Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter III. Wherein a Feather Falls and a Soul Is Born
So Freckles fared through the bitter winter. He was very happy. He had hungered for freedom, love, and appreciation so long! He had been unspeakably lonely at the Home; and the utter loneliness of a great desert or forest is not so difficult to endure as the loneliness of being constantly surrounded by crowds of people who do not care in the least whether one is living or dead.
All through the winter Freckles' entire energy was given to keeping up his lines and his "chickens" from freezing or starving. When the first breath of spring touched the Limberlost, and the snow receded before it; when the catkins began to bloom; when there came a hint of green to the trees, bushes, and swale; when the rushes lifted their heads, and the pulse of the newly resurrected season beat strongly in the heart of nature, something new stirred in the breast of the boy.
Nature always levies her tribute. Now she laid a powerful hand on the soul of Freckles, to which the boy's whole being responded, though he had not the least idea what was troubling him. Duncan accepted his wife's theory that it was a touch of spring fever, but Freckles knew better. He never had been so well. Clean, hot, and steady the blood pulsed in his veins. He was always hungry, and his most difficult work tired him not at all. For long months, without a single intermission, he had tramped those seven miles of trail twice each day, through every conceivable state of weather. With the heavy club he gave his wires a sure test, and between sections, first in play, afterward to keep his circulation going, he had acquired the skill of an expert drum major. In his work there was exercise for every muscle of his body each hour of the day, at night a bath, wholesome food, and sound sleep in a room that never knew fire. He had gained flesh and color, and developed a greater strength and endurance than anyone ever could have guessed.
Nor did the Limberlost contain last year's terrors. He had been with her in her hour of desolation, when stripped bare and deserted, she had stood shivering, as if herself afraid. He had made excursions into the interior until he was familiar with every path and road that ever had been cut. He had sounded the depths of her deepest pools, and had learned why the trees grew so magnificently. He had found that places of swamp and swale were few compared with miles of solid timber-land, concealed by summer's luxuriant undergrowth.
The sounds that at first had struck cold fear into his soul he now knew had left on wing and silent foot at the approach of winter. As flock after flock of the birds returned and he recognized the old echoes reawakening, he found to his surprise that he had been lonely for them and was hailing their return with great joy. All his fears were forgotten. Instead, he was possessed of an overpowering desire to know what they were, to learn where they had been, and whether they would make friends with him as the winter birds had done; and if they did, would they be as fickle? For, with the running sap, creeping worm, and winging bug, most of Freckles' "chickens" had deserted him, entered the swamp, and feasted to such a state of plethora on its store that they cared little for his supply, so that in the strenuous days of mating and nest-building the boy was deserted.
He chafed at the birds' ingratitude, but he found speedy consolation in watching and befriending the newcomers. He surely would have been proud and highly pleased if he had known that many of the former inhabitants of the interior swamp now grouped their nests beside the timber-line solely for the sake of his protection and company.
The yearly resurrection of the Limberlost is a mighty revival. Freckles stood back and watched with awe and envy the gradual reclothing and repopulation of the swamp. Keen-eyed and alert through danger and loneliness, he noted every stage of development, from the first piping frog and unsheathing bud, to full leafage and the return of the last migrant.
The knowledge of his complete loneliness and utter insignificance was hourly thrust upon him. He brooded and fretted until he was in a fever; yet he never guessed the cause. He was filled with a vast impatience, a longing that he scarcely could endure.
It was June by the zodiac, June by the Limberlost, and by every delight of a newly resurrected season it should have been June in the hearts of all men. Yet Freckles scowled darkly as he came down the trail, and the running tap, tap that tested the sagging wire and telegraphed word of his coming to his furred and feathered friends of the swamp, this morning carried the story of his discontent a mile ahead of him.
Freckles' special pet, a dainty, yellow-coated, black-sleeved, cock goldfinch, had remained on the wire for several days past the bravest of all; and Freckles, absorbed with the cunning and beauty of the tiny fellow, never guessed that he was being duped. For the goldfinch was skipping, flirting, and swinging for the express purpose of so holding his attention that he would not look up and see a small cradle of thistledown and wool perilously near his head. In the beginning of brooding, the spunky little homesteader had clung heroically to the wire when he was almost paralyzed with fright. When day after day passed and brought only softly whistled repetitions of his call, a handful of crumbs on the top of a locust line-post, and gently worded coaxings, he grew in confidence. Of late he had sung and swung during the passing of Freckles, who, not dreaming of the nest and the solemn-eyed little hen so close above, thought himself unusually gifted in his power to attract the birds. This morning the goldfinch scarcely could believe his ears, and clung to the wire until an unusually vicious rap sent him spinning a foot in air, and his "ptseet" came with a squall of utter panic.
The wires were ringing with a story the birds could not translate, and Freckles was quite as ignorant of the trouble as they.
A peculiar movement beneath a small walnut tree caught his attention. He stopped to investigate. There was an unusually large Luna cocoon, and the moth was bursting the upper end in its struggles to reach light and air. Freckles stood and stared.
"There's something in there trying to get out," he muttered. "Wonder if I could help it? Guess I best not be trying. If I hadn't happened along, there wouldn't have been anyone to do anything, and maybe I'd only be hurting it. It's--it's----Oh, skaggany! It's just being born!"
Freckles gasped with surprise. The moth cleared the opening, and with many wabblings and contortions climbed up the tree. He stared speechless with amazement as the moth crept around a limb and clung to the under side. There was a big pursy body, almost as large as his thumb, and of the very snowiest white that Freckles ever had seen. There was a band of delicate lavender across its forehead, and its feet were of the same colour; there were antlers, like tiny, straw-colored ferns, on its head, and from its shoulders hung the crumpled wet wings. As Freckles gazed, tense with astonishment, he saw that these were expanding, drooping, taking on color, and small, oval markings were beginning to show.
The minutes passed. Freckles' steady gaze never wavered. Without realizing it, he was trembling with eagerness and anxiety. As he saw what was taking place, "It's going to fly," he breathed in hushed wonder. The morning sun fell on the moth and dried its velvet down, while the warm air made it fluffy. The rapidly growing wings began to show the most delicate green, with lavender fore-ribs, transparent, eye-shaped markings, edged with lines of red, tan, and black, and long, crisp trailers.
Freckles was whispering to himself for fear of disturbing the moth. It began a systematic exercise of raising and lowering its exquisite wings to dry them and to establish circulation. The boy realized that soon it would be able to spread them and sail away. His long-coming soul sent up its first shivering cry.
"I don't know what it is! Oh, I wish I knew! How I wish I knew! It must be something grand! It can't be a butterfly! It's away too big. Oh, I wish there was someone to tell me what it is!"
He climbed on the locust post, and balancing himself with the wire, held a finger in the line of the moth's advance up the twig. It unhesitatingly climbed on, so he stepped to the path, holding it to the light and examining it closely. Then he held it in the shade and turned it, gloating over its markings and beautiful coloring. When he held the moth to the limb, it climbed on, still waving those magnificent wings.
"My, but I'd like to be staying with you!" he said. "But if I was to stand here all day you couldn't grow any prettier than you are right now, and I wouldn't grow smart enough to tell what you are. I suppose there's someone who knows. Of course there is! Mr. McLean said there were people who knew every leaf, bird, and flower in the Limberlost. Oh Lord! How I wish You'd be telling me just this one thing!"
The goldfinch had ventured back to the wire, for there was his mate, only a few inches above the man-creature's head; and indeed, he simply must not be allowed to look up, so the brave little fellow rocked on the wire and piped, as he had done every day for a week: "See me? See me?"
"See you! Of course I see you," growled Freckles. "I see you day after day, and what good is it doing me? I might see you every morning for a year, and then not be able to be telling anyone about it. `Seen a bird with black silk wings--little, and yellow as any canary.' That's as far as I'd get. What you doing here, anyway? Have you a mate? What's your name? `See you?' I reckon I see you; but I might as well be blind, for any good it's doing me!"
Freckles impatiently struck the wire. With a screech of fear, the goldfinch fled precipitately. His mate arose from the nest with a whirr--Freckles looked up and saw it.
"O--ho!" he cried. "So that's what you are doing here! You have a wife. And so close my head I have been mighty near wearing a bird on my bonnet, and never knew it!"
Freckles laughed at his own jest, while in better humor he climbed to examine the neat, tiny cradle and its contents. The hen darted at him in a frenzy. "Now, where do you come in?" he demanded, when he saw that she was not similar to the goldfinch.
"You be clearing out of here! This is none of your fry. This is the nest of me little, yellow friend of the wire, and you shan't be touching it. Don't blame you for wanting to see, though. My, but it's a fine nest and beauties of eggs. Will you be keeping away, or will I fire this stick at you?"
Freckles dropped to the trail. The hen darted to the nest and settled on it with a tender, coddling movement. He of the yellow coat flew to the edge to make sure that everything was right. It would have been plain to the veriest novice that they were partners in that cradle.
"Well, I'll be switched!" muttered Freckles. "If that ain't both their nest! And he's yellow and she's green, or she's yellow and he's green. Of course, I don't know, and I haven't any way to find out, but it's plain as the nose on your face that they are both ready to be fighting for that nest, so, of course, they belong. Doesn't that beat you? Say, that's what's been sticking me all of this week on that grass nest in the thorn tree down the line. One day a blue bird is setting, so I think it is hers. The next day a brown bird is on, and I chase it off because the nest is blue's. Next day the brown bird is on again, and I let her be, because I think it must be hers. Next day, be golly, blue's on, and off I send her because it's brown's; and now, I bet my hat, it's both their nest and I've only been bothering them and making a big fool of mesilf. Pretty specimen I am, pretending to be a friend to the birds, and so blamed ignorant I don't know which ones go in pairs, and blue and brown are a pair, of course, if yellow and green are--and there's the red birds! I never thought of them! He's red and she's gray--and now I want to be knowing, are they all different? Why no! Of course, they ain't! There's the jays all blue, and the crows all black."
The tide of Freckles' discontent welled until he almost choked with anger and chagrin. He plodded down the trail, scowling blackly and viciously spanging the wire. At the finches' nest he left the line and peered into the thorn tree. There was no bird brooding. He pressed closer to take a peep at the snowy, spotless little eggs he had found so beautiful, when at the slight noise up raised four tiny baby heads with wide-open mouths, uttering hunger cries. Freckles stepped back. The brown bird alighted on the edge and closed one cavity with a wiggling green worm, while not two minutes later the blue filled another with a white. That settled it. The blue and brown were mates. Once again Freckles repeated his "How I wish I knew!"
Around the bridge spanning Sleepy Snake Creek the swale spread widely, the timber was scattering, and willows, rushes, marsh- grass, and splendid wild flowers grew abundantly. Here lazy, big, black water snakes, for which the creek was named, sunned on the bushes, wild ducks and grebe chattered, cranes and herons fished, and muskrats plowed the bank in queer, rolling furrows. It was always a place full of interest, so Freckles loved to linger on the bridge, watching the marsh and water people. He also transacted affairs of importance with the wild flowers and sweet marsh-grass. He enjoyed splashing through the shallow pools on either side of the bridge.
Then, too, where the creek entered the swamp was a place of unusual beauty. The water spread in darksome, mossy, green pools. Water-plants and lilies grew luxuriantly, throwing up large, rank, green leaves. Nowhere else in the Limberlost could be found frog-music to equal that of the mouth of the creek. The drumming and piping rolled in never-ending orchestral effect, while the full chorus rang to its accompaniment throughout the season.
Freckles slowly followed the path leading from the bridge to the line. It was the one spot at which he might relax his vigilance. The boldest timber thief the swamp ever had known would not have attempted to enter it by the mouth of the creek, on account of the water and because there was no protection from surrounding trees. He was bending the rank grass with his cudgel, and thinking of the shade the denser swamp afforded, when he suddenly dodged sidewise; the cudgel whistled sharply through the air and Freckles sprang back.
From the clear sky above him, first level with his face, then skimming, dipping, tilting, whirling until it struck, quill down, in the path in front of him, came a glossy, iridescent, big black feather. As it touched the ground, Freckles snatched it up with almost a continuous movement facing the sky. There was not a tree of any size in a large open space. There was no wind to carry it. From the clear sky it had fallen, and Freckles, gazing eagerly into the arch of June blue with a few lazy clouds floating high in the sea of ether, had neither mind nor knowledge to dream of a bird hanging as if frozen there. He turned the big quill questioningly, and again his awed eyes swept the sky.
"A feather dropped from Heaven!" he breathed reverently. "Are the holy angels moulting? But no; if they were, it would be white. Maybe all the angels are not for being white. What if the angels of God are white and those of the devil are black? But a black one has no business up there. Maybe some poor black angel is so tired of being punished it's for slipping to the gates, beating its wings trying to make the Master hear!"
Again and again Freckles searched the sky, but there was no answering gleam of golden gates, no form of sailing bird; then he went slowly on his way, turning the feather and wondering about it. It was a wing quill, eighteen inches in length, with a heavy spine, gray at the base, shading to jet black at the tip, and it caught the play of the sun's rays in slanting gleams of green and bronze. Again Freckles' "old man of the sea" sat sullen and heavy on his shoulders and weighted him down until his step lagged and his heart ached.
"Where did it come from? What is it? Oh, how I wish I knew!" he kept repeating as he turned and studied the feather, with almost unseeing eyes, so intently was he thinking.
Before him spread a large, green pool, filled with rotting logs and leaves, bordered with delicate ferns and grasses among which lifted the creamy spikes of the arrow-head, the blue of water-hyacinth, and the delicate yellow of the jewel-flower. As Freckles leaned, handling the feather and staring at it, then into the depths of the pool, he once more gave voice to his old query: "I wonder what it is!"
Straight across from him, couched in the mosses of a soggy old log, a big green bullfrog, with palpitant throat and batting eyes, lifted his head and bellowed in answer. "Fin' dout! Fin' dout!"
"Wha--what's that?" stammered Freckles, almost too much bewildered to speak. "I--I know you are only a bullfrog, but, be jabbers, that sounded mightily like speech. Wouldn't you please to be saying it over?"
The bullfrog cuddled contentedly in the ooze. Then suddenly he lifted his voice, and, as an imperative drumbeat, rolled it again: "Fin' dout! Fin' dout! Fin dout!"
Freckles had the answer. Something seemed to snap in his brain. There was a wavering flame before his eyes. Then his mind cleared. His head lifted in a new poise, his shoulders squared, while his spine straightened. The agony was over. His soul floated free. Freckles came into his birthright.
"Before God, I will!" He uttered the oath so impressively that the recording angel never winced as he posted it in the prayer column.
Freckles set his hat over the top of one of the locust posts used between trees to hold up the wire while he fastened the feather securely in the band. Then he started down the line, talking to himself as men who have worked long alone always fall into the habit of doing.
"What a fool I have been!" he muttered. "Of course that's what I have to do! There wouldn't likely anybody be doing it for me. Of course I can! What am I a man for? If I was a four-footed thing of the swamp, maybe I couldn't; but a man can do anything if he's the grit to work hard enough and stick at it, Mr. McLean is always saying, and here's the way I am to do it. He said, too, that there were people that knew everything in the swamp. Of course they have written books! The thing for me to be doing is to quit moping and be buying some. Never bought a book in me life, or anything else of much account, for that matter. Oh, ain't I glad I didn't waste me money! I'll surely be having enough to get a few. Let me see."
Freckles sat on a log, took his pencil and account-book, and figured on a back page. He had walked the timber-line ten months. His pay was thirty dollars a month, and his board cost him eight. That left twenty-two dollars a month, and his clothing had cost him very little. At the least he had two hundred dollars in the bank. He drew a deep breath and smiled at the sky with satisfaction.
"I'll be having a book about all the birds, trees, flowers, butterflies, and----Yes, by gummy! I'll be having one about the frogs--if it takes every cent I have," he promised himself.
He put away the account-book, that was his most cherished possession, caught up his stick, and started down the line. The even tap, tap, and the cheery, gladsome whistle carried far ahead of him the message that Freckles was himself again.
He fell into a rapid pace, for he had lost time that morning; when he rounded the last curve he was almost running. There was a chance that the Boss might be there for his weekly report.
Then, wavering, flickering, darting here and there over the sweet marsh-grass, came a large black shadow, sweeping so closely before him that for the second time that morning Freckles dodged and sprang back. He had seen some owls and hawks of the swamp that he thought might be classed as large birds, but never anything like this, for six feet it spread its big, shining wings. Its strong feet could be seen drawn among its feathers. The sun glinted on its sharp, hooked beak. Its eyes glowed, caught the light, and seemed able to pierce the ground at his feet. It cared no more for Freckles than if he had not been there; for it perched on a low tree, while a second later it awkwardly hopped to the trunk of a lightning-riven elm, turned its back, and began searching the blue.
Freckles looked just in time to see a second shadow sweep the grass; and another bird, a trifle smaller and not quite so brilliant in the light, slowly sailed down to perch beside the first. Evidently they were mates, for with a queer, rolling hop the first-comer shivered his bronze wings, sidled to the new arrival, and gave her a silly little peck on her wing. Then he coquettishly drew away and ogled her. He lifted his head, waddled from her a few steps, awkwardly ambled back, and gave her such a simple sort of kiss on her beak that Freckles burst into a laugh, but clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle the sound.
The lover ducked and side-stepped a few feet. He spread his wings and slowly and softly waved them precisely as if he were fanning his charmer, which was indeed the result he accomplished. Then a wave of uncontrollable tenderness moved him so he hobbled to his bombardment once more. He faced her squarely this time, and turned his head from side to side with queer little jerks and indiscriminate peckings at her wings and head, and smirkings that really should have been irresistible. She yawned and shuffled away indifferently. Freckles reached up, pulled the quill from his hat, and looking from it to the birds, nodded in settled conviction.
"So you're me black angels, ye spalpeens! No wonder you didn't get in! But I'll back you to come closer it than any other birds ever did. You fly higher than I can see. Have you picked the Limberlost for a good thing and come to try it? Well, you can be me chickens if you want to, but I'm blest if you ain't cool for new ones. Why don't you take this stick for a gun and go skinning a mile?"
Freckles broke into an unrestrained laugh, for the bird-lover was keen about his courting, while evidently his mate was diffident. When he approached too boisterously, she relieved him of a goodly tuft of feathers and sent him backward in a series of squirmy little jumps that gave the boy an idea of what had happened up-sky to send the falling feather across his pathway.
"Score one for the lady! I'll be umpiring this," volunteered Freckles.
With a ravishing swagger, half-lifted wings, and deep, guttural hissing, the lover approached again. He suddenly lifted his body, but she coolly rocked forward on the limb, glided gracefully beneath him, and slowly sailed into the Limberlost. He recovered himself and gazed after her in astonishment.
Freckles hurried down the trail, shaking with laughter. When he neared the path to the clearing and saw the Boss sitting motionless on the mare that was the pride of his heart, the boy broke into a run.
"Oh, Mr. McLean!" he cried. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting very long! And the sun is getting hot! I have been so slow this morning! I could have gone faster, only there were that many things to keep me, and I didn't know you would be here. I'll hurry after this. I've never had to be giving excuses before. The line wasn't down, and there wasn't a sign of trouble; it was other things that were making me late."
McLean, smiling on the boy, immediately noticed the difference in him. This flushed, panting, talkative lad was not the same creature who had sought him in despair and bitterness. He watched in wonder as Freckles mopped the perspiration from his forehead and began to laugh. Then, forgetting all his customary reserve with the Boss, the pent-up boyishness in the lad broke forth. With an eloquence of which he never dreamed he told his story. He talked with such enthusiasm that McLean never took his eyes from his face or shifted in the saddle until he described the strange bird-lover, and then the Boss suddenly bent over the pommel and laughed with the boy.
Freckles decorated his story with keen appreciation and rare touches of Irish wit and drollery that made it most interesting as well as very funny. It was a first attempt at descriptive narration. With an inborn gift for striking the vital point, a naturalist's dawning enthusiasm for the wonders of the Limberlost, and the welling joy of his newly found happiness, he made McLean see the struggles of the moth and its freshly painted wings, the dainty, brilliant bird-mates of different colors, the feather sliding through the clear air, the palpitant throat and batting eyes of the frog; while his version of the big bird's courtship won for the Boss the best laugh he had enjoyed for years.
"They're in the middle of a swamp now" said Freckles. "Do you suppose there is any chance of them staying with me chickens? If they do, they'll be about the queerest I have; but I tell you, sir, I am finding some plum good ones. There's a new kind over at the mouth of the creek that uses its wings like feet and walks on all fours. It travels like a thrashing machine. There's another, tall as me waist, with a bill a foot long, a neck near two, not the thickness of me wrist and an elegant color. He's some blue and gray, touched up with black, white, and brown. The voice of him is such that if he'd be going up and standing beside a tree and crying at it a few times he could be sawing it square off. I don't know but it would be a good idea to try him on the gang, sir."
McLean laughed. "Those must be blue herons, Freckles," he said. "And it doesn't seem possible, but your description of the big black birds sounds like genuine black vultures. They are common enough in the South. I've seen them numerous around the lumber camps of Georgia, but I never before heard of any this far north. They must be strays. You have described perfectly our nearest equivalent to a branch of these birds called in Europe Pharaoh's Chickens, but if they are coming to the Limberlost they will have to drop Pharaoh and become Freckles' Chickens, like the remainder of the birds; won't they? Or are they too odd and ugly to interest you?"
"Oh, not at all, at all!" cried Freckles, bursting into pure brogue in his haste. "I don't know as I'd be calling them exactly pretty, and they do move like a rocking-horse loping, but they are so big and fearless. They have a fine color for black birds, and their feet and beaks seem so strong. You never saw anything so keen as their eyes! And fly? Why, just think, sir, they must be flying miles straight up, for they were out of sight completely when the feather fell. I don't suppose I've a chicken in the swamp that can go as close heaven as those big, black fellows, and then----"
Freckles' voice dragged and he hesitated.
"Then what?" interestedly urged McLean.
"He was loving her so," answered Freckles in a hushed voice. "I know it looked awful funny, and I laughed and told on him, but if I'd taken time to think I don't believe I'd have done it. You see, I've seen such a little bit of loving in me life. You easily can be understanding that at the Home it was every day the old story of neglect and desertion. Always people that didn't even care enough for their children to keep them, so you see, sir, I had to like him for trying so hard to make her know how he loved her. Of course, they're only birds, but if they are caring for each other like that, why, it's just the same as people, ain't it?"
Freckles lifted his brave, steady eyes to the Boss.
"If anybody loved me like that, Mr. McLean, I wouldn't be spending any time on how they looked or moved. All I'd be thinking of would be how they felt toward me. If they will stay, I'll be caring as much for them as any chickens I have. If I did laugh at them I thought he was just fine!"
The face of McLean was a study; but the honest eyes of the boy were so compelling that he found himself answering: "You are right, Freckles. He's a gentleman, isn't he? And the only real chicken you have. Of course he'll remain! The Limberlost will be paradise for his family. And now, Freckles, what has been the trouble all spring? You have done your work as faithfully as anyone could ask, but I can't help seeing that there is something wrong. Are you tired of your job?"
"I love it," answered Freckles. "It will almost break me heart when the gang comes and begins tearing up the swamp and scaring away me chickens."
"Then what is the trouble?" insisted McLean.
"I think, sir, it's been books," answered Freckles. "You see, I didn't realize it meself until the bullfrog told me this morning. I hadn't ever even heard about a place like this. Anyway, I wasn't understanding how it would be, if I had. Being among these beautiful things every day, I got so anxious like to be knowing and naming them, that it got to eating into me and went and made me near sick, when I was well as I could be. Of course, I learned to read, write, and figure some at school, but there was nothing there, or in any of the city that I ever got to see, that would make a fellow even be dreaming of such interesting things as there are here. I've seen the parks--but good Lord, they ain't even beginning to be in it with the Limberlost! It's all new and strange to me. I don't know a thing about any of it. The bullfrog told me to `find out,' plain as day, and books are the only way; ain't they?"
"Of course," said McLean, astonished at himself for his heartfelt relief. He had not guessed until that minute what it would have meant to him to have Freckles give up. "You know enough to study out what you want yourself, if you have the books; don't you?"
"I am pretty sure I do," said Freckles. "I learned all I'd the chance at in the Home, and me schooling was good as far as it went. Wouldn't let you go past fourteen, you know. I always did me sums perfect, and loved me history books. I had them almost by heart. I never could get me grammar to suit them. They said it was just born in me to go wrong talking, and if it hadn't been I suppose I would have picked it up from the other children; but I'd the best voice of any of them in the Home or at school. I could knock them all out singing. I was always leader in the Home, and once one of the superintendents gave me carfare and let me go into the city and sing in a boys' choir. The master said I'd the swatest voice of them all until it got rough like, and then he made me quit for awhile, but he said it would be coming back by now, and I'm railly thinking it is, sir, for I've tried on the line a bit of late and it seems to go smooth again and lots stronger. That and me chickens have been all the company I've been having, and it will be all I'll want if I can have some books and learn the real names of things, where they come from, and why they do such interesting things. It's been fretting me more than I knew to be shut up here among all these wonders and not knowing a thing. I wanted to ask you what some books would cost me, and if you'd be having the goodness to get me the right ones. I think I have enough money"
Freckles offered his account-book and the Boss studied it gravely.
"You needn't touch your account, Freckles," he said. "Ten dollars from this month's pay will provide you everything you need to start on. I will write a friend in Grand Rapids today to select you the very best and send them at once."
Freckles' eyes were shining.
"Never owned a book in me life!" he said. "Even me schoolbooks were never mine. Lord! How I used to wish I could have just one of them for me very own! Won't it be fun to see me sawbird and me little yellow fellow looking at me from the pages of a book, and their real names and all about them printed alongside? How long will it be taking, sir?"
"Ten days should do it nicely," said McLean. Then, seeing Freckles' lengthening face, he added: "I'll have Duncan bring you a ten-bushel store-box the next time he goes to town. He can haul it to the west entrance and set it up wherever you want it. You can put in your spare time filling it with the specimens you find until the books come, and then you can study out what you have. I suspect you could collect specimens that I could send to naturalists in the city and sell for you; things like that winged creature, this morning. I don't know much in that line, but it must have been a moth, and it might have been rare. I've seen them by the thousand in museums, and in all nature I don't remember rarer coloring than their wings. I'll order you a butterfly-net and box and show you how scientists pin specimens. Possibly you can make a fine collection of these swamp beauties. It will be all right for you to take a pair of different moths and butterflies, but I don't want to hear of your killing any birds. They are protected by heavy fines."
McLean rode away leaving Freckles staring aghast. Then he saw the point and smiled. Standing on the trail, he twirled the feather and thought over the morning.
"Well, if life ain't getting to be worth living!" he said wonderingly. "Biggest streak of luck I ever had! `Bout time something was coming my way, but I wouldn't ever thought anybody could strike such magnificent prospects through only a falling feather."