The Flight from Egypt

The moon rode high in the heavens above Egypt, smiting with its silver the wide waters of the Nile, and glazing as if with hoar-frost the walls of her temples and palaces and the slabbed sides of her prodigious pyramids. There slept the kings who centuries before had built them for their last resting-place, trusting, though vainly, that their mummied bodies in the long darkness between this world and the next would never be disturbed.

Ink-black shadow chequered the streets, the idle quarries, and the brickyards that all day long had been astir like a swarming nest of ants. Except for the watchmen in her frontier forts and desert camps, and the sentries who kept guard over the palace and armouries of Pharaoh, the whole realm of Egypt lay hushed in sleep. In his own royal city the howl of a dog, the footfall of some homeless prowler or of one abroad in trouble or on an urgent errand, and the far yell of wolf or hyæna, prowling on the outskirts of the wilderness, were the only sounds that broke the silence.

Few stars blazed in the windless heavens, except those that, rising or setting, hung low on the earth’s horizon. They were quenched in the glare of moonlight that flooded the skies. At the approach of midnight, the whole land of Egypt, transfigured with loveliness, lay dazed as if entranced. But the avenging angel had gone his way; and the silence was not only the silence of sleep but of death.

At midnight cockcrow, lamps began suddenly to shine and flit in the dusky moonlit gloom within the dwellings of the Egyptians and to gleam from their windows. Doors were flung open. Cries of grief and horror pierced the hush, and were echoed on from house to house, from court to court. The wide high streets where stood temple and palace and the mansions of the wealthy, and every narrow by-way were suddenly thronged with a multitude of people, demented with anguish, seeking help and finding none.

Tidings of the woeful calamity that had befallen them spread on from mouth to mouth. And with every moment, terror not only of the known but of the unknown pierced some poor human breast.

Stark and shivering with dread, the attendants whom Pharaoh had appointed to keep watch over his firstborn entered his chamber and roused him from sleep. He started up out of his dreams as if at the touch of a spectre. Prostrating themselves before him, with tears and groans, they told him that the son he loved lay stricken and lifeless upon his bed. He gazed at them, his high-boned narrow face wan and lank and vacant, as if, though he had heard the words they uttered, his mind were incapable of understanding them.

He questioned them, and shook as if with the palsy when he realized the full meaning of the news they brought him. And he rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without its dead.

His statesmen and his counsellors were sent for. All was confusion. They came into his presence, misery on their faces and grief in their hearts.

In the depth of night messengers were dispatched to Goshen urgently summoning Moses and Aaron. They were brought at once into the presence of the king, the women and servants of the palace who met them on their way fleeing in terror at sight of them. The palace was loud with their wailings and the lamentations of the mourners. The bright moon shone in upon its gilded stones, and the nobles, assembled there in attendance on the king, after one glance at these Hebrews, averted their eyes. Pharaoh himself came down from his dais and advanced as if to meet them in the midst.

But at a few paces from them he stayed, his face stricken with woe, mutely scrutinizing them, and advanced no nearer. He spoke like a man almost bereft of his senses.

‘I have summoned you hither,’ he said, ‘only that I may speak with you face to face. Pay heed to me now as you hope to be heeded of God. Tarry not for the morning but gather together all the people of Israel and lead them out of Egypt. Let them leave nothing that is theirs behind them, neither their children nor their flocks nor their herds, nor anything they own or need.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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