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So Elsie goes on suffering. This is like it has been: Elsie bumps around the woe wheel and we're dragged along. But something is changing, and on following it, it looks less like a flaw in the writing and more like a fault line in the book's morality.

Up until this point, the flareups of trouble around Elsie are almost all situations she's had some hand in creating, whether it's refusing her peer's offers to help her, or involving herself directly. The only situation where she didn't have a clear chance to act was Enna and the purse, and even then she could have retreated. But now her father is on the scene, and he represents Authority. Not a benevolent authority that looks after her, at this point; more a self-absorbed, judgemental authority that concerns itself with its own needs first, although Elsie's needs are not just its responsibility but its obligation. Elsie's goals towards this authority are very simple: she wants to ingratiate herself to it. (She can't be blamed for this, being eight, raised to respect and want that authority.)

We think we see the ice cracking when Elsie's father sees her off riding:

He lifted her in his arms and placed her on the horse, saying to
the servant as he did so, "Now, Jim, you must take good care of my
little girl."

Tears of happiness rose in Elsie's eyes as she turned her horse's
head and rode down the avenue. "He called me _his_ little
girl," she murmured to herself, "and bade Jim take good care of
me. Oh! he _will_ love me soon, as good, kind Mr. Travilla
said he would."

Her father was still standing on the portico, looking after her.

"How well she sits her horse!" remarked Travilla, who had stepped
out and stood close by his side.

"Yes, I think she does," was the reply, in an absent tone. He was
thinking of a time, some eight or nine years before, when he had
assisted another Elsie to mount her horse, and had ridden for
hours at her side.

Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. He's at least expressed the faintest concern for her safety, that's something, even if he fails to wonder at the awe of his friend for Elsie's eight-year-old mastery of horsemanship. Seriously, she's just riding a horse down the lane, she's not running a steeplechase. Anyway, this marks a new phase in the worlds Elsie must conquer. Having devoted all her time to creating a religion of her very own that comforts her as she follows its black-and-white markers, she must now switch gears and perform artistically. We start off with a party, apparently a lot of Daddy D's friends that Elsie has never seen before. Daddy D. fades off into the background while Elsie sits and awes at the party. All very dazelike and such... until Travilla puts his oar in again.

Suddenly Mr. Travilla laid down the engraving he had in his hand,
saying: "Come, Miss Elsie, I want my mother to hear you play and
sing; will you not do me the favor to repeat that song I admired
so much this morning?"

"Oh! Mr. Travilla!" exclaimed the little girl, blushing and
trembling, "I could not play or sing before so many people. Please
excuse me."

"Elsie," said her father's voice just at her side, "go
_immediately,_ and do as the gentleman requests."

Where in the Sam blue hell did he come from?

His tone was very stern, and as she lifted her eyes to his face,
she saw that his look was still more so; and tremblingly and
tearfully she rose to obey.

Later the piano will be another centerpiece for a clash of the Titans, but right now we have just the situation we have: child afraid of failure, Authority randomly setting the task for child to do; Travilla being creepy author's tool.

"Stay," said Mr. Travilla kindly, pitying her distress, "I
withdraw my request."

"But I do _not_ withdraw my command," said her father in the
same stern tone; "go at once, Elsie, and do as I bid you."

We don't know why. We're about as confused as Elsie. On the word of his friend, who has sworn Elsie is good at 1. talking, 2. not falling off a horse, 3. playing on a piano, he wants his child to get up in front of a crowd at his party and perform something he has never heard.

She made the attempt, but fairly broke down, and burst into tears
before she had got through the first verse. Her father had come up
behind her, and was standing there, looking much mortified.

"Elsie," he said, leaning down and speaking in a low, stern tone,
close to her ear, "I am ashamed of you; go to your room and to
your bed immediately."

And this is portrayed as her failure. Elsie is here being slammed abruptly into a new truth: her father is not interested in her as a person, but her as a performer.

How to gain her father's love was the constant subject of her
thoughts, and she tried in many ways to win his affection. She
always yielded a ready and cheerful obedience to his commands, and
strove to anticipate and fulfil all his wishes. But he seldom
noticed her, unless to give a command or administer a rebuke,
while he lavished many a caress upon his little sister, Enna.
Often Elsie would watch him fondling her, until, unable any longer
to control her feelings, she would rush away to her own room to
weep and mourn in secret, and pray that her father might some day
learn to love her.

What's the secret? Chloe (the slave, it has to be repeated, she is getting advice on how to fit the role her father wants for her from her father's slave,) lets her in. I'm taking out the dialect but I'm not doing the voice, I have no heart for this one:

"Try to be merry, like Miss Enna, and run and jump on Master Horace's knee, and then I think he will like you better."

Stepford harder, Elsie. It's not about who you are; it's all about how you act. Of course, Elsie's childhood, with its set of rules, streams well into this. Which is good, because she's literally going to need her strength, we learn as Daddy D. steps into her upbringing:

"Good morning, Elsie," he replied in an unusually pleasant tone.

Then, taking her by the hand, he led her in and seated her beside
himself at the table.

There were several guests present, and she waited patiently while
they and the older members of the family were being helped. At
length it was her turn.

"Elsie, will you have some meat?" asked her grandfather.

"No," said her father, answering for her; "once a day is as often
as a child of her age ought to eat meat; she may have it at
dinner, but never for breakfast or tea."

Umm. Oh-kay. Daddy D. is now a nutritionist. Who knew?

The elder Mr. Dinsmore laughed, saying, "Really, Horace, I had no
idea you were so notionate. I always allowed you to eat whatever
you pleased, and I never saw that it hurt you. But, of course, you
must manage your own child in your own way."

"If you please, papa, I had rather have some of those hot cakes,"
said Elsie, timidly, as her father laid a slice of bread upon her

"No," said he decidedly; "I don't approve of hot bread for
children; you must eat the cold." Then to a servant who was
setting down a cup of coffee beside the little girl's plate, "Take
that away, Pomp, and bring Miss Elsie a tumbler of milk. Or would
you prefer water, Elsie?"

And he's kind of shit at it!

Her father put a spoonful of stewed fruit upon her plate, and as
Pompey set down a tumbler of rich milk beside it, said, "Now you
have your breakfast before you, Elsie. Children in England are not
allowed to eat butter until they are ten or eleven years of age,
and I think it an excellent plan, to make them grow up rosy and
healthy. I have neglected my little girl too long, but I intend to
begin to take good care of her now," he added, with a smile, and
laying his hand for an instant upon her head.

The slight caress and the few kind words were quite enough to
reconcile Elsie to the rather meagre fare, and she ate it with a
happy heart. But the meagre fare became a constant thing, while
the caresses and kind words were not; and though she submitted
without a murmur, she could not help sometimes looking with
longing eyes at the coffee and hot buttered rolls, of which she
was very fond. But she tried to be contented, saying to herself,
"Papa knows best, and I ought to be satisfied with whatever he
gives me."

The glass of milk kind-of makes up for her not getting butter, at least, in that she gets some fat here... although again, she's a very small child. The lack of coffee is good, it will stop screwing around with her metabolism. The cold, bare bread is kind of stupid. The fruit is at least fractionally good, in that it will give her a bit of sugar and vitamins.. being cooked, it's probably oversugared. The ONE SERVING OF PROTEIN A DAY is just Daddy D. depriving his child, but that's okay, father knows best! He saw a kid being raised in England, you see.

Fortunately, Arthur comes to the rescue! Yes, Arthur. This will be lulzy later when the author truly loses her grip on him and Arthur takes action later, but right now he's Elsie's angel of irritation:

"Isn't it delightful to have your papa at home, Elsie?" Mr.
Dinsmore one morning overheard Arthur saying to his little girl in
a mocking tone. "It's very pleasant to live on bread and water,
isn't it, eh?"

"I _don't_ live on bread and water," Elsie replied, a little
indignantly. "Papa always allows me to have as much good, rich
milk, and cream, and fruit as I want, or I can have eggs, or
cheese, or honey, or anything else, except meat and hot cakes, and
butter, and coffee; and who wouldn't rather do without such things
all their lives than not have a papa to love them? And besides,
you know, Arthur, that I can have all the meat I want at dinner."

Oh, okay. She gets eggs at breakfast, or maybe lunch. That gives her back some protein. At least Daddy D. isn't watching her wither away during all this. The cheese is also good! It's just replacing the arbitrary lack of butter, but anything so long as I'm not reading Elsie Dinsmore and the Onset of Pellegra. The honey is.... sugar with some immune system benefits. And we still don't know what set Daddy D. off on his freaky Elsie-patting diet-controlling kick, anyway.

"Pooh! that's nothing; and _I_wouldn't give much for all the
love _you_ get from him," said Arthur, scornfully.

There was something like a sob from Elsie; and as her father rose
and went to the window, he just caught a glimpse of her white
dress disappearing down the garden walk.

What's Daddy D's reaction to hearing his daughter eviscerated by his brother's announcement he not care about her?

"What do you mean, sir, by teasing Elsie in that manner?" he
exclaimed angrily to Arthur, who still stood where the little girl
had left him, leaning against one of the pillars of the portico.

"I only wanted to have a little fun," returned the boy doggedly.

"Well, sir, I don't approve of such fun, and you will please to
let the child alone in future," replied his brother as he returned
to his newspaper again.

He makes it about him and goes back to his paper! Well done, Daddy D. Why don't you go find some more orphans to starve? -but wait! But wait!

But somehow the paper had lost its interest. He seemed constantly
to hear that little sob, and to see a little face all wet with
tears of wounded feeling.

He never saw her face, but ok, we'll go with Daddy D's hallucinations as long as it actually gets his rear in gear. Arthur's scathing commentary on his parenting has done what no amount of Elsie's needing him will do: it's actually made him notice he's not so hot as a provider or caretaker. Take action, Daddy D!

Just then the school-bell rang, and suddenly throwing down his
paper, he took a card from his pocket, wrote a few words upon it,
and calling a servant, said, "Take this to Miss Day."

Take action?

He held out his hand as she entered, saying with a smile, "Come
here, daughter."

It was the first time he had called her that, and it sent a thrill
of joy to her heart.

She sprang to his side, and, taking her hand in one of his, and
laying the other gently on her head, and bending it back a little,
he looked keenly into her face. It was bright enough now, yet the
traces of tears were very evident.

"You have been crying," he said, in a slightly reproving tone. "I
am afraid you do a great deal more of that than is good for you.
It is a very babyish habit, and you must try to break yourself of

The little face flushed painfully, and the eyes filled again.

Okay, would you mind taking strychnine? I mean, if your contribution is to keep emphasizing acting over personhood and smiling over feeling, despite the way you just heard an airstrike land on those abandonment issues you gave her, you're kind of... done as a human.

So Daddy D. takes her with him to go see the Travillas. I don't know why. You don't know why. Elsie doesn't know why. I'm not sure the author knows why. They bond a little bit over talking about the woods, Travilla takes Elsie out to the garden WOULD YOU STOP DOING THAT, and then randomly introduces some more psychological horror into our pleasant morality fable for children:

"No, no, he is not to take you away; I have made a bargain with
him to let me keep you," said Mr. Travilla, very gravely. "We both
think that there are children enough at Roselands without you; and
so your papa has given you to me; and you are to be _my_ little
girl, and call _me_ papa in future."

Elsie gazed earnestly in his face for an instant, saying in a
half-frightened tone, "You are only joking, Mr. Travilla."

"Not a bit of it," said he; "can't you see that I'm in earnest?"

His tone and look were both so serious that for an instant Elsie
believed he meant all that he was saying, and springing to her
feet with a little cry of alarm, she hastily withdrew her hand
which he had taken, and rushing out to the veranda, where her
father still sat conversing with Mrs. Travilla, she flung herself
into his arms, and clinging to him, hid her face on his breast,
sobbing, "O papa, _dear_ papa! _don't_ give me away; please
don't--I will be so good--I will do everything you bid me--I--"

"Why, Elsie, what does all this mean!" exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore in
great surprise and perplexity; while Mr. Travilla stood in the
doorway looking half amused, half sorry for what he had done.

So they basically bear Arthur out with all of this talking about Elsie like some kind of thing, until:

Mr. Dinsmore laughed heartily, saying, "I think you may as well
give it up, Travilla; it seems I'll have to keep her whether or
no, for she clings to me like a leech."

"Well, Elsie, you will at least come to the piano and play a
little for me, will you not?" asked Travilla, smiling.

People give this book to children.
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January 2012

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