She extended a hand to each of her children, and led them to a sofa, on which she seated herself, taking the youngest, Louis Napoleon, who was scarcely six years old, in her lap, while his elder brother, Napoleon Louis, stood at her side, his curly head resting on Hortense’s shoulder, gazing tenderly into the pale, expressive face of his beautiful mother.
“I am very prettily dressed to-day, am I not, Napoleon?” said Hortense, laying her little hand, that sparkled with diamonds, on the head of her eldest son. “Would you like me less if I were poor, and wore no diamonds, but merely a plain black dress? Would you love me less then?”
“No, maman!” exclaimed the boy, almost angrily, and little Louis Napoleon, who sat in his mother’s lap, repeated in his shrill little voice: “No, maman!”
The queen smiled. “Diamonds and dress do not constitute happiness, and we three would love each other just as much if we had no jewelry, and were poor. But tell me, Napoleon, if you had nothing, and were entirely alone in the world, what would you do for yourself?”
“I would become a soldier,” cried Napoleon, with sparkling eyes, “and I would fight so bravely that I should soon be made an officer.”
“And you, Louis, what would you do to earn your daily bread?”
The little fellow had listened earnestly to his brother’s words, and seemed to be thinking over them still. Perhaps he felt that the knapsack and musket were too heavy for his little shoulders, and that he was, as yet, too weak to become a soldier.
“I,” said he, after a pause, “I would sell bouquets of violets, like the little boy who stands at the gates of the Tuileries, and from whom we buy our flowers every day.”
The ladies and cavaliers, who had listened to this curious conversation in silence, now laughed loudly at this naive reply of the little prince.
“Do not laugh, ladies,” said the queen, earnestly, as she now arose; “it was no jest, but a lesson that I gave my children, who were so dazzled by jewelry. It is the misfortune of princes that they believe that everything is subject to them, that they are made of another stuff than other men, and have no duties to perform. They know nothing of human suffering and want, and do not believe that they can ever be affected by anything of the kind. And this is why they are so astounded, and remain so helpless, when the hand of misfortune does strike them. I wish to preserve my sons from this.”
[Footnote 22: The queen’s own words.]
She then stooped and kissed her boys, who, while she and her brilliant suite were driving to the Tuileries, busied their little heads, considering whether it was easier to earn one’s bread as a soldier, or by selling violets at the gates of the Tuileries, like the little beggar-boy.
THE DAYS OF MISFORTUNE.