a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo having thus poured out the effusions of an overcharged heart, pensively returned to the inn, which he entered and seated himself in the common room, in deep contemplation. As usual at public inns, a number of people were in the room,
Linda: This is the same inn where he just spent half an hour letting the old lady talk his ear off because there wasn’t anyone else around?
Lucy: In retrospect, putting an alehouse right next to the cemetery may not have been such a great business decision.
among whom were several officers of the American army.
Meredith: No police officers, of course. Those were in the doughnut shop next door.
Alonzo was too deeply absorbed in melancholy reflection, to notice passing incidents, until a young officer came, seated himself by him, and entered into a conversation respecting the events of the war.
David: For conversation, read “monologue”. He was looking for someone who wouldn’t have the energy to tell him to shut up and go away, and Alonzo fit the bill.
He appeared to be about Alonzo’s age; his person was interesting, his manners sprightly, his observations correct.—Alonzo was, in some degree, aroused from his abstractedness;
Lucy: He’s got a job to do, and he’s good at it: when you see an able-bodied man out of uniform, act friendly and get his story.
His frankness, his ease, his understanding, his urbanity, void of vanity or sophistication, sympathetically caught the feelings of Alonzo, and he even felt a sort of solemn regret when the stranger departed.
David [as stranger]: Well, thanks for listening, but I’m back on duty in an hour and I need to sober up. Oh, by the way, I told the barman to put my drinks on your tab.
He soon retired to bed, determining to proceed on early in the morning.
He arose about daylight; the horizon was overcast, and it had begun to rain, which before sunrise encreased to a violent storm. He found therefore that he must content himself to stay until it was over, which did not happen till near night, and too late to pursue his journey.
Meredith: Too bad there aren’t any unattached young ladies around. It’s just the time for a walk.
He was informed by the inn-keeper, that the theatre, which had been closed since the commencement of the war, was to be opened for that night only, with the tragedy of Gustavus,
Lucy [usual business with reference books]: Ooh, good one. Written by Henry Brooke in England in 1739, and promptly banned for political reasons. Its American premiere—
Linda: So if this is the early part of the year, we’d have to be in at least 1783.
David [ticking off points]: Death of Melissa, Trumbull incident in late 1781, move forward no more than eighteen months. It fits!
Meredith: Except for those seven years that the author sort of misplaced.
and close with a representation of Burgoyne’s capture, and some other recent events of the American war.
David: Bzzt! Datable External Event! Bzzt!
Lucy [riffling through books]: Where are they getting “capture”? He surrendered—and then calmly went home to England and spent the rest of his life writing plays. That’s assuming they’re talking about the battle of Saratoga, in October . . . uh . . . 1777. Not exactly “recent”.
Hugh: If Melissa died in 1776 as it says on her tombstone, and it’s now eighteen months later, then October 1777 was only six months ago.
To “wing the hours with swifter speed,” Alonzo determined to go to the theatre,
Linda: How much swifter does he need to get? He’s already lived through ten years of recorded history in three years.
and at the hour appointed he repaired thither.
As he was proceeding to take his seat, he passed a box where sat the young officer, whose manners had so prepossessed him the preceding evening at the inn. He immediately arose: they exchanged salutations, and Alonzo walked on and took his seat. The evening was warm, and the house exceedingly crowded. After the tragedy was through, and before the after-piece commenced, the young officer came to Alonzo’s box, and made some remarks on the merit of the actors.
David: Yesterday the war, today the theater. Tomorrow night, he’s going to back Alonzo into a corner and explain how the third quarter of the Super Bowl should have been played, with particular attention to that grossly miscalled fumble.
While they were discoursing, a bustle took place in one part of the house, and several people gathered around a box, at a little distance from them. The officer turned, left Alonzo, and hastened to the place. To the general enquiry of, “what’s the matter?” it was answered, that “a lady had fainted.” She was led out, and the tumult subsided.
As soon as the after-piece was closed, Alonzo returned to the inn. As he passed along he cast his eyes toward the church-yard, where lay the “wither’d blessings of his richest joys.”
Linda: Pity they didn’t bury Melissa in an open vault. He’d be able to go in and watch her decomposing.
Affection, passion, inclination, urged him to go and breathe a farewell sigh, to drop a final tear over the grave of Melissa. Discretion, reason, wisdom forbade it—forbade that he should re-pierce the ten thousand wounds of his bosom,
David: If he were a cartoon character, he’d be spurting blood like a colander.
Lucy [punching buttons on calculator]: I make it eight piercings per linear inch. More like a cheese grater.
by the acute revival of unavailing sorrows. He hurried to his chamber.
As he prepared to retire to rest, he saw a book lying on the table near his bed. On taking it up he found it to be Young’s Night Thoughts, a book which, in happier days, had been the solace of many a gloomy, many a lucid hour.
Meredith: Good observation, Mitchell. With Alonzo, “gloomy” and “lucid” are mutually exclusive.
He took it up and the first lines he cast his eyes upon were the following:
“Song, beauty, youth, love, virtue, joy: this group
Of bright ideas—flowers of Paradise,
As yet unforfeit!
Linda [1836 text]: I’ve got “As yet a forfeit”. [Looking around.] Um. I guess not. He left out “youth”, too.
As yet unforfeit! in one blaze we bind.
Kneel, and present it to the skies; as all
We guess of Heaven! And these were all her own
And she was mine, and I was—was most blest—
Like blossom’d trees o’erturn’d by vernal storm,
Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay—
Ye that e’er lost an angel, pity me.”
His tears fell fast upon the book!
David: And this is astonishing because . . . ?
He replaced it and flung himself into bed. Sleep was far from him; he closed not his eyes till the portals of light were unbarred in the east,
Linda: Does that mean daylight, or sunrise? In this book, they seem to come about three hours apart.
Hugh [as editor]: It means it’s time to fire another writer and swap out the Violations Jar. It just overflowed.
when he fell into interrupted slumbers.
When he awoke, the morning was considerably advanced. He arose. One consolation was yet left—to see his parents happy. He went down to order his carriage; his favourite stranger, the young officer, was in waiting, and requested a private interview. They immediately retired to a separate room, where the stranger thus addressed Alonzo:
“From our short acquaintance, you may, sir, consider it singular that I should attempt to scrutinize your private concerns; more extraordinary may you esteem it, when I inform you of my reasons for so doing.
Meredith: And most extraordinary of all if the stranger ever gets around to telling his name.
Linda: Two names would be unrealistic, so we won’t even consider it.
Judging, however, from appearances, I have no doubt of your candour. If my questions should be deemed improper, you will tell me so.”
Alonzo assured him that he would treat him candidly. “This I believe,” said the young officer; “I take the liberty therefore to ask if you are an American?” “I am,” answered Alonzo.
“I presume,” said the stranger, “—the question is a delicate one—I presume your family is respectable?” “Sacredly so,” replied Alonzo.
“Are you married, sir?” “I am not, and have ever been single.”
Hugh: No, no, you’ve got it backward. Now listen [1804 text]:
“Are you unmarried, sir?” “I am now, and have ever been single.”
Meredith: So that’s what he was getting at. I’ve got “married” and “now”, give or take a comma.
“Have you any prospects of connecting in marriage?” “I have not, sir.”
“I may then safely proceed,” said the stranger; “I trust you will hear me attentively; you will judge maturely; you will decide correctly, and I am confident that you will answer me sincerely.
David: Something about that wording sounds horribly familiar.
Linda: It’s a relative of Melissa’s father! She made a last-minute will leaving everything to Alonzo, so he’s got to be quietly disposed of as soon as they’ve made sure of his identity.
“A young lady of this city, with whom I am well acquainted, and to whom, indeed, I am distantly related, whose father is affluent, whose connections are eminently respectable, whose manners are engaging, whose mind is virtue, whose elegance of form and personal beauty defy competition, is the cause, sir, of this mission.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Sorry, not interested.
Early introduced into the higher walks of life, she has passed the rounds of fashionable company; numberless suitors have sighed for her hand, whom she complaisantly dismissed without disobliging, as her heart had not yet been touched by the tender passion of love.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Did I mention that I’m not interested?
Surprising as it may, however, seem, it is now about six months since she saw in her dream the youth who possessed the power to inspire her with this passion. In her dream she saw a young gentleman whose interesting manners and appearance, impressed her so deeply that she found she must be unhappy without him.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: I’m really not—
David: You may as well save your breath. He’s not interested in your response.
She thought it was in a mixed company she saw him, but that she could not get an opportunity to speak to him. It seemed that if she could but speak to him, all difficulties would at once be removed. At length he approached her, and just as he was about to address her, she awoke.
Linda: That was the first test. If the subject appears to believe this cockamamie story, it may be Alonzo, so proceed to the second test.
“This extraordinary dream she has communicated to several of her acquaintance.—
Hugh [1804 text]: Who has but two children besides herself.
David: That had better turn out to be significant.
being dotingly fond of her, has promised that if ever she meets this unknown stranger, he will not oppose their union, provided he is respectable, and that, if worthy of her hand, he will make him independent.
Linda: That was the second test. If the subject buys the idea that a young lady’s father could swallow the story—
“On my return from the inn the evening I first saw you, I told my sister—I beg pardon, sir
Lucy: A-ha! He’s got a vested interest. He needs to locate his sister’s dream man and bump him off before their father can settle any money on him.
after I first met you at the inn, I fell in company with the lady, and in a rallying way told her that I had seen her invisible beau, as we used to call the gentleman of the dream. I superficially described your person, and descanted a little on the embellishments of your mind.
Meredith: I’m going to guess that “descanted” means “made it up off the top of my head”, because I can’t think of any other way that he would have information about Alonzo’s mind.
She listened with some curiosity and attention; but I had so often jested with her in this manner, that she thought but little of it. At the play last night, I had just been speaking to her when I came to your box: her eyes followed me,
David: Go for it, Alonzo. You don’t find that many women with X-ray vision. It might even be hereditary.
but no sooner had they rested on you, than she fainted! This was the cause of my leaving you so abruptly, and not returning. We conveyed her home, when she informed me that you was the person she had seen in her dream!
“To me only, she preferred disclosing the circumstance at present, for reasons which must be obvious to your understanding.
Linda: And that was the third test. If the subject doesn’t stop you at this point and say “The only thing that’s obvious is that your whole story is nonsense from beginning to end”—then you’ve almost certainly found Alonzo.
Even her father and mother are not informed of it, and should my mission prove unsuccessful, none except you, sir, she and myself, I hope and trust, will ever know any thing of the matter.
Lucy: At least until Alonzo gets home and starts dining out on the story of the wacko he met in Charleston.
“Now, sir, it is necessary for me farther to explain. As singular as the circumstances which I have related may appear to you, to me they must appear as strange.—One valuable purpose is, however, answered thereby; it will exclude the imputation of capriciousness—the freakish whim of love at first sight, which exists only in novels and romances. You, sir, are young, unmarried, unaffianced, your affections free: such is the condition of the lady. She enquires not into the state of your property! she asks not riches:—If she obtains the object of her choice, on him, as I have told you, will her father bestow affluence.—Whatever, sir, may be your pretensions to eminence, and they may be many, the lady is not your inferior.
Meredith [as stranger]: She’s stark staring mad, of course, but I see no reason why that should weigh with you.
Her education also is such as would do honour to a gentleman of taste.
“I will not extend my remarks; you perfectly understand me—what answer shall I return?”
Alonzo sighed: for a few moments he was silent.
“Perhaps,” said the stranger, “you may consider the mode of this message as bearing the appearance of indecorum. If so, I presume, on reviewing the incidents which to—
Hugh [1804 text]: Which led to—
—which enforced it, as the most safe, the only means of sure communication, you will change your opinion. Probably you would not wish finally to decide until you have visited the lady. This was my expectation, and I am, therefore, ready to introduce you to her presence.”
“No, sir,” said Alonzo, “so far from considering the message indecorous, I esteem it a peculiar honour, both as respects the lady and yourself.
Meredith: It’s not every day you receive an offer of marriage from a madwoman who has never exchanged one syllable with you. Anyone would be flattered.
Nor is it necessary that I should visit the lady, to confirm the truth of what you have related. You will not, sir, receive it as an adulatory compliment, when I say, that although our acquaintance is short, yet my confidence in your integrity is such as to require no corroborating facts to establish your declaration.
Linda: The lady herself may or may not be bonkers, but one of her near relatives certainly is. That’s enough information for me.
But, sir, there are obstacles, insuperable obstacles, to the execution of the measures you would propose.
“Your frankness to me, demands, on my part, equal candour. I assured you that I was unmarried, and had no prospect of entering into matrimonial engagements; this is indeed the fact: but it is also true that my affections—my first, my earliest affections were engaged, unalienably engaged, to an object which is now no more.
Hugh: In spite of the stranger’s touching confidence, Alonzo is not prepared to reciprocate by describing the exact nature of his fetish.
Perhaps you may esteem it singular; perhaps you will consider it enthusiasm; but, sir, it is impossible that my heart should admit a second and similar impression.”
The stranger paused. “Recent disappointments of this nature,” he replied, “commonly leave the mind under such gloomy influences. Time, however, the soother of severest woes, will, though slowly, yet surely, disperse the clouds of anguish, and the rays of comfort and consolation will beam upon the soul. I wish not to be considered importunate, but the day may arrive when you may change your present determination, and then will you not regret that you refused so advantageous an overture?”
David [as stranger]: Dude, you’re not getting it. We’re talking a lot of money here.
“That day will never arrive, sir,” answered Alonzo: “I have had time for deliberate reflection since the melancholy event took place. I have experienced a sufficient change of objects and of country; the effect is the same. The wound is still recent, and so it will ever remain:
Meredith: It will heal faster if you stop picking at it.
indeed I cannot wish it otherwise. There is a rich and sacred solemnity in my sorrows, sir, which I would not exchange for the most splendid acquirements of wealth, or the most dignified titles of fame.”
Lucy: Alonzo has fantasies of being pointed out at age fifty as the man with the nameless and mysterious sorrow in his past.
The young officer sat for some time silent.
Linda: A style of behavior made fashionable by Dr. Franklin.
“Well, sir,” he said, “since it is thus, seeing that these things are so, I will urge you no farther. You will pardon me respecting the part I have taken in this business, since it was with the purest designs. May consolation, comfort, and happiness, yet be yours.”
“To you and your fair friend,” said Alonzo, “I consider myself under the highest obligations. The gratitude I feel I can but feebly express. Believe me, sir, when I tell you, (and it is all I can say,) that your ingenuous conduct has left impressions in my bosom which can never be obliterated.”
David: In addition to the ten thousand puncture wounds, the autopsy revealed extensive blunt-force trauma to the upper torso.
The stranger held out his hand, which Alonzo ardently grasped. They were silent, but their eyes spoke sympathy, and they parted.
Alonzo immediately prepared, and was soon ready to depart. As he was stepping into his carriage, he saw the young officer returning. As he came up, “I must detain you a few moments longer,” he said, “and I will give you no farther trouble. You will recollect that the lady about whom I have so much teazed you, when she became acquainted with you in her dream, believed that if she could speak with you, all difficulties would be removed. Conscious that this may be the case, (for with all her accomplishments she is a little superstitious,) she desires to see you. You have nothing to fear, sir;
Linda [as stranger]: We’ve been close friends for nearly 48 hours, so you know you can trust me.
she would not for the world yield you her hand, unless in return you could give her your heart. Nor was she willing you should know that she made this request, but wished me to introduce you, as it were by stratagem. Confident, however, that you would thus far yield to the caprice of a lady, I chose to tell you the truth. She resides near by, and it will not hinder you long.”
“It is capriciousness in the extreme,” thought Alonzo;
Hugh [mutters something about pots and kettles].
but he told the stranger he would accompany him—who immediately stepped into the carriage, and they drove, by his direction, to an elegant house in a street at a little distance,
Lucy: The “street” part is to lull the reader’s suspicion. We’ve already been told that Colonel D—— lives outside of town, so this can’t possibly have anything to do with Melissa’s family.
and alighted. As they entered the house, a servant handed the stranger a note, which he hastily looked over: “Tell the gentleman I will wait on him in a moment,” said he to the servant, who instantly withdrew. Turning to Alonzo, “a person is in waiting,” said he, “on urgent business; excuse me, therefore, if it is with reluctance I retire a few moments, after I have announced you; I will soon again be with you.”
They then ascended a flight of stairs: the stranger opened the door of a chamber—“The gentleman I mentioned to you madam,” he said. Alonzo entered; the stranger closed the door and retired.
Meredith: You’re sunk, Alonzo. These Southern families take the proprieties seriously. Five seconds alone in a closed room with a lady, and you’ll have to marry her.
The lady was sitting by a window at the lower end of the room, but arose as Alonzo was announced. She was dressed in sky-blue silk, embroidered with spangled lace; a gemmed tiara gathered her hair, from which was suspended a green veil, according to the mode of those times;
Linda: The ladies of Charleston never suspected that their leading dress designer was color-blind.
a silken girdle, with diamond clasps, surrounded her waist, and a brilliant sparkled upon her bosom.
Lucy: They also had no idea that in the rest of the Colonies, jewels for daytime wear had gone out of fashion at the beginning of the Revolution.
“The stranger’s description was not exaggerated,” thought Alonzo; “for, except one, I have never seen a more elegant figure:” and he almost wished the veil removed, that he might behold her features.
“You will please to be seated, sir,” she said. “I know not how—I feel an inconceivable diffidence in making an excuse for the inconveniences my silly caprices have given you.”
Enchanting melody was in her voice! Alonzo knew not why, but it thrilled his bosom, electrified his soul, and vibrated every nerve of his heart.
Meredith: She needn’t have bothered with the opaque green veil. A little bitty opera mask would have done the job.
Confused and hurried sensations, melancholy, yet pleasing; transporting as the recurrence of youthful joys, enrapturing as dreams of early childhood, passed in rapid succession over his imagination!
Linda: It’s his old nurse! They always told him she had died, but he had his suspicions.
She advanced towards him and turned aside her veil. Her eyes were suffused, and tears streamed down her cheeks.—Alonzo started—his whole frame shook—he gasped for breath!—“Melissa!” he convulsively exclaimed,—“God of infinite wonders, it is Melissa!”
David: Alonzo is the main character, so he’s allowed to take the Lord’s name in vain twice. Melissa and her father only get one each.
Hugh: To make up for it, she gets to say “Heaven!” three times while Alonzo only gets one.
Edgar and Alonzo retired
to a separate room.
Again will the incidents of
our history produce a pause.