Joseph's Brothers in Egypt

Day by day the great caravan which Joseph’s ten brothers had joined with their asses was swollen with strangers of sundry races and tongues and with their beasts of burden. And in the midst of this barbaric concourse they came at last to the chief city of Egypt, where Joseph was now vizier or viceroy, second only in power and lordship to Pharaoh himself.

When with their money they entered the granary to buy corn, the clerks who kept tally of the corn mistrusted them at sight. First, because they were Hebrews, and next, because on being questioned they could give only a confused account of themselves, being unable to make themselves understood in the Egyptian tongue. The clerks brought them to the steward who had control of the granary, and he himself, having interrogated them and doubting what they said in answer, sent them under guard to the great hall of the vizier.

They were brought therefore into the presence of Joseph himself, where he sat surrounded by his officers and by those in attendance upon him. There they waited before him until he was at liberty to hear for what reason they had been brought thither. He raised his eyes at length, and bidding the steward come forward, saw these ten strangers awaiting his pleasure.

At sight of them his heart leapt within him. He knew instantly who they were, and longed to make himself known to them. Only joy was in his heart to see them; but first, he determined to test them and to discover how time had used and changed them. So he sat motionless and made no sign of recognition. They drew near, and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the earth.

And, as if the long years that had gone by had never been, the dreams of his boyhood returned into his mind—the sheaves of corn in the fields of harvest, and the stars in the night sky. But his brothers gazed at him only with awe and misgiving; they were troubled, being strangers in a strange land, and ignorant of why they were regarded with suspicion and mistrust. And they knew him not, for the years had much changed him. He had been but a stripling in his first youth when they had last seen him, bruised and bound and almost naked in the hands of the Ishmaelites. Now he was come to his full manhood, being thirty and nine years old, and he had seen many sorrows and afflictions. Besides which he sate before them, grave and austere, and raimented in his robes of office, Pharaoh’s chain of gold about his neck, his signet ring upon his finger. They knew only that they were in the presence of one who had supreme authority, and that their safety and maybe their very lives were in his hands.

With countenance unmoved he heard the reasons given by the steward of the granary for their having been brought before him, though all that was said was past their own understanding. Then he called for an interpreter and, through him, addressed them as if they were not only men of no account but under sharp suspicion. He spoke harshly to them.

‘Whence come you?’ he asked them.

‘From the land of Canaan,’ they answered.

‘And why?’

‘We are come hither to buy food,’ they said.

But he pretended not to believe them. ‘Nay,’ he said, ‘that maybe is a reason simple enough as you think to deceive me. But I give it no credence. What proof of it have you? It is not to buy food that you are come hither, but rumour having reached you that there is dearth in Egypt and that its people are in distress, you are here to spy out the defences of the land. You are enemies of my lord the king. Treason is your aim. You are spies.’

They protested, assuring him that this was not so. ‘Indeed, my lord,’ they said, ‘we are no spies, but peaceable men, shepherds. Our grain was all but spent, and our flocks and herds were dwindling daily

  By PanEris using Melati.

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