“Lend me the letter,” replied Louis Philippe; “Perrier shall bring it to me, and, if circumstances permit, I shall be perfectly willing to grant your son’s request; and it will also give me great pleasure to serve you at all times. I know that you have legitimate claims on the government, and that you have appealed to the justice of all former ministries in vain. Write out a statement of all that France owes you, and send it to me alone. I understand business matters, and constitute myself from this time on your charge d’affaires. The Duke of Rovigo,” he continued, “has informed me that the other members of the imperial family have similar claims. It will afford me great pleasure to be of assistance to all of you, and I shall interest myself particularly for the Princess de Montfort.”
[Footnote 65: The king’s own words. See Voyage en Italie, etc., p. 201.]
[Footnote 66: The Princess de Montfort was the wife of Jerome, the sister of the King of Wuertemberg, and a cousin of the Emperor of Russia.]
Hortense had listened to the king, her whole face radiant with delight. The king’s beneficent countenance, his friendly smile, his hearty and cordial manner, dispelled all doubt of his sincerity in Hortense’s mind. She believed in his goodness and in his kindly disposition toward herself; and, in her joyous emotion, she thanked him with words of enthusiasm for his promised benefits, never doubting that it was his intention to keep his word.
“Ah, sire!” she exclaimed, “the entire imperial family is in misfortune, and you will have many wrongs to redress. France owes us all a great deal, and it will be worthy of you to liquidate these debts.”
The king declared his readiness to do every thing. He who was so fond of taking in millions and of speculating, smilingly promised, in the name of France, to disburse millions, and to pay off the old state debt!
The duchess believed him. She believed in his protestations of friendship, and in his blunt sincerity. She allowed him to conduct her to his wife, the queen, and was received by her and Madame Adelaide with the same cordiality the king had shown. Once only in the course of the conversation did Madame Adelaide forget her cordial disposition. She asked the duchess how long she expected to remain in Paris, and when the latter replied that she intended remaining three days longer, Madame exclaimed, in a tone of anxious dismay: “So long! Three days still! And there are so many Englishmen here who have seen your son in Italy, and might recognize you here!”
But Fate itself seemed to delay the departure of the duchess and her son. On returning home from her visit to the Tuileries, she found her son on his bed in a violent fever, and the physician who had been called in declared that he was suffering from inflammation of the throat.
Hortense was to tremble once more for the life of a son, and this son was the last treasure Fate had left her.