The Misses Elliot
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Chapter VII, Conclusion
Miss Primrose and Miss Candida were sure that the city, state, and federal governments were squandering all the people's money. They grumbled at the magnificence of the public schools and the size of their school tax. They grumbled about the taxes on their swamp. It had been given to their great-grandfather for his patriotic services, and they felt it should be tax-exempt forever. The idea that the nonproductive land of nonproductive ladies should be taxed to pay for the education of other people's children enraged them.
"I like to pay taxes," said Mrs. Culpepper. "It's like saying grace before meals; you're giving thanks for your property when you pay taxes on it."
That, of course, started the Elliots on a jeremiad about their bad investments and bad land, for which they weren't thankful in the least. They certainly wouldn't say grace before a meal of defaulted bonds and inundated acres. Then they went on to say what they thought about the public school children on whom the community was lavishing these expensive buildings. The Elliots regarded children as little bandits who trespassed on their property and stole things-education was wasted on them.
"I like to see them playing in my yard," said Mrs. Culpepper, "and I've nothing worth stealing. I see a great deal of very humble people."
Miss Primrose and Miss Candida weren't interested in humble people, didn't want to see them, and certainly didn't want to pay for their education. They said so.
"Children are mischievous sometimes," said Mrs. Culpepper, "but if there weren't good schools for them, they'd be still more mischievous. We don't want little bandits to grow up to be big bandits."
The Elliots preferred to have no bandits, big or little. After all, they had done their duty by an overpopulated world, why couldn't other people? Mrs. Edwards, who had hitherto stayed out of the argument, rose in wrath at that remark. "Candida Elliot, you have shirked all the duties of womanhood"-and off she went upon her own experiences as wife and mother. These were numerous, and were well known to the Elliots; they interrupted her after the description of the third child's birth, and said that the Edwards children were doubtless desirable citizens, but the state hadn't paid for their education. Miss Primrose and Miss Candida hadn't spent a penny on the Edwards children, and were quite willing to let them exist. The Elliots, however, couldn't afford to raise families of their own, and didn't want to be forced to pay for the education of other people's families.
Mrs. Culppepper smiled sweetly.
"The taxes on my house and lot happened to be forty-eight dollars, this year," she said, "and my income tax was thirteen dollars. Now when I hung out my American flag this morning, I thought to myself that the forty-eight stars represented my property tax, and the thirteen stripes my income tax, and I felt really proud to hang out a flag that I had helped to uphold."
She was just hopeless, the Elliots agreed afterwards. If that diabolical Democratic administration should have Sally Culpepper knocked down and whipped, she would just say that the stars that she saw and the stripes that she felt reminded her of the American flag. When the Elliots were at home again, and were putting their flags away in moth balls for the winter, Miss Primrose said that now she was going to think of every moth ball as a bullet to slaughter the Democratic party.
"I'm sure that the moths are good Democrats," she said, "and would eat up a flag as quickly as they would the taxpayers' money."
Mrs. Culpepper and the Elliots soon clashed again-this time on the subject of the Elliots' ancestral home in New York, which they had just visited. Miss Primrose and Miss Candida usually refused to look at any alienated family possessions because it hurt their pride; they would cross to the other side of the street when they passed Grandfather McGregor's house. The mischievous Mr. Van Bruggen, however, told them that their Grandfather Elliot's house was now open to the public, and that it was well worth a visit; they had concluded from his remarks that it must be a sort of museum, in charge of some historical society.
They had reached it with great difficulty. The Elliots avoided taxis because they were too expensive and too dangerous (and subways because they were too crowded and too dangerous), and they finally made the trip in the Elevated. On reaching the family shrine, they found it bristling with crosses and saints' statues. It could hardly be described as Low-Church. Mr. Van Bruggen had been quite correct about its being open to the public-the garlic-chewing public was flowing through it in swarms, and a service was being held in the ballroom, which had been made into a chapel. Miss Primrose poked her head in the chapel door, and jerked back the head as if she had stuck it in a furnace. "Den of Popery!" she whispered. One of the attendants asked if she wanted to see the Mother Superior, and Miss Primrose replied that she was glad to know that something in the establishment was superior-it all looked mighty inferior to her!
This is a rescue mission for the poor," the attendant explained.
"Well, these people need a lot of rescuing!" said Miss Primrose.
They told Mrs. Culpepper about it, when they got home.
"You'd like the place," Miss Primrose said. "Lots of children-lots of humble people- and I dare say that every one of them will vote for the Democratic bosses!"
Mrs. Culpepper replied that a least it was consoling to know that their old homestead was being made use of-think of the good influence it must have on all those slum children!
"Good influence!"-it took the Elliots fifteen minutes to say all that they thought about the influence of the Church of Rome on slum children, or any children. Mrs. Culpepper made a mild remark about Christianity, but she merely brought on herself a deluge of Biblical quotations about bowing down to graven images.
The Elliots dwelt upon the famous men who had been entertained at the ancestral house-Alexander Hamilton, Horace Greeley, General Grant-but now, instead of memorials to them, there was nothing but statues of greasy Italian saints who probably never even heard of the Republican party!
"The Twelve Apostles were good Republicans, I suppose," murmured Mrs. Culpepper.
It made the Elliots almost sick to think of the wretched chromo which hung over the dining-room fireplace, where their grandmother's portrait used to hang.
"You still have her portrait," Mrs. Culpepper said. "The nuns will probably hang it over their fireplace if you give it to them."
"And that chapel!" continued Miss Primrose, ignoring Mrs. Culpepper's comments. "All those lighted candles in Grandfather's house!"
"Your grandfather lit his house with candles," said Mrs. Culpepper; "he had no other way of lighting it. And then, Primrose," she continued, finding that she was at last being listened to, "ancestors aren't sacred just because they're ancestors. I often think of my husband, who found that his grandfather's birthplace was turned into a liquor store. What do you suppose he did then?"
"He probably had a drink," said Miss Primrose, knowing Mr. Culpepper's habits pretty well.
"Yes, and he said that the store supplied better liquor than his grandfather ever did, and so, after that, we bought our wine there in order to tell people that it came from Granfather's cellar."
"So I suppose you want us to have Masses said in that chapel for Grandfather Elliot's soul!" snapped Miss Primrose.
"A prayer or two wouldn't do any harm," said Mrs. Culpepper, "and you could invoke some nice Republican saints."
"Sally Culpepper," said Miss Primrose with exasperation. "You're a Daughter of the Revolution. Doesn't it mean anything to you to see old historic houses overrun with foreign riffraff?"
"Why, yes," answered Mrs. Culpepper. "I'm glad that any of those poor immigrants can have such nice homes to live in. It may make them better Americans."
The Elliots told Mrs.Culpepper that if she found her family homestead turned into a pigsty, she would probably say that it was nice for the pigs to have such a good home.
"But perhaps," said Miss Primrose, "even the pigs wouldn't live in a house that had been occupied by you Democrats!"
"No, they wouldn't," said Mrs. Culpepper with a smile. "I'm sure that all pigs are good Republicans."
© 1940, Warren Hunting Smith
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