LEONARD BILSITER was one of those people who have failed to
find this world attractive or interesting, and who have sought compensation
in an "unseen world" of
their own experience or imagination - or invention. Children do that sort of
thing successfully, but children are content to convince themselves, and do
not vulgarize their beliefs by trying to convince other people. Leonard Bilsiter's
beliefs were for "the few," that is to say, anyone who would listen to him.
His dabblings in the unseen might not have carried him beyond the customary
platitudes of the drawing-room visionary if accident had not reinforced his
stock-in-trade of mystical lore. In company with a friend, who was interested
in a Ural mining concern, he had made a trip across Eastern Europe at a moment
when the great Russian railway strike was developing from a threat to a reality;
its outbreak caught him on the return journey, somewhere on the further side
of Perm, and it was while waiting for a couple of days at a wayside station
in a state of suspended locomotion that he made the acquaintance of a dealer
in harness and metalware, who profitably whiled away the tedium of the long
halt by initiating his English travelling companion in a fragmentary system
of folk-lore that he had picked up from Trans-Baikal traders and natives. Leonard
returned to his home circle garrulous about his Russian strike experiences,
but oppressively reticent about certain dark mysteries, which he alluded to
under the resounding title of Siberian Magic. The reticence wore off in a week
or two under the influence of an entire lack of general curiosity, and Leonard
began to make more detailed allusions to the enormous powers which this new
esoteric force, to use his own description of it, conferred on the initiated
few who knew how to wield it. His aunt, Cecilia Hoops, who loved sensation
perhaps rather better than she loved the truth, gave him as clamorous an advertisement
as anyone could wish for by retailing an account of how he had turned a vegetable
marrow into a wood pigeon before her very eyes. As a manifestation of the possession
of supernatural powers, the story was discounted in some quarters by the respect
accorded to Mrs. Hoops' powers of imagination.
However divided opinion might be on the question of Leonard's status as a
wonderworker or a charlatan, he certainly arrived at Mary Hampton's house-party
with a reputation for pre-eminence in one or other of those professions, and
he was not disposed to shun such publicity as might fall to his share. Esoteric
forces and unusual powers figured largely in whatever conversation he or his
aunt had a share in, and his own performances, past and potential, were the
subject of mysterious hints and dark avowals.
"I wish you would turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter," said
his hostess at luncheon the day after his arrival.
"My dear Mary," said Colonel Hampton, "I never knew
you had a craving in that direction."
"A she-wolf, of course," continued Mrs. Hampton; it
would be too confusing to change one's sex as well as one's species at a
"I don't think one should jest on these subjects," said
"I'm not jesting, I'm quite serious, I assure you. Only
don't do it to-day; we have only eight available bridge players, and it would
break up one of our tables. To-morrow we shall be a larger party. To-morrow
night, after dinner - "
"In our present imperfect understanding of these hidden forces I think one
should approach them with humbleness rather than mockery," observed Leonard,
with such severity that the subject was forthwith dropped.
Clovis Sangrail had sat unusually silent during the discussion on the possibilities
of Siberian Magic; after lunch he side-tracked Lord Pabham into the comparative
seclusion of the billiard-room and delivered himself of a searching question.
"Have you such a thing as a she-wolf in your collection
of wild animals? A she-wolf of moderately good temper?"
Lord Pabham considered. "There is Loiusa," he said, "a
rather fine specimen of the timber-wolf. I got her two years ago in exchange
for some Arctic foxes. Most of my animals get to be fairly tame before they've
been with me very long; I think I can say Louisa has an angelic temper, as
she-wolves go. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether you would lend her to me for to-morrow night," said
Clovis, with the careless solicitude of one who borrows a collar stud or a
"Yes, wolves are nocturnal animals, so the late hours won't hurt her," said
Clovis, with the air of one who has taken everything into consideration; "one
of your men could bring her over from Pabham Park after dusk, and with a little
help he ought to be able to smuggle her into the conservatory at the same moment
that Mary Hampton makes an unobtrusive exit."
Lord Pabham stared at Clovis for a moment in pardonable bewilderment; then
his face broke into a wrinkled network of laughter.
"Oh, that's your game, is it? You are going to do a
little Siberian Magic on your own account. And is Mrs. Hampton willing to
be a fellow-conspirator?"
"Mary is pledged to see me through with it, if you will
guarantee Louisa's temper."
"I'll answer for Louisa," said Lord Pabham.
By the following day the house-party had swollen to larger proportions, and
Bilsiter's instinct for self-advertisement expanded duly under the stimulant
of an increased audience. At dinner that evening he held forth at length on
the subject of unseen forces and untested powers, and his flow of impressive
eloquence continued unabated while coffee was being served in the drawing-room
preparatory to a general migration to the card-room.
His aunt ensured a respectful hearing for his utterances, but her sensation-loving
soul hankered after something more dramatic than mere vocal demonstration.
"Won't you do something to CONVINCE them of your powers, Leonard?" she pleaded; "change
something into another shape. He can, you know, if he only chooses to," she
informed the company.
"Oh, do," said Mavis Pellington earnestly, and her request
was echoed by nearly everyone present. Even those who were not open to conviction
were perfectly willing to be entertained by an exhibition of amateur conjuring.
Leonard felt that something tangible was expected of him.
"Has anyone present," he asked, "got a three-penny bit
or some small object of no particular value -?"
"You're surely not going to make coins disappear, or something primitive of
that sort?" said Clovis contemptuously.
"I think it very unkind of you not to carry out my suggestion of turning me
into a wolf," said Mary Hampton, as she crossed over to the conservatory to
give her macaws their usual tribute from the dessert dishes.
"I have already warned you of the danger of treating these powers in a mocking
spirit," said Leonard solemnly.
"I don't believe you can do it," laughed Mary provocatively from the conservatory; "I
dare you to do it if you can. I defy you to turn me into a wolf."
As she said this she was lost to view behind a clump of azaleas.
"Mrs. Hampton - " began Leonard with increased solemnity,
but he got no further. A breath of chill air seemed to rush across the room,
and at the same time the macaws broke forth into ear-splitting screams.
"What on earth is the matter with those confounded birds, Mary?" exclaimed
Colonel Hampton; at the same moment an even more piercing scream from Mavis
Pellington stampeded the entire company from their seats. In various attitudes
of helpless horror or instinctive defence they confronted the evil-looking
grey beast that was peering at them from amid a setting of fern and azalea.
Mrs. Hoops was the first to recover from the general chaos of fright and bewilderment.
"Leonard!" she screamed shrilly to her nephew, "turn
it back into Mrs. Hampton at once! It may fly at us at any moment. Turn it
"I - I don't know how to," faltered Leonard, who looked
more scared and horrified than anyone.
"What!" shouted Colonel Hampton, "you've taken the abominable
liberty of turning my wife into a wolf, and now you stand there calmly and
say you can't turn her back again!"
To do strict justice to Leonard, calmness was not a distinguishing feature
of his attitude at the moment.
"I assure you I didn't turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf; nothing was farther
from my intentions," he protested.
"Then where is she, and how came that animal into the conservatory?" demanded
"Of course we must accept your assurance that you didn't turn Mrs. Hampton
into a wolf," said Clovis politely, "but you will agree that appearances are
"Are we to have all these recriminations with that beast standing there ready
to tear us to pieces?" wailed Mavis indignantly.
"Lord Pabham, you know a good deal about wild beasts - " suggested
"The wild beasts that I have been accustomed to," said Lord Pabham, "have
come with proper credentials from well-known dealers, or have been bred in
my own menagerie. I've never before been confronted with an animal that walks
unconcernedly out of an azalea bush, leaving a charming and popular hostess
unaccounted for. As far as one can judge from OUTWARD characteristics," he
continued, "it has the appearance of a well-grown female of the North American
timber-wolf, a variety of the common species CANIS LUPUS."
"Oh, never mind its Latin name," screamed Mavis, as the beast came a step
or two further into the room; "can't you entice it away with food, and shut
it up where it can't do any harm?"
"If it is really Mrs. Hampton, who has just had a very good dinner, I don't
suppose food will appeal to it very strongly," said Clovis.
"Leonard," beseeched Mrs. Hoops tearfully, "even if
this is none of your doing can't you use your great powers to turn this dreadful
beast into something harmless before it bites us all - a rabbit or something?"
"I don't suppose Colonel Hampton would care to have his wife turned into a
succession of fancy animals as though we were playing a round game with her," interposed
"I absolutely forbid it," thundered the Colonel.
"Most wolves that I've had anything to do with have been inordinately fond
of sugar," said Lord Pabham; "if you like I'll try the effect on this one."
He took a piece of sugar from the saucer of his coffee cup and flung it to
the expectant Louisa, who snapped it in mid-air. There was a sigh of relief
from the company; a wolf that ate sugar when it might at the least have been
employed in tearing macaws to pieces had already shed some of its terrors.
The sigh deepened to a gasp of thanks-giving when Lord Pabham decoyed the animal
out of the room by a pretended largesse of further sugar. There was an instant
rush to the vacated conservatory. There was no trace of Mrs. Hampton except
the plate containing the macaws' supper.
"The door is locked on the inside!" exclaimed Clovis,
who had deftly turned the key as he affected to test it.
Everyone turned towards Bilsiter.
"If you haven't turned my wife into a wolf," said Colonel Hampton, "will
you kindly explain where she has disappeared to, since she obviously could
not have gone through a locked door? I will not press you for an explanation
of how a North American timber-wolf suddenly appeared in the conservatory,
but I think I have some right to inquire what has become of Mrs. Hampton."
Bilsiter's reiterated disclaimer was met with a general murmur of impatient
"I refuse to stay another hour under this roof," declared
"If our hostess has really vanished out of human form," said Mrs. Hoops, "none
of the ladies of the party can very well remain. I absolutely decline to be
chaperoned by a wolf!"
"It's a she-wolf," said Clovis soothingly.
The correct etiquette to be observed under the unusual circumstances received
no further elucidation. The sudden entry of Mary Hampton deprived the discussion
of its immediate interest.
"Some one has mesmerised me," she exclaimed crossly; "I
found myself in the game larder, of all places, being fed with sugar by Lord
Pabham. I hate being mesmerised, and the doctor has forbidden me to touch
The situation was explained to her, as far as it permitted of anything that
could be called explanation.
"Then you REALLY did turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter?" she
But Leonard had burned the boat in which he might now have embarked on a sea
of glory. He could only shake his head feebly.
"It was I who took that liberty," said Clovis; "you
see, I happen to have lived for a couple of years in North-Eastern Russia,
and I have more than a tourist's acquaintance with the magic craft of that
region. One does not care to speak about these strange powers, but once in
a way, when one hears a lot of nonsense being talked about them, one is tempted
to show what Siberian magic can accomplish in the hands of someone who really
understands it. I yielded to that temptation. May I have some brandy? The
effort has left me rather faint."
If Leonard Bilsiter could at that moment have transformed Clovis into a cockroach
and then have stepped on him he would gladly have performed both operations.