A sturdy carriage with a team of horses harnessed to it stood in the road in front of the tavern. The driver looked down at Eric and Kate disinterestedly as they went through the gate in the white picket fence that lined the road and approached the large green front door. Eric turned the worn brass doorknob and pushed the door open.
The hum of leisurely conversation and the slightly sweet scent of pipe tobacco washed over them as they stepped inside the foyer. Directly in front of them was a staircase leading to the guest bedrooms. On their right was a closed door. To their left through a wide, open doorway they could see tables and chairs and a fire crackling in a field stone fireplace beyond. It was from this room that the talk and the tobacco smoke emanated.
Suddenly, there was a banging and scraping from upstairs and three men in embroidered silk coats, white wigs and tri-corner hats came scrambling down the staircase. Pushing past Eric and Kate, they pulled open the door and hurried out to the carriage. As they left, one of them called back over his shoulder. “Hurry with that baggage, boy. We have to be in Hartford by dark.”
Eric and Kate turned and saw a trunk and several other pieces of luggage with legs teetering down the stairs. “Coming good sirs!” the baggage called. Under its breath it muttered, “If you swine carried your own bags, you might get out of here all the quicker.”
“Uh, hey, need a hand?” Eric asked.
The baggage stopped in the middle of the flight of stairs and a boy’s face peeped around the edge. He looked to be about the same age as Eric and Kate. His brown hair was tied back in a small pony tail. Stray wisps trailed across his pale face.
“Oh, hello, didn’t see you there,” he said. “Yes, I would gladly accept a hand, as many as you can spare. Thank you.”
Eric and Kate both relieved the boy of part of his load. Together they carried it all out to the carriage. Two of the men had already entered and settled themselves. The other waited for them at the rear, hands on hips.
“Make haste. We are already behind schedule thanks to the muddle at breakfast!”
The boy began strapping the luggage to the rear of the carriage with large leather straps and brass buckles. Apparently he did not do it fast enough to suit the man who pushed him aside and fastened the buckles himself. After tugging on the load, he gave a nod of satisfaction and alighted into the carriage without even looking at them. He gave a shout to the driver who snapped the reins and they were off with a pounding of hooves and a cloud of dust.
The boy snorted as he watched them go. “Humph, not so much as a farthing tip, ungrateful wretches.” He turned to them. “Hello, I am grateful for your help. My name’s Mathias. Welcome to Keller Tavern.”
“Thanks,” Eric replied. “I’m Eric and this is my friend Kate.”
“We’re glad we could help, Mathias,” Kate said with a smile. “Who were those men?”
“Merchants,” Mathias spat. “Pompous windbags. Come in and I’ll tell you all about them.”
They followed the boy inside. He led them into the room with the fireplace, which turned out to be the tavern’s common room. Men sat around tables smoking, talking and sipping drinks. Some were playing dominoes. At the far end of the room was a large wooden bar. Mathias gestured to an empty table and they all sat.
“Now then, let me get you a drink by way of thanks. What will you have?”
“Aren’t you too young to be a bartender?” Eric asked.
Mathias gave him a queer look. “No one’s too young to help their parents. They are the innkeepers. My full name is Mathias Keller.”
“I see,” Kate said. “Your family owns the tavern.”
“Aye. My grandfather built the place over sixty years ago and we’ve been running it ever since. We offer lodging to folks traveling between Boston and New York.”
“You mean like those merchants,” Eric said.
Mathias scowled. “Most are better mannered than them, but yes. We see all kinds of people. Now how about you, are you passing through or will you be staying?”
“Uh, we’ll be staying for a while, I guess,” Eric said.
“What he means is that we’re new here and we’d like to stay, but we’re looking for work and lodging,” Kate explained.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Eric agreed.
“We could use a couple extra hands here. The harvest has been good this year and we shall soon see the farmers coming to town to sell some of it and spend some on a drop or two to drink. I’ll speak with my parents to see if they will take you on for the tap room here,” Mathias offered. “Let’s go find them.”
He led them behind the counter and into the kitchen where a woman was hard at work mixing dough for biscuits.
“Mam, where’s Father?”
“Out back mending the barn door Matty. Who’re these poppets?”
“They are looking for work. We could use help in the taproom with all the travelers we’ve had lately and the harvest upon us,” Mathias said.
His mother stopped her kneading and looked Eric and Kate up and down. “You look a likely pair, but it is up to my husband.”
“I’ll take them out then.”
He led them out the back door and into the barnyard. This was an area more dirt than grass that lay between the tavern and a weather beaten barn. A tall, lean man was hammering nails into the crossbeam of one of the barn’s large doors.
Mr. Keller listened expressionlessly as Mathias pitched the idea of Eric and Kate working in the taproom. The gaunt man’s long face and serious demeanor were imposing to Eric. When Mathias had finished Eric was surprised to see Mr. Keller’s face break into an enormous grin. His blue-gray eyes sparkled.
“So, you’re called Kate and Eric, eh? No need to tell me which one of you is which. And you two youngsters want to try your hands at a service trade?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Keller,” Kate said, flashing a brilliant smile. “We would love to settle in your beautiful village and it would be so exciting to be able to serve our new neighbors in your tavern.”
Boy, Kate was sure laying it on thick. Eric hoped that her sweet talk would not turn Mr. Keller’s stomach like it was turning his.
“Well, I don’t see why we can’t give you a trial and see how you get on,” Mr. Keller said with a light laugh. “I daresay if you talk as fair to my customers you might increase the custom. My terms are five shillings a week apiece plus room and board. You will serve guests in the taproom, carry baggage and clean the rooms. If I or my wife have anything else that needs doing, we will let you know. Do these terms meet with your approval?”
“Yes sir, thank you,” Eric replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Keller, that would be wonderful,” Kate agreed.
“Fine, fine,” Mr. Keller said, still grinning. “Mathias, why don’t you take them in and show them the attic. Once they’re settled, I’m sure your mother can find something for the three of you to do.”
“Yes, Father,” Mathias said.
As they headed back inside Eric said, “Thanks Mathias. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you getting us a job.”
Mathias laughed. “It is my pleasure, and please do not call me Mathias. Call me Matty—all my friends do. Besides, having you two to help out will make my life a lot easier. Until you both arrived I had been doing the work of three. It will be nice to have a little bit of help for a change.”