a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo had understood from Melissa, that John’s hut was situated about one mile north from the mansion where she had been confined. When he came out near the road, he left his horse and carriage, after securing them, and went in search of it.—He soon discovered it, and knew it from the description given thereof by Melissa.—He went up and knocked at the door, which was opened by John, whom Alonzo also knew, from the portrait Melissa had drawn of him.
John started in amazement.
Hugh and Meredith: John stared in amazement.
Lucy: Catch your phlegmatic New Englander doing anything so dramatic as start visibly.
“Understanding,” said Alonzo, “that you have the charge of the old mansion—
Linda: Mitchell got a package rate on “old mansion”. He never calls it anything else, except sometimes “desolate” or “lonely”. Oh, and one time after he’d used up the package he had to say “antique”.
in yonder field, I have come to know if you can inform me what has become of the young lady who has been confined there.”
“Confined!” answered John, “I did not know she was confined.”
David [as John]: She never said anything about it when I gave her the keys.
Recollecting himself, “I mean the young lady who has lately resided there with her aunt,” replied Alonzo.
“She was there last night,” answered John; “her aunt is gone into the country and has not returned.”
Alonzo then told him the situation of the mansion, and that she was not there. John informed him that she was there about sunset,
Linda [1836 text]: That he was there.
Hugh: Same difference. He was there, and saw her.
and according to her request he had left the keys of the gate and bridge with her: he desired Alonzo to tarry there until he ran to the mansion.
Meredith: If Alonzo had really been desperate for information, that would have been his cue to offer to drive John the two-mile round trip.
He returned in about half an hour.
David: John strolled along until he was out of sight, had a leisurely smoke, and then strolled back.
“She is gone, sure enough,” said John; “but how, or where, it is impossible for me to guess.”—Convinced that he knew nothing of the matter, Alonzo left him and returned to Vincent’s.
Vincent and his lady were much surprised at Alonzo’s account of Melissa’s sudden disappearance, and they wished to ascertain whether her father’s family knew any thing of the circumstance.
Meredith: The aunt got bored with living in the castle and started having doubts about Melissa’s father’s promises, so she decided to hide Melissa somewhere else and ransom her to the highest bidder.
Linda: Illustrating once again why you should always do things yourself instead of bringing in co-conspirators.
Social intercourse had become suspended between the families of Vincent and Melissa’s father, as the latter had taxed the former with improperly endeavouring to promote the views of Alonzo. They therefore procured a neighbouring woman to visit Melissa’s mother, to see if any information could be obtained concerning Melissa;
Lucy: When you need information, always start by questioning the person who you already know doesn’t know anything. She, in turn, will be able to alert the people who do know something.
but the old lady had heard nothing of her since her departure with her aunt, who had never yet returned.—Alonzo left Vincent’s and went to Mr. Simpson’s. He told them all that had happened since he was there, of which, before, they had heard nothing. At the houses of Mr. Simpson and Vincent he resided some time, while they made the most diligent search to discover Melissa; but nothing could be learned of her fate.
David: Have you noticed how you never see Simpson and Vincent together? They might as well be the same person.
Meredith: They’re played by the same actor.
Alonzo then travelled into various parts of the country, making such enquiries as caution dictated of all whom he thought likely to give him information;—but he found none who could give him the least intelligence of his lost Melissa.
In the course of his wanderings he passed near the old mansion house where Melissa had been confined. He felt an inclination once more to visit it: he proceeded over the bridge, which was down, but he found the gate locked. He therefore hurried back and went to John’s, whom he found at home. On enquiring of John whether he had yet heard any thing of the young lady and her aunt; “All I know of the matter,” said John, “is, that two days after you were here, her aunt came back with a strange gentleman, and ordered me to go and fetch the furniture away from the room they had occupied in the old mansion. I asked her what had become of young madam. She told me that young madam had behaved very indiscreetly, and she found fault with me for leaving the keys in her possession, though I did not know that any harm could arise from it.
David [as John, whining]: She never told me the girl was a prisoner, so how was I supposed to guess?
From the discourse which my wife and I afterwards overheard between madam and the strange gentleman, I understood that young madam had been sent to reside with some friend or relation at a great distance, because her father wanted her to marry a man, and she wished to marry somebody else.”
Linda [as John’s wife]: Stop gabbling, John. The man doesn’t want to hear your gossip. Who did you say you were again, sir—the census taker?
From John’s plain and simple narrative, Alonzo concluded that Melissa had been removed by her father’s order, or through the agency, or instigation of her aunt.
David: Oh, what a relief. I was starting to be afraid she’d been abducted by aliens.
Whether his visit to the old mansion had been somehow discovered or suspected, or whether she was removed by some preconcerted or antecedent plan, he could not conjecture.
Meredith: He knew it couldn’t have anything to do with the two people who watched him sneaking out of Melissa’s prison. If they had had any connection with her, they would have come forward and introduced themselves.
Still, the situation in which he found the mansion the night he went to convey her away, left an inexplicable impression on his mind. He could in no manner account how the candle could be placed at the window according to agreement, unless it had been done by herself; and if so, how had she so suddenly been conveyed away?
Lucy: If she is capable of acting independently at some time between sundown and 11 P.M., it is mathematically impossible for her to have been under someone else’s control at a later time that same evening.
Alonzo asked John where Melissa’s aunt now was.
“She left here yesterday morning,” he answered, “with the strange gentleman I mentioned, on a visit to some of her friends.”
“Was the strange gentleman you speak of her brother?” asked Alonzo.
“I believe not,” replied John, smiling and winking to his wife; “I know not who he was; somebody that madam seems to like pretty well.”
David: That would definitely exclude her brother.
“Have you the care of the old mansion?” said Alonzo.
“Yes,” answered John, “I have the keys;
Linda: Now that the aunt knows he will give the keys to anyone who asks, there’s no reason not to let him keep them.
I will accompany you thither, perhaps you would like to purchase it; madam said yesterday she thought she should sell it.”
Alonzo told him he had no thoughts of purchasing, thanked him for his information, and departed.
Meredith: Alonzo, you’re an idiot. If you say you’re interested in buying, you can look over every inch of the property and ask detailed questions about the design and construction.
Convinced now that Melissa was removed by the agency of her persecutors, he compared the circumstances of John’s relation. “She had been sent to reside with some friend or relation at a great distance.” This great distance, he believed to be New London,
David: Now that is extremely sound reasoning. Since the world begins and ends with Connecticut, the greatest possible distance would be the opposite end of the state. It would be even better if they knew someone who lived inland, in the northeast corner of the universe.
and her friend or relation, her cousin, at whose house Alonzo first saw her, under whose care she would be safe, and Beauman would have an opportunity of renewing his addresses. Under these impressions, Alonzo did not long hesitate what course to pursue—he determined to repair to New London immediately.
In pursuance of his design he went to his father’s.
Linda: You can talk all you like about being bankrupt, but when Alonzo needs money, where else is he going to go?
He found the old gentleman with his man contentedly tilling his farm, and his mother cheerfully attending to household affairs, as their narrow circumstances would not admit her to keep a maid without embarrassment. Alonzo’s soul sickened on comparing the present state of his family with its former affluence; but it was an unspeakable consolation to see his aged parents contented and happy in their humble situation; and though the idea could not pluck the thorn from his bosom, yet it tended temporarily to assuage the anguish of the wound.
“You have been long gone, my son,” said his father; “I scarcely knew what had become of you. Since I have become a farmer I know little of what is going forward in the world; and indeed we were never happier in our lives. After stocking and paying for my farm, and purchasing the requisites for my business, I have got considerable money at command:
Linda: Clearly the author has never been to a farm; or possibly visited earth at all.
we live frugally, and realize the blessings of health, comfort, and contentment. Our only disquietude is on your account, Alonzo. Your affair with Melissa, I suppose, is not as favourable as you could wish. But despair not, my son; hope is the harbinger of fairer prospects: rely on Providence, which never deserts those who submissively bow to the justice of its dispensations.”
David: See, Alonzo? It’s all your fault for tampering with Fate by attempting to remove Melissa from the castle.
Unwilling to disturb the serenity of his parents, Alonzo did not tell them his troubles. He answered, that perhaps all might yet come right; but that, as in the present state of his mind he thought a change of situation might be of advantage, he asked liberty of his father to travel for some little time. To this his father consented, and offered him a part of the money he had on hand, which Alonzo refused, saying he did not expect to be long gone, and his resources had not failed him.
Hugh and Meredith: Not yet failed him.
Linda: Resources, don’t fail me now.
He then sold off his books, his horses, his carriages, &c. the insignia of his better days, but now useless appendages,
Meredith: When you’re planning a long overland trip, horses and carriages are about as useful as a second nose.
David: The carriages are all in the shop anyway, or he wouldn’t have needed to rent one to rescue Melissa.
from which he raised no inconsiderable sum.—He then took a tender and affectionate leave of his parents, and set out for New London.
Alonzo journeyed along with a heavy heart and in an enfeebled frame of spirits. Through disappointment, vexation, and the fatigues he had undergone in wandering about, for a long time, in search of Melissa, despondency had seized upon his mind, and indisposition upon his body. He put up the first night within a few miles of New Haven, and as he passed through that town the next morning, the scenes of early life in which he had there been an actor,
Linda: So that’s why he always brings out the theatrical analogies when he’s describing Nature.
moved in melancholy succession over his mind. That day he grew more indisposed; he experienced an unusual languor, listlessness and debility; chills, followed by hot flashes, heavy pains in the head and back, with incessant and intolerable thirst.
David: He should never have made that return visit to John’s house. One of the children has just been diagnosed with cholera.
It was near night when he reached Killingsworth,
Lucy [poring over map]: Oh, man, he is sick. Killingworth—no “s”—is at least five miles inland, and he should be sticking to the coast. At this rate he’s going to end up in Massachusetts.
where he halted, as he felt unable to go farther: he called for a bed, and through the night was racked with severe pain, and scorched with a burning fever.
The next morning he requested that the physician of the town might be sent for;—he came and ordered a prescription which gave his patient some relief; and by strict attention, in about ten days Alonzo was able to pursue his journey.
Hugh: Demonstrating once again the truth of Mark Twain’s dictum that with proper treatment, deadly bacterial diseases can be cured in seven days, but if left to themselves they will hang on for a week.
He arrived at New London, and took lodgings with a private family of the name of Wyllis, in a retired part of the town.
Meredith: Names of hotel guests are recorded with the city magistrate, who is bound to be a friend of either Beauman or Melissa’s family, so Alonzo decides to keep a low profile.
Linda: Besides, hotels tend to insist on intimate personal information, like your last name.
The first object was to ascertain whether Melissa was at her cousin’s. But how should he obtain this information? He knew no person in the town except it was those whom he had reason to suppose were leagued against him. Should he go to the house of her cousin, it might prove an injury to her if she was there, and could answer no valuable purpose if she was not.—The evening after he arrived there he wrapped himself up in his cloak and took the street which led to the house of Melissa’s cousin: he stopped when he came against it, to see if he could make any discoveries.
David: He didn’t want to draw attention to himself by asking openly, so he pinned a sign to his back saying “Look at me! I’m a spy”.
As people were passing and repassing the street, he got over into a small enclosure which adjoined the house, and stood under a tree, about thirty yards from the house: he had not long occupied this station, before a lady came to the chamber window, which was flung up, opposite to the place where he stood; she leaned out, looked earnestly around for a few minutes, then shut it and retired. She had brought a candle into the room, but did not bring it to the window; of course he could not distinguish her features so as to identify them.
Hugh: He left his glasses at home because they didn’t go with the skulker costume.
He knew it was not the wife of Melissa’s cousin, and from her appearance he believed it to be Melissa. Again the window opened, again the same lady appeared;—she took a seat at a little distance within the room; she reclined with her head upon her hand, her arm appeared to be supported by a stand or table. Alonzo’s heart beat violently; he now had a side view of her face, and was more than ever convinced that it was Melissa. Her delicate features, though more pale and dejected than when last he saw her;—her brown hair,
Lucy: No way. Raven tresses, flaxen curls, golden locks: all legitimate choices. No romantic heroine ever had brown hair. What’s next—freckles?
which fell in artless circles around her lily neck; her arched eye-brows and commanding aspect. Alonzo moved towards the house, with a design, if possible, to draw her attention, and should it really prove to be Melissa, to discover himself. He had proceeded but a few steps before she arose, shut the window, retired, and the light disappeared. Alonzo waited a considerable time, but she appeared no more. Supposing she had retired for the night, he slowly withdrew, chagrined at his disappointment, yet pleased at the discovery he had made.
The family with whom Alonzo had taken lodgings were fashionable and respectable.
Meredith [as Mrs. Wyllis]: How dare you accuse me of taking in lodgers! Alonzo is an old and dear friend, currently staying with us as a paying guest.
The following afternoon they had appointed to visit a friend, and they invited Alonzo to accompany them. When they named the family where their visit was intended, he found it was Melissa’s cousin. Alonzo therefore declined going under pretence of business. He however waited with anxiety for their return, hoping he should be able to learn by their conversation, whether Melissa was there or not.—When they returned he made some enquiries concerning the families in town, until the conversation turned upon the family they had visited. “The young lady who resides there,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “is undoubtedly in a confirmed decline; she will never recover.”
Alonzo started, deeply agitated. “Who is the young lady?” he asked. “She is sister to the gentleman’s wife where we visited,” answered Mr. Wyllis;—“her father lives in Newport, and she has come here for her health.”
David: Clearly the right decision, since she’s now in a permanent decline with no hope of recovery.
Hugh: If she had stayed in Newport, she’d be in an irreversible coma by now.
“Do you not think,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “that she resembles her cousin Melissa, who resided there some time ago?” “Very much indeed,” replied her husband, “only she is not quite so handsome.”
Meredith: This is all leading up to some kind of identical-cousins gag, isn’t it? All that’s missing is the tiny little mask.
Again was Alonzo disappointed, and again did he experience a melancholy pleasure: he had the last night hoped that he had discovered Melissa; but to find her in a hopeless decline, was worse than that she should remain undiscovered.
Linda: Oh, pay attention, Alonzo. It isn’t Melissa who’s in a decline, it’s her cousin.
“It is reported,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “that Melissa has been upon the verge of matrimony, but that the treaty was somehow broken off;
David: “Reported”? “Treaty”? Who was she marrying—the King of Sweden?
perhaps Beauman will renew his addresses again, should this be the case.” “Beauman has other business besides addressing the ladies,” answered Mr. Wyllis. “He has marched to the lines near New York with his new raised company of volunteers.” *
* New York was then in possession of the British troops.
Meredith: So Beauman’s getting in on the Loyalist side, then. Figures.
From this discourse, Alonzo was convinced that Melissa was not the person he had seen at her cousin’s the preceding evening, and that she was not there. He also found that Beauman was not in town. Where to search next, or what course to pursue, he was at a loss to determine upon.
The next morning he rose early and wandered about the town. As he passed by the house of Melissa’s cousin, he saw the lady, who had appeared at the window, walking in the garden. Her air, her figure, had very much the appearance of Melissa; but the lineaments of her countenance were, when viewed by the light of day, widely dissimilar. Alonzo felt no strong curiosity farther to examine her features, but passing on, returned to his lodgings.
Lucy: I mean, it’s not like they could possibly have any information about Melissa, being her cousins and all, so let’s just scratch that one off the list.
How he was now to proceed, Alonzo could not readily decide. To return to his native place, appeared to be as useless as to tarry where he was. For many weeks had he travelled and searched every place where he thought it probable Melissa might be found, both among her relatives and elsewhere. He had made every effort to obtain some clue to her removal from the old mansion, but he could learn nothing but what he had been told by John. If his friends should ever hear of her, they could not inform him thereof, as no one knew where he was.
David: Because of the war, mail can be delivered to New London, but it can’t be sent from New London to other parts of the st— world.
Would it not, therefore, be best for him to return back, and consult with his friends, and if nothing had been heard of her, pursue some other mode of enquiry? He might, at least, leave directions where his friends might write to him, in case they should have any thing whereof to apprise him.
An incident tended to confirm his resolution. He one night dreamed that he was sitting in a strange house, contemplating on his present situation, when Melissa suddenly entered the room. Her appearance was more pale, sickly and dejected, than when he last saw her. Her elegant form had wasted away, her eyes were sunk, her cheeks fallen, her lips livid. He fancied it to be night, she held a candle in her hand, smiling languidly upon him;—she turned and went out of the room, beckoning him to follow: he thought he immediately arose and followed her.
David: But it turned out to be only an unreal phantom of night.
Linda: A Jack-a-lantern fancy.
She glided through several winding rooms, and at length he lost sight of her, and the light gradually fading away, he was involved in deep darkness.—He groped along, and at length saw a faint distant glimmer, the course of which he pursued, until he came into a large room, hung with black tapestry, and illuminated by a number of bright tapers. On one side of the room appeared a hearse, on which some person was laid: he went up to it—the first object that arrested his attention was the lovely form of Melissa, shrouded in the sable vestments of death! Cold and lifeless, she lay stretched upon the hearse, beautiful even in dissolution;
Meredith: I wish he wouldn’t use that word. I know it just means “death”, but I still get a picture of her crumbling to bits before our eyes.
the dying smile of complacency had not yet deserted her cheek.
David: Her lips had decomposed, but there was still a bit of one cheek left.
The music of her voice had ceased; her fine eyes were closed for ever. Insensible to objects in which she once delighted; to afflictions which had blasted her blooming prospects, and drained the streams of life, she lay like blossomed trees of spring, overthrown by rude and boisterous winds. The deep groans which convulsed the distracted bosom, and shocked the trembling frame of Alonzo,
Hugh [1804 text]: And shook the trembling frame.
Linda: If he’s already trembling, how would you tell?
broke the delusive charm: he awoke, rejoiced to find it but a dream, though it impressed his mind with doleful and portentous forebodings.
It was a long time before he could again close his eyes to sleep; he at length fell into a slumber, and again he dreamed. He fancied himself with Melissa, at the house of her father, who had consented to their union, and that the marriage ceremony between them was there performed. He thought that Melissa appeared as she had done in her most fortunate and sprightly days, before the darts of adversity, and the thorns of affliction, had wounded her heart. Her father seemed to be divested of all his awful sternness, and gave her to Alonzo with cheerful freedom. He awoke, and the horrors of his former dream were dissipated by the happy influences of the last.
Lucy: So was it the first dream, or the second one, that confirmed his resolution to go back home? Or are we still waiting for the “incident”?
“Who knows,” he said, “but that this may finally be the case; but that the sun of peace may yet dispel these distressful hours!”
Hugh, Meredith, David [in unison]: Dispel the glooms of these distressful hours. The hours themselves aren’t going anywhere.
Linda [grumpily]: So you read it.
He arose, determined to return home in a few days. He went out and enjoyed his morning walk in a more composed frame of spirits than he had for some time experienced. He returned, and as he was entering the door he saw the weekly newspaper of the town, which had been published that morning, and which the carrier had just flung into the hall.—The family had not yet arisen. He took up the paper, carried it to his chamber, and opened it to read the news of the day. He ran his eye hastily over it, and was about to lay it aside, when the death list arrested his attention,
Linda [muttering]: —attracted his attention.
by a display of broad black lines. The first article he read therein was as follows:
“Died, of a consumption, on the 26th ult. at the seat of her uncle, Col. W. D—, near Charleston, South Carolina, whither she had repaired for her health,
Linda: Oh, the irony.
“Miss Melissa D——, the amiable daughter of J—— D——, Esq. of *******, Connecticut, in the eighteenth year of her age.”
The paper fell from his palsied hand—a sudden faintness came upon him—the room grew dark—he staggered, and fell senseless upon the floor.
David: So the book should really have been called Alonzo and Two-Thirds of Melissa. From here on, he’s soloing it.
Linda: I can never remember if “the eighteenth year of her age” means she was eighteen or seventeen.
Meredith: It means she’s been lying about her age. She was “about sixteen” in mid-1773 when the book started, and by now we’re in late 1777, so she’d have to be at least twenty.
Lucy [emerging from second book]: Amelia Stratton Comfield liked this scene so much, she made up a character just so she could kill him off and have someone read the obituary.
. . . the weekly newspaper arrived from the neighbouring village; he took it up, hoping to find something to amuse his thoughts; he opened it to read the news of the day; he ran his eye hastily over it, and was about to lay it aside, “when the death list arrested his attention by a display of broad black lines,”
Note the quotation marks, as if only that line had been stolen.
and he, who had not yet become reconciled to his present misfortune, was now about to experience another equally severe.
In this version, “he” is the father of Melissa, alias Alida, and his “present misfortune” is that his wife has just died. He has to remarry so the author has an excuse to move the story to New York.
What could equal his bitterness, his surprise and grief, when he read the disastrous news that his youngest son (who had lately gone on a foreign expedition) had died of a fever in a distant land a few weeks previous!
. . . and if you’re waiting for an explanation of how this got into a small-town weekly newspaper before anyone bothered to inform the family, don’t hold your breath. The only previous time the book mentions his sons, it’s to say that they’re both in business in New York.
The paper fell from his palsied hand,—a sudden faintness came over him,—he fell back almost senseless in his chair,—exhausted by excess of grief, he remained a long time in a—
Oh, sorry. That last bit comes later in Alonzo and Melissa. We haven’t got to it yet.
Linda: Just what we need. Sneak previews of Mitchell’s prose.
Hugh [1804 newspaper]:
TO BE CONTINUED
Alonzo and Melissa were
equally surprised . . .
The incidents of our story
will here produce a pause.