Perhaps they had listened to the representations of their father; perhaps they had remained in Florence and were awaiting their mother’s arrival there.
Tormented by fear and hope, Hortense arrived in Florence and drove to the dwelling in which her son Louis Napoleon had resided. Her feet could scarcely bear her up; she hardly found strength to inquire after her son—he was not there!
But he might be with his father, and Hortense now sent there for intelligence of her sons. The messenger returned, alone and dejected: her sons had left the city!
The exultant hymn of liberty had struck on their delighted ear, and they had responded to the call of the revolution.
General Menotti had appealed to them, in the name of Italy, to assist the cause of freedom with their name and with their swords, and they had neither the will nor the courage to disregard this appeal.
A servant, left behind by her younger son, delivered to the duchess a letter from her son Louis Napoleon, a last word of adieu to his beloved mother.
“Your love will understand us,” wrote Louis Napoleon. “We cannot withdraw ourselves from duties that devolve upon us; the name we bear obliges us to listen to the appeal of unhappy nations. I beg you to represent this matter to my sister-in-law as though I had persuaded my brother to accompany me; it grieves him to have concealed from her one action of his life.”
[Footnote 60: La Reine Hortense, p. 78.]
THE DEATH OF PRINCE NAPOLEON.
That which Hortense most dreaded had taken place: the voice of enthusiasm had silenced every other consideration; and the two sons of the Duchess of St. Leu, the nephews of the Emperor Napoleon, now stood at the head of the revolution. From Foligno to Civita Castellano, they organized the defence, and from the cities and villages the young people joyously hurried forth to enroll themselves under their banners, and to obey the Princes Napoleon as their leaders; the crowds which the young princes now led were scarcely armed, but they nevertheless advanced courageously, and were resolved to attempt the capture of Civita Castellano, in order to liberate the state prisoners who had been languishing in its dungeons for eight years.
This was the intelligence brought back by the couriers whom Hortense had dispatched to her sons with letters entreating them to return.
It was too late—they neither would nor could return.
Their father wrung his hands in despair, and conjured his wife, he being confined to his arm-chair by illness and the gout, to do all in her power to tear their sons from the fearful danger that menaced them. For the revolution was lost; all who were cool and collected felt and saw this. But the youth refused to see it; they still continued to flock to the revolutionary banners; they still sang exultant hymns of freedom, and, when their parents endeavored to hold them back, they fled from the parental house secretly, in order to answer the call that resounded on their ear in such divine notes.