Her sons were still in Bologna, but it was known that this city must fall into the hands of the Austrians in a few days, and all was lost unless Hortense arrived there before them. She sent a trusty servant to her sons to announce her coming. Then, at nightfall, she herself departed, accompanied by one of her ladies only. She was courageous and resolute, for she knew that the safety of her sons, her only happiness, was at stake.
Her rapidly-driven carriage had soon passed without the city, and she now found herself in a part of the country still occupied by the insurgents. Here all still breathed courage, joyousness, and confidence. The entire population, adorned with cockades and three-colored ribbons, seemed happy and contented, and refused to believe in the danger that threatened.
Festivals were everywhere being held in honor of the revolution and of liberty, and those who spoke of the advancing Austrians and of dangers were ridiculed. Instead of making preparations for their defence, the insurgents folded their hands in contentment, rejoicing over that which they had already attained, and blind to the tide that was rolling down upon them.
In the mean while, the insurgent army was in position near Bologna, and also still occupied the two cities of Terni and Soleta, which they had courageously defended against the papal troops. Every one expected that a decisive battle would soon take place, and every one looked forward to it with a joyous assurance of victory.
Hortense was far from participating in this general confidence. In Foligno, where she had remained to await her sons, she passed several sorrowful days of expectancy and suspense, alarmed by every noise, and ever looking forward with an anxiously-throbbing heart to the moment when her sons should come to her as fugitives, perhaps covered with wounds, perhaps dying, to tell her that all was lost! Her anxiety at last became so great, that she could no longer remain in Foligno; she must be nearer her sons, she must view the dangers that encompassed them, and, if need be, share them. Hortense, therefore, left Foligno, and started for Ancona.
On her arrival at the first station, she saw a man descend from a carriage and approach her. He was unknown to her, and yet she felt a dark foreboding at his approach. The mother’s heart already felt the blow that awaited her.
This man was a messenger from her sons. “Prince Napoleon is ill,” said he.
Hortense remembered that she had heard that a contagious disease was ravaging the vicinity. “Is he indeed ill?” cried she, in dismay.
“Yes; and he earnestly desires to see you, madame!”
“Oh,” exclaimed Hortense, in terror, “if he calls for me, he must be very ill indeed!—Forward, forward, with all possible speed; I must see my son!”