“Aye, heard the schoolmaster walked into the Black Forest,” said one man.
“That’s what George Sullivan said,” agreed his companion. “He followed a man’s footprints, leadin to that creepy place.”
“Ye think he knew ‘bout the Black Forest?” said a third.
“Everybody knows the Black Forest,” asserted a fourth. “Ye don’t have to live here to know about it. Ye hear the stories.”
“Aye, agreed. It wuz suicide, is all Oi can say,” concluded the first. “A terrible fate awaits him if he hasn’t met it yet. Especially with what happened last year with that beast.”
“Do ye think there is more of ’em?”
“Where there is one there is more, Oi say,” said the second and they all agreed.
“That Mr. Crabb was sure a peculiar fellow’,” the third observed. “He barely left the schoolhouse an’ when he did he came only to the inn to eat. Said few words to people. Oi greeted him once on the way out an’ all Oi got wuz a grumble. He was most unfriendly, he wuz.”
“Schoolmasters have a streak of bad luck ‘round here,” said the fourth. “Oi recall in me younger years a Miss. Apple. She came from somewhere in the west. Pretty little thing. Taught for about three years before she became blind of scurvy.”
“Oi recall a Mr. Dag,” said the first. “Schoolmaster for a short while ‘til his father married money. He quit teaching an’ lived a life of a baron. Heard, he even met the Prince of Kingston, called him fat to his face. Then years later, lost all the money he inherited an’ went bedlamite. Lived the rest of his life in an asylum.”
“Didn’t he gambled it away, running up enormous bills?”
“Aye, he did. He was shunned by the court for being insolent to the Prince.”
“Then there wuz Mrs. Coons,” remembered the third. “For years, she wore the same dress she married in. Wore it every damn day an’ night. Could still smell the moth an’ decay in that old dress.”
“Didn’t her husband died shortly after they married?”
“Aye, five years after they married he died of some illness. That’s when she began her odd behavior. Oi remember well. She wuz friendly.”
“Kind to us tadpoles, indeed,” said the first. “We never had problems with her.”
“How ‘bout old man Mr. Merle. Better known as Mad Merle,” said the fourth. “Talk ‘bout strange… he wuz not quite right in the head. Stopped teaching moppets shortly after and locked himself in his mother’s home after she died. Never left that house. He paid others to bring him meals an’ other errands.”
“Didn’t he have a brother?”
“He did but he refused to let him in, never allowed nothing to be touched inside the house. More than once he’d taken a potshot at his brother when he tried to persuade Mad Merle to come out. That wuz the last time his brother wuz seen. Wanted nothing to do with him after that, neither did the rest of the family. But he enjoyed the moppets that visited him. Oi believe, he wuz some kind of doctor.”
“Aye, dressed proper for a mad man,” said the third. “Oi spoke to him a few times. Every time Oi had a problem he would help resolve me troubles. Died in his home. Nobody knew for days.”
“Oi don’t know if anybody is willing to take the position now after all these strange happenings.”
“Making matters worse, the witching hours will be upon us.”
“Aye, dangerous for any schoolmaster to be taking a position here.”
“Oi’ve hear the Mayor sent word about the vacancy to the city. Oi’ve also heard they won’t be sending for one, anytime soon.”
“Oi think Asbjorn has acquired a reputation among its schoolmasters as a misfortunate place to teach.”
Walter was listening intently that he hadn’t hear his mother calling him. She came over and put her hand on his shoulder, shaking him. “Walter, didn’t you hear me?”
He looked up to see her annoyed face.
“It’s time for you to go to bed; it’s late.” She took the mop away from him. “Run along now.”
Walter nodded and headed to his room in the back. His mother looked down at the small section he had been mopping for the last hour and rolled her eyes in exasperation. Next time she needed to have him clean the windows upstairs instead of mopping the entrance of the taproom.