The next day, after lunch, I busied myself with bookkeeping and correspondence tasks in my office. That is my habit and the tenants have observed that they can usually find me in my office at that time, should they have something they wish to discuss with me. On that afternoon, it was Constance Claire.
"Mrs. Begley, I apologize for interrupting you in this way, but I must, really must, talk to you about something."
"Well, good afternoon, Miss Donne," I said in my most grown-up voice. "This must be very important indeed. Please have a seat. How can I help you?"
Miss Donne, who had a minute before been simply Constance Claire, closed the door and took a seat across from my desk. From the way she had addressed me together with the solemn look on her face, I could see that I was to take this very seriously. I composed my face for a serious discussion.
"Mrs. Begley, I am very concerned about Erica."
"So am I, from time to time," I agreed, successfully resisting the urge to smile. "What is it that particularly concerns you on this occasion?"
Her eyes turned from resolute to imploring. "She has been acting so strangely lately. We had what I would have to describe as an encounter yesterday that I really think you should know about."
I folded my hands in front of my face, put my chin on my thumbs and looked directly at her over my desk. "If you think you should, then undoubtedly you should. Please go on."
"Well, yesterday afternoon I met her crossing the campus on her way to Begley House for dinner. I asked her how she was, and noted that she had been very quiet at breakfast. I even offered to listen to her if she had anything she might want to share with me."
"She didn't reply at all at first. She walked another twenty feet or so making no response whatever, then abruptly stopped and turned around to face me."
" 'There is so much evil in this world.' she said, in a heavy, low voice. Just that, then stared at me and waited as though I was supposed to reply."
"I really had no idea how to respond to that. I think I said, 'Well, yes, of course you're right. But the whole world isn't evil, do you think?'"
"She just stared blankly at me. Then she said, 'There will be much suffering, and much blood. Darkness and suffering and blood. Too much blood.'"
"It was her voice, mostly, that really frightened me. It was very low-pitched and sounded gravely, not like her at all. As though she were possessed, or something. I looked around to see how alone we really were. She looked quite fierce, with hooded eyes that were looking directly at me. "
She paused and looked at me, possibly to see if I was reacting properly to the drama of her presentation. She seemed to be remembering both the scene with Erica and the part she was playing in it now with me. Apparently my demeanor was acceptable. She went on with even more drama.
"I swear I could see the arctic in her eyes, endless cold and empty vistas. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. It was as though she had me hypnotized. All I wanted from her was perhaps some material for a possible story about the German-American girl who had spent a year in post-war Germany, not to be frightened by a slip of a girl who might actually be quite mad."
"Anyway, I said something probably inane like, 'Oh I hope not. I can't stand the sight of blood.' Then I took my leave as quickly as I could. She really did frighten me. Is she all right? I mean, well, do you think she is entirely safe to live with, to be around?"
It was as though she was acting in a play. She probably had been, at some time in her college career. I attempted to cooperate by putting on the most solemn face I owned when I answered her question.
"I don't really know. She didn't actually threaten you, did she?"
"No," Constance Clair admitted, somewhat reluctantly it seemed to me, "not in so many words, but her behavior was certainly strange."
"So, what do you suggest we do about this?" I asked, as innocently as I could muster on short notice. I successfully resisted slowly closing and then re-opening my eyes as I asked.
"I really have no idea. But I'm sure something must be done."
She looked a little amiss for a second, then began what I supposed to be her main theme.
"Do you suppose she needs help? Should someone see her? Could there be something very wrong in her life? She couldn't be in some kind of danger, could she?"
Now how did my Constance Claire dig that up, so close, so innocently close to the truth? She mentioned hypnotism. Was that it? Who was being hypnotized? Constance Claire? Erica? Me? And how was I to respond to this suggestion of danger?
"I don't know. I really can't imagine how she could be in any danger," I replied quite seriously. "I will however keep an eye on things. Please don't hesitate to come to me if anything like this happens again. I know Erica to be a very serious student, which might possibly explain some rather bizarre behavior. Perhaps she is even a bit too studious."
Constance Claire did not seem completely satisfied with my response, and I do not blame her one bit for that, but she left my office without further comment. As for myself, I wondered what our little victim was trying to accomplish, frightening the other tenants like that. She couldn't be thinking that Constance Claire Donne was her adversary, could she?