“Before we were married you called me an angel.”
“I know it.”
“And now you don’t call me anything.”
“Well, you ought to be glad that I possess such self-control.”
The next day the tap room was overflowing with travelers. Not a space was left and many had to stand as they ate or drank their ale. So much commotion was going on that Walter could barely hear his thoughts. Uncle Obel and two other sixteen-year-old boys, Uncle hired, were running around filling up mugs, taking away or bringing dishes to the back of the kitchen. Walter also helping in the taproom. At first his mother objected but Uncle Obel was overwhelmed and Aunt Edith who was running up and down the stairs helping with the inn, became exasperated with his mother, “Miriam, for goodness sake, let the boy help! We need all the help we can get at this moment.” Mrs. Banny reluctantly agreed.
It was true, about two days ago when the rain had slowed the travelers began to transit into Asbjorn. The Swann Inn was the only place to get a warm meal and a clean room, but they were running out of space. Some travelers had to share rooms and even the attic was made into a room. The attic was never used and Walter hated going up there alone, but with many outsiders, coming and going it made it less solitary and frightening. He didn’t have to go up there for now and was happy to work in the taproom. When Alden came in to refill his father’s jug, Uncle Obel, knowingly, gave Walter a break from the chaos. Walter and Alden try to squeeze into a corner of the taproom for privacy. Walter told him everything he had heard about Mr. Crabb, the other schoolmasters, and the witching hours.
“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. All he knew, was that before Mr. Crabb, they couldn’t get anybody to teach here for six years.”
“Six years!” Walter was surprised. “Who taught them to read or write?”
“Their parents taught them the little they knew and sent them to work. Some can’t even 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 some of the books or burnt them when we couldn’t afford to buy lumber or coal,” Alden seemed ashamed of it.
Walter was certain Alden was more ashamed of how low they had fallen since his grandfather died, 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 said. “He lived in the schoolhouse. Didn’t speak much to anybody. Grandfather didn’t like him. I don’t think he even liked children. Grandfather told about the other schoolmasters he could remember, but there weren’t that many.”
“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 the witching hour?”
Alden turn to look at Uncle Obel who signaled him that his father’s jug has been filled. “Do you think we could get together in the afternoon, tomorrow?”
“I’m sure, Uncle Obel will let me.”
“Meet me by the church’s courtyard around three. I better get going before Father starts searching for me,” Alden went to retrieve the jug, waved goodbye to Walter and left. Walter went back to attending the tables. It had gotten busier that Walter had a late dinner, by nine his Uncle made him stop working for the day and sent him to bed. It was usually Aunt Edith who would send him to bed, but that night she was busy herself. Walter went to bed 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 was another bustling day.