Hortense followed his advice. In the evening twilight, in plain attire, her face concealed by a heavy black veil, she now daily quitted her son’s bedside, and went out into the street for a walk, accompanied by the young Marquis Zappi. No one recognized her, no one greeted her, no one dreamed that the veiled figure that walked so quietly and shyly was she who, as Queen of Holland, had formerly driven through these same streets in gilded coaches, hailed by the joyous shouts of the people.
But, in these wanderings through Paris, Hortense also lived in her memories only. She showed the marquis the dwelling she had once occupied, and which had for her a single happy association: her sons had been born there. With a soft smile she looked up at the proud facade of this building, the windows of which were brilliantly illumined, and in whose parlors some banker or ennobled provision-dealer was now perhaps giving a ball; pointing to these windows with her slender white hand, she said: “I wished to see this house, in order to reproach myself for having been unhappy in it; yes, I then dared to complain even in the midst of so much splendor; I was so far from dreaming of the weight of the misfortune that was one day to come upon me.”
[Footnote 67: The duchess’s own words: see Voyage, etc., p. 225.]
She looked down again and passed on, to seek the houses of several friends, of whom she knew that they had remained faithful; heavily veiled and enveloped in her dark cloak she stood in front of these houses, not daring to acquaint her friends with her presence, contented with the sweet sense of being near them!
When, after having strengthened her heart with the consciousness of being near friends, she passed on through the streets, in which she, the daughter of France, was now unknown, homeless, and forgotten!—no, not forgotten!—as she chanced to glance in at a store she was just passing, she saw in the lighted window her own portrait at the side of that of the emperor.
Overcome by a sweet emotion, Hortense stood still and gazed at these pictures. The laughing, noisy crowd on the sidewalk passed on, heedless of the shrouded woman who stood there before the shop-window, gazing with tearful eyes at her own portrait. “It seems we are still remembered,” whispered she, in a low voice. “Those who wear crowns are not to be envied, and should not lament their loss; but is it possible that the love of the people, to receive which is so sweet, has not yet been wholly withdrawn from us?”
The profound indifference with which France had accepted the exile of the Bonapartes had grieved her deeply. She had only longed for some token of love and fidelity in order that she might go back into exile consoled and strengthened. And now she found it. France proved to her through these portraits that she was not forgotten.