“Aye, heard the schoolmaster walked into the Black Forest,” said a man nearby.
“That’s what George Sullivan said. He followed a man’s footprints, leadin te that creepy place,” said his companion.
“Ye think he knew ‘bout the Black Forest?” said a third.
“Everybody knows the Black Forest. Ye don’t have te live here te know about it,” said a fourth. “Ye hear the stories.”
“Aye, agreed. Oit wuz suicide, is all Oi can say,” said 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’,” said the third. “He barely left the schoolhouse an’ when he did he came only te the inn te eat. Said a few words te 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 thin. Taught fer ‘bout three years before she became blind of scurvy.”
“Oi recall a Mr. Dag,” said the first. “Schoolmaster fer a short while ‘til his father married money. He quit teachin an’ lived a life of a Baron. Heard, he even met the Prince of Kingston, called him fat te his face. Then years later, lost all the money he inherited an’ became a poor bedlamite. Lived the rest of his life in an asylum.”
“Didn’t he gambled it away, runnin up enormous bills?”
“Aye, he did. He was shun by the court for being insolent te the Prince.”
“Then there wuz Mrs. Coons,” spoke the third. “Fer 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 her. She wuz odd but very friendly.”
“Kind te 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 odd, he wuz rather not quite right in the head. Barred himself in his mother’s home after she died. Would only teach moppets through his bedroom window. Never left that house. He paid others te bring him meals an’ other errands.”
“Didn’t he have a brother?”
“He did but he’d refused te let him in, never allowed nothin to be touched inside the house. More than once he’d taken a potshot te his brother when he tried te persuade Mad Merle te come out. That wuz the last time his brother wuz seen. Wanted nothin te 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 me resolve me troubles. Died in his home. Nobody knew for days.”
“Oi don’t know if anybody is willin te take the position now after all these strange happenings.”
“Te make matters worse the witchin hours will be upon us.”
“Aye, dangerous for any schoolmaster te be takin a position here.”
“Oi’ve hear the Mayor sent word ‘bout the vacancy te the city. Oi’ve also heard they won’t be sendin fer one, anytime soon.”
“Oi think Asbjorn has acquired a reputation among its schoolmasters as a misfortunate place te teach.”
Walter had been listening intently that he hadn’t heard his mother calling him. She came over and put her hand on his shoulder, shaking him. “Walter, didn’t you hear me?”
Walter looked up to see her annoyed face.
“I’ve been calling you, Walter. 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.