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Joseph in Egypt

By Miss Sarah Cohen

(Concluded from p. 259)

At the moment, amazement seemed to strike him dumb, and he stood silent, till one of the brothers cried in a voice of agony, “Oh, what means this?”

He then said, with the calmness of conscious innocence, “I am guiltless of the disgraceful act which is charged to me, as ye all may well know; but how this cup came into my possession is an unfathomable mystery to me. I know not how the thing can have occurred, except it be a cunning device to entrap us all, and to subject us to a foreign bondage.”

His words fell heavily on many conscience-pierced heart. Slavery! bondage! that would be but a just retribution. Had they not sent a brother into exile and bondage? had they known or cared what might be his fate? now it seems his fate must be theirs also. In vain they allege innocence: there is pointed out to them the certain proof of their guilt; in vain their pleadings, no one will listen to their tale. The seeming culprit is the happiest of that sad train; he has not, like them, an accusing conscience. They—they pitied not their brother, when they sold him and now who pities them? They deem it a cruel fate to become slaves to a despot, but they have no resource; they must submit to their hard lot, if such is the decree against them; and it seemed likely to be so.

They spoke whisperingly among themselves for a few minutes, then gathering up their disarranged burthens, they again loaded their beasts, and with bowed down heads, and garments rent, they turned their sad steps to the city. They enter the streets, and arrive at the stately dwelling of the ruler of the land, and are ushered into the room, where he sits surrounded by his officers; they look fearfully on him, and had not the shame of their humiliating position filled their minds, they might have marked how deadly pale was his face, and that though his countenance was stern, it was also very sad and troubled. 

He advanced to them, and speaking eagerly and rapidly, like one who wishes his words quickly uttered, he, through an interpreter, questioned them, “How they could be guilty of so base an act.”
For a time they remained silent; they knew not what to say. If it was, as they thought, a scheme to bind them in slavery, of what avail would be their words? all their pleading would be useless; for if their fate was pre-determined, what could shake the resolution of one whose word was law, and from whose will there was no appeal? Yet, at length one of them stepped forward, and after avowing the impossibility of clearing themselves of the charge, which, though they were guiltless of it, was apparently so plainly proved against them, submissively owned themselves his slaves.

But when he spoke yet again, and announced through his interpreter, “that not all, but only the seeming culprit should remain behind,” the one who had first spoken came forward from among the brothers, even close up to the throne of the ruler, and, after deprecating his anger, told the touching tale of the love their old, feeble father bore to that youngest brother; how he was the son of one who was no more, and the only one left of two children whom that dear mother had borne,—eloquently he told the tale of the grief of that aged father, when one brother had been left behind, and when informed that only on condition of bringing that dearest son with them, might they hope for farther succour from that land of plenty, and his sorrow, when, after travelling through many a land in vain, they found there was no hope; no resource for them but to bring their young brother from the paternal roof; and he concluded by entreating that on himself might fall the sentence, but that his young brother might be allowed to depart in safety to his father once more.

The interpreter was just entering on his explanation, when he was stopped short by the voice of his master, commanding all to go out from his presence, save those men who but an hour since had been brought within his gates as criminals.
“It is very strange,” whispered his officers to each other, as they retired into an adjoining, room, “but he seemed to understand their speech, for the tears were in his eyes.”

“Yes,” said the interpreter, “he had today no need of my services.”

The others looked astonished, and said, “We shall see something strange of this,” and then they entered into a general conversation.

Suddenly, however, the busy hum of their tongues grew still; each looked with astonishment into the other’s face, and each one met his fellow’s gaze with the same inquiring look, as they listened to the sound of loud and bitter weeping, from the room where their lord was in communion with his strange guests.
“Hark!” said one, “’tis the voice of the guilty one; he is mourning at the heavy punishment to which, doubtless, our lord has decreed him.”

The interpreter shook his head doubtfully, and then speaking aloud, he said, “The voice is our lord’s, and no other man’s. What may this mean?” And then each one listened eagerly, and all were convinced that it was so; each face was filled with perplexity, for none could surmise the cause, why the one so highly honoured, so beloved, should weep.

In silence sat that sad group of brothers as the attendants left the room; they, too, were filled with amazement that the one who till now seemed unacquainted with one single word they spoke, should in one moment acquire such knowledge; for they, too, had observed many marks of emotion on his features, when their brother had spoken; and they stood before him in fear of the import of the words which they expected he would address to them. But how were they surprised to see the sternness of his countenance pass away, and an expression of mournful tenderness overspread his features, as he stood looking on them in silence; he seemed to try to speak, but struggled with strong emotions, which for a time repressed utterance. At length, veiling his face with his hands, he threw himself back on his throne, and buried his face in the cushions, and loud and heavy sobs broke from the breast of that one, of mien so majestic and king-like; anon he turned his face round to them again; and whilst every one’s eyes were riveted in astonishment on him, wondering what strange event should happen next, he rose to his feet, and stretching out his hands, he cried in a hurried manner, and with a voice, tremulous with emotion, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt!”

A start, from all those standing there, a thrill passed through each frame; aghast they stood (save one, alone); confusion and shame were struggling with tears on their countenances,—yes, shame and confusion, at the thought that they were now in the presence of the former subject of their unnatural hatred and malice, and terror, to find the for­mer detested one in possession of power, so unlimited, so exalted ! Yes, in truth it is their brother; they, as they gaze on him, can recognise in the features of the mighty and powerful lord before them, those of the poor, unregarded, weeping suppliant, who had so begged, so entreated them, not to banish him for ever from his land, not to tear him from his paternal home; and how vainly had that wretched pleader entreated for their mercy. “Ah, now,” muttered they, “he will be avenged.”

Too well, they think, they know the meaning of the hidden cup; it is a scheme to be avenged on them, and how just would be that vengeance. A livid whiteness was on the face of each one, except he <<303>> whose guilt seemed so plain, so evident; and behold him, the detected culprit, how he presses forward, before his elder brothers, even near to the foot of the throne; no fear is in his heart, no shame on that unclouded, ingenuous brow; he looks earnestly in the face of his new­found brother, whilst softly, as if unconsciously, his lips murmur, “My brother, my lost mother’s beloved child, thou art, then, the long-lamented one of our father; that brother whose untimely fate I have often mourned!”

And eagerly were the arms of that brother opened to embrace his early lost mother’s son, and gazing around on the group of pallid, and conscience-stricken men who stood there, his feelings seemed for a while to overpower him; yet striving for composure, he quickly spoke with words of assurance, “That though truly he was the one they had sold into captivity, he bore them no revengeful feelings, nor cherished anger against them; for that the hand of God had been in all that had occurred ; all the evil they intended him, had been frustrated, and protected by his God, he had become the counsellor of the king, the preserver of the nation, and he was happy that Omnipotence had thought fit to raise him to such proud destiny; and he entreated them not to think with self-reproach on the past; for that though they had sold him to the sons of Ishmael, it was the hand of God that indeed had brought him to Egypt, there to make him the sustainer of nations.”

He stopped, for the emotion, caused by the recollection of times long passed, of grief long ago endured, stayed awhile his speech. At length, with a mighty effort for composure, he again spoke, and in accents calm and gentle, bade them approach; and eagerly did that seeming culprit, that detected criminal, obey. Already had he approached at the first revelation of their consanguinity; but now, as the word that sum­moned them was uttered, his arms are round his brother’s knees, while that brother’s arms are stretched to raise and open to enfold him, his stranger brother, in a long, affectionate embrace. But he had also duties to perform to the others, who now, their first fears removed, stood overwhelmed with shame and confusion. He again bade them to think not on the past with pain. But was it in their power to obey? He spoke to them next of the years of famine which had passed, and, with a prophetic tongue, told them of the length of its duration, prof­fered them protection, a home, exemption from the horrors of famine, and bade them look on him and listen to the account he gave them of his state, and to tell this to their aged father, and to bring him thither, that he might again behold his long-lost son.
“And now,” said he, “my own brother, thou remembrance of my dear and early-lost mother, thou to whom thy brother is indeed a stranger, for till to-day thou hast scarcely looked upon his face; now come near, thou son of that long-lost, fondly-loved partner of our father’s early days. Children are we of that one blessed mother, whose counte­nance looks out from thine; let not these gaudy robes prevent thee; come near.”

Eagerly is he obeyed, and, falling on each other’s neck, the two brothers meet in one long embrace, while the tears rolled down from their eyes; and loud were the sobs which shook the breast of the one of kingly mien and regal power. And it was the noise of his weep­ing which those of his household, who had been dismissed to the adjoining apartment, had heard and wondered at.

For a brief space the brothers remained pressed in each other’s arms, then turning round, Joseph said, “My brothers, my father’s sons, let all be forgotten; think no more with bitterness of the past; your former envy has done me no harm; for, as I said, the right and the care of my God have protected me from all evil, and see how He has indeed blessed me, how He has prospered me; behold this house, my rank, my state, the honours with which the king has loaded me. Ye shall shortly look on the dear partner of my life, and the children our God has given me, and then see that ye have not harmed me; for God has protected me from evil, and brought me here.”

He gave the signal, and at his summons, his officers entered the room, and he revealed to them the astonishing tidings that these strange and unwilling visitants were indeed his brothers, and then desired to be again alone with them; and the tale was told, from mouth to mouth, till the report spread through the city, even to the chamber of the king, that the brothers of the ruler were there with him.

The table was spread, and the long-disunited brothers once more sat down at the same board, the heart of the formerly hated one full of satisfaction and happiness, while still some self-reproach lingered in the souls of the once unnatural brothers, now so nobly, so generously forgiven. But with the younger one all was joy and gladness. “What! is he to bear the tidings to his aged father, the glad, the unexpected tidings, that his own brother, the lost, the still bitterly lamented, was yet living, and not only living, but all powerful to protect, and to sus­tain them through the famine!” That was a blessing he little dreamed of bringing to his father’s home, when he turned his steps to Egypt, in sorrow at that aged father’s grief.

Their repast ended, they were led by their brother to the apartment <<305>> where sat the fair Asenath, with her two children, who sprang to meet their father with glee. “Now,” said he to her, “behold my brothers; though my father’s sons, till now they knew me not; for absent from my home from my youth, they had forgotten the features of their brother, though I recognised each one, even as soon as my eye beheld their lineaments; and deliberating how best I might reveal myself to them, was the cause of last night’s anxiety. I told thee then that all should be explained, all made clear to thee; my word is now fulfilled.” She smiles her welcome to these new relatives; but her tongue is a stranger to their language; yet she leads her children to the embrace of those stranger-uncles ere they retire.

Swiftly and sweetly to Joseph passed that night in earnest inquiry of all that concerned his beloved father, of his welfare, his health, of what he had done, and how the aged man looked. The hours was very late ere they sought repose; and the next day, loaded with rich gifts for themselves and his honoured father, they departed; for their orders were from Joseph to tarry not, but to hasten on their way; because his heart was beating high with eagerness and anxiety, once more to behold that aged father, the guardian of his infant days, the beloved instructor of his youth, in the way in which the great God desired that man should go ; and no less eager was his brother Benjamin to impart the glad tidings that he had been folded in the arms of his long-lamented, but now recovered brother.