SEMIRAMIS AND OTHER PLAYS
OLIVE TILFORD DARGAN
BRENTANO'S NEW YORK 1904
Copyright 1904 By Olive Tilford Dargan [Stage rights reserved]
THE LITERARY COLLECTOR PRESS GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT
THE POET 175
SCENE 1. The tent of Menones
SCENE 1. Hall in the palace of Ninus
SCENE 1. The gardens over the lake
SCENE 1. The tent of Husak
NINUS, king of Assyria HUSAK, king of Armenia KHOSROVE, son of Husak MENONES, governor of Nineveh ARTAVAN, son of Menones SUMBAT, friend of Artavan VASSIN, officer of the king HADDO, a guard ARMIN, a guard DOKAHRA, woman to Semiramis SOLA, wife of Artavan SEMIRAMIS, daughter of Menones
Officers, heralds, messengers, guards, soldiers, dancers, &c.
Scene: Within the tent of Menones, on the plain before Nineveh. Left, centre, entrance to tent from the plain. Curtains rear, forming partition with exits right and left of centre. The same at right, with one exit, centre. Couch rear, between exits. From a tent-pole near exit, right centre, hang helmet and a suit of chain armor.
Sola parts curtains rear, left, and looks out, showing effort to keep awake. She steps forward.
Sol. Hist! Armin! Haddo!
(Enter two guards, left centre)
Still no news?
Arm. None, lady.
Sol. Oh, Artavan, what keeps thee?
Haddo. He will come.
Sol. Semiramis is sleeping. I am weary, But I'll not sleep.
Arm. Rest, madam; we will call you.
Sol. My lord shall find me watching, night or day!
Arm. Two nights you have not slept.
Sol. Ten thousand nights, I think, good Armin.
Had. We will call you, madam.
Arm. With the first hoof-beat ringing from the north!
Sol. (At curtains, drowsily) I'll be—awake.
Had. She'll sleep now.
Arm. Ay, she must.
Had. And I'd not call her for god Bel himself!
Arm. Hark! (Goes to entrance) 'Tis a horseman!
Had. (Following him) Two!
Arm. Right! We must rouse The lady Semiramis.
Had. Make sure 'tis he. (They step out)
Voice without. Is this Menones' tent?
Arm. (Without) Ay, Sir! The word!
Voice. God Ninus!
(Semiramis enters, through curtains right centre)
Sem. Artavan! His voice!
(Enter Artavan, followed by Sumbat who waits near entrance)
Sem. My brother!
Art. Semiramis! (Embracing her) Three years this kiss Has gathered love for thee!
Sem. Has 't been so long Since I left Gazim?
Art. Ay,—since Ninus called Our father here, and Gazim lost her dove.
Sem. (On his bosom, laughing softly) The dove of Gazim,—so they called me then. But now—(proudly, moving from him) the lioness of Nineveh!
Art. A warrior's daughter!
Sem. And a warrior's sister! O, I have prayed that you might come! The king Is gracious—loves the brave—
Art. Our father?
Art. He's well?
Sem. Is 't day?
Sem. At dawn he meets The Armenians on the plain.
Art. Then he is well!
Sem. He went forth well,—and brave as when he drove The Ghees from Gazim with his single sword! But—oh—he needs you, Artavan, he needs you!
(Comes closer speaking rapidly)
I'm with him night and day but when he battles— I buckle on his arms—cheer him away— And wipe the foe's blood from his mighty sword When he returns! But I've a fear so strange! At times he's moved quite from himself,—so far That I look on him and see not our father! If I dared speak I'd almost say that he Who never lost a battle shrinks from war!
Art. (Starting) No, no! Not that! You borrow eyes of fear And see what is not!
Sem. But I've felt the drops Cold on his brow, and raised his lifeless arms Whose corded strength hung slack as a sick child's! O, it is true! And you must stand by him! Fight at his side! I thought to do it! I! See here, my armor!
(Moving with him to where the armor hangs)
When I had this made And swore to wear it in the fight, 'twas then He yielded—said that you might come—
(Sound of trumpets at distance. They listen)
Art. I go to him!
Sem. (Taking a paper from her bosom)
Take this! He'll understand! 'Tis some direction later thought upon!
Art. My wife is safe—
Sem. With me! Three days ago She came. And now she sleeps—
(Points to curtains, rear left)
Art. In there? One kiss—
Sem. Nay, nay, you go to battle, and should keep Steel in your eye, not woman's tears!... Who comes With you?
(Looks toward entrance where Sumbat stands)
(He advances and drops on knee. She gives him both hands and he rises)
Welcome! But no time For gallant greetings! We are warriors here!
(A roll of battle is heard)
Art. We go!
Sem. Ride! ride! The battle over, ye Shall meet the king!
(Artavan and Sumbat hasten out. The noise of departure brings Sola to curtains)
Sol. What is it? Who was here?
Sem. (Absorbed) They'll reach my father!
Sol. Not Artavan?
Sol. And gone—my husband! Without a word—a look!
Sem. The battle calls, And he who wears ambition's spur must ride!
Sol. Ambition! O, you think of naught but war And glory! Hast thou no heart, Semiramis?
Sem. I' faith, and love thee with it! (kisses her)
Sol. Trifle not! Hadst thou a heart thou couldst not live a maid, So beautiful, and never dream of love! Thou'rt some strange thing—
Sem. What, wilt be angry? Come! I'll tell thee all he said—thy Artavan,— Ay, every word, and how his eyes grew soft With dimness sweeter than their vanquished light When thou wert his dear theme!
(They move to curtains. Semiramis stops and listens)
Go in. I'll come. (Sola goes in)
Sem. (Listening) Is that a chariot? My father!... Nay! He's safe with Artavan! Whatever comes His son will be his heart and bear him up! Safe, safe, Menones, and thy grizzled locks Shall wear their laurels to an honored grave!
(Noise of approaching chariot)
It is a chariot! Can it be the king?
(Chariot stops without)
Armin, who is it comes?
Arm. (Appearing at entrance) The Lord Menones.
(Semiramis sways, steadies herself, and waits. Menones enters, livid and trembling. In form he is large and mighty, but is grey with age. He staggers over to couch and sits upon it, groaning heavily. Semiramis looks at him in silence. Then approaches and speaks in a low terrified tone)
Sem. You fled the battle!
Sem. You must go back!
Men. Too late!
Sem. (Gaining courage and putting her hands sternly on his shoulders) No!
Men. We must fly!
Sem. Fly! Never!
Men. (Rising) Come! The chariot! The king will leave my race No blood on earth!
Sem. If it be coward's blood 'Tis better lost!
Men. Come, come! We yet can fly!
Sem. Back to the battle! There I'll go with thee!
Men. I can not! Oh, the terror's here—here—here! It clutches at my heart!
Sem. Tear out thy heart And keep thy honor whole!
(He falls on the couch, shaken with suffering. She kneels by him pleading passionately)
Sem. Up, father, up! You must go back! You know not what you've done! Our Artavan—
Men. Praise Bel, he's safe in Gazim!
Sem. No ... he is here ... he came, and rode to find you.
Men. He came? Gods, no!
Sem. Nay, true! He's in the battle! Now you will go! You will go back, my father! He does not know the plan! He can not lead Without your counsel! Come—your voice—his arm— And all is safe!
(He rises; noise of battle; he sinks shuddering)
Men. No—I'll die here—not there!
(Semiramis stands in despair; then lifts her arms praying)
Sem. O mighty Belus, give me back my father!
(She listens with sudden eagerness and goes to tent door)
False! false! They're verging south! North, north, ye cowards!
(Rushes to her armor and takes it down. Shakes the curtains right, and calls)
Dokahra! (Throws off her robe and begins putting on armor. Enter Dokahra, right centre)
Sem. Buckle here! Be quick!
Men. You shall not go!
Sem. You have no might or right To stay me now!
Men. You will be lost!
Sem. Lost? No! Did I not plan this battle? Haste, Dokahra! Our lives are in your fingers! Courage, father!
(Going, Dokahra still adjusting armor)
The king has smiled on me—I do not know— But there was such a promise in his smile— And if the victory's mine he will forgive!
Dok. This rivet, mistress!
(Noise of battle)
Sem. Artavan, I come!
(Rushes out. Sound of chariot rolling away. Dokahra looks stolidly at Menones for a moment, then turns through curtains, right. Menones presses his heart in pain, moans wretchedly, and draws a blanket over his body)
Men. Is this the form that bright Decreto loved? But where the soul, O, gods! (Lies shuddering)
Voice without. The King!
(Menones draws blanket over his face and becomes motionless. Enter the king, with Vassin)
Nin. (At entrance) Stand here! Godagon, haste! Ride to Menones; say We wait within his tent; his messengers Will reach us here.
(A rider spurs off without. Ninus and Vassin advance within the tent)
Vas. Your majesty, suppose The Armenians gain, you'll be in danger here. Why come so near for news?
Nin. For news, good Vassin? I had a better reason. Semiramis Tents with her father.
(Points to curtains)
Nin. The sun will break Through there!
Vas. My lord—
Nin. She stirs! She comes! Wait—see!
(Dokahra's gaunt figure appears at curtains)
Vas. A false dawn, is it not?
Nin. Your mistress sleeps?
Dok. (Abasing herself) No, mighty king!
Nin. She's up? Then give her word We're here.
Dok. She's not within, my lord.
Nin. Abroad! So soon? She's on the general's business?
Dok. And yours, O king! She's joined the battle!
Vas. Ha! ha! Do you believe this?
Nin. Ay ... 'tis so. I know her spirit. Here's mettle for a queen!
(Menones uncovers and half rises)
Vas. You would not make her one, your majesty! Though she should lead your troops to victory, Still is she but your general's daughter, and Assyria's crown is given of gods to gods!
Nin. And Ninus knows to keep his race untainted. But all the jewels of a king, my Vassin, Are not worn in his crown. Some in the heart Are casketed, and there this maid shall shine For me alone. Were she of heavenly race—
Men. (Starting up) She is, my lord!
(Ninus regards him in astonishment)
Nin. What do you here, Menones? Speak!
Men. (Trembling) I am ill.
Nin. Ill, sir? Ha! Now I know! Your daughter leads while you couch safe in tent! She sought to hide your shame! O, what a heart! But you—
Men. I led, my lord, till illness seized—
Nin. Too ill to fight, but not too ill to fly! Hound! hound! My troops are lost! I'd kill you now But 'tis an hour too soon! First you must be Of every honor stript!
Men. (Kneeling) My lord and king, I know that I must die, but hear a prayer For my brave daughter's sake! Betray her not, Lest thou offend the gods that gave thee life, For she, too, is of heaven!
Men. I swear 'Tis true! My lord, Decreto was her mother! She met me on the plains of Gazim when This aged figure was called fair, and youth Still fed its fire to manhood's prime; Our babe she left upon a mountain crest And sent her doves to tend it through a year, Then bade me scale the mount and take my own. I did, and named her for Decreto's dove— Semiramis!
Nin. What precious tale is this?
Vas. He thinks to fright you from the maid, my lord.
Dok. (Falling at the king's feet) O king, 'tis true! Ask thou in Gazim—
(Dokahra vanishes through curtains left rear)
Nin. 'T will take a better lie to save your head!
Men. My head? Thou'rt welcome to it! 'Tis not that! But she—my daughter—
Nin. We will spare her life.
Men. (Calmly) It is my prayer that she may die with me.
Nin. Not while we love. If e'er she lose her charm, We may remember that you were her father.
Men. (Furiously, forgetting himself) She has a brother yet!
Nin. A brother! So! We'll look to him as well! Thanks for your news!
Men. (Towering up) Though every god in heaven gave thee blood Yet would I spill it!
(Lifts his sword; suddenly drops it and falls, pressing his heart. Ninus and Vassin watch him silently until he is still)
Vas. (Stooping) Ay, dead, my lord.
Nin. I would have spared him though I threatened death.
Vas. Have spared the coward? Why, your majesty?
Nin. Semiramis has spirit passing woman's; I have no hope to force her to my arms, And I'd have wrought her heart to tenderness By mercy to her father. Love is my aim! All else I can command—but that—Guards here!
(Enter Armin and Haddo)
Not you—my own! But wait—a word! Where sleeps Menones?
Arm. (Pointing) There, O king!
(The body of Menones lies behind the king and Vassin, unseen by the guards. Exeunt Armin and Haddo. Enter the king's guards)
Nin. Take up this body. Place it within.
(Guards go in with Menones' body)
Vas. What would you do, my lord?
Nin. You'll know in time.
(Re-enter guards) Hark! You saw nothing!
Guards. (Bowing to floor) Nothing. O mighty Ninus! (Exeunt)
Nin. I will have her love! Vassin, this story of her goddess birth Is true!
Vas. How knows your majesty?
Nin. It speaks In all her motions. Every glance and grace Revouches it. E'en your dull eye must know Her beauty is immortal, though her life Is forfeit to the clay and must have end.
Vas. Thou'lt find another fair! Youth blooms and goes!
Nin. Not such as hers! Her brow's a holy page Where chiselling Time dare never set a mark! The sun hath been her lover, and so deep Hath touched her locks with fire no winter hand May shake his kisses out!
Vas. Why, thou'rt in love!
(Confused voices without. A messenger runs in and falls at the feet of the king)
Nin. Speak, sir!
Mes. Assyria wins! The Armenians fly! They've lost their leader—
Nin. Khosrove! Is he taken?
Mes. Taken or slain, I know not which, but know He leads no more the enemy! They fly Before Semiramis!
Mes. Ay, all was rout until she reached the field And spurred the—
Voice of herald without. Victory! A victory! Ninus is god and king!
Cries. A victory!
Herald. Assyria triumphs o'er his enemies!
Nin. Is Khosrove taken?
Her. Slain, the people cry! The soldiers hail Semiramis their chief, Call her a goddess, drag her chariot, And shout and swear by Belus' ruling star To be her slaves forever!
Nin. So they shall.
Vas. Your majesty—
Nin. Peace, Vassin! Wait and see!
(Noise and cries without as Semiramis is drawn toward the tent in her chariot)
Nin. Ho! Guards!
(The king's guards enter. Ninus passes to right centre, facing entrance opposite. Guards station themselves on each side of him and in his rear. Semiramis enters, followed by officers and soldiers. Her helmet is off, her hair falling)
Nin. Hail goddess!
(Semiramis looks at the king in astonishment then glances fearfully toward Menones' room)
Nin. Hail, Assyria's queen!
Sem. (Faintly) O king—
(Ninus advances to her. She kneels before him)
Nin. Kneel down, Menones' daughter! Rise, The bride of Ninus, nevermore to kneel!
This victory is proof, if proof I need, That you are a true daughter of the skies, Mate for the mightiest throne!
(To soldiers) Cry festival! The feast of triumph and the wedding revel We'll hold together! Go!
(Exeunt soldiers, cheering without)
Nin. (Taking the hand of Semiramis)
To-day thou'lt come?
Sem. (Withdrawing her hand and bowing her head) I am my king's.
Nin. (Passing to exit) The royal chariot, Within the hour, will take you from the tent Unto our palace.
(Exeunt Ninus and attendants. Semiramis stands dazed. Sola comes out softly and looks at her)
Sem. (In rapture) Ah, my father's safe! I'll tell him!
(Hurries toward curtains right, rear, and stops at exit)
No ... I'll wait. This joy is dead If Artavan be lost!
(Sola springs toward her with a cry)
Sol. Be lost? Ah, no! Where is he? Oh, not lost!
Sem. He pushed too far Amid the flying troops.
Sol. And you—you stole His last look from my eyes!
Sem. He may be saved. For Sumbat followed him. He must be saved! We'll hope till Sumbat comes.
Sol. O, you know naught Of love!
Sem. I was his sister, Sola, ere He made thee wife.
Sol. A sister! O, such love Is nothing! Thou wilt smile at it If ever thou'rt a wife!
(Semiramis is removing her armor. She stops and looks questioningly at Sola; then shakes her head)
Sem. Nay, Sola, nay!... Help me with this.... Somehow my heart is gone And armor's for the brave.
(Putting on her robe) Now 't has come back. But beats and whispers like a maiden's own. I am but half a warrior.... Do not sob. Sumbat will bring us news.... Ah, he has come!
Sol. (Rushing to him and looking into his face) Oh, lost! (Flies, sobbing, through the curtains, rear left)
Sem. Speak.... Is it true?
Sum. I fear it is. I could not save him, and they bore him off.
Sem. A prisoner! Not slain! Then we may hope! I've captured Husak's son!
Sum. Khosrove! Is he not under guard without? A man most fair ... of lordly form, and young?
Sem. 'Tis he! Have him brought hither instantly! To Husak word shall go on swiftest steed That I will yield the prince for Artavan!
He's safe ... if there be time ... if there be time!... Husak, the Fierce ... but he must love his son, And will be merciful to save him. Ay.... So brave a son. Now I recall his face, It would have made me pause had not my eyes Been dim with triumph.
(Enter Sumbat, followed by officers with Khosrove. The officers fall back, leaving the captive before Semiramis. He is stripped of all armor, and clothed in a scant tunic revealing a figure of marked strength and grace. He stands erect, but with head bowed, and his arms bound to his sides)
Sem. (Gazes at him) Ah!... (She advances a step)
(At sound of her voice he lifts his head and looks at her with eager recognition)
Sem. (Stepping back) Armenian!
Khos. (Proudly) Armenia, by your leave! I am my father's house.
Sem. I'm glad 'tis so. Then he should value thee.
Khos. He does.
Sem. So much That he will spare the life of Artavan If we spare yours?
Khos. Who is this Artavan Who evens me in price?
Sem. Menones' son.
Khos. Menones? Governor of Nineveh? Who fled my sword, fear-cold, and pale with terror? Insult not Husak with so poor a suit! That coward's race—
Sem. Am I a coward, sir?
Khos. (In sudden dejection) These fettered arms make answer, princess.
Sem. Nay, I am Menones' daughter,—Artavan My brother!
Khos. Not the Assyrian princess? O, Forgive me, lady! I am proud to be Thy brother's price!
Sem. What surety have I That Artavan still lives?
Khos. My word.
Officer. His word! O, noble madam, it is known to all That Husak takes no prisoners of war. They die before his tent.
Khos. Such is the custom—
Sem. O me, my brother!
Khos. But I can avouch That Artavan still lives.
Off. Trust not the word Of captive foes, my lady. By what means Can he know this?
Sem. Speak, sir.
Khos. To you alone I'll speak.
Sem. Nay—before all!
Khos. Unto no ear But thine.
Sem. Wouldst save thy life?
Khos. Perhaps. Wouldst save Thy brother?
Sem. Sumbat, wilt advise me?
Sum. Trust him, And hear what he would say.
Sem. Out then, my friends, I pray you.
(All go out but Semiramis and Khosrove.)
Khos. My father swore to me Before I led his troops 'gainst Nineveh, All captives should be held at my disposal And bloody custom waived. I would not speak 'Fore all, lest I should rob fierce Husak's name Of terror which is half his sword.
Sem. But now He thinks you dead.
Khos. Not so. I've sent him word By a sure mouth that I'm unhurt and held A prisoner.
Sem. O then my brother's safe! How gracious art thou, Heaven!
(Steps towards entrance) Sumbat!
Khos. (Stepping before her) Wait!
Sem. What more?
Khos. All—everything—there's nothing said! Ninus will spare me not! 'Tis thou must save me!
Sem. I! No! The king!
Khos. Not he! Is Artavan Grown dearer than his hate to Husak? Nay—
Sem. Sir, fear not Ninus. He will grant my suit.
Khos. He will? You—you—
Sem. I've saved his army!
Khos. (Relieved) Ah! No more than that?
Khos. No! 'T will not wipe Revenge from out his heart,—and you have saved But that your father threw away.
Sem. Peace, sir!
Khos. There's but one way for me—escape!
Sem. No more! Nay—not another word!
Khos. I must escape—
Sem. Not one!
Khos. That word unsaid slays Artavan, Spoken it saves him! Once in Ninus' power I have no hope of life, and with me dies Your brother.
Sem. (Scornfully) Do not fear!
Khos. I fear? By Heaven! Think you this heart is not a soldier's own Because 'tis captive to a woman's sword? A woman's sword! O little had thy sword To do with my defeat! Unarmed thou wouldst Have taken me—for 'twas thy beauty struck My weapon to my side! (rapidly and passionately) When I bore down Upon your chariot, I could have swept you With one arm from the world! But suddenly A missile struck your helmet and dislodged The glory of your face before my eyes, Your hair ran gold, the shining East looked black Behind the star you made upon its breast! I knew thee for a goddess, and stood still Meek captive to thy wish! O blest am I To learn thou art not greater than myself, But so much less that I may lift thee up! Fly with me—be my queen—
(Semiramis tries to speak)
Go, call them in! I'll shout above their heads to reach thine ears! O, trust to me! In me thy brother lives! Come, and thy fallen father shall be brave Beneath Armenia's smile! Here thou mayst save His life, but ne'er again will he know honor! Help me to fly and save three lives in one! Give me to Ninus—give me up to death, And with a father and a brother lost, Though thou wert worshipped 'mong thy country's gods Still thou couldst not be happy!
Khos. But come, And they are safe!
Sem. (Bewildered) What do I hear?
Khos. O, come! Dost know what love is, daughter of Menones? It is the fire that dead puts out the light On every hearth, living makes all the world One altar feeding incense unto Heaven! It gives the soul to life, breath to the soul, Pulse to ambition, strength to warrior arms,—
(Struggling with his fetters)
Such strength that they may break all captive bonds To clasp their own!
(Breaks his fetters and attempts to embrace her as she retreats gazing at him as if fascinated. She escapes him, and throws off her bewilderment. He drops to his knees holding out his arms to her)
And love I offer thee!
Sem. Sir, I forgive thee, for thou knowest not To whom you speak!
Khos. Know not!
Sem. I who am now Menones' daughter, ere the night shall be The bride of Ninus, king of all Assyria!
(Khosrove rises, bows before her, and stands with silent dignity)
Sem. You—you—were saying—
Khos. Nothing, royal madam. Have you not friends without?
(Semiramis hesitates, goes to door and calls)
Sem. Sumbat! (To Khosrove) Thou'rt safe!
Khos. (Ironically) Assyria's queen should know!
Sem. She does!
(Re-enter Sumbat and officers)
Sem. Ay, he is free! We only wait the word Of gracious Ninus. Guard him until then, We charge you, Sumbat. Keep you nearest him.
(Exeunt Sumbat and officers with Khosrove)
Sem. My father now! He must have heard the shouts Of victory, yet still he hides himself. ... The king asked not for love. He is Assyria. I would not lessen him by love. Not yet.... 'Tis my triumphant arms he weds. The heart Must sleep....
Voice of guard at entrance. The king approaches!
Sem. Ah!... The king! His word, and all is done. I'll speak to him Before I see my father. Then I may say 'Thou art forgiven, and Artavan is safe!' ... And Khosrove ... safe.... The royal chariot!... O, mother, send thy doves—I am once more A babe!
(The king enters alone)
Nin. Art ready for thy king?
Sem. I am— And yet—a word before I go! Thou know'st That Khosrove is my prisoner—
Nin. Khosrove! He! We thought him slain!
Sem. Nay, sir—
Nin. A prisoner! O, welcome gift! We ask no other dower!
Sem. But, gracious lord—
Nin. (Turning to entrance) Ho, Vassin! Khosrove's taken! Go! Find him out and drag him straight to dungeon! Bind him with chains until he can not move, Till we've devised some bitter way of death!
Vas. (Without) I haste, my lord!
Nin. At last my enemy is 'neath my feet!
(Returning to Semiramis)
And 'tis to thee we owe this gift of fortune! ... You're pale, Semiramis.
Sem. O king—
Nin. (Taking her hands) And trembling. Dost fear my greatness? Nay, thou ledst my army—
Sem. O, if for that thou ow'st me aught, grant me—
Nin. Whate'er thou wouldst!
Sem. My brother, Artavan, Is Husak's captive! Thou canst save him!
Nin. I? Then he is saved! But how! Tell me the way!
Sem. Husak will yield him up for Khosrove!
Nin. What Send Khosrove back alive! Not though the gods Commanded it! Alive! 'Twas Husak slew My father, and his son shall die! Ten years I've sought for this revenge! And give it up For a green lad fresh from the fields of Gazim?
Sem. A warrior, sir, who'll win thee many a battle! And crest thy glory with meridian stars! He's worth the price though pity lent no coin! Save him, my lord! A bridal boon I ask! Give me my brother!
Nin. A bridal boon I'll grant. Thou lov'st thy father?
Sem. (Choking) You know—that he—
Nin. I know.
Sem. Great king—
Nin. One thou mayst save.
Sem. O gods!
Nin. Thy brother, or thy father? Thou mayst choose.
Sem. I know my duty, sir. I choose my father.
Nin. A noble choice. We are not harsh, my queen. The people know Menones' life is forfeit, And know how I have sought for Khosrove's death; Did I spare both for your sake they would say That Ninus' scepter is a woman's hand.
(Shouts of rejoicing without)
But come! The chariot waits. The people call.
Sem. First will I tell my father that he lives. He's waiting there the summons to his death. Ah, I must thank you sir.
(Takes the king's hand and kisses it. Goes through curtains, right, rear. Her cry is heard within. She returns.)
Too late! He's dead! Cold, cold, my father! Oh!
(Sobs, her hands covering her face)
Nin. (Removing her hands and putting his arm about her)
Thou'rt not alone, My bride!
Sem. (Withdrawing and kneeling to him, her hands upraised) O king, leave me my brother!
Nin. Nay! Did you not have your choice? You ask too much.
Sem. (Rising) Ah, so I do! I should demand, not ask!
Sem. Ay, king! ... 'Tis true I'm not alone. My goddess mother is again with me As when this morn my heart exultant rode The tides of triumph! When the heavens rolled And like a stooping sea caught up my soul Till ranged with the applauding gods it clapped My courage on below! You offer me A place beside your throne. I offer you The hearts of all your subjects now my own,— The love—the worship of your mighty army!
They shout my name—not yours—great Ninus! Hear!
Shouts: Semiramis is queen! Semiramis!
Sem. I bring a hand, with yours inlocked, shall reach O'er Asia's breadth and draw her glory in! A heart ambitious with immortal beat To make Assyria greatest 'neath the stars! And in return I ask my brother's life! Give me your promise Khosrove goes to Husak, Or leave me where I stand—Menones' daughter!
Nin. (Slowly, reading the determination in her face) I promise.
Nin. I swear it!
Sem. (Relaxes, falls at his feet, and reaches up, clasping his hands) O, god Ninus!
The great hall in the palace of Nineveh. The rear is open, showing the sky and the towers of the city. Along the floor, which is high above the ground court, rear, are sculptured lions. On each side of hall where right and left reach open rear are large entrances, with steps leading up to hall, guarded by spearmen and archers. Within the hall, between winged bulls, are entrances to chambers, right centre and left centre. Near front, right, smaller entrance between figures of men with lion heads. The same opposite, left. The walls of the hall are lined with alabaster slabs on which are sculptured and colored the conquests of Assyrian kings.
Ninus alone. Enter Vassin, left centre.
Nin. (As Vassin enters) You've told her?
Vas. Ay, my lord.
Nin. What does she say? Does she suspect we ordered Khosrove's torture?
Vas. I can not answer that.
Nin. Then answer this! You're sure that he will die? You made good work?
Vas. Good work, my lord. He can not live a day.
Nin. A day! You've hurried then! I bade you fill His wounds with mortal but a lingering bane! Go, have him brought within! He must not die Without my foot upon his neck!
(As Vassin is going) What said The queen?
Vas. She cried 'My brother's lost!'
Nin. No more?
Vas. O, then her soul put sorrow's grandeur on, And those about her saw a noble storm; But yet so proud her royal eyes, each drop That fell from them were worth a world To him for whom they fell!
Nin. (Aside) He loves the queen!
(Enter Semiramis, left, centre)
Sem. Is this thing true my lord? O, surely Heaven Will cry out 'No' though thou must answer 'Ay!'
Nin. (To Vassin) Go! (Exit Vassin, right front)
Sem. Is it true?
Nin. Too true, my queen! Khosrove is maimed beyond all hope of life, And thou must make thy husband heir to love That was thy brother's.
Nin. Thy grief is mine.
Sem. I will not weep, though I could shed such streams As when the clouds from riven breast pour down Their torrent agonies!... How strange, my lord, The guards should venture so without your warrant!
Nin. I've had their heads for it!
Sem. (Shocked) Their heads!... Why, this 'Tis to be royal! Ah!
Nin. Put by these thoughts, Semiramis. No theme to-day but love!
Sem. Love, sir?
Nin. Ay, that! Thou lov'st me, dost thou not?
Sem. Thou art great Ninus!
Nin. I'd be loved as man! Forget my kingdom, and put arms about me As doth the peasant maid her beggar lord!
Sem. (Moving from him) I thought thy greatness married my ambition To make Assyria brave e'en to the gods! I'll keep my promise ... howsoever thine Is broken. Crowned, my glorious purpose beats Higher than any dream my maiden heart Could nourish! I will keep my word. But love? If thou wouldst have it—win it!
(Starts away, then turns back to him)
Hast yet found A governor for the city?
Sem. Delay At this unsettled time? Dost think it safe?
Nin. I've ordered every tower-watch redoubled, Each gate close-locked, and keep the keys myself! None goes or comes till I have found the man For governor.
Sem. Would not Vassin serve?
Nin. (With suspicion) I've other use for him. Perchance he'll go From Nineveh.
Sem. My lord, there's one from Gazim, Sumbat, thou'lt find as true as thine own heart. Who with some aid from me—
Nin. From you? So, so!
Sem. (In surprise) I was my father's head and hand, my lord. Who knows the guardian locks and wards and plans Secretive for thy safety but myself? Whom thou dost choose must learn somewhat of me.
Nin. Ay, you'll nob heads together!
Nin. Well, well— I'll choose a man!
(Exit moodily, right centre)
Sem. Strange ... but he is the king! ... Ah, Khosrove! Artavan!... Nay, I will think Of nothing but my duty to the crown!... ... "And with a father and a brother lost—"
(Enter Sola, left, front. She sees that Semiramis is alone and advances)
Sem. "Though thou wert worshipped, thou couldst not be happy!"
Sol. Tell me! When does he come?
Sem. Who, child?
Sol. You ask? My husband—Artavan!
Sem. He will not come.
Sol. Art thou not queen?
Sem. And Ninus king.
Sol. He will not save thy brother?
Sem. Nay, he can not.
Sol. O monster king!
Sem. Hush, Sola ... he forgave My father.
Sol. Oh!—because he knew him dead!
Sem. He knew him dead!
Sol. Ah, I will tell you now!
(Looks about guardedly, and speaks in a low tone)
I saw your father die—and Ninus saw him! Dokahra waked me—and unseen we watched! The king came to the tent—discovered all— Doomed him to death—you to dishonor! Then Your father rose to strike him—and fell dead. The king—
Sem. Go! Leave me, Sola! Leave me! Go!
(Exit Sola, left, near front)
Sem. (Stands in silent horror, then speaks slowly) ... I'll keep my oath ... and crown. Still will I make Assyria great. Assyria is the army, And I ... am queen of arms ... not love! Not love!
Sem. (Softly, not seeing Ninus) "Dost know what love is, daughter of Menones?"
Nin. (Advancing) My bride!
Sem. (Turning to him) My lord, I would see Sumbat. Pray Let him be summoned.
Nin. Nay, we've sworn this day Shall be for us alone!
Sem. 'Twas he I charged With care of the Armenian prince.
Nin. My queen Shall not be troubled.
Sem. 'T will not trouble me, My lord.
Nin. Enough it troubles me!
Sem. He'd know Of this foul fault, against your will—
Nin. Again That theme! Forget it!
Sem. O, my lord, forget That noble prince? So brave—so proud—so fair—
Nin. What do you say? O, you changed eyes with him!
Sem. My lord!
Nin. This is your grief! Your brother! Ha!
Sem. Your majesty—
Nin. Not majesty! Fool! Fool! Ho, there! Bring in the Armenian! You shall see This noble prince! So brave—so proud—so fair! Her brother! O, fool, fool, fool!
Sem. This the king?
Nin. Why, I'm a fool, my lady!
(Guards enter right front with a half lifeless body)
Look on him! He's had some kisses since you saw him last That struck full deep!
Sem. (Staggering back) Is that—
Nin. Ay, it is he! Look on him! 'Tis your Khosrove! Your—
Sem. (Majestically) Peace Ninus! When you have knelt to me I'll hear you speak!
(Exit left centre)
Nin. (Stares after her and becomes calm) Now I have ruined all. She'll not forgive!
(Enter Vassin, left, rear)
Vas. My lord, the brother of the queen has come.
Nin. Not Artavan?
Vas. Ay, Artavan.
Nin. He's here?
Vas. When Husak had your oath you'd free his son, Prince Khosrove, Artavan was sent at once To Nineveh.
Nin. How could he pass The gates?
Vas. He passed before your order fell.
Nin. We'll welcome him.
(Looks toward the queen's room)
I'll make my peace with this.
(Goes out with Vassin, left, rear. Semiramis enters hesitatingly, sees that Ninus is gone and advances fearfully toward the figure on the floor. The guards stand back, right front. She retreats, covering her eyes; then approaches and bends over the body. Searches his face, and throws up her hands in sudden joy)
Sem. Not Khosrove! O, it is not Khosrove!
(Leaves him and hurries to exit, trying to suppress her emotion. Returns to the body)
Where is the prince? Poor wretch! Can you not speak? ... Are these thy ways, ambition?
Voice without. Way! Make way!
(Semiramis hurries to her room. Enter the king, left rear, walking with Khosrove, and followed by Vassin and Sumbat)
Nin. Speak not of going, Artavan!
Khos. I must, O king! I pray your leave to go at once To Gazim. Sudden troubles urge me there. I beg your kingly warrant I may pass The gates—
Nin. Nay, you shall stay! We shall persuade you!
(To attendant) Summon the queen. Her voice we'll add to ours.
Khos. My lord—
Nin. We like you, Artavan! By Bel, We do! You're worthy of your sister queen! No more—you'll stay! ... See! This is Khosrove!
(Bends over body on the floor) Is—
Or was? ... He lives.... Think you these bones will hold Until they reach old Husak? Now you've come, We must keep faith! Ha! ha!
Khos. And that—is Khosrove?
Nin. Truth, 'tis! ... Bear out the dog!
(Guards bear off body, right front. Enter Semiramis. Sumbat crosses to her)
Sem. My brother? Where?
Khos. Here! (Advancing to her)
Sum. (To Semiramis) Be not amazed And Artavan is safe!
Nin. This welcome's cold Methinks. We gave him warmer greeting.
Sem. Sir, Such sudden joy—My brother knows there's none I hold more dear.
Nin. How now? Not one?
Sem. (Dropping her eyes from Khosrove) Yes—one— Perhaps.
Nin. (Pleased, taking her hand) We are forgiven?
Sem. Indeed, my lord.
Nin. And for your brother, hear our royal word. We make him governor of Nineveh!
Sem. (In alarm) No! no!
Nin. 'Tis done! Go, Vassin, bring the keys!
(Exit Vassin, right front)
And wear this ring, my general!
Khos. My lord, I could not undertake—
Nin. You shall!—The queen Will charge you with all duties.
Sem. No! I will not!
Nin. Ay, ay! We know we please you 'gainst your word And not your will.
Sem. He is too young, my lord!
Nin. Menones was too old. And 'twas yourself Who taught us how to prize your brother.
(Re-enter Vassin with a chain of great keys, which the king takes)
(Throws chains about Khosrove's neck, and singles out the keys)
The citadel! The southern arsenal! The northern wall—the secret passages— And these the tunnel locks and river gates! You'll take command at once, and so relieve The city which we've shut fast as a tomb, Fearing that spies from Husak's camp might creep Into our bosom.
Khos. Wisely done, my lord.
Sem. O king, if 't must be so, I'll map for him My fathers safe division of the city.
Nin. To you we leave him.
(Talks apart with Vassin and Sumbat)
Sem. Sir, what do you mean?
Khos. (Hurriedly) When Vassin came to take me into charge, Sumbat contrived another should be sent—
Sem. We know the rest! But how save Artavan?
Khos. When I have entered Husak's camp he's free! You trust me?
Sem. O, I must! I do! But not To save my brother may I trust to you The city's keys! You are Assyria's foe—
Khos. Not now! No more a foe, but truest friend! For in my heart you are Assyria, And you I'd serve—
Nin. Cut short thy schooling, for The city waits.
Sem. (Aloud, mapping in her hand) The river here divides The eastern guard—(lowers her voice) I must not do this! No! Risk every soul in Nineveh—
Khos. Did I Not trust thee when I entered here? I knew The face that shone upon me in the battle Would not betray me! Who gives perfect trust Is worthy of it! Thou dost know me true By Heaven's sign that only souls may read! I can not say what I would say because Thou art a wife, but wert thou not a wife, Though thou wert thousand times a queen, I'd pour Such worship to your ears you would believe My heart would rend my body's walls and leap Out of my bosom sooner than beat once A traitor to your trust! Take Ninus' ring! Give me this little one—(slipping a ring from her finger) that hath enclosed The sovereign rose and ruby of thy veins That dims his purple power—and thee I serve— Your general—not his! Whate'er you would I will! Command me now—
Sem. Enough! Go, go! Lose no more time!
Khos. O, in some dream to come, When innocence may wear what form it will And on thy waking nature leave no blush, May words I must not speak take life and pay The debt they owe this hour!
Sem. I beg you go! Assyria's in your hands!
Khos. Nay, in my heart!
Nin. Come, Artavan! No more delay! Your troops Await before the citadel.
Khos. I go, My lord.
(Confusion without, left rear. Enter an officer)
Off. Pardon, your majesty! A man Who says he's brother to the queen, makes bold To press before you!
Nin. Yet another brother?
Sem. No, no, my lord!
Off. He comes from Husak's camp.
Sem. It is some madman surely, or a spy Who plays his wits are lost and takes this way To force into the court!
Khos. I'll thrust him out! He may mean danger to your person.
Nin. Nay, We'll sport with him. Let him come in!
Sem. My lord—
Nin. Your brother! Ho, ho, ho!
Art. My sister!
Sem. (Staring) Sir?
Art. Though queen, art thou not still my sister?
Art. (Bowing with scornful ceremony) Your majesty!
Nin. Ha! ha! His sister! Then Thou wouldst be brother to the king?
Art. (Bitterly) My hope Runs not so high, and even to her I now Give up all claim. I'll own no blood but that In my own veins keeps honor! So farewell!
Nin. Be not so fast! Whence comest thou, my man?
Art. From Husak's camp. When he received thy word His son should go to him, he set me free.
Sem. Oh, set you free!
Art. And now, O king—
Sem. (Seeing that the king is impressed) My lord, If he came from the camp how has he passed The city gates?
Nin. Ah ... true ... he could not pass.
Sem. (Mockingly) Perhaps he scaled the hundred feet of wall, And crossed the rampart 'neath the arrow watch Of towers eighty-score!
Art. I found a way, Proud woman!
(As Artavan speaks Sola enters left front, and is held aside by Sumbat)
Art. This morning ere the battle She who was then my sister gave me this.
'Twas some direction sent unto my father, The lord Menones. (Turning paper) On this side I found A map whose secret key I knew, that marked A passage 'neath the river. This I sought, Found it unguarded—
Nin. By the seven winds!—
(Enter an officer)
Off. O king!
Nin. You're of the northern watch?
Off. I am, O king! The Armenians advance upon The northern wall, but come with lances down!
Art. They come in peace to meet the son of Husak!
Sem. O, haste, my lord! Haste, Artavan to duty! Their rage when they shall learn the fate of Khosrove May give them courage to assail our walls! Go, brother!
Nin. Hold! This man speaks not as madmen!
Sem. Should I not know my brother, sir?
Nin. You should. Choose which is he. The other we condemn To death.
Art. (Holding out his arms) Save me, Semiramis!
Khos. (Holding out his arms) Save me, My sister!
Sem. (Going to Khosrove's arms) Brother!
Nin. (To Khosrove) Haste thee to thy office! Vassin, attend him! Sumbat, be his chief! We trust where trusts the queen!
Sem. (To Khosrove) Give up the keys To Sumbat!
(Exeunt Khosrove, Vassin, Sumbat, left rear)
Nin. (To Artavan) You to death! (Signs to guards)
Sem. My royal lord, First would I question him alone, and learn The truth about this passage. He may be In league with traitors subtler than himself. One moment, sir, I pray.
Nin. O, ever wise! Bribe him with any promise death may keep To tell you all. But do not linger, love; We lose our bridal day!
(Exit, right centre. Semiramis looks at Artavan with the greatest tenderness. He gazes coldly upon her, Sola clinging to him)
Art. What would the queen?
Sem. To be again thy sister. Dost not guess? That man—
Art. Who can he be you prize above Your honor and my life?
Sem. The son of him Who set you free on Ninus' oath, an oath Broke in the heart ere it had left the lips!
Art. My brave Semiramis! You've saved the prince, And with his life my honor! O, pardon me!
Sem. He was escaping in your name when you Arrived too soon—
Art. Forgive me that!
Sem. And now To save my brother!
Art. Hope it not. Be glad That one is safe. Had Khosrove lost his life In Ninus' court, my oath had driven me back To Husak—and to death. No power then Had saved me. Now—
Sem. Now thou shalt live!
Art. Nay, see! His guards watch well! There is no way.
Sem. No way But through the will of Ninus. He shall save thee!
Art. O, for your own dear life, Semiramis, Let Ninus know not I am Artavan!
Sem. He dare not touch me, for the army's mine!
(Goes into Ninus' chamber)
Sol. My love!
Art. 'Tis welcome and farewell, my Sola!
Sol. O, she will save thee!
Art. Teach me not to hope.
(A band of dancing maidens enter, left, and sing a bridal chorus before the doors of Ninus' chamber)
Love and Beauty now are one, No more wandering away! Love's the sky to Beauty's sun, From him she can not stray. And he is bright by her fair light or none!
Love and Beauty dreaming lie, Who shall say it is not meet? Who shall say, O fie, O fie, To the favor sweet That Love will ask and Beauty not deny?
(Maidens dance out, right. Re-enter Semiramis)
Sem. He's wild with rage! I can not calm him!
Sol. Oh, To lose thee now!
(Enter Ninus. He advances upon Semiramis)
Nin. Who is he, then—that man— If not thy brother? To whose arms you went As you have never come to mine?
Sem. A man Whose life you owed to me by holiest promise And oath unto the gods! I saved your soul When I so saved—
Nin. Speak! Who?
Sem. The son of Husak, Prince Khosrove, of Armenia!
(Utter silence. Ninus stands choked and dumb; then moves to strike Semiramis)
Sem. Strike me You strike your army!
(Ninus drops his hand and stares at her, livid and shaken, then turns fiercely upon Artavan)
Sem. (Rushes before him and falls, clinging to his knees) Wait, O wait, my lord! If thou dost Hope to know my love! Dost dream Of bridal joy! Wouldst rest thy head in peace Upon my bosom, say thou wilt forgive! And I, too, will forgive! No more will ask What thou hast done or not done! All thy past Is fair as Heaven by this moment's sun! I'll love thee as thou hadst been born this hour That gives my brother life! O, speak the word, And take me to thy heart—thy wife—thy slave—
Nin. By earth and heaven, he shall die—and now!
(Raises his dagger to strike. Enter Vassin)
Vas. (Excitedly) My lord, this is the strangest governor! He ordered me with Sumbat to lead out The city troops beyond the southern gate, Then spurred to north! Sumbat obeyed, but I, Not liking this, returned to you!
Nin. 'Tis Khosrove!
Vas. (Staggered) Then we are lost!
Nin. Pursue him! Fly! Call back Our troops!
Vas. Too late! By now they're locked without The southern wall, and Khosrove rides to ope The north to Husak!
Sem. (Aside) False! Down, slanderous thought That darkens me not him! That face that looked As Truth had chosen it to show her own To man! That voice—each word the enchanted door To holier worlds unspoken! No. I'll trust!
(Enter an officer)
Off. O, great Assyria, the Armenians come! The Gazim traitor's sold thee unto Husak! Thy foes are pouring through the northern gate And bear down on the palace! Sumbat holds Thy troops upon the southern plain And bars All passage! There's no help!
(Ninus listens speechless)
Attendants. (Running in) O, we are lost!
Off. The city will be sacked! The palace guards Are but a handful!
Sem. False? O, Khosrove! False? Then there is no man true? E'en Sumbat lost To thy sweet promises! False! false!
(Enter a second officer)
Off. (Prostrating himself) Oh Ninus! Call on thy gods! Thy enemies are at thee! The palace is enclosed, and every foe Bears in his hand a torch that blazes death To all within!
(The inmates of the palace are running to and fro, rear, and looking fearfully out into the court below)
Sem. O beauteous gods, is this Your earth? Where Falsehood steals your garments, nay Your smile, seduces with your voice, and stamps Your semblance upon fiends?
Voices. Save us, O king!
(Ninus stands immovable, as if made deaf and dumb by impending disaster)
Voice. We burn! They cast the brands!
Another. Not yet! They wait!
Voices of prostrate figures. Save us, O king!
Voice. See! see! The leader speaks!
Another. His herald! Hear!
(A trumpet sounds below)
Voice of Khosrove's herald. Assyria, come forth!
(All within listen, silent, eager, fearful)
Hear thou, O Ninus! Hear the word of Khosrove! He will depart with the Armenian troops, And leave the city free of sword and fire, If thou'lt decree that Artavan shall live Free and unharmed!
(The face of Semiramis illumines with joy)
Deny and Nineveh Shall flame!
Nin. My herald there! Stand forth!
(The herald of Ninus takes station centre rear)
Decree As Khosrove wills!
Her. of Khos. Appear, O Ninus!
Her. of Khos. Appear, O Ninus!
(Ninus goes slowly to rear and stands by his herald)
Her. of Khos. Hear, all Nineveh! Hear the decree of Ninus, king and god! That Artavan, the brother of the queen, Shall freely live, and die by no man's hand!
Her. of Ninus. (Blows trumpet, then speaks)
Hear the decree of Ninus, king and god, That Artavan, the brother of the queen, Shall freely live, and die by no man's hand!
(Silence. The voice of Khosrove below)
Khos. Assyria, speak!
Nin. I, Ninus, so decree!
(Staggers back toward front as all press to rear to see the troops go out. Semiramis, Artavan and Sola stand together gazing out)
Sem. O, Khosrove! See—he rides—away—away!
(Leans forward waving her scarf. Ninus, alone in front, goes toward his chamber, falls on the steps overpowered with rage and lifts his clenched hands)
Nin. O, vengeance! Vengeance for a king!
Scene: The gardens over the lake. A wide bridge extends from the bank of the lake, left, to the gardens which are partly visible on the right. At the rear, right, is a garlanded archway. At the left, front, steps lead from the bridge to the bank and top of the bridge. Beyond the bridge, rear, clouds show that the sun is setting.
A score of spearmen, with lances down, march in right, front, and out through archway, right, rear.
Enter, right, front, the king and Sumbat. The king is royally clad and crowned; Sumbat in official robe.
Sumbat. Khosrove delays.
Nin. But do not doubt he'll come. I have his word, and couriers have seen His horsemen on the plain.
Sum. How noble, sir, To close the Feast of Peace with supreme revel In honor of your foe!
Nin. Not foe, good Sumbat. We have no foes. Our queen's triumphant arms Have made glad subjects of all enemies But one, and him we make our friend. To-night Assyria and Armenia sup as one!
(Turns toward right, rear)
We'll see if all's prepared as we gave order.
(Exeunt under the arch of garlands. Dancers enter, right, front, and pass out through arch. Following them, Semiramis with her women. All are in rich attire but the queen who wears simple white robe. A dove nestles on her bosom. She gives the women leave to pass on and they go out merrily through arch, right, rear. Semiramis lingers; comes to the railing of the bridge, centre, and leans upon it)
Sem. Will Khosrove come? I do not doubt the king,— And yet—I pray he will not come!
(Re-enter Sumbat, through arch. He comes out to the queen)
Sem. You, Sumbat? Where is the king?
Sum. I left him in the garden, Giving new orders for Prince Khosrove's honor.
Sem. Sumbat, you trust the king?
Sum. I do. You've wrought Such noble change in him that drop by drop He's mated all his blood unto your virtues.
Sem. I must believe it, lest a doubt should breed The weakness it suspects. But is 't not strange Khosrove should trust him too?
Sum. He knows that you Would warn him if there lay a danger here.
Sem. I warn him? But suppose the warning false? 'T would wrong the king, whose purpose seems so pure It might have journeyed with his soul when first It came from Heaven! No. I'll answer for him! He could not counterfeit so deep my eyes Would find no bottom to deceit!... But now What hast thou heard of Artavan?
Sum. No word.
Sem. I fear—
Sum. He's safe. Be sure of that. No man Would dare lay finger on him!
Sem. But to go Without a word! Poor Sola grieves, and weeps As though she'd drown her wits in tears.
(A boat glides from under the bridge and over the water beneath them)
See there! 'Tis she! Alone below!
(Sola alights from boat and runs up steps to the bridge)
I'll speak to her.
Go, Sumbat! (Sumbat goes off right)
(Stops Sola as she is passing)
Why do you run?
Sol. I'm running from the king!
Sem. The king, my love? There's no king here.
Sol. Nay, he's below!
Sol. Under the bridge with Vassin!
Sem. Vassin? No. The king has sent him out of Nineveh!
Sol. He did not go. I swear that he's below!
Sem. What were you doing 'neath the bridge?
Sol. Ah me, I seek in every place for Artavan. I'll save him from the king!
Sem. So kind a king?
Sol. O, kind! As death, or plague, or leprosy! 'Tis he has taken revenge on Artavan! He'll kill the prince, too, when he comes!
Sem. My child—
Sol. (Pointing down) I heard them talking there!
Sem. Thy husband's safe. Bethink thee that the king's decree protects him.
Sol. Not from the king! From man, not from the gods, And Ninus is a god, or dreams he is!
Sem. From man—not from—no, no! I will not say Or think it! My poor child—
Sol. You'll save the prince? 'Tis you he trusts, not Ninus!
Sem. Sweet, be calm. You did not see the king.
Sol. Hear all, and save him! When Khosrove takes the seat of highest honor, Lord of the Revels by Assyria's favor, The floor will part, the chair fall to the lake, Where Vassin waits to slay him, while the king Strikes down in wrath the master of the feast For fault of accident!
Sem. Where are your wits? See, yonder comes the king!
(Re-enter Ninus through archway)
Sem. (As he approaches) Is all prepared, My lord?
Sol. (To Semiramis) 'Tis true—true—true!
(Runs off, right)
Nin. Ay, all is ready Except the queen. What means these simple robes, Semiramis?
Sem. A compliment unto Your majesty.
Nin. It shows more like affront! I would have Khosrove see a splendor here Unpainted in the daring of his dream, And thou the star of it! A merchant's daughter Would robe her handmaid with more care—lend her A pearl or two—a bit of scarf—or scrap Of tinsel sun—
Sem. My lord—
Nin. A compliment! 'Tis your disdain—
Sem. It grieves me, sir, that you Should read in outward sign what never yet Was in my soul. Our wars are done, my lord; And exultation of the conquering hour Calms into peace; as I laid armor by For victor robes and symbol of my glory, I now cast off the purple of the queen, And but remember that I am a wife.
Nin. (Embracing her) Beloved Semiramis! Forgive thy slave! No royal dye could shine so to my eyes As this soft white put on for me alone! Thy pardon, love, and thou shalt shortly learn A king, too, knows how best to compliment! An honor waits for thee—
(Enter officer, left)
Off. O king!
Nin. We hear!
Off. The Armenian approaches.
Nin. Khosrove comes?
(Semiramis watches the king closely)
Off. He comes, great Ninus!
Nin. Well, and more than well! Summon our train. (Exit officer, right) But one is lacking here, Our brother—Artavan.
Sem. My lord—you think—
Nin. Who would dare harm him? He is safe.
Sem. (Coming very near him) From man, Not from the gods.
Nin. (Stepping back) What do you mean?
Sem. The truth!
Nin. (Seizing her arm) It is not so! I do deny it!
Sem. (Calmly) What, My lord?
Nin. What meant you when you said 'the truth'!
Sem. That gods may work some harm to Artavan.
Nin. (At ease) True, love! Uncertain is their favor. Look! He comes! (Gazing off left)
Sem. (Aside) He's false! And if he's false in this—then is— O, Khosrove, thou art lured to death! And I Have been thy traitorous star!
(Enter Khosrove, left, attended by Armenians)
Nin. Hail, Khosrove! Hail!
Assyrians. Hail to Armenia! Hail!
Khos. O, Ninus, hail!
Armenians. Hail to Assyria, greatest over kings!
Nin. Thou'rt welcome, and we thank thee for thy trust, Which we'll betray when Heaven has no god To damn our treachery! In proof of faith, Wear thou the royal dagger with thy own.
(Detaches his weapon, which he gives to Khosrove)
Our queen—has she no word?
(Khosrove bows low before Semiramis)
Sem. Peace and long life To Khosrove.
Nin. Now to revel! Sound the trumpets!
(Exeunt officers through archway. Trumpets sound from the gardens. Dancing maidens in white robes, each with a dove resting on her hand, enter right front, reach the centre of the stage, and begin the dance of doves. As the maidens describe circles in the dance the doves rise and fly in similar circles above their heads, and re-alight on their extended hands)
Sem. (Who has stood aside during the dance, apparently disturbed) It is not true! Were any man so vile Nature would spurn him back to chaos ere His mother had beheld him!
(The dance ends. The maidens pass out under arch. All move to follow when Ninus speaks)
Nin. Stay! Hear, all! Before we feast in honor of our guest, We would do honor to our noble queen, Whose arms of might have brought our land to peace. Whose looks of love have brought our heart to rest! To-night we doff our crown that she may wear it!
And here decree her word shall be obeyed Above our own.
(Puts crown on the queen's head)
Dost like our compliment?
Sem. It is too much, my king.
Nin. (Kneeling) Nay, nay, thy subject!
(Semiramis seems gay with a sudden resolve)
Sem. If it so please thee then I'll be the king!
Nin. (Rising) We have decreed. If any here refuse To honor thy command, though thou shouldst doom My death, himself that instant dies. (To officer) You, sir, Take order for it, and if your own hand fail, When we are king again we'll have your head!
Off. My arm be as your will, my lord!
Sem. O, then I have a wish I did not dare to voice.
Nin. Command it now.
Sem. It hath much troubled me That Khosrove should be honored over you, Lord of the Revels.
Khos. (Astonished) Lady—
Sem. King, if 't please you! I've laid my purple by, but I have still The royal color in my heart. Think'st thou To sit above Assyria, who wearest not The brave investment of the gods? who hold'st Thy sceptre still from warrior chiefs, not from Anointed kings?
Khos. Because my race is proud! Too proud to kneel to any earthly king And take the sacred vestment from his hands!
Sem. You see, my lord, that even in his heart He ranks himself above you!
Nin. But, my love—
Khos. Farewell! Thou didst me service once, and here I thought to thank thee, but—
Nin. Stay, Khosrove, stay!
Khos. Farewell, with all my heart!
Sem. O, my lord. Let him depart. He mocks our glory, and bears A challenge in his proud simplicity That puts our splendor to defense.
Khos. Nay, madam! I came to lay my duty at your feet, And lift my eyes no higher than your hand Without your royal leave! But now I'll cast My gaze upon the stars, forgetting that You walk beneath them! (Going)
Nin. Stay, O prince!
(To Semiramis) A boon, your majesty! 'T would blot our honor To send him from us thus! We shall be plunged Anew in wars, for Husak will avenge it! I am thy most unhappy subject, and Thou'lt hear my prayer!
(Goes after Khosrove and leads him back)
You'll stay, O Khosrove?
Khos. Ay, On one condition.
Nin. Name it!
Khos. That you will take Our seat at feast.
Sem. That is our command!
Nin. No, no!
Sem. We'll have it so!
Nin. I'll not consent!
Sem. It is our royal order! Guards for Ninus!
Nin. What do you mean?
Sem. To have our way! Guards here! You shall not do this wrong to your high self! We'll look unto your honor! (To guards) Bear him in!
(Guards stand in amazement)
Did ye not hear the king's decree? I reign!
(Guards take hold of Ninus)
Nin. By Hut and Nim!
Sem. Place him in Khosrove's seat!
(Guards draw Ninus through the archway. Khosrove follows, then all but Semiramis, who lingers fearfully, runs toward front, then back and listens)
Sem. 'Tis true! What have I done? Ye gods! 'tis true! He would not so rebel if 't were not true! But Vassin is below! He'll know his king And save him!
(Kneels) Belus, mighty Belus, pardon!
(The sun has set, and red clouds show almost black over water, rear. The front of stage is nearly dark. Lights glimmer from the gardens, and a faint torch shows in the darkness under the bridge. Shouts and shrieks come from within. People rush out)
Voices. The king! the king!
Sem. (Retreating to railing, front) 'Tis done!
Officer. (Running across) The king has fallen Into the lake! Lights there! below! (Runs down steps leading under the bridge)
Other officers following. Lights! lights!
(Torches flare under the bridge. Darkness above as the last light fades from the sky. A moment of noise and search, and officers appear on the bridge, right, rear, with Vassin. A guard bears torch which throws light on his face)
Sem. (Confronting him) You've saved the king!
Vas. I have. For I have slain His foe!
Sem. His foe? No—you have killed the king!
(Falls back into the arms of her women. Complete darkness on stage. An instant later moonlight. Khosrove and Semiramis alone on the bridge, centre, front)
Khos. (Bowing ceremoniously) Farewell, Assyria!
Sem. O, not that name! Not yet—not yet.
Khos. Does it not please your pride?
Sem. My pride? 'Tis gone. Now I could lay my head Upon the dust.
Khos. In truth! But you'll not do it! Humility's a word the great think sweet Upon the tongue, but near the heart they find It loseth flavor!
Sem. Ah ... you do not know? You think the words I spoke were born of pride? So far from that—no, no—I will not tell, And yet you wrong me, prince.
Khos. (Eagerly) Did you suspect Some danger to me here, and seek to force My angry leave? You did not care so much?
Sem. I cared so much that rather than betray you I would have let you go believing me A woman worth your scorn. Ah, there my pride In truth did suffer!
Khos. O, Semiramis! Thou art the same as when I saw thee last? As when I rode away and left thy face— The only face in Nineveh—nay—I— Will go. Farewell, most noble queen!
Sem. Why go in haste?
Khos. I left my father sick. He will be troubled till I come again.
Sem. How dared you trust—
Khos. What would I not have dared To look on thee again?... My horsemen wait....
(Waving toward left)
Sem. Farewell!... Armenia is my friend? I'm sad.... The manner of this death.... It weighs Upon me.
Khos. Let it not. Thou'rt innocent
Sem. O, some may doubt!
Khos. But who wrongs Virtue puts A crown upon her! If thou hadst foreknown The accident—
Sem. The accident?
Khos. 'Twas not Designed?
Sem. It was ... for you.
Khos. By Ninus?
Sem. Ay. You were to die.
Khos. Then you—you knew—that he—
(Starts from her in horror)
Sem. What's in thy mind? What thought doth paint thy face In dreadful silence? Oh! you think that I—
(Looks at him with equal horror. Removes farther from him, regains composure, and speaks with haughty coldness)
This serves me well! Right well, Armenian! Yes—yes—I knew—I knew the king would fall. But knew, too, sir, that Vassin was below, And, by my precious gods, I did not dream He would not save his king! While you—my guest— You would have gone to death!
Khos. Forgive me!
(Semiramis walks farther, not heeding him)
Oh, I found a stream that ran from heavenly springs And in it cast the soot of hell!
Sem. Well served— Well served, Semiramis!... I was so sad ... And would not be content to let him go ... I wanted but a word ... a word to cheer me ... And now I have it—murderess!
Khos. (Who has advanced to her) No, no, I did not say it!
Sem. The tongue may well keep silent When eyes speak lightning. I have heard too much! 'T were better I had let you die!
Khos. Ay, better ... Better than this!
Sem. Now, now I am Assyria! No more a woman! Softness to the winds! And let my heart be as my armor—steel!
Khos. Thou canst not make it so by saying it. There is no cold or heat may temper hearts Away from their true nature. Mail thyself From head to foot, thou'rt still Semiramis!
Sem. A queen!
(An officer enters, left)
Off. Your majesty, an urgent hand Brings this report.
(Gives paper to her, which she reads)
Sem. The Ghecs are in revolt! Thank them for me! They could not show me favor More to my heart!
(Exit officer, left)
I'm sick of peace—this peace That gives men time to brood and breed foul thoughts And fouler deeds! Give me the open war whose blows Rain down as free as moonbeams from the sun! Who meets me there I know, at least, he's brave, And there—
Sem. (Proudly) Armenia, speak! You have our leave.
Khos. These Ghecs—my father is Their ancient, sworn ally!
Sem. Well, sir?
Khos. His oath Binds him to give them aid.
Sem. The braver then The battle!
Khos. I am my father's son!
Sem. You mean We'll meet upon the field!
Khos. I can not take The field against you!
Sem. No? Why not?
Khos. You know! Because I love you!
Sem. Sir, I am Assyria!
Khos. Nay, but Menones' daughter! She whose heart I touched—
Sem. You touched?
Khos. Ere taint of pride or power Or mad ambition had laid a canker there! When she was maiden still, and knew no thought She might not whisper in her father's ear! Gentle as Spring when hushing the young dove, But strong from virgin battle, with the flush Of valorous purpose pure as goddess' dream Starting the noble war-blood in her cheek! 'Tis she I speak to now—she that I love— Not the proud queen grown bold in blood and triumph! Love me, Semiramis! You shall have peace! Not this sick peace that turns your heart to hate, But peace that charms the beauty back to life And new dreams to the soul! O, no more war! Then lilies springing in thy steps shall say What fairer grace went by! These fingers shall Forget the sword whose music is men's groans, And on sweet strings draw out the heart of love To give the world the key of melody! Ah, you shall war no more—
Sem. Sir, you forget! These Ghecs—
Khos. Will not revolt if I become Assyria's head! They trust me as their—
Sem. You! Assyria's head! You! you! O, now I see! I'm not yet blind, although my heart was fast Upstealing to my eyes to make me so!
Khos. O clear thy sight a second time, my queen, And read me true!
Sem. And you had almost moved me!
Khos. Melt, stony eyes—
Sem. The magic's left the earth That had the power to soften them!
Khos. Not so—
Sem. You'd keep me still the general's humble daughter While you would wear the glory I have won!
Khos. Nay, by Mylitta's fire!—
Sem. We'd war no more. For who has all may well hang by the sword!
Khos. By Heaven, I—
Sem. O, you are man as he was!
(Looks toward the garden shuddering)
I'll trust no more! Who's worthy trust will give it! So saidst thou once! But thou couldst doubt—so dark A doubt my soul—
Khos. Nay, that's not my offense! You are a woman, and you must forgive! But you are queen, too, and the queen in you Guards her ambition from my honest love Lest it divide her glory!
Sem. True, she guards it! Out of Assyrian stone I'll make a heart And wear it in my bosom!
Khos. Do not say it! I did not mean the words! They are not so! Thou dost not know thyself! Hard are the lips That never know a kiss, and thine were made With softness of the rose! Though all the streams Of power on earth poured to thy sovereign sea, Still wouldst thou want, and empty be the heart One drop of love would fill!
Sem. You speak As to a woman!
Khos. Ay, for so thou art! Be now thyself! Thy peace alone I plead! I can bear all but thy unhappiness! For love—true love—forgets itself and makes But one prayer unto Heaven—prayer for the good Of the beloved!
Sem. Thou wouldst not share my throne?
Khos. Thy throne?
Sem. Ay, so I said.
Khos. I care not for it, But since 'tis thine, I could not be a man Worthy thyself and take a place beneath thee. I'd be thy husband, and I know thou'rt not A woman to look down and love!
Sem. O theft In argument! To make my monarch soul Speak from thy mouth against me!
Khos. Not against thee! To beg thee yield to love is but to plead Thy greater cause! Ah, days will come to thee When all the maiden in thy heart will rise And drown the queen's! Thou canst not call me back! To-morrow is the battle! O, I lied To say thou wert ambitious and ungentle—
Sem. No, thou didst not! 'Tis true! I am—
Khos. No, no! I'll prove it is not so! See here—the dove— That nestles at your breast! Why is it here?
Sem. Because I was a woman once—and dreamed On foolish, woman things! (Frees bird from her bosom) Fly! fly! And as I pluck thee out I pluck away All thought of mortal love, and stand alone Beneath Assyria's crown!
Khos. (Gazes at her in despair) Then I'll be gone!
Sem. You've pleaded well, but my domains are broad, And might give tongue to wilder eloquence Without love's sweet excuse!
Khos. No more! I go!
(Moves off, left. Near exit, turns)
I lead my father's troops!
Sem. I lead my own!
(Exit Khosrove. She looks after him without moving until he passes out of sight. The moonlight is less bright. Her dove flies over her head. She starts and looks after it. The bird alights. She watches it eagerly and waits. It circles about her, then darts to her bosom. With an exultant moan she clasps it to her breast)
Scene: Within Husak's tent. Husak, Khosrove, Armenian lords and soldiers.
Husak. Bring in the widow!
Now, my son, thou'lt see Assyria at thy feet. Ay, she who scorned To match her crown with thine, shall low as earth Cry up for favor!
Khos. Sir, I would not see it!
Hus. Still in that humor? Well, I promise thee She shall have mercy.
Khos. Mercy, father?
Khos. What wilt thou grant?
Hus. Ask of thy heart,
(Khosrove is about to speak) Peace, boy! For once we'll be a father, not a soldier! Wait!
(Khosrove kneels and kisses his father's hand as Semiramis enters between guards. She is robed and crowned, her arms fettered with golden chains, and holds herself proudly, not looking at Husak. She turns to Khosrove, who watches her eagerly)
Sem. We meet again. Wert thou upon the field? I saw thee not. Perchance thy father thought 'T were wise to find his health and lead his troops Lest Love should blunt thy sword!
Hus. By Bel, his sword Was sharp enough to find the heart of Sumbat,— Your general!
Sem. Sumbat slain! (Turns to Khosrove) and slain by you!
Khos. I had my choice—to slay him or to die.
Sem. (With bitter scorn) And did the love that makes one prayer to Heaven Rule in that choice?
Hus. These taunts, Semiramis—
Khos. Nay, father, she has cause to use me so.
Sem. Oh, you confess you played with me! Then, heart, In with thy scorn for this outbraves thy own!
(Turns away, folding her chained hands on her breast, and stands as if she would speak no more)
Hus. You make no suit for mercy?
Sem. (Turning to him) What! from thee? Who kill your captives ere your tent is struck, Nor spare a guard to drive them from the field?
Hus. I grant what I would ask—death before serfdom! You'd keep them for your dogs and slaves!
Sem. And when Am I to die? Why breach thy custom now?
Hus. We like your spirit, but push not so far, Or we shall break the bounds we've set ourselves. Have you not found us gracious to your rank? You look not like a prisoner!
Sem. No thanks For that! This robe and crown, these chains of gold Are compliments that Husak pays himself, Proclaiming him a royal victory, Though not a royal victor!
Hus. What! Dar'st fling Into my face that the Armenian kings Rule unanointed? Dost think that I would sue To Nineveh or Babylon for leave To take my kingly emblems from their hands? But thou—thou shalt owe thine to me! I wear No proud insignia of the gods, and yet My hands shall strip and clothe thee as I will!
(Tears off her robe and crown)
Hus. By sun and moon—
Khos. O, sir—
Hus. Her pride Insults my mercy, but I'll keep my word. Take these. (Gives him the robe and crown) Now, woman, learn that Husak—ay, Husak, the Fierce, can pity fallen glory! Stand forth, my son! Look, captive, on this prince! A man not made to sue to less than gods! Make him thy husband-king, and from his hands Receive thy purple and remount thy throne!
(All are astonished. Khosrove shrinks back in shame, which Semiramis misunderstands)
Sem. Methinks this lover makes no ardent suit, King Husak! Why, the sun has not twice set Since he did swear me dearer than my crown, And now the crown's too much if my poor self Must burden it!
(Khosrove kneels before her, holding up the crown)
Hus. Rise, sir! You give, not sue!
(Semiramis looks down on Khosrove, then turns to Husak)
Sem. Thank, thanks, Old man, for making me once more myself! For by the blood that storms through all my veins I know I'm still a queen! Now all the pride That lives in my lost crown, and all the scorn Should meet thy fawning suit, be in my words,— I do refuse your son! Assyria Shall owe her throne to none!
(Khosrove springs up, trampling the robe)
Hus. Now thou wilt rise! A prince who might have gone with gods to wive Nor bated them in choice! This to my face! I, Husak, fawn on woman! Out with her! Drag her to death! To instant death! Out! out!
(Guards approach Semiramis)
Khos. To instant death?
Hus. (Looks searchingly at him.) Ha! ha! Not yet! She's thine! Choose thy revenge! Have now thy will!
Khos. Thou'lt grant it?
Hus. Ay, ay, whate'er thou wouldst!
Khos. She is thy captive.
Hus. I make her thine! My conqueror's right I yield To thee!
Khos. Dost swear it?
Hus. Doubt me not! I swear!
Khos. By Belus' star?
Hus. By Belus' star, whose beams Are death to breakers of an oath! We ask This crown—no more. (Takes crown from Khosrove's hand) You pause. Stand not, my son. Thy vengeance waits. Do what thou wilt with her, We'll question not.
(Khosrove strikes off the chains of Semiramis)
Khos. Go free to Nineveh.
(Husak stands in amazed silence, then understands and burns with speechless anger. At last he speaks slowly with intense wrath)
Hus. All madmen in my kingdom die! Bind him!
(Guards bind Khosrove)
Sem. Die? No! O, sir, you would not slay your son?
Hus. This loathsome thing is not my flesh!
Sem. Thy son!
Hus. We have no son. Armenia has no heir. Bear him away!
Sem. (Holding out her hands) My chains! Dost think I'll owe My life to him? Thou know'st not yet my pride! Bind me and set him free!
Hus. (Thunderingly) No! Husak breaks No oath! We're not a god as Nineveh, And bold to mock at Heaven!
Khos. (To Semiramis) I knew the price, And chose to pay it. 'Tis my wish. Farewell!
(Guards bear him out)
Hus. (To Semiramis) Go free to Nineveh!
Sem. No! O, kill me!
Hus. Nay, go! But go alone—on foot—and through A hostile country!
Hus. That subject who Shall give thee food or drink dies in the act! Proclaim it, all!... Come, friends, we've not yet held The feast of victory. The slighted gods Will snatch away their favor if we long Delay our revels. Though we'll miss one face,
(Suppresses a groan)
We'll know this much—there'll be no traitor there!
(All leave the tent but Semiramis)
Sem. Alone ... on foot ... and through a hostile country! I'll overtake thee, Khosrove, ere thou 'st reached Thy throne among the stars! Thou goest from love, And wilt look back and weep from every cloud; I on thy track shall pause not till our wings Stir the same air and lock in kisses flying! ... So pay my scorn? How then hadst loved if heart Had brought to heart its swelling measure? Then Our rosy hours had been the pick of time, And hung a flower 'mong withered centuries When every age had brought its reckoning in! O, why will we, some cubits high, pluck at The sun and moon, when we have that within Makes us the soul and centre of Heaven itself? Ambition, thou hast played away my crown And life. That I forgive thee, but not this— Thou 'st robbed me of the memory of his kiss. ... Go, world! The conqueror's trump that closed my ears Unto the angel in a lover's voice Dies to a moan that fills but one lone heart. And soon 'tis silent. Ah, though woman build Her house of glory to the kissing skies, And the proud sun her golden rafters lay, And on her turrets pause discoursing gods, Let her not dare forget the stanchion truth— Immortal writ in every mortal face— "Thou art the wife and mother of the world!"
(Sees Khosrove's cloak upon the floor, and kneels by it, taking it in her hands)
My Khosrove!... Methought a god struck off my chains So strong and fair he seemed, yet strove to hide The beauty of his act, as might a star Shrink in its own sweet light!
(Buries her face in the folds of the cloak)
O, noble prince, I might have kissed thy lips and not thy garment!
(Rises and wraps the cloak about her. Spurns with her foot her own robe which has been left trampled)
Thou purple rag, lie there! Love's vesture shall Enfold me as I go!
(Starts out) Alone ... on foot ... But I've not far to journey. Foes are kind.... The first one met ... well, I will thank him!... Cries? It is the feast. A man may feast who had— But has no son!... (Startled) 'Tis not the feast!... I know That noise confused—hoarse shouts—shrieks—pawing steeds— And rumbling chariots! Those are the tones Of battle! O, the bloody work! 'Tis war! Did it delight me once?... Assyrian cries! My troops! my troops! They've rallied! How they cheer! What brave heart leads them on?
(Cries come nearer)
Poor creatures, they Would save me knowing not I died with Khosrove. I will not live—
(The rear of the tent is torn away by an onslaught. Assyrian troops enter, led by Artavan)
Sem. My brother! You live!
Art. And you!
Sem. Praise Heaven there is one Will comfort my sad kingdom!
Art. Nay, all's well! The death of Ninus freed me from my prison; I gathered troops and pushed hard after you, To hear you had been taken; then I planned This rescue. Thank great Belus, I'm in time!
Sem. In time? Nay, thou'rt too late!
Art. Too late? When thou Dost live?
Sem. I live? No! Thou'rt deceived!
Art. O Heaven! ... She's dazed! Her troubles have bewildered her. All's well, my sister! Husak has been taken. Thy crown itself is in our hands ... The crown!
(A soldier hands it to him)
You see 'tis safe. (She takes it idly)
Sem. A crown. For such a thing Wouldst give thy Sola?
Art. She is dear to me, But ay, by Heaven, I would!
Sem. You would? I know A greater thing than this.
Art. What, sister?
Sem. (Letting the crown fall) Love.
Art. O, she is crazed! This is some evil work! Bring in the captive Husak! He shall speak!
Sem. O, brother, once I thought thy love was truest That ever husband gave to wife, but now It showeth dark against my lover's truth!
Art. Semiramis ... sweet sister ... What dost mean? ... I'll know the cause of this! Call in the prince With Husak!
Art. Ay ... Khosrove, whom we found In chains—I know not why—and I unbound him, Recalling how he saved my life,—but now I'll know what thou hast suffered at his hands!
Sem. You found him bound? I can not hear—or see!
Art. She swoons—she dies—O, true, we are too late!
Sem. No, brother, thou'rt in time! I live! I live! I am Semiramis! Give me my crown! Now this small circlet seems to me the world, And it is mine—to wear—or give away! Is 't not, good friends?
Voices. Ay, 'tis!
(Enter soldiers with Husak and Khosrove, Husak in fetters)
Sem. King Husak, hear! Assyria and Armenia should be friends, Joining true hands to bring a happy peace O'er all the East. And in that dearest hope I free thee. (Unbinds him) But thy son, the prince, must be Again my prisoner.
Hus. O, queen, I've spent One childless hour, and rather would I die Than know another. Take my life for his.
Art. Dost thou forget, Semiramis, that once He saved thy brother?
Sem. I remember all, But will not change his doom. He must be bound, Nor from my fetters may he go alive. These are his chains—(Putting her arms about his neck) his prison deathless love, And here I pray that he will wear this crown, And hold with me the great Assyrian throne! ... (calls) My chariot!
Khos. My queen! my queen!
Sem. Wilt thou Consent?
Khos. (Kisses her lips) I answer here.
(The royal chariot appears, rear. They step in)
Sem. (Giving the reins to Khosrove) To Nineveh!
SCENE 1. Miramar. SCENE 2. In the mountains of Mexico.
SCENE 1. Chapultapec.
SCENE 1. Before the Imperial Theatre. SCENE 2. Within the theatre.
SCENE 1. Queretaro.
SCENE 1. The Tuileries. SCENE 2. Miramar.
MAXIMILIAN, Emperor of Mexico CARLOTTA, Empress of Mexico LOUIS NAPOLEON, Emperor of France EUGENIE, Empress of France BENITO JUAREZ, President of Mexico IGNACIO, nephew to Juarez RAFAEL MENDORES, friend of Ignacio ASEFFA, wife of Rafael TREVINO, ESCOBEDO, GARZA, officers in the Liberal Army MIRAMON, leader of the Imperial party MARSHAL BAZAINE, head of the French Army in Mexico MARQUEZ, MEJIA, MENDEZ, DUPIN, LOPEZ, of the Imperial army ABBOT of Lacroma ARCHBISHOP LABASTIDA, head of the Mexican church PRINCE SALM-SALM, friend and officer of Maximilian PRINCE ZICHY, RUIZ, BERZABAL, ESTRADA, Mexican nobles LADY MARIA, sister to Count Charles PRINCESS SALM-SALM PRINCESS ZICHY PRINCESS METTERNICH SENOR HURBET, GENERAL CASTLENAU, MARQUIS DE GALLIFET, in the service of Louis Napoleon AUSTRIAN, BELGIAN, PRUSSIAN, and other foreign ministers at the court of Napoleon III.
Imperial soldiers, Liberal soldiers, guards, rabble, ladies of honor, officers of the court, etc., etc.
Scene I: Reception hall, castle of Miramar, near Trieste. Enter Count Charles, book in hand.
Char. Ah, books must be put by for swords, I wot, When this wild journey to the West begins. 'Tis change enough! O shifting, shuffling life! Come, Shakespeare, magic mason, build me worlds That never shake however winds may blow, Founded on dream imperishable! (Sits and reads. Enter Lady Maria)
Mar. Charles! Not reading! Dost know what day it is?
Char. Ay, sister! A day to make a scholar tremble, and hug His books in fever of farewell.
Mar. Didst see The splendid carriages glittering up the drive? And O, so many!
Char. They have arrived?
Mar. Arrived! Why, all the Mexican deputies, arrayed Like their own sunsets,—the ambassadors From Austria, Belgium, France,—the princesses, And countesses, now in the guest-room wait The stroke of twelve to enter! 'Tis nearly time, And you sit here! Put by your Englishman! Come, put him by, I say! He's dead; we live. He's had his due and passed.
Char. Nay, his account Is writ forever current. His book of praise Time closes not, but waits some language new To enter it, and at his monument Fame yet stands carving.
Mar. (Taking book and closing it) So! She's time enough! We've other work. (Gently) Is not the princess sad?
Char. I pray her heavy tears, weighing like stones, Will hold her back from sea!
Mar. Hush, Charles! She comes!
(Enter Carlotta, richly dressed)
Car. Ah, cousins, trimming now your smiles to greet The deputies?
Char. Nay, calling up our tears To grace farewell to Miramar!
Car. No tears! We'll think but of an empire and a crown, Not Miramar!
(Enter Maximilian, dressed in the uniform of Vice-Admiral of the Austrian navy)
Max. An empire and a crown? At last I am out-rivalled in your heart!
Car. Nay, nay, thou know'st, my lord, thou art my empire! Grant me so much as now I look upon And I'm as rich as Jove with Saturn's sceptre New-swinging o'er the world!
Char. Then you risk much For an unstable throne.
Car. Not risk!
Char. The men Who've governed Mexico, for the most part, Have paid their heads for it.
Mar. O, Charles!
Char. 'Tis true.
Car. Our safety is in the Emperor of France. He's the strong angel in this noble scheme!
Char. Safety in him? Nay, madam, by my soul, The lightest smile that breaks upon his lips, As though a breeze but touched there, hides a plot May hang our hearts with lead!
Car. How you misjudge him! In Paris when he pledged his faith to us His eyes more than his words assured his heart Unto our cause. I trust him, yea, I trust him!
Char. There is a woman on the throne of France! She is the Eve to this slow-blooded Adam, Dutch-born Napoleon, and holdeth up The globe as 't were an apple for his hand. She builds mock images of dreams that died On Helena's lone rock, and teaches him They are not ghosts of dream but dream indeed! Mexico, burning with gold and sunset's fire, Pouring the crimson of internal strife, To her is but a jewel in crude bed She'd have you pick and polish for her crown!
Car. Had you but heard her sweet devoted voice Pleading with us for sake of the true Church To finish now this great emprise begun, You would believe her holy.
Char. If she is holy, And if Napoleon be true in this, Then is he God's perfection of a man, And she earth's sole and sainted paragon! But wait—O wait and see ere you risk life And honor!
Car. You're wrong—so wrong—but this is strange. O why are we not happy? (Turning to window and gazing out)
Char. (Following her) Because, my cousin, This is not Miramar as we have known it. The scholar's home, the soldier's fair retreat, The noble heart's sweet fane and altar spot, But Miramar with great ambition's storm Rolling its thunders 'gainst her peaceful walls!
Max. But to live idly is never to be born. Shall we sit here at ease when God has found The work for us? He with his pontiff finger Points to the sea—
Car. (Turning) Sweet Miramar! If God points to the sea, why gave he this? This heaven-spot, this nesting place of love, Hung like a garland 'tween the sea and rocks! Ah, dear my lord, some curse will follow us Who can desert this peace-embalmed place To seek a glory fairer but in name! I dare not do it!
Max. (Taking her hands) 'Tis you shall say, my wife. If to stay here's your wish, that wish is mine, Maybe I've dreamed too much of deeds of good, And visionary feats in that far land; Then let it be your yea or nay, my love.
Car. O leave it not to me, for in a yea My vanity will speak, and in a nay My fear!
Max. A slander on these lips? A kiss Were better! (Kisses her. Enter Marquis Corio)
Cor. The noble guests approach. Will 't please Your Highnesses assume your places?
Max. Yea, Or nay, Carlotta?
Mar. O, they come! they come!
Char. (Hastily and earnestly) Nay, if you love your lord! That is a land Of murder, treason, carnage and revolt! The very air cries out 'go not! go not!' E'en yon cloud-turbanned peak, that never moves Whate'er the circling stars propound to vex His silent wisdom, warns with forbidding nod! O noblest cousin—
Car. (In agitation) An empire! Miramar!
(Maximilian takes place centre. A table in front of him covered with maps and papers. Carlotta by him, Count Charles and Lady Maria in their rear. Enter Archduke of Austria, and nobles, who take position at some distance from Maximilian on his right. Enter Belgian Minister, Abbot of Lacroma, Princess of Metternich, Princess Zichy, Countess Kollonitz, and others. They stand at distance to left of Maximilian. Enter the Imperial delegate, Senor Hurbet, and General Frassart, Napoleon's Adjutant of the Field. The former takes place immediately at Maximilian's right, the latter at left of Carlotta. Marquis Corio at door. Enter the Mexican deputies, Estrada, Berzabal, Negrete, Ruiz, and a dozen others. Estrada, as president of the deputation, makes low salute)
Max. Welcome, my lords, to Miramar!
Est. Hail, Prince, And fairest princess! The grace and hope of morning Be ever on your lives!
Car. Must noble senors, We give you thanks and greeting.
Max. Your presence here, My lords, would move our hearts although you brought No crown to guerdon welcome.
Est. O, gracious prince, Our tongues but feebly bear the mighty love The land of Montezuma bade us lay Low at your feet. Your starry virtues draw Her prayers and hopes and holiest desires Across the sea in humblest supplication. We make no weary tale of our misfortunes; They are so great the world is heavy with them, And Mexico means but calamity To every ear.
Max. My dear and honored lords, The heart is granite and the veins are ice That will not stir at your deep miseries.
Est. Ah, sir, this crown is heavy, but you will bear The golden weight as 't were the aureole That seals the saint to God!
Max. But not without Consent of every subject should I wear it. Does Mexico send all her hearts with you?
Ruiz. (Spreading paper on table) Read here the proclamation now in force In all our provinces.
Max. And this has been By each assembly ratified?
Berzabal. Ay, prince! It is a nation, not these dozen men, That with a million voices prays to you!
Max. From childhood up I've sought to obey my God, But never dreamed that he would bless my life With such high sanction as I read herein. (Lifting paper) Forgive a tear, my lords.... But we must ask That crowned Europe give a sacred oath To guarantee our empire's permanence.
Archduke. Brother, I bring the word of Austria, Whose prayers, whose arms, whose subjects' blood are yours, While she has blood or arms to give!
Belgian Minister. For Belgium I speak—the princess' true and royal father, Whose little kingdom measures not his heart!
Senor Hurbet. And I, my lord, have here the signed oath Of Mightiest France, whose fifty-thousand men Now guard the cradle of the new born peace In Mexico! Read here what he will do.
Max. (Reads) Enough.... My lords, should I accept this crown, 'T would be with holiest expectation To reign in love and peace, but your past struggles Point to a term of danger and much risk Ere our star shines above all factious spite. Stood I alone I should not hesitate, But here is one more dear than my own life, Whom I must cherish more than my own life, Within whose heart I must find out my answer; And God be thanked her wisdom beams so true Above the hesitations of my mind That I can love her yea or nay as 't were By Heaven spoke!
Est. Then to your mercy, princess, We now commit our hope.
Car. Most worthy lords, I am so proud that I would wear a crown, So pitying I would weep my heart away For your sad country, and so vain I think The lord that married me might lead you from Rebellion's night to civil-kissing hours; But yet a woman bonded unto love, Not my own mistress. The life bound up with mine Is dearer than the peace of any state, And looking deep into your country's heart I read some cruel marks of history That teach me fear for any precious thing Consigned unto its love.
Est. If ever souls Lay bare to human eyes, read now in ours The loyalty which you will find in every subject!
Ruiz. Be merciful! Earth aches through her rock-ribs With our old woes, and it is you may heal them!
Ber. Pity will teach thee soon to love our land!
Car. My lords, already I love Mexico, And would forego the peace of Miramar,— All happy days that from the future lean To meet my smiles, as trifles whose light thought Shames this great hour; but when in dream I see My lord beset by foes in foreign land, The help he needs beyond a three-months' sea, My princess pride flags to a peasant fear For one dear life!
Est. Wrong not yourself, your lord, And Mexico, O gentlest lady—
Est. Say yea, and our expectant land will feel The thrill of that affirmative across The glad Atlantic! Yea—and France, whose name Is in our hearts as God's, will bless thy tongue! Say yea, and noble England, watchful Spain, Who with great France began the holy work Of blessed liberation will applaud With happy echoes to the guardian skies! Say yea, and the white spirit of the Church Will take 'neath her soft wings our blood-drenched land, That waits but for that word to hail thy lord Regenerator, king!
Car. My lords, my lords, We are but human! Mayhap we will not keep The love that we have won!
Senor Hur. Fear not, O princess! Behind your throne, with unretreating sword, Will stand the first great power of all the world! Thus speak I for the emperor of France!
Princess Metternich. (Advancing) I for the empress! Eugenie bade me speak Her heart out here, and hail thee sister empress! To ask when your young empire blooms above The lily of old France, and lures the East To pour her golden heart into your port, And ocean blossoms with your argosies, You'll still remember that she loved you when You were but princess and no farther ruled Then stretch the gardens of small Miramar!
Car. O generous Eugenie! But the fear—
Abbot of Lacroma. To speak of fear in this is to doubt God! He does not bless in vain a noble prince With such rare qualities as crown the mind Of Maximilian! 'Tis for some purpose rare He rounds such excellence with highest birth And puts a sword of power in his hand! From over seas unto your very feet A nation comes to choose from all the world One made by Heaven to be its sovereign lord, Cool hearts of passion in his amity, Make bitter eyes forget their ancient hate, And proudest knees bow with old enemies In worship of his star beneficent! There pale and crushed Peace Shall take the color of the living rose, Hearing the voice of his protecting love That comes to lift her beauty from the dust And on that ground volcanic nobly build Her temple indestructible! There shall his kingly mind find outward means To write sublimity upon the world, And like old Egypt speak in pyramids To nations unbegot in dream of Time! And can you shock the hour with hesitation? Ask all the waiting world,—ay, even God, To pause and count the heart-beats of a woman?
Car. (Devoutly, with uplifted hands and eyes) Forgive me, Heaven, that I doubted thee!
(Takes Maximilian's hands, turns with great dignity to the deputies, and speaks solemnly)
Senors, we'll wear the crown of Mexico.
(Silence. The abbot of Lacroma advances; Carlotta and Maximilian drop to their knees as he extends his arms above them in blessing)
Scene II: A camp in the mountains of Mexico. Night. Aseffa preparing food by a fire. She goes aside, listens, and returns.
Asef. O Mexico, thou traitress unto love, Wilt trample every heart that's true to thee?
(Listens. Enter Miguel and Lerdo, very ragged and gaunt) Miguel! Lerdo! Rafael not come? Where did you leave him?
Lerdo. Nowhere, Senora.
Mig. Don't flutter, little bird. We mean that he left us. He set off as fresh as the morning to make the circuit of another mountain while we could barely creep up to camp.
Asef. You are hungry! I'll give you Rafael's supper!
Ler. Hungry? No! I've had two biscuits since yesterday, and sixty miles isn't far to go on that.
Mig. And as much good air and water as a soldier need want!
Asef. Here! Take it. 'Tis good. Indeed it is!
Mig. Smoking meat! Ha! Who brought it? Has the Holy Virgin been in camp?
Asef. No, but I've been down to the valley.
Asef. Yes,—and I've a little gold left, too!
Mig. You paid five pesos for that dish!
Asef. A good guesser would double the price.
Mig. And for Rafael's supper! No, I can go two more days yet. (Puts food aside)
Asef. But you shall not. Come, eat! I'll feed you then, and you don't want Juarez' soldiers to be turned into babies, do you?
Mig. I'll yield! In fact, there's an orator within that speaks with a most convincing pinch. (They eat)
Asef. (Watching) Poor fellows! They'll not leave him a mouthful!
Ler. Where is the general?
Asef. (Pointing up the hill) Asleep. Have you news?
Ler. None to bring good dreams. Let him sleep.
Mig. Lord, a meal a day like this and I could drive the whole French army into the sea! (Rising) Now if these rags could be turned back to their first fortunes, I'd be Don Miguel de Tejada again! You wouldn't think that these tags and tatters had waltzed with the president's niece at the capital, would you now?