a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo and Melissa were equally surprised at so unexpected a meeting. They could scarcely credit their own senses.—How he had discovered her solitude—what led him to that lonely place—how he had got over the wall—were queries which first arose in her mind. He likewise could not conceive by what miracle he should find her in a remote, desolate building, which he had supposed to be uninhabited. With rapture he took her trembling hand; tears of joy choaked their utterance. “You are—
David [overlapping, in Riff Raff voice]: “You’re wet.”
said Melissa at length;
Meredith [as Melissa]: Oh! Now I remember where I know you from! You’re that man who took shelter from a storm at the Simpsons’ house.
“we will go up to my chamber;
Linda: Melissa’s got this thing for dripping wet men.
Lucy: Insert wisecrack about “drips” ad lib.
I have a fire there, where you can dry your clothes.”
David: Since you won’t be needing them for a while, nudge nudge.
—“Your chamber;” replied Alonzo; “who then inhabits this house?” “No one except myself, Alonzo,” she answered; “I am here alone, Alonzo.” “Alone!” he exclaimed—“here alone, Melissa! Good God! tell me how—why—by what means are you here alone?” “Let us go up to my chamber,” she replied, “and I will tell you all.”
He followed her to her apartment and seated himself by the fire. “You want refreshment,” said Melissa—which was indeed the case, as he had been long without any, and was wet, hungry and weary.
She immediately set about preparing tea and soon had it ready, and a comfortable repast was spread for his entertainment.—And now, reader, if thou art a child of nature, if thy bosom is susceptible of refined sensibility, contemplate for a moment, Melissa and Alonzo seated at the same table, a table prepared by her own hand, in a lonely mansion, separated from society, and no one present to interrupt them.
David: I’m contemplating, I’m contemplating.
Meredith: If Alonzo and Melissa had been children of nature, the plot would have taken a very different direction at this point.
After innumerable difficulties, troubles and perplexities; after vexing embarrassments, and a cruel separation, they were once more together, and for some time every other consideration was lost. The violence of the storm had not abated. The lightning still blazed, the thunder bellowed, the wind roared, the sea raged, the rain poured, mingled with heavy hail: Alonzo and Melissa heard a little of it.
Hugh and Meredith: Heard little of it.
Linda [sings]: What a difference an “a” makes.
She told him all that had happened to her since they parted, except the strange noises and awful sights which had terrified her during her confinement in that solitary building: this she considered unnecessary and untimely, in her present situation.
Meredith [to Lucy]: You were saying something earlier about what goes on inside Alonzo’s brain. I think Melissa’s brain works the same way.
Alonzo informed her, that as soon as he had learned the manner in which she had been sent away, he left the house of Vincent and went to her father’s to see if he could not find out by some of the domestics what course her aunt had taken.
Hugh: Her aunt and she had taken.
None of them knew any thing about it.
David: That’s what happens when your father goes bankrupt. You can’t pay the witnesses enough to refresh their memories when someone else has paid them to forget.
He did not put himself in the way of her father, as he was apprehensive of ill treatment thereby. He then went to several places among the relatives of the family where he had heretofore visited with Melissa, most of whom received him with a cautious coldness. At length he came to the house of Mr. Simpson, the gentleman to whose seat Alonzo was once driven by a shower, where he accidentally found Melissa on a visit, as mentioned before.
Meredith [1811 text]: Footnote, See page 26. [Turns pages.] “As Alonzo glanced his eyes hastily around the room, he thought he recognized a familiar countenance. A hurried—”
Hugh: Yes, thank you, we remember.
Here he was admitted with the ardour of friendship. They had heard his story: Melissa had kept up a correspondence with one of the young ladies; they were therefore informed of all, except Melissa’s removal from her father’s house: of this they knew nothing until told thereof by Alonzo.
“I am surprised at the conduct of my kinsman,” said Mr. Simpson; “for though his determinations are, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, unalterable, yet I have ever believed that the welfare of his children lay nearest his heart.
David: It does lie nearest his heart. He just has a different definition of “welfare”.
In the present instance he is certainly pursuing a mistaken policy. I will go and see him.” He then ordered his horse, desiring Alonzo to remain at his house until he returned.
Alonzo was treated with the most friendly politeness by the family; he found that they were deeply interested in his favour and the welfare of Melissa. At evening Mr. Simpson returned. “It is in vain,” said he, “to reason with my kinsman; he is determined that his daughter shall marry your rival. He will not even inform me to what place he has sent Melissa. Her aunt however is with her, and they must be at the residence of some of the family relatives.
Meredith: As opposed to, uh, the family members who aren’t related to them?
Lucy: As opposed to the relatives who no longer consider themselves part of the family.
I will dispatch my son William among our connections, to see if he can find her out.”
Linda [wild excitement]: It’s William, the man with two names! I knew he’d be important!
David: If it’s his only son, why does he need to specify “my son William”?
Hugh: His older sons went over to the Loyalist side, so we don’t speak of them.
The next morning William departed, and was gone two days; but could not obtain the least intelligence either of Melissa or her aunt, although he had been the rounds among the relations of the family.
Lucy: The exact same people Alonzo has already questioned.
“There is some mystery in this affair,” said Mr. Simpson.
Linda: —submitting his entry in the Quickness of Uptake sweepstakes.
“I am very little acquainted with Melissa’s aunt. I have understood that she draws a decent support from her patrimonial resources, which, it is said, are pretty large, and that she resides alternately with her different relatives. I have understood also that my kinsman expects her fortune to come into his family, in case she never marries, which, in all probability, she now will not, and that she, in consequence, holds considerable influence over him. It is not possible but that—
Hugh [1804 text]: It is possible that.
Meredith: Are you asking us to believe that your version uses fewer words and makes more sense?
Melissa is yet concealed at some place of her aunt’s residence, and that the family are in the secret. I think it cannot be long before they will disclose themselves: You, Alonzo, are welcome to make my house your home; and if Melissa can be found, she shall be treated as my daughter.”
Alonzo thanked him for his friendship and fatherly kindness. “I must continue,” said he, “my researches for Melissa; the result you shall know.”
Lucy: Melissa asked him to look up some points of law in the Yale library.
He then departed, and travelled through the neighbouring villages and adjoining neighbourhoods, making, at almost every house, such enquiries as he considered necessary on the occasion. He at length arrived at the inn in the last little village where Melissa and her aunt had stopped the day they came to the mansion. Here the inn-keeper informed him that two ladies, answering his description, had been at his house: he named the time, which was the day in which Melissa, with her aunt, left her father’s house. The inn-keeper told him that they purchased some articles in the village, and drove off to the south. Alonzo then traversed the country adjoining the Sound, far to the westward,
Meredith [as innkeeper]: Come back! Not that way! I said south, not sound.
and was returning eastward, when he was overtaken by the shower. No house being within sight, be betook himself—
Hugh: “. . . be betook himself”?
Hugh, Meredith and Linda [in unison]: You’ve got a jeebie! You’ve got a jeebie!
David [sulkily]: All right then, you read it.
he betook himself to the forest for shelter. From a little hilly glade in the wilderness, he discovered the lonely mansion which, from its appearance, he very naturally supposed to be uninhabited.—The tempest soon becoming severe, he thought he would endeavour to reach the house.
When he arrived at the moat, he found it impossible to cross it, or ascend the wall; and he stood in momentary jeopardy of his life, from the falling timber, some of which was broken and torn up by the tornado, some splintered by the fiery bolts of heaven. At length a large tree,
Hugh: A large, tall tree. The height is important.
which stood near him, on the verge of the moat, or rather in that place, was hurled from—
Lucy: I realize this is getting into “Dog Bites Man” territory, but I have to say I couldn’t make head or tail of that.
Hugh [huffily]: Neither could your typesetters. Pay attention now:
. . . a large, tall tree, which stood near him, on the verge of the moat, or rather in that place, river,
Hugh: Now do you get it? In that place, the moat is best described as a river.
was hurled from its foundation,
David [as contractor]: I told them you can’t install mature elm trees on slab, but would they listen?
and fell, with a hideous crash, across the moat, its top lodging on the wall. He scrambled up on the trunk, and made his way on to the wall. By the incessant glare of lightning he was able to see distinctly. The top of the tree was partly broken by the force of its fall, and hung down the other side of the wall. By these branches he let himself down into the yard, proceeded to the house, found the door open, which Melissa had left so in her fright, and entered into one of the rooms, where he proposed to stay until at least the shower was over,
Linda: To Melissa it’s a hurricane, to he-man Alonzo it’s a mere shower.
still supposing the house unoccupied, until the noise of locking the door, and the light of the candle, drew him from the room, when, to his infinite surprise, he discovered Melissa, as before related.
Melissa listened to Alonzo with varied emotion. The fixed obduracy of her father, the generous conduct of the Simpsons, the constancy of Alonzo, filled her heart with inexpressible sensations. She foresaw that her sufferings were not shortly to end—she knew not when her sorrows were to close.
Meredith [ticking off points on fingers]: The keys to the prison are in her possession; there is no other human being for miles around; the hero is alive and unhurt, and has managed to find her . . . . [Shakes head sadly.] I can’t find any flaw in her reasoning. She’s trapped.
Alonzo was shocked at the alteration which appeared in the features of Melissa. The rose had faded from her cheek, except when it was transiently suffused with a hectic flush. A livid paleness sat upon her countenance, and her fine form was rapidly wasting.
Lucy: A week on bread and water will do that. While the aunt’s away, John and his family have been living high off the hog on the provisions meant for Melissa.
It was easy to be foreseen that the grief which preyed upon her heart would soon destroy her, unless speedily allayed.
The storm had now passed into the regions of the east; the wind and rain had ceased, the lightning more unfrequently flashed, and the thunder rolled at a distance. The hours passed hastily;—day would soon appear. Hitherto they had been absorbed in the present moment; it was time to think of the future. After the troubles they had experienced; after so fortunate a meeting, they could not endure the idea of another and an immediate separation. And yet immediately separated they must be. It would not be safe for Alonzo to stay there even until the rising sun, unless he was concealed; and of what use could it be for him to remain there in concealment?
Meredith: Well, he could sneak up behind John, knock him unconscious and steal the— Oh, right. John doesn’t have the keys to Melissa’s prison, so no point to that.
David: He could feast his eyes on Melissa during the twenty-three hours of each day that John isn’t there. But when you’re used to seeing her for two or three hours at a stretch, at intervals of a week or so, I guess that wouldn’t be very satisfying.
Linda: He could sneak up behind Melissa, knock her unconscious, and leave her on the doorstep of the State Home for the Incurably Feeble-Minded.
Hugh: He could knock himself unconscious, and—
In this dilemma there was but one expedient. “Suffer me,” said Alonzo to Melissa, “to remove you from this solitary confinement. Your health is impaired. To you, your father is no more a father; he has steeled his bosom to paternal affection; he has banished you from his house, placed you under the tyranny of others, and confined you in a lonely, desolate dwelling, far from the sweets of society; and this only because you cannot heedlessly renounce a most solemn contract, formed under his eye, and sanctioned by his immediate consent and approbation. Pardon me, Melissa, I would not censure your father;
Hugh [1804 text]: I would not wish unjustly to censure your father.
Lucy: As a former law student, Alonzo knows that it doesn’t count as slander if it’s true.
but permit me to say, that after such treatment, you are absolved from implicit obedience to his rigorous, cruel, and stern commands.—It will therefore be considered a duty you owe to your preservation, if you suffer me to remove you from the tyrannical severity with which you are oppressed.”
Melissa sighed, wiping a tear which fell from her eye. “Unqualified obedience to my parents,” said she, “I have ever considered the first of duties,
Linda: One of the first duties.
David: By 1836, other duties might be allowed equal importance.
and have religiously practised thereon—but where, Alonzo, would you remove me?”
Meredith [as Melissa]: If you’re thinking of a cold-water walkup in the Bronx, let me tell you right now that I’d rather stay in prison.
“To any place you shall appoint,” he answered. “I have no where to go,” she replied.
“If you will allow me to name the place,” said he, “I will mention Mr. Simpson’s. He will espouse your cause and be a father to you, and, if conciliation is possible, will reconcile you to your father.
Lucy: And if conciliation is not possible, her father will be powerless to recover a minor child being held without his consent in a known location near his own home.
This can be done without my being known to have any agency in the business.
Linda: Back in 1804, the Connecticut State Bar frowned on applicants with convictions for kidnapping.
It can seem as if Mr. Simpson had found you out. He will go any just lengths to serve us. It was his desire, if you could be found, to have you brought to his house. There you can remain either in secret or openly, as you shall choose. Be governed by me in this, Melissa, and in all things I will obey you thereafter. I will then submit to the future events of fate; but I cannot Melissa—I cannot leave you in this doleful place.”
Melissa arose and walked the room in extreme agitation. What could she do? She had, indeed, determined to leave the house, for reasons which Alonzo knew nothing of.
David: Sooner or later, the author will have to explain why Melissa is covering for the ghosts and housebreakers.
To continue there—
Linda: My editor was so eager to get on with the plot, he started making wholesale cuts. What did I miss?
—knew nothing of. But should she leave it in the way she had proposed, she was not sure but she would be immediately remanded back, more strictly guarded, and more severely treated. To continue there, under existing circumstances, would be impossible, long to exist. She therefore came to a determination—“I will go,” she said, “to Mr. Simpson’s.”
Lucy: If Simpson, Junior, is the unidentified Third Man, then Alonzo has played right into his hands by offering to bring her to him.
It was then agreed that Alonzo should proceed to Vincent’s, interest them in the plan, procure a carriage, and return at eleven o’clock the next night.
Meredith [as Melissa]: We’ve come up with an elaborate, brilliant— What? Leave now? You can’t be serious!
Melissa was to leave the draw-bridge down, and the gate open. If John should come to the house the succeeding day, she would persuade him to let her still keep the keys. But it was possible her aunt might return. This would render the execution of the scheme more hazardous and difficult. A signal was therefore agreed on;
Hugh: One if by land, two if by sea.
if her aunt should be there, a candle was to be placed at the window fronting the gate, in the room above; if not, it was to be placed against a similar window in the room below. In the first case Alonzo was to rap loudly at the door. Melissa was to run down, under pretence of seeing who was there,
Linda [as aunt]: Child, go see who that is knocking on the door inside a locked compound in the middle of the night.
David: If it’s a salesman, we don’t want any.
fly with Alonzo to the carriage,
Meredith: —which has been carefully prepared by greasing all moving parts and wrapping the horses’ hooves in burlap so it can pull up to the door without making a sound.
and leave her aunt to scrape acquaintance with the ghosts and goblins of the old mansion. For even if her aunt should return, which was extremely doubtful, she thought she could contrive to let down the bridge and unlock the gate in the evening without her knowledge.
Lucy: Since John, as previously noted, is not very bright, it didn’t occur to him to ask why Melissa needed two quarts of WD-40.
At any rate she was determined not to let the keys go out of her hands, unless they were forced from her, until she had escaped from that horrid and dreary place.
Daylight began to break from the east,
Linda: That surprises me every time. I keep assuming a mirror universe.
and Alonzo prepared to depart. Melissa accompanied him to the gate and the bridge, which was let down: he passed over, and she slowly withdrew, both frequently turning to look back. When she came to the gate, she stopped;—Alonzo stopped also. She waved a white handkerchief she had in her hand, and Alonzo bowed in answer to the sign. She then leisurely entered,
Meredith [as Melissa, yawning]: Well, that was a nice break. Now it’s back to the boring life of a prisoner.
and slowly shut the gate.—Alonzo could not forbear climbing up into a tree to catch another glimpse of her as she passed up the avenue. With lingering step he saw her move along, soon receding from his view in the gray twilight of misty morning. He then descended, and hastily proceeded on his journey.
Traits of glory now painted the eastern skies. The glittering day-star, having unbarred the portals of light, began to transmit its retrocessive lustre. Thin scuds flew swiftly over the moon’s decrescent form.
Lucy: If we had an almanac, we could work out the exact date.
Low, hollow winds, murmured among the bushes, or brushed the limpid drops from intermingling foliage. The fire-fly* sunk, feebly twinkling, amidst the herbage of the fields.
* The American lampyris, vulgarly called the lightning-bug.
Linda: The author has dreams of English publication, so he has to explain things that would be perfectly obvious to every American reader.
The dusky shadows of night fled to the deep glens, and rocky caverns of the wilderness. The American lark—
Meredith: Thanks to the loan of a time machine, Mitchell got an advance look at Pearson’s article and hastily penciled in the word “American”.
soared high in the air,
David: —taking over from the nighthawk or male whippoorwill, which works the night shift and has just gone off duty.
consecrating its matin lay to morn’s approaching splendours. The woodlands began to ring with native melody—the forest tops, on high mountains, caught the sun’s first ray, which, widening and extending, soon gem’d the landscape with brilliants of a thousand various dies.
As Alonzo came out of the fields near the road, he saw two persons passing in an open chair. They suddenly stopped, earnestly gazing at him. They were wrapped in long riding cloaks, and it could not be distinguished from their dress whether they were men or women. He stood not to notice them,
Lucy: Since they’re the only human beings he has set eyes on in this desolate region, they can’t possibly have any connection with Melissa.
but made the best of his way to Vincent’s, where he arrived about noon.—Rejoiced to find that he had discovered Melissa, they applauded the plan of her removal, and assisted him in obtaining a carriage. A sedan was procured, and he set out to return, promising to see Vincent again, as soon as he had removed Melissa to Mr. Simpson’s. He made such use of his time as to arrive at the mansion at the hour appointed. He found the draw-bridge down, the gate open, and saw, as had been agreed upon, the light at the lower window, glimmering through the branches of trees. He was therefore assured that Melissa was alone. His heart beat; a joyful tremor seized his frame; Melissa was soon to be under his care, for a short time at least.—He drove up to the house, sprang out of the carriage, and fastened his horse to a locust tree: The door was open; he went in, flew lightly up stairs, entered her chamber—Melissa was not there!
Linda: Oh, no. It’s one of those social-class markers, like who sits where when two couples share a carriage. Alonzo automatically pulled up to the front door, the way he did at the Simpsons’. Meanwhile, Melissa has spent the last two hours sitting on her baggage at the carriage entrance.
A small fire was blazing on the hearth, a candle was burning on the table. He stood petrified with amazement, then gazed around in anxious solicitude. What could have become of her? It was impossible, he thought, but that she must still be there.
Had she been removed by fraud or force, the signal candle would not have been at the window.
Meredith: Hasn’t he got that backward? If she had left voluntarily, she wouldn’t have put up the signal. But if she was tricked or coerced into leaving after the candle was in place, there’s not much she could have done about it.
Perhaps, in a freakish moment, she had concealed herself for no other purpose than to cause him a little perplexity.
David: When she looked out the window and saw that he was planning to carry her off in a one-horse vehicle, she was so disgusted she hid in the attic.
He therefore took the candle and searched every corner of the chamber, and every room of the house, not even missing the garret and the cellar. He then placed the candle in a lantern, and went out and examined the out-houses: he next went round the garden and the yard, strictly exploring and investigating every place; but he found her not. He repeatedly and loudly called her by name;
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Hello! Kidnappers! Here I am!
he was answered only by the solitary echoes of the wilderness.
Lucy: By the time it occurred to Alonzo to wonder how overgrown trees and brambles could send back such clear echoes, the painted backdrops had all been packed away for use in another novel.
Again he returned to the house, traversed the rooms, there also calling on the name of Melissa: his voice reverberated from the walls, dying away in solemn murmurs in the distant empty apartments. Thus did he continue his anxious scrutiny, alternately in the house and the enclosure, until day—but no traces could be discovered, nothing seen or heard of Melissa. What had become of her he could not form the most distant conjecture. Nothing was removed from the house; the beds, the chairs, the table, all the furniture remained in the same condition as when he was there the night before;
Meredith: Her clothes and personal belongings were gone, along with her aunt’s things, but it would have been improper and indelicate to look for those.
the candle, as had been agreed upon, was at the window, and another was burning on the table:—it was therefore evident that she could not have been long gone when he arrived. By what means she had thus suddenly disappeared, was a most deep and inscrutable mystery.
When the sun had arisen, he once more repeated his inquisitive search, but with the same effect. He then, in extreme vexation and disappointment, flung himself into the sedan, and drove from the mansion. Frequently did he look back at the building, anxiously did he scrutinize every surrounding and receding object. A thrill of pensive recollection vibrated through his frame as he passed the gate, and the keen agonizing pangs of blasted hope, pierced his heart, as his carriage rolled over the bridge.
Once more he cast a “longing, lingering look”—
Lucy [automatically]: Gray’s Elegy, 1751.
upon the premises behind, sacred only for the treasure they lately possessed; then sunk backward in his seat, and was dragged slowly away.
Linda: Wild horses couldn’t drag him away, so it’s a good thing his carriage was harnessed to a tame one.
That night Melissa let
down the bridge . . .
Alonzo had understood from
Melissa, that John’s hut . . .