And perhaps he would have succeeded in relieving Paris had only Bazaine co-operated with him from Metz. But Bazaine would not; he refused to act with the man who had proclaimed a Republic and, he said, betrayed the Emperor. Thus Paris fell.
And it • was then, in the Chamber of the Provisional Government, the Assemblee Nationale, that Gambetta, still protesting against the surrender of Alsace and Lorraine, again saw the lady of the black gloves.
She was sitting there, as beautiful, as mysterious as ever, listening intently to every word. Gambetta watched her, and her presence seemed to inspire his eloquence.
And now that he had found her again, he was determined that she should not escape him - at any rate, until he had penetrated the mystery which surrounded her. At the conclusion of his speech, therefore, he sent her another message, short, but full of meaning. " At last I see you once more," he wrote. " Is it really you ? "
That was all. And the woman smiled as she read it. But still she heeded not the prayer ; indeed, without giving even a sign, she rose, as she had done before, and left the hall. But this time she did not destroy the letter. Instead, she slipped it in her dress. And Gambetta noticed the action.
But his hopes proved false, for months elapsed before again he saw her, momentous, awful months, while anarchy swept through the land. In Paris the Commune raged, and atrocities were perpetrated compared with which the horrors of the siege were nothing. Confusion prevailed everywhere. It was a hideous sight : France murdering herself, and from Versailles the forces of law and order strove bravely to save her. But it
4351 love was no easy task, and lack of unity rendered it a thousandfold more difficult.
The " No Surrender " party, headed by Gambetta, still favoured a continuation of the war. But the other party, headed by M. Thiers, advocated peace at any price. And, of course, M. Thiers was right. But his opponents were strong, and, for a while, civil war seemed imminent. Now to Gambetta anything was better than this. Like a true patriot, therefore, he surrendered his principles, resigned his office, and retired into seclusion, leaving M. Thiers master of the situation.
And he did not. return to Paris till peace had been established. Then he had his reward, for in Paris he met Leonie again.
It was at the house of a friend who had been injured in the hunting-field. He called there one day to make inquiries. His friend's mother was " at home." Would M. Gambetta come in ? the servant asked. Gambetta went in. The salon was full of visitors ; a reception seemed to be in progress. He addressed a few words, therefore, to his hostess, and then looked round the room for some familiar face.
Like one in a dream, Gambetta moved across the room and talked to her. But for a while his conversation was commonplace and nervous. Then he said : " I want to talk to you where we can be alone. May I walk home with you ? "
And he gave her no opportunity to refuse. Together they left the house, and then the man's pent-up passion blazed forth angrily : " Why," he demanded, " did you ignore my letters ? "
Photo, E. Carjat & Co.
Leon Gambetta - the great French statesman, the story of whose strange romance is told in these pages. It was not until after his death that the truth concerning his secret attachment to the beautiful Leonie Leon became known to the world
She ventured no reply. " Did you think I was playing with you ? Do you not know that I love you, that J loved you now for years ? "
But Leonie restrained him. " Stop," she said ; " you know not what you say. 1 am not worthy of you, not worthy of your destiny. You must not speak to me of love." And she held out her hand as though to say " Good-bye."
Gambetta seized it. " You cannot leave me thus," he begged. " You must, you shall listen to me ! "
The woman hesitated. Then she laughed, a bitter laugh.
" Be it as you will," she said. "I will explain some day; I will tell you my sorry story. Then you will understand."
" But when ? May I come and call on you ? "
"No! Never! Never must you come near my house. Let us meet to-morrow morning early, where nobody will see us ! "
And so it was arranged - in the park of Versailles, near the Petit Trianon, at eight o'clock Gambetta arrived first, long before the appointed hour, and tramped the avenues with ill-disguised impatience, waiting, waiting, waiting. It was a glorious morning, still with the stillness of early autumn. But he was heedless to its beauties, deaf to the songs of birds, for he was calling to his love, and his love came not.
A clock struck eight. Still he was alone. Five minutes passed, seven, eight, but then - at last he saw her, hastening towards him, and a supreme happiness filled his heart.
Patiently, therefore, he listened while she stumbled through her miserable story.
Her father, Leonie told him, had died when she was still quite young. He had been a colonel in the Army, a great friend of the Duc d' Orleans, and" a brave man, but at length ugly rumours began to circulate, and in despair, unable to endure a slur upon his honour, he had committed suicide, leaving his child without a penny, a friendless, inexperienced orphan. She had tried to earn her living as a governess, but it had been a cruel struggle. She was too young, too simple, too trusting. And then She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. But there was no need for her to say more. The world is a hard place for lonely girls to live in ; Imperial France had been very hard. Gambetta now understood everything. Sympathy strengthened his love, and he longed to take her in his arms and comfort her.
But she restrained him. " Now go ! " she said. " You cannot marry me. You must have a wife of whom France will be proud. It is your duty. And I, too, have one - to renounce you. Don't make it harder ! "