The Return of the Druses


Robert Browning


Here leave me! Here I wait another. ’T was
For no mad protestation of a love
Like this you say possesses you, I came.

Love? how protest a love I dare not feel?
Mad words may doubtless have escaped me: you
Are here—I only feel you here!

                                        No more!

But once again, whom could you love? I dare,
Alas, say nothing of myself, who am
A Knight now, for when Knighthood we embrace,
Love we abjure: so, speak on safely: speak,
Lest I speak, and betray my faith! And yet
To say your breathing passes through me, changes
My blood to spirit, and my spirit to you,
As Heaven the sacrificer’s wine to it—
This is not to protest my love! You said
You could love one . . . 

                                One only! We are bent
To earth—who raises up my tribe, I love;
The Prefect bows us—who removes him; we
Have ancient rights—who gives them back to us,
I love. Forbear me! Let my hand go!

You could love only? Where is Djabal? Stay!
[Aside.]    Yet wherefore stay? Who does this but myself?
Had I apprised her that I come to do
Just this, what more could she acknowledge? No,
She sees into my heart’s core! What is it
Feeds either cheek with red, as June some rose?
Why turns she from me? Ah fool, over-fond
To dream I could call up . . . 
                                            . . . What never dream
Yet feigned! ’Tis love! Oh Anael, speak to me!

Seek Djabal by the Prefect’s chamber
At noon! [She paces the room.

    LOYS [aside].
And am I not the Prefect now?
Is it my fate to be the only one
Able to win her love, the only one
Unable to accept her love? The past
Breaks up beneath my footing: came I here
This morn as to a slave, to set her free
And take her thanks, and then spend day by day
Content beside her in the Isle? What works
This knowledge in me now? Her eye has broken
The faint disguise away: for Anae’s sake
I left the Isle, for her espoused the cause
Of the Druses, all for her I thought, till now,
To live without!
                                —As I must live! To-day
Ordains me Knight, forbids me . . . never shall
Forbid me to profess myself, heart, arm,
Thy soldier!

                Djabal you demanded, comes.

    LOYS [aside].
What wouldst thou, Loys? See him? Naught beside
Is wanting: I have felt his voice a spell
From first to last. He brought me here, made known
The Druses to me, drove me hence to seek
Redress for them; and shall I meet him now,
When naught is wanting but a word of his,
To—what?—induce me to spurn hope, faith, pride,
Honor away,—to cast my lot among
His tribe, become a proverb in men’s mouths,
Breaking my high pact of companionship
With those who graciously bestowed on me
The very opportunities I turn
Against them! Let me not see Djabal now!

The Prefect also comes.

    LOYS [aside].
                                Him let me see,
Not Djabal! Him, degraded at a word,
To soothe me, to attest belief in me
And after, Djabal! Yes, ere I return
To her, the Nuncio’s vow shall have destroyed
This heart’s rebellion, and coerced this will
                Anael, not before the vows
Irrevocably fix me . . . 
                                    Let me fly!
The Prefect, or I lose myself forever!        [Goes.

Yes, I am calm now; just one way remains—
One, to attest my faith in him: for, see,
I were quite lost else: Loys, Djabal, stand
On either side—two men! I balance looks
And words, give Djabal a man’s preference,
No more. In Djabal, Hakeem is absorbed!
And for a love like this, the God who saves
My race, selects me for his bride? One way!


    DJABAL [to himself].
No moment is to waste then; ’tis resolved.
If Khalil may be trusted to lead back
My Druses, and if Loys can be lured
Out of the Isle—if I procure his silence,
Or promise never to return at least,—
All ’s over. Even now my bark awaits:
I reach the next wild islet and the next,
And lose myself beneath the sun forever.
And now, to Anael!

                        Djabal, I am thine!

Mine? Djabal’s?—As if Hakeem had not been?

Not Djabal’s? Say first, do you read my thought?
Why need I speak, if you can read my thought?

I do not, I have said a thousand times.

(My secret’s safe, I shall surprise him yet!)
Djabal, I knew your secret from the first:
Djabal, when first I saw you . . .  (by our porch
You leant, and pressed the tinkling veil away,
And one fringe fell behind your neck—I see!)
 . . . I knew you were not human, for I said
“This dim secluded house where the sea beats
Is heaven to me—my people’s huts are hell
To them; this august form will follow me,
Mix with the waves his voice will,—I have him;
And they, the Prefect! Oh, my happiness
Rounds to the full whether I choose or no!
His eyes met mine, he was about to speak,
His hand grew damp—surely he meant to say
He let me love him: in that moment’s bliss
I shall forget my people pine for home
They pass and they repass with pallid eyes!”
I vowed at once a certain vow; this vow—
Not to embrace you till my tribe was saved.
Embrace me!

    DJABAL [apart].
And she loved me! Naught remained
But that! Nay, Anael, is the Prefect dead?

Ah, you reproach me! True, his death crowns all,
I know—or should know: and I would do much,
Believe! but, death! Oh, you, who have known death,
Would never doom the Prefect, were death fearful
As we report!
                        Death!—a fire curls within us
From the foot’s palm, and fills up to the brain,
Up, out, then shatters the whole bubble-shell
Of flesh, perchance!
                                Death!—witness, I would die,
Whatever death be, would venture now to die
For Khalil, for Maani—what for thee?
Nay, but embrace me, Djabal, in assurance
My vow will not be broken, for I must
Do something to attest my faith in you,
Be worthy you!

    DJABAL [avoiding her].
I come for that—to say
Such an occasion is at hand: ’tis like
I leave you—that we part, my Anael,—part

We part? Just so! I have succumbed,—
I am, he thinks, unworthy—and naught less
Will serve than such approval of my faith.
Then, we part not! Remains there no way short
Of that? Oh not that!
                                Death!—yet a hurt bird
Died in my hands; its eyes filmed—“Nay, it sleeps,”
I said, “’twill wake to-morrow well:” ’twas dead.

I stand here and time fleets. Anael—I come
To bid a last farewell to you: perhaps
We never meet again. But, ere the Prefect
Arrive . . . 

Enter KHALIL, breathlessly.

                He’s here! The Prefect! Twenty guards,
No more: no sign he dreams of danger. All
Awaits thee only. Ayoob, Karshook, keep
Their posts—wait but the deed’s accomplishment
To join us with thy Druses to a man.
Still holds his course the Nuncio—near and near
The fleet from Candia steering.

    DJABAL [aside].
All is lost!
—Or won?

        And I have laid the sacred robe,
The sword, the head-tiar, at the porch the place
Commanded. Thou wilt hear the Prefect’s trumpet.

Then I keep Anael,—him then, past recall,
I slay—’tis forced on me. As I began
I must conclude—so be it!

                                For the rest,
Save Loys, our foe’s solitary sword,
All is so safe that . . . I will ne’er entreat
Thy post again of thee: tho’ danger none,
There must be glory only meet for thee
In slaying the Prefect.

    ANAEL [aside].
                And ’tis now that Djabal
Would leave me!—in the glory meet for him!

As glory, I would yield the deed to you
Or any Druse; what peril there may be,
I keep. [Aside.] All things conspire to hound me on.
Not now, my soul, draw back, at least! Not now!
The course is plain, howe’er obscure all else.
Once offer this tremendous sacrifice,
Prevent what else will be irreparable,
Secure these transcendental helps, regain
The Cedars—then let all dark clear itself!
I slay him!

Anael, and no part for us!
[To DJABAL.] Hast thou possessed her with . . . 

    DJABAL [to ANAEL].
                Whom speak you to?
What is it you behold there? Nay, this smile
Turns stranger. Shudder you? The man must die,
As thousands of our race have died thro’ him.
One blow, and I discharge his weary soul
From the flesh that pollutes it! Let him fill
Straight some new expiatory form, of earth
Or sea, the reptile or some aery thing:
What is there in his death?

                                My brother said,
Is there no part in it for us?

                                For Khali],—
The trumpet will announce the Nuncio’s entry;
Here, I shall find the Prefect hastening
In the Pavilion to receive him—here
I slay the Prefect; meanwhile Ayoob leads
The Nuncio with his guards within: once these
Secured in the outer hall, bid Ayoob bar
Entry or egress till I give the sign
Which waits the landing of the argosies
You will announce to me: this double sign
That justice is performed and help arrived,
When Ayoob shall receive, but not before,
Let him throw ope the palace doors, admit
The Druses to behold their tyrant, ere
We leave forever this detested spot.
Go, Khalil, hurry all! No pause, no pause!
Whirl on the dream, secure to wake anon!

What sign? and who the bearer?

                                                Who shall show
My ring, admit to Ayoob, How she stands!
Have I not . . . I must have some task for her.
Anael, not that way! ’T is the Prefect’s chamber!
Anael, keep you the ring—give you the sign!
(It holds her safe amid the stir. ) You will
Be faithful?

    ANAEL [taking the ring].
I would fain be worthy.

[Trumpet without.

He comes.

                        And I too come.

                                One word, but one!
Say, shall you be exalted at the deed?
Then? On the instant?

                        I exalted? What?
He, there—we, thus—our wrongs revenged, our tribe
Set free? Oh, then shall I, assure yourself,
Shall you, shall each of us, be in his death

He is here.


[They go.

Enter the PREFECT with GUARDS, and LOYS.

    THE PREFECT [to Guards].
Back, I say, to the galley every guard!
That’s my sole care now; see each bench retains
Its complement of rowers; I embark
O’ the instant, since this Knight will have it so.
Alas me! Could you have the heart, my Loys!

[To a Guard who whispers.]
Oh, bring the holy Nuncio here forthwith!
[The Guards go.
Loys, a rueful sight, confess, to see
The gray discarded Prefect leave his post,
With tears i’ the eye! So, you are Prefect now?
You depose me—you succeed me? Ha, ha!

And dare you laugh, whom laughter less becomes
Than yesterday’s forced meekness we beheld . . . 

—When you so eloquently pleaded, Loys,
For my dismissal from the post? Ah, meek
With cause enough, consult the Nuncio else!
And wish him the like meekness: for so stanch
A servant of the Church can scarce have bought
His share in the Isle, and paid for it, hard pieces!
You’ve my successor to condole with, Nuncio!
I shall be safe by then i’ the galley, Loys!

You make as you would tell me you rejoice
To leave your scene of . . . 

                        Trade in the dear Druses?
Blood and sweat traffic? Spare what yesterday
We heard enough of! Drove I in the Isle
A profitable game? Learn wit, my son,
Which you’ll need shortly! Did it never breed
Suspicion in you, all was not pure profit,
When I, the insatiate . . .  and so forth—was bent
On having a partaker in my rule?
Why did I yield this Nuncio half the gain,
If not that I might also shift—what on him?
Half of the peril, Loys!


                                        Hark you!’
I’d love you if you’d let me this for reason,
You save my life at price of . . . well, say risk
At least, of yours. I came a long time since
To the Isle; our Hospitallers bade me tame
These savage wizards, and reward myself—

The Knights who so repudiate your crime?

Loys, the Knights! we doubtless understood
Each other; as for trusting to reward
From any friend beside myself . . .  no, no!
I clutched mine on the spot, when it was sweet,
And I had taste for it. I felt these wizards
Alive—was sure they were not on me, only
When I was on them: but with age comes caution:
And stinging pleasures please less and sting more.
Year by year, fear by fear! The girls were brighter
Than ever (’faith, there’s yet one Anael left,
I set my heart upon—Oh, prithee, let
That brave new sword lie still!)—These joys looked brighter,
But silenter the town, too, as I passed.
With this alcove’s delicious memories
Began to mingle visions of gaunt fathers,
Quick-eyed sons, fugitives from the mine, the oar,
Stealing to catch me. Brief, when I began
To quake with fear—(I think I hear the Chapter
Solicited to let me leave, now all
Worth staying for was gained and gone!)—I say,
Just when, for the remainder of my life,
All methods of escape seemed lost—that then
Up should a young hot-headed Loys spring,
Talk very long and loud,—in fine, compel
The Knights to break their whole arrangement, have me
Home for pure shame—from this safehold of mine
Where but ten thousand Druses seek my life,
To my wild place of banishment, San Gines
By Murcia, where my three fat manors lying,
Purchased by gains here and the Nuncio’s gold,
Are all I have to guard me,—that such fortune
Should fall to me, I hardly could expect.
Therefore I say, I’d love you.

                                                Can it be?
I play into your hands then? Oh no, no!
The Venerable Chapter, the Great Order
Sunk o’ the sudden into fiends of the pit?
But I will back—will yet unveil you!

To whom?—perhaps Sir Galeas, who in Chapter
Shook his white head thrice—and some dozen times
My hand next morning shook, for value paid!
To that Italian saint, Sir Cosimo?—
Indignant at my wringing year by year
A thousand bezants from the coral-divers,
As you recounted; felt the saint aggrieved?
Well might he—I allowed for his half-share
Merely one hundred. To Sir . . . 

                                                    See! you dare
Inculpate the whole Order; yet should I,
A youth, a sole voice, have the power to change
Their evil way, had they been firm in it?
Answer me!

        Oh, the son of Bretagne’s Duke,
And that son’s wealth, the father’s influence, too,
And the young arm, we’ll even say, my Loys,
—The fear of losing or diverting these
Into another channel, by gainsaying
A novice too abruptly, could not influence
The Order! You might join, for aught they cared,
Their red-cross rivals of the Temple! Well,
I thank you for my part, at all events.
Stay here till they withdraw you! You’ll inhabit
My palace—sleep, perchance, in the alcove
Whither I go to meet our holy friend.
Good! and now disbelieve me if you can,—
This is the first time for long years I enter
Thus [lifts the arras] without feeling just as if I lifted
The lid up of my tomb.

                                They share his crime!
God’s punishment will overtake you yet.

Thank you it does not! Pardon this last flash:
I bear a sober visage presently
With the disinterested Nuncio here—
His purchase-money safe at Murcia, too!
Let me repeat—for the first time, no draught
Coming as from a sepulchre salutes me.
When we next meet, this folly may have passed,
We’ll hope. Ha, ha!            [Goes through the arras.

                Assure me but . . .  he’s gone!
He could not lie. Then what have I escaped,
I, who had so nigh given up happiness
Forever, to be linked with him and them!
Oh, opportunest of discoveries! I
Their Knight? I utterly renounce them all!
Hark! What, he meets by this the Nuncio? Yes,
The same hyæna groan-like laughter! Quick—
To Djabal! I am one of them at last,
These simple-hearted Druses—Anael’s tribe!
Djabal! She’s mine at last. Djabal, I say!        [Goes.

The Return of the Druses - Contents    |     Act IV

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