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 afore now.”
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.”