Finally, to Janine's right hunched Professor Harold Beaumont, Civil War historian and staunch conservative, known for his occasional grumpy forays onto the editorial page of the New York Times. Connie had never worked closely with him, and had only placed him on her committee because she suspected that he would have very little personally invested in her performance. Between Janine and Chilton she thought she had enough expectations to manage. As these thoughts traveled through her mind, she felt Beaumont's dark eyes burning a tight round hole in the shoulder of her sweater.
Connie gazed down at the surface of the table and traced the outline of the initials that had been carved there, darkened by decades of waxy polish. She roamed through the file cabinets in her brain, looking for the answer that they wanted. Where was it? She knew it was there somewhere. Was it under "W," for "Witchcraft?" No. Or was it listed under "G," for "Gender Issues?" She opened each mental drawer in turn, pulling out index cards by the handful, shuffling through them, and then tossing them aside. The bubble of nausea rose again in her throat. The card was gone. She could not find it. Those whispered stories about students failing, they were going to be about her. She had been given the simplest question possible, and she could not produce an answer.
She was going to fail.
A haze of panic began to cloud her vision, and Connie fought to keep her breath steady. The facts were there, she must just focus enough to see them. Facts would never abandon her. She repeated the word to herself – facts. But wait – she had not looked under "F," for "Folk Religion, Colonial Era." She pulled the mental drawer open, and there it was! The haze cleared. Connie straightened herself against the hard chair, and smiled.
"Of course," Connie began, shoving her anxiety aside. "The temptation is to begin a discussion of witchcraft in New England with the Salem panic of 1692, in which nineteen townspeople were executed by hanging. But the careful historian will recognize that panic as an anomaly, and will instead want to consider the relatively mainstream position of witchcraft in colonial society at the beginning of the seventeenth century." Connie watched the four faces nodding around the table, planning the structure of her answer according to their responses.