May 1994

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The Misses Elliot

of Geneva


Warren Hunting Smith

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

Chapter XV, Part 1

The other pairs of sisters were being broken up too, about this time. Miss Fanny Tibbs had already died, leaving half of her slender property to charity, and reducing the surviving Miss Tibbs to an even stricter diet of raw wheat. Miss Susie Griscom had completely lost her mind (she had none to lose, said Miss Candida), and was bedridden too. Miss Isabella Scott died, and Miss Evelina, who had hardly seemed to be aware of her sister's existence, was now crushed completely by her loss; not even Mr. Van Bruggen's death affected Miss Evelina so much. It was whispered that Isabella was the real reason why Evelina hadn't married, and that it was for Isabella's sake that Evelina had accepted all those scandalous presents from gentlemen.

Conversation certainly suffered by these losses; we found it disconcerting to hear single voices where there used to be choruses. The mousy Tibbses had formerly squeaked in duets—now, there was only one mouse and one squeak. The Elliots had kept up a cross-raking bombardment, but now one of the batteries (and the loudest one, at that) was silenced. We talked as much as ever about our old ladies, but we talked more about what they did than what they said. You could hear discussions about the Elliots almost anywhere.

"It just don't seem like the same place no more," Mr. Moriarty confided to the sexton, "When them two Miss Elliots came a-breathing fire and brimstone round that apartment house, I just felt like I was janitor to Buckingham Palace. They said sharp things but they never made you feel small. They acted so important that they made you feel important too."

"Women like that don't grow on every bush," said the sexton, "and maybe it's just as well that they don't. But the Elliots aren't all gone yet."

"No, but this one ain't the talky one."

"She may not talk so much," said the sexton, "but she can put plenty of pepper into what she does.

The other day, there were new candles in church and Miss Elliot says, 'That spoils it all for me!' and down the aisle she comes, lickety-split, and out the door!"

Behind the drawing-room curtains of a score of houses, you could hear the same theme.

"It's wonderful to be a personality," said Mrs. Edwards. "I always wanted to be one, myself. Now the Elliots, whatever you may say about them, were personalities."

"But you mustn't speak of the Elliots in the past tense," somebody objected. "The most important Elliot is still with us."

"You mustn't say that," said Mrs. Edwards. "The Elliots always preferred to have Primrose take the lead, and it's a shame to expose their little tricks. When Candida says things in Primrose's manner, we must just pretend that she's quoting Primrose."

That pretense was hard to keep up, because Candida was frequently giving imitations of Primrose that sounded only too authentic. The Biblical character who married his brother's widow to raise up seed unto his brother could hardly have done a better job than Miss Candida did in perpetuating her sister's bon mots. The difference was, that Miss Primrose could always improvise, whereas Miss Candida had to think things up beforehand. Miss Candida's remarks were often deadlier than Miss Primrose's, but Miss Primrose had usually been their mouthpiece.

The sparkle which had characterized the Elliots was now replaced by a grim persistence which seemed to be Miss Candida's mainspring. Her walk was grim and persistent. There was nothing jaunty about the trudge that carried her downstreet every morning to do her shopping, and upstreet every afternoon to pay calls.

"Candida Elliot, at eighty years of age, still has to go down and poke every potato that she buys," said Mrs. Edwards.

Her visits to friends certainly weren't breezy; they too were grim and persistent. She had little to say, and she was too deaf to hear much, but she came and came again. She did things with difficulty, but she insisted on doing them still.

The other lonely old ladies set her a good example. They tottered to church on days when strong people hesitated to venture forth; they maintained big houses with inadequate servants or no servants at all. One of them still did excellent pencil sketches in her mid-eighties; another drove her own automobile at an equally advanced age; as for parties—any Genevan can give a party at any age.

© 1940, Warren Hunting Smith
Click here for an index to the chapters of The Misses Elliot of Geneva
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