After the work of Elijah was over and God had taken him up to heaven, there was another prophet in Israel whose name was Elisha. Now it happened that one day the prophet Elisha, sitting upon his ass, with his rough cloak cast about him, came riding towards a little village named Shunem. He rode steadily onward up the steep and stony path in the afternoon heat, with his servant walking behind him.
He had come all the way from his home on the wooded hill of Carmel. He was tired and hungry, and, as was his custom, he stopped at the house of a certain Shunammite woman. Then alighting from his ass, he went up the outside stair to a little chamber on the wall, which was always ready to receive him, and there he and his servant Gehazi lay down to rest.
When morning came the prophet and his servant rose and breakfasted on bread and goat's milk, and were about to go on their way; but before leaving, Elisha told Gehazi to bring up the Shunammite woman, and the man called to her from the wall. Coming up the stone stair, she stood at the door of the little chamber, hiding her face, her dark hair covered by a white kerchief that fell over a tunic of bright colours which reached down to her slippered feet.
|Thou hast been careful for us with all this care,| the prophet said. |What is to be done for thee? Shall I ask a favour of the king for thee, or from the captain of his fighting-men?|
Elisha wished to make her some return for her kindness, and thought that she might like to see her husband raised from the life of a village farmer to be an officer in the king's army.
|I wish to dwell among mine own people,| she replied simply, meaning that she would rather live where her tribe lived; and she turned away and left them.
When she was gone Elisha asked his servant if there was nothing he could do for her; and the man answered that she had no son. Gehazi knew it was the dearest wish of every Syrian woman to have a son, and that the Shunammite's heart longed for one.
|Call her,| said Elisha again; and the woman in her bright tunic, bound about her waist with a silken scarf, again stood outside the door hiding her face. And Elisha told her that the time would surely come when she would hold a little son in her arms. The woman replied in a low voice, --
|Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not mock me.|
But Elisha said it would be so; and saddling his ass he rode away, with Gehazi following after him.
But the prophet's word came true, and the Shunammite's heart leaped with joy as she nursed her little babe. Years passed, and the courtyard echoed with the shouts of the merry child, whose bare feet pattered all day about the sunny square, scaring the gray doves up to the housetop. Holding by his mother's hand, he went up the stairs to the little chamber on the wall, where the vine spread its broad leaves; and there he saw the table and the little bed, the red jar of water and the cakes of bread waiting for the prophet of God. And when he was five years old, with ruddy cheeks and soft hair, he was beautiful as an angel of God.
Now one day, in the hot harvest weather, the little fellow ran away from the house down to the field where his father and the reapers were at work; and he ran to and fro in the hot morning sun, sometimes chasing the bright butterflies, sometimes following the men as they cut down the grain with their sharp sickles.
But after a while he came to his father, calling, |O my head, my head!| for he had got sunstroke with the great heat. At once the old farmer bade one of his men carry the boy to his mother; and he lay on her knee in a darkened room, crying out in an agony of pain and thirst, while she tried as best she could to relieve his suffering. But by noon all was still, and the stricken mother carried his body up to the little chamber and laid it on the prophet's bed, and going out gently closed the door. Her heart was like lead as she went down the steps to her own room, for all the light seemed to have gone out of her world, and now what was she to do?
Calling her husband up from the fields, the Shunammite woman asked him to send a servant to her with an ass, that she might ride to Elisha at Carmel and return again. The father did not know what had happened to his boy, and asked why she wished to go that day, as it was neither new moon nor Sabbath, her usual times for taking such a journey.
|It is well!| was all her reply, for her heart was crushed, and she had no words to utter. So the ass was saddled, and she said to her servant, --
|Go forward; and do not slacken the riding unless I tell thee.|
Then they went out of the village at a quick pace, and along the plain, among yellow harvest-fields, and through the little streams, and over the Kishon River, and up into the wooded gorge leading to the prophet's home on the green mount of Carmel.
|Yonder is the Shunammite woman; run and meet her,| exclaimed Elisha to his servant, shading his eyes from the sun with his hand, as he looked and saw her yet afar off, riding in haste. Gehazi ran as he was told, and when they met he asked her in an anxious voice, --
|Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?|
|It is well,| she answered, for a mother's heart is strange at such a time; and she rode forward in silence until she came to Elisha standing at his house door. Getting off the ass, she threw herself down before the prophet, and holding his feet, lay there with her face to the ground, saying nothing.
Gehazi came forward to raise her.
|Let her alone,| Elisha said, looking at the grief-stricken figure at his feet. |Her soul is vexed within her, and God hath hid the matter from me, and hath not told me.|
When she heard these words she found her voice, and murmured, with her face to the ground, --
|Did I ask a son of my lord? and did I not say, 'Do not deceive me'?| Then her tears fell fast. Elisha understood her at once.
|Gird up thy tunic with thy belt,| he said, speaking to Gehazi, |and take my staff, and go. Greet no man by the way, and answer no man's greeting; but lay it on the face of the child,| handing him his staff as he spoke. And the man started at once to run down the path from the village.
|As God liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee,| the mother murmured at the prophet's feet.
She would not be content with a servant; she must have the prophet himself. And when she rode away Elisha was with her, going back again on the long ride of sixteen miles which she had scarcely noticed, so loving was her mother's heart.
When they drew near the village of Shunem, Gehazi came out to meet them.
|The child is not awake,| he said; but he got no answer.
Elisha went up alone to the little chamber, and there lay the beautiful child, still and quiet upon the bed. And the old man shut the door and prayed to God for him, and stretched himself upon the child, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, until the child grew warm, and showing signs of life, opened his eyes. Then the prophet called to his servant to bring the Shunammite woman. She needed no calling. Her foot was on the stair while he yet spoke, so quick is a mother's heart, and she stood at the door of the little room, as she had often stood before, gazing, but afraid to enter.
|Take up thy son,| the prophet said.
A glance was enough. One step and she fell half fainting at Elisha's feet, pouring out her soul in thanks to God and to the man of God. Turning to her boy, she gathered him up tenderly in her arms and bore him down the stairs to her own room in the house below. And thus was her boy restored to her alive.