“Do you see the lights, sir?”
“Sometimes. Hunters won’t go near and I’ve told my boys to stay away,” Mr. Sullivan said warily. “Hunters have seen many dreadful things in those woods just like sailors see things at sea. People have gotten lost searching for those lights. Whether its tommyrot or not, one must be cautious. Those things are better left alone, just like the Black Forest. Some have defied that forest many times before an’ nothing good comes out of it.”
“Why do they search for those lights?”
“I don’t know. Whatever ye do, don’t go chasing those lights,” he warned Walter. “It’ll start getting dark. I wouldn’t stay out late; it wouldn’t be safe.” Mr. Sullivan looked out as thunder rumbled in the gray skies. “You better go home before you get caught in the rain, son. I’ll take care of your uncle and Mr. O’Brien.”
“Thank you, sir,” Walter said and walked out into the cool, gloomy day. It was good to be out even if it was just to do errands. He was heading back to the inn when he heard someone shouting for him. Walter turned to see Alden running toward him. He wasn’t carrying his father’s jug.
When Alden caught up he asked. “Are you heading to the inn?”
“Yes. No jug?”
“No,” Alden blushed, embarrassed. “He’s sleeping it off. Mother sent me to get some medicine from Dr. Diefendorf to help with her nerves. I also had to go to Madam Nefi to get some herbs. Have you ever been there?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I’ll take you some time, she’s—” Alden stopped when something caught his eye. “There goes my aunt, the one that works for Mr. Berry. Let’s go talk to her.”
They walked over to a tall, brunette woman wearing an immaculate gray, stiff dress with a starched collar. She smelled of perfume and soap. She resembled Alden’s mother, only younger and less frumpy. She was carrying a wicker basket and had a stoic expression on her face.
“Hallo, young man,” she greeted Alden.
“Hallo, Aunt Josephine.”
“Who is your friend?” she glanced briefly at Walter.
“This is Walter. His uncle owns the Swan Inn.”
“Ah, Mr. Banny. Yes, I know him. How are you, young man?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” Walter said.
“I hope he’s been teaching you manners being in a place like that,” she said in an imperious manner. “I would ask how school is going, but knowing what happened to Mr. Crabb—for heaven’s sakes, child, stop looking at me like that,” she chastised Alden. “Of course I know what’s going on in this town. I don’t live in a cave. That’s the only thing people talk about. They are nothing but busybodies. Have you eaten anything today? Heaven knows your mother can barely feed herself. Well, speak child.”
“I had some bread with honey and milk this morning,” Alden answered.
“Bread! Bread is not enough food for a twelve-year-old.” She rummaged through her wicker basket. “Those parents of yours…sometimes I wonder what’s going on through their heads.” She took out a wrapped bag of confectionery and handed it to Alden. “Those are the finest chocolates from the city and other regions. You will like them.” She handed him another bag with exotic fruits and a few silver coins. “That should be enough to keep the pantry full. Put that money away. Quickly, quickly. We don’t want to repeat last year’s incident when your mother and that husband of hers spent it on rubbish. Heaven knows your grandfather is not there to sustain them. Does your mother know?”
“No, she thinks she has an admirer,” Alden said.
“That mother of yours,” she rolled her eyes. “She always had her head in the clouds.” All of the sudden she froze, her gaze fixed straight ahead. Worried, Alden looked at Walter. Had she been bewitched?
“Aunt Josephine?” Alden said, but she didn’t respond. “Aunt—”
“I need to go,” she cut him off then hurried away as if something had frightened her.
Walter and Alden turned to see what she had been staring at. It was Mr. Bagley, staggering towards them, pointing after Alden’s aunt.
“That was her, wasn’t it?” he asked when he reached the boys. “That was yer mother’s sister, Josephine, wasn’t it?”
Alden didn’t respond.