The Misses Elliot
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Chapter XVII, Conclusion
Miss Lizzie decided to offer her piano to Miss Tibbs. "Sparrow," who still played the reed organ at her little mission chapel, might be glad to have a piano to practice upon. Miss Lizzie went to see her, and asked her to come and look at the piano; Miss Tibbs quickly got a coat and umbrella, and picked up her hymnal. (Miss Lizzie told her that there was already a hymnbook on the piano, but "Sparrow" answered that it was probably a Presbyterian hymnbook, and she wasn't used to Presbyterian hymns.)
It was a wet windy day in late September. Both ladies had big umbrellas, which alternately clashed and separated; both were wearing their very oldest clothes because the weather was so bad. The wet flagstone sidewalk was a rich blue-black, which no cement paving can equal; along it the two women sped like storm-tossed leaves. Miss Tibbs held her hymnal under her coat to protect it from the rain. A passing motorist might well have stared through his streaming windshield at the picture which the two old women presented—inhabitants of that blessed world where the trimmings on a hat, or the color of an altar hanging, or the proportion of sugar in ginger cookies, or the pruning of a rosebush, or a locket of Grandmother's hair, are things over which battles can be waged and hearts can be broken.
They paused in the shelter of Miss Lizzie's porch while umbrellas were lowered and the front door was opened. The hall and the parlors, stripped of most of their furnishings, looked pitifully scarred; the stained patches on the wall were no longer concealed by pictures; the paintless window frames were naked and uncurtained. A smell of damp wood smoke and rotting wood lingered everywhere.
Miss Lizzie went to a basket of faggots, gathered from the garden; she threw several sticks into the fireplace with some newspapers, and lighted them. It needed more than a fire to make the house cheerful, but Miss Lizzie was doing what she could.
"I won't be able to have many more fires with wood from my own place," she said.
Miss Tibbs opened her hymnal on the music rack, after gingerly removing the Presbyterian hymnbook. Then she took off her black cotton gloves. Then she changed her spectacles for another pair which she perched on her nose. Then with great deliberation she launched upon "The Church's One Foundation." It sounded like music from a very distant and very cracked set of chimes.
"The bass is out of tune," she said.
"Are you sure you're playing the right note?" asked Miss Lizzie. "The bass note in that passage ought to be two notes lower."
"Maybe it's that way in the Presbyterian hymnal but not in ours," said Miss Tibbs, implying that "The Church's Foundations" was no good unless the One Foundation was Episcopalian.
"Let me try it," said Miss Lizzie.
She sat down on the stool, and succeeded in rendering "The Church's One Foundation" with slightly greater success. Miss "Sparrow," however, wasn't pleased to find that a Presbyterian could play Episcopalian hymns better than she could. She took a dislike to Miss Lizzie's piano.
"It's very good of you to offer it," she said, "but I have so little time to play that I really don't think I ought to take it."
She gathered up her hymnal and her umbrella, and went for a five-mile walk before supper.
Poor Miss Lizzie began to think that people weren't very anxious to have her discarded treasures. She gave the piano to a little girl, who was much more appreciative than Miss Tibbs had been.
Her greatest trial came when she tried to give a large Gothic chair to Mrs. Edwards. The chair was Victorian Gothic, and so was Mrs. Edwards's house; Miss Lizzie thought that they would look well together, and so did Mrs. Edwards, but unfortunately Miss Candida happened to be present when Miss Lizzie made the proposal.
"That chair?" she said. "Why it isn't yours at all, Lizzie. It belonged to our Aunt Annabel. When Aunt Annabel's mother-in-law moved out of that big house where Miss Buxton lives, she told your grandmother to keep some of the furniture for her till Aunt Annabel had a house big enough for it, but Aunt Annabel never got a big house, so her mother-in-law just left the furniture at your grandmother's."
"Well, Candida, what of it?" said Mrs.Edwards. "Your Aunt Annabel is dead, isn't she? She can't take the chair to Heaven can she?"
"No," said Miss Candida, "but my sister and I helped support Aunt Annabel out of our own money. She lived for years on whisky at our expense. Whisky is very expensive. That chair ought to be mine. It's an historic chair; General Lafayette sat on it when he came to Geneva."
Poor Miss Lizzie murmured apologies; she was so sorry; she wouldn't have dreamed of giving the chair to anybody else if she knew that Miss Candida had a right to it.
Mrs. Edwards didn't care much about the chair, but she wasn't going to see Miss Lizzie browbeaten like that.
"This is ridiculous, Candida," she said. "You know you haven't any room for a big chair like that. The Griscoms have had the chair for at least sixty years; your Aunt Annabel never claimed it; and anyhow the chair belonged to your Aunt Annabel's mother-in-law, who was no relation of yours at all. She was Evelina Scott's great-aunt. If anybody besides Lizzie has a right to that chair, it's Evelina."
Miss Lizzie grew more and more confused and apologetic. She didn't remember about the chair; it had come to them with her grandmother's things; she was so sorry; she'd be glad to give it up to Miss Candida or Miss Evelina if either of them had a right to it.
"They don't," said Mrs. Edwards. "It's yours. But since Candida seems to want it so much, it might be a good idea to give it to her, because then she wouldn't know what to do with it."
Miss Lizzie mentioned the mirror which she had just given to Miss Candida. Perhaps Miss Candida would rather have the chair, and give up the mirror to Mrs. Edwards.
"You know you said you'd just use the mirror for the upstairs hall," said Miss Lizzie timidly.
"Yes," said Miss Candida, "but since then I've given your mirror to Hannah, the maid, I doubt if Hannah will give it up. Hannah is very tenacious."
"It seems to me that somebody else in your house is tenacious too," said Mrs. Edwards.
Miss Lizzie insisted that the chair must go to Miss Candida anyway. She was very sorry that there had been a misunderstanding, and she was sorry not to be able to give a really nice present to Mrs. Edwards who had always been so good and kind to her. She did want to show her appreciation. But, since Miss Candida really had a right to the chair…
That evening, Miss Candida called Mrs. Edwards on the telephone.
"I just remembered about that Gothic chair," she said. "It wasn't Lafayette who sat in it; it was Andrew Jackson, and he was a dirty Democrat, so I don't think I want to sit in the seats of the mighty. You can have the chair, Hattie."
© 1940, Warren Hunting Smith
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