Assyrian warriors with pointed beards, oblique eyes, and oblong shields, had to represent the Israelites; they marched by in an endless procession. He saw the blue-green of the vineyards on the hillside, the shadow of the dusty palm-trees upon the dusty road. Then a wood of aromatic trees into which all the warriors fled.
Then followed the story of Absalom.
“Absalom rebelled against his father, what a dreadful thing to think of,” said the Dean. “A grown-up man to rebel against his father.” He chanced to look towards Rafael, who turned as red as fire.
The thought which was constantly in his mind was that when he was grown up he should rebel against his father.
“But Absalom was punished in a marvellous manner,” continued the Dean. “He lost the battle, and as he fled through the woods, his long hair caught in a tree, the horse ran away from under him, and he was left hanging there until he was run through by a spear.”
Rafael could see Absalom hanging there, not in the long Assyrian garments, not with a pointed beard. No! Slender and young, in Rafael’s tight-fitting breeches and stockings, and with his own red hair! Ah! how distinctly he saw it! The horse galloping far away—the grey one at home which he used to ride by stealth when his father was asleep after dinner. He could see the tall, slender lad, dangling and swaying, with a spear through his body. Distinctly! Distinctly!
This vision, which he never mentioned to a soul, he could not get rid of. To be left hanging there by his hair—what a strange punishment for rebelling against his father!
Certainly he already knew the history, but till now he had paid no special heed to it.
It was on a Friday that this great impression had been made on him, and on the following Thursday morning he awoke to see his mother standing over him with her most wondering expression. Her hair still as she had plaited it for the night; one plait had touched him on the nose and awoke him before she spoke. She stood bending over him, in her long white nightgown with its dainty lace trimming, and with bare feet. She would never have come in like that if something terrible had not happened. Why did she not speak? only look and look—or was she really frightened?
“Mother!” he cried, sitting up.
Then she bent close down to him. “The man is dead,” she whispered. It was his father whom she called “the man,” she never spoke of him otherwise.
Rafael did not comprehend what she said, or perhaps it paralysed him. She repeated it again louder and louder, “The man is dead, the man is dead.”
Then she stood upright, and putting out her bare feet from under her nightgown, she began to dance—only a few steps; and then she slipped away through the door which stood half open. He jumped up and ran after her; there she lay on the sofa, sobbing. She felt that he was behind her, she raised herself quickly, and, still sobbing, pressed him to her heart.