(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

To Miss Mitford, life in a rural English village was to be desired above any other. To know intimately one’s neighbors and to watch them live out their daily lives were matters of absorbing interest to her. Each house, whether fine mansion or humble cottage, had its own story; and the inhabitants, elegant or simple, provided a drama as moving as any found on the stage.

There was the retired public official who constantly arranged town festivals because his leisure hung so heavily on his hands; the shoemaker whose toil from morning until night contrasted sharply with the idleness of his neighbor. There was the partly finished house that was the plaything of a well-to-do man who lived a mile or so away. He was too wise to tinker with his own fine home continually, and so he expended his architectural energies on this village house by constantly changing and remodeling it.

There was also Lizzy, the darling of the village. She was only three years old, but she reigned over all like a queen. She wheedled candy from the shopkeepers, their toys from the other children, and managed all the adults around her, including her parents and teacher. Her great asset was her love for everyone and her sure knowledge that everyone must love her in return. She was Miss Mitford’s constant companion on her walks through the village and the countryside. These two had another friend. She was Mayflower, a greyhound of wonderful disposition. The child and the dog were a delight to see as they romped together on the common or along the country roads.

Miss Mitford described in her writing, and her friends knew, the village and the countryside during each season of the year. In January, the snow made soft, blurry shapes, pure and white. There was a lovely quietness everywhere; even Mayflower’s big pads made no noise. As they climbed the hill, the shouting of children broke the stillness. Some boys had made a slide and were flying down it with raucous shouts. The most mischievous of the lot was Jack Rapley, for whom the villagers predicted a sad end. He was Miss Mitford’s favorite, however, for he was the best-natured boy of the town.

In March, the first primroses bloomed, and Miss Mitford and Mayflower set out for a brisk walk. They passed the house of the richest man in the community, a good man who enjoyed his prosperity and shared it with the townsfolk. They also passed the poorest house in those parts; but this house was filled with the most love and the happiest children—fourteen of them of all shapes and ages. They also passed Miss Mitford’s old home, a magnificent one lost through her father’s gambling. Once her heart had been heavy at leaving that place, but now her new roots were so firmly established that she could visit the old house without heartache.

On another day, she went hunting violets, but this...

(The entire section is 1167 words.)