" By my opinions, by my political actions, I wish to secure the supremacy of the people ... to restore and establish the doctrine, rights, vindications, and even the inconsistencies of a thorough democracy

Gambetta was speaking. And the Legislative Assembly was crowded ; not a vacant seat could be seen, for the brilliant young democrat, who suddenly had risen from nothing, and proved himself the greatest orator of the day, was a force to be reckoned with. All Paris flocked to hear him - even in 1869, when the star of Napoleon III. seemed still to be in the ascendant.

Not a sound disturbed the impressive stillness of the House - save the voice of the speaker. The President of the Chamber, the Deputies, the ladies in the galleries, all sat motionless, enthralled by the young orator's eloquent sincerity.

The Black-gloved Woman

And then, with a characteristic wave of the arms, Gambetta finished speaking, and stepped down from the rostrum. ' For a moment there was silence. Then suddenly a whispering and restless impatience filled the House. Women chattered, men rose from their seats and talked audibly with their neighbours. The spell was broken.

One figure alone remained passive, still under the magic influence of the speaker, the figure of a woman, tall, slim, and beautiful.

As he crossed the floor of the House Gambetta glanced at her. This mysterious, black-gloved woman puzzled him. For months past she had always been there while he was speaking, always in the same seat. And her eyes seemed to penetrate his very soul ; he felt their influence, but their message was an enigma to him. In vain he tried to read it.

Who was She ?

Who was she ? Why was she there ? Why did she gaze thus at him, her face expressive neither of approval nor disapproval? He could find no answer to the questions. But then he was ignorant of the ways of women. His had been a life of work, a life of struggle ; he had had no time for social intercourse, and hated society. His friends numbered only a few wild Bohemians whom, during leisure hours,[he bewitched with Republican doctrines at the Cafe Procope. To the world, the man was a mystery. It saw only his strength, not his frailties. In this, perhaps, lay one of the secrets of his success.

And his success was indeed astonishing. Although of very humble Italian parentage, Gambetta found himself, at the age of thirty-three, one of the most prominent figures in the arena of French politics, undoubtedly the man of the moment, hailed by prophets as the statesman of the future. Determination had been his only asset - that and a wonderful sincerity, which his gift of oratory made supremely real.

And in the end it was his sincerity which triumphed. To Gambetta, in fact, France was dearer than life ; he loved the country of his adoption, and in her welfare lay all his ambitions, all his ideals. He committed mistakes, it is true, but still he served France well; and never has any country in any age possessed a more able patriot.

A Well Earned Tribute

Indeed, he made the French Republic. But the lady of the black gloves, Leonie Leon made him. She inspired his greatest achievements ; she became his mentor, his friend, his confidante. And she loved him. What is more, she understood him, and was able on countless occasions to save the great man from himself, to reason with him in the hour of triumph, to encourage him when in despair.

And Gambetta knew how much he owed to her. " Come ! " he wrote, not long before his death. "Our business prospers, and Minerva can be proud. Athens will erect altars to her if Athens, by recovering her former splendour, can recover her virtue, gratitude."

But Athens built no altars. And for this Leonie was glad. She had wished to efface herself entirely; for Gantbetta she lived, for his honour, his glory, his fame - she thought of nothing else. He had become her idol at the very moment when first she saw him. And henceforth she adored him, if only as the brain, the mouth-piece of all her noblest hopes.

But Gambetta knew not this; he knew not why she came to hear him speak. He only knew that she was beautiful, distractingly beautiful, that her features were perfect, and her skin like ivory upon which her hair rippled in great dark waves. And her eyes - they maddened him. What did they say to him ? Why did they look at him - and sometimes, he thought, longingly - a wild, impetuous son of the people ?

The Mystery Deepens

Curiosity grew into a torture ; he could endure it no longer. And so at last - he selected this day perhaps because once she seemed to smile at him - as he stepped from the rostrum at the conclusion of a speech, he moved towards a table, scribbled a note, and asked an official to give it to the lady with the black gloves. Then, trembling, he awaited the result.

She took the note, opened it. Gambetta watched every movement. She read it very slowly, but then, without glancing once towards the writer, tore it into tiny pieces and left the House !

On the next day she was not there, nor on the next, nor the next. Gambetta was disappointed. He realised now that in some mysterious way this unknown woman had become necessary to him, that in her he would find someone to understand him, a friend. And now he had lost her. Nor could he look for her. At present he dared not undertake a quest of love, for France required his services, France standing on the brink of war.

Vigorously he had opposed that war. But the country, trusting in the Emperor's might, heeded not his words, and blindly marched to ruin. Disaster followed disaster ; and, although hostilities began only in the middle of July, before the end of August Napoleon III. and one army had surrendered at- Sedan ; another army, with Bazaine at its head, was locked up in Metz, and the Prussians were marching on Paris !

Forthwith Gambetta threw prejudice to the winds. If France could not emerge victorious from the war, at least she must save her honour ; Paris must never fall into the hands of the enemy. He became at once the heart and soul of the defence. And then, as the German lines closed round the city, seeing that he could do no more within, he escaped in a balloon, and set to work to raise the South of France to arms.