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"In the 1950s, a young hobo, who lost his left hand as a child, arrives at John McLean's lumber camp, in the Limberlost country of Indiana, looking for work. After Duncan, John's foreman, shows the lad around and tells him about the troubles they have been having with a gang of timber thieves headed by Jack Barbeau, the young man begs John for a job as a guard, even though the work will require long periods of isolation in a small, remote cabin. John reluctantly agrees to give the youngster, who asks to be called Freckles, a chance. Freckles adapts quickly to the work and patrols a large area of the forest on horseback, armed with a rifle. Although John is concerned that he knows nothing of Freckles' background, Duncan assures him that he is doing a good job. One day, Freckles comes across a New York magazine editor, Alice Cooper, who is photographing birds. Alice asks Freckles to keep an eye on her niece, Chris, who lives in the area. Meanwhile, Chris hurts her ankle in a fall and is helped by a fisherman. When Freckles finds them, he tells the man that he is on private property and must leave. Freckles then returns Chris to her aunt and is surprised when she tells Alice that the fisherman was Barbeau. Later, Wessner, one of John's crew who is secretly in Barbeau's employ, comes to Freckles' cabin and attempts to bribe him to turn a blind eye to Barbeau's tree cutting, but Freckles refuses and they become involved in a fistfight that Freckles wins. John, who has witnessed the confrontation from inside the cabin, is pleased with Freckles' behavior and assures him that he will always have a job. Freckles then tells John that he learned to fight in a Chicago street gang. As the days pass, Freckles and Chris get to know each other. While patrolling one day, Freckles is surprised by Barbeau, who tells him that he is working for the wrong side. Barbeau claims that his family was liviing in the woods long before John arrived and that they only cut what they needed, while John devastates entire areas. When Freckles discusses this with Duncan, the foreman tells him not to be taken in by Barbeau's story. The next day, Freckles learns from Alice that Chris's parents intend to send her to college and that she will be leaving soon. Freckles hitches a ride into town to see her, meets her father, a friend of John, and learns that John intends to promote him to a clerk's job at the mill. Freckles and Chris have fallen in love and argue about their future together as he is convinced that college will change her. Freckles then breaks off the conversation and walks away angrily. Back in the forest, Freckles discovers that Barbeau and his crew, which now includes Wessner, are cutting prime trees and rides to the mill for help. By the time John and his men return however, Barbeau and his crew have gone. The next day, Barbeau's crew returns and Freckles fires warning shots to drive them off. When Chris comes to talk with Freckles, he sends her to bring John and the others. Barbeau then chases Freckles, catches him and draws his gun. Freckles moves to defend himself and is shot by Barbeau, but manages to return fire. Barbeau runs off as John's men arrive at the thieves's work site and a gunfight erupts, during which Duncan shoots Wessner and the others surrender. Meanwhile, John and Chris locate Freckles, who has lost a lot of blood from his shoulder wound. A week later, Freckles has recovered and Barbeau is still missing. While riding with Chris, Freckles tells her about his past, that he has no family and does not know his real name. He relates that when he was a baby, his parents were killed and his hand severely burned in a Chicago hotel fire. After his parents' deaths, he was sent to live in a county home. After Chris tells him that he has nothing to be ashamed of and that none of it matters to her, they kiss. As they head back to the cabin, John rides up and they see a wisp of smoke in the Limberlost. Chris returns to the cabin while Freckles and John investigate. As they near the smoke, the brush is too thick for horses, so they proceed on foot and discover Barbeau lying dead against a tree beside a small campfire, the victim of Freckles' bullet. When Freckles feels guilt for Barbeau's death, John tells him that it was the Limberlost that killed him. Later, as Duncan helps Freckles to move from his cabin to the mill job, Freckles finds Chris, who has decided not to leave, and they embrace"--AFI catalog, 1951-1960.
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- 20th century
- American fiction
- Lumber trade
- Orphans in fiction
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