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Good morning! Wake up, wake up! It's time to watch Arthur Dinsmore start on that Snidely moustache! And then we get to go on a carriage ride! Are you ready? I'm not ready! Let me put on "Hollaback Girl" in the background so I can have an appropriate soundtrack going on...

"O Arthur! how _could_ you take grandpa's watch? _Do_
put it away, for you will be almost sure to injure it."

"Hold your tongue, Elsie; I'll do as I please," was the polite

Today's arc is now set up in an elegant little exchange that lets us know that from here on out, Arthur shall do nothing but devote himself to evil. It's not just the way he's waving his claw-hand or the scowling slant to his three-inch Frankenbrows. Elsie sees him with something; therefore he has it without permission and he will wreck it. Some people might think it rude to assume things like this. These people do not read Elsie Dinsmore. Arthur explains he took the watch to teach his grandfather not to be so careless with his things, Elsie says if she's asked she'll have to say who broke it, Arthur vows revenge if she does, Arthur proceeds to run around like a reckless maniac while Elsie begs him to settle down... why am I even bothering? You already know all of this, and I'd better catch up to you. Pausing only to eat a kitten and give birth to Adolf Hitler, Arthur breaks the watch.

"What will papa say?" said Enna; while Elsie stood pale and
trembling, not speaking a word.

"You hush!" exclaimed Arthur fiercely. "I'll tell you what, if any
of you dare to tell of me, I'll make you sorry for it to the last
day of your life. Do you hear?"

Elsie does not end up tied to train tracks in any of the books so far. This is probably just an accident of the setting. One state closer to the Mississippi and we'd get it every week.

"Arthur," said she, "grandpa will know that _somebody_ did
it, and surely you would not wish an innocent person to be
punished for _your_ fault."

"I don't care _who_ gets punished, so that papa does not find
out that I did it," said he furiously; "and if you dare to tell of
me, I'll pay you for it."

We're sort of drifting off-course here, it looks? No, no we're not. This is a noteworthy bit because at least it's trying to reassure us that you should indeed be angry about injustice, but... it sort of gets lost in the everything-else.

Arthur doubled up his fist, and made a plunge at her as if he
meant to knock her down; but Elsie sprang behind the tree, and
then ran so fleetly toward the house that he was not able to
overtake her until his passion had had time to cool.

A boy beating up a girl younger than he is would also be a bit of a moral problem. In fact, this just might be worse than his breaking a watch. Finley doesn't rein herself in very often. Eyebrow-raising when the children are sent to play by Rattlesnake Meadow, irritating when a character is committing destruction of personal property and budding as a domestic abuser, and today's moral is supposed to center around the first.

Sort of.

"I say, Wally," said Arthur, drawing his little brother aside and
speaking in a low tone, having first sent a cautious glance around
to assure himself that no one else was within hearing; "I say,
what would you give me for that new riding whip of mine?"

"O Arthur! anything I've got," exclaimed the little boy eagerly.
"But you wouldn't give it up, I know, and you're only trying to
tease me."

"No, indeed, Wal; I mean to _give_ it to you if you'll only
be a good fellow and do as I tell you."

"What?" he asked, with intense interest.

"Tell papa that Jim broke the watch."

Jim. Jim? Hang on. We got Lora, Elsie, Enna, those are the girls plus another one somewhere... Arthur and Walter, those are the boys... Jim, wait, Jim was one of the roles the book's lone black character plays! That would make Jim...

That would make Jim a slave.

So Arthur threatens to sic his supernatural army of one ghost on Walter if he doesn't say Jim broke the watch, plus offers him his shiny new riding crop, as if we didn't have enough to worry about without this family arming each other, convinces Enna to back him up (probably threatening her with his laboratory creation in the basement,) and doesn't say jack to Elsie because she is hiding in her room. The broken watch is discovered, leading to Arthur and Grandpa D facing off:

"I don't believe you," said his father; "and if you are guilty, as
I strongly suspect, you had better confess it at once, before I
find it out in some other way."

"I didn't do it, sir. It was Jim, and I can prove it by Walter and
Enna; we all saw it fall from his pocket when he was up in a tree;
and he cried like anything when he found it was broken, and said
he didn't mean to do it any harm; he was only going to wear it a
little while, and then put it back all safe; but now master would
be dreadfully angry, and have him flogged."

"That I will, if it is true," exclaimed the old gentleman,
passionately; "he shall be well whipped and sent out to work on
the plantation. I'll keep no such meddlers about my house."

Arthur is going to have to remember to drop hints like that in the future. That went really well!

"It is true, papa, I saw him do it," she replied, with a slight
blush, and sending an uneasy glance around the room.

"Did you see it, too, Walter?" asked his father.

"Yes, sir," replied the little fellow, in a low, reluctant tone;
"but please, papa, don't punish him. I'm sure he didn't mean to
break it."

"Hold your tongue! he _shall_ be punished as he deserves,"
cried the old gentleman, furiously. "Here, sir," turning to the
overseer, and pointing to Jim, "take the fellow out, and give him
such a flogging as he will remember."

We are now hip-deep in evil. We are, in fact, so deep that Finley cannot extract us. Everyone involved in this situation is morally bereft (except Jim.) Grandfather owns slaves, flogs people at the drop of a hat, and is probably where we get Arthur's little habit of attempted battery. Arthur victimizes his father's slaves. But it's Walter who's pulling ahead of the pack here. Arthur might be acting in part from self-preservation, especially since he's probably been beaten before himself. Walter is involved because he wants a riding crop and no ghosts to come visit, and for these two things, he will throw Jim to the wolves.

Fortunately, when Elsie's made aware of Jim's impending beating and sentencing to hard labor, she acts:

"Oh! no, papa, he did not, _indeed_ he did not break the
watch. I _know_ he didn't, for I was by and saw it all."

"Is it _possible?_" said he, in a tone of surprise; "then
tell me who did do it. It could not have been you, Elsie?" and he
looked searchingly into her face.

It's not too surprising poor Elsie sometimes comes across as a bit dim. She doesn't have a glowing start with her daddy's brains.

"...it is the only way to save Jim; if you do not now make a
full disclosure of all you know, he will be severely whipped and
sent away to work on the plantation, which will distress his poor
old mother exceedingly."


"...and besides, I will add the weight of my authority, and
say you _must do it at once_; and you well know, my daughter,
that there can be no question as to the duty of obedience to your father."

We have oppression of the powerless, reckless mercenary ruin of the oppressed, framing of the innocent, the crime of false witness, petty theft, physical abuse, domestic violence, abuse of power, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, emotional extortion, the fundamental problem of their living on a human rights abuse factory, and the duty of obedience vying for attention as the key moral issue here.

"Have I not said enough to convince you of your duty?" he asked.

"Yes, papa; I will tell you all about it," she answered in a
tremulous tone.

The one that wins is obedience. And that is one reason why you can't learn morality from this book: its moral sense of priority is broken. It thinks that the duty of obedience to authority is more important than the duty of a human being to prevent injustice to another human being.

Walter had stolen away to cry over Jim's punishment, and wish that
he had had the courage to tell the truth at first; but saying to
himself that it was too late now, his father wouldn't believe him,
and he would make it up to Jim somehow, even if it took all his
pocket-money for a month.

I know Finley is trying to highlight that innocent Jim has been maligned by Walter in a way that Walter cannot financially repay. She's hampered by her never recognizing that slavery is morally wrong. Walter's family already owes Jim his pocket-money from Jim's birth to the present. They also owe Jim an education. And being demoted from a house-slave to a field-slave probably showed in life expectancy.

It's funny because it's absurd. It's also not funny. In fact, it's just not much fun anymore. Okay, let's get this resolved. We've had the threat of extreme physical abuse of a youngster hanging over us for way too long, and I'm tired of reading about it.

"I will, grandpa," she said, trembling and weeping; "but please
don't be very angry with Arthur; if you will forgive him this
time, I think he will never meddle any more; and I am quite sure
he did not mean to break it."

"So it _was you_, after all, you young rascal! I knew it from
the first!" cried the old gentleman, striding across the room,
seizing the boy by the shoulder and shaking him roughly.

"But go on, Elsie, let us have the whole story," he added, turning
to her again, but still keeping his hold upon Arthur. "You young
dog!" he added, when she had finished. "Yes, I'll forgive you when
you've had a good, sound flogging, and a week's solitary
confinement on bread and water, but not before."

Thanks, Finley! That's just... perfect.

"O grandpa! don't whip him, don't punish him! He will never be
so naughty again. Will you, Arthur? Let _me pay_ for the watch,
grandpa, and don't punish him. I would so like to do it."

"It isn't the moneyed value of the watch I care for, child,"
replied the old gentleman, contemptuously; "and besides, where
would you get so much money?"

"I am rich, grandpa, am I not? Didn't my mamma leave me a great
deal of money?" asked the little girl, casting down her eyes and
blushing painfully.

"No, Elsie," said her father, very gently, as he took her hand and
led her back to the side of his chair again, "you have nothing but
what I choose to give you, until you come of age, which will not
be for a great many years yet."

Once again, resolution is delayed by everyone going off into the weeds. Look, moral lessons, if you want to write them, are fine. Elsie Dinsmore is a pretty good lesson in how not to end up a moral person, if it comes to it. But we have to learn the male-dominated-authority details here, and how Elsie has an allowance but no money, and we were just teased with the idea that Grandpa sees something more important here. If we must stop again I'd like to know what, since Grandpa's been waving whips right and left. Is he mad because Arthur's a repeat offender, or because Arthur got the others to lie, or because of Arthur's framing someone, or because of his getting fooled and Jim's being a good servant? Which is more important to him than something that he was going to beat someone for in the first place?

"No, I certainly shall not, for I think Arthur should be left to
suffer the penalty of his own misdeeds," he replied in a very
decided tone; "and, besides," he added, "your grandfather has
already told you that it is not the pecuniary loss he cares for."

"No; but I will teach this young rascal to let my property alone,"
said the elder gentleman with almost fierce determination, as he
tightened his grasp upon the boy's arm and dragged him from the

...the same thing he was going to beat someone for in the first place.

Arthur cast a look of hatred and defiance at Elsie as he went out,
that made her grow pale with fear and tremble so that she could
scarcely stand.

Her father saw both the look and its effect, and drawing the
little trembler closer to him, he put his arm around her, and
stroking her hair, said in a low, soothing tone: "Don't be
frightened, daughter; I will protect you."

Also: yay! The patriarchy will protect us from the victims of the patriarchy! It's not that Arthur should have no consequences, but it's not like he's a social threat to Elsie. No one will believe him after this; the only risk is he'll beat her. He probably wouldn't be so prone to that if vicious beatings weren't part of his life. Meanwhile, Enna and Walter, whose part was reprehensible, escape entirely without consequence.

Boy, that was depressing. The moral sea of unrecognised wrong, and the part where good morals got snubbed, were kind of a downer. And then we trailed off into boring stuff now that the conflict, at least the conflict that Finley wanted to admit, is over. I'm kind of losing my enthusiasm for reading this crap. What's next? The starter verse is about the valley of the shadow of death, and it's usually about gracefully suffering-

-! Holy crap! It's the carriage ride! Guys, guys, we're at the carriage ride! Let's go, let's go!

It was Sabbath morning, and Elsie, ready dressed for church, stood
in the portico waiting for her father to come down and lift her
into the carriage, in which Adelaide, Louisa, and Enna were
already seated.

Elsie's father comes down, sees that his new horses are harnessed, says Elsie shouldn't go to church, and then relents and decides to go.

"Do you think we are in any danger of being run away with?" asked
Adelaide, a little anxiously as she observed him glancing once or
twice out of the window, and was at the same time sensible that
their motion was unusually rapid.

"The horses are young and fiery, but Ajax is an excellent driver,"
he replied, evasively; adding, "You may be sure that if I had
thought the danger very great I would have left Elsie at home."

You know, we get these little hints that this is an insanely dysfunctional family. Grandpa is forever trying to horsewhip someone, we're told Horace and his stepmother do not have a loving relationship, Adelaide is quietly happy to herself that Horace has no authority over her, and then we get Horace coolly saying "hey, screw you and the girls!" right to Adelaide's face.

They reached the church without accident, but on their return the
horses took fright while going down a hill, and rushed along at a
furious rate, which threatened every instant to upset the

Sometimes, in fact, I wonder if maybe Finley is doing something subversive. She plays everything so completely straight, all across the board, and then we get Daddy Dinsmore sending the kids to play by Rattlesnake Meadow, or putting Elsie into a deathtrap.

Elsie thought they were going very fast, but did not know that
there was real danger until her father suddenly lifted her from
her seat, and placing her between his knees, held her tightly, as
though he feared she would be snatched from his grasp.

No, the risk is that the carriage will come to a sudden stop and throw them violently across the inside.

Elsie looked up into his face. It was deadly pale, and his eyes
were fixed upon her with an expression of anguish.

"Dear papa," she whispered, "God will take care of us."

"I would give all I am worth to have you safe at home," he
answered hoarsely, pressing her closer and closer to him.

O! even in that moment of fearful peril, when death seemed just at
hand, those words, and the affectionate clasp of her father's arm,
sent a thrill of intense joy to the love-famished heart of the
little girl.

Yay! Her daddy that's getting them all killed loves her!

But destruction seemed inevitable. Lora was leaning back, half
fainting with terror; Adelaide scarcely less alarmed, while Enna
clung to her, sobbing most bitterly.

Elsie alone preserved a cheerful serenity.

I gotta say, we're having a kind of boring race into peril. It feels like they're going fast, Daddy D. looks pained, Lora is falling sideways on the seat, Enna is crying, Adelaide is freaking out in an unspecified manner, and Elsie is being hugged and smiling vaguely. It's a good thing we were told they might all die from being smashed to a sudden stop, or else the only motion I could picture would be everyone vibrating in their poses because the carriage was going over cobblestones. What Finley chooses to tell us is:

Even death had no terrors to the simple, unquestioning
faith of the little child who had put her trust in Jesus.

Which amps the drama but not the suspense. How will they stop? No one has air bags! No one has seatbelts! If the carriage crashes and wrenches to a stop, they will all die!

But they were not to perish thus; for at that moment a powerful
negro, who was walking along the road, hearing an unusual sound,
turned about, caught sight of the vehicle coming toward him at
such a rapid rate, and instantly comprehending the peril of the
travellers, planted himself in the middle of the road,

We have seen this character before. This is the novel's black character. Surely the novel's black character will divert the carriage safely into a muddy field, where it will bog down slowly and everyone can climb out and live!

and, at the risk of life and limb, caught the horses by the
bridle--the sudden and unexpected check throwing them upon their
haunches, and bringing the carriage to an instant stand-still.

And everyone inside smashed into a sudden stop against the front wall of the carriage and died.

"Thank God, we are saved! That fellow shall be well rewarded for
his brave deed," exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore, throwing open the
carriage door.

What just happened?! How did that happen? Were the horses really just trotting? Was the black man a djinn? How did he do that? What? What? What just happened? He just absorbed the entire force of a runaway carriage into his body?! He should have just been run right over, or dragged along with them! How does Daddy D. inside the carriage know what happened outside?

Then, leaping to the ground, he lifted Elsie out, set her down,
and gave his hand to his sisters one after the other.

They were almost at the entrance of the avenue, and all preferred
to walk the short distance to the house rather than again trust
themselves to the horses.

Uh, guys. Guys, don't you want to say something to your savior, who is more interesting than all of you and is like... that guy who out-mined the steam engine single-handedly and you need to get his autograph guys he is mightier than physics.

Mr. Dinsmore lingered a moment to speak to the man who had done
them such good service, and to give some directions to the
coachman; and then, taking the hand of his little girl, who had
been waiting for him, he walked slowly on, neither of them
speaking a word until they reached the house, when he stooped and
kissed her cheek, asking very kindly if she had recovered from her

And we'll never see him again. Oh to hell with this book.

Meanwhile, there are slaves working in the field who never broke anyone's watch.


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January 2012

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