Sunshine fell upon the walls of King David's palace on Mount Zion. The trees in the royal gardens swayed in the breeze, and the doves fluttered up to the windows; but all was hushed and still within. Black slaves glided to and fro with naked feet, and the women took off their tinkling armlets and talked in whispers; for in a little chamber, with shaded window and curtained door, a dark-eyed mother sat watching her child -- the king's child -- whose flushed cheeks showed that he was very ill and near to death.
Now when he heard that his boy was so ill, the king, who was now a man of middle age, threw himself upon the floor of his room in the bitterness of his grief and prayed to God to spare the life of the child.
His friends came and stood round and spoke to him, trying to comfort him; but he would not rise, nor let them raise him up, nor would he take any food. So he passed the dark night in praying and in sorrow, while the mother watched the child by the light of a small lamp, and slaves stood outside the chamber door to keep silence.
The morning came, and sunshine fluttered on the trees in the king's gardens and on the hills round the town. Then the king asked for the child, but the answer was that he was no better; and all the people saw that King David's grief was very great, and they wondered. For the monarch had fought in many cruel battles, and beaten his enemies, and caused the death of many men and women, and even children, and he had done many cruel things in his lifetime.
He now had riches and honour and numerous children, and was the great king of Jerusalem, living in a palace, with servants and horses and gardens and fountains, and he had brought the golden ark of God to be near him in a purple tent on Mount Zion; but he had set his whole heart on this fair-haired child, and the fear that the little one might die took the joy out of everything.
The peacocks on the walls and the doves on the roof missed the little child from the garden, where he used to come and feed them. For seven long days and seven longer nights the loving mother watched him as he lay getting slowly worse; and the king's grief was so great that he would not rise from the floor to eat by day or night, and when his slaves spoke to him he paid no heed and would not answer.
He refused to put on the fresh clothing they brought for him, or to wash in the brass basins of water held out to him, or to eat the food placed on the table at his side; but he lay on the floor of his little room groaning, and praying to God for the little one.
After a week of suffering the little one passed away in the hushed room of the king's palace at Jerusalem, and the weeping mother was led away from the bedside of her dead child. Sorrowing friends went to tell the king in his chamber; but when they came to the door of his room they stopped and whispered, saying, --
|If he would not listen to us while the child yet lived, what will his grief be if we say that the boy is dead?|
The king heard them talking, and looking up, saw from their faces what had happened. Then he asked if the child was dead, and they told him, expecting that he would break out into wild grief; but he did not. Rising from the floor, where he had lain so long, he asked for water; and his slaves washed him and brought clean, fresh clothing, and combed and oiled his hair.
He spoke to no one, but went out into the sunshine and the wind; and they watched to see what he would do, and where he would go. He did not linger among the shady walks of the king's garden or by the ponds where the red lilies grew and the swans shook out their white plumes in the sun.
His friends followed him as he went slowly out of the palace gardens and away to the great tent of purple and crimson, which he liked to call the House of God, on Mount Zion; and they stopped outside when he drew the rich curtains apart and went in. There in the darkness he knelt, and with hands upraised bowed his face to the ground before God as he poured out his soul in prayer.
After a time the king came out of the great tent again, and his friends and servants followed him as he returned to his palace. He had not yet spoken, and they could not understand why he did not weep and mourn for the child. He asked for food, and they wondered yet more as he ate from the dishes which the slaves brought him.
|What is this that thou doest?| asked one of his friends. |While the child lived thou didst weep for him, and wouldst take no food; and now that he is dead thou dost rise and eat.|
They thought he had been only mourning as he lay for days on the floor; but he had been praying, and now he answered them, --
|While he was yet alive I fasted and wept; for I thought, 'Who knoweth whether God may not be merciful to me, and the child may live?' But now he is dead, and why should I fast? I cannot bring him back to life again. Some day I shall die and go to him, but he will not return to me.|
Whether such thoughts as these comforted the mother's heart, we are not told; but the king himself tried to comfort her. After a time she had another little boy, and she called him Solomon, |the peaceful one,| for mothers chose the names in those days. And as his nurse carried him about the garden, clad in a little blue robe with white tassels, the people said that he too was a beautiful child; and he grew up to be good and wise and handsome, and loved his mother dearly. And years afterwards this child became the great King Solomon, whom all men thought so wise.