She was with Josephine and some other ladies in the drawing-room of the house they occupied at Plombieres. The doors facing the balcony were open, to let in the warm summer air. Hortense was sitting by the window painting a nosegay of wild flowers, that she had gathered with her own hands on the hills of Plombieres. Josephine found the atmosphere of the room too close, and invited some ladies to step out with her upon the balcony. A moment afterward there was heard a deafening crash, followed by piercing shrieks of terror; and when Hortense sprang in desperate fright to the front entrance, she found that the balcony on which her mother and the other ladies had stood had disappeared. Its fastenings had given way, and they had been precipitated with it into the street. Hortense, in the first impulse of her distress and horror, would have sprung down after her beloved mother, and could only be held back with the greatest difficulty. But this time fate had spared the young girl, and refrained from darkening the pure, unclouded heaven of her youth. Her mother escaped with no other injury than the fright, and a slight wound on her arm, while one of the ladies had both legs broken.
Josephine’s time to die had not yet come, for the prophecy of the fortune-teller had not yet been fulfilled. Josephine was, indeed, the wife of a renowned general, but she was not yet “something more than a queen.”
BONAPARTE’S RETURN FROM EGYPT.
Bonaparte had got back from Egypt. His victory at Aboukir had adorned his brows with fresh laurels, and all France hailed the returning conqueror with plaudits of exulting pride. For the first time, Hortense was present at the festivities which the city of Paris dedicated to her step-father; for the first time she saw the homage that men and women, graybeards and children alike, paid to the hero of Italy and Egypt. These festivities and this homage filled her heart with a tremor of alarm, and yet, at the same time, with joyous exultation. In the midst of these triumphs and these ovations which were thus offered to her second father, the young girl recalled the prison in which her mother had once languished, the scaffold upon which the head of her own father had fallen; and frequently when she glanced at the rich gold-embroidered uniform of her brother, she reminded him with a roguish smile of the time when Eugene went in a blue blouse, as a carpenter’s apprentice, through the streets of Paris with a long plank on his shoulder.
These recollections of the first terrible days of her youth kept Hortense from feeling the pride and arrogance of good fortune, preserved to her modest, unassuming tone of mind, prevented her from entertaining any overweening or domineering propensity in her day of prosperity, or from seeming cast down and hopeless when adversity came. She never lulled herself with the idea of good fortune that could not pass away, but her remembrances kept her eyes wide open, and hence, when misfortune came, it did not take her by surprise, but found her armed and ready to confront it.