The poor young lovers, constantly watched as they were, and as constantly restrained by the rules of an etiquette which was now becoming more and more rigid, had not the consolation accorded to them of exchanging even one last unnoticed pressure of the hand, one last tender vow of eternal fidelity, when they took leave of each other. But they hoped in the future, and looked forward to Duroc’s return, and to the precious recompense that Bonaparte had significantly promised to his friend. That recompense was the hand of Hortense Until then, they had to content themselves with that sole and sweetest solace of all parted lovers, the letters that they interchanged, and which Bourrienne, Bonaparte’s secretary, faithfully and discreetly transmitted.
“Nearly every evening,” relates Bourrienne, in his Memoires, “I played a game of billiards with Mademoiselle Hortense, who was an adept at it. When I said, in a low tone to her, ‘I have a letter,’ the game would cease at once, and she would hasten to her room, whither I followed her, and took the letter to her. Her eyes would instantly fill with tears of emotion and delight, and it was only after a long lapse of time that she would go down to the saloon whither I had preceded her.”
[Footnote 10: Bourrienne, vol. iv., p. 319.]
Hortense, thus busied only with her young lover and her innocent dreams of the future, troubled herself but little concerning what was taking place around her, and did not perceive that others were ready to make her young heart the plaything of domestic and political intrigue.
Bonaparte’s brothers, who were jealous of the sway that the beautiful and fascinating Josephine still exerted over the first consul, as in the first days of their wedded life, were anxious, by separating Hortense from her mother, to deprive Josephine of one of the strongest supports of her influence, and thus, by isolating Josephine, bring themselves nearer to their brother. They well knew the affection which Bonaparte, who was particularly fond of children, entertained for those of his wife, and they also knew that Eugene and Hortense had, one day, not by their entreaties or their tears, but by their mere presence, prevented Josephine and Bonaparte from separating.
This was at the time when the whisperings of his brothers and of Junot had succeeded in making Bonaparte jealous on his return from Egypt.
At that time, Bonaparte had resolved to separate from a woman, against whom, however, his anger was thus fiercely aroused, simply because he was so strongly attached to her; and when Bourrienne implored him, at least, to hear Josephine before condemning her, and to see whether she could not clear herself, or he could not forgive her, he had replied:
“I forgive her? Never! Were I not sure of myself this time, I would tear my heart out and throw it into the fire!” And, as Bonaparte spoke, his voice trembling the while with rage, he clutched his breast with his hand as though he would indeed rend it to pieces. This scene occurred in the evening, but, when Bourrienne came into the office next morning, Bonaparte stepped forward to meet him with a smile on his face, and a little confused.