a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo entered the room; Melissa was sitting by a window which looked into a pleasant garden, and over verdant meadows whose tall grass waved to the evening breeze.
Hugh: Alonzo timed his visit carefully, knowing that the author is only licensed to describe evenings.
Farther on, low vallies spread their umbrageous thickets, where the dusky shadows of night had begun to assemble.
On high hills beyond, the tops of lofty forests, majestically moved by the billowy gales, caught the sun’s last ray. Fleecy summer clouds hovered around the verge of the western horizon, spangled with silvery tints or fringed with the gold of evening.
Meredith [with Hugh nodding assent]: Of even. We’re trying to strike a poetic note here.
A mournfully murmuring rivulet purled at a little distance from the garden, on the borders of a small grove, from whence the American wild dove wafted her sympathetic moaning to the ear of Melissa. She sat leaning on a small table by the window, which was thrown up. Her attention was fixed. She did not perceive Vincent and Alonzo as they entered. They advanced towards her. She turned, started, and arose. With a melancholy smile, and tremulous voice, “I supposed,” she said, “that it was Mrs. Vincent who was—
David: It’s his last name?
Lucy: It’s his only name. Like Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit, Mr. and Mrs. Frog . . .
Hugh: Before her marriage, she was Miss Vincent.
approaching, as she has just left the room.” Her countenance appeared dejected,
Linda [1836 text]: Appeared to be dejected.
David: It wasn’t really dejected, it only seemed that way.
which, on seeing Alonzo,
Hugh [1804 text]: On her seeing Alonzo. Her countenance can’t see.
Meredith: That kind of logical thinking never stopped you before.
lighted up into a languid sprightliness. It was evident she had been weeping.
Vincent retired, and Alonzo and Melissa seated themselves by the window. “I have broken in upon your solitude, perhaps, too unseasonably,” said Alonzo. “It is however, the fault of Vincent:—he invited me to walk into the room, but did not inform me that you were alone.”
Lucy: I would love to pick apart that utterance and see if it sheds any light on what in God’s name could possibly go on inside Alonzo’s brain, but somehow I just haven’t got the energy.
“Your presence was sudden and unexpected, but not unseasonable,” replied Melissa. “I hope that you did not consider any formality necessary in your visits, Alonzo.”
Alonzo. I once did not think so.
David: I wish I understood this weird fascination the printer’s cat has with quotation marks.
Now I know not what to think—I know not how to act. You have heard of the misfortunes of my father’s family, Melissa?
Mel. Yes; I have heard the circumstances attending that event—an event in which no one could be more deeply interested, except the immediate sufferers, than myself.
Al. Your father is also acquainted with my present situation?
Meredith: In a rare flash of intelligence, Alonzo remembers that Vincent’s information has not always been 100 percent reliable, so he’d better check with an independent source.
Mel. He is.
Al. How did he receive the intelligence?
Mel. With deep regret.
Linda: He leaped and danced with joy.
Al. And forbade you to admit my addresses any longer?
Mel. No, not absolutely.
Al. If even in an unqualified or indirect manner, it is proper that I should know it.
Mel. It certainly is. Soon after we received the intelligence of your family misfortunes, my father came into the room where I was sitting; “Melissa,” said he,
Lucy: Now I get it. Mitchell didn’t know how to do nested quotes, so he had to switch over to theatrical notation.
“your conduct has ever been that of a dutiful child; mine, of an indulgent parent.—My first, my ultimate wish, is to see my children, when settled in life, happy and honourably respected. For this purpose, I have bestowed on them a proper education, and design suitably to apportion my property between them.
David: Nine-tenths to Edgar, one-tenth to you, because you’re only a girl.
On their part, it is expected they will act prudently and discreetly, especially in those things which concern their future peace and welfare.—The principal requisite to ensure this is a proper connexion in marriage.” Here my father paused a considerable time,
Hugh: —while Melissa tries to remember what he said next.
and then continued—“I know, my child, that your situation is a very delicate one. Your marriage day is appointed; it was appointed under the fairest prospects; by the failure of Alonzo’s father, those prospects have become deeply darkened, if not totally obliterated.
“To commit your fortune through life, to a person unable to support you, would be hazardous in the extreme. The marriage day can at least be suspended; perhaps something more favourable may appear.—At any rate, I have too much confidence in your discretion, to suppose that you will, by any rash act, bring either poverty or reproach upon yourself or your connexions.”
Lucy: Connecticut’s marriage law was based on an extreme version of community property, under which any debts belonging to family members of either spouse automatically became the joint and several liability of all members of the other spouse’s family.
Thus spake my father,
Linda: You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve got “Thus spoke my father” and I thought that was pretentious enough.
and immediately withdrew.
“In our present dilemma,” said Alonzo, “what is proper to be done?”
David: Some men, in Alonzo’s position, would be asking what she wants to do.
Lucy: Vincent should have realized it isn’t enough to tell Alonzo to converse. He should have written out the standard speech: My sentiments have not changed and will never change, but if you feel that you must withdraw from our engagement, I can but honour your resolution, accept your decision with the deepest regret, and hope that we may always remain friends.
“It is difficult to determine,” replied Melissa. “Should my father expressly forbid our union, he will go all lengths to carry his commands into effect.
Linda: What lengths? She’s a minor. All he has to do is refuse consent.
Although a tender parent, he is violent in his prejudices, and resolute in his purposes. I would advise you to call at my father’s house tomorrow, with your usual freedom. Whatever may be the event, I shall deal sincerely with you. Mr. and Mrs. Vincent are now my only confidants. From them you will be enabled to obtain information, should I be debarred from seeing you. I am frequently here; they told me they expected you, but at what day was not known. Mrs. Vincent has been my friend and associate from my earliest years. Vincent you know. In In them—
Meredith: Wake up. You’re repeating yourself.
David: I’m going to fire that typesetter. Page-break duplications are the first thing you check for.
Lucy: My editor took the word “reprint” seriously. I’ve got the exact same typo.
we can place the utmost confidence.
Hugh: Since the two of us haven’t got three brain cells to rub together, we rely upon the Vincents to do our thinking for us.
My reliance on Providence, I trust, will never be shaken;
Linda: It better not be, or her father the Presbyterian will kill her.
but my future prospects, at present, are dark and gloomy.”
“Let us not despair,” answered Alonzo; “perhaps those gloomy clouds which now hover around us, will yet be dissipated by the bright beams of joy. Innocence and virtue are the cares of Heaven. There lies my hope. To-morrow, as you propose, I will call at your father’s.”
David and Lucy: I will call at— Oops.
David [apologetic]: I guess “at you father’s” isn’t an acceptable variant reading, is it.
Linda: Not in Connecticut in 1777.
Melissa now prepared to return home; a whippoorwill tuned its nightly song at a little distance; but the sound, late so cheerful and sprightly, now passed heavily over their hearts.
Edmund: The situation is becoming too serious for whippoorwills to be of any use.
Meredith: I wish he’d stop materializing like that. It’s really confusing.
When Alonzo returned, Vincent unfolded the plan he had projected. “No sooner,” said he, “was I informed of your misfortunes, than I was convinced that Melissa’s father would endeavour to dissolve your intended union with his daughter. I have known him many years, and however he may dote on his children, or value their happiness, he will not hesitate to sacrifice his other feelings to the acquirement of riches. It appeared that you had but one resource left. You and Melissa are now united by the most solemn ties—by every rite except those which are merely ceremonial.
Lucy: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Vincent, but your interpretation of the legal and moral significance of a betrothal went out with the Reformation.
These I would advise you to enter into, and trust to the consequences. Mrs. Vincent has proposed the scheme to Melissa; but implicitly accustomed to filial obedience, she shudders at the idea of a clandestine marriage. But when her father shall proceed to rigorous measures, she will, I think, consent to the alternative.
Meredith: Oh, look, a kindred spirit. [Shows 1811 book, with handwritten notation in margin.]
Matter of fact I don’t think so—and something tells me you didn’t either.
And this measure, once adopted, her father must consent also; or, if not, you secure your own happiness, and, what you esteem more, that of Melissa.”
David: If her father doesn’t consent to his daughter marrying without his consent, then everyone will be happy.
“But you must be sensible of my inability to support her as she deserves,” replied Alonzo, “even should she consent to it.”
“The world is before you,” answered Vincent; “you have friends, you have acquirements which will not fail you. In a country like this, you can hardly fail of obtaining a competency,
Linda: For “a country like this”, read “a colony in the middle of a long, messy war for independence”.
Meredith: For “obtaining a competency”, read “getting locked up for refusing to enter military service after receiving a commission”.
which, with the other requisites, will ensure your independence and felicity.”
Alonzo informed Vincent what had been agreed upon between Melissa and himself, respecting his visiting her on the morrow; “after which,” he said, “we will discourse further on the subject.”
The next day Alonzo repaired to the house of Melissa’s father. As he approached he saw Melissa sitting in a shady recess at one end of the garden near which the road passed. She was leaning with her head upon her hand, in a pensive posture; a deep dejection was depicted upon her features, which enlivened into a transient glow as soon as she saw Alonzo. She arose, met him, and invited him into the house.
Lucy: Hurry, hurry! It’s too early in the day to be outside.
Alonzo was received with a cool reserve—
Linda: A cold reserve.
Hugh: It’s that temperature inflation again.
by all except Melissa. Her father saluted him with a distant and retiring bow, as he passed with Melissa to her room.
David: Alonzo has decided to take his father’s advice and consummate the marriage at the earliest opportunity.
As soon as they were seated, a maiden aunt, who had doubled her teens,
Edmund: A haggard old crone of at least twenty-six.
Lucy: I say thirty-eight. You’re not officially an old maid until you hit thirty.
outlived many of her suitors, and who had lately come to reside with the family, entered, and seated herself by the window, alternately humming a tune, and impudently staring at Alonzo, without speaking a word, except snappishly, to contradict Melissa in any thing she advanced, which the latter passed off with only a faint smile.
This interruption was not of long continuance. Melissa’s father soon entered, and requested the two ladies to withdraw, which was instantly done.
David [as irate father]: Go to your— Oh, oops, this is your room. Get out of your room.
He then addressed Alonzo as follows:—“When I gave consent for you to marry my daughter, it was on the conviction that your future resources would be adequate to support her honourably and independently. Circumstances have since taken place, which render this point extremely doubtful. Parental duty and affection demand that I should know your means and prospects before I sanction a proceeding which may reduce my child to penury and want.”
He paused for a reply, but Alonzo was silent.
Lucy: His legal training had taught him never to speak directly to opposing counsel.
He continued—“You yourself must acknowledge, that to burthen yourself with the expense of a family; to transfer a woman from affluence to poverty, without even an object in view to provide for either, would be the height of folly and extravagance.” Again he paused, but Alonzo was still silent. He proceeded—“Could you, Alonzo, suffer life, when you see the wife of your bosom, probably your infant children, pining in misery for want of bread? And what else have you to expect if you marry in your present situation? You have—
Hugh: You left out the core of his argument. [1804 text:]
—in your present situation? I know you have talents and have had an education. But what are they without means? You have friends and well wishers; but which of them will advance you four or five thousand pounds, as a gratuity?
David: Gratuity for what? He hasn’t done anything.
Lucy: It’s an anticipatory bribe. At the time of the late American revolution, a Yale degree and professional training didn’t count for squat unless you could buy your way into a job where you would then spend the rest of your life soaking up other people’s bribes.
My daughter must be supported according to her rank and standing in life. Are you enabled to do this? If not, you cannot reasonably suppose that I shall consent to your marrying her. You may say that your acquirements, your prudence, and your industry, will procure you a handsome support. This may well do in single life;
Meredith: An unmarried man never has to explain why the case requires him to come stumbling home at 7 A.M. with lipstick on his collar.
but to depend on these for the future exigencies of a family, is hazarding peace, honour and reputation, at a single game of chance. If, therefore, you have no resources or expectations but such as these, your own judgment will teach you the necessity of immediately relinquishing all pretensions to the hand of Melissa”—and immediately left the room.
Hugh: You’re doing it again. Pay attention now:
—to the hand of Melissa.” Thus spake the father of Melissa, and immediately left the room.
Linda: Mitchell was so pleased with his “thus spake the father” line, he used it twice in case we missed it the first time around.
Why was Alonzo speechless through the whole of this discourse?—What reply could he have made? What were the prospects before him but penury, want, misery, and woe! Where, indeed, were the means by which Melissa was to be shielded from poverty, if connected with his fortunes. The idea was not new, but it came upon him with redoubled anguish. He arose and looked around for Melissa, but she was not to be seen. He left the house, and walked slowly towards Vincent’s. At a little distance he met Melissa, who had been strolling in an adjoining avenue.
Meredith: It never entered her mind that Alonzo might want to talk to her after meeting with her father, so she went for a walk.
David: Luckily it didn’t enter her father’s mind either, or he’d have locked her in the cellar.
He informed her of all that had passed; it was no more than they both expected, yet it was a shock their fortitude could scarcely sustain. Disappointment seldom finds her votaries prepared to receive her.
Linda: Sorry, Disappointment, can you give me a minute? I need to take the curlers out of my hair and empty the ashtrays.
Melissa told Alonzo, that her father’s determinations were unchangeable; that his sister (the before mentioned maiden lady) held a considerable influence over him, and dictated the concerns of the family; and that from her, there was nothing to hope in their favour. Her mother, she said, was her friend, but could not contradict—
Hugh [under his breath]: Counteract.
the will of her father.
David: With friends like these . . . .
Her brother would be at home in a few days; how he would act on this occasion she was unable to say: but were he even their friend he would have but feeble influence with her father and aunt. “What is to be the end of these troubles,” continued Melissa, “it is impossible to foresee. Let us trust in the mercy of heaven and submit to its dispensations.”
Meredith: Good plan. Saves the trouble of asking the Vincents to come up with a second idea after you’ve vetoed the first one.
Alonzo and Melissa, in their happier days, had, when absent, corresponded by letters.
Linda: They tried smoke signals first, but couldn’t get them to work properly in the rain.
This method it was now thought best to relinquish.
Lucy: You know, sometimes the passive voice is exactly what you need. It would never dawn on either Alonzo or Melissa that her father might intercept her mail, so it’s a good thing the thought was had by one of the Vincents.
It was agreed that Alonzo should come frequently to Vincent’s, where Melissa would meet him as she could find opportunities. Having concluded on this, Melissa returned home, and Alonzo to the house of his friend.
Vincent, after Alonzo had related the manner of his reception at Melissa’s father’s, urged the plan he had projected of a private marriage. Alonzo replied, that even should Melissa consent to it, which he much doubted, it must be a measure of the last resort, and adopted only when all others became fruitless.
The next morning Alonzo returned to the hut where his aged parents now dwelt. His bosom throbbed with keen anguish. His own fate, unconnected with that of Melissa, he considered of little consequence. But what was to—
Hugh, Meredith, David: Hey! You cut the best line.
Linda [sulkily]: So you read it.
But their united situation tortured his soul.—What was to become of Melissa, what of himself, what of his parents!—“Alas,” said Alonzo, “I now perceive what it is to want the good things of this life.”
Alonzo’s father was absent when he arrived, but returned soon after. A beam of joy gleamed upon his withered countenance as he entered the house. “Were it not, Alonzo, for your unhappy situation,” said he, “we should once more be restored to peace and comfort. A few persons who were indebted to me, finding that I was to be sacrificed by my unfeeling creditors, reserved those debts in their hands, and have now paid me, amounting to something more than five hundred pounds.
Lucy: Fortunately his creditors were too cheap to hire a competent lawyer, so they were powerless to lay hands on these additional assets.
With this I have purchased—
Hugh: With part of this I have purchased.
a small, but well cultivated farm, with convenient tenements.
Meredith: Once slumlording gets into your blood, you’ll never get it out.
I have enough left to purchase what stock and other materials I need; and to spare some for your present exigencies, Alonzo.”
Linda: So long as you can make do with no more than four horses, the summer house in the Poconos, and that little pied-à-terre we agreed not to tell your mother about.
Alonzo thanked his father for his kindness, but told him that from his former liberality he had yet sufficient for his wants, and that he should soon find business which would amply support him.
David: He has arranged with his father’s Colombian connections to take over that side of the business.
“But your affair with Melissa,” asked his father, “how is that likely to terminate?” “Favourably, I hope, sir,” answered Alonzo. He could not consent to disturb the tranquillity of his parents by reciting his own wretchedness.
A week passed away. Alonzo saw his parents removed to their little farm, which was to be managed by his father and a hired man. He saw them comfortably seated; he saw them serenely blest in the calm pleasures of returning peace, and a ray of joy illuminated his troubled bosom.
Hugh: Illumined his troubled bosom. You people have no ear for poetry.
Meredith: I wish you hadn’t said that.
“Again the youth his wonted life regain’d,
A transient sparkle in his eye obtain’d,
A bright, impassion’d cheering glow express’d
The pleas’d sensation of his tender breast:
But soon dark glooms the feeble smiles o’erspread;
Like morn’s gay hues,—
Linda: I’ve got morn’s gray hues.
Lucy: By 1836, coal smoke was a regular feature of the urban sky.
—the fading splendours fled;
Returning anguish froze his feeling soul,
Deep sighs burst forth, and tears began to roll.”
Hugh, Meredith, Linda, David [look expectantly at Lucy].
Lucy: No idea. It goes without saying that it shows up in Alida—why write your own cheesy poetry when you can crib someone else’s—but beyond that, all I know is that the whole thing is also quoted in Memoirs of the Notorious Stephen Burroughs.
David: With a title like that, it’s got to be better than Alonzo and Melissa.
Linda: Well, it could hardly be worse.
Lucy: You haven’t read Alida.
He thought of Melissa,
Hugh [1804 text]: Thought on Melissa.
from whom he had heard nothing since he last saw her.
Meredith: That’s the problem with agreeing not to write. You don’t get a lot of letters.
—He thought of—
Hugh: Thought on.
the difficulties which surrounded him. He thought of—
Hugh: Thought on.
David: Oh, shut up.
the barriers which were opposed to his happiness and the felicity of Melissa, and he set out for the house of Vincent.
Linda: A light bulb comes on in Alonzo’s head as he remembers they had arranged to meet at the Vincents’ as often as possible.
The spring opened with
the din of preparation . . .
Alonzo arrived at the
residence of Vincent . . .