The Water-babe

: Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends

Floating in a basket on the River Nile, Princess Bathia, the daughter

of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, found a tiny little water-babe. Princess

Bathia was a widow and had no children, and she was so delighted that

she took the child home to the palace and brought it up as her own.

She called the babe Moses.

He was a pretty little boy, full of fun and frolic as he grew up, and

he became a favorite with everybody
in the palace. Even the cruel King

Pharaoh, who had ordered that all the Hebrew boy babes should be

drowned, loved to play with him. His ministers of state and magicians,

however, frowned when they saw Moses, as soon as he could toddle and

talk, making a play-mate of the king. They warned Pharaoh that it was

dangerous to give a strange child such privileges, but Princess Bathia

only laughed at them. So did her mother, the queen, and King Pharaoh

took no notice.

When Moses was three years old, Princess Bathia gave a birthday party

in his honor. It was really a big banquet and was attended by the king

and queen and all the courtiers. Moses was seated at the head of the

table and his eyes opened very wide with wonderment at everything he

saw. It seemed such a ridiculous lot of solemn fuss to him. He would

rather have played on the floor, or climbed on to the table, but of

course they would not allow him.

"What does all this mean?" he asked of the king who was seated next to

him. "Tell me," and he playfully pulled King Pharaoh's beard.

The courtiers looked on horrified, and Bilam, the chief magician,

cried out, "Beware, O king, this is not play."

"Heed not these words, my father," said the princess. "Bilam is ever

warning thee. If thou wert to take notice of all that he says, thou

wouldst not have a moment's peace. Take our little babe on thy knee

and play with him."

To please the princess, King Pharaoh did so, and Moses amused himself

by playing with the glittering jewels on his majesty's robes. Then he

looked up and stared hard at the king's head.

"What is that?" he asked, pointing.

"That is the royal crown," answered Pharaoh.

"No it is not; it is only a funny hat," replied Moses.

"Beware," chimed in Bilam, solemnly.

"Let me put the hat on," said Moses, reaching up his little hands, and

before they could stop him, he had taken the crown from the king's

head and had put it on his own.

Princess Bathia and the queen laughed merrily, but Bilam looked very


"Your majesty," he said, in a voice trembling with passion, "this is

not the foolish play of a babe. This child, remember, is not as other

children. Came he not from the river? There is meaning in his action.

Already does he seek to rob thee of thy royal crown. 'Tis a portent of


Pharaoh thoughtfully stroked his beard.

"What sayeth Reuel?" he asked, turning to his second chief magician.

"I say the child is but a babe and that this action means nothing,"

answered Reuel.

The queen and the princess agreed with Reuel, who was their favorite,

but Bilam would not allow the matter to pass lightly.

"I, Bilam, am chief of thy counselors," he said, "and deeply learned

in the mysteries of signs and portents. There is a meaning in all

things. Remember, O King, this child is of the Hebrews, and escaped

thy decree. This play of his hath a meaning. Should he be permitted to

grow up, he will rebel against thee and seek to destroy thy rule. Let

him be judged, O king."

"Thy words are wise," said Pharaoh, who was himself annoyed with

Moses, and he ordered three judges to try the child for his offence.

Moses thought it was a new game and he clapped his hands gleefully

when they took him to the court of justice and stood him in front of

the judges. He heard Reuel plead on his behalf, but he did not

understand it.

"I say he is but a babe and does things without meaning," Reuel

exclaimed. "Put him to the test, and see if he knows the difference

between fire and gold. Place before him a dish of fire and a dish of

jewels and gold. If he grasps the jewels, it will prove that he is no

ordinary child; if he places his hand to the fire, then shall we be

assured he is merely a foolish babe."

"So be it," said Bilam, "and if he grasps the jewels let his

punishment be instant death."

Pharaoh and the judges agreed, and two dishes, one containing burning

coals and the other gold and precious stones were brought in and

placed before Moses. Everybody looked on keenly as Moses stared at

the dishes. Princess Bathia made signs to him, but Bilam ordered her

to cease and it was Reuel who comforted her and dried her tears.

"Take my magic staff," he said, handing to her a stick that seemed to

be made of one large precious stone. "This was given to Adam when he

left the Garden of Eden and has been handed down to me through Enoch

and Noah, through Abraham and Jacob unto Joseph who left it in my

keeping. Take the staff and Moses will obey whatsoever be thy wish."

The princess took the staff and pressed it to her lips.

"I wish," she said, "that my little water-babe shall seize the burning


Moses thrust his fingers into the fire and pulled out a glowing coal.

With a cry, he put his fingers in his mouth to ease the pain and

burned his tongue with the coal. Ever afterward he lisped.

The princess snatched Moses and pressed him tightly to her bosom.

"Give me the magic stick," she said to Reuel, "so that I may guard and

protect the child."

"Canst thou read this word?" asked Reuel, pointing to a word engraved

on the staff.

"No," said the princess.

"Then it cannot be thine," answered Reuel. "Whosoever reads this name

can understand all things, even the thoughts of animals and birds.

Fear not for Moses. In years to come this staff shall be his."

And so it came to pass. Years afterward, when Moses was a man and fled

from Egypt, he married a daughter of Reuel who became a Hebrew and

took the name of Jethro. Reuel planted the staff in his garden and

Moses saw it. He read the magic word, and touching the staff it came

out of the ground into his hands. With this staff Moses performed the

wonderful things in Egypt when he delivered the children of Israel

from bondage, as is related in the Bible.