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Which fringe his banks : but whether they may be
Gods, as some say, or the abodes of gods,
As others hold, or simply lamps of night,
Worlds, or the lights of worlds, I know nor care not.
There's something sweet in my uncertainty
I would not change for your Chaldean lore;
Besides, I know of these all clay can know
Of aught above it, or below it-nothing.
I see their brilliancy and feel their beauty-
When they shine on my grave I shall know neither.
Beleses. For neither, sire, say better.
I will wait,
If it so please you, pontiff, for that knowledge.
In the mean time receive your sword, and know
That I prefer your service militant
Unto your ministry_not loving either.
Salemenes. (aside.) His lusts have made him mad.
Then must I save him
Spite of himself.
Sardanapalus. Please you to hear me, Satraps !
And chiefly thou, my priest, because I doubt thee
More than the soldier ; and would doubt thee all
Wert thou not half a warrior: let us part
In peace I'll not say pardon--which must be
Earn'd by the guilty; this P'll not pronounce ye,
Although upon this breath of mine depends
Your own; and, deadlier for ye, on my fears.
But fear not--for that I am soft, not fearful
And so live on. Were I the thing some think me,
Your heads would be now dripping the last drops
Of their attainted gore from the high gates
Of this our palace into the dry dust,
Their only portion of the coveted kingdom
They would be crown'd to reign o'er-let that pass
As I have said, I will not deem ye guilty,
Nor doom ye guiltless. Albeit, better men
Than ye or I stand ready to arraign you ;
And should I leave your fate to sterner judges,
And proofs of all kinds, I might sacrifice
Two men, who, whatsoe'er they now are, were
Once honest. Ye are free, sirs.
Sire, this clemency-
Beleses. (interrupting him.) Is worthy of yourself; and,
although innocent, We thank
Sardanapalus. Priest! keep your thanksgivings for Belus, His offspring needs none. Beleses,
But, being innocentSardanapalus. Be silent-Guilt is loud. If ye are loyal, Ye are injured men, and should be sad, not grateful.
Beleses. So we should be, were justice always done
By earthly power omnipotent; but innocence
Must oft receive her right as a mere favour.
Sardanapalus. That's a good sentence for a homily,
Though not for this occasion. Prithee keep it
To plead thy sovereign's cause before his people.
Beleses. I trust there is no cause.
No cause, perhaps ;
But many causers :-if ye meet with such
In the exercise of your inquisitive function
On earth, or should you read of it in heaven
In some mysterious twinkle of the stars,
Which are your chronicles, I pray you note,
That there are worse things betwixt earth and heaven
Than him who ruleth many and slays none;
And, hating not himself, yet loves his fellows
Enough to spare even those who would not spare him
Were they once masters--but that's doubtful. Satraps !
Your swords and persons are at liberty
To use them as ye will-but from this hour
I have no call for either., Salemenes !
(Exeunt Sardanapalus, Salamenes, and the Train, &c. leaving Arbaces and Beleses.
Arbaces. Beleses !
Now, what think you?
Arbaces. That we are lost.
That we have won the kingdoma
Arbaces. What? thus suspected-with the sword slung
But by a single hair, and that still wavering
To be blown down by his imperious breath,
Which spared us-why, I know not.
Seek not why;
But let us profit by the interval.
The hour is still our own-our power the same
The night the same we destined. He hath changed
Nothing except our ignorance of all
Suspicion into such a certainty
As must make madness of delay.
Beleses. What, doubting still ?
He spared our lives, nay, more,
Saved them from Salemenes.
And how long
Will he so spare ? till the first drunken minute.
Arbaces. Or sober, rather. Yet he did it nobly;
Gave royally what we had forfeited
Somewhat of both, perhaps. But it has touch'd me, and, whate'er betide, I will no further on. Beleses
And lose the world! Arbaces. Lose any thing except my own esteen.
Beleses. I blush that we should owc our lives to such A king of distaffs ! Arbaces.
But no less we owe them; And I should blush far more to take the grantor's !
Beleses. Thou mayst endure whate'er thou wilt, the stars
Have written otherwise.
Though they came down,
And marshall'd me the way in all their brightness,
I would not follow.
This is weakness-worse
Than a scared beldam's dreaming of the dead,
And waking in the dark.--Go to-go to.
Brbaces. Methought he look'd like Nimrod as he spokes
Even as the proud imperial statue stands
Looking the monarch of the kings around it,
And sways, while they but ornament the temple.
Beleses. I told you that you had too much despised him,
And that there was some royalty within him.
What then ? he is the nobler foe.
The meaner : Would he had not spared us!
Wouldst thou be sacrificed thus readily?
Arbuces. No-but it had been better to have died
Than live ungrateful.
Oh, the souls of some men !
Thou wouldst digest what some call treason, and
Fools treachery-and, behold, upon the sudden,
Because for something or for nothing, this
Rash reveller steps, ostentatiously,
"Twixt thee and Salemenes, thou art turn'd
Into-what shall I say? Sardanapalus !
I know no name more ignominious.
An hour ago, who dared to term me such
Had held his life but lightly-as it is,
I must forgive you, even as he forgave us
Semiramis herself would not have done it.
Beleses. No--the queen liked no sharers of the kingdom,
Not even a husband.
I must serve him truly
Beleses. And humbly?
Arbaces. No, sir, proudly-being honest.
I shall be nearer thrones than you to heaven;
And if not quite so haughty, yet more lofty.
You may do your own deeming—you have codes,
And mysteries, and corollaries of
Right and wrong, which I lack for my direction,
And must pursue but what a plain heart teaches.
And now you know me.
Have you finished ?
Beleses. And would, perhaps, betray as well
As quit me ?
That's a sacerdotal thought
And not a soldier's.
Be it what you will
Truce with these wranglings, and but hear me.
There is more peril in your subtle spirit
Than in a phalanx.
If it must be so
I'll on alone,
Thrones hold but one.
Arbaces. But this is fill'd.
With worse than vacancy-
A despised monarch. Look to it, Arbaces :
I have still aided, cherished, loved, and urged you ;
Was willing even to serve you, in the hope
To serve and save Assyria. Heaven itself
Seem'd to consent, and all events were friendly,
Even to the last, till that your spirit shrunk
Into a shallow softuess; but now, rather
Than see my country languish, I will be
Her saviour or the victim of her tyrant,
Or one or both, for sometimes both are one ;
And, if I win, Arbaces is my servant.
Arbaces, Your servant !
Why not? Better than be slave,
The pardon'd slave of she Sardanapalus.
Pania. My lords, I bear an order from the king.
Arbaces. It is obey'd ere spoken.
Let's hear it.
Pania, Forthwith, on this very night,
Repair to your respective satrapies
Of Babylon and Media.
With our troops ?