on earth in marvels beyond man’s understanding. You say you are this God’s envoys. Give proof of it then, and it may be Pharaoh himself will do him honour!’

Then in the presence of the king and of his lords and counsellors who were in attendance upon him, Aaron cast down before the throne the rod that was in his hand. And behold, before the eyes of all assembled there, the rod was changed and became a living serpent. They recoiled from it in astonishment and fear. And Aaron stooped and plucked it up from the ground, and it returned to its former shape and semblance, and his rod was again in his hand.

But Pharaoh himself sat unmoved on his throne, a smile of secret mockery on his high narrow countenance. He gave command that his wizards or magicians should be summoned into his presence—men skilled in occult and secret arts. In the robes of their rites, and each with his magic wand or rod in his hand, Jannes and Mambres their leaders, they entered the great hall and made obeisance to the king. And as Aaron had done, so did they.

They cried their incantations, and cast down their rods before the throne, and these too of the secret sorcery they knew became as living serpents. And though Aaron’s rod had the mastery over theirs and swallowed them up, no sign of wonder or apprehension showed on Pharaoh’s face. He turned abruptly and addressed Moses and Aaron by name.

‘Now indeed,’ said he, ‘can Pharaoh testify how mighty a God has sent you hither! Wondrous in truth are the marvels that he shares with the least of Pharaoh’s magicians! But I have heard of you; and nothing good. What insensate folly was this in your minds by which you designed to deceive me? You crave audience of me and avow some God of the Hebrews—who swarm like pestilent flies in the land—has bidden you go and make merry with him in the wilderness. But what, in the hidden treason of your designs, you are bent on doing is to breed discontent among my work-people, to decoy them away from their labours and pamper them with idleness. Understand then; the Hebrews shall not go; and I warn you to bring no more complaints before me. Look well to it.’

That same day Pharaoh sent for the overseers whom he had set over the Hebrews, and commanded that in future not only should the straw that had hitherto been given to them for the making of bricks be withheld, and that the slave-gangs themselves should find where they could what they needed, but that in spite of this the daily tale of bricks required of them should in no wise be reduced.

The overseers and gang-masters made known to the Hebrews that from that day forward, by the king’s decree, no more straw would be supplied to them as heretofore out of the royal granaries: and that in future they must find what straw they needed as best they could.

Now the only substitute available was the stubble that had been left in the fields after the gathering in of the harvest. Of long straw they could get none. Then day by day they wearied themselves in the idle and waste labour of grubbing up this stubble-straw; and the tale of bricks, which each gang was compelled to make, fell short of what was required of them.

And as day by day the overseers and their clerks, on checking the brick-piles, found the quantity of newmade bricks to be far less than was customary, they sent for the Hebrew foremen of the slave-gangs and beat them, threatening that a worse punishment was in store for them if the tale of bricks should fall short on the morrow. Enraged by this injustice, the Hebrew foremen met together and in a mob made their way into the city to appeal to Pharaoh. Herded together in the stifling heat by the armed guards who had been sent out to meet them, they were admitted no further than into the outer precincts of the palace, while two of them were led in before the king.

‘We come to Pharaoh,’ they said, ‘to plead for justice. Why are his servants so vilely treated? The overseers goad us on and rage against us: “Make brick, make brick!” But how shall bricks be made without straw? And why are we pitilessly beaten if a full day’s tale of bricks fall short of what it should when half thy

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