for lack of pasture. The famine is very grievous in Canaan. And having heard that there was corn in Egypt, we set out with money to buy. But the men of the granary refused to sell to us.’

‘They did well,’ said Joseph. ‘For I perceive by your very looks and demeanour that you are spies—Hebrew spies. To see the nakedness of the land you are come.’

‘But indeed no, my lord,’ they pleaded, ‘for were we spies, we should not be together and in one company. Indeed we are ten brethren of one household, sons of one father, and——’

But Joseph broke in upon them. His countenance had darkened, though they knew not why. “‘Ten,” you say; have you then no other brother? Has this father you speak of no other sons?’

‘Yea, my lord,’ they said, ‘there is the youngest. But he is very dear to our father and remains with him in Canaan. And there was yet another, but he is no longer with us. Indeed, my lord, thy servants are honest men, and no spies.’

But Joseph still professed not to believe them. ‘Whether what you say be true or false,’ he said, ‘I cannot yet tell. But I will put you to the proof. For by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not escape me until I have assurance that you are the shepherds of Canaan you say you are, and nought else.’

Without further word, he gave orders that they should be kept in strict charge until he should have time and occasion to examine them again. They were thrust into prison and lay there three days, being treated not as captives condemned to punishment, but as men under arrest and suspicion. On the third day they were brought before him again.

Joseph told them that he had considered the account they had given of themselves. ‘Your lives,’ he said, ‘are in my hands; and of a surety, if what you tell me prove false, you are in very great peril. But my trust is in God, in whom is truth and justice. You profess to be harmless shepherds of sheep, sons of one father dwelling in Canaan. Hearken, then! I will believe you so far as to keep only one of you, as hostage for the rest, until you return again. Begone out of Egypt at once, take with you the corn you came to buy, and go in haste, for if what you have said be true, your father and your wives and children may be in sore straits for want of food. But bear in mind that you do this only on one condition, namely, that without delay you return again into Egypt and to this city, bringing with you the youngest of you, this brother of whom you have spoken. By this alone shall I be assured of your honesty, and by this alone shall you save the life of the one among you who remains in bondage in Egypt. Else he shall surely die.’

In low voices they talked anxiously one with another as they stood before him, debating what he had said, and wholly unaware that he knew their language, for this day also he had addressed them only in the Egyptian tongue, and by means of an interpreter who was familiar with the Hebrew.

The long hours of doubt and dread they had spent in the prison-house had brought the past before their minds, and though they had spoken with caution lest they should be overheard, there had been strife between them. For even remorse itself makes enemies of those who have conspired together in evil and treachery. But they had made their peace one with another. ‘Assuredly,’ they were now saying, ‘this judgment has fallen upon us because we are guilty, though not of what this man now charges us with. It is because of our brother Joseph that all these misfortunes have overtaken us. We saw the anguish of his soul when he entreated us to take pity on him, and we refused to listen.’

And Reuben could not refrain himself. He reminded them bitterly: ‘Did I not implore you to spare the child, and not to sin against him and against his father? But you mocked me down and played me false. And now at last has come the day of reckoning—our blood for his.’

Listening to their talk, and seeing their trouble and distress, Joseph was grieved for them. He withdrew himself away from them a little to hide his tears; for there were many memories in his mind between that day and this.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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