a do-it-yourself MiSTing
The night was exceedingly dark, and illuminated only by the feeble glimmering of the twinkling stars. When he came within sight of the house, and as he drew near no lights were visible—all was still and silent. He entered the yard, walked up the avenue, and approached the door. The familiar watch-dog, which lay near the threshold, fawned upon him, joyfully whining and wagging his tail.
David: He’ll be a lot less joyful tomorrow, when Melissa’s father trades him in for a dog that will attack Alonzo on sight.
“Thou still knowest me, Curlow,”
Linda [1836 text]: Carlow.
Lucy: There’s a dissertation in there somewhere. A generation earlier, the dog’s name would have been Ball, and now look. Here’s The Moral Picture Book—no date, but the pictures look pre-1850—with a dog named Carlo pulling his young master out of a muddy creek. Here’s “Carlo and Shag” in Bird Stories and Dog Stories, similar date. Here’s “Mabel and her Friend Carlo” in The Nursery for October, 1875. Here’s Carlo, or Kindness Rewarded, where he’s the star of his own book. And in case anyone missed the point, here’s a biography of philosopher Rudolph Eucken. Don’t look at me: I’ve never heard of him either. We may start from the data ‘All dogs are animals’ and ‘Carlo is a dog,’ and arrive very simply at the conclusion ‘Carlo is an animal’.
Hugh: . . . and therefore Carlow is mortal.
said Alonzo; “thou hast known me in better days; I am now poor and wretched, but thy friendship is the same.” A solemn stillness prevailed all around, interrupted only by the discordance of the nightly insects, and the hooting of the moping owl from the neighbouring forest.
Meredith: I always thought of moping as a silent activity, like sulking.
Lucy: Gray’s Elegy again. The moping owl does —you’d think it would be “doth”, wouldn’t you?— to the moon complain.
Linda [as owl]: Turn it down, willya? We’re trying to sleep down here.
The dwelling was shrouded in darkness. In Melissa’s room no gleam of light appeared. “They are all buried in sleep,” said Alonzo, deeply sighing, “and I have only to return in disappointment.”
Hugh: My bad. I did say it was half past eleven, but that was in the previous installment. Nobody could expect Alonzo to remember the time for a whole week.
He turned and walked towards the street; casting his eyes back, the blaze of a candle caught his sight. It passed rapidly along through the lower rooms, now gleaming, now intercepted, as the walls or the windows intervened,
David: I swear I’ve seen this sequence in a movie.
Linda: Except for the candle walking through walls. Mitchell made up that part.
and suddenly disappeared. Alonzo gazed earnestly a few moments, and hastily returned back. No noise was to be heard, no new objects were discernible.—He clambered over the garden wall, and went around to the back side of the house. Here all was solemn, dark and silent as in front. Immediately a faint light appeared through one of the chamber windows; it grew brighter; a candle entered the chamber; the sash was flung up, and Melissa seated herself at the window.”
Passing Stranger [glancing over David’s shoulder at 1851 text]: Why is there a close quote after window?
Linda: That’s like pawing through a landfill and saying, What’s this candy wrapper doing here?
The weather was sultry, she held a fan in her hand; her countenance, though stamped with deep dejection, was marked with serenity, but pale as the drooping lily of the valley. Alonzo placed himself directly under the window, and in a low voice called her by name. She started wildly, looked out, and faintly cried, “Who’s there?”
Meredith [as Melissa]: I simply can’t imagine who might be lurking under my window and calling me by name at this hour of the night.
He answered, “Alonzo.”
“Good heavens,” she exclaimed, “is it you, Alonzo? I was disappointed in meeting you at Vincent’s this evening; my father will not suffer me to go out without attendants. I am now constantly watched and guarded.”
“Watched and guarded!” replied Alonzo: “At the risque of my life I will deliver you from the tyranny with which you are oppressed.”
“Be calm, Alonzo,” said she, “I think it will not last long. Beauman will soon depart,
Lucy: If he doesn’t personally witness Melissa’s father starving and beating her into submission, he can go right on saying he’s got her free consent.
after which there will undoubtedly be some alteration. Desire Mrs. Vincent to come here to-morrow; I believe they will let me see her.
Hugh [1804 text]: Will trust me to see her.
I can, from time to time, inform you of passing events, so that you may know what changes take place. I am placed under the care of my aunt, who suffers me not to step out of her sight.
Linda: I forgot to mention that she’s sitting two feet away, listening to every word we say.
We pass the night in an adjoining chamber—from whence, after she had fallen asleep, I stole out, and went down with a design of walking in the garden, but found the doors all locked and the keys taken out. I returned and raised this window—
Hugh: My window.
Meredith: The bedroom window next door belongs to her aunt, but this one is Melissa’s very own.
for fresh air. Hark!” said she; “my aunt calls me. She has waked and misses me. I must fly to her chamber. You shall hear more from me to-morrow by Mrs. Vincent, Alonzo.” So saying, she let down the window sash, and retired.
Alonzo withdrew slowly from the place, and repassed the way he came. As he jumped back over the garden wall, he found a man standing at its foot, very near him: after a moment’s scrutiny he perceived it to be Beauman. “What, my chevalier,” said he to Alonzo, “such an adept in the amorous science already? Hast thou then eluded the watchful eyes of Argus, and the vigilance of the dragon!”
Edmund: Princeton has the ball, but it is not yet in Yale’s territory.
Lucy: Earlier in the article, Pearson went on and on about how Alonzo is the only Yale man in the history of literature who isn’t described as an excellent athlete.
Hugh: I guess it would be heartless to tell him that college football hasn’t been invented yet.
“Unfeeling and impertinent intruder?” retorted Alonzo,
Meredith: Are you asking us?
David [huffily]: If you’d clean your exclamation points now and then, they wouldn’t get misread as question marks.
seizing hold of him; “is it not enough that an innocent daughter must endure a merciless parent’s persecuting hand, but must thou add to her misery by thy disgusting interference!”
“Quit thy hold, tarquin,” said Beauman.
Linda: I thought his name was Alonzo.
Lucy: Beauman’s showing off his education by making some kind of allusion to the seventh king of Rome, but he forgot that he’s talking to a Yale man.
“Art thou determined, after storming the fortress, to murder the garrison?”
“Go,” said Alonzo, quitting him; “go sir, you are unworthy of my anger. Pursue thy grovelling schemes. Strive to force to your arms a lady who abhors you, and were it not on one account,
Hugh: Were it on no other account.
must ever continue to despise and hate you.”
David: Where is he getting this “despise and hate” stuff? If Alonzo hadn’t come along, she’d have been ready to marry Beauman.
“Alonzo,” replied Beauman, “I perceive thou knowest me not. You and I were rivals in our pursuit—the hand of Melissa. Whether from freak or fortune, the preference was given to you, and I retired in silence. From coincidence of circumstances, her father has now been induced to give the preference to me. My belief was, that Melissa would comply with her father’s will, especially after her prospects of connecting with you were cut off by the events which ruined your fortune.
Linda: Is he saying that Melissa’s father changed his mind about Alonzo before his family lost all their money?
You, Alonzo, have yet, I find, to learn the character of women. It has been my particular study. Melissa, now ardently impassioned by first impressions, irritated by recent disappointment, her passions delicate and vivid, her affections animated and unmixed, it would be strange, if she could suddenly relinquish primitive attachments founded on such premises, without a struggle. But remove her from your presence for one year, with only distant and uncertain prospects of seeing you again, admit me as the substitute in your absence, and she accepts my hand as freely as she would now receive yours. I had no design—it was never my wish to marry her without her consent.
Meredith: He doesn’t seem to have done a very good job of communicating this position to Melissa’s father.
That I believe I shall yet obtain. Under existing circumstances, it is impossible but that you must be separated for some considerable time. Then, when cool deliberation succeeds to the wild vagaries, the electric fire of frolic fancy, she will discover the dangerous precipice, the deadly abyss to which her present conduct and inclinations lead. She will see that the blandishments, without the possessions of life, must fade and die. She will discriminate between the shreds and the trappings of taste. She will prefer indifference and splendour to love and a cottage.
“At present I relinquish all further pursuit; to-morrow I return to New London. When Melissa, from calm deliberation and the advice of friends,
Lucy: Or, failing those, from force and coercion.
shall freely consent to yield me her hand, I shall return to receive it. I came from my lodgings this evening to declare these intentions to her father: but it being later than I was aware of, the family had gone to rest. I was about to return, when I saw a light from the chamber window, which soon withdrew. I stood a moment by the garden wall, when you approached and discovered me.” So saying, he bade Alonzo good night, and walked hastily away. “I find he knows not the character of Melissa,” said Alonzo, and returned to Vincent’s.
The next day Alonzo told the Vincents of all that had passed, and it was agreed that Mrs. Vincent should visit at Melissa’s father’s that afternoon. She went at an early hour. Alonzo’s feelings were on the rack
Hugh: On the wrack. With a “w”.
Meredith: On the wreck.
David: Now he’s getting paid by the letter.
until she returned, which happened much sooner than was expected; when she gave him and Vincent the following information:
“When I arrived there,” said she, “I found Melissa’s father and mother alone, her mother was in tears, which she endeavoured to conceal. Her father soon withdrew. After some conversation I enquired for Melissa. The old lady burst into tears, and informed me that this morning Melissa’s aunt (the old maid)
Linda: When you have a distinguishing personal feature, you don’t need a name.
had invited her to ride out with her. A carriage was provided, which, after a large trunk had been placed therein, drove off with Melissa and her aunt; that Melissa’s father had just been informing her that he had sent their daughter to a distant part of the country,
Hugh [1804 text]: To a different part of the country.
David: Not all the way back to New London, then.
where she was to reside with a friend until Alonzo should depart from the neighbourhood. The reason of this sudden resolution was his being informed by Beauman, that notwithstanding his precaution, Melissa and Alonzo had an interview the last evening. Where she was sent to, the old lady could not tell, but she was convinced that Melissa was not apprised of the design when she consented to go. Her aunt had heretofore been living with the different relatives of the family in various parts of the state.”
Meredith: Sooner or later, someone in the household always said Either she goes or I go.
Alonzo listened to Mrs. Vincent’s relation with inexpressible agitation. He sat silent a few moments; then suddenly starting up, “I will find her if she be on the earth!” said he, and in spite of Vincent’s attempts to prevent him, rushed out of the house, flew to the road, and was soon out of sight.
David [stands up and heads for the door].
Hugh: Where are you going?
David: With an obvious cliffhanger like that, I just assumed we’d reached the end of an installment.
Lucy: I find he knows not the character of our author.
Melissa had not, indeed, the most distant suspicion of the designs of her father and aunt. The latter informed her that she was going to take a morning’s ride, and invited Melissa to accompany her, to which she consented. She did not even perceive the trunk which was fastened on behind the carriage.
Meredith: If you can overlook an entire carriage after you’ve been clearly told you’re going for a ride, what’s a trunk or two?
They were attended by a single servant. They drove to a neighbouring town, where Melissa had frequently attended her father and mother
Hugh and Meredith: Her father or mother.
Lucy: Later in the nineteenth century, respectable married women would never think of traveling more than a quarter-mile without their husbands, but in 1811 it was still permissible.
to purchase articles of dress, &c. where they alighted at a friend’s house, and lingered away the time until dinner; after which, they prepared, as Melissa supposed, to return, but found, to her surprise, after they had entered the carriage, that her aunt ordered the driver to proceed a different way. She asked her aunt if they were not going home. “Not yet,” said she. Melissa grew uneasy; she knew she was to see Mrs. Vincent that afternoon; she knew the disappointment which Alonzo must experience, if she was absent. She begged her aunt to return, as she expected the company of some ladies that afternoon. “Then they must be disappointed, child,” said her aunt.—Melissa knew it was in vain to remonstrate; she supposed her aunt was bent on visiting some of her acquaintance, and she remained silent.
They arrived at another village,
Hugh: At another small village.
Lucy: I’ve never got the hang of these subtle New England gradations. A City is different from a Town, which is different from a Township, which is different from a Village, which in turn is completely different from a Small Village.
and alighted at an inn, where Melissa and her aunt tarried, while the servant was ordered out by the latter on some business unknown to Melissa. When they again got into the carriage she perceived several large packages and bundles, which had been deposited there since they left it. She enquired of her aunt what they contained. “Articles for family use, child,” she replied,
Linda [as aunt]: If you can’t be bothered to learn my name, then I won’t use yours either.
and ordered the driver to proceed.
They passed along winding and solitary paths, into a bye road which led through an unfrequented wood, that opened into a rocky part of the country bordering on the Sound. Here they stopped at the only house in view. It was a miserable hut, built of logs, and boarded with slabs. They alighted from the carriage, and Melissa’s aunt, handing the driver a large bunch of keys, “remember to do as I have told you,” said she, and he drove rapidly away. It was with some difficulty they got into the hut, as a meagre cow, with a long yoke on her neck, a board before her eyes, and a cross piece on her horns, stood with her head in the door.
Lucy: Times like this, you really wish the budget had run to illustrations. I’m picturing the bovine equivalent of a circus clown carrying a long ladder.
Meredith: Three long ladders. We’re in the Circus Cow Hall of Fame.
On one side of her were four or five half starved squeaking pigs, on the other a flock of gaggling geese.
As they entered the door,
David: People who live in huts don’t merit the courtesy of a knock.
Hugh: They knocked on the cow, but nobody answered.
a woman who sat carding wool jumped up, “La me!” she cried, “here is Miss D——, welcome here again. How does madam do?” dropping a low curtsey. She was dressed in a linsey woolsey short gown, a petticoat of the same, her hair hanging about her ears, and barefoot.
Linda: Betcha she’s pregnant too.
Three dirty, ragged children were playing about the floor, and the furniture was of a piece with the building.
Meredith: In a small house, built-in furniture can be a great space-saver.
“Is my room in order?” enquired Melissa’s aunt. “It hasn’t been touched since madam was here,” answered the woman,
David: Was that a No?
and immediately stalked away to a little back apartment, which Melissa and her aunt entered. It was small, but neatly furnished, and contained a single bed. This appendage had been concealed from Melissa’s view, as it was the opposite side of the house from whence she alighted.
Lucy: If Melissa had known that the house had an appendage, she would have dug in her heels and refused to get out of the carriage.
“Where is John?” asked Melissa’s aunt. “My husband is in the garden,” replied the woman; “I will call him,” and out she scampered. John soon appeared, and exhibited an exact counter part of his wife.
David: He married twins?
“What does madam please to want?” said he, bowing three or four times. “I want you John,” she answered,
Linda: So that’s why she never married.
and immediately stepped into the other room, and gave some directions, in a low voice, to him and his wife. “La me!” said the woman, “madam a’nt a going to live in that doleful place?” Melissa could not understand her aunt’s reply, but heard her give directions to “first hang on the teakettle.” This was done, while John and his wife went out, and Melissa’s aunt prepared tea in her own room. In about an hour John and his wife returned, and gave the same bunch of keys to Melissa’s aunt, which she had given to the servant who drove the carriage.
Melissa was involved in inscrutable mystery respecting these extraordinary proceedings. She conjectured that they boded her no good, but she could not penetrate into her aunt’s designs. She frequently looked out, hoping to see the carriage return—
Hugh [1804 text]: To see the return of the carriage.
David: Coming soon to a theatre near you.
but was disappointed. When tea was made ready, she could neither eat nor drink. After her aunt had disposed of a dozen cups of tea,
Meredith: That’s a relief. At least you know their next few stops will have bathrooms.
and an adequate proportion of biscuit, butter and dried beef, she directed Melissa to prepare to take a walk. The sun was low; they proceeded through fields, in a foot path, over rough and uneven ways, directly towards the Sound. They walked about a mile, when they came to a large, old fashioned, castle-like building, surrounded by a high, thick wall,
Hugh: By high, thick walls, plural.
Linda: Between 1804 and 1811, all but one of the outer walls collapsed.
and almost totally concealed on all sides from the sight, by irregular rows of large locusts and elm trees, dry prim* hedges,
* The botanical name of this shrub is not recollected. There were formerly a great number of prim hedges in New England, and other parts of America. What is most remarkable is, that they all died the year previous to the commencement of the American war.
Meredith: Darn pacifist prim hedges!
David: Where does he get this “is not recollected”? If he means “I don’t remember” why doesn’t he say so?
Hugh: It’s the Editorial Passive.
Lucy: Anyway, it’s just another name for privet hedge. Ligustrum vulgare. You see them all over the place.
Meredith: Except in front of his own house. That one died in 1774. Over-watering, probably.
and green shrubbery. The gate which opened into the yard, was made of strong hard wood, thickly crossed on the outside with iron bars, and filled with old iron spikes. Melissa’s aunt unlocked the gate, and they entered the yard, which was overgrown with rank grass and rushes: the avenue which led to the house was almost in the same condition. The house was of real Gothic architecture, built of rude stone, with battlements.
Linda: It was built in western Europe between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, and later transported stone by stone to Connecticut.
The doors were constructed in the same manner as the gate at which they entered the yard. They unlocked the door, which creaked heavily on its hinges,
Meredith [1811 text]: Which screaked heavily.
Hugh: Oh, good word. Pity it isn’t what Mitchell wrote.
and went in. They ascended a flight of stairs, wound through several dark and empty rooms, till they came to one which was handsomely furnished, with a fire burning on the hearth. Two beds were in the room, with tables, chairs, and other conveniences for house keeping. “Here we are safe,” said Melissa’s aunt, “as I have taken care to lock all the doors and gates after me; and here, Melissa, you are in the mansion of your ancestors. Your great grandfather, who came over from England, built this house in the earliest settlements of the country,
Meredith: This house is 20,000 years old? I would never have guessed it.
and here he resided until his death. The reason why so high and thick a wall was built round it, and the doors and gates so strongly fortified, was to secure it against the Indians, who frequently committed depredations on the early settlers.
Lucy: The real reason is that we’ve got a conflict between Gothic novel conventions and the Age of Reason. It is absolutely necessary that the heroine be imprisoned in a castle at some point, but it is equally necessary that all implausible circumstances be given a rational explanation.
Linda: Except the actions of the main characters. Those can’t be explained, so we won’t even try.
Your grandfather came into possession of this estate after his father’s death: it fell to me by will, with the lands surrounding it.
Meredith: The other siblings, including Melissa’s father, begged their father to leave the old maid a handsome property so they wouldn’t have to put up with her in their own homes.
The house has sometimes been tenanted, at others not. It has now been vacant for a few years. The lands are rented yearly. John, the person from whose house we last came, is my overseer and tenant. I had a small room built, adjoining that hut, where I generally reside for a week when I come to receive my rents.
David: I can see where getting rent payment out of someone occupying a heavily fortified castle might be a time-consuming process.
I have thought frequently of fitting up this place for my future residence, but circumstances have hitherto hindered my carrying the scheme into effect, and now, perhaps, it will never take place.
Meredith: On the day Melissa marries Beauman, her father will reward the aunt by converting the property into condos at his own expense.
“Your perverseness, Melissa, in refusing to comply with the wishes of your friends, has induced us to adopt the method of bringing you here, where you are to remain until Alonzo leaves your neighbourhood, at least. Notwithstanding your father’s injunctions and my vigilance, you had a clandestine interview with him last night. So we were told by Beauman this morning,
Lucy: If Beauman had had two brain cells to rub together, he’d have kept it secret from Melissa’s family and used the knowledge as a threat to hang over her head instead.
before he set off for New London, who discovered him at your window.
Linda: Beauman, you are such a liar. If he had found Alonzo at Melissa’s window, he’d have raised the alarm so Alonzo could be locked up for trespassing and he’d have the field to himself. It’s just Alonzo’s bad luck that he tripped over Beauman when he climbed back over the wall.
It therefore became necessary to remove you immediately. You will want for nothing. John is to supply us with whatever is needful. —You will not be long here; Alonzo will soon be gone. You will think differently; return home, marry Beauman, and become a lady.”
“My God!” exclaimed Melissa,
David: Her father reared her in a splinter sect which says that taking the name of the Lord in vain is perfectly OK, so long as you’re rich enough that any fool can tell you’re one of the Elect.
“is it possible my father can be so cruel! Is he so unfeeling as to banish me from his house, and confine me within the walls of a prison, like a common malefactor?” She flung herself on the bed in a state little inferior to distraction.
Linda: Confusion, say, or mild puzzlement.
Her aunt told her it was all owing to her own obstinacy, and because she refused to be made happy—and went to preparing supper.
Melissa heard none of her aunt’s observations; she lay in a stupifying agony, insensible to all that passed. When supper was ready, her aunt endeavoured to arouse her. She started up, stared around her with a wild agonizing countenance,
Hugh [1804 text]: Wild and agonizing.
Meredith: Her makeup was in such a mess, it was agony even to look at her.
but spoke not a word. Her aunt became alarmed. She applied stimulants to her temples and forehead, and persuaded her to take some cordials. She remained seemingly insensible through the night: just at morning, she fell into a slumber, interrupted by incoherent moanings, convulsive startings, long drawn sighs, intermitting sobs, and by frequent, sudden and restless turnings from side to side. At length she appeared to be in a calm and quiet sleep for about an hour. About sunrise she awoke—her aunt sat by her bed side. She gazed languidly about the room, and burst into tears. She wept a long time; her aunt strove to console her, for she truly began to tremble, lest Melissa’s distress should produce her immediate dissolution.
Linda: If Melissa dies, all financial arrangements are off.
Towards night, however, she became more calm and resigned; but a slight fever succeeded, which kept her confined for several days, after which she slowly recovered.
Alonzo arrived at the
residence of Vincent . . .
John came frequently
to the house . . .