The Misses Elliot
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Chapter II, Conclusion
The Elliots didn't see why a woman should always have to be sewing things just because she belonged to the church. Miss Primrose and Miss Candida usually avoided sewing guilds because they weren't interested in sewing, though they might attend an occasional meeting just to talk to people. If nobody invited them to tea, they could still have a last social resort in the Woman's Auxiliary.
The Elliots often turned up at unexpected moments, but there was one afternoon when nobody expected to see them at any sewing circle. The young schoolgirl who was acting as their maid had just come down with scarlet fever, and the Elliots were quarantined. No quarantine, however, could keep the Misses Elliot from doing anything that they wanted to do. When the spirit moved them to sew for the heathen Filipinos they went to the guild meeting, scarlet fever or no scarlet fever!—as for this quarantine business, it was all nonsense. The Elliots had hardly seen their maid after she had been taken sick, and her aunt was now there to look after her.
The other members of the guild had a different idea about quarantines. Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Culpepper, who both had infant grandchildren visiting them, hurried out of the guild room as soon as the Elliots were in sight.
"That's certainly one way to deal with the Filipinos!" said Mrs. Edwards. "Foreign missions won't be much of a problem if the Elliots do much sewing for the heathen!"
"I don't feel worried about the heathen," said Mrs. Culpepper, "but I do wish that Primrose and Candida would be a little more considerate of their own friends."
The guild room was soon emptied of everybody but the Elliot sisters and the Tibbs sisters. The Misses Tibbs were so absorbed in good works that they never listened to the gossip of the town, and so they didn't know that the Elliots were supposed to be quarantined. They sat cheerfully sewing, making conversation about the new rector of St. Peter's.
The Elliots hadn't come to the guild meeting just to sew, and they certainly hadn't come to discuss rectors with the Tibbs sisters. The Misses Tibbs were good little women, but they were mousy creatures who talked about the church all the time, and the Elliots preferred to discuss the church with people who weren't so spinelessly reverent. Furthermore, the Tibbs sisters, though more clerical than the Elliots, were less aristocratic. Their father had been a clergyman, a good intelligent man and chaplain of the college, but insignificant in a town where most of the clergy looked like the Duke of Wellington, or Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The other clergy, however, now survive only in the pages of the Reverend Dr. Tibbs, whose book on diocesan history characterized one man as "perhaps the most eccentric clergyman who ever made his home in Geneva."
The Tibbs sisters had once been pretty, according to Mrs. Culpepper—but then Mrs. Culpepper claimed that the Elliot sisters had been famous beauties! The younger Miss Tibbs was usually called "the human one," in contrast to the elder sister, who was appropriately nicknamed "Sparrow." The younger sister might seem small and homely, but after you had looked at the elder Miss Tibbs, you were relieved to see some semblance of flesh and blood in the younger one. Somebody had actually proposed marriage to Miss Fanny Tibbs, though of course the man turned out to have something wrong with him; he had two wives already. Probably the Elliots' Uncle Peter had proposed to both sisters, but then he proposed to everybody, so he didn't count.
The Tibbses were literary, following in their Papa's footsteps. Miss Fanny sometimes wrote poetry, and Miss Minnie did library work. The Elliots, however, had little use for Miss Fanny's sort of poetry, and little respect for librarians; the Elliots usually dismissed the Tibbses as "church mice." The Misses Tibbs had charge of a country mission across the lake, and they walked out there and back every Sunday afternoon, though it was five miles each way.
The most recent excitement in their lives was the diocesan guild meeting in Buffalo. The Tibbs sisters had both attended it, and had spent the night at a hotel, something which they hadn't done since their Papa had been chaplain to a bishop at the Lambeth Conference.
"When we went to our room in the hotel," said Miss Minnie in a horror-struck whisper, "we found something in the bed.'
"It was a bottle of gin," continued Miss Fanny.
"I said to Fanny that we couldn't just give it up to the former owner of the room," said Miss Minnie, "because he might drink it all."
"I've always heard that gin is highly intoxicating," said Miss Fanny. "Papa used to say that it was practically poison."
"Of course we couldn't keep it," said Miss Minnie, "so at the meeting, the next day, I saw Dr. Grimm of St. Augustine's, Rochester, and I said to him: 'Dr. Grimm, what would you do if you found a bottle of gin in your bed?' and he said: 'Why, I'd drink it!'"
The Elliots laughed, but the Misses Tibbs were very serious indeed.
"Dr. Grimm was joking, I suppose," said Miss Fanny, "but a bottle of gin is no joke."
"Certainly no joke!" echoed Miss Minnie. "It was very embarrassing for us. We finally gave it to the hotel manager, and we told him, that if the former owner claimed it, the bottle mustn't be given to him all at once, or it might kill him."
There was a long pause while Miss Fanny stitched something at a sewing machine, and Miss Minnie struggled to thread a needle ("The eyes of the needles are so much smaller than they used to be," she said.) Miss Candida began to wonder where all the other ladies had gone.
"Several people went out, just as we came in. I especially wanted to see them because they can't come to our house now that we have a scarlet-fever sign on the door."
"At least they won't come," said Miss Primrose. "Some people have such silly ideas about quarantine."
"You're quarantined!" gasped Miss Minnie. "Why, no wonder everybody left! We must go too! Fanny dear, the Elliots are supposed to be quarantined! We mustn't stay with them a minute longer!"
"Oh, dear, dear!" whimpered Miss Fanny. "Everything will have to be fumigated! This skirt is only half stitched, but I'll have to leave it as it is."
"It may not even be safe for me to go to the library tomorrow," said Miss Minnie, fairly sputtering with alarm. "And the bishop's visitation comes next week at the mission; I'll have to talk to the doctor and the archdeacon about it; good-bye, Miss Primrose and Miss Candida; you shouldn't go about like this when you're quarantined; really you should not!"
The Tibbs sisters scuttled out, like little squeaking mice, leaving the Elliots in possession of a room full of deserted missionary garments and sewing machines.
"People make such a silly fuss," said Miss Primrose. "A few germs wouldn't hurt those Filipinos."
"Probably it would be a good thing to kill off some of the Filipinos," said Miss Candida, "but then we'd have to sew for somebody else, so I suppose it doesn't make much difference."
The Elliots decided that a guild meeting, without anybody to talk to, was no fun at all. They certainly weren't going to pick up all the half-sewed clothes that the other ladies had left behind, and so the guild room was left looking like a looted drygoods store. The Elliots went to call on Mrs. Edwards.
"I'm not going to let you inside my house!" shouted Mrs. Edwards from an upstairs window. "My grandchildren are here, and I can't expose them to any of your germs."
"A few germs would be good for them," retorted Miss Primrose. "these modern children are always being sheltered from everything."
"Well, my grandchildren are going to be sheltered from you, anyhow," and Mrs. Edwards closed the window.
There was nothing for the Elliots to do but to go home.
The next morning found them in the bank. People have to have money, quarantine or no quarantine, and the Elliots saw no reason why they shouldn't go to the bank or anywhere else. It other people didn't like it, they could just stay away. When Miss Primrose and Miss Candida came charging through the doors of their bank, they enjoyed seeing the throng scatter in all directions.
"No, we haven't got leprosy or the bubonic plague yet," Miss Primrose called out, "but we have a touch of hydrophobia, and we're going to bite somebody!"
On Sunday, the Elliots appeared in church as usual, though there was a large deserted area around their pew. When the collection was to be taken, Miss Fanny Tibbs pounced upon the man who was starting down the north aisle, and told him not to pass the plate to the Elliots because they were supposed to be quarantined for scarlet fever. The Elliots had their church money all ready; they didn't want to take it home again, and so they went to the vestry room, after the service to give it to the rector. The Tibbs sisters, who were putting away the altar linen, rushed to intercept them.
"You mustn't come in!" they squealed. "The whole place will have to be fumigated if you do!"
"We want to leave our church money," said Miss Candida, "and don't try to tell us it's tainted!"
"Leave it on the grass outside," said Miss Fanny, "and I'll pick it up with my old cotton gloves which I can boil afterwards. I can boil the money too."
"We'll boil you alive if you do!" threatened Miss Primrose.
"And send you to the Filipino cannibals!" added Miss Candida.
"They'll get mighty poor pickings!" concluded Miss Primrose.
The Misses Tibbs told the rector afterwards that really those Elliot sisters weren't safe to have around: they spread germs everywhere, and said dreadful things, and threatened to bite people or boil them alive—really he ought to tell the bishop about them.
© 1940, Warren Hunting Smith
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