King Victor and King Charles/1731/II

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King Victor and King Charles by Robert Browning
1731, Part II


Part II.

Night.D'Ormea seated, folding papers he has been examining.

This at the last effects it: now, King Charles
Or else King Victor—that's a balance: now
For D'Ormea the arch-culprit, either turn
O' the scale,—that's sure enough. A point to solve,
My masters—moralists—whate'er's your style!
When you discover why I push myself
Into a pitfall you'd pass safely by,
Impart to me among the rest! No matter.
Prompt are the righteous ever with their rede
To us the wicked—lesson them this once!
For safe among the wicked are you set,
Old D'Ormea. We lament life's brevity,
Yet quarter e'en the threescore years and ten,
Nor stick to call the quarter roundly "life."
D'Ormea was wicked, say, some twenty years;
A tree so long was stunted; afterward,
What if it grew, continued growing, till
No fellow of the forest equalled it?
'Twas a shrub then—a shrub it still must be:
While forward saplings, at the outset checked,
In virtue of that first sprout keep their style
Amid the forest's green fraternity.
Thus I shoot up—to surely get lopped down,
And bound up for the burning. Now for it!

[Enter Charles and Polyxena with Attendants.]

[rises] Sire, in the due discharge of this my office—
This enforced summons of yourself from Turin,
And the disclosure I am bound to make
To night,—there must already be, I feel,
So much that wounds . . .

                      Well, sir?

                                —That I, perchance,
May utter, also, what, another time,
Would irk much,—it may prove less irksome now.

What would you utter?

                      That I from my soul
Grieve at to-night's event: for you I grieve—
E'en grieve for . . .

                 Tush, another time for talk!
My kingdom is in imminent danger?

The Count communicate with France—its King,
His grandson, will have Fleury's aid for this,
Though for no other war.

                         First for the levies:
What forces can I muster presently?

[D'Ormea delivers papers which Charles inspects.]

Good—very good. Montorio . . how is this?
—Equips me double the old complement Of soldiers?

Since his land has been relieved
From double impost, this he manages:
But under the late monarch . . .

                           Peace. I know.
Count Spava has omitted mentioning
What proxy is to head these troops of his.

Count Spava means to head his troops himself.
Something's to fight for now; "whereas," says he,
"Under the Sovereign's father"...

                                It would seem
That all my people love me.

[To Polyxena while Charles continues to inspect the papers.]
                                 A temper
Like Victor's may avail to keep a state;
He terrifies men and they fall, not off;
Good to restrain; best, if restraint were all:
But, with the silent circle round him, ends
Such sway. Our King's begins precisely there.
For to suggest, impel, and set at work,
Is quite another function. Men may slight,
In time of peace, the King who brought them peace:
In war,—his voice, his eyes, help more than fear.
They love you, Sire!

[to Attendants.] Bring the Regalia forth.
Quit the room. And now, Marquis, answer me—
Why should the King of France invade my realm?

Why? Did I not acquaint your Majesty
An hour ago?

             I choose to hear again
What then I heard.

                   Because, Sire, as I said,
Your father is resolved to have the crown
At any risk; and, as I judge, calls in
These foreigners to aid him.

                             And your reason
For saying this?

[Aside.] Ay, just his father's way!
[To Charles.]
The Count wrote yesterday to your Forces' Chief,
Rhebinder,—made demand of help—

                                To try
Rhebinder—he's of alien blood: aught else?

Receiving a refusal,—some hours after,
The Count called on Del Borgo to deliver
The Act of Abdication: he refusing,
Or hesitating, rather—

                       What ensued?

At midnight, only two hours since, at Turin,
He rode in person to the citadel
With one attendant, to the Soccorso gate,
And bade the governor, San Remi, open—
Admit him.

           For a purpose I divine,
These three were faithful, then?

                                 They told it me:
And I—

       Most faithfully—

                       Tell it you—with this,
Moreover, of my own: if, an hour hence,
You have not interposed, the Count will be
Upon his road to France for succour.

You do your duty, now, to me your monarch
Fully, I warrant?—have, that is your project
For saving both of us disgrace, past doubt?

I have my counsel,—and the only one.
A month since, I besought you to employ
Restraints which had prevented many a pang:
But now the harsher course must be pursued.
These papers, made for the emergency,
Will pain you to subscribe: this is a list
Of those suspected merely—men to watch;
This—of the few of the Count's very household,
You must, however reluctantly, arrest;
While here's a method of remonstrance (sure
Not stronger than the case demands) to take
With the Count's self.

                       Deliver those three papers.

[while Charles inspects them—to D'ormea.]
Your measures are not over-harsh, sir: France
Will hardly be deterred from coming hither
By these.

          What good of my proposing measures
Without a chance of their success? E'en these,
Hear what he'll say at my presenting.

[who has signed them.] There!
About the warrants! You've my signature.
What turns you pale? I do my duty by you
In acting boldly thus on your advice.

[reading them separately.]
Arrest the people I suspected merely?

Did you suspect them?

                      Doubtless: but—but—Sire,
This Forquieri's governor of Turin;
And Rivarol and he have influence over
Half of the capital.—Rabella, too?
Why, Sire—

Oh, leave the fear to me.

[still reading.] You bid me
Incarcerate the people on this list?

      Why, you never bade arrest those men,
So close related to my father too,
On trifling grounds?

                     Oh, as for that, St. George,
President of Chambery's senators,
Is hatching treason—but—
[Still more troubled.] Sire, Count Cumiane
Is brother to your father's wife! What's here?
Arrest the wife herself?

                         You seem to think it
A venial crime to plot against me. Well?

[who has read the last paper.]
Wherefore am I thus ruined? Why not take
My life at once? This poor formality
Is, let me say, unworthy you! Prevent it,
You, madam! I have served you, am prepared
For all disgraces—only, let disgrace
Be plain, be proper—proper for the world
To pass its judgment on 'twixt you and me!
Take back your warrant—I will none of it.

Here is a man to talk of fickleness!
He stakes his life upon my father's falsehood;
I bid him—

           Not you! Were he trebly false,
You do not bid me—

                   Is't not written there?
I thought so; give—I'll set it right.

                                      Is it there?
Oh, yes—and plain—arrest him—now—drag here
Your father! And were all six times as plain,
Do you suppose I'd trust it?

                             Just one word!
You bring him, taken in the act of flight,
Or else your life is forfeit.

                              Ay, to Turin
I bring him? And to-morrow?

                            Here and now?
The whole thing is a lie—a hateful lie—
As I believed and as my father said.
I knew it from the first, but was compelled
To circumvent you; and the crafty D'Ormea,
That baffled Alberoni and tricked Coscia,
The miserable sower of such discord
'Twixt sire and son, is in the toils at last!
Oh, I see! you arrive—this plan of yours,
Weak as it is, torments sufficiently
A sick, old, peevish man—wrings hasty speech
And ill-considered threats from him; that's noted;
Then out you ferret papers, his amusement
In lonely hours of lassitude—examine
The day-by-day report of your paid creatures—
And back you come—all was not ripe, you find,
And, as you hope, may keep from ripening yet,
But you were in bare time! Only, 'twere best
I never saw my father—these old men
Are potent in excuses—and, meantime,
D'Ormea's the man I cannot do without.


         Ah, no question! You're for D'Ormea too!
You'd have me eat and drink, and sleep, live, die
With this lie coil'd about me, choking me!
No, no—he's caught! [to D'Ormea.] You venture life, you say,
Upon my father's perfidy; and I
Have, on the whole, no right to disregard
The chains of testimony you thus wind
About me; though I do—do from my soul
Discredit them: still, I must authorize
These measures—and I will. Perugia!

        [Many Officers enter. ]

You and Solar, with all the force you have,
Are at the Marquis' orders: what he bids,
Implicitly perform! You are to bring
A traitor here; the man that's likest one
At present, fronts me; you are at his beck
For a full hour; he undertakes to show you
A fouler than himself,—but, failing that,
Return with him, and, as my father lives,
He dies this night! The clemency you've blamed
So oft, shall be revoked—rights exercised
That I've abjured.
[ To D'Ormea.] Now, Sir, about the work!
To save your king and country! Take the warrant!

[boldly to Perugia.]
You hear the Sovereign's mandate, Count Perugia?
Obey me! As your diligence, expect
Reward! All follow to Montcaglier!

[in great anguish.]
[D'Ormea goes.]
 He goes, lit up with that appalling smile!
[To Polyxena after a pause.]
At least you understand all this?

                                  These means
Of our defence—these measures of precaution?

It must be the best way. I should have else
Withered beneath his scorn.

                            What would you say?

Why, you don't think I mean to keep the crown,

          You then believe the story
In spite of all—that Victor's coming?

                                      Believe it?
I know that he is coming—feel the strength
That has upheld me leave me at his coming!
'Twas mine, and now he takes his own again.
Some kinds of strength are well enough to have;
But who's to have that strength? Let my crown go!
I meant to keep it—but I cannot—cannot!
Only, he shall not taunt me—he, the first—
See if he would not be the first to taunt me
With having left his kingdom at a word—
With letting it be conquered without stroke—
With . . no—no—'tis no worse than when he left it,
I've just to bid him take it, and, that over,
We'll fly away—fly—for I loathe this Turin,
This Rivoli, all titles loathe, and state.
We'd best go to your country—unless God
Send I die now!

                Charles, hear me!

                                 —And again
Shall you be my Polyxena—you'll take me
Out of this woe! Yes, do speak—and keep speaking!
I would not let you speak just now, for fear
You'd counsel me against him: but talk, now,
As we two used to talk in blessed times:
Bid me endure all his caprices; take me
From this mad post above him!

                              I believe
We are undone, but from a different cause.
All your resources, down to the least guard,
Are now at D'Ormea's beck. What if, this while,
He acts in concert with your father? We
Indeed were lost. This lonely Rivoli—
Where find a better place for them?

[pacing the room.] And why
Does Victor come? To undo all that's done!
Restore the past—prevent the future! Seat
His mistress in your seat, and place in mine
. . . Oh, my own people, whom will you find there,
To ask of, to consult with, to care for,
To hold up with your hands? Whom? One that's false—
False—from the head's crown to the foot's sole, false!
The best is, that I knew it in my heart
From the beginning, and expected this,
And hated you, Polyxena, because
You saw thro' him, though I too saw thro' him,
Saw that he meant this while he crowned me, while
He prayed for me,—nay, while he kissed my brow,
I saw—

       But if your measures take effect,
And D'Ormea's true to you?

                           Then worst of all!
I shall have loosed that callous wretch on him!
Well may the woman taunt him with his child—
I, eating here his bread, clothed in his clothes,
Seated upon his seat, give D'Ormea leave
To outrage him! We talk—perchance they tear
My father from his bed—the old hands feel
For one who is not, but who should be there—
And he finds D'Ormea! D'Ormea, too, finds him
—The crowded chamber when the lights go out—
Closed doors—the horrid scuffle in the dark—
The accursed promptings of the minute! My guards!
To horse—and after, with me—and prevent!

[seizing his hand.] King Charles!
Pause here upon this strip of time
Allotted you out of eternity!
Crowns are from God—in his name you hold yours.
Your life's no least thing, were it fit your life
Should be abjured along with rule; but now,
Keep both! Your duty is to live and rule—
You, who would vulgarly look fine enough
In the world's eye, deserting your soul's charge,—
Ay, you would have men's praise—this Rivoli
Would be illumined: while, as 'tis, no doubt,
Something of stain will ever rest on you;
No one will rightly know why you refused
To abdicate; they'll talk of deeds you could
Have done, no doubt,—nor do I much expect
Future achievements will blot out the past,
Envelop it in haze—nor shall we two
Be happy any more; 'twill be, I feel,
Only in moments that the duty's seen
As palpably as now—the months, the years
Of painful indistinctness are to come,
While daily must we tread these palace rooms
Pregnant with memories of the past: your eye
May turn to mine and find no comfort there,
Through fancies that beset me, as yourself,
Of other courses, with far other issues,
We might have taken this great night—such bear,
As I will bear! What matters happiness?
Duty! There's man's one moment—this is yours!

[Putting the crown on his head, and the sceptre in his hand, she places him on his seat: a long pause and silence.]

[Enter D'Ormea and Victor.]

At last I speak; but once—that once, to you!
'Tis you I ask, not these your varletry,
Who's King of us?

[from his seat.] Count Tende . , .

                                 What your spies
Assert I ponder in my soul, I say—
Here to your face, amid your guards! I choose
To take again the crown whose shadow I gave—
For still its potency surrounds the weak
White locks their felon hands have discomposed.
Or, I'll not ask who's King, but simply, who
Withholds the crown I claim? Deliver it!
I have no friend in the wide world: nor France
Nor England cares for me: you see the sum
Of what I can avail. Deliver it!

Take it, my father! And now say in turn,
Was it done well, my father—sure not well,
To try me thus! I might have seen much cause
For keeping it—too easily seen cause!
But, from that moment, e'en more woefully
My life had pined away, than pine it will.
Already you have much to answer for.
My life to pine is nothing,—her sunk eyes
Were happy once! No doubt my people think
That I'm their King still . . . but I cannot strive!
Take it!

[one hand on the crown Charles offers, the other on his neck.]
         So few years give it quietly,
My son: It will drop from me. See you not?
A crown's unlike a sword to give away—
That, let a strong hand to a weak hand give!
But crowns should slip from palsied brows to heads
Young as this head—yet mine is weak enough,
E'en weaker than I knew. I seek for phrases
To vindicate my right. 'Tis of a piece!
All is alike gone by with me—who beat
Once D'Orleans in his lines—his very lines!
To have been Eugene's comrade, Louis's rival,
And now . . .

[putting the crown on him, to the rest.]
          The King speaks, yet none kneels, I think!

 I am then King! As I became a King
Despite the nations—kept myself a King—
So I die King, with Kingship dying too
Around me! I have lasted Europe's time!
What wants my story of completion? Where
Must needs the damning break show! Who mistrusts
My children here—tell they of any break
'Twixt my day's sunrise and its fiery fall?
And who were by me when I died but they? Who?
—D'Ormea there!

                What means he?

                               Ever there!
Charles—how to save your story? Mine must go!
Say—say that you refused the crown to me—
Charles, yours shall be my story! You immured
Me, say, at Rivoli. A single year
I spend without a sight of you, then die—
That will serve every purpose—tell that tale
The world!

           Mistrust me? Help!

                              Past help, past reach!
'Tis in the heart—you cannot reach the heart:
This broke mine, that I did believe, you, Charles,
Would have denied and so disgraced me.

Has never ceased to be your subject, Sire!
He reigned at first through setting up yourself
As pattern: if he e'er seemed harsh to you,
'Twas from a too intense appreciation
Of your own character: he acted you—
Ne'er for an instant did I think it real,
Or look for any other, than this end.
I hold him worlds the worse on that account;
But so it was.

[to Polyxena.] I love you, now, indeed!
[To Victor.]
You never knew me!

                   Hardly till this moment,
When I seem learning many other things,
Because the time for using them is past.
If 'twere to do again! That's idly wished.
Truthfulness might prove policy as good
As guile. Is this my daughter's forehead?—Yes—
I've made it fitter now to be a Queen's
Than formerly—I've ploughed the deep lines there
Which keep too well a crown from slipping off!
No matter. Guile has made me King again,
Louis—'twas in King Victor's time—long since,
When Louis reign'd—and, also, Victor reign'd—
How the world talks already of us two!
God of eclipse and each discolour'd star,
Why do I linger then?
                      Ha! Where lurks he?
D'Ormea! Come nearer to your King! Now stand!
[Collecting his strength as D'Ormea approaches.]
But you lied, D'Ormea! I do not repent.