Gambetta’s need of rest was very great, for he worked at the highest tension, like an engine which is using every pound of steam. Bismarck, whose spies kept him well informed of everything that was happening in Paris, and who had no liking for Gambetta, since the latter always spoke of him as “the Ogre,” once said to a Frenchman named Cheberry:
“He is the only one among you who thinks of revenge, and who is any sort of a menace to Germany. But, fortunately, he won’t last much longer. I am not speaking thoughtlessly. I know from secret reports what sort of a life your great man leads, and I know his habits. Why, his life is a life of continual overwork. He rests neither night nor day. All politicians who have led the same life have died young. To he able to serve one’s country for a long time a statesman must marry an ugly woman, have children like the rest of the world, and a country place or a house to one’s self like any common peasant, where he can go and rest.”
The Iron Chancellor chuckled as he said this, and he was right. And yet Gambetta’s end came not so much through overwork as by an accident.
It may be that the ambition of Mme. Leon stimulated him beyond his powers. However this may be, early in 1882, when he was defeated in Parliament on a question which he considered vital, he immediately resigned and turned his back on public life. His fickle friends soon deserted him. His enemies jeered and hooted the mention of his name.
He had reached the time which with a sort of prophetic instinct he had foreseen nearly ten years before. So he turned to the woman who had been faithful and loving to him; and he turned to her with a feeling of infinite peace.
“You promised me,” he said, “that if ever I was defeated and alone you would marry me. The time is now.”
Then this man, who had exercised the powers of a dictator, who had levied armies and shaken governments, and through whose hands there had passed thousands of millions of francs, sought for a country home. He found for sale a small estate which had once belonged to Balzac, and which is known as Les Jardies. It was in wretched repair; yet the small sum which it cost Gambetta—twelve thousand francs—was practically all that he possessed. Worn and weary as he was, it seemed to him a haven of delightful peace; for here he might live in the quiet country with the still beautiful woman who was soon to become his wife.
It is not known what form of marriage they at last agreed upon. She may have consented to a civil ceremony; or he, being now out of public life, may have felt that he could be married by the Church. The day for their wedding had been set, and Gambetta was already at Les Jardies. But there came a rumor that he had been shot. Still further tidings bore the news that he was dying. Paris, fond as it was of scandals, immediately spread the tale that he had been shot by a jealous woman.