On the trail the Bird Woman wheeled to McLean with a dumbfounded look.
"God!" muttered he.
At last the Bird Woman spoke.
"Do you think the Angel knew she did that?" she asked softly.
"No," said McLean; "I do not. But the poor boy knew it. Heaven help him!"
The Bird Woman stared across the gently waving swale. "I don't see how I am going to blame her," she said at last. "It's so exactly what I would have done myself."
"Say the remainder," demanded McLean hoarsely. "Do him justice."
"He was born a gentleman," conceded the Bird Woman. "He took no advantage. He never even offered to touch her. Whatever that kiss meant to him, he recognized that it was the loving impulse of a child under stress of strong emotion. He was fine and manly as any man ever could have been."
Author: Gene Stratton-Porter
From Goodreads: In this book a homeless waif finds his deliverance in the primeval Limberlost swamp. Maimed and abandoned as an infant, Freckles seeks a chance to prove his worth. He is given that opportunity as the guard of the precious timber of the Limberlost. In his stewardship of the woods, he finds happiness in the companionship of the birds and other wild creatures and in the love of the beautiful Swamp Angel. This moving story of courage and virtue will warm the hearts of young and old.
Notes: Stratton-Porter was a naturalist and wildlife photographer in the Limberlost area of Indiana, where both this book and its companion novel, Girl of the Limberlost, are set. Her obvious knowledge of and love for the territory and its native creatures give life to these two books, and it seems likely that the unnamed Bird Woman is based to some extent on herself.
I read the later-written, later-set Girl of the Limberlost first, and by my judgment it's a better novel—more cohesive and marginally less sentimental—but I was curious about the characters of Freckles and the Swamp Angel, who make a brief appearance in GotL, so I was thrilled to find this book available on Kindle. Fortunately for me, I can handle sentiment with comparative ease; it's the book's worst failing, on technical grounds at least, but Stratton-Porter's hyperdramatic sensibility is also responsible for some rather beautiful little moments.
The orphaned and handicapped title character, for instance, is friendly with birds and beasts and humans alike, has an exquisite singing voice, and is utterly, lovably heroic. He's perhaps a little too good to be true, but then, this is a romantic story, and a little bit of larger-than-life virtue is called for. To those of us who would rather spend our reading hours with a pure-hearted hero than one of the Byronic or anti-heroic sort, there's not a fault to be found with the gentle, passionate, artistic youngster.
The Angel is cut from the same piece of cloth (which fabric is, in both cases, likely to prove either extremely chafing or extremely warming). Sixteen years old, flawlessly beautiful, and as innocent and sweet as the little birds Freckles feeds, she's also handy with a revolver, cool-headed enough to flirt with a hardened criminal in life-threatening circumstances, and unbeatable at mixing drinks. I'd have envied her to hatred if I hadn't loved her so much; for me, it was just a delight to get to know the motherly society queen Elnora meets in GotL.
Some of the book's ideas and ideals are incomprehensible in today's world, but the depiction of an artistic soul's adoration of natural beauty is timeless. It's this, along with the characters' open-hearted compassion and quickness of love, that make for the best scenes in the novel. Those features, together with the naturalist's descriptions of a historical ecosystem (which is now undergoing partial restoration), make the novel itself worth reading, sentiment and all.