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So swift the ill- of such mysterious kind,
It was near the middle of the dark and dreary season which characterizes our northern clime. Old Winter had taken his January nap. And having protracted longer than usual his cold, sweaty slumbers, he had now, as if to make amends for his remissness, aroused himself with a rage and fury which seemed to show his determination to expel the last vestige of his antagonistic element, heat, that had thus invaded and for a while disarmed him, for ever from his dominions. The whole season, indeed, to drop the metaphorical for plain language, had been one of uncommon mildness. A warm and broken December had been succeeded by a still warmer and more thawy January. And so little had people been made aware of the presence of winter thus far, that their doors were often left open, and small fires only were either used or required. But the cold weather now set in with intense severity, and compelled all to keep tightly closed doors and roaring fires.
The school-house, which we have been for some time making the scene of action, had been built the preceding fall; and the interior, consequently, had been freshly plastered ; while the wood-work of the doors and windows, already tight before from its newness, had been swollen by the recent thawy weather; so that the whole room, by this, and the finishing operation of the frost in closing up the remaining
interstices, had been made almost wholly impervious to the admission of any fresh air from without. From this, however, no evil consequences, owing to the mildness of the season, and the attendant circumstances we have mentioned, had resulted to the school. But scarcely a week had elapsed, after the change of weather just described, before the scholars, though apparently much enjoying the contrasted comforts of their tight, stove-heated room, while the cold, savage blasts could be heard raging and howling without, became very visibly affected. A livid paleness overspread their features; while their every appearance and movement indicated great and increasing languor and feebleness. The general health of the school, in short, including that of the master, seemed to be rapidly failing. These indications were soon followed by several instances of so great illness as to confine its victims to their homes, and even to their beds. Among the latter was the case of the only son and child of a poor, but pious and intelligent widow, by the name of Marvin, which excited in the bosom of Locke feelings of the deepest sorrow for the misfortune of the boy, and sympathy in the affliction of his doating parent. And it was not without reason that both teacher and parent were touched with peculiar grief on the occasion; for the boy, who was about ten years old, was not only kind and amiable in disposition, but a very excellent scholar. And now, almost for the first time, having the advantages of good instruction, and his ambition and natural love of learning having been kindied into enthusiasm by the various incitements held out to him by his instructor, with whom he had become a secret favorite, he pursued his studies with an ardor and assiduity which knew no relaxation. And having made surprising progress in grammar, during the few weeks the school had kept, he had recently solicited and obtained leave to commence arithmetic, to which he was giving his whole heart and soul, when he
was thus snatched from his engrossing pursuit by the hand of sickness.
These cases of sickness, and especially the more serious one of the good and studious little Henry, the boy we have particularized, produced much sensation in the neighborhood. And the cause, not only of these instances of absolute illness, but of the altered and sickly appearance of the whole school, which now excited observation and uneasiness, began to be generally discussed. As no epidemic was prevailing in the country, and as all other schools in the vicinity, as far as could be heard from, were even unusually healthy, it was soon concluded that the present unhealthiness must be occasioned by something wrong about the school-house, or in the manner of conducting the school. And as nothing amiss could possibly be perceived in the school-house, which all pronounced warm and comfortable, it was settled that the fault, of course, must be looked for in the master. Some averred that the latter, by undue severity, or by some other means, had broken down the spirit of his scholars, which had caused them to become melancholy, drooping, and sickly. Others said that he had made the scholars study so hard, that it had caused their health to give way under the tasks which they were induced, through fear, or some mysterious influence he had obtained over their minds, to perform. And there were yet others who carried still farther the idea thrown out by those last named, and contended that the master must have resorted to some unlawful art or power, which he had exercised upon his pupils, not only to subjugate them, but somehow to give them an unnatural thirst for their studies, and as unnatural a power of mastering them. In proof of this, one man cited the instance of his son, who, having become half-crazed on his arithmetic, and having worked all one evening on a sum which he could not do, went to bed, leaving his slate upon the table, but rose some time in the
night in his sleep, actually worked out the answer, returned to bed, wholly unconscious of what he had done, and slept till morning, when he found, to his surprise, the whole process, in his own figures, upon the slate.* This incident, however little it might have had to do, in the minds of others, in proving the position it was cited to sustain, seemed to go far with these people in confirming the strange notion they were beginning to conceive, that the master had brought some unnatural influence to bear upon his pupils. And when they compared the wild, thoughtless, and unstudious conduct which had ever characterized the scholars before, with their present greatly altered behavior, and the eager diligence with which many of them, both day and night, pursued their studies, particularly mathematical studies, they mysteriously shook their heads, and said “they did n't know about these things; such a change might have come in a natural way, but they could n't understand it.” It was agreed on all hands, they further argued, that the master was deep in figures. Capt. Bunker, who was considered the best natural reckoner in those parts, had confessed that he could n't hold a candle to him in that respect. They had always heard that strange things could be done with figures, if a person sought to do
Indeed, there was a certain point in figures, they supposed, beyond which, if a person persisted in going, he was sure to have help from one who should be nameless, but who always exacted his pay for his assistance. They hoped this was not the case with their master; but if it was, and he was trying to lead his scholars into the same forbidden paths, it was no wonder that they had such strange, blue looks ; nor was it at all surprising that sickness should come upon
* This incident, improbable as it may appear to some, is a true one, having occurred within the knowledge of the author, who otherwise would not have ventured on relating it.
them, as a judgment. And they again shook their heads, and said “it was high time that something should be done."
Let it not be inferred, that we would convey the idea, that the people of the country in which our scene is laid were generally as superstitious as some of the circumstances here represented to have taken place might seem to imply. They certainly were not so. And comparatively few locations, we presume, could have been found, where such arguments as we have put into the mouths of some of the good people of this uncultured district, would have been listened to a moment. But our observations, made during considerable travel and intercourse among the common classes of people in the Middle and Northern States, have apprised us, that instances of the prevalence of notions similar to those just mentioned are still to be found, and much oftener, too, than we had formerly supposed.
We have often come across isolated neighborhoods, even in the heart of intelligent communities, where, to our surprise, we found all the exploded notions of witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and the like, still entertained ; and to an extent, indeed, that led us almost to doubt whether we had not, by some miracle or other, been carried back a century and a half, and set down among a clan of the immediate disciples of old Cotton Mather, who spent so much time and learning in making mystery and mischief about things which have no existence, except in imagination. Such a neighborhood, with a few honorable exceptions, we are constrained to say, was that of the Hornof-the-Moon.
On the day following that during which the singular surmises and discussions, to which we have alluded, were started, two more members of the school were taken down; and the situation of Henry Marvin had become so alarming, that his agonized mother, some time in the preceding night, had despatched a man for a physician of high reputation, residing