a do-it-yourself MiSTing
The spring opened with the din of preparation throughout America for defensive war.
Linda: The author has brilliantly anticipated the modern usage of “defensive” by, oh, about a century and a half.
It now was found that vigorous measures must be pursued to oppose the torrent which was preparing to overwhelm the colonies, which had now been dissevered from the British empire, by the declaration of independence.
Meredith: Bzzt! Datable External Event! Bzzt! Datable External Event!
Lucy: Declaration of Independence, July 1776. It’s in the past, and the season is spring, so that puts us in 1777 at the earliest.
David: What happened to 1775 and 1776?
Hugh [as Mitchell]: You know, I thought that tree had grown awfully fast.
The continental army was now raising,
Linda: Raising what? Cain?
Lucy: Standard usage in 1804. Language purists had screaming fits if you said that something was being raised.
and great numbers of American youth volunteered in the service of their country. A large army of reinforcements was soon expected from England to land on our shores, and “the confused noise of the warriors, and garments rolled in blood,”
Hugh: Warrior, you heathens. Isaiah, book 9, chapter 5: “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood.”
were already anticipated.
Linda: A safe prediction, since the war has been going on for two years.
Alonzo had received a commission in a regiment of militia, and was pressed by several young gentlemen of his acquaintance, who had entered the army, to join it also.
Meredith: I don’t think you’re allowed to serve in two branches of the military at the same time.
David: Alonzo’s plan is to avoid serving in any branch of the military. He just has to find an exempt job that doesn’t require any actual work.
Linda: He tried to say he was a farmer, but when he repeated that line about listening with delight to the wind and hail, they laughed him out of the office.
He had an excuse.
Meredith: Oh, good.
His father was a man in extensive business, was considerably past the prime of life, had a number of agents and clerks under him, but began to grow unable to attend to the various and burthensome duties and demands of a mercantile life.
Alonzo was his only son; his assistance therefore became necessary until, at least, his father could bring his business to a close, which he was now about to effect.
Linda: This is where the judge loses patience and says I’m still waiting to hear your legal defense.
Alonzo stated these facts to his friends;
Meredith: Call the OED. We’ve found the earliest documented occurrence of copspeak in American English. For “stated”, read “told”; for “these facts”, read “his opinion”.
told them that on every occasion he should be ready to fly to the post of danger when his country was invaded, and that as soon as his father’s affairs should be settled, he would, if necessary, willingly join the army.
Lucy [as defendant in small-claims action]: I never said I wasn’t going to pay him, I just didn’t have the money. And then he kept harrassing me, so I don’t feel I have to enlist after all.
The day now rapidly approached when Alonzo was to make Melissa his own. Preparations for the hymeneal ceremony were making,
Meredith: Is that like “the army was raising”?
David: I probably don’t want to know this, but what exactly does “hymeneal” mean?
Lucy: Greek god of marriage. Not one of the Big Twelve, so you may not have heard of him.
and invitations had already gone abroad. Edgar, the brother of Melissa, had entered the army in the capacity of chaplain.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Darn! Why didn’t I think of that? The next best thing to exemption is a non-combatant position that carries automatic officer rank.
He was soon expected home, where he intended to tarry until the consummation—
David: Too much information, Jackson.
of the nuptials, before he set out for the camp. Letters recently received from him, informed that he expected to be at his father’s in three or four days.
About three weeks previous to the appointed marriage day, Alonzo and Melissa one afternoon rode out to the village which had been chosen for their future residence. Their carriage stopped at the only inn in the place, and from thence they walked around this modern Vacluse,
Linda and David [look at their own texts, look at Hugh and Meredith, and decide not to say anything].
Lucy: After this installment appeared, eighty-two subscribers wrote to point out that there is a modern Vaucluse—note spelling—dating back to 1793 when the French provinces were reorganized. Possibly the author meant the ancient spring of Vaucluse that the département was named after.
Meredith: The previous week, those same eighty-two know-it-alls asked why Alonzo and Melissa were taking up residence at the entrance to the underworld. Mitchell had to scramble around for a similar-sounding name, and hoped nobody would notice.
charmed with the secluded beauties of its situation. They passed a little time at the spot selected for their habitation; they projected the structure of the buildings, planned the gardens, the artificial groves, the walks, the mead, the fountains, and—
Hugh [making a heroic recovery]: The meads, plural. They’re not planning fountains of a mild honey-based alcoholic beverage.
the green retreat of the summer house, and they already saw, in anticipation,
David: If they’re getting married in three weeks, shouldn’t they be seeing these things in the final stages of construction?
Meredith: No hurry. The fairies will plant the trees and put up the buildings at the exact moment that Alonzo and Melissa say “I do”.
the various domestic blessings and felicities with which they were to be surrounded.
They took tea at the inn,
Lucy: Don’t let Beau Brummel hear you say that. In his lexicon, you take a walk and you take a liberty, but you drink tea.
Hugh: If they were English loyalists, they would eat tea.
and prepared to return. It was at the latter end of the month of May, and nature was adorned in the bridal ornaments of spring; the sun was sunk behind the groves, which cast their sombre shades over the valley, while the retiring beams of day adorned the distant eastern eminences with yellow lustre.
The birds sung melodiously in the groves,
Linda [1836 text]: Grove, singular.
Meredith: When Alonzo realized he couldn’t support his family on one uncontested will every few years and the occasional title search, he had to start selling off his land.
the air was freshened by light western breezes, bearing upon their wings all the entrancing odours of the season. Around the horizon, electric clouds raised their brazen summits, based in the black vapor of approaching night.
David: In Mitchell’s universe, darkness is caused by clouds of anti-photons.
They slowly ascended the hill south of the town, where they paused a few moments to enjoy the splendours of the evening scene. This hill, which commanded a prospect of all the surrounding country, the distant sound, and the adjacent towns and villages, presented to the eye, on a single view, perhaps one of the most picturesque draperies painted by nature.
Lucy: All the world’s a stage, and all the hills and forests merely paintings.
Alonzo attended Melissa to her father’s, and the next day returned home.
His father had been absent for three or four days to one of the commercial seaports, on business with some merchants with whom he was connected in trade. He returned the next day after Alonzo got home:—his aspect and his conversation were marked with an assumed and unmeaning cheerfulness. At supper he ate nothing, discoursed much, but in an unconnected and hurried manner,
Linda [as Alonzo’s mother]: I thought we had agreed, dear, that you would phase out your Colombian trade.
interrupted by long pauses, in which he appeared to be buried in contemplation.
After supper, he asked Alonzo if it were not possible that his marriage with Melissa could be consummated within a few days.
Meredith: Yow! Bit of a personal question, isn’t it?
Alonzo, startled at so unexpected a question, replied, that such a proposal would be considered extraordinary, perhaps improper: besides, when Melissa had fixed the day, she mentioned that she had an uncle who lived near Charleston, in South Carolina, whose daughter was to pass the summer with Melissa,
Linda: This is the summer immediately following Melissa’s wedding we’re talking about?
Lucy: It’s either that or spend the summer listening to your unemployed husband rhapsodizing about Nature.
and was expected to arrive before the appointed day.
Linda: Oh, she’s one of those houseguests. Just when you’re thinking you have a comfortable 24 hours to deal with the three weeks’ worth of laundry piled on the guest bed, and clear away the sewing things and do something about the disassembled vacuum cleaner, she calls and says she got an earlier flight.
Hugh [emphatically]: The appointed marriage day.
Meredith: So on top of everything else, you’ve got to rearrange the seating and tell the caterer there will be an extra person at the “A” table.
It would, he said, be a delicate point for him to request her to anticipate the nuptials, unless he could give some cogent reasons for so doing;
David: I guess it’s no use saying he’s been slavering after Melissa since 1773 and would like a few days alone with her before the cousin moves in and takes over their lives.
and at present he was not apprised that any such existed. His father, after a few moments hesitation, answered, “I have reasons, which, when told”—here he stopped, suddenly arose, hastily walked the room in much visible agony of mind, and then retired to his chamber.
Alonzo and his mother were much amazed at so strange a proceeding.
Meredith [as Alonzo’s mother, sobbing]: Thirty years of marriage, and your father has never gone to bed without saying good night.
They could form no conjecture of its cause or its consequence. Alonzo passed a sleepless night. His father’s slumbers were interrupted. He would frequently start up in bed, then sink in restless sleep, with incoherent mutterings, and plaintive moans. In the morning, when he appeared at breakfast, his countenance wore the marks of dejection and anguish.
He scarcely spoke a word, and after the table was removed,
Linda: And the chicken bones picked out of the straw, and the leftover trenchers thrown to the dogs? Try “after the cloth was removed.”
Lucy [turns around and reaches for reference book. To forestall lecture on semantic change, David quickly continues reading.]
he ordered all to withdraw except his wife and Alonzo; when, with emotions that spoke the painful feelings of his bosom, he thus addressed them:
“For more than forty years I have toiled early and late—
Hugh: But never at midday. That’s why God created the siesta.
to acquire independence and ease for myself and my family. To accomplish this, I became connected with some English importing merchants in a seaport town, and went largely into the English trade. Success crowned our endeavours; on balancing our accounts two years ago,
Linda: Early in 1775, immediately before the war broke out.
we found that our expectations were answered, and that we were now sufficiently wealthy to close business, which some proposed to do; it was, however, agreed to make one effort more, as some favourable circumstances appeared to offer, in which we adventured very largely, on a fair calculation of liberal and extensive proceeds.
“Before returns could be made, the war came on,
Meredith: So much the better. You can make a killing in profiteering and blockade-running.
embarrassments ensued, and by indubitable intelligence lately received, we find that our property in England has been sequestered; five of our ships, laden with English goods, lying in English harbours, and just ready to sail for America, have been seized as lawful prizes.
David: I could have told them it was a mistake to pay for those forged English documents with American money.
Added to this, three vessels from the Indies, laden with island produce,
Lucy: Well, that’s a write-off. Plantains and guavas don’t travel well.
have been taken on their homeward bound voyage, and one lost on her return from Holland.
Hugh: Mitchell’s grasp of geography weakens the further he gets from Connecticut.
David [as Alonzo’s father]: They assured me that going from Jamaica to New Haven via Amsterdam would save several weeks of travel time.
This wreck of fortune I might have survived, had I to sustain only my equal dividend of the loss: but of the merchants with whom I have been connected, not one remains to share the fate of the event; all have absconded or secreted themselves. To attempt to compound with my creditors would be of little avail; my whole fortune will not pay one fourth of the debts; so that, compound or not, the consequence to me is inevitable ruin.
“To abscond would not secure me, as most of my remaining property is vested in real estate. And even if it would, I could not consent to it:
Linda: Moral arguments are so much easier when the immoral course of action is also the less profitable one.
I could not consent to banish myself from my country; to flee like a felon; to skulk from society with the base view of defrauding my creditors. No, I have lived honestly, and honestly will I die. By fair application and long industry my wealth has been obtained; and it shall never justly be said, that the reputation of my latter days was stained with acts of baseness. I have—
Meredith [with nods of agreement from Hugh and David]: Acts of baseness and meanness.
Linda: It was the cat. But look, the man isn’t making sense. [Reaches for pencil.]
it shall never justly be said, that the reputation of my latter days was stained with acts of baseness.
See? First he implies that it wouldn’t matter if someone said it unjustly, but then instead of making a point about actual baseness—
David: And meanness.
Linda: —he starts talking about his reputation.
Hugh [soothingly]: There, there. Only a few more pages, and you can take a break.
I have notified and procured a meeting of the creditors, and have laid the matter before them. Some appeared favourable to me; others insinuated that we were all connected in fraudulent designs, to swindle our creditors.
Lucy: You gotta admit it’s a lot more believable than his version. Nine ships unaccounted for, and all his partners vanished off the face of the earth? Sounds like the consortium drew straws and Alonzo’s father was left to put on the betrayed-innocent act.
This I repelled with becoming spirit,
Meredith: They didn’t draw straws, they picked him because he’s the best actor.
David: It’s that Connecticut scenery. It brings out the thespian in all of us.
and was in consequence threatened with immediate prosecution. Whatever may be the event, I had some hopes that your happiness, Alonzo, might yet be secured. Hence I proposed your union with Melissa, before our misfortunes should be promulgated. Your parents are old; a little will serve the residue of their days. With your acquirements you may make your way in life. I shall have no property to give you; but I would still wish you to secure that which you prize far above, and without which, both honours and emoluments are unimportant and worthless.”
At this moment a loud rap at the door interrupted the discourse, and three men were ushered in, which proved to be the sheriff and his attendants,
Hugh [as Alonzo’s father, to servant]: How many times do I have to tell you? I am not at home to law enforcement before noon.
sent by the more inexorable creditors of Alonzo’s father and company, to level on the property of the former, which orders they faithfully executed, by seizing the lands, tenements—
Meredith: My sympathy just evaporated. When he said his property was tied up in real estate, I didn’t realize he meant he was a slumlord.
and furniture, and finally arresting the body of the old gentleman,
Linda: He died of shock when he saw they weren’t buying his story.
David [as sheriff]: Anyone who says the accused died in custody is a damned liar. He was already dead when we arrested him.
which was soon released by his friendly neighbours becoming bail for his appearance; but the property was soon after sold at public vendue, at less than half its value,
Lucy: —the bulk of it going to Melissa’s father.
and Alonzo’s father and mother were compelled to abandon the premises, and take shelter in a little hut, belonging to a neighbouring farmer, illy and temporarily furnished by the gratuitous liberality of a few friends
David [as neighbor]: Look, I can’t let you in the house or I’d have to lock away the valuables, but you can sleep in the toolshed tonight.
We will not stop the reader to moralize on this disastrous event. The feelings of the family can better be conceived than detailed.
Meredith [looking pointedly at Hugh]: Yeah, you wouldn’t want to write them or anything.
Hurled in a moment from the lofty summit of affluence to the low and barren vale of poverty! Philosophy came to the aid of the parents, but who can realise the feelings of the son! Thus suddenly cut short of his prospects, not only of future independence, but even of support,
David: He’d always taken it for granted that he would freeload off his parents until he inherited their property outright.
what would be the event of his suit to Melissa, and stipulated marriage? Was it not probable that her father would now cancel the contract? Could she consent to be his wife in his present penurious situation?—And indeed, could he himself consent to make her his wife, to make her miserable?
Linda: As a Yale-educated lawyer’s wife, the best she could ever aspire to would be abject poverty.
In this agitated frame of mind he received a letter from his friend in Melissa’s neighbourhood, requesting him to come immediately to his house, whither he repaired the following day. This person had ever been the unchanging friend of Alonzo;
Lucy: If this is the same friend who faithfully reported every bit of self-serving gossip passed on to him by Beauman, I wouldn’t rely on him as a source of information.
he had heard of the misfortunes of his family, and he deeply sympathized in his distress. He had lately married and settled in life: his name was Vincent.
David: It took Mitchell six weeks to think of a name.
Linda: He never needed one until he got married. The minister got as far as “Do you, comma,” and everything ground to a screeching halt.
Hugh: His friends are still ribbing him about the shortest-ever interval between the wedding and the christening.
When Alonzo arrived at the house of his friend, he was received with the same disinterested ardour he ever had been in the day of his most unbounded prosperity.
David: Vincent spent the first three hours of Alonzo’s visit insisting that he didn’t like him one whit less just because his family wasn’t rich any more, nuh-uh, no sirree, the thought never even crossed my mind.
After being seated, Vincent told him that the occasion of his sending for him was to propose the adoption of certain measures which he doubted not might be considered highly beneficial as it respected his future peace and happiness.
Hugh [as editor, under his breath]: Fix squinting modifier, change “the occasion of his sending for him was to propose the adoption of” to “he had sent for him to suggest”, delete . . . .
“Your family misfortunes,” continued Vincent, “have reached the ears of Melissa’s father. I know that old gentleman too well to believe he will consent to receive you as his son-in-law, under your present embarrassments. Money is the god to which he implicitly bows.
Linda: That’s what he thinks. When the lights are out and the household is asleep, Melissa’s father opens his secret cupboard and makes offerings to the god of wealth. Nothing implicit about it.
The case is difficult, but not insurmountable. You must first see Melissa; she is now in the next room. I will introduce you in; converse with her, after which I will lay my plan before you.”
Meredith: Definitely an old friend of Alonzo. A casual acquaintance wouldn’t have known that you have to tell him what to do when he finds himself alone in a room with his fiancée.
The declaration of
Melissa’s father . . .
Alonzo entered the room; Melissa
was sitting by a window . . .