a do-it-yourself MiSTing
[Fade in. Readers Hugh, Meredith, David, Lucy and Linda are sitting around a table. Hugh is holding a sheaf of crumbling, yellowed newspapers: the Political Barometer of Poughkeepsie, New York, dated 1804. The others are holding books from 1811 and assorted later dates, all with the title Alonzo and Melissa.
[The real-life Hugh would like it made very clear that he considers Alonzo and Melissa to be one of the high points in the history of American literature, and would never dream of poking fun at it.]
ALONZO AND MELISSA,
The Unfeeling Father.
An American Tale.
In every varied—
Hugh [Crocodile Dundee voice]: You call that a title? This is a title:
A Short Account of
Alonzo & Melissa:
Setting Forth Their
Hardships and Difficulties,
Caused by the Barbarity
of an Unfeeling Father.
In every varied posture, place, and hour,
How widowed every thought of every joy!
David: That’s a warning, isn’t it?
By DANIEL JACKSON, Jr.
Meredith: Oh, all right. Written by Isaac Mitchell in 1804 and published in the newspaper he edited. Pirated in 1811 by Daniel Jackson.
Linda: His father must have been very, very proud of him.
Lucy: Not half as proud as Amelia Stratton Comfield’s father. Thirty years later she swiped it all over again, renamed the main characters—and donated the proceeds to charity.
David [Devil’s advocate]: How do we know it wasn’t written by Jackson in the first place and stolen by Mitchell to fill up column space?
Linda: Well, among other things, Jackson would have been only thirteen years old at the time.
Whether the story of Alonzo and Melissa will generally please, the writer knows not; if, however, he is not mistaken, it is not unfriendly to religion and to virtue.—One thing was aimed to be shown, that—
Hugh [as editor of the Political Barometer]: Everyone stop what you’re doing. I want the author of this travesty to step forward, own up like a man, and put your money in the Violations Jar. You will then have half an— fifteen— no, ten minutes to rewrite it in the active voice, using strong, descriptive words, cutting the verbiage by at least half, and—
David [in “Please, sir, I want some more” tones]: Sir . . . Excuse me, sir . . . It was . . . Well . . . You wrote it, sir.
Hugh: You’re fired.
a firm reliance on Providence, however the affections might be at war with its dispensations, is the only source of consolation in the gloomy hours of affliction; and that generally such dependence, though crossed by difficulties and perplexities, will be crowned with victory at last.
Linda: If the characters took matters into their own hands, the whole story would be wrapped up in twenty pages.
It is also believed—
Hugh [as editor]: WHAT did I just get through— Oh. Right.
that the story contains no indecorous stimulants;
Lucy: It’s really true. I looked ahead. There’s one place where Alonzo orders ale but doesn’t drink it, and when you see wine it’s only as part of the background decoration.
Meredith: What about laudanum?
Lucy: No sign of it. If you need pain killers you’ll have to provide your own.
nor is it filled with unmeaning and inexplicated incidents sounding upon the senses, but imperceptible to the understanding.
Readers [stare at each other in disbelief].
When anxieties have been excited by involved and doubtful events, they are afterwards elucidated by the consequences.
Linda: What fun is that?
The writer believes that generally he has copied nature. In the ardent prospects raised in youthful bosoms, the almost consummation of their wishes, their sudden and unexpected disappointment, the sorrows of separation, the joyous and unlooked for meeting—in the poignant feelings of Alonzo, when,
Linda: Spoiler alert! Fingers in ears, everyone!
at the grave of Melissa, he poured the feelings of his anguished soul over her miniature by the “moon’s pale ray;”—when Melissa, sinking on her knees before her father, was received to his bosom as a beloved daughter risen from the dead.
Meredith: I guess that means I don’t have to read the book after all.
Hugh: You’ve already read it. The Preface started out as a Note printed at the end of the final installment.
If these scenes are not imperfectly drawn, they will not fail to interest the refined sensibilities of the reader.
Lucy: I can never get the hang of double negatives. [Reaches for eraser.]
If these scenes are perfectly drawn, they will interest the refined sensibilities of the reader.
David: And if they aren’t, they won’t.
ALONZO AND MELISSA.
In the time of the late revo—
Hugh: —the late American revolution.
Lucy: As opposed to all those other revolutions you might have thought he was talking about.
Meredith: Wasn’t there some business in France?
Lucy: Oh, right. But by 1811 that was all water under the bridge.
American revolution, two young gentlemen of Connecticut, who had formed an indissoluble friendship, graduated at Yale College in New Haven: their names were Edgar and Alonzo. Edgar was the son of a respectable farmer. Alonzo’s father was an eminent merchant. Edgar was designed for the desk,
David: He was chair-shaped?
Alonzo for the bar;
Meredith: He can’t have been. We just got through the “no indecorous stimulants”.
but as they were allowed some vacant time after their graduation before they entered upon their professional studies,
David: Now that they’ve had their fun at Yale, it’s time to hit the books.
they improved this interim in mutual, friendly visits, mingling with select parties in the amusements of the day, and in travelling through some parts of the United States.
Meredith: Uh, what United States? Does he mean the colonies?
David: He means Connecticut. This book is completely obsessed with Connecticut.
Linda: It’s like those English novels where someone asks if it’s your first visit to this part of the world, and they mean this district of England.
Edgar had a sister who, for some time, had resided with her cousin at New London.
Lucy: Time-honored solution to a time-honored problem. She was getting fatter in the middle and her waistband was riding higher, so she was packed off to stay with relatives until she got miraculously thin again.
She was now about to return,
Lucy: —due to return, nudge nudge wink wink.
and it was designed that Edgar should go and attend her home. Previous to the day on which he was to set out, he was unfortunately thrown from his horse, which so much injured him as to prevent his prosecuting his intended journey: he therefore invited Alonzo to supply his place;
David: Good practice for Alonzo, if he’s going to be a litigator.
Others: [Flat silence.]
which invitation he readily accepted, and on the day appointed set out for New London,
Lucy [finds map of Connecticut and spreads it out on table]: There’s New London, way over at the far edge of the st— colony. About 45 miles east of New Haven as the crow flies. You can do it in a day if there’s a road.
Meredith: I thought they’d been seeing the world.
David: Connecticut is the world.
where he arrived, delivered his introductory letters to Edgar’s cousin, and was received with the most friendly politeness.
Melissa, the sister of Edgar,
Hugh [under his breath]: Cross out “the“, cross out “of”, change to “Edgar’s sister”.
was about sixteen years of age. She was not what is esteemed a striking beauty, but her appearance was pleasingly interesting. Her figure was elegant;
David: Now that they’ve taken care of the waistline problem.
her aspect was attempered—
Linda [reading from 1870 edition]: Or possibly “tempered”. We’re not sure what the word means, so let the readers take their pick.
with a pensive mildness, which in her cheerful moments would light up into sprightliness and vivacity. Though on first impression, her countenance was marked by a sweet and thoughtful serenity, yet she eminently possessed the power to
“Call round her laughing eyes, in playful turns,
The glance that lightens, and the smile that burns.”
Meredith: Ouch. Overdid it on the teeth-whitening.
Lucy [consulting reference work]: Erasmus Darwin, 1731–1802. “The Temple of Nature, or, The Origin of Society”.
David: Any relation to Charles?
Lucy: His grandfather. From the origin of society to the origin of species is but a small step.
Linda: From Alonzo and Melissa to literature, on the other hand, is a giant leap.
Her mind was adorned with those delicate graces which are the first ornaments of female excellence. Her manners were graceful without affectation, and her taste had been properly directed by a suitable education.
Meredith [as Melissa]: I don’t know anything about art, but my teacher said this is a good painting so I’ll go into raptures over it.
Alonzo was about twenty-one years old; he had been esteemed an excellent student.
Lucy: Until the day Housekeeping cleaned up his college rooms and found all those papers in other students’ handwriting.
His appearance was manly, open and free. His eye indicated a nobleness of soul; although his aspect was tinged with melancholy, yet he was naturally cheerful. His disposition was of the romantic cast;
“For far beyond the pride and pomp of power,
Linda [1870 text]: I’ve got “pride or pomp”.
Meredith: The Constitutional Convention will spend weeks arguing points like that.
He lov’d the realms of nature to explore;
With lingering gaze Edinian spring survey’d;
Morn’s fairy splendours; night’s gay curtain’d shade,
The high hoar cliff, the grove’s benighting gloom,
The wild rose, widow’d o’er the mouldering tomb;
The heaven embosom’d sun; the rainbow’s die,
Where lucid forms disport to fancy’s eye;
The vernal flower, mild autumn’s purpling glow,
The summer’s thunder and the winter’s snow.”
Lucy [after business with reference works]: This is the single longest quotation in the whole book—and it’s by a president of Yale. Timothy Dwight, 1752–1817, “The Conquest of Canaan”. Probably thought it meant New Canaan, Connecticut. The Cambridge History of Literature—sorry, English and American Literature—says it was “written by the time he was twenty-two, but published when he was thirty-three and should have known better.”
Meredith: Is that what you call damning with faint praise?
David: Sounds like damning with unambiguous damns to me.
It was evening when Alonzo arrived at the house of Edgar’s cousin. Melissa was at a ball which had been given on a matrimonial occasion in the town.
Lucy [glancing at Hugh]: Or, as we say in the vernacular, a wedding.
Her cousin waited on Alonzo to the ball, and introduced him to Melissa, who received him with politeness. She was dressed in white, embroidered and spangled with rich silver lace; a silk girdle, enwrought and tasseled with gold, surrounded her waist; her hair was unadorned—
Meredith: No powder? Eeeuw.
except by a wreath of artificial flowers, studded by a single diamond.
After the ball closed, they returned to the house of Edgar’s cousin. Melissa’s partner at the ball was the son of a gentleman of independent fortune in New London. He was a gay young man,
Linda: —making him a perfectly safe escort for anyone’s daughter.
aged about twenty-five. His address was easy, his manners rather voluptuous than refined; confident, but not ungraceful. He led the ton in fashionable circles;
Lucy: In unfashionable circles, the ton couldn’t be bothered.
Meredith: Ton of what?
Lucy: The ton, you ignorant lout. It means the, uh, the people who were so high-class, they had to describe themselves in French.
gave taste its zest, and was quite a favourite with the ladies generally. His name was Beauman.
Edmund [passing through]: As Beauman is plainly destined to be the rival of Alonzo of Yale, we might have suspected him to be a Harvard graduate. Nothing is said about this, however, and the reference to Beauman’s voluptuous manners makes it practically certain that he was a Princeton man.
David: Who the heck was that?
Lucy: Edmund Pearson, writing in The Bookman. Article reprinted in his 1928 collection Queer Books.
Linda: I’m biting my tongue.
Edgar’s cousin proposed to detain Alonzo and Melissa a few days, during which time they passed in visiting—
Linda [1870 text]:
a few days, which time they passed in was visiting—
David: Wouldn’t you think that with five editions to choose from, at least one of them would have something that wasn’t perfect gibberish?
select friends and social parties. Beauman was an assiduous attendant upon Melissa. He came one afternoon to invite her to ride out;—she was indisposed and excused herself.
Meredith [as Melissa]: Not today, dear. I have a headache.
Linda: Cramps. That little, ahem, problem is safely in the past, and her physiology is back to normal.
At evening she proposed walking out with her cousin and his lady; but they were prevented from attending her by unexpected company. Alonzo offered to accompany her. It was one of those beautiful evenings in the month of June, when nature in those parts of America—
David: For “America,” read “Connecticut”.
Linda: For “Connecticut,” read “the known universe”.
is arrayed in her richest dress. They left the town and walked through fields adjoining the harbour.—The moon shone in full lustre, her white beams trembling upon the glassy main, where skiffs and sails of various descriptions were passing and repassing.
Hugh: Quick! Grab that sail! It’s just the kind I need for my schooner.
The shores of Long-Island and the other islands in the harbour,
David: Long Island, Fire Island, Staten Island . . . If you’ve seen one island, you’ve seen ’em all.
appeared dimly to float among the waves. The air was adorned with the fragrance of surrounding flowers; the sound of instrumental music—
Hugh: Of various instrumental music. We are at a high level of culture.
wafted from the town, rendered sweeter by distance,
Linda: Ouch! Did he just read that B flat as a B natural?
Meredith: Can’t tell from this distance.
while the whippoorwill’s sprightly song echoed along the adjacent groves.
Edmund [stuffily]: It is to the credit of the author that he employed native birds, rather than follow the custom of some of our early writers, who ruthlessly imported English skylarks and Italian nightingales, in defiance of all probability.
Far in the eastern horizon hung a pile of brazen clouds,
Meredith: The brazen audacity of those clouds! I’ve never seen such shameless behavior in a collection of water vapor.
which had passed from the north, over which, the crinkling red lightning momentarily darted, and at times, long peals of thunder were faintly heard. They walked to a point of the beach, where stood a large rock whose base was washed by every tide.
David [yawning]: OK, skip the next few pages. They’re going to get stranded.
Meredith: In the middle of a thunderstorm, surrounded by salt water. Good one, Alonzo.
On this rock they seated themselves, and enjoyed a while the splendours of the scene—the drapery of nature.
David: In Connecticut, Nature’s sole function is to act as theatrical backdrop to the conversation.
“To this place,” said Melissa, “have I taken many a solitary walk, on such an evening as this, and seated on this rock, have I experienced more pleasing sensations than I ever received in the most splendid ball-room.” The idea impressed the mind of Alonzo;
Edmund: —so profoundly that it rendered him absolutely speechless.
it was congenial with the feeling of his soul.
Hugh [under his breath]: Cross out “the”, cross out “of”, rewrite sentence as a single clause.
They returned at a late hour,
David [leafing back, puzzled]: Where’s the rest of the scene?
Edmund: It was clear to Melissa that she had said something so good that all further conversation was totally unnecessary, and that she had better be content with the amazing success of her first remark.
Meredith [in a lightning movement, whips around and grabs sheaf of typescript out of Edmund’s hand]: I knew it! He’s not making it up on the spur of the moment, he’s quoting himself.
and the next day set out for home. Beauman handed Melissa into the carriage, and he, with Edgar’s cousin and his lady, attended them on their first day’s journey.
David: Where’s Alonzo?
Lucy: Riding alongside the carriage to guard against banditti, desperadoes, highwaymen and other perils known to lurk in that part of Conn— of the world.
Linda [studying map]: He’s keeping a sharp eye out for ticks. They just passed Lyme.
They put up at night at the house of an acquaintance in Branford.
David [snatching map away from Linda]: Almost all the way back to New Haven.
Meredith: If cousin and Mrs. Cousin and Beauman all traveled with Melissa, what did Alonzo have to go out there for? He could have stopped halfway and met them in New Haven.
Linda: But then we’d have missed out on all that business with Melissa on the rock. And you wouldn’t expect a Princeton man to ride next to the carriage would you?
The next morning they parted; Melissa’s cousin, his lady and Beauman, returned to New London; Alonzo and Melissa pursued their journey, and at evening arrived at her father’s house, which was in the westerly part of the state.
Meredith [under her breath]: Colony.
Hugh [1804 newspaper text]:
TO BE CONTINUED
Meredith: But—but we can’t stop now! I won’t be able to sleep until I find out how Melissa escapes from—from—
David: From her father’s house.
Linda [biting nails in dread]: In western Connecticut.
Melissa was received with joyful tenderness by her friends. Edgar soon recovered from his fall, and cheerfulness again assumed its most pleasing aspect in the family.
Linda: —having previously worn one of its less pleasing aspects.
Meredith: Otherwise known as cheerlessness.
—Edgar’s father was a plain Connecticut farmer.
Lucy: As demonstrated by the fact that his daughter wore just one measly diamond in her hair at a country wedding.
He was rich, and his riches had been acquired by his diligent attention to business. He had loaned money, and taken mortgages on lands and houses for security; and as payment frequently failed,
Meredith: Most good businessmen try not to lend money to people who can’t pay.
he often had opportunities of purchasing the involved premises at his own price.
David: Sounds like a really swell guy. When did he have time for farming?
He well knew the worth of a shilling, and how to apply it to its best use; and in casting interest, he was sure never to lose a farthing.
Meredith: Note the author’s masterly command of a currency that had not been in use for twenty years.
Linda: A farthing on the shilling isn’t that much interest. It’s only about two percent.
He had no other children except Edgar and Melissa, on whom he doated.—Destitute of literature himself, he had provided the means of obtaining it for his son, and as he was a rigid presbyterian, he considered that Edgar could nowhere figure so well, or gain more eminence, than in the sacred desk.
Lucy: Edgar’s own preferences do not, presumably, enter into the picture.
The time now arrived when Edgar and Alonzo were to part. The former repaired to New York, where he was to enter upon his professional studies. The latter entered in the office of an eminent attorney in his native town,
David: You can read law any old where, but to study for the ministry you have to venture into the stewpots of the big city.
which was about twenty miles distant from the village in which lived the family of Edgar and Melissa.
Hugh [looks around for blue pencil, but then sits back with a resigned shrug].
Alonzo was the frequent guest of this family; for though Edgar was absent, there was still a charm which attracted him hither.
Linda [1870 text]: Or possibly “thither”.
If he had admired the manly virtues of the brother, could he fail to adore the sublimer graces—
Linda [1870 text]: Sublimer than Edgar? Let’s make it plain “sublime”.
of the sister? If all the sympathies of the most ardent friendship had been drawn forth towards the former, must not the most tender passions of the soul be attracted by the milder and more refined excellencies of the other?
Linda [1870 text]: Of the latter.
Beauman had become the suitor of Melissa; but the distance of his residence rendered it inconvenient to visit her often. He came regularly, about once in two or three months; of course Alonzo and he sometimes met.
Meredith: Any mathematicians out there? Compute what proportion of his total time Alonzo would have to spend at Melissa’s house in order to make it statistically probable that he will encounter, at least twice, someone who visits every sixty to ninety days.
Lucy: Not enough information. Did Beauman show up in the evening and leave the next morning, or did he stay for a month and a half?
Beauman had made no serious pretensions, but his particularity indicated something more than fashionable politeness.
Meredith: He’s only her suitor. It doesn’t mean he’s serious about her.
His manners, his independent situation, his family, entitled him to respect. “It is not probable therefore that he will be objectionable to Melissa’s friends—Nor to Melissa herself,” said Alonzo, with an involuntary sigh.
But as Beauman’s visits to Melissa became more frequent,
Linda: Sometimes as often as once in six weeks.
an increasing anxiety took place in Alonzo’s bosom. He wished her to remain single; the idea of losing her by marriage, gave him inexpressible regret.
Lucy: Alonzo, can you say “dog in the manger”?
What substitute could supply the happy hours he had passed in her company? What charm could wing the lingering moments when she was gone? In the recess of his studies, he could, in a few hours, be at the seat of her father:
David: School recesses were apparently longer in 1804 than they are today.
there his cares were dissipated, and the troubles of life, real or imaginary, on light pinions, fleeted away.—How different would be the scene when debarred from the unreserved friendship and conversation of Melissa; And unreserved it could not be, were she not exclusively mistress of herself. But was there not something of a more refined texture than friendship in his predilection for the company of Melissa? If so, why not avow it? His prospects, his family, and of course his pretensions might not be inferior to those of Beauman. But perhaps Beauman was preferred. His opportunities had been greater; he had formed an acquaintance with her.
Meredith [as Melissa]: Alonzo? We spent a few hours sitting on a rock one night, but I wouldn’t say we’re acquainted, exactly.
Distance proved no barrier to his addresses. His visits became more and more frequent.
Linda [as Melissa]: Why, Beauman! It’s only been a month. What brings you here so soon?
Was it not then highly probable that he had secured her affections? Thus reasoned Alonzo, but the reasoning tended not to allay the tempest which was gathering in his bosom. He ordered his horse, and was in a short time at the seat of Melissa’s father.
Lucy: The abovementioned plain Connecticut farmer. Next year he’ll start laying foundations in Newport, and then he’ll be a plain Rhode Island cottager.
It was summer,
David: How can it still be summer after all that stuff about Beauman visiting every two or three months?
Linda: It’s a year later. Time flies in Connecticut.
and towards evening when he arrived. Melissa was sitting by the window when he entered the hall. She arose and received him with a smile. “I have just been thinking of an evening’s walk,” said she, “but had no one to attend me, and you have come just in time to perform that office.
Meredith: With the evils of New York less than fifty miles away, walking alone would be unthinkable.
I will order tea—
Linda: English sympathizer! Boo, hiss! Good patriots drink coffee.
immediately, while you rest from the fatigues of your journey.”
When tea was served up, a servant entered the room with a letter which he had found in the yard. Melissa received it.—“’Tis a letter,” said she,
David: Full points for keen observation.
“which I sent by Beauman, to a lady in New London, and the careless man has lost it.”
Hugh: May as well give up, Alonzo. Those are obviously the words of a woman deeply in love.
Turning to Alonzo, “I forgot to tell you that your friend Beauman has been with us a few days;
David: Someone call back the mathematician; we’ve got the rest of the information.
he left us this morning.”
“My friend!” replied Alonzo, hastily.
“Is he not your friend?” enquired Melissa.
“I beg pardon, madam,” answered he, “my mind was absent.”
“He requested us to present his respects to his friend Alonzo,” said she.
Meredith: At Princeton you learn to remember these little niceties.
Alonzo bowed and turned the conversation.
David: Yale, on the other hand, goes for the strong silent approach.
They walked out and took a winding path which led along pleasant fields by a gliding stream, through a little grove and up a sloping eminence, which commanded an extensive prospect of the surrounding country; Long Island, the sound between that and the main land, and the opening thereof to the distant ocean.
A soft and silent shower had descended;
David: They’re strolling around in the rain?
Linda: It sneaked up so silently, they didn’t notice until they were both soaked.
a thousand transitory gems trembled upon the foliage—
Meredith: The rain went away in a snit when it saw that nobody was paying any attention to it.
glittering the western ray.
Hugh: —to the western ray.
Linda: You may have the original text but my editor had a better grip on the language. Try “glittering in the western ray”.
—A bright rainbow—
Meredith: Oh, now I get it. It wasn’t real rain, it was just a stagehand bringing on the rainbow and the rest of the scenery.
sat upon a southern cloud;
Linda: By 1870, global climate changes had forced a cutback to “the southern cloud”.
the light gales whispered among the branches,
Lucy [consulting chart]: Moderate gale, 32–38 MPH. Fresh gale . . . Strong gale . . . Whole gale. Beyond that, you’re into storms and hurricanes. Nothing about light gales.
Meredith: In the old days, even the weather was better.
agitated the young harvest to billowy motion, or waved the tops of the distant deep green forest with majestic grandeur. Flocks, herds, and cottages were scattered over the variegated landscape.
David: Batten down the hatches—there’s a storm brewing!
Hugh: Too late. Your cows have been scattered all over the landscape.
Hills piled on hills,
Meredith: This is a serious storm. Maybe we should seek cover.
receding, faded from the pursuing eye, mingling with the blue mist which hovered around the extreme verge—
Linda: Isn’t that like saying “more unique”? It’s either the extreme verge or it isn’t.
of the horizon. “This is a most beautiful scene,” said Melissa.
Meredith and Hugh [in unison]: Delightful scene.
“It is indeed,” replied Alonzo; “can New London boast so charming a prospect?”
David [as printer’s assistant]: Sir, the cat got into the quotation marks again.
Hugh [as editor]: Again? All right, switch over to “play” format.
indeed I can hardly say. You know, Alonzo, how I am charmed with the rock at the point of the beach.
Alonzo. You told me of the happy hours you had passed at that place. Perhaps the company which attended you there, gave the scenery its highest embellishment.
Meredith: Fishing for compliments, Alonzo?
Melissa. I know not how it happened; but you are the only person who ever attended me there.
David: The author really doesn’t have much confidence in the reader’s memory, does he? Melissa said “many a solitary walk” when she took Alonzo to the rock, and he was with her when she left town the next morning, so she can’t have been there with anyone but him.
Meredith: Back then, they didn’t teach deductive reasoning at Yale.
Alonzo. That is a little surprising.
Mel. Why surprising?
Al. Where was Beauman?
Mel. Perhaps he was not fond of solitude. Besides he was not always my Beauman.
Meredith and Hugh [in unison]: My beau-man. It’s a pun, get it?
Mel. Yes, sometimes.
Al. And now always.
Mel. Not this evening.
Al. He formerly.
Linda: Formerly what? Visited her?
Hugh [with exaggerated enunciation]: He for-mal-ly ad-dres-ses you.
David [after comparing texts with Lucy]: Will someone chase that cat out of the print shop!
Al. And will soon claim the exclusive privilege so to do.
Meredith [as Beauman]: Now that I have formally addressed you, nobody else is allowed to speak. That’s in the Rules.
David: What rules?
Meredith: The ones we Princeton men learn in the cradle and nobody else can hope to understand.
Mel. That does not follow of course.
Al. Of course, if his intentions are sincere, and the wishes of another should accord therewith.
Mel. Who am I to understand by another?
Meredith: Melissa’s education stopped short of mastering the difference between “who” and “whom”.
Al. Melissa. [A pause ensued.]
Mel. See that ship, Alonzo, coming up the sound;
Lucy [sings]: How beautifully blue the sky / The glass is rising very high . . .
how she ploughs through the white foam, while the breezes flutter among the sails, varying with the beams of the sun.
Al. Yes, it is almost down.
Mel. What is almost down?
Al. The sun. Was not you speaking of the sun, madam?
Mel. Your mind is absent, Alonzo; I was speaking of yonder ship.
Al. I beg pardon, madam. O yes—the ship—it—it bounds with rapid motion over the waves.
Lucy: I can’t believe it. Are we seeing humor here?
A pause ensued.
Meredith: Not to be confused with the pause that ensued two minutes ago.
They walked leisurely around the hill, and moved toward home. The sun sunk behind the western hills.—Twilight arose in the east,
David: In Isaac Mitchell’s world, twilight is a distinct celestial body.
and floated along the air. Darkness began to hover around the woodlands and vallies. The beauties of the landscape slowly receded.
Hugh: The stagehands quietly carried the landscape offstage so it could work the night shift in another novel.
“This reminds me of our walk at New London,” said Melissa. “Do you remember it?” enquired Alonzo. “Certainly I do,” she replied,
Meredith [as Melissa]: —seeing as how I just this second told you I was reminded of it.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: My mind was absent.
“I shall never forget the sweet pensive scenery of my favourite rock.” “Nor I neither,” said Alonzo with a deep drawn sigh.
Linda: —of exasperation, since they’ve spent the last ten minutes talking about the rock.
The next day Alonzo returned to his studies; but, different from his former visits to Melissa, instead of exhilarating his spirits, this had tended to depress them. He doubted whether Melissa was not already engaged to Beauman. His hopes would persuade him that this was not the case; but his fears declared otherwise.
Meredith: Oh, stop quibbling.
TO BE CONTINUED
Lucy: I don’t think I can stand many more of these cliffhangers. I’m getting heart palpitations.
It was some time before Alonzo renewed his visit. In the interim he received a letter from a friend in the neighbourhood of Melissa’s father; an extract from which follows:
We are soon to have a wedding here; you are acquainted with the parties—Melissa D—— and Beauman. Such at least is our opinion from appearances, as Beauman is now here more than half his time.
Linda: Two days to get there, five days’ visit, two days to go home, change lobsters and repeat.
—You will undoubtedly be a guest. We had expected that you would have put in your claims, from your particular attention to the lady. She is a fine girl, Alonzo.
Lucy: Signed, “A Friend”.
“I shall never be a guest at Melissa’s wedding,” said Alonzo, as he hastily paced the room; “but I must once again see her before that event takes place, when I lose her forever.” The next day he repaired to her father’s. He enquired for Melissa; she was gone with a party to the shores of the sound, attended by Beauman.
Meredith: —who complained nonstop about the mud, the inadequate rest rooms, the poor reception on his cell phone—
At evening they returned. Beauman and Alonzo addressed each other with much seeming cordiality. “You have deceived us, Alonzo,” said Melissa. “We concluded you had forgotten the road to this place.”
“Was not that a hasty conclusion?” replied Alonzo.
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Conclusion, madam.”
“I think not,” she answered, “if your long absence should be construed into neglect. But we will hear your excuse,” said she, smiling, ”by and by, and perhaps pardon you.” He thanked her for her condescension.
The next morning Beauman set out for New London.
Linda: Work fast, Alonzo—you’ve only got four days.
Alonzo observed that he took a tender leave of Melissa, telling her, in a low voice, that he should have the happiness of seeing her again within two or three weeks.
David: Two or three weeks? That means he has to stay with Melissa for three weeks at a stretch to make it add up to more than half his time.
Meredith: Knowing Melissa’s father, I bet he’s charging him rent.
After he was gone, as Melissa and Alonzo were sitting in a room alone,
Lucy: Does anyone else think this is a little odd? Melissa goes to a ball attended by a man who is in no way related to her; she takes walks after dark in the company of a man she has only just met; she sits alone in a room with the same man . . . Is the word “chaperone” not in her father’s vocabulary?
Linda: Apparently not, if she had to be packed off to stay with relatives at the beginning of the book.
“Well,” said she,
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Well, sir.”
Linda: We’re on the brink of war. We don’t have time to toss around all those Sirs and Madams.
“am I to hear your excuses?”
Alonzo. For what, madam?
Mel. For neglecting your friends.
Alonzo. I hope it is not so considered, madam.
Mel. Seriously, then, why have you stayed away so long? Has this place no charms in the absence of my brother?
Al. Would my presence have added to your felicities, Melissa?
Mel. You never came an unwelcome visitor here.
Al. Perhaps I might be sometimes intrusive.
Mel. What times?
Lucy: Melissa’s education failed to explain the fine distinction between being a lady and talking like a godforsaken imbecile.
Al. When Beauman is your guest.
Mel. I have supposed you were on friendly terms.
Al. We are.
Mel. Why then intrusive?
Al. There are seasons when friendship must yield to a—
David [before Hugh and Meredith can speak]: Must yield its pretensions to—
Linda [sulkily]: All right then, you read it.
to a superior claim.
Mel. Perhaps I do not rightly comprehend the force of that remark.
Linda: Perhaps you are simply too dim to live.
Al. Were Beauman here, my position might be demonstrated.
Mel. I think I understand you.
Al. And acknowledge my observation to be just?
Mel. (hesitating.) Yes—I believe I must.
Al. And appropriate?
Melissa was silent.
Al. You hesitate, Melissa.
David: No, no, that was last time. This time she’s going for full-blown silence.
Linda: Why not? It worked so well in New London.
She was still silent.
Al. Will you, Melissa, answer me one question?
Mel. (confused.) If it be a proper one you are entitled to candour.
Hugh: If it be a proper one, period, new sentence. You are entitled . . .
Meredith: So in 1804 she had to tell the truth, regardless, but by 1811 she only had to be candid if it was a proper question?
Lucy: I think it means that in 1804 she didn’t have to answer improper questions at all. Later on, she had to answer but she was allowed to lie.
David: If Alonzo’s studying law, that’s just the kind of detail he would home in on.
Al. Are you engaged to Beauman?
Mel. (blushing.) He has asked me the same question concerning you.
David: Was that a yes or a no?
Hugh: Yale and Princeton are in a contest to see who blinks first.
Al. Do you prefer him to any other?
Mel. (deeply blushing, her eyes cast upon the floor.) He has made the same enquiry respecting you.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Will you stop futzing around and give me a straight answer to a straight question?
Al. Has he asked your father’s permission to address you?
Mel. That I have not suffered him yet to do.
Meredith [as Melissa]: We just started planning the wedding and figured Pop would take the hint.
David [as Melissa’s father]: What are all these guests doing here? I’m not supposed to feed them, am I? Who’s that clergyman? Is someone getting married?
Mel. I assure you I have not.
Al. (taking her hand with anxiety.) Melissa, I beg you will deal candidly. I am entitled to no claims, but you know what my heart would ask. I will bow to your decision. Beauman or Alonzo must relinquish their pretensions. We cannot share the blessing.
Meredith: Well, not in this type of book anyway.
Mel. (her cheeks suffused with a varying glow, her lips pale, her voice tremulous, her eyes still cast down.) My parents have informed me that it is improper to receive the particular addresses of more than one.
Meredith [1811 text]: Address, singular.
David [writing]: “Beauman”—has he got a first name, by the way? he’ll need one to get married in—“New London, Connecticut”. That should be enough: everyone knows the Beaumans. “Alonzo—” Doesn’t he have a last name? “Alonzo in New York” isn’t much of a mailing address.
Linda: You’re confusing him with Edgar. “Alonzo who is studying law with nameless-attorney in nameless-village” should do fine.
I am conscious of my inadvertency, and that the reproof is just.
Meredith [as Melissa]: I’m just a plain farmer’s daughter. It never occurred to me it was wrong to let two different men believe I would marry them.
One therefore must be dismissed. But—(she hesitated.)
Linda [1870 text]: She blushed.
David: No reason she can’t do both.
Lucy: Oh, and you can stop calling yourself 1870. Evidence suggests you’re a reprint of the 1836 Boston edition.
Linda [to David]: Neener-neener, I’ve got seniority over you.
A considerable pause ensued.
David: Is anyone keeping track of these pauses? The author seems to throw one in whenever he needs time to figure out what happens next.
Meredith: You mean, like in real life?
Linda [as Judge Judy]: “Pause” is not an answer.
Lucy [overlapping]: You can’t put “Alonzo and Melissa” and “real life” into the same utterance. It’s a linguistic, um, thingy.
At length Alonzo arose—“I will not press you farther,” said he; “I know the delicacy of your feeling, I know your sincerity; I will not therefore insist on your performing the painful task of deciding against me. Your conduct in every point of view has been discreet.
David: So discreet that if he hadn’t twisted her arm, he wouldn’t even have known that she was playing exactly the same game with Beauman.
I could have no just claims, or if I had, your heart must sanction them, or they would be unhallowed and unjustifiable.
Linda [with eraser]: I could have no just claims or they would be unjustifiable.
Meredith: It’s a perfectly just claim, I just can’t justify it.
Hugh: Nonsense. Given enough hairline spaces, you can justify anything.
I shall ever pray for your felicity.—Our affections are not under our direction; our happiness depends on our obedience to their mandates. Whatever, then, may be my sufferings, you are unblameable and irreproachable.” He took his hat in extreme agitation, and prepared to take his leave.
Lucy: Good juxtaposition of the literal and figurative there. He takes his hat, and then he takes his leave.
Hugh: Look, I had to fill another two inches and I was running out of dialogue. You try if you can do better.
Melissa had recovered in some degree from her embarrassment, and collected her scattered spirits.
David: There’s one hiding behind the hat rack, and I saw one rolling under the dresser.
“Your conduct, Alonzo,” said she, “is generous and noble. Will you give yourself the trouble, and do me the honour to see me once more?” “I will,” said he, “at any time you shall appoint.”—“Four weeks then,” she said, “from this day,
Linda [leafing back]: Giving Beauman one to two weeks free of competition.
Meredith: It’s a handicap, like a head start in a race.
honour me with a visit, and you shall have my decision, and receive my final answer.” “I will be punctual to the day,” he replied, and bade her adieu.
Alonzo’s hours now winged heavily away.
David: Someone should tell Mitchell not to mess with established clichés. I don’t think he meant the reader to picture an overweight turkey.
Hugh [before Lucy can open her mouth]: It’s 1804. The stereotypy process, and hence the word “cliché”, haven’t been invented yet.
His wonted cheerfulness fled; he wooed the silent and solitary haunts of “musing, moping melancholy.”
Lucy [usual business with reference works]: Act I, Scene 1 of The Upholsterer or What News, a 1758 play by Arthur Murphy. The speaker describes himself as a “musing, moping, melancholy lover”.
David: Just like Alonzo.
He loved to wander through lonely fields,
Meredith: In New York?
Linda: You’re thinking of Edgar again. Alonzo’s in Connecticut.
David: Western Connecticut.
or along the verge of some lingering stream, “when dewy twilight rob’d the evening mild,” or
“To trace the forest glen, through which the moon
Darted her silvery intercepted ray.”
Meredith [1811 text]: Darted his silvery et cetera.
Hugh: Early in the nineteenth century the moon toyed briefly with the idea of gender-reassignment surgery, but decided against it.
He was fondly indulging a tender passion which preyed upon his peace, and deeply disturbed his repose. He looked anxiously to the hour when Melissa was to make her decision. He wished, yet dreaded the event. In that he foresaw, or thought he foresaw, a withering blight to his budding hopes, and a final consummation to his foreboding fears. He had pressed Melissa, perhaps too urgently, to a declaration.—Had her predilection been in his favour, would she have hesitated to avow it? Her parents had advised her to relinquish, and had permitted her to retain one suitor,
David [as Melissa’s parents]: After sober consideration, we’ve decided to allow you to marry—but only to one man at the present time.
Lucy: Papa doesn’t want to cough up two dowries at once. If they lived in a bride-price culture he’d be happy to let her have as many husbands as she wanted.
nor had they attempted to influence or direct her choice.
Hugh: Forestall her choice.
Meredith: Wouldn’t that mean prevent her from choosing?
Was it not evident, then, from her confused hesitation and embarrassment, when solicited to discriminate upon the subject, that her ultimate decision would be in favour of Beauman?
While Alonzo’s mind was thus agitated, he received a second letter from his friend in the neighbourhood of Melissa. He read the following clause therein with emotions—
Meredith [1811 text]: Emotion, singular.
Hugh: Oh, cut it out.
more easily to be conceived than expressed:
Melissa’s wedding day is appointed. I need not tell you that Beauman is to be the happy deity of the hymeneal sacrifice.
Lucy: But I’m telling you anyway, just to rub it in.
David: By the time Alonzo figures out that “happy deity of the hymeneal sacrifice” means “bridegroom”, the initial pain will have passed.
I had this from his own declaration. He did not name the positive day, but it is certainly to be soon. You will undoubtedly, however, have timely notice, as a guest. We must pour a liberal libation upon the mystic altar, Alonzo,
Linda [1870 text]: To the mystic altar.
Hugh: And that’s supposed to make more sense?
David: More of a mess, I’d think, if they’re pouring it on the floor instead of on the altar.
and twine the nuptial garland with wreaths of joy.
Meredith: Does the guy always talk like this, or is it something about weddings that makes the synapses in his brain go haywire?
Beauman ought to devote a rich offering to so valuable a prize. He has been here for a week, and departed for New London yesterday, but is shortly to return.
Linda: That’s impossible. We’ve only got a four-week window, and when Beauman left he said he’d be back in two or three weeks.
Lucy [scribbling on calendar]: Call it fourteen days exactly. That’s two days to go home, ten days to look after his estates, two days coming back. Then five days for the visit, and—
Linda: Seven. He was here for a week.
Lucy: I’m working on the “as many thousands as must always be called ten” principle. A man who talks about mystic altars and hymeneal sacrifices is not a man who means precisely seven days when he says “a week”.
“And why have I ever doubted this event?” said Alonzo. “What infatuation hath thus led me on the pursuit of fantastic and unreal bliss? I have had, it is true, no positive assurance that Melissa would favour my addresses. But why did she ever receive them? Why did she enchantingly smile upon me? Why fascinate the tender powers of my soul by that winning mildness, and the favourable display of those complicated and superior attractions which she must have known were irresistible?
Meredith: Face it, Alonzo. She’s just a tease.
—Why did she not spurn me from her confidence, and plainly tell me that my attentions were untimely and improper?
David: Because then she wouldn’t have had anyone to sit on rocks with.
And now she would have me dance attendance to her decision in favour of Beauman—Insulting! Let Beauman and she make,
Hugh [as editor]: Did someone just say “Let she make”?
Lucy: Now that you mention it, Mitchell is guilty of a lot of literary crimes. But offenses against basic grammar don’t top the list.
as they have formed, this farcical decision; I absolutely will never attend it.—But stop: I have engaged to see her at an appointed time; my honour is therefore pledged for an interview; it must take place. I shall support it with becoming dignity, and I will convince both Melissa and Beauman that I am not the dupe of their caprices. But let me consider—What has Melissa done to deserve censure or reproach?
Meredith: You mean, other than tell him he’d have her decision in four weeks, and then merrily start planning her wedding with Beauman the moment his back is turned?
Linda: She didn’t say she’d make a decision in four weeks, she just said she’d tell him about it.
Meredith: When you show up as arranged, and find yourself a guest at a wedding, a person of ordinary intel—
David: This is Alonzo we’re talking about?
Her brother was my early friend: she has treated me as a friend to her brother. She was unconscious of—
Hugh: She was the unsuspecting object of my passion. She was unconscious of . . .
Meredith: Well, that’ll teach you to start two consecutive sentences with “She was”.
the flame which her charms had kindled in my bosom.—Her evident embarrassment and confusion on receiving my declaration, witnessed her surprise and prior attachment. What could she do? To save herself the pain of a direct denial, she has appointed a day when her refusal may come in a more delicate and formal manner—and I must meet it.”
At the appointed day, Alonzo proceeded to the house of Melissa’s father, where he arrived late in the afternoon. Melissa had retired to a little summer house at the end of the garden; a servant conducted Alonzo thither. She was dressed in a flowing robe of white muslin, embroidered with a deep fringe lace.
David: You’d think that somewhere along the line, some editor would have had the brains to change it to “fringe of lace”.
Lucy: You’re only allowed to change the text if the original was right and you’re making it wrong.
Her hair hung loosely upon her shoulders; she was contemplating a bouquet of flowers—
Meredith [as Melissa]: This calls for deep thought. Should I put them in a vase? Press them between the pages of the family Bible? Throw them in the face of the next man I see?
Linda: I vote for throwing. Tossing a bridal bouquet takes practice; you don’t want it to hit some innocent bystander.
Lucy [pedantically]: She doesn’t know how easy she’s got it. Roman brides threw a lit torch.
David: Sorry, Tullia, I was aiming for Lucretia. But I’m sure your hair will grow back.
which she held in her hand. Alonzo fancied she never appeared so lovely.
Meredith: But it was just an idle fancy. She was actually much lovelier the day before yesterday.
She arose to receive him. “We have been expecting you some time,” said Melissa; “we—
Hugh [embarrassed]: Oops, sorry about that. I forgot I wasn’t writing an editorial.
were anxious to inform you,
Linda [1836 text]: We are anxious.
Lucy: I like “were”. We got so tired of waiting that our initial anxiety passed off and now we really don’t give a hoot.
that we have just received a letter from my brother, in which he desires us to present you his most friendly respects, and complains of your not writing to him lately so frequently as usual.” Alonzo thanked her for the information; said that business had prevented him; he esteemed him as his most valuable friend,
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: His most valued friend.
David: Pop’s obviously rolling in it, so “valuable” sounds about right to me.
and would be more particular in future.
“We have been thronged with company for several days,” said Melissa. “Once a year my father celebrates his birth day,
Linda: Funny how that works.
Lucy: If he had had the forethought to be born on February 29th, he’d only have to feed all those people every four years.
David: And even then, he’d get a free ride in the year 1800.
when we are honoured with so numerous a company of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces,
Meredith [sings]: His sisters and his cousins / Whom he reckons by the dozens . . .
Lucy [overlapping]: Aunts and cousins / By the baker’s dozen . . .
that were you present, you would suppose we were connected with half the families in Connecticut. The last of this company took their departure yesterday,
Linda: Hours later, it occurs to Alonzo to wonder why he wasn’t invited to this bash.
and I have only to regret, that I have for nearly a week, been prevented from visiting my favourite hill, to which you attended me when you was last here. It is much improved since then:
Lucy: The hill was feeling poorly, but it’s much better now, thank you for asking.
I have had a little arbour built under the large tree on its summit: you will have no objection to view it, Alonzo?” He assured her he accepted the invitation with pleasure, and towards evening
David: Is it against Melissa’s religion to take walks in broad daylight? No matter where she is or who she’s with, she never leaves the house until just before sunset.
they resorted to the place and seated themselves in the arbour.
It was the beginning of autumn,
Hugh: For the past eighteen months the earth has obligingly paused in its orbit so we can get the plot moving without the inconvenience of winter travel, but now it’s time for a change of season.
and a yellow hue was spread over the fading charms of nature. The withering forest began to shed its decaying foliage, which the light gales pursued along the russet fields.
Meredith: Again with the light gales.
Lucy: Oh, I forgot to say, I looked it up. The Beaufort scale hasn’t been invented yet, so you’re allowed to use “gale” for “breeze”.
The low sun extended the lengthening shadows;
David: Making them longer than they would have been if the shadows had been left to their own resources.
curling smoke ascended from the surrounding cottages. A thick fog crept along the vallies; a gray mist hovered over the tops of the mountains. The glassy surface of the sound glittered to the sun’s departing ray.
Linda: Didn’t he use that line before?
Hugh: That was at least a week ago. The reader can’t remember that long.
The solemn herds lowed in monotonous symphony.
Linda [1836 text]: Lowed in solemn— Oh. Oops. Forget I said anything.
The autumnal insects in sympathetic wafting,
Hugh: Sympathetic wailings.
Meredith: Sympathetic waftings.
Linda: Since when is “wafting” something you can hear?
Meredith [whining]: It’s not my fault there was a flyspeck on the newspaper. I thought it was an -ft- ligature.
Lucy: The autumnal insects, making assorted sound effects in the background—
plaintively predicted their approaching fate.
David: Chirp, chirp, we’re going to die. Hum, hum, we’re going to die. Buzz, buzz, we’re—
Hugh: Yes, fine, we get the idea.
“The scene is changed since we last visited this place,” said Melissa;
Meredith: That rock used to be stage left, and the backdrop had different cows on it.
“the gay charms of summer are beginning to decay, and must soon yield their splendours to the rude despoiling hand of winter.”
“That will be the case,” said Alonzo, “before I shall have the pleasure of your company here again.”
David: Depends on how cold the winter gets. He means that he’ll be back when hell freezes over.
Mel. That probably may be, though it is nearly two months yet to winter.
Linda: Is she saying that she doesn’t care if he stays away for the next two or more months, or is she trying to hint that he doesn’t visit often enough?
Al. Great changes may take place within that time.
Mel. Yes, changes must take place; but nothing, I hope, to embitter present prospects.
Al. (peevishly.) As it respects yourself, I trust not, madam.
Mel. (tenderly.) And I sincerely hope not, as it respects you, Alonzo.
Al. That wish, I believe, is vain.
Mel. Why so ominous a prediction?
Al. The premises, from which it is drawn, are correct.
Mel. Your feelings accord with the season, Alonzo; you are melancholy. Shall we return?
Al. I ask your pardon, madam; I know I am unsociable. You speak of returning: You know the occasion of my being here.
Mel. For the purpose of visiting your friends, I presume.
Al. And no other?
She made no reply.
Al. You cannot have forgotten your own appointment, and consequent engagement?
She made no answer.
Hugh: I’m rather proud of those lines. On two consecutive occasions I avoided using the words “pause” or “silent”.
Lucy: Instead you said “reply” and “answer” with a wholly gratuitous use of synonyms for synonymy’s sake, just the way they teach you not to do in Journalism 101.
Al. I know, Melissa, that you are incapable of duplicity or evasion.
Linda: Except for that trivial incident four weeks ago when you said you’d give me your decision, and now you’re pretending you have no idea why I’m here.
Meredith: That wasn’t duplicity or evasion, it was just lying in her teeth.
I have promised, and now repeat the declaration, that I will silently submit to your decision. This you have engaged to make, and this is the time you have appointed. The pains of present suspense can scarcely be surpassed by the pangs of disappointment. On your part you have nothing to fear. I trust you have candidly determined, and will decide explicitly.
David: You have determined, and now you will decide?
Lucy: As opposed to deciding implicitly, like when she quietly starts planning the wedding with Candidate B, and lets people draw their own conclusions.
Mel. (sighing.) I am placed in an exceedingly delicate situation.
Linda [as Alonzo, losing his temper]: Listen, you heartless bitch, you created your own situation, so cut the crap willya?
Al. I know you are; but your own honour, your own peace, require that you should extricate yourself from the perplexing embarrassment.
Mel. I am sensible they do. It must—it shall be done.
Al. And the sooner it is done the better.
Mel. That I am convinced of. I now know that I have been inadvertently indiscreet.
Meredith: She didn’t stop to think that someone might notice she was planning a wedding.
I have admitted the addresses of Beauman and yourself, without calculating or expecting the consequences. You have both treated me honourably, and with respect. You are both on equal grounds as to your character and standing in life. With Beauman I became first acquainted. As it relates to him, some new arrangements have taken place since you were here, which—
Al. (interrupting her, with emotion.) Of those arrangements I am acquainted.
Mel. (surprised.) By what means were you informed thereof?
Al. I received it from a friend in your neighbourhood.
A considerable pause ensued.
David [to Hugh]: Ha ha, you used the P-word again.
Al. You see, Melissa, I am prepared for the event.—She was silent.
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: “Still silent.”
Linda: In case you’d forgotten that she was also silent last time around.
Al. I have mentioned before, that, whatever be your decision, no impropriety can attach to you. I might not, indeed, from various circumstances, and from the information I possess, I perhaps should not, have given you farther trouble on the occasion,
Meredith: Get a grip, Alonzo. You’re babbling.
had it not been from your own direction and appointment. And I am now willing to retire without further explanation, without giving you the pain of an express decision, if you think the measure expedient. Your declaration can only be a matter of form, the consequence of which I know, and my proposition may save your feelings.
Mel. No, Alonzo; my reputation depends on my adherence to my first determination; justice to yourself and to Beauman also demand it.
Hugh: Demands it. The subject of the verb is justice, singular.
Others: Oh, shut up.
After what has passed, I should be considered as acting capriciously and inconsistently, should I depart from it. Beauman will be here to-morrow, and—
Al. To-morrow, madam?
David: You got a problem with that?
Mel. He will be here to-morrow, and you must consent to stay with us until that time; the matter shall then be decided.
Al. I—yes—it shall be as you say, madam. Make your arrangements as you please.
Evening had now spread her dusky mantle over the face of nature. The stars glistened in the sky. The breeze’s rustling wing was in the tree. The “slitty sound”—
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: The stilly sound.
Linda [1836 text]: Oh, is that what you meant. I couldn’t make head or tail of it so I said distant sound.
David [apologetic]: I thought it was a quotation so I was afraid to change it.
Lucy: It is a quotation, but you got it wrong. The “stilly sound” phrase is from John Home’s 1756 play Douglas, Act IV, Scene 1.
of the low murmuring brook, and the far off water-fall, were faintly heard. The twinkling fire-fly arose from the surrounding verdure and illuminated the air with a thousand transient gleams. The mingling discordance of curs and watch-dogs echoed in the distant village, from whence the frequent lights darted their pale lustre thro’ the gloom. The solitary whippoorwills—
Edmund [passing through again]: —who, by this time, are treated practically like hired musicians—
stationed themselves along the woody glens, the groves and rocky pastures, and sung a requiem—
Linda [1836 text]: Or, as we say in English, sang a requiem.
to departed summer. A dark cloud was rising in the west, across whose gloomy front the vivid lightning bent its forky spires.
Alonzo and Melissa moved slowly to the village; she appeared enraptured with the melancholy splendours of the evening, but the other subject engaged the mental attention of Alonzo.
Hugh: But other subjects, plural.
Linda: What other subjects? He’s only had one thing on his mind since the beginning of the book. Besides [continuing under her breath] anyone who writes “the mental attention of Alonzo” isn’t in a real strong moral position to criticize other people’s use of the language.
Beauman arrived the next day.
Lucy: Fashionably 24 hours late, as befits a Princeton man. Alonzo showed up on schedule, so he ought to have won by default.
He gave his hand to Alonzo with the seeming warmth of friendship. If it was reciprocated, it must have been affected. There was no alteration in the manners and conversation of Melissa: her conversation, as usual, was sprightly and interesting. After dinner she retired, and her father requested Alonzo and Beauman to withdraw with him to a private room. After they were seated, the old gentleman thus addressed them:
“I have called you here, gentlemen, to perform my duty as a parent to my daughter, and as a friend to you.
Meredith: For a given definition of “friend”. This is the first time in the book that he has uttered so much as one word to Alonzo.
You are both suitors to Melissa; while your addresses were merely formal, they were innocent; but when they became serious they were dangerous. Your pretensions I consider equal, and between honourable pretenders, who are worthy of my daughter, I shall not attempt to influence her choice. That choice, however, can rest only on one:
Lucy: Thanks to those boring old poops who decided to outlaw polyandry.
she has engaged to decide between you. I am come to make, in her name, this decision.
Linda: I thought that stuff about “shall not attempt to influence her choice” sounded fishy. He’s not influencing her at all. He’s out-and-out making the choice for her.
The following are my terms:—No quarrel or difficulty shall arise between you, gentlemen, in consequence of her determination. Nothing shall go abroad respecting the affair; it shall be ended under my roof.
David [as Melissa’s father]: If word ever got out that two different men wanted to marry my daughter, I would never be able to hold up my head again.
As soon as I have pronounced her declaration, you shall both depart and absent my house for at least two weeks, as it would be improper for my daughter to see either of you at present:
Meredith: There’s a rule that says you’re not allowed to see your fiancé for two weeks? I think he’s getting it mixed up with the one about not seeing your bride on the wedding day.
after that period I shall be happy to receive your visits.”—Alonzo and Beauman pledged their honour to abide implicitly by these injunctions.
Hugh and Meredith: Abide explicitly.
Linda [overlapping]: —to these injunctions.
Her father then observed—“This, gentlemen, is all I require. I have observed that I considered your pretensions equal: so has my daughter treated them. You have both made professions to her; she has appointed a time to answer you. That time has now arrived, and I now inform you—
Hugh: Redundant. Delete the first “now”.
David and Linda: We did.
Meredith [loyally]: Well, I liked it.
that she has decided in favour of—
Lucy: —drumroll, flashes of lightning, moment of portentous silence—
Linda: I never in a million, billion, trillion years would have seen that one coming.
The declaration of Melissa’s father burst upon the mental powers of Beauman, like a sudden and tremendous clap of thunder—
David: In other words, based on what we’ve been told so far about the local weather, he barely noticed it.
on the deep and solemn silence of night.
Linda [dutifully reading 1836 text]: Deep and sullen silence.
Lucy [turning pages in other book]: Hey, I recognize that wording. These words from Alida’s father, —comma— burst upon the mental powers of Bonville like sudden and tremendous thunder on the deep and sullen silence of night.
Hugh: Alida? I can see “Bonville”, but where’d the author get a silly name like Alida?
Lucy: She had to counterbalance the hero. His name got changed to Theodore.
Unaccustomed to disappointment, he had calculated on success. His addresses to the ladies had ever been honourably received.
Melissa was the first whose charms were capable of rendering them sincere. He was not ignorant of Alonzo’s attention to her: it gave him however but little uneasiness. He believed that his superior qualifications would eclipse the pretensions of his rival. He considered himself a connoisseur in character, especially in the character of the ladies. He conformed to their taste; he flattered their foibles, and obsequiously bowed to the minutia of—
Linda [1836 text]: Minutiae, you illiterates.
female volatility. He considered himself skilled in the language of the heart; and he trusted that from his pre-eminent powers in the science of affection, he had only to see, to sue and to conquer.
Lucy: Veni, postulavi, vici . . . Needs some work, Beauman.
He had frankly offered his hand to Melissa, and pressed her for a decisive answer. This from time to time she suspended, and finally appointed a day to give him and Alonzo a—
Hugh: To give both him and Alonzo.
David: Mitchell’s balloon payment is coming due, so he’s padding the word count like mad.
determinate answer, though neither knew the arrangements made with the other.
Finding, however, the dilemma in which she was placed, she had previously consulted her parents. Her father had no objection to her choosing between two persons of equal claims to affluence and reputation; this choice she had made, and her father was considered—
Lucy [counting on fingers]: “She considered her father . . .” “Her father considered himself . . .” It’s not word count. Mitchell just likes the passive voice.
Linda: A vote was taken in the meeting hall, and it was unanimously decided that her father was—
the most proper person to pronounce it.
David: It was suggested that Melissa might speak for herself, but the proposal was instantly hooted down.
Hugh: Just like Beauman’s proposal.
When Beauman had urged his suit to Melissa, he supposed that her hesitations, delays and suspensions, were only the effects of maiden diffidence and timidity. He had no suspicions of her ultimately rejecting it; and when she finally named the day of decision, he was confident that she would decide in his favour. These sentiments he had communicated to the person who had written to Alonzo, intimating that Melissa had fixed a time which was to crown his happiest wishes.
Linda: The whole plot would have fallen apart at this point if the friend’s social calendar hadn’t been perfectly empty, so that he didn’t bother asking about the exact date.
Lucy: This is “hymeneal sacrifice” guy we’re talking about. He’d never remember anything so mundane as a calendar date.
He had listened therefore attentively—
David: I don’t get “therefore”. If he thought it was a foregone conclusion, he’d have let his attention wander while he fantasized about how to spend Melissa’s money.
to the words of Melissa’s father, momentarily expecting to hear himself declared the favourite choice of the fair.
What then must have been his disappointment when the name of Alonzo was pronounced instead of his own! The highly finished scene of pleasure and future prosperity which his ardent imagination had depicted, had vanished in a moment.
Linda: Beauman’s father has unexpectedly gone bust, and he was counting on Melissa’s money to restore his fortunes.
David: So that’s the “new arrangement” she was talking about last week. I thought the author was just playing games with us.
The rainbow glories which gilded his youthful horizon, had faded in an instant—the bright sun of his early hopes had set in mournful darkness. The summons of death would not have been more unexpected, or more shocking to his imagination.
Linda: He knows there are bill collectors parked on his doorstep in New London, and he was planning to fob them off with the newspaper announcement of his engagement.
Very different were the sensations which inspired the bosom of Alonzo. He had not even calculated on a decision in his own favour. He believed that Beauman would be the choice of Melissa. She had told him that the form of decision was necessary to save appearances: with this form he complied because she desired it, not because he expected the result would be in his favour. He had not therefore attended to the words of Melissa’s father—
Meredith: Rotten luck, dad. You carefully prepare and memorize your speech, and then nobody’s listening.
David: Except the servants. They’ve got their ears pressed to the keyhole.
with that eagerness which favourable anticipations commonly produce. But when his name was mentioned; when he found he was the choice—the happy favourite of Melissa’s affection, every tender passion of his soul became interested, and was suddenly aroused to the refinements of sensibility. Like an electric shock, it reanimated his whole frame, and vibrated every nerve of his heart. The glooms which hung about his mind were dissipated, and the bright morning of joy broke in upon his soul.
Linda: When you can’t get real scenery, a metaphor will have to do. For Beauman, the sun sets in mournful darkness; for Alonzo, it’s a bright morning of joy.
Meredith: Introduced by the very latest thing in alarm clocks: wake to an electric shock.
Thus were the expectations of Alonzo and Beauman disappointed—
David: Are you allowed to say “disappointed” when things turn out better than you expected?
Hugh: You are when you’re the editor.
how differently, the sequel has shown.
Linda: There’s a sequel? I’m leaving right now.
Melissa’s father retired immediately after pronouncing the declaration;
David [as father]: Young man, I leave everything in your hands. Here are the keys to the safe; here are the payroll records. If anyone needs me I’ll be in Aruba.
the two young gentlemen also soon after withdrew. Alonzo saw the tempest which tore the bosom of his rival,
Lucy: Being blessed with X-ray vision.
and he pitied him from his heart.
Linda: From his what? I thought they just had all-purpose bosoms.
Lucy [after rapid count]: I’ll be darned. They do have hearts. Thirty-eight of them, along with fifty-nine bosoms.
Meredith: That’s not enough hearts to go around. Someone should talk to the parents about sacrifice surgery.
A fortnight passed, and Alonzo felt all that anxiety and impatience which a separation from a beloved object can produce. He framed a thousand excuses to visit Melissa, yet he feared a visit might be premature.
Linda: Someone explained the superstition to Alonzo, but he misunderstood. He thought it would be bad luck to set eyes on the bride at any time between the engagement and the wedding.
He was, however, necessitated to make a journey to a distant part—
Hugh: Into a different part.
of the country,
David: For “country”, read “Connecticut”.
Lucy: You can see Mitchell’s point. Even in 1804, it was hard to say “a distant part of Connecticut” with a straight face.
after which he resolved to see Melissa. He performed his business, and was returning.
Linda: When the entire universe can be covered in two days’ travel, the outhouse counts as distant.
It was toward evening, and the day had been uncommonly sultry for the autumnal season. A rising shower blackened the western hemisphere;
Lucy: All of it?
the dark vapor ascended in folding ridges,
Meredith: I’m having trouble working out exactly what meteorological phenomenon he’s describing here.
and the thunder rolled at a distance. Alonzo saw he should be overtaken. He discovered an elegant seat about one hundred yards distant from the road;
Linda: Someone left a chair out in the middle of nowhere?
David: It’s Edgar! They told us he was designed for the desk.
thither he hastened to gain shelter from the approaching storm. The owner of the mansion met him at the door, politely invited him to alight and walk in,
Linda: He rode his horse up the front steps in approved Connecticut fashion.
while a servant stood ready to take his horse. He was ushered into a large room neatly furnished, where the family and several young ladies were sitting. As Alonzo glanced his eyes hastily around the room, he thought he recognized a familiar countenance. A hurried succession of confused ideas for a moment crossed his recollection. In a moment, however, he discovered that it was Melissa.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: I know I’ve seen that face before, I just can’t think where. No, wait, don’t tell me, it will come back to— Why, of course! It’s the woman I’ve been madly in love with for the past year and a half. I knew I’d remember sooner or later.
By this unexpected meeting they were both completely embarrassed.
Meredith: Melissa had been confident nobody would ever learn about the third man in her life, and Alonzo suddenly remembered the toupee and false teeth packed in the bottom of his saddlebags.
Melissa, however, arose, and in rather a confused manner, introduced Alonzo, as the classmate of her brother,
David: Much later, it occurred to Alonzo to wonder why she hadn’t introduced him as her fiancé.
to the family of Mr. Simpson and the company.
The rain continued most part of the afternoon. Alonzo was invited, and consented to stay all night. A moon-light evening succeeded the shower, which invited the young people to walk in an adjoining garden.
Linda: So it isn’t just a weird quirk in Melissa. The Colonial legislature has banned recreational strolling by daylight.
Melissa told Alonzo that Mr. Simpson was a distant relative of her father; his family consisted of his wife, two amiable daughters, not far from Melissa’s age, and one son, named William, about seventeen years old. She had been—
Lucy: Wait! Stop the presses! Did everyone get that? We have a character with two names: William Simpson.
David: Could he be the third man? Seventeen seems a bit young; Melissa’s got to be seventeen or eighteen herself by now.
Linda: One thing’s for sure. With a full name, age and address, you know he’s going to play a vital role in the plot.
invited there to pass a week,
Lucy: In order to avoid meeting Alonzo, who might reasonably have been expected to show up at her father’s house during precisely this time period. No wonder she was embarrassed.
and expected to return within two days. And she added, smiling, “perhaps, Alonzo, we may have an opportunity once more to visit the bower on my prospect hill, before winter entirely destroys the remaining beauties of the summer.”
Hugh: Of Summer, capitalized.
Meredith: Having caught up on his mortgage payments, Mitchell is now free to omit words and to heck with the extra quarter-penny.
Alonzo felt all the force of the remark.
David: Oops, must have missed something [going over text again]. . . . before winter entirely destroys the remaining beauties of the summer. Sorry, Mitchell, I’m just not getting it. Maybe there’s a code word.
He recollected the conversation when they were last at the place she mentioned; and he well remembered his feelings on that occasion.
“Great changes, indeed,” he replied, “have taken place since we were last there: that they are productive of unexpected and unexampled happiness to me, is due, Melissa, to you alone.” Alonzo departed the—
Hugh: What the—? I swear I’m going to shoot that cat. There should have been another column and a half of moving dialogue.
next morning, appointing the next week to visit Melissa at her father’s house.
Thus were the obstacles removed which presented a barrier to the united wishes of Alonzo and Melissa.
Linda: So the book’s finished, then. No more plot complications; we can all go home.
They had not, it is true, been separated by wide seas, unfeeling parents,
David: I smell a rat.
David: The title of the book specifically says “an unfeeling father”, so you know one of their fathers has to have a change of heart.
or the rigorous laws of war;
Linda: What laws? Haven’t they ever heard of camp followers?
David: It’s foreshadowing, I tell you. After “unfeeling father” in the title, the very first sentence gives you “the late revolution”. I think the war will turn out to be something more than background color.
Meredith: If it’s supposed to be background color it must be transparent. I haven’t seen a trace of any war yet.
Linda: Unfeeling father: check. War: check. That leaves the wide seas.
David: Red herring.
Lucy: Not at these latitudes. Either Alonzo or Melissa, but not both, is destined to go on a long voyage.
but troubles, vexations, doubts and difficulties, had thus far attended them, which had now disappeared, and they calculated on no unpropitious event which might thwart their future union. All the time that Alonzo could spare from his studies was devoted to Melissa, and their parents began to calculate on joining their hands as soon as Alonzo’s professional term of study was completed.
Linda: Three years of law school, so we’re looking at the summer after next.
Meredith: He’s not in school, he’s just reading with some guy in the next town. His studies will be completed when it’s convenient for the author.
The troubles which gave rise to the disseveration of England from America had already commenced, which broke out the ensuing spring into actual hostilities, by the battle at Lexington,
Linda [1836 text]: Of Lexington.
followed soon after by the battle at Bunker Hill.
Linda: Of Bunker Hill.
Hugh: Bunker’s Hill. Everyone gets it wrong.
Meredith: Didn’t it really happen on Breed Hill? I’m sure I read that somewhere.
The panic and general bustle which took place in America on these events, is yet well remembered by many.
Lucy: More to the point, the exact dates of these events are not only well remembered but clearly documented, so we’ve got— [portentous pause] —a Datable External Event.
Others [cheering, ad lib]: Yee haw! Woo hoo! Hurrah!
Lucy [continuing]: The battles will take place in the first half of 1775. That means we’re currently in the fall of 1774, and with the passage of time that we’ve already worked out, the story began in 1773.
They were not calculated to impress the mind of Melissa with the most pleasing sensations.
Meredith: The warmongers are going to be sorry they left Melissa’s mind out of their calculations.
She foresaw that the burden of the war must rest on the American youth, and she trembled in anticipation for the fate of Alonzo.
Linda: The fate of Beauman, on the other hand, is assured. At the first rumor of war, he paid an impoverished immigrant to take his place in the draft.
Meredith: I think that was a different war.
He, with others, should the war continue, must take the field, in defence of his country. The effects of such a separation were dubious and gloomy. Alonzo and she frequently discoursed, and they—
Hugh: Discoursed upon the subject.
David: Bills starting to pile up again, I see.
agreed to form the mystic union previous to any wide separation.
Meredith: Is a mystic union the same thing as a hymeneal sacrifice?
Lucy: Someone told Mitchell the H-word is spelled with a W. He wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so he decided it would be safest not to use any word beginning in W.
Linda: Including “who”, “what”, “when” . . .
One event tended to hasten this resolution. The attorney in whose office Alonzo was clerk, received a commission in the new raised American army,
David: If he’d talked to Beauman first, he would have learned how to get out of it.
Linda: By making his clerk Alonzo serve in his place.
and marched to the lines near Boston. His business was therefore suspended,
Lucy: The local farmers thoughtfully agreed to stop suing each other for the duration.
and Alonzo returned to the house of his father. He considered that he could not long remain a mere spectator of the contest, and that it might soon be his duty to take the field; he therefore concluded it best to hasten his marriage with Melissa. She consented to the proposition, and their parents made the necessary arrangements for the event. They had even fixed upon the place which was to be the future residence of this happy couple.
Meredith: I can’t get “they” to mean anything other than the parents.
It was a pleasantly situated village, surrounded by rugged elevations, which gave an air of serenity and seclusion to the valley they encircled. On the south arose a spacious hill, which was ascended by a gradual acclivity; its sides and summit interspersed with orchards, arbours, and cultivated fields.
Hugh: Cultured fields.
Linda [TV commercial]: Connecticut doesn’t want fields with good taste: they want fields that taste good.
On the west, forests unevenly lifted their rude heads, with here and there a solitary field, newly cleared, and thinly scattered with cottages. To the east, the eye extended over a soil,
Lucy [emerging from dictionary]: Archaic term for a piece of land. He must have learned it from his parents; the citations are all from before 1800.
Linda: Another nail in the Jackson-as-author coffin.
at one time swelling into craggy elevations, and at another spreading itself into vales of the most enchanting verdure. To the north it extended over a vast succession of mountains, wooded to their summits, and throwing their shadows over intervales of equal wilderness, till at length it was arrested in its excursions
David: This is still the archaic soil we’re talking about? How do you arrest a piece of land?
Hugh [as Mitchell]: Don’t look at me. It was a long time ago; I can’t be expected to remember what I meant.
Meredith [after close study of last few lines]: I think he means the eye. It extends twice, in two consecutive sentences, and then it’s arrested.
Lucy: This kind of detail really makes you appreciate the Bill of Rights. Today, no eye could serve consecutive sentences before it has been formally arrested and charged.
by the blue mists which hovered over mountains more grand, majestic and lofty.*
* Some who read this description will readily recognize the village here described.
David: And some won’t— especially those who have never been outside of Plattsburgh, New York.
A rivulet which rushed from the hills, formed a little lake on the borders of the village, which beautifully reflected the cottages from its transparent bosom.
Meredith: Well, no wonder there are so many of them. Even the lakes have bosoms.
Lucy: Some grammarians would argue that it is the village, not the lake, that is transparently endowed.
Amidst a cluster of locusts and weeping willows, rose the spire of the church, in the ungarnished decency of Sunday neatness. Fields, gardens, meadows, and pastures were spread around the valley, and on the sides of the declivities, yielding in their season the rich flowers, fruits and foliage of spring, summer and autumn. The inhabitants of this modern Auvernum were—
Hugh and Meredith: Avernum, you illiterates.
David: I’m going to go way out on a limb here and guess that we’re not talking about the RPG.
Lucy: If someone figures out what he is talking about I’d like to know, because the closest thing I can find is Lake Avernus, the gateway to the underworld.
mostly farmers. They were mild, sociable, moral and diligent. The produce of their own flocks and fields gave them most of their food and clothing. To dissipation they were strangers, and the luxuries of their tables were few.
Linda: You can see why Alonzo would want to settle there. The inhabitants are obviously desperate for the services of a good lawyer, and he’ll be able to name his own price.
Such was the place for—
Hugh: The place chosen for.
Meredith: Chosen by Melissa’s father, who is counting the days until Alonzo goes belly-up and he can buy his soil at foreclosure prices.
the residence of Alonzo and Melissa.
Hugh: The future residence.
David: The bill collectors are getting closer, and he needs to crank up that word count.
Linda: The character of Melissa’s father was closely patterned after certain of Mitchell’s most persistent creditors.
They had visited the spot, and were enraptured with its pensive, romantic beauties. A site was marked out whereon to erect their family mansion.
Lucy: Cheapskate. Everyone else has a seat, and he expects Melissa to settle for a lousy mansion.
It was on a little eminence which sloped gradually to the lake, in the most pleasant part of the village. “Here,” said Alonzo one day to Melissa, “will we pass our days in all that felicity of mind which the chequered scenes of life admit. In the spring we will rove among the flowers. In summer, we will gather strawberries in yonder fields, or whortleberries from the adjacent shrubbery. The breezes of fragrant morning, and the sighs of the evening gale, will be mingled with the songs of the thousand various birds—
David: Nine hundred ninety-eight whippoorwills and a pair of chickadees that wandered in by mistake.
which frequent the surrounding groves. We will gather the bending fruits of autumn, and we will listen to the hoarse voice of winter, its whistling winds, its driving snow, and rattling hail, with delight.”
Linda: Alonzo has heard of winter, but has never actually seen one.
The bright gems of joy glistened in the eyes of Melissa. With Alonzo she anticipated approaching happiness, and her bosom beat in rapturous unison.
Meredith: Not her heart, just her bosom.
David: In unison with what? You can’t be in unison with yourself.
Winter came on; it rapidly passed away. Spring advanced, and the marriage day was appointed.
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.
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.
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: Since Melissa’s firmness and fortitude have no existence outside of Alonzo’s imagination, I don’t think it matters.
Lucy: That’s exactly why it does matter. I’m pretty sure zero takes the singular.
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.
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.
John came frequently to the house to receive the commands of Melissa’s aunt, and brought such things as they wanted. Her aunt also sometimes went home with him, leaving the keys of the house with Melissa, but locking the gate and taking the key of that with her. She generally returned before sunset.
Meredith: Mmm, first it’s “I want you, John”, and now this . . .
David: John’s wife isn’t very bright, is she?
Lucy: She’s from the non-bright social class. They say “La me!” instead of “Merciful heavens!”
Linda: Obviously not one of the Elect.
When Melissa was so far recovered as to walk out, she found that the house was situated on an eminence, about one hundred yards from the Sound. The yard was large and extensive. Within the enclosure was a spacious garden, now overrun with brambles and weeds. A few medinical and—
David: I didn’t just say that, did I.
Hugh and Meredith [1804 and 1811 texts]: Medical.
Linda [1836 text]: Medicinal.
odoriferous herbs were scattered here and there, and a few solitary flowers overtopped the tangling briars below; but there was plenty of fruit on the shrubbery and trees. The outbuildings were generally in a ruinous situation.
Linda: A ruinous condition.
The cemetery was the most perfect, as it was built of hewn stone and marble, and had best withstood the ravages of time. The rooms in the house were mostly empty and decaying: the main building was firm and strong, as was also the extended wall which enclosed the whole. She found that although her aunt, when they first arrived, had led her through several upper rooms to the chamber they inhabited,
Hugh: The chamber she inhabited.
yet there was from thence a direct passage to the hall.
Linda: This architectural detail will be of crucial significance to later plot developments.
Lucy: Or at least it would be, if Mitchell didn’t promptly forget all about it.
The prospect was not disagreeable.
Meredith: Well, thank God for that; heaven forbid she be held captive in a barren desert somewhere.
West, all was wilderness, from which a brook wound along—
Hugh: From a brook which wound along.
David: Does the wilderness emerge from the brook, or the brook from the wilderness?
a little distance from the garden wall. North, were the uneven grounds she had crossed when she came there, bounded by distant groves and hills. East, beautiful meadows and fields,
Lucy: Honestly, Mitchell, you’re not writing a text-adventure game.
To the WEST you see a brook.
You can’t do that here.
Linda: The old maid didn’t pack Melissa’s swimsuit, so escaping by water is obviously out of the question.
arrayed in flowery green, sloped to the salt marshes or sandy banks of the Sound, or ended in the long white beaches which extended far into the sea. South, was the Sound of Long Island.
Hugh: The Sound and Long Island.
David: I guess it depends on visibility.
Melissa passed much of her time in tracing the ruins of this antiquated place, in viewing the white sails as they passed up and down the Sound, and in listening to the songs of the thousand various birds which frequented the garden and the forest. She could have been contented here to have buried her afflictions,
Hugh: Buried all her afflictions.
and for ever to retire from the world, could Alonzo but have resided within those walls. “What will he think has become of me,” she would say, while the disconsolate tear glittered in her eye.
Hugh: The disconsolate tear of reflection.
Her aunt had frequently urged her to yield to her father’s injunctions, regain her liberty, and marry Beauman; and she every day became more solicitous and impertinent.
Hugh: Importunate, you illiterates.
A subject so hateful to Melissa sometimes provoked her to tears; at others her keen resentment.
Meredith [reaching for magnifying glass]: Our soulmate from the past has an editorial comment.
Her keen and just resentment . . . Yeah, that about covers it.
She therefore, when the weather was fair, passed much of her time in the garden and adjoining walks, wishing to be as much out of her aunt’s company as possible.
One day John came there early in the morning, and Melissa’s aunt went home with him. The day passed away, but she did not return. Melissa sat up until a late hour, expecting her;
Meredith: A late hour in the night.
David and Linda [in unison]: Of the night.
Hugh: For heaven’s sake, don’t quibble so. The important thing is that Melissa is alone.
Meredith: So’s John. He sent his wife and kids to spend the night with her mother so he could enjoy a nice long visit with the old maid.
she then went to the gate, and found it was fast locked, returned, locked and bolted the doors of the house, went to bed and slept as soundly as she had done since her residence in the old mansion.
Linda: Later in the night, when her aunt returned, Melissa put the blanket over her head and pretended not to hear her pounding at the house door.
“I have at least,” she said, “escaped the disgusting curtain-lecture about marrying Beauman.”
The next day her aunt returned. “I was quite concerned about you, child,” said she; “how did you sleep?” “Never better,” she answered, “since I have been here.” “I had forgotten,” said her aunt, “that my rents become due this week.
Lucy: We know the season is autumn, so if we’re still on the English fiscal calendar, we’re talking Michaelmas quarter-day, or September 29.
I was detained until late by some of my tenants; John was out, and I dare not return in the night alone. I must go back to-day. It will take me a week to settle my business. If I am obliged to stay out again I will send one of John’s daughters to sleep with you.”
Meredith: Oh, yuk. They’ve probably got lice.
“You need not give yourself that trouble,” replied Melissa; “I am under no apprehension of staying here alone; nothing can get into or out of these premises.”
Linda [as aunt]: Nice try, kid, but it’s not your safety I’m thinking of.
“Well, thou hast wonderful courage, child,” said her aunt; “but I shall be as frequently here as possible, and as soon as my business is settled, I shall be absent no more.” So saying, she bade Melissa good morning, and set off for her residence at the dwelling of John.
She did not return in two days. The second night of her absence, Melissa was sitting in her chamber reading, when she heard a noise as of several people trampling in the yard below. She arose, cautiously raised the window, and looked out. It was extremely dark; she thought she might have been discovered.
Hugh: Hey! Wake up! It was extremely dark; she could discern nothing. All was still and she thought she might have been deceived.
Her aunt came the next day, and told her she was obliged to go into the country to collect some debts of those to whom she had rented lands: she should be gone a few days, and as soon as she returned should come there. “The keys of the house,” said she, “I shall leave with you. The gate I shall lock, and leave that key with John, who will come here as often as necessary, to assist you, and see if you want any thing.” She then went off, leaving Melissa not dissatisfied with the prospect of her absence.
Melissa amused herself in evenings by reading in the few books her aunt had brought there,
Lucy: Sermons preaching filial obedience, novels depicting the dreadful fates of girls who opposed their parents’ wishes, and etiquette manuals for rich men’s wives.
and in the day time, in walking around the yard and garden, or in traversing the rooms of the antique building. In some, were the remains of ancient furniture, others were entirely empty. Cobwebs and mouldering walls were the principal ornaments left.
One evening as she was about retiring to rest, she thought she heard the same trampling noise in the yard, as on a former occasion. She stepped softly to the window, suddenly raised it, and held out the candle.
Meredith [as Melissa]: Hello! Burglars and housebreakers! I’m up here!
She listened and—
Hugh [exasperated]: The more thrilling it gets, the more you start cutting lines. Pay attention now:
—held out the candle. She fancied she saw the glimpse of two or three dark forms pass swiftly along, but so indistinctly that it was impossible to determine whether they were real, or only shadows produced by objects intervening the light of the candle. She listened and gazed with anxious solicitude, but discovered nothing more. All was still;
Meredith, Linda, David [defiantly]: All was silent.
she shut the window, and in a short time went to bed.
Meredith: Being blessed with the nerves of your average turnip, Melissa instantly put the whole thing out of her mind and calmly went to sleep.
Some time in the night she was suddenly awakened by a sharp sound, apparently near her. She started in a trembling panic, but endeavoured to compose herself with the idea, that something had fallen from the shelves. As she lay musing upon the incident, she heard loud noises in the rooms below, succeeded by an irregular and confused number of voices, and presently after, footsteps ascending the stairs which led to her chamber. She trembled; a cold chilly sweat ran down her face. Directly the doors below opened and shut with a quick and violent motion. And soon after she was convinced that she distinctly heard a whispering in her room. She raised herself up in the bed and cast inquisitive eyes towards her chamber door.
David: Which one? It’s only a couple of pages since they made such a point of there being two ways into the room.
All was darkness—no new object was visible—no sound was heard, and she again lay down.
Linda: Light a candle, Melissa. You’ll see the intruders better.
Her mind was too much agitated and alarmed to sleep. She had evidently heard sounds, footsteps and voices in the house, and whisperings which appeared to be in her room. The yard gate was locked, of which John had the key. She was confident that no person could ascend or get over the wall of the enclosure. But if that were practicable, how was it possible that any human being could enter the house? She had the key of every door, and they were all fast locked, and yet she had heard them furiously open and shut. A thought darted into her mind,—was it not a plan which her aunt had contrived in order to frighten her into a compliance with her wishes? But then how could she enter the house without keys? This might be done with the use of a false key.
David: In 1804, the idea of a duplicate set of keys was alien to the American character.
But from whence did the whisperings proceed, which appeared close to her bedside? Possibly it might be conveyed through the key-hole of her chamber door.
Lucy: Singular. Second time this chapter.
These thoughts tended in some degree, to allay her fears;—they were possibilities, at least, however improbable.
As she lay thus musing, a hand, cold as the icy fingers of death, grasped her arm, which lay on the outside of the bed clothes. She screamed convulsively, and sprang up in the bed. Nothing was to be seen—no noise was heard. She had not time to reflect. She flew out of bed, ran to the fire, and lighted a candle.
Linda: Conveniently for the burglars, the fire itself shed no light.
Meredith: It’s one of those new Dark Fires™. The aunt had it installed just last month.
Her heart beat rapidly. She cast timid glances around the room, cautiously searching every corner, and examining the door.
All things were in the same state she had left them when she went to bed. Her door was locked in the same manner;
David: I think we’ll have to face up to it. Mitchell has forgotten that there are two doors.
Meredith: So much for Chekhov’s Door.
no visible being was in the room except herself. She sat down, pondering on these strange events.
Linda: She what? [Reads 1836 text:]
. . . except herself; how then could she account for these events?
Lucy: In 1836, young ladies knew better than to sit down and ponder when there were burglars in the house.
Was it not probable that—
Hugh: Was it not possible.
David: Does the reader really care if the odds are more or less than 50 percent?
she was right in her first conjectures respecting their being the works of her aunt, and effected by her agents and instrumentality? All were possible, except the cold hand which had grasped her arm. Might not this be the effect of a terrified and heated imagination? Or if false keys had been made use of to enter the rooms below, might they not also be used to enter her chamber?
Linda: In case anyone cares, I cut that whole sentence on the grounds of pointlessness and redundancy.
Lucy: There’s a logical flaw in that argument, but I can’t put my finger on it.
But could her room be unlocked, persons enter,
Hugh: A person enter.
Meredith: By 1811, readers were willing to accept the idea of one person sneaking in. It was only if a whole crowd of housebreakers showed up that they’d start getting suspicious.
approach her bed, depart and re-lock the door, while she was awake, without her hearing them?
She knew she could not go to sleep, and she determined not to go to bed again that night. She took up a book, but her spirits had been too much disordered by the past scenes to permit her to read. She looked out of the window. The moon had arisen and cast a pale, imperfect lustre over the landscape. She recollected the opening and shutting of the doors—perhaps they were still open. The thought was alarming.
David: If a perfect stranger could get in, then she might be able to . . . uhm . . . Oh, hurry, Melissa! Lock the doors!
She opened her chamber door,
and with the candle in her hand, cautiously descended the stairs, casting an inquisitive eye in every direction, and stopping frequently to listen.—She advanced to the door; it was locked. She examined the others; they were in the same situation. She turned to go up stairs, when a loud whisper echoed through the hall expressing “Away! Away!”
Lucy: Where’s our OED list? That’s another example of copspeak: “express” introducing direct discourse.
She flew like lightning to her chamber, relocked the door—
David: I take it back. Mitchell didn’t forget about the second entrance; he changed his mind. And now he’s trying to pound his retconned reality into everyone’s head.
and flung herself, almost breathless, into a chair.
Meredith: This is a new interpretation of the word “away” that I have never seen before.
As soon as her scattered senses collected, she concluded that whatever had been in the house—
Hugh: That whoever had been in the house.
Linda: Naah. “Whatever” is scarier.
was there still. She resolved to go out no more until day, which soon began to discolour the east with a fainter blue, then purple streaks, intermingled with a dusky whiteness, ascended in pyramidical columns—
Hugh: In pyramidal columns.
Meredith: In pyramidial columns.
Linda: What’s he describing anyway—some kind of obelisk?
David: I think it’s a headless mushroom cloud. At daybreak, photons move vertically.
to the zenith; these fading slowly away, the eastern horizon became fringed with the golden spangles of early morn. A small spot of ineffable brightness succeeded, and immediately the sun burst over the verge of creation, deluging the world in a flood of unbounded light and glory.
As soon as the morning had a little advanced, Melissa ventured out. She proceeded with hesitating steps, carefully scrutinizing every object which met her sight. She examined every door; they were all fast. She critically searched every room, closet, &c. above and below. She then took a light and descended into the cellar—here her inquisition was the same.
Lucy: Oh, no fair. The author didn’t tell us there were chained prisoners and implements of torture to go with the Gothic motif.
Thus did she thoroughly and strictly examine and search every part of the house from the garret to the cellar, but could find nothing altered, changed, or removed; no outlet, no signs of there having been any being in the house the evening before, except herself.
She then unlocked the outer door and proceeded to the gate, which she found locked as usual. She next examined the yard, the garden, and all the out houses.
David: A normal person at this juncture would be searching for a ladder.
Nothing could be discovered of any person having been recently there. She next walked around by the wall, the whole circle of the enclosure. She was convinced that the unusual height of the wall rendered it impossible for any one to get over it. It was constructed of several tier of hewed timbers, and both sides of it were as smooth as glass. On the top, long spikes were thickly driven in, sharpened at both ends.
Linda: Pointy sticks! Hurrah!
It was surrounded on the outside by a deep wide moat, which was nearly filled with water. Over this moat was a draw-bridge, on the road leading to the gate, which was drawn up, and John had the key.
The events of the past night, therefore, remained inscrutable. It must be that her aunt was the agent who had managed this extraordinary machinery.
She found John at the house when she returned. “Does madam want any thing to-day?” asked he. “Has my aunt returned?” enquired Melissa. “Not yet,” he replied. “How long has she been gone?” she asked. “Four days,” replied John, after counting his fingers,
Hugh: “One . . . two . . . three . . . Yup. Still got all eleven.”
“and she will not be back under four or five more.” “Has the key of the gate been constantly in your possession?” asked she. “The keys of the gate and draw-bridge,” he replied, “have not been out of my possession for a moment since your aunt has been gone.” “Has any person been to enquire for me or my aunt,” she enquired, “since I have been here?”
David [as John]: There was some guy named Alonzo snooping around, but we buried him under the summer squash.
“No, madam,” said he, “not a single person.”
Melissa knew not what to think; she could not give up the idea of false keys—perhaps her aunt had returned to her father’s.—Perhaps the draw-bridge had been let down, the gate opened, and the house entered by means of false keys. Her father would as soon do this as confine her in this solitary place;
Meredith: It’s a good thing the author started out by saying Melissa didn’t know what to think. I count four ideas there, and not one of them has anything to do with any of the others.
and he would go all lengths to induce her, either by terror, persuasion or threats, to relinquish Alonzo and marry Beauman.
A thought impressed her mind which gave her some consolation. It was possible to secure the premises so that no one could enter even by the aid of false keys. She asked John if he would assist her that day. “In anything you wish, madam,” he replied. She then directed him to go to work. Staples and iron bars were found in different parts of the building, with which he secured the doors and windows, so that they could be opened only on the inside. The gate, which swung in, was secured in the same manner. She then asked John if he was willing to leave the keys of the gate and the draw-bridge with her. “Perhaps I may as well,” said he;
Linda: I mean, it’s not like she’s a prisoner or anything, so there’s no reason not to give her the keys.
“for if you bar the gate and let down the bridge,
David: Doesn’t he mean raise the bridge?
I cannot get in myself until you let me in.” John handed her the keys. “When I come,” said he, “I will halloo, and you must let me in.” This she promised to do, and John departed.*
* Of the place where Melissa was confined, as described in the foregoing pages, scarce a trace now remains. By the events of the revolution, the premises fell into other hands. The mansion, out houses and walls were torn down, the cemetery levelled, the moat filled up; the locusts and elm trees were cut down; all obstructions were removed, and the yard and garden converted into a beautiful meadow. An elegant farm-house is now erected on the place where John’s hut then stood and the neighbourhood is thinly settled.
Meredith: How thoughtful of the author to provide these details. Now every time anyone in coastal Connecticut sets foot on a beautiful meadow, they’ll stop and wonder whether they’re walking across a grave.
That night Melissa let down the bridge,
David: Following John’s advice.
locked and barred the gate, and the doors and windows of the house: she also went again over all parts of the building, strictly searching every place, though she was well convinced she should find nothing extraordinary. She then retired to her chamber, seated herself at a western window,
Linda [1836 text]: At the western window.
Lucy: Another iniquitous effect of the window tax.
and watched the slow declining sun, as it leisurely sunk behind the lofty groves. Pensive twilight spread her misty mantle over the landscape; the western horizon glowed with the spangles of evening. Deepening glooms advanced. The last beam of day faded from the view, and the world was enveloped in night. The owl hooted solemnly in the forest, and the whippoorwill sung cheerfully in the garden.
Edmund [reading from typescript half concealed under the table]: If it were possible to interview the rival claimants to Alonzo and Melissa, Daniel Jackson and Isaac Mitchell, it would be easy to find out which was the author. Simply introduce the subject of whippoorwills and observe the result. The author of the work was hipped about them.
Innumerous stars glittered in the firmament, intermingling their quivering lustre with the pale splendours of the milky way.
Melissa did not retire from the window until late; she then shut it and withdrew within the room. She determined not to go to bed that night. If she was to be visited by beings, material or immaterial, she chose not again to encounter them in darkness, or to be surprised when she was asleep. But why should she fear? She knew of none she had dis—
Hugh [1804 text]: She knew of no one she had injured. She knew of none she had displeased—
Meredith: You did it again. Two consecutive sentences starting “She knew”, and then you complain when one gets misplaced.
except her father, her aunt and Beauman.
Linda: And half a dozen others whose names she can’t remember at the moment.
If by any of those the late terrifying scenes had been wrought, she had now effectually precluded a recurrence thereof, for she was well convinced that no human being could now enter the enclosure without her permission.
Lucy: Since the compound was now in exactly the same condition it had been in last night.
But if supernatural agents had been the actors, what had she to fear from them? The night passed away without any alarming circumstances, and when daylight appeared she flung herself upon the bed, and slept until the morning was considerably advanced. She now felt convinced that her former conjectures were right; that it was her aunt, her father, or both, who had caused the alarming sounds she had heard, a repetition of which had only been prevented by the precautions she had taken.
When she awoke, the horizon was overclouded, and it had begun to rain. It continued to rain until towards evening, when it cleared away.
Linda: On the off chance that someone might stop by and feel like taking a walk.
She went to the gate, and found all things as she had left them: She returned, fastened the doors as usual, examined all parts of the house, and again went ing very drowsy,
Meredith: Wake up! You missed something.
David: She . . . examined all parts of the house, and again went
ing very drowsy That’s what it says.
Lucy: Don’t look at me. I’m only a reprint.
[Hugh, Meredith and Linda share notes. Linda, who has the clearest print, reads.]
—examined all parts of the house, and again went to her chamber.
She sat up until a late hour, when growing very drowsy, and convinced that she was safe and secure, she went to bed;
Hugh [1804 text]: She concluded to go to bed.
Meredith: So did she go or just decide to go?
leaving, however, two candles burning in the room. As she, for two nights, had been deprived of her usual rest, she soon fell into a slumber.
She had not long been asleep before she was suddenly aroused by the apparent report of a pistol, seemingly discharged close to her head.
David: Give me that gun, you incompetent. I swear you couldn’t hit the side of a barn if you were inside it.
Awakened so instantaneously, her recollection, for a time, was confused and imperfect. She was only sensible of a strong, sulphureous scent: but she soon remembered that she had left two candles burning, and every object was now shrouded in darkness. This alarmed her exceedingly. What could have become of the candles? They must have been blown out or taken away. What was the sound she had just heard?—What the sulphureous stench which had pervaded the room?—While she was thus musing in perplexity, a broad flash like that of lightning, transiently illuminated her chamber, followed by a long, loud, and deep roar, which seemed to shake the building to its centre. It did not appear like thunder; the sounds seemed to be in the rooms directly over her head.
Linda [1836 text]: The sound seemed to be in the room directly over . . .
Meredith: The stage manager complained bitterly about how they expected him to perform miracles after cutting his budget in half.
Perhaps, however, it was thunder.
Perhaps a preceding clap had struck near the building, broken the windows, put out the lights, and filled the house with electric effluvium.
David: But only after rendering her temporarily deaf, so she would sleep right through it.
She listened for a repetition of the thunder—but a very different sound soon grated on her ear. A hollow, horrible groan echoed through her apartment, passing off in a faint dying murmur. It was evident that the groan proceeded from some person in the chamber. Melissa raised herself up in bed; a tall white form moved from the upper end of the room, glided slowly by her bed, and seemed to pass off near the foot. She then heard the doors below alternately open and shut, slapping furiously,
Hugh: Flapping furiously.
Lucy: Oh, come on. You’ve got long s’s.
and in quick succession, followed by violent noises in the rooms below, like the falling of heavy bodies and the crash of furniture. Clamorous voices succeeded, among which she could distinguish boisterous menaces and threatenings, and the plaintive tone of expostulation.—A momentary silence ensued,
Meredith: Followed by a burst of spontaneous applause from the New Haven Players, gathered in this isolated spot to rehearse their next production.
when the cry of “Murder! murder! murder!!” echoed through the building, followed by the report of a pistol, and shortly after, the groans of a person apparently in the agonies of death, which grew fainter and fainter until it died away in a seemingly expiring gasp. A dead silence prevailed for a few minutes, to which a loud hoarse peal of ghastly laughter succeeded—then again all was still. But she soon heard heavy footsteps ascending the stairs to her chamber door.
It was now she became terrified and alarmed beyond any former example.—“Gracious heaven, defend me!” she exclaimed; “what am I coming to!” Knowing that every avenue to the enclosure was effectually secured; knowing that all the doors and windows of the house, as also that which opened into her chamber,
Linda: Has anyone got a “those which”, plural? [Shaking of heads all around.]
Lucy: I’ll count that as nine. Methinks the author doth protest too much.
were fast locked, strictly bolted and barred; and knowing that all the keys were in her possession, she could not entertain the least doubt but the noises she had heard were produced by supernatural beings, and, she had reason to believe, of the most mischievous nature. She was now convinced that her father or her aunt could have no agency in the business. She even wished her aunt had returned. It must be exceedingly difficult to cross the moat, as the draw bridge was up;
David [rapidly leafing back]: This is probably not the time to remind Melissa that she deliberately let down the bridge before locking up the night before last.
it must be still more difficult to surpass the wall of the enclosure; it was impossible for any human being to enter the house, and still more impossible to enter her chamber.
Meredith: Um, I don’t think you can have degrees of impossibility.
While she lay thus ruminating in extreme agitation,
Linda: I can’t get the words “ruminate” and “agitation” to fit into my brain at the same time.
Lucy: Neither could Melissa. She was so busy ruminating, it never occurred to her to get out of bed and arm herself with the poker.
momentarily expecting to have her ears assailed with some terrific sound, a pale light dimly illuminated her chamber. It grew brighter. She raised herself up to look towards the door;—
the first object which met her eye, was a most horrible form, standing at a little distance from her bedside. Its appearance was tall and robust, wrapped in a tattered white robe, spotted with blood. The hair of its head was matted with clotted gore. A deep wound appeared to have pierced its breast, from which fresh blood flowed down its garment. Its pale face was gashed and gory! its eyes fixed, glazed, and glaring;—its lips open, its teeth set, and in its hand was a bloody dagger.
Melissa, uttering a shriek of terror, shrunk into the bed, and in an instant the room was involved in pitchy darkness. A freezing ague seized her limbs, and drops of chilling sweat stood upon her face. Immediately a horrid hoarse voice burst from amidst the gloom of her apartment, “Begone! begone from this house!” The bed on which she lay then seemed to be agitated,
David: Melissa has communicated her state of mind to the furniture.
and directly she perceived some person crawling on its foot.
Hugh: Crawling on to its foot.
Linda: I can’t decide which version is creepier.
Every consideration, except present safety, was relinquished; instantaneously she sprang from the bed to the floor—with convulsive grasp, seized the candle, flew to the fire and lighted it. She gazed wildly around the room—no new object was visible. With timid step she approached the bed; she strictly searched all around and under it, but nothing strange could be found. A thought darted into her mind to leave the house immediately and fly to John’s: this was easy, as the keys of the gate and draw-bridge were in her possession.
David: In surveys of prison escapees, the home of the warden consistently ranks among the most popular destinations.
She stopped not to reconsider her determination, but seizing the keys, with the candle in her hand, she unlocked her chamber door,
and proceeded cautiously down stairs, fearfully casting her eyes on each side, as she tremblingly advanced to the outer door. She hesitated a moment. To what perils was she about to expose herself, by thus venturing out at the dead of night, and proceeding such a distance alone? Her situation she thought could become no more hazardous, and she was about to unbar the door, when she was alarmed by—
Linda [1836 text]: She heard.
Lucy: Nerves of a turnip.
a deep, hollow sigh. She looked around and saw, stretched on one side of the hall, the same ghastly form which had so recently appeared standing by her bedside. The same haggard countenance, the same awful appearance of murderous death. A faintness came upon her; she turned to flee to her chamber—
Meredith: When you see something scary in a house, your natural impulse is to run upstairs, as far from the exit as possible.
the candle dropped from her trembling hand, and she was shrouded in impenetrable darkness. She groped to find the stairs: as she came near their foot, a black object, apparently in human shape, stood before her, with eyes which seemed to burn like coals of fire, and red flames issuing from its mouth. As she stood fixed a moment in inexpressible trepidation, a large ball of fire rolled along the hall, towards the door, and burst with an explosion which seemed to rock the building to its deepest foundation. Melissa closed her eyes and sunk senseless to the floor. She revived and got to her chamber, she hardly knew how; locked her door,
Lucy: Twelve. You have to give Mitchell credit for perseverance.
lighted another candle, and after again searching the room,
David: —and again failing to find the other door that the author has retconned out of existence—
Hugh: You’ve got it backward. He didn’t change his mind about the second door—the one opening directly from the upstairs hall. He got rid of the first door—the one that involves passing through a series of upstairs rooms.
flung herself into a chair, in a state of mind which almost deprived her of reason.
Daylight soon appeared, and the cheerful sun darting its enlivening rays through the crevices and windows of the antique mansion,
Linda: So that’s how the burglars got in. They held their breath and squeezed through the gaping cracks in the walls.
recovered her exhausted spirits, and dissipated, in some degree, the terrors which hovered about her mind. She endeavoured to reason coolly on the events of the past night, but reason could not elucidate them. Not the least noise had been heard since she last returned to her chamber: she therefore expected to discover no traits which might tend to a disclosure of those mysteries. She consoled herself only with a fixed determination to leave the desolate mansion. Should John come there that day, he might be prevailed on to permit her to remain at her aunt’s apartment in his house until her aunt should return. If he should not come before sunset, she resolved to leave the mansion and proceed there.
She took some refreshment and—
Linda: Some refreshments.
David: I’ll have a large popcorn, easy on the butter, and a box of Junior Mints.
went down stairs: she found the doors and windows all fast as she had left them. She then again searched every room in the house, both above and below, and the cellar; but she discovered no appearance of there having been any person there. Not the smallest article was displaced; every thing appeared as it had formerly been.—She then went to the gate; it was locked as usual, and the draw-bridge was up.
Lucy: This ought to have aroused her suspicion, but with all the excitement she has completely forgotten that she ever lowered it.
She again traversed the circuit of the wall, but found no alteration, or any place where it was possible the enclosure might be entered. Again she visited the out-buildings, and even entered the cemetery, but discovered not the least circumstance which could conduce to explain the surprising transactions of the preceding night. She however returned to her room in a more composed frame of spirit, confident that she should not remain alone another night in that gloomy, desolate, and dangerous solitude.
Towards evening Melissa took her usual walk around the enclosure. It was that season of the year when weary summer is lapsing into the arms of fallow autumn.—The day had been warm, and the light gales bore revigorating coolness—
Linda: Bore invigorating coolness.
Meredith: You’re just saying that because you don’t know what “revigorating” means.
Hugh: Neither did Jackson, but he never let that stop him.
on their wings as they tremulously agitated the foliage of the western forest, or fluttered among the branches of the trees surrounding the mansion.
David: This is some kind of bird we’re talking about?
The green splendours of spring had begun to fade into a yellow lustre, the flowery verdure of the fields were changing to a russet hue. A robin chirped on a neighbouring oak, a wren chattered beneath, swallows twittered around the decayed buildings, the ludicrous mocking bird sung sportively from the top of the highest elm and the surrounding groves rung with varying, artless melody;
Meredith: He would know from artless.
while deep in the adjacent wilderness the woodcock, hammering on some dry and blasted trees,
Hugh: Hammering on the hollow trunk of some dry and blasted tree.
filled the woods with reverberant echoes.
David: The readers were getting on his case about whippoorwills, so he put [counting on fingers] five different birds into one paragraph just to show he could do it.
Lucy: Six, if you count the rare North American gale-bird.
The Sound was only ruffled by the lingering breezes, as they idly wandered over its surface. Long Island, now in possession of the British troops,
Linda: Does he mean Long Island Sound? The British troops fell in and the water clasped them to its briny bosom.
Hugh [grudgingly]: You’re really getting the hang of this.
was thinly enveloped in smoky vapor; scattered along its shores lay the numerous small craft and larger ships of the hostile fleet. A few skiffs were passing and repassing the Sound, and several American gun-boats lay off a point which jutted out from the main land, far to the eastward. Numberless summer insects mingled their discordant strains amidst the weedy herbage. A heavy black cloud was rising in the northwest,
Meredith: If the castle gets the Weather Channel she can watch the clouds approaching and will know exactly when it’s time to close the windows.
which seemed to portend a shower, as the sonorous, distant thunder was at long intervals distinctly heard.
Melissa walked around the yard, contemplating the varying beauties of the scene: the images of departed joys—the days when Alonzo had participated with her in admiring the splendours of rural prospects,
Linda: Melissa, you’re delirious. Alonzo has never been near this place.
raised in her bosom the sigh of deep regret. She entered the garden and traversed the alleys, now overgrown with weeds and tufted knot-grass. The flower beds were choaked with low running bramble and tangling five-finger; tall, rank rushes, mullens and daisies, had usurped the empire of the kitchen garden. The viny arbour was broken, and principally gone to decay; yet the “lonely wild rose” blushed mournfully amidst the ruins. As she passed from the garden she involuntarily stopped at the cemetery:
Hugh: A bony arm reached up from a grave to hold her fast.
Lucy: But that’s normal cemetery behavior, so she thought nothing of it.
she paused in serious reflection:—“Here,” said she, “in this house of gloom rest, in undisturbed silence, my honourable ancestors,
David: That phrase just cries out for a phony Japanese accent.
once the active tenants of yonder mansion. Then, throughout these solitary demesnes,
Hugh: These now solitary demesnes.
Linda: If a plain Connecticut farmer can have a “seat”, then nothing less than a demesne will do for his ancestors.
Hugh: His honorable ancestors.
the busy occurrences of life glided in cheerful circles. Then, these now moss-clad alleys, and this wild weedy garden, were the resort of the fashionable and the gay.
Meredith: Beauman would have fit right in.
Then, evening music floated over the fields, while yonder halls and apartments shone with brilliant illumination. Now all is sad, solitary and dreary, the haunt of spirits and spectres—of nameless terror. All that now remains of the head that formed, the hand that executed,
Linda: Anyone who doesn’t get a mental picture of a guillotine is just not paying attention.
and the bosom that relished this once happy scenery, is now, alas, only a heap of dust.”
She seated herself on a little hillock, under a weeping willow, which stood near the cemetery, and watched the rising shower, which ascended—
Hugh: Which slowly ascended.
Lucy: I just remembered. Personal income taxes didn’t exist in 1804, so he really is better off paying himself by the word.
in gloomy pomp, half hidden behind the western groves, shrouding the low sun in black vapor, while coming thunders more nearly and more awfully rolled. The shrieking night hawk* soared high into the air, mingling with the lurid van of the approaching storm,
* Supposed to be the male whippoorwill; well known in the New England states, and answering to the above peculiarity.
Meredith: After that orgy of miscellaneous birds, I knew it couldn’t be long before he dragged in a whippoorwill.
David: What peculiarity is he talking about? Shrieking, or driving a garish van?
Linda: Soaring in the air. Normal birds sit politely in the trees and contribute sound effects.
which widening, more rapidly advanced, until “the heavens were arrayed in blackness.”
Lucy: He wouldn’t want anyone to think he was plagiarizing the Bible, so he made sure to put the phrase in quotation marks. Isaiah 50:3, “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.”
Linda: Isaiah again? Sooner or later, someone will notice that he’s only read the one book.
The lightning broader and brighter flashed,
Hugh: More broader and brighter flashed.
Meredith: If you’re thinking of some kind of comparison between this and “The most unkindest cut of all”, you’re kidding yourself.
hurling down its forky streaming bolts—
Linda: Forky streaming bolts? Excellent!
far in the wilderness, its flaming path followed by the vollying artillery of the skies. Now bending its long, crinkling spires over the vallies, now glimmering along the summit of the hills. Convolving clouds poured smoky volumes through the expansion; a deep, hollow, distant roar, announced the approach of “summoned winds.”
David: Yo! Winds! C’mere a minute.
The whole forest bowed in awful grandeur, as from its dark bosom rushed the impetuous hurricane, twisting off, or tearing up by the roots, the stoutest trees, whirling the heaviest branches through the air with irresistible fury. It dashed upon the sea, tossed it into irregular mountains, or mingled its white foamy spray with the gloom of the turbid skies. Slantways, the large heavy drops of rain began to descend.
Meredith: It’s easy to see whose side God is on. On the very night Melissa first dares think of leaving the compound, you get the Storm of the Century.
Melissa hastened to the mansion; as she reached the door a very brilliant flash of lightning, accompanied by a tremendous explosion, alarmed her. A thunder bolt had entered a large elm tree within the enclosure, and with a horrible crash, had shivered it from top to bottom. She unlocked the door—
David: Another rural myth laid to rest. I’d always heard that in the good old days, country people never bothered to lock their doors.
Linda: Most farmers didn’t have to worry about locking out ghosts. That would make a difference.
and hurried to her chamber. Deep night now filled the atmosphere;
Meredith: There’s your anti-photons again.
the rain poured in torrents, the wind rocked the building, and bellowed in the adjacent groves: the sea raged and roared, fierce lightnings rent the heavens, alternately involving the world in the sheeted flame of its many coloured fires; thunders rolled awfully around the firmament, or burst with horrid din, bounding and reverberating among the surrounding woods, hills and valleys. It seemed nothing less than the crash of worlds—
Hugh and Meredith: The crush of worlds.
David: Hey, I’ve seen that movie. When Worlds Crash.
sounding through the universe.
Melissa walked her room, listening to the wild commotion of the elements. She feared that if the storm continued, she should be compelled to pass another night in the lonely mansion: if so, she resolved not to go to bed.
Meredith [as Melissa]: As long as I’m stuck here for another night, I may as well . . . uh . . . not go to bed.
She now suddenly recollected that in her haste to regain her chamber, she had forgotten to lock the outer door.
Hugh: You never know who might be strolling around on a night like this, rattling doorknobs and testing drawbridges.
The shock she had received when the lightning demolished the elm tree, was the cause of this neglect. She took the candle, ran hastily down, and fastened the door. As she was returning, she heard footsteps, and imperfectly saw the glance of something coming out of an adjoining room into the hall. Supposing some ghastly object was approaching, she averted her eyes and flew to the stairs.
Linda: Next best thing to putting your head under the covers. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
As she was ascending them, a voice behind her exclaimed, “Gracious heaven! Melissa!” The voice agitated her frame with a confused, sympathetic sensation. She turned, fixed her eyes upon the person who had spoken; unconnected ideas floated a moment in her imagination:
Lucy: I wish the author could have worked a masked ball into his plot. Melissa’s a natural for those scenes where a teeny little eye mask becomes an impenetrable disguise.
“Eternal powers!” she cried, “it is Alonzo.”
Hugh [1804 newspaper]:
TO BE CONTINUED
Meredith: Way to go, Mitchell! Only halfway through the serial, you’ve finally grasped the concept of a cliffhanger.
Alonzo and Melissa were equally surprised at so unexpected a meeting. They could scarcely credit their own senses.—How he had discovered her solitude—what led him to that lonely place—how he had got over the wall—were queries which first arose in her mind. He likewise could not conceive by what miracle he should find her in a remote, desolate building, which he had supposed to be uninhabited. With rapture he took her trembling hand; tears of joy choaked their utterance. “You are—
David [overlapping, in Riff Raff voice]: “You’re wet.”
said Melissa at length;
Meredith [as Melissa]: Oh! Now I remember where I know you from! You’re that man who took shelter from a storm at the Simpsons’ house.
“we will go up to my chamber;
Linda: Melissa’s got this thing for dripping wet men.
Lucy: Insert wisecrack about “drips” ad lib.
I have a fire there, where you can dry your clothes.”
David: Since you won’t be needing them for a while, nudge nudge.
—“Your chamber;” replied Alonzo; “who then inhabits this house?” “No one except myself, Alonzo,” she answered; “I am here alone, Alonzo.” “Alone!” he exclaimed—“here alone, Melissa! Good God! tell me how—why—by what means are you here alone?” “Let us go up to my chamber,” she replied, “and I will tell you all.”
He followed her to her apartment and seated himself by the fire. “You want refreshment,” said Melissa—which was indeed the case, as he had been long without any, and was wet, hungry and weary.
She immediately set about preparing tea and soon had it ready, and a comfortable repast was spread for his entertainment.—And now, reader, if thou art a child of nature, if thy bosom is susceptible of refined sensibility, contemplate for a moment, Melissa and Alonzo seated at the same table, a table prepared by her own hand, in a lonely mansion, separated from society, and no one present to interrupt them.
David: I’m contemplating, I’m contemplating.
Meredith: If Alonzo and Melissa had been children of nature, the plot would have taken a very different direction at this point.
After innumerable difficulties, troubles and perplexities; after vexing embarrassments, and a cruel separation, they were once more together, and for some time every other consideration was lost. The violence of the storm had not abated. The lightning still blazed, the thunder bellowed, the wind roared, the sea raged, the rain poured, mingled with heavy hail: Alonzo and Melissa heard a little of it.
Hugh and Meredith: Heard little of it.
Linda [sings]: What a difference an “a” makes.
She told him all that had happened to her since they parted, except the strange noises and awful sights which had terrified her during her confinement in that solitary building: this she considered unnecessary and untimely, in her present situation.
Meredith [to Lucy]: You were saying something earlier about what goes on inside Alonzo’s brain. I think Melissa’s brain works the same way.
Alonzo informed her, that as soon as he had learned the manner in which she had been sent away, he left the house of Vincent and went to her father’s to see if he could not find out by some of the domestics what course her aunt had taken.
Hugh: Her aunt and she had taken.
None of them knew any thing about it.
David: That’s what happens when your father goes bankrupt. You can’t pay the witnesses enough to refresh their memories when someone else has paid them to forget.
He did not put himself in the way of her father, as he was apprehensive of ill treatment thereby. He then went to several places among the relatives of the family where he had heretofore visited with Melissa, most of whom received him with a cautious coldness. At length he came to the house of Mr. Simpson, the gentleman to whose seat Alonzo was once driven by a shower, where he accidentally found Melissa on a visit, as mentioned before.
Meredith [1811 text]: Footnote, See page 26. [Turns pages.] “As Alonzo glanced his eyes hastily around the room, he thought he recognized a familiar countenance. A hurried—”
Hugh: Yes, thank you, we remember.
Here he was admitted with the ardour of friendship. They had heard his story: Melissa had kept up a correspondence with one of the young ladies; they were therefore informed of all, except Melissa’s removal from her father’s house: of this they knew nothing until told thereof by Alonzo.
“I am surprised at the conduct of my kinsman,” said Mr. Simpson; “for though his determinations are, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, unalterable, yet I have ever believed that the welfare of his children lay nearest his heart.
David: It does lie nearest his heart. He just has a different definition of “welfare”.
In the present instance he is certainly pursuing a mistaken policy. I will go and see him.” He then ordered his horse, desiring Alonzo to remain at his house until he returned.
Alonzo was treated with the most friendly politeness by the family; he found that they were deeply interested in his favour and the welfare of Melissa. At evening Mr. Simpson returned. “It is in vain,” said he, “to reason with my kinsman; he is determined that his daughter shall marry your rival. He will not even inform me to what place he has sent Melissa. Her aunt however is with her, and they must be at the residence of some of the family relatives.
Meredith: As opposed to, uh, the family members who aren’t related to them?
Lucy: As opposed to the relatives who no longer consider themselves part of the family.
I will dispatch my son William among our connections, to see if he can find her out.”
Linda [wild excitement]: It’s William, the man with two names! I knew he’d be important!
David: If it’s his only son, why does he need to specify “my son William”?
Hugh: His older sons went over to the Loyalist side, so we don’t speak of them.
The next morning William departed, and was gone two days; but could not obtain the least intelligence either of Melissa or her aunt, although he had been the rounds among the relations of the family.
Lucy: The exact same people Alonzo has already questioned.
“There is some mystery in this affair,” said Mr. Simpson.
Linda: —submitting his entry in the Quickness of Uptake sweepstakes.
“I am very little acquainted with Melissa’s aunt. I have understood that she draws a decent support from her patrimonial resources, which, it is said, are pretty large, and that she resides alternately with her different relatives. I have understood also that my kinsman expects her fortune to come into his family, in case she never marries, which, in all probability, she now will not, and that she, in consequence, holds considerable influence over him. It is not possible but that—
Hugh [1804 text]: It is possible that.
Meredith: Are you asking us to believe that your version uses fewer words and makes more sense?
Melissa is yet concealed at some place of her aunt’s residence, and that the family are in the secret. I think it cannot be long before they will disclose themselves: You, Alonzo, are welcome to make my house your home; and if Melissa can be found, she shall be treated as my daughter.”
Alonzo thanked him for his friendship and fatherly kindness. “I must continue,” said he, “my researches for Melissa; the result you shall know.”
Lucy: Melissa asked him to look up some points of law in the Yale library.
He then departed, and travelled through the neighbouring villages and adjoining neighbourhoods, making, at almost every house, such enquiries as he considered necessary on the occasion. He at length arrived at the inn in the last little village where Melissa and her aunt had stopped the day they came to the mansion. Here the inn-keeper informed him that two ladies, answering his description, had been at his house: he named the time, which was the day in which Melissa, with her aunt, left her father’s house. The inn-keeper told him that they purchased some articles in the village, and drove off to the south. Alonzo then traversed the country adjoining the Sound, far to the westward,
Meredith [as innkeeper]: Come back! Not that way! I said south, not sound.
and was returning eastward, when he was overtaken by the shower. No house being within sight, be betook himself—
Hugh: “. . . be betook himself”?
Hugh, Meredith and Linda [in unison]: You’ve got a jeebie! You’ve got a jeebie!
David [sulkily]: All right then, you read it.
he betook himself to the forest for shelter. From a little hilly glade in the wilderness, he discovered the lonely mansion which, from its appearance, he very naturally supposed to be uninhabited.—The tempest soon becoming severe, he thought he would endeavour to reach the house.
When he arrived at the moat, he found it impossible to cross it, or ascend the wall; and he stood in momentary jeopardy of his life, from the falling timber, some of which was broken and torn up by the tornado, some splintered by the fiery bolts of heaven. At length a large tree,
Hugh: A large, tall tree. The height is important.
which stood near him, on the verge of the moat, or rather in that place, was hurled from—
Lucy: I realize this is getting into “Dog Bites Man” territory, but I have to say I couldn’t make head or tail of that.
Hugh [huffily]: Neither could your typesetters. Pay attention now:
. . . a large, tall tree, which stood near him, on the verge of the moat, or rather in that place, river,
Hugh: Now do you get it? In that place, the moat is best described as a river.
was hurled from its foundation,
David [as contractor]: I told them you can’t install mature elm trees on slab, but would they listen?
and fell, with a hideous crash, across the moat, its top lodging on the wall. He scrambled up on the trunk, and made his way on to the wall. By the incessant glare of lightning he was able to see distinctly. The top of the tree was partly broken by the force of its fall, and hung down the other side of the wall. By these branches he let himself down into the yard, proceeded to the house, found the door open, which Melissa had left so in her fright, and entered into one of the rooms, where he proposed to stay until at least the shower was over,
Linda: To Melissa it’s a hurricane, to he-man Alonzo it’s a mere shower.
still supposing the house unoccupied, until the noise of locking the door, and the light of the candle, drew him from the room, when, to his infinite surprise, he discovered Melissa, as before related.
Melissa listened to Alonzo with varied emotion. The fixed obduracy of her father, the generous conduct of the Simpsons, the constancy of Alonzo, filled her heart with inexpressible sensations. She foresaw that her sufferings were not shortly to end—she knew not when her sorrows were to close.
Meredith [ticking off points on fingers]: The keys to the prison are in her possession; there is no other human being for miles around; the hero is alive and unhurt, and has managed to find her . . . . [Shakes head sadly.] I can’t find any flaw in her reasoning. She’s trapped.
Alonzo was shocked at the alteration which appeared in the features of Melissa. The rose had faded from her cheek, except when it was transiently suffused with a hectic flush. A livid paleness sat upon her countenance, and her fine form was rapidly wasting.
Lucy: A week on bread and water will do that. While the aunt’s away, John and his family have been living high off the hog on the provisions meant for Melissa.
It was easy to be foreseen that the grief which preyed upon her heart would soon destroy her, unless speedily allayed.
The storm had now passed into the regions of the east; the wind and rain had ceased, the lightning more unfrequently flashed, and the thunder rolled at a distance. The hours passed hastily;—day would soon appear. Hitherto they had been absorbed in the present moment; it was time to think of the future. After the troubles they had experienced; after so fortunate a meeting, they could not endure the idea of another and an immediate separation. And yet immediately separated they must be. It would not be safe for Alonzo to stay there even until the rising sun, unless he was concealed; and of what use could it be for him to remain there in concealment?
Meredith: Well, he could sneak up behind John, knock him unconscious and steal the— Oh, right. John doesn’t have the keys to Melissa’s prison, so no point to that.
David: He could feast his eyes on Melissa during the twenty-three hours of each day that John isn’t there. But when you’re used to seeing her for two or three hours at a stretch, at intervals of a week or so, I guess that wouldn’t be very satisfying.
Linda: He could sneak up behind Melissa, knock her unconscious, and leave her on the doorstep of the State Home for the Incurably Feeble-Minded.
Hugh: He could knock himself unconscious, and—
In this dilemma there was but one expedient. “Suffer me,” said Alonzo to Melissa, “to remove you from this solitary confinement. Your health is impaired. To you, your father is no more a father; he has steeled his bosom to paternal affection; he has banished you from his house, placed you under the tyranny of others, and confined you in a lonely, desolate dwelling, far from the sweets of society; and this only because you cannot heedlessly renounce a most solemn contract, formed under his eye, and sanctioned by his immediate consent and approbation. Pardon me, Melissa, I would not censure your father;
Hugh [1804 text]: I would not wish unjustly to censure your father.
Lucy: As a former law student, Alonzo knows that it doesn’t count as slander if it’s true.
but permit me to say, that after such treatment, you are absolved from implicit obedience to his rigorous, cruel, and stern commands.—It will therefore be considered a duty you owe to your preservation, if you suffer me to remove you from the tyrannical severity with which you are oppressed.”
Melissa sighed, wiping a tear which fell from her eye. “Unqualified obedience to my parents,” said she, “I have ever considered the first of duties,
Linda: One of the first duties.
David: By 1836, other duties might be allowed equal importance.
and have religiously practised thereon—but where, Alonzo, would you remove me?”
Meredith [as Melissa]: If you’re thinking of a cold-water walkup in the Bronx, let me tell you right now that I’d rather stay in prison.
“To any place you shall appoint,” he answered. “I have no where to go,” she replied.
“If you will allow me to name the place,” said he, “I will mention Mr. Simpson’s. He will espouse your cause and be a father to you, and, if conciliation is possible, will reconcile you to your father.
Lucy: And if conciliation is not possible, her father will be powerless to recover a minor child being held without his consent in a known location near his own home.
This can be done without my being known to have any agency in the business.
Linda: Back in 1804, the Connecticut State Bar frowned on applicants with convictions for kidnapping.
It can seem as if Mr. Simpson had found you out. He will go any just lengths to serve us. It was his desire, if you could be found, to have you brought to his house. There you can remain either in secret or openly, as you shall choose. Be governed by me in this, Melissa, and in all things I will obey you thereafter. I will then submit to the future events of fate; but I cannot Melissa—I cannot leave you in this doleful place.”
Melissa arose and walked the room in extreme agitation. What could she do? She had, indeed, determined to leave the house, for reasons which Alonzo knew nothing of.
David: Sooner or later, the author will have to explain why Melissa is covering for the ghosts and housebreakers.
To continue there—
Linda: My editor was so eager to get on with the plot, he started making wholesale cuts. What did I miss?
—knew nothing of. But should she leave it in the way she had proposed, she was not sure but she would be immediately remanded back, more strictly guarded, and more severely treated. To continue there, under existing circumstances, would be impossible, long to exist. She therefore came to a determination—“I will go,” she said, “to Mr. Simpson’s.”
Lucy: If Simpson, Junior, is the unidentified Third Man, then Alonzo has played right into his hands by offering to bring her to him.
It was then agreed that Alonzo should proceed to Vincent’s, interest them in the plan, procure a carriage, and return at eleven o’clock the next night.
Meredith [as Melissa]: We’ve come up with an elaborate, brilliant— What? Leave now? You can’t be serious!
Melissa was to leave the draw-bridge down, and the gate open. If John should come to the house the succeeding day, she would persuade him to let her still keep the keys. But it was possible her aunt might return. This would render the execution of the scheme more hazardous and difficult. A signal was therefore agreed on;
Hugh: One if by land, two if by sea.
if her aunt should be there, a candle was to be placed at the window fronting the gate, in the room above; if not, it was to be placed against a similar window in the room below. In the first case Alonzo was to rap loudly at the door. Melissa was to run down, under pretence of seeing who was there,
Linda [as aunt]: Child, go see who that is knocking on the door inside a locked compound in the middle of the night.
David: If it’s a salesman, we don’t want any.
fly with Alonzo to the carriage,
Meredith: —which has been carefully prepared by greasing all moving parts and wrapping the horses’ hooves in burlap so it can pull up to the door without making a sound.
and leave her aunt to scrape acquaintance with the ghosts and goblins of the old mansion. For even if her aunt should return, which was extremely doubtful, she thought she could contrive to let down the bridge and unlock the gate in the evening without her knowledge.
Lucy: Since John, as previously noted, is not very bright, it didn’t occur to him to ask why Melissa needed two quarts of WD-40.
At any rate she was determined not to let the keys go out of her hands, unless they were forced from her, until she had escaped from that horrid and dreary place.
Daylight began to break from the east,
Linda: That surprises me every time. I keep assuming a mirror universe.
and Alonzo prepared to depart. Melissa accompanied him to the gate and the bridge, which was let down: he passed over, and she slowly withdrew, both frequently turning to look back. When she came to the gate, she stopped;—Alonzo stopped also. She waved a white handkerchief she had in her hand, and Alonzo bowed in answer to the sign. She then leisurely entered,
Meredith [as Melissa, yawning]: Well, that was a nice break. Now it’s back to the boring life of a prisoner.
and slowly shut the gate.—Alonzo could not forbear climbing up into a tree to catch another glimpse of her as she passed up the avenue. With lingering step he saw her move along, soon receding from his view in the gray twilight of misty morning. He then descended, and hastily proceeded on his journey.
Traits of glory now painted the eastern skies. The glittering day-star, having unbarred the portals of light, began to transmit its retrocessive lustre. Thin scuds flew swiftly over the moon’s decrescent form.
Lucy: If we had an almanac, we could work out the exact date.
Low, hollow winds, murmured among the bushes, or brushed the limpid drops from intermingling foliage. The fire-fly* sunk, feebly twinkling, amidst the herbage of the fields.
* The American lampyris, vulgarly called the lightning-bug.
Linda: The author has dreams of English publication, so he has to explain things that would be perfectly obvious to every American reader.
The dusky shadows of night fled to the deep glens, and rocky caverns of the wilderness. The American lark—
Meredith: Thanks to the loan of a time machine, Mitchell got an advance look at Pearson’s article and hastily penciled in the word “American”.
soared high in the air,
David: —taking over from the nighthawk or male whippoorwill, which works the night shift and has just gone off duty.
consecrating its matin lay to morn’s approaching splendours. The woodlands began to ring with native melody—the forest tops, on high mountains, caught the sun’s first ray, which, widening and extending, soon gem’d the landscape with brilliants of a thousand various dies.
As Alonzo came out of the fields near the road, he saw two persons passing in an open chair. They suddenly stopped, earnestly gazing at him. They were wrapped in long riding cloaks, and it could not be distinguished from their dress whether they were men or women. He stood not to notice them,
Lucy: Since they’re the only human beings he has set eyes on in this desolate region, they can’t possibly have any connection with Melissa.
but made the best of his way to Vincent’s, where he arrived about noon.—Rejoiced to find that he had discovered Melissa, they applauded the plan of her removal, and assisted him in obtaining a carriage. A sedan was procured, and he set out to return, promising to see Vincent again, as soon as he had removed Melissa to Mr. Simpson’s. He made such use of his time as to arrive at the mansion at the hour appointed. He found the draw-bridge down, the gate open, and saw, as had been agreed upon, the light at the lower window, glimmering through the branches of trees. He was therefore assured that Melissa was alone. His heart beat; a joyful tremor seized his frame; Melissa was soon to be under his care, for a short time at least.—He drove up to the house, sprang out of the carriage, and fastened his horse to a locust tree: The door was open; he went in, flew lightly up stairs, entered her chamber—Melissa was not there!
Linda: Oh, no. It’s one of those social-class markers, like who sits where when two couples share a carriage. Alonzo automatically pulled up to the front door, the way he did at the Simpsons’. Meanwhile, Melissa has spent the last two hours sitting on her baggage at the carriage entrance.
A small fire was blazing on the hearth, a candle was burning on the table. He stood petrified with amazement, then gazed around in anxious solicitude. What could have become of her? It was impossible, he thought, but that she must still be there.
Had she been removed by fraud or force, the signal candle would not have been at the window.
Meredith: Hasn’t he got that backward? If she had left voluntarily, she wouldn’t have put up the signal. But if she was tricked or coerced into leaving after the candle was in place, there’s not much she could have done about it.
Perhaps, in a freakish moment, she had concealed herself for no other purpose than to cause him a little perplexity.
David: When she looked out the window and saw that he was planning to carry her off in a one-horse vehicle, she was so disgusted she hid in the attic.
He therefore took the candle and searched every corner of the chamber, and every room of the house, not even missing the garret and the cellar. He then placed the candle in a lantern, and went out and examined the out-houses: he next went round the garden and the yard, strictly exploring and investigating every place; but he found her not. He repeatedly and loudly called her by name;
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Hello! Kidnappers! Here I am!
he was answered only by the solitary echoes of the wilderness.
Lucy: By the time it occurred to Alonzo to wonder how overgrown trees and brambles could send back such clear echoes, the painted backdrops had all been packed away for use in another novel.
Again he returned to the house, traversed the rooms, there also calling on the name of Melissa: his voice reverberated from the walls, dying away in solemn murmurs in the distant empty apartments. Thus did he continue his anxious scrutiny, alternately in the house and the enclosure, until day—but no traces could be discovered, nothing seen or heard of Melissa. What had become of her he could not form the most distant conjecture. Nothing was removed from the house; the beds, the chairs, the table, all the furniture remained in the same condition as when he was there the night before;
Meredith: Her clothes and personal belongings were gone, along with her aunt’s things, but it would have been improper and indelicate to look for those.
the candle, as had been agreed upon, was at the window, and another was burning on the table:—it was therefore evident that she could not have been long gone when he arrived. By what means she had thus suddenly disappeared, was a most deep and inscrutable mystery.
When the sun had arisen, he once more repeated his inquisitive search, but with the same effect. He then, in extreme vexation and disappointment, flung himself into the sedan, and drove from the mansion. Frequently did he look back at the building, anxiously did he scrutinize every surrounding and receding object. A thrill of pensive recollection vibrated through his frame as he passed the gate, and the keen agonizing pangs of blasted hope, pierced his heart, as his carriage rolled over the bridge.
Once more he cast a “longing, lingering look”—
Lucy [automatically]: Gray’s Elegy, 1751.
upon the premises behind, sacred only for the treasure they lately possessed; then sunk backward in his seat, and was dragged slowly away.
Linda: Wild horses couldn’t drag him away, so it’s a good thing his carriage was harnessed to a tame one.
Alonzo had understood from Melissa, that John’s hut was situated about one mile north from the mansion where she had been confined. When he came out near the road, he left his horse and carriage, after securing them, and went in search of it.—He soon discovered it, and knew it from the description given thereof by Melissa.—He went up and knocked at the door, which was opened by John, whom Alonzo also knew, from the portrait Melissa had drawn of him.
John started in amazement.
Hugh and Meredith: John stared in amazement.
Lucy: Catch your phlegmatic New Englander doing anything so dramatic as start visibly.
“Understanding,” said Alonzo, “that you have the charge of the old mansion—
Linda: Mitchell got a package rate on “old mansion”. He never calls it anything else, except sometimes “desolate” or “lonely”. Oh, and one time after he’d used up the package he had to say “antique”.
in yonder field, I have come to know if you can inform me what has become of the young lady who has been confined there.”
“Confined!” answered John, “I did not know she was confined.”
David [as John]: She never said anything about it when I gave her the keys.
Recollecting himself, “I mean the young lady who has lately resided there with her aunt,” replied Alonzo.
“She was there last night,” answered John; “her aunt is gone into the country and has not returned.”
Alonzo then told him the situation of the mansion, and that she was not there. John informed him that she was there about sunset,
Linda [1836 text]: That he was there.
Hugh: Same difference. He was there, and saw her.
and according to her request he had left the keys of the gate and bridge with her: he desired Alonzo to tarry there until he ran to the mansion.
Meredith: If Alonzo had really been desperate for information, that would have been his cue to offer to drive John the two-mile round trip.
He returned in about half an hour.
David: John strolled along until he was out of sight, had a leisurely smoke, and then strolled back.
“She is gone, sure enough,” said John; “but how, or where, it is impossible for me to guess.”—Convinced that he knew nothing of the matter, Alonzo left him and returned to Vincent’s.
Vincent and his lady were much surprised at Alonzo’s account of Melissa’s sudden disappearance, and they wished to ascertain whether her father’s family knew any thing of the circumstance.
Meredith: The aunt got bored with living in the castle and started having doubts about Melissa’s father’s promises, so she decided to hide Melissa somewhere else and ransom her to the highest bidder.
Linda: Illustrating once again why you should always do things yourself instead of bringing in co-conspirators.
Social intercourse had become suspended between the families of Vincent and Melissa’s father, as the latter had taxed the former with improperly endeavouring to promote the views of Alonzo. They therefore procured a neighbouring woman to visit Melissa’s mother, to see if any information could be obtained concerning Melissa;
Lucy: When you need information, always start by questioning the person who you already know doesn’t know anything. She, in turn, will be able to alert the people who do know something.
but the old lady had heard nothing of her since her departure with her aunt, who had never yet returned.—Alonzo left Vincent’s and went to Mr. Simpson’s. He told them all that had happened since he was there, of which, before, they had heard nothing. At the houses of Mr. Simpson and Vincent he resided some time, while they made the most diligent search to discover Melissa; but nothing could be learned of her fate.
David: Have you noticed how you never see Simpson and Vincent together? They might as well be the same person.
Meredith: They’re played by the same actor.
Alonzo then travelled into various parts of the country, making such enquiries as caution dictated of all whom he thought likely to give him information;—but he found none who could give him the least intelligence of his lost Melissa.
In the course of his wanderings he passed near the old mansion house where Melissa had been confined. He felt an inclination once more to visit it: he proceeded over the bridge, which was down, but he found the gate locked. He therefore hurried back and went to John’s, whom he found at home. On enquiring of John whether he had yet heard any thing of the young lady and her aunt; “All I know of the matter,” said John, “is, that two days after you were here, her aunt came back with a strange gentleman, and ordered me to go and fetch the furniture away from the room they had occupied in the old mansion. I asked her what had become of young madam. She told me that young madam had behaved very indiscreetly, and she found fault with me for leaving the keys in her possession, though I did not know that any harm could arise from it.
David [as John, whining]: She never told me the girl was a prisoner, so how was I supposed to guess?
From the discourse which my wife and I afterwards overheard between madam and the strange gentleman, I understood that young madam had been sent to reside with some friend or relation at a great distance, because her father wanted her to marry a man, and she wished to marry somebody else.”
Linda [as John’s wife]: Stop gabbling, John. The man doesn’t want to hear your gossip. Who did you say you were again, sir—the census taker?
From John’s plain and simple narrative, Alonzo concluded that Melissa had been removed by her father’s order, or through the agency, or instigation of her aunt.
David: Oh, what a relief. I was starting to be afraid she’d been abducted by aliens.
Whether his visit to the old mansion had been somehow discovered or suspected, or whether she was removed by some preconcerted or antecedent plan, he could not conjecture.
Meredith: He knew it couldn’t have anything to do with the two people who watched him sneaking out of Melissa’s prison. If they had had any connection with her, they would have come forward and introduced themselves.
Still, the situation in which he found the mansion the night he went to convey her away, left an inexplicable impression on his mind. He could in no manner account how the candle could be placed at the window according to agreement, unless it had been done by herself; and if so, how had she so suddenly been conveyed away?
Lucy: If she is capable of acting independently at some time between sundown and 11 P.M., it is mathematically impossible for her to have been under someone else’s control at a later time that same evening.
Alonzo asked John where Melissa’s aunt now was.
“She left here yesterday morning,” he answered, “with the strange gentleman I mentioned, on a visit to some of her friends.”
“Was the strange gentleman you speak of her brother?” asked Alonzo.
“I believe not,” replied John, smiling and winking to his wife; “I know not who he was; somebody that madam seems to like pretty well.”
David: That would definitely exclude her brother.
“Have you the care of the old mansion?” said Alonzo.
“Yes,” answered John, “I have the keys;
Linda: Now that the aunt knows he will give the keys to anyone who asks, there’s no reason not to let him keep them.
I will accompany you thither, perhaps you would like to purchase it; madam said yesterday she thought she should sell it.”
Alonzo told him he had no thoughts of purchasing, thanked him for his information, and departed.
Meredith: Alonzo, you’re an idiot. If you say you’re interested in buying, you can look over every inch of the property and ask detailed questions about the design and construction.
Convinced now that Melissa was removed by the agency of her persecutors, he compared the circumstances of John’s relation. “She had been sent to reside with some friend or relation at a great distance.” This great distance, he believed to be New London,
David: Now that is extremely sound reasoning. Since the world begins and ends with Connecticut, the greatest possible distance would be the opposite end of the state. It would be even better if they knew someone who lived inland, in the northeast corner of the universe.
and her friend or relation, her cousin, at whose house Alonzo first saw her, under whose care she would be safe, and Beauman would have an opportunity of renewing his addresses. Under these impressions, Alonzo did not long hesitate what course to pursue—he determined to repair to New London immediately.
In pursuance of his design he went to his father’s.
Linda: You can talk all you like about being bankrupt, but when Alonzo needs money, where else is he going to go?
He found the old gentleman with his man contentedly tilling his farm, and his mother cheerfully attending to household affairs, as their narrow circumstances would not admit her to keep a maid without embarrassment. Alonzo’s soul sickened on comparing the present state of his family with its former affluence; but it was an unspeakable consolation to see his aged parents contented and happy in their humble situation; and though the idea could not pluck the thorn from his bosom, yet it tended temporarily to assuage the anguish of the wound.
“You have been long gone, my son,” said his father; “I scarcely knew what had become of you. Since I have become a farmer I know little of what is going forward in the world; and indeed we were never happier in our lives. After stocking and paying for my farm, and purchasing the requisites for my business, I have got considerable money at command:
Linda: Clearly the author has never been to a farm; or possibly visited earth at all.
we live frugally, and realize the blessings of health, comfort, and contentment. Our only disquietude is on your account, Alonzo. Your affair with Melissa, I suppose, is not as favourable as you could wish. But despair not, my son; hope is the harbinger of fairer prospects: rely on Providence, which never deserts those who submissively bow to the justice of its dispensations.”
David: See, Alonzo? It’s all your fault for tampering with Fate by attempting to remove Melissa from the castle.
Unwilling to disturb the serenity of his parents, Alonzo did not tell them his troubles. He answered, that perhaps all might yet come right; but that, as in the present state of his mind he thought a change of situation might be of advantage, he asked liberty of his father to travel for some little time. To this his father consented, and offered him a part of the money he had on hand, which Alonzo refused, saying he did not expect to be long gone, and his resources had not failed him.
Hugh and Meredith: Not yet failed him.
Linda: Resources, don’t fail me now.
He then sold off his books, his horses, his carriages, &c. the insignia of his better days, but now useless appendages,
Meredith: When you’re planning a long overland trip, horses and carriages are about as useful as a second nose.
David: The carriages are all in the shop anyway, or he wouldn’t have needed to rent one to rescue Melissa.
from which he raised no inconsiderable sum.—He then took a tender and affectionate leave of his parents, and set out for New London.
Alonzo journeyed along with a heavy heart and in an enfeebled frame of spirits. Through disappointment, vexation, and the fatigues he had undergone in wandering about, for a long time, in search of Melissa, despondency had seized upon his mind, and indisposition upon his body. He put up the first night within a few miles of New Haven, and as he passed through that town the next morning, the scenes of early life in which he had there been an actor,
Linda: So that’s why he always brings out the theatrical analogies when he’s describing Nature.
moved in melancholy succession over his mind. That day he grew more indisposed; he experienced an unusual languor, listlessness and debility; chills, followed by hot flashes, heavy pains in the head and back, with incessant and intolerable thirst.
David: He should never have made that return visit to John’s house. One of the children has just been diagnosed with cholera.
It was near night when he reached Killingsworth,
Lucy [poring over map]: Oh, man, he is sick. Killingworth—no “s”—is at least five miles inland, and he should be sticking to the coast. At this rate he’s going to end up in Massachusetts.
where he halted, as he felt unable to go farther: he called for a bed, and through the night was racked with severe pain, and scorched with a burning fever.
The next morning he requested that the physician of the town might be sent for;—he came and ordered a prescription which gave his patient some relief; and by strict attention, in about ten days Alonzo was able to pursue his journey.
Hugh: Demonstrating once again the truth of Mark Twain’s dictum that with proper treatment, deadly bacterial diseases can be cured in seven days, but if left to themselves they will hang on for a week.
He arrived at New London, and took lodgings with a private family of the name of Wyllis, in a retired part of the town.
Meredith: Names of hotel guests are recorded with the city magistrate, who is bound to be a friend of either Beauman or Melissa’s family, so Alonzo decides to keep a low profile.
Linda: Besides, hotels tend to insist on intimate personal information, like your last name.
The first object was to ascertain whether Melissa was at her cousin’s. But how should he obtain this information? He knew no person in the town except it was those whom he had reason to suppose were leagued against him. Should he go to the house of her cousin, it might prove an injury to her if she was there, and could answer no valuable purpose if she was not.—The evening after he arrived there he wrapped himself up in his cloak and took the street which led to the house of Melissa’s cousin: he stopped when he came against it, to see if he could make any discoveries.
David: He didn’t want to draw attention to himself by asking openly, so he pinned a sign to his back saying “Look at me! I’m a spy”.
As people were passing and repassing the street, he got over into a small enclosure which adjoined the house, and stood under a tree, about thirty yards from the house: he had not long occupied this station, before a lady came to the chamber window, which was flung up, opposite to the place where he stood; she leaned out, looked earnestly around for a few minutes, then shut it and retired. She had brought a candle into the room, but did not bring it to the window; of course he could not distinguish her features so as to identify them.
Hugh: He left his glasses at home because they didn’t go with the skulker costume.
He knew it was not the wife of Melissa’s cousin, and from her appearance he believed it to be Melissa. Again the window opened, again the same lady appeared;—she took a seat at a little distance within the room; she reclined with her head upon her hand, her arm appeared to be supported by a stand or table. Alonzo’s heart beat violently; he now had a side view of her face, and was more than ever convinced that it was Melissa. Her delicate features, though more pale and dejected than when last he saw her;—her brown hair,
Lucy: No way. Raven tresses, flaxen curls, golden locks: all legitimate choices. No romantic heroine ever had brown hair. What’s next—freckles?
which fell in artless circles around her lily neck; her arched eye-brows and commanding aspect. Alonzo moved towards the house, with a design, if possible, to draw her attention, and should it really prove to be Melissa, to discover himself. He had proceeded but a few steps before she arose, shut the window, retired, and the light disappeared. Alonzo waited a considerable time, but she appeared no more. Supposing she had retired for the night, he slowly withdrew, chagrined at his disappointment, yet pleased at the discovery he had made.
The family with whom Alonzo had taken lodgings were fashionable and respectable.
Meredith [as Mrs. Wyllis]: How dare you accuse me of taking in lodgers! Alonzo is an old and dear friend, currently staying with us as a paying guest.
The following afternoon they had appointed to visit a friend, and they invited Alonzo to accompany them. When they named the family where their visit was intended, he found it was Melissa’s cousin. Alonzo therefore declined going under pretence of business. He however waited with anxiety for their return, hoping he should be able to learn by their conversation, whether Melissa was there or not.—When they returned he made some enquiries concerning the families in town, until the conversation turned upon the family they had visited. “The young lady who resides there,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “is undoubtedly in a confirmed decline; she will never recover.”
Alonzo started, deeply agitated. “Who is the young lady?” he asked. “She is sister to the gentleman’s wife where we visited,” answered Mr. Wyllis;—“her father lives in Newport, and she has come here for her health.”
David: Clearly the right decision, since she’s now in a permanent decline with no hope of recovery.
Hugh: If she had stayed in Newport, she’d be in an irreversible coma by now.
“Do you not think,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “that she resembles her cousin Melissa, who resided there some time ago?” “Very much indeed,” replied her husband, “only she is not quite so handsome.”
Meredith: This is all leading up to some kind of identical-cousins gag, isn’t it? All that’s missing is the tiny little mask.
Again was Alonzo disappointed, and again did he experience a melancholy pleasure: he had the last night hoped that he had discovered Melissa; but to find her in a hopeless decline, was worse than that she should remain undiscovered.
Linda: Oh, pay attention, Alonzo. It isn’t Melissa who’s in a decline, it’s her cousin.
“It is reported,” said Mrs. Wyllis, “that Melissa has been upon the verge of matrimony, but that the treaty was somehow broken off;
David: “Reported”? “Treaty”? Who was she marrying—the King of Sweden?
perhaps Beauman will renew his addresses again, should this be the case.” “Beauman has other business besides addressing the ladies,” answered Mr. Wyllis. “He has marched to the lines near New York with his new raised company of volunteers.” *
* New York was then in possession of the British troops.
Meredith: So Beauman’s getting in on the Loyalist side, then. Figures.
From this discourse, Alonzo was convinced that Melissa was not the person he had seen at her cousin’s the preceding evening, and that she was not there. He also found that Beauman was not in town. Where to search next, or what course to pursue, he was at a loss to determine upon.
The next morning he rose early and wandered about the town. As he passed by the house of Melissa’s cousin, he saw the lady, who had appeared at the window, walking in the garden. Her air, her figure, had very much the appearance of Melissa; but the lineaments of her countenance were, when viewed by the light of day, widely dissimilar. Alonzo felt no strong curiosity farther to examine her features, but passing on, returned to his lodgings.
Lucy: I mean, it’s not like they could possibly have any information about Melissa, being her cousins and all, so let’s just scratch that one off the list.
How he was now to proceed, Alonzo could not readily decide. To return to his native place, appeared to be as useless as to tarry where he was. For many weeks had he travelled and searched every place where he thought it probable Melissa might be found, both among her relatives and elsewhere. He had made every effort to obtain some clue to her removal from the old mansion, but he could learn nothing but what he had been told by John. If his friends should ever hear of her, they could not inform him thereof, as no one knew where he was.
David: Because of the war, mail can be delivered to New London, but it can’t be sent from New London to other parts of the st— world.
Would it not, therefore, be best for him to return back, and consult with his friends, and if nothing had been heard of her, pursue some other mode of enquiry? He might, at least, leave directions where his friends might write to him, in case they should have any thing whereof to apprise him.
An incident tended to confirm his resolution. He one night dreamed that he was sitting in a strange house, contemplating on his present situation, when Melissa suddenly entered the room. Her appearance was more pale, sickly and dejected, than when he last saw her. Her elegant form had wasted away, her eyes were sunk, her cheeks fallen, her lips livid. He fancied it to be night, she held a candle in her hand, smiling languidly upon him;—she turned and went out of the room, beckoning him to follow: he thought he immediately arose and followed her.
David: But it turned out to be only an unreal phantom of night.
Linda: A Jack-a-lantern fancy.
She glided through several winding rooms, and at length he lost sight of her, and the light gradually fading away, he was involved in deep darkness.—He groped along, and at length saw a faint distant glimmer, the course of which he pursued, until he came into a large room, hung with black tapestry, and illuminated by a number of bright tapers. On one side of the room appeared a hearse, on which some person was laid: he went up to it—the first object that arrested his attention was the lovely form of Melissa, shrouded in the sable vestments of death! Cold and lifeless, she lay stretched upon the hearse, beautiful even in dissolution;
Meredith: I wish he wouldn’t use that word. I know it just means “death”, but I still get a picture of her crumbling to bits before our eyes.
the dying smile of complacency had not yet deserted her cheek.
David: Her lips had decomposed, but there was still a bit of one cheek left.
The music of her voice had ceased; her fine eyes were closed for ever. Insensible to objects in which she once delighted; to afflictions which had blasted her blooming prospects, and drained the streams of life, she lay like blossomed trees of spring, overthrown by rude and boisterous winds. The deep groans which convulsed the distracted bosom, and shocked the trembling frame of Alonzo,
Hugh [1804 text]: And shook the trembling frame.
Linda: If he’s already trembling, how would you tell?
broke the delusive charm: he awoke, rejoiced to find it but a dream, though it impressed his mind with doleful and portentous forebodings.
It was a long time before he could again close his eyes to sleep; he at length fell into a slumber, and again he dreamed. He fancied himself with Melissa, at the house of her father, who had consented to their union, and that the marriage ceremony between them was there performed. He thought that Melissa appeared as she had done in her most fortunate and sprightly days, before the darts of adversity, and the thorns of affliction, had wounded her heart. Her father seemed to be divested of all his awful sternness, and gave her to Alonzo with cheerful freedom. He awoke, and the horrors of his former dream were dissipated by the happy influences of the last.
Lucy: So was it the first dream, or the second one, that confirmed his resolution to go back home? Or are we still waiting for the “incident”?
“Who knows,” he said, “but that this may finally be the case; but that the sun of peace may yet dispel these distressful hours!”
Hugh, Meredith, David [in unison]: Dispel the glooms of these distressful hours. The hours themselves aren’t going anywhere.
Linda [grumpily]: So you read it.
He arose, determined to return home in a few days. He went out and enjoyed his morning walk in a more composed frame of spirits than he had for some time experienced. He returned, and as he was entering the door he saw the weekly newspaper of the town, which had been published that morning, and which the carrier had just flung into the hall.—The family had not yet arisen. He took up the paper, carried it to his chamber, and opened it to read the news of the day. He ran his eye hastily over it, and was about to lay it aside, when the death list arrested his attention,
Linda [muttering]: —attracted his attention.
by a display of broad black lines. The first article he read therein was as follows:
“Died, of a consumption, on the 26th ult. at the seat of her uncle, Col. W. D—, near Charleston, South Carolina, whither she had repaired for her health,
Linda: Oh, the irony.
“Miss Melissa D——, the amiable daughter of J—— D——, Esq. of *******, Connecticut, in the eighteenth year of her age.”
The paper fell from his palsied hand—a sudden faintness came upon him—the room grew dark—he staggered, and fell senseless upon the floor.
David: So the book should really have been called Alonzo and Two-Thirds of Melissa. From here on, he’s soloing it.
Linda: I can never remember if “the eighteenth year of her age” means she was eighteen or seventeen.
Meredith: It means she’s been lying about her age. She was “about sixteen” in mid-1773 when the book started, and by now we’re in late 1777, so she’d have to be at least twenty.
Lucy [emerging from second book]: Amelia Stratton Comfield liked this scene so much, she made up a character just so she could kill him off and have someone read the obituary.
. . . the weekly newspaper arrived from the neighbouring village; he took it up, hoping to find something to amuse his thoughts; he opened it to read the news of the day; he ran his eye hastily over it, and was about to lay it aside, “when the death list arrested his attention by a display of broad black lines,”
Note the quotation marks, as if only that line had been stolen.
and he, who had not yet become reconciled to his present misfortune, was now about to experience another equally severe.
In this version, “he” is the father of Melissa, alias Alida, and his “present misfortune” is that his wife has just died. He has to remarry so the author has an excuse to move the story to New York.
What could equal his bitterness, his surprise and grief, when he read the disastrous news that his youngest son (who had lately gone on a foreign expedition) had died of a fever in a distant land a few weeks previous!
. . . and if you’re waiting for an explanation of how this got into a small-town weekly newspaper before anyone bothered to inform the family, don’t hold your breath. The only previous time the book mentions his sons, it’s to say that they’re both in business in New York.
The paper fell from his palsied hand,—a sudden faintness came over him,—he fell back almost senseless in his chair,—exhausted by excess of grief, he remained a long time in a—
Oh, sorry. That last bit comes later in Alonzo and Melissa. We haven’t got to it yet.
Linda: Just what we need. Sneak previews of Mitchell’s prose.
Hugh [1804 newspaper]:
TO BE CONTINUED
The incidents of our story will here produce a pause.
David: We’ve just had one, thanks.
The fanciful part of our readers may cast it aside—
Hugh [1804 text]: May be ready to cast it aside.
Meredith: So we’ve got to intercept them, quick.
in chagrin and disappointment. “Such an event,” may they say, “we were not prepared to expect.—After so many, and such various trials of heart; after innumerable difficulties surmounted; almost invincible objects overcome, and insuperable barriers removed—after attending the hero and heroine of your tale through the diversified scenes of anxiety, suspense, hope, disappointment, expectation, joy, sorrow, anticipated bliss, sudden and disastrous woe—after elevating them to the threshold of happiness, by the premature death of one,
Linda: I don’t think he meant that the way it came out.
to plunge the other, instantaneously, in deep and irretrievable despair, must not, cannot be right.—Your story will hereafter become languid and spiritless; the subject will be uninteresting, the theme unengaging, since the genius—
Hugh [sulkily]: It was supposed to be geni.
Linda: The kind in a bottle?
David: This book would drive anyone to the bottle.
Meredith [sings]: I dream of Geni with the light brown . . .
Lucy: No, that’s Melissa. He said she has brown hair.
which animated and enlivened it is gone for ever.”
Reader of sensibility, stop.
Meredith: Oh, I’m sure they all have, long before they got to this point.
Are we not detailing facts?
David: That was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it.
Shall we gloss them over with false colouring? Shall we describe things as they are, or as they are not?
Linda: I vote “are not”. You’ll sell more copies.
Shall we draw with the pencil of nature, or of art? Do we indeed paint life as it is, or as it is not? Cast thine eyes, reader, over the ephemeral circle of passing and fortuitous events; view the change of contingencies; mark well the varied and shifting scenery in the great drama of time;—seriously contemplate nature in her operations;
David: So long as Nature’s operations are limited to sunsets and thunderstorms, we’re all set.
minutely examine the entrance, the action, and the exit of characters on the stage of existence—then say, if disappointment, distress, misery and calamitous woe, are not the inalienable portion of the susceptible bosom. Say, if the possession of refined feeling is enviable—the lot of Nature’s children covetable—whether to such, through life, the sprinklings of comfort are sufficient to give a zest to the bitter banquets of adversity—whether, indeed, sorrow, sighing, and tears, are not the inseparable attendants of all those whose hearts are the repositories of tender affections and pathetic sympathies.
But what says the moralist?—“Portray life as it is. Delude not the senses by deceptive appearances. Arouse your hero?
Linda: Are you asking us or telling us?
Hugh: It was fine when I set the type. Arouse your hero, full stop.
Call to his aid stern philosophy and sober reason. They will dissipate the rainbow-glories of unreal pleasure, and banish the glittering meteors of unsubstantial happiness. Or if these fail, lead him to the holy fane of religion: she will regulate the fires of fancy, and assuage the tempest of the passions: she will illuminate the dark wilderness, and smooth the thorny paths of life: she will point him to joys beyond the tomb—to another and a better world; and pour the balm of consolation and serenity over his wounded soul.”
Shall we indeed arouse Alonzo? Alas! to what paths of—
Hugh [1804 text]: To what pathos of. Honestly, sometimes I think you guys aren’t even reading the text.
David: Full points for observation.
grief and wretchedness shall we arouse him! To a world to him void and cheerless—
Alonzo revived. “Why am I,” he exclaimed, “recalled to this dungeon of torment?
Linda: I wonder that every time I sit down and open the book.
Why was not my spirit permitted to take its flight to regions where my guardian angel is gone?
Meredith: Because if the reader has to suffer, so do you, Al.
Why am I cursed with memory? O that I might be blessed with forgetfulness! But why do I talk of blessings?—Heaven never had one in store for me. Where are fled my anticipated joys? To the bosom, the dark bosom of the oblivious tomb! There lie all the graces worthy of love in life—all the virtues worthy of lamentation in death! There lies perfection; perfection has here been found. Was she not all that even Heaven could demand?—Fair, lovely, holy and virtuous.
Linda: Not much in the brains department, but you can’t have everything.
Her tender solicitudes, her enrapturing endearments, her soul-inspiring blandishments,—gone, gone for ever? That heavenly form, that discriminate mind—all lovely as light, all pure as a seraph’s—a prey to worms—mingled with incorporeal shadows, regardless of former inquietudes or delights, regardless of the keen anguish which now wrings tears of blood from—
Lucy: That isn’t blood, it’s just porph— Oh, sorry. Forgot where I was.
my despairing heart!
“Eternal Disposer of events! if virtue be thy special care, why is the fairest flower in the garden of innocence and purity blasted like a noxious weed? Why is the bright gem of excellence trampled in the dust like a worthless pebble?—Why is Melissa hurried to the tomb?”
Thus raved Alonzo. It was evident that delirium had partially seized his brain.
Meredith: So many possible comments, so little time . . .
He arose and flung himself on the bed in unspeakable agony. “And what, Alas!” he again exclaimed, “now remains for me? Existence and unparalleled misery. The consolation even of death is denied me. But Melissa! she—ah, where is she! Oh, reflection insupportable! insufferable consideration! Must that heavenly frame putrify, moulder, and crumble into dust? Must the loathsome spider nestle on her lily bosom? the odious reptile riot on her delicate limbs? the worm revel amid the roses of her cheek, fatten on her temples, and bask in the lustre of her eyes?
Linda: Well, yeah, it must. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on it with such loving detail.
Alas! the lustre has become dimmed in death; the rose and the lily are withered; the harmony of her voice has ceased; the graces, the elegancies of form, the innumerable delicacies of air, all are gone, and I am left in a state of misery which defies mitigation or comparison.”
Exhausted by excess of grief, he now lay in a stupifying anguish,
David: He’s repeating himself.
Lucy: No, that was Alida. She tacked this line onto the end of the Death Notices part.
until the servant summoned him to breakfast. He told the servant he was indisposed and requested he might not be disturbed. Mr. Wyllis and his lady came up, anxious to yield him any assistance in their power, and advised him to call a physician. He thanked them, but told them it was unnecessary; he only wanted rest. His extreme distress of mind brought on a relapse of fever, from which he had but imperfectly recovered. For several days he lay in a very dangerous and doubtful state. A physician was called, contrary to his choice or knowledge, as for the most part of the time his mind was delirious and sensation imperfect. This was, probably, the cause of baffling the disorder. He was in a measure insensible to his woes. He did not oppose the prescriptions of the physician.
Hugh: Being unconscious at the time.
The fever abated; nature triumphed over disease of body, and he slowly recovered, but the malady of his mind was not removed.
He contemplated on the past. “I fear,” said he, “I have murmured against the wisdom of Providence. Forgive, O merciful Creator! Forgive the frenzies of distraction!” He now recollected that Melissa once told him that she had an uncle who resided near Charleston in South Carolina;
Meredith: Footnote, See page 39. [Turning pages.] “. . . 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, and was expected to arrive before the appointed day.”
Meredith: But the day never came, so Alonzo never got to meet the cousin.
David: Now, is this the same cousin that he saw in New London and almost mistook for Melissa, or is there another cousin—and do they all look alike?
Linda [singing]: They’re cousins, identical cousins.
thither he supposed she had been sent by her father, when she was removed from the old mansion, in order to prevent his having access to her, and with a view to compel her to marry Beauman. Her appearance had indicated a deep decline when he last saw her. “There,” said he, “far removed from friends and acquaintance, there did she languish, there did she die—a victim to excessive grief, and cruel parental persecution.”
Meredith: Or possibly tuberculosis, but grief and persecution sounds better.
As soon as he was able to leave his room, he walked out one evening, and in deep contemplation roved, he knew not where. The moon shone brilliantly from her lofty throne; the chill, heavy dews of autumn glittered on the decaying verdure. The cadeat* croaked hoarsely among the trees; the dircle* sung mournfully on the grass.
* Local names given to certain American insects, from their sound. They are well known in various parts of the United States; generally make their appearance about the latter end of August, and continue until destroyed by the frost. The notes of the first are hoarse, sprightly, and discordant; of the last, solemn and mournfully pleasing.
Hugh [as Isaac Mitchell]: Someone reach into the bin and grab me half a dozen adjectives.
Alonzo heard them not; he was insensible to all external objects, until he had imperceptibly wandered to the rock—
David: He has to sneak up on it quietly so it doesn’t turn around and sink its teeth into him.
on the point of the beach, verging the Sound, to which he had attended Melissa the first time he saw her at her cousin’s.*
* See page 8. See also allusions to this scene in several subsequent parts of the story.
Meredith: The author is deathly afraid that someone will say the earlier scene never happened and he’s just making it up retroactively.
Had the whole artillery of Heaven burst, in sheeted flame, from the skies—had raging winds mingled the roaring waves with the mountains—had an instantaneous earthquake burst beneath his feet, his frame would not have been so shocked, his soul so agitated!
Linda: The rock was gone!!!
Sudden as the blaze darts from the electric cloud was he aroused to a lively sense of blessings entombed! The memory of departed joys passed with rapidity over his imagination; his first meeting with Melissa; the evening he had attended her to that place; her frequent allusions to the scenery there displayed, when they had traversed the fields, or reclined in the bower on her favourite hill; in fine, all the vicissitudes through which they had passed, were recalled to his mind. His fancy saw her—felt her gently leaning on his arm, while he tremblingly pressed her hand.—Again he saw smiling health crimsoning the lilies of her cheek; again he saw the bright soul of sympathetic feelings sparkling in her eye; the air of ease; the graces of attitude; her brown locks circling the borders of her snowy robe.
David: She cut off her hair and used it to trim her dress?
Again was he enraptured by the melody of her voice.—Once more would he have been happy, had not fancy changed the scene. But, alas! she shifted the curtain. He saw Melissa stretched on the sable hearse, wrapped in the dreary vestments of the grave; the roses withered; the lilies faded; motionless; the graces fled; her eyes fixed, and sealed in the glaze of death!
Lucy: Today’s morticians use a specially designed contact lens to make sure the eyes don’t reopen.
Spontaneously he fell upon his knees, and thus poured forth the overcharged burden of his anguished bosom.
“Infinite Ruler of all events! Great Sovereign of this ever changing world! Omnipotent Controler of vicissitudes! Omniscient dipenser of destinies!
Hugh: Omniscient what?
David [1851 text]: Oh, oops. Omniscient dispenser. He misspelled “Controller” too. Obviously losing his grip.
Linda: Same here, but it didn’t seem worth mentioning.
The beginning, the progression, the end is thine. Unsearchable are thy purposes! mysterious thy movements! inscrutable thy operations! An atom of thy creation, wildered in the mazes of ignorance and woe, would bow to thy decrees. Surrounded with impenetrable gloom, unable to scrutinize the past, incompetent to explore the future—fain would he say, THY WILL BE DONE! And Oh, that it might be consistent with that HIGH WILL to call this atom from a dungeon of wretchedness, to worlds of light and glory, where his only CONSOLATION is gone.”
Meredith [as God]: Shut up, Alonzo.
Thus prayed the heart-broken Alonzo. It was indeed a worldly prayer; but perhaps as pure and as acceptable as many of our modern professors would have made on a similar occasion. He arose and repaired to his lodgings. One determination only he had now fallen upon—to bury himself—
Lucy: We hear about people being buried alive, but Alonzo is the first to consider its possibilities as a means of suicide.
and his griefs from all with whom he had formerly been acquainted. Why should he return to the scenes of his former bliss and anxiety, where every door would be—
David: You left out a line. It’s “where every countenance would tend to renew his mourning; where every door” et cetera.
Linda: You ought to know by now that starting two consecutive phrases with the same words is asking for trouble.
Hugh [as Mitchell, stiffly]: I am sorry that I neglected to give adequate consideration to the needs of literary pirates.
inscribed with a memento mori, and where every object would he shrouded—
Meredith: “. . . he shrouded”?
David: ’Fraid so.
Hugh, Meredith and Linda [in unison]: Another jeebie! Now you’ve got a matched set.
Meredith [reaching for eraser]: Must . . . resist . . . temptation . . . to remove “e”.
He therefore turned his attention to the army; but the army was far distant, and he was too feeble to prosecute a journey of such an extent.
There were at that time preparations for fitting out a convoy, at private expense, from various parts of the United States, for the protection of our European trade; they were to rendezvous at a certain station, and thence proceed with the merchantmen under their care to the ports of France and Holland, where our trade principally centered, and return as convoy to some other mercantile fleet.
One of these ships of war was then nearly fitted out at New London. Alonzo offered himself to the captain, who, pleased with his appearance, gave him the station of commander of marines.
Linda [as recruiting officer]: Too feeble for the Army? Don’t you worry, my boy— the Marines will be happy to have you.
Alonzo prepared himself with all speed for the voyage. He sought, he wished no acquaintance. His only place of resort, except to his lodgings and the ship, was to Melissa’s favourite rock: there he bowed as to the shrine of her spirit, and there he consecrated his devotions.
David: The financial collapse was only a smokescreen. The real problem is that Melissa’s father had serious doubts about Alonzo’s religious orthodoxy.
As he was one day passing through the town, a gentleman stepped out of an adjoining house and accosted him. Alonzo immediately recognized him to be the cousin of Melissa, at whose house he had first seen her. He was dressed in full mourning, which was a sufficient indication that he was apprised of her death.
Meredith: Apprised of someone’s death, anyway. We’ve already been told that Alonzo is completely out of touch with the folks back home.
He invited Alonzo to his house, and he could not complaisantly refuse the invitation. He therefore accepted it, and passed an hour with him, from whom he learnt that Melissa had been sent to her uncle’s at Charleston, for the recovery of her health, where she died.
Linda: Thanks to his congenital memory problem, Alonzo has forgotten that this is exactly what the newspaper said.
Hugh: Newspaper editors work on the premise that nobody remembers what they read in the previous issue, let alone several weeks back.
“Her premature death,” said her cousin, “has borne so heavily upon her aged father, that it is feared he will not long survive.”—“Well may it wring his bosom,” thought Alonzo;—“his conscience can never be at peace.” Whether Melissa’s cousin had been informed of the particulars of Alonzo’s unfortunate attachment, was not known, as he instituted no conversation on the subject. Neither did he—
David and Lucy [in unison]: Whoops! “Oeither did he . . .”
Lucy: At least you’ve got an excuse. The bins for capital letters are in alphabetical order and the typesetter was in a hurry. My only excuse is that the editor of the reprint was an idiot.
enquire into Alonzo’s prospects; he only invited him to call again. Alonzo thanked him, but replied it would be doubtful, as he should shortly leave town. He made no one acquainted with his intentions.
Linda: It seemed best to keep a low profile, in case the colonists ended up losing the war.
The day at length arrived when the ship was to sail, and Alonzo to leave the shores of America. They spread their canvas to propitious gales; the breezes rushed from their woody coverts,
Hugh: The breezes rustled.
Meredith: Normally I’d back you up, but I like the picture of breezes racing out to get the ship underway.
and majestically wafted them from the harbour.
Linda: The breeze stops, catches its breath, and sends the ship on its way with a regal gesture.
Slowly the land receded; fields, forests, hills, mountains, towns and villages leisurely withdrew, until they were mingled in one common mass. The ocean opening, expanded and widened, presenting to the astonished eyes of the untried mariner its wilderness of waters.
Hugh: The wilderness of its waters.
Near sunset, Alonzo ascended the mast
Linda [as captain]: Will someone get that idiot down from the crow’s nest before he falls and makes a mess of the rigging.
to take a last view of a country once so dear, but whose charms were now lost forever. The land still appeared like a semicircular border of dark green velvet on the edge of a convex mirror.
David: This is some sort of fortune-telling device he’s describing?
The sun sunk in fleecy golden vapors behind it. It now dwindled to discoloured and irregular spots,
Meredith: Someone should have told the author not to look directly at the sun.
which appeared like objects floating, amidst the blue mists of distance, on the verge of the main, and immediately all was lost beneath the spherical, watery surface.
David: Alonzo discovers that the earth is round.
Linda: Either that, or the ship just sank without a trace.
Alonzo had fixed his eyes, as near as his judgment could direct, towards Melissa’s favourite rock, till nothing but sea was discoverable. With a heart-parting sigh he then descended. They had now launched into the illimitable world of billows, and the sable wings of night brooded over the boundless deep.
A new scene was now opened to Alonzo in the wonders of the mighty deep. The sun rising from and setting in the ocean; the wide-spread region of watery waste, now smooth as polished glass, now urged into irregular rolling hillocks, then swelled to
“Blue trembling billows, topp’d with foam,”
Hugh and Meredith [in unison]: Blue tumbling billows.
Lucy [usual business with reference books]: You’re right. It’s from the Anarchiad, a New England poem. Written in 1786–87 by a team of four: Joel Barlow 1754–1812, David Humphreys 1752–1818, John Trumbull 1750–1831, and Lemuel Hopkins 1750–1801.
David [mutters something under his breath about cooks and broth].
or gradually arising into mountainous waves. Often would he traverse the deck amid the still hours of midnight, when the moon silvered over the liquid surface: “Bright luminary of the lonely hour,” he would say, “that now sheddest thy mild and placid ray on the woe-worm head—
Hugh [with Meredith and Linda nodding assent]: The woe-worn head.
Lucy [loyally]: I like “woe-worm”. It gnaws its way into your heart, bringing misery in its path.
Linda: And leaving holes in your head.
of fortune’s fugitive, dost thou not also pensively shine on the sacred and silent grave of my Melissa?”
Favourable breezes wafted them for many days over the bosom of the Atlantic.—At length they were overtaken by a violent storm.
David: This is going to be a whopper. Anything up to mountainous waves is just part of the scenery.
The wind began to blow strongly from the southwest, which soon increased to a violent gale. The dirgy scud first flew swiftly along the sky;
Hugh [1804 text]: The dingy scud.
Lucy: You wouldn’t think so, but he’s right.
The wind blew hard, the sea ran high,
The dingy scud drove ’cross the sky.
Charles Dibdin, “Ev’ry Inch a Sailor”. English propagandist, but some of his stuff was so good it was swiped by the Colonies.
then dark and heavy clouds filled the atmosphere, mingling with the top-gallant streamers of the ship. Night hovered over the ocean, rendered horrible by the intermitting blaze of lightnings, the awful crash of thunder, and the deafening roar of winds and waves. The sea was rolled into mountains, capped with foaming fire. Now the ship was soaring among the thunders of heaven, now sunk in the abyss of waters.
David: In retrospect, trying to launch a seaplane in the middle of a thunderstorm was probably not the best idea.
The storm dispersed the fleet, so that when it abated, the ship in which Alonzo sailed was found alone; they, however, kept on their course of destination, after repairing their rigging, which had been considerably disordered by the violence of the gale.
The next morning they discovered a sail which they fondly hoped—
Lucy: One more for the OED list. He accidentally used “fond” in the archaic sense of “foolish”.
might prove to be one of their own fleet, and accordingly made for it. The ship they were in pursuit of shortened sail, and towards noon wore round and bore down upon them, when they discovered that it was not a ship belonging to their convoy.
Lucy: I thought I was kidding, but it really was a foolish hope.
It appeared to be of about equal force and dimensions with that of their own; they therefore, in order to prepare for the worst, got ready with all speed for action. They slowly approached each other, manoeuvering for the advantage, till the strange ship ran up British colours, and fired a gun, which was immediately answered by the other, under the flag of the United States. It was not long before a close and severe action took place, which continued for three hours, when both ships were in so shattered a condition that they were unable to manage a gun.*
* The particulars of this action, in the early stage of the American war, are yet remembered by many.
David: He doesn’t remember it himself, so he’s using the time-honored “familiar to all” gimmick.
Mark [passing through in time to yank reference book out of Lucy’s hand]: He’s talking about the Trumbull. The duel leaving both ships wrecked was with the Watt in June 1780.
The British had lost their captain, and one half their crew, most of the remainder being wounded.—The Americans had lost their second officer, and their loss in men, both killed and wounded, was nearly equal to that of the enemy.
While they lay in this condition, unable either to annoy each other more,
Meredith: The sailors were reduced to making faces and mooning each other from the railings.
or to get away, a large sail appeared, bearing down upon them, which soon came up and proved to be an English frigate, and which immediately took the American ship in tow, after removing the crew into the hold of the frigate. The crew of the British ship were also taken on board of the frigate, which was no sooner done than the ship went down and was for ever buried beneath mountains of ponderous waves. The frigate then, with the American ship in tow, made sail, and in a few days reached England.
Mark: Definitely the Trumbull. Its capture by the Iris in August 1781 agrees with its being separated from a convoy in a storm, captured and taken in tow.
David: We finally get rid of Edmund Pearson and now this know-it-all shows up.
Linda [pushing Mark out the door]: So when the author says “this action” he means two different actions separated by over a year, and when he says “the early stages of the war” he means towards the end of the war.
Mark [from the doorway]: And when he says “England” he means “New York”.
The wounded prisoners were sent to a hospital, but the others were confined in a strong prison within the precincts of London.
The American prisoners were huddled into an apartment with British convicts of various descriptions.
Lucy: I’m sure there’s something about this in the Geneva Convention.
Among these Alonzo observed one whose demeanor arrested his attention. A deep melancholy was impressed upon his features; his eye was wild and despairing; his figure was interesting, tall, elegant and handsome.
Meredith: Does that mean his figure was one, interesting, two, tall, three, elegant, and four, handsome—or does it mean that the interesting thing about his figure was that it was tall and elegant and handsome?
David: It means that the bill collectors were knocking on Mitchell’s door again.
He appeared to be about twenty-five years of age. He seldom conversed, but when he did, it was readily discovered that his education had been above the common cast, and he possessed an enlightened and discriminating mind. Alonzo sympathetically sought his acquaintance, and discovered therein a unison of woe.
One evening, when the prisoners were retired to rest, the stranger, upon Alonzo’s request, rehearsed the following incidents of his life.
Hugh: A shared theatrical background created an immediate bond between the two.
“You express,” said he, “some surprise at finding a man of my appearance in so degraded a situation; and you wish to learn the events which have plunged me in this abject state. These, when I briefly relate, your wonder will cease.
“My name is Henry Malcomb;
Linda: Stop the presses! We’ve got another man with two names.
my father was a clergyman in the west of England, and descended from one of the most respectable families in those parts. I received a classical education, and then entered the military school,
Lucy: Uh . . . What military school?
Linda [reaching behind Lucy to grab reference book]: The Royal Military Academy, set up to train engineers and artillerymen so they would know what they were doing. For everyone else it was enough to look good in scarlet and have the money to buy a commission.
as I was designed for the army, to which my earliest inclinations led. As soon as my education was considered complete, an ensign’s commission—
Lucy: In the army?
Linda [keeping a firm grip on book]: Yup. Until 1870, the starting rank for British infantry officers was ensign.
David: So when he says “my education was considered complete” he means “I was kicked out of the artillery training school for being a hopeless dunce”.
was procured for me in one of the regiments destined for the West Indies. Previous to its departure for those islands, I became acquainted with a Miss Vernon,
Meredith: Since Alonzo doesn’t know the lady, it would obviously be inappropriate to tell him her first name.
who was a few years younger than myself, and the daughter of a gentleman farmer, who had recently purchased and removed on to an estate in my father’s parish. Every thing that was graceful and lovely appeared centered in her person; every thing that was virtuous and excellent in her mind.
Lucy: Goodness gracious me. Why, she could have been Melissa’s twin.
I sought her hand.
David: I’ve got an editorial comment in the margin, but I can’t make it out.
Hugh: I think he was trying to write “but slipt”, but his hand slipt.
Our souls soon became united by the indissoluble bonds of sincerest love,
Lucy: After he asked for her hand.
Meredith: I think that’s in The Rules.
and as there existed no parental or other impediments to our union, it was agreed that as soon as I returned from the Indies, where it was expected that my stay would be short,
David: Two months at sea, take on fresh water and provisions, turn around and come back.
the marriage solemnities should be performed. Solemn oaths of constancy passed between us, and I sailed, with my regiment, for the Indies.
“While there, I received from her, and returned letters filled with the tenderest expressions of anxiety and regret of absence. At length the time came when we were to embark for England, where we arrived after an absence of about eighteen months.
Meredith: It’s called “Island time”. Anything under three years is considered a short stay.
The moment I got on land I hastened to the house of Mr. Vernon, to see the charmer of my soul. She received me with all the ardency of affection, and even shed tears of joy in my presence. I pressed her to name the day which was to perfect our union and happiness, and the next Sunday, four days only distant, was agreed upon for me to lead her to the altar.
Lucy [as Mr. Vernon]: Young lady, you should have your mouth washed out with soap. We’ve never had anything but banns in this family; you’ll wait three weeks and like it.
How did my heart bound at the prospect of making Miss Vernon my own!—of possessing in her all that could render life agreeable; I hastened home to my family and informed them of my approaching bliss, who all sympathized in the anticipated joy which swelled my bosom.
Linda: They have a cream to make those go down.
“I had a sister some years older than myself, who had been the friend and inmate of—
Hugh [1804 text]: Intimate of.
Lucy: Oh. I just assumed it had something to do with that “Asylum” subtitle.
my angel in my absence. They were now almost every day together, so that I had frequently opportunities of her company.
Linda: Um . . . Of whose company? He’d see his sister every day anyway, and if he’s getting married in four days it would look odd if he didn’t call on Miss Vernon regularly.
One day she had been with my sister at my father’s, and I attended her home. On my return, my sister requested me to attend her in a private room. We therefore retired, and when we were seated she thus addressed me:
“‘Henry, you know that to promote your peace, your welfare, and your happiness, has ever been the pride of my heart.
Hugh: Uh-oh. This sounds suspiciously like the opening of Melissa’s father’s speech. There’s bad news coming up.
Nothing except this could extort the secret which I shall now disclose, and which has yet remained deposited in my own bosom: my duty to a brother whom I esteem dear as life, forbids me to remain silent. As an affectionate sister, I cannot tacitly see you thus imposed upon; I cannot see you the dupe and slave of an artful and insidious woman, who does not sincerely return your love; nor can I bear to see your marriage consummated with one whose soul and affections are placed upon another object.’
Lucy: If she means herself, she’s an idiot. Marrying your female sweetheart’s brother is the perfect camouflage for an ongoing relationship. And if the sister is “some years older than” her 25-year-old brother, she’s practically a confirmed old maid already, so nobody will be surprised when she goes to live with her married brother.
“Here she hesitated—while I, with insufferable anguish of mind, begged her to proceed.
“‘About six or eight months after your departure,’ she continued, ‘it was reported to Miss Vernon—
Meredith: In the passive voice. You told her yourself, didn’t you?
that she had a rival in the Indies; that you had there found an American beauty, on whom you lavished those endearments which belonged of right to her alone. This news made, at first, a deep impression on her mind, but it soon wore away; and whether from this cause, from fickleness of disposition, or that she never sincerely loved you, I know not; but this I do know, that a youth has been for some time past her almost constant companion.
Linda: Awright, Sis, come clean. Why are you trying to sabotage your best friend’s love life?
To convince you of this, you need only tomorrow evening, about sunset, conceal yourself near the long avenue by the side of the rivulet, back of Mr. Vernon’s country-house, where you will undoubtedly surprise Miss Vernon and her companion—
David: There’s your answer. She’s worried about the gene pool. If Miss Vernon is too dim-witted to tell her secret lover to make himself scarce for a few days until she’s safely married, this is not someone you want as mother to your nephews and nieces.
in their usual evening’s walk. If I should be mistaken I will submit to your censure; but should you find it as I have predicted, you have only to rush from your concealment, charge her with her perfidy, and renounce her forever.’
“Of all the plagues, of all the torments, of all the curses which torture the soul, jealousy of a rival in love is the worst. Enraged, confounded and astonished, it seemed as if my bosom would have instantaneously burst. To conceal my emotions, I left my sister’s apartment, after having thanked her for her information, and proceeded to obey her injunctions.
Hugh [exasperated]: Promised to obey.
I retired to my own room, and there poured out my execrations.
“Cursed woman!” I exclaimed, “is it thus you requite my tender love! Could a vague report of my inconstancy drive you to infidelity!
Lucy: Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. All he’s got is his sister’s unsupported word.
Did not my continual letters breathe constant adoration? And did not yours portray the same sincerity of affection? No, it was not this that caused you to perjure your plighted vows. It was that damnable passion for novelty, which more or less holds a predominancy over your whole sex. To a new coat, a new face, a new lover, you will sacrifice honour, principle and virtue. And to those, backed by splendid power and splendid property,
Linda: It’s Beauman! He never went to New York; he headed straight for England.
David: Judging by that business with Alonzo’s ship, the author is a bit fuzzy on the difference between New York and England anyway.
you will forfeit your most sacred engagements, though made in the presence of heaven.”
Meredith: Alonzo immediately recognizes a kindred spirit.
“The next day I walked into the fields, and before the time my sister appointed had arrived, I had worked up my feelings almost to the frenzy of distraction. I repaired, however, to the spot, and concealed myself in the place she had named, which was a tuft of laurels by the side of the walk. I soon perceived Miss Vernon strolling down the avenue, arm in arm with a young man elegantly dressed, and of singular, delicate appearance. They were earnestly conversing in a low tone of voice; the hand of my false fair one was gently pressed in the hand of the stranger.
Linda [1836 text]: In the hands of the stranger.
Lucy: You gotta watch out for those three-armed rivals. A man who can walk arm in arm with a young lady and still have two free hands is a dangerous competitor.
As soon as they had passed the place of my concealment, they turned aside and seated themselves in a little arbour, a few yards distant from where I was. The stranger clasped Miss Vernon in his arms: ‘Dearest angel!’ he exclaimed, ‘what an interruption to our bliss by the return of my hated rival!’ With fond caresses and endearing blandishments, ‘fear nothing,’ she replied; ‘I have promised and must yield him my hand, but you shall never be excluded from my heart; we shall find sufficient opportunities for private conference.’ I could contain myself no longer—my brain was on fire. Quick as lightning I sprang from my covert, and presenting a pistol which I had concealed under my robe,—‘Die!’ said I, ‘thou false and perjured wretch, by the hand thou hast dishonoured, a death too mild for so foul a crime!’ and immediately shot Miss Vernon through the head,
David: Gene pool, definitely. In the time it took him to get through that speech, she could have jumped up and run for safety while the lover wrested the pistol out of his grasp. Pistols in 1804 were only accurate up to about ten, twenty yards.
who fell lifeless at my feet! Then suddenly drawing my sword, ‘And thou, perfidious contaminator and destroyer of my bliss!’ cried I— ‘go! attend thy companion in iniquity to the black regions of everlasting torment!’ So saying, I plunged my sword into his bosom.
Linda: The mystery of the military school is solved. He was expelled for excessive and inappropriate use of deadly force.
A screech of agony, attended by the exclamation, ”Henry, your wife! your sister!” awoke me, too late, to terrors unutterable, to anguish unspeakable, to woes irretrievable, and insupportable despair! It was indeed my betrothed wife, it was indeed my affectionate sister, arrayed in man’s habit.
Meredith: I know that when I read the next page, I’m going to be disappointed as to what the explanation for this is.
The one lay dead before me, the other weltering in her blood! With a feeble and expiring voice, my sister informed me, that in a gay and inconsiderate moment they had concerted this plan, to try my jealousy, determining to discover themselves as soon as they had made the experiment.
Meredith: Yup. Disappointed. But it illustrates why the fidelity test in stories is always done with women. They don’t carry weapons.
“‘I forgive you, Henry,’ she said, ‘I forgive your mistake,’ and closed her eyes for ever in death! What a scene for sensibilities like mine!
Hugh: If he’d been your ordinary murdering lout it wouldn’t have bothered him, but Henry has refined sensibilities.
To paint or describe it, exceeds the power of language or imagination. I instantly turned the sword against my own bosom; an unknown hand arrested it, and prevented its entering my heart. The report of the pistol, and the dying screech of my sister, had alarmed Mr. Vernon’s family, who arrived at that moment, one of whom had seized my arm, and thus hindered me from destroying my own life. I submitted to be bound and conveyed to prison. My trial came on at the last assizes. I made no defence; was condemned to death.
David: Whew! What a good thing they didn’t let him kill himself, then.
Lucy: On the contrary, that’s what sealed his fate. Back then, suicide was a capital crime.
My execution will take place in eight weeks from to-morrow. I shall cheerfully meet my fate; for who would endure life when rendered so peculiarly miserable!”
The wretched Malcomb here ended his tale of woe.
Linda: And none too soon.
No tear moistened his eye—his grief was too despairing for tears; it preyed upon his heart, drank the vital streams of life, and burst in convulsive sighs from his burning bosom.
Alonzo seriously contemplated on the incidents and events of this tragical story. Conscience whispered him, are not Malcomb’s miseries superior to thine? Candor and correct reason must have answered yes.
Linda: Item: One dead girlfriend.
Linda: On Malcomb’s side: Died because he was an idiot.
David: On Alonzo’s side: Died because . . . uh . . . because she was an idiot.
Hugh: I hate to say it, but Alonzo is right. Malcomb’s situation is worse.
“Melissa perished,” said Alonzo, “but not by the hand of her lover: she expired, but not through the mistaken frenzy of him who adored her. She died, conscious of the unfeigned love I bore her.”
Alonzo and his fellow prisoners had been robbed, when they were captured, of every thing except the clothes they wore.
Lucy: I believe the verb he’s groping for is confiscate.
Linda: The underpaid prison guards made ends meet by helping themselves to convicts’ belongings and selling them on the black market.
Their allowance of provisions was scanty and poor. They were confined in the third story of a lofty prison.
Meredith: Outrageous. Officers are supposed to be housed on the topmost floor, befitting their rank.
Time rolled away; no prospects appeared of their liberation, either by exchange or parole. Some of the prisoners were removed, as new ones were introduced, to other places of confinement, until not one American was left except Alonzo.
Meantime the day appointed for the execution of Malcomb drew near.
David: If Alonzo is thinking of some kind of clever escape involving switched identities and a bribed hangman, he’d better get cracking.
His past and approaching fate filled the breast of Alonzo with sympathetic sorrow. He saw his venerable father, his mother, his friends and acquaintance, with several pious clergymen, frequently enter the prison to console and comfort him, and to prepare him for the unchangeable state on which he was soon to enter. He saw his mind softened by their advice and counsel;—frequently would he burst into tears;—often in the solitary hours of night was he heard addressing the throne of grace for mercy and forgiveness. But the grief that preyed at his heart had wasted him to a skeleton;
Linda and David [1836 and 1851 texts]: Can we make it a mere skeleton?
Hugh [grumbling]: Oh, all right.
a slow but deleterious fever had consequently implanted itself in his constitution. Exhausted nature could make but a weak struggle against disease and affliction like his, and about a week previous to the day appointed for his execution, he expired in peace and penitence,
Lucy: That was a close call. If he’d lived long enough to be executed for murder, his body would have been made available to medical schools for dissection.
trusting in the mercy of his Creator through the sufferings of a Redeemer.
Hugh: The merits of a Redeemer.
David: This is some kind of obscure theological point, isn’t it?
Soon after this event, orders came for removing some of the prisoners to a most loathsome place of confinement in the suburbs of the city.
Lucy: Imprisoned in the suburbs?! When Amnesty International hears about this, someone’s going to be in big trouble.
It fell to Alonzo’s lot to be one. He therefore formed a project for escaping. He had observed that the gratings in one of the windows of the apartment were loose and could easily be removed. One night when the prisoners were asleep, he stripped off his clothes, every article of which he cut into narrow strips,
Meredith [1811 text]: Narrow slips.
Linda: Using the scissors that the guards fortuitously overlooked when they confis— sorry, robbed him.
tied them together, fastened one end to one of the strongest gratings, removed the others until he had made an opening large enough to get out, and then, by the rope he had made of his clothes, let himself down—
Lucy: —landing with a bone-shattering crash when the last grating demonstrated that “strong” and “easily removed” are not mutually exclusive.
into the yard of the prison. There he found a long piece of timber, which he dragged to the wall, clambered up thereon, and sprang over into the street. His shoes and hat he had left in the prison, as a useless encumbrance—
Hugh [1804 text]: As useless encumbrances.
without his clothes, all which he had converted into the means of escape, so that he was now literally stark naked.
Lucy: As opposed to figuratively stark naked, the way he would be if he tried to pay a social call without his hat.
He stood a moment to reflect:—“Here am I,” said he, “freed from my local prison indeed, but in the midst of an enemy’s country, without a friend, without the means of obtaining one day’s subsistence, surrounded by the darkness of night, destitute of a single article of clothing, and even unable to form a resolution what step next to take.
Linda: His clothes wouldn’t quite reach, so he had to slice up part of his frontal lobe as well.
The ways of heaven are marvellous—may I silently bow to its dispensations!”
Meredith: God, he’s an idiot. I hope he gets hypothermia.
David: He won’t. There’s no weather in England, only in Connecticut.
Alonzo passed along the street in this forlorn condition, not knowing where to proceed, or what course to take. It was about three o’clock in the morning; the street was illuminated by lamps, and he feared falling into the hands of the watch.
Lucy: In London in 1780? He’s delirious.
For some time he saw no person; at length a voice from the other side of the street called out,—“Hallo, messmate! what, scudding under bare poles? You must have experienced a severe gale indeed thus to have carried away every rag of sail!”
Alonzo turned, and saw the person who spoke. He was a decent looking man, of middle age, dressed in a sailor’s habit.
Meredith: We will not speculate about why this decent-looking middle-aged sailor is walking the streets at three A.M.
Alonzo had often heard of the generosity and honourable conduct of the British tars: he therefore approached him and told him his real case, not even concealing his being taken in actual hostility to the British government, and his escape from prison. The sailor mused a few minutes. “Thy case,” said he, “is a little critical, but do not despair. Had I met thee as an enemy, I should have fought thee;
David: I thought Quakers were opposed to war.
but as it is, compassion is the first consideration. Perhaps I may be in as bad a situation before the war is ended.” Then slipping off his coat and giving it to Alonzo, “follow me,” he said, and turning, walked hastily along the street, followed by Alonzo; he passed into a bye-lane, entered a small house, and taking Alonzo into a back room, opened a trunk, and handed out a shirt: “there,” said he, pointing to a bed, “you can sleep till morning, when we will see what can be done.”
Linda: Hours later, Alonzo awoke to find himself bound and gagged, on a ship bound for parts unknown.
The next morning the sailor brought in a very decent suit of clothes—
Hugh: Minus their former owner.
and presented them to Alonzo. “You will make this place your home,” said he, “until more favourable prospects appear. In this great city you will be safe, for even your late gaoler would not recognize you in this dress. And perhaps some opportunity may offer by which you may return to your own country.” He told Alonzo that his name was Jack Brown;
David: They’re so darn formal in England. Everyone has two names.
that he was a midshipman—
Meredith [laughing]: Oh, come on. Isn’t a midshipman something like a corporal?
Lucy [consulting reference books]: More like an officer trainee. That explains what he’s doing out in the middle of the night: it’s a hazing ritual. He only just joined the Navy, and his fellow midshipmen are all in their late teens.
Linda: Either that, or he failed the officers’ exam so many times, they wouldn’t let him take it any more. In which case he and Alonzo ought to get along like a house on fire.
on board the Severn;
Lucy [turning pages]: You’d think Severn would be a safe name, since there have been at least seven of them—
David [dutifully]: Ha, ha.
Lucy: —in the British Navy. But there’s a yawning gap from 1759 to 1786. And Severn number three was conveniently wrecked in 1804, so the author didn’t have to worry about getting the details wrong.
that he had a wife and four children, and owned the house in which they then were. “In order to prevent suspicion or discovery,” said he, “I shall consider you as a relation from the country until you are better provided for.” Alonzo was then introduced to the sailor’s wife, an amiable woman, and here he remained for several weeks.
One day Alonzo was informed that a number of American prisoners were brought in. He went to the place where they were landed, and saw several led away to prison, and some who were sick or disabled, carried to the hospital. As the hospital was near at hand, Alonzo entered it—
David: Next time someone hauls out the OED, see when the word “security” first appeared in the language.
to see how the sick and disabled prisoners—
Hugh: American prisoners. He doesn’t give a hoot about the others.
He found that they received as much attention as could reasonably be expected.*
* The Americans who were imprisoned in England, in the time of the war, were treated with much more humanity than those who were imprisoned in America.
Linda [1836 text]: You left out a line. It’s at Halifax and other places in America.
Others [in unison]: Huh?
Hugh [nastily]: Your editor’s mother-in-law came from Halifax and this was his way of sneaking in a crack at her.
Lucy [shuffling papers]: Wait, I just read something about this. August 1791:
William Cunningham, captain of the British provost in Boston and New York during the revolutionary war, executed in England for forgery. He confessed to have starved more than 2,000 American prisoners in New York, by stopping their rations, which he sold; and to have hanged upwards of 270 in a private manner.
David [as judge]: The Court would have been prepared to turn a blind eye on the 2,270 deaths, but forgery cannot be tolerated. You are hereby sentenced to hang.
Linda: In a public manner.
As he passed along the different apartments he was surprised at hearing his name called by a faint voice. He turned to the place from whence it proceeded, and saw stretched on a mattress, a person who appeared on the point of expiring. His visage was pale and emaciated, his countenance haggard and ghastly, his eyes inexpressive and glazy.
Meredith: Mitchell got a package rate on adjectives if he used them in sets of six.
He held out his withered hand, and feebly beckoned to Alonzo, who immediately approached him. His features appeared not unfamiliar to Alonzo, but for a moment he could not recollect him. “You do not know me,” said the apparently dying stranger. “Beauman!” exclaimed Alonzo, in surprise.
Lucy: Archaic usage meaning “with poorly concealed glee”.
“Yes,” replied the sick man, “it is Beauman; you behold me on the verge of eternity; I have but a short time to continue in this world.” Alonzo enquired how he came in the power of the enemy. “By the fate of war,” he replied; “I was taken in an action on York Island, carried on board a prison-ship in New York, and sent with a number of others for England. I had received a wound in my thigh, from a musket ball, during the action; the wound mortified, and my thigh was amputated on the voyage; since which I have been rapidly wasting away, and I now feel that the cold hand of death is laid upon me.”
Linda: I always thought that was just a figure of speech, but didn’t the same cold hand get laid on Melissa? It must be a forewarning, like the wail of the banshee.
Here he became exhausted, and for some time remained silent. Alonzo had not before discovered that he had lost his leg: he now found that it had been taken off close to his body, and that he was worn to a skeleton.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: I did think he looked skinny, but I thought it was just a trick of the light.
When Beauman revived, he enquired into Alonzo’s affairs.
David [as Beauman]: For starters, while I’ve still got the strength to summon a guard, tell me what you’re doing in England, well dressed and at perfect liberty.
Alonzo related all that had happened to him after leaving New London.
“You are unhappy, Alonzo,” said Beauman, “in the death of your Melissa, to which it is possible I have been undesigningly accessory. I could say much on this subject, would my strength permit; but it is needless. She is gone, and I must soon go also. She was sent—
Meredith: On second thought, I will say more, because you’re never too far gone to gloat.
to her uncle’s at Charleston, by her father, where I was soon to follow her. It was supposed that thus widely removed from all access to your company, she would yield to the persuasion of her friends to renounce you: her unexpected death, however, frustrated every design of this nature, and overwhelmed her father and family in inexpressible woe.”
David: It was also the last straw for Beauman’s creditors, leaving him no choice but to join the army under an assumed name.
Here Beauman ceased. Alonzo found he wanted rest: he enquired whether he was in want of any thing to render him more comfortable.
Linda [as Alonzo]: A spot of arsenic in your tea, perhaps? A meat cleaver to your head? Or shall I just even out your legs for you?
Beauman replied that he was not: “For the comforts of life,” said he, “I have no relish; medical aid is applied, but without effect.” Alonzo then left him, promising to call again in the morning.
When Alonzo called the next morning,
Lucy: —he was greeted by three prison guards equipped with chains and handcuffs to take him back into custody.
he perceived an alarming alteration in Beauman. His extremities were cold, a chilling, clammy sweat stood upon his face, his respiration was short and interrupted, his pulse weak and intermitting. He took the hand of Alonzo, and feebly pressing it,—“I am dying,” said he in a faint voice. “If ever you return to America, inform my friends of my fate.” This Alonzo readily engaged to do,
Meredith: But only after coercing Beauman into making out a will leaving him all his property.
and told him also that he would not leave him.
David [as Alonzo]: No worries, Beauman. I wouldn’t miss your funeral for the world.
Beauman soon fell into a stupor; sensation became suspended; his eyes rolled up and fixed. Sometimes a partial revival would take place, when he would fall into incoherent mutterings, calling on the names of his deceased father, his mother and Melissa; his voice dying away in imperfect moanings, till his lips continued to move without sound.
Lucy: Wait, this sounds familiar. [Leafs through other book.] Yup. The author of Alida swiped this sequence to get rid of Bonville once and for all. In her version, Theodore and Alida have already gotten back together. Alida’s the main character, so she can’t die, not even offstage. The author’s only killing Bonville to punish him.
Hugh: With injuries incurred in the war of 1812 instead of in the late American revolution?
Lucy: Oh, no. She’s much too squeamish to let any of her characters get hurt. In this book, “wounds” and “injuries” are always metaphorical. Here:
He was surprised to see him stretched on a mattress—I’d be surprised too, since Bonville’s in his own home and there’s no earthly reason for him not to be in a proper bed—his visage pale and emaciated, his countenance haggard—her source seems to have left out the “ghastly”
Meredith: Or mattress-side, as the case may be.
“You behold me, Theodore,” said he, “on the verge of eternity. I have but a short time to continue in this world.” He evidently appeared to have suffered much from the remembrance of his ungenerous conduct towards Theodore.
And so on for about a page and a half. He even gets the “I could say more” line, but here he really doesn’t say any more.
David: He got sick and died just because he felt bad?
Lucy [turning pages]:
He evidently fell a victim to disappointed pride and remorse at the remembrance of his own baseness.
Hugh: He should have sent to Connecticut for a doctor. They seem to have been good with guilt-induced psychosomatic illnesses.
Towards night he lay silent, and only continued to breathe with difficulty, till a slight convulsion gave the freed spirit to the unknown regions of immaterial existence. Alonzo followed his remains to the grave: a natural stone was placed at its head, on which Alonzo, unobserved, carved the initials of the deceased’s name, with the date of his death,
David [as Alonzo]: Excuse me, gravediggers, could you please go somewhere and get roaring drunk for a few days while I carve some text into this stone with my trusty scissors.
and left him to moulder with his native dust.
Meredith: Beauman was English? I swear they never told us that before.
A few days after this event, Jack Brown informed Alonzo that he had procured the means of his escape. “A person with whom I am acquainted,” said he, “and whom I suppose to be a smuggler,
Linda: That’s why he never got promoted past midshipman. The authorities have grave reservations about his loyalty.
has agreed to carry you to France. There, by application to the American minister, you will be enabled to get to your own country, if that is your object. About midnight I will pilot you on board, and by to-morrow’s sun you may be in France.”
Lucy: Who’s got the almanac? Tide going out at midnight, followed by a steady north-by-northwest wind, should give us a pretty small range of dates.
At the time appointed, Jack set out bearing a large trunk on his shoulder, and directing Alonzo to follow him. They proceeded down to a quay, and went on board a small skiff. “Here,” said Jack to the captain, “is the gentleman I spoke to you about,” and delivered him the trunk. Then taking Alonzo aside, “in that trunk,” said he, “are a few changes of linen,
David: The remaining contents of the large trunk are for the use and benefit of Jack’s smuggler friend, so we won’t say any more about them.
and here is something to help you till you can help yourself.” So saying, he slipped ten guineas into his hand.
Edmund: This lavish generosity is probably accounted for by the fact that Jack is married, with four children, and naturally has to have a great deal of money.
Linda: That was irony, wasn’t it?
Alonzo expressed his gratitude with tears. “Say nothing,” said Jack, “we were born to help each other in distress, and may Jack never weather a storm or splice a rope, if he permits a fellow creature to suffer with want while he has a luncheon on board.” He then shook Alonzo by the hand, wishing him a good voyage, and went whistling away. The skiff soon sailed, and the next morning Alonzo was landed in France. Alonzo proceeded immediately to Paris,
Hugh: We’ll gloss over this part because we have no idea how far Paris is from the nearest seaport, or how you would get there when you don’t speak a word of French and have nothing but English money.
Lucy: Too bad Melissa kicked it. She had a “suitable education”, so she learned French. And Italian.
Meredith [turning back pages]: I remember the education, but where does it say French?
Lucy: Oh, sorry, I was still in Alida:
. . . a pattern of every female excellence, combined with a taste and judgment that had been properly directed by a suitable education.
Oops, no, that was Alida’s mother. Here’s the part I was thinking of:
. . . Alida, their youngest child, who at this time was placed at a boarding-school, at the village of ——, where she was taught, in addition to the different studies belonging to a Christian education, the French and Italian languages.
And, in case we missed it the first time around:
Among her favourite studies was the French language, which, at this period, was considered as one of the necessary appendages to female education, when scarcely any new work could be read without a regret to those who did not understand it.
David: Maybe Presbyterians don’t feel the same way. Can we get back to Alonzo now?
not with a view to returning to America; he had yet no relish for revisiting the land of his sorrows, the scenes where at every step his heart must bleed afresh, though to bleed it had never ceased. But he was friendless in a strange land: perhaps, through the aid of the American minister, Dr. Franklin,
Meredith: Doctor? I thought he always made such a big deal about being a printer.
Lucy: Oxford gave him an honorary doctorate a while back. Guess they didn’t have a way to revoke it when the Colonies started getting uppity.
to whose fame Alonzo was no stranger, he might be placed in a situation to procure bread,
Hugh: Let him eat cake.
which was all he at present hoped or wished.
He therefore presented himself before the doctor, whom he found in his study.
Meredith: This is like when a good actor guest-stars on a bad show and ends up looking uncomfortable and out-of-place.
To be informed that he was an American and unfortunate, was sufficient to arouse the feelings of Franklin. He desired Alonzo to be seated, and to recite his history. This he readily complied with, not concealing his attachment to Melissa, her father’s barbarity, and her death in consequence, his own father’s failure, with all the particulars of—
David [as Franklin]: Look, when I asked for your history, I didn’t mean a complete catalogue of every bad thing that has ever happened to you. Just tell me what you’re doing in Paris and what you want from me.
his leaving America, his capture, escape from prison, and arrival in France; as also the town of his nativity, the name of his father, and the particular circumstances of his family; concluding by expressing his unconquerable reluctance to return to his native country, which now would be to him only a gloomy wilderness, and that his present object was only some means of support.
The doctor enquired of Alonzo the particular circumstances and time of his father’s failure. Of this Alonzo gave him a minute account. Franklin then sat in deep contemplation for the space of fifteen minutes,
Edmund: —showing due regard for his reputation as sage and philosopher.
Hugh: Someone throw that man out. I’ve had it with his one-liners.
without speaking a word.
Meredith: Maybe he’s hoping Alonzo will leave?
He then took his pen, wrote a short note, directed it, and gave it to Alonzo: “Deliver this,” said he, “to the person to whom it is directed;
Linda: Half an hour in Alonzo’s company is enough to learn that you need to spell out these instructions.
he will find you employment, until something more favourable may offer.”
Lucy: Many highly respected citizens got their start as street-sweepers, so I don’t want to hear any complaints.
Alonzo took the note, thanked the doctor, and went in search of the person to whom it was addressed. He soon found the house, which was situated in one of the most popular streets in Paris. He knocked at the door, which was opened by an elderly looking man:
David: Those powdered wigs will fool you every time.
Alonzo enquired for the name to whom the note was addressed.
Linda [1836 text]: The man to whom et cetera.
Meredith: Alonzo doesn’t read French, so he needs someone to tell him who the note is addressed to.
The gentleman informed him that he was the man. Alonzo presented him the note, which having read, he desired him to walk in, and ordered supper.
Hugh [with mouth full]: You won’t mind sitting here watching me eat.
After supper he informed Alonzo that he was an English bookseller; that he should employ him as a clerk, and desired to know what wages he demanded. Alonzo replied that he should submit that to him, being unacquainted with the customary salary of clerks in that line of business. The gentleman told him that the matter should be arranged the next day.
Lucy: He needs to consult with his fellow booksellers about the standard schedule of deductions. By the end of the first three months, Alonzo will owe his employer ninety-seven crowns.
His name was Grafton.
The next morning Mr. Grafton took Alonzo into his bookstore, and gave him his instructions. His business was to sell the books to customers,
David: What? But you distinctly said he was to be a clerk in a bookstore!
and a list of the prices was given him for that purpose. Mr. Grafton counted out twenty crowns and gave them to Alonzo: “You may want some necessaries,” said he; “and as you have set no price on your services, we shall not differ about the wages if you are attentive and faithful.”
Alonzo gave his employer no room to complain;
Linda [1836 text]: No reason to complain.
Hugh: Oh, there were plenty of reasons. But Alonzo never let him get a word in edgewise.
nor had he any reason—
David [to Linda]: Your editor does that a lot, doesn’t he? He picks up a word from the next line, or the previous line, and re-uses it by mistake.
Linda [huffily]: Said the pot to the snowflake.
to be discontented with his situation. Mr. Grafton regularly advanced him twenty crowns at the commencement of every month,
Meredith: And took back thirty at month’s end.
and boarded him in his family. Alonzo dressed himself in deep mourning.
Linda [sulky]: In case anyone cares, I left out “himself”. Alonzo may have his limits, but nobody ever suggested he can’t put his own clothes on.
He sought no company; he found consolation only in solitude, if consolation it could be called.
As he was walking out early one morning, he discovered something lying in the street, which he at first supposed to be a small piece of silk: he took it up and found it to be a curiously wrought purse, containing a few guineas with some small pieces of silver,
David: Alonzo’s really cleaning up, isn’t he? Ten guineas here, twenty crowns there—he’ll be able to pay off his father’s debts in no time.
and something at the bottom carefully wrapped in a piece of paper; he unfolded it, and was thunderstruck at beholding an elegant miniature of Melissa! Her sweetly pensive features, her expressive countenance, her soul-enlivening eye!
Linda: Alonzo, you need professional help. It’s just some Parisian chick with brown hair.
The shock was almost too powerful for his senses. Wildered in a maze of wonders, he knew not what to conjecture. Melissa’s miniature found in the streets of Paris, after she had some time been dead!
Lucy: By executive order, all paintings, silhouettes, drawings, and likenesses of any kind must be destroyed upon the death of their subject.
He viewed it, he clasped it to his bosom.—“Such,” said he, “did she appear, ere the corroding cankers of grief had blighted her heavenly charms!
Linda: And while you’re on that psychiatrist’s couch, see if you can do something about your morbid obsession with the physical facts of decomposition.
By what providential miracle am I possessed of the likeness, when the original is no more? What benevolent angel has taken pity on my sufferings, and conveyed to me this inestimable prize?”
But though he had thus become possessed of what he esteemed most valuable,
Hugh [1804 text]: Most invaluable.
Meredith: You can’t have degrees of invaluability. It’s like “most impossible”.
Linda [military tones]: The valuable we buy right away. The invaluable may take a little longer.
what right had he to withhold it from the lawful owner, could the owner indeed be found? Perhaps the person who had lost it would part with it; perhaps the money contained in the purse was of more value to that person than the miniature. At any rate, justice required that he should endeavour to find to whom it belonged: this he might do by advertising, which he immediately concluded upon, resolving, should the owner appear, to purchase the miniature, if possibly within his power.
Passing into another street, he saw several hand-bills stuck up on the walls of houses; stepping up to one, he read as follows:
“Lost, between the hours of nine and ten last evening, in the Rue de Loir,
Hugh [1804 text]: Rue de Loire, with an “e”.
Lucy: With an acute accent.
Meredith: Everyone settle down. We’re almost to the end of the section.
David: The words I was really hoping to hear were “We’re almost to the end of the book”.
a small silk purse, containing a few pieces of money, and a lady’s miniature. One hundred crowns will be given to the person who may have found it, and will restore it to the owner at the American Hotel, near the Louvre, Room No. 4.”
It was printed both in the French and English languages. By the reward here offered, Alonzo was convinced that the miniature belonged to some person who set a value upon it.
Hugh: One hundred crowns, to be exact.
Determined to explicate the mystery, he proceeded immediately to the place, found the room mentioned in the bill, and knocked at the door. A servant appeared, of whom Alonzo enquired for the lodger. The servant answered him in French, which Alonzo did not understand:
Meredith: I guess they only get English-speaking customers at the bookstore. In France.
Linda: It’s an English bookstore. If you don’t understand English they make fun of you.
he replied in his own language, but found it was unintelligible to the servant.
David: Why can’t those damn Frogs speak English like human beings?
A grave middle aged gentleman then came to the door from within the room and ended their jabbering at each other: he, in the English language, desired Alonzo to walk in. It was an apartment, neatly furnished;
Linda: What else would it be? No interior space in this book has ever been described as anything other than an apartment.
Meredith: The point is that the inhabitant speaks English, so it isn’t an appartement.
no person was therein except the gentleman and servant before mentioned, and a person who sat writing in a corner of the room, with his back towards them.
Lucy: Makes me think of an adventure story I once read, where the main character was described as “clean-shaven except for a full beard, thick whiskers and a bristling mustache”. —No, wait, I tell a lie. It wasn’t a story, it was a made-up example in an article on how not to write.
Hugh: I can see the association of thoughts there.
Alonzo informed the gentleman that he had called according to the direction in a bill of advertisement to enquire for the person who the preceding night, had lost a purse and miniature. The person who was writing had hitherto taken no notice of what had passed; but at the sound of Alonzo’s voice, after he had entered the room, he started and turned about, and at mention of the miniature, he rose up. Alonzo fixed his eyes upon him: they both stood for a few moments silent: for a short time their recollection was confused and imperfect,
David: One of these days someone in this book will recognize an old friend at first sight, and I will fall over dead from shock.
but the mists of doubt were soon dissipated. “Edgar!”—“Alonzo!” they alternately exclaimed.
Lucy: It also works if you exclaim in two-part harmony, but this author seems to prefer the amœbic style.
David: Don’t ask her what “amœbic” means. I want to get out of here.
It was indeed Edgar,
the early friend and—
Lucy: Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.
fellow student of Alonzo—
Meredith: Still drawing a blank.
the brother of Melissa!
David: Oh, that Edgar.
In an instant they were in each other’s arms.
Hugh [folding up newspaper]: And in another instant, the readers were gone.
Linda: You gotta hand it to the author. He’s really getting the hang—sorry—of these cliffhangers.
Edgar and Alonzo retired to a separate room. Edgar informed Alonzo that the news of Melissa’s death reached him, by a letter from his father, while with the army;
Meredith [1811 text]: While at the army.
Hugh [1804 text]: While he was at the army.
Lucy: So “Army” is a physical location, like a video arcade called The Library or a bar called AA Meeting.
that he immediately procured a furlough, and visited his father, whom, with his mother, he found in inconsolable distress.—“The letter which my uncle had written,” said Edgar, “announcing her death, mentioned with what patience and placidity she endured her malady, and with what calmness and resignation she met the approach of death. Her last moments, like her whole life, were unruffled and serene. She is in heaven Alonzo—she is an angel!”—Swelling grief here choaked the utterance of Edgar; for some time he could proceed no farther, and Alonzo, with bursting bosom, mingled his tears.
Linda: And assorted internal organs.
“My father,” resumed Edgar, “bent on uniting her to Beauman or at least of preventing her union with you, had removed her to a desolate family mansion, and placed her under the care of an aunt. At that place, he either suspected, or really discovered that you had recourse to her—
Lucy: I really hope the meaning of “had recourse to” has changed since 1804, because it sounds as if he’s saying . . . uhmm . . .
David: . . . something you wouldn’t usually say about your sister.
while my aunt was absent on business. She was therefore no longer entrusted to the care of her aunt, but my father immediately formed and executed the plan of sending her—
Hugh [as editor, under his breath]: —immediately sent her. And two nickels to the Violations Jar.
to his brother in South Carolina, under pretence of restoring her to health by change of climate, as her health in reality had began rapidly to decay. There it was designed that Beauman should shortly follow her, with recommendations from my father to her uncle, urging him to use all possible means which might tend to persuade her to become the wife of Beauman. But change of climate only encreased her load of sorrows,
Meredith [as Melissa]: As if I didn’t have problems enough, now I’ve got—swat!—these damned—swat!—mosquitoes—swat!—to contend with.
and she soon sunk beneath them.
Linda: Sorrows, my eye. It was the combination of malaria and yellow fever that did it.
The letter mentioned nothing of her troubles: possibly my uncle’s family knew nothing of them: to them, probably,
—— “She never told her love,
But sat like Patience on a monument
Smiling at grief; while sad concealment,
Like a worm in the bud,
Fed on her damask cheek.
Lucy [mechanically]: Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 4.
“My father’s distress was excessive: often did he accuse himself of barbarity, and he once earnestly expressed a wish that he had consented to her union with you.
David: But only once. After a quick visit to his secret shrine to Mammon, he got a grip on himself.
My father, I know, is parsimonious, but he sincerely loved his children. Inflexible as is his nature, the untimely death of a truly affectionate and only daughter will, I much fear, precipitate him, and perhaps my mother also, to a speedy grave.
Meredith: By this time Edgar was tired of listening to them moaning about it, so he signed on as a missionary and caught the next boat to France.
Hugh: Where he got a nasty shock upon finding out that they have a state religion, and it isn’t Presbyterian.
Lucy: Oh, he knew that. Like all good Protestants of his time and place, he thinks that Catholics aren’t really Christians, so they’re in as much need of the Word as anyone.
David [muttered aside to Hugh]: She just makes this stuff up, you know.
“As soon as my feelings would permit, I repaired to your father’s, and made enquiry concerning you. I found your parents content in their humble state, except that your father had been ill, but was recovering. Of you they had heard nothing since your departure,
Linda: Someone really needs to take Alonzo by the hand, walk him to the post office and explain how to send mail. He doesn’t seem to grasp that letters can go from him as well as to him.
and they deeply lamented your absence. And from Vincent I could obtain no farther information.
Hugh: Like everyone else, Edgar forgot that Simpson and Vincent are different people, so he didn’t think to question each one separately.
“Sick of the world, I returned to the army. An American consul was soon to sail for Holland:
Lucy: Either we’ve skipped forward another fifteen years, or he’s saying “consul” when he means “envoy”. The first U.S. envoy to Holland was appointed in April 1782, but consuls by that name didn’t come along until the 1790’s.
I solicited and obtained the appointment of secretary.
David: The Army desperately needs more Congregationalist chaplains, but they’re already at quota, so they can only do it if they transfer some of their surplus Presbyterian chaplains to other assignments.
I hoped by visiting distant countries, in some measure to relieve my mind—
Linda: Should have read the fine print, Edgar. It’s the Navy that does the distant countries.
from the deep melancholy with which it was oppressed. We were to proceed first to Paris, where we have been a few days; to-morrow we are to depart for Holland. The consul is the man who introduced you into the room where you found me.
Lucy [emerging from reference books]: Even if we call him an envoy we’ve still got a chronology problem. The U.S. envoy—some guy named John Adams, wife Abigail, if anyone cares—has been moving back and forth between France and Holland since 1777 except for one spell in the first half of 1780 when he went home for a bit. So when did he pick up Edgar?
“Last evening I lost the miniature which I suppose you have found: the chain to which it was suspended around my neck, had broken while I was walking the street.
Hugh: The colonies forgot to budget for paying the envoy’s secretary, so Edgar had to find an alternative source of income.
I carefully wrapped it in paper and deposited it in my purse, which I probably dropped on replacing it in my pocket, and did not discover the loss until this morning.
Meredith: I’m giving you all these pointless details so you’ll believe it really belongs to me and not to the Third Man.
I immediately made diligent search,
David: Everywhere but the place where he actually dropped it, where Alonzo found it the next morning in plain sight.
but not finding it, I put up bills of advertisement.
Linda: With the aid of his local 24-hour print shop.
Lucy: Come to think of it, it’s a good thing Alonzo didn’t have to advertise, since he’d be hard pressed to find an English-speaking printer.
The likeness was taken in my sister’s happiest days. After I had entered upon my professional studies in New York, I became acquainted with a miniature painter, who took my likeness. He afterwards went into the country, and as I found he was to pass near my father’s, I engaged him to call there and take my sister’s likeness also. We exchanged them soon after. It was dear to me, even while the original remained; but since she is gone it has become a most precious and valuable relique.”
Hugh [1804 text]: A most precious and invaluable relique.
Linda: We’ve been over this already.
All the tender powers of Alonzo’s soul were called into action by Edgar’s recital. The “days of other years”—
Lucy [mechanically]: Ossian, alias James McPherson. One of the great forgeries of all time.
the ghosts of sepulchred blessings,
Lucy: Sounds like another quote, but I haven’t pinned it down.
passed in painful review. Added to these, the penurious condition of his parents, his father’s recent illness, and his probable inability to procure the bread of his family, all tended more deeply to sink his spirits in the gulf of melancholy and misery. He however informed Edgar of all that had happened since they parted at Vincent’s—respecting the old mansion, Melissa’s extraordinary disappearance therefrom, the manner in which he was informed of her death, his departure from America, capture, escape,
Meredith: Franklin had to sit through the whole epic, so all that’s left for Edgar is the condensed version.
Beauman’s death, arrival in France, and his finding the miniature. To Edgar as well as Alonzo, Melissa’s sudden and unaccountable removal from the mansion was mysterious and . . .
David [trailing away]: Oh, sorry. My editor messed up, didn’t he? That line belongs about a chapter back.
Hugh [trying to be unobtrusive]: Dear me, is that the time? I’d love to continue this, but I’m afraid I—
Lucy: Mitchell, you’ve outdone yourself. Edgar knows why Melissa was removed from the castle; he got the whole story from his father. And he just finished explaining it all to Alonzo, so he knows too.
As Edgar was to depart early the next morning, they neither slept nor separated that night.
“If it were not for your reluctance to revisit your native country,” said Edgar, “I should urge you to accompany me to Holland,
Meredith: Adams told him he should feel free to bring along any friend he might happen to run into.
and thence return with me to America. Necessity and duty require that I should not be long absent, as my parents want my assistance, and they are now childless.”
Linda: Well, that’s their fault isn’t it?
David: It’s the unfeeling father’s fault. Melissa’s mother didn’t do anything; she didn’t even know what was going on most of the time.
Linda: Then it’s her fault for being such a doormat.
“Suffer me,” answered Alonzo, “to bury myself in this city for the present: should I ever again awake to real life, I will seek you out if you are on the earth;
Meredith: He won’t find him, of course—he never does—but it’s the thought that counts.
but now, I can only be a companion to my miseries.”
The next morning as they were about to depart,
Hugh and Meredith: About to part. Alonzo isn’t going anywhere.
Alonzo took Melissa’s miniature from his bosom, contemplated the picture a few moments with ardent emotion, and presented it to Edgar.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Oh, um, here. I stole it from you when you were in the bathroom.
“Keep it,” said Edgar, “it is thine. I bestow it upon thee as I would the original, had not death become the rival of thy love, and my affection.—Suffer not the sacred symbol too tenderly to renew your sorrows. How swiftly, Alonzo, does this restless life fleet away!—How soon shall we pass the barriers of terrestrial existence!
David: Edgar falls into these fits now and then so we don’t forget he’s a clergyman.
Let us live worthy of ourselves, of our holy religion, of Melissa—Melissa, whom, when a few more suns have arisen and set, we shall meet in regions where all tears shall be eternally wiped from every eye.”
Meredith: Tears shall be eternally wiped? That doesn’t sound like a very happy place.
Lucy: What I don’t like is “a few more suns”. Makes it sound as if Edgar has some kind of inside knowledge.
Woman in black [drifting through]: What a lot of heathens. Cotton Mather’s last words were “I am going to where all tears will be wiped from my eyes.” The phrase comes at least twice in Revelations.
David [turning around, bewildered]: Who was that?
Lucy: Search me. Another asylum escapee, I guess.
With what unspeakable sensibilities was it returned to Alonzo’s bosom! Edgar offered Alonzo pecuniary assistance, which the latter refused: “I am in business,” said he, “which brings me a decent support, and that is sufficient.” They agreed to write each other as frequently as possible, and then affectionately parted: Edgar sailed for Holland, and Alonzo returned to his business at Mr. Grafton’s.
Some time after this Alonzo received a message from Dr. Franklin, requiring his attendance at his house, which summons he immediately obeyed. The doctor introduced him into his study, and after being seated, he earnestly viewed Alonzo for some time, and thus addressed him:
Hugh [as Franklin]: Are you aware that your fly is unzipped?
“Young man, your views, your resolutions, and your present conduct, are totally wrong.
Linda: Say what? He’s working at the job that Franklin found for him.
Disappointment, you say, has driven you from your native country. Disappointment in what? In obtaining the object on which you most doated.
David: OK, what’s going on? Did Franklin have Adams’s office bugged?
Lucy: No, he’s continuing where they left off. If it takes him a solid quarter-hour of deep thought to come up with a suitable entry-level job, you can only imagine how long it must take to think his way through the rest of Alonzo’s issues.
And suppose this object had been obtained, would your happiness have been complete? Your own reason, if you coolly consult it, will convince you of the contrary. Do you not remember when an infant, how you cried, and teazed your nurse, or your parents, for a rattle, or some gay trinket? Your whole soul was fixed upon the enchanting bauble; but when obtained, you soon cast it away, and sighed as earnestly for—
Hugh [1804 text]: Sighed as ardently for.
some other trifle, some new toy.
David: I don’t know about the rest of you, but I honestly can’t say I remember my infancy in any great detail.
Thus it is through life; the fancied value of an object ceases with the attainment; it becomes familiar, and its charm is lost.
Meredith: Oh snap, Benjamin Franklin smackdown!
Lucy: If Alonzo weren’t so wrapped up in his personal problems, this would be a good time to point out that Franklin met his own wife when he was seventeen and she was fifteen—and he wrote an article advocating early marriage.
“Was it the splendours of beauty which enraptured you? Sickness may, and age must destroy the symmetry of the most finished form—the brilliancy of the finest features. Was it the graces of the mind? I tell you, that by familiarity, these allurements are lost, and the mind, left vacant,
David: Is this still Melissa he’s talking about, or has he moved on to Alonzo?
turns to some other source to supply vacuum.
Linda: Why would you need to supply vacuum to something that’s already vacant?
Hugh [as Mitchell]: When I—
David: Yes, yes, we know. It was fine when it had your name on it.
Lucy: If you must know, we’re dealing with a parallel sense of “supply”, meaning to fill the gap created by something. The two meanings ran neck and neck until the second half of the 19th century.
—to supply the vacuum.
“Stripped of all their intrinsic value,
Hugh [1804 text]: All but their intrinsic value.
Meredith: Um, yeah, I guess that does make more sense. Selling old love letters to the recycling center doesn’t even pay for the gas, but find the right publisher and you’ve got it made.
how poor, how vain, and how worthless, are those things we name pleasures, and enjoyments.
“Besides, the attainment of your wishes might have been the death of your hopes. If my reasoning is correct, the ardency of your passion might have closed with the pursuit. An every day suit, however rich and costly the texture, is soon worn threadbare.
Linda: Melissa’s father should have thought of that when he talked about how valuable Beauman’s wardrobe is. Cloth of gold doesn’t wear well.
On your part, indifference would consequently succeed: on the part of your partner, disappointment, jealousy, and disgust. What might follow is needless for me to name;—your soul must shudder at the idea of conjugal infidelity!
Lucy: We will tactfully refrain from speculation about how Franklin’s soul felt.
David: The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. The man’s got to be in his seventies.
“But admitting the most favourable consequences; turn the brightest side of the picture; admitting as much happiness as the connubial state will allow: how might your bosom have been wounded by the sickness and death of your children, or their disorderly and disobedient conduct!
Meredith: Is he quoting Melissa’s father?
Lucy: No, it’s autobiography. One of Franklin’s sons died in childhood and the other one lived and died a Loyalist.
You must know also, that the warmth of youthful passion must soon cease, and it is merely a hazardous chance whether friendship will supply the absence of affection.
“After all, my young friend, it will be well for you to consider, whether the all-wise dispensing hand of Providence, has not directed this matter which you esteem so great an affliction, for your greatest good, and most essential advantage.
David [as Franklin]: Only think! If Melissa had not died, you would never have been privileged to meet me.
And suffer me to tell you, that in all my observations on life, I have always found that those connections which were formed from inordinate passion, or what some would call pure affection,
Hugh [1804 text]: What you would call pure affection.
have been ever the most unhappy. Examine the varied circles of society, you will there see this axiom demonstrated; you will there see how few among the sentimentally refined are even apparently at ease; while those, insusceptible of what you name tender attachments, or who receive them only as things of course, plod on through life, without even experiencing the least inconvenience from a want of the pleasures they are supposed to bestow, or the pains they are sure to create.
Lucy: Then again, Franklin may just be in a bad mood and looking to take it out on someone unimportant.
David: It’s indigestion. The pleasures that were supposed to be bestowed by last night’s dinner have taken a back seat to the pains it was sure to create.
Beware, then, my son, beware of yielding the heart to the effeminacies of passion. Exquisite sensibilities are ever subject to exquisite inquietudes. Counsel with correct reason, place entire dependence on the Supreme,
Hugh: People talk about how characters in British novels manage to pronounce parentheses. Leave it to Benjamin Franklin to be able to pronounce small capitals.
and the triumph of fortitude and resignation will be yours.”
Meredith: For half an hour or so, while collecting his thoughts for the next round.
His reasonings, however they convinced the understanding, could not heal the wounds of Alonzo’s bosom.—In Melissa he looked for as much happiness as earth could afford, nor could he see any prospect in life which could repair the loss he had sustained.
“You have,” resumed the philosopher, “deserted an indulgent father, a fond and tender mother, who must want your aid; now, perhaps, unable to toil for bread; now, possibly laid upon the bed of sickness, calling, in anguish or delirium, for the filial hand of their only son to administer relief.”
Linda: Franklin, you know perfectly well you’re making that up. Wonder why he’s so anxious for Alonzo to leave France all of a sudden?
David: He just found out that Alonzo spent the night in John Adams’s hotel room.
All the parental feelings of Alonzo—
Lucy: I think he means filial feelings, unless there’s something the author hasn’t told us.
were now called into poignant action.—“You have left a country, bleeding at every pore, desolated by the ravages of war, wrecked by the thunders of battle, her heroes slain, her children captured. This country asks—she demands—you owe her your services:
Linda: Didn’t Franklin just get through saying Alonzo has to go back and help his parents? This new your-country-needs-you motif is just going to confuse him.
God and nature call upon you to defend her, while here you bury yourself in inglorious inactivity, pining for a hapless object,
Hugh [1804 text]: A hopeless object.
Meredith: Both, as it turned out.
which, by all your lamentations, you can never bring back to the regions of mortality.”
This aroused the patriotic flame in the bosom of Alonzo; and he voluntarily exclaimed,
David: Franklin didn’t even get a chance to bring out the thumbscrews.
“I will go to the relief of my parents—I will fly to the defence of my country!”
Linda: I take it back. Franklin obviously understands Alonzo’s character better than we do. If one argument is good, two completely unrelated arguments are even better.
“In former days,” continued Franklin, “I was well acquainted with your father.
Lucy: This would have been during Franklin’s Lost Years, which biographers have hitherto been unable to penetrate. Turns out he was in Connecticut the whole time.
As soon as you informed me of his failure, I wrote to my correspondent in England, and found, as I expected, that he had been overreached by swindlers and sharpers.—The pretended failure of the merchants with whom he was in company, was all a sham, as was also the reported loss of the ships in their employ.
David: Exactly what we’ve been saying all along.
The merchants fled to England: I have had them arrested,
Linda: That’s a pretty neat trick when you consider that Franklin’s country is currently at war with England.
and they have given up their effects to much more than the amount of their debts. I have therefore procured a reversion of your father’s losses, which, with costs, damages, and interests, when legally stated, he will receive of my agent in Philadelphia, to whom I shall transmit sufficient documents by you, and I shall advance you a sum equal to the expenses of your voyage, which will be liquidated by the said agent.
Meredith: Oh Franklin, you turned out to be a deus ex machina. I’m so disappointed.
A ship sails in a few days from Havre, for Savannah in Georgia:
Meredith [before Lucy can say anything]: Wasn’t Georgia heavily controlled by the British during the war? Alonzo’s gonna get captured again as soon as he lands.
it would, indeed, be more convenient were she bound to some more northern port, but I know of no other which will sail for any part of America for some time. In her therefore I would advise you to take passage: it is not very material on what part of the continent you are landed;
David: After all, the whole thing’s only about a hundred miles from edge to— Oh, whoops, I’m thinking of Connecticut.
you will soon reach Philadelphia, transact your business, restore your father to his property, and be ready to serve your country.”
Meredith: I think Franklin’s hoping Alonzo will get killed in battle and his father will leave all his money to Franklin. Not a bad plan.
If any thing could have given Alonzo consolation, it must have been this noble, generous and disinterested conduct of the great Franklin in favour of his father, by which his family were restored to ease and to independence. Ah! had this but have happened in time to save a life far dearer than his own!
Lucy: Never mind that if Melissa hadn’t died, Alonzo would never have gone overseas in the first place, and if he hadn’t ended up in France he would never have met Franklin.
The reflection was too painful. The idea, however, of giving joy to his aged parents, hastened his departure. Furnished with proper documents and credentials from Franklin, his benefactor, he took leave of him, with the warmest expressions of gratitude, as also of Mr. Grafton, and sailed for Savannah, where he arrived in about eight weeks.
Intent on his purpose, he immediately purchased a carriage and proceeded on for Philadelphia. As he approached Charleston, his bosom swelled with mournful recollections.
David: Oh, cut it out, Alonzo. You’ve never been to Charleston in your life.
Meredith: That didn’t stop Melissa when she was rhapsodizing about how she enjoyed the scenery around the castle with Alonzo.
Linda: But later on Alonzo did show up at the castle, so that made it OK. It was an anticipatory memory.
He arrived in that city in the afternoon, and at evening he walked out,
Hugh: In France and England it was safe to walk the streets at any hour of the day or night, but now that he’s back in America he’s not taking any chances.
Lucy: I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me sooner, but could he be some kind of vampire?
Linda: My money’s on ghoul. He’s got that obsession with decaying flesh, remember?
and entered a little ale house, which stood near the large burial ground. An elderly woman and two small children were the only persons in the house, except himself. After calling for a pint of ale, he enquired of the old lady, if Col. D——, (Melissa’s uncle) did not live near the city. She informed him that he resided about a mile from town, where he had an elegant seat, and that he was very rich.
“Was there not a young lady,” asked Alonzo, “who died there about eighteen months ago?”
“La me!” said she,
David: Oh, no! It’s John’s wife, sent down to Charleston to make sure Alonzo doesn’t try any funny business.
Hugh: It can’t be. He said elderly.
Meredith: She’s twenty-two. Spending your adult life barefoot and pregnant ages you prematurely.
“did you know her? Yes: and a sweeter or more handsome lady the sun never shined on. And then she was so good, so patient in her sickness.—Poor, dear distressed girl, she pined away to skin and bone before she died. She was not Col. D——’s daughter, only somehow related: she came here in hopes that a change of air might do her good. She came from—la me! I cannot think of the name of the place;—it is a crabbed name though.”
“Connecticut, was it not?” said Alonzo.
“O yes, that was it,” replied she.
Linda: Cleverly pretending to be unfamiliar with the name.
“Dear me! then you knew her, did you, sir?—Well, we have not her like left in Charleston; that we han’t;
Lucy: It’s been a bad season for young women. One whiff of the climate and they start dropping like flies.
and then there was such ado at her funeral; five hundred people, I dare say, with eight young ladies for pall-bearers, all dressed in white, with black ribbons, and all the bells tolling.”
“Where was she buried?” enquired Alonzo.
“In the church-yard right before our door,” she answered. “My husband is the sexton; he put up her large white marble tomb-stones;
David: Uh . . . tomb-stones, plural? She’s distributed among more than one grave?
Linda: They buried so many young ladies that day, the records got scrambled and they decided not to take any chances.
they are the largest and whitest in the whole burying-ground;
Meredith: The stonecutter used an extra layer of whitewash so the fake marble finish would last longer.
and so, indeed, they ought to be, for never was there a person who deserved them more.”
Tired with the old woman’s garrulity,
David: He’s got a nerve complaining about other people talking too much. He asked about Melissa and her uncle.
and with a bosom bursting with anguish, Alonzo paid for his ale without drinking it, bade her good night, and slowly proceeded to the church-yard. The moon, in full lustre, shone with solemn, silvery ray, on the sacred piles,
Hugh: The consecrated piles. If Edgar were here, he would explain the difference.
Linda: That’s a relief. I thought we were talking about some kind of embarrassing medical condition.
and funeral monuments—
Hugh [wearily]: Funereal monuments.
of the sacred dead; the wind murmured mournfully among the weeping willows; a solitary nightingale* sang plaintively in the distant forest;
* This bird, though not an inhabitant of the northern states, is frequently to be met with in Georgia and the Carolinas.
Meredith: We wouldn’t want you to think he’s sneaking in one of those unauthorized foreign birds that Pearson was talking about.
and a whippoorwill, Melissa’s favourite bird, whistled near the portico of the church.
David: It’s a recording set for automatic loop, but the visitor doesn’t need to know that.
The large white tomb-stones soon caught the eye of Alonzo. He approached them with tremulous step, and with feelings too agitated for description. On the head-stone—
Lucy: That’s what he meant by tombstones, plural. There’s also a footstone, like in a bed.
Hugh: They need a place to hang their clanking chains and other accessories when they rise from the grave.
he read as follows:
To the Memory of inestimable departed
To unrivalled Excellence and Virtue.
Miss Melissa D——,
Whose remains are deposited here, and
whose ethereal part became a seraph,
October 26, 1776,
Linda: That can’t be right. Didn’t we figure out that most of the romance happened in the spring and summer of 1777?
David: Chronology doesn’t seem to be Mitchell’s strong point. Ask him when something happens and he hasn’t a clue.
Hugh [as Mitchell]: The year of this event is not remembered.
In the 18th year of her age.
David: They got that from the newspaper. I remember we worked out that she had to be at least twenty, and that was before we got to the Trumbull. If the naval engagement in 1781 happened pretty soon after she died—
Linda: —assuming for the sake of argument that August comes pretty soon after October—
David: —that would make her more like twenty-four.
Meredith: “In the 25th year of her age” just doesn’t sound as heartbreaking.
Alonzo bent, he kneeled, he prostrated himself, he clasped the green turf which enclosed her grave, he watered it with his tears, he warmed it with his sighs. “Where art thou, bright beam of heavenly light!” he said. “Come to my troubled soul, blessed spirit! Come, holy shade! come in all thy native loveliness, and cheer the bosom of wretchedness, by thy grief dispersing smile!
Hugh: I have to say it would be pretty funny if Melissa’s ghost did show up at this point.
On the ray of yon evening star descend. One moment leave the celestial regions of glory
He arose and walked away: suddenly he stopped. “Yet,” said he, “if spirits departed lose not the power of recollection;—if they have knowledge of present events on earth, Melissa cannot have forgotten me—she must pity me.”
Lucy: Alas, poor Alonzo! I knew him well.
He returned to the grave; he took her miniature from his bosom; he held it up, and earnestly viewed it by the moon’s pale ray.
“Ah, Franklin!” he exclaimed,
Linda: Oops, wrong miniature. You want the other one.
“how tenderly does she—
Hugh [1804 text]: How tenderly pensive.
David: Admit it: you just like the word. I counted an even dozen of them.
Hugh: If you knew anything at all about the newspaper business you would know that adjectives are always cheaper by the dozen.
beam her lovely eye upon me!
Hugh: Her lovely eyes, plural.
Meredith: In 1804 she still had two. By 1811, one had decomposed.
Linda: Eeuw. It’s the Miniature of Dorian Gray.
How often have I drank delicious extacy from the delicacy of those unrivalled charms!
Lucy [gagging]: Time out. Unscheduled break. I still had the picture of her decomposing eyeball in my mind when we got to the “delicious drink”.
Linda: Thank you for sharing.
How often have they taught me to anticipate superlative and uninterrupted bliss! Mistaken and delusive hope! [returning the miniature to his bosom.]
David: Whoops! Ran short on quotation marks again.
Vain and presumptuous assurance. There [pointing to the grave] there behold how my dearest wishes, my fondest expectations are realized!—Hallowed turf! lie lightly on her bosom!—Sacred willows! sprinkle the dews gently over her grave, while the mourning breezes sigh sadly amid your branches! Here may the ‘widowed wild rose love to bloom!’
Lucy: Probably The Conquest of Canaan, but I don’t feel like looking it up.
Here may the first placid beams of morning delight to linger; from hence, the evening ray reluctantly withdraw!
Linda: In Connecticut they had dark photons. In Charleston, the latest thing is adhesive photons.
And when the final trump shall renovate and arouse the sleeping saint;—when on ‘buoyant step’ she soars to glory, may our meeting spirits join in beatifick transport! May my enraptured ear catch the first holy whisper of her consecrated lips.”
Meredith: Get some sleep, Alonzo. You’ll feel better.
Alonzo having thus poured out the effusions of an overcharged heart, pensively returned to the inn, which he entered and seated himself in the common room, in deep contemplation. As usual at public inns, a number of people were in the room,
Linda: This is the same inn where he just spent half an hour letting the old lady talk his ear off because there wasn’t anyone else around?
Lucy: In retrospect, putting an alehouse right next to the cemetery may not have been such a great business decision.
among whom were several officers of the American army.
Meredith: No police officers, of course. Those were in the doughnut shop next door.
Alonzo was too deeply absorbed in melancholy reflection, to notice passing incidents, until a young officer came, seated himself by him, and entered into a conversation respecting the events of the war.
David: For conversation, read “monologue”. He was looking for someone who wouldn’t have the energy to tell him to shut up and go away, and Alonzo fit the bill.
He appeared to be about Alonzo’s age; his person was interesting, his manners sprightly, his observations correct.—Alonzo was, in some degree, aroused from his abstractedness;
Lucy: He’s got a job to do, and he’s good at it: when you see an able-bodied man out of uniform, act friendly and get his story.
His frankness, his ease, his understanding, his urbanity, void of vanity or sophistication, sympathetically caught the feelings of Alonzo, and he even felt a sort of solemn regret when the stranger departed.
David [as stranger]: Well, thanks for listening, but I’m back on duty in an hour and I need to sober up. Oh, by the way, I told the barman to put my drinks on your tab.
He soon retired to bed, determining to proceed on early in the morning.
He arose about daylight; the horizon was overcast, and it had begun to rain, which before sunrise encreased to a violent storm. He found therefore that he must content himself to stay until it was over, which did not happen till near night, and too late to pursue his journey.
Meredith: Too bad there aren’t any unattached young ladies around. It’s just the time for a walk.
He was informed by the inn-keeper, that the theatre, which had been closed since the commencement of the war, was to be opened for that night only, with the tragedy of Gustavus,
Lucy [usual business with reference books]: Ooh, good one. Written by Henry Brooke in England in 1739, and promptly banned for political reasons. Its American premiere—
Linda: So if this is the early part of the year, we’d have to be in at least 1783.
David [ticking off points]: Death of Melissa, Trumbull incident in late 1781, move forward no more than eighteen months. It fits!
Meredith: Except for those seven years that the author sort of misplaced.
and close with a representation of Burgoyne’s capture, and some other recent events of the American war.
David: Bzzt! Datable External Event! Bzzt!
Lucy [riffling through books]: Where are they getting “capture”? He surrendered—and then calmly went home to England and spent the rest of his life writing plays. That’s assuming they’re talking about the battle of Saratoga, in October . . . uh . . . 1777. Not exactly “recent”.
Hugh: If Melissa died in 1776 as it says on her tombstone, and it’s now eighteen months later, then October 1777 was only six months ago.
To “wing the hours with swifter speed,” Alonzo determined to go to the theatre,
Linda: How much swifter does he need to get? He’s already lived through ten years of recorded history in three years.
and at the hour appointed he repaired thither.
As he was proceeding to take his seat, he passed a box where sat the young officer, whose manners had so prepossessed him the preceding evening at the inn. He immediately arose: they exchanged salutations, and Alonzo walked on and took his seat. The evening was warm, and the house exceedingly crowded. After the tragedy was through, and before the after-piece commenced, the young officer came to Alonzo’s box, and made some remarks on the merit of the actors.
David: Yesterday the war, today the theater. Tomorrow night, he’s going to back Alonzo into a corner and explain how the third quarter of the Super Bowl should have been played, with particular attention to that grossly miscalled fumble.
While they were discoursing, a bustle took place in one part of the house, and several people gathered around a box, at a little distance from them. The officer turned, left Alonzo, and hastened to the place. To the general enquiry of, “what’s the matter?” it was answered, that “a lady had fainted.” She was led out, and the tumult subsided.
As soon as the after-piece was closed, Alonzo returned to the inn. As he passed along he cast his eyes toward the church-yard, where lay the “wither’d blessings of his richest joys.”
Linda: Pity they didn’t bury Melissa in an open vault. He’d be able to go in and watch her decomposing.
Affection, passion, inclination, urged him to go and breathe a farewell sigh, to drop a final tear over the grave of Melissa. Discretion, reason, wisdom forbade it—forbade that he should re-pierce the ten thousand wounds of his bosom,
David: If he were a cartoon character, he’d be spurting blood like a colander.
Lucy [punching buttons on calculator]: I make it eight piercings per linear inch. More like a cheese grater.
by the acute revival of unavailing sorrows. He hurried to his chamber.
As he prepared to retire to rest, he saw a book lying on the table near his bed. On taking it up he found it to be Young’s Night Thoughts, a book which, in happier days, had been the solace of many a gloomy, many a lucid hour.
Meredith: Good observation, Mitchell. With Alonzo, “gloomy” and “lucid” are mutually exclusive.
He took it up and the first lines he cast his eyes upon were the following:
“Song, beauty, youth, love, virtue, joy: this group
Of bright ideas—flowers of Paradise,
As yet unforfeit!
Linda [1836 text]: I’ve got “As yet a forfeit”. [Looking around.] Um. I guess not. He left out “youth”, too.
As yet unforfeit! in one blaze we bind.
Kneel, and present it to the skies; as all
We guess of Heaven! And these were all her own
And she was mine, and I was—was most blest—
Like blossom’d trees o’erturn’d by vernal storm,
Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay—
Ye that e’er lost an angel, pity me.”
His tears fell fast upon the book!
David: And this is astonishing because . . . ?
He replaced it and flung himself into bed. Sleep was far from him; he closed not his eyes till the portals of light were unbarred in the east,
Linda: Does that mean daylight, or sunrise? In this book, they seem to come about three hours apart.
Hugh [as editor]: It means it’s time to fire another writer and swap out the Violations Jar. It just overflowed.
when he fell into interrupted slumbers.
When he awoke, the morning was considerably advanced. He arose. One consolation was yet left—to see his parents happy. He went down to order his carriage; his favourite stranger, the young officer, was in waiting, and requested a private interview. They immediately retired to a separate room, where the stranger thus addressed Alonzo:
“From our short acquaintance, you may, sir, consider it singular that I should attempt to scrutinize your private concerns; more extraordinary may you esteem it, when I inform you of my reasons for so doing.
Meredith: And most extraordinary of all if the stranger ever gets around to telling his name.
Linda: Two names would be unrealistic, so we won’t even consider it.
Judging, however, from appearances, I have no doubt of your candour. If my questions should be deemed improper, you will tell me so.”
Alonzo assured him that he would treat him candidly. “This I believe,” said the young officer; “I take the liberty therefore to ask if you are an American?” “I am,” answered Alonzo.
“I presume,” said the stranger, “—the question is a delicate one—I presume your family is respectable?” “Sacredly so,” replied Alonzo.
“Are you married, sir?” “I am not, and have ever been single.”
Hugh: No, no, you’ve got it backward. Now listen [1804 text]:
“Are you unmarried, sir?” “I am now, and have ever been single.”
Meredith: So that’s what he was getting at. I’ve got “married” and “now”, give or take a comma.
“Have you any prospects of connecting in marriage?” “I have not, sir.”
“I may then safely proceed,” said the stranger; “I trust you will hear me attentively; you will judge maturely; you will decide correctly, and I am confident that you will answer me sincerely.
David: Something about that wording sounds horribly familiar.
Linda: It’s a relative of Melissa’s father! She made a last-minute will leaving everything to Alonzo, so he’s got to be quietly disposed of as soon as they’ve made sure of his identity.
“A young lady of this city, with whom I am well acquainted, and to whom, indeed, I am distantly related, whose father is affluent, whose connections are eminently respectable, whose manners are engaging, whose mind is virtue, whose elegance of form and personal beauty defy competition, is the cause, sir, of this mission.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Sorry, not interested.
Early introduced into the higher walks of life, she has passed the rounds of fashionable company; numberless suitors have sighed for her hand, whom she complaisantly dismissed without disobliging, as her heart had not yet been touched by the tender passion of love.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: Did I mention that I’m not interested?
Surprising as it may, however, seem, it is now about six months since she saw in her dream the youth who possessed the power to inspire her with this passion. In her dream she saw a young gentleman whose interesting manners and appearance, impressed her so deeply that she found she must be unhappy without him.
Hugh [as Alonzo]: I’m really not—
David: You may as well save your breath. He’s not interested in your response.
She thought it was in a mixed company she saw him, but that she could not get an opportunity to speak to him. It seemed that if she could but speak to him, all difficulties would at once be removed. At length he approached her, and just as he was about to address her, she awoke.
Linda: That was the first test. If the subject appears to believe this cockamamie story, it may be Alonzo, so proceed to the second test.
“This extraordinary dream she has communicated to several of her acquaintance.—
Hugh [1804 text]: Who has but two children besides herself.
David: That had better turn out to be significant.
being dotingly fond of her, has promised that if ever she meets this unknown stranger, he will not oppose their union, provided he is respectable, and that, if worthy of her hand, he will make him independent.
Linda: That was the second test. If the subject buys the idea that a young lady’s father could swallow the story—
“On my return from the inn the evening I first saw you, I told my sister—I beg pardon, sir
Lucy: A-ha! He’s got a vested interest. He needs to locate his sister’s dream man and bump him off before their father can settle any money on him.
after I first met you at the inn, I fell in company with the lady, and in a rallying way told her that I had seen her invisible beau, as we used to call the gentleman of the dream. I superficially described your person, and descanted a little on the embellishments of your mind.
Meredith: I’m going to guess that “descanted” means “made it up off the top of my head”, because I can’t think of any other way that he would have information about Alonzo’s mind.
She listened with some curiosity and attention; but I had so often jested with her in this manner, that she thought but little of it. At the play last night, I had just been speaking to her when I came to your box: her eyes followed me,
David: Go for it, Alonzo. You don’t find that many women with X-ray vision. It might even be hereditary.
but no sooner had they rested on you, than she fainted! This was the cause of my leaving you so abruptly, and not returning. We conveyed her home, when she informed me that you was the person she had seen in her dream!
“To me only, she preferred disclosing the circumstance at present, for reasons which must be obvious to your understanding.
Linda: And that was the third test. If the subject doesn’t stop you at this point and say “The only thing that’s obvious is that your whole story is nonsense from beginning to end”—then you’ve almost certainly found Alonzo.
Even her father and mother are not informed of it, and should my mission prove unsuccessful, none except you, sir, she and myself, I hope and trust, will ever know any thing of the matter.
Lucy: At least until Alonzo gets home and starts dining out on the story of the wacko he met in Charleston.
“Now, sir, it is necessary for me farther to explain. As singular as the circumstances which I have related may appear to you, to me they must appear as strange.—One valuable purpose is, however, answered thereby; it will exclude the imputation of capriciousness—the freakish whim of love at first sight, which exists only in novels and romances. You, sir, are young, unmarried, unaffianced, your affections free: such is the condition of the lady. She enquires not into the state of your property! she asks not riches:—If she obtains the object of her choice, on him, as I have told you, will her father bestow affluence.—Whatever, sir, may be your pretensions to eminence, and they may be many, the lady is not your inferior.
Meredith [as stranger]: She’s stark staring mad, of course, but I see no reason why that should weigh with you.
Her education also is such as would do honour to a gentleman of taste.
“I will not extend my remarks; you perfectly understand me—what answer shall I return?”
Alonzo sighed: for a few moments he was silent.
“Perhaps,” said the stranger, “you may consider the mode of this message as bearing the appearance of indecorum. If so, I presume, on reviewing the incidents which to—
Hugh [1804 text]: Which led to—
—which enforced it, as the most safe, the only means of sure communication, you will change your opinion. Probably you would not wish finally to decide until you have visited the lady. This was my expectation, and I am, therefore, ready to introduce you to her presence.”
“No, sir,” said Alonzo, “so far from considering the message indecorous, I esteem it a peculiar honour, both as respects the lady and yourself.
Meredith: It’s not every day you receive an offer of marriage from a madwoman who has never exchanged one syllable with you. Anyone would be flattered.
Nor is it necessary that I should visit the lady, to confirm the truth of what you have related. You will not, sir, receive it as an adulatory compliment, when I say, that although our acquaintance is short, yet my confidence in your integrity is such as to require no corroborating facts to establish your declaration.
Linda: The lady herself may or may not be bonkers, but one of her near relatives certainly is. That’s enough information for me.
But, sir, there are obstacles, insuperable obstacles, to the execution of the measures you would propose.
“Your frankness to me, demands, on my part, equal candour. I assured you that I was unmarried, and had no prospect of entering into matrimonial engagements; this is indeed the fact: but it is also true that my affections—my first, my earliest affections were engaged, unalienably engaged, to an object which is now no more.
Hugh: In spite of the stranger’s touching confidence, Alonzo is not prepared to reciprocate by describing the exact nature of his fetish.
Perhaps you may esteem it singular; perhaps you will consider it enthusiasm; but, sir, it is impossible that my heart should admit a second and similar impression.”
The stranger paused. “Recent disappointments of this nature,” he replied, “commonly leave the mind under such gloomy influences. Time, however, the soother of severest woes, will, though slowly, yet surely, disperse the clouds of anguish, and the rays of comfort and consolation will beam upon the soul. I wish not to be considered importunate, but the day may arrive when you may change your present determination, and then will you not regret that you refused so advantageous an overture?”
David [as stranger]: Dude, you’re not getting it. We’re talking a lot of money here.
“That day will never arrive, sir,” answered Alonzo: “I have had time for deliberate reflection since the melancholy event took place. I have experienced a sufficient change of objects and of country; the effect is the same. The wound is still recent, and so it will ever remain:
Meredith: It will heal faster if you stop picking at it.
indeed I cannot wish it otherwise. There is a rich and sacred solemnity in my sorrows, sir, which I would not exchange for the most splendid acquirements of wealth, or the most dignified titles of fame.”
Lucy: Alonzo has fantasies of being pointed out at age fifty as the man with the nameless and mysterious sorrow in his past.
The young officer sat for some time silent.
Linda: A style of behavior made fashionable by Dr. Franklin.
“Well, sir,” he said, “since it is thus, seeing that these things are so, I will urge you no farther. You will pardon me respecting the part I have taken in this business, since it was with the purest designs. May consolation, comfort, and happiness, yet be yours.”
“To you and your fair friend,” said Alonzo, “I consider myself under the highest obligations. The gratitude I feel I can but feebly express. Believe me, sir, when I tell you, (and it is all I can say,) that your ingenuous conduct has left impressions in my bosom which can never be obliterated.”
David: In addition to the ten thousand puncture wounds, the autopsy revealed extensive blunt-force trauma to the upper torso.
The stranger held out his hand, which Alonzo ardently grasped. They were silent, but their eyes spoke sympathy, and they parted.
Alonzo immediately prepared, and was soon ready to depart. As he was stepping into his carriage, he saw the young officer returning. As he came up, “I must detain you a few moments longer,” he said, “and I will give you no farther trouble. You will recollect that the lady about whom I have so much teazed you, when she became acquainted with you in her dream, believed that if she could speak with you, all difficulties would be removed. Conscious that this may be the case, (for with all her accomplishments she is a little superstitious,) she desires to see you. You have nothing to fear, sir;
Linda [as stranger]: We’ve been close friends for nearly 48 hours, so you know you can trust me.
she would not for the world yield you her hand, unless in return you could give her your heart. Nor was she willing you should know that she made this request, but wished me to introduce you, as it were by stratagem. Confident, however, that you would thus far yield to the caprice of a lady, I chose to tell you the truth. She resides near by, and it will not hinder you long.”
“It is capriciousness in the extreme,” thought Alonzo;
Hugh [mutters something about pots and kettles].
but he told the stranger he would accompany him—who immediately stepped into the carriage, and they drove, by his direction, to an elegant house in a street at a little distance,
Lucy: The “street” part is to lull the reader’s suspicion. We’ve already been told that Colonel D—— lives outside of town, so this can’t possibly have anything to do with Melissa’s family.
and alighted. As they entered the house, a servant handed the stranger a note, which he hastily looked over: “Tell the gentleman I will wait on him in a moment,” said he to the servant, who instantly withdrew. Turning to Alonzo, “a person is in waiting,” said he, “on urgent business; excuse me, therefore, if it is with reluctance I retire a few moments, after I have announced you; I will soon again be with you.”
They then ascended a flight of stairs: the stranger opened the door of a chamber—“The gentleman I mentioned to you madam,” he said. Alonzo entered; the stranger closed the door and retired.
Meredith: You’re sunk, Alonzo. These Southern families take the proprieties seriously. Five seconds alone in a closed room with a lady, and you’ll have to marry her.
The lady was sitting by a window at the lower end of the room, but arose as Alonzo was announced. She was dressed in sky-blue silk, embroidered with spangled lace; a gemmed tiara gathered her hair, from which was suspended a green veil, according to the mode of those times;
Linda: The ladies of Charleston never suspected that their leading dress designer was color-blind.
a silken girdle, with diamond clasps, surrounded her waist, and a brilliant sparkled upon her bosom.
Lucy: They also had no idea that in the rest of the Colonies, jewels for daytime wear had gone out of fashion at the beginning of the Revolution.
“The stranger’s description was not exaggerated,” thought Alonzo; “for, except one, I have never seen a more elegant figure:” and he almost wished the veil removed, that he might behold her features.
“You will please to be seated, sir,” she said. “I know not how—I feel an inconceivable diffidence in making an excuse for the inconveniences my silly caprices have given you.”
Enchanting melody was in her voice! Alonzo knew not why, but it thrilled his bosom, electrified his soul, and vibrated every nerve of his heart.
Meredith: She needn’t have bothered with the opaque green veil. A little bitty opera mask would have done the job.
Confused and hurried sensations, melancholy, yet pleasing; transporting as the recurrence of youthful joys, enrapturing as dreams of early childhood, passed in rapid succession over his imagination!
Linda: It’s his old nurse! They always told him she had died, but he had his suspicions.
She advanced towards him and turned aside her veil. Her eyes were suffused, and tears streamed down her cheeks.—Alonzo started—his whole frame shook—he gasped for breath!—“Melissa!” he convulsively exclaimed,—“God of infinite wonders, it is Melissa!”
David: Alonzo is the main character, so he’s allowed to take the Lord’s name in vain twice. Melissa and her father only get one each.
Hugh: To make up for it, she gets to say “Heaven!” three times while Alonzo only gets one.
Again will the incidents of our history produce a pause.
Linda: For “will”, read “did”. For “the incidents of our history”, read “editorial action”.
Our sentimental readers will experience a recurrence of sympathetic sensibilities, and will attend more
eagerly to the final scene of our drama.—“Melissa alive!” may they say—
Hugh and Meredith: —announced in the—
David: You mean they knew about it beforehand, like a wedding or a furniture sale?
Did not her cousin at New London inform him of the circumstances, and was he not in mourning? Did not the dying Beauman confirm the melancholy fact?
Lucy: Dying Declaration. Common exception to the hearsay rule. Obviously Alonzo has never seen Strangers on a Train.
And was not the unquestionable testimony of her brother Edgar sufficient to seal the truth of all of this? Did not the sexton’s wife who knew not Alonzo, corroborate it? And did not Alonzo finally read her name, her age, and the time of her death, on her tomb-stone, which exactly accorded with the publication of her death in the papers, and his own knowledge of her age? And is not this—
Hugh [1804 text]: Is not all this.
sufficient to prove, clearly and incontestibly prove, that she is dead?
Meredith: Well, let’s see. People who independently reported Melissa’s death [ticking off on fingers]: newspaper obituary writer, cousin, Beauman, Edgar, sexton’s wife—
Linda: Woman claiming to be the sexton’s wife. We have only her word for it, and why is a sexton’s wife hanging out in an alehouse with two small childen?
Meredith: —stone-cutter. Total, six. Number of people who personally witnessed Melissa’s death . . .
David [ostentatiously counting on fingers]: I make it zero.
Lucy: Call it Preponderance of the Evidence, but not Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Might be enough to get her will into probate, though.
And yet here she is again, in all her primitive beauty and splendour! No, this surely can never be. However the author may succeed in his description, in painting reanimated nature,
Linda: If Mitchell is about to claim that the idea of Frankenstein was originally his, I’m going to need some hard proof.
he is no magician, or if he is, he cannot raise the dead.
“Melissa has long since mouldered into dust,
Meredith: Uh, it’s been six months, I think.
Lucy: Eighteen. But he definitely isn’t up to speed on human-decomposition research.
and he has raised up some female Martin Guerre, or Thomas Hoag—
Linda: I remember Martin Guerre—there was a French movie about him—but who’s Thomas Hoag?
Lucy [riffling through books]: New York City bigamy case in—oh, lucky break for Mitchell!—1804. His readers had probably been slurping up every detail. Real name, Joseph Parker. He was acquitted and they never did find the real Hoag. The Martin Guerre impostor was more fun. He claimed he really was Guerre, and probably would have got away with it if the real one hadn’t turned up.
some person, from whose near resemblance to the deceased, he thinks to impose upon us and upon Alonzo also, for Melissa. But it will not do; it must be the identical Melissa herself, or it might as well be her likeness in a marble statue. What! can Alonzo realize the delicacies, the tenderness, the blandishments of Melissa in another? Can her substitute point him to the rock on New London beach, the bower on her favourite hill,
David: That’s a pretty good question—but first we’d have to know for certain that Melissa never told anyone but Alonzo. She could have babbled out anything when she was dying.
Meredith: And he could have babbled out anything at any time.
or so feelingly describe the charms of nature?
Lucy: Better not lay too much weight on that one. I don’t think a court would consider an ability to describe the charms of nature as dispositive evidence.
Can he, indeed, find in her representative those alluring graces, that pensive sweetness, those unrivalled virtues and matchless worth which he found in Melissa, and which attracted, fixed and secured the youngest affections of his soul? Impossible!—Or could the author even make it out that Alonzo was deceived by a person so nearly resembling Melissa that he could not distinguish the difference,
Linda: Based on our knowledge of Alonzo and his powers of observation—I’d say yes, easily.
yet to his readers he must unveil the deception, and, of course, the story will end in disappointment; it will leave an unpleasant and disagreeable impression on the mind of the reader,
Meredith: Truer words . . .
which in novel writing is certainly wrong. It is proved as clearly as facts can prove, that he has suffered Melissa to die; and since she is dead, it is totally beyond his power to bring her to life—
Meredith: The Imagined Reader apparently has a thin grasp on the concept of fiction.
and so his history is intrinsically good for nothing.”
Readers [ostentatiously look in five different directions, avoiding eye contact].
Be not quite so hasty, my zealous censor.
Meredith: Don’t tell me what to do, Jackson.
Meredith: Don’t tell me what to do, Mitchell.
Did we not tell you that we were detailing facts? Shall we disguise or discolour truth to please your taste?
Linda: Well, sure, if it sells more copies. We’ve been over this before.
Have we not told you that disappointments are the lot of life? Have we not, according to the advice of the moralist, led Alonzo to the temple of philosophy, the shrine of reason, and the sanctuary of religion?
Lucy: You can lead a man to philosophy but you can’t make him think.
If all these fail—if in these Alonzo cannot find a balsam sufficient to heal his wounded bosom; then if, in despite of graves and tomb-stones, Melissa will come to his relief—will pour the balm of consolation over his anguished soul, cynical critic, can the author help it?
David: If the author is asking us to believe that the character took on a life of her own and he never had any idea she was still alive, I’m not buying it.
It was indeed Melissa, the identical Melissa, whom Alonzo ascended a tree to catch a last glimpse of, as she walked up the avenue to the old mansion, after they had parted at the draw-bridge, on the morning of the day when she was so mysteriously removed.
Linda: Oh, thank you, Mitchell. I’d forgotten who this Melissa character was, and was hoping someone would jog my memory.
“Melissa!”—“Alonzo!”—were all they could articulate: and frown not, my fair readers, if we tell you that she was instantly in his arms, while he pressed his ardent lips to her glowing cheek.
David: That’s her brother’s cue to burst in with a shotgun.
Sneer not, ye callous hearted insensibles, ye fastidious prudes, if we inform you that their tears fell in one intermingling shower,
Hugh [1804 text]: In one immingling shower.
that their sighs wafted in one blended breeze.
The sudden opening of the door aroused them to a sense of their improper situation; for who but must consider it improper to find a young lady locked in the arms of a gentleman to whom she had just been introduced?
David: This is that “humor” thing again, isn’t it?
Meredith: Give it up, Mitchell. You haven’t got the knack.
The opening of the door, therefore, caused them quickly to change their position; not so hastily, however, but that the young officer who then entered the room had a glimpse of their situation.—“Aha!” said he, “have I caught you? Is my philosophic Plato so soon metamorphosed to a bon ton enamarato? But a few hours ago, sir, and you were proof against the whole arcana of beauty,
Linda [1836 text]: The whole arena of . . . um . . . never mind.
and all the artillery of the graces; but no sooner are you for one moment tete a tete with a fashionable belle, than your heroism and your resolutions are vanquished, your former ties dissolved, and your deceased charmer totally forgotten or neglected, by the virtue of a single glance. Well, so it is: Amor vincit omnia is my motto;
Meredith: Save yourselves a trip to the dictionary. In my margin it says “Love conquers all”.
to thee all conquering beauty, our firmest determinations must bow. I cannot censure you for discovering, though late, that one living object is really of more intrinsic value than two dead ones.
Lucy: Two dead ones? Did I miss something?
Indeed, sir, I cannot but applaud your determination.”
Hugh [1804 text]: Your discrimination.
Linda: I like “determination”. Makes him sound sarcastic.
“The laws of honour,” said Alonzo, smiling, “compel me to submit to become the subject of your raillery and deception; I am in your power.”
“I acknowledge,” said the officer, “that I have a little deceived you, my story was fiction founded on truth—the novel style:
Hugh: The true novel style.
David: So is it true, or is it a novel?
Hugh: I don’t care, so long as you buy my newspaper.
but for the deceptive part, you may thank your little gipsey of a nymph there,”
Lucy: Mitchell was fresh out of adjectives but he found some usable nouns in the bargain bin.
Linda: For a given definition of “usable”. Just don’t ask him what a gipsy nymph is.
Hugh: I thought it was a stage in the development of an insect.
pointing to Melissa; “she planned and I executed.”
“How ready you gentlemen are,” replied Melissa, “when accused of impropriety, to cast the blame on the defenceless! So it was with our first parents, and so it is still.
David: If her father were here, he would say she’ll burn in Hell for that remark. But since she’s spent the last year and a half being dead, she probably knows more about the subject than he does.
But you must remember that Alonzo is yet to hear my story; there, sir, I have the advantage of you.”
“There I confess,” said he, looking at Alonzo, “you will be too hard for me, and so I will say no more about it.”
Melissa then introduced the young officer to Alonzo, by the appellation of Capt. Wilmot. “He is the son of my deceased uncle,” said she,
Linda: It’s no use objecting that this is the first you’ve heard of any deceased uncle. Melissa never knew about him either; she met him while she was dead.
“a cousin to whom I am much indebted, as you shall hereafter know.”
A coach drove up to the door, which Melissa informed Alonzo was her uncle’s, and was sent to convey Alfred—
David: Who the— Does she mean Captain Wilmot? Another person with two names?
Meredith: That makes four. William Simpson, Henry Malcomb, Jack Brown and now this cousin.
Lucy: Four and a half, if you give Melissa credit for the initial D.
Meredith: But she has to share that with her uncle—the one who isn’t deceased—and her parents and Edgar. Oh, and the old maid.
and her home.
Linda: I guess it would be tactless to ask whose house this is, if it isn’t any of theirs.
Hugh: The author rented it for a half-day to fool the reader.
“You will have no objection to breakfast with me at my uncle’s,” said Alfred, “if it be only to keep our cousin Melissa in countenance.”
Alonzo did not hesitate to accept the invitation:
Meredith: Thanks to his well-attested memory problem, he has long since forgotten that he had breakfast at the inn before leaving, and can’t understand why he feels so full already.
They immediately therefore entered the coach, a servant took charge of Alonzo’s carriage, and they drove to the seat of Col. D——, who, with his family, received Alonzo with much friendship and politeness. Alfred had apprized them of Alonzo’s arrival in town, and of course he was expected.
Col. D—— was about fifty years old, his manners were majestically grave, and commanding, yet polished and polite. His family consisted of an amiable wife, considerably younger than himself, and three children: the eldest son,
Hugh: Pay attention, will you? The eldest, comma, a son . . .
Lucy: It’s redundant either way. The firstborn is always a son, unless all the children are going to be daughters. Well-known biological fact, attested in hundreds of novels.
about ten years of age, and two daughters, one seven, the other four years old. Harmony and cheerfulness reigned in this family, which diffused tranquillity and ease to its members and its guests.
It was agreed—
Hugh: Hey! You skipped a paragraph. [1804 text:]
. . . to its members and its guests.
And here, were we to adopt the method of some novel writers,
Linda: Neener-neener, you used the n-word.
Hugh [huffily]: It doesn’t say the story is a novel. The reference is to the methods of novel writers.
Linda: Tell it to the judge.
we might close our history, and leave it for imagination to paint the sequel. But there are some mysteries, which if not elucidated, will render our story incomplete, and besides were we to stop here, the real finishing stroke would still be wanting;
Lucy: So long as one reader is left alive, the author’s job cannot be considered complete.
we shall therefore pass with as much rapidity as possible over the remaining incidents of our story,
Readers [ad lib]: Yay! Woo hoo! Hurrah!
rendered already too lengthy for a weekly paper.
It was agreed that Alonzo should pass a few days at the house of Melissa’s uncle, when Melissa was to accompany him to Connecticut. Alfred, with some other officers, was recruiting for the army, where his regiment then lay, and which he was shortly to join. He could not, therefore, be constantly at his uncle’s, though he was principally there while Alonzo staid: but being absent the day after his arrival, Melissa and Alonzo having retired to a room separate from the family, she gave him the following account of what happened after they parted at the old mansion.
“The morning after you left me,” she said, “John came to the bridge and called to be let in:
Lucy: You know, I always wondered about that. The walled compound must be awfully small if you can hear from inside the house when someone’s at the main gate.
Hugh: The old maid made sure the intercom was kept in good working order, and changed the batteries regularly.
I immediately went to the gate, opened it, and let down the bridge. John informed me that my aunt had suddenly and unexpectedly arrived that morning in company with a strange gentleman, and that he had come for the keys, as my aunt was to visit the mansion that day. I strove to persuade John to leave the keys in my possession, and that I would make all easy with my aunt when she arrived.
David: Of course it would never enter her head to lie and say she doesn’t have them.
Meredith [as Melissa]: Keys? What keys? What are you talking about? My aunt gave you the keys so you could lock me in.
Linda [as Melissa]: What do you mean, give you the keys? I gave them back to you when I opened the gate. It’s not my fault if you’ve lost them.
This, though with much reluctance, he at length consented to, and departed. Soon after this my aunt came, and without much ceremony demanded the keys, insinuating that I had obtained them from John by imposition, and for the basest purposes.
David: Something baser than mere escape, obviously.
Linda: It wouldn’t have to be anything fancy. She could just lock up her aunt and leave her to starve.
This aroused me to indignation, and I answered by informing her that whatever purposes the persecution and cruelty of my family had compelled me to adopt, my conscience, under present circumstances approved them, and I refused to give her the keys. She then ordered me to prepare to leave the mansion, and accompany her to her residence at the house of John.
Lucy: Since Melissa isn’t planning to escape anyway, this whole locked-in-a-castle business has become a pointless hassle.
I told her that I had been placed there by my father, and should not—
Hugh: Have subordinate clauses gone out of fashion? [1804 text:] I told her that as I had been placed there by my father, I should not—
David: Come to think of it, how does she know it was her father? If someone locked me in a castle, I’d want something more than my captor’s unsupported word that they were acting on my father’s instructions.
consent to a removal unless by his express orders.
Meredith: Melissa gives new meaning to the term “a model prisoner”.
She then left me, intimating that she would soon let me know that her authority was not to be thus trampled upon with impunity.
“I immediately raised the bridge, and made fast the gate, determining, on no considerations, to suffer it to be opened until evening. The day passed away without any occurrence worthy of note, and as soon as it was dark, I went, opened the gate, and cautiously let down the bridge.
Linda: Uh . . . why? Alonzo isn’t coming until eleven. Is she holding open house for the burglars?
I then returned to the mansion, and placed the candle, as we had concerted, at the window. Shortly after I heard a carriage roll over the bridge and proceed up the avenue.—My heart fluttered; I wished—I hardly know what I did wish;
David: Try wishing for a clock. It can’t possibly be eleven P.M. already.
Lucy [consulting almanac]: Even if we make it earlier in the year—say, mid-August rather than close to the equinox—it would be dark by seven-thirty or so.
but I feared I was about to act improperly, as I had no other idea but that it was you, Alonzo, who was approaching.
Meredith: Bit late to worry about the proprieties, since Alonzo is showing up by express arrangement—and you can’t get a whole lot more improper than sharing a closed carriage in the middle of the night.
Lucy: Spending a night alone together would be even worse, but— Oh, right, they’ve already done that.
The carriage stopped near the door of the mansion; a footstep ascended the stairs. Judge of my surprise and agitation, when my father entered the chamber! A maid and two men servants followed him. He directed me to make immediate preparations for leaving the mansion—which command, with the assistance of the servants, I obeyed with a heart too full for utterance.
“As soon as I was ready, we entered the carriage, which drove rapidly away. As we passed out of the gate, I looked back at the mansion, and saw the light of the candle, which I had forgotten to remove, streaming from the window, and it was by an extraordinary effort that I prevented myself from fainting.
Linda: Why bother? It’s not like she’d be missing anything.
“The carriage drove, as near as I could judge, about ten miles, when we stopped at an inn for the night, except my father, who returned home on horseback, leaving me at the inn in company with the servants,
Meredith: Melissa’s father has finally mastered the “chaperone” concept. The maidservant’s job is to sleep in Melissa’s room.
where the carriage also remained. The maid was a person who had been attached to me from my infancy. I asked her whether she could explain these mysterious proceedings.
“‘All I know, Miss, I will tell you,’ said she. ‘Your father received a letter to-day from your aunt, which put him in a terrible flutter:
Hugh and Meredith: A terrible fluster.
Lucy: Those -st- ligatures will trip you up every time.
he immediately ordered his carriage and directed us to attend him. He met your aunt at a tavern somewhere away back, and she told him that the gentleman who used to come to our house so much once, had contrived to carry you off from the place where you lived with her;
Linda: Melissa skipped the part where she blurted out the whole plan to her aunt because she’s—hang on, I know it’s in here somewhere—incapable of duplicity or evasion.
David: Or possibly because she’s a godforsaken imbecile.
so your father concluded to send you to your uncle’s in Carolina, and said that I must go with you. And to tell you the truth, Miss, I was not displeased with it; for your father has grown so sour of late, that we have little peace in the house.’
“By this I found that my fate was fixed, and I gave myself up for some time to unavailing sorrow. The maid informed me that my mother was well, which was one sweet consolation among my many troubles; but she knew nothing of my father’s late conduct.
Meredith: Melissa has a long history of disappearing for months at a stretch without saying a word to anyone, so her mother thought nothing of it.
Hugh [absent-mindedly]: Too wordy. Cut everything but “Melissa’s mother thought nothing”.
“The next morning we proceeded, and I was hurried on by rapid stages to the Chesapeak, where, with the maid and one man servant, I was put on board a packet for Charleston, at which place we arrived in due time.
“My uncle and his family received me with much tenderness: the servant delivered a package of letters—
Hugh [1804 text]: A packet of letters.
Linda: Hence the term “packet boat”.
to my uncle from my father. The carriage with one servant (the driver) had returned from the Chesapeak to Connecticut.
“My father had but one brother and two sisters, of which my uncle here is the youngest. One of my aunts, the old maid, who was my protectress at the old mansion, you have seen at my father’s. The other was the mother of Alfred:
David: Can’t she keep her stories straight? First she said Alfred was the son of her deceased uncle; now it’s an aunt.
she married very young, to a gentleman in Hartford, of the name of Wilmot,
Meredith: It would be a lot funnier if his name had been something other than Wilmot, since we already know that’s Alfred’s last name.
who fell before the walls of Louisburg, in the old French war.
Lucy [reference books]: Otherwise known as the French and Indian war, 1754–1763. Siege of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, summer 1758.
My aunt did not long survive him;—her health, which had been for some time declining, received so serious a shock by this catastrophe, that she died a few months after the melancholy tidings arrived, leaving Alfred, their only child, then an infant,
Linda: What did “infant” mean in 1804—under 21? The author thinks we’re in the first half of 1778, so if Alfred was an infant in 1758 he’d be around twenty, twenty-one. You’d have to do some serious juggling to get him to be “about Alonzo’s age”.
Meredith: While you’re juggling, see if you can figure out how old his mother was. If she married “very young” and her only child is in his early 20’s, she’d be at most in her early 40’s if she were still alive—but the author specifically said that the Colonel is the youngest, and that he’s about fifty.
David: Maybe her first child wasn’t born until ten years after she got married.
Meredith: Which wipes out the only reason for saying that she married “very young”.
Lucy: And, to wrap it up, the old maid hasn’t just “doubled her teens”, she has tripled or even quadrupled them.
to the protection of his relations, who as soon as he arrived at a suitable age, placed him at school.
“My grandfather, who had the principal management of Mr. Wilmot’s estate, sent my uncle, who was then young and unmarried, to Hartford, for the purpose of transacting the necessary business. Here he became acquainted with a young lady, eminent for beauty and loveliness, but without fortune, the daughter of a poor mechanic.
Linda: I don’t usually ask for extra words, but I do wish he’d said “poor but honest”.
As soon as my grandfather was informed of this attachment, he, in a very peremptory manner, ordered my uncle to break off the connection on pain of his highest displeasure. But such is the force of early impressions, (Melissa sighed) that my uncle found it impossible to submit to these firm injunctions;
Hugh [1804 text]: These stern injunctions.
David: Father and grandfather really are two peas in a pod, aren’t they?
a clandestine marriage ensued, and my grandfather’s maledictions in consequence. The union was, however, soon dissolved;
Meredith: The Unfeeling Grandfather pulled strings to have it annulled.
my uncle’s wife died in about twelve months after their marriage, and soon after the birth of their first child, which was a daughter. Inconsolable and comfortless, my uncle put the child out to nurse, and travelled to the south. After wandering about for some time, he took up his residence in Charleston, where he amassed a splendid fortune. He finally married to an amiable and respectable woman, whose tenderness, though it did not entirely remove, yet greatly alleviated the pangs of early sorrow; and this, added to the little blandishments of a young family, fixed him in a state of more contentedness than he once ever expected to see.
“His daughter by his first wife, when she became of proper age, was sent to a respectable boarding-school in Boston,
Linda: Isn’t that a tautology?
where she remained until within about two years before I came here.
David: Making her about Melissa’s age, give or take a couple of years.
Meredith [slapping forehead]: Oh, of course! This is the cousin who was supposed to spend the summer with Melissa after the wedding that never happened. I thought the author had forgotten all about her.
Linda: That makes another relative who’s ten years older than he ought to be. I think the author just hit the wrong button on his calculator. If you put the four siblings in the forty-to-fifty range, instead of fifty and up, it works out a lot better. The evil aunt is still too old—but she probably lies about her age.
“Alfred was educated at Harvard College:
Lucy: That explains why we’ve never heard of these people before. The Yale and Harvard branches of the family don’t speak to each other.
as soon as he had graduated, he came here on my uncle’s request, and has since remained in his family.
“Soon after I arrived here; my uncle came into my chamber one day. ‘Melissa,’ said he, ‘I find by your father’s letters that he considers you to have formed an improper connection. I wish you to give me a true statement of the matter, and if any thing can be done to reconcile you to your father, you may depend upon my assistance. I have seen some troubles in this way myself, in my early days; perhaps my counsel may be of some service.’
“I immediately gave him a correct account—
David: Don’t forget “impartial” and “unbiased”.
of every particular circumstance, from the time of my first acquaintance with you until my arrival at his house.
Linda: Except for the episodes involving the ghostly housebreakers. Her non-disclosure agreement is still in effect there.
He sat some time silent,
Meredith: That Franklin guy has got a lot to answer for.
and then told me that my father, he believed, had drawn the worst side of the picture; and that he had urged him to exert every means in his power to reclaim me to obedience: That Beauman was to follow me in a few months, and that, if I still refused to yield him my hand, my father positively and solemnly declared that he would discard me forever, and strenuously enjoined it upon him to do the same.
Lucy: Melissa’s father is congenitally unable to imagine anyone disagreeing with him, let alone actively opposing him, no matter how many times it has happened in the past. So it would never enter his mind to make sure of the uncle’s position before entrusting Melissa to him.
‘I well know my brother’s temper,’ continued my uncle; ‘the case is difficult, but something must be done. I will immediately write to your father,
Meredith: Wouldn’t it be more useful to write to Alonzo?
Hugh [1804 text]: Advising him. Younger brothers do not give orders to older brothers.
David: Waste of time either way. Melissa’s father doesn’t take advice.
not to proceed too rashly; in the mean time we must consider what measures to pursue. You must not, my niece, you must not be sacrificed.’ So saying, he left me, highly consoled that, instead of a tyrant, I had found a friend in my new protector.
Linda: But only for as long as it takes for father to swing down from Connecticut, remove her from the uncle’s protection and proceed to Plan C.
“Alfred was made acquainted with the affair, and many were the plans projected for my benefit,
Lucy: When Yale’s best efforts fail, bring in Harvard.
and abandoned as indefeasible,
Meredith: Defying your father is tricky when you’re only prepared to defy him with his consent.
till an event happened which called forth all the fortitude of my uncle to support it, and operated in the end to free me from persecution.
“My uncle’s daughter, by his first wife, was of a very delicate and sickly constitution, and her health evidently decreasing. After she came to this place,
Hugh [with Meredith nodding assent]: Her health evidently decreasing after she came to this place.
Meredith: Cause and effect. The sexton’s wife already told us what an unhealthy place this is.
she was sent to a village on one of the high hills of Pedee, where she remained a considerable time; she then went to one of the inland towns in North Carolina, from whence she had but just returned with Alfred when I arrived. Afterwards I accompanied her to Georgetown,
Linda: I’m going to guess that they weren’t taking extension classes at Georgetown University, and that she doesn’t mean any of the Georgetowns west of the Mississippi or north of the Ohio. So is she talking about Georgetown, Delaware; Georgetown, Georgia; or Georgetown, South Carolina?
Lucy [reference books]: The one in South Carolina is on the coast, so there wouldn’t seem to be much point in going there instead of staying in Charleston. But it’s been around forever, while the one in Georgia is a one-horse town that wasn’t incorporated until 1859, and Delaware’s Georgetown only goes back to 1791.
and other places, attended by her father, so that she was little more known in Charleston than myself. But all answered no purpose to the restoration of her health; a confirmed hectic carried her off—
David: A confirmed hectic what?
Linda [before Lucy can reach for the books]: A high fever, associated with wasting diseases like consumption.
in the bloom of youth.
Meredith: Apart from being sickly all her life and dying of consumption, she was in the bloom of health.
“I was but a few months older than she; her name was Melissa, a name which a pious grandmother had borne, and was therefore retained—
Hugh [1804 text]: Was thereafter retained.
Meredith: I like “therefore”. Melissa’s father was hoping she’d grow up equally pious.
David: The other Melissa’s father was just trying to kiss up to the family after they’d disowned him.
in the family. Our similarity of age, and in some measure of appearance, our being so little known in Charleston, and our names being the same, suggested to Alfred the idea of imposing on my father, by passing off my cousin’s death as my own.
Lucy: And thanks to his Harvard education, he was able to pass off this harebrained scheme as a bright idea.
This would, at least, deter Beauman from prosecuting his intended journey to Charleston;
Linda: The strict code of Southern hospitality would have made it impossible for the uncle to refuse to let Beauman in the house. But nobody could take issue with “I’m sorry, you can’t see her because she’s dead.”
it would also give time for farther deliberation,
David: When you’re in prison for concealment of one death and falsely reporting another, you’ve got a lot of time to think.
and might so operate on my father’s feelings as to soften that obduracy of temper, which deeply disquieted himself and others, and thus finally be productive of happily effecting the designed purpose.
“My uncle was too deeply overwhelmed in grief to be particularly consulted on this plan.
Hugh [as uncle]: Just show me—sob—where to sign.
He however entrusted Alfred to act with full powers, and to use his name for my interest, if necessary.
David [as Alfred]: My uncle is too distraught over his visiting niece’s death to answer polite inquiries about his own daughter.
Meredith: Not half as distraught as the daughter herself. She’s wearing Melissa’s clothes, has made herself up to look like her—and she has miraculously been cured of consumption, so the doctor need never again set eyes on her.
David [as Alfred]: I’m sorry, officer, but my uncle is too distraught to discuss the sudden disappearance of his daughter’s doctor.
Alfred therefore procured a publication, as of my death, in the Connecticut papers, particularly at New London, the native place of Beauman. In Charleston it was also generally supposed that it was the niece, and not the daughter of Col. D——, who had died.
Linda: Fortunately the other Melissa had no friends and had already broken off ties with everyone in Boston who knew her handwriting.
This imposition was likewise practised on the sexton,
Lucy: Alfred crosses his fingers and hopes that by the time the Colonel recuperates from his real daughter’s death and starts asking questions, the statute of limitations will have run out.
who keeps the register of deaths.*
* This was formerly the case.
Hugh: The author wouldn’t want anyone to think he was simply making it up.
Alfred then wrote a letter to my father, in my uncle’s name, stating the particulars of my cousin’s death, and applying them to me. The epitaph on her tombstone was likewise so devised that it would with equal propriety apply either to her or to me.
David: Apart from the trivial detail of saying she was the colonel’s niece rather than his daughter, and leaving out all mention of her birthdate.
“To undeceive you, Alonzo,” continued Melissa, “was the next object.
Meredith [as Melissa]: My mother, brother and everyone else in the world can rot for all I care.
I consulted with Alfred how this should be done.
David: I’d like to consult with Alfred too, because the more I try to make sense of this scenario, the more confused I get. Right now—which is really eighteen months ago, because Melissa is telling the story to Alonzo—everyone in the universe thinks Melissa is dead, except her cousin Alfred and her uncle the Colonel.
Hugh: Don’t forget Mrs. Colonel and their three children, aged ten, seven and four. Minus eighteen months. Just the age to be entrusted with a life-or-death secret.
Meredith: The Colonel shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to dispose of the doctor. He could have surgically removed the children’s tongues. Instead, it will have to be house arrest for all of them.
Linda: And the servants.
Lucy: And a few hundred slaves. Last time I looked, Charleston was in the South, and Melissa did say he’d racked up a fortune.
Hugh: A splendid fortune.
‘My sister,’ he said, (in our private circles he always called me by the tender name of sister,)
David: She’s just saying that so Alonzo won’t ask awkward questions about what she’s been doing to pass the time for the last eighteen months.
‘I am determined to see you happy before I relinquish the business I have undertaken: letters are a precarious mode of communication; I will make a journey to Connecticut, find out Alonzo, visit your friends, and see how the plan operates. I am known to your father, who has ever treated me as a relative.
Meredith: But he is a—
Hugh: He is not. He’s only his . . . uhm . . . sister’s son.
I will return as speedily as possible, and we shall then know what measures are best next to pursue.’
“I requested him to unfold the deception to my mother,
Linda: I wouldn’t have thought the human doormat could keep any secret from her husband, let alone a whopper like this one. But I guess Melissa knows her mother better than we do.
Meredith: She knows her father better. He never tells his wife anything, and has never listened to a word she says.
and, if he found it expedient, to Vincent and Mr. Simpson, in whose friendship and fidelity I was sure he might safely confide.
David: In fact, what the heck, tell everyone. Print a retraction in the newspaper. Put up a billboard. Just don’t let Melissa’s father know.
“He soon departed, and returned in about two months. He found my father and mother in extreme distress on account of my supposed death: my mother’s grief had brought her on to the bed of sickness; but when Alfred had undeceived her she rapidly revived.
Lucy: Since Melissa’s father never pays attention to anything his wife does, this abrupt change in demeanor passed unnoticed.
My father told Alfred that he seriously regretted opposing my inclinations, and that, were it possible he could retrace the steps he had taken, he should conduct in a very different manner, as he was not only deprived of you,
Meredith [after exchanging glances with others]: Uh, I think you meant “deprived of me”. It’s still Melissa speaking.
Linda [to Hugh, kindly]: This is not Mitchell’s best day, is it?
but Edgar also, who had gone to Holland in an official capacity, soon after receiving the tidings of my death.
David: Darn! Just missed him.
Lucy: I think Edgar just missed Alfred. [Turning back pages and reaching for pencil and paper.] The whole Eastern seaboard is at war, so mail delivery wouldn’t be much faster than regular travel time. Maybe even slower, if mail gets intercepted and read a few times. Say two weeks for Alfred’s letter to reach Melissa’s father. A little longer for Alfred himself to reach Connecticut. At the same time, Melissa’s father is writing to Edgar in the Army—more slow mail—and then Edgar has to get a furlough and travel home. In November, in Connecticut, with a war on. I don’t see how he can even have reached his father’s house yet, let alone leave for Holland.
“I am now childless,” said my father in—
tears. Alfred’s feelings were moved, and could he then have found you, he would have told my father the truth; but lest he should relapse from present determinations, he considered it his duty still with him, to continue the deception.
“On enquiring at your father’s, at Vincent’s, and at Mr. Simpson’s, he could learn nothing of you, except that you had gone to New London,
Hugh [glaring at others]: You had gone in search of me. Vincent conjectured that you had gone to New London.
judging possibly that you would find me there. Alfred therefore determined to proceed to that place immediately. He then confidentially unfolded—
Linda [1836 text]: He then confidently unf . . . Uh . . . I’ll just go sit in the corner with Mitchell, shall I?
Meredith: I like it. He’s absolutely confident nobody will utter a word of doubt or criticism.
to your father, Vincent, and Mr. Simpson, the scheme, desiring that if you returned you would proceed immediately to Charleston. My father was still to be kept in ignorance.
“Alfred proceeded immediately to New London: from my cousin there he was informed of your interview with him;
Lucy: A pretty neat trick, since the interview can’t possibly have happened yet. [Ticks off points on fingers.] Alonzo reads about Melissa’s death in a weekly paper, so the news would be up to six days old, plus the time it took to reach the newspaper in the first place. He then spends some indeterminate time in delirium before his talk with the cousin. He was probably semi-conscious at the Wyllis’ house the whole time Alfred was in New London looking for him.
but from whence you then came, to where you went, he knew not; and after making the strictest enquiry,
Linda: Thanks to Alonzo’s earlier military history, it would never have entered Alfred’s mind to ask the Navy to check their records.
he could hear nothing more of you. By a vessel in that port, bound directly for Holland, he wrote an account of the whole affair to Edgar,
Meredith: That will teach him to rely on the cousin’s precognition. He could have just swung by Melissa’s home on the way back, and told Edgar.
Linda: No, Edgar’s still waiting for the military authorities to process his furlough request. Alonzo has to have at least six or eight weeks’ head start to allow for his time in prison, “several weeks” hiding out at Jack Brown’s house, and then traveling from London to Paris.
mentioning his unsuccessful search to find you; and returned to Charleston.
“Alfred learnt from my friends the circumstances which occasioned my sudden removal from the old mansion.
David: What friends? The ones who were completely clueless when Alonzo was trying to find Melissa a few months ago?
Linda: Alfred has an air that invites people to spill their guts. That’s what makes him such a good recruiting officer. Alonzo hasn’t got it, so nobody would tell him anything.
The morning you left me you was discovered by my aunt, who was passing the road in a chair with a gentleman, whom she had then but recently become acquainted with. My aunt knew you. They immediately drove to John’s hut. On finding that John had left the keys with me, she sent him for them;
Hugh: You wouldn’t expect her to make a two-mile round trip on foot just because her meal ticket is about to slip from her grasp.
and on my refusing to give them up, she came herself, as I have before related; and as she succeeded no better than John, she returned—
Meredith: Providing Melissa with two separate opportunities for a last-minute escape.
David: She could have escaped at any time, even without the keys. All she had to do was hide near the gate, wait for John to let himself in—you know he won’t bother to lock the gate behind him—and slip out while he’s knocking on the house door.
and dispatched a message to my father, informing him of the circumstances, and her suspicions of your having been to the mansion, and that, from my having possession of the keys and refusing to yield them up, there was little doubt but that we had formed a plan for my escape.
Linda: Since counting days is not John’s strong point, the aunt doesn’t know that Melissa has had the keys for ages, on the off chance that Alonzo might randomly happen to stumble across the castle in a thunderstorm.
“Alarmed at this information, my father immediately ordered his carriage, drove to the mansion, and removed me, as I have before informed you.
David: So the people who know the story are [ticking off names] Melissa’s father, the evil aunt, John . . . and Mrs. John, and possibly the evil aunt’s mysterious gentleman friend. One of those five is a double agent and leaked the information to someone on Melissa’s side.
Hugh: My money is on John’s wife. She’d jump at the chance to make trouble for the aunt.
“I ought to have told you, that the maid and man servant who attended me to Charleston, not liking the country, and growing sickly,
Linda: Like everyone else who sets foot in Charleston.
were sent back by my uncle, after they had been there about two months.”
Hugh: So don’t expect to trip me up with inconvenient questions about how they kept Melissa’s father’s servants from talking. They’d already been gotten out of the way.
Alonzo found by this narrative that John had deceived him, when he made his enquiries of him concerning his knowledge of Melissa’s removal. But this was not surprising: John was tenant to Melissa’s aunt, and subservient to all her views;—she had undoubtedly given him instructions how to act.
“But who was the strange gentleman with your aunt?” enquired Alonzo. “This I will also tell you,” answered Melissa, “though it unfolds a tale which reflects no great honour to my family.
Meredith: Unlike, say, keeping your daughter locked up in a castle, which nobody could possibly object to once they knew the story.
“Hamblin was the name which this man assumed: he said he had been an eminent merchant in New York, and had left it about the time it was taken by the British.
Lucy: Taking with him all the loose treasure he could lay his— Oops, sorry. I was thinking of Aeneas sneaking out of Troy.
He lodged at an inn where my aunt frequently stopped when she was out collecting her rents, where he first introduced himself to her acquaintance, and ingratiated himself into her favour by art and insidiousness. He accompanied her on her visits to her tenants, and assisted her in collecting her rents.
David: He had that unmistakable look of someone who’d break your arm for two cents.
He told her, that when the war came on, he had turned his effects into money, which he had with him, and was now in pursuit of some country place—
Linda: When Alonzo saw them, the aunt was giving Hamblin the hard sell on the castle and its luxurious grounds, while making up excuses why he couldn’t view the interior just yet.
where he might purchase a residence to remain during the war.
Lucy: Or at least until it became obvious which side was winning, so he could make money selling out the losers.
To cut the story as short as possible, he finally initiated himself so far in my aunt’s favour that she accepted his hand, and, contrary to my father’s opinion,
Meredith: Up until this moment, he had thought they were just good friends.
she married him,
Hugh: As far as the aunt is concerned, yielding to your family’s wishes is for the little people.
and he soon after persuaded her to sell her property, under pretence of removing to some populous town, and living in style. Her property, however, was no sooner sold (which my father bought for ready cash, at a low price)
Lucy: Dog Bites Man.
than he found means to realize the money, and absconded.
“It was afterwards found out that his real name was Brenton;
Linda: If she had known at the beginning that his name came before hers in the alphabet, she would never have trusted him for a moment.
that he had left a wife and family in Virginia in indigent circumstances, where he had spent an ample fortune, left him by his father, in debauchery, and involved himself deeply in debt. He had scarcely time to get off with the booty he swindled from my aunt, when his creditors from Virginia were at his heels. He fled to the British at New York, where he rioted for a few months,
David: All by himself?
was finally stabbed by a soldier in a fracas, and died the next day. He was about thirty-five years old.
Meredith: Making him the perfect match for the evil aunt, whose youngest brother is fifty.
“All these troubles bore so heavily upon my aunt, that she went into a decline, and died about six months ago.
Hugh [apologetic]: Mitchell wanted to come up with a really good fate for the aunt, like dancing in red-hot boots until she dropped dead, or at least going mad and being locked up in the castle for her own safety, but he was getting tired.
“After Alfred returned from Connecticut, he wrote frequently to Vincent and Mr. Simpson, but could obtain no intelligence concerning you.
Lucy: Here is where you run into the slight problem with Alfred’s scheme. If he doesn’t immediately find Alonzo and move on to Phase Two, they’re stuck maintaining this fake-death charade indefinitely. Sooner or later it’s bound to blow up in his face.
It would be needless, Alonzo, to describe my conjectures, my anxieties, my feelings!
David: Even Melissa can nebulously sense that she’s going to feel like a total imbecile if it turns out Alonzo was killed in the war and it was all for nothing.
The death of my cousin and aunt had kept me in crape—
until, at the instance of Alfred, I put it off yesterday morning—
Linda [to Lucy]: Do you have anything there about mourning conventions? I make it twelve months of full mourning for her cousin, followed by only six months for her aunt. Seems like it ought to be the other way around.
at my uncle’s house, which—
Hugh [1804 text]: My uncle’s house in town.
Lucy: So that’s what that conveniently vacant house was. The Colonel happened to have a spare house sitting around, so why not get some use out of it.
Alfred had proposed for the scene of action, after he had discovered the cause of my fainting at the theatre. I did not readily come into Alfred’s plan to deceive you: ‘Suffer me,’ he said, ‘to try the constancy of your Leander;—I doubt whether he would swim the Hellespont for you.’
Meredith: Maybe because he found out what happened to the original Leander.
This aroused my pride and confidence, and I permitted him to proceed.”
Alonzo then gave Melissa a minute account of all that had happened to him from the time of their parting at the old mansion until he met with her the day before.
Hugh: By now, he can recite it in his sleep, since he’s already told the identical story to Franklin and to Edgar.
At the mention of Beauman’s fate Melissa sighed. “With how many vain fears,” said she, “was I perplexed, lest, by some means he should discover my existence and place of residence, after he, alas, was silent in the tomb!”
David: That was 1777-speak for “Do you mean to tell me I wasted eighteen months shut up in this mosquito-infested hellhole pretending to be in mourning when I could have been living a normal life?”
Alonzo told Melissa that he had received a letter from Edgar, after he arrived in Holland, and that he had written him an answer, just as he left Paris, informing him of his reasons for returning to America.
Linda: The author has only just realized that there’s some crucial piece of information Edgar needs to get from Alonzo, so he retroactively made up this exchange of letters.
When the time arrived that Alonzo and Melissa were to set out for Connecticut, Melissa’s uncle and Alfred accompanied them as far as Georgetown,
Lucy: This would have been a priceless opportunity for the travel agent to screw up and dump them in Georgetown, Connecticut, just down the road from Melissa’s home, but the name doesn’t seem to have been in use back then.
where an affectionate parting took place: The latter returned to Charleston, and the former proceeded on their journey.
Philadelphia was now in possession of the British troops. Alonzo found Doctor Franklin’s agent at Chester, transacted his business, went on, arrived at Vincent’s where he left Melissa,
Meredith: It was perfectly proper for them to travel halfway across the country together, but let’s not give Vincent any room for gossip.
and proceeded immediately to his father’s.
The friends of Alonzo and Melissa were joyfully surprised at their arrival. Melissa’s mother was sent for to Vincent’s. Let imagination paint the meeting!
Hugh: If it were anyone but Melissa’s mother, my imagination would paint her whaling the tar out of her daughter and then disowning her for pulling such a sadistic trick.
As yet however they were not prepared to undecieve her father.
Alonzo found his parents in penurious circumstances; indeed, his father having the preceeding summer, been too indisposed to manage his little farm with attention, and being unable to hire laborers, his crobs had yeilded but a scanty supply—
Meredith: Your editor’s getting tired, isn’t he?
David [as 1851 editor]: Uhmm . . . “I after E, except before C, or when . . .” Oh, well. Something like that, anyway.
and he had been compelled to sell most of his stock to answer pressing demands.
Lucy: He shouldn’t have been so free with his money back in chapter 13. You never, ever sell your breeding stock or your seed corn.
With great joy they welcomed Alonzo, whom they had given up as lost. “You still find your father poor, Alonzo,” said the old gentleman, “but you find him still honest.—From my inability to labor, we have latterly been a little more pressed than usual;
Hugh [as father]: May I offer you a stewed boot, or some boiled wheat stalks? They’re quite tasty when you get used to them.
but having now recovered my health, I trust that that difficulty will soon be removed.”
Alonzo asked his father if he had ever known Dr. Franklin.
“We were school-mates,” he replied,
Linda: Another chapter in Franklin’s Lost Years.
Lucy [reaching for calculator]: Alonzo was “about 21” when he left college in 1773, or possibly ’74 or ’76. He’s an only child—or at least the only surviving child. His father is described as an old man, meaning at least fifty. Even with a very late marriage you can’t push his birthdate back past the early teens; more likely he was born in the 1720’s. Franklin, meanwhile, was born in 1706.
Meredith: Alonzo’s father is far sicker than anyone suspects. It was his father, Alonzo’s grandfather, who was Franklin’s contemporary.
“and were intimately acquainted after we became young men in business for ourselves.
Linda [shaking head sadly]: There comes a time when all you can do is nod and smile and humor them.
We have done each other favours; I once divided my money with Franklin on an urgent occasion to him; he afterwards repaid me with ample interest—he will never forget it.”
Lucy: Because of this incident, Federal banking regulations and Pennsylvania state law both include strict provisions against usury.
Alonzo then related to his father all the incidents of his travels, minutely particularizing the disinterested conduct of Franklin, and then presented his father with the reversion of his estate. The old man fell on his knees, and with tears streaming down his withered cheeks, offered devout thanks to the great Dispenser of all mercies.
David: If he means Franklin, I call that profane.
Alonzo then visited Melissa’s father, who received him with much complacency.
Linda [as Melissa’s father]: Ha ha, sucker, you’ll never marry her now. She’s dead, in case you hadn’t heard.
“I have injured,” said he, “my young friend, deeply injured you; but in doing this, I have inflicted a wound still deeper on my own bosom.”
Alonzo desired him not to renew his sorrows. “What is past,” said he, “is beyond recal; but a subject of some importance to me, is the object of my present visit.—True it is, that your daughter—
David [as Alonzo]: Can’t remember her name, but you know who I mean.
was the object of my earliest affection—
Hugh and Meredith: The subject of my earliest affection.
Lucy: Alonzo was asleep the day they explained the difference between the nominative and accusative cases.
an affection which my bosom must ever retain; but being separated by the will of Providence—for I view Providence as overruling all events for wise purposes—I betook myself to travel. Time, you know it is said, sir, will blunt the sharpest thorns of sorrow.—[The old man sighed.]—In my travels I have found a lady so nearly resembling your daughter, that I was induced to sue for her hand,
Meredith: So long as she’s got the right shade of brown hair, details like personality and family are irrelevant.
and have been so happy as to gain the promise of it. The favour I have to ask of you, sir, is only that you will permit the marriage ceremony to be celebrated in your house, as you know my father is poor, his house small and inconvenient,
Linda: By Connecticut custom, marriages are celebrated in the home of the groom, not the bride, so her parents’ house doesn’t enter into the discussion.
and that you will also honour me by giving the lady away.
Lucy: Someone call Miss Manners. All this time I thought the fixation with finding a man to give the bride away—any man, so long as he’s got a Y chromosome—was a Hollywood invention. There’s nothing about it in the Book of Common Prayer; it just says her father “or friends”.
In receiving her from your hands, I shall in some measure realize former anticipations;
Hugh [1804 text]: Former happy anticipations.
I shall receive her in the character of Melissa.”
“Ah!” said Melissa’s father,
Linda: —revving up slowly as he prepares to slam Alonzo—
“were it in my power—
David [as Melissa’s father]: But by that time, I expect to be in prison, contentedly awaiting my trial for murder.
Linda: Item: The last time Melissa’s father saw Alonzo, he ordered him out of his sight.
David: Item: Thanks to Alonzo’s persistent courtship, the loving father was forced to send his daughter away to an unhealthy climate, where she soon died.
Linda: Item: Alonzo’s undying love—the only possible justification for his earlier behavior—didn’t even last two years.
David: Item: On Alonzo’s return, the first words out of his mouth are a request that Melissa’s father pay for the wedding of a total stranger who has no possible claim on him.
Linda: Item: The bride is, to all appearances, a penniless orphan without a single friend or relative of her own, so there is no chance of anyone reciprocating such an act of extravagant kindness.
David: From where I’m sitting, it sounds like justifiable homicide. He’ll be out with Time Served.
could I but give you the original; But how vain that wish! Yes, my young friend, your request shall be punctually complied with: I will take upon myself the preparations. Name your day, and if the lady is portionless, in that she shall be to me a Melissa.”
Alonzo bowed his gratitude;—
Hugh and Meredith: Bowed his head in gratitude.
and after appointing that day week, he departed.
Invitations were once more sent abroad for the wedding of Alonzo and Melissa.—Few indeed knew it to be the real Melissa, but they were generally informed of Alonzo’s reasons for preferring the celebration at her father’s.
Meredith: Namely, that he was ashamed of his own home, and the bride had none. Perfectly understandable.
The evening before the day on which the marriage was to take place, Alonzo and Melissa were sitting with the Vincents in an upper room, when a person rapped at the door below. Vincent went down, and immediately returned, introducing, to the joy and surprise of the company, Edgar!
Here, again, we shall leave it for the imagination to depict the scene of an affectionate brother, meeting a tender and only sister, whom he had long since supposed to be dead! He had been at his father’s, and his mother had let him into the secret,
Meredith: Did Alfred’s letter miss him, or did the author simply forget?
Lucy: The letter reached Holland several months before Edgar did, and Alfred hadn’t marked it “Hold For Arrival”, so it went straight into the dead-letter bin.
when he immediately hastened to Vincent’s. He told them that he did not stay long in Holland; that after receiving Alonzo’s letter from Paris, he felt an unconquerable propensity to return, and soon sailed for America,
David: As it turns out, it doesn’t matter that the author forgot all about Alfred’s letter to Holland, because Edgar would have done exactly the same things anyway.
arrived at Boston, came to New Haven, took orders in the ministry,
Hugh: His previous ordination expired because he forgot to renew it before leaving the country.
and had reached home that day. He informed them that Mr. Simpson and family had arrived at his father’s, and some relatives whom his mother had invited.
The next morning ushered in the day in which the hero and heroine of our story were to consummate their felicity.
Meredith: Since they didn’t have the ordinary common sense to do it when they had a whole castle to themselves and Alonzo was looking for an excuse to take his clothes off anyway.
No cross purposes stood ready to intervene their happiness, no obdurate father,
Hugh and Meredith: No determined rival, no obdurate father.
David: The printer’s cat got tired of stealing quotation marks and ran off with the rival instead.
no watchful, scowling aunt, to interrupt their transports. It was the latter end of May; nature was arrayed in her richest ornaments, and adorned with her sweetest perfumes.
Linda: Since only Connecticut has weather, both Alonzo and Melissa have been suffering severe withdrawal symptoms for the past year and a half.
The sun blended its mild lustre with the landscape’s lovely green; silk-winged breezes frolicked amidst the flowers;
Meredith: Oh, how pretty! They’re breeze-butterflies, to go with the gale-birds from a few chapters back.
the spring birds carolled in varying strains:
“The air was fragrance, and the world was love.”
Linda: The colon meaning that he’s directly quoting the birds?
Lucy: Directly quoting someone, anyway. You have to say this in Mitchell’s defense: he didn’t inflict his own poetry on us.
Evening was appointed for the ceremony, and Edgar was to be the officiating clergyman.
“To tie those bands—
Hugh: Or possibly bonds.
“To tie those bands—which nought but death can sever.”
Lucy: Our oldest quote yet: Spenser, Amoretti VI, from 1595.
When the hour arrived, they repaired to the house of Melissa’s father, where numerous guests had assembled. Melissa was introduced into the bridal apartment, and took her seat among a brilliant circle of ladies. She was attired in robes “white as the southern clouds,”
David: Oh, come on. They’re allowed to have clouds outside of Connecticut.
Lucy: Not the kind that go baa. The only pre-1804 source I could find for this line was a translation of Salomon Gessner—and he’s talking about sheep. Later on, someone used the line in English, and again they were describing sheep.
Linda: So she wore wool for her May wedding. Must have been a cold year.
spangled with silver, and trimmed with deep gold lace; her hair hung loosely upon her shoulders, encircled by a wreath of artificial—
Hugh: What? [1804 text:] A wreath of flowers. Period.
Meredith: Blame it on industrialization. By 1811 the real flowers had been replaced with artificial ones.
flowers. She had regained all her former loveliness; the rose and the lily again blended their tinges in her cheek; again pensive sprightliness—
Lucy: I’m not falling for that one. “Pensive” and “sprightly” are two of Mitchell’s favorite words; he’s quoting himself.
sparkled in her eye.
Alonzo was now introduced, and took his seat at the side of Melissa. His father and mother came next, who were placed at the right hand of the young couple: Melissa’s parents followed, and were stationed at the left.
David: Makes it sound like a good old-fashioned shotgun wedding. The young couple are hemmed in from both sides so neither one can run away.
Hugh: It’s to keep people from getting too close to the bride. Up until this moment, not one person has taken a second look, done a double-take and blurted out “Hey! That’s Melissa!”
Meredith: By this time, the only person who doesn’t know what’s going on is her own father, standing to her immediate left.
Edgar then came and took his seat in front; after which the guests were summoned, who filled the room. Edgar then rising, motioned to the intended bride and bridegroom to rise also. He next turned to Alonzo’s father for his sanction, who bowed assent. Then addressing his own father, with emotions that scarcely suffered him to articulate. “Do you, sir,” said he, “give this lady to that gentleman?”
Lucy: She’s not his to give, so it’s no skin off his nose. He just wishes Edgar would say her name, so he can pretend to have known it all along when it’s time for the receiving line.
A solemn silence prevailed in the room. Melissa was extremely agitated, as her father slowly rising, and with down-cast eyes,
“Where tides of heavy sorrow swell’d,”
took her trembling hand, and conveying it into Alonzo’s, “May the smiles of heaven rest upon you,” he said; “may future blessings crown your present happy prospects; and may your latter days never be embittered by the premature loss of near and dear—”
Pungent grief here choaked his utterance,
David: Saving Edgar the embarrassment of having to cut him off because it isn’t time for speeches yet.
and at this moment Melissa, falling upon her knees, “Dear father!” she exclaimed, bursting into tears, “pardon deception; acknowledge your daughter—your own Melissa!”
Her father started—he gazed at her with scrutinizing attention, and sunk back in his chair.
Linda: Now he understands why the wedding planner insisted on the ridiculous innovation of chairs for the bridal party, even though the last thing you’re going to do at your own wedding is sit down.
“My daughter!” he cried—“God of mysterious mercy! it is my daughter!”
Meredith: God really gets a workout in this book, doesn’t He? For Alonzo it’s God of infinite wonders; for Melissa’s father it’s God of mysterious mercy. I think Franklin piles on some descriptors, too.
David: And don’t forget that whole catalogue when Alonzo revisits Melissa’s favorite rock.
Linda [sings]: Rock of New London, cleft for me!
Lucy [turning back pages:] Infinite ruler of all events, great sovereign of this ever changing world, omnipotent controller of vicissitudes . . . and last but not least, omniscient dispenser of destinies!
The guests caught the contagious sympathy; convulsive sobs arose from all parts of the room. Melissa’s father clasped her in his arms—
Linda: Calling on his wife to bring the handcuffs and the key to the cellar.
“And do I receive thee as from the dead!” he said.
David [as Melissa’s father]: You really played me for a sucker, didn’t you? But the game’s over. You’re getting married here and now to the man of my choosing, or you’ll spend the rest of your life locked in the cellar.
Hugh: Just don’t ask the richest unmarried man in the room to step forward. It might turn out to be Alonzo.
“I am anxious to hear the mighty mystery unfolded. But first let the solemn rites for which we are assembled be concluded; let not an old man’s anxiety interrupt the ceremony.”
“But you are apprised, sir,” said Alonzo, “of my inability to support your daughter according to her deserts.”
Meredith: When Alonzo’s father lost his money, Melissa’s father knew about it almost before Alonzo did. But this time, his spies have let him down in a big way.
Linda: So much the better. Alonzo and Melissa can sponge off of him until Alonzo’s father dies.
“Leave that to me, my young friend,” replied her father. “I have enough: my children are restored, and I am happy.”
David: Edgar was never exactly in danger. He went from a non-combatant position to a desk job thousands of miles away from the combat zone.
Lucy: If you’re in Holland, you might as well be dead.
Melissa soon resumed her former station. The indissoluble knot was tied: they sat down to the wedding feast, and mirth and hilarity danced in cheerful circles.
Before the company retired, Edgar related the most prominent incidents of Alonzo and Melissa’s history, since they had been absent.
Hugh: If he had allowed Alonzo to tell his own story, the guests would have been there all night.
The guests listened with attention: they applauded the conduct of our new bride and bridegroom,
David: If your father is opposed to your marriage, fake your own death and make everyone—including the man you’re supposedly in love with—spend eighteen months in misery. They’re just other people, after all. It’s not like they have real feelings or anything.
in which Melissa’s father cordially joined. They rejoiced to find that Alonzo’s father had regained his fortune, and copious libations were poured forth—
Linda: On the hymeneal altar.
in honour of the immortal Franklin.
Meredith: Anyone else notice a recurring confusion between God and Benjamin Franklin?
And now, reader of sensibility, indulge the pleasing sensations of thy bosom—for Alonzo and Melissa are MARRIED.
Linda: Whew. Thought we’d never get there. Are we finished?
Hugh: If I can have everyone’s attention for a moment—
(Concluded in our next.)
David: Those have got to be the most beautiful words in the entire book.
Alonzo’s father was soon in complete repossession of his former property. The premises from which he had been driven by his unfeeling creditors, were yielded up without difficulty, and to which he immediately removed. He not only recovered the principal of the fortune he had lost, but the damages and the interest; so that, although like Job, he had seen affliction,
Linda [glancing at 1836 text]: Possibly even afflictions, plural.
like him his latter days were better than his beginning. But wearied with the bustles of life,
Linda [1836 text]: —the business of life.
he did not again enter into the mercantile business,
David [to Linda]: There’s your editor again. Business—business.
Linda: In 1836, nobody understood about dyslexia.
but placing his money at interest in safe hands, lived retired on his little farm.
Lucy [turning pages in other book]: Thought that sounded familiar. Alida’s father hauls her off to New York to steal descriptions of scenery, and Theodore quietly disappears from the story. When he rematerializes, it turns out he was in England performing magic on the creditors, since Franklin isn’t around to play Deus ex machina. And then . . . although like Job, he had seen affliction —singular— like him . . . latter days . . . Wearied of the business —not “bustles”— of life, he did not again enter into its affairs, but placing his money at interest in safe hands, he lived retired on his estate.
David: Somebody put that book on the fire.
Lucy: I could name you a dozen published writers who would have liked to put the author on the fire.
A few days after the wedding, as Melissa was sitting with Alonzo, Edgar and her parents, she asked her father whether the old mansion was inhabited.
David: Hey, come to think of it, wonder who inherited it? The aunt’s marriage was never valid, so even if her husband hadn’t died first, he wouldn’t get anything.
Linda: By the time she died, she didn’t own any real estate. She sold it off so her husband could drink the proceeds, remember?
“Not by human beings,” he replied. “Since it has fallen into my hands—
Meredith: For “it has fallen into my hands”, read “I grabbed it cheap because blood may be thicker than water but gold is thicker than everything.”
I have leased it to three or four different families, who all left it—
Hugh [1804 text]: Who all soon left it.
under the foolish pretence or impression of hearing noises and seeing frightful objects, and such is the superstition of people that no one now, will venture to try it again, though I suppose its inhabitants to consist only of rats and mice.”
Melissa then informed them of all that had happened when she was there, the alarming noises and horrible appearances she had been witness to, and in which she was confident her senses had not deceived her.
Linda: Up until this moment, she was under a post-hypnotic directive not to talk about it. The phrase “rats and mice” lifted the command.
Exceedingly astonished at her relation; it was agreed that Edgar and Alonzo, properly attended, should proceed to the mansion, in order to find whether any discoveries could be made which might tend to the elucidation—
Hugh: Might lead to.
Lucy: In 1804, we were still firmly in the Age of Reason. People were confident that everything could be elucidated.
of so mysterious an affair.
For this purpose they chose twenty men, armed them with muskets and swords,
Meredith: Are they going to stab the ghosts?
David: Only if shooting them doesn’t work.
and proceeded to the place, where they arrived in the dusk of the evening, having chosen that season as the most favourable to their designs.
Linda: Twilight is a celestial body, and evening is a season. We are in an alternative universe.
They found the drawbridge up, and the gate locked, as Edgar’s father said he had left them. They entered and secured them in the same manner.
Hugh: To make sure the ghosts don’t try to escape.
When they came to the house, they cautiously unlocked the door, and proceeded to the chamber, where they struck a fire and lit candles, which they had brought with them.
Lucy: In case the candles already in the castle were poisoned, or had been treated with hallucinogens.
It was then agreed to plant fifteen of the men at suitable distances around the mansion, and retain five in the chamber with Alonzo and Edgar.
The men, who were placed around the house, were stationed behind trees, stumps or rocks, and where no objects presented, they lay flat on the ground, with orders not to stir, or to discover themselves,
David: If anyone trips over you, pretend to be an old tree root and don’t shoot.
let what would ensue, unless some alarm should be given from the house.
Alonzo and Edgar were armed with pistols and side arms,
Meredith: The gunsmith’s apprentice mixed up the barrels and there wasn’t time to redo the order, so they’re carrying pistols slung over their backs and muskets in holsters.
and posted themselves with the five men in the chamber, taking care that the lights should not shine against the window shutters, so that nothing should be discovered from without.
Linda: In 1783, a room could be flooded with light and still remain perfectly undetectable so long as you didn’t point your candle directly at the window.
Lucy: I think I read a monograph on those. Unidirectional Candles: A Lost Art of the Eighteenth Century. Melissa used the same kind of candle when she looked out the window to see if anyone was there.
Things thus arranged, they observed almost an implicit silence,
David: Except for one guy who was slow on the uptake and had to be told explicitly to shut up.
no one being allowed to speak, except in a low whisper.
For a long time no sounds were heard except the hollow roar of winds in the neighbouring forest, their whistling around the angles of the mansion, or the hoarse murmurs of the distant surge.
David: Just so nobody forgets we’re back in Connecticut.
The night was dark, and only illuminated by the feeble twinkling of half clouded stars.
They had watched until about midnight, when they were alarmed by noises in the rooms below, among which they could distinguish footsteps and human voices.
Lucy: That’s enough to alarm anyone. They’d been led to expect talking parrots.
Alonzo and Edgar, then taking each a pistol in one hand, and a drawn sword in the other,
Meredith: Before they started, Edgar made sure Alonzo understood that the sword and pistol have to be in different hands, and the sword has to be out of its scabbard.
ordered their men to follow them, prepared for action. Coming to the head of the stairs, they saw a brilliant light streaming into the hall; they therefore concluded to take no candles, and to prevent discovery they took off their shoes.
Linda: If your prey is in the dark it doesn’t matter how loudly you stomp, but when they’re in a brilliantly lit room you have to sneak in quietly and carry no lights of your own.
When they came into the hall opposite the door of the room from whence the light and noises proceeded, they discovered ten men genteelly dressed, sitting around a table, on which was placed a considerable quantity of gold and silver coin, a number of glasses and several decanters of wine.
Hugh: Prohibitionists need have no worries. The wine is merely a stage prop.
Alonzo and his party stood a few minutes, listening to the following discourse, which took place among this ghostly gentry.
“Well, boys, we have made a fine haul this trip.”
“Yes, but poor Bob, though, was plump’d over by the d——d skulkers!”
Lucy: So that’s how you pronounce a dash. I always wondered.
“Aye, and had we not tugged bravely at the oars, they would have hook’d us.”
“Those rascally cow-boys detained us too long.”
Hugh and Meredith: Well, well, never—
Linda: As the nineteenth century progressed, life moved at a faster pace. Nobody had time for a second “well”.
mind it; let us knock around the wine, and then divide the spoil.”
At this moment, Alonzo and Edgar, followed by the five men, rushed into the room, crying,
Lucy: “Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine!”
“Surrender, or you are all dead men!” In an instant the room was involved in pitchy darkness; a loud crash was heard, then a scampering about the floor, and a noise as if several doors shut to, with violence. They however gave the alarm to the men without, by loudly shouting “Look out;”
David: Excellent choice of a secret alarm signal. Nobody would ever say “Look out!” by accident.
and immediately the discharge of several guns was heard around the mansion. One of the men flew up stairs and brought a light; but, to their utter amazement, no person was to be discovered in the room except their own party. The table, with its apparatus, and the chairs on which these now invisible beings had sat, had all disappeared, not a single trace of them being left.
Linda: In Melissa’s exhaustive and repeated searches, she was so fixated on the walls, she never noticed that each floor of the castle was in excess of six feet thick.
While they stood petrified with astonishment, the men from without called for admittance. The door being unlocked, they led in a stranger wounded, whom they immediately discovered to be one of those they had seen at the table.
The men who had been stationed around the mansion informed, that some time before the alarm was made, they saw a number of persons crossing the yard from the western part of the enclosure, towards the house; that immediately after the shout was given, they discovered several people running back in the same direction: they hailed them, which being disregarded, they fired upon them, one of whom they brought down, which was the wounded man they had brought in. The others, though they pursued them, got off.
The prisoner’s wound was not dangerous, the ball had shattered his arm, and glanced upon his breast.
Hugh: In 1804, the definition of “dangerous” was narrower than it is today.
They dressed his wound as well as they could, and then requested him to unfold the circumstances of the suspicious appearance in which he was involved.
“First promise me, on your honour,” said the stranger, “that you will use your influence to prevent my being punished or imprisoned.”
Lucy [as Alonzo]: Well . . . I guess we don’t really have much choice, since you’re a wounded prisoner and there are twenty-two of us.
This they readily agreed to, on condition that he would conceal nothing from them—
David [as prisoner]: Word of honor as a gentleman—and we are all gentlemen here, aren’t we?
and he gave them the following relation:
That they were part of a gang of illicit traders;
Meredith: My spiritual ancestor left an editorial comment. But I think she meant to put it on the facing page, where the table and chairs disappear.
men who had combined for the purpose of carrying on a secret and illegal commerce with the British army on Long Island, whom, contrary to the existing laws,
Linda: What existing laws? The Constitution won’t be written until years after the war is over. The only laws are British laws, which probably require you to support the troops.
David: That’s the illegal part. They’re supposed to be giving them food and lodging for free.
they supplied with provisions, and brought off English goods, which they sold at a very extortionate price. But this was not all; they also brought over large quantities of counterfeit continental money,
Hugh: It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that America’s tradition of easy-to-counterfeit currency dates back all the way to 1776.
which they put off among the Americans for live stock, poultry, produce, &c. which they carried to the Island. The counterfeit money they purchased by merely paying for the printing; the British having obtained copies of the American emission, struck immense quantities of it in New York, and insidiously sent it out into the country, in order to sink our currency.
David: Waste of effort. War is inflationary anyway; you don’t have to do anything.
This gang was likewise connected with the cow-boys, who made it their business to steal, not only milch cows, and other cattle, but also hogs and sheep, which they drove by night to some convenient place on the shores of the Sound, where these thief-partners received them, and conveyed them to the British.
“In our excursions across the Sound,” continued the wounded man, “we had frequently observed this mansion, which, from every appearance, we were convinced was uninhabited:—we therefore selected it as a suitable place for our future rendezvous, which had therefore been—
Hugh, Meredith, Linda [in unison]: Which had heretofore been.
David: Oh, sorry. I was thinking of Melissa’s grandmother.
only in the open woods.
Linda: They should have rented John’s hut. He’d have let them have it for a nickel.
To cross the moat, we dragged up an old canoe from the sea shore, which we concealed in the bushes as soon as we recrossed from the old mansion.
Hugh [stuffily]: The mansion, period. Good writers try not to reuse adjectives within the same sentence.
Meredith: And your point is . . . ?
To get over the wall we used ladders of ropes, placing a flat piece of thick board on the top of the spikes driven into the wall. We found more difficulty in getting into the house:
David: Gentlemen don’t break windows, so they had to come up with an alternative solution.
we however at length succeeded, by tearing away a part of the back wall, where we fitted in a door so exactly, and so nicely painted it, that it could not be distinguished from the wall itself.
Lucy: So long as you don’t notice that this is the only point on the entire exterior that isn’t covered with several decades’ growth of ivy.
This door was so constructed, that on touching a spring, it would fly open,
Hugh [1804 text]: It would suddenly fly open.
Linda: As opposed to flying open slowly and at leisure.
and when unrestrained, would shut to with violence. Finding the apartment so eligible for our purpose, and fearing that at some future time we might be disturbed either by the owner of the building or some tenant, we cut similar doors into every room of the house, so that on an emergency we could traverse every apartment without access to the known doors. Trap-doors on a similar construction, communicated with the cellar:
Meredith: It never occurred to Melissa to wonder why there was an elegant dining table, set for twelve, in an unused cellar room.
the table, which you saw us sitting around, stood on one of these, which, on your abrupt appearance, as soon as the candles were extinguished, was with its contents, precipitated below, and we made our escape by those secret doors,
David: Serious miscalculation. They should have waited quietly in their hidey-hole within the thickness of the floor until Alonzo’s gang got bored and left.
judging, that although you had seen us, if we could get off, you would be unable to find out any thing which might lead to our discovery.
“A circumstance soon occurred, which tended to embarrass our plans, and at first seemed to menace their overthrow. Our assembling at the mansion was irregular, as occasion and circumstances required; often not more than once a week, but sometimes more frequent, and always in the night.—Late one night, as we were proceeding to the mansion, and had arrived near it, suddenly one of the chamber windows was opened and a light issued from within. We entered the house with caution,
Lucy: After discarding Option A—to hide outside until they could get more information—and Option B—to send in one person as a spy.
and soon discovered that some person was in the chamber from whence we had seen the light.
Linda: That explains it. They could never have made this discovery without firsthand investigation as a group.
We remained until all was silent, and then entered the chamber by one of our secret doors,
Meredith: Later, it occurred to them that it would have been wiser to use the regular door, rather than risk betraying themselves if the person turned out to be awake.
and to our inexpressible surprise, beheld a beautiful young lady asleep on the only bed in the room.
Hugh [1804 text]: Asleep in the only bed in the room.
David [Baby Bear voice]: Someone’s been sleeping in my bed!
We cautiously retired, and reconnoitering all parts of the mansion, found that she was the only inhabitant except ourselves.
Linda: Problem solved. They drew straws, sent in one man to kill her, and quietly buried the body, disguising the grave with the same skill they had applied to their dozens of secret doors.
The singularity of her being there alone, is a circumstance we have never been able to discover, but it gave us fair hopes of easily procuring her ejectment.
Hugh [as captive]: We may be smugglers and counterfeiters, but we’re not murderers.
Meredith: And, since she is obviously a lady and we are all gentlemen, we will not discuss Option B.
Lucy: It’s a pity the smugglers all had deprived childhoods. If any of their mothers had told them the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Option C would have instantly presented itself.
We then immediately withdrew, and made preparations to dispossess the fair tenant of premises to which we considered ourselves more properly entitled, as possessing a prior incumbency.
David: Plan One: Put on simple masks, point your weapons at her and order her to get out and stay out. And keep quiet if she knows what’s good for her.
Linda: Rejected unanimously as being impossibly simple and straightforward.
“We did not effect the completion of our apparatus under three or four days. As soon as we were prepared, we returned to the mansion. As we approached the house, it appears the lady heard us, for again she suddenly flung up a window and held out a candle: we skulked from the light, but feared she had a glimpse of us.—After we had got into the house we were still until we supposed her to be asleep, which we found to be the case on going to her chamber.
Meredith: Would have been a bit awkward if they had found it not to be the case at this point.
“We then stationed one near her bed, who, by a loud rap upon the floor with a cane, appeared to arouse her in a fright. Loud noises were then made below, and some of them ran heavily up the stairs which led to her chamber; the person stationed in the room whispering near her bed—she raised herself up, and he fled behind the curtains. Soon after she again lay down;
Linda: Fortunately they had allowed for the contingency of her having the nerves of a turnip, so they weren’t out of ideas yet.
he approached nearer the bed with a design to lay his hand, on which he had drawn a thin sheet-lead glove, across her face; but discovering her arm on the out side of the bedclothes, he grasped it—she screamed and sprang up in the bed; the man then left the room.
“As it was not our intention to injure the lady, but only to drive her from the house,
David: That way, she would be able to tell the entire story immediately, rather than let us take ungentlemanly advantage by making a leisurely departure while she was recuperating.
we concluded we had sufficiently alarmed her, and having extinguished the lights, were about to depart, when we heard her descending the stairs. She came down and examined the doors, when one of our party, in a loud whisper, crying ‘away! away;’
Hugh: His share in the following month’s take included a little something extra as a bonus for clever improvisation.
she darted up stairs, and we left the house.
“We did not return the next night, in order to give her time to get off; but the night after we again repaired to the mansion, expecting that she had gone, but we were disappointed.
Lucy: Since the poem Casabianca has not been written yet, let alone shoved down every schoolchild’s throat, the smugglers don’t understand that Melissa considers herself to be under orders to stay, and will not budge even if the castle goes up in flames.
As it was late when we arrived, she was wrapped in sleep, and we found that more forcible measures must be resorted to before we could remove her, and for such measures we were amply prepared.”
David: Option D: Bind and gag her, carry her to the nearest town and dump her on any convenient doorstep. Repeat as needed until she gets the message.
The stranger then unfolded the mysteries of that awful night, when Melissa was so terrified by horrible appearances. One of the tallest and most robust of the gang, was attired, as has been described, when he appeared by her bed side. The white robe was an old sheet, stained in some parts with a liquid red mixture; the wound in his breast was artificial, and the blood issuing therefrom was only some of this mixture, pressed from a small bladder, concealed under his robe. On his head and face he wore a mask, with glass eyes—the mask was painted to suit their purposes. The bloody dagger was of wood, and painted.
Linda: What a sad waste of talent. If they hadn’t fallen into this smuggling gig, they could have found honest employment in any major theater’s props department.
Thus accoutred, he took his stand near Melissa’s bed, having first blown out the candles she had left burning, and discharged a small pistol. Perceiving this had awakened her, a train of powder was fired in the adjoining room opposite the secret door, which was left open, in order that the flash might illuminate her apartment; then several large cannon balls were rolled through the rooms over her head, imitative of thunder.
David: But not imitative enough [turning back pages]: It did not appear like thunder; the sounds seemed to be in the rooms directly over her head. The smugglers must be from out of state. If they had grown up in Connecticut they’d have known how to make convincing effects.
The person in her room then uttered a horrible groan, and gliding along by her bed, took his stand behind the curtains, near the foot. The noises below, the cry of murder, the firing of the second pistol, and the running up stairs, were all corresponding scenes to impress terror on her imagination. The pretended ghost then advanced in front of her bed, while lights were slowly introduced, which first shone faintly,
Meredith: Benjamin Franklin invented the rheostat in a spare moment, but he forgot to patent it.
until they were ushered into the room by the private door, exhibiting the person before her in all his horrific appearances. On her shrieking, and shrinking into the bed, the lights were suddenly extinguished, and the person, after commanding her to be gone in a hoarse voice, passed again to the foot of the bed, shook it violently, and made a seeming attempt to get onto it, when, perceiving her to be springing up, he fled out of the room—
Lucy: And who could blame him? When you find a gopher on your lawn and try to chase it away, you don’t expect it to turn around and come at you.
by the secret door, cautiously shut it, and joined his companions.
The operators had not yet completed their farce, or rather, to Melissa, tragedy.
Linda: If Melissa’s father had allowed her to attend the theatre more often, she wouldn’t have made such a silly mistake. A tragedy is when the main character dies in the end.
David: In this case, the main character is Melissa.
Linda: Hm, yes, I see the problem.
They had framed an image of paste-board, in human shape, arrayed it in black, its eyes being formed of large pieces of what is vulgarly called fox-fire,*
* A sort of decayed or rotten wood, which in the night looks like coals of fire, of a bright whitish colour. It emits a faint light.
Meredith: Anyone got any foxfire handy? I’m having trouble visualizing bright whitish coals, with or without the faint light.
made into the likeness of human eyes, some material—
Hugh [1804 text]: Some of the same material. He means foxfire, not cloth.
being placed in its mouth, around which was a piece of the thinnest scarlet tiffany, in order to make it appear of a flame colour. They had also constructed a large combustible ball, of several thicknesses of paste-board, to which a match was placed. The image was to be conveyed into her room, and placed, in the dark, before her bed;—and while in that position, the ball was to be rubbed over with phosphorus, the match set on fire, and rolled across her chamber, and when it burst, the image was to vanish, by being suddenly conveyed out of the private door, which was to close the scene for that night.
David: I hope they had a dress rehearsal. I can see a lot of places where things might go wrong.
But as Melissa had now arisen and lighted candles, the plan was defeated.
Meredith: Just as well. The combustible ball would probably have blown up.
While they were consulting how to proceed, they heard her unlock her chamber door, and slowly descend the stairs. Fearing a discovery, they retired with their lights,
Linda: To debate whether it was time to set aside their principles and simply kill her.
and the person who had been in her chamber, not having yet stripped off his ghostly habiliments, laid himself down on one side of the hall. The man who had the image, crowded himself with it under the stairs she was descending. On her dropping the candle, when she turned to flee to her chamber, from the sight of the same object which had appeared at her bed-side, the person under the stairs presented the image at their foot, and at the same instant the combustible ball was prepared, and rolled through the hall;
Lucy: At this point the smugglers almost betrayed themselves by breaking into spontaneous cheers.
and when on its bursting she fainted, they began to grow alarmed;
David: If she’s unconscious, she’ll miss the rest of the show, after they went to all that trouble.
but on finding that she recovered and regained her chamber, they departed, for that time, from the house.
“Our scheme,” continued the wounded man, “had the desired effect. On returning a few evenings after, we found the lady gone and the furniture removed.
Hugh: Nobody had the heart to tell him that Melissa’s departure was purely coincidental and had nothing to do with the smugglers’ elaborate theatrical effects.
Several attempts were afterwards made to occupy the house, but we always succeeded in soon frightening the inhabitants away.”
Meredith: Since those later inhabitants weren’t under strict parental orders, they had nothing to lose but their life savings.
Edgar and Alonzo then requested their prisoner to show them the springs of the secret doors, and how they were opened. The springs were sunk in the wood, which being touched by entering a gimblet hole with a piece of pointed steel, which each of the gang always had about him,
Lucy: If the prisoner had been Mrs. John or anyone of her class, she would have immediately tried a knitting needle.
the door would fly open, and fasten again in shutting to. On opening the trap-door over which the gang had sat when they first discovered them, they found the table and chairs, with the decanters broken, and the money, which they secured. In one part of the cellar they were shown a kind of cave, its mouth covered with boards and earth—here the company kept their furniture, and to this place would they have removed it, had they not been so suddenly frightened away. The canoe they found secreted in the bushes beyond the canal.
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [begin to get up and put books away with exaggerated sighs of relief].
Hugh: Wait, there’s more.
(Contrary to our intention we are compelled to postpone the residue until next week.)
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [converge on Hugh and beat him about the head and arms with their books].
It was then agreed that the man should go before the proper authorities in a neighbouring town, and there, as state’s evidence, make affidavit of what he had recited, and as complete a development of the characters concerned in the business as possible, when he was to be released.
Linda: The opinions of the judge and the district attorney being, once again, completely immaterial.
Meredith: Not to say irrelevant, incompetent and argumentative.
Hugh: Calling for facts not in evidence.
Lucy: In the universe of Alonzo and Melissa, “calling for facts not in evidence” falls under the heading of “Dog Bites Man”.
The man enquired to what town they were to go, which, when they had informed him,
Hugh [reaching for blue pencil]: This sentence doesn’t hang together.
Linda: Why should it be any different from the rest of the book?
Meredith: Wasn’t it our own deus ex machina Dr. Franklin who said that if we don’t all hang together we’ll all hang separately?
David: Hanging is too good for this author.
“Then,” said he, “it will be in my power to perform one deed of justice before I leave the country, as leave it I must, immediately after I have given in my testimony,
Linda: The DA could have arranged for protective custody, but no one asked him.
or I shall be assassinated by some of those who will be implicated in the transaction I have related.”
Lucy: I don’t think it qualifies as assassination when a crook bumps off a stool pigeon. It’s more of what big-city cops call a “No Human Involvement” crime.
He then informed them, that while he, with the gang, was prosecuting the illicit trade,
Linda: We’re really not leaving much for the DA to do, are we?
a British ship came and anchored in the Sound, which they supplied with provisions,
David: The ship supplied the Sound with provisions?
Hugh: Sure. They tossed out some fish food with lead weights tied to its feet.
but that having at one time a considerable quantity on hand, the ship sent its boat on shore, with an officer and five men, to fetch it; the officer came with them on shore, leaving the men in the boat:
Lucy: Stop, please, I’m getting a headache. Can someone please explain to me what they had a considerable quantity of, and what “it” was that they were fetching, and why they had to fetch it if they already had it on hand, and who the officer came on shore with if it wasn’t the men?
Hugh [offended]: The sentence is perfectly clear. The smugglers provisioned the British ship, and the officer went on shore with the smugglers.
“As we were about to carry the provisions on board the boat,” continued the man, “a party of Americans fired upon us, and wounded the officer in the thigh, who fell: ‘I shall be made prisoner,’ said he, taking out his purse; ‘keep this, and if I live and regain my liberty, perhaps you may have an opportunity of restoring it:
Meredith: When a wounded and outnumbered man on enemy territory gives you his purse, only the lowest and meanest sort of cad would think of abusing his trust.
—alarm the boat’s crew, and shift for yourselves.’ The boat was alarmed, returned to the ship, and we saved ourselves by flight.
“This happened about four months ago; the ship soon after sailed for New York, and the officer was imprisoned in the gaol of the town to which we are to go; I can therefore restore him his purse.”
Linda: Being the gentleman of honor that he is.
The man farther informed them, that they had several times come near being taken, and the last trip they were fired upon, and one of their party killed.
David: Hey, that explains the . . . [turning pages] No, wait. What “one of their party”? Did my text leave something out?
Hugh: Earlier in the narrative there was a dramatic scene involving Melissa tripping over a ghastly corpse, with adjectives. But Mitchell got a last-minute banner ad and had to cut three paragraphs to make room.
They immediately set out for the aforesaid town, after having dismissed their fifteen men;
Lucy: Fifteen? They started out with twenty. What happened to the other five?
and when they arrived there, Alonzo and Edgar accompanied their prisoner to the gaol. On making the proper enquiries, they were conducted into a dark and dirty apartment of the gaol, where were several prisoners in irons. The British officer was soon distinguished among them by his regimentals. Though enveloped in filth and dust, his countenance appeared familiar to Alonzo; and on a few moments recollection,
David: C’mon, Alonzo! You can do it!
he recognized in the manacled officer, the generous midshipman, Jack Brown,
Hugh [1804 text]: John Brown. Proper record-keeping requires full and correct given names.
Meredith [sings]: Jack Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the jail . . .
Linda [to Hugh and Meredith]: Speaking of jail, how come you guys spell it with a “j” and we spell it British-style? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
who had so disinterestedly relieved him, when he escaped from the prison in London!
In the fervency of his feelings, Alonzo flew to him and clasped him in his arms. “What do I behold!” he cried. “My friend, my brave deliverer, in chains in my own country!”
Linda: In case you’d forgotten, Alonzo, you’re at war.
“The fortune of war, boy!” said Jack—“it might have been worse. But my lad, I am heartily glad to see you; how has it fared with you since you left Old England?”
“We will talk of that by and by,” said Alonzo.
Meredith: Hastily changing the subject as he recollects certain details of his relationship with Jack Brown.
There were then some American officers of distinction in town, with whom Edgar was acquainted, to whom he applied for the relief of the noble sailor;—and as there were several other British prisoners in the gaol it was agreed that a cartel should be immediately sent to New York to exchange them. Alonzo had, therefore, the satisfaction to see the irons knocked off of his liberal hearted benefactor, and his prison doors opened.
The man they had taken at the mansion, returned him his purse, containing only twenty-five guineas, of which Jack gave him ten. “There, boy,” said he, “you have been honest, so I will divide with you.”
They then repaired to an inn. Jack, whose wound was healed, was put under the hands of a barber,
David [as Jack]: Nooooo! Not the barber! It’s all healed, I tell you, I don’t need a barber!
Lucy: You’re not in England any more, Jack. In the rest of the world, barbers cut hair, and surgery is done by doctors.
Linda [1836 text]: Cleansed.
Hugh: He’s only dirty. He doesn’t need to be purified, sanitized and disinfected.
furnished with a change of clothes, and soon appeared in a new attitude.
Lucy: Cocksure, obnoxious and irritating.
He informed Alonzo, that soon after he left England, his ship was ordered for America:
Linda [under her breath]: Ordered to America.
that the price of provisions growing high, it had taken almost all his wages to support his family;
Hugh: He was beginning to worry that he would have to tell his wife about the prize-money which is the only reason anyone would join the Navy instead of the Army.
that he had sent home his last remittance—
Linda: Three shillings and sixpence.
just before he was taken, reserving only the twenty-five guineas which had been restored him that day.
Lucy: Twenty-five guineas wouldn’t have fed his family for more than a year or two, so no reason to mention it.
—“But I have never despaired,” said he; “the great Commodore of life orders all for the best. My tour of duty is to serve my king and country, and provide for my dear Poll and her chicks,
David: That’s why he’s keeping the big money to himself. They’re his wife’s children, not his own.
Meredith: Especially the twins who were born ten months after he left England.
which, if I faithfully perform, I shall gain the applause of the Commander.”
When the cartel was ready to depart, Alonzo, taking Jack apart from the company, presented him with a draught of five hundred pounds sterling, on a merchant in New York, who privately transacted business with the Americans. “Take this, my friend,” said he; “you can ensure it by converting it into bills of exchange on London. Though you once saw me naked, I can now conveniently spare this sum,
David: And there’s more where that came from—so long as you continue not to breathe a word to a living soul.
and it may assist you in buffeting the billows of life.”—The generous tar shed tears of gratitude, and Alonzo enjoyed the pleasure of seeing him depart, calling down blessings on the head of his reciprocal benefactor.
Meredith: On the whole, the newly married Alonzo would prefer to have an ocean separating him from any man who has seen him naked.
The man who came with Alonzo and Edgar from the mansion, then went before the magistrates of the town,
Linda [1836 text]: I’ve got “magistrate”, singular. Budget cuts, I guess.
and gave his testimony and affidavit, by which it appeared that several eminent characters of Connecticut were concerned in this illicit trade. They then released him, gave him the money they had found in the cellar at the mansion,
Hugh: His attorney argued that they couldn’t prove it was the proceeds of crime rather than his legitimate personal savings.
and he immediately left the town. Precepts were soon after issued for a number of those traders; several were taken, among whom were some of the gang, and others who were only concerned—but most of them absconded, so that the company and their plans were broken up.
When Alonzo and Edgar returned home and related their adventure, they were all surprised at the fortitude of Melissa in being enabled to support her spirits in a solitary mansion, amidst such great, and so many terrors.
Meredith: Come clean, Mitchell, you cribbed that from a Latin textbook. It reads like a clunky translation.
Lucy [riffling through assorted books before throwing them aside in disgust]: Everyone said “so many terrors”. Milton, Virgil, the Church fathers . . .
It was now that Alonzo turned his attention to future prospects. It was time to select a place for domestic residence.
David: What with all the excitement of the past eight years, Alonzo has entirely forgotten that he and Melissa spent most of the fifth installment admiring their future home.
Linda: The owner forgot too. He sold it to someone else years ago.
He consulted Melissa, and she expressively mentioned the little secluded village, where
“Ere fate and fortune frown’d severe,”
they projected scenes of connubial bliss, and planned the structure of their family edifice*.
Meredith: Footnote: See pages 34 and 36. [Turns pages.] “They had even fixed upon the place which was to be—”
David: Yes, yes, we know. The reader of 1811 was in advanced senile decay and had to be reminded of everything.
This intimation accorded with the ardent wishes of Alonzo. The site—
Hugh [1804 text]: This intimation according with the ardent wishes of Alonzo, comma, the site—
formerly marked out, with an adjoining farm, was immediately purchased, and suitable buildings erected, to which Alonzo and Melissa removed the ensuing summer.
The clergyman of the village having recently died in a good old age,
Lucy: Italicized so you will know he lifted this phrase from the Bible.
Edgar was called to the pastoral charge of this unsophisticated people. Here did Melissa and Alonzo repose after the storms of adversity were past. Here did they realize all the happiness which the sublunary hand of time apportions to mortals. The varying seasons diversified their joys, except when Alonzo was called with the militia of his country, wherein he bore an eminent commission,
Linda: Another commission? Add this to the one he got in 1777 and ignored because he didn’t feel like going, and the one in the Navy that evaporated when he was listed as a POW, and if he plays his cards right he may end up collecting three pensions.
to oppose the enemy; and this was not unfrequent, as in his country’s defence he took a very conspicuous part. Then would anxiety, incertitude, and disconsolation possess the bosom of Melissa, until dissipated by his safe return. But the happy termination of the war soon removed all cause of these disquietudes.
Soon after the close of the war, Alonzo received a letter from his friend, Jack Brown, dated at an interior parish in England,
Lucy: Oh, I know this one. It’s an Edna Ferber story. An old sea captain retires to a house surrounded by wheat fields because the waving grain reminds him of the ocean.
in which, after pouring forth abundance of gratitude, he informed, that on returning to England he procured his discharge from the navy, sold his house, and moved into the country, where he had set up an inn with the sign of The Grateful American.
David: Excellent choice of names. Someone should introduce him to the innkeeper in Charleston who thought it would be a good idea to build an alehouse right next to the cemetery.
“You have made us all happy,” said he; “my dear Poll blubbered like a fresh water sailor in a hurricane, when I told her of your goodness. My wife, my children, all hands upon deck are yours. We have a good run of business, and are now under full sail, for the land of prosperity.”
Edgar married to one of the Miss Simpsons, whose father’s seat was in the vicinity of the village. The parents of Alonzo and Melissa—
David: Parents? He got through the whole book without dropping the teeniest hint that Alonzo has a mother, and now suddenly he’s got parents, plural?
Meredith [leafing back]: No, here she is, when Alonzo’s father springs the bad news. Alonzo and his mother were much amazed at so strange a proceeding. She shows up a few more times as an adjunct to his father, but it’s strictly a non-speaking role.
were their frequent visitors, as were also Vincent and his lady, with many others of their acquaintance, who all rejoiced in their happy situation, after such a diversity of troubles. Alfred was generally once a year their guest, until at length he married and settled in the mercantile business in Charleston, South Carolina.
Linda: They put up with Alfred for old times’ sake, but nobody can stand his wife, and as for that pack of undisciplined brats . . .
To our hero and heroine, the rural charms of their secluded village were a source of ever pleasing variety. Spring, with its verdured fields—
Lucy [after looking at David, who has remained silent]: Um, I’ve got verdurous fields.
David: You can’t. You’re a reprint. You even kept all those embarrassing typos like “Oeither” for “Neither”.
Lucy [shows book. The 1864 edition has the last two pages of the 1851 edition—one full page and a few lines of overflow—packed into a single page, reset in a noticeably smaller font.]
Linda: There it is, by golly: your very own variant reading.
Readers [exchange high-fives all around].
flowery meads, and vocal groves: its vernal gales, purling rills,
Lucy: In the autumn, when everything is reversed, they’ll be knitting rills.
and its evening whippoorwill: summer, with its embowering shades, reflected in the glassy lake, and the long, pensive, yet sprightly notes of the solitary strawberry-bird;* its lightning and its thunder; autumn with its mellow fruit, its yellow foliage and decaying verdure; winter, with its hoarse, rough blasts, its icy beard and snowy mantle,
David: They have winter in Connecticut? Sorry, Mitchell, but I’m going to need something more than your unsupported word on this. The entire book took place in summer, with a few forays into spring and autumn.
all tended to thrill with sensations of pleasing transition, the feeling bosoms of Alonzo and Melissa.
* A bird which, in the New England states, makes its first appearance about the time strawberries begin to ripen. Its song is lengthy, and consists of a variety of notes, commencing sprightly, but ending plaintive and melancholy.
Linda: That’s it? The very last words in the book, and it’s a footnote about some stupid bird?
Lucy: He needed a way to sneak in one last “sprightly”. That makes eleven. And sixteen “melancholy”.
Meredith: That’s nothing. Fifty-nine bosoms, remember?
David: Fifty-nine? How can you have an odd number of—
Hugh: You both lose. Sixty-two mansions. Some of them old.
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [stand up and return books to shelf].
Hugh: Wait! There’s an Afterword!
Meredith, Linda, David, Lucy [with fingers in ears, hum loudly as they walk out].
Hugh [continues to read on his own].
The critical & curious reader will discover, perhaps, many errors in the above story.
Hugh [raised voice]: I heard that snicker!
Of some, the writer, on retrospection, is already sensible; in one instance he has erred by an anachronism which was not discovered until too late to correct the error.
Voice [from next room]: One instance? I counted thirty-seven!
But for mistakes and deficiencies, the writer has an excuse.
Voice [from next room]: Sure he does.
The incidents from which this tale was formed, were only to be found, in his memory.
Voice [from next room]: In his what?
It was written also from week to week, amidst the hurry of his avocations, and more generally put to press without revisal.
It will also be seen that some of the scenes are hurried over with too much rapidity for the contour of a perfect Novel; such are Alonzo’s passage and repassage across the Atlantic, and the attending circumstances; his escape from the prison in London, interview with the sailor, Beauman, escape from England, arrival in France, conference with Franklin, Edgar, Grafton and contingent events; his journey from Savannah to Charleston, and from thence to Connecticut; his interview with Alfred, meeting with Melissa; their reception by their friends on arriving at their native place, as also the wedding scene, the story of the illicit traders, and some others of less import.
David [poking head in door]: Did he just say, with a straight face, that he didn’t only want to expand the important scenes but also to pad out the unimportant ones?
To this the writer answers, that it was his first intention that those scenes should be full and complete. It was intended to introduce a number of other characters, both European and American, into the body of the work, and annex to them conspicuous and interesting parts of the drama, some of which were to have been connected with the most important events of the American war; but it was soon foreseen that this would extend the story beyond the limits of a weekly paper, and at least beyond the patience of readers,
Hugh [pauses in expectation of sarcastic comment before reading on].
who, anxious for the catastrophe, would not willingly consent to so lengthy a detail, unfolding itself but once a week; the plan was therefore relinquished at an early period, not, however, until some characters were introduced, which now appear inert, and which, had the plan been carried into execution, would have conspicuously figured in the scenery.
All these errors will be corrected, and the deficiencies filled, should the work be published in a volume, or volumes, as is now projected. It will then be carefully revised, altered, amended, and considerably enlarged. This is particularly mentioned now, for the following reasons.
Although we are perfectly willing that cotemporary editors should extract the story into their papers, yet it is our request that they will not republish it in a pamphlet or a book;
Meredith [from next room]: Hah!
and should they do this before they are legally prevented, he cautions the public against purchasing them, as in due time they will be presented with a more perfect and complete edition, greatly enlarged. Besides, the Novel as extracted into the papers we have seen, is materially incorrect; some words left out, others misspelt, and in several instances one word is given for another, which renders the sentence unintelligible, or entirely alters the sense;
Hugh [pauses in reading to engage in prolonged fit of coughing].
so that an edition published from those copies would be exceedingly incorrect, and not agreeing with the original.—What we mean by legal prevention, is that we design, at an early day, to anticipate a copy-right,
Voice [from next room, in ostentatiously carrying tones]: You’d think a newspaper editor would know that it isn’t enough to plan to think about a copyright. You have to actually get one.
Lucy: Just don’t expect a copyright to protect you from Alida.
of not only Alonzo and Melissa, but the other two original tales which have heretofore appeared in the Barometer, to wit, Albert and Eliza, and Melville and Phalez, all of which will be revised, amended, and much enlarged.
The first of these novels, written under similar circumstances with the two last, was no sooner completed, than a neighbouring printer, with whom we then exchanged papers, whipp’d it into a pamphlet, and had it peddled through various parts of this state and the state of Connecticut. Another printer, more distant, published it and had it bound in a book. Melville and Phalez shared the same fate, though not from the same hands. This, though not an actionable offence, is yet worse than common plagiarism; it is, in reality, the indolent drone rioting on the labors of the industrious bee; it is also an imposition upon the public, as those works are soon to make their appearance in a renovated and more finished form.
Whether the story of Alonzo and Melissa . . .
Hugh [folds up newspaper and puts it away with a sigh of relief].
- [ 1] In the time of the late [American] revolution . . .
- [ 2] Melissa was received with joyful tenderness . . .
- [ 3] It was some time before Alonzo renewed his visit.
- [ 4] Alonzo’s hours now winged heavily away.
- [ 5] The declaration of Melissa’s father . . .
- [ 6] The spring opened with the din of preparation . . .
- [ 7] Alonzo entered the room; Melissa was sitting by a window . . .
- [ 8] Alonzo arrived at the residence of Vincent . . .
- [ 9] The night was exceedingly dark . . .
-  John came frequently to the house . . .
-  That night Melissa let down the bridge . . .
-  Alonzo and Melissa were equally surprised . . .
-  Alonzo had understood from Melissa, that John’s hut . . .
-  The incidents of our story will here produce a pause.
-  A new scene was now opened to Alonzo . . .
-  Alonzo passed along the street . . .
-  Edgar and Alonzo retired to a separate room.
-  Alonzo having thus poured out . . .
-  Again will the incidents of our history produce a pause.
-  “To undeceive you, Alonzo,”
-  Alonzo’s father was soon . . .
-  It was then agreed that the man should . . .
- [PS] Afterword