August 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, Conclusion

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.

"If her charities don't kill her, the traffic will," muttered Miss Candida prophetically.

Miss Tibbs went home after lunch with duties yet before her. She had borrowed a book from Miss Candida to take to a sick friend; there were letters to write; and finally the trip to the mission across the lake. A few hours later, motorists on the Lake Road would notice a little spectacled midget, in an old-fashioned cotton dress, scuttling along under the willows, crossing the Outlet Bridge, and climbing the dusty hills on the east shore. At that hour, Miss Candida was sallying forth to tea.

Candida Elliot's mileage was less than that of Miss Tibbs, but, for a woman of eighty, she was a good pedestrian. Every afternoon she went out to pay calls, and she kept going until she found somebody at home. Her figure had been condensed by age into a likeness of her sister's stockier one; she wore spectacles and carried a cane. A regular visit to a doctor kept her feet in marching order—each visit was followed by a second one to complain of something wrong, and to get a new treatment free of charge. (The doctor once charged a dollar for the extra treatment, but a hundred dollars would be slight compensation for the things Miss Candida said to him then.)

While Miss Tibbs was hopping, darting, and chirping at her reed organ, Miss Candida sat in Mrs. Edwards's drawing room, holding a cup of tea grimly in one hand, and groping around with the other.

"You might get Miss Elliot's cane in the hall; I think she wants it," said a guest.

"What for?" asked another guest.

"I think she wants to hit somebody with it!"

Miss Candida's contributions to these parties were deceptively slight. Somebody said that she was just a lump, but, if so, she was a lump of dynamite, and might explode disastrously if she heard that you had voted for Al Smith in 1928. When she was told that her hostess would vote the Democratic ticket, Miss Candida rushed right out the door without condescending to say good-bye. Even her silences were somehow belligerent; her walk suggested the progress of a battleship in hostile waters, and it must be admitted that this battleship kept its colors flying to the very end. There was something gallant in her defiant attitude; it takes real courage to be disagreeable, in your old age, to the few friends who are left to you.

When tea was over, Miss Candida promptly arranged for her next social engagement by inviting somebody to supper. The maid was out, and there wasn't much food in the house, but Geneva ladies of eighty weren't bothered by trivial obstacles like that.

"We will have scrambled eggs," said Miss Candida.

Meanwhile, Miss Tibbs was making her homeward trip, probably with less speed than on the way over. The Sunday traffic might cover her with dust; the sun might glare on the shadeless road; and even the lake might offer hot reflections instead of its usual cooling airs, but "Sparrow" cared little for comfort and nothing for dignity. She had before her the vision of saintly Miss Courcy, the founder of her little mission church, who had conducted services, established parishes, and rescued the poor. Miss Courcy had traveled in an old buckboard; the humble "Sparrow" was content to follow on foot.

Motion, however, was essential to Miss Tibbs. There seemed to be terrible wheels, whirling faster and faster somewhere in her brain, so that sometimes when she reached church too early, she would dart in circles on the sidewalk rather than spend a few extra minutes at ease in a pew. Even at the end of her long walk from the mission, she would probably set out again to visit yet another friend, or perhaps just to walk.

Between the upper and the nether worlds of Geneva, there is a long slope of stone steps, leading from the cinders and shops by the lake shore to the serene elevation of Main Street. You couldn't imagine the majestic Elliots descending such a path; Miss Candida would have creaked in every joint on the way down, and no invitations to tea lay in that direction. That evening, the setting sun was throwing shadows down the hill, and the tips of the steps were penciled in gold light, making a Jacob's Ladder to the sunshine above, when a white figure appeared at the top, fluttered a moment against the glow, and then plunged down like a bird dipping from the sky. It was "Sparrow" Tibbs in her white cotton dress, still walking. Two children stopped to look at her.

"There goes one of the funny old ladies from Main Street," said one of them. "Oh, but there's terrible old ladies in this town!"

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