a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo’s father was soon in complete repossession of his former property. The premises from which he had been driven by his unfeeling creditors, were yielded up without difficulty, and to which he immediately removed. He not only recovered the principal of the fortune he had lost, but the damages and the interest; so that, although like Job, he had seen affliction,
Linda [glancing at 1836 text]: Possibly even afflictions, plural.
like him his latter days were better than his beginning. But wearied with the bustles of life,
Linda [1836 text]: —the business of life.
he did not again enter into the mercantile business,
David [to Linda]: There’s your editor again. Business—business.
Linda: In 1836, nobody understood about dyslexia.
but placing his money at interest in safe hands, lived retired on his little farm.
Lucy [turning pages in other book]: Thought that sounded familiar. Alida’s father hauls her off to New York to steal descriptions of scenery, and Theodore quietly disappears from the story. When he rematerializes, it turns out he was in England performing magic on the creditors, since Franklin isn’t around to play Deus ex machina. And then . . . although like Job, he had seen affliction —singular— like him . . . latter days . . . Wearied of the business —not “bustles”— of life, he did not again enter into its affairs, but placing his money at interest in safe hands, he lived retired on his estate.
David: Somebody put that book on the fire.
Lucy: I could name you a dozen published writers who would have liked to put the author on the fire.
A few days after the wedding, as Melissa was sitting with Alonzo, Edgar and her parents, she asked her father whether the old mansion was inhabited.
David: Hey, come to think of it, wonder who inherited it? The aunt’s marriage was never valid, so even if her husband hadn’t died first, he wouldn’t get anything.
Linda: By the time she died, she didn’t own any real estate. She sold it off so her husband could drink the proceeds, remember?
“Not by human beings,” he replied. “Since it has fallen into my hands—
Meredith: For “it has fallen into my hands”, read “I grabbed it cheap because blood may be thicker than water but gold is thicker than everything.”
I have leased it to three or four different families, who all left it—
Hugh [1804 text]: Who all soon left it.
under the foolish pretence or impression of hearing noises and seeing frightful objects, and such is the superstition of people that no one now, will venture to try it again, though I suppose its inhabitants to consist only of rats and mice.”
Melissa then informed them of all that had happened when she was there, the alarming noises and horrible appearances she had been witness to, and in which she was confident her senses had not deceived her.
Linda: Up until this moment, she was under a post-hypnotic directive not to talk about it. The phrase “rats and mice” lifted the command.
Exceedingly astonished at her relation; it was agreed that Edgar and Alonzo, properly attended, should proceed to the mansion, in order to find whether any discoveries could be made which might tend to the elucidation—
Hugh: Might lead to.
Lucy: In 1804, we were still firmly in the Age of Reason. People were confident that everything could be elucidated.
of so mysterious an affair.
For this purpose they chose twenty men, armed them with muskets and swords,
Meredith: Are they going to stab the ghosts?
David: Only if shooting them doesn’t work.
and proceeded to the place, where they arrived in the dusk of the evening, having chosen that season as the most favourable to their designs.
Linda: Twilight is a celestial body, and evening is a season. We are in an alternative universe.
They found the drawbridge up, and the gate locked, as Edgar’s father said he had left them. They entered and secured them in the same manner.
Hugh: To make sure the ghosts don’t try to escape.
When they came to the house, they cautiously unlocked the door, and proceeded to the chamber, where they struck a fire and lit candles, which they had brought with them.
Lucy: In case the candles already in the castle were poisoned, or had been treated with hallucinogens.
It was then agreed to plant fifteen of the men at suitable distances around the mansion, and retain five in the chamber with Alonzo and Edgar.
The men, who were placed around the house, were stationed behind trees, stumps or rocks, and where no objects presented, they lay flat on the ground, with orders not to stir, or to discover themselves,
David: If anyone trips over you, pretend to be an old tree root and don’t shoot.
let what would ensue, unless some alarm should be given from the house.
Alonzo and Edgar were armed with pistols and side arms,
Meredith: The gunsmith’s apprentice mixed up the barrels and there wasn’t time to redo the order, so they’re carrying pistols slung over their backs and muskets in holsters.
and posted themselves with the five men in the chamber, taking care that the lights should not shine against the window shutters, so that nothing should be discovered from without.
Linda: In 1783, a room could be flooded with light and still remain perfectly undetectable so long as you didn’t point your candle directly at the window.
Lucy: I think I read a monograph on those. Unidirectional Candles: A Lost Art of the Eighteenth Century. Melissa used the same kind of candle when she looked out the window to see if anyone was there.
Things thus arranged, they observed almost an implicit silence,
David: Except for one guy who was slow on the uptake and had to be told explicitly to shut up.
no one being allowed to speak, except in a low whisper.
For a long time no sounds were heard except the hollow roar of winds in the neighbouring forest, their whistling around the angles of the mansion, or the hoarse murmurs of the distant surge.
David: Just so nobody forgets we’re back in Connecticut.
The night was dark, and only illuminated by the feeble twinkling of half clouded stars.
They had watched until about midnight, when they were alarmed by noises in the rooms below, among which they could distinguish footsteps and human voices.
Lucy: That’s enough to alarm anyone. They’d been led to expect talking parrots.
Alonzo and Edgar, then taking each a pistol in one hand, and a drawn sword in the other,
Meredith: Before they started, Edgar made sure Alonzo understood that the sword and pistol have to be in different hands, and the sword has to be out of its scabbard.
ordered their men to follow them, prepared for action. Coming to the head of the stairs, they saw a brilliant light streaming into the hall; they therefore concluded to take no candles, and to prevent discovery they took off their shoes.
Linda: If your prey is in the dark it doesn’t matter how loudly you stomp, but when they’re in a brilliantly lit room you have to sneak in quietly and carry no lights of your own.
When they came into the hall opposite the door of the room from whence the light and noises proceeded, they discovered ten men genteelly dressed, sitting around a table, on which was placed a considerable quantity of gold and silver coin, a number of glasses and several decanters of wine.
Hugh: Prohibitionists need have no worries. The wine is merely a stage prop.
Alonzo and his party stood a few minutes, listening to the following discourse, which took place among this ghostly gentry.
“Well, boys, we have made a fine haul this trip.”
“Yes, but poor Bob, though, was plump’d over by the d——d skulkers!”
Lucy: So that’s how you pronounce a dash. I always wondered.
“Aye, and had we not tugged bravely at the oars, they would have hook’d us.”
“Those rascally cow-boys detained us too long.”
Hugh and Meredith: Well, well, never—
Linda: As the nineteenth century progressed, life moved at a faster pace. Nobody had time for a second “well”.
mind it; let us knock around the wine, and then divide the spoil.”
At this moment, Alonzo and Edgar, followed by the five men, rushed into the room, crying,
Lucy: “Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine!”
“Surrender, or you are all dead men!” In an instant the room was involved in pitchy darkness; a loud crash was heard, then a scampering about the floor, and a noise as if several doors shut to, with violence. They however gave the alarm to the men without, by loudly shouting “Look out;”
David: Excellent choice of a secret alarm signal. Nobody would ever say “Look out!” by accident.
and immediately the discharge of several guns was heard around the mansion. One of the men flew up stairs and brought a light; but, to their utter amazement, no person was to be discovered in the room except their own party. The table, with its apparatus, and the chairs on which these now invisible beings had sat, had all disappeared, not a single trace of them being left.
Linda: In Melissa’s exhaustive and repeated searches, she was so fixated on the walls, she never noticed that each floor of the castle was in excess of six feet thick.
While they stood petrified with astonishment, the men from without called for admittance. The door being unlocked, they led in a stranger wounded, whom they immediately discovered to be one of those they had seen at the table.
The men who had been stationed around the mansion informed, that some time before the alarm was made, they saw a number of persons crossing the yard from the western part of the enclosure, towards the house; that immediately after the shout was given, they discovered several people running back in the same direction: they hailed them, which being disregarded, they fired upon them, one of whom they brought down, which was the wounded man they had brought in. The others, though they pursued them, got off.
The prisoner’s wound was not dangerous, the ball had shattered his arm, and glanced upon his breast.
Hugh: In 1804, the definition of “dangerous” was narrower than it is today.
They dressed his wound as well as they could, and then requested him to unfold the circumstances of the suspicious appearance in which he was involved.
“First promise me, on your honour,” said the stranger, “that you will use your influence to prevent my being punished or imprisoned.”
Lucy [as Alonzo]: Well . . . I guess we don’t really have much choice, since you’re a wounded prisoner and there are twenty-two of us.
This they readily agreed to, on condition that he would conceal nothing from them—
David [as prisoner]: Word of honor as a gentleman—and we are all gentlemen here, aren’t we?
and he gave them the following relation:
That they were part of a gang of illicit traders;
Meredith: My spiritual ancestor left an editorial comment. But I think she meant to put it on the facing page, where the table and chairs disappear.
men who had combined for the purpose of carrying on a secret and illegal commerce with the British army on Long Island, whom, contrary to the existing laws,
Linda: What existing laws? The Constitution won’t be written until years after the war is over. The only laws are British laws, which probably require you to support the troops.
David: That’s the illegal part. They’re supposed to be giving them food and lodging for free.
they supplied with provisions, and brought off English goods, which they sold at a very extortionate price. But this was not all; they also brought over large quantities of counterfeit continental money,
Hugh: It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that America’s tradition of easy-to-counterfeit currency dates back all the way to 1776.
which they put off among the Americans for live stock, poultry, produce, &c. which they carried to the Island. The counterfeit money they purchased by merely paying for the printing; the British having obtained copies of the American emission, struck immense quantities of it in New York, and insidiously sent it out into the country, in order to sink our currency.
David: Waste of effort. War is inflationary anyway; you don’t have to do anything.
This gang was likewise connected with the cow-boys, who made it their business to steal, not only milch cows, and other cattle, but also hogs and sheep, which they drove by night to some convenient place on the shores of the Sound, where these thief-partners received them, and conveyed them to the British.
“In our excursions across the Sound,” continued the wounded man, “we had frequently observed this mansion, which, from every appearance, we were convinced was uninhabited:—we therefore selected it as a suitable place for our future rendezvous, which had therefore been—
Hugh, Meredith, Linda [in unison]: Which had heretofore been.
David: Oh, sorry. I was thinking of Melissa’s grandmother.
only in the open woods.
Linda: They should have rented John’s hut. He’d have let them have it for a nickel.
To cross the moat, we dragged up an old canoe from the sea shore, which we concealed in the bushes as soon as we recrossed from the old mansion.
Hugh [stuffily]: The mansion, period. Good writers try not to reuse adjectives within the same sentence.
Meredith: And your point is . . . ?
To get over the wall we used ladders of ropes, placing a flat piece of thick board on the top of the spikes driven into the wall. We found more difficulty in getting into the house:
David: Gentlemen don’t break windows, so they had to come up with an alternative solution.
we however at length succeeded, by tearing away a part of the back wall, where we fitted in a door so exactly, and so nicely painted it, that it could not be distinguished from the wall itself.
Lucy: So long as you don’t notice that this is the only point on the entire exterior that isn’t covered with several decades’ growth of ivy.
This door was so constructed, that on touching a spring, it would fly open,
Hugh [1804 text]: It would suddenly fly open.
Linda: As opposed to flying open slowly and at leisure.
and when unrestrained, would shut to with violence. Finding the apartment so eligible for our purpose, and fearing that at some future time we might be disturbed either by the owner of the building or some tenant, we cut similar doors into every room of the house, so that on an emergency we could traverse every apartment without access to the known doors. Trap-doors on a similar construction, communicated with the cellar:
Meredith: It never occurred to Melissa to wonder why there was an elegant dining table, set for twelve, in an unused cellar room.
the table, which you saw us sitting around, stood on one of these, which, on your abrupt appearance, as soon as the candles were extinguished, was with its contents, precipitated below, and we made our escape by those secret doors,
David: Serious miscalculation. They should have waited quietly in their hidey-hole within the thickness of the floor until Alonzo’s gang got bored and left.
judging, that although you had seen us, if we could get off, you would be unable to find out any thing which might lead to our discovery.
“A circumstance soon occurred, which tended to embarrass our plans, and at first seemed to menace their overthrow. Our assembling at the mansion was irregular, as occasion and circumstances required; often not more than once a week, but sometimes more frequent, and always in the night.—Late one night, as we were proceeding to the mansion, and had arrived near it, suddenly one of the chamber windows was opened and a light issued from within. We entered the house with caution,
Lucy: After discarding Option A—to hide outside until they could get more information—and Option B—to send in one person as a spy.
and soon discovered that some person was in the chamber from whence we had seen the light.
Linda: That explains it. They could never have made this discovery without firsthand investigation as a group.
We remained until all was silent, and then entered the chamber by one of our secret doors,
Meredith: Later, it occurred to them that it would have been wiser to use the regular door, rather than risk betraying themselves if the person turned out to be awake.
and to our inexpressible surprise, beheld a beautiful young lady asleep on the only bed in the room.
Hugh [1804 text]: Asleep in the only bed in the room.
David [Baby Bear voice]: Someone’s been sleeping in my bed!
We cautiously retired, and reconnoitering all parts of the mansion, found that she was the only inhabitant except ourselves.
Linda: Problem solved. They drew straws, sent in one man to kill her, and quietly buried the body, disguising the grave with the same skill they had applied to their dozens of secret doors.
The singularity of her being there alone, is a circumstance we have never been able to discover, but it gave us fair hopes of easily procuring her ejectment.
Hugh [as captive]: We may be smugglers and counterfeiters, but we’re not murderers.
Meredith: And, since she is obviously a lady and we are all gentlemen, we will not discuss Option B.
Lucy: It’s a pity the smugglers all had deprived childhoods. If any of their mothers had told them the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Option C would have instantly presented itself.
We then immediately withdrew, and made preparations to dispossess the fair tenant of premises to which we considered ourselves more properly entitled, as possessing a prior incumbency.
David: Plan One: Put on simple masks, point your weapons at her and order her to get out and stay out. And keep quiet if she knows what’s good for her.
Linda: Rejected unanimously as being impossibly simple and straightforward.
“We did not effect the completion of our apparatus under three or four days. As soon as we were prepared, we returned to the mansion. As we approached the house, it appears the lady heard us, for again she suddenly flung up a window and held out a candle: we skulked from the light, but feared she had a glimpse of us.—After we had got into the house we were still until we supposed her to be asleep, which we found to be the case on going to her chamber.
Meredith: Would have been a bit awkward if they had found it not to be the case at this point.
“We then stationed one near her bed, who, by a loud rap upon the floor with a cane, appeared to arouse her in a fright. Loud noises were then made below, and some of them ran heavily up the stairs which led to her chamber; the person stationed in the room whispering near her bed—she raised herself up, and he fled behind the curtains. Soon after she again lay down;
Linda: Fortunately they had allowed for the contingency of her having the nerves of a turnip, so they weren’t out of ideas yet.
he approached nearer the bed with a design to lay his hand, on which he had drawn a thin sheet-lead glove, across her face; but discovering her arm on the out side of the bedclothes, he grasped it—she screamed and sprang up in the bed; the man then left the room.
“As it was not our intention to injure the lady, but only to drive her from the house,
David: That way, she would be able to tell the entire story immediately, rather than let us take ungentlemanly advantage by making a leisurely departure while she was recuperating.
we concluded we had sufficiently alarmed her, and having extinguished the lights, were about to depart, when we heard her descending the stairs. She came down and examined the doors, when one of our party, in a loud whisper, crying ‘away! away;’
Hugh: His share in the following month’s take included a little something extra as a bonus for clever improvisation.
she darted up stairs, and we left the house.
“We did not return the next night, in order to give her time to get off; but the night after we again repaired to the mansion, expecting that she had gone, but we were disappointed.
Lucy: Since the poem Casabianca has not been written yet, let alone shoved down every schoolchild’s throat, the smugglers don’t understand that Melissa considers herself to be under orders to stay, and will not budge even if the castle goes up in flames.
As it was late when we arrived, she was wrapped in sleep, and we found that more forcible measures must be resorted to before we could remove her, and for such measures we were amply prepared.”
David: Option D: Bind and gag her, carry her to the nearest town and dump her on any convenient doorstep. Repeat as needed until she gets the message.
The stranger then unfolded the mysteries of that awful night, when Melissa was so terrified by horrible appearances. One of the tallest and most robust of the gang, was attired, as has been described, when he appeared by her bed side. The white robe was an old sheet, stained in some parts with a liquid red mixture; the wound in his breast was artificial, and the blood issuing therefrom was only some of this mixture, pressed from a small bladder, concealed under his robe. On his head and face he wore a mask, with glass eyes—the mask was painted to suit their purposes. The bloody dagger was of wood, and painted.
Linda: What a sad waste of talent. If they hadn’t fallen into this smuggling gig, they could have found honest employment in any major theater’s props department.
Thus accoutred, he took his stand near Melissa’s bed, having first blown out the candles she had left burning, and discharged a small pistol. Perceiving this had awakened her, a train of powder was fired in the adjoining room opposite the secret door, which was left open, in order that the flash might illuminate her apartment; then several large cannon balls were rolled through the rooms over her head, imitative of thunder.
David: But not imitative enough [turning back pages]: It did not appear like thunder; the sounds seemed to be in the rooms directly over her head. The smugglers must be from out of state. If they had grown up in Connecticut they’d have known how to make convincing effects.
The person in her room then uttered a horrible groan, and gliding along by her bed, took his stand behind the curtains, near the foot. The noises below, the cry of murder, the firing of the second pistol, and the running up stairs, were all corresponding scenes to impress terror on her imagination. The pretended ghost then advanced in front of her bed, while lights were slowly introduced, which first shone faintly,
Meredith: Benjamin Franklin invented the rheostat in a spare moment, but he forgot to patent it.
until they were ushered into the room by the private door, exhibiting the person before her in all his horrific appearances. On her shrieking, and shrinking into the bed, the lights were suddenly extinguished, and the person, after commanding her to be gone in a hoarse voice, passed again to the foot of the bed, shook it violently, and made a seeming attempt to get onto it, when, perceiving her to be springing up, he fled out of the room—
Lucy: And who could blame him? When you find a gopher on your lawn and try to chase it away, you don’t expect it to turn around and come at you.
by the secret door, cautiously shut it, and joined his companions.
The operators had not yet completed their farce, or rather, to Melissa, tragedy.
Linda: If Melissa’s father had allowed her to attend the theatre more often, she wouldn’t have made such a silly mistake. A tragedy is when the main character dies in the end.
David: In this case, the main character is Melissa.
Linda: Hm, yes, I see the problem.
They had framed an image of paste-board, in human shape, arrayed it in black, its eyes being formed of large pieces of what is vulgarly called fox-fire,*
* A sort of decayed or rotten wood, which in the night looks like coals of fire, of a bright whitish colour. It emits a faint light.
Meredith: Anyone got any foxfire handy? I’m having trouble visualizing bright whitish coals, with or without the faint light.
made into the likeness of human eyes, some material—
Hugh [1804 text]: Some of the same material. He means foxfire, not cloth.
being placed in its mouth, around which was a piece of the thinnest scarlet tiffany, in order to make it appear of a flame colour. They had also constructed a large combustible ball, of several thicknesses of paste-board, to which a match was placed. The image was to be conveyed into her room, and placed, in the dark, before her bed;—and while in that position, the ball was to be rubbed over with phosphorus, the match set on fire, and rolled across her chamber, and when it burst, the image was to vanish, by being suddenly conveyed out of the private door, which was to close the scene for that night.
David: I hope they had a dress rehearsal. I can see a lot of places where things might go wrong.
But as Melissa had now arisen and lighted candles, the plan was defeated.
Meredith: Just as well. The combustible ball would probably have blown up.
While they were consulting how to proceed, they heard her unlock her chamber door, and slowly descend the stairs. Fearing a discovery, they retired with their lights,
Linda: To debate whether it was time to set aside their principles and simply kill her.
and the person who had been in her chamber, not having yet stripped off his ghostly habiliments, laid himself down on one side of the hall. The man who had the image, crowded himself with it under the stairs she was descending. On her dropping the candle, when she turned to flee to her chamber, from the sight of the same object which had appeared at her bed-side, the person under the stairs presented the image at their foot, and at the same instant the combustible ball was prepared, and rolled through the hall;
Lucy: At this point the smugglers almost betrayed themselves by breaking into spontaneous cheers.
and when on its bursting she fainted, they began to grow alarmed;
David: If she’s unconscious, she’ll miss the rest of the show, after they went to all that trouble.
but on finding that she recovered and regained her chamber, they departed, for that time, from the house.
“Our scheme,” continued the wounded man, “had the desired effect. On returning a few evenings after, we found the lady gone and the furniture removed.
Hugh: Nobody had the heart to tell him that Melissa’s departure was purely coincidental and had nothing to do with the smugglers’ elaborate theatrical effects.
Several attempts were afterwards made to occupy the house, but we always succeeded in soon frightening the inhabitants away.”
Meredith: Since those later inhabitants weren’t under strict parental orders, they had nothing to lose but their life savings.
Edgar and Alonzo then requested their prisoner to show them the springs of the secret doors, and how they were opened. The springs were sunk in the wood, which being touched by entering a gimblet hole with a piece of pointed steel, which each of the gang always had about him,
Lucy: If the prisoner had been Mrs. John or anyone of her class, she would have immediately tried a knitting needle.
the door would fly open, and fasten again in shutting to. On opening the trap-door over which the gang had sat when they first discovered them, they found the table and chairs, with the decanters broken, and the money, which they secured. In one part of the cellar they were shown a kind of cave, its mouth covered with boards and earth—here the company kept their furniture, and to this place would they have removed it, had they not been so suddenly frightened away. The canoe they found secreted in the bushes beyond the canal.
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [begin to get up and put books away with exaggerated sighs of relief].
Hugh: Wait, there’s more.
(Contrary to our intention we are compelled to postpone the residue until next week.)
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [converge on Hugh and beat him about the head and arms with their books].
It was then agreed that
the man should . . .