VI. CHRISTMAS IN THE VALOIS
It is a short walk, little more than two kilometres from the gates of the big park, and the day was enchanting - cold and bright; too bright, indeed, for the low, gray clouds of the last days had been promising snow and I wanted it so much for my tree! We were quite a party - Henrietta, Anne, Pauline, Alice and Francis, Bonny the fox-terrier, and a very large and heavy four-wheeled cart, which the children insisted upon taking and which naturally had to be drawn up all the hills by the grown-ups, as it was much too heavy for the little ones. Bonny enjoyed himself madly, making frantic excursions to the woods in search of rabbits, absolutely unheeding call or whistle, and finally emerging dirty and scratched, stopping at all the rabbit holes he met on the way back, and burrowing deep into them until nothing was left but a stumpy little white tail wagging furiously.
We went first to the Mayor, as we were obliged to ask his permission to give our party at the school. Nothing in France can be done without official sanction. I wanted, too, to speak to him about a church service, which I was very anxious to have before the Tree was lighted. I didn't want the children's only idea of Christmas to be cakes and toys; and that was rather difficult to arrange, as the situation is so strained between the clergy and the laiques, particularly the cure and the school-master. I knew I should have no trouble with the school-mistress (the school is so small it is mixed girls and boys from four to twelve - and there is a woman teacher; she is the wife of one of our keepers, and a nice woman) - but I didn't know how the Mayor would feel on the subject. However, he was most amiable; would do anything I wanted. I said I held very much to having the church open and that I would like as many people to come as it would hold. Would he tell all the people in the neighbourhood? I would write to the principal farmers, and I was sure we could make a most interesting fete. He was rather flattered at being consulted; said he would come up with us and open the church. It was absolutely neglected and there was nothing in the way of benches, carpets, etc. I told him I must go first to the school, but I would meet him at the church in half an hour.
The children were already up the hill, tugging the big cart filled with pine cones. The school-mistress was much pleased at the idea of the Christmas Tree; she had never seen one except in pictures, and never thought she would really have one in her school. We settled the day, and she promised to come and help arrange the church. Then we went into the school-room, and it was funny to hear the answer - a roar - of "Oui, Madame Waddington," when I asked her if the children were "good"; so we told them if they continued very good there would be a surprise for them. There are only thirty scholars - rather poor and miserable looking; some of them come from so far, trudge along the high-road in a little band, in all weathers, insufficiently clad - one big boy to-day had on a linen summer jacket. I asked the teacher if he had a tricot underneath. "Mais non, Madame, ou l'aurait-il trouve?" He had a miserable little shirt underneath which may once have been flannel, but which was worn threadbare.
We chose our day and then adjourned to the church, where the Mayor and a nice, red-cheeked, wrinkled old woman who keeps the ornaments, such as they are, of the church were waiting for us. It was certainly bare and neglected, the old church, bits of plaster dropping off walls and ceilings, and the altar and one or two little statues still in good condition; but we saw we could arrange it pretty well with greens, the few flowers, chrysanthemums, Christmas roses, etc., that were still in the green-house, a new red carpet for the altar steps, and of course vases, tall candlesticks, etc. There was one handsome bit of old lace on a white nappe for the altar, and a good dress for the Virgin. We could have the school benches, and the Mayor would lend chairs for the "quality." On the whole we were satisfied, and told W. triumphantly at dinner that the Mayor, so far from making any objection, was pleased as Punch; he had never seen a Christmas Tree either.
 La Mere Rogov.