a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo’s hours now winged heavily away.
David: Someone should tell Mitchell not to mess with established clichés. I don’t think he meant the reader to picture an overweight turkey.
Hugh [before Lucy can open her mouth]: It’s 1804. The stereotypy process, and hence the word “cliché”, haven’t been invented yet.
His wonted cheerfulness fled; he wooed the silent and solitary haunts of “musing, moping melancholy.”
Lucy [usual business with reference works]: Act I, Scene 1 of The Upholsterer or What News, a 1758 play by Arthur Murphy. The speaker describes himself as a “musing, moping, melancholy lover”.
David: Just like Alonzo.
He loved to wander through lonely fields,
Meredith: In New York?
Linda: You’re thinking of Edgar again. Alonzo’s in Connecticut.
David: Western Connecticut.
or along the verge of some lingering stream, “when dewy twilight rob’d the evening mild,” or
“To trace the forest glen, through which the moon
Darted her silvery intercepted ray.”
Meredith [1811 text]: Darted his silvery et cetera.
Hugh: Early in the nineteenth century the moon toyed briefly with the idea of gender-reassignment surgery, but decided against it.
He was fondly indulging a tender passion which preyed upon his peace, and deeply disturbed his repose. He looked anxiously to the hour when Melissa was to make her decision. He wished, yet dreaded the event. In that he foresaw, or thought he foresaw, a withering blight to his budding hopes, and a final consummation to his foreboding fears. He had pressed Melissa, perhaps too urgently, to a declaration.—Had her predilection been in his favour, would she have hesitated to avow it? Her parents had advised her to relinquish, and had permitted her to retain one suitor,
David [as Melissa’s parents]: After sober consideration, we’ve decided to allow you to marry—but only to one man at the present time.
Lucy: Papa doesn’t want to cough up two dowries at once. If they lived in a bride-price culture he’d be happy to let her have as many husbands as she wanted.
nor had they attempted to influence or direct her choice.
Hugh: Forestall her choice.
Meredith: Wouldn’t that mean prevent her from choosing?
Was it not evident, then, from her confused hesitation and embarrassment, when solicited to discriminate upon the subject, that her ultimate decision would be in favour of Beauman?
While Alonzo’s mind was thus agitated, he received a second letter from his friend in the neighbourhood of Melissa. He read the following clause therein with emotions—
Meredith [1811 text]: Emotion, singular.
Hugh: Oh, cut it out.
more easily to be conceived than expressed:
Melissa’s wedding day is appointed. I need not tell you that Beauman is to be the happy deity of the hymeneal sacrifice.
Lucy: But I’m telling you anyway, just to rub it in.
David: By the time Alonzo figures out that “happy deity of the hymeneal sacrifice” means “bridegroom”, the initial pain will have passed.
I had this from his own declaration. He did not name the positive day, but it is certainly to be soon. You will undoubtedly, however, have timely notice, as a guest. We must pour a liberal libation upon the mystic altar, Alonzo,
Linda [1870 text]: To the mystic altar.
Hugh: And that’s supposed to make more sense?
David: More of a mess, I’d think, if they’re pouring it on the floor instead of on the altar.
and twine the nuptial garland with wreaths of joy.
Meredith: Does the guy always talk like this, or is it something about weddings that makes the synapses in his brain go haywire?
Beauman ought to devote a rich offering to so valuable a prize. He has been here for a week, and departed for New London yesterday, but is shortly to return.
Linda: That’s impossible. We’ve only got a four-week window, and when Beauman left he said he’d be back in two or three weeks.
Lucy [scribbling on calendar]: Call it fourteen days exactly. That’s two days to go home, ten days to look after his estates, two days coming back. Then five days for the visit, and—
Linda: Seven. He was here for a week.
Lucy: I’m working on the “as many thousands as must always be called ten” principle. A man who talks about mystic altars and hymeneal sacrifices is not a man who means precisely seven days when he says “a week”.
“And why have I ever doubted this event?” said Alonzo. “What infatuation hath thus led me on the pursuit of fantastic and unreal bliss? I have had, it is true, no positive assurance that Melissa would favour my addresses. But why did she ever receive them? Why did she enchantingly smile upon me? Why fascinate the tender powers of my soul by that winning mildness, and the favourable display of those complicated and superior attractions which she must have known were irresistible?
Meredith: Face it, Alonzo. She’s just a tease.
—Why did she not spurn me from her confidence, and plainly tell me that my attentions were untimely and improper?
David: Because then she wouldn’t have had anyone to sit on rocks with.
And now she would have me dance attendance to her decision in favour of Beauman—Insulting! Let Beauman and she make,
Hugh [as editor]: Did someone just say “Let she make”?
Lucy: Now that you mention it, Mitchell is guilty of a lot of literary crimes. But offenses against basic grammar don’t top the list.
as they have formed, this farcical decision; I absolutely will never attend it.—But stop: I have engaged to see her at an appointed time; my honour is therefore pledged for an interview; it must take place. I shall support it with becoming dignity, and I will convince both Melissa and Beauman that I am not the dupe of their caprices. But let me consider—What has Melissa done to deserve censure or reproach?
Meredith: You mean, other than tell him he’d have her decision in four weeks, and then merrily start planning her wedding with Beauman the moment his back is turned?
Linda: She didn’t say she’d make a decision in four weeks, she just said she’d tell him about it.
Meredith: When you show up as arranged, and find yourself a guest at a wedding, a person of ordinary intel—
David: This is Alonzo we’re talking about?
Her brother was my early friend: she has treated me as a friend to her brother. She was unconscious of—
Hugh: She was the unsuspecting object of my passion. She was unconscious of . . .
Meredith: Well, that’ll teach you to start two consecutive sentences with “She was”.
the flame which her charms had kindled in my bosom.—Her evident embarrassment and confusion on receiving my declaration, witnessed her surprise and prior attachment. What could she do? To save herself the pain of a direct denial, she has appointed a day when her refusal may come in a more delicate and formal manner—and I must meet it.”
At the appointed day, Alonzo proceeded to the house of Melissa’s father, where he arrived late in the afternoon. Melissa had retired to a little summer house at the end of the garden; a servant conducted Alonzo thither. She was dressed in a flowing robe of white muslin, embroidered with a deep fringe lace.
David: You’d think that somewhere along the line, some editor would have had the brains to change it to “fringe of lace”.
Lucy: You’re only allowed to change the text if the original was right and you’re making it wrong.
Her hair hung loosely upon her shoulders; she was contemplating a bouquet of flowers—
Meredith [as Melissa]: This calls for deep thought. Should I put them in a vase? Press them between the pages of the family Bible? Throw them in the face of the next man I see?
Linda: I vote for throwing. Tossing a bridal bouquet takes practice; you don’t want it to hit some innocent bystander.
Lucy [pedantically]: She doesn’t know how easy she’s got it. Roman brides threw a lit torch.
David: Sorry, Tullia, I was aiming for Lucretia. But I’m sure your hair will grow back.
which she held in her hand. Alonzo fancied she never appeared so lovely.
Meredith: But it was just an idle fancy. She was actually much lovelier the day before yesterday.
She arose to receive him. “We have been expecting you some time,” said Melissa; “we—
Hugh [embarrassed]: Oops, sorry about that. I forgot I wasn’t writing an editorial.
were anxious to inform you,
Linda [1836 text]: We are anxious.
Lucy: I like “were”. We got so tired of waiting that our initial anxiety passed off and now we really don’t give a hoot.
that we have just received a letter from my brother, in which he desires us to present you his most friendly respects, and complains of your not writing to him lately so frequently as usual.” Alonzo thanked her for the information; said that business had prevented him; he esteemed him as his most valuable friend,
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: His most valued friend.
David: Pop’s obviously rolling in it, so “valuable” sounds about right to me.
and would be more particular in future.
“We have been thronged with company for several days,” said Melissa. “Once a year my father celebrates his birth day,
Linda: Funny how that works.
Lucy: If he had had the forethought to be born on February 29th, he’d only have to feed all those people every four years.
David: And even then, he’d get a free ride in the year 1800.
when we are honoured with so numerous a company of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces,
Meredith [sings]: His sisters and his cousins / Whom he reckons by the dozens . . .
Lucy [overlapping]: Aunts and cousins / By the baker’s dozen . . .
that were you present, you would suppose we were connected with half the families in Connecticut. The last of this company took their departure yesterday,
Linda: Hours later, it occurs to Alonzo to wonder why he wasn’t invited to this bash.
and I have only to regret, that I have for nearly a week, been prevented from visiting my favourite hill, to which you attended me when you was last here. It is much improved since then:
Lucy: The hill was feeling poorly, but it’s much better now, thank you for asking.
I have had a little arbour built under the large tree on its summit: you will have no objection to view it, Alonzo?” He assured her he accepted the invitation with pleasure, and towards evening
David: Is it against Melissa’s religion to take walks in broad daylight? No matter where she is or who she’s with, she never leaves the house until just before sunset.
they resorted to the place and seated themselves in the arbour.
It was the beginning of autumn,
Hugh: For the past eighteen months the earth has obligingly paused in its orbit so we can get the plot moving without the inconvenience of winter travel, but now it’s time for a change of season.
and a yellow hue was spread over the fading charms of nature. The withering forest began to shed its decaying foliage, which the light gales pursued along the russet fields.
Meredith: Again with the light gales.
Lucy: Oh, I forgot to say, I looked it up. The Beaufort scale hasn’t been invented yet, so you’re allowed to use “gale” for “breeze”.
The low sun extended the lengthening shadows;
David: Making them longer than they would have been if the shadows had been left to their own resources.
curling smoke ascended from the surrounding cottages. A thick fog crept along the vallies; a gray mist hovered over the tops of the mountains. The glassy surface of the sound glittered to the sun’s departing ray.
Linda: Didn’t he use that line before?
Hugh: That was at least a week ago. The reader can’t remember that long.
The solemn herds lowed in monotonous symphony.
Linda [1836 text]: Lowed in solemn— Oh. Oops. Forget I said anything.
The autumnal insects in sympathetic wafting,
Hugh: Sympathetic wailings.
Meredith: Sympathetic waftings.
Linda: Since when is “wafting” something you can hear?
Meredith [whining]: It’s not my fault there was a flyspeck on the newspaper. I thought it was an -ft- ligature.
Lucy: The autumnal insects, making assorted sound effects in the background—
plaintively predicted their approaching fate.
David: Chirp, chirp, we’re going to die. Hum, hum, we’re going to die. Buzz, buzz, we’re—
Hugh: Yes, fine, we get the idea.
“The scene is changed since we last visited this place,” said Melissa;
Meredith: That rock used to be stage left, and the backdrop had different cows on it.
“the gay charms of summer are beginning to decay, and must soon yield their splendours to the rude despoiling hand of winter.”
“That will be the case,” said Alonzo, “before I shall have the pleasure of your company here again.”
David: Depends on how cold the winter gets. He means that he’ll be back when hell freezes over.
Mel. That probably may be, though it is nearly two months yet to winter.
Linda: Is she saying that she doesn’t care if he stays away for the next two or more months, or is she trying to hint that he doesn’t visit often enough?
Al. Great changes may take place within that time.
Mel. Yes, changes must take place; but nothing, I hope, to embitter present prospects.
Al. (peevishly.) As it respects yourself, I trust not, madam.
Mel. (tenderly.) And I sincerely hope not, as it respects you, Alonzo.
Al. That wish, I believe, is vain.
Mel. Why so ominous a prediction?
Al. The premises, from which it is drawn, are correct.
Mel. Your feelings accord with the season, Alonzo; you are melancholy. Shall we return?
Al. I ask your pardon, madam; I know I am unsociable. You speak of returning: You know the occasion of my being here.
Mel. For the purpose of visiting your friends, I presume.
Al. And no other?
She made no reply.
Al. You cannot have forgotten your own appointment, and consequent engagement?
She made no answer.
Hugh: I’m rather proud of those lines. On two consecutive occasions I avoided using the words “pause” or “silent”.
Lucy: Instead you said “reply” and “answer” with a wholly gratuitous use of synonyms for synonymy’s sake, just the way they teach you not to do in Journalism 101.
Al. I know, Melissa, that you are incapable of duplicity or evasion.
Linda: Except for that trivial incident four weeks ago when you said you’d give me your decision, and now you’re pretending you have no idea why I’m here.
Meredith: That wasn’t duplicity or evasion, it was just lying in her teeth.
I have promised, and now repeat the declaration, that I will silently submit to your decision. This you have engaged to make, and this is the time you have appointed. The pains of present suspense can scarcely be surpassed by the pangs of disappointment. On your part you have nothing to fear. I trust you have candidly determined, and will decide explicitly.
David: You have determined, and now you will decide?
Lucy: As opposed to deciding implicitly, like when she quietly starts planning the wedding with Candidate B, and lets people draw their own conclusions.
Mel. (sighing.) I am placed in an exceedingly delicate situation.
Linda [as Alonzo, losing his temper]: Listen, you heartless bitch, you created your own situation, so cut the crap willya?
Al. I know you are; but your own honour, your own peace, require that you should extricate yourself from the perplexing embarrassment.
Mel. I am sensible they do. It must—it shall be done.
Al. And the sooner it is done the better.
Mel. That I am convinced of. I now know that I have been inadvertently indiscreet.
Meredith: She didn’t stop to think that someone might notice she was planning a wedding.
I have admitted the addresses of Beauman and yourself, without calculating or expecting the consequences. You have both treated me honourably, and with respect. You are both on equal grounds as to your character and standing in life. With Beauman I became first acquainted. As it relates to him, some new arrangements have taken place since you were here, which—
Al. (interrupting her, with emotion.) Of those arrangements I am acquainted.
Mel. (surprised.) By what means were you informed thereof?
Al. I received it from a friend in your neighbourhood.
A considerable pause ensued.
David [to Hugh]: Ha ha, you used the P-word again.
Al. You see, Melissa, I am prepared for the event.—She was silent.
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Still silent.”
Linda: In case you’d forgotten that she was also silent last time around.
Al. I have mentioned before, that, whatever be your decision, no impropriety can attach to you. I might not, indeed, from various circumstances, and from the information I possess, I perhaps should not, have given you farther trouble on the occasion,
Meredith: Get a grip, Alonzo. You’re babbling.
had it not been from your own direction and appointment. And I am now willing to retire without further explanation, without giving you the pain of an express decision, if you think the measure expedient. Your declaration can only be a matter of form, the consequence of which I know, and my proposition may save your feelings.
Mel. No, Alonzo; my reputation depends on my adherence to my first determination; justice to yourself and to Beauman also demand it.
Hugh: Demands it. The subject of the verb is justice, singular.
Others: Oh, shut up.
After what has passed, I should be considered as acting capriciously and inconsistently, should I depart from it. Beauman will be here to-morrow, and—
Al. To-morrow, madam?
David: You got a problem with that?
Mel. He will be here to-morrow, and you must consent to stay with us until that time; the matter shall then be decided.
Al. I—yes—it shall be as you say, madam. Make your arrangements as you please.
Evening had now spread her dusky mantle over the face of nature. The stars glistened in the sky. The breeze’s rustling wing was in the tree. The “slitty sound”—
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: The stilly sound.
Linda [1836 text]: Oh, is that what you meant. I couldn’t make head or tail of it so I said distant sound.
David [apologetic]: I thought it was a quotation so I was afraid to change it.
Lucy: It is a quotation, but you got it wrong. The “stilly sound” phrase is from John Home’s 1756 play Douglas, Act IV, Scene 1.
of the low murmuring brook, and the far off water-fall, were faintly heard. The twinkling fire-fly arose from the surrounding verdure and illuminated the air with a thousand transient gleams. The mingling discordance of curs and watch-dogs echoed in the distant village, from whence the frequent lights darted their pale lustre thro’ the gloom. The solitary whippoorwills—
Edmund [passing through again]: —who, by this time, are treated practically like hired musicians—
stationed themselves along the woody glens, the groves and rocky pastures, and sung a requiem—
Linda [1836 text]: Or, as we say in English, sang a requiem.
to departed summer. A dark cloud was rising in the west, across whose gloomy front the vivid lightning bent its forky spires.
Alonzo and Melissa moved slowly to the village; she appeared enraptured with the melancholy splendours of the evening, but the other subject engaged the mental attention of Alonzo.
Hugh: But other subjects, plural.
Linda: What other subjects? He’s only had one thing on his mind since the beginning of the book. Besides [continuing under her breath] anyone who writes “the mental attention of Alonzo” isn’t in a real strong moral position to criticize other people’s use of the language.
Beauman arrived the next day.
Lucy: Fashionably 24 hours late, as befits a Princeton man. Alonzo showed up on schedule, so he ought to have won by default.
He gave his hand to Alonzo with the seeming warmth of friendship. If it was reciprocated, it must have been affected. There was no alteration in the manners and conversation of Melissa: her conversation, as usual, was sprightly and interesting. After dinner she retired, and her father requested Alonzo and Beauman to withdraw with him to a private room. After they were seated, the old gentleman thus addressed them:
“I have called you here, gentlemen, to perform my duty as a parent to my daughter, and as a friend to you.
Meredith: For a given definition of “friend”. This is the first time in the book that he has uttered so much as one word to Alonzo.
You are both suitors to Melissa; while your addresses were merely formal, they were innocent; but when they became serious they were dangerous. Your pretensions I consider equal, and between honourable pretenders, who are worthy of my daughter, I shall not attempt to influence her choice. That choice, however, can rest only on one:
Lucy: Thanks to those boring old poops who decided to outlaw polyandry.
she has engaged to decide between you. I am come to make, in her name, this decision.
Linda: I thought that stuff about “shall not attempt to influence her choice” sounded fishy. He’s not influencing her at all. He’s out-and-out making the choice for her.
The following are my terms:—No quarrel or difficulty shall arise between you, gentlemen, in consequence of her determination. Nothing shall go abroad respecting the affair; it shall be ended under my roof.
David [as Melissa’s father]: If word ever got out that two different men wanted to marry my daughter, I would never be able to hold up my head again.
As soon as I have pronounced her declaration, you shall both depart and absent my house for at least two weeks, as it would be improper for my daughter to see either of you at present:
Meredith: There’s a rule that says you’re not allowed to see your fiancé for two weeks? I think he’s getting it mixed up with the one about not seeing your bride on the wedding day.
after that period I shall be happy to receive your visits.”—Alonzo and Beauman pledged their honour to abide implicitly by these injunctions.
Hugh and Meredith: Abide explicitly.
Linda [overlapping]: —to these injunctions.
Her father then observed—“This, gentlemen, is all I require. I have observed that I considered your pretensions equal: so has my daughter treated them. You have both made professions to her; she has appointed a time to answer you. That time has now arrived, and I now inform you—
Hugh: Redundant. Delete the first “now”.
David and Linda: We did.
Meredith [loyally]: Well, I liked it.
that she has decided in favour of—
Lucy: —drumroll, flashes of lightning, moment of portentous silence—
Linda: I never in a million, billion, trillion years would have seen that one coming.
It was some time before
Alonzo renewed his visit.
The declaration of
Melissa’s father . . .