Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter

Part 5 out of 5

"Well, but I just can!" said the Angel positively. "I can see from
the quality what kind of goods your mother could afford to buy.
I can see from the cut whether she had good taste. I can see from
the care she took in making them how much she loved and wanted you."

"But how? Angel, tell me how!" implored Freckles with trembling eagerness.

"Why, easily enough," said the Angel. "I thought you'd understand.
People that can afford anything at all, always buy white for little
new babies--linen and lace, and the very finest things to be had.
There's a young woman living near us who cut up her wedding clothes
to have fine things for her baby. Mothers who love and want their
babies don't buy little rough, ready-made things, and they don't
run up what they make on an old sewing machine. They make fine
seams, and tucks, and put on lace and trimming by hand. They sit and
stitch, and stitch--little, even stitches, every one just as careful.
Their eyes shine and their faces glow. When they have to quit to
do something else, they look sorry, and fold up their work
so particularly. There isn't much worth knowing about your mother
that those little clothes won't tell. I can see her putting the
little stitches into them and smiling with shining eyes over
your coming. Freckles, I'll wager you a dollar those little clothes
of yours are just alive with the dearest, tiny handmade stitches."

A new light dawned in Freckles' eyes. A tinge of warm color swept
into his face. Renewed strength was noticeable in his grip of her hands.

"Oh Angel! Will you go now? Will you be hurrying?" he cried.

"Right away," said the Angel. "I won't stop for a thing, and I'll
hurry with all my might."

She smoothed his pillow, straightened the cover, gave him one
steady look in the eyes, and went quietly from the room.

Outside the door, McLean and the surgeon anxiously awaited her.
McLean caught her shoulders.

"Angel, what have you done?" he demanded.

The Angel smiled defiance into his eyes.

"`What have I done?'" she repeated. "I've tried to save Freckles."

"What will your father say?" groaned McLean.

"It strikes me," said the Angel, "that what Freckles said would be
to the point."

"Freckles!" exclaimed McLean. "What could he say?"

"He seemed to be able to say several things," answered the
Angel sweetly. "I fancy the one that concerns you most at present
was, that if my father should offer me to him he would not have me."

"And no one knows why better than I do," cried McLean. "Every day
he must astonish me with some new fineness."

He turned to the surgeon. "Save him!" he commanded. "Save him!"
he implored. "He is too fine to be sacrificed."

"His salvation lies here," said the surgeon, stroking the Angel's
sunshiny hair, "and I can read in the face of her that she knows
how she is going to work it out. Don't trouble for the boy.
She will save him!"

The Angel laughingly sped down the hall, and into the street, just
as she was.

"I have come," she said to the matron of the Home, "to ask if you
will allow me to examine, or, better yet, to take with me, the
little clothes that a boy you called Freckles, discharged last
fall, wore the night he was left here."

The woman looked at her in greater astonishment than the occasion demanded.

"Well, I'd be glad to let you see them," she said at last, "but the
fact is we haven't them. I do hope we haven't made some mistake.
I was thoroughly convinced, and so was the superintendent. We let his
people take those things away yesterday. Who are you, and what do
you want with them?"

The Angel stood dazed and speechless, staring at the matron.

"There couldn't have been a mistake," continued the matron, seeing
the Angel's distress. "Freckles was here when I took charge, ten
years ago. These people had it all proved that he belonged to them.
They had him traced to where he ran away in Illinois last fall, and
there they completely lost track of him. I'm sorry you seem so
disappointed, but it is all right. The man is his uncle, and as
like the boy as he possibly could be. He is almost killed to go
back without him. If you know where Freckles is, they'd give big
money to find out."

The Angel laid a hand along each cheek to steady her chattering teeth.

"Who are they?" she stammered. "Where are they going?"

"They are Irish folks, miss," said the matron. "They have been in
Chicago and over the country for the past three months, hunting him
everywhere. They have given up, and are starting home today. They----"

"Did they leave an address? Where could I find them?" interrupted
the Angel.

"They left a card, and I notice the morning paper has the man's
picture and is full of them. They've advertised a great deal in the
city papers. It's a wonder you haven't seen something."

"Trains don't run right. We never get Chicago papers," said
the Angel. "Please give me that card quickly. They may escape me.
I simply must catch them!"

The matron hurried to the secretary and came back with a card.

"Their addresses are there," she said. "Both in Chicago and at
their home. They made them full and plain, and I was to cable at
once if I got the least clue of him at any time. If they've left
the city, you can stop them in New York. You're sure to catch them
before they sail--if you hurry."

The matron caught up a paper and thrust it into the Angel's hand as
she ran to the street.

The Angel glanced at the card. The Chicago address was Suite
Eleven, Auditorium. She laid her hand on her driver's sleeve and
looked into his eyes.

"There is a fast-driving limit?" she asked.

"Yes, miss."

"Will you crowd it all you can without danger of arrest? I will
pay well. I must catch some people!"

Then she smiled at him. The hospital, an Orphans' Home, and the
Auditorium seemed a queer combination to that driver, but the Angel
was always and everywhere the Angel, and her methods were strictly
her own.

"I will take you there as quickly as any man could with a team," he
said promptly.

The Angel clung to the card and paper, and as best she could in the
lurching, swaying cab, read the addresses over.

"O'More, Suite Eleven, Auditorium."

"`O'More,'" she repeated. "Seems to fit Freckles to a dot. Wonder if
that could be his name? `Suite Eleven' means that you are pretty
well fixed. Suites in the Auditorium come high."

Then she turned the card and read on its reverse, Lord Maxwell
O'More, M. P., Killvany Place, County Clare, Ireland.

The Angel sat on the edge of the seat, bracing her feet against the
one opposite, as the cab pitched and swung around corners and
past vehicles. She mechanically fingered the pasteboard and stared
straight ahead. Then she drew a deep breath and read the card again.

"A Lord-man!" she groaned despairingly. "A Lord-man! Bet my
hoecake's scorched! Here I've gone and pledged my word to Freckles
I'd find him some decent relatives, that he could be proud of, and
now there isn't a chance out of a dozen that he'll have to be
ashamed of them after all. It's too mean!"

The tears of vexation rolled down the tired, nerve-racked Angel's cheeks.

"This isn't going to do," she said, resolutely wiping her eyes with
the palm of her hand and gulping down the nervous spasm in her throat.
"I must read this paper before I meet Lord O'More."

She blinked back the tears and spreading the paper on her knee, read:
"After three months' fruitless search, Lord O'More gives up the
quest of his lost nephew, and leaves Chicago today for his home
in Ireland."

She read on, and realized every word. The likeness settled any doubt.
It was Freckles over again, only older and well dressed.

"Well, I must catch you if I can," muttered the Angel. "But when I
do, if you are a gentleman in name only, you shan't have Freckles;
that's flat. You're not his father and he is twenty. Anyway, if the
law will give him to you for one year, you can't spoil him, because
nobody could, and," she added, brightening, "he'll probably do you
a lot of good. Freckles and I both must study years yet, and you
should be something that will save him. I guess it will come out
all right. At least, I don't believe you can take him away if I say no."

"Thank you; and wait, no matter how long," she said to her driver.

Catching up the paper, she hurried to the desk and laid down Lord
O'More's card.

"Has my uncle started yet?" she asked sweetly.

The surprised clerk stepped back on a bellboy, and covertly kicked
him for being in the way.

"His lordship is in his room," he said, with a low bow.

"All right," said the Angel, picking up the card. "I thought he
might have started. I'll see him."

The clerk shoved the bellboy toward the Angel.

"Show her ladyship to the elevator and Lord O'More's suite," he
said, bowing double.

"Aw, thanks," said the Angel with a slight nod, as she turned away.

"I'm not sure," she muttered to herself as the elevator sped
upward, "whether it's the Irish or the English who say:
`Aw, thanks,' but it's probable he isn't either; and anyway,
I just had to do something to counteract that `All right.'
How stupid of me!"

At the bellboy's tap, the door swung open and the liveried servant
thrust a cardtray before the Angel. The opening of the door created
a current that swayed a curtain aside, and in an adjoining room,
lounging in a big chair, with a paper in his hand, sat a man who
was, beyond question, of Freckles' blood and race.

With perfect control the Angel dropped Lord O'More's card in the
tray, stepped past his servant, and stood before his lordship.

"Good morning," she said with tense politeness.

Lord O'More said nothing. He carelessly glanced her over with
amused curiosity, until her color began to deepen and her blood to
run hotly.

"Well, my dear," he said at last, "how can I serve you?"

Instantly the Angel became indignant. She had been so shielded
in the midst of almost entire freedom, owing to the circumstances
of her life, that the words and the look appeared to her as
almost insulting. She lifted her head with a proud gesture.

"I am not your `dear,'" she said with slow distinctness. "There
isn't a thing in the world you can do for me. I came here to see if
I could do something--a very great something--for you; but if I
don't like you, I won't do it!"

Then Lord O'More did stare. Suddenly he broke into a ringing laugh.
Without a change of attitude or expression, the Angel stood looking
steadily at him.

There was a silken rustle, then a beautiful woman with cheeks of
satiny pink, dark hair, and eyes of pure Irish blue, moved to Lord
O'More's side, and catching his arm, shook him impatiently.

"Terence! Have you lost your senses?" she cried. "Didn't you
understand what the child said? Look at her face! See what she has!"

Lord O'More opened his eyes widely and sat up. He did look at the
Angel's face intently, and suddenly found it so good that it was
difficult to follow the next injunction. He arose instantly.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "The fact is, I am leaving Chicago
sorely disappointed. It makes me bitter and reckless. I thought you
one more of those queer, useless people who have thrust themselves
on me constantly, and I was careless. Forgive me, and tell me why
you came."

"I will if I like you," said the Angel stoutly, "and if I don't, I won't!"

"But I began all wrong, and now I don't know how to make you like
me," said his lordship, with sincere penitence in his tone.

The Angel found herself yielding to his voice. He spoke in a soft,
mellow, smoothly flowing Irish tone, and although his speech was
perfectly correct, it was so rounded, and accented, and the
sentences so turned, that it was Freckles over again. Still, it was
a matter of the very greatest importance, and she must be sure; so
she looked into the beautiful woman's face.

"Are you his wife?" she asked.

"Yes," said the woman, "I am his wife."

"Well," said the Angel judicially, "the Bird Woman says no one in
the whole world knows all a man's bignesses and all his
littlenesses as his wife does. What you think of him should do
for me. Do you like him?"

The question was so earnestly asked that it met with equal earnestness.
The dark head moved caressingly against Lord O'More's sleeve.

"Better than anyone in the whole world," said Lady O'More promptly.

The Angel mused a second, and then her legal tinge came to the fore again.

"Yes, but have you anyone you could like better, if he wasn't all
right?" she persisted.

"I have three of his sons, two little daughters, a father, mother,
and several brothers and sisters," came the quick reply.

"And you like him best?" persisted the Angel with finality.

"I love him so much that I would give up every one of them with dry
eyes if by so doing I could save him," cried Lord O'More's wife.

"Oh!" cried the Angel. "Oh, my!"

She lifted her clear eyes to Lord O'More's and shook her head.

"She never, never could do that!" she said. "But it's a mighty big
thing to your credit that she THINKS she could. I guess I'll tell
you why I came."

She laid down the paper, and touched the portrait.

"When you were only a boy, did people call you Freckles?" she asked.

"Dozens of good fellows all over Ireland and the Continent are
doing it today," answered Lord O'More.

The Angel's face wore her most beautiful smile.

"I was sure of it," she said winningly. "That's what we call him,
and he is so like you, I doubt if any one of those three boys of
yours are more so. But it's been twenty years. Seems to me you've
been a long time coming!"

Lord O'More caught the Angel's wrists and his wife slipped her arms
around her.

"Steady, my girl!" said the man's voice hoarsely. "Don't make me
think you've brought word of the boy at this last hour, unless you
know surely."

"It's all right," said the Angel. "We have him, and there's no
chance of a mistake. If I hadn't gone to that Home for his little
clothes, and heard of you and been hunting you, and had met you on
the street, or anywhere, I would have stopped you and asked you who
you were, just because you are so like him. It's all right. I can
tell you where Freckles is; but whether you deserve to know--that's
another matter!"

Lord O'More did not hear her. He dropped in his chair, and covering
his face, burst into those terrible sobs that shake and rend a
strong man. Lady O'More hovered over him, weeping.

"Umph! Looks pretty fair for Freckles," muttered the Angel.
"Lots of things can be explained; now perhaps they can explain this."

They did explain so satisfactorily that in a few minutes the Angel
was on her feet, hurrying Lord and Lady O'More to reach the hospital.
"You said Freckles' old nurse knew his mother's picture instantly,"
said the Angel. "I want that picture and the bundle of little clothes."

Lady O'More gave them into her hands.

The likeness was a large miniature, painted on ivory, with a frame
of beaten gold. Surrounded by masses of dark hair was a delicately
cut face. In the upper part of it there was no trace of Freckles,
but the lips curving in a smile were his very own. The Angel gazed
at it steadily. Then with a quivering breath she laid the portrait
aside and reached both hands to Lord O'More.

"That will save Freckles' life and insure his happiness," she
said positively. "Thank you, oh thank you for coming!"

She opened the bundle of yellow and brown linen and gave only a
glance at the texture and work. Then she gathered the little
clothes and the picture to her heart and led the way to the cab.

Ushering Lord and Lady O'More into the reception room, she said to
McLean, "Please go call up my father and ask him to come on the
first train."

She closed the door after him.

"These are Freckles' people," she said to the Bird Woman. "You can
find out about each other; I'm going to him."


Wherein Freckles Finds His Birthright and the Angel Loses Her Heart

The nurse left the room quietly, as the Angel entered, carrying the
bundle and picture. When they were alone, she turned to Freckles
and saw that the crisis was indeed at hand.

That she had good word to give him was his salvation, for despite
the heavy plaster jacket that held his body immovable, his head was
lifted from the pillow. Both arms reached for her. His lips and
cheeks flamed, while his eyes flashed with excitement.

"Angel," he panted. "Oh Angel! Did you find them? Are they white?
Are the little stitches there? OH ANGEL! DID ME MOTHER LOVE ME?"

The words seemed to leap from his burning lips. The Angel dropped
the bundle on the bed and laid the picture face down across his knees.
She gently pushed his head to the pillow and caught his arms in a
firm grasp.

"Yes, dear heart," she said with fullest assurance. "No little
clothes were ever whiter. I never in all my life saw such dainty,
fine, little stitches; and as for loving you, no boy's mother ever
loved him more!"

A nervous trembling seized Freckles.

"Sure? Are you sure?" he urged with clicking teeth.

"I know," said the Angel firmly. "And Freckles, while you rest and
be glad, I want to tell you a story. When you feel stronger we will
look at the clothes together. They are here. They are all right.
But while I was at the Home getting them, I heard of some people
that were hunting a lost boy. I went to see them, and what they
told me was all so exactly like what might have happened to you that
I must tell you. Then you'll understand that things could be very
different from what you always have tortured yourself with thinking.
Are you strong enough to listen? May I tell you?"

"Maybe 'twasn't me mother! Maybe someone else made those little stitches!"

"Now, goosie, don't you begin that," said the Angel, "because I
know that it was!"

"Know!" cried Freckles, his head springing from the pillow. "Know!
How can you know?"

The Angel gently soothed him back.

"Why, because nobody else would ever sit and do it the way it
is done. That's how I know," she said emphatically. "Now you
listen while I tell you about this lost boy and his people, who
have hunted for months and can't find him."

Freckles lay quietly under her touch, but he did not hear a word
that she was saying until his roving eyes rested on her face; he
immediately noticed a remarkable thing. For the first time she was
talking to him and avoiding his eyes. That was not like the Angel
at all. It was the delight of hearing her speak that she looked one
squarely in the face and with perfect frankness. There were no side
glances and down-drooping eyes when the Angel talked; she was
business straight through. Instantly Freckles' wandering thoughts
fastened on her words.

"--and he was a sour, grumpy, old man," she was saying. "He always
had been spoiled, because he was an only son, so he had a title,
and a big estate. He would have just his way, no matter about his
sweet little wife, or his boys, or anyone. So when his elder son
fell in love with a beautiful girl having a title, the very girl of
all the world his father wanted him to, and added a big adjoining
estate to his, why, that pleased him mightily.

"Then he went and ordered his younger son to marry a poky kind of
a girl, that no one liked, to add another big estate on the other
side, and that was different. That was all the world different,
because the elder son had been in love all his life with the girl
he married, and, oh, Freckles, it's no wonder, for I saw her!
She's a beauty and she has the sweetest way.

"But that poor younger son, he had been in love with the village
vicar's daughter all his life. That's no wonder either, for she was
more beautiful yet. She could sing as the angels, but she hadn't a
cent. She loved him to death, too, if he was bony and freckled and
red-haired--I don't mean that! They didn't say what color his hair
was, but his father's must have been the reddest ever, for when he
found out about them, and it wasn't anything so terrible, HE JUST CAVED!

"The old man went to see the girl--the pretty one with no money, of
course--and he hurt her feelings until she ran away. She went to
London and began studying music. Soon she grew to be a fine singer,
so she joined a company and came to this country.

"When the younger son found that she had left London, he followed her.
When she got here all alone, and afraid, and saw him coming to her,
why, she was so glad she up and married him, just like anybody
else would have done. He didn't want her to travel with the troupe,
so when they reached Chicago they thought that would be a good
place, and they stopped, while he hunted work. It was slow
business, because he never had been taught to do a useful thing,
and he didn't even know how to hunt work, least of all to do it
when he found it; so pretty soon things were going wrong. But if he
couldn't find work, she could always sing, so she sang at night,
and made little things in the daytime. He didn't like her to sing
in public, and he wouldn't allow her when he could HELP himself;
but winter came, it was very cold, and fire was expensive.
Rents went up, and they had to move farther out to cheaper and
cheaper places; and you were coming--I mean, the boy that is lost
was coming--and they were almost distracted. Then the man wrote and
told his father all about it; and his father sent the letter back
unopened with a line telling him never to write again. When the
baby came, there was very little left to pawn for food and a
doctor, and nothing at all for a nurse; so an old neighbor woman
went in and took care of the young mother and the little baby,
because she was so sorry for them. By that time they were away in
the suburbs on the top floor of a little wooden house, among a lot
of big factories, and it kept growing colder, with less to eat.
Then the man grew desperate and he went just to find something to
eat and the woman was desperate, too. She got up, left the old
woman to take care of her baby, and went into the city to sing for
some money. The woman became so cold she put the baby in bed and
went home. Then a boiler blew up in a big factory beside the little
house and set it on fire. A piece of iron was pitched across and
broke through the roof. It came down smash, and cut just one little
hand off the poor baby. It screamed and screamed; and the fire kept
coming closer and closer.

"The old woman ran out with the other people and saw what had happened.
She knew there wasn't going to be time to wait for firemen or
anything, so she ran into the building. She could hear the baby
screaming, and she couldn't stand that; so she worked her way to it.
There it was, all hurt and bleeding. Then she was almost scared
to death over thinking what its mother would do to her for
going away and leaving it, so she ran to a Home for little
friendless babies, that was close, and banged on the door. Then she
hid across the street until the baby was taken in, and then she ran
back to see if her own house was burning. The big factory and the
little house and a lot of others were all gone. The people there
told her that the beautiful lady came back and ran into the house
to find her baby. She had just gone in when her husband came, and
he went in after her, and the house fell over both of them."

Freckles lay rigidly, with his eyes on the Angel's face, while she
talked rapidly to the ceiling.

"Then the old woman was sick about that poor little baby. She was
afraid to tell them at the Home, because she knew she never should
have left it, but she wrote a letter and sent it to where the
beautiful woman, when she was ill, had said her husband's people lived.
She told all about the little baby that she could remember:
when it was born, how it was named for the man's elder brother,
that its hand had been cut off in the fire, and where she had put
it to be doctored and taken care of. She told them that its mother
and father were both burned, and she begged and implored them to
come after it.

"You'd think that would have melted a heart of ice, but that old
man hadn't any heart to melt, for he got that letter and read it.
He hid it away among his papers and never told a soul. A few months
ago he died. When his elder son went to settle his business, he
found the letter almost the first thing. He dropped everything, and
came, with his wife, to hunt that baby, because he always had loved
his brother dearly, and wanted him back. He had hunted for him all
he dared all these years, but when he got here you were gone--I
mean the baby was gone, and I had to tell you, Freckles, for you
see, it might have happened to you like that just as easy as to
that other lost boy."

Freckles reached up and turned the Angel's face until he compelled
her eyes to meet his.

"Angel," he asked quietly, "why don't you look at me when you are
telling about that lost boy?"

"I--I didn't know I wasn't," faltered the Angel.

"It seems to me," said Freckles, his breath beginning to come in
sharp wheezes, "that you got us rather mixed, and it ain't like you
to be mixing things till one can't be knowing. If they were telling
you so much, did they say which hand was for being off that lost boy?"

The Angel's eyes escaped again.

"It--it was the same as yours," she ventured, barely breathing in
her fear.

Still Freckles lay rigid and whiter than the coverlet.

"Would that boy be as old as me?" he asked.

"Yes," said the Angel faintly.

"Angel," said Freckles at last, catching her wrist, "are you trying
to tell me that there is somebody hunting a boy that you're
thinking might be me? Are you belavin' you've found me relations?"

Then the Angel's eyes came home. The time had come. She pinioned
Freckles' arms to his sides and bent above him.

"How strong are you, dear heart?" she breathed. "How brave are you?
Can you bear it? Dare I tell you that?"

"No!" gasped Freckles. "Not if you're sure! I can't bear it!
I'll die if you do!"

The day had been one unremitting strain with the Angel.
Nerve tension was drawn to the finest thread. It snapped suddenly.

"Die!" she flamed. "Die, if I tell you that! You said this morning
that you would die if you DIDN'T know your name, and if your people
were honorable. Now I've gone and found you a name that stands for
ages of honor, a mother who loved you enough to go into the fire
and die for you, and the nicest kind of relatives, and you turn
round and say you'll die over that! YOU JUST TRY DYING AND YOU'LL

The Angel stood glaring at him. One second Freckles lay paralyzed
and dumb with astonishment. The next the Irish in his soul arose
above everything. A laugh burst from him. The terrified Angel
caught him in her arms and tried to stifle the sound. She implored
and commanded. When he was too worn to utter another sound, his
eyes laughed silently.

After a long time, when he was quiet and rested, the Angel
commenced talking to him gently, and this time her big eyes, humid
with tenderness and mellow with happiness, seemed as if they could
not leave his face.

"Dear Freckles," she was saying, "across your knees there is the
face of the mother who went into the fire for you, and I know the
name--old and full of honor--to which you were born. Dear heart,
which will you have first?"

Freckles was very tired; the big drops of perspiration ran together
on his temples; but the watching Angel caught the words his lips
formed, "Me mother!"

She lifted the lovely pictured face and set it in the nook of his arm.
Freckles caught her hand and drew her beside him, and together
they gazed at the picture while the tears slid over their cheeks.

"Me mother! Oh, me mother! Can you ever be forgiving me? Oh, me
beautiful little mother!" chanted Freckles over and over in exalted
wonder, until he was so completely exhausted that his lips refused
to form the question in his weary eyes.

"Wait!" cried the Angel with inborn refinement, for she could no
more answer that question than he could ask. "Wait, I will write it!"

She hurried to the table, caught up the nurse's pencil, and on the
back of a prescription tablet scrawled it: "Terence Maxwell O'More,
Dunderry House, County Clare, Ireland."

Before she had finished came Freckles' voice: "Angel, are you hurrying?"

"Yes," said the Angel; "I am. But there is a good deal of it. I have
to put in your house and country, so that you will feel located."

"Me house?" marveled Freckles.

"Of course," said the Angel. "Your uncle says your grandmother left
your father her dower house and estate, because she knew his father
would cut him off. You get that, and all your share of your
grandfather's property besides. It is all set off for you and
waiting. Lord O'More told me so. I suspect you are richer than
McLean, Freckles."

She closed his fingers over the slip and straightened his hair.

"Now you are all right, dear Limberlost guard," she said. "You go
to sleep and don't think of a thing but just pure joy, joy, joy!
I'll keep your people until you wake up. You are too tired to see
anyone else just now!"

Freckles caught her skirt as she turned from him.

"I'll go to sleep in five minutes," he said, "if you will be doing
just one thing more for me. Send for your father! Oh, Angel, send
for him quick! How will I ever be waiting until he comes?"

One instant the Angel stood looking at him. The next a crimson wave
darkly stained her lovely face. Her chin began a spasmodic
quivering and the tears sprang into her eyes. Her hands caught at
her chest as if she were stifling. Freckles' grasp on her tightened
until he drew her beside him. He slipped his arm around her and
drew her face to his pillow.

"Don't, Angel; for the love of mercy don't be doing that,"
he implored. "I can't be bearing it. Tell me. You must tell me."

The Angel shook her head.

"That ain't fair, Angel," said Freckles. "You made me tell you
when it was like tearing the heart raw from me breast. And you was
for making everything heaven--just heaven and nothing else for me.
If I'm so much more now than I was an hour ago, maybe I can be
thinking of some way to fix things. You will be telling me?" he
coaxed, moving his cheek against her hair.

The Angel's head moved in negation. Freckles did a moment of
intent thinking.

"Maybe I can be guessing," he whispered. "Will you be giving me
three chances?"

There was the faintest possible assent.

"You didn't want me to be knowing me name," guessed Freckles.

The Angel's head sprang from the pillow and her tear-stained face
flamed with outraged indignation.

"Why, I did too!" she cried angrily.

"One gone," said Freckles calmly. "You didn't want me to have
relatives, a home, and money."

"I did!" exclaimed the Angel. "Didn't I go myself, all alone, into
the city, and find them when I was afraid as death? I did too!"

"Two gone," said Freckles. "You didn't want the beautifulest girl
in the world to be telling me.----"

Down went the Angel's face and a heavy sob shook her. Freckles'
clasp tightened around her shoulders, while his face, in its
conflicting emotions, was a study. He was so stunned and bewildered
by the miracle that had been performed in bringing to light his
name and relatives that he had no strength left for elaborate
mental processes. Despite all it meant to him to know his name at
last, and that he was of honorable birth--knowledge without which
life was an eternal disgrace and burden the one thing that was
hammering in Freckles' heart and beating in his brain, past any
attempted expression, was the fact that, while nameless and
possibly born in shame, the Angel had told him that she loved him.
He could find no word with which to begin to voice the rapture of
his heart over that. But if she regretted it--if it had been a
thing done out of her pity for his condition, or her feeling of
responsibility, if it killed him after all, there was only one
thing left to do. Not for McLean, not for the Bird Woman, not for
the Duncans would Freckles have done it--but for the Angel--if it
would make her happy--he would do anything.

"Angel," whispered Freckles, with his lips against her hair, "you
haven't learned your history book very well, or else you've forgotten."

"Forgotten what?" sobbed the Angel.

"Forgotten about the real knight, Ladybird," breathed Freckles.
"Don't you know that, if anything happened that made his lady
sorry, a real knight just simply couldn't be remembering it? Angel,
darling little Swamp Angel, you be listening to me. There was one
night on the trail, one solemn, grand, white night, that there
wasn't ever any other like before or since, when the dear Boss put
his arm around me and told me that he loved me; but if you care,
Angel, if you don't want it that way, why, I ain't remembering that
anyone else ever did--not in me whole life."

The Angel lifted her head and looked into the depths of Freckles'
honest gray eyes, and they met hers unwaveringly; but the pain in
them was pitiful.

"Do you mean," she demanded, "that you don't remember that a
brazen, forward girl told you, when you hadn't asked her, that
she"--the Angel choked on it a second, but she gave a gulp and
brought it out bravely--"that she loved you?"

"No!" cried Freckles. "No! I don't remember anything of the kind!"

But all the songbirds of his soul burst into melody over that one
little clause: "When you hadn't asked her."

"But you will," said the Angel. "You may live to be an old, old
man, and then you will."

"I will not!" cried Freckles. "How can you think it, Angel?"

"You won't even LOOK as if you remember?"

"I will not!" persisted Freckles. "I'll be swearing to it if you
want me to. If you wasn't too tired to think this thing out
straight, you'd be seeing that I couldn't--that I just simply
couldn't! I'd rather give it all up now and go into eternity alone,
without ever seeing a soul of me same blood, or me home, or hearing
another man call me by the name I was born to, than to remember
anything that would be hurting you, Angel. I should think you'd be
understanding that it ain't no ways possible for me to do it."

The Angel's tear-stained face flashed into dazzling beauty.
A half-hysterical little laugh broke from her heart and bubbled over
her lips.

"Oh, Freckles, forgive me!" she cried. "I've been through so much
that I'm scarcely myself, or I wouldn't be here bothering you when you
should be sleeping. Of course you couldn't! I knew it all the time!
I was just scared! I was forgetting that you were you! You're too
good a knight to remember a thing like that. Of course you are!
And when you don't remember, why, then it's the same as if it
never happened. I was almost killed because I'd gone and spoiled
everything, but now it will be all right. Now you can go on and do
things like other men, and I can have some flowers, and letters,
and my sweetheart coming, and when you are SURE, why, then YOU can tell
ME things, can't you? Oh, Freckles, I'm so glad! Oh, I'm so happy!
It's dear of you not to remember, Freckles; perfectly dear!
It's no wonder I love you so. The wonder would be if I did not.
Oh, I should like to know how I'm ever going to make you understand
how much I love you!"

Pillow and all, she caught him to her breast one long second; then
she was gone.

Freckles lay dazed with astonishment. At last his amazed eyes
searched the room for something approaching the human to which he
could appeal, and falling on his mother's portrait, he set it
before him.

"For the love of life! Me little mother," he panted, "did you
hear that? Did you hear it! Tell me, am I living, or am I dead and
all heaven come true this minute? Did you hear it?"

He shook the frame in his impatience at receiving no answer.

"You are only a pictured face," he said at last, "and of course you
can't talk; but the soul of you must be somewhere, and surely in this
hour you are close enough to be hearing. Tell me, did you hear that?
I can't ever be telling a living soul; but darling little mother,
who gave your life for mine, I can always be talking of it
to you! Every day we'll talk it over and try to understand the
miracle of it. Tell me, are all women like that? Were you like me
Swamp Angel? If you were, then I'm understanding why me father
followed across the ocean and went into the fire."


Wherein Freckles returns to the Limberlost, and Lord O'More Sails
for Ireland Without Him

Freckles' voice ceased, his eyes closed, and his head rolled back
from exhaustion. Later in the day he insisted on seeing Lord and
Lady O'More, but he fainted before the resemblance of another man
to him, and gave all of his friends a terrible fright.

The next morning, the Man of Affairs, with a heart filled with
misgivings, undertook the interview on which Freckles insisted.
His fears were without cause. Freckles was the soul of honor
and simplicity.

"Have they been telling you what's come to me?" he asked without
even waiting for a greeting.

"Yes," said the Angel's father.

"Do you think you have the very worst of it clear to your understanding?"

Under Freckles' earnest eyes the Man of Affairs answered soberly:
"I think I have, Mr. O'More."

That was the first time Freckles heard his name from the lips
of another. One second he lay overcome; the next, tears filled his
eyes, and he reached out his hand. Then the Angel's father understood,
and he clasped that hand and held it in a strong, firm grasp.

"Terence, my boy," he said, "let me do the talking. I came here
with the understanding that you wanted to ask me for my only child.
I should like, at the proper time, to regard her marriage, if she
has found the man she desires to marry, not as losing all I have,
but as gaining a man on whom I can depend to love as a son and to
take charge of my affairs for her when I retire from business.
Bend all of your energies toward rapid recovery, and from this hour
understand that my daughter and my home are yours."

"You're not forgetting this?"

Freckles lifted his right arm.

"Terence, I'm sorrier than I have words to express about that,"
said the Man of Affairs. "It's a damnable pity! But if it's for me
to choose whether I give all I have left in this world to a man
lacking a hand, or to one of these gambling, tippling, immoral
spendthrifts of today, with both hands and feet off their souls,
and a rotten spot in the core, I choose you; and it seems that my
daughter does the same. Put what is left you of that right arm to
the best uses you can in this world, and never again mention or
feel that it is defective so long as you live. Good day, sir!"

"One minute more," said Freckles. "Yesterday the Angel was telling
me that there was money coming to me from two sources. She said
that me grandmother had left me father all of her fortune and her
house, because she knew that his father would be cutting him off,
and also that me uncle had set aside for me what would be me
father's interest in his father's estate.

"Whatever the sum is that me grandmother left me father, because
she loved him and wanted him to be having it, that I'll be taking.
'Twas hers from her father, and she had the right to be giving it
as she chose. Anything from the man that knowingly left me father
and me mother to go cold and hungry, and into the fire in misery,
when just a little would have made life so beautiful to them, and
saved me this crippled body--money that he willed from me when he
knew I was living, of his blood and on charity among strangers, I
don't touch, not if I freeze, starve, and burn too! If there ain't
enough besides that, and I can't be earning enough to fix things
for the Angel----"

"We are not discussing money!" burst in the Man of Affairs.
"We don't want any blood-money! We have all we need without it.
If you don't feel right and easy over it, don't you touch a cent
of any of it."

"It's right I should have what me grandmother intinded for me
father, and I want it," said Freckles, "but I'd die before I'd
touch a cent of me grandfather's money!"

"Now," said the Angel, "we are all going home. We have done all we
can for Freckles. His people are here. He should know them. They are
very anxious to become acquainted with him. We'll resign him to them.
When he is well, why, then he will be perfectly free to go to
Ireland or come to the Limberlost, just as he chooses. We will go
at once."

McLean held out for a week, and then he could endure it no longer.
He was heart hungry for Freckles. Communing with himself in the
long, soundful nights of the swamp, he had learned to his
astonishment that for the past year his heart had been circling the
Limberlost with Freckles. He began to wish that he had not left him.
Perhaps the boy--his boy by first right, after all--was being neglected.
If the Boss had been a nervous old woman, he scarcely could have
imagined more things that might be going wrong.

He started for Chicago, loaded with a big box of goldenrod, asters,
fringed gentians, and crimson leaves, that the Angel carefully had
gathered from Freckles' room, and a little, long slender package.
He traveled with biting, stinging jealousy in his heart. He would
not admit it even to himself, but he was unable to remain longer
away from Freckles and leave him to the care of Lord O'More.

In a few minutes' talk, while McLean awaited admission to Freckles'
room, his lordship had chatted genially of Freckles' rapid
recovery, of his delight that he was unspotted by his early
surroundings, and his desire to visit the Limberlost with Freckles
before they sailed; he expressed the hope that he could prevail
upon the Angel's father to place her in his wife's care and have
her education finished in Paris. He said they were anxious to do
all they could to help bind Freckles' arrangements with the Angel,
as both he and Lady O'More regarded her as the most promising girl
they knew, and one who could be fitted to fill the high position in
which Freckles would place her.

Every word he uttered was pungent with bitterness to McLean. The
swamp had lost its flavor without Freckles; and yet, as Lord O'More
talked, McLean fervently wished himself in the heart of it. As he
entered Freckles' room he almost lost his breath. Everything was changed.

Freckles lay beside a window where he could follow Lake Michigan's
blue until the horizon dipped into it. He could see big soft
clouds, white-capped waves, shimmering sails, and puffing steamers
trailing billowing banners of lavender and gray across the sky.
Gulls and curlews wheeled over the water and dipped their wings in
the foam. The room was filled with every luxury that taste and
money could introduce.

All the tan and sunburn had been washed from Freckles' face in
sweats of agony. It was a smooth, even white, its brown rift
scarcely showing. What the nurses and Lady O'More had done to
Freckles' hair McLean could not guess, but it was the most
beautiful that he ever had seen. Fine as floss, bright in color,
waving and crisp, it fell around the white face.

They had gotten his arms into and his chest covered with a finely
embroidered, pale-blue silk shirt, with soft, white tie at the throat.
Among the many changes that had taken place during his absence,
the fact that Freckles was most attractive and barely escaped
being handsome remained almost unnoticed by the Boss, so great
was his astonishment at seeing both cuffs turned back and the
right arm in view. Freckles was using the maimed arm that
previously he always had hidden.

"Oh Lord, sir, but I'm glad to see you!" cried Freckles, almost
rolling from the bed as he reached toward McLean. "Tell me quick,
is the Angel well and happy? Can me Little Chicken spread six feet
of wing and sail to his mother? How's me new father, the Bird
Woman, Duncans, and Nellie--darling little high-stepping Nelie?
Me Aunt Alice is going to choose the hat just as soon as I'm mended
enough to be going with her. How are all the gang? Have they found
any more good trees? I've been thinking a lot, sir. I believe I can
find others near that last one. Me Aunt Alice thinks maybe I can,
and Uncle Terence says it's likely. Golly, but they're nice,
ilegant people. I tell you I'm proud to be same blood with them!
Come closer, quick! I was going to do this yesterday, and somehow
I just felt that you'd surely be coming today and I waited.
I'm selecting the Angel's ring stone. The ring she ordered for me
is finished and they sent it to keep me company. See? It's an
emerald--just me color, Lord O'More says."

Freckles flourished his hand.

"Ain't that fine? Never took so much comfort with anything in
me life. Every color of the old swamp is in it. I asked the Angel
to have a little shamrock leaf cut on it, so every time I saw it I'd
be thinking of the `love, truth, and valor' of that song she was
teaching me. Ain't that a beautiful song? Some of these days I'm
going to make it echo. I'm a little afraid to be doing it with me
voice yet, but me heart's tuning away on it every blessed hour.
Will you be looking at these now?"

Freckles tilted a tray of unset stones from Peacock's that would
have ransomed several valuable kings. He held them toward McLean,
stirring them with his right arm.

"I tell you I'm glad to see you, sir" he said. "I tried to tell me
uncle what I wanted, but this ain't for him to be mixed up in,
anyway, and I don't think I made it clear to him. I couldn't seem
to say the words I wanted. I can be telling you, sir."

McLean's heart began to thump as a lover's.

"Go on, Freckles," he said assuringly.

"It's this," said Freckles. "I told him that I would pay only three
hundred dollars for the Angel's stone. I'm thinking that with what
he has laid up for me, and the bigness of things that the Angel did
for me, it seems like a stingy little sum to him. I know he thinks
I should be giving much more, but I feel as if I just had to be
buying that stone with money I earned meself; and that is all I
have saved of me wages. I don't mind paying for the muff, or the
drexing table, or Mrs. Duncan's things, from that other money, and
later the Angel can have every last cent of me grandmother's, if
she'll take it; but just now--oh, sir, can't you see that I have to
be buying this stone with what I have in the bank? I'm feeling that
I couldn't do any other way, and don't you think the Angel would
rather have the best stone I can buy with the money I earned meself
than a finer one paid for with other money?"

"In other words, Freckles," said the Boss in a husky voice, "you
don't want to buy the Angel's ring with money. You want to give for
it your first awful fear of the swamp. You want to pay for it with
the loneliness and heart hunger you have suffered there, with last
winter's freezing on the line and this summer's burning in the sun.
You want it to stand to her for every hour in which you risked your
life to fulfill your contract honorably. You want the price of that
stone to be the fears that have chilled your heart--the sweat and
blood of your body."

Freckles' eyes were filled with tears and his face quivering with feeling.

"Dear Mr. McLean," he said, reaching with a caress over the Boss's
black hair and his cheek. "Dear Boss, that's why I've wanted you so.
I knew you would know. Now you will be looking at these? I don't
want emeralds, because that's what she gave me."

He pushed the green stones into a little heap of rejected ones.
Then he singled out all the pearls.

"Ain't they pretty things?" he said. "I'll be getting her some of
those later. They are like lily faces, turtle-head flowers,
dewdrops in the shade or moonlight; but they haven't the life in
them that I want in the stone I give to the Angel right now."

Freckles heaped the pearls with the emeralds. He studied the
diamonds a long time.

"These things are so fascinating like they almost tempt one, though
they ain't quite the proper thing," he said. "I've always dearly
loved to be watching yours, sir. I must get her some of these big
ones, too, some day. They're like the Limberlost in January, when
it's all ice-coated, and the sun is in the west and shines through
and makes all you can see of the whole world look like fire and
ice; but fire and ice ain't like the Angel."

The diamonds joined the emeralds and pearls. There was left a
little red heap, and Freckles' fingers touched it with a new
tenderness. His eyes were flashing.

"I'm thinking here's me Angel's stone," he exulted. "The
Limberlost, and me with it, grew in mine; but it's going to bloom,
and her with it, in this! There's the red of the wild poppies, the
cardinal-flowers, and the little bunch of crushed foxfire that we
found where she put it to save me. There's the light of the
campfire, and the sun setting over Sleepy Snake Creek. There's the
red of the blood we were willing to give for each other. It's like
her lips, and like the drops that dried on her beautiful arm that
first day, and I'm thinking it must be like the brave, tender,
clean, red heart of her."

Freckles lifted the ruby to his lips and handed it to McLean.

"I'll be signing me cheque and you have it set," he said. "I want
you to draw me money and pay for it with those very same dollars, sir."

Again the heart of McLean took hope.

"Freckles, may I ask you something?" he said.

"Why, sure," said Freckles. "There's nothing you would be asking
that it wouldn't be giving me joy to be telling you."

McLean's eyes traveled to Freckles' right arm with which he was
moving the jewels.

"Oh, that!" cried Freckles with a laugh. "You're wanting to know
where all the bitterness is gone? Well sir, 'twas carried from me
soul, heart, and body on the lips of an Angel. Seems that hurt was
necessary in the beginning to make today come true. The wound had
always been raw, but the Angel was healing it. If she doesn't care,
I don't. Me dear new father doesn't, nor me aunt and uncle, and you
never did. Why should I be fretting all me life about what can't
be helped. The real truth is, that since what happened to it last
week, I'm so everlastingly proud of it I catch meself sticking it
out on display a bit."

Freckles looked the Boss in the eyes and began to laugh.

"Well thank heaven!" said McLean.

"Now it's me turn," said Freckles. "I don't know as I ought to be
asking you, and yet I can't see a reason good enough to keep me
from it. It's a thing I've had on me mind every hour since I've had
time to straighten things out a little. May I be asking you a question?"

McLean reached over and took Freckles' hand. His voice was shaken
with feeling as he replied: "Freckles, you almost hurt me. Will you
never learn how much you are to me--how happy you make me in coming
to me with anything, no matter what?"

"Then it's this," said Freckles, gripping the hand of McLean strongly.
"If this accident, and all that's come to me since, had never
happened, where was it you had planned to send me to school?
What was it you meant for me to do?"

"Why, Freckles," answered McLean, "I'm scarcely prepared to
state definitely. My ideas were rather hazy. I thought we would
make a beginning and see which way things went. I figured on taking
you to Grand Rapids first, and putting you in the care of my mother.
I had an idea it would be best to secure a private tutor to coach you
for a year or two, until you were ready to enter Ann Arbor or the
Chicago University in good shape. Then I thought we'd finish in
this country at Yale or Harvard, and end with Oxford, to get a
good, all-round flavor."

"Is that all?" asked Freckles.

"No; that's leaving the music out," said McLean. "I intended to
have your voice tested by some master, and if you really were
endowed for a career as a great musician, and had inclinations that
way, I wished to have you drop some of the college work and make
music your chief study. Finally, I wanted us to take a trip through
Europe and clear around the circle together"

"And then what?" queried Freckles breathlessly.

"Why, then," said McLean, "you know that my heart is hopelessly in
the woods. I never will quit the timber business while there is
timber to handle and breath in my body. I thought if you didn't
make a profession of music, and had any inclination my way, we
would stretch the partnership one more and take you into the firm,
placing your work with me. Those plans may sound jumbled in the
telling, but they have grown steadily on me, Freckles, as you have
grown dear to me."

Freckles lifted anxious and eager eyes to McLean.

"You told me once on the trail, and again when we thought that I
was dying, that you loved me. Do these things that have come to me
make any difference in any way with your feeing toward me?"

"None," said McLean. "How could they, Freckles? Nothing could make
me love you more, and you never will do anything that will make me
love you less."

"Glory be to God!" cried Freckles. "Glory to the Almighty! Hurry
and be telling your mother I'm coming! Just as soon as I can get on
me feet I'll be taking that ring to me Angel, and then I'll go to
Grand Rapids and be making me start just as you planned, only that
I can be paying me own way. When I'm educated enough, we'll
all--the Angel and her father, the Bird Woman, you, and me--all of
us will go together and see me house and me relations and be taking
that trip. When we get back, we'll add O'More to the Lumber
Company, and golly, sir, but we'll make things hum! Good land, sir!
Don't do that! Why, Mr. McLean, dear Boss, dear father, don't be
doing that! What is it?"

"Nothing, nothing!" boomed McLean's deep bass; "nothing at all!"

He abruptly turned, and hurried to the window.

"This is a mighty fine view," he said. "Lake's beautiful
this morning. No wonder Chicago people are so proud of their city's
location on its shore. But, Freckles, what is Lord O'More going to
say to this?"

"I don't know," said Freckles. "I am going to be cut deep if he
cares, for he's been more than good to me, and Lady Alice is next
to me Angel. He's made me feel me blood and race me own possession.
She's talked to me by the hour of me father and mother and
me grandmother. She's made them all that real I can lay claim to them
and feel that they are mine. I'm very sorry to be hurting them, if
it will, but it can't be changed. Nobody ever puts the width of the
ocean between me and the Angel. From here to the Limberlost is all
I can be bearing peaceable. I want the education, and then I want
to work and live here in the country where I was born, and where
the ashes of me father and mother rest.

"I'll be glad to see Ireland, and glad especial to see those little
people who are my kin, but I ain't ever staying long. All me heart
is the Angel's, and the Limberlost is calling every minute.
You're thinking, sir, that when I look from that window I see the
beautiful water, ain't you? I'm not.

"I see soft, slow clouds oozing across the blue, me big black
chickens hanging up there, and a great feather softly sliding down.
I see mighty trees, swinging vines, bright flowers, and always
masses of the wild roses, with the wild rose face of me Ladybird
looking through. I see the swale rocking, smell the sweetness of
the blooming things, and the damp, mucky odor of the swamp; and I
hear me birds sing, me squirrels bark, the rattlers hiss, and the
step of Wessner or Black Jack coming; and whether it's the things
that I loved or the things that I feared, it's all a part of the day.

"Me heart's all me Swamp Angel's, and me love is all hers, and I
have her and the swamp so confused in me mind I never can be
separating them. When I look at her, I see blue sky, the sun
rifting through the leaves and pink and red flowers; and when I
look at the Limberlost I see a pink face with blue eyes, gold hair,
and red lips, and, it's the truth, sir, they're mixed till they're
one to me!

"I'm afraid it will be hurting some, but I have the feeing that I
can be making my dear people understand, so that they will be
willing to let me come back home. Send Lady O'More to put these
flowers God made in the place of these glass-house ilegancies, and
please be cutting the string of this little package the Angel's
sent me."

As Freckles held up the package, the lights of the Limberlost
flashed from the emerald on his finger. On the cover was printed:
"To the Limberlost Guard!" Under it was a big, crisp, iridescent
black feather.


Back to Full Books