a do-it-yourself MiSTing
Alonzo arrived at the residence of Vincent near the close of day.
Hugh: Nature has been working matinees in New Haven, so it’s only available for evening performances.
Vincent and his lady were at tea with several young ladies who had passed the afternoon with Mrs. Vincent. Alonzo cast an active glance around the company, in hopes to find Melissa, but she was not there.
Lucy: Are you sure? Look carefully, now. Would you recognize Melissa if you saw her?
He was invited and accepted a seat at table. After tea Vincent led him into an adjoining room. “You have come in good time,” said he. “Something must speedily be done, or you lose Melissa forever. The day after you were here, her father received a letter from Beauman,
Meredith: Knowing that Vincent is an inveterate gossip who never bothers to check his sources, Beauman made sure to send him a copy.
in which, after mentioning the circumstance of your father’s insolvency, he hinted that the consequence would probably be a failure of her proposed marriage with you, which might essentially injure the reputation of a lady of her standing in life;
David: That’s a threat if I ever heard one. Beauman is prepared to tell the world that Alonzo’s financial troubles are a complete fiction and Melissa simply got dumped.
to prevent which, and to place her beyond the reach of calumny, he offered to marry her at any appointed day, provided he had her free consent.
Linda: This is one of those obscure technical usages of “free consent”, like a “consent decree” where you either do it or go to jail.
“As Beauman, by the recent death of his father, had been put in possession of a splendid fortune, the proposition allured her father, who wrote him a complaisant answer, with—
Meredith: —copy to Vincent.
an invitation to his house.—He then strove to extort a promise from Melissa, that she would break off all connexion with you, see you no more, and admit the addresses of Beauman.
“To this she could not consent. She urged, that by the consent of her parents she was engaged to you by the most sacred ties. That to her father’s will she had hitherto yielded implicit obedience, but that hastily to break the most solemn obligation, formed and sanctioned by his approbation and direction, was what her conscience would not permit her to do.
David: Good thing Vincent had the forethought to plant bugs in every room of Melissa’s house, or we’d never have been able to get her answer in such detail.
Were he to command her to live single, life might be endured; but to give her hand to any except you, would be to perjure those principles of truth and justice which he himself had ever taught her to hold most inviolable. —Her father grew outrageous; charged her with disobedience,
Meredith [reaching for magnifying glass]: I really wish my blast from the past had written her comments in ink, or at least found a softer pencil.
[Prolonged examination and conference with others.] Well, thanks for that. Looks like “should like this story very well, did I not know it to be fictive”.
Lucy: Pearson says that the reason so many people were able to get their hands on the book is that it was “based on fact”, so it wasn’t locked away with the other novels.
Meredith: This was around the time when sales of the Brooklyn Bridge and Florida real estate first took off.
with a blind inconsiderate perverseness, by which she would bring ruin upon herself, and indelible disgrace upon her family. She answered only with her tears.
Linda: Also with a long, eloquent and well-argued speech, but unfortunately Vincent’s tape ran out.
Her mother interposed, and endeavoured to appease his anger; but he spurned her from him, and rushed out of the room, uttering a threat that force should succeed persuasion, if his commands were not obeyed. To add to Melissa’s distress, Beauman arrived at her father’s yesterday; and I hope, in some measure to alleviate it.
Meredith: I know that trick. First you do underhanded things to make her even more miserable, and then you turn around and comfort her so she thinks you’re her only friend.
Linda: I think Vincent means that he’s hoping to make Melissa feel better.
Readers [stop and compare texts].
David [in disgust]: One lousy punctuation typo and the whole thing turns into nonsense. And it was a pretty good parallel construction, too.
Meredith: On the one hand—
David: —the “let’s make Melissa miserable” hand—
Meredith: Beauman showed up yesterday.
Linda: And on the other hand—
Lucy: —the “I hope this will make Melissa feel better” hand—
Edgar, her brother, came this morning.
David: Not to be confused with all the other Edgars we’ve been running into.
Mrs. Vincent has dispatched a message to inform Melissa of your arrival, and to desire her to come here immediately. She will undoubtedly comply with the invitation, if not prevented by something extraordinary. I should have written you had I not hourly expected you.”
Meredith: It’s like a rain dance. If you expect him long enough, eventually he’ll show up.
Mrs. Vincent now came to the door of the room and beckoned to her husband, who went out, but immediately returned, leading in Melissa after which he retired. “Oh, Alonzo!” was all she could say, and burst into tears. Alonzo led her to a seat, gently pressed her hand, and mingled his tears with hers, but was unable to speak.—Recovering at length, he begged her to moderate her grief. “Where,” said he, “is your fortitude and your firmness, Melissa,
David: Her what?
Linda: Shouldn’t it be “Where are your . . .”?
Meredith: Doesn’t matter, since they have no existence outside of Alonzo’s imagination.
which I have so often seen triumphing over affliction?”
David: Does anyone have the remotest idea what he’s talking about?
Her extreme anguish prevented a reply. Deeply affected and alarmed at the storm of distress which raged in her bosom, he endeavoured to console her, though consolation was a stranger to his own breast. “Let us not, Melissa,” said he, “increase our flood of affliction by a tide of useless sorrow. Perhaps more prosperous days are yet in reserve for us;—happiness may yet be ours.” “Never, never!” she exclaimed. “Oh, what will become of me!” “Heaven cannot desert you,” said Alonzo; “as well might it desert its angels. This thorny and gloomy path may lead to fair fields of light and verdure. Tempests are succeeded by calms; wars end in peace;
Hugh: It was supposed to be “war ends”, but I admit “wars end” works better.
the splendours of the brightest morning arise on the wings of blackest midnight.
Meredith: How would he know? The only time of day he’s familiar with is the hours between 4 and 8 P.M.
Troubles will not always last. Life at most is short. Death comes to the relief of the virtuous wretched, and transports them to another and a better world, where sighing and sorrows cease, and the tempestuous passions of life are known no more.”
Linda: Oh, thank you, Alonzo. That makes me feel so much better.
The rage of grief which had overwhelmed Melissa began now to subside, as the waves of the ocean gradually cease their tumultuous commotion, after the turbulent winds are laid asleep. Deep sobs and long drawn sighs succeeded to a suffocation of tears. The irritation of her feelings had caused a more than usual glow upon her cheek,
Lucy: Also a more than usually red nose and puffy, swollen eyes, but we’ll pretend not to notice those.
which faded away as she became composed, until a livid paleness spread itself over her features. Alonzo feared that the delicacy of her constitution—
David: What delicacy? First I’ve heard of it.
Meredith: Alonzo was in such a rush to get to Vincent’s house, he grabbed the wrong script.
would fall a sacrifice to the sorrow which preyed upon her heart, if not speedily alleviated;—but alas! where were the means of alleviation?
She informed him that her father had that evening ordered her to become the wife of Beauman.
Hugh: To prepare to become the wife of Beauman.
He told her that her disobedience was no longer to be borne.—“No longer,” said he, “will I tamper with your perverseness: you are determined to be poor, wretched and contemptible. I will compel you to be rich, happy, and respected. You suffer the Jack-a-lantern fancy to lead you into swamps and quagmires, when, did you but follow the fair light of reason, it would conduct you to honour and real felicity. There are happiness and misery at your choice.
“Marry Beauman, and you will roll in your coach, flaunt in your silks; your furniture and your equipage are splendid, your associates are of the first character, and your father rejoices in your prosperity.
Linda: Not your happiness—that’s immaterial—just your prosperity.
“Marry Alonzo, you sink into obscurity, are condemned to drudgery, poorly fed, worse clothed, and your relations and acquaintances shun and despise you.
David: Get him to put that part in writing, and she’ll marry Alonzo tomorrow.
The comparison I have here drawn between Beauman and Alonzo is a correct one; for even the wardrobe of the former is of more value than the whole fortune of the latter.
“I give you now two days to consider the matter;
Meredith: Having found by experiment that two days is the longest she can be locked in the cellar without losing some of her good looks.
at the end of that time I shall expect your decision, and hope you will decide discreetly.
Lucy: I think what we have here is an unusual manifestation of rural inbreeding, in the form of a congenital memory defect shared by almost everyone in the book.
David: Uh . . . In English?
Lucy: Melissa’s father has forgotten that three minutes ago he ordered her to marry Beauman. There’s nothing for her to decide.
But remember that you become the wife of Beauman, or you are no longer acknowledged as my daughter.”
Linda: Is that a promise?
“Thus,” said Melissa, “did my father pronounce his determination, which shook my frame, and chilled with horror every nerve of my heart, and immediately left me.
“My aunt added her taunts to his severities, and Beauman interfered with his ill-timed consolation.
Hugh: Beauman also misread that comma on the previous page as a full stop, and thought he was supposed to alleviate Melissa’s distress.
My mother and Edgar ardently strove to allay the fever of my soul, and mitigate my distress. But the stroke was almost too severe for my nature. Habituated only to the smiles of my father, how could I support his frowns?—Accustomed to receive his blessings alone, how could I endure his sudden malediction.”
Description would fail in painting the sensations of Alonzo’s bosom,
Meredith: Don’t even try. You need a CAT scan.
at this recital of woe. But he endeavoured to mitigate her sorrows by the consolation of more cheering prospects and happier hours.
Vincent and his lady now came into the room. They strenuously urged the propriety and the necessity of Alonzo and Melissa’s entering into the bands of wedlock immediately.
Lucy: In the final installment, it will turn out that Vincent has a long-standing and implacable grudge against Beauman, possibly for reasons involving Mrs. Vincent. He will therefore stop at nothing to thwart him, even if it means subsidizing Alonzo and Melissa for the rest of their lives.
“The measure would be hazardous,” remarked Melissa. “My circumstances—” said Alonzo. “Not on that account,” interrupted Melissa, “but my father’s displeasure—” “Will be the same, whether you marry Alonzo, or refuse to marry Beauman,” replied Vincent.
David: Tightening the screws.
Her resolution appeared to be staggered.
“Come here, Melissa, to-morrow evening,” said Mrs. Vincent; “mean time you will consider the matter, and then determine.”
Meredith: If they don’t like her decision, the Vincents will then lock Melissa in their cellar.
To this Melissa assented, and prepared to return home.
Alonzo walked with her to the gate which opened into the yard surrounding her father’s house. It was dangerous for him to go farther. Should he be discovered with Melissa, even by a domestic of the family, it must increase the persecutions against her. They parted. Alonzo stood at the gate, gazing anxiously after Melissa as she walked up the long winding avenue, bordered with the odor-flowing lilac,
Hugh: The odor-flowering lilac.
and lofty elm, her white robes now invisible, now dimly seen as she turned the angles of the walk, until they were totally obscured, mingling with the gloom and darkness of the night. “Thus,” said Alonzo, “thus fades the angel of peace from the visionary eyes of the war-worn soldier, when it ascends in the dusky clouds of early morning, while he slumbers on the field of recent battle.”
Lucy: And we all know about Alonzo’s extensive personal experience on the field of battle.
With mournful forebodings he returned to the house of Vincent. He arose after a sleepless night and walked into an adjoining field. He stood leaning in deep contemplation against a tree, when he heard quick footsteps behind him. He turned, and saw Edgar approaching: in a moment they were in each other’s arms, and mingled tears.
Linda [1836 text]: And mingling tears.
David: Two pages ago, Alonzo was mingling his tears with Melissa’s.
Meredith: Edgar, Melissa, it’s all the same, so long as he can get cheek to cheek with somebody.
They returned to Vincent’s and conversed largely on present affairs. “I have discoursed with my father on the subject,” said Edgar. “I have urged him with every possible argument to relinquish his determination: I fear, however, he is inflexible.
“To assuage the tempest of grief which rent Melissa’s bosom was my next object, and in this I trust I have not been unsuccessful. You will see her this evening, and will find her more calm and resigned.
Hugh: If Alonzo had been in a fit state to listen, that word “resigned” would have acted as a huge warning sign.
You, Alonzo, must exert your fortitude. The ways of Heaven are inscrutable, but they are right.
David: Is he trying to say that Melissa’s father is acting under direct orders from Above?
“We must acquiesce in its dealings. We cannot alter its decrees. Resignation to its will, whether merciful or afflictive, is one of those eminent virtues which adorn the good man’s character, and which ever find a brilliant reward in the regions of unsullied splendour, far beyond trouble and the tomb.”
Meredith: Edgar remembers that he is a clergyman.
Edgar told Alonzo that circumstances compelled him that day to depart for the army.
Linda [as drill sergeant]: I don’t care if it’s your own wedding. You show up for basic training when we tell you to.
“I would advise you,” said he, “to remain here until your affair comes to some final issue. It must, I think, ere long, be terminated.
Hugh: Be determined. If the affair were terminated, the book would be over.
David: Yes, and your point is . . . ?
Perhaps you and my sister may yet be happy.”
Meredith: And if not, well, c’est la vie.
Lucy: It’s no use saying that to a Yale man. A generation later, students at Yale asked to study French along with normal subjects like Greek and Latin. The president got all nasty and sarcastic and asked if they also wanted the college to teach whittling.
Alonzo feelingly expressed his gratitude to Edgar. He found in him that disinterested friendship, which his early youth had experienced. Edgar the same day departed for the army.
In the afternoon Alonzo received a note from Melissa’s father, requesting his immediate attendance. Surprised at the incident, he repaired there immediately.
Hugh [coughing]: Go on, please. Something got stuck in my throat.
Meredith: I’m sure it will get better . . . immediately.
The servant introduced him into a room where Melissa’s father and aunt were sitting. —“Hearing you were in the neighbourhood,” said her father, “I have sent for you, to make a proposition, which after what has taken place, I think you cannot hesitate to comply with. The occurrence of previous circumstances may lead you to suppose that my daughter is under obligations to you, which may render it improper for her to form marriage connections with any other. Whatever embarrassments your addresses to her may have produced, it is in your power to remove them; and if you are a man of honour you will remove them.
Linda [looking at 1836 text]: Speaking of removing, I deleted that last clause because it made no sense. Men of honor don’t break off engagements.
You cannot wish to involve Melissa in your present penurious condition, unless you wish to make her wretched. It therefore only remains for you to give me a writing, voluntarily resigning all pretensions to the hand of my daughter; and if you wish her to be happy, honourable, and respected in this life, this I say you will not hesitate to do.”
Meredith: Don’t do it, Alonzo! It’s a trap! The moment he signs, papa will have him up for breach of promise. That way, any property that Alonzo’s father ever recovers will go straight to Melissa’s father.
A considerable pause ensued. Alonzo at length replied, “I cannot perceive any particular advantage that can accrue from such a measure. It will neither add nor diminish the power you possess to command obedience to your will, if you are determined to command it, either from your daughter, or your servant.”—
David: What do his servants have to do with anything? Does Alonzo have some kind of backstairs understanding with the footman?
Lucy: He’s confused about the difference between correspondence and conversation, so he thinks “your servant” is a pronoun. I am and remain your faithful, humble and obedient servant, et cetera, et cetera.
“There, brother,” bawled the old maid, half squeaking through her nose, which was well charged with rappee, “did’nt I tell you so? I knew the fellow would not come to terms, no more than will your refractory daughter. This love fairly bewitches such foolish, crack-brained youngsters. But say Mr. ——, what’s your name,” addressing herself to Alonzo, “will love heat the oven? will love boil the pot? will love clothe the back? will love—”
Hugh: This speech was supposed to go in the previous installment, where it would have made some kind of narrative sense, but there wasn’t room.
“You will not,” interrupted Melissa’s father, speaking to Alonzo, “it seems, consent to my proposition? I have then, one demand to make, which of right you cannot deny. Promise me that you will never see my daughter again, unless by my permission.”
Lucy: Ordinarily, Melissa’s father would be perfectly correct. The young woman’s father has the right to refuse an unwelcome suitor the house, to exact a promise never to see his daughter again, or to forbid them to write to each other. But when he consents to an engagement, he gives up those rights.
Linda: Well, darn it. I was hoping for a loophole in the rules of etiquette, so he could say You may remain engaged to her as long as you like, provided you agree never to set eyes on her again.
“At the present moment I shall promise you nothing,” replied Alonzo, with some warmth.
“There again,” said the old maid, “just so Melissa told you this morning, when you requested her to see him no more. The fellow has fairly betwattled her.
Meredith: How can they tell?
Lucy: Remember in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when the old ladies have to explain what “pixilated” means? If you need an explanation, you’ll never understand.
I wish I had him to deal with. Things wasn’t so when I was a girl; I kept the rogues at a distance, I’ll warrant you.
Linda: Bragging about her own ability to remain unmarried doesn’t exactly help her brother’s cause.
I always told you, brother, what would come of your indulgence to your daughter.
Meredith [as aunt]: When I was a girl, my parents locked me in the cellar for weeks on end, and you can see how well I turned out.
Lucy: If the aunt is trying to make some kind of point, I can only say that it eludes me.
And I should not wonder if you should soon find that the girl had eloped, and your desk robbed into the bargain.”
Alonzo hastily arose: “I suppose,” said he, “my presence can be dispensed with.”
David [as Alonzo]: Excuse me, please, I’ve got a desk to rob.
“Well, young man,” said Melissa’s father, “since you will not comply with any overtures I make; since you will not accede to any terms I propose, remember, sir, I now warn you to break off all communication and correspondence with my daughter, and to relinquish all expectations concerning her. I shall never consent to marry my daughter to a beggar.”
“Beggar!” involuntarily exclaimed Alonzo, and his eyes flashed resentment.
Meredith and David: Flashed in resentment.
Linda: Flashed with resentment.
But he recollected that it was the father of Melissa who had thus insulted him,
Lucy: Alonzo strives heroically to overcome his inherited memory defect.
and he suppressed his anger. He rushed out of the house, and returned to Vincent’s. He had neither heard nor seen any thing of Melissa or Beauman.
Night came on, and he ardently and impatiently expected Melissa. He anticipated the consolation her presence would bestow. Edgar had told him she was more composed. He doubted whether it were proper to excite anew her distress by relating his interview with her father, unless she was appraised of it.
Meredith: Apprised of it, you illiterates. You appraise jewelry.
Hugh: Already apprised. If she already knows about it, then it won’t distress her to have Alonzo talk about it.
David: I hate it when he’s right.
The evening passed on, but Melissa came not. Alonzo grew restless and uneasy. He looked out, then at his watch. Vincent and his lady assured him that she would soon be there. He paced the room. Still he became more impatient. He walked out on the way she was expected to come. Sometimes he advanced hastily; at others he moved slowly; then stood motionless, listening in breathless silence, momentarily expecting to discover her white form approaching through the gloom, or to hear the sound of her footsteps advancing amidst the darkness. Shapeless objects, either real or imaginary, frequently crossed his sight, but, like the unreal phantoms of night, they suddenly passed away, and were seen no more. At length—
Meredith: Wait, wait, stop, hold it. Alonzo is now actively hallucinating—and the author just shrugs and carries on?
he perceived a dusky white form advancing in the distant dim obscurity. It drew near; his heart beat in quick succession;
Lucy: Don’t get excited, Alonzo. It’s only an unreal phantom of night.
his fond hopes told him it was Melissa. The object came up, and hastily passed him, with a “good night, sir.”
It was a stranger in a white surtout.
Hugh: Can you all handle a major spoiler?
Others [ad lib]: Oh yes! Sure! You betcha! Absolutely!
Hugh: The stranger in the white coat will never appear in the story again in any capacity whatsover. It will be as if he never existed.
Others [ad lib]: No way! Impossible! I don’t believe it!
David: Mitchell miscounted the lines and his assistant had to add two column inches after he’d gone home. But he didn’t have the nerve to invent a meaningful episode or add any character development, so he had to put in this totally pointless incident.
Alonzo hesitated whether to advance or to return. It was possible, though not probable, that Melissa might have come some other way. He hastened back to Vincent’s—she had not arrived. “Something extraordinary,” said Mrs. Vincent, “has prevented her coming. Perhaps she is ill.”
Linda: And the prize for Most Complete and Perfect Obliviousness to Recent Events goes to Mrs. Vincent, for her—
Meredith: I wouldn’t be too sure. Someone has to have been feeding Alonzo the idea that Melissa has a delicate constitution.
Lucy [twitching with excitement]: Ooh, ooh, I’ve figured it out. The Vincents coerce Alonzo and Melissa into getting married; after a few months they poison Melissa, attributing her death to her well-known sickliness; Alonzo inherits her money and makes a new will leaving it all to his kind benefactors, the Vincents.
Alonzo shuddered at the suggestion.
Linda: Now that was spooky. It’s as if Alonzo heard every word you said.
He looked at his watch; it was half past eleven o’clock. Again he hastily sallied out, and took the road to her father’s.
Alonzo entered the room; Melissa
was sitting by a window . . .
The night was
exceedingly dark . . .