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 amusement.
“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 away.”
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 ’t was 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.”