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Sarah Orne Jewett (1849 - 1909)
The Flight of Betsey Lane 4
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 everyone, 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 watchdog 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 'bout it."
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.
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