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From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin CF 64 - January 17, 1871.


From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin

January 17, 1871

My dear sister,

I’m not sure if you know that the Prussians have been in our home since Monday morning, at seven o’clock. They marched in front of the house until one o’clock in the afternoon. There were twenty-five thousand of them. I couldn’t describe our anxieties. Saturday night, the Prefect assembled the National Guard. He wanted them to defend the town. During the night, on his order, they began preparations to blow up the three bridges, but a petition was made to prevent them from continuing. About eleven o’clock in the morning, they were, fortunately, made to stop the work.

All the townspeople are appalled. Our poor soldiers went to fight against the Prussians, who were a league (less than 4 kilometers) from the village. We heard the cannon on three different roads, the Mamers road, the Aunay road and the road to Le Mans, until six o’clock in the evening.

It was pitiful to see our poor soldiers returning, some without feet, others without hands. I saw one with his face covered in blood. In the end, many of them were injured, and all the mobile hospitals were full. We don’t know how many are dead. Among them, there are a number of francs-tireurs.

Does it make sense, when we have so few men to fight against the enemy, to send them to the slaughter like that, against an army like this one we’ve seen with our own eyes?

No one imagined what it would be like. The Prussians have a powerful war machine. It’s very ominous seeing their battalions with black flags and a skull on their helmets. How can it be that everyone does not recognize that this war is a punishment?

Monday, around three o’clock, all the doors were marked with the number of enemy soldiers to be housed. A big sergeant came to ask us to inspect the house. I took him up to the first floor while telling him we have four children. Fortunately for us, he didn’t try to go up to the second floor. Finally, they made us take in nine of them, and we can’t complain. In our part of town, small shopkeepers who have only two apartments are taking in fifteen, twenty, and even twenty-five. Those we have are neither mean nor looters, but they love to eat like I have never seen. They eat everything without bread! This morning they asked for cheese. I bought a big one for them, and they ate a quarter of it without even a mouthful of bread! They swallow mutton stew as if it were soup.

I’m not bothered by them. When they ask me for too much, I tell them that it’s impossible. This morning they brought enough meat to feed thirty people, and we’re in the process of having it cooked for them. We’ve had to let them have the entire first floor and move to the ground floor. If I told you everything, I’d have to write a book.

The town refused to pay the amount they demanded, and we’ve been threatened by reprisals. Finally, the Duke of Mecklembourg was happy with three hundred thousand francs for an enormous amount of material. All the livestock in the surrounding area were taken. Now there’s no more milk anywhere. What will my little Céline do? She drinks a liter a day! And what are the poor mothers who have only small children going to do? Nor is there any meat in the butcher shops. In short, the town is in desolation. Everyone is crying except me.

My husband is sad. He can neither eat nor sleep. I believe he’s going to get sick. I forgot to tell you that, at the beginning, during the bombing of the town, there was a wooden building site and many houses which were burned down. Shrapnel fell even on our street. A projectile smashed a storefront very close to us. We had to go down into the cellar.

But I must stop telling you all these horrors. I’m very afraid, my dear sister, that your town has the same fate. May God protect you from it! It truly makes one shudder. We’ve received no news from Le Mans ((the French were defeated at the Battle of Le Mans between January 10-12, 1871). All the lines are cut, as well as the telegraph.

I thank you a thousand times for the beautiful New Year’s gifts you sent to the children. It’s far too much for such an unfortunate year. Little Céline was filled with wonder by her doll and her box. This was perfect because, for the last four days, she’s been quite sick with red blotches over her entire body and a terrible fever. I didn’t sleep for two nights. I didn’t know what was going to happen to this poor little girl any more. Finally, thank God, she’s doing better, and the blotches appear to be gone.

Marie and Pauline were coloring pictures all day, and they argued quite a bit over your famous box of paints. One would say, “It’s mine.” The other would answer, “It’s mine, too. My aunt said I can use them.” But Pauline, who is so lively, lost the brushes and put on too many colors. To finish it, I collected the box until further notice.

Pauline’s white book is too beautiful. She’s enchanted with it. But will this poor girl use it this year?

I’m very afraid that she’ll not be able to make her First Communion because I don’t know when they’ll be able to return to the Visitation Monastery.

Please, write me as soon as possible. I’m worried about you because of the occupation of the country.

 © Society of St. Paul / Alba House

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