From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin CF 129 - January 24, 1875.


From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin

January 24, 1875

… Your letter made me sad. I saw my brother was upset, and that upset me, as well. I know his drug business is not doing as well as he would like. I’m very troubled by this, and yet I can’t help believing that the day of prosperity will come. But in the meantime, he’ll suffer and think he’s working in vain. Oh well, this is the cross he must bear, and it’s heavy, I understand that. Tell him to take heart. My sister is convinced he’ll triumph over all obstacles and, until then, all of us will suffer because I’m carrying a small part of this cross. I would carry more if it would relieve my brother as much, but because of his kind heart, this would probably make his cross heavier.

Since I’ve written you, my dear sister, I’ve had many troubles because of these fake Sisters. As I told you, I became aware of the child’s sad situation about two months ago. I moaned about it and tried to do everything I could to make it better, but I didn’t succeed in calming my anxieties and my scruples. I was constantly haunted by the thought that it was in my power to take her out of that hell, and if I didn’t do it, I would be guilty.

My confessor and my sister had advised me to take action, and, in spite of this, I couldn’t make up my mind to do so. Finally, a situation so convincing presented itself that I immediately wrote to the priest at the parish where these elderly women came from.

After many comings and goings on their part to try and calm me down, and seeing that nothing would make me change my opinion, on Wednesday they began to win over the little one by buying her a lot of cake and lavishing a thousand caresses on her. This poor child, who, the day before, made me beg to free her as soon as possible, immediately changed her feelings. As you’ll see, I had a hard time with this because this was such a strange story.

On Friday, at four o’clock, the priest from Banner went to the mother’s home to tell her what happened. He wasn’t able to do it earlier because he had to travel three leagues (11.7 km) on a country road to find her. Immediately this woman got ready and left during the night. She had to walk ten leagues (38.9 km) to get to the railroad. She traveled all night, and the next day, Saturday, she arrived in Alençon on the two o’clock train. Instead of coming to our house right away, she went to the Sisters’, who insulted her in every way and even struck her. There was a great dispute. As if that were not enough, the woman had lost my address. However, having remembered that it was at number 36, she walked from house to house looking for this number because she no longer remembered the name of the street.

Finally, she arrived in front of my house and told me about the scene that had taken place. I wasn’t expecting such a thing, and I saw myself in a very awkward position. It was night so I went with her to the home of the Police Chief. They told me we couldn’t see him because he was on vacation. What could I do? I was upset. As for the Sisters, they went to the home of the state prosecutor, and they didn’t find him.

I couldn’t eat or sleep. Finally, after a night of insomnia, without having found a way to fall asleep, I got up and began to pray to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Immediately, the idea came to me to write to the Police Commissioner. I lit my lamp and set to work. At eighty-thirty the woman left, and my husband took responsibility for delivering my letter. Right after reading the letter, the Commissioner approached the little girl’s mother, who was waiting for him, and sent a policeman to go get the Sisters. The older one came accompanied by a spinster who lives in the same house, and they both started to slander me, each one more than the other.

The Commissioner told them to go to the Court at one o’clock with the child (and me, of course) because the Prosecutor must be the one to decide the matter. The Public Prosecutor’s office was going to meet because of two prisoners who had escaped during the night. So Louis and I left for the Public Prosecutor’s office. I was very upset! Upon arriving there, they told us to go to the Police Station. Then I saw a very distinguished gentleman approaching whom I took to be the Prosecutor. It was simply the Police Commissioner. Unfortunately I didn’t know this until after the session because I would have been less intimidated.

This gentleman began by declaring to us that he’d come out of pure kindness, and he had very little time to give us. Since she’s a widow, he told the mother that the Board of Guardians would have to decide if she was in a position to take back her little girl, the matter couldn’t be heard as it stands now, she’d given her child voluntarily and couldn’t take her back on a whim, and there was indeed a letter from the priest in Banner, but it meant nothing.

The Sisters prevailed. As for me, I was very sad seeing Armandine at their side with a haughty expression she’d never had before. They’d made her drink before bringing her (I found out afterwards) and, what’s more, she was upset, and that put color in her cheeks.

One of the commissioners present even began to say, “She doesn’t have the expression of a child who doesn’t have enough to eat.” I saw myself at the point of being accused of fraud. They could have bled all four of my limbs, and I don’t think one drop of blood would have come out!

Finally, the famous judge in question had the little one go to another room and interrogated her. When she came out, she didn’t dare raise her eyes to mine. I well suspected what she’d said. The old Sister terribly insulted the mother and me. I wasn’t determined to defend myself, and I couldn’t say a single word.

A few moments later, the so-called Prosecutor came to me and asked me to follow him. I didn’t really know if this was to take me to prison, but finally, I followed him. He said some kind words to me that restored my courage and gave me the strength to explain myself. I asked him what the child had said to him. He answered that she felt very well. I asked him to make her speak in front of me, and he took us both with him to a small office.

“Monsieur,” said the little one, “I’m very well. I don’t want to go with my mama.” I asked her, “For how long have you been very well?” “Madame, since you said everything to the Sisters.” “And before that, how were you?” Then she admitted everything they had done to make her suffer.

The Commissioner, whom I still mistook for the Prosecutor, said to me, “I see that you’re right, but there must be a Board of Guardians because this woman has no certificate, and you don’t know her.”

Finally, I returned to my seat. He said to a policeman, “Go and see if the Public Prosecutor’s Office is meeting again.” A moment later, the policeman returned and said yes. “Wait for me,” the Commissioner said to us, “I’m going to try and finish this right away.”

From that moment on I began to breathe easy, but somebody had to have difficulty breathing, and it was the Sisters’ turn! They wanted to leave. Too bad! We were being guarded by three policemen, and there was no way to escape.

It was then that the oldest one began to reel off a string of abuse, and she had a fiendish expression. She who knew how to play the saint so well had thrown off her mask! I didn’t answer her, nor did the mother of the little one who had been called a rascal, despicable, etc. She listened to everything with unbelievable humility, and I thought, then, of the scene of the Pharisee and the Publican. The old Sister was so irritated with me that she couldn’t control herself anymore, and I don’t know what she would have done to me if she had been able to reach me.

Finally, after fifteen minutes of deliberation, the Commissioner returned, saying, “We’re returning the child to the appropriate person.” Then he said the kindest words to me, as well as to my husband.

The good Sisters took this as an insult to them, and they were angry. He put them in their place with a politeness that reduced them to silence. Then he added in front of those assembled, “Madam, I return this little one under your protection, and since you want very much to take care of her, I will take care of her also. It’s so beautiful to do good!” Finally, I can’t recall much more of what he said to me, he wanted to pay me some compliments. I didn’t know any more if I was dreaming, or if I was awake.

The Sisters were beside themselves and refused to return the child’s clothes. The poor mother asked for her umbrella, which she had left at their house during the fight the day before. They turned her down and insulted her. Everyone there was outraged over this. The Police Commissioner exclaimed, “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen women adopt little orphans to gain public esteem, get alms and, under the guise of charity, then make these little ones suffer.”

As you see, my dear sister, my affair ended perfectly, and, I may say, in a way I never hoped for. On the contrary, in the usual course of events it would have ended in my shame and embarrassment. I was the sole accuser, and the child was on the side of the two unfortunate women.

Yesterday evening the Superior of The Refuge sent for me to ask what had become of the little one. She’d left with her mother, who seemed truly good. But she’s remarried, and the priest in Banner regrets that Armandine didn’t enter The Refuge. I received a letter from him today in which he calls the Sisters despicable hypocrites, and he said he’s going to speak to the mother again so that her daughter comes to The Refuge. Moreover, this woman promised me that if the child didn’t get used to living in her house, she would send her back to me within two weeks. But I’m very afraid she won’t keep her word because she needs this little one for her business. She has a shop and is very successful.

All of this worries me a little. Oh well, if God had His hand in this affair, as I believe He did, He’ll know how to settle everything for the best. This little girl is very sweet, which is why the wicked women had taken her, by promising her mother they would teach her and, later, leave her all they owned. In the meantime, as soon as Armandine moved in with them, they made a true martyr out of her. She had neither respite nor rest. She did everything; she even made their bed, put on their shoes, and dressed them. Then, like a dog, they would throw her a little piece of black bread with cold fat from the beef stew, and this was her food all week.

They’d made her learn to trace pieces of Alençon lace because she had to earn her living, and, in fact, she was earning it while public charity was giving them clothes for the child, which they never let her wear. They didn’t buy her any additional clothes, while I know someone who paid a small sum every year with this purpose in mind. In short, all of this is a disgrace.

They continually beat her over nothing. And to think this innocent creature, after three or four days of good care, wanted to stay with them, and she almost made me appear to be a liar! It seems to me that if it were to happen all over again, I wouldn’t have the courage to handle it.

I’m sure, my dear sister, you’re bored by all these details and that they’re hardly of any interest to you since you don’t know these people. But for me, it’s a memorable event in my life. I’ll never forget it, especially the scene at the Police Station.

It’s time that I end this long epistle, I’ve been writing a good two hours.

© Society of St. Paul / Alba House


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