Hortense had the strength to suppress her tears, and fasten her eyes on the emperor’s countenance in a firm, determined gaze. His glance again quailed, as the lion recoils from the angry glance of a pure, innocent woman. Hortense had the courage to positively refuse the emperors request.
“How, Hortense!” exclaimed Napoleon with emotion. “You then refuse my request?”
“Sire,” said she, hardly able longer to restrain her tears, “sire, I have not the strength to stab my mother to the heart.”
[Footnote 16: Schelten, vol. ii., p. 45.]
And regardless of etiquette, Hortense turned away and left the emperor’s cabinet, the tears pouring in streams from her eyes.
Napoleon made one other attempt to impart to Josephine, through a third person, the distressing tidings of his determination with regard to herself. He begged Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy, to come to Paris, and on his arrival informed him of his intentions and of his wish. Eugene, like his sister, received this intelligence in silent submissiveness, but like his sister, he refused to impart to his mother, tidings that must destroy her happiness forever.
The emperor had finally to make up his mind to impart the distressing tidings in person.
It was on the 30th of November, 1809. The emperor and empress dined, as usual, at the same table. His gloomy aspect on entering the room made Josephine’s heart quake; she read in his countenance that the fatal hour had come. But she repressed the tears which were rushing to her eyes, and looked entreatingly at her daughter, who sat on the opposite side of the table, a deathly pallor on her countenance.
Not a word was spoken during this gloomy, ominous dinner. The sighs and half-suppressed moaning that escaped Josephine’s heaving breast were quite audible. Without, the wind shrieked and howled dismally, and drove the rain violently against the window-panes; within, an ominous, oppressive silence prevailed. The commotion of Nature contrasted, and yet, at the same time, harmonized strangely with this human silence. Napoleon broke this silence but once, and that was when, in a harsh voice, he asked the lackey, who stood behind him, what time it was. Then all was still as before.
At last Napoleon gave the signal to rise from the table, and coffee was then taken standing. Napoleon drank hastily, and then set the cup down with a trembling hand, making it ring out as it touched the table. With an angry gesture he dismissed the attendants.
“Sire, may Hortense remain?” asked Josephine, almost inaudibly.
“No!” exclaimed the emperor, vehemently. Hortense made a profound obeisance, and, taking leave of her mother with a look of tender compassion, left the room, followed by the rest.
The imperial pair were now alone. And how horrible was this being left alone under the circumstances; how sad the silence in which they sat opposite each other! How strange the glance which the emperor fastened on his wife!