With a glowing countenance and in breathless attention, Louis Napoleon listened to his mother’s narrative. Hortense, lost in her recollections, had not noticed that two other visitors, a lady and a gentleman, were now also on the platform and had listened to a part of her narrative. As the duchess ceased speaking, they approached to tell her with what deep interest they had listened to her narrative of the most glorious period of French history. They were a young married couple from Paris, and had much to relate concerning the parties who were now arrayed against each other in France, and who made the future of the country so uncertain.
In return for Hortense’s so eloquent description of the past, they now told her of a bon mot of the present that was going the rounds of Parisian society. It was there said that the best means of satisfying everybody and all parties would be, to convert France into a republic and to give it three consuls, the Duke of Reichstadt, the Duke of Orleans, and the Duke of Bordeaux. “But,” added they, “it might easily end in the first consul’s driving out the other two, and making himself emperor.”
Hortense found the courage to answer this jest with a smile, but she hastened to leave the place and to get away from the couple, who had perhaps recognized her, and told them of the bon mot with a purpose.
Sadly and silently, mother and son returned to their hotel, which was situated on the sea-side, and commanded a fine view of the surging, foaming waters of the channel and of the lofty column of the empire.
They both stepped out on the balcony. It was a beautiful evening; the setting sun shed its purple rays over the surface of the sea. Murmuring and in melodious tace the foaming waves rolled in upon the beach; on another side, the lofty column, glowing in the light of the setting sun, towered aloft like a pillar of fire, a memorial monument of fire!
Hortense, who for some time had been silently gazing, first at the column, then at the sea, now turned with a sad smile to her son.
“Let us spend an hour with recollections of the past,” said she. “In the presence of this foaming sea and of this proud column, I will show you a picture of the past. Do you wish to see it?”
His gaze fastened on the imperial column, Louis Napoleon silently nodded assent.
Hortense went to her room, and soon returned to the balcony with a book, bound in red velvet. Often, during the quiet days of Arenenberg, the prince had seen her writing in this book, but never had Hortense yielded to his entreaties and permitted him to read any part of her memoirs. Unsolicited it was her intention to unfold before him to-day a brilliant picture; in view of the sad and desolate present, she wished to portray to him the bright and glittering past, perhaps only for the purpose of entertaining him, perhaps in order to console him with the hope that all that is passes away, and that the present would therefore also come to an end, and that which once was, again become reality for him, the heir of the emperor.