July 1993

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


The Misses Elliot

of Geneva


Warren Hunting Smith

Click here for an index to the chapters of The Misses Elliot of Geneva

Chapter VI

"I wish that those Revolutionary patriots didn't have such belligerent daughters," said the rector, one Fourth of July, after the Misses Elliot had been instructing him about the annual service for the Daughters of the Revolution. He was an object of suspicion because he suffered under the double handicap of being English and High-Church, and, to make matters worse, he was to be assisted by the college chaplain who was Canadian, by the sexton who was Scotch, and by a temporary organist who was English too. The Elliots felt that a patriotic service could hardly be in more unsympathetic hands, and they were arranging every detail beforehand, so as to leave no opportunity for sabotage.

"Last year, I'm sure that Dr. Tilton sang God Save the King' to the tune of "My Country, Tis of Thee, said Miss Primrose. "This time we'll have the 'Star-Spangled Banner'-there's no English anthem to that tune!"

The Elliots gave the organist full instructions, and told him that if they caught him playing "Britannia Rules the Waves!" during the offertory, they'd have him deported to London. The Elliots might admire England on three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, but on the Fourth of July, they became its bitterest foe. They unfurled their flags with as much animosity as if they were waving red rags in John Bull's face.

Of course they hung out a flag in front of their own house, but there were other flags which were to be used to decorate the church. It wasn't enough to hoist a single emblem over the church door; the whole interior had to be decorated as if for a political convention. The sisters came pounding down the street like an army with banners, and proceeded to swathe the chancel in red, white and blue. The rector had a hard time getting into the pulpit across entanglements of bunting.

The Fourth of July service was the one service which the Elliots attended from beginning to end. At ordinary services, they would dash into the vestibule after the offertory because they resented seeing the congregation stand up at that moment. On Sundays, they usually left early because their maid was out, and they had to get dinner started.

"We call our pew Martha's Vineyard," said Miss Primrose, "because Martha in the Bible was busy with many things."

On the Fourth of July, however, the Elliots remained in eagle-eyed attendance during every moment of the service. It wouldn't do to dodge the offertory, and let the rector take advantage of their absence to sneak in a prayer for King George. As for their Fourth of July luncheon, it would have given them acute indigestion if, by leaving early, they had given the sexton a chance to spit on their American flags. The sexton had no intention of spitting on any flags, not being of the spitting persuasion, but the Elliots didn't trust him.

"That church flag looks as if it had been in the Battle of Bull Run," said Miss Primrose, "and don't tell me that moths made all those holes!"

Somebody remarked that the sexton must be the most powerful spitter in the country to be able to penetrate two thicknesses of bunting, Miss Primrose said that she didn't know about that, but there certainly were holes in the flag, with suspicious-looking stains around their edges.

"Perhaps he just flicks his cigarette ashes on it," she said.

The congregation was small, partly because the weather was very hot, and partly because many parishioners were afraid that if they attended, they might unconsciously do something which the Elliots would interpret as unpatriotic or High-Church.

"Why, it you even wore a red necktie on the Fourth of July, said the sexton, "those Daughters of the Revolution would think you were sympathizing with British tyranny!"

This time, things seemed to be going unusually well for the Elliots. They approved of the sermon almost as much as if they had written it themselves, and in fact they had dictated so many of its salient points that they might just as well have written it. The rector said that all he needed to do for a Fourth of July sermon was to write down some of the admonitions which the Elliots had been giving him during the previous week.

At the last moment, came disaster. The rector had to step over a flag-draped rail (there was no room to go around it), and a gasp of horror came from "Martha's Vineyard" when the Elliots saw that his heel caught in one corner of the sacred banner.

"Trampling on the flag!" hissed Miss Candida.

"He didn't need to go over that rail!" said Miss Primrose. "He could have blessed us just as well from the pulpit as from the altar, and I don't think that a blessing from someone who's trampled on the flag is worth much anyhow!"

When the service was over, the Elliots went out into the vestry room to tell the rector just what they thought about it all. He was wiping the perspiration from his forehead, for it was a very hot day, but the Elliots made him perspire a lot more.

Maybe you Englishmen are in the habit of wiping your feet on your national banner," said Miss Candida, "but here in America, we respect our country's flag!"

They gathered up their desecrated decorations, and took them home again. The sexton offered to help, but his services were spurned. It was bad enough to have the rector trample on the flag-goodness knows what the sexton might not do to it! When the Elliots reached home, they examined the flag for traces of the rector's footprints.

"I'm sure his shoes were dirty," said Miss Candida.

"The whole building was dirty," said Miss Primrose. "That rail was so sooty that I told the sexton it looked as if he'd been decorating it for Ash Wednesday!"

The sexton himself said that he might just as well have been at the Battle of Bunker Hill as in Trinity Church on the Fourth of July, and that he supposed that the Daughters of the Revolution would be bringing firecrackers to church next year, but thank goodness Roman candles would be too High-Church for them!

Next year, the worm turned. When the Elliots came to arrange the annual patriotic service, the rector told them that he was going to be away during July.

"But who will take the service on the Fourth?" they asked.

"Dr. Dodge will be in charge while I'm away," said the rector. "You can talk to him about it."

Dr. Dodge was known to the Elliots only by reputation, but he was reputed to be the highest High Churchman within a radius of fifty miles, and they would just as soon listen to the Pope himself on the Fourth of July. They found so many faults with his sermon that it left them weak and speechless with indignation, and it hardly seemed worth while to fuss about anything so hopeless. The sexton, however, felt that for once the Fourth of July had been celebrated in a proper spirit of independence.

© 1940, Warren Hunting Smith
Click here for an index to the chapters of The Misses Elliot of Geneva
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR