THE YOUNG CAPTIVES
A Story of Judah and Babylon
By ERASMUS W. JONES
This volume is the fruit of my leisure hours; and those hours in the life of a pastor are not very abundant. That the story has suffered from this, I do not believe. Whatever its defects may be, they are not owing to "the pressure of other duties." So, dear reader, if this little work proves a failure, let not that deep calamity be attributed to any lack but the lack of ability in the author.
The semi-fictitious style of the writing, while displeasing to some, will be well-pleasing to others. "What I have written I have written;" perhaps in a way peculiar to myself. I know of some who could write charming books on this subject in a very different and perhaps a far superior style; but these I dare not try to imitate. I must write in my own way. It may be inferior to the way of others; but then it is much better to move around on your own limbs, even if they are rather "short metre," than to parade abroad on stilts in mid-air.
In the colloquies, I have not thought it best to follow strictly the Oriental style. However pleasing this might have been to some, I am well persuaded that it could not meet the approbation of the generality of readers; and as the great design of the work is to bear with weight upon some of the corrupt usages and wicked policies of the present day, I thought it advisable to shape the phraseology in conformity with modern usages.
In the prosecution of this work, I have consulted the following authorities: Josephus, Rollins' "Ancient History," Smith's "Sacred Annals," "Daniel, a Model for Young Men," by Dr. Scott, Clarke's, Henry's, Scott's, and Benson's Commentaries; with some other smaller works.
In following the "Youths of Judah" through their various trials, at home and in a land of strangers, I have received much genuine pleasure and lasting profit; and that the reader, likewise, may be greatly pleased and benefited, is the sincere desire of his unworthy servant, Erasmus W. Jones.
THE YOUNG CAPTIVES
A STORY OF JUDAH AND BABYLON
By ERASMUS W. JONES.
A CLASH of swords and the cries of excited men resounded through the streets of the city. Two guardsmen were endeavoring to disarm and arrest a number of boisterous youths. The latter, evidently young men of good social position, had been singing bacchanalian songs and otherwise conducting themselves in a manner contrary to the spirit of orderliness which King Josiah was striving to establish in Jerusalem. The youths were intoxicated, and, when the two officers sought to restrain them, they drew swords and made a reckless attack on the guardians of the peace.
Although the latter were outnumbered, they were courageous and skillful men, and soon had three of the party disarmed, accomplishing this without bloodshed. The fourth and last of the marauders, a handsome and stalwart young man apparently about twenty-one years of age, although at first desirous of keeping out of the melee, sprang to the aid of his companions. He cleverly tripped one of the watchmen and grappled with the other in such a way that the officer could not use his sword arm. This fierce onslaught gave the other members of the party new courage, and they joined in the battle again. The conflict might then have been settled in favor of the lawless party but for an unexpected circumstance. As one of the guardsmen gave a signal calling for reinforcements, the second made a desperate attempt to throw his young antagonist to the ground, and, as they struggled, his face came in proximity to that of the offending youth. He uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Ezrom! Ezrom!" cried he; "don't add crime to your other follies! Do you realize what you are doing? See how you are about to bring disgrace upon your relatives. Make haste away from this place before the reinforcements come, or nothing will save you from the dungeon. I beseech you in the name of the king and your beloved family!"
Instantly the plea had its effect. The young man drew back, and, hastily uttering a few words to his companions, led them away before they could be recognized by the gathering crowd.
"The officer is a loyal friend of our house," the youth explained, "and we have him to thank for getting us out of this trouble, temporarily at least. But the affair has attracted enough notice so that there is sure to be an inquiry to-morrow, and I for one will put the city of my birth behind me before the dawn of day. The son of Salome and the nephew of King Josiah will never again bring disgrace upon those he loves. To-night I flee to parts unknown, and bitter indeed will be the punishment of those of you who are apprehended for our offenses."
In the vicinity of the Temple stood a beautiful dwelling. From outward appearances one would readily conclude that the inmates of that fair abode were not common personages. Wealth and taste were shown on every hand. To this house, in the heart of Jerusalem, came the young man who had rendered himself so conspicuous in the quarrel with the guard. He reached the place by a circuitous route and hastily entered. Although the hour was late two Hebrew maidens of rare beauty awaited his coming. They were in a state of anxious solicitude for the return of their erring brother, whose conduct of late had been such as to cause the most intense anxiety on the part of the pious household, for Ezrom belonged to the nobility of Judah and was a blood relation of the reigning monarch. Seeing his excited countenance, the sisters understood that something unusual had befallen him, and the elder of the two sprang to his side.
"What calamity has occurred to you, my dear brother?" she cried.
"Be calm, sweet Serintha," he replied, "and I will tell you all."
He then informed his sisters that with his three friends he had been guilty of taking up arms against the authorities—a crime punished with great severity.
As Ezrom and his young men companions were connected with families of high station in Jerusalem, even having royal blood in their veins, they had the privilege of carrying weapons and were in the habit of going armed with swords. This unfortunate custom had only served in the end to get them into serious trouble, and Ezrom for one felt compelled to leave home during the night.
These startling disclosures brought from both of his sisters a cry of agony. They implored him to remain, promising to exert every influence to save him from punishment.
Ezrom's mind was firmly made up, however, and he declared that he never would face the impending exposure. He gathered together a few articles of clothing while his sisters followed him from room to room with painful sobs. He was soon ready. His younger sister, Monroah, fell on his neck in a paroxysm of grief. Ezrom could utter but a few broken words when he essayed to bid them farewell. His favorite harp stood by his side.
"Take this, my sweet Monroah," he said, in trembling accents, "and whenever thy hand shall strike its chords of melody remember that thou art loved with all the strong affection of a brother's heart. And now, in the presence of Jehovah I make the solemn vow that from this hour I shall reform my ways."
He then kissed his beloved sisters, and, with burning brow and tear-dimmed eyes, rushed from his father's house and away to a land of strangers.
NEARLY a quarter of a century had rolled away, and again the city of Jerusalem was ablaze with light and social gayety. But vastly different was the moral tone of the government. The good King Josiah had been called to rest, and his profligate son Jehoiakim was on the throne. Nightly the walls of the royal palace rang with the sound of high revelry. Laughter and drunken song echoed through every part of the proud edifice. Jehoiakim, following the example of some of his predecessors, did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord and filled the Holy City with his foul abominations. His counselors also lived in forgetfulness of the God of Israel. They flattered the king's vanity and encouraged his excesses. Pride and infidelity promenaded together. Crimes of the darkest hue were being perpetrated with official sanction, and, although God's prophets had the courage to rebuke the sinful rulers and warn them of their fearful doom, the moral standard of the city went lower and lower.
The night was serene and calm. The glorious orb shone brightly in the eastern skies and shed her silvery beams on the glassy lakes of Judea. In the clear moonbeams, those lofty towers of spotless white stood forth in majestic grandeur on the walls of the great metropolis. Nature, with smiles of lovely innocence on her fair countenance, was hushed to sweet repose; but not so the busy thousands that thronged the wide thoroughfares of Jerusalem. This day was one of the anniversaries of Jehoiakim's reign, and at an early hour the city presented a scene of excitement. The king's vanity provided everything requisite for a general display; and, although far from being loved by his numerous subjects, yet because they could eat, drink, and be merry at the expense of others, the streets of Jerusalem were thronged with those who cared far more for the gratification of their appetites than they did for their vain sovereign.
The royal palace was thronged with the rich, the great, the gay, and the giddy. Unholy excitement ran high. Wines and strong drinks flowed freely. Flattery without measure was poured into the ears of the king. "Long live Jehoiakim!" echoed from a thousand voices. The prophets of the Most High, who prophesied evil against Jerusalem, were ridiculed and laughed to scorn; and those few persons of influence who regarded them in a favorable light were made the subjects of their keenest sarcasm and their most insulting wit. It was about the third hour of the night. The king's heart was merry with wine. A thousand of Judah's nobles, with their wives, their sons, and their daughters, sat at the banquet table. Suddenly a voice, deep and solemn as the grave, was heard below, as if in the garden at the rear of the palace, crying, "Woe unto Jehoiakim, King of Judah! Woe! Woe to the Holy City!" The sound was of an unearthly nature. The assembly heard it, the king heard it. For a moment, all was still. Again the same deep minor sound was clearly heard. "Woe unto Jehoiakim, King of Judah! Woe! Woe unto the Holy City!"
"Seize the accursed wretch!" rang through the great apartment.
The king's countenance was flushed with anger, while he cried, "Who is this vile dog that dares insult the King of Judah? Let the abominable one be dragged into my presence and then receive his instant doom!"
A thorough search was made for the mysterious author of the confusion; guards and sentinels ran to and fro. Every corner of the enclosures was thoroughly examined, but all in vain. No trace could be found of the unwelcome herald. After a short interval, the agitation subsided and the company was again in the midst of wild revelry and merriment. The king endeavored to be merry; but the peculiar deep tone of that messenger of woe still sounded in his ears; and, with all his efforts, he could not forget it. In the midst of his depravity and wickedness, he still at times had some dread of that God whom he daily insulted. He sought to drown his unpleasant thoughts in mixed wines, but the King of Judah felt a presentiment of some awful calamity near at hand. With desperation he struggled against it, and joined in the boisterous laugh and merry song.
HIGHER and higher ran the excitement of the banquet-room. Loud peals of laughter broke from the merry throng. Musical instruments poured forth rich strains of melody. Jehoiakim was complimented on every hand, but the law of God was ridiculed.
Jehoiakim sat on a magnificent throne, gilded over with pure gold. A large number of war officers sat near him. A royal herald passed through the throng, crying, "Listen to the oration of Sherakim! Listen to the oration of Sherakim!" Soon silence was obtained, and Sherakim the Orator stood before the vast concourse, and began:
"Princes and Nobles of Judah! With merry hearts, we assemble from different parts of the kingdom to hail this festal day—the eleventh anniversary of the reign of our illustrious sovereign. Ye will not think it strange, nor consider it affectation, when I assure you that I tremble beneath the weight of honor conferred upon me at this time.
"The death of King Josiah, as ye well know, threw a partial gloom over Judah. Not because all of us considered his measures expedient and prudent, but because he was our king, and undoubtedly honest in his intentions, amid all his imperfections. Let the infirmities and mistakes of past monarchs be buried in their graves. We are not here to mourn over the past, but rather to rejoice in the present. We are here assembled to congratulate one another on the unprecedented happiness that flows to the nation from the reign of the truly illustrious sovereign that now adorns the throne of Judah. The faults and deficiencies of other-day kings are more than made up to the nation in the bright reign of the most excellent Jehoiakim. We do not expect that even the superior administration of our matchless monarch will suit the tastes and desires of weak-minded and superstitious men. The King of Judah, with all his superior powers, is not capable of satisfying the unreasonable demands of those deluded creatures who are yet too numerous in our midst. What good can result to anyone from spending half his time in yonder Temple, and there going through a long list of senseless ceremonies, with sad and melancholy looks?
"Princes and Nobles of Judah! We rejoice together under the happy reign of a king who looks at those things with calm disdain, and smiles at the foolishness and darkness of other ages. Let us, therefore, banish gloom and enjoy life. Let deluded visionaries bow their heads, disfigure their countenances, and utter their plaintive moans; but let men stand erect, with joyful countenances and merry hearts! They tell us that Jerusalem is in danger; and they dwell with solemn emphasis on what they please to call 'forgetfulness of God.' They tell us that the Chaldeans are about to besiege the city, and take it! This old story will answer well to terrify shallow brains and young children; but, with men of sense, it will receive that silent contempt which it deserves. Let the citizens of Judah give themselves no uneasiness on account of the silly harangues of a wild and deluded fanatic who is a more fit subject to be confined with unruly lunatics than to be heeded as a teller of future events. However, I would not advise severity towards the followers of old Jeremiah. They are rather to be pitied than blamed. As long as they keep their delusion within their own circles, we shall let them alone; but let them be careful that they step not too far and disturb the happiness and enjoyment of others. Among themselves, let them talk about the 'Law of their God,' to their hearts' content; but as for us, we know of no higher law than the law of our king—the edicts of our grand sovereign. To him, and him alone, we pledge our undivided fidelity. Trusting in the King of Judah, we cheerfully go forward, and bid defiance to every foe. In conclusion, I have only to say, Long live Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah!"
"Long live Jehoiakim!" echoed throughout the assembly. The king bowed and smiled, and Sherakim the Orator's countenance gave evidence that he considered his efforts as crowned with success. All was again hilarity and mirth. The wine passed freely around. Shouts of laughter rang through the spacious hall. A strange person entered the apartment, at that end opposite to the spot where the king sat on his golden throne. His singular appearance arrested the attention of all present. The stranger had passed the meridian of life. His figure was tall, his countenance striking. Deep solemnity rested on his visage, which presented a very strange contrast to the countenances that surrounded him. With a slow but firm step, he walked through the long passage and stood in the presence of Jehoiakim.
The vast assembly was soon hushed to silence, and spellbound from curiosity. Sherakim the Orator gazed on the king. The king, with an angry brow, gazed on the stranger. The stranger, in return, cast a withering glance on the king, and stood in his presence with form erect and fearless. He lifted his hand on high, and thus addressed the monarch:
"Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David. Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work. Did not thy father eat and drink and do justice, and was it not well with him? He judged the cause of the poor, and then it was well with him. 'Was not this to know me?' saith the Lord. But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression and for violence. Therefore, thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim, 'He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.'"
The stranger turned his back on Jehoiakim, and with the same slow, firm step, he marched through; and although the king in a rage gave orders for his arrest, there was none to lift a finger against the man of God. He was gone! and the assembly was left gazing in mute astonishment at one another. Such was the unearthly aspect of that mysterious stranger, that even the great flow of spirit was not proof against its effects. The deep tones of his mournful predictions reached their ears and even their hearts. In spite of their abominations and infidelity, they felt that there was a divinity in that awful voice of warning, and for a short period, at least, their hearts throbbed with guilty emotions of fear. Many a proud daughter of Judah trembled and turned pale, as she gazed on the solemn visage of the uninvited stranger, and as she listened to the deeptoned eloquence that fell from his lips. Others there were who felt a strange throbbing of heart, but each one vied with his fellow to hide his real feelings; and soon, by a show of bravado, the concourse fell back to the usual hilarity, marked by more than an ordinary degree of unholy wit, and blasphemous sarcasm.
THE night was far advanced, and there were indications that the great festival was drawing to a close. The last feature expected was an address from the king. The hour appointed had arrived, and expectation ran high, but Jehoiakim made not his appearance. At last Sherakim appeared before the vast audience, and commenced an apology for the absence of the monarch in the following strain:
"Princes and Nobles of Judah! It is with heartfelt regret that I am compelled to convey to you the painful intelligence that our illustrious sovereign, owing to illness, will not be able to deliver the royal address. This no one can regret more than your unworthy servant. Is it any wonder that—"
Just at this time, the king himself, with a flushed countenance and a very unsteady step, appeared on the stage. It was glaringly evident to all who were not in the same condition themselves, that the King of Judah was altogether incompetent for that important branch of business which, in despite of the kind remonstrances of his personal friends, he was determined to undertake.
The reader is already aware that the king had been twice disturbed by the dark predictions of the persecuted Jeremiah. In the attempt to throw off his embarrassment, and appear courageous before his friends, he sought relief in mixed wines, of which he partook without restraint. These, in a measure, proved sufficient to stupefy his guilty conscience, but they added to his vanity and self-conceit. Long before the hour arrived for the delivery of the royal address, the King of Judah's conversation amounted to nothing more than drunken babbling.
A number of his most influential courtiers endeavored, with all their tact and ingenuity, to dissuade their sovereign from the attempt, urging that the excitement of the night had already so prostrated him that it would be unsafe for his health to enter again into the uproar of the festive hall. Now, Sherakim had come to the conclusion that their arguments had finally prevailed, and that the king had been comfortably removed to his bed-chamber; hence his remarks, which were cut short by the sudden appearance of the king. Jehoiakim, without any ceremony, commanded the orator to fall back; which command was instantly obeyed. Instead of ascending the throne, as usual, he took the stand that had been vacated by Sherakim, waved his hand, and loudly laughed, while the audience cheered; then, with violent gestures and faltering tongue, he went on:
"Princes and Nobles of Judah! I am here! I tell you I am here! Am I not Jehoiakim, King of Judah? Is not this the glorious reign of my anniversary? Where is the villain that dares to say it is not? Then that is a settled question. I hear no contradiction. Who dares contradict? I hear no reply. Who is afraid of the King of Babylon? If ye know of such an one, bring the cowardly dog to me, and I will take off his head—Ha! ha! ha! Old Jeremiah! Where is he? Ah, I'll soon put him out of the way. Can there be any danger while the King of Babylon is fighting with the King of Egypt?
"Princess and Nobles of Judah! I perceive ye understand your sovereign. We are all safe! He dethroned me three years ago—Ha! ha! ha! Will he do it again? Shall I pay him any more tribute money? Never! I defy his power! And to-morrow I shall punish the enemies of Judah who live in our midst. Tomorrow shall flow rivers of blood!"
The heavy blasts of trumpets were now distinctly heard without, which arrested the king in his drunken speech. A number of officers rose to their feet. A young officer in uniform rushed into the banquet-hall and cried at the top of his voice: "To arms! To arms! To arms, O Judah! The legions of the Chaldeans are approaching the Holy City! To arms! To arms! To arms!" and the officer hurried again into the street. The confusion that ensued was indescribable. Officers ran to and fro in wild haste. Wives and daughters wailed, lamented, and clung to their husbands and fathers in the utmost dismay. Hilarity and mirth were turned into sorrow and bitter lamentations. Those proud and lofty arches that had so lately rung to the sound of the merry song and boisterous laugh, now answered to the distracted cry of the fair daughters of Judah. Thus, in "confusion worse confounded," broke up the great festival of the last anniversary of the reign of Jehoiakim, King of Judah.
The dawn of day presented to the inhabitants of Jerusalem their true and lamentable condition. A portion of the Chaldean army was already encamped on the plains before the city, and nearby the remaining legions were on a rapid march to the same spot. This sudden appearance of the forces of Nebuchadnezzar before the walls of Jerusalem was owing to the King of Judah's refusing to pay the tribute money as agreed on another occasion.
Three years before, the same king, who then reigned jointly with his father, brought his forces before the city, and without any resistance they thought fit to surrender. Jehoiakim was still permitted to reign, but subjected to be a tributary to the King of Babylon. For two years this agreement was adhered to by the King of Judah. On the third, the King of Babylon marched his forces into Egypt, to bring into subjection the revolting inhabitants, whom he had previously conquered. Jehoiakim, trusting that the Egyptians would be able to stand their ground, and, peradventure, prove victorious, thought this a favorable time to throw off the Chaldean yoke; and consequently, scornfully refused to pay the tribute money, and treated the Chaldean ambassador with haughtiness. But, contrary to the expectations of the King of Judah, the Egyptians, when they beheld the powerful legions of the Chaldeans, gave up their rebellion, and promised allegiance to the King of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, enraged by the conduct of the King of Judah, ordered his forces in Egypt to march and encamp before the walls of Jerusalem.
Early in the morning of that fatal day, Jehoiakim called together a grand council, in order to deliberate on the best measures to be pursued in the painful emergency. Some advised a strenuous resistance; others said this would be vain—that the city was not able to stand a siege for one month because they were destitute of provisions, and, moreover, the army was in a very imperfect condition. The king thought it advisable to show no resistance, but to treat the King of Babylon with, civility. Finally, the grand council agreed that it was not expedient to resist the entrance of the King of Babylon, and concluded to throw open the gates of the city.
As yet the Chaldeans remained stationary, about thirty furlongs to the south. About the third hour they began to advance, their glittering arms, dazzling in the bright sunbeams, giving them a grand and imposing appearance. The walls of the city were thronged with anxious gazers, and all hearts throbbed with deep and painful anxiety. Nearer and nearer they approached! The rumbling of their war chariots fell heavily on the ear. The heavy hoofs of their spirited chargers made the earth tremble. The loud blasts of their numerous trumpeters were carried on the wings of the wind, while the echoes answered from the lofty towers of ancient Salem. Suddenly the massive gates were thrown open. Then a grand shout from the whole army rent the air. For hours they poured in through the wide portals, and once more the gods of the Gentiles were escorted in triumph through the wide thoroughfares of the "City of the Great King."
THE King of Judah's treatment of the Chaldean ambassador, in regard to the tribute money, had so exasperated the King of Babylon, that he was determined to chasten his audacity with rigor. This monarch, at this period of his reign, was of rather a mild disposition, but, like his sires before him, a love of conquest had become with him a strong passion.
Three years before, he had dealt with much mildness toward the inhabitants of Jerusalem. On taking the city, he charged his soldiers to show no indignity to the inhabitants, under the severest penalty—which charge was well heeded. Towards Jehoiakim he also evinced a kind disposition. With but few restrictions, he was permitted to reign. Now that Jehoiakim had abused these acts of kindness, had violated solemn obligations, and, in addition to all this, had publicly ridiculed the ambassador, Nebuchadnezzar's indignation was kindled to a flame.
The King of Judah on this occasion, as well as on all other occasions of embarrassment and perplexity, sought relief in mixed wines. These stimulated his courage for the time being, which, being left to its own resources, was of a low order; but, under the effects of these deceitful liquids, he became heroic.
"Jared!" said Jehoiakim, "where is that Sherakim who was so full of fight at the banquet hall last night?"
"As my soul liveth, O king, I know not his whereabouts. I have not seen him since early dawn; and then he appeared to be in haste, and was in no mood for conversation."
"A curse on his cowardly head! I suppose these Chaldeans have put his valor to flight. Jared! how many armed men have we within the royal enclosures?"
"Two hundred of the royal guard, O king, are present—all armed and ready to face death for their illustrious sovereign."
"It is well!" said Jehoiakim, filling his bowl. "Ha, ha, ha! Let the King of Babylon beware of my vengeance? What does the fool desire? The King of Judah is not to be frightened. Jared! where is Sherakim?"
"Sherakim, O king, is not to be found."
"Ah, I had forgotten. Sherakim not to be found! Ha, ha, ha! Sherakim not to be found! The cowardly babbler! Jared, command more wine! Sherakim has fled—he is afraid of a shadow—he has not the courage of a maiden. Have I not known him of old? Did not a thunderstorm always make him cry? Ha, ha, ha! Sherakim the orator! fool! coward!"
"A messenger, O king, from the King of the Chaldeans, desires to be introduced into thy presence. Shall I conduct him to the apartment?"
"Is he alone or accompanied?"
"Accompanied by armed men."
"Let the messenger be admitted, but let the guard remain behind."
The messenger was accordingly ushered into the presence of Jehoiakim.
"And what business of importance has brought thee into the presence of the King of Judah?" asked Jehoiakim, with curling lip.
"I stand in thy presence as a bearer of a message from my sovereign master, King of Babylon."
"Methinks I have seen thee on another occasion."
"And was not my behavior honorable and becoming?"
"Did the King of Judah say otherwise?"
"By his vile and haughty treatment of the king's ambassador."
"Be sparing with thine insolence, or at this time thou mayest fare far worse."
"The Chaldean ambassador is not to be frightened by idle threats from one who lives at the mercy of his master."
"Thinkest thou thyself safe because thou art surrounded with a few soldiers? Knowest thou not that within my call there are hundreds of armed men, ready to execute my will?"
"And knowest thou not that Jerusalem is in the hands of the Chaldeans, and that threescore thousand men of war are stationed in the city?"
"Threescore thousand! But come, sir, what is the message of the King of Babylon to the King of Judah? Let thy words be few."
"Then thou art commanded, without delay, to appear in my master's presence, and there learn his sovereign will concerning thyself and the city."
"Commanded! Ha, ha, ha! Go thy way, and inform thy master that if he desires to see Jehoiakim, King of Judah, he must call at the royal palace, where he may have his desires gratified."
"Then I go. Faithfully will I convey thy answer to my illustrious sovereign."
The minister hastened from the royal palace, to convey to the king the result of the interview, while the King of Judah, waxing more desperate, still applied himself to his cups.
The King of Babylon, on his arrival in Jerusalem, ordered his magnificent royal tent to be pitched in the center of a large square in the very heart of the city. The great body of the army was stationed in another part—the royal guard remaining near the royal tent. From this spot went forth the summons to the King of Judah to appear in the presence of the King of Babylon.
"Where is his Royal Highness, the King of Judah?" asked Nebuchadnezzar.
"In his palace, O king, indulging in excess of wine, apparently perfectly at ease."
"Is he not forthcoming?" asked the king, with a darkened brow.
"He laughs to scorn thy commands, O king! and wishes to inform thee that if thou hast aught to communicate he may be consulted at his palace."
"By all the gods, the fellow is mad!" cried Nebuchadnezzar in a passion. "I'll have to bend his stubborn will—yea, I shall do it. I thirst not for his blood; but let the guilty monarch beware how he trifles with my commands! Balphoras! haste thee back with a double guard, and inform Jehoiakim that my orders are not to be trifled with; and moreover, that if he persists in his stubbornness, I shall send sufficient force to drag him into my presence as a guilty culprit."
The communication was in perfect accordance with the desires and expectations of the Chaldean officer. Balphoras was in possession of an amiable mind. He was respectful to his superiors, kind and gentle to his inferiors. Wherever he was known among his countrymen he was greatly beloved. However, he was not insensible to injury or indifferent to abuse. He felt deeply; but had learned to be a greater conqueror than his master, inasmuch as he that governeth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city. Balphoras, without being unkind or selfish, desired to witness the humiliation of the King of Judah. The command of his king, therefore, was put in immediate execution, and the Chaldean minister, accompanied by a strong and imposing guard, once more was on his way to demand admission into the presence of the King of Judah.
. . . . . . .
"Jared! Well would I have served those guilty dogs, if I had given orders to have their heads taken off. What sayest thou, Jared?"
"They richly deserved it, O king," answered Jared, with his face in another direction, on which played a suppressed smile.
"Let them beware how they insult the King of Judah! Jared! hast thou learned aught of Sherakim's whereabouts?"
"Naught, O king."
"Ungrateful dog! Cowardly fool! Miserable brawler!—Sherakim! Bah! Jared, order more wine. Whom should Jehoiakim fear? Jared! what trouble is there in the porch? Haste thee and see."
Jared hastened to obey the commands of his drunken sovereign, and presently returned.
"The same messenger from the King of the Chaldeans demands an interview with the King of Judah."
"Let him be admitted. Ha! ha! What next?"
Balphoras, with a firm, dignified step, walked into the presence of Jehoiakim, who, in spite of his wine-propped courage, almost trembled beneath the Chaldean's penetrating glance.
"And what hast thou to communicate at this time?"
"My communication is short and decisive."
"The shorter the better—let it be delivered."
"My illustrious sovereign, the King of Babylon, wishes the King of Judah to understand, that his commands are not to be trifled with; and, moreover, that if the King of Judah persists in his stubbornness, he must be dragged into his presence as a guilty culprit."
"Who dares to utter such words in my presence?" cried Jehoiakim, in a rage.
"The Chaldean minister, as the words of his illustrious sovereign."
"Go and tell thine 'illustrious sovereign' that Jehoiakim spits upon his insolent demands."
"Thy raving is in vain. Better far to bridle thy rage and comply. Be it known to the King of Judah, that I have three hundred chosen men of war at my bidding, who wait for the word of command. What is the choice of the King of Judah?"
"Be it known to thee, insolent fool," cried the exasperated king, "that Jehoiakim laughs to scorn thy threats, and spurns thy counsels."
"Alas for thine obstinacy, proud and reckless man!" answered Balphoras, as he left the apartment; "thy doom is sealed!"
After the departure of the Chaldean, Jehoiakim gave orders to his officers to be ready, at all hazards, to defend the royal enclosures against all further intrusion from the Chaldeans.
"A curse upon his guilty head! Ha, ha! 'Dragged into his presence,' eh! Never! Fools! Villains! Let them beware of Jehoiakim's vengeance."
While the King of Judah thus indulged in his wild delirium, a strong detachment of the Chaldean army was on a rapid march towards the royal palace, with orders to make a prisoner of Jehoiakim, and bring him into the presence of the King of Babylon. They soon reached the king's gate, and demanded admittance; which demand was promptly and haughtily refused. This was but the signal for attack, and a furious combat followed. Both the Chaldeans and Jehoiakim's men fought valiantly. The passage was defended with extreme bravery and valor; but after a most desperate struggle, the Chaldeans proved successful in forcing an entrance. The sentry at the palace door was soon overcome, and a company of Chaldeans rushed into the royal mansion; and, after some search, they found the king. Without ceremony he was dragged from his hiding place, and ejected from his palace. A shout of triumph broke from the Chaldeans, which only exasperated their antagonists. Another desperate rush was made for the rescue of their king, but it proved unavailing. He was conducted to the open street amid a general fight. The din of battle brought together vast multitudes, who, seeing their king a captive, added greatly to the strength of Judah's forces; and the Chaldeans found themselves continually attacked from unexpected quarters. Thus the conflict waxed hotter and hotter as the Chaldeans desperately fought their way through the exasperated men of Judah.
Finally, the King of Judah was carried into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar and had he, even then, humbled himself, he might have escaped an awful doom. The behavior of Jehoiakim in the presence of the Chaldean monarch was that of a madman. To every inquiry he replied in the most insulting and abusive epithets; and to seal his own fate he madly rushed on the King of Babylon with his sword, and had it not been that this potentate was on his guard, it would have gone hard with him. This was beyond endurance. Nebuchadnezzar, stung to the quick, grasped his sword, commanded his officers to stand aloof, and faced his enraged foe. They made a few passes, and the sword of the Chaldean was plunged into the heart of the King of Judah."
"Take the ungrateful dog," said the excited Babylonian, "and drag his worthless carcass, and throw it outside the city walls."
The command was immediately put in execution.
Thus perished the wicked king, according to the word of the Lord, by the mouth of his servant Jeremiah.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR called together a number of the leading men of Judah and explained his intentions with regard to the government. He also described the killing of Jehoiakim. It was not the policy of the conqueror to establish any rigorous system of public control. He required that Judah should remain as a tributary power, but he desired the country to make progress in its own way, and he took occasion to proclaim that Jeconiah should reign in the place of his father, Jehoiakim, who had just met his fate at the hands of the invader. Those who listened to Nebuchadnezzar were well pleased with his words and also with the elevation of Jeconiah to the throne.
The Babylonian ruler, having now fully accomplished his ends, gave orders for the early departure of the victorious army for the plains of Chaldea. He decided to take with him, as prisoners of war, a number of youths of Judah. He had the twofold object of showing to his people some tangible evidence of his victory and of gaining for his court the advantage of having as aids and attendants some of the more cultured young men of Judea. With the aid of Jeconiah a list of suitable youths was soon prepared by the victorious monarch's officers. These chosen ones were notified, the day of departure was fixed, and all energies were bent toward the speedy return of the army to the land of the Euphrates.
. . . . . . .
Let us now visit some of the homes of Judah, where the mandate of the Babylonian king had fallen as a pall upon the inmates. With one of these homes, located centrally and bearing evidence of prosperity and culture, the reader is already somewhat acquainted. In the room where young Ezrom took leave of his sisters, twenty-five years before, an interesting group had gathered. Monroah, the last survivor of Salome's children, had wedded Amonober, and four lovely children blessed their union. These youths were now orphans, however, the youngest being a maiden of sixteen, who possessed the rare beauty for which the family was noted. Her name was Perreeza. The three brothers were named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The love of these brothers for their sister was returned with all the ardor of an affectionate and sincere girl. These youths were among those selected as prisoners of war.
In company with the young men, when they broke the news of the king's decision to Perreeza, was Jeremiah the Prophet.
"Oh, brothers!" exclaimed the distressed maiden, "must ye be torn away from an only sister? Oh, man of God! What will Perreeza do? My heart will break. Oh, my brothers! We cannot part!" and she fell on the neck of Hananiah and wept bitterly.
"We think it not strange, dear damsel," said the prophet, "that thy young heart is made sad. But the things that are enshrouded in mystery to-day will yet beam forth in wondrous wisdom."
"If to Babylon my brothers go, I must accompany them," said Perreeza, with much decision. "It must be so! Jerusalem will have no charms for me when those I love dearer than life are far away!"
"Surely that would be our joy and desire," replied Azariah, "but alas! I fear it will not be possible to have such a request granted. The exact number is selected and no females are marked on the captive list."
"But dear brother, an effort must be put forth without delay to procure thy sister permission."
"Yea, beloved, and an effort will be put forth, promptly and urgently."
This answer of the brother partly soothed the troubled spirit of the young damsel, and the suggestion on her part opened a little door of hope before the brothers.
Amonober, father of these interesting youths, was a brother of King Josiah. Another brother was Baromon, who had died leaving a widow, Josepha, a son, Daniel, and two daughters. The two families stood among the foremost in the religious and social life of the Holy City. Young Daniel was one of the noble youths chosen by Nebuchadnezzar to go to Babylon. His pious and noble mother and sisters, after their first outburst of grief, committed him to God's care. They became reconciled to their bereavement through the counsel of Jeremiah, who declared that the God of Israel was shaping the whole affair for the advancement of his kingdom on earth.
DANIEL and the Amonober children, from their first interview with the officers of the King of Babylon, had left a very favorable impression on the minds of those high dignitaries; and although, in reality, they were but captives of war, they were treated with that high civility due to nobility and rank. This caused much astonishment to the youths themselves, and served in part to calm and reconcile them to their lot. The ardent desire of Perreeza to accompany them to the land of their captivity had been made the subject of their thoughts, and served if possible to deepen in their minds the fountain of pure affection.
Early next morning, the brothers bent their footsteps towards the temporary residence of one of Nebuchadnezzar's officers, with whom, at this time, they had to do. The manner in which they formerly had been received gave them some encouragement to hope that their mission would be crowned with success. They soon reached the "spot, and were admitted.
"And what is the pleasure of these young noblemen of Judah?" asked Barzello, with a pleasant smile.
"Let thy young servants find favor in the sight of their kind and noble master," said Hananiah, "while with deep humility they make known their request. The illustrious Barzello, we trust, will pardon us for this intrusion upon the time of the King of Babylon's noble officer, and listen patiently to their urgent prayer. Thy kind deportment towards thy servants, for these many days, has given them courage thus to stand in thy presence without any painful, distracted fears. We are the sons of Amonober, the brother of King Josiah, under whose reign, for many years, Judah smiled amid peace and plenty. Thy servants were early instructed in the religion of our sainted father, who, with our beloved mother, feared the God of Israel, and worshiped in his holy Temple. While thy servants were yet young, Amonober our father died, and was gathered to his fathers, and today he calmly rests by the side of his illustrious brother, King Josiah. Thus the best of mothers was left a widow with her fatherless children. Thy servants, feeling it no less a pleasure than a duty, endeavored to comply with our father's dying request, by being ever kind to our beloved mother. Thus time passed away for two years, and our pathway once more seemed to be bright and pleasant, when suddenly our mother died. Thy servants were called to stand by the side of her couch before she departed, and these were her parting words:
"'To you, my sons, I commit my sweet Perreeza! Let her youthful feet be tenderly watched by the eyes of love. Whisper words of sweet, brotherly affection in her youthful ears. Oh, deal gently and kindly with the dear, motherless lamb! Remember the dying request of a mother, and throw your arms of protection around your orphan sister.'
"Having concluded these words, our mother closed her eyes, and gave up the ghost. This beloved object of a mother's dying request has been, for many years, the center of thy servants' joy and happiness, and one smile from our own Perreeza will often turn our darkness into day. Our love for her is returned with all the ardor of a sister's pure affection. The sad news of our destined departure from this our native land has well-nigh overwhelmed her heart with sorrow. The thought of parting makes her spirit faint; and thy servants are sincere when they assure their compassionate master that they greatly fear that, if compelled to be separated from her brothers, Perreeza will sink under the deep weight of sorrow, and pass away to the spirit land. In compliance with her very urgent request, thy servants at this time stand as petitioners before their benevolent superior. We are not here to ask to be released from any demand. We patiently yield to the stern necessity that calls us away; but we are here, O most excellent Barzello! to ask a favor for another, which, if granted, will always live in our grateful memories: it is, that Perreeza, our beloved sister, be permitted to accompany us to the land of the Chaldeans."
"And how old is this young sister, of whom ye speak in such terms of commendation?"
"Perreeza has but just commenced her seventeenth year."
"This request must be presented before my lord, the king. Call again at the setting of the sun, and ye shall learn his pleasure in this matter. Be assured that my influence shall be exerted in your behalf."
"And the prayers of thy servants shall always ascend to the God of Judah for ten thousand blessings on the head of Barzello;" and in the most respectful manner, they left the apartment.
. . . . . . .
"Barzello," said the King of Babylon, in a pleasant mood, "are my chosen captives in a ready trim for their departure?"
"All ready at the word of command, O king."
"But what thinkest thou of those brothers? Hast thou had an opportunity of testing their merits?"
"The brothers and cousins, O king, have been repeatedly in my presence, and have given me positive proof that they are youths of very superior abilities and great worth. Their amiable deportment and truly noble bearing have left on my mind a very favorable impression. Indeed, the youths of Babylon, who pride themselves so much on their superior learning and high attainments, might learn precious lessons of wisdom from these very youths of Judah."
"By the gods! Barzello," said the king, laughing heartily, "if at this rate these youths continue to grow upon thy good opinion, before many days thou wilt be a convert to the religion of Judah!"
"Of the religion of Judah I know but little; but if these children are a fair specimen of its operations, I cannot think that there is anything very dangerous or offensive in it."
"Well, when we arrive in Chaldea, we shall give their powers a fair trial. But are there any more brothers in that family?"
"No more, O king," replied the officer, inwardly thanking the king for the question. "There are but three brothers and one young sister."
"She will be a comfort to her mother in the absence of her sons," said the king, in a thoughtful mood.
"But the young damsel has no mother. For many years the children have been both fatherless and motherless."
"Then there must be bitter parting there, Barzello! This young damsel, an only orphan sister, must be bound to her brothers by more than common ties."
"True, O king," answered Barzello, somewhat animated. "The thought of parting grieves them beyond description. It was but this morning that the brothers sought an interview with me on this very point, and pleaded in her behalf with such melting eloquence as well-nigh robbed me of all my generalship. I dismissed them by stating that I would lay their petition before my lord the king, and that I would give them his answer at the setting of the sun."
"Barzello!" said the king, in a firm tone, "I cannot change my purpose in regard to those brothers. Nothing shall prevail upon me to give them up. To Babylon they must go! I have spoken the word! Let there be no pleading in their behalf—I cannot grant their petition."
"I humbly beg my lord the king's forgiveness," replied the officer, with a smile; "but let me assure him that the noble youths have made no petition of that nature." "But what do they ask?" asked the king, with some astonishment.
"They ask, O king, as the greatest favor, that this their young orphan sister, be permitted by the king to accompany her brothers to the land of the Chaldeans."
"And has not this small favor been granted?"
"Barzello now stands in the presence of his sovereign in behalf of the Hebrew damsel, asking for her a permission."
"And the permission is granted. And furthermore, Barzello, see that she is well provided for, and dealt gently with, for the maiden is of kingly line."
"All this shall be strictly attended to, O king," said the well-pleased officer, as he respectfully left the presence of the monarch.
It was now late in the afternoon. The "regent of day" was gradually fading from the sight of the inhabitants of the valley, and was smilingly sinking beyond the western hills, and Barzello hastened his footsteps toward his headquarters. After having reached his apartment, he seated himself, and indulged in some reflections, which, if we might judge from his countenance, we might pronounce to be of a pleasing nature.
While thug musing, he was roused by the entrance of one of his servants.
"What now, Franzo?"
"Three young men and a damsel stand below, desiring the favor of an interview with my master."
"Let them be conducted into my presence; and see thou to it that they receive due respect from all below. They are persons of distinction."
The sister and brothers were conducted into the presence of Barzello, where again they were received with peculiar attention.
"The officer of the king of the Chaldeans is always happy to meet his young friends, and will consider it a great pleasure to add to their comfort and happiness. And this young damsel, I am led to believe, is your sister of whom ye spake this morning."
"This is Perreeza, our sister," replied Azariah; "her sense of obligation to our noble friend for his generous feelings in her behalf, has prompted her to embrace the privilege of appearing in person, to acknowledge her deep gratitude."
"It gives me much pleasure to behold your sister, but I am not aware of any service rendered that calls for a great amount of gratitude."
"Thy servants," said Azariah, "in compliance with the directions received this morning, are in thy presence to learn the will of the king, in regard to thy servants' request, as made known to him through the intervention of his generous officer."
"Ye did well to come at the appointed hour. I am always well pleased with strict punctuality. I am happy to inform you, that your request in regard to your sister is very readily granted; and, moreover, the king has given me particular directions to see that she has everything requisite to her perfect comfort in journeying, which directions will be obeyed with the utmost pleasure."
Silent tears of joy coursed down the cheeks of both sister and brothers. They were so affected by the result of their effort, together with the unaffected tenderness of Barzello, that for a short interval they could in no wise give utterance to their feelings. Perreeza was the first to break the spell.
"The most excellent Barzello will please accept the humble thanks of an orphan maiden of Judah, for his kind regards. The God of the fatherless and motherless will surely reward his servant, and cause blessings and prosperity to rest on his household. Thy kindness shall not be forgotten. Our daily prayers shall ascend to the God of Judah in thy behalf, with the smoke of our morning and evening sacrifices."
"And I trust the youthful maiden of Judah," said the officer, in a voice far from being firm, "will live to see many happy years in the fair land of the Chaldeans."
The interview was at an end, and the youths of Judah quietly directed their footsteps to that beautiful mansion which was well known in that vicinity as the "House of Amonober."
ON THE journey to Babylon, nothing of note transpired. The royal captives continued to receive peculiar marks of attention and very clear demonstrations of regard. They readily and justly concluded that all this originated in the generous heart of Barzello; and thus he became more and more endeared to them.
The King of the Chaldeans' return to Babylon, at the head of his victorious army, was hailed with loud acclamations of joy. The great capital of his extensive empire was filled to overflowing with exulting thousands, to welcome the victorious monarch from a brilliant campaign. Proud banners floated in triumph on the high turrets, while a thousand minstrels filled the air with their high-sounding melody.
Nebuchadnezzar was as yet but a young monarch. He spared no pains to render himself acceptable to his people, by a worthy deportment and a liberal encouragement of all improvements throughout his realm, and especially within the city of Babylon. At this period, he was greatly beloved by his subjects, and his popularity was plainly visible in the unbounded welcome with which he was received and escorted to the royal palace.
Not far from the king's palace stood a splendid mansion of broad and lofty dimensions. Within the enclosures, everything was arranged with faultless taste. In front, large beds of roses unveiled their charms, and sent forth their sweet fragrance. Each side was well ornamented with shrubbery, and the rear beautified with a garden abundantly filled with delicious fruits. With the permission of the reader, we will now enter. In a richly-furnished apartment within this noble edifice, sat a man of commanding exterior, attired in rich, military official costume. Caressingly on his bosom leaned a young damsel, over whose head sixteen summers might have gently rolled. Joy and gladness beamed in every feature of her lovely countenance.
"Oh, happy day! Father is home again! Jupheena will now be happy. The time of thy absence seemed long and dreary; but thou art back again in our happy home!"
"Yea, my child, I am really home again, and am happy to find my sweet Jupheena as well and as sprightly as ever."
"But my dear father has happily returned sooner than we expected; thy stay in Egypt was but short."
"Short, indeed, my daughter. Pharaoh-Necho, when he saw our powerful legions, soon came to terms of peace; and in this I admire his wisdom. From Egypt, we marched into the capital of Judah, and gained an entrance without resistance.
"My stay in Jerusalem, thou knowest, was but short, and my facilities for observation were not very favorable; but owing to peculiar circumstances, I became partially acquainted with those in Judah who left deep and happy impressions on my mind. I found a few young men of the kingly line, who, in my opinion, were far superior in mind to any I ever had the pleasure of beholding."
"Dear father! that is saying much. Then they must have been very different from their royal relation, of whom thou speakest."
"Thou hast well said, my daughter. Happy would it have been for that distracted nation if one of those youths had graced the throne of Judah, instead of the profligate Jehoiakim."
"Then it appears, surely," said the daughter smilingly, "that true excellence and superiority are not confined to Chaldea. But I hear nothing in praise of Judah's maidens."
"The maidens of Judah are fair—some of them exceedingly fair. Thou wilt wonder, perhaps, to hear that the peculiar grace and artless eloquence of one of these maids of Judah so affected thy father's heart, that he could not refrain from shedding tears."
"And have these interesting captives arrived in the city?"
"Yea, my daughter, they are already in Babylon."
"And shall not thy daughter have the pleasure of seeing this orphan maid of Judah?"
"Yea, verily! this day thou shalt see her; and if thou art well pleased with her and with her society, she may be an inmate of my house, and a companion for my daughter."
"But can the young maiden converse in Chaldee?"
"She speaks our language, my daughter, with a degree of fluency that is really astonishing. It is evident that her attainments are quite superior, and that all the advantages which Judah's capital could afford have been lavished upon her."
"Oh! it will be delightful to learn beautiful stories of other lands, and have such a sweet and lovely creature for my companion; I am almost impatient to see her."
"I will have her conveyed hither without delay. If I mistake not, the maiden will be delighted to tarry under the roof of one whom she calls her 'bountiful benefactor.' Thy father will now leave for a short season, to attend to some business matters of importance. In two hours I return." And kissing his sweet Jupheena, the soldier hurried out of the apartment. A chariot stood ready at his door, into which he stepped, and was hurried away to another part of the city.
THE royal captives, on arriving in the city, were conveyed, according to the strict orders of Barzello, to certain appropriate apartments, prepared for their reception, and nothing requisite to their comfort and entertainment was left wanting. On the very first day of their arrival the God-fearing youths found themselves to be favorites in a land of strangers. The God in whom they trusted gave them adequate strength for their peculiar trials. They found themselves in possession of energy of spirit and courage, that was truly a source of wonderment to themselves. They thought of friends and home with all the fervor of pure affection; but it was not accompanied with those painful, agonizing emotions that are wont to accompany the remembrance of native land and absent friends; in regard to which state of mind they could well adopt the language of one of their happiest monarchs: "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our sight."
It was about the ninth hour. The youthful group were seated together.
"Well, cousin," said Azariah, smiling and looking round the apartment, "this has more the appearance of being guests of royalty than poor captives of war."
"Yea, truly," replied Daniel; "and in this we clearly see the loving-kindness of our God, by whom princes rule and kings govern."
"Our kind friend, Barzello," said Hananiah, "has promised to call on us ere the sun sets."
"And he will certainly fulfill his promise," said Mishael.
"We have proved him a genuine and a wise counselor," said Daniel.
"And his loving-kindness shall ever remain deeply graven on our memories," said Azariah.
"Perreeza hopes," said the sister, "that it may be her good providence to be always near the good man, where she may often see his smiling face."
"Our excellent master, under the direction of the King of kings, will order all things for the best," said Hananiah.
"Let us always remember the parting admonitions of our good Prophet," said Mishael, "and calmly submit our all to the wisdom of the Keeper of Israel."
"Even so, amen!" replied the others.
Quick footsteps were heard without. The door opened, and Barzello entered the apartment. The youths unitedly arose, and bowed low, in humble token of respect to the noble officer.
"I trust my young friends from Judah find these apartments a comfortable resting place."
"Thy servants," replied Daniel, "are overwhelmed with thy kindness, and hope, in some sphere, by a true and honest deportment, to be able to show their benefactor that his kindness is duly appreciated."
"And how does our young maid of Judah feel after her long journey?" asked Barzello, as he smilingly approached Perreeza.
"Thy maid of Judah is in good health; and being so well provided for on her journey, she experienced but a very slight inconvenience."
"But she must be further provided for. She must have a permanent home in the vicinity of her brothers. An officer of the king, in the city, with whom I am well acquainted, having learned something of the history and deportment of this your sister, would desire her, if not contrary to her wishes, to be an inmate of his house, and a companion for his only child—a maiden of sixteen summers. Would this be acceptable to the young damsel?"
"Abundantly acceptable, most kind Barzello!" said Perreeza. "Thy young handmaid is ready at any time to do the pleasure of her protector."
"Then I will accompany thee thither without any delay."
Perreeza withdrew to another apartment, and in a short time, returned, attired in her rich native costume, and giving Barzello a sign that she was ready, they both left the apartment. Soon Perreeza found herself by the side of her kind friend, in a richly-ornamented chariot, that hurried them through the wide and busy thoroughfares. Perreeza was somewhat astonished at the greatness and grandeur of this Gentile metropolis.
"Your Babylon is truly a great city," said she.
"The greatest on record. How in thine eye compares its beauty with the capital of Judah?"
"In the ornamental—in splendid gardens and bubbling fountains—Babylon surely stands far superior."
The chariot halted, and Perreeza found herself in front of one of the most beautiful mansions she had ever beheld.
"And is this the officer's mansion?" asked Perreeza, gazing with a degree of astonishment at the great structure.
"Yea, this is it, fair damsel. But thou appearest somewhat embarrassed. Let the maid of Judah have no fears, for I have every confidence that she will do well."
"Is the noble officer at home?" asked the maid, endeavoring to appear composed.
"He is about the premises, and will soon be in," replied Barzello, with a smile.
"What delicious flowers!" cried Perreeza, breathing a little easier.
"Babylon abounds with the like, fair damsel. But come, let us enter, for the officer's daughter is in haste to behold the youthful maid from the land of Judah."
Barzello ascended those steps of spotless marble, and, with a degree of freedom that seemed to surprise his young companion, he entered a spacious apartment, richly furnished and beautifully ornamented, where Jupheena was ready to receive them, with loving smiles of welcome.
"Jupheena, this is the young maid from the land of Judah, of whom thy father spoke," and, directing his language to Perreeza, at the same time giving Jupheena a glance that was readily understood, he said, "and, young damsel, this is the officer's daughter of whom I spoke."
The two maidens, as if by a magic spell, were drawn to each other's arms.
"I shall leave you for a short period, Jupheena," said the officer; "thy father will soon return; when he comes, thou wilt be most happy to present to him thy young companion," and Barzello left the apartment, and thus the two fair ones were left together.
"I am happy to see my young friend from Judah," said Jupheena. "I have been deeply affected by thy history, and that of thy noble brothers. I trust, that in the absence of thy friends, we shall be able to make thee happy."
"Since we left our beloved Jerusalem, and even before, we have experienced naught but kindness from the noble officers of the king, especially the most excellent Barzello. His sympathies have well-nigh overwhelmed us, and we shall love him as long as we live, and implore the blessing of the God of Israel to rest upon his household. Was it not he that kindly spoke of thy young handmaiden to thy father?"
"I am not aware who it was that first spoke to my father of the maid of Judah," replied Jupheena, smiling, "but Barzello, surely, is deeply interested in thy welfare."
Barzello again entered, and Perreeza looked for the other officer, but no other officer was present. Jupheena arose, and, taking her young companion by the hand, led her to her father.
"Maid of Judah, I have now the pleasure of presenting thee to my own dear father, the king's officer, under whose roof I trust thou wilt find a welcome home."
"And this is his only daughter, Jupheena, of whom he spoke," said Barzello, highly delighted. "I trust the maid of Judah will find her a pleasant companion."
Such was the effect of this innocent piece of deception on the mind of young Perreeza, that all the response she could make, was to fall on the neck of her young companion, and weep aloud. But those tears were tears of joy; and those lofty walls were witnesses to the fast falling of other tears than those shed by the maid of Judah.
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!" cried Perreeza, when partially recovered, "who hath given me favor in the eyes of this people! May Jehovah smile upon his servant Barzello, and upon his lovely daughter, who thus throw open their door to welcome an orphan maid of Israel."
"Thou shalt find under this roof a welcome home," said Barzello, affectionately taking Perreeza by the hand; "in Jupheena thou wilt find a worthy companion and an affectionate friend."
"Thy daughter," answered Jupheena, "will always esteem it a high pleasure to add to the happiness of her young friend."
"And Jehovah assisting me," cried the Hebrew maid, "I will endeavor so to walk before my kind protectors as to be always worthy of their friendly regard."
"If it be pleasing to thy young friend," said Barzello, addressing himself to his daughter, "she may be again conducted to inform her brothers of her new home."
"My brothers will be overjoyed," answered Perreeza, "to learn of the happiness of their sister; and to me, it will afford the greatest pleasure to convey to them the joyful intelligence."
"If it will please my daughter," said Barzello, "she may accompany us. What sayest thou, Jupheena?"
"Thy daughter most gratefully accepts thy kind offer."
"Our young friend, peradventure, will be pleased to see her brothers and cousin without any delay, while Jupheena will accompany her father on an errand of business at the house of an officer nearby. Thou mayest inform thy brothers and cousin that we shall call and see them presently."
Perreeza embraced the opportunity, and, thanking the officer with one of her peculiar smiles, hurried to their apartment.
"Back again, precious Perreeza!" cried Azariah, hastening to meet her. "And did our sister see the king's officer and his young daughter, of whom Barzello spoke?"
"I did!" exclaimed his sister, while unusual joy beamed in her countenance.
"And from thy countenance I am prepared to judge that the interview has been a happy one," said her cousin Daniel.
"Never was there a happier interview, cousin. The noble officer's kindness is unbounded, and his daughter is one of the loveliest beings I ever beheld."
"Perreeza, I trust, will not forget the kindness of Barzello, in the warmth of her gratitude to her new friend," said Azariah.
"Never fear that, my dear brother. The remembrance of Barzello's kindness is too deeply graven on Perreeza's heart to be ever forgotten; and while I remain under the roof of the king's officer, I shall daily become more and more deeply indebted to the kind Barzello."
"It must be that through his kind interposition our beloved sister found so good a home," said Mishael, "and if this officer, under whose roof she has found a shelter, partakes of the spirit of Barzello, her home must be a happy one. Perreeza, does he appear like unto our noble friend?"
"The very image of him!" said the sister, laughing heartily. "Now, brothers and cousin, let Perreeza undeceive you on this point. This noble officer, whose house is to be my future home, is none other than our own illustrious Barzello himself. This truth was made known to me in a way that well-nigh prostrated me. Oh, brothers, is not this delightful?"
"Praised be Jehovah!" broke from the lips of the youths of Judah.
"For conversation we have but a short time," said Perreeza; "Barzello and his lovely Jupheena are below, and will be here in a few moments, and from hence I accompany them to their home. Hark ye! I hear their footsteps."
Barzello, with a smiling countenance, entered the apartment, leading by the hand his beautiful daughter. Perreeza ran to meet her young companion, while the four youths were not wanting in appropriate obeisance to the noble officer; all of which was closely watched by the smiling young Chaldean maid.
"Have our young friends received any communications from any of the king's officers since our last interview?"
"Thy servants have received no communication from any source, since the departure of their kind friend, about the ninth hour," answered Daniel.
"To-morrow morning, peradventure, ye shall learn the pleasure of the king in regard to your future course; and I trust ye will find that our noble monarch is not wholly unmindful of your former rank and station in your own land."
"Permit thy unworthy servants once more," said Azariah, "to acknowledge, with grateful hearts, thy kind regards for their beloved sister, whom thou hast taken as an inmate of thy hospitable mansion. Perreeza will always delight to do thy pleasure, and to be the obedient servant of thy amiable young daughter."
"Your sister, while under my roof, shall not be looked upon in an inferior light. The chosen companion of my daughter will command due respect from those in high circles. The maid of Judah need not feel embarrassed, for her literary attainments will compare favorably with the most polished maidens of her own age in Babylon. She is not a captive. With the noble feeling of a sister's heart, and of her own accord, she accompanied her brothers to a land of strangers. She is as free as any daughter of Chaldea; and therefore my Jupheena will be happy to introduce her to her friends in her real character, as a youthful maid of the royal line of Judah. In thus drawing a line of distinction between yourselves and your sister, far be it from me to think that your present relation to our government renders you, in any real sense, inferior to others—'tis but a name, and will soon be forgotten; for it is in the power of the king to elevate you, not only to proper citizenship, but to high rank and prominent stations in the government.
"Your sister will now accompany us home. Any article she wishes conveyed thither, shall be sent for without delay. Now, my daughter, are we ready?"
"All ready, father, unless Perreeza has aught unfinished."
"I have naught to hinder," answered Perreeza, with a trembling voice.
IN A ROYAL apartment, decorated in superlative grandeur, sat the powerful monarch of Chaldea. He was alone. His countenance bespoke a degree of self-complacency and satisfaction. Around him, on a rich carpet, were several large scrolls of manuscript, while, in his hand, he held carelessly what appeared to be a well-arranged map of battle fields and grand points of attack. Chaldea, at this time, was the seat of science and learning. Thither the great of other nations resorted to acquire literary distinction. Nebuchadnezzar, from his childhood, had been initiated into all the arts and sciences; and, as he was a youth possessing a superior mind, he made great proficiency in all his numerous studies. Before he ascended the throne, he was pronounced to be one of the brightest scholars within the whole realm; and now, although a monarch, surrounded by a thousand cares and perplexities, he bestowed much thought on his own favorite studies; and one of his most prominent desires was the perpetuity and advancement of learning among his subjects. A dull individual, however high in his rank, could never share the company of the young King of Babylon. All who moved within the royal enclosures, whether as courtiers, under-officers, or domestics, had to be those of discerning minds and intelligence. What exact train of thought occupied the monarch's mind at this time we may better judge, perhaps, from the sequel. He rose from his reclining posture and lightly touched a shining key, which instantly answered in a remote part of the royal palace. The door opened, and an officer bowed himself into the apartment.
"And what is the pleasure of my lord the king?"
"Ashpenaz," said the king, in a familiar voice, "thou knowest well that there is a painful scarcity of waiters to stand in the presence of the king; and even those we have are not what I could desire them to be in point of intelligence and cultivation. This must be remedied without delay. My father's taste in this matter was somewhat different from mine. Far be it from me to cast any reflection on the judgment of my illustrious father; but the glory and splendor of my empire are on the forward march, and things at the royal palace must not be permitted to fall in the rear. I am about to lay a foundation to a measure that will yet shed glory and luster on my reign. What is more mortifying, Ashpenaz, while endeavoring to entertain our own dignitaries, and the visiting nobles of other nations, than to witness the blundering ignorance of our attendants? In this I cast no blame on my worthy and noble officer—by no means.
"In my last campaign I gave orders to convey to Babylon a number of young men of the kingly line, both from Egypt and Judah. From the conversation I had with Barzello, I am led to believe that there are among them some very superior minds. Now, it is the wish of thy king that a number of these youths be taken, and, in company with some of our own young men, be trained up in the knowledge of our arts and sciences, and receive, moreover, particular instruction in all the laws of etiquette, and court customs and maxims, so as to be of efficient service to the king, and at the same time reflect honor on their stations. About their instruction there must be nothing shallow or superficial. There must be thorough work. For this they must have reasonable time. I therefore appoint the period of their studying to be three years, at the end of which let them be brought before the king for examination; and let those who will be able to give satisfaction be permitted to stand before the king. Moreover, as diet of the best sort contributes both to the beauty of the body and the improvement of the mind, let them have their daily portion of the king's meat and the wine which he drinketh. Now, Ashpenaz, for further information thou art to consult Barzello. He will select a certain number of young men, and deliver them over to thee, and thou art to lose no time in placing them under suitable instructors."
"Thy servant," replied Ashpenaz, "is ever happy to obey the orders of his illustrious sovereign, which are always issued in that profound wisdom derived only from the gods."
This officer stood high in the estimation of the king. He was calm, dignified, and deeply experienced in all things pertaining to the duties of his office. For a long time he had served as a confidential servant of the king's father, and was highly honored by young and old at the court. This dignitary was soon on his way towards the house of his friend Barzello.
"Good-morning to my friend Ashpenaz," said Barzello, with a welcome smile.
"And a good-morning to our excellent Barzello," was the hearty response.
"And how do things move on at the palace?"
"Oh, pleasantly. Our young monarch is bent on thorough reform in all deficient quarters."
"Babylon needs reforming; and may he never pause until the work is perfected. Long life to our good monarch!"
"Ah! my good Barzello, if all that is to be accomplished, he needs a long life indeed. But I have but a short time to tarry. The king desires a number of the royal captives of Judah and Egypt to be placed under proper instructions to prepare them, after three years' training, to be royal waiters at the palace. In thy wisdom thou art to select from among them the most perfect in body and mind, and deliver them over to my charge; and, according to the orders of his majesty, I shall immediately place them under suitable teachers."
"This will be attended to without delay," answered Barzello. "Of those from Egypt, there are quite a number of youths of high origin, and who, for aught I know, may possess superior powers of mind. I have had no great facilities to test their capacities. Of those from Judah, there are only four that I can with confidence recommend to the care and charge of my worthy friend. These four are noble specimens of humanity—beautiful in bodily form and complexion, and truly amiable and excellent in mind. I will assure my worthy friend that, of all the acquaintances I ever formed among men, and they have been quite numerous in different lands, none ever impressed me so favorably as these four youths from the land of Judah. They worship no god but the God of the Hebrews. In this they show but their faithfulness and their consistency. My worthy friend will pardon my warmth in speaking of these children, for there are incidents connected with their history, which I need not now mention, that have greatly endeared them to thine unworthy friend; and I have no doubt that thou wilt find them to be all they are recommended to be."
"I have all confidence in the judgment and wisdom of my worthy friend," answered Ashpenaz, "and it affords me much pleasure to hear such a favorable report of those who are to be placed under my charge; and I assure my good Barzello, that their worth and excellence will be duly noticed and appreciated."
"If thou art in haste, I will accompany thee without delay to the young men's apartments; perhaps thou wouldst be pleased to see them."
"After such a warm recommendation, it will certainly be quite a favor—but where is thy sweet Jupheena? This call will hardly recompense me, if I must leave without a glance at that little beauty."
"Ah, indeed! Perhaps our good friend Ashpenaz will have no objection to gaze on two beauties instead of one."
"All the better, my friend."
A female servant was sent to the young ladies' room to inform them that they were wanted below, and in a few minutes the two girls were seen, side by side, marching into the presence of the delighted officers. Perreeza never appeared lovelier. Attired in the rich, flowing simplicity of her Hebrew costume, with a degree of blushing modesty on her yet animated countenance, she appeared almost angelic. Jupheena, perfectly acquainted with her father's friend, felt not the least embarrassment.
"Two beauties instead of one, surely," said Ashpenaz, gazing with wonder on the fair form of Perreeza.
Barzello took the maid of Judah by the hand, and, approaching his friend, said:
"This is young Perreeza, of the royal line of Judah, who, of her own accord, accompanied her brothers to the land of the Chaldeans, and has seen fit to favor us with her company."
"No very small favor, Barzello," cried Ashpenaz, bowing low. "I hope the partiality of the gods will not make us quarrel."
"Let not my noble friend be unjust to the gods. If the maid of Judah is an inmate of the house of Barzello, I trust that three brothers and a cousin, given to the sole charge of Ashpenaz, will convince him that the gods are not partial."
"Ah! that will do," said Ashpenaz, still gazing on the maid of Judah.
"Perreeza," said Barzello, "from pure love for her three brothers, of whom I spake, saw fit to leave her native land and venture her future destiny among strangers."
"I trust," answered Ashpenaz, "they are indeed worthy of such a sister's pure affection."
"That is a point soon settled in the minds of all who have the pleasure of their acquaintance."
"Permit me to congratulate my young friend, Jupheena, on the happy addition to the number of her youthful friends."
"Our beloved Ashpenaz may well congratulate," replied the young beauty; "and let him be assured that his congratulations are warmly appreciated."
"And how does our young friend from Judah enjoy the society of her Chaldean friends?"
"Thy young handmaiden enjoys their society much," modestly replied Perreeza. "If she stands in any danger, it must be from an excess of kindness."
"I trust the maid of Judah will sustain no material injury from any amount of kindness received in my house," said Barzello, laughing. "If she does, she must charge it to herself; for, under the circumstances, to be less kind is entirely out of our power."
"Barzello," cried the visitor, "thy house is a famous spot for officers to forget their great hurry. Come, my good friend, business is pressing; let us be away. A good-day to the 'two beauties instead of one.'"
And the two officers hurried from the apartment, entered a chariot, and were on their way to the appointed place.
"A charming damsel that, Barzello."
"All of that, my worthy friend."
"What are her literary attainments?"
"All that Judah's capital could bestow."
"How will she compare with the refined maids of Babylon?"
"She will compare favorably with the most polished in Chaldea."
"Verily. And the brothers?"
"All thy richest fancies could paint them."
"And yet captives of war!"
"Yea—captives of war."
"The captivity of genius must be of short duration."
The chariot halted. The two officers alighted, and without delay they hastened to the apartments of the Hebrew youths.
"A happy day to the youths of Judah," said Barzello, in a lively tone. "This is my noble friend, Ashpenaz, a high officer of the king at the palace. From this hour ye are to be under his special directions."
"Thy servants," replied Daniel, bowing gracefully, "will be greatly delighted to be placed in any spot where they can be of service to their worthy superiors."
"To-morrow, then," said Ashpenaz, "ye shall enter upon new duties, and commence your important studies. Your teachers are in readiness—men of superior powers of mind, and well versed in the art of teaching. The king himself will be greatly interested in your progress, and therefore has prepared apartments for the students within the royal enclosures, where he will at times appear personally to learn of their advancement. To-morrow, at the third hour, ye will hold yourselves in readiness to be conveyed thither."
"Thy servants will be in readiness at the appointed hour," said Daniel.
"Now for the Egyptians, Barzello," said Ashpenaz, smiling, as they left the apartment.
AT THE appointed hour, our youths, in company with many others, were conveyed to their new habitation, which was a beautiful building, erected in the vicinity of the king's palace. Here all the students were received with great civility, and commended to their different apartments. The four Hebrews were not separated, but were permitted to remain as heretofore. They found that everything conducive to their comfort and enjoyment had been provided here as well as at the apartments they had left. Hitherto they had no knowledge of the manner in which they were to receive instruction, or the precise nature of their studies. They knew the Chaldeans to be noted for their learning, and they were not without their fears lest the Babylonian youths who were to be their fellow-students should outstrip them, and leave them far in the distance; however, they were fully determined to acquit themselves to the utmost of their ability, and leave the result with the God of their fathers. Nothing could have given them greater satisfaction than the course marked out for them by the king. Indeed, if it had been left to their own choice to select, it could not have been otherwise. From the days of their early childhood they had been close students, and they had become well versed in Hebrew lore, and had a fair knowledge of Chaldee, which was often studied in Judah, as an ornamental branch of education. This proved a very favorable item in their experience, but there were numerous studies before them, to which, as Jews, they were utter strangers, and to acquire even a respectable knowledge of which demanded much time and perseverance. The king was aware of this when he appointed the time of their probation to be three years. The Egyptian youths were of royal descent, and had some knowledge of the Chaldee, and were well acquainted with several branches of learning pertaining to their native land. The Chaldean portion of the students were mostly of the city of Babylon, and already somewhat advanced in what was considered the higher branches.
When conducted to their respective rooms, they were given to understand that, at a certain signal, they were all to assemble below, where Ashpenaz would meet them, address them, and enlighten them in regard to the duties of their future course.
The four Hebrews were quietly seated in one of their apartments, each one engaged in satisfying his curiosity by gazing at the richly carved casings and highly ornamented articles of furniture.
"Well, cousins," said Daniel, with a smile, "I trust they will not un-Hebrew us with their Chaldean mysteries."
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!" said Azariah, with feeling, "let my right hand forget her cunning."
"Let my tongue be palsied if I forget, for a day, the loved ones at home," said Hananiah.
"When the sweet memories of our beloved Prophet shall be obliterated from this bosom," said Mishael, laying his hand upon his breast, "then let me be utterly forsaken."
"The law of Jehovah shall be the rule of our actions," said Daniel; "to him we yield our hearty and willing obedience."
The grand signal was heard below, and, without delay, the young men, from different parts of the building, were seen hurrying to the commodious apartment set apart for the occasion. Here they found a number of the king's officers assembled, among whom the youths of Judah recognized the pleasant countenance of Barzello. They were soon seated in perfect order, and Babylon never witnessed, in personal appearance, a more interesting group of youths. They were received by the officers with a smile of satisfaction, and with a look of admiration. Presently, the dignified form of Ashpenaz was seen moving slowly towards the rostrum; he ascended, gracefully bowed to the officers on either side, and proceeded:
"It is of the utmost importance that those who are destined to minister in the king's presence should be well initiated into the ways and manners, maxims and customs of our nation, and be well versed in all the learning of the Chaldeans. Nothing short of this can meet the demands and reasonable expectations of our great monarch; and for this he has carefully provided every facility. Your teachers are of the most superior in the realm, and an ample period is appointed for the perfection of your accomplishments.
"In addition to literary attainments, the king looks for moral integrity, uprightness of character, and true amiability of deportment. Without these, the most learned can never add to the real dignity of the court, nor to the stability of the Empire; but, on the contrary, such a one destitute of moral principle must prove a dangerous element in any and all communities. Let this be deeply impressed on your youthful minds, and seek earnestly to cultivate those nobler powers of the mind, as well as the intellectual faculties.
"Those of you from Egypt, and especially those of you from Judah, have no faith in our gods, or sympathy with our mode of worship. From your infancy ye have been taught to do homage to the God of your fathers and to his worship ye have pledged your future lives. The King of Babylon, in his great wisdom, has seen fit to put no obstacles between you and the worship of your deities. Ye are at liberty to serve your gods and adore after the dictates of your own consciences; and, moreover, ye are not required to perform any act that may be contrary to your religious convictions. I trust that this great favor will be rightly appreciated, and never abused. While ye are thus kindly permitted to worship your own gods, show no disrespect to those who may differ from you, and on whose good-will and favor your future success must greatly depend.
"As a proof of his high regard for your physical and intellectual prosperity, the king has appointed your meat and drink to be conveyed from his own table. This, indeed, is an honor conferred on but few in Babylon. Thus, ye readily perceive that nothing is wanting that is in the least calculated to enhance your comfort or speed your literary progress. Ye have but to apply yourselves diligently to your studies and be careful to maintain a correct deportment, and ye shall reap the reward of fidelity, in being permitted to stand in the presence of the king.
"It is the desire of your sovereign that those from Egypt and Judah be known hereafter by names more suitable to the country in which ye now abide. These names ye shall hereafter learn from your teachers. Ye may now return in perfect order to your respective apartments. To-morrow at the second hour, at a given signal, ye will appear at this place again, and formally enter upon your studies."
The four youths, after having reached their rooms, for a while sat in silence; and from the countenance of Daniel it might have been easily gathered that all was not well. The brothers were not slow to notice this, and it caused them some uneasiness. Usually their cousin took the lead in all conversation, but at this time Daniel was mute.
"Well, cousin," said Azariah, "how wast thou pleased with the address of our new master?"
"Highly pleased, upon the whole. He surely is a man of kind feelings and refined taste."
"But my dear cousin seems somewhat disconsolate and much less cheerful than when we left this apartment one hour ago. We are at a loss to find a cause for this sudden change."
"I perceive that a certain part of the address, which struck me as rather unfortunate for us, was not looked upon in that light by my worthy cousins."
"I suppose thou hast reference to that part relating to the change of names. For my part, I am not overtenacious on that point, for to me thou wilt always remain 'Cousin Daniel,' and to thee, I trust, I shall always be 'Cousin Azariah;' and if the Chaldeans prefer to call me Bel-sha-bo-raze-ba-phoo, and my Cousin Daniel Sha-go-mer-zalta-ba-phee, or some other long name, let them by all means be gratified."
"My worthy cousin is mistaken in regard to this point," said Daniel, smiling, while the three brothers, for the first time in Babylon, joined in a hearty laugh. "As far as names are concerned, they are welcome to add on the syllables to their hearts' content; but, seriously, cousins, there is a point that, if not rightly managed, will entangle us in serious difficulties. I have reference to that part which made mention of our meat and drink. How can we, as Hebrews, defile ourselves with meats, portions of which are offered to idols, and with wine sacrificed to the gods of Chaldea? This would be in direct violation of the law of our God. To this we can never consent; and, moreover, we are not accustomed to these dainties, and such high living can never be conducive to our health and happiness. Ye know, cousins, that from beholding the drunken degradation of those in high authority in Judah, our parents, many years ago, arrived at the wise conclusion that their children, in order to escape the pit-falls into which others had fallen, should never be counted among wine-drinkers. To this desire of our fond parents we strictly adhered while in Jerusalem, although often ridiculed by drunken wit, and frowned upon by countenances flushed with strong drink. Shall we, then, in a strange land, forget the covenant of our God, and violate our sacred obligations to our beloved parents? No, cousins, this must never be. I trust we may yet be excused, for we were informed that we would not be required to perform any act against our religious convictions. Our food must remain simple, as in Judah; and by this we shall not only adhere to the requirements of Jehovah, but we shall also be better able to master those arduous studies which stand before us in such formidable array."
"Right, noble cousin," cried Azariah, hastening up to Daniel and grasping him affectionately by the hand; "always right! On thee be the sole management of the business; and we are confident that, as usual, under the blessing of our God, we shall come forth triumphantly."
"First of all, then, I must have an interview with our kind master."
Footsteps were now heard approaching their apartment. Daniel opened the door, and, finding there a servant of Ashpenaz, addressed him:
"Will the servant of our noble master have the kindness to convey to him a message, in few words, from one of the youths of Judah?"
"The servant of my lord Ashpenaz will always be happy to do all in his power for the comfort and happiness of those from Judah; and any message to my lord I am ready to convey."
"The message is this: Daniel, of the captivity of Judah, asks the favor of a short interview with his kind lord, Ashpenaz."
The servant respectfully bowed and departed, and, in a few moments, Daniel stood in the presence of his kind friend.
"And what is the pleasure of my young friend from Judah?"
Here Daniel explained, in an eloquent manner, the objections he and his three companions had to partaking of the portion of the king's meat and the wine which he drank.
"This is rather a delicate point, my young friend," answered Ashpenaz, with a degree of perplexity visible on his countenance. "If your meat and drink were of my own appointment, your request could be granted with the greatest ease and pleasure; but since the order comes from the king, I see not how it can be granted without disobedience to superior orders. The king desires to give you every opportunity to improve, if possible, your appearance. I fear my lord the king. For why should he see your faces worse looking than the children which are of your degree? Then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king."
"Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days," said Daniel, turning towards Melzar, "and let them give us vegetable food, and pure cold water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenances of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat; and as thou seest, deal with thy servants."
"Well," replied Ashpenaz, smiling, "if the king's object is accomplished, I trust he is not tenacious about the article of food; so, Melzar, let our young friends be gratified in this respect. Let them have a trial of ten days, and, if at the end of that time they have retained their beauty and freshness, let them be fed with vegetables."
"Permit me, in the absence of my three cousins, to offer their gratitude, with my own, to our noble lord for his kind favor," said Daniel, gracefully bowing himself out of the apartment.
The morning of the tenth day dawned upon our Hebrew captives. Their days of trial were soon over, and they felt no fear of the scrutinizing gaze of Melzar. Health and beauty played on their fair cheeks, and they were well prepared for the inspection; and Melzar declared, with due humility, in their presence, that such countenances were not to be found in all Babylon. Now, Melzar was an excellent judge of beauty.
Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them pulse.
AS BOTH Barzello and his daughter were highly esteemed in Babylon, Perreeza made many delightful acquaintances and was much sought after. She was happy in her new life, and by her many accomplishments and sweet disposition greatly endeared herself to her new found friends.