Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1167
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 time she must go alone, for violets had been her mother’s favorite flower and she wanted to think of her beloved mother, now dead, in serenity and quiet. She felt sad when she walked past the parish workhouse and saw the old men working in gloomy silence. She saw bean planters stooping long hours in backbreaking labor. All in all, it was at first a dreary excursion, but her heart was joyful when she finally came upon the violets, whole fields of them. Her heart filled with gratitude for the many blessings she enjoyed.
In April, Mayflower acquired two playmates, puppies who accompanied her and Miss Mitford on their walks. The puppies tried to chase a baby lamb, but the animal lay as if dead until Miss Mitford had cornered the dogs. Then it sprang up and ran off to its mother, leaving the pups yapping and jumping with disappointment. Spring was on the way, and the animals were as frisky as the children who ran and played on the common.
On another day, one of the pups tackled a gander, and the dog came out of the fray wiser but not victorious. Even Mayflower, usually pompous and dignified when with the other dogs, engaged a hedgehog in play, tossing it and teasing it as a cat would a mouse.
In May, flowers bloomed in profusion everywhere and filled the air with a wonderful fragrance. Wobbly legged calves and lambs were on all the farms. Farmers toiled in the fields from morning till night, and the brooks ran full.
Miss Mitford took Lizzy and Mayflower out to the country to see a cowslip-ball. Cuckoos screamed over them as they gathered the flowers. Lizzy ruined most of hers in her eagerness to help, and several times Mayflower upset the baskets of blossoms. After the balls were made and the three had started for the village, a sudden shower sent them scurrying homeward. Thoroughly soaked, they decided the day’s pleasure was worth the wetting. A blazing fire awaiting them at home brought a perfect day to a close.
Each season seemed more lovely than the last. One June day, Miss Mitford and a friend visited a mansion that had fallen into disrepair. Debt had forced the original owners to sell, and the new owner had found the house too costly to maintain. Vines and other foliage had penetrated the crevices and hurried the collapse of the walls. It seemed a convincing example of the power of nature over man. Bees sang in the lime trees, and the odor of honeysuckle and musk roses was everywhere. The loveliness caused the author to compose a sonnet, while her friend sketched the sad beauty of the place with a pencil.
The rest of the summer was cloudy and cold, but in September the sun shone in a cloudless sky. Mayflower rescued a stray dog from his tormentors and forced Miss Mitford to adopt him. He was a part spaniel named Dash, so ugly that he seemed to try to atone for his looks by lavishing love and affection on his new mistress. He was a fine retriever and on their walks found all sorts of treasures that he proudly presented to her. Once they passed the house of Master and Dame Weston. Dame Weston had taken her husband to court for beating her, but the true facts were that she was the one who hit her husband often and whined at him constantly. Shortly after the walk, poor Dash died of his sudden transition from starvation to overfeeding. Miss Mitford was so attached to Dash that she soon named another dog after him.
In the fall, there was nut gathering under the beauty of the brilliant foliage of the whole countryside. Then the leaves were gone. The crisp, cold days, however, were so invigorating that one could not yearn for the lost beauty of autumn. At last, the cycle of the seasons was complete. Soon the snow would fall again.
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