She was sophisticated, poised, and cultured. In retrospect, this should have made them suspicious. A teacher like her should be presiding over a girl’s school in London or New York, not seeking a position in a small town in Georgia. But at the time, they were too delighted by her application to ask any questions.
“It will be good for our daughter to learn some culture,” the attorney’s wife told the pastor’s wife.
“And our boy may find some table manners at last,” the pastor’s wife responded with a smile.
School was called into session in the local church shortly after the arrival of the teacher. And soon, the children were bringing glowing reports home. “Teacher” was special. Teacher taught them manners and diction as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. All the children loved teacher.
The parents were delighted by the progress their children were making at school. Teacher had been a real find. A God-send, said the preacher’s wife.
But not everyone in town was so satisfied. The local ne-er-do well – called Smith – had more sinister stories to tell.
“That woman isn’t natural,” he told the blacksmith, waving a bottle of whisky for emphasis. “I seen her out in the woods after dark, dancing around a campfire and chanting in a strange language.”
“Nonsense,” the blacksmith retorted, calmly hammering a headed iron bar on his anvil.
“They say she’s got an altar in her room and it isn’t an altar to the Almighty,” Smith insisted, leaning forward and blowing his boozy breath into the blacksmith’s face.
“You’re drunk,” said the blacksmith, lifting the hot iron so it barred the man from coming any closer. “Go home and sleep it off.”
Smith left the smithy, but he continued to talk wild about the Teacher in the weeks that followed. During those weeks, a change gradually came over the school children. The typical high-jinx and pranks that all children played lessened. Their laughter died away. And when they did misbehave, it was on a much more ominous scale than before. Items began to disappear from houses and farms. Expensive items like jewelry, farm tools, and money. When children talked back to their parents, there was a hard-edge to their voices, and they did not apologize for their rudeness, even when punished.
“And my daughter lied to me the other day,” the attorney’s wife said to the pastor’s wife in distress. “I saw her punch her younger brother and steal an apple from him, and she denied it to my face. She practically called me a liar!”
“The games the children play back in the woods frighten me,” the pastor’s wife confessed. “They chant in a strange language, and they move in such a strange manner. Almost like a ritual dance.”
“Could it be something they are learning at school?” asked the attorney’s wife.
“Surely not! Teacher is such a sweet, sophisticated lady,” said the pastor’s wife.
But they exchanged uneasy glances.
Smith, on the other hand, was sure. “That teacher is turning the young’uns to the Devil, that’s what she’s doing,” he proclaimed up and down the streets of the town.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the preacher told him when they passed in front of the mercantile.
“I am not ridiculous. You are blind,” Smith told him. “That teacher ought to be burned at the stake, like they burned the witches in Salem.”
The pastor, pale with wrath, ordered Smith out of his sight. But the ne’er-do-well’s words rang in his mind and would not be pushed away. And the children continued to behave oddly. Almost like they were possessed. He would, the preacher decided reluctantly, have to look into it someday soon.