As it turned out, I had no need to read the novel. Constance Claire began a discussion before the first slice of tea cake was consumed in the parlor the next day. I was serving and making sure everyone had at least one chance at the tea cake before it disappeared. This is especially important on the days cook serves fish, as at least two of my tenants don't especially like fish, and will go for the after dinner treat instead.
Constance Claire was asking the others if they had read the novel Dracula. She seemed quite serious about it. She also wanted to know who had put the novel in the library. She got no takers on either subject and announced that she was reading it now and would return it for the others in a day or so at the most. It was a fascinating read, she said, as she looked at Erica. Erica, I noticed, did not return the look, and seemed to be more interested in the fireplace than the conversation.
"What's it about, Con?" This from a smiling Louis.
"Vampires," Constance Claire responded, delighted that she could smoothly continue with her chosen subject, "and what they can do to people. They live off the blood of humans."
"You mean like lawyers?" John Watson said innocently, looking across at Louis.
"Or Doctors." replied Louis McDonald.
"I never draw blood unless absolutely necessary. And I don't enjoy doing it nearly as much as lawyers do."
"Exactly." Said Dora Lund.
This was pleasant banter which often occured between the two men. Louis was not yet a lawyer and John was not yet a doctor, but they tried what they thought of as professional behavior on for size in the parlor.
I knew Dora to have a certain dislike for Louis, probably because Louis seemed to prefer the more flamboyant Constance Claire to the rather subdued Dora Lund.
I noticed that Louis himself did not respond to Dora. He smiled looking from one face to the other, enjoying the notice taken of him and saying nothing more.
"No," Constance Claire replied, "I mean really. Vampires really do drink the blood of humans. It's quite serious."
"If it's true." This was John Watson again, speaking slowly. "Do you believe it, Constance?"
John considered himself a man of science, therefore not willing to believe in the supernatural. He also considered it his duty, as a professional, to attempt to disuade others from believing in that which can not be proved in a laboratory.
"I don't know," Constance Claire admitted, "I know it seems impossible, but you had better read the book before deciding for sure."
"She certainly seems to want to beleive it," I thought to myself.
"If it is about lawyers, as John suggests, I should read it next, after you, to have time to prepare a proper defense. Right, Connie?" Louis asked.
"I'll give it to you as soon as I finish it, Louis," Constance Claire said with a grateful smile, "But everyone should read it."
Constance Claire looked once more around the room, seeking approval, and pausing at Erica, who didn't seem to be looking anywhere at all and not to be paying the slightest attention to the conversation.
The talk of vampires and things that prowl the night time must have gotten to me worse than I thought, because while I was wordlessly encouraging the group to finish the tea cake and go to bed, I saw a small light wavering about in front of the building, even approaching the building. Then it stopped, and went dark. Soon after the door bell sounded. I put down the plate of cookies, excused myself to the group and went to see who would be calling this time of night. I opened the door to a young man in uniform. He was just a boy, really, and the uniform was Western Union. He handed me a telegram, said it was for an Erida Lundstrom, and waited for his nickel. I got one out of the cup I keep on the small table next to the door for these occasions and gave it to him. He saluted and walked into the darkness to his bicycle.
The parlor went quiet as I handed the envelope to Erica. She opened it and read the telegram in silence, then turned to me and announced that she would be absent from Begley House for several days, most likely returning on Monday. She disliked missing school, but she was called home on what she called simply family business, not directly involving her, but requiring her attendance. She would be leaving tomorrow morning.
"I hope it isn't serious," Constance Claire said lamely, perhaps wishing she could be called away suddenly by telegram. It must have sounded important.
A few minutes later, Erica, having finished her cookie and her tea, made her excuses politely to the group and made a stately exit up the stairs. Or it might have been a tired, even lethagic exit. I couldn't quite tell. Once all the cookies had been consumed, the others also made their individual ways up the stairs.