This e-text is based on the 1851 Boston edition of Alonzo and Melissa. The story originally appeared in 1804 as a serial in the weekly Political Barometer of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., written by the newspaper's editor, Isaac Mitchell. Pirated versions began to appear in 1811, giving Daniel Jackson, Jr., as author.
The book was printed as a single unit, without chapter divisions. The breaks in the e-text represent the 22 installments of the serial version.
Note that the standard punctuation for dialogue is
"To this place, said Melissa, have I taken many a solitary walk...."
The following are listed at the end of the e-text:
Chronology of the Story Quotations Other Editions Errors and Inconsistencies]
ALONZO AND MELISSA,
THE UNFEELING FATHER.
In every varied posture, place, and hour, How widowed every thought of every joy!
BY DANIEL JACKSON, Jr.
Boston: Printed for the Publishers. 1851.
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 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.
It is also believed that the story contains no indecorous stimulants; nor is it filled with unmeaning and inexplicated incidents sounding upon the sense, but imperceptible to the understanding. When anxieties have been excited by involved and doubtful events, they are afterwards elucidated by the consequences.
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, 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.
If these scenes are not imperfectly drawn, they will not fail to interest the refined sensibilities of the reader.
ALONZO AND MELISSA.
In the time of the late 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, Alonzo for the bar; but as they were allowed some vacant time after their graduation before they entered upon their professional studies, 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.
Edgar had a sister who, for some time, had resided with her cousin at New-London. She was now about to return, 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; which invitation he readily accepted, and on the day appointed set out for New-London, where he arrived, delivered his introductory letters to Edgar's cousin, and was received with the most friendly politeness.
Melissa, the sister of Edgar, 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; her aspect was attempered 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."
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.
Alonzo was about twenty-one years old; he had been esteemed an excellent student. 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, He lov'd the realms of nature to explore; With lingering gaze Edinian spring survey'd; Morn's fairy splendours; night's gay curtained shade, The high hoar cliff, the grove's benighting gloom, The wild rose, widowed o'er the mouldering tomb; The heaven embosom'd sun; the rainbow's dye, 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."
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. 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 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, 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; gave taste its zest, and was quite a favorite with the ladies generally. His name was Beauman.
Edgar's cousin proposed to detain Alonzo and Melissa a few days, during which time they passed in visiting 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. 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 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. The shores of Long-Island and the other islands in the harbour, appeared dimly to float among the waves. The air was adorned with the fragrance of surrounding flowers; the sound of instrumental music wafted from the town, rendered sweeter by distance, while the whippoorwill's sprightly song echoed along the adjacent groves. Far in the eastern horizon hung a pile of brazen clouds, 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. On this rock they seated themselves, and enjoyed a while the splendours of the scene—the drapery of nature. "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; it was congenial with the feeling of his soul.
They returned at a late hour, 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. They put up at night at the house of an acquaintance in Branford. 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.
* * * * *
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.—Edgar's father was a plain Connecticut farmer. 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 securities; and as payment frequently failed, he often had opportunities of purchasing the involved premises at his own price. 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. 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 no where figure so well, or gain more eminence, than in the sacred desk.
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, which was about twenty miles distant from the village in which lived the family of Edgar and Melissa. Alonzo was the frequent guest of this family; for though Edgar was absent, there was still a charm which attracted him hither. If he had admired the manly virtues of the brother, could he fail to adore the sublimer graces 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?
Beauman had become the suitor of Melissa; but the distance of residence rendered it inconvenient to visit her often. He came regularly once in two or three months; of course Alonzo and he sometimes met. Beauman had made no serious pretensions, but his particularity indicated something more than fashionable politeness.
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 or to Melissa herself," said Alonzo, with an involuntary sigh.
But as Beauman's visits to Melissa became more frequent, 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. 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: 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. Distance proved no barrier to his addresses. His visits became more and more frequent. 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.
It was summer, 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. I will order tea 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, which I sent by Beauman, to a lady in New-London, and the careless man has lost it." Turning to Alonzo, "I forgot to tell you that your friend Beauman has been with us a few days; 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. Alonzo bowed and turned the conversation.
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, and the sound between that and the main land, and the opening thereof to the distant ocean.
A soft and silent shower had descended; a thousand transitory gems trembled upon the foliage glittering the western ray.—A bright rainbow sat upon a southern cloud; the light gales whispered among the branches, 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.
Hills piled on hills, receding, faded from the pursuing eye, mingling with the blue mist which hovered around the extreme verge of the horizon. "This is a most delightful scene," said Melissa.
"It is indeed, replied Alonzo; can New-London boast so charming a prospect?"
Melissa. No—yes; 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.
Melissa. I know not how it happened; but you are the only person who ever attended me there.
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.
Mel. Yes, sometimes.
Al. And now always.
Mel. Not this evening.
Al. He formerly.
Al. And will soon claim the exclusive privilege so to do.
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?
Al. Melissa. [A pause ensued.]
Mel. See that ship, Alonzo, coming up the sound; 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.
A pause ensued. They walked leisurely around the hill, and moved toward home. The sun sunk behind the western hills.—Twilight arose in the east, and floated along the air. Darkness began to hover around the woodlands and vallies. The beauties of the landscape slowly receded. "This reminds me of our walk at New-London," said Melissa. "Do you remember it?" enquired Alonzo. "Certainly I do," she replied, "I shall never forget the sweet pensive scenery of my favourite rock." "Nor I neither," said Alonzo with a deep drawn sigh.
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.
* * * * *
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.—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."
"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. 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. "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. 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. After he was gone, as Melissa and Alonzo were sitting in a room alone, "Well, said she, 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 visiter here.
Al. Perhaps I might be sometimes intrusive.
Mel. What times?
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 its pretensions to a superior claim.
Mel. Perhaps I do not rightly comprehend the force of that remark.
Al. Was 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.
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.
Al. Are you engaged to Beauman?
Mel. (blushing.) He has asked me the same question concerning you.
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.
Al. Has he asked your father's permission to address you?
Mel. That I have not suffered him yet to do.
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.
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. I am conscious of my inadvertency, and that the reproof is just. One therefore must be dismissed. But—(she hesitated.)
A considerable pause ensued. 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. I could have no just claims, or if I had, your heart must sanction them, or they would be unhallowed and unjustifiable. 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.
Melissa had recovered in some degree from her embarrassment, and collected her scattered spirits. "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, 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. His wonted cheerfulness fled; he wooed the silent and solitary haunts of "musing, moping melancholy." He loved to wander through lonely fields, 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."
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, nor had they attempted to influence or direct her choice. 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 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. 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, and twine the nuptial garland with wreaths of joy. 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."
"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?—Why did she not spurn me from her confidence, and plainly tell me that my attentions were untimely and improper? And now she would have me dance attendance to her decision in favour of Beauman—Insulting! Let Beauman and she make, 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 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? Her brother was my early friend: she has treated me as a friend to her brother. She was unconscious of 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 had 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. Her hair hung loosely upon her shoulders; she was contemplating a bouquet of flowers which she held in her hand. Alonzo fancied she never appeared so lovely. She arose to receive him. "We have been expecting you some time, said Melissa; we were anxious to inform you, 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 prevented him; he esteemed him as his most valuable friend, 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, when we are honoured with so numerous a company of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, 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, 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: 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 they resorted to the place and seated themselves in the arbour.
It was the beginning of autumn, 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. The low sun extended the lengthening shadows; 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. The solemn herds lowed in monotonous symphony. The autumnal insects in sympathetic wafting, plaintively predicted their approaching fate. "The scene is changed since we last visited this place, said Melissa; the gay charms of summer are beginning to decay, and must soon yield their splendors 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."
Mel. That probably may be, though it is nearly two months yet to winter.
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.
Al. I know, Melissa, that you are incapable of duplicity or evasion. 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.
Mel. (sighing.) I am placed in an exceedingly delicate situation.
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. 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.
Al. You see, Melissa, I am prepared for the event.—She was silent.
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, 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. 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?
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" 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 palely lustre thro' the gloom. The solitary whippoorwills stationed themselves along the woody glens, the groves and rocky pastures, and sung 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.
Beauman arrived the next day. He gave his hand to Alonzo with 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. 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: she has engaged to decide between you. I am come to make, in her name, this decision. 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. 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: after that period I shall be happy to receive your visits."—Alonzo and Beauman pledged their honour to abide implicitly by 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 arrived, and I now inform you that she has decided in favour of—Alonzo."
* * * * *
The declaration of Melissa's father burst upon the mental powers of Beauman, like a sudden and tremendous clap of thunder on the deep and solemn silence of night. 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 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. 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 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 the most proper person to pronounce it.
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 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.
He had listened therefore attentively 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. 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.
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 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.
Thus were the expectations of Alonzo and Beauman disappointed—how differently, the sequel has shown.
Melissa's father retired immediately after pronouncing the declaration; the two young gentlemen also soon after withdrew. Alonzo saw the tempest which tore the bosom of his rival, and he pitied him from his heart.
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. He was, however, necessitated to make a journey to a distant part of the country, after which he resolved to see Melissa. He performed his business, and was returning. It was toward evening, and the day had been uncommonly sultry for the autumnal season. A rising shower blackened the western hemisphere; the dark vapour ascended in folding ridges, 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; 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, 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 he discovered that it was Melissa. By this unexpected meeting they were both completely embarrassed. Melissa, however, arose, and in rather a confused manner, introduced Alonzo, as the classmate of her brother, 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. 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 invited there to pass a week, 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." Alonzo felt all the force of the remark. 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 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. They had not, it is true, been separated by wide seas, unfeeling parents, or the rigorous laws of war; 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.
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, followed soon after by the battle at Bunker Hill. The panic and general bustle which took place in America on these events, is yet well remembered by many. They were not calculated to impress the mind of Melissa with the most pleasing sensations. She foresaw that the burden of the war must rest on the American youth, and she trembled in anticipation for the fate of Alonzo. 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 agreed to form the mystic union previous to any wide separation.
One event tended to hasten this resolution. The attorney in whose office Alonzo was clerk, received a commission in the new raised American army, and marched to the lines near Boston. His business was therefore suspended, 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. 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. 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, 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 by the blue mists which hovered over mountains more grand, majestic and lofty.[A] 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. 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 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.
[Footnote A: Some who read this description will readily recognize the village here described.]
Such was the place for the residence of Alonzo and Melissa. They had visited the spot, and were enraptured with its pensive, romantic beauties. A site was marked out whereon to erect their family 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 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."
The bright gems of joy glistened in the eyes of Melissa. With Alonzo she anticipated approaching happiness, and her bosom beat in rapturous unison.
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. 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. The continental army was now raising, 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," were already anticipated.
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. He had an excuse. 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. Alonzo stated these facts to his friends; 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.
The day now rapidly approached when Alonzo was to make Melissa his own. Preparations for the hymeneal ceremony were making, and invitations had already gone abroad. Edgar, the brother of Melissa, had entered the army in the capacity of chaplain. He was soon expected home, where he intended to tarry until the consummation 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 Vaucluse, 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 the green retreat of the summer house, and they already saw, in anticipation, the various domestic blessings and felicities with which they were to be surrounded.
They took tea at the inn, 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, 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 vapour of approaching night.
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. 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, 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. 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, and was expected to arrive before the appointed day. 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; 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. 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 the 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, 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 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, 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, 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. Added to this, three vessels from the Indies, laden with island produce, have been taken on their homeward bound voyage, and one lost on her return from Holland. 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: 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 and meanness. I have notified and procured a meeting of the creditors, and have laid the matters before them. Some appeared favourable to me; others insinuated that we were all connected in fraudulent designs, to swindle our creditors. This I repelled with becoming spirit, 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, 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 and furniture, and finally arresting the body of the old gentleman, 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, 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.
We will not stop the reader to moralize on this disastrous event. The feelings of the family can better be conceived than detailed. 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, 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?
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; 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.
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.—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. "Your family misfortunes, continued Vincent, have reached the ears of Melissa's father. I know the 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. 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."
* * * * *
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. 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.
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 approaching, as she has just left the room." Her countenance appeared dejected, which, on seeing Alonzo, 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." "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. 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?
Mel. He is.
Al. How did he receive the intelligence?
Mel. With deep regret.
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 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, 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. 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, 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." Thus spake my father, and immediately withdrew.
"In our present dilemma, said Alonzo, what is proper to be done?"
"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. 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 them we can place the utmost confidence. My reliance on Providence, I trust, will never be shaken; 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."
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.
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. 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. 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."
"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, 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.
Alonzo was received with a cool reserve by all except Melissa. Her father saluted him with a distant and retiring bow, as he passed with Melissa to her room. As soon as they were seated, a maiden aunt, who had doubled her teens, outlived many of her suiters, 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 entered, and requested the two ladies to withdraw, which was instantly done. 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 to want."
He paused for a reply, but Alonzo was silent. 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 friends and well wishers; but which of them will advance you four or five thousand pounds, as a gratuity? 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 well may do in single life; 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 expectation 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.
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. 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.
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 the will of her father. 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."
Alonzo and Melissa, in their happier days, had, when absent, corresponded by letters. This method it was now thought best to relinquish. 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 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. With this I have purchased a small, but well cultivated farm, with convenient tenements. I have enough left to purchase what stock and other materials I need; and to spare some for your present exigencies, Alonzo."
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. "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.
"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, the fading splendours fled; Returning anguish froze his feeling soul, Deep sighs burst forth, and tears began to roll."
He thought of Melissa, from whom he had heard nothing since he last saw her.—He thought of the difficulties which surrounded him. He thought of the barriers which were opposed to his happiness and the felicity of Melissa, and he set out for the house of Vincent.
* * * * *
Alonzo arrived at the residence of Vincent near the close of the day. 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. 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, 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; 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.
"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 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. 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, 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. 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. Edgar, her brother, came this morning.—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."
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, which I have so often seen triumphing over affliction?" 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; the splendours of the brightest morning arise on the wings of blackest midnight.——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 better world, where sighing and sorrows cease, and the tempestuous passions of life are known no more."
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, which faded away as she became composed, until a livid paleness spread itself over her features. Alonzo feared that the delicacy of her constitution 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. 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.
"Marry Alonzo, you sink into obscurity, are condemned to drudgery, poorly fed, worse clothed, and your relations and acquaintances shun and despise you. 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; at the end of that time I shall expect your decision, and hope you will decide discretely. But remember that you become the wife of Beauman, or you are no longer acknowledged as my daughter."
"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. 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, 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. "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. 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." 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 odour-flowing 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."—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. 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. You, Alonzo, must exert your fortitude. The ways of Heaven are inscrutable, but they are right.
"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 ever find a brilliant reward in the regions of unsullied splendour, far beyond trouble and the tomb."
Edgar told Alonzo that circumstances compelled him that day to depart for the army. "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. Perhaps you and my sister may yet be happy."
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. 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. 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."
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."——
"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——"
"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."
"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. 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. I always told you, brother, what would come of your indulgence to your daughter. And I should not wonder if you should soon find the girl had eloped, and your desk robbed in the bargain."
Alonzo hastily arose: "I suppose, said he, my presence can be dispensed with."
"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."