July 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 XVI, Part 1

With the return of spring, Miss Candida came home again, as did other elderly people for whom northern winters were too trying. The appearance of a certain wheel chair on Main Street was like the coming of the thrushes—now, certainly, summer was at hand. Old-fashioned winter clothes were replaced by old-fashioned summer ones, and a spring haze obscured the opposite shore of the lake. Miss Candida's house was opened and scrubbed; the squirrels were ejected from the garret; the parrot was reinstalled in the parlor; and Geneva was really itself again.

Warmer weather brought a revival of parties, at which new remarks would be added to the register of Geneva gossip. Even Miss Candida gave a party now and then. Her affairs weren't very festive ones, and lacked the spice which Miss Primrose would have provided, but Miss Candida wasn't going to stop entertaining merely because she was old, deaf, and poor. After all, even Dr. Gordon, who was years older than the Elliots, still gave an occasional party. His rooms were small, and the dining room, where the food was laid out, was especially small, and so he devised a scheme of having the guests come in, one by one, for food, and then go back to the other room to talk. Of course it didn't work. First they all started coming at once, and he shooed them back; then they all hung back, and he beckoned them forward. He couldn't talk at the dinner table because it made him choke, but that didn't stop him from asking people to dinner. He was the one person who could intimidate Miss Candida and the other old ladies because he was much older than they, and much better educated, and he had no hesitation about using these advantages.

With such an example before her, Miss Candida had no excuse for not entertaining people. If he could do it at ninety, she surely could at eighty—and she did. She even invited "Sparrow" Tibbs to lunch one day.

Miss Tibbs was still considered a "church mouse" by Miss Candida, but the day was Sunday, and Miss Candida remembered that Miss Lizzie Griscom had had her to dinner out of sheer goodness of heart, and Miss Candida wasn't going to be outdone in charity by a Presbyterian. Also she remembered that Miss Tibbs, who earned the barest pittance at the library, kept a widowed cousin at her house because there was no other place for the cousin to go—"Sparrow" was said to make many a meal on nothing but raw wheat, but it would never occur to her to turn her cousin away while there was a kernel of the wheat left. The whole situation was typical of Geneva: Miss Tibbs sheltering her cousin; Miss Candida having Miss Tibbs to lunch, and Miss Lizzie Griscom having Miss Candida to dinner, all from motives of purest compassion. The recipients of this hospitality probably didn't enjoy it much, but givers and receivers were at least exchanging the genuine coin, and it wasn't their fault if they couldn't appreciate one another.

It was on a Sunday in June that this memorable lunch occurred. Miss Candida had returned with ruffled feathers from church. The choir had taken to bowing when it entered the chancel, and so Miss Candida had lingered in the vestibule till the coast was clear.

"I'm waiting till they've finished Bowing to Idols," said Miss Candida.

Then there had been too many candles to suit her, and she had peeked from behind her sheltering pillar at just the wrong moment when something Popish was going on, and the sermon had been hard to understand because she was growing deaf, and somebody had been impolite to her on the way out.

"I'm an Episcopalian but not an Episco-Papist!" said Miss Candida.

Miss Tibbs wasn't quite so Low-Church as that (no clergyman's daughter could be!) but she had some ecclesiastical grievances of her own. The bishop was too highhanded; she had told the archdeacon so, and the archdeacon had rebuked her for criticizing the bishop.

When religious topics were exhausted, the two ladies discussed their family troubles. Miss Candida's cousin's daughter was going to be married, and there was an ancestral bridal veil somewhere in the Elliott garret (if the squirrels hadn't eaten it) which must be produced for the occasion. Miss Tibbs's married nephew had just had a baby, and she had told him to send the baby on for a visit—the nephew evidently thought it unwise to send a two-months' baby all the way from Seattle to be fed raw wheat by "Sparrow" Tibbs.

"Sparrow's" career as librarian had its trials too. People were always wanting novels, and she was sure that most modern novels wouldn't be good for them. Her Papa had approved of Miss Charlotte Yonge's novels, but Miss Tibbs was unable to see much resemblance between Charlotte Yonge and Aldous Huxley, and was sure that Papa would not have approved of the latter. The library committee had insisted on presenting a book called Science and Health, and "Sparrow" was filled with horror at the things in that book. She kept it locked in her desk, and told people it was out.

The luncheon wasn't a lingering one, because the two old women, through drawn together by their lonely position in a changing world, were essentially uncongenial. Miss Candida's dress was old-fashioned and a bit shabby, but she would have stayed in bed all day rather than appear in the shapeless horrors which clothed Miss "Sparrow." As for Miss Tibbs's library troubles, they seemed very trifling to Miss Candida, who would have treated library committees, readers, and the mayor himself with equal contempt had she been librarian; also the deceased Mr. Elliot hadn't limited his novel reading to the works of Miss Yonge, and his daughters wouldn't have batted an eyelash at the things in Science and Health.

Miss Candida almost begrudged Miss Tibbs the spongecake, made from the famous Elliot recipe. What was the use of flinging culinary pearls before a woman who was used to raw wheat? The spongecake was unusually good, and Miss Candida reflected complacently that even if the Elliot conversation had deteriorated since Primrose's death, their spongecake was as good as ever.

When Miss Tibbs, pleading numerous engagements, started to go, Miss Candida went with her to the top of the porch steps. From that elevation, she looked bigger and more majestic than ever, while "Sparrow," at the foot of the steps, shrank to the proportions of a pigmy. They exchanged a few more words, and then Miss Candida stood watching while Miss Tibbs, with reckless speed, darted among the cars and busses with utter disregard for the red light on the corner, and vanished up the street.

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