In less than forty-eight hours, people came to regret the worst days of the siege. Without leaders, without direction, the honest men had lost their heads. All the braves who had returned at the time of the armistice had again taken flight. Soon people had to hide or to fly to avoid being incorporated in the battalions of the Commune. Night and day, around the walls, the fusillade rattled, and the artillery thundered.
Again M. Favoral had given up going to his office. What’s the use? Sometimes, with a singular look, he would say to his wife and children,
“This time it is indeed a liquidation. Paris is lost!”
And indeed they thought so, when at the hour of the supreme struggle, among the detonations of the cannon and the explosion of the shells; they felt their house shaking to its very foundations; when in the midst of the night they saw their apartment as brilliantly lighted as at mid-day by the flames which were consuming the Hotel de Ville and the houses around the Place de la Bastille. And, in fact, the rapid action of the troops alone saved Paris from destruction.
But towards the end of the following week, matters had commenced to quiet down; and Gilberte learned the return of Marius.
“At last it has been given to my eyes to contemplate him, and to my arms to press him against my heart!”
It was in these terms that the old Italian master, all vibrating with enthusiasm, and with his most terrible accent, announced to Mlle. Gilberte that he had just seen that famous pupil from whom he expected both glory and fortune.
“But how weak he is still!” he added, “and suffering from his wounds. I hardly recognized him, he has grown so pale and so thin.”
But the girl was listening to him no more. A flood of life filled her heart. This moment made her forget all her troubles and all her anguish.
“And I too,” thought she, “shall see him again to-day.”
And, with the unerring instinct of the woman who loves, she calculated the moment when Marius would appear in Rue St. Gilles. It would probably be about nightfall, like the first time, before leaving; that is, about eight o’clock, for the days just then were about the longest in the year. Now it so happened, that, on that very day and hour, Mlle. Gilberte expected to be alone at home. It was understood that her mother would, after dinner, call on Mme. Desclavettes, who was in bed, half dead of the fright she had had during the last convulsions of the Commune. She would therefore be free and would not need to invent a pretext to go out for a few moments. She could not help, however, but feel that this was a bold and most venturesome step for her to take; and, when her mother went out, she had not yet fully decided what to do. But her bonnet was within reach, and Marius’ letter was in her pocket. She went to sit at the window. The street was solitary and silent as of old. Night was coming; and heavy black clouds floated over Paris. The heat was overpowering: there was not a breath of air.