Dawn came—the dawn of a day that I am destined never to
forget. Long, rosy streamers of light broke through the forest, shaking,
quivering, like unstable beams from celestial search-lights. Mist floated
upward from marsh and lake; and through it the spectral palms loomed, drooping
fronds embroidered with dew.
For a while the ringing outburst of bird music dominated all; but it soon
ceased with dropping notes from the crimson cardinals repeated in lengthening
minor intervals; and then the spell of silence returned, broken only by
the faint splash of mullet, mocking the sun with sinuous, silver flashes.
“Good-morning,” said a low voice from the door as I stood encouraging the
camp-fire with splinter wood and dead palmetto fans.
Fresh and sweet from her toilet as a dew-drenched rose, Miss Barrison stood
there sniffing the morning air daintily, thoroughly.
“Too much perfume,” she said— “too much like ylang-ylang in a departmentstore.
Central Park smells sweeter on an April morning.”
“Are you criticising the wild jasmine?” I asked.
“I’m criticising an exotic smell. Am I not permitted to comment on the
Fishing out a cedar log from the lumber-stack, I fell to chopping it vigorously.
The axe-strokes made a cheerful racket through the woods.
“Did you hear anything last night after you retired?” I asked.
“Something was at my window—something that thumped softly and seemed to
be feeling all over the glass. To tell you the truth, I was silly enough
to remain dressed all night.”
“You don’t look it,” I said.
“Oh, when daylight came I had a chance,” she added, laughing.
“All the same,” said I, leaning on the axe and watching her, “you are about
the coolest and pluckiest woman I ever knew.”
“We were all in the same fix,” she said, modestly.
“No, we were not. Now I’ll tell you the truth—my hair stood up the greater
part of the night. You are looking upon a poltroon, Miss Barrison.”
“Then there was something at your window, too?”
“Something? A dozen! They were monkeying with the sashes and panes all
night long, and I imagined that I could hear them breathing—as though from
effort of intense eagerness. Ouch! I came as near losing my nerve as I
care to. I came within an ace of hurling those cursed pies through the
window at them. I’d bolt to-day if I wasn’t afraid to play the coward.”
“Most people are brave for that reason,” she said.
The dog, who had slept under my bunk, and who had contributed to my entertainment
by sighing and moaning all night, now appeared ready for business—business
in his case being the operation of feeding. I presented him with a concentrated
tablet, which he cautiously investigated and then rolled on.
“Nice testimonial for the people who concocted it,” I said, in disgust.
“I wish I had an egg.”
“There are some concentrated egg tablets in the shanty,” said Miss Barrison;
but the idea was not attractive.
“I refuse to fry a pill for breakfast,” I said, sullenly, and set the coffee-pot
on the coals.
In spite of the dewy beauty of the morning, breakfast was not a cheerful
function. Professor Farrago appeared, clad in sun-helmet and khaki. I had
seldom seen him depressed; but he was now and his very efforts to disguise
it only emphasized his visible anxiety.
His preparations for the day, too, had an ominous aspect to me. He gave
his orders and we obeyed, instinctively suppressing questions. First, he
and I transported all personal luggage of the company to the big electric
launch— Miss Barrison’s effects, his, and my own. His private papers, the
stenographic reports, and all memoranda were tied up together and carried
Then, to my surprise, two weeks’ concentrated rations for two and mineral
water sufficient for the same period were stowed away aboard the launch.
Several times he asked me whether I knew how to run the boat, and I assured
him that I did.
In a short time nothing was left ashore except the bare furnishings of
the cabin, the female wearing-apparel, the steel cage and chemicals which
I had brought, and the twelve apple-pies—the latter under lock and key
in my room.
As the preparations came to an end, the professor’s gentle melancholy seemed
to deepen. Once I ventured to ask him if he was indisposed, and he replied
that he had never felt in better physical condition.
Presently he bade me fetch the pies; and I brought them, and, at a sign
from him, placed them inside the steel cage, closing and locking the door.
“I believe,” he said, glancing from Miss Barrison to me, and from me to
the dog— “I believe that we are ready to start.”
He went to the cabin and locked the door on the outside, pocketing the
key. Then he backed up to the steel cage, stooped and lifted his end as
I lifted mine, and together we started off through the forest, bearing
the cage between us as porters carry a heavy piece of luggage.
Miss Barrison came next, carrying the trousseau, the tank, hose, and chemicals;
and the dog followed her—probably not from affection for us, but because
he was afraid to be left alone.
We walked in silence, the professor and I keeping an instinctive lookout
for snakes; but we encountered nothing of that sort. On every side, touching
our shoulders, crowded the closely woven and impenetrable tangle of the
jungle; and we threaded it along a narrow path which he, no doubt, had
cut, for the machete marks were still fresh, and the blazes on hickory,
live-oak, and palm were all wet with dripping sap, and swarming with eager,
At times across our course flowed shallow, rapid streams of water, clear
as crystal, and most alluring to the thirsty.
“There’s fever in every drop,” said the professor, as I mentioned my thirst;
“take the bottled water if you mean to stay a little longer.”
“Stay where?” I asked.
“On earth,” he replied, tersely; and we marched on.
The beauty of the tropics is marred somewhat for me; under all the fresh
splendor of color death lurks in brilliant tints. Where painted fruit hangs
temptingly, where great, silky blossoms exhale alluring scent, where the
elaps coils inlaid with scarlet, black, and saffron, where in the shadow
of a palmetto frond a succession of velvety black diamonds mark the rattler’s
swollen length, there death is; and his invisible consort, horror, creeps
where the snake whose mouth is lined with white creeps—where the tarantula
squats, hairy, motionless; where a bit of living enamel fringed with orange
undulates along a mossy log.
Thinking of these things, and watchful lest, unawares, terror unfold from
some blossoming and leafy covert, I scarcely noticed the beauty of the
glade we had entered—a long oval, cross-barred with sunshine which fell
on hedges of scrub-palmetto, chin high, interlaced with golden blossoms
of the jasmine.
And all around, like pillars supporting a high green canopy above a throne,
towered the silvery stems of palms fretted with pale, rose-tinted lichens
and hung with draperies of grape-vine.
“This is the place,” said Professor Farrago.
His quiet, passionless voice sounded strange to me; his words seemed strange,
too, each one heavily weighted with hidden meaning.
We set the cage on the ground; he unlocked and opened the steel-barred
door, and, kneeling, carefully arranged the pies along the centre of the
“I have a curious presentiment,” he said, “that I shall not come out of
this experiment unscathed.”
“Don’t, for Heaven’s sake, say that!” I broke out, my nerves on edge again.
“Why not?” he asked, surprised. “I am not afraid.”
“Not afraid to die?” I demanded, exasperated.
“Who spoke of dying?” he inquired, mildly. “What I said was that I do not
expect to come out of this affair unscathed.”
I did not comprehend his meaning, but I understood the reproof conveyed.
He closed and locked the cage door again and came towards us, balancing
the key across the palm of his hand.
Miss Barrison had seated herself on the leaves; I stood back as the professor
sat down beside her; then, at a gesture from him, took the place he indicated
on his left.
“Before we begin,” he said, calmly, “there are several things you ought
to know and which I have not yet told you. The first concerns the feminine
wearing apparel which Mr. Gilland brought me.”
He turned to Miss Barrison and asked her whether she had brought a complete
outfit, and she opened the bundle on her knees and handed it to him.
“I cannot,” he said, “delicately explain in so many words what use I expect
to make of this apparel. Nor do I yet know whether I shall have any use
at all for it. That can only be a theoretical speculation until, within
a few more hours, my theory is proven or disproven— and,” he said, suddenly
turning on me, “my theory concerning these invisible creatures is the most
extraordinary and audacious theory ever entertained by man since Columbus
presumed that there must lie somewhere a hidden continent which nobody
had ever seen.”
He passed his hand over his protruding forehead, lost for a moment in deepest
reflection. Then, “Have you ever heard of the Sphyx?” he asked.
“It seems to me that Ponce de Leon wrote of something—” I began, hesitating.
“Yes, the famous lines in the third volume which have set so many wise
men guessing. You recall them:
“‘And there, alas! within sound of the Fountain of Youth whose waters tint
the skin till the whole body glows softly like the petal of a rose—there,
alas! in the new world already blooming, The Eternal Enigma I beheld, in
the flesh living; yet it faded even as I looked, although I swear it lived
and breathed. This is the Sphyx.”
A silence; then I said, “Those lines are meaningless to me.”
“Not to me,” said Miss Barrison, softly.
The professor looked at her. “Ah, child! Ever subtler, ever surer—the Eternal
Enigma is no enigma to you.”
“What is the Sphyx?” I asked.
“Have you read De Soto? Or Goya?”
“Yes, both. I remember now that De Soto records the Syachas legend of the
Sphyx—something about a goddess—”
“Not a goddess,” said Miss Barrison, her lips touched with a smile.
“Sometimes,” said the professor, gently. “And Goya said:
“‘It has come to my ears while in the lands of the Syachas that the Sphyx
surely lives, as bolder and more curious men than I may, God willing, prove
to the world hereafter.’”
“But what is the Sphyx?” I insisted.
“For centuries wise men and savants have asked each other that question.
I have answered it for myself; I am now to prove it, I trust.”
His face darkened, and again and again he stroked his heavy brow.
“If anything occurs,” he said, taking my hand in his left and Miss Barrison’s
hand in his right, “promise me to obey my wishes. Will you?”
“Yes,” we said, together.
“If I lose my life, or—or disappear, promise me on your honor to get to
the electric launch as soon as possible and make all speed northward, placing
my private papers, the reports of Miss Barrison, and your own reports in
the hands of the authorities in Bronx Park. Don’t attempt to aid me; don’t
delay to search for me. Do you promise?”
“Yes,” we breathed together.
He looked at us solemnly. “If you fail me, you betray me,” he said.
We swore obedience.
“Then let us begin,” he said, and he rose and went to the steel cage. Unlocking
the door, he flung it wide and stepped inside, leaving the cage door open.
“The moment a single pie is disturbed,” he said to me, “I shall close the
steel door from the inside, and you and Miss Barrison will then dump the
rosium oxide and the strontium into the tank, clap on the lid, turn the
nozzle of the hose on the cage, and spray it thoroughly. Whatever is invisible
in the cage will become visible and of a faint rose color. And when the
trapped creature becomes visible, hold yourselves ready to aid me as long
as I am able to give you orders. After that either all will go well or
all will go otherwise, and you must run for the launch.” He seated himself
in the cage near the open door.
I placed the steel tank near the cage, uncoiled the hose attachment, unscrewed
the top, and dumped in the salts of strontium. Miss Barrison unwrapped
the bottle of rosium oxide and loosened the cork. We examined this pearl-and-pink
powder and shook it up so that it might run out quickly.
Then Miss Barrison sat down, and presently became absorbed in a stenographic
report of the proceedings up to date.
When Miss Barrison finished her report she handed me the bundle of papers.
I stowed them away in my wallet, and we sat down together beside the tank.
Inside the cage Professor Farrago was seated, his spectacled eyes fixed
on the row of pies. For a while, although realizing perfectly that our
quarry was transparent and invisible, we unconsciously strained our eyes
in quest of something stirring in the forest.
“I should think,” said I, in a low voice, “that the odor of the pies might
draw at least one out of the odd dozen that came rubbing up against my
window last night.”
“Hush! Listen!” she breathed. But we heard nothing save the snoring of
the overfed dog at our feet.
“He’ll give us ample notice by butting into Miss Barrison’s skirts,” I
“No need of our watching, professor.”
The professor nodded. Presently he removed his spectacles and lay back
against the bars, closing his eyes.
At first the forest silence seemed cheerful there in the flecked sunlight.
The spotted wood-gnats gyrated merrily, chased by dragon-flies; the shy
wood-birds hopped from branch to twig, peering at us in friendly inquiry;
a lithe, gray squirrel, plumy tail undulating, rambled serenely around
the cage, sniffing at the pastry within.
Suddenly, without apparent reason, the squirrel sprang to a tree-trunk,
hung a moment on the bark, quivering all over, then dashed away into the
“Why did he act like that?” whispered Miss Barrison. And, after a moment:
“How still it is! Where have the birds gone?”
In the ominous silence the dog began to whimper in his sleep and his hind
legs kicked convulsively.
“He’s dreaming—” I began.
The words were almost driven down my throat by the dog, who, without a
yelp of warning, hurled himself at Miss Barrison and alighted on my chest,
fore paws around my neck.
I cast him scornfully from me, but he scrambled back, digging like a mole
to get under us.
“The transparent creatures!” whispered Miss Barrison. “Look! See that pie
I sprang to my feet just as the professor, jamming on his spectacles, leaned
forward and slammed the cage door.
“I’ve got one!” he shouted, frantically. “There’s one in the cage! Turn
on that hose!”
“Wait a second,” said Miss Barrison, calmly, uncorking the bottle and pouring
a pearly stream of rosium oxide into the tank. “Quick! It’s fizzing! Screw
on the top!”
In a second I had screwed the top fast, seized the hose, and directed a
hissing cloud of vapor through the cage bars.
For a moment nothing was heard save the whistling rush of the perfumed
spray escaping; a delicious odor of roses filled the air. Then, slowly,
there in the sunshine, a misty something grew in the cage—a glistening,
pearl-tinted phantom, imperceptibly taking shape in space—vague at first
as a shred of lake vapor, then lengthening, rounding into flowing form,
“The Sphyx!” gasped the professor. “In the name of Heaven, play that hose!”
As he spoke the treacherous hose burst. A showery pillar of rose-colored
vapor enveloped everything. Through the thickening fog for one brief instant
a human form appeared like magic—a woman’s form, flawless, exquisite as
a statue, pure as marble. Then the swimming vapor buried it, cage, pies,
We ran frantically around the cage in the obscurity, appealing for instructions
and feeling for the bars. Once the professor’s muffled voice was heard
demanding the wearing apparel, and I groped about and found it and stuffed
it through the bars of the cage.
“Do you need help?” I shouted. There was no response. Staring around through
the thickening vapor of rosium rolling in clouds from the overturned tank,
I heard Miss Barrison’s voice calling:
“I can’t move! A transparent lady is holding me!”
Blindly I rushed about, arms outstretched, and the next moment struck the
door of the cage so hard that the impact almost knocked me senseless.
Clutching it to steady myself, it suddenly flew open. A rush of partly
visible creatures passed me like a burst of pink flames, and in the midst,
borne swiftly away on the crest of the outrush, the professor passed like
a bolt shot from a catapult; and his last cry came wafted back to me from
the forest as I swayed there, drunk with the stupefying perfume: “Don’t
worry! I’m all right!”
I staggered out into the clearer air towards a figure seen dimly through
“Are you hurt?” I stammered, clasping Miss Barrison in my arms.
“No—oh no,” she said, wringing her hands. “But the professor! I saw him!
I could not scream; I could not move! They had him!”
“I saw him too,” I groaned. “There was not one trace of terror on his face.
He was actually smiling.”
Overcome at the sublime courage of the man, we wept in each other’s arms.
True to our promise to Professor Farrago, we made the best of our way northward;
and it was not a difficult journey by any means, the voyage in the launch
across Okeechobee being perfectly simple and the trail to the nearest railroad
station but a few easy miles from the landing-place.
Shocking as had been our experience, dreadful as was the calamity which
had not only robbed me of a life-long friend, but had also bereaved the
entire scientific world, I could not seem to feel that desperate and hopeless
grief which the natural decease of a close friend might warrant. No; there
remained a vague expectancy which so dominated my sorrow that at moments
I became hopeful—nay, sanguine, that I should one day again behold my beloved
superior in the flesh. There was something so happy in his last smile,
something so artlessly pleased, that I was certain no fear of impending
dissolution worried him as he disappeared into the uncharted depth of the
I think Miss Barrison agreed with me, too. She appeared to be more or less
dazed, which was, of course, quite natural; and during our return voyage
across Okeechobee and through the lagoons and forests beyond she was very
When we reached the railroad at Portulacca, a thrifty lemon-growing ranch
on the Volusia and Chinkapin Railway, the first thing I did was to present
my dog to the station-agent—but I was obliged to give him five dollars
before he consented to accept the dog.
However, Miss Barrison interviewed the station-master’s wife, a kindly,
pitiful soul, who promised to be a good mistress to the creature. We both
felt better after that was off our minds; we felt better still when the
north-hound train rolled leisurely into the white glare of Portulacca,
and presently rolled out again, quite as leisurely, bound, thank Heaven,
for that abused aggregation of sinful boroughs called New York.
Except for one young man whom I encountered in the smoker, we had the train
to ourselves, a circumstance which, curiously enough, appeared to increase
Miss Barrison’s depression, and my own as a natural sequence. The circumstances
of the taking off of Professor Farrago appeared to engross her thoughts
so completely that it made me uneasy during our trip out from Little Sprite—in
fact it was growing plainer to me every hour that in her brief acquaintance
with that distinguished scientist she had become personally attached to
him to an extent that began to worry me. Her personal indignation at the
caged Sphyx flared out at unexpected intervals, and there could be no doubt
that her unhappiness and resentment were becoming morbid.
I spent an hour or two in the smoking compartment, tenanted only by a single
passenger and myself. He was an agreeable young man, although, in the natural
acquaintanceship that we struck up, I regretted to learn that he was a
writer of popular fiction, returning from Fort Worth, where he had been
for the sole purpose of composing a poem on Florida.
I have always, in common with other mentally balanced savants, despised
writers of fiction. All scientists harbor a natural antipathy to romance
in any form, and that antipathy becomes a deep horror if fiction dares
to deal flippantly with the exact sciences, or if some degraded intellect
assumes the warrantless liberty of using natural history as the vehicle
for silly tales.
Never but once had I been tempted to romance in any form; never but once
had sentiment interfered with a passionless transfer of scientific notes
to the sanctuary of the unvarnished note-book or the cloister of the juiceless
Nor have I the slightest approach to that superficial and doubtful quality
known as literary skill. Once, however, as I sat alone in the middle of
the floor, classifying my isopods, I was not only astonished but totally
unprepared to find myself repeating aloud a verse that I myself had unconsciously
Is a work of God.”
Never before in all my life had I made a rhyme; and it worried me for weeks,
ringing in my brain day and night, confusing me, interfering with my thoughts.
I said as much to the young man, who only laughed good-naturedly and replied
that it was the Creator’s purpose to limit certain intellects, nobody knows
why, and that it was apparent that mine had not escaped.
“There’s one thing, however,” he said, “that might be of some interest
to you and come within the circumscribed scope of your intelligence.”
“And what is that?” I asked, tartly.
“A scientific experience of mine,” he said, with a careless laugh. “It’s
so much stranger than fiction that even Professor Bruce Stoddard, of Columbia,
hesitated to credit it.”
I looked at the young fellow suspiciously. His bland smile disarmed me,
but I did not invite him to relate his experience, although he apparently
needed only that encouragement to begin.
“Now, if I could tell it exactly as it occurred,” he observed, “and a stenographer
could take it down, word for word, exactly as I relate it—”
“It would give me great pleasure to do so,” said a quiet voice at the door.
We rose at once, removing the cigars from our lips; but Miss Barrison bade
us continue smoking, and at a gesture from her we resumed our seats after
she had installed herself by the window.
“Really,” she said, looking coldly at me, “I couldn’t endure the solitude
any longer. Isn’t there anything to do on this tiresome train?”
“If you had your pad and pencil,” I began, maliciously, “you might take
down a matter of interest—”
She looked frankly at the young man, who laughed in that pleasant, good-tempered
manner of his, and offered to tell us of his alleged scientific experience
if we thought it might amuse us sufficiently to vary the dull monotony
of the journey north.
“Is it fiction?” I asked, point-blank.
“It is absolute truth,” he replied.
I rose and went off to find pad and pencil. When I returned Miss Barrison
was laughing at a story which the young man had just finished.
“But,” he ended, gravely, ‘I have practically decided to renounce fiction
as a means of livelihood and confine myself to simple, uninteresting statistics
“I am very glad to hear you say that,” I exclaimed, warmly. He bowed, looked
at Miss Barrison, and asked her when he might begin his story.
“Whenever you are ready,” replied Miss Barrison, smiling in a manner which
I had not observed since the disappearance of Professor Farrago. I’ll admit
that the young fellow was superficially attractive.
“Well, then,” he began, modestly, “having no technical ability concerning
the affair in question, and having no knowledge of either comparative anatomy
or zoology, I am perhaps unfitted to tell this story. But the story is
true; the episode occurred under my own eyes—within a few hours’ sail of
And as I was one of the first persons to verify what has long been a theory
among scientists, and, moreover, as the result of Professor Holroyd’s discovery
is to be placed on exhibition in Madison Square Garden on the 20th of next
month, I have decided to tell you, as simply as I am able, exactly what
“I first told the story on April 1, 1903, to the editors of the North American
Review, The Popular Science Monthly, the Scientific American, Nature, Outing,
and the Fossiliferous Magazine. All these gentlemen rejected it; some curtly
informing me that fiction had no place in their columns. When I attempted
to explain that it was not fiction, the editors of these periodicals either
maintained a contemptuous silence, or bluntly notified me that my literary
services and opinions were not desired. But finally, when several publishers
offered to take the story as fiction, I cut short all negotiations and
decided to publish it myself. Where I am known at all, it is my misfortune
to be known as a writer of fiction. This makes it impossible for me to
receive a hearing from a scientific audience. I regret it bitterly, because
now, when it is too late, I am prepared to prove certain scientific matters
of interest, and to produce the proofs. In this case, however, I am fortunate,
for nobody can dispute the existence of a thing when the bodily proof is
exhibited as evidence.
“This is the story; and if I tell it as I write fiction, it is because
I do not know how to tell it otherwise.
“I was walking along the beach below Pine Inlet, on the south shore of
Long Island. The railroad and telegraph station is at West Oyster Bay.
Everybody who has travelled on the Long Island Railroad knows the station,
but few, perhaps, know Pine Inlet. Duck-shooters, of course, are familiar
with it; but as there are no hotels there, and nothing to see except salt
meadow, salt creek, and a strip of dune and sand, the summer-squatting
public may probably be unaware of its existence. The local name for the
place is Pine Inlet; the maps give its name as Sand Point, I believe, but
anybody at West Oyster Bay can direct you to it. Captain McPeek, who keeps
the West Oyster Bay House, drives duck-shooters there in winter. It lies
five miles southeast from West Oyster Bay.
“I had walked over that afternoon from Captain McPeek’s. There was a reason
for my going to Pine Inlet—it embarrasses me to explain it, but the truth
is I meditated writing an ode to the ocean. It was out of the question
to write it in West Oyster Bay, with the whistle of locomotives in my ears.
I knew that Pine Inlet was one of the loneliest places on the Atlantic
coast; it is out of sight of everything except leagues of gray ocean. Rarely
one might make out fishing-smacks drifting across the horizon. Summer squatters
never visited it; sportsmen shunned it, except in winter. Therefore, as
I was about to do a bit of poetry, I thought that Pine Inlet was the spot
for the deed. So I went there.
“As I was strolling along the beach, biting my pencil reflectively, tremendously
impressed by the solitude and the solemn thunder of the surf, a thought
occurred to me—how unpleasant it would be if I suddenly stumbled on a summer
boarder. As this joyless impossibility flitted across my mind, I rounded
a bleak sand-dune.
“A girl stood directly in my path.
“She stared at me as though I had just crawled up out of the sea to bite
her. I don’t know what my own expression resembled, but I have been given
to understand it was idiotic.
“Now I perceived, after a few moments, that the young lady was frightened,
and I knew I ought to say something civil. So I said, ‘Are there many mosquitoes
“‘No,’ she replied, with a slight quiver in her voice; ‘I have only seen
one, and it was biting somebody else.’
“The conversation seemed so futile, and the young lady appeared to be more
nervous than before. I had an impulse to say, ‘Do not run; I have breakfasted,’
for she seemed to be meditating a flight into the breakers. What I did
say was: ‘I did not know anybody was here. I do not intend to intrude.
I come from Captain McPeek’s, and I am writing an ode to the ocean.’ After
I had said this it seemed to ring in my ears like, ‘I come from Table Mountain,
and my name is Truthful James.’
“I glanced timidly at her.
“‘She’s thinking of the same thing,’ said I to myself.
“However, the young lady seemed to be a trifle reassured. I noticed she
drew a sigh of relief and looked at my shoes. She looked so long that it
made me suspicious, and I also examined my shoes. They seemed to be in
a fair state of repair.
“‘I—I am sorry,’ she said, ‘but would you mind not walking on the beach?’
“This was sudden. I had intended to retire and leave the beach to her,
but I did not fancy being driven away so abruptly.
“‘Dear me!’ she cried; ‘you don’t understand. I do not—I would not think
for a moment of asking you to leave Pine Inlet. I merely ventured to request
you to walk on the dunes. I am so afraid that your footprints may obliterate
the impressions that my father is studying.’
“‘Oh!’ said I, looking about me as though I had been caught in the middle
of a flower-bed; ‘really I did not notice any impressions. Impressions
“‘I don’t know,’ she said, smiling a little at my awkward pose. ‘If you
step this way in a straight line you can do no damage.’
“I did as she bade me. I suppose my movements resembled the gait of a wet
peacock. Possibly they recalled the delicate manśuvres of the kangaroo.
Anyway, she laughed.
“This seriously annoyed me. I had been at a disadvantage; I walk well enough
when let alone.
“‘You can scarcely expect,’ said I, ‘that a man absorbed in his own ideas
could notice impressions on the sand. I trust I have obliterated nothing.’
“As I said this I looked back at the long line of footprints stretching
away in prospective across the sand. They were my own. How large they looked!
Was that what she was laughing at?
“‘I wish to explain,’ she said, gravely, looking at the point of her parasol
‘I am very sorry to be obliged to warn you—to ask you to forego the pleasure
of strolling on a beach that does not belong to me. Perhaps,’ she continued,
in sudden alarm, ‘perhaps this beach belongs to you?’
“‘The beach? Oh no,’ I said.
“‘But—but you were going to write poems about it?’
“‘Only one—and that does not necessitate owning the beach. I have observed,’
said I, frankly, ‘that the people who own nothing write many poems about
“She looked at me seriously.
“‘I write many poems,’ I added
“She laughed doubtfully.
“‘Would you rather I went away?’ I asked, politely. ‘My family is respectable,’
I added; and I told her my name.
“‘Oh! Then you wrote Culled Cowslips and Faded Fig-Leaves and you imitate
Maeterlinck, and you—Oh, I know lots of people that you know;’ she cried,
with every symptom of relief; ‘and you know my brother.’
“‘I am the author,’ said I, coldly, ‘of Culled Cowslips, but Faded Fig-Leaves
was an earlier work, which I no longer recognize, and I should be grateful
to you if you would be kind enough to deny that I ever imitated Maeterlinck.
Possibly,’ I added, ‘he imitates me.’
“She was very quiet, and I saw she was sorry.
“‘Never mind,’ I said, magnanimously, ‘you probably are not familiar with
modern literature. If I knew your name I should ask permission to present
“‘Why, I am Daisy Holroyd,’ she said.
“‘What! Jack Holroyd’s little sister?’
“‘Little?’ she cried.
“‘I didn’t mean that,’ said I. ‘You know that your brother and I were great
friends in Paris—’
“‘I know,’ she said, significantly.
“‘Ahem! Of course,’ I said, ‘Jack and I were inseparable—’
“‘Except when shut in separate cells,’ said Miss Holroyd, coldly.
“This unfeeling allusion to the unfortunate termination of a Latin-Quarter
celebration hurt me.
“‘The police,’ said I, ‘were too officious.’
“‘So Jack says,’ replied Miss Holroyd, demurely.
“We had unconsciously moved on along the sandhills, side by side, as we
“‘To think,’ I repeated, ‘that I should meet Jack’s little—’
“‘Please,’ she said, ‘you are only three years my senior.’
“She opened the sunshade and tipped it over one shoulder. It was white,
and had spots and posies on it.
“‘Jack sends us every new book you write,’ she observed. ‘I do not approve
of some things you write.’
“‘Modern school,’ I mumbled.
“‘That is no excuse,’ she said, severely; ‘Anthony Trollope didn’t do it.’
“The foam spume from the breakers was drifting across the dunes, and the
little tip-up snipe ran along the beach and teetered and whistled and spread
their white-barred wings for a low, straight flight across the shingle,
only to tip and run and sail on again. The salt sea-wind whistled and curled
through the crested waves, blowing in perfumed puffs across thickets of
sweet bay and cedar. As we passed through the crackling juicy-stemmed marsh-weed
myriads of fiddler crabs raised their fore-claws in warning and backed
away, rustling, through the reeds, aggressive, protesting.
“‘Like millions of pygmy Ajaxes defying the lightning,’ I said.
“Miss Holroyd laughed.
“‘Now I never imagined that authors were clever except in print,’ she said.
“She was a most extraordinary girl.
“‘I suppose,’ she observed, after a moment’s silence— ‘I suppose I am taking
you to my father.’
“‘Delighted!’ I mumbled. ‘H’m! I had the honor of meeting Professor Holroyd
“‘Yes; he bailed you and Jack out,’ said Miss Holroyd, serenely.
“The silence was too painful to last.
“‘Captain McPeek is an interesting man,’ I said. I spoke more loudly than
I intended. I may have been nervous.
“‘Yes,’ said Daisy Holroyd, ‘but he has a most singular hotel clerk.’
“‘You mean Mr. Frisby ?’
“‘Yes,’ I admitted, ‘Mr. Frisby is queer. He was once a bill-poster.’
“‘I know it!’ exclaimed Daisy Holroyd, with some heat. ‘He ruins landscapes
whenever he has an opportunity. Do you know that he has a passion for bill-posting?
He has; he posts bills for the pure pleasure of it, just as you play golf,
or tennis, or squash.’
“‘But he’s a hotel clerk now,’ I said; ‘nobody employs him to post bills.’
“‘I know it! He does it all by himself for the pure pleasure of it. Papa
has engaged him to come down here for two weeks, and I dread it,’ said
“What Professor Holroyd might want of Frisby I had not the faintest notion.
I suppose Miss Holroyd noticed the bewilderment in my face, for she laughed
and nodded her head twice.
“‘Not only Mr. Frisby, but Captain McPeek also,’ she said.
“‘You don’t mean to say that Captain McPeek is going to close his hotel!’
“My trunk was there. It contained guarantees of my respectability.
“‘Oh no; his wife will keep it open,’ replied the girl. ‘Look! you can
see papa now. He’s digging.’
“‘Where?’ I blurted out.
“I remembered Professor Holroyd as a prim, spectacled gentleman, with close-cut,
snowy beard and a clerical allure. The man I saw digging wore green goggles,
a jersey, a battered sou’wester, and hip-boots of rubber. He was delving
in the muck of the salt meadow, his face streaming with perspiration, his
boots and jersey splashed with unpleasant-looking mud. He glanced up as
we approached, shading his eyes with a sunburned hand.
“‘Papa, dear,’ said Miss Holroyd, ‘here is Jack’s friend, whom you bailed
out of Mazas.’
“The introduction was startling. I turned crimson with mortification. The
professor was very decent about it; he called me by name at once. Then
he looked at his spade. It was clear he considered me a nuisance and wished
to go on with his digging.
“‘I suppose,’ he said, ‘you are still writing?’
“‘A little,’ I replied, trying not to speak sarcastically. My output had
rivalled that of ‘The Duchess’—in quantity, I mean.
“‘I seldom read—fiction,’ he said, looking restlessly at the hole in the
“Miss Holroyd came to my rescue.
“‘That was a charming story you wrote last,’ she said. ‘Papa should read
it— you should, papa; it’s all about a fossil.’
“We both looked narrowly at Miss Holroyd. Her smile was guileless.
“‘Fossils!’ repeated the professor. ‘Do you care for fossils?’
“‘Very much,’ said I.
“Now I am not perfectly sure what my object was in lying. I looked at Daisy
Holroyd’s dark-fringed eyes. They were very grave.
“‘Fossils,’ said I, ‘are my hobby.’
“I think Miss Holroyd winced a little at this. I did not care. I went on:
“‘I have seldom had the opportunity to study the subject, but, as a boy,
I collected flint arrowheads—”
“‘Flint arrow-heads!’ said the professor coldly.
“‘Yes; they were the nearest things to fossils obtainable,’ I replied,
marvelling at my own mendacity.
“The professor looked into the hole. I also looked. I could see nothing
in it. ‘He’s digging for fossils,’ thought I to myself.
“‘Perhaps,’ said the professor, cautiously, ‘you might wish to aid me in
a little research—that is to say, if you have an inclination for fossils.’
The double-entendre was not lost upon me.
“‘I have read all your books so eagerly,’ said I, ‘that to join you, to
be of service to you in any research, however difficult and trying, would
be an honor and a privilege that I never dared to hope for.’
“‘That,’ thought I to myself, ‘will do its own work.’
“But the professor was still suspicious. How could he help it, when he
remembered Jack’s escapades, in which my name was always blended! Doubtless
he was satisfied that my influence on Jack was evil. The contrary was the
“‘Fossils,’ he said, worrying the edge of the excavation with his spade—
‘fossils are not things to be lightly considered.’
“‘No, indeed!’ I protested.
“‘Fossils are the most interesting as well as puzzling things in the world,’
“‘They are!’ I cried, enthusiastically.
“‘But I am not looking for fossils,’ observed the professor, mildly.
“This was a facer. I looked at Daisy Holroyd. She bit her lip and fixed
her eyes on the sea. Her eyes were wonderful eyes.
“‘Did you think I was digging for fossils in a salt meadow?’ queried the
professor. ‘You can have read very little about the subject. I am digging
for something quite different.’
“I was silent. I knew that my face was flushed. I longed to say, ‘Well,
what the devil are you digging for?’ but I only stared into the hole as
“‘Captain McPeek and Frisby ought to be here,’ he said, looking first at
Daisy and then across the meadows.
“I ached to ask him why he had subpśnaed Captain McPeek and Frisby.
“‘They are coming,’ said Daisy, shading her eyes. ‘Do you see the speck
on the meadows?’
“‘It may be a mud-hen,’ said the professor.
“‘Miss Holroyd is right,’ I said. ‘A wagon and team and two men are coming
from the north. There’s a dog beside the wagon—it’s that miserable yellow
dog of Frisby’s.’
“‘Good gracious!’ cried the professor, ‘you don’t mean to tell me that
you see all that at such a distance?’
“‘Why not ?’ I said.
“‘I see nothing,’ he insisted.
“‘You will see that I’m right, presently,’ I laughed.
“The professor removed his blue goggles and rubbed them, glancing obliquely
“‘Haven’t you heard what extraordinary eyesight duck-shooters have?’ said
his daughter, looking back at her father. ‘Jack says that he can tell exactly
what kind of a duck is flying before most people could see anything at
all in the sky.’
“‘It’s true,’ I said; ‘it comes to anybody, I fancy, who has had practice.’
“The professor regarded me with a new interest. There was inspiration in
his eyes. He turned towards the ocean. For a long time he stared at the
tossing waves on the beach, then he looked far out to where the horizon
met the sea.
“‘Are there any ducks out there?’ he asked, at last.
“‘Yes,’ said I, scanning the sea, ‘there are.’
“He produced a pair of binoculars from his coat-tail pocket, adjusted them,
and raised them to his eyes.
“‘H’m! What sort of ducks?’
“I looked more carefully, holding both hands over my forehead.
“‘Surf-ducks and widgeon. There is one bufflehead among them—no, two; the
rest are coots,’ I replied.
“‘This,’ cried the professor, ‘is most astonishing. I have good eyes, but
I can’t see a blessed thing without these binoculars!’
“‘It’s not extraordinary,’ said I; ‘the surf-ducks and coots any novice
might recognize; the widgeon and buffleheads I should not have been able
to name unless they had risen from the water. It is easy to tell any duck
when it is flying, even though it looks no bigger than a black pin-point.’
“But the professor insisted that it was marvellous, and he said that I
might render him invaluable service if I would consent to come and camp
at Pine Inlet for a few weeks.
“I looked at his daughter, but she turned her back. Her back was beautifully
moulded. Her gown fitted also.
“‘Camp out here?’ I repeated, pretending to be unpleasantly surprised.
“‘I do not think he would care to,’ said Miss Holroyd, without turning.
“I had not expected that.
“‘Above all things,’ said I, in a clear, pleasant voice, ‘I like to camp
“She said nothing.
“‘It is not exactly camping,’ said the professor. ‘Come, you shall see
our conservatory. Daisy, come, dear! You must put on a heavier frock; it
is getting towards sundown.’
“At that moment, over a near dune, two horses’ heads appeared, followed
by two human heads, then a wagon, then a yellow dog.
“I turned triumphantly to the professor.
“‘You are the very man I want,’ he muttered—’the very man—the very man.’
“I looked at Daisy Holroyd. She returned my glance with a defiant little
“‘Waal,’ said Captain McPeek, driving up, ‘here we be! Git out, Frisby.’
“Frisby, fat, nervous, and sentimental, hopped out of the cart.
“‘Come,’ said the professor, impatiently moving across the dunes. I walked
with Daisy Holroyd. McPeek and Frisby followed. The yellow dog walked by
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