From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin CF 62 - November 30, 1870.

From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin 

November 30, 1870

On the 22nd of this month we had a real alarm in Alençon. We were expecting the Prussians the next day and nearly half the population of the town had left. I’d never seen such desolation. Everyone hid their valuables. A gentleman near us hid them so well that he himself couldn’t find them again. It took three people, digging all morning, to find the hiding place!

I wasn’t very afraid. Nothing frightens me anymore. If I’d wanted to flee, I would have gone straight to your house. But my husband would have been very upset all alone, and I would have been very anxious. It was best to stay.

The Prussians went to Bellême (48.5 kilometers from Alençon) and the surrounding villages and made quite a lot of requisitions, but one of them turned into a comedy. As it happens, they took the pig of a poor fellow who defended his beast with unprecedented courage. Had it been his child, he could not have fought harder. When the pig was tied to a horse, the man began to pull the horse’s tail with all his might. He had to be satisfied with this because, to make him let go, the soldier struck it a blow with his saber so that the tail remained in the hand of the farmer!

In leaving Bellême to go to Alençon, they passed by Mamers (25.3 kilometers from Alençon),and then they turned off and went towards Le Mans. There were twenty thousand of them.

I’m very worried about my two little girls. People were saying there was heavy fighting being waged in Le Mans, and there was no way to go get them. The railroad was requisitioned by the troops, and we couldn’t go by road because it was blocked off by the enemy.

Saturday morning I received a letter from my sister telling me not to be alarmed, that the children were safer there than at home because the Prussians would never enter the convents. She said many women in the town had come to ask the nuns to take in their young girls.

But the Prussians didn’t stop in Le Mans. They want to head for Paris. What worried me most was that the authorities had decided that the town should put itself in a state of defense, and they called up the National Guard. They sent some scouts into the forest. My husband went there Saturday morning and had to spend the night, but since there was no more danger they made him relieve his post at night, so he returned around midnight.

I’m worried and upset. However, I don’t have as much reason to be, as do many others, because, in all probability, Louis won’t leave, and my brother is even surer yet of staying. I thank God for that, but it’s still quite possible that they’ll make men between the ages of forty and fifty go. I’m almost expecting it. My husband is not worried about this at all (Louis Martin was then forty-seven years old and the head of the family. Isidore was twenty-nine but his pharmacy had been considered a priority for the townspeople). He would not ask for any preferential treatment and often says that, if he were free, he would soon join the francs-tireurs (name given to bands of armed French civilians created as a guerilla force to monitor the movement of the enemy during the Franco-Prussian War / 1870-1871).

My brother is asking if we would have any money available if he needs it? The time is past when I earned eight to ten thousand francs a year and my husband also made a profit from the watchmakers shop. Now we can’t even get money to live on. No one wants to pay their debts. I truly don’t know what we’ll do if this continues. We haven’t touched the income from Crédit Foncier (a mortgage bank), nor that of the Railroads (still to be expanded), and all the people who owe us money say they can’t pay. We’re supposed to receive seven thousand francs in January from the sale of our houses on the rue des Tisons. I’m still afraid that the woman who has to come up with these funds won’t be able to pay us. We’re counting on this money to help you.

If we could only have the eight thousand francs that are owed us from Paris, but I look upon this sum as lost! Madame D also owes us a thousand francs, and we’ll never get it; she’s destitute. She’s been living in Le Mans for three months. I invited her to come see us, and she replied that she doesn’t have the means to make the journey.


 © Society of St. Paul / Alba House

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