The drivers distributed themselves among the Israelites and each with a scribe went methodically along the files choosing every tenth.
“Get thee to my house and bring me my lists,” Atsu said to the soldier who was beginning on Judah. “I will look to thy work.” The man crossed his left hand to his right shoulder and hastened away.
One by one nine Israelites dropped out of line as Atsu numbered them and returned to camp. He touched the tenth.
“Name?” the scribe asked.
“Deborah,” was the reply.
Meanwhile Atsu walked rapidly down the line to Rachel. The Hebrews fell out as he passed, and the relief on the faces of one or two was mingled with astonishment. He paused before the girl, hesitating. Words did not rise readily to his lips at any time; at this moment he was especially at loss.
“Thou canst abide here, in perfect security—with me,” he said at last. She shook her head. “I thank thee, my good master.”
“For thy sake, not mine own, I would urge thee,” he continued with an unnatural steadiness. “Thou canst accept of me the safety of marriage. Nothing more shall I offer—or demand.”
The color rushed over the girl’s face, but he went on evenly.
“A part go to Silsilis, another to Syene, a third to Masaarah. If thine insulter asks concerning thy whereabouts I shall not trouble myself to remember. But what shall keep him from searching for thee—and are there any like to defend thee, if he find thee, seeing I am not there? And even if thou art securely hidden, thou hast never dreamed how heavy is the life of the stone-pits, Rachel.”
“Keep Deborah here,” the girl besought him, distressed. “She is old and will perish—”
“Nay, I will not send thee out alone,” was the reply. “If thou goest, so must she. But—hast thou no fear?”
Once again she shook her head.
“I trust to the triumph of the good,” she replied earnestly.
The sound of the scribe’s approach behind him, moved him on.
“Farewell,” he said as he went, and added no more, for his composure failed him.
“The grace of the Lord God attend thee,” she whispered. “Farewell.”
All the morning the work went on, and when the Egyptian mid-winter noon lay warm on the flat country, three hundred Israelites were ready for the long march to the Nile. They left behind them a camp oppressed with that heart-soreness, which affliction added to old afflictions brings,—the numb ache of sorrow, not its lively pain. Only Deborah, the childless, and Rachel, the motherless, went with lighter hearts,—if hearts can be light that go forward to meet the unknown fortunes of bond-people.
As they moved out, one of the older Hebrews in the forward ranks began to sing, in a wild recitative chant, of Canaan and the freedom of Israel. The elders in the line near him took it up and every face in the long column lighted and was lifted in silent concord with the singers. Atsu in his chariot, close by, scanned his lists absorbedly, but one of the drivers hurried forward with a demand for silence. A young Hebrew, who had tramped in agitated silence just ahead, worked up into recklessness by the fervor of the singers, defied him. His voice rang clear above the song.