“There is something weird about this whole proceeding,”
I observed to the pretty stenographer next morning.
“These pies will be weird if you don’t stop talking to me,” she said, opening
the doors of Professor Farrago’s portable camping-oven and peeping in at
the fragrant pastry.
The professor had gone off somewhere into the woods early that morning.
As he was not in the habit of talking to himself, the services of Miss
Barrison were not required. Before he started, however, he came to her
with a request for a dozen pies, the construction of which he asked if
she understood. She had been to cooking-school in more prosperous days,
and she mentioned it; so at his earnest solicitation she undertook to bake
for him twelve apple-pies; and she was now attempting it, assisted by advice
“Are they burned?” I asked, sniffing the air.
“No, they are not burned, Mr. Gilland, but my finger is,” she retorted,
stepping back to examine the damage.
I offered sympathy and witch-hazel, but she would have none of my offerings,
and presently returned to her pies.
“We can’t eat all that pastry,” I protested.
“Professor Farrago said they were not for us to eat,” she said, dusting
each pie with powdered sugar.
“Well, what are they for? The dog? Or are they simply objets d’art to adorn
“You annoy me,” she said.
“The pies annoy me; won’t you tell me what they’re for?”
“I have a pretty fair idea what they’re for,” she observed, tossing her
“These pies are for bait.”
“To bait hooks with?” I exclaimed.
“Hooks! No, you silly man. They’re for baiting the cage. He means to trap
these transparent creatures in a cage baited with pie.”
She laughed scornfully; inserted the burned tip of her finger in her mouth
and stood looking at me defiantly like a flushed and bright-eyed school-girl.
“You think you’re teasing me,” she said; “but you do not realize what a
singularly slow-minded young man you are. “
I stopped laughing. “How did you come to the conclusion that pies were
to be used for such a purpose?” I asked.
“I deduce,” she observed, with an airy wave of her disengaged hand.
“Your deductions are weird—like everything else in this vicinity. Pies
to catch invisible monsters? Pooh!”
“You’re not particularly complimentary, are you?” she said.
“Not particularly; but I could be, with you for my inspiration. I could
even be enthusiastic—”
“About my pies?”
“No—about your eyes.”
“You are very frivolous—for a scientist,” she said, scornfully; “please
subdue your enthusiasm and bring me some wood. This fire is almost out.”
When I had brought the wood, she presented me with a pail of hot water
and pointed at the dishes on the breakfast-table.
“Never!” I cried, revolted.
“Then I suppose I must do them—”
She looked pensively at her scorched finger-tip, and, pursing up her red
lips, blew a gentle breath to cool it.
“I’ll do the dishes,” I said.
Splashing and slushing the cups and saucers about in the hot water, I reflected
upon the events of the last few days. The dog, stupefied by unwonted abundance
of food, lay in the sunshine, sleeping the sleep of repletion; the pretty
stenographer, all rosy from her culinary exertions, was removing the pies
and setting them in neat rows to cool.
“There,” she said, with a sigh; “now I will dry the dishes for you....
You didn’t mention the fact, when you engaged me, that I was also expected
to do general housework.”
“I didn’t engage you,” I said, maliciously; “you engaged me, you know.”
She regarded me disdainfully, nose uptilted.
“How thoroughly disagreeable you can be!” she said. “Dry your own dishes.
I’m going for a stroll.”
“May I join—”
“You may not! I shall go so far that you cannot possibly discover me.”
I watched her forestward progress; she sauntered for about thirty yards
along the lake and presently sat down in plain sight under a huge live-oak.
A few moments later I had completed my task as general bottle-washer, and
I cast about for something to occupy me.
First I approached and politely caressed the satiated dog. He woke up,
regarded me with dully meditative eyes, yawned, and went to sleep again.
Never a flop of tail to indicate gratitude for blandishments, never the
faintest symptom of canine appreciation.
Chilled by my reception, I moused about for a while, poking into boxes
and bundles; then raised my head and inspected the landscape. Through the
vista of trees the pink shirt-waist of the pretty stenographer glimmered
like a rose blooming in the wilderness.
From whatever point I viewed the prospect that pink spot seemed to intrude;
I turned my back and examined the jungle, but there it was repeated in
a hundred pink blossoms among the massed thickets; I looked up into the
tree-tops, where pink mosses spotted the palms; I looked out over the lake,
and I saw it in my mind’s eye pinker than ever. It was certainly a case
“I’ll go for a stroll, too; it’s a free country,” I muttered.
After I had strolled in a complete circle I found myself within three feet
of a pink shirt-waist.
“I beg your pardon,” I said; “I had no inten—”
“I thought you were never coming,” she said, amiably.
“How is your finger?” I asked.
She held it up. I took it gingerly; it was smooth and faintly rosy at the
“Does it hurt?” I inquired.
“Dreadfully. Your hands feel so cool—”
After a silence she said, “Thank you, that has cooled the burning.”
“I am determined,” said I, “to expel the fire from your finger if it takes
hours and hours.” And I seated myself with that intention.
For a while she talked, making innocent observations concerning the tropical
foliage surrounding us. Then silence crept in between us, accentuated by
the brooding stillness of the forest.
“I am afraid your hands are growing tired,” she said, considerately.
I denied it.
Through the vista of palms we could see the lake, blue as a violet, sparkling
with silvery sunshine. In the intense quiet the splash of leaping mullet
Once a tall crane stalked into view among the sedges; once an unseen alligator
shook the silence with his deep, hollow roaring. Then the stillness of
the wilderness grew more intense.
We had been sitting there for a long while without exchanging a word, dreamily
watching the ripple of the azure water, when all at once there came a scurrying
patter of feet through the forest, and, looking up, I beheld the hounddog,
tail between his legs, bearing down on us at lightning speed. I rose instantly.
“What is the matter with the dog?” cried the pretty stenographer. “Is he
going mad, Mr. Gilland?”
“Something has scared him,” I exclaimed, as the dog, eyes like lighted
candles, rushed frantically between my legs and buried his head in Miss
“Poor doggy!” she said, smoothing the collapsed pup; “poor, p-oor little
beast! Did anything scare him? Tell aunty all about it.”
When a dog flees without yelping he’s a badly frightened creature. I instinctively
started back towards the camp whence the beast had fled, and before I had
taken a dozen steps Miss Barrison was beside me, carrying the dog in her
“I’ve an idea,” she said, under her breath.
“What?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the camp.
“It’s this: I’ll wager that we find those pies gone!”
“Pies gone?” I repeated, perplexed; “what makes you think—”
“They are gone!” she exclaimed. “Look!”
I gaped stupidly at the rough pine table where the pies had stood in three
neat rows of four each. And then, in a moment, the purport of this robbery
flashed upon my senses.
“The transparent creatures!” I gasped.
“Hush!” she whispered, clinging to the trembling dog in her arms.
I listened. I could hear nothing, see nothing, yet slowly I became convinced
of the presence of something unseen—something in the forest close by, watching
us out of invisible eyes.
A chill, settling along my spine, crept upward to my scalp, until every
separate hair wiggled to the roots. Miss Barrison was pale, but perfectly
calm and self-possessed.
“Let us go in-doors,” I said, as steadily as I could.
“Very well,” she replied.
I held the door open; she entered with the dog; I followed, closing and
barring the door, and then took my station at the window, rifle in hand.
There was not a sound in the forest. Miss Barrison laid the dog on the
floor and quietly picked up her pad and pencil. Presently she was deep
in a report of the phenomena, her pencil flying, leaf after leaf from the
pad fluttering to the floor. Nor did I at the window change my position
of scared alertness, until I was aware of her hand gently touching my elbow
to attract my attention, and her soft voice at my ear—
“You don’t suppose by any chance that the dog ate those pies?”
I collected my tumultuous thoughts and turned to stare at the dog.
“Twelve pies, twelve inches each in diameter,” she reflected, musingly.
“One dog, twenty inches in diameter. How many times will the pies go into
the dog? Let me see. She made a few figures on her pad, thought awhile,
produced a tape-measure from her pocket, and, kneeling down, measured the
“No,” she said, looking up at me, “he couldn’t contain them.”
Inspired by her coolness and perfect composure, I set the rifle in the
corner and opened the door. Sunlight fell in bars through the quiet woods;
nothing stirred on land or water save the great, yellow-striped butterflies
that fluttered and soared and floated above the flowering thickets bordering
The heat became intense; Miss Barrison went to her room to change her gown
for a lighter one; I sat down under a live-oak, eyes and ears strained
for any sign of our invisible neighbors.
When she emerged in the lightest and filmiest of summer gowns, she brought
the camera with her; and for a while we took pictures of each other, until
we had used up all but one film.
Desiring to possess a picture of Miss Barrison and myself seated together,
I tied a string to the shutter-lever and attached the other end of the
string to the dog, who had resumed his interrupted slumbers. At my whistle
he jumped up nervously, snapping the lever, and the picture was taken.
With such innocent and harmless pastime we whiled away the afternoon.
She made twelve more apple-pies. I mounted guard over them. And we were
just beginning to feel a trifle uneasy about Professor Farrago, when he
appeared, tramping sturdily through the forest, green umbrella and butterfly-net
under one arm, shotgun and cyanide-jar under the other, and his breast
all criss-crossed with straps, from which dangled field-glasses, collecting-boxes,
and botanizingtins —an inspiring figure indeed—the embodied symbol of science
We hailed him with three guilty cheers; the dog woke up with a perfunctory
bark—the first sound I had heard from him since he yelped his disapproval
of me on the lagoon.
Miss Barrison produced three bowls full of boiling water and dropped three
pellets of concentrated soup-meat into them, while I prepared coffee. And
in a few moments our simple dinner was ready—the red ants had been dusted
from the biscuits, the spiders chased off the baked beans, the scorpions
shaken from the napkins, and we sat down at the rough, improvised table
under the palms.
The professor gave us a brief but modest account of his short tour of exploration.
He had brought back a new species of orchid, several undescribed beetles,
and a pocketful of coontie seed. He appeared, however, to be tired and
singularly depressed, and presently we learned why.
It seemed that he had gone straight to that section of the forest where
he had hitherto always found signs of the transparent and invisible creatures
which he had determined to capture, and he had not found a single trace
“It alarms me,” he said, gravely. “If they have deserted this region, it
might take a lifetime to locate them again in this wilderness.”
Then, very quietly, sinking her voice instinctively, as though the unseen
might be at our very elbows listening, Miss Barrison recounted the curious
adventure which had befallen the dog and the first batch of apple-pies.
With visible and increasing excitement the professor listened until the
very end. Then he struck the table with clinched fist—a resounding blow
which set the concentrated soup dancing in the bowls and scattered the
biscuits and the industrious red ants in every direction.
“Eureka!” he whispered. “Miss Barrison, your deduction was not only perfectly
reasonable, but brilliant. You are right; the pies are for that very purpose.
I conceived the idea when I first came here. Again and again the pies that
my guide made out of dried apples disappeared in a most astonishing and
mysterious manner when left to cool. At length I determined to watch them
every second; and did so, with the result that late one afternoon I was
amazed to see a pie slowly rise from the table and move swiftly away through
the air about four feet above the ground, finally disappearing into a tangle
of jasmine and grape-vine.
“The apparently automatic flight of that pie solved the problem; these
transparent creatures cannot resist that delicacy. Therefore I decided
to bait the cage for them this very night—Look! What’s the matter with
The dog suddenly bounded into the air, alighted on all fours, ears, eyes,
and muzzle concentrated on a point directly behind us.
“Good gracious! The pies!” faltered Miss Barrison, half rising from her
seat; but the dog rushed madly into her skirts, scrambling for protection,
and she fell back almost into my arms.
Clasping her tightly, I looked over my shoulder; the last pie was snatched
from the table before my eyes and I saw it borne swiftly away by something
unseen, straight into the deepening shadows of the forest.
The professor was singularly calm, even slightly ironical, as he turned
to me, saying:
“Perhaps if you relinquish Miss Barrison she may be able to free herself
from that dog.”
I did so immediately, and she deposited the cowering dog in my arms. Her
face had suddenly become pink.
I passed the dog on to Professor Farrago, dumping it viciously into his
lap— a proceeding which struck me as resembling a pastime of extreme youth
known as “button, button, who’s got the button?”
The professor examined the animal gravely, feeling its pulse, counting
its respirations, and finally inserting a tentative finger in an attempt
to examine its tongue. The dog bit him.
“Ouch! It’s a clear case of fright,” he said, gravely. “I wanted a dog
to aid me in trailing these remarkable creatures, but I think this dog
of yours is useless, Gilland.”
“It’s given us warning of the creatures’ presence twice already,” I argued.
“Poor little thing,” said Miss Barrison, softly; “I don’t know why, but
I love that dog.... He has eyes like yours, Mr. Gilland—”
Exasperated, I rose from the table. “He’s got eyes like holes burned in
a blanket!” I said. “And if ever a flicker of intelligence lighted them
I have failed to observe it.”
The professor regarded me dreamily. “We ought to have more pies,” he observed.
“Perhaps if you carried the oven into the shanty—”
“Certainly,” said Miss Barrison; “we can lock the door while I make twelve
I carried the portable camping-oven into the cabin, connected the patent
asbestos chimney-pipes, and lighted the fire. And in a few minutes Miss
Barrison, sleeves rolled up and pink apron pinned under her chin, was busily
engaged in rolling pie-crust, while Professor Farrago measured out spices
and set the dried apples to soak.
The swift Southern twilight had already veiled the forest as I stepped
out of the cabin to smoke a cigar and promenade a bit and cogitate. A last
trace of color lingering in the west faded out as I looked; the gray glimmer
deepened into darkness, through which the white lake vapors floated in
thin, wavering strata across the water.
For a while the frog’s symphony dominated all other sounds, then lagoon
and forest and cypress branch awoke; and through the steadily sustained
tumult of woodland voices I could hear the dry bark of the fox-squirrel,
the whistle of the raccoon, ducks softly quacking or whimpering as they
prepared for sleep among the reeds, the soft booming of bitterns, the clattering
gossip of the heronry, the Southern whippoorwill’s incessant call.
At regular intervals the howling note of a lone heron echoed the strident
screech of a crimson-crested crane; the horned owl’s savage hunting-cry
haunted the night, now near, now floating from infinite distances. And
after a while I became aware of a nearer sound, low-pitched but ceaseless—the
hum of thousands of lesser living creatures blending to a steady monotone.
Then the theatrical moon came up through filmy draperies of waving Spanish
moss thin as cobwebs; and far in the wilderness a cougar fell a-crying
and coughing like a little child with a bad cold.
I went in after that. Miss Barrison was sitting before the oven, knees
gathered in her clasped hands, languidly studying the fire. She looked
up as I appeared, opened the oven-doors, sniffed the aroma, and resumed
her attitude of contented indifference.
“Where is the professor?” I asked.
“He has retired. He’s been talking in his sleep at moments.”
“Better take it down; that’s what you’re here for,” I observed, closing
and holding the outside door. “Ugh! there’s a chill in the air. The dew
is pelting down from the pines like a steady fall of rain.”
“You will get fever if you roam about at night,” she said. “Mercy! your
coat is soaking. Sit here by the fire.”
So I pulled up a bench and sat down beside her like the traditional spider.
“Miss Muffitt,” I said, “don’t let me frighten you away—”
“I was going anyhow—”
“Why?” she demanded, reseating herself.
“Because I like to sit beside you,” I said, truthfully.
“Your avowal is startling and not to be substantiated by facts,” she remarked,
resting her chin on one hand and gazing into the fire.
“You mean because I went for a stroll by moonlight? I did that because
you always seem to make fun of me as soon as the professor joins us.”
“Make fun of you? You surely don’t expect me to make eyes at you!”
There was a silence; I toasted my shins, thoughtfully.
“How is your burned finger?” I asked.
She lifted it for my inspection, and I began a protracted examination.
“What would you prescribe?” she inquired, with an absent-minded glance
at the professor’s closed door.
“I don’t know; perhaps a slight but firm pressure of the finger-tips—”
“You tried that this afternoon.”
“But the dog interrupted us—”
“Interrupted you. Besides—”
“I don’t think you ought to,” she said.
Sitting there before the oven, side by side, hand innocently clasped in
hand, we heard the drumming of the dew on the roof, the night-wind stirring
the palms, the muffled snoring of the professor, the faint whisper and
crackle of the fire.
A single candle burned brightly, piling our shadows together on the wall
behind us; moonlight silvered the window-panes, over which crawled multitudes
of soft-winged moths, attracted by the candle within.
“See their tiny eyes glow!” she whispered. “How their wings quiver! And
all for a candle-flame! Alas! alas! fire is the undoing of us all.”
She leaned forward, resting as though buried in reverie. After a while
she extended one foot a trifle and, with the point of her shoe, carefully
unlatched the oven-door. As it swung outward a delicious fragrance filled
“They’re done,” she said, withdrawing her hand from mine. “Help me to lift
Together we arranged the delicious pastry in rows on the bench to cool.
I opened the door for a few minutes, then closed and bolted it again.
“Do you suppose those transparent creatures will smell the odor and come
around the cabin?” she suggested, wiping her fingers on her handkerchief.
I walked to the window uneasily. Outside the pane the moths crawled, some
brilliant in scarlet and tan-color set with black, some snow-white with
black tracings on their wings, and bodies peacock-blue edged with orange.
The scientist in me was aroused; I called her to the window, and she came
and leaned against the sill, nose pressed to the glass.
“I don’t suppose you know that the antennæ of that silvery-winged
moth are distinctly pectinate,” I said.
“Of course I do” she said. “I took my degree as D. E. at Barnard College.”
“What!” I exclaimed in astonishment. “You’ve been through Barnard? You
are a Doctor of Entomology?”
“It was my undoing,” she said. “The department was abolished the year I
graduated. There was no similar vacancy, even in the Smithsonian.”
She shrugged her shoulders, eyes fixed on the moths. “I had to make my
own living. I chose stenography as the quickest road to self-sustenance.”
She looked up, a flush on her cheeks.
“I suppose you took me for an inferior?” she said. “But do you suppose
I’d flirt with you if I was?”
She pressed her face to the pane again, murmuring that exquisite poem of
“Spooning is innocuous and needn’t have a sequel,
But recollect, if spoon you must, spoon only with your equal.”
Standing there, watching the moths, we became rather silent—I don’t know
why. The fire in the range had gone out; the candle-flame, flaring above
a saucer of melted wax, sank lower and lower.
Suddenly, as though disturbed by something inside, the moths all left the
window-pane, darting off in the darkness.
“That’s curious,” I said.
“What’s curious?” she asked, opening her eyes languidly. “Good gracious!
Was that a bat that beat on the window?”
“I saw nothing,” I said, disturbed. “Listen!”
A soft sound against the glass, as though invisible fingers were feeling
the pane—a gentle rubbing—then a tap-tap, all but inaudible.
“Is it a bird? Can you see?” she whispered.
The candle-flame behind us flashed and expired. Moonlight flooded the pane.
The sounds continued, but there was nothing there.
We understood now what it was that so gently rubbed and patted the glass
outside. With one accord we noiselessly gathered up the pies and carried
them into my room.
Then she walked to the door of her room, turned, held out her hand, and
whispering, “Good-night! A demain, monsieur!” slipped into her room and
softly closed the door.
And all night long I lay in troubled slumber beside the pies, a rifle resting
on the blankets beside me, a revolver under my pillow. And I dreamed of
moths with brilliant eyes and vast silvery wings harnessed to a balloon
in which Miss Barrison and I sat, arms around each other, eating slice
after slice of apple-pie.
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