From Ruelle and its consecrated grave they wandered on to Malmaison. Above all, Hortense wished to show this palace to her son! It was from this place that Napoleon had departed to leave France forever! Here Hortense had had the pleasure of sweetening for him, by her tender sympathy, the moment when all the world had abandoned him—the moment when he fell from the heights of renown into the abyss of misfortune. But, alas! the poor queen was not even to have the satisfaction of showing to her son the palace, sacred to so many memories that had once been her own! The present owner had given strict orders to give admission to the palace only upon presentation of permits that must be obtained of him beforehand, and, as Hortense had none, her entreaties were all in vain.
She was cruelly repelled from the threshold of the palace in which in former days she had been so joyfully received by her devoted friends and servants!
Sorrowfully, her eyes clouded with tears, she turned away and returned to her hotel, leaning on her son’s arm.
In silence she seated herself at his side on the stone bench that stood before the house, and gazed at the palace in which she had spent such happy and momentous days, lost in the recollections of the past!
“It is, perhaps, natural,” she murmured in a low voice, “that absence should cause those, who have the happiness to remain in their homes, to forget us. But, for those who are driven out into foreign lands, the life of the heart stands still, and the past is all to them; to the exiled the present and the future are unimportant. In France every thing has progressed, every thing is changed, I alone am left behind, with my sentiments of unchangeable love and fidelity! Alas! how sorrowful and painful it is to be forgotten! How—”
Suddenly she was interrupted by the tones of a piano, that resounded in her immediate vicinity. Behind the bench on which they were sitting, were the windows of the parlor of the hotel. These windows were open, and each tone of the music within could be heard with the greatest distinctness.
The playing was now interrupted by a female voice, which said: “Sing us a song, my daughter.”
“What shall I sing?” asked another and more youthful voice.
“Sing the beautiful, touching song your brother brought you from Paris yesterday. The song of Delphine Gay, set to music by M. de Beauplan.”
“Ah, you mean the song about Queen Hortense, who comes to Paris as a pilgrim? You are right, mamma, it is a beautiful and touching song, and I will sing it!”
And the young lady struck the keys more forcibly, and began to play the prelude.
Outside on the stone bench sat she who was once Queen Hortense, but was now the poor, solitary pilgrim. Nothing remained to her of the glorious past, but her son, who sat at her side! Hand in hand, both breathless with emotion, both pale and tearful, they listened until the young girl concluded her touching song.