The King Amuses Himself by Victor Hugo

Persons in the Drama

François I., King of France

Triboulet, his jester

Blanche, Triboulet's daughter

Saltabadil, an assassin

Maguelonne, his sister

Dame Berarde

A woman; a man; a crowd of people

Act I

Scene.Triboulet, the ugly little hunchback jester to King François, has stolen from the Louvre to a secluded house in a remote part of Paris. He takes out the key to open the door, then stops and glances round uneasily.

Triboulet: I thought I heard a footstep.
Blanche must go
Back to the country. In this wild, rough town
My little lonely girl may come to harm.
I was a fool to bring her here. A fool!
Ah, if she learns what a vile part I play
In this vile city—sees her father dressed
In patchwork, using his deformities
To make sport for a proud, vain, wicked king.
Oh, how I hate the man who laughs at me!
When I am sick and miserable, and creep
Into some corner to bewail my lot,
He kicks me out into the light, and cries,
"Amuse me, fool!" Some day I shall go mad,
And kill——

[Saltabadil, who has been following him, comes forward and bows.

Saltabadil: Your servant, sir!

Triboulet (startled): What! Who are you?

Saltabadil: Excuse me. I have watched you for a week
Come to this house at evening. Every time
You seem afraid some foe is following you.

Triboulet (still more startled): What do you want?
Who are you? Go away!

Saltabadil: I want to help you. Do you need a sword?
I am an honest man, and at a price
I'll rid you of your enemy.

Triboulet (relieved by the bravo's air): What price?

Saltabadil: According to the job. If he is armed
'Tis best to get my sister, Maguelonne,
To help me. She will lure him to our house—

Triboulet:            I understand.

Saltabadil (confidentially): No noise, you see; no risk.
Give me your custom, sir, and you will find
I do the work better than any man
In Paris.

Triboulet: But at present I've no need—

Saltabadil: Well, think about it. I am Saltabadil.
I wait for clients every day at noon
By the Hôtel du Maine.

Triboulet:        Good-night to you.

Saltabadil: Believe me, I am honest. Times are bad;
I have four children, and at least my trade
Is better than mere beggary.

Triboulet: Of course.
One must bring up one's children.

Saltabadil: Thanks. Good-night.

[He departs. Triboulet then opens the door leading into a courtyard, and knocks at an inner entrance. This is opened by a charming young girl, who throws herself into the jester's arms.

Triboulet: My daughter! When I see your sweet, bright face
My grief and trouble vanish. Kiss me, Blanche;
I am in need of love. Have you been out?

Blanche: Only to church. It is so dull in town
 That, were it not for you, dear, I should like
To go back to Chinon.

Triboulet:        It would be best;
put now I could not live in solitude.
My darling, I have no one in the world
But you to love me!

[Hiding his face in his hands, he weeps.

Blanche:         Father, trust in me.
Tell me your name and calling. Every night
You come by stealth to see me; every day
You disappear. Oh, how it troubles me
To see you weep!

Triboulet:       You would be troubled more
If you could see me laugh! No, no, my child!
Know me but as your father; let me be
Something that you can venerate and love.

Blanche: My father!

Triboulet:       But I cannot stay to-night;
I only came to see if you were safe.
Good-bye, my darling! Do not leave the house.

[While he is speaking, King François glides into the courtyard, and hides behind a tree there. He is dressed like a student.

Blanche: Good-bye, my father!

The King: Father! Triboulet Her father! What a joke!

Triboulet: May God guard you!

[He kisses her again and departs. Blanche stands at the door watching him, and Dame Berarde, her housekeeper, joins her.

Blanche: I have not told him.

Dame Berarde:           What?

Blanche: That a young man
Follows me when I come from church.

Dame Berarde (laughing):       You wish
To chase this handsome man away?

Blanche:              Ah, no!
1 think he loves me. Oh, when Sunday comes
I shall be happy!

Dame Berarde: I should think he was
Some noble lord.

Blanche:      No! Lords, my father says,
Are men of little faith or honesty.
I hope he is a poor young scholar, filled
With noble thoughts rather than noble blood.
How long it is to Sunday! Would he were
Kneeling before me here. I then would say
Be happy, for I——

[The King comes from behind the tree, and kneels before her.

The King: Love you! Say it sweet:
I love you!

Blanche: If my father comes! Ah, go!

The King: Go? When my life is bound to yours? Sweet Blanche,
There is one heavenly thing alone on earth,
And that is love. Glory and wealth and power
Are base and worthless when compared with it.
Blanche, it is happiness your lover brings,
Happiness, shyly waiting on your wish.
Life is a flower, and love the honey of life.
Come, let us taste it, mouth to mouth, my sweet.

[Taking her in his arms, he kisses her.

Blanche: I do not know your name. Are you a lord?
My father does not like them.

The King (confused): Yes.... My name—
Gaucher Mahiet, a poor young scholar.

Dame Berarde:              Look!
Someone is coming.

[It is Triboulet. Seeing his daughter in the arms of a man, he rushes forward with a terrible cry. King François leaves Blanche, and, brushing past the  jester, who staggers as he catches a glimpse of his face, hastens away.

Triboulet: The King! Oh, God, the King!

[Then, in a sort of madness, he mutters to himself.

That man that spoke to me ... Hôtel du Maine;
At noon ... yes; in his house ... no noise, no risk ...
Oh, King François, the grave is dug for you!

Act II

Scene.A tumble-down inn on the outskirts of Paris by the edge of the Seine. The scene is represented on the stage in a sort of section, so that the spectator sees everything that goes on in the interior of the inn, as well as on the road outside. Besides this, the building is so cracked and ruined that any passer-by can see into the room through the holes in the wall. It is night. Triboulet and his daughter appear in the road. Saltabadil is sitting in the inn.

Triboulet: I will avenge you, Blanche.

Blanche:          He cannot be
False and untrue.

Triboulet (whispering, as he leads her to a hole in the wall):
Come. See with your own eyes,
What kind of man our great King François is.

Blanche (whispering, as she sees only Saltabadil):
I only see a stranger.

Triboulet:        Wait awhile.

[As he whispers, King François enters the room by a little door leading from an inner chamber.

Blanche: Father!

[She trembles, and follows with angry eyes the movements of The King.

Triboulet: This is the man you wish to save.

The King (slapping Saltabadil on the back):
Tell Maguelonne to bring me in some wine.

Triboulet: King by the grace of God he is, with all
The wealth and splendour of the land of France
At his command; but to amuse himself
He drinks himself asleep in thieves' kitchens.

The King (singing while Triboulet talks outside):
Oh, woman is fickle, and man is a fool
To trust in her word!
She changes without any reason or rule,
As her fancies are stirred.
A weather-cock veering to every wind
Is constant and true when compared to her mind.

>[While he sings Maguelonne enters with a skin of wine. Saltabadil goes out, and seeing Triboulet, approaches him with an air of mystery. Blanche continues to watch The King.

Saltabadil: We've caught our man! And now it rests with you
To let him live or die.

Triboulet (looking at Blanche): Wait for a while.

The King (to Maguelonne):
Life is a flower and love the honey of life;
Come, let us taste it, mouth to mouth, my sweet.

[He tries to kiss her, but she escapes.

Maguelonne: You got that from a book.

The King:          Your dark, sweet eyes
Inspired me! It was only yesterday
We met at the Hôtel du Maine, and yet
I love you with as passionate a love
As if we had been sweethearts all our lives.
Come, let me kiss you!

Maguelonne (sitting herself gaily on the table where
he is drinking
): When you have drunk your wine.

[The King empties the flagon of drugged liquor, and with a mocking laugh the girl jumps down and sits on his knee.

The King: Oh, you delicious, fascinating thing.
What a wild dance you've led me! Feel my heart
Seating with love for you!

Maguelonne:        And for a score
Of other women!

The King: No, for you alone!

[Blanche cannot bear to look at them any longer. Pale and trembling, she turns away, and falls into her father's arms.

Blanche: Oh, God, how he deceived me! My heart breaks.
All that he said to me he now repeats
To this low, shameless slut. He is a man
Without a soul.

Triboulet (in a whisper): Hush, hush! or he will hear!
You leave him in my hands then?

Blanche:          What is it
You mean to do?

Triboulet:     Avenge you and myself!
Run home and dress yourself in the boy's clothes
Prepared for you. Take all the gold you find,
And ride to Evreux, and there wait for me.

Blanche (entreatingly): Come with me, father!

Triboulet (sternly):      I have work to do,
Terrible work! Do not return for me,
But ride your horse as fast as it will go.

Blanche:                  I am afraid.

Triboulet: Obey me, Blanche! Good-bye!

[He kisses her, and she staggers away. Triboulet then signs to Saltabadil, who comes running up, and gives him ten crowns in gold.

Triboulet: Here is half of the sum. I'll bring the rest
When you hand me the body in a sack.

Saltabadil: It shall be done to-night.

Triboulet: At midnight, then.

[He goes in. During this scene outside, the drowsy King has been flirting with Maguelonne. She jumps off his knee as Saltabadil enters. Triboulet departs.

Saltabadil: What a wild night! The rain is pouring down
In torrents.

The King (sleepily): You must find me a bed.

Maguelonne (in a fierce whisper): Go! Go!

The King: What? And be drowned? You are unkind, my sweet.

Saltabadil (Whispering to his sister):
Keep him here. We have twenty golden crowns
To earn to-night. (To King François) Sir, you can have my room.

The King: Ah, you are kinder than your sister is!
Show me the bed.

[Saltabadil takes the lamp and leads him upstairs.

Saltabadil: This way.

Maguelonne (in the darkness): Poor, poor young man!

[Saltabadil returns with the lamp. He sits at the table in silence; his sister watches him.

Maguelonne (fiercely): You must not kill him!

Saltabadil: Twenty golden crowns!
Look, here are ten of them! The rest I get
At midnight. Pest! There is no time to lose.
Quick, sew this sack! My client will return
In a few minutes.

[Terrified by his look, she takes up the sack and begins to mend it. There is again a silence, and in the sinister and momentary radiance of the lightning the figure of Blanche is seen approaching the inn. She is dressed in a man's clothes, and booted and spurred.

Blanche: Terrible work to do! I cannot go.
 Father, I cannot! Oh, this horrible dream!
Let me awake from it ere I go mad.
This dream, this horrible dream!

[Seeing the light from the window, she totters up to the hole in the wall and looks in again.

God! it is true!
There they are! There!—the man with murderous looks,
The girl with shameless eyes! Where is the king?

[Her cries are drowned in the thunder.

Maguelonne: Brother!

Saltabadil:        Yes.

Maguelonne:            Do not kill him.

Saltabadil:            Ten more crowns!

Maguelonne: He is worth more than that. Handsome and young,
And noble too, I'll take my oath on it.
Besides, he loves me.

Saltabadil:        Get on with the sack.

Maguelonne: You only want the money. Take and kill
The little hunchback when he comes with it.

Blanche: My father!

Saltabadil (angrily): What! Am I a common thief?
Kill my own client? I will have you know,
My sister, that I am an honest man.
I do the work I'm paid for.

[Drawing his dagger, he goes towards the stairs.

Maguelonne (barring the way): Stop, I say!
Or I will go and rouse him.

Blanche:            Good, brave girl!

Saltabadil: Well, let us make a bargain, Maguelonne.
If anyone comes knocking at our inn
By midnight, he shall go into the sack.
My client only wants to fling some corpse
Into the river, and on this wild night
 He will not see what he is throwing in.

Maguelonne: It is just on the hour. No one will come.
Cannot you ram this faggot in the sack?

Saltabadil: Who would take that for a limp body? No!
Either a traveller or the man upstairs.
That is all! Will you take the chance?

Maguelonne (weeping): I must.

Blanche: Oh, God, I cannot! No! I am too young.
He does not love me.

[A church-bell begins to chime the hour.

Saltabadil: Midnight!

Maguelonne: Hark, a knock!

Blanche (stumbling to the door):
My father hates him.... Perhaps it will not hurt,
If they strike hard and kill me at a blow.
Oh, if he only loved me!

Maguelonne (opening the door): Who is there?

Blanche: Give me a shelter for the night.

Maguelonne: Come in.

[She enters. As she crosses the threshold, Saltabadil raises his dagger, and the curtain falls.

Act III

Scene.The same; but when the curtain rises, only the outside of the inn is now seen. It is unlighted; everything is in darkness.

Triboulet (knocking at the door): Make haste!

Saltabadil (bringing out a sack): Here is your man.

Triboulet (helping him carry it): Give me a light.
I want to see him—is he really dead?

Saltabadil: We must not use a light. We might be seen.
Where is the money?

Triboulet (giving him a bag): Here. (Looking at
the sack
) I have you at last!

Long have I waited for this happy hour!

Saltabadil: Come, throw it in the Seine!

Triboulet: I want no help.
Your part is done. Leave me alone.

Saltabadil: Quick, then!
Somebody may come by. Is the man mad?

[Triboulet has knelt down in the mud by the sack. The rain streams on him, and his face, convulsed with hideous joy, is illumined by the lightning. Saltabadil enters the inn and shuts the door.

Triboulet (feeling the sack): Yes! I can feel his spurs. It is the King!
Now let the heavens break above my head,
And the earth rock and open at my feet!
The vengeance of a clown shakes the whole world!
François, the pivot on which Europe turns,
Is broken. German, Spaniard, and Turk
Can make a slaughterhouse of Christendom.
The King of France is dead!

[Leaping up in a fury, he kicks the sack.

François the First,
Do you remember how you treated me?
Who is the dog now, eh?—the dog to kick
And tumble about to make the courtiers laugh?
You liked my daughter, did you? A clown's brat
Found favour with a king! You stooped too low.
This is the road that you must take.

[He drags the sack to the parapet. While he is doing so, Maguelonne opens the door of the inn and lets out The King, who goes off singing gaily in the opposite direction.

Triboulet (lifting the sack on the parapet, to push
 it over
): Go down!

The King: Oh, woman is fickle, and man is a fool
To trust in her word!

Triboulet: Oh, God! Whose voice is that?

[He pulls back the sack.

The King (now unseen in the darkness): She changes without any reason or rule,
As her fancies are stirred.

Triboulet: He has escaped! (Running up to the
inn
) Accursed villains, you have cheated me! (He
pulls at the door, but it will not open
.)

Who have they put in the sack?

[He returns to it.

Some innocent wayfarer? I must see.

[He tears open the sack, and peers into it.

It is too dark (wildly). Has no one got a light?

[As he is dragging the body out of the sack the lightning irradiates it.

My daughter! God! My daughter! No, Blanche, no!
I sent you to Evreux. It is not her.

[The lightning again flashes out, and clearly shows the pale face and closed eyes of the girl.

Speak, for the love of God! Speak! Oh, the blood!
Blanche, are you hurt? Speak to me! Blanche!

Blanche (opening her eyes): Where am I? Father!

[She tries to rise, but falls back groaning. Triboulet takes her in his arms.

Triboulet: Blanche, have they struck you?
It is too dark to see.

Blanche (in a broken, gasping voice):
The dagger struck me ... but I ...
Saved the king ...
I love him. Father ... have they let him live?

Triboulet: I cannot understand.

Blanche: It was my fault ...
Forgive me ... father, I——

[She struggles, speechless, in the agony of death.

Triboulet (shrieking): Help! Help! Oh, help!

[Rushing to the ferry-bell by the riverside, he rings it madly. The people in the cottages around come running out in wild alarm.

A Woman: What is it? Is she wounded?

A Man: She is dead.

Triboulet (taking the lifeless body in his arms and hugging it to his breast): I have killed my child! I have killed my child!