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A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Stunned and speechless, Raanah stared at it fixedly, his face bloodless, his heart pounding.  Like a ghost from the past the image had returned to haunt him.

He dropped the cursed idol as if it burned his palm.  Flushed and disturbed, Joseph kicked the image aside.

Sobered and shaken the company arose, horror and anxiety on their faces.

Raanah stirred from his trance, but his face wore a tormented look of despair.

That evening Joseph drove Asenath and Bashia to Raanah’s house.  Matters had grown worse.  It was unbearable to think of Raanah going into the races the next day defeated and hopeless.

Raanah came out immediately.  He had changed from his uniform into a soft linen tunic that was open negligently at the throat.  His face was pale under its tan.  His eyes were tired with dark half-circles under them, and his whole body sagged.  For a moment there was an embarrassed silence.  No one seemed to know what to say.

Joseph filled the breach.  “I have brought you a present, Raanah,” he said with an affectionate smile.  While the group watched, he drew from his pocket an old Chaldean pendant attached to a heavy gold chain, and held it up before him.

Fashioned of rich yellow gold, the pendant was about six inches long and covered with an elaborate pattern of gems.

Joseph watched Raanah apprehensively.  “You have told me many times, Raanah, that it is hard for you to believe in God because He has no image.  This pendant is not an image.  It is an ancient symbol of life.  It may be helpful to you as a reminder that God alone is the Giver and Sustainer of life.  I know that you have been greatly troubled, and that your faith in God has been sorely tried.  Carry this pendant, let it constantly remind you of the Living, Protective God until it becomes easier for you to pray to and trust in Him.

“But never make the mistake of thinking of this pendant as an image.  That was your trouble in regard to Ishtar.  She was not a goddess—only a luck piece.  An image has no soul, no living fire but its gems.  So there is no need to fear it!”

Standing in the amphitheater, the crowd was gay in color and vociferous but good-natured.  This was topping day, Pharaoh’s favorite sport, and he offered handsome chests full of gold for the winners.  Horses and horsemen must be well-trained, and the fact that death often rode in this race held a grim satisfaction for the spectators.

Joseph and the ladies did not arrive until after Pharaoh had been escorted to his stall, so they did not see Raanah.

Suddenly the sharp rat-a-tat-tat of a drum startled everybody.  Joseph and the women strained for a glimpse of Raanah.  Finally they saw him near the end of the line.  He was stepping forward briskly, head up, eyes alert, shoulders squared and with the old dauntless spirit again in command.

Raanah strode toward the horses.  They were dapple-grays, beautifully mottled.  He could tell by their actions that they knew what was coming up, and he liked their mettle.  It augured well for the race.  As they lined up for the start, it was found that in the drawing Hadar held the inside of the track.  He rode a pair of spotted Medians that had a long swinging stride, but were skittish and red-eyed.

Bani, the Indian Prince, was second in line with his jet-black Persians.  They were picturesque, barbaric creatures without one dolice trait.

Raanah was third.  His span of dapple-grays with cream colored manes and tails wore dark gray bridles and surcingles around their light bellies.

The other horses in the contest were all fine steeds—sorrels, chestnuts, roans, bays—all graceful, all desert born, their kind subject for only a few generations past to the hands of man.  Most of them were driven by their noble masters.

Finally the starting signal was given, and the horses sprang forward as if shot from a catapult.  As Raanah’s horses sprang into action, he, like other drivers around him, gave a great shout.  All the pent-up exultation of years was flowing freely through him.  This day his soul was at peace.  He cried from the depths of sin and sorrow, and God had heard him.  Gone were doubts and fears.

For the first time in months Raanah laughed spontaneously, feeling it bubble within him from sheer happiness.  He was “making a joyful noise unto the Lord” and was glad that he could laugh.  But as his laughter rang out, Hadar scowled and glanced at him suspiciously and vengefully.

For a moment the two men glared at each other over their bobbing horses.  There was the light of confidence in Raanah’s eyes, but a passionate hatred burned in Hadar’s.  Then, slowly, but steadily, Raanah’s team began to forge ahead.  A cold malevolence crept into Hadar’s eyes.  With a sly movement he shifted his reins to his left hand and pulled the whip from his belt.  He paused to secure his balance, then with all the strength he could spare he brought the lash down stingingly on Raanah’s back.

People on the benches held their breath then, like thunder, an indignant cry burst from the Raanah faction.  Bashia and Asenath were too frightened to cry out.  Joseph’s face turned grey.  Pharaoh fidgeted on his throne.  While he loved a fight, should Hadar cause the death of Raanah, Pharaoh would have no jurisdiction over the prince, and Hadar knew it.

With the second blow Raanah felt a mad rush of blood through his veins.  He drew his team up slightly and took the reins in his left hand.  The horses seemed to know what was expected of them, for they kept pace close beside Hadar’s team.

With an unexpected lunge he caught the end of the whip before it could descend again, and the two riders tugged frantically for possession of it.

As Raanah looked levelly into Hadar’s cruel eyes, he felt his own determination harden.  He must humble his enemy this time.  Oddly enough, while each man held on to the whip he helped to sustain the balance of the other, though both were dragging on it.

Hadar held the handle of the whip and could therefore sustain a better grip.  He was alert to every tricky advantage.  Raanah gave a hard tug, and Hadar suddenly let go of the whip.  With its unexpected release, Raanah lost his balance.  The whip fell to the ground, Raanah nearly followed it, but his training favored him.  He let his feet go and dropped to a hard seat on the rump of a horse.  His team clung together and did not slacken their pace.  The next instant Raanah was on his feet, riding in perfect balance.  His face was flushed, and there was a steely look in his eyes.

Hadar’s off-horse was flightier than its mate.  With Raanah’s team squeezing against it ruthlessly, it became frightened and reared back, dragging the head of its mate around.  Their bodies separated.  Hadar could not straddle the widening breech.  He lost his balance, and with an agonized cry, pitched headlong between them.

A moan swept the benches.  Raanah knew what such sound portended.  Hadar’s light had gone out, for no human could live beneath those pounding hoofs.  Despite his dislike of Hadar, Raanah was shaken.  There was no elation because a fighting enemy had gone down.  He had so nearly lost his own life only a few minutes before.

Raanah shook the reins and the glow of his spirit spread along to them.  “Jet!  Ketah!” he called, “on with you—on!  We must travel faster now!”

Bani, too, squatted low and shouted to his team.  There was only the last half to go.  The crowd, quickly forgetting the late tragedy, came to its feet roaring.

As the racers turned on the last quarter, Raanah’s grays were running neck and neck with Bani’s Persians.  Down the home stretch they redoubled their efforts.  Their bodies stretched over the ground.  They won by a full half length.

As he turned and rode back to the starter’s stand, they pelted him with favors.  As soon as he could, he rode close to Joseph’s stall.  Jumping from his horses he took Bashia in his arms and said, “You are aware, my lady, that I have won you with the race.”

Bashia’s happy face looked so sweet that he kissed her, regardless of who might see them.

THE END

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

She was so mysteriously gay that some inkling of the truth caused Raanah to look at her sharply.  “Asenath!” he cried.

She saw the agony in his face and her tender heart misgave her.  “There’s a good man,” she soothed.  “Drink some wine and calm yourself.”

“You see, I was foresighted and brought my surprise to the party.  Come,” she urged as he put the goblet down, “I wish you to meet an old friend who is visiting me.  She is over there surrounded by courtiers.  Prince Hadar is among them, so begin to stiffen your backbone, as you always do when you see him,” she mocked with gay severity.

As Raanah and Asenath approached, the circle around her guest opened, and he beheld a lovely young woman.  She was not an Egyptian, for she was exquisitely and appropriately dressed according the Assyrian mode in a rose-colored gown of heavy, brocaded silk.  Her cheeks were glowing, her long-lashed, dark eyes were smoldering with some secret flame.  Her ebony-black hair was coiled high, letting soft ringlets frame her face and a rose that matched her scarlet lips hung daintily above one ear.

As Raanah stared, his heart contracted with a curious pain, for this poised, exquisite young woman could not be his simple, lovely sweetheart.

Asenath put her hand on his arm.  “Come, my captain, the lady waits to greet you.”

At the sound of Asenath’s voice, the young woman, seeing the incredulous look in Raanah’s eyes, raised her hand to her throat.  Although her arm was loaded with bracelets, her fingers were bare of rings except one; a small turquoise circlet, cut from a single piece of stone.

Reunion

 

As soon as Pharaoh had dismissed his guests, Raanah looked about eagerly for Bashia and Asenath.  They were waiting for a chariot to take them home.  “You will ride with me,” he begged.

Taking an arm of each lady, he steered them past groups of bowing, chattering guests.  Bashia was self-conscious in the presence of the big fellow beside her.  She liked his courteous but slightly commanding manner, yet felt shy of him in his role of society favorite.

When the old sweethearts were alone, Raanah laid his cloak and helmet on a divan and stood for a moment looking at Bashia in manly confusion.  Then he laughed, strode forward, and took her in his arms.  She raised her radiant face, and he pressed his lips hard upon her warm soft mouth.  Neither spoke.  Just to be in each other’s arms was as near bliss as they had ever been.

“Oh, Bashia, my heart sings because you are mine again.  Truly, there is no joy so great nor misery so deep as that which grows out of love.  Why did you not send me some word?”

“I did—many times.”

As Raanah drove home, elation suffused him.  In the weeks that followed, Raanah was busy training horses for the races.  Mostly, he selected animals that were brought in from Libya, for they were intelligent, long-legged, spirited creatures with slender barrel-shaped bodies and great heart and endurance.

With the time limit of the Noph-Kihor Festival set upon his work, it was extremely arduous: besides, there were matters pertaining to the Guard that he could not turn over to Kadmiel.  He tried to see Bashia every evening, though there were times when he was too tired to dress and drive over.

********

Still in his dress uniform one night, for he had come straight from the palace, Raanah stood before Asenath’s door.  Bashia dimpled as she greeted him.  “My dear, you are gorgeous!”

She pushed him away and shook her finger at him.  “You have news.  I see it in your telltale face.  Out with it!”

“And if I have, impertinent lady, it is not for you.  Call Asenath!”

Asenath came quickly at their excited summons.  As Raanah greeted her, his face sobered.  “What, Lady Asenath, would be the dearest wish of your heart?”

“Joseph’s release,” she cried instantly, then paled as she saw Raanah’s face glow.  “Oh, Raanah—tell me!”

“Your wish is granted,” he said simply that she might recover quickly.  “Joseph is free.  He requested me to tell you that he would be over as soon as Pharaoh will let him go, but that will not be soon,” Raanah opined, “for the grateful old king sticks closer to him than a brother.”

********

“Although I had good news for Asenath,” said Raanah, “I have bad news for us.  Pharaoh will not consent to our marriage until after the Festival.  He is as stubborn as can be.”

“Believe me, Raanah, it is not Pharaoh who is holding us apart, but something in you.  Oh,” she clutched him tightly and strove no longer to hide her tears, “unless I can see more evidence of your believing in God, I am afraid for you; you are so impulsive and reckless.”

“There—there!” he soothed, touched by her solicitude.  He had never guessed that she felt so strongly about his apparent lack of faith, and he wished with all his heart that God would forgive him and restore in him that trusting heart he once seemed to have.

As he drove home with the night falling, he looked up at the bright pattern of the heavens.  Bashia was right.  Something was wrong with him.

All during the days of training, Raanah’s strenuous work had fortified his mind against unwelcome thoughts; but now that it was over, he found that he was not sure of himself as he tried to believe.  Hadar had confidence because he believed he had the powerful Egyptian gods back of him; while his own faith in God was at such low ebb.  The thought appalled him.

“Bashia is worried about the weakness of my faith,” Raanah told Joseph, “but what am I to do?  The grimacing Egyptian gods appall me, but it is hard for me to see God beyond the grass, the trees and the sky.  Joseph, what can help me to believe, to trust God fully?”

********

As Joseph told Asenath and Bashia about Raanah that evening, it was Bashia with her love and womanly intuition who gave Joseph the clue to a possible remedy.

“You see, Joseph,” Bashia said with a wistful smile, “we cannot easily put aside the background from which we have emerged.  Raanah has always had an image to pray to.  Now he needs some symbol to remind him of God and to sustain his faith.  And I confess that often I feel the need of something myself.  Yes, Raanah needs a symbol.”

As Raanah’s mood did not improve, Asenath and Bashia thought to cheer him by giving a dinner party for the six old merchantmen on the eve of the Festival.

The meal was bountiful and excellent; the wine sparkled in tall emerald goblets.  Dungri proposed a toast to Joseph and Asenath, who would soon be wed.  Wit and humor flashed about the board like a shuttlecock.  In a corner of the room the strings of a harp twanged, and a kute soared into a lively accompaniment.

At that happy, care-free moment, the thunderbolt struck.  A messenger with a parcel for Raanah swung the knocker.  As Raanah stepped forward, the others curiously watched him receive and unwrap the parcel.  The parchment fell away, and a long-drawn sigh travelled around the company—for the grotesque image of Ishtar lay in Raanah’s palm, its jeweled eyes glaring at him sardonically.

(Continued in next issue)

A story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

MISFORTUNE

“Oh, Calah, I dare not think.  I am well nigh distracted.”

“That is easy to see, but here comes Obal with a scribe, and he carries a scroll.”

Raanah quickly stepped forward to meet the scribe.  “Tell me quickly, have you any word for me?”

“Aye, if you are Raanah.  A young lady sent you word.”  He unrolled the parchment and cleared his throat.

“To Raanah, a charioteer of the Basilisk Guard.”  He glanced at Raanah inquiringly.  The young man nodded.

“I do not know where we are going, but will send you word.  You must not follow me, for you would get into trouble, and some day I shall come back to you.”

********

More than ever Raanah longed for Bashia.  “Oh, my heart’s desire, send me some word,” his soul cried to her.

Then one day Joseph did not come.  There were grim lines around Calah’s mouth that evening and Raanah knew that something was wrong.

“Tell me what has happened to Joseph,” he demanded, “or I shall jump out of my skin from worry.”

“I believe you would do that,” Calah responded dryly.  Then he broke the incredible news that turned Raanah white and hot with surprise.  “Gossips say that Joseph got into trouble, and was sent to prison.”

“No!” Raanah cried.  “Why, he would never do a wrong!”

“It is buzzed about the stables,” Calah returned grimly, “that while Potiphar was away, Joseph made advances to his wife, Aneel.”

The next day Joseph’s disgrace was confirmed.  He sent word merely that he was in prison and that he had been falsely accused.  Raanah knew that Joseph was too wise to trust a messenger with any words that might be twisted to do him harm.

Joseph had received word that he was coming and waited for him beside the gate.

Joseph explained that he had found favor with the keeper of the prison, who availed himself of Joseph’s experience at Potiphar’s house to ease his own responsibility.  Joseph admitted that his lot was irksome, and there seemed no chance of ever getting out.

“But Potiphar is a just man,” declared Raanah.  “Did he not give you a hearing?”

“One of sorts,” Joseph replied soberly.

Joseph’s handsome olive face was graver than Raanah had ever seen it.  “I can say these things only to you.  Although Aneel is my master’s wife and occupies a high position at court, in her heart she is….” he paused.  “Not once, but several times I have had to repulse her.  When such a woman is scorned she plots revenge.”

“Was there no time set on your sentence?”

“No.”  Joseph raised his head and gave Raanah a serious but illuminating smile.  “Yet, I have not lost hope.  God will not forget me.”

Looking into Joseph’s eyes, Raanah wondered how he could sustain such faith in the face of all this trouble.

********

The one thing that sustained Raanah was his love for horses, a passion that aided his management of them.

Not being contented with standard forms of racing, Raanah discarded saddle and sandals and stood on the bare back of a horse and rode it at a fast pace.  The soldiers and officers of the Guard, watching him on the practice fields, marveled at his skill.  When he first rode in public, he created a sensation.  Yet to Raanah, topping—as he called this way of riding—was merely an old dream come true.  Once launched on the public, topping became a great sport and other racers took it up.  Then Raanah went his rivals one better by riding atop two horses after training them in concerted action.

But it was after Raanah had lifted the Gittish Stone and had become a member of the Basilisk Guard that his affairs took a rapid upward turn.  He was admitted to the palace circle of young gallants.

As Raanah turned one night from the tree-lined avenue into the palace courtyard, lights flared from a hundred windows.  A party was at its peak.  Conviviality flowed with the wine, but it was time he arrived.  Pharaoh was a jovial soul, yet his good humor could not always be sustained with his drinking.

A passage was cleared to the throne, and with swift, graceful dignity he walked its length, looking straight before him to the supposedly god-blessed but certainly man-feared Pharaoh who sat upon a dais at one side of the room, surrounded by his favorite courtiers.

Raanah bowed, and leaving Pharaoh stepped before his chief, Potiphar, to pay his respects.  Potiphar had been laughing with Pharaoh, but stiffened instantly and returned the young officer’s salute.

As Raanah turned, Asenath—looking more beautiful than in her girlhood days, was standing nearby.  She tapped him lightly with her fan.  “Now have some wine, my captain, and when you are warmed inside, I will tell you a secret.”

(Cont. in next issue)

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co.—Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

THE PARADE

Accid-Adab leaned against him and he wriggled out from under his weight.  He must get a grip on himself.  “I—I am not feeling well,” he gasped, but Accid-Adab ignored him.

Raanah edged forward and did not hear Isme-Dagan hiss at Accid-Adab.  “You would not dare!  You would scorch your own fingers in the blaze.”

Through his restless movements, he was pushed to the front line.  His attention was held by the fire of torches and the crunch of heavy wheels.  The sweetish smell of incense offended him.

Raanah closed his eyes to blot out the sight of the gods, yet before his inner vision the grim jinn crept along.

“Ah, see who comes next!” Egiba cried, stretching his neck and straining on tiptoe.  “If it isn’t the great Mumbo-Jumbo himself!”

Accid-Adab moved up beside Raanah.  His eyes gleamed unnaturally and the fingers that stroked his beard trembled.  Egiba, Isme-Dagan and Dahmru were separated from them by the crowd.  In the spectral glow their faces looked chalky.

The face of the image was streaked with red, black and yellow paint.  Its bulging, crystal eyes caught the light of the torches and threw back their fire, as did each white tooth in its red mouth.

The warning cry of guards increased the hubbub.  The crowd stirred excitedly, and Raanah was pressed so close to the low-slung truck that his toes barely escaped its wheels.  Suddenly Accid-Adab gave him a hard push, and he pitched forward on its platform at the feet of the ogre.

Raanah was yanked off the float by the infuriated priests of the god, and the wagon containing Mumbo-Jumbo rolled on.  No one had seen Accid-Adab push the youth.  They believed that Raanah was the sole offender.

“To the temple!  To the temple!  Let the gods pass judgment!”  someone shouted, and the mob took up the refrain.

********

As the cool glory of a new day began to brighten his cell, Raanah was aroused.  A squad of soldiers marched into the courtyard.  An officer halted them and stepped forward.  The rasp of a key sounded in the lock, and Raanah’s prison door swung open.

The Ishmaelite merchantmen and two slaves were waiting outside the courtyard.  Their faces were grim and their bodies sagged with fatigue.  They nodded to him and fell into an uneven step behind the squad.  Raanah felt heartened by their presence.  Accid-Adab appeared, but lagged behind the others.

Being the youngest of the condemned men, he was the first to take the post.  As his captors stripped off his tunic and bound him, a wild yearning for flight surged within him.

Arrangements completed, the officer who had brought him in repeated the sentence briefly.  “Thirty lashes!”  He raised his hand.  “Ready—one!”  The merchantmen and Calah turned away.  They could not look upon the tortured youth.  Egiba muttered in his beard, Isme-Dagan clenched his fists, Dahmru’s teeth chattered and Obal showed the whites of his eyes.

“Two!”

The whip continued to whine with its efforts, blow after blow descended, laying the flesh open in deep, raw cuts with rising welts between.  Raanah did not cry out, though he could not stifle his moans.  Once he called upon Ishtar to save him.

Finally the last blow fell, but before the horror ended a merciful God intervened.  Raanah became unconscious and when the soldiers untied him he crumpled to the ground.

As consciousness returned, Raanah stirred and moaned.  The raw stripes on his back were insignificant compared to the anguish that seared his soul.  Where was the fickle goddess who had once stood beside him and parried every blow, protected him from every disaster that threatened him?

His resentment at her boiled over.  “Where are you hiding, you craven hussy?” he called in a loud voice.  “Come forth, you deceiver!”  His face flushed with anger, and without a thought of consequence he thrust a weak hand into his pocket, drew forth his false goddess and spat upon her.

The merchantmen, struck with horror by his incredible behavior, tried to quiet him.

But in a voice growing more furious, Raanah hurled his rage at his despised deity.  “You ugly dwarf!  You are more loathsome in my sight than all the Egyptian gods.  May the crocodiles eat you!” he screamed after it.

********

Although Raanah had insisted that Calah go, the steward would not leave him in such a pitiful state, but remained outside until Bashia came.  A priest of Ptah listened to Bashia’s pleading and had come to let her into Raanah’s cell.

She spread a soft blanket over the irritating straw.  She had brought food and fresh water.  She anointed the livid stripes on Raanah’s back with a soothing balm.

“Now that day has come,” she spoke in a low, optimistic voice, striving to lift the gloom that engulfed him, “the merchantmen will find Potiphar and Joseph and they will save you.”

As hours passed and no word came from the merchantmen, her heart sank into despair.

That day to Bashia seemed the longest of her life.  Outside, the voice of the city grew louder.  People were going home for the evening meal—drifting past the grating in a never-ending stream.  Then came the tramp of feet and clank of arms.  Oh, it couldn’t be the soldiers!

It was the soldiers—half a hundred of them.  Bashia’s eyes blazed.  She wouldn’t let them in.  She stood at bay like a she-wolf protecting her young.  As the men came closer, she recognized the civilian and gave a glad cry.

“Joseph!  ‘Tis Joseph!  Oh, Raanah—Raanah!  Joseph has come!”  She burst into tears.

The barred door was quickly unlocked.  The officer stepped aside and Joseph entered the cell.

A smile spread over the sick youth’s face.  “Oh, Joseph—I am so glad you have come.”

Joseph’s face twitched, and he struggled for speech.  “You are released now Raanah, and tomorrow you will go with us—with Potiphar and his company—to Memphis.”

Raanah gazed at him wonderingly then shook his head.

“Oh, but I could not leave Bashia.”

“She will come, too,” Joseph said smiling.

After Raanah had been bathed, had his wounds dressed by the herb doctor, and had eaten some bread and fruit, he was much improved.

Raanah lay in a contemplative mood.  “I must confess,” he said finally, “that it is hard for me to understand how this good fortune should top hours of suspense and misery.  Of course, you know that I defied Ishtar, and for that a god takes vengeance.  When I was condemned to die, I did not care, but now–.”  A note of trepidation crept into his voice.

Joseph felt that the time had come for a bold stroke.

“I think it would be well to forget it,” he advised.  “If Ishtar was unable to help you, then she cannot harm you.  Besides, I believe it was my God who saved you, even as He is now healing your stripes.  My God is always working to bring good out of evil.”

“That may be true,” Raanah admitted.  “Some evil force certainly had me in its grasp; and then some higher power saved me.”

“That higher power,” said Joseph, “was none other than the God of Israel.”

Raanah fell silent.  “I know,” he said finally, “that everyone should have some god to lean on.  I need one now to protect me from Ishtar, and my heart seems to be turning to your God.  Certainly the entire course of my life has changed for the better, and it must be that your God found me when I was deserted, suffering and condemned, and took charge of me.”

********

The three men of the Ishmaelite company who went to Memphis prospered beyond their highest hopes.

In a few years Joseph had become majordomo of Potiphar’s extensive household.  Raanah’s ability as a horseman was marked.  He became a charioteer, trainer and exercise man, and no one could question his right to select any team from the stables whenever he chose to drive them.

Dahmru, likewise, had shown more than ordinary ability.  He carried on a lucrative trade in rugs, vases, rare oils and spices in a booth in the most aristocratic part of the business center.  Bashia helped him, and her fresh beauty and personality attracted many customers.

But as Bashia developed into more lovely womanhood, Dahmru’s wife became jealous.  Finally, Raanah protested so hotly over the treatment of his sweetheart that Dahmru reluctantly consented to set the date of their wedding a few weeks ahead.  Although the price he asked for the girl was too high, Raanah felt sure he could meet it.

As he drew up one evening at the side entrance of Potiphar’s house and sent a servant for Joseph, his team pranced under the tight rein and cocked their delicate ears at each sight and sound.  Knowing well the impatience of Raanah’s horses, Joseph appeared almost instantly, drawing a rich cloak over his tunic, and made a running leap into the chariot.

“Ah,” he said, “at last we are to try out the young sorrels you have been crowing about.”

Raanah laughed, gave the team their heads, and they bounded off.  “Look at that action!” he gloated.  “Their gait is as smooth as a rocking cradle.  All they need is a little more experience with crowds.  I’d like Bashia to see them.  What do you say–?”

Joseph nodded.

As Raanah dropped Joseph at Potiphar’s house, he bantered.  “There is no need to wish you pleasant dreams, for you are already immersed in them.”

“I’ll wish them to you anyway,” Bashia called.  “Good night, Joseph.”

To be alone with Bashia was a chance that came seldom.  Arriving at Dahmru’s booth, Raanah threw the reins over a post, lifted the girl from the chariot, and held her in his arms while she snuggled close to him.

He brought forth a tiny package of papyrus and spread it open.  Inside lay a ring cut from a single piece of turquoise.  It was a rich, heavenly blue with a pattern of light matrix woven through it.

“Raanah!”  Her eyes glowed.  He caught her hand and slipped the ring on a finger, then touched it to his lips.  “While you wear this ring, no one can take you from me.”

She turned her hand around to gaze at it admiringly.  “You extravagant man!  I shall never take it off—even to my dying day!”  She drew his head down and laid her cheek against his.

********

But Raanah’s happiness soon ended.  Misfortune slunk beside him and speared his friends.

In less than a week after the visit of the young people to On, Dahmru died suddenly.  When a slave brought Bashia’s message, Raanah rushed to her side.  She was afraid of Dahmru’s widow, for she was now under her will.

That same afternoon several companies of the Guard were ordered on a short expedition to Lake Qerun, and as charioteer Raanah must go, too.  Although the order came at an inopportune time, Raanah was pleased.  He liked to be out among military men and following the rich watercourses would be pleasant.

When he returned, tired and dusty, but filled with happy anticipations, he rushed over to see Bashia.  The place looked unfamiliar, and a strange Egyptian was in charge of the booth.  Then Bashia’s tearful premonitions struck him with unwonted force.  He managed to pull himself together and maintained some semblance of outward calm as he strode into the place.

The Egyptian told him that he had bought Dahmru’s booth and stock.  The widow had reserved a few personal effects.  A day later she and her servants had joined a caravan.  He did not know where they had gone.

“But the girl—did she go with them?  Did she leave no word?”

The Egyptian shook his head.  “I did see her about the booth before I bought it, but I know nothing about her.”

One thought hammered at Raanah with thudding pain—Bashia was gone, and he must find her!  He would drive the team to the stables and saddle a horse.  It could travel faster.

Raanah rushed to the stall of a racer.  “Help me, Calah, to saddle Rebus!  He is the swiftest.  They have taken Bashia away with a caravan, and I must go after her.”

“Umph!” Calah grunted.  “You have ever been hotheaded; but now, methinks you have lost your mind.  There are caravans going out of the city every day in every direction.  Unless you know which way to go, you would just as likely ride away from her.”

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan

IN EGYPT

As Raanah entered Egypt he was thrilled with its quaint beauty. The lingering loveliness of its white nights cast their spell upon him. In such a magnificent setting it seemed that the veil was slipping from his dreams and they were approaching reality.
Joseph was not so happy. He had not recovered from his transplanting. It seemed that his very life had been torn up by the roots, and his heart ached because of it.
“Taphanhes is having a festival and a parade for the gods tomorrow,” Kedar announced. “’Tis a great event. Seth, the god of this home, has invited Mumbo-Jumbo of Central Africa to be his guest of honor.”
After the boys prepared their pallets that evening, each bowed silently to the uncertainty of his future. Joseph never lost faith because he believed that all the events of his life were part of God’s plan; and that by experiences one is disciplined and developed. So troubles were not to be despised, for by them one could step to higher things. With such a belief he could take whatever befell him with fair grace.
But Raanah was confused and uncertain—a feeling he had never had before. His goddess was so small, and the Egyptian gods were so big and seemed so powerful. He turned on his side and drew the image of Ishtar from the pocket over his heart.
“The dark places of the earth are full of cruelty and misery, but you have always guarded me well,” he praised her. “Before my heart failed, you gave me youth strength. Before my foot slipped you upheld me. Now, I pray thee, walk beside me and quicken me with thy brightness.”
He pressed the jewel to his lips and its fire illumined his face. With a sigh he returned it to his pocket and went to sleep.
After breakfast, Accid-Adab straddled Uruk and left for the city.
But before the afternoon was spent, Accid-Adab returned with a man of flashy military garb and bearing.
The men walked toward the youths. There could be but one meaning to such action, but neither dared give it form in his thoughts. In cold, level voice, Accid-Adab announced that he had sold Joseph to Potiphar, Captain of Pharoah’s Guard, who was in Taphanhes for the festival, and the soldier had come to fetch him.
Joseph glanced at Raanah warningly, yet with tender compassion. Before these men, pride restrained them.
The soldier showed some impatience, and Joseph grasped Raanah’s hand warmly. His voice was low and constrained. “Send me word of yourself some time,” he begged. “Let me know where you go.”
Raanah could not answer.

THE PARADE

A short time before the parade started Accid-Adab, Egiba, Isme-Dagan, Dahmru and Raanah stood waiting before the line of march. Raanah’s heart still ached over his parting with Joseph, but he tried to put it from his mind.
The crowd milled about them, and they watched this strange Hamitic people with interest.
Soon the pageant was rolling before them. With the resilience of youth, Raanah was drawn into the mood of the occasion, and his heart throbbed and ached with delight at the strange sights before him.
Dreams, riotous dreams! Prancing horses with arched necks and shapely legs snorted with restrained desire as they dragged the floats along. Raanah adored every one of them.
The first float contained the colossal image of Seth. His symbolic animals—the ass, the crocodile and the hippopotamus were grouped around him. Crouching, sweat-glistening slaves waved palm leaves above his head.
“So that’s the fellow who cut up his brother Osiris,” Isme-Dagan whispered. “May a million gnats settle on him!”
“Yeah,” Egiba responded, “but the other one seems not to have fared so badly at that. Here he comes. He is Judge and King of the Dead; and that is a mighty kingdom! See the Book of Judgment: on his knees, and the flail and the crook in his hands?”
“And here is his wife, Iris,” Dahmru whispered timidly. “Oh-o—“he groaned. “She is cow-headed, and there are snakes on her horns.”
All were dour, evil-looking gods, avenging gods, ruthless gods—on they rolled! Raanah wanted to scream a protest at them. A smothering sensation tensed him. Smoke from the torches choked him. Egiba’s chatter irritated him.

(To be continued)

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdman’s Publ. Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Chapter V

THE SKIRMISH

Egiba looked plainly relieved.  “How about you, lads?” he called jovially.  “We would have worried about you sooner had we time to think of it.  But what have you there?”  He stared incredulously.  “Can I believe my eyes?  It’s a horse!  Where did you find him, O warriors?”  Without waiting for an answer, he called, “Hey, Dungri, Kedar, Asaph!  See what these scalawags are bringing!  Ha-ha!  They have snatched the crown of victory from our heads!”

The merchantmen pressed around the boys.  Accid-Adab’s eyes were glued avidly upon the horse.  As a trader he knew its worth.  But the animal, a shy, wild buckskin with a white star on its forehead became frightened at the crowd, rolled its eyes, snorted and reared, and the men backed away quickly.

“He seems to have a streak of meanness in him,” Kihai-Del commented.  “I say, boy, can you ride him?”  Kihai-Del knew that he was pricking Raanah’s self esteem.  One of his unmatched eyes shot a malevolent wink at Accid-Adab.

“I believe so,” Raanah panted unsuspectingly, full of pride in his horse.  He was struggling with the reins.  “That is, if somebody will hold its head—so I can mount him.”

A dozen hands grasped the reins and boosted the youth into the saddle.  “Now, ride him, horseman!  Stick to him!” Egiba yelled as they released the reins.

The horse whirled, rocked his head from side to side to make sure he was free, then ducked it between his stiffly spread legs and reared up behind.  The next instant he reversed the order, reared up in front and pawed the air with his forefeet.  He shook himself and raked his forefeet from side to side rigidly as if in some devilish dance.  The merchantmen gasped in amazement.  The camel boys paused in their work to look on.

Inexperienced in rough riding, but with the instincts of a born horseman, Raanah crouched over the neck of his plunging horse and clung to it.  The horse jerked about violently in its efforts to dislodge him, but finding itself unable to do so, lay back its ears and bolted along the road ahead.  The merchantmen and Joseph gazed after them with varying emotions.  The slaves rolled their eyes.  None of them had ever seen an animal behave like that before.

“I did not dream that a horse was such a skittish animal!” Egba scratched his head anxiously.

“Even so, you were too eager to urge the lad to ride the brute,” Isme-Dagan snapped, his face tense, his eyes clouded with concern.

Joseph dropped on the embankment by the roadside and held his head in his hands.  He was too spent physically and emotionally to think of what might happen to Raanah, and he would not look.

Kihai-Del spread his hands eloquently and shrugged.  “I see no need to worry.  At the worst, there will be one less slave for Accid-Adab to dispose of in Egypt.”

“Oh, well–.” Egiba made an impatient gesture as if to cast off the annoyance.  “Can anyone doubt that the rascal will come riding back as cheerful as ever when the brute has spent his wind?”

“He surely will!  So let’s forget him and bestir ourselves,” Asaph urged.  “Before night, we should be as far away as possible, for the raiders may return under cover of darkness.”  That was sound advice, so the order was given for the caravan to take the trail.

They had not travelled far before Raanah came riding toward them.  He sat jauntily in the flat saddle, his face beaming with pleasure.  The horse looked tired and subdued.  Raanah patted its neck and talked soothingly to it.  His conflict with the little animal was over.  He was its master, and it obeyed his touch on the reins.

That evening as the boys sat apart, eating dry barley bread and curdled camel’s milk, Raanah described his ride to Joseph.  “Truly, that horse is a tricky little animal,” he laughed contagiously, “yet I was not afraid.  At first I wondered if I could hold on, for he plunged so furiously and came down so hard, but when he took the bit and ran, I knew that I could stick.  Believe me, he ran so fast the wind slapped my face.  It tried to tear my tunic off.  It whistled in my ears, and the ground seemed to be rushing backwards.  Oh, Joseph, I never felt so alive in all my life.  Why, to be a racing driver would be the finest sport in the world.”  His exuberance made him restless.  “Come, let’s go over and look at the horse.”

They found the animal hobbled and grazing by itself.  Raanah got an a loaf of fodder from the camels to piece out its meal, for it looked as if it had never had enough to eat in its life.  This was not strange, since it had been living in the stony Wilderness of Shur where grass grew sparsely.  Raanah found a square of cloth among the baggage and rubbed the little horse down until it presented a much smoother appearance.  “I am going to call him ‘Star’,” he decided, “for he has a perfect one on his forehead, and my moon-goddess gave him to me.”

“I presume the raider stole it from some traveler,” Joseph offered.  “Egiba said there were several horses in the band.  Do you suppose Accid-Adab will let you keep him?  It would bring considerable money should he care to sell it.”

“But the horse is mine!  He would not dare.”  Raanah burst forth in panic, then quickly recovered himself.  “I mean—I had not thought of such a possibility.”

“Of course,” Raanah paused in his work, “but I am already so fond of the horse, and I had not thought–.”  He patted Star to cover his agitation.

Joseph was sorry that he had spoken.  Making some slight excuse, he left him to regain his composure.

Raanah always took troubles lightly.  Now he whistled softly to keep up his spirits.  Dusk had fallen.  The camp was settling into slumber.  He sauntered toward the women’s quarters, hoping to see Bashia.  Instead, he almost bumped into her amah, who was prowling in the shadows, mumbling to herself.  She was a withered old woman with strangely lighted, deep set eyes.  Her mouth, puckered and toothless, was so sunken that it gave her a prominent chin.  Her skin was yellow and full of fine wrinkles.

She glanced up sharply and recognized him.  “Ha!  ‘Tis well you are here, for I would have a word with you, young man.”  There was a thin quaver in her voice, and she shook a bony finger at him.  “And you must heed me.  I say, ‘Beware!’”

“How, now, old mother,” he began to jolly her kindly, “of what must I so solemnly beware?”

She blinked her owlish eyes at him.  “You are prone to think that all is fair for you, but your fortune is written in the stars.  I read their messages.  And I say, ‘Beware!’  The gods of Egypt are very powerful.”  Without explaining, she passed on, mumbling, leaving him to stare after her.

M-m-m.  Queer old croaker, he thought as he walked slowly back to his pallet.  She must be mad to presume, fortified as he was by his goddess, that anything but good could happen to him.

He found Joseph awake and told him about the encounter.  “Of course,” he added, “there are bound to be changes for all of us after we enter Egypt.  It is inevitable that the members of the caravan should scatter.”

“Yes,” Joseph agreed, “and that might be what the old amah meant.”

Raanah lapsed into silence.  “I wonder,” he said a few minutes later, “if gods are potent only in their own countries.  She intimated that I must beware of the gods of Egypt.”

“Before long,” Joseph said, “we shall know what the people of Egypt think about the power of their gods.”

Raanah looked at the stars and wondered what portent they held for him to make the old amah so positive.  Life had hitherto stretched so alluringly before him.  There was, be believed, such a thing as luck.  But what made luck turn from good to bad, or from bad to good?  Was it controlled by the stars or by the gods, or by the person himself?  He sighed, for he did not like to confess, even to himself, that the words of the old crone disturbed him.  Still, he could not help wishing that on this eventful day he had not met her.

(To be continued)

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co.—Grand Rapids, Michigan

CHAPTER V

The skirmish between the merchant company and the Shur outlaws soon blazed to white heat.  Because of the quick work of their scouts, the slaves had been able to kneel and tie the camels before they became too frightened to manage.  Their high packs made a breastwork of sorts, and such narrow shelters greatly heartened the defenders.

But as the uproarious freebooters surged toward them, the animals became panicky and strained at their bonds.  Excitement grew with the hoarse orders of the merchantmen, the curses of slaves, the brays and snarls of frightened animals.  Raanah’s dragon was growling and lashing its tail defiantly, while the din of the raiders deepened into a thunderous roar.

“They are a wild band.”  Egiba flashed a tight grin at Isme-Dagan as they dashed between the camel barricades.

“Too wild to suit me,” Isme-Dagan growled.

The merchantmen had stationed themselves behind the barricades at intervals to command all parts of their line.  The most intelligent slaves, like Calah, Gaza and Shobal, were set over smaller groups to direct and steady them.  Within a circle of hooded howdahs, the women were crowded to the rear, for they were considered a prize by the plunderers.

Hardly was the caravan set when the raiders bore down upon them.  It was a bold charge, but such a cloud of arrows showered them that they became disconcerted.  Their own aim was uncertain because of the motion of their mounts.  To rally from their confusion, they rode in a circle, howling like fiends, then darted forward in a fan-like spread to discharge their weapons, then whirled about.

The plain in front of the caravan became alive with flying arrows, darting spears and whirling riders.  Once thrust into action the slaves fought with an abandon that was hardly expected of them.

Asaph, Dungri and Kihai-Del took up bows and used them intensively if not very effectively, while the delirium of battle shot from their eyes.  Kedar took a stance with a spear, but he was too stiff and fat and he fell, then crawled behind his mustache bristling militantly.  Dahmru blinked in the strong light timidly, his face twitching in terror.

After several charges, the marauders changed their tactics to tormenting their opponents rather than putting up a stiff fight.  They dashed forward, wheeled suddenly, then charged an unsuspecting section of the line.  This irked Isme-Dagan.  He stepped from cover and shook his spear at an ugly turban-headed Idumean.  “Come closer, you howler!  I’ll pin you to the ground!” he taunted.  “I’ll fix you so you’ll never howl again!”

“That’s right, soldier,” Egiba snickered, “if you can’t hit them, tell them!”  He frowned at the bow in his hand.  “If these pesky things would only do what you want them to!”

The dry white sands simmered with heat.  To the frightened women peering from behind their hooded shelter, the battle seemed too ethereal to be real.  The outlaws charged and pranced and whirled, while the dust from the feet of their mounts enveloped them in a thin haze.  The women shuddered and wept at the sight of the wild faces flashing before them.

It soon became evident that the freebooters were tiring.  Their mounts were blowing.  They also knew that their desire for plunder was hopeless, for animals that are tied down cannot be stampeded.  The merchant company, with its heavy advantage of numbers, had proved too strong for them.  The outlaws had persisted merely out of pique.  After another futile charge they rode off, defeated.

When they were out of sight and it was certain their departure was not a ruse, the merchant company untied the stiffened knees of their camels.  All the men were in high spirits as they wiped the dust and perspiration from their faces.

“That was a grand fight,” Egiba declared.

“And our marksmanship was fairly good,” Asaph bragged, thinking of the handsome figure he must have cut with his bow.

With the tension of conflict removed, they became a bit hysterical.  The slaves played leapfrog and feigned fighting bouts with each other.  The merchantmen slapped each other on the back and laughed uproariously.  All were agreed on the merits of their defense, though each secretly took much credit for himself.

Isme-Dagan ended their horseplay by suggesting that they investigate their casualties.  They found a dead camel with an arrow through its neck.  A couple of seriously wounded Bantu were turned over to the women for treatment.  Less than a dozen slaves presented superficial cuts or scratches.  So they considered that good luck had attended them.

Then they began to wonder where Raanah and Joseph were.  Isme-Ragan scanned the hills, cupped his hands over his mouth and halloed, “Raanah!  Joseph!  Come in!  The raiders are gone!”

A short time later the boys reached the crest of the hill and answered.  The men were surprised to see Raanah leading an animal and Joseph lugging the heavy weapons of a raider.

(To be continued)

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co.

 

“Ah, ‘tis the vengeance of Ishtar,” Egiba exclaimed.  “He was cut down by a bolt from the sky.”  The merchantmen nodded and jabbered.

Raanah was no less amazed than the others.  He had not touched the man.  He glanced about, but could see nothing unusual.  Although armed, the slaves were standing by passively.  Raanah looked at his hands, suspecting them of some mesmeric power, then, by way of experiment, reached out toward the fallen man.

But the Ammonite was only partially stunned.  He had heard Egiba’s remark about the vengeance of Ishtar.  He, too, believed in the chicanery of gods, so when Raanah made a second pass at him, he crouched back.  Seeing his fear, Raanah pressed his advantage and made a fierce lunge at him.  With a frightened yell, the man rolled over like a ball, then bounded to his feet and ran.  The other herdsmen, catching his panic, followed him.  They could stand up to the brawn of any man, but not against a tricky god.

Raanah took after them, whooping with delight, hurling stones and sending the dogs after them to increase their speed.

When he returned, elated and breathless, the merchantmen were still laughing over the encounter and discussing the astounding intervention of Ishtar.  After a night of feasting, no one cared for breakfast, so the slaves broke camp, for it was desirable to get away quickly.

Although elated over his victory, a puzzled expression lurked in Raanah’s eyes.  He looked at his hands again, but could see nothing unusual about them.  Deep in thought, he sauntered over to Uruk.  He glanced about furtively.  No one was looking his way.  He raised both hands and made a pass at Uruk, just as he had done at the Ammonite.  The donkey flopped one long ear at him, but paid no further attention.  Raanah made another pass at him, a fiercer one, curling his fingers and screwing up his face.

Uruk switched his tail a couple of times, but was otherwise so stolidly unmoved that he did not even blink an eye.

Then Accid-Adab called and Raanah was obliged to give up his experiment, but a happy thought struck him.  Nothing had happened to Uruk when he tried to befuddle him because the donkey had not menaced him.  Only when it was necessary to protect him would Ishtar exert her power.  Satisfied with his reasoning, he ran to assist his master.

Soon the caravan began to stretch itself into the roadway and Raanah and Joseph stepped ahead of it briskly.

“I missed you for a spell,” Raanah said casually.

“Yes,” Joseph’s voice was constrained, “but I was not far away.”

“Did you see the Ammonite when I sprang at him?” Raanah chuckled.

Joseph looked embarrassed.  Evidently something troubled him.  “You must believe me—I did not realize–.”  He began in such a faltering way that Raanah stared in surprise.  “But I must confess,” Joseph stammered, “that it was I—not Ishtar—who downed the Ammonite.”

“You?”  Raanah’s laugh rang out heartily.  “But–.”

“You see,” Joseph explained, relieved by Raanah’s mirth, “when I saw the herdsmen fuming for a tussle: I, like you, wanted to help our party, but I knew those burly men were too heavy for you or me to handle in a fight.  There must be other ways to deal with them, so I made for the rise by the camp, where I could both see what was happening and have room to whirl my sling.”

“It was a fine shot,” Raanah declared, “and it came just in the nick of time.”

Joseph looked grateful, yet troubled.  “I had not thought that anyone would credit Ishtar with the bolt.”

“Oh, but I do not doubt my goddess, even now, I feel that you were the instrument of her power.  Of course, I know that you are an excellent shot,” Raanah added courteously, “but shots foul easily.  And in such an emergency Ishtar’s hand must have guided yours.”

Joseph did not reply.  It was such a splendid faith the Chaldean youth professed, even though the object of that faith was a false god, and he must be wise in trying to win this soul for the true religion.

For a time they trudged along in silence, each deep in thought.  Then Raanah chuckled.  Joseph’s confession had cleared up the mystery where Uruk was concerned.

Although Joseph’s muscles were hardening to the trail, there were days when his troubles pressed heavily upon him.  After the caravan passed Beersheba and snaked out of the Jordan Valley, he left behind all that was dearest to him.  That night, Raanah was aroused by a slight sound.  He put a hand in sympathy on Joseph’s pallet and found it empty.  He raised himself and looked about.  Joseph was kneeling a short distance away with head bowed.

Raanah partly arose, then fell back, for Joseph raised his head.  Raanah knew that he was praying and caught his closing words.

“Cherish and sustain me by thy love and grace and be with me always, O Lord God, and give comfort to my father’s sorrowing heart. Amen.”

Raanah turned over quickly, so when Joseph returned to his pallet, he would not know that he, too, had been awake.

But several days later, Raanah’s curiosity got the better of him.  “To whom do you pray?” he asked as they scuffed along a dusty road.

“To the Lord God of my fathers,” Joseph replied simply.

“Do you care to show me his image?”

“I would, but He has no image.”

“No image—But how do you know about Him if you cannot see Him?”

“I do not need to see Him, because I know Him in my heart.  But really, I do see Him in the grass, in the trees and in my own breath on a frosty morning, for my God is Life.  So for protection I pray Him to be with me always.  Besides,” Joseph’s eyes lighted, “I can hear His voice in my heart.”

“Why, it must be wonderful to have him talk to you.”

“It is,” Joseph agreed.

“Does he always tell you what to do when you ask him?”

“He tells me always, whether I ask Him or not.  But sometimes, I am ashamed to say, I do not listen to Him.  You know how that is.  When people are determined on a course, they turn deaf ears to any voice that says ‘no’.  And usually they get into trouble because of their stubbornness.

“Does he destroy your enemies as Ishtar destroys mine?”

“My God is terrible in His judgments; but He is also full of compassion and He heals men of their hurts.”

“You mean that your God heals me when I do not even pray to him?”

“Yes, without the help of my God, your wounds would never heal.”

“H’mm, I guess I have always taken the healing for granted.  I have never thought of it as being a miracle of some god.”  A thoughtful pucker deepened between Raanah’s eyes.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

As the dragon crawled along from day to day, swaying with its burdens and snarling over them, the summer sun beat mercilessly upon it.  Finally it reached the Brook of Egypt, a broad, full-flowing stream from the Badietel Tin Mountains, which marked the boundary between fruitful Caanan and the Wilderness of Shur.  Its banks were shaded in simple beauty by tamarisk and spreading cedar.

As the company stretched along the river, the slaves chattered like magpies and argued over locations until Calah settled their dispute or cuffed them into silence.  Many dropped their cares and frocks on the bank and plunged into the stream, ducking and wallowing luxuriously and with shouts of laughter, splashing those who followed them.

Raanah and Joseph laughed at their antics and would have liked to join them, but something was brewing, for the merchantmen had dismounted to gaze intently across the stream to the low hills and rocky wastes beyond.  Kedar had just told them that its primitive ruggedness was matched in spirit by the fierce desert nomads who made it their stronghold.

“You mean they are robbers?” Dahmru cried.

“Indeed,” Egiba chaffed, wrinkling his bulbous nose, which was redder than usual.  “Most of the villains were chased out of Egypt and now in Shur they know no law but their own greed.  They will steal the hide off your donkey and the clothes off your back if they catch you.”

Dahmru’s squinting eyes above his dark beard held the shiftiness of a scared animal.  “Then it seems we need a company of foot soldiers to protect us.”

Raanah’s impulsive laugh broke the tension and they all joined in.

“How do the outlaws carry out their attacks?” Dungri asked.

“By surprise, if possible,” Asaph volunteered.  “They will seldom stand to fight, but charge and yell like wild men to stampede the pack animals.  Then off go the profits of a year of trading.”

“Since we shall need a scout,” Egiba’s waggish eyes twinkled, “I nominate Dahmru.”

A smothered laugh flickered over the group.  Dahmur reddened through his desert tan.

“My black boy, Shobal, could scout,” Kihai-Del offered seriously.  “He has a nimble mind and limber legs.”

“No!”  A gleam that struck suspicion in the others shot from Accid-Adab’s yellow eyes, “Raanah will scout.”

“It is not fair to thrust the lad into such danger,” Isme-Dagan protested.  “He has had no training like some of the older men, whereby to save himself.”

“Have you forgotten that he has Ishtar to protect him?” Kihai-Del whispered with a sinister snicker.

Raanah did not hear this and the love of adventure spurred him to speak in his own behalf.  “I should like to outmarch if you will trust me.”

Joseph’s brooding eyes darkened.  He raised his voice so he could be heard by all.  “Then I shall go out with you, Raanah.”

A babble of voices arose.  “No, Joseph, no!” Raanah cried sharply.

Accid-Adab scowled.  “You will stay until I bid you go.”  Evidently he had not forgotten the twenty pieces of silver he had paid for this slave.

“Nevertheless,” Joseph answered respectfully enough, though braving his master’s displeasure, “if Raanah outmarches, I shall go with him.”

At such flagrant revolt, Accid-Adab’s irascibility exploded.  He raised his fist to strike Joseph.  Raanah jumped between them.

“Don’t be a fool, Adab,” Isme-Dagan caught his arm, “the lad’s do you no harm.  Their spirit is worthy of their breeding.”

Accid-Adab’s face grew apoplectic.  He had come dangerously close to striking Raanah.  “Faugh!”  He spat disgustedly at finding himself so brazenly outwitted, then strode off in ruffled dignity.

A hearty laugh from Egiba cleared the atmosphere.  “Huh, the scalawags have their master broke to harness already.  Such a bold charge, Adab, deserves a braver retreat,” he called after him tantalizingly.

With the matter settled, Raanah and Joseph set out to requisition Calah for their long bows and two full quivers of arrows.  They made a careful selection and carried their weapons over to their sleeping place beside the men’s tent.  They sat on the ground chatting companionable and Joseph became fired by Raanah’s enthusiasm.

Before darkness fell, they had restrung their bows with new ox-gut strings and feathered both packages of arrows, besides repairing some leather guards for their wrists and fingers.

As they finished, Raanah gave a happy sigh.  “I hope one of us will nip the old robber chief himself.”  He reached for a bow, swung it before him and taking the stance that Zerah had taught him, sighted it.  “Ha!  See that!  I put a shaft right through his dastardly heart.”

“You only spotted his ghost,” Joseph warned.  “Wait till the freebooter himself charges you, then see how true your aim will be.”

“That will make no difference,” Raanah assured him with a smile.  “But I must find Calah.  I need some straps for my quiver.”

“And I shall go to sleep,” Joseph warned, lying back on his pallet.

By that time most of the camp had followed Joseph’s example.  Stillness reigned except for the distant piping of Shobal’s flute and the gurgle of the river.  The moon had spread a sheen of silver over the desert, but the shadows under the trees had deepened.

Raanah whistled softly as he swung along.  After getting the straps from Calah, he returned slowly, delighted with the beauty of the night.  He paused for a moment by the ford, watching the water ripple over the stones, then knelt on the grassy bank and cupped his hands to drink.  As he arose, a shadowy form glided toward him.  It was Bashia.  She had heard his whistle as he passed and slipped out of the women’s tent to meet him.  His heart fluttered at the sight of her.

“You are a very reckless young man,” she greeted him with a mock censure.  “You have kept me in a dither over your safety ever since I have known you.  Tomorrow you are stepping out into a new danger and I cannot sleep for thinking about it,” she admitted frankly.

His eyes swept over her admiringly.  There was so much that was charming about Bashia and he was immensely pleased over her concern for him.  “But my recklessness may save the caravan.  Surely, you would not have me—-.”

She gave a slightly impatient gesture.  “You are like a small boy,” she accused, “who, through curiosity, walks heedlessly into danger.  Once, I remember, you defied a rabid dog—.”  Now he knew she was teasing him, though a note of earnestness still shaded her voice.

“And saved you from the brute,” he interposed brazenly.  “And another time when you claimed to have worried about me, I was only bringing you honey.”  They both laughed.  Then his mood changed.  He stepped closer and looked down at her seriously.  “Before I go out this time, Bashia, I would ask a favor.”

She gave him a startled glance.  His manner was so different from his usual nonchalance.

Seeing her agitation, he grew bolder.  He caught her shoulders and turned her so that the moon’s rays fell full upon her face.  She saw the fire leap into his eyes and grow with compelling force.  His manner became demanding.  “Bashia,” he announced, “I am going to kiss you.”

“Oh, no,” she gasped, putting up a protesting hand.

But with masculine determination, he drew her firmly to him.  Through the light folds of her dress, he could feel her tremble, but she made no further protest.  She was full of life and warmth and in this throbbing night her nearness was a thing to stir the heart.

Youth is always a little mad when the moon is round.  Their lips met.  She rested her head on his shoulder while his arms tightened around her.  The night grew very still, a thousand stars peeped down upon them.  Shobal’s flute wailed a dity and the crunch of chewing camels was audible, but wrapped in the ecstasy of a first kiss, they did not hear them.

Presently her drooping lips fluttered.  She withdrew from his embrace with soft reluctance and they stood apart in slight embarrassment.  “You will not soon forget me now,” Raanah essayed half-teasingly, though his voice was not quite steady.

Bashia misunderstood his meaning and grasped his sleeve.  “Raanah,” she cried, “you will come back!  You will….”  A sob checked her.

“Surely!” he boasted and his voice carried a ring of gladness that left her trembling.  She searched his face with a puzzled look.  “I—I think I hear my amah calling,” she stammered and fled.

Raanah stared after her, musing over the strange deportment of women.  But just thinking about Bashia made him feel good.  He wanted to sing, but dared not.  When he reached his pallet, wide-eyed and stimulated, he found Joseph asleep.

The next morning, when Calah gave command for the caravan to swing into the roadway, its aspect was distinctly militant.  The slaves were bristling with weapons and its fore and side runners were ready to scout ahead.

Raanah and Joseph were cautioned to keep a sharp outlook about them and not to advance beyond the sight of Calah; who, while he also traveled ahead, would stay within sight of the caravan to keep lines of communication open.

The youths stepped forward briskly in the invigorating air.  Their eyes were snappy and searching.  They carried their bows ready in hand.  Their quivers were packed with steel-pointed arrows and the scrips over their left shoulders were filled with smooth stones, just the size for their slings.  They had left the dogs behind and in the excitement of the adventure spoke only in low voices.  When they had gained some distance over Calah, they left the road and climbing a hill, scanned the country eagerly.  They were hoping rather than fearing that somewhere beyond the rocks and hills a band of fierce raiders awaited the caravan.

But hours of tramping passed with no sign of raiders in ambush.  Then some distance ahead, a vulture arose from a heap of carrion, flapping its black wings as it soared skyward.  Impulsively Raanah raised his bow and drilled its body.  It was a beautiful shot.  But before the bird had struck the earth, both lads realized the mistake and dropped to the ground.  After a second, they cautiously raised their heads.

“See that!” Joseph pointed to two men on asses who were galloping toward a range of hills.  Evidently it had been their approach that had disturbed the bird.  “They cannot be travelers,” Joseph whispered, “or they would stick to the road.  They must have seen the vulture fall.  Perhaps, they are scouts and are galloping off to appraise their band of our approach.”

Raanah felt too contrite for speech.  They signaled to Calah.  It was growing late and he beckoned them in.  But when Raanah reported the mysterious riders, he failed to mention the vulture.

At the waking signal, the two young scouts arose sleepily the next morning.  They were stiff and sore from having traveled many more miles than the caravan the day before.  The wind was chilly.  They shivered and ate their breakfast hurriedly.

As they took the lead, Raanah was unable to command the thrill that scouting had imparted the day before.  When they had gained some distance over the caravan, Calah told them to push ahead and they quickened their stride in silence.

The sun poured its burning rays down upon them when they reached the summit of a hill and threw themselves down to rest.  They would press on again soon, but their stiffened muscles bothered them and their breath was short from climbing the hill.

For a moment they lay exhausted.  Then Raanah raised his head cautiously.  The next instant he clutched Joseph’s arm with a low “P-s-s-s-t”, and pointed to the base of the hill below them.

There, a lone rider waited, hidden from the roadway.  Evidently he had been scouting ahead for his party, for they were riding toward him not more than five hundred yards behind.  All were heavily armed and at their head rode the two men whom Raanah and Joseph had seen the day before.

The boys had made no sound, but the lone rider was alert.  Before they could duck, he glanced up and saw them.  With a fiendish yell to appraise his followers that their ambush had been discovered, he urged his mount up the hill toward the boys.  Its steepness gave them a good start as they sprang to their feet and slid down on their sides amid loose sand and rolling stones.  There was no need now for secrecy.  They yelled to Calah.  He paused only long enough to wave both arms in answer then ran howling back to the caravan with a speed that would have done credit to a younger man.

The lone rider soon reached the crest of the hill and came crashing down after the boys.  They could tell by the sounds that he was gaining on them.  They knew they could not outrun his mount, but they wished to reach a more level stretch of ground before taking a stand against him.

Such open country afforded no protection.  But if they could dispose of this man quickly, they might be able to reach the caravan before the band of cutthroats could trap them.  Now and then an arrow whizzed past them, but, thought Raanah; Ishtar must have parried the shafts, for his luck held good for both of them.

When the raider reached the base of the hill, he gained on them so rapidly they dared no longer ignore him.  Besides, they were badly winded.  As they turned to face him, Raanah gave a gasp of surprise.  The fellow was no different from the usual dirty, bronzed desert ranger, savage and cruel in combat; however, he was astride, not a mincing ass, but a horse.  Raanah could scarcely believe his eyes.  It was a poor creature—lean, rangy and not much larger than a donkey, but there was no mistaking it, for it had small pointed ears, a straggling mane and a hairy tail.

Raanah’s eyes glistened.  He was determined to have that horse.  All fear for himself and Joseph was swept aside by his desire for the animal.  Now, Ishtar save them while he battled for it!  Joseph raised his bow, but Raanah clutched his arm.  “Hold!  It’s a horse—we must take it!”

Out of deference to Raanah’s wishes, Joseph held his shot.  He would take no chances on wounding the animal.

Seeing they were only youths, the raider yelled fiendishly and drew his sword to cut them down as he rode past them.  But with an audacity that compelled success, Raanah raised his bow and, aiming high, pierced the raider through the shoulder.  The saber clattered to the ground and with a howl of rage and pain, the man tumbled after it, apparently dazed.

Following the habit of desert fighters to prevent their steeds from galloping off if the rider should be dismounted; he had tied the reins to his wrist.  As he fell, the little horse plunged and tugged, but was unable to free himself.

Raanah dashed forward, cut the reins, wrapped them around his own hands and held on determinedly to the rearing, excited animal.  He was so intent on securing this prize that he failed to notice the man had revived, had snatched up his saber and was creeping upon him.  A cry from Joseph warned him.

Although wounded, the raider was a seasoned fighter.  There was wild passion in his eyes and his teeth gleamed white against his dark skin, like the fangs of a ferocious animal.

With both hands holding on to the plunging horse, Raanah was defenseless.  The range was too close for a bow, so Joseph hurled a rock at the man’s shoulder from which the shaft of the arrow protruded.  It struck with a thud.  The man dropped the saber with a cry and clutched his shoulder.  Joseph grabbed the sword.

The raider stirred himself into a blind rage because two youths had tricked him.  He crouched before them, his cruel mouth open; his rapacious, hairy face tightened with hatred.  Drawing a long dirk from his belt, he made a lunge at Raanah.

Joseph cleaved the air between them sharply, but missed the raider.  Again the man charged his defenseless enemy, for Raanah would not let go of the horse.  Joseph grew desperate.  The sword was extremely heavy, but he brought it down again with all his might between them.  The raider was powerful, but slow and the blade ripped his knee.  His leg buckled under him and he sprawled at Raanah’s feet.

Excited by the skirmish, the horse reared and plunged, but even with his hands wrapped with the reins, Raanah was not entirely defenseless.  Before the fellow could recover, with a movement almost as quick as the flash of Ishtar’s gems, Raanah kicked him under the chin.  The man gasped, closed his eyes and lay rigid as though dead.

The next instant a rising wave of sound came over the hill.  The scouts looked at each other with growing concern.  Would the band of Shur outlaws swing around the road or scale the hill after them?  They glued their eyes to its crest and listened.  But their good fortune held.  A moment later it was evident that the predatory band had left their scout to deal with the caravan’s out-marchers.  They were after booty and in their type of warfare must strike quickly.

(To be continued)

A story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by Permission of the Eerdmans’ Publ. Co.—Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

CHAPTER TWO

As the merchantmen ate, speech shuttle cocked from one to another rapidly.  There was mystery in the air and they were all keyed up over it.  Accid-Adab could enlighten them and Egiba was determined that he should do so.  Asaph glanced around to see if the youths were out of hearing, then gave Egiba a significant look that urged him to the encounter.

“I have been told,” Egiba began, while the other men stopped their chatter and chewing to listen, “that Raanah carries the moonstone image of Ishtar.”

Accid-Adab fidgeted, stuffed a wad of bread in his mouth, but said nothing.

“I believe its legend runs,” Egiba persisted, “that Ishtar would slay with the fire flash of the gems anyone who tries to harm the possessor of it.”

Accid-Adab’s glance shifted around the group.  All eyes were upon him.  His chest swelled at finding himself the center of attention.  “H’m, yes, Raanah has the jewel,” he admitted grudgingly.  “And no man can defy its power,” he boasted.

“How did you find out Raanah had it?” Kihai-Del asked.  “He never speaks of it.”

“A slave in Nippur whispered to me that Raanah had the jewel.  The youth was on the slave market; so I bought him; for no living soul, but this Nippur bondsman and Raanah himself knew that he had it.  Raanah was a small orphan when Rath bought him.  Rath was a man of great wealth.  He loved the boy as his own son and intended to free him, but sickness overcame him suddenly.  Just before he died he slipped the jewel to Raanah.”

“So-o!” Asaph exclaimed, “then the jewel became yours by purchase of the slave.”

“So I contend,” Accid-Adab cried in exasperation.

“Then why not take possession of it?” Kihai-Del asked bluntly.

Accid-Adab’s eyes smoldered resentfully.  “I have demanded it, but he refuses to give it up and shields himself behind Ishtar’s power to smite.”

“And rightly, too,” Egiba declared.  “Why should anybody give away such rare good fortune just because someone asked him for it?”

Isme-Dagan cackled tantalizingly.  “You might as well forget it, Adab.  The wrath of the goddess stands between you and the youth.  You can never skin a leopard till he is dead.”

Accid-Adab’s face grew livid.  “But I will get it somehow!”

“Could it not be stolen from him?” Asaph suggested.

“But what need to have the jewel,” Isme-Dagan twitted “and with it a stretch of bad luck?  Ishtar’s anger is terrible.  The legend clearly says that only upon the death of the owner, or by his gift of the jewel to another, will Ishtar transfer her favors.”

Kihai-Del’s crafty, unmatched eyes lighted up weirdly.  “When we come to Egypt, the youth might offend the Egyptians so they would put him to death.  Then the jewel would by yours by inheritance with Ishtar’s favor thrown in.”

“Eh—“Accid-Adab looked up hopefully.  “Dare the Egyptians hold him roughly?”

Kedar snickered caustically.  “Since they know nothing about Ishtar, nor believe in her, they would.  Besides, they have their own powerful gods to protect them.”

Isme-Dagan groaned as he straightened up on his sluggish legs.  “I should say this old world is wicked enough without any man trying to start a war among gods.  Deliver me from such a holocaust!”

Egiba ducked his head in his hands in mock dismay.  “And should such a war ever take place, oh, let me hide somewhere in a dark cavern!”

Although no word had been spoken of their intention, all afternoon there was a gleam of anticipation in the merchantmen’s eyes and an air of expectancy among the slaves.  Sleek cattle and sheep grazed over the broad plain of the Jordan River through which they travelled and scattered about were herdsmen’s tents, black and squatty; and landholders’ huts, surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, their garden plots fresh and growing.

CHAPTER THREE

Happily, the caravan chanced upon a grove of trees.  Without argument, they made camp and for the first time in weeks, the slaves were ordered to build fires.  The women immediately kneaded bread dough and set it to rise while they prepared a cake batter.  All members had long hungered for the fleshpots and in such a favorable situation they were not to be denied.  Yet, the merchantmen, humanlike, found excuses for their lawlessness.

“Dry bread and dates grow stale to the palate and leave a sour rising in the mouth,” Kihai-Del declared.

“Aye,” Kedar asserted, “a man’s health wanes on monotonous fare and he grows resentful.”

Egiba raised ecstatic eyes to the tree tops.  “Ah—give me a leg of lamb, a tenderloin of yearling, a juicy fowl and fresh vegetables!”  He touched his lips with his finger tips and gave a loud smack.

Isme-Dagan growled from habit, though his eager eyes belied his words.  “Any man can thrive without such dainty food.  There will be danger in despoiling the country.”

Dahmru shivered at the mention of danger, yet was all aflutter with anticipation.

Accid-Adab clinched the matter with irrational heat.  “It will be their own fault if the herders and landholders do not look after their possessions.  Besides, we will be away before dawn when they discover their loss.”

Without more ado, Raanah, the lucky, adept and venturesome, was appointed to lead the raiding party.  As the slaves selected lined up for instructions, they were plainly told that at one bleat of a sheep or squawk of a fowl the owners and dogs would be upon them.  Joseph wanted to go with Raanah, but was ordered to mind the fires.  Acid-Adab felt he was too near his home to be trusted out of sight.

As soon as dusk set in deeply, but before the moon arose, the party started out.  The next hour was an anxious one for the merchantmen.  They paced the camp.  They spoke only in hoarse whispers.  They shivered at the least unusual sound.  Yet, should any trouble arise, they were ready to a man to proclaim their own innocence.

But their tension gradually eased as raiding groups came straggling in with plunder.  Soon all but Raanah were accounted for.  Zerah and Obal reported that after helping them get the fowl, he told them to take the birds into camp. Then he cut across the fields again.  He did not tell them what he had in mind.

A half-hour passed.  The merchantmen became alarmed.  So far they had been lucky that no mishap had occurred.  Now, Raanah’s carelessness might get them into trouble.  They argued as to what he could be up to.

Joseph strode between the fires snapping his fingers.  Several times he stepped to the edge of the glade and whistled softly, but no answer from Raanah eased his fears.

Then, when they had all persuaded themselves that Raanah would have to be ransomed from some indignant landholder, he burst into camp.  He was all aglow with excitement.  His breath was short from running.  His eyes were snapping.  Both arms encircled a large bundle wrapped in a calfskin.

“Are you being chased?” they asked in suspense as they gathered around him.

“No!” he cried to relieve them.  “But see what I have brought you!”  He laid the bundle on the ground, spread the skin open and beamed up at them.

“A gift from the gods!” gasped Egiba.

“Hum—honey!”  Isme-Dagan grinned, poking a finger into the middle of a comb, then sucking it.

The other men pressed forward to sample the delicacy and quickly forgave the youth for the anxiety he had caused them.  Even Accid-Adab’s frigid face relaxed as he sucked on a dirty finger.

“Where did you find it?” Asaph inquired, smacking his lips appreciatively.

“Up the road apiece.”  Raanah was still panting.  “I saw the hives just before we turned into camp.  After we got the fowl, I sent Zerah and Obal back, because I knew the bees would fight them and they would set up a howl.  For myself, I was not afraid.  And not one stinger even lighted on me, although they were angry enough when I lifted the combs from the hives.”  The youth’s eyes were dancing.  He threw back his head and laughed.  “Tomorrow, when the landholder sees the bees swarming, he will wonder what happened to them.”

Already a half-dozen spits were turning.  Their fires were glowing red and the savor of the cooking meats was appetizing enough, they thought, to entice the gods from heaven.  The tradesmen sniffed and could not wait.  The freshly baked bread was still warm.  They broke the loaves apart, spread a hunk of dripping honey, laughed for sheer ecstasy and threw quips at each other between mouthfuls.  Never did anything taste so good.  Then, impatiently, they sliced off the roasted sides of the meats and ate them while the rest cooked deeper within.  For weeks they had longed for such luxuries and now they could not get enough.

Raanah selected several unfingered honey squares, folded them in a napkin and started toward the women’s camp.  He found Bashia bending over the fires, her cheeks rosy from the heat.  Her eyes met his shyly as he placed the bundle in her hands.

“This is rightfully yours,” he told her, “because when I set out for it, my thoughts were of you.  Not that you need honey to make you sweeter,” he teased, though with a feeling that what he said was true.

“Flatterer,” she mocked.  “Now I question your sincerity.  But, please, do not doubt my appreciation for the gift,” she added quickly.  “It is an unusual treat.”

“’Tis only a trifle,” Raanah protested, stunned by her flushed beauty.  He liked her unaffected manner and her voice with its husky undertone.

“Indeed, no,” she contradicted, “yet I must admit that I am more grateful because you are back safely.  You take great chances,” she scolded him lightly.  “Most of the time I am in as much of a stew over you as a kettle of porridge over the fire.”

Raanah was immensely pleased over her solicitude, yet treated the matter with masculine nonchalance.  “But I take no chances–.”  He hesitated.  This was no time to tell her about Ishtar.

“Certainly you do,” she disagreed flatly.  “And this evening you had the entire camp fretting for fear some irate herdsman had pierced you with his dagger or some peeved shepherd had turned you over to the wolf.”

They both laughed.  She dipped a curtsey. “Thank you.”  She was the first to remember that it was not seemly to linger near the women’s quarters.

Most of the night the roasting fires were burning.  Masters and slaves alike napped from sheer fullness, then awoke to feast again.  By morning all were in a heavy stupor and dawn did not awaken them.

But the herders and landholders awoke at daybreak as usual and discovered their losses.  Gathering their helpers, they strode wrathfully into the camp while the company was snoring its loudest.

It was a rude awakening.  Dazed by sleep, the merchantmen emerged from their tents and stood in huddled silence.  Even Egiba could find no adequate words to deny the herdsmen’s charge.  It would have been futile anyway, for the smoldering fires gave mute evidence of their use and the refuse of animal and garden plunder was strewn about the camp.

The chief herder, a fiery Ammonite, exuding physical energy, advanced toward the merchantmen.  He waved a spiked club, made from the bole and roots of a tree.  He was frightening just to look at.  His red hair stood up in coarse shocks and his beard grew raggedly down over his throat and chest.  An unshorn sheepskin hung crosswise on his body, leaving his arms bare.  He looked, as indeed he was, a primitive wild man bent on revenge.

“You must pay,” he roared, “or we will break your bones and leave them for the jackals to clean.”

To the stupefied merchantmen, it was a dire threat.

The shepherd, the landholder and the helpers also waved their vicious looking clubs and shouted their displeasure.  They were all dressed alike and looked as rough and savage as the gaunt dogs that trailed at their heels.

At the sound of the rumpus, Raanah and Joseph arose from their pallets and stood with the others looking on.  But, realizing the seriousness of the occasion, they became alert to its opportunities.  Joseph slipped away unnoticed.  The slaves of the caravan armed themselves with axes and long grass knives and gathered beside the merchantmen.  The herders were a mere handful in comparison and the spirits of the tradesmen arose.

“You spout threats too brazenly,” Asaph’s hawk eyes glared at them.  “It is a rare ranger who knows every animal of his herds.  You cannot prove that what we used was yours, for we are a large company and take along many animals of our own.”  The merchantmen snickered at Asaph’s cleverness.

Knowing themselves to be no match for the shrewd merchantmen in wits, the herdsmen yelled louder and shook their chubs menacingly.

The dry-souled Kedar waved them off.  “Begone, or our slaves will tie you to the trees!”

But the chief herdsmen could not be intimidated by words.  The smirks of the merchantmen fueled his rage.  He beckoned his followers with a jerk of his head and rushed at Accid-Adab as if his dour face especially invited attack.  Raanah sprang between them, but before he could grapple with the assailant, there came a whir through the air.  The Ammonite staggered as if some invisible hand had struck him and crumpled to the ground.  His followers halted in bewilderment beside his prostrate form.  A murmur of amazement arose from the merchantmen.

(Cont. in the next Issue)

A Story of Old Egypt in the Days of Joseph. Used by permission of the Eerdman’s Publ. Co. Grand Rapids, Mich.

 

With the morning, Joseph felt much refreshed.  Before the sun began to color the eastern sky, the caravan turned into the roadway.  Raanah had tallowed Joseph’s feet to harden them; and as the youths swung along briskly at the head of the caravan, their lungs expanding with the crisp air, Raanah burst into his marching song.  His joyousness was contagious.  Joseph’s worries abated and his mind opened to impressions.

For diversion they skimmed pebbles along the road and laughed at the antics of the dogs as they chased them.  They flipped up their daggers to catch them by the handle.  They practiced with their slings.  Because of their early training, both lads were very proficient.

But as the hours piled upon each other, the sun became a ball of fire.  There was little breeze.  Clothing stuck to the sweating bodies of the men.  The animals worked up a lather.  The old dragon slunk along, growling, tense, baring its fangs.

Near noon, they came to a spring which flowed in a narrow stream that wound among the low hills.  Its banks were fringed with bushes and trees.  The tradesmen dismounted and gathered around the spring.

Suddenly, the scream of a woman rose above frantic shrieks from many throats.  So fearful was the outcry that the asses brayed and kicked up their heels.  The dogs barked.  The tradesmen stiffened in frightened bewilderment.

“See—‘tis one of the dogs,” cried Asaph, his aquiline face aghast, his eyes bulging with terror.  “He has sickened at the water.  Run–!”

Confusion spread.  The backbone of the caravan broke instantly.  Some of the cameleers climbed up the legs of their charges.  Others cringed behind them.  Most of the slaves took to their heels.

The merchantmen seemed uncertain what to do.

“Where can a man run?” wailed Egiba.  He danced about in several directions then dropped behind a boulder near the spring.  Damhru tried to shin up a stunted cedar.  Accid-Adab seized Uruk’s loosened saddle to mount and fell, dragging it on top of himself.  Isme-Dagan waded into the stream and stood agape, paddling his toes in the water.

At the outcry, Raanah and Joseph stared for a moment in frozen wonder then instinctively glanced about for a place of safety.  “Quick,” cried Raanah, “let me boost you into this tree.”  Without further thought, they sprang toward it.

The sick dog was running in a circle, unmindful of everything but his misery.  A few bolder slaves hurled short spears at him.  These fell short of their mark and only harassed him.  He broke the circle and darted forward savagely.

Raanah had just helped Joseph into the tree when a scream of terror startled everybody anew.  He whirled about.  It was the girl who had served them the day before.  She had been running toward them when the dog darted forward and she became so frightened that she stood paralyzed before it.

Raanah’s heart sickened with fear for the girl.  The next instant he was at her side.  One of the short spears lay near his feet.  Its point was broken, but he grabbed it.  Thus armed with only a light stick, he stood to defend himself and the girl.  “Run!” he yelled at her roughly to break her trance.  “Run for your life!”

As his voice rang out, the animal turned its greenish eyes upon him and Raanah faced it grimly.

The dog was a huge, lean scavenger, part wolf, part hound and repulsive at all times.  When they skirted a city a short time before, it had attached itself, uninvited, to the caravan.  In health it was a loyal creature and would have defended them, snarling and fighting, to the death.  Now its sick eyes gleamed viciously on friend and foe alike.  Its blood-red tongue was lathered and its tearing teeth were white and sharp.

Yet, danger held no terrors for Raanah.  Rather, he gloried in the excitement.  He knew that his goddess stood beside him.  She would strengthen his arm.  She would prevent the dog from harming him.  Yet, to be a creditable son, he must kill the creature for the safety of others.

As the brute sprang at him growling, he landed a stinging blow on its nose.  It groveled in agony with its snout on the ground, but was up in another moment and at him again, its savage wolf nature fully aroused.  Before it could reach him, Raanah whacked its forelegs and it went down while Raanah jumped nimbly aside.

A smile played upon the youth’s lips.  His eyes were shining and his whole bearing was that of a conqueror sure of victory.  He rained blow upon blow on the beast, exhausting, befuddling it.  He sprang about deftly, his stave ever on guard or thrust like the sword of a fencing master.

Then the unexpected happened.  After landing a stinging blow, the spear snapped.  Without a moment of hesitation, Raanah threw the piece in his hand at the groveling dog and drew his dagger.  The blade looked pitifully frail and short.  It meant a much closer encounter.  The youth would have small chance with such a weapon.  A groan swelled from the watchers.  The girl uttered a piercing cry.  At the sound of her voice, Raanah raised his head as if listening to another voice.  His lips moved and a confident smile played upon them.  Now his goddess would befriend him!

The next instant, the mad brute was up and at him, snarling viciously.  Raanah stood his ground and raised his arm to strike.  A flash of sunlight played upon his dagger blade like lightning, dazzling the eyes of the onlookers.  There was a blur of man and dog in combat.  Seconds later the anxious crowd saw the dog lying on the ground, quivering in the throes of death, with Raanah, panting from his exertions, standing over it.  An “ah” of relief from the crouching company swelled into a loud chorus.

The menace removed, the merchantmen and slaves fluttered from behind their shelters all talking at once and gesticulating.  Raanah and the dead dog quickly became the center of the group.  Joseph was the first to reach him.  He had time only to grasp Raanah’s hand, his eyes glowing, then made way for the merchantmen.

“Bravely done, lad,” Damhru lauded him.

“You have saved some of us from a fearful fate,” Dungri said, while Asaph, Kedar and Kihai-Del crowded forward with fluent words of praise, much to Raanah’s embarrassment.

“That was a plucky fight,” Egiba grinned, slapping Raanah on the shoulder.  He turned to the others.  “The lad has a valiant heart.”

“Indeed, he has,” growled Isme-Dagan, sloshing up with wet feet, for once agreeing with his partner.  “But come, we must look you over for scratches.”

Raanah protested, but with rare good humor, they held him and inspected his arms and legs.

“Not a scratch,” Egiba declared, when they had finished, for once sobered by the near tragedy.  “Surely, the gods must have intervened.  No earthly power could have saved him.”  He winked at the others knowingly.

Accid-Adab, of all the group, held aloof.  His fright and tumble had humbled his pride.  Jealousy and greed smoldered in his crafty eyes.  But he quickly resumed his dignity and authority.  He ordered Calah to pour oil over the dog’s body and burn it so that no bird or beast could eat its flesh.

As soon as Raanah could escape the confusion, he looked about for the girl.  She had gone to the spring with a jug.  She saw him coming and waited so they could be alone.

There was a winning wholesomeness about her sun-kissed face and a musical huskiness in her voice as she spoke.  “I do not know how to thank you.”

“Please say no more of it,” Raanah begged, flushed and pleased.  Then noting her shyness, a teasing mood touched with gallantry inspired him.  “You were vocal enough when the dog took after you,” he grinned.  “And if you had not shrieked so loudly, I could say that you were like wildflower, tossing frantically in the wind, yet helplessly rooted to the soil.”

“No!”  Her eyes were dancing.  “I was a motionless icicle.  There was no feeling in me.  I became human when you yelled at me so fiercely and ran because I was more afraid of you than the dog.”  They both laughed.

“Oh, but you fought the creature splendidly,” she praised him.  “I could not tear my eyes away for admiration, yet I became an icicle again with fear for you.”  She had sobered through the intensity of her emotion, but Raanah was still smiling.  She lowered her eyes.  For some reason, they refused to meet his bolder gaze.

“Tell me your name,” he begged, wishing to prolong the conversation.

“Bashia,” she answered briefly.

“Bashia.” He repeated it slowly as if savoring a morsel.  “It is a pretty name.”  Then he added grinning, “But not prettier than the maid who bears it.”

It was the girl’s turn to flush and her eyes glowed like twin stars before she lowered her lashes.  Raanah thought he had never seen a lovelier young woman.  Although her dress hung in loose folds, it did not hide the slender grace of her figure.  Her hair was like a halo and soft ringlets touched her forehead.  But it was the mystic spirituality of her dark eyes that most attracted him—when she would let him see them.

While they were talking, she set down the jug and her hands fluttered nervously with her girdle.  He noticed that although brown, they were well cared for and had not been calloused by hard work; and he knew by the shapely lines of her head and shoulders that she was descended from generations of aristocrats.

“You were not born to slavery?” he began by way of opening up channels of information.

She shook her head and her face sobered as if there was some deep sorrow in her heart.

“Tell me,” he urged, “where did you live?”

“In Nineveh.”  Then she explained.  “My father grazed many herds, but he died a few months ago and his brother desired our wealth, so he sold my two older brothers and myself into slavery.”

“Was there no one to protect you from him?”

“No, our uncle was our only relative and he was made guardian over us.  Our mother died when we were all small.”

Bashia’s eyes grew moist and a little tragic.  “Where my brothers were sent, I shall never know.”  She fell silent, then gave Raanah a wistful smile.  “But I should not depress you with my doleful story.”

“But you—to whom–?” Raanah persisted, his face grown grave, for he had heard much talk of the evil ways of men.

“Oh, I was fortunate.  I was bought by Dahmru as maid to his wife.  They are very good to me and let me keep my amah.  The old woman is a prophetess and Dahmru and his wife are pleased.

“Water!” a merchantman yelled.  “I am coming,” Bashia answered.  She smiled at Raanah, picked up the jug and ran to serve the men.

Raanah looked after her admiringly, his heart stirring in an unusual and peculiar way.

To be continued.

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