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The Death of Saul

(Continued from p. 31.)

By Miss Sarah Cohen

When left alone, the king sought not his couch, though the hour was late; but continued to pace up and down before his tent, with a mind which, if somewhat relieved, was still agitated with fearful emotions; for if he had hopes of obtaining a revelation of the future, he felt humiliated in his own heart by the communication of the cause of his disquietude which he had <<85>>made to his servants.

“But,”said he, “any humiliation, so that my doubts are dispelled, is preferable to this horrible darkness which now surrounds me. Oh, can it be indeed true, that the Lord refuses to answer my inquiries? when formerly He often communicated to me his word, though it might threaten us, through that faithful adviser Samuel, whom death has removed from the people he once guided so well. Has God indeed forsaken me? or is it a cunning device of the prophets, in revenge at the slaughter of the traitorous priests?”

He hastily paused, for conscience smote him with a sudden and heavy stroke, “or can it be,” thought he, “that divine vengeance will overtake me, for the cruel death of these trusty servants of the Most High?”

But quickly and scornfully was this idea dismissed. “Did not,” he said, “these seditious meddlers assist the son of Jesse to escape from his well-merited doom? did they not refuse to reveal to me his flight? did they not give him even the sword of Goliath, the Philistine, and food, even the consecrated shewbread from the sanctuary? Well was their fate richly deserved by them. Ha! and that insolent soldier, who dared to utter such words as reached my ears this day, deserves to die, for daring to censure the command of his king; and were it not for the speedily approaching strife, he should soon be with those he loved so well.”

He mused a while, and then spoke again: “And I, the king of Israel, could not find one of my own peo­ple to execute my desire! but one, a stranger born, is the only man who would obey the bidding of his sovereign. Afraid were they to slay the priests of the Lord? No, no, it was not this; my own servants have secretly espoused the cause of David, the disturber of my repose.”

Again he paused, and fancy was busy conjuring up before him the bleeding bodies of the priests, the victims of his fury, lying pallid and dying in his presence. Their well-remembered features seemed to be looking on him with silent reproach; he heard again their expiring groans, he beheld their gaping wounds, their ghastly look of anguish, as they turned round in their last agonies on those dear to them, slaughtered mercilessly like themselves. He shuddered, a cold chill ran through all his frame, <<86>>and turning sway with a vacant stare into the open space, he groaned aloud, and said: “Oh, what means this horrible picture! Is God indeed wroth with me for avenging myself on those who had so grievously offended? No, I never, never can believe this; it cannot be; it is surely s mere delusion. But I am dispirited at the coming strife; and hearing the names of these traitors mentioned, recalled them to my memory, whence I had hoped they were long since banished. But I will chase them again from my thoughts, they shall never distress me again, they do not deserve that I should torment myself with what justly befell them.”

He therefore continued his lonely walk, and often would his thoughts turn wonderingly to the import of these disclosures, which the sorceress, by her mysterious art, would make to him.

The gray light of early dawn had already overspread the east­ern skies, before he sought repose, though vainly; for sleep fled from his eyelids, and fancy, busy fancy, drew many a varied picture of the destiny which he hoped would so soon be revealed to him. “O for a triumph over the insolent Philistines,” said he, “and then I will seek to devise some fresh scheme to rid myself of Jesse’s son, for while he exists my crown is not secure on my head. Has he not already gained the hearts of the malcontents of my people? and what though with affected magnanimity he has twice spared my life when I was in his power, was not this artfully done to endear himself yet more to his followers, and to entice those who adhere to me to join their fortunes with his? know I not that he aims to sit on the throne of Israel? Only let me first overcome these uncircumcised hosts before me, and then I will pursue the traitor, who shall die, though he be the husband of Michal and the friend of Jonathan.”

He paused awhile, then suddenly starting up, he exclaimed: “This approaching strife! when I think of it a heavy stroke seems to fall on my heart, a cold damp is on my brow, and my whole frame is chilled by an icy tremor. What can these unusual feelings portend? or what can they be? Scan this be in truth dastard cowardice, weak, degrading fear, which I now feel? No, perish for ever such thought! I never dreaded death, and when‑<<87>>ever the battle raged fiercest I was ever foremost amidst the dreadful shock.”

He then laid himself down on his uneasy couch till the rise of the sun, when he left it, unrefreshed and weary, to wander abroad; and though his heart was a prey to dismal forebodings, and his mind was troubled, he walked round the camp, and conversed cheerfully with the leaders of his army; for he much feared that his altered manner might be ascribed to its true cause, wherefore he strove to conceal the sad change which had come over him.

The hour of noon had long passed, when his two confidential servants sought their master's presence, each bearing a small bundle. Una spoke first, saying: “My lord, the king, art thou ready? it were time that we should be on our way; my comrade and myself have chosen the garb of herdsmen, as being most likely to effectually disguise both thyself and us.”

The king assented, and after telling the guard that he and his chosen officers would go and observe the position of the enemy, but that he wished his absence to be kept a secret, he and his companions, after changing their splendid attire for the humble garment they had brought along, turned away unsuspected on their long and toilsome way.

Once more darkness had veiled the earth, when the disguised king and nobles reached the habitation of the sorceress, which was in a lonely and obscure spot; their signal for admittance was made, and a woman quickly obeyed the summons. Her youth had long since passed away; yet years had but dimmed the beauty of her countenance, and most imposing was the majesty of her figure, as also the dignity of her movements, as she stepped forward with a commanding air to receive the unexpected visitors, and to demand of them the object of their journey. Saul quickly unfolded to her his ardent desire that she should, by her art, assist him to withdraw the veil which shrouded the future from his sight; and humbly did the haughty royal chief sue for the boon, “that she, by the exercise of her power, would enable him to hold communion with the dead,” carefully concealing at the same time from her his station and name. But she was unwilling to acknowledge that she possessed <<88>>such power, for she distrusted her visiters; since by their air she rightly judged that their humble garb concealed far higher rank than what it bespoke, though how exalted she little dreamed; and being very fearful that a snare had been laid for her by some emissaries of the king, she long denied that she had ever practised such art as they spoke of. And when at length the two officers addressed her as one they had visited before, she spoke of the punishment which awaited all those who exercised the secret art; and addressing the king, as the one who had first conversed with her, she said: “Knowest thou not what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards out of the land? wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”

But at length, after many entreaties had been made, and the king had bound himself by a solemn oath that no harm should befall her, bestowing at the same time many rich and costly gifts, she consented to do as he had requested. “It is well,” said she, “the one whom thou wishest to see shall shortly appear, but remember thy oath.” On hearing that he wished to see Samuel, she bowed assent, and retired then into an inner chamber, whence she speedily issued, and stood before them arrayed for the performance of her necromantic rites, and fearfully beautiful she appeared to them in that strange garb; her robe was of scarlet and gold, embroidered with many a mystic symbol, while from her head to the ground flowed on either side a veil of the same hue as the rest of her attire, and was bordered with the same mystic devices in broidery of gold. “Now shall thy wishes be gratified,” said she; “be prepared for the summons; fear not; for bound by my controlling power, subservient to my will, the spirit cannot harm thee.”

Again she left them there. Silently sat the three waiting for the signal which should summon the king; and though valorous and undaunted men, a strange and inexpressible feeling stole over them; each gazed in the other's face, and marvelled at its paleness, though neither could break the painful silence. Was it terror that seized on these bold hearts?

(To be continued.)