“I heard about the other schoolmasters before Mr. Crabb,” Alden said. “My grandfather told me about some of them and how they all never seem to last. There is a curse on any schoolmaster. Back then people didn’t talk about this stuff, so he doesn’t know what happened to the ones that taught before he was born.
“Parents taught the children little of what they knew to read and write, and then sent them to work. Some still can’t read. Families who could afford it sent their kids to the city. Grandfather said he had volunteered to teach some of the children. He had a large library and was well taught himself. Most of the library is gone now. My parents either sold the books or burnt them when we couldn’t afford to, buy lumber or coal.” Alden seemed ashamed to admit it.
Walter was certain Alden was more ashamed of how low his family had fallen since his grandfather’s death, but he didn’t seem to hold a grudge against his parents. Walter changed the subject. “Nobody seems to know who Mr. Crabb was.”
“He is not from here was all I was told,” Alden reported. “He lived in the schoolhouse. Didn’t speak much to anybody. I don’t think he even liked children. Grandfather didn’t like him.”
“Do you think Mr. Crabb will ever return?”
“I don’t know. They never do.”
“I also heard a lot of people talk about the witching hours,” Walter said. “What is that?”
Uncle Obel signaled Alden that his father’s jug was filled.
“Do you think we could get together in the afternoon, tomorrow?” Alden asked.
“I’m sure Uncle Obel will let me.”
“Meet me by the church courtyard around three. I better get going before Father starts searching for me.” Alden went to retrieve the jug, waved goodbye, and left.
Walter went back to attending the tables. At nine o’clock his uncle made him stop working for the day and sent him to bed. Walter was exhausted. He didn’t even bother to change his clothes or take off his shoes. He just went to bed and quickly fell asleep. Tomorrow would be another bustling day.
It drizzled in the morning, but the waters had receded back into Lake Alaric. The weather was becoming chilly and drab, making everything colorless, gray, and wet. This time of the year there was not much to do for two restless boys who had been confined inside for three months.