THE FLIGHT OF BETSEY LANE
by Sarah Orne Jewett
One windy morning in May, three old women sat together
near an open window in the shed chamber of Byfleet
Poor-house. The wind was from the northwest, but their
window faced the southeast, and they were only visited
by an occasional pleasant waft of fresh air. They were
close together, knee to knee, picking over a bushel of
beans, and commanding a view of the dandelion-starred,
green yard below, and of the winding, sandy road that
led to the village, two miles away. Some captive bees
were scolding among the cobwebs of the rafters overhead,
or thumping against the upper panes of glass; two calves
were bawling from the barnyard, where some of the men
were at work loading a dump-cart and shouting as if
every one were deaf. There was a cheerful feeling of
activity, and even an air of comfort, about the Byfleet
Poor-house. Almost every one was possessed of a most
interesting past, though there was less to be said about
the future. The inmates were by no means distressed or
unhappy; many of them retired to this shelter only for
the winter season, and would go out presently, some to
begin such work as they could still do, others to live
in their own small houses; old age had impoverished most
of them by limiting their power of endurance; but far
from lamenting the fact that they were town charges,
they rather liked the change and excitement of a winter
residence on the poor-farm. There was a sharp-faced,
hard-worked young widow with seven children, who was
an exception to the general level of society, because
she deplored the change in her fortunes. The older
women regarded her with suspicion, and were apt to
talk about her in moments like this, when they happened
to sit together at their work.
The three bean-pickers were dressed alike in stout
brown ginghams, checked by a white line, and all
wore great faded aprons of blue drilling, with
sufficient pockets convenient to the right hand.
Miss Peggy Bond was a very small, belligerent-looking
person, who wore a huge pair of steel-bowed spectacles,
holding her sharp chin well up in air, as if to
supplement an inadequate nose. She was more than
half blind, but the spectacles seemed to face upward
instead of square ahead, as if their wearer were
always on the sharp lookout for birds. Miss Bond
had suffered much personal damage from time to time,
because she never took heed where she planted her
feet, and so was always tripping and stubbing her
bruised way through the world. She had fallen down
hatchways and cellarways, and stepped composedly
into deep ditches and pasture brooks; but she was
proud of stating that she was upsighted, and so
was her father before her. At the poor-house, where
an unusual malady was considered a distinction,
upsightedness was looked upon as a most honorable
infirmity. Plain rheumatism, such as afflicted Aunt
Lavina Dow, whose twisted hands found even this
light work difficult and tiresome,--plain rheumatism
was something of every-day occurrence, and nobody
cared to hear about it. Poor Peggy was a meek and
friendly soul, who never put herself forward; she
was just like other folks, as she always loved to
say, but Mrs. Lavina Dow was a different sort of
person altogether, of great dignity and, occasionally,
almost aggressive behavior. The time had been when
she could do a good day's work with anybody: but
for many years now she had not left the town-farm,
being too badly crippled to work; she had no relations
or friends to visit, but from an innate love of
authority she could not submit to being one of those
who are forgotten by the world. Mrs. Dow was the
hostess and social lawgiver here, where she remembered
every inmate and every item of interest for nearly
forty years, besides an immense amount of town history
and biography for three or four generations back.
She was the dear friend of the third woman, Betsey
Lane; together they led thought and opinion--chiefly
opinion--and held sway, not only over Byfleet Poor-farm,
but also the selectmen and all others in authority.
Betsey Lane had spent most of her life as aid-in-general
to the respected household of old General Thornton.
She had been much trusted and valued, and, at the
breaking up of that once large and flourishing family,
she had been left in good circumstances, what with
legacies and her own comfortable savings; but by sad
misfortune and lavish generosity everything had been
scattered, and after much illness, which ended in a
stiffened arm and more uncertainty, the good soul had
sensibly decided that it was easier for the whole town
to support her than for a part of it. She had always
hoped to see something of the world before she died;
she came of an adventurous, seafaring stock, but had
never made a longer journey than to the towns of Danby
and Northville, thirty miles away.
They were all old women; but Betsey Lane, who was
sixty-nine, and looked much older, was the youngest.
Peggy Bond was far on in the seventies, and Mrs. Dow
was at least ten years older. She made a great secret
of her years; and as she sometimes spoke of events
prior to the Revolution with the assertion of having
been an eye-witness, she naturally wore an air of
vast antiquity. Her tales were an inexpressible
delight to Betsey Lane, who felt younger by twenty
years because her friend and comrade was so unconscious
of chronological limitations.
The bushel basket of cranberry beans was within
easy reach, and each of the pickers had filled her
lap from it again and again. The shed chamber was
not an unpleasant place in which to sit at work,
with its traces of seed corn hanging from the brown
cross-beams, its spare churns, and dusty loom, and
rickety wool-wheels, and a few bits of old furniture.
In one far corner was a wide board of dismal use
and suggestion, and close beside it an old cradle.
There was a battered chest of drawers where the
keeper of the poor-house kept his garden-seeds,
with the withered remains of three seed cucumbers
ornamenting the top. Nothing beautiful could be
discovered, nothing interesting, but there was
something usable and homely about the place. It was
the favorite and untroubled bower of the bean-pickers,
to which they might retreat unmolested from the
public apartments of this rustic institution.
Betsey Lane blew away the chaff from her handful
of beans. The spring breeze blew the chaff back
again, and sifted it over her face and shoulders.
She rubbed it out of her eyes impatiently, and
happened to notice old Peggy holding her own
handful high, as if it were an oblation, and
turning her queer, up-tilted head this way and
that, to look at the beans sharply, as if she
were first cousin to a hen.
"There, Miss Bond, 'tis kind of botherin' work
for you, ain't it?" Betsey inquired compassionately.
"I feel to enjoy it, anything that I can do my
own way so," responded Peggy. "I like to do my
part. Ain't that old Mis' Fales comin' up the
road? It sounds like her step."
The others looked, but they were not farsighted,
and for a moment Peggy had the advantage. Mrs.
Fales was not a favorite.
"I hope she ain't comin' here to put up this
spring. I guess she won't now, it's gettin' so
late," said Betsey Lane. "She likes to go rovin'
soon as the roads is settled."
"'Tis Mis' Fales!" said Peggy Bond, listening
with solemn anxiety. "There, do let's pray her
"I guess she's headin' for her cousin's folks
up Beech Hill way," said Betsey presently. "If
she'd left her daughter's this mornin', she'd
have got just about as far as this. I kind o'
wish she had stepped in just to pass the time
o' day, long's she wa'n't going to make no stop."
There was a silence as to further speech in the
shed chamber; and even the calves were quiet in
the barnyard. The men had all gone away to the
field where corn-planting was going on. The
beans clicked steadily into the wooden measure
at the pickers' feet. Betsey Lane began to sing
a hymn, and the others joined in as best they
might, like autumnal crickets; their voices were
sharp and cracked, with now and then a few low
notes of plaintive tone. Betsey herself could
sing pretty well, but the others could only
make a kind of accompaniment. Their voices
ceased altogether at the higher notes.
"Oh my! I wish I had the means to go to the
Centennial," mourned Betsey Lane, stopping so
suddenly that the others had to go on croaking
and shrilling without her for a moment before
they could stop. "It seems to me as if I can't
die happy 'less I do," she added; "I ain't
never seen nothin' of the world, an' here I be."
"What if you was as old as I be?" suggested
Mrs. Dow pompously. "You've got time enough yet,
Betsey; don't you go an' despair. I knowed of a
woman that went clean round the world four times
when she was past eighty, an' enjoyed herself
real well. Her folks followed the sea; she had
three sons an' a daughter married,--all shipmasters,
and she'd been with her own husband when they
was young. She was left a widder early, and
fetched up her family herself,--a real stirrin',
smart woman. After they'd got married off, an'
settled, an' was doing well, she come to be
lonesome; and first she tried to stick it out
alone, but she wa'n't one that could; an' she
got a notion she hadn't nothin' before her but
her last sickness, and she wa'n't a person that
enjoyed havin' other folks do for her. So one
on her boys--I guess 'twas the oldest--said he
was going to take her to sea; there was ample
room, an' he was sailin' a good time o' year
for the Cape o' Good Hope an' way up to some o'
them tea-ports in the Chiny Seas. She was all
high to go, but it made a sight o' talk at her
age; an' the minister made it a subject o' prayer
the last Sunday, and all the folks took a last
leave; but she said to some she'd fetch 'em home
something real pritty, and so did. An' then they
come home t'other way, round the Horn, an' she
done so well, an' was such a sight o' company,
the other child'n was jealous, an' she promised
she'd go a v'y'ge long o' each on 'em. She was
as sprightly a person as ever I see; an' could
speak well o' what she'd seen."
"Did she die to sea?" asked Peggy, with interest.
"No, she died to home between v'y'ges, or she'd
gone to sea again. I was to her funeral. She
liked her son George's ship the best; 'twas the
one she was going on to Callao. They said the men
aboard all called her 'gran'ma'am,' an' she kep'
'em mended up, an' would go below and tend to 'em
if they was sick. She might 'a' been alive an'
enjoyin' of herself a good many years but for the
kick of a cow; 'twas a new cow out of a drove, a
dreadful unruly beast."
Mrs. Dow stopped for breath, and reached down for
a new supply of beans; her empty apron was gray
with soft chaff. Betsey Lane, still pondering on
the Centennial, began to sing another verse of her
hymn, and again the old women joined her. At this
moment some strangers came driving round into the
yard from the front of the house. The turf was
soft, and our friends did not hear the horses'
steps. Their voices cracked and quavered; it was
a funny little concert, and a lady in an open
carriage just below listened with sympathy and
"Betsey! Betsey! Miss Lane!" a voice called eagerly
at the foot of the stairs that led up from the shed.
"Betsey! There's a lady here wants to see you right
Betsey was dazed with excitement, like a country
child who knows the rare pleasure of being called
out of school. "Lor', I ain't fit to go down, be
I?" she faltered, looking anxiously at her friends;
but Peggy was gazing even nearer to the zenith than
usual, in her excited effort to see down into the
yard, and Mrs. Dow only nodded somewhat jealously,
and said that she guessed 'twas nobody would do her
any harm. She rose ponderously, while Betsey hesitated,
being, as they would have said, all of a twitter.
"It is a lady, certain," Mrs. Dow assured her;
"'tain't often there's a lady comes here."
"While there was any of Mis' Gen'ral Thornton's
folks left, I wa'n't without visits from the gentry,"
said Betsey Lane, turning back proudly at the head
of the stairs, with a touch of old-world pride and
sense of high station. Then she disappeared, and
closed the door behind her at the stair-foot with
a decision quite unwelcome to the friends above.
"She needn't 'a' been so dreadful 'fraid anybody
was goin' to listen. I guess we've got folks to
ride an' see us, or had once, if we hain't now,"
said Miss Peggy Bond, plaintively.
"I expect 'twas only the wind shoved it to," said
Aunt Lavina. "Betsey is one that gits flustered
easier than some. I wish 'twas somebody to take
her off an' give her a kind of a good time; she's
young to settle down 'long of old folks like us.
Betsey's got a notion o' rovin' such as ain't my
natur', but I should like to see her satisfied.
She'd been a very understandin' person, if she
had the advantages that some does."
"'Tis so," said Peggy Bond, tilting her chin high.
"I suppose you can't hear nothin' they're saying?
I feel my hearin' ain't up to whar it was. I can
hear things close to me well as ever; but there,
hearin' ain't everything; 'tain't as if we lived
where there was more goin' on to hear. Seems to
me them folks is stoppin' a good while."
"They surely be," agreed Lavina Dow.
"I expect it's somethin' particular. There ain't
none of the Thornton folks left, except one o'
the gran'darters, an' I've often heard Betsey
remark that she should never see her more, for
she lives to London. Strange how folks feels
contented in them strayaway places off to the
ends of the airth."
The flies and bees were buzzing against the hot
windowpanes; the handfuls of beans were clicking
into the brown wooden measure. A bird came and
perched on the windowsill, and then flitted away
toward the blue sky. Below, in the yard, Betsey
Lane stood talking with the lady. She had put
her blue drilling apron over her head, and her
face was shining with delight.
"Lor', dear," she said, for at least the third
time, "I remember ye when I first see ye; an awful
pritty baby you was, an' they all said you looked
just like the old gen'ral. Be you goin' back to
foreign parts right away?"
"Yes, I'm going back; you know that all my children
are there. I wish I could take you with me for a
visit," said the charming young guest. "I'm going
to carry over some of the pictures and furniture
from the old house; I didn't care half so much for
them when I was younger as I do now. Perhaps next
summer we shall all come over for a while. I should
like to see my girls and boys playing under the
"I wish you re'lly was livin' to the old place,"
said Betsey Lane. Her imagination was not swift;
she needed time to think over all that was being
told her, and she could not fancy the two strange
houses across the sea. The old Thornton house was
to her mind the most delightful and elegant in the
"Is there anything I can do for you?" asked Mrs.
Strafford kindly,--"anything that I can do for
you myself, before I go away? I shall be writing
to you, and sending some pictures of the children,
and you must let me know how you are getting on."
"Yes, there is one thing, darlin'. If you could
stop in the village an' pick me out a pritty,
little, small lookin'-glass, that I can keep for
my own an' have to remember you by. 'Tain't that
I want to set me above the rest o' the folks, but
I was always used to havin' my own when I was to
your grandma's. There's very nice folks here, some
on 'em, and I'm better off than if I was able to
keep house; but sence you ask me, that's the only
thing I feel cropin' about. What be you goin'
right back for? ain't you goin' to see the great
fair to Pheladelphy, that everybody talks about?"
"No," said Mrs. Strafford, laughing at this eager
and almost convicting question. "No; I'm going
back next week. If I were, I believe that I should
take you with me. Good-by, dear old Betsey; you
make me feel as if I were a little girl again;
you look just the same."
For full five minutes the old woman stood out in
the sunshine, dazed with delight, and majestic
with a sense of her own consequence. She held
something tight in her hand, without thinking
what it might be; but just as the friendly
mistress of the poor-farm came out to hear the
news, she tucked the roll of money into the bosom
of her brown gingham dress. "'Twas my dear Mis'
Katy Strafford," she turned to say proudly. "She
come way over from London; she's been sick; they
thought the voyage would do her good. She said
most the first thing she had on her mind was to
come an' find me, and see how I was, an' if I
was comfortable; an' now she's goin' right back.
She's got two splendid houses; an' said how she
wished I was there to look after things,--she
remembered I was always her gran'ma's right hand.
Oh, it does so carry me back, to see her! Seems
if all the rest on 'em must be there together
to the old house. There, I must go right up an'
tell Mis' Dow an' Peggy."
"Dinner's all ready; I was just goin' to blow
the horn for the men-folks," said the keeper's
wife. "They'll be right down. I expect you've
got along smart with them beans,--all three of
you together;" but Betsey's mind roved so high
and so far at that moment that no achievements
of bean-picking could lure it back.
The long table in the great kitchen soon gathered
its company of waifs and strays,--creatures of
improvidence and misfortune, and the irreparable
victims of old age. The dinner was satisfactory,
and there was not much delay for conversation.
Peggy Bond and Mrs. Dow and Betsey Lane always
sat together at one end, with an air of putting
the rest of the company below the salt. Betsey
was still flushed with excitement; in fact, she
could not eat as much as usual, and she looked
up from time to time expectantly, as if she were
likely to be asked to speak of her guest; but
everybody was hungry, and even Mrs. Dow broke
in upon some attempted confidences by asking
inopportunely for a second potato. There were
nearly twenty at the table, counting the keeper
and his wife and two children, noisy little
persons who had come from school with the small
flock belonging to the poor widow, who sat just
opposite our friends. She finished her dinner
before any one else, and pushed her chair back;
she always helped with the housework,--a thin,
sorry, bad-tempered-looking poor soul, whom grief
had sharpened instead of softening. "I expect
you feel too fine to set with common folks," she
said enviously to Betsey.
"Here I be a-settin'," responded Betsey calmly.
"I don' know's I behave more unbecomin' than
usual." Betsey prided herself upon her good and
proper manners; but the rest of the company, who
would have liked to hear the bit of morning news,
were now defrauded of that pleasure. The wrong
note had been struck; there was a silence after
the clatter of knives and plates, and one by one
the cheerful town charges disappeared. The
bean-picking had been finished, and there was a
call for any of the women who felt like planting
corn; so Peggy Bond, who could follow the line
of hills pretty fairly, and Betsey herself, who
was still equal to anybody at that work, and Mrs.
Dow, all went out to the field together. Aunt
Lavina labored slowly up the yard, carrying a
light splint-bottomed kitchen chair and her
knitting-work, and sat near the stone wall on
a gentle rise, where she could see the pond and
the green country, and exchange a word with her
friends as they came and went up and down the
rows. Betsey vouchsafed a word now and then
about Mrs. Strafford, but you would have thought
that she had been suddenly elevated to Mrs.
Strafford's own cares and the responsibilities
attending them, and had little in common with
her old associates. Mrs. Dow and Peggy knew well
that these high-feeling times never lasted long,
and so they waited with as much patience as they
could muster. They were by no means without that
true tact which is only another word for unselfish
The strip of corn land ran along the side of
a great field; at the upper end of it was a
field-corner thicket of young maples and walnut
saplings, the children of a great nut-tree that
marked the boundary. Once, when Betsey Lane
found herself alone near this shelter at the
end of her row, the other planters having
lagged behind beyond the rising ground, she
looked stealthily about, and then put her hand
inside her gown, and for the first time took
out the money that Mrs. Strafford had given her.
She turned it over and over with an astonished
look: there were new bank-bills for a hundred
dollars. Betsey gave a funny little shrug of
her shoulders, came out of the bushes, and took
a step or two on the narrow edge of turf, as
if she were going to dance; then she hastily
tucked away her treasure, and stepped discreetly
down into the soft harrowed and hoed land, and
began to drop corn again, five kernels to a
hill. She had seen the top of Peggy Bond's head
over the knoll, and now Peggy herself came
entirely into view, gazing upward to the skies,
and stumbling more or less, but counting the corn
by touch and twisting her head about anxiously to
gain advantage over her uncertain vision. Betsey
made a friendly, inarticulate little sound as
they passed; she was thinking that somebody said
once that Peggy's eyesight might be remedied if
she could go to Boston to the hospital; but that
was so remote and impossible an undertaking that
no one had ever taken the first step. Betsey Lane's
brown old face suddenly worked with excitement,
but in a moment more she regained her usual firm
expression, and spoke carelessly to Peggy as she
turned and came alongside.
The high spring wind of the morning had quite
fallen; it was a lovely May afternoon. The woods
about the field to the northward were full of
birds, and the young leaves scarcely hid the
solemn shapes of a company of crows that patiently
attended the corn-planting. Two of the men had
finished their hoeing, and were busy with the
construction of a scarecrow; they knelt in the
furrows, chuckling, and looking over some forlorn,
discarded garments. It was a time-honored custom
to make the scarecrow resemble one of the poor-house
family; and this year they intended to have Mrs.
Lavina Dow protect the field in effigy; last
year it was the counterfeit of Betsey Lane who
stood on guard, with an easily recognized quilted
hood and the remains of a valued shawl that one
of the calves had found airing on a fence and
chewed to pieces. Behind the men was the foundation
for this rustic attempt at statuary,--an upright
stake and bar in the form of a cross. This stood
on the highest part of the field; and as the men
knelt near it, and the quaint figures of the
corn-planters went and came, the scene gave a
curious suggestion of foreign life. It was not
like New England; the presence of the rude cross
appealed strangely to the imagination.
Life flowed so smoothly, for the most part, at
the Byfleet Poor-farm, that nobody knew what to
make, later in the summer, of a strange disappearance.
All the elder inmates were familiar with illness
and death, and the poor pomp of a town-pauper's
funeral. The comings and goings and the various
misfortunes of those who composed this strange
family, related only through its disasters, hardly
served for the excitement and talk of a single
day. Now that the June days were at their longest,
the old people were sure to wake earlier than
ever; but one morning, to the astonishment of
every one, Betsey Lane's bed was empty; the
sheets and blankets, which were her own, and
guarded with jealous care, were carefully folded
and placed on a chair not too near the window,
and Betsey had flown. Nobody had heard her go
down the creaking stairs. The kitchen door was
unlocked, and the old watch-dog lay on the step
outside in the early sunshine, wagging his tail
and looking wise, as if he were left on guard
and meant to keep the fugitive's secret.
"Never knowed her to do nothin' afore 'thout
talking it over a fortnight, and paradin' off
when we could all see her," ventured a spiteful
voice. "Guess we can wait till night to hear
Mrs. Dow looked sorrowful and shook her head.
"Betsey had an aunt on her mother's side that
went and drownded of herself; she was a
pritty-appearing woman as ever you see."
"Perhaps she's gone to spend the day with
Decker's folks," suggested Peggy Bond. "She
always takes an extra early start; she was
speakin' lately o' going up their way;" but
Mrs. Dow shook her head with a most melancholy
look. "I'm impressed that something's befell
her," she insisted. "I heard her a-groanin'
in her sleep. I was wakeful the forepart o'
the night,--'tis very unusual with me, too."
"'Twa'n't like Betsey not to leave us any
word," said the other old friend, with more
resentment than melancholy. They sat together
almost in silence that morning in the shed
chamber. Mrs. Dow was sorting and cutting
rags, and Peggy braided them into long ropes,
to be made into mats at a later date. If
they had only known where Betsey Lane had
gone, they might have talked about it until
dinner-time at noon; but failing this new
subject, they could take no interest in any
of their old ones. Out in the field the corn
was well up, and the men were hoeing. It was
a hot morning in the shed chamber, and the
woolen rags were dusty and hot to handle.
Byfleet people knew each other well, and when
this mysteriously absent person did not return
to the town-farm at the end of a week, public
interest became much excited; and presently it
was ascertained that Betsey Lane was neither
making a visit to her friends the Deckers on
Birch Hill, nor to any nearer acquaintances;
in fact, she had disappeared altogether from
her wonted haunts. Nobody remembered to have
seen her pass, hers had been such an early
flitting; and when somebody thought of her
having gone away by train, he was laughed at
for forgetting that the earliest morning train
from South Byfleet, the nearest station, did
not start until long after eight o'clock; and
if Betsey had designed to be one of the passengers,
she would have started along the road at seven,
and been seen and known of all women. There was
not a kitchen in that part of Byfleet that did
not have windows toward the road. Conversation
rarely left the level of the neighborhood gossip:
to see Betsey Lane, in her best clothes, at that
hour in the morning, would have been the signal
for much exercise of imagination; but as day
after day went by without news, the curiosity
of those who knew her best turned slowly into
fear, and at last Peggy Bond again gave utterance
to the belief that Betsey had either gone out
in the early morning and put an end to her life,
or that she had gone to the Centennial. Some of
the people at table were moved to loud laughter,--it
was at supper-time on a Sunday night,--but others
listened with great interest.
"She never'd put on her good clothes to drownd
herself," said the widow. "She might have thought
'twas good as takin' 'em with her, though. Old
folks has wandered off an' got lost in the woods
Mrs. Dow and Peggy resented this impertinent
remark, but deigned to take no notice of the
speaker. "She wouldn't have wore her best
clothes to the Centennial, would she?" mildly
inquired Peggy, bobbing her head toward the
ceiling. "'Twould be a shame to spoil your best
things in such a place. An' I don't know of her
havin' any money; there's the end o' that."
"You're bad as old Mis' Bland, that used to
live neighbor to our folks," said one of the
old men. "She was dreadful precise; an' she
so begretched to wear a good alapaca dress
that was left to her, that it hung in a press
forty year, an' baited the moths at last."
"I often seen Mis' Bland a-goin' in to meetin'
when I was a young girl," said Peggy Bond
approvingly. "She was a good-appearin' woman,
an' she left property."
"Wish she'd left it to me, then," said the
poor soul opposite, glancing at her pathetic
row of children: but it was not good manners
at the farm to deplore one's situation, and
Mrs. Dow and Peggy only frowned. "Where do
you suppose Betsey can be?" said Mrs. Dow,
for the twentieth time. "She didn't have no
money. I know she ain't gone far, if it's so
that she's yet alive. She's b'en real pinched
all the spring."
"Perhaps that lady that come one day give
her some," the keeper's wife suggested mildly.
"Then Betsey would have told me," said Mrs.
Dow, with injured dignity.
On the morning of her disappearance, Betsey
rose even before the pewee and the English
sparrow, and dressed herself quietly, though
with trembling hands, and stole out of the
kitchen door like a plunderless thief. The
old dog licked her hand and looked at her
anxiously; the tortoise-shell cat rubbed
against her best gown, and trotted away up
the yard, then she turned anxiously and came
after the old woman, following faithfully
until she had to be driven back. Betsey was
used to long country excursions afoot. She
dearly loved the early morning; and finding
that there was no dew to trouble her, she
began to follow pasture paths and short cuts
across the fields, surprising here and there
a flock of sleepy sheep, or a startled calf
that rustled out from the bushes. The birds
were pecking their breakfast from bush and
turf; and hardly any of the wild inhabitants
of that rural world were enough alarmed by
her presence to do more than flutter away if
they chanced to be in her path. She stepped
along, light-footed and eager as a girl,
dressed in her neat old straw bonnet and
black gown, and carrying a few belongings
in her best bundle-handkerchief, one that
her only brother had brought home from the
East Indies fifty years before. There was
an old crow perched as sentinel on a small,
dead pine-tree, where he could warn friends
who were pulling up the sprouted corn in a
field close by; but he only gave a contemptuous
caw as the adventurer appeared, and she shook
her bundle at him in revenge, and laughed to
see him so clumsy as he tried to keep his
footing on the twigs.
"Yes, I be," she assured him. "I'm a-goin'
to Pheladelphy, to the Centennial, same's
other folks. I'd jest as soon tell ye's not,
old crow;" and Betsey laughed aloud in
pleased content with herself and her daring,
as she walked along. She had only two miles
to go to the station at South Byfleet, and
she felt for the money now and then, and
found it safe enough. She took great pride
in the success of her escape, and especially
in the long concealment of her wealth. Not
a night had passed since Mrs. Strafford's
visit that she had not slept with the roll
of money under her pillow by night, and
buttoned safe inside her dress by day. She
knew that everybody would offer advice
and even commands about the spending or
saving of it; and she brooked no interference.
The last mile of the foot-path to South
Byfleet was along the railway track; and
Betsey began to feel in haste, though it
was still nearly two hours to train time.
She looked anxiously forward and back along
the rails every few minutes, for fear of
being run over; and at last she caught
sight of an engine that was apparently
coming toward her, and took flight into
the woods before she could gather courage
to follow the path again. The freight
train proved to be at a standstill, waiting
at a turnout; and some of the men were
straying about, eating their early breakfast
comfortably in this time of leisure. As
the old woman came up to them, she stopped
too, for a moment of rest and conversation.
"Where be ye goin'?" she asked pleasantly;
and they told her. It was to the town where
she had to change cars and take the great
through train; a point of geography which
she had learned from evening talks between
the men at the farm.
"What'll ye carry me there for?"
"We don't run no passenger cars," said one
of the young fellows, laughing. "What makes
you in such a hurry?"
"I'm startin' for Pheladelphy, an' it's a
gre't ways to go."
"So't is; but you're consid'able early, if
you're makin' for the eight-forty train. See
here! you haven't got a needle an' thread
'long of you in that bundle, have you? If
you'll sew me on a couple o' buttons, I'll
give ye a free ride. I'm in a sight o' distress,
an' none o' the fellows is provided with as
much as a bent pin."
"You poor boy! I'll have you seen to, in
half a minute. I'm troubled with a stiff
arm, but I'll do the best I can."
The obliging Betsey seated herself stiffly
on the slope of the embankment, and found
her thread and needle with utmost haste. Two
of the train-men stood by and watched the
careful stitches, and even offered her a
place as spare brakeman, so that they might
keep her near; and Betsey took the offer
with considerable seriousness, only
thinking it necessary to assure them that
she was getting most too old to be out in
all weathers. An express went by like an
earthquake, and she was presently hoisted
on board an empty box-car by two of her new
and flattering acquaintances, and found
herself before noon at the end of the first
stage of her journey, without having spent
a cent, and furnished with any amount of
thrifty advice. One of the young men, being
compassionate of her unprotected state as
a traveler, advised her to find out the
widow of an uncle of his in Philadelphia,
saying despairingly that he couldn't tell
her just how to find the house; but Miss
Betsey Lane said that she had an English
tongue in her head, and should be sure to
find whatever she was looking for. This
unexpected incident of the freight train was
the reason why everybody about the South
Byfleet station insisted that no such person
had taken passage by the regular train that
same morning, and why there were those who
persuaded themselves that Miss Betsey Lane
was probably lying at the bottom of the
"Land sakes!" said Miss Betsey Lane, as she
watched a Turkish person parading by in his
red fez, "I call the Centennial somethin'
like the day o' judgment! I wish I was goin'
to stop a month, but I dare say 'twould be
the death o' my poor old bones."
She was leaning against the barrier of a patent
pop-corn establishment, which had given her a
sudden reminder of home, and of the winter
nights when the sharp-kerneled little red and
yellow ears were brought out, and Old Uncle
Eph Flanders sat by the kitchen stove, and
solemnly filled a great wooden chopping-tray
for the refreshment of the company. She had
wandered and loitered and looked until her
eyes and head had grown numb and unreceptive;
but it is only unimaginative persons who can
be really astonished. The imagination can
always outrun the possible and actual sights
and sounds of the world; and this plain old
body from Byfleet rarely found anything rich
and splendid enough to surprise her. She saw
the wonders of the West and the splendors of
the East with equal calmness and satisfaction;
she had always known that there was an amazing
world outside the boundaries of Byfleet. There
was a piece of paper in her pocket on which was
marked, in her clumsy handwriting, "If Betsey
Lane should meet with accident, notify the
selectmen of Byfleet;" but having made this
slight provision for the future, she had thrown
herself boldly into the sea of strangers, and
then had made the joyful discovery that friends
were to be found at every turn.
There was something delightfully companionable
about Betsey; she had a way of suddenly looking
up over her big spectacles with a reassuring and
expectant smile, as if you were going to speak
to her, and you generally did. She must have
found out where hundreds of people came from,
and whom they had left at home, and what they
thought of the great show, as she sat on a bench
to rest, or leaned over the railings where free
luncheons were afforded by the makers of hot
waffles and molasses candy and fried potatoes;
and there was not a night when she did not
return to her lodgings with a pocket crammed
with samples of spool cotton and nobody knows
what. She had already collected small presents
for almost everybody she knew at home, and she
was such a pleasant, beaming old country body,
so unmistakably appreciative and interested,
that nobody ever thought of wishing that she
would move on. Nearly all the busy people of
the Exhibition called her either Aunty or
Grandma at once, and made little pleasures for
her as best they could. She was a delightful
contrast to the indifferent, stupid crowd that
drifted along, with eyes fixed at the same level,
and seeing, even on that level, nothing for fifty
feet at a time. "What be you making here, dear?"
Betsey Lane would ask joyfully, and the most
perfunctory guardian hastened to explain. She
squandered money as she had never had the pleasure
of doing before, and this hastened the day when
she must return to Byfleet. She was always
inquiring if there were any spectacle-sellers
at hand, and received occasional directions;
but it was a difficult place for her to find
her way about in, and the very last day of her
stay arrived before she found an exhibitor of
the desired sort, an oculist and instrument-maker.
"I called to get some specs for a friend that's
upsighted," she gravely informed the salesman,
to his extreme amusement. "She's dreadful troubled,
and jerks her head up like a hen a-drinkin'. She's
got a blur a-growin' an' spreadin', an' sometimes
she can see out to one side on't, and more times
"Cataracts," said a middle-aged gentleman at her
side; and Betsey Lane turned to regard him with
approval and curiosity.
"'Tis Miss Peggy Bond I was mentioning, of Byfleet
Poor-farm," she explained. "I count on gettin'
some glasses to relieve her trouble, if there's
any to be found."
"Glasses won't do her any good," said the stranger.
"Suppose you come and sit down on this bench, and
tell me all about it. First, where is Byfleet?"
and Betsey gave the directions at length.
"I thought so," said the surgeon. "How old is this
friend of yours?"
Betsey cleared her throat decisively, and smoothed
her gown over her knees as if it were an apron;
then she turned to take a good look at her new
acquaintance as they sat on the rustic bench together.
"Who be you, sir, I should like to know?" she asked,
in a friendly tone.
"My name's Dunster."
"I take it you're a doctor," continued Betsey, as
if they had overtaken each other walking from
Byfleet to South Byfleet on a summer morning.
"I'm a doctor; part of one at least," said he. "I
know more or less about eyes; and I spend my summers
down on the shore at the mouth of your river; some
day I'll come up and look at this person. How old
"Peggy Bond is one that never tells her age; 'tain't
come quite up to where she'll begin to brag of it,
you see," explained Betsey reluctantly; "but I know
her to be nigh to seventy-six, one way or t'other.
Her an' Mrs. Mary Ann Chick was same year's child'n,
and Peggy knows I know it, an' two or three times
when we've be'n in the buryin'-ground where Mary
Ann lays an' has her dates right on her headstone,
I couldn't bring Peggy to take no sort o' notice.
I will say she makes, at times, a convenience of
being upsighted. But there, I feel for her,--everybody
does; it keeps her stubbin' an' trippin' against
everything, beakin' and gazin' up the way she has
"Yes, yes," said the doctor, whose eyes were twinkling.
"I'll come and look after her, with your town doctor,
this summer,--some time in the last of July or first
"You'll find occupation," said Betsey, not without
an air of patronage. "Most of us to the Byfleet Farm
has got our ails, now I tell ye. You ain't got no
bitters that'll take a dozen years right off an ol'
The busy man smiled pleasantly, and shook his head
as he went away. "Dunster," said Betsey to herself,
soberly committing the new name to her sound memory.
"Yes, I mustn't forget to speak of him to the doctor,
as he directed. I do' know now as Peggy would vally
herself quite so much accordin' to, if she had her
eyes fixed same as other folks. I expect there
wouldn't been a smarter woman in town, though, if
she'd had a proper chance. Now I've done what I set
to do for her, I do believe, an' 'twa'n't glasses,
neither. I'll git her a pritty little shawl with
that money I laid aside. Peggy Bond ain't got a
pritty shawl. I always wanted to have a real good
time, an' now I'm havin' it."
Two or three days later, two pathetic figures might
have been seen crossing the slopes of the poor-farm
field, toward the low shores of Byfield pond. It
was early in the morning, and the stubble of the
lately mown grass was wet with rain and hindering
to old feet. Peggy Bond was more blundering and
liable to stray in the wrong direction than usual;
it was one of the days when she could hardly see at
all. Aunt Lavina Dow was unusually clumsy of movement,
and stiff in the joints; she had not been so far
from the house for three years. The morning breeze
filled the gathers of her wide gingham skirt, and
aggravated the size of her unwieldy figure. She
supported herself with a stick, and trusted beside
to the fragile support of Peggy's arm. They were
talking together in whispers.
"Oh, my sakes!" exclaimed Peggy, moving her small
head from side to side. "Hear you wheeze, Mis'
Dow! This may be the death o' you; there, do go
slow! You set here on the side-hill, an' le' me go
try if I can see."
"It needs more eyesight than you've got," said
Mrs. Dow, panting between the words. "Oh! to
think how spry I was in my young days, an' here
I be now, the full of a door, an' all my complaints
so aggravated by my size. 'Tis hard! 'tis hard!
but I'm a-doin' of all this for pore Betsey's
sake. I know they've all laughed, but I look to
see her ris' to the top o' the pond this day,--'tis
just nine days since she departed; an' say what
they may, I know she hove herself in. It run in
her family; Betsey had an aunt that done just so,
an' she ain't be'n like herself, a-broodin' an'
hivin' away alone, an' nothin' to say to you an'
me that was always sich good company all together.
Somethin' sprung her mind, now I tell ye, Mis'
"I feel to hope we sha'n't find her, I must say,"
faltered Peggy. It was plain that Mrs. Dow was
the captain of this doleful expedition. "I guess
she ain't never thought o' drowndin' of herself,
Mis' Dow; she's gone off a-visitin' way over to
the other side o' South Byfleet; some thinks she's
gone to the Centennial even now!"
"She hadn't no proper means, I tell ye," wheezed
Mrs. Dow indignantly; "an' if you prefer that
others should find her floatin' to the top this
day, instid of us that's her best friends, you
can step back to the house."
They walked on in aggrieved silence. Peggy Bond
trembled with excitement, but her companion's
firm grasp never wavered, and so they came to
the narrow, gravelly margin and stood still.
Peggy tried in vain to see the glittering water
and the pond-lilies that starred it; she knew
that they must be there; once, years ago, she
had caught fleeting glimpses of them, and she
never forgot what she had once seen. The clear
blue sky overhead, the dark pine-woods beyond
the pond, were all clearly pictured in her mind.
"Can't you see nothin'?" she faltered; "I believe
I'm wuss'n upsighted this day. I'm going to be
"No," said Lavina Dow solemnly; "no, there ain't
nothin' whatever, Peggy. I hope to mercy she
"Why, whoever'd expected to find you 'way out
here!" exclaimed a brisk and cheerful voice.
There stood Betsey Lane herself, close behind
them, having just emerged from a thicket of
alders that grew close by. She was following
the short way homeward from the railroad.
"Why, what's the matter, Mis' Dow? You ain't
overdoin', be ye? an' Peggy's all of a flutter.
What in the name o' natur' ails ye?"
"There ain't nothin' the matter, as I knows on,"
responded the leader of this fruitless expedition.
"We only thought we'd take a stroll this pleasant
mornin'," she added, with sublime self-possession.
"Where've you be'n, Betsey Lane?"
"To Pheladelphy, ma'am," said Betsey, looking
quite young and gay, and wearing a townish and
unfamiliar air that upheld her words. "All ought
to go that can; why, you feel's if you'd be'n
all round the world. I guess I've got enough to
think of and tell ye for the rest o' my days.
I've always wanted to go somewheres. I wish
you'd be'n there, I do so. I've talked with
folks from Chiny an' the back o' Pennsylvany;
and I see folks way from Australy that 'peared
as well as anybody; an' I see how they made
spool cotton, an' sights o' other things; an'
I spoke with a doctor that lives down to the
beach in the summer, an' he offered to come
up 'long in the first of August, an' see what
he can do for Peggy's eyesight. There was
di'monds there as big as pigeon's eggs; an'
I met with Mis' Abby Fletcher from South
Byfleet depot; an' there was hogs there that
weighed risin' thirteen hunderd"--
"I want to know," said Mrs. Lavina Dow and
Peggy Bond, together.
"Well, 'twas a great exper'ence for a person,"
added Lavina, turning ponderously, in spite of
herself, to give a last wistful look at the
smiling waters of the pond.
"I don't know how soon I be goin' to settle down,"
proclaimed the rustic sister of Sindbad. "What's
for the good o' one's for the good of all. You
just wait till we're setting together up in the
old shed chamber! You know, my dear Mis' Katy
Strafford give me a han'some present o' money that
day she come to see me; and I'd be'n a-dreamin' by
night an' day o' seein' that Centennial; and when
I come to think on 't I felt sure somebody ought
to go from this neighborhood, if 'twas only for
the good o' the rest; and I thought I'd better be
the one. I wa'n't goin' to ask the selec'men neither.
I've come back with one-thirty-five in money, and
I see everything there, an' I fetched ye all a
little somethin'; but I'm full o' dust now, an'
pretty nigh beat out. I never see a place more
friendly than Pheladelphy; but 'tain't natural
to a Byfleet person to be always walkin' on a
level. There, now, Peggy, you take my bundle-handkercher
and the basket, and let Mis' Dow sag on to me.
I'll git her along twice as easy."
With this the small elderly company set forth
triumphant toward the poor-house, across the
wide green field.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~