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There isn’t much charity in this story.  The 14-year-old Marian goes to visit the “home for old ladies” to earn points as a Campfire Girl.  She carries a potted plant that one old lady calls a “pretty flower” and another calls “stinkweed.”  The nurse refers to it as multiflora cineraria.  In my ignorance, I had to look this up.  You can view a picture of multiflora cineraria here, and decide for yourself whether the debate as to stinkweed vs. pretty flower is justifiable.


Regardless, the act of required charity in visiting the old ladies only frightens Marian, and she ends up running out.  Not much of a plot twist there.  She goes.  She hates it.  She leaves.  The crux of the story, however, is in the interaction between the ladies.  They bounce off of each other, one continually negating anything the other says.  They turn what could be ordinary and boring into a visit that seems downright sinister to the girl. 


And in keeping with the irony of the uncharitable visit of charity, one of the ladies asks Marian for a penny before she goes.  Marian just shrugs away and runs, truly disturbed by the whole encounter.


There is nothing dangerous about these ladies.  They are just old, cranky, perhaps only semi-lucid, and frightening to the young girl who is left alone with them.  They certainly do nothing to inspire Marian toward a life of charitable acts.


I see Marian growing up to become charitable in the way the women of “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” are charitable—self-interested, worried about appearances, taking credit but not really allowing charity to absolutely impose on her.  In that way, I see the story as a comment on human nature, an ironic view of what charity means to more people than we might like to admit. 


That and a comment how frightened we are by old age as a society.  These old ladies are tucked away in a dark room Marian thinks of as a cave as if they are freaks of nature rather than simply old.  That’s the truest and saddest part of the tale.