|Illustrator||E. Stetson Crawford|
|Publisher||Grosset & Dunlap|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Freckles is a novel written by the American writer and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter. It is primarily set in the Limberlost Swamp area of Indiana, with brief scenes set in Chicago. The title character also appears briefly in Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost.
The hero is an adult orphan, just under twenty years of age, with bright red hair and a freckled complexion. His right hand is missing at the wrist, and has been since before he can remember. Raised since infancy in a Chicago orphanage, he speaks with a slight Irish accent, "scarcely definite enough to be called a brogue." Exhausted after days of walking, he applies for a job with the Grand Rapids lumber company, guarding timber in the Limberlost Swamp. The lumber company field manager, McLean, is impressed by the boy's polite assertiveness and hires him despite his youth and disability. He gives his name only as "Freckles", insisting that he has no name of his own. He claims the name given him in the orphanage (which we never learn) "is no more my name than it is yours". So that he has a name to put down on the books, McLean gives Freckles the name of his own father, James Ross McLean. Freckles' duty is to twice a day walk the perimeter of the lumber company's land, a seven-mile trek through lonely swampland, and to be on the watch for those who aim to steal the expensive timber. McLean's chief worry is Black Jack Carter, who has sworn to smuggle several priceless trees out of the swamp. Freckles' weapons are limited to a revolver and a stout stick, which he carries at all times and uses to test to wire that marks the company's boundaries. At night Freckles boards with Duncan, head teamster for the lumber company, and Duncan's wife, who becomes a mother figure to Freckles.
Initially terrified of the wilderness after a lifetime in an urban environment, Freckles first conquers his fears and then develops an interest in the wildlife of the swamp. He is touched by the beauty he sees, and his frustration and curiosity leads him to purchase several books on natural history, and look upon the creatures of the swamp as his friends. He creates a "room" in the swamp, where he has transplanted the most unique plant specimens he can find. After a year in the swamp, his hard work and faithfulness lead McLean to offer a thousand dollars to anyone who can show him a cut stump from a tree stolen under Freckles’ watch. Freckles gets an opportunity to prove his capabilities as a guard when Wessner, a recently fired lumberman, comes upon Freckles on his rounds and offers him five hundred dollars to look the other way while Black Jack’s gang of thieves steals several prime trees. After initially playing dumb to gain information, Freckles puts his gun and stick aside and fights Wessner using only his one fist. He wins, and drives Wessner from the swamp.
The next day, while he is reading in his room in the swamp, a lovely and wealthy girl about sixteen years of age appears. Freckles instantly falls in love with her for both her beauty and her bravery, as she is not bothered by the thought of rattlesnakes and the other deadly creatures of the swamp. The girl's name is never given, but she has come to the swamp with a local photographer known as the Bird Woman and has become lost. Freckles conducts her back to her carriage, and names her "the Swamp Angel." In the days that follow, the Bird Woman comes to the swamp repeatedly to take photographs while Freckles sings for the Swamp Angel and shows her the wonders of the swamp. One day the Bird Woman spots two men in the process of sawing down a tree. Although Freckles' first instinct is to protect the women, the Bird Woman and the Swamp Angel join him with revolvers of their own, and under the cover of the swamp all three drive off the thieves. Her skill with a gun gives Freckles further reason to love the Swamp Angel. The next day he returns the Swamp Angel's hat to her father at work, rather than going to her home, and this gentlemanly behavior makes a positive impression. Meanwhile, Freckles continues to secretly worship the Swamp Angel, while believing her to be far above him in social class and out of his reach.
Freckles is granted a second revolver and the use of a bicycle, so that if thieves should reappear he can alert the camp swiftly. In spite of these precautions, Black Jack manages to capture Freckles, and ties him to a tree while the rest of the thieves cut down several trees. When they finish, Freckles is to be left for Wessner to kill personally, and his body will be hidden so that it will look like he joined the thieves, killing his reputation as well. However, the Swamp Angel finds them, pretends to think they are on official camp business, flirts with Black Jack to make him trust her, and rides off on Freckles’ bicycle to bring the rest of the camp to his aid. When she returns with reinforcements, she finds that the Bird Woman has freed Freckles and shot Black Jack in the arm. The fallen logs are recovered and the thieves captured, except for Black Jack who swears vengeance on Freckles, the Bird Woman, and the Swamp Angel, and escapes into the swamp.
For a week, Freckles pushes himself to the point of exhaustion by guarding the trees during the day and the home of the Swamp Angel at night. Finally, it is discovered the Black Jack was killed by the creatures of the swamp, and Freckles is able to relax his watch. He and the Swamp Angel find several trees that Black Jack had marked, but when the last one is felled it nearly crushes the Swamp Angel. Freckles rushes toward her and pushes her out of danger, but the blow from the tree falls on him instead, and smashes almost all the bones in his chest. The Swamp Angel and her father rush him to the finest hospital in Chicago, but Freckles’ belief that the Swamp Angel deserves a better husband causes him almost to lose the will to live. He fears that he is descended from criminals, who abused their baby and cut off his hand intentionally. The Swamp Angel declares her love for Freckles, and promises that she will find his parents and prove that they were respectable people. Her inquiries at his former orphanage lead her to Lord and Lady O’More, Irish nobility who have been searching Chicago for Lord O’More’s lost nephew. They prove themselves to be kind and noble, and explain that Freckles’ father had been disinherited when he married a clergyman’s daughter, and both had perished in the fire that took his hand. Freckles’ true name is Terence Maxwell O’More of Dunderry House in County Clare. The virtue of his parents proven, Freckles revives and becomes engaged to marry the Swamp Angel. With the help of McLean, whom he still regards as a foster father, Freckles plans out what the next few years will hold. Rather than go to Ireland and live as a lord, he will go to college in the United States and then join McLean in managing the lumber company, so that he can always be near the Limberlost.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- 1917 (starring Jack Pickford as Freckles)
- 1928 (starring Johnny Fox as Freckles)
- 1935 (starring Tom Brown as Freckles)
- 1960 (starring Martin West as Freckles)