Between war and pandemic, France takes a moment to fantasize.
And it does so thanks to Mathilde, a 13-year-old girl who looked out from the 3rd class deck of the Titanic, the day before the most famous shipwreck in history, to throw a bottle with a letter.
Was it really a message from Mathilde entrusted to the ocean or is it a fake, a joke?
Scholars from all over the world take turns on the find, the chances of it being authentic are growing.
It was 2017 when a Canadian family - two adults and two children - strolling on a beach in the Bay of Fundy, in the southeast, came across the bottle. They opened it. Inside, a sheet yellowed by time. And a letter signed by Mathilde Lefebvre: "I throw this bottle into the sea - it says - we must arrive in New York in a few days. If anyone finds it, notify the Lefebvre family in Liévin". The date is April 13, 1912, the day before the Titanic sank.
Larger and certainly poorer than the family that found the bottle was Mathilde's. Franck, the father, was a miner in Lièven in the north. Very poor, he left in 1910 with one of his sons, Anselme, who was 10, to seek his fortune in America. He found her in the coal mines of Mystic, Iowa, so much so that two years later he had raised the money to pay for the trip to his wife, Marie, and 4 other children. Who perished in the shipwreck and never reached it.
Real message launched for an adventurous pastime by a girl, or a sensational fake? For 4 years, scholars from all over the world, graphologists, historians, university researchers, have been collaborating with the University of Quebec to establish the authenticity of the find. First positive result: the bottle looks really ancient, the manufacture is compatible with that of the early twentieth century, as well as the quality and chemical analysis of the glass, according to the archeology laboratory.
Similar confirmations from the "carbon 14" examination on the cap and on the writing paper. A spectroscope has sifted through the ink: everything seems credibly datable to 1912, even if a skilled forger could have obtained glass, stopper, paper of the time and used a counterfeit ink.
What leaves scholars most puzzled is Mathilde's handwriting, which appears different from the regular italics and the continuous line that was taught in schools at the time. It is a nervous, almost fragmented writing that seems influenced by typography. But some graphologist says, Mathilde could have asked an adult to write the letter for her. Or was she, perhaps, a very gifted girl for her age and with the ability to write quickly and less accurately.
Tragic epilogue of the Lefebvre affair, revealed by Le Parisien: learning of the shipwreck and the existence of two surviving French children, their father, Franck, ran to New York to ask if they were his. But he had entered America under a false name and was immediately repatriated to France.