But Hortense had accepted her destiny, and was determined to demean herself as became her own and her mother’s dignity. She endeavored to be a true and sincere friend to the young empress, and fulfil the emperor’s wishes, and to give brilliant entertainments in honor of the King of Rome, in spite of the pain it must cost her. “The emperor wills it, the emperor requires it;” that was sufficient for all who were about him, and it was sufficient for her. Her mother had gone because it was his will, she had remained because it was his will, and she now gave these entertainments for the same reason. But there was an element of sadness and gloom even in these festivities of the carnival of 1813; the presence of so many cripples and invalids recalled the memory of the reverses of the past year. At the balls there was a great scarcity of young men who could dance; incessant wars had made the youth of France old before their time, and had converted vigorous men into cripples.
Her heart filled with dark forebodings, Hortense silently prepared herself against the days of misfortune which she knew must inevitably come. When these days should come, she wished to be ready to meet them with a brave heart and a resolute soul, and she also endeavored to impress on the minds of her two beloved sons the inconstancy of fortune, in order that they might look misfortune boldly in the face. She had no compassion with the tender youth of these boys, who were now eight and six years old; no compassion, because she loved them too well not to strive to prepare them for adversity.
One day the Duchess of Bassano gave a ball in honor of the queen, and Hortense, although low-spirited and indisposed, summoned her resolution to her aid, and arrayed herself for the occasion. Her blond hair, that reached to her feet when unbound, was dressed in the ancient Greek style, and adorned with a wreath of flowers, not natural flowers, however, but consisting of Hortensias in diamonds. Her dress was of pink-crape embroidered with Hortensias in silver. The hem of her dress and its train was encircled with a garland of flowers composed of roses and violets. A bouquet of Hortensias in diamonds glittered on her bosom, and her necklace and bracelets consisted of little diamond Hortensias. In this rich and tasteful attire, a present sent her by the Empress Josephine the day before, Hortense entered the parlor where the ladies and gentlemen of her court awaited her, brilliantly arrayed for the occasion.
The parlor, filled with these ladies glittering with diamonds, and with these cavaliers in their rich, gold-embroidered uniforms, presented a brilliant spectacle. The queen’s two sons, who came running into the room at this moment to bid their “bonne petite maman” adieu, stood still for an instant, dazzled by this magnificence, and then timidly approached the mother who seemed to them a queen from the fairy-realm floating in rosy clouds. The queen divined the thoughts of her boys, whose countenances were for her an open book in which she read every emotion.