And Moses answered the king: ‘We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds. Thus will we go. From greatest to least of us, O king—halt and blind and helpless, the babe at its mother’s breast and the old man trembling on the brink of the grave—not one shall remain behind. Israel is one; and the Lord God Jehovah hath bidden Israel to his feast.’

Pharaoh turned with a gesture of scorn to the nobles and counsellors who had opposed him. ‘See now,’ he cried, ‘what overweening insolence is this!’

Then he once more confronted Moses. ‘In sooth,’ he said, ‘thy God must be a mighty god if I ever consent to let thy children go. Thine own words have betrayed thee. From first to last thou hast been contriving this secret treason against me, intending when once thy people, these Hebrews, have withdrawn beyond my borders that they shall never return. Mark well: I will have none of it. If you would serve your God, go; but your grown men only; for that and that alone was your petition. I have spoken; trouble me no more!’ And he commanded his servants to drive the Hebrews out of his presence.

Then Moses stretched out his rod over the land of Egypt; and a dry and parching wind began to rise from out of the east. It blew, laden with the arid heat of the vast wastes of the wilderness of Arabia and the desert of Syria that is beyond Canaan. And it continued without ceasing all that day and all that night. And behold, on the morrow at daybreak, the locusts came up with the wind.

Drifting in from the sands of the wilderness in which they were engendered, they advanced, host upon host, in league-long clouds so dense from their vanguard to their rear that their sun-shimmering wings spread a shade over Egypt and veiled the face of day. The whizzing of their multitudes above the earth awoke even those that slept, and struck terror into all that heard.

Horn and gong sounded the alarm. Men ran this way and that in terror, their beasts in panic. And when about the middle of the morning the wind fell to calm, this living cloud came wafting down like flakes innumerable of drifting snow. Where they settled, there they stayed, their wings close folded, until the earth was mantled in a moving pall and was black with them. They were strown so close where there was any plenty of food that an upper layer of them, eyed and ravenous, straddled over the one beneath; and above that, others. For though the grass-hopper or cricket, which is of the kin of the locusts, is happy company enough to man as he shrills on his blade of grass in the summer sun, or chirps in the warm dark, the ravages of an army of locusts were a loss beyond computation in these countries of the east.

In the stagnant calm that had followed, the murmur of their voracious chirpings and gnawings shook the air. And the locusts devoured every green leaf from off the branches and every sprouting blade of wheat or remnant of barley that the tempest had spared, and the fruit also that was swelling upon the trees. There remained nothing green and verdant on either side the Nile.

Never before in Egypt had there been seen the like of these hosts of locusts for numbers and destruction, and never shall the like be seen again. The people were in despair. They had begun to take heart again after the devastation caused by the tempest of hail and lightning; and now the little that had been saved was lost to them for ever. Famine and starvation lay in wait for them; and they saw in this no natural evil but the hand of God. And though in a frenzy of haste they dug deep pits and trenches, and kindled high fires of flame and smoke, the locusts were destroyed in such myriads that their own bodies put out the fires and filled the pits. And still in their multitudes they came marching on. As well hope to repel the flood-tide of the sea.

Hour followed hour of that disastrous day, and messengers from all parts of Egypt were dispatched with urgent reports to Pharaoh from the governors of his provinces and the overseers of his granaries. Even those mounted on horseback were compelled to turn aside to avoid the clotting swarm of locusts that were trampled by thousands under their horses’ hoofs. And Pharaoh saw clearly the danger that threatened him if this pest were not speedily removed. He was dismayed; and in his fear he forgot his pride. Without consulting his counsellors and statesmen, he sent urgently for Moses and Aaron, and confessed that he

  By PanEris using Melati.

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