Wolf of the Steppes
By Greye La Spina
Letter from Doctor Thomas Connors to Amdi Rubdah, the adept, Teheran, Persia.
TO my dear Master, greetings:
Not in vain have I learned from you somewhat of the mysteries enveloping the human soul in its earth life. In my performance for the first time of the ancient incantations you taught me under the Persian stars, I have gained a vivid knowledge of the occult powers resident in the flesh-caged spirit of man and realize with rejoicing the impotence of Evil in the everlasting conflict with Truth, especially when that Truth is armed with the knowledge that is power.
In this packet I inclose a number of letters sent me by my friend and colleague, Doctor Greeley. They will serve as an introduction to my narrative, which will follow, and they will bring you to the evening of the day I arrived at my friend’s house.
Extract from letter of Doctor Andrew Greeley to Doctor Thomas Connors.
Since I penned the above memoranda regarding the solvent you inquired about, I have had an adventure, a very romantic adventure for an elderly married man! It really should have been a young bachelor like yourself, Tom, to have gone gallantly to the rescue, Myra has become so fond of our heroine that she insists that we should adopt the young lady. Of course this would be out of the question until we knew more about the girl.
Now I suppose I may as well satisfy your curiosity. About two weeks ago I was motoring out toward Riverside about dusk to look in on a convalescing patient. As I approached the grounds of a large, handsome residence which I had observed more than once when passing, I heard suddenly a long-drawn-out whining on a quavering and eerie note that was most unpleasant; it changed at last into an undulation that sent my blood cold. So unusual was the howl that involuntarily I slowed the car to listen, in case the animal should give voice again.
I would have stopped entirely, had not a white figure with frantically waving arms sprung out of the hedge and charged upon me, springing on the running board with an agility and an indifference to danger that startled me. It was a young and very good-looking girl. Such fear stared at me out of her wild eyes that when she clambered in beside me and commanded me to go on I did not hesitate, but obeyed her agonized cry.
“For God's sake don’t stop!” she flung at me, “If you value your life, go on quickly!”
With that I heard the crashing of a heavy body through the shrubbery, and looked back with a thrill of apprehension to see a pair of flaming red eyes coming toward us at such a speed that I stood not on the order of my going. I shot out of there, the little flivver snorting like a mad thing, while that weird howl wailed out behind us. Why on earth I should have had such a horror of that great dog I don't know, unless the girl’s terror had infected me, but I certainly felt as if the devil himself were swinging along after us. I turned toward home at the first side road, and am under the impression that the beast only dropped behind when we got into the village; I can assure you I didn’t stop to look behind me after that last glance.
My wife was much astonished at her husband’s return with a fainting heroine, and she had her hands full, the girl going into one attack of hysterics after another. All that we could get out of her during the next few days was that her name is Vera Andrevik; that she is an orphan; and that it will be useless for us to ask further explanations from her. She insists upon the last point with a firmness as strong as it is inexplicable, for naturally much depends upon it in her own interests.
Until she has become more normal we must content ourselves with the meager information she has condescended to give us. Her strange whims occupy us at present, giving much food for thought. In spite of the sultry nights now, she will not sleep until both windows in her room are locked and the Venetian blinds drawn and fastened. She makes a complete tour of the house nightly, personally superintending the securing of downstairs windows and doors. Lastly she locks herself into her room. Her mysterious precautions have furnished Myra and me the most lively curiosity.If you happen to hear of a lovely lost Russian heiress, let me hear from you at once! On the other hand, if you are asked about the whereabouts of a fair but mentally unbalanced young lady, communicate with me also. As ever,
Letter from Doctor Greeley to Doctor Connors, dated the week after the preceding letter.
Dear Tom: Since writing you last our strange visitor has been acting in such an odd manner that I don’t know but that you’d better come over when you get a chance and give me your opinion as to her sanity. My wife declares the girl as sane as I am, but you know Myra; everything is to her what she wants it to be.
Vera Andrevik has told us nothing more than I wrote you last. I ventured one evening to ask if she couldn’t give us her mother’s address; she turned absolutely white, looked at me with such a ghastly expression of horror that I was much startled; then she fell back limply in a faint. Myra, of course, scolded me for my masculine abruptness; she thinks I should leave the management of the matter to her entirely. We are agreed that it will not be wise to question the girl yet, as it will take time for her to regain her supposedly normal nervous condition. But you can judge from the foregoing if the subjects of home and mother are taboo or not.
I mentioned casually to Myra, in Vera’s presence, a half-formed intention to make inquiries at the residence where the dog belonged. Vera flung herself at my feet in an agony of terror, hysterically begging me not to enter the grounds there. She declared that she could not explain, but that if I did not follow her counsel I would bring such peril upon us all as I could not imagine in my wildest flights of fancy. I promised not to go, but not entirely on account of Vera’s pleas and representations; I have felt such a growing horror of that place that I can’t bring myself to go down the road in front of it. For a gray-haired old doctor that’s going some, isn’t it? The red-eyed dog’s howl has affected me most unpleasantly.
In the meantime, our visitor refused to go out of the house except in the flivver, and then she wraps herself around with thick veils, regardless of the sweltering heat of these close days. At night she continues to lock herself into her room. When I remonstrate with her she says: “Do you suppose I like to do it, Doctor Andrew? Yet it must be done.” She refuses to enlighten me further; she says she doesn’t care to be considered a harmless lunatic. I feel like telling her that she acts fairly crazy as it is to shut herself up on hot nights without, outside air, but what’s the use?I am positive that she has been under a nervous strain that has for the time being unhinged her mind. Come out when you can, Tom, and observe the case. I shall be deeply interested to know what you think about it. But, for the love of mercy, don’t come blundering into the house without letting me know first! The bell has been muffled because Vera nearly has convulsions every time it rings, such is her terror of God knows what. She would probably go into a cataleptic fit if she happened to see you come into the house unannounced. Yours,
From the same to the same.
Dear Tom: I gather, from the pronouncedly mystical tone of your last letter, that you’ve been dabbling again in the forbidden arts, seeking for the unfindable secrets of the soul. Let ’em alone, boy; they never brought good to any one, and it’s dangerous business, most unsettling to the brain.
Instead of puzzling out magic spells, come down for a few days and help me work out a few chemical problems in my laboratory. It’s been a long time since you've helped me with research work.
I’ve another reason for wanting you here, and that—as you may have surmised—is Vera. Tom, that child is suffering terribly. Unless she can relieve her mind I fear she will permanently lose her mental poise. She declares she is as sane as we are, but says she cannot tell us the story that would throw light on her queer actions, because, if she did, we would believe her insane. Then she just sobs and sobs, and it is all Myra can do to keep her from going into hysterics.
To-day she almost went into a spasm in the automobile, and for almost nothing. She and Myra were in the back seat. A chap just wandered right into the path of the car, and when I stopped the old flivver with a jerk he looked at Vera and smiled in a triumphant manner that was highly unpleasant. He was an odd-looking fellow ; wore a gray fur-trimmed overcoat and a gray fur cap, from under which his long, straight hair escaped in wild confusion. His heavy, black eyebrows met in a nearly horizontal line across his forehead, giving him a strangely fierce expression which his eyes did not contradict; I thought the latter looked almost garnet in color, an impression which Myra verified. The hand nearest us was hooked carelessly into his coat pocket by the thumb, and of the four fingers hanging outside the pocket the forefinger was so long that the abnormality was very pronounced; I have never seen such a strange hand before.
Vera began to whimper, clutching at Myra as if in abject, uncontrollable fear. “Go on, go on!” she cried wildly to me.
I had no good reason not to humor her, especially as the man finally stepped out of our way. He stood there, deliberately reading our license number aloud; Myra heard him after we had passed. Now why on earth should he do that? It was entirely his own fault that he had gotten in the way, and the old flivver never so much as touched him.
All the way home Vera moaned and carried on in the most pitiful manner, imploring us not to let “him” take her away from us. Her heartrending pleas to Mrs. Myra, as she calls my wife—for she never uses the word “mother”—were enough to draw tears to the eyes of a stone image. Myra assured her that no one should take her away against her own will, and she finally quieted down. But we had a bad night with her afterward, for at dusk some confounded dog came into our garden and took to howling, and it got on my nerves to such an extent that I actually imagined I recognized the howl of my friend of the red eyes, of whom I wrote you previously.
Vera went into a frenzy of terror at the sound of those howls, and insisted upon going the rounds of the doors and windows with my wife to assure herself that everything was securely fastened. Her fear is infectious; both Myra and I have impatiently assured each other numberless times that we do not feel in the least wrought up nervously, but the fact that we have had to affirm our mental calm is sufficient evidence that that confounded dog’s howling and Vera’s groundless fears have together broken in upon our sleep sufficiently to start us both well on the way to nervous trouble.I am beginning to connect Vera’s terror definitely with the fierce dog that chased my car that first night; just what the connection is I cannot figure out now, but the solution may present itself unexpectedly. What complicates matters is the effect upon Vera of that stranger who practically held up our car this morning; can he have something to do with the mystery also? Yours,
Postscript: Just opened the above letter to add another more recent occurrence. The fellow I nearly ran over in town yesterday turns out to be Vera’s guardian, a well-mannered Russian named Serge Vassilovitch. About an hour ago he was admitted to my study. His smile, which is a ready one, reveals a double row of white, pointed teeth between lips as full and red as a painted woman’s. There clung about him a strangely suggestive odor, most disagreeable to my nostrils; it was damp, musty, stale—it reminded me of the smells of the animal cages at the zoological gardens. Probably the heavy gray fur on his coat carried the odor. All in all, in spite of his really charming manners, his personality was not one that attracted; instead, it repelled me strongly, and I felt instinctive distrust of him.
He told me that my license number had served as a clew to my address, and declared that he had recognized his ward under her heavy veils, although how he could have done so is more than I can understand, for I would not know my own wife under the thick layers of chiffon Vera had swathed about her pretty face.
Vassilovitch took me into his confidence with regard to Vera, although I could see he wasn’t very happy about shaking the family skeleton’s bones in public. Poor Vera! Her story is tragic. Her father went insane and shot himself; her mother threw herself from a window to certain death under an insane impulse; Vera herself has been possessed, since her mother’s death, with hallucinations so strange, so bizarre that her lack of mental poise could not be doubted for a moment by any one to whom she had told her story.
“Why, she believes,” said he, with grieved accents, “that her nearest and dearest are persecuting her. She declares that I am her worst enemy—I, her natural protector!”
He asked me if she had told us her story, and seemed oddly contented—if I have observed correctly—when I replied that we could extract nothing from her in explanation of her extremely odd behavior. He shook his head sadly. “If she were to tell you her so-called story,” he explained, “you would realize that she is mentally unbalanced.”
As I have mentioned, Vassilovitch was a pleasant-mannered fellow, but I felt so uneasy in his presence that it seemed to me as if I couldn’t bear being shut up with him alone, and I made an excuse to open the door into the front hall. Silly and womanish, if you will, but you know that what we call intuition may often be well founded, and I feel that Serge Vassilovitch does not possess a good influence. I therefore dissipated it as much as possible.
After his explanation I felt it only right that he should see Vera and that the girl should have the opportunity to give us her side of the story, which was certainly due to my wife and me, after our having taken the girl in, a complete stranger, as we had. Her guardian agreed strongly with me on this point, and said very reasonably that he felt sure, after she had told her story, that we would be only too glad to turn her over to his care again.
I called Myra to bring Vera, but my wife replied that she did not know where the girl was and that she had apparently left the house when she saw her guardian enter it. Here was a fine to-do! And Vassilovitch seemed terribly upset. He spread those red lips of his tightly against his sharp white teeth in a kind of threatening snarl, and actually demanded of Myra if she would give her word of honor that she didn't know where the young lady was. He left finally, but not without stating definitely that he would return in a day or two. Myra thought his words and his manner distinctly threatening. The menace was worse because of its very indefinableness.
Myra insists vehemently that Vera is not out of her head. “I tell you, Andy,” she declares, “that the girl has had such a terrible nervous shock that she is afraid no one will believe her if she tells her experience.”
Vera, it appears, had been hidden in the garret, and since Myra did not know her exact whereabouts she felt that she could conscientiously tell Vassilovitch that she didn’t know where the girl was. Funny idea of truth women have! Vera insists upon remaining in the garret, where she can jump out of a window and die instantly at will, as she expresses it. Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not she intends to return to her guardian.
I am sadly disturbed, Tom. I simply cannot make head or tail of the affair. Myra says Vera is as sane as she is herself, and Vera weeps hysterically when asked for an explanation, crying that she will kill herself rather than fall into the hands of Serge Vassilovitch.
If you can’t come down, write me your opinion Tom. Whether the girl is mentally deranged or no her guardian claims that she is not of age and that he can therefore take her to his home by force, if he can find her. I am persuaded that she would rather die than return with him. I am sending thisspecial delivery. Hastily,
Telegram from Doctor Connors to Doctor Greeley, late afternoon of the day the above letter was received.
Resumption of Doctor Connors’ narrative.
I STUDIED the young girl carefully during dinner.
All she said or did rang true. I felt convinced that she was as well poised mentally as any of us, but I sensed an atmosphere of nerve strain about her and saw the spirit of keen suffering looking at me out of her beautiful, sad eyes. However, in a case of this kind one can never make true judgment without extended observation, and I was sure that something would be said or done before the evening was over that would give me the key to the situation. Moreover, I had come to a conclusion as to the source of the trouble which I know you have already surmised.
We adjourned to the library, a small, cozy room, after dinner. Doctor Greeley turned on the electric fan, for Miss Andrevik insisted that all windows on the lower floor especially should be closed and fastened at night, and the evening was very close and sultry. We chatted lightly about nothing in particular, until I felt that the time had arrived for me to bring up the real occasion for my visit. I turned to Vera, and was about to touch on the subject lying nearest the hearts of us all when I distinctly heard—underneath the library window giving on the front porch—a singular whining, snuffling noise, as of some big animal nosing around.
Vera stiffened in her chair. I reached out instinctively and took her hand in mine; I was sitting near her. It was as cold as ice, poor child. Silence reigned in the room, while we listened intently,
We heard the noise of taloned feet, half padding and half clicking, across the boards of the porch flooring; the soft thud as the animal—whatever it was—sprang over the rail into the garden; and then a howl burst upon our startled ears that fairly lifted Vera from her chair. She pulled her hands from mine, rose to her feet as if impelled, and with a wail of terror threw herself upon the floor with her head in Mrs. Greeley’s lap. As she hid her face she moaned: “It is he! It is he! Oh, don’t let him take me away!”
Mrs. Greeley looked across at me half defiantly as she smoothed Vera’s head with her motherly hands. The doctor looked at me with a wordless inquiry that demanded a reply. I gave it, knowing that at the same time I was giving courage to the poor tormented girl, struggling with the terrible memories of her horrible experiences.
“Miss Andrevik is no more out of her head than T am,” I said aloud. “I am going to whisper four words into her ear, and they are so magical,” I affirmed lightly, “that she will find courage to tell me the things hidden in her heart and which she has dared to disclose because she believed she would be thought insane if she told them.”
How quickly the poor girl raised her white face to search my eyes for the help I promised! I made her sit once more in her easy-chair, and then, leaning over her, I whispered the four words into her eager ears. You know, dear master, what those words were. For a moment she sat rigid like one entranced; then the revulsion of feeling that swept over her bowed her, sobbing, while Mrs. Greeley almost glared at me in her fear that I had hurt the girl whom she had grown to love like a daughter.
“Oh, how can I ever thank you?” cried Vera. “Yes, now I will have courage to tell you, for I know you will understand. If you could only realize how I have doubted even my own eyes these awful days, Doctor Connors!”
Another long, quavering howl broke upon our ears. Mrs, Greeley turned to me with an explanation. “It’s a big dog,” said she. “I saw him come into our garden just about dusk this evening. He is a big, gray, shaggy fellow. He has been haunting our garden of late at night, and he has a most disagreeable howl. I don’t know to whom he belongs, but I certainly wish they would tie the brute up at night,” she ended a trifle angrily.
I exchanged glances with Miss Andrevik, whose eyes were eloquent with meaning, and answered her in kind. Then I told my friends the four words I had whispered into her ear and that had worked such a magic change in her whole attitude, loosening her tongue and removing her fear to tell her story. Of course it was only natural that Doctor Greeley should give me a look of penetrating and disturbed amazement; he thought my mind had given way. His wife contented herself with a look of simple inquiry.
“I see that neither of you understand my words,” I smiled tranquilly. “I can explain later on. Just now I want to learn the details of Miss Andrevik’s story, so that I may decide upon my course of action. Depend upon it, there is more here than appears on the surface.”
Again our conversation was punctuated by that mournful, ominous cry from without. Vera shuddered, but without her former hysterical symptoms; she knew that she had found a protector who was able to guard her; her thankful eyes told me that.
“You may not have heard a cry like that before, Andy,” I observed to Doctor Greeley. “But I have hunted all over the world, and, whether you believe it or not, that is no dog’s howl; that is the howl of a wolf that you hear to-night, and a wolf of a very savage kind, too, if I am not mistaken. Miss Andrevik’s story will undoubtedly throw much light upon the matter, although it may not only sorely try her courage in the telling, but will tax your credulity tremendously. Before she begins, I want to assure her that I can and will believe every word of her recital.”
Once more I sought her glance, and her eloquent eyes thanked me. Then I requested the doctor to go the rounds of the house with me once more to make doubly sure that doors and windows were well secured. I turned lights on full in every room, merely stating that this was imperative, for I did not feel there was time for full explanations; it was borne in upon me that before day broke we would all have seen strange things. But as you had taught me, dear teacher, I made use of the Light, in its artificial form, to nullify the forces of evil which I knew were abroad.
Vera’s story, as nearly in her own words as I can remember it, runs as follows.
MY parents were Russian, and I was born in Russia.
Coming under political suspicion because he had consorted with men not in his own class, my father was given to understand that he would be wise to leave the country. Converting into gold his large holdings, he took my mother and me and came to America. Serge Vassilovitch, one of the men with whom my father’s association had brought him into disrepute, followed us in the course of three years. As they had both been students of the occult arts, in which my father had grown deeply interested, he was welcomed with open arms and given a home with us.
I was about ten years old. I spoke English fluently, having had an English governess, a good but stupid soul. I had never known anything but happiness in all my short life; always I had seen my mother laughing and my father good-humored. Therefore, I remember with what amazement I began to note my mother’s face grow sad when she thought she was alone and with what dismay I discovered her more than once weeping. All this was after the arrival of Serge Vassilovitch.
My mother hid her trouble from my father, and it was not until long afterward that I learned the reason for her tears. Serge Vassilovitch loved my mother, and desired to take her away from my father, whom, however, she never ceased to love. He urged his guilty love upon her, only to be rebuffed repeatedly. Finally he swore that my mother should some day go to his arms whether she wanted to or not, and for some time he left her in peace. Then it was that my mother began to look sad and to weep in secret more than before, for my father fell so deeply under the spell of our evil genius that whatever Serge Vassilovitch proposed to him was as though foreordained. This condition of affairs went on for four years. I had grown to be tall and womanly and a companion to my dear mother, for I was seventeen years old when affairs reached a climax.
My father went so deeply into the study of the occult arts with Serge that it became his own and our undoing. Night after night they pored over unhallowed books of magic, and although I am sure Serge knew well what he was about my poor father was more weak and curious than he was wicked. He fell so entirely under the evil spell of that incarnation of Satan that he finally arrived at a place where he could not break with him, and actually believed everything Serge told him, even to entertaining suspicions of my dear mother. He drew up a will, as we discovered afterward, naming Serge my guardian and leaving in those hands all that should have been ours in trust; this shows you how deeply he believed in that vile man.
One day Serge’s mad passion broke bounds; his years of restraint made him madder than ever before. He caught my mother to him, kissing her and holding her to him until she lost her strength and fell from him in an agony of shame at her weakness. She turned on him at last, then, telling him that another day should not pass before her husband should know how his friend had abused his confidence. Serge laughed at her scornfully. She told him that he must leave her roof at once, and he apparently acceded to her request. But although she little realized it, her momentary generosity in covering up the matter in her anxiety not to trouble my father became her undoing.
The following morning a child's body, mangled dreadfully as though by the teeth of a savage dog, was found in our grounds. We kept no dog, therefore suspicion did not attach to our household. But my father was closeted with Serge for hours after that discovery, and afterward he shut himself into his library, admitting no one. In the afternoon he came into my mother’s room, where we sat embroidering, and kissed us both with a tender gravity which I felt portended something unusual. He laid a sealed envelope in my mother’s lap, requesting her not to open it until circumstances seemed to demand it. Strange request! While my mother still sat staring with puzzled face at the envelope we heard a muffled shot. We ran down and pushed open the library door. Oh, my poor father! He had died, an innocent victim to that unmentionable devil whose evil influence had ruined all our lives. In his hand he still held the revolver with which he had hoped to purchase immunity for us from what he feared might be our fate.
After the agony of that experience was over my mother wanted to take me away, but our stern, implacable guardian refused to permit me to go, and my mother would not leave me, for she had already learned of Serge’s further perfidy from my father’s letter, and she dared not leave me with him.
My father’s letter remained a sad secret with my mother during the year that we had together. During that year my poor mother was tortured in every conceivable manner imaginable by Serge Vassilovitch. Fearing both for me and for herself, she never left me alone for a moment, yet even in my presence that monster never desisted from inviting her to his arms with a cynicism that in itself was sufficiently revolting to a high-souled woman. It was toward the end of that first year of her widowhood that my mother learned the inner meaning of my father’s letter—learned it from Serge’s own lips.
My poor father had been the victim of a most vile plot, and had taken his own life in the belief that in so doing he was expiating his unconscious crime. Under Serge Vassilovitch’s spell, he had been led to believe that, owing to the magic arts they had practiced together, the power of metamorphosis into the form of a wolf had been bestowed upon him by certain evil powers. Serge had himself killed the child, and had shown the mangled body to my father, declaring that in the form of a wolf my poor parent had destroyed and torn the innocent. Imagine the consternation and horror of a high-minded man who had unwisely permitted himself to dabble in magic arts that had brought him to such a pass. His remorse was terrible. He felt that, having unconsciously committed one such crime, he might in future commit others. He believed there was but one way out and like a true and noble gentleman he took that way, even giving his beloved wife an opportunity to dissuade him.
The awful story of his supposed crime formed the contents of his letter to my mother. Oh, if he had only come to her instead of taking that final step! My mother knew that he had laid by her side all that night. She taxed Serge, who laughed fiendishly, and admitted that he had lied to my father, thus forcing him to take his own life.
“Clearing the way very thoughtfully for his successcr,” said he sardonically.
Struck to the heart by the horror of the revelation, my mother attempted to flee with me, but Serge had given out that she was mentally unbalanced; we were stopped and forced to return. With scorn and loathing in her heart, she rebuffed his suit daily. But one afternoon, as I sat with my mother, embroidering, I felt his eyes upon me strangely. He was regarding me with such an expression that I suddenly feared him horribly, sprang up with a cry, and rushed to my mother’s side. She caught me to her with a gasp of such anguish that it seems as if I could hear it now.
“Was not one victim enough for you?” she asked.
“Well,” he returned with insolent indifference, “I was just wondering if, after all, I ought not to prefer the bud to the blossom.”
There was a long pause. Then my mother said in a strange, hard voice: “You have won. Give me this one night in peace.” And she still held me to her, while her labored breath shook her entire body.
Serge went slowly away with a backward smile, hatefully exposing his sharp white teeth with an air of knowing triumph.
My mother locked the door. She barred the window. Then she sat down, pulled me down beside her, and whispered the whole awful truth to me. I listened, my brain whirling, for it appeared to me that what they said must be true; and that my mother’s mind had been injured by my father’s tragic death.
Little by little, however, convinced by her deadly seriousness, by my father’s letter, and by my own emotions of fear and horror when in the presence of my guardian, I began to credit her. I saw but one thing to do, and that was to attempt escape, even if we died in the attempt. My mother was firm in her intention to kill herself rather than fall into those evil hands, and, while she said nothing to me, I knew she would not leave me behind her. We whispered our plans to escape that very night. With youth’s optimism I knew I could find something to do that would support my mother and myself. And in spite of her anxiety, my mother smiled her lovely smiles at me again for the first time in months.
When the house was sleeping soundly we crept out on the porch roof, and my mother slipped down a pillar to the ground, turning to hold out her arms to me. I was halfway down the roof when my mother’s voice rang out in an agony of fear and horror.
“Vera, Vera, go back! Save yourself! The revolver! My God, it is the wolf of the steppes!”
As she cried out to me I saw a huge shape as of some great shaggy beast spring upon her from the darkness, bearing her to the ground. Something raised its head from where she lay, her cries silenced forever, and I roused myself from my apathy of deadly fear to scramble back into my window, away from the horror of those terrible fiery eyes, red and evil, that looked leering upon me from over my unfortunate mother’s dead body. My senses were failing me, but I managed to get back into the room, and had hardly closed and fastened the shutter before I heard the thud of a heavy body upon the porch roof.
My mother’s words echoed in my dizzy brain: “Save yourself, Vera! The revolver——” I looked about me hastily in the dim candlelight. On my mother’s dressing table I saw a revolver, and I caught it up, crying out to the Thing that waited without: “If you try to break in here, I shall shoot you. I am armed.”
The Thing sniffed around the window frame for a few moments, then sprang to the ground. I felt my senses leaving me, and I fell back on my mother’s bed, unconscious.
With morning came voices, shrieks, feet running here and there, knockings on my door. I dared not open; I was terribly afraid of everything and everybody in that awful house. I heard my guardian's exclamations of horror at the discovery of my mother’s mangled body, and it seemed to me as if I could not live through those moments of intense suffering. How I got through the day without losing my mind I do not know; I do remember that I lost myself in periods of unconsciousness several times.
Toward evening came the voice of my guardian at the door, stern and commanding. “Open at once, foolish girl!” he demanded,
I kept silence.
“If you do not open to me at once, Vera, I shall be obliged to break in the door.”
“If you try to come in,” I replied with desperate bravado, "I have a bullet ready for you.”
He laughed with cold scorn, “Hunger will drive you out soon enough,” he commented aloud. “But it will be better for you in the end to open now than later.”
I felt that his words hid a mystery too terrible for explanation. But I remained firm. I was convinced that between Serge and the wolf of the steppes there was some evil connection.
After a while he seemed to have gone away, for I heard no sound. But at last came a sniffing around the cracks of the door and the scratching of sharp claws on the panels. He had sent the Thing that had killed my mother! Oh, how pitiless he was! I had heard of the wolf of the steppes, but had believed it only a superstition, yet my intuition told me that that which waited without was not a dog.
I cried out to it to go away, and finally it went, only to come to my window, whining and snarling there and scratching at the shutters.
“Go away!” I called again, cold fear clutching at my heart. “If anything tries to come in at this window I shall shoot on sight.”
The howlings died away. Ominous silence ensued. I heard only the soft thud as the beast landed on the ground before the porch. You may well imagine what a night I passed, knowing that perhaps the Thing waited beneath my window. Just as morning broke I peered through a chink in the shutter and saw it for the first time. It was a great, gray, shaggy wolf; it bounded out of the bushes and stood, with slavering jaws, looking up at my window with its evil, red-rimmed eyes. It seemed to me that those eyes could penetrate the slats of the shutters and could see me watching from behind them. It raised its head and gave a long, dreadful howl.
Then, as I looked, I thought my eyes must be deceiving me, for it stood upright like a man. As the light grew stronger from the rising sun, the shaggy coat seemed to turn into civilized garments, and there, suddenly, where the wolf had stood, was my guardian, gazing up at my window with venomous ugliness upon his wicked face. This time I did not lose my senses, for I realized with what I had to deal. All the old nursery tales told me of the wolf of the steppes when I was a little girl in Russia came to my mind again. I knew that the werewolf was discredited in America and that if I were to claim such a thing about my guardian I would not be believed, and might even be called insane, as my mother was. There was but one thing to be done; I must escape, even at the cost of my life.
That afternoon I saw Serge go on horseback down the road, and seized the favorable opportunity, only to be disillusioned. My governess, with pity in her eyes, turned me back, calling one of the servants to her aid. I realized that I was being guarded as would be a mad creature, so I went back, locking myself into my room. I was weak from want of food, but dared not open the door again, lest my guardian should return. Late afternoon brought him to my door again.
I had by then planned everything. I told him that if he would permit me to have ten minutes alone after the sun set I would unlock the door then. I heard him laugh quietly to himself, and I knew what his thoughts were; he did not know that I knew him for what he was; he thought I was prepared to receive an odious lover, and undoubtedly he was already thinking of how he would mangle my body with his metamorphosed talons and his sharp white teeth!
He told me that as an earnest of my good intentions I must surrender the revolver. This I had not expected, but I rose equal to the occasion.
“I dare not open the door to you now,” I replied. “But I will throw it out of the window.”
“Very well, Vera,” assented my guardian. I heard his footsteps retiring down the hall, and knew he would go outside to retrieve the weapon, which I had no intention of giving up.
I took a silver-mounted hairbrush from my mother’s dressing table, opened the window cautiously, and when I heard his steps on the graveled path below I threw the brush with all my force as far as I could into the bushes. He ran to get it. And then I unlocked my door, flew down the stairs, out of the front door, and down the path, thanking God that this time no one had appeared to stop me and putting my trust in Him that there would be some one outside who could save me from the horrible fate that might otherwise await me, unless I took the sad alternative of self-death.
Hardly was I out of sight of the house before I heard a long and dreadful howl of fury. I knew that the wolf of the steppes had found my door open and the room empty. Fear seemed to hold my feet to the ground. I clutched at my revolver, giving myself up as lost, when I heard Doctor Greeley’s automobile coming down the road. You know the rest of the story.
Resumption of Doctor Connors’ narrative.
THE poor girl hardly dared meet her friends’ eyes while telling the almost unbelievable tale, but upon finishing she turned imploringly to Mrs. Greeley, who half avoided her eyes and looked inquiringly at me. I replied to her questioning look with a glance of assurance, and turned to Vera.
“My dear Miss Andrevik, there is every reason for me to believe your story, since I have been a witness of just such a metamorphosis in Persia. Lycanthropy is on the wane, because the waste places of the world—forgathering places for spiritual forces of good and evil—are becoming peopled, and with added population such manifestations become more and more unusual. You may rest assured that I do not think you insane, and until I can explain the matter more fully to your friends they must take my word for it that you are unusually well-poised mentally, else you could never have come through such a terrible experience unscathed.”
Vera’s next thought was that, as she was a minor, her guardian would be able to claim her legally. To this I replied that there was but one thing to do, and that was to remove such a menace forever from the world. That I was determined to do this you can well understand; the only difficulty in the way was that if I shot the wolf the dead man would remain on our hands, according to the laws of lycanthropic metamorphosis, and I really did not like to think of hunting up Serge Vassilovitch and shooting him down in cold blood—murderer though he was—in bright daylight, in order to assure his transformation into a wolf, which alone would save me from a charge of manslaughter. The only way out of the dilemma was to kill the wolf and then rely upon a certain formula which you taught me to use under special conditions to transform into the wolf form permanently the slain Serge Vassilovitch. The authorities certainly might wonder at a wolf’s being at large in the town, but they could not object to its being killed, especially if it had attacked any of us, as it would be certain to do if given sufficient opportunity. My object was to kill it before it could do any damage, either to any of us or to outsiders.
I instructed Doctor and Mrs. Greeley not to let Vera out of their sight, and to keep all their doors scrupulously secured, especially at night. I bade Vera retire and sleep sweetly, secure in the knowledge that one who understood her problem was watching over her safety. When Mrs. Greeley went upstairs with the girl my friend turned to me, and with severe gravity demanded an explanation of my “idiotic rigmarole.” I gave it; dear master, I gave it very fully and completely. When the sun’s rays brought us respite from our guard I was still explaining to my very skeptical friend. I promised him a sight of the metamorphosis, which he admitted would be a convincing proof of my “theories.” He refused to believe that I could have seen just such a transformation with my own very good eyes.
For three days we kept closely to the house, and on the evening of the third day I saw the wolf of the steppes slipping behind a clump of bushes in the garden, and felt convinced that that night would see the last act played out. I had provided myself with the necessary articles, and awaited with impatience for the darkness to fold down upon us. I had cleared all movables out of the library, so that there would be plenty of free space. I stationed Doctor Greeley behind one of the French windows with a revolver, and I arranged a morris chair at the farther end of the room, behind which I crouched. The window was left unfastened, so that, at a light touch from without, it would swing inward.
We had planned that when the wolf entered, as it undoubtedly would, unless it were warier than I gave it credit for being, Doctor Greeley would immediately close the window behind it, turning on the light at the same time. If the creature turned and saw him, he was to shoot; otherwise, I would get a splendid opportunity from my ambush to finish the night terror of Russia. Each of us was also armed with a hunting knife, in case we came into close contact with the beast.
All happened as we had planned. We had hardly been in place fifteen minutes before we heard the padding and scraping of the taloned claws on the porch flooring, and a moment later a sniffing at the window, which, at the touch, swung slowly open. The moon had risen over the treetops, and her soft light poured into the room, rendering other light unnecessary. I saw the animal hesitate on the threshold for a moment; then it came into the room with a single bound, and sprang across to the inside door opening into the hall.
For an instant my heart stood still with apprehension. Had we forgotten to close that inner door in our anxiety to plan for the-entrance of the wolf? No, the beast paused again before that closed door, and then began to pace back to the window. My friend closed it quickly, but in so doing stood against the moonlight in full view of the werewolf. I rose from behind my ambush and took quick aim, firing almost simultaneously with Doctor Greeley. Which of our shots took fatal effect I do not know to this day, since both were in vital spots. The great gray beast lifted itself into the air with a single convulsive movement, while a terrible howl of pain and fury burst from it. Doctor Greeley sprang to one side just in the nick of time, for the falling werewolf, with its dying effort, struck and snapped at the place where my friend had been standing, then rolled back upon the floor, twitching with a dying spasm.
I turned on the light, and my friend and I drew cautiously near to the dead animal. Then I turned triumphantly to him, I must confess, and wordlessly pointed to what lay on the library floor. Clad in his gray, fur-trimmed overcoat, now stained with red, Serge Vassilovitch lay with staring, furious garnet eyes, quite motionless.
Doctor Greeley looked as though he could not credit his own eyes, and then turned to me incredulously. “I could have sworn it was a wolf,” said he slowly, horror-stricken.
I laughed. “In a short time you will see, with your own eyes, the transformation of this dead murderer into the werewolf form,” I promised.
“Seeing’s believing,” he retorted.
The shots had brought both women down into the hall, and we heard their voices outside the door calling to us. I opened the door a trifle to say that all was well and the wolf dead. Then I added that they would do well to retire to an upstairs room for a while, and that they were not to come down under any circumstances. While Mrs. Greeley did not realize the gravity of this injunction, I saw that Vera Andrevik understood what I was about to do, for her eyes opened, startled, she drew Mrs. Greeley from the room, closed the door, and I heard their voices as they mounted the stairs to seek Vera’s room, where I knew she would hold Mrs. Greeley until I had finished my incantation,
I closed door and windows. Then I carried out the instructions that you gave me, dear master, inclosing in one circle the dead murderer and in another double circle my friend and myself. I set the brazier in position, poured the prepared powder upon the glowing charcoal, and called thrice upon the Spirit of Evil. The first time such a deadly silence fell upon us that it struck cold to the palpitating heart; the second time a rushing wind came suddenly from nowhere and seemed to center itself upon the house, shaking it as with an earthquake shock; the third time—oh, dear master and teacher, it is well that you taught me to school my soul against the emotion of fear! When I felt the approach of the essence of wickedness materialized I feared for my friend, and made him kneel within the inner circle, bowing his head upon his clasped arms. Then I braced myself physically and lifted my head high to meet whatever was to come. It was more terrible than I had imagined!
From out the now dense darkness gathered unseen forces that I felt were pushing and pulling against the magic circle of protection. I knew that an instant’s weakness on my part would give them entrance. I dared not rely upon my own strength entirely, and from the depths of my soul I sent out a cry to Adonai for courage and endurance. And it came—it came! But the Evil grew ever stronger and stronger, and I realized that I must use every ounce of my will to keep fear from my heart that the magic circle might not break, weakened by my weakness. I kept my eyes fixed upon the dead that lay within the farther circle.
The moon no longer shone in at the windows but there was a light that seemed to shine from where I stood and my friend knelt. Also the light from the brazier threw flickering tongues of brightness over the room now and then. When the moment came that I knew I could bear it no longer I called with a loud voice upon the Evil that lurked in the shade about us.
“In the name of Adonai, I have summoned you, powerful Spirit of Evil, because ye dare not refuse obedience to the supreme power. In the same Ineffable Name I call upon you thrice to break the spell that permits this dead that was a man to remain man after death. Beast he became of choice, and beast he must remain. In the name of Adonai, I admonish you, give him not the form of man again! In the name of Adonai, I command you, keep him ever in the form of that beast which he chose to assume! In the name of Adonai, aid him not again, alive or dead! And now, begone!”
As I called upon the name of the Mighty One I felt new life and courage and power flowing into my veins, and I knew that I was speaking with authority.
I looked upon the dead that lay near by, and saw that the change had begun, so I touched my friend upon the shoulder. He lifted his head cautiously; his face was quite gray and drawn, for he had felt the spiritual influence of that Evil near us, and he had not been prepared, like myself, to resist and defeat it. His eyes fell upon the other circle, and in the soft light of the brazier I saw them dilate with incredulous astonishment.
Together we saw the metamorphosis of what had been Serge Vassilovitch into the wolf of the steppes, in which form that base spirit must remain imprisoned for the allotted space. My friend is convinced now that my “theories” are not groundless!
As the last of the transformation took place I felt a glad lightening of my spirits, and realized that the Evil about us, which I had called to undo its work, was about to depart. The rushing of a mighty wind again whirled about the house and departed whence it came, and, as it went, the moon’s light broke forth from behind the clouds that had swathed it and burst out in full splendor, throwing into relief the body of the great gray wolf that lay within the farther circle. I stepped from the circle and turned on light.
My friend met my smiling gaze with a look that impressed me with the awe he yet felt after our experience. “My dear Tom,” he finally Said, “I agree with Hamlet most sincerely and fully. There are stranger things than we know of. Let it go at that, old man.”
We both laughed, for the ordeal was over, and with its passing came a revulsion of spirit that was welcome.
The body of the dead wolf was turned over to the authorities the following day. I suggested that possibly it had escaped from some traveling menagerie, and my explanation was accepted on the face of it.
Miss Andrevik has been formally adopted by my friends, the Greeleys, and her father’s fortune finally turned over to her in the unexplainable absence of her guardian, Serge Vassilovitch. She has become as light-hearted as could be expected of a girl who had passed through such a gruesome and grueling experience. I may add that her extreme youth and the love she now finds we all have for her may have had something to do with helping her to regain her girlish happiness once so horribly threatened.
There is no more to relate at this moment, master, save that I hope some day to bring Vera with me to receive your blessing. As yet I have not spoken to her, but our eyes have said much that our lips do not yet feel licensed to speak.
Greetings, O Amdi Rubdah, from your pupil,