these vile Hebrews, as they themselves have languished under us. The day of victory has dawned. Quit yourselves like men, and they shall be scattered like chaff before the wind.’

The trumpets sounded. The army of the Philistines with their chariots and spearmen, like grasshoppers for multitude, advanced through the valley to the attack; and long and furious was the fray. The sun rose high, and the battle raged and increased in frenzy. But Israel was smitten. They broke and fled in disorder, every man to his tent; and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel that day, either slain in battle or smitten in flight, thirty thousand footmen. And the Ark of God that had been in the rearward of the battle was taken, and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, its priests, were slain before it, and it was bespattered with their blood.

Since dawn that day and while the bitter conflict was still raging, the advantage being now with the one side and now with the other, Eli had sat in his high seat at the wayside near the temple. It stood on a terrace of rock above the vineyards in the valley to the north of Shiloh. He was now of a great age, being ninety-and-eight, his hair and beard were white as snow and he was blind and feeble. As he sat there, apart and solitary, his trembling head sunken on his breast, his mind was in confusion, and his heart trembled with fear for the safety of the Ark of the Lord. Samuel alone, who waited upon him and tended him in his blindness, was of his company.

The hot and cloudless day drew on. The sun began to decline into the west, its level beams smiting with gold the white walls and low flat roofs of the little town. Except for the cries of the children at their play, there was little sound or stir in its streets, for none but the women and the old men, and those unfit to fight, were left within it. These went in silence to and fro about their business, for they knew that their safety, and their very lives, hung on the fortunes of the day.

Samuel touched gently Eli’s hand that lay upon his knee. He gazed tenderly into the forlorn and aged face. ‘The day draws on,’ he said, ‘I will go now and see if there has come any rumour into the town of how the battle has gone. Rest in quiet here, my lord, and I will speedily return again.’

He hastened away to where he could command a view of the track that led in from the south towards Shiloh. There he stood and watched. And a little after sunset, when the first shadows of night had already enfolded the temple, there came running, wounded and spent, and staff in hand, a man of the tribe of Benjamin who had escaped from the forefront of the battle. His clothes were rent. From head to foot he was white with dust, and he had scattered dust upon his head in token of the woe and calamity that had fallen on Israel. In his haste he mistook his way to the temple and followed the street within the walls that led to the market-place; and as he ran on into the town he proclaimed his dreadful tidings. And Samuel came again to Eli; but said naught.

‘What sound is that I hear as of a man crying out and in grief?’ said Eli to Samuel. But Samuel could not answer him on the instant, his heart was cold as stone within him, for he had seen the fugitive from afar and had divined his errand.

‘It is a man running, he said; ‘he seems to be all but spent.’

‘What manner of man is he?’ said Eli. ‘And whence has he come?’

But before Samuel could answer him, there broke out within the city a wild and sudden outcry, shrill wailings and lamentations. When Eli heard it, he turned, trembling, to Samuel.

‘I beseech thee, my son,’ he said, ‘hasten and bring me news of the meaning of this tumult.’

And Samuel himself, sick at heart with a dreadful foreboding, went into the city and brought back the Benjamite himself into the presence of Eli.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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