Wheat in Egypt
W. G. HARDY
HE SAT in splendor on a chair of ebony inlaid with ivory and gold. Behind him a Nubian, white eyeballs rolling in the polished black of his face, held up a widespread fan of ostrich plumes in hands that trembled. At his side stood Shepser. Keeper of the Treasury, and Intef, the scribe. lntef’s secret smile of satire was carved as in marble on his face. But Shepser cowered back into himself and darted quick and fearful glances at the shouting mob that had so suddenly irrupted into the pillared 1 fall of Judgment.
"They are all here,” he quavered; “the tillers of the soil whom you would not meet though they came from far distances to see you, and the stonemasons and the potters and the makers of rojx's and sandals. \\ hat are we to do, O Joseph?”
Joseph did not answer. Proud chin uplifted, eyes narrow under his jewelled headdress, he watched the clamoring throng press hard against the slender barrier of scannen at the foot of the dais on which he sat.
"Bread, () (Jutlander.” they shouted. "Give us bread.” He stared track at them arrogantly. Was he not Grand Steward to the Pharaoh? Who were these scourings of the streets of Memphis, these tillers of the fields along the green serpent of the Nile, to bandy words with him? Why should they lay it to his charge that depression brooded over Egypt like a black cloud that did not lift?
But even as he thought this he was conscious of Intef’s smile, and it came back to him that six moons ago he, Joseph, had txvn a slave and had lain in prison. Now. by the whim of the Pharaoh, he sat as Lord of Egypt. Yet the proud nobles disdained him and the common folk cried out against him. Let him make but one false step, let the Pharaoh turn his face from him. and the nobles would pounce on him like hunting dogs ujxin a wounded bird. And of late, he remembered, the Pharaoh had begun to look at him with sidelong eyes. Aye. if he did not heal this sick disease of Egypt, if he could not quell this frenzied mob and the other mobs that raged throughout the land of Egypt, he would fall as a pile of blocks tumbles. Alone, a Hebrew, a man who had been a slave how, he wondered, would the Pharaoh look on him when he went to make rejxirt to him?
He lifted his chin and stared the more fiercely at the milling crowd. And then a burly man leaped out before them.
"Who is this Joseph. O men of Egypt?” he called, tossing up outspread, clutching fingers. "Is it not he who crept from the bed of Potiphar into the Pharaoh’s favor? Did he not promise but two moons since that all should prosper and have work in Egypt? J et we perish.” He turned to face
Joseph and flung up across the barrier of spearmen:
"Work, O 1 febrew. Work or bread.”
At the word “bread” the mob shouted in answer and surged forward against the thin line of soldiers.
"Bread,” they clamored.
“They will tear us into pieces,” Shepser cried tremulously. "Rise up and make them promises, O Steward to the Pharaoh.”
“Aye.” lntef said, and did not trouble to hide the sneer. "Are not promises cheaper than the dust that blows through the streets of Memphis? Feed them on the chaff of empty promises,
Joseph looked at him angrily. He stood up.
"Clear the hall.” he called out to the captain of the guard.
An angry roar went up from the tangled crowd.
‘The spearmen are too few,” Shepser cried, catching Joseph by the arm. “The mob will overwhelm them.”
Joseph flung off his hand.
“Clear the hall.” he called again.
“THE CAPTAIN, a brisk, soldierly man, saluted briefly.
I Turning, he raiser! his hand in a sweeping signal. The curtains that stretched across the hall on either side the dais fell back, and archers stcxxl there in serried rows, bows ready, arrows on the string. The mob. caught in its forward, angry rush, ixiused for a startled instant. Joseph permitted himself a glance at his counsellors. Shepser’s mouth was oixrn in mingled relief and amazement. But the cold, secret smile still lingered on Intef’s face. With an impatient gesture. Joseph turned and spoke to the mob that was already cowering backward.
“Hear me,” he cried resonantly, “ye rioters in the Judgment Hall of Joseph. If ye have grievances, choose out two from your number and two only to s|xak with me. But now, ye scum, ye less than nothing, haste ye from out this hall.
Else, by all your gods, I will loose yon arrows into your shrinking flesh.”
For an instant the mob stared back at him. Then, breaking into cries of fear, they turned in a mad rush to the door, jostling, thrusting, trampling each other underfoot. Joseph smiled a thin-lipped smile and sat down.
"And now,” lntef said, “that you have shown yourself a strong man, a man with bowels of brass and will of stone, what further will you do, O Joseph? For the cloud of depression still broods over Egypt.”
“Am I a god,” Joseph answered irritably, “to bring prosperity back to Egypt?”
"For two years.” lntef went on inexorably, “holy Nile has risen beyond its wont so that the land has given of its fruits a thousandfold. Is not wheat as dirt in Egypt, so plentiful it is? Yet the peasants are sunk in poverty and the laborers of Egypt are idle. Strange it is that the people starve in the midst of plenty.”
“Am I the Lord God,” Joseph demanded, "to hold back the rising of the Nile?”
“Yet remember,” Shepser broke in, “that Hapsu-neheb,
he who was Steward before you, was cast from his place because he could find no healing for the blight that destroys Egypt.'”
“And,” Intef added in his detached voice, “the proud nobles of Egypt watch you. Is not Potiphar, who hates you, still captain of the Pharaoh’s guard?”
Joseph flung himself back in his chair. Egypt, this depression, the shifting Pharaoh, Potiphar and the wife of Potiphar, that ancient quarrel . . . For an instant he wished himself not Joseph, Steward to the Pharaoh, Joseph before whom all men bowed to hide the hatred in their eyes, but Joseph, a beardless lad herding the goats again on the stony hills of Canaan.
Intef broke in upon his reverie.
“The rabble,” he told him, “have sent in two men to speak with you.”
IT WAS the familiar story of poverty and depression that I the older man of the two. a man wrinkled like a mummy with age and toil, told to him. But Joseph seemed scarcely to heed him. Instead, he stared balefully at the other man,
the thick-thewed man who had just cried out to the mob.
“None,” the old man quavered, “will buy of the wheat we grow. We have no money, O Lord of Egypt. Yet. none tHe less, the tax gatherers of the Pharaoh and the collectors of the nobles press hard upon us. Our lands and our sheep and our cattle they have taken from us. Yet our debts grow no smaller. So now they beat us with stripes and sell our children for slaves. Aye, we are as dogs.”
“Your debts are just?” Joseph demanded.
The old man spread out his hands.
“Then, what am I to do?”
The burly, thick-thewed man spoke out;
“Hold back the tax gatherers of the Pharaoh.” he growled. “Set the hand of firmness on the wealthy nobles, they that milk the land of Egypt as a man drains the last drop from the udder of a goat. Blot out our debts.”
“The man is mad,” Shepser exclaimed before Joseph could answer. “How can we govern if we have no taxes? And the wealthy ones of Egypt—set a finger on them and you will stop the flow of trade. Besides, the treasury of the Pharaoh is in debt to them.”
HIS FIERCE WORDS brought .Joseph back from liis thoughts; brought back, too. the accumulated worry and trouble of the morning and of the weeks that were past. He sat up. Anger flooded his cheeks.
"How now, dog,” he thundered. “Do you threaten me?”
1 larkhuf stepjx-d back.
“Nay,” he said. “I do but speak truth.”
“A bitter pill,” Intef said casually, “for them that rule.”
Anger and irritation and worry seemed to well up in Joseph, to fill his brain to bursting, to turn to a deadly calm. I íe stood up.
“I will show you,” he said in a level voice to Intef, “how to rule.” He turned to the captain of His guard. “Seize this dog,” lie commanded.
Two spearmen laid hold on I larkhuf. 11 is companion, the older man. fell on his face, crying for mercy. But Harkhuf. after an instant's struggle. st<x>d quiet and looked at Joseph.
“Thou canst slay me,” he said dauntlesslv. “Canst thou thus heal Egypt?”
Joseph stared down at him, frowning, conscious of Intef's smile, conscious, t<x>, of a war within himself. W hat tins man said was true. But then, the worry, the ceaseless irritation of the past weeks why should he, Joseph, lxever baited like a lx*ar tied to a stake? liis face hardened. He raised his arm to pronounce judgment on I larkhuf and saw a stir at the d<xir. A man in strijx*d and colored headcloth. a stave in his hand, had come in.
“A messenger,” Intef breathed and the smile was gone from liis face, “a messenger from the Pharaoh this early?” Joseph dropped his arm. He left Harkhuf standing there, and his face as he turned to the messenger was very watchful.
“Hail.” the messenger said. “The I haraoh bids thee to a meeting of council.”
Continued on page 37
“Aye,” Intef commented dryly, “do not listen to the madman, Joseph. For he would destroy the hallowed sanctities of debts and taxes.”
"Be silent,” Joseph bade them angrily. He looked down at the man. "Did I not see you brawling in this hall not long since? What is your name, dog?”
"Harkhuf, of the guild of the stonemasons,” the man answered sullenly. “1 speak for them that labor with their hands.”
“Ye do not grow the wheat,” Joseph said. “Why do ye, Lx>, clamor at my doors?”
“The peasants,” Harkhuf answered, “cannot buy the goods we make.” lie glanced at Shepser. “Stop the flow of trade,” he quoted bitterly. “I tell you there is no trade. We have no work and we starve, we and our children. Yet they press upon us for debts and taxes. The wheat clogs the life of Egypt.”
Joseph did not seem to heed him. He was leaning back in his chair, his anger forgotten for the moment.
“If wheat,” he muttered, “if wheat had its price again.”
"Aye,” Harkhuf said eagerly, “an’ you will not blot out our debts, take from the treasury of the Pharaoh and set a fixed price on wheat.”
Shepser Hung up his hands. "This madman thinks,” he cried, "that the i reasui v of the 1 ’haraoh is a never-failing well.”
“Then take," Harkhuf Hung back at him, “the stored up wealth of the nobles of Egypt. the wealth that they have squeezed from out our lalx>r and our suffering. Do they not grow richer while |x»verty grips us by the throat ?”
Shepser thrust at him with his head as if he would have st ruck him.
“You sjx'ak treason,” he said. “You shall lx* beaten.”
"Not thus,” Harkhuf replied fiercely, “will you cure Egypt. Already there are riots in the streets of Memphis. Ere* long the flame of revolt will blaze through Egypt. Beware of that day. And do you, t<x), beware, O Joseph, tx*ware the day when the |x*ople take by force the stored-up wealth that is theirs by right.”
Continued from page 9
Joseph stood weighing a thousand chances in his brain. It was Intef who asked:
"Who sits at council with the Pharaoh this early in the day?”
"Potiphar is there,” the messenger replied, “and Hapsu-neheb who was aforetime Grand Steward of Egypt.”
Potiphar and Hapsu-neheb, his enemies! As in a trance, Joseph raised his hand in dismissal. He watched the messenger go. Shepser, he saw, was hurrying from the hall. The Pharaoh was turning his face from him. He stood alone. Nay, he saw with a surge of thankfulness that Intef still waited beside him.
"Never before,” Intef said gravely, “has the Pharaoh bade you to council this early, ere the morning was past.”
“And but yesterday,” Intef went on, "there were tumults in the broad Street of the Jewellers and the people cried outagainst the Pharaoh and against you. Danger waits, O Joseph.”
Joseph paced away, pondering. He came back to Intef and looked deep into his eyes.
“Your tongue is sharp,” he said. “Y'et of all those about me, you are the only one in whom I can put trust.” He drew a ring from his finger. "Here,” he said, “is the signet of the Pharaoh. And in my palace by the Nile are soldiers I have hired—Shardana with mighty swords and great-thewed Libyans from the fens. Yet Potiphar is captain of the Pharaoh’s guard and his soldiers encompass the palace.”
Intef nodded. He took the ring.
"I understand,” he said.
Joseph watched him leave the hall. He drew in a long breath and made ready to go.
“And what,” demanded the captain of his guard, "am I to do with this rebel dog? Slay him or beat him with stripes?”
Joseph looked at the old man grovelling on the floor and at Harkhuf’s pale and stubborn face. With a weary wave of his arm he said :
“Loose him and let him go.”
ALL THE WAY to the Pharaoh’s palace ^ Joseph had pondered his problems, the problems that he must solve to keep his place with the Pharaoh. Wheat, the overabundant, the exuberant wheat of Egypt— how was he to give back its price to wheat? And how was he to meet the hatred of Potiphar and Hapsu-neheb, and make his uncertain place with the Pharaoh secure?
Yet, when he had come through the inner garden and had reached the door of the Pharaoh’s council chamber, his pose was proud and confident, his mind was swift, alert. Brushing by the spearmen of Potiphar at the entrance, he lifted the curtain and stepped within. His eyes swept the room. Hapsu-neheb with his face of a fox and Potiphar, standing grim and dour. Others, too, Zoser whose caravans went up through Sinai to Canaan and beyond, Hotep whose painted galleys thronged the seaports of Egypt, and Mereneptah, lord of the Upper Nile. Zoser and Hotep. he reflected briefly, he might win over to his plan: the plan that had leaped into his mind, so obvious, so simple that he wondered that no one had thought of it before. But the others—he bowed himself humbly and spoke to the weary, petulant face of the Pharaoh:
“Thy servant, O Keeper of the Two Lands; thy slave, O Wearer of the Double Crown.”
“You were long in coming,” the Pharaoh stated.
“There was a clamor in my Hall of Judgment.”
“Aye,” the Pharaoh answered, frowning, “and they tell me that Memphis seethes with tumult. Yet”—he leaned forward balefully —“did you not promise me that all Egypt would prosper and that all men would call me blessed?”
Joseph saw that already the Pharaoh’s mind was poisoned against him. Yet he knew that he could turn the Pharaoh. His
plan would change the man. Shifting as sand. But he looked at the grim face of Potiphar. Before launching his plan he must gain time, time for Intef.
“Surely,” he said, smiling urbanely, “so many men of wisdom have found a road to prosperity for Egypt.”
Potiphar looked at him blackly and Hapsu-neheb smiled his subtle smile. Mereneptah spoke, not to Joseph but to the Pharaoh :
“Let there be, O Majesty,” the proud old noble said, “great works started — a; pyramid, it might be, or a dam to hold back the rising of the Nile. Thus shall there be ¡ work for all, and those who are discontented will be herded into camps where the soldiers ! may keep watch over them.”
Zoser shifted his heavy paunch.
“The scheme has merit in it,” he rumbled. “Yet who will bear the cost?” Hapsuneheb enquired silkily. “Perchance you, Zoser, and you, Hotep, will give of your treasure for the good of Egypt?”
Zoser shook his head, and Hotep, the cadaverous, the pious, snuffled :
“Nay, already has this depression cut our profits to nothing. Do not my ships lie idle in the harbor? Nay, let the treasury of the Pharaoh bear the cost.”
The Pharaoh struck his clenched hand on the arm of his chair.
“The treasury of the Pharaoh,” he exclaimed angrily, “already it is in debt to Zoser and to Hotep. Nay, find out some other plan. What counsel you, Zoser?”
The shrewd eyes of Zoser were half closed.
“There is a glut of wheat in Egypt,” he said. “Let us ask the princes of Syria and Phoenicia to take of our wheat and put a tax on that from other lands. So might the channels of trade be opened up.”
“And the caravans of Zoser would travel at a profit.” Hapsu-neheb commented. “Yet why do we dally thus?” He turned to Joseph. “Is not yonder Hebrew,” lie; sneered, “Steward to the Pharaoh? What is his counsel?”
“THEY ALL LOOKED at Joseph. He felt I the Pharaoh’s eyes on him, questioning. He glanced about him. Was that a shuffling of feet without the curtains at the door? I íe could not be sure.
“Wheat,” he said, temporizing, “must have its price again. If the gods would but hold back the rising of the Nile—”
“The gods,” Hapsu-neheb interrupted strongly. “How shall one who is an Outlander approach the gods of Egypt?” He turned to the Pharaoh as a murmur of approval met his words. “I tell thee, O Pharaoh,” he said, “that the gods of Egypt are angry because an Outlander, a Hebrew, is set over Egypt. Beware lest they take vengeance on us.”
Joseph saw the Pharaoh shrink back on his throne. He remembered suddenly how prone the Pharaoh was to superstition. There was danger here, danger that might sweep him, Joseph, from power.
“Who knows,” he cried, stepping forward before the Pharaoh could speak, “by what name the gods would best be called? Perchance, my god, even Yahweh, is but another seeming for Amon-Ra.”
The Pharaoh looked at him, his face a mirror of irresolution. Hapsu-neheb rose to his feet, but Joseph stopped him.
“I have a plan.” he exclaimed, “a plan that will save Egypt. Naught matters but the wheat. Give wheat its price again and Egypt will prosper. Am I not right, Zoser.-'” Zoser nodded cautiously.
“Then,” said Joseph, “let the Pharaoh take a fifth of the wheat of Egypt and seal it in great storehouses. Thus shall all the surplus of the wheat be put away as if it had never grown. The wheat that is left will have its price again, and all Egypt will prosper and men will call the Pharaoh blessed.”
“The treasury,” Hapsu-neheb began.
But Joseph saw that the Pharaoh’s face was bright and eager. Exultation filled him. He had won back the Pharaoh.
"No price." he swept on, "shall the Pharaoh pay for the fifth of the wheat. So shall the treasury lxsafe. And," he added slyly, looking at Zoser and Hotep, "a man who knew of this plan beforehand could make a great profit.”
Zoser and 1 lotep nodded in approval. The Pharaoh rose from his throne.
“Verily,” he cried, "Amon-Ra himself hath breathed wisdom into the heart of Joseph. He and none other shall lx* my Steward.”
Potiphar glared at Joseph like a figure carved of stone. 1 lapsu-neheb said :
“Yet, the gcxls
“Be silent.” the Pharaoh commanded. "What healing did your wisdom bring to Egypt?”
Hapsu-neheb folded his hands together and bowed low. But suddenly Potiphar strode forward, black and dour, and Joseph caught his breath. “Beware of Potiphar."
"Nay, O Pharaoh,” Potiphar growled, "we will not lx: silent. Too long has this stranger, this seducer, ruled over Egypt. This very day shall he lx* cast down.”
Fury blazed into the Pharaoh’s eyes. He raised his hand angrily. But Potiphar sjxike again and his words were dark and weighted, like stones dropping into the waters of some deep and secret well.
"Am 1 not captain of the Pharaoh’s guard? Are not my soldiers sworn to my service? Do they not wait behind yon curtain?”
The Pharaoh lowered his hand slowly. "Do you," he whispered, “threaten me who am Pharaoh?”
“Ere now.” Potiphar replied grimly, "Pharaohs have met their fate because they would not hearken to the captains of their guard.”
The threat was plain; and Hapsu-neheb pressed forward.
"Aye.” he snarled. “Too long has this upstart held sway over Egypt. 1 am one with Potiphar. Give him into our hands or else there will lxa new Pharaoh in Egypt.”
“THE PHARAOH looked about him I helplessly.
"Zoser 1 lotep Mereneptah?” he cried. They made no move. The Pharaoh sank back into his chair, staring at Potiphar’s menacing bulk.
"You see. Joseph,” he whispered.
Joseph had seen Intef enter noiselessly and take his stand within the curtains. He turned to the Pharaoh
"Give me into their hands, O Mighty One,” he challenged. "Bid Potiphar call in his guards.”
"Call them in, Potiphar,” the Pharaoh said heavily. "Joseph, it seems. 1 must give up to you. Yet when the reckoning "My vengeance.” Potiphar interrupted, "will make me strong.”
But as he turned, he saw Intef standing there. For an instant he stared at him, and then, in a burst of puzzled anger, shouted for his guard. At his call soldiers came through the curtains, and the light flickered on their spearpoints and on their mighty swords. Hapsu-neheb cried out and Potiphar fell back a step.
“These,” he stammered, “are not my soldiers.”
“Even now," Joseph explained softly, watching him, "your soldiers quell a tumult in the streets of Memphis, that turbulent city. Am I not right, Intef?”
"But how . ?” Potiphar began.
"IX) I not,” Joseph answered slowly, "bear the signet of the Pharaoh? And should not the soldiers of the Steward of Egypt guard the palace of the Pharaoh?” Potiphar’s uncertainty left him. Unsheathing his sword, he broke it across his knee and flung the pieces clattering to the floor.
"Do with me,” he growled, "as you will." And, folding his arms, he stood, blackbrowed and dour. But Hapsu-neheb. after one frozen moment of terror, ran to fling himself at the Pharaoh's feet.
“Mercy,” he cried. “Grant me mercy.”
The Pharaoh rose, his face dark with cruelty.
"I give you.” he said, "into the hands of Joseph to lead to death, you and Potiphar. And the wheat of Egypt I put into the hands of Joseph to do with as he wills.”
JOSEPH STOOD at the window of his J ; «il a ce. To his left, beyond the feathered palms and the tall reeds was the Nile, and before him stretched the green fields toward Memphis. Joseph stared out over them. Five years had passed that day when Potiphar and Hapsu-neheb had come upon their doom; five years since he had taken the wheat of Egypt into his hands. At first, when he had stored up the surplus, the price of wheat had rushed upward and there had been a feverish burst of prosperity. But the next year and the next the Nile had risen high and the mass of the stored-up wheat grew and grew. Nor could Joseph sell it, either in Egypt or in the lands outside Egypt. All over the world there was a glut of wheat. So. now, after five years, wheat was again as cheap as dirt and the depression had returned three-fold.
"If I could but rid myself of this stored-up wheat," Joseph muttered, and glanced for an instant at Harkhuf and Intef sitting in gloomy silence around the table of citron wood. They could not help him though Intef was shrewd, though Harkhuf had become a great power among the common folk of Egypt. Joseph turned back to the window and thought of what he had seen in his last journey through Egypt—the shops closed, the peasants in hopeless poverty, bands of masterless men in the fields robbing w'here they could and running when they must, and in the great cities sullen throngs listening to orators who shrieked that they must take up spear and sword, must sweep away the Hebrew and all his works.
They did not remember. Joseph reflected bitterly, that he had done for them all he could. Had he not begun great roads and dams to give them work, until Zoser and Hotep refused him money? And he had given out sheep and cattle for breeding until now cattle and sheep were as plentiful and as worthless as wheat. He had left no plan untested. But the wheat stopped him. Each year it grew, rank and tall. Each year the unused fkxxl of it poured into the storehouses. Wheat ! At times he dreamed that he was stifling in it. drowning in its fire-red mass.
"Some way to rid myself of it,” Joseph muttered again.
Behind him Harkhuf questioned:
“What of this conference, this meeting of the princes from Babylon and Syria and Phoenicia, that was heralded to be salvation for Egypt?”
Joseph did not heed him. Out of the garden had come the sound of a woman’s voice singing. Asenath. daughter to Potipherah. high-priest of On and keeper of the ancient wisdom of Egypt, whom he had taken to wife in the first days of his success
how gracious she was. how lovely. His eyes were adream as he listened. Intef stole a glance at him and smiled satirically at 1 larkhuf.
"Are you so childish,” he asked, “as to think that this will bring aid to the poor of Egypt? Each prince strives to win some advantage for his country and himself. Preferences we have for the glassware and the linen and the toy crocodiles of Egypt that open their jaws when children pull a string. Cedar we will bring in from Lebanon and nowhere else, and grant preferences to enamel of Babylon and to purple dye from Phoenicia and to jesters and dwarves from Ethiopia. But as for the wheat, no one will have aught of it. Like a mighty mountain the gathered wheat presses down on Egypt. Preferences ! We will pay more for the g(xxls from foreign lands. Zoser and Hotep will grow the richer, and the poor of Egypt poorer. A child can see it."
The lilting song had ceased. Joseph turned from the window wondering what would happen to Asenath if he were swept from power. He heard Harkhuf growl.
“Not for long can I keep the workers
quiet. They starve and go naked, and see Zoser and Hotep and their like clad in fine linen and eating from platters of gold and silver. Can Joseph not do something?”
JOSEPH WALKED over to the table and, putting his hands on it, leaned on it heavily.
"Zoser and Hotep have the money,” he said. “They, not I, rule Egypt. Can the people not comprehend?”
"The people,” Harkhuf answered reluctantly, “blame the one they see. They will rise and crush you, Joseph. Can you not blot out the load of debts? Or raise the prices of goods so that the price of wheat, t(x), will rise? Or take the money and stamp it at twice its value so that there will be double the amount?”
Joseph laughed bitterly.
"All this and more,” he replied, “I have asked of Zoser and Hotep. They will not listen. They bid me reduce wages yet again and to tell the people to scrape their dishes cleaner when they eat.”
“Then,” Harkhuf exclaimed, jumping to his feet, “ere long the streets of Memphis will run with blood.”
“What is this talk of blood?” a calm voice asked.
Joseph kx)ked up. Poti-pherah, his frail hands quiet, his parchment face calm, had come into the room.
“Harkhuf has come to tell me, O my father,” he answered, “that the people will rise and sweep me from power. And I can do nothing. My hands are chained.” He held them out. “See, Zoser is the lock on one and Hotep on the other. And over my head hangs the mountain of the stored-up wheat.” He turned away. “Ah, if I could but blot out the wheat, then I might win free.”
“Last year,” Harkhuf remarked, “you bade the peasants sow less wheat.”
"And each one in secret,” Intef commented, “strove to sow more than his neighbor.”
"I have said it before.” Harkhuf burst out. “I say it again. Bum this stored-up wheat. What good is it? We do not need it for food. And while it rests in the great storehouses wheat can have no price. Aye, and burn the surplus of the wheat each year.”
Joseph paced away, pondering.
"On wind and rain and weather,” Potipherah remarked, "and not on the plans of men depends the wheat. Did you know that there is drouth in Ethiopia?”
Joseph did not seem to hear him. But Intef looked up sharply.
“Drouth in Ethiopia?” he questioned.
“Once in the days of old,” Poti-pherah went on calmly, “there was drouth in Ethiopia, so holy Nile did not rise.” Joseph turned sharply. "And.” Poti-pherah concluded. “there was famine in Egypt.”
“Famine in Egypt,” Intef exclaimed, rising to his feet. “Poti-pherah knows the secret lore of Egypt, Joseph. And within a fortnight is the rising of the Nile. But if Nile rises not—”
"If Nile does not rise,” Joseph repeated. He wheeled on Harkhuf. "It is a chance,” he cried. “Can you keep the people quiet for a little space?”
Harkhuf shook his head dubiously.
"If famine comes.” Joseph pleaded, “he who holds the stored-up wheat will hold Egypt in the hollow of his hand. Zoser and Hotep will not escape me then. Grant me a little time.”
“A little time,” Harkhuf agreed, “I will win for you.”
T WAS three years later. No longer were I the fields about Memphis rich with the green of springing wheat and barley, or bright with the luxuriant verdure of the vine. The very Nile itself was a hlthy trickle, and the caked mud of its encroaching banks stank with rotting fish and the decaying bulk of crocodile and river horse. For in these years Nile had not risen and the land was dry and parched and barren. Famine hovered over Egypt, and all over the land the soldiers of Joseph stood by the great storehouses, and the scribes of Joseph
doled out the gathered wheat of the years of plenty; and the people of Egypt crawled before them. The poor brought tickets of burnt clay to show that they had worked where and when Joseph willed. But the rich emptied out their treasures, and when their money and their jewels were gone they bartered their lands and their houses and their slaves to Joseph for the life-giving wheat. And when Joseph drove along the streets of Memphis the folk bowed down and said:
“Lo, there is Joseph—Joseph who holds the bread of life Joseph who is as a god in Egypt.”
So, on this morning when the sun blazed hot in a pitiless sky, Joseph sat proud and confident in his Hall of Judgment in Memphis. Intef and Harkhuf stood behind him, and before him the wealthy nobles clustered about Zoser and Hotep and looked up at him in fear and anger.
"Never again,” Hotep wailed, “will men loan money if you dishonor debts and contracts, Joseph.”
“Never again.” Joseph answered, "will there be need of loans and money in Egypt.” Zoser spat violently on the tesselated floor.
“What of the untold wealth,” he asked, “that I and Hotep loaned to the treasury in the days of the depression? You will, at least, give us of the wheat in return for it?” “The wealth you loaned,” Harkhuf broke in, “was garnered from the sweat and the suffering of the people of Egypt. Why should Egypt pay it back?”
Joseph silenced him with a gesture.
“I have said.” he pointed out calmly, “that all debts are cancelled. If you would eat of the wheat, have you not lands and slaves and palaces?”
Zoser stared up at him, speechless with anger. But a young noble, face dark and intense, pushed forward.
“The common folk,” he cried, “are already in thrall to you. Will you make us, the nobles, your slaves as well?”
“Be silent. Rames.” Hotep pleaded.
"I will not be silent.” Rames answered. “When we have bartered all our possessions then he will demand our bodies. We, the nobles of Egypt, shall all be slaves to this dog of a Hebrew—this dog who holds the wheat that we must have to live.”
Joseph leaned back.
“There is now,” he said calmly, “no wheat in Egypt save the wheat that is massed in my storehouses. And there are many who would buy that wheat. In Canaan and beyond there is famine. Aye, there are many who will buy the wheat if you do wish it.”
“Do not drive us too far,” Rames flung up at him. “We are desperate men.”
"The soldiers of Joseph,” Intef remarked casually, "are fed fat on food and wine and women. They follow Joseph alone.”
“And the common folk,” Harkhuf added, “worship him as a god.”
Zoser had been regarding Rames covertly. He made an almost imperceptible gesture to him and turned to Joseph.
“Tell us.” he said in a voice that he forced to reasonableness, “what you will do with Egypt.”
Joseph rose and came down a step on the dais.
“I see a new Egypt,” he said, “a state where there will be neither rich nor poor, but where all men shall be equal and all the land and the houses and the wealth shall belong to the Pharaoh.”
“And the Pharaoh,” Zoser sneered, coming closer, Rames at his elbow, “is Joseph.” "The Pharaoh,” Joseph said to him coldly, “shall parcel out the land and the wealth at rental to whom he will. If you like it not. there are other lands than Egypt. Or, perchance, those who trouble Egypt will be cast forth from Egypt.”
They seemed to quail before his gaze. With a shrug of his shoulders Joseph turned to ascend the dais. He heard a shout from Harkhuf and whirled round. Rames was leaping on him with upraised dagger. Joseph sprang back, tripped on the step and fell sprawling. Prostrate, he saw above him the
dark, impassioned face of Rames and his upflung weapon. He had time to think with curious detachment that this was the end of all his planning, of all the power that the wheat had brought him; and then Rames’s face disappeared and feet trampled over him. When Joseph rose he saw that it was Intef who had saved him, thrusting Rames away as the dagger was about to fall. Now Rames lay in a pool of his own blood and the nobles were huddled together, the guard around them. Joseph adjusted his headdress.
“Let Zoser,” he said, “be led to prison. As for the rest, cast them forth from Egypt.”
ONCE MORE the Nile rose full and strong and once more the fields of Egypt were lush and green. In the streets of Memphis the tradesmen cried their wares lustily and from the tiny shops came the clink-clink of the goldsmiths’ hammers and the harsh rasp of saws and the songs of the potters as they spun their wheels. And down the broad Street of the Jewellers footmen in colored headcloths ran and cried:
“Way for Joseph. Way for the blessed of Heaven.”
Heavier Joseph was with the years and his hair was greying at the temples. But his face was calm with the calmness of assured power, and he drew himself up to receive the plaudits of the people.
“Who is this Joseph?” a stranger with the pigtail and the beaked nose of the Hittites questioned, looking at the chariot of ivory and gold and the high-stepping steeds that drew it, “that they cheer so loud?”
His neighbor, an old man with shrunken face and ragged robes, looked at him sideways.
“Do you not know?” he asked. “He is a Hebrew who is Lord of Egypt.”
“How should a Hebrew come to power?” “He is a man of wheat.”
“You speak in riddles.”
“Nay. In the days when wheat was as plentiful as dirt and when Joseph had stored up the surplus, I have seen curses flung at him in this street—aye. and stones.”
“Nay, not strange. For Nile did not rise and famine came. So Joseph, who held the stored-up wheat, crushed the nobles and became sole master in the land. Aye, on wind and rain and weather depends success.”
“And now?” the Hittite asked, staring after the chariot.
The old man laughed, a dry and cackling laugh.
“Now.” he said, “now that the nobles are shattered and all debts are cancelled and the wheat grows and all the surplus of it is used up and trade flows full like a river, now Joseph is even strong enough to open his prison doors. Aye, he is truly master. Only i he who cannot be overthrown shows mercy.” ;
The chariot had turned the comer. The cheering became faint and distant. The Hittite turned to the old man and looked at him piercingly.
“You seem to know much,” he remarked, “about this man of wheat. What is your name?”
The old man glanced about him fearfully. He came closer.
“Once,” he said, “my caravans went up through Canaan to the land of the Hittites. Aye, once I was rich and powerful.”
“Your name?” the Hittite asked.
“Zoser,” the old man whispered and, as if the name frightened him. scuttled away.
The Hittite looked after him frowning.
“Zoser,” he muttered. “Rich and powerful.” He shook his head. “He dreams. But ¡ this Joseph—this Hebrew, this man of wheat ...”
With decisive steps he started down the street in the direction in which the chariot had gone.