Among the acquaintances of Barzello, with whom the king's trusted officer had been on terms of intimacy for a long term of years, was one Joram, a rich merchant of the city. Joram was understood to have great influence at court, owing to the fact that he had traveled all over the then known world and possessed a valuable knowledge of many nations. His life was a mysterious one, and, while he was credited with being the richest man in Babylon, he was little seen outside of his place of business; but many politicians consulted him, and the king had been known to send his chariot for Joram day after day when great affairs of state were on hand. It had also leaked out that people of distinction from other countries visited the great merchant, and it was correctly surmised in political circles that Joram had helped to shape many a commercial treaty in the interests of the Babylonian monarch.
With all his mystery and reticence and secret power, Joram was a loyal subject of Nebuchadnezzar and ably seconded the king's efforts for advancing the greatness of Babylon. His family consisted of his wife and an adopted son. The latter was a young man of fine attainments, and was being educated in statecraft as well as mercantile affairs.
Early one evening Barzello had succeeded in persuading Joram to accompany him home. He had spoken of the young captives and the beautiful Perreeza, and wished the merchant and his family to know them. The two elderly men were accompanied to the officer's house by Mathias, the adopted son of Joram. They were warmly greeted by Jupheena, who smilingly conducted Mathias to another part of the house for the purpose of introducing him to Perreeza.
"Maid of Judah," said Jupheena, "I have the pleasure of presenting thee to the honorable Mathias, son of our most excellent Joram."
At these words the maid arose with calmness and beautiful dignity, appearing like an angel in human form, and gently responded to the very low bow of the young Babylonian. The conversation soon became animated. Mathias talked with all the warmth of his noble nature, producing a very favorable impression on the mind of the maid of Judah.
"To me it is quite refreshing," said Perreeza, "to hear a name that is familiar in Israel. I have many relatives in Judah who are called by thy name."
"Our national feelings are strong," said the young man, "and, if I have learned correctly, this feeling is said to be stronger in the Hebrew heart than in all others."
"I am not so well prepared to vouch for the correctness of the sentiment," said Perreeza, "but if my own feelings be an index to the sentiments of others of my nation, the saying is abundantly true."
"It is certainly an admirable trait of character," said the young man, "and the individual in a foreign land who can think of the home of his fathers without strong emotion is not, in my opinion, an individual to be envied."
"Permit the maid of Judah to thank her friend for that noble sentiment."
Here the conversation was arrested by a signal from Barzello, and the young people went forward to join the other members of the family.
"This is Perreeza, of the royal line of Judah," said Barzello, taking the maid gently by the hand, "whom I have the great pleasure of presenting to my illustrious friend Joram."
The blushing maid modestly bowed while Joram took her by the hand and said, with unusual feeling, "May the blessing of the God of thy fathers, dear maid, accompany thy footsteps in a foreign land."
This blessing from the lips of a Babylonian was deeply appreciated by the young woman, who was already touched by the kindness with which she was met on every hand.
"The Lily of the Valley," said Joram, referring to Jupheena, "has found a sweet companion, and the maid of Judah, I trust, will not be displeased if, by the request of my good friend Barzello, I give her the name of an appropriate rose."
"On the contrary," said Perreeza, "thy young handmaiden is very grateful to the noble friend of Barzello for every token of his notice and kind regard."
"Then, maid of Judah," said Joram, "thy floral name, from this hour, is the Rose of Sharon."
"The Rose of Sharon!" cried Jupheena. "Oh, Perreeza, is not that delightful? Rose of Sharon!"
"Beautiful, indeed!" said Perreeza, "and better than all, it is the sweet rose of my own native land."
"True, young maid, true," said Joram, "'tis the favorite rose of Judah."
"The noble friend of Barzello will accept the thanks of his unworthy young acquaintance for his very happy compliment," said Perreeza.
"Well," responded Joram, "one Hebrew lay, accompanied by the harp of Judah, will recompense us a thousand times."
"That shall be attended to with pleasure," said Perreeza, and the two young women left to bring the harp.
"Now, my good friend, what thinkest thou of the maid of Judah?" asked Barzello.
"The Rose of Sharon is all loveliness," said Joram. "Ah, my friend, sawest thou not the majestic glance of that dark eye, the inimitable hue of those fair cheeks, the full perfection of those lips, the glossy richness of the profuse curls, and the marble whiteness of that model neck? Add to this, my friend, the amiability of her character and her ripe accomplishments, and in her we find a charming and suitable companion for the daughter of Barzello."
"Joram, are the Hebrew women noted for their beauty?"
"Perhaps no nation can boast of greater fairness of complexion among their females than the Jews."
"Now the youthful maid of the royal line of Judah will make us happy with one of her Hebrew melodies, she having brought her favorite harp," said Barzello.
"My kind friend may well say favorite harp," replied Perreeza, with deep emotion; "for to me, surely, it is a very precious treasure. For many years it has been in our family. To me it was left by the dearest of mothers, and to her it was given by a brother beloved, who found an early grave."
This was received by the company in silence, but it was noticed that Joram was deeply affected.
Perreeza took the instrument in her arms, swept her delicate hand over the well-tuned strings, and, after a moment's pause sang in seraphic tones a plaintive melody peculiar to her life in Jerusalem.
Profound silence fell on the assembly after her song was finished. The performance and its effect were such that applause or compliments would have sounded ill-timed. All gazed with solemn delight on Perreeza as she laid aside her harp and took her seat beside Jupheena.
Suddenly, the disappearance of Joram was noticed, and Barzello sprang up in an agitated manner. The merchant was not in the room, and none had seen him depart.
"In the name of the gods, what has befallen my good friend!" cried the officer, as he went to the adjoining apartment.
"Be calm," faintly replied the voice of Joram, as the host came to where he was reclining.
"Barzello," said the guest, "thou hast given me reason these many years to believe in thy friendship."
"Thou art not in the least mistaken," responded Barzello.
"Then I shall proceed without delay to explain my singular conduct, and, in making these developments, I am confident I shall share the sympathies of my kind friend. To-night my heart has been almost rent with contending emotions. I have been well-nigh overwhelmed with both sadness and joy. During my long residence in this part of the world a degree of mystery has hung over myself and family, and even to-day my country and origin are not known. For many years past I have had strong doubts in regard to the wisdom of this course of secrecy. The time has at last arrived when my life history must be divulged.
"In the first place, then, let me inform you that I am a Hebrew. I was born of noble and wealthy parents who lived within the metropolis of Judah. I was the pride of my father, and by my mother I was almost idolized. Being of a lively temperament I was fond of company and overfond of amusements. I was sent to one of the city's leading halls of learning and found but little trouble in mastering my studies. I was early thrown into the companionship of those who had not the fear of God before their eyes. I drank in their spirit, and, consequently, the yoke of parental authority became painful to my youthful neck. My affection for parents and near relatives was strong, and it was not without a hard struggle that I yielded to the enticements of older transgressors. Gradually I became the willing companion of youths whose chief object was amusement.
"One night we tarried together until a late hour and several of my companions indulged freely in wine. Before we left the scene of our carousal they had become quite boisterous. I was more sedate than usual, though entering into the spirit of the occasion. At that late hour the watchmen, or guards, of the city found it necessary to interfere and check our hilarity. A fight ensued in which I took part. Being recognized by one of the officers, I fled the city rather than face the disgrace of trial and punishment. Taking leave of my sisters, I was soon far from the land of my birth. My last act was to present to my favorite sister the harp which thou hast seen and heard to-night.
"My dear friend, judge of my surprise and joy when I recognized in the maid of Judah one of my own relatives. The beautiful and noble orphan who is your daughter's companion in this house is none other than my own niece.
"I feel that my long neglect of my surviving relatives makes me unworthy even to serve them, but I am determined now that this sweet damsel shall share in my wealth and enjoy all the advantages which my efforts can obtain for her, together with her worthy brothers. In this way I can make partial atonement for the mistakes of the past."
This remarkable revelation was soon made known to the excited company. With a cry of joy the fair maid of Judah fell into the arms of her uncle. Tears fell from every eye. The "Lily of the Valley" wept, and so did the brave soldier, her father, and so did young Mathias. The scene was one that pen cannot adequately describe, but happiness was supreme in the household.
AT THE school, agreeable to the expectations of Barzello, the four Hebrews made astonishing progress in their multiform studies. Those profound sciences which had cost their teachers years of ceaseless toil were, by these four young men, mastered with apparent ease. They soon became objects of wonder to their instructors, and were pronounced favorites of the gods. Ashpenaz often would have an interview with them, and soon they became the objects, not only of his admiration, but also of his friendship. This became visible to their fellow-students, and jealousy, accompanied by malice, found a ready entrance to more than one heart. Alas, for poor fallen humanity!
Among the students from the city of Babylon there were two young men, brothers, whose father, by a sudden freak of fortune, had arrived at the possession of much wealth. For some years these young men's advantages had been quite favorable, and withal they had not been negligent in their studies. They were exceedingly vain of their acquirements, and their pride and arrogance kept pace with their vanity. The success of others, to them, was invariably a source of mortification.
They had already heard complimentary reports of the youths of Judah from no mean sources; and they became their foes, and were determined to see them humbled. As students, they met but seldom, and the real acquirements of the Israelitish youths were not known to these envious Chaldeans. With these two victims of vanity and envy was cast the unhappy lot of another youth, their cousin. He was of "humbler birth," as the term is used, but almost infinitely their superior in everything that beautifies and adorns humanity. He was frank, generous, noble, and endowed with no small share of natural wit. For his conceited cousins he was anything but a pleasant companion; and daily was their arrogance rebuked by his far-searching repartees. Thus have we introduced to the reader three young Chaldeans, Scribbo and Shagoth, with their Cousin Apgomer.
"I cannot, for my part," said Scribbo, "see the propriety of elevating these contemptible captives to share equal privileges with the native sons of Chaldea. Surely the king, in this, has betrayed a lamentable lack of discernment."
"Truly!" replied Shagoth, with an air of consequence. "And if he does not ere long see his folly, and retrace his steps, he will lose my confidence, and that of all the members of our house."
"May the gods pity the king!" cried Apgomer, with a feigned solemn visage. "Peradventure, that in the great pressure of business he forgot that the confidence of my illustrious cousins was so essential to his well-being, as well as the safety and perpetuity of the empire."
"My remarks were called forth by the sensible statement of my brother," said Shagoth, peevishly; "and it would have been perfectly excusable in thee to have remained silent, until I should have thought fit to make some remarks suitable to the capacity of thy mind."
"My worthy cousin will, I trust, in the plenitude of his overflowing generosity, pardon the officiousness of his unworthy servant of limited capacities, and believe him when he assures thee that those remarks were offered as an humble apology for the great sovereign of the Chaldean empire; and I still hope that, in the richness of thy clemency, thou wilt forgive him."
"I trust," replied Scribbo, "we are able to appreciate thy remarks, and undoubtedly they will receive the respect they deserve. If thou couldst have thy quarters removed to the society of these pretending foreigners, methinks it would better suit thy groveling taste."
"Such a sudden bereavement might be more than my tender-hearted cousins could well endure. May the gods forbid that I should be the means of overwhelming you with unnecessary sorrow! And, besides, I fear I am not such a favorite of the gods as to receive such a marked favor."
"A prodigious favor to be the companions of illiterate captives!" cried Scribbo, with a disdainful curl of his lip. "The Chaldean who calls that a favor, is anything but an ornament to his country."
"We may have different tastes in regard to ornament," replied the good-natured cousin, looking with an arch smile on his cousin's heavy and useless jewelry. "As for me, I am a plain young man. I value the useful far above the ornamental. I consider healthy ablutions and clean linens far more desirable than the decoration of our persons with ornamental trash. And why may it not be so in the government? So much in regard to ornaments. 'Ignorant and illiterate captives.' Ah, cousin! Believest thou this? Dost thou not rather hope that this is so? Hope on! The day of trial hastens apace! Hope vigorously and diligently; for such hope is of short duration. Ye expect, by your superior learning, to humble the youths of Judah in the presence of the king and his nobles. Ye are sanguine in your expectations. Already ye see their heads bowing with shame and embarrassment, while your own brows are decorated with well-earned laurels. Do ye not already enjoy the bliss of the prophetic vision, until the bursting in of the reality? Ah, ye do! Now think it not over-officious in your cousin of low capacity to assure you that your hopes are but the baseless fabrics of vain minds. The day of examination will reveal to your astonished sensibilities that ye have dreamed the dream of fools. Those noble young men, who are the objects of your hatred, will soar above you triumphantly, and their enemies will be covered over with shame. Let me give you fair warning! Ye are ignorant of the strength of those youths, over whom your vain imaginations appear to triumph with such ease."
"Our forbearance, brother, I fear, only encourages the insolence of this, our ungrateful relative," said Shagoth, in anger. "How soon these upstarts forget their poverty when they are permitted to mingle in good society."
"And how soon they forget the kind hands that lifted them up from their low estate!" answered Scribbo, casting a reproachful glance in the direction of Apgomer.
"Now, cousins," said Apgomer, smilingly, "since these charges are thrown out against me, without going through the usual form of asking permission, I shall at once take the liberty of repelling them.
"In the first place, I am charged with being an 'upstart,' and of too soon forgetting my poverty. This I deny. I have, by no means, forgotten my own poverty, or the low condition of my ancestors. Let us look at this for a moment. Painful as it may be, I believe ye do occasionally admit that I am your cousin. Well, then, be it remembered that I am your cousin. Our fathers were brothers, and our grandfather was one and the same person. It is well known to you that our respected grand-sire was an individual who had to plod his way along through the very steeps of poverty, and procure a little bread for his family by humble employments. In poverty he lived, and in deep poverty he would have died, had it not been for the grateful regard of one of his sons; of the other, I have nothing to say at present. Now to some, who have suddenly risen from poverty to a degree of affluence, it proves a source of deep mortification to remember that they sprang from a low origin. But is this the case with your cousin Apgomer? Have I forgotten the source whence I sprang? Does it create a blush on this cheek to remember that my grandfather was poor, and that my father had to win his bread through the sweat of his brow? Whoever has forgotten the poverty of his father and grandfather, be it known that Apgomer is not that youth.
"So much in regard to the first charge. Now for the second. I am accused of forgetting those 'kind friends, who lifted me up from my low estate.' Those friendly hands who helped me to the situation I now hold are, by no means, forgotten; they are deeply graven upon a grateful memory. While this pulse shall beat, and while this heart shall throb, the names of Barzello and Joram will, by me, be fondly cherished. Then there was much opposition from certain quarters. There were those who could not discern the propriety of my being elevated to an equality with those of greater wealth; and I am not sure, since the king has not seen fit to retrace his steps, but that he has lost the confidence of those concerned. Cousins! I am ever grateful to those kind friends who so nobly took me by the hand. I know well who they are, and I know well who they are not."
"Surely our young instructor is becoming eloquent," said Scribbo, rather crestfallen.
"Yea, verily," replied his brother; "and who can withstand such a mighty torrent of oratory? Let us away to the groves!" And Apgomer was left, for the time being, the sole occupant of the apartment.
DAYS, weeks, months, and years, have passed away, and the great day of examination has arrived—that day for which that youthful group has looked so long, with mingled feelings of pleasure and embarrassment. This day broke on the capital of Chaldea with unusual brightness. The sun shone brightly in a cloudless firmament, and Nature had put on her sweetest smile. In the vicinity of the king's palace it was evident that something of more than ordinary interest was that day to be attended to. Officers hurried to and fro. Dignitaries bowed to one another with additional smiles. Groups of citizens of the better class appeared here and there, in earnest conversation. Magnificent chariots, drawn by fiery steeds, halted at the king's gate about the third hour. A splendid national flag proudly waved on the high pinnacle of the students' building, while each window presented ingenious mottoes appropriate for the occasion.
The place appointed by the king for the public examination of the students, was a magnificent audience room that stood within the royal grounds, and in close proximity to the palace. This apartment was finished in the highest perfection of art, and, in addition, on this occasion, was decorated with ornaments suitable for the day.
At an early stage, the room was well filled with the first of Babylon's aristocracy, together with some few who had no just claim to title. Appropriate seats were reserved for the king and his attendants, who were soon expected to make their appearance. Among the number assembled there were many of the students' parents. With but two or three exceptions, joy and good feeling appeared to be the expression of every countenance, while, with hearts free from envy and malice, they gazed on the comely forms of those before them. Among these smiling countenances might have been seen three individuals—a father, mother and daughter—who smiled, indeed, but whose smiles would never have convinced the beholder that they were an index to noble and generous hearts.
"'Twas a strange notion of the king, surely," said the daughter, "to bring these Hebrew captives in competition with the refined minds of Chaldea; I cannot account for it, unless it is purposely done to show them their great inferiority, and thus, by to-day's exercises, teach them a lesson of humility that they will not soon forget; for no one can be so unwise as to think that such illiterate foreigners can appear to any advantage in a place like this."
"Thy remarks, daughter, are perfectly correct," answered the mother. "I am at a loss, myself, to understand the king in this. But thy brother, Shagoth, has learned, of late, that these Jews are far from being dull scholars; and he fears that, by some strange contrivance, they have worked themselves into the graces of Ashpenaz. I have my fears that these reports are too true. Yet I have strong hopes that in this trial of learning, they will fall entirely below thy accomplished brothers. I am quite sure it cannot be otherwise."
The sound of music from without, gave them to understand that the king was approaching. Presently the illustrious monarch of Chaldea made his grand entry, accompanied by a brilliant escort, and amid the flourishing of trumpets and the loud acclamations of his subjects he took his seat, and beckoned to the enthusiastic throng to be seated. Perfect stillness being secured, Ashpenaz arose with dignity, and, bowing low to the sovereign, proceeded:
"According to appointment, O king, behold these young men are conducted hither for public examination in the presence of their illustrious sovereign, and in the presence of these, his nobles."
To which the monarch replied in an interesting address:
"Citizens of Babylon! the king taketh much pleasure in greeting you on this occasion. To witness your smiles is truly refreshing to my mind amid all the pressing duties of my extensive empire. I trust I shall always merit your smiles and good wishes. Long may the Chaldean empire continue to shine a superior orb in the firmament of nations.
"The stability of government must greatly depend on the wisdom and intelligence of the people; and ever since I have had the honor of presiding over the destinies of this vast empire, I have not for a day lost sight of this important truth. Whether since the beginning of my reign the cause of education has been advanced, I leave to the judgment of my worthy subjects. Three years ago, I thought it advisable to establish a school at the expense of the government, where a number of young men might be placed under the care of superior instructors, and so be prepared to serve with distinguished ability in the different spheres in which they might be called to move. Those youths are now before you; and if their mental culture will well compare with their fair countenances and manly forms, my most sanguine expectations are more than realized. I am happy to know, from vigilant observation, that the teachers, without any exceptions, have nobly proved themselves worthy of the unreserved confidence of their king; and let them now be assured that such unwearied faithfulness will not go unrewarded. The king has been well pleased also, from time to time, to hear of the great proficiency and rapid advancement of many of the scholars."
It cannot be expected, on an occasion like the present, that all scholars will exhibit precisely the same amount of ability and cultivation. While all may give satisfaction, some, I trust, will even excel. Those who shall at this time give the clearest proof of ripe scholarship, shall, according to agreement, be permitted to remain at the palace, and minister in the presence of the king, with the prospect of promotion as the fruit of faithfulness. I trust there are no unpleasant feelings to arise from the final result of this day's exercises. True, there may be some disappointment among both parents and scholars; but let not the king be grieved by witnessing any signs of displeasure on the countenance of young or old; for, hitherto, no partiality hath been permitted in any of our councils. Those whom the king promotes must therefore be promoted on the strength of their own worth and merit.
"My worthy and noble friend, Ashpenaz, will now commence the examination; after which, if I think it expedient, I may ask a few questions myself."
Ashpenaz then, according to direction, commenced the examination, the king, in the meanwhile, earnestly facing the students, and paying particular attention to every answer, and the source whence it proceeded. After an examination of one hour, the king gave to Ashpenaz a signal, by which he understood that he might dispense with any further questioning.
The king then, as he had previously intimated, became the examiner. Being somewhat astonished, as well as delighted, by the perfect ease with which the youths of Judah answered every question, he purposed, within himself, to make a further trial of their skill, by propounding questions to the school which were far more difficult to answer than those asked by Ashpenaz. The reader is already aware that the king was one of the ripest scholars within the empire, and, therefore, was fully prepared for the undertaking. The first problem was directed to Shagoth. Shagoth colored, and, in endeavoring to answer, stammered out something which the king could not understand. The same question was directed to Apgomer. Apgomer, with steady voice and correct emphasis, answered; and it was pronounced to be correct. The next question was directed to Scribbo. He, greatly alarmed at the result of the other question, became confused, and gave no answer. The same question was directed to Daniel, and was promptly answered, with marked ease and great clearness. The next was directed to a young student who sat in the vicinity of Shagoth, but it was not answered to the satisfaction of the king. The same was directed to Hananiah, and the answer was such as to astonish the examiner. Another perplexing question was directed to a young student, a resident of the city; but it was of too profound a nature for the young man to answer. The king having asked the same question of several without receiving an answer, at last directed it to Azariah. The young Hebrew hesitated—it was but for a moment—then, in a clear, silvery tone, he gave the answer, without the least degree of confusion. It was beyond the expectation of the king. He gazed on the youth for a moment in silence, and then pronounced the answer to be a correct one. Another question of the same nature, requiring, perhaps, some additional knowledge, was asked, the king remarking, at the same time, that his good opinion of their abilities did not depend upon their answering those questions, for they were of such a nature as would puzzle more experienced heads; but such was the readiness with which some of the scholars had answered all the questions hitherto asked, that he was anxious to know if it were in his power to ask a question which they could not answer; and in order to give all an equal opportunity, he would direct his questions to each one. So the king commenced on the left, and deliberately pointed to each scholar; but no answer was heard until he came to young Mishael. With promptness, and in a few words, he gave a perfect answer to a question which the King of Babylon considered beyond the capacity of any student present.
By this time it was evident to the king that the number of those who truly excelled was four; and that these four sat together. To these, therefore, he would direct his remaining questions. And now, in earnest, commenced a regular contest for the mastery. On one hand, behold the great sovereign of the Chaldean empire, noted for the depth of his learning. On the other, behold four young men, from the land of Israel, whom, three years before, he had brought as captives of war from the metropolis of Judah. All the king's powers of mind were called forth. From the occasion he gathered a degree of enthusiasm, and he was glad of an opportunity to show himself to such pleasing advantage before so many of his nobles and influential subjects. With the four Hebrews he was highly delighted. Their great knowledge astonished him; but still he thought that soon he would be able to bring them to a dead stand. Question after question was asked, and question after question was answered, to the utter astonishment of the large audience. The contest was long, and of a thrilling nature; and not until the king was convinced that he was dealing with his superiors did he cry out, in a loud voice:
"It is enough!"
Every eye rested on Ashpenaz, as he stood ready to announce the names of those whom the king wished to honor.
Daniel, with calm dignity and genuine modesty, left his seat, walked to the place appointed, and bowed low in the presence of the king.
Hananiah, with a slight blush, that rendered him but the more comely, left his seat, and stood by the side of his cousin, in the presence of the king.
Mishael, with a smile on his lip, and an unfaltering step, found his place by the side of his brother.
Azariah, with a degree of paleness spread over his youthful countenance, left his seat, and joined his comrades.
Apgomer was startled. The contented youth looked for no such result. Delighted with the triumph of the Hebrews, and the punishment of his cousins' vanity, he considered himself well rewarded. But, remembering himself, he quickly left his seat, and, with a pleasant smile upon his countenance, he took his place by the side of Azariah.
The parchment was rolled up and delivered over to the king.
The king arose, and thus addressed the five:
"Young men! Your honor cometh not from the king. It is the result of your own industry and perseverance. By the favorable interposition of the gods, ye have arrived at a perfection in knowledge never exhibited before on any occasion in the presence of the king. Four of your number are from another country. The hills of Judah are yet fresh in your memories, and Jerusalem is far from being forgotten. I have been well pleased, from time to time, to learn of your amiable deportment and noble bearing. Justice requires me to say that a peculiar perfection has been visible in all your past performances; and now, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, youths of Judah, ye are, through the power and word of the king, elevated to share in all the immunities and privileges of Chaldean citizens. Long, by your superior wisdom and knowledge, may ye continue to shed additional luster on my already shining empire.
"Apgomer! Thou hast well sustained thyself throughout the examination; and, although thou hast not reached that lofty perfection manifested in the uniform answers of these, thy young friends from Judah, yet thou hast convinced the king that thou standest far above the level of thy fellows—as such thou art rewarded.
"The king findeth no fault with any. Ye have given proof of a good degree of mental strength, and I trust that from this place ye shall go forth to add to the stability and perpetuity of my empire.
"In conclusion, I command that Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Apgomer be decorated with their appropriate badges, and conducted, with due honor, to their apartments at the palace. The examination is closed."
The merry blasts of trumpets followed this announcement. The king and his attendants first left the apartment; then followed the five youths, next the other students. Then the concourse dispersed as their various fancies dictated. The grand result was known, and, with few exceptions, it gave universal satisfaction. The superior wisdom of the young Hebrews was so abundantly evident, that no room was left for caviling; and each one was compelled to unite in the righteous verdict of the king. The amiable and modest deportment of the young Hebrews so won the affections of the spectators that when they were adorned with their badges of honor, they were loudly cheered.
Before they all disperse let the reader have the pleasure of a glimpse at a group of countenances that give unmistakable signs of genuine delight.
"Charming!" cried Joram, in ecstasies. "The reward of fidelity and perseverance, Barzello!"
THE stately mansion of Barzello was brilliantly illuminated. Streams of light poured forth from every window. Sweet melody floated on the wings of the gentle zephyrs. Chariot after chariot arrived, and halted before the massive portals. It was evident to the passer-by that it was not an event of common occurrence that called forth such unusual movements and peculiar displays.
From the first moment of Mathias and Perreeza's introduction to each other, there was a warm attachment formed, and from the subsequent revelations, this sentiment greatly increased.
On this night the maid of Judah was to become the happy bride of Mathias; and from the smiles that greet smiles on the happy countenances of those who hurry to and fro through the richly furnished apartments, it is evident that their union is hailed as a joyous event.
The marriage was not, in all its parts, so strictly after the customs of the Hebrews as if it had been solemnized in the land of Judah. The long residence of Joram in Babylon, together with the very high regard he cherished for his friend Barzello and his family, gave the features of the occasion an admixture of Hebrew and Chaldean customs.
Never did the "Rose of Sharon" bloom fairer. Three years have added ripeness to her beauty, and dignity to her charms. She is no longer the timid maid of seventeen, but a blooming damsel, having reached her twentieth year, with a finish stamped on all her words and actions; and no one who has had the pleasure of her acquaintance can envy such a choice spirit the heart and hand of one of the most brilliant young men in the great metropolis.
The "Lily of the Valley" has but one thing to diminish her full share of enjoyment—and that is by no means a trifling one. Her sweet Perreeza, her constant companion for the last three years, whom she loves as her own sister, is about to leave her father's house and take her abode with another. This, at times, makes her sad. The same cause produces the same effect on Perreeza. She, also, is about to impress the parting kiss on the fair cheek of one who has proved herself worthy of her ardent love—one who gave her such a warm welcome to her large heart, when a stranger in a foreign land—one who has continued to love her with a pure affection. But these gloomy feelings are not to predominate at this time; so the "Lily" ceased to droop, and the "Rose" bloomed fresh and gay.
The announcement that Mathias, with his attendants, had arrived at the entrance, caused an exclamation of joy. Jupheena and a merry group of her maiden acquaintances formed themselves in procession, to meet them, and to escort the company, with warm congratulations, to the parlors, where they were received by Barzello with enthusiastic welcome, and conducted with appropriate honors to their apartments.
The ceremony was performed in a spacious room, extending throughout the length of the grand edifice. The services were conducted by a Hebrew priest, who was brought to Babylon with other captives at the close of Jeconiah's reign of three months.
In entering the wedding apartment, one part of the company appeared at one end, while the rest at the same time appeared at the other end. Thus Mathias, with a band of young men, and Perreeza, with a group of damsels, slowly marched, met, and formed into a circle in the center of the room, the officiating priest, with a small altar, in the midst.
"Ye who are to take upon you the holy and solemn vows of matrimony, draw nigh," said the priest.
Without delay, the loving twain left the circle, and stood side by side before the sacred altar, when the priest, after a brief marriage ceremony, gave them this blessing: "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, keep, bless, and preserve you, and so fill you with all benediction and grace, that ye may walk before Him in the beauty of true perfection and holiness. Perreeza, daughter of Amonober, of the royal line of Judah, behold thy husband! Mathias, son of the illustrious Joram, behold thy wife! Take her as thine own, and convey her to thine own habitation, and there make merry with thy numerous friends."
At the house of Joram, preparations on a magnificent scale were made for the return of the bridegroom with his bride. A large number of the flower of the young men and maidens of Babylon were assembled, to congratulate the young pair on their happy union.
The bridegroom and bride led the train. They were seated in a superb chariot, drawn by two spirited, snow-white steeds. The next was that of Barzello, containing himself and daughter, while a merry company brought up the rear. Nothing could have exceeded the beauty and brilliancy of the occasion. A flashing light from a hundred flaming torches completely banished the gloom of night, while hundreds of delighted spectators made the welkin ring with cheers. They soon reached the wide portals of Joram's mansion. The charioteers alighted. The bridegroom and bride first entered, the guests following in regular order. "They that were ready entered with him into the marriage, and the door was shut."
. . . . . . .
The celebration was over. The company had retired. Quietude was restored. The Joram family, with one additional gem, was once more left to the peacefulness of its own mansion. They were all quietly seated. Joram arose, and slowly approached the old harp, the friend of his early days, and inspected it with fondness, while the thoughts of other years fast crowded upon his memory.
"My dear father, and my dear Uncle Esrom!" said Perreeza, smiling, "now that they are all gone, let us have one dear little song from thee."
"Ah, precious child!" said Esrom, at the same time brushing away a fugitive tear, "I play so seldom nowadays, I fear I would not appear to very good advantage among such fine performers."
"Nay, father! but thy playing is far superior to our best performances."
"Well, Perreeza, I will try; but I fear my song will make thee sad."
"Sadness at times, dear father, is far more profitable to the mind than hilarity."
"True, my daughter! True! We both know it by experience."
The Hebrew took the harp, and, in tones peculiar for their sweetness, sang a plaintive melody.
GREAT success attended the reign of the King of Babylon. His powerful legions had proved victorious in every clime. In addition to Judea, he had subjugated Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, and Arabia. Peace once more was proclaimed, and the great body of the army was called home. The monarch's popularity was unbounded, and his praises were loudly trumpeted on the wings of every breeze, from east to west, and from north to south. The Chaldean empire rose still higher in glory, while numerous tributaries continued to pour their streams of gold into its already rich treasuries.
The afternoon was warm and sultry. The king reclined on an easy couch within a bower, in the palace garden. His mind was occupied with reflections on the past and thoughts of the future, and thus ran the soliloquy of the mighty potentate:
"Yea, the years are passing! On looking back they seem but short. But where has more been accomplished in so short a period? Ah, King of Babylon, thy career, hitherto, has been a brilliant one. My armies have clothed themselves with glory, which glory reflects back on their king. Surrounding nations do me homage. My coffers are filled from the wealth of Judah, Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, and Arabia. What hinders my success? Babylon is but in the infancy of her greatness. Her glory shall yet reach the heavens! Tea, I will make her a fit place for the residence of the gods. Selfish? Yea, truly. And who ever succeeded without being selfish? Yea, the King of Babylon is selfish; but may the gods assist me to hide it from the people. To them, may it appear that all my efforts are put forth in their behalf. But have I no regard for the welfare of my people aside from my own glory? I have! The gods know I have. And yet, I have a strong desire that my name shall be carried down to posterity surrounded by a halo of glory. Is this selfishness? Be it so. It must be done! Am I not deep in the affections of my people? In this I cannot be mistaken. Never was the Chaldean empire so firmly established. It will stand forever. Forever? Ah, that word has a long meaning. But what power can overthrow us? Is not Babylon the mistress of the world? Is not Chaldea the queen of nations? Will not her prosperity be perpetual? Alas for our brief knowledge! The gods, in this, have not elevated the king above the beggar. The future is enshrouded in gloom and hid from the gaze of mortals. My wise men say that they can penetrate this gloom. Can they? I have my doubts. The future—the far, far future of Chaldea—I should be glad to know: but who shall sit on the throne one hundred years from to-day, and what shall be the greatness of Babylon in two hundred years, are questions which time alone must solve. Surely, this is a sultry day! Well, the future we cannot know. It may be all in wisdom. Peradven—Ah, sleep! thou art the great conqueror of conquerors. I surrender. Thy powers are irresistible. Let me not long be thy captive. In one hour, I pray thee, strike my chains asunder, and restore me to my friends."
And the king, quietly yielding to the stern demands of Nature, was soon in the fast embrace of slumber.
. . . . . . .
"Oh, ye gods that dwell in light, what a dream!" cried the king, hastily leaving his couch, in agitation. "Oh, what a dream! But, alas, it has gone from me! Oh, ye gods, why have I not retained it? But can I not recall it to mind? Alas, it has fled! It has vanished! How perplexing! It was not a common dream. Nay, it bore particularly upon the future of my vast empire. And yet not one clear circumstance is retained in my memory. What shall I do? How shall the lost dream be restored? My astrologers profess to give the interpretation of dreams. If they can do this, why not as well restore the dream entire?"
And the king, in an agitated state of mind, left the garden and entered the palace.
"Arioch!" cried the king, "haste thee, and without delay let the most noted of the wise men and astrologers of Babylon be commanded to appear in my presence. Let there be no useless tarrying. My demands are urgent. Haste thee! Away!"
Without asking any questions, the astonished and half frightened officer hastened from the presence of his king, and gave all diligence in the performance of his urgent duty. He found ready access to the prince of the magicians, delivered to him the message of the king, and retired. The astrologer soon sent the message to his numerous companions, and in a short time the concentrated wisdom of the great metropolis stood in the presence of the king.
"Ye have done well," said the king, eying them with a degree of severity, "to be thus punctual; a failure on this point might have involved you in serious difficulties. Ye stand before the king as the representatives of wisdom. Ye profess to be able to bring to light hidden mysteries, and to make known the transactions of the future. The correctness of your professions is about to be tested. If it stands the ordeal, well; if not, woe be unto you!"
"All this thy servants profess," replied the chief astrologer, "and all this they can perform. Let them but learn the desire of the king, and they stand ready to execute his pleasure."
"This day," replied the king, "while slumbering on my bed, I dreamed a peculiar dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the vision."
"Oh, king, live forever!" replied the magicians, well pleased with the nature of their task. "Tell thy servants the dream, and we will show thee the interpretation thereof."
"Will ye, indeed!" answered the king, ironically. "But the thing has gone from me. I have no distinct remembrance of the various features of the dream. And now, as a proof that ye are able to give a correct interpretation, I demand that ye restore to my mind the dream in all its parts. Remember that ye are not able to impose on me a false vision. Now, proceed with your divination, and if in this ye fail, by the gods, ye shall be cut to pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill."
"Tell thy servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation thereof," answered again the now astonished magicians.
"Ah, indeed!" said the king, disdainfully. "And have I not already told you that the thing is gone from me; and how can I tell you the dream? If I were able to do this, ye would readily produce your lying and corrupt interpretations. Do ye not profess to derive your knowledge and power of interpretation from the gods? Then let the same gods reveal unto you the dream itself."
"This is a strange demand, indeed," answered the alarmed astrologers. "There is not a man on earth that can grant thy desire, and show thee this matter. Be assured, O king, that thou requirest impossibilities at the hands of thy servants; and there is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not in the flesh."
"And do ye not profess to hold intercourse with those gods?" answered the king, in a passion; "thus ye have proved yourselves to be a band of lying hypocrites. Begone from my presence, ye corrupt deceivers, and learn that your guilty career is near its close!"
So the terrified magicians were hurried from the presence of the passionate king, and by his orders were confined; and, moreover, a decree was issued, that all the wise men of Babylon should be put to death. Such was the unholy impulse of a king who had hitherto manifested, on most occasions, a commendable degree of self-possession.
The next day, while Daniel was walking in the vicinity of the palace, he was suddenly accosted by the captain of the guard, who informed him that it was his painful duty to apprehend him as an individual who was condemned to die by a late edict of the king.
"My worthy friend must certainly be mistaken in regard to the person," answered Daniel, with a smile; "for I am happy to know that in nothing have I transgressed the law of my sovereign."
"It would give me much pleasure on this occasion to find myself mistaken," replied Arioch, "but I fear that it will prove otherwise. Art thou not Belteshazzar, of the captivity of Judah, and art thou not numbered among the wise men?"
"And what can be the nature of my offense?" asked the young Hebrew, nothing daunted. "If in anything I have offended, I ask not to be spared."
"And hast thou not heard the decree?"
"No new decree has reached my ears."
"Then I shall communicate to Belteshazzar all I know concerning the matter." Which he proceeded to do.
"Many thanks to thee, kind officer. I have no desire to escape thy vigilance. Only permit me to see the king, and, peradventure, things may take a different course."
"Any favor I can show, without violating positive orders, will readily be granted. So I will make thy pleasure known to the king."
Arioch hastened into the presence of the sovereign, and informed him that one of the wise men prayed to be admitted into his presence.
"I desire not to see any of the vile race!" answered the king, with a frown. "I was satisfied yesterday that they are a band of lying impostors."
"May the king pardon his unworthy servant," replied Arioch; "but the young man that seeks thy face to-day was not among the number yesterday."
"And by what name is he known?" frowningly inquired the king.
"His name, O king, is Belteshazzar, of the captivity of Judah."
"Belteshazzar! Belteshazzar!" exclaimed the king, suddenly rising to his feet. "May the gods forgive me! Belteshazzar, whose wonderful display of wisdom astonished the city on the day of examination? Why did I not think of him sooner? Yea, and his three companions! and all at the palace! close at hand! and far superior in wisdom to all others! Belteshazzar! Yea, Arioch! By all means let the young Hebrew be admitted."
The captain of the guard hastened from the presence of the king to inform Daniel of his success.
"Belteshazzar, the king grants thy petition, and thou art requested to appear before him."
Daniel, with his usual calmness and dignity, walked into the presence of the king, while Arioch was beckoned to retire.
"Belteshazzar," said the king, "thou art thus admitted into my presence, and thou art at perfect liberty to speak freely on whatever subject mostly occupies thy mind. I have heretofore been well pleased with thy superior knowledge and wisdom, as well as that of thy comrades. The army has of late occupied the most of my attention, and among the various affairs of importance it is nothing astonishing if some of my best subjects are partially overlooked. Proceed with thy request."
"A little over four years ago, O king, according to thy direction, thy servant, with his three companions, was brought from the land of Judah to the great city of Babylon. Hitherto, we have been the subjects of thy kind regards. At thy expense we have been taught in all the learning and wisdom of the Chaldeans; and, in the presence of hundreds of thy worthy nobles, thou sawest fit to pronounce us superior in the various branches of learning, and, amid enthusiastic cheers, we were escorted to the palace of the king. We have endeavored to prove ourselves worthy of the favors and regard. We have spared no pains to render ourselves agreeable in the eyes of our superiors; and never have we heard a word of complaint. We have made no pretensions to superior wisdom. We are numbered among the wise by the direction of the king. In all things have we aimed to be thy faithful, loyal subjects. Judge then, O king, the astonishment of thy servant when, not half an hour ago, he was apprehended by the captain of the guard as one already appointed to death, according to the direction of the king. I wonder not that thine anger is kindled against the false pretensions of the magicians. But why should the innocent suffer with the guilty? And why, especially, should thy Hebrew servants die without, at least, a trial of their ability through the direct agency of their God, to restore to the king his lost dream? I, therefore, pray thee, O king, to give thy servant time, and the God that I worship will give me the knowledge of the dream and its interpretation."
"Belteshazzar," cried the king, "thy request is granted. Go! and may thy God give thee the knowledge of the vision."
Daniel left the presence of the king and hastened to join his comrades at their apartments.
"What now, fair cousin?" said Azariah. "What am I to learn from such a countenance? Nothing of a joyful nature, I fear!"
"Alas, comrades!" answered Daniel, "unless Jehovah interfere with a miraculous hand, we are undone. The decree has already gone forth from royal lips that all the wise men of Babylon must perish by the sword."
He then gave his companions a full history of the thing, as he had received it from the mouth of Arioch, the captain of the guard.
"In all our trials hitherto," said Hananiah, "we have found Jehovah to be our sure refuge. In him we trust, and he will surely open to us a way of escape."
"Already I feel the strange assurance that from this conflict we shall come forth triumphant," said Daniel.
"Most humbly will we all bow before our God, and pray that a clear revelation of the lost dream may be made on the mind of our beloved Daniel," said Azariah.
In solemn silence, the youths of Judah departed, and retired to their respective apartments, there to prostrate themselves before the Lord in humble devotion, with full confidence that the God in whom they trusted would hear their prayer and grant their petition.
Many hours had already passed away. Stillness prevailed throughout the thoroughfares of the great metropolis. Silence reigned throughout Babylon. The faithful night guardians solemnly paraded the streets in the performance of their important duties. The queen of cities was hushed to repose; its vast thousands had, for a while, forgotten their toil and sorrow. Old midnight was left far in the rear, and some faint signs in the eastern skies betokened the distant approach of day. But yonder, on their bended knees, see the trembling forms of Amonober's children! For many hours they have wrestled with God. Does He hear them? But where is Daniel? Let us silently enter his chamber. The son of Baramon is asleep! Mark his countenance!
Still the three brothers, "with their faces toward Jerusalem," are bowed before the Lord. But hark! Ah! it is the well-known voice of Daniel. It rings melodiously throughout every apartment and it falls on the ears of the cousins. Hark!
"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are his. And he changeth the times and seasons. He removeth and setteth up kings. He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that seek understanding. He revealeth deep and secret things. He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank Thee and praise Thee, O God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of Thee; for Thou hast made known to us now the king's matter."
Early in the morning, Daniel sought an interview with Arioch, and besought the reversing of the sentence against the wise men, and assured him that he was fully prepared to appear before the king, and restore to him the lost vision.
"Let Belteshazzar be assured," said the captain of the guard, "that I shall not move a finger against the wise men but by the positive orders of the king, and I am happy to say that he hath ordered me to delay execution until I receive further directions. I have just learned by chance that the merchant Joram has had an interview with the king in behalf of thee and thy friends. If I can be of any service to Belteshazzar, I am at his pleasure."
"In one hour, then, I will call on thee again, and thou shalt accompany me into the presence of the king," and Daniel departed.
Daniel found his companions sunk into calm slumber, from which they were not then awakened. He partook of a slight repast, bowed once more in adoration before God, and returned to seek Arioch, the captain of the guard.
They were soon on their way to the palace. Arioch first entered.
"O king, live forever! Belteshazzar is without, desiring to see thee; and—"
"No more from thee at this time," interrupted the king. "Retire, and send the young man hither."
The officer, well used to the manner of his sovereign, bowed low and retired.
"Belteshazzar," said Arioch, "thou are admitted; and may the gods give thee success."
With a firm step, and a calm look, and with full confidence in the God of Israel, the Hebrew youth once more marched into the presence of the King of Chaldea.
"Belteshazzar," cried the king, "art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?"
"The secret which the king demandeth of his servant is far above the knowledge and comprehension of all his wise men, astrologers, magicians, and soothsayers. But the God of heaven—that Jehovah who dwelleth in light—he revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king, Nebuchadnezzar, what shall come to pass in the latter days. Be it known, therefore, to the king, that this secret is not revealed to me through any wisdom that I have more than any living, but it is the kind interposition of Jehovah in behalf of thy servant and his companions in tribulation, who are doomed to die; and, moreover, to show the king that Jehovah is the only God.
"Thy dream, and the vision of thy head, are these: As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter; and He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee the grand events of the future.
"Thou, O king, sawest a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee, and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and arms of silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest that a stone smote the image upon the feet which were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloor, and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them; and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream. Now, O king, listen to the interpretation thereof.
"Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heaven, hath he given unto thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee; and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things; and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potter's clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided, but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron; forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and this kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure."
For a while the king, in silent astonishment, gazed on the wonderful being before him; then he arose and fell prostrate at the feet of the captive Hebrew, and paid him adoration suitable only to a divine being.
"Let thy adoration be paid to Jehovah, O king!" cried Daniel, "for it is he that revealeth secrets, and bringeth to light the hidden mysteries."
"Of a truth, your God is a God of gods," cried the king, "and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this mystery. And now, Belteshazzar, thou art exalted to be a ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Chaldea; and if thou desirest any particular favor, let it not be hidden from the king; for thou art worthy of all honors, and the full desire of thy heart shall be given thee."
"For himself, thy servant has nothing to ask; but be it known to thee, O king, that thou art as much indebted for the restoration of the vision to my three companions as to thy servant, for in answer to our united prayers the secret was made known. I pray thee, therefore, that while I am thus honored, my companions may share in it."
"Wisely remarked. Thy three companions shall be promoted to posts of honor and trust in the empire. Let them, under thee, preside over the province of Babylon."
Thus Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, through the miraculous interposition of that Jehovah they loved, and whose law they honored, were elevated to be the chief personages in the Chaldean empire.
YEARS passed by, and uninterrupted success attended the reign of the king of Babylon. The aggrandizement of the city was without a parallel in history. It appeared to have become the leading passion of the monarch's mind. The reader may have a faint idea of the glory of the city when he remembers that it was a regular square, forty-five miles in compass, enclosed by a wall two hundred feet high, and fifty broad, in which there were one hundred gates of brass. Its principal ornaments were the Temple of Belus, and the famous "hanging gardens."
The Temple of Belus was most remarkable for a prodigious tower that stood in the midst of it. According to Herodotus, it was a square, of a furlong on each side—that is, half a mile in the whole compass; and according to Strabo, it was a furlong in height. It consisted of eight towers, built one above the other; and because it decreased gradually towards the top, Strabo calls the whole a pyramid. It is not only asserted, but proved, that this tower far exceeded the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt in height.
The ascent to the top was by stairs round the outside. Over the whole, on the top of the tower, was an observatory, by means of which the Babylonians became more expert in astronomy than any other nation, and made, in a short time, the great progress in it ascribed to them in history.
In addition to these magnificent works, the public buildings of Babylon were counted by thousands, and its splendid mansions by tens of thousands.
The four Hebrews still continued in power, and more than retained their former excellence. Daniel was highly esteemed by the king for his great wisdom and skill in the affairs of government; but the impressions of the superiority of Jehovah, made upon the monarch's mind at the interpretation of the dream, had well-nigh been obliterated. Pride rebelled against the thought of the future overthrow of the empire; and fain would he have persuaded himself that uneasiness brought about by a troublesome dream was unworthy of him.
The three brothers, in their spheres, performed their duties with a degree of perfection and exactitude that greatly pleased the king; and for this, more than on account of their genuine excellence, were they regarded by him in a favorable light. Those pleasing qualities so apparent in the earlier history of the king were fast disappearing, to give way to pride, vanity, peevishness, and even cruelty.
The bold and impetuous declaration of the king, in regard to the sovereignty of the God of Israel, and the peculiar circumstances under which the poor Hebrews were promoted, were far from being forgotten by the Babylonians. There was a deep and abiding dissatisfaction in the minds of thousands in the realm, not so much on account of the elevation of the Hebrews, as on account of the conviction that the sovereign was not a sincere worshiper of the gods of the empire. The king, by occasional remarks from his nobles, had noticed more than once that there was something in their language that indicated a lack of confidence in his fidelity to the gods. Nebuchadnezzar, notwithstanding his increasing vanity, was far from being indifferent to the estimation in which he was held by his subjects. He knew that his safety was based on the confidence and friendship of his people, and he was determined, if by his former professions he had unwisely magnified the God of Daniel, and thereby lost the confidence of his Chaldean subjects, to give them unmistakable proof that he still was a worshiper at the shrine of Belus.
Summoning Belrazi, one of his most trusted officers, to his side, the king said:
"From the nature of thy position, thou art called to mingle in very numerous circles, and no man at the palace is better qualified than thou to judge of the feelings of the subjects toward their king. Come, now, be frank and plain with thy sovereign, and tell me how I stand in the estimation of my nobles."
"O king, live for ever!" replied the officer, highly delighted with this unusual mark of the king's confidence. "Thou livest in the warm affections of thy nobles, and in the pure regard of all thy numerous subjects. Thou art the peculiarly favored of the gods. All the nations of the earth fear thee, and pay their homage at thy feet."
"True. But art thou not aware that on one point my subjects are not as fully satisfied with their king as they might be? Behold, I have placed unusual confidence in my servant, and in return the king requireth equal sincerity."
"As thy soul liveth, O king, I shall hide nothing from thee. In mingling with thy nobles, I find that, without distinction, they are abundantly loyal. In a very few instances I have heard language that indicated that my lord the king was favorably inclined toward the God of the Hebrews, and less ardent in his devotion to the gods of Chaldea. But in this, has not my lord the king the perfect right to do as seemeth good in his sight?"
"The King of Babylon can do as seemeth good in his sight; and it shall seem good in his sight, not many days hence, to give abundant proof that the gods of Chaldea are the gods of the king. I am well satisfied with thy words. Let this interview, and others of the same nature which we may have, remain a secret. Thou mayest now leave, and to-morrow at the third hour be punctual to meet me again at this apartment."
The dignitary retired, and the king was left alone in his apartment.
"My suspicions were well founded! And, indeed, have they had no cause? Well, I was then young, and without experience. But was not the recovery of that dream a wonderful thing? Will anyone dare deny that? Had the God of Belteshazzar nothing to do with it? Again my thoughts are on the God of Israel! 'Tis hard to banish it from my mind! The interpretation was natural, and perfectly consistent. But I swear by the gods, that it shall not come to pass! I will establish my empire on such a sure foundation that it shall not be in the power of mortals to shake it. Are not the nations at my command? Are not my armies stationed on every shore? Is not Babylon the terror of kings? Ah! where is the power that can compete with Chaldea? My nobles are jealous of my fidelity to the gods. Yea, truly, and have I not given them reason?
"This must go no further. If I have some lingering fears of the God of Belteshazzar, it must not be made manifest. In this I must regain the full confidence of the nation. Are they jealous of the four Hebrews? In this I fear them not. They are worth more to my empire than any chosen score of their fellow-officers. And of the wisdom of my wise men—is not more than one half of it centered in Belteshazzar? If they are envious of these young men, let it not be known to the king, or by the powers of Belus I will let them feel my vengeance!
"But for the king to be suspected of being a believer in their God is of a more serious nature. What measure shall I resort to in order to satisfy the mind of the nation? Deny the insinuation in a proclamation? Shall the King of Babylon ever stoop to this? Never! Something more consistent with royal dignity than this must be found. An image? Yea! That will do, O king! Thou hast well thought. An image of Bel. What? 'With the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet of iron and clay?' Nay! The image of Bel which I shall set up for public worship, shall be all of gold. Why otherwise? My wealth is inexhaustible. Who, after such a display, would ever suspect the King of Babylon of adhering to the God of the Hebrews? This, then, is my purpose. I shall build a great image of Bel, made of pure gold, and set it up in some favorable spot, and appoint a day for its public dedication."
The next morning, at the appointed hour, Belrazi was punctual to meet the king at his apartment. The monarch, well pleased with his scheme of the image, manifested a pleasant countenance.
"Thou art punctual, Belrazi. The king is well pleased to meet thee. Thy frank sincerity yesterday was an additional proof of thy worth. I have seen fit, since we parted, to bestow some thought on the subject on which we conversed. It is of the utmost importance to the well-being and security of the empire that the people have unbounded confidence in their king in all things—in matters of religion as well as in matters of state. Now, in order to expel all doubts from the minds of my nobles in regard to my fidelity to the gods of my fathers, I have thought of a measure which, I trust, must prove successful. It is this: Let an image of our god Bel be made of gold. Let it be of large dimensions, and far superior to any image heretofore seen in any country. Let it be set up in some favorable spot; and on the day of its dedication, let all who hold office under the government, be commanded, by a royal decree, to appear on the spot, and, at the appointed hour, fall down and worship it; and let the penalty of disobedience be death. Let those who dare set at naught the will of the king be taken and thrown into the burning fiery furnace. What thinkest Belrazi of this?"
"O king, live forever! Thy goodness is unbounded. Thy design is dictated by that wisdom that cometh from the gods. The measure shall be hailed throughout the empire with shouts of rejoicing, and the day of its dedication will be a day of days in the future history of Chaldea."
"Let no time be lost, then," replied the king. "Let my head goldsmith be called, and from the lips of the king let him receive instructions in regard to the making of the image. This is my desire. Let the measure be known but to a few, until the proclamation shall go forth."
The head goldsmith was soon in the presence of the king, and after much deliberation the exact dimensions of the great image were settled upon; and, moreover, it was agreed, that by a certain day it should be completed.
According to the direction of the king, no publicity was given to the measure. Few of the king's confidential friends were apprised of it. In the meantime, no pains were spared by the chief goldsmith to have everything in readiness by the time appointed. Hundreds of the craft were called together to speed the great undertaking; and, even before the time agreed upon, the idol was ready to be set up. Word was sent to the king, and immediately the proclamation was trumpeted far and wide, throughout the length and breadth of the vast empire:
"Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to all his Princes, Governors, Captains, Judges, Treasurers, Counselors, Sheriffs, and all rulers of his provinces: Ye are hereby commanded to appear on the twenty-third day of the eighth month, at the third hour of the day, in the plain of Dura, within the province of Babylon, to witness the dedication of the great image which I have set up in honor of Bel, the god of the Chaldeans. Ye are, moreover, hereby commanded, at the hour appointed, to fall down and worship the golden image. Disobedience will be punished with the utmost rigor. Those who shall refuse to bow and worship shall in that same hour be taken and thrown into a burning fiery furnace.
"Given under my hand and seal, at the great City of Babylon, on this the fourth day of the seventh month.
The dedication of the great image now became the chief theme of conversation. In city and village, on hill and in dell, in the palace and cottage, it was the leading subject; and throughout the empire it gave universal satisfaction. The measure for the time being had its desired effect—to establish in the minds of the Chaldeans the conviction that the king was faithful to the gods.
This proclamation was received by the three Hebrews with profound astonishment and deep regret. For many years now they had enjoyed tranquility and Worshiped the God of their fathers in calm simplicity; and this was the first time, since they came to Babylon, that they were required to do violence to their conscience by worshiping a false god. Daniel, on business of great importance, was sent to Egypt.
The three worthies soon met for the special purpose of deciding upon a course of action to be followed in the approaching emergency. No fearful apprehensions could be read in those countenances. No fainting fear took hold of their spirits. Their eyes sparkled with holy courage, their cheeks flushed with noble emotions, their forms were unusually erect. They were fully prepared for the worst.
The opening remarks were from Hananiah.
"Well, brothers, another cloud seems to darken our skies, and to hang threateningly over our heads; but I trust that, as servants of the Host High, we have by this time learned to gaze upon such things without terror or alarm. We are now assembled together to take a calm, sober look at the thing as it really is, and decide on our future course. We are surely much indebted to the king. For a number of years, we have been the recipients of his bounty and the objects of his kind regard, for which, undoubtedly, we all feel grateful. But the question is this: is it our duty, as the professed worshipers of the God of Israel, to yield obedience to the demand of an unholy and wicked law, that throws insult into the face of the God of heaven, and the Jehovah of the universe? In this case, either obedience or disobedience must be pleasing to God. Is it the will of Jehovah that we should obey this law, or disobey it? To my mind, it is clear that, in this case, nothing short of a manly disobedience can be agreeable to the will of our God. Brothers, we must have decision of character. In this matter there must be no compromise with iniquity."
And Hananiah took his seat with a smile of holy satisfaction playing on his lips, when Mishael arose, and said:
"The question rests here, brothers! Can any edict from any king, potentate, or human power, make null and void the laws of the eternal God? To this question, from us, there is but one short answer, and that is, 'Nay!' Is He not higher than the highest? Are not His commands far superior to all human edicts? The law of Jehovah is supreme, and let the higher law be obeyed, though the heavens should fall! Azariah, what sayest thou?"
"I say I shall not bow to any god but the God of Israel! In Him I trust. If we perish by the hand of our enemies, so let it be! Better death than a base betrayal of our sacred trust. But is not that God who saved us once from death able to deliver us again? Is his arm shortened, that he cannot save? Then let them heat the fiery furnace! That God in whom we trust will yet deliver us from this calamity, and overrule this dark providence to his glory."
A knock was heard. The door was opened, and the pleasant voice of the newcomer gave them to understand that he was no other than the kind-hearted Apgomer.
"I trouble you, at this time, as a bearer of dispatches from my kind master, Belteshazzar, who is now in Egypt, on government business of pressing importance. Before he left, he gave me positive orders to deliver all messages to his cousins without the least delay."
"Thou art ever welcome, dear Apgomer!" answered Hananiah. "and especially to-day, as a bearer of a dispatch from one we love so well."
"And here is another, from one that, peradventure, ye love the more. Ye perceive that the children of Judah have some confidence in their Chaldean friend."
"And great is the confidence thou deservest, as one that has proved himself a genuine friend in every trial," said Azariah.
"Let not my noble friend speak thus!" said the modest Chaldean, "for I deserve it not. I must return, and any further dispatches that may be sent to my care shall, without delay, be conveyed hither. Adieu!"
These dispatches proved to be letters. The last delivered was confidentially handed to Apgomer by Mathias, and was written by Perreeza.
The letter from Daniel was first considered. It was read aloud by Azariah.
"Ever Dear Cousins: I have this moment read the wonderful proclamation of the king, in regard to the great image of Bel, to be dedicated on the plains of Dura. By some strange providence, he saw fit to send me hither, with imperative instructions to remain until some unpleasant affairs between the two governments are amicably adjusted; and before this can be accomplished, the great idolatrous display will have passed. Your minds, undoubtedly, have been much troubled in view of the unpleasant position in which ye are placed. So hath the mind of your beloved cousin. Already I know full well that, with holy courage, ye are ready for the trial. The flames of a fiery furnace must fail to frighten a true Israelite from the worship of the God of his fathers. Past favors are not to be repaid by proving traitors to the God of Israel. We are the temporal subjects of the King of Babylon it is true, and in anything that interferes not with the command of Jehovah, we are happy to render him willing obedience: but with us obedience to the higher law is paramount to all other considerations. The words of a loving mother are yet fresh in my mind. The morning on which we left our beloved Jerusalem, she called me to her apartment, and, among a multitude of other good things, she said, 'The same integrity to the law of thy God will certainly secure thy prosperity among strangers. Thy path may occasionally be obstructed; but trust in God, my son, and all will be well. The land whither thou goest is a land of universal idolatry, where the God of thy fathers is not known, and where his worship may cause universal ridicule. Heed them not. With thy face toward Jerusalem, let thy petitions daily ascend to the God of Abraham, and he will direct thy paths. Never prove a traitor to the religion of thy fathers. My son will be obedient to the laws of his king that do not come in contact with his religion; but if ever thou art required to render obedience to any law that clashes with the law of thy God, remember, my son, that disobedience to that law must be rendered, even unto death if required. Let "Obedience to the Higher Law" be thy motto; for thy mother would sooner hear of thy death as a martyr to the religion of Judah, than of thy promotion to a throne by apostasy.'
"These burning words of your Aunt Josepha, to her son Daniel, are the words of Daniel to his cousins. Prove true to your religion! and if in this ye die, it shall be but the will of your God. But, cousins, ye shall not die! That same Jehovah who appeared in our behalf years ago, in the revelation of the king's dream, will again stretch out his arm to save. If Jehovah interferes in your behalf, there is not fire enough in all Chaldea to injure a hair of your head. I long to be with you! Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be immediately called back to Babylon. Then side by side would we stand erect, and scorn to bow before a golden image. But it appears to be the will of Jehovah that I should be absent. I have confidence that I shall soon embrace you in Babylon: but if in this I am mistaken, we soon shall meet in the better Jerusalem above.
It was with some difficulty that Azariah commanded sufficient control over his feelings to enable him to read the letter aloud; but with a trembling accent it was done.
"Thanks be to Jehovah." cried Mishael, "for such consolation in the midst of sore affliction."
"But what says our beloved Perreeza?" said Hananiah.
No one felt willing to read aloud their sister's letter, so it was read by each in silence. It ran thus:
"Dear Brothers: With emotions indescribable, Perreeza endeavors to write these few lines, that may impart some consolation to her dear brothers while strong waves of affliction pass over their souls. Being much confined of late to my dwelling, it was but yesterday that I derived any knowledge of that awful proclamation of the king in regard to his great image. Uncle Esrom is at present traveling in a far country on important business, and I am deprived of his counsel and ye are deprived of his aid in this crisis. Ob, my brothers! the companions and guardians of my juvenile hours, into whose care and warm affections I was committed by the parting words of a dying mother! How ardently does your sister love you! how deep for you is the affection of Perreeza's heart! What can I say that will cause one sweet ingredient to drop into your bitter cup? Nothing better do I know, than the favorite sentence of our beloved Jeremiah. If the good prophet were here would he not say, 'Jehovah is the strength of all his saints; trust in him and be at peace!' Oh, how sweetly flowed the gentle words of the man of God! Brothers! dear as ye seem to my throbbing heart, terrible as the fiery furnace may rage, Perreeza has no desire that your safety should be purchased at a dishonorable price. Nay, brothers! if for a moment I should indulge in such an unholy desire, that moment I should forfeit all right to call you brothers. I shall not even advise you to stand firm in the fiery trial. Ah! too well do I know that your noble souls already scorn the command of an apostate king, who once acknowledged the supremacy of the God of Israel.
"My precious Jupheena came to see me this morning, and she is very confident that the God in whom we trust will bring you through this trial triumphantly. Dear brothers, accept this hasty dispatch as an offering of pure affection. Farewell, until our next meeting."
With full hearts, the brothers bowed before the Lord and rolled their burdens upon the Almighty. The entire consecration was now made, and they were ready for the trial. The struggle was over and their minds became as calm and tranquil as a summer evening.
IN AN extravagantly furnished apartment of a fine-looking mansion in the heart of the city, sits a family group, consisting of a father, mother, two sons, and one daughter. They are far from exhibiting in their countenances that contentment of mind which is a "continual feast," and yet something has transpired that gives them, for the time being, an unusual degree of pleasurable emotion.
The father leaves his seat, and with folded arms he begins to pace slowly backward and forward the length of the apartment with an air of pompous dignity, while ever and anon a smile of extreme selfishness plays on his lips. He has received intelligence which he considers by no means displeasing.
The mother, to whom nature has been rather niggardly in the endowment of outward charms, is loaded with a superabundance of golden ornaments, in the vain attempt to supply the lack of the natural with the artificial. In her eye you look in vain for intelligence, or in her countenance for benevolence; but she smiles! yea, indeed, with something the mother is evidently pleased.
The two sons, in making a declaration of their brotherhood to a stranger, would stand in no danger of being suspected on that point as deceivers. The resemblance is quite striking.
The daughter is beautiful—in her own estimation. To this she clings as an essential part of her creed—that she constitutes a very important share of the beauty of Babylonia, but in getting it implanted into the creed of others, she proves unsuccessful—her converts being wholly confined to her father's household. She also, with the rest, on this night manifests an unusual degree of hilarity.
"Ah! they are ensnared at last!" said Scribbo, with an air of triumph. "They must either deny their religion or face the furnace. This is right, and happy am I that the king has at last seen fit to enact a law that will bear with stringency on those pretending foreigners who fill the most important stations in the government."
"But, brother," said the sister, eagerly, "which thinkest thou they will choose—the worship of our gods or the fiery furnace?"
"I am in hopes they are fanatical enough to choose the latter," answered the brother; "for in case they should choose the former, they would be as much in our way as ever. But then it would be some consolation to know that they had been compelled to worship and bow before the gods of the Chaldeans."
"There is one thing to be deeply regretted," said Shagoth. "I am informed that Belteshazzar, the great Rab Mag, is now in Egypt, and is not expected to return for some weeks. He also ought to bear them company and share the same fate. But if only we can put these three out of our way we shall have abundant reason to adore the gods."
"But, my sons," said the mother, "will not these Hebrews elude notice among so many? The gods know how I fear lest after all they may escape."
"Fear not that, mother," answered Scribbo. "Shagoth and myself will so arrange matters as to be near them; and if they bow not with us we will on the spot report them to the king."
"This is a matter of ponderous importance, and of immense consequence," said the promenading father. "From this, Chaldea shall hereafter reap abundant harvests. These proud and insolent foreigners who insinuate themselves into offices which native Chaldeans ought to fill, will now learn a lesson of modesty to which they have hitherto been strangers. Far better for our beloved Chaldea if the superstitious brood had been left in their own country. May the gods grant that every Hebrew office-holder may so cling to his imaginary god as to walk straight from office into sure destruction. My motto is 'Chaldeans for Chaldea!' Personally, I have no hostility toward these young men. Nay! But, O my country! my country! it is for thee my heart bleeds! Sons! ye shall do well to be on your guard, and see to it that they escape not your vigilance. If they die, their offices will be vacant, and must soon be supplied by some persons of ability. O my country! It is for thee, O Chaldea! my heart bleeds!"
"But," said the anxious mother, "are not these important offices at the disposal of the Rab Mag? If he still remains, can we expect any favors from him? Alas! my husband may well cry, 'O my country!'"
"Perhaps," said the daughter, "if he hears of the death of his companions, he will never return, but flee over the mountains to his own country."
"A trivial mistake, my daughter," said the patriot; "his country would lie in an opposite direction."
"But could he not change his course?" asked the half-offended daughter.
"Yea, verily, my child, if he should find that he was in the wrong path; peradventure, this would constitute his first business."
"I can hardly hope for such a happy result, sister," said Shagoth. "The conniving demagogue will cling to his office until compelled by a stringent law to abandon it."
"Before many days, the Rab Mag will return," said the erect promenader. "And will not the king ere long set apart another day for the public worship of the gods? And if this foreign pretender escapes now, justice will overtake him then. The vengeance of our deities will not always slumber, and these worshipers of other gods shall soon know that the best offices in our government and the best interests of our beloved country are not to be entrusted to a horde of superstitious foreigners. O my country! Sons! let me caution you again to be on the watch for these three rulers. They hold important offices, and such a favorable opportunity is not to be lightly regarded. O my country, my country!"
. . . . . . .
The day appointed for the dedication of the great image at last arrived. Its ushering in was hailed by the populace with universal enthusiasm, marked by shouts of rejoicing. The day was fair and beautiful. No threatening cloud was visible in the heavens. The metropolis, at a very early stage, presented one grand scene of activity and preparation. The soldiery were out by thousands, their glittering panoply dazzling in the clear sunbeams. Officers of all grades hurried to and fro with excitement visible on their countenances. Those swarming thousands were evidently expecting some signal, at which they were ready to march. The word of command was at last given, and the multitude moved forward.
Onward the mighty concourse moved through the principal thoroughfares, amid the ringing of bells, the blasts of trumpets, and the waving of banners, until they arrived in a spacious square in front of the royal palace. Here they halted.
At last, the massive portals were thrown open, and the king, in a magnificent chariot, surrounded by an imposing guard, made his appearance. He waved his hand in the direction of the multitude, when, with one voice, the people exclaimed:
"O king, live forever!"
The procession was soon on its way to the plains of Dura, the king leading the pompous train, while eager thousands brought up the rear. On the way, they were joined by thousands more, who at different places waited their arrival, and at every stage the high praises of the King of Babylon echoed from ten thousand voices.
The great image far surpassed anything of its kind within the realm. Its dimensions were large and well proportioned, its height being twenty cubits, and its breadth six cubits, elevated on a richly gilded pedestal, forty cubits in height, thus being perfectly visible to all the worshipers. Around its base stood the officiating priests of Belus, with solemn visages, their long flowing robes adorned with numerous articles of rich regalia.
Scribbo and Shagoth, faithful to their revengeful promise, were on the keen alert for the three Hebrews. In their wanderings they came across Apgomer.
"We are in search of thy three Hebrew friends," said Shagoth. "Canst thou inform us where we may find them?"
"I can," promptly replied Apgomer. "I know the exact spot on which they stand."
"This is truly gratifying," replied Scribbo. "Now lead us to the spot without delay."
"To my Hebrew friends your presence would be anything but agreeable; and, as I am under far more obligations to them than to some others, I am very happy to disregard your request."
"Thou art in command of the same daring insolence as characterized thy school-days," said Scribbo, in an angry tone.
"To be accused of insolence by the envious sons of Skerbood, is fully equivalent to being called noble and gentle by a worthy citizen," answered Apgomer, with a smile of contempt playing on his lip. "So permit me to thank you for the high compliment."
"Speakest thou so to us, thou insulting pretender!" cried Shagoth, in a rage. "Thou hadst better depart ere we punish thy insolence with the edge of the sword."