Beasts and Super-Beasts
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 vulgarise 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