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The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller


The voices of the storm found harmonious tones of different pitch and swelled in glorious accord from the faintest breath of melody to an almighty blast that stunned the senses with stupendous harmony. Then the chord seemed to melt and lose itself in the wild dissonances of the hurricane.

The turmoil of Israel began to subside, growing fainter, ceasing among the ranks nearest the sea, failing toward the rear, dying away like a sigh up and down the long encampment. The people that had been on their knees rose slowly. The bleating of the flocks quieted into stillness. Commotion ceased and Israel held its breath.

The Lawgiver had passed from among them, and those that followed him with their eyes saw that he was moving toward the sea, seemingly at the very limit of the outer radiance and still going on. First to one and then to another, it became apparent that the extent of the illuminated beach was widening. Hither and thither over the multitude the intelligence ran, in whispers or by glances. Having showed his neighbor each looked again. Ripple-worn sand, shells, barnacle-covered rocks, slowly came within the pale of the radiance and Moses moved with it. Eight stalwart Hebrews, bearing a funeral ark, shrouded with a purple pall, fringed with gold, emerged from among the people and, taking a place in front of the Lawgiver, walked confidently down the sand toward the east.

The radiance progressed step by step. Wet rocks entered the glow, lines of sea-weed, immense drifts of debris, the brink of a ledge, the shadow before it, and then a sandy bottom.

A long line of old men, two abreast, the wind making the picture awesome as it tossed their beards and gray robes, followed the Lawgiver. After these several litters, borne by young men, proceeded in imposing order.

Except for the raving of the tempest there was no sound in Israel.

A double file of camels with sumptuous housings moved with dignified and unhasty tread after the litters. By this time, the foremost ranks of the procession were some distance ahead, the limit of radiance just in advance, and lighting with special tenderness the funeral ark. Here were the bones of that noblest son of Jacob. Having brought Israel into Egypt, Joseph was leading it forth again.

Pools, lighted by the ray, glowed like sheets of gold, darkling here and there with shadow; long ledges of rock, bearded with deep-water growth, sparkled rarely in the light; stretches of sodden sand, colored with salts of the waters, and littered with curious fish-life, lay between.

Where was the sea?

After the camels followed a score of mules, little and trim in contrast to the tall shaggy beasts ahead of them. They were burden-bearing animals, precious among Israel, for they were laden with the records of the tribes, much treasure in jewels and fine stuffs, incense, writing materials, and such things as the people would need, and were not to be had from among them, or like to be found in the places to which they might come. These passed and their drivers with them.

The next moment, Kenkenes was caught in the center of a rushing wave of humanity. He fought off the consternation that threatened to seize him and tried to care for himself, but a reed on the breast of the Nile at flood could not have been more helpless. Behind Israel were the Egyptians, ahead of it miraculous escape; the one impulse of the multitude was flight. That any remembered his mate or his children, his goods, his treasure or his cattle, was a marvel.

The foremost ranks, moving in directly behind the leaders, had adopted their pace. Furthermore, as the advance-guard, they had a greater sense of security, and before them was all the east open for flight. Not so with the hindmost; they were near the dreaded place from which the army would descend; ahead of them was a deliberate host; within them, soul-consuming fear and panic. The rear rushed, the forward ranks walked, and the center caught between was jammed into a compact mass.

Neither halt nor escape was possible. Press as the hindmost might upon those forward, the pace was slackened, instead of quickened. The advance grew slower as it extended back through the ranks, for each succeeding line lost a modicum in the length of the step, till at the rear they were pushing hard and barely moving. No wonder they sobbed, prayed, panted, surged, swayed and pressed. How they reviled the snail-like leaders, not knowing that the sturdy pace lagged in the body of the multitude. So they hasted and progressed only inch by inch.

After the first moment of battle against the human sea, Kenkenes recognized the futility of resistance and suffered himself to be borne along. There was no turning back now, had he been so disposed. He had left behind him his purposes, unaccomplished.

He had received no explicit promise from Moses, and if he had given ear to the doubts of his own reason, he might have been sorely afraid, much troubled for Egypt and all he loved therein. But he went with the multitude passively, even contentedly; he did not speculate how his God would fight for him; his faith was perfect.

As for his presence with Israel, no one heeded him. Sometimes it came his way to be helpful; an old man lost his feet and becoming panic-stricken was soothed only when the young Egyptian put a strong arm about him and held him till his feet touched earth again. Children became heavy in the arms of parents and the little Hebrews had no fear of the young man who carried them, a while, instead. But no one stopped to take notice that this was an Egyptian, totally unlike those among the |mixed multitude| that had come to join Israel; nor did any wonder what a nobleman of the blood of the oppressors did among the fleeing slaves. Indeed, if the host had any thought beyond the impulse of self-preservation, it was only a dim realization that they were walking over a most rocky, oozy and untender road and that the smell of the sea was very strong about them.

In the early hours of the morning, having become so accustomed to the roar of the wind and the sound of the moving multitude, Kenkenes ceased to be conscious of it. Other sounds, which hours before would have failed to reach his ears, became distinct. The crying of tired children reached him, and he detected even snatches of talk among the ranks some distance away from him. Thus a clamor of noise, secondary in force, grew about him. Above it all, at last, came a sound that would have made him halt if he could.

He tried to think it one of the many voices of the storm, but the second time he heard it, he knew what it was.

Far to the rear, a trumpet-call, beautiful and spirited, rose upon the air.

The Egyptian army was in pursuit!

Israel heard it, and crying aloud in its terror, swept forward, as if the trumpet-call had commanded it. Kenkenes felt a quickening of pulse, a momentary tremor, but no more.

He became conscious finally of a warmth penetrating his sandals. He knew that he had been struggling up a slope for a long time, and now he realized that he was again on the dry, sun-heated sand of the desert. The multitude ceased to crowd, the pressure about him diminished; the ranks began to widen to his left and right; the leaders halted altogether, and though there was still much movement among the body and rear of the host, people turned to look upon their neighbors.

The overhanging cloud parted from the eastern horizon, leaving a strip of sky softly lighted by the coming morn. Without any preliminary diminution of its force, the wind failed entirely.

Kenkenes, with many others, looked back and saw that the pillar, illuminated, but no longer illuminating, had halted above a solitary figure of seemingly super-human stature in the morning gray, standing on an eminence, overlooking the sea.

The arm was uplifted and outstretched, tense and motionless.

From his superior height, Kenkenes saw, over the heads of the immense concourse, two lines of foam riding like the wind across the sea-bed toward each other. Between them was a great body of plunging horses; overhead a forest of fluttering banners; and faint from the commotion came shouts and wild notes of trumpets. Then the two lines of foam smote against each other with a fearful rush and a muffled report like the cannonading of surf. A mountain of water pitched high into the air and collapsed in a vast froth, which spread abroad over the churning, wallowing sea. The falling wind dashed a sheet of spray over the silent host on the eastern shore. Sharp against the white foam, dark objects and masses sank, arose, and sank again.

At that moment the sun thrust a broad shaft of light between the horizon and the lifted cloud.

It discovered only the sea, raving and stormy, and afar to the west a misty, vacant, lifeless line of shore.

|And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, and all the host of the Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.|

So perished Har-hat and the flower of the Egyptian army.

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