a do-it-yourself MiSTing
It was some time before Alonzo renewed his visit. In the interim he received a letter from a friend in the neighbourhood of Melissa’s father; an extract from which follows:
We are soon to have a wedding here; you are acquainted with the parties—Melissa D—— and Beauman. Such at least is our opinion from appearances, as Beauman is now here more than half his time.
Linda: Two days to get there, five days’ visit, two days to go home, change lobsters and repeat.
—You will undoubtedly be a guest. We had expected that you would have put in your claims, from your particular attention to the lady. She is a fine girl, Alonzo.
Lucy: Signed, “A Friend”.
“I shall never be a guest at Melissa’s wedding,” said Alonzo, as he hastily paced the room; “but I must once again see her before that event takes place, when I lose her forever.” The next day he repaired to her father’s. He enquired for Melissa; she was gone with a party to the shores of the sound, attended by Beauman.
Meredith: —who complained nonstop about the mud, the inadequate rest rooms, the poor reception on his cell phone—
At evening they returned. Beauman and Alonzo addressed each other with much seeming cordiality. “You have deceived us, Alonzo,” said Melissa. “We concluded you had forgotten the road to this place.”
“Was not that a hasty conclusion?” replied Alonzo.
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Conclusion, madam.”
“I think not,” she answered, “if your long absence should be construed into neglect. But we will hear your excuse,” said she, smiling, ”by and by, and perhaps pardon you.” He thanked her for her condescension.
The next morning Beauman set out for New London.
Linda: Work fast, Alonzo—you’ve only got four days.
Alonzo observed that he took a tender leave of Melissa, telling her, in a low voice, that he should have the happiness of seeing her again within two or three weeks.
David: Two or three weeks? That means he has to stay with Melissa for three weeks at a stretch to make it add up to more than half his time.
Meredith: Knowing Melissa’s father, I bet he’s charging him rent.
After he was gone, as Melissa and Alonzo were sitting in a room alone,
Lucy: Does anyone else think this is a little odd? Melissa goes to a ball attended by a man who is in no way related to her; she takes walks after dark in the company of a man she has only just met; she sits alone in a room with the same man . . . Is the word “chaperone” not in her father’s vocabulary?
Linda: Apparently not, if she had to be packed off to stay with relatives at the beginning of the book.
“Well,” said she,
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Well, sir.”
Linda: We’re on the brink of war. We don’t have time to toss around all those Sirs and Madams.
“am I to hear your excuses?”
Alonzo. For what, madam?
Mel. For neglecting your friends.
Alonzo. I hope it is not so considered, madam.
Mel. Seriously, then, why have you stayed away so long? Has this place no charms in the absence of my brother?
Al. Would my presence have added to your felicities, Melissa?
Mel. You never came an unwelcome visitor here.
Al. Perhaps I might be sometimes intrusive.
Mel. What times?
Lucy: Melissa’s education failed to explain the fine distinction between being a lady and talking like a godforsaken imbecile.
Al. When Beauman is your guest.
Mel. I have supposed you were on friendly terms.
Al. We are.
Mel. Why then intrusive?
Al. There are seasons when friendship must yield to a—
David [before Hugh and Meredith can speak]: Must yield its pretensions to—
Linda [sulkily]: All right then, you read it.
to a superior claim.
Mel. Perhaps I do not rightly comprehend the force of that remark.
Linda: Perhaps you are simply too dim to live.
Al. Were Beauman here, my position might be demonstrated.
Mel. I think I understand you.
Al. And acknowledge my observation to be just?
Mel. (hesitating.) Yes—I believe I must.
Al. And appropriate?
Melissa was silent.
Al. You hesitate, Melissa.
David: No, no, that was last time. This time she’s going for full-blown silence.
Linda: Why not? It worked so well in New London.
She was still silent.
Al. Will you, Melissa, answer me one question?
Mel. (confused.) If it be a proper one you are entitled to candour.
Hugh: If it be a proper one, period, new sentence. You are entitled . . .
Meredith: So in 1804 she had to tell the truth, regardless, but by 1811 she only had to be candid if it was a proper question?
Lucy: I think it means that in 1804 she didn’t have to answer improper questions at all. Later on, she had to answer but she was allowed to lie.
David: If Alonzo’s studying law, that’s just the kind of detail he would home in on.
Al. Are you engaged to Beauman?
Mel. (blushing.) He has asked me the same question concerning you.
David: Was that a yes or a no?
Hugh: Yale and Princeton are in a contest to see who blinks first.
Al. Do you prefer him to any other?
Mel. (deeply blushing, her eyes cast upon the floor.) He has made the same enquiry respecting you.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Will you stop futzing around and give me a straight answer to a straight question?
Al. Has he asked your father’s permission to address you?
Mel. That I have not suffered him yet to do.
Meredith [as Melissa]: We just started planning the wedding and figured Pop would take the hint.
David [as Melissa’s father]: What are all these guests doing here? I’m not supposed to feed them, am I? Who’s that clergyman? Is someone getting married?
Mel. I assure you I have not.
Al. (taking her hand with anxiety.) Melissa, I beg you will deal candidly. I am entitled to no claims, but you know what my heart would ask. I will bow to your decision. Beauman or Alonzo must relinquish their pretensions. We cannot share the blessing.
Meredith: Well, not in this type of book anyway.
Mel. (her cheeks suffused with a varying glow, her lips pale, her voice tremulous, her eyes still cast down.) My parents have informed me that it is improper to receive the particular addresses of more than one.
Meredith [1811 text]: Address, singular.
David [writing]: “Beauman”—has he got a first name, by the way? he’ll need one to get married in—“New London, Connecticut”. That should be enough: everyone knows the Beaumans. “Alonzo—” Doesn’t he have a last name? “Alonzo in New York” isn’t much of a mailing address.
Linda: You’re confusing him with Edgar. “Alonzo who is studying law with nameless-attorney in nameless-village” should do fine.
I am conscious of my inadvertency, and that the reproof is just.
Meredith [as Melissa]: I’m just a plain farmer’s daughter. It never occurred to me it was wrong to let two different men believe I would marry them.
One therefore must be dismissed. But—(she hesitated.)
Linda [1870 text]: She blushed.
David: No reason she can’t do both.
Lucy: Oh, and you can stop calling yourself 1870. Evidence suggests you’re a reprint of the 1836 Boston edition.
Linda [to David]: Neener-neener, I’ve got seniority over you.
A considerable pause ensued.
David: Is anyone keeping track of these pauses? The author seems to throw one in whenever he needs time to figure out what happens next.
Meredith: You mean, like in real life?
Linda [as Judge Judy]: “Pause” is not an answer.
Lucy [overlapping]: You can’t put “Alonzo and Melissa” and “real life” into the same utterance. It’s a linguistic, um, thingy.
At length Alonzo arose—“I will not press you farther,” said he; “I know the delicacy of your feeling, I know your sincerity; I will not therefore insist on your performing the painful task of deciding against me. Your conduct in every point of view has been discreet.
David: So discreet that if he hadn’t twisted her arm, he wouldn’t even have known that she was playing exactly the same game with Beauman.
I could have no just claims, or if I had, your heart must sanction them, or they would be unhallowed and unjustifiable.
Linda [with eraser]: I could have no just claims or they would be unjustifiable.
Meredith: It’s a perfectly just claim, I just can’t justify it.
Hugh: Nonsense. Given enough hairline spaces, you can justify anything.
I shall ever pray for your felicity.—Our affections are not under our direction; our happiness depends on our obedience to their mandates. Whatever, then, may be my sufferings, you are unblameable and irreproachable.” He took his hat in extreme agitation, and prepared to take his leave.
Lucy: Good juxtaposition of the literal and figurative there. He takes his hat, and then he takes his leave.
Hugh: Look, I had to fill another two inches and I was running out of dialogue. You try if you can do better.
Melissa had recovered in some degree from her embarrassment, and collected her scattered spirits.
David: There’s one hiding behind the hat rack, and I saw one rolling under the dresser.
“Your conduct, Alonzo,” said she, “is generous and noble. Will you give yourself the trouble, and do me the honour to see me once more?” “I will,” said he, “at any time you shall appoint.”—“Four weeks then,” she said, “from this day,
Linda [leafing back]: Giving Beauman one to two weeks free of competition.
Meredith: It’s a handicap, like a head start in a race.
honour me with a visit, and you shall have my decision, and receive my final answer.” “I will be punctual to the day,” he replied, and bade her adieu.
Melissa was received
with joyful tenderness . . .
Alonzo’s hours now
winged heavily away.