CHAPTER XIV. THE JOURNEY TO EGYPT
Nothing so beautiful had ever been mirrored therein—not even when they reflected the blushing countenance of Sara, confused in the presence of Abimelech, who, having restored her to her husband, said to her, with sorrow, "This shall serve thee for a covering of thy eyes to all that are with thee, and whither soever thou shalt go'' (Genesis xx, 16.) meaning, indeed, "Cover your face with a veil always, according to the custom of the country into which you are entering. Then those who look upon you will know that you are married, and so shall not regard you with affection."
The Virgin bathed the face and hands of her little Son in the limpid waters, and Joseph, loosing the strap of his sandals, dipped his weary feet in the cooling liquid. The few hours of quiet repose that followed did much to recruit their strength, and it was with renewed hope and energy that the holy travelers resumed their way at day-dawn, crossing the river by a ford which the fall of some rocks had rendered practicable. For two days they journeyed along its verdant bank, until they reached the country of the Amalecites.
Being free at last from all dread of the power or cruelty of Herod, they passed slowly over the peaceful country which had, in former times, been washed in the blood of so many cruel wars. Soon they entered the desert—that desert teeming even yet with the miracles of the Most High. Here was the well which had restored Ismael to life, in order that he might be preserved to be the father of a great people; (Ibid., xxi, 18, 19.) farther on were the mountains of Idumea, witnesses of the triumph of David; there was the road pressed by the feet of the Hebrews in their flight from Egypt, and who, for their disobedience, were condemned to wander for forty years in the scorching sands of Pharan, and to die without greeting the holy land which had been promised them. Joseph and Mary, overwhelmed by the silence and the thoughts that occupied them, exchanged few words. The time of rest had not yet arrived for either. The angel had ordered the spouse of the Blessed Virgin to take Mother and Child into Egypt. Until that was accomplished there could be no thought of rest.
Pursuing the road toward the east, they plunged deeper into the boundless desert. At every moment they feared to lose their way amid the yellow, moving clouds of sand—lofty, some of them, as billows of the sea lashed by a storm. The fatigues which they had hitherto experienced were slight indeed compared to the distress which they now encountered. They had avoided joining any caravan, always dreading pursuit and capture, and though the risk of travelling alone was great, it was the lesser of two evils. For the first few days they followed a track, on which the print of numerous footsteps served to guide them, but the horizon, far as eye could reach, was blank. The desert, vast and deep, was void of all that could direct them on their way. The wind arose, the dreaded hot wind of these terrible plains. It drove the sand before it in whirlwinds. Every sign was obliterated. Cavities were filled up, hillocks were destroyed. How could they proceed ? But how dared they, even if they could, go back?
Lost in the desert! Nothing around them but sand; not a tree to serve as shelter. All was desolate. At night they marched under the stars, endeavouring to find the road by the signs God had fixed in the heavens. In the day they slept beneath the shade of Joseph's cloak, wearily and fitfully.
One day—it was the ninth since they had been lost —they were even more oppressed. The sand burned their feet; the rays of the sun beat vertically down upon them, and the desert seemed interminable. Eleabthona was panting with exhaustion; they were on the last of their provisions, and their precious water was nearly gone.
Joseph halted the little animal, fearing that she would drop from weakness, and turned to Mary.
"It may be that we have been too cautious," he said. "Had we joined a caravan—"
"Take courage," said Mary, in her gentle tones. "We have obeyed the will of God—are we not sure He will protect us?"
Like balm the voice of Mary fell on Joseph's troubled heart. He helped her to alight from the faithful beast. The Child was carried in a basket that swung from the saddle and sheltered by a thick veil.
"Let us walk a little while," she said.
Joseph's head drooped.
"Mary," he said, huskily, "the Lord undoubtedly sees that with your wisdom and prudence you can do without me. He will guide you. Proceed on your journey. The provisions will last—"
"Nay," said the Virgin, smiling courageously, "what should we do without him whom God has appointed our protector ?"
They rested in silence, Mary raising her heart to the Most High, Joseph anxious over the fate in store for Mother and Child. He felt that he was responsible for their safety, and his mind was filled with serious misgivings; for indeed he feared that God expected him to show greater wisdom and prudence in providing for them. With the coming of dusk they resumed their way amid profound silence. Suddenly Joseph seemed to perceive that the journeying was easier. He kept his eyes fastened upon the sand, saying nothing until he could be positive. Mary, with her veil thrown back off her face that she might the better breathe the cool night air, contemplated the starry sky, beyond which reigned the Lord God by whose hand the elements were controlled.
Thus they travelled into the night, Joseph growing more hopeful, till at last they found themselves at a small oasis in the desert, called by wandering tribes of the desert the "Well of Reward," a spot of refreshment, where one, arriving exhausted, regained courage and strength to finish his journey. For three days they remained in this abode of quiet, enjoying the rest that was so sorely needed.
* * * * *
When the sun reddened the east behind the mountains of Idumea for the third time, Mary and Joseph set forth once more.
After four days' journey they came to the city, and there indeed found some of their people, who had been the victims of persecution in former times, and who now cordially welcomed them. (The particular place where St. Joseph settled in this foreign land is probably Metaryieh, near Heliopotis, and about two hours distant from Cairo. Cf. Gigot's "Outlines of New Testament History," p. 56.)
A few exiled Hebrews received the humble family, and without knowing what guests had come to visit them, led them into the Temple. They had endeavoured to recall to their minds their absent and beloved country, and with unskilled hands had kept in repair the temple which Orneas, expatriated like themselves, had erected to the Lord in remembrance of the Temple at Jerusalem. Here they sang the praises of the Most High. The holy Ark of Alliance was not there, but their souls were raised to God in true courage and sincerity. To reward them, great Jehovah sent the Desired of nations to dwell among them, to bless them in secret and wonderful ways, and to diffuse a holy virtue through the air they breathed. Their temple was an empty one, but their prayers were from the heart. So the God of heaven accomplished in the midst of them that word, which, at a future period, He was to give mankind: "For where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."