‘Think not,’ he said, ‘it is beyond the power and knowledge of my magicians to breed frogs. That is simple of proof. But to rid Egypt swiftly, and as with a gesture, of the plague of them that now afflicts the land—that were in truth a wonder. Entreat thy God, then, to remove this vexation from the land, seeing that it is a cause of distress to my people and an affront even to me myself. Then shall I know that he is indeed a mighty God, and that it is fitting the Hebrews should be given grace from their labour in order that they may do him honour.’

Moses stayed a moment before he made answer to the king.

‘What is thy servant,’ he said at last, ‘compared with Pharaoh, lord of all! Thou thyself shalt have this glory over me, and shalt decide at what hour I am to entreat the God of the Hebrews on thy behalf.’

Pharaoh gazed at him stonily but concealed his anger. ‘Why, then, let it be to-morrow, and ere the sun set,’ he answered. And this he said to try Moses, for he had no belief in his mind that the plague was other than a visitation of nature.

Then said Moses: ‘So be it. To-morrow I will make my prayer, and the frogs shall be destroyed, and from that day onward none shall be found alive anywhere in Egypt, except only in the waters of the river. By this shalt thou know that there is in power none like unto the Lord our God; and that when he commands, the mightiest must obey.’

The plague of frogs ceased. They perished suddenly in their myriads in the fields and orchards, in the gardens and the houses, and wheresoever they had crept for harbourage. Alive they had been pest enough, dead they were a foulness. The Egyptians, to be rid of their carcases, raked them together and piled them up in heaps that rotted in the sun. The air was filled with their stench.

But when it was reported to Pharaoh that as if by a marvel the land had been suddenly freed of this plague, and that to him had been accorded the renown of it, his mood changed. As lightly as he had given his word, so he dismissed all thought of it from his mind.

And Moses stretched out his hand, and with his rod he smote the dust of Egypt, as he had smitten the flooding waters of the Nile. And lo, in the brooding heat of the sun, from the sod-caked shallows of the river there issued a venomous swarm of gnats. They rose, droning, like clouds of fine dust into the air, their wings shimmering glass-like, the sound of them faint and shrill as a harp-string. Athirst for blood, they pestered man and beast both day and night, so that none could get peace or rest from them.

When Pharaoh summoned his wizards and bade them with their magic incantations breed life out of the dust, though in fear of his vengeance they made no answer at that time, they knew that all their enchantments would be in vain. This wonder was beyond their magic, and they themselves were dismayed and gave Pharaoh warning. ‘We entreat Pharaoh to beware,’ they said. ‘These vile Hebrews have knowledge to bring about mysteries of which we ourselves are ignorant. What now is all about us, haunting the very air we breathe, is no magic, but a cause of grave disquiet. We see in it the finger of God.’

Yet such was Pharaoh’s pride and self-will that he refused to listen to their counsel. In his vengeful malice against the Hebrews his heart was hardened, and the dews of the mercy of heaven were withdrawn from him because of his stubborn opposition to the will of God that he knew and feared yet refused to obey. He denied further audience to the Hebrews. And when Moses intercepted and confronted him as in his two-horsed chariot he proceeded with his courtiers on his way to the river, and warned him that unless he relented, worse evils would assuredly follow, he invoked the curses of his gods upon him, and, his countenance distorted with rage, drove furiously on.

But repentance followed hard upon his folly. The wind veered, and began to blow soft yet persistently from out of the south—parching and sultry. And borne in on the stream of it there flitted in upon Egypt legions of dog-flies. Hovering in the air or crawling upon the ground, they crept into every byre and stable and pen and dwelling-house, and were a torment and a curse to all within their walls. The children wailed

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