Hortense had firmly made up her mind that, since she had resigned herself to accept the burden of existence, she would strive to render it as agreeable as possible, and not to see any of its hateful and repulsive features, but to turn away from them with a noble and disdainful pride. She had never even referred to the frightful calumnies which her mother had privately made known to her, nor had she deemed any defence or proof of her innocence at all necessary. She felt that there were certain accusations against which to even undertake defence is to admit their possibility, and which, therefore, could only be combated by silence. The slanders that had been flung at her lay in a plane so far beneath her, that they could not rise high enough to reach her, but fell powerless at her feet, whence she did not deem it even worth her while to thrust them.
But Bonaparte continued to feel outraged and wounded by this vile story, and it annoyed him deeply to learn that these rumors were still spread abroad, and that his foes still bestirred themselves to keep him ever on the alert, and, if possible, to dim the lustre of his gloriously-won laurels by the shadow of an infamous crime.
“There are still rumors abroad of a liaison between me and Hortense,” said he one day to Bourrienne. “They have even invented the most repulsive stories concerning her first infant. At the time, I thought that these calumnies were circulated among the public because the latter go earnestly desired that I might have a child to inherit my name. But it is still spoken of, is it not?”
“Yes, general, it is still spoken of; and I confess that I did not believe this calumny would be so long continued.”
“This is really abominable!” exclaimed Bonaparte, his eyes flashing with anger. “You, Bourrienne, you best know what truth there is in it. You have heard and seen all; not the smallest circumstance could escape you. You were her confidant in her love-affair with Duroc. I expect you to clear me of this infamous reproach if you should some day write my history. Posterity shall not associate my name with such infamy. I shall depend on you, Bourrienne, and you will at least admit that you have never believed in this abominable calumny?”
“No, never, general.”
“I shall rely on you, Bourrienne, not only on my own account, but for the sake of poor Hortense. She is, without this, unhappy enough, as is my brother also. I am concerned about this, because I love them both, and because this very circumstance gives color to the reports which idle chatterboxes have circulated regarding my relations to her. Therefore, bear this in mind when you write of me hereafter.”
“I shall do so, general; I shall tell the truth, but, unfortunately, I can not compel the world to believe the truth.”
Bourrienne has, at all events, kept his word, and spoken the truth. With deep indignation he spurns the calumny with which it has been attempted to sully the memory of Bonaparte and Hortense, even down to our time; and, in his anger, he even forgets the elegant and considerate language of the courteous diplomat, which is elsewhere always characteristic of his writings.