This heretofore so gentle and passive nature now developed an entirely new energy; this dreamer, this pale, silent brother of the emperor, was now suddenly transformed into a bold, self-reliant man of action, who had fixed his gaze on a noble aim, and was ready to devote all the powers of his being to its attainment. As King of Holland, he desired, above all, to be beloved by his subjects, and to be able to contribute to their welfare and happiness. He studied their language with untiring diligence, and made himself acquainted with their manners and customs, for the purpose of making them his own. He investigated the sources of their wealth and of their wants, and sought to develop the former and relieve the latter. He was restless in his efforts to provide for his country, and to merit the love and confidence which his subjects bestowed on him.
His wife also exerted herself to do justice to her new and glittering position, and to wear worthily the crown which she had so unwillingly accepted. In her drawing-rooms she brought together, at brilliant entertainments, the old aristocracy and the new nobility of Holland, and taught the stiff society of that country the fine, unconstrained tone, and the vivacious intellectual conversation of Parisian society. It was under Hortense’s fostering hand that art and science first made their way into the aristocratic parlors of Holland, giving to their social reunions a higher and nobler importance.
And Hortense was not only the protectress of art and science, but also the mother of the poor, the ministering angel of the unhappy, whose tears she dried, and whose misery she alleviated—and this royal pair, though adored and blessed by their subjects, could not find within their palaces the least reflection of the happiness they so well knew how to confer upon others without its walls. Between these two beings, so gentle and yielding to others, a strange antipathy continued to exist, and not even the birth of a second, and of a third, son could fill up the chasm that separated them.
And this chasm was soon to be broadened by a new blow of destiny. Hortense’s eldest, the adopted son of Napoleon, the presumptive heir to his throne, the child that Napoleon loved so dearly that he often played with him for hours on the terraces of St. Cloud, the child Josephine worshipped, because its existence seemed to assure her own happiness, the child that had awakened the first feeling of motherly bliss in Hortense’s bosom, the child that had often even consoled Louis Bonaparte for the unenjoyable present with bright hopes for the future—the little Napoleon Charles died in the year 1807, of the measles.
This was a terrific blow that struck the parents, and the imperial pair of France with equal force. Napoleon’s eyes filled with tears when this intelligence was brought him, and a cry of horror escaped Josephine’s lips.
“Now I am lost!” she murmured in a low voice; “now my fate is decided. He will put me away.”