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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Stylometry is a formal linguistic analysis of distinctive recurrent patterns of language preferences, such as word choices, sentence structure, syntax, punctuation, and turns of expression. It has been applied to notable works and authors, from the Bible and Shakespeare to the Federalist Papers. As far as I know, no one has yet analyzed the work of Francis Gerry Fairfield. Should that day arrive, I am certain that the following narrative, entitled “Quick Consumption: An Every-Day Story of New England,” which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of 1871, will be attributed to him:


    I remember hearing my father speak of the matter on one occasion—and he did it with tears in his eyes—as to how, in the case of a family named Dunbar, living in a little, squatty, unpainted farmhouse, not a mile and a half from the old homestead, the legend of the quick consumption had been fulfilled. The family consisted of William Dunbar—“Old Dunbar,” as he was familiarly called in the neighborhood—a little, limping, bent-double, dried-up old man; Mrs. Dunbar, quite as desiccated and anatomical as the old gentleman himself; and six boys, apparently healthy, robust young men, of ages running from eighteen to thirty. The old gentleman died first; and, in exactly three weeks after, the neighbors were called to attend the funeral of the old lady. Exactly three weeks! For one member of a family to die exactly three weeks after another is one of the coincidences of quick consumption. It means simply that the whole family is fated. It means doom.


They all died—those Dunbar boys—died, one after another, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and strangely enough, it happened that it was exactly three weeks to a day from funeral to funeral, until the last one of the Dunbar family had been put under ground. And then the old farmhouse waxed grayer and grayer, and wasted and wasted, and seemed to be going off of quick consumption, too; and strange, flickering lights were seen by night at the weird windows—so the neighbors said—and nobody, for his soul, dared to pass the gray old building after dark; and it was inhabited by bats and by cobwebs and by hooting owls, and by mildew and by mold and by flitting apparitions, and by soundless feet that walked on its moldering floors, and by goblin faces that looked out from its weird, curtainless windows; and over all brooded, bat-like and terrible, the demon of quick consumption. The old building has fallen to pieces since; and even the cellar has been filled up; and rank and tall waves the grass where once stood the gray farmhouse of the Dunbar family. Its blank, odd, eye-like windows, with the goblin faces in them, have ceased to stare into the night.


    They all died, too, of the same disease, the one just three weeks to a day after the other—died of the visitation of that terrible demon, which nobody in the whole town of Stafford ever mentions without shuddering—died of quick consumption.

 
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