The round of festivities with which the people of France endeavored to banish the shadow of impending misfortune, was soon to be abruptly terminated. The thunder of the cannon on the battle-fields of Hanau and Leipsic silenced the dancing-music in the Tuileries; and in the drawing-rooms of Queen Hortense, hitherto devoted to music and literature, the ladies were now busily engaged in picking lint for the wounded who were daily arriving at the hospitals of Paris from the army. The declaration of war of Austria and Russia had aroused France from its haughty sense of invincibility. All felt that a crisis was at hand. All were preparing for the ominous events that were gathering like storm-clouds over France. Each of the faithful hastened to assume the position to which honor and duty called him. And it was in response to such an appeal that Louis Bonaparte now returned from Graetz to Paris; he had heard the ominous tones of the voice that threatened the emperor, and wished to be at his side in the hour of danger.
It was not as the wife, but in the spirit of a Frenchwoman and a queen, that Hortense received the intelligence of her husband’s return. “I am delighted to hear it,” said she; “my husband is a good Frenchman, and he proves it by returning at the moment when all Europe has declared against France. He is a man of honor, and if our characters could not be made to harmonize, it was probably because we both had defects that were irreconcilable.
“I,” added she, with a gentle smile, “I was too proud, I had been spoiled, and was probably too deeply impressed with a sense of my own worth; and this defect is not conducive to pleasant relations with one who is distrustful and low-spirited. But our interests were always the same, and his hastening to France, to enroll himself with all his brother Frenchmen, for the defence of his country, is worthy of the king’s character. It is only by doing thus that we can testify our gratitude for the benefits the people have conferred upon our family.”
[Footnote 23: Cochelet, Memoires sur la reine Hortense, vol. i., p. 167.]
In the first days of January, 1814, the news that the enemy had crossed the boundaries of France, and that the Austrians, Russians, and Prussians, were marching on Paris, created a panic throughout the entire city. For the first time, after so many years of triumph, France trembled for its proud army, and believed in the possibility of defeat.
In the Tuileries, also, gloom and dejection ruled the hour for the first time; and while, when the army had heretofore gone forth, the question had been, “When shall we receive the first intelligence of victory?” there were now only mute, inquiring glances bent on the emperor’s clouded countenance.
On the 24th of January, Napoleon left Paris, in order to repair to the army. The empress, whom he had made regent, giving her a council, consisting of his brothers and the ministers, as a support—the empress had taken leave of him in a flood of tears, and Queen Hortense, who had alone been present on this occasion, had been compelled to remain for some time with the empress, in order to console and encourage her.