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. There were two caloriferes, and roaring wood fires (trees) in the chimneys; but even I must allow that the great stone staircase and long corridors were cold: and I couldn't protest when nearly all the members of the household - of all ages - wrapped themselves in woolen shawls and even fur capes at night when the procession mounted the big staircase. I had wanted for a long time to make a Christmas Tree in our lonely little village of St. Quentin, near Louvry, our farm, but I didn't get much support from my French friends and relations. W. was decidedly against it. The people wouldn't understand - had never seen such a thing; it was entirely a foreign importation, and just beginning to be understood in the upper classes of society. One of my friends, Madame Casimir-Perier,[4] who has a beautiful chateau at Pont-sur-Seine (of historic renown - "La Grande Mademoiselle" danced there - "A Pont j'ai fait venir les violons", she says in her memoirs), also disapproved. She gives away a great deal herself, and looks after all her village, but not in that way. She said I had much better spend the money it would cost, on good, sensible, warm clothes, blankets, "bons de pain," etc.; there was no use in giving them ideas of pleasure and refinement they had never had - and couldn't appreciate. Of course it was all perfectly logical and sensible, but I did so want to be unreasonable, and for once give these poor, wretched little children something that would be a delight to them for the whole year - one poor little ray of sunshine in their gray, dull lives.

  [4] Madame Casimir-Perier, widow of the well-known liberal statesman, 
  and mother of the ex-President of the Republic.

We had many discussions in the big drawing-room after dinner, when W. was smoking in the arm-chair and disposed to look at things less sternly than in bright daylight. However, he finally agreed to leave me a free hand, and I told him we should give a warm garment to every child, and to the very old men and women. I knew I should get plenty of help, as the Sisters and Pauline promised me dolls and "dragees." I am sorry he couldn't be here; the presence of the Ambassador would give more eclat to the fete, and I think in his heart he was rather curious as to what we could do, but he was obliged to go back to London for Christmas. His leave was up, and beside, he had various country and shooting engagements where he would certainly enjoy himself and see interesting people. I shall stay over Christmas and start for London about the 29th, so as to be ready to go to Knowsley[5] by the 30th, where we always spend the New Year's Day.

  [5] The Earl of Derby's fine palace near Liverpool.

We started off one morning after breakfast to interview the school-mistress and the Mayor - a most important personage. If you had ever seen St. Quentin you would hardly believe it could possess such an exalted functionary. The village consists of about twelve little, low gray houses, stretching up a steep hill, with a very rough road toward the woods of Borny behind. There are forty inhabitants, a church, and a school-house; but it is a "commune," and not the smallest in France (there is another still smaller somewhere in the South, toward the Alpes Maritimes). I always go and make a visit to the Mayor, who is a very small farmer and keeps the drinking shop[6] of the village. We shake hands and I sit a few minutes in a wooden chair in the one room (I don't take a drink, which is so much gained), and we talk about the wants and general behaviour of the population. The first time I went I was on horseback, so we dismounted and had our little talk. When we got up to go he hurriedly brought out a bench for me to mount from, and was quite bewildered when he saw W. lift me to the saddle from the ground.

  [6] Cabaret.

The church is a pretty, old gray building - standing very high, with the little graveyard on one side, and a grass terrace in front, from which one has the most lovely view down the valley, and over the green slopes to the woods - Borny and Villers-Cotterets on one side, Chezy the other. It is very worn and dilapidated inside, and is never open except on the day of St. Quentin,[7] when the cure of La Ferte-Milon comes over and has a service. The school-house is a nice modern little house, built by W. some years ago. It looks as if it had dropped down by mistake into this very old world little hamlet.

  [7] In August, I think.

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[8] 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.

  [8] La Mere Rogov.

The next day the list of the children was sent according to age and sex - also the old people; and we were very busy settling what we must do in the way of toys. The principal thing was to go to Paris and get all we wanted - toys, "betises", and shiny things for the Tree, etc. Henrietta and I undertook that, and we went off the same day that W. left for London. It was bitterly cold - the ground frozen hard - and we had a long drive, eighteen kilometres through Villers-Cotterets forest - but no snow, only a beautiful white frost - all the trees and bushes covered with rime. It was like driving through a fairy forest. When we had occasional gleams of sunlight every leaf sparkled, and the red berries of the holly stood out beautifully from all the white. The fine old ruins of La Ferte looked splendid rising out of a mass of glistening underwood and long grass. We are very proud of our old chateau-fort, which has withstood well the work of time. It was begun (and never finished) by Louis d'Orleans in 1303, and was never inhabited. Now there is nothing left but the facade and great round towers, but quite enough to show what it might have been. There is also a bas-relief, perfectly well preserved, over the big door, of the Coronation of the Virgin, the kneeling figure quite distinct. On the other side is a great grass place (village green) where the fetes of La Ferte take place, and where all the town dances the days of the "Assemblee." From the bottom of the terrace, at the foot of the low wall, one has a magnificent view over the town and the great forest of Villers-Cotterets stretching away in front, a long blue line on the horizon. In the main street of La Ferte there is a statue of Racine, who was born there. It is in white marble, in the classic draperies of the time, and is also in very good preservation. The baptismal register of Jean Racine is in the archives of La Ferte.

The road all the way to Villers-Cotterets was most animated. It was market-day, and we met every description of vehicle, from the high, old-fashioned tilbury of the well-to-do farmer, to the peasant's cart - sometimes an old woman driving, well wrapped up, her turban on her head, but a knit shawl wound around it, carrying a lot of cheeses to market; sometimes a man with a cow tied behind his cart, and a calf inside. We also crossed Menier's equipage de chasse, horses and dogs being exercised. We talked a few minutes to Hubert, the piqueur, who was in a very bad humor. They had not hunted for some days, and dogs and horses were unruly. The horses were a fine lot, almost all white or light gray. We go sometimes to the meets, and the effect is very good, as the men all wear scarlet coats and the contrast is striking.

We had an exhausting day in Paris, but managed to get pretty nearly everything. The little children were easily disposed of - dolls, drums, wooden horses, etc.; but the bigger boys and girls, who have outgrown toys, are more difficult to suit. However, with knives, paint-boxes, lotos (geographical and historical), for the boys; and handkerchief and work-boxes, morocco bags, etc., we did finally get our fifty objects. There are always extra children cropping up. Shopping was not very easy, as the streets and boulevards were crowded and slippery. We had a fairly good cab, but the time seemed endless. The big bazaars - Hotel de Ville, rue d'Amsterdam, etc. - were the most amusing; really, one could get anything from a five-sou doll to a menagere (the little cooking-stove all the peasant women use in their cottages). There were armies of extras - white-aproned youths, who did their best for us. We explained to one of the superintendents what we wanted, and he gave us a very intelligent boy, who followed us about with an enormous basket, into which everything was put. When we finally became almost distracted with the confusion and the crowd and our list, we asked the boy what he had liked when he was eleven years old at school; and he assured us all boys liked knives and guns.

When we had finished with the boys we had the decorations for the Tree to get, and then to the Bon Marche for yards of flannel, calico, bas de laine, tricots, etc. We had given W. rendezvous at five at Henrietta's. He was going to cross at night. We found him there having his tea. He had seen lots of people; been to the Elysee and had a long interview with the President (Grevy); then to the Quai d'Orsay to get his last instructions from the Minister; and he had still people coming to see him. When we left (our train was before his) he was closeted with one of his friends, a candidate for the Institute, very keen about his vote which W. had promised him, and going over for about the twentieth time the list of the members to see what his chances were. However, I suppose all candidates are exactly alike, and W. says he is sure he was a nuisance to all his friends when he presented himself at the Institute. One or two people were waiting in the dining-room to speak to him, and his servant was distracted over his valise, which wasn't begun then. I promised him I would write him a faithful account of our fete once we had decided our day. We took the five-o'clock train down, and a nice cold drive we had going home. The roads were rather slippery, and the forest black and weird. The trees which had been so beautiful in the morning covered with rime, seemed a massive black wall hemming us in. It is certainly a lonely bit of country, once we had left the lights of Villers-Cotterets behind us, crossed the last railway, and were fairly started in the forest. We didn't meet anything - neither cart, carriage, bucheron, nor pedestrian of any kind.

Henrietta was rather nervous, and she breathed a sigh of relief when we got out on the plains and trotted down the long hill that leads to La Ferte. The chateau lights looked very warm and home-like as we drove in. We gave a detailed account of all we had bought, and as we had brought our lists with us we went to work at once, settling what each child should have. I found a note from the Abbe Marechal, the cure of Laferte-Milon, whom I wanted to consult about our service. He is a very clever, moderate man, a great friend of ours, and I was sure he would help us and arrange a service of some kind for the children. Of course I was rather vague about a Catholic service; a Protestant one I could have arranged myself, with some Christmas carols and a short liturgy, but I had no idea what Christmas meant to Catholic minds. We had asked him to come to breakfast, and we would go over to the village afterward, see the church and what could be done. He was quite pleased at the idea of doing anything for his poor little parish, and he is so fond of children and young people that he was quite as much interested as we were. He knew the church, having held a service there three or four times. We walked over, talking over the ceremony and what we could do. He said he would give a benediction, bring over the Enfant Jesus, and make a small address to the children. The music was rather difficult to arrange, but we finally agreed that we would send a big omnibus to bring over the harmonium from La Ferte, one or two Sisters, two choir children, and three or four of the older girls of the school who could sing, and he would see that they learned two or three canticles.

We agreed to do everything in the way of decoration. He made only one condition: that the people should come to the service. I could answer for all our household and for some of the neighbours - almost all, in fact - as I was sure the novelty of the Christmas Tree would attract them, and they wouldn't mind the church service thrown in.

We went of course to see the Mayor, as the cure was obliged to notify him that he wished to open the church, and also to choose the day. We took Thursday, which is the French holiday; that left us just two days to make our preparations. We told Madame Isidore (the school-mistress) we would come on Wednesday for the church, bringing flowers, candles, etc., and Thursday morning to dress the Tree. The service was fixed for three o'clock - the Tree afterward in the school-room. We found our big ballots[9] from the bazaars and other shops, when we got home, and all the evening we wrote tickets and names (some of them so high-sounding - Ismerie, Aline, Leocadie, etc.), and filled little red and yellow bags, which were very troublesome to make, with "dragees."

  [9] Big packages.

Wednesday we made a fine expedition to the woods - the whole party, the donkey-cart, and one of the keepers to choose the Tree - a most important performance, as we wanted the real pyramid "sapin," tapering off to a fine point at the top. Labbey (keeper) told us his young son and the coachman's son had been all the morning in the woods getting enormous branches of pine, holly, and ivy, which we would find at the church. We came across various old women making up their bundles of fagots and dead wood (they are always allowed to come once a week to pick up the dead wood, under the keeper's surveillance). They were principally from Louvry and St. Quentin, and were staggering along, carrying quite heavy bundles on their poor old bent backs. However, they were very smiling to-day, and I think the burden was lightened by the thought of the morrow. We found a fine tree, which was installed with some difficulty in the donkey-cart; Francis and Alice taking turns driving, perched on the trunk of the tree, and Labbey walking behind, supporting the top branches.

We found the boys at the church, having already begun their decorations - enormous, high pine branches ranged all along the wall, and trails of ivy on the windows. The maids had arrived in the carriage, bringing the new red carpet, vases, candelabras and tall candlesticks, also two splendid wax candles painted and decorated, which Gertrude Schuyler had brought us from Italy; all the flowers the gardener would give them, principally chrysanthemums and Christmas roses. It seems he wasn't at all well disposed; couldn't imagine why "ces dames" wanted to despoil the green-houses "pour ce petit trou de St. Quentin."

We all worked hard for about an hour, and the little church looked quite transformed. The red carpet covered all the worn, dirty places on the altar steps, and the pine branches were so high and so thick that the walls almost disappeared. When the old woman (gardienne) appeared she was speechless with delight! As soon as we had finished there, we adjourned to the school-house, and to our joy snow was falling - quite heavy flakes. Madame Isidore turned all the children into a small room, and we proceeded to set up our Tree. It was a great deal too tall, and if we hadn't been there they would certainly have chopped it off at the top, quite spoiling our beautiful point; but as we insisted, they cut away from the bottom, and it really was the regular pyramid one always wants for a Christmas Tree. We put it in a big green case (which we had obtained with great difficulty from the gardener; it was quite empty, standing in the orangerie, but he was convinced we would never bring it back), moss all around it, and it made a great effect. The "garde de Borny" arrived while we were working, and said he would certainly come to the church in his "tenue de garde"; our two keepers would also be there.

Thursday morning we went early (ten o'clock) to St. Quentin and spent over two hours decorating the Tree, ticketing and arranging all the little garments. Every child in the neighbourhood was hanging around the school-house when we arrived, the entrance being strictly forbidden until after the service, when the Tree would be lighted. I expressed great surprise at seeing the children at the school on a holiday, and there were broad grins as they answered, "Madame Waddington nous a dit de venir." It had snowed all night, and the clouds were low and gray, and looked as if they were still full of snow. The going was extremely difficult; not that the snow was very deep, but there was enough to make the roads very slippery. We had the horses "ferres a glace," and even the donkey had nails on his shoes. The country looked beautiful - the poor little village quite picturesque, snow on all the dark roofs, and the church standing out splendidly from its carpet of snow - the tall pines not quite covered, and always the curtain of forest shutting in the valley.

We left the maids to breakfast with the keeper, and promised to be back at three o'clock punctually. Our coachman, Hubert, generally objects strongly to taking out his horses in bad weather on rough country roads and making three or four trips backward and forward; but to-day he was quite serene. He comes from that part of the neighbourhood and is related to half the village. Our progress was slow, as we stopped a good deal. It was a pretty sight as we got near St. Quentin: the church, brightly lighted, stood out well on the top of the hill against a background of tall trees, the branches just tipped with snow. The bell was ringing, the big doors wide open, sending out a glow of warmth and colour, and the carpet of white untrodden country snow was quite intact, except a little pathway made by the feet of the men who had brought up the harmonium. The red carpet and bright chrysanthemums made a fine effect of colour, and the little "niche" (it could hardly be called a chapel) of the Virgin was quite charming, all dressed with greens and white flowers, our tall Italian candles making a grand show.

The La Ferte contingent had arrived. They had much difficulty in getting the omnibus up to the church, as it was heavy with the harmonium on top; however, everybody got out and walked up the hill, and all went off well. The Abbe was robing, with his two choir children, in the minute sacristy, and the two good Sisters were standing at the gate with all their little flock - about ten girls, I should think. There were people in every direction, of all sizes and ages - some women carrying a baby in their arms and pushing one or two others in a cart, some wretched old people so bent and wrinkled one couldn't imagine how they could crawl from one room to another. A miserable old man bent double, really, leaning on a child and walking with two canes, was pointed out to me as the "pere Colin," who makes the "margottins" (bundles of little dry sticks used for making the fires) for the chateau. However, they were all streaming up the slippery hillside, quite unmindful of cold or fatigue. We walked up, too, and I went first to the school-house to see if our provisions had come. Food was also a vexed question, as tea and buns, which would seem natural to us, were unknown in these parts. After many consultations with the women about us - lessiveuses (washerwomen), keepers' wives, etc. - we decided upon hot wine and brioches. The Mayor undertook to supply the wine and the glasses, and we ordered the brioches from the Hotel du Sauvage at La Ferte; the son of the house is a very good patissier. It is a funny, old-fashioned little hotel, not very clean, but has an excellent cuisine, also a wonderful sign board - a bright red naked savage, with feathers in his hair and a club in his hand - rather like the primitive pictures of North American Indians in our school-books.

Everything was there, and the children just forming the procession to walk to the church. Some of the farmers' wives were also waiting for us at the school-house, so I only had a moment to go into the big class-room to see if the Tree looked all right. It was quite ready, and we agreed that the two big boys with the keeper should begin to light it as soon as the service was over. Madame Isidore (the school-mistress) was rather unhappy about the quantity of people. There were many more than thirty children, but Henrietta and Pauline had made up a bundle of extras, and I was sure there would be enough. She told us people had been on the way since nine in the morning - women and children arriving cold and wet and draggled, but determined to see everything. She showed me one woman from Chezy, the next village (some distance off, as our part of the country is very scantily populated; it is all great farms and forests; one can go miles without seeing a trace of habitation). She had arrived quite early with two children, a boy and a girl of seven and eight, and a small baby in her arms; and when Madame Isidore remonstrated, saying the fete was for her school only, not for the entire country-side, the woman answered that Madame always smiled and spoke so nicely to her when she passed on horseback that she was sure she would want her to come. The French peasants love to be spoken to, always answer civilly, and are interested in the horses, or the donkey, or the children - anything that passes.

We couldn't loiter, as the bell was tolling, the children already at the church, and some one rushed down to say that "M. le Cure attendait ces dames pour commencer son office." There was quite a crowd on the little "place," everybody waiting for us to come in. We let the children troop in first, sitting on benches on one side. In front of the altar there were rows of chairs for the "quality." The Sisters and their girls sat close up to the harmonium, and on a table near, covered with a pretty white linen cloth trimmed with fine old lace (part of the church property), was the Enfant Jesus in his cradle. This was to be a great surprise to me. When it was decided that the Sisters should come to the fete with some of the bigger girls, and bring the Enfant Jesus, they thought there must be a new dress for the "babe," so every child subscribed a sou, and the dress was made by the couturiere of La Ferte. It was a surprise, for the Enfant Jesus was attired in a pink satin garment with the high puffed fashionable sleeves we were all wearing! However, I concealed my feelings, the good Sisters were so naively pleased. I could only hope the children would think the sleeves were wings.

As soon as the party from the chateau was seated, every one crowded in, and there were not seats enough, nor room enough in the little church; so the big doors remained open (it was fairly warm with the lights and the people), and there were nearly as many people outside as in. The three keepers (Garde de Borny and our two) looked very imposing. They are all big men, and their belts and gun-barrels bright and shining. They stood at the doors to keep order. The Mayor, too, was there, in a black coat and white cravat, but he came up to the top of the church and sat in the same row with me. He didn't have on his tricoloured scarf, so I suppose he doesn't possess one.

It was a pretty, simple service. When the cure and his two choir children in their short, white surplices and red petticoats came up the aisle, the choir sang the fine old hymn "Adeste Fideles," the congregation all joining in. We sang, too, the English words ("Oh, come, all ye Faithful"); we didn't know the Latin ones, but hoped nobody would notice. There were one or two prayers and a pretty, short address, talking of the wonderful Christmas night so many years ago, when the bright star guided the shepherds through the cold winter night to the stable where the heavenly babe was born. The children listened most attentively, and as all the boys in the village begin life as shepherds and cow-boys, they were wildly interested. Then there was a benediction, and at the end all the children in procession passed before the Enfant Jesus and kissed his foot. It was pretty to see the little ones standing up on tip-toe to get to the little foot, and the mothers holding up their babes. While this was going on, the choir sang the Noel Breton of Holmes, "Deux anges sont venus ce soir m'apporter de bien belles choses." There was some little delay in getting the children into procession again to go down to the school-house. They had been supernaturally good, but were so impatient to see the Tree that it was difficult to hold them. Henrietta and Pauline hurried on to light the Tree. I waited for the Abbe. He was much pleased with the attendance, and spoke so nicely to all the people.

We found the children all assembled in the small room at the school-house, and as soon as we could get through the crowd we let them come in. The Tree was quite beautiful, all white candles - quantities - shiny ornaments and small toys, dolls, trumpets, drums, and the yellow and red bags of "dragees" hanging on the branches. It went straight up to the ceiling, and quite on top was a big gold star, the manufacture of which had been a source of great tribulation at the chateau. We forgot to get one in Paris, and sent in hot haste on Wednesday to La Ferte for pasteboard and gold paper; but, alas! none of us could draw, and we had no model. I made one or two attempts, with anything but a satisfactory result: all the points were of different lengths and there was nothing but points (more like an octopus than anything else). However, Pauline finally produced a very good one (it really looked like a star), and of course the covering it with gold paper was easy. The creche made a great effect, standing at the bottom of the Tree with a tall candle on each side. All the big toys and clothes were put on a table behind, where we all sat. Then the door was opened; there was a rush at first, but the school-mistress kept strict order. The little ones came first, their eyes round and fixed on the beautiful Tree; then the bigger children, and immediately behind them the "oldest inhabitants" - such a collection of old, bent, wrinkled, crippled creatures - then as many as could get in. There wasn't a sound at first, except some very small babies crowing and choking - then a sort of hum of pleasure.

We had two or three recitations in parts from the older scholars; some songs, and at the end the "compliment," the usual thing - "Madame et chere Bienfaitrice," said by a small thing about five years old, speaking very fast and low, trying to look at me, but turning her head always toward the Tree and being shaken back into her place by Madame Isidore. Then we began the distribution - the clothes first, so as not to despoil the Tree too soon. The children naturally didn't take the slightest interest in warm petticoats or tricots, but their mothers did.

We had the little ones first, Francis giving to the girls and Alice to the boys. Henrietta called the names; Pauline gave the toys to our two, and Madame Isidore called up each child. The faces of the children, when they saw dolls, trumpets, etc., being taken off the Tree and handed to each of them, was a thing to remember. The little girls with their dolls were too sweet, hugging them tight in their little fat arms. One or two of the boys began to blow softly on the trumpets and beat the drums, and were instantly hushed up by the parents; but we said they might make as much noise as they pleased for a few moments, and a fine "vacarme" (row) it was - the heavy boots of the boys contributing well as they moved about after their trains, marbles, etc.

However, the candles were burning low (they only just last an hour) and we thought it was time for cakes and wine. We asked the children if they were pleased, also if each child had garment, toy, and "dragees," and to hold them up. There was a great scamper to the mothers to get the clothes, and then all the arms went up with their precious load.

The school-children passed first into the outer room, where the keepers' wives and our maids were presiding over two great bowls of hot wine (with a great deal of water, naturally) and a large tray filled with brioches. When each child had had a drink and a cake they went out, to make room for the outsiders and old people. Henrietta and Pauline distributed the "extras"; I think there were about twenty in all, counting the babies in arms - also, of course, the girls from La Ferte who had come over with the Sisters to sing. I talked to some of the old people. There was one poor old woman - looked a hundred - still gazing spellbound at the Tree with the candles dying out, and most of the ornaments taken off. As I came up to her she said: "Je suis bien vieille, mais je n'aurais jamais cru voir quelque chose de si beau! Il me semble que le ciel est ouvert" - poor old thing! I am so glad I wasn't sensible, and decided to give them something pretty to look at and think about. There was wine and cakes for all, and then came the closing ceremony.

We (the quality) adjourned to the sitting-room of the school-mistress (where there were red arm-chairs and a piano), who produced a bottle of better wine, and then we "trinqued" (touched glasses) with the Mayor, who thanked us in the name of the commune for the beautiful fete we had made for them. I answered briefly that I was quite happy to see them so happy, and then we all made a rush for wraps and carriages.

The Abbe came back to the chateau to dine, but he couldn't get away until he had seen his Sisters and harmonium packed safely into the big omnibus and started for La Ferte. It looked so pretty all the way home. It was quite dark, and the various groups were struggling down the hill and along the road, their lanterns making a bright spot on the snow; the little childish voices talking, laughing, and little bands running backward and forward, some disappearing at a turn of the road, the lantern getting dimmer, and finally vanishing behind the trees. We went very slowly, as the roads were dreadfully slippery, and had a running escort all the way to the Mill of Bourneville, with an accompaniment of drums and trumpets. The melancholy plains of the Valois were transformed tonight. In every direction we saw little twinkling lights, as the various bands separated and struck off across the fields to some lonely farm or mill. It is a lonely, desolate country - all great stretches of fields and plains, with a far-away blue line of forests. We often drive for miles without meeting a vehicle of any kind, and there are such distances between the little hamlets and isolated farms that one is almost uncomfortable in the absolute solitude. In winter no one is working in the fields and one never hears a sound; a dog's bark is welcome - it means life and movement somewhere.

It is quite the country of the "haute culture," which Cherbuliez wrote about in his famous novel, "La Ferme du Choquart." The farms are often most picturesque - have been "abbayes" and monasteries. The massive round towers, great gate-ways, and arched windows still remain; occasionally, too, parts of a solid wall. There is a fine old ruin - the "Commanderie," near Montigny, one of our poor little villages. It belonged to the Knights Templars, and is most interesting. The chapel walls are still intact, and the beautiful roof and high, narrow windows. It is now, alas! a "poulailler" (chicken-house), and turkeys and chickens are perched on the rafters and great beams that still support the roof. The dwelling-house, too, is most interesting with its thick gray walls, high narrow windows, and steep winding staircase. I was always told there were "donjons" in the cellars, but I never had the courage to go down the dark, damp, slippery staircase.

We were quite glad to get back to our big drawing-room with the fire and the tea-table; for of course the drawback to our entertainment was the stuffiness (not to say bad smell) of the little room. When all the children and grown people got inmost of them with damp clothes and shoes-the odour was something awful. Of course no window could be opened on account of the candles, and the atmosphere was terrible. At the end, when it was complicated with wine and cake and all the little ones' faces smeared with chocolate and "dragees," I really don't know how we stood it.

We had a very cheerful dinner. We complimented the Abbe upon his sermon, which was really very pretty and poetical. He said the children's faces quite inspired him, and beyond, over their heads, through the open door he got a glimpse of the tall pines with their frosted heads, and could almost fancy he saw the beautiful star.

We were all much pleased with our first "Christmas in the Valois."