“Notice the girl on your right, Elsie. That is the thing! You have to see it to understand. Do you understand, dear? Do you see the difference?”
A middle-aged little mother, with a sensitive, care-worn face, leaned across the Pullman section and laid a hand upon her daughter’s by way of emphasis–needless, for her voice and manner conveyed all, and much more than the words could possibly carry. Volumes of argument, demonstration, expostulation were implied.
“Can you see her? Do you see what I mean? What, dear?”
The questions followed one another like beads running down a string. Elsie’s silence was the knot at the end. She opened her eyes and turned them languidly as directed, but without raising her head from the back of the car-seat.
“I will look presently, mother. I can’t see much of anything now.”
“Oh, never mind. Forgive me, dear. How is your head? Lie still; don’t try to talk.”
Elsie smiled, patted her mother’s hand, and closed her narrow, sweet, sleepy blue eyes. Mrs. Valentin never looked at them, when her mind was at rest, without wishing they were a trifle larger–wider open, rather. The eyes were large enough, but the lazy lids shut them in. They saw a good deal, however. She also wished, in moments of contemplation, that she could have laid on a little heavier the brush that traced Elsie’s eyebrows, and continued them a little longer at the temples. Then, her upper lip was, if anything, the least bit too short. Yet what a sweet, concentrated little mouth it was,–reticent and pure, and not over-ready with smiles, though the hidden teeth were small, flawless, and of baby whiteness! Yes, the mother sighed, just a touch or two,–and she knew just where to put those touches,–and the girl had been a beauty. If nature would only consult the mothers at the proper time, instead of going on in her blindfold fashion!
But, after all, did they want a beauty in the family? On theory, no: the few beauties Mrs. Valentin had known in her life had not been the happiest of women. What they did want was an Elsie–their own Elsie–perfectly trained without losing her naturalness, perfectly educated without losing her health, perfectly dressed without thinking of clothes, perfectly accomplished without wasting her time, and, finally, an Elsie perfectly happy. All that parents, situated on the wrong side of the continent for art and culture, and not over-burdened with money, could do to that end, Mrs. Valentin was resolved should be done. Needless to say, very little was to be left to God.
Mrs. Valentin was born in the East, some forty-odd years before this educational pilgrimage began, of good Unitarian stock,–born with a great sense of personal accountability. She could not have thrown it off and been joyful in the words, “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.”
Elsie had got a headache from the early start and the suppressed agitation of parting from her home and her father. Suppression was as natural to her as expression was to her mother. The father and daughter had held each other silently a moment; both had smiled, and both were ill for hours afterward.
But Mrs. Valentin thought that in Elsie’s case it was because she had not sent the girl to bed earlier the night before, and insisted on her eating something at breakfast.
Herself–she had lain sleepless for the greater part of that night and many nights previous. She had anticipated in its difficulties every stage of the getting off, the subsequent journey, the arrival, their reception by Eastern relatives not seen for years, the introduction of her grown-up daughter, the impression she would make, the beginning of life all over again in a strange city. (She had known her Boston once, but that was twenty years ago.) She foresaw the mistakes she would inevitably make in her choice of means to the desired ends–dressmakers, doctors, specialists of all sorts; the horrible way in which school expenses mount up; the trivial yet poignant comparisons of school life, from which, if Elsie suffered, she would be sure to suffer in silence.