wait the week out. I shouldn't be in
the least surprised to see her start any hour."
Freckles could not endure the suspense; it had to come.
"And you?" he questioned, but he dared not lift his eyes.
"Wild horses me, too," she laughed, "couldn't keep me away either!
I dearly love to come, and the next time I am going to bring my
banjo, and I'll play, and you sing for me some of the songs I like
best; won't you?"
"Yis," said Freckles, because it was all he was capable of saying
"It's beginning to act stormy," she said. "If you hurry you will
just about make it. Now, good-bye."
Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs. Duncan and Freckles
Comes to the Rescue
Freckles was halfway to the Limberlost when he dismounted. He could
ride no farther, because he could not see the road. He sat under a
tree, and, leaning against it, sobs shook, twisted, and rent him.
If they would remind him of his position, speak condescendingly, or
notice his hand, he could endure it, but this--it surely would kill him!
His hot, pulsing Irish blood was stirred deeply. What did they mean?
Why did they do it? Were they like that to everyone? Was it pity?
It could not be, for he knew that the Bird Woman and the Angel's
father must know that he was not really McLean's son, and it did
not matter to them in the least. In spite of accident and poverty,
they evidently expected him to do something worth while in the world.
That must be his remedy. He must work on his education. He must
get away. He must find and do the great thing of which the
Angel talked. For the first time, his thoughts turned anxiously
toward the city and the beginning of his studies. McLean and the
Duncans spoke of him as "the boy," but he was a man. He must face
life bravely and act a man's part. The Angel was a mere child.
He must not allow her to torture him past endurance with her frank
comradeship that meant to him high heaven, earth's richness, and
all that lay between, and NOTHING to her.
There was an ominous growl of thunder, and amazed at himself,
Freckles snatched up his wheel and raced toward the swamp. He was
worried to find his boots lying at the cabin door; the children
playing on the woodpile told him that "mither" said they were so
heavy she couldn't walk in them, and she had come back and taken
them off. Thoroughly frightened, he stopped only long enough to
slip them on, and then sped with all his strength for the Limberlost.
To the west, the long, black, hard-beaten trail lay clear; but far
up the east side, straight across the path, he could see what was
certainly a limp, brown figure. Freckles spun with all his might.
Face down, Sarah Duncan lay across the trail. When Freckles turned
her over, his blood chilled at the look of horror settled on her face.
There was a low humming and something spatted against him.
Glancing around, Freckles shivered in terror, for there was a swarm
of wild bees settled on a scrub-thorn only a few yards away.
The air was filled with excited, unsettled bees making ready to
lead farther in search of a suitable location. Then he thought he
understood, and with a prayer of thankfulness in his heart that she
had escaped, even so narrowly, he caught her up and hurried down
the trail until they were well out of danger. He laid her in the
shade, and carrying water from the swamp in the crown of his hat,
he bathed her face and hands; but she lay in unbroken stillness,
without a sign of life.
She had found Freckles' boots so large and heavy that she had gone
back and taken them off, although she was mortally afraid to
approach the swamp without them. The thought of it made her
nervous, and the fact that she never had been there alone added to
her fears. She had not followed the trail many rods when her
trouble began. She was not Freckles, so not a bird of the line was
going to be fooled into thinking she was.
They began jumping from their nests and darting from unexpected
places around her head and feet, with quick whirs, that kept her
starting and dodging. Before Freckles was halfway to the town, poor
Mrs. Duncan was hysterical, and the Limberlost had neither sung nor
performed for her.
But there was trouble brewing. It was quiet and intensely hot, with
that stifling stillness that precedes a summer storm, and feathers
and fur were tense and nervous. The birds were singing only a few
broken snatches, and flying around, seeking places of shelter.
One moment everything seemed devoid of life, the next there was an
unexpected whir, buzz, and sharp cry. Inside, a pandemonium of
growling, spatting, snarling, and grunting broke loose.
The swale bent flat before heavy gusts of wind, and the big black
chicken swept lower and lower above the swamp. Patches of clouds
gathered, shutting out the sun and making it very dark, and the
next moment were swept away. The sun poured with fierce, burning
brightness, and everything was quiet. It was at the first growl of
thunder that Freckles really had noticed the weather, and putting
his own troubles aside resolutely, raced for the swamp.
Sarah Duncan paused on the line. "Weel, I wouldna stay in this
place for a million a month," she said aloud, and the sound of her
voice brought no comfort, for it was so little like she had thought
it that she glanced hastily around to see if it had really been she
that spoke. She tremblingly wiped the perspiration from her face
with the skirt of her sunbonnet.
"Awfu' hot," she panted huskily. "B'lieve there's going to be a
big storm. I do hope Freckles will hurry."
Her chin was quivering as a terrified child's. She lifted her
bonnet to replace it and brushed against a bush beside her.
WHIRR, almost into her face, went a nighthawk stretched along a limb
for its daytime nap. Mrs. Duncan cried out and sprang down the trail,
alighting on a frog that was hopping across. The horrible croak it
gave as she crushed it sickened her. She screamed wildly and jumped
to one side. That carried her into the swale, where the grasses
reached almost to her waist, and her horror of snakes returning,
she made a flying leap for an old log lying beside the line.
She alighted squarely, but it was so damp and rotten that she sank
straight through it to her knees. She caught at the wire as she
went down, and missing, raked her wrist across a barb until she
tore a bleeding gash. Her fingers closed convulsively around the
second strand. She was too frightened to scream now. Her tongue
stiffened. She clung frantically to the sagging wire, and finally
managed to grasp it with the other hand. Then she could reach the top
wire, and so she drew herself up and found solid footing. She picked
up the club that she had dropped in order to extricate herself.
Leaning heavily on it, she managed to return to the trail, but
she was trembling so that she scarcely could walk. Going a few
steps farther, she came to the stump of the first tree that had
been taken out.
She sat bolt upright and very still, trying to collect her thoughts
and reason away her terror. A squirrel above her dropped a nut, and
as it came rattling down, bouncing from branch to branch, every
nerve in her tugged wildly. When the disgusted squirrel barked
loudly, she sprang to the trail.
The wind arose higher, the changes from light to darkness were more
abrupt, while the thunder came closer and louder at every peal.
In swarms the blackbirds arose from the swale and came flocking
to the interior, with a clamoring cry: "T'CHECK, T'CHECK."
Grackles marshaled to the tribal call: "TRALL-A-HEE, TRALL-A-HEE."
Red-winged blackbirds swept low, calling to belated mates:
"FOL-LOW-ME, FOL-LOW-ME." Big, jetty crows gathered close to her,
crying, as if warning her to flee before it was everlastingly
too late. A heron, fishing the near-by pool for Freckles' "find-out"
frog, fell into trouble with a muskrat and uttered a rasping note
that sent Mrs. Duncan a rod down the line without realizing that
she had moved. She was too shaken to run far. She stopped and
looked around her fearfully.
Several bees struck her and were angrily buzzing before she
noticed them. Then the humming swelled on all sides.
A convulsive sob shook her, and she ran into the bushes,
now into the swale, anywhere to avoid the swarming bees, ducking,
dodging, fighting for her very life. Presently the humming
seemed to become a little fainter. She found the trail again,
and ran with all her might from a few of her angry pursuers.
As she ran, straining every muscle, she suddenly became aware that,
crossing the trail before her, was a big, round, black body, with
brown markings on its back, like painted geometrical patterns.
She tried to stop, but the louder buzzing behind warned her she
dared not. Gathering her skirts higher, with hair flying around her
face and her eyes almost bursting from their sockets, she ran straight
toward it. The sound of her feet and the humming of the bees
alarmed the rattler, so it stopped across the trail, lifting its
head above the grasses of the swale and rattling inquiringly--rattled
until the bees were outdone.
Straight toward it went the panic-stricken woman, running wildly
and uncontrollably. She took one leap, clearing its body on the
path, then flew ahead with winged feet. The snake, coiled to
strike, missed Mrs. Duncan and landed among the bees instead.
They settled over and around it, and realizing that it had found
trouble, it sank among the grasses and went threshing toward its
den in the deep willow-fringed low ground. The swale appeared as if
a reaper were cutting a wide swath. The mass of enraged bees darted
angrily around, searching for it, and striking the scrub-thorn,
began a temporary settling there to discover whether it were a
suitable place. Completely exhausted, Mrs. Duncan staggered on a
few steps farther, fell facing the path, where Freckles found her,
and lay quietly.
Freckles worked over her until she drew a long, quivering breath
and opened her eyes.
When she saw him bending above her, she closed them tightly, and
gripping him, struggled to her feet. He helped her, and with his
arm around and half carrying her, they made their way to the clearing.
She clung to him with all her remaining strength, but open her eyes
she would not until her children came clustering around her.
Then, brawny, big Scotswoman though she was, she quietly keeled
over again. The children added their wailing to Freckles' panic.
This time he was so close the cabin that he could carry her into
the house and lay her on the bed. He sent the oldest boy scudding
down the corduroy for the nearest neighbor, and between them they
undressed Mrs. Duncan and discovered that she was not bitten.
They bathed and bound the bleeding wrist and coaxed her back
to consciousness. She lay sobbing and shuddering. The first
intelligent word she said was: "Freckles, look at that jar on the
kitchen table and see if my yeast is no running ower."
Several days passed before she could give Duncan and Freckles any
detailed account of what had happened to her, even then she could
not do it without crying as the least of her babies. Freckles was
almost heartbroken, and nursed her as well as any woman could have
done; while big Duncan, with a heart full for them both, worked
early and late to chink every crack of the cabin and examine every
spot that possibly could harbor a snake. The effects of her morning
on the trail kept her shivering half the time. She could not rest
until she sent for McLean and begged him to save Freckles from
further risk, in that place of horrors. The Boss went to the swamp
with his mind fully determined to do so.
Freckles stood and laughed at him. "Why, Mr. McLean, don't you
let a woman's nervous system set you worrying about me," he said.
"I'm not denying how she felt, because I've been through it meself,
but that's all over and gone. It's the height of me glory to fight it
out with the old swamp, and all that's in it, or will be coming to
it, and then to turn it over to you as I promised you and meself
I'd do, sir. You couldn't break the heart of me entire quicker than
to be taking it from me now, when I'm just on the home-stretch.
It won't be over three or four weeks yet, and when I've gone it
almost a year, why, what's that to me, sir? You mustn't let a
woman get mixed up with business, for I've always heard about how
it's bringing trouble."
McLean smiled. "What about that last tree?" he said.
Freckles blushed and grinned appreciatively.
"Angels and Bird Women don't count in the common run, sir," he
McLean sat in the saddle and laughed.
Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him
The Bird Woman and the Angel did not seem to count in the common
run, for they arrived on time for the third of the series and found
McLean on the line talking to Freckles. The Boss was filled with
enthusiasm over a marsh article of the Bird Woman's that he just
had read. He begged to be allowed to accompany her into the swamp
and watch the method by which she secured an illustration in such
The Bird Woman explained to him that it was an easy matter with the
subject she then had in hand; and as Little Chicken was too small
to be frightened by him, and big enough to be growing troublesome,
she was glad for his company. They went to the chicken log
together, leaving to the happy Freckles the care of the Angel, who
had brought her banjo and a roll of songs that she wanted to hear
him sing. The Bird Woman told them that they might practice in
Freckles' room until she finished with Little Chicken, and then she
and McLean would come to the concert.
It was almost three hours before they finished and came down the
west trail for their rest and lunch. McLean walked ahead, keeping
sharp watch on the trail and clearing it of fallen limbs from
overhanging trees. He sent a big piece of bark flying into the
swale, and then stopped short and stared at the trail.
The Bird Woman bent forward. Together they studied that imprint of
the Angel's foot. At last their eyes met, the Bird Woman's filled
with astonishment, and McLean's humid with pity. Neither said a
word, but they knew. McLean entered the swale and hunted up the bark.
He replaced it, and the Bird Woman carefully stepped over. As they
reached the bushes at the entrance, the voice of the Angel stopped
them, for it was commanding and filled with much impatience.
"Freckles James Ross McLean!" she was saying. "You fill me with
dark-blue despair! You're singing as if your voice were glass and
might break at any minute. Why don't you sing as you did a week ago?
Answer me that, please."
Freckles smiled confusedly at the Angel, who sat on one of his
fancy seats, playing his accompaniment on her banjo.
"You are a fraud," she said. "Here you went last week and led me to
think that there was the making of a great singer in you, and now
you are singing--do you know how badly you are singing?"
"Yis," said Freckles meekly. "I'm thinking I'm too happy to be
singing well today. The music don't come right only when I'm
lonesome and sad. The world's for being all sunshine at prisint,
for among you and Mr. McLean and the Bird Woman I'm after being
THAT happy that I can't keep me thoughts on me notes. It's more
than sorry I am to be disappointing you. Play it over, and I'll be
beginning again, and this time I'll hold hard."
"Well," said the Angel disgustedly, "it seems to me that if I had
all the things to be proud of that you have, I'd lift up my head
"And what is it I've to be proud of, ma'am?" politely inquired Freckles.
"Why, a whole worldful of things," cried the Angel explosively.
"For one thing, you can be good and proud over the way you've kept
the timber thieves out of this lease, and the trust your father has
in you. You can be proud that you've never even once disappointed
him or failed in what he believed you could do. You can be proud
over the way everyone speaks of you with trust and honor, and about
how brave of heart and strong of body you are I heard a big man say
a few days ago that the Limberlost was full of disagreeable
things--positive dangers, unhealthful as it could be, and that
since the memory of the first settlers it has been a rendezvous for
runaways, thieves, and murderers. This swamp is named for a man
that was lost here and wandered around `til he starved. That man I
was talking with said he wouldn't take your job for a thousand
dollars a month--in fact, he said he wouldn't have it for any
money, and you've never missed a day or lost a tree. Proud! Why, I
should think you would just parade around about proper over that!
"And you can always be proud that you are born an Irishman. My
father is Irish, and if you want to see him get up and strut give
him a teeny opening to enlarge on his race. He says that if the
Irish had decent territory they'd lead the world. He says they've
always been handicapped by lack of space and of fertile soil.
He says if Ireland had been as big and fertile as Indiana, why,
England wouldn't ever have had the upper hand. She'd only be an
appendage. Fancy England an appendage! He says Ireland has the
finest orators and the keenest statesmen in Europe today, and when
England wants to fight, with whom does she fill her trenches?
Irishmen, of course! Ireland has the greenest grass and trees, the
finest stones and lakes, and they've jaunting-cars. I don't know
just exactly what they are, but Ireland has all there are, anyway.
They've a lot of great actors, and a few singers, and there never
was a sweeter poet than one of theirs. You should hear my father
recite `Dear Harp of My Country.' He does it this way."
The Angel arose, made an elaborate old-time bow, and holding up the
banjo, recited in clipping feet and meter, with rhythmic swing and
a touch of brogue that was simply irresistible:
"Dear harp of my country" [The Angel ardently clasped the banjo],
"In darkness I found thee" [She held it to the light],
"The cold chain of silence had hung o'er thee long" [She muted the
strings with her rosy palm];
"Then proudly, my own Irish harp, I unbound thee" [She threw up her
head and swept a ringing harmony];
"And gave all thy chords to light, freedom, and song" [She crashed
into the notes of the accompaniment she had been playing for Freckles].
"That's what you want to be thinking of!" she cried. "Not darkness,
and lonesomeness, and sadness, but `light, freedom, and song.'
I can't begin to think offhand of all the big, splendid things an
Irishman has to be proud of; but whatever they are, they are all
yours, and you are a part of them. I just despise that `saddest-
when-I-sing' business. You can sing! Now you go over there
and do it! Ireland has had her statesmen, warriors, actors, and
poets; now you be her voice! You stand right out there before the
cathedral door, and I'm going to come down the aisle playing that
accompaniment, and when I stop in front of you--you sing!"
The Angel's face wore an unusual flush. Her eyes were flashing and
she was palpitating with earnestness.
She parted the bushes and disappeared. Freckles, straight and
tense, stood waiting. Presently, before he saw she was there, she
was coming down the aisle toward him, playing compellingly, and
rifts of light were touching her with golden glory. Freckles stood
as if transfixed.
The cathedral was majestically beautiful, from arched dome of
frescoed gold, green, and blue in never-ending shades and
harmonies, to the mosaic aisle she trod, richly inlaid in choicest
colors, and gigantic pillars that were God's handiwork fashioned
and perfected through ages of sunshine and rain. But the fair young
face and divinely molded form of the Angel were His most perfect
work of all. Never had she appeared so surpassingly beautiful.
She was smiling encouragingly now, and as she came toward him, she
struck the chords full and strong.
The heart of poor Freckles almost burst with dull pain and his
great love for her. In his desire to fulfill her expectations he
forgot everything else, and when she reached his initial chord he
was ready. He literally burst forth:
"Three little leaves of Irish green,
United on one stem,
Love, truth, and valor do they mean,
They form a magic gem."
The Angel's eyes widened curiously and her lips parted. A deep
color swept into her cheeks. She had intended to arouse him.
She had more than succeeded. She was too young to know that in the
effort to rouse a man, women frequently kindle fires that they
neither can quench nor control. Freckles was looking over her head
now and singing that song, as it never had been sung before, for
her alone; and instead of her helping him, as she had intended, he
was carrying her with him on the waves of his voice, away, away
into another world. When he struck into the chorus, wide-eyed and
panting, she was swaying toward him and playing with all her might.
"Oh, do you love? Oh, say you love
You love the shamrock green!"
At the last note, Freckles' voice ceased and he looked at the Angel.
He had given his best and his all. He fell on his knees and
folded his arms across his breast. The Angel, as if magnetized,
walked straight down the aisle to him, and running her fingers into
the crisp masses of his red hair, tilted his head back and laid her
lips on his forehead.
Then she stepped back and faced him. "Good boy!" she said, in a
voice that wavered from the throbbing of her shaken heart.
"Dear boy! I knew you could do it! I knew it was in you!
Freckles, when you go into the world, if you can face a big
audience and sing like that, just once, you will be immortal,
and anything you want will be yours."
"Anything!" gasped Freckles.
"Anything," said the Angel.
Freckles arose, muttered something, and catching up his old bucket,
plunged into the swamp blindly on a pretence of bringing water.
The Angel walked slowly across the study, sat on the rustic bench,
and, through narrowed lids, intently studied the tip of her shoe.
On the trail the Bird Woman wheeled to McLean with a dumbfounded look.
"God!" muttered he.
At last the Bird Woman spoke.
"Do you think the Angel knew she did that?" she asked softly.
"No," said McLean; "I do not. But the poor boy knew it. Heaven help him!"
The Bird Woman stared across the gently waving swale. "I don't see
how I am going to blame her," she said at last. "It's so exactly
what I would have done myself."
"Say the remainder," demanded McLean hoarsely. "Do him justice."
"He was born a gentleman," conceded the Bird Woman. "He took
no advantage. He never even offered to touch her. Whatever that
kiss meant to him, he recognized that it was the loving impulse of a
child under stress of strong emotion. He was fine and manly as any
man ever could have been."
McLean lifted his hat. "Thank you," he said simply, and parted the
bushes for her to enter Freckles' room.
It was her first visit. Before she left she sent for her cameras
and made studies of each side of it and of the cathedral. She was
entranced with the delicate beauty of the place, while her eyes
kept following Freckles as if she could not believe that it could
be his conception and work.
That was a happy day. The Bird Woman had brought a lunch, and they
spread it, with Freckles' dinner, on the study floor and sat,
resting and enjoying themselves. But the Angel put her banjo into
its case, silently gathered her music, and no one mentioned the concert.
The Bird Woman left McLean and the Angel to clear away the lunch,
and with Freckles examined the walls of his room and told him all
she knew about his shrubs and flowers. She analyzed a
cardinal-flower and showed him what he had wanted to know all
summer--why the bees buzzed ineffectually around it while the
humming-birds found in it an ever-ready feast. Some of his
specimens were so rare that she was unfamiliar with them, and
with the flower book between them they knelt, studying the
different varieties. She wandered the length of the cathedral
aisle with him, and it was at her suggestion that he lighted his
altar with a row of flaming foxfire.
As Freckles came to the cabin from his long day at the swamp he saw
Mrs. Chicken sweeping to the south and wondered where she was going.
He stepped into the bright, cosy little kitchen, and as he reached
down the wash-basin he asked Mrs. Duncan a question.
"Mother Duncan, do kisses wash off?"
So warm a wave swept her heart that a half-flush mantled her face.
She straightened her shoulders and glanced at her hands tenderly.
"Lord, na! Freckles," she cried. "At least, the anes ye get from
people ye love dinna. They dinna stay on the outside. They strike
in until they find the center of your heart and make their
stopping-place there, and naething can take them from ye--I doubt
if even death----Na, lad, ye can be reet sure kisses dinna wash off!"
Freckles set the basin down and muttered as he plunged his hot,
tired face into the water, "I needn't be afraid to be washing,
then, for that one struck in."
Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the Bird Woman
"I wish," said Freckles at breakfast one morning, "that I had some
way to be sending a message to the Bird Woman. I've something at
the swamp that I'm believing never happened before, and surely
she'll be wanting it."
"What now, Freckles?" asked Mrs. Duncan.
"Why, the oddest thing you ever heard of," said Freckles; "the
whole insect tribe gone on a spree. I'm supposing it's my doings,
but it all happened by accident, like. You see, on the swale side
of the line, right against me trail, there's one of these scrub
wild crabtrees. Where the grass grows thick around it, is the
finest place you ever conceived of for snakes. Having women about
has set me trying to clean out those fellows a bit, and yesterday
I noticed that tree in passing. It struck me that it would be a
good idea to be taking it out. First I thought I'd take me hatchet
and cut it down, for it ain't thicker than me upper arm. Then I
remembered how it was blooming in the spring and filling all the
air with sweetness. The coloring of the blossoms is beautiful, and
I hated to be killing it. I just cut the grass short all around it.
Then I started at the ground, trimmed up the trunk near the height
of me shoulder, and left the top spreading. That made it look so
truly ornamental that, idle like, I chips off the rough places neat,
and this morning, on me soul, it's a sight! You see, cutting off
the limbs and trimming up the trunk sets the sap running. In this
hot sun it ferments in a few hours. There isn't much room for more
things to crowd on that tree than there are, and to get drunker
isn't noways possible."
"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan. "What kind of things
do ye mean, Freckles?"
"Why, just an army of black ants. Some of them are sucking away
like old topers. Some of them are setting up on their tails and
hind legs, fiddling with their fore-feet and wiping their eyes.
Some are rolling around on the ground, contented. There are
quantities of big blue-bottle flies over the bark and hanging on
the grasses around, too drunk to steer a course flying; so they
just buzz away like flying, and all the time sitting still.
The snake-feeders are too full to feed anything--even more sap to
themselves. There's a lot of hard-backed bugs--beetles, I
guess--colored like the brown, blue, and black of a peacock's tail.
They hang on until the legs of them are so wake they can't stick a
minute longer, and then they break away and fall to the ground.
They just lay there on their backs, fably clawing air. When it
wears off a bit, up they get, and go crawling back for more, and they
so full they bump into each other and roll over. Sometimes they
can't climb the tree until they wait to sober up a little.
There's a lot of big black-and-gold bumblebees, done for entire,
stumbling over the bark and rolling on the ground. They just lay
there on their backs, rocking from side to side, singing to
themselves like fat, happy babies. The wild bees keep up a steady
buzzing with the beating of their wings.
"The butterflies are the worst old topers of them all. They're just
a circus! You never saw the like of the beauties! They come every
color you could be naming, and every shape you could be thinking up.
They drink and drink until, if I'm driving them away, they stagger
as they fly and turn somersaults in the air. If I lave them alone,
they cling to the grasses, shivering happy like; and I'm blest,
Mother Duncan, if the best of them could be unlocking the front
door with a lead pencil, even."
"I never heard of anything sae surprising," said Mrs. Duncan.
"It's a rare sight to watch them, and no one ever made a picture of
a thing like that before, I'm for thinking," said Freckles earnestly.
"Na," said Mrs. Duncan. "Ye can be pretty sure there didna. The
Bird Woman must have word in some way, if ye walk the line and I
walk to town and tell her. If ye think ye can wait until after
supper, I am most sure ye can gang yoursel', for Duncan is coming
home and he'd be glad to watch for ye. If he does na come, and na
ane passes that I can send word with today, I really will gang
early in the morning and tell her mysel'."
Freckles took his lunch and went to the swamp. He walked and
watched eagerly. He could find no trace of anything, yet he felt a
tense nervousness, as if trouble might be brooding. He examined
every section of the wire, and kept watchful eyes on the grasses of
the swale, in an effort to discover if anyone had passed through
them; but he could discover no trace of anything to justify his fears.
He tilted his hat brim to shade his face and looked for his chickens.
They were hanging almost beyond sight in the sky.
"Gee!" he said. "If I only had your sharp eyes and convenient
location now, I wouldn't need be troubling so."
He reached his room and cautiously scanned the entrance before he
stepped in. Then he pushed the bushes apart with his right arm and
entered, his left hand on the butt of his favorite revolver.
Instantly he knew that someone had been there. He stepped to the
center of the room, closely scanning each wall and the floor.
He could find no trace of a clue to confirm his belief, yet so
intimate was he with the spirit of the place that he knew.
How he knew he could not have told, yet he did know that someone
had entered his room, sat on his benches, and walked over his floor.
He was surest around the case. Nothing was disturbed, yet it
seemed to Freckles that he could see where prying fingers had tried
the lock. He stepped behind the case, carefully examining the
ground all around it, and close beside the tree to which it was
nailed he found a deep, fresh footprint in the spongy soil--a long,
narrow print, that was never made by the foot of Wessner. His heart
tugged in his breast as he mentally measured the print, but he did
not linger, for now the feeling arose that he was being watched.
It seemed to him that he could feel the eyes of some intruder at
his back. He knew he was examining things too closely: if anyone
were watching, he did not want him to know that he felt it.
He took the most open way, and carried water for his flowers and
moss as usual; but he put himself into no position in which he was
fully exposed, and his hand was close his revolver constantly.
Growing restive at last under the strain, he plunged boldly into
the swamp and searched minutely all around his room, but he could
not discover the least thing to give him further cause for alarm.
He unlocked his case, took out his wheel, and for the remainder of
the day he rode and watched as he never had before. Several times
he locked the wheel and crossed the swamp on foot, zigzagging to
cover all the space possible. Every rod he traveled he used the
caution that sprang from knowledge of danger and the direction from
which it probably would come. Several times he thought of sending
for McLean, but for his life he could not make up his mind to do it
with nothing more tangible than one footprint to justify him.
He waited until he was sure Duncan would be at home, if he were
coming for the night, before he went to supper. The first thing he
saw as he crossed the swale was the big bays in the yard.
There had been no one passing that day, and Duncan readily agreed
to watch until Freckles rode to town. He told Duncan of the
footprint, and urged him to guard closely. Duncan said he might
rest easy, and filling his pipe and taking a good revolver, the big
man went to the Limberlost.
Freckles made himself clean and neat, and raced to town, but it was
night and the stars were shining before he reached the home of the
Bird Woman. From afar he could see that the house was ablaze
with lights. The lawn and veranda were strung with fancy lanterns and
alive with people. He thought his errand important, so to turn back
never occurred to Freckles. This was all the time or opportunity
he would have. He must see the Bird Woman, and see her at once.
He leaned his wheel inside the fence and walked up the broad
front entrance. As he neared the steps, he saw that the place was
swarming with young people, and the Angel, with an excuse to a
group that surrounded her, came hurrying to him.
"Oh Freckles!" she cried delightedly. "So you could come? We were
so afraid you could not! I'm as glad as I can be!"
"I don't understand," said Freckles. "Were you expecting me?"
"Why of course!" exclaimed the Angel. "Haven't you come to my party?
Didn't you get my invitation? I sent you one."
"By mail?" asked Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel. "I had to help with the preparations, and I
couldn't find time to drive out; but I wrote you a letter, and told
you that the Bird Woman was giving a party for me, and we wanted
you to come, surely. I told them at the office to put it with Mr.
"Then that's likely where it is at present," said Freckles.
"Duncan comes to town only once a week, and at times not that.
He's home tonight for the first in a week. He's watching an
hour for me until I come to the Bird Woman with a bit of work
I thought she'd be caring to hear about bad. Is she where I
can see her?"
The Angel's face clouded.
"What a disappointment!" she cried. "I did so want all my friends
to know you. Can't you stay anyway?"
Freckles glanced from his wading-boots to the patent leathers of
some of the Angel's friends, and smiled whimsically, but there was
no danger of his ever misjudging her again.
"You know I cannot, Angel," he said.
"I am afraid I do," she said ruefully. "It's too bad! But there is
a thing I want for you more than to come to my party, and that is
to hang on and win with your work. I think of you every day, and I
just pray that those thieves are not getting ahead of you.
Oh, Freckles, do watch closely!"
She was so lovely a picture as she stood before him, ardent in his
cause, that Freckles could not take his eyes from her to notice
what her friends were thinking. If she did not mind, why should he?
Anyway, if they really were the Angel's friends, probably they were
better accustomed to her ways than he.
Her face and bared neck and arms were like the wild rose bloom.
Her soft frock of white tulle lifted and stirred around her with the
gentle evening air. The beautiful golden hair, that crept around
her temples and ears as if it loved to cling there, was caught back
and bound with broad blue satin ribbon. There was a sash of blue at
her waist, and knots of it catching up her draperies.
"Must I go after the Bird Woman?" she pleaded.
"Indade, you must," answered Freckles firmly.
The Angel went away, but returned to say that the Bird Woman was
telling a story to those inside and she could not come for a short time.
"You won't come in?" she pleaded.
"I must not," said Freckles. "I am not dressed to be among your
friends, and I might be forgetting meself and stay too long."
"Then," said the Angel, "we mustn't go through the house, because
it would disturb the story; but I want you to come the outside way
to the conservatory and have some of my birthday lunch and some
cake to take to Mrs. Duncan and the babies. Won't that be fun?"
Freckles thought that it would be more than fun, and followed delightedly.
The Angel gave him a big glass, brimming with some icy, sparkling
liquid that struck his palate as it never had been touched before,
because a combination of frosty fruit juices had not been a
frequent beverage with him. The night was warm, and the Angel most
beautiful and kind. A triple delirium of spirit, mind, and body
seized upon him and developed a boldness all unnatural. He slightly
parted the heavy curtains that separated the conservatory from the
company and looked between. He almost stopped breathing. He had
read of things like that, but he never had seen them.
The open space seemed to stretch through half a dozen rooms, all
ablaze with lights, perfumed with flowers, and filled with
elegantly dressed people. There were glimpses of polished floors,
sparkling glass, and fine furnishings. From somewhere, the voice of
his beloved Bird Woman arose and fell.
The Angel crowded beside him and was watching also.
"Doesn't it look pretty?" she whispered.
"Do you suppose Heaven is any finer than that?" asked Freckles.
The Angel began to laugh.
"Do you want to be laughing harder than that?" queried Freckles.
"A laugh is always good," said the Angel. "A little more
avoirdupois won't hurt me. Go ahead."
"Well then," said Freckles, "it's only that I feel all over as if
I belonged there. I could wear fine clothes, and move over those
floors, and hold me own against the best of them."
"But where does my laugh come in?" demanded the Angel, as if she
had been defrauded.
"And you ask me where the laugh comes in, looking me in the face
after that," marveled Freckles.
"I wouldn't be so foolish as to laugh at such a manifest truth as
that," said the Angel. "Anyone who knows you even half as well as
I do, knows that you are never guilty of a discourtesy, and you
move with twice the grace of any man here. Why shouldn't you feel
as if you belonged where people are graceful and courteous?"
"On me soul!" said Freckles, "you are kind to be thinking it.
You are doubly kind to be saying it."
The curtains parted and a woman came toward them. Her silks and
laces trailed across the polished floors. The lights gleamed on her
neck and arms, and flashed from rare jewels. She was smiling
brightly; and until she spoke, Freckles had not realized fully that
it was his loved Bird Woman.
Noticing his bewilderment, she cried: "Why, Freckles! Don't you
know me in my war clothes?"
"I do in the uniform in which you fight the Limberlost," said Freckles.
The Bird Woman laughed. Then he told her why he had come, but she
scarcely could believe him. She could not say exactly when she
would go, but she would make it as soon as possible, for she was
most anxious for the study.
While they talked, the Angel was busy packing a box of sandwiches,
cake, fruit, and flowers. She gave him a last frosty glass, thanked
him repeatedly for bringing news of new material; then Freckles
went into the night. He rode toward the Limberlost with his eyes on
the stars. Presently he removed his hat, hung it to his belt, and
ruffled his hair to the sweep of the night wind. He filled the air
all the way with snatches of oratorios, gospel hymns, and dialect
and coon songs, in a startlingly varied programme. The one thing
Freckles knew that he could do was to sing. The Duncans heard him
coming a mile up the corduroy and could not believe their senses.
Freckles unfastened the box from his belt, and gave Mrs. Duncan and
the children all the eatables it contained, except one big piece of
cake that he carried to the sweet-loving Duncan. He put the flowers
back in the box and set it among his books. He did not say
anything, but they understood it was not to be touched.
"Thae's Freckles' flow'rs," said a tiny Scotsman, "but," he added
cheerfully, "it's oor sweeties!"
Freckles' face slowly flushed as he took Duncan's cake and started
toward the swamp. While Duncan ate, Freckles told him something
about the evening, as well as he could find words to express
himself, and the big man was so amazed he kept forgetting the treat
in his hands.
Then Freckles mounted his wheel and began a spin that terminated
only when the biggest Plymouth Rock in Duncan's coop saluted a new
day, and long lines of light reddened the east. As he rode he sang,
while he sang he worshiped, but the god he tried to glorify was a
dim and faraway mystery. The Angel was warm flesh and blood.
Every time he passed the little bark-covered imprint on the trail
he dismounted, removed his hat, solemnly knelt and laid his lips on
the impression. Because he kept no account himself, only the
laughing-faced old man of the moon knew how often it happened; and
as from the beginning, to the follies of earth that gentleman has
ever been kind.
With the near approach of dawn Freckles tuned his last note.
Wearied almost to falling, he turned from the trail into the path
leading to the cabin for a few hours' rest.
Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures Jack
As Freckles left the trail, from the swale close the south
entrance, four large muscular men arose and swiftly and carefully
entered the swamp by the wagon road. Two of them carried a big saw,
the third, coils of rope and wire, and all of them were heavily armed.
They left one man on guard at the entrance. The other three made
their way through the darkness as best they could, and were soon
at Freckles' room. He had left the swamp on his wheel from the
west trail. They counted on his returning on the wheel and circling
the east line before he came there.
A little below the west entrance to Freckles' room, Black Jack
stepped into the swale, and binding a wire tightly around a scrub
oak, carried it below the waving grasses, stretched it taut across
the trail, and fastened it to a tree in the swamp. Then he
obliterated all signs of his work, and arranged the grass over
the wire until it was so completely covered that only minute
examination would reveal it. They entered Freckles' room with
coarse oaths and jests. In a few moments, his specimen case with
its precious contents was rolled into the swamp, while the saw was
eating into one of the finest trees of the Limberlost.
The first report from the man on watch was that Duncan had driven
to the South camp; the second, that Freckles was coming. The man
watching was sent to see on which side the boy turned into the
path; as they had expected, he took the east. He was a little tired
and his head was rather stupid, for he had not been able to sleep
as he had hoped, but he was very happy. Although he watched until
his eyes ached, he could see no sign of anyone having entered the swamp.
He called a cheery greeting to all his chickens. At Sleepy Snake
Creek he almost fell from his wheel with surprise: the saw-bird
was surrounded by four lanky youngsters clamoring for breakfast.
The father was strutting with all the importance of a drum major.
"No use to expect the Bird Woman today," said Freckles; "but now
wouldn't she be jumping for a chance at that?"
As soon as Freckles was far down the east line, the watch was
posted below the room on the west to report his coming. It was only
a few moments before the signal came. Then the saw stopped, and the
rope was brought out and uncoiled close to a sapling. Wessner and
Black Jack crowded to the very edge of the swamp a little above the
wire, and crouched, waiting.
They heard Freckles before they saw him. He came gliding down the
line swiftly, and as he rode he was singing softly:
"Oh, do you love,
Oh, say you love----"
He got no farther. The sharply driven wheel struck the tense wire
and bounded back. Freckles shot over the handlebar and coasted down
the trail on his chest. As he struck, Black Jack and Wessner were
upon him. Wessner caught off an old felt hat and clapped it over
Freckles' mouth, while Black Jack twisted the boy's arms behind him
and they rushed him into his room. Almost before he realized that
anything had happened, he was trussed to a tree and securely gagged.
Then three of the men resumed work on the tree. The other followed
the path Freckles had worn to Little Chicken's tree, and presently
he reported that the wires were down and two teams with the loading
apparatus coming to take out the timber. All the time the saw was
slowly eating, eating into the big tree.
Wessner went to the trail and removed the wire. He picked up
Freckles' wheel, that did not seem to be injured, and leaned it
against the bushes so that if anyone did pass on the trail he would
not see it doubled in the swamp-grass.
Then he came and stood in front of Freckles and laughed in
devilish hate. To his own amazement, Freckles found himself
looking fear in the face, and marveled that he was not afraid.
Four to one! The tree halfway eaten through, the wagons coming
up the inside road--he, bound and gagged! The men with Black
Jack and Wessner had belonged to McLean's gang when last he
had heard of them, but who those coming with the wagons might
be he could not guess.
If they secured that tree, McLean lost its value, lost his wager,
and lost his faith in him. The words of the Angel hammered in
his ears. "Oh, Freckles, do watch closely!"
The saw worked steadily.
When the tree was down and loaded, what would they do? Pull out,
and leave him there to report them? It was not to be hoped for.
The place always had been lawless. It could mean but one thing.
A mist swept before his eyes, while his head swam. Was it only last
night that he had worshiped the Angel in a delirium of happiness?
And now, what? Wessner, released from a turn at the saw, walked to
the flower bed, and tearing up a handful of rare ferns by the
roots, started toward Freckles. His intention was obvious.
Black Jack stopped him, with an oath.
"You see here, Dutchy," he bawled, "mebby you think you'll wash his
face with that, but you won't. A contract's a contract. We agreed
to take out these trees and leave him for you to dispose of whatever
way you please, provided you shut him up eternally on this deal.
But I'll not see a tied man tormented by a fellow that he can
lick up the ground with, loose, and that's flat. It raises my gorge
to think what he'll get when we're gone, but you needn't think
you're free to begin before. Don't you lay a hand on him while
I'm here! What do you say, boys?"
"I say yes," growled one of McLean's latest deserters. "What's more,
we're a pack of fools to risk the dirty work of silencing him.
You had him face down and you on his back; why the hell didn't
you cover his head and roll him into the bushes until we were gone?
When I went into this, I didn't understand that he was to see all
of us and that there was murder on the ticket. I'm not up to it.
I don't mind lifting trees we came for, but I'm cursed if I want
blood on my hands."
"Well, you ain't going to get it," bellowed Jack. "You fellows
only contracted to help me get out my marked trees. He belong to
Wessner, and it ain't in our deal what happens to him."
"Yes, and if Wessner finishes him safely, we are practically in for
murder as well as stealing the trees; and if he don't, all hell's
to pay. I think you've made a damnable bungle of this thing; that's
what I think!"
"Then keep your thoughts to yourself," cried Jack. "We're doing
this, and it's all planned safe and sure. As for killing that
buck--come to think of it, killing is what he needs. He's away too
good for this world of woe, anyhow. I tell you, it's all safe
enough. His dropping out won't be the only secret the old
Limberlost has never told. It's too dead easy to make it look like
he helped take the timber and then cut. Why, he's played right into
our hands. He was here at the swamp all last night, and back again
in an hour or so. When we get our plan worked out, even old fool
Duncan won't lift a finger to look for his carcass. We couldn't
have him going in better shape."
"You just bet," said Wessner. "I owe him all he'll get, and be
damned to you, but I'll pay!" he snarled at Freckles.
So it was killing, then. They were not only after this one tree,
but many, and with his body it was their plan to kill his honor.
To brand him a thief, with them, before the Angel, the Bird Woman,
the dear Boss, and the Duncans--Freckles, in sick despair, sagged
against the ropes.
Then he gathered his forces and thought swiftly. There was no hope
of McLean's coming. They had chosen a day when they knew he had a
big contract at the South camp. The Boss could not come before
tomorrow by any possibility, and there would be no tomorrow for
the boy. Duncan was on his way to the South camp, and the Bird Woman
had said she would come as soon as she could. After the fatigue of
the party, it was useless to expect her and the Angel today, and
God save them from coming! The Angel's father had said they would
be as safe in the Limberlost as at home. What would he think of this?
The sweat broke on Freckles' forehead. He tugged at the ropes
whenever he felt that he dared, but they were passed around the
tree and his body several times, and knotted on his chest.
He was helpless. There was no hope, no help. And after they had
conspired to make him appear a runaway thief to his loved ones,
what was it that Wessner would do to him?
Whatever it was, Freckles lifted his head and resolved that he
would bear in mind what he had once heard the Bird Woman say.
He would go out bonnily. Never would he let them see, if he
grew afraid. After all, what did it matter what they did to his
body if by some scheme of the devil they could encompass his disgrace?
Then hope suddenly rose high in Freckles' breast. They could not
do that! The Angel would not believe. Neither would McLean. He would
keep up his courage. Kill him they could; dishonor him they could not.
Yet, summon all the fortitude he might, that saw eating into the
tree rasped his nerves worse and worse. With whirling brain he
gazed into the Limberlost, searching for something, he knew not
what, and in blank horror found his eyes focusing on the Angel.
She was quite a distance away, but he could see her white lips and
Last week he had taken her and the Bird Woman across the swamp over
the path he followed in going from his room to the chicken tree.
He had told them the night before, that the butterfly tree was on the
line close to this path. In figuring on their not coming that day,
he failed to reckon with the enthusiasm of the Bird Woman. They must
be there for the study, and the Angel had risked crossing the swamp
in search of him. Or was there something in his room they needed?
The blood surged in his ears as the roar of the Limberlost in the
wrath of a storm.
He looked again, and it had been a dream. She was not there.
Had she been? For his life, Freckles could not tell whether he
really had seen the Angel, or whether his strained senses had
played him the most cruel trick of all. Or was it not the kindest?
Now he could go with the vision of her lovely face fresh with him.
"Thank You for that, oh God!" whispered Freckles." `Twas more than
kind of You and I don't s'pose I ought to be wanting anything else;
but if You can, oh, I wish I could know before this ends, if `twas
me mother"--Freckles could not even whisper the words, for he
hesitated a second and ended--"IF `TWAS ME MOTHER DID IT!"
"Freckles! Freckles! Oh, Freckles!" the voice of the Angel
came calling. Freckles swayed forward and wrenched at the rope
until it cut deeply into his body.
"Hell!" cried Black Jack. "Who is that? Do you know?"
Jack whipped out a revolver and snatched the gag from Freckles' mouth.
"Say quick, or it's up with you right now, and whoever that is with you!"
"It's the girl the Bird Woman takes with her," whispered Freckles
through dry, swollen lips.
"They ain't due here for five days yet," said Wessner. "We got on
to that last week."
"Yes," said Freckles, "but I found a tree covered with butterflies
and things along the east line yesterday that I thought the Bird
Woman would want extra, and I went to town to tell her last night.
She said she'd come soon, but she didn't say when. They must be
here. I take care of the girl while the Bird Woman works. Untie me
quick until she is gone. I'll try to send her back, and then you
can go on with your dirty work."
"He ain't lying," volunteered Wessner. "I saw that tree covered
with butterflies and him watching around it when we were spying on
"No, he leaves lying to your sort," snapped Black Jack, as he undid
the rope and pitched it across the room. "Remember that you're
covered every move you make, my buck," he cautioned.
"Freckles! Freckles!" came the Angel's impatient voice, closer and closer.
"I must be answering," said Freckles, and Jack nodded. "Right here!"
he called, and to the men: "You go on with your work, and
remember one thing yourselves. The work of the Bird Woman is known
all over the world. This girl's father is a rich man, and she is
all he has. If you offer hurt of any kind to either of them, this
world has no place far enough away or dark enough for you to be
hiding in. Hell will be easy to what any man will get if he touches
either of them!"
"Freckles, where are you?" demanded the Angel.
Soulsick with fear for her, Freckles went toward her and parted the
bushes that she might enter. She came through without apparently
giving him a glance, and the first words she said were: "Why have
the gang come so soon? I didn't know you expected them for three
weeks yet. Or is this some especial tree that Mr. McLean needs to
fill an order right now?"
Freckles hesitated. Would a man dare lie to save himself? No.
But to save the Angel--surely that was different. He opened his lips,
but the Angel was capable of saving herself. She walked among them,
exactly as if she had been reared in a lumber camp, and never
waited for an answer.
"Why, your specimen case!" she cried. "Look! Haven't you noticed
that it's tipped over? Set it straight, quickly!"
A couple of the men stepped out and carefully righted the case.
"There! That's better," she said. "Freckles, I'm surprised at your
being so careless. It would be a shame to break those lovely
butterflies for one old tree! Is that a valuable tree? Why didn't
you tell us last night you were going to take out a tree this morning?
Oh, say, did you put your case there to protect that tree from
that stealing old Black Jack and his gang? I bet you did!
Well, if that wasn't bright! What kind of a tree is it?"
"It's a white oak," said Freckles.
"Like those they make dining-tables and sideboards from?"
"My! How interesting!" she cried. "I don't know a thing about
timber, but my father wants me to learn just everything I can. I am
going to ask him to let me come here and watch you until I know
enough to boss a gang myself. Do you like to cut trees, gentlemen?"
she asked with angelic sweetness of the men.
Some of them appeared foolish and some grim, but one managed to say
Then the Angel's eyes turned full on Black Jack, and she gave the
most natural little start of astonishment.
"Oh! I almost thought that you were a ghost!" she cried. "But I see
now that you are really and truly. Were you ever in Colorado?"
"No," said Jack.
"I see you aren't the same man," said the Angel. "You know, we
were in Colorado last year, and there was a cowboy who was the
handsomest man anywhere around. He'd come riding into town every
night, and all we girls just adored him! Oh, but he was a beauty!
I thought at first glance you were really he, but I see now he
wasn't nearly so tall nor so broad as you, and only half as handsome."
The men began to laugh while Jack flushed crimson. The Angel joined
in the laugh.
"Well, I'll leave it to you! Isn't he handsome?" she challenged.
"As for that cowboy's face, it couldn't be compared with yours.
The only trouble with you is that your clothes are spoiling you.
It's the dress those cowboys wear that makes half their attraction.
If you were properly clothed, you could break the heart of the
prettiest girl in the country."
With one accord the other men looked at Black Jack, and for the
first time realized that he was a superb specimen of manhood, for
he stood six feet tall, was broad, well-rounded, and had dark, even
skin, big black eyes, and full red lips.
"I'll tell you what!" exclaimed the Angel. "I'd just love to see
you on horseback. Nothing sets a handsome man off so splendidly.
Do you ride?"
"Yes," said Jack, and his eyes were burning on the Angel as if he
would fathom the depths of her soul.
"Well," said the Angel winsomely, "I know what I just wish you'd do.
I wish you would let your hair grow a little longer. Then wear
a blue flannel shirt a little open at the throat, a red tie, and a
broad-brimmed felt hat, and ride past my house of evenings.
I'm always at home then, and almost always on the veranda, and, oh!
but I would like to see you! Will you do that for me?" It is impossible
to describe the art with which the Angel asked the question. She was
looking straight into Jack's face, coarse and hardened with sin and
careless living, which was now taking on a wholly different expression.
The evil lines of it were softening and fading under her clear gaze.
A dull red flamed into his bronze cheeks, while his eyes were
growing brightly tender.
"Yes," he said, and the glance he gave the men was of such a nature
that no one saw fit even to change countenance.
"Oh, goody!" she cried, tilting on her toes. "I'll ask all the
girls to come see, but they needn't stick in! We can get along
without them, can't we?"
Jack leaned toward her. He was the charmed fluttering bird, while
the Angel was the snake.
"Well, I rather guess!" he cried.
The Angel drew a deep breath and surveyed him rapturously.
"My, but you're tall!" she commented. "Do you suppose I ever will
grow to reach your shoulders?"
She stood on tiptoe and measured the distance with her eyes. Then she
developed timid confusion, while her glance sought the ground.
"I wish I could do something," she half whispered.
Jack seemed to increase an inch in height.
"What?" he asked hoarsely.
"Lariat Bill used always to have a bunch of red flowers in his
shirt pocket. The red lit up his dark eyes and olive cheeks and
made him splendid. May I put some red flowers on you?"
Freckles stared as he wheezed for breath. He wished the earth would
open and swallow him. Was he dead or alive? Since his Angel had
seen Black Jack she never had glanced his way. Was she completely
bewitched? Would she throw herself at the man's feet before them all?
Couldn't she give him even one thought? Hadn't she seen that
he was gagged and bound? Did she truly think that these were
McLean's men? Why, she could not! It was only a few days ago that
she had been close enough to this man and angry enough with him to
peel the hat from his head with a shot! Suddenly a thing she had
said jestingly to him one day came back with startling force:
"You must take Angels on trust." Of course you must! She was
his Angel. She must have seen! His life, and what was far more,
her own, was in her hands. There was nothing he could do but
trust her. Surely she was working out some plan.
The Angel knelt beside his flower bed and recklessly tore up by the
roots a big bunch of foxfire.
"These stems are so tough and sticky," she said. "I can't
break them. Loan me your knife," she ordered Freckles.
As she reached for the knife, her back was for one second toward
the men. She looked into his eyes and deliberately winked.
She severed the stems, tossed the knife to Freckles, and walking to
Jack, laid the flowers over his heart.
Freckles broke into a sweat of agony. He had said she would be safe
in a herd of howling savages. Would she? If Black Jack even made a
motion toward touching her, Freckles knew that from somewhere he
would muster the strength to kill him. He mentally measured the
distance to where his club lay and set his muscles for a spring.
But no--by the splendor of God! The big fellow was baring his head
with a hand that was unsteady. The Angel pulled one of the long
silver pins from her hat and fastened her flowers securely.
Freckles was quaking. What was to come next? What was she planning,
and oh! did she understand the danger of her presence among those
men; the real necessity for action?
As the Angel stepped from Jack, she turned her head to one side and
peered at him, quite as Freckles had seen the little yellow fellow
do on the line a hundred times, and said: "Well, that does the trick!
Isn't that fine? See how it sets him off, boys? Don't you forget
the tie is to be red, and the first ride soon. I can't wait
very long. Now I must go. The Bird Woman will be ready to start,
and she will come here hunting me next, for she is busy today.
What did I come here for anyway?"
She glanced inquiringly around, and several of the men laughed.
Oh, the delight of it! She had forgotten her errand for him!
Jack had a second increase in height. The Angel glanced helplessly
as if seeking a clue. Then her eyes fell, as if by accident, on
Freckles, and she cried, "Oh, I know now! It was those magazines
the Bird Woman promised you. I came to tell you that we put them
under the box where we hide things, at the entrance to the swamp
as we came in. I knew I would need my hands crossing the swamp,
so I hid them there. You'll find them at the same old place."
Then Freckles spoke.
"It's mighty risky for you to be crossing the swamp alone," he said.
"I'm surprised that the Bird Woman would be letting you try it.
I know it's a little farther, but it's begging you I am to be
going back by the trail. That's bad enough, but it's far safer than
The Angel laughed merrily.
"Oh stop your nonsense!" she cried. "I'm not afraid! Not in
the least! The Bird Woman didn't want me to try following a path
that I'd been over only once, but I was sure I could do it, and I'm
rather proud of the performance. Now, don't go babying! You know
I'm not afraid!"
"No," said Freckles gently, "I know you're not; but that has
nothing to do with the fact that your friends are afraid for you.
On the trail you can see your way a bit ahead, and you've all the
world a better chance if you meet a snake."
Then Freckles had an inspiration. He turned to Jack imploringly.
"You tell her!" he pleaded. "Tell her to go by the trail. She will
The implication of this statement was so gratifying to Black Jack
that he seemed again to expand and take on increase before their
"You bet!" exclaimed Jack. And to the Angel: "You better take
Freckles' word for it, miss. He knows the old swamp better than any
of us, except me, and if he says `go by the trail,' you'd best do it."
The Angel hesitated. She wanted to recross the swamp and try to
reach the horse. She knew Freckles would brave any danger to save
her crossing the swamp alone, but she really was not afraid, while
the trail added over a mile to the walk. She knew the path.
She intended to run for dear life the instant she felt herself from
their sight, and tucked in the folds of her blouse was a fine
little 32-caliber revolver that her father had presented her for
her share in what he was pleased to call her military exploit.
One last glance at Freckles showed her the agony in his eyes, and
immediately she imagined he had some other reason. She would follow
"All right," she said, giving Jack a thrilling glance. "If you say
so, I'll return by the trail to please you. Good-bye, everybody."
She lifted the bushes and started toward the entrance.
"You damned fool! Stop her!" growled Wessner. "Keep her till we're
loaded, anyhow. You're playing hell! Can't you see that when this
thing is found out, there she'll be to ruin all of us. If you let
her go, every man of us has got to cut, and some of us will be
Jack sprang forward. Freckles' heart muffled in his throat.
The Angel seemed to divine Jack's coming. She was humming a
little song. She deliberately stopped and began pulling the heads
of the curious grasses that grew all around her. When she straightened,
she took a step backward and called: "Ho! Freckles, the Bird Woman
wants that natural history pamphlet returned. It belongs to a set
she is going to have bound. That's one of the reasons we put it
under the box. You be sure to get them as you go home tonight, for
fear it rains or becomes damp with the heavy dews."
"All right," said Freckles, but it was in a voice that he never had
Then the Angel turned and sent a parting glance at Jack. She was
overpoweringly human and bewitchingly lovely.
"You won't forget that ride and the red tie," she half asserted,
Jack succumbed. Freckles was his captive, but he was the Angel's,
soul and body. His face wore the holiest look it ever had known as
he softly re-echoed Freckles' "All right." With her head held well
up, the Angel walked slowly away, and Jack turned to the men.
"Drop your damned staring and saw wood," he shouted. "Don't you
know anything at all about how to treat a lady?" It might have been
a question which of the cronies that crouched over green wood fires
in the cabins of Wildcat Hollow, eternally sucking a corncob pipe
and stirring the endless kettles of stewing coon and opossum, had
taught him to do even as well as he had by the Angel.
The men muttered and threatened among themselves, but they began
working desperately. Someone suggested that a man be sent to follow
the Angel and to watch her and the Bird Woman leave the swamp.
Freckles' heart sank within him, but Jack was in a delirium and
past all caution.
"Yes," he sneered. "Mebby all of you had better give over on the
saw and run after the girl. I guess not! Seems to me I got the
favors. I didn't see no bouquets on the rest of you! If anybody
follows her, I do, and I'm needed here among such a pack of idiots.
There's no danger in that baby face. She wouldn't give me away!
You double and work like forty, while me and Wessner will take the
axes and begin to cut in on the other side."
"What about the noise?" asked Wessner.
"No difference about the noise," answered Jack. "She took us to be
from McLean's gang, slick as grease. Make the chips fly!"
So all of them attacked the big tree.
Freckles sat on one of his benches and waited. In their haste to
fell the tree and load it, so that the teamsters could start, and
leave them free to attack another, they had forgotten to rebind him.
The Angel was on the trail and safely started. The cold
perspiration made Freckles' temples clammy and ran in little
streams down his chest. It would take her more time to follow the
trail, but her safety was Freckles' sole thought in urging her to
go that way. He tried to figure on how long it would require to
walk to the carriage. He wondered if the Bird Woman had unhitched.
He followed the Angel every step of the way. He figured on when she
would cross the path of the clearing, pass the deep pool where his
"find-out" frog lived, cross Sleepy Snake Creek, and reach the carriage.
He wondered what she would say to the Bird Woman, and how long it
would take them to pack and start. He knew now that they would
understand, and the Angel would try to get the Boss there in time
to save his wager. She could never do it, for the saw was over half
through, and Jack and Wessner cutting into the opposite side of
the tree. It appeared as if they could fell at least that tree,
before McLean could come, and if they did he lost his wager.
When it was down, would they rebind him and leave him for Wessner
to wreak his insane vengeance on, or would they take him along to
the next tree and dispose of him when they had stolen all the
timber they could? Jack had said that he should not be touched
until he left. Surely he would not run all that risk for one tree,
when he had many others of far greater value marked. Freckles felt
that he had some hope to cling to now, but he found himself praying
that the Angel would hurry.
Once Jack came to Freckles and asked if he had any water. Freckles
arose and showed him where he kept his drinking-water. Jack drank
in great gulps, and as he passed back the bucket, he said: "When a
man's got a chance of catching a fine girl like that, he ought not
be mixed up in any dirty business. I wish to God I was out of this!"
Freckles answered heartily: "I wish I was, too!"
Jack stared at him a minute and then broke into a roar of rough laughter.
"Blest if I blame you," he said. "But you had your chance!
We offered you a fair thing and you gave Wessner his answer.
I ain't envying you when he gives you his."
"You're six to one," answered Freckles. "It will be easy enough for
you to be killing the body of me, but, curse you all, you can't
blacken me soul!"
"Well, I'd give anything you could name if I had your honesty,"
When the mighty tree fell, the Limberlost shivered and screamed
with the echo. Freckles groaned in despair, but the gang took heart.
That was so much accomplished. They knew where to dispose of it
safely, with no questions asked. Before the day was over, they
could remove three others, all suitable for veneer and worth far
more than this. Then they would leave Freckles to Wessner and
scatter for safety, with more money than they had ever hoped for in
Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse of Black Jack
Falls upon Her
On the line, the Angel gave one backward glance at Black Jack, to
see that he had returned to his work. Then she gathered her skirts
above her knees and leaped forward on the run. In the first three
yards she passed Freckles' wheel. Instantly she imagined that was
why he had insisted on her coming by the trail. She seized it and
sprang on. The saddle was too high, but she was an expert rider and
could catch the pedals as they came up. She stopped at Duncan's
cabin long enough to remedy this, telling Mrs. Duncan while working
what was happening, and for her to follow the east trail until she
found the Bird Woman, and told her that she had gone after McLean
and for her to leave the swamp as quickly as possible.
Even with her fear for Freckles to spur her, Sarah Duncan blanched
and began shivering at the idea of facing the Limberlost. The Angel
looked her in the eyes.
"No matter how afraid you are, you have to go," she said. "If you
don't the Bird Woman will go to Freckles' room, hunting me, and
they will have trouble with her. If she isn't told to leave at
once, they may follow me, and, finding I'm gone, do some terrible
thing to Freckles. I can't go--that's flat--for if they caught me,
then there'd be no one to go for help. You don't suppose they are
going to take out the trees they're after and then leave Freckles
to run and tell? They are going to murder the boy; that's what they
are going to do. You run, and run for life! For Freckles' life!
You can ride back with the Bird Woman."
The Angel saw Mrs. Duncan started; then began her race.
Those awful miles of corduroy! Would they never end? She did not
dare use the wheel too roughly, for if it broke she never could
arrive on time afoot. Where her way was impassable for the wheel,
she jumped off, and pushing it beside her or carrying it, she ran
as fast as she could. The day was fearfully warm. The sun poured
with the fierce baking heat of August. The bushes claimed her hat,
and she did not stop for it.
Where it was at all possible, the Angel mounted and pounded over
the corduroy again. She was panting for breath and almost worn out
when she reached the level pike. She had no idea how long she had
been--and only two miles covered. She leaned over the bars, almost
standing on the pedals, racing with all the strength in her body.
The blood surged in her ears while her head swam, but she kept a
straight course, and rode and rode. It seemed to her that she was
standing still, while the trees and houses were racing past her.
Once a farmer's big dog rushed angrily into the road and she
swerved until she almost fell, but she regained her balance, and
setting her muscles, pedaled as fast as she could. At last she
lifted her head. Surely it could not be over a mile more. She had
covered two of corduroy and at least three of gravel, and it was
only six in all.
She was reeling in the saddle, but she gripped the bars with new
energy, and raced desperately. The sun beat on her bare head and
hands. Just when she was choking with dust, and almost prostrate
with heat and exhaustion--crash, she ran into a broken bottle.
Snap! went the tire; the wheel swerved and pitched over. The Angel
rolled into the thick yellow dust of the road and lay quietly.
From afar, Duncan began to notice a strange, dust-covered object in the
road, as he headed toward town with the first load of the day's felling.
He chirruped to the bays and hurried them all he could. As he
neared the Angel, he saw it was a woman and a broken wheel. He was
beside her in an instant. He carried her to a shaded fence-corner,
stretched her on the grass, and wiped the dust from the lovely face
all dirt-streaked, crimson, and bearing a startling whiteness
around the mouth and nose.
Wheels were common enough. Many of the farmers' daughters owned and
rode them, but he knew these same farmers' daughters; this face was
a stranger's. He glanced at the Angel's tumbled clothing, the
silkiness of her hair, with its pale satin ribbon, and noticed that
she had lost her hat. Her lips tightened in an ominous quiver.
He left her and picked up the wheel: as he had surmised, he knew it.
This, then, was Freckles' Swamp Angel. There was trouble in the
Limberlost, and she had broken down racing to McLean. Duncan turned
the bays into a fence-corner, tied one of them, unharnessed the
other, fastened up the trace chains, and hurried to the nearest
farmhouse to send help to the Angel. He found a woman, who took a
bottle of camphor, a jug of water, and some towels, and started on
Then Duncan put the bay to speed and raced to camp.
The Angel, left alone, lay still for a second, then she shivered
and opened her eyes. She saw that she was on the grass and the
broken wheel beside her. Instantly she realized that someone had
carried her there and gone after help. She sat up and looked
around. She noticed the load of logs and the one horse. Someone was
riding after help for her!
"Oh, poor Freckles!" she wailed. "They may be killing him by now.
Oh, how much time have I wasted?"
She hurried to the other bay, her fingers flying as she set him free.
Snatching up a big blacksnake whip that lay on the ground, she
caught the hames, stretched along the horse's neck, and, for
the first time, the fine, big fellow felt on his back the quality
of the lash that Duncan was accustomed to crack over him. He was
frightened, and ran at top speed.
The Angel passed a wildly waving, screaming woman on the road, and
a little later a man riding as if he, too, were in great haste.
The man called to her, but she only lay lower and used the whip.
Soon the feet of the man's horse sounded farther and farther away.
At the South camp they were loading a second wagon, when the Angel
appeared riding one of Duncan's bays, lathered and dripping, and
cried: "Everybody go to Freckles! There are thieves stealing trees,
and they had him bound. They're going to kill him!"
She wheeled the horse toward the Limberlost. The alarm sounded
through camp. The gang were not unprepared. McLean sprang to
Nellie's back and raced after the Angel. As they passed Duncan, he
wheeled and followed. Soon the pike was an irregular procession of
barebacked riders, wildly driving flying horses toward the swamp.
The Boss rode neck-and-neck with the Angel. He repeatedly commanded
her to stop and fall out of line, until he remembered that he would
need her to lead him to Freckles. Then he gave up and rode beside
her, for she was sending the bay at as sharp a pace as the other
horses could keep and hold out. He could see that she was not
hearing him. He glanced back and saw that Duncan was close.
There was something terrifying in the appearance of the big man, and
the manner in which he sat his beast and rode. It would be a sad day
for the man on whom Duncan's wrath broke. There were four others
close behind him, and the pike filling with the remainder of the
gang; so McLean took heart and raced beside the Angel. Over and
over he asked her where the trouble was, but she only gripped the
hames, leaned along the bay's neck, and slashed away with the
blacksnake. The steaming horse, with crimson nostrils and heaving
sides, stretched out and ran for home with all the speed there was
When they passed the cabin, the Bird Woman's carriage was there and
Mrs. Duncan in the door wringing her hands, but the Bird Woman was
nowhere to be seen. The Angel sent the bay along the path and
turned into the west trail, while the men bunched and followed her.
When she reached the entrance to Freckles' room, there were four
men with her, and two more very close behind. She slid from the
horse, and snatching the little revolver from her pocket, darted
toward the bushes. McLean caught them back, and with drawn weapon,
pressed beside her. There they stopped in astonishment.
The Bird Woman blocked the entrance. Over a small limb lay
her revolver. It was trained at short range on Black Jack and
Wessner, who stood with their hands above their heads.
Freckles, with the blood trickling down his face, from an ugly cut
in his temple, was gagged and bound to the tree again; the
remainder of the men were gone. Black Jack was raving as a maniac,
and when they looked closer it was only the left arm that he raised.
His right, with the hand shattered, hung helpless at his side,
while his revolver lay at Freckles' feet. Wessner's weapon
was in his belt, and beside him Freckles' club.
Freckles' face was white, with colorless lips, but in his eyes was
the strength of undying courage. McLean pushed past the Bird
Woman crying. "Hold steady on them only one minute more!"
He snatched the revolver from Wessner's belt, and stooped for Jack's.
At that instant the Angel rushed past. She tore the gag from
Freckles, and seizing the rope knotted on his chest, she tugged at
it desperately. Under her fingers it gave way, and she hurled it
to McLean. The men were crowding in, and Duncan seized Wessner.
As the Angel saw Freckles stand out, free, she reached her arms to him
and pitched forward. A fearful oath burst from the lips of Black Jack.
To have saved his life, Freckles could not have avoided the glance
of triumph he gave Jack, when folding the Angel in his arms and
stretching her on the mosses.
The Bird Woman cried out sharply for water as she ran to them.
Someone sprang to bring that, and another to break open the case
for brandy. As McLean arose from binding Wessner, there was a cry
that Jack was escaping.
He was already far in the swamp, running for its densest part in
leaping bounds. Every man who could be spared plunged after him.
Other members of the gang arriving, were sent to follow the tracks
of the wagons. The teamsters had driven from the west entrance, and
crossing the swale, had taken the same route the Bird Woman and the
Angel had before them. There had been ample time for the drivers to
reach the road; after that they could take any one of four directions.
Traffic was heavy, and lumber wagons were passing almost constantly,
so the men turned back and joined the more exciting hunt for a man.
The remainder of the gang joined them, also farmers of the region
and travelers attracted by the disturbance.
Watchers were set along the trail at short intervals. They patrolled
the line and roads through the swamp that night, with lighted torches,
and the next day McLean headed as thorough a search as he felt could
be made of one side, while Duncan covered the other; but Black Jack
could not be found. Spies were set around his home, in Wildcat
Hollow, to ascertain if he reached there or aid was being sent in
any direction to him; but it was soon clear that his relatives were
ignorant of his hiding-place, and were searching for him.
Great is the elasticity of youth. A hot bath and a sound night's
sleep renewed Freckles' strength, and it needed but little more to
work the same result with the Angel. Freckles was on the trail
early the next morning. Besides a crowd of people anxious to witness
Jack's capture, he found four stalwart guards, one at each turn.
In his heart he was compelled to admit that he was glad to have
them there. Close noon, McLean placed his men in charge of Duncan,
and taking Freckles, drove to town to see how the Angel fared.
McLean visited a greenhouse and bought an armload of its finest
products; but Freckles would have none of them. He would carry
his message in a glowing mass of the Limberlost's first goldenrod.
The Bird Woman received them, and in answer to their eager
inquiries, said that the Angel was in no way seriously injured,
only so bruised and shaken that their doctor had ordered her to lie
quietly for the day. Though she was sore and stiff, they were
having work to keep her in bed. Her callers sent up their flowers
with their grateful regards, and the Angel promptly returned word
that she wanted to see them.
She reached both hands to McLean. "What if one old tree is gone?
You don't care, sir? You feel that Freckles has kept his trust as
nobody ever did before, don't you? You won't forget all those long
first days of fright that you told us of, the fearful cold of
winter, the rain, heat, and lonesomeness, and the brave days, and
lately, nights, too, and let him feel that his trust is broken?
Oh, Mr. McLean," she begged, "say something to him! Do something to
make him feel that it isn't for nothing he has watched and suffered
it out with that old Limberlost. Make him see how great and fine it
is, and how far, far better he has done than you or any of us expected!
What's one old tree, anyway?" she cried passionately.
"I was thinking before you came. Those other men were rank
big cowards. They were scared for their lives. If they were the
drivers, I wager you gloves against gloves they never took those
logs out to the pike. My coming upset them. Before you feel bad any
more, you go look and see if they didn't lose courage the minute
they left Wessner and Black Jack, dump that timber and run. I don't
believe they ever had the grit to drive out with it in daylight.
Go see if they didn't figure on leaving the way we did the other
morning, and you'll find the logs before you reach the road.
They never risked taking them into the open, when they got away
and had time to think. Of course they didn't!
"And, then, another thing. You haven't lost your wager! It never
will be claimed, because you made it with a stout, dark, red-faced
man who drives a bay and a gray. He was right back of you, Mr.
McLean, when I came yesterday. He went deathly white and shook on
his feet when he saw those men probably would be caught. Some one
of them was something to him, and you can just spot him for one of
the men at the bottom of your troubles, and urging those younger
fellows to steal from you. I suppose he'd promised to divide.
You settle with him, and that business will stop."
She turned to Freckles. "And you be the happiest man alive, because
you have kept your trust. Go look where I tell you and you'll find
the logs. I can see just about where they are. When they go up that
steep little hill, into the next woods after the cornfield, why,
they could unloose the chains and the logs would roll from the
wagons themselves. Now, you go look; and Mr. McLean, you do feel
that Freckles has been brave and faithful? You won't love him any
the less even if you don't find the logs"
The Angel's nerve gave way and she began to cry. Freckles could not
endure it. He almost ran from the room, with the tears in his eyes;
but McLean took the Angel from the Bird Woman's arms, and kissed
her brave little face, stroked her hair, and petted her into
quietness before he left.
As they drove to the swamp, McLean so earnestly seconded all that
the Angel had said that he soon had the boy feeling much better.
"Freckles, your Angel has a spice of the devil in her, but
she's superb! You needn't spend any time questioning or bewailing
anything she does. Just worship blindly, my boy. By heaven! she's
sense, courage, and beauty for half a dozen girls," said McLean.
"It's altogether right you are, sir," affirmed Freckles heartily.
Presently he added, "There's no question but the series is over now."
"Don't think it!" answered McLean. "The Bird Woman is working for
success, and success along any line is not won by being scared out.
She will be back on the usual day, and ten to one, the Angel will
be with her. They are made of pretty stern stuff, and they don't
scare worth a cent. Before I left, I told the Bird Woman it would
be safe; and it will. You may do your usual walking, but those four
guards are there to remain. They are under your orders absolutely.
They are prohibited from firing on any bird or molesting anything
that you want to protect, but there they remain, and this time it
is useless for you to say one word. I have listened to your pride
too long. You are too precious to me, and that voice of yours is
too precious to the world to run any more risks."
"I am sorry to have anything spoil the series," said Freckles, "and
I'd love them to be coming, the Angel especial, but it can't be.
You'll have to tell them so. You see, Jack would have been ready to
stake his life she meant what she said and did to him. When the
teams pulled out, Wessner seized me; then he and Jack went to
quarreling over whether they should finish me then or take me to
the next tree they were for felling. Between them they were pulling
me around and hurting me bad. Wessner wanted to get at me right
then, and Jack said he shouldn't be touching me till the last tree
was out and all the rest of them gone. I'm belaying Jack really
hated to see me done for in the beginning; and I think, too, he was
afraid if Wessner finished me then he'd lose his nerve and cut, and
they couldn't be managing the felling without him; anyway, they
were hauling me round like I was already past all feeling, and they
tied me up again. To keep me courage up, I twits Wessner about
having to tie me and needing another man to help handle me. I told
him what I'd do to him if I was free, and he grabs up me own club
and lays open me head with it. When the blood came streaming, it
set Jack raving, and he cursed and damned Wessner for a coward and
a softy. Then Wessner turned on Jack and gives it to him for
letting the Angel make a fool of him. Tells him she was just
playing with him, and beyond all manner of doubt she'd gone after
you, and there was nothing to do on account of his foolishness but
finish me, get out, and let the rest of the timber go, for likely
you was on the way right then. That drove Jack plum crazy.
"I don't think he was for having a doubt of the Angel before, but
then he just raved. He grabbed out his gun and turned on Wessner.
Spang! It went out of his fist, and the order comes: `Hands up!'
Wessner reached for kingdom come like he was expecting to grab hold
and pull himself up. Jack puts up what he has left. Then he leans
over to me and tells me what he'll do to me if he ever gets out of
there alive. Then, just like a snake hissing, he spits out what
he'll do to her for playing him. He did get away, and with his
strength, that wound in his hand won't be bothering him long.
He'll do to me just what he said, and when he hears it really was
she that went after you, why, he'll keep his oath about her.
"He's lived in the swamp all his life, sir, and everybody says it's
always been the home of cutthroats, outlaws, and runaways. He knows
its most secret places as none of the others. He's alive. He's in
there now, sir. Some way he'll keep alive. If you'd seen his face,
all scarlet with passion, twisted with pain, and black with hate,
and heard him swearing that oath, you'd know it was a sure thing.
I ain't done with him yet, and I've brought this awful thing on her."
"And I haven't begun with him yet," said McLean, setting his teeth.
"I've been away too slow and too easy, believing there'd be no
greater harm than the loss of a tree. I've sent for a couple of
first-class detectives. We will put them on his track, and rout him
out and rid the country of him. I don't propose for him to stop
either our work or our pleasure. As for his being in the swamp now,
I don't believe it. He'd find a way out last night, in spite of us.
Don't you worry! I am at the helm now, and I'll see to that
gentleman in my own way."
"I wish to my soul you had seen and heard him!" said Freckles, unconvinced.
They entered the swamp, taking the route followed by the Bird Woman
and the Angel. They really did find the logs, almost where the
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