The Return of the Druses

Act II

Robert Browning


That a strong man should think himself a God!
I—Hakeem? To have wandered through the world,
Sown falsehood, and thence reaped now scorn, now faith,
For my one chant with many a change, my tale
Of outrage, and my prayer for vengeance—this
Required, forsooth, no mere man’s faculty,
Naught less than Hakeem’s? The persuading Loys
To pass probation here; the getting access
By Loys to the Prefect; worst of all,
The gaining my tribe’s confidence by fraud
That would disgrace the very Frank,—a few
Of Europe’s secrets which subdue the flame,
The wave,—to ply a simple tribe with these,
Took Hakeem?
                        And I feel this first to-day!
Does the day break, is the hour imminent
When one deed, when my whole life’s deed, my deed
Must be accomplished? Hakeem? Why the God?
Shout, rather, “Djabal, Youssof’s child, thought slain
With his whole race, the Druses’ Sheikhs, this Prefect
Endeavored to extirpate—saved, a child,
Returns from traversing the world, a man,
Able to take revenge, lead back the march
To Lebanon”—so shout, and who gainsays?
But now, because delusion mixed itself
Insensibly with this career, all ’s changed!
Have I brought Venice to afford us convoy?
“True—but my jugglings wrought that!” Put I heart
Into our people where no heart lurked?—“Ah,
What cannot an impostor do!”
                                                Not this!
Not do this which I do! Not bid avaunt
Falsehood! Thou shalt not keep thy hold on me!
—Nor even get a hold on me! ’Tis now—
This day—hour—minute—’t is as here I stand
On the accursed threshold of the Prefect,
That I am found deceiving and deceived!
And now what do I?—hasten to the few
Deceived, ere they deceive the many—shout,
“As I professed, I did believe myself!
Say, Druses, had you seen a butchery—
If Ayoob, Karshook saw—Maani there
Must tell you how I saw my father sink;
My mother’s arms twine still about my neck;
I hear my brother shriek, here ’s yet the scar
Of what was meant for my own death-blow—say,
If you had woke like me, grown year by year
Out of the tumult in a far-off clime,
Would it be wondrous such delusion grew?
I walked the world, asked help at every hand;
Came help or no? Not this and this I Which helps
When I returned with, found the Prefect here,
The Druses here, all here but Hakeem’s self,
The Khalif of the thousand prophecies,
Reserved for such a juncture,—could I call
My mission aught but Hakeem’s? Promised Hakeem
More than performs the Djabal—you absolve?
—Me, you will never shame before the crowd
Yet happily ignorant?—Me, both throngs surround,
The few deceived, the many un abused,
—Who, thus surrounded, slay for you and them
The Prefect, lead to Lebanon? No Khalif,
But Sheikh once more! Mere Djabal—not” . . . 

Enter KHALIL hastily.

                                        —God Hakeem!
’T is told! The whole Druse nation knows thee, Hakeem,
As we! and mothers lift on high their babes
Who seem aware, so glisten their great eyes,
Thou hast not failed us; ancient brows are proud;
Our elders could not earlier die, it seems,
Than at thy coming! The Druse heart is thine!
Take it! my lord and theirs, be thou adored!

    DJABAL [aside].
Adored!—but I renounce it utterly!

Already are they instituting choirs
And dances to the Khalif, as of old
’Tis chronicled thou bad’st them.

    DJABAL [aside].
                                                I abjure it!
’T is not mine—not for me!

                                        Why pour they wine
Flavored like honey and bruised mountain-herbs,
Or wear those strings of sun-dried cedar-fruit?
Oh, let me tell thee—Esaad, we supposed
Doting, is carried forth, eager to see
The last sun rise on the Isle: he can see now!
The shamed Druse women never wept before:
They can look up when we reach home, they say.
Smell!—sweet cane, saved in Lilith’s breast thus long—
—Sweet! it grows wild in Lebanon. And I
Alone do nothing for thee! ’T is my office
Just to announce what well thou know’st—but thus
Thou bidst me. At this self-same moment tend
The Prefect, Nuncio and the Admiral
Hither by their three sea-paths: nor forget
Who were the trusty watchers!—thou forget?
Like me, who do forget that Anael bade . . . 

    DJABAL [aside].
Ay, Anael, Anael—is that said at last?
Louder than all, that would be said, I knew!
What does abjuring mean, confessing mean,
To the people? Till that woman crossed my path,
On went I, solely for my people’ s sake:
I saw her, and I then first saw myself,
And slackened pace: “if I should prove indeed
Hakeem—with Anael by!”

    KHALIL [aside].
                                Ah, he is rapt!
Dare I at such a moment break on him
Even to do my sister’s bidding? Yes:
The eyes are Djabal’ s and not Hakeem’s yet,
Though but till I have spoken this, perchance.

    DJABAL [aside].
To yearn to tell her, and yet have no one
Great heart’s word that will tell her! I could gasp
Doubtless one such word out, and die.
                                                [Aloud.] You said
That Anael . . . 

 . . .  Fain would see thee, speak with thee,
Before thou change, discard this Djabal’ s shape
She knows, for Hakeem’s shape she is to know.
Something to say that will not from her mind!
I know not what—“Let him but come!” she said.

    DJABAL [half-apart].
My nation—all my Druses—how fare they?
Those I must save, and suffer thus to save,
Hold they their posts? Wait they their Khalif too?

All at the signal pant to flock around
That banner of a brow!

    DJABAL [aside].
                And when they flock,
Confess them this: and after, for reward,
Be chased with howlings to her feet perchance!
—Have the poor outraged Druses, deaf and blind,
Precede me there, forestall my story there,
Tell it in mocks and jeers!
                            I lose myself.
Who needs a Hakeem to direct him now?
I need the veriest child why not this child?

[Turning abruptly to KHALIL.

You are a Druse too, Khalil; you were nourished
Like Anael with our mysteries: if she
Could vow, so nourished, to love only one
Who should avenge the Druses, whence proceeds
Your silence? Wherefore made you no essay,
Who thus implicitly can execute
My bidding? What have I done, you could not?
Who, knowing more than Anael the prostration
Of our once lofty tribe, the daily life
Of this detested . . . 
                                Does he come, you say,
This Prefect? All ‘s in readiness?

                                                The sword,
The sacred robe, the Khalif’s mystic tiar,
Laid up so long, are all disposed beside
The Prefect’s chamber.

                        —Why did you despair?

I know our nation’s state? Too surely know,
As thou who speak’st to prove me! Wrongs like ours
Should wake revenge: but when I sought the wronged
And spoke,—“The Prefect stabbed your son—arise!
Your daughter, while you starve, eats shameless bread
In his pavilion—then arise!”—my speech
Fell idly: ’twas, “Be silent, or worse fare!
Endure till time’s slow cycle prove complete!
Who mayst thou be that takest on thee to thrust
Into this peril—art thou Hakeem?” No!
Only a mission like thy mission renders
All these obedient at a breath, subdues
Their private passions, brings their wills to one.

You think so?

        Even now—when they have witnessed
Thy miracles—had I not threatened all
With Hakeem’s vengeance, they would mar the work,
And couch ere this, each with his special prize,
Safe in his dwelling, leaving our main hope
To perish. No! When these have kissed thy feet
At Lebanon, the past purged off, the present
Clear,—for the future, even Hakeem’s mission
May end, and I perchance, or any youth,
Shall rule them thus renewed.—I tutor thee!

And wisely. (He is Anael’s brother, pure
As Anael’s self.) Go say, I come to her.
Haste! I will follow you.

[Khalil goes.
                                        Oh, not confess
To these, the blinded multitude—confess,
Before at least the fortune of my deed
Half-authorize its means! Only to her
Let me confess my fault, who in my path
Curled up like incense from a Mage-king’s tomb
When he would have the wayfarer descend
Through the earth’s rift and bear hid treasure forth!
How should child’s-carelessness prove manhood’s crime
Till now that I, whose lone youth hurried past,
Letting each joy ’scape for the Druses’ sake,
At length recover in one Druse all joy?
Were her brow brighter, her eyes richer, still
Would I confess. On the gulf’s verge I pause.
How could I slay the Prefect, thus and thus?
Anael, be mine to guard me, not destroy!

Enter ANAEL, and MAANI who is assisting to array her
in the ancient dress of the Druses.

Those saffron vestures of the tabret-girls!
Comes Djabal, think you?

                        Doubtless Djabal comes.

Dost thou snow-swathe thee kinglier, Lebanon,
Than in my dreams? Nay, all the tresses off
My forehead! Look I lovely so? He says
That I am lovely.

                Lovely: nay, that hangs

You tell me how a khandjar hangs?
The sharp side, thus, along the heart, see, marks
The maiden of our class. Are you content
For Djabal as for me?

                        Content, my child.

Oh mother, tell me more of him! He comes
Even now tell more, fill up my soul with him!

And did I not . . .  yes, surely . . . tell you all?

What will be changed in Djabal when the Change
Arrives? Which feature? Not his eyes!

                                                        ’T is writ
Our Hakeem’s eyes rolled fire and clove the dark

Not his eyes! His voice perhaps?
Yet that ’s no change; for a grave current lived
—Grandly beneath the surface ever lived,
That, scattering, broke as in live silver spray
While . . .  ah, the bliss . . . he would discourse to me
In that enforced still fashion, word on word!
’T is the old current which must swell thro’ that,
For what least tone, Maani, could I lose?
’T is surely not his voice will change!
                                                —If Hakeem
Only stood by! If Djabal, somehow, passed
Out of the radiance as from out a robe;
Possessed, but was not it!
                                            He lived with you?
Well—and that morning Djabal saw me first
And heard me vow never to wed but one
Who saved my People on that day . . .  proceed!

Once more, then: from the time of his return
In secret, changed so since he left the Isle
That I, who screened our Emir’s last of sons,
This Djabal, from the Prefect’s massacre
—Who bade him ne’er forget the child he was,
—Who dreamed so long the youth he might become—
I knew not in the man that child; the man
Who spoke alone of hope to save our tribe,
How he had gone from land to land to save
Our tribe—allies were sure, nor foes to dread.
And much he mused, days, nights, alone he mused:
But never till that day when, pale and worn
As by a persevering woe, he cried
“Is there not one Druse left me?”—and I showed
The way to Khalil’s and your hiding-place
From the abhorred eye of the Prefect here,
So that he saw you, heard you speak—till then,
Never did he announce—(how the moon seemed
To ope and shut, the while, above us both!)
—His mission was the mission promised us;
The cycle had revolved; all things renewing,
He was lost Hakeem clothed in flesh to lead
His children home anon, now veiled to work
Great purposes: the Druses now would change!

And they have changed! And obstacles did sink,
And furtherances rose! And round his form
Played fire, and music beat her angel wings!
My people, let me more rejoice, oh more
For you than for myself! Did I but watch
Afar the pageant, feel our Khalif pass,
One of the throng, how proud were I—tho’ ne’er
Singled by Djabal’s glance! But to be chosen
His own from all, the most his own of all,
To be exalted with him, side by side,
Lead the exulting Druses, meet . . .  ah, how
Worthily meet the maidens who await
Ever beneath the cedars—how deserve
This honor, in their eyes? So bright are they
Who saffron-vested sound the tabret there,
The girls who throng there in my dream! One hour
And all is over: how shall I do aught
That may deserve next hour’s exalting?—How?—

[Suddenly to MAANI.
Mother, I am not worthy him! I read it
Still in his eyes! He stands as if to tell me
I am not, yet forbears. Why else revert
To one theme ever?—how mere human gifts
Suffice him in myself—whose worship fades,
Whose awe goes ever off at his approach,
As now, who when he comes . . . 
                                [DJABAL enters.] Oh why is it
I cannot kneel to you?

                                Rather, ’tis I
Should kneel to you, my Anael!

                                                Even so!
For never seem you—shall I speak the truth?—
Never a God to me! ’T is the Man’s hand,
Eye, voice! Oh do you veil these to our people,
Or but to me? To them, I think, to them!
And brightness is their veil, shadow—my truth!
You mean that I should never kneel to you
—So, thus I kneel!

    DJABAL [preventing her].

[Feeling the khandjar as be raises her.
                                Ha, have you chosen . . . 

The khandjar with our ancient garb. But, Djabal,
Change not, be not exalted yet! Give time
That I may plan more, perfect more! My blood
Beats, beats!
        [Aside] Oh must I then—since Loys leaves us
Never to come again, renew in me
These doubts so near effaced already—must
I needs confess them now to Djabal?—own
That when I saw that stranger, heard his voice,
My faith fell, and the woful thought flashed first
That each effect of Djabal’ s presence, taken
For proof of more than human attributes
In him, by me whose heart at his approach
Beat fast, whose brain while he was by swam round,
Whose soul at his departure died away,
—That every such effect might have been wrought
In other frames, tho’ not in mine, by Loys
Or any merely mortal presence? Doubt
Is fading fast; shall I reveal it now?
How shall I meet the rapture presently,
With doubt unexpiated, undisclosed?

    DJABAL [aside].
Avow the truth? I cannot! In what words
Avow that all she loved in me was false?
—Which yet has served that flower-like love of hers
To climb by, like the clinging gourd, and clasp
With its divinest wealth of leaf and bloom.
Could I take down the prop-work, in itself
So vile, yet interlaced and overlaid
With painted cups and fruitage—might these still
Bask in the sun, unconscious their own strength
Of matted stalk and tendril had replaced
The old support thus silently withdrawn!
But no; the beauteous fabric crushes too.
’T is not for my sake but for Anael’s sake
I leave her soul this Hakeem where it leans.
Oh could I vanish from her, quit the Isle!
And yet—a thought comes: here my work is done
At every point; the Druses must return—
Have convoy to their birth-place back, whoe’er
The leader be, myself or any Druse—
Venice is pledged to that: ’t is for myself,
For my own vengeance in the Prefect’s death,
I stay now, not for them: to slay or spare
The Prefect, whom imports it save myself?
He cannot bar their passage from the Isle;
What would his death be but my own reward?
Then, mine I will forego. It is foregone!
Let him escape with all my House’s blood!
Ere he can reach land, Djabal disappears,
And Hakeem, Anael loved, shall, fresh as first,
Live in her memory, keeping her sublime
Above the world. She cannot touch that world
By ever knowing what I truly am,
Since Loys,—of mankind the only one
Able to link my present with my past,
My life in Europe with my Island life,
Thence, able to unmask me,—I’ve disposed
Safely at last at Rhodes, and . . . 


                                        Loys greets thee!

Loys? To drag me back? It cannot be!

    ANAEL [aside].
Loys! Ah, doubt may not be stifled so!

Can I have erred that thou so gazest? Yes,
I told thee not in the glad press of tidings
Of higher import, Loys is returned
Before the Prefect, with, if possible,
Twice the light-heartedness of old. As though
On some inauguration he expects,
To-day, the world’s fate hung!

                                —And asks for me?

Thou knowest all things. Thee in chief he greets,
But every Druse of us is to be happy
At his arrival, he declares: were Loys
Thou, Master, he could have no wider soul
To take us in with. How I love that Loys!

    DJABAL [aside].
Shame winds me with her tether round and round.

    ANAEL [aside].
Loys? I take the trial! it is meet,
The little I can do, be done; that faith,
All I can offer, want no perfecting
Which my own act may compass. Ay, this way
All may go well, nor that ignoble doubt
Be chased by other aid than mine. Advance
Close to my fear, weigh Loys with my Lord,
The mortal with the more than mortal gifts!

    DJABAL [aside].
Before, there were so few deceived! and now
There’s doubtless not one least Druse in the Isle
But, having learned my superhuman claims,
And calling me his Khalif-God, will clash
The whole truth out from Loys at first word!
While Loys, for his part, will hold me up,
With a Frank’s unimaginable scorn
Of such imposture, to my people’s eyes!
Could I but keep him longer yet awhile
From them, amuse him here until I plan
How he and I at once may leave the Isle!
Khalil I cannot part with from my side—
My only help in this emergency:
There’s Anael!

                Please you?

                                        Anael—none but she!
[To ANAEL.] I pass some minutes in the chamber there,
Ere I see Loys: you shall speak with him
Until I join you. Khalil follows me.

    ANAEL [aside].
As I divined: he bids me save myself,
Offers me a probation—I accept.
Let me see Loys!

    LOYS [without].

    ANAEL [aside].
                                ’T is his voice.
The smooth Frank trifler with our people’s wrongs,
The self-complacent boy-inquirer, loud
On this and that inflicted tyranny,
—Aught serving to parade an ignorance
Of how wrong feels, inflicted! Let me close
With what I viewed at distance: let myself
Probe this delusion to the core!

                                                He comes.
Khalil, along with me! while Anael waits
Till 1 return once more—and but once more.

The Return of the Druses - Contents    |     Act III

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