Mary King Waddington

My first experience of country life in France, about thirty years ago, was in a fine old chateau standing high in pretty, undulating, wooded country close to the forest of Villers-Cotterets, and overlooking the great plains of the Oise - big green fields stretching away to the sky-line, broken occasionally by little clumps of wood, with steeples rising out of the green, marking the villages and hamlets which, at intervals, are scattered over the plains, and in the distance the blue line of the forest. The chateau was a long, perfectly simple, white stone building.

We didn't pay many visits; but sometimes, when the weather was fine and there was no hunting, and W. gone upon an expedition to some outlying village, Mme. A. and I would start off for one of the neighbouring chateaux. We went one day to the chateau de C, where there was a large family party assembled, four generations - the old grandmother, her son and daughter, both married, the daughter's daughter, also married, and her children. It was a pretty drive, about an hour all through the forest.

La Grange was looking its loveliest when I arrived the other day. It was a bright, beautiful October afternoon and the first glimpse of the chateau was most picturesque. It was all the more striking as the run down from Paris was so ugly and commonplace. The suburbs of Paris around the Gare de l'Est - the Plain of St. Denis and all the small villages, with kitchen gardens, rows of green vegetables under glass "cloches" - are anything but interesting. It was not until we got near Grety and alongside of Ferrieres, the big Rothschild place, that we seemed to be in the country.

We had a very cold winter one year - a great deal of snow, which froze as it fell and lay a long time on the hard ground. We woke up one morning in a perfectly still white world. It had snowed heavily during the night, and the house was surrounded by a glistening white carpet which stretched away to the "sapinette" at the top of the lawn without a speck or flaw. There was no trace of path or road, or little low shrubs, and even the branches of the big lime-trees were heavy with snow. It was a bright, beautiful day - blue sky and a not too pale winter sun.

We were very particular about attending all important ceremonies at La Ferte, as we rarely went to church there except on great occasions. We had our service regularly at the chateau every Sunday morning. All the servants, except ours, were Protestants, Swiss generally, and very respectable they looked - all the women in black dresses and white caps - when they assembled in M. A.'s library, sitting on cane chairs near the door.

It had been a cold December, quite recalling Christmas holidays at home - when we used to think Christmas without snow wasn't a real Christmas, and half the pleasure of getting the greens to dress the church was gone, if the children hadn't to walk up to their ankles in untrodden snow across the fields to get the long, trailing branches of ivy and bunches of pine. We were just warm enough in the big chateau.

MAREUIL-SUR-OURCQ, April 20th, 1899.

BAGNOLES DE L'ORNE, July-August.

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