“And when you press that son to your heart—when you feel that you love him with boundless affection,” said Louis, “you will pardon me for being your husband, and you will cease to hate me, at least, for I will be the father of your darling child.”
Had sufficient time been allotted to these young, pure, and innocent hearts, to comprehend one another, they would have overcome their unhappiness, and love would have sprung up at last from hatred. But the world was pitiless to them; it had no compassion for their youth and their sufferings; with cruel hands it dashed away this tender blossoming of nascent affection, which was beginning to expand in their hearts. Josephine had wedded Hortense to her brother-in-law in order to secure in him an ally in the family, and to keep her daughter by her side; and now that daughter was made the target of insidious attacks and malicious calumnies—now another plan was adopted in order to remove Hortense from the scene. The conspirators had not succeeded in their designs by means of a matrimonial alliance, so they would now try the effect of calumny.
They went about whispering from ear to ear that Bonaparte had married his step-daughter to his brother, simply because he was attached to her himself, and had been jealous of Duroc.
These slanders were carried so far as to hint that the child whose birth Hortense expected was more nearly related to Bonaparte than merely through the fact that his step-daughter was his brother’s wife.
This was an infernal but skilfully-planned calumny; for those who devised it well knew how Bonaparte detested the merest suspicion of such immorality, how strict he was in his own principles, and how repulsive it therefore would be to him to find himself made the object of such infamous slanders.
The conspirators calculated that, in order to terminate these evil rumors, the first consul would send his brother and Hortense away to a distance, and that the fated Josephine, being thus isolated, could also be the more readily removed. Thus Bonaparte, being separated from his guardian angel, would no longer hear her whispering:
“Bonaparte, do not ascend the throne! Be content with the glory of the greatest of mankind! Place no diadem upon thy brows; do not make thyself a king!”
In Paris, as I have said, these shameful calumnies were but very lightly whispered, but abroad they were only the more loudly heard. Bonaparte’s enemies got hold of the scandalous story, and made a weapon of it with which to assail him as a hero.
One morning Bonaparte was reading an English newspaper which had always been hostile to him, and which, as he well knew, was the organ of Count d’Artois, then residing at Hartwell. As he continued to read, a dark shadow stole over his face, and he crumpled the paper in his clinched fist with a sudden and vehement motion. Then as suddenly again his countenance cleared, and a proud smile flitted across it. He had his master of ceremonies summoned to his presence, and bade him issue the necessary invitations for a court ball to be given, on the evening of the next day, at St. Cloud. He then went to Josephine to inform her in person of the projected fete, and to say that he wished her to tell Hortense, who had been ailing for some time, that he particularly desired her to be present.