The Vampire on Jefferson Street

By
Henry Anderson

Chapter One

Begley House

325 Jefferson Street is a three-story stone boarding house built in the year 1905 on a corner lot at the edge of downtown Brown's Creek and across the street from the campus of Proctor College.

The ground floor consists of a parlor with a fireplace, a large dining room, a kitchen and the living quarters for the concierge. The second and third floor each have four bedrooms which open on a central common area and staircase. The building has electricity and steam heat, as do most in the town.

The building originally housed a college social club in the years before fraternities and sororities were permitted on campus. When the college permitted fraternities and sororities in 1915, the social club became a fraternity and built a much larger larger fraternity house one street over. Their former property is now owned by a young widow who rents the bedrooms by the semester to very carefully selected upper level students who, somewhat unusually for the times, share a need for quiet, respectable lodgings, together with a certain freedom of expression not always offered by other lodgings either in town or on the campus.

The overall environment is quite favorable for quiet study. One of the rooms on the ground floor has been converted to a small library with study tables. One can converse, or read in the parlor downstairs, or in pleasant surroundings on each of the landings, or in one's room. By convention, there are no conversations held in the library.

Each student's room is equipped with a small iron bedstead, a chest of drawers with mirror, a desk and chair, and a table fitted with an electric kettle where one can make tea. Each room is also fitted with a small cabinet vented to the outside where things can be kept cool in all but the hottest summer months. Each room has a small lavatory, and each floor has a bathroom with shower and bath tub.

One is not expected to entertain in one's room after hours. The rooms lock, but the keys are all largely interchangeable, and locking one's room merely signifies that one wishes privacy, either for oneself or for one's belongings. When one's door is unlocked, anyone may enter to leave notes, return items, locate items, and so on.

House rules are not written down and there are no nasty nice signs reminding guests to behave in such and such a manner. One is expected to understand the rules of good breeding and conduct oneself accordingly without being specifically told to do so. The eight bedrooms provided are almost exactly the number required to accommodate the students who choose to live this way, or whose parents choose for them to live this way, in a student body of some 4,000 so it is a nice arrangement all round.

In addition to the students, a lecturer from France lives in one of the bedrooms on the third floor. His name is M. Durand.

Mary Susan Begley is the proprietress of the house. Widowed at 30 by a man of some property, she took advantage of her new situation, after a suitable period of mourning, and purchased the club house when it came up for sale. She converted it to a boarding house and over the years by reputation alone Begley House has become a haven for a certain type of free-thinking university student. She goes by Mary Susan, by the way, and not Mrs. Begley. She refuses to be chained to her dead husband's name for the rest of her life.

Mary Susan herself is somewhat old-fashioned in dress, her uncut black hair kept in a bun, and her dress invariably white over black usually with an apron. From a distance, she appears striking. Up close she is quite lovely in an understated way. She has had more admirers than she cares to know about, having no immediate desire to lose her independence a second time.

She is known for good manners, good sense, and tolerance for the beliefs of others. She believes her boarders should be in early on school nights and should be allowed to think and say what they please at all times. She keeps very closely what she is told and is known far and wide for her unwillingness to gossip.

The Red Scare was at its height in 1920. The bombing of the J. P. Morgan Bank having taken place in mid September, it was unwise to express or even think left-leaning ideas. Begley House is a quiet and unrecognized sanctuary for free thinkers of the left.

Mary Susan very much wishes to fill the empty room on the third floor by Thanksgiving. She is almost certain to do so once word gets out that there is a vacancy. By college policy, only juniors and seniors are permitted to live off-campus.

Morning and evening meals are included in the contract, and served in the dining room. The dining room is really quite lovely, with a sideboard running along one side for buffet dishes and a long table in the center of the room under a rather ornate crystal chandelier. A large formal photograph of Mary Susan's father watches over the table from the opposite wall. He seems stern, as one should in a photograph, but not particularly unkind for all that.

Breakfast is a come and go affair, with the dishes provided on the sideboard. Everyone is to serve themselves, European style, and generally speaking one does not spend much time at breakfast, being usually late and in a hurry to get to class.

Everyone is expected to have somewhere to go in the morning and again after lunch. Lunch is not provided, but sometimes one or another of the students will come home briefly during the day. Raiding the refrigerator is a popular pastime, especially towards the end of the month when allowances are almost exhausted. There are usually left-overs in the icebox along with bread and milk. The cook will let you know immediately if something was planned for dinner.

Dinner is served promptly at half past five. This early time allows after dinner social conversation and the possibility of attending concerts, lectures, and meetings in the evening.

The five students in residence, together with M. Durand retire to tea in the parlor after dinner, and generally spend a half hour or so having tea, small cakes, cookies, and conversation. Tea in the parlor after diner is not mandatory, but is considered the correct thing to do. During this half hour, suitable after-dinner discussion is encouraged, and each one is expected to participate at least somewhat. After a suitable social period, one or the other of the group may beg leave pleading a necessity for study, and all present may then depart for their respective evening activities. No further group social contact is required until the next morning. By convention, the gentlemen bathe on odd-numbered days and the ladies on even-numbered days, unless they come in sometime during the day to bathe when things are a bit quieter.

Going "out" after tea is also a possibility, although frowned upon on week days. Remaining out past half past ten may sometimes be arranged by asking Mary Susan for a key. On weekends, curfew is not enforced, but anyone coming home very late, say past midnight, had better have the key. Pounding on the door and waking up the concierge is not a good idea. The rules about unchaperoned automobile rides and travel off-campus are known, but not rigorously enforced. They are however noted from time to time.

Mary Susan explains all of this very carefully to the candidate's families when the contract for the room is made, and Mary Susan intends to be true to her word. Letters beginning "It has come to my attention..." and "I thought you ought to become aware..." are seldom written, but no one doubts that Mrs. Begley would do it if the first few admonishments were ineffective. She would feel it an ethical if not a moral duty.

Fathers generally pay for their student's room and board by the month, including whatever spending money they feel appropriate. This can vary from month to month, and serves to keep the letters flowing home with news from school.

Mary Susan produces the quiet decorum of Begley House effortlessly. She simply expects the behavior, models the behavior herself at all times, and never gives the impression of requiring it. Begley House is a very unlikely environment for anything as ill-mannered as a vampire.

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