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The townspeople are essentially helpless in the face of the mysterious illness which breaks out in Wethersfield. Families have little choice but to stay at home and care for those stricken as best they can, but "none of the familiar remedies (for illness seem) to be of any benefit", and even the "nauseous brew(s)" and bloodletting practices of the surgeons are completely ineffective. Faced with a phenomenon which they cannot understand, some, like Matthew Wood, seek answers in their religion, and others, like William Buckeley, experiment with innovative treatments such as the application of onion poultices, which actually has a lifesaving effect on Mercy. In their desperation, some of the townspeople begin to look for a scapegoat for the torment which has befallen them. Placing the blame on individuals who are looked upon with mistrust because they do not fit into the fabric of their narrow society, these townspeople conclude that their trials are of a supernatural origin, caused by the strange Quaker woman, Hannah Tupper, and, some suggest, by Kit. Riding a wave of rising hysteria, the townspeople form a mob to arrest the offending personages and have them tried for witchcraft (Chapter 17).
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