She swept it with a broom, instead of laying a cloth; took the hatchet and hammered the deepest dents from the tin plates, and nearly skinned her fingers scouring the tinware with rushes. She set the plates an even distance apart, and laid the forks and spoons beside them. When the cook threw away half a dozen fruit-cans, she gathered them up and melted off the tops, although she almost blistered her face and quite blistered her fingers doing it. Then she neatly covered these improvised vases with the Manila paper from the groceries, tying it with wisps of marshgrass. These she filled with fringed gentians, blazing-star, asters, goldenrod, and ferns, placing them the length of the dining-table. In one of the end cans she arranged her red leaves, and in the other the fancy grass. Two men, watching her, went away proud of themselves and said that she was "a born lady." She laughingly caught up a paper bag and fitted it jauntily to her head in imitation of a cook's cap. Then she ground the coffee, and beat a couple of eggs to put in, "because there is company," she gravely explained to the cook. She asked that delighted individual if he did not like it best that way, and he said he did not know, because he never had a chance to taste it. The Angel said that was her case exactly—she never had, either; she was not allowed anything stronger than milk. Then they laughed together.
She told the cook about camping with her father, and explained that he made his coffee that way. When the steam began to rise from the big boiler, she stuffed the spout tightly with clean marshgrass, to keep the aroma in, placed the boiler where it would only simmer, and explained why. The influence of the Angel's visit lingered with the cook through the remainder of his life, while the men prayed for her frequent return.
She was having a happy time, when McLean came back jubilant, from his trip to the tree. How jubilant he told only the Angel, for he had been obliged to lose faith in some trusted men of late, and had learned discretion by what he suffered. He planned to begin clearing out a road to the tree that same afternoon, and to set two guards every night, for it promised to be a rare treasure, so he was eager to see it on the way to the mills.
"I am coming to see it felled," cried the Angel. "I feel a sort of motherly interest in that tree."
McLean was highly amused. He would have staked his life on the honesty of either the Angel or Freckles; yet their versions of the finding of the tree differed widely.
"Tell me, Angel," the Boss said jestingly. "I think I have a right to know. Who really did locate that tree?"
"Freckles," she answered promptly and emphatically.
"But he says quite as positively that it was you. I don't understand."
The Angel's legal look flashed into her face. Her eyes grew tense with earnestness. She glanced around, and seeing no towel or basin, held out her hand for Sears to pour water over them. Then, using the skirt of her dress to dry them, she climbed on the wagon.
"I'll tell you, word for word, how it happened," she said, "and then you shall decide, and Freckles and I will agree with you."
When she had finished her version, "Tell us, 'oh, most learned judge!'" she laughingly quoted, "which of us located that tree?"
"Blest if I know who located it!" exclaimed McLean. "But I have a fairly accurate idea as to who put the blue ribbon on it."
The Boss smiled significantly at Freckles, who just had come, for they had planned that they would instruct the company to reserve enough of the veneer from that very tree to make the most beautiful dressing table they could design for the Angel's share of the discovery.
"What will you have for yours?" McLean had asked of Freckles.
"If it's all the same to you, I'll be taking mine out in music lessons—begging your pardon—voice culture," said Freckles with a grimace.
McLean laughed, for Freckles needed to see or hear only once to absorb learning as the thirsty earth sucks up water.
The Angel placed McLean at the head of the table. She took the foot, with Freckles on her right, while the lumber gang, washed, brushed, and straightened until they felt unfamiliar with themselves and each other, filled the sides. That imposed a slight constraint. Then, too, the men were afraid of the flowers, the polished tableware, and above all, of the dainty grace of the Angel. Nowhere do men so display lack of good breeding and culture as in dining. To sprawl on the table, scoop with their knives, chew loudly, gulp coffee, and duck their heads as snapping-turtles for every bite, had not been noticed by them until the Angel, sitting straightly, suddenly made them remember that they, too, were possessed of spines. Instinctively every man at the table straightened.
Wherein Freckles Offers His Life for His Love and Gets a Broken Body
To reach the tree was a more difficult task than McLean had supposed. The gang could approach nearest on the outside toward the east, but after they reached the end of the east entrance there was yet a mile of most impenetrable thicket, trees big and little, and bushes of every variety and stage of growth. In many places the muck had to be filled to give the horses and wagons a solid foundation over which to haul heavy loads. It was several days before they completed a road to the noble, big tree and were ready to fell it.
When the sawing began, Freckles was watching down the road where it met the trail leading from Little Chicken's tree. He had gone to the tree ahead of the gang to remove the blue ribbon. Carefully folded, it now lay over his heart. He was promising himself much comfort with that ribbon, when he would leave for the city next month to begin his studies and dream the summer over again. It would help to make things tangible. When he was dressed as other men, and at his work, he knew where he meant to home that precious bit of blue. It should be his good-luck token, and he would wear it always to keep bright in memory the day on which the Angel had called him her knight.
How he would study, and oh, how he would sing! If only he could fulfill McLean's expectations, and make the Angel proud of him! If only he could be a real knight!
He could not understand why the Angel had failed to come. She had wanted to see their tree felled. She would be too late if she did not arrive soon. He had told her it would be ready that morning, and she had said she surely would be there. Why, of all mornings, was she late on this?
McLean had ridden to town. If he had been there, Freckles would have asked that they delay the felling, but he scarcely liked to ask the gang. He really had no authority, although he thought the men would wait; but some way he found such embarrassment in framing the request that he waited until the work was practically ended. The saw was out, and the men were cutting into the felling side of the tree when the Boss rode in.
His first word was to inquire for the Angel. When Freckles said she had not yet come, the Boss at once gave orders to stop work on the tree until she arrived; for he felt that she virtually had located it, and if she desired to see it felled, she should. As the men stepped back, a stiff morning breeze caught the top, that towered high above its fellows. There was an ominous grinding at the base, a shiver of the mighty trunk, then directly in line of its fall the bushes swung apart and the laughing face of the Angel looked on them.
A groan of horror burst from the dry throats of the men, and reading the agony in their faces, she stopped short, glanced up, 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!" 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.
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.
"Will you crowd it all you can without danger of arrest? I will pay well. I must catch some people!"
Then she smiled at him. The hospital, an Orphans' Home, and the Auditorium seemed a queer combination to that driver, but the Angel was always and everywhere the Angel, and her methods were strictly her own.
"I will take you there as quickly as any man could with a team," he said promptly.
The Angel clung to the card and paper, and as best she could in the lurching, swaying cab, read the addresses over.
"O'More, Suite Eleven, Auditorium."
"'O'More,'" she repeated. "Seems to fit Freckles to a dot. Wonder if that could be his name? 'Suite Eleven' means that you are pretty well fixed. Suites in the Auditorium come high."
Then she turned the card and read on its reverse, Lord Maxwell O'More, M. P., Killvany Place, County Clare, Ireland.
The Angel sat on the edge of the seat, bracing her feet against the one opposite, as the cab pitched and swung around corners and past vehicles. She mechanically fingered the pasteboard and stared straight ahead. Then she drew a deep breath and read the card again.
"A Lord-man!" she groaned despairingly. "A Lord-man! Bet my hoecake's scorched! Here I've gone and pledged my word to Freckles I'd find him some decent relatives, that he could be proud of, and now there isn't a chance out of a dozen that he'll have to be ashamed of them after all. It's too mean!"
The tears of vexation rolled down the tired, nerve-racked Angel's cheeks.
"This isn't going to do," she said, resolutely wiping her eyes with the palm of her hand and gulping down the nervous spasm in her throat. "I must read this paper before I meet Lord O'More."
She blinked back the tears and spreading the paper on her knee, read: "After three months' fruitless search, Lord O'More gives up the quest of his lost nephew, and leaves Chicago today for his home in Ireland."
She read on, and realized every word. The likeness settled any doubt. It was Freckles over again, only older and well dressed.
"Well, I must catch you if I can," muttered the Angel. "But when I do, if you are a gentleman in name only, you shan't have Freckles; that's flat. You're not his father and he is twenty. Anyway, if the law will give him to you for one year, you can't spoil him, because nobody could, and," she added, brightening, "he'll probably do you a lot of good. Freckles and I both must study years yet, and you should be something that will save him. I guess it will come out all right. At least, I don't believe you can take him away if I say no."
"Thank you; and wait, no matter how long," she said to her driver.
Catching up the paper, she hurried to the desk and laid down Lord O'More's card.
"Has my uncle started yet?" she asked sweetly.
The surprised clerk stepped back on a bellboy, and covertly kicked him for being in the way.
"His lordship is in his room," he said, with a low bow.
"All right," said the Angel, picking up the card. "I thought he might have started. I'll see him."
The clerk shoved the bellboy toward the Angel.
"Show her ladyship to the elevator and Lord O'More's suite," he said, bowing double.
"Aw, thanks," said the Angel with a slight nod, as she turned away.
"I'm not sure," she muttered to herself as the elevator sped upward, "whether it's the Irish or the English who say: 'Aw, thanks,' but it's probable he isn't either; and anyway, I just had to do something to counteract that 'All right.' How stupid of me!"
At the bellboy's tap, the door swung open and the liveried servant thrust a cardtray before the Angel. The opening of the door created a current that swayed a curtain aside, and in an adjoining room, lounging in a big chair, with a paper in his hand, sat a man who was, beyond question, of Freckles' blood and race.
With perfect control the Angel dropped Lord O'More's card in the tray, stepped past his servant, and stood before his lordship.
"Good morning," she said with tense politeness.
Lord O'More said nothing. He carelessly glanced her over with amused curiosity, until her color began to deepen and her blood to run hotly.
"Well, my dear," he said at last, "how can I serve you?"
Instantly the Angel became indignant. She had been so shielded in the midst of almost entire freedom, owing to the circumstances of her life, that the words and the look appeared to her as almost insulting. She lifted her head with a proud gesture.
"I am not your 'dear,'" she said with slow distinctness. "There isn't a thing in the world you can do for me. I came here to see if I could do something—a very great something—for you; but if I don't like you, I won't do it!"
Then Lord O'More did stare. Suddenly he broke into a ringing laugh. Without a change of attitude or expression, the Angel stood looking steadily at him.
There was a silken rustle, then a beautiful woman with cheeks of satiny pink, dark hair, and eyes of pure Irish blue, moved to Lord O'More's side, and catching his arm, shook him impatiently.
"Terence! Have you lost your senses?" she cried. "Didn't you understand what the child said? Look at her face! See what she has!"
Lord O'More opened his eyes widely and sat up. He did look at the Angel's face intently, and suddenly found it so good that it was difficult to follow the next injunction. He arose instantly.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "The fact is, I am leaving Chicago sorely disappointed. It makes me bitter and reckless. I thought you one more of those queer, useless people who have thrust themselves on me constantly, and I was careless. Forgive me, and tell me why you came."
"I will if I like you," said the Angel stoutly, "and if I don't, I won't!"
"But I began all wrong, and now I don't know how to make you like me," said his lordship, with sincere penitence in his tone.
The Angel found herself yielding to his voice. He spoke in a soft, mellow, smoothly flowing Irish tone, and although his speech was perfectly correct, it was so rounded, and accented, and the sentences so turned, that it was Freckles over again. Still, it was a matter of the very greatest importance, and she must be sure; so she looked into the beautiful woman's face.
"Are you his wife?" she asked.
"Yes," said the woman, "I am his wife."
"Well," said the Angel judicially, "the Bird Woman says no one in the whole world knows all a man's bignesses and all his littlenesses as his wife does. What you think of him should do for me. Do you like him?"
The question was so earnestly asked that it met with equal earnestness. The dark head moved caressingly against Lord O'More's sleeve.
"Better than anyone in the whole world," said Lady O'More promptly.
The Angel mused a second, and then her legal tinge came to the fore again.
"Yes, but have you anyone you could like better, if he wasn't all right?" she persisted.
"I have three of his sons, two little daughters, a father, mother, and several brothers and sisters," came the quick reply.
"And you like him best?" persisted the Angel with finality.
"I love him so much that I would give up every one of them with dry eyes if by so doing I could save him," cried Lord O'More's wife.
"Oh!" cried the Angel. "Oh, my!"
She lifted her clear eyes to Lord O'More's and shook her head.
"She never, never could do that!" she said. "But it's a mighty big thing to your credit that she THINKS she could. I guess I'll tell you why I came."
She laid down the paper, and touched the portrait.
"When you were only a boy, did people call you Freckles?" she asked.
"Dozens of good fellows all over Ireland and the Continent are doing it today," answered Lord O'More.
The Angel's face wore her most beautiful smile.
"I was sure of it," she said winningly. "That's what we call him, and he is so like you, I doubt if any one of those three boys of yours are more so. But it's been twenty years. Seems to me you've been a long time coming!"
Lord O'More caught the Angel's wrists and his wife slipped her arms around her.
"Steady, my girl!" said the man's voice hoarsely. "Don't make me think you've brought word of the boy at this last hour, unless you know surely."
"It's all right," said the Angel. "We have him, and there's no chance of a mistake. If I hadn't gone to that Home for his little clothes, and heard of you and been hunting you, and had met you on the street, or anywhere, I would have stopped you and asked you who you were, just because you are so like him. It's all right. I can tell you where Freckles is; but whether you deserve to know—that's another matter!"
Lord O'More did not hear her. He dropped in his chair, and covering his face, burst into those terrible sobs that shake and rend a strong man. Lady O'More hovered over him, weeping.
"Umph! Looks pretty fair for Freckles," muttered the Angel. "Lots of things can be explained; now perhaps they can explain this."
They did explain so satisfactorily that in a few minutes the Angel was on her feet, hurrying Lord and Lady O'More to reach the hospital. "You said Freckles' old nurse knew his mother's picture instantly," said the Angel. "I want that picture and the bundle of little clothes."
Lady O'More gave them into her hands.
The likeness was a large miniature, painted on ivory, with a frame of beaten gold. Surrounded by masses of dark hair was a delicately cut face. In the upper part of it there was no trace of Freckles, but the lips curving in a smile were his very own. The Angel gazed at it steadily. Then with a quivering breath she laid the portrait aside and reached both hands to Lord O'More.
"That will save Freckles' life and insure his happiness," she said positively. "Thank you, oh thank you for coming!"
She opened the bundle of yellow and brown linen and gave only a glance at the texture and work. Then she gathered the little clothes and the picture to her heart and led the way to the cab.
Ushering Lord and Lady O'More into the reception room, she said to McLean, "Please go call up my father and ask him to come on the first train."
She closed the door after him.
"These are Freckles' people," she said to the Bird Woman. "You can find out about each other; I'm going to him."
Wherein Freckles Finds His Birthright and the Angel Loses Her Heart
The nurse left the room quietly, as the Angel entered, carrying the bundle and picture. When they were alone, she turned to Freckles and saw that the crisis was indeed at hand.
That she had good word to give him was his salvation, for despite the heavy plaster jacket that held his body immovable, his head was lifted from the pillow. Both arms reached for her. His lips and cheeks flamed, while his eyes flashed with excitement.
"Angel," he panted. "Oh Angel! Did you find them? Are they white? Are the little stitches there? OH ANGEL! DID ME MOTHER LOVE ME?"
The words seemed to leap from his burning lips. The Angel dropped the bundle on the bed and laid the picture face down across his knees. She gently pushed his head to the pillow and caught his arms in a firm grasp.
"Yes, dear heart," she said with fullest assurance. "No little clothes were ever whiter. I never in all my life saw such dainty, fine, little stitches; and as for loving you, no boy's mother ever loved him more!"
A nervous trembling seized Freckles.
"Sure? Are you sure?" he urged with clicking teeth.
"I know," said the Angel firmly. "And Freckles, while you rest and be glad, I want to tell you a story. When you feel stronger we will look at the clothes together. They are here. They are all right. But while I was at the Home getting them, I heard of some people that were hunting a lost boy. I went to see them, and what they told me was all so exactly like what might have happened to you that I must tell you. Then you'll understand that things could be very different from what you always have tortured yourself with thinking. Are you strong enough to listen? May I tell you?"
"Maybe 'twasn't me mother! Maybe someone else made those little stitches!"
"Now, goosie, don't you begin that," said the Angel, "because I know that it was!"
"Know!" cried Freckles, his head springing from the pillow. "Know! How can you know?"
The Angel gently soothed him back.
"Why, because nobody else would ever sit and do it the way it is done. That's how I know," she said emphatically. "Now you listen while I tell you about this lost boy and his people, who have hunted for months and can't find him."
Freckles lay quietly under her touch, but he did not hear a word that she was saying until his roving eyes rested on her face; he immediately noticed a remarkable thing. For the first time she was talking to him and avoiding his eyes. That was not like the Angel at all. It was the delight of hearing her speak that she looked one squarely in the face and with perfect frankness. There were no side glances and down-drooping eyes when the Angel talked; she was business straight through. Instantly Freckles' wandering thoughts fastened on her words.
"—and he was a sour, grumpy, old man," she was saying. "He always had been spoiled, because he was an only son, so he had a title, and a big estate. He would have just his way, no matter about his sweet little wife, or his boys, or anyone. So when his elder son fell in love with a beautiful girl having a title, the very girl of all the world his father wanted him to, and added a big adjoining estate to his, why, that pleased him mightily.
"Then he went and ordered his younger son to marry a poky kind of a girl, that no one liked, to add another big estate on the other side, and that was different. That was all the world different, because the elder son had been in love all his life with the girl he married, and, oh, Freckles, it's no wonder, for I saw her! She's a beauty and she has the sweetest way.
"But that poor younger son, he had been in love with the village vicar's daughter all his life. That's no wonder either, for she was more beautiful yet. She could sing as the angels, but she hadn't a cent. She loved him to death, too, if he was bony and freckled and red-haired—I don't mean that! They didn't say what color his hair was, but his father's must have been the reddest ever, for when he found out about them, and it wasn't anything so terrible, HE JUST CAVED!
"The old man went to see the girl—the pretty one with no money, of course—and he hurt her feelings until she ran away. She went to London and began studying music. Soon she grew to be a fine singer, so she joined a company and came to this country.
"When the younger son found that she had left London, he followed her. When she got here all alone, and afraid, and saw him coming to her, why, she was so glad she up and married him, just like anybody else would have done. He didn't want her to travel with the troupe, so when they reached Chicago they thought that would be a good place, and they stopped, while he hunted work. It was slow business, because he never had been taught to do a useful thing, and he didn't even know how to hunt work, least of all to do it when he found it; so pretty soon things were going wrong. But if he couldn't find work, she could always sing, so she sang at night, and made little things in the daytime. He didn't like her to sing in public, and he wouldn't allow her when he could HELP himself; but winter came, it was very cold, and fire was expensive. Rents went up, and they had to move farther out to cheaper and cheaper places; and you were coming—I mean, the boy that is lost was coming—and they were almost distracted. Then the man wrote and told his father all about it; and his father sent the letter back unopened with a line telling him never to write again. When the baby came, there was very little left to pawn for food and a doctor, and nothing at all for a nurse; so an old neighbor woman went in and took care of the young mother and the little baby, because she was so sorry for them. By that time they were away in the suburbs on the top floor of a little wooden house, among a lot of big factories, and it kept growing colder, with less to eat. Then the man grew desperate and he went just to find something to eat and the woman was desperate, too. She got up, left the old woman to take care of her baby, and went into the city to sing for some money. The woman became so cold she put the baby in bed and went home. Then a boiler blew up in a big factory beside the little house and set it on fire. A piece of iron was pitched across and broke through the roof. It came down smash, and cut just one little hand off the poor baby. It screamed and screamed; and the fire kept coming closer and closer.
"The old woman ran out with the other people and saw what had happened. She knew there wasn't going to be time to wait for firemen or anything, so she ran into the building. She could hear the baby screaming, and she couldn't stand that; so she worked her way to it. There it was, all hurt and bleeding. Then she was almost scared to death over thinking what its mother would do to her for going away and leaving it, so she ran to a Home for little friendless babies, that was close, and banged on the door. Then she hid across the street until the baby was taken in, and then she ran back to see if her own house was burning. The big factory and the little house and a lot of others were all gone. The people there told her that the beautiful lady came back and ran into the house to find her baby. She had just gone in when her husband came, and he went in after her, and the house fell over both of them."
Freckles lay rigidly, with his eyes on the Angel's face, while she talked rapidly to the ceiling.
"Then the old woman was sick about that poor little baby. She was afraid to tell them at the Home, because she knew she never should have left it, but she wrote a letter and sent it to where the beautiful woman, when she was ill, had said her husband's people lived. She told all about the little baby that she could remember: when it was born, how it was named for the man's elder brother, that its hand had been cut off in the fire, and where she had put it to be doctored and taken care of. She told them that its mother and father were both burned, and she begged and implored them to come after it.
"You'd think that would have melted a heart of ice, but that old man hadn't any heart to melt, for he got that letter and read it. He hid it away among his papers and never told a soul. A few months ago he died. When his elder son went to settle his business, he found the letter almost the first thing. He dropped everything, and came, with his wife, to hunt that baby, because he always had loved his brother dearly, and wanted him back. He had hunted for him all he dared all these years, but when he got here you were gone—I mean the baby was gone, and I had to tell you, Freckles, for you see, it might have happened to you like that just as easy as to that other lost boy."
Freckles reached up and turned the Angel's face until he compelled her eyes to meet his.
"Angel," he asked quietly, "why don't you look at me when you are telling about that lost boy?"
"I—I didn't know I wasn't," faltered the Angel.
"It seems to me," said Freckles, his breath beginning to come in sharp wheezes, "that you got us rather mixed, and it ain't like you to be mixing things till one can't be knowing. If they were telling you so much, did they say which hand was for being off that lost boy?"
The Angel's eyes escaped again.
"It—it was the same as yours," she ventured, barely breathing in her fear.
Still Freckles lay rigid and whiter than the coverlet.
"Would that boy be as old as me?" he asked.
"Yes," said the Angel faintly.
"Angel," said Freckles at last, catching her wrist, "are you trying to tell me that there is somebody hunting a boy that you're thinking might be me? Are you belavin' you've found me relations?"
Then the Angel's eyes came home. The time had come. She pinioned Freckles' arms to his sides and bent above him.
"How strong are you, dear heart?" she breathed. "How brave are you? Can you bear it? Dare I tell you that?"
"No!" gasped Freckles. "Not if you're sure! I can't bear it! I'll die if you do!"
The day had been one unremitting strain with the Angel. Nerve tension was drawn to the finest thread. It snapped suddenly.
"Die!" she flamed. "Die, if I tell you that! You said this morning that you would die if you DIDN'T know your name, and if your people were honorable. Now I've gone and found you a name that stands for ages of honor, a mother who loved you enough to go into the fire and die for you, and the nicest kind of relatives, and you turn round and say you'll die over that! YOU JUST TRY DYING AND YOU'LL 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."
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.