“At St. Amand we were every day expecting to hear of the passage of our fleet to England, when we suddenly saw the troops arriving in our neighborhood and passing on in forced marches toward the Rhine. Austria had broken the peace. We hastened at once to Paris, to see the emperor once more before his departure for Germany.”
[Footnote 72: La Reine Hortense en Italie, France, etc., p. 278.]
On the following morning the duchess left Boulogne with her son, in order to wander on with him through the land of her youth and of her memories.
It was a sad and yet heart-stirring pilgrimage; for, although banished and nameless, she was nevertheless in her own country—she still stood on French soil. For sixteen years she had been living in a foreign land, in a land whose language was unknown to her, and whose people she could therefore not understand. Now, on this journey through France, she rejoiced once more in being able to understand the conversation of the people in the streets, and of the peasants in the fields. It was a sensation of mingled bitterness and sweetness to feel that she was not a stranger among this people, and it therefore now afforded her the greatest delight to chat with those she met, and to listen to their naive and artless words.
As soon as she arrived at her hotel in any city or village in which she purposed enjoying a day’s rest, Hortense would walk out into the streets on her son’s arm. On one occasion she stepped into a booth, seated herself, and conversed with the people who came to the store to purchase their daily necessaries; on another occasion, she accosted a child on the street, kissed it, and inquired after its parents; then, again, she would converse with the peasants in the villages about their farms, and the prospects of a plentiful harvest. The naive, strong, and healthy disposition of the people delighted her, and, with the smiling pride of a happy mother, she showed her son this great and beautiful family, this French people, to which they, though banished and cast off, still belonged.
In Chantilly, she showed the prince the palace of Prince Conde. The forests that stood in the neighborhood had once belonged to the queen, or rather they had been a portion of the appendage which the emperor, since the union of Holland and France, had set apart for her second son, Louis Napoleon. Hortense had never been in the vicinity, and could therefore visit the castle without fear of being recognized.
They asked the guide, who had shown them the castle and the garden, who had been the former possessor of the great forests of Chantilly.
“The step-daughter of the Emperor Napoleon, Queen Hortense,” replied the man, with perfect indifference. “The people continued to speak of her here for a long time; it was said that she was wandering about in the country in disguise, but for the last few years nothing has been heard of her, and I do not know what has become of her.”