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´╗┐Title: Freckles
Author: Stratton-Porter, Gene, 1863-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Freckles" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



FRECKLES

By Gene Stratton-Porter



  To all good Irishmen in general
  and one CHARLES DARWIN PORTER
  in particular



Characters:


  FRECKLES, a plucky waif who guards the Limberlost timber leases and
  dreams of Angels.

  THE SWAMP ANGEL, in whom Freckles' sweetest dream materializes.

  MCLEAN, a member of a Grand Rapids lumber company, who befriends
  Freckles.

  MRS. DUNCAN, who gives mother-love and a home to Freckles.

  DUNCAN, head teamster of McLean's timber gang.

  THE BIRD WOMAN, who is collecting camera studies of birds for a book.

  LORD AND LADY O'MORE, who come from Ireland in quest of a lost relative.

  THE MAN OF AFFAIRS, brusque of manner, but big of heart.

  WESSNER, a Dutch timber-thief who wants rascality made easy.

  BLACK JACK, a villain to whom thought of repentance comes too late.

  SEARS, camp cook.



Contents:


  I Wherein Great Risks Are Taken and the Limberlost Guard Is Hired

  II Wherein Freckles Proves His Mettle and Finds Friends

  III Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born

  IV Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely and Opens the Way for New
  Experiences

  V Wherein an Angel Materializes and a Man Worships

  VI Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight

  VII Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the Trail

  VIII Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by the
  Encounter

  IX Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs. Duncan and Freckles Comes to
  the Rescue

  X Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him

  XI Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the Bird
  Woman

  XII Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures Jack

  XIII Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse of Black Jack
  Falls upon Her

  XIV Wherein Freckles Nurses a Heartache and Black Jack Drops Out

  XV Wherein Freckles and the Angel Try Taking a Picture, and Little
  Chicken Furnishes the Subject

  XVI Wherein the Angel Locates a Rare Tree and Dines with the Gang

  XVII Wherein Freckles Offers His Life for His Love and Gets a Broken
  Body

  XVIII Wherein Freckles Refuses Love Without Knowledge of Honorable
  Birth, and the Angel Goes in Quest of it

  XIX Wherein Freckles Finds His Birthright and the Angel Loses Her Heart

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



CHAPTER I

Wherein Great Risks Are Taken and the Limberlost Guard Is Hired

Freckles came down the corduroy that crosses the lower end of the
Limberlost. At a glance he might have been mistaken for a tramp, but he
was truly seeking work. He was intensely eager to belong somewhere and
to be attached to almost any enterprise that would furnish him food and
clothing.

Long before he came in sight of the camp of the Grand Rapids Lumber
Company, he could hear the cheery voices of the men, the neighing of the
horses, and could scent the tempting odors of cooking food. A feeling
of homeless friendlessness swept over him in a sickening wave. Without
stopping to think, he turned into the newly made road and followed it to
the camp, where the gang was making ready for supper and bed.

The scene was intensely attractive. The thickness of the swamp made a
dark, massive background below, while above towered gigantic trees.
The men were calling jovially back and forth as they unharnessed tired
horses that fell into attitudes of rest and crunched, in deep content,
the grain given them. Duncan, the brawny Scotch head-teamster, lovingly
wiped the flanks of his big bays with handfuls of pawpaw leaves, as he
softly whistled, "O wha will be my dearie, O!" and a cricket beneath
the leaves at his feet accompanied him. The green wood fire hissed and
crackled merrily. Wreathing tongues of flame wrapped around the big
black kettles, and when the cook lifted the lids to plunge in his
testing-fork, gusts of savory odors escaped.

Freckles approached him.

"I want to speak with the Boss," he said.

The cook glanced at him and answered carelessly: "He can't use you."

The color flooded Freckles' face, but he said simply: "If you will be
having the goodness to point him out, we will give him a chance to do
his own talking."

With a shrug of astonishment, the cook led the way to a rough board
table where a broad, square-shouldered man was bending over some
account-books.

"Mr. McLean, here's another man wanting to be taken on the gang, I
suppose," he said.

"All right," came the cheery answer. "I never needed a good man more
than I do just now."

The manager turned a page and carefully began a new line.

"No use of your bothering with this fellow," volunteered the cook. "He
hasn't but one hand."

The flush on Freckles' face burned deeper. His lips thinned to a mere
line. He lifted his shoulders, took a step forward, and thrust out his
right arm, from which the sleeve dangled empty at the wrist.

"That will do, Sears," came the voice of the Boss sharply. "I will
interview my man when I finish this report."

He turned to his work, while the cook hurried to the fires. Freckles
stood one instant as he had braced himself to meet the eyes of the
manager; then his arm dropped and a wave of whiteness swept him. The
Boss had not even turned his head. He had used the possessive. When he
said "my man," the hungry heart of Freckles went reaching toward him.

The boy drew a quivering breath. Then he whipped off his old hat and
beat the dust from it carefully. With his left hand he caught the right
sleeve, wiped his sweaty face, and tried to straighten his hair with
his fingers. He broke a spray of ironwort beside him and used the purple
bloom to beat the dust from his shoulders and limbs. The Boss, busy over
his report, was, nevertheless, vaguely alive to the toilet being made
behind him, and scored one for the man.

McLean was a Scotchman. It was his habit to work slowly and
methodically. The men of his camps never had known him to be in a hurry
or to lose his temper. Discipline was inflexible, but the Boss was
always kind. His habits were simple. He shared camp life with his gangs.
The only visible signs of wealth consisted of a big, shimmering diamond
stone of ice and fire that glittered and burned on one of his fingers,
and the dainty, beautiful thoroughbred mare he rode between camps and
across the country on business.

No man of McLean's gangs could honestly say that he ever had been
overdriven or underpaid. The Boss never had exacted any deference from
his men, yet so intense was his personality that no man of them ever had
attempted a familiarity. They all knew him to be a thorough gentleman,
and that in the great timber city several millions stood to his credit.

He was the only son of that McLean who had sent out the finest ships
ever built in Scotland. That his son should carry on this business after
the father's death had been his ambition. He had sent the boy through
the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, and allowed him several years'
travel before he should attempt his first commission for the firm.

Then he was ordered to southern Canada and Michigan to purchase a
consignment of tall, straight timber for masts, and south to Indiana for
oak beams. The young man entered these mighty forests, parts of which
lay untouched since the dawn of the morning of time. The clear, cool,
pungent atmosphere was intoxicating. The intense silence, like that of a
great empty cathedral, fascinated him. He gradually learned that, to
the shy wood creatures that darted across his path or peeped inquiringly
from leafy ambush, he was brother. He found himself approaching, with a
feeling of reverence, those majestic trees that had stood through ages
of sun, wind, and snow. Soon it became difficult to fell them. When he
had filled his order and returned home, he was amazed to learn that in
the swamps and forests he had lost his heart and it was calling--forever
calling him.

When he inherited his father's property, he promptly disposed of it,
and, with his mother, founded a home in a splendid residence in the
outskirts of Grand Rapids. With three partners, he organized a lumber
company. His work was to purchase, fell, and ship the timber to the
mills. Marshall managed the milling process and passed the lumber to the
factory. From the lumber, Barthol made beautiful and useful furniture,
which Uptegrove scattered all over the world from a big wholesale house.
Of the thousands who saw their faces reflected on the polished surfaces
of that furniture and found comfort in its use, few there were to whom
it suggested mighty forests and trackless swamps, and the man, big
of soul and body, who cut his way through them, and with the eye of
experience doomed the proud trees that were now entering the homes of
civilization for service.

When McLean turned from his finished report, he faced a young man,
yet under twenty, tall, spare, heavily framed, closely freckled, and
red-haired, with a homely Irish face, but in the steady gray eyes,
straightly meeting his searching ones of blue, there was unswerving
candor and the appearance of longing not to be ignored. He was dressed
in the roughest of farm clothing, and seemed tired to the point of
falling.

"You are looking for work?" questioned McLean.

"Yis," answered Freckles.

"I am very sorry," said the Boss with genuine sympathy in his every
tone, "but there is only one man I want at present--a hardy, big fellow
with a stout heart and a strong body. I hoped that you would do, but I
am afraid you are too young and scarcely strong enough."

Freckles stood, hat in hand, watching McLean.

"And what was it you thought I might be doing?" he asked.

The Boss could scarcely repress a start. Somewhere before accident and
poverty there had been an ancestor who used cultivated English, even
with an accent. The boy spoke in a mellow Irish voice, sweet and pure.
It was scarcely definite enough to be called brogue, yet there was a
trick in the turning of the sentence, the wrong sound of a letter here
and there, that was almost irresistible to McLean, and presaged a misuse
of infinitives and possessives with which he was very familiar and
which touched him nearly. He was of foreign birth, and despite years of
alienation, in times of strong feeling he committed inherited sins of
accent and construction.

"It's no child's job," answered McLean. "I am the field manager of a
big lumber company. We have just leased two thousand acres of the
Limberlost. Many of these trees are of great value. We can't leave our
camp, six miles south, for almost a year yet; so we have blazed a trail
and strung barbed wires securely around this lease. Before we return to
our work, I must put this property in the hands of a reliable, brave,
strong man who will guard it every hour of the day, and sleep with one
eye open at night. I shall require the entire length of the trail to be
walked at least twice each day, to make sure that our lines are up and
that no one has been trespassing."

Freckles was leaning forward, absorbing every word with such intense
eagerness that he was beguiling the Boss into explanations he had never
intended making.

"But why wouldn't that be the finest job in the world for me?" he
pleaded. "I am never sick. I could walk the trail twice, three times
every day, and I'd be watching sharp all the while."

"It's because you are scarcely more than a boy, and this will be a
trying job for a work-hardened man," answered McLean. "You see, in the
first place, you would be afraid. In stretching our lines, we killed six
rattlesnakes almost as long as your body and as thick as your arm. It's
the price of your life to start through the marshgrass surrounding the
swamp unless you are covered with heavy leather above your knees.

"You should be able to swim in case high water undermines the temporary
bridge we have built where Sleepy Snake Creek enters the swamp. The fall
and winter changes of weather are abrupt and severe, while I would want
strict watch kept every day. You would always be alone, and I don't
guarantee what is in the Limberlost. It is lying here as it has lain
since the beginning of time, and it is alive with forms and voices. I
don't pretend to say what all of them come from; but from a few slinking
shapes I've seen, and hair-raising yells I've heard, I'd rather not
confront their owners myself; and I am neither weak nor fearful.

"Worst of all, any man who will enter the swamp to mark and steal
timber is desperate. One of my employees at the south camp, John Carter,
compelled me to discharge him for a number of serious reasons. He came
here, entered the swamp alone, and succeeded in locating and marking
a number of valuable trees that he was endeavoring to sell to a rival
company when we secured the lease. He has sworn to have these trees if
he has to die or to kill others to get them; and he is a man that the
strongest would not care to meet."

"But if he came to steal trees, wouldn't he bring teams and men enough:
that all anyone could do would be to watch and be after you?" queried
the boy.

"Yes," replied McLean.

"Then why couldn't I be watching just as closely, and coming as fast, as
an older, stronger man?" asked Freckles.

"Why, by George, you could!" exclaimed McLean. "I don't know as the size
of a man would be half so important as his grit and faithfulness, come
to think of it. Sit on that log there and we will talk it over. What is
your name?"

Freckles shook his head at the proffer of a seat, and folding his arms,
stood straight as the trees around him. He grew a shade whiter, but his
eyes never faltered.

"Freckles!" he said.

"Good enough for everyday," laughed McLean, "but I scarcely can put
'Freckles' on the company's books. Tell me your name."

"I haven't any name," replied the boy.

"I don't understand," said McLean.

"I was thinking from the voice and the face of you that you wouldn't,"
said Freckles slowly. "I've spent more time on it than I ever did on
anything else in all me life, and I don't understand. Does it seem to
you that anyone would take a newborn baby and row over it, until it was
bruised black, cut off its hand, and leave it out in a bitter night
on the steps of a charity home, to the care of strangers? That's what
somebody did to me."

McLean stared aghast. He had no reply ready, and presently in a low
voice he suggested: "And after?"

"The Home people took me in, and I was there the full legal age and
several years over. For the most part we were a lot of little Irishmen
together. They could always find homes for the other children, but
nobody would ever be wanting me on account of me arm."

"Were they kind to you?" McLean regretted the question the minute it was
asked.

"I don't know," answered Freckles. The reply sounded so hopeless, even
to his own ears, that he hastened to qualify it by adding: "You see,
it's like this, sir. Kindnesses that people are paid to lay off in job
lots and that belong equally to several hundred others, ain't going to
be soaking into any one fellow so much."

"Go on," said McLean, nodding comprehendingly.

"There's nothing worth the taking of your time to tell," replied
Freckles. "The Home was in Chicago, and I was there all me life until
three months ago. When I was too old for the training they gave to the
little children, they sent me to the closest ward school as long as the
law would let them; but I was never like any of the other children, and
they all knew it. I'd to go and come like a prisoner, and be working
around the Home early and late for me board and clothes. I always wanted
to learn mighty bad, but I was glad when that was over.

"Every few days, all me life, I'd to be called up, looked over, and
refused a home and love, on account of me hand and ugly face; but it was
all the home I'd ever known, and I didn't seem to belong to any place
else.

"Then a new superintendent was put in. He wasn't for being like any of
the others, and he swore he'd weed me out the first thing he did. He
made a plan to send me down the State to a man he said he knew who
needed a boy. He wasn't for remembering to tell that man that I was a
hand short, and he knocked me down the minute he found I was the boy who
had been sent him. Between noon and that evening, he and his son close
my age had me in pretty much the same shape in which I was found in
the beginning, so I lay awake that night and ran away. I'd like to have
squared me account with that boy before I left, but I didn't dare for
fear of waking the old man, and I knew I couldn't handle the two of
them; but I'm hoping to meet him alone some day before I die."

McLean tugged at his mustache to hide the smile on his lips, but he
liked the boy all the better for this confession.

"I didn't even have to steal clothes to get rid of starting in me Home
ones," Freckles continued, "for they had already taken all me clean,
neat things for the boy and put me into his rags, and that went almost
as sore as the beatings, for where I was we were always kept tidy and
sweet-smelling, anyway. I hustled clear into this State before I learned
that man couldn't have kept me if he'd wanted to. When I thought I
was good and away from him, I commenced hunting work, but it is with
everybody else just as it is with you, sir. Big, strong, whole men are
the only ones for being wanted."

"I have been studying over this matter," answered McLean. "I am not so
sure but that a man no older than you and similar in every way could do
this work very well, if he were not a coward, and had it in him to be
trustworthy and industrious."

Freckles came forward a step.

"If you will give me a job where I can earn me food, clothes, and a
place to sleep," he said, "if I can have a Boss to work for like other
men, and a place I feel I've a right to, I will do precisely what you
tell me or die trying."

He spoke so convincingly that McLean believed, although in his heart he
knew that to employ a stranger would be wretched business for a man with
the interests he had involved.

"Very well," the Boss found himself answering, "I will enter you on my
pay rolls. We'll have supper, and then I will provide you with clean
clothing, wading-boots, the wire-mending apparatus, and a revolver.
The first thing in the morning, I will take you the length of the trail
myself and explain fully what I want done. All I ask of you is to come
to me at once at the south camp and tell me as a man if you find this
job too hard for you. It will not surprise me. It is work that few men
would perform faithfully. What name shall I put down?"

Freckles' gaze never left McLean's face, and the Boss saw the swift
spasm of pain that swept his lonely, sensitive features.

"I haven't any name," he said stubbornly, "no more than one somebody
clapped on to me when they put me on the Home books, with not the
thought or care they'd name a house cat. I've seen how they enter those
poor little abandoned devils often enough to know. What they called me
is no more my name than it is yours. I don't know what mine is, and I
never will; but I am going to be your man and do your work, and I'll be
glad to answer to any name you choose to call me. Won't you please be
giving me a name, Mr. McLean?"

The Boss wheeled abruptly and began stacking his books. What he was
thinking was probably what any other gentleman would have thought in the
circumstances. With his eyes still downcast, and in a voice harsh with
huskiness, he spoke.

"I will tell you what we will do, my lad," he said. "My father was my
ideal man, and I loved him better than any other I have ever known. He
went out five years ago, but that he would have been proud to leave you
his name I firmly believe. If I give to you the name of my nearest kin
and the man I loved best--will that do?"

Freckles' rigid attitude relaxed suddenly. His head dropped, and big
tears splashed on the soiled calico shirt. McLean was not surprised at
the silence, for he found that talking came none too easily just then.

"All right," he said. "I will write it on the roll--James Ross McLean."

"Thank you mightily," said Freckles. "That makes me feel almost as if I
belonged, already."

"You do," said McLean. "Until someone armed with every right comes to
claim you, you are mine. Now, come and take a bath, have some supper,
and go to bed."

As Freckles followed into the lights and sounds of the camp, his heart
and soul were singing for joy.



CHAPTER II

Wherein Freckles Proves His Mettle and Finds Friends

Next morning found Freckles in clean, whole clothing, fed, and rested.
Then McLean outfitted him and gave him careful instruction in the use of
his weapon. The Boss showed him around the timber-line, and engaged him
a place to board with the family of his head teamster, Duncan, whom he
had brought from Scotland with him, and who lived in a small clearing
he was working out between the swamp and the corduroy. When the gang was
started for the south camp, Freckles was left to guard a fortune in the
Limberlost. That he was under guard himself those first weeks he never
knew.

Each hour was torture to the boy. The restricted life of a great
city orphanage was the other extreme of the world compared with the
Limberlost. He was afraid for his life every minute. The heat was
intense. The heavy wading-boots rubbed his feet until they bled. He was
sore and stiff from his long tramp and outdoor exposure. The seven
miles of trail was agony at every step. He practiced at night, under the
direction of Duncan, until he grew sure in the use of his revolver. He
cut a stout hickory cudgel, with a knot on the end as big as his fist;
this never left his hand. What he thought in those first days he himself
could not recall clearly afterward.

His heart stood still every time he saw the beautiful marsh-grass begin
a sinuous waving AGAINST the play of the wind, as McLean had told him it
would. He bolted half a mile with the first boom of the bittern, and his
hat lifted with every yelp of the sheitpoke. Once he saw a lean, shadowy
form following him, and fired his revolver. Then he was frightened worse
than ever for fear it might have been Duncan's collie.

The first afternoon that he found his wires down, and he was compelled
to plunge knee deep into the black swamp-muck to restring them, he
became so ill from fear and nervousness that he scarcely could control
his shaking hand to do the work. With every step, he felt that he would
miss secure footing and be swallowed in that clinging sea of blackness.
In dumb agony he plunged forward, clinging to the posts and trees until
he had finished restringing and testing the wire. He had consumed
much time. Night closed in. The Limberlost stirred gently, then shook
herself, growled, and awoke around him.

There seemed to be a great owl hooting from every hollow tree, and
a little one screeching from every knothole. The bellowing of big
bullfrogs was not sufficiently deafening to shut out the wailing of
whip-poor-wills that seemed to come from every bush. Nighthawks swept
past him with their shivering cry, and bats struck his face. A prowling
wildcat missed its catch and screamed with rage. A straying fox bayed
incessantly for its mate.

The hair on the back of Freckles' neck arose as bristles, and his knees
wavered beneath him. He could not see whether the dreaded snakes were on
the trail, or, in the pandemonium, hear the rattle for which McLean had
cautioned him to listen. He stood motionless in an agony of fear. His
breath whistled between his teeth. The perspiration ran down his face
and body in little streams.

Something big, black, and heavy came crashing through the swamp close
to him, and with a yell of utter panic Freckles ran--how far he did not
know; but at last he gained control over himself and retraced his steps.
His jaws set stiffly and the sweat dried on his body. When he reached
the place from which he had started to run, he turned and with measured
steps made his way down the line. After a time he realized that he was
only walking, so he faced that sea of horrors again. When he came toward
the corduroy, the cudgel fell to test the wire at each step.

Sounds that curdled his blood seemed to encompass him, and shapes of
terror to draw closer and closer. Fear had so gained the mastery that he
did not dare look behind him; and just when he felt that he would fall
dead before he ever reached the clearing, came Duncan's rolling call:
"Freckles! Freckles!" A shuddering sob burst in the boy's dry throat;
but he only told Duncan that finding the wire down had caused the delay.

The next morning he started on time. Day after day, with his heart
pounding, he ducked, dodged, ran when he could, and fought when he was
brought to bay. If he ever had an idea of giving up, no one knew it; for
he clung to his job without the shadow of wavering. All these things, in
so far as he guessed them, Duncan, who had been set to watch the first
weeks of Freckles' work, carried to the Boss at the south camp; but
the innermost, exquisite torture of the thing the big Scotchman never
guessed, and McLean, with his finer perceptions, came only a little
closer.

After a few weeks, when Freckles learned that he was still living, that
he had a home, and the very first money he ever had possessed was safe
in his pockets, he began to grow proud. He yet side-stepped, dodged, and
hurried to avoid being late again, but he was gradually developing the
fearlessness that men ever acquire of dangers to which they are hourly
accustomed.

His heart seemed to be leaping when his first rattler disputed the trail
with him, but he mustered courage to attack it with his club. After its
head had been crushed, he mastered an Irishman's inborn repugnance for
snakes sufficiently to cut off its rattles to show Duncan. With this
victory, his greatest fear of them was gone.

Then he began to realize that with the abundance of food in the swamp,
flesh-hunters would not come on the trail and attack him, and he had his
revolver for defence if they did. He soon learned to laugh at the big,
floppy birds that made horrible noises. One day, watching behind a tree,
he saw a crane solemnly performing a few measures of a belated nuptial
song-and-dance with his mate. Realizing that it was intended in
tenderness, no matter how it appeared, the lonely, starved heart of the
boy sympathized with them.

Before the first month passed, he was fairly easy about his job; by the
next he rather liked it. Nature can be trusted to work her own miracle
in the heart of any man whose daily task keeps him alone among her
sights, sounds, and silences.

When day after day the only thing that relieved his utter loneliness was
the companionship of the birds and beasts of the swamp, it was the
most natural thing in the world that Freckles should turn to them for
friendship. He began by instinctively protecting the weak and helpless.
He was astonished at the quickness with which they became accustomed to
him and the disregard they showed for his movements, when they learned
that he was not a hunter, while the club he carried was used more
frequently for their benefit than his own. He scarcely could believe
what he saw.

From the effort to protect the birds and animals, it was only a short
step to the possessive feeling, and with that sprang the impulse to
caress and provide. Through fall, when brooding was finished and the
upland birds sought the swamp in swarms to feast on its seeds and
berries, Freckles was content with watching them and speculating about
them. Outside of half a dozen of the very commonest they were strangers
to him. The likeness of their actions to humanity was an hourly
surprise.

When black frost began stripping the Limberlost, cutting the ferns,
shearing the vines from the trees, mowing the succulent green things
of the swale, and setting the leaves swirling down, he watched the
departing troops of his friends with dismay. He began to realize that he
would be left alone. He made especial efforts toward friendliness with
the hope that he could induce some of them to stay. It was then that he
conceived the idea of carrying food to the birds; for he saw that they
were leaving for lack of it; but he could not stop them. Day after day,
flocks gathered and departed: by the time the first snow whitened
his trail around the Limberlost, there were left only the little
black-and-white juncos, the sapsuckers, yellow-hammers, a few patriarchs
among the flaming cardinals, the blue jays, the crows, and the quail.

Then Freckles began his wizard work. He cleared a space of swale, and
twice a day he spread a birds' banquet. By the middle of December the
strong winds of winter had beaten most of the seed from the grass and
bushes. The snow fell, covering the swamp, and food was very scarce and
difficult to find. The birds scarcely waited until Freckles' back was
turned to attack his provisions. In a few weeks they flew toward the
clearing to meet him. During the bitter weather of January they came
halfway to the cabin every morning, and fluttered around him as
doves all the way to the feeding-ground. Before February they were so
accustomed to him, and so hunger-driven, that they would perch on
his head and shoulders, and the saucy jays would try to pry into his
pockets.

Then Freckles added to wheat and crumbs, every scrap of refuse food he
could find at the cabin. He carried to his pets the parings of apples,
turnips, potatoes, stray cabbage-leaves, and carrots, and tied to the
bushes meat-bones having scraps of fat and gristle. One morning, coming
to his feeding-ground unusually early, he found a gorgeous cardinal
and a rabbit side by side sociably nibbling a cabbage-leaf, and that
instantly gave to him the idea of cracking nuts, from the store he had
gathered for Duncan's children, for the squirrels, in the effort to add
them to his family. Soon he had them coming--red, gray, and black; then
he became filled with a vast impatience that he did not know their names
or habits.

So the winter passed. Every week McLean rode to the Limberlost; never on
the same day or at the same hour. Always he found Freckles at his work,
faithful and brave, no matter how severe the weather.

The boy's earnings constituted his first money; and when the Boss
explained to him that he could leave them safe at a bank and carry away
a scrap of paper that represented the amount, he went straight on every
payday and made his deposit, keeping out barely what was necessary for
his board and clothing. What he wanted to do with his money he did not
know, but it gave to him a sense of freedom and power to feel that it
was there--it was his and he could have it when he chose. In imitation
of McLean, he bought a small pocket account-book, in which he carefully
set down every dollar he earned and every penny he spent. As his
expenses were small and the Boss paid him generously, it was astonishing
how his little hoard grew.

That winter held the first hours of real happiness in Freckles' life. He
was free. He was doing a man's work faithfully, through every rigor of
rain, snow, and blizzard. He was gathering a wonderful strength of body,
paying his way, and saving money. Every man of the gang and of that
locality knew that he was under the protection of McLean, who was
a power, this had the effect of smoothing Freckles' path in many
directions.

Mrs. Duncan showed him that individual kindness for which his hungry
heart was longing. She had a hot drink ready for him when he came from
a freezing day on the trail. She knit him a heavy mitten for his left
hand, and devised a way to sew and pad the right sleeve that protected
the maimed arm in bitter weather. She patched his clothing--frequently
torn by the wire--and saved kitchen scraps for his birds, not because
she either knew or cared anything about them, but because she herself
was close enough to the swamp to be touched by its utter loneliness.
When Duncan laughed at her for this, she retorted: "My God, mannie, if
Freckles hadna the birds and the beasts he would be always alone. It was
never meant for a human being to be so solitary. He'd get touched in the
head if he hadna them to think for and to talk to."

"How much answer do ye think he gets to his talkin', lass?" laughed
Duncan.

"He gets the answer that keeps the eye bright, the heart happy, and the
feet walking faithful the rough path he's set them in," answered Mrs.
Duncan earnestly.

Duncan walked away appearing very thoughtful. The next morning he gave
an ear from the corn he was shelling for his chickens to Freckles, and
told him to carry it to his wild chickens in the Limberlost. Freckles
laughed delightedly.

"Me chickens!" he said. "Why didn't I ever think of that before? Of
course they are! They are just little, brightly colored cocks and hens!
But 'wild' is no good. What would you say to me 'wild chickens' being a
good deal tamer than yours here in your yard?"

"Hoot, lad!" cried Duncan.

"Make yours light on your head and eat out of your hands and pockets,"
challenged Freckles.

"Go and tell your fairy tales to the wee people! They're juist brash on
believin' things," said Duncan. "Ye canna invent any story too big to
stop them from callin' for a bigger."

"I dare you to come see!" retorted Freckles.

"Take ye!" said Duncan. "If ye make juist ane bird licht on your heid
or eat frae your hand, ye are free to help yoursel' to my corn-crib and
wheat bin the rest of the winter."

Freckles sprang in air and howled in glee.

"Oh, Duncan! You're too, aisy" he cried. "When will you come?"

"I'll come next Sabbath," said Duncan. "And I'll believe the birds of
the Limberlost are tame as barnyard fowl when I see it, and no sooner!"

After that Freckles always spoke of the birds as his chickens, and the
Duncans followed his example. The very next Sabbath, Duncan, with his
wife and children, followed Freckles to the swamp. They saw a sight so
wonderful it will keep them talking all the remainder of their lives,
and make them unfailing friends of all the birds.

Freckles' chickens were awaiting him at the edge of the clearing. They
cut the frosty air around his head into curves and circles of crimson,
blue, and black. They chased each other from Freckles, and swept so
closely themselves that they brushed him with their outspread wings.

At their feeding-ground Freckles set down his old pail of scraps and
swept the snow from a small level space with a broom improvised of
twigs. As soon as his back was turned, the birds clustered over the
food, snatching scraps to carry to the nearest bushes. Several of the
boldest, a big crow and a couple of jays, settled on the rim and feasted
at leisure, while a cardinal, that hesitated to venture, fumed and
scolded from a twig overhead.

Then Freckles scattered his store. At once the ground resembled the
spread mantle of Montezuma, except that this mass of gaily colored
feathers was on the backs of living birds. While they feasted, Duncan
gripped his wife's arm and stared in astonishment; for from the bushes
and dry grass, with gentle cheeping and queer, throaty chatter, as if to
encourage each other, came flocks of quail. Before anyone saw it arrive,
a big gray rabbit sat in the midst of the feast, contentedly gnawing a
cabbage-leaf.

"Weel, I be drawed on!" came Mrs. Duncan's tense whisper.

"Shu-shu," cautioned Duncan.

Lastly Freckles removed his cap. He began filling it with handfuls of
wheat from his pockets. In a swarm the grain-eaters arose around him as
a flock of tame pigeons. They perched on his arms and the cap, and in
the stress of hunger, forgetting all caution, a brilliant cock cardinal
and an equally gaudy jay fought for a perching-place on his head.

"Weel, I'm beat," muttered Duncan, forgetting the silence imposed on his
wife. "I'll hae to give in. 'Seein' is believin'. A man wad hae to see
that to believe it. We mauna let the Boss miss that sight, for it's a
chance will no likely come twice in a life. Everything is snowed under
and thae craturs near starved, but trustin' Freckles that complete they
are tamer than our chickens. Look hard, bairns!" he whispered. "Ye winna
see the like o' yon again, while God lets ye live. Notice their color
against the ice and snow, and the pretty skippin' ways of them! And
spunky! Weel, I'm heat fair!"

Freckles emptied his cap, turned his pockets and scattered his last
grain. Then he waved his watching friends good-bye and started down the
timber-line.

A week later, Duncan and Freckles arose from breakfast to face the
bitterest morning of the winter. When Freckles, warmly capped and
gloved, stepped to the corner of the kitchen for his scrap-pail, he
found a big pan of steaming boiled wheat on the top of it. He wheeled to
Mrs. Duncan with a shining face.

"Were you fixing this warm food for me chickens or yours?" he asked.

"It's for yours, Freckles," she said. "I was afeared this cold weather
they wadna lay good without a warm bite now and then."

Duncan laughed as he stepped to the other room for his pipe; but
Freckles faced Mrs. Duncan with a trace of every pang of starved
mother-hunger he ever had suffered written large on his homely,
splotched, narrow features.

"Oh, how I wish you were my mother!" he cried.

Mrs. Duncan attempted an echo of her husband's laugh.

"Lord love the lad!" she exclaimed. "Why, Freckles, are ye no bright
enough to learn without being taught by a woman that I am your mither?
If a great man like yoursel' dinna ken that, learn it now and ne'er
forget it. Ance a woman is the wife of any man, she becomes wife to all
men for having had the wifely experience she kens! Ance a man-child has
beaten his way to life under the heart of a woman, she is mither to
all men, for the hearts of mithers are everywhere the same. Bless ye,
laddie, I am your mither!"

She tucked the coarse scarf she had knit for him closer over his chest
and pulled his cap lower over his ears, but Freckles, whipping it
off and holding it under his arm, caught her rough, reddened hand and
pressed it to his lips in a long kiss. Then he hurried away to hide the
happy, embarrassing tears that were coming straight from his swelling
heart.

Mrs. Duncan, sobbing unrestrainedly, swept into the adjoining room and
threw herself into Duncan's arms.

"Oh, the puir lad!" she wailed. "Oh, the puir mither-hungry lad! He
breaks my heart!"

Duncan's arms closed convulsively around his wife. With a big, brown
hand he lovingly stroked her rough, sorrel hair.

"Sarah, you're a guid woman!" he said. "You're a michty guid woman! Ye
hae a way o' speakin' out at times that's like the inspired prophets of
the Lord. If that had been put to me, now, I'd 'a' felt all I kent how
to and been keen enough to say the richt thing; but dang it, I'd 'a'
stuttered and stammered and got naething out that would ha' done onybody
a mite o' good. But ye, Sarah! Did ye see his face, woman? Ye sent him
off lookin' leke a white light of holiness had passed ower and settled
on him. Ye sent the lad away too happy for mortal words, Sarah. And
ye made me that proud o' ye! I wouldna trade ye an' my share o' the
Limberlost with ony king ye could mention."

He relaxed his clasp, and setting a heavy hand on each shoulder, he
looked straight into her eyes.

"Ye're prime, Sarah! Juist prime!" he said.

Sarah Duncan stood alone in the middle of her two-roomed log cabin and
lifted a bony, clawlike pair of hands, reddened by frequent immersion
in hot water, cracked and chafed by exposure to cold, black-lined by
constant battle with swamp-loam, calloused with burns, and stared at
them wonderingly.

"Pretty-lookin' things ye are!" she whispered. "But ye hae juist been
kissed. And by such a man! Fine as God ever made at His verra best.
Duncan wouldna trade wi' a king! Na! Nor I wadna trade with a queen wi'
a palace, an' velvet gowns, an' diamonds big as hazelnuts, an' a hundred
visitors a day into the bargain. Ye've been that honored I'm blest if
I can bear to souse ye in dish-water. Still, that kiss winna come off!
Naething can take it from me, for it's mine till I dee. Lord, if I amna
proud! Kisses on these old claws! Weel, I be drawed on!"



CHAPTER III

Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born

So Freckles fared through the bitter winter. He was very happy. He
had hungered for freedom, love, and appreciation so long! He had been
unspeakably lonely at the Home; and the utter loneliness of a great
desert or forest is not so difficult to endure as the loneliness of
being constantly surrounded by crowds of people who do not care in the
least whether one is living or dead.

All through the winter Freckles' entire energy was given to keeping up
his lines and his "chickens" from freezing or starving. When the first
breath of spring touched the Limberlost, and the snow receded before it;
when the catkins began to bloom; when there came a hint of green to the
trees, bushes, and swale; when the rushes lifted their heads, and the
pulse of the newly resurrected season beat strongly in the heart of
nature, something new stirred in the breast of the boy.

Nature always levies her tribute. Now she laid a powerful hand on the
soul of Freckles, to which the boy's whole being responded, though
he had not the least idea what was troubling him. Duncan accepted his
wife's theory that it was a touch of spring fever, but Freckles knew
better. He never had been so well. Clean, hot, and steady the blood
pulsed in his veins. He was always hungry, and his most difficult work
tired him not at all. For long months, without a single intermission,
he had tramped those seven miles of trail twice each day, through every
conceivable state of weather. With the heavy club he gave his wires a
sure test, and between sections, first in play, afterward to keep his
circulation going, he had acquired the skill of an expert drum major.
In his work there was exercise for every muscle of his body each hour of
the day, at night a bath, wholesome food, and sound sleep in a room that
never knew fire. He had gained flesh and color, and developed a greater
strength and endurance than anyone ever could have guessed.

Nor did the Limberlost contain last year's terrors. He had been with
her in her hour of desolation, when stripped bare and deserted, she had
stood shivering, as if herself afraid. He had made excursions into the
interior until he was familiar with every path and road that ever
had been cut. He had sounded the depths of her deepest pools, and had
learned why the trees grew so magnificently. He had found that places
of swamp and swale were few compared with miles of solid timber-land,
concealed by summer's luxuriant undergrowth.

The sounds that at first had struck cold fear into his soul he now knew
had left on wing and silent foot at the approach of winter. As flock
after flock of the birds returned and he recognized the old echoes
reawakening, he found to his surprise that he had been lonely for
them and was hailing their return with great joy. All his fears were
forgotten. Instead, he was possessed of an overpowering desire to know
what they were, to learn where they had been, and whether they would
make friends with him as the winter birds had done; and if they did,
would they be as fickle? For, with the running sap, creeping worm, and
winging bug, most of Freckles' "chickens" had deserted him, entered the
swamp, and feasted to such a state of plethora on its store that they
cared little for his supply, so that in the strenuous days of mating and
nest-building the boy was deserted.

He chafed at the birds' ingratitude, but he found speedy consolation in
watching and befriending the newcomers. He surely would have been proud
and highly pleased if he had known that many of the former inhabitants
of the interior swamp now grouped their nests beside the timber-line
solely for the sake of his protection and company.

The yearly resurrection of the Limberlost is a mighty revival. Freckles
stood back and watched with awe and envy the gradual reclothing and
repopulation of the swamp. Keen-eyed and alert through danger and
loneliness, he noted every stage of development, from the first piping
frog and unsheathing bud, to full leafage and the return of the last
migrant.

The knowledge of his complete loneliness and utter insignificance was
hourly thrust upon him. He brooded and fretted until he was in a fever;
yet he never guessed the cause. He was filled with a vast impatience, a
longing that he scarcely could endure.

It was June by the zodiac, June by the Limberlost, and by every delight
of a newly resurrected season it should have been June in the hearts of
all men. Yet Freckles scowled darkly as he came down the trail, and the
running TAP, TAP that tested the sagging wire and telegraphed word
of his coming to his furred and feathered friends of the swamp, this
morning carried the story of his discontent a mile ahead of him.

Freckles' special pet, a dainty, yellow-coated, black-sleeved, cock
goldfinch, had remained on the wire for several days past the bravest
of all; and Freckles, absorbed with the cunning and beauty of the tiny
fellow, never guessed that he was being duped. For the goldfinch was
skipping, flirting, and swinging for the express purpose of so holding
his attention that he would not look up and see a small cradle of
thistledown and wool perilously near his head. In the beginning of
brooding, the spunky little homesteader had clung heroically to the wire
when he was almost paralyzed with fright. When day after day passed
and brought only softly whistled repetitions of his call, a handful of
crumbs on the top of a locust line-post, and gently worded coaxings, he
grew in confidence. Of late he had sung and swung during the passing of
Freckles, who, not dreaming of the nest and the solemn-eyed little hen
so close above, thought himself unusually gifted in his power to attract
the birds. This morning the goldfinch scarcely could believe his ears,
and clung to the wire until an unusually vicious rap sent him spinning a
foot in air, and his "PTSEET" came with a squall of utter panic.

The wires were ringing with a story the birds could not translate, and
Freckles was quite as ignorant of the trouble as they.

A peculiar movement beneath a small walnut tree caught his attention.
He stopped to investigate. There was an unusually large Luna cocoon, and
the moth was bursting the upper end in its struggles to reach light and
air. Freckles stood and stared.

"There's something in there trying to get out," he muttered. "Wonder if
I could help it? Guess I best not be trying. If I hadn't happened along,
there wouldn't have been anyone to do anything, and maybe I'd only be
hurting it. It's--it's----Oh, skaggany! It's just being born!"

Freckles gasped with surprise. The moth cleared the opening, and with
many wabblings and contortions climbed up the tree. He stared speechless
with amazement as the moth crept around a limb and clung to the under
side. There was a big pursy body, almost as large as his thumb, and of
the very snowiest white that Freckles ever had seen. There was a band
of delicate lavender across its forehead, and its feet were of the same
colour; there were antlers, like tiny, straw-colored ferns, on its head,
and from its shoulders hung the crumpled wet wings. As Freckles gazed,
tense with astonishment, he saw that these were expanding, drooping,
taking on color, and small, oval markings were beginning to show.

The minutes passed. Freckles' steady gaze never wavered. Without
realizing it, he was trembling with eagerness and anxiety. As he saw
what was taking place, "It's going to fly," he breathed in hushed
wonder. The morning sun fell on the moth and dried its velvet down,
while the warm air made it fluffy. The rapidly growing wings began to
show the most delicate green, with lavender fore-ribs, transparent,
eye-shaped markings, edged with lines of red, tan, and black, and long,
crisp trailers.

Freckles was whispering to himself for fear of disturbing the moth. It
began a systematic exercise of raising and lowering its exquisite wings
to dry them and to establish circulation. The boy realized that soon it
would be able to spread them and sail away. His long-coming soul sent up
its first shivering cry.

"I don't know what it is! Oh, I wish I knew! How I wish I knew! It must
be something grand! It can't be a butterfly! It's away too big. Oh, I
wish there was someone to tell me what it is!"

He climbed on the locust post, and balancing himself with the wire,
held a finger in the line of the moth's advance up the twig. It
unhesitatingly climbed on, so he stepped to the path, holding it to the
light and examining it closely. Then he held it in the shade and turned
it, gloating over its markings and beautiful coloring. When he held the
moth to the limb, it climbed on, still waving those magnificent wings.

"My, but I'd like to be staying with you!" he said. "But if I was to
stand here all day you couldn't grow any prettier than you are right
now, and I wouldn't grow smart enough to tell what you are. I suppose
there's someone who knows. Of course there is! Mr. McLean said there
were people who knew every leaf, bird, and flower in the Limberlost. Oh
Lord! How I wish You'd be telling me just this one thing!"

The goldfinch had ventured back to the wire, for there was his mate,
only a few inches above the man-creature's head; and indeed, he simply
must not be allowed to look up, so the brave little fellow rocked on the
wire and piped, as he had done every day for a week: "SEE ME? SEE ME?"

"See you! Of course I see you," growled Freckles. "I see you day after
day, and what good is it doing me? I might see you every morning for a
year, and then not be able to be telling anyone about it. 'Seen a bird
with black silk wings--little, and yellow as any canary.' That's as far
as I'd get. What you doing here, anyway? Have you a mate? What's your
name? 'See you?' I reckon I see you; but I might as well be blind, for
any good it's doing me!"

Freckles impatiently struck the wire. With a screech of fear, the
goldfinch fled precipitately. His mate arose from the nest with a
whirr--Freckles looked up and saw it.

"O--ho!" he cried. "So THAT'S what you are doing here! You have a
wife. And so close my head I have been mighty near wearing a bird on my
bonnet, and never knew it!"

Freckles laughed at his own jest, while in better humor he climbed to
examine the neat, tiny cradle and its contents. The hen darted at him in
a frenzy. "Now, where do you come in?" he demanded, when he saw that she
was not similar to the goldfinch.

"You be clearing out of here! This is none of your fry. This is the nest
of me little, yellow friend of the wire, and you shan't be touching it.
Don't blame you for wanting to see, though. My, but it's a fine nest and
beauties of eggs. Will you be keeping away, or will I fire this stick at
you?"

Freckles dropped to the trail. The hen darted to the nest and settled on
it with a tender, coddling movement. He of the yellow coat flew to the
edge to make sure that everything was right. It would have been plain to
the veriest novice that they were partners in that cradle.

"Well, I'll be switched!" muttered Freckles. "If that ain't both their
nest! And he's yellow and she's green, or she's yellow and he's green.
Of course, I don't know, and I haven't any way to find out, but it's
plain as the nose on your face that they are both ready to be fighting
for that nest, so, of course, they belong. Doesn't that beat you? Say,
that's what's been sticking me all of this week on that grass nest in
the thorn tree down the line. One day a blue bird is setting, so I think
it is hers. The next day a brown bird is on, and I chase it off because
the nest is blue's. Next day the brown bird is on again, and I let her
be, because I think it must be hers. Next day, be golly, blue's on, and
off I send her because it's brown's; and now, I bet my hat, it's both
their nest and I've only been bothering them and making a big fool of
mesilf. Pretty specimen I am, pretending to be a friend to the birds,
and so blamed ignorant I don't know which ones go in pairs, and blue and
brown are a pair, of course, if yellow and green are--and there's the
red birds! I never thought of them! He's red and she's gray--and now
I want to be knowing, are they all different? Why no! Of course, they
ain't! There's the jays all blue, and the crows all black."

The tide of Freckles' discontent welled until he almost choked with
anger and chagrin. He plodded down the trail, scowling blackly and
viciously spanging the wire. At the finches' nest he left the line
and peered into the thorn tree. There was no bird brooding. He pressed
closer to take a peep at the snowy, spotless little eggs he had found so
beautiful, when at the slight noise up raised four tiny baby heads with
wide-open mouths, uttering hunger cries. Freckles stepped back. The
brown bird alighted on the edge and closed one cavity with a wiggling
green worm, while not two minutes later the blue filled another with
a white. That settled it. The blue and brown were mates. Once again
Freckles repeated his "How I wish I knew!"

Around the bridge spanning Sleepy Snake Creek the swale spread widely,
the timber was scattering, and willows, rushes, marsh-grass, and
splendid wild flowers grew abundantly. Here lazy, big, black water
snakes, for which the creek was named, sunned on the bushes, wild ducks
and grebe chattered, cranes and herons fished, and muskrats plowed the
bank in queer, rolling furrows. It was always a place full of interest,
so Freckles loved to linger on the bridge, watching the marsh and water
people. He also transacted affairs of importance with the wild flowers
and sweet marsh-grass. He enjoyed splashing through the shallow pools on
either side of the bridge.

Then, too, where the creek entered the swamp was a place of unusual
beauty. The water spread in darksome, mossy, green pools. Water-plants
and lilies grew luxuriantly, throwing up large, rank, green leaves.
Nowhere else in the Limberlost could be found frog-music to equal
that of the mouth of the creek. The drumming and piping rolled in
never-ending orchestral effect, while the full chorus rang to its
accompaniment throughout the season.

Freckles slowly followed the path leading from the bridge to the line.
It was the one spot at which he might relax his vigilance. The boldest
timber thief the swamp ever had known would not have attempted to enter
it by the mouth of the creek, on account of the water and because there
was no protection from surrounding trees. He was bending the rank grass
with his cudgel, and thinking of the shade the denser swamp afforded,
when he suddenly dodged sidewise; the cudgel whistled sharply through
the air and Freckles sprang back.

From the clear sky above him, first level with his face, then skimming,
dipping, tilting, whirling until it struck, quill down, in the path
in front of him, came a glossy, iridescent, big black feather. As it
touched the ground, Freckles snatched it up with almost a continuous
movement facing the sky. There was not a tree of any size in a large
open space. There was no wind to carry it. From the clear sky it had
fallen, and Freckles, gazing eagerly into the arch of June blue with a
few lazy clouds floating high in the sea of ether, had neither mind nor
knowledge to dream of a bird hanging as if frozen there. He turned the
big quill questioningly, and again his awed eyes swept the sky.

"A feather dropped from Heaven!" he breathed reverently. "Are the holy
angels moulting? But no; if they were, it would be white. Maybe all the
angels are not for being white. What if the angels of God are white and
those of the devil are black? But a black one has no business up there.
Maybe some poor black angel is so tired of being punished it's for
slipping to the gates, beating its wings trying to make the Master
hear!"

Again and again Freckles searched the sky, but there was no answering
gleam of golden gates, no form of sailing bird; then he went slowly
on his way, turning the feather and wondering about it. It was a wing
quill, eighteen inches in length, with a heavy spine, gray at the base,
shading to jet black at the tip, and it caught the play of the sun's
rays in slanting gleams of green and bronze. Again Freckles' "old man
of the sea" sat sullen and heavy on his shoulders and weighted him down
until his step lagged and his heart ached.

"Where did it come from? What is it? Oh, how I wish I knew!" he kept
repeating as he turned and studied the feather, with almost unseeing
eyes, so intently was he thinking.

Before him spread a large, green pool, filled with rotting logs and
leaves, bordered with delicate ferns and grasses among which lifted the
creamy spikes of the arrow-head, the blue of water-hyacinth, and the
delicate yellow of the jewel-flower. As Freckles leaned, handling the
feather and staring at it, then into the depths of the pool, he once
more gave voice to his old query: "I wonder what it is!"

Straight across from him, couched in the mosses of a soggy old log, a
big green bullfrog, with palpitant throat and batting eyes, lifted his
head and bellowed in answer. "FIN' DOUT! FIN' DOUT!"

"Wha--what's that?" stammered Freckles, almost too much bewildered to
speak. "I--I know you are only a bullfrog, but, be jabbers, that sounded
mightily like speech. Wouldn't you please to be saying it over?"

The bullfrog cuddled contentedly in the ooze. Then suddenly he lifted
his voice, and, as an imperative drumbeat, rolled it again: "FIN' DOUT!
FIN' DOUT! FIN DOUT!"

Freckles had the answer. Something seemed to snap in his brain. There
was a wavering flame before his eyes. Then his mind cleared. His
head lifted in a new poise, his shoulders squared, while his spine
straightened. The agony was over. His soul floated free. Freckles came
into his birthright.

"Before God, I will!" He uttered the oath so impressively that the
recording angel never winced as he posted it in the prayer column.

Freckles set his hat over the top of one of the locust posts used
between trees to hold up the wire while he fastened the feather securely
in the band. Then he started down the line, talking to himself as men
who have worked long alone always fall into the habit of doing.

"What a fool I have been!" he muttered. "Of course that's what I have to
do! There wouldn't likely anybody be doing it for me. Of course I can!
What am I a man for? If I was a four-footed thing of the swamp, maybe I
couldn't; but a man can do anything if he's the grit to work hard enough
and stick at it, Mr. McLean is always saying, and here's the way I am to
do it. He said, too, that there were people that knew everything in the
swamp. Of course they have written books! The thing for me to be doing
is to quit moping and be buying some. Never bought a book in me life,
or anything else of much account, for that matter. Oh, ain't I glad I
didn't waste me money! I'll surely be having enough to get a few. Let me
see."

Freckles sat on a log, took his pencil and account-book, and figured
on a back page. He had walked the timber-line ten months. His pay
was thirty dollars a month, and his board cost him eight. That left
twenty-two dollars a month, and his clothing had cost him very little.
At the least he had two hundred dollars in the bank. He drew a deep
breath and smiled at the sky with satisfaction.

"I'll be having a book about all the birds, trees, flowers, butterflies,
and----Yes, by gummy! I'll be having one about the frogs--if it takes
every cent I have," he promised himself.

He put away the account-book, that was his most cherished possession,
caught up his stick, and started down the line. The even tap, tap, and
the cheery, gladsome whistle carried far ahead of him the message that
Freckles was himself again.

He fell into a rapid pace, for he had lost time that morning; when he
rounded the last curve he was almost running. There was a chance that
the Boss might be there for his weekly report.

Then, wavering, flickering, darting here and there over the sweet
marsh-grass, came a large black shadow, sweeping so closely before him
that for the second time that morning Freckles dodged and sprang back.
He had seen some owls and hawks of the swamp that he thought might be
classed as large birds, but never anything like this, for six feet it
spread its big, shining wings. Its strong feet could be seen drawn
among its feathers. The sun glinted on its sharp, hooked beak. Its eyes
glowed, caught the light, and seemed able to pierce the ground at his
feet. It cared no more for Freckles than if he had not been there; for
it perched on a low tree, while a second later it awkwardly hopped to
the trunk of a lightning-riven elm, turned its back, and began searching
the blue.

Freckles looked just in time to see a second shadow sweep the grass; and
another bird, a trifle smaller and not quite so brilliant in the light,
slowly sailed down to perch beside the first. Evidently they were mates,
for with a queer, rolling hop the first-comer shivered his bronze wings,
sidled to the new arrival, and gave her a silly little peck on her
wing. Then he coquettishly drew away and ogled her. He lifted his head,
waddled from her a few steps, awkwardly ambled back, and gave her such
a simple sort of kiss on her beak that Freckles burst into a laugh, but
clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle the sound.

The lover ducked and side-stepped a few feet. He spread his wings
and slowly and softly waved them precisely as if he were fanning his
charmer, which was indeed the result he accomplished. Then a wave of
uncontrollable tenderness moved him so he hobbled to his bombardment
once more. He faced her squarely this time, and turned his head from
side to side with queer little jerks and indiscriminate peckings at her
wings and head, and smirkings that really should have been irresistible.
She yawned and shuffled away indifferently. Freckles reached up, pulled
the quill from his hat, and looking from it to the birds, nodded in
settled conviction.

"So you're me black angels, ye spalpeens! No wonder you didn't get in!
But I'll back you to come closer it than any other birds ever did. You
fly higher than I can see. Have you picked the Limberlost for a good
thing and come to try it? Well, you can be me chickens if you want to,
but I'm blest if you ain't cool for new ones. Why don't you take this
stick for a gun and go skinning a mile?"

Freckles broke into an unrestrained laugh, for the bird-lover was keen
about his courting, while evidently his mate was diffident. When he
approached too boisterously, she relieved him of a goodly tuft of
feathers and sent him backward in a series of squirmy little jumps that
gave the boy an idea of what had happened up-sky to send the falling
feather across his pathway.

"Score one for the lady! I'll be umpiring this," volunteered Freckles.

With a ravishing swagger, half-lifted wings, and deep, guttural hissing,
the lover approached again. He suddenly lifted his body, but she coolly
rocked forward on the limb, glided gracefully beneath him, and slowly
sailed into the Limberlost. He recovered himself and gazed after her in
astonishment.

Freckles hurried down the trail, shaking with laughter. When he neared
the path to the clearing and saw the Boss sitting motionless on the mare
that was the pride of his heart, the boy broke into a run.

"Oh, Mr. McLean!" he cried. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting very
long! And the sun is getting hot! I have been so slow this morning! I
could have gone faster, only there were that many things to keep me, and
I didn't know you would be here. I'll hurry after this. I've never had
to be giving excuses before. The line wasn't down, and there wasn't a
sign of trouble; it was other things that were making me late."

McLean, smiling on the boy, immediately noticed the difference in him.
This flushed, panting, talkative lad was not the same creature who had
sought him in despair and bitterness. He watched in wonder as Freckles
mopped the perspiration from his forehead and began to laugh. Then,
forgetting all his customary reserve with the Boss, the pent-up
boyishness in the lad broke forth. With an eloquence of which he never
dreamed he told his story. He talked with such enthusiasm that McLean
never took his eyes from his face or shifted in the saddle until he
described the strange bird-lover, and then the Boss suddenly bent over
the pommel and laughed with the boy.

Freckles decorated his story with keen appreciation and rare touches
of Irish wit and drollery that made it most interesting as well as very
funny. It was a first attempt at descriptive narration. With an inborn
gift for striking the vital point, a naturalist's dawning enthusiasm for
the wonders of the Limberlost, and the welling joy of his newly found
happiness, he made McLean see the struggles of the moth and its freshly
painted wings, the dainty, brilliant bird-mates of different colors, the
feather sliding through the clear air, the palpitant throat and batting
eyes of the frog; while his version of the big bird's courtship won for
the Boss the best laugh he had enjoyed for years.

"They're in the middle of a swamp now" said Freckles. "Do you suppose
there is any chance of them staying with me chickens? If they do,
they'll be about the queerest I have; but I tell you, sir, I am finding
some plum good ones. There's a new kind over at the mouth of the creek
that uses its wings like feet and walks on all fours. It travels like a
thrashing machine. There's another, tall as me waist, with a bill a
foot long, a neck near two, not the thickness of me wrist and an elegant
color. He's some blue and gray, touched up with black, white, and brown.
The voice of him is such that if he'd be going up and standing beside
a tree and crying at it a few times he could be sawing it square off. I
don't know but it would be a good idea to try him on the gang, sir."

McLean laughed. "Those must be blue herons, Freckles," he said. "And
it doesn't seem possible, but your description of the big black birds
sounds like genuine black vultures. They are common enough in the South.
I've seen them numerous around the lumber camps of Georgia, but I
never before heard of any this far north. They must be strays. You have
described perfectly our nearest equivalent to a branch of these birds
called in Europe Pharaoh's Chickens, but if they are coming to the
Limberlost they will have to drop Pharaoh and become Freckles' Chickens,
like the remainder of the birds; won't they? Or are they too odd and
ugly to interest you?"

"Oh, not at all, at all!" cried Freckles, bursting into pure brogue in
his haste. "I don't know as I'd be calling them exactly pretty, and they
do move like a rocking-horse loping, but they are so big and fearless.
They have a fine color for black birds, and their feet and beaks seem so
strong. You never saw anything so keen as their eyes! And fly? Why, just
think, sir, they must be flying miles straight up, for they were out of
sight completely when the feather fell. I don't suppose I've a chicken
in the swamp that can go as close heaven as those big, black fellows,
and then----"

Freckles' voice dragged and he hesitated.

"Then what?" interestedly urged McLean.

"He was loving her so," answered Freckles in a hushed voice. "I know it
looked awful funny, and I laughed and told on him, but if I'd taken time
to think I don't believe I'd have done it. You see, I've seen such a
little bit of loving in me life. You easily can be understanding that at
the Home it was every day the old story of neglect and desertion. Always
people that didn't even care enough for their children to keep them, so
you see, sir, I had to like him for trying so hard to make her know how
he loved her. Of course, they're only birds, but if they are caring for
each other like that, why, it's just the same as people, ain't it?"

Freckles lifted his brave, steady eyes to the Boss.

"If anybody loved me like that, Mr. McLean, I wouldn't be spending any
time on how they looked or moved. All I'd be thinking of would be how
they felt toward me. If they will stay, I'll be caring as much for them
as any chickens I have. If I did laugh at them I thought he was just
fine!"

The face of McLean was a study; but the honest eyes of the boy were so
compelling that he found himself answering: "You are right, Freckles.
He's a gentleman, isn't he? And the only real chicken you have. Of
course he'll remain! The Limberlost will be paradise for his family. And
now, Freckles, what has been the trouble all spring? You have done your
work as faithfully as anyone could ask, but I can't help seeing that
there is something wrong. Are you tired of your job?"

"I love it," answered Freckles. "It will almost break me heart when
the gang comes and begins tearing up the swamp and scaring away me
chickens."

"Then what is the trouble?" insisted McLean.

"I think, sir, it's been books," answered Freckles. "You see, I didn't
realize it meself until the bullfrog told me this morning. I hadn't ever
even heard about a place like this. Anyway, I wasn't understanding how
it would be, if I had. Being among these beautiful things every day, I
got so anxious like to be knowing and naming them, that it got to eating
into me and went and made me near sick, when I was well as I could be.
Of course, I learned to read, write, and figure some at school, but
there was nothing there, or in any of the city that I ever got to see,
that would make a fellow even be dreaming of such interesting things
as there are here. I've seen the parks--but good Lord, they ain't even
beginning to be in it with the Limberlost! It's all new and strange to
me. I don't know a thing about any of it. The bullfrog told me to 'find
out,' plain as day, and books are the only way; ain't they?"

"Of course," said McLean, astonished at himself for his heartfelt
relief. He had not guessed until that minute what it would have meant
to him to have Freckles give up. "You know enough to study out what you
want yourself, if you have the books; don't you?"

"I am pretty sure I do," said Freckles. "I learned all I'd the chance at
in the Home, and me schooling was good as far as it went. Wouldn't let
you go past fourteen, you know. I always did me sums perfect, and loved
me history books. I had them almost by heart. I never could get me
grammar to suit them. They said it was just born in me to go wrong
talking, and if it hadn't been I suppose I would have picked it up from
the other children; but I'd the best voice of any of them in the Home
or at school. I could knock them all out singing. I was always leader in
the Home, and once one of the superintendents gave me carfare and let
me go into the city and sing in a boys' choir. The master said I'd the
swatest voice of them all until it got rough like, and then he made me
quit for awhile, but he said it would be coming back by now, and I'm
railly thinking it is, sir, for I've tried on the line a bit of late and
it seems to go smooth again and lots stronger. That and me chickens have
been all the company I've been having, and it will be all I'll want if I
can have some books and learn the real names of things, where they come
from, and why they do such interesting things. It's been fretting me
more than I knew to be shut up here among all these wonders and not
knowing a thing. I wanted to ask you what some books would cost me, and
if you'd be having the goodness to get me the right ones. I think I have
enough money."

Freckles offered his account-book and the Boss studied it gravely.

"You needn't touch your account, Freckles," he said. "Ten dollars from
this month's pay will provide you everything you need to start on. I
will write a friend in Grand Rapids today to select you the very best
and send them at once."

Freckles' eyes were shining.

"Never owned a book in me life!" he said. "Even me schoolbooks were
never mine. Lord! How I used to wish I could have just one of them for
me very own! Won't it be fun to see me sawbird and me little yellow
fellow looking at me from the pages of a book, and their real names and
all about them printed alongside? How long will it be taking, sir?"

"Ten days should do it nicely," said McLean. Then, seeing Freckles'
lengthening face, he added: "I'll have Duncan bring you a ten-bushel
store-box the next time he goes to town. He can haul it to the west
entrance and set it up wherever you want it. You can put in your spare
time filling it with the specimens you find until the books come,
and then you can study out what you have. I suspect you could collect
specimens that I could send to naturalists in the city and sell for you;
things like that winged creature, this morning. I don't know much in
that line, but it must have been a moth, and it might have been rare.
I've seen them by the thousand in museums, and in all nature I don't
remember rarer coloring than their wings. I'll order you a butterfly-net
and box and show you how scientists pin specimens. Possibly you can make
a fine collection of these swamp beauties. It will be all right for you
to take a pair of different moths and butterflies, but I don't want to
hear of your killing any birds. They are protected by heavy fines."

McLean rode away leaving Freckles staring aghast. Then he saw the point
and smiled. Standing on the trail, he twirled the feather and thought
over the morning.

"Well, if life ain't getting to be worth living!" he said wonderingly.
"Biggest streak of luck I ever had! 'Bout time something was coming my
way, but I wouldn't ever thought anybody could strike such magnificent
prospects through only a falling feather."



CHAPTER IV

Wherein Freckles Faces Trouble Bravely and Opens the Way for New
Experiences

On Duncan's return from his next trip to town there was a big store-box
loaded on the back of his wagon. He drove to the west entrance of the
swamp, set the box on a stump that Freckles had selected in a beautiful,
sheltered place, and made it secure on its foundations with a tree at
its back.

"It seems most a pity to nail into that tree," said Duncan. "I haena the
time to examine into the grain of it, but it looks as if it might be a
rare ane. Anyhow, the nailin' winna hurt it deep, and havin' the case by
it will make it safer if it is a guid ane."

"Isn't it an oak?" asked Freckles.

"Ay," said Duncan. "It looks like it might be ane of thae fine-grained
white anes that mak' such grand furniture."

When the body of the case was secure, Duncan made a door from the lid
and fastened it with hinges. He drove a staple, screwed on a latch, and
gave Freckles a small padlock--so that he might fasten in his treasures
safely. He made a shelf at the top for his books, and last of all
covered the case with oil-cloth.

It was the first time in Freckles' life that anyone ever had done that
much for his pleasure, and it warmed his heart with pure joy. If the
interior of the box already had been covered with the rarest treasures
of the Limberlost he could have been no happier.

When the big teamster stood back to look at his work he laughingly
quoted, "'Neat, but no' gaudy,' as McLean says. All we're, needing now
is a coat of paint to make a cupboard that would turn Sarah green with
envy. Ye'll find that safe an' dry, lad, an' that's all that's needed."

"Mr. Duncan," said Freckles, "I don't know why you are being so mighty
good to me; but if you have any jobs at the cabin that I could do for
you or Mrs. Duncan, hours off the line, it would make me mighty happy."

Duncan laughed. "Ye needna feel ye are obliged to me, lad. Ye mauna
think I could take a half-day off in the best hauling season and go to
town for boxes to rig up, and spend of my little for fixtures."

"I knew Mr. McLean sent you," said Freckles, his eyes wide and bright
with happiness. "It's so good of him. How I wish I could do something
that would please him as much!"

"Why, Freckles," said Duncan, as he knelt and began collecting his
tools, "I canna see that it will hurt ye to be told that ye are doing
every day a thing that pleases the Boss as much as anything ye could
do. Ye're being uncommon faithful, lad, and honest as old Father Time.
McLean is trusting ye as he would his own flesh and blood."

"Oh, Duncan!" cried the happy boy. "Are you sure?"

"Why I know," answered Duncan. "I wadna venture to say so else. In those
first days he cautioned me na to tell ye, but now he wadna care. D'ye
ken, Freckles, that some of the single trees ye are guarding are worth a
thousand dollars?"

Freckles caught his breath and stood speechless.

"Ye see," said Duncan, "that's why they maun be watched so closely. They
tak', say, for instance, a burl maple--bird's eye they call it in the
factory, because it's full o' wee knots and twists that look like the
eye of a bird. They saw it out in sheets no muckle thicker than writin'
paper. Then they make up the funiture out of cheaper wood and cover it
with the maple--veneer, they call it. When it's all done and polished ye
never saw onythin' grander. Gang into a retail shop the next time ye
are in town and see some. By sawin' it thin that way they get finish for
thousands of dollars' worth of furniture from a single tree. If ye dinna
watch faithful, and Black Jack gets out a few he has marked, it means
the loss of more money than ye ever dreamed of, lad. The other night,
down at camp, some son of Balaam was suggestin' that ye might be sellin'
the Boss out to Jack and lettin' him tak' the trees secretly, and nobody
wad ever ken till the gang gets here."

A wave of scarlet flooded Freckles' face and he blazed hotly at the
insult.

"And the Boss," continued Duncan, coolly ignoring Freckles' anger, "he
lays back just as cool as cowcumbers an' says: 'I'll give a thousand
dollars to ony man that will show me a fresh stump when we reach the
Limberlost,' says he. Some of the men just snapped him op that they'd
find some. So you see bow the Boss is trustin' ye, lad."

"I am gladder than I can ever expriss," said Freckles. "And now will I
be walking double time to keep some of them from cutting a tree to get
all that money!"

"Mither o' Moses!" howled Duncan. "Ye can trust the Scotch to bungle
things a'thegither. McLean was only meanin' to show ye all confidence
and honor. He's gone and set a high price for some dirty whelp to ruin
ye. I was just tryin' to show ye how he felt toward ye, and I've gone
an' give ye that worry to bear. Damn the Scotch! They're so slow an' so
dumb!"

"Exciptin' prisint company?" sweetly inquired Freckles.

"No!" growled Duncan. "Headin' the list! He'd nae business to set a
price on ye, lad, for that's about the amount of it, an' I'd nae right
to tell ye. We've both done ye ill, an' both meanin' the verra best.
Juist what I'm always sayin' to Sarah."

"I am mighty proud of what you have been telling me, Duncan," said
Freckles. "I need the warning, sure. For with the books coming I might
be timpted to neglect me work when double watching is needed. Thank you
more than I can say for putting me on to it. What you've told me may be
the saving of me. I won't stop for dinner now. I'll be getting along the
east line, and when I come around about three, maybe Mother Duncan will
let me have a glass of milk and a bite of something."

"Ye see now!" cried Duncan in disgust. "Ye'll start on that seven-mile
tramp with na bite to stay your stomach. What was it I told ye?"

"You told me that the Scotch had the hardest heads and the softest
hearts of any people that's living," answered Freckles.

Duncan grunted in gratified disapproval.

Freckles picked up his club and started down the line, whistling
cheerily, for he had an unusually long repertoire upon which to draw.

Duncan went straight to the lower camp, and calling McLean aside,
repeated the conversation verbatim, ending: "And nae matter what happens
now or ever, dinna ye dare let onythin' make ye believe that Freckles
hasna guarded faithful as ony man could."

"I don't think anything could shake my faith in the lad," answered
McLean.

Freckles was whistling merrily. He kept one eye religiously on the line.
The other he divided between the path, his friends of the wire, and a
search of the sky for his latest arrivals. Every day since their coming
he had seen them, either hanging as small, black clouds above the swamp
or bobbing over logs and trees with their queer, tilting walk. Whenever
he could spare time, he entered the swamp and tried to make friends
with them, for they were the tamest of all his unnumbered subjects. They
ducked, dodged, and ambled around him, over logs and bushes, and not
even a near approach would drive them to flight.

For two weeks he had found them circling over the Limberlost regularly,
but one morning the female was missing and only the big black chicken
hung sentinel above the swamp. His mate did not reappear in the
following days, and Freckles grew very anxious. He spoke of it to Mrs.
Duncan, and she quieted his fears by raising a delightful hope in their
stead.

"Why, Freckles, if it's the hen-bird ye are missing, it's ten to one
she's safe," she said. "She's laid, and is setting, ye silly! Watch him
and mark whaur he lichts. Then follow and find the nest. Some Sabbath
we'll all gang see it."

Accepting this theory, Freckles began searching for the nest. Because
these "chickens" were large, as the hawks, he looked among the treetops
until he almost sprained the back of his neck. He had half the crow and
hawk nests in the swamp located. He searched for this nest instead of
collecting subjects for his case. He found the pair the middle of one
forenoon on the elm where he had watched their love-making. The big
black chicken was feeding his mate; so it was proved that they were a
pair, they were both alive, and undoubtedly she was brooding. After that
Freckles' nest-hunting continued with renewed zeal, but as he had no
idea where to look and Duncan could offer no helpful suggestion, the
nest was no nearer to being found.

Coming from a long day on the trail, Freckles saw Duncan's children
awaiting him much closer the swale than they usually ventured, and from
their wild gestures he knew that something had happened. He began to
run, but the cry that reached him was: "The books have come!"

How they hurried! Freckles lifted the youngest to his shoulder, the
second took his club and dinner pail, and when they reached Mrs. Duncan
they found her at work on a big box. She had loosened the lid, and then
she laughingly sat on it.

"Ye canna have a peep in here until ye have washed and eaten supper,"
she said. "It's all ready on the table. Ance ye begin on this, ye'll
no be willin' to tak' your nose o' it till bedtime, and I willna get my
work done the nicht. We've eaten long ago."

It was difficult work, but Freckles smiled bravely. He made himself
neat, swallowed a few bites, then came so eagerly that Mrs. Duncan
yielded, although she said she very well knew all the time that his
supper would be spoiled.

Lifting the lid, they removed the packing and found in that box books
on birds, trees, flowers, moths, and butterflies. There was also one
containing Freckles' bullfrog, true to life. Besides these were a
butterfly-net, a naturalist's tin specimen-box, a bottle of cyanide,
a box of cotton, a paper of long, steel specimen-pins, and a letter
telling what all these things were and how to use them.

At the discovery of each new treasure, Freckles shouted: "Will you be
looking at this, now?"

Mrs. Duncan cried: "Weel, I be drawed on!"

The eldest boy turned a somersault for every extra, while the baby,
trying to follow his example, bunched over in a sidewise sprawl and cut
his foot on the axe with which his mother had prized up the box-lid.
That sobered them, they carried the books indoors. Mrs. Duncan had a top
shelf in her closet cleared for them, far above the reach of meddling
little fingers.

When Freckles started for the trail next morning, the shining new
specimen-box flashed on his back. The black "chicken," a mere speck in
the blue, caught the gleam of it. The folded net hung beside the boy's
hatchet, and the bird book was in the box. He walked the line and tested
each section scrupulously, watching every foot of the trail, for he was
determined not to slight his work; but if ever a boy "made haste slowly"
in a hurry, it was Freckles that morning. When at last he reached the
space he had cleared and planted around his case, his heart swelled with
the pride of possessing even so much that he could call his own, while
his quick eyes feasted on the beauty of it.

He had made a large room with the door of the case set even with one
side of it. On three sides, fine big bushes of wild rose climbed to the
lower branches of the trees. Part of his walls were mallow, part alder,
thorn, willow, and dogwood. Below there filled in a solid mass of pale
pink sheep-laurel, and yellow St. John's wort, while the amber threads
of the dodder interlaced everywhere. At one side the swamp came close,
here cattails grew in profusion. In front of them he had planted a row
of water-hyacinths without disturbing in the least the state of their
azure bloom, and where the ground arose higher for his floor, a row of
foxfire, that soon would be open.

To the left he had discovered a queer natural arrangement of the trees,
that grew to giant size and were set in a gradually narrowing space so
that a long, open vista stretched away until lost in the dim recesses
of the swamp. A little trimming of underbush, rolling of dead logs,
levelling of floor and carpeting with moss, made it easy to understand
why Freckles had named this the "cathedral"; yet he never had been
taught that "the groves were God's first temples."

On either side of the trees that constituted the first arch of this dim
vista of the swamp he planted ferns that grew waist-high thus early in
the season, and so skilfully the work had been done that not a frond
drooped because of the change. Opposite, he cleared a space and made a
flower bed. He filled one end with every delicate, lacy vine and fern he
could transplant successfully. The body of the bed was a riot of color.
Here he set growing dainty blue-eyed-Marys and blue-eyed grass side
by side. He planted harebells; violets, blue, white, and yellow; wild
geranium, cardinal-flower, columbine, pink snake's mouth, buttercups,
painted trilliums, and orchis. Here were blood-root, moccasin-flower,
hepatica, pitcher-plant, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and every other flower of
the Limberlost that was in bloom or bore a bud presaging a flower. Every
day saw the addition of new specimens. The place would have driven a
botanist wild with envy.

On the line side he left the bushes thick for concealment, entering by a
narrow path he and Duncan had cleared in setting up the case. He called
this the front door, though he used every precaution to hide it. He
built rustic seats between several of the trees, leveled the floor, and
thickly carpeted it with rank, heavy, woolly-dog moss. Around the case
he planted wild clematis, bittersweet, and wild-grapevines, and trained
them over it until it was almost covered. Every day he planted new
flowers, cut back rough bushes, and coaxed out graceful ones. His
pride in his room was very great, but he had no idea how surprisingly
beautiful it would appear to anyone who had not witnessed its growth and
construction.

This morning Freckles walked straight to his case, unlocked it, and set
his apparatus and dinner inside. He planted a new specimen he had found
close the trail, and, bringing his old scrap-bucket from the corner in
which it was hidden, from a near-by pool he dipped water to pour over
his carpet and flowers.

Then he took out the bird book, settled comfortably on a bench, and
with a deep sigh of satisfaction turned to the section headed. "V." Past
"veery" and "vireo" he went, down the line until his finger, trembling
with eagerness, stopped at "vulture."

"'Great black California vulture,'" he read.

"Humph! This side the Rockies will do for us."

"'Common turkey-buzzard.'"

"Well, we ain't hunting common turkeys. McLean said chickens, and what
he says goes."

"'Black vulture of the South.'"

"Here we are arrived at once."

Freckles' finger followed the line, and he read scraps aloud.

"'Common in the South. Sometimes called Jim Crow. Nearest equivalent to
C-a-t-h-a-r-t-e-s A-t-r-a-t-a.'"

"How the divil am I ever to learn them corkin' big words by mesel'?"

"'--the Pharaoh's Chickens of European species. Sometimes stray north as
far as Virginia and Kentucky----'"

"And sometimes farther," interpolated Freckles, "'cos I got them right
here in Indiana so like these pictures I can just see me big chicken
bobbing up to get his ears boxed. Hey?"

"'Light-blue eggs'----"

"Golly! I got to be seeing them!"

"'--big as a common turkey's, but shaped like a hen's, heavily splotched
with chocolate----'"

"Caramels, I suppose. And----"

"'--in hollow logs or stumps.'"

"Oh, hagginy! Wasn't I barking up the wrong tree, though? Ought to been
looking close the ground all this time. Now it's all to do over, and I
suspect the sooner I start the sooner I'll be likely to find them."

Freckles put away his book, dampened the smudge-fire, without which the
mosquitoes made the swamp almost unbearable, took his cudgel and lunch,
and went to the line. He sat on a log, ate at dinner-time and drank his
last drop of water. The heat of June was growing intense. Even on the
west of the swamp, where one had full benefit of the breeze from the
upland, it was beginning to be unpleasant in the middle of the day.

He brushed the crumbs from his knees and sat resting awhile and watching
the sky to see if his big chicken were hanging up there. But he came to
the earth abruptly, for there were steps coming down the trail that
were neither McLean's nor Duncan's--and there never had been others.
Freckles' heart leaped hotly. He ran a quick hand over his belt to feel
if his revolver and hatchet were there, caught up his cudgel and laid
it across his knees--then sat quietly, waiting. Was it Black Jack,
or someone even worse? Forced to do something to brace his nerves, he
puckered his stiffening lips and began whistling a tune he had led in
his clear tenor every year of his life at the Home Christmas exercises.

     "Who comes this way, so blithe and gay,
     Upon a merry Christmas day?"

His quick Irish wit roused to the ridiculousness of it until he broke
into a laugh that steadied him amazingly.

Through the bushes he caught a glimpse of the oncoming figure. His heart
flooded with joy, for it was a man from the gang. Wessner had been his
bunk-mate the night he came down the corduroy. He knew him as well as
any of McLean's men. This was no timber-thief. No doubt the Boss had
sent him with a message. Freckles sprang up and called cheerily, a warm
welcome on his face.

"Well, it's good telling if you're glad to see me," said Wessner, with
something very like a breath of relief. "We been hearing down at the
camp you were so mighty touchy you didn't allow a man within a rod of
the line."

"No more do I," answered Freckles, "if he's a stranger, but you're from
McLean, ain't you?"

"Oh, damn McLean!" said Wessner.

Freckles gripped the cudgel until his knuckles slowly turned purple.

"And are you railly saying so?" he inquired with elaborate politeness.

"Yes, I am," said Wessner. "So would every man of the gang if they
wasn't too big cowards to say anything, unless maybe that other
slobbering old Scotchman, Duncan. Grinding the lives out of us! Working
us like dogs, and paying us starvation wages, while he rolls up his
millions and lives like a prince!"

Green lights began to play through the gray of Freckles' eyes.

"Wessner," he said impressively, "you'd make a fine pattern for the
father of liars! Every man on that gang is strong and hilthy, paid all
he earns, and treated with the courtesy of a gentleman! As for the Boss
living like a prince, he shares fare with you every day of your lives!"

Wessner was not a born diplomat, but he saw he was on the wrong tack, so
he tried another.

"How would you like to make a good big pile of money, without even
lifting your hand?" he asked.

"Humph!" said Freckles. "Have you been up to Chicago and cornered wheat,
and are you offering me a friendly tip on the invistment of me fortune?"

Wessner came close.

"Freckles, old fellow," he said, "if you let me give you a pointer, I
can put you on to making a cool five hundred without stepping out of
your tracks."

Freckles drew back.

"You needn't be afraid of speaking up," he said. "There isn't a soul in
the Limberlost save the birds and the beasts, unless some of your sort's
come along and's crowding the privileges of the legal tinints."

"None of my friends along," said Wessner. "Nobody knew I came but Black,
I--I mean a friend of mine. If you want to hear sense and act with
reason, he can see you later, but it ain't necessary. We can make all
the plans needed. The trick's so dead small and easy."

"Must be if you have the engineering of it," said Freckles. But he
heard, with a sigh of relief, that they were alone.

Wessner was impervious. "You just bet it is! Why, only think, Freckles,
slavin' away at a measly little thirty dollars a month, and here is a
chance to clear five hundred in a day! You surely won't be the fool to
miss it!"

"And how was you proposing for me to stale it?" inquired Freckles. "Or
am I just to find it laying in me path beside the line?"

"That's it, Freckles," blustered the Dutchman, "you're just to find it.
You needn't do a thing. You needn't know a thing. You name a morning
when you will walk up the west side of the swamp and then turn round
and walk back down the same side again and the money is yours. Couldn't
anything be easier than that, could it?"

"Depinds entirely on the man," said Freckles. The lilt of a lark hanging
above the swale beside them was not sweeter than the sweetness of his
voice. "To some it would seem to come aisy as breathing; and to some,
wringin' the last drop of their heart's blood couldn't force thim! I'm
not the man that goes into a scheme like that with the blindfold over
me eyes, for, you see, it manes to break trust with the Boss; and I've
served him faithful as I knew. You'll have to be making the thing very
clear to me understanding."

"It's so dead easy," repeated Wessner, "it makes me tired of the
simpleness of it. You see there's a few trees in the swamp that's real
gold mines. There's three especial. Two are back in, but one's square on
the line. Why, your pottering old Scotch fool of a Boss nailed the
wire to it with his own hands! He never noticed where the bark had been
peeled, or saw what it was. If you will stay on this side of the trail
just one day we can have it cut, loaded, and ready to drive out at
night. Next morning you can find it, report, and be the busiest man
in the search for us. We know where to fix it all safe and easy. Then
McLean has a bet up with a couple of the gang that there can't be a raw
stump found in the Limberlost. There's plenty of witnesses to swear to
it, and I know three that will. There's a cool thousand, and this tree
is worth all of that, raw. Say, it's a gold mine, I tell you, and just
five hundred of it is yours. There's no danger on earth to you, for
you've got McLean that bamboozled you could sell out the whole swamp and
he'd never mistrust you. What do you say?"

Freckles' soul was satisfied. "Is that all?" he asked.

"No, it ain't," said Wessner. "If you really want to brace up and be a
man and go into the thing for keeps, you can make five times that in a
week. My friend knows a dozen others we could get out in a few days, and
all you'd have to do would be to keep out of sight. Then you could
take your money and skip some night, and begin life like a gentleman
somewhere else. What do you think about it?"

Freckles purred like a kitten.

"'Twould be a rare joke on the Boss," he said, "to be stalin' from him
the very thing he's trusted me to guard, and be getting me wages all
winter throwed in free. And you're making the pay awful high. Me to
be getting five hundred for such a simple little thing as that. You're
trating me most royal indade! It's away beyond all I'd be expecting.
Sivinteen cints would be a big price for that job. It must be looked
into thorough. Just you wait here until I do a minute's turn in the
swamp, and then I'll be eschorting you out of the clearing and giving
you the answer."

Freckles lifted the overhanging bushes and hurried to the case. He
unslung the specimen-box and laid it inside with his hatchet and
revolver. He slipped the key in his pocket and went back to Wessner.

"Now for the answer," he said. "Stand up!"

There was iron in his voice, and he was commanding as an outraged
general. "Anything, you want to be taking off?" he questioned.

Wessner looked the astonishment he felt. "Why, no, Freckles," he said.

"Have the goodness to be calling me Mister McLean," snapped Freckles.
"I'm after resarvin' me pet name for the use of me friends! You may
stand with your back to the light or be taking any advantage you want."

"Why, what do you mean?" spluttered Wessner.

"I'm manin'," said Freckles tersely, "to lick a quarter-section of hell
out of you, and may the Holy Vargin stay me before I leave you here
carrion, for your carcass would turn the stummicks of me chickens!"

At the camp that morning, Wessner's conduct had been so palpable an
excuse to force a discharge that Duncan moved near McLean and whispered,
"Think of the boy, sir?"

McLean was so troubled that, an hour later, he mounted Nellie and
followed Wessner to his home in Wildcat Hollow, only to find that he had
left there shortly before, heading for the Limberlost. McLean rode at
top speed. When Mrs. Duncan told him that a man answering Wessner's
description had gone down the west side of the swamp close noon, he left
the mare in her charge and followed on foot. When he heard voices he
entered the swamp and silently crept close just in time to hear Wessner
whine: "But I can't fight you, Freckles. I hain't done nothing to you.
I'm away bigger than you, and you've only one hand."

The Boss slid off his coat and crouched among the bushes, ready to
spring; but as Freckles' voice reached him he held himself, with a
strong effort, to learn what mettle was in the boy.

"Don't you be wasting of me good time in the numbering of me hands,"
cried Freckles. "The stringth of me cause will make up for the weakness
of me mimbers, and the size of a cowardly thief doesn't count. You'll
think all the wildcats of the Limberlost are turned loose on you whin I
come against you, and as for me cause----I slept with you, Wessner, the
night I came down the corduroy like a dirty, friendless tramp, and the
Boss was for taking me up, washing, clothing, and feeding me, and giving
me a home full of love and tinderness, and a master to look to, and
good, well-earned money in the bank. He's trusting me his heartful, and
here comes you, you spotted toad of the big road, and insults me, as is
an honest Irish gintleman, by hinting that you concaive I'd be willing
to shut me eyes and hold fast while you rob him of the thing I was set
and paid to guard, and then act the sneak and liar to him, and ruin and
eternally blacken the soul of me. You damned rascal," raved Freckles,
"be fighting before I forget the laws of a gintlemin's game and split
your dirty head with me stick!"

Wessner backed away, mumbling, "But I don't want to hurt you, Freckles!"

"Oh, don't you!" raged the boy, now fairly frothing. "Well, you ain't
resembling me none, for I'm itching like death to git me fingers in the
face of you."

He danced up, and as Wessner lunged in self-defense, ducked under his
arm as a bantam and punched him in the pit of the stomach so that he
doubled with a groan. Before Wessner could straighten himself, Freckles
was on him, fighting like the wildest fury that ever left the beautiful
island. The Dutchman dealt thundering blows that sometimes landed and
sent Freckles reeling, and sometimes missed, while he went plunging into
the swale with the impetus of them. Freckles could not strike with half
Wessner's force, but he could land three blows to the Dutchman's one.
It was here that the boy's days of alert watching on the line, the
perpetual swinging of the heavy cudgel, and the endurance of all weather
stood him in good stead; for he was tough, and agile. He skipped,
ducked, and dodged. For the first five minutes he endured fearful
punishment. Then Wessner's breath commenced to whistle between his
teeth, when Freckles only had begun fighting. He sprang back with shrill
laughter.

"Begolly! and will your honor be whistling the hornpipe for me to be
dancing of?" he cried.

SPANG! went his fist into Wessner's face, and he was past him into the
swale.

"And would you be pleased to tune up a little livelier?" he gasped, and
clipped his ear as he sprang back. Wessner lunged at him in blind fury.
Freckles, seeing an opening, forgot the laws of a gentleman's game and
drove the toe of his heavy wading-boot in Wessner's middle until he
doubled and fell heavily. In a flash Freckles was on him. For a time
McLean could not see what was happening. "Go! Go to him now!" he
commanded himself, but so intense was his desire to see the boy win
alone that he did not stir.

At last Freckles sprang up and backed away. "Time!" he yelled as a fury.
"Be getting up, Mr. Wessner, and don't be afraid of hurting me. I'll let
you throw in an extra hand and lick you to me complate satisfaction all
the same. Did you hear me call the limit? Will you get up and be facing
me?"

As Wessner struggled to his feet, he resembled a battlefield, for his
clothing was in ribbons and his face and hands streaming blood.

"I--I guess I got enough," he mumbled.

"Oh, you do?" roared Freckles. "Well this ain't your say. You come on
to me ground, lying about me Boss and intimatin' I'd stale from his very
pockets. Now will you be standing up and taking your medicine like a
man, or getting it poured down the throat of you like a baby? I ain't
got enough! This is only just the beginning with me. Be looking out
there!"

He sprang against Wessner and sent him rolling. He attacked the
unresisting figure and fought him until he lay limp and quiet and
Freckles had no strength left to lift an arm. Then he arose and stepped
back, gasping for breath. With his first lungful of air he shouted:
"Time!" But the figure of Wessner lay motionless.

Freckles watched him with regardful eye and saw at last that he was
completely exhausted. He bent over him, and catching him by the back of
the neck, jerked him to his knees. Wessner lifted the face of a whipped
cur, and fearing further punishment, burst into shivering sobs, while
the tears washed tiny rivulets through the blood and muck. Freckles
stepped back, glaring at Wessner, but suddenly the scowl of anger and
the ugly disfiguring red faded from the boy's face. He dabbed at a cut
on his temple from which issued a tiny crimson stream, and jauntily
shook back his hair. His face took on the innocent look of a cherub,
and his voice rivaled that of a brooding dove, but into his eyes crept a
look of diabolical mischief.

He glanced vaguely around him until he saw his club, seized and twirled
it as a drum major, stuck it upright in the muck, and marched on tiptoe
to Wessner, mechanically, as a puppet worked by a string. Bending over,
Freckles reached an arm around Wessner's waist and helped him to his
feet.

"Careful, now" he cautioned, "be careful, Freddy; there's danger of you
hurting me."

Drawing a handkerchief from a back pocket, Freckles tenderly wiped
Wessner's eyes and nose.

"Come, Freddy, me child," he admonished Wessner, "it's time little boys
were going home. I've me work to do, and can't be entertaining you any
more today. Come back tomorrow, if you ain't through yet, and we'll
repate the perfarmance. Don't be staring at me so wild like! I would eat
you, but I can't afford it. Me earnings, being honest, come slow, and
I've no money to be squanderin' on the pailful of Dyspeptic's Delight it
would be to taking to work you out of my innards!"

Again an awful wrenching seized McLean. Freckles stepped back as
Wessner, tottering and reeling, as a thoroughly drunken man, came toward
the path, appearing indeed as if wildcats had attacked him.

The cudgel spun high in air, and catching it with an expertness acquired
by long practice on the line, the boy twirled it a second, shook back
his thick hair bonnily, and stepping into the trail, followed Wessner.
Because Freckles was Irish, it was impossible to do it silently, so
presently his clear tenor rang out, though there were bad catches where
he was hard pressed for breath:

     "It was the Dutch.  It was the Dutch.
     Do you think it was the Irish hollered help?
     Not much!
     It was the Dutch.  It was the Dutch----"

Wessner turned and mumbled: "What you following me for? What are you
going to do with me?"

Freckles called the Limberlost to witness: "How's that for the
ingratitude of a beast? And me troubling mesilf to show him off me
territory with the honors of war!"

Then he changed his tone completely and added: "Belike it's this,
Freddy. You see, the Boss might come riding down this trail any minute,
and the little mare's so wheedlesome that if she'd come on to you in
your prisint state all of a sudden, she'd stop that short she'd send Mr.
McLean out over the ears of her. No disparagement intinded to the sinse
of the mare!" he added hastily.

Wessner belched a fearful oath, while Freckles laughed merrily.

"That's a sample of the thanks a generous act's always for getting," he
continued. "Here's me neglictin' me work to eschort you out proper, and
you saying such awful words Freddy," he demanded sternly, "do you want
me to soap out your mouth? You don't seem to be realizing it, but if you
was to buck into Mr. McLean in your prisint state, without me there
to explain matters the chance is he'd cut the liver out of you; and I
shouldn't think you'd be wanting such a fine gintleman as him to see
that it's white!"

Wessner grew ghastly under his grime and broke into a staggering run.

"And now will you be looking at the manners of him?" questioned Freckles
plaintively. "Going without even a 'thank you,' right in the face of all
the pains I've taken to make it interesting for him!"

Freckles twirled the club and stood as a soldier at attention
until Wessner left the clearing, but it was the last scene of that
performance. When the boy turned, there was deathly illness on his face,
while his legs wavered beneath his weight. He staggered to the case, and
opening it he took out a piece of cloth. He dipped it into the water,
and sitting on a bench, he wiped the blood and grime from his face,
while his breath sucked between his clenched teeth. He was shivering
with pain and excitement in spite of himself. He unbuttoned the band of
his right sleeve, and turning it back, exposed the blue-lined, calloused
whiteness of his maimed arm, now vividly streaked with contusions, while
in a series of circular dots the blood oozed slowly. Here Wessner had
succeeded in setting his teeth. When Freckles saw what it was he forgave
himself the kick in the pit of Wessner's stomach, and cursed fervently
and deep.

"Freckles, Freckles," said McLean's voice.

Freckles snatched down his sleeve and arose to his feet.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. "You'll surely be belavin' I thought meself
alone."

McLean pushed him carefully to the seat, and bending over him, opened a
pocket-case that he carried as regularly as his revolver and watch, for
cuts and bruises were of daily occurrence among the gang.

Taking the hurt arm, he turned back the sleeve and bathed and bound the
wounds. He examined Freckles' head and body and convinced himself that
there was no permanent injury, although the cruelty of the punishment
the boy had borne set the Boss shuddering. Then he closed the
case, shoved it into his pocket, and sat beside Freckles. All the
indescribable beauty of the place was strong around him, but he saw
only the bruised face of the suffering boy, who had hedged for the
information he wanted as a diplomat, argued as a judge, fought as a
sheik, and triumphed as a devil.

When the pain lessened and breath relieved Freckles' pounding heart, he
watched the Boss covertly. How had McLean gotten there and how long had
he been there? Freckles did not dare ask. At last he arose, and going
to the case, took out his revolver and the wire-mending apparatus and
locked the door. Then he turned to McLean.

"Have you any orders, sir?" he asked.

"Yes," said McLean, "I have, and you are to follow them to the letter.
Turn over that apparatus to me and go straight home. Soak yourself in
the hottest bath your skin will bear and go to bed at once. Now hurry."

"Mr. McLean," said Freckles, "it's sorry I am to be telling you, but
the afternoon's walking of the line ain't done. You see, I was just
for getting to me feet to start, and I was on time, when up came
a gintleman, and we got into a little heated argument. It's either
settled, or it's just begun, but between us, I'm that late I haven't
started for the afternoon yet. I must be going at once, for there's a
tree I must find before the day's over."

"You plucky little idiot," growled McLean. "You can't walk the line! I
doubt if you can reach Duncan's. Don't you know when you are done up?
You go to bed; I'll finish your work."

"Niver!" protested Freckles. "I was just a little done up for the
prisint, a minute ago. I'm all right now. Riding-boots are far too low.
The day's hot and the walk a good seven miles, sir. Niver!"

As he reached for the outfit he pitched forward and his eyes closed.
McLean stretched him on the moss and applied restoratives. When Freckles
returned to consciousness, McLean ran to the cabin to tell Mrs. Duncan
to have a hot bath ready, and to bring Nellie. That worthy woman
promptly filled the wash-boiler, starting a roaring fire under it. She
pushed the horse-trough from its base and rolled it to the kitchen.

By the time McLean came again, leading Nelie and holding Freckles on her
back, Mrs. Duncan was ready for business. She and the Boss laid Freckles
in the trough and poured on hot water until he squirmed. They soaked and
massaged him. Then they drew off the hot water and closed his pores with
cold. Lastly they stretched him on the floor and chafed, rubbed, and
kneaded him until he cried out for mercy. As they rolled him into bed,
his eyes dropped shut, but a little later they flared open.

"Mr. McLean," he cried, "the tree! Oh, do be looking after the tree!"

McLean bent over him. "Which tree, Freckles?"

"I don't know exact sir; but it's on the east line, and the wire is
fastened to it. He bragged that you nailed it yourself, sir. You'll know
it by the bark having been laid open to the grain somewhere low down.
Five hundred dollars he offered me--to be--selling you out--sir!"

Freckles' head rolled over and his eyes dropped shut. McLean towered
above the lad. His bright hair waved on the pillow. His face was
swollen, and purple with bruises. His left arm, with the hand battered
almost out of shape, stretched beside him, and the right, with no hand
at all, lay across a chest that was a mass of purple welts. McLean's
mind traveled to the night, almost a year before, when he had engaged
Freckles, a stranger.

The Boss bent, covering the hurt arm with one hand and laying the other
with a caress on the boy's forehead. Freckles stirred at his touch, and
whispered as softly as the swallows under the eaves: "If you're coming
this way--tomorrow--be pleased to step over--and we'll repate--the
chorus softly!"

"Bless the gritty devil," muttered McLean.

Then he went out and told Mrs. Duncan to keep close watch on Freckles,
also to send Duncan to him at the swamp the minute he came home.
Following the trail to the line and back to the scent of the fight, the
Boss entered Freckles' study quietly, as if his spirit, keeping there,
might be roused, and gazed around with astonished eyes.

How had the boy conceived it? What a picture he had wrought in living
colors! He had the heart of a painter. He had the soul of a poet. The
Boss stepped carefully over the velvet carpet to touch the walls of
crisp verdure with gentle fingers. He stood long beside the flower
bed, and gazed at the banked wall of bright bloom as if he doubted its
reality.

Where had Freckles ever found, and how had he transplanted such ferns?
As McLean turned from them he stopped suddenly.

He had reached the door of the cathedral. That which Freckles had
attempted would have been patent to anyone. What had been in the heart
of the shy, silent boy when he had found that long, dim stretch of
forest, decorated its entrance, cleared and smoothed its aisle, and
carpeted its altar? What veriest work of God was in these mighty living
pillars and the arched dome of green! How similar to stained cathedral
windows were the long openings between the trees, filled with rifts of
blue, rays of gold, and the shifting emerald of leaves! Where could be
found mosaics to match this aisle paved with living color and glowing
light? Was Freckles a devout Christian, and did he worship here? Or was
he an untaught heathen, and down this vista of entrancing loveliness did
Pan come piping, and dryads, nymphs, and fairies dance for him?

Who can fathom the heart of a boy? McLean had been thinking of Freckles
as a creature of unswerving honesty, courage, and faithfulness. Here was
evidence of a heart aching for beauty, art, companionship, worship. It
was writ large all over the floor, walls, and furnishing of that little
Limberlost clearing.

When Duncan came, McLean told him the story of the fight, and they
laughed until they cried. Then they started around the line in search of
the tree.

Said Duncan: "Now the boy is in for sore trouble!"

"I hope not," answered McLean. "You never in all your life saw a cur
whipped so completely. He won't come back for the repetition of the
chorus. We surely can find the tree. If we can't, Freckles can. I will
bring enough of the gang to take it out at once. That will insure peace
for a time, at least, and I am hoping that in a month more the whole
gang may be moved here. It soon will be fall, and then, if he will go, I
intend to send Freckles to my mother to be educated. With his quickness
of mind and body and a few years' good help he can do anything. Why,
Duncan, I'd give a hundred-dollar bill if you could have been here and
seen for yourself."

"Yes, and I'd 'a' done murder," muttered the big teamster. "I hope, sir,
ye will make good your plans for Freckles, though I'd as soon see
ony born child o' my ain taken from our home. We love the lad, me and
Sarah."

Locating the tree was easy, because it was so well identified. When
the rumble of the big lumber wagons passing the cabin on the way to the
swamp wakened Freckles next morning, he sprang up and was soon following
them. He was so sore and stiff that every movement was torture at first,
but he grew easier, and shortly did not suffer so much. McLean scolded
him for coming, yet in his heart triumphed over every new evidence of
fineness in the boy.

The tree was a giant maple, and so precious that they almost dug it out
by the roots. When it was down, cut in lengths, and loaded, there was
yet an empty wagon. As they were gathering up their tools to go, Duncan
said: "There's a big hollow tree somewhere mighty close here that I've
been wanting for a watering-trough for my stock; the one I have is so
small. The Portland company cut this for elm butts last year, and it's
six feet diameter and hollow for forty feet. It was a buster! While the
men are here and there is an empty wagon, why mightn't I load it on and
tak' it up to the barn as we pass?"

McLean said he was very willing, ordered the driver to break line and
load the log, detailing men to assist. He told Freckles to ride on a
section of the maple with him, but now the boy asked to enter the swamp
with Duncan.

"I don't see why you want to go," said McLean. "I have no business to
let you out today at all."

"It's me chickens," whispered Freckles in distress. "You see, I was just
after finding yesterday, from me new book, how they do be nesting in
hollow trees, and there ain't any too many in the swamp. There's just a
chance that they might be in that one."

"Go ahead," said McLean. "That's a different story. If they happen to be
there, why tell Duncan he must give up the tree until they have finished
with it."

Then he climbed on a wagon and was driven away. Freckles hurried into
the swamp. He was a little behind, yet he could see the men. Before he
overtook them, they had turned from the west road and had entered the
swamp toward the east.

They stopped at the trunk of a monstrous prostrate log. It had been cut
three feet from the ground, over three-fourths of the way through, and
had fallen toward the east, the body of the log still resting on the
stump. The underbrush was almost impenetrable, but Duncan plunged in and
with a crowbar began tapping along the trunk to decide how far it
was hollow, so that they would know where to cut. As they waited his
decision, there came from the mouth of it--on wings--a large black bird
that swept over their heads.

Freckles danced wildly. "It's me chickens! Oh, it's me chickens!" he
shouted. "Oh, Duncan, come quick! You've found the nest of me precious
chickens!"

Duncan hurried to the mouth of the log, but Freckles was before him. He
crashed through poison-vines and underbrush regardless of any danger,
and climbed on the stump. When Duncan came he was shouting like a wild
man.

"It's hatched!" he yelled. "Oh, me big chicken has hatched out me little
chicken, and there's another egg. I can see it plain, and oh, the funny
little white baby! Oh, Duncan, can you see me little white chicken?"

Duncan could easily see it; so could everyone else. Freckles crept into
the log and tenderly carried the hissing, blinking little bird to the
light in a leaf-lined hat. The men found it sufficiently wonderful to
satisfy even Freckles, who had forgotten he was ever sore or stiff, and
coddled over it with every blarneying term of endearment he knew.

Duncan gathered his tools. "Deal's off, boys!" he said cheerfully. "This
log mauna be touched until Freckles' chaukies have finished with it. We
might as weel gang. Better put it back, Freckles. It's just out, and it
may chill. Ye will probably hae twa the morn."

Freckles crept into the log and carefully deposited the baby beside
the egg. When he came back, he said: "I made a big mistake not to be
bringing the egg out with the baby, but I was fearing to touch it.
It's shaped like a hen's egg, and it's big as a turkey's, and the
beautifulest blue--just splattered with big brown splotches, like me
book said, precise. Bet you never saw such a sight as it made on the
yellow of the rotten wood beside that funny leathery-faced little white
baby."

"Tell you what, Freckles," said one of the teamsters. "Have you ever
heard of this Bird Woman who goes all over the country with a camera and
makes pictures? She made some on my brother Jim's place last summer, and
Jim's so wild about them he quits plowing and goes after her about every
nest he finds. He helps her all he can to take them, and then she gives
him a picture. Jim's so proud of what he has he keeps them in the Bible.
He shows them to everybody that comes, and brags about how he helped.
If you're smart, you'll send for her and she'll come and make a picture
just like life. If you help her, she will give you one. It would be
uncommon pretty to keep, after your birds are gone. I dunno what they
are. I never see their like before. They must be something rare. Any you
fellows ever see a bird like that hereabouts?"

No one ever had.

"Well," said the teamster, "failing to get this log lets me off till
noon, and I'm going to town. I go right past her place. I've a big
notion to stop and tell her. If she drives straight back in the swamp
on the west road, and turns east at this big sycamore, she can't miss
finding the tree, even if Freckles ain't here to show her. Jim says
her work is a credit to the State she lives in, and any man is a measly
creature who isn't willing to help her all he can. My old daddy used to
say that all there was to religion was doing to the other fellow what
you'd want him to do to you, and if I was making a living taking bird
pictures, seems to me I'd be mighty glad for a chance to take one like
that. So I'll just stop and tell her, and by gummy! maybe she will give
me a picture of the little white sucker for my trouble."

Freckles touched his arm.

"Will she be rough with it?" he asked.

"Government land! No!" said the teamster. "She's dead down on anybody
that shoots a bird or tears up a nest. Why, she's half killing herself
in all kinds of places and weather to teach people to love and protect
the birds. She's that plum careful of them that Jim's wife says she has
Jim a standin' like a big fool holding an ombrelly over them when they
are young and tender until she gets a focus, whatever that is. Jim says
there ain't a bird on his place that don't actually seem to like having
her around after she has wheedled them a few days, and the pictures she
takes nobody would ever believe who didn't stand by and see."

"Will you he sure to tell her to come?" asked Freckles.

Duncan slept at home that night. He heard Freckles slipping out early
the next morning, but he was too sleepy to wonder why, until he came to
do his morning chores. When he found that none of his stock was at all
thirsty, and saw the water-trough brimming, he knew that the boy was
trying to make up to him for the loss of the big trough that he had been
so anxious to have.

"Bless his fool little hot heart!" said Duncan. "And him so sore it is
tearing him to move for anything. Nae wonder he has us all loving him!"

Freckles was moving briskly, and his heart was so happy that he forgot
all about the bruises. He hurried around the trail, and on his way down
the east side he went to see the chickens. The mother bird was on the
nest. He was afraid the other egg might be hatching, so he did not
venture to disturb her. He made the round and reached his study early.
He ate his lunch, but did not need to start on the second trip until the
middle of the afternoon. He would have long hours to work on his flower
bed, improve his study, and learn about his chickens. Lovingly he set
his room in order and watered the flowers and carpet. He had chosen for
his resting-place the coolest spot on the west side, where there was
almost always a breeze; but today the heat was so intense that it
penetrated even there.

"I'm mighty glad there's nothing calling me inside!" he said. "There's
no bit of air stirring, and it will just be steaming. Oh, but it's
luck Duncan found the nest before it got so unbearing hot! I might have
missed it altogether. Wouldn't it have been a shame to lose that sight?
The cunning little divil! When he gets to toddling down that log to meet
me, won't he be a circus? Wonder if he'll be as graceful a performer
afoot as his father and mother?"

The heat became more insistent. Noon came; Freckles ate his dinner and
settled for an hour or two on a bench with a book.



CHAPTER V

Wherein an Angel Materializes and a Man Worships

Perhaps there was a breath of sound--Freckles never afterward could
remember--but for some reason he lifted his head as the bushes parted
and the face of an angel looked between. Saints, nymphs, and fairies
had floated down his cathedral aisle for him many times, with forms and
voices of exquisite beauty.

Parting the wild roses at the entrance was beauty of which Freckles
never had dreamed. Was it real or would it vanish as the other dreams?
He dropped his book, and rising to his feet, went a step closer, gazing
intently. This was real flesh and blood. It was in every way kin to the
Limberlost, for no bird of its branches swung with easier grace than
this dainty young thing rocked on the bit of morass on which she stood.
A sapling beside her was not straighter or rounder than her slender
form. Her soft, waving hair clung around her face from the heat, and
curled over her shoulders. It was all of one piece with the gold of the
sun that filtered between the branches. Her eyes were the deepest blue
of the iris, her lips the reddest red of the foxfire, while her cheeks
were exactly of the same satin as the wild rose petals caressing them.
She was smiling at Freckles in perfect confidence, and she cried:

"Oh, I'm so delighted that I've found you!"

The wildly leaping heart of Freckles burst from his body and fell in the
black swamp-muck at her feet with such a thud that he did not understand
how she could avoid hearing. He really felt that if she looked down she
would see.

Incredulous, he quavered: "An'--an' was you looking for me?"

"I hoped I might find you," said the Angel. "You see, I didn't do as
I was told, and I'm lost. The Bird Woman said I should wait in the
carriage until she came back. She's been gone hours. It's a perfect
Turkish bath in there, and I'm all lumpy with mosquito bites. Just when
I thought that I couldn't bear it another minute, along came the biggest
Papilio Ajax you ever saw. I knew how pleased she'd be, so I ran after
it. It flew so slow and so low that I thought a dozen times I had it.
Then all at once it went from sight above the trees, and I couldn't find
my way back to save me. I think I've walked more than an hour. I have
been mired to my knees. A thorn raked my arm until it is bleeding, and
I'm so tired and warm."

She parted the bushes farther. Freckles saw that her blue cotton frock
clung to her, limp with perspiration. It was torn across the breast. One
sleeve hung open from shoulder to elbow. A thorn had torn her arm until
it was covered with blood, and the gnats and mosquitoes were clustering
around it. Her feet were in lace hose and low shoes. Freckles gasped. In
the Limberlost in low shoes! He caught an armful of moss from his carpet
and buried it in the ooze in front of her for a footing.

"Come out here so I can see where you are stepping. Quick, for the life
of you!" he ordered.

She smiled on him indulgently.

"Why?" she inquired.

"Did anybody let you come here and not be telling you of the snakes?"
urged Freckles.

"We met Mr. McLean on the corduroy, and he did say something about
snakes, I believe. The Bird Woman put on leather leggings, and a nice,
parboiled time she must be having! Worst dose I ever endured, and I'd
nothing to do but swelter."

"Will you be coming out of there?" groaned Freckles.

She laughed as if it were a fine joke.

"Maybe if I'd be telling you I killed a rattler curled upon that same
place you're standing, as long as me body and the thickness of me arm,
you'd be moving where I can see your footing," he urged insistently.

"What a perfectly delightful little brogue you speak," she said. "My
father is Irish, and half should be enough to entitle me to that much.
'Maybe--if I'd--be telling you,'" she imitated, rounding and accenting
each word carefully.

Freckles was beginning to feel a wildness in his head. He had derided
Wessner at that same hour yesterday. Now his own eyes were filling with
tears.

"If you were understanding the danger!" he continued desperately.

"Oh, I don't think there is much!"

She tilted on the morass.

"If you killed one snake here, it's probably all there is near; and
anyway, the Bird Woman says a rattlesnake is a gentleman and always
gives warning before he strikes. I don't hear any rattling. Do you?"

"Would you be knowing it if you did?" asked Freckles, almost
impatiently.

How the laugh of the young thing rippled!

"'Would I be knowing it?'" she mocked. "You should see the swamps of
Michigan where they dump rattlers from the marl-dredgers three and four
at a time!"

Freckles stood astounded. She did know. She was not in the least afraid.
She was depending on a rattlesnake to live up to his share of the
contract and rattle in time for her to move. The one characteristic
an Irishman admires in a woman, above all others, is courage. Freckles
worshiped anew. He changed his tactics.

"I'd be pleased to be receiving you at me front door," he said, "but as
you have arrived at the back, will you come in and be seated?"

He waved toward a bench. The Angel came instantly.

"Oh, how lovely and cool!" she cried.

As she moved across his room, Freckles had difficult work to keep from
falling on his knees; for they were very weak, while he was hard driven
by an impulse to worship.

"Did you arrange this?" she asked.

"Yis," said Freckles simply.

"Someone must come with a big canvas and copy each side of it," she
said. "I never saw anything so beautiful! How I wish I might remain
here with you! I will, some day, if you will let me; but now, if you can
spare the time, will you help me find the carriage? If the Bird Woman
comes back and I am gone, she will be almost distracted."

"Did you come on the west road?" asked Freckles.

"I think so," she said. "The man who told the Bird Woman said that
was the only place the wires were down. We drove away in, and it was
dreadful--over stumps and logs, and we mired to the hubs. I suppose you
know, though. I should have stayed in the carriage, but I was so tired.
I never dreamed of getting lost. I suspect I will be scolded finely.
I go with the Bird Woman half the time during the summer vacations. My
father says I learn a lot more than I do at school, and get it straight.
I never came within a smell of being lost before. I thought, at first,
it was going to be horrid; but since I've found you, maybe it will be
good fun after all."

Freckles was amazed to hear himself excusing: "It was so hot in there.
You couldn't be expected to bear it for hours and not be moving. I can
take you around the trail almost to where you were. Then you can sit in
the carriage, and I will go find the Bird Woman."

"You'll be killed if you do! When she stays this long, it means that she
has a focus on something. You see, when she has a focus, and lies in the
weeds and water for hours, and the sun bakes her, and things crawl over
her, and then someone comes along and scares her bird away just as she
has it coaxed up--why, she kills them. If I melt, you won't go after
her. She's probably blistered and half eaten up; but she never will quit
until she is satisfied."

"Then it will be safer to be taking care of you," suggested Freckles.

"Now you're talking sense!" said the Angel.

"May I try to help your arm?" he asked.

"Have you any idea how it hurts?" she parried.

"A little," said Freckles.

"Well, Mr. McLean said We'd probably find his son here"

"His son!" cried Freckles.

"That's what he said. And that you would do anything you could for us;
and that we could trust you with our lives. But I would have trusted
you anyway, if I hadn't known a thing about you. Say, your father is
rampaging proud of you, isn't he?"

"I don't know," answered the dazed Freckles.

"Well, call on me if you want reliable information. He's so proud of you
he is all swelled up like the toad in AEsop's Fables. If you have ever
had an arm hurt like this, and can do anything, why, for pity sake, do
it!"

She turned back her sleeve, holding toward Freckles an arm of palest
cameo, shaped so exquisitely that no sculptor could have chiseled it.

Freckles unlocked his case, and taking out some cotton cloth, he tore it
in strips. Then he brought a bucket of the cleanest water he could find.
She yielded herself to his touch as a baby, and he bathed away the blood
and bandaged the ugly, ragged wound. He finished his surgery by lapping
the torn sleeve over the cloth and binding it down with a piece of
twine, with the Angel's help about the knots.

Freckles worked with trembling fingers and a face tense with
earnestness.

"Is it feeling any better?" he asked.

"Oh, it's well now!" cried the Angel. "It doesn't hurt at all, any
more."

"I'm mighty glad," said Freckles. "But you had best go and be having
your doctor fix it right; the minute you get home."

"Oh, bother! A little scratch like that!" jeered the Angel. "My blood is
perfectly pure. It will heal in three days."

"It's cut cruel deep. It might be making a scar," faltered Freckles, his
eyes on the ground. "'Twould--'twould be an awful pity. A doctor might
know something to prevent it."

"Why, I never thought of that!" exclaimed the Angel.

"I noticed you didn't," said Freckles softly. "I don't know much about
it, but it seems as if most girls would."

The Angel thought intently, while Freckles still knelt beside her.
Suddenly she gave herself an impatient little shake, lifted her glorious
eyes full to his, and the smile that swept her sweet, young face was the
loveliest thing that Freckles ever had seen.

"Don't let's bother about it," she proposed, with the faintest hint of
a confiding gesture toward him. "It won't make a scar. Why, it couldn't,
when you have dressed it so nicely."

The velvety touch of her warm arm was tingling in Freckles' fingertips.
Dainty lace and fine white ribbon peeped through her torn dress. There
were beautiful rings on her fingers. Every article she wore was of
the finest material and in excellent taste. There was the trembling
Limberlost guard in his coarse clothing, with his cotton rags and
his old pail of swamp water. Freckles was sufficiently accustomed to
contrasts to notice them, and sufficiently fine to be hurt by them
always.

He lifted his eyes with a shadowy pain in them to hers, and found them
of serene, unconscious purity. What she had said was straight from a
kind, untainted, young heart. She meant every word of it. Freckles' soul
sickened. He scarcely knew whether he could muster strength to stand.

"We must go and hunt for the carriage," said the Angel, rising.

In instant alarm for her, Freckles sprang up, grasped the cudgel, and
led the way, sharply watching every step. He went as close the log as he
felt that he dared, and with a little searching found the carriage. He
cleared a path for the Angel, and with a sigh of relief saw her enter it
safely. The heat was intense. She pushed the damp hair from her temples.

"This is a shame!" said Freckles. "You'll never be coming here again."

"Oh yes I shall!" said the Angel. "The Bird Woman says that these birds
remain over a month in the nest and she would like to make a picture
every few days for seven or eight weeks, perhaps."

Freckles barely escaped crying aloud for joy.

"Then don't you ever be torturing yourself and your horse to be coming
in here again," he said. "I'll show you a way to drive almost to the
nest on the east trail, and then you can come around to my room and stay
while the Bird Woman works. It's nearly always cool there, and there's
comfortable seats, and water."

"Oh! did you have drinking-water there?" she cried. "I was never so
thirsty or so hungry in my life, but I thought I wouldn't mention it."

"And I had not the wit to be seeing!" wailed Freckles. "I can be getting
you a good drink in no time."

He turned to the trail.

"Please wait a minute," called the Angel. "What's your name? I want to
think about you while you are gone." Freckles lifted his face with the
brown rift across it and smiled quizzically.

"Freckles?" she guessed, with a peal of laughter. "And mine is----"

"I'm knowing yours," interrupted Freckles.

"I don't believe you do. What is it?" asked the girl.

"You won't be getting angry?"

"Not until I've had the water, at least."

It was Freckles' turn to laugh. He whipped off his big, floppy straw
hat, stood uncovered before her, and said, in the sweetest of all the
sweet tones of his voice: "There's nothing you could be but the Swamp
Angel."

The girl laughed happily.

Once out of her sight, Freckles ran every step of the way to the cabin.
Mrs. Duncan gave him a small bucket of water, cool from the well. He
carried it in the crook of his right arm, and a basket filled with bread
and butter, cold meat, apple pie, and pickles, in his left hand.

"Pickles are kind o' cooling," said Mrs. Duncan.

Then Freckles ran again.

The Angel was on her knees, reaching for the bucket, as he came up.

"Be drinking slow," he cautioned her.

"Oh!" she cried, with a long breath of satisfaction. "It's so good! You
are more than kind to bring it!"

Freckles stood blinking in the dazzling glory of her smile until he
scarcely could see to lift the basket.

"Mercy!" she exclaimed. "I think I had better be naming you the 'Angel.'
My Guardian Angel."

"Yis," said Freckles. "I look the character every day--but today most
emphatic!"

"Angels don't go by looks," laughed the girl. "Your father told us you
had been scrapping. But he told us why. I'd gladly wear all your cuts
and bruises if I could do anything that would make my father look as
peacocky as yours did. He strutted about proper. I never saw anyone look
prouder."

"Did he say he was proud of me?" marveled Freckles.

"He didn't need to," answered the Angel. "He was radiating pride from
every pore. Now, have you brought me your dinner?"

"I had my dinner two hours ago," answered Freckles.

"Honest Injun?" bantered the Angel.

"Honest! I brought that on purpose for you."

"Well, if you knew how hungry I am, you would know how thankful I am, to
the dot," said the Angel.

"Then you be eating," cried the happy Freckles.

The Angel sat on a big camera, spread the lunch on the carriage seat,
and divided it in halves. The daintiest parts she could select she
carefully put back into the basket. The remainder she ate. Again
Freckles found her of the swamp, for though she was almost ravenous,
she managed her food as gracefully as his little yellow fellow, and her
every movement was easy and charming. As he watched her with famished
eyes, Freckles told her of his birds, flowers, and books, and never
realized what he was doing.

He led the horse to a deep pool that he knew of, and the tortured
creature drank greedily, and lovingly rubbed him with its nose as he
wiped down its welted body with grass. Suddenly the Angel cried: "There
comes the Bird Woman!"

Freckles had intended leaving before she came, but now he was glad
indeed to be there, for a warmer, more worn, and worse bitten creature
he never had seen. She was staggering under a load of cameras and
paraphernalia. Freckles ran to her aid. He took all he could carry of
her load, stowed it in the back of the carriage, and helped her in.
The Angel gave her water, knelt and unfastened the leggings, bathed her
face, and offered the lunch.

Freckles brought the horse. He was not sure about the harness, but the
Angel knew, and soon they left the swamp. Then he showed them how to
reach the chicken tree from the outside, indicated a cooler place for
the horse, and told them how, the next time they came, the Angel could
find his room while she waited.

The Bird Woman finished her lunch, and lay back, almost too tired to
speak.

"Were you for getting Little Chicken's picture?" Freckles asked.

"Finely!" she answered. "He posed splendidly. But I couldn't do anything
with his mother. She will require coaxing."

"The Lord be praised!" muttered Freckles under his breath.

The Bird Woman began to feel better.

"Why do you call the baby vulture 'Little Chicken'?" she asked, leaning
toward Freckles in an interested manner.

"'Twas Duncan began it," said Freckles. "You see, through the fierce
cold of winter the birds of the swamp were almost starving. It is
mighty lonely here, and they were all the company I was having. I got to
carrying scraps and grain down to them. Duncan was that ginerous he was
giving me of his wheat and corn from his chickens' feed, and he called
the birds me swamp chickens. Then when these big black fellows came,
Mr. McLean said they were our nearest kind to some in the old world
that they called 'Pharaoh's Chickens,' and he called mine 'Freckles'
Chickens.'"

"Good enough!" cried the Bird Woman, her splotched purple face lighting
with interest. "You must shoot something for them occasionally, and I'll
bring more food when I come. If you will help me keep them until I
get my series, I'll give you a copy of each study I make, mounted in a
book."

Freckles drew a deep breath.

"I'll be doing me very best," he promised, and from the deeps he meant
it.

"I wonder if that other egg is going to hatch?" mused the Bird Woman. "I
am afraid not. It should have pipped today. Isn't it a beauty! I never
before saw either an egg or the young. They are rare this far north."

"So Mr. McLean said," answered Freckles.

Before they drove away, the Bird Woman thanked him for his kindness to
the Angel and to her. She gave him her hand at parting, and Freckles
joyfully realized that this was going to be another person for him to
love. He could not remember, after they had driven away, that they even
had noticed his missing hand, and for the first time in his life he had
forgotten it.

When the Bird Woman and the Angel were on the home road, she told of
the little corner of paradise into which she had strayed and of her new
name. The Bird Woman looked at the girl and guessed its appropriateness.

"Did you know Mr. McLean had a son?" asked the Angel. "Isn't the little
accent he has, and the way he twists a sentence, too dear? And isn't it
too old-fashioned and funny to hear him call his father 'mister'?"

"It sounds too good to be true," said the Bird Woman, answering the
last question first. "I am so tired of these present-day young men who
patronizingly call their fathers 'Dad,' 'Governor,' 'Old Man' and 'Old
Chap,' that the boy's attitude of respect and deference appealed to me
as being fine as silk. There must be something rare about that young
man."

She did not find it necessary to tell the Angel that for several years
she had known the man who so proudly proclaimed himself Freckles' father
to be a bachelor and a Scotchman. The Bird Woman had a fine way of
attending strictly to her own business.

Freckles turned to the trail, but he stopped at every wild brier to
study the pink satin of the petals. She was not of his world, and
better than any other he knew it; but she might be his Angel, and he was
dreaming of naught but blind, silent worship. He finished the happiest
day of his life, and that night he returned to the swamp as if drawn by
invisible force. That Wessner would try for his revenge, he knew. That
he would be abetted by Black Jack was almost certain, but fear had
fled the happy heart of Freckles. He had kept his trust. He had won the
respect of the Boss. No one ever could wipe from his heart the flood of
holy adoration that had welled with the coming of his Angel. He would do
his best, and trust for strength to meet the dark day of reckoning that
he knew would come sooner or later. He swung round the trail, briskly
tapping the wire, and singing in a voice that scarcely could have been
surpassed for sweetness.

At the edge of the clearing he came into the bright moonlight and there
sat McLean on his mare. Freckles hurried to him.

"Is there trouble?" he inquired anxiously.

"That's what I wanted to ask you," said the Boss. "I stopped at the
cabin to see you a minute, before I turned in, and they said you had
come down here. You must not do it, Freckles. The swamp is none too
healthful at any time, and at night it is rank poison."

Freckles stood combing his fingers through Nellie's mane, while the
dainty creature was twisting her head for his caresses. He pushed back
his hat and looked into McLean's face. "It's come to the 'sleep with one
eye open,' sir. I'm not looking for anything to be happening for a week
or two, but it's bound to come, and soon. If I'm to keep me trust as
I've promised you and meself, I've to live here mostly until the gang
comes. You must be knowing that, sir."

"I'm afraid it's true, Freckles," said McLean. "And I've decided to
double the guard until we come. It will be only a few weeks, now; and
I'm so anxious for you that you must not be left alone further. If
anything should happen to you, Freckles, it would spoil one of the very
dearest plans of my life."

Freckles heard with dismay the proposition to place a second guard.

"Oh! no, no, Mr. McLean," he cried. "Not for the world! I wouldn't be
having a stranger around, scaring me birds and tramping up me study, and
disturbing all me ways, for any money! I am all the guard you need! I
will be faithful! I will turn over the lease with no tree missing--on
me life, I will! Oh, don't be sending another man to set them saying
I turned coward and asked for help. It will just kill the honor of me
heart if you do it. The only thing I want is another gun. If it railly
comes to trouble, six cartridges ain't many, and you know I am slow-like
about reloading." McLean reached into his hip pocket and handed a
shining big revolver to Freckles, who slipped it beside the one already
in his belt.

Then the Boss sat brooding.

"Freckles," he said at last, "we never know the timber of a man's soul
until something cuts into him deeply and brings the grain out strong.
You've the making of a mighty fine piece of furniture, my boy, and you
shall have your own way these few weeks yet. Then, if you will go, I
intend to take you to the city and educate you, and you are to be my
son, my lad--my own son!"

Freckles twisted his finger in Nellie's mane to steady himself.

"But why should you be doing that, sir?" he faltered.

McLean slid his arm around the boy's shoulder and gathered him close.

"Because I love you, Freckles," he said simply.

Freckles lifted a white face. "My God, sir!" he whispered. "Oh, my God!"

McLean tightened his clasp a second longer, then he rode down the trail.

Freckles lifted his hat and faced the sky. The harvest moon looked down,
sheeting the swamp in silver glory. The Limberlost sang her night song.
The swale softly rustled in the wind. Winged things of night brushed
his face; and still Freckles gazed upward, trying to fathom these things
that had come to him. There was no help from the sky. It seemed far
away, cold, and blue. The earth, where flowers blossomed, angels walked,
and love could be found, was better. But to One, above, he must make
acknowledgment for these miracles. His lips moved and he began talking
softly.

"Thank You for each separate good thing that has come to me," he said,
"and above all for the falling of the feather. For if it didn't really
fall from an angel, its falling brought an Angel, and if it's in the
great heart of you to exercise yourself any further about me, oh, do
please to be taking good care of her!"



CHAPTER VI

Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight

The following morning Freckles, inexpressibly happy, circled the
Limberlost. He kept snatches of song ringing, as well as the wires. His
heart was so full that tears of joy glistened in his eyes. He rigorously
strove to divide his thought evenly between McLean and the Angel.
He realized to the fullest the debt he already owed the Boss and the
magnitude of last night's declaration and promises. He was hourly
planning to deliver his trust and then enter with equal zeal on whatever
task his beloved Boss saw fit to set him next. He wanted to be ready to
meet every device that Wessner and Black Jack could think of to outwit
him. He recognized their double leverage, for if they succeeded in
felling even one tree McLean became liable for his wager.

Freckles' brow wrinkled in his effort to think deeply and strongly, but
from every swaying wild rose the Angel beckoned to him. When he crossed
Sleepy Snake Creek and the goldfinch, waiting as ever, challenged: "SEE
ME?" Freckles saw the dainty swaying grace of the Angel instead. What
is a man to do with an Angel who dismembers herself and scatters over a
whole swamp, thrusting a vivid reminder upon him at every turn?

Freckles counted the days. This first one he could do little but test
his wires, sing broken snatches, and dream; but before the week would
bring her again he could do many things. He would carry all his books
to the swamp to show to her. He would complete his flower bed, arrange
every detail he had planned for his room, and make of it a bower fairies
might envy. He must devise a way to keep water cool. He would ask Mrs.
Duncan for a double lunch and an especially nice one the day of her next
coming, so that if the Bird Woman happened to be late, the Angel might
not suffer from thirst and hunger. He would tell her to bring heavy
leather leggings, so that he might take her on a trip around the trail.
She should make friends with all of his chickens and see their nests.

On the line he talked of her incessantly.

"You needn't be thinking," he said to the goldfinch, "that because I'm
coming down this line alone day after day, it's always to be so. Some of
these times you'll be swinging on this wire, and you'll see me coming,
and you'll swing, skip, and flirt yourself around, and chip up right
spunky: 'SEE ME?' I'll be saying 'See you? Oh, Lord! See her!' You'll
look, and there she'll stand. The sunshine won't look gold any more, or
the roses pink, or the sky blue, because she'll be the pinkest, bluest,
goldest thing of all. You'll be yelling yourself hoarse with the
jealousy of her. The sawbird will stretch his neck out of joint, and
she'll turn the heads of all the flowers. Wherever she goes, I can
go back afterward and see the things she's seen, walk the path she's
walked, hear the grasses whispering over all she's said; and if there's
a place too swampy for her bits of feet; Holy Mother! Maybe--maybe she'd
be putting the beautiful arms of her around me neck and letting me carry
her over!"

Freckles shivered as with a chill. He sent the cudgel whirling skyward,
dexterously caught it, and set it spinning.

"You damned presumptuous fool!" he cried. "The thing for you to be
thinking of would be to stretch in the muck for the feet of her to be
walking over, and then you could hold yourself holy to be even of that
service to her.

"Maybe she'll be wanting the cup me blue-and-brown chickens raised their
babies in. Perhaps she'd like to stop at the pool and see me bullfrog
that had the goodness to take on human speech to show me the way out of
me trouble. If there's any feathers falling that day, why, it's from the
wings of me chickens--it's sure to be, for the only Angel outside the
gates will be walking this timberline, and every step of the way I'll be
holding me breath and praying that she don't unfold wings and sail away
before the hungry eyes of me."

So Freckles dreamed his dreams, made his plans, and watched his line.
He counted not only the days, but the hours of each day. As he told them
off, every one bringing her closer, he grew happier in the prospect of
her coming. He managed daily to leave some offering at the big elm log
for his black chickens. He slipped under the line at every passing, and
went to make sure that nothing was molesting them. Though it was a long
trip, he paid them several extra visits a day for fear a snake, hawk, or
fox might have found the baby. For now his chickens not only represented
all his former interest in them, but they furnished the inducement that
was bringing his Angel.

Possibly he could find other subjects that the Bird Woman wanted. The
teamster had said that his brother went after her every time he found
a nest. He never had counted the nests that he knew of, and it might be
that among all the birds of the swamp some would be rare to her.

The feathered folk of the Limberlost were practically undisturbed save
by their natural enemies. It was very probable that among his chickens
others as odd as the big black ones could be found. If she wanted
pictures of half-grown birds, he could pick up fifty in one morning's
trip around the line, for he had fed, handled, and made friends with
them ever since their eyes opened.

He had gathered bugs and worms all spring as he noticed them on the
grass and bushes, and dropped them into the first little open mouth he
had found. The babies gladly had accepted this queer tri-parent addition
to their natural providers.

When the week had passed, Freckles had his room crisp and glowing
with fresh living things that represented every color of the swamp. He
carried bark and filled all the muckiest places of the trail.

It was middle July. The heat of the past few days had dried the water
around and through the Limberlost, so that it was possible to cross it
on foot in almost any direction--if one had an idea of direction and did
not become completely lost in its rank tangle of vegetation and bushes.
The brighter-hued flowers were opening. The trumpet-creepers were
flaunting their gorgeous horns of red and gold sweetness from the tops
of lordly oak and elm, and below entire pools were pink-sheeted in
mallow bloom.

The heat was doing one other thing that was bound to make Freckles, as a
good Irishman, shiver. As the swale dried, its inhabitants were seeking
the cooler depths of the swamp. They liked neither the heat nor leaving
the field mice, moles, and young rabbits of their chosen location. He
saw them crossing the trail every day as the heat grew intense. The
rattlers were sadly forgetting their manners, for they struck on no
provocation whatever, and did not even remember to rattle afterward.
Daily Freckles was compelled to drive big black snakes and blue racers
from the nests of his chickens. Often the terrified squalls of the
parent birds would reach him far down the line and he would run to
rescue the babies.

He saw the Angel when the carriage turned from the corduroy into the
clearing. They stopped at the west entrance to the swamp, waiting for
him to precede them down the trail, as he had told them it was safest
for the horse that he should do. They followed the east line to a point
opposite the big chickens' tree, and Freckles carried in the cameras and
showed the Bird Woman a path he had cleared to the log. He explained to
her the effect the heat was having on the snakes, and creeping back to
Little Chicken, brought him to the light. As she worked at setting up
her camera, he told her of the birds of the line, while she stared at
him, wide-eyed and incredulous.

They arranged that Freckles should drive the carriage into the east
entrance in the shade and then take the horse toward the north to a
better place he knew. Then he was to entertain the Angel at his study or
on the line until the Bird Woman finished her work and came to them.

"This will take only a little time," she said. "I know where to set the
camera now, and Little Chicken is big enough to be good and too small
to run away or to act very ugly, so I will be coming soon to see about
those nests. I have ten plates along, and I surely won't use more
than two on him; so perhaps I can get some nests or young birds this
morning."

Freckles almost flew, for his dream had come true so soon. He was
walking the timber-line and the Angel was following him. He asked to be
excused for going first, because he wanted to be sure the trail was safe
for her. She laughed at his fears, telling him that it was the polite
thing for him to do, anyway.

"Oh!" said Freckles, "so you was after knowing that? Well, I didn't
s'pose you did, and I was afraid you'd think me wanting in respect to be
preceding you!"

The astonished Angel looked at him, caught the irrepressible gleam of
Irish fun in his eyes, so they stood and laughed together.

Freckles did not realize how he was talking that morning. He showed her
many of the beautiful nests and eggs of the line. She could identify a
number of them, but of some she was ignorant, so they made notes of the
number and color of the eggs, material, and construction of nest, color,
size, and shape of the birds, and went to find them in the book.

At his room, when Freckles had lifted the overhanging bushes and stepped
back for her to enter, his heart was all out of time and place. The
study was vastly more beautiful than a week previous. The Angel drew a
deep breath and stood gazing first at one side, then at another,
then far down the cathedral aisle. "It's just fairyland!" she cried
ecstatically. Then she turned and stared at Freckles as she had at his
handiwork.

"What are you planning to be?" she asked wonderingly.

"Whatever Mr. McLean wants me to," he replied.

"What do you do most?" she asked.

"Watch me lines."

"I don't mean work!"

"Oh, in me spare time I keep me room and study in me books."

"Do you work on the room or the books most?"

"On the room only what it takes to keep it up, and the rest of the time
on me books."

The Angel studied him closely. "Well, maybe you are going to be a great
scholar," she said, "but you don't look it. Your face isn't right for
that, but it's got something big in it--something really great. I
must find out what it is and then you must work on it. Your father is
expecting you to do something. One can tell by the way he talks. You
should begin right away. You've wasted too much time already."

Poor Freckles hung his head. He never had wasted an hour in his life.
There never had been one that was his to waste.

The Angel, studying him intently, read the thought in his face. "Oh,
I don't mean that!" she cried, with the frank dismay of sixteen.
"Of course, you're not lazy! No one ever would think that from your
appearance. It's this I mean: there is something fine, strong, and full
of power in your face. There is something you are to do in this
world, and no matter how you work at all these other things, or how
successfully you do them, it is all wasted until you find the ONE THING
that you can do best. If you hadn't a thing in the world to keep you,
and could go anywhere you please and do anything you want, what would
you do?" persisted the Angel.

"I'd go to Chicago and sing in the First Episcopal choir," answered
Freckles promptly.

The Angel dropped on a seat--the hat she had removed and held in her
fingers rolled to her feet. "There!" she exclaimed vehemently. "You can
see what I'm going to be. Nothing! Absolutely nothing! You can sing? Of
course you can sing! It is written all over you."

"Anyone with half wit could have seen he could sing, without having to
be told," she thought. "It's in the slenderness of his fingers and his
quick nervous touch. It is in the brightness of his hair, the fire of
his eyes, the breadth of his chest, the muscles of his throat and neck;
and above all, it's in every tone of his voice, for even as he speak
it's the sweetest sound I ever heard from the throat of a mortal."

"Will you do something for me?" she asked.

"I'll do anything in the world you want me to," said Freckles largely,
"and if I can't do what you want, I'll go to work at once and I'll try
'til I can."

"Good! That's business!" said the Angel. "You go over there and stand
before that hedge and sing something. Just anything you think of first."

Freckles faced the Angel from his banked wall of brown, blue, and
crimson, with its background of solid green, and lifting his face to
the sky, he sang the first thing that came into his mind. It was a
children's song that he had led for the little folks at the Home many
times, recalled to his mind by the Angel's exclamation:

     "To fairyland we go,
     With a song of joy, heigh-o.
     In dreams we'll stand upon that shore
     And all the realm behold;
     We'll see the sights so grand
     That belong to fairyland,
     Its mysteries we will explore,
     Its beauties will unfold.

     "Oh, tra, la, la, oh, ha, ha, ha!
     We're happy now as we can be,
     Our welcome song we will prolong,
     And greet you with our melody.
     O fairyland, sweet fairyland,
     We love to sing----"


No song could have given the intense sweetness and rollicking quality
of Freckles' voice better scope. He forgot everything but pride in his
work. He was singing the chorus, and the Angel was shivering in ecstasy,
when clip! clip! came the sharply beating feet of a swiftly ridden horse
down the trail from the north. They both sprang toward the entrance.

"Freckles! Freckles!" called the voice of the Bird Woman.

They were at the trail on the instant.

"Both those revolvers loaded?" she asked.

"Yes," said Freckles.

"Is there a way you can cut across the swamp and reach the chicken tree
in a few minutes, and with little noise?"

"Yes."

"Then go flying," said the Bird Woman. "Give the Angel a lift behind me,
and we will ride the horse back where you left him and wait for you. I
finished Little Chicken in no time and put him back. His mother came so
close, I felt sure she would enter the log. The light was fine, so I set
and focused the camera and covered it with branches, attached the long
hose, and went away over a hundred feet and hid in some bushes to wait.
A short, stout man and a tall, dark one passed me so closely I almost
could have reached out and touched them. They carried a big saw on their
shoulders. They said they could work until near noon, and then they must
lay off until you passed and then try to load and get out at night. They
went on--not entirely from sight--and began cutting a tree. Mr. McLean
told me the other day what would probably happen here, and if they fell
that tree he loses his wager on you. Keep to the east and north and
hustle. We'll meet you at the carriage. I always am armed. Give Angel
one of your revolvers, and you keep the other. We will separate and
creep toward them from different sides and give them a fusillade that
will send them flying. You hurry, now!"

She lifted the reins and started briskly down the trail. The Angel,
hatless and with sparkling eyes, was clinging around her waist.

Freckles wheeled and ran. He worked his way with much care, dodging
limbs and bushes with noiseless tread, and cutting as closely where
he thought the men were as he felt that he dared if he were to remain
unseen. As he ran he tried to think. It was Wessner, burning for his
revenge, aided by the bully of the locality, that he was going to meet.
He was accustomed to that thought but not to the complication of having
two women on his hands who undoubtedly would have to be taken care of in
spite of the Bird Woman's offer to help him. His heart was jarring as it
never had before with running. He must follow the Bird Woman's plan and
meet them at the carriage, but if they really did intend to try to help
him, he must not allow it. Allow the Angel to try to handle a revolver
in his defence? Never! Not for all the trees in the Limberlost! She
might shoot herself. She might forget to watch sharply and run across
a snake that was not particularly well behaved that morning. Freckles
permitted himself a grim smile as he went speeding on.

When he reached the carriage, the Bird Woman and the Angel had the horse
hitched, the outfit packed, and were calmly waiting. The Bird Woman held
a revolver in her hand. She wore dark clothing. They had pinned a big
focusing cloth over the front of the Angel's light dress.

"Give Angel one of your revolvers, quick!" said the Bird Woman. "We will
creep up until we are in fair range. The underbrush is so thick and they
are so busy that they will never notice us, if we don't make a noise.
You fire first, then I will pop in from my direction, and then you,
Angel, and shoot quite high, or else very low. We mustn't really hit
them. We'll go close enough to the cowards to make it interesting, and
keep it up until we have them going."

Freckles protested.

The Bird Woman reached over, and, taking the smaller revolver from his
belt, handed it to the Angel. "Keep your nerve steady, dear; watch where
you step, and shoot high," she said. "Go straight at them from where you
are. Wait until you hear Freckles' first shot, then follow me as closely
as you can, to let them know that we outnumber them. If you want to save
McLean's wager on you, now you go!" she commanded Freckles, who, with an
agonized glance at the Angel, ran toward the east.

The Bird Woman chose the middle distance, and for a last time cautioned
the Angel as she moved away to lie down and shoot high.

Through the underbrush the Bird Woman crept even more closely than she
had intended, found a clear range, and waited for Freckles' shot. There
was one long minute of sickening suspense. The men straightened for
breath. Work was difficult with a handsaw in the heat of the swamp. As
they rested, the big dark fellow took a bottle from his pocket and began
oiling the saw.

"We got to keep mighty quiet," he said, "and wait to fell it until that
damned guard has gone to his dinner."

Again they bent to their work. Freckles' revolver spat fire. Lead
spanged on steel. The saw-handle flew from Wessner's hand and he reeled
from the jar of the shock. Black Jack straightened, uttering a fearful
oath. The hat sailed from his head from the far northeast. The Angel
had not waited for the Bird Woman, and her shot scarcely could have been
called high. At almost the same instant the third shot whistled from the
east. Black Jack sprang into the air with a yell of complete panic, for
it ripped a heel from his boot. Freckles emptied his second chamber, and
the earth spattered over Wessner. Shots poured in rapidly. Without
even reaching for a weapon, both men ran toward the east road in great
leaping bounds, while leaden slugs sung and hissed around them in deadly
earnest.

Freckles was trimming his corners as closely as he dared, but if the
Angel did not really intend to hit, she was taking risks in a scandalous
manner.

When the men reached the trail, Freckles yelled at the top of his voice:
"Head them off on the south, boys! Fire from the south!"

As he had hoped, Jack and Wessner instantly plunged into the swale. A
spattering of lead followed them. They crossed the swale, running low,
with not even one backward glance, and entered the woods beyond the
corduroy.

Then the little party gathered at the tree.

"I'd better fix this saw so they can't be using it if they come back,"
said Freckles, taking out his hatchet and making saw-teeth fly.

"Now we must leave here without being seen," said the Bird Woman to the
Angel. "It won't do for me to make enemies of these men, for I am likely
to meet them while at work any day."

"You can do it by driving straight north on this road," said Freckles.
"I will go ahead and cut the wires for you. The swale is almost dry.
You will only be sinking a little. In a few rods you will strike a
cornfield. I will take down the fence and let you into that. Follow the
furrows and drive straight across it until you come to the other side.
Be following the fence south until you come to a road through the woods
east of it. Then take that road and follow east until you reach the
pike. You will come out on your way back to town, and two miles north
of anywhere they are likely to be. Don't for your lives ever let it out
that you did this," he earnestly cautioned, "for it's black enemies you
would be making."

Freckles clipped the wires and they drove through. The Angel leaned
from the carriage and held out his revolver. Freckles looked at her in
surprise. Her eyes were black, while her face was a deeper rose than
usual. He felt that his own was white.

"Did I shoot high enough?" she asked sweetly. "I really forgot about
lying down."

Freckles winced. Did the child know how close she had gone? Surely she
could not! Or was it possible that she had the nerve and skill to fire
like that purposely?

"I will send the first reliable man I meet for McLean," said the Bird
Woman, gathering up the lines. "If I don't meet one when we reach town,
we will send a messenger. If it wasn't for having the gang see me, I
would go myself; but I will promise you that you will have help in a
little over two hours. You keep well hidden. They must think some of the
gang is with you now. There isn't a chance that they will be back,
but don't run any risks. Remain under cover. If they should come, it
probably would be for their saw." She laughed as at a fine joke.



CHAPTER VII

Wherein Freckles Wins Honor and Finds a Footprint on the Trail

Round-eyed, Freckles watched the Bird Woman and the Angel drive away.
After they were from sight and he was safely hidden among the branches
of a small tree, he remembered that he neither had thanked them nor said
good-bye. Considering what they had been through, they never would come
again. His heart sank until he had palpitation in his wading-boots.

Stretching the length of the limb, he thought deeply, though he was not
thinking of Black Jack or Wessner. Would the Bird Woman and the Angel
come again? No other woman whom he ever had known would. But did they
resemble any other women he ever had known? He thought of the Bird
Woman's unruffled face and the Angel's revolver practice, and presently
he was not so sure that they would not return.

What were the people in the big world like? His knowledge was so very
limited. There had been people at the Home, who exchanged a stilted,
perfunctory kindness for their salaries. The visitors who called on
receiving days he had divided into three classes: the psalm-singing
kind, who came with a tear in the eye and hypocrisy in every feature
of their faces; the kind who dressed in silks and jewels, and handed to
those poor little mother-hungry souls worn toys that their children
no longer cared for, in exactly the same spirit in which they pitched
biscuits to the monkeys at the zoo, and for the same reason--to see how
they would take them and be amused by what they would do; and the third
class, whom he considered real people. They made him feel they cared
that he was there, and that they would have been glad to see him
elsewhere.

Now here was another class, that had all they needed of the world's best
and were engaged in doing work that counted. They had things worth while
to be proud of; and they had met him as a son and brother. With them he
could, for the only time in his life, forget the lost hand that every
day tortured him with a new pang. What kind of people were they and
where did they belong among the classes he knew? He failed to decide,
because he never had known others similar to them; but how he loved
them!

In the world where he was going soon, were the majority like them, or
were they of the hypocrite and bun-throwing classes?

He had forgotten the excitement of the morning and the passing of time
when distant voices aroused him, and he gently lifted his head. Nearer
and nearer they came, and as the heavy wagons rumbled down the east
trail he could hear them plainly. The gang were shouting themselves
hoarse for the Limberlost guard. Freckles did not feel that he deserved
it. He would have given much to be able to go to the men and explain,
but to McLean only could he tell his story.

At the sight of Freckles the men threw up their hats and cheered. McLean
shook hands with him warmly, but big Duncan gathered him into his arms
and hugged him as a bear and choked over a few words of praise. The gang
drove in and finished felling the tree. McLean was angry beyond measure
at this attempt on his property, for in their haste to fell the tree
the thieves had cut too high and wasted a foot and a half of valuable
timber.

When the last wagon rolled away, McLean sat on the stump and Freckles
told the story he was aching to tell. The Boss scarcely could believe
his senses. Also, he was much disappointed.

"I have been almost praying all the way over, Freckles," he said, "that
you would have some evidence by which we could arrest those fellows and
get them out of our way, but this will never do. We can't mix up those
women in it. They have helped you save me the tree and my wager as well.
Going across the country as she does, the Bird Woman never could be
expected to testify against them."

"No, indeed; nor the Angel, either, sir," said Freckles.

"The Angel?" queried the astonished McLean.

The Boss listened in silence while Freckles told of the coming and
christening of the Angel.

"I know her father well," said McLean at last, "and I have often seen
her. You are right; she is a beautiful young girl, and she appears to be
utterly free from the least particle of false pride or foolishness. I do
not understand why her father risks such a jewel in this place."

"He's daring it because she is a jewel, sir," said Freckles, eagerly.
"Why, she's trusting a rattlesnake to rattle before it strikes her, and
of course, she thinks she can trust mankind as well. The man isn't made
who wouldn't lay down the life of him for her. She doesn't need any
care. Her face and the pretty ways of her are all the protection she
would need in a band of howling savages."

"Did you say she handled one of the revolvers?" asked McLean.

"She scared all the breath out of me body," admitted Freckles. "Seems
that her father has taught her to shoot. The Bird Woman told her
distinctly to lie low and blaze away high, just to help scare them. The
spunky little thing followed them right out into the west road, spitting
lead like hail, and clipping all around the heads and heels of them; and
I'm damned, sir, if I believe she'd cared a rap if she'd hit. I never
saw much shooting, but if that wasn't the nearest to miss I ever want to
see! Scared the life near out of me body with the fear that she'd drop
one of them. As long as I'd no one to help me but a couple of women that
didn't dare be mixed up in it, all I could do was to let them get away."

"Now, will they come back?" asked McLean.

"Of course!" said Freckles. "They're not going to be taking that. You
could stake your life on it, they'll be coming back. At least, Black
Jack will. Wessner may not have the pluck, unless he is half drunk. Then
he'd be a terror. And the next time--" Freckles hesitated.

"What?"

"It will be a question of who shoots first and straightest."

"Then the only thing for me to do is to double the guard and bring the
gang here the first minute possible. As soon as I feel that we have the
rarest of the stuff out below, we will come. The fact is, in many cases,
until it is felled it's difficult to tell what a tree will prove to
be. It won't do to leave you here longer alone. Jack has been shooting
twenty years to your one, and it stands to reason that you are no match
for him. Who of the gang would you like best to have with you?"

"No one, sir," said Freckles emphatically. "Next time is where I run.
I won't try to fight them alone. I'll just be getting wind of them, and
then make tracks for you. I'll need to come like lightning, and Duncan
has no extra horse, so I'm thinking you'd best get me one--or perhaps a
wheel would be better. I used to do extra work for the Home doctor, and
he would let me take his bicycle to ride around the place. And at times
the head nurse would loan me his for an hour. A wheel would cost less
and be faster than a horse, and would take less care. I believe, if you
are going to town soon, you had best pick up any kind of an old one
at some second-hand store, for if I'm ever called to use it in a hurry
there won't be the handlebars left after crossing the corduroy."

"Yes," said McLean; "and if you didn't have a first-class wheel, you
never could cross the corduroy on it at all."

As they walked to the cabin, McLean insisted on another guard, but
Freckles was stubbornly set on fighting his battle alone. He made one
mental condition. If the Bird Woman was going to give up the Little
Chicken series, he would yield to the second guard, solely for the sake
of her work and the presence of the Angel in the Limberlost. He did not
propose to have a second man unless it were absolutely necessary, for
he had been alone so long that he loved the solitude, his chickens,
and flowers. The thought of having a stranger to all his ways come and
meddle with his arrangements, frighten his pets, pull his flowers,
and interrupt him when he wanted to study, so annoyed him that he was
blinded to his real need for help.

With McLean it was a case of letting his sober, better judgment be
overridden by the boy he was growing so to love that he could not endure
to oppose him, and to have Freckles keep his trust and win alone meant
more than any money the Boss might lose.

The following morning McLean brought the wheel, and Freckles took it to
the trail to test it. It was new, chainless, with as little as possible
to catch in hurried riding, and in every way the best of its kind.
Freckles went skimming around the trail on it on a preliminary trip
before he locked it in his case and started his minute examination of
his line on foot. He glanced around his room as he left it, and then
stood staring.

On the moss before his prettiest seat lay the Angel's hat. In the
excitement of yesterday all of them had forgotten it. He went and picked
it up, oh! so carefully, gazing at it with hungry eyes, but touching it
only to carry it to his case, where he hung it on the shining handlebar
of the new wheel and locked it among his treasures. Then he went to the
trail, with a new expression on his face and a strange throbbing in his
heart. He was not in the least afraid of anything that morning. He felt
he was the veriest Daniel, but all his lions seemed weak and harmless.

What Black Jack's next move would be he could not imagine, but that
there would be a move of some kind was certain. The big bully was not a
man to give up his purpose, or to have the hat swept from his head
with a bullet and bear it meekly. Moreover, Wessner would cling to his
revenge with a Dutchman's singleness of mind.

Freckles tried to think connectedly, but there were too many places on
the trail where the Angel's footprints were vet visible. She had stepped
in one mucky spot and left a sharp impression. The afternoon sun had
baked it hard, and the horses' hoofs had not obliterated any part of it,
as they had in so many places. Freckles stood fascinated, gazing at
it. He measured it lovingly with his eye. He would not have ventured a
caress on her hat any more than on her person, but this was different.
Surely a footprint on a trail might belong to anyone who found and
wanted it. He stooped under the wires and entered the swamp. With a
little searching, he found a big piece of thick bark loose on a log and
carefully peeling it, carried it out and covered the print so that the
first rain would not obliterate it.

When he reached his room, he tenderly laid the hat upon his bookshelf,
and to wear off his awkwardness, mounted his wheel and went spinning on
trail again. It was like flying, for the path was worn smooth with his
feet and baked hard with the sun almost all the way. When he came to the
bark, he veered far to one side and smiled at it in passing. Suddenly
he was off the wheel, kneeling beside it. He removed his hat, carefully
lifted the bark, and gazed lovingly at the imprint.

"I wonder what she was going to say of me voice," he whispered. "She
never got it said, but from the face of her, I believe she was liking it
fairly well. Perhaps she was going to say that singing was the big thing
I was to be doing. That's what they all thought at the Home. Well, if
it is, I'll just shut me eyes, think of me little room, the face of her
watching, and the heart of her beating, and I'll raise them. Damn them,
if singing will do it, I'll raise them from the benches!"

With this dire threat, Freckles knelt, as at a wayside spring, and
deliberately laid his lips on the footprint. Then he arose, appearing as
if he had been drinking at the fountain of gladness.



CHAPTER VIII

Wherein Freckles Meets a Man of Affairs and Loses Nothing by the
Encounter

"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan.

Freckles stood before her, holding the Angel's hat.

"I've been thinking this long time that ye or Duncan would see that
sunbonnets werena braw enough for a woman of my standing, and ye're a
guid laddie to bring me this beautiful hat."

She turned it around, examining the weave of the straw and the foliage
trimmings, passing her rough fingers over the satin ties delightedly. As
she held it up, admiring it, Freckles' astonished eyes saw a new side of
Sarah Duncan. She was jesting, but under the jest the fact loomed strong
that, though poor, overworked, and with none but God-given refinement,
there was something in her soul crying after that bit of feminine
finery, and it made his heart ache for her. He resolved that when he
reached the city he would send her a hat, if it took fifty dollars to do
it.

She lingeringly handed it back to him.

"It's unco guid of ye to think of me," she said lightly, "but I maun
question your taste a wee. D'ye no think ye had best return this and get
a woman with half her hair gray a little plainer headdress? Seems like
that's far ower gay for me. I'm no' saying that it's no' exactly what
I'd like to hae, but I mauna mak mysel' ridiculous. Ye'd best give this
to somebody young and pretty, say about sixteen. Where did ye come by
it, Freckles? If there's anything been dropping lately, ye hae forgotten
to mention it."

"Do you see anything heavenly about that hat?" queried Freckles, holding
it up.

The morning breeze waved the ribbons gracefully, binding one around
Freckles' sleeve and the other across his chest, where they caught and
clung as if magnetized.

"Yes," said Sarah Duncan. "It's verra plain and simple, but it juist
makes ye feel that it's all of the finest stuff. It's exactly what I'd
call a heavenly hat."

"Sure," said Freckles, "for it's belonging to an Angel!"

Then he told her about the hat and asked her what he should do with it.

"Take it to her, of course!" said Sarah Duncan. "Like it's the only ane
she has and she may need it badly."

Freckles smiled. He had a clear idea about the hat being the only one
the Angel had. However, there was a thing he felt he should do and
wanted to do, but he was not sure.

"You think I might be taking it home?" he said.

"Of course ye must," said Mrs. Duncan. "And without another hour's
delay. It's been here two days noo, and she may want it, and be too busy
or afraid to come."

"But how can I take it?" asked Freckles.

"Gang spinning on your wheel. Ye can do it easy in an hour."

"But in that hour, what if----?"

"Nonsense!" interrupted Sarah Duncan. "Ye've watched that timber-line
until ye're grown fast to it, lad. Give me your boots and club and I'll
gae walk the south end and watch doon the east and west sides until ye
come back."

"Mrs. Duncan! You never would be doing it," cried Freckles.

"Why not?" inquired she.

"But you know you're mortal afraid of snakes and a lot of other things
in the swamp."

"I am afraid of snakes," said Mrs. Duncan, "but likely they've gone into
the swamp this hot weather. I'll juist stay on the trail and watch, and
ye might hurry the least bit. The day's so bright it feels like storm. I
can put the bairns on the woodpile to play until I get back. Ye gang awa
and take the blessed little angel her beautiful hat."

"Are you sure it will be all right?" urged Freckles. "Do you think if
Mr. McLean came he would care?"

"Na," said Mrs. Duncan; "I dinna. If ye and me agree that a thing ought
to be done, and I watch in your place, why, it's bound to be all right
with McLean. Let me pin the hat in a paper, and ye jump on your wheel
and gang flying. Ought ye put on your Sabbath-day clothes?"

Freckles shook his head. He knew what he should do, but there was no
use in taking time to try to explain it to Mrs. Duncan while he was so
hurried. He exchanged his wading-boots for shoes, gave her his club, and
went spinning toward town. He knew very well where the Angel lived.
He had seen her home many times, and he passed it again without even
raising his eyes from the street, steering straight for her father's
place of business.

Carrying the hat, Freckles passed a long line of clerks, and at the door
of the private office asked to see the proprietor. When he had waited
a moment, a tall, spare, keen-eyed man faced him, and in brisk, nervous
tones asked: "How can I serve you, sir?"

Freckles handed him the package and answered, "By delivering to your
daughter this hat, which she was after leaving at me place the other
day, when she went away in a hurry. And by saying to her and the Bird
Woman that I'm more thankful than I'll be having words to express for
the brave things they was doing for me. I'm McLean's Limberlost guard,
sir."

"Why don't you take it yourself?" questioned the Man of Affairs.

Freckles' clear gray eyes met those of the Angel's father squarely, and
he asked: "If you were in my place, would you take it to her yourself?"

"No, I would not," said that gentleman quickly.

"Then why ask why I did not?" came Freckles' lamb-like query.

"Bless me!" said the Angel's father. He stared at the package, then at
the lifted chin of the boy, and then at the package again, and muttered,
"Excuse me!"

Freckles bowed.

"It would be favoring me greatly if you would deliver the hat and the
message. Good morning, sir," and he turned away.

"One minute," said the Angel's father. "Suppose I give you permission to
return this hat in person and make your own acknowledgments."

Freckles stood one moment thinking intently, and then he lifted those
eyes of unswerving truth and asked: "Why should you, sir? You are
kind, indade, to mention it, and it's thanking you I am for your good
intintions, but my wanting to go or your being willing to have me ain't
proving that your daughter would be wanting me or care to bother with
me."

The Angel's father looked keenly into the face of this extraordinary
young man, for he found it to his liking.

"There's one other thing I meant to say," said Freckles. "Every day I
see something, and at times a lot of things, that I think the Bird Woman
would be wanting pictures of badly, if she knew. You might be speaking
of it to her, and if she'd want me to, I can send her word when I find
things she wouldn't likely get elsewhere."

"If that's the case," said the Angel's father, "and you feel under
obligations for her assistance the other day, you can discharge them in
that way. She is spending all her time in the fields and woods searching
for subjects. If you run across things, perhaps rarer than she may find,
about your work, it would save her the time she spends searching for
subjects, and she could work in security under your protection. By all
means let her know if you find subjects you think she could use, and we
will do anything we can for you, if you will give her what help you can
and see that she is as safe as possible."

"It's hungry for human beings I am," said Freckles, "and it's like
Heaven to me to have them come. Of course, I'll be telling or sending
her word every time me work can spare me. Anything I can do it would
make me uncommon happy, but"--again truth had to be told, because it was
Freckles who was speaking--"when it comes to protecting them, I'd risk
me life, to be sure, but even that mightn't do any good in some cases.
There are many dangers to be reckoned with in the swamp, sir, that call
for every person to look sharp. If there wasn't really thieving to guard
against, why, McLean wouldn't need be paying out good money for a guard.
I'd love them to be coming, and I'll do all I can, but you must be told
that there's danger of them running into timber thieves again any day,
sir."

"Yes," said the Angel's father, "and I suppose there's danger of the
earth opening up and swallowing the town any day, but I'm damned if
I quit business for fear it will, and the Bird Woman won't, either.
Everyone knows her and her work, and there is no danger in the world
of anyone in any way molesting her, even if he were stealing a few of
McLean's gold-plated trees. She's as safe in the Limberlost as she is at
home, so far as timber thieves are concerned. All I am ever uneasy about
are the snakes, poison-vines, and insects; and those are risks she must
run anywhere. You need not hesitate a minute about that. I shall be glad
to tell them what you wish. Thank you very much, and good day, sir."

There was no way in which Freckles could know it, but by following his
best instincts and being what he conceived a gentleman should be, he
surprised the Man of Affairs into thinking of him and seeing his face
over his books many times that morning; whereas, if he had gone to the
Angel as he had longed to do, her father never would have given him a
second thought.

On the street he drew a deep breath. How had he acquitted himself? He
only knew that he had lived up to his best impulse, and that is all
anyone can do. He glanced over his wheel to see that it was all right,
and just as he stepped to the curb to mount he heard a voice that
thrilled him through and through: "Freckles! Oh Freckles!"

The Angel separated from a group of laughing, sweet-faced girls and came
hurrying to him. She was in snowy white--a quaint little frock, with
a marvel of soft lace around her throat and wrists. Through the sheer
sleeves of it her beautiful, rounded arms showed distinctly, and it was
cut just to the base of her perfect neck. On her head was a pure white
creation of fancy braid, with folds on folds of tulle, soft and silken
as cobwebs, lining the brim; while a mass of white roses clustered
against the gold of her hair, crept around the crown, and fell in a riot
to her shoulders at the back. There were gleams of gold with settings
of blue on her fingers, and altogether she was the daintiest, sweetest
sight he ever had seen. Freckles, standing on the curb, forgot himself
in his cotton shirt, corduroys, and his belt to which his wire-cutter
and pliers were hanging, and gazed as a man gazes when first he sees
the woman he adores with all her charms enhanced by appropriate and
beautiful clothing.

"Oh Freckles," she cried as she came to him. "I was wondering about you
the other day. Do you know I never saw you in town before. You watch
that old line so closely! Why did you come? Is there any trouble? Are
you just starting to the Limberlost?"

"I came to bring your hat," said Freckles. "You forgot it in the rush
the other day. I have left it with your father, and a message trying
to ixpriss the gratitude of me for how you and the Bird Woman were for
helping me out."

The Angel nodded gravely, then Freckles saw that he had done the proper
thing in going to her father. His heart bounded until it jarred his
body, for she was saying that she scarcely could wait for the time to
come for the next picture of the Little Chicken series. "I want to hear
the remainder of that song, and I hadn't even begun seeing your room
yet," she complained. "As for singing, if you can sing like that every
day, I never can get enough of it. I wonder if I couldn't bring my banjo
and some of the songs I like best. I'll play and you sing, and we'll put
the birds out of commission."

Freckles stood on the curb with drooped eyes, for he felt that if
he lifted them the tumult of tender adoration in them would show and
frighten her.

"I was afraid your ixperience the other day would scare you so that
you'd never be coming again," he found himself saying.

The Angel laughed gaily.

"Did I seem scared?" she questioned.

"No," said Freckles, "you did not."

"Oh, I just enjoyed that," she cried. "Those hateful, stealing old
things! I had a big notion to pink one of them, but I thought maybe
someway it would be best for you that I shouldn't. They needed it. That
didn't scare me; and as for the Bird Woman, she's accustomed to finding
snakes, tramps, cross dogs, sheep, cattle, and goodness knows what! You
can't frighten her when she's after a picture. Did they come back?"

"No," said Freckles. "The gang got there a little after noon and took
out the tree, but I must tell you, and you must tell the Bird Woman,
that there's no doubt but they will be coming back, and they will have
to make it before long now, for it's soon the gang will be there to work
on the swamp."

"Oh, what a shame!" cried the Angel. "They'll clear out roads, cut down
the beautiful trees, and tear up everything. They'll drive away the
birds and spoil the cathedral. When they have done their worst, then
all these mills close here will follow in and take out the cheap timber.
Then the landowners will dig a few ditches, build some fires, and in two
summers more the Limberlost will be in corn and potatoes."

They looked at each other, and groaned despairingly in unison.

"You like it, too," said Freckles.

"Yes," said the Angel, "I love it. Your room is a little piece right out
of the heart of fairyland, and the cathedral is God's work, not yours.
You only found it and opened the door after He had it completed. The
birds, flowers, and vines are all so lovely. The Bird Woman says it is
really a fact that the mallows, foxfire, iris, and lilies are larger and
of richer coloring there than in the remainder of the country. She says
it's because of the rich loam and muck. I hate seeing the swamp torn up,
and to you it will be like losing your best friend; won't it?"

"Something like," said Freckles. "Still, I've the Limberlost in me heart
so that all of it will be real to me while I live, no matter what they
do to it. I'm glad past telling if you will be coming a few more times,
at least until the gang arrives. Past that time I don't allow mesilf to
be thinking."

"Come, have a cool drink before you start back," said the Angel.

"I couldn't possibly," said Freckles. "I left Mrs. Duncan on the trail,
and she's terribly afraid of a lot of things. If she even sees a big
snake, I don't know what she'll do."

"It won't take but a minute, and you can ride fast enough to make up
for it. Please. I want to think of something fine for you, to make up a
little for what you did for me that first day."

Freckles looked in sheer wonderment into the beautiful face of the
Angel. Did she truly mean it? Would she walk down that street with him,
crippled, homely, in mean clothing, with the tools of his occupation on
him, and share with him the treat she was offering? He could not believe
it, even of the Angel. Still, in justice to the candor of her pure,
sweet face, he would not think that she would make the offer and not
mean it. She really did mean just what she said, but when it came to
carrying out her offer and he saw the stares of her friends, the
sneers of her enemies--if such as she could have enemies--and heard the
whispered jeers of the curious, then she would see her mistake and be
sorry. It would be only a manly thing for him to think this out, and
save her from the results of her own blessed bigness of heart.

"I railly must be off," said Freckles earnestly, "but I'm thanking you
more than you'll ever know for your kindness. I'll just be drinking
bowls of icy things all me way home in the thoughts of it."

Down came the Angel's foot. Her eyes flashed indignantly. "There's no
sense in that," she said. "How do you think you would have felt when you
knew I was warm and thirsty and you went and brought me a drink and
I wouldn't take it because--because goodness knows why! You can ride
faster to make up for the time. I've just thought out what I want to fix
for you."

She stepped to his side and deliberately slipped her hand under his
arm--that right arm that ended in an empty sleeve.

"You are coming," she said firmly. "I won't have it."

Freckles could not have told how he felt, neither could anyone else. His
blood rioted and his head swam, but he kept his wits. He bent over her.

"Please don't, Angel," he said softly. "You don't understand."

How Freckles came to understand was a problem.

"It's this," he persisted. "If your father met me on the street, in
my station and dress, with you on me arm, he'd have every right to be
caning me before the people, and not a finger would I lift to stay him."

The Angel's eyes snapped. "If you think my father cares about my doing
anything that is right and kind, and that makes me happy to do--why,
then you completely failed in reading my father, and I'll ask him and
just show you."

She dropped Freckles' arm and turned toward the entrance to the
building. "Why, look there!" she exclaimed.

Her father stood in a big window fronting the street, a bundle of papers
in his hand, interestedly watching the little scene, with eyes that
comprehended quite as thoroughly as if he had heard every word. The
Angel caught his glance and made a despairing little gesture toward
Freckles. The Man of Affairs answered her with a look of infinite
tenderness. He nodded his head and waved the papers in the direction she
had indicated, and the veriest dolt could have read the words his lips
formed: "Take him along!"

A sudden trembling seized Freckles. At sight of the Angel's father he
had stepped back as far from her as he could, leaned the wheel against
him, and snatched off his hat.

The Angel turned on him with triumphing eyes.

She was highly strung and not accustomed to being thwarted. "Did You see
that?" she demanded. "Now are you satisfied? Will you come, or must I
call a policeman to bring you?"

Freckles went. There was nothing else to do. Guiding his wheel, he
walked down the street beside her. On every hand she was kept busy
giving and receiving the cheeriest greetings. She walked into the
parlors exactly as if she owned them. A clerk came hurrying to meet her.

"There's a table vacant beside a window where it is cool. I'll save it
for you," and he started back.

"Please not," said the Angel. "I've taken this man unawares, when
he's in a rush. I'm afraid if we sit down we'll take too much time and
afterward he will blame me."

She walked to the fountain, and a long row of people stared with all the
varying degrees of insolence and curiosity that Freckles had felt they
would. He glanced at the Angel. NOW would she see?

"On my soul!" he muttered under his breath. "They don't aven touch her!"

She laid down her sunshade and gloves. She walked to the end of the
counter and turned the full battery of her eyes on the attendant.

"Please," she said.

The white-aproned individual stepped back and gave delighted assent. The
Angel stepped beside him, and selecting a tall, flaring glass, of almost
paper thinness, she stooped and rolled it in a tray of cracked ice.

"I want to mix a drink for my friend," she said. "He has a long, hot
ride before him, and I don't want him started off with one of those old
palate-teasing sweetnesses that you mix just on purpose to drive a man
back in ten minutes." There was an appreciative laugh from the line at
the counter.

"I want a clear, cool, sparkling drink that has a tang of acid in it.
Where's the cherry phosphate? That, not at all sweet, would be good;
don't you think?"

The attendant did think. He pointed out the different taps, and the
Angel compounded the drink, while Freckles, standing so erect he almost
leaned backward, gazed at her and paid no attention to anyone else. When
she had the glass brimming, she tilted a little of its contents into a
second glass and tasted it.

"That's entirely too sweet for a thirsty man," she said.

She poured out half the mixture, and refilling the glass, tasted it a
second time. She submitted that result to the attendant. "Isn't that
about the thing?" she asked.

He replied enthusiastically. "I'd get my wages raised ten a month if I
could learn that trick."

The Angel carried the brimming, frosty glass to Freckles. He removed his
hat, and lifting the icy liquid even with her eyes and looking straight
into them, he said in the mellowest of all the mellow tones of his
voice: "I'll be drinking it to the Swamp Angel."

As he had said to her that first day, she now cautioned him: "Be
drinking slowly."

When the screen-door swung behind them, one of the men at the counter
asked of the attendant: "Now, what did that mean?"

"Exactly what you saw," replied he, rather curtly. "We're accustomed
to it here. Hardly a day passes, this hot weather, but she's picking
up some poor, god-forsaken mortal and bringing him in. Then she comes
behind the counter herself and fixes up a drink to suit the occasion.
She's all sorts of fancies about what's what for all kinds of times and
conditions, and you bet she can just hit the spot! Ain't a clerk here
can put up a drink to touch her. She's a sort of knack at it. Every once
in a while, when the Boss sees her, he calls out to her to mix him a
drink."

"And does she?" asked the man with an interested grin.

"Well, I guess! But first she goes back and sees how long it is since
he's had a drink. What he drank last. How warm he is. When he ate last.
Then she comes here and mixes a glass of fizz with a little touch of
acid, and a bit of cherry, lemon, grape, pineapple, or something sour
and cooling, and it hits the spot just as no spot was ever hit before.
I honestly believe that the INTEREST she takes in it is half the
trick, for I watch her closely and I can't come within gunshot of her
concoctions. She has a running bill here. Her father settles once a
month. She gives nine-tenths of it away. Hardly ever touches it herself,
but when she does she makes me mix it. She's just old persimmons. Even
the scrub-boy of this establishment would fight for her. It lasts the
year round, for in winter it's some poor, frozen cuss that she's warming
up on hot coffee or chocolate."

"Mighty queer specimen she had this time," volunteered another. "Irish,
hand off, straight as a ramrod, and something worth while in his face.
Notice that hat peel off, and the eyes of him? There's a case of 'fight
for her!' Wonder who he is?"

"I think," said a third, "that he's McLean's Limberlost guard, and I
suspect she's gone to the swamp with the Bird Woman for pictures and
knows him that way. I've heard that he is a master hand with the birds,
and that would just suit the Bird Woman to a T."

On the street the Angel walked beside Freckles to the first crossing and
there she stopped. "Now, will you promise to ride fast enough to make up
for the five minutes that took?" she asked. "I am a little uneasy about
Mrs. Duncan."

Freckles turned his wheel into the street. It seemed to him he had
poured that delicious icy liquid into every vein in his body instead of
his stomach. It even went to his brain.

"Did you insist on fixing that drink because you knew how intoxicating
'twould be?" he asked.

There was subtlety in the compliment and it delighted the Angel. She
laughed gleefully.

"Next time, maybe you won't take so much coaxing," she teased.

"I wouldn't this, if I had known your father and been understanding you
better. Do you really think the Bird Woman will be coming again?"

The Angel jeered. "Wild horses couldn't drag her away," she cried. "She
will have hard work to wait the week out. I shouldn't be in the least
surprised to see her start any hour."

Freckles could not endure the suspense; it had to come.

"And you?" he questioned, but he dared not lift his eyes.

"Wild horses me, too," she laughed, "couldn't keep me away either! I
dearly love to come, and the next time I am going to bring my banjo,
and I'll play, and you sing for me some of the songs I like best; won't
you?"

"Yis," said Freckles, because it was all he was capable of saying just
then.

"It's beginning to act stormy," she said. "If you hurry you will just
about make it. Now, good-bye."



CHAPTER IX

Wherein the Limberlost Falls upon Mrs. Duncan and Freckles Comes to the
Rescue

Freckles was halfway to the Limberlost when he dismounted. He could ride
no farther, because he could not see the road. He sat under a tree, and,
leaning against it, sobs shook, twisted, and rent him. If they would
remind him of his position, speak condescendingly, or notice his hand,
he could endure it, but this--it surely would kill him! His hot, pulsing
Irish blood was stirred deeply. What did they mean? Why did they do it?
Were they like that to everyone? Was it pity?

It could not be, for he knew that the Bird Woman and the Angel's father
must know that he was not really McLean's son, and it did not matter
to them in the least. In spite of accident and poverty, they evidently
expected him to do something worth while in the world. That must be his
remedy. He must work on his education. He must get away. He must find
and do the great thing of which the Angel talked. For the first time,
his thoughts turned anxiously toward the city and the beginning of his
studies. McLean and the Duncans spoke of him as "the boy," but he was
a man. He must face life bravely and act a man's part. The Angel was a
mere child. He must not allow her to torture him past endurance with her
frank comradeship that meant to him high heaven, earth's richness, and
all that lay between, and NOTHING to her.

There was an ominous growl of thunder, and amazed at himself, Freckles
snatched up his wheel and raced toward the swamp. He was worried to find
his boots lying at the cabin door; the children playing on the woodpile
told him that "mither" said they were so heavy she couldn't walk in
them, and she had come back and taken them off. Thoroughly frightened,
he stopped only long enough to slip them on, and then sped with all his
strength for the Limberlost. To the west, the long, black, hard-beaten
trail lay clear; but far up the east side, straight across the path, he
could see what was certainly a limp, brown figure. Freckles spun with
all his might.

Face down, Sarah Duncan lay across the trail. When Freckles turned her
over, his blood chilled at the look of horror settled on her face. There
was a low humming and something spatted against him. Glancing around,
Freckles shivered in terror, for there was a swarm of wild bees settled
on a scrub-thorn only a few yards away. The air was filled with excited,
unsettled bees making ready to lead farther in search of a suitable
location. Then he thought he understood, and with a prayer of
thankfulness in his heart that she had escaped, even so narrowly, he
caught her up and hurried down the trail until they were well out of
danger. He laid her in the shade, and carrying water from the swamp
in the crown of his hat, he bathed her face and hands; but she lay in
unbroken stillness, without a sign of life.

She had found Freckles' boots so large and heavy that she had gone back
and taken them off, although she was mortally afraid to approach the
swamp without them. The thought of it made her nervous, and the fact
that she never had been there alone added to her fears. She had not
followed the trail many rods when her trouble began. She was not
Freckles, so not a bird of the line was going to be fooled into thinking
she was.

They began jumping from their nests and darting from unexpected places
around her head and feet, with quick whirs, that kept her starting and
dodging. Before Freckles was halfway to the town, poor Mrs. Duncan was
hysterical, and the Limberlost had neither sung nor performed for her.

But there was trouble brewing. It was quiet and intensely hot, with that
stifling stillness that precedes a summer storm, and feathers and
fur were tense and nervous. The birds were singing only a few broken
snatches, and flying around, seeking places of shelter. One moment
everything seemed devoid of life, the next there was an unexpected
whir, buzz, and sharp cry. Inside, a pandemonium of growling, spatting,
snarling, and grunting broke loose.

The swale bent flat before heavy gusts of wind, and the big black
chicken swept lower and lower above the swamp. Patches of clouds
gathered, shutting out the sun and making it very dark, and the next
moment were swept away. The sun poured with fierce, burning brightness,
and everything was quiet. It was at the first growl of thunder that
Freckles really had noticed the weather, and putting his own troubles
aside resolutely, raced for the swamp.

Sarah Duncan paused on the line. "Weel, I wouldna stay in this place for
a million a month," she said aloud, and the sound of her voice brought
no comfort, for it was so little like she had thought it that she
glanced hastily around to see if it had really been she that spoke. She
tremblingly wiped the perspiration from her face with the skirt of her
sunbonnet.

"Awfu' hot," she panted huskily. "B'lieve there's going to be a big
storm. I do hope Freckles will hurry."

Her chin was quivering as a terrified child's. She lifted her bonnet to
replace it and brushed against a bush beside her. WHIRR, almost into her
face, went a nighthawk stretched along a limb for its daytime nap. Mrs.
Duncan cried out and sprang down the trail, alighting on a frog that was
hopping across. The horrible croak it gave as she crushed it sickened
her. She screamed wildly and jumped to one side. That carried her into
the swale, where the grasses reached almost to her waist, and her horror
of snakes returning, she made a flying leap for an old log lying beside
the line. She alighted squarely, but it was so damp and rotten that she
sank straight through it to her knees. She caught at the wire as she
went down, and missing, raked her wrist across a barb until she tore a
bleeding gash. Her fingers closed convulsively around the second strand.
She was too frightened to scream now. Her tongue stiffened. She clung
frantically to the sagging wire, and finally managed to grasp it with
the other hand. Then she could reach the top wire, and so she drew
herself up and found solid footing. She picked up the club that she
had dropped in order to extricate herself. Leaning heavily on it,
she managed to return to the trail, but she was trembling so that she
scarcely could walk. Going a few steps farther, she came to the stump of
the first tree that had been taken out.

She sat bolt upright and very still, trying to collect her thoughts and
reason away her terror. A squirrel above her dropped a nut, and as it
came rattling down, bouncing from branch to branch, every nerve in her
tugged wildly. When the disgusted squirrel barked loudly, she sprang to
the trail.

The wind arose higher, the changes from light to darkness were more
abrupt, while the thunder came closer and louder at every peal. In
swarms the blackbirds arose from the swale and came flocking to the
interior, with a clamoring cry: "T'CHECK, T'CHECK." Grackles marshaled
to the tribal call: "TRALL-A-HEE, TRALL-A-HEE." Red-winged blackbirds
swept low, calling to belated mates: "FOL-LOW-ME, FOL-LOW-ME." Big,
jetty crows gathered close to her, crying, as if warning her to flee
before it was everlastingly too late. A heron, fishing the near-by pool
for Freckles' "find-out" frog, fell into trouble with a muskrat and
uttered a rasping note that sent Mrs. Duncan a rod down the line without
realizing that she had moved. She was too shaken to run far. She stopped
and looked around her fearfully.

Several bees struck her and were angrily buzzing before she noticed
them. Then the humming swelled on all sides. A convulsive sob shook her,
and she ran into the bushes, now into the swale, anywhere to avoid the
swarming bees, ducking, dodging, fighting for her very life. Presently
the humming seemed to become a little fainter. She found the trail
again, and ran with all her might from a few of her angry pursuers.

As she ran, straining every muscle, she suddenly became aware that,
crossing the trail before her, was a big, round, black body, with brown
markings on its back, like painted geometrical patterns. She tried to
stop, but the louder buzzing behind warned her she dared not. Gathering
her skirts higher, with hair flying around her face and her eyes almost
bursting from their sockets, she ran straight toward it. The sound of
her feet and the humming of the bees alarmed the rattler, so it stopped
across the trail, lifting its head above the grasses of the swale and
rattling inquiringly--rattled until the bees were outdone.

Straight toward it went the panic-stricken woman, running wildly and
uncontrollably. She took one leap, clearing its body on the path, then
flew ahead with winged feet. The snake, coiled to strike, missed Mrs.
Duncan and landed among the bees instead. They settled over and around
it, and realizing that it had found trouble, it sank among the grasses
and went threshing toward its den in the deep willow-fringed low ground.
The swale appeared as if a reaper were cutting a wide swath. The mass of
enraged bees darted angrily around, searching for it, and striking the
scrub-thorn, began a temporary settling there to discover whether it
were a suitable place. Completely exhausted, Mrs. Duncan staggered on a
few steps farther, fell facing the path, where Freckles found her, and
lay quietly.

Freckles worked over her until she drew a long, quivering breath and
opened her eyes.

When she saw him bending above her, she closed them tightly, and
gripping him, struggled to her feet. He helped her, and with his arm
around and half carrying her, they made their way to the clearing. She
clung to him with all her remaining strength, but open her eyes she
would not until her children came clustering around her. Then, brawny,
big Scotswoman though she was, she quietly keeled over again. The
children added their wailing to Freckles' panic.

This time he was so close the cabin that he could carry her into the
house and lay her on the bed. He sent the oldest boy scudding down the
corduroy for the nearest neighbor, and between them they undressed Mrs.
Duncan and discovered that she was not bitten. They bathed and bound the
bleeding wrist and coaxed her back to consciousness. She lay sobbing and
shuddering. The first intelligent word she said was: "Freckles, look at
that jar on the kitchen table and see if my yeast is no running ower."

Several days passed before she could give Duncan and Freckles any
detailed account of what had happened to her, even then she could not
do it without crying as the least of her babies. Freckles was almost
heartbroken, and nursed her as well as any woman could have done; while
big Duncan, with a heart full for them both, worked early and late to
chink every crack of the cabin and examine every spot that possibly
could harbor a snake. The effects of her morning on the trail kept her
shivering half the time. She could not rest until she sent for McLean
and begged him to save Freckles from further risk, in that place of
horrors. The Boss went to the swamp with his mind fully determined to do
so.

Freckles stood and laughed at him. "Why, Mr. McLean, don't you let a
woman's nervous system set you worrying about me," he said. "I'm not
denying how she felt, because I've been through it meself, but that's
all over and gone. It's the height of me glory to fight it out with the
old swamp, and all that's in it, or will be coming to it, and then
to turn it over to you as I promised you and meself I'd do, sir. You
couldn't break the heart of me entire quicker than to be taking it from
me now, when I'm just on the home-stretch. It won't be over three or
four weeks yet, and when I've gone it almost a year, why, what's that
to me, sir? You mustn't let a woman get mixed up with business, for I've
always heard about how it's bringing trouble."

McLean smiled. "What about that last tree?" he said.

Freckles blushed and grinned appreciatively.

"Angels and Bird Women don't count in the common run, sir," he affirmed
shamelessly.

McLean sat in the saddle and laughed.



CHAPTER X

Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him

The Bird Woman and the Angel did not seem to count in the common run,
for they arrived on time for the third of the series and found McLean on
the line talking to Freckles. The Boss was filled with enthusiasm over a
marsh article of the Bird Woman's that he just had read. He begged to
be allowed to accompany her into the swamp and watch the method by which
she secured an illustration in such a location.

The Bird Woman explained to him that it was an easy matter with the
subject she then had in hand; and as Little Chicken was too small to
be frightened by him, and big enough to be growing troublesome, she was
glad for his company. They went to the chicken log together, leaving to
the happy Freckles the care of the Angel, who had brought her banjo and
a roll of songs that she wanted to hear him sing. The Bird Woman told
them that they might practice in Freckles' room until she finished with
Little Chicken, and then she and McLean would come to the concert.

It was almost three hours before they finished and came down the west
trail for their rest and lunch. McLean walked ahead, keeping sharp watch
on the trail and clearing it of fallen limbs from overhanging trees. He
sent a big piece of bark flying into the swale, and then stopped short
and stared at the trail.

The Bird Woman bent forward. Together they studied that imprint of
the Angel's foot. At last their eyes met, the Bird Woman's filled with
astonishment, and McLean's humid with pity. Neither said a word, but
they knew. McLean entered the swale and hunted up the bark. He replaced
it, and the Bird Woman carefully stepped over. As they reached the
bushes at the entrance, the voice of the Angel stopped them, for it was
commanding and filled with much impatience.

"Freckles James Ross McLean!" she was saying. "You fill me with
dark-blue despair! You're singing as if your voice were glass and might
break at any minute. Why don't you sing as you did a week ago? Answer me
that, please."

Freckles smiled confusedly at the Angel, who sat on one of his fancy
seats, playing his accompaniment on her banjo.

"You are a fraud," she said. "Here you went last week and led me to
think that there was the making of a great singer in you, and now you
are singing--do you know how badly you are singing?"

"Yis," said Freckles meekly. "I'm thinking I'm too happy to be singing
well today. The music don't come right only when I'm lonesome and sad.
The world's for being all sunshine at prisint, for among you and Mr.
McLean and the Bird Woman I'm after being THAT happy that I can't keep
me thoughts on me notes. It's more than sorry I am to be disappointing
you. Play it over, and I'll be beginning again, and this time I'll hold
hard."

"Well," said the Angel disgustedly, "it seems to me that if I had all
the things to be proud of that you have, I'd lift up my head and sing!"

"And what is it I've to be proud of, ma'am?" politely inquired Freckles.

"Why, a whole worldful of things," cried the Angel explosively. "For
one thing, you can be good and proud over the way you've kept the timber
thieves out of this lease, and the trust your father has in you. You can
be proud that you've never even once disappointed him or failed in what
he believed you could do. You can be proud over the way everyone speaks
of you with trust and honor, and about how brave of heart and strong of
body you are I heard a big man say a few days ago that the Limberlost
was full of disagreeable things--positive dangers, unhealthful as it
could be, and that since the memory of the first settlers it has been a
rendezvous for runaways, thieves, and murderers. This swamp is named for
a man that was lost here and wandered around 'til he starved. That man I
was talking with said he wouldn't take your job for a thousand dollars
a month--in fact, he said he wouldn't have it for any money, and you've
never missed a day or lost a tree. Proud! Why, I should think you would
just parade around about proper over that!

"And you can always be proud that you are born an Irishman. My father
is Irish, and if you want to see him get up and strut give him a teeny
opening to enlarge on his race. He says that if the Irish had decent
territory they'd lead the world. He says they've always been handicapped
by lack of space and of fertile soil. He says if Ireland had been as big
and fertile as Indiana, why, England wouldn't ever have had the upper
hand. She'd only be an appendage. Fancy England an appendage! He says
Ireland has the finest orators and the keenest statesmen in Europe
today, and when England wants to fight, with whom does she fill her
trenches? Irishmen, of course! Ireland has the greenest grass and trees,
the finest stones and lakes, and they've jaunting-cars. I don't know
just exactly what they are, but Ireland has all there are, anyway.
They've a lot of great actors, and a few singers, and there never was a
sweeter poet than one of theirs. You should hear my father recite 'Dear
Harp of My Country.' He does it this way."

The Angel arose, made an elaborate old-time bow, and holding up the
banjo, recited in clipping feet and meter, with rhythmic swing and a
touch of brogue that was simply irresistible:

"Dear harp of my country" [The Angel ardently clasped the banjo],

"In darkness I found thee" [She held it to the light],

"The cold chain of silence had hung o'er thee long" [She muted the
strings with her rosy palm];

"Then proudly, my own Irish harp, I unbound thee" [She threw up her head
and swept a ringing harmony];

"And gave all thy chords to light, freedom, and song" [She crashed into
the notes of the accompaniment she had been playing for Freckles].

"That's what you want to be thinking of!" she cried. "Not darkness, and
lonesomeness, and sadness, but 'light, freedom, and song.' I can't begin
to think offhand of all the big, splendid things an Irishman has to be
proud of; but whatever they are, they are all yours, and you are a part
of them. I just despise that 'saddest-when-I-sing' business. You can
sing! Now you go over there and do it! Ireland has had her statesmen,
warriors, actors, and poets; now you be her voice! You stand right out
there before the cathedral door, and I'm going to come down the aisle
playing that accompaniment, and when I stop in front of you--you sing!"

The Angel's face wore an unusual flush. Her eyes were flashing and she
was palpitating with earnestness.

She parted the bushes and disappeared. Freckles, straight and tense,
stood waiting. Presently, before he saw she was there, she was coming
down the aisle toward him, playing compellingly, and rifts of light were
touching her with golden glory. Freckles stood as if transfixed.

The cathedral was majestically beautiful, from arched dome of frescoed
gold, green, and blue in never-ending shades and harmonies, to the
mosaic aisle she trod, richly inlaid in choicest colors, and gigantic
pillars that were God's handiwork fashioned and perfected through ages
of sunshine and rain. But the fair young face and divinely molded form
of the Angel were His most perfect work of all. Never had she appeared
so surpassingly beautiful. She was smiling encouragingly now, and as she
came toward him, she struck the chords full and strong.

The heart of poor Freckles almost burst with dull pain and his great
love for her. In his desire to fulfill her expectations he forgot
everything else, and when she reached his initial chord he was ready. He
literally burst forth:

     "Three little leaves of Irish green,
     United on one stem,
     Love, truth, and valor do they mean,
     They form a magic gem."

The Angel's eyes widened curiously and her lips parted. A deep color
swept into her cheeks. She had intended to arouse him. She had more than
succeeded. She was too young to know that in the effort to rouse a man,
women frequently kindle fires that they neither can quench nor control.
Freckles was looking over her head now and singing that song, as it
never had been sung before, for her alone; and instead of her helping
him, as she had intended, he was carrying her with him on the waves
of his voice, away, away into another world. When he struck into the
chorus, wide-eyed and panting, she was swaying toward him and playing
with all her might.

     "Oh, do you love?  Oh, say you love
     You love the shamrock green!"

At the last note, Freckles' voice ceased and he looked at the Angel. He
had given his best and his all. He fell on his knees and folded his arms
across his breast. The Angel, as if magnetized, walked straight down the
aisle to him, and running her fingers into the crisp masses of his red
hair, tilted his head back and laid her lips on his forehead.

Then she stepped back and faced him. "Good boy!" she said, in a voice
that wavered from the throbbing of her shaken heart. "Dear boy! I knew
you could do it! I knew it was in you! Freckles, when you go into the
world, if you can face a big audience and sing like that, just once, you
will be immortal, and anything you want will be yours."

"Anything!" gasped Freckles.

"Anything," said the Angel.

Freckles arose, muttered something, and catching up his old bucket,
plunged into the swamp blindly on a pretence of bringing water. The
Angel walked slowly across the study, sat on the rustic bench, and,
through narrowed lids, intently studied the tip of her shoe.

On the trail the Bird Woman wheeled to McLean with a dumbfounded look.

"God!" muttered he.

At last the Bird Woman spoke.

"Do you think the Angel knew she did that?" she asked softly.

"No," said McLean; "I do not. But the poor boy knew it. Heaven help
him!"

The Bird Woman stared across the gently waving swale. "I don't see how I
am going to blame her," she said at last. "It's so exactly what I would
have done myself."

"Say the remainder," demanded McLean hoarsely. "Do him justice."

"He was born a gentleman," conceded the Bird Woman. "He took no
advantage. He never even offered to touch her. Whatever that kiss meant
to him, he recognized that it was the loving impulse of a child under
stress of strong emotion. He was fine and manly as any man ever could
have been."

McLean lifted his hat. "Thank you," he said simply, and parted the
bushes for her to enter Freckles' room.

It was her first visit. Before she left she sent for her cameras and
made studies of each side of it and of the cathedral. She was entranced
with the delicate beauty of the place, while her eyes kept following
Freckles as if she could not believe that it could be his conception and
work.

That was a happy day. The Bird Woman had brought a lunch, and they
spread it, with Freckles' dinner, on the study floor and sat, resting
and enjoying themselves. But the Angel put her banjo into its case,
silently gathered her music, and no one mentioned the concert.

The Bird Woman left McLean and the Angel to clear away the lunch, and
with Freckles examined the walls of his room and told him all she knew
about his shrubs and flowers. She analyzed a cardinal-flower and
showed him what he had wanted to know all summer--why the bees
buzzed ineffectually around it while the humming-birds found in it
an ever-ready feast. Some of his specimens were so rare that she was
unfamiliar with them, and with the flower book between them they
knelt, studying the different varieties. She wandered the length of the
cathedral aisle with him, and it was at her suggestion that he lighted
his altar with a row of flaming foxfire.

As Freckles came to the cabin from his long day at the swamp he saw
Mrs. Chicken sweeping to the south and wondered where she was going. He
stepped into the bright, cosy little kitchen, and as he reached down the
wash-basin he asked Mrs. Duncan a question.

"Mother Duncan, do kisses wash off?"

So warm a wave swept her heart that a half-flush mantled her face. She
straightened her shoulders and glanced at her hands tenderly.

"Lord, na! Freckles," she cried. "At least, the anes ye get from people
ye love dinna. They dinna stay on the outside. They strike in until they
find the center of your heart and make their stopping-place there, and
naething can take them from ye--I doubt if even death----Na, lad, ye can
be reet sure kisses dinna wash off!"

Freckles set the basin down and muttered as he plunged his hot, tired
face into the water, "I needn't be afraid to be washing, then, for that
one struck in."



CHAPTER XI

Wherein the Butterflies Go on a Spree and Freckles Informs the Bird
Woman

"I wish," said Freckles at breakfast one morning, "that I had some way
to be sending a message to the Bird Woman. I've something at the swamp
that I'm believing never happened before, and surely she'll be wanting
it."

"What now, Freckles?" asked Mrs. Duncan.

"Why, the oddest thing you ever heard of," said Freckles; "the whole
insect tribe gone on a spree. I'm supposing it's my doings, but it all
happened by accident, like. You see, on the swale side of the line,
right against me trail, there's one of these scrub wild crabtrees. Where
the grass grows thick around it, is the finest place you ever conceived
of for snakes. Having women about has set me trying to clean out those
fellows a bit, and yesterday I noticed that tree in passing. It struck
me that it would be a good idea to be taking it out. First I thought I'd
take me hatchet and cut it down, for it ain't thicker than me upper arm.
Then I remembered how it was blooming in the spring and filling all the
air with sweetness. The coloring of the blossoms is beautiful, and I
hated to be killing it. I just cut the grass short all around it. Then
I started at the ground, trimmed up the trunk near the height of
me shoulder, and left the top spreading. That made it look so truly
ornamental that, idle like, I chips off the rough places neat, and this
morning, on me soul, it's a sight! You see, cutting off the limbs and
trimming up the trunk sets the sap running. In this hot sun it ferments
in a few hours. There isn't much room for more things to crowd on that
tree than there are, and to get drunker isn't noways possible."

"Weel, I be drawed on!" exclaimed Mrs. Duncan. "What kind of things do
ye mean, Freckles?"

"Why, just an army of black ants. Some of them are sucking away like
old topers. Some of them are setting up on their tails and hind legs,
fiddling with their fore-feet and wiping their eyes. Some are rolling
around on the ground, contented. There are quantities of big blue-bottle
flies over the bark and hanging on the grasses around, too drunk to
steer a course flying; so they just buzz away like flying, and all
the time sitting still. The snake-feeders are too full to feed
anything--even more sap to themselves. There's a lot of hard-backed
bugs--beetles, I guess--colored like the brown, blue, and black of a
peacock's tail. They hang on until the legs of them are so wake they
can't stick a minute longer, and then they break away and fall to the
ground. They just lay there on their backs, fably clawing air. When it
wears off a bit, up they get, and go crawling back for more, and they so
full they bump into each other and roll over. Sometimes they can't climb
the tree until they wait to sober up a little. There's a lot of big
black-and-gold bumblebees, done for entire, stumbling over the bark and
rolling on the ground. They just lay there on their backs, rocking from
side to side, singing to themselves like fat, happy babies. The wild
bees keep up a steady buzzing with the beating of their wings.

"The butterflies are the worst old topers of them all. They're just a
circus! You never saw the like of the beauties! They come every color
you could be naming, and every shape you could be thinking up. They
drink and drink until, if I'm driving them away, they stagger as they
fly and turn somersaults in the air. If I lave them alone, they cling to
the grasses, shivering happy like; and I'm blest, Mother Duncan, if
the best of them could be unlocking the front door with a lead pencil,
even."

"I never heard of anything sae surprising," said Mrs. Duncan.

"It's a rare sight to watch them, and no one ever made a picture of a
thing like that before, I'm for thinking," said Freckles earnestly.

"Na," said Mrs. Duncan. "Ye can be pretty sure there didna. The Bird
Woman must have word in some way, if ye walk the line and I walk to town
and tell her. If ye think ye can wait until after supper, I am most
sure ye can gang yoursel', for Duncan is coming home and he'd be glad to
watch for ye. If he does na come, and na ane passes that I can send
word with today, I really will gang early in the morning and tell her
mysel'."

Freckles took his lunch and went to the swamp. He walked and watched
eagerly. He could find no trace of anything, yet he felt a tense
nervousness, as if trouble might be brooding. He examined every section
of the wire, and kept watchful eyes on the grasses of the swale, in
an effort to discover if anyone had passed through them; but he could
discover no trace of anything to justify his fears.

He tilted his hat brim to shade his face and looked for his chickens.
They were hanging almost beyond sight in the sky.

"Gee!" he said. "If I only had your sharp eyes and convenient location
now, I wouldn't need be troubling so."

He reached his room and cautiously scanned the entrance before he
stepped in. Then he pushed the bushes apart with his right arm and
entered, his left hand on the butt of his favorite revolver. Instantly
he knew that someone had been there. He stepped to the center of the
room, closely scanning each wall and the floor. He could find no trace
of a clue to confirm his belief, yet so intimate was he with the spirit
of the place that he knew.

How he knew he could not have told, yet he did know that someone had
entered his room, sat on his benches, and walked over his floor. He was
surest around the case. Nothing was disturbed, yet it seemed to Freckles
that he could see where prying fingers had tried the lock. He stepped
behind the case, carefully examining the ground all around it, and close
beside the tree to which it was nailed he found a deep, fresh footprint
in the spongy soil--a long, narrow print, that was never made by the
foot of Wessner. His heart tugged in his breast as he mentally measured
the print, but he did not linger, for now the feeling arose that he
was being watched. It seemed to him that he could feel the eyes of some
intruder at his back. He knew he was examining things too closely: if
anyone were watching, he did not want him to know that he felt it.

He took the most open way, and carried water for his flowers and moss
as usual; but he put himself into no position in which he was fully
exposed, and his hand was close his revolver constantly. Growing restive
at last under the strain, he plunged boldly into the swamp and searched
minutely all around his room, but he could not discover the least thing
to give him further cause for alarm. He unlocked his case, took out his
wheel, and for the remainder of the day he rode and watched as he never
had before. Several times he locked the wheel and crossed the swamp on
foot, zigzagging to cover all the space possible. Every rod he traveled
he used the caution that sprang from knowledge of danger and the
direction from which it probably would come. Several times he thought of
sending for McLean, but for his life he could not make up his mind to do
it with nothing more tangible than one footprint to justify him.

He waited until he was sure Duncan would be at home, if he were coming
for the night, before he went to supper. The first thing he saw as he
crossed the swale was the big bays in the yard.

There had been no one passing that day, and Duncan readily agreed to
watch until Freckles rode to town. He told Duncan of the footprint, and
urged him to guard closely. Duncan said he might rest easy, and filling
his pipe and taking a good revolver, the big man went to the Limberlost.

Freckles made himself clean and neat, and raced to town, but it was
night and the stars were shining before he reached the home of the Bird
Woman. From afar he could see that the house was ablaze with lights. The
lawn and veranda were strung with fancy lanterns and alive with people.
He thought his errand important, so to turn back never occurred to
Freckles. This was all the time or opportunity he would have. He must
see the Bird Woman, and see her at once. He leaned his wheel inside the
fence and walked up the broad front entrance. As he neared the steps, he
saw that the place was swarming with young people, and the Angel, with
an excuse to a group that surrounded her, came hurrying to him.

"Oh Freckles!" she cried delightedly. "So you could come? We were so
afraid you could not! I'm as glad as I can be!"

"I don't understand," said Freckles. "Were you expecting me?"

"Why of course!" exclaimed the Angel. "Haven't you come to my party?
Didn't you get my invitation? I sent you one."

"By mail?" asked Freckles.

"Yes," said the Angel. "I had to help with the preparations, and I
couldn't find time to drive out; but I wrote you a letter, and told
you that the Bird Woman was giving a party for me, and we wanted you
to come, surely. I told them at the office to put it with Mr. Duncan's
mail."

"Then that's likely where it is at present," said Freckles. "Duncan
comes to town only once a week, and at times not that. He's home tonight
for the first in a week. He's watching an hour for me until I come to
the Bird Woman with a bit of work I thought she'd be caring to hear
about bad. Is she where I can see her?"

The Angel's face clouded.

"What a disappointment!" she cried. "I did so want all my friends to
know you. Can't you stay anyway?"

Freckles glanced from his wading-boots to the patent leathers of some of
the Angel's friends, and smiled whimsically, but there was no danger of
his ever misjudging her again.

"You know I cannot, Angel," he said.

"I am afraid I do," she said ruefully. "It's too bad! But there is a
thing I want for you more than to come to my party, and that is to hang
on and win with your work. I think of you every day, and I just pray
that those thieves are not getting ahead of you. Oh, Freckles, do watch
closely!"

She was so lovely a picture as she stood before him, ardent in his
cause, that Freckles could not take his eyes from her to notice what her
friends were thinking. If she did not mind, why should he? Anyway,
if they really were the Angel's friends, probably they were better
accustomed to her ways than he.

Her face and bared neck and arms were like the wild rose bloom. Her
soft frock of white tulle lifted and stirred around her with the gentle
evening air. The beautiful golden hair, that crept around her temples
and ears as if it loved to cling there, was caught back and bound with
broad blue satin ribbon. There was a sash of blue at her waist, and
knots of it catching up her draperies.

"Must I go after the Bird Woman?" she pleaded.

"Indade, you must," answered Freckles firmly.

The Angel went away, but returned to say that the Bird Woman was telling
a story to those inside and she could not come for a short time.

"You won't come in?" she pleaded.

"I must not," said Freckles. "I am not dressed to be among your friends,
and I might be forgetting meself and stay too long."

"Then," said the Angel, "we mustn't go through the house, because it
would disturb the story; but I want you to come the outside way to the
conservatory and have some of my birthday lunch and some cake to take to
Mrs. Duncan and the babies. Won't that be fun?"

Freckles thought that it would be more than fun, and followed
delightedly.

The Angel gave him a big glass, brimming with some icy, sparkling liquid
that struck his palate as it never had been touched before, because a
combination of frosty fruit juices had not been a frequent beverage with
him. The night was warm, and the Angel most beautiful and kind. A triple
delirium of spirit, mind, and body seized upon him and developed a
boldness all unnatural. He slightly parted the heavy curtains that
separated the conservatory from the company and looked between. He
almost stopped breathing. He had read of things like that, but he never
had seen them.

The open space seemed to stretch through half a dozen rooms, all ablaze
with lights, perfumed with flowers, and filled with elegantly dressed
people. There were glimpses of polished floors, sparkling glass, and
fine furnishings. From somewhere, the voice of his beloved Bird Woman
arose and fell.

The Angel crowded beside him and was watching also.

"Doesn't it look pretty?" she whispered.

"Do you suppose Heaven is any finer than that?" asked Freckles.

The Angel began to laugh.

"Do you want to be laughing harder than that?" queried Freckles.

"A laugh is always good," said the Angel. "A little more avoirdupois
won't hurt me. Go ahead."

"Well then," said Freckles, "it's only that I feel all over as if I
belonged there. I could wear fine clothes, and move over those floors,
and hold me own against the best of them."

"But where does my laugh come in?" demanded the Angel, as if she had
been defrauded.

"And you ask me where the laugh comes in, looking me in the face after
that," marveled Freckles.

"I wouldn't be so foolish as to laugh at such a manifest truth as that,"
said the Angel. "Anyone who knows you even half as well as I do, knows
that you are never guilty of a discourtesy, and you move with twice the
grace of any man here. Why shouldn't you feel as if you belonged where
people are graceful and courteous?"

"On me soul!" said Freckles, "you are kind to be thinking it. You are
doubly kind to be saying it."

The curtains parted and a woman came toward them. Her silks and laces
trailed across the polished floors. The lights gleamed on her neck and
arms, and flashed from rare jewels. She was smiling brightly; and until
she spoke, Freckles had not realized fully that it was his loved Bird
Woman.

Noticing his bewilderment, she cried: "Why, Freckles! Don't you know me
in my war clothes?"

"I do in the uniform in which you fight the Limberlost," said Freckles.

The Bird Woman laughed. Then he told her why he had come, but she
scarcely could believe him. She could not say exactly when she would go,
but she would make it as soon as possible, for she was most anxious for
the study.

While they talked, the Angel was busy packing a box of sandwiches,
cake, fruit, and flowers. She gave him a last frosty glass, thanked him
repeatedly for bringing news of new material; then Freckles went into
the night. He rode toward the Limberlost with his eyes on the stars.
Presently he removed his hat, hung it to his belt, and ruffled his
hair to the sweep of the night wind. He filled the air all the way with
snatches of oratorios, gospel hymns, and dialect and coon songs, in a
startlingly varied programme. The one thing Freckles knew that he could
do was to sing. The Duncans heard him coming a mile up the corduroy and
could not believe their senses. Freckles unfastened the box from
his belt, and gave Mrs. Duncan and the children all the eatables
it contained, except one big piece of cake that he carried to the
sweet-loving Duncan. He put the flowers back in the box and set it among
his books. He did not say anything, but they understood it was not to be
touched.

"Thae's Freckles' flow'rs," said a tiny Scotsman, "but," he added
cheerfully, "it's oor sweeties!"

Freckles' face slowly flushed as he took Duncan's cake and started
toward the swamp. While Duncan ate, Freckles told him something about
the evening, as well as he could find words to express himself, and the
big man was so amazed he kept forgetting the treat in his hands.

Then Freckles mounted his wheel and began a spin that terminated only
when the biggest Plymouth Rock in Duncan's coop saluted a new day, and
long lines of light reddened the east. As he rode he sang, while he
sang he worshiped, but the god he tried to glorify was a dim and faraway
mystery. The Angel was warm flesh and blood.

Every time he passed the little bark-covered imprint on the trail he
dismounted, removed his hat, solemnly knelt and laid his lips on the
impression. Because he kept no account himself, only the laughing-faced
old man of the moon knew how often it happened; and as from the
beginning, to the follies of earth that gentleman has ever been kind.

With the near approach of dawn Freckles tuned his last note. Wearied
almost to falling, he turned from the trail into the path leading to the
cabin for a few hours' rest.



CHAPTER XII

Wherein Black Jack Captures Freckles and the Angel Captures Jack

As Freckles left the trail, from the swale close the south entrance,
four large muscular men arose and swiftly and carefully entered the
swamp by the wagon road. Two of them carried a big saw, the third, coils
of rope and wire, and all of them were heavily armed. They left one man
on guard at the entrance. The other three made their way through the
darkness as best they could, and were soon at Freckles' room. He had
left the swamp on his wheel from the west trail. They counted on his
returning on the wheel and circling the east line before he came there.

A little below the west entrance to Freckles' room, Black Jack stepped
into the swale, and binding a wire tightly around a scrub oak, carried
it below the waving grasses, stretched it taut across the trail, and
fastened it to a tree in the swamp. Then he obliterated all signs of his
work, and arranged the grass over the wire until it was so completely
covered that only minute examination would reveal it. They entered
Freckles' room with coarse oaths and jests. In a few moments, his
specimen case with its precious contents was rolled into the swamp,
while the saw was eating into one of the finest trees of the Limberlost.

The first report from the man on watch was that Duncan had driven to the
South camp; the second, that Freckles was coming. The man watching was
sent to see on which side the boy turned into the path; as they had
expected, he took the east. He was a little tired and his head was
rather stupid, for he had not been able to sleep as he had hoped, but he
was very happy. Although he watched until his eyes ached, he could see
no sign of anyone having entered the swamp.

He called a cheery greeting to all his chickens. At Sleepy Snake Creek
he almost fell from his wheel with surprise: the saw-bird was surrounded
by four lanky youngsters clamoring for breakfast. The father was
strutting with all the importance of a drum major.

"No use to expect the Bird Woman today," said Freckles; "but now
wouldn't she be jumping for a chance at that?"

As soon as Freckles was far down the east line, the watch was posted
below the room on the west to report his coming. It was only a few
moments before the signal came. Then the saw stopped, and the rope was
brought out and uncoiled close to a sapling. Wessner and Black Jack
crowded to the very edge of the swamp a little above the wire, and
crouched, waiting.

They heard Freckles before they saw him. He came gliding down the line
swiftly, and as he rode he was singing softly:

     "Oh, do you love,
     Oh, say you love----"

He got no farther. The sharply driven wheel struck the tense wire and
bounded back. Freckles shot over the handlebar and coasted down the
trail on his chest. As he struck, Black Jack and Wessner were upon him.
Wessner caught off an old felt hat and clapped it over Freckles' mouth,
while Black Jack twisted the boy's arms behind him and they rushed him
into his room. Almost before he realized that anything had happened, he
was trussed to a tree and securely gagged.

Then three of the men resumed work on the tree. The other followed
the path Freckles had worn to Little Chicken's tree, and presently
he reported that the wires were down and two teams with the loading
apparatus coming to take out the timber. All the time the saw was slowly
eating, eating into the big tree.

Wessner went to the trail and removed the wire. He picked up Freckles'
wheel, that did not seem to be injured, and leaned it against the bushes
so that if anyone did pass on the trail he would not see it doubled in
the swamp-grass.

Then he came and stood in front of Freckles and laughed in devilish
hate. To his own amazement, Freckles found himself looking fear in the
face, and marveled that he was not afraid. Four to one! The tree halfway
eaten through, the wagons coming up the inside road--he, bound and
gagged! The men with Black Jack and Wessner had belonged to McLean's
gang when last he had heard of them, but who those coming with the
wagons might be he could not guess.

If they secured that tree, McLean lost its value, lost his wager, and
lost his faith in him. The words of the Angel hammered in his ears. "Oh,
Freckles, do watch closely!"

The saw worked steadily.

When the tree was down and loaded, what would they do? Pull out, and
leave him there to report them? It was not to be hoped for. The place
always had been lawless. It could mean but one thing.

A mist swept before his eyes, while his head swam. Was it only last
night that he had worshiped the Angel in a delirium of happiness? And
now, what? Wessner, released from a turn at the saw, walked to the
flower bed, and tearing up a handful of rare ferns by the roots, started
toward Freckles. His intention was obvious. Black Jack stopped him, with
an oath.

"You see here, Dutchy," he bawled, "mebby you think you'll wash his face
with that, but you won't. A contract's a contract. We agreed to take out
these trees and leave him for you to dispose of whatever way you please,
provided you shut him up eternally on this deal. But I'll not see a tied
man tormented by a fellow that he can lick up the ground with, loose,
and that's flat. It raises my gorge to think what he'll get when we're
gone, but you needn't think you're free to begin before. Don't you lay a
hand on him while I'm here! What do you say, boys?"

"I say yes," growled one of McLean's latest deserters. "What's more,
we're a pack of fools to risk the dirty work of silencing him. You had
him face down and you on his back; why the hell didn't you cover his
head and roll him into the bushes until we were gone? When I went into
this, I didn't understand that he was to see all of us and that there
was murder on the ticket. I'm not up to it. I don't mind lifting trees
we came for, but I'm cursed if I want blood on my hands."

"Well, you ain't going to get it," bellowed Jack. "You fellows only
contracted to help me get out my marked trees. He belong to Wessner, and
it ain't in our deal what happens to him."

"Yes, and if Wessner finishes him safely, we are practically in for
murder as well as stealing the trees; and if he don't, all hell's to
pay. I think you've made a damnable bungle of this thing; that's what I
think!"

"Then keep your thoughts to yourself," cried Jack. "We're doing this,
and it's all planned safe and sure. As for killing that buck--come to
think of it, killing is what he needs. He's away too good for this world
of woe, anyhow. I tell you, it's all safe enough. His dropping out won't
be the only secret the old Limberlost has never told. It's too dead easy
to make it look like he helped take the timber and then cut. Why, he's
played right into our hands. He was here at the swamp all last night,
and back again in an hour or so. When we get our plan worked out, even
old fool Duncan won't lift a finger to look for his carcass. We couldn't
have him going in better shape."

"You just bet," said Wessner. "I owe him all he'll get, and be damned to
you, but I'll pay!" he snarled at Freckles.

So it was killing, then. They were not only after this one tree, but
many, and with his body it was their plan to kill his honor. To brand
him a thief, with them, before the Angel, the Bird Woman, the dear Boss,
and the Duncans--Freckles, in sick despair, sagged against the ropes.

Then he gathered his forces and thought swiftly. There was no hope
of McLean's coming. They had chosen a day when they knew he had a big
contract at the South camp. The Boss could not come before tomorrow by
any possibility, and there would be no tomorrow for the boy. Duncan was
on his way to the South camp, and the Bird Woman had said she would come
as soon as she could. After the fatigue of the party, it was useless
to expect her and the Angel today, and God save them from coming! The
Angel's father had said they would be as safe in the Limberlost as at
home. What would he think of this?

The sweat broke on Freckles' forehead. He tugged at the ropes whenever
he felt that he dared, but they were passed around the tree and his body
several times, and knotted on his chest. He was helpless. There was no
hope, no help. And after they had conspired to make him appear a runaway
thief to his loved ones, what was it that Wessner would do to him?

Whatever it was, Freckles lifted his head and resolved that he would
bear in mind what he had once heard the Bird Woman say. He would go out
bonnily. Never would he let them see, if he grew afraid. After all, what
did it matter what they did to his body if by some scheme of the devil
they could encompass his disgrace?

Then hope suddenly rose high in Freckles' breast. They could not do
that! The Angel would not believe. Neither would McLean. He would keep
up his courage. Kill him they could; dishonor him they could not.

Yet, summon all the fortitude he might, that saw eating into the tree
rasped his nerves worse and worse. With whirling brain he gazed into
the Limberlost, searching for something, he knew not what, and in blank
horror found his eyes focusing on the Angel. She was quite a distance
away, but he could see her white lips and angry expression.

Last week he had taken her and the Bird Woman across the swamp over the
path he followed in going from his room to the chicken tree. He had told
them the night before, that the butterfly tree was on the line close to
this path. In figuring on their not coming that day, he failed to reckon
with the enthusiasm of the Bird Woman. They must be there for the study,
and the Angel had risked crossing the swamp in search of him. Or was
there something in his room they needed? The blood surged in his ears as
the roar of the Limberlost in the wrath of a storm.

He looked again, and it had been a dream. She was not there. Had she
been? For his life, Freckles could not tell whether he really had seen
the Angel, or whether his strained senses had played him the most cruel
trick of all. Or was it not the kindest? Now he could go with the vision
of her lovely face fresh with him.

"Thank You for that, oh God!" whispered Freckles. "'Twas more than kind
of You and I don't s'pose I ought to be wanting anything else; but
if You can, oh, I wish I could know before this ends, if 'twas me
mother"--Freckles could not even whisper the words, for he hesitated a
second and ended--"IF 'TWAS ME MOTHER DID IT!"

"Freckles! Freckles! Oh, Freckles!" the voice of the Angel came calling.
Freckles swayed forward and wrenched at the rope until it cut deeply
into his body.

"Hell!" cried Black Jack. "Who is that? Do you know?"

Freckles nodded.

Jack whipped out a revolver and snatched the gag from Freckles' mouth.

"Say quick, or it's up with you right now, and whoever that is with
you!"

"It's the girl the Bird Woman takes with her," whispered Freckles
through dry, swollen lips.

"They ain't due here for five days yet," said Wessner. "We got on to
that last week."

"Yes," said Freckles, "but I found a tree covered with butterflies and
things along the east line yesterday that I thought the Bird Woman would
want extra, and I went to town to tell her last night. She said she'd
come soon, but she didn't say when. They must be here. I take care of
the girl while the Bird Woman works. Untie me quick until she is gone.
I'll try to send her back, and then you can go on with your dirty work."

"He ain't lying," volunteered Wessner. "I saw that tree covered with
butterflies and him watching around it when we were spying on him
yesterday."

"No, he leaves lying to your sort," snapped Black Jack, as he undid the
rope and pitched it across the room. "Remember that you're covered every
move you make, my buck," he cautioned.

"Freckles! Freckles!" came the Angel's impatient voice, closer and
closer.

"I must be answering," said Freckles, and Jack nodded. "Right here!"
he called, and to the men: "You go on with your work, and remember
one thing yourselves. The work of the Bird Woman is known all over the
world. This girl's father is a rich man, and she is all he has. If you
offer hurt of any kind to either of them, this world has no place far
enough away or dark enough for you to be hiding in. Hell will be easy to
what any man will get if he touches either of them!"

"Freckles, where are you?" demanded the Angel.

Soulsick with fear for her, Freckles went toward her and parted the
bushes that she might enter. She came through without apparently giving
him a glance, and the first words she said were: "Why have the gang come
so soon? I didn't know you expected them for three weeks yet. Or is this
some especial tree that Mr. McLean needs to fill an order right now?"

Freckles hesitated. Would a man dare lie to save himself? No. But to
save the Angel--surely that was different. He opened his lips, but the
Angel was capable of saving herself. She walked among them, exactly as
if she had been reared in a lumber camp, and never waited for an answer.

"Why, your specimen case!" she cried. "Look! Haven't you noticed that
it's tipped over? Set it straight, quickly!"

A couple of the men stepped out and carefully righted the case.

"There! That's better," she said. "Freckles, I'm surprised at your being
so careless. It would be a shame to break those lovely butterflies for
one old tree! Is that a valuable tree? Why didn't you tell us last night
you were going to take out a tree this morning? Oh, say, did you put
your case there to protect that tree from that stealing old Black Jack
and his gang? I bet you did! Well, if that wasn't bright! What kind of a
tree is it?"

"It's a white oak," said Freckles.

"Like those they make dining-tables and sideboards from?"

"Yes."

"My! How interesting!" she cried. "I don't know a thing about timber,
but my father wants me to learn just everything I can. I am going to ask
him to let me come here and watch you until I know enough to boss a gang
myself. Do you like to cut trees, gentlemen?" she asked with angelic
sweetness of the men.

Some of them appeared foolish and some grim, but one managed to say they
did.

Then the Angel's eyes turned full on Black Jack, and she gave the most
natural little start of astonishment.

"Oh! I almost thought that you were a ghost!" she cried. "But I see now
that you are really and truly. Were you ever in Colorado?"

"No," said Jack.

"I see you aren't the same man," said the Angel. "You know, we were in
Colorado last year, and there was a cowboy who was the handsomest man
anywhere around. He'd come riding into town every night, and all we
girls just adored him! Oh, but he was a beauty! I thought at first
glance you were really he, but I see now he wasn't nearly so tall nor so
broad as you, and only half as handsome."

The men began to laugh while Jack flushed crimson. The Angel joined in
the laugh.

"Well, I'll leave it to you! Isn't he handsome?" she challenged. "As for
that cowboy's face, it couldn't be compared with yours. The only trouble
with you is that your clothes are spoiling you. It's the dress those
cowboys wear that makes half their attraction. If you were properly
clothed, you could break the heart of the prettiest girl in the
country."

With one accord the other men looked at Black Jack, and for the first
time realized that he was a superb specimen of manhood, for he stood six
feet tall, was broad, well-rounded, and had dark, even skin, big black
eyes, and full red lips.

"I'll tell you what!" exclaimed the Angel. "I'd just love to see you on
horseback. Nothing sets a handsome man off so splendidly. Do you ride?"

"Yes," said Jack, and his eyes were burning on the Angel as if he would
fathom the depths of her soul.

"Well," said the Angel winsomely, "I know what I just wish you'd do.
I wish you would let your hair grow a little longer. Then wear a
blue flannel shirt a little open at the throat, a red tie, and a
broad-brimmed felt hat, and ride past my house of evenings. I'm always
at home then, and almost always on the veranda, and, oh! but I would
like to see you! Will you do that for me?" It is impossible to describe
the art with which the Angel asked the question. She was looking
straight into Jack's face, coarse and hardened with sin and careless
living, which was now taking on a wholly different expression. The evil
lines of it were softening and fading under her clear gaze. A dull red
flamed into his bronze cheeks, while his eyes were growing brightly
tender.

"Yes," he said, and the glance he gave the men was of such a nature that
no one saw fit even to change countenance.

"Oh, goody!" she cried, tilting on her toes. "I'll ask all the girls
to come see, but they needn't stick in! We can get along without them,
can't we?"

Jack leaned toward her. He was the charmed fluttering bird, while the
Angel was the snake.

"Well, I rather guess!" he cried.

The Angel drew a deep breath and surveyed him rapturously.

"My, but you're tall!" she commented. "Do you suppose I ever will grow
to reach your shoulders?"

She stood on tiptoe and measured the distance with her eyes. Then she
developed timid confusion, while her glance sought the ground.

"I wish I could do something," she half whispered.

Jack seemed to increase an inch in height.

"What?" he asked hoarsely.

"Lariat Bill used always to have a bunch of red flowers in his shirt
pocket. The red lit up his dark eyes and olive cheeks and made him
splendid. May I put some red flowers on you?"

Freckles stared as he wheezed for breath. He wished the earth would open
and swallow him. Was he dead or alive? Since his Angel had seen Black
Jack she never had glanced his way. Was she completely bewitched? Would
she throw herself at the man's feet before them all? Couldn't she give
him even one thought? Hadn't she seen that he was gagged and bound? Did
she truly think that these were McLean's men? Why, she could not! It was
only a few days ago that she had been close enough to this man and angry
enough with him to peel the hat from his head with a shot! Suddenly a
thing she had said jestingly to him one day came back with startling
force: "You must take Angels on trust." Of course you must! She was his
Angel. She must have seen! His life, and what was far more, her own, was
in her hands. There was nothing he could do but trust her. Surely she
was working out some plan.

The Angel knelt beside his flower bed and recklessly tore up by the
roots a big bunch of foxfire.

"These stems are so tough and sticky," she said. "I can't break them.
Loan me your knife," she ordered Freckles.

As she reached for the knife, her back was for one second toward the
men. She looked into his eyes and deliberately winked.

She severed the stems, tossed the knife to Freckles, and walking to
Jack, laid the flowers over his heart.

Freckles broke into a sweat of agony. He had said she would be safe in
a herd of howling savages. Would she? If Black Jack even made a motion
toward touching her, Freckles knew that from somewhere he would muster
the strength to kill him. He mentally measured the distance to where his
club lay and set his muscles for a spring. But no--by the splendor of
God! The big fellow was baring his head with a hand that was unsteady.
The Angel pulled one of the long silver pins from her hat and fastened
her flowers securely.

Freckles was quaking. What was to come next? What was she planning, and
oh! did she understand the danger of her presence among those men; the
real necessity for action?

As the Angel stepped from Jack, she turned her head to one side and
peered at him, quite as Freckles had seen the little yellow fellow do
on the line a hundred times, and said: "Well, that does the trick! Isn't
that fine? See how it sets him off, boys? Don't you forget the tie is to
be red, and the first ride soon. I can't wait very long. Now I must go.
The Bird Woman will be ready to start, and she will come here hunting me
next, for she is busy today. What did I come here for anyway?"

She glanced inquiringly around, and several of the men laughed. Oh, the
delight of it! She had forgotten her errand for him! Jack had a second
increase in height. The Angel glanced helplessly as if seeking a clue.
Then her eyes fell, as if by accident, on Freckles, and she cried, "Oh,
I know now! It was those magazines the Bird Woman promised you. I came
to tell you that we put them under the box where we hide things, at
the entrance to the swamp as we came in. I knew I would need my hands
crossing the swamp, so I hid them there. You'll find them at the same
old place."

Then Freckles spoke.

"It's mighty risky for you to be crossing the swamp alone," he said.
"I'm surprised that the Bird Woman would be letting you try it. I know
it's a little farther, but it's begging you I am to be going back by the
trail. That's bad enough, but it's far safer than the swamp."

The Angel laughed merrily.

"Oh stop your nonsense!" she cried. "I'm not afraid! Not in the least!
The Bird Woman didn't want me to try following a path that I'd been over
only once, but I was sure I could do it, and I'm rather proud of the
performance. Now, don't go babying! You know I'm not afraid!"

"No," said Freckles gently, "I know you're not; but that has nothing to
do with the fact that your friends are afraid for you. On the trail you
can see your way a bit ahead, and you've all the world a better chance
if you meet a snake."

Then Freckles had an inspiration. He turned to Jack imploringly.

"You tell her!" he pleaded. "Tell her to go by the trail. She will for
you."

The implication of this statement was so gratifying to Black Jack that
he seemed again to expand and take on increase before their very eyes.

"You bet!" exclaimed Jack. And to the Angel: "You better take Freckles'
word for it, miss. He knows the old swamp better than any of us, except
me, and if he says 'go by the trail,' you'd best do it."

The Angel hesitated. She wanted to recross the swamp and try to reach
the horse. She knew Freckles would brave any danger to save her crossing
the swamp alone, but she really was not afraid, while the trail added
over a mile to the walk. She knew the path. She intended to run for dear
life the instant she felt herself from their sight, and tucked in the
folds of her blouse was a fine little 32-caliber revolver that her
father had presented her for her share in what he was pleased to call
her military exploit. One last glance at Freckles showed her the agony
in his eyes, and immediately she imagined he had some other reason. She
would follow the trail.

"All right," she said, giving Jack a thrilling glance. "If you say so,
I'll return by the trail to please you. Good-bye, everybody."

She lifted the bushes and started toward the entrance.

"You damned fool! Stop her!" growled Wessner. "Keep her till we're
loaded, anyhow. You're playing hell! Can't you see that when this thing
is found out, there she'll be to ruin all of us. If you let her go,
every man of us has got to cut, and some of us will be caught sure."

Jack sprang forward. Freckles' heart muffled in his throat. The Angel
seemed to divine Jack's coming. She was humming a little song. She
deliberately stopped and began pulling the heads of the curious grasses
that grew all around her. When she straightened, she took a step
backward and called: "Ho! Freckles, the Bird Woman wants that natural
history pamphlet returned. It belongs to a set she is going to have
bound. That's one of the reasons we put it under the box. You be sure to
get them as you go home tonight, for fear it rains or becomes damp with
the heavy dews."

"All right," said Freckles, but it was in a voice that he never had
heard before.

Then the Angel turned and sent a parting glance at Jack. She was
overpoweringly human and bewitchingly lovely.

"You won't forget that ride and the red tie," she half asserted, half
questioned.

Jack succumbed. Freckles was his captive, but he was the Angel's, soul
and body. His face wore the holiest look it ever had known as he softly
re-echoed Freckles' "All right." With her head held well up, the Angel
walked slowly away, and Jack turned to the men.

"Drop your damned staring and saw wood," he shouted. "Don't you know
anything at all about how to treat a lady?" It might have been a
question which of the cronies that crouched over green wood fires in the
cabins of Wildcat Hollow, eternally sucking a corncob pipe and stirring
the endless kettles of stewing coon and opossum, had taught him to do
even as well as he had by the Angel.

The men muttered and threatened among themselves, but they began working
desperately. Someone suggested that a man be sent to follow the Angel
and to watch her and the Bird Woman leave the swamp. Freckles' heart
sank within him, but Jack was in a delirium and past all caution.

"Yes," he sneered. "Mebby all of you had better give over on the saw and
run after the girl. I guess not! Seems to me I got the favors. I didn't
see no bouquets on the rest of you! If anybody follows her, I do, and
I'm needed here among such a pack of idiots. There's no danger in that
baby face. She wouldn't give me away! You double and work like forty,
while me and Wessner will take the axes and begin to cut in on the other
side."

"What about the noise?" asked Wessner.

"No difference about the noise," answered Jack. "She took us to be from
McLean's gang, slick as grease. Make the chips fly!"

So all of them attacked the big tree.

Freckles sat on one of his benches and waited. In their haste to fell
the tree and load it, so that the teamsters could start, and leave them
free to attack another, they had forgotten to rebind him.

The Angel was on the trail and safely started. The cold perspiration
made Freckles' temples clammy and ran in little streams down his chest.
It would take her more time to follow the trail, but her safety was
Freckles' sole thought in urging her to go that way. He tried to figure
on how long it would require to walk to the carriage. He wondered if the
Bird Woman had unhitched. He followed the Angel every step of the way.
He figured on when she would cross the path of the clearing, pass the
deep pool where his "find-out" frog lived, cross Sleepy Snake Creek, and
reach the carriage.

He wondered what she would say to the Bird Woman, and how long it would
take them to pack and start. He knew now that they would understand, and
the Angel would try to get the Boss there in time to save his wager.
She could never do it, for the saw was over half through, and Jack and
Wessner cutting into the opposite side of the tree. It appeared as if
they could fell at least that tree, before McLean could come, and if
they did he lost his wager.

When it was down, would they rebind him and leave him for Wessner to
wreak his insane vengeance on, or would they take him along to the next
tree and dispose of him when they had stolen all the timber they could?
Jack had said that he should not be touched until he left. Surely he
would not run all that risk for one tree, when he had many others of far
greater value marked. Freckles felt that he had some hope to cling to
now, but he found himself praying that the Angel would hurry.

Once Jack came to Freckles and asked if he had any water. Freckles arose
and showed him where he kept his drinking-water. Jack drank in great
gulps, and as he passed back the bucket, he said: "When a man's got a
chance of catching a fine girl like that, he ought not be mixed up in
any dirty business. I wish to God I was out of this!"

Freckles answered heartily: "I wish I was, too!"

Jack stared at him a minute and then broke into a roar of rough
laughter.

"Blest if I blame you," he said. "But you had your chance! We offered
you a fair thing and you gave Wessner his answer. I ain't envying you
when he gives you his."

"You're six to one," answered Freckles. "It will be easy enough for you
to be killing the body of me, but, curse you all, you can't blacken me
soul!"

"Well, I'd give anything you could name if I had your honesty," said
Jack.

When the mighty tree fell, the Limberlost shivered and screamed with the
echo. Freckles groaned in despair, but the gang took heart. That was
so much accomplished. They knew where to dispose of it safely, with
no questions asked. Before the day was over, they could remove three
others, all suitable for veneer and worth far more than this. Then they
would leave Freckles to Wessner and scatter for safety, with more money
than they had ever hoped for in their possession.



CHAPTER XIII

Wherein the Angel Releases Freckles, and the Curse of Black Jack Falls
upon Her

On the line, the Angel gave one backward glance at Black Jack, to see
that he had returned to his work. Then she gathered her skirts above her
knees and leaped forward on the run. In the first three yards she passed
Freckles' wheel. Instantly she imagined that was why he had insisted on
her coming by the trail. She seized it and sprang on. The saddle was
too high, but she was an expert rider and could catch the pedals as
they came up. She stopped at Duncan's cabin long enough to remedy this,
telling Mrs. Duncan while working what was happening, and for her to
follow the east trail until she found the Bird Woman, and told her that
she had gone after McLean and for her to leave the swamp as quickly as
possible.

Even with her fear for Freckles to spur her, Sarah Duncan blanched and
began shivering at the idea of facing the Limberlost. The Angel looked
her in the eyes.

"No matter how afraid you are, you have to go," she said. "If you don't
the Bird Woman will go to Freckles' room, hunting me, and they will have
trouble with her. If she isn't told to leave at once, they may follow
me, and, finding I'm gone, do some terrible thing to Freckles. I can't
go--that's flat--for if they caught me, then there'd be no one to go
for help. You don't suppose they are going to take out the trees they're
after and then leave Freckles to run and tell? They are going to murder
the boy; that's what they are going to do. You run, and run for life!
For Freckles' life! You can ride back with the Bird Woman."

The Angel saw Mrs. Duncan started; then began her race.

Those awful miles of corduroy! Would they never end? She did not dare
use the wheel too roughly, for if it broke she never could arrive on
time afoot. Where her way was impassable for the wheel, she jumped off,
and pushing it beside her or carrying it, she ran as fast as she could.
The day was fearfully warm. The sun poured with the fierce baking heat
of August. The bushes claimed her hat, and she did not stop for it.

Where it was at all possible, the Angel mounted and pounded over the
corduroy again. She was panting for breath and almost worn out when she
reached the level pike. She had no idea how long she had been--and only
two miles covered. She leaned over the bars, almost standing on the
pedals, racing with all the strength in her body. The blood surged in
her ears while her head swam, but she kept a straight course, and rode
and rode. It seemed to her that she was standing still, while the trees
and houses were racing past her.

Once a farmer's big dog rushed angrily into the road and she swerved
until she almost fell, but she regained her balance, and setting her
muscles, pedaled as fast as she could. At last she lifted her head.
Surely it could not be over a mile more. She had covered two of corduroy
and at least three of gravel, and it was only six in all.

She was reeling in the saddle, but she gripped the bars with new energy,
and raced desperately. The sun beat on her bare head and hands. Just
when she was choking with dust, and almost prostrate with heat and
exhaustion--crash, she ran into a broken bottle. Snap! went the tire;
the wheel swerved and pitched over. The Angel rolled into the thick
yellow dust of the road and lay quietly.

From afar, Duncan began to notice a strange, dust-covered object in the
road, as he headed toward town with the first load of the day's felling.

He chirruped to the bays and hurried them all he could. As he neared the
Angel, he saw it was a woman and a broken wheel. He was beside her in an
instant. He carried her to a shaded fence-corner, stretched her on
the grass, and wiped the dust from the lovely face all dirt-streaked,
crimson, and bearing a startling whiteness around the mouth and nose.

Wheels were common enough. Many of the farmers' daughters owned and
rode them, but he knew these same farmers' daughters; this face was a
stranger's. He glanced at the Angel's tumbled clothing, the silkiness of
her hair, with its pale satin ribbon, and noticed that she had lost her
hat. Her lips tightened in an ominous quiver. He left her and picked
up the wheel: as he had surmised, he knew it. This, then, was Freckles'
Swamp Angel. There was trouble in the Limberlost, and she had broken
down racing to McLean. Duncan turned the bays into a fence-corner, tied
one of them, unharnessed the other, fastened up the trace chains, and
hurried to the nearest farmhouse to send help to the Angel. He found a
woman, who took a bottle of camphor, a jug of water, and some towels,
and started on the run.

Then Duncan put the bay to speed and raced to camp.

The Angel, left alone, lay still for a second, then she shivered and
opened her eyes. She saw that she was on the grass and the broken wheel
beside her. Instantly she realized that someone had carried her there
and gone after help. She sat up and looked around. She noticed the load
of logs and the one horse. Someone was riding after help for her!

"Oh, poor Freckles!" she wailed. "They may be killing him by now. Oh,
how much time have I wasted?"

She hurried to the other bay, her fingers flying as she set him free.
Snatching up a big blacksnake whip that lay on the ground, she caught
the hames, stretched along the horse's neck, and, for the first time,
the fine, big fellow felt on his back the quality of the lash that
Duncan was accustomed to crack over him. He was frightened, and ran at
top speed.

The Angel passed a wildly waving, screaming woman on the road, and a
little later a man riding as if he, too, were in great haste. The man
called to her, but she only lay lower and used the whip. Soon the feet
of the man's horse sounded farther and farther away.

At the South camp they were loading a second wagon, when the Angel
appeared riding one of Duncan's bays, lathered and dripping, and cried:
"Everybody go to Freckles! There are thieves stealing trees, and they
had him bound. They're going to kill him!"

She wheeled the horse toward the Limberlost. The alarm sounded through
camp. The gang were not unprepared. McLean sprang to Nellie's back and
raced after the Angel. As they passed Duncan, he wheeled and followed.
Soon the pike was an irregular procession of barebacked riders, wildly
driving flying horses toward the swamp.

The Boss rode neck-and-neck with the Angel. He repeatedly commanded her
to stop and fall out of line, until he remembered that he would need her
to lead him to Freckles. Then he gave up and rode beside her, for she
was sending the bay at as sharp a pace as the other horses could keep
and hold out. He could see that she was not hearing him. He glanced back
and saw that Duncan was close. There was something terrifying in the
appearance of the big man, and the manner in which he sat his beast and
rode. It would be a sad day for the man on whom Duncan's wrath broke.
There were four others close behind him, and the pike filling with the
remainder of the gang; so McLean took heart and raced beside the Angel.
Over and over he asked her where the trouble was, but she only gripped
the hames, leaned along the bay's neck, and slashed away with the
blacksnake. The steaming horse, with crimson nostrils and heaving sides,
stretched out and ran for home with all the speed there was in him.

When they passed the cabin, the Bird Woman's carriage was there and Mrs.
Duncan in the door wringing her hands, but the Bird Woman was nowhere to
be seen. The Angel sent the bay along the path and turned into the west
trail, while the men bunched and followed her. When she reached the
entrance to Freckles' room, there were four men with her, and two more
very close behind. She slid from the horse, and snatching the little
revolver from her pocket, darted toward the bushes. McLean caught them
back, and with drawn weapon, pressed beside her. There they stopped in
astonishment.

The Bird Woman blocked the entrance. Over a small limb lay her revolver.
It was trained at short range on Black Jack and Wessner, who stood with
their hands above their heads.

Freckles, with the blood trickling down his face, from an ugly cut in
his temple, was gagged and bound to the tree again; the remainder of the
men were gone. Black Jack was raving as a maniac, and when they looked
closer it was only the left arm that he raised. His right, with the
hand shattered, hung helpless at his side, while his revolver lay
at Freckles' feet. Wessner's weapon was in his belt, and beside him
Freckles' club.

Freckles' face was white, with colorless lips, but in his eyes was the
strength of undying courage. McLean pushed past the Bird Woman crying.
"Hold steady on them only one minute more!"

He snatched the revolver from Wessner's belt, and stooped for Jack's.

At that instant the Angel rushed past. She tore the gag from Freckles,
and seizing the rope knotted on his chest, she tugged at it desperately.
Under her fingers it gave way, and she hurled it to McLean. The men were
crowding in, and Duncan seized Wessner. As the Angel saw Freckles stand
out, free, she reached her arms to him and pitched forward. A fearful
oath burst from the lips of Black Jack. To have saved his life, Freckles
could not have avoided the glance of triumph he gave Jack, when folding
the Angel in his arms and stretching her on the mosses.

The Bird Woman cried out sharply for water as she ran to them. Someone
sprang to bring that, and another to break open the case for brandy.
As McLean arose from binding Wessner, there was a cry that Jack was
escaping.

He was already far in the swamp, running for its densest part in leaping
bounds. Every man who could be spared plunged after him.

Other members of the gang arriving, were sent to follow the tracks
of the wagons. The teamsters had driven from the west entrance, and
crossing the swale, had taken the same route the Bird Woman and the
Angel had before them. There had been ample time for the drivers to
reach the road; after that they could take any one of four directions.
Traffic was heavy, and lumber wagons were passing almost constantly,
so the men turned back and joined the more exciting hunt for a man.
The remainder of the gang joined them, also farmers of the region and
travelers attracted by the disturbance.

Watchers were set along the trail at short intervals. They patrolled the
line and roads through the swamp that night, with lighted torches, and
the next day McLean headed as thorough a search as he felt could be made
of one side, while Duncan covered the other; but Black Jack could not be
found. Spies were set around his home, in Wildcat Hollow, to ascertain
if he reached there or aid was being sent in any direction to him; but
it was soon clear that his relatives were ignorant of his hiding-place,
and were searching for him.

Great is the elasticity of youth. A hot bath and a sound night's sleep
renewed Freckles' strength, and it needed but little more to work the
same result with the Angel. Freckles was on the trail early the next
morning. Besides a crowd of people anxious to witness Jack's capture,
he found four stalwart guards, one at each turn. In his heart he was
compelled to admit that he was glad to have them there. Close noon,
McLean placed his men in charge of Duncan, and taking Freckles, drove to
town to see how the Angel fared. McLean visited a greenhouse and bought
an armload of its finest products; but Freckles would have none of them.
He would carry his message in a glowing mass of the Limberlost's first
goldenrod.

The Bird Woman received them, and in answer to their eager inquiries,
said that the Angel was in no way seriously injured, only so bruised
and shaken that their doctor had ordered her to lie quietly for the day.
Though she was sore and stiff, they were having work to keep her in bed.
Her callers sent up their flowers with their grateful regards, and the
Angel promptly returned word that she wanted to see them.

She reached both hands to McLean. "What if one old tree is gone? You
don't care, sir? You feel that Freckles has kept his trust as nobody
ever did before, don't you? You won't forget all those long first days
of fright that you told us of, the fearful cold of winter, the rain,
heat, and lonesomeness, and the brave days, and lately, nights, too, and
let him feel that his trust is broken? Oh, Mr. McLean," she begged,
"say something to him! Do something to make him feel that it isn't for
nothing he has watched and suffered it out with that old Limberlost.
Make him see how great and fine it is, and how far, far better he has
done than you or any of us expected! What's one old tree, anyway?" she
cried passionately.

"I was thinking before you came. Those other men were rank big cowards.
They were scared for their lives. If they were the drivers, I wager you
gloves against gloves they never took those logs out to the pike. My
coming upset them. Before you feel bad any more, you go look and see if
they didn't lose courage the minute they left Wessner and Black Jack,
dump that timber and run. I don't believe they ever had the grit to
drive out with it in daylight. Go see if they didn't figure on leaving
the way we did the other morning, and you'll find the logs before you
reach the road. They never risked taking them into the open, when they
got away and had time to think. Of course they didn't!

"And, then, another thing. You haven't lost your wager! It never will
be claimed, because you made it with a stout, dark, red-faced man who
drives a bay and a gray. He was right back of you, Mr. McLean, when I
came yesterday. He went deathly white and shook on his feet when he saw
those men probably would be caught. Some one of them was something to
him, and you can just spot him for one of the men at the bottom of your
troubles, and urging those younger fellows to steal from you. I suppose
he'd promised to divide. You settle with him, and that business will
stop."

She turned to Freckles. "And you be the happiest man alive, because you
have kept your trust. Go look where I tell you and you'll find the logs.
I can see just about where they are. When they go up that steep little
hill, into the next woods after the cornfield, why, they could unloose
the chains and the logs would roll from the wagons themselves. Now, you
go look; and Mr. McLean, you do feel that Freckles has been brave and
faithful? You won't love him any the less even if you don't find the
logs."

The Angel's nerve gave way and she began to cry. Freckles could not
endure it. He almost ran from the room, with the tears in his eyes; but
McLean took the Angel from the Bird Woman's arms, and kissed her brave
little face, stroked her hair, and petted her into quietness before he
left.

As they drove to the swamp, McLean so earnestly seconded all that the
Angel had said that he soon had the boy feeling much better.

"Freckles, your Angel has a spice of the devil in her, but she's superb!
You needn't spend any time questioning or bewailing anything she does.
Just worship blindly, my boy. By heaven! she's sense, courage, and
beauty for half a dozen girls," said McLean.

"It's altogether right you are, sir," affirmed Freckles heartily.
Presently he added, "There's no question but the series is over now."

"Don't think it!" answered McLean. "The Bird Woman is working for
success, and success along any line is not won by being scared out. She
will be back on the usual day, and ten to one, the Angel will be with
her. They are made of pretty stern stuff, and they don't scare worth
a cent. Before I left, I told the Bird Woman it would be safe; and it
will. You may do your usual walking, but those four guards are there to
remain. They are under your orders absolutely. They are prohibited from
firing on any bird or molesting anything that you want to protect, but
there they remain, and this time it is useless for you to say one word.
I have listened to your pride too long. You are too precious to me, and
that voice of yours is too precious to the world to run any more risks."

"I am sorry to have anything spoil the series," said Freckles, "and I'd
love them to be coming, the Angel especial, but it can't be. You'll have
to tell them so. You see, Jack would have been ready to stake his life
she meant what she said and did to him. When the teams pulled out,
Wessner seized me; then he and Jack went to quarreling over whether they
should finish me then or take me to the next tree they were for felling.
Between them they were pulling me around and hurting me bad. Wessner
wanted to get at me right then, and Jack said he shouldn't be touching
me till the last tree was out and all the rest of them gone. I'm
belaying Jack really hated to see me done for in the beginning; and
I think, too, he was afraid if Wessner finished me then he'd lose his
nerve and cut, and they couldn't be managing the felling without him;
anyway, they were hauling me round like I was already past all feeling,
and they tied me up again. To keep me courage up, I twits Wessner about
having to tie me and needing another man to help handle me. I told him
what I'd do to him if I was free, and he grabs up me own club and lays
open me head with it. When the blood came streaming, it set Jack raving,
and he cursed and damned Wessner for a coward and a softy. Then Wessner
turned on Jack and gives it to him for letting the Angel make a fool of
him. Tells him she was just playing with him, and beyond all manner of
doubt she'd gone after you, and there was nothing to do on account of
his foolishness but finish me, get out, and let the rest of the timber
go, for likely you was on the way right then. That drove Jack plum
crazy.

"I don't think he was for having a doubt of the Angel before, but then
he just raved. He grabbed out his gun and turned on Wessner. Spang! It
went out of his fist, and the order comes: 'Hands up!' Wessner reached
for kingdom come like he was expecting to grab hold and pull himself
up. Jack puts up what he has left. Then he leans over to me and tells me
what he'll do to me if he ever gets out of there alive. Then, just like
a snake hissing, he spits out what he'll do to her for playing him. He
did get away, and with his strength, that wound in his hand won't be
bothering him long. He'll do to me just what he said, and when he hears
it really was she that went after you, why, he'll keep his oath about
her.

"He's lived in the swamp all his life, sir, and everybody says it's
always been the home of cutthroats, outlaws, and runaways. He knows its
most secret places as none of the others. He's alive. He's in there now,
sir. Some way he'll keep alive. If you'd seen his face, all scarlet with
passion, twisted with pain, and black with hate, and heard him swearing
that oath, you'd know it was a sure thing. I ain't done with him yet,
and I've brought this awful thing on her."

"And I haven't begun with him yet," said McLean, setting his teeth.
"I've been away too slow and too easy, believing there'd be no greater
harm than the loss of a tree. I've sent for a couple of first-class
detectives. We will put them on his track, and rout him out and rid the
country of him. I don't propose for him to stop either our work or our
pleasure. As for his being in the swamp now, I don't believe it. He'd
find a way out last night, in spite of us. Don't you worry! I am at the
helm now, and I'll see to that gentleman in my own way."

"I wish to my soul you had seen and heard him!" said Freckles,
unconvinced.

They entered the swamp, taking the route followed by the Bird Woman and
the Angel. They really did find the logs, almost where the 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.



CHAPTER XIV

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 had come.

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.



CHAPTER XV

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 coming destruction.

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' strident
whisper.

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
dripping tripods.

"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 a
little.

"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.



CHAPTER XVI

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 him
away.

"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 tree, Angel!"

"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.



CHAPTER XVII

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, and understood.

"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 big
watering-trough."

"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 as
if----"

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, must I?"

"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 fear-stiffened
lips.

"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 off quick!"

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 hesitated.

"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?" he
asked.

"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 heart-breaking anxiety.

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 the cause?"

"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
closed mechanically.

"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 have
her?"

"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.



CHAPTER XVIII

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
you, Freckles?"

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 be
mean!"

"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 was
crucified!"

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 thistle-patch.

"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!"

"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."



CHAPTER XIX

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 GET A GOOD SLAP!"

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."



CHAPTER XX

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.





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