September 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 XVII, Part 1

Miss Lizzie Griscom sold her house within a year of Miss Susie's death. Miss Susie had been the one who wanted to keep the house; it would have killed her to leave it. Miss Lizzie held on until Miss Susie died, and then she gave up the struggle. People had always been trying to buy the house, so that she had no trouble in getting a good price for it, inspite of its poor condition. She engaged a pleasant room at a boardinghouse, overlooking her beloved lake, and then she found, to her great surprise, that she had more money than she really needed.

"Now I can go to Niagara Falls," she said. "Susie never wanted to go there, so I won't have any regrets about going alone."

She promptly went to Niagara, almost on the next train. When she came back, she set about disposing of her furniture. The Griscom house wasn't overfurnished, the few valuable pieces having been sold long ago, but still there were more things left than Miss Lizzie's new room at the boardinghouse would hold. She had expected to sell everything, but, now that money was no longer so necessary, she decided to give the things away to her friends as keepsakes.

There were usually many such donations being made in Geneva. Every house of respectable antiquity has a treasure trove of old letters, books, china, pictures, dresses, and diaries, so that old ladies, when they feel the shadows drawing near, retire to the garret to make a last disposal of these mementoes. When an elderly Genevan brings you a package wrapped in tissue paper, with the words "Just an old cream pitcher of my mother's; I thought you might like to have it," you may be sure that her days are numbered, and that the wisps of smoke from her chimney are the incense from burning letters, pressed flowers, locks of hair, and other sacrifices on the altar of romance.

One Genevan completely furnished a room with such mementoes from deceased friends—the table had belonged to the McGregors, the candlesticks to Mrs. Culpepper; the silver water kettle to Mrs. Edwards; the china cabinet to Miss Agatha Van Bruggen, etc. No marble tablets in church, or tombstones in the cemetery, could speak so eloquently of the dead, and we shuddered to think of the ghosts that might sometimes hold spectral and tempestuous tea parties over Miss Agatha's china and Mrs. Edwards's silver kettle. When the Culpepper candlesticks were put on the McGregor table, there ought to have been a loud explosion, or at least some livid electric sparks.

In giving away her treasures, Miss Lizzie was really giving away part of herself, and was achieving a sort of earthly immortality in the things she left behind her. The Geneva lady, having usually no children to carry on her name in her native town, can only leave her personal things in the hope that their future owners will catch some of her spirit from them. By such indirect propagation, the local atmosphere is maintained. The near-by antique shops should realize what forces they are unloosing, and should advertise their wares as "Tea Set of a Lady of Knickerbocker Ancestry" or "Sofa of a Clergyman's Proud but Slovenly Daughter," so that customers can know to what traditions they are committing themselves.

Miss Lizzie decided to give an oval mirror to Miss Candida, who had paid some attention to the Griscom sisters during Miss Susie's illness. The piano wouldn't do as a gift to Miss Candida because she wasn't musical (neither was the piano). The Griscoms' engravings of Bible scenes would hardly suit the Elliots' family portraits, and the Griscoms' china was likewise too inferior, but the mirror was a good piece, though its gilt frame was rather tarnished. Miss Lizzie took it to Miss Candida.

"Why do you give heirlooms to me?" said Miss Candida. "I'm older than you are!"

"But I can't keep them," Miss Lizzie explained, "because I have no room for them, And you're an old family friend who has been very good to us.

It will give me pleasure to think of our mirror reflecting such a nice home as yours."

"It's very kind of you," said Miss Candida, "but I don't have room for it myself except in the upstairs hall. Will it please you to have your mirror reflecting the upstairs hall?"

"Any place in your house would be all right," said Miss Lizzie.

After she had gone, Miss Candida called Hannah in for a consultation.

"Miss Griscom is giving us a mirror," said Miss Candida. "She's breaking up her home, but I don't see why she should deposit the fragments on me. It's just like the Griscoms, they would pick a few weeds in their back yard, and bring you a bunch of them, with a little speech about how poor they were, but how anxious to give their friends a little token. I don't want the mirror. Where can I put it?"

Hannah suggested a place in the hall, near the head of the stairs.

"No," said Miss Candida. "When I'm climbing stairs, I look like an old woman, and I don't want to be reminded of it."

The mirror finally landed in Hannah's bedroom.

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