Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Part 4 out of 5
Angel had predicted they would be. McLean went to the South camp
and had an interview with Crowen that completely convinced him that
the Angel was correct there also. But he had no proof, so all he
could do was to discharge the man, although his guilt was so
apparent that he offered to withdraw the wager.
Then McLean sent for a pack of bloodhounds and put them on the
trail of Black Jack. They clung to it, on and on, into the depths
of the swamp, leading their followers through what had been
considered impassable and impenetrable ways, and finally, around
near the west entrance and into the swale. Here the dogs bellowed,
raved, and fell over each other in their excitement. They raced
back and forth from swamp to swale, but follow the scent farther
they would not, even though cruelly driven. At last their owner
attributed their actions to snakes, and as they were very valuable
dogs, abandoned the effort to urge them on. So that all they really
established was the fact that Black Jack had eluded their vigilance
and crossed the trail some time in the night. He had escaped to the
swale; from there he probably crossed the corduroy, and reaching
the lower end of the swamp, had found friends. It was a great
relief to feel that he was not in the swamp, and it raised the
spirits of every man on the line, though many of them expressed
regrets that he who was undoubtedly most to blame should escape,
while Wessner, who in the beginning was only his tool, should be
left to punishment.
But for Freckles, with Jack's fearful oath ringing in his ears,
there was neither rest nor peace. He was almost ill when the day
for the next study of the series arrived and he saw the Bird Woman
and the Angel coming down the corduroy. The guards of the east line
he left at their customary places, but those of the west he brought
over and placed, one near Little Chicken's tree, and the other at
the carriage. He was firm about the Angel's remaining in the
carriage, that he did not offer to have unhitched. He went with the
Bird Woman to secure the picture, which was the easiest matter it
had been at any time yet, for the simple reason that the placing of
the guards and the unusual movement around the swamp had made Mr.
and Mrs. Chicken timid, and they had not carried Little Chicken the
customary amount of food. Freckles, in the anxiety of the past few
days, had neglected him, and he had been so hungry, much of the
time, that when the Bird Woman held up a sweet-bread, although he
had started toward the recesses of the log at her coming, he
stopped; with slightly opened beak, he waited anxiously for the
treat, and gave a study of great value, showing every point of his
head, also his wing and tail development.
When the Bird Woman proposed to look for other subjects close about
the line, Freckles went so far as to tell her that Jack had made
fearful threats against the Angel. He implored her to take the
Angel home and keep her under unceasing guard until Jack was
located. He wanted to tell her all about it, but he knew how dear
the Angel was to her, and he dreaded to burden her with his fears
when they might prove groundless. He allowed her to go, but
afterward blamed himself severely for having done so.
Wherein Freckles Nurses a Heartache and Black Jack Drops Out
"McLean," said Mrs. Duncan, as the Boss paused to greet her in
passing the cabin, "do you know that Freckles hasna been in bed the
past five nights and all he's eaten in that many days ye could pack
into a pint cup?"
"Why, what does the boy mean?" demanded McLean. "There's no
necessity for him being on guard, with the watch I've set on
the line. I had no idea he was staying down there."
"He's no there," said Mrs. Duncan. "He goes somewhere else.
He leaves on his wheel juist after we're abed and rides in close
cock-crow or a little earlier, and he's looking like death and
nothing short of it."
"But where does he go?" asked McLean in astonishment.
"I'm no given to bearing tales out of school," said Sarah Duncan,
"but in this case I'd tell ye if I could. What the trouble is I
dinna ken. If it is no' stopped, he's in for dreadful sickness, and
I thought ye could find out and help him. He's in sair trouble;
that's all I know."
McLean sat brooding as he stroked Nellie's neck.
At last he said: "I suspect I understand. At any rate, I think I
can find out. Thank you for telling me."
"Ye'll no need telling, once ye clap your eyes on him," prophesied
Mrs. Duncan. "His face is all a glist'ny yellow, and he's peaked as
a starving caged bird."
McLean rode to the Limberlost, and stopping in the shade, sat
waiting for Freckles, whose hour for passing the foot of the lease
Along the north line came Freckles, fairly staggering. When he
turned east and reached Sleepy Snake Creek, sliding through the
swale as the long black snake for which it was named, he sat on the
bridge and closed his burning eyes, but they would not remain shut.
As if pulled by wires, the heavy lids flew open, while the outraged
nerves and muscles of his body danced, twitched, and tingled.
He bent forward and idly watched the limpid little stream flowing
beneath his feet. Stretching into the swale, it came creeping
between an impenetrable wall of magnificent wild flowers, vines,
and ferns. Milkweed, goldenrod, ironwort, fringed gentians,
cardinal-flowers, and turtle-head stood on the very edge of the
creek, and every flower of them had a double in the water.
Wild clematis crowned with snow the heads of trees scattered
here and there on the bank.
From afar the creek appeared to be murky, dirty water. Really it
was clear and sparkling. The tinge of blackness was gained from its
bed of muck showing through the transparent current. He could see
small and wonderfully marked fish. What became of them when the
creek spread into the swamp? For one thing, they would make mighty
fine eating for the family of that self-satisfied old blue heron.
Freckles sat so quietly that soon the brim of his hat was covered
with snake-feeders, rasping their crisp wings and singing while
they rested. Some of them settled on the club, and one on
his shoulder. He was so motionless; feathers, fur, and gauze were
so accustomed to him, that all through the swale they continued
their daily life and forgot he was there.
The heron family were wading the mouth of the creek. Freckles idly
wondered whether the nerve-racking rasps they occasionally emitted
indicated domestic felicity or a raging quarrel. He could not decide.
A sheitpoke, with flaring crest, went stalking across a bare
space close to the creek's mouth. A stately brown bittern waded
into the clear-flowing water, lifting his feet high at every
step, and setting them down carefully, as if he dreaded wetting
them, and with slightly parted beak, stood eagerly watching around
him for worms. Behind him were some mighty trees of the swamp
above, and below the bank glowed a solid wall of goldenrod.
No wonder the ancients had chosen yellow as the color to represent
victory, for the fierce, conquering hue of the sun was in it.
They had done well, too, in selecting purple as the emblem of royalty.
It was a dignified, compelling color, while in its warm tone there
was a hint of blood.
It was the Limberlost's hour to proclaim her sovereignty and triumph.
Everywhere she flaunted her yellow banner and trailed the purple of
her mantle, that was paler in the thistle-heads, took on strength
in the first opening asters, and glowed and burned in the ironwort.
He gazed into her damp, mossy recesses where high-piled riven trees
decayed under coats of living green, where dainty vines swayed and
clambered, and here and there a yellow leaf, fluttering down,
presaged the coming of winter. His love of the swamp laid hold of
him and shook him with its force.
Compellingly beautiful was the Limberlost, but cruel withal; for
inside bleached the uncoffined bones of her victims, while she had
missed cradling him, oh! so narrowly.
He shifted restlessly; the movement sent the snake-feeders skimming.
The hum of life swelled and roared in his strained ears.
Small turtles, that had climbed on a log to sun, splashed clumsily
into the water. Somewhere in the timber of the bridge a
bloodthirsty little frog cried sharply. "KEEL'IM! KEEL'IM!"
Freckles muttered: "It's worse than that Black Jack swore to do to
me, little fellow."
A muskrat waddled down the bank and swam for the swamp, its pointed
nose riffling the water into a shining trail in its wake.
Then, below the turtle-log, a dripping silver-gray head, with
shining eyes, was cautiously lifted, and Freckles' hand slid to his
revolver. Higher and higher came the head, a long, heavy, furcoated
body arose, now half, now three-fourths from the water. Freckles
looked at his shaking hand and doubted, but he gathered his forces,
the shot rang, and the otter lay quiet. He hurried down and tried to
lift it. He scarcely could muster strength to carry it to the bridge.
The consciousness that he really could go no farther with it made
Freckles realize the fact that he was close the limit of
human endurance. He could bear it little, if any, longer.
Every hour the dear face of the Angel wavered before him, and
behind it the awful distorted image of Black Jack, as he had sworn
to the punishment he would mete out to her. He must either see
McLean, or else make a trip to town and find her father. Which should
he do? He was almost a stranger, so the Angel's father might not be
impressed with what he said as he would if McLean went to him.
Then he remembered that McLean had said he would come that morning.
Freckles never had forgotten before. He hurried on the east trail
as fast as his tottering legs would carry him.
He stopped when he came to the first guard, and telling him of his
luck, asked him to get the otter and carry it to the cabin, as he
was anxious to meet McLean.
Freckles passed the second guard without seeing him, and hurried to
the Boss. He took off his hat, wiped his forehead, and stood silent
under the eyes of McLean.
The Boss was dumbfounded. Mrs. Duncan had led him to expect that
he would find a change in Freckles, but this was almost deathly.
The fact was apparent that the boy scarcely knew what he was doing.
His eyes had a glazed, far-sighted appearance, that wrung the heart of
the man who loved him. Without a thought of preliminaries, McLean
leaned in the saddle and drew Freckles to him.
"My poor lad!" he said. "My poor, dear lad! tell me, and we will
try to right it!"
Freckles had twisted his fingers in Nellie's mane. At the kind
words his face dropped on McLean's thigh and he shook with a
nervous chill. McLean gathered him closer and waited.
When the guard came with the otter, McLean without a word motioned
him to lay it down and leave them.
"Freckles," said McLean at last, "will you tell me, or must I set
to work in the dark and try to find the trouble?"
"Oh, I want to tell you! I must tell you, sir," shuddered Freckles.
"I cannot be bearing it the day out alone. I was coming to you when
I remimbered you would be here."
He lifted his face and gazed across the swale, with his jaws set
firmly a minute, as if gathering his forces. Then he spoke.
"It's the Angel, sir," he said.
Instinctively McLean's grip on him tightened, and Freckles looked
into the Boss's face in wonder.
"I tried, the other day," said Freckles, "and I couldn't seem to
make you see. It's only that there hasn't been an hour, waking or
sleeping, since the day she parted the bushes and looked into me
room, that the face of her hasn't been before me in all the
tinderness, beauty, and mischief of it. She talked to me
friendly like. She trusted me entirely to take right care of her.
She helped me with things about me books. She traited me like I
was born a gintleman, and shared with me as if I were of her own blood.
She walked the streets of the town with me before her friends with all
the pride of a queen. She forgot herself and didn't mind the Bird
Woman, and run big risks to help me out that first day, sir.
This last time she walked into that gang of murderers, took their
leader, and twisted him to the will of her. She outdone him and
raced the life almost out of her trying to save me.
"Since I can remimber, whatever the thing was that happened to me
in the beginning has been me curse. I've been bitter, hard, and
smarting under it hopelessly. She came by, and found me voice, and
put hope of life and success like other men into me in spite of it."
Freckles held up his maimed arm.
"Look at it, sir!" he said. "A thousand times I've cursed it,
hanging there helpless. She took it on the street, before all the
people, just as if she didn't see that it was a thing to hide and
shrink from. Again and again I've had the feeling with her, if I
didn't entirely forget it, that she didn't see it was gone and I
must he pointing it out to her. Her touch on it was so sacred-like,
at times since I've caught meself looking at the awful thing near
like I was proud of it, sir. If I had been born your son she
couldn't be traiting me more as her equal, and she can't help
knowing you ain't truly me father. Nobody can know the homeliness
or the ignorance of me better than I do, and all me lack of birth,
relatives, and money, and what's it all to her?"
Freckles stepped back, squared his shoulders, and with a royal lift
of his head looked straight into the Boss's eyes.
"You saw her in the beautiful little room of her, and you can't be
forgetting how she begged and plead with you for me. She touched
me body, and `twas sanctified. She laid her lips on my brow, and
`twas sacrament. Nobody knows the height of her better than me.
Nobody's studied my depths closer. There's no bridge for the great
distance between us, sir, and clearest of all, I'm for realizing it:
but she risked terrible things when she came to me among that gang
of thieves. She wore herself past bearing to save me from such an
easy thing as death! Now, here's me, a man, a big, strong man, and
letting her live under that fearful oath, so worse than any death
`twould be for her, and lifting not a finger to save her. I cannot
hear it, sir. It's killing me by inches! Black Jack's hand may not
have been hurt so bad. Any hour he may be creeping up behind her!
Any minute the awful revenge he swore to be taking may in some way
fall on her, and I haven't even warned her father. I can't stay
here doing nothing another hour. The five nights gone I've watched
under her windows, but there's the whole of the day. She's her own
horse and little cart, and's free to be driving through the town and
country as she pleases. If any evil comes to her through Black Jack,
it comes from her angel-like goodness to me. Somewhere he's hiding!
Somewhere he is waiting his chance! Somewhere he is reaching out
for her! I tell you I cannot, I dare not be bearing it longer!"
"Freckles, be quiet!" said McLean, his eyes humid and his voice
quivering with the pity of it all. "Believe me, I did not understand.
I know the Angel's father well. I will go to him at once. I have
transacted business with him for the past three years. I will make
him see! I am only beginning to realize your agony, and the real
danger there is for the Angel. Believe me, I will see that she
is fully protected every hour of the day and night until Jack
is located and disposed of. And I promise you further, that if I
fail to move her father or make him understand the danger, I will
maintain a guard over her until Jack is caught. Now will you go
bathe, drink some milk, go to bed, and sleep for hours, and then be
my brave, bright old boy again?"
"Yis," said Freckles simply.
But McLean could see the flesh was twitching on the lad's bones.
"What was it the guard brought there?" McLean asked in an effort to
distract Freckles' thoughts.
"Oh!" Freckles said, glancing where the Boss pointed, "I forgot it!
`Tis an otter, and fine past believing, for this warm weather.
I shot it at the creek this morning. `Twas a good shot, considering.
I expected to miss."
Freckles picked up the animal and started toward McLean with it,
but Nellie pricked up her dainty little ears, danced into the
swale, and snorted with fright. Freckles dropped the otter and ran
to her head.
"For pity's sake, get her on the trail, sir," he begged. "She's
just about where the old king rattler crosses to go into the
swamp--the old buster Duncan and I have been telling you of.
I haven't a doubt but it was the one Mother Duncan met. 'Twas down
the trail there, just a little farther on, that I found her, and
it's sure to be close yet."
McLean slid from Nellie's back, led her into the trail farther down
the line, and tied her to a bush. Then he went to examine the otter.
It was a rare, big specimen, with exquisitely fine, long, silky hair.
"What do you want to do with it, Freckles?" asked McLean, as he stroked
the soft fur lingeringly. "Do you know that it is very valuable?"
"I was for almost praying so, sir," said Freckles. "As I saw it
coming up the bank I thought this: Once somewhere in a book there
was a picture of a young girl, and she was just a breath like the
beautifulness of the Angel. Her hands were in a muff as big as her
body, and I thought it was so pretty. I think she was some queen,
or the like. Do you suppose I could have this skin tanned and made
into such a muff as that?--an enormous big one, sir?"
"Of course you can," said McLean. "That's a fine idea and it's
easy enough. We must box and express the otter, cold storage, by the
first train. You stand guard a minute and I'll tell Hall to carry
it to the cabin. I'll put Nellie to Duncan's rig, and we'll drive
to town and call on the Angel's father. Then we'll start the otter
while it is fresh, and I'll write your instructions later. It would
be a mighty fine thing for you to give to the Angel as a little
reminder of the Limberlost before it is despoiled, and as a
souvenir of her trip for you."
Freckles lifted a face with a glow of happy color creeping into it
and eyes lighting with a former brightness. Throwing his arms
around McLean, he cried: "Oh, how I love you! Oh, I wish I could
make you know how I love you!"
McLean strained him to his breast.
"God bless you, Freckles," he said. "I do know! We're going to have
some good old times out of this world together, and we can't begin
too soon. Would you rather sleep first, or have a bite of lunch,
take the drive with me, and then rest? I don't know but sleep will
come sooner and deeper to take the ride and have your mind set at
ease before you lie down. Suppose you go."
"Suppose I do," said Freckles, with a glimmer of the old light
in his eyes and newly found strength to shoulder the otter.
Together they turned into the trail.
McLean noticed and spoke of the big black chickens.
"They've been hanging round out there for several days past,"
said Freckles. "I'll tell you what I think it means. I think the
old rattler has killed something too big for him to swallow, and he's
keeping guard and won't let me chickens have it. I'm just sure,
from the way the birds have acted out there all summer, that it is
the rattler's den. You watch them now. See the way they dip and
then rise, frightened like!"
Suddenly McLean turned toward him with blanching face
"Freckles!" he cried.
"My God, sir!" shuddered Freckles.
He dropped the otter, caught up his club, and plunged into the swale.
Reaching for his revolver, McLean followed. The chickens
circled higher at their coming, and the big snake lifted his head
and rattled angrily. It sank in sinuous coils at the report of
McLean's revolver, and together he and Freckles stood beside Black Jack.
His fate was evident and most horrible.
"Come," said the Boss at last. "We don't dare touch him. We will get
a sheet from Mrs. Duncan and tuck over him, to keep these swarms of
insects away, and set Hall on guard, while we find the officers."
Freckles' lips closed resolutely. He deliberately thrust his club
under Black Jack's body, and, raising him, rested it on his knee.
He pulled a long silver pin from the front of the dead man's shirt
and sent it spinning into the swale. Then he gathered up a few
crumpled bright flowers and dropped them into the pool far away.
"My soul is sick with the horror of this thing," said McLean, as he
and Freckles drove toward town. "I can't understand how Jack dared
risk creeping through the swale, even in desperation. No one knew
its dangers better than he. And why did he choose the rankest,
muckiest place to cross the swamp?"
"Don't you think, sir, it was because it was on a line with the
Limberlost south of the corduroy? The grass was tallest there, and
he counted on those willows to screen him. Once he got among them,
he would have been safe to walk by stooping. If he'd made it past
that place, he'd been sure to get out."
"Well, I'm as sorry for Jack as I know how to be," said McLean,
"but I can't help feeling relieved that our troubles are over, for
now they are. With so dreadful a punishment for Jack, Wessner under
arrest, and warrants for the others, we can count on their going
away and remaining. As for anyone else, I don't think they will
care to attempt stealing my timber after the experience of these men.
There is no other man here with Jack's fine ability in woodcraft.
He was an expert."
"Did you ever hear of anyone who ever tried to locate any trees
excepting him?" asked Freckles.
"No, I never did," said McLean. "I am sure there was no one
besides him. You see, it was only with the arrival of our company
that the other fellows scented good stuff in the Limberlost, and
tried to work in. Jack knew the swamp better than anyone here.
When he found there were two companies trying to lease, he wanted
to stand in with the one from which he could realize the most.
Even then he had trees marked that he was trying to dispose of.
I think his sole intention in forcing me to discharge him from
my gang was to come here and try to steal timber. We had no idea,
when we took the lease, what a gold mine it was."
"That's exactly what Wessner said that first day," said Freckles eagerly.
"That 'twas a `gold mine'! He said he didn't know where the marked
trees were, but he knew a man who did, and if I would hold off and
let them get the marked ones, there were a dozen they could get out
in a few days."
"Freckles!" cried McLean. "You don't mean a dozen!"
"That's what he said, sir--a dozen. He said they couldn't tell how
the grain of all of them would work up, of course, but they were
all worth taking out, and five or six were real gold mines. This
makes three they've tried, so there must be nine more marked, and
several of them for being just fine."
"Well, I wish I knew which they are," said McLean, "so I could get
them out first."
"I have been thinking," said Freckles. "I believe if you will leave
one of the guards on the line--say Hall--that I will begin on the
swamp, at the north end, and lay it off in sections, and try to
hunt out the marked trees. I suppose they are all marked something
like that first maple on the line was. Wessner mentioned another
good one not so far from that. He said it was best of all. I'd be
having the swelled head if I could find that. Of course, I don't
know a thing about the trees, but I could hunt for the marks.
Jack was so good at it he could tell some of them by the bark, but all
he wanted to take that we've found so far have just had a deep chip
cut out, rather low down, and where the bushes were thick over it.
I believe I could be finding some of them."
"Good head!" said McLean. "We will do that. You may begin as soon
as you are rested. And about things you come across in the swamp,
Freckles--the most trifling little thing that you think the Bird
Woman would want, take your wheel and go after her at any time.
I'll leave two men on the line, so that you will have one on either
side, and you can come and go as you please. Have you stopped to
think of all we owe her, my boy?"
"Yis; and the Angel--we owe her a lot, too," said Freckles. "I owe
her me life and honor. It's lying awake nights I'll have to be
trying to think how I'm ever to pay her up."
"Well, begin with the muff," suggested McLean. "That should be fine."
He bent down and ruffled the rich fur of the otter lying at his feet.
"I don't exactly see how it comes to be in such splendid fur in summer.
Their coats are always thick in cold weather, but this scarcely
could be improved. I'll wire Cooper to be watching for it.
They must have it fresh. When it's tanned we won't spare any
expense in making it up. It should be a royal thing, and some way
I think it will exactly suit the Angel. I can't think of anything
that would be more appropriate for her."
"Neither can I," agreed Freckles heartily. "When I reach the city
there's one other thing, if I've the money after the muff is finished."
He told McLean of Mrs. Duncan's desire for a hat similar to
the Angel's. He hesitated a little in the telling, keeping sharp
watch on McLean's face. When he saw the Boss's eyes were full of
comprehension and sympathy, he loved him anew, for, as ever, McLean
was quick to understand. Instead of laughing, he said: "I think
you'll have to let me in on that, too. You mustn't be selfish,
you know. I'll tell you what we'll do. Send it for Christmas.
I'll be home then, and we can fill a box. You get the hat.
I'll add a dress and wrap. You buy Duncan a hat and gloves.
I'll send him a big overcoat, and we'll put in a lot of little
stuff for the babies. Won't that be fun?"
Freckles fairly shivered with delight.
"That would be away too serious for fun," he said. "That would
be heavenly. How long will it be?"
He began counting the time, and McLean deliberately set himself to
encourage Freckles and keep his thoughts from the trouble of the
past few days, for he had been overwrought and needed quiet and rest.
Wherein Freckles and the Angel Try Taking a Picture, and Little
Chicken Furnishes the Subject
A week later everything at the Limberlost was precisely as it had
been before the tragedy, except the case in Freckles' room now
rested on the stump of the newly felled tree. Enough of the vines
were left to cover it prettily, and every vestige of the havoc of
a few days before was gone. New guards were patrolling the trail.
Freckles was roughly laying off the swamp in sections and searching
for marked trees. In that time he had found one deeply chipped and
the chip cunningly replaced and tacked in. It promised to be quite
rare, so he was jubilant. He also found so many subjects for the
Bird Woman that her coming was of almost daily occurrence, and the
hours he spent with her and the Angel were nothing less than golden.
The Limberlost was now arrayed as the Queen of Sheba in all her glory.
The first frosts of autumn had bejewelled her crown in flashing
topaz, ruby, and emerald. Around her feet trailed the purple
of her garments, while in her hand was her golden scepter.
Everything was at full tide. It seemed as if nothing could grow
lovelier, and it was all standing still a few weeks, waiting
The swamp was palpitant with life. Every pair of birds that had
flocked to it in the spring was now multiplied by from two to ten.
The young were tame from Freckles' tri-parenthood, and so plump and
sleek that they were quite as beautiful as their elders, even if in
many cases they lacked their brilliant plumage. It was the same
story of increase everywhere. There were chubby little ground-hogs
scudding on the trail. There were cunning baby coons and opossums
peeping from hollow logs and trees. Young muskrats followed their
parents across the lagoons.
If you could come upon a family of foxes that had not yet
disbanded, and see the young playing with a wild duck's carcass
that their mother had brought, and note the pride and satisfaction
in her eyes as she lay at one side guarding them, it would be a
picture not to be forgotten. Freckles never tired of studying the
devotion of a fox mother to her babies. To him, whose early life
had been so embittered by continual proof of neglect and cruelty in
human parents toward their children, the love of these furred and
feathered folk of the Limberlost was even more of a miracle than to
the Bird Woman and the Angel.
The Angel liked the baby rabbits and squirrels. Earlier in the
season, when the young were yet very small, it so happened that at
times Freckles could give into her hands one of these little ones.
Then it was pure joy to stand back and watch her heaving breast,
flushed cheek, and shining eyes. Hers were such lovely eyes.
Freckles had discovered lately that they were not so dark as he had
thought them at first, but that the length and thickness of lash,
by which they were shaded, made them appear darker than they really
were. They were forever changing. Now sparkling and darkling with
wit, now humid with sympathy, now burning with the fire of courage,
now taking on strength of color with ambition, now flashing
indignantly at the abuse of any creature.
She had carried several of the squirrel and bunny babies home, and
had littered the conservatory with them. Her care of them was perfect.
She was learning her natural history from nature, and having much
healthful exercise. To her, they were the most interesting of all,
but the Bird Woman preferred the birds, with a close second in the
moths and butterflies.
Brown butterfly time had come. The edge of the swale was filled
with milkweed, and other plants beloved of them, and the air was
golden with the flashing satin wings of the monarch, viceroy,
and argynnis. They outnumbered those of any other color three to one.
Among the birds it really seemed as if the little yellow fellows
were in the preponderance. At least, they were until the redwinged
blackbirds and bobolinks, that had nested on the upland, suddenly
saw in the swamp the garden of the Lord and came swarming by hundreds
to feast and adventure upon it these last few weeks before migration.
Never was there a finer feast spread for the birds. The grasses
were filled with seeds: so, too, were weeds of every variety.
Fall berries were ripe. Wild grapes and black haws were ready.
Bugs were creeping everywhere. The muck was yeasty with worms.
Insects filled the air. Nature made glorious pause for holiday
before her next change, and by none of the frequenters of the
swamp was this more appreciated than by the big black chickens.
They seemed to feel the new reign of peace and fullness most of all.
As for food, they did not even have to hunt for themselves these
days, for the feasts now being spread before Little Chicken
were more than he could use, and he was glad to have his parents
come down and help him.
He was a fine, big, overgrown fellow, and his wings, with quills of
jetty black, gleaming with bronze, were so strong they almost
lifted his body. He had three inches of tail, and his beak and
claws were sharp. His muscles began to clamor for exercise.
He raced the forty feet of his home back and forth many times every
hour of the day. After a few days of that, he began lifting and
spreading his wings, and flopping them until the down on his back
was filled with elm fiber. Then he commenced jumping. The funny
little hops, springs, and sidewise bounds he gave set Freckles and
the Angel, hidden in the swamp, watching him, into smothered
chuckles of delight.
Sometimes he fell to coquetting with himself; and that was the
funniest thing of all, for he turned his head up, down, from side
to side, and drew in his chin with prinky little jerks and tilts.
He would stretch his neck, throw up his head, turn it to one side
and smirk--actually smirk, the most complacent and self-satisfied
smirk that anyone ever saw on the face of a bird. It was so comical
that Freckles and the Angel told the Bird Woman of it one day.
When she finished her work on Little Chicken, she left them the
camera ready for use, telling them they might hide in the bushes
and watch. If Little Chicken came out and truly smirked, and they
could squeeze the bulb at the proper moment to snap him, she would
be more than delighted.
Freckles and the Angel quietly curled beside a big log, and with
eager eyes and softest breathing they patiently waited; but Little
Chicken had feasted before they told of his latest accomplishment.
He was tired and sleepy, so he went into the log to bed, and for an
hour he never stirred.
They were becoming anxious, for the light soon would be gone, and
they had so wanted to try for the picture. At last Little Chicken
lifted his head, opened his beak, and gaped widely. He dozed a
minute or two more. The Angel said that was his beauty sleep.
Then he lazily gaped again and stood up, stretching and yawning.
He ambled leisurely toward the gateway, and the Angel said:
"Now, we may have a chance, at last."
"I do hope so," shivered Freckles.
With one accord they arose to their knees and trained their eyes on
the mouth of the log. The light was full and strong. Little Chicken
prospected again with no results. He dressed his plumage, polished
his beak, and when he felt fine and in full toilet he began to
flirt with himself. Freckles' eyes snapped and his breath sucked
between his clenched teeth.
"He's going to do it!" whispered the Angel. "That will come next.
You'll best give me that bulb!"
"Yis," assented Freckles, but he was looking at the log and he made
no move to relinquish the bulb.
Little Chicken nodded daintily and ruffled his feathers. He gave
his head sundry little sidewise jerks and rapidly shifted his point
of vision. Once there was the fleeting little ghost of a smirk.
"Now!--No!" snapped the Angel.
Freckles leaned toward the bird. Tensely he waited. Unconsciously
the hand of the Angel clasped his. He scarcely knew it was there.
Suddenly Little Chicken sprang straight in the air and landed with
a thud. The Angel started slightly, but Freckles was immovable.
Then, as if in approval of his last performance, the big, overgrown
baby wheeled until he was more than three-quarters, almost full
side, toward the camera, straightened on his legs, squared his
shoulders, stretched his neck full height, drew in his chin and
smirked his most pronounced smirk, directly in the face of the lens.
Freckles' fingers closed on the bulb convulsively, and the Angel's
closed on his at the instant. Then she heaved a great sigh of
relief and lifted her hands to push back the damp, clustering hair
from her face.
"How soon do you s'pose it will be finished?" came Freckles'
For the first time the Angel looked at him. He was on his knees,
leaning forward, his eyes directed toward the bird, the
perspiration running in little streams down his red,
mosquito-bitten face. His hat was awry, his bright hair rampant,
his breast heaving with excitement, while he yet gripped the bulb
with every ounce of strength in his body.
"Do you think we were for getting it?" he asked.
The Angel could only nod. Freckles heaved a deep sigh of relief.
"Well, if that ain't the hardest work I ever did in me life!"
he exclaimed. "It's no wonder the Bird Woman's for coming out of
the swamp looking as if she's been through a fire, a flood, and a
famine, if that's what she goes through day after day. But if you
think we got it, why, it's worth all it took, and I'm glad as ever
you are, sure!"
They put the holders in the case, carefully closed the camera, set
it in also, and carried it to the road.
Then Freckles exulted.
"Now, let's be telling the Bird Woman about it!" he shouted, wildly
dancing and swinging his hat.
"We got it! We got it! I bet a farm we got it!"
Hand in hand they ran to the north end of the swamp, yelling "We
got it!" like young Comanches, and never gave a thought to what
they might do until a big blue-gray bird, with long neck and
trailing legs, arose on flapping wings and sailed over the Limberlost.
The Angel became white to the lips and gripped Freckles with
both hands. He gulped with mortification and turned his back.
To frighten her subject away carelessly! It was the head crime in
the Bird Woman's category. She extended her hands as she arose,
baked, blistered, and dripping, and exclaimed: "Bless you, my
children! Bless you!" And it truly sounded as if she meant it.
"Why, why----" stammered the bewildered Angel.
Freckles hurried into the breach.
"You must be for blaming it every bit on me. I was thinking we got
Little Chicken's picture real good. I was so drunk with the joy of
it I lost all me senses and, `Let's run tell the Bird Woman,' says I.
Like a fool I was for running, and I sort of dragged the Angel along."
"Oh Freckles!" expostulated the Angel. "Are you loony? Of course,
it was all my fault! I've been with her hundreds of times. I knew
perfectly well that I wasn't to let anything--NOT ANYTHING--scare
her bird away! I was so crazy I forgot. The blame is all mine, and
she'll never forgive me."
"She will, too!" cried Freckles. "Wasn't you for telling me that
very first day that when people scared her birds away she just
killed them! It's all me foolishness, and I'll never forgive meself!"
The Bird Woman plunged into the swale at the mouth of Sleepy Snake
Creek, and came wading toward them, with a couple of cameras and
"If you will permit me a word, my infants," she said, "I will
explain to you that I have had three shots at that fellow."
The Angel heaved a deep sigh of relief, and Freckles' face cleared
"Two of them," continued the Bird Woman, "in the rushes--one
facing, crest lowered; one light on back, crest flared; and the
last on wing, when you came up. I simply had been praying for
something to make him arise from that side, so that he would fly
toward the camera, for he had waded around until in my position I
couldn't do it myself. See? Behold in yourselves the answer to the
prayers of the long-suffering!"
Freckles took a step toward her.
"Are you really meaning that?" he asked wonderingly. "Only think,
Angel, we did the right thing! She won't lose her picture through
the carelessness of us, when she's waited and soaked nearly two hours.
She's not angry with us!"
"Never was in a sweeter temper in my life," said the Bird Woman,
busily cleaning and packing the cameras.
Freckles removed his hat and solemnly held out his hand. With equal
solemnity the Angel grasped it. The Bird Woman laughed alone, for
to them the situation had been too serious to develop any of the
elements of fun.
Then they loaded the carriage, and the Bird Woman and the Angel
started for their homes. It had been a difficult time for all of
them, so they were very tired, but they were joyful. Freckles was
so happy it seemed to him that life could hold little more. As the
Bird Woman was ready to drive away he laid his hand on the lines
and looked into her face.
"Do you suppose we got it?" he asked, so eagerly that she would
have given much to be able to say yes with conviction.
"Why, my dear, I don't know," she said. "I've no way to judge.
If you made the exposure just before you came to me, there was yet
a fine light. If you waited until Little Chicken was close the
entrance, you should have something good, even if you didn't catch
just the fleeting expression for which you hoped. Of course, I
can't say surely, but I think there is every reason to believe that
you have it all right. I will develop the plate tonight, make you
a proof from it early in the morning, and bring it when we come.
It's only a question of a day or two now until the gang arrives.
I want to work in all the studies I can before that time, for they
are bound to disturb the birds. Mr. McLean will need you then, and
I scarcely see how we are to do without you."
Moved by an impulse she never afterward regretted, she bent and
laid her lips on Freckles' forehead, kissing him gently and
thanking him for his many kindnesses to her in her loved work.
Freckles started away so happy that he felt inclined to keep
watching behind to see if the trail were not curling up and rolling
down the line after him.
Wherein the Angel Locates a Rare Tree and Dines with the Gang
From afar Freckles saw them coming. The Angel was standing, waving
her hat. He sprang on his wheel and raced, jolting and pounding,
down the corduroy to meet them. The Bird Woman stopped the horse
and the Angel gave him the bit of print paper. Freckles leaned the
wheel against a tree and took the proof with eager fingers.
He never before had seen a study from any of his chickens.
He stood staring. When he turned his face toward them it was
transfigured with delight.
"You see!" he exclaimed, and began gazing again. "Oh, me Little
Chicken!" he cried. "Oh me ilegant Little Chicken! I'd be giving
all me money in the bank for you!"
Then he thought of the Angel's muff and Mrs. Duncan's hat, and
added, "or at least, all but what I'm needing bad for something else.
Would you mind stopping at the cabin a minute and showing this
to Mother Duncan?" he asked.
"Give me that little book in your pocket," said the Bird Woman.
She folded the outer edges of the proof so that it would fit into
the book, explaining as she did so its perishable nature in
that state. Freckles went hurrying ahead, and they arrived in time
to see Mrs. Duncan gazing as if awestruck, and to hear her bewildered
"Weel I be drawed on!"
Freckles and the Angel helped the Bird Woman to establish herself
for a long day at the mouth of Sleepy Snake Creek. Then she sent
them away and waited what luck would bring to her.
"Now, what shall we do?" inquired the Angel, who was a bundle of
nerves and energy.
"Would you like to go to me room awhile?" asked Freckles.
"If you don't care to very much, I'd rather not," said the Angel.
"I'll tell you. Let's go help Mrs. Duncan with dinner and play with
the baby. I love a nice, clean baby."
They started toward the cabin. Every few minutes they stopped to
investigate something or to chatter over some natural history wonder.
The Angel had quick eyes; she seemed to see everything, but Freckles'
were even quicker; for life itself had depended on their sharpness
ever since the beginning of his work at the swamp. They saw it at
the same time.
"Someone has been making a flagpole," said the Angel, running the
toe of her shoe around the stump, evidently made that season.
"Freckles, what would anyone cut a tree as small as that for?"
"I don't know," said Freckles.
"Well, but I want to know!" said the Angel. "No one came away here
and cut it for fun. They've taken it away. Let's go back and see if
we can see it anywhere around there."
She turned, retraced her footsteps, and began eagerly searching.
Freckles did the same.
"There it is!" he exclaimed at last, "leaning against the trunk of
that big maple."
"Yes, and leaning there has killed a patch of dried bark," said
the Angel. "See how dried it appears?"
Freckles stared at her.
"Angel!" he shouted, "I bet you it's a marked tree!"
"Course it is!" cried the Angel. "No one would cut that sapling and
carry it away there and lean it up for nothing. I'll tell you! This
is one of Jack's marked trees. He's climbed up there above anyone's
head, peeled the bark, and cut into the grain enough to be sure.
Then he's laid the bark back and fastened it with that pole to mark it.
You see, there're a lot of other big maples close around it. Can you
climb to that place?"
"Yes," said Freckles; "if I take off my wading-boots I can."
"Then take them off," said the Angel, "and do hurry! Can't you see
that I am almost crazy to know if this tree is a marked one?"
When they pushed the sapling over, a piece of bark as big as the
crown of Freckles' hat fell away.
"I believe it looks kind of nubby," encouraged the Angel, backing
away, with her face all screwed into a twist in an effort to
intensify her vision.
Freckles reached the opening, then slid rapidly to the ground.
He was almost breathless while his eyes were flashing.
"The bark's been cut clean with a knife, the sap scraped away, and
a big chip taken out deep. The trunk is the twistiest thing you
ever saw. It's full of eyes as a bird is of feathers!"
The Angel was dancing and shaking his hand.
"Oh, Freckles," she cried, "I'm so delighted that you found it!"
"But I didn't," said the astonished Freckles. "That tree isn't my
find; it's yours. I forgot it and was going on; you wouldn't give
up, and kept talking about it, and turned back. You found it!"
"You'd best be looking after your reputation for truth and
veracity," said the Angel. "You know you saw that sapling first!"
"Yes, after you took me back and set me looking for it," scoffed Freckles.
The clear, ringing echo of strongly swung axes came crashing
through the Limberlost.
"'Tis the gang!" shouted Freckles. "They're clearing a place to
make the camp. Let's go help!"
"Hadn't we better mark that tree again?" cautioned the Angel.
"It's away in here. There's such a lot of them, and all so
much alike. We'd feel good and green to find it and then lose it."
Freckles lifted the sapling to replace it, but the Angel motioned
"Use your hatchet," she said. "I predict this is the most valuable
tree in the swamp. You found it. I'm going to play that you're
my knight. Now, you nail my colors on it."
She reached up, and pulling a blue bow from her hair, untied and
doubled it against the tree. Freckles turned his eyes from her and
managed the fastening with shaking fingers. The Angel had called
him her knight! Dear Lord, how he loved her! She must not see his
face, or surely her quick eyes would read what he was fighting to hide.
He did not dare lay his lips on that ribbon then, but that night
he would return to it. When they had gone a little distance,
they both looked back, and the morning breeze set the bit of blue
waving them a farewell.
They walked at a rapid pace.
"I am sorry about scaring the birds," said the Angel, "but it's
almost time for them to go anyway. I feel dreadfully over having
the swamp ruined, but isn't it a delight to hear the good, honest
ring of those axes, instead of straining your ears for stealthy
sounds? Isn't it fine to go openly and freely, with nothing worse
than a snake or a poison-vine to fear?"
"Ah!" said Freckles, with a long breath, "it's better than you can
dream, Angel. Nobody will ever be guessing some of the things I've
been through trying to keep me promise to the Boss, and to hold out
until this day. That it's come with only one fresh stump, and the
log from that saved, and this new tree to report, isn't it grand?
Maybe Mr. McLean will be forgetting that stump when he sees this
"He can't forget it," said the Angel; and in answer to Freckles'
startled eyes she added, "because he never had any reason to
remember it. He couldn't have done a whit better himself. My father
says so. You're all right, Freckles!"
She reached him her hand, and as two children, they broke into a
run when they came closer the gang. They left the swamp by the west
road and followed the trail until they found the men. To the Angel
it seemed complete charm. In the shadiest spot on the west side of
the line, at the edge of the swamp and very close Freckles' room,
they were cutting bushes and clearing space for a big tent for the
men's sleeping-quarters, another for a dining-hall, and a board
shack for the cook. The teamsters were unloading, the horses were
cropping leaves from the bushes, while each man was doing his part
toward the construction of the new Limberlost quarters.
Freckles helped the Angel climb on a wagonload of canvas in the shade.
She removed her leggings, wiped her heated face, and glowed with
happiness and interest.
The gang had been sifted carefully. McLean now felt that there was
not a man in it who was not trustworthy.
They all had heard of the Angel's plucky ride for Freckles' relief;
several of them had been in the rescue party. Others, new since
that time, had heard the tale rehearsed in its every aspect around
the smudge-fires at night. Almost all of them knew the Angel by
sight from her trips with the Bird Woman to their leases. They all
knew her father, her position, and the luxuries of her home.
Whatever course she had chosen with them they scarcely would have
resented it, but the Angel never had been known to choose a course.
Her spirit of friendliness was inborn and inbred. She loved
everyone, so she sympathized with everyone. Her generosity was only
limited by what was in her power to give.
She came down the trail, hand in hand with the red-haired, freckled
timber guard whom she had worn herself past the limit of endurance
to save only a few weeks before, racing in her eagerness to reach
them, and laughing her "Good morning, gentlemen," right and left.
When she was ensconced on the wagonload of tenting, she sat on a
roll of canvas as a queen on her throne. There was not a man of the
gang who did not respect her. She was a living exponent of
universal brotherhood. There was no man among them who needed her
exquisite face or dainty clothing to teach him that the deference
due a gentlewoman should be paid her. That the spirit of good
fellowship she radiated levied an especial tribute of its own, and
it became their delight to honor and please her.
As they raced toward the wagon--"Let me tell about the tree,
please?" she begged Freckles.
"Why, sure!" said Freckles.
He probably would have said the same to anything she suggested.
When McLean came, he found the Angel flushed and glowing, sitting
on the wagon, her hands already filled. One of the men, who was
cutting a scrub-oak, had carried to her a handful of crimson leaves.
Another had gathered a bunch of delicate marsh-grass heads for her.
Someone else, in taking out a bush, had found a daintily built and
lined little nest, fresh as when made.
She held up her treasures and greeted McLean, "Good morning, Mr.
Boss of the Limberlost!"
The gang shouted, while he bowed profoundly before her.
"Everyone listen!" cried the Angel, climbing a roll of canvas.
"I have something to say! Freckles has been guarding here over a year
now, and he presents the Limberlost to you, with every tree in it
saved; for good measure he has this morning located the rarest one
of them all: the one in from the east line, that Wessner spoke of
the first day--nearest the one you took out. All together!
Everyone! Hurrah for Freckles!"
With flushing cheeks and gleaming eyes, gaily waving the grass above
her head, she led in three cheers and a tiger. Freckles slipped
into the swamp and hid himself, for fear he could not conceal his
pride and his great surging, throbbing love for her.
The Angel subsided on the canvas and explained to McLean about
the maple. The Boss was mightily pleased. He took Freckles and
set out to re-locate and examine the tree. The Angel was interested
in the making of the camp, so she preferred to remain with the men.
With her sharp eyes she was watching every detail of construction;
but when it came to the stretching of the dining-hall canvas she
proceeded to take command. The men were driving the rope-pins, when
the Angel arose on the wagon and, leaning forward, spoke to Duncan,
who was directing the work.
"I believe if you will swing that around a few feet farther, you
will find it better, Mr. Duncan," she said. "That way will let the
hot sun in at noon, while the sides will cut off the best breeze."
"That's a fact," said Duncan, studying the conditions.
So, by shifting the pins a little, they obtained comfort for which
they blessed the Angel every day. When they came to the
sleeping-tent, they consulted her about that. She explained the
general direction of the night breeze and indicated the best
position for the tent. Before anyone knew how it happened, the
Angel was standing on the wagon, directing the location and
construction of the cooking-shack, the erection of the crane
for the big boiling-pots, and the building of the store-room.
She superintended the laying of the floor of the sleeping-tent
lengthwise, So that it would be easier to sweep, and suggested a
new arrangement of the cots that would afford all the men an equal
share of night breeze. She left the wagon, and climbing on the
newly erected dining-table, advised with the cook in placing his
stove, table, and kitchen utensils.
When Freckles returned from the tree to join in the work around the
camp, he caught glimpses of her enthroned on a soapbox, cleaning beans.
She called to him that they were invited for dinner, and that they
had accepted the invitation.
When the beans were steaming in the pot, the Angel advised the cook
to soak them overnight the next time, so that they would cook more
quickly and not burst. She was sure their cook at home did that
way, and the CHEF of the gang thought it would be a good idea.
The next Freckles saw of her she was paring potatoes. A little later
she arranged the table.
She swept it with a broom, instead of laying a cloth; took the
hatchet and hammered the deepest dents from the tin plates, and
nearly skinned her fingers scouring the tinware with rushes.
She set the plates an even distance apart, and laid the forks and
spoons beside them. When the cook threw away half a dozen
fruit-cans, she gathered them up and melted off the tops, although
she almost blistered her face and quite blistered her fingers doing it.
Then she neatly covered these improvised vases with the Manila paper
from the groceries, tying it with wisps of marshgrass. These she
filled with fringed gentians, blazing-star, asters, goldenrod,
and ferns, placing them the length of the dining-table. In one of
the end cans she arranged her red leaves, and in the other the
fancy grass. Two men, watching her, went away proud of themselves
and said that she was "a born lady." She laughingly caught up a
paper bag and fitted it jauntily to her head in imitation of a
cook's cap. Then she ground the coffee, and beat a couple of eggs
to put in, "because there is company," she gravely explained to
the cook. She asked that delighted individual if he did not like it
best that way, and he said he did not know, because he never had a
chance to taste it. The Angel said that was her case exactly--she
never had, either; she was not allowed anything stronger than milk.
Then they laughed together.
She told the cook about camping with her father, and explained that
he made his coffee that way. When the steam began to rise from the
big boiler, she stuffed the spout tightly with clean marshgrass, to
keep the aroma in, placed the boiler where it would only simmer,
and explained why. The influence of the Angel's visit lingered with
the cook through the remainder of his life, while the men prayed
for her frequent return.
She was having a happy time, when McLean came back jubilant, from
his trip to the tree. How jubilant he told only the Angel, for he
had been obliged to lose faith in some trusted men of late, and had
learned discretion by what he suffered. He planned to begin
clearing out a road to the tree that same afternoon, and to set two
guards every night, for it promised to be a rare treasure, so he
was eager to see it on the way to the mills.
"I am coming to see it felled," cried the Angel. "I feel a sort of
motherly interest in that tree."
McLean was highly amused. He would have staked his life on the
honesty of either the Angel or Freckles; yet their versions of the
finding of the tree differed widely.
"Tell me, Angel," the Boss said jestingly. "I think I have a right
to know. Who really did locate that tree?"
"Freckles," she answered promptly and emphatically.
"But he says quite as positively that it was you. I don't understand."
The Angel's legal look flashed into her face. Her eyes grew tense
with earnestness. She glanced around, and seeing no towel or basin,
held out her hand for Sears to pour water over them. Then, using
the skirt of her dress to dry them, she climbed on the wagon.
"I'll tell you, word for word, how it happened," she said, "and
then you shall decide, and Freckles and I will agree with you."
When she had finished her version, "Tell us, `oh, most learned
judge!'" she laughingly quoted, "which of us located that tree?"
"Blest if I know who located it!" exclaimed McLean. "But I have a
fairly accurate idea as to who put the blue ribbon on it."
The Boss smiled significantly at Freckles, who just had come, for
they had planned that they would instruct the company to reserve
enough of the veneer from that very tree to make the most beautiful
dressing table they could design for the Angel's share of the discovery.
"What will you have for yours?" McLean had asked of Freckles.
"If it's all the same to you, I'll be taking mine out in music lessons--
begging your pardon--voice culture," said Freckles with a grimace.
McLean laughed, for Freckles needed to see or hear only once to
absorb learning as the thirsty earth sucks up water.
The Angel placed McLean at the head of the table. She took the
foot, with Freckles on her right, while the lumber gang, washed,
brushed, and straightened until they felt unfamiliar with
themselves and each other, filled the sides. That imposed a slight
constraint. Then, too, the men were afraid of the flowers, the
polished tableware, and above all, of the dainty grace of the Angel.
Nowhere do men so display lack of good breeding and culture as
in dining. To sprawl on the table, scoop with their knives, chew
loudly, gulp coffee, and duck their heads as snapping-turtles for
every bite, had not been noticed by them until the Angel, sitting
straightly, suddenly made them remember that they, too, were
possessed of spines. Instinctively every man at the table straightened.
Wherein Freckles Offers His Life for His Love and Gets a Broken Body
To reach the tree was a more difficult task than McLean had supposed.
The gang could approach nearest on the outside toward the east,
but after they reached the end of the east entrance there was
yet a mile of most impenetrable thicket, trees big and little, and
bushes of every variety and stage of growth. In many places the
muck had to be filled to give the horses and wagons a solid
foundation over which to haul heavy loads. It was several days
before they completed a road to the noble, big tree and were ready
to fell it.
When the sawing began, Freckles was watching down the road where it
met the trail leading from Little Chicken's tree. He had gone to the
tree ahead of the gang to remove the blue ribbon. Carefully folded,
it now lay over his heart. He was promising himself much
comfort with that ribbon, when he would leave for the city next
month to begin his studies and dream the summer over again.
It would help to make things tangible. When he was dressed as other
men, and at his work, he knew where he meant to home that precious
bit of blue. It should be his good-luck token, and he would wear it
always to keep bright in memory the day on which the Angel had
called him her knight.
How he would study, and oh, how he would sing! If only he could
fulfill McLean's expectations, and make the Angel proud of him!
If only he could be a real knight!
He could not understand why the Angel had failed to come. She had
wanted to see their tree felled. She would be too late if she did
not arrive soon. He had told her it would be ready that morning,
and she had said she surely would be there. Why, of all mornings,
was she late on this?
McLean had ridden to town. If he had been there, Freckles would
have asked that they delay the felling, but he scarcely liked to
ask the gang. He really had no authority, although he thought the
men would wait; but some way he found such embarrassment in framing
the request that he waited until the work was practically ended.
The saw was out, and the men were cutting into the felling side of
the tree when the Boss rode in.
His first word was to inquire for the Angel. When Freckles said she
had not yet come, the Boss at once gave orders to stop work on the
tree until she arrived; for he felt that she virtually had located
it, and if she desired to see it felled, she should. As the men
stepped back, a stiff morning breeze caught the top, that towered
high above its fellows. There was an ominous grinding at the base,
a shiver of the mighty trunk, then directly in line of its fall the
bushes swung apart and the laughing face of the Angel looked on them.
A groan of horror burst from the dry throats of the men, and
reading the agony in their faces, she stopped short, glanced up,
"South!" shouted McLean. "Run south!"
The Angel was helpless. It was apparent that she did not know which
way south was. There was another slow shiver of the big tree.
The remainder of the gang stood motionless, but Freckles sprang past
the trunk and went leaping in big bounds. He caught up the Angel
and dashed through the thicket for safety. The swaying trunk was
half over when, for an instant, a near-by tree stayed its fall.
They saw Freckles' foot catch, and with the Angel he plunged headlong.
A terrible cry broke from the men, while McLean covered his face.
Instantly Freckles was up, with the Angel in his arms, struggling on.
The outer limbs were on them when they saw Freckles hurl the
Angel, face down, in the muck, as far from him as he could send her.
Springing after, in an attempt to cover her body with his own,
he whirled to see if they were yet in danger, and with outstretched
arms braced himself for the shock. The branches shut them from
sight, and the awful crash rocked the earth.
McLean and Duncan ran with axes and saws. The remainder of the gang
followed, and they worked desperately. It seemed a long time before
they caught a glimpse of the Angel's blue dress, but it renewed
their vigor. Duncan fell on his knees beside her and tore the muck
from underneath her with his hands. In a few seconds he dragged her
out, choking and stunned, but surely not fatally hurt.
Freckles lay a little farther under the tree, a big limb pinning
him down. His eyes were wide open. He was perfectly conscious.
Duncan began mining beneath him, but Freckles stopped him.
"You can't be moving me," he said. "You must cut off the limb and
lift it. I know."
Two men ran for the big saw. A number of them laid hold of the limb
and bore up. In a short time it was removed, and Freckles lay free.
The men bent over to lift him, but he motioned them away.
"Don't be touching me until I rest a bit," he pleaded.
Then he twisted his head until he saw the Angel, who was wiping
muck from her eyes and face on the skirt of her dress.
"Try to get up," he begged.
McLean laid hold of the Angel and helped her to her feet.
"Do you think any bones are broken?" gasped Freckles.
The Angel shook her head and wiped muck.
"You see if you can find any, sir," Freckles commanded.
The Angel yielded herself to McLean's touch, and he assured
Freckles that she was not seriously injured.
Freckles settled back, a smile of ineffable tenderness on his face.
"Thank the Lord!" he hoarsely whispered.
The Angel leaned toward him.
"Now, Freckles, you!" she cried. "It's your turn. Please get up!"
A pitiful spasm swept Freckles' face. The sight of it washed every
vestige of color from the Angel's. She took hold of his hands.
"Freckles, get up!" It was half command, half entreaty.
"Easy, Angel, easy! Let me rest a bit first!" implored Freckles.
She knelt beside him. He reached his arm around her and drew
her closely. He looked at McLean in an agony of entreaty that
brought the Boss to his knees on the other side.
"Oh, Freckles!" McLean cried. "Not that! Surely we can do something!
We must! Let me see!"
He tried to unfasten Freckles' neckband, but his fingers shook so
clumsily that the Angel pushed them away and herself laid Freckles'
chest bare. With one hasty glance she gathered the clothing
together and slipped her arm under his head. Freckles lifted his
eyes of agony to hers.
"You see?" he said.
The Angel nodded dumbly.
Freckles turned to McLean.
"Thank you for everything," he panted. "Where are the boys?"
"They are all here," said the Boss, "except a couple who have gone
for doctors, Mrs. Duncan and the Bird Woman."
"It's no use trying to do anything," said Freckles. "You won't
forget the muff and the Christmas box. The muff especial?"
There was a movement above them so pronounced that it attracted
Freckles' attention, even in that extreme hour. He looked up, and
a pleased smile flickered on his drawn face.
"Why, if it ain't me Little Chicken!" he cried hoarsely. "He must
be making his very first trip from the log. Now Duncan can have his
"It was Little Chicken that made me late," faltered the Angel.
"I was so anxious to get here early I forgot to bring his breakfast
from the carriage. He must have been hungry, for when I passed the
log he started after me. He was so wabbly, and so slow flying from
tree to tree and through the bushes, I just had to wait on him, for
I couldn't drive him back."
"Of course you couldn't! Me bird has too amazing good sinse to go
back when he could be following you," exulted Freckles, exactly as
if he did not realize what the delay had cost him. Then he lay
silently thinking, but presently he asked slowly: "And so `twas me
Little Chicken that was making you late, Angel?"
"Yes," said the Angel.
A spasm of fierce pain shook Freckles, and a look of uncertainty
crossed his face.
"All summer I've been thanking God for the falling of the feather
and all the delights it's brought me," he muttered, "but this looks
He stopped short and raised questioning eyes to McLean.
"I can't help being Irish, but I can help being superstitious,"
he said. "I mustn't be laying it to the Almighty, or to me bird,
"No, dear lad," said McLean, stroking the brilliant hair.
"The choice lay with you. You could have stood a rooted dolt like
all the remainder of us. It was through your great love and your
high courage that you made the sacrifice."
"Don't you be so naming it, sir!" cried Freckles. "It's just
the reverse. If I could be giving me body the hundred times over to
save hers from this, I'd be doing it and take joy with every pain."
He turned with a smile of adoring tenderness to the Angel. She was
ghastly white, and her eyes were dull and glazed. She scarcely
seemed to hear or understand what was coming, but she bravely tried
to answer that smile.
"Is my forehead covered with dirt?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"You did once," he gasped.
Instantly she laid her lips on his forehead, then on each cheek,
and then in a long kiss on his lips.
McLean bent over him.
"Freckles," he said brokenly, "you will never know how I love you.
You won't go without saying good-bye to me?"
That word stung the Angel to quick comprehension. She started as if
arousing from sleep.
"Good-bye?" she cried sharply, her eyes widening and the color
rushing into her white face. "Good-bye! Why, what do you mean?
Who's saying good-bye? Where could Freckles go, when he is hurt
like this, save to the hospital? You needn't say good-bye for that.
Of course, we will all go with him! You call up the men. We must
start right away."
"It's no use, Angel," said Freckles. "I'm thinking ivry bone in me
breast is smashed. You'll have to be letting me go!"
"I will not," said the Angel flatly. "It's no use wasting precious
time talking about it. You are alive. You are breathing; and no
matter how badly your bones are broken, what are great surgeons for
but to fix you up and make you well again? You promise me that
you'll just grit your teeth and hang on when we hurt you, for we
must start with you as quickly as it can be done. I don't know what
has been the matter with me. Here's good time wasted already."
"Oh, Angel!" moaned Freckles, "I can't! You don't know how bad it is.
I'll die the minute you are for trying to lift me!"
"Of course you will, if you make up your mind to do it," said
the Angel. "But if you are determined you won't, and set yourself to
breathing deep and strong, and hang on to me tight, I can get you out.
Really you must, Freckles, no matter how it hurts, for you did this
for me, and now I must save you, so you might as well promise."
She bent over him, trying to smile encouragement with her
"You will promise, Freckles?"
Big drops of cold sweat ran together on Freckles' temples.
"Angel, darlin' Angel," he pleaded, taking her hand in his.
"You ain't understanding, and I can't for the life of me be
telling you, but indade, it's best to be letting me go.
This is my chance. Please say good-bye, and let me slip
He appealed to McLean.
"Dear Boss, you know! You be telling her that, for me, living is
far worse pain than dying. Tell her you know death is the best
thing that could ever be happening to me!"
"Merciful Heaven!" burst in the Angel. "I can't endure this delay!"
She caught Freckles' hand to her breast, and bending over him,
looked deeply into his stricken eyes.
"`Angel, I give you my word of honor that I will keep right
on breathing.' That's what you are going to promise me," she said.
"Do you say it?"
"Freckles!" imploringly commanded the Angel, "YOU DO SAY IT!"
"Yis," gasped Freckles.
The Angel sprang to her feet.
"Then that's all right," she said, with a tinge of her old-
time briskness. "You just keep breathing away like a steam
engine, and I will do all the remainder."
The eager men gathered around her.
"It's going to be a tough pull to get Freckles out," she said, "but
it's our only chance, so listen closely and don't for the lives of
you fail me in doing quickly what I tell you. There's no time to
spend falling down over each other; we must have some system.
You four there get on those wagon horses and ride to the sleeping-tent.
Get the stoutest cot, a couple of comforts, and a pillow. Ride back
with them some way to save time. If you meet any other men of the
gang, send them here to help carry the cot. We won't risk the jolt
of driving with him. The others clear a path out to the road; and
Mr. McLean, you take Nellie and ride to town. Tell my father how
Freckles is hurt and that he risked it to save me. Tell him I'm
going to take Freckles to Chicago on the noon train, and I want him
to hold it if we are a little late. If he can't, then have a
special ready at the station and another on the Pittsburgh at Fort
Wayne, so we can go straight through. You needn't mind leaving us.
The Bird Woman will be here soon. We will rest awhile."
She dropped into the muck beside Freckles and began stroking his
hair and hand. He lay with his face of agony turned to hers, and
fought to smother the groans that would tell her what he was suffering.
When they stood ready to lift him, the Angel bent over him in a
passion of tenderness.
"Dear old Limberlost guard, we're going to lift you now," she said.
"I suspect you will faint from the pain of it, but we will be as
easy as ever we can, and don't you dare forget your promise!"
A whimsical half-smile touched Freckles' quivering lips.
"Angel, can a man be remembering a promise when he ain't knowing?"
"You can," said the Angel stoutly, "because a promise means so much
more to you than it does to most men."
A look of strength flashed into Freckles' face at her words.
"I am ready," he said.
With the first touch his eyes closed, a mighty groan was wrenched
from him, and he lay senseless. The Angel gave Duncan one panic-
stricken look. Then she set her lips and gathered her forces again.
"I guess that's a good thing," she said. "Maybe he won't feel how
we are hurting him. Oh boys, are you being quick and gentle?"
She stepped to the side of the cot and bathed Freckles' face.
Taking his hand in hers, she gave the word to start. She told the
men to ask every able-bodied man they met to join them so that they
could change carriers often and make good time.
The Bird Woman insisted upon taking the Angel into the carriage and
following the cot, but she refused to leave Freckles, and suggested
that the Bird Woman drive ahead, pack them some clothing, and be at
the station ready to accompany them to Chicago. All the way the
Angel walked beside the cot, shading Freckles' face with a branch,
and holding his hand. At every pause to change carriers she
moistened his face and lips and watched each breath with
She scarcely knew when her father joined them, and taking the branch
from her, slipped an arm around her waist and almost carried her.
To the city streets and the swarm of curious, staring faces she
paid no more attention than she had to the trees of the Limberlost.
When the train came and the gang placed Freckles aboard, big
Duncan made a place for the Angel beside the cot.
With the best physician to be found, and with the Bird Woman and
McLean in attendance, the four-hours' run to Chicago began. The Angel
constantly watched over Freckles; bathed his face, stroked his
hand, and gently fanned him. Not for an instant would she yield
her place, or allow anyone else to do anything for him. The Bird
Woman and McLean regarded her in amazement. There seemed to be no
end to her resources and courage. The only time she spoke was to
ask McLean if he were sure the special would be ready on the
Pittsburgh road. He replied that it was made up and waiting.
At five o'clock Freckles lay stretched on the operating-table of
Lake View Hospital, while three of the greatest surgeons in Chicago
bent over him. At their command, McLean picked up the unwilling
Angel and carried her to the nurses to be bathed, have her bruises
attended, and to be put to bed.
In a place where it is difficult to surprise people, they were
astonished women as they removed the Angel's dainty stained and
torn clothing, drew off hose muck-baked to her limbs, soaked the
dried loam from her silken hair, and washed the beautiful
scratched, bruised, dirt-covered body. The Angel fell fast asleep
long before they had finished, and lay deeply unconscious, while
the fight for Freckles' life was being waged.
Three days later she was the same Angel as of old, except that
Freckles was constantly in her thoughts. The anxiety and
responsibility that she felt for his condition had bred in her a
touch of womanliness and authority that was new. That morning she
arose early and hovered near Freckles' door. She had been allowed
to remain with him constantly, for the nurses and surgeons had
learned, with his returning consciousness, that for her alone would
the active, highly strung, pain-racked sufferer be quiet and obey
orders. When she was dropping from loss of sleep, the threat that
she would fall ill had to be used to send her to bed. Then by
telling Freckles that the Angel was asleep and they would waken her
the moment he moved, they were able to control him for a short time.
The surgeon was with Freckles. The Angel had been told that the
word he brought that morning would be final, so she curled in a
window seat, dropped the curtains behind her, and in dire anxiety,
waited the opening of the door.
Just as it unclosed, McLean came hurrying down the hall and to the
surgeon, but with one glance at his face he stepped back in dismay;
while the Angel, who had arisen, sank to the seat again, too dazed
to come forward. The men faced each other. The Angel, with parted
lips and frightened eyes, bent forward in tense anxiety.
"I--I thought he was doing nicely?" faltered McLean.
"He bore the operation well," replied the surgeon, "and his wounds
are not necessarily fatal. I told you that yesterday, but I did not
tell you that something else probably would kill him; and it will.
He need not die from the accident, but he will not live the day out."
"But why? What is it?" asked McLean hurriedly. "We all dearly love
the boy. We have millions among us to do anything that money
can accomplish. Why must he die, if those broken bones are not
"That is what I am going to give you the opportunity to tell me,"
replied the surgeon. "He need not die from the accident, yet he is
dying as fast as his splendid physical condition will permit, and
it is because he so evidently prefers death to life. If he were
full of hope and ambition to live, my work would be easy. If all of
you love him as you prove you do, and there is unlimited means to
give him anything he wants, why should he desire death?"
"Is he dying?" demanded McLean.
"He is," said the surgeon. "He will not live this day out, unless
some strong reaction sets in at once. He is so low, that preferring
death to life, nature cannot overcome his inertia. If he is to
live, he must be made to desire life. Now he undoubtedly wishes for
death, and that it come quickly."
"Then he must die," said McLean.
His broad shoulders shook convulsively. His strong hands opened and
"Does that mean that you know what he desires and cannot, or will
not, supply it?"
McLean groaned in misery.
"It means," he said desperately, "that I know what he wants, but it
is as far removed from my power to help him as it would be to give
him a star. The thing for which he will die, he can never have."
"Then you must prepare for the end very shortly" said the surgeon,
turning abruptly away.
McLean caught his arm roughly.
"You look here!" he cried in desperation. "You say that as if I
could do something if I would. I tell you the boy is dear to me
past expression. I would do anything--spend any sum. You have
noticed and repeatedly commented on the young girl with me. It is
that child that he wants! He worships her to adoration, and knowing
he can never be anything to her, he prefers death to life. In God's
name, what can I do about it?"
"Barring that missing hand, I never examined a finer man," said the
surgeon, "and she seemed perfectly devoted to him; why cannot he
"Why?" echoed McLean. "Why? Well, for many reasons! I told you he
was my son. You probably knew that he was not. A little over a year
ago I never had seen him. He joined one of my lumber gangs from
the road. He is a stray, left at one of your homes for the friendless
here in Chicago. When he grew up the superintendent bound him to a
brutal man. He ran away and landed in one of my lumber camps. He
has no name or knowledge of legal birth. The Angel--we have talked
of her. You see what she is, physically and mentally. She has
ancestors reaching back to Plymouth Rock, and across the sea for
generations before that. She is an idolized, petted only child, and
there is great wealth. Life holds everything for her, nothing for him.
He sees it more plainly than anyone else could. There is nothing
for the boy but death, if it is the Angel that is required to save him."
The Angel stood between them.
"Well, I just guess not!" she cried. "If Freckles wants me, all he
has to do is to say so, and he can have me!"
The amazed men stepped back, staring at her.
"That he will never say," said McLean at last, "and you don't
understand, Angel. I don't know how you came here. I wouldn't have
had you hear that for the world, but since you have, dear girl, you
must be told that it isn't your friendship or your kindness
Freckles wants; it is your love."
The Angel looked straight into the great surgeon's eyes with her clear,
steady orbs of blue, and then into McLean's with unwavering frankness.
"Well, I do love him," she said simply.
McLean's arms dropped helplessly.
"You don't understand," he reiterated patiently. "It isn't the love
of a friend, or a comrade, or a sister, that Freckles wants from
you; it is the love of a sweetheart. And if to save the life he has
offered for you, you are thinking of being generous and impulsive
enough to sacrifice your future--in the absence of your father, it
will become my plain duty, as the protector in whose hands he has
placed you, to prevent such rashness. The very words you speak, and
the manner in which you say them, prove that you are a mere child,
and have not dreamed what love is."
Then the Angel grew splendid. A rosy flush swept the pallor of fear
from her face. Her big eyes widened and dilated with intense lights.
She seemed to leap to the height and the dignity of superb womanhood
before their wondering gaze.
"I never have had to dream of love," she said proudly. "I never
have known anything else, in all my life, but to love everyone and
to have everyone love me. And there never has been anyone so dear
as Freckles. If you will remember, we have been through a good deal
together. I do love Freckles, just as I say I do. I don't know
anything about the love of sweethearts, but I love him with all the
love in my heart, and I think that will satisfy him."
"Surely it should!" muttered the man of knives and lancets.
McLean reached to take hold of the Angel, but she saw the movement
and swiftly stepped back.
"As for my father," she continued, "he at once told me what he
learned from you about Freckles. I've known all you know for
several weeks. That knowledge didn't change your love for him
a particle. I think the Bird Woman loved him more. Why should
you two have all the fine perceptions there are? Can't I see how
brave, trustworthy, and splendid he is? Can't I see how his soul
vibrates with his music, his love of beautiful things and the pangs
of loneliness and heart hunger? Must you two love him with all the
love there is, and I give him none? My father is never unreasonable.
He won't expect me not to love Freckles, or not to tell him so,
if the telling will save him."
She darted past McLean into Freckles' room, closed the door, and
turned the key.
Wherein Freckles refuses Love Without Knowledge of Honorable Birth,
and the Angel Goes in Quest of it
Freckles lay on a flat pillow, his body immovable in a plaster
cast, his maimed arm, as always, hidden. His greedy gaze fastened
at once on the Angel's face. She crossed to him with light step and
bent over him with infinite tenderness. Her heart ached at the
change in his appearance. He seemed so weak, heart hungry, so
utterly hopeless, so alone. She could see that the night had been
one long terror.
For the first time she tried putting herself in Freckles' place.
What would it mean to have no parents, no home, no name? No name!
That was the worst of all. That was to be lost--indeed--utterly and
hopelessly lost. The Angel lifted her hands to her dazed head and
reeled, as she tried to face that proposition. She dropped on her
knees beside the bed, slipped her arm under the pillow, and leaning
over Freckles, set her lips on his forehead. He smiled faintly, but
his wistful face appeared worse for it. It hurt the Angel to the heart.
"Dear Freckles," she said, "there is a story in your eyes this
morning, tell me?"
Freckles drew a long, wavering breath.
"Angel," he begged, "be generous! Be thinking of me a little.
I'm so homesick and worn out, dear Angel, be giving me back me promise.
Let me go?"
"Why Freckles!" faltered the Angel. "You don't know what you
are asking. `Let you go!' I cannot! I love you better than
anyone, Freckles. I think you are the very finest person I ever knew.
I have our lives all planned. I want you to be educated and learn
all there is to know about singing, just as soon as you are well enough.
By the time you have completed your education I will have
finished college, and then I want," she choked a second, "I want
you to be my real knight, Freckles, and come to me and tell me that
you--like me--a little. I have been counting on you for my
sweetheart from the very first, Freckles. I can't give you up,
unless you don't like me. But you do like me--just a little--don't
Freckles lay whiter than the coverlet, his staring eyes on the
ceiling and his breath wheezing between dry lips. The Angel awaited
his answer a second, and when none came, she dropped her crimsoning
face beside him on the pillow and whispered in his ear:
"Freckles, I--I'm trying to make love to you. Oh, can't you help me
only a little bit? It's awful hard all alone! I don't know how,
when I really mean it, but Freckles, I love you. I must have you,
and now I guess--I guess maybe I'd better kiss you next."
She lifted her shamed face and bravely laid her feverish, quivering
lips on his. Her breath, like clover-bloom, was in his nostrils, and
her hair touched his face. Then she looked into his eyes with reproach.
"Freckles," she panted, "Freckles! I didn't think it was in you to
"Mean, Angel! Mean to you?" gasped Freckles.
"Yes," said the Angel. "Downright mean. When I kiss you, if you had
any mercy at all you'd kiss back, just a little bit."
Freckles' sinewy fist knotted into the coverlet. His chin pointed
ceilingward while his head rocked on the pillow.
"Oh, Jesus!" burst from him in agony. "You ain't the only one that
The Angel caught Freckles' hand and carried it to her breast.
"Freckles!" she wailed in terror, "Freckles! It is a mistake? Is it
that you don't want me?"
Freckles' head rolled on in wordless suffering.
"Wait a bit, Angel?" he panted at last. "Be giving me a little time!"
The Angel arose with controlled features. She bathed his face,
straightened his hair, and held water to his lips. It seemed a long
time before he reached toward her. Instantly she knelt again,
carried his hand to her breast, and leaned her cheek upon it.
"Tell me, Freckles," she whispered softly.
"If I can," said Freckles in agony. "It's just this. Angels are
from above. Outcasts are from below. You've a sound body and you're
beautifulest of all. You have everything that loving, careful
raising and money can give you. I have so much less than nothing
that I don't suppose I had any right to be born. It's a sure
thing--nobody wanted me afterward, so of course, they didn't
before. Some of them should have been telling you long ago."
"If that's all you have to say, Freckles, I've known that quite a
while," said the Angel stoutly. "Mr. McLean told my father, and he
told me. That only makes me love you more, to pay for all you've missed."
"Then I'm wondering at you," said Freckles in a voice of awe.
"Can't you see that if you were willing and your father would come
and offer you to me, I couldn't be touching the soles of your feet,
in love--me, whose people brawled over me, cut off me hand, and
throwed me away to freeze and to die! Me, who has no name just as
much because I've no RIGHT to any, as because I don't know it.
When I was little, I planned to find me father and mother when I
grew up. Now I know me mother deserted me, and me father was maybe a
thief and surely a liar. The pity for me suffering and the watching
over me have gone to your head, dear Angel, and it's me must be
thinking for you. If you could be forgetting me lost hand, where I
was raised, and that I had no name to give you, and if you would be
taking me as I am, some day people such as mine must be, might come
upon you. I used to pray ivery night and morning and many times the
day to see me mother. Now I only pray to die quickly and never risk
the sight of her. 'Tain't no ways possible, Angel! It's a wildness
of your dear head. Oh, do for mercy sake, kiss me once more and be
letting me go!"
"Not for a minute!" cried the Angel. "Not for a minute, if those
are all the reasons you have. It's you who are wild in your head,
but I can understand just how it happened. Being shut in that Home
most of your life, and seeing children every day whose parents did
neglect and desert them, makes you sure yours did the same; and yet
there are so many other things that could have happened so much
more easily than that. There are thousands of young couples who
come to this country and start a family with none of their
relatives here. Chicago is a big, wicked city, and grown people
could disappear in many ways, and who would there ever be to find
to whom their little children belonged? The minute my father told
me how you felt, I began to study this thing over, and I've made up
my mind you are dead wrong. I meant to ask my father or the Bird
Woman to talk to you before you went away to school, but as matters
are right now I guess I'll just do it myself. It's all so plain
to me. Oh, if I could only make you see!"
She buried her face in the pillow and presently lifted it, transfigured.
"Now I have it!" she cried. "Oh, dear heart! I can make it
so plain! Freckles, can you imagine you see the old Limberlost trail?
Well when we followed it, you know there were places where ugly,
prickly thistles overgrew the path, and you went ahead with your
club and bent them back to keep them from stinging through my clothing.
Other places there were big shining pools where lovely, snow-white
lilies grew, and you waded in and gathered them for me. Oh dear
heart, don't you see? It's this! Everywhere the wind carried
that thistledown, other thistles sprang up and grew prickles;
and wherever those lily seeds sank to the mire, the pure white
of other lilies bloomed. But, Freckles, there was never a
place anywhere in the Limberlost, or in the whole world, where the
thistledown floated and sprang up and blossomed into white lilies!
Thistles grow from thistles, and lilies from other lilies.
Dear Freckles, think hard! You must see it! You are a lily,
straight through. You never, never could have drifted from the
"Where did you find the courage to go into the Limberlost and face
its terrors? You inherited it from the blood of a brave father,
dear heart. Where did you get the pluck to hold for over a year a
job that few men would have taken at all? You got it from a plucky
mother, you bravest of boys. You attacked single-handed a man
almost twice your size, and fought as a demon, merely at the
suggestion that you be deceptive and dishonest. Could your mother
or your father have been untruthful? Here you are, so hungry and
starved that you are dying for love. Where did you get all that
capacity for loving? You didn't inherit it from hardened, heartless
people, who would disfigure you and purposely leave you to die,
that's one sure thing. You once told me of saving your big bullfrog
from a rattlesnake. You knew you risked a horrible death when you
did it. Yet you will spend miserable years torturing yourself with
the idea that your own mother might have cut off that hand. Shame on
you, Freckles! Your mother would have done this----"
The Angel deliberately turned back the cover, slipped up the
sleeve, and laid her lips on the scars.
"Freckles! Wake up!" she cried, almost shaking him. "Come to
your senses! Be a thinking, reasoning man! You have brooded too much,
and been all your life too much alone. It's all as plain as plain
can be to me. You must see it! Like breeds like in this world!
You must be some sort of a reproduction of your parents, and I am not
afraid to vouch for them, not for a minute!
"And then, too, if more proof is needed, here it is: Mr. McLean
says that you never once have failed in tact and courtesy. He says
that you are the most perfect gentleman he ever knew, and he has
traveled the world over. How does it happen, Freckles? No one at
that Home taught you. Hundreds of men couldn't be taught, even in
a school of etiquette; so it must be instinctive with you. If it
is, why, that means that it is born in you, and a direct
inheritance from a race of men that have been gentlemen for ages,
and couldn't be anything else.
"Then there's your singing. I don't believe there ever was a mortal
with a sweeter voice than yours, and while that doesn't prove
anything, there is a point that does. The little training you had
from that choirmaster won't account for the wonderful accent and
ease with which you sing. Somewhere in your close blood is a
marvelously trained vocalist; we every one of us believe that, Freckles.
"Why does my father refer to you constantly as being of fine
perceptions and honor? Because you are, Freckles. Why does the Bird
Woman leave her precious work and come here to help look after you?
I never heard of her losing any time over anyone else. It's because
she loves you. And why does Mr. McLean turn all of his valuable
business over to hired men and watch you personally? And why is he
hunting excuses every day to spend money on you? My father says
McLean is full Scotch-close with a dollar. He is a hard-headed
business man, Freckles, and he is doing it because he finds you
worthy of it. Worthy of all we all can do and more than we know how
to do, dear heart! Freckles, are you listening to me? Oh! won't you
see it? Won't you believe it?"
"Oh, Angel!" chattered the bewildered Freckles, "are you truly
maning it? Could it be?"
"Of course it could," flashed the Angel, "because it just is!"
"But you can't prove it," wailed Freckles. "It ain't giving me a
name, or me honor!"
"Freckles," said the Angel sternly, "you are unreasonable! Why, I
did prove every word I said! Everything proves it! You look here!
If you knew for sure that I could give you a name and your honor,
and prove to you that your mother did love you, why, then, would
you just go to breathing like perpetual motion and hang on for dear
life and get well?"
A bright light shone in Freckles' eyes.
"If I knew that, Angel," he said solemnly, "you couldn't be killing
me if you felled the biggest tree in the Limberlost smash on me!"
"Then you go right to work," said the Angel, "and before night I'll
prove one thing to you: I can show you easily enough how much your
mother loved you. That will be the first step, and then the
remainder will all come. If my father and Mr. McLean are so anxious
to spend some money, I'll give them a chance. I don't see why we
haven't comprehended how you felt and so have been at work weeks ago.
We've been awfully selfish. We've all been so comfortable, we never
stopped to think what other people were suffering before our eyes.
None of us has understood. I'll hire the finest detective in
Chicago, and we'll go to work together. This is nothing compared
with things people do find out. We'll go at it, beak and claw, and
we'll show you a thing or two."
Freckles caught her sleeve.
"Me mother, Angel! Me mother!" he marveled hoarsely. "Did you say
you could be finding out today if me mother loved me? How? Oh, Angel!
Nothing matters, IF ONLY ME MOTHER DIDN'T DO IT!"
"Then you rest easy," said the Angel, with large confidence.
"Your mother didn't do it! Mothers of sons such as you don't do things
like that. I'll go to work at once and prove it to you. The first
thing to do is to go to that Home where you were and get the
clothes you wore the night you were left there. I know that they
are required to save those things carefully. We can find out almost
all there is to know about your mother from them. Did you ever see them?"
"Yis," he replied.
"Freckles! Were they white?" she cried.
"Maybe they were once. They're all yellow with laying, and brown
with blood-stains now" said Freckles, the old note of bitterness
creeping in. "You can't be telling anything at all by them, Angel!"
Back to Full Books