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From Mme Martin to Marie and Pauline CF 128 - January 17 , 1875.

 

From Mme Martin to Marie and Pauline

January 17, 1875

My dear little girls,

I received your letters which made me very, very happy.

I see you enjoyed yourselves a lot, much more than I did, because I can tell you that I just went through the most disturbing two weeks of my life. You’re going to ask yourselves, “So what happened that was so distressing?” And perhaps you’re going to find that it’s nothing when I explain to you that it’s about little Armandine V. Since I have nothing new to write you about other than this, I’m going to tell you the whole story.

You know what an unshakable aversion I had to upsetting the good Sisters who are giving lessons to Léonie. It was stronger than I was, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But the Thursday after you left, I learned some things that shook me so much all my scruples vanished.

They had left Armandine without anything to eat from morning until three-thirty in the afternoon. That is to say, at noon they gave her five or six spoonfuls of soup. It’s true they would have dined earlier had it not been for a visitor who’d detained them. Finally, at three-thirty they gave her a tiny piece of bread with a little fat from the cold beef stew while they themselves ate mutton. The little one begged them to at least give her a little piece of cheese, and they called her bold. So she had to content herself with her dry bread, and in such small quantity that she pleaded with them for some more, which they brutally refused. Léonie had forgotten to bring her the afternoon snack I usually prepared for this poor child.

In the evening, while going to pick up Léonie, the maid saw Armandine looking haggard and asked her, “Are you sick?” She replied, “I have a stomach ache; they don’t want to give me anything to eat. They gave me so little that I’m as starved as I was before.”

When they told me this, I was so outraged I didn’t want to take the time to have dinner. I immediately wrote to the priest in Banner, where the little one is from, to question him about Armandine’s mother and if she would consent to come for her daughter and put her in The Refuge.

The next day I sent the little one two slices of bread and jam in a basket she’d forgotten at our house the other day. I had a premonition that everything was going to be exposed that day, so I told Léonie how she had to respond. My predictions came true. Armandine, for fear of being discovered, hid her basket under her apron, even though Léonie had advised her not to do it so she wouldn’t look like she was hiding something. That’s all it took, and the good Sisters wanted to see what she was hiding.

Finally, an hour later, I received a visit from Sister Saint-Louis (one of the women pretending to be a nun). My heart was pounding very strongly, but I’d decided not to show her any consideration, and I was even happy that the situation had presented itself. I told her why I sent bread to this child … and in terms the Sister probably found too strong. However, she wasn’t angry; she was even laughing the entire time. She took my hands…. I offered to provide bread for the little one on the condition that they would let her eat as much as she wanted. She answered, laughing the whole time that she wouldn’t promise that; and then she left, still laughing!

When the maid went to get Léonie, the scene had changed. Sister Saint-Louis was crying and playing the persecuted saint, saying that this was one more pearl in her crown. She said God had suffered a lot more, and she would return good for evil and take care of my daughter with as much love and concern as in the past….

Louise was confused. As for me, I didn’t let myself be taken in because I knew more or less who I was dealing with. My intention was to remove Léonie, but I thought it would be better to send her the next day, which was Saturday, in order to have Armandine come to our house on Sunday. I thought the Sisters wouldn’t dare refuse me this, and I wanted to question her in depth.

Saturday morning I went to The Refuge. Faced with such a deed, the Superior welcomed my request right away. She told me they didn’t have room, but they would make a place for my protégé.

Finally, on Sunday, I had the little one with me, who had been badly beaten because of all this. Then she said to me, “You know, Madame, since you spoke to them, I eat all that I want.” And she told me the foolishness of every kind that Sister Saint-Louis had rattled off against me.

I was committed. That night I wrote a beautiful letter to Sister Saint-Louis, a letter that would have moved the heart of a rock. I assure you, it was nicely phrased! I thanked her for the good care she had given my daughter, but I informed her that, given the present situation, I thought I shouldn’t send her to them anymore. In addition, I’d thoroughly persuaded the little one to go to The Refuge. She was looking forward to it and had promised to give her mother a warm welcome when she comes to get her.

Tuesday a woman who prepared the child’s work – for Armandine worked a little on lace – went to the Sisters’ home. The little one begged her to quickly come find me so that I let her mama know right away to come get her because the Sisters made her very unhappy. The next day I sent Louise and Léonie to thank the nuns and pay them. Sister Saint-Louis was just about to leave to pay me a visit. Louise said to her, “Don’t go, Sister, it’s possible something unpleasant will be said.” She answered, “I want to go there.”

She did, indeed, arrive, with a courtesy I can’t describe. She assured me, while trying to cry, that if I’d thought she was a saint, she wanted to humble herself before me and free me of this notion. She went on like this for a quarter of an hour. I answered, “But, Sister, you use the language of a saint, the saints spoke no better than you do.” Her face glowed because she thought she had won me over with her humility and I was going to throw myself at her feet….

I continued, “So, Sister, do you regret what you made the child endure?” Then her face took on a fierce expression, and she declared that none of my accusations were true. I answered her coolly, without getting angry, that everything I accused her of in my letter was the truth, and she left controlling her rage as well as she could.

Then I received a letter from the priest in Banner who had known these unfortunate people. He told me they had never been nuns, they’d worn the habit without any right to do so, and he’d had them thrown out of his parish. He said he wasn’t surprised by what had taken place and was going to inform Armandine’s mother.

Seeing that she wasn’t able to convince me by her humility, Sister Saint-Louis sent Mademoiselle E to see me on Thursday. Mademoiselle E is a good person taken in by beautiful speeches and who, in spite of all that the child had revealed, didn’t want to believe me. I told her nothing would be able to shake my conviction, and I wouldn’t have gotten so involved without being sure of the facts. Then she told me the little one had confided in her that she was going to leave for The Refuge and that I had written to her mother. This revelation did not make me happy. I was afraid this young woman would take the initiative and prevent me from carrying out my plan.

Finally, from Thursday to Saturday I heard nothing. I was already anxious, and it seemed to me I would see Armandine’s mother at any moment, and then what would happen? I foresaw many difficulties, but I never suspected those that awaited me! About four o’clock in the afternoon I saw a woman come up to one of our windows that was slightly open, and she asked me if number 36 was nearby. I realized right away that she was the little one’s mama. She came in and said to me, “I just left the Sisters’ house. I took hold of my child and wanted to take her with me. As I reached the doorway they opened their window and shouted, ‘Help! A child abductor!’ A crowd gathered, and four sturdy men snatched the little one from my hands while the Sisters were spewing a flood of foolish remarks directed at you, Madame, and at me!”

Faced with this situation, I asked for Mademoiselle X, who knew everything and had offered to act as an intermediary, if necessary. She immediately went to find the Sisters to explain all the trouble they would get into by acting this way. They wanted to hear nothing of it, saying that they would go all the way to the end.

So I saw myself forced to go with your father – I, for the first time in my life – to the Police Station. The Police Chief wasn’t there. They told us that they would not remove a child under these conditions, the matter would not be resolved for a while and, finally, perhaps we could see the Police Chief the next day, but it wasn’t certain.

The poor mother was devastated. She’s a good person who had entrusted her child to the Sisters, persuaded that by doing so, she was ensuring her happiness. The nuns had made her beautiful promises, to the point that Armandine would inherit all that they owned!

“I thought my child was very happy,” she continued, “because she just wrote me that she was the happiest little girl in Alençon.” Your father, hearing this, was outraged by such a deception and exclaimed, “So the other children are like Blessed Labre, who ate the cabbage cores from the garbage!”

While feeling we had done our duty, he regretted, however, the child’s fate that had become known to us. I didn’t sleep that night, that is, I had in total two hours of nightmares. I dreamed I saw the little girl, emaciated, begging me to have pity on her, and across from her, the face of Sister Saint-Louis appeared as a diabolical vision and I woke up with a start.

So I got up early the next morning and wrote to the Police Chief to tell him this woman’s story, who couldn’t remain in Alençon for long because she has a small business. I was insistent that he settle the matter as soon as possible. I even added that she would live on his doorstep until she could see him, quite determined not to leave it in spite of the rain. He didn’t wait long. He received her and said many complimentary things about your father. During this time I was at High Mass. There was a sermon, but I don’t know what they preached about. That’s how much I was absorbed in my thoughts. I’m sure you’re bored with this long epistle. However, my children, all this is an event for me. I believe God permitted this thing to expose these unfortunate people and snatch their prey from them.

If they had succeeded in keeping the little one for a longer time, they would have taken advantage of it by getting everyone to think badly of me. Out of malice, they would say I’d wanted to rob them of their protégé for my own benefit, but the law decided in their favor. They would have believed it, and I truly had a narrow escape! Finally, thank God, I was relieved of this problem, but Léonie is still there, and what to do about it? I believe the more she goes, the more she finds it difficult to learn. I don’t know what’s going to become of all this. However, if after many trials and tribulations I can succeed as I did with little Armandine, I’d be happier than if she’d always given me satisfaction.

I’d wanted to entertain you with little stories about Thérèse, but this will be for another time. She talks continuously about Marie and Pauline who are in Le Mans. Yesterday, little Thérèse fell against the table leg and cracked her forehead down to the bone. The split was a good centimeter wide, and I think it will leave a life-long scar (fortunately the scar disappeared completely). I’m devastated over it.

Your father sends you a kiss, and I do, too.

Your loving mother.

 

© Society of St. Paul / Alba House

 

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