Page images
PDF
EPUB

reaching the eighteenth cubit mark, or about that, they had become stationary; and now the Nilometer was showing a retrograde movement of their level.

A vast abundance was before the inhabitants, yet they were disappointed and grieved. The broad prediction for the next fourteen years was of such a nature that anything tending to confirm it filled them with dread. So, everywhere over the country, as the quiet waters were now dropping their rich pabulum on the ground, people's feelings were agitated, and the prospect of a coming rich harvest was a subject not so much of joy as of gloom.

But still, this one year was not decisive (so they argued). Perhaps the next one would put a contradiction on that fearful prophecy. They would wait and hope.

The king and Joseph, however, did not indulge in any quiet waiting. The former, if we are right in our supposition as to the individual, was a man of remarkable force of character, of extensive views in government, and great determination of will; and having decided on his course respecting the closely-coming events, he gave to his Prime Minister, who might indeed almost be called Viceroy, the fullest power for such precautionary measures as the latter might deem best. Joseph was now thirty years of age. The golden royal gift about his neck, the costume as a prince of the household, and the chariot with significant devices, next only to those of the king, gave him authority wherever he might go; and before the beginning of the yearly flood he had gone “throughout all the land of Egypt,” forming plans and giving orders for measures to save the surplus of the coming abundant crop. Therefore, when after the flood above noticed the teeming earth became an unbroken scene of exuberance sufficient to fill with gladness the hearts of a people not oppressed, as they were, with that dread of coming woes, his agents had storehouses ready; in due time, doubtless, either by purchase or because the sovereign had

one,

the right of possession, the fifth part of the grain was gathered into them and safely stored away. To every individual in the kingdom it was evident that Pharoah and Joseph were earnest believers in the dreams and the interpretations. People looked on approvingly and disapprovingly; every store-house seemed to them to be as a prophecy of horrors, and a confirmation of fears which they were unwilling to have enter their hearts and were fighting against. Seven years of famine! The whole land to be consumed! The thing was not to be thought of, if the thought could be kept away; and yet here, constantly staring at them, were the seeming proofs that such a time must come.

At all events, come what might, they saw that the precaution was a wise

But the prospect was terrible! Thus time wore on; and then June came round once more. Again the people were watching, scanning the riverbanks, scanning its surface, noting every inch of rise. Again they saw the mosses and green scum swept rapidly away by the rushing waters; again they saw the gradual but sure increase of the flood. Sixteen cubits! Seventeen ! now up to eighteen! there stationary! and then again the subsiding commenced, just as in the previous year!

People now resigned themselves to what seemed clearly to be the inevitable. More readily than in the past harvest season, they assisted in this one, and gave up the surplus of their crops, and helped to fill the store-houses; looking on all now with a kind of dogged despair. Tongues which had publicly or secretly charged on Joseph that he was trying to frighten both king and nation, grew silent; and hands which were reluctant before or quite held back, were readily stretched out to assist; and every one saw with satisfaction the increase of stores in which their only hope was now beginning to rest. It was true that there had been only two years of this superabundance; and the predictions might, after all, turn out to be false ; but then two such extraordinary years, taken together with the dreams of their sovereign, were satisfactory to most persons; and therefore, to the great ferment of thought and feeling throughout the nation there now succeeded the quietude of a confirmed belief, gloomy as it was. They concluded to take with satisfaction the abundance while it was still theirs.

A third year passed like the former two; and then a fourth ; and then three others, making the seven. The next one was to initiate the famine !

But in the mean time all the store-houses had been filled. “ Joseph gathered,” says the Sacred Record, “corn as the sand of the sea, very much until he left numbering; for it was without number.” In every city there were deposits of grain so immense that the people had a feeling of safety even for the coming dreaded crisis. Since they had become satisfied that it would come, they had been constantly turning their eyes toward these granaries, as places where was their only hope, and toward Joseph as their great benefactor; and now, when all was over, and the time for the dearth had come, they folded their hands and waited in subdued feelings and patient resignation, with a knowledge that no resistance or no effort on their part could avail anything.

In the next year the river, as all now expected, failed to rise. We know what were the first precursors of such a failure; the slow gathering of its slimy matter into side eddies, where this decomposing substance moved sluggishly, and then rested and turned into poison ; and then the offensive character of the taste and smell of the water itself, till people turned from their once precious beverage in disgust. Then came the rise by such slow degrees that the inhabitants thought it useless to watch or make report; then the resting of the flood at a low degree; and then the decline. All had expected it; no one felt surprised; no one felt horrified; that latter feeling had came to them long before, and had been indulged till it had died away in one of des

pair. Despair was now the most familiar of all feelings in the land.

Then the whole valley soon turned to powder; plants, herbage, trees, all vegetation perished. The entire population would also have perished if it had not been for the provident care of the king and Joseph ; and all now yielded their grateful acknowledgments, increasing in warmth every year, as the frightfulness of the dearth was also becoming greater year by year.

The store houses were opened, and grain, as it was needed for man and beast, was served out. The Prime Minister showed his right knowledge of human nature in not making the distribution gratuitous; for that would have made the inhabitants lose their self-respect, and would have humiliated them into feeling themselves to be paupers, each in his own eyes and in the regard of others; but he sold the grain, doubtless requiring little for it, but making them feel that it was theirs by purchase, and not given to them degraded as beggars living on the public bounty. They were able thus to preserve one of the best feelings in our nature their self-respect,-a feeling with which even a slave may be a noble man.

CHAPTER XXIII.

MEETING WITH THE BROTHERS.

WO years of the famine had passed away. The inter

pretation of the dreams had declared that it should“consume the land ;" which was indeed the case ; and the long drought which was drying up the sources of their river had also reached other countries, producing in them a similar result. The inhabitants of neighboring lands, informed of the foresight that had been exercised in Egypt, resorted to that country now for supplies.

One day, as Joseph was engaged in the multifarious duties of his office, ten men, foreign in person and costume, presented themselves as applicants for grain, and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.

THEY WERE HIS BROTHERS !

He knew them at once, but they failed to recognize him ; indeed, had not the slightest suspicion that Zaphnathpaaneah, the mighty Governor of Egypt, before them, was the brother whom, twenty-two years previously, they had sold to the Ishmaelites. He was now thirty-nine years of age, and the time intervening had made great changes in the person of him who had been the stripling of the particolored garment. His head was now clean shaved; and the bald crown or the close-fitting cap or the elaborate heavy wig would, any of them, be alone sufficient to change his appearance beyond the power of recognition among men who had never once dreamed of meeting him in circumstances like these.

A thrill ran through him as he saw them stooping and making their obeisance. His dream came back to his memory, and the scene at home when he was narrating it all flashed up before him. Then, as they rose and stood before him, came also that scene at Dothan ; the

savage expression of their faces there, his entreaties and his agonized expectation of death at their hands ;—all this was flashed upon his memory now. There they were,—his savage, cruel brothers ! His eye was lighted up with many strange sensations in the quick glance he gave them; then he noticed that Benjamin was missing. Had they also made way with him ?-He would know.

“Ye are spies,” he said ; " to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.” They answered meekly,

« PreviousContinue »