The Return of the Druses

Act I

Robert Browning

Enter stealthily KARSHOOK, RAGHIB, AYOOB and other initiated Druses, each as he enters casting off a robe that conceals his distinctive black vest and white turban; then, as giving a loose to exultation,—

The moon is carried off in purple fire:
Day breaks at last! Break glory, with the day,
On Djabal’s dread incarnate mystery
Now ready to resume its pristine shape
Of Hakeem, as the Khalif vanished erst
In what seemed death to uninstructed eyes,
On red Mokattam’s verge—our Founder’s flesh,
As he resumes our Founder’s function!

Sweep to the Christian Prefect that enslaved
So long us sad Druse exiles o’er the sea!

Most joy be thine, O Mother-mount! Thy brood
Returns to thee, no outcasts as we left,
But thus—but thus! Behind, our Prefect’ s corse;
Before, a presence like the morning—thine,
Absolute Djabal late,—God Hakeem now
That day breaks!

                Off then, with disguise at last!
As from our forms this hateful garb we strip,
Lose every tongue its glozing accent too,
Discard each limb the ignoble gesture! Cry,
’Tis the Druse Nation, warders on our Mount
Of the world’s secret, since the birth of time,
—No kindred slips, no offsets from thy stock,
No spawn of Christians are we, Prefect, we
Who rise . . . 

                Who shout . . . 

                        Who seize, a first-fruits, ha—
Spoil of the spoiler! Brave!

[They begin to tear down, and to dispute for, the decorations of the hall.


                                        —Mine, I say;
And mine shall it continue!

                                Just this fringe!
Take anything beside! Lo, spire on spire,
Curl serpentwise wreathed columns to the top
O’ the roof, and hide themselves mysteriously
Among the twinkling lights and darks that haunt
Yon cornice! Where the huge veil, they suspend
Before the Prefect’s chamber of delight,
Floats wide, then falls again as if its slave,
The scented air, took heart now, and anon
Lost heart to buoy its breadths of gorgeousness
Above the gloom they droop in—all the porch
Is jewelled o’er with frostwork charactery;
And, see, yon eight-point cross of white flame, winking
Hoar-silvery like some fresh-broke marble stone:
Raze out the Rhodian cross there, so thou leav’st me
This single fringe!

                Ha, wouldst thou, dog-fox? Help!
—Three hand-breadths of gold fringe, my son was set
To twist, the night he died!

                            Nay, hear the knave!
And I could witness my one daughter borne,
A week since, to the Prefect’ s couch, yet fold
These arms, be mute, lest word of mine should mar
Our Master’s work, delay the Prefect here
A day, prevent his sailing hence for Rhodes—
How know I else?—Hear me denied my right
By such a knave!

    RAGHIB [interposing].
Each ravage for himself!
Booty enough! On, Druses! Be there found
Blood and a heap behind us; with us, Djabal
Turned Hakeem; and before us, Lebanon!
Yields the porch? Spare not! There his minions dragged
Thy daughter, Karshook, to the Prefect’s couch!
Ayoob! Thy son, to soothe the Prefect’s pride,
Bent o’er that task, the death-sweat on his brow,
Carving the spice-tree’s heart in scroll-work there!
Onward in Djabal’s name!

As the tumult is at height, enter KHALIL. A pause
and silence.

                                Was it for this,
Djabal hath summoned you? Deserve you thus
A portion in to-day’s event? What, here—
When most behoves your feet fall soft, your eyes
Sink low, your tongues lie still,—at Djabal’s side,
Close in his very hearing, who, perchance,
Assumes e’en now God Hakeem’s dreaded shape,—
Dispute you for these gauds?

                                How say’st thou, Khalil?
Doubtless our Master prompts thee! Take the fringe,
Old Karshook! I supposed it was a day . . . 

For pillage?

                        Hearken, Khalil! Never spoke
A boy so like a song-bird; we avouch thee
Prettiest of all our Master’s instruments
Except thy bright twin-sister; thou and Anael
Challenge his prime regard: but we may crave
(Such nothings as we be) a portion too
Of Djabal’ s favor; in him we believed,
His bound ourselves, him moon by moon obeyed,
Kept silence till this daybreak—so, may claim
Reward: who grudges me my claim?

Is not as yesterday!

                Stand off!

                                Rebel you?
Must I, the delegate of Djabal, draw
His wrath on you, the day of our Return?

Wrench from their grasp the fringe! Hounds! must the earth
Vomit her plagues on us thro— thee? and thee?
Plague me not, Khalil, for their fault!

                                        Oh, shame!
Thus breaks to-day on you, the mystic tribe
Who, flying the approach of Osman, bore
Our faith, a merest spark, from Syria’s ridge
Its birthplace, hither! “Let the sea divide
These hunters from their prey,” you said; “and safe
In this dim islet’s virgin solitude
Tend we our faith, the spark, till happier time
Fan it to fire; till Hakeem rise again,
According to his word that, in the flesh
Which faded on Mokattam ages since,
He, at our extreme need, would interpose,
And, reinstating all in power and bliss,
Lead us himself to Lebanon once more.”
Was’t not thus you departed years ago,
Ere I was born?

                ’Twas even thus, years ago.

And did you call—(according to old laws
Which bid us, lest the sacred grow profane,
Assimilate ourselves in outward rites
With strangers fortune makes our lords, and live
As Christian with the Christian, Jew with Jew,
Druse only with the Druses)—did you call
Or no, to stand ’twixt you and Osman’s rage
(Mad to pursue e’en hither thro’ the sea
The remnant of our tribe), a race self-vowed
To endless warfare with his hordes and him,
The White-cross Knights of the adjacent Isle?

And why else rend we down, wrench up, raze out?
These Knights of Rhodes we thus solicited
For help, bestowed on us a fiercer pest
Than aught we fled—their Prefect; who began
His promised mere paternal governance
By a prompt massacre of all our Sheikhs
Able to thwart the Order in its scheme
Of crushing, with our nation’ s memory,
Each chance of our return, and taming us
Bondslaves to Rhodes forever—all, he thinks
To end by this day’s treason.

                                                Say I not?
You, fitted to the Order’s purposes,
Your Sheikhs cut off, your rites, your garb proscribed,
Must yet receive one degradation more;
The Knights at last throw off the mask—transfer,
As tributary now and appanage,
This islet they are but protectors of,
To their own ever-craving liege, the Church,
Who licenses all crimes that pay her thus.
You, from their Prefect, were to be consigned
(Pursuant of I know not what vile pact)
To the Knights’ Patriarch, ardent to outvie
His predecessor in all wickedness.
When suddenly rose Djabal in the midst,
Djabal, the man in semblance, but our God
Confessed by signs and portents. Ye saw fire
Bicker round Djabal, heard strange music flit
Bird-like about his brow?

                                We saw—we heard!
Djabal is Hakeem, the incarnate Dread,
The phantasm Khalif, King of Prodigies!

And as he said has not our Khalif done,
And so disposed events (from land to land
Passing invisibly) that when, this morn,
The pact of villany complete, there comes
This Patriarch’s Nuncio with this Master’s Prefect
Their treason to consummate,—each will face
For a crouching handful, an uplifted nation:
For simulated Christians, confessed Druses:
And, for slaves past hope of the Mother-mount,
Freedmen returning there ’neath Venice’ flag;
That Venice which, the Hospitallers’ foe,
Grants us from Candia escort home at price
Of our relinquished isle, Rhodes counts her own—
Venice, whose promised argosies should stand
Toward harbor: is it now that you, and you,
And you, selected from the rest to bear
The burthen of the Khalif s secret, further
To-day’s event, entitled by your wrongs,
And witness in the Prefect’s hall his fate—
That you dare clutch these gauds? Ay, drop them!

Most true, all this; and yet, may one dare hint,
Thou art the youngest of us?—though employed
Abundantly as Djabal’s confidant,
Transmitter of his mandates, even now.
Much less, whene’er beside him Anael graces
The cedar throne, his queen-bride, art thou like
To occupy its lowest step that day!
Now, Khalil, wert thou checked as thou aspirest,
Forbidden such or such an honor,—say,
Would silence serve so amply?

                                Karshook thinks
I covet honors? Well, nor idly thinks.
Honors? I have demanded of them all
The greatest.

I supposed so,

                                Judge, yourselves!
Turn, thus: ’tis in the alcove at the back
Of yonder columned porch, whose entrance now
The veil hides, that our Prefect holds his state,
Receives the Nuncio, when the one, from Rhodes,
The other lands from Syria; there they meet.
Now, I have sued with earnest prayers . . . 

                                                        For what
Shall the Bride’s brother vainly sue?

                                                That mine—
Avenging in one blow a myriad wrongs
—Might be the hand to slay the Prefect there!
Djabal reserves that office for himself.    [A silence.
Thus far, as youngest of you all, I speak
—Scarce more enlightened than yourselves; since, near
As I approach him, nearer as I trust
Soon to approach our Master, he reveals
Only the God’s power, not the glory yet.
Therefore I reasoned with you: now, as servant
To Djabal, bearing his authority,
Hear me appoint your several posts! Till noon
None see him save myself and Anael: once
The deed achieved, our Khalif, casting off
The embodied Awe’s tremendous mystery,
The weakness of the flesh disguise, resumes
His proper glory, ne’er to fade again.

Enter a DRUSE.

Our Prefect lands from Rhodes!—without a sign
That he suspects aught since he left our Isle;
Nor in his train a single guard beyond
The few he sailed with hence: so have we learned
From Loys.

Loys? Is not Loys gone

Loys, the Frank Knight, returned?

Loys, the boy, stood on the leading prow
Conspicuous in his gay attire, and leapt
Into the surf the foremost. Since day-dawn
I kept watch to the Northward; take but note
Of my poor vigilance to Djabal!

Thou, Karshook, with thy company, receive
The Prefect as appointed: see, all keep
The wonted show of servitude: announce
His entry here by the accustomed peal
Of trumpets, then await the further pleasure
Of Djabal! (Loys back, whom Djabal sent
To Rhodes that we might spare the single Knight
Worth sparing!)

Enter a second DRUSE.

I espied it first! Say, I
First spied the Nuncio’s galley from the South!
Said’st thou a Crossed-keys’ flag would flap the mast?
It nears apace! One galley and no more.
If Djabal chance to ask who spied the flag,
Forget not, I it was!

                        Thou, Ayoob, bring
The Nuncio and his followers hither! Break
One rule prescribed, ye wither in your blood,
Die at your fault!

Enter a third DRUSE.

                I shall see home, see home!
—Shall banquet in the sombre groves again!
Hail to thee, Khalil! Venice looms afar;
The argosies of Venice, like a cloud,
Bear up from Candia in the distance!

Summon our people, Raghib! Bid all forth!
Tell them the long-kept secret, old and young!
Set free the captive, let the trampled raise
Their faces from the dust, because at length
The cycle is complete, God Hakeem’s reign
Begins anew! Say, Venice for our guard,
Ere night we steer for Syria! Hear you, Druses?
Hear you this crowning witness to the claims
Of Djabal? Oh, I spoke of hope and fear,
Reward and punishment, because he bade
Who has the right; for me, what should I say
But, mar not those imperial lineaments,
No majesty of all that rapt regard
Vex by the least omission! Let him rise
Without a check from you!

                                Let Djabal rise!

Enter LOYS.—The Druses are silent.

Who speaks of Djabal?—for I seek him, friends!
[Aside.] Tu Dieu! ’Tis as our Isle broke out in song
For joy, its Prefect-incubus drops off
To-day, and I succeed him in his rule!
But no—they cannot dream of their good fortune!
[Aloud.] Peace to you, Druses! I have tidings for you
But first for Djabal: where’s your tall bewitcher,
With that small Arab thin-lipped silver-mouth?

    KHALIL [aside to KARSHOOK]
Loys, in truth! Yet Djabal cannot err!

And who takes charge of Loys? That’s forgotten,
Despite thy wariness! Will Loys stand
And see his comrades slaughtered?

    LOYS [aside].
                                        How they shrink
And whisper, with those rapid faces! What?
The sight of me in their oppressors’ garb
Strikes terror to the simple tribe? God’s shame
On those that bring our Order ill repute!
But all’s at end now; better days begin
For these mild mountaineers from over-sea:
The timidest shall have in me no Prefect
To cower at thus! [Aloud.] I asked for Djabal—

    KARSHOOK [aside].
One lured him, ere he can suspect, inside
The corridor; ’twere easy to despatch
A youngster. [To LOYS.] Djabal passed some minutes since
Thro’ yonder porch, and . . . 

    KHALIL [aside].
            Hold! What, him despatch?
The only Christian of them all we charge
No tyranny upon? Who,—noblest Knight
Of all that learned from time to time their trade
Of lust and cruelty among us,—heir
To Europe’s pomp, a truest child of pride,—
Yet stood between the Prefect and ourselves
From the beginning? Loys, Djabal makes
Account of, and precisely sent to Rhodes
For safety? I take charge of him!
                        [To LOYS.] Sir Loys,—

There, cousins! Does Sir Loys strike you dead?

    KHALIL [advancing].
Djabal has intercourse with few or none
Till noontide: but, your pleasure?

With few or none?” (Ah, Khalil, when you spoke
I saw not your smooth face! All health! and health
To Anael! How fares Anael? ) “Intercourse
With few or none?”; Forget you, I’ve been friendly
With Djabal long ere you or any Druse?
Enough of him at Rennes, I think, beneath
The Duke my father’s roof! He’d tell by the hour,
With fixed white eyes beneath his swarthy brow,
Plausiblest stories . . . 

                                Stories, say you?—Ah,
The quaint attire!

                        My dress for the last time!
How sad I cannot make you understand,
This ermine, o’er a shield, betokens me
Of Bretagne, ancientest of provinces
And noblest; and, what’s best and oldest there,
See, Dreux’, our house’s blazon, which the Nuncio
Tacks to an Hospitaller’s vest to-day!

The Nuncio we await? What brings you back
From Rhodes, Sir Loys?

                                How you island-tribe
Forget the world’s awake while here you drowse!
What brings me back? What should not bring me, rather!
Our Patriarch’s Nuncio visits you to-day—
Is not my year’s probation out? I come
To take the knightly vows.

                                What ‘s that you wear?

This Rhodian cross? The cross your Prefect wore.
You should have seen, as I saw, the full Chapter
Rise, to a man, while they transferred this cross
From that unworthy Prefect’s neck to . . . (fool—
My secret will escape me!) In a word,
My year’s probation passed, a Knight ere eve
Am I; bound, like the rest, to yield my wealth
To the common stock, to live in chastity,
(We Knights espouse alone our Order’s fame)
—Change this gay weed for the back white-crossed gown,
And fight to death against the Infidel
—Not, therefore, against you, you Christians with
Such partial difference only as befits
The peacefulest of tribes. But, Khalil, prithee,
Is not the Isle brighter than wont to-day?

Ah, the new sword!

                See now! You handle sword
As ’twere a camel-staff. Pull! That’s my motto,
Annealed “Pro fide” on the blade in blue.

No curve in it? Surely a blade should curve.

Straight from the wrist! Loose—it should poise itself!

    KHALIL [waving with irrepressible exultation the sword].
We are a nation, Loys, of old fame
Among the mountains! Rights have we to keep
With the sword too!
[Remembering himself.] But I forget—you bid me
Seek Djabal?

                What! A sword’s sight scares you not?
(The People I will make of him and them!
Oh let my Prefect-sway begin at once!)
Bring Djabal—say, indeed, that come he must!

At noon seek Djabal in the Prefect’s Chamber,
And find . . .  [Aside.] Nay, ’tis thy cursed race’s token,
Frank pride, no special insolence of thine!
[Aloud.] Tarry, and I will do your bidding, Loys!
[To the rest aside.] Now, forth you! I proceed to Djabal straight.
Leave this poor boy, who knows not what he says!
Oh will it not add joy to even thy joy,
Djabal, that I report all friends were true?

[Khalil goes, followed by the Druses.

Tu Dieu! How happy I shall make these Druses!
Was ’t not surpassingly contrived of me
To get the long list of their wrongs by heart,
Then take the first pretence for stealing off
From these poor islanders, present myself
Sudden at Rhodes before the noble Chapter,
And (as best proof of ardor in its cause
Which ere to-night will have become, too, mine)
Acquaint it with this plague-sore in its body,
This Prefect and his villanous career?
The princely Synod! All I dared request
Was his dismissal; and they graciously
Consigned his very office to myself—
Myself may cure the Isle diseased!
                                                        And well
For them, they did so! Since I never felt
How lone a lot, tho’ brilliant, I embrace.
Till now that, past retrieval, it is mine.
To live thus, and thus die! Yet, as I leapt
On shore, so home a feeling greeted me
That I could half believe in Djabal’s story,
He used to tempt my father with, at Rennes—
And me, too, since the story brought me here—
Of some Count Dreux and ancestor of ours
Who, sick of wandering from Bouillon’s war,
Left his old name in Lebanon.
                                        Long days
At least to spend in the Isle! and, my news known
An hour hence, what if Anael turn on me
The great black eyes I must forget?
                                                        Why, fool,
Recall them, then? My business is with Djabal,
Not Anael! Djabal tarries: if I seek him?—
The Isle is brighter than its wont to-day.

The Return of the Druses - Contents    |     Act II

Back    |    Words Home    |    Robert Browning Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback