But there were still many things to be considered, and many questions to be answered. They debated earnestly together and far into the night, and when at length the assembly broke up, and they went out silently into the darkness every man to his own place, their plans for the days that followed had been prepared. They had made a solemn vow to obey in everything the will of the Lord God, as Moses had revealed it. In sure and certain hope of their deliverance, and at the hour appointed, the host of Israel was to be in readiness, and none should remain behind.

By evening of the next day every man in Israel knew that the day of deliverance was soon to dawn and how he himself was to prepare for it. Yet these glad tidings had been spread abroad with such caution and secrecy that not a rumour of them reached the ears of the Egyptian overseers or the masters of the gangs.

Now, until this time, the beginning of the Hebrew year had been in the first month of harvest. But henceforward, as Moses had proclaimed to the elders, it was to be in the earliest month of spring. The night on which he had called them together was that of the vernal new moon. It had been ordained therefore, for an everlasting memorial of the year now before them, that this was to be accounted their New Year’s Day.

Moreover, it had long been the custom in Israel to keep sacred the day when the moon of springtime shines like snow in the heavens, and to share together in a feast, as happy as their wretched state would admit, in honour of the Lord. Two weeks—and two weeks only—were yet to run before the first new moon of Israel’s New Year would come to its fulness, and the feast they were then to share in joy and solemnity would far excel any that had ever gone before. It was to be prepared for therefore with scrupulous care, since the Lord God himself had appointed it for a remembrance to all Israel.

The days passed heavily by. Midnight followed midnight. The sun rose and sank to his setting in skies continually windless and serene. The horned crescent of the moon appeared in the dying light of evening, and increased in the lustre it borrowed from the sun. So perfect a calm reigned in the heavens over Egypt, after the horrors of storm and tempest, whirlwind and darkness, that Pharaoh and the counsellors who concurred with his policy began to console themselves with the belief that all trouble with the abhorred Hebrews was now at an end.

On the night after Moses had last appeared before him the king had striven in vain to compose himself to sleep. The imprecation that Moses had uttered against him rang on in his ears, like the knelling of a bell, and in spite of an outward indifference, he had been so much moved by it that he had given command to his most trusted servants to keep unceasing watch over the prince, his firstborn.

But as dawn succeeded dawn, and his son was restored to him again safe and well, and no evil omen had shown itself to those who kept watch within and without his chamber, his spirit revived in him. He began to upbraid himself, and even to mock a little at his fears. Though never within memory had Egypt suffered so grievously, though the state of his realm and people was a cause for grave disquiet, how could it be proved beyond doubt, he questioned within himself, that this was due to divine retribution? And even if it were so, it seemed that the God of the Hebrews had wearied of his demands.

He smiled, the dark eyes in his lean cavernous face fixed in reverie, as he pondered how best to contrive the death of their insolent leaders, to defame even their memory in the eyes of their own people, and to quell without mercy but at not too great a cost—for the life even of a slave had its price—any disorder or revolt that might follow.

But though Pharaoh could thus deceive himself, the apprehensions of the wiser of his counsellors were not so easily allayed. Though, too, at threat of instant vengeance the king himself had given command that no word of what had passed during the last audience he had granted to Moses should be whispered abroad, rumour of it had spread far and wide, and had filled the people with terror of an impending doom.

The Hebrews were now feared as much as in former times they had been hated and despised, and those of the Egyptians who lived in touch with them, and the dwellers in the Egyptian city of Psapt that

  By PanEris using Melati.

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