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Joseph in Egypt

By Miss Sarah Cohen
<<201>>“It is strange, very strange, to me that one, an alien by birth (as is this man, our present ruler), should thus stand in rank exalted above our proudest lords,” said a man in lowly attire to his comrade as they two trod the streets of Egypt’s proud capital, each with a small sack of grain on his arm. “True, he is just, benevolent, and kindly to all—of that we cannot complain; but, then it is said that he bends to no gods of ours, that he owns them not, for never does he make them offerings; the king too, it is whispered by some, since the time this stranger has stood so high in favour with him, is but rarely seen in the temples; the father of his wife, though of the priesthood, it is said, seems now negligent of his duties, stands not at the altars, nor assists at the sacred rites; it is said that though he occasionally enters the temples of Isis and Osiris, he mingles not with the worshippers, but stands there a mere spectator. It is, indeed, strange that one of foreign birth should thus influence king and priest.”

“Stop thy unguarded tongue! There may be listeners, and woe to us both if thou shouldst be overheard censuring the conduct of those so far above us,” said his companion. “I care not, and why shouldst thou, if king or priest forsake the altars? what matters it to me which god, or goddess, they worship, or which forsake? let the gods avenge themselves; why should I concern myself which one is adored, or which neglected? nor care I if our present ruler be Egyptian born or not; his foresight and kindness hath robbed the famine of its horrors—that is sufficient for me; and what concern of mine is it if he owns not our national gods? when I know that the one God he worships is, must be, greater and wiser than all ours together. Turn not away so contemptuously and impatiently, but bethink thee (for thou canst remember it as well as I), of the time when the king had him brought before him from the prison house; why had king, and priests, and sorcerers, and astrologers, been for days before that time in earnest and solemn <<202>> consultation, whilst each of these learned men gave his explanation of the king’s dream, and what one said another would contradict; another would differ from these both, and yet another would arise and oppose them all, till all was noise, confusion, and disagreement; until at length the chief butler reminded him of this Joseph, and of a promise he had made him when they both were in confinement together (but which he had long since forgotten), to plead his cause with the king,—tell him his guiltlessness, and speak of his skill in reading aright the hidden meaning of the visions of the night. And rememberest thou not how, it was said, the king caught with joy at his words, sent to the prison and brought forth from his long incarceration the man, our well loved ruler? and that as soon as he was brought into the royal presence and the king related to him his dream, he gave the explanation, which all knew to be the true one, and that none dissented? For his words brought conviction with them; and each one who listened knew that he hearkened to the truth and when he had ended the interpretation and respectfully took the position of a counsellor, and advised Pharaoh to place one fitting in authority to provide during the years of plenty for the approaching time of famine: who so fitting to raise to that exalted station as the one whose wisdom had foreseen, and whose tongue had warned of the impending calamity?”

“I say not aught against his wisdom nor his counsel,” said the first; “I well remember all that thou hast spoken of; yet I like not to see the gods of our nation slighted through the example of a stranger.”
“Thou speakest foolishly and rashly; must not the God whom he adores be most wise, true, and powerful? for even as this man has spoken, so has his God done; no god of ours could tell one of his numerous worshippers the interpretation of the king’s dream, nor did any god of ours so direct us that we might yet be sustained in time of famine. Can we wish that he shall desert the worship of his God to take up with such as ours, who either could not or would not assist, but allowed their priests to be defeted by one who owned them not? I too own the power of that stranger’s God; he simply calls him ‘my God’ and ‘my fathers <<203>> God;’ by that name alone he worships Him, and, as the God of our ruler, I worship Him too. Look not aghast; must not the God of his worship be one, great, wise, powerful, and good?” was the reply. “ But be still now with thy remarks, for even now  he approaches as he goes to the house, by the city gate, which is  appointed for the reception of such travellers as journey from foreign lands. It is said he loves to question and to converse with such; it may be he seeks for tidings from the home of his early days, and even to-day he entertained, at his own house, a company of travellers, whom he now conducts to the place provided for their accommodation till morning, when they return on their way to their own land again. Behold! for now he comes.”

And attended by a train of servitors, richly attired in blue and gold, seated in a chariot whose magnificence of decoration was scarcely less than royal, appeared a man, the splendour of whose apparel well corresponded with the exalted rank he bore; but his splendid attire, or this chariot glittering in the red rays of the declining sunset, few regarded; for each eye sought his face, at once so majestic, and yet so benevolent and mild, and every head bowed, and every hand was raised as if to invoke a blessing on him; and pressing close to his chariot’s side, with one accord the thronging crowd shouted, “The gods preserve our noble ruler, may their blessings be on him.” While he retained their courtesy with the words, “May the God of my fathers protect this land and people;” and his chariot rolled on, while those men whom he had that day entertained at his house followed close by; and as they passed on, “Mark ye that,” said one of the crowd, “the  God of his fathers.”
“Dare not to speak so boldly,” said the one he had addressed, “for the man is high in favour and greatly loved by king and people;” and so saying they went on their way.

Meanwhile, through the streets rolled the royal chariot with its exalted occupant, and joyous acclamation greeted him as he passed; yet his countenance wore on that day, some little cloud of sadness, and showed traces of deep and anxious thought, which all the grateful homage of the people failed to dissipate; and though hundreds pressed forward to greet him as he arrived at <<204>> his destination, he hastily alighted and walked hurriedly forward to the room appointed for the reception of those from foreign climes, and his attendants whispered angst themselves, “In truth, our lord seeks for tidings from his far-off land.” There were many who thronged that spacious hall that day, for the stern, gaunt hand of famine was heavily laid on many lands. Many a heart felt fear and dismay. In vain had been the labour of the cultivators of the soil, fruitless the cares of the thrifty and skilful husbandmen; useless was all skill, all labour; the earth refused to yield its accustomed bounty; and many nations lacked, and their rulers looked forward with fear to the time when even this present scanty supply should fail entirely; and fond parents looked in anxiety on their offspring, as with anguish they anticipated the arrival of the dreadful moment when they might no longer procure the nutriment requisite to sustain their tender lives, when the glad tidings are heard, “In Egypt they have abundance of bread!” Then many were the trains of eager tra­vellers, who each succeeding day departed from their famine-stricken homes to that favoured land, where, if famine was also present, its approach had been foreseen and provided for.

Numerous as were the inmates of that reception hall, the ruler had courteous and kindly words for all as he walked round; but at length, after conversing for some time, by means of an interpreter, and with more than usual interest with that company of travellers who had that day shared the hospitality of his house: he ended by giving some private orders to his steward, which none but him might hear, and then departed for his own home, followed by the blessings of the throng who again crowded round his chariot. Arrived at his dwelling of princely magnificence, he turned into an apartment which, in splendour of decoration, might vie with that of Egypt’s monarch, and which was tenanted by a young female, and two lovely young children. At his approach, the infants, with delight in their face, sprang forward to him; he gently caressed them, and then, instead, as was his custom, of listening to their gleesome voices, he turned away from them and paced up and down the room in silence, whilst
his face seemed clouded by anxiety; his little children sported <<205>> around, but unregarded was their playful frolic or their innocent prattle, for his mind seemed far away. Their young and fair mother, who had viewed with amazement his altered countenance and abstracted air, rose from her pile of cushions where she had been reclining, near an open window which looked out on a garden rich with the choicest trees and flowers of that delicious clime, whose fragrance gave sweetness to the air of that luxurious chamber, and walking up to him, she said, “Dearest, what troubles thee, what care oppressed thee? conceal it not from thy Asenath, the mother of thy babes, the one who would fain share each care, lighten each sorrow; yet I know not what sorrow it can be, save that by thy wondrous power thou canst foresee some future threatened evil. What hast thou to grieve at? thou art high in favour with the king, the people love thee as their father, they own thee as their preserver; nay, my father but just now spoke of thee, and said ‘that the king had said even this very day he deemed thy faithful services not yet requited, and wished that he could still more testify the esteem he bore thee.’ Our children too, behold how they sport around; health is on their glowing cheeks; and I, thy own wife, do I not adore thee? art thou not happy in my devoted love? Ah! tell me then, why shouldst thou look so sad?”

(To be continued).