<SPAN name="link2HCH0006" id="link2HCH0006">
<!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN>
<div style="height: 4em;">
<br /><br /><br /><br />
Wherein a Fight Occurs and Women Shoot Straight
The following morning Freckles, inexpressibly happy, circled the
Limberlost. He kept snatches of song ringing, as well as the wires. His
heart was so full that tears of joy glistened in his eyes. He rigorously
strove to divide his thought evenly between McLean and the Angel. He
realized to the fullest the debt he already owed the Boss and the
magnitude of last night's declaration and promises. He was hourly planning
to deliver his trust and then enter with equal zeal on whatever task his
beloved Boss saw fit to set him next. He wanted to be ready to meet every
device that Wessner and Black Jack could think of to outwit him. He
recognized their double leverage, for if they succeeded in felling even
one tree McLean became liable for his wager.
Freckles' brow wrinkled in his effort to think deeply and strongly, but
from every swaying wild rose the Angel beckoned to him. When he crossed
Sleepy Snake Creek and the goldfinch, waiting as ever, challenged: "SEE
ME?" Freckles saw the dainty swaying grace of the Angel instead. What is a
man to do with an Angel who dismembers herself and scatters over a whole
swamp, thrusting a vivid reminder upon him at every turn?
Freckles counted the days. This first one he could do little but test his
wires, sing broken snatches, and dream; but before the week would bring
her again he could do many things. He would carry all his books to the
swamp to show to her. He would complete his flower bed, arrange every
detail he had planned for his room, and make of it a bower fairies might
envy. He must devise a way to keep water cool. He would ask Mrs. Duncan
for a double lunch and an especially nice one the day of her next coming,
so that if the Bird Woman happened to be late, the Angel might not suffer
from thirst and hunger. He would tell her to bring heavy leather leggings,
so that he might take her on a trip around the trail. She should make
friends with all of his chickens and see their nests.
On the line he talked of her incessantly.
"You needn't be thinking," he said to the goldfinch, "that because I'm
coming down this line alone day after day, it's always to be so. Some of
these times you'll be swinging on this wire, and you'll see me coming, and
you'll swing, skip, and flirt yourself around, and chip up right spunky:
'SEE ME?' I'll be saying 'See you? Oh, Lord! See her!' You'll look, and
there she'll stand. The sunshine won't look gold any more, or the roses
pink, or the sky blue, because she'll be the pinkest, bluest, goldest
thing of all. You'll be yelling yourself hoarse with the jealousy of her.
The sawbird will stretch his neck out of joint, and she'll turn the heads
of all the flowers. Wherever she goes, I can go back afterward and see the
things she's seen, walk the path she's walked, hear the grasses whispering
over all she's said; and if there's a place too swampy for her bits of
feet; Holy Mother! Maybe—maybe she'd be putting the beautiful arms
of her around me neck and letting me carry her over!"
Freckles shivered as with a chill. He sent the cudgel whirling skyward,
dexterously caught it, and set it spinning.
"You damned presumptuous fool!" he cried. "The thing for you to be
thinking of would be to stretch in the muck for the feet of her to be
walking over, and then you could hold yourself holy to be even of that
service to her.
"Maybe she'll be wanting the cup me blue-and-brown chickens raised their
babies in. Perhaps she'd like to stop at the pool and see me bullfrog that
had the goodness to take on human speech to show me the way out of me
trouble. If there's any feathers falling that day, why, it's from the
wings of me chickens—it's sure to be, for the only Angel outside the
gates will be walking this timberline, and every step of the way I'll be
holding me breath and praying that she don't unfold wings and sail away
before the hungry eyes of me."
So Freckles dreamed his dreams, made his plans, and watched his line. He
counted not only the days, but the hours of each day. As he told them off,
every one bringing her closer, he grew happier in the prospect of her
coming. He managed daily to leave some offering at the big elm log for his
black chickens. He slipped under the line at every passing, and went to
make sure that nothing was molesting them. Though it was a long trip, he
paid them several extra visits a day for fear a snake, hawk, or fox might
have found the baby. For now his chickens not only represented all his
former interest in them, but they furnished the inducement that was
bringing his Angel.
Possibly he could find other subjects that the Bird Woman wanted. The
teamster had said that his brother went after her every time he found a
nest. He never had counted the nests that he knew of, and it might be that
among all the birds of the swamp some would be rare to her.
The feathered folk of the Limberlost were practically undisturbed save by
their natural enemies. It was very probable that among his chickens others
as odd as the big black ones could be found. If she wanted pictures of
half-grown birds, he could pick up fifty in one morning's trip around the
line, for he had fed, handled, and made friends with them ever since their
He had gathered bugs and worms all spring as he noticed them on the grass
and bushes, and dropped them into the first little open mouth he had
found. The babies gladly had accepted this queer tri-parent addition to
their natural providers.
When the week had passed, Freckles had his room crisp and glowing with
fresh living things that represented every color of the swamp. He carried
bark and filled all the muckiest places of the trail.
It was middle July. The heat of the past few days had dried the water
around and through the Limberlost, so that it was possible to cross it on
foot in almost any direction—if one had an idea of direction and did
not become completely lost in its rank tangle of vegetation and bushes.
The brighter-hued flowers were opening. The trumpet-creepers were
flaunting their gorgeous horns of red and gold sweetness from the tops of
lordly oak and elm, and below entire pools were pink-sheeted in mallow
The heat was doing one other thing that was bound to make Freckles, as a
good Irishman, shiver. As the swale dried, its inhabitants were seeking
the cooler depths of the swamp. They liked neither the heat nor leaving
the field mice, moles, and young rabbits of their chosen location. He saw
them crossing the trail every day as the heat grew intense. The rattlers
were sadly forgetting their manners, for they struck on no provocation
whatever, and did not even remember to rattle afterward. Daily Freckles
was compelled to drive big black snakes and blue racers from the nests of
his chickens. Often the terrified squalls of the parent birds would reach
him far down the line and he would run to rescue the babies.
He saw the Angel when the carriage turned from the corduroy into the
clearing. They stopped at the west entrance to the swamp, waiting for him
to precede them down the trail, as he had told them it was safest for the
horse that he should do. They followed the east line to a point opposite
the big chickens' tree, and Freckles carried in the cameras and showed the
Bird Woman a path he had cleared to the log. He explained to her the
effect the heat was having on the snakes, and creeping back to Little
Chicken, brought him to the light. As she worked at setting up her camera,
he told her of the birds of the line, while she stared at him, wide-eyed
They arranged that Freckles should drive the carriage into the east
entrance in the shade and then take the horse toward the north to a better
place he knew. Then he was to entertain the Angel at his study or on the
line until the Bird Woman finished her work and came to them.
"This will take only a little time," she said. "I know where to set the
camera now, and Little Chicken is big enough to be good and too small to
run away or to act very ugly, so I will be coming soon to see about those
nests. I have ten plates along, and I surely won't use more than two on
him; so perhaps I can get some nests or young birds this morning."
Freckles almost flew, for his dream had come true so soon. He was walking
the timber-line and the Angel was following him. He asked to be excused
for going first, because he wanted to be sure the trail was safe for her.
She laughed at his fears, telling him that it was the polite thing for him
to do, anyway.
"Oh!" said Freckles, "so you was after knowing that? Well, I didn't s'pose
you did, and I was afraid you'd think me wanting in respect to be
The astonished Angel looked at him, caught the irrepressible gleam of
Irish fun in his eyes, so they stood and laughed together.
Freckles did not realize how he was talking that morning. He showed her
many of the beautiful nests and eggs of the line. She could identify a
number of them, but of some she was ignorant, so they made notes of the
number and color of the eggs, material, and construction of nest, color,
size, and shape of the birds, and went to find them in the book.
At his room, when Freckles had lifted the overhanging bushes and stepped
back for her to enter, his heart was all out of time and place. The study
was vastly more beautiful than a week previous. The Angel drew a deep
breath and stood gazing first at one side, then at another, then far down
the cathedral aisle. "It's just fairyland!" she cried ecstatically. Then
she turned and stared at Freckles as she had at his handiwork.
"What are you planning to be?" she asked wonderingly.
"Whatever Mr. McLean wants me to," he replied.
"What do you do most?" she asked.
"Watch me lines."
"I don't mean work!"
"Oh, in me spare time I keep me room and study in me books."
"Do you work on the room or the books most?"
"On the room only what it takes to keep it up, and the rest of the time on
The Angel studied him closely. "Well, maybe you are going to be a great
scholar," she said, "but you don't look it. Your face isn't right for
that, but it's got something big in it—something really great. I
must find out what it is and then you must work on it. Your father is
expecting you to do something. One can tell by the way he talks. You
should begin right away. You've wasted too much time already."
Poor Freckles hung his head. He never had wasted an hour in his life.
There never had been one that was his to waste.
The Angel, studying him intently, read the thought in his face. "Oh, I
don't mean that!" she cried, with the frank dismay of sixteen. "Of course,
you're not lazy! No one ever would think that from your appearance. It's
this I mean: there is something fine, strong, and full of power in your
face. There is something you are to do in this world, and no matter how
you work at all these other things, or how successfully you do them, it is
all wasted until you find the ONE THING that you can do best. If you
hadn't a thing in the world to keep you, and could go anywhere you please
and do anything you want, what would you do?" persisted the Angel.
"I'd go to Chicago and sing in the First Episcopal choir," answered
The Angel dropped on a seat—the hat she had removed and held in her
fingers rolled to her feet. "There!" she exclaimed vehemently. "You can
see what I'm going to be. Nothing! Absolutely nothing! You can sing? Of
course you can sing! It is written all over you."
"Anyone with half wit could have seen he could sing, without having to be
told," she thought. "It's in the slenderness of his fingers and his quick
nervous touch. It is in the brightness of his hair, the fire of his eyes,
the breadth of his chest, the muscles of his throat and neck; and above
all, it's in every tone of his voice, for even as he speak it's the
sweetest sound I ever heard from the throat of a mortal."
"Will you do something for me?" she asked.
"I'll do anything in the world you want me to," said Freckles largely,
"and if I can't do what you want, I'll go to work at once and I'll try
'til I can."
"Good! That's business!" said the Angel. "You go over there and stand
before that hedge and sing something. Just anything you think of first."
Freckles faced the Angel from his banked wall of brown, blue, and crimson,
with its background of solid green, and lifting his face to the sky, he
sang the first thing that came into his mind. It was a children's song
that he had led for the little folks at the Home many times, recalled to
his mind by the Angel's exclamation:
"To fairyland we go,
With a song of joy, heigh-o.
In dreams we'll stand upon that shore
And all the realm behold;
We'll see the sights so grand
That belong to fairyland,
Its mysteries we will explore,
Its beauties will unfold.
"Oh, tra, la, la, oh, ha, ha, ha!
We're happy now as we can be,
Our welcome song we will prolong,
And greet you with our melody.
O fairyland, sweet fairyland,
We love to sing——"
No song could have given the intense sweetness and rollicking quality of
Freckles' voice better scope. He forgot everything but pride in his work.
He was singing the chorus, and the Angel was shivering in ecstasy, when
clip! clip! came the sharply beating feet of a swiftly ridden horse down
the trail from the north. They both sprang toward the entrance.
"Freckles! Freckles!" called the voice of the Bird Woman.
They were at the trail on the instant.
"Both those revolvers loaded?" she asked.
"Yes," said Freckles.
"Is there a way you can cut across the swamp and reach the chicken tree in
a few minutes, and with little noise?"
"Then go flying," said the Bird Woman. "Give the Angel a lift behind me,
and we will ride the horse back where you left him and wait for you. I
finished Little Chicken in no time and put him back. His mother came so
close, I felt sure she would enter the log. The light was fine, so I set
and focused the camera and covered it with branches, attached the long
hose, and went away over a hundred feet and hid in some bushes to wait. A
short, stout man and a tall, dark one passed me so closely I almost could
have reached out and touched them. They carried a big saw on their
shoulders. They said they could work until near noon, and then they must
lay off until you passed and then try to load and get out at night. They
went on—not entirely from sight—and began cutting a tree. Mr.
McLean told me the other day what would probably happen here, and if they
fell that tree he loses his wager on you. Keep to the east and north and
hustle. We'll meet you at the carriage. I always am armed. Give Angel one
of your revolvers, and you keep the other. We will separate and creep
toward them from different sides and give them a fusillade that will send
them flying. You hurry, now!"
She lifted the reins and started briskly down the trail. The Angel,
hatless and with sparkling eyes, was clinging around her waist.
Freckles wheeled and ran. He worked his way with much care, dodging limbs
and bushes with noiseless tread, and cutting as closely where he thought
the men were as he felt that he dared if he were to remain unseen. As he
ran he tried to think. It was Wessner, burning for his revenge, aided by
the bully of the locality, that he was going to meet. He was accustomed to
that thought but not to the complication of having two women on his hands
who undoubtedly would have to be taken care of in spite of the Bird
Woman's offer to help him. His heart was jarring as it never had before
with running. He must follow the Bird Woman's plan and meet them at the
carriage, but if they really did intend to try to help him, he must not
allow it. Allow the Angel to try to handle a revolver in his defence?
Never! Not for all the trees in the Limberlost! She might shoot herself.
She might forget to watch sharply and run across a snake that was not
particularly well behaved that morning. Freckles permitted himself a grim
smile as he went speeding on.
When he reached the carriage, the Bird Woman and the Angel had the horse
hitched, the outfit packed, and were calmly waiting. The Bird Woman held a
revolver in her hand. She wore dark clothing. They had pinned a big
focusing cloth over the front of the Angel's light dress.
"Give Angel one of your revolvers, quick!" said the Bird Woman. "We will
creep up until we are in fair range. The underbrush is so thick and they
are so busy that they will never notice us, if we don't make a noise. You
fire first, then I will pop in from my direction, and then you, Angel, and
shoot quite high, or else very low. We mustn't really hit them. We'll go
close enough to the cowards to make it interesting, and keep it up until
we have them going."
The Bird Woman reached over, and, taking the smaller revolver from his
belt, handed it to the Angel. "Keep your nerve steady, dear; watch where
you step, and shoot high," she said. "Go straight at them from where you
are. Wait until you hear Freckles' first shot, then follow me as closely
as you can, to let them know that we outnumber them. If you want to save
McLean's wager on you, now you go!" she commanded Freckles, who, with an
agonized glance at the Angel, ran toward the east.
The Bird Woman chose the middle distance, and for a last time cautioned
the Angel as she moved away to lie down and shoot high.
Through the underbrush the Bird Woman crept even more closely than she had
intended, found a clear range, and waited for Freckles' shot. There was
one long minute of sickening suspense. The men straightened for breath.
Work was difficult with a handsaw in the heat of the swamp. As they
rested, the big dark fellow took a bottle from his pocket and began oiling
"We got to keep mighty quiet," he said, "and wait to fell it until that
damned guard has gone to his dinner."
Again they bent to their work. Freckles' revolver spat fire. Lead spanged
on steel. The saw-handle flew from Wessner's hand and he reeled from the
jar of the shock. Black Jack straightened, uttering a fearful oath. The
hat sailed from his head from the far northeast. The Angel had not waited
for the Bird Woman, and her shot scarcely could have been called high. At
almost the same instant the third shot whistled from the east. Black Jack
sprang into the air with a yell of complete panic, for it ripped a heel
from his boot. Freckles emptied his second chamber, and the earth
spattered over Wessner. Shots poured in rapidly. Without even reaching for
a weapon, both men ran toward the east road in great leaping bounds, while
leaden slugs sung and hissed around them in deadly earnest.
Freckles was trimming his corners as closely as he dared, but if the Angel
did not really intend to hit, she was taking risks in a scandalous manner.
When the men reached the trail, Freckles yelled at the top of his voice:
"Head them off on the south, boys! Fire from the south!"
As he had hoped, Jack and Wessner instantly plunged into the swale. A
spattering of lead followed them. They crossed the swale, running low,
with not even one backward glance, and entered the woods beyond the
Then the little party gathered at the tree.
"I'd better fix this saw so they can't be using it if they come back,"
said Freckles, taking out his hatchet and making saw-teeth fly.
"Now we must leave here without being seen," said the Bird Woman to the
Angel. "It won't do for me to make enemies of these men, for I am likely
to meet them while at work any day."
"You can do it by driving straight north on this road," said Freckles. "I
will go ahead and cut the wires for you. The swale is almost dry. You will
only be sinking a little. In a few rods you will strike a cornfield. I
will take down the fence and let you into that. Follow the furrows and
drive straight across it until you come to the other side. Be following
the fence south until you come to a road through the woods east of it.
Then take that road and follow east until you reach the pike. You will
come out on your way back to town, and two miles north of anywhere they
are likely to be. Don't for your lives ever let it out that you did this,"
he earnestly cautioned, "for it's black enemies you would be making."
Freckles clipped the wires and they drove through. The Angel leaned from
the carriage and held out his revolver. Freckles looked at her in
surprise. Her eyes were black, while her face was a deeper rose than
usual. He felt that his own was white.
"Did I shoot high enough?" she asked sweetly. "I really forgot about lying
Freckles winced. Did the child know how close she had gone? Surely she
could not! Or was it possible that she had the nerve and skill to fire
like that purposely?
"I will send the first reliable man I meet for McLean," said the Bird
Woman, gathering up the lines. "If I don't meet one when we reach town, we
will send a messenger. If it wasn't for having the gang see me, I would go
myself; but I will promise you that you will have help in a little over
two hours. You keep well hidden. They must think some of the gang is with
you now. There isn't a chance that they will be back, but don't run any
risks. Remain under cover. If they should come, it probably would be for
their saw." She laughed as at a fine joke.