November 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 XVIII

In her last years, Candida Elliot was a sort of queen dowager to Main Street. Her place in the intricacies of Geneva genealogy was a pivotal once—she had no immediate family but was somehow related to everyone; she was a lady of dynastic importance. No wedding or funeral was quite complete until a grim figure with cane had rolled down the aisle on the arm of an usher or a fellow mourner. The church bell tolled contemporaries, one by one, and still she was able to go to their funerals, and to see their grandchildren married and their great-grandchildren baptized.

Even "Sparrow" Tibbs finally stepped in front of a speeding car, which brought her pilgrimages to an end, but Miss Candida escaped from a similar accident with only a broken leg. She told her rescuers to carry her through the dining room into the back parlor, so that the Duncan Phyfe sofa in the front room wouldn't be soiled. To some old women, such an accident would have been fatal; Miss Candida not only survived but recovered; her leg may have been broken but her spirit was not. She was incapacitated for a long time, but when she was well enough, she made her usual winter trip in charge of Hannah the maid, and bounced from boardinghouse to boardinghouse, leaving a trail of angry landladies in her wake, and straining Hannah's conciliatory powers to the breaking point.

On her return to Geneva, she started walking again, to the dismay of the inhabitants. Sometimes she fell down, but people who came to her rescue were told that she was quite unhurt and merely unable to rise. They restored her to the perpendicular, and she went on her way. Again she trudged from one end of Main Street to the other, descending like the wrath of Heaven on friends and relatives. People took to calling on her in her own house, because then they could limit the time of the visits. She would telephone to know if you were to be at home, and, being unable to hear your reply, she would come just the same, and if you happened to be out when she arrived, Heaven help you when you came home again and found Miss Candida with all her accumulated wrath waiting on the doorstep!

Her ecclesiastical warfare was carried on with vigor. An interval for silent prayer gave her the opportunity to shuffle loudly down the aisle, ending with an animated conversation in stage whispers when she met an old crony at the door. When the interior of the church was rebuilt, she resented every change, even to the shape of the clerestory windows, and Mrs. Culpepper, who approved of everything, was as irritated at her as it was possible for so amiable a person to be.

"I like the windows, and I like the doors too," said Mrs. Culpepper; "all the windows and all the doors!"

Miss Candida even disapproved of some of the carved saints on the reredos—"They belong to the Pope, not to us," she said, putting St. Gregory and St. Augustine in their places. The smoothness of some of the new masonry was likewise criticized, and Mrs. Edwards said that Miss Candida ought to be furnished with a hammer to chip pieces out of it. As for the vestments—Miss Candida said that during the bishop's last visit, she closed her eyes, and tried to imagine the stately simplicity of the bishops she had known in childhood. ("Imagination, eh?—she was probably sound asleep," said Mrs. Edwards.) Miss Candida even stopped going to church for several weeks until Miss Lizzie Griscom escorted her there, in order to show her that even Presbyterians didn't have to run out the door whenever a candle appeared in sight.

It wasn't long afterwards that Miss Candida went to the Presbyterian Church, to Miss Lizzie's funeral. Miss Candida, in her own church, looked disapproving enough, but in anybody else's church she looked like and elderly Samson about to pull the roof down on this nest of Philistines.

She sat way up in front in order to hear better. In her own church, she knew what was being said at funerals whether she could hear it or not, but these Presbyterians made up prayers of their own, and Miss Candida wanted to hear them. At least she was sure that there wouldn't be prayers for Miss Lizzie's soul, which was a relief.

When she was comfortably fixed in her pew, she turned on her ear machine, which promptly made a loud buzzing noise. People wondered if the organ or the radiators were out of order, but the ear machine persisted, like a leitmotiv of Episcopalian disapproval, throughout the service.

On the way out, she met Mrs. Culpepper, who was a bit tearful.

"Dear Lizzie was a saint," she said.

"We never thought that the Griscoms were very bright," said Miss Candida. "We used to call them the Babes in the Wood."

"They were beautiful characters," said Mrs. Culpepper, "and this was a beautiful funeral."

"No High-Church nonsense about it," Miss Candida conceded, "but I didn't like some of the prayers."

Miss Candida, however, hadn't lingered with Mrs. Culpepper just to talk about the funeral.

"Sally," she said, "I wish you'd return my electric toaster."

"Your toaster? I never use one."

Miss Candida persisted. Sally had borrowed a toaster. She must return it at once. Mrs. Culpepper promised to return it if she had it, but she knew that she didn't.

A week later, when Mrs. Culpepper was going over Miss Lizzie's few remaining possessions, she came upon a rusty electric toaster. Perhaps Miss Lizzie had borrowed it from Miss Candida. Mrs. Culpepper sent the toaster to Miss Candida with a note, since she didn't feel quite courageous enough for a personal interview. Miss Candida promptly called Mrs. Culpepper on the telephone.

"That isn't my toaster," she said. "I found mine long ago. How could you suppose that this rusty old thing was mine? It's obviously Lizzie's toaster; nobody but Lizzie would think of keeping such a disreputable object. Please come and take it away."

"It is no good," said Mrs. Culpepper. "Just throw it away.'

"I can't hear you," said Miss Candida.

"THROW IT AWAY!" shouted Mrs. Culpepper.

"I still can't hear you," said Miss Candida. "I'll leave it on the hall table for you."

Several days passed, and the toaster stayed on Miss Candida's hall table. Then she called up Mrs. Culpepper again, and asked her to remove the toaster at once.

"Lizzie may have wanted somebody to have it for a keepsake," said Miss Candida. "Lizzie was quite capable of giving people her old flannel nighties to remember her by. I can remember Lizzie quite well enough without the toaster, so take it away."

"NOBODY WANTS IT!" shouted Mrs. Culpepper.

"I can't hear you," said Miss Candida, "but the toaster is waiting on the hall table."

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