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בס"ד

The Death of Saul.

By Miss Sarah Cohen.

White were the hills of Gilboa with the tents of Israel’s warriors, and brightly glistened many a helm and spear in the golden sunlight, as, under the eyes of their far-famed leaders, they performed their warlike evolutions. Fearless and bold were those gallant ones, vigorous their iron-nerved frames, and undaunted their stout hearts. They waited with impatience for the approaching foe, because, presuming on their former successes, they were, in their own minds, secure of victory and thus they were eager for the coming strife, the happy termination of which they thought would add fresh glory to their names, already noted for deeds of renown, and save their country from the constant attacks of its treacherous neighbours; all, therefore, save their royal leader, were animated by glowing and bright visions of the future.

But the noble brow of the kingly chief was overshadowed by <<26>>an unusual gloom, and his cheek was pale; and though, as was his wont, he spoke cheeringly and inspiringly to the gallant and well-tried leaders of his hosts, and their loyal and brave followers, yet seemed as if other feelings, which he sought to repress, were weighing on his mind; for often in the midst of his eloquent and heart-stirring appeals he would suddenly appear to wander, hesitate, and utter words foreign to the subject; again he would return such unconnected answers to the dutiful addresses of his faithful people, as showed that his spirit was filled with some engrossing and anxious contemplations. This strange demeanour, though it had hitherto escaped the notice of those who were not in daily communion with the king, had just began to attract the attention of others than the monarch’s immediate servants and counsellors, and many and various were the causes assigned by them for the spiritless and dejected looks of that countenance once so haughty and bold. “Why should he be troubled? doubts he the fidelity of Israel’s warriors? or can that hitherto indomitable courage now change to coward fear, or that once dauntless heart now quake before coming danger?” were the words of one to his comrade.

“Surely not,” was the quick and indignant reply; “no fear dwells in that iron heart, and our king well knows that faithful and brave ones are around him, who are ready to obey his slightest word to follow him whithersoever he may lead them; be it even to certain death. But bethink thee, feels not our monarch an affectionate interest for his faithful troops? And as he views so many gallant and stately forms, now full of bright hopes, and exulting in the fond anticipation of victory, his heart is doubtless filled with sad emotions, when he reflects that many of these noble and ardent spirits will soon be stilled in death; for even conquest must be purchased at the expense of life. I marked the quiver of his lips and his wistful look, when the shout of the people greeted their king’s approach this day. Indeed thou wrongest him, even to imagine that fear dwells in his heart.”

“True,” said the other, “I well know that it is not fear which disturbs him; it may be that he has passed a sleepless <<27>>night in devising means to surprise the enemy; or, perchance, the cruel malady which of old troubled him, has again seized on its victim.”

Such were the words of a little group of officers of the Israelitish host as the king silently, though restlessly, walked round the encampment, studiously avoiding all conversation, but apparently absorbed in some gloomy and sad train of thoughts.

Far different was the mien of Saul’s valorous sons that day; a sight of them was animating, and their least stirring words were a stimulant to the most faint of heart; though few, very few of such were then in the camp. Many responsive shouts replied to their eloquent and earnest appeals, which they addressed to the loyalty and bravery of the Hebrew warriors, and bright enthusiastic looks followed their footsteps as they passed from tent to tent. Their father viewed the stately forms of his sons with an admiring though melancholy aspect, and when his first-born, Jonathan, seemed about to approach him, he turned away, to avoid, it would seem, his company. The prince remarked with wonder his father’s troubled image; but seeing that his presence was not desired, and not daring then to intrude, he joined some of his gallant friends, leaving his parent to the enjoyment of the privacy he evidently so much desired.

As the king was walking slowly to his tent, he passed unnoticed near a little group who were too much engaged with their conversation to remark his approach, and as he moved along, his ear caught their words, and hence he paused eagerly to listen to what they said, for they were speaking of him. “What thinkest thou,” spoke one, “is the reason of his sad looks? hast thou heard of any cause of disquiet?”

“Nay, I have heard of none; but not one of these sad looks will be seen when he leads on his brave host to the battle,” was the reply.

“I am not sure of that; for it was a pity that that rash, cruel slaughter of the holy priests should ever have been commanded by him; and grievous is it that a man could be found to execute that impious and barbarous decree, to raise the murderous sword against those whose hands and voices have been so often lifted up <<28>>to invoke the blessing of our God on both king and people, or to intercede for their sins. The vengeance of the Almighty must surely fall heavily on such atrocious acts and well will it be for our king, if his deep-felt contrition can atone for his sin; since, doubtless it is remorse that pales his cheek and overshadows his brow with gloom, and well may it do so. Greatly indeed do I love our sovereign; at his bidding I would gladly peril my life, suffer uncomplainingly hunger and thirst, endure summer’s heat or winter’s frost, for the furtherance of the welfare of him or his house; but with all the love I bear him, I must say that this cruel deed will be an everlasting blot on his name.”

“O, it is disgraceful,” said a third, “that there could exist one, a stranger by birth though he be to Israel, who could execute so revolting a command.”

“Ah,” replied a fourth, “it was a sore and heavy crime; why did not our nobles and chiefs expostulate with the king.”

Saul stayed to hear no more; his heart was smitten anew, and he strode hastily along, his mind a prey to long slumbering but now freshly awakened remorse of conscience, and he withdrew into the interior of his tent, without permitting any one to approach him. The shadows of evening had long darkened the earth ere he again appeared before the people, and then, with a countenance still anxious and dejected, and with slow and heavy steps, he paced the green turf before his tent, where, as he turned round, he saw standing near him two of his officers, who held high rank in his household; they had been his playmates in youth ere a thought of his high destiny had entered his mind; they had fought by his side since he ruled over Israel, and were even now his most trusty and confidential advisers. As Saul advanced to where they stood, they ceased their whispered conversation, and boldly yet respectfully stepped forward, unmindful of his evident desire to avoid speaking with them.

“Pardon our boldness,” said one, “but if we would inquire why the countenance of my lord, the king, should be so sad, and why should his soul be troubled. Full well we know that no weak fear disturbs thy breast, that no distrust of thy faithful servants disquiets thee; say then, our much-loved lord, what secret grief <<29>>torments thee? if thou wouldst but reveal the cause of thy trouble to thy servants, it might be that we could find a speedy remedy for its removal.”

“Pardon the freedom of thy servants," spoke the other,” but my comrade and I have, together with the other faithful followers of thy house, remarked the ill-concealed trouble of soul of my lord the king; fain would we see thee as thou wart in happier days; and wouldst thou but reveal the secret of thy grief to our ears, the remedy, if it be in our power, shall be found, if it be even at the risk of our lives.”

“And so say I,” resumed the first; “refuse not, I entreat thee, the prayer of thy servants, but reveal to us whatever be the stroke of evil that oppresses thy soul.”

The king had listened in silence; his face had assumed a more deadly whiteness, and a cold shudder passed over his frame; his countenance for a moment seemed convulsed by the strength of his emotions; then with a strong effort he appeared to calm the conflicting feelings which distracted him, and he looked hastily round, as if to see whether any one was within hearing of his speech. The scene which he viewed, but a short time ago so stirring, was now peaceful and calm; the white tents of the encampment looked yet more white in the clear, pale moonbeams, whilst by the entrance of a few of them might be observed groups of two or three figures standing in earnest conversation, though the greater number of them were already occupied by their brave tenants, who had sought their simple beds, and were in their imagination pursuing the flying foe, or lying bleeding and perishing on the blood-stained earth.

Long did Saul gaze on the widespread camp, but no one save his two trusty servants were near; at length, with a deep-drawn sigh and with a powerful struggle  to control his emotion, he spoke as follows: “Know ye, or either of ye, a man or woman skilled in the arts of the former inhabi­tants of this land? one who has power to control the unknown spirits of the air, or wake from their resting-place the souls of the dead? for with such a one would I commune, that I may learn thereby the issue the coming battle. I know that it is a breach of the law of our teacher, Moses, to inquire of such <<30>>but I can remain in uncertainty no longer. I have not been able to obtain an answer to my inquiries from the prophets and priests; all told me, the Lord replied not to them when they question for me; they are doubtless irritated at the just punishment which by my orders befell Ahimelech and his traitorous associates when they favoured the escape of that rebel, the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, and even gave him the consecrated bread from the table of the sanctuary; but they shall yet feel the weight of my indignation when I return victorious overt the insolent Philistines. Think not, brave and well-tried friends, that the desire to know what good or evil may betide me, arises from any doubt of the fidelity of my trusty host; for well I know their valour and attachment to me and my house. But an unwonted sensation, causeless and indescribable, oppresses me. Imagine not it is the fear of death, or dread of defeat, for it is not so; but it is a feeling of deep gloom which I cannot cast off, a shrinking, a trembling of my very heart, which I strive against in vain, which weighs down my soul; and when this morning I viewed from afar the cam of the enemy, a sudden chilliness ran through my limbs, whilst the blood seemed to thicken in my veins. Oh, what can be the cause of this unwonted feeling in me who never feared before!”

He paused for an instant, and then resumed his speech with quivering lip, and voice broken by emotion: “Oh, if ye but know of such a one as I have named, speak quickly, if you would grant the entreaty of your king.”

“Such a one as my lord desires to consult,” answered the one who had first spoken, “I know well enough; but thou must not forget my lord, how in times past thou didst devote to death, or drive from the land, all the professors of the secret art; and if thou wouldst seek out this one, a woman deeply skilled in the magic power, she must not recognise thee as the King of Israel, otherwise the fear of the penalty which aforetime thou didst inflict on others as skilful as she in sorcery, will prevent her from exercising her power, which she then will strive to conceal from thee.”

“Oh,” said the other, “thou surely speakest not of her who dwells at Endor?”

<<31>>
“The same,” replied his companion; “truly is she a wise and a skilful woman, my lord; she holds by her art, subservient to her will, a spirit who will at her command reveal the events of the future to such as she may favour; but of late she has refused to exercise her sorcery, for she is fearful of sharing the fate of those whom thou, my lord, has formerly doomed to death.”

“Knowest thou her dwelling?” eagerly demanded the king.

“I know it well.”

“Then by to-morrow’s eve we will assume a disguise which will effectually conceal our station, and seek her presence; and thus I hope to penetrate by her assistance into the dark obscurity of the future, which is otherwise denied me. Farewell; I leave to you the task of providing fitting raiment, and to-morrow, relying on your discretion and secrecy, I will repair to this woman's dwelling.”

The officers made their obeisance and withdrew to their quarters.

(To be continued.)