Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
"Freckles" is a pretty traditional coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Limberlost swamp in Indiana. Stratton-Porter lived in the Limberlost for years and only left the Limberlost when they began to drain the swamp in order to turn it into farmland.
As the book opens, "Freckles" is the only name our protagonist will own. He was raised in an orphanage in Chicago and never found an adoptive family because he is missing his right hand, despite being otherwise healthy. After he aged out of the system, he was given a job, from which he ran away. He ends up in the Limberlost and is hired by a Mr. McLean, who has purchased some of the land and is felling the trees for lumber. Freckles is given the job of walking the perimeter of McLean's property to prevent people from stealing the trees. For purposes of adding Freckles to the payroll, Mr. McLean, who took to Freckles immediately, gives Freckles his father's name, James Ross McLean. He even tells people that Freckles is his son.
I love people who insist that things are so much more dangerous now than they were "back in the day." We just hear more about it than we did back then. Note that Freckles has been given the job of keeping people from *stealing trees*. Granted, these were birdseye maple trees (birdseye maple wood was highly sought-after during the era when "Freckles" was written and is still pretty expensive), but still. Stealing trees?!? You've heard the term, "stealing anything that's not nailed down," but apparently the nailed-down nature of trees was not a deterrent. And we find out in this book that when someone sets out to steal a tree, they mean business.
Freckles was a city boy, so his first few days in the Limberlost are terrifying. The animals, the plants, the noises of the animals rustling through the plants. It is all very frightening for a young man whose only experience of nature was the playground at the orphanage and the neighborhood park.
But soon he begins to see the beauty of the Limberlost, and by that first winter, he starts to love it. He brings food to the nonmigratory birds who winter in the swamp, comparing them to the chickens that Mrs. Duncan, his landlady, keeps at their cottage.
And then, one day, he meets a pair of black vultures. As he grew up in the city, he doesn't know what vultures are, so he doesn't think of them as unclean. He falls in love with them. And in due time, the female lays two eggs. When the first egg hatches, Mr. McLean decides that the Bird Woman, a nature photographer who lives nearby, would like to take photographs of the chick.
And through the Bird Woman, he meets the Swamp Angel.
One of the motivating forces for the rest of the book is Freckles's love for the Angel, even though she comes from a wealthy family and he knows he -- a one-handed, nameless orphan -- can never have her.
At least this is what he thinks. The Angel loves him, too. And she's one determined lady.
One of the book covers I have seen for "Freckles," though not the current one, thank goodness, has a freckle-faced girl on it. And, of course, the freckles in question belong to a boy. This does make me wonder if this book would sell well to boys if it had a boy on the cover. It's kind of romance-y, but has lots of nature and the whole tree-theft plot, which gets pretty hairy there for a while for our hero.