ON A desolate plain, a little shepherd-boy stood alone. His day's work was over and he had wandered through field and forest listening to the twittering of the birds and the soft sound of the summer breezes as they gently swayed the branches of the trees. He seemed to understand what the birds were saying, and the murmuring of the brook that wound its way through the forest was like a message of Nature to him. Sweet sounds were always in his ears, his heart was ever singing, for the shepherd-boy was a poet. At times he would turn around sharply, thinking he had heard some one calling. One day he was quite startled.
"David, David," he thought he heard a voice calling, "thou shalt be King of Israel."
But he could see nothing, except the trees and the flowers, and so he left the forest and stood in the desolate plain. In the distance he saw a very high hill and as he approached nearer he noticed on the summit a tall tree, without branches or leaves. With great difficulty he climbed the hill. It was quite smooth, bare of vegetation and without rocks, and little David noticed that it gave forth none of those sweet sounds like music that came from other hills.
The summit gained, he looked at the tree in wonderment. It was not of wood, but of horn.
"'Tis strange," said the boy. "This must be a magic mountain. No tree, or flower, or shrub, can grow in this barren earth."
He tried to dig a clod of earth out of the ground, but could not do so, even with his knife, for the ground was as hard as if covered with tough hide.
David was greatly puzzled, but, being a boy of courage, he did not begin to run down the mountain.
"I wonder what will happen if I stay here," he said, and he seated himself at the foot of the mysterious horn that grew at the summit and looked about him.
Then he noticed a most peculiar thing. The ground was rising and falling in places as if moved by some power beneath. Listening intently, he also heard a curious rumbling noise, and then a loud-sounding swish. At the same time he saw something rising from the other end of the mountain and whirl through the air.
"That is just like a tail," exclaimed David in surprise.
The next minute he had to cling with all his might to the horn, for the whole mountain was moving. It was rising, and soon David was quite near the clouds. The earth was a great distance away, and, judging by a tremendous shadow cast by the sun, David could see that he was clinging to the horn of a gigantic animal.
"I know what it is now," he said. "This is not a mountain, but a unicorn. The monster must have been lying asleep when I mistook it for a hill."
David began to puzzle his brain as to a means of getting down from his perilous perch.
"I must wait," he said, "until the animal feeds. He will surely lower his head to the ground then and I will slip off."
But a new terror awaited him. The roar of a lion was heard in the distance, and David found that he could understand it.
"Bow to me, for I am king of the beasts," the lion roared.
The lion, however, was so small compared with the unicorn that David could scarcely see it. The unicorn, as soon as it heard the command, began to lower its head, and soon David was enabled to slip to the ground. To his alarm he found himself just in front of the lion. The king of the beasts stood before him with blazing eyes, lashing its sides with his tail. David lost not a moment. Drawing his knife from his belt, the brave boy advanced boldly toward the lion.
Just then a sound attracted the attention of both the boy and the beast. It was a deer.
"I will save thee, boy," it cried. "Mount my back and trust to my speed."
Before the lion could recover from its surprise, David had sprung on to the back of the deer which started to run at lightning speed. David clung tightly to its back. Behind him a fierce roar indicated that the lion was in pursuit. Across the desolate plain and through the forest the chase continued, and when David came within sight of human habitations again, the deer stopped.
"Thou art safe now," the deer said to him. "Thou art to become king, and my command was to save thee. Fear not, I will lead the lion astray."
David thanked the deer that had so gallantly saved his life, and as soon as he had slid from its back it dashed off again, faster than ever with the lion still in pursuit. Soon both were out of sight.
David sang light-heartedly as he returned to his humble home and years afterward, when he was king of Israel and remembered his escape, he put the words of his song into one of his Psalms.