THE DRAWING-KOOM OF THE DUCHESS OF ST. LEU.
While the etiquette and frivolity of the old era were being introduced anew at the Tuileries, and while M. de Blacas was governing in complacent recklessness, time was progressing, notwithstanding his endeavors to turn it backward in his flight.
While, out of the incessant conflict between the old and the new France, a discontented France was being born, Napoleon, the Emperor of Elba, was forming great plans of conquest, and preparing in secret understanding with the faithful, to leave his place of exile and return to France.
He well knew that he could rely on his old army—on the army who loudly cried, “Vive le roi!” and then added, sotto voce, “de Rome, et son petit papa!”
[Footnote 41: Cochelet, Memoires sur la Reine Hortense, vol. iii, p. 121.]
Hortense, the new Duchess of St. Leu, took but little part in all these things. She had, notwithstanding her youth and beauty, in a measure taken leave of the world. She felt herself to be no longer the woman, but only the mother; her sons were the objects of all her tenderness and love, and she lived for them only. In her retirement at St. Leu, her time was devoted to the arts, to reading, and to study; and, after having been thus occupied throughout the day, she passed the evening in her drawing-room, in unrestrained intellectual conversation with her friends.
For she had friends who had remained true, notwithstanding the obscurity into which she had withdrawn herself, and who, although they filled important positions at the new court, had retained their friendship for the solitary dethroned queen.
With these friends the Duchess of St. Leu conversed, in the evening, in her parlor, of the grand and beautiful past, giving themselves up entirely to these recollections, little dreaming that this harmless relaxation could awaken suspicion.
For the Duke of Otranto, who had succeeded in his shrewdness in retaining his position of minister of police, as well under Louis XVIII. as under Napoleon, had his spies everywhere; he knew of all that was said in every parlor of Paris; he knew also that it was the custom, in the parlors of the Duchess of St. Leu, to look from the dark present back at the brilliant past, and to console one’s self for the littleness of the present, with the recollection of the grandeur of departed days! And Fouche, or rather the Duke of Otranto, knew how to utilize everything.
In order to arouse Minister Blacas out of his stupid dream of security, to a realizing sense of the grave events that were taking place, Fouche told him that a conspiracy against the government was being formed in the parlors of the Duchess of St. Leu; that all those who were secret adherents of Bonaparte were in the habit of assembling there, and planning the deliverance of the emperor from Elba. In order, however, on the other hand, to provide against the possibility of Napoleon’s return, the Duke of Otranto hastened to the Duchess of St. Leu, to warn her and conjure her to be on her guard against the spies by whom she was surrounded, as suspicion might be easily excited against her at court.