The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965


by S. Fowler Wright

Thornton Butterworth


The records of David's life, as we have them in the Hebrew histories, are extremely vivid. Unfortunately, they are also fragmentary, disordered, and contradictory in detail, although the authenticity of their major features is beyond reasonable challenge.

        Similarly, although, for convincing literary reasons, we may accept most, if not all, of the Psalms attributed to David and Asaph as their actual compositions (it is, at least, certain that they were written before the Adamic parable became a recognized part of the Hebrew scriptures, and therefore, by a reasonable presumption, before the date of the Babylonian exile), yet the text must be frequently corrupt, and may have, been deliberately perverted in some places, as in the addition of the final verse to the LI Psalm.

        Dealing with such material, in an imaginative romance of this kind, it is impossible to avoid some controversial decisions: some representations of the religious life and thought of the period from which others may differ: some guesses, which are most probably wrong.

        But I have endeavoured to avoid any presumption which is definitely inconsistent with the scripture records where they agree, or the balance of probabilities where they differ or are chronologically impossible. It is a common form of literary immorality to distort historic fact for purposes of romance, but it is normally indefensible, and would be particularly so in dealing with material of this kind; and the aim of this book has been no more than to give an imaginative construction of David's life from when he was a petty king in Hebron to the birth of Solomon.

        This period includes the campaigns in which he captured Jerusalem, established the combined kingdom of Judah-Israel, repulsed at least two Philistine invasions, and conquered Edom, Moab, Ammon and Syria. I have placed these events in a possible, or even probable, coherent sequence, which they do not possess in the original narratives. I have deviated only from the doubtful and difficult tradition which places Geshur between Syria and Bashan, having regarded it as a city in Philistia, and so given David at least one Philistine wife. But there are a number of reasons which combine to make this immensely more probable than that he should have married the daughter of a distant Syrian king, while he was existing precariously as a brigand-chief, on the borders of the Philistine country.




THE children slept in the heat of the afternoon, and David's three wives, whose slumber was sooner done, yawned and stretched themselves in their cushioned ease, and talked of that which was in the minds of all of the King's house, and on their lips when they were sure that he would not hear.

        He had other wives, as was fitting for so great a king as he now was, and younger children than theirs, but it was these three who had been with him from the Ziklag days, when he had been building his power. They sat apart from the newer wives, of whom they had little fear, for though the King would be fair, going in to each in her turn, and kind to all, as his way was, yet they knew that he cared little for those others. . . . Even for themselves, they could not say in their hearts that he cared overmuch, which was half the cause that they thought and talked as they now did. What would be the place of the new wife? Would she be over all, to which it seemed that she had some claim, if her right were urged?

        This was something different from when Haggith or Abital had been added to David's harem, after he had come to Hebron, to be king of the southern tribes. That had been in the customed way, in the order of natural law. . . . They were alliances made with prudence, such as increased his power. They had been taught their places at once. . . . But this had the sound of a different thing; and in the hearts of two was a sharp fear, and in the third a fear of another kind for only Abigail thought for the King. . . .

        Each of these three had brought strength to David in early days: each of them had some claim today to be first of all. There was Ahinoam, whose memories could go back ten years, to Adullam days. Her marriage had made strong friends for David in the Jezreel of the south. She was the mother of Amnon, his first-born son. Nothing ever could alter that.

        There was Abigail, Nabal's widow, who had been the first wife by a few months, but whose eldest child was younger than Amnon, though it was but a matter of weeks. She had brought her husband the first substantial wealth he had known, and the alliance of the great Calebite tribe. . . . His power had grown from the day when she had come out to Adullam to wed him, from Nabal's Carmel home, bringing him the dead man's wealth.

        Maachah, the Philistine, was the third. She had been given to David by her father, the King of Geshur, after he had been established in Ziklag: when he was already of some repute. But she had been wroth at first that she should be the third wife of a chief of the nomad tribes. She was no more than the daughter of a petty king, but she came of a higher race. The Philistines did not often wed with the Canaanites, nor with the children of Judah. They had other standards of life They remembered Crete.

        She had despised David at first. She could not despise him now, though she might still have contempt for Yahweh, his god. . . . She might be no more than the third wife, but she knew herself to be of a different social order, a different beauty, a higher race. And of his children there was none that was like to hers. Nothing could alter that. When there are many sons, it is not always he who is first-born who will be king a the end. Absalom was the most beautiful child in the world! And his sister, Tamar, was next to him. Amnon might be a fine boy. There was no need to deny that. But rather stupid Rather slow. With his mother's sensuous eyes. Amnon king in David's place at the last? There would be many years in: which to think about that. Years in which to contrive: to shape events to her own ends. She had thoughts that she showed to none: which she would have supposed (though wrongly) that even David would never guess. . . . But she did not foresee which would come, as who does?

        Ahinoam said: "She may have half a score of children by now. It is likely she has. Will she bring the brats here?" As she spoke, she stretched out from the gaily-coloured woollen blankets on which she lay, to the dish of Babylonian sweet-meats that she could not resist, though she knew that they increased her bulk. They had been brought to Damascus on camels' backs (thirty days it took by the desert route), and then south through Bashan. Israel and Judah had had two years of a dragging war, but the merchants were not much hindered by that.

        Ahinoam was twice the weight she had been when she had come to David nearly ten years ago, counting herself, in some contempt of Abigail, as his first wife except for Michal, of whom she had scarcely thought until now. She had been well content to be wed, and had loved him in her own way. Passion had cooled as her bulk grew, but she knew that she could still give the King that which would content him well for the time, when his mood was alike to hers. . . . She had eyes that were large and-dark, and a nose that was somewhat large also, having Hittite blood on her mother's side. She had been fair enough in the slimness of youth, though not burdened with brains. She would have said that a woman had no need of those, if she knew her trade. She might have kept her youth, being one who would seldom fret, had she been less lazy, and less greedy of food. But even of that loss she gave little heed. Now she asked: "Will she bring the brats here?" but it was more in curiosity than as one who cares.

        "Even that," Abigail said, "is not known. . . . There will be change. So I have told the King, but he will not heed."

        "The King," Maachah said, "hath enough of his own. We lie close. Eglah says she is pregnant now. . . . That comes" - she turned to Abigail as she said this - "of giving your turn to her."

        "Then it seems," Abigail replied, "that I did well." Maachah said nothing to that. She knew that there are those who have no sense, and who will not learn. . . .

        David paced his own room. He should have rested before now, during the full heat of the day, which he had not done. He had said that he wished to be left alone. None would come till he called. He was alone with his thoughts, which went backward to early days.

        . . . He scaled Shechem's walls in the night. He sought the girl he loved. His wife of a week. The first woman he had known. He was no fool, even in younger days, and in the ardour of love. He did not doubt that Saul's daughter was to be the bait by which her father sought to bring him to death. He had broken through the first share. The four hundred foreskins of the Philistines had been duly paid.

        But in the week after that, he had had a hint that he was wary to heed. He had made excuses that he was needed at Ziklag. Then he came back in the night. He might be treading with care to the place of his own death. He was trusting a woman's love.

        As to that, he had not trusted in vain. Michal had said to Saul: "Do not compass the house till it be an hour before dawn. I will have him sleeping by then, and will open the door in a quiet way. If you send too soon, and he look forth and be warned, there may be many deaths. He is a strong man of his hands, as you know well. He might break through. You might not take him at all. . . . Or he might slay me first, if he should think I had done him so great a wrong."

        But it had been two hours before dawn when she had warned him that it was not safe to stay more. It had not been easy to part. They had kissed hard at the last, changing vows of love. . . . They did not think that it would be more than ten years before they should meet again.

        But after that Saul had pressed him hard. He had been bolted like a coney from hole to hole. Saul had sent Michal north in a strong guard. He had married her to Phaltiel, the son of Laish. That was the price she had paid for her loyalty to the man she had wed for love, and for helping him to escape in the night. She had been married to Phaltiel for over nine years.

        But David had not forgotten, nor had his purpose failed. Seven years he had been exiled in the wilderness, or in the land of his nation's foes. Two years he had been king in Hebron, and she had still been beyond his reach, far north in Israel, where Saul's son, Ishbosheth, ruled, with a strength against which he had not prevailed.

        Not that Ishbosheth was a man of valour or subtle craft. It was Abner who was the strength of his throne. Abner, who had been Saul's general before: a man fit to rule in a peaceful land, and one who was bold and able in war.

        Abner was the real ruler of Israel, and last week secret messengers had come to Hebron from him. They brought a tablet of clay, on which a message had been drawn in the Assyrian style, which was still used in the north, almost as much as ink and papyrus, which was Egypt's way. David could read both, having been well taught in his youth, and learnt more since, as a king should.

        On the tablet he read: "Whose is the land? Make thy league with me, and, behold, all Israel shall be thine." That was plain enough, and the messengers had said more. David saw that Samuel's promise, and his life's dream, was to come true. He was to be king of all the Israelite tribes, and to unite them in the worship of Yahweh, making their borders strong. He would have been glad at heart about that, but his first thought had been of another kind.

        He listened to what was said. He judged that Abner had the power to do what he would, for he had known him of old. Then, Abner had sat at Saul's side, a man of thirty years, able, of good repute, and much feared on the field of war. David had been no more than a boy then, Saul's harp-player and pettey page, and his shield-bearer in time of strife.

        Now, David was of the age that Abner had been then, and Abner was a man of mature years, and his repute had not dimmed. David knew Ishbosheth also. He judged that his day was done.

        Ten long years of fighting and toil, and here was the full harvest in sight at last. David did not think little of that, but there was another thing of which he thought more. He thought of a girl that his arms had held, and of kisses changed in the night. Kisses - and vows. Well, his vow should be kept now. He was of the kind that will not lightly change in their loves, though the years pass.

        He had had other wives since that day, as had been natural, and as a chief must. They are the peaceful means by which he extends his power. Jezreel - Carmel - the rich sheep-farming families along the edge of that desert that he had held by the sword's point - and Geshur further westward toward the sea; his marriages had united them in a friendship which had been the foundation of greater strength. But for those three wives who now talked of Michal among themselves, he would have come to his crown in Hebron, if at all, by a longer road. And he had treated them well, and loved them well enough too.

        He remembered the bitter anger and grief with which he had looked down on the still-smoking ruins of Ziklag, when he had returned from the Philistine camp to find that the Amalekites had come up from the south, while there had been few but women within its walls, and had burnt and plundered and carried off the wives and children and all else that the hold contained.

        Six hundred had been his followers then, hardened by seven years of desert living and constant war, stirred by the same sorrow and wrath, who had set out in pursuit. But when they came to the brook Besor, running low in the summer heat, and had been able to drink at last, there had been but two men out of every three whose thought of wife or child would give him strength to rise again and continue the hurried march.

        . . . It is hard to hasten, burdened with arms, hour by hour over the heated sand, without rest or slackening of pace, when the track is lost, and there is little hope in pursuit, and every step may be widening the distance from those that you seek to reach. . . . But there had been the slave in the desert, dying of thirst, whom they had revived, and who had pointed the way. Vividly he saw again the scattered camp in the evening light. The Amalekites carousing now that they had come to a safe place after a two days march.

        They had stopped at last to divide the spoil: they had shared the women: they had let them each to his own tent, for the sport of the coming night. . . . Four hundred men, as many as the whole force that David led over the dunes, had reached their camels and fled; but they had been few to the number of those who died.

        Abigail and Ahinoam had been among those who were captured then. He remembered Abigail's quiet and confident words when they had come back from the pursuit, with arms weary from the smiting of those they slew: "Lord, I knew you would be seen here. As they bound us, I saw their faces as of men who were already dead, though they did not know. . . ."

        Yes. Those he had wed had no cause for complaint or grief. He had given them strong shelter: sufficient love. But Michal had an inner place in his heart, which was hers alone. . . . And she had waited for all these years, to learn at last that he did not change nor forget. He had sent Abner's answer at once:

        "I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require first. Thou shalt not see my face except thou bring me Michal, Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face."

        Abner had made no difficulty about that. It was a reckoning easy to pay. It cost him nothing at all. He had sent promise at once that Michal should follow without delay. By the next morning she might arrive. Later, Abner would come himself, and some also of the elders of Israel, to discuss the conditions by which David might be established on the throne of the northern kingdom. . . .

        David paced the room's length, recalling Michal as he had known her in their equal youth. The tones of her voice, her tricks of speech, a little gesture that had been his, the very words she had used, they were with him still. He remembered the dark weight of her loosened hair: her dark eyes under heavy brows, which had had, even then, something of her father's sombre moods, when they had not been lightened by love. . . . And in a few hours he would have her again. The thought moved him to the making of song. . . .


WHEN he was content with the song he made, David sent for Abigail. He would know, not for the first time, that all would be well-prepared for the coming of her whom he most loved. Abigail ordered his house, as she had done from when she entered it first. She was far more capable than Ahinoam, who was, besides, too lazy to care.

        Abigail told him with patience, though she had said it before, that all would be ordered well. Michal would have the place that it seemed in justice was hers, as his first wife. There had been adjustments made in the sleeping chambers, not without bitter words, that her place should be clearly shown. David wanted to know more than that. He wanted to feel that she would be received with kindness in her new home. He was sure of Abigail, but less of others, in that regard. Now she answered with careful words:

        "Lord, if thy favour be hers, she will have no wrong."

        Amazingly, he seemed contented by that reply. Abigail may have been the one who had most love for him in the world a this time, his mother having died. She thought him first of all that the world held, with a love that was half that of mother and half of wife, being ten years older than he, and having mothered Nabal before him, which was a harder task, and worse paid. But if she thought him the first of men, she thought him child too, in a hundred ways.

        Did he think that the women's quarters can be so ruled that there will be none who spit, or who bite at the back? Michal might be hated or loved (which was less likely), she might be contemned or feared, but who could answer for that, when she had not yet come?

        As to the conduct of lesser wives, if she should be hated by them, there was one way in which it could be controlled. That was the whip. A strong man would use it himself when the need came. A base one would order the other women to chastise her against whom his wrath rose. But David had never ruled his wives in a firm way. He would counsel peace. He would admonish and plead. There were times when he was wroth, which they all feared, though it might not be occasion for blows.

        Mostly, he would not see, turning ever to the children, of whom he was fond beyond the custom of men.

        Abigail loved David for all he was, and for all he had been to her. She saw him as a man splendid and young, as king and warrior, as musician and poet; as idealistic religious dreamer also, and as having given her Chileab, the son that she dearly loved. . . . It did not vex her that the boy was a few months younger than Amnon, for she had the clear sight that could judge what a crown is worth. So far as a mother could, which she knew was not much (but Chileab was a loving child), she would rule him to turn aside into quieter paths. Amnon and Absalom might make strife enough for a sombre prize - and there were others, too young as yet to show what they would be likely to be.

        She knew that David sang and believed that he did all in the strength of Yahweh, his god. She did not say he was wrong in that, but in her secret heart she would have been slow to allow that Yahweh was greater than he. There were so many gods.

        David said that Yahweh was the only one. Well, so it might be. But they all said that. And then, being prudent men, they would lay a gift at another shrine. But she knew that to be something that David would never do.

        David said that Yahweh had made him all that he was: had blessed him with victory over all his foes. Well, when things went well, they all said that too. Her observation was that all gods were alike in giving their best help to those who would help themselves. . . . She was not of an irreligious mind. Few women are. And, of course David's god must be hers. There could be no doubt about that. And, if he changed, she would change too. There could be no doubt about that either. That was not how all women felt, as David's son was to learn to his grief at a later day.

        The worship of Yahweh was extending and his people throve. But they had not done so at all times. There had been some when Moloch, and other gods, one by one, had seemed stronger than he, as Dagon might seem to some to be now. If David owed much to Yahweh, might it not be said with equal truth that Yahweh owed much to him? David made his god feared by his sword: he made him loved by his songs: he enforced his laws.

        It was not only Abigail who thought this. Nathan, and all the priests, knew how much David had done for Abraham's god, and for the enforcement of Moses' law. They recognized this, though they might not have stated it quite in the same way. If David himself should defy the law, or set up some rival god on a war throne, as an insurance against mistake, as many kings of all faiths were inclined to do, it would be a hard position for them. But David was not of that kind. He was of a simple and loyal faith. More than that, he made the conception of Yahweh nobler in the minds of men by his songs.

        It may be true that God made man in His own image. It is certain that men will make God in theirs. David's songs gave a new image of Yahweh which, if it were there at all, had not been so clearly shown in the older law. . . . He was of a confident faith, never less likely to turn aside than now, when the woman for whom he had prayed for ten years was coming back to his arms. . . .

        Coming south, on the Bahurim road, a woman rode on an ass, being held in a hedge of spears. Horsemen closed her off either side, and behind and before. They moved slowly, at the ass's pace, but no less surely for that. Behind them, her husband had walked from Gallim, weeping aloud. At Bahurim Abner showed him a spear's point, and he turned, and was seen no more.

        The woman did not weep. Her eyes were hard under sullen brows. She thought of babes that she should be tending then. She thought of a husband whom she had been learning to love. Beyond that, she had a great doubt.

        She came to Hebron on the afternoon of the next day.


DAVID walked on the roof of his house. The sun rose over the hills that edged the wilderness of Judea, but the morning air was still cool. The sun came from the barren hills and from the bitter Sea of the Plain that was beyond them, but David came from a night that was as barren as they, nor could he leave it behind as the sun did, for its desolation was in himself. He had had his will, and was less content than when he had longed for it with little hope.

        Yet he had no cause for complaint. So he told himself in a just mind. He went further than that. He doubted that he had done right, bringing her thus by force from the home that had been hers for so long.

        Was she wroth or pleased? Even of that he was not sure. But he knew that she was a stranger to him. She had not kept him in mind during the years, as he had her. He was sure of that. Perhaps it had not been a fair thing to expect. He had had purpose and hope. She had no cause to be assured that he would seek her again. It had been her road to peace to put him out of her mind.

        "Why," she had asked, but an hour ago, "did you not take me then?" It was a thought that had not entered his mind at that time. He fled by perilous ways. She had not offered to come. Yet was it not true that he failed her then? That he should have called her to follow? That there should have been two who fled through the night? "Why did you not take me then?"

        Now he was to learn that you cannot put back the years. Nor can you turn them aside. Should he offer her that she could return to Phaltiel's arms, if she would? He could not guess what she would say. She was a stranger to him, with a guarded tongue. But he saw that it was a day too late even for that. She might go back with his child in her womb. A king must think in a king's way. The thought reminded him that she was Saul's daughter. To have her here again as his wife strengthened his power, especially with the tribe of Gad, which was now, it seemed, to fall to his rule. But he had not sought her for that. He had sought her for a dead dream, that would never be dreamed again. . . . He went down to tear the song which he had made so few hours ago.

        After that, he turned his thoughts resolutely to the crisis which he had now to face. Abner was to come in a day's time bringing word from the chief men of the northern kingdom that he might make terms for a throne.

        He had no to scruple in overthrowing the son of Saul, not only because he was one who made war upon him, however weakly, with feeble hate, but because he knew it to be the vital need of the land that it should be joined under one king. . . . Yet he would rather that success had come in a different way. He had no liking for treason, though he could plan and scheme himself, with a patient resolute mind, that saw far. He had known Abner as a man that Saul (as he thought) had done well to trust. Had Abner also changed with the years?

        He had looked for this day, as he had longed for Michal, through ten difficult years. Would it also turn to desert dust in his mouth? He had better hope. He had Samuel's blessing in this. . . . Samuel, who's name was greater in death than it had been in his living days. . . . No, he would not fail here. He did Yahweh's work. Yet he saw that he must walk for a time on a narrow edge.

        There were the Philistines to consider first. Geshur was sure. He had friends in Gath. But the cities of the coast - Ashdod, Askelon, Gaza - how would they take the news?

        The Philistines were friendly enough now. While he was king in Hebron alone, he made order among the nomad tribes, he held Moab and Edom back, he checked Israel's power. While himself too weak to threaten the walled cities in which the Philistines dwelt, he was of sufficient strength to weaken the menace of other foes. On the desert-edge, the land he ruled stretched like a boundary wall, protecting the rich Philistine plain from the desert raiders that would come up from the south. They were not vexed by his great repute, while the men that he ruled were few.

        It had been their obvious policy to strengthen him against Saul, and against his son. It was doubtless to assure his friendship, to divide him further from the northern Israelites, that the King of Geshur had given him Maachah to wife. But the union of Judah and Israel under his rule would be likely to be looked at with different eyes. Such a union would be unwelcome in itself, and doubly so under such a leader as he, for he knew that he had made a reputation which was, in itself, a threat. . . . Action must be secret and swift, if he were to become, in fact, the king of the double land, before the Philistines should be made aware.

        His mind turned from that to consider how much might be in the power of Abner or the Elders to give. There was Transjordania, where Saul's strength had lain, the land of Reuben and Gad. There was the far north, beyond the Carmelite range, where the Philistine power had made no permanent penetration. But the long coastal plain, the fertile valleys of Samaria, even the central district of Mount Ephraim itself, lay under the fear of the Philistines, if not actually in their occupation; tributary to them, since the power of Saul had been broken on Mount Gilboa, and the mere fact that the Israelites might change their king would make little difference to that. The actual power that would come to his hands would be limited in another way. There were walled cities, some in the very centre of the land, which had never yielded to Israel, which had maintained their independence, more or less continuously, since the invasion of Canaan, four hundred years ago. Some of them still paid nominal allegiance to the weakened Egyptian power: some of them had acknowledged the Philistine supremacy: all would be stirred to an instinct of more active hostility at the news that the Israelite tribes were uniting under a single king.

        David had the combination of cold judgment and far-leaping imagination which is the greatest asset of those who would control or shape the destinies of their time. The far north - the left bank of the Jordan, with its barren wilderness back-ground where the Philistines would be too prudent to follow - the timid friendship of many in the central uplands and the coastal plain - he saw these were the most that Abner could bring. It would be much in itself, and more or less beyond Philistine reach; but it would be his weakness, as well as his added strength, that he held Judah as well, for Judah was most open to their attacks. It was round their doors. Holding the cities they did, they might cut him off from the north.

        He saw that the next war would not see the Philistine armies marching north by the coastal roads, to take the pass of Megiddo, and move up the Kishon valley (as they had done twice in the days of Saul), till they could face south, resting their rear on the walled strength of Beth-shean, and advance down the Jordan bank, forcing the Israelites to give battle from the Gilboa heights, or to be cut off from the eastern desert where their safety lay. . . . He saw the disciplined Philistine ranks, and the horsed chariots against which the Israelites were so loth to stand, and they came up the valley of Rephaim, up to Hebron's walls. Well, when the time came, he must face it as best he could. . . .

        That was what the Israelite Elders could give. A new crown, and a new peril therewith. What would they ask as their price? There would be questions of tribute, of course. He would be moderate about that, but yet clear. Tribute must be paid. If they were too close of fist, he would send them back as they came. There was one road which could bring the land to a settled peace, and it was the road of war. An army cannot be paid alone by the spoil it takes. He would have greater charges than now. And the lands from which his wealth came would be the first that the Philistines might overrun.

        But he knew that there would be another, and probably more difficult question to be discussed. The Israelites would not be ruled by a king in Hebron. It was not only that it would make Judah supreme, which their jealousy would be too great to allow. It was too far south. It was not a reasonable place for the king of the combined nations to choose. Yet it was around Hebron that his strength, his personal wealth, his settled friendships lay. To remove eastward to Gilead would be like the starting of a new life. It might actually decrease his power. It would certainly weaken his hold on those of the south, on whom he could most depend. . . . To make his capital in the far north would separate him still more completely. He looked northward from the high roof of his house. . . . He saw the low hills, and the northern road. . . . He saw further than that. He saw into future years. Twenty mile away. . . . He went down from the roof with a great dream in his heart. . . . Michal met him beneath the stair.

        He left his dream to look into wrathful eyes. Lord," she asked, "I would know, am I first in this house? Or was I mocked when you said that?"

        "I am not one to mock, as you know."

        "Very well. It is soon to prove. I will have her whipped."

        "Who will you have whipped?"


        "For what cause?"

        "For - for the insolence of her speech, and the state she holds. I am a king's daughter, alike to her, and it may be more. Geshur is but a walled town."

        "There are no women whipped in this house. Would you have me do that because your father was more than hers?"

        "Then it is full time that there were. . . . It is for more than that. It is for insolent speech, and for withholding from me the best she has."

        "Will you tell me what she has done in a clear way?"

        Michal found that it was less than easy to do. . . .

        David's house in Hebron at this time was the best that the city held, as it was likely to be. But Hebron was a very ancient place. Men called it the oldest town in the world, and none can say they were wrong. It was so called eight hundred years before this, when Abraham had bargained here to buy land for a grave. Now its streets were narrow, its houses small, its walls of a girth which had been thought great when they were built, but was small indeed for those who had been crowded in them since David came.

        As a king must, he had gathered wives, for by them he would found his power. There were but two ways by which the strength of a king could grow. By marriage, or by the sword. By peaceful ways, or by blood. Love and war, by whatever names, through whatever customs, ruled the world, as they always will. David had used both, to one end, with an equal skill.

        His harem had grown with his repute in the world. . . . He knew that the palaces of Egypt and Assyria had separate apartments for every wife. Even at smaller courts, at Tyre or Damascus, there would be provision for that. It was the way of peace. But the wives of the King of Hebron must be content with a smaller space.

        Michal did not quarrel with that. She saw more of state here than she had known in her life before. The home of her father, Saul, had been no more than a farmhouse of the better kind. His courts had been held at a city gate, or under a grove of trees. . . . Here each wife had her separate room, but she had no privacy beyond that. The women's quarters seemed large, but that was the most they could provide. The children, even the concubines, were herded together. There were concubines who did not know clearly to which wife they belonged.

        Each wife had her own room, which she had garnished her own way. There had been changing of rooms, and greater crowding among those of the lower sort, to make space for Michal, and to give her the best of all. They had changed their rooms, but they had not given up that which was theirs. In their rooms they expressed themselves. That of Abigail was of comfort enough, but without gauds. It was a restful room, to which David, being weary, was glad to come.

        That of Ahinoam was of a gayer kind. All the brightest spoils that David brought from the wars, things which Abigail did not covet, and Maachah scorned, went to that room. Yet it might not be swept for a week. Ahinoam would say to the concubine whose duty it was: "Let it be for today. I would have you talk. It is true that Ashur was seen with Hilkiah's wife?" And on another day she would see dust, and smite the girl with a heavy hand, for, if the king's wives were not beaten, the concubines might have a worse fate.

        Yet they did not cry out over-loudly about that, for their mistresses had too great a power. It was by a wife's will that her concubine might sometimes take her place with the king. For how else should a king's house be ruled in a seemly way, and with kindness to all? Were there to be other men allowed in the women's rooms? Were his wives to be without service for themselves and their children? Or were those who served them to be condemned to a childless life?

        Maachah's room was of a different kind. Because she was the wife of a nomad king, she did not forget the civilization from which she came. It owed nothing to Babylon or Damascus, or to the spoils that were thrown from the camels' backs, when David rode in from a desert war. It was in the tradition of Crete.

        The sheepskin-clad Israelite might look with envy at the brightly-dyed Babylonian blankets that the Canaanite wore, but, to her, sheepskin and blanket were of a kindred barbarity. For herself, there must be sea-borne silks. Her room was rich with beaten metalwork, and carved ivory from the Nile. The kings of Canaan might be content to eat from the red earthenware which their ancestors had used for five hundred years, and their wives the same, but there was Cretan pottery in Maachah's room. . . .

        Michal had wished to know, in a sudden passion of wrath, why that room should be so much finer than hers. And Maachah had told her why, with a quiet scorn, and in words that were more true than polite.

        David listened, and said: "You need not quarrel for that. You may buy all that you will. Your room may be like to hers. I will send to Gath, or beyond that."

        "But it is not that. It is what she said."

        David spoke in a harder way: "Yet you must still let it rest. There are matters of weight with which I am dealing now. We will talk at another time. . . . As for now, you will go back to the women's rooms."

        Their eyes met, and she turned and went through a near door. She was in no better mood for that, nor for the scutter by which she knew that the King's words had been overheard, though she was too late to know by whom, as she opened the door.

        Yet her mood, which would change from gloom to brightness at times, and to gloom again without open cause, as her father's had done in his later years, softened awhile as she talked with Abigail in a room apart at a later hour, when it had become too hot for the roof, which would otherwise have been the natural place for such words in that crowded house.

        For Abigail had much to explain, and she offered that which was dear to her, being the rule of the house. Michal found a friend here whom she had done nothing to win. She learned much. She was told of how David was weak in some ways, and in others of an iron strength. How was generous without thought, and would sometimes give the same thing to more than one in a careless way: how he had no mercy on meanness, and contempt for guile, which he could yet use with skill, if the need were urgent against his foes.

        She spoke also of his poetic passion for the religion of Yahweh; the energetic support which he gave the priests in the enforcement of the Mosaic law; and of his intolerance of all contending forms of religious faith. Michal frowned somewhat at that, having been taught in a more tolerant way, and with the bitter thought of Mount Gilboa, where Yahweh had failed her house.

        As they talked they looked down through a window latticed from the sun's rays and the fear of intrusive eyes, upon a porch which was guarded by men who, in Michal's sight, were of a hated and foreign kind - men of Philistine arms and equipment, of David's Pelethite guard.

        She saw their feathered headdresses, their gleaming breastplates, their white tunics and brazen greaves, and in her eyes they were the men whose disciplined ranks had conquered all the coastal plain, whose chariots and strange foreign fighting methods had driven Israelite and Canaanite together backward across the Jordan, or into the fastnesses of the wilder hills. "I wonder," she said, "that the King has dealings with such as they."

        "They are men of Gath," Abigail replied, "where he has ever had friends." She told of how he had enlisted another troop of guards from the Cherethites - men of Geshur, the city of which Maachah's father was king. She said that there was no love between these two troops, but emulation only, which David used in his own way; for there were factions among the Philistines, and jealousies between their cities, which weakened their power.

        These guards might be foreign, but they were faithful to him by whom they were hired, and indifferent to the bickerings and intrigues that disturbed those of David's followers who were of his own race.

        They were useless for desert warfare, such as the expedition on which Joab was absent then. Probably few of them had ever mounted a camel's back. But they represented that tradition of disciplined professional warfare which the nomadic tribes had been loth to learn, and without which they would always be unequal to facing the Philistines on an open field. The presence of these men among his own more turbulent followers taught them to see the advantages of the order by which each man had a place in the ranks which he must not leave, while it also lessened by familiarity their fear of the Philistine weapons, and reduced to actuality the common myths of their giant size.

        Abigail hinted, though she said less, that it would add nothing to David's popularity with his Cherethite guard, nor would it strengthen his friendship with Geshur's king, for it to be known that Maachah had been put to shame at the whim of a new wife, and she a daughter of Saul.

        Michal's mood changed as they talked. She went to Maachah again, meaning to make peace at some cost to her own pride. She took with her a platter, which she had instructed one of her concubines to abstract for her use from Maachah's room with a courteous lie to cover the way by which it had come to her hands.

        Maachah took it back in so careless a way that it slipped and fell, breaking against a bronze vase that stood on the floor.

        "It is well," she said calmly, "I eat never from that which has been in another's use." Michal could not tell whether it fell by accident or intent nor whether the words were the insult they seemed to be, they were said in so toneless a way.

        Maachah's children, Absalom and Tamar, were beside her a this time. She showed them to Michal, with a natural pride. She praised them as freely as though they could not hear. She said of Absalom: "Is he not fit for a king?" It was a question that might mean little or much. He a very beautiful child. None could deny that.


IN the afternoon Abner came. He rode up to the North Gate with twenty horsemen around him, making a bold show, for there were few mounted men at this time either in the Israelite army, or among David's own followers.

        Benaiah met him at the gate, with fifty footmen of the King's guard. He said that he had orders to conduct him to David's presence, in his own house. Joab (he explained) would doubtless have come, but he was away with the most part of the army of David, chastising a desert raid. Abner listened to that which he had known before, and about which he had no mind to grieve. It pleased him well that Joab should be absent at this time, as it may have pleased the King too, for Joab was his bitter foe since his brother Asahel had fallen to Abner's sword.

        Among the troop that surrounded the Israelite general there was no man of rank from the northern lands. They were his followers only; a gesture to show his strength. There were elders of Israel whom he might have brought, but he had preferred to come alone, willing to make his own terms; he would have none present when he talked with the King.

        He was received with courtesy, but with little state, for David kept no more than a rustic court at this time, though he had a great fame. Abner was served with water, and a garment of fine cloth into which to change after the dust of the day. David met him at meat, but that which was in both their minds must be delayed till they could come together more privately on the next day, he having planned that it should go thus. He asked many questions of the state of Israel during the meal, and he learned much. He talked freely also of the old days when they had met at Shechem, and elsewhere eating together at the table of Saul. He remembered Abner as he then was, a man solid and grave. He had been in the fullness of his strength, famed both for his own deeds on the field and as a leader of men. To the boy's eyes, he had seemed of greater age than he was.

        David looked at him now, and saw signs of the passing of years. He was still upright and strong, but he had the gross aspect of one who ate too much, and drank more. Report said of him that he spent more time in the women's quarters than a warrior should. It was about a woman - one of Saul's concubines - that his quarrel with Ishbosheth had brought him to David's door.

        Abner looked on a man who was half his age, but he could not hold him lightly for that. David at this time might be no more than a petty king, ruling little more than could be seen from a height on a clear day, except for desert wastes, and the thin pasture of limestone hills, but his deeds were more in the mouths of men than were those of any king beside, from beyond Lebanon to the Nile.

        Hebron might be a small place, however strong in its own hills, beside the high-walled Philistine cities: Jerusalem or Beth-shean might close their gates, and laugh at the thought that the nomad king could disturb their peace, but it was from his very weakness that his fame was fed.

        It was as a fugitive that he had been heard of first. One who lurked in Adullam's hold, in the forest of Hareth, in the wilderness of Ziph; who fled but was never found. And even while he fled his power grew. He found means to protect his own. He found occasions to do service to others. Everywhere he made friends. The kings of Philistine cities gave him shelter: his enemy's widow became his wife. Outlawed leader of a band of lawless and desperate men, he could rule them so that they did no wrong. He could inspire them, so that their deeds of valour were on every tongue. He had stirred the spirit of emulation among them, rewarding heroic deeds not with gold (of which he had not had much at that time), but with rank: by the order of the Thirty and the two Threes. Men sought ever to do some act of courage or strength which would give them claim to a place in that order of valour, when there should be a vacancy in its ranks, as there must be at times, as when Asahel died. So he had directed the spirit of lawless violence which had cast them out to the wilderness, that it might be spent to distress his foes.

        Hebron might be a poor court, but it was the camp of a mobile force which would be hard to subdue, even by a king of much greater strength. For it could disappear if it would. It was trained in wilderness ways. Even to Hebron, David was only anchored in a loose way. He had, in fact, the only professional army that the whole land held. And its power lay in its capacity either to fight or flee at its own will. It was not held to the defence of walled cities or fertile fields. Where it might go would be the centre of David's power.

        And with all this he was one of whom men spoke without dread. There were acts of impulsive magnanimity at which men wondered, but there were no tales of treachery, or of massacres in the night, nor even of unprovoked plunder joined to his name.

        And he was a maker of many songs. They were of diverse themes, of love and war, of hopes and fears, of cold doubt in the night, and of new strength when the dawn comes, as the songs of men will for ever be, but for the most part they were about Yahweh, his god. Yahweh, on whose aid he relied, to whom he abased himself, confessing his faults, and of whom he made his boast as a supreme and very terrible god, who thundered among the hills.

        So that with his own fame, had grown the fame of his god. It was in his name that he ruled the lawless troop that he led. It was Yahweh's laws that must be enforced. It was by his success that the name of Yahweh would yet grow more great in the land. . . . And the worship of Yahweh was the one link that bound together the tribes of Israel, scattered in a land which was of no certain rule, amidst cities which, for four hundred years, they had been too weak to subdue. . . .

        The next morning Abner met the King in a closed room. David had with him the priest, Abiathar, and Benaiah, the captain of the guard. Abner would rather have talked alone, but he could not claim that. In particular, he could not see why Benaiah should be there. He was a man of brawn rather than brain: a mastiff beside the King. He supposed that David had him there as a demonstration of state. But David would not have done that. He cared little for the forms of rule, of the support of which he was not conscious of any need. His kingship was in himself not in a parade of surrounding strength. If he had seen cause, he would have sat for this meeting on a stone at the roadside.

        But he had good reasons for what he did. Neither of those who were with him would talk in the wrong way, or into the wrong ears. Nor had he any care as to who might hear what he said, so long as it did not go to Ashdod by a hastened way.

        He knew that Joab would question Benaiah as to what had passed in that room, and would have the truth from that source. So he meant it to be, and so, in fact, it was. Yet had David foreseen the event, he might not have troubled to have Benaiah there. But even kings cannot do that.

        Abiathar was there with a greater cause, and a better right. He was a young man, younger than David, yet because he held the Ephod, and for other reasons, he might be called the first priest in the land. To those Israelites who held to their father's faith, he was the half of David's strength, if not more; and it would be hard to speak his name without recalling that for which devout men should be foes to the house of Saul. It was ten years ago that David, fleeing from the anger of Saul, had come to the sanctuary of Nob, where Ahimelech guarded the Ephod at that time, and had a college of younger priests under his care. David had few companions with him, and they had come without beasts of burden, or weapons, or even food. They were faint with hunger and haste. David lied, as he must. He said he was on an errand for the King, who had required him to leave in such haste that he had lacked time to make provision for the needs of the way. Ahimelech may have believed it, or not. He must have known of David's place before Saul, and how the King would favour him at one time, and chase him out when his mood changed, even with the throwing of spears. It did not sound a very probable tale.

        David asked food, and the pr est excused himself with a lie which was as weak as his own. He said that he had none but the sacred bread which had lain before the altar of Yahweh, which it was not lawful to eat.

        David replied that he would be content with the stale bread which had been removed, as was done when a fresh baking was made, and which might be said to have lost its holiness, and to have become common again.

        Ahimelech can hardly have thought that this argument had much force, unless he were less instructed in the Mosaic law than a priest (and one who teaches others) should be expected to be. But he temporized weakly, asking if David and his companions were at least free from the contaminations of women.

        David answered with sincerity about that. They had been on the road for three days! It was probably the first word of truth which had been spoken on either side. Yet they may have been no more than diplomatic lies, recognized on both sides for what they were.

        Anyway, David got what he asked, as he most often did. There was food brought, and whether it had ever lain on the altar of Yahweh was known to Ahimelech, but not to us.

        Having got the first thing he asked, David tried again. He had left, it seemed, in such haste, that he had forgotten his weapons - if Ahimelech could find a good sword, or even a spear - ?

        It seemed that Nob was as destitute of weapons as it had been of food. A very singular place. But there was an exception, as there had been before. The sword of Goliath, the giant that David had killed the previous year, was wrapped up under the altar, preserved as a trophy of war, beside the sacred Ephod itself.

        David said that it would do very well. He could think of no weapon he would rather have.

        Remembering Goliath's reputed size, it seems a surprising choice. But his height may have been measured with the feathered head-dress that the Philistines wore. And David had used that sword once before in an effectual manner - to cut off its owner's head, after he had been stunned with a stone. He had increased himself since that day by a year's growth, and was of good stature and strength.

        Anyway, so it had been. David had gone on with the giant's weapon girded against his thigh, and doubtless in better spirits than when he came, or would have done so had he not caught sight of Doeg, the Edomite, who was the chief herdsman of Saul, and wondered what tale he would take back, and what its consequences might be.

        Had Joab been at his side, the event might have ended a different way, for Joab would not have been likely to let Doeg bear back any tales, bad or good. He believed that all dangers are better dead. But the sons of Zeruiah did not join David till the next week, when they had word that he was secure in the mountain caves.

        So there had come a day when Doeg told Saul what he had seen, and Saul sent for Ahimelech, and charged him with giving aid to his foes. Ahimelech faced it as best he could. He protested that he was a true servant of Saul. Had not David married the King's daughter? Did he not stand at his right hand? How should he have guessed that he had done wrong?

        Saul was not appeased by a defence which he did not believe. Besides, he had a worse fear. Was it not likely that Ahimelech had consulted the sacred Ephod on David's behalf, showing him the future, which was still hidden from Saul, though it was an increasing fear? Ahimelech denied this, with truth David had eaten, and had then been in haste to go. But he was not believed, any more than before.

        Saul was not lacking in courage, but he had become suspicious of all men, and insanity drove intermittent clouds of darkness across his mind. He saw that it was not David the man, but Yahweh the god, who was his final foe. Well, even so, the battle might not be lost. A god was a poor thing with no priests to proclaim his power. He would slay Ahimelech, and all the priesthood of Nob. What would Yahweh do then? Ahimelech had given him an excuse, which he would not miss.

        So he ordered, but no one moved. It was a deed to which no Israelite had the courage to lift his spear. Saul would not see that, as he defied Yahweh, the kingdom slipped from his hands, for it was that worship which united the tribes. Nor would he change his purpose when he saw that he had ordered more than his followers had the heart to do.

        He said to Doeg: "You brought the tale: it shall be your duty to slay the priests." As to that, Doeg had no scruple at all, as no Edomite would. Yahweh was no god of his tribe. He gathered more of his own kind, and they fell upon the city of Nob. He came back to Saul saying that he had let none escape. Eighty-five priests, with the women and children that were theirs, they had all died by the herdsmen's swords. There had been no mercy for any. Even the oxen and sheep (he said) had been slaughtered in the same way. Saul accepted the last statement without dissent. He knew the etiquette of such massacres too well to probe the question of where the cattle would be likely to be after a troop of herdsmen had raided the town. He was well content, for if Yahweh was not able to protect the lives of his own priests, was it likely that he could do harm to a king who defied his power?

        But Doeg's count had been one wrong when he said that he whole of the priests were slain. Ahimelech's son, Abiathar, had escaped to David, with the Ephod under his arm.


SO it was that Abiathar sat at David's right hand on this day. There had been no formal appointment of a chief priest since the massacre at Nob, and Samuel's subsequent death; but Abiathar was Ahimelech's son, he held the Ephod, he might be called the first priest in the land. Sitting at David's side, he supported temporal with spiritual power. Abner saw it, and knew that he was acting with wisdom to have come there, and not engaged in an act of folly springing from a wrathful mood.

        Yet he sought to make good terms, as he felt he could.

        "I would know," David asked, in that direct manner of speech which may be more potent than guile, "with what power you have come to treat? Do you speak for yourself alone, and for such men as are round your tents, or do you speak for the Elders of the tribes, who have the power to choose who the king shall be?"

        Abner answered in the same way. "I speak for more than myself and my own men. The Elders know that I have come here. But I have no power to pledge them as yet. They must know what your terms will be, if you take the crown at their hands.

        "Yet I can go this far: I know what will make accord. If you will content them in two things, they will be glad to give you the crown. As for Ishbosheth, you can put him out of your mind, and you will not forget much. He knows why come here, but what can he do? He is feared by none."

        David asked: "What are the two things?"

        "The first is that the tribute shall not be more than it is now. That can be promised with ease, and you can ask more on a later day, if the need rise."

        "I will say no less than I mean to do."

        "Then you must mean that. They will not pay more than they do now."

        "What is the second thing they would have?"

        "They must know where the King will dwell."

        "You mean that it is too far south where I now am?"

        "It is in Judah. They will not be content with that. This is a poor land, as you know. It is wrong that all Israel in the richer lands of the north should be ruled from here. There would always be discontent."

        "Where would they have that I make a centre for the whole land? Is east of Jordan better than this?"

        Abner felt the point of the thrust. Saul had tried to establish himself in Samaria, but the Philistines had always driven him out. He had made his headquarters beyond Jordan for three years out of four of his troubled reign. Ishbosheth did the same, with the difference that the west bank of the river had never seen him at all. Israel could make no boast about that.

        "I know what you mean," Abner replied. "There is no need for words about that. But they hope that you will be a more fortunate king."

        "Then they must be ready for war, for it cannot come without that. Where would they have me to make my home?"

        "They are not agreed. Some would have Shechem, and some Geba, and some others - - "

        "So I supposed. If I name a place, I shall please a few, and make many wroth.

        "I will answer all in one word, for the things you ask cannot be looked at apart. If I were to come north at once, which I will not do, I should ask more tribute than is now paid, in which I should have no choice. But the tribute shall stay as it is, and I will come north when the land is clear of its foes, choosing my home then."

        "That may have a good sound. But why shall I say that the tribute must be increased if you dwell in Israel now?"

        "That is easy to see. Have you thought that there will be war as soon as this thing is known?"

        "There must be war if we would free the land. It need not be till our time."

        "When I am chosen king there will be war in a week, if it docs not start before that. The Philistines are not fools. They will not let Israel and Judah unite while they sit still. They may have Egypt's support. She may send gold, if not men. She will give them aid from her garrisoned towns. All that is easy to see.

        "But we must look further than that. If I go north, I leave this land, which I have made mine, for them to make it a spoil. It is from this land, which I largely own, that my wealth comes. That is why I say that I must have larger tribute if I come north. An army, even such as I now have, is not held together without cost. And even then how would you rescue the land? Will you meet their chariots on the plain? Only chariots can do that. You know how many you have - or how few. I have none. We should be destroyed on the level land. At the best, we should have Gilboa again, when we must come down from the hills to fight for the Jordan fords."

        "Have you a plan which will thwart that?"

        "There is only one way. They must come to me at a place of my own choice, and there is only one cause for which they will do that; they must seek to hold us apart."

        "How do you count that they will make such attempt?"

        "That is sure, for there is but one way. They must draw to the Sorek valley, with all the force that they have, marching eastward to Bethlehem, and then south, to assail us here on our northern side, which is also the least strong."

        "Will they come thus into the hills? And so far from a safe base?"

        "The Jebusites are their friends. It is on Jerusalem they will rest their rear."

        Abner considered this with a soldier's mind, and it seemed to him that it was a good plan, and one that the Philistines would be very likely to choose. It was not only good in itself. It was curiously like the strategy of the campaign which had ended at Mount Gilboa, with the Vale of Sorek for the valley of the northern Jezreel, and Jerusalem for Beth-shean. His doubt was that he could not see where it would fail. It seemed to him that if David saw the trap, it was a good reason that he should not await its jaws. He said:

        "It has the sound of a likely thing. But if you see how it will be, why should you wait it here?"

        David said: "I may have a plan. But it is not to be given words till the time is at hand. The Elders need not trouble for that. But I will ask all the aid they can give, both in money and men, when the time is with us to free the land, and to take a Philistine spoil. . . .. You can tell them that if the Philistines first make war, I will have no peace until the whole of Canaan even the walled cities, and the plain of Sharon are free, and the Philistines are confined to their own coasts. After that, I will choose a city beyond Judah, where I will make such court as a king should, and the laws of Yahweh shall rule in the land."

        Abner said there would be no dispute about that. The worship of Yahweh was still general throughout Israel, though it was of uncertain ritual, and rivalled by other faiths. But the fall of Saul, after his massacre of the priests, and David's successes in Yahweh's name, were lessons which it had been easy to learn. He would go with speed, and bring the Elders of Israel to Hebron, that the ceremonies of accession might be performed before the Philistines would have time to stir. For himself he asked only - but he knew that it was not necessary even to ask - that he should be confirmed in the office he held, that of general of the armies of Israel? That was the price he required for the use of his influence with the Elders of Israel.

        David recognised that it was not more than he could reasonably claim. It was no more than he already held, and it was an office which he was well fitted to fill. But he must be clear on one point. He had made Joab chief of the army of Judah, and that place must be still his.

        Abner made no difficulty about that. He knew that Israel was far richer and more prosperous than Judah could ever be. When David had united the land, and the two kingdoms went out to war, there would be no doubt of which would be first.

        He started back that afternoon, putting the urgency of the occasion before the ease of his body, as he had been accustomed to do more often in earlier days, and, as he rode out of the northern gate, the army that Joab led, brown with dust, laden with spoil, straggled in through the gate at the other end of the town.


DAVID went to the roof of his house, as it was his frequent habit to do. In his more restless moods, he was irked by the narrow spaces of city life. He was of nomad blood. His natural roof was the sky. Now he was stirred by the thought of a great dream that was near the reach of his hands. He was in a mood for the making of songs.

        He strode from wall to wall at the pace of his own thoughts. It had always been hard to wait when a plan had formed in his mind. Well, there would not be much waiting now.

        He paused, looking out to the north, to the gate through which Abner had ridden less than an hour ago. But he did not look at the gate. His eyes were on the horizon hills. He thought of Jerusalem twenty miles away. The city that had no record of storm or sack, or of the changing of lords. The centuries moved like a slow shadow across the land, and men died and were born, and kingdoms flourished or fell. Cities changed ever from lord to lord, and strange tongues were talked in the streets, but the Jebusite city stood, impregnable, unafraid. The untakable city. It was the Jebusite boast that the lame and blind would be enough to defend its walls.

        It was beyond his sight, for though Hebron also was on high - even higher - ground, it lay in a shallow depression among the hills. But David saw the great gate of Jerusalem in his mind, as he had done when in boyhood he had gone with Eliab, who bartered within its walls.

        It was a wild dream! The men of Judah and Israel had never been good at the taking of cities, unless, as with Jericho, an earthquake had collapsed its walls. And Jerusalem might be called the strongest that the world held. It was a dream that he must keep to his own heart till the time came. But if he could! In the name of Yahweh, his invincible god. For he saw that he could unite the kingdoms there - perhaps only there. And as a centre of the faith in which he so passionately believed! Could he not make a place of worship there to which Israelite and Jew would be equally willing to gather at the times of the sacred feasts, and discourage the scattered shrines which changed so lightly from god to god?

        But it must be secret to his own mind. None must guess till the hour came. There must be no whisper to warn its walls. There was scarcely one even of his own house to whom it could be spoken with safety, and who had a mind that would share his dreams. He was loved by thousands, who would have died at his word. The eyes of the veiled women followed him in the streets as though they looked at a god. There was no maiden in Hebron who would not have been his at a word, and few who would not have thought it a glad day. Yet it might be said with some truth that he was a friendless man. More than most, he had the loneliness which is ever the curse of kings. Well, he may have communed with Yahweh the more. And in his loneliness his songs came.

        Now he looked to the south as he turned his walk on the roof, and he knew that Joab was back, and had not failed, as he seldom did. He could see the loads which the camels bore. Hebron lay, a long narrow city, upon the eastern slope of a shallow bowl of land which was in the sheltered height of the hills. Over the flat roofs of the white-walled houses, David could see the goats'-hair tents that were already rising on the open land, too poor for the plough, that lay westward beyond the wall. For, of the three thousand men that Joab had brought back, few would lodge in the city streets. They were men of tents: of a nomad blood.

        David could understand that. He was of the blood of Boaz, but of Ruth also. Men of Judah had settled long on the land. Some of them had learnt the reluctant lesson of the comforts that follow a life of toil. They had settled homes. They gathered corn to their barns. But Moab still lay in tents.

        Nomad and farmer despised each other, when they were not stirred to an active hate, but the blood of both was in David's veins. And even Judah was of the desert tradition, rather than that of the plough. Here at Hebron, four hundred years ago, Abraham, the father of all their race, had come in at times from the desert ways, to barter hides and wool and the living flock for the lamps and leather water-skins for which the workmen of Hebron had been famous from ancient times, and for a score of other things that the town made, or the merchants brought. Abraham had come and gone, and the townsmen had looked in wonder as the dust of his caravan receded over the far monotony of the desert plain. How could men, if they were better than beasts, be content to live with no settled home, in no safety of bolted gates? And the men of the desert breathed with fuller lungs as the city walls receded in desert haze, and the wide wilderness silence brought peace to their hearts again. They felt as men from whom a crushing weight had been lifted clear. The narrow streets, the low half-lighted rooms, the workmen held to long hours of unchanging toil, had been a vision of hell.

        The life of Bethlehem had been of a more pastoral kind. It was that on which a large number of the Israelites had been engaged for so many years that it had become nature to them. The life of the farmhouse; of the byre and the plough. But, to the true nomad, it was little better than that of the city streets. Why should a man endure the dark prison of walls when he could have the free air of a tent? Why should he make his home, and even his wealth, of such kinds that they could not be moved if a danger came? Why should he buy the hazards of such a life with the toil that made his years that of a constant slave? He had no time for himself It was existence, rather than life. At such a cost, there was no comfort that would not be priced too high. He had no time for the stars.

        David's part in the home life of Bethlehem had been that of the nomad kind. He had kept the sheep, leading them to green pastures and quiet waters among the hills. It had been a life in which one can have many dreams. He had done little, and thought much. A life as leisurely as the ways of Nature - of God. A life despised, even in his own home, as too nearly that of the desert tribes. But it had pleased him.

        Its long monotonies had been broken at times when a bear had come from the mountain caves, or a lion from the wilderness of Judea, hanging on the skirts of the flock. . . . There were times when he would think of those days, in envy of the free creatures his hands had slain. He would pace the roof of his house as a wild beast turns in a cage. . . .

        Joab would soon be here to report. It was a tale that would be told in a few words. His expedition had been less than serious warfare - of a merely punitive kind against a wandering Bedouin tribe who had raided some friendly villages in the debatable land between Moab and Edom, which either would be quicker to claim than to defend. Joab had not needed more than a third of the men he took - might, indeed, have done better with a smaller force, and with camels alone - but David knew that he must find occupation and movement for the restless troop that he was moulding into something more like a professional army than could be found in Eastern Asia at that time. He had kept back only a few of the "mighty men", and Benaiah with his foreign guards and such others as were sick, or had been married within the year. . . .

        Joab might report in few words, but David knew that there would be more to be said. He could not tell how he would take the coming of Abner, but high words would be a likely result. Joab hated Abner, not without cause, and had sworn his death. It was to that end that he was always urging the prosecution of the war against Israel, which David had carried on with no heart, having a hatred of civil strife among those who had one tongue, and the same god. But Joab must give way now. He must see the greatness of the gain which Abner's friendship would bring. After all, David was king and not he. And a king must think in a large way, putting private hatreds aside for his country's good.

        David hated the strife of words, but he was one to face all that came with a bold front. He went down from the roof to meet Joab in the hall below. Looking southward, he had not seen that two horsemen had ridden out in haste, taking Abner's track from the northern gate.


JOAB came in at a quick pace, cursing aloud. He came as a man in a great wrath, and not fearing the King.

        He did not trouble to report the way he had routed the Bedouin tribe, whom he had surprised in the night, putting them to the sword in a ruthless way which David would have been unlikely to do (but which might yet seem wise to one who looked far), and taking a great spoil. Nor did he wait for David to speak. He burst out at once:

        "You have had Abner here, and have let him go!" Wonder battled with wrath in his tone.

        David answered with equal heat."Am I king here, or are you? Will you call it folly before you hear?"

        Joab said, in no abasement of mood: "It may be a king's folly, such as you have done before now. It is worse than that. You have betrayed your own blood."

        David checked a reply which might have made such feud within those of his own house as would have altered the whole course of his future years. He reflected that Joab's anger was natural enough. He recalled also that every moment Abner would be riding further away. He must calm Joab with reasoned speech, as he had done before then. He asked, in a quieter tone: "Will you hear first, and then rail if you must?"

        Joab controlled himself with a different thought. Abner would soon be on the way back. Meanwhile he would learn what he could.

        He faced David, silent and sullen, a swarthy Ishmaelite, thickly made, very strong of arm, with black hair, short and curling, on head and chin. He was armed in leather, mounted with brass. The brass was polished: the leather worn. He wore, at his side, a short broad-bladed sword. A man of deeds, rather than show. He was David's nephew, though somewhat older than he. As boys, they had played together in Bethlehem streets. . . .

        David had been the last of a long family: the child of an ageing man, as the world's greatest so often are. His half-sister, Zeruiah, had been twenty-five years older than he. As a child he had seen Jeshur, the Ishmaelite chieftain, ride in to Bethlehem, from the wilderness of Judea, and from much further than that. He told none of the place of his home, which was in the far Transjordanian desert. His young men were mounted on swift camels. They would be hard to follow: his home would be harder to find.

        Jeshur had been too cautious to trust himself to the wrong side of a city gate. Even at the village of Bethlehem, he made a camp in the neighbouring hills, while he bartered the camel's hair and other goods that he brought - sometimes strange goods from the further east - for his needs of the coming year. Jesse played the merchant in this. His eldest son, Eliab, would load the asses, and the goods that were bought from Jeshur would be sold among the Jebusites, or at Beth-El, or held till the caravans came. Jeshur and Jesse were good friends as the years passed, each learning of the other that he was both honest and shrewd, and that he could bring out shekels of silver if he had the mind for a large deal. When Jeshur said "I would have Zeruiah to wife," it was a bargain that was soon made. When he said in a later year "I would have her sister, Abigail," it was settled in a short hour.

        Zeruiah had had three children, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel The first two had their father's swarthy complexion, but Asahel had been as fair as his mother, tall and slender and very swift. The three had come to David at Adullam, having followed his fortune before at the court of Saul, when it had seemed that he would become one of the first in the land by the King's favour, and the quality which was in himself. At that time, Zeruiah was living at Bethlehem with Jeshur's consent, her health having become unfit for a wandering life. (But Abigail was with him at all times, having the hardihood of a man.) At the first quarrel with Saul, David had sent his parents, and any other members of the family who might have become victims of the King's uncertain violences, to the care of the King of Moab, to whom he could claim kinship through his great-grandmother, Ruth. But the three sons of Zeruiah being young men of his own age, remained with him at Adullam, and two of them were to follow his fortunes to the height of power.

        David had made them members of the band of his "mighty men" - a form of knighthood carrying no office or rank in itself, but from which he would select those who might be most suitable for positions of authority or adventures of peril as occasions came. Joab had been conspicuous from the first for qualities which made him a natural leader among the turbulent elements which resorted to David's cave.

        He was sagacious, moderate, ruthless when the occasion required, though always in an economical way, as one guided by reason rather than any violence of passion. He was courageous, but without recklessness. Bold in action, but cautious to plan. Entirely selfish, without chivalry or imagination, he would neither have conceived the audacious projects by which David advanced from a sheep-boy's dream to a great power and a greater fame, nor could he have inspired the personal devotion of those who served him, as David had been able to do. But he became known as a leader to trust, and a foe to fear. He might not be the man of the greatest repute among David's followers for deeds of personal valour on the field of war, but he was already known, in these Hebron days, as the one whom David would choose to lead any expedition of which he was not the personal head, and he would have been wroth indeed had any other been preferred before him as the general of the army of Judea. . . .

        It was the year before that David, with a small band of his followers, had met Abner at Gibeon for a conference which might have been the parent either of peace or war between Israel and Judea. It was hard to say by what accident or design that which had been intended for an occasion of diplomacy broke into a sudden fury of hand-to-hand fighting, in which Abner's followers, though of numerical equality, were ill-matched with the band of once-lawless adventurers whom David had disciplined to his will. The men of Israel fled from the field, to be chased till nightfall to the outskirts of Giah, where Abner's protest to Joab: "Shall the sword devour for ever? Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?" had caused him to order the pursuit to cease. When they had picked up the dead, they had counted twenty of Judah and three hundred and sixty of the men of Israel. It had not been an episode to encourage the northern kingdom to make active war upon its poorer, less populous but far hardier foe.

        As Abner fled, he had found that Asahel followed persistently on his track. Though less strong, and less practised in arms, the boy was far fleeter than he. Panting in flight, Abner had called back to him to turn aside, either to right or left: "Art thou Asahel? . . . Turn thou aside. Wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? How then should I hold up my face to Joab, thy brother?" But Asahel would not turn. In his heart was the determination to raise his name among the Thirty by slaying the leader of the army of Israel. He knew that there were few who could run so swiftly as he. He kept to Abner's trail, thinking that he must turn at last. But Abner had not turned. When he heard the feet of Asahel but two yards behind, he had stopped abruptly, thrusting his spear backward beneath his arm. It was a fatal trick. Asahel, with the impetus of his eager speed, had transfixed himself on the bladed shaft. Abner, drawing out his weapon, wroth that he had been driven to such a deed, had seen the blood spout from the heart of a dying boy. So Asahel's body had been among the twenty when they had counted the dead.

        It was the chance of battle, in a conflict which Abner had not sought - had, indeed, sought to avoid. But Joab did not forgive.

        Now he faced David with the memory of this blood-feud stirring fiercely within him, and reinforced by a baser thought. Which was stronger, it might have been hard for himself to say. If David made accord with Abner, what would his own position be when the armies went out to war? He knew Abner too well to suppose that he would bring Israel to David's hand without making his own position secure. Was his brother's blood on his hands? And who could guess what treachery might be lurking in Abner's heart? Might he not think to make David a tool by which he might climb himself to the northern throne, after Ishbosheth were thrust aside? Was not David always too quick to trust? - to impute his own ways to those of a different kind? Had he not trusted Saul, after he had had his javelin pass within half a foot of his head? Joab stood without words, listening to David's explanations with a stubborn and very sceptical mind.

        "I do not go to them," David said at the last. "The Elders are to come to me here. If there were any treacherous plot, would he have proposed that we should proceed thus?"

        Joab said: "He may look further than that."

        It was a possible thing. It may even have been true; but it is not probable. Abner appears as a man who was normally temperate, both in deed and speech. He had come to a time of life when many are disposed rather to consolidate that which they have than to stake all on a fresh throw. It is fair to judge that he sought a single treachery, and no more. And treachery may be too hard a word for the thing he did, being done in an open way. Ishbosheth might cast him out - if he could. But he had no power in his hands. He remained in his house at Mahanaim, waiting to hear what would be done by men of more resolute moods. Abner's action had demonstrated that which had been true from the first, that his power was greater than that of the son of Saul.

        David declined to prolong a useless change of words. His decision was made, and Joab's anger was as water against a rock. He answered curtly: "Others may look ahead beside he." He turned his words to ask how the expedition had fared. He was careful to have the names of any who had been wounded, or killed. It was said that he knew every man of the three thousand or more of whom he had made a personal rather than a national army. But Joab answered shortly, excusing himself as one who was not yet cleansed from the dust and heat of the road.

        David let him go. He would talk with him tomorrow, when they would both be in a cooler mood. Half his life was occupied at this time in controlling the jealousies and subduing the discords of his own followers, and in so influencing the troubled policies of contending kings that his own place was secure, and his power grew. He knew that he was surrounded by those who gave first place to their own passions, their own needs, though they might be loyal to him. They were concerned with their own lives.

        So were the women too. Abigail was saying to Maachah at this time: "She has lost more than that. She has lost his


        Maachah came as near to lowering the veil by which she guarded her pride as she was ever likely to do. Her lips faintly shadowed a sneer. "Then she has lost that which we never had - as we all know."

        Abigail's silence allowed the truth. After a pause she said: "David is kind to all. . . . Were we wedded to Achish, or Moab's king, or to others of whom we hear, who are worse than they - - ?"

        Maachah answered: "There was no need to say that. Did I not know? . . . We are the wives of a great king."


ABNER had halted at the side of a desert well. It was a convenient place for a midday rest, and he would have more need to travel in haste when he was clear of Judea's hills. There was the shade of a grove of trees, and some pasture, on which the horses grazed, while their master dozed in the heat of the afternoon. He was roused to be told that two horsemen came from the south, riding in haste. He said: "Well, let them come if they will." There was no menace in two.

        Abishai came down from the saddle, at Abner's side. He was a tired man, having ridden long in the earlier day, and left Hebron without rest or food, at his brother's desire, when they had heard that Abner had come and gone. But he had ridden with a good will, for it was a matter on which Joab and he were of one mind. He was the larger man of the two, but may have had a less brain. It was a fact that Joab could think for both, as he mostly did. "Get him back," he had said, "and leave me to deal."

        "We would have ridden harder had we known that you had come to the King," Abishai said, with such courtesy as he could control. Abner could take that as he would. It was a truth with a double edge. He added another of a like kind: "Joab would talk with you beside the gate. His mind is that you cannot both serve the King while you are without common accord."

        Abner stroked his beard, weighing a doubt. He knew Joab, and there were few-men whom he trusted less. He had been alert against treachery from the first, but he had a great confidence in the character of David, whose magnanimities were notorious, and not always praised. Also, he saw that he could be more useful alive than dead. So he had put himself with deliberate courage into the hands of the King of Judah, choosing a time when he had known that Joab would not be there. In fact, he had not thought it possible that Joab would have returned for some weeks, thinking him to be on the trail of those who could move faster than he, and not one to turn back with an empty tale.

        Yet now Joab's message had a fair sound. He knew that, sooner or later, his relations with David's general were an issue which must be faced. Indeed, but for this obstacle, he would have abandoned Ishbosheth a year ago, seeing that his cause was doomed to decay. Now he was not asked to return to the city, where he would be hopelessly outnumbered, and could be detained or murdered if Joab's counsel could move the King to such ends. He was to meet with Joab outside the gate. He had a good horse, and all his escort were mounted men. If Joab should have a large force, or if there should be sight of armed men who came to meet them upon the road, there would be time to turn back. He said:

        "It is well that we should meet. Will you thank Joab, saying that I would find a way of peace between my house and yours for the good of all? I will be a bowshot's length from the city gate in an hour from now."

        He had counted the time so that his horses should not return at too fast a pace, that they might not be tired if there should be occasion to flee, and yet to be there and to have left again before sunset, which was less than three hours away. When Abishai receded from sight, he ordered his men to mount, and rode slowly back, sending two riders ahead, and two others far out on either side of the road, that he might not be outflanked or met in a sudden way. So he came to the gate, halting a full bowshot away, as was but prudent to do, and Joab came out with no more men than his own, they being on foot, and in a peaceful array.

        Joab being on foot, Abner dismounted also. His men rode closely behind him, as he had charged them to do, so that they overheard what was said. Joab did not show that he saw that. He said, bluntly:

        "Can there be peace between me and thee? Can I think nought of a brother's blood?"

        This direct approach made it easier for Abner to say what was in his mind than would have been the case had Joab talked of other matters, leaving this sore unprobed. He answered in a frank way, and there was reason in what he said:

        "As for Asahel's death, it may be held that he brought it upon himself, as I think you know. It was on a field of strife, for which no ransom is due, as the priests will say. Beyond that, I struck only when I must guard my own life, having asked him to turn aside. . . . Yet I will not hold to such pleas, making restitution to any sum that shall be named either by Zadok, or even Abiathar, though he be your own priest. Can I say more fairly than that?"

        Joab answered, without showing his heart, which was wroth not only for that but another cause: "I see not well that you could. But for my part, I am not asking for gold. . . . Will you step somewhat aside, for I have more to say, which it is not well that your men should hear?"

        Abner thought that Joab put away the matter of Asahel's death, meaning to bargain with him on that which might now seem of a greater weight, being their positions before the King. He went aside without fear.

        Joab wasted no time in words. He wore a loose gown, under which was a sword, short and sharp, having a very broad blade. He took Abner by the beard, with his left hand, and as he would have struggled free, he felt the sword, that pushed upward to find his heart.

        Joab wiped the blade on the clothes of a dying man. "The King must choose," he said, "as he will. It is the choice of living fried or a dead foe."

        The twenty men whom Abner had brought turned their horses in the haste of a great fear when they saw that their master was dead. Abner's horse turned with them, and ran with a dangling rein.

        The men rode with no pause till they came to the country of Benjamin, where their fear lessened with every mile. Slackening pace, they reached Mahanaim on the third day. Ishbosheth heard the news without sorrow, yet without much comfort therefrom. He was like a player who is dressed for a part that he has not learnt. He knew not what to do next. He went to the women's quarters, where he would ever spend more time than a king should.

        Joab, having cleaned his sword on the skirts of a better man, went to his own house. But there were others who told the King.


THE King sent for Joab within an hour, and he was not backward to answer the call. David was in a furious wrath, making it hard to control his words. Joab was of the same temper, though he said less. He took refuge in stubborn silence as his way was at such times.

        He was not afraid of the King, let him rage as he would. In fact, he would have been more afraid of a smaller man, and might have had greater cause.

        What, indeed, could David do? Joab had killed a man with whom he had a blood-feud, as was the way of the time, and had some support in the wording of the Mosaic law, though not much. He ad not done it at the time when Abner had been in Hebron, under the protection of David's word. Abner had come back to Joab's call at his own risk. And he had been an open foe, who might have been no better again. Was David to cast out one who was loyal to him in his own way, who had shared his fortunes through evil days, who was his sister's son, and the best general he had, for the sake of one who could not have been more than one of these things, or two at the most, and who was already dead?

        David might rage as he would, but in their hearts they both knew that it would be but words in the end, though he was so wild in his wrath that he cursed Joab as he would seldom speak of even the settled foes of his house.

        Abner's death came near to dishonouring his name, which he could not lightly endure. Beside that, it was an error of policy, which he could not lightly forgive. He saw it to be his first care that men should know that the assassination had not been contrived nor approved by him. He cursed Joab, with an added will, as he thought of that, not caring who might hear at the door.

        He gave orders that Abner should be buried with such honours as were due to the rank he held. He praised him over his grave, with Joab standing sullenly at his side. For he had insisted that Joab should be there, about which, in fact, he had shown no reluctance, for with Abner's death his hatred had died. He did not really blame him for Asahel's death. Abner had had sufficient cause to kill him, and Joab had had cause to kill Abner in turn. It was by the rules of the game. But when he thought that Abner might have usurped his place at the King's side, he was very glad he was dead.

        Now he had little doubt that he would soon be commanding the armies of a united land. For Abner dead might not be the same as Abner canvassing the elders of Israel, but it led to the same end. Who was there left who would head resistance to David in Ishbosheth's name? He could think of no one at all.

        Nor did he fear that David would degrade him in rank, for he knew his angers to be such tempests as soon changed to a clearer sky. Yet he was half-wrong on that point, for David had resolved that he should not come to a greater power by the fact that Abner was dead. If he had killed him to avenge Asahel's death, he had done that which would be held by most men of that time to be natural, if not right. It was done now, and there was an end. But if he had struck in jealous fear of the repute of the older man - well, he would find he had gained nothing by that, though he might have lost. So David resolved; though at this time he had no plan of that which he would contrive at a later day. He gave no sign of his thought, which is saying no more than that he had learned the first lesson by which a king in those times might prolong his life and establish his throne. Outwardly, all went on as before.

        The tale of how Abner had died spread through the land, and of David's wrath, and of the honours he had paid to one who had been his foe. Had he killed him with his own hand, there might have been few who would have greatly cared, or thought him less fit to be king from that cause, but, as it was they were more content, and his fame grew in the mouths of men. David was bringing new ideals, new standards of conduct, to the traditions of tribal monarchy. If Samuel had mad a mistake in his calling of Saul (which is less than proved - he had his use, and his time) he had made none in his second choice.

        David did not know at once how the news would be taken in Israel. He was one who, for all his restless imagination, could control himself to wait when his judgment told him that it was best. For a few days, having buried Abner, he did nothing at all.

        He talked to Michal, seeking her sympathy, which he did not get. He was as one who will not turn from a fruit of pleasant colour and shape, though he has found it once of a bitter taste. And it had been sweet before that.

        She had her father's passionate love of music, and it was that which drew them nearly together again, as it had done at the first, when he had pleased her with harp and song while he idled in the household of Saul. They had met freely then, for Saul's women were not greatly secluded. Saul kept to the ways of the country life to which he had been bred, which had always differed from those of the town.

        Recollections softened her mood. She asked him to play a song which had pleased her before. It was not much in itself, but he had given it a good tune. It was the first song he had made, as he had rested in a sycamore glade, having led his flock down from the barren hills. In a later year he would mould it to such a form that it would break all barriers of language and time and race, and give consolation and courage and joy to a hundred millions of men. But he could not guess that.

        Now he sang it at her desire. In its first form, it had been no greater than this:

"If Yahweh is my shepherd, I

        Not any want shall know.

He leadeth where, his flock to share,

        The pleasant grasses grow.

He leadeth where, from uplands bare,

        The quiet waters lie.

'Come past,' he saith, 'the Vale of Death,'

        And not a fear have I."

        It may not have been a great song, as he sang it then, but it had that in its core which would be potent to change the world. It may have been in Abraham's heart at the first, and in Moses' at a later day. But in them it is less easy to see. Moses sowed in a shallow and stubborn soil, and may have known best what it would bear. He gave Israel a god they could understand, though his vision may have been higher than that, when he watched the stars in the night.

        It was the first song David had made. We may call it his, or say it came by the inspiration of God if we will, for where else shall we find the source of the aspirations of men? David only thought that he had made a good song, though it was much less than he would have liked it to be, and it was pleasant to hear its praise.

        But he had done something greater than that. He had brought a new conception of God to the minds of men.

        The shepherd was despised as much by the men of the plough as by those of the city streets. A lazy, loitering life, which was illpaid (unless a man owned the sheep he led, which he seldom did), as it surely deserved to be.

        It was a bold metaphor to compare Yahweh to the plier of such a trade, which a priest might have blamed. But the shepherd had his own honour, his own code. He must not come back unscratched, leading a shortened flock. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

        From the vision of a tribal god, whose nostrils were pleased with the scent of blood, who could be stirred to a baser than human rage (because from so great a height) by the follies and sins of men: a god jealous of the deities of surrounding tribes, who thundered his wrathful passions across the sky, there rose, like a flower from a heap of dung (showing that it too had been good in its own way) the vision of the shepherd who guards his sheep. The sins and follies of those he made were not to stir him merely to futile or vengeful wrath. They were dangers from which he must save his flock. It would be a thousand years before the idea would be developed in the teaching and demonstrated in the life of one who was of David's blood; but in his song there was the first light of a dawn which would change the hopes and fears of the western world.

        The old ideas would persist. Their use was not yet done. David would still celebrate his victories in religious rituals which were foul with the stench of blood, but there would be times when he would draw nearer to God in the night. There would be times when he would see a better path of approach. There would be a mental agony when he would proclaim the truth in immortal words:

        For thou desires not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a brocken spirit: a brocken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

        But that song died on a lower note, unless it were mauled by some later scribe, as it is easy to think.

        David sang and talked of the older days, and it seemed that Michal's mood had become close to his own, but it changed when he spoke of Joab's crime, and the dishonour to Judah and Judah's king that he thought it to be. It was then that Michal's inward bitterness broke into speech, which she might regret at a later hour, when it would be too late to undo:

        "Is it for Abner you vex your mind? Am I to start weeping for him? Do you forget that he would have sold my brother to shame? Do you think of nothing but your own dreams, or only care for your foes? I think you have more love for traitors than for those who are true. Had I seen Joab's sword drawn, I would have put my hand on the hilt to drive it with greater force. Abner had been foe to both sides in turn. Why will you not leave Ishbosheth alone? You are strong enough here. He has done you no wrong. Your fault is that you will not rest. You will break yourself in the end. It will be Moab or Edom next, or the Philistine power. As though we had not had enough trouble from them! I think you would quarrel with Egypt herself, if you could growl over no nearer bone. In the end, you will lose your throne, and your wives will be for the sport of another king, while you are dragged at a chariot's tail. You might have some thought for us! Why do you not rest, being as well placed as you are? Would you bring my brother to death, and ask me to cheer you on?"

        David might have made some answer to that. He had not sought to bring Ishbosheth to death. He had been no foe to the house of Saul, though they had been foes to him, having some reason therefor. There was a son of Jonathan who was even now fed at his charge.

        As to Ishbosheth, he had scarcely given him thought at all, which may have been what he was worth. He had greater thoughts than to take joy in the fall of so small a king, or that he should crawl at his feet for life, as some tyrants would be likely to do. The fact was that he saw a work waiting his hand which Ishbosheth lacked the imagination to conceive, or the ability to contrive. He was a dead weight to be lifted aside, with such gentleness as could be used to that end. But it was no use to say that. Michal should see that her loyalty should be to him first. If it was not so felt, it would be useless to say.

        He recalled the song he had made in the hours when he was waiting before she came.

        "Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayst make princes in all the earth."

        Well, he had torn that song. He had dreamed, and then waked, facing a fact which he could not change. Michal was going on, her mood being stirred by her own words, as had been the weakness of Saul in his later years.

        "I like not your ways nor those of Yahweh, your god. There are other gods beside him. And he may let you down at the last, as he did my father before. I should like to hear what you would say then."

        David took her arm in a hard grip. "Listen, Michal. I will have no such words in my house. If you speak them again there will be a woman whipped in this room, as you have said that there ought to be."

        Michal looked up at him with eyes in which anger was more than fear, though her arm would be black for a long day.

        "You may try that if you will. You will have a knife in your heart. You will make no song about that."

        David loosed her arm. He said: "You will find that I do not warn twice." He went out, leaving her no time to reply. He was always weak with women. He should have whipped her then. It was the one chance for those two.


MAHANAIM dozed in the heat. It was two hours after the noon of day, and Ishbosheth lay on a bed, as he often would at that time, and most others beside. He had heard that morning of the death of Abner, and was not yet sure whether he should be sorry or glad. Abner had gone to David to betray him, if he could get the price that he sought. Ishbosheth, being a fool, had no doubt that the price had seemed to David more than Abner was worth, and he had ordered his death. He had got what he deserved. Also, he would never want Rizpah again. Ishbosheth resolved that she should be fetched back to his own house. There was satisfaction to this point, but beyond that was a doubt. He might be able to hold Israel (or as much as the Philistines had left in his hands) without Abner's help but even he was not fool enough to think it a likely thing. He had been using such wits as he had to devise bribes which were to have brought Abner back to his own side. Now he felt as one who is in a boat when the rudder breaks. He could not tell what he should do.

        But there was no need to lose his rest to decide that. For in Mahanaim he was safe, as Saul had been in his worst hour. Had he stayed there, he would not have died.

        Mahanaim was a green gem in a naked land. It was a place of palms and a long pool, among barren hills where some sheep fed. It was twenty miles from Jordan gorge, on the east side, but the way to reach it was much longer than that, for the Jordan ran much of its course as a swift stream in a deep and narrow bed, and its fords were few.

        Rocky hills rose behind, where it would be hard to follow those who fled by a known way. Beyond was the Syria desert, where the sand blew for five hundred miles. Few would follow him there. Certainly the Philistines would make no such attempt, nor would David be likely to come so far. If danger threatened, he could disappear by the wilderness ways, finding oases which his nomad followers knew, without which the desert was no better than a quick death. . . . Or he could go north, if he would, to the King of Bashan, who was his friend. Bashan was a rich land, where he would have comfort enough. It stretched far north to the Hermon heights. There was no need to disturb his mind overmuch, even though Abner was gone from his side, and the next year's tributes might not be paid.

        He had no fear of surprise, for he had troops who patrolled the land to the west, even as far as the Jordan fords. They were led by two brothers, Rechab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon, a Beerothite of the tribe of Benjamin. They would meet at times at a point where their watches joined. That morning Baanah had let Abner's flying escort pass, when they had told of his death, after which he rode to where he knew that his brother would be.

        Now the two men talked awhile, and then turned their horses upon the homeward track, having given certain order to those they led, who rode separate ways.

        It was after noon, in the worst heat of the day, when they rode through Mahanaim streets, where few stirred. At the door of the King's house, a guard dozed on a bench in the porch's shade, for what was there to fear?

        They roused him, and talked awhile. Rechab had an empty sack over his arm. They said they had come for a measure of wheat, having run short of food. Wheat was scarce in the pasture country of Gad. The King kept the store that was bought for his servants' need in his own house. The guard did not care why they came. If they drew wheat before the appointed date, it was a matter for the King's chamberlain, not for him. He was not surprised when they came out' again in a short time, bearing a full sack.

        But when they reached the quiet corridor of the inner house, they had not gone to the store, which was at the back; they had gone to a higher floor, by the women's stairs.

        They entered the King's room with their swords drawn. He was half-asleep, and had no time to cry out. He raised himself with a sudden start, to ask "Who is there?" at the sound of footsteps behind his head.

        The next moment a sword had entered beneath his heart and there was another across his throat. Few men have the good fortune to reach their end by a shorter road.

        The assassins put the severed head in a sack, having first wrapped it in a woollen covering from the King's couch, which would both supply the bulk which the sack should show and avert the risk that blood should soak through. They went out as they came, changing a friendly word with those they passed, who were few. It was two hours before the King's body was found, and they would have been distant beyond reach had any thought to pursue, which none did. Men saw that it was the end of the house of Saul, and each thought for himself, and not much of the headless corpse over which Ishbosheth's women wailed in the customed way.

        The sons of Rimmon rode hard on a downward path, meeting none till they came to the Jordan ford, for even to their own men they had given such orders that they were distant to left and right as the evening fell.

        When they took the upward path from the western bank they' were faced by a setting sun, but they made no halting for that. They changed horses at a valley farm, not without menace of force if they could not get what they would, but they paid fairly enough, having no will for a wayside strife at that time. They had still eighty miles to go. They rode on through the night.

        When they came in sight of Hebron it was the evening of the next day.

        Rechab said: "We shall be first with the news. None can have come faster than we, even though the body were soon found. The King should do us much good. He should give us rule in Gad, if no more."

        "So he should," Baanah agreed, "and I think he will. Yet I am not free from a little fear. It is hard to guess what a king may do, having little law but his own will. There is a tale of the Amalekite who brought him news of the death of Saul. It is an evil thought to come back to my mind this hour."

        "You may call foolish a better word. We are not of an Amalekite blood, but of the Benjamin tribe. We are subjects of him whom we have well served on this day. Besides, it was said that the man lied, seeking reward for that which he had not done, Saul having died by his own hand. Any king would have slain him for that. . . . But if you fear, there is time to turn. I will go alone. There may be more reward for one than for two."

        But Baanah would not do that. He said: "We will ask, while we are yet on the outside of the wall, if it be true that Abner died at the gate. If the King ordered that, we can be sure that he will reward a much greater thing."

        And so, haying been shown the place where Abner's blood had sunk in the summer dust, they enquired for the King's house, which was easy to find, and when it was known that they had ridden from Mahanaim, bringing news of weight, there was short delay before they were standing in the King's sight, and the sack lay at their feet.

        David sat in a chair which was straight-backed and high, and very finely carved. It was raised, so that he must have a footstool to rest his feet, which was the fashion of kings.

        There was a group around him of his followers, who wore swords. There was a foreign guard at the door. That was the extent of the state he held at this time, and he was sometimes impatient of that, thinking more of the fact than the flaunt of power. He asked:

        "Who are these men?"

        Benaiah, who was responsible for those who came to the King's presence, answered, giving their names.

        They had not seen David before. They looked up at a man whose face was sanguine and young, having brown-gold hair, and eyes that were very blue. It was a face that could change in a sudden way, as storms alter a summer sky. Now it showed them nothing at all, being set to the manner that kings must learn when they move among men, lest their thoughts be born while they are yet unfit to leave the womb of the mind.

        Being raised as he was, he looked to be as large a man as most there, which was more than he would have done in a level place. He was comely and strong, in the confidence of a sanguine and very vigorous youth. There were times when his eyes were as cold as stones, when he could be as cruel as death, but he was one whom children would seldom fear.

        Now he looked down on the two men without greeting, but his voice was quiet, and less distant than that of such a king would be likely to be. He was one who would treat all men as his friends till he found cause for another tone.

        "You have ridden far. What does the sack hold?"

        The question made an end of what they had meant to say. It brought them at once to that which they would have disclosed by a longer road.

        Rechab answered, being the more confident of the two "Lord, we bring the head of thy greatest foe."

        That had a good sound. Baanah looked more at ease.

        The King said: "Then it was by no order of mine. Yet you may have done well. Let me see who he is."

        His greatest foe! There were so many of them. He had a doubt as to who might claim that name with the best right. Then he had a whimsical thought in which his foes watched the mouth of the sack, each fearing that it must be his own head that it was about to show.

        Baanah, fumbling at the cord, which had been well tied, saw that his lips smiled, and loosed it with a better heart than before.

        There came out a mess of cloth, held together by clotted blood. Baanah pulled it apart, till Ishbosheth's head fell to the floor. David did not know it at first. He had not seen it for ten years, and then it had been younger, and had differed in other ways.

        He asked: "Who is he?" But before they answered, he guessed. He added: "By whose hand did he die?"

        "Lord, I stabbed him the while he slept."

        "Lord, by mine. I cut off his head. He had cried out had he been stabbed before that."

        They spoke as one, and then their boasts died, as the smile had done from the King's face.

        "Now, by the life of Yahweh!" he said (which was a favourite oath with him when he was much moved), "by him who hath brought me through every storm to this throne where I now sit, know you that there was a man two years ago who came to Ziklag on running feet, saying that Saul was dead? He thought himself to be a bringer of good tidings, as you do today. I gave orders to a man near, that he slew him before me there. . . . Nay, Benaiah, not here. There is a fitter place." (For Benaiah's sword had come out, he being used to watch the King's face, and it being his part to deal with those whom David condemned, which was most often done in a sudden way.) "That was the reward I gave him. So what is fitting for you?"

        Baanah answered to that, and as he spoke he trembled as one that an ague shook. "Lord, he was not as we. Who but Saul would let an Amalekite live?"

        It was shrewdly thought. The Amalekite was considered less than a man or a clean beast. There were reasons for that, as for all else. It had been the cause of Samuel's worst quarrel with Saul that he had let an Amalekite live. It is significant of the quality of the Transjordanian levies that were defeated on Mount Gilboa that there should have been such a man in their ranks.

        Rechab spoke with more courage. He thought that David's question was no more than a cruel jest, such as kings would try at times, to see how those to whom they spoke would endure their fear. It was a riddle, for them to find the answer while the shadow of death lay across their minds.

        "Lord," he said, "I can guess that. It was because the man lied. It is a common tale that he did not kill Saul, who died in another way."

        David did not regard the men or their words. He did not give them another glance. He answered Benaiah's look with the words: "Yes. But not here. Take them down to the sewer."

        The men looked round to the door, but there was no hope in that. The Pelethites guarded it well. They had no hope to resist, for their weapons had been laid aside when they came to the King's sight, as was the common rule at that day. They would have begged, but they had no time. Each a them found, as the King spoke, that there was a man on either side grasping his arms, which were forced back so that wrists might be tied behind.

        As they were dragged through the door, calling for mercy, and making such struggles as they yet could, being so bound, David's voice rose over the din:

        "Benaiah, you shall cut them up well, and hang their limbs in a row. I will have men remember the thing I do."

        Benaiah had no objection to that. When they came to the city sewer, which was without the gates, being a pool from which a stream ran down the hills, and away from the houses of men, he cut off their heads, and disjointed their limbs, having in the end twelve pieces of men which could be hanged in a row, and which would soon be no more than bones when the crows came, all that he did being watched by a good crowd.

        If any had told the King that it was a barbarous order to give, he would have been a puzzled man. It did no hurt to those who were dead. A child could see that. It was an example by which the living might learn much. That should be the aim of a merciful king. He would not have understood that it may be right to put men to death behind a thick wall but not where they can be seen as they die.

        The King's wives watched from the roof. They had heard much, though they had not been seen in the hall. There were five of them upon the roof, to watch the men being hauled away.

        Abigail watched with satisfaction. She was always glad when David did the right thing in a firm way. She thought his weakness cam when he delayed, looking at all sides, by which resolution falters, and may betray.

        Maachah had the same feeling, but her thought went further abroad. It went around and ahead, for she was born of a race of kings. Would this end in David getting a double crown? What would the Philistines do? What would Egypt say about that? Would Damascus stir? She put Bashan aside. Their king was known for an easy man who loved peace, who would be friendly with all. Besides, he would be ruled by that which Damascus did. . . . She saw that David played for a double realm. But suppose he should lose that which he had - should lose Absalom's crown? For so she thought of it in her secret heart. But she had good hope, for she had seen that David was a bold and fortunate king. And she saw the wisdom of putting those men to death in a public way. She was not concerned either for right or wrong. She thought in a cold blood, and in politic ways, which may be why David and she were not held in a closer bond. But she saw again that she was the wife of a great king - and the mother of the two best children he had. So she had made her boast to him, which he did not deny. What could you expect? She came of a higher race. The skins of her children were whiter and smoother than those of the Hebrew blood: their bodies more finely formed. Absalom's hair would reach to the ground if it were not cut. She thought that David grew more fond of him every week. . . . Well, if there must be war, she could make sure that Geshur would stand aside, and the Gittites were David's friends. She though of one who could spy for her in Askelon in a safe way, and bring news if there were arming of men. She was the only one of his wives who gave David active aid in the troubled politics of the time, thinking, it may be, of her children, rather than him as many women will do.

        Michal looked down with a frown which did not change as the men went out of sight at the turn of the narrow street. She was glad that they were to die. But her thoughts were on a brother whom she knew that she loved now he was dead, though in life she had thought him a poor thing.

        Abner dead. Ishbosheth dead. The last hopes of her house fell to the dust. And David stood apart, with his hands clean, to pick the fruit of their deaths. So it always was. Those who stood in his way came to their ends, and he slew those by whom they died. He sang dirges upon their graves, and took their clothes for his own back, and men praised him the more.

        They said it was by the will of Yahweh, his god, that his foes fell. Well, if that were true, she hated Yahweh and him. Was not the path of life sombre enough for the sons of men, without a god laying nets for their feet that they could not miss?

        Ahinoam looked down on the little group of those who dragged two to death, and her thoughts were of lower kind. She wished she could have gone to see this slaughter beside the sewer pool. But she was lazy, and David might not approve. It was a nuisance that you could never tell what he would say. It was higher sport to watch the slaughter of men than that of the bulls that the priests would kill in the sight of the congregation on Sabbath days, because the men knew the fate to which they were brought, which you could not be sure that the bulls did. . . . Anyway, she would let Amnon go. It was a shame that he should not have all the amusement he could. She looked round for a concubine who was not there. She was too lazy to move. Amnon went on with his own play in a lower room. It was of a kind that his mother would not have checked. He killed oxen to the glory of several gods. . . .

        David ordered that the head of Ishbosheth should be buried with honour in Abner's grave. It was an act which men praised, increasing David's honour rather than that of the murdered king. It is undignified to be buried in two pieces, three days' journey apart. Someone quoted David's song over other members of Ishbosheth's family. "In their deaths they were not divided," and men smiled at the jest. It was a poor end to the dominion of Saul.


THE Elders of Israel assembled in Hebron, having travelled quietly, by different roads, as it was most prudent to do. They were eight in all.

        Reuben and Simeon had practically ceased to exist as separate tribes at this time. Dan, on the southern coast, had been overrun by the Philistines at an earlier day, till only the hill villages of Eshtaol and Zorah had remained. The men of these places, six hundred in all, had not waited till the same fate of death or servitude had fallen upon them, which had made the whole coastal plain to Mount Carmel a Philistine land. They had migrated to the far north of Palestine, and in the hill country below Mount Hermon, they had fallen upon a settlement of Sidonians who had built the city of Laish in a quiet valley where they had felt at peace and secure. But the men of Dan, attacking them suddenly, had put young and old to the sword. They had changed the name of the place to Dan, and still dwelt there, in a narrow land, among the foothills of Lebanon. They had sent no Elder now, for he of Naphtali spoke for them, as he did for Asher, and Zebulon, it being a far way to come, and the interest of these tribes being as one. There were Elders from Gad and Benjamin, and from Issachar, and two each from Manasseh and Ephraim, they being the richest tribes, and also those who had the most to gain or to lose, if there were a new war, by the position in which they lay.

        David listened at first, saying no more than he need, seeking to learn what was in their minds, and the manner of men with whom he had got to deal.

        They claimed the right to make him king, if at all, on their own terms, which he did not deny. He found that they wished to unite the land. They wished for peace. They required pledges that he would not require more tribute than Saul had done, and that he would swear to observe the laws, and do justice to all alike. Also, they wished to know that he would leave Hebron, and choose a capital further north, though they were divided as to where it should be.

        David listened to this, most of which he had heard from Abner before. He said at last: "There is not much that you ask that you cannot have, except one thing, which may be the most of all. You say you look for peace in a united land. There will be peace between Judah and you. But you must look further than that. There is but one way to a settled peace, and that is the road of war."

        There was debate about that. They knew that it was of the Philistines that David spoke, and they would have been glad for them to go. But the position was not as simple as it might sound, nor did it vex them alike.

        The politics of Palestine at this time were centred, as they had been for five hundred years, upon one question which all others subserved - the safety of the great caravan route.

        From the dawn of the history or traditions of men, across the deserts that divided Asia from Africa - Egypt from Mesopotamia - the great caravan route had come westward through the Syrian desert, to cross the fords of the upper Jordan, and descend through the valley of Jezreel to the Megiddo pass, and from there to continue southward along the coast.

        When Egypt had been at its greatest strength, it had held the whole land of Canaan, to secure that this route should be free. After that, there had come a time when it had been able to do no more than maintain a chain of garrisoned cities along the route, of which it still held Beth-shean, overlooking the Jordan fords, and Gezer, somewhat to the north of the true Philistine land.

        The relations of the Philistines to Egypt were known to be friendly. Beth-shean opened its gates to them, though they had been closed to the army of Saul. But it was diversely said by some that the Philistines paid tribute to Egypt, and by others that Egypt subsidized them, on condition that they would police the caravan route.

        However that might be, it was plainly to the interests of the Philistines that the caravans should come through. There were merchants in their own cities who became wealthy thereby. And it was a fact that the land outside their own territory which they had subdued was that by which the caravans came - the vale of Jezreel, and the coastal plain. This was rendered simpler by the fact that the caravans kept as much as they could to level ground, and it was on the plains, where they could manoeuvre their chariots, that the Philistines had always defeated the levies of Israel.

        It had been the primary purpose of the battle of Mount Gilboa to keep control of the Jordan fords.

        But as long as the caravan route was secure, the Philistines had shown little disposition to interfere with the inhabitants of the rest of the land. To the settlements of the three tribes north of Mount Carmel they did not enter at all, but they occupied half of the western territory of Manasseh: they traversed Ephraim at will: they made Issachar a road.

        These last were agricultural tribes. They could not simply drive off their herds, as Gad would have done, if the Philistines had invaded the land beyond Jordan's further bank. Held to the soil which their ploughs turned, barred out from the larger cities in time of strife (for some of these they had never held), liable to be plundered by the Philistines at any moment, the position of these tribes was sufficiently difficult. They called for their brethren's aid, and there was sufficient national sympathy to draw conditional promises of future assistance, if such an extremity should arise again.

        But these promises had very definite limitations. They asked assurances that David should not be the first to make aggressive war, or, at least, if he should do so, it should not be without first consulting them as to the time and conditions under which it would be commenced. David said:

        "We shall have no choice about that. It will commence on the day that you make me king."

        He told them more than that, as he had told Abner before. He told them where it would be. He asked their pledge that they would raise a sufficient force to come south to his aid if there should be word that the Philistines gathered for war. But these were pledges that they were not eager to give. Let them face the event at its own time, if it should come. Suppose the harvest had not been reaped?

        "Would you stay for that," David asked with contempt, "while Judah should be destroyed, and your turn to come? Have you no women or aged men, who could hold a sickle at such a need? Have you no boys?"

        Naphtali's Elder, a cautious man, and one who had the reputation of being able to bargain well, said that it might no yet be too late to consider another candidate for the throne, if they were to be so pledged to the fighting of Judah's wars. There were sons of Saul who yet lived.. . . .

        David did not deny that. "Why so there are," he said, "there are Rizpah's sons. You can choose among them. And I have one here who is better than they."

        They were not helped by that threat, David taking it as he did. Rizpah had been a concubine of Saul, whose reputation was not such as any woman would boast. Her sons might be dear to her, but they had few friends of more distant blood. Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, had been lame from infancy, having been dropped by his nurse. He was kept at David's charge, and his feeling to him was that of a grateful dog. The idea was absurd.

        They looked at one another, and did not pursue the theme of another king. David saw their weakness, and that he was already their king in fact, if not in name. When he found that they were still slow to pledge what they would do if Judah should be attacked, as he had no doubt that it would be, he did not try to restrain himself, as he had done at the first. He let his anger have way.

        He rose, pacing the narrow room, seeking strength to control his mind to such arguments as they would be most likely to heed.

        "Now," he said, "by the throne of God! - " Passion halted his speech. It was Joab who had brought it to this. Had Abner been alive to deal with these men - -

        "Can you not see," he broke out at last "that it will cost you nothing at all? By what route do the merchants go?"

        "Why," they said, not understanding his mind, "by the Jezreel vale, and Megiddo pass, having come through the fords that Beth-shean guards." Why should he ask? Everyone knew that. It had been thus for a thousand years.

        "Yes," he said, "so they do. But how much merchandise do they bear? And how much goes by the sea route?"

        Then they saw what he meant, being shrewd men. When Egypt had had a strong hold of the land, there had been great a trade. Now that they had fallen to evil times, it was not only that the trade had shrunk: the ocean was thought by many to be safer than the Palestine route. Most of the traffic was diverted at Damascus to the ports of Sidon and Tyre, and was there shipped to the Nile. If the land could be brought to a settled peace, all this traffic might be regained, and the tribes of Israel would become rich.

        For the time, they were dominated by his stronger and more sanguine mood. They forgot their age, and the cautious wisdom the years had brought. And he urged that he would not seek rashly to challenge the Philistine power. He knew when to temporize, to retreat, to delay. He had shown that in the past. If the Philistines would remain his friends, he would force no war. It might be that all they sought could be won without strife. . . . But if the Philistines should attack Judah when they heard that he had accepted the northern crown, then Israel must come to his aid with every man that they had. . . . They must pledge that.

        "For can you not see that might be destroyed standing alone? And your case would be worse then than it is now. If Saul's kingdom could not face them before with its full strength, is it likely that Judah could do it now, being alone?

Nor should I have any safety if I should fall back into the wilderness ways, for would the desert kings stay in their tents when they knew I fled from the whole Philistine power? Moab might. But Edom would be instant to take a spoil."

        So they agreed at last, being overborne by a stronger will, and understanding that David would take the crown on no other terms. If the Philistines should move upon Hebron, the Israelites were to raise an army to vex them on flank or rear. If Israel were attacked, it was sure that David would come to its aid. They scarcely needed to ask that, as they scarcely did.

        And these things being agreed, and a near day fixed on which a full assembly of Elders should come, and the ceremony of coronation be performed, David turned the talk into other ways.

        To the Elders of Ephraim, who had seen most of the Philistine wars, and knew where the strength of their armies lay, he told how he was training every man that he had, that he should be skilful to use the bow; for the Philistine archers were more deadly than those of Israel, which was half the cause that they had been able to follow Saul into the hills, and to rout him there.

        The chariots were a more difficult problem. "Our smiths and wrights," he said, "lack the skill to build them in Egypt's way. At the best, they could make few. I know this, having tried. And our horses are too few of the right kind, and are untrained for the tricks of war. We must have theirs. We must take them as battle-spoil. There is no other way that I see. . . ."

        He turned from that to ask the Elder who came from the northern tribes concerning the climate and vegetation of the Lebanons, which he had not seen, and of Sidonia, its people and land, and if their friendship were sure. He thought of the importing of foreign woods. There might be a day when he would have a better house than he now had. . . .

        The talk went with ease from that to the Sidonian gods. David said that he had heard that there was still a heathen shrine in Dan, which had stood from the Laish days. How could they look to Yahweh to aid their arms, if the high places of other gods were allowed in the land?

        There was no dispute about that. There was a general tendency to prefer the worship of Yahweh among those who were of Hebrew descent. The trouble was that there were so many in the land of foreign or mongrel blood. They spoke with aversion of the ceremonial fornications which were a prominent feature of the feast-day rituals of the gods of Sidon and Damascus, and in the Philistine cities. They were evils from which those of a nomad blood had always held apart, but which would become a greater menace as the Israelites adopted the customs of city life. . . . But there were those who said that the worship of Ashtaroth in the women's quarters was a thing you could never end. A childless wife must have some goddess to whom she can make her prayer.

        David listened, and becoming silent he learnt the more. But his purpose did not change that when he had established his power there should be no shrines in the land but those that were sacred to Yahweh's praise. Ashtaroth should go with the rest, and the women must learn to pray to one more powerful than she.

        In the end, they asked of his songs, as it was courteous to do, and he sang them one that he had made of the barren shortness of life, and of how man is the withered grass of a day, with no hope but in the unchanging mercy God.

"Shall any pride unbroken stay?

        Shall any strength abide?

Vain valours at the noon of day:

        Burnt moths at eventide."

        They went away with the thought that Israel would have a great king. They did not think of themselves as his subjects, or as having put themselves in his power, for they were of the tradition of those who have dwelt in tents, to whom freedom is an essential of life. But they were the brethren of a great king.

        Four weeks later, David was crowned King of Israel, at a ceremony which was held beneath the grove of Abraham there being no space for those who would look on in the narrowness of the city streets; and the Philistines, who had heard before that, were already arming for war.


THERE had been war for two years, and David paced the roof of his house in a bitter mood, thinking apart.

        Yahweh might be a great god - it was that he was resolved he would never doubt! - but he had not been active to show his power.

        Was it judgment for Joab's sin? David often thought of that. He had little doubt that, had Abner been in the north, he would have brought things to a different end. As it was, Israel had been slow to move. They had not refused. They carried on a dragging war, disposed to claim that they did their share by occupying some part of the Philistine arms in their own borders, and raiding the flank of their advances into Judea. Once or twice they had come south in some force, but each time it had been on too late a day. Meanwhile the Philistines did not give them overmuch heed. It was against David that they drew their strength together, as he had foreseen that they would.

        Now they had cut him off from the north in so strait a way that it was hard even to get a message through except by way of Moab and the Ammonite land.

        David might have sent Joab to the north, being the one man he had who could have welded the Israelites into a strong force, and used them in the right way, but that had been rendered impossible by Abner's death, for he had been of great name in Israel, and his slayer was hated to the same height.

        David might curse Joab in his heart, as he often did, but he must own, as one who would be just in his worst wrath, that he had done well from the day when the news of the Philistine advance was brought over the hills. Well, so he should. He had done more harm by one stroke than a year would mend - than, perhaps, would be mended at any time.

        David would have gone north himself, but Joab had been blunt about that, and he could not say he was wrong. "If you leave, we shall not last for a week. The army will break apart. It is hard to hold as it is. It centres only in you. If you go, you can count Hebron gone, even if we still make head in the hills."

        Well, he had not gone but Hebron was not saved. He had given orders to vacate it an hour ago. It was an order he should have given two days before, when much might have been saved. But it had been hard to resolve.

        Yet what else could he do, with the Philistines closing across his rear? He had a hatred of being shut up in a narrow place. To endure siege would be like a physical pressure to him. He got that from his nomad blood, and by the free life he had lived from his early youth. . . . So he had thought to become Israel's king, and he had lost Judah instead:

"Vain valours at the noon of day:

        Burnt moths at eventide."

He had seen it then as clearly as he did now. And yet he had enjoyed making the song. It is easier to enjoy such a song when the skies are clear, than when we have failed to endure a storm.

        Maachah had gone with her children two days ago. She had seen the need with colder, more passionless eyes than his. She had gone to her father: to the safety of Geshur's walls.

        He did not blame her for that. She had said: "I shall do more good, being there, than if I follow you round on a camel's back." She had used all the power she had, through the last two years, to keep Geshur from the Philistine league, and to get aid in some secret ways. He had no complaint about her. He had even to thrust a thought from his heart which was disloyal to the faith which he would not lose. He knew that when she got to Geshur there would soon be a gift on Dagon's altar, such as would please his priests.

        Maachah had no wish to abandon her husband's god, but there could be no harm in reminding Dagon that she had two very beautiful children who were half of Philistine blood. Dagon might, at least, stand aside, if he noticed that, and let Yahweh have a clear field. She did not doubt that Yahweh was a great god. When the Philistines had taken Debir his thunders had been dreadful to hear. . . .

        Maachah had gone, with a train of camels, bearing all that was hers, or what she was able to take, with the assurance that the Philistines would pass her in safety beyond their lines.

        He did not blame her at all, though her going had been as though she called aloud to his foes that she knew that the end had come. His fault had been that he had not abandoned the city at the same hour, when the jaws of the trap were still widely apart, and there would have been more time to get clear. . . . But it had been hard to resolve. . . . Even now. . . . Was there no way? . . . And as he mused a thought came. It was as wild a thought, things being as they then were, as when he had dreamed two years ago that Jerusalem should be his. He had learnt since then how different dreams may be from that which a man must face in his daylight hours. . . . Yet the thought would not go. It fought for life in his mind.

        There was a sound of steps on the stone stair that led to the roof. It was his private stair, but all order was ended now, as he fled, a defeated king, from the place of his four years' reign. Joab stood at his side.

        "Joab," he asked, not waiting for him to say why he had come, "what will the Philistines think that we do?"

        "They will know, for we have no choice."

        "Yet Yahweh would find a way." Joab did not dispute, but he looked as one who found no comfort in that. David went on:

        "And what may the one way be?"

        Joab looked some surprise, but he had learnt in these days that it was best to humour the King's mood. He gave a literal reply.

        "They will know, for we have no choice. To go to Edom would be to rouse one more foe than we have now. And where would it lead, except to a desert death? Moab may be no more than a timid friend, but it is less than a foe. Besides, there is one chance that is ours, which they will know that you will not miss. It is to get to Gad through Moab and the Ammonite land."

        Joab only spoke aloud that which had been in the minds of both. As Judah could no longer be held, they must join Israel by the circuit of the Dead Sea, and make a new base at Mahanaim, as Saul and Ishbosheth had done before. When they abandoned Hebron for the Philistines to sack or burn as they would, it must be clear what they meant to do.

        David spoke again: "Seeing what we must mean to do, will they follow us far?" It was not the custom of the Philistines to go far from their base by a desert road. But Joab thought that they would.

        "We shall be burdened with women and children, and the flocks that we must eat on the way, if no more. They will see that we can but move at a slow pace, and they will follow to make an end."

        David knew that for the truth. It had been the bitter thought that had blackened his mood before Joab had come to the roof. He should have gone two days before now! It was his reluctance to confess a final defeat which had held him here, praying to Yahweh to find a way, while the fatal hours had gone by.

        Now the long straggle of beasts of burden, of herds, and of those who walked by the loaded carts, stretched out over the hills, and was plain to see.

        The camel-train which bore the women and children of his own house, with such treasures as he was attempting to save, could be seen going through the gate. He looked at Joab again, and in his eyes was something of the light of his better days.

        "Well," he said, "so they shall, and by a plain trail. . . .

Joab, if you had now to lead but those who rode on a camel's back, could you keep ahead?"

        Joab said yes to that. It would be easy to do. He did not see what could be in the King's mind, but he heard his voice, which had the note of a new hope. None the less, he must ask that which had brought him here, which was an opposite thought from that of a swift retreat at a camel's speed.

        "King," he said, "I know a place in the hills where the road could be held by a small force for some hours, or it might be more. There are those of us who would be glad to do that."

        "It is a good thought," David answered. "And is what you would think to do. But there would be no safety in that. They would go round by another way."

        "They would have to go back if they did, by a long path. They would be more likely to seek to force their way through. Either way, there would be time gained."

        "So there would," David allowed. "But we will talk of that at a later hour. We will take the road now, with all the haste that we may. . . . We take a road which we know much better than they. There is some comfort in that."

        Two days later, an Israelite army which had been gathering strength at Beth-El, and waited the coming of the levies of Zebulon to augment its ranks before it should march southward to relieve its King, learned from the mouths of some Israelites who had ventured their way through the Philistine lines, that David had abandoned Hebron, and they were too late again. One of these men had seen the Philistines enter the town.


IT was on the morning following David's withdrawal from Hebron that the Philistines entered the city. They found its gates open, its streets silent, its houses empty. There may have been those who watched them from grove or hill, and who would venture timid approach at a later hour, with offer of food that they could bring to a good market, or of information that they would trade, but as yet there was no sign of the existence of human life. They found that they had a free gift of that which they had sought to take at a price of blood, either by siege or storm, and they might have been more pleased than they were. For it was not the stones of Hebron which they had come to seek, but those who had been within its walls till the last day, and, in particular, Hebron's king; for they had a clear understanding of the fact that if they had David's is head on the gate of a Philistine city their troubles would be about done.

        In fact, the position being unforeseen, Shemeth of Gaza, who was in chief command as far as the jealousies of the Philistine cities would allow anyone to hold that office, did not know what to do.

        Should the town burn? A town which is built of stone cannot easily be destroyed by that means. It must be pulled down, if you would do your foes a great evil, and that, on your part, will be a great toil.

        Suppose that it would be considered best to hold it garrisoned as a Philistine outpost, to keep Judea in check? He had no power to decide that. If that should be the decision of the Philistine lords, he would get little thanks for having set fire to such parts of it as could be consumed.

        Tilon, the captain of the army of Askelon, a younger but abler man, was not concerned to discuss that. Let the question wait, while they dealt with more urgent things. They would find that Hebron would be still there. Did not Shemeth see that there was but one thing that they must instantly do? That they must pursue David now?

        "We know the men that he has. We are four to one, if not more. We know the way he must go; and, if we did not, it would be a trail easy to find. They have been gone less than a day, and they must move at a sheep's pace. If we follow, we make an end."

        Shemeth did not deny that. He said that Tilon could have the honour of the pursuit, as he had proposed the plan. He could have as many men as he would. Five hundred of his own warriors would be enough to garrison the town. He would keep none back beyond these. It was known that a second Philistine army was on the way; it would already be in the valley of Rephaim, scarcely more than a day's march behind.

        Tilon saw that the thing might have been put in another way. The city would be garrisoned entirely with Gaza's men, who might be slower to march out than in, but he did not haggle about that. He had got the permission he sought. He kept his mind on the vital issue, and let smaller things go. He was on David's trail in an hour, with such men as could be arrayed in that time, leaving others to follow by a forced march. He knew that he could always halt for their Support, if he would, but his first aim was to establish contact with the fugitive rear. We cannot blame him too much that the event was not what he thought it would be. It was just this energetic pursuit which David had foreseen as that which would be his destruction, when he had paced the roof on the evening before, and had found it hard to hold back despair.

        Tilon marched at a rapid pace upon a trail that was easy to see. It did not descend to Engedi by the direct road to the Jordan valley, as he had thought that it would be likely to do.

It kept due south for some miles, taking the mountain road to Ziph, and then by a pathless way over the wilderness hills. Tilon was somewhat puzzled by that, but he saw that David had no refuge but one. By whatever route he might choose, he must pass through the Valley of Salt to reach the kindlier Moabite land, on the further side of the Dead Sea. The route he chose might be the stonier way, and one that puzzled pursuit, but that, he saw, might have been David's aim. He did not depreciate the skill or valour of his fleeing foe, but he looked at him as one who was near his fall. How could he hope to escape, let him go by which road he would?

        Tilon debated a plan to out-march him by the valley road, and cut off his retreat; but he put it aside for the more certain plan of following a direct trail. He was sure that those he sought could not move at more than half his own pace, so that the end must be sure.

        He came to the place where they had camped on the last night, and it showed that they had been able to go but a short way. They had eaten sheep here, leaving bones.

        Before night he came to a place where there was a pool that the summer had not yet dried, and here he saw that they had halted again. Here he camped for the night, feeling that he had done well, though he had the worst of that pool, for the trampling of many beasts had left it muddy and low. He thought that it had been fouled of intent, as it had, at which he was wroth, though he would have done the same,

        In the morning, the pool having been made still less than it was. they saw that it held the carcase of a dead ass, which they would have seen before had the mud settled more quickly than it did; so they drank from their bottles, and let it be.

        Tilon said: "They shall drink it dry for that trick on the way back, and the King shall have the worst cup." They went on at a faster pace than that of the last day thinking that, as they came down from the hills, they would have sight of those they pursued on the lower ground, but seemed that there had been a care to avoid that, even at the cost of a longer way, the trail winding among the folds of the hills. But as they came to the Valley of Salt they saw some of David's men, mounted on camels, who did no more than keep two or three miles ahead, and at times less, being clearly stationed thus that they might watch the pursuit.

        Tilon had been puzzled before this by the appearance of the trail, which, though it was broad and clear in a loose soil which lay unstirred, for there was no wind at that time, yet he thought it less in some ways than it had been at the first.

        "It is a likely thing," he said, as he took counsel on this, "that the King has sent some of the flocks, and perhaps the women aside, that they may be hid in the mountain caves, which there is none that know better than he. He may think by that to make better pace, even if he does not end our pursuit. But I would have passed with no heed, even had I seen where the trail broke, for we can pick them up when we will, if we first capture the King."

        Yet he saw that the result of this might be that those he sought would be harder to catch, and he dreaded that he might be drawn too far into desert wastes, which the Philistines were always alert to avoid, having paid a high price for that wisdom more than once, when they had come first to the land.

        He looked at the dry salt dunes that were round his feet, and at the low line of the hills of Moab which were fifteen miles ahead, and which might have no friendship for him and he debated in mind whether he should go on, or turn back while he safely could. But he reflected that David's force, at the most, must be less than two thousand men, and that he had troops behind who would be gaining his rear, bringing supplies of water and food, as he had told them to do. They could be molested by no probable foe, for who knew that he would be here at all?

        He was trying for a great prize, which he thought to be near his grasp, and, at the worst, he would not be more than a long march from his friends, or the fertile lands. Most of his force was on foot, but many were mounted men, having horses that were swift and strong, though less hardy than those which were desert-bred. He resolved that he would push ahead with his horse alone, thinking that he could bring David to action thus, and to a halt which would give the footmen time to come up, if there should be need of their aid.

        So at this thought he boldly followed a foe whose flight became swifter as he advanced. He followed over the Dead Sea Plain, and up the lower terraces of the frontiers of the Moabite land, and though he did not bring to battle those he pursued, yet certain of his men, who had horses of price, were able to get so close to a flying rear that they brought him word of what they would find if they should catch up.

        "There are a hundred, men," they said, "or it may be two, who are a crescent around their rear, but the most part of those on the camels' backs are women and children, or it may be a burden of gear. The army of David is not there; nor could we bring them to halt if we would, for they could be swifter than we."

        Tilon followed no more when he heard that, for he was one who would face a fact, be it evil or good. He did not know where David's army might be, nor did he think there was cause for fear, but he saw that the most part of the Philistine strength had been spread out between Hebron and the Valley of Salt, with their faces turned the wrong way, which he must alter as best he could.

        He had a thought for Shemeth, left in Hebron by his own choice with no more than five hundred men, but he thought that, even so, David would find that it had been easier to leave than it would be to recapture the town. And he might have lost no sleep had he known that Shemeth would come to shame, for the men of Gaza were little loved by those of the smaller Philistine cities. But, in fact, Shemeth was not molested at all. He had taken up his abode in the King's house, and he walked its roof looking south upon the road where Tilon had gone, and some eight thousand Philistines after him; and he looked north to where the reinforcements should be coming in, which were to have given aid in the siege, and he saw nothing of them. He was left in peace in the city which it had been his purpose to win.


THE plan that David had formed may have been of a desperate kind. It contained elements which no strategist would approve. Its justification (apart from its success) lay in the fact that it was the only one that he had, unless he would consent to be chased to death on the Moab road.

        At a rocky gorge, where the trail could be obliterated with little toil, the herds had been turned aside, and with them most of the men who were fit for hardship and strife, to the number of eighteen hundred, or nearly that. They must go on foot, for the horses, and every camel he had, must be used to bear the women and children that he could thus send at an added speed to the safety of the Moabite land, and, beyond that, to their kinsmen in Gad. In fact, the camels were not enough, and some few score of the women who were hardy and sound must remain to share the toil, if not the dangers of those who fought.

        The cattle, the sheep and goats, were broken up, and scattered among the hills in such places as would be hardest to find, and in which there would still be water.

        The spring rains had been late. There would be streams that still ran. There were places where the limestone hills were still green: there were slopes that were gay with flowers.

        They were in the wilderness of Ziph, but it was a place of which David knew every hollow and hill from Adullam days, as did half the men that he now led.

        If the Philistines should find the trail, they might follow some of the herds, but it would be no more than they would have done on the Moab road, and they might be missed before they would come back with the spoil.

        Having scattered these herds in the hills, David made a forced march by desert paths that he knew, till he came to Adullam's hold. Resting here for no more than a few hours, he set out to strike the road from Bethlehem as it approaches Hebron from the north. His plan was no more than to cut off the Philistine supplies that must be sent by that way, and to advance upon the city from a side where he certainly would not be expected to be. It was the road, also, by which the Israelite army would arrive, if it were at last moving to his relief, but he was not trusting to that. He thought to surprise Hebron while the most of the Philistine army would be absent in pursuit of those that they would not catch. And after that - well, he had some hope that, if he should first have routed those who had been left in the city walls, he might face those also who would come back with weary feet from a race that they had not won; or that they would be glad to go home without the trial of further strife, if they should see that the city gates were closed.

        At the worst he would have got the women and children clear, and have struck a blow that might well dishearten his foes. But he thought to do more than that. His confidence in himself, and in the strong protection of Judah's God, returned with the excitement of movement, as it always would. It was a spirit that inspired not himself only, but all those who came in contact with it. There were other moods, when his heart would sink as low as it had been exalted before, but these were seldom bared to the sight of his fellow-men, though they were sometimes shown in the songs he made.

        They would come most often when he could not sleep in the night: or when he watched the intolerable mystery of the stars.

        Yet he did not take the Hebron road, as he had planned to do. He led the way through the hills, going first of all, for he was now in his childhood's land, of which every stone was a remembered friend, and he would choose such paths as would not be seen from the road below, and so he came to a place where the white walls of Bethlehem showed, less than two miles away.

        It stood on a ridge of limestone hill, and he knew that, on the further side, lay the fertile hollow of the Jordan valley and, beyond that, the hills of Moab, over which he had watched the advance of dawn so often in shepherd days. But now he had neither eyes nor thought for a place that he had not seen for some years, and that he loved well. He looked down at the valley which lay between him and the hill on which Bethlehem stood. It was green with olives and vines, and the fields of half-ripened corn, with the white lines of their dividing walls. He saw the Hebron road, which he had meant to take at this point, running through the midst of the vale, but it was cumbered with a long line of slow-moving wagons, and bright with Philistine spears.

        They moved slowly, at the pace that the wagon-oxen set, and as carelessly as though they were in their own land, for what had they to fear?

        They knew that the army of Israel was still fifteen miles away, and the last reports had been that it was unready to march. They knew that a much larger army than the whole force that David could still command had gone before them on that road a few days before, and they were assured that he would now be besieged in Hebron, unless it had already fallen to their comrades' assault. They would not have been there at all but that the Philistine lords had considered it best to send such a force as could show a separate front to any Israelite advance, or make sure of a quick end, so that if they were slow they would be too late.

        David looked down on that long straggle of carts and spears, and his heart sang with the joy of battle, and the assurance that victory would again be his. For he saw that the Philistines had no chance at all.

        "Benaiah," he, said, "you shall lead the Pelethites through the hills till you are in their rear, and when the noise of strife shall begin, you shall descend and take station across the road. You shall make array with linked shields, in a line that you must not break. If there be loosing of shields, either for chase or flight, you will tell the guard that they will have no part in the spoil. But if they do their part, forming a wall that they do not break, there will be no cart that will be got free, and there will be a great slaughter of those who must leave the road. Elhanan, you shall take the Cherethites to hold the southern road in the same way. You must have the greater care that you are not seen, but you should not fail in that, knowing these hills as you do." (For Elhanan was Bethlehem-born.) "And if all do their parts, as I know they will, you and I may be at home before night, though our kinsmen will not be there. . . . We shall charge when our shadows shrink to a cubit's length, so you will know how much time you have."

        David sent his regiments of guards to block the road at both ends, because it was work that they were best fitted to do, for they were trained to fight in the Philistine way, which the Israelites (and those of Judea also) were slow to learn, for they could not forget the love of freedom, the impatience of discipline, which came of their nomad blood, even though many of them had taken to the life of vineyard and farm.

        When they were called to arms, they came (or, at least, as many of them as thought there was cause enough; or that there might be much plunder and little risk) in families, led by the acknowledged elder of each, and, if they would fight in any order at all, it was the family, fighting together, that was the unit of their array. They came armed with the tools of the farm, with bills and sickles and scythes, with slings and stones, though there would be those among them who would have bows and swords; and a few who would have armour of proof. Also, there would be many of the short throwing-spears, such as Saul had been used to cast at those who provoked his ire. They would join the ranks for such time as they pleased, and if they said they had promised their wives that they would be home by the new moon, there would be none who could keep them beyond their day.

        Man for man, they were probably of better muscles and fiercer blood, but the Philistines were armed and weaponed alike, and trained to hold each his place in a firm array. They carried large oval shields, having hooks at each side, so that they could be linked together, and when they were pressed by too strong a foe they would form a circle which would be hard to break, being within a girdle of gapless shields.

        David's guards were armed and trained in the same way, and it was such a barrier of shields that he had ordered them to join across the road at either end of the Philistine host, both before and behind.

        His own army (apart from the foreign guards) was neither like that of Israel, nor of their Philistine foes. It was formed of such as had come to him from all parts of the land, and from all motives that can impulse the hearts of men. They could not array themselves, if they would, in the way of their tribes, for the most of them were kinless or landless men. David gave them as much discipline as they could endure, and sought to keep the nomad spirit alive while he yet taught them the use of ordered array on the field of war.

        They had now fought with the Philistines for two years, in battles in which they had been outnumbered more often than not, and they had won some, though not all.

        But as the Philistines were now placed, being extended along the road and encumbered with carts, and moving without the scouts who should have been thrown out on their flanks and front to guard against such surprise, they had a poor chance, either to fight or fly, when the cry of "Yahweh" was in their ears, and David's men came down the hill like a mountain flood, trampling the barley flat, and breaking through vineyard and grove, to leap the stone wall of the road.

        David stayed somewhat behind, with a group of the mighty men who had been with him from early days. He was on the hillside above the strife that he might see how it went, and give succour at need, or watch, if the fight were won, that its harvest should not be missed.

        He saw a fierce turmoil along the road, from which dust rose, and the shouting of men. Some of the Philistines fought well enough, others ran up or down the road in a confused way, but finding no place that was free from foes. Oxen bellowed, and carts lurched in the swaying strife. There were drivers who strove to turn their teams in the road and others who lashed them on, but the most of them left them to do as they would, leaping down from the tail-boards on which they sat.

        Soon there were men who could be seen to clamber over the further wall of the road, and run uphill toward the Bethlehem ridge, being the only way that was free. It was clear how the strife would end.

        David looked at a place where there had been no carts, the Philistines marching there six abreast, to the full width of the road. There they had faced to the side from which the attack came, in an ordered way. They held their own, or perhaps more. He said: "Zabed is losing men that we cannot spare they are overmatched at that point."

        He pulled out his sword, and ran downward among the vines. His comrades were little slower than he, for they were careful to guard his life, which he would often risk for a small gain, or to save a man whose death would not have counted for much.

        The sun had scarcely passed its height in the sky when the fight was done for the time. It had been slaughter rather than strife at most places along the road. Those who had got free had escaped over the wall at the further side, and had run up the hill to the shelter of the Bethlehem wall.


THE Philistines had fortified Bethlehem at this time. It had not been a safe place for David to hold, being but six miles to the south of Jerusalem, where the Jebusites were the Philistines' friends.

        But the Philistines had put a garrison there, and had repaired such walls as it had, which were not much, and had built a mound of loose stones, with sheltered gaps through which the archers could shoot, about half-way up the slope. The garrison ran lout, hearing the noise. They were amazed at what it might be. Some of them reached hands of welcome to those of their own race who climbed panting toward the mound. Others went to fetch bows.

        David stood in the road, among some who were getting the oxen straight that they might proceed again with new hands on the reins, and others who bound their own or each other's wounds. He wiped a bloody sword and a hot brow. The joy of victory lit his eyes. He looked up, and remembered the well that was outside Bethlehem gate, where he had often drunk after he had folded the sheep at night in the colder months. He said: "Oh, that one would bring me water from Bethlehem well!"

        Elhanan heard having done his part at the southern end of the road, and come to know what the King's will should be beyond that. He knew that water as well as David, and with memories like to his. He said to Abishai, who stood by: "The King should not ask twice for so small a thing."

        Abishai looked up the hill. He was another who had drunk at that well on a hot day. He said, as one who doubts, but does not deny: "It might need more than two."

        Eleazer heard that, and put in his word: "But three might." He said it with a rumble of laughter within his throat, for he was of a jovial kind. There were few things he would not turn to a jest, and a fight was a feast to him.

        He took a bucket that hung at a wagon's tail. He asked: "Shall the dogs drink, and the King thirst?"

        The three went off up the hill, but David did not hear what was said. He looked up, and saw them climbing a wall. He asked: "What are they doing there? Do they think to capture the town? They must be fetched back, for we have done enough for this hour."

        They went on unmolested for some minutes, knowing what they would do, and passing some who were less clear in their own minds, till they met with a group of those of the garrison who had come out to look for their comrades who might be glad of their aid. They were eight to three. The Philistines stood their ground thinking that it was the men of Judah who ought to run, by that count. But the men of Judah came on and there was a clashing of swords. When two were down, the Philistines saw that they had been wrong at the first. They ran back through the gate.

        David's men came to the well, and Eleazer put the bucket in Elhanan's hands. He took a bow from his back: "Do you draw, and I will do the like in another way." He drew the string to his ear, having fixed a shaft."Now if one," he said "will but look over the wall."

        There was one who did, and there might soon have been more had not the first fallen back, with an arrow that went in at his mouth showing behind his neck. After that, they drew the water in peace.

        Some shafts followed them as they went down, but they were not much to fear, the olives giving shelter till the fall of the ground did it a better way.

        They came to the King with the bucket nearly as full as it had been at the well. They offered him the first cup.

        He saw what they had done, which he did not like. He had meant nothing by what he said, but the tale might be told in another way. It would give honour to them, but it would show him as a king who would risk his servants' lives that he might have water which he needed no more than a thousand of those he led. He said:

        "Yahweh forbid that I should do this! It is not water but blood, being so brought at the jeopard of lives. It shall be an oblation to him, from whom cometh the lives and courage of men."

        He poured it out on the ground. Seeing that, men could not think that he had wished that it should be fetched in that way.

        The three drank, as they had a good right to do, sharing the water among their friends. They made it a jest, Eleazer's great laugh overcoming a din of surrounding tongues as he told how the man he hit had fallen backward behind the wall. But David would not touch it at all.

        After a short rest, he sent the Cherethites and Pelethites, who had not been much breathed, the road having proved easy to hold, to advance on either side of the village, as though they meant to surround its walls. The ruse did what he though it would. The Philistines who had crowded in were in no mood to be cornered there. They ran out by the further gate, taking the Jerusalem road. David entered a place which he lacked time to take, nor had he the men to risk for that end. There was some pursuit on the Jerusalem road, and some slaughter among those who were slowest of foot, but David would not let it go far. The sun was not yet low in the sky when he was marching upon the Hebron road, by the same way that the Philistines had been going before.

        But he sent the spoil, which was very great, to the caves in the hills which he knew so well, with such guard as he could spare, which was but a short count, for he had still much to do if he were to bring all to a good end.

        He sent a message also to the army of Israel to come with speed, or it might find that it was not needed at all, which was a different thing from that which it had been expecting to hear.


DAVID came to the gate of Hebron as the sun rose on the next day, and Shemeth, seeing who it was, and the direction from which he came, was a startled man. He had thought that David would be destroyed by Tilon before this time, if he had not escaped to Moab, on the swiftest camels he had, leaving a great spoil in Tilon's hands to be gathered up, which would explain why he was not back before now.

        He had five hundred men, and David had three times that number still in his ranks, but he had Hebron's walls for his aid. He was not provisioned to stand a siege, the most part of the supplies of the Philistine army being now on the way to David's wilderness caves, yet he might have held out for a time.

        But when he had message from David asking him to meet him at the gate, he was glad to go, if only to find out what it might mean.

        David said: "You can see how many we are. If you will have us to storm the walls which are ours, and if, having done that, I put you all to the sword, it will be too late to regret that you did not choose something better than that. You can go in peace, if you go now."

        Shemeth was not quick to reply. He had no heart for being besieged there. He thought, as David had done before, that Hebron was a poor place to defend, and he was far from his base. He had come there to besiege David, not to be compassed by him. Yet if Tilon would be soon back - if the second Philistine army were nearly arrived - he might be a laughing-stock in the end, if no worse than that. But he saw that if all had gone as had been planned David could not have been there.

        Seeing that he was slow to speak, David gave him some help.

        "You may think," he said, "that you have friends on the way."

        "Do you mean I have none?"

        "I would say less than that. You will find some blood on the road."

        Shemeth did not doubt that David spoke the truth, knowing the repute he had. Yet any time Tilon might come. What had happened to him?

        David helped him again. "There is the army of Israel a Beth-El. They should close the Vale of Rephaim in two days, if not less. I do not pledge your safety from them."

        "But I can march out now, if I will, and Judah will let me through?"

        "If you march out at this hour, and go home by the shortest way."

        Shemeth had a doubt. He could not see all that was in David's mind. Suppose there were treachery meant, and David's men would fall upon them outside the walls? But David had not that repute. In the end, he agreed, and when they looked back at a later day, asking themselves if they had done well, it was a point on which David would have the greater doubt. For he was not sure to his life's end that he should have let Shemeth go as he did, though he had reason that seemed good at the time, for he could not tell how soon Tilon might be back from a hopeless chase, nor had he much faith in the pace at which the men of Israel would come to his aid, having known them before.

        And he saw that if he should fight this out with Shemeth now, though he might make an end of him (and of Tilon after, which was a much greater doubt), yet it would be at the cost of more lives than he would lose with a light heart, they being those of his friends, and being as few as they already were, after two years of strife in which Israel had had but an easy share. And if he should fail to defeat Shemeth, and Tilon beyond him, he would lose all that he had gained on the last


        Beyond that, he had a fear that Tilon might have got on the track of some of those that he had hid in the hills, in which case he would be eager to follow with all his strength, and it would be best to let Shemeth go.

        His reason's had seemed good at the time, as perhaps they were, but he was left with a vexing doubt that he had failed to take the full toll of those whom Yahweh had placed in his hands. For he gave the praise where it belonged, seeing how it might have turned a different way, though he had done all that he could.

        Tilon came at the noon, weary and wroth, and found David to be in Hebron, as he had been before. David told him what had happened in a frank way. He said: "The lord of Gaza has gone home, and there are some broken carts on the road. Bethlehem is mine." You can siege me here if you will, for you are far stronger than I. I cannot say where the army of Israel may be, but I suppose that it may have left Beth-El about four hours before now."

        Tilon was a prudent man, and one who could judge well, though he had been fooled for this time. He saw that he might be caught in an awkward trap if the army of Israel should be able to close his rear. He could go home, as it was, with a better tale than some others would have to tell.

        The night saw the last of the Philistine spears receding upon the northward road.

        The next week the men of Hebron saw their wives and children return, they having been well treated in Moab, as David had had good reason to hope, and having come back by the Jericho ford, which was falling as the summer advanced, so that the camels had come through without wetting above he knee.

        David knew it was not the end, but he was saved for that time, and he prepared with a good heart for the struggle that was to come.

        He made Bethlehem strong, bargaining with the men of Benjamin that they should put a large garrison there, instead of the tribute which they should pay to the King, so that the road between Judah and Israel was no longer closed, but men went and came as they would by a guarded way.

        It was near time of the autumn rains that there came word that the Philistine army was again moving up the valley of Sorek, with the greatest army that they had yet put into the field, either in David's time or in that of Saul.

        It was no more than David had expected to hear, and this time he was as ready as they. The fact that he had been so nearly destroyed had roused Israel to see the full risk they ran while they held back from the war, for if David were down they knew that they would stand but a short time. And the way in which he had confounded his foes had raised his name to such height that they saw that they were fortunate to have such a king, and that he was one to succour the most they could.

        So the harvest having been got in, they raised the largest army that had yet marched to the shouting of Yahweh's name, which was already camped at Beth-El as the Philistines came up from the coast, to find that David did not wait them in Hebron now. He was at the head of the valley of Rephaim, having Bethlehem for his base.


FOR six days the armies faced one another, manoeuvring from hill to hill, without either enticing the other to ground on which they would be content that the battle join. The Philistines sought to fight on a level ground, where they could use their chariots, which would be overset in the hills: the men of Judah and Israel sought to draw them in to the mountain ways. The autumn rains being near, the fighting season was almost done. It looked as though they might go home to wait for the next year.

        David was eager to strike, but he was not willing to be drawn on to a ground where the Israelites would be likely to stand. He held himself back with a strong will. As the days passed, he consulted the oracle of the priest, Abiathar, who had the sacred Ephod in charge. Abiathar said that Yahweh would not have them go down to the plain, which was what David had wanted to hear. He knew that Israel would not fight without Yahweh's blessing being assured. But they might get tired and go home, which is what he thought they were likely to do.

        On the sixth day he went to Abiathar, having a new plan in his mind. They talked apart, on an open hill, where they knew that none would hear what was said.

        David looked at a sky that threatened storm, which they knew was a likely thing at that month. He said:

        "It has but to rain, and Israel will strike their tents to the last man, saying that the time for fighting is done - and there will be another year of this war which we cannot end, and which is cursing the land."

        "Yet," Abiathar answered, "a lost battle were worse." David did not dispute that. He went on with his own thought: "There is a wooded hill on the Philistine flank, and their right rear."

        "You could not gain it without being seen as you crossed the hills."

        "We could do that in the night. If I took them by sudden shock, where they would be without battle array, not expecting attack, I could drive them sideways towards the hills that are on the north. There might be panic enough to turn their front to a broken flank, and Israel could attack then. For I would do this with Judah, being the men I know best."

        Abiathar was cautious in his reply." Are you fixed on this with a firm mind?" He was too wise a priest to throw doubt on a settled plan, unless he were very sure it was wrong.

        David said: "It seems good to me. Can you tell me a better way? But I will not do it thus, if you say that Yahweh forbids."

        "I will tell you that in a short space." An hour later Abiathar saw him again. He said: "When you hear the sound of a great wind in the trees, you can attack with a good hope, for it will be the sound of the footsteps of Yahweh going to war!"

        David heard this oracle with a glad heart. He understood that they were to wait ambushed among the trees till they should hear the sound of a great wind overhead, but he did not think it the less divine, for how should the living God show his presence to men better than when he moves the invisible air?

        The Ephod was a breastplate very splendidly made, being of fine-spun linen, corded with gold, and with a girdle of gold and purple, scarlet and blue. It was mounted with twelve stones, in four rows of three, being the signs by which the twelve tribes were presented before the altar of Yahweh. The stones were sardius, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, ligure, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyz, and jaspar. It had beauty and strength. There was no place for opal or pearl, for they were all born of the lasting rock. It was said that when the priest should appeal in the right way they would change colours in such manners as would declare the divine will, or foretell the event to come, for the guidance of men. They must be scattered about the world still, though the Ephod is gone, for stones are hard to destroy. If they had such power, which is now lost, those who like the game of life to be played, in a fair way may not be quick to regret that. What Abiathar saw in the stones was known to God, and to him, but to none beside; for when he consulted the Ephod he would be in Yahweh's tabernacle alone. But he brought very fortunate oracles out, though the Ephod did not save him in his last days, when he was to make choice of the wrong king. Yet in that he may have consulted no more than the device of his own heart, and the persuasion of Joab, whose oracles were of another kind.

        David did not vex his mind with, such doubts, having a clear faith. He knew that there were times when his soul was close to the living God, and he did not doubt that Yahweh was he, as we may still say that he was, for he was many visions, both high and low, in the imaginations of those who met in the congregation of Israel at that day. But we know what he was in the heart of David, for he has left us the songs he made.

        David saw that the oracle was good. The wind might come in a day or a week, but it would be likely to precede the rain, which was what he feared would break up the host. He knew also that the men of Judah liked to go to battle shouting the name of their god in a way which put courage into the fainter hearts. They could not do that when they crept through a wood in the light of the growing dawn to be heard of none; but if their silence should be covered by the treading of Yahweh among the trees, what could be better than that?

        He saw also that the noise of the wind would cover that of the men who moved under the trees. He gave Abiathar thanks for a very fortunate word.


THE rest of the day was spent in the usual way. There was some changing of bow-shots where the camps approached too closely for the comfort of either side: there was the sudden sound of a skirmish at one point where some Philistines had raided a Gadite tent: there was hilarity over some Philistine chariot-horses which had pulled up their grazing-pegs and wandered into the Judean camp: but, for the most part, there was the long nerve-straining silence of men who waited, day by day, for the moment of blows and death.

        This waiting was not made better for the men of Israel by the defiant cries of a Philistine champion who paraded between the hosts. He was Ishbe-benob by name, one of the Rapha - the wartime gladiators known as "giants" in the Hebrew chronicles, which it was part of the Philistine military system to train for intimidating exhibitions of strength and skill, to be performed between the approaching armies when they met their foes on the field of war.

        The Rapha may not have been as large as they became in the legends of men of a later day, but they were doubtless selected for their exceptional height and size, and were of athletic training beyond that of their fellows of that time.

        It was their sole occupation to become skilled in the use of arms, on which their lives and reputation must be staked when the test came, and when it would be their part to parade between the contending armies, challenging their opponents to single strife. It produced confidence in their own ranks and consternation in those of the opposing host alike if there should be none to take up the challenge, or their champions should be overthrown; so that a battle might be won in this way even before the armies met in a general strife.

        The men of Israel hated and feared the Rapha in about equal degree, for there were few of themselves who were so highly skilled in the use of arms that they could take such a challenge with good hope of success.

        There had been one of these giants who had defied Israel for some days before, and had killed three who had volunteered to meet him, until Zalmon, one of David's mighty men, had slain him after a hard strife, in which he had taken a wound by which he was near to death. After that, David had said that there were to be no more of such combats, for he saw that if a giant should slay one, he must be challenged until he fell, however many lives might be thrown away for that end.

        It was true that he had once overthrown one very easily with a stone from a shepherd's sling, but that was not a thing which could be done twice. It could have been balked by a lifted shield, but Goliath had held his foe in too great contempt, and had paid the price that such folly will often earn.

        Now the men of Israel must listen to the cries of one who abused themselves and defiled the name of Yahweh in ways that were hard to hear and sit still; yet they knew it might be even worse to rise for a strife which would be their death, leaving only the memory of one who had shown a clumsy defence to a foeman's sword. They may have been glad in their hearts that David had given the order he had. The would have been gladder yet had they known that the time of waiting was nearly done. . . .

        For, three hours after sunset, when a thin moon was near to sink in a cloudy sky, the men of Judah, rank by rank, moved out of the rear of their hillside camp, and were guided in long thin files, by sheep-paths among the hills. They left their camp fires lit, and enough men to make a show of life if there should have been no action before the dawn.

        Joab led them, for David had said that he would take the Israelite army to his own charge for the battle that was to come.

        Joab, talking to his brother, had smiled sourly at that, for he knew that David still remembered the murder of Abner, and was resolved that he should not profit by that crime. Yet he could not say that the King had done him any dishonour, giving him the army of Judah to lead, and that on what might be thought the hardest part of the strife, as they had planned that it should be.

        Nor could he say that David was wrong in the choice he made, for the spirit of the Israelites was less high than that of the Judean army, and the King's presence might rouse them more than his own would have been able to do.

        Yet that thought brought another at which he was less pleased. "Abishai," he said, "I shall not need you this day, except to take word to the King when we have got clear of the hills unseen, and can enter the woods."

        Abishai stared at that, as he well might. He was not used to be Joab's messenger at a time of strife, and this was a message which it seemed needless to bear.

        "It may be," Joab went on, "that you will be at the King's side when the battle joins."

        Abishai understood then, even before Joab added: "For he will have no guard on this day."

        For David had left Benaiah, and his Philistine guards, to garrison Hebron, which was a waste of some of the best men he had, but the fact was that these towns to which they had belonged were less friendly to him than they had once been The Philistine cities would quarrel among themselves, as did those of Greece at a later day, and while Gath and Geshur were not counted among his foes, he had used both Cherethites and Pelethites against the Philistines of other cities, and they had fought well. But now Geshur had closed its gates, though Maachah was still there, and had been able to keep her father something less than an open foe. But she could not do more, for it was thought that David would be destroyed at last, and how would a Philistine city stand with its neighbours then, if it had done less than its part in that war? And Achish of Gath had gone openly on to the side of the King's foes.

        David had remembered the hostile or disbelieving eyes that had been cast upon him when he had gone up with Achish to the Philistine army that had been gathered for the destruction of Saul. He would not have his own guard regarded and perhaps condemned in the same way, so he had left them in Hebron walls, though there might be no time in his life when he was likely to need them more.

        He was bold to the point of recklessness in the way in which he would push to the front when the battle joined. He might not know how much he owed to Benaiah's guard, nor to the "mighty men" that would be round him to guard his life And even they would not be with him at this time, for he had ordered that they should all support the Judean army to which they belonged. He knew that there could be no better place for men of valour and strength than that of the line which would charge out on the unsuspecting Philistine host when the wind stirred in the trees. For if they were not set on the run by the first charge, then he would have separated his army in a very dangerous way, and for no gain at all. . . .

        David moved among the Elders who had come with the host of Israel, being such as were not too advanced in age to do their part on a field of war, and who would lead their kinsmen when the battle should be arrayed. He had the first gift of one who would be a leader of men. He could inspire others to the greatness of his own mood. He saw that he had done well in deciding that it should be his part to lead Israel rather than Judah, for there was a less confident spirit here, and jealousies and discords weakened the host. There was bitter contention between some of the tribes about that which they had asked him before, and some wished to ask him again now. They saw that, if they should defeat the Philistines as they sought to do, it was a question that could not be much longer delayed.

        David had promised to leave Hebron when the land should be freed. Where, then, would his new capital be? Ephraim was clear about that - at least as far as to agree that it should be in their own land, but the men of Shechem and Beth-El would have fought each other as to which city had the better right with more venom than they were ever likely to show against the Philistine foe. They were only agreed that Shiloh's was a very impudent claim, and that those of the cities of other tribes were too foolish for the wasting of words.

        Issachar was as sure that the claims of Jezreel could not lightly be set aside. It was now in Philistine hands, but if they should be driven forth - did it not command at once the coastal plain, and the approach to the mountain heights? Did it not close the Megiddo Pass, and therefore control the caravan route more absolutely than even Beth-shean could be said to do? Was it not a city fit for the King of the land? Delightful in its setting, and in itself?

        It seemed that every tribe had its selected site, and its arguments well prepared. David listened, and replied to all in the same way. He would decide that when the Philistines were out of the land.

        The dawn came, and two hours beyond that, and there was no sign of attack from the woods where Judah must now lie in the jeopardy of a discovery that would ruin all. The clouds that had been black in the sky the evening before had passed away to the cast, and the sun shone through a windless air.

        The army of Israel was arrayed for battle in the way which had become routine since they had lain within sight of their foemen's tents. Beyond that, they could not do much without rousing the Philistines to an alertness which it would be foolish to risk.

        David, debating in his mind where he could best place himself when the host should move out to battle, had chosen to lead the levies that came from the land of Gad, not because they were of the best sort - they were far from that - but because they were of the most varied races and qualities of men, the least disciplined, the most liable to sudden panic or change of mood, the most easily to be influenced by the fact that it was the King himself who would lead them down to the pit of strife.

        Even among them, David found that he had not escaped the clamour of voices urging him to move his capital to their midst. It was Mahanaim here. Was it not remote and secure, as no city oh the west of Jordan could ever be? Had it not been chosen by Ishbosheth, and by Saul before him? Did not that show that it must be the right place? Did not that give it a first claim - almost a right - to be chosen now? They even professed that David allowed their claim by placing himself at their head thus. David answered as he had done to all. He agreed that it was remote. He agreed that it was secure. It was also a very beautiful place. But he would announce his decision when the Philistines should have been driven out of the land.

        And meanwhile the men of Judah, lying close in the densest hollows of the wood, heard a sound of wind in the trees, and looking up they saw the leaves stir, and the branches sway. After that it was still for a time, and then the wind came with a greater power, so that the branches swung. Soon there was a gale overhead. It screamed through the bending trees, and the feet of Yahweh sounded among the leaves. Terrible in battle, the God of Israel came to his people's aid.

        The Philistines saw no more than that the sky was dark with clouds, and that the autumn gales had begun. There was a spatter of heavy rain, at which those withdrew within their tents who were not hindered by any orders from such retreat. The lords of the five cities came together to discuss that which it was now urgent to decide. Should they withdraw without battle, to face the delay and cost of repeating the expedition when the next summer should dry the land, or should they attack the Israelites in the hills, as they would like them to do?

        They were stayed in this waste of words by the sudden sound of trumpets above the storm. They ran out to face the clamour of many cries. The camp of Judah could be seen silent and still, on a high slope on the further side of the vale. Between it and them, green and empty (except where some horses grazed), lay the flat land where they would have liked the battle to be. But on flank and rear the army of Judah was raging among their tents.

        Further to the left, still on the opposite slope, but where the valley narrowed toward the west, the camp of Israel lay. But there was no silence there. The sun, striking between the clouds, flooded the hillside with a light which was brighter for the sombre shadows of all beside. It shone on the tossing menace of ten thousand spears. With a roar of Yahweh! that stilled the noise of the storm, Israel came down on the foe.


ABISHAI saw where the King had placed himself at the head of the men of Gad, and he was glad that he himself was no further away. He remembered the words of Joab when they had parted a few hours before: "He will miss our swords at the front of war. There is no victory worth his life, as I need not say."

        He looked round, seeking for some men of battle repute whom he could call to his aid. But they were mostly strangers to him, and those he knew were not friends. The men of Judah were not much loved in the ranks of Israel, and the sons of Zeruiah the least of all. If he had Helez or Uriah here! But it was vain to wish. He had his sword, and two javelins under his shield. Israel charged down the hill, and Abishai followed the King.

        The Philistines, facing both ways as they must, and in less array than they would have liked to be, yet advanced a bold front to the Israelite charge. They showed little sign on their front at first that they were driven in both at flank and rear. There was a marshalling of chariots on their left which might yet turn the scale of the fight, if they should have time and space to apply their might.

        David was in the front of the men of Gad. He knew that every second of delay strengthened their foes. He set the best pace that he could. He took a stone wall with such a leap as few men, burdened with arms would be willing to try. Soon he was in advance of the men of Gad, who were nearer the Philistine front than most of those of the other tribes, they having had David to set their pace from the first.

        The men of Gad did not advance in a line of battle, having had no training for that. They were a running rabble of men, who came with flourish of weapons and many cries, to meet the dark line of the Philistine spears. In front of these, Ishbi-benob, looking more huge than he was by the height of the feathered head-dress he wore, stood out in front of the rank. He was secure in armour of proof, and confident in his strength and in his skill with the sword, which few in any land could be found to match. He looked at the disordered advance of the men of Gad, seeking one he might pick to kill. Facing him, and before all, he met the eyes of David the King. In the next instant their swords met. They fought amidst a surrounding tumult of men, the noise of shouting and many blows, of those who would have come to their aid and of others who kept them back. Most of those around were concerned first with their own lives. The Philistines knew that Ishbi-benob needed no aid. He could finish his work. The men of Gad had enough to do to guard their ribs from the Philistine spears, which moved slowly forward, step after step, for they had met the force of the charge with a steady front and were now bearing it back, though not much, the edge of battle swaying slowly upon the plain.

        David fought well, but he was no match for the man he met, either in strength, or in the weapon-tricks which may be of greater avail. He knew that he was near death, yet there was a time during which he sustained the fight so that it was hard to see how it would go in the end. It was by the chance of a shifting shield that Abishai's javelin fell to the ground, doing no hurt. Ishbi-benob looked to see from whom it might come, that he might deal with him next when David had had enough. He glanced aside to his own cost, missing his guard, and getting the sword-point along his arm on the underside. He was roused to fury at that, driving at David with such a rain of blows as were hard to meet. Step by step David gave ground. Abishai, still striving to reach his side, cast a second spear. Flung high over the heads of men, it struck the breastplate a glancing blow, and went downward into the ground. Yet it did some avail, for it was so fixed in the earth that Ishbi-benob stumbled against the shaft. David's sword hammered the breastplate against his ribs, but could do no more, for it was of a metal that was then little known, and too strong to be smitten through with a sword of bronze, unless by a straight drive of the point with a great power. He answered the stroke with a heavy downward blow that David failed to turn on a broker shield. It came down on his helm, and sight and memory went. He staggered blindly before he fell.

        Ishbi-benob drew back his sword for a final stroke, and at the same instant Abishai smote him across the neck. There was no need for a second blow.

        Abishai stooped over the fallen king while the tide of battle swept past him to the narrower end of the vale, for the Philistines, driven inward by the Judean charge, had been crushed and jostled between the two converging attacks till their order broke and they were thrust leftward toward the valley's throat, in a disorder that was increasing at every yard of their forced retreat.

        Abishai looked at the King's wounds, and did not think they were much. He was glad of that, for himself as well as the King, for how could he have faced Joab, or what honour would have remained to his name, had he failed to succour the King? But he saw that he was no more than stunned by the last blow he had had. Abishai looked round upon such men as will ever be on the ground that the battle has left behind. He saw those who were fit for such work, and he charged them to get the King to his own tent, at which they were better pleased than if he had sent them the other way. He went on to find Joab, to tell him that the King would do no more for that day, and that he must take control of the battle's course.

        As to that, there was no more to be done now, but to press pursuit, for the breaking af the Philistine left (which had at first been less a flight than a movement which was forced by the pressure of those who were driven back on to them) had carried confusion among the chariots which were being lined up against the Israelite flank. Now the charioteers, thinking that the day was lost, lashed their horses to escape while the road might still be clear for them to pass, for they knew that there would be but a poor chance after that, for they could not be driven over pathless hills.

        The flight of the chariots ended any hope of rally there might have been. Soon the whole Philistine host, leaving tents and baggage for Israel's spoil, were jamming the valley-head in a wild panic of flight, or scattered among the hills. With high shouting of Yahweh's name, the men of David chased them, and smote, and slew. It was a chase that did not end till the darkness fell. Hour by hour the clamour of flight and slaughter moved westward among the hills. Cut off from the way they came, herded into the valley of Avalon, the weary remnant of the greatest army the Philistines had ever arrayed for war ended that night under the walls of Gezer thirty miles away. Outside the walls, for the Egyptian garrison of that city, seeing the Philistines' plight, had refused to open their gates to the friends of the day before. It was David's vengeance, not theirs, which might have to be feared at the next day.

        For thirty miles over the mountain heights, through the lower Shephelah slopes, through the valley vineyards, and the stubble-fields that waited the autumn plough, the moon looked down that night on the debris of flight, on bodies that the foxes tore, and on wounded men who crawled to the valley brooks where they could-drink and die.

        For the first time, Israel and Judah had joined their full strength on the field of battle, and it was the end of the Philistine power. Mount Gilboa had been avenged, and David had enough of chariots now, having won them as he had mean to do.

        It was a few days later that David sat in his house at Hebron having taken no more hurt than some bruises that time would heal, and around him were a group of those that he most trusted and loved, most of whom had been with him from Adullam days.

        Joab spoke for them all.

        "We would have your word," he said, "that you do not so jeopard your life again, lest the lamp of Israel be put out."

        "Would you have me," David asked with some heat, "be called a king who lurks in the rear when the battle joins?"

        "You might be called worse than that," Joab replied, "for the rear is the right place for a king to be at such times. Would you call me coward? Yet I came through that day with a clean sword, having to order the fight, which was of more moment than changing blows."

        David was ill-pleased to be so rebuked, and wroth to give such a pledge. Yet he knew that it would not be asked except by men who were loyal of heart, and he knew, beyond that, that there was wisdom in Joab's words.

        The fact was that it required all the magnanimity of which he was capable to be grateful to Abishai that he should owe his life to his hands.; For he looked on him and Joab as one, though he knew that Abishai would take hazards that Joab would be slower to do.

        When he had once ventured rashly into the sleeping camp where Saul lay, who was seeking his life at that time, he had asked for a comrade, and it had been Abishai, not Joab, who had offered to go.

        He did not think Joab a coward. He knew that there were few things that he would not venture to do for a large price. But the price must be large enough, or he would not stir. When he had gone into Saul's camp, he knew that Joab had thought him fool for a useless risk, and Abishai had though him fool at a later hour when the sleeping Saul lay under the point of his spear, and he would hot strike.

        Here was a curse of his life, that would grow with the years. He thought, as he had done when he heard of Abner's death: "I am this day weak, though anointed king, and these sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me." For the trouble was that they served him well in their own ways, and would still do so, though he should repay them in those that they would not thank. And their ways were not his ways, nor his thoughts theirs.

        He said at last: "I will not pledge that I will turn back to avoid a foe, for there is a price at which life may be bought too high. Also, there are some things which should be left to God, who (as I have come to think) will rule all at the last. But I will give you a pledge to this length that I will not place myself again at the battle-front, except it be at a great need, when nothing else will avail."

        And with that they must be content, for it was the most they would get.


THE sky was blue after the spring rains, and the hill-sides were gay with a hundred flowers, though the daffodils were already dead, when David sent word to the Elders of every tribe that they must bring a certain number of men, of the best they had, to his presence at Bethlehem on a day he named, and that they must be well appointed and armed, and have provisions for fourteen days. The numbers were proportioned to the strength of each tribe, making a total of thirty thousand men.

        The Elders were puzzled as to what this might mean, which they could not guess. They had expected to be summoned about this time to hear the King's decision as to the new capital city that he would choose in Israel, as they supposed that they were, for he had promised that, and he had gained the name of a king whose word was well kept. But they could not see why they should bring such numbers of men in the guise of war, for what war was there afoot?

        David had made a treaty with the Philistines by which they were confined to the land of the Five Cities, which they had always held. They had withdrawn from the plain of Sharon, and from the valleys of Jezreel and Samaria: there was no more quarrel with them.

        Taking prompt advantage of the victory he had won, with that political sagacity which was to build up the greatest kingdom that Israel would ever know (which his son's folly would steer to wreck), he had approached Egypt at once. Egypt still claimed dominion over the land of Canaan, and the Philistines had acted, nominally at least, as her tributaries in the land. David had seen the wisdom of claiming the substance only; and if that were granted he would let the shadow remain. He offered to agree a sum of tribute to the Egyptian court, which was, however, not to be paid so long as he kept open the great caravan route, and assured its peace. That is, the tribute was not to be paid so long as he did that which was his first purpose, for the gain of his own land. Egypt weakened by internal discords, was in no mood to assert her power: she was well content with a bargain by which she could save her pride. She even agreed, on these terms. that her garrison at Megiddo and Beth-shean should be withdrawn, leaving them in David's hands, and he pledged himself in return that the garrison at Gezer should remain, and should be supported at any need. In fact, he cared little for that, it being on the borders of Philistine lands. His wisdom was shown when a later Pharaoh made a wedding-gift to Solomon of a city which, for the next thirty years, was to be a useless expense to the Egyptian crown.

        There was friendship also, for the time, both with Moab and of Canaan with a watchful suspicion, as it was natural that they should, but there had been no time for any quarrel to reach a head; and had David been raising an army hostile to one of them, he must have assembled it further north, and to the full tale of the men of valour he could command.

        The Elders could not tell what his summons might mean, but they were not likely to bring a force which would be short of count, or in poor array, when such a choice was to be made. Suppose that he had resolved to choose his city from the tribe with which he was best pleased when he held review?

        David had reckoned rightly on what he would have when the day came - thirty thousand of the best of those who were united in the worship of Yahweh, and with the finest arms and appointments that could be found in the land.

        When they assembled at Bethlehem, he reviewed them for two days, letting them eat and rest, and then marched them six miles to the northward, and halted under Jerusalem's walls.

        Jerusalem had closed its gates when it heard of the assembly of such an army six miles away. That had been no more than a routine precaution. It had neither suspicion nor fear. For half a millennium, it had stood secure, in the tradition of impregnable walls. Egypt, in the strength of her greatest power, had been prudent enough to make such treaty with it as avoided the test of arms. The Jebusite policy had been to maintain this connection, with no less satisfaction as Egypt weakened and it became a merely nominal bond. David appeared to have accepted this position as a basic fact, as it had been accepted by Judah and Israel for five hundred years. Actually, since the purpose to subdue the city had formed in his mind, he had been particularly careful not to seem to regard it at all.

        Now the Jebusites looked at him in the same way. So far as they considered his army at all, they looked upon it as one that a few days would see either disbanded or marched away. Then they would open their gates again, and the traffic of their market would be resumed.

        Even when David's army could be seen camped beneath their northern wall (for he had marched round to that side), they were more curious than alarmed. But they sent messengers to him in a formal way to ask what he was doing there.


THE Jerusalem of that day stood on a high plateau which was intersected by deep ravines. Its population was not large, and the surrounding land was fertile, and fed it with case. It had enough of traffic and of handcrafts to have made it prosperous, with a wealth which the centuries had steadily augmented. Its houses were old, and small and crowded. Its streets were narrow and far from clean. But there was much of luxury behind its small-windowed walls, and many tales were told of the stores of silver and hoards of jewels that were hidden therein.

        On three sides the precipices fell so sheerly away to what was then a great depth (lessened by the debris of later centuries) that they might have been considered impregnable without their surmounting walls. On the north side, where there was a more gradual approach up a narrow slope, two walls had been built across the ascent, which were so strong and so high that to attempt their storm might seem a vain folly to the engineering skill of those days. Somewhat beyond bow-shot of the outer wall, the army of David stretched its tents, closing the way. Tents rose also in the Kidron valley and over against the gorges that surrounded Jerusalem on its southern and western sides, for it was a city easy to invest, for all its strength, it being of a circumference of little more than two miles at that time; its extent having been controlled by the size of the spur of the plateau which was so impregnably placed, rather than by the will of those who had been crowded within its walls.

        When the Jebusite king became aware of the army camped at his gate, he sent messengers to David, asking what he sought in so hostile a guise, and the reply he received was such that he came himself, the two kings meeting in a neutral space, midway between the city gate and the tents of the army of Israel.

        "I would know," the Jebusite king, whose name was Zimran, began, "for what cause you bring such array under my walls, forcing me to close my gate. For I have no quarrel with you, and you know, beside that, that it is a city you could not take."

        "As to having no quarrel with me," David replied, "I would ask you to recall the friendship which you showed to my Philistine foes when I was weak in the land. Am I likely to forget that, having grown strong? Do you think I shall be content to be king in a land having such a city in its midst which I do not rule?

        "And may I tell you further it is a city which Yahweh pledged to my race in a covenant which he made to Abraham, for so I have found it written in a book of the records of ancient time."

        "Yahweh," Zimran replied, "is no god of mine, and it seems he pledged that which he could not give."

        "You will find," David said, in a very confident way, "that you are mistaken in that. The word of Yahweh is sure."

        "So you are likely to say. Yet having borne no fruit for nearly eight-hundred years, it may be that it can yet wait."

        "So it might; and so, if it be the will of Yahweh, it will. Yet I feel the time of its fulfilment is near."

        Zimran glanced back at the lower wall, which rose to a great height, being built in receding tiers, with flat surfaces each of a height of several feet, and then a ledge a few inches in breadth. It was so build that an earthquake might not have shaken it down, and so that an army that would ascend must cling like flies to its side, where they would be an easy prey for those who might vex them from above, either with missiles, or heated water, or more pestilent things. And if that wall should be won, there would be no more gained than a barren unsheltered slope which could be swept with arrows, and a worse wall rising above.

        He said: "If you can take that wall, it is something that few would guess. You know the proverb we have."

        "I would take it," David replied, "if there were no other way. Yet another way there must be, for you can be closely besieged, and there must come a time when your food will fail."

        Zimran smiled somewhat at that. "You will grow old while you wait. We have kept our granaries stored against such a peril as is now here. You can send one, if you will, who can be shown the corn that we have, and you will waste no more time on a vain dream. For you know that we have water also that will not fail."

        David heard this with some sinking of heart which he would not show. Of the water, he knew well enough, and had not counted that they would be lacking of that. For there was a spring on the east side, at the edge of the valley, which did not fail, and men of old time had made a tunnel through the rock, and a shaft from that which rose to cisterns within the wall, so that the supply of water was made secure. But as to the store of corn, he had hoped that, the city having been left unthreatened for so long a time, they might have grown careless, and that had been why he had spoken no word of the purpose he had kept for four years in his heart, that it was there that he would establish his throne.

        "As to that," he said, "there may be a time before you grow thin, but you will have little joy, knowing how I sit ever without, with a purpose which will not turn. For I will have this city, though I tear down stone by stone from its walls, which I should do with a lighter heart knowing that I should not need to build them again, for I must have a much larger city than has been sufficient for you, and its walls will be further away."

        Zimran had some sinking of heart in his turn, seeing how David was fixed of will, and recalling the great repute that he had, and he was less skilful to hide his mind. David saw that he spoke to a frightened man, and he went on in a way which, he hoped, might bring all to a quick end:

        "But I will tell you this. I do not wish to delay. If you will open the gate now (as, in the end, you must surely do). I will give you that which is most worth, being the lives of all that are in your walls. And you know that that is more, if I come in by starvation or siege, than you can hope I shall do."

        Zimran had regained courage as this was said. For he thought again of the height of his walls, and of the store of corn, which was very great. He remembered that David had the repute of being able to win as much with his words as he ever did with his sword on the field of war.

        "We will take counsel on all," he said, "and if there be more to be said, they must be the words of another day."

        He knew that the threat that, if resistance were made, there would be massacre, at the last, was no more than he had been likely to hear. For it was the custom of the wars of that time; and it was easy to see that, if David wanted the city for his own use, the people who were crowding it now would be a nuisance to him. Even the women might not be spared, for the recent wars had reduced the number of the men of Israel so much (and of Judah more) that there were women enough in the land, without some thousands of Jebusites who might be sulky and ill to rule. And it was known, beside, that many of the Israelites were loth to take foreign women within their homes. They worshipped strange gods, and brought customs which the men of Israel would not have, and if they were checked too greatly in these, there would be no peace from their pleadings and tricks.

        Many an Israelite, having a Canaanite for a wife, would curse the day that she had been taken in war, and had not had her throat cut, as it ought to have been.

        So Zimran went back through the gate; and after that there was no sign from the walls, for the Jebusites had taken counsel, and resolved that they could hold the city till David would grow tired, and be glad to go. "Also," they said, "it is likely that he will be molested by other foes before long, when they hear that he is wasting his strength here.

        They sent a secret message through David's lines asking Philistine aid, but they got no answer to that, for the Five Cities had had enough.


IT seemed, when three weeks had passed, that the Israelite army had settled down to the expectation of a long and patient siege. The fortnight's provision which David had required at first had been exhausted, and there was now a regular system of supply, which would become an equal burden on all parts of the land. The siege was popular, as its purpose became known. No city or tribe had been very hopeful that David would make his home there, for there were so many approximately equal claims. Their own disappointment was easily balanced by the knowledge that they would not have to humble themselves to a neighbour's pride. Beyond that, they were already; experiencing, some of the benefits of David's determined policy that the whole land should be clear of foes. This clearance must be incomplete as long as Jerusalem held itself in their midst, aloof from the national life. If they thought of her reputation of being an untakable city, they could think also that David had proved himself to be a very fortunate king. The city was now closely invested, but at a sufficient distance from its walls to render the Jebusite missile vain. At the end of three weeks, there had not been a man injured on either side.

        Then, when it seemed David had resigned himself to a lengthened siege, he called the captains of the host together within his tent, and said that he proposed to make assault an hour before the dawn of the next day.

        "Will you go up the north wall, or do you think the bare rock will be the easier climb?" Joab asked. There was protest in his tone. He did not appear in a sanguine humour, for it had seemed that he had been arguing with Abishai in the same tone as they came to the tent. It seemed that Abishai had some plan which Joab put aside with contempt: "And when they heard, as they would be certain to do?" This was said in a mocking way, and the talk had died as they approached those who might hear. But that would be Joab's likeliest tone in any council of war He had no use for adventure of any kind. He was one who counted costs and the lives of men in a cold and accurate way.

        "We must attempt the north wall," David replied, "for it is the best chance that we have." He had had three weeks of that siege, and had found them enough. For more than four years he had had the dream of making his capital there. He had it all planned in his mind. How he would extend the walls to the further spurs of the plateau, making a city of large extent. Where he would build his own house. Where the tabernacle of Yahweh should be. He had made these plans from his memories of the city when he had entered it in earlier years, and from what could be seen of it from the Bethlehem ridge. Now he had come closer than that, and his dreams were of a more definite kind. But having waited at Hebron through the long years of the Philistine war, he had no mind to sit there for another five years, or it might be ten, while the Jebusites jeered above, making bread of the wheat that they had stored against the coming of such a time. And he saw, as they had done, but with less content, that if the siege were too greatly prolonged other nations round him would stir, for they would consider that his borders must lack men while an army was idle there.

        With these thoughts in his mind he looked up at the northern wall, and every day its ascent seemed a more possible thing. Now he said: "It is the best chance that we have. "Will you lead the way?" Joab asked. "I will do that with a good heart, if you will release me from a pledge you should not have asked."

        "Well, if you do that, it will be the time that we look for a new king."

        "You must think of this," David said, "that the Jebusites are not practised in war. They have trusted to the strength of these walls, and have stood apart. Who among them has used a sword? They will be sheep to slay when you are once over the top."

        "And when will that be? It is the highest wall in this land, if not in the world's width, and the narrow ledges, where a man can cling like a fly, are but traps of death when they shall begin their battery upon those who climb."

        There was a murmur of assent at that word. David's captains; were not faint of heart, but they knew that Joab spoke truth. Those narrow ledges which seemed to make the climbing of the wall a possible thing to a very active man, were designed in a cunning way. If there should be attempt to mount a flat wall by ladders hooked to its side, or by other means, the climbers would miss many missiles from those above, which would fail outward over their heads, and this would be more surely so if those who threw were checked by a flight of arrows, so that they cast without showing themselves on the wall's edge. But the surface of this wall, bulging outward as it did, would be swept by everything which should be cast from above. Even a stone would be certain not to fall clear. And the steps were so high, the ledges so narrow for speed, even if he should not fall on the way. David found that his captains were of one mind about that, using the same words one to another: "We shall be like flies on a wall."

        He was not greatly surprised that they should take it in that way. In his own heart he had not called it an easy thing. And they were men who knew war. Younger and more ignorant men might have agreed in a lighter mood. But he did not change his purpose because it was so contemned. He still thought that it might be done by such men as would climb resolutely, not caring for those who fell. He was sure that the Jebusites would not be formidable foes to those who should reach the top. He had something more to say which he had kept in mind for some years, waiting that hour.

        "If I ask a great thing, it will not be for a small prize. He who will lead the way over that wall, so that the city is taken thereby, shall be captain of the host of Israel."

        Joab looked hard at the King, as he said this, but beyond that he showed his thoughts as little as any there, and less than most, for it was an offer at which some were stirred to the excitement of a great hope. It was a position to which none there, except Joab, had thought to gain, for his place was recognized in affairs of war as being next to the King. Joab had seen, from the day when his sword had found a way into Abner's heart, that David had avoided any action or word which would confirm that authority so far as the army of Israel was concerned; and while the Philistines had divided the land, so that the two armies had never acted as one, it had been easy to do. But the time had come when David could only delay the issue by taking personal command of the Israelite wing of a united army. Joab had been silently watchful to see what would follow from that, as he saw that it soon must.

        Now he knew. David had told him already that he had held this purpose of taking Jerusalem for the capital of a united land for four years, while he had spoken to none. He could guess now that the project of thus making the command of the army of Israel an open prize had been in his mind as long. And Joab was not sure how to take it now. It might seem hostile to him, yet he saw that he would be better received by those whom he must lead on the field of war if it could be said that he had won his place by a valorous deed, than if he had gained it (as would be otherwise said) through Abner's death. For Abner had been well esteemed in Israel, and his repute had not lessened because he died.

        Had David (Joab wondered) thought of this too? Was he offering him a way by which he might become captain of the combined armies without it being said that he had gained his place by an evil road? It was in such ways that David was incalculable to smaller minds. Joab thought himself to be more sagacious, more prudent in judgment, than David would ever be. He considered that David's actions at times were plain folly, and nothing more. But in far-reaching plans, in imagination of remote issues, he knew that he faced a quality of thought different from his own not so much in degree as in kind.

        Now men looked at him, or looked aside, as their natures led them to do, but there was the same thought in every mind, and the same question: "How would Joab take that?" For they saw that, in the armies of the united kingdom, in the armies of future days, the host of Israel must far outnumber Judea, under the system which David had already commenced of requisitioning levies in proportion to the population of each tribal territory. In fact, if not in name, David was proposing that which might remove Joab from the place he had held since Adullam days.

        Joab gave no sign that he was aware that all eyes were directed on him, and little of what he might think or feel, which was not his way. When he spoke it was to ask a question with the abruptness which he would use to all. He was loyal to David in his own way, and to a length which is seldom found, but he had never shown him much respect, either as uncle or king, from the days when they had played together in the Bethlehem streets.

        "Must it be by no way," he asked, "but the north wall?" David was puzzled by this question. Joab had shown already that the plan of storming the north wall was not good to him - that he saw no likely result but the waste of men who would be much more useful alive on the next day. But if the north wall were a poor chance, it might be said that the other sides were no chances at all. He saw that, if he were incautious in his reply, his offer might be so construed that each captain might think he could use his men in his own time and way. Yet, as to Joab himself, he did not think him one to take a rash or over-hazardous risk. He said: "It can be by any way I approve, so that it open the gate at last."

        Joab looked up with a frown. It seemed that he was about to speak, but he checked his tongue. He looked down on the board, and kept his eyes there, as though he had enough of his own thoughts, while the talk went on from those who, having heard how great was the prize that the King would give, were more inclined to think his plan good than they had been at the first, for the most of them were very bold and resolute men, and they agreed with the King that, if they could once reach to the top of the wall, it would be no more than a butcher's work to deal with those who were holding the town.

        So it was agreed at last that the assault should be made at the break of dawn on the next day. Joab looked up as he heard this resolve. He had a mind to say: "Then by sunset you will have enough of work counting the dead." But he was too good a captain of men not to know that such a risk should be taken, if at all, with a good heart. Let it go its own way. He did not mean to be there.

        Abishai understood his mood. As they walked away, and were clear of the hazard of other ears, he said: "So you will try it now? . . . Think you David will assent lightly thereto?"

        Joab looked at him in a sombre, considering way. He did not look like a man who was about to lead a forlorn hope for a splendid stake. "He will not be asked. Am I one to spill words? Let the thought but stir in the mind of one man in the city gates, and we are doomed at that hour. The King may curse if he will when the dawn comes, but he will be cursing the dead. If he walks through an open gate he must give us thanks, though his pride shy."

        Abishai said: "You will ever walk your own way, though you serve him." Yet he saw that Joab was wise. Such a plan as theirs was cannot be known to too few. He added: "You would not have done this, but for the offer he made."

        "No. I thought it too great a risk. It is folly still; but it is a better plan than his own, which is sure to fail. Besides, he gave me no choice. Shall I take orders from one unskilled to array a host on the field of war? Did we kill Abner for that?"

        They went to their own camp. They chose a thousand good men, including such of the thirties as were their friends, or were in Joab's command, and talked to them as though they were to adventure the wall on the next dawn, but when the sunrise was near, and men moved out of their camps to the coming assault, Joab was not there, and the army of Judea was short of a thousand men who had disappeared in the night.

        David heard this, and was wroth. He supposed that Joab thought to assail the wall at some other point, which should not have been planned without order from him; but for all its girth the city was quiet, and there was no stir except at the north wall, as its sentries saw the approach of those who came through the dim light of the dawn.

        "Well," David said, "there will be no waiting for those who are not here. They must miss their chance if they will."

        Swiftly and silently the lines of the attacking force were deployed to the full length of the wall, for it had been resolved that the more widely spread the climbers should be, the more would be the toil of those who should defend from above, and the less harm would be done by any missiles they should hurl down the sloping glacis of wall. When they were so arrayed, they moved forward at a level pace, that the attack might be delivered equally from all parts. It quickened as the distance lessened, and a shout of Yahweh! was raised that grew to a deafening roar, and then died as the climbers must use their breaths in another way.

        David stood some distance behind, at a place where the ground rose, so that he could see most of the attack, except at one point, where there was a grove of olives, which he had not wished to have hewn down (unless at a greater need than he had yet seen), for he looked at the land as already his, and would not waste it more than he must, even at the urgence of war.

        For some minutes it seemed that the climbing of that wall would be done at a light cost, for the men went steadily up, and there was no sign from above. They could not go fast, for they had nothing but those too-narrow ledges to which to cling, and the distances between were smooth and high, yet they moved up over the whole length of the wall, and some of those who had tried to climb with lifted bucklers to guard their heads, now threw them over their backs, as many had done from the first, and climbed faster than they had done before.

        But the besieged had only waited till the wall should be heavy with human fruit. When it had been ascended for about one-fourth of its surface, they commenced such a discharge of missiles and rocks, of flaming bundles of oil-soaked fodder, and of torrents of boiling pitch, where those who climbed were most numerous or made the boldest advance, that many were seen to fall headlong, or to slip down the sloping wall, clutching at the ledges in vain. The first fury of that deadly hail slackened somewhat, as it must, but it did not cease, nor did the falling of those who climbed. They fell now, one by one, like leaves in a steady wind.

        The King watched them fall, and could see that Joab had not feared too much the deadly trickery of that terraced ascent. Had the wall risen vertically, it might have seemed harder to climb, but, were ladders once fixed to its side, such a wall would be more quickly scaled, and those who were on its side might hope if they should flatten themselves thereon, that much that was thrown from above, of whatever sort, would pass over their heads. But this wall was of a kind to tempt men with the hope that it might be scaled by vigour of hand and knee, and would then become a sure death to those who should be assailed from above, and could not move quickly either up or down.

        So the King must watch with a sore heart, seeing how many fell, and knowing that there would be those among them who were the best he had, yet he did not blame himself, for he still hoped that valour would win at last, and, besides, he still thought that there was no better way.

        He reminded himself that there could be no doubt that the city was stored with food, as their king had claimed, for, though the siege had gone on for three weeks, there had been none thrust from the gate, as was the custom at such a time.

        For when a city was girt with foes, it would be the first care of a good king to gather such as were in its walls, and divide therefrom all that were old and infirm, or so afflicted that they could be of less use to defend the walls than their food was worth, and put them forth at the gate, when those who lay around might either slay them, or let them pass through their lines, but were most likely to hold them there, herded between their camp and the city walls, and that without shelter or food, that their plight might arouse pity among their friends, so that they should be taken back into the city to help to exhaust its food. But Jerusalem had put no one forth, not even such as were infirm or diseased, from which it might be judged that its boast was no less than true.

        That being so, David might feel that he was taking the best, it being the only way. Nor did he quickly think he should fail. He looked at the great height of the sloping wall, and he saw the clinging flies that were men, and they ever gained at some point, now here, now there, and he had good hope that the tide would rise at last to some point at the top of the wall. Once he saw that there were men more than half-way at one point. He looked, at that, to see what leader they had. Not Joab. That was sure. A larger, shaggier man. David recognized him at last. Uriah the Hittite, who had been with him from Adullam days. Suppose Uriah should gain the wall? Was he to make captain of him? The idea was absurd. He had a sudden fear that when he offered that prize he might have been less wise than he first thought. But the fear did not last, for Uriah was struck by a stone so that he fell back ward into the air. He came down on another man, who may have done something to break his fall, for the two slid down the wall from that point, with the man more underneath than above, and he clutching somewhat at the ledges as they passed. Yet it was a descent that gained in speed, and when they struck the ground they lay still.

        David saw that beneath the whole length of the wall there was now a fringe of men who lay thus, to be pounded by other stones, or who wriggled along the ground to get away from that deadly place. Some would have gone to the aid of these, but their captains held them back, knowing that a whole man should not be risked for the sake of one who is maimed.

        The Jebusites, on the top of the wall, showed themselves with no fear, for the height was too great for the slingers' stones to be of any avail, and the arrows that reached them were almost spent.

        Seeing that the hour passed, and that the event continued in the same way, with no result but the slaughter of his own men, David found it hard to endure. He was so moved that he prayed aloud, casting up his arms in a gesture of supplication that Yahweh could not fail to see. Had his god deserted him at the last? It was what he would not believe! It might be that he had shown less faith then he should in standing thus in the rear. He felt that if he were climbing that wall it would be a hard blow that would turn him back, and he knew that men would be eager to follow, seeing him go before. Was it the place of a god-appointed king to stand where he did, watching others die?

        Yet his reason told him that while it was true that he would be followed while he went up, it was equally so that his fall would end the attempt. Now he saw that men still struggled to win the top of the wall. He could not say that he was needed there to rally those who were faint of heart. They went up, while their comrades fell, till it came to their time to die. And there was yet a long array of those who stood back waiting their turn to attempt. He could not say that the position freed him from the pledge which his captains held, that he would not jeopard his life except at an utmost need. . . .And when he asked himself had he done wrongly to give that pledge, he remembered that not only Abiathar, but the prophet Nathan, whom he trusted more than the priests, had said that it was wrong that he should risk his life in the way it had been his custom to do.

        So he held back for a time, though with each minute, as he watched the human flies drop from the wall, it became less easy to do, and there can be little doubt how it would have happened at last, had there not come a sudden turmoil upon the wall, as though those who defended it were at issue among themselves, on which the climbers made better progress toward the top.


IT had been at the darkest hour of the night, and that at which sleep is heaviest on the minds of men, that Joab had led the way to the south-eastern corner of the wall. There had been warning given that if any should drop a spear, or speak a word which might carry far in the night, he would be his own death, and that of all who were there. But if he could move in a silent way, his death might be distant enough, and they would win the city while it was yet dark, so that the assault on the wall would be never made; for that was how Joab had planned it to be.

        And so, making little sound, they had come to the pool of Gihon, from which Jerusalem drank, for it was fed by a spring that rose out of the rock, and was never dry. And in some ancient time, before the records of men, those who had toiled to make Jerusalem strong had cut a tunnel by which the water flowed inward to a shaft where it could be pumped up. But these men had not been blind to the thought that where the water came there might be human entrance contrived, and had provided against that risk, which Joab knew (as did Abishai also, though it was he who had proposed the attack), for they had been in the city often enough in their boyhood days.

        They knew the place where the shaft rose, and they had watched the team of oxen moving in a ceaseless round as they turned the huge wheel by which the water was pumped into two great cisterns, to one of which there was a ceaseless train of women coming with water-pitchers from dawn to dusk, the other one not being used, but held in reserve, so that it could have lasted the city for many weeks if the tunnel had fallen in.

        There were other cisterns in the city, which were filled by the winter rains, but there was no other well, for Jerusalem was built on a thin stratum of hard silicious chalk, with lime-stone below of a soft kind, through which the water would drain away.

        The boys had looked down the black mouth of the shaft, and had seen that there were projecting bricks by which men might descend if it should be needing repair, but it was not an inviting way, for it had not been meant to be that; and it was likely that any man who had cause to go down would have a rope round his waist, and its coil in the hands of friends.

        They had seen also that there was a guard so placed that they could overlook the head of the shaft, and there was a device by which the water in one or both of the cisterns could be quickly released, so that it would pour backward down the shaft, sweeping to speedy death any who should be climbing its walls, or in the tunnel beneath.

        At the time of peace during which Zeruiah's sons had gone up to Jerusalem with their uncles, who would be bartering there, the guards had been careless enough, for they had known that no attack would be coming by so desperate a way, when the city gate was set wide, and there could have been no foe in force within some miles of the wall. But, even then, they may have kept better watch when the night fell, and now, being sieged as they were, there was no saying what they might do. Joab could only hope, in a resolute but foreboding mind, that they would not think that any would be bold enough to make such an attempt.

        He would have waited until the attack should have opened against the north wall, thinking that the guards might have their attention, if not themselves, drawn to that side, but that it would have meant entering the tunnel at dawn, when they would be likely to be overseen from the eastern wall. So he chose the hour he did, making the darkness his friend.

        He entered the water himself at the head of the line, having Naharai beside him, who had been no more than his armour-bearer at one time, but was now one of the first Thirty, a man of courage and strength of arm, and one who, as Joab knew, would follow to the pit of Sheol itself, if he should go first.

        They went in up to their knees, and the water deepened as they advanced, for the floor of the tunnel had not been very evenly cut. The darkness grew very black, but they could not go wrong, having a hand on the tunnel wall, and there being no way by which they could turn aside. The water was very cold, and there was a steady current moving the same way as themselves, for the pumping continued during the night, so that the cisterns should be kept full.

        There were times when the water was near their chins, and Joab, raising a hand, found that the roof was not far over his head. He considered that if water and roof should meet, it would be hard to get through. He thought also that if he had made that tunnel he would have dug pits at places along the floor, so that there would be no footing at all. He would have liked to pass a word backward that it might be needful to swim. But he thought also that any murmur of voices might be carried up the shaft, which he now approached; and, more likely than that, there might be men behind who were unable to swim, and if the word should change as it went backward (which it would be likely to do) so that it would be understood that the need to swim was a certain thing, there might be panic stirred by his own words, and some would try to turn back, and others would urge them on, and the noise would be heard above, and the flood would descend, and they would all be drowned in a tunnel which would be filled to the roof as it swept through. He remembered that the men had been told at first that they must not turn while they had life, for whatever cause, and that Abishai was the last of all, and would be their death if they did.

        So he went on, the water not at any time reaching beyond his chin, making as little sound as he could, and hoping that those behind would make no more than would be drowned by the clanking of the wheel, and the oxen turning above. So he came at last to the foot of the shaft, and looked upward to see a small rectangle of sky, and two stars. Here he felt for the projecting bricks by which that climb must be done. They were slimy and damp, and, having felt them, he was even more sure of the folly of what they did than his first thought had been when Abishai had proposed it the day before, but he only turned to Naharai to whisper: "Have more care than haste; for a slip will be fatal to all," and pulled himself up by the first brick.

        By this time the whole of the men that he led were in the tunnel, they being two abreast, and Abishai last of all. It was soon after that that the advance stopped. They stood for more than two hours in the darkness and the cold flood, not knowing what had gone wrong.

        Once a word was passed that they were to retreat, or so it had come to sound before it had reached to the rear, and there was some backward swaying of men, but Abishai would not move, for he had agreed with Joab a form of words which such an order should take, if it came from him. So the movement died, though with more talk and splashing of men than there should have been, for Abishai knew his mind, where others were uncertain of theirs, and it is hard to strive, being so plunged in darkness and flood, and knowing that any sound of riot may bring a quick death from above. So they waited either for those in front to move further ahead, or for a sweeping torrent of death, which seemed the more likely end.


JOAB went up the wall of the shaft with Naharai climbing close at his feet, having first ordered that those who were next behind should not climb till they should have signal from him; for be had considered that, if there should be a large number climbing at once, the risk that one might slip, making a great noise as he would fall upon those behind, and they with him to the water below, would be very greatly increased. Nor, if he should get close to the top unobserved, and see that the watch was too good for there to be any hope of success, could he pass down the word to retreat so silently that it would not be heard from above, and yet with assurance that it would be heard by all, but rather confusion might follow, some going up and some down, and that some would fall then would be a most likely thing, the climbing being as bad as it was, so that it would be heard, and they come to as evil an end as though they had climbed out to be slain at the mouth of the shaft. And he thought, beyond that, that if Naharai and he should climb out, and then find they were trapped in a hopeless way, if they should say that they were alone, and the Jebusites should look down the shaft and see it clear, they might not be over-quick to waste the water they had by sluicing a tunnel which might not contain their foes, and there would be a chance for those he led to escape, while it would make no difference to him.

        So he ordered that none should commence ascent till Naharai should lower a weighted cord, which he had wound round his waist ready to be used in that way. The plan may have been wise, but matters did not happen in either of the ways that he had feared or hoped that they might, as will often be. They climbed slowly from brick to brick, without fault or slip, though they were near at times to such a fall as had ruined all, and Joab looked cautiously over the edge, and there was no man in sight, so he came out, with Naharai behind, and he had just made a sign that the rope should be dropped into the well when there was a sound of voices and feet, very close, and they could do no better than withdraw to a shadowed recess of the wall that was round the shaft and ran on to the cistern-side, including the toiling oxen within its girth.

        There were four who came, being the armed guard of the night, seeming to be on no more than a casual round, but there was a stone bench at the side of the shaft, on which they were tempted to sit, for they had a dispute about the merits of certain gods, on which they were more intent than upon the duty they had to do.

        Joab listened, and. in Yahweh's name he cursed all their gods in his heart; but what was the use of that, if Yahweh were not helping him now? He had a thought that he and Naharai might rush out, and be able to deal with the four in a sudden way; but he was not foolish enough to think that it could be done without noise, and he feared that the Jebusites might be roused in too great a strength before there could be much aid from below, even if Naharai should be allowed leisure enough to unwind the cord, and to cast it down. And while he doubted he heard a noise like that of a falling spear on the other side of the wall, which did not make his doubt less.

        So he stayed where he was, even till the dawn came, for he was always slow to take a desperate risk, if patience might more prevail. And with the dawn there was coming of other men, including some who changed the ox-teams, which was done three times a day, the oxen then going their round without voice or goad till it should be their time to be set free. Also there were some women who began to come to the well. It was a wonder that the two men of Judah were not seen in the growing light, though they were well recessed, and the four guards left the bench while it was still dusk, though they did not go far.

        Joab did not wait without hope, for his thought was that when the assault of the north wall should commence, as he had no doubt that it would, there would be withdrawal of most, if not all, of those who were round the shaft. He could not be sure of this, fearing, indeed, that it might happen the opposite way, and there be a strengthened guard, but it was the only chance that he had.

        Apart from that, he could only hope to wait till darkness should come again, or till David should storm the wall, whichever might be first. And how long could he hope that the men would stand still in the cold water below?

        When he thought of that, and yet more when he thought that, if David's attack should prevail while he stood still, there would be a leader of Israel's host who would not be he, his mind became urgent to act without more delay; and yet the habit of many years, that would not be hastened till the right moment should come, held him back as the minutes passed, until the shouts of those who advanced to attack the wall rose to a height that could be heard even where he stood.

        They did not draw any away, nor bring larger guard, its only result being at first that the four walked a few yards away to join those others who had been heard before but not seen, and they approached to meet them at the cistern side, so that they were all in one group a dozen yards away, and very deep in their own talk. And when he saw that, Joab resolved that it was then he would cast the die, for if he delayed longer he thought that he would lose the great prize that he sought, either by David storming the wall, or by the retreat of those who were in the water below.

        "Naharai," he said, "get the rope ready to throw." And then, as he saw that the guards were still talking among themselves: "Go across, in a quiet way, and cast the weight, and come back here if you are not seen. If they see, I will be a your side at once."

        Naharai did this, walking quietly, as though he had a good right to be there. He let the weight drop, holding the cord until he had heard it strike the water below, and then loosing it, so that it fell to the bottom of the well, having finished that which it had been brought to do.

        He walked back, having been noticed by none, unless it were one of the women who came to fill the pitchers at the side of the cistern, and she must have thought, if she thought of him at all, that he had a right to be there.

        So he went back to Joab, and they waited what seemed to them to be a long while, till they had some fear that they had delayed the signal too long, and the men had gone. But as they thought this, a face showed over the side of the shaft. It looked round in some doubt, as was natural enough, till Joab stepped forward, and gave a sign at once for silence and speed. And as the man pulled himself out, somewhat stiffly, and still dripping about the legs, he had no more than time to get his sword clear, before, there was a scream from the cistern-side, for he had been seen by a woman who had no doubt that he should not be there.

        Joab lost no time when he heard that scream. He ran out, shouting. the name of Yahweh with all the voice that he had, and Naharai was not more than a pace behind. They found that what David had thought of the Jebusites was no more than the truth, that they were unpractised in wielding the arms they wore. Those that Joab and his two companions faced at the first may have been five to one, if not more, but they who were in the front fell under Judah's swords, and the rest huddled and backed, so that in a minute's space they were too distant from the cisterns to have let the floods loose, even if they had given a thought thereto, and though others soon came to their aid, they were not many, for the armed men were collected upon the wall, and every minute there were more who came out of the mouth of the shaft, running to Joab's aid. The men of Judah climbed up with no thought for caution or silence now, but only for speed, and though more than one slipped and fell, they did not hinder the rest, so that when Abishai came out, being last of all, there were a thousand of Judah's swords that slew as they would among a running rabble that had raised a great cry that Jerusalem was lost, as indeed it was.

        For when those who were defending the outer wall at the north, being most of the best men that the city had, became aware of the trouble that raged in the streets, they found that they could not go back to their aid if they would, for the higher wall was in Joab's hands, and its gate was closed.

        Their king had boasted to David that he would gain little though he should win the lower wall, and now he found that it had become true for himself, it being all that he had. Nor did he have that long, for when it was known that the city fell, the heart went out of those who were defending its length. They thought only of flight, and even that was beyond their power. David's men were over the wall. After a short bicker of swords, they had the gate wide. The army of Israel poured in.

        The Jebusites were caught between two millstones of death, falling in heaps as David's army drove them back to the upper wall, the gate of which was now held by a portion of Joab's men. But there were not many of these, for he had other work for the most to do.

        "Slay!" he had said to Abishai, "slay, and spare not either old or young. For we know not what the King may say when he shall be here, but for ourselves we know well that it is better to make an end."


DAVID thanked Joab, as he could but do. He was too generous to say now that he should have first asked his consent. Joab had given him that which he had longed and I purposed to have, and which he must else have found it hard, if not hopeless, to gain. Joab would be captain of the combined armies of Israel and Judah from that hour; and from that hour it became, for David had found a centre for worship and rule where all could unite without bitter and jealous words. And he had taken it in so short a time that before Egypt or Damascus could interpose (even if they would have done so at it was too late, for the thing was done.

        He did not slay all that the city held, whether young or old, as Joab would have liked him to do, but, being in a happy and merciful mood, he remembered that the Jebusites were of Ammon's blood, and he said that those who still lived when the fighting ceased, and the noise was all of slaughter and shrieks and flight, should be herded up, and sent to the Ammonite land, where their king could take them in if he would. And so it was done, yet Joab might have said at the last that his was the wiser way, for David had but increased the foes of a later year.

        David might have said in reply that he had become strong enough to endure that, yet he was not one who would overvaunt his power, nor take the sword for that which might be won by a quieter path. For the time, at least, he thought only of peace. He had won enough. His thoughts were on the building of a city which should be much greater than when it had fallen to Israel's valour and Judah's wile.

        He chose a place where he would build a house for himself, pulling down enough of the crowded dwellings to make the space he must, but no more. He gave the buildings around to his captains, as houses to which they could bring their wives, urging those who had none to marry, that they might turn to a settled life, and raise up seed to the strengthening of Yahweh's host. The law of Moses was that if a man took a wife he should not go to war for one year from that date, so that there might be a time when they would feel secure in the pleasure of love, as it may come but once in the life of man, and to cover the time when it might be thought that her first child would be born.

        It followed (though it had not been with such intent that the law was made) that many of David's men were not married at all, for to have taken a wife during the bitter years of strife and flight, through which they had come to this peace, might have seemed as though it were done to escape the dangers of coming battle, or to leave the band at a time of its utmost need. There were even some of the first Thirty (Uriah the Hittite among them) who were unwed. When David gave them houses around the place where his own would be, and urged upon them that there were virgins of Israel more than enough whom they should be glad to comfort with love, he was not thinking only of the women of whom he spoke, nor of the wish that a good king will ever have that his nation shall grow to a more numerous strength. He thought also that he had under his rule a number of very turbulent men, who had plied the trade of war (being the only one that they knew) for more than ten years, and that he now had the task of settling them in a peaceful way, which it might not be very easy to do.

        He planned also new walls for Jerusalem, such as would make it a city of wide extent, taking in those parts on the other spurs of the plateau, where the Jebusites had dwelt in time of peace, but which were outside the walls. He thought that he could so build that he would have a great city which would be almost as strong as the small one had been before.

        He also strengthened his position, as greatly as he could have done through another victorious war, by a swiftly-negotiated treaty with Hiram, the King of Tyre, by which he secured a supply of cedar-wood from the Lebanon forests, suitable for the new Jerusalem which he planned to raise. He hired masons, carpenters and metal-workers from the same source, having in mind that he would build in a different manner from that which had contented the Israelites hitherto. He would adopt the customs of more civilized lands. Even Maachah should own that the new house he would build would be fit for the wives of a great king, such as Yahweh had raised him to be. She would stop talking of the wonders of the Five Cities, or of the kind of home in which she had lived before she became his wife, of which he hated to hear. And there should be a separate apartment for every wife, in the royal way, which secures the peace and comfort of kings.

        These things could not be done except at a great cost, but there was no hindrance in that. David asked the help of each tribe, partly in treasure and partly in labour, so that the work could go on. They could not lightly refuse that, for it was to make their own city great, so that it could compare with Damascus or Tyre, as all men were agreed that it should. David had seen from the first that they would give more liberal and willing aid to the establishment of a new national centre than they would have offered to further a neighbour's pride. Shiloh or Beth-El might have waited long for a tenth of that which was offered freely for the glory of the new city that David had won for the land.

        There was another reason, beyond that. When Jerusalem had been searched, after those who had been left alive had been herded out, it had discovered a great spoil, and this treasure had been divided equally to every tribe, in proportion to the number of those who had been called to the siege. David had taken no more than his own share. Men had gone home laden with spoil, and this equitable liberality had its natural consequence. There is that scattereth and yet increaseth. David was without the natural greed which causes kings to store for a distant day. That which he had he gave. That which he needed he asked. He expected to be treated in the same liberal spirit by which his own actions were ruled. And that which he asked was as much for the nation as for himself. His house rose, but it was to be the home of Israel's kings. The foundations of the larger city were being laid, but it was to be the city not of David only, though it would be called by his name, but of Israel - and of Israel's god.

        For David did not forget that. While carpenters hammered, and gravers used their skill on the façade of the royal house, a tabernacle was also raised in Jerusalem which was to be the covering of the Ark of Yahweh, secure at last from those precarious wanderings by which it had fallen into the hands of the Philistines in the days of Eli, and the sea-god's worshippers had found that there could be no good fortune for them till they should get it out of their hands.

        Even the popularity of the great shrine at Gibeon, which claimed to have the original brazen altar that Moses made, might decline before the rival attractions of the Ark itself, and the new choral services which David was planning to introduce.


DAVID sat at meat in his new house, which he had entered but a few days before. At his table were a group of a score of men whom he honoured most, and there was a larger one beyond that, which would seat fifty or more. It was such a hall as had not been seen in the Canaanite land within the records of men, nor, it may be, since the beginning of time.

        The mere fact; that the King of Israel-Judah had such a house would make his name more formidable in other lands. It was an assertion that he claimed to be ranked with the rich kingdoms of Syria and Tyre, or even with that of Babylon, which was greater and further away.

        The kings of Moab and Edom had no such houses: the lords of the Philistines had never lived in such state.

        Men would talk of that house in all the neighbouring lands, and it would stir envy and fear. David knew that; and he saw that it was a dangerous thing. Fear breeds hatred and strife. He strove to show friendship, and to secure peace. He had gained all that Samuel had foretold that he would receive from the hands of God. He was content to give thanks.

        Yet it was not his nature to be long content with no more to do than the making of songs. For the moment, he still had the enlarging of Jerusalem's walls, for which he planned in a bold way. The work could not be quickly done. He could not get enough labour for that. At its present rate, it would take many years. And this, too, would be the talk of a hundred towns, and would increase both wonder and fear.

        But this work was not one which could fill the King's thoughts, or his time. He had other dreams.

        Now he sat on a chair of great beauty and cost, being very cunningly carved in the foreign way, and the men who sat on stools at his board were of a different kind from those who had shared his meals in the Hebron days. The hard-handed men who had been of his own youth, the companions of bare living and hardship, of flight and strife, were still here. Joab's place was secure. Eleazer sat at his side. Others were there of the same breed. But there also was Jeduthun, the chief musician of the new tabernacle. There was Jehoshaphat, a man of much learning and skill in the reading of ancient tongues, whom David had made Recorder for the whole land. There was Nathan also, a man not of priestly rank, but one of the prophets who could move the people with words, as the priests were seldom able to do. Nathan was not often there, for he was one who preferred to walk in his own ways, and eat at such times as he would. Now he sat at the King's right hand, for he was one with whom David was desirous to talk.

        There had been a time when Nathan had wandered through the land preaching in Yahweh's name, and denouncing the shrines which were sacred to other gods, or at which Yahweh had no more than an equal place. The Levites would often condone, if they did not encourage, the worship of several gods, for they were professional priests. They cared most for busy shrines on which many gifts would be laid. Why offend half of those from whose generosities their comforts came? They would arrange different feast-days, on which every god could be worshipped in turn. What could be fairer than that? Those who differed were not obliged to be there. Yahweh would have his days. Religious tolerance could not go much further than this, when the same priest and the same shrine would supply the needs of as many cults as could gather congregations sufficient to pay the dues of the day.

        But the prophets of Yahweh were of another mind. They would threaten the wrath of Heaven in dreadful words. Some listened and trembled. Others met them with flying stones. But it came to be recognized that Yahweh was a most jealous and intolerant god, who would not live at peace with his own kind. Dagon was not of that mood. You might sacrifice to Moloch and him on the same day, and expect that they would both be pleased. Ashtaroth was worshipped by all. Even Chemosh of Moab (who was most like to Yahweh in many ways) was more tolerant of competing deities. But Yahweh would not endure other gods. Their very images must be broken about his feet.

        That was what the prophets taught, and some of the priests said they were right, though most wished they would take a more reasonable view.

        The prophets also differed among themselves. To some of them, Yahweh was little more than a tribal god of a most intolerant mood, sharing the passions of men. To others, of whom Nathan was one, he was the Ultimate Invisible God, whom men have sought at all times. Nathan saw in David the divine purpose at work. The dream of Abraham, of Moses, of Samuel, was to come true through him. He saw David as a sword in the hand of God, by which his kingdom would be established for ever. Not a blind, imperfect instrument, as Saul had been for a time, not knowing the spirit he was of, but one who was aware of the Eternal Truths which are hidden from baser minds. A man after God's own heart. One whose conception of Yahweh was of the prophet kind: far higher than that of the priestly law which Moses had seen to be the best which could be given to the men of his own day.

        Now David would have Nathan take up a permanent residence in Jerusalem, to teach those who came to worship before the Ark. Though there would be many for generations to come who would not abandon their loyalty to the older Gibeon, yet many others were coming already from all parts of the land. But David was not only anxious to draw worshippers from Gibeon; he aimed, with greater reason, to discourage the smaller shrines. There were many reasons for that. It was a matter on which all the arguments fell into the same scale. It would maintain the purity of the faith if all men came at least once a year to join in worship in the Jerusalem form. It would support the prestige and prosperity of the new capital. It would encourage the national spirit, and the unity of tribes which had not been used to think of themselves as a single kingdom.

        David's conversation with Nathan was broken by an argument between Joab and Jehoshaphat, which was bitter with an equal contempt.

        The Recorder was a man of figures and facts. He said that the system of levies, both of men and treasure, which David had instituted, although equitable in theory, was very loosely applied. He thought cheating to be common - indeed, almost routine. His remedy was the taking of an exact census. He said that the cost would be more than covered by the increased revenue which would follow: and the figures would be of great interest, and useful in other ways. In fact, he spoke as a Recorder of any country or age would be very likely to do.

        To Joab, the idea was of an exceptional stupidity: the species of folly which is likely to follow when men of theory attempt the practical business of government. It was to upset a hive which was now giving honey enough, for the mere trouble of being stung. Cheating? Of course there was. What did the Recorder expect? And of what did he complain? If every district misrepresented its strength to the same degree, the result was fair enough in the end. If some did so more than others, they were probably those on whom most hardship would otherwise fall, so that the result might be fairer still.

        That men should cheat was, to Joab, a most natural thing. He did it himself when the opportunity came. He did not mention that, but it was something of which he was utterly unashamed.

        His reasons may have seemed perverse to Jehoshaphat, but they were sound enough. A census would be unpopular. It was therefore inexpedient. It might be compared to the action of a man who insisted on counting his money, though he knew that, in the course of that operation, some of it must be dropped and lost.

        He had other reasons of international politics which were equally good. He knew well enough what the approximate strength of the nation was. Of both sexes, old and young, there were now nearly seven million people who owed allegiance to David. Other nations might be able to make a good guess at this figure, but they could not know. He was aware that a vague fact is always more impressive than an exact one. It would do no good, and might do actual harm, for the exact population to become known (as it would surely be) among the five nations who immediately surrounded Israel, and the greater powers who were further away.

        Also, there would be another revelation of very doubtful domestic advantage. Everyone knew that the land of Canaan might be numerically the strongest single element, as they were certainly the most virile and race-conscious, but even that was not certain, while it was beyond doubt that they would be shown to be immensely outnumbered by the aggregate of other elements of population. their habit of keeping very careful pedigrees would assist to demonstrate this position with a convincing certainty. Was it wise to remove this condition, of which few thought, and which was only vaguely realized, to the region of definite and registered fact? To a Hebrew of Joab's temperament, it seemed an extremely silly thing to set out to do.

        Actually, the strength of the Hebrew position lay in the fact that practically everyone in the land, David included, was of mixed ancestry, and that the Israelites alone had been sufficiently race-conscious to maintain records of the amount of the blood o f Abraham which they were individually entitled to claim.

        Apart from all these arguments, Joab saw no gain on the point at issue, for David was getting the men and money for which he asked, and he was getting them at that time in a ready, good-humoured way. A more accurate estimate of the resources of the various tribes might enable him to reduce the percentage, but would not alter the actuality of his requisitions, and they might be more grudgingly supplied. Joab knew the character of his own race well enough to understand that they would contribute one hundred men in the belief that they were doing somewhat less than their honest share, much more readily than eighty in the conviction that they were being forced to render their quota to the utmost fraction.

        Some of this Joab said, and some he thought was best kept to his own mind. Why would not Jehoshaphat attend to his business - the keeping of accounts, and the writing of historical records, which he could doubtless do very well?

        Joab, who was responsible for both military and labour levies, considered that Jehoshaphat was interfering in matters which were entirely his. Jehoshaphat could not see that Joab was concerned at all. It was a question of the civil government of the country, and of the collection of taxes, being conducted in an efficient and orderly manner. He would have taken stock, if he could, of the nation's goats. He would have counted the millstones, tabulating those separately which were over-much worn.

        It was a quarrel of no importance at that day, but it was to make a bitter sorrow for David in later years; for Jehoshaphat would prevail in the end, and Joab would give way to his face, stubbornly resolving to frustrate him with useless figures, and would omit the Levites because, he would say, they were hard to count, and the Benjamites for no reason at all, and then, when the issue became acute, there would be an outbreak of plague in the land, and the people, hating the census, and seeing its probable consequence to themselves, would clamour about the interposition of an angered god, which would have Joab's support, and a certain oddness about his appearance as Yahweh's ally would not enable David to overcome the half-belief that he had angered the Eternal Power by taking a census of population, and the man who had that spiritual vision which has given the world the greatest hymns of all time, would go to his grave believing that he had brought death and misery upon thousands of those he ruled, as the vicarious penalty of his presumptuous sin.*

        * Yet David's prayer of protest sounds like his own conception of the Creator rebuking that by which he was surrounded, and which he had inherited from ancestors of a lower kind: "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?"

        But that was a sorrow of days to come. Now he paused only to say that it would be a work too great to consider while the royal city lay with half-built walls. He turned his words to Nathan again to say:

        "You may praise this house, if you will, but I have a greater thought beyond this. Shall I dwell in cedar, and there be curtains only to cover the Ark of God?"

        Nathan saw what he had in mind, that he would build a great temple to Yahweh's praise. It was a plan by which the name of Yahweh would become great in the earth. Nathan thought it was good. So he said, as David had had no doubt that he would.

        David sat very high at this time. His fame was great in the mouths of men, and if he thought of himself as one who was partnered by the Divine Power, it is not hard to excuse. Nathan saw the look in his eyes, and became still.


NATHAN did not sleep as do those whose days are spent in the toils of the threshing-floor, or in hoeing between the vines. There were long nights when he could not rest. There were visions that came in the silent hours. He sought God in the night, and he would have said that the search was not always vain.

        Now he lay thinking of what David had said, seeking to pierce the veil of the future, and wondering what the end would be. Had he done well to say without thought that it would be Yahweh's will that such a temple should be built? Did he really desire that? He had been content with curtains for nearly five hundred years, which is a long time. What might the effect of such a temple be upon the land, upon the envious jealousies surrounding nations, who were, in their aggregate, if not separately, far stronger than Israel could ever be? What would be the effect upon David himself?

        Nathan knew enough of David's character - of his weakness, if we will - judge that he would design that temple with the magnificence of his own mind, rather than by the resources of a land which was not rich.

        In the first enthusiasm of the taking of Jerusalem, the people had already submitted to a scale of taxation, and to levies of unpaid labour, such as Saul or the earlier Judges would have thought a fantastic impossibility. That had been necessary for the building of David's house, and for the great labour of he city walls, which were still far from complete. For such a temple as David would dream to build - Nathan felt a great doubt. It is a very terrible thing to be called a prophet of the Most High. Nathan lay long, seeking Yahweh's will, and he slept at last, having come to a clear and resolute mind. He must say that which it would vex David to hear.

        David had also had his thoughts in the night. He had planned where the new temple should be, and of how he would build it of such beauty and grace that men would look no more at his own house. They would not say in the future days: "We will go up to Jerusalem to see the mighty walls, and the cedar house that were built by David, when he was the great king of the land." They would say: "We will go up to see the Temple of Yahweh, which is as wonderful as are his mercies to men." It should be of fine carving and beaten gold. It should have curtains of splendid dyes. . . . Nathan did hot have to seek him, he sought the prophet, he being the one man (he thought) who would not irk him with questions of cost, or the cautious doubts which are vexatious to the mind which is awake to a new dream. They would look ahead to the splendid issue of scheme and care. David had a great confidence that, if he should go forward boldly, Yahweh would open the way. It would be Jerusalem over again.

        Nathan listened to what he said, but his eyes did not respond. David felt the rebuff. He asked: "What is wrong? Or do I boast too much of a thing that I have not done?"

        "You boast, as I think" Nathan replied," of a thing that you will not do. For I lay awake, and Yahweh's voice came in the night."

        David was troubled by these words, but still more by the tone in which they were said. He asked: "Am I near to death? Is my life done?"

        Nathan was quick to deny that. "As I see it," he said, "you have many years as yet of a life which is still young. But the word of Yahweh is this: 'Having dwelt in a tent for five hundred years, why should you think that I would have cedar for walls? Is it honour to me, seeing that all cedars are mine, as are the precious stones that the merchants bring? will have a house-in my own time.' "

        David was abashed by this word. He asked: "Have I sinned, seeking to decide for myself what should be Yahweh's abode?"

        "As I see it," Nathan replied, "you have not sinned, and your thought was well-pleasing to him. Yet I must show you this. You have learnt, as your songs show, to think of Yahweh as a long-suffering and very merciful god, who is Friend and Father to men who are righteous, and of goodwill to their kind. In this I am well assured you are right, and the veil of our own baseness and sin, which hides Yahweh's face from our eyes, is somewhat drawn aside by your songs.

        "Yet we know that most men do not think of him thus. He is to them a jealous and very terrible god, who will not forgive, nor will he quickly forget. He is a god who must ever be soothed with blood. Yet we may think that they look up in the right way, though it may be to a height which they cannot see.

        "You must see also that you have been a man of blood from your early days. Your years have been filled with strife, and the frequent slaughter of men. Let your own thoughts be what they may, it is thus you will seem to the world, who will see no more than that the temple is built by one whose hands are red with the blood of many his wrath hath slain."

        "Then am I cursed of him, not been accounted worthy to build a house to his praise?"

        "I said less than that, which I did not mean. For it seemed that I heard a voice in the night, and it was of a different kind. For the word of Yahweh was clear that he will establish your throne that it shall not fail, either from you or your race. He will establish it, as I think, to the end of days, and in a glory beyond your thought. And it may be that a son from your own loins will build a temple that shall not fall."

        David was silent for some time after he had heard this. For the moment the rebuff meant more than any promise could do. What he wanted at all he would always desire with a great lust. He said at last: "If it be Yahweh's will, it is min. . . . I would go apart."

        Nathan watched him go, wondering whether he had done well. But he spent some hours in prayer after that, and was more assured than before. David went into the tabernacle. He sat alone before the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark that Moses had made. It was the sign of the Covenant: the symbol of Yahweh's presence among the men to whom he gave the moment's blessing of life.

        David sat there for a long time. He did not see himself now as the chosen King of a chosen race, as he had too often done in the latter days. He saw himself very small, as he was. A man who had done some base, and many foolish things. Why should Yahweh regard him at all?" What is man," he thought, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that thou visitest him?" (That would make a song. He must remember that. I There was always one part of his mind that stood aside, watchful of what he thought, ready to construct, to record, It would always be so, even at the greatest crises, the deepest sorrows of life; for it is only those who are cursed in; this way who can give birth to enduring song.) What had he done that Yahweh should give him a son who would build a temple that would not fall? He thought of no more than his immediate son, and of a temple of earthly stone. How could his thought go beyond that? Yet the thought of a living Christ may be said to have been born on this day, a first faint light of dawn upon the darkness of human fate. . . .

        Was it one of the sons he had, or one that was yet to be? He could not think of Amnon, his eldest, as one who would have a part in any purpose of God. Even affection could not bring him to that. Abigail's child was a gentle boy, most unfit for a throne, which it was very sure that he would never struggle to win. Absalom was in some ways the likeliest choice. If beauty and pride - But his thoughts turned sadly from one he loved, but from whom he got little love in return. He knew in his heart that Absalom had his mother's relentless and ruthless ways, which could yet be patient to wait their time. He had his mother's ways on their worst side: it was less sure that he had her loyalty, or her capacity to judge of events and men. The finer points of the Philistine character seemed to have passed him by.

        David's mind went on, searching among his younger sons, but he could not settle on one whom he could regard as likely to build the temple of which he dreamed, or to make firm the feet of an earthly throne. Well, there was time yet. He was still young. The boy might be yet unborn. And he might do much in his own time which would make the kingdom sure, so that its rule would not be hard at his death. (What is man that thou art mindful of him? He must not forget that.) And he had noticed yesterday that Tamar was playing the harp very well. She must be properly taught. He would speak to Maachah about that at once. . . .

        In the following months he took two more wives, choosing them with deliberate care. For the first time, he chose wives for themselves, rather than for the alliances they would bring. He considered beauty and character, and their parents' reputes. He did that which seemed right and wise. They were both glad to become wives of so great a king. He was kind to both, and he gave them apartments for their own use, so that they did not come under the domination of older wives. Yet they would always be strangers to him; for it is not in such ways that love is won, or that children are bred of the better kin.

        . . . And after that he had other things to engage his mind, and his wives did not see him overmuch, and the younger ones least of all, for war converged upon him on every side, from the Syrian rivers to the Salt Plain of the south.


THE Ammonites were a very ancient race. Like the neighbouring tribe of Moab, they were of cousinly blood to the children of Israel, and except when some cause of quarrel rose, or they were stirred by the follies of evil kings, they lived in sufficient friendship together. The Ammonites lived on the desert edge behind Moab and Gad. Their chief city, Rabbah, was built in a; high fertile valley, in which one of the arms of the Jabbok (the largest tributary of the Jordan) rose. This valley thrust like a spear-head between the lands of Moab and Gad, behind both of which spread the limitless desert from which the king of Ammon could call fierce hosts of Bedouin spearmen to a total strength which no one but himself could guess.

        David had maintained a consistent friendship with Nahash, the Ammonite king."If Nahash had had any pity for the naked crowd of Jebusite refugees which had toiled up the long gorge where the stream ran low in the summer days, to seek refuge in Rabbah's walls, it had not blinded him to the fact that their lives were forfeits of war, and that it was by David's clemency that they were alive that day to make trouble of bleeding feet. The Jebusites had shown friendship to David's foes, and now they had paid the score. Nahash might take them in, as he saw that David had meant him to do, but he had no quarrel with him for that. He was glad that David had sent him a few hundred new subjects to augment his power.

        David would never quarrel with any man who was friendly to him, and while Nahash lived peace with Ammon remained secure. But now Nahash was dead. His son Hanun reigned in his place. David grieved for a friend's death. There had been kindness done to him by Nahash in his fugitive days which he was not quick to forget. He sent an embassy to Hanun to assure him that he would still be a steady friend to his friend's son. He did not send men from among his captains who had become famous in war. They would not have been fitting bearers of David's sorrow for the dead king. He sent some of the Elders of Israel, reverend men who were of dignity and repute. They came to the court of Hanun, and did their part gravely and well.

        Hanun took counsel aside. It was known that there was disquiet in Syria over the growing Israelite power. Since the fall of Jerusalem, there had been secret enquiries as to what Ammon would do if a war should come. Nahash had sent back word that he saw no occasion for war, and the talk had died. But there had been some of his counsellors who would have liked to send a different reply.

        Now they said to Hanun: "These men do not come with friendly intent. It is to spy out the land. David waits his time to quarrel with all. It was the Jebusites yesterday. It will be Ammon tomorrow. He has left us here to grow rich in a long peace, as a butcher fattens a calf."

        Hanun said: "Well, you may be right about that. But what can I do? It is long since we have had a war, which would be good sport. But David is far stronger than I."

        They answered to that: "David is less strong than you think, for he is surrounded by foes, and though each may be afraid to begin, yet if one should have courage to start, they will all come in, lest we be destroyed one after one. We are not urging a risk, but saying that which we know."

        "Well," Hanun said, being young, "if you are so sure, we will have some sport at this day." He ordered that the three Elders of Israel should be brought before him again, that he might send greeting to Israel's king. They came without suspicion of wrong, and found that their hands were seized and bound at their backs. At the breast of each was a spear's point. As they stood thus, Hanun gave orders that their beards should be shaved of on one side Then he had their clothes cut off from about the buttocks, so that they were bare below that. As they were shaved and stripped the Court laughed, as he had meant them to do

        "This," Hanun said, "will teach your king not to send spies to my land again. I am sending you back alive, for am in a merciful mood."

        "It is strange," one of the Elders answered, "to hear mirth from one whose good days are done." Hanun changed colour somewhat at that, in the midst of his jest. He said: "Get you gone, lest my mercy change." They were thrust through a jeering crowd.

        The news came to David with speed, as it would be likely to do. When the Elders got back to Jericho a messenger met them from him. They had got clothing by then, but their beards were an offence which would be slower to heal. David's words were: "Stay at Jericho till your beards are grown." They were glad in do that, being greatly ashamed. They knew that they could leave Ammon to him.

        David thought: "Ammon would not have done this, standing alone." He prepared for a great war. As he drew his host to a head, there came news that the men of Edom were called to arms. It was said also that Moab stirred.

        Hanun's counsellors had been right to that point. When the news of what he had done had been spread abroad, and it was seen that David had been insulted in a way that he could not forgive, it had been said on all sides: "Ammon must fight for its life, but if it be left alone it will fail. David will take Rabbah, stretching out his power to the desert edge on a new side, and holding Syria and Moab more widely apart. He will be stronger than he is now, and his foes less. If we would not also be overthrown in the end, we must strike now. We know that, if we make war, Ammon cannot leave us to fall, making her own peace, for her offence is too sore. Now is the time to fight, when we are very sure that she must."

        David heard all. He said with heat: "When did I wrong Edom? And I have ever been Moab's friend. But I will make an end now. I see well why I was not to build a temple to Yahweh's name. I must be a man of blood still. And, by Yahweh's throne! I will not sheathe the sword which they have caused me to draw till I have made peace secure, even for my son on a distant day."

        Having gathered Judah and Israel in the greatest array that they had yet known, he divided them into three parts. He sent Joab, with the largest force, and the most part of his war-trained men, to attack the Ammonites, either at Rabbah, or where else he might find them to be. He took the remainder of the footmen himself, turning south when he had crossed the Jordan at the Jericho ford, that he might meet the army that Moab was sending to Ammon's aid. And he gave Abishai charge of a third army of such as could be mounted on camels, or horses that were used to the desert ways, with orders to seek the Edomites with all the haste that he could, either intercepting them while they were yet in their own land, or following hard on their track, if they should be marching to the aid of Moab and Ammon before he could cross their way.

        As David crossed the Jericho ford he was followed by news that the Philistines of the five cities were taking arms."Well," he said, "they must do what they will at this time, but I have hope that it will not be for long."

        It was Abishai's first command on a separate field, but David had chosen well for the task which he had to do. Marching at a great speed, he learned that the army of Edom was already advancing toward the Moabite land. He came up on its rear as it was crossing the Plain of Salt, rounding the southern end of the Sea of Death. When the Edomites saw the great host that Abishai led, which may have seemed more than it was, being wholly of mounted men, they would have been glad to fly, for they had not thought to be attacked thus, before they had the support of their friends. They though that the whole strength of Judah and Israel was to fall upon them alone, and if they went on, their retreat would be cut off from their own land, Abishai being behind them thus. Having such fears, it was not surprising that they should break at the first shock, but they did themselves little good thereby, for how could they flee from an army of which none was on foot?

        Eighteen thousand men: so Abishai counted the dead.

        Camping but one night on the field, and leaving those who were of the least use to collect the spoils, he rode on, hoping that his speed would be such that he would be in time to support David against the Moabite king, but he was somewhat too late for that. Yet he was in time to herd back such as fled from a beaten field, so that, on the next day, those who were left unslain of Moab's host were in David's hands at Bezer, near to which the battle had been. They rounded up all who lived, till a great number of women and children, and about twelve thousand men were in David's power.

        David thought of the foes that he still had, and he saw what he must do, which he did not like. He said to the King of Moab: "you would have attacked me, from whom you had had no wrong. Can you ask mercy for that?"

        "I can ask nothing of right," the King of Moab replied."but we have been friends of old, and you have the name of a very merciful king."

        "Well," David answered, "perhaps I am. And at this time I will do no more than I must. I have too many foes, and should make an end. Yet at a later day I might endure more, and I would not do you a lasting wrong.

        "I will tell you what I will do. I will let your women and children go, and with them all the males who are of a less length than five feet, for they cannot do me much hurt, and by when they are grown I may have come to a better time. So in a few years your nation will be as strong as before; and I will say that it is to pay tribute to me, so that none will dare to attack it before its boys will be grown, and it will have come to its strength again."

        The King of Moab could not object to that, for, though he saw that it would cost him his own life, which he was sorry to lose, be saw also that it was a just and very merciful course for a king to take against one who had attacked him without a cause, for in ten years the people of Moab would have recovered most of their strength, and if David had slain their males to the last babe, it would have seemed no more than the part of a prudent king, Israel being so compassed with foes.

        So they made a measure upon the ground of the length that David had said, on which, one by one, all the males of Moab were laid (excepting those which they could not catch at this time), whether they were old or young, and if they were the full length of the line, they cut their throats without further words; but if they were less, though it were but by the breadth of a hair, they let them go free.

        After that, David sent Abishai, with the mounted men, to join his brother, thinking that they would easily be able to deal with all the force that Ammon could put into the field, and he went back with the footmen with whom he had put Moab to rout, to face the Philistine power, which had made no movement as yet, waiting till it should hear more.

        But David would not wait for them to move first. He took Ammah by a sudden assault, that being a strong fort that they had built to protect the frontier of their land since they had been chastised by David before, and having done that he gave them an instant choice, either to fight or to be vassals to him.

        They asked: Why should we pay tribute to you, we being the more strong, as we think we are?"

        David said: "Do you think that? Then you should fight, if you do. I will tell you this. Edom lies dead in the Desert of Salt, and Moab is a land of women and boys, where the men are not easy to find. You should think that I have many men who are not here. And there are no chariots now, except a few that are mine."

        For David had destroyed most of those which he took on the day that he broke the Philistine power, finding that there were few in Israel who would be trained to use them in war, and in his treaty with Egypt it was agreed that they should sell no more to the Philistine lords, neither could they obtain them from Tyre, for David had bargained with Hiram about that when he bought cedar from him.

        "But I will tell you this," David went on, "if you think that you can fight at a light risk, having heard how I let Moab go, you may find that you have guessed wrong, when it is too late to avail. For Moab is of a near blood to ourselves, and I had had kindness from them before. In ten years' time, when their boys are grown, they will be a nation again."

        But you are not of our blood; you have been our foes through a long day; and you worship most hateful gods. So I will give you this choice. If you yield now, throwing your gates wide, even to Gaza itself, so that all Canaan from now shall be but one land (as I mean it to be now, either by bargain or blood), I will give you a good peace, and you shall keep your own laws in your own coasts, so that you pay tribute to me.

        "But if you prefer war, then you shall have war to the end. I will tell my host that Philistine and Amalekite are the same word, and you will not ask me to be plainer than that."

        "No," they said, taking no pleasure in what they heard, "you have put all in a plain way. We will give answer in two days."

        "You will give answer in two hours," David replied, "for you have heard that which I will not offer again."

        David spoke in a very confident tone, but, being back in his tent, his face changed, for none but Benaiah was there.

        "Benaiah," he said, "get all ordered as best you can, for we march at dawn, be the Philistine reply evil or good."

        The captain of David's guard was a startled man when he heard that, but he went out at once, being one who would carry out the orders he had without asking what they might mean.

        When he was gone, David pulled a scroll from his pouch which had reached him just as he had gone to meet the Philistine lords. It was written in the Egyptian style, and in Maachah's hand, which he must know well.

        "I have a secret word," she wrote."Joab is trapped. He has not Ammon to face, but the whole Syrian power. This is a sure word, though it is not spoken in Jerusalem yet. I thought you should know first. But what can be done, while you are not here?"

        David read it again. He thought: "Maachah will be half-content that I must go back in such haste. She will have a thought still for those who are of her own blood."

        Yet he did not blame her for that. Nor did he doubt that she wrote the truth, for he knew her well. She would neither mislead him thus, nor would she be lightly misled by a false tale. He saw, too, that she had done well to let him know in such haste, and to tell it to none but him. What would have been the use of a panic in Jerusalem streets? And could send no help, for there was scarcely an armed man left in its walls. Where was Joab now? If he had been destroyed, it would be worse than Mount Gilboa in the last reign, for Israel would have stronger foes. It showed that what he had done to Moab had been no more than he must.

        While he had been talking to the Philistine lords, he had been counting with half his mind the number of those whom he could yet place in the field, if Joab's army should be destroyed: he had debated how he could hold the Jericho fords, and also those that were further north on the great caravan route. By which way would the Syrians come? He saw that it might be Hebron for him again, and the desert behind. He could not risk the defence of Jerusalem with new walls that were half built, and old ones that were half down. . . . So he had taken the one chance that remained, giving the Philistines but two hours to decide between peace and war.


IT was in less than two hours that Benaiah entered David's tent again. He said: "I have ordered all so that we can march in a short time, though I know not where it will be. But these Philistine dogs are returned, and after you have spoken to them I suppose you will tell me more."

        "I will tell you now. Syria has moved, and that in more haste than I had thought that it would be likely to do. Joab will have had Rabbah in front, and Syria round his rear. Can he endure that, I having a full third of the army here?"

        Benaiah heart this with a grim look, which was yet not so ill-pleased. He did not like Joab, nor did it cross his mind that they might be facing something with which even David might not be able to deal. He thought only of a good fight that he was too distant to share, and of what Joab would be likely to do. He said: "Joab will bite hard in that trap."

        "So he will," David agreed, "yet he may not bite his way through. For which way can he go?"

        He saw that there was just a chance that he might learn his danger in time to get free to the south, and was glad again that he had dealt with Moab in such a way that there could be no more mischief from them.

        Benaiah did not attempt to answer that question. He asked: "Shall I have them in here?"

        But David said he would come out. He met the Philistine lords, and knew at the first word that there would be no more trouble with them. They enquired details of the peace which they would be likely to get, which he answered in a generous way.

        The fact was that when they remembered how they had fared at his hands before, and thought of what had happened to Moab and Edom in the last month, the threat that they would be Amalekites to him if they did not yield was more than they had the courage to stake on the chance of war. For it had been no less than a threat that he would massacre them to the last child in the land.

        The Amalekites were not men of one race, or a settled home. They were the hyenas of the desert, flying ever from a resolute front, and roaming round for a safe bone. They must be killed, if they were caught. All nations were agreed about that. But Israel regarded them with a special hate, which had endured for five hundred years.

        For when they had been wandering in the desert, after the flight from Egypt, having no right to any fertile land, nor sufficient strength to wrest it from others, there had been a time when the men of Israel had been so feeble and few that the Amalekites (who were ever following their trail, as vultures follow a stumbling beast, slaying any who could not keep up with the march, or who might wander aside) gathered courage to make an end, and there had been a day-long struggle before Joshua, with such of the Israelites as had not been too faint to fight, had beaten them off at last.

        It was they over whom Samuel had quarrelled with Saul, because he had let some of their cattle live, for even the beasts which were theirs had been counted unclean, as though they might spread disease among Israel's herds, which they may have done before then.

        It was they who had raided Ziklag, when David had left none but women and children within its walls, though they had had no quarrel with him, for the centuries came and went, but the Amalekite was a vulture still.

        So when David had said that Philistine and Amalekite should be as one word if they did not yield, he had been plain enough for them to understand that it was the last choice they would have. But now that they would have peace, he made it easy for them, though he gave them no guess of the need which called him away. He said only:

        "I will give no more time to this now, for I have other foes with whom I must deal in the same way before I can bring the land to a large peace, as I am meaning to do. But I will have you" (that is, the five lords who were there) "come to Jerusalem now, where Jehoshaphat, who is just and exact, will draw up a good scroll of peace, such as will be in accord with a shorter writing which we will make here. And, beyond that, you shall do no more than disband your men, yielding their arms to me, for you will have no more use for them, but I may."

        So the Philistine host was disarmed and disbanded in the last hours of the day, and David marched at the next dawn, taking the Jerusalem road, and having the five Philistine lords in his train. He supposed that on his arrival at Jerusalem there would be news of Joab after which he would know what to do. He was well content that he had not weakened his army by further strife, and that it was marching toward the east, where he supposed that he would be needing it next.


JOAB marched through a land that he saw for the first time, much like the country of Gad, having very fertile hollows, but being bare and dry at its higher parts. He ascended further at every mile, and he moved with caution, lest he should be forced to fight on an evil ground, but not overmuch, for he did not think that the Ammonites could put such a force into the field as could face the army he led, and that which they had was better fitted to fight on the desert plain.

        He looked down on valleys which were faintly yellow with unripe crops, and he thought that Hanun had been a fool to force the war at that time of the year."See," he said to Abishai, "what will come of having a young king! Having lost Moab's and Edom's help, on which he must have counted more than enough, I cannot see what he will do but bar Rabbah's gates, and lie closely there till the rains come, when he will think that we shall go home, as perhaps we may for this time. But we shall have reaped his crops before then, and he will grow lean before there is harvest again."

        "There is a tale that he is camping four miles from the city walls, as though he will close our way."

        "Then we have two signs that he is a young king, for we are far stronger than he, and the war will be sooner done."

        Abishai agreed about that. They might be home in a week, and all through.

        "I suppose," he said, "the King will make Rabbah his. He will be lord of a wide land."

        "It is hard to say how it is," Joab replied, "but he will often leave the safe way for a dangered path, and yet he will come through better than they who have more wisdom in what they do."

        There are times when he will nurse his foes as a woman cares for a babe. It is hard to watch. Yet he may be more wise than we sometimes see."

        Abishai did not trouble to question that. He let the talk die.

        In the later day they came within sight of the Ammonite camp, which was where the spy had said it would be. It was too near the dusk for Joab to do more than deploy his front, thinking of those who crossed his way as no more than ripe fruit to be plucked at dawn. For he had a large force, and he thought that they would be better led, and was sure that they would be more practised in war.

        So he arrayed his ranks when the morning came, and made advance against a foe that withdrew slowly, now at one point and now at another, so that the battle delayed to join. Yet they did not retreat as men being afraid, or in broken array, but as though they sought only another ground than that they had held, or to draw Joab more near to the city gates. He was puzzled by this, and when he was in any doubt he was slow to act, so that some hours went by, during which the Ammonite army fell back about three miles, till its rear was close to the city gates.

        "It is a likely thing," Joab said to Naharai, who was near his side, as he would most often be on such days, "that the King will blame me for this, if they retreat behind Rabbah's walls, that I have not forced them to fight while I could. Yet there is something here which I cannot guess, for why should they have come out of their walls at all if they had meant to retire thus? It may be that they have asked of their gods, who have told them not to fight till the noon is here. Well, we need not help them in that. It is still two hours to that time, and they are now so placed by their own retreat that their left flank is exposed to attack from a better ground, and, as I think, it is Ephraim that will break them there."

        Naharai answered the first part of what he heard: "So it is, as you say. Or it is as though they wait for friends who should be on the road to their aid."

        He spoke in an idle way. For what friends were they likely to have? But Joab paused in an order that he was about to give, by which Ephraim would have been moved to attack, for he saw that which he might have thought of before.

        "Now, by Jacob's God!" he said, "so it is. They will not fight, for they wait for those who will strike from another point. And they will not enter the town, for they must be ready to help their friends."

        He ordered horsemen to be scattered abroad in the valley roads, and that men should climb to the highest points of the hills. "And if," he said, "their friends are not very near, will attack with no more delay, but I must know first how I stand before I engage my front in a battle from which it might be hard to draw clear."

        Even as he spoke, there was warning cried from a near hill. There was a great army that came from the north, and that was wheeling behind his rear. Its vanguard was but three miles away, and it moved swiftly, as knowing more about him than he had guessed about it.

        "Well," he said, seeming to those around to be unmoved by that which he heard, "we have time enough, though not more. Had they fallen upon my rear, it might have been an ill tale for the King's ears, but I have some hope that we can do better than that. Abishai, I am going to give you few men, and the worst I have, for I can spare no more for this hour. And with those men you must hold Ammon in play, as I know you will. I do not ask more than that, for if my battle be won, then Ammon can wait its turn. But if you cannot hold them back, you must ask me for further aid, as I would do to you at the same need."

        Abishai saw that he was to have a hard part, and one in which there would be little glory to win, but he did not complain of that, for he saw it to be the one chance that they would come clear of that trap. He said: "Give me Gad, and the men of Asher and Dan, with such horse as you do not need, and I will hold them checked till the dusk, or so at least I think I can do."

        "You shall have more than them," Joab replied, "and, if you can do that, we may all see Jerusalem once again, though I will say to you that if I were over Jordan now I should be better pleased than I am."

        Having said this, he was prompt to give such commands as would dispose his forces anew, and to choose his ground, so that the Syrians found, as they came on, that they were facing the front of an active foe.

        Joab was puzzled as to how events could have come to that point, but it was a question that he must leave to a better time, and its answer was simple enough. For the counsellors of Hanun had been wrong on one point. Moab and Edom had been quick to move when they had heard that Hanun had made a mock of the Israelite power, but Damascus had given a different reply, as had the Syrians of Zobah, their king Hadarezer being conscious of greater strength, and also that he was further away. He had not refused his aid. He had simply asked who was to pay the bill.

        He might agree that, if David's nearer neighbours should fall, the time might come when he would be in the same pit, but he pointed out that that would be no consolation to them. It was Ammon that was in peril now, and that by her own act. If she would save her skin by his aid, she must pay to the count of men she would have.

        Even then, he did not propose that he himself, or his great captain, Shobach, should come. they were not for Ammon to hire. But there were men enough to be had from the chief of Shobah and Tob to give David a busy day. Let Hanun say how many men he required, and send shekels for not less than a month's pay, and he could have all that he would.

        Hanun cursed when he heard this, but what else could he do? He weighed out the silver his father had saved over many years, hiring a hundred chariots, and thirty-three thousand men.

        These negotiations had been very secretly made, and, as the Syrians would not do so much as saddle a mule till the silver had been delivered to them, it was natural that David's spies should have reported that both Damascus and Beth-Rehob were quiet, and that there were no preparations for strife throughout the Syrian lands. But having received their pay, they gathered at a great speed, seeing the chance they had while David's army was in two parts, for if they were in the war at all they would have it won in the best way.

        Now Naharai's casual word had given Joab the time that he most needed to have, though no more. A leader less cool or less prompt than he might have found it too short, and would soon have been fighting on two fronts at once in a huddled way. A less able one would have tried to vanquish the army of Ammon before the Syrians could arrive on the field, using his best troops for that end, and leaving a ragged rear at that place from which his most danger would come.

        As it was, the Syrian host, marching boldly and fast, as men coming less to jeopard their own lives than to take a spoil, and thinking to fall on the rear of a host which would have its front already joined to that of an active foe, came to a halt that it did not choose as the army of Israel-Judah advanced in an order which gave no sign of the hasty dispositions from which it came.

        Joab sat on a mule. There were good horses to be had, but he cared nothing for show. He had a mule that was sure-footed on any height, and that would not tire. He looked backward, and heard the opening roar of battle two miles away: a growing murmur of sound from a fight that he could not see. If Abishai could hold them back for two hours, as he thought he might - But he could not tell. They might be breaking now. He turned his thoughts quickly from a matter which was now in his brother's hands, to regard the Syrian host. With shrilling of trumpet-calls, and much shouting of men, it was forming front of battle as best it might from the long files of a march in which haste had been more considered than a good aspect of war.

        Joab looked, and was not ill-pleased at all that he saw. There was a grim smile on his lips as he said to Naharai: "The vultures find they have come to a carcass that is not dead." But his eyes grew sombre and hard as he watched the long front of the battle advance, and thought of the men that David had in the Philistine land. The men that were needed here, where it was sure that they should have been! These needless, reckless risks! He would always look on David's military adventures as a sound professional will regard the successes of an amateur, however brilliant. The laws of mathematics would not change for him. The day of reckoning must come. It seemed that it was here now. . . . He stirred his mule, and rode to the vanguard front, where Judah and Ephraim were arrayed, being the finest troops that he had. He had not known them to fail till now.

        When he was in a central place, he raised an arm, at which silence came.

        "Men of Yahweh," he cried, in a voice that was hard and slow, and that carried far, "be of good courage, and play the man this day, for our people, and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord of Hosts do that which seemeth good to Him."

        He drew out his sword, and pointed to the Syrian ranks." Judah-Israel," he cried, "it is the one way home." So they saw it to be. There was no man there who lacked wit to see that the host of Syria lay across their homeward path, and that in a rearward flight there could be nothing but death for them. A roar of Yahweh! rose to a deafened sky, as they waited the word to charge.

        Joab looked hard at a movement of men behind the Syrian right."Elkanan," he said, "what is that?"

        "As I see, they are about to throw out those who will turn our flank."

        "So I suppose it to be. They have men enough to try that. You must extend the Benjamites there. Tell Uriah that they must let none pass, though they die. . . ." He paused a moment, and added: "No. Do not tell him to hold our flank unturned. Tell him we must turn theirs." A glance of understanding passed between the two. Elkanan, under whose order were the reserves, rode back to the Benjamites, whom Uriah led.

        Joab waved his sword as a signal for the centre to charge, the battle being already joined upon either flank. Trumpets and ram's-horns sounded along the line. Joab's mule stood still while the tide of advancing men parted around it, and closed again. Soon he was alone with Naharai, and a few personal followers. Behind him, Elkanan still held in reserve a part of the army of Judah - the veterans of Adullam days. For a few silent minutes Joab's gaze was fixed upon the swaying struggling line, where the short spears stabbed, and men shouted and strove and died.

        "Naharai," he said, "the line holds. It does more than that. Our men have the better heart. Tell Elkanan I shall not be needing him here. He is to follow Uriah, with every man and all the haste that he may."


FOUR days later, Joab met the King in Jerusalem, in his cedar house. Some of the army were camped outside the walls. Some had been left in Transjordania, where their homes were. Most had separated at Jericho, marching west and north in the directions from which they came.

        David said: "You have done well. When I heard that a Syrian army was round your rear, I had a great doubt."

        "So had I," Joab replied."Had they fallen upon me before I knew, or had I been entangled with the Ammonites then, there would have been few of us who would have seen Jordan again. As it was, we should have been no better than sped, had not Abishai held back the Ammonites long enough, which was more than I would have asked him to do at a less need."

        David could easily believe that Abishai had done well."He would not fail," he said, "through a faint heart. . . . But when the Syrians ran, and you went back to your brother's aid, could you not have entered the town?"

        Joab looked sour at that. He knew it would have been like the King to have ventured the audacious attempt, even though he had walked the edge of ruin the moment before. Also, he allowed in his own mind that when he had gone back to his brother's aid, and they had got the Ammonites on the run, it might have been possible to have entered upon their rear, and to have taken the town. . . . Possible, and no more.

        He could have believed that David would have tried that, even at the cost of leaving Abishai unsuccoured for a longer time, so that the Ammonites might have been drawn further away from the gate. He said: "Well so you might. But we thought we had had enough."

        David was aware of having said an ungenerous word. He added: "I might have tried no more than you did. Or had Idone so, I might have shown no wisdom in that. I should say that you judged as well as you fought, and it would be hard to say more."

        Joab was somewhat appeased, though less than he might have been, because he was not sure that David was wrong. He said: "You must think that the Syrians were not routed men. We had pushed them aside, but no more. We could not follow them up, Abishai being placed as he was. . . . I will own that I thought of no more than to get clear of those hills, leaving Ammon in Rabbah's walls."

        David said again that he had done well, as most would surely agree. He turned the talk to ask of who had died in that strife, and who had done best at the front of war.

        Joab said that they had lost few of note, except that Shammah the Harodite had been slain at the first charge; and Ira Ben-Ikkesh had a wound that would not be easy to heal. Those were all of the mighty men who had more than the cuts and bruises which were the routine of strife, as the game was played at that day. He added that Uriah should have the most praise, for he had ordered him to turn the Syrian flank with no more than six hundred men of the Benjamite tribe, and he, encountering three times that number of the men of Tob, who would have attacked Israel in the same way, had met them in such fury of mood that they had broken and run before the rush of the charge, and the deadly hail of the stones that came over the heads of the meeting men, for the children of Benjamin had great skill with the sling, saying that it was of more use than the bow.

        "He did not cease, having broken them," Joab went on "but charged further yet through the Syrian host, taking the flank of their main array, and I know of none who can be said to have done so much to turn the scale of the fight".

        David smiled somewhat at his own thought, as Joab said that. "Now I wonder," he said, in an idle way, "what Uriah will do when the wars cease."

        "We need not think of that yet. We must face Beth-Rehob, with all her strength, and, as is more likely than not, with Damascus as well; and there will still be Ammon to aid. That will be, as I suppose, when the winter is through. For this summer is too far gone."

        "Well," David said, "so it may be; but it will be for Hadarezer to choose. I must have Rabbah, of course, but that is no less than a certain thing, if Syria stand aside, as they may now think it wiser to do, seeing that Edom and Moab are mine, and all the Philistine land. And so, at least, I hope it may be. For I am somewhat weary of war."

        Joab did not agree about that. He thought that the rebuff the Syrians had received would be too much for their pride to bear. Nor would they be in a fearful mood, for it was less than half their force that had taken the field, even if Damascus should not be counted at all, and they had been no more than thrust back, so that Joab's army could take its road home. They had not been routed at all. So he said, and David did not deny that it was likely enough.

        "Yet," he said, "I seek peace, which there had been for this year, if Ammon had not forced me to war. Nor can I see any menace of further foes, if Hadarezer will but sit still."

        So it seemed to be, for Egypt would be little likely to disturb the treaty that David had made - less likely than ever now that he had strengthened his power. And he had a sure peace with Tyre, for he dealt much with Hiram, in ways by which both had gained, and he had made that king see that it would bring much profit to him if Canaan should become a prosperous land, for it had little harbourage on its coasts, and most of the trade it would do with Perga, and beyond that, must pay toll on the wharves of Tyre.. It seemed to him that if Syria would not make a quarrel for which it had little cause, he could see the end of his wars, as he had thought to do once before. He was now a greater king than he had hoped or intended to be, having been so forced by his foes. Moab, Edom, and Philistia, might be said to have added themselves to his power, which would not have been had they lain still. Ammon must fall in the next year. They might have the sense to yield without further shedding of blood.

        "I would," he said to Joab, "that you would have it made clear to my men of might that I would have them settle in peaceful ways, and that they should take wives, and rear children to Yahweh's praise. . . . I know not" (he said again, but in a more serious way) "what such as Uriah will do when the wars cease."

        As to that," Joab replied, "there is a tale that Uriah will have a wife, though, as yet, she is somewhat young. For when the fighting was hard, Eliam fell, with a Syrian spear at his throat, which would have gone through had not Uriah pushed to his aid, slaying three men, it is said, before Eliam could be got to his feet again. But so he did at the last, and was no worse for the fall he had.

        "Eliam said that he would give Uriah his daughter for that, being the best thing that he had, for he is a poor man, and of a pride that will not endure a debt."

        "I could mend that," David said, "if I would. But it sounds a tale at which I should be content. Yet I would hear what Uriah said. I told him three years ago that he would do better to take a wife than to think for every hour of his life of the slaying of Yahweh's foes."

        "So he said at this time, that he recalled that you had told him to do. Beyond that, he said that women were little use except for an idle day, but if a wife he must have, it was well that she should have been won on the field of war."

        "Well," the King said, "it is a good end, by whatever road he may have arrived. . . . I was reading, in an old scripture that Abiathar has, that when the Midianites were overcome in the ancient days, and Moses ordered that the women and children of all that nation, being ten times ten thousand in number, or more than that, should be slaughtered outside the camp, he gave orders to save all the young girls, such as had not lain with a man, that there might be the more mothers for Israel's tribes. So it is held to have been in the common talk, and it would seem that it is no more than was true. . . . We should be slow to do that now, having women more than enough, but I would not that any be left unwed. . . . I must give orders that Uriah shall have a house among those that I have designed for my captains' use."

        "So you may," Joab agreed, "for now he cares not where he abides, nor yet how; but a wife may bring him to better ways. Yet there need be no haste about that, for he will not wed till the next spring, Bath-sheba (for that is the damsel's name) being over-young for this year."


D AVID found that there was much to be done through the peace of the winter rains, making his power sure. He made laws and ordained tributes for the new lands he ha won, letting them keep their own customs and gods, for he would not strain a cord beyond that which its strength will bear. Yet he made the worship of Yahweh to be established also in those lands, in Edom and Moab and Philistia, where it had not been practised before; and in Judah-Israel he drove out every other goddess or god of whatever kind, breaking their images down, and spreading dung on their shrines. Also he slew such Levites, of whom there were more than a few, who would use Yahweh's altars to worship him on the Sabbath, and on other days in the week would be quite willing to slay bullocks upon them to the glory of alien gods.

        Men talked of I the strange faith that he taught, holding Yahweh to be the only god that there is, he having made both heaven and earth with his own hands, and how David would have it that his ways were higher than those of men. That seemed an unlikely tale, for a god may do as he will, having none to whom he must make account; yet they saw that David prospered in all his ways, and Yahweh's fame grew as the kingdom spread.

        And David, very confident in himself, in the god he served, and in Nathan's prophecy that his kingdom should not be lost, was active to order the new lands that had come under his rule in so short a time, and to push forward the new walls of Jerusalem during the winter days.

        When the spring came, he heard that the peace for which he had hoped must still be a year away, for Damascus was gathering its power. Joab had been right about that.

        "Who," Hadarezer asked, "do these Israelites think they are? Because they have thrown off the Philistine yoke, they must kick their heels in the air. So they may if they will, but they shall not be kicked on my door. Does David think, because he has overthrown some wilderness tribes, that he has become one of the great powers of the world? Well, if so, he has something to learn."

        He sent to David, offering peace if he would pay some tribute to him for the Transjordanian lands he had won, or which Egypt could make no claim, and if he would let Ammon alone, as being the Syrians' friend. And he mentioned that Damascus was of the same mind as himself concerning these things. If David did not agree, all Syria would unite to come to Jerusalem, to pull down its half-built walls, and perhaps put a garrison there.

        David sent a short answer. He said that Hadarezer would not be troubled to come to him. He would be met on the way.

        Joab grumbled at that." Why should we make it easy for him? Let him come as far as he will. I should meet him at Jordan fords."

        "And he would have overrun all the land of Gad."

        "And what harm would that be in the spring days? There would be no crops they could take, and the folk could be drawn away."

        "They could do much evil and spoil. And, besides, how do you know that they would come by the Jordan fords? They might come in at the north, by Magdala and the Chinneroth Sea."

        "It is a possible way. But how then would they fret Gad? I say we should wait for them here."

        David was not sure he was wrong. Joab looked at all things with a soldier's eyes, and might see more clearly because he was not confused by the political issues which were present in David's mind. He gave his real reason at last."

        Syria has a great name. If it be noised that she is coming here to chastise me, as being a little king, who is not yet firm on his throne, there will be talk which will make my friends weak, and how do we know but that Edom and Philistia will lift up their heads again, they having been bowed but a short time? But if it be said that I march on Damascus first, it will have another sound to the world."

        "Well," Joab said, "if you have resolved on that, we waste words, for it is so it will be. . . . I suppose you will take the Ben-shean way, for, if you do, Ammon may lie still. They will recall last year, when you struck three ways at one time, and will be unsure what to do."

        David agreed to that. It was at Ben-shean that he would gather strength, and cross Jordan himself before the Syrians would be ready to move. "For," David said, "he will be in no haste, thinking that he can come at his own time, and that it will do us no good to wait; and the kings who are allied to Hadarezer, or who pay tribute to him, are scattered over a wide land, and will not be quickly arrayed."

        David was right in that, as he often was. Hadarezer heard that the Israelites were assembling in the valley of Jezreel in a great force, and he said, in an easy way: "Then they can wait there till their hearts fail. Israel will not stay in a camp, for they never would." He did not think they would come to him, which he thought too audacious even for David to try.

        He went on preparing in little haste. It had been known as Israel's weakness for hundreds of years that they could not keep an army long in the field, because men would ever be breaking away for a little need, or for none, if their spirit failed. But at those times they had no such king as he by whom they were now led, nor did David think to put their fortitude to too hard a test. When they were marshalled to their full power, being the greatest host that had marched out of Canaan in the records of men, he led them across the upper fords, and then northward by the Damascus road, so that Hadarezer found that he must change his pace if he would be ready to interpose before David should come to the walls of that city. . . .

        It was at Helam they met. It was a day that was pregnant with fate for the future years. The two kings were there, Hadarezer and David, and the two generals, Shobach and Joab, who were of most repute in their day. They both came with a nation's strength, and were both so far from any safety of stone or of mountain walls to which they could flee if they had the worse, that it must have been clear to all that it would be best to be on the winning side, if they would get home to their wives again.

        It was clear, beyond that, that the king who should be on that field when the day fell would be lord of a splendid realm, even from Gaza to Tiphsah on the Euphrates bank, and from Lebanon to Tadmor, the desert City of Palms, such as neither Hadarezer nor David had thought to have, even within a year before that.

        Though the kings were there, it was Joab and Shobach who marshalled the fronts for war, for David said that Joab should do his part, and he had done his, having brought so great a host to the field. He knew that an army should not have more leaders than one when the battle joins.

        They met in a shallow valley, where the sand danced in the wind. There were some rocks on the western side, so that Joab's left flank was secure from the Syrian chariots there; and to the cast there were three wells and a straggle of palms on the caravan route, with the city of Helam, which was no more than three score dwellings, with a girdle of wall, beyond them. The sun was low in the west when they met, and the hosts being too large to be handled with speed, they lay in their tents for that night, and then, having eaten and drunk, they were arrayed for battle as soon as the dawn allowed

        "I do not doubt," Abishai said to his brother, as he parted from him to take up his command on the right wing, where the Syrian chariots must be faced - " I do not doubt that we shall do well, cutting throats enough of these Rimmon-worshipping dogs, yet I would know why you are in a more cheerful mood than I have seen you before when a great battle is near. For it is plain to see that the Syrians are almost two to our one, and if our line break it will be such havoc as Israel has not yet seen. Our captains are of good heart, as you do not need to be told, yet they look on the day as the most hard that their lives have known."

        As he spoke, he looked back to a rear that was scattered with ox-wagons, with camels, asses and mules, and tents and baggage of sundry sorts, for a distance which they knew to be three miles if not more, which would all be Syrian spoil before night, if the day should go the wrong way, and he thought of a flying host struggling to pass that litter as best it might, and then of the Syrian horsemen, and the seven hundred chariots that were theirs, riding the fugitives down for how many miles of the desert ways over which David had marched, seeking, his foe.

        "Brother," Joab replied, "it is all that which I see, and that is why I have little doubt how this day will go.

        "For, as you say, our captains come to a fight that they are assured will be hard to win, and those they lead are in the like mood, and are yet aware that it must be won unless they would all die, and their homes be no more than a Syrian spoil. Therefore, if they jeopard life, it will be no more than they have fixed their minds that it will be needful to do.

        "But on the Syrian side, though they may be of valour enough for an easy day, yet it is no more than that that they will think it to be. It is in their numbers, and in their horses and chariots, that each will trust, and not in a blow that must be struck with his own arm, and so it is in excess of strength that their weakness lies, as you will see when the battle joins."

        "So it may be," Abishai allowed, "if we can hold their chariots back at the first charge, and the rush of horsemen, which will be the most that we have seen in ten years of war."

        "If you do not, you will be cast to death by your own fears, and no more. For it is the knives at the chariot wheels that are hard to face, and while you keep a firm line you cannot be reached by them, and the chariot horses will but die on your spears."

        "So," Abishai answered, "I have heard you say before now, and what good will it be, if my men break at the rush? . . . Yet, I dare say, we shall do well enough."

        So he went off to his own side of the field.

        When he came there, he saw that Uriah was one of tho whose would be next to himself to lead and strengthen the line. He knew him for one who would not turn for any fear of a chariot knife. If the Syrians passed at that point, it would mean that Uriah would be a dead or a dying man, but he thought it more likely that death would be the part of those who came in his way.

        Uriah had not yet taken a wife, for he had excused himself to Eliam, when it had become known that Israel had to bear the weight of another war. Let there be peace in the land, and he would wed, having nothing better to do. But the law was that a man who married a wife should stand aside from the ranks of war for the first year. Could he play such a part as that, when Israel would go out to face the swine-eating Syrian dogs? Yahweh forbid such a shame!

        Eliam listened to what he said, and, if his eyes were grave, he gave no sign of his thoughts beyond that. Could he blame the man whose valour had saved his life that he was a zealot for Israel's wars? Would it show gratitude to press a gift when it was not keenly desired? He said that there was no reason for haste, the damsel being yet young.

        Uriah had agreed about that. Let it be fixed for the next spring, when the Syrians would have had enough. (Uriah never doubted how Yahweh's battles would go.) And providing only that Ammon would give no occasion for further war.


JOAB, watching a hard-pressed line, as the sun rose to the height of noon, had to own to himself that the battle had not been easy to win. The shallow valley was a shambles of death, on which the two armies still strove with unbroken fronts. Yet on Joab's side there was something to show against the dreadful and growing tale of the dead. The hard-fighting Israelite line had advanced for half a mile, if not more. The baggage-wagons were being brought forward to reach its rear. The army of David must take its stand on ground where the fighting had been before, so that it was slippery with blood, and littered with broken chariots, and the trodden carcasses of the dead.

        Yet that half-mile was all they had gained, for the Syrians ever fed their line with new men, drawing back those who were weary, or losing heart, that they might be rested to fight again. And Joab was slow to let his line advance more than it did, lest it should expose its right beyond the shelter of Helam's wall, until he should be more sure that the fight was won.

        There had been a time when it had swayed to the brink of loss, for the Syrian chariots had broken through. But they had been met, pole to pole, in a headlong charge, by the eighty chariots which were all that the army of David had, and the men of Judah, whom Ira and Gareb led, had surged forward and closed the gap, so that those who had broken through, being compassed in front and rear, had been slain to the last man, and the line had shown as firm a front as before.

        Yet the Syrians had fought fiercely and well, being overseen by King Hadarezer in all they did, for he was seated in a high chariot, very splendid in purple and gold, somewhat more than a bowshot behind the front, yet near enough to have a good view of the strife. Shobach sat on a white horse at the chariot-side, and though there had been need to withdraw at times, when the Syrians fell back, yard by yard, before the fury of Israel, which it had not been pleasant to do, yet he had reassured the King in a very confident tone: "Let them spend their strength as they will. We have thousands yet who have not lifted a sword. In the end, it is numbers that must prevail."

        David, having given Joab command of the held, would not distract him with counsels which might contend with his own plans, to the ruin of both. He went apart, climbing one of the low hills on the west, where he could watch how the strife would go. He had promised Joab that he would not use a sword on that day, unless it should be needful to throw his own Philistine guards into the strife, which should only be done as the last hope of a beaten day, when he would lead them himself, either to triumph or death; for he did not mean to be one of a flying rout; nor, in his heart, did he think it would come to that.

        Yet, as the hours passed, and the slaughter of men went on without certain gain, the confidence which was in Shobach's mind became a doubt also in his. He saw the caution which Joab used, which he did not like. Joab was one to whom a sure shekel was always more than the chance of two on a die's cast.

        He went to Joab at last. He rode a stallion of price, very glossy and dark, being near to black, and one that he was learning to love; though, from the customs of earlier life, he would still go more on his own feet than most kings would be quick to do.

        Joab sat on his mule, very silent, with brooding eyes, watching the turmoil of strife and death. He did not see the King as he rode up. Yet he did not start at his voice, though he had not known he was there.

        "Joab, here is slaughter that lasts too long. Is there no way we can make an end?"

        "We can advance," he said, "as I think, in an hour from now. I shall need your guards at that time, being fresh troops that will break their line, but I shall have no need of you, for the fight is won."

        He turned his eyes back to the fight, with the same intentness as before, as though, having answered, he had forgotten the King again.

        "Joab, have you counted the men we must lose in the next hour?"

        He waked at that, turning his full gaze on the King

        "So I have. . . . We can endure better than they. . . . Have you no thought beyond that?"

        The question vexed the King. It seemed that Joab could always see in him a different, and most often a meaner motive than he had owned to his own heart. Yet while it was true that he had been grieved to think of the loss of lives that came from that long monotonous striving of men on a fixed front, was true that he had had another thought, which may have moved him yet more, and so he said, with the frankness which was nature to him:

        "Yes. I would have pursuit begin while the sun is still high."

        Joab knew the importance of that. He knew that to do no more than repulse the Syrian army would be no end to that war. They must shatter it, so that it would have no lust for another bout, and come with thinner ranks if it did: a flight that commenced at noon would be worth three when the twilight fell.

        "We will pursue," he said, "with the chariots that are yet in use and with every horse that we have. Those that can be spared at this time are being rested and fed." Then, as the King was silent, he added: "Is it not enough? You would risk all for the larger gain?"

        David did not deny that.

        Joab looked on the field of battle again. He was great enough in his own way to own that he might not always be right.

        "I will not say you are wrong. . . . How would you have it to be?"

        David would not interfere beyond what he had done now. He said: "You can order that without help from me. It shall be your battle in all."

        "I have your guards?"

        "You can have all that you will."

        Half an hour after that, there was a sudden furious advance on the right wing of the host of Israel, which Joab had held in its place till then, resting on Helam wall. Through the gap between flank and wall, David's Philistine guards marched in order as on parade, and swung round on a tiring foe. After them came the few chariots that David had that were still equal to further strife. The fierceness of the attack carried the Syrian army backward at such a pace that King Hadarezer's charioteer must turn his horses in haste, lest they be involved in the press. A cry, They run! They run! rose fierce and exultant along the wearied Israelite front. The advance quickened, spreading westward along the line.

        Shobach spurred his horse forward, leaving the King's side in an effort to rally the swaying line. There was a minute during which it seemed that he might succeed, and the battle be less than lost. Then he went down, with Ira's spear in his heart, and in a wild disorder the Syrians broke and fled.


JOAB sat his mule at the King's side, and they saw the battle surge forward like a wave before which a barrier breaks. They both knew that pursuit must be urged at the utmost speed, both to secure that the Syrian army should not reform (for it was still far the more numerous of the two) and that the full fruits of victory might be gained. Joab wished that the King were somewhat further away, for it would be evil indeed if he should chance to be in a merciful mood. The question came in an impatience born of the fact that it should have been needless to ask: "Shall I give orders to slay?"

        "Yes," the King said, to his great relief, "you may do that. They must be saved by their own legs, if at all. . . . Only, if Hadarezer be caught, you must save him for me."

        Joab hurried to stir such pursuit and slaughter as should not cease till the night fell, and the army of Syria had been scattered a hundred ways, by hill and desert, and the Damascus road.

        David sat motionless on his horse as the rush of pursuit went by, for there was no man now, not even the camp-followers, who would be left behind. It was not all who would have moved at that pace to the battle-line of an hour ago, but it was different when you had only to strike at a flying back - to strike, and to take a spoil.

        David looked on the field of death, and he thought at last that his wars were done. He saw how wide his kingdom must stretch, and it was plain that he had come to a great place, and even he was somewhat puzzled as to how it had come to pass. He had been a shepherd of Bethlehem scarcely more than ten - well, say fifteen years ago. And it seemed that he had been little more than a fugitive during most of the intervening time. Flying from Saul - hiding in Gath - in Adullam - in Ziklag - in the caves of Ziph - in the wilderness of Judea - making strange Philistine friendships, and then flying from them, as it had seemed that he was ever destined to do - riding, as he had thought, for the last time out of Hebron gate. . . . And ever, with each rebuff, it had seemed that his greatness grew. And he had not meant it at all! He would have been a loyal friend to Saul, if the suspicious jealousies of that tragic king had allowed. Had Jonathan lived, he would have taken no crown from him. . . . Abner's and Ishbosheth's murders had not been in his thoughts. . . . Even in this, had it been in his mind, even in the madness of some audacious dream, that he could challenge the Syrian power? He knew that, though men would always use his name in another way, he had not meant it at all. He was not one to seek fame at the cost of war. He had been forced to conquer Edom, Moab, Philistia, and now Syria itself - and his own act, from which it came, had been to show kindness to the son of a dead friend!

        So it had always been. Michal's bitter words came to his mind, and he could understand how it seemed to her, though he knew that they were untrue.

        . . . Michal, who he had loved with the first passion of youth, whose memory he had kept so long. It was a dead love now. Had she died, he might have thought that it lived still. But it had suffered the death of change, which is death indeed, for there can be no resurrection there.

        . . . And he saw that it was not only himself but Israel which had been almost miraculously raised to a height which would have seemed incredible in the time of Saul. For what had Israel been but a few hundred thousand men, of no certain ancestry (the thirty-two thousand girl-children of Midian crossed his mind, with a score of other confused blendings of blood - had he not that of Moab in his own veins?) holding uncertainly to a land through which the Philistines walked at will, among hostile cities that they had failed to take in five hundred years of precarious nomadic or agricultural life. . . . And he had been a little local king at Hebron for seven years, and king of these half-servile tribes for two more - and he had come to a power before which even Egypt might think it prudent to look aside. For the issue of this victory was as clear to him then as though he had had insight to look into the future years. "Damascus," he said aloud, "would not endure a siege . . . yet I hope much that they will bring Hadarezer back."

        And he saw clearly in that hour that, if the struggle were over now, his joyous years were about done. He had learnt enough of the isolation and the burden of those who rule. Even in his own house, those who were nearest could not speak to him in a natural way. They would say what their fears or their greed impelled - or what they thought he would like to hear. Even in the building of the new Jerusalem, he did not fin the joy now that it had seemed to him that it would be before he had stormed its walls. Yet it was in that, and in the exalting of Yahweh's name, that he would find his joy, if at all, in the future days. And something of the first enthusiasm came back to his mind, as he recalled the day when Yahweh's Ark, the ancient, mystical Ark, which it was said that Moses had made, had been brought to the new tabernacle, with scarlet curtains and purple and blue, that he had set up on the Zion hill. He had made a song for that day: Be ye lift up, ye ever lasting doors. It was a great song. A song that could stir him still.

        He saw himself clearly at that hour, that he was not really a king, but a maker of songs. One who sought the Eternal God, even with tears, in the silent mystery of the night. . . . Yet men did not look at him in that way. It was not only Joab's occasional covert, two-edged phrase, which at times could be almost a sneer, nor Michal's words, bitter with dead love, and a contempt which was largely hatred and fear. What had Nathan called him a year ago?

        "A man of blood from his youth up." Surely he was something better than that? Yet he had said, in the last hour: "They must be saved by their own legs, if at all." There was to be no mercy for those who fainted in flight, for those who were eager to yield. . . . Yet what else could he do? The Syrian army was so large. Men would call his victory great or small when they had counted the slain. Was he to give no thought to Israel's dead that were round him now? To Yahweh's servants who groaned or died beneath the rough surgery of the field? If he were too merciful now, would he not have to do this work again on another day?

        It was his curse (if curse it were) that he saw so clearly, and saw so far. . . . And yet he never saw what the end would be. . . . If he had not sent kindly words to the son of a dead friend, he would not have been Syria's lord today. . . . Was it all fate? And was he no more than a creature of Yahweh's will? It seemed likely enough. For how else should Nathan foresee that his throne should stand? Or that he should have a better son - yes, he would face the fact, love them as much as he might - a better son than he had now? He thought of Amnon's lazy sensual eyes: of Absalom's selfish pride. . . . They were not sons who would rule any kingdom to Yahweh's praise.

        From all his fluctuant thoughts there was resolved at last the clarity of the central truth. Yahweh and Israel - David and David's throne - they were all one at the last. He saw himself at that hour rather as partner than tool of a purpose that was beyond the imagination of most of his fellow-men, and it seemed to him that it was a strange and terrible thing, making him more lonely even than he had felt before. . . . Yet he was not alone, if he could be really worthy of that. Create in me a clean heart, O God. . . .

        Then he waked from his dreams, for amid a confusion of many movements and cries, they were bringing, in his chariot, Hadarezer, the Syrian king.


IN the streets of Jerusalem, excitement stirred. Not its own inhabitants only, but a great crowd from many surrounding miles gathered to see the return of the all-conquering king.

        David had delayed for some weeks in Syria, making new order in a country which he would now rule, and taking the submission of surrendered chiefs. The Syrian kingdom had been much of the pattern of that which he had been forming in Canaan - the district of Zobah, which Hadarezer ruled, not being of very large population, or great extent, but its strength consisting in the number of surrounding tribes, mostly of kindred blood, who admitted fealty to the Syrian king. And then there was the neighbouring territory of Syria-Damascus, claiming an internal independence, but taking their place beside their kinsmen in time of strife. The subordinate Syrian dominions extended to the foot-hills of Asia Minor, to the distant Tadmor of the desert palms, and to the borders of Mesopotamia.

        David saw that, if he should leave that feudatory organization alive, relying for his own security upon the formation of a similar union, in which Edom, Moab, and other surrounding tribes would be subordinate to his Jerusalem throne, the result might be two neighbouring kingdoms of similar formation, and dangerously equal strength. It would be to leave to his successors the certainty of future wars. By one of those strokes of political genius by which he had established and would yet further extend his kingdom, he reinstated the vanquished and captured Hadarezer, confirming him in the rule of Zobah as a subject king. But he broke up his more extended rule into its original component parts, transferring the allegiance of each to himself. He considered the strength of those elements which it had contained which had been secured by conquest, and held by force, and he saw that they would not easily re-unite to form a combination against himself, and that they were separately negligible against the power that he now had. To each petty king, it was no more than the difference of paying the tribute which had been levied by Beth-Rehob to the more distant Jerusalem, which was little likely to stir them to the hazard of further war.

        The wisdom of this moderation, in contrast to that, more characteristic of the policies of the time, which would have taken a bloody vengeance upon Beth-Rehob, and thrown down its walls, is shown in the fact that through the long reigns of David and his successor, the wide extent of Syria remained loyal and quiet, until it was lost at last by a folly of incompetence, such as no wisdom of an earlier generation can make dispositions to overcome.

        For the moment, David's victory gave him an absolute power. Whether Damascus could have stood a siege remained an untested doubt, for it surrendered to a clemency which it could not have expected to meet, and he dealt with it, and its dependencies, separately in the same way. For men had counted the dead, and the combined army of Syria had been short of forty thousand men. Seven hundred chariots, the greatest number which could have been mustered at that time by any but the Babylonian power, had fallen to David's hands. He had sent the most part of his army home, and all Israel was rich with spoil.

        Now, riding in Hadarezer's chariot, preceded by the ordered ranks of the Pelethite guards, with a hundred of the captured chariots, and the armies of Judah and Benjamin in procession behind him, David returned in triumph to the city which was as new to Israel as the realm which he was forming around it.

        Men talked with a delirious wonder of the great kingdom which had come to him in the course of two years of conquering war: they told of the great pyramid of flame which had risen in the Syrian desert when six hundred of the chariots of Hadarezer had been ended in one blazing pile. For David neither sought to form a great army for further conquest, nor did he think that the men of Israel would ever take kindly to the chariot-warfare of the fertile plains. Their strength was in the desert and in the hills. Rather than create a mercenary army from Philistia and the Syrian lands, he was content to destroy the munitions of war on which they had built their strength. A hundred chariots would be enough to assert and support his power.

        So he rode up to the tabernacle of Yahweh, to give public thanks for the victory which made the peace of Israel sure, and to hear the choral rendering of a song he had made for such a day during the year before:

"Behold, when Yahweh's trumpets cry,

The kings of darkness flee."

        It was a good song, with a good tune, and was well rendered by Asaph's choir. It could not have been made for a better occasion than it now had. . . .

        Was it likely, as he rode thus, that he should pay heed to the half-veiled face of a girl in the cheering crowd? A girl slender, virginal, young, with a small proud head, and dark eyes that were most often alight with the joy of life, but which now searched anxiously among the ranks of the men of might who came in the place of honour behind the King.

        Sunbright as a god, splendid, remote, David must seem to her; so he had seemed even in earlier years, when she had been a child, and he much less than he was now, and she had watched him walking, sanguine, confident, careless of the trappings of kings, with Abishai in a Hebron street."

        Can you tell me," she asked a shorter woman, who stood before her, "which is Uriah? Yes, the Hittite they call him - one of the men of might who surround the King." Her attention was distracted for a moment by the sight of her father's face, and then reverted to the curiosity at which her heart paused between hope and dread.

        "Yes," the woman said, "it is he at Eliam's side!" - she did not know that it was Eliam's daughter to whom she spoke - "the tall man with the leather coat, and the studs of brass."

        Bath-sheba saw a man who was tall and gaunt, with burning fanatic eyes, and with a straggle of grizzled hair falling about shoulders and arms. She felt a chill as she looked, despite the warmth of the summer day, and the blood drew back from her face. She asked again, in a voice that sounded unlike her own: "You are sure - you are quite sure - that it is he?"

        She might ask again thus, but she could not doubt, for it was what she had feared to see. In fact, she did not hear the reply, if reply there were. She withdrew silently through the crowd, and there was no light left in her eyes.

        She remembered her father's words, as he had described him to her when he came to Gilor during the winter before, and it was thought that she was to be married to Uriah at the end of the spring rains. Not young, perhaps, not very young, but one of great valour and strength, so that his wife could feel safety in the protection of such an arm. Protection was worth much in these violent and difficult days. (Eliam had dwelt much upon that.) And Uriah was a holy man. One who feared Yahweh, and kept his law. He was not one who would be likely to turn a woman out when her time of fruitfulness failed, with no more than a writing to say that he had done with her, so that she would be free to marry again (for what that freedom was worth); which was all the right women had at that time under Moses' law, though the customs of the land, with the slow changes that the centuries bring, had become somewhat better than that.

        And Eliam said, beyond that, that Uriah was a man of repute, whom it would be an honour to wed. Like her father, he was one of the first Thirty. And he would be able to give her a city home, near to the royal house, for David, wishing his warriors to settle to domestic life, had promised that to all of the men of might who would take wives when the wars were done.

        She remembered how the wisdom of older women had taught her in early days that a girl may not choose whom she will wed, that being a natural law. For how could there be on both sides? Could she walk into a man's house, and say to him: "I will be one of your wives," so that he must assent, whether he would or no? There were seemly ways by which these things should be arranged by those who would not work confusion in Israel. It would be a matter in which her father should be the first to move (her mother having been long dead), as he doubtless would in good time, when he should come home from the wars.

        So, in fact, he had; and that while she was somewhat younger than most would be when so pledged. For he came home saying that he had promised her to one of the great captains of Judah, in payment for his own life, she being the best thing that he had to give.

        She had been living at this time at her grandfather's house at Gilor. She had been there since her mother died, and her father (of whom she had seen little in recent years) had joined David at Ziklag, when he had been no more than a captain of outlaws there. Her father had no land of his own, and Ahithophel (which was her grandfather's name) had no more than a small farm in a narrow vale.

        It being but a few miles from Hebron, and with Bethlehem not much further away, she had grown up in the midst of talk of violence and strife, of which she had seer nothing at all, for Gilor lay aside from the roads of war, and in the worst times there will be places amidst the hills which suffer no more than rumours and threats of harm.

        She had been brought to Jerusalem in the spring, where he father had a lodging now, in one of the houses that the expelled or slaughtered Jebusites had left vacant for their conquerors' use.

        She had come with an expectation, which had been half a pleasure and half a dread, that she would be married to the great captain at once - the man who was so difficult to imagine from the vague descriptions her father gave. She had hope that he would be one whom she could honour and love, and pride in the thought that she would be wed to one who stood so high in the favour of David, and that she would have a home of her own to rule. She had some confidence in herself that she would be equal to the event, be it what it might, and, under and perhaps stronger than all beside, the hope of children, on which a woman's honour was accounted based at that time, and which were supposed to give a fuller satisfaction than could be found in a husband's love.

        She came to Jerusalem to hear that Uriah was in the field, having command of certain troops which watched the borders of the Ammonite land, and then that there would be a great war this year against the Syrian power, and her marriage would be deferred till another spring. Her father told her this, for Uriah did not come to Jerusalem at all. He went directly to the muster at Ben-shean, when he was relieved from, the command he had held through the winter days.

        She heard this, and the explanations her father gave, with gravely considering eyes, which left her feelings unshown, of which indeed she was less than sure. She had reticent moods, which came of the loneliness of her early days, having lived with none but her grandfather, and Miriam, a grand-aunt whop ruled his house; and the farm servants, with whom she had no intimate words.

        She was not sure whether she was vexed or glad that the ordeal of marriage to a stranger she had not met was put off for a year. She had an irking doubt that he had not done her all the honour he might, in that he had failed to come to see her at all, he being not more than thirty miles away for some months before the army marched for the Syrian land. But she reflected that, as he had not seen her as yet, his neglect was not as it would have been if he had known her before: and, be that as it might, if she were to be his wife, she must be loyal to him, both in speech and thought. So she let no one see the doubt that her heart had known. But she heard talk of him at times, and it was of a tone that she did not like, so that she grew somewhat afraid.

        Now she had been wishful to see him before there should be occasion to face his eyes, and having done that, she had little joy of the man she saw. But this also she told to none. It was a thing which she saw that she could not escape, her father being pledged as he was, and it would be her part in life to make of it the best she could. She was quiet during the winter days, but she was not fretful, nor discontent, though something of the joy of youth had gone out of her life.

        She found some pleasure at this time in learning the ways of a city life which was strange to her. She saw Jerusalem grow, as the builders toiled. She joined the congregations that worshipped Yahweh in the new tabernacle that David had set up. She watched the slaughter and slitting of beasts, and saw their entrails burn, and the best meat carried off for the priests to eat. She watched the High Priest perform his office with the bells jingling around his robe. She saw him enter the Holy of Holies, and knew that it was said that the bells were to give Yahweh warning of his approach, so that he should not be disturbed at some inopportune time. She wondered, as many did, half-incredulous, half-convinced, if Yahweh were really there, and if it were really in his likeness that men were made. She did not think she believed that, but many said it was true, and the priests were too apt to answer questions in ways that seemed evasive to her, as priests will to the end of time.

        She loved best the music and songs which David had introduced, and which were a regular part of the tabernacle service now. There were a number of new songs which had been made by the King, which were best of all.

        When she joined in these she did not think of Yahweh as something in human form, very dreadful and great, who would scourge them in hateful ways if the offerings were not enough for his greed, as the priests would have it believed, but as an infinite invisible Power, who was more real, and nearer, although further away.

        There were days when Gad and Nathan and other of the prophets would preach in the same tone, exalting Yahweh as not to be compared with the gods of surrounding tribes, but as the Creator and Controller of all, and as one who loved righteousness and justice and truth. Sometimes this teaching had an effect of reality and exaltation, such as she found in the songs. Dimly, she believed in God.

        So the months passed to the next spring, and the day came when she found herself the centre of a wedding-feast, in the veiled dress of a bride, and was aware that there was a new life to be faced in Uriah's house, which was the King's gift, and close to the cedar palace that he had built.


DURING the winter, David had had time to consider his power. Edom, Moab, Philistia, and the wide Syrian kingdoms - they were all at his feet, but Ammon, whose folly had brought them to that end, was still defiant and unsubdued. David was in a peaceful and merciful mood, as those who have come to a great strength can afford to be. He saw that it would be absurd for Ammon to continue resistance, which could have but one end. He was willing to give King Hanun an easy peace, but he remembered the half-shaven beards and the bare buttocks of the Elders of Israel, and he resolved that surrender must be complete. Let them own their defeat, and he would let them off in as light a way as he could, but they must not try to make terms. They must ask mercy, and leave the answer to him.

        He was just enough to see that he was not dealing so much with a hostile nation, as with the folly of a youthful king. His mistake was that, after past experience, he still expected him to act in a sane way. Hanun could not have done that had he tried. He suspected guile, as he had done at the first. He tried in a foolish way to postpone that which he could not avert, taking what courage he could from the fact that Rabbah was remote, and very strongly placed in the hills, with the desert at its back-door. It was by the irony of events that his friends had fallen on every side, while he had scarcely been chastened at all. He had had time to store Rabbah with arms and food, and it had springs of water around its wall. It was thought that it might endure a summer siege, and it was considered certain that a beleaguering army would go home when the rains began. Hanun thought that it might be a better chance to try that than to yield to a mercy which must be taken on trust, and in which he found it very difficult to believe. He remembered how all the full-grown males of Edom had died, which he did not like, he being of that gender himself. He had not the sense to see that David had not acted from cruelty or revenge, but from a necessity he could not escape, having no prisons, and being surrounded by many foes.

        Nor did he observe that, being so placed, David had spared all whom he safely could. So when new messengers came, requiring that he should make submission without delay, he did not abuse them again with razors and shears, having had long enough to repent of a morning's mirth, but he sent no answer at all.

        Even then, David was not quick to act. It seemed insane to defy him thus, he being as strong as he now was. He made another effort for peace, and, meanwhile, he made no mention of, nor any preparation for further war; so that when the spring came, and he had certain news that Rabbah would not yield, except to the logic of force, his decision to fight again was very suddenly made, but having made it he saw that every day that Rabbah was further left was a double loss, for it would still be augmenting the food and munitions within its walls.

        He did not think of going himself, for, with the great kingdom he now ruled, he had many things to do of more importance than to dwell in a tent during the long months that a siege might take, of which the result was sure. But he ordered Joab to march at once with such an army as would be more than enough to deal with any that Ammon could place in an open field, and said that more troops should follow, to enable him to invest Rabbah on every side, if Hanun should prefer to take refuge therein.

        It was from the sudden nature of this re-opening of war that certain events were born which were to change the destiny of many lives, though too remotely to be considered the natural consequences thereof. . . .

        Joab marched away, and had soon settled down to the monotony of a steady siege, and David stayed to that which was more distasteful to him than the havoc of war - to play the needful craft of a king.

        He must search for truth among the hundred clamorous voices of those who denounced others or petitioned for themselves, and who would use him, if they could, as the tool of their own ambitions, or their own revenge. He must make appointments or dismissals in distant places on the assertions of those who might be self-interested, or even bribed to the opinion they gave. He must spend long hours in dealing justice in the ancient style at the city gate, and return to his cedar house with a weary doubt as to whether he had not guessed wrong, amid the perjured evidence he had tried to sift, and given inheritance to successful fraud, or sent innocence to a death of shame. He knew that he was surrounded by craft and greed, and that half the protestations of those who would have him think them zealous in the service of Yahweh would be changed as he turned away to a private smile, or a muttered prayer to a deity of more congenial kind.

        Seven days after Joab left, there came one when he was in a mood of such bitterness as he seldom knew. It had its root in many dissatisfactions both in his political and domestic life, and its special cause in the discovery of the treachery of a trusted friend. He had made few songs since he came back to Jerusalem with a realization of a finished game, and the thought that his dangers were over, his wars were done. He was on the summit now, and the exhilaration of the climb was a memory of days that had been full in a better way.

        But now he was moved to song on a new note: "The suave deceit, the deferential lie." He thought that that was a good enough line, but it had been no pleasure to make. Yet that must now be the theme which would move him to the music of measured words.

        He had a genius for friendship, which had been of great value in early days, as well as a source of his purest joy. It was a gift of sympathy, of tolerance, of understanding, characteristic of a romantic rather than, mathematical mind, which had won him the love of Jonathan, even when their selfish interests seemed beyond the possibility of accord. Now he had found that the intimacy of a trusted friendship had been misused to put forward what had appeared to be a petition of disinterested justice, and had been no better than the mask of a private greed. Bitterly he made the song which, confused and fragmentary as it now is, must have found many echoes in the hearts of the holders of thrones:

"I may not change it, and I may not end.

        Lonely I stand and high.

No stranger he: my most familiar friend

        Opened his lips to lie.

My place I keep, though half its hope hath fled,

        For I can do no less.

I may not turn aside: I may not spread

        Wings to the wilderness.

The rock-dove is not held by various ills;

        Its wings are swift to fly.

It shelters in the everlasting hills

        Until the storm goes by.

I bear the public war, the private feud,

        Envy, and hate, and wrong;

Until the turmoils of their strife intrude

        The sacred gates of song."

        . . . He had kept away from the women's quarters since Joab left, being in no mood for the intrigues, the often spiteful or lying gossip, the tattle of children's quarrels, which he knew he must hear if he entered there. Beside, he should have spent his time with Michal according to the order of a routine which he had instituted, and strictly kept, under the poor imitations of love which were the best that the marriages of policy, and the conditions of seraglio life, had ever-given to him, since the night when he had climbed down from a window, and left Michal behind.

        He had not gone near to her since she had sneered, in the hearing of others, at his enthusiasm in the bringing of the sacred Ark to Jerusalem; but he had a scruple about putting her to open contempt among his more favoured wives by going in to another woman in the time which they all knew to be hers. He stayed in his own rooms for that week, and they must make as much talk about that as they would. Everyone knew that his second marriage to Michal had been one of the greatest follies of a life of which he doubted at times whether it had ever been more than that of a very fortunate fool. There were so many he might despise who would yet have been too wise to have done that, without enquiry of what she had become during the separation of years.

        So he lay some time on his bed in the heat of the afternoon, as the custom was, and rose when the sun was losing its power, and went up to the roof which was private to his own use, unless he should have the company of one of his wives, as he sometimes would, and walked there in the coolness of failing light, thinking of the events of earlier, more adventurous years, and of how they had only brought him to that which it was little pleasure to have.

        He was very solitary there, where it was sure that no one would venture to come, and being overlooked by the sky alone. Even the meanest houses of those days were built with a thought of the privacy which a roof should give. But when he had built this cedar house for himself, which was much higher, having loftier rooms, than had been those which be had pulled down to make the space he required, he had no care to provide that its roofs should not overlook those that remained around it, which would soon come down also, for better buildings to take their place.

        He leaned on the parapet of the roof, as he often would in thoughtful or lonely moods, and he looked at the wide light of the sunset sky, which was failing now.

        It was a great space of violet and golden light (for the land fell somewhat away to the west, even to the shores of the distant sea), and one on which he would often gaze, as he did now, in the long years during which that roof would be his, and the old free wilderness days a receding dream. Under him was a roof which he was also getting to know, which had always been vacant until that day, though he had been aware at times of dim movements on other roofs which were no higher than that, which would be after the sun was down, and when it had become too dark for anything to be clearly seen.

        At such times, he would withdraw his eves, even from that which was beyond seeing, and would most likely have been little to see, for he did not forget that a roof is a private place, and he was not of the kind to pilfer that which was not his, either with hand or eye.

        But now he looked, and became very still. He was so intent on that which he saw that he did not think what he did.

        . . . She stood upright, pouring from a ewer of water over shoulders and back. . . . She stooped, drying limbs that shone in the tender dusk. . . . She was slim, virginal, beautifully but very slenderly made. She had small, round, separate breasts. Surely a maid: one who could be quickly had at a king's word.

        She had more beauty of form than he had seen or imagined before, having been reared in a land where sculpture and painting were counted the vices of cities and heathen gods. The only arts which had been favoured in Israel for we hundred years were those of music and song. This may have come in part from the religious rejection of images, such as would obscure the idea of a spiritual, invisible God to the vulgar mind; in part from the traditions of nomad life, which had found little space for the material forms of art in a moving tent. Songs and tunes may be carried from place to place with no weight for a camel's back.

        David saw a beauty of form which he had not dreamed, though the hearts of a score of women had beaten against his own, but he gave little heed to that, for he had seen the face of one whom it would be very easy to love - rather, that he loved, that he loved madly now! - as he had not thought that love could come to him again, since he had found that Michal was no more than a changing dream.

        He remained there, very still, till the last movement ceased in the growing dusk, and he knew that she had gone down. His heart beat as he had not known it to do. "I will have her," he said aloud, "though the kingdom fall." But he did not think that it would. the price of a woman is less than that.

        He did not think now that life was tiresome and dull, an his kinghood nought. He felt as one whose life begins on a glad day." I will have her," he said again, "though the skies fall." But his reason told him that they would not tremble at all because he added another woman to the score he already had. Indeed, had he sought the girl with no more than the common lust of a king, he had been easy in mind, thinking that it would be all done with a word; or at a price should a word fail, and if he should be unwilling to use the power which must still be a shadow of fear over whoever, woman or man, might have the boldness to bargain in such a way. But now he had the caution of those who stand on the brink of too great a joy. He wondered who she could be who dwelt so close to his own house, and was not aware that her roof could be overlooked by his own. She must, he thought, be the daughter of a captain of his; for it was only to such men that he had said that these houses should be given which were so close to his own, after they had been cleared of the Jebusites who had been hiding therein, or washed clean of the blood of those whom the orders of the sons of Zeruiah had slain. Yet he could not recall to whom that house had been given, it having been of no consequence at the time, and he having many matters with which to deal. Nor, though he made guesses enough, could he decide who she could be.

        He saw that, though she might not be wed, she might be already betrothed, and that might be a matter which should be handled with care, and even then it might be the wreck of his hopes, for he did not desire her body alone, though there might be pleasure in that: he wanted her willing love, which he had learnt enough to know could not be captured either by power or gold.

        He had learnt, as the son of these two was to write on a later day, when he too had learnt love from a peasant girl, who did not know that she gave her heart to a king:

"There is no price the merchant's scales can tell

        That shall Love's purchase pay.

All that man hath, to reach His mart, were well

        Cast and contemned away.

There are no fires but here there force were vain:

        There are no floods shall drown:

There are no gods that earth's last ends contain

        Powerful to cast Him down."

        "Now," he said to himself, "who can help me in this?" He sought Abigail then, knowing that she would be loyal in all she did, and that she could be wise in silence as well as speech. She was past the age of desire at this time, and there was love and trust between her and David of a quiet kind, such as this would not disturb, to whatever end it might come.

        "There is one," he said, "with whom I must speak, but I know not her name as yet. I know where she lives, which should be enough."

        Abigail looked at him, and learned somewhat more than he said, but she thought that she might be of more use if she should understand further than that. She said: "You could be plainer with ease. Are you seeking another wife?"

        "That is sure, if she will be of the same mind."

        Abigail smiled slightly at that." She will come at the King's call. There are few who would be bold to deny your will." Then she thought again, and asked in a more serious way: "You lack her name? Do you know if she be virgin or wife?"

        "She is maid, as I surely think. She is slender and tall. Her hair is dark, but not black. She - - " He found her hard to describe, being tempted to words which might sound foolish to other ears.

        "If you will say where she lives?"

        David described where the house stood. Abigail knew who lived in most of the houses round. She thought she knew now, and it seemed that David might be in pursuit of that which he could not have. But it was no more than a guess.

        He saw the gravity in her face, and was roused to a quick alarm."You think you know who she is? Is she virgin in truth?"

        Abigail answered slowly: "Yes. She may be virgin as yet. I suppose she is. But - You have not spoken at all?"

        "No, I have seen her upon the roof."

        "Which yours overlooks? . . . You may change you mind when you see her another way. . . . But it is useless to guess. I will find out to whom you have given the house, and who lives there while the army is in the field. Ahinoam will know that." (What gossip was there that Ahinoam would not know?)

        "You will lose no time?"

        "No. I will deal with this now."

        Abigail went to make enquiries in the women's quarters, and David remained in his own room. He was impatient and anxious of mood, but under all was a fixed resolve that he would not fail. He felt that such joy might be coming back to his life as he had thought was for ever gone. Had he been fretful and tired of the isolation which is ever the lot of kings? Had he been weary of life which offered no further prospect, no prize unwon? Had he almost wished that he were with Joab, camping round Rabbah's walls? That was in the yesterday that a moment had made remote. Life was new again, like an opening flower. There would be more songs from today to the praise of Yahweh, who blessed him in all he did, beyond the common experience of mankind.

        . . . Abigail had come back, having found short enquiry enough. She said: "the woman you saw on the roof is Uriah's wife."


YOU knew this," David asked, "from the first?"

        "I thought it likely, but did not know."

        "Then why did you say - - ?"

        "There was some reason for that. Does it matter now?"

        "You mean we can do no more?"

        "It would be foolish to try. You can see that. And for you, with the wives you have, and a world's choice beyond them!"

        "Yes. But it is this one that is more than all. I would find Uriah a hundred wives for this one."

        "He can divorce her, if he will. You can do nothing while he is not here. You do not need to be told that. . . . And a woman you have but seen in a poor light, and that from a height above! I should give her a better look before you take her from him, at a cost that you may think more than enough when you have her here."

        "Do you judge thus? It need not wait for that test. I will see her now."

        Abigail had not meant to suggest that. She said: "Surely not at this hour?"

        "But yes. That is what I say. I will talk to her awhile, and the mood may pass. She may not be as I think she is. That is what you would have me believe, and I cannot rest till I know. You can send for her now, with such words that she will not decline to come."

        "I will send none on such errand as that. It would be the city's talk by tomorrow noon."

        "Then I will go to her."

        "David, are you mad? Do you forget what you are?"

        "Do I forget I am king? I do that often enough. It is once that I remember it now."

        "I will go myself, if you talk thus. I could send no one who would not talk. And for you to go - it would be folly beyond belief."

        "I only said that I must go if you would not aid me in this."

        "Will you take my word, if I say that she is not worth your regard?"

        "No. Not even from you would I take that. You must bring her here, and I will judge in a cool way, as you know I can. After that, she can go back, and we will resolve what to do."

        "You can be cool, if you will. . . . But this is a new mood."

        Yet though she said that, she would have seen, if she had given more regard to her words, that it was not a new mood, but one that had always been his. It was a common mood turned to a new quest, of a kind which had not engaged before.

        She turned to go, and then paused. "You will not speak of this to any while I am gone?"

        "Am I mad? You have asked me that once before. And to whom should I speak, except you? I am not as one who has friends. . . . You can bring her up by my own stair."

        "There will be talk. There are the guards at the lower door."

        "They will not be there when you come back. Did I not say that I have remembered that I am king?"

        Abigail went, with her mind most largely employed upon the errand she had; but she had leisure to give a thought to the last words that David had said: "I am not as one who has friends." It explained much, for she saw its truth, and she was glad that he had placed her apart, as the one friend that he had. She had been more than that. Apart from the short episode with Michal, she had been his first wife, and so at one time, the only one. And she had given him all the love and service she could. It might seem to some a strange errand on which she went. But she did not see it in that way, for she was one who faced facts. She knew that she had married David, as he her, for reasons of prudence and gain, and the obligations they undertook had been discharged by both in a loyal way. She had her fitting reward in the trust and confidence which he gave her now. She had been as sure of him when she had lain bound in an Amalekite tent, and she had looked at her captors without fear, seeing them as the ghosts of men, being so quickly destined to die. . . .

        She went back to her own room, and searched for a veil which was old and dark, which she had not worn since the winter rains of the year before this, and which it was a chance that she had not given or thrown away, but it would have been scorned of most who were in David's house at this time, and she had ever been one to store rather than burn. She was glad that she had it now, for she was not foolish enough to have gone on such an errand as this in a veil which was not hers, as though she would hide that which she did.

        She went quietly out in the dusk, being heeded of none, and having walked one or two streets at a pace which did not loiter or haste, she came to the house she sought, and was sure that no one followed her steps, as they were little likely to do. By the way she came, she walked the full length of the street in which stood Uriah's house, and it was empty of traffic at that hour. Had any seen her, they would have though that she was on her way home, as, if she had seen any who might have spied, they would have found her to be. As it was, she knocked at Uriah's door, and it was opened after a short delay by Bath-sheba herself.

        Abigail did not wish to stand long at the door. She saw what must be known in the end, and she said it at once, being sure at the first glance that the woman whom David sough was before her now. She lifted her veil somewhat back from her face.

        "I am Abigail, the King's wife. May I come in?" She added, as Bath-sheba paused in a natural surprise: "I would speak to you alone."

        Bath-sheba remembered that she was not yet fully used to the city ways, being an ignorance which she was not eager to show. She stood somewhat aside. She said: "Come in here."

        She led the way to a room that was furnished in a half-finished way, which she was quick to excuse: "I have had this house but a week, and would do nothing in haste. It is better to go slowly than to go wrong. And there is time enough, my lord being away at the King's wars."

        Abigail said: "You are doing all in a good way." Bath-sheba knew by her tone that she meant her words, and was pleased. They were friends from that hour, which was well for both.

        "We shall not be disturbed here?"

        "There is an old woman in the house, who would not be waked by a storm. She is in bed now, for she must rise with the dawn, as I do, not being yet used to the city hours."

        I do that to this day, having been born in the hills. . . . So will the King on more days than not. Then he will walk long on the roof, which he loves best."

        "I like the roof best myself. It may be so with all who are born where there is space and light, the city streets being so narrow to us, beside that they are unclean."

        Abigail said no more of this, for she was now assured that Bath-sheba had not exposed herself on the roof, knowing that she could be overseen by the King. It had all been said in a natural and idle way, as talk is made when two meet for the first time, before the business is opened which brings them there. Had Bath-sheba known that the King had seen her unclothed, and designed that she should be there in his view, she would have heard in those words some approach to the subject on which Abigail came, but it was clear that they meant nothing to her.

        She looked at Bath-sheba with more liking than before, and with a speculation in her mind. After all, might it not be a possible thing? She knew Uriah, both in his sober moods, and when he would get drunk at the royal feasts. She could not think that Bath-sheba would care very greatly for him. And she had heard a tale - - If that were true, it was not of the sort which would leave most brides well-content. Also, a king is a king; and David was not one from whom most women would shrink, had he been less than he was. She thought: "It must depend upon Uriah at last, and none could guess what he would say, but David should be more than equal to him." She said aloud: "I came because the King has something to say to you, and I thought it best to take you to him in a quiet way."

        Bath-sheba lifted bewildered eyes. "The King? To me? . . . Is there word from the camp? Is Uriah dead?"

        There was a startled tone in her voice as she asked that, but Abigail heard nothing either of grief or fear. She might blame herself at a later day for that which she did not foresee, but at that moment she resolved that Bath-sheba should see the King. And to avoid any risk of refusal, she saw that she could not be too vague as to why the summons had come through her.

        "I do not know," she said, "that Uriah has taken hurt. It is unlikely he has, the war being so young, and no battles joined. There was word from the camp at dusk. I cannot say more than that. I only tell you the King's will. Can you come now? It is two hundred cubits or less to the private door."

        "Yes. I will come now."

        Bath-sheba left the room for a short space, for such reasons as women have, and came back, wearing a street veil, and saying that she was ready to go.

        They went to the King's private door, at the side of the house, from which David had called the two sentries away, and passed up to his own room, being seen of none.


        "THIS is Bath-sheba, Uriah's wife."

        Abigail introduced her thus, giving David the fact that he ought to know, but in such a way that it would not seem to the girl that she said more than a mere statement of whom she was.

        She judged that David would wish to see her alone, and asked: "Do you need me more? I shall be at call when you are ready to go." The question was to David, the assurance to Bath-sheba. David did not answer at once. He said: "There is no need to be veiled here."

        Bath-sheba was used to the open life of the hills. She was trying to conform to the etiquette of the city, and going wrong at times, as she knew. She put her veil back from her face, seeing Abigail do the same, as she might have been slower to do had she been alone with the King.

        David looked at her for a moment that was silent and long, and she was aware that her heart had begun to beat in a panic way that she could not still.

        Abigail, looking on, was not sure that she had done wisely to bring her there, nor that she should have offered to go, but it was a wisdom that came late.

        "No. I shall not need you to stay now," David said, and she understood that he had delayed to decide till he had seen Bath-sheba unveiled. Well, he was the King. And he was of a finer honour than most of that time, be they prince or serf. She was very sure that he would not force any woman against her will. She went without further words, in some doubt of what she had done, but expecting that it would end well enough. It was hard to think of the girl as Uriah's wife. There should be some bargain that would end that, and if David found a wife he could love, she would be glad that he should have such a joy as she knew he had missed till then.

        David was silent at first after she went, finding a trouble to find the right words, which he seldom had.

        "You had something to say to me, my lord?" She was afraid, and puzzled, and yet cooler than he.

        "I have much to say." His eyes said more than his words, making her heart stir again to the pace it had scarcely stilled. It was all strange to her.

        "Is it of Uriah, my lord?"

        "It may be partly of him. But we will not talk here. There are those who might seek the door. Follow me, and we shall be more surely alone."

        He opened a door at the further end of the room. She saw narrow stairs, making a spiral ascent. Where would he be taking her now?

        She knew little of cities or courts. Was she showing herself a very ignorant fool in protesting now? Thinking of danger when none was meant? She knew the peril in which she would stand if she had so entered the houses of some kings, or of lesser men, but David's reputation was of another kind. She had heard it said that he had never done any lawless or evil act, being alone in that among all the kings of the day. Yet her instinct warned her of danger here, though she was not sure what it could be.

        "My lord," she said, finding some difficulty in controlling her breath, "I am Uriah's wife."

        "Uriah's wife?" he said. "That is what I am told. It is of that we must talk."

        He had repressed an inclination to exclaim in a different way: "The wife of that - - " which might have come out, had he not made it a rule of life to restrain words of abuse, which a king should be slow to speak, knowing that he cannot often be answered in the same way. But his reply brought a thought to her mind which might explain why she was there. Was she really Uriah's wife? Was he thinking to cast her off?

        Wondering still, but without further demur, she followed the King, and came out to a roof over which the stars shone, and saw a moon that was near the full, rising over the Moabite hills.

        He led the way to the south wall. He pointed to where Bethlehem lay. "That is where I was born, as were half the best men who are near me now."

        He said that Hebron was beyond that: "But we cannot see it from here, though it is somewhat higher than we are now. . . .I was happier in those days, having more to win!" Then he remembered what he had set out to win now, and he changed his words: "But Yahweh is good. There is ever a new hope, and a new height. And one concealed beyond that."

        She answered, scarcely knowing the words she said, in the wonder that held her mind, and the instinct that told her why she was there, and that made her heart beat as it did: "I know Hebron too. I lived at Gilor till - till I came here. There was once I saw you in Hebron streets."

        He did not answer, gazing silently on her face. She stood at his right side, and as he turned to her, his face was in shadow, but the moon made light of her own."You are different from them," he said, as though thinking aloud, and then: "You think I have not seen you before."

        "You may have seen me in Hebron. I do not suppose you would, for what was such a child to you?" She gained a firmer voice to add: "My lord, the Queen told me that you had something to say. It is for that I am here."

        He answered only the first part of what she had said: "I did not mean that. I can show you now." He led the way to the west wall. "Heed your steps. There are cushions there." As he spoke, she had stumbled slightly, and his hand was beneath her arm. It was a natural thing to do, that she should not fall, but the grasp set her heart beating again in that way that was strange to feel, and with an instinct that was not as simple as fear.

        He explained: "I sleep here more than I do below. That is, in the rainless months. I have been here for the last week, being alone, as I mostly am."

        It was not very clearly said. What was in his mind was that he would sometimes have one of his wives or concubines with him there through the night, but he had had none during recent days. She understood no more than that she was under the stars with the King, in the place where he slept, and he would not tell her why he had brought her there. It was not the place for Uriah's wife. But was she his wife? She was not sure, even of that, though she thought she was.

        A recollection stirred in David's mind as they crossed the roof. "Gilor? It is from there that Eliam comes. I have seen that there is no more than one farm. You are most likely his child?"


        "He is a good captain of men, and one to trust with a purse that you have not counted or weighed."

        She was glad, hearing her father praised, and the fact that he served, and was known to the King, seemed to draw them together in a more natural way than anything that had gone before.

        When they had looked toward Bethlehem it had been over a street where the buildings had been demolished, and new ones rose. Now they looked down on the roofs of those which had been allowed to remain, but they could only be dimly seen, being under the shadow of David's house, and the moon being in the east, and still not risen to a great height. Also, there were dark clouds in the west, blinding the stars. They stood at the wall-side, but David did not speak for a time. He felt that he had gained much, having her so near, and he had an instinct as true as hers, which told him that though she might be in some natural doubt, and some fear, yet he was not hateful to her in himself, nor one to whom she would have been slow to come, had fate opened a clearer road. He had something to tell: to explain; and he was inclined to do it in a bold way. Yet he was slow to begin.

        His experiences of the ways of women were more numerous than came to most men who were not kings, but (except Michal at first) they had all been of one kind. He had hat short wooings of those who were strangers to him, and yet were already won. They had neither been as those who might be hired for a night, nor as those who wed, having learnt already to love. He had found that some were bold, and some shy, when they came first to a man's hands in that way. (But Maachah must be left out from any he would group in his thoughts. She was self-possessed at all times. She would always be cool, with her wits awake. But she was not as any Canaanite woman, whether clothed or bare. She had a different technique. Had she been nobler of soul, she might have been a wife for him to love, and made his days of a gayer colour than they were now likely to be.) But it had always ended quickly enough, as it had been meant to do. The first thought of most had been that they must so act that he would be pleased with them, and that they would have failed if he should think that other women would do better than they.

        Now he was bent on the wooing of one who was not his, and who might not be easy to gain: He was trying a new venture in life, which was partly why he was more buoyant of mood, and more keenly alert than he had been since he had seen the Syrians flying from Helam field. Yet he was anxious too, as one who entered battle against a strange foe, and who knew that he must not lose.

        On her side, she felt that this silence must be broken, even though she might be worse pleased with that which would come next. She was as those who provoke the pain in a wound, which might be quiet for a time if they let it be.

        "Lord," she said, "what is it that you would show me here?"

        "You would see in a better light. It is no more than the roof of your own home."

        "Of - of Uriah's house? Have you really brought me for that? But what can there be to see? Is it to be pulled down, being unsightly from here?" Abruptly, her questions stopped. She had thought that she would be sorry to miss that roof, being the one part of the house that was pleasant to her, and with the thought she recalled the use she had made of it some hours ago. She knew what was coming before he spoke.

        "It is no more than that I would have you know that you are no stranger to me. I have seen you there."

        How she took it, it was too dark for him to see, her back being turned to the only light that there was. But he thought that she shrank somewhat away.

        When she spoke, it was in a toneless style, as though she would have no feeling shown in her words. "I see not why you should have brought me here to say that. You could have warned me in other ways. I thought a roof was ever a private place. . . . You are a great king. . . ." (Her voice rose to a bolder tone): "Would you say you have done well?"

        "That," he said, "is a woman's lie. You know well why I bring you here. For the rest, you may say I did well or ill, if you mean that I looked when you did not know you were overseen. I will not dispute about that. Does it matter now? But I will tell you this. I would have done it to none but you."

        "I do not know what you mean."

        "Nor do I know why you should lie as you do, for you know it well. It matters not what has been, because there is more to come. It is because you will be mine before dawn in a fuller way."

        It was more than he had meant to say or do, even a moment before. But, being said, it would be hard to turn him aside, as her fear may have warned her then, and as she would have known the more had he not been a stranger to her. He had meant to woo. To gain her consent, if he could, for him to make terms with Uriah to let her go. That had been his purpose from the moment when she had lifted her veil, and he had seen that she was all he believed, if not more.

        He could not think, knowing the man, that her love for Uriah could be much weight in the scale, and even if he could have gained enough measure of assent to conclude that she would come to him if Uriah should turn her out (and how many would refuse that?) it would be enough. For Uriah, by the Mosaic law, could divorce her for no reason at all. He could turn her loose in an hour, and so he might, if the King should ask, even if he had made no bargain with her.

        But when he had her thus at his side under the stars, and remembered how he had seen her before, desire rose to a strength which was more than prudence or law. Yet there was one thing that could save her still, which was the strength of her will against his, for his thirst was for her, and for something more than that which he had seen on the roof below. She thought: "I am in his power, and he is a king, to do as he will. It would be foolish to call or run. I must use all my wits. If only my heart would not beat in this foolish way! . . . Yet I ought to call, even though no one will come." For she remembered the law, which every girl was taught at that time, that if she were held by a man's force, being betrothed or wed, and she called vainly for help, she would be guilty of no wrong, let him do what he would; but if she did not open her mouth, it would mean stoning to death, both for him and her.

        For him? The idea seemed absurd. Was he not the king of the land? And the things of which she had heard that the kings of the lands around would think it no evil to do!

        All these thoughts came in a moment's time to confuse her mind, and then she was aware of his arm over her back, and that his hand was on the bare flesh of her neck. He was drawing her to himself.

        She did not strive, nor respond. She asked: "Lord, will you let me go?"

        He loosed her at once. He said: "Your heart beats like a caught bird. There is no reason for that. We have all the night. You shall have it your own way.

        Had there been a fearful hope in her heart that he would not have spoken thus? That he would have held her with all his strength, so that she would have had no power to go free? She had a new fear at that thought, the fear of treason within herself, and she was afraid at the assurance with which he spoke, as though he knew she would yield, if he left her time.

        Yet she gave battle to him, and to the weakness within herself, in the best way that she could.

        "Lord," she said, "will you think that I am the wife of another man?"

        "So," he said, "I am told. It is what we must alter with speed. For you must be queen to me. You shall be first of all. There will be no doubt about that."

        "Yet am I Uriah's wife at this time."

        "So you have said, and so, no doubt, you have been. But you are mine for tonight. You shall be mine though the skies fall."

        "Lord, I have heard that you keep the law."

        "So I do. I both keep and sustain. I have made Yahweh's law to be more widely upheld since I have been king in this land than it has been, as I suppose, from when Moses died. And I will do more than I have yet, now that I have peace, and a larger power."

        "Yet you would urge me to break it now."

        "Yes," he said, with that frank facing of facts of whatever kind which was nature to him, "law or not I will have you now, if I can bring you to equal will. There are times when the law must yield to a greater need, and when no harm will be done. You must think that I ask nought that Uriah would else have had, for he is not here. And why is he not here? If he were now at your house, I would ask nothing at all till I had accorded with him thereto. But I ask, why is he not? You cannot have been wed more than a week. The law is that he shall stay at your side for the first year, being reserved therefor from the absence and risks of war."

        "Is the law thus?" she said, as one who thinks to herself."So I had heard, but I was not sure."

        "And that, you must own, is what he has not done."

        "No," she said, in the same quiet musing way, "it was different from that."

        She did not say how different it had been, or all might have come to another end. She did not see far enough to see that, nor with David's eyes.

        He went on, feeling that she was of more disposition to yield than before, though he could only partly guess why: "Nor, by Yahweh's throne, shall there be wrong in the end, more than there shall be at this time. You shall go back at the dawn, and shall come no more, if you do not wish, till I have made bargain with Uriah to let you go. He shall be wronged at no time at all. But you must learn what you are to me, which is more than the kingdom holds."

        "Lord, you say more than your heart can mean. You have many wives. I doubt not that there are those who are fairer than I."

        "There is none that I love well, nor that is fitting to wash your feet. . . . Yet I would not speak against them. You must take that, if you will, as a thing that I have not said. But it is to you I will give my love, and I am not one who will lightly change."

        She heard that, and believed, and with that belief there came a great longing that he should have his way, and Uriah go from her life. She thought of him as the man of most repute in the world, and the greatest king, and she felt that he offered all that he could. It was a great prize; and he was one whom it would be easy to love. She felt, beyond that, that she would have the power to content his need, and that there could be joy for both, such as would grow with the years. And against that - to be Uriah, the Hittite's, wife!

        She thought also that, if she yielded now, much of this, if not all, would be surely won. For she understood so much of David's weakness and strength, even at that first hour. He would pay the price at which he had bought her consent, though it were by no more than a vow that the stars had heard. Yet she was firm that she would not yield, if persuasion could change his mood, though her heart and reason might join to betray her soul to that sin.

        "Lord," she said, "if you love me thus, you will let me go."

        As she spoke, she was aware that he held her again, for the pause in which she had fought for strength to stand firm had seemed like yielding to him. She made an effort to draw apart which did no more than make her aware of a strength by which she would have been glad to be so held to her dying day.

        He asked: "Are you sure of that?" in a laughing way, as one who would still let her have her will, but was sure that it would be no different from his own, and, as she spoke, there was a sound of thunder along the west.

        "Can you not see," she asked, in a voice that shook with a new fear, "Yahweh's anger thunders across the sky?"

        He heard it, and there was a stab of fear in his own heart. He did not really think that the thunder was a god's voice, yet he did not know what else it could be. And he would often liken it to Yahweh's voice in his songs. It was strange that there should be thunder now, it not being a month of storms. Did Yahweh really thunder in wrath, or in warning, that he might keep him from sin?

        With this thought, the love of the splendid risk which was always his, at which Joab sneered, and which was the marvel of many others of more chivalrous moods, moved him to say, as a line of lightning flickered along the sky: "Well, if the storm come, you shall go. We will make bargain on that which you shall not break. Promise that, and as Yahweh lives, neither will I. So I swear, and so you shall do by no more than your own soul, being an oath, as I think, that you will not break."

        The thunder came again as his voice died, and the west was dark with advancing cloud.

        "As my soul liveth," she said, which was an oath much used at that time. She thought that the storm would come, and that Yahweh had shown a way of escape, both for herself and him. For, in a clear moment, she saw that she might have gone before then, had her will been more urgent thereto.

        But now they stood side by side, with no more than his hand on hers on the wall-edge, watching the verdict of that which flashed and thundered across the west.

        "You will find," he said, "that it will not come. Yahweh is good. His loving kindness to them that serve him is very great. . . . I have done much to support his law."

        "Do you not fear," she asked, "when you speak thus, that he may use the lightning to prove his power?"

        Her voice trembled, for she had never heard such speech before that. All men dreaded the gods. But there had been in David's voice a very confident note, as though he were of a worth that Yahweh would not be likely to cast away, so that he could claim what reward he would.

        He heard the rebuke in her voice, and he saw himself in a new way, as, in future days, she might often cause him to do.

        "I meant it not as you would turn it to be. We are nought to him, but the creatures his hand has formed. Yet there are times when he hears our prayer.

        "She made no answer to that. She raised her head. The stars in the highest sky had become few, though there were some that still showed. She said: "The storm comes."

        "And I say it will not. I have other faith."

        It was certain that it was nearer now. And after that there was a time when they were not sure. It was moving toward the south. But would it come overhead too? Flash by flash, it grew fainter. The noise of the thunder became more sluggish, and its din less.

        She knew what was before her then, though he would not speak till the noise of the thunder was almost gone.

        "Are you content? Did I not tell you that Yahweh is good to me?"

        His voice had the note of a song now. He took her in a grasp that did not slacken for any pace that her heart might beat.

        "You were very sure," she said, in a breathless way. "You are bold in all. He did well when he chose you king."


THEY were awake when the moon set in a sky that was clear of cloud, and they saw, as its light went down, that another day must be near, for over Moab the deep blue of the night was changing to lighter hues. There was a bar of cloud that was saffron-edged, though Orion showed undimmed in the western sky.

        "You must go now, while the streets are clear. You are none but mine from this hour. I have but one wrath, that you should ever have lain in Uriah's arms."

        "You need have no trouble for that! Had he done more, you might have done less on this night. For I was angered by that."

        "You mean that though you were wed, you were still virgin from him? You must tell me plainly of this."

        "Lord, he had not even lifted my veil."

        "He is more crazed than I thought before. It is sure that Yahweh kept you for me."

        He said no more of that then. He led the way down the stair that was only his, from the foot of which he had had the sentries removed by an order which led each of two captains to think that the other would be dealing therewith, for which he would blame himself when it would be brought to light on the coming day. He was resolved to see her to her own door, rather than that she should risk the rude ordeal of being stopped by the watch at that hour. But he knew that the chance of being seen by any was near to none, for he was awake himself at the dawn often enough to know that there were few others who did not sleep to a later hour, and his own stair led to a quiet street, and not to the wider front. There was but one slender chance that they would be met on that stair, for he had given Nathan the right to use it to reach a chamber which he had placed at his use, and he was one to whom all hours were alike.

        It was a small chance, yet so it happened to be. As they went down, the prophet ascended the stair. There was little light, and Bath-sheba was closely veiled. He could not have seen who she was, and it seemed that he took no notice at all. He greeted David as such a one would speak to his king, and a loved friend, for David was both to him. He said: "I had in mind to seek you, to be sure you were safe, before I should go to my own room, for there is no guard at the door."

        "So I know," David replied." It is the fruit of an order I gave which was less than clear."

        Nathan passed on, saying no more. He had no doubt that David had told him truth, as it was his habit to do. Yet, being very far from a fool, he saw also that if David had known what was wrong, he had not been active to set it right, as he might have done in a minute's space, and the meaning of that was plain. But he was not one who would gossip with those he met, or ever talk in an idle way. There was no peril from him.

        David walked to Bath-sheba's door, where there was nothing astir, for her handmaiden slept in a silent house. He went back, and sought Abigail after a time. He said to her: "Why did you say that Uriah's wife might be virgin, although he wed her before he went to the war?"

        "Has she not told you of that? I know no more than is common talk, and it may be wrong. But you will recall that there was no thought but of peace till a week ago, when it was very quickly resolved that Joab should march again, and how instant he left, lest Rabbah should have more time to increase its stores. It was the day that Uriah was wed that Joab called out the host. He did not summon him, so it is said, knowing that he had enough to do in another way but Eliam was called, and when he rose up from the wedding-feast, as he had no choice but to do, Uriah rose at his side. He said some folly about not enduring a roof while the hosts of Yahweh should sleep in tents, and left the feast with that word. He said nothing to Bath-sheba, nor she to him; but Eliam's father was there. He is a man named Ahithophel, the Gilonite with whom she lived while Eliam was at Ziklag with us. They say that he is a man of much wisdom and wit, though he may rule no more than a little farm. He rose up to follow Uriah, and there had been a war of words, if it had gone no further than that, but Bath-sheba held his arm that he should not move. She said: "Let him go. It is better thus." So it is said by some, and others say she was more bitter of speech. But, in such tales, you know not how much may be false or true.

        "Yet it is sure that he went off to the host, and the wedding guests were scattered apart in the next hour."

        "There is no doubt they were truly wed?"

        "Yes. I have heard no question of that."

        "It is a good tale, though Uriah was shown for a greater fool than I had thought him before. Does he think the army would fall apart if he were not there? Or that Judah must call out every man for no more than an Ammonite war? But you can see that Yahweh kept her for me."

        Maachah might have answered to that: "Then why did he not keep her unwed?" Abigail had the same thought, but she used her words in a different way. She asked: "Are you still of the same mind?" She knew that there are those who may change, when they have had their will for an hour.

        "By Yahweh's throne, she is mine while we both live. There is none like her in all the land."

        "It is a large choice, and there must be some that you have not seen. Yet if you feel thus, I suppose that it may be brought to a good end; for you have been fortunate many times."


SOME weeks later, Abigail came to David, who was alone in his own room, making the tune for a new song. He had made no effort to see Bath-sheba again, having resolved that all should be done in a kingly way, and he must control desire, which he could better do now that he was sure of her love. He would wait till Uriah came from the war, which should not be long, for, as the siege seemed likely to drag, and as the force that was needed for the containing of Rabbah's walls was much less than the tale of the full army which would now come at his call, he had given orders that it should be entirely relieved with new troops by when the harvest was in, so that those who had endured in the summer heat should not be kept in tents during the cold of the winter rains.

        Knowing now that Bath-sheba had never been Uriah's wife by more than a marriage vow, and seeing that he could care little for her, David had thought of a plan by which, when Uriah should return from the war in a natural way, he would so contrive that he should consent to divorce his wife before he should meet her again. It was a bold plan, audacious and unexpected in kind, and yet free from baseness or lies, of the sort he loved, such as come often in the full tale of his life; but it would be idle to repeat it in fuller words, for it was not tried.

        He saw now that Abigail had come with some purpose of speech, but he began first with that which was in his own mind, and from which he was reluctant to turn.

        "Tell me," he said, "which is best to you of these words. I am making a new song for the congregation, which will be sung at the near feast, and I would have it finished today. They are to be sung to this tune."

        He touched the harp he held, which was small, so that it could rest on his knee, to a melody that was aware of the futile pathos of life taking its road to death, and of its sadness and sin, and was yet lifted above despair, as seeing a light at the road's end, though with some doubt of what it might prove to be.

      "Far as from morning's golden quay
    The shores of sunset lie,
      So distant from our hearts will He
    Cast our iniquity.

      "That is well enough, or there is another wording that some might choose: "Far as from morning's earlier gold
    The bars of sunset lie - -

        "But when I paused in doubt between these, I thought that it may be my fault at some times that I am not simpler of word, saying that which I mean in a barer way:

        "Distant as east and west are set - -

        "It is all there in one line. Now which of those would you have?"

        Abigail's mind was on that which had brought her there. She said: "You can tell better than I. Everyone knows that you are a maker of songs who is matched by none. I have heard it said that you have Yahweh's aid, that he may extend his praise in that way. But I have here - - "

        "If you would answer that which I ask! But there is none to do that. Even the Chief Musician will never tell me his thoughts. 'Here,' I say, 'is a new song. Try it over and tell me where it is less than good.' What will he say when I next ask? 'It is the best you have yet made.' They are always that. Now I give him his own words at the first. 'Here is another one of the best that I have yet made.' . . . But I would pay much to hear what is said when I am some distance away.

        "It is only if I sing that penitence may please Yahweh better than bullock's blood that they can see something wrong with the line. Then it is: ' Is not this phrase somewhat too long?' Or it may be too harsh for the singers' throats. For half our Levites are but priests of Moloch under the skin."

        "Well," Abigail said reasonably, "they are not likely to thank you for that. Why not let it alone? For it is a practice on which all religions are one, being the way that the priests are fed. Yet I would not say that every song you make is a greater thing. I like best some of those that you made in the early days. But I have here - - "

        "Yes. I knew that you would say that. And it is ever one that you mean. They would sing: 'If Yahweh is my shepherd, I ' fifty-two times a year, if I left it to you, and if it were not that, it would be

        "Behold, when Yahweh's trumpets cry,

The lords of darkness flee.

        "I had 'kings' for that at the first, but Asaph would have it that 'lords' had a fuller sound; yet by that choice 'hosts' might be the best word of the three. Well, if I have made better songs, I have made worse. . . . But I can see that you think of nought but the scroll you hold. Has Malthius charged us too dear for the winter logs? If you would not bring these matters to me! Is it not the very purpose for which Jehonathan was appointed, that he might control the cost of such stores, as I must trust him to do?"

        "It is nothing of that. You should know that that charge will not be made for three months from now. But you are to be vexed with more than the buying of logs. If you will read here, you may cease making songs for this time."

        David looked some surprise at the tone in which this was said."You are not often so vexed for a slight cause. Let me see what you have."

        He took the scroll. He read: "I am with child. What shall I do?" there was no word beyond that. He looked for a name, which he could not find, and at a broken seal, which he did not know. He said: "What is this, that you bring it to me? Is there need that I use my power? I will have no woman abused in this land, be she high or low."

        "If you cannot think who it would be!"

        Their eyes met, and a light broke on his mind."But why does she write to you, and not me? . . . Yet so she would, and I can see that it was the safer way. . . . It is a good word. If it be a son, he shall have the throne at the last, let Maachah sulk as she may."

        "If you mean that, there will be a score of years during which it should not be said."

        "So there will. I shall say it only to you."

        "Well that can wait. It may not be a son." Abigail was in an amazement of mind that he should be unshaken by that which was the whole point of the scroll. "What shall I do?" She saw that she must speak in a plain way.

        "Do you not see that if she does not speak she will surely die? And perhaps you know what will save her then!"

        David's amazement was more than hers. "Now, by Yahweh's life! did you think I would let her die? Or do you forget that Jerusalem has a king? Does my will rule in the city that I have taken and made, or have others more power than I?"

        "There is Yahweh's law," she said, "for so you have taught us to think."

        "And that," he said, "is for Yahweh and me."

        He grew silent, having said that, and his eyes left her face, seeing things which were not there. After a time he rose, laying the harp down.

        "Leave me now," he said, "for this must be thought well. But send her comforting words. For where I love I am not likely to fail."

        He went up to the roof, where he paced long.


THERE came one to David with word that there was a man of Gilor, Ahithophel, who was anxious to see him, but would say nothing of the errand on which he came. David asked: "Of what manner is he?"

        "He is a man of discreet speech, of sixty years, or it may be less. He is farmer by dress and speech, and yet less farmer than sage. He is Eliam's father, if he speak truth."

        David had little doubt of whom it would be, and a guess at that of which he would be likely to talk. He saw that it was one of those times at which a king's thoughts must not be shown. He was in his private room at this time. He said: "He speaks truth, as I suppose. Eliam's father should not wait at a door. I will see any who come from my own land. Send him up here."

        The King's servant hesitated, and then spoke: "Lord, will you see him alone? We have no more than his word to show us the man he is."

        "You have more than that. You have the man's looks. But be that as it may, there will be no Eglon for Ehud here. I have a sword, and am less fat. Show him up, and be gone."

        He spoke of an old tale that was widely known, of when Eglon of Moab had made all Israel servants to him, and a certain Benjamite, Ehud by name, being a left-handed man, had gone to him with a lying tale, seeking to see him alone; and as he wore his dagger, which was a cubit's length, on his right side, under his gown, it was not observed by those who should have guarded the King.

        And so, having come to Eglon alone, Ehud put his hand to his right side, as though he would have pulled out a scroll, saying that he had a message from God, which the King rose to take. But it was the dagger which came out; and he drove this into the belly of the corpulent king, with so sudden and fierce a thrust that it went in over the hilt, and the fat closing on that, he was unable to draw it out. After that he escaped, leaving the Moab king with that gift, who had fallen forward upon the floor.

        David smiled at his own thought, and yet could see how it came to his mind, for it was easy to suppose that Ahithophel might not be friendly to him. It would depend upon how Bath-sheba had told the tale, and upon the kind of man that he was.

        David would have preferred that Bath-sheba should have spoken to none, leaving him to deal with all in his own way but he could not tell what her need had been, nor did he yet know why the man had come. He must wait and hear.

        He saw Ahithophel to be a man of about the age he had been told, but of easy movements, and very vigorous frame. He had a beard that was golden-brown, and still bright with the colour of youth, though there was grey in his hair.

        "You are a stranger to me," David said, "unless my memory is at more than a common fault, but you are Eliam's father, as I suppose; and those who come from the Hebron hills are very welcome to me."

        "I am whom you think. But it is of Eliam's child that I came to speak, her father being away at your own wars."

        "Being at Israel's wars," David corrected him, in a voice that had a harder note than before, though his eyes did not change. (Did the man think he could outwit him with subtle inferences of speech?) He went on in a friendlier tone: "You are young to have a grandchild who is so grown."

        Ahithophel saw by that that David did not, at the least, intend to deny that Bath-sheba was known to him. It might imply much. He answered: "I am of the age that I am. By wise living, men may hold their youth till a late day."He was silent again, being very adroit in the fencing of words, leaving it to the King to say more, if he would.

        David was ready enough for that, using the frankness of speech which, with him, was so often more potent than guile.

        "I am glad you have come to me, for there is something that you should know. I have in mind that I will make Bath-sheba my queen, as she is well-fitted to be."

        This was the most that Ahithophel could have hoped to hear, and much more than had seemed likely to him. He said: "That is the word of a great king, and one that may please her well. But there is Uriah, with whom, as it seems to me, you may have to deal in more ways than one. It is for her peace that I ask, how will you do that?"

        David threw the question back. He asked: "How would you?"

        Ahithophel saw that he had to deal with a mind that might be more open, but that was as alert as his own. After a pause he said: "Many die at the wars."

        There was a silence after that. The two men looked in each other's eyes, and they knew that they thought of the same thing, which Ahithophel urged. Then David spoke: "And more live. We have to think of a surer way."

        "Then he must be fetched back."

        "That was what I was meaning to do."

        Ahithophel thought it a foolish thing to attempt. He was not cruel without cause, but he saw facts in a clear light, and there were dangers at every step, and, even if they were cleared, it seemed that they would sow a sure crop for a later day. He thought of Uriah as a man who had insulted a grandchild he loved, and as being one who could be very easily spared, but he judged that it would be useless to urge this view on the King, and, if he did not succeed, it would be best that there should have been an absence of spoken words. He only said: "If at all, he should be summoned with speed."

        "Have I the name of one who is slow to move, being resolved in mind?"

        "You have the name of a great and very fortunate king."

        "I have that in hand at which I am not thinking to fail. So you can tell Bath-sheba that I have said."

        "It is that which she will be pleasured to hear. For, as I see it, she is in great danger of death, if a king can fail."

        "She is in no danger at all." David had risen as he said this, as a sign that their words were done. He added, standing erect:

        "As Yahweh liveth, and as my soul liveth, there shall not a hair of her head fall to the ground." He said this in a solemn way, as one who vowed in the sight of whatever gods there may be. He asked in another voice, but one that was short and stern: "You are not one to talk in a random way?"

        Ahithophel smiled at that."Is thy servant a fool that he should bleat when the wolves are round?"

        He went at that word.

        David sent for his uncle, Jonathan, who was his scribe at that time. An old man, wise and careful of speech, and very loyal to him. He asked: "When do letters go to the host? Tonight? Then there will be one to Joab from me. It will be writ with my own hand, bearing my new seal of the Jerusalem gate. You will give order that it be passed unopened to him, on peril of death to any who shall not respect my charge."

        "That," Jonathan said, "will be very easy to do. I have men I can trust."

        Being alone again, David wrote: "I would have word of the host, on divers matters my scribes have writ, and of the part that, as yet, you have been able to bear. Let the answers come by Uriah's hand, for he hath a wife whom he left too soon."

        He had acted promptly after Ahithophel went, seeming to prove the boast he had made that he was not one by whom time was lost when there was reason for haste, yet he knew that he had lost three or four days before that, because, while he saw that which it seemed that he ought to do, it was a course which offended against deeper rights than a human law, or even one that he had been taught to think was made by Moses from the direct guidance of God.

        He saw confusions and perils that might arise, as Ahithophel had done, both on a near and a later day, but he did not share the fear of the older man that he could not hold them controlled. Rather, it was the results of the thing that he aimed to do, if it should entirely succeed, that repelled his mind.

        He was to bring Uriah back, so that he might have intimacy with his wife, and suppose the child to be his. It would seem to be born at an early date, but the difference would not be more than can happen at times, and there need be no suspicion in that.

        But, let the law be as it might, he did not fail to see that the vital fact was a different thing. He had planned to make such terms with Uriah, by all the means that he had, that he should yield to him a woman who, in fact if not in law, had become his own wife, and he had thought to do this in such a way that there should be no guess that he had known her before, and yet without an intervening intimacy with Uriah, which he must suppose would be repulsive to her.

        But now he was reversing that design, and forcing her to submit to Uriah's use, because she was with child, and he lacked courage - or what? - to acknowledge that which he had done, or else the power to hold her against the code that he had been most active to teach.

        And, for that end, he was to establish the lie which would make his own to be no more than Uriah's child.

        It was not a purpose at which he could look with pride; yet he had seen, before Ahithophel had put it into discreet but unmistakable words, that the alternative was to make sure of Uriah's death, so that he could never charge his wife with the bearing of a child which she had not taken from him. Liking neither of these courses, he had let some days pass while his mind had hovered between the two, but, as Ahithophel spoke, he had seen into his own heart sufficiently to know the course which, in the end, he would choose; and, seeing that, he lost no more time.

        After the letter had gone, he felt such ease of mind as comes to those whose resolution is taken after the strain of mental debate, and the thought that perhaps he had chosen the righteous way, being that which was surely the more bitter for him, and one (he thought) which Bath-sheba would have no pleasure to face, and which he was thrusting on her, whether she would have it or no.

        He did not think that there had been a great fault, for he felt that the way in which Bath-sheba had come to him was of Yahweh's design (as it was to such aid that he attributed most of the best gains of his life), and that it was by his loving-kindness, moreover, that Uriah had been withheld from taking that which was his by the marriage-law. . . . Yet, if fault there had been, it was surely his, and Bath-sheba's in a smaller degree (though he was loth to admit that, even to his own mind, for he saw that, but for him, she would have had neither occasion nor thought of sin), and he saw that it was a righteous issue that any bitterness that should follow should be theirs, and not Uriah's, for he had surely done nothing at all. And the fact that the man was half crazed for scenes of violence and blood, and of a fanatic belief in a Yahweh after the pattern of his own mind, which would become worse when he was nigh to bursting with wine, did not turn the scale by a straws weight.

        He told Abigail to let Bath-sheba know that Uriah might be back from the camp in two days' time, which was a natural courtesy to pay to the wife of one of the first Thirty.

        Hearing this, Abigail asked: "And you are leaving her in his house?"

        "Yes," David replied, in some surprise that the question should be put in that way. "What else should I do? It is for that he will come."

        "None could doubt that you prefer Yahweh to her."

        "I must have some thought for his law, which it is my part to uphold in this land."

        "I did not say you were wrong." Abigail thought that respect for such laws might have begun better a few weeks before, but she was ever sparing of futile words.


D AVID sat at the gate of Jerusalem, being there according to the custom of kings, that he might give judgment to all who came. He would continue to do this, even to the years of advancing age, and it would only cease when it would seem to be beneath the dignity of a more opulent and more arrogant son, who reaped where his father had sown before.

        It was the new Damascus gate, of the larger city that David had laid out and was now girdling with sufficient walls, though they would not be of the height and strength of those which had been builded in ancient times across the narrow neck which had been the only approach to the smaller stronghold. The gate had beauty as well as strength, for David, having found that there were very few in his own land who were skilled in building, or in working metal, or graving stone, had imported workmen from Tyre, so that the city of Yahweh should not be less than were those of the heathen lands.

        Though he did this at a great cost, and his own people were poor, yet there was no discontent at this time, even at the taxes he raised, for the Israelites, who had had no more than a precarious independence for some preceding centuries, with little security either for property or life, found themselves raised in the course of two or three years, and in what might seem to them to be an almost miraculous manner, to be one of the greatest powers in the centre of the then-civilized world, surrounded by the territories of many tributary kings, so that the extent of their dominion had become many times that of their own land; and almost every household had been enriched with the spoils of successful war.

        And David himself had gained an immense popularity, for it was to his qualities of leadership and military genius that the triumphs of Israel were ascribed, both in his own and surrounding lands. The worship of Yahweh had also revived throughout the whole extent of Israel and Judea, for it was to the support and protection of Israel's traditional Deity that David attributed his successes. The laws of Moses, old and semi-obsolete as they had become, were read and expounded in a hundred synagogues, and many of them which had been perverted, or cast aside as unsuited to an urban population, or to the conditions of modern life, were restored to authority, whatever disconcerting consequences might follow. Even in the conquered lands, though the worship of their national deities might not be uprooted, there would be few places where the altars of Chemosh, Rimmon or Dagon, would not smoke at times with offerings to Israel's god.

        There may have been few at that time, being so placed, who would not have used their position for the acquisition of private wealth, and the establishment of a personal tyranny. But David did not depart from the simplicity of his Hebron days. His cedar house was more beautiful of its kind than anything that had been in the land of Canaan before. It was larger for larger needs. But he was himself as accessible as he had ever been. His people were not subjects but brethren, and he showed by his actions that this conception was something more than a habit of speech.

        And, beyond this, he did not merely uphold the Mosaic law as one that must be observed, and by supporting its priests. He taught its nobler altitudes, both in precept and song. In this teaching he even gave it a new nobility, so that its grossness became the foundation of higher and more spiritual conceptions. To observe this, as a fact, is not to disparage the Mosaic law in itself. Moses laid foundations, and foundations are naturally low. No one should blame them for that. The foundations that Moses laid had indications, from the first, of the height of the edifice which was to be erected upon them; and from that which arose during the next two millenniums we may conclude that he laid them well.

        It was a result that was no less real because it may not have been a conscious objective that this new enthusiasm for the national religion cultivated a sense of unity among the diverse Israelite tribes, which could have been attained by no other means, even identifying them (for the time) with the neighbouring tribe of Judah, the true ancestry of which is one of the most baffling enigmas of history. And the somewhat prodigal expenditure upon the new city of Jerusalem, and the choral services at the gaily-coloured tabernacle which David has set up, and for which he provided most of the songs from his own pen, were drawing crowds of visitors to its gates, especially at the times of the annual Feasts, by which its wealth and reputation grew.

        There was one feature of Yahweh-worship which was not new - it had been one of the noblest features of the Mosaic law - but which was emphasized in David's songs till it assumed a new prominence, and was of the more practical importance as coming from one who had authority in the land. Yahweh - so his songs asserted continually - hated oppression. He was of infinite mercy. He heard the prayers of the needy. If he were ever pitiless, it was to those who were pitiless to the poor. He loved equal and impartial justice. Those who came to him for forgiveness of sin could not obtain it by the slaughter of well-fed bullocks, if they had been exacting towards their needier neighbours. The spirit of the Mosaic law, which would not allow the muzzling of the threshing oxen, and left the fallen ears for the poor to glean, was to be carried into every relation of life. So the new King's songs were asserting in immortal words. He was the first power in the land, and his constant themes were the loving-kindness of a compassionate God, and the equal brotherhood of mankind. It was clear that he was a most exceptional king. The people of Israel-Judah might account themselves very fortunate in him who now sat at the Damascus gate of the new city which was to be called by his name, and whose eyes were fixed on one who rode at a rapid pace on the uphill road, with two attendants somewhat further behind.

        "I think," he said to Jonathan, who sat beside him to record the judgments that he might give, "that Uriah comes."

        "Would he come by this road?"

        "So I think. For it is the better one for a horse's feet though it may be slower for one who walks."

        "Yes. It is surely he."

        So it was. Uriah was in a great haste to get back to the camp. He was wroth that he should have been sent by Joab on an errand that was usually given to one of lower rank, and he was in fear that an assault upon Rabbah's walls, of which there had been some talk, might be undertaken before his return. His disposition to visit Jerusalem had not been improved by Joab's reminder that he might have time to comfort his bride before David would require him to leave. He said that there were women enough at the camp's tail, if he should be of the mood to dally with them, which Joab knew that except when he was disordered with wine, he was not often inclined to do.

        He had said no more than the truth when he had spoken of those who were round Israel's camp, for though the law was strict that the army should have no contact with women in time of war, yet such rules were relaxed during the slow months of a siege, and it was a natural result of the permission which was given by the Mosaic law to cast off their wives at will, that there were many harlots throughout the land, such as would swarm to a camp in which there were thousands of men who had left their wives, and who would be likely to have silver to spend. The existence of such women was not forbidden by the law, the whole penal force of which was directed against the adultery of women who were betrothed virgins, or if, or as long as, they were legal wives. . . .

        Uriah would have ridden past the King with no more than the salute which it was the custom to give, and gone on to deliver the letters he brought at the King's house, and so out at the gate again. That he should go to the house that was his, but that yet he hardly knew, it having been the King's gift just before he had gone to the wars again, or that he should have wasted time with the woman he had married, but at whom he had scarcely yet looked, did not even enter his mind.

        But he reined his mule as the King's voice came to his ears: "Uriah, what do you here?"

        He turned in the saddle, but did not dismount to reply:

        "Lord, I came with no more than the letters that are sent daily out of the host, and know not why I am here, but that it was by the lord Joab's command."

        The King, wanting that which he did not own, looked on the man who owned that which he did not want, and there was no sign of his thoughts. He said: "So I supposed. As you are here, from whatever cause, I would know how the host fares under Rabbah's walls. Is Joab well? Are there deaths among those I know? Is the siege pressed to a likely end?"

        He asked no more than he was anxious to learn, for he was one whose thoughts went out in a hundred ways. When he asked of the welfare of men he knew, there were thousands of whom he spoke.

        Uriah answered in a more perfunctory way. He could not see that there was anything that was worth to tell. He regarded Joab's health with an indifference which approached the absolute, and supposed that it was unchanged from the day when he had marched out of Jerusalem. There had been no deaths from any operations of war, for the Rabbah garrison had remained behind the strength of its walls, and Joab, who did not waste life in the futile skirmishes which tempt the activities of those who beleaguer a hold, had held his men back a full bow-shot away, as he knew that David would always be urgent that he should do.

        He had, however, been examining the defences at one point, where he thought them weak, and had held a council of war with his captains to discuss whether they should assault there, hoping that the city might be taken by sudden storm, which would have avoided the necessity of maintaining camp through the discomforts of winter days.

        Joab had written fully on this, asking for David's instructions, as he would see at a later hour. Now he heard no more from Uriah than that the uncircumcised swine showed an unwillingness to come out and be slaughtered, which only their uncircumcision could render explicable to him: but there was a talk of storming the wall, which Uriah appeared assured that the hosts of Yahweh would be able to do. His words showed that he regarded that as a prelude to the slaughter of every human life within Rabbah's walls, and that he was in a restless impatience lest he might return too late to have his share in the wholesale cutting of women's and infants' throats, which he supposed that Joab would order, if he should gain control of the city gates.

        David said nothing to that He knew that there was a general belief that he would take some signal and spectacular vengeance upon the Ammonites for the indignity to his reverend envoys, whose bare buttocks, from Memphis to Babylon, were still an enduring jest. He suspected that this belief had been the greatest obstacle to the acceptance of the peace he had tried to make, the Ammonites being so firmly convinced of the fate which he must design for them that they had been unable to believe that his offers were not designed to draw them to destruction with some subtle and guileful snare.

        An animosity was attributed to David which, in fact, he had never felt. He had been angered at first, but even that anger had been mixed with a mirth which he must not show. The outraged Elders would have been more vexed than they were had they heard the laughter which their plight had caused when David had been in the secure privacy of Maachah's room. He had been friendly with the Ammonites before, and he saw no more at that time than that they had a young fool for a king.

        In the desperation of fear, they had tried to raise against him an overwhelming combination of foes, which it had been very natural for them to do, and by defeating them in detail he had been able to sustain and augment his power. When he considered the wide extent of the kingdom he had come to rule, he saw that it had its origin very largely in the clipping of Hanun's shears.

        He meant, when the time should come, to give Ammon an easy peace. He could be ruthless to the exact extent of his need, as he had shown by the Moabite slaughter two years before; but to find pleasure in cruelty or to exact vengeance for its own gratification, was outside the possibility of conception to him. The thought would have died in his heart like a rootless flower.

        But now he listened, and gave no sign, for he knew that, if he could understand Uriah, Uriah could not have understood him. They were as mentally separated as though by the talking of different tongues.

        "You have ridden hard," he said, "and I can see that there has been much dust on the way. Go on to your own house, and wash your feet, and tomorrow I will have letters writ, which you can take back to the host."

        Uriah rode on, making no reply. He had served David for many years, and had learnt that when he gave an order like that, it was best to take it in silence, and that the more if there might be some mental reservation in the obedience which he were meaning to give. David looked after him with a fear which he could not show. He thought of Bath-sheba most. What would happen when Uriah entered the home where he surely had the best right to be? Would he learn or suspect? Possibly, even, would Bath-sheba tell? Would she submit to what (as he supposed) would give her no joy? Or would she refuse that which was Uriah's right by a human law which might be also divine? If she acted thus, what would Uriah do? What would he do, should he learn or suspect the truth?

        He could not think that her life would be very safe under such conditions as these; and he had vowed by his own soul and the life of God, that not a hair of her head should fall. Was he keeping that vow? He saw now, more clearly than he had done before, that Ahithophel had been right when he said that to bring Uriah back must mean dangers both for this and a future day. If he had any comfort against these fears, it was in the thought that when Uriah would meet his wife. Ahithophel would not be far off, and that she would have had previous counsel from him, for he had made pretext not to return to Gilor as yet, and was still in Uriah's house.

        For himself, David wondered too. Was he righteous in that which he did now, or baser than most would be? He wondered, and found no answer to that. But he did not give it much thought, for he was one who would pay more heed to the troubles of others than to his own, and it was on Bath-sheba that his mind was most ready to dwell.

        So, when the hours of judgment were done, he went back to his house, to read the letter that Joab had sent, and to give Jonathan his reply.


NATHAN thought of the King, who was also his closest friend at this time, and he was troubled in mind. He knew that something was wrong, but he could not guess what it might be, and a straight question had been turned firmly aside. He knew that David was always liable to moods of depression or doubt, which were the inevitable reactions of exaltation, and were most frequent at times when he was not active, either in mind or body, with his kingdom's needs. But in those moods he would most often speak freely, when they were alone together, as to the nature of that which disturbed his mind. Also, these moods were brief. Most often, they would pass in a day. But now David, serene and capable as ever in his public appearances, was irritable and moody in the privacy of his own rooms. He acted as one who has an anxiety or grief of which it is impossible for him to speak. He was neither willing to talk, nor to be alone. It had been: "Nay, I would have you stay," if Nathan offered to go, and then: "Nay, you must forgive me. I heard not that which you said," when a word had been spoken a second time.

        Nathan had wondered at one time whether there might not be a physical cause for this condition in some commencing disease, such as leprosy, which the King might fear without being yet sure, and of which he was loth to speak till he could say more. But he asked at length, and was told that David had never been in more absolute health. But this passing fear had brought realization to Nathan's mind of how entirely the prosperity, and even the existence of the new kingdom, and most particularly the establishment of the national religion, had been the work of one man. And how, if he should die before it should be more firmly fixed by the process of time, or before he should have an heir fit to continue his work, it would fall apart, with return of the wretched and serf-like conditions which the Israelites had experienced for generations before.

        "It would not last for a week," he said to himself, as he had thought of these things, and the realization had been in his mind on this morning on which Uriah returned, and may have influenced some words he had had with Abiathar, over a difference between David and the priests, of which he had heard enough on more than one occasion before.

        Abiathar, after a sharp contest with Zadok (who had some legal claim to precedence in the priestly office, and powerful friends to support his claim), had been confirmed by David in his charge of the new tabernacle at Jerusalem, and control of the congregational worship there.

        Zadok controlled the old shrine at Gibeon, which had been the recognized centre of Yahweh-worship for several centuries, and there was intense rivalry between the two.

        Now the Chief Musician had come to Abiathar, showing the script and score of a new song that David had sent for Asaph's choir to practise for the next month, when it would be their turn to conduct the choral part of the service on the Sabbath days. (For the King had appointed competing choirs, of which Asaph was head of one, and Gedaliah, Jeduthun's eldest son, of the other, which officiated in no settled order of precedence, except as might be decided by lot.)

        Jeduthun, in making report, did no more than Abiathar had straitly enjoined, for the High Priest thought that some of David's songs were of an heretical tone, especially in their references to the blood-sacrifices, which were a prominent and invariable part of the tabernacle ritual; and these references had become a frequent feature, very distasteful to those Levites who were not sufficiently under David's personal influence to have ceased criticism of anything he might do.

        Such allusions, Abiathar had said, were not to go into the hands of the choirs till they had been considered by him. Now Jeduthun had brought another of these distasteful stanzas:

        "Rather his people's voice he hears

With thankful hearts of song,

        Than smells the blood of slaughtered steers

That horns and hoofs belong."

Psalm LXIX, 30-31.

        Abiathar said, with much heat, that they must cut it out, let the King say what he would.

        Asaph, with all the heat he had, which was not much, defended the King. He contended that the stanza did not say, nor even imply, that blood-sacrifices were not excellent in themselves. It only said that thankful hearts were still better. What could be wrong in that?

        Abiathar answered that even if that were all that it meant (and few would take it in such a way), yet, at the least, it was exalting the part of the service which the musicians performed, to the detriment of that of the priests. What authority was there in Moses' law for saying that it was better to sing than to slay?

        Jeduthun, steering a middle course, as he most often would, suggested that the King might not notice if the stanza were left out, as it was not necessary to the continuity of the song.

        "That," Abiathar said, "is the intolerable thing. It is no part of the song! It had no need to be there. It is thrust in. It is a subject he will not leave! By slow degrees, if he have his way, we shall have that in our midst which is not Yahweh's worship at all."

        He appealed to Nathan, who stood by, and had listened silently up to this point. He knew that he would be greatly strengthened, if he could gain his support.

        "There may be growth," Nathan said, "which is not death. If you think of that, you may be near the mind of the King."

        "There may be growth and change," Abiathar replied, "in a bullock's brains, or in the legs of a man, for it is mortal to change. Growth and death are fruits which we pluck from the same tree. But Yahweh does not change, being a great and enduring god. How would the King answer to that?"

        Abiathar felt some pleasure in that retort, for he thought that he had outfaced Nathan in such argument as would usually find the prophet the better man. But Nathan showed no resentment. He said:

        "It is fairly urged; and it is an issue which should be faced in a straight way. If you will, I will put your case to the King, which I may be best able to do. But while I do that, I would have you think how great work the King has done for yourselves, as well as for the praise of Him who is the true God to us, so that you shall not be chafed beyond cause."

        Abiathar agreed to that; for he knew that it was the best hope that he had, He was not sure that Nathan was much on his side, but he knew that he would state the case in a fair way, and if he were hostile, there was no hope that Abiathar's arguments would have weight with the King against his. . . . And he knew that Zadok would be very ready to take his place. . . . Yes, if they were not to go on for ever, altering here and objecting there, and giving way when David's anger would stir to a threatening word, it was the best he could hope to do.

        So Nathan sought the King toward the end of that day, and found that Jonathan was at the door. The King had them both together into his room, and said to Jonathan: "I will hear you first. For I think that your business will soon be through."

        "I come only to ask your leave that Uriah may ride forthwith. He is in haste to rejoin the host, and there is no need for delay, if you will put your seal on Joab's letter, which I have here in a fair style."

        Nathan saw the King's brow cloud, and then change to a doubt, as though he were tempted to let the man go. Then his face ceased to reveal his thoughts.

        "Why would he go now?" he asked. "It is a late hour. Would he ride at night on a stony way?"

        "I know not. But he is surely in haste."

        "I thought," the King said, "that he had gone to his own house. I sent him a mess of meat that he should have comfort in that. It is what most would be quick to do. . . . I will not seal at this hour. It must have more thought!" He turned to Nathan to add: "Joab asks if he shall maintain no more than a steady siege, or if he shall lose some men in an effort to storm the wall. It is not to be resolved in a careless way." He said to Jonathan: "Tell him that there are matters of weight to be yet resolved. He can go to his house in peace, for he will not be needed much before the noon hour."

        Jonathan went at that. As the door closed, David lost some-what of his reserve. He said: "The letter is truly of weight, and I am unsure that I have replied in the best way. . . . Yet I was half-minded to let him go."

        The last words seemed to be said more to himself than as though he expected reply. Nathan felt that there was more in this than the words showed. Yet Uriah was not of the kind to cause much care to the King, be he vexed or pleased.

        "I saw him," he said, "as I came through the outer hall. He was cloaked for the road, as one waiting the word to go. He was talking, as I suppose, of a day when Rabbah will fall. 'A sacrifice of a sweet savour to Yahweh', so I heard him say as I passed. He seemed to think that you would put them all to the sword. Is there need for that?"

        "If I purposed that, would he know?" David asked, with more contempt than it was his habit to use." Do I tell such as he what I have in mind? . . . Nathan, I sometimes think that Yahweh is many gods, being diverse as the myriad minds he has made. The congregation bends as one man, but is Yahweh one in my mind, and to such as he?"

        He added, after a moment, during which Nathan had delayed to reply: "Do I talk foolishly now? I am distressed by that which I cannot speak, and I scarcely know what I say."

        "You would be alone?"

        "No. I would have you here. I suppose you came with a cause?"

        "Yes. There is some trouble among the priests, which I said I would put to you."

        "When is there not? But I am ready to hear of this. Come to the roof: there is none will disturb us there." He led the way to the open air that he loved best, so that they might walk under the peace of the summer stars.


"YOU will own," Nathan said, "that it is a poor verse, and the song would be better if it were cast aside."

        "That is what they always say. As though they think that I put such verses in at an aftertime, when I have completed the song."

        "And so I think that you did."

        David laughed at that, as he had not often done in the last days.

        "I would not say you are wrong for this time. But they have said it when it has been false, nor is it said in a spirit of truth, be it right or wrong. They care not for alliteration, or balanced phrase. It is that they would have no approach to the throne of God but by a bullock their hands have slain, or the wrung neck of a dove, and they like not that I should point to a better way."

        "Yet there is symbol in this, and on that symbol our faith is built. That is what they will say; and if you make the songs that are used at the sacred Feasts, which is outside the duties of kings, then it seems to me that it is a question which should be faced in a plain way. Is it that you believe, or not?"

        "So it should. Have you known me to shrink from plain words? I know not what I believe, for these are things of which I thought for long hours when I was keeping the sheep, and after at many times when I was hiding from Saul, or from the Philistines' hate. For you may call me a man of action, a man of blood, as you have done, even in Yahweh's name, thwarting thereby the dearest hope that I had; but that is less than the truth, as you will not deny. It was a life of sudden crises, and long waitings between; and I had leisure for thought, out of which my songs came. I do not argue in them, but they may be the fruit of thoughts that they do not show.

        "For I may speak in a moment of haste what I do not mean, but my songs are of another pattern than that."

        "What I said at that time," Nathan replied, "was of Yahweh's will, as I took it to be; and that I must ever speak, even though it break us apart, as it yet may. Yet prophets have erred before now, and if so I did, I ask pardon of him and you. . . . What do you see over the wall?"

        "Was I looking there? It is no more than Uriah's house, where it seems that he has not gone, or there would be more light, as I think. . . . But as to what I believe, there are two things for which I would ask your thought.

        "You would not say that our faith is no more than that of Moloch or Dagon in other lands, or of a score of gods whom I need not name, whose worship is round us now. Yet we speak of Yahweh as Israel's god, after the fashion of every tribe that has its own god for the twenty leagues that it owns, or perhaps less, and you say that the slaughter of beasts, by which the altars of Yahweh are rank with blood, is symbol of higher things, and should not be contemned in the songs I make, yet this too is not special to us, but the altar of every Baal smokes in the same way."

        "And in these things do you call us wrong?"

        "I say less than that. I say we have a more potent seed, which must grow to a higher tree. We must break apart.

        "If we worship the God who made heaven and earth and sea, then he must be more than the god of Judah and the Israel tribes. If he be the creator of all, then he will look to the heart of man, and not to the gift of a fattened ox, for his must be giver and gift alike, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

        "There is some of this in my songs, and there are things beyond, which I think, but I dare not say; for I must stand by the law at last, lest we go adrift, having no anchor by which to hold.

        "There have been times when I have thought that I might teach myself of Yahweh, and that in a better way. But I am not worthy of that. . . . I suppose there may be one who will yet come."

        "I do not say you are wrong in all," Nathan replied, "nor yet right. But I would ask you one thing, that I may be clear in my own mind. Do you hold that the law, as we have it now, was given by Yahweh's mouth, as it claims to be, or is it no more than that which Moses made, in the way that seemed best to him?"

        "If I could answer that! The priests tell us that Yahweh would meet Moses apart, and talk as one will talk with a friend. Do I believe that? It may be a possible thing. They say that there were miracles in the ancient days, though, in these modern times, there are none, as we both know. Had I been asked, I had said that no man had seen Yahweh at any time. But I may be wrong. The priests say that Yahweh is more remote in these modern days. Can I prove they are wrong in that? You ask what I believe, and I answer, I do not know.

        "But I should say we have little faith, if we are vexed by such questions as that. If Yahweh came to our fathers in visible form, he did well, and if he did not, I should say he did well still. And if men say that he did, and I think they are wrong, shall I deny him for that? Can we take hate by the hand? Can we weigh love? Have you thought that the seen things pass like a dream? That they change substance and form even before they can be shaped or builded complete? That which we cannot erect, it can never fall. There is great comfort in that. . . . Yet I think not that this is the end, nor that we worship in that which may be found at last to be the more excellent way. It may be that Yahweh will come nearer as he draws further apart.

        "I build Jerusalem's walls. I make songs. I would not have you think much of them, they being made by one who has little light, and much sin. Yet you will see that the evident walls might fall, and the songs endure, though they have no substance at all.

        "I think by that that there are scales of God in which a song may have more weight than a wall, and that he who made all must be of the higher kind. I do not think of him as having the face or hands of a man, nor as one who can be made benign by a beast's death. . . . Do I talk in a random way? I am ill at ease in my own mind, and from more causes than one. . . . Tell the priests that I will not force them to sing my songs because I am king. they can choose freely from now. But - by Yahweh's throne! - if they will have them at all, they shall not alter a word."

        Nathan smiled somewhat at that, for he saw Abiathar foiled and yet left without cause to complain. He said "You will have all your own way by that word, for if the songs cease the congregation will not rest till they know why, which is the last thing that the priests would wish."

        He went down after a time, leaving David to pace the roof during the long hours of the night, looking down at the dark shadows of the house where Bath-sheba lay. He thought, while he must be less than sure, that Uriah had not been there, though it was an improbable thing. He said to himself: "Yahweh guards her from that. He has not failed, though my courage did. I should not have fetched the man back It was basely done."

        Yet when he thought of what the position would be should Uriah return without seeing his wife, he was in a fresh torture of doubt. "Am I so great a coward," he thought, "when the test comes, that I cannot slay the man who is death to her? That I dare not own my own child, by whom, as I like to think, Yahweh's temple will rise at last? Is he to be called by Uriah's name? Does Yahweh teach us to lie?

        "Should I be in such torture as this, except that I have exalted Yahweh's law to so great a height? What would Achish have done in the like case? Would he not have had the girl to the safe walls of his own house, paying the man in a large way, or silencing him with a sword's point if he would not be contented with less than that? Could I not give Uriah the pick of Rabbah's virgins to rape, as I suppose he is now hoping to do? Yet I leave Bath-sheba for him to deal with in his own way, though she be in fear and danger of him, and he has no longing for her! When I do this, do I serve a high or a righteous law, or no more than my own fears, having neither courage to trust my God, nor my own power, though I have become a great and very fortunate king?"

        He passed the night in this torture of doubt, and of self-contempt, without sleeping at all, and went down at the dawn to take meat and to do such things as a king must, not showing the evil night he had had, for he was in the strength and vigour of a youth that was slow to fail, and he had been used to sleep or wake as the chances allowed, when he had fled before Saul, and for some years after that.

        Nathan had gone to his own room, where he was also awake to a late hour, for he knew that he had the fortune to live in a great time, and he would write each night a record of the events of the ended day, and his friend Gad did the same, so that there should be two accounts, which should not be compared in their own lives. They are long lost, though there may be some parts of the records we have which are taken from them, having been written by men who stood by, hearing David's words, and watching the things he did.

        Nathan pondered awhile as to the cause of the King's unrest, which, as yet, he was unable to guess. But he thought how hard is the lot of those to whom God gives success from too full a cup.

        He thought also of the talk he had had concerning the Sabbath songs, on which he supposed that David was right in most, though not all. Yet he saw that it was natural that the priests should strive to smother a new thought; as they would do again when they would resist Christ at a later day.

        But his mind turned from the fretting of priests, to prophetic imaginations of greater things. He saw a new kingdom of men founded on a new conception of God. He saw a temple arise which would have been born of David's will, though it would be built after his death. In a vague splendour of imagination he saw the kingdom which David was founding become so great that Egypt and Babylon would turn their faces another way. He saw it as Yahweh's kingdom, whose fame would grow as the centuries passed, till men would come from all the ends of the earth to worship within Jerusalem's walls. As David built on a foundation that Moses laid, so that a conception of Yahweh, which had been a flickering, intermittent light in the older law, now shone with a steady flame, so he thought, might a son of David, at some distant day, build to so much greater a height that David's songs would be no more than the foundations beneath his feet.

        This was if all went well, and the kingdom of Yahweh grew. . . . But what was it at this hour that was disturbing the King?


DAVID saw that Uriah stood in a group at the far end of the hall. He was garbed as one waiting to take the road, as in fact he was. His mule stood in the street.

        David thought: "If he has spent the night as he would be likely to do, he cannot be gone too soon."

        He noticed Ahithophel among those who were there, and sent a messenger to ask that Eliam's father should come to him.

        All drew back, as the custom was, that they might not over-hear when the King would talk to one man.

        Ahithophel said at once: "He has not been near the house. If the plan is unchanged, it seems you must keep him another night. I should say that the man is mad."

        David was just."He is a good man at the front of war. But here he is ill at ease. . . . How does Bath-sheba feel about this?"

        "She is in a great dread."

        "Is there cause for that?"

        "The man is as we see him to be. He is one she has never loved. Now she looks on herself as the wife of one who is much better than he. Also, she has a woman's dread that he may discover that she is already deflowered."

        "Have you counsel to give?"

        "What is he to thee or me? If you ask my thoughts, he should have been dead before now. . . . If you will not do that, ask him to your own board, that he may drink well. Let him stagger home at the right time, and he will not know by the next morn what he has done in the night, which will not be much by my will."

        Ahithophel thought of more than he said. He thought of several ways by which a man, being filled with wine, might die in the night by a natural way.

        David had no thought of that kind. But he saw that, if Uriah were drunk, Bath-sheba would be free of one half of her dreads, and perhaps more. He said: "You counsel well. I would have you near me at other times. Send him to me."

        Uriah came to the King, thinking that he was to have his letters at last. David asked: "Why did you not go to your house, as a man should, and as I told you to do?"

        "I will do that," Uriah said, "when the war is done and there is peace in the whole land. But while the Ark of Yahweh is in a tent, and my lord Joab, and Israel and Judah are encamped in the open fields, shall I then go into my own house, to cat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing."

        David answered that in few words, seeing that to do more would be waste of breath. He said: "There is little reason in that. The Ark of Yahweh has had but a tent for covering for five hundred years, and will have no more while I live. Shall every house in the land be left empty for that? Or shall all Israel and Judah lie in the fields because I besiege Rabbah with one-tenth of the men I have? It is a folly which you should throw out of your mind."

        He knew that he was encountering no more than an extreme case of a kind which was giving trouble with thousands of his Judean army as the wars came to an end. They were nomads by instinct, warriors by years of use. They found no comfort in walls, nor in city ways. He had urged marriage upon them to replace the barren traffic with harlots which had filled their time in the pauses of war. He had offered them houses of a good kind, that they might have settled dwelling in which to establish their wives. But their love was still for a life of lawless plunder and rape and death: for the camp, and the open skies.

        He thought that to argue now might be to put the man into a more obstinate mood, so he went on quickly, before he could make reply: "I have not yet resolved what orders my lord Joab shall have, so that you shall not ride till tomorrow morn. But I will tell you this. The assault will not be made before you are back in the camp, for it awaits orders from me, which your hand will bear.

        "For this night, you will sup at my own board, for you will have tales of the camp that Benaiah and others will like to hear: nor is it fitting that one of your rank should remain in the lower hall, both by night and day, as it seems that you have been doing till now."

        For Uriah had not lain under a tent, any more than he would have done had he gone to his own home. He had sat and slept with the King's servants of the lower kind, who made their beds on the floor of the outer hall, where he had no business to be.

        The man was relieved to hear that he could not miss the assault. He liked to talk of the war. He said no more than to thank the King for an honour that came to few, for David filled his own board from year to year with the same men, being the friends and officials who were most near to his throne.

        Benaiah had no regular place at the King's table at this time, though he was over the first Thirty, and among the first Six of the men of might; and was also Captain of the Guard and by that office always near to the King. Now he sat in Joab's seat, having taken that place, together with certain duties which were normally those of the Captain of the Host while Joab was away at the siege. Other places were changed by the absence of captains who were with Joab now, but, for the most part, David's table-companions were not those who had become conspicuous for military exploits in his nomad years.

        His uncle Jonathan was there on this night; and the Chief Priest Abiathar; and there was Jehiel, a man of learning who had been appointed tutor to David's sons, and Azmaveth, the treasurer, whose two sons had been with David from Ziklag days, and were with the army now; and Ira, the Jairite, a man very learned in civil law, as well as a warrior of repute, being he who had slain Shobach on Helam's field; and Jehoshophat, the recorder; and Geraiah, the scribe; with others of the princes of Israel, so that the table where David supped each night (beyond which was one of much larger extent, which would hold fifty or more of those who were round his throne) was like the assembling of a Council of State, of which he had therefore no need in a more formal style, for he would maintain contact with all the officials of the Court, and had knowledge of all matters with which they dealt.

        Eleazer was there also, one of the first Three in the early days, and a captain of thousands now, being withheld from the war by a wound he took in the great battle of the year before, which had broken afresh, and must be healed again. Uriah was set between Benaiah and he, so that he would have those on both sides who would be more or less of his own kind, and David had thought to turn the talk to the exploits of Ziph and Adullam days, of which these captains might not be slow to tell; and the men of peace, who had joined him at later times, might not be unwilling to hear.

        Yet it swung away at the first, as talk will when a number meet, for Abiathar also had something he meant to say.

        Abiathar was not regularly at that board, keeping mostly to his own house, in a seclusion that he considered suitable to the dignity of the office he held, and which he was pleased to think would be contrasted with the conduct of Zadok, a man fond of the pageantry of the priestly office, but otherwise paying little heed to his own dignity, or the subtleties of theology, in which Abiathar excelled; and who, with some companions of his own adventurous levity of mind, had given David good help on the field of battle more than once in his early days, which Abiathar would have been of no disposition to do.

        Zadok, now officiating at the old Gibeon shrine, was putting up a stout fight for the traditional centre of Yahweh-worship, and Abiathar recognized it as a struggle in which he must score every point he could. In fact, it was to be no more than a drawn battle during the lives of most who were there, and David's son would find it best to hold his coronation service at the older shrine. . . .

        Abiathar had heard Nathan's report of the conversation with David, and knew that he had defeated him by his readiness to give way, by that incalculable quality in himself from which his successes so often came. It could be observed at every crisis of his career that his generosities were more profitable to himself than would be the greeds of another man. We may understand, and admire, standing apart; but those he foiled without seeming to know what he did were hardly likely to look at it in the same way; and it is easy to sympathize with the bitterness of the daughter of Saul when she said that he wore his enemies' clothes while he sang dirges over their graves. And even Saul's daughter was David's wife! Abiathar knew now that the songs that David sent to the Chief Musician would be sung as they were written by him, even should they assert that a Chief Priest should wash a doorkeeper's feet, and he must depend upon the ingenuity of his subsequent discourses to explain them away.

        For, above all, he had had another fear since the protest to David had been made - a fear that he could not speak lest it should become real thereby. An old custom, as he knew, is not easy to break. To attract the many thousands who still went to Gibeon, considering that the Jerusalem tabernacle was of an inferior sanctity, even though the Ark might be there, he knew that the new choral services that David had instituted were his strongest lure. Suppose David should send his songs to Zadok, to be first rendered by a Gibeon choir. It was not likely, for David's heart was set on the establishment of the new Jerusalem worship. It was with that ultimate object that he was now building walls wide enough to include the Zion hill, where he meant that a great temple should be built on a future day. It was not likely; but if there should be a serious quarrel about the words of the songs? Abiathar turned cold at the thought.

        So he had come to that board with the intention of talking with authority on subjects on which he knew himself to be better informed than others would be likely to be, to recover the prestige and self-importance in one direction which he was conscious that he must be prepared to lose in another. . . .

        It may be observed that David's mind was on that high plane which is sympathetic with all manner of men: to whom few things are accounted common or seem unclean. From a centre of fixed beliefs and enthusiasms, he had a wide-ranging and very tolerant mind. When he spoke, he was listened to with the respect due alike to his intellect and the rank he held. But he never forgot that he had been comrade before he had become king. Those with whom he consorted were brethren still. And though there was always the possibility of a burst of anger, sudden and fierce, before which there would be few who would riot shrink, and though the causes of these tempests could not always be understood by those whose thoughts moved on a lower range, yet there was little at that board of the restraint which was common to those of more lawless kings. Now Abiathar was adroit in leading the conversation back to an argument which he had had with Jehiel before, concerning the religion of Babylon, and how far it was consistent, or even one, with that which Abraham had founded when he had wandered west from his native city of Ur.

        Memphis and Babylon might take little heed of the religions of Canaanite tribes, and their superstitions of local gods, but it was more difficult for a Canaanite priest to be oblivious of the great faiths which divided the ancient world. Now Abiathar told the Babylonian tale of the creation of Adam, which was new to most at that board, for the Pentateuch did not exist at that time in its later form. The priests had the records of Abraham's descendants, and of the exodus from Egypt, in more complete and coherent narratives than they now are. They had the Mosaic law in its earlier and simpler form. They had other books, which are now lost. They read such parts of these books to the congregations as they thought them fitted to hear. But these did not go further back than the vision of Abraham of an only and ultimate God. It was monotheism in its simplest and purest form, as David had interpreted and exalted it in his songs, in which there is no consciousness of the Adamic parable, or of the flood which was a terrible memory on the Euphrates plain, nor even of the conception of the Power of Evil in a personified form; from which we may surely conclude that these things had no part in the religion by which he lived, for his songs are of so objective a character that there are few literary decisions which can be made with greater certainty than that, had he believed in an active satanic power, it would have been often mentioned therein.

        Abiathar told the creation myth, and found that it was variously received. Jonathan said that there were such tales in all heathen faiths, from which the worship of Yahweh must be kept free.

        "I would not say," he added, "that you do well to give overmuch heed to the babblings of alien faiths, by which the mind of a priest may be drawn aside from that which he has been appointed to teach."

        From a different angle, Jehiel was more sarcastic than Jonathan. "Should I tell that tale to my boys," he said, "they would be likely to laugh. For they would ask who was there at the first to see what was done, and to bring report to our day, and I should have no answer to make."

        Abiathar was vexed that his knowledge should be the cause of such jeers. He was moved to say more, perhaps, than a priest should when he talks to a mixed concourse of those who may take his words in the wrong way.

        "Now," he said, "I will tell you a most secret thing, which is not for the common crowd. But you are all men of intellect here.

        "I had this from my father, Ahimelech, with much other knowledge which is not sorcery, but yet not lawful to speak in a public place. He learned it at Babylon, when he was there for six years, at the time when the Philistines over-ran the land, so that it was not safe for a priest of Yahweh to abide here."

        "Like father, like son: they have good legs," Eleazer interpolated in an audible aside, which Abiathar did not hear, as he was not meant to do. Eleazer was a slow-moving, good-humoured giant, with small twinkling eyes. He was called slow-witted by some, but those who knew him best were least sure.

        It was Eleazer who had saved the day at a time when the Philistines had been in great force, and the men of Adullam ran, but he had ambushed himself in a field of barley, with some others of the men of might as resolute as himself, and risen with sudden fury in the midst of the uncircumcised pursuers, whom he had commenced to slay with such coolness and speed as a butcher shows at his trade, so that the pursuit stayed to deal with the foe that had come up in their midst; at which men of Judah had gathered heart to return, and it had been the Philistines at the last who had learned to fly.

        Eleazer would take no credit for that, saying that he had done no more than was natural for a timid man. For he had once heard it said that the slaughter of a host will be greater after it is put to flight than while it maintains the hardest of fronts, and from hearing that he had ever after been too frightened to flee.

        When he spoke of Abiathar's legs, he was thinking of that time when he was so prompt to escape the slaying at Nob, where he had been the only one to come free, and that with father's Ephod under his arm.


"YOU may, think," Abiathar went on, not knowing why men had smiled at the other end of the board, "that what you heard was no more than a foolish tale, and so it may be to the common ear, for it is so framed that men will repeat it from age to age, not knowing what it is that they tell.

        "For its meaning is that men once lived as the beasts live, wearing no clothes, and doing no manner of work, and being content with what food they could find in the high trees, where it is said that they made their homes in that day. They had no words at that time, not being able to call the beasts by their names, nor having dominion over them as we have now, for they were no more than equal to them.

        "But they became restless of heart, and sought to learn and to do, at which the woman was first, which was how it was likely to be, as we know that the lioness is more wise than the lion at this day, having cubs to guard.

        "And the tale shows, beyond that, that they were sowing seed from which they would get a crop that they had not dreamed. For being tempted of the serpent (by which wisdom is meant) to eat of the tree of knowledge, and all that followed therefrom, the woman found that she would not be free from her mate's rule, which was not how she had been when she had dwelt in the trees, having then been more than equal to him; nor would she bear her young with a beast's ease in the future days. And the man would find that where he had dreamed of a larger ease, he would have years of toil, from which beasts are free unless they come to a man's hands, and must share the doom that is now his. And they would both find that where they had sought no more than to live in safety and ease, and to rule the world, they had come to sorrow and grief, and had gained the wit to have foreknowledge of death, from which the beasts, as we think, are free."

        "To that point," Jehiel allowed, "you may call it a likely guess, if no more. Yet I see not that there is meaning in a woman being made from a man's rib, which, in itself, is not a plausible tale."

        "I say you are wrong there," Abiathar replied, "for it would be no greater wonder than are some things which we know to be true, having the witness of our own eyes; but that comes in the tale in another form, the meaning of which is a mystery of the inner circle of priests, which even my father was not permitted to know, he not being of their faith.

        "But I will tell you that this belief in the beginnings of man, and how we have eaten of knowledge by which we shall die at the last, is much like that which is held at Memphis, among the priests that are there. But in Egypt they are even more careful than are the Babylonian priests that they will not share the knowledge they have.

        "I have been told that there are snakes there that they will let no man kill, saying that they contain the soul of a god, and that they will kill the rats in which there is the soul of another god, which is that of a fatal plague, with which the rats will curse the generations of men if they are permitted to live.

        "It has a sound of folly, for it is known that men die who are bitten by these snakes. There is no doubt about that. Yet I was told that it is wise in a way that cannot be guessed without the aid of knowledge that the priests of Egypt are careful to keep concealed, for it might do much wrong if it were in the hands of foolish or wicked men."

        While Abiathar talked thus, showing the wide knowledge he had, David let the talk go with a loose rein, for he had forgotten his purpose of making Uriah drunk, and had even ceased to hear what was said, his mind having seized on that thought of the beginning of men, and he considered, if it were true, how great must be the compassion of God toward the creatures that he had made, who were thus struggling feebly toward the light that was clear to Him. His mind turned it into a phrase which he would use in one of his songs at a later day:

        "On, the short road to death,

That we are but awakened dust

        Our God remembereth."

        He resolved that he must not forget that, and became aware of Abiathar's voice again. He was telling now how the Babylonian faith had a god of evil as well as good: of how Shaitan walked in the Courts of Heaven, wrangling with and insulting God, by whom he could not be altogether subdued.

        "I like not that faith," David was roused to say, "and I would not have it talked abroad, though you may speak here as you will. For, as I hold, if there be a God of Evil indeed (as I do not think) who can strive against Yahweh, and does not die, then I would still say that he doth all in accordance with Yahweh's will, though he may have no guess it is so. Or, if that were not so, there would be no show of accord, such as that they could meet in one Heaven, as a man may talk to a friend, but Yahweh would drive him forth, if he could, with all the thunders beneath his throne.

        "And you must think, beyond that, that if we allow that Shaitan is Yahweh's foe, and goes free, there will ever be those who are more afraid of evil than good, and who will say that Shaitan will be more active to work them ill than Yahweh be watchful to save, so that they will think it wise to raise altars to please his pride. You would have sacrifices smoking to Shaitan soon, even on altars that are kept sacred to Yahweh now."

        Abiathar did not dispute that. But he said that that was much what was happening round them at that day. For what were Rimmon or Dagon or other gods, but the power of evil in demon forms?

        "I should say they are less than that," David replied, "though they are false, as we hold. I should say that evil and good are as closely joined in them as a man may lie with his wife. But if you speak of all such gods in one breath, you tie a bundle of sundry sorts."

        "Yet must we root them out as foul weeds," Abiathar said, "if the faith is to grow to the full height that it should."

        The voice of Uriah rose, harsh and shrill, so that it was heard at the lower table, beside that of the King. "Slay, saith Yahweh, and make an end!"

        Eleazer turned his bulk slowly round to survey Uriah with small ruminating eyes."Why," he asked, "who would you slay now?"

        The answerer paused, for they became aware that David was speaking, and a king should be heard in the silence of smaller men.

        "There are times," he said, "when the sword must strike, and mercy be a forgotten word. I do not deny that. Yet there are other ways in which the worship of Yahweh may be advanced, and his faith made strong in the land, some of which we are using now."

        Uriah spoke as he ceased, and whether he answered Eleazer or David was less than easy to see: "Did not Saul spare? And what said the prophet to him? Had Agag been slain and stripped, and cast on the heap which the dogs would tear, had not Saul saved his soul alive, even as we may think to this day? And shall those escape who made the Elders of Israel a mock in the mouths of men? Shall we not fear Yahweh too well to spare any in Rabbah's walls?"

        Eleazer looked at the man with amused and contemptuous eyes. He was one who would have lost his own life in a lighter way than he would have taken that either of woman or child, and, had he had more time, he might have made a fitting reply. But he was slow of speech, and David's voice silenced the table again.

        "What I do to Rabbah will be known at the right time, for I do not speak my mind concerning a city while it yet stands. But I will say this. Ammon and Amalek are not one, nor does the wrath of Yahweh strike in a blind way against all who are Israel's foes.

        "As to Ammon, did not Yahweh say to Moses in the first days, 'Distress them not, neither meddle with them,' so that our fathers marched northward around their coasts? And was not that because they are children of Lot, and therefore our distant kin? And did they not worship Moloch then, even as they do now? Had I not this in mind, when I would have made friend with Hanun, as I had done with his father before?

        "But the Amalekites are a race apart, making constant war on their kind. They slay such as fall by the way, or if they find any asleep. They shed blood where they have no feud, seeking only to take a spoil."

        As he spoke of the Amalekites, Ziklag came to his mind, and he remembered how they had plundered it while he was away with the Philistine host, and of the hard pursuit he had made, and how, when he had rescued his wives, Abigail had said that she had been free from fear, knowing that he would be sufficient to guard his own. He looked at Uriah, and wondered, how was he protecting Bath-sheba now? One who was wife to him in a secret way, if not in the sight of man, and who was now bearing his child.

        His mind wandered apart in the bitterness of the thoughts he had, so that the talk went on again in its own way, being unheeded by him. He consoled himself as much as he could with the thought that when Uriah should arrive at his house Ahithophel would not be far off, and he had judged him to be a wise and subtle man.

        Meanwhile, Eleazer was filling Uriah's cup as often as it showed space for wine, for he was amused at the man's talk. He drank with him, cup for cup, but it made no difference to him, for he was one who could put away a goat's-skin of wine, and have a good thirst after that.

        Benaiah, on Uriah's other side, looked on him with a contempt which the man was not sober enough to see. He understood that Eleazer made him drunk that he might be the sport of the board. Benaiah could slay men at the King's order with as little care as a butcher gives to a sheep, but it was a business matter to him. And he might have said that those whom David condemned could merit little pity from lesser men. But he had nothing of the sadistic lusts that came to the surface of Uriah's soul as the wine went down.

        When David gave him attention again, he was talking of that great massacre of the Midianite prisoners which Moses had ordered five hundred years before. In a high, chanting, exultant voice he repeated the terrible words:

        "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him; but all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

        It was an undying tradition in Israel, for there were few who had not, among their ancestors, one or more of the thirty-two thousand girls who had been spared the massacre in which their mothers and sisters died. Abiathar, after finding a manuscript in which the slaughter had been recorded, had first shown it to the King, and then read it to the congregation, a few weeks before Joab's army had marched; and the words, it seemed, had been impressed on Uriah's mind. Now he became foul in reciting the traditional details of that wholesale butchery: facetious as he imagined desperate protests of virginity from those who had been mothers of half a score: obscene as he described the examination of doubtful cases.

        David, hearing him, wondered: "And I have been troubled by the thought that I should order the death of a single man (and such as he!), and that to save the honour, perhaps the life, of a woman whom it has become my duty to guard, and of a child that is mine! But it is too late to draw back. It must go through now. I would I had taken Ahithophel's advice, and had never brought the man here."

        He checked Uriah's obscenity by turning to Azmaveth to discuss the value and destination of certain vessels of gold,

the King of Hamath had sent unasked, by the hand of his son, as a sign of submission to the conqueror of his Syrian colleagues, though in fact, from whatever motive or cause, he had taken no part in the war of the last year, and David, who was not one to misuse his strength, would have let him go free. But it was hard for a king of that day to understand what David would be likely to do.

        Uriah ceased when David began to speak, for he was not too drunk to observe the etiquette which gave way to the King's voice, and a few minutes later David rose, as a sign that the supper was done. "If I linger more," he thought, "the man will be unable to get himself to his house." He thought again with satisfaction that Ahithophel would not be far off.


IT was at an early hour of the next morning that the King was told that Ahithophel was asking to see him.

        "Send him in to me here," he said, "and leave us alone."

        Ahithophel was direct and brief, which was not always his way. "Uriah did not come to the house. He lay again on the floor of the outer hall."

        "So I have heard," David replied, "from another mouth. Is Bath-sheba troubled for that?"

        "She was glad that he did not come. Yet she is anxious and troubled in mind, for what else can she be? . . .I should say that it is not good for the child."

        "You can tell her that she is troubled with little cause. . . . Have you heard how the Amalekites plundered Ziklag, when I had left it empty of men?"

        "I heard much of that tale, for Eliam was with you then."

        "My queen, Abigail, was carried off at that time, but when I cut the ropes that had bound her hands she said that she had been without fear. She had watched the faces of those who had used her thus, thinking of them as men who walked, being already dead; for she did not regard me as one who would fail her need. . . . There was talk at the board last night which brought that to my mind."

        "I will hasten back," Ahithophel said, "to give Bath-sheba much joy."

        David thought of him, after he had gone, as one with whom there need be no waste of words, and for whom he could find use, at a time when he was sending many of his servants to distant parts of the great kingdom he had so quickly gained. He could not foresee that there would come a time, when Ahithophel had come to a great age, when his subtleties would over-reach themselves, so that he would be led to betray at once his King and Bath-sheba's child, and to hang himself at the last, by a rope that his own hand had thrown over the beam. For he would hear, and misread, a curse that Nathan would speak, and watch through the changing years that it should not fall upon him, and so bring to himself at last that which he had been cunning to shun.

        David paced the room for a short time after Eliam's father had gone. He said to himself: "I would let the man live if I could. I have loved mercy through all my days. Yahweh is my witness of that. But there are places on the journey of life where the roads to choose may be less than two. If I would let the woman die that I love, should I do nought for the child, who, if he be owned by me, will build the temple to Yahweh's praise that I am not worthy to do? For that is how I think it will be."

        Then he took a pen, and wrote with a firm hand:

                "Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and

        retire ye from him, that he may be smitten and die."

        He closed the letter with his new seal of the Jerusalem gate, and addressed it to be given to Joab's own hand. Then he sent for Jonathan, to whom he gave it, saying that his last order was now writ, and that Uriah should be sent with speed.

        After that he turned to the business of the day with more peace of mind than he had felt since the morning when Abigail had come with that scroll in her hand: "I am with child. What shall I do?" He saw that he had taken the only course which could avoid scandal and shame, and that to prolong the life of one man of a doubtful worth he had risked more than he rightly should. He may have had an under-thought of relief that an incident had died into the past which it would be hard to explain or defend by the code he taught; and of joy that Bath-sheba would soon be under his own roof; but he was more conscious of pleasure that he had saved her from peril and grief, for to think first of those who are in his care is a habit of life which is not easy to break on the part of a righteous king.


JOAB read the letter twice in a quiet way, and looked up at Uriah, who stood waiting his signal to go. He pondered what could have caused such an order to come from the hand of the King. He saw that it was a decision which must have been taken since Uriah's return to Jerusalem, for otherwise he supposed that the order would have come before, without him being fetched to bear it himself, which might be after the style of humour of some kings of the time, but was not David's way. He saw also that the man was unconscious of the peril in which he stood. He asked, in an idle way: "Was all well at Jerusalem? Was your wife in health?"

        Uriah said he did not know. While the Ark of Yahweh - - He repeated the declaration he had made to David before. Joab was a practical man. His lip lifted to a slight sneer as he replied: "lt was nobly thought. Had you slept under a roof, it had done us much harm, as a saint would see." As he spoke, he put it out of his thoughts, knowing that it was no more than the nomad's hatred of roof and wall, grown to an insane height. It was unlikely that David's order had related to that. He probed a more probable sore when he asked: "Did you brawl in your cups somewhat more than your habit is?"

        Uriah denied that. His only thought had been to get back to the host. His answer revealed that he had supped at the King's board, which Joab had not expected to hear.

        Well, he would know all in the end. His present task was to arrange for Uriah's death in a natural way. He smiled inwardly at the wording of David's note. How many men were to be taken into confidence if he did it thus? He saw that the King, for all his diplomatic abilities, was lacking practice in such matters as this. But he had had sense enough to put it into very competent hands.

        He looked up at Uriah again to ask: "You would like to take part in the next assault?"

        There was no doubt of that. The man's eyes gleamed at the word.

        Joab somewhat lowered his voice, though they were alone in the tent. He leaned forward, as one telling a secret thing."

        You know the well that is outside the north gate, which we have let them use as they will, being within bowshot length of the wall? They have got careless there as the weeks have passed. I think that a sudden rush might not only cause some slaughter among the women who throng the well, and such guard as they have, but might capture the gate itself. I shall give Naharai charge of the troop I detail for this. It will not be large, for there must be nothing to cause alarm. There will be many at short distance away who can give quick support if the gate is won.

        "Such a thing as this must be secret even from the movements of wind, for if there be suspicion, however faint, then the chance is gone, and it is death to those who will make the attempt. Therefore you will not falter nor be surprised if you should hear Naharai talk as though he will do no more than make a raid on the well. You will know what is really meant, having had it from me at this time. Be instant and bold, and if any shrink when the shafts fly from the wall, as it is likely they may, there is none I could better trust that he will rally and lead them on."

        Uriah went out, and Joab touched a gong at his side, and a servant came. "Send Naharai," he said, "to me."

        Naharai came almost at once, having been at hand for a summons he expected to have.

        "You have watched the well," Joab asked; "what do you think now?"

        "I think that there is no hope that we should enter the gate, for though it may stand open while the women come to the well, yet there is a guard around that is both watchful and strong. If we should rush the well, they would have closed the gate before we should be half over the space between, and the archers would vex us much before we should be under cover again.

        "Beyond that, we can only approach the well unseen if we crawl for some way on our hands, as a large force would be unable to do."

        "So I concluded before," Joab said, "and so I have made report to the King, who has resolved that we shall make no assault, but use patience to starve the city, even through we shall be here through the winter rains.

        "But they grow too bold in the way that they use the well, and I think that they must have a lesson on that.

        "Now listen well, for I am giving command to you, and if we waste life we must face the King's wrath, as I need not say. You know how he will ever urge that when we make siege we shall keep a long bowshot away from the walls, and will talk of that Abimelech who died at a tower's foot, being struck by a piece of stone that a woman threw, till it is tiring to hear.

        "They will be surprised by a sudden rush, and you may make havoc of those who are round the well, before those on the wall are aware, or you become separate from those you slay. But you will draw back the instant that they begin to shoot, that we may avoid loss on our side.

        "I am allowing Uriah to join the troop you will lead, for there will be women to slay, which is more joy to him than most will find in such work. But I must warn you of one thing. He is a man who is likely to lose his head when the lust of slaughter is high. He may be slow to retreat when the time comes. You must make it clear to your men at the first that they are to attempt no more than I have now said, and that they are to take their orders from you, and not him. You will make assault at the fifth hour after noon, when there will be a crowd at the well."

        Joab felt that he had done his part in a certain way, for having known Naharai from when he had been his page in his boyhood days, he could trust him to be both valorous and discreet; and in fact it fell out much as he had thought that it would.

        The people of Rabbah, having been cautious at first in approaching the well, had become careless as the weeks passed, and they had found that the besiegers left them alone. They became confident in the knowledge that they were within the range of the archers who lined the wall, and there was a crowd of women around the well, who were filling their pitchers in no haste to be gone, and an armed guard of not more than a dozen men, when there was a sudden rush, without warning or cry, from a shelter of thickets near. The guard fought and died, and the women died as they turned to fly. There was a long minute of slaughter and screams that made a piteous sight of the well-side turf, strewing it with fallen pitchers, and the gashed bodies of women and men that twisted about for a time, and would soon be still.

        For that minute, the archers upon the wall were afraid to shoot, for those of Ammon and Israel were too mingled for any shaft to be aimed at a certain foe. But as the groups came apart, and those who were not hemmed in at the first rush ran for the gate, the arrows began to fly.

        Being unmenaced themselves, the archers were cool, and shot straightly and strong. "Back!" Naharai called, "back!", and he ran at once for the thicket-shelter from which he had led the attack. He saw, as he did this, that the gate was already closed, they who guarded it having preferred to leave those outside to the fate that came, rather than risk the city's fall by leaving it open to them, so that he had been right about that. But he saw that Uriah took no heed of his call, which it is likely he did not hear. With fierce cries of "Yahweh!" he had followed those who fled for the gate. For a moment, he was so close at a woman's back that the archers delayed to shoot. Then between her shoulders Uriah's sword went in, and as he bent over her, drawing it out, an arrow struck his leather coat at a slant, and went harmlessly to the ground.

        He stood up to resume pursuit, and became aware that he was alone. He looked round, waving his sword aloft, with a fierce shout to encourage his comrades to come on. As he did this, the arrows were falling around him fast, for he was the only remaining mark at which the archers could shoot. He looked down on the feathered shaft of one that his belly held.

        With the indomitable courage that was the most god-like quality of his darkened soul, he lifted his voice to defy the city in Yahweh's name, and to call to his comrades to rally yet. Then another arrow went through his neck, and he stumbled forward, and fell. There was a short time that he wriggled upon the ground, filling his mouth with dust, and breaking the shaft that transfixed his neck, but after that he lay still.

        He lay dead under Rabbah's walls because the King had seduced his wife, having no knowledge of why he died. And the King sat in the gate of the new city that he had built, and dealt justice to others by the precepts of Yahweh's law.

*        *        *        *        *

        The next day a messenger stood before the high seat of the King. He brought a verbal account from Joab of the skirmish around the well, which was as near the truth as a general's dispatches are ever likely to be. He ended with these words, as Joab had told him to do:

        "And the archers shot; upon thy servants from off the wall, and some of the King's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also."

        Those who stood round were not surprised that the King had listened in a grave way, for it was well known that David would always avoid the useless skirmishing in which lives may be lost on both sides, with little change in the balance of strength, or effect upon the issue at last. For he was one who hated less than he loved, and he would say that the men he knew were of greater worth than his foes, so that, if they both died, he was left poorer than they against whom he strove. But when the messenger made an end, David spoke no blame, but answered with comforting words:

        "Thou shalt say thus unto Joab: 'Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make the battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it;' and encourage thou him."

        The news went on to Uriah's house, from which the sound of mourning arose, but we may suppose that there was no grief.

        When the time of mourning was done, there was talk in the city that the King had sent for the desolate widow to his own house, and after that he would make her his wife. There was not much wonder thereat, for it was said that she was fairer than most, and the most continent king must take a new wife at times, as those he has become old, or are great with child, so that there will be none at times who are fit for the service of love; but all men knew that David was not one who would waste his strength in the arms of wives, having a life that was fuller of other things.

        There was talk also that Uriah's wife was with child before she came to the King, and those who knew most were disposed to make some wonder of that, but not much; for few knew with certainty that Uriah had not gone in to her when he had come from the war, and none knew what the truth was, or at least none who would be likely to say.

        There is no record of what Nathan thought at this time, his book having been lost, but we know what he said on a later day, having an account which may have been written by him.


THE King's house had ample space for his wives. Each might dwell apart, as much as she would, in the rooms that were hers, with a concubine, if not two, under her rule.

        There were also rooms of a larger space which were common to all, where they would meet to talk of their own ills, and of their babes, and to hear the gossip of the bazaar. They would also eat and quarrel more than enough, so that it was little wonder, as the years passed, if they grew sullen and fat.

        Bath-sheba went once to meet her fellow-wives in this way. She was shy and quiet, and they thought her proud, as perhaps she was. They were not in haste to be fond of her, and she thought that there was none among them, except Abigail, whom she would be likely to love.

        She had for companion a pretty, docile girl, a Moabitess whom Abigail had procured. She had bought her in the slave-market in the lower town, which it had not been needful to do, for it would have been easy to find a thousand Judean girls who would have been glad to become concubine to the new wife of the King. But Abigail, who had helped Bath-sheba in many ways, had explained to her that these girls should be chosen with care. They should be pretty, for the King's pleasure, which a wife should regard even when it did not come from herself; and stupid, for there was no danger from such, where an ugly one, having brains, might make mischief more than enough.

        There had been a proof of that, less than two years ago, of which Abigail did not speak. For Maachah had imported a dusky, thick-lipped girl to take the place of one who had died of fever in the summer months, and she had given her to the King almost at once, thinking that there was no danger in her. But the girl had some droll ways, and a quick wit, and after she had spent a night with the King, which Maachah had supposed to be the only one that she ever would, David had asked after her twice, and had been met with a lying tale, which would have been hard to sustain, had she come to speech with him again.

        But after that he had left for the Syrian war, and, while he was far away, there had come a dawn when the girl was found with a strangled neck at the foot of the women's stair. It was supposed that a cord had been tightened the while she slept, and then, when she was dead, it had been cut off, and she had been carried to the stair, and thrown down, which few of the women would have had the strength and resolution to do. But men might think what they would, having no proof. Abigail knew something more than the rest, but she did not speak, being never one to make more trouble than the years bring of themselves; and David had not been told.

        So Abigail chose a girl with care, who would be a good servant to Bath-sheba, with no vexation to follow at later times; and when she spoke to Azmaveth concerning the price of a slave, she was told that the King's orders were that the charges of his new wife should be paid without stint: she could have all that her heart desired.

        So Bath-sheba stayed for a time in her own rooms, where she was visited, one by one, by the other wives, and there came a day when she thought: "I shall be hated by all if I sit here, never joining a common group, and I shall be coward to myself." So she rose at that, and went to the room where the King's wives gossiped and ate, as they sat or lay on the cushioned floor. As she lifted the curtain that hung across the entrance, she heard the voices of more than one who talked at the same time, and at the words "the Gilonite girl", which came clearly above the din of chatter, she stood still.

        Maachah was hidden from her by the couch on which she stretched, but her voice could be told beyond doubt, for though the Philistines spoke the same tongue that was common throughout Israel and Judea, yet it was accented in a foreign way, which Maachah had made no effort to change, thinking it to be one to which others should conform if they could.

        "You may all reckon," she said, "that your hour is done. The King may lie with you at times, as there is no doubt that he will, being just. But his thought will be that you have not Bath-sheba's eyes, or Bath-sheba's hair, or he will hate you for the shapeless hips that you must show at that time, for the Gilonite is one who will keep the form of a maid till the mourners bear her away."

        Maachah knew that she could mock the other women thus, with little loss to her own pride, for she had guarded her grace of form, as the others had failed to do, and they had had less to lose at the first.

        A gurgle of laughter came from where Eglah lay. "You will not fret me with such talk, though you go on for a week. If the King lie with me once a year, I am well content, and he will not fail me in that: he is too well paid." She added, as one who, without unkindness, observes a fact: "You might have more babes yourselves, if you were less sour."

        No one was quick to reply, for Eglah had shot an arrow that struck them all. It was the curse of the marriage-customs of the kings of that day that few of their wives would bear more than from one child to three, though it might be a life-long rivalry in which the competition was bitter and keen. But the King's nurseries were full of Eglah's children, to which she added, as she had boasted, with every year.

        She was a small woman, with a pleasant, good-humoured face. It was useless to try to quarrel with her, let her say what she would, for if her children thrived, as they did, she cared for nothing beside.

        Ahinoam turned the conversation to say: "It is a new thing for a King's wife to be already with child. It is that of which I have never heard until now."

        Maachah said: "I suppose David took her to make sure, lest she should wed elsewhere, and he be too late. But the child will die at the right time. So you will find it to be. It will not be reared with the King's sons. What can a woman expect, if she come to a king's bed, when the seed of another man is well-grown in her womb?"

        Bath-sheba's voice, quiet and level in the intensity of its passionate wrath, startled the women, as she came forward to the midst of the room: "Will you say what you mean when you talk of another man?"

        The question was addressed to Maachah, and there was that in its tone which caused the Philistine to rise up as she replied, as though she had been threatened with a physical blow. Bath-sheba was still straight and slim, and showed her beauty unmarred, though she was four months with child, for she was of those who carry their babes well. Maachah was somewhat taller than she, and of almost equal beauty of form, but her face had settled to harder lines, and her eyes were cold.

        After the first instant of surprise, she became scornful and cool.

        "I speak of that which is known, and your belly shows. Will you say that you are not bearing Uriah's child?"

        "The child I bear is the King's. Uriah did not so much as to lift my veil."

        There was a murmur of doubt among some, who were inclined to think it a foolish lie, but Maachah had brains enough to understand that she was hearing the truth about that which had puzzled her until then. She said:

        "If it be true, it is that which should not be spoken aloud. The King will give you no thanks for that."

        "The King will tell it aloud, for the world to hear; it is to that he is pledged to me."

        She had almost said "but twelve hours ago ", but she had remembered that that would be to reveal that she had met David within that time, which might best be left unknown to his other wives. For he had told her to seek him upon the roof at all times when she would, which no others had his permission to do.

        Maachah was amazed at the folly her words proposed. "If he do that, do you see where you will stand, and the King too?"

        But Bath-sheba was undisturbed about that. "A king may do as he will, so I have heard; and I am David's wife at this day. But he is not one who will make or sustain a lie. Nor will he deny the child that is his. You would know that without words, if you knew the King, as I must suppose that you never will."

        Bath-sheba turned as she spoke, and walked out. All her thoughts had been for the child that was under her heart, as a woman's will be at such times; but those who heard felt that she spoke as one might do who sat at the King's side, and addressed those who were only fit to be placed round a lower board. The meaning of the glance with which Maachah regarded her as she left was so plain that Abigail thought it well to speak to her apart at a later hour. She said: "If you are wise, you will leave Bath-sheba alone."

        "Must I ask you what I shall do?"

        "If there be cause, I may tell the King of how Shimrith died."

        "David is just. He would not believe without proof."

        "He would believe me."

        "Well," Maachah allowed, with the frankness of one who will not waste breath on a futile lie, "I do not say but he would. But you will say nought, for the negress' throat will not mend (I thank Dagon for that), and to make useless trouble is not your way. . . . As to the Gilonite girl, you need have no fear. I shall let her be. I suppose she will twist a noose for her own neck in the end, as we all do."


BATH-SHEBA had said no more than truth when she boasted that David would not disown the child that was his. As he had talked with her at this time, being alone on the roof in the moonlight hours, as they had been at the first, he had seen that the consequences of Uriah's death would not be quite what he had thought when his mind had been full of Bath-sheba's peril, and his own longing for her.

        He had saved her from the arms of a man which she would have been sorry to feel, and from the peril which would have been hers had he guessed the truth. He had made her his wife, in which position there would be few or none who would dare to bring complaint against her of any kind, and especially in regard to matters in which they had no concern.

        Had she been an adulteress half a dozen times, it had been a matter for her late husband, and had become the concern of him whom she now had. The first was dead, and the second King of the land, and the one also with whom she had sinned. What could be safer than that, let the law say what it might?

        But the question of the parentage of the coming child remained, and was not one that could be put aside in the same way. Was it to go through life with Uriah's name, or would David acknowledge it for his own? David had wished to do that, but had felt that it was more than he had the right to ask, seeing the stain it must cast, in the eyes of men, on Bath-sheba's name. But he found that she looked on it in a different way. He had forgotten himself, thinking of her and the child, and he had put her first, as a man would be likely to do.

        But she thought first of the child. It should have the King's name for its own, let the consequences to her be what they might. But, as a fact, she had little fear, feeling that David was strong enough to guard her from any threat. Nor was she conscious of shame, looking upon herself as having been David's from the first; Uriah's neglect, especially on that last occasion, when he had lain on the floor of the King's house, and refused to come to her, though she had been no further away than the next street, having freed her mind from any sense of obligation to him. She thought of him rather as a contamination from which she had been saved in a very wonderful way. She was concerned with fundamental fact rather than law, as women are apt to be; perhaps, because the making of laws is a matter in which they have taken little part, or else none.

        David saw the implication upon himself, but he would not falter for that. It must be faced in a bold way, which was that which was most natural to him. He spoke of the child as his, giving explanation to none, and letting men think and talk as they would. The result was that it was only partly believed. Some saw evidence of its truth in the way in which Bath-sheba had been fetched to the royal house after her time of mourning was done. Others thought that it was no more than a kingly gesture, such as David would be likely to make, to throw the cloak of his own name over a posthumous child, who would be born after his mother was wed to him. None, except Abigail and Ahithophel, knew the truth, or could do more than guess how Bath-sheba should have come to the King, if it were truth that she was pregnant by him.

        Only Nathan guessed what those two knew, with a doubt at first which left his mind when the King spoke of the coming child as his own in an open way; and Nathan, at this time, though he did not avoid the King, had ceased to talk with him as freely as he once did.

        David may have noticed this, but his time was fully engaged, and his heart at peace. There was much to be done in the consolidation of the great kingdom that he now ruled. He had a new happiness in Bath-sheba's love in his leisure hours. The siege of Rabbah went on, and despair came to the Ammonites when they found that it was not raised in the winter days, as they had thought it would be. The army was changed with new drafts, and strengthened its tents for the winter rains. Joab might have been relieved, if he would, but he wrote that he would stay till his work was done.

        So the winter-passed, and in the days of the spring rains, when the daffodils were yet no more than green spears in the grass, Bath-sheba gave birth to a son.

        The child was finely formed, and she said it showed how vain it would have been to have denied that it was the King's gift to her, for had it not David's hands, as a glance could tell? She had the greatest joy that a woman may as the child lay at her side, and she thought of it as though it were the first man that the world had known; as it was surely the son of the most excellent king. When she had wandered on Hebron hills in her virgin days, dreaming of what would come, she had had no thought that she would ever lie thus, with David's son on her arm.

        . . . And she knew that David was one with her in that joy. He had no regret now for Uriah's death, if he had ever had such a thought, for it was plain to see that the smaller thing must give way to that of a greater weight. He told Bath-sheba that Syria-Damascus had paid tribute with shields of gold that had hung in the temple of Rimmon till he had said that Jerusalem would be a much better place, and he had resolved to put them aside, with much else of treasure that had come from the conquered lands, that they might be used at last for Yahweh's temple, for which he had marked out the ground on the Zion hill. It was more than he was worthy to do, but Nathan had said that he might have a son who would be more fitting than he. And they looked at the child that had come from the love they had, and their thoughts were one.


BATH-SHEBA looked at the King with eyes which were dark with pain. The child lay very still. She said: "He is restless at times, and at times he will lie thus. It is two days that he has not smiled. The physicians talk as though they might know more than Yahweh himself, but they do no good. I have prayed long, but there comes no change. What do you think it can be?"

        David had no wisdom to give. There had been little illness among his children, who had been strong in body from birth, and this was not a disease of which even the physicians knew much, though they talked in a learned way, as they knew that they were expected to do.

        He sat long watching the child, but at last he must go, having affairs of state that he could not longer neglect.

        He met Nathan as he went to his room. He stopped him to say: "The child is ill. Will you pray to Yahweh to give him health? For I think he would listen to you."

        Nathan paused for a moment of silence, after which he said: "Yes. I will do that." And then he passed on quickly, as though not wishing to be hindered by further words.

        After that he lay through a sleepless night. He prayed for the child, as he had promised to do, and for David also, a man he loved; but he prayed most for guidance as to what he should do and say. For it seemed to him that there was crisis here, not only in David's life, but in the fate of the kingdom, and the future of the worship of the true God, as he held Yahweh to be. He did not think that David would turn all men from that worship, even if he should make such an attempt, which was not easy to think. But he knew that David had to do no more than let it be known that there was nothing to be feared from his wrath, and there would be shrines to a dozen gods set up in a week, even in Jerusalem's walls; and he knew that many, even of Yahweh's worshippers, would see nothing in that beyond evidence that David was a liberal-minded and tolerant king. He knew that if he said what was in his heart he would be invoking the law to curse the man who had made it strong in the land, and if David should be suddenly wroth, in the way he had, it was beyond guessing what he would do.

        Yet there was a fact that he could not change. The word of the law was clear; and an honest thought could not reconcile it with what David had done. He considered that an omnipotent God, such as he believed Yahweh to be, should be able to protect himself, and his name. He thought at last: "I am vexed about that which is Yahweh's matter, not mine, and from that cause I am near to neglect that which his prophets are bound to do."

        After that, when the dawn was near, and he was between waking and sleep, it seemed to him that a vision came in which he was told what his duty was, and after that he slept in a peaceful way.

        When he rose, he had a resolute mind, having no doubt of what must be done, though he was somewhat fearful and sad. He thought of Saul, and was in doubt what the end would be. Was it that Yahweh's law was too hard a yoke for the necks of kings? And, if so, was there any hope that it would become strong to control the world?

        He went to David at once, and the King saw that he was troubled in mind. He asked: "Did you pray for the child? I have seen that he still lies in the same way, and is neither better nor worse."

        "I have prayed," Nathan replied, "but yet not as I should have liked to do; for I was vexed by what I have seen and heard of a wrong such as a rich man will often do to one who is poor. I will tell you what it is, if you will have leisure to hear."

        "I have never been so pressed with my own affairs," David replied, "that I have lacked leisure to right a wrong - that is, so far as a king may; for you know that there is much that is beyond the reach of a mortal hand."

        "Then I will tell you," Nathan said, "what it is. There is a city not far from here where two men dwelt, as it might be in the same street, but one is rich, having flocks and herds out on the hills, and the other was very poor.

        "The poor man had no more than a ewe-lamb, which he had bought and nourished, so that it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, and would drink from his own cup, and was to him as his own child.

        "Now there came a traveller to the town, being one that the rich man would entertain, but he spared to take of his own flock, or his own herd. He took the poor man's lamb, and slew it, and dressed it to give the wayfarer meat."

        "You know who the man is? And the facts are sure?"

        "Yes, I know him well. There is no doubt that the facts are so."

        David's anger rose, as Nathan had thought that it would, for there were few things that stirred him so much as that any man should oppress the poor, as his songs show to this day.

        "You may cease caring for that. That which has been reft shall be restored fourfold, as the law is. But I will go beyond that. Give me the man's name, and, as Yahweh lives, he shall die; for I will have such deeds rooted out of this land."

        Nathan answered. "Thou art the man." And after that there was a space of silence between the two.

        David asked at last: "Will you say what you mean by that in a plain word?"

        "I do not speak of myself," Nathan replied, "or it might have been left unsaid. I give you that which I have heard in the night. For thus Yahweh, God of Israel, saith: 'I anointed thee King of Israel: I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul: I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's daughter to wife. If this were not enough, might I not have done more also, which was yet to be seen?

        " 'Yet thou hast despised my commandment, to do evil be fore my face. Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite, and hast taken his wife to be thine, slaying him by the sword of the children of Ammon.

        " 'Now, therefore, the sword shall not leave thine house. Evil from thine own house shall rise up against thee, and that which thou hast done secretly shall be done openly before Israel, when thy neighbour shall lie by thine own wives in the full light of the sun.' "

        After this, there was a long silence again. David thought of some things that might be said on his side, and of which Nathan might not be fully aware; and as to Uriah having cherished his wife like the ewe-lamb, the parable held a false-hood that approached the grotesque. He remembered how the man had refused to see her for two days, when she had been no further away than a street's breadth, and if he had said in wrath that Nathan's parable was much less than fair to himself, there would have been some reason in that. But he saw that there were two things that he could not change, and that no fencing of words would explain away. He had seduced Uriah's wife, while he was away at the war, and he had then caused his death, to conceal that which he and Bath-sheba had done.

        He sat silent for a long space, and at last the tears fell from his eyes.

        "Nathan," he said, "you are a true prophet of God, as you are a friend to me. I had looked on this in another way, but I can see you are right. It is strange how different that which we do ourselves may seem from that which is done alike by another man I have wrecked the work of my life. Yet I would not that Yahweh's worship should fail through me, or the temple not be built to his name that you have said that my son shall raise. . . . I have sinned. What shall I do?"

        And as Nathan heard this, he was stirred to a new mood, becoming aware of the compassion and forgiveness of God, and he spoke in a different tone from that which he had used before:

        "Yahweh hath put away your sin, that you shall not die. . . . Yet the child must. For by this deed you have given cause to Yahweh's foes to blaspheme his name."

        David asked: "Will you pray that the child may live?"

        "I cannot do that; for I think it to be against the purpose of God."

        "Yet I must. For the child is mine."

        After that David would speak to none. He lay on the earth, fasting, and would not rise, either by night or day, as he besought Yahweh for the life of the child, who had done no wrong.

        So it was, till the seventh day that the child had been sick, and on that morning it died.


THE servants of David were fearful to tell him that the child was dead. They said one to another: "If he were in such grief while it lived, what will he do to himself when he learns that his hope is gone?" There could be none who doubted now that it was his own child.

        David knew that they whispered among themselves, and the cause was easy to guess. He rose up, and questioned them in a straight way. "Is the child dead?" And they allowed that it was.

        After that he went in, and washed himself, changing his clothes, and then, speaking to none, he went out to the tabernacle of Yahweh that he had set up, and remained for some time in prayer. Then he returned to his house, where he asked for food.

        He felt for that time that all emotion was gone, and that he had become indifferent to what the future might bring, whether of evil or good. Yet he saw that his servants were amazed that he showed no grief for the child, though he had travailed as they had seen while it yet lived. So he said in explanation to them:

        "While it lived I strove with Yahweh the most I might, for I said to the last, Who can tell but that God may be gracious to me, that the child may live? But when he is dead, wherefore should I fast? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

        And after that he went to Bath-sheba, to comfort her. . . .

        It was on the next day that a letter came from Joab. He wrote:

        "The city of Rabbah is near to fall. It is starved and weak, and I have scattered those who would have come to its aid from other parts of the Ammonite land. If you would have mercy on those who are in its walls, as your letters have shown you will, you should come yourself, for if it fall to my sword I must do after my own name. Seeing how the Elders of Israel were put to scorn, there can be mercy given by none who is less than thou."

David was glad at that word, for he could be active again and he saw that there was still work for his hands to do, and that Yahweh had not cast him aside.

        He marched in less than two days, taking his own guards, and such a host as could be drawn from Benjamin and Judea within that time, and when the people of Rabbah heard that a new army was near their gates they surrendered, as he had thought that they would, both being in greater fear for the new legions that came, and hoping for more mercy from him than Joab would have been likely to give.

        King Hanun came out to beg his life, and to surrender all that he had. He was in a different mood from when he had laughed at a good jest two or three years before.

        Joab asked: "You will slay their males at the least? For you dealt with the Moabites thus, whose guilt was no more, and it may be less."

        "I did that, for I had no choice," David replied, "being surrounded by foes upon every hand. Had I done less than that, I had betrayed my own land to spoil, and its virgins to rape, and the altars of Yahweh might have been strewn with dung.

        "Yet, even then, I did Moab no lasting harm, for its children grow.

        "And now I am secure in a great strength, and if I slay, it must be from a lust of blood, which I never had. Yet these people attacked Israel, having no cause of offence, and there must be penance to pay. They shall toil for a space of years, either at the kilns, to make bricks which Jerusalem needs, or with harrow and axe and saw, doing the work of city and field, that the wealth of Israel grow."

        Hanun found himself in a line of those who were roped together, to be taken to the work of the kilns, for the King would make no distinction for him, either better or worse, treating him as one who had been too small of mind to be called a king. So he toiled for some years to come, and had more leisure to lament the folly of youth than would have been his had David given him to Benaiah, with orders to cut his throat, which was a more usual way of disposing of captured kings at that day.

        But David went back to Jerusalem, taking a great spoil, and being aware that his wars were done. He went in to Bath-sheba again, with whom he had a new joy, and in the next year he had a child by her who was not destined to die. They called him Solomon, because David looked to see a long peace in the land, and they gave him "Beloved of God" for another name.

        It may be read in its own place how the years went on to the time when the child should be king at last, and should build the temple of which David had dreamed before.

        And there also may be read of the sorrows that came to David from those of his own house, as his children grew for that which Nathan had foreseen and foretold was a shadow which could not lift; and out of his sorrows he made the songs that have never died.

The End