The town of Asbjorn wasn’t too worried about replacing Mr. Crabb. As Alden told Walter, they had been without a schoolmaster before. The longest time had been six years before Alden was born. Mr. Crabb had already been teaching for about a year when Alden came of age. Nobody knew why, but he lasted longer than most schoolmasters had before him. Whatever the real reason for Mr. Crabbs’ departure, the children of Asbjorn were left without a schoolmaster and without a school. It was a fact that Mr. Crabb would not be returning and the people of Asbjorn were not in a hurry to rebuild the little white schoolhouse.
“Who’s Mr. Crabb, anyway?” a plump, middle aged woman whispered to her elderly, female companion.
“Nobody knows,” her friend whispers back. “They said he came from the East. Had no family of his own. No one ever visited him an’ he never left the town to visit anyone. Mr. Alfred said he never even received letters.”
Mr. Alfred was the postmaster for Asbjorn’s only post office. He was a friendly man. Of five sons, only one remained. His eldest had died during the war; another had lost at sea, a third succumbed to an unknown illness, and the fourth went hunting and never returned. He sent his last son to live with some relatives after his wife died. He believed there was a curse put on his family by someone and didn’t want him to have the same fate as his brothers—at least, that was the assumption of Alden.
“Did anyone converse with Mr. Crabb?” the woman continued their discussion.
“Oi believe he said very little,” said the elderly one. “He kep’ to himself most of the time. He might have spoken with Mr. Banny a few times an’ other people here an’ there. Exchanging pleasantries, Oi imagine.”
Walter wondered what they spoke about. He needed to remind himself to ask Uncle Obel when he got the chance.
“Oi don’t even recall the last schoolmaster before Mr. Crabb.”
“It wuz some young female,” said her friend. “She taught for couple of months before she got ill an’ passed away. The Mayor wuz in no hurry to replace her. They say, there is a misfortune upon those who teach here. Someone is either being cursed or damned in this town.”
Her plump companion agreed. “Maybe so, but don’t ye think Mr. Crabb caused his demise? Maybe he angered a traveler. Oi heard he wuz short with people. He probably got curt with a stranger an’ abducted him. The stranger might have dealt with magic and shouldn’t have been crossed. We do get a lot of strangers ‘round here. Children use to say he wuz mean to ‘em.”
“Maybe,” the elderly woman thought for a moment. “Besides, children exaggerate. Discipline is necessary, any slight of permissiveness an’ they get out of control.”
Both ladies turn to look disapprovingly at Walter who was half listening and half mopping the floors. He started mopping faster and went about his duty in a more serious way, but it was hard not to listen as they continued their conversation.
“As Oi wuz sayin,” the elderly lady continued. “Children exaggerate at times. However, we are surrounded by strange magic, there is no doubt ‘bout that. Especially, ‘round this time—the witchin’ hours are upon us.”
“Indeed, they are,” agreed the plump woman. “The Night of the Withes.”
The elderly lady hushed her. “Oi wouldn’t be sayin that out loud. People are superstitious here; one word if this hocus pocus and it’s like a blaze, never to be put out.”