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בס"ד

The Death of Saul

(Concluded from p. 88)

By Miss Sarah Cohen

When the sorceress had left her guests and entered the apartment sacred to her deceptive arts, she quickly arranged her mirror and other implements of illusion in their due order, the vessel of incense, which with the clouds of its vapoury veil was to add to the obscurity of the place, were duly distributed round the dimly lighted room, which was illuminated only by a small faintly-burning lamp, fixed on a high and slender rod of brass, cunningly placed where its light should give an uncertain and indistinct aspect to all objects in that dismal chamber. Her assistant, whose hollow voice should give to all questions which might be propounded such ambiguous and evasive answers, as might without affording a direct reply yet satisfy the inquirers, entered his place of concealment, and she was prepared to summon thither the anxious questioner, who impatiently awaited her signal, the moment the fumes of the burning incense had sufficiently obscured the room to preclude the detection of her deceptive practices.

But what strange thing is this? A sudden coldness seizes her, palsies each limb, suspends every faculty save sight alone; horror in describable and unaccountable overpowers her; dread would prompt her to rush from the spot, but she has no power to obey that impulse. In vain she strives to shriek, for no sounds can escape her lips, and powerless, motionless, and mute, she gazes in awe on the spectacle before her. Those aromatic drugs, which should have given out clouds of odoriferous perfume, remained untouched by the flame, which had suddenly become extinguished, as she had laid down the torch when her work was done and instead of what she had expected, a pale, clear, intense light shot up from the earth, till that dark gloomy apartment was illuminated as bright as noon, whilst slowly rising from the midst of this mysterious effulgence, lo! there was the figure of a man of majestic stature, though his form seemed bowed with age. As she <<137>> gazed intently on the apparition before her, the figure with com­manding gesture raised its hand, and quickly her suspended powers again resumed their offices; the vital stream, which had seemed as if arrested in its course, now rushed wildly, with rapid and tumultuous force, through its channels; her stiffened limbs re­gained their pliability, and with frightful haste she rushed from the chamber to seek protection from her wretched confederate in crime; but behold! he lay stretched on the earth, giving no signs of life save by low and faint moans.        

Wildly, madly, she then ran through the passage which led to the place of reception, where her impatient guests waited for her. A shriek of terror accompanied her steps, and sounded fearfully through that lonely abode.

“Ha, this is surely the voice of the sorceress,” said the king, while his heart beat with heavy and rapid strokes, and his form of gigantic proportions trembled like the hunted deer. “What! has treachery been at work? am I betrayed into the hands of the enemy?”

This was the thought which rushed rapidly through his mind; he looked hurriedly around, whilst his faithful attendants quickly drew forth their trusty weapons from their concealment.

“Fear not, our king; we will soon discover the reason of this turmoil,” said they as they moved towards the door; but ere they could reach it, the sorceress rushed in with terror depicted in her countenance, whilst a death­like paleness was on her cheek. The dignity of her demeanour was changed into an aspect of horror and dismay, convulsive shud­dering shook her frame, and the cold moisture stood in large drops on her brow.

“What means this clamour?” demanded the king. Eagerly catching at the words of his officers, which had met her ears the moment she had reached the room, she timidly said “The fear of thee, O King; because thou hast deceived me, for thou art Saul, and the spirit has revealed to me that he who would question him is Israel’s mighty king.”

“Fear not for thy safety,” answered Saul; “thou hast my promise; or deemest thou that Israel’s ruler would ever prove unfaithful to his oath? But tell me truly, didst thou call on him I named to thee?”

“I did,” was the reply, “and even as the gods of my fathers was he in appearance, as he rose up from the earth.”

<<138>>
Eagerly the King inquired what form the apparition presented, and was soon satisfied from the words of the trembling creature before him, that the Prophet had indeed broken the confinement of the grave in order to reveal to him the unknown future.

“Lead on,” said he, “lead on!” and murmuring to himself, he spoke: “Now shall I be relieved of these horrid doubts which distract my soul; and whatever it be, it is better to know the worst that can befall, than endure any longer this torturing suspense.”

He entered the chamber which she pointed out. Why did he, who had so eagerly, so earnestly sought for that communing, start back from the sight before him? For there in truth was but the one he had longed to see, who stood calm and majestic, as when in life, before him. Yes, there was the form of that holy Prophet, the same noble and placid countenance, the same bright and piercing eye, which had so often, when he yet walked on earth, looked reprovingly and mournfully on him. He gazed in silence; for utterance failed him, end not a single sound passed his paralysed lips; his limbs scarcely served to sustain his weight, and he would fain have closed his eyes to shut out that fearful vision; but in vain was the attempt, no power had he to drop the wearied eyelids; and as awe-stricken he gazed on the unsubstantial though distinctly marked figure before him, the more rapid and the heavier became the pulsations of his heart, in the same measure as the face of his unearthly visitor became sterner and more mournful.

For a time the latter maintained an unbroken silence; but at length, in a voice once familiar, the spirit spoke, and in accents stern and severe demanded of Saul, “Why hast thou disturbed me, to call me up from the peaceful and calm repose of the tomb?”

And when the King, in the agony of his soul, poured forth the troubles of his heart to the Prophet’s shade, no word of consolation came from its unearthly lips; nought, nought but words of dismal and fearful import met the ears of the unhappy Saul, as clearly and distinctly fell on his harrowed spirit the fearful words, “To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me; the Lord will also deliver the host of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

A fresh pang, a great weight, struck heavily on his guilty and now self-accusing heart; <<139>> he stood condemned by his awakened conscience; and gladly would he have entreated the intercession of the holy departed, for he had no courage left to deprecate himself the Divine wrath; but ere words could escape his lips, before mind could conceive, or voice give utterance, yea, even as he gazed intently, the spirit was gone, so plainly and fearfully distinct as it had stood before him, and in a short moment it had vanished, passed away, swift as the vivid lightning flash, leaving too, like it, no trace to mark its way.

With a heavy groan the monarch fell to the earth, powerless and immovable, though consciousness still remained, his ears still ringing with the fearful sentence, “To-morrow shalt thou be with me.” His heart was stricken by that awful judgment, “To-morrow, to-morrow!” trembled on his lips, and the thought of that dread to-morrow filled his mind with dismay. Thus he lay stretched on the ground, without power, without courage to raise himself from that lowly posture. “Where shall I be lying to-morrow’s night?” he groaned in the anguish of his conscience-stricken and tortured heart; and long might he have lain there had not his attendants, alarmed at his protracted absence, sought the presence of the sorceress, and demanded of her the cause of the King's being away so long.

“Doubtless, he converseth with the one whom he hath evoked from the grave by my aid,” was the reply.

“But I like not his long absence; the spirit, perchance, may have harmed him,” said one of the attendants to the woman; “wherefore do thou go into the apartment which he has entered.”

With evident reluctance and trepidation, which they ascribed to her having discovered the rank of Saul, she complied, and shivering as with a shock of an ague fit, and shaking in every nerve, she slowly left the room and soon stood on the threshold of the dismal chamber. As she approached the open door she veiled her eyes with her clasped hands, and hesitated on the entrance with trembling frame and throbbing heart; but, fearful of being detected in her terrified condition, so unlike the high character which she claimed, she, with a mighty effort to summon hr courage, cast a hurried, timid glance around her; but the cause of her terror appalled her sight no longer; it had gone to its <<140>> everlasting rest. Still she advanced with timid steps to the prostrate King, and bending down she said, “Hath sudden faintness overpowered my lord?”

“Alas! alas! unhappy to me was the hour I sought thy dwelling and obtained thy aid. Sad, sad, is the doom of Israel’s ruler!” were the mournful words he slowly uttered. Relieved by this speech from the apprehensions she had entertained, that the unearthly visitor might have revealed to him that no power of hers had caused his appearance, new fears of the displeasure of the King at the evil tidings she felt assured he had received, filled her mind, and humbly she reminded him of the promise of security he had made her before she had consented to exert her art but she speedily saw by the anguish which rent his soul, which he no longer endeavoured to conceal, that she had no cause for such fear. She therefore now applied herself without delay to induce him to rise from the ground but all the persuasions which she addressed him were unavailing, while his attendants, whose fearful apprehensions could no longer endure his continued absence, themselves entered the inner chamber where the sorceress was alone with him. It required but little time for them to understand that some evil had occurred; and when their persuasions too availed nothing, they with friendly violence raised him from his prostrate position, and with difficulty succeeded in prevailing on him to quit that ill-omened spot for the place of their first reception, where the woman placed before them such refreshments as she could speedily prepare.

Sorrowful and silent Saul sat at that mournful repast no professions of attachment and devotion could for one. instant dissipate the gloom which oppressed him he appeared regardless of all around, for the fearful words of Samuel still vibrated in his ears, and were incessantly repeated to his mind. His companions gazed long on him with deep sadness, till at length, with s voice tremulous with emotion, Uzza spoke. “Shake off, our much-loved King, this bidden grief, and let it no longer afflict thy soul be comforted, I beseech thee. Time presses on thy people will impatiently expect to see thee early at thy accustomed post to lead them forth to battle against the Philistines we <<141>> have long to travel ere the dawn, and even now it is time we were on our way.”

Mechanically he arose and prepared to depart, and after having renewed to the woman at her earnest request his promise of security, he with his friends left her unpropitious abode, and turned on the way to the camp, which they reached before the break of day and unobserved by all, save the vigilant sentinel, the King entered his tent. It was for the last time for, at the rising of the sun the trumpets summoned the hosts to battle, and ere he sunk in the west, the army of Israel had been smitten by that of the Philistines, and the hills of Gilboa were dyed with the blood of the wounded and slain, and the first monarch of God’s people lay numbered with the dead, in punishment of his transgressions with which he had offended the Lord.