At Novara, Hortense received the intelligence of the fall of the empire, of the capitulation of Paris, of the entrance of the allies, and of the abdication of Napoleon.
When the courier sent by the Duke of Bassano with this intelligence further informed the Empress Josephine that the island of Elba had been assigned Napoleon as a domicile, and that he was on the point of leaving France to go into exile, Josephine fell, amid tears of anguish, into her daughter’s arms, crying: “Hortense, he is unhappy, and I am not with him! He is banished to Elba! Alas! but for his wife, I would hasten to his side, to share his exile!”
While the empress was weeping and lamenting, Hortense had silently withdrawn to her apartments. She saw and fully appreciated the consequences that must ensue to the emperor’s entire family, from his fall; she already felt the mortifications and insults to which the Bonapartes would now be exposed from all quarters, and she wished to withdraw herself and children from their influence. She formed a quick resolve, and determined to carry it out at once. She caused Mademoiselle de Cochelet, one of the few ladies of her court who had remained faithful, to be called, in order that she might impart to her her resolution.
“Louise,” said she, “I intend to emigrate. I am alone and defenceless, and ever threatened by a misfortune that would be more cruel than the loss of crown and grandeur—the misfortune of seeing my children torn from me by my husband. My mother can remain in France—her divorce has made her free and independent; but I bear a name that will no longer be gladly heard in France, now that the Bourbons are returning. I have no other fortune than my diamonds. These I shall sell, and then go, with my children, to my mother’s estate in Martinique. I lived there when a child, and have retained a pleasant remembrance of the place. It is undoubtedly hard to be compelled to give up country, mother, and friends; but one must face these great strokes of destiny courageously. I will give my children a good education, and that shall be my consolation.”
Mademoiselle de Cochelet burst into tears, kissed the queen’s extended hand, and begged so earnestly that she might be permitted to accompany her, that Hortense at last gave a reluctant consent. It was arranged between them that Louise should hasten to Paris, in order to make the necessary preparations for the queen’s long journey; and she departed on this mission, under the protection of the courier, on the following morning.
How changed and terrible was the aspect Paris presented on her arrival! At the gate through which they entered Cossacks stood on guard; the streets were filled with Russian, Austrian, and Prussian soldiery, at whose side the proud ladies of the Faubourg St. Germain were to be seen walking, in joyous triumph, bestowing upon the vanquishers of France as great a devotion as they could have lavished upon the beloved Bourbons themselves, whose return was expected in a few days.