a do-it-yourself MiSTing
The declaration of Melissa’s father burst upon the mental powers of Beauman, like a sudden and tremendous clap of thunder—
David: In other words, based on what we’ve been told so far about the local weather, he barely noticed it.
on the deep and solemn silence of night.
Linda [dutifully reading 1836 text]: Deep and sullen silence.
Lucy [turning pages in other book]: Hey, I recognize that wording. These words from Alida’s father, —comma— burst upon the mental powers of Bonville like sudden and tremendous thunder on the deep and sullen silence of night.
Hugh: Alida? I can see “Bonville”, but where’d the author get a silly name like Alida?
Lucy: She had to counterbalance the hero. His name got changed to Theodore.
Unaccustomed to disappointment, he had calculated on success. His addresses to the ladies had ever been honourably received.
Melissa was the first whose charms were capable of rendering them sincere. He was not ignorant of Alonzo’s attention to her: it gave him however but little uneasiness. He believed that his superior qualifications would eclipse the pretensions of his rival. He considered himself a connoisseur in character, especially in the character of the ladies. He conformed to their taste; he flattered their foibles, and obsequiously bowed to the minutia of—
Linda [1836 text]: Minutiae, you illiterates.
female volatility. He considered himself skilled in the language of the heart; and he trusted that from his pre-eminent powers in the science of affection, he had only to see, to sue and to conquer.
Lucy: Veni, postulavi, vici . . . Needs some work, Beauman.
He had frankly offered his hand to Melissa, and pressed her for a decisive answer. This from time to time she suspended, and finally appointed a day to give him and Alonzo a—
Hugh: To give both him and Alonzo.
David: Mitchell’s balloon payment is coming due, so he’s padding the word count like mad.
determinate answer, though neither knew the arrangements made with the other.
Finding, however, the dilemma in which she was placed, she had previously consulted her parents. Her father had no objection to her choosing between two persons of equal claims to affluence and reputation; this choice she had made, and her father was considered—
Lucy [counting on fingers]: “She considered her father . . .” “Her father considered himself . . .” It’s not word count. Mitchell just likes the passive voice.
Linda: A vote was taken in the meeting hall, and it was unanimously decided that her father was—
the most proper person to pronounce it.
David: It was suggested that Melissa might speak for herself, but the proposal was instantly hooted down.
Hugh: Just like Beauman’s proposal.
When Beauman had urged his suit to Melissa, he supposed that her hesitations, delays and suspensions, were only the effects of maiden diffidence and timidity. He had no suspicions of her ultimately rejecting it; and when she finally named the day of decision, he was confident that she would decide in his favour. These sentiments he had communicated to the person who had written to Alonzo, intimating that Melissa had fixed a time which was to crown his happiest wishes.
Linda: The whole plot would have fallen apart at this point if the friend’s social calendar hadn’t been perfectly empty, so that he didn’t bother asking about the exact date.
Lucy: This is “hymeneal sacrifice” guy we’re talking about. He’d never remember anything so mundane as a calendar date.
He had listened therefore attentively—
David: I don’t get “therefore”. If he thought it was a foregone conclusion, he’d have let his attention wander while he fantasized about how to spend Melissa’s money.
to the words of Melissa’s father, momentarily expecting to hear himself declared the favourite choice of the fair.
What then must have been his disappointment when the name of Alonzo was pronounced instead of his own! The highly finished scene of pleasure and future prosperity which his ardent imagination had depicted, had vanished in a moment.
Linda: Beauman’s father has unexpectedly gone bust, and he was counting on Melissa’s money to restore his fortunes.
David: So that’s the “new arrangement” she was talking about last week. I thought the author was just playing games with us.
The rainbow glories which gilded his youthful horizon, had faded in an instant—the bright sun of his early hopes had set in mournful darkness. The summons of death would not have been more unexpected, or more shocking to his imagination.
Linda: He knows there are bill collectors parked on his doorstep in New London, and he was planning to fob them off with the newspaper announcement of his engagement.
Very different were the sensations which inspired the bosom of Alonzo. He had not even calculated on a decision in his own favour. He believed that Beauman would be the choice of Melissa. She had told him that the form of decision was necessary to save appearances: with this form he complied because she desired it, not because he expected the result would be in his favour. He had not therefore attended to the words of Melissa’s father—
Meredith: Rotten luck, dad. You carefully prepare and memorize your speech, and then nobody’s listening.
David: Except the servants. They’ve got their ears pressed to the keyhole.
with that eagerness which favourable anticipations commonly produce. But when his name was mentioned; when he found he was the choice—the happy favourite of Melissa’s affection, every tender passion of his soul became interested, and was suddenly aroused to the refinements of sensibility. Like an electric shock, it reanimated his whole frame, and vibrated every nerve of his heart. The glooms which hung about his mind were dissipated, and the bright morning of joy broke in upon his soul.
Linda: When you can’t get real scenery, a metaphor will have to do. For Beauman, the sun sets in mournful darkness; for Alonzo, it’s a bright morning of joy.
Meredith: Introduced by the very latest thing in alarm clocks: wake to an electric shock.
Thus were the expectations of Alonzo and Beauman disappointed—
David: Are you allowed to say “disappointed” when things turn out better than you expected?
Hugh: You are when you’re the editor.
how differently, the sequel has shown.
Linda: There’s a sequel? I’m leaving right now.
Melissa’s father retired immediately after pronouncing the declaration;
David [as father]: Young man, I leave everything in your hands. Here are the keys to the safe; here are the payroll records. If anyone needs me I’ll be in Aruba.
the two young gentlemen also soon after withdrew. Alonzo saw the tempest which tore the bosom of his rival,
Lucy: Being blessed with X-ray vision.
and he pitied him from his heart.
Linda: From his what? I thought they just had all-purpose bosoms.
Lucy [after rapid count]: I’ll be darned. They do have hearts. Thirty-eight of them, along with fifty-nine bosoms.
Meredith: That’s not enough hearts to go around. Someone should talk to the parents about sacrifice surgery.
A fortnight passed, and Alonzo felt all that anxiety and impatience which a separation from a beloved object can produce. He framed a thousand excuses to visit Melissa, yet he feared a visit might be premature.
Linda: Someone explained the superstition to Alonzo, but he misunderstood. He thought it would be bad luck to set eyes on the bride at any time between the engagement and the wedding.
He was, however, necessitated to make a journey to a distant part—
Hugh: Into a different part.
of the country,
David: For “country”, read “Connecticut”.
Lucy: You can see Mitchell’s point. Even in 1804, it was hard to say “a distant part of Connecticut” with a straight face.
after which he resolved to see Melissa. He performed his business, and was returning.
Linda: When the entire universe can be covered in two days’ travel, the outhouse counts as distant.
It was toward evening, and the day had been uncommonly sultry for the autumnal season. A rising shower blackened the western hemisphere;
Lucy: All of it?
the dark vapor ascended in folding ridges,
Meredith: I’m having trouble working out exactly what meteorological phenomenon he’s describing here.
and the thunder rolled at a distance. Alonzo saw he should be overtaken. He discovered an elegant seat about one hundred yards distant from the road;
Linda: Someone left a chair out in the middle of nowhere?
David: It’s Edgar! They told us he was designed for the desk.
thither he hastened to gain shelter from the approaching storm. The owner of the mansion met him at the door, politely invited him to alight and walk in,
Linda: He rode his horse up the front steps in approved Connecticut fashion.
while a servant stood ready to take his horse. He was ushered into a large room neatly furnished, where the family and several young ladies were sitting. As Alonzo glanced his eyes hastily around the room, he thought he recognized a familiar countenance. A hurried succession of confused ideas for a moment crossed his recollection. In a moment, however, he discovered that it was Melissa.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: I know I’ve seen that face before, I just can’t think where. No, wait, don’t tell me, it will come back to— Why, of course! It’s the woman I’ve been madly in love with for the past year and a half. I knew I’d remember sooner or later.
By this unexpected meeting they were both completely embarrassed.
Meredith: Melissa had been confident nobody would ever learn about the third man in her life, and Alonzo suddenly remembered the toupee and false teeth packed in the bottom of his saddlebags.
Melissa, however, arose, and in rather a confused manner, introduced Alonzo, as the classmate of her brother,
David: Much later, it occurred to Alonzo to wonder why she hadn’t introduced him as her fiancé.
to the family of Mr. Simpson and the company.
The rain continued most part of the afternoon. Alonzo was invited, and consented to stay all night. A moon-light evening succeeded the shower, which invited the young people to walk in an adjoining garden.
Linda: So it isn’t just a weird quirk in Melissa. The Colonial legislature has banned recreational strolling by daylight.
Melissa told Alonzo that Mr. Simpson was a distant relative of her father; his family consisted of his wife, two amiable daughters, not far from Melissa’s age, and one son, named William, about seventeen years old. She had been—
Lucy: Wait! Stop the presses! Did everyone get that? We have a character with two names: William Simpson.
David: Could he be the third man? Seventeen seems a bit young; Melissa’s got to be seventeen or eighteen herself by now.
Linda: One thing’s for sure. With a full name, age and address, you know he’s going to play a vital role in the plot.
invited there to pass a week,
Lucy: In order to avoid meeting Alonzo, who might reasonably have been expected to show up at her father’s house during precisely this time period. No wonder she was embarrassed.
and expected to return within two days. And she added, smiling, “perhaps, Alonzo, we may have an opportunity once more to visit the bower on my prospect hill, before winter entirely destroys the remaining beauties of the summer.”
Hugh: Of Summer, capitalized.
Meredith: Having caught up on his mortgage payments, Mitchell is now free to omit words and to heck with the extra quarter-penny.
Alonzo felt all the force of the remark.
David: Oops, must have missed something [going over text again]. . . . before winter entirely destroys the remaining beauties of the summer. Sorry, Mitchell, I’m just not getting it. Maybe there’s a code word.
He recollected the conversation when they were last at the place she mentioned; and he well remembered his feelings on that occasion.
“Great changes, indeed,” he replied, “have taken place since we were last there: that they are productive of unexpected and unexampled happiness to me, is due, Melissa, to you alone.” Alonzo departed the—
Hugh: What the—? I swear I’m going to shoot that cat. There should have been another column and a half of moving dialogue.
next morning, appointing the next week to visit Melissa at her father’s house.
Thus were the obstacles removed which presented a barrier to the united wishes of Alonzo and Melissa.
Linda: So the book’s finished, then. No more plot complications; we can all go home.
They had not, it is true, been separated by wide seas, unfeeling parents,
David: I smell a rat.
David: The title of the book specifically says “an unfeeling father”, so you know one of their fathers has to have a change of heart.
or the rigorous laws of war;
Linda: What laws? Haven’t they ever heard of camp followers?
David: It’s foreshadowing, I tell you. After “unfeeling father” in the title, the very first sentence gives you “the late revolution”. I think the war will turn out to be something more than background color.
Meredith: If it’s supposed to be background color it must be transparent. I haven’t seen a trace of any war yet.
Linda: Unfeeling father: check. War: check. That leaves the wide seas.
David: Red herring.
Lucy: Not at these latitudes. Either Alonzo or Melissa, but not both, is destined to go on a long voyage.
but troubles, vexations, doubts and difficulties, had thus far attended them, which had now disappeared, and they calculated on no unpropitious event which might thwart their future union. All the time that Alonzo could spare from his studies was devoted to Melissa, and their parents began to calculate on joining their hands as soon as Alonzo’s professional term of study was completed.
Linda: Three years of law school, so we’re looking at the summer after next.
Meredith: He’s not in school, he’s just reading with some guy in the next town. His studies will be completed when it’s convenient for the author.
The troubles which gave rise to the disseveration of England from America had already commenced, which broke out the ensuing spring into actual hostilities, by the battle at Lexington,
Linda [1836 text]: Of Lexington.
followed soon after by the battle at Bunker Hill.
Linda: Of Bunker Hill.
Hugh: Bunker’s Hill. Everyone gets it wrong.
Meredith: Didn’t it really happen on Breed Hill? I’m sure I read that somewhere.
The panic and general bustle which took place in America on these events, is yet well remembered by many.
Lucy: More to the point, the exact dates of these events are not only well remembered but clearly documented, so we’ve got— [portentous pause] —a Datable External Event.
Others [cheering, ad lib]: Yee haw! Woo hoo! Hurrah!
Lucy [continuing]: The battles will take place in the first half of 1775. That means we’re currently in the fall of 1774, and with the passage of time that we’ve already worked out, the story began in 1773.
They were not calculated to impress the mind of Melissa with the most pleasing sensations.
Meredith: The warmongers are going to be sorry they left Melissa’s mind out of their calculations.
She foresaw that the burden of the war must rest on the American youth, and she trembled in anticipation for the fate of Alonzo.
Linda: The fate of Beauman, on the other hand, is assured. At the first rumor of war, he paid an impoverished immigrant to take his place in the draft.
Meredith: I think that was a different war.
He, with others, should the war continue, must take the field, in defence of his country. The effects of such a separation were dubious and gloomy. Alonzo and she frequently discoursed, and they—
Hugh: Discoursed upon the subject.
David: Bills starting to pile up again, I see.
agreed to form the mystic union previous to any wide separation.
Meredith: Is a mystic union the same thing as a hymeneal sacrifice?
Lucy: Someone told Mitchell the H-word is spelled with a W. He wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so he decided it would be safest not to use any word beginning in W.
Linda: Including “who”, “what”, “when” . . .
One event tended to hasten this resolution. The attorney in whose office Alonzo was clerk, received a commission in the new raised American army,
David: If he’d talked to Beauman first, he would have learned how to get out of it.
Linda: By making his clerk Alonzo serve in his place.
and marched to the lines near Boston. His business was therefore suspended,
Lucy: The local farmers thoughtfully agreed to stop suing each other for the duration.
and Alonzo returned to the house of his father. He considered that he could not long remain a mere spectator of the contest, and that it might soon be his duty to take the field; he therefore concluded it best to hasten his marriage with Melissa. She consented to the proposition, and their parents made the necessary arrangements for the event. They had even fixed upon the place which was to be the future residence of this happy couple.
Meredith: I can’t get “they” to mean anything other than the parents.
It was a pleasantly situated village, surrounded by rugged elevations, which gave an air of serenity and seclusion to the valley they encircled. On the south arose a spacious hill, which was ascended by a gradual acclivity; its sides and summit interspersed with orchards, arbours, and cultivated fields.
Hugh: Cultured fields.
Linda [TV commercial]: Connecticut doesn’t want fields with good taste: they want fields that taste good.
On the west, forests unevenly lifted their rude heads, with here and there a solitary field, newly cleared, and thinly scattered with cottages. To the east, the eye extended over a soil,
Lucy [emerging from dictionary]: Archaic term for a piece of land. He must have learned it from his parents; the citations are all from before 1800.
Linda: Another nail in the Jackson-as-author coffin.
at one time swelling into craggy elevations, and at another spreading itself into vales of the most enchanting verdure. To the north it extended over a vast succession of mountains, wooded to their summits, and throwing their shadows over intervales of equal wilderness, till at length it was arrested in its excursions
David: This is still the archaic soil we’re talking about? How do you arrest a piece of land?
Hugh [as Mitchell]: Don’t look at me. It was a long time ago; I can’t be expected to remember what I meant.
Meredith [after close study of last few lines]: I think he means the eye. It extends twice, in two consecutive sentences, and then it’s arrested.
Lucy: This kind of detail really makes you appreciate the Bill of Rights. Today, no eye could serve consecutive sentences before it has been formally arrested and charged.
by the blue mists which hovered over mountains more grand, majestic and lofty.*
* Some who read this description will readily recognize the village here described.
David: And some won’t— especially those who have never been outside of Plattsburgh, New York.
A rivulet which rushed from the hills, formed a little lake on the borders of the village, which beautifully reflected the cottages from its transparent bosom.
Meredith: Well, no wonder there are so many of them. Even the lakes have bosoms.
Lucy: Some grammarians would argue that it is the village, not the lake, that is transparently endowed.
Amidst a cluster of locusts and weeping willows, rose the spire of the church, in the ungarnished decency of Sunday neatness. Fields, gardens, meadows, and pastures were spread around the valley, and on the sides of the declivities, yielding in their season the rich flowers, fruits and foliage of spring, summer and autumn. The inhabitants of this modern Auvernum were—
Hugh and Meredith: Avernum, you illiterates.
David: I’m going to go way out on a limb here and guess that we’re not talking about the RPG.
Lucy: If someone figures out what he is talking about I’d like to know, because the closest thing I can find is Lake Avernus, the gateway to the underworld.
mostly farmers. They were mild, sociable, moral and diligent. The produce of their own flocks and fields gave them most of their food and clothing. To dissipation they were strangers, and the luxuries of their tables were few.
Linda: You can see why Alonzo would want to settle there. The inhabitants are obviously desperate for the services of a good lawyer, and he’ll be able to name his own price.
Such was the place for—
Hugh: The place chosen for.
Meredith: Chosen by Melissa’s father, who is counting the days until Alonzo goes belly-up and he can buy his soil at foreclosure prices.
the residence of Alonzo and Melissa.
Hugh: The future residence.
David: The bill collectors are getting closer, and he needs to crank up that word count.
Linda: The character of Melissa’s father was closely patterned after certain of Mitchell’s most persistent creditors.
They had visited the spot, and were enraptured with its pensive, romantic beauties. A site was marked out whereon to erect their family mansion.
Lucy: Cheapskate. Everyone else has a seat, and he expects Melissa to settle for a lousy mansion.
It was on a little eminence which sloped gradually to the lake, in the most pleasant part of the village. “Here,” said Alonzo one day to Melissa, “will we pass our days in all that felicity of mind which the chequered scenes of life admit. In the spring we will rove among the flowers. In summer, we will gather strawberries in yonder fields, or whortleberries from the adjacent shrubbery. The breezes of fragrant morning, and the sighs of the evening gale, will be mingled with the songs of the thousand various birds—
David: Nine hundred ninety-eight whippoorwills and a pair of chickadees that wandered in by mistake.
which frequent the surrounding groves. We will gather the bending fruits of autumn, and we will listen to the hoarse voice of winter, its whistling winds, its driving snow, and rattling hail, with delight.”
Linda: Alonzo has heard of winter, but has never actually seen one.
The bright gems of joy glistened in the eyes of Melissa. With Alonzo she anticipated approaching happiness, and her bosom beat in rapturous unison.
Meredith: Not her heart, just her bosom.
David: In unison with what? You can’t be in unison with yourself.
Winter came on; it rapidly passed away. Spring advanced, and the marriage day was appointed.
Alonzo’s hours now
winged heavily away.
The spring opened with
the din of preparation . . .