And the Philistines seized and bound him, many against one, and he could not resist them. They led him away to Gaza. And the news of his downfall ran like wildfire throughout Philistia. The streets of the cities buzzed with it.

The lords of the Philistines, when he was haled before them in their place of assembly, mocked at his entreaties to be put out of his misery. They summoned their torturers, who bored out his eyes and blinded him; and they set him to labour at a mill for grinding corn—for there were no streams and so no water- mills in Gaza.

There, in the company of slaves and felons, he sat, day in, day out, turning the upper stone of the mill upon the nether stone. And while he toiled on, he could hear the coming and going of the people in the streets, for the mill was near the city gates which in a night long gone he had rooted up, posts and all, from their masonry, and set up on a high hill in derision of his enemies.

Now shackled with massive fetters of bronze he groped on through life in an endless narrow dark; helpless, his eyes gone. At night he lay in a dungeon, haunted with bitter waking dreams of radiant light and freedom—spring-time in Zorah, and the mountains lit with the sun. His only comfort was that at night he was alone, for the lords of the Philistines had given command that all day he should be closely watched, and whipped and goaded on.

But seeing at last there was no strength or spirit left in him, the governor of the prison-house gave him in charge of one of his sons who was little more than a child, and who delighted in tormenting him. Strangers came from near and far to stare in wonder upon him who of old had been the hatred and dread of all Philistia, and now was no better than a beast of burden and humbled to the dust.

But while Samson languished in this misery of mind and body, the hair upon his head—whose unshorn braids had been the symbol of his service to the Lord—began to grow again, and strength to well back into his limbs and sinews. In spite of his torments he asked no mercy of his foes, nor revealed by the least sign that strength and hope were reviving in him again.

Now there stood in Gaza a temple of one of the gods of the Philistines, the god Dagon. In shape, it is said that from his loins upwards, the image of this god of wood and gold and ivory was in the likeness of a man, but from the waist downwards, he was scaled and finned and tailed like a fish. It is said also that Dagon was the god of the harvest. Stark upon his pedestal, there he stood; the glory and terror of the Philistines. And his vast temple with its wide flat roof and central pillars was built outward from beyond the city above the steep of the hillside on which were reared the city walls.

And the day of the yearly feast of Dagon drew near, when his priests in their garbs and deckings of gold and gems would make sacrifice to their idol. This, the lords of the Philistines had decreed, should be a festival of triumph and jubilation beyond any that had ever gone before, for had not their Dagon delivered into their hands their mighty enemy, the judge and chieftain of Israel, who all his life long had been the unconquerable foe of Philistia, and now was nothing but a mockery and a jibe?

The day drew near, and by every road and track and by-way—and the high-road from Jerusalem ran not far distant—a great press of people from all parts of Philistia flocked into Gaza. Its streets were thronged, and its walls and houses resounded with music and song, dancing and merriment. At the hour appointed they flocked into the great temple until it was over-flowing with a host of men and women, the bright and garish colours of their raiment blazing in the light of the sun. In numbers there had never in Gaza been seen the like before. And in the midst of the feast, when this vast multitude was hot and elated with wine, there went up a cry to the lords of the Philistines, where they sat in state in their high places.

‘Bring in Samson, bring in Samson, that he may make sport for us!’ From wall to wall, from gallery to roof, the clamour spread. Every face was turned in one direction, and their turbulence increased to a frenzy as they shouted for Samson and sang the praises of their god.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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