King Victor and King Charles/1730/II

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Part II.

Enter King Victor, bearing the regalia on a cushion from his apartment. He calls loudly.

D'Ormea!—for patience fails me, treading thus
Among the trains that I have laid,—my knights,
Safe in the hall here—in that anteroom,
My son,—and D'Ormea where? Of this, one touch—
[Laying down the crown.]
This fire-ball to these mute, black, cold trains—then!
Outbreak enough!
[Contemplating it.] To lose all, after all!
This—glancing o'er my house for ages—shaped,
Brave meteor, like the Crown of Cyprus now—
Jerusalem, Spain, England—every change
The braver,—and when I have clutched a prize
My ancestry died wan with watching for,
To lose it!—by a slip—a fault—a trick
Learnt to advantage once, and not unlearnt
When past the use,—"just this once more" (I thought)
"Use it with Spain and Austria happily,
"And then away with trick!"—An oversight
I'd have repaired thrice over, any time
These fifty years, must happen now! There's peace
At length; and I, to make the most of peace,
Ventured my project on our people here,
As needing not their help—which Europe knows,
And means, cold-blooded, to dispose herself
(Apart from plausibilities of war)
To crush the new-made King—who ne'er till now
Feared her. As Duke, I lost each foot of earth
And laughed at her: my name was left, my sword
Left, all was left! But she can take, she knows,
This crown, herself conceded . . .
                                   That's to try,
Kind Europe! My career's not closed as yet!
This boy was ever subject to my will—
Timid and tame—the fitter! D'Orinea, too—
What if the sovereign's also rid of thee,
His prime of parasites?—Yet I delay!
D'Ormea! [As D'Ormea enters, the King seats himself.]
         My son, the Prince—attends he?

He does attend. The crown prepared!—it seems
That you persist in your resolve.

                                  Who's come?
The chancellor and the chamberlain? My knights?

The whole Annunciata.—If, my liege,
Your fortunes had not tottered worse than now . . .

Del Borgo has drawn up the schedules? mine—
My son's too? Excellent! Only, beware
Of the least blunder, or we look but fools.
First, you read the Annulment of the Oaths;
Del Borgo follows . . no, the Prince shall sign;
Then let Del Borgo read the Instrument—
On which, I enter.—

Sire, this may be truth;
You, sire, may do as you affect—may break
Your engine, me, to pieces: try at least
If not a spring remains worth saving! Take
My counsel as I've counselled many times!
What if the Spaniard and the Austrian threat?
There's England, Holland, Venice—which ally
Select you?

Aha! Come, my D'Ormea,—"truth"
Was on your lip a minute since. Allies?
I've broken faith with Venice, Holland, England.
—As who knows if not you?

                          But why with me
Break faith—with one ally, your best, break faith?

When first I stumbled on you, Marquis—('twas
At Mondovi—a little lawyer's clerk . . .)

. . . Therefore your soul's ally!—who brought you through
Your quarrel with the Pope, at pains enough—
Who've simply echoed you in these affairs—
On whom you cannot, therefore, visit these
Affairs' ill fortune—whom you'll trust to guide
You safe (yes, on my soul) in these affairs!

I was about to notice, had you not
Prevented me, that since that great town kept
With its chicane my D'Ormea's satchel stuffed,
And D'Ormea's self sufficiently recluse,
He missed a sight,—my naval armament
When I burnt Toulon. How the skiff exults
Upon the galliot's wave!—rises its height,
O'ertops it even; but the great wave bursts—
And hell-deep in the horrible profound
Buries itself the galliot:—shall the skiff
Think to escape the sea's black trough in turn?
Apply this: you have been my minister
—Next me—above me, possibly;—sad post,
Huge care, abundant lack of peace of mind;
Who would desiderate the eminence?
You gave your soul to get it—you'd yet give
Your soul to keep it, as I mean you shall,
My D'Ormea! What if the wave ebbed with me?
Whereas it cants you to another's crest—
I toss you to my son; ride out your ride!

Ah, you so much despise me then?

                                 You, D'Ormea?
Nowise: and I'll inform you why. A king
Must in his time have many ministers,
And I've been rash enough to part with mine
When I thought proper. Of the tribe, not one
( . . Or wait, did Pianezze? . . ah, just the same!)
Not one of them, ere his remonstrance reached
The length of yours, but has assured me (commonly,
Standing much as you stand,—or nearer, say,
The door to make his exit on his speech)
—I should repent of what I did: now, D'Ormea,
(Be candid—you approached it when I bade you
Prepare the schedules! But you stopped in time)
—You have not so assured me: how should I
Despise you, then?

[Enter Charles.]

[changing his tone] Are you instructed? Do
My order, point by point! About it, sir!

You so despise me? [Aside.] One last stay remains—
The boy's discretion there, [to Charles.] For your sake, Prince,
I pleaded—wholly in your interest—
To save you from this fate!

[Aside.] Must I be told
The Prince was supplicated for—by him?

[to D'Ormea.] Apprise Del Borgo, Spava, and the rest,
Our son attends them; then return.

                                   One word.

[Aside.] A moment's pause and they would drive me hence, I do believe!

[Aside.] Let but the boy be firm!

                                      You disobey?

[to D'Ormeo.] You do not disobey
Me, D'Ormea? Did you promise that or no?

Sir, I am yours—what would you? Yours am I!

When I have said what I shall say, 'tis like
Your face will ne'er again disgust me. Go!
Through you, as through a breast of glass, I see.
And for your conduct, from my youth till now,
Take my contempt! You might have spared me much,
Secured me somewhat, nor so harmed yourself—
That's over now. Go—ne'er to come again!

As son, the father—father as, the son!
My wits! My wits! [Goes.]

[Seated.] And you, what meant you, pray,
By speaking thus to D'Ormea?

                             Let us not
Weary ourselves with D'Ormea! Those few words
Have half unsettled what I came to say.
His presence vexes to my very soul.

One called to manage kingdoms, Charles, needs heart
To bear up under worse annoyances
Than D'Ormea seems—to me, at least.

[Aside.] Ah, good!
He keeps me to the point! Then be it so.
[Aloud.] Last night, Sire, brought me certain papers—these—
To be reported on,—your way of late.
Is it last night's result that you demand?

For God's sake, what has night brought forth? Pronounce
The . . what's your word?—result!

                                  Sire, that had proved,
Quite worthy of your sneers, no doubt:—a few
Lame thoughts, regard for you alone could wring,
Lame as they are, from brains, like mine, believe!
As 'tis, sire, I am spared both toil and sneer.
There are the papers.

                      Well, sir? I suppose
You hardly burned them. Now for your result!

I never should have done great things of course,
But . . oh, my father, had you loved me more . . .

Loved you? [Aside.] Has D'Ormea played me false, I wonder?
[Aloud.] Why, Charles, a king's love is diffused—yourself
May overlook, perchance, your part in it.
Our monarchy is absolutest now
In Europe, or my trouble's thrown away:
I love, my mode, that subjects each and all
May have the power of loving, all and each,
Their mode: I doubt not, many have their sons
To trifle with, talk soft to, all day long—
I have that crown, this chair, and D'Ormea, Charles!

'Tis well I am a subject then, not you.

[Aside.] D'Ormea has told him every thing. [Aloud.] Aha
I apprehend you: when all's said, you take
Your private station to be prized beyond
My own, for instance?

                     —Do and ever did
So take it: 'tis the method you pursue
That grieves . . .

              These words! Let me express, my friend,
Your thought. You penetrate what I supposed
A secret. D'Ormea plies his trade betimes!
I purpose to resign my crown to you.

To me?

       Now—in that chamber.

                            You resign
The crown to me?

                 And time enough, Charles, sure?
Confess with me, at four-and-sixty years
A crown's a load. I covet quiet once
Before I die, and summoned you for that.

'Tis I will speak: you ever hated me,
I bore it,—have insulted me, borne too—
Now you insult yourself, and I remember
What I believed you, what you really are,
And cannot bear it. What! My life has passed
Under your eye, tormented as you know,—
Your whole sagacities, one after one,
At leisure brought to play on me—to prove me
A fool, I thought, and I submitted; now
You'd prove . . . what would you prove me?

                                           This to me?
I hardly know you!

                   Know me? Oh, indeed
You do not! Wait till I complain next time
Of my simplicity!—for here's a sage—
Knows the world well—is not to be deceived—
And his experience, and his Macchiavels,
His D'Ormeas, teach him—what?—that I, this while,
Have envied him his crown! He has not smiled,
I warrant,—has not eaten, drunk, nor slept,
For I was plotting with my Princess yonder!
Who knows what we might do, or might not do?
Go, now—be politic—astound the world!—
That sentry in the antechamber . . nay,
The varlet who disposed this precious trap [Pointing to the crown]
That was to take me—ask them if they think
Their own sons envy them their posts!—Know me!

But you know me, it seems; so learn in brief
My pleasure. This assembly is convened . . .

Tell me, that women put it in your head—
You were not sole contriver of the scheme,
My father!

           Now observe me, sir! I jest
Seldom—on these points, never. Here, I say,
The Knights assemble to see me concede,
And you accept, Sardinia's crown.

'Twere vain to hope to change this—I can end it.
Not that I cease from being yours, when sunk
Into obscurity. I'll die for you,
But not annoy you with my presence—Sire,
Farewell! Farewell!

[Enter D'Ormea.]

[Aside.] Ha, sure he's changed again—
Means not to fall into the cunning trap—
Then, Victor, I shall yet escape you, Victor!

[Suddenly placing the crown upon the head of Charles.]
D'Ormea, your King!
[To Charles.] My son, obey me. Charles,
Your father, clearer-sighted than yourself,
Decides it must be so. 'Faith, this looks real!
My reasons after—reason upon reason
After—but now, obey me! Trust in me!
By this, you save Sardinia, you save me!
Why the boy swoons! [To D'Ormea.] Come this side!

[as Charles turns from him to Victor.] You persist?

Yes—I conceive the gesture's meaning. 'Faith,
He almost seems to hate you—how is that?
Be reassured, my Charles! Is't over now?
Then, Marquis, tell the new King what remains
To do! A moment's work. Del Borgo reads
The Act of Abdication out, you sign it,
Then I sign; after that, come back to me.

Sire, for the last time, pause!

                                Five minutes longer
I am your sovereign, Marquis. Hesitate—
And I'll so turn those minutes to account
That . . . Ay, you recollect me! [Aside.] Could I bring
My foolish mind to undergo the reading
That Act of Abdication!
[As Charles motions D'ormea to precede him.]
                        Thanks, dear Charles!

[Charles and D'Ormea retire.]

A novel feature in the boy,—indeed
Just what I feared he wanted most. Quite right,
This earnest tone—your truth, now, for effect!
It answers every purpose: with that look,
That voice,—I hear him: "I began no treaty,"
(He speaks to Spain,) "Nor ever dreamed of this
"You show me; this I from my soul regret;
"But if my father signed it, bid not me
"Dishonour him—who gave me all, beside."
And, "truth," says Spain, "'twere harsh to visit that
"Upon the Prince." Then come the nobles trooping:
"I grieve at these exactions—I had cut
"This hand off ere impose them; but shall I
"Undo my father's deed?"—And they confer:
"Doubtless he was no party, after all;
"Give the Prince time!"—
                        Ay, give us time—but time!
Only, he must not, when the dark day comes,
Refer our friends to me and frustrate all.
We'll have no child's play, no desponding-fits,
No Charles at each cross turn entreating Victor
To take his crown again. Guard against that!

[Enter D'Ormea.]

Long live King Charles!—
                        No—Charles's counsellor!
Well, is it over, Marquis? Did I jest?

"King Charles!" What then may you be?

                                      Any thing!
A country gentleman that's cured of bustle,
And beats a quick retreat toward Chambery
To hunt and hawk, and leave you noisy folk
To drive your trade without him. I'm Count Remont—
Count Tende—any little place's Count!

Then, Victor, Captain against Catinat,
At Staffarde, where the French beat you; and Duke
At Turin, where you beat the French; King, late,
Of Savoy, Piedmont, Montferrat, Sardinia,
—Now, "any little place's Count"—


Breaker of vows to God, who crowned you first;
Breaker of vows to Man, who kept you since;
Most profligate to me, who outraged God
And Man to serve you, and am made pay crimes
I was but privy to, by passing thus
To your imbecile son—who, well you know,
Must, (when the people here, and nations there,
Clamour for you, the main delinquent, slipt
From King to—Count of any little place)
—Surrender me, all left within his reach,—
I, sir, forgive you: for I see the end—
See you on your return (you will return)
To him you trust in for the moment. . .

Trust in him? (merely a prime-minister
This D'Ormea!) How trust in him?

                                 In his fear—
His love,—but pray discover for yourself
What you are weakest, trusting in!

My D'Ormea, not a shrewder scheme than this
In your repertory? You know old Victor—
Vain, choleric, inconstant, rash—(I've heard
Talkers who little thought the King so close)
Felicitous, now, were't not, to provoke him
To clean forget, one minute afterward,
His solemn act—to call the nobles back
And pray them give again the very power
He has abjured!—for the dear sake of—what?
Vengeance on you! No, D'Ormea: such am I,
Count Tende or Count any thing you please,
—Only, the same that did the things you say,
And, among other things you say not, used
Your finest fibre, meanest muscle,—you
I used, and now, since you will have it so,
Leave to your fate—mere lumber in the midst,
You and your works—Why, what on earth beside
Are you made for, you sort of ministers?

Not left, though, to my fate! Your witless son
Has more wit than to load himself with lumber:
He foils you that way, and I follow you.

Stay with my son—protect the weaker side!

Ay, be tossed to the people like a rag,
And flung by them to Spain and Austria—so
Abolishing the record of your part
In all this perfidy!

                     Prevent, beside,
My own return!

               That's half prevented now!
'Twill go hard but you'll find a wondrous charm
In exile to discredit me. The Alps—
Silk-mills to watch—vines asking vigilance—
Hounds open for the stag—your hawk's a-wing—
Brave days that wait the Louis of the South,
Italy's Janus!

               So, the lawyer's clerk
Won't tell me that I shall repent!

                                   You give me
Full leave to ask if you repent?

Sufficient time's elapsed for that, you judge!

[Shouts inside: "King Charles."]

Do you repent?

[After a slight pause.]
         . . . I've kept them waiting? Yes!
Come in—complete the Abdication, sir!

[They go out. Enter Polyxena.]

A shout? The sycophants are free of Charles!
Oh, is not this like Italy? No fruit
Of his or my distempered fancy, this—
But just an ordinary fact! Beside,
Here they've set forms for such proceedings—Victor
Imprisoned his own mother—he should know,
If any, how a son's to be deprived
Of a son's right. Our duty's palpable.
Ne'er was my husband for the wily king
And the unworthy subjects—be it so!
Come you safe out of them, my Charles! Our life
Grows not the broad and dazzling life, I dreamed
Might prove your lot—for strength was shut in you
None guessed but I—strength which, untrammelled once,
Had little shamed your vaunted ancestry—
Patience and self-devotion, fortitude,
Simplicity and utter truthfulness
—All which, they shout to lose!
                                   So, now my work
Begins—to save him from regret. Save Charles
Regret?—the noble nature! He's not made
Like the Italians: 'tis a German soul.

[Charles enters crowned.]

Oh, where's the King's heir? Gone:—the Crown-prince? Gone—
Where's Savoy? Gone:—Sardinia? Gone'!—But Charles
Is left! And when my Rhine-land bowers arrive,
If he looked almost handsome yester-twilight
As his gray eyes seemed widening into black
Because I praised him, then how will he look?
Farewell, you stripped and whited mulberry-trees
Bound each to each by lazy ropes of vine!
Now I'll teach you my language—I'm not forced
To speak Italian now, Charles?
[She sees the crown.] What is this?
Answer me—who has done this? Answer!

I am King now.

               Oh worst, worst, worst of all!
Tell me—what, Victor? He has made you King?
What's he then? What's to follow this? You, King?

Have I done wrong? Yes—for you were not by!

Tell me from first to last.

                            Hush—a new world
Brightens before me; he is moved away
—The dark form that eclipsed it, he subsides
Into a shape supporting me like you,
And I, alone, tend upward, more and more
Tend upward: I am grown Sardinia's King.

Now stop: was not this Victor, Duke of Savoy
At ten years old?

                  He was.

                          And the Duke spent
Since then, just four-and-fifty years in toil
To be—what?


                  Then why unking himself?

Those years are cause enough.

                              The only cause?

Some new perplexities.

                       Which you can solve,
Although he cannot?

He assures me so.

And this he means shall last—how long?

                                       How long?
Think you I fear the perils I confront?
He's praising me before the people's face—
My people!

Then he's changed—grown kind, the King?
(Where can the trap be?)

                         Heart and soul I pledge!
My father, could I guard the Crown you gained,
Transmit as I received it,—all good else
Would I surrender!

                   Ah, it opens then
Before you—all you dreaded formerly?
You are rejoiced to be a king, my Charles?

So much to dare? The better;—much to dread?
The better. I'll adventure tho' alone.
Triumph or die, there's Victor still to witness
Who dies or triumphs—either way, alone!

Once I had found my share in triumph, Charles,
Or death.

          But you are I! But you I call
To take, Heaven's proxy, vows I tendered Heaven
A moment since. I will deserve the crown!

You will. [Aside.] No doubt it were a glorious thing
For any people, if a heart like his
Ruled over it. I would I saw the trap!

[Enter Victor.]

'Tis he must show me.

                      So the mask falls off
An old man's foolish love at last! Spare thanks—
I know you, and Polyxena I know.
Here's Charles—I am his guest now—does he bid me
Be seated? And my light-haired, blue-eyed child
Must not forget the old man far away
At Chambery, who dozes while she reigns.

Most grateful shall we now be, talking least.
Of gratitude—indeed of any thing
That hinders what yourself must have to say
To Charles.

            Pray speak, Sire!

                              'Faith, not much to say—
Only what shows itself, once in the point
Of sight. You are now the King: you'll comprehend
Much you may oft have wondered at—the shifts,
Dissimulation, willingness I showed.
For what's our post? Here's Savoy and here's Piedmont,
Here's Montferrat—a breadth here, a space there—
To o'ersweep all these, what's one weapon worth?
I often think of how they fought in Greece
(Or Rome, which was it? You're the scholar, Charles!)
You made a front-thrust? But if your shield, too,
Were not adroitly planted—some shrewd knave
Reached you behind; and, him foiled, straight if thong
And handle of that shield were not cast loose,
And you enabled to outstrip the wind,
Fresh foes assailed you, either side; 'scape these,
And reach your place of refuge—e'en then, odds
If the gate opened unless breath enough
Was left in you to make its lord a speech.
Oh, you will see!

                  No: straight on shall I go,
Truth helping; win with it or die with it.

'Faith, Charles, you're not made Europe's fighting-man!
Its barrier-guarder, if you please. You hold,
Not take—consolidate, with envious French
This side, with Austrians that, these territories
I held—ay, and will hold . . . which you shall hold
Despite the couple! But I've surely earned
Exemption from these weary politics,
—The privilege to prattle with my son
And daughter here, tho' Europe waits the while.

Nay, Sire,—at Chambery, away forever,
As soon you'll be, 'tis a farewell we bid you!
Turn these few fleeting moments to account!
'Tis just as though it were a death.


[Aside.] Is the trap there?

                                Ay, call this parting—death!
The sacreder your memory becomes.
If I misrule Sardinia, how bring back
My father? No—that thought shall ever urge me.

I do not mean . . .

[who watches Victor narrowly this while.]
                  Your father does not mean
That you are ruling for your father's sake:
It is your people must concern you wholly
Instead of him. You meant this, Sire? (He drops
My hand!)

That People is now part of me.

About the People! I took certain measures
Some short time since . . Oh, I'm aware you know
But little of my measures—these affect
The nobles—we've resumed some grants, imposed
A tax or two; prepare yourself, in short,
For clamours on that score: mark me: you yield
No jot of what's intrusted you!

                                No jot
You yield!

           My father, when I took the oath,
Although my eye might stray in search of yours,
I heard it, understood it, promised God
What you require. Till from this eminence
He moves me, here I keep, nor shall concede
The meanest of my rights.

[Aside.] The boy's a fool!
—Or rather, I'm a fool: for, what's wrong here?
To-day the sweets of reigning—let to-morrow
Be ready with its bitters.

[Enter D'Ormea.]

                           There's beside
Somewhat to press upon your notice first.

Then why delay it for an instant, Sire?
That Spanish claim, perchance? And, now you speak,
—This morning, my opinion was mature—
Which, boy-like, I was bashful in producing
To one, I ne'er am like to fear, in future!
My thought is formed upon that Spanish claim.

(Betimes, indeed.) Not now, Charles. You require
A host of papers on it—

[coming forward.] Here they are.
[To Charles.] I was the minister and much beside—
Of the late monarch: to say little, him
I served; on you I have, to say e'en less,
No claim. This case contains those papers: with them
I tender you my office.

[hastily.] Keep him, Charles!
There's reason for it—many reasons: you
Distrust him, nor are so far wrong there,—but
He's mixed up in this matter—he'll desire
To quit you, for occasions known to me:
Do not accept those, reasons—have him stay!

[Aside.] His minister thrust on us!

[to D'Ormea.] Sir, believe,
In justice to myself, you do not need
E'en this commending: whatso'er might be
My feelings toward you as a private man,
They quit me in the vast and untried field
Of action. Though I shall, myself, (as late
In your own hearing I engaged to do)
Preside o'er my Sardinia, yet your help
Is necessary. Think the past forgotten,
And serve me now!

                  I did not offer you
My services—would I could serve you, Sire!
As for the Spanish matter . . .

                            But despatch
At least the dead, in my good daughter's phrase,
Before the living! Help to house me safe
Ere you and D'Ormea set the world a-gape!
Here is a paper—will you overlook
What I propose reserving for my needs?
I get as far from you as possible.
There's what I reckon my expenditure.

[reading.] A miserable fifty thousand crowns!

Oh, quite enough for country gentlemen!
Beside the exchequer happens . . . but find out
All that, yourself!

[still reading.] "Count Tende"—what means this?

Me: you were but an infant when I burst
Through the defile of Tende upon France.
Had only my allies kept true to me!
No matter. Tende's then, a name I take
Just as . . ,

         —The Marchioness Sebastian takes
The name of Spigno.

How, sir?

[to D'Ormea.] Fool! All that
Was for my own detailing. [To Charles.] That anon!

[to D'Ormea.] Explain what you have said, sir!

                                                   I supposed
The marriage of the King to her I named,
Profoundly kept a secret these few weeks,
Was not to be one, now he's Count.

[Aside.] With us
The minister—with him the mistress!

[to Victor.] No—
Tell me you have not taken her—that woman
To live with, past recall!

                           And where's the crime . . .

[to Charles.] True, sir, this is a matter past recall,
And past your cognizance. A day before,
And you had been compelled to note this—now
Why note it? The King saved his House from shame:
What the Count does, is no concern of yours.

[after a pause.] The Spanish business, D'Ormea!

                                                    Why, my son,
I took some ill-advised . . . one's age, in fact,
Spoils every thing: though I was overreached,
A younger brain, we'll trust, may extricate
Sardinia readily. To-morrow, D'Ormea,
Inform the King!

[without regarding Victor, and leisurely.]
                 Thus stands the case with Spain:
"When first the Infant Carlos claimed his proper
Succession to the throne of Tuscany . . .

I tell you, that stands over! Let that rest!
There is the policy!

[to D'Ormea.] Thus much I know,
And more—too much: the remedy?

                               Of course!
No glimpse of one—

                   No remedy at all!
It makes the remedy itself—time makes it.

[to Charles.] But if...

[still more hastily.] In fine, I shall take care of that—
And, with another project that I have . . .

[turning on him.] Oh, since Count Tende means to take again
King Victor's crown!—

[throwing herself at Victor's feet.] E'en now retake it, Sire!
Oh, speak! We are your subjects both, once more!
Say it—a word effects it! You meant not,
Nor do mean now, to take it—but you must!
'Tis in you—in your nature—and the shame's
Not half the shame 'twould grow to afterward!


          A word recalls the Knights—
Say it!—What's promising and what's the past?
Say you are still King Victor!

                               Better say
The Count repents, in brief!

[Victor rises.]

                             With such a crime
I have not charged you, Sire!

Charles turns from me!