“Duchess,” said he breathlessly, “you must depart immediately, without an hour’s delay! I am ordered to inform you of this. Unless the life of your son is to be seriously endangered, you must leave at once!”
Hortense listened to him tranquilly. She almost pitied the king—the government—to whom a weak woman and an invalid youth could cause such fear. How great must this fear be, when it caused them to disregard all the laws of hospitality and of decency! What had she done to justify this fear? She had not addressed herself to the people of France, in order to obtain help and protection for her son—for the nephew of the emperor; cautiously and timidly she had concealed herself from the people, and, far from being disposed to arouse or agitate her country, she had only made herself known to the King of France in order to solicit protection and toleration at his hands.
She was distrusted, in spite of this candor; and her presence, although known to no one, awakened apprehensions in those in authority. Hortense pitied them; not a word of complaint or regret escaped her lips. She sent for her physician at once; and, after informing him that she must necessarily depart for London, she asked him if such a journey would endanger her son’s life. The physician declared that, while he could have desired a few days more of repose, the prince would nevertheless, with proper care and attention, be able to leave on the following day.
“Inform the king that I shall depart to-morrow,” said Hortense; and, while M. de Houdetot was hastening to the king with this welcome intelligence, the duchess was making preparations for the journey, which she began with her son early on the following morning.
In four days they reached Calais, where they found the ship that was to convey them to England in readiness to sail. Hortense was to leave her country once more as a fugitive and exile! She was once more driven out, and condemned to live in a foreign country! Because the French people still refused to forget their emperor, the French kings hated and feared the imperial family. Under the old Bourbons, they had been hated; Louis Philippe, who had attained his crown through the people, felt that it was necessary to flatter the people, and show some consideration for their sympathies. He declared to the people that he entertained the most profound admiration for their great emperor, and yet he issued a decree of banishment against the Bonapartes; he ordered that the Vendome column, with its bronze statue of the emperor, should be adorned, and at the same time his decree banished the daughter and the nephew of the emperor from France, and drove them back into a foreign country.
Hortense went, but she felt, in the pain it caused her, that she was leaving her country—the country in which she had friends whom she had not seen again; the country in which lay her mother’s grave, which she had not dared to visit; and, finally, the grave of her son! She once more left behind her all the remembrances of her youth—all the places she had loved; and her regret and her tears made known how dear these things still were to her; that the banished and homeless one was still powerless to banish the love of country from her heart, and that France was still her home!