Village life in England before the time of railroads had a picturesque charm which it has since lost except in remote districts. We learn something about it in Miss Mitford's sketches of "Our Village" and in Miss Edgeworth's "Tales." From such books it is delightful to reconstruct in imagination some of these rural scenes; the wide meadows where the cowslips grow, the brooks running beneath the hawthorns and alders, the lanes winding between hedgerows, the green common where the cricketers play, the low cottages covered to the roof with vines, and the trim gardens gay with pinks and larkspur. These villages are connected with the outside world only by the postcart and chapman. Here modest little girls like Miss Mitford's Hannah and Miss Edgeworth's Simple Susan move about their daily tasks and run on their errands of mercy.

Now Sir Joshua Reynolds was a native of Devonshire, a beautiful English district which all born Devons love with peculiar devotion, as we may see from Charles Kingsley's descriptions in "Water-babies." From time to time in his busy life the painter returned to his home for a breath of country air. On one of these visits he brought back to London with him his young niece Theophila Palmer, whose father had just died. Offy, as she was called, soon became the pet of her bachelor uncle's household, of which she long remained a member. As she flitted about the house the little country-bred girl with her fresh healthy beauty was a constant reminder to the painter of the woods and fields. Perhaps one day as he was looking at her with special pleasure the picture suddenly flashed upon his fancy of Offy in the character of a village maid. The idea developed into the Strawberry Girl, for which Offy sat as model.

A little girl has been sent on an errand along a lonely road leading out of the village. It may be that like little Red Riding Hood in the nursery tale she is carrying some dainties to her grandmother. A basket of strawberries hangs on her arm, and her apron also seems to be filled with something, for it is gathered up in front like a bag, the corners dropping over the arm.

Twilight begins to fall as she comes to a turn of the road overshadowed by a high rock. There are all sorts of queer noises and shadows here, and she steals timidly past the eerie place, peering forward with big eyes.


Yet she is a womanly child, who will not easily be turned back. She feels the importance of her errand, and is worthy of the trust. The simple low-cut gown is that of a village maid. An odd cap, something like a turban, covers her head and adds a trifle to her height and dignity. Her round face and chubby neck would be the envy of the puny city child who knows not the luxury of big porringers of bread and milk. If her hands are rather too delicately moulded for those of a country child we must remember again that Reynolds was painting from his own little niece.

In imagination we follow the little maid about the simple round of her childish pursuits. Every morning she goes demurely to school to fix her thoughts on "button holes and spelling books." Perhaps it is a dame school like that in "Water Babies," with a "shining clean stone floor and curious old prints on the wall and a cuckoo clock in the corner," Here some dozen children sit on benches "gabbling Chris-cross," while a nice old woman in a red petticoat and white cap hears them from the chimney corner.

Our little girl has duties at home as well, and is sometimes seen, a pitcher in one hand and a mop in the other, making the house tidy. She can boil potatoes, shell the beans, feed the hens, and make herself useful in many ways.

On rare occasions she has a holiday in the fields, and then what joy it is in spring and early summer to find the haunts of the wild flowers which grow in such abundance in the English country. Miss Mitford writes of a wonderful field where bloomed in season, "primroses, yellow, purple, and white, violets of either hue, cowslips, oxlips, arums, orchises, wild hyacinths, ground ivy, pansies, strawberries, and heart's ease, covering the sunny open slope under a weeping birch."

A favorite game is making cowslip balls. The tufts of golden flowerets are first nipped off with short stems, until a quantity are gathered. Then the ribbon is held ready and the clusters are nicely balanced across it until a long garland is made, when they are pressed closely together and tied into a sweet golden ball.

When we remember that the little Offy, who was the original Strawberry Girl, was transplanted from her Devonshire home to the great city of London, we are interested to know something of her after life. She grew to be as dear as a daughter to her uncle. In the dreary days when he could not use his eyes she was his reader and amanuensis. The many distinguished guests who enjoyed his hospitality were charmed with her sweet manners. In the course of time she married Richard Lovell Gwatkin, a Cornish gentleman in every way worthy of her. "Her happiness was as great as her uncle could wish. She lived to be ninety, to see her children's children, and, intelligent, cheerful, and affectionate to the last, vividly remembered her happy girlhood under her uncle's roof, and the brilliant society that found a centre there."