So the king's name was given to the fatal parchment; and, moreover, it was sealed with the seal of the Medes and Persians.
"The thing is done," said Darius. "Is there anything more that ye wish to communicate to the king?"
"Thy goodness is ever abundant, O king," answered Fraggood. "This is all that we have to present this day. Will the king accept our united gratitude for the kind manner in which we have been received into the presence of the mightiest monarch that ever swayed a scepter? Long live our matchless king! We shall no longer trespass on thy time. We return to our respective stations, to carry out the pleasure of our king."
The conspirators, with bounding hearts, made their way in haste and entered the house of President Fraggood, and there gave vent to the fiendish joy of their malicious hearts at the success of their nefarious scheme.
"Now we must be on the watch," said Kinggron, "or he will, after all, escape. Let three of our number be appointed, and let them be called 'The Union Safety Committee,' whose business it shall be to mark well the movements of the old Hebrew, and prepare, for all emergencies, ready answers for the ears of the king."
"Thou hast well thought," answered Fraggood, "for I apprehend that as yet we are not quite out of danger. I fear this measure will be repulsive to the king, when he thinketh of it in all its parts; and more repulsive still, when he finds the first transgressor to be none other than the first president. Let us be prepared for the mighty contest! This is a movement that will justify desperate measures. Things must be resorted to that, in other matters, would be justly condemned. The object in view must justify our every step. Our words have gone forth to the king that this law is the fruit of the calm deliberations of all the presidents. Now, in regard to the future of this matter, there must be no cowardly apologies, no lame explanations, no faltering embarrassment, nor weak equivocation. Let us still unitedly adhere to every statement that we have made. And shall the testimony of one be strong enough to impeach the testimony of six men? Nay, verily! Let us, therefore, be firm, and we shall not only succeed in condemning the old Israelite, but also prove him a liar. Are we now ready to swear solemnly, in the presence of the gods, that our testimonies, if called before the king, shall say that this Daniel was concerned in framing this law?"
"All ready, most noble Fraggood!" was the united reply.
"Then we swear!"
The next day, by order of the presidents, the streets of Babylon rang with the proclamation of the new law. Heralds were sent to and fro, who, at the top of their voices, sounded the peculiar edict throughout every thoroughfare. At first it was thought by many to be a mischievous hoax, but it was soon found to be stern reality. Nothing could exceed the astonishment and consternation produced among the inhabitants when they first heard it; it was so unlike anything they could expect from the mild Mede. Not only among the Hebrews, who were numerous in the city, was this singular law looked upon as monstrous in its nature, but also by the great body of Chaldeans, many of whom were warmly attached to the worship of their gods. The shortness of the period in which it was to be enforced, however, served to quiet them in a manner. Thirty days would soon be over, and then they would closely watch the future movements of their new king.
The "Union Safety Committee" acted well their part. Daniel, perfectly acquainted with all their movements, gave himself no uneasiness. With full confidence in his God, he rolled his burden upon Jehovah, and felt the perfect assurance that all would be well.
To Fraggood and Kinggron the devotional hours of the first president were well known; and at such hour it was necessary that they should, under some pretense, find their way into his worshiping chamber. To find such an excuse was but the work of a moment to those so expert in mischievous plots as the two presidents.
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, when the loud voices of the heralds proclaiming the peculiar enactment fell on his ears, he laid by his parchment, closed his eyes for a moment in silent devotion, then rose and calmly entered that little chamber, where he had so often, for so many years, bowed before the God of his fathers. There he had sat for many hours in silent meditation on the length of Judah's captivity, and cried, "How long, O Lord, how long!" A dear spot to the man of God that little chamber had been for many a long year.
"From the days of my childhood I have prayed to the God of my fathers," soliloquized Daniel. "I well remember when, by the side of my mother, while I was yet but a little child, I bowed the knee in humble adoration of my God. From that day to this, throughout my long, weary pilgrimage, I have always prayed and offered my petitions to the Most High. And am I now to be frightened in my old age from the worship of my God through the fear of the lions? Is this the strength of Daniel's faith? I laugh to scorn their blasphemous law!"
Soon after Daniel had left for his devotional exercises, the members of the "Union Safety Committee" (Fraggood, Bimbokrak and Scramgee) were seen on their way from the house of Kinggron, moving in the direction of the house of the first president.
"If we find him in prayer before his God," said Fraggood, "we shall not be called upon to offer any excuse for our calling. We will ask forgiveness for the intrusion and retire. But if we find him otherwise, our object seems reasonable indeed."
"May the gods grant that we need not speak of our object," said Bimbokrak.
By this time the "committee" had arrived at the door of the mansion. Fraggood led the way into the office; but the first president was not there.
"Hark ye!" whispered Fraggood. "Hark!"
"It is the voice of prayer!" said Bimbokrak.
"Silently! Silently!" answered Scramgee, "or he will surely hear us."
"Follow me!" said the president. "Tread lightly!"
The "committee," with beating hearts and light footsteps, sought the chamber whence came the sound of prayer. They soon found the spot; the door was open, and the man of God, on his bended knees, was engaged in solemn devotion.
They gazed upon him for a moment; he saw them not, for his countenance was turned in another direction. Fraggood did not wish to return without acquainting Daniel of his presence, but still he wished to escape an interview. Therefore, in a voice that the first president would surely hear, he said:
"We beg pardon for this intrusion. Let us not disturb our most excellent friend whilst he makes his petitions to his God."
The Hebrew prophet gently turned his head, but he saw only the receding forms of the members of the "committee" as they hastened to the street below, and so he continued his supplications to the God of his fathers.
The "Union Safety" men were soon back again at the house of President Kinggron, and great was the demonstration of joy at the promised success of their malignant plot.
The next morning witnessed again the guilty form of the leading conspirator, with his two accomplices, on the way towards the king's palace. They were admitted, and were soon in the presence of their king.
"And what good thing do the presidents desire of the king?" asked Darius, in rather a surly mood, for, the more he thought of their new statute, the more repulsive it appeared in his sight.
"O king, live forever!" replied Fraggood, with a deceitful smile on his countenance. "Hast thou not signed a decree that every man that asketh a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?"
"The thing is true," answered the king, "according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not."
"Then it is made our painful duty to inform thee that Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou has signed; but maketh his petition three times a day."
"Daniel!" replied the king. "I know of no Daniel but my worthy first president, whom ye say assisted in making this law."
"This same Daniel, O king, thy first president, is the guilty one!" answered Fraggood. "After having exerted his influence with thy servants to make the law, he is now the first of all to transgress. In this he hath but sought an opportunity to show thee, O king, how utterly he disregardeth all thy wise commandments."
"What!" said the king, suddenly rising to his feet. "Daniel, the first president in the kingdom? Daniel, noted for his wisdom and prudence? Impossible! Ye have been wrongly informed! Beware how ye thus accuse the best man in Babylon!"
"Thy servants wonder not at thy astonishment, O king! If we had not been eye-witnesses to the thing, we could have in no wise believed it; but the eyes and ears of thy servants are witnesses against him. He offers his petitions, and tramples upon the authority of our king."
"His petitions!" cried the excited king. "And to whom does he offer his petitions?"
"He daily offers his petitions to his God, O king!"
"His God! Wiseman! Who can—But—If—Say ye not that Daniel was concerned in making this law?"
"Yea, verily, O king! May the gods forbid that we should utter aught but truth in the presence of King Darius!"
"To me it seemeth a strange thing that Daniel, the worshiper of the God of Israel, should frame a law that bears oppressively on himself and upon thousands of his nation within the realm. And it seemeth still more strange to the king that he should be the first transgressor! Already have I sorrow of heart because I signed the decree; but the thing is done, and my name must go down to posterity as the name of a fool. There is a mystery connected with this affair that to me, as yet, is inexplicable. If by any means I find that I have been wrongly dealt with, by all the gods I swear I will pour vengeance on the guilty heads!"
"If thou wilt permit the four princes to testify, they will say, with thy servant, that this Daniel was the chief mover in the formation of this law."
"At present I have no desire to hear from any of the princes. But to think of casting Daniel into the den of lions is mournful beyond description—it must not be done!"
"So say we all, O king, when we consult our feelings; but the decree is signed according to the law of the Medes and Persians, and cannot be altered. The honor of the king depends upon the faithful execution of all his laws; and if in this one point thou failest and let the guilty one escape, thy subjects will laugh at thy timidity, and lawlessness will prevail throughout our borders."
"Of this we may speak hereafter. I must see the first president and learn more of this matter ere I take another step in this unhappy affair."
On the departure of the conspirators, the king immediately sent for Daniel, and soon the Hebrew prophet stood in the presence of Darius the Mede. On his countenance rested that same calm smile. The king gazed upon him for a moment, and could not but notice the contrast between the serene, noble countenance of the Hebrew prophet, and the uneasy, agitated visage of President Fraggood.
"Thou standest before the king, O Daniel, accused as an evil doer! What sayest thou for thyself?"
"What is the nature of thy servant's offense, O king?"
"Thou art accused of violating a law, chiefly of thine own making, by offering thy petitions to thy God. To the king it seemeth strange indeed that he who was the first mover in the formation of a new law, should be the first one to transgress it. What meaneth all this?"
"I readily perceive by the words of thy mouth, O king, that thou hast been greatly deceived in this matter. Thy servant had nothing to do in forming a law whose every feature is repulsive to his soul and an insult to the God he worshipeth. This law came from the enemies of thy servant, for the purpose of his overthrow. Having failed in every other point, with malicious hearts they have brought forward this measure, knowing well that I could never yield it my obedience. With lying tongues have they declared before thee that it received my approbation. It is true, O king, that I have violated thy law; and, moreover, I must do so hereafter. For fourscore years has thy servant offered his prayers to the God of his fathers. When a little lad in the land of Judah, I was taught by a beloved mother to lisp the name of Jehovah. From that time to this, O king, at morning, noon and eventide, thy servant has prayed to his God. And is Daniel to be frightened from his duty now in his old age? Nay, O king! My prayers must daily ascend to the throne of the Most High! Sooner would I suffer a thousand deaths than prove a traitor to the God of Israel."
The king was deeply moved by the words of the aged Hebrew, and continued for some time in deep silence. At last he rose to his feet, and, with a voice trembling with anger, exclaimed:
"By the gods! If these presidents have come before me with lying words, I will cut them in pieces, and leave them neither root nor branch! Daniel, if thou sayest, I will have them arrested and destroyed! This very hour the word shall go forth!"
"Nay, O king! Listen to the counsel of thine aged servant. This hasty movement would not be well received among thy subjects. The decree has gone forth. I pray thee let the law have its course, but be assured, O king, that not a hair of thy servant's head shall be injured. The God that I serve and in whom I trust, shall deliver me from every danger, and no weapon formed against me shall prosper. Hereafter do with mine enemies as thou seest fit. Be assured, O king, that my life is as secure among the lions as in the presence of my kind sovereign! The same God that preserved my cousins alive in the midst of a burning, fiery furnace, can easily shut the mouths of the lions, and make them as harmless as the little lambs of the flock."
Here the king was melted into tears; and, so deeply was he affected, that for a long time he was unable to speak. At last, in a low key, he spoke:
"O Daniel, this thing must never come to pass! May the gods forbid that I should endanger the life of my servant! But the writing is signed! My heart is sad! My soul is sick!"
"Let not the king be sore troubled on account of his servant," said Daniel. "The God of heaven shall certainly overrule this matter to his own glory."
"Thou mayest return, Daniel," said the king. "I know not what to do. I fear I have been greatly deceived."
"The word of thy servant, in a case like this, is not sufficient to gainsay the testimony of six witnesses. When the proper hour arrives, the king shall learn from other lips than mine the deep iniquity of these foul conspirators. Adieu, O king! Let Jehovah use his own measures for the vindication of his own law!" And the first president left the royal presence.
On that night Darius the Mede laid his head on his pillow with the full purpose of delivering Daniel.
Early on the morrow, the "Union Safety Committee," accompanied by the other three, made their way into the presence of the king.
"Ye are punctual!" said the king, with a meaning glance.
"We take unbounded pleasure in obeying all the requirements of our king," said Fraggood, "and may the gods curse all those that are disobedient!"
"Since ye left my presence yesterday, I have had an interview with the first president, and from his venerable lips I learn that he had no voice in the formation of this law that ye say he hath violated."
"This is as thy servant expected, O king!" answered Kinggron. "What transgressor do we ever find that will not strive to hide his guilt?"
"Daniel strives not to hide his guilt," replied the king in a firm tone. "He freely acknowledges that he violated the law, and moreover he assures me that he will continue to violate it three times every day. Thus ye perceive that the first president wishes not to hide his guilt, nor even to escape the punishment. But with all the weight of reason, consistency and humanity on his side, he pronounces the law at war with all goodness, and denies having had any part in bringing it into existence. Now, with all due respect to your testimonies, which, in point of law, must outweigh the declaration of one man, I freely acknowledge to you, my presidents and princes, that it is my firm conviction that ye are a band of unprincipled liars, fully bent on the destruction of this Daniel!"
At this plain, royal truth, the "Union Safety Committee" turned pale, and the other three appeared to be similarly affected. But Fraggood, recovering his self-possession, hastened to the rescue.
"Then my lord the king had rather believe a man that defies his power by boasting his determination to violate the king's decree at least three times a day, than his faithful servants who honor his laws, and who desire to bring the guilty to punishment. Let not the king be deceived by the smooth tongue of this intriguing old Israelite, who can by the eloquence of his lips give to truth the color of falsehood, and to deception the appearance of sincerity. Thy servants now in the presence of the king are ready to prove all the declarations of thy servants who testified in thy presence yesterday. But what would avail their testimony in the ears of Darius? But, O king, remember that thy decree hath gone forth, and it cannot be recalled. And, moreover, it is well understood in Babylon that Daniel sets thy power at defiance, and thy decision in this matter is watched for by tens of thousands; and if this Daniel escapes the punishment of the law, we may as well burn up our statute books and give absolute liberty to every ruffian and desperado. Law and order will be at an end, the union of the provinces will be forever dissolved, and confusion and desolation shall follow. The question now to be settled is not, 'How came this law to be enacted?' but, seeing that it is enacted, is there power enough in the king of the Medes and Persians to put it in force; and, if there is, will he do it? Or does he wish us to retire from his presence and send forth heralds through the streets of Babylon to inform the people that the decree enacted a few days ago, and signed according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which changeth not, is abolished? Shall it be told in the streets of this proud city that Darius the Mede has so quickly changed his mind and is sorry for what he hath done, because one of his favorites has violated the law? Thou saidst yesterday that thy name would go down to posterity as the name of a fool. The king was far from being believed by thy servant then, but, if thou persistest in this determination of letting the guilty escape, I know not but thou wilt cause to be brought about the fulfillment of thine own prophecy?"
Long and severe was this interview between the king and the conspirators, and all the weight of their ingenuity was brought to bear on his mind. It failed to convince him that Daniel's words were false; yet, partly from a false view of consistency, and partly from the advice of the first president, he gave his signature to the death warrant of the old Israelite.
THE news of the condemnation of the Hebrew prophet soon spread through all Babylon, and the hour of his execution was well known. It was the great theme of conversation among high and low, rich and poor, and there were but few who were not horrified at the awful doom of the man of God.
No man in Babylon was better known or more universally beloved than the old prime minister of Nebuchadnezzar. His long residence in the city had rendered his name familiar to the populace, and a vast number held him in respect bordering on veneration. His mild and friendly deportment whenever brought into the society of the common people, had won their affection. The poor and the needy had ever found relief at his door. The little children even claimed the aged prophet as their friend. He found it not beneath the dignity of his station to speak to them in the street, put his hand on their heads, and say, "May Jehovah bless my little children!"
In the vicinity of the first president's mansion were seen numerous groups of persons engaged in low conversation, while deep sorrow was visible on every countenance. These gatherings gradually swelled to one solid mass of human beings. The doors of the president's house were closed, and thick curtains' were drawn across the lattices, and no one as yet appeared to enter those portals. Presently the throng was in commotion, several chariots halted before the door, and a number of government officials alighted, and, with slow steps, and solemn countenances, they ascended the steps, entered, and closed the door. A peculiar gathering that! A solemn, sad throng! All conversation had ceased. The stillness was broken by the sudden appearance of several platoons of soldiers, who took their stand and formed a square in front of the mansion. The door at last opened, and two uniformed officers appeared side by side, and slowly marched out. Next appeared the sheriff, with the prisoner leaning on his arm. On the broad platform he waited for a moment, evidently to permit some of his near friends to embrace him before they parted. Thick and fast they gathered around the aged saint, with loud weeping and lamentation; but soon their cries were drowned amid the louder lamentations of the throng. Last of all there approached the man of God two aged women, on whose countenances Time had tried in vain to erase marks of loveliness and beauty.
With a smile, one of the twain took the hand of the prophet, and gently said:
"May Jehovah grant a happy night to his servant among the lions, and on the morrow may we have a joyful meeting."
"God bless thee, dear Perreeza!" said the man of God.
The other one now approached, and, in a mild voice, said:
"Daniel, the servant of the living God, is secure in the midst of all his foes. He that quenched the violence of the fire, shall tame the fury of the lions."
"Heaven smile upon the daughter of Barzello!" was the prophet's answer.
The procession was now formed, and soon reached the vicinity of the lions' den, where thousands of the inhabitants had assembled to take the last lingering look at their aged fellow-citizen. There also was the king himself, with a number of his most intimate nobles. The soldiers moved forward, and a clear space was prepared in front of the platform on which the king and his friends stood.
The countenance of the monarch was pale, and his whole appearance gave the beholder to understand that he was one of the unhappiest of mortals. The conspirators were not permitted to occupy the platform with him, but were commanded to stand together on his left.
When the prisoner arrived, he gently bowed and saluted the king, which salutation was answered only by falling tears. The throng, witnessing the emotion of the king, gave vent to their grief, and one loud wail ascended. Then, indeed, did those conspirators tremble! Then did they really learn the deep hold their victim had on the popular mind. Again the agitation was partially quieted, when the loud roaring of lions within made the earth tremble. The awful moment was drawing nigh! Daniel ascended some steps near by, and having had permission from the king, proceeded, in a few words, to address the multitude:
"Babylonians! with naught of malice in my heart against any man, and with perfect good feeling toward the king, I yield myself to the demands of a broken law. Here, in the presence of the God of my fathers, whom I worship, and in the presence of my king, whom I respect, and in the presence of this throng, whose tears flow for my sorrow, and in the presence of these mine accusers, who thirst for my blood, I solemnly declare, that as first president in the kingdom, I never was consulted in regard to the making of this law, that is about to consign your aged servant to the lions. In honor to my king, who now laments the sad fate of his unworthy president, let me also testify that in order to persuade him to sign a decree which had never entered his heart, the most deliberate falsehoods were poured into his ears, by those whose only object was the overthrow of Daniel. After more than threescore years of public service, I cheerfully submit to my fate, knowing well that Jehovah, the God of Israel, in whom I trust, will direct this whole matter to his own glory. Hereafter it will be known in Babylon, that it was not the 'safety of the Union' that demanded the enactment of this cruel law; but that it was conceived in envy, and brought forth in malice, and thoughtlessly signed by our king, who considered all his presidents to be men of benevolence, wisdom, and understanding. For violating this law I ask no forgiveness. Sooner would I suffer a thousand deaths than prove a traitor to the religion of my fathers. Babylonians, I say no more! Accept my thanks for your tears! May Jehovah continue to grant you great prosperity, when your friend Daniel shall have passed away."
Then turning to those whose painful duty it was to lead him to the den, he said:
"Now I am ready."
The executioners, with trembling hands, laid hold of the aged prisoner, and led him to the door of the den. Again there was an awful roaring of lions. As he passed the king on his way to the den, the monarch cried out:
"Thy God, whom thou servest continually, he will surely deliver thee!"
The prisoner was seized with strong hands and elevated over the inner walls, and by means of strong cords was lowered to the bottom of the den, where the ravenous lions held their nightly revels. The executioners, as if afraid to hear the prisoner's dying shrieks, hastened away. The throng soon dispersed in sorrowful silence. The king, in deep agony of mind, entered his chariot, and was driven to the palace.
How sad was that night for royalty! Filled with remorse for having signed the fatal decree, and knowing not how to retrace his steps or to retrieve the effects of his rash act, the king passed the hours in agony. With a heavy heart and a throbbing brow, he paced the length of his royal bedchamber, and thus did he converse with himself:
"How he justified the king, almost with his dying breath! Ah! but I justify not myself. Why did I sign that silly and cruel decree, by which the prime jewel of my kingdom is lost? Why did I not consider the thing well, and consult the first president? Alas! it is now too late. The deed is done, and there is no remedy! How the multitude sympathized with the noble prisoner! How copious their tears and how audible their sobs! How beloved in the estimation of the populace was that aged Daniel! What think they by this time of my prudence and wisdom? Have I not lost in this the estimation of my people? Will his God, indeed, deliver him? Is he not already torn by the lions? How cruel a fate for so worthy a man! But if Daniel is spared, no thanks to me! Will not this people inwardly curse me, and wish me out of their borders? What poor returns to them, for the grand reception they gave me! What will my nephew, Cyrus, think of my sagacity and power of discernment!"
. . . . . . .
Let us for a while leave the unfortunate Mede, and take a view of the hero of the lions' den.
When Daniel was thrust among the lions, the sun was yet one hour above the western horizon, and the light from the top of the den, made the interior comparatively light. When he found himself at the bottom, for a minute he walked to and fro, then fell on his knees, and began to pour his prayers into the ears of the God of his fathers. The lions, quite unaccustomed to such a sight, looked on for a while in silent wonder. Then they ran together to the other end of the den, where the old lion of all—the "lord of the manor"—and his aged companion, the old lioness, the mistress of the "establishment," were, heedless of the youthful pranks and occasional quarrels of their offspring, enjoying a good, comfortable sleep. A loud roar from one of the youngsters, which was answered by another louder roar from his companion, aroused the energies of the old couple. They uttered an ill-natured growl, very much on the same principle that anyone else would on being unnecessarily disturbed in the midst of a nap. Perhaps the growl was equivalent to, "Children, you are very rude. Make less noise, or I shall attend to you!" This reproof (if reproof it was) did not seem in the least to frighten the young lions. One of them, the one that roared the loudest, put his head close to that of his sire, and if he said anything, it was in so low a whisper that it could not be heard at any distance. From what immediately followed, one might think the young chap said something in this fashion:
"Get up quickly! Come to the other end of the den, and there you will see a sight that you never saw before in all your days. There is another victim; but he has no more the appearance of common victims than thou hast. I know by his eye he has no fear of the lions. Why, think! as soon as he came to the bottom of the den, he walked to and fro among us as deliberately as my brother here, or myself, would walk among our companions."
After the whispering was over (if whispering it was), the old lion uttered another growl, as much as to say, "That sounds to me rather improbable, but I guess I will go and see for myself." The old lion led the way. Close by his heels followed the lioness. Next in order followed the rest of the family. They soon arrived at the spot, and sure enough, it was as the young lion had declared. The old lion paused for a moment, but he soon made up his mind that there was nothing to fear. So he slowly approached. He paused again. Daniel reached out his hand and spoke. The lion fancied the peculiarity of that voice; so with eyes half closed he slowly walked up to the man, and with the innocence and harmlessness of a young spaniel, he licked the hand of the prophet. After having partially conquered his embarrassment, he uttered another low growl, and looked toward the rest of the company, as much as to say, "Come this way! Don't be afraid."
They slowly and silently gathered around the strange visitor, and each one appeared to be pleased to be permitted to come in contact with his person in some way. And when the darkness of night gathered around them, the old lion answered for Daniel's pillow, the lioness lay at his feet, and the young lions stretched themselves on either side, to keep him warm; and soon the Prophet of Jehovah was fast asleep.
. . . . . . .
If ever a sleepless mortal, wearied with the tediousness of a painful night, rejoiced to see the first glimmering dawn of the morn, King Darius did, after that dark, dreary period of agony. No sooner was it fairly day than the monarch ordered his chariot, and, with a number of his nobles, he was once more on his way toward the den of lions. The royal chariot, as it moved through the various thoroughfares, attracted the notice of the inhabitants. Its destination was understood, and as there was some faint hope in the minds of thousands that the God of Daniel would miraculously interfere and save his servant, they had accordingly held themselves in readiness to be early at the den. They, therefore, with all haste followed in the direction of the royal train. The king was greatly astonished to find already there a large number of the inhabitants. The movements and excitement of the people had also brought to the spot the six conspirators, who were greatly astonished to see the king. The monarch, in trembling accents, ordered the stone to be removed from the door of the den. The order was quickly obeyed. While every eye rested upon him, the king entered and stood inside of the outer door, and cried, in a loud voice:
"Oh, Daniel! is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?"
Oh, the breathless silence of that moment! A thousand hearts throb with deep emotion, in painful suspense to learn the result. Hark! A voice clear and firm ascends from the depths, and falls on the ears of the multitude:
"O king, live forever!"
It was enough! Gladsome shouts echoed from a thousand tongues! The joy was unbounded. Their sorrow for their old friend was turned into joy, and the name of the God of Daniel was praised.
Immediate orders were given to bring the old Hebrew up, and soon he stood in the presence of the king and the rejoicing throng.
Then said Daniel, turning to the king, "My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the mouths of the lions, that they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt."
An aged man at this moment was seen making his way through the crowd, as if endeavoring to find admittance into the presence of the king. His venerable appearance served to make for him room.
"We meet again, Apgomer!" cried Daniel, in a familiar, friendly voice: and then to the king he said:
"This is my good friend Apgomer, O king, one of the few friends of my early days. He hath words to communicate to the king, in the presence of this throng, that will give thee to understand clearly that this law was prepared on purpose to ensnare thy servant Daniel."
"Let my worthy friends, Fraggood and Kinggron, with their four companions, the princes, stand in this direction!" said the king, with an angry expression of countenance.
The conspirators, with paleness gathering on their brows, obeyed, and tremblingly stood facing the king.
"Now, O Daniel, thy friend Apgomer may give his testimony before the king."
"O king, live forever!" said Apgomer. "This day thy servant is fourscore and ten years old. From the days of my childhood have I dwelt in Babylon; and never for any long period have I departed hence. Soon thy servant shall leave this world of sorrow—I stand on the verge of the grave. At this time, with deep soberness, I appeal to the God that dwelleth in light for the sincerity of my purpose in thus appearing before my lord the king. My words will be few, therefore, O king, I pray thee hear me patiently.
"These men who now stand before thee and by whose continual importunity thou gavest thy signature for the arrest of thy servant Daniel, are wicked and deceitful men, and with lying words have they deceived thee, O king. Their secret devices are well known to thy servant. With mine own ears have I listened to their midnight plotting; and from their own lips have I learned their fixed purpose to destroy the innocent without cause, even thy servant Daniel. For many months, O king, these cruel men have sought an occasion against the first president, and after having failed in every other point, they thought at last of this.
"I heard the plot described at midnight recently while resting in the public garden. The conspiracy was led by Fraggood and Kinggron. They were assisted by a number of the princes, among whom are Bimbokrak and Scramgee. This foul movement has been going on for many a day, but until last week the conspirators could not agree on a plan. At last, Prince Scramgee brought forward a scheme, which met with the cordial approval of the rest. And who but the chief evil spirit of the universe could have put in his heart such a horrible measure? It was in effect that a law be enacted that anyone who prayed to the God of Israel should be cast into the lions' den. When I made thy servant Daniel acquainted with the plot against his life, his only reply was:
"'Let them proceed in their scheme of wickedness. Let it become ripe. The God in whom I trust shall vindicate the honor and superiority of his own law. I might easily frustrate all their malicious designs by acquainting the king with their cowardly plots; but the cause of Jehovah shall gather more strength from a miraculous display of his power in the preservation of his servant from harm. Forty years ago, idolatry in Chaldea received a blow, from the effects of which it has never recovered, in the miraculous deliverance of my three cousins from the midst of a burning, fiery furnace. And if a visit to the lions for a few hours may cause the name of Jehovah to be feared, I ask for no greater honor. No weapon formed against the servant of Jehovah shall prosper. Let not my good friend Apgomer be troubled. The life of Daniel is as safe in the lions' den as among his friends at his own home. Therefore let them proceed with their malicious measures; let no impediment be thrown in their way. Let them have a few days of rejoicing, and their brief nights of merriment. Soon the day of retribution shall overtake them; for He that is higher than the highest shall surely avenge himself on these workers of iniquity.'"
"Believe not this man, O king!" said the pale and trembling Fraggood, "seeing he prepareth lying words before thee."
At this moment a young man, whose countenance denoted some passion, rushed on the stage, and, without any apology or ceremony, began to speak:
"Let not the worthy and aged Apgomer be called a liar! A lie never escaped those venerable lips, O king! As soon may the gods lie! Thy servant is the doorkeeper of the Garden. I can testify to the existence of a plot to destroy Daniel."
"It is enough!" cried the king. "Seize the guilty wretches! Let the cowardly liars meet the doom they had prepared for my servant Daniel! Up! and throw them to the lions!"
No sooner were the words spoken than a score of willing hands seized the forms of the conspirators, and, amid the curses of an indignant throng, they were thrown to the depth of the den, to meet a far different fate from that of the man of God.
Then spoke the king:
"I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom, men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast forever, and his kingdom is that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions."
"O king, live forever!" cried the well pleased throng.
Daniel was taken into the royal chariot and seated by the side of the king, and the royal train moved forward, amid the triumphant shouts of the populace.
Thus fidelity to the God of Israel was abundantly rewarded.
IN TWO years after these occurrences Darius the Mede died; and about the same time died also Cambyses, the father of Cyrus, in Persia. Cyrus, therefore, returned to Babylon, and took upon himself the government of the empire.
The history of the lions' den, with all the intrigues that led to it, made Daniel thrice dear to the inhabitants of Babylon. His name commanded reverence wherever it was mentioned, He was looked upon as an angel of mercy, goodness, and wisdom, sent by the gods to bless the race.
Cyrus, for a long time, had desired the opportunity of a prolonged interview with Daniel, of whom he had heard so many wonderful things, both as a minister to the king of Babylon and also while administering the affairs of the kingdom under the reign of his Median uncle. The Persian was already well versed in current history. Of the God of Israel he had heard much of late, and he felt a strong inclination to hear more. And of whom could he learn to better advantage than of the famous Hebrew prophet? The celebrated Persian, from his infancy, had been taught to worship and adore the imaginary gods of his own country; but he had always felt doubtful in regard to the existence of these gods; and many of the popular theories of Persia, in regard to their various deities, were, to him, full of inconsistencies and contradictions.
Not many days after his arrival in Babylon, the royal chariot was seen to halt at the door of Daniel's residence; and, moreover, the king himself was seen to enter.
"Thou wilt pardon this sudden intrusion," said Cyrus; "I have long desired an interview with the president, and for this purpose I have entered his house; the king is happy to find that he is not absent."
"My lord the king hath greatly honored his unworthy servant by entering under his roof," said the old Hebrew. "This condescension of the great Persian conqueror is a favor of such a magnitude that it shall never be forgotten."
"Let not my aged friend Daniel speak thus," said the king, in a friendly manner. "Call it not condescension in Cyrus to seek the society of one who has justly earned the reputation of being the most profound statesman that ever moved among mortals. Let the king rather consider himself honored in being permitted to listen to thy words of wisdom and understanding."
"Humility becometh well the potentates of earth. But yet, O king, thou beholdest not the real grandeur of thy mission. Thou knowest not that thou art the peculiarly anointed—not of the gods, but of the only God of heaven, the Almighty Jehovah, the God of Israel, to pour his wrath upon the nations, and to restore the children of Judah to their own land."
"Thou hast touched a theme on which, above all others, at this time, the king would choose to dwell. Of the gods I have but an imperfect knowledge. Conscious am I that under the particular direction of some invisible power I have been led forward in all my movements, from my youth up. I was taught to worship the gods in my juvenile days; but ever since I arrived at years of thought and judgment, my mind has been greatly perplexed by what seemeth to me to be glaring inconsistencies in our theory of religion."
"Praised be the name of Jehovah, under whose direction thou comest at this time to seek knowledge! Happy is thy servant Daniel to know that he is indeed able to impart unto the king that which he inquireth after. Jehovah is the only God, and the signs which he hath in all ages given of himself, O king, are abundant. We hear much of the exploits of the gods of the heathen; but of these performances there are no proofs, and they exist only in the imaginations of their worshipers. Not so with our God— the God that made the world. The history of our nation, which history no one can gainsay, is an assemblage of miracles. Examine the records of our historian Moses, who conversed with God face to face. Our God brought us out from under the dominion of Pharaoh with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. He gave evidence of his presence by the infliction of twelve terrible plagues on the king of Egypt and his people. He opened before the Hebrews a passage through the sea, and brought them dry-shod to the opposite shore. For forty years were they fed with manna from heaven, while water was called forth from the flinty rock. And as the waves of the Red Sea were parted before them as they left Egypt, so, in like manner, were the waters of Jordan parted as they left the plains of Moab; and thus were they settled in the land of Canaan. Since that day, nine hundred and fifteen years have passed away; and during all this period, Jehovah hath given unto his people abundant signs of his presence. Thus our God is not a being that dwells only in the imagination of men, but his wonderful acts, O king, are written on the pages of correct history."
"If these things are so, surely the God of Israel is the only God. But, Daniel, thou knowest that it is much harder for Cyrus the Persian to believe these things than for thee, who art a native Hebrew, and a firm believer in the God thou worshipest. Have not the Persians their histories of their gods as well as ye?"
"They have, O king! But those histories are dark, indefinite, and without date, which is a conclusive evidence that they are fiction, and not history. If my lord the king hath aught to doubt in regard to the correctness of our ancient historians concerning our God, what thinketh he of those miraculous displays of Divine power witnessed by his servant and by thousands more, during the last threescore years and ten?"
"Proceed, Daniel; the king is well pleased to hear thee!"
"Be it known to thee, O king, that all the calamities that of late have befallen Babylon have come to pass in perfect accordance with the predictions of God's prophets, some of whom prophesied over two hundred years before these events transpired. When thou comparest these prophecies with the actual occurrences, there remaineth no longer a place for doubt. Even the draining of the Euphrates, O king, was spoken of by the prophet of Jehovah over one hundred and fifty years before the wonderful thing was conceived in thy mind."
"Enough, O Daniel! Enough!" cried Cyrus. "If thou art able to show me this thing, I ask no more!"
The Hebrew sage, with a peculiar smile of satisfaction on his countenance, rose from his seat, and took from a shelf what appeared to be a scroll of ancient manuscript.
"Listen, O king, to the words of Jehovah's prophets in regard to the taking of Babylon:
"'Make bright the arrows, gather the shields! The Lord hath raised up the spirits of the kings of the Medes, for his device is against Babylon to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple. Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand! Shout against her round about! Behold, I will stir up the Modes against them, who shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain! Exalt the voice! shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles! Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media! Therefore shall evil come upon thee, and thou shalt not know from whence it cometh. Desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, and thou wast not aware. O thou that dwellest upon many waters, I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry. A drought is upon her waters, and they shall be dried up. In her heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may repose and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the Lord. Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield! Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their fathers, that they do not rise and possess the land; for I will rise up against thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and son and nephew, saith the Lord.'
"These, O king, are some of the predictions of Jehovah against Babylon, by the mouths of his holy prophets. And has not my lord the king been an eye witness to their fulfillment!"
"They have all come to pass to the letter, O Daniel! Surely the God of Israel is the God of gods! Why should I any longer doubt? Thus it appears that Cyrus the Persian has been under the directions of the God of Israel, to bring about these wonderful events!"
"In this thou sayest truly, O king. And strange as it may sound in thine ears, be assured that thy name was known in Israel for over one hundred and fifty years before thy birth."
Here the Persian gazed on the Hebrew for awhile in silent wonderment; and it was evident from his countenance, that he had some doubt in regard to the truth of the sentence.
"Did the king rightly understand thy meaning? Sayest thou that my name was known in Israel for one hundred and fifty years previous to my birth?"
"The king rightly understandeth his servant. Thy name was carefully written in a book by one of our prophets two hundred and twenty years ago. Happily, I have now in my possession a copy taken from the original, written by one of our scribes, and bearing date which maketh it over one hundred and seventy years old. If the king desireth, thy servant will read."
"Read, Daniel," said the king, with much feeling.
Daniel from the same scroll from which he had read before, which was the Prophecies of Isaiah, read:
"'Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not he shut, I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.'"
The Persian was deeply moved. Indeed, tears were in the monarch's eyes. He rose, and in the deepest reverence, exclaimed:
"I acknowledge the God of Israel as the great ruling power of the universe! Under his infinitely wise directions I stand ready to do his pleasure, and accomplish his great designs."
"One favor it is thine to grant, O king, according to the word of the Lord. For their iniquity the children of Judah were carried captive into Babylon, and Jerusalem was rendered desolate. According to the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, they were to remain in this land of their captivity for seventy years. This period, O king, in a few more months will be at an end. I pray thee, give permission to the children of Judah to return to their own land, and build up the old waste places, and raise again a temple to the God of Israel."
"This thy request, O Daniel, shall be granted," said the king, in a firm voice. "The proclamation shall go forth from the king, and all that is needful for the enterprise shall be supplied."
"Praised be Jehovah!" said the aged Hebrew. "At last the days of Judah's captivity are numbered, and Jerusalem shall be restored. Thy God, O king, whom from henceforth thou wilt serve, shall greatly prosper thee in the affairs of thy kingdom."
"I trust my faithful servant will consent to tarry with the king, to whom, from time to time, he will deliver lessons of wisdom. I purpose soon to remove my court from Babylon to Ecbatana, in Persia, whither I hope my faithful servant Daniel will consent to remove."
"Thy servant in this is willing to abide the pleasure of the king."
The king left the presence of his aged minister with strange but yet pleasurable emotions, hurried into his chariot, which was waiting, and was soon on his way to the palace.
The next day the following proclamation was heralded through the streets of Babylon, and sent to all the provinces:
"Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia: The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the free-will offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem."
This proclamation was received by the captive Jews with gladness and great joy. Measures were immediately put forth for the accomplishment of the enterprise; the king, in the meantime, continuing to give every encouragement to these measures, in the firm conviction that he was under peculiar guidance of the God of heaven.
. . . . . . .
A brighter day never dawned on the plains of Judah. The brilliant rays of the morning sun were seen flashing upwards from behind Mount Zion, like so many messengers in uniform, proclaiming the near approach of their sovereign master. Presently, the great regent of day himself, in slow and silent majesty, made his appearance, and once more smiled on the City of the Great King. At an early hour, multitudes were seen pouring into the city, from east, west, north, and south, and on each countenance might have been read a degree of excitement and animation. This was the twenty-fourth day of the second month, in the second year after the return from Babylon; and on this day was to be laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord. This was well understood throughout the land; and we wonder not that from cities and villages, from hill and valley, the emancipated Hebrews hastened by thousands to witness a scene at the thought of which their hearts throbbed with intense emotions. By the sixth hour the great multitudes had congregated to witness the solemn and joyful ceremony. There stood the priests, with their long, flowing robes, with trumpets in their hands. There, also, stood the Levites, and the sons of Asaph, with cymbals to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, king of Israel. The builders had laid the foundation. Then the trumpets were blown, and the sons of Asaph struck their cymbals. Songs of praise ascended on high, and they gave thanks unto the Lord.
The ceremony was over. The concourse was dismissed, under the benediction of the priests, and the masses moved homeward in all directions.
Two chariots of magnificent appearance, drawn by beautiful steeds, were seen leaving the ground. They drew much attention from the crowd, as they leisurely drove through the winding streets of Jerusalem. At last the chariots halted in front of a mansion, which had the appearance of having of late undergone a thorough repair. From one of these chariots alighted several venerable men, their hair whitened with age. Their whole bearing gave the beholder to understand that they were persons of distinction. From the other chariot alighted, first a man of middle age, next a woman somewhat younger, then an aged man and woman, the latter alighting with great elasticity of step. The countenance of this lady gave evidence that it had once been the throne of rare beauty.
"Why looketh my brother so thoughtful and sad on this day of general rejoicing in Judah?" asked the aged lady, directing her address to one of those who had alighted from the first chariot.
"I am not sad, sister," replied the brother, "but am thoughtful. And what thinkest thou my mind dwelt upon?"
"Surely, I cannot tell. Some past scenes in Chaldea, peradventure."
"Nay, sister. But I was thinking that seventy and two years ago this very night, myself and my two brothers here, accompanied by our beloved Jeremiah, entered this house, and revealed the sad story of our captivity to our beloved Perreeza."
"Ah, dear Hananiah! and a dark night of sorrow that proved to your almost brokenhearted sister."
"But I trust that Jehovah hath overruled the whole in the end to the glory of his great name," said Mishael.
"Surely he hath!" quickly answered Mathias. "Forever blessed be the memory of that delightful night when these eyes, at the house of Barzello, rested on the bright charms of the 'Rose of Sharon.'"
"The rose no longer blooms, Mathias!" answered Perreeza. "It's hues are faded; and, under the pelting storms of life, its petals have well-nigh withered."
"The tint may fade, and the petals may wither, but sweeter than ever shall its fragrance continue to perfume the surrounding air," answered the husband, his face glowing with pure affection. "In that better country whither we are going, where flowers never fade, and where roses forever bloom, the 'Rose of Sharon' shall yet flourish in immortal beauty."
Mathias, Perreeza and the latter's three brothers had been made almoners of an immense bequest provided in Joram's will for advancing the interests of Judah. It was stipulated that the fund should not be employed until the expiration of seventy years of captivity. Joram believed, with Daniel and the other distinguished Israelites, that the captivity would come to an end in the specified seventy years. The treasure was hidden where none but the almoners and their natural heirs could disturb it.
It was Esrom's purpose, as a final atonement, to bequeath one-half of his vast fortune for the development of religious and educational institutions in Jerusalem and to aid the poorer class of Hebrews to acquire homes. The decision of Cyrus the king to assist in rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem enabled Mathias and his associates to use the bequest in other channels. The fund at their disposal was large, and they were enabled to give a new impetus to the cause of education in Judah. Hundreds of the former captives were likewise assisted in the purchase of land and cattle. Much had been accomplished in the past year for the upbuilding of Jerusalem and the advancement of the race. It was natural, therefore, that, at the close of the ceremonies attending the laying of the foundation of the new temple, Esrom's friends should let their minds dwell on his generosity. Conversation turned to this theme as the family entered their home.
"It was a gracious and noble thing for Joram to do," exclaimed Hananiah.
"My uncle frequently told me," said Perreeza, "that it was his earnest desire to have his native city and his beloved land of Judah take a more advanced position in the affairs of the world. He believed that, with higher educational advantages, the Israelites would rapidly gain in statecraft. They are an industrious people, and many of them have shown such marked administrative ability as to convince observing men that the race will be potent in shaping the destiny of nations.
"Uncle Esrom became the wealthiest man in all Babylon because of his sagacity in barter and exchange. He was wise in regard to what the populace would buy most freely and where to obtain the merchandise to the best advantage."
"His discretion rather than his wealth gave him influence at the king's court," exclaimed Mishael. "Joram was a credit to his people, and methinks he was remarkable for his talent as a diplomat. He had great influence in foreign countries, and his knowledge gained abroad was of the highest importance to Nebuchadnezzar throughout his reign. Our uncle never forgot his native land, and constantly exerted a powerful influence in behalf of the people of Judah. That work was secret and mysterious, however. Frequently we heard of unexpected concessions and favors to our people from the king, and in time found out that they were due to Joram's promptings."
"My great hope at present is," returned Perreeza, "to be spared long enough to see substantial fruit spring from Uncle Esrom's bounty."
"I second that hope," said Hananiah. "I wish to see all the returned captives well provided for. The children of all these families must have doubled advantages as a measure of restitution. We can accomplish much with the immense sum at our disposal."
"We ought now, under such favorable circumstances," said Mishael, "to give Israel a new start in commerce and education. We have the benefit of Daniel's wisdom in this great undertaking; for, on several occasions before we left Babylon, he outlined plans by which Joram's wishes might be carried out in a practical manner. With the present government of Chaldea to protect our nation, the security of life and property is assured. We can push our projects as hard as we please, and feel confident that nothing but good is being accomplished."
The melodious voice of young Rebekah was now heard in another apartment, warbling one of her sweetest songs.
"Jehovah bless the child!" cried the grandmother. "How that voice of melody cheers my heart!"
"Mother!" quickly replied Monroah. "Permit me to call her into this apartment, where she may sing and play thy favorite 'song of Judah.'"
"Thou art ever kind to thy mother, dear Monroah; do as thou desirest."
Rebekah was called.
"Will my daughter sing and play for us her grandmother's favorite 'song of Judah'?"
"With pleasure, mother," cried Rebekah, as she quickly left the apartment.
In a moment she returned, bearing in her arms a stringed instrument with which the reader is somewhat familiar, and proceeded with the following appropriate song:
"When we our weary limbs to rest Sat down by proud Euphrates' stream, We wept, with doleful thoughts oppressed, And Zion was our mournful theme.
"Our harps, that when with joy we sung Were wont their tuneful parts to bear, With silent strings neglected hung On willow trees that withered there.
"Oh, Salem! once our happy seat, When I of thee forgetful prove, Then let my trembling hand forget These speaking strings with art to move!
"Again we hail the sacred hall, That echoed to our youthful lays! And Amonober's children all Have reached their home to end their days.
"To thee, Almighty King of kings, In new-made hymns my voice I'll raise, And instruments of many strings Shall help me to adore and praise.
"How sweet to die in Judah's dale, And with the fathers calmly rest; The thought of sleeping in yon vale, How soothing to my throbbing breast!
"A few more days of grief and pain, And then adieu to every gloom, For soon we all shall meet again, Beyond the portals of the tomb."
The old harp of Judah has also returned from the captivity, and is once more safely lodged in its own native Jerusalem, whence Esrom bore it to the land of strangers a century before.
Time has left some impression on its aged frame, but its tones are sweeter than ever. In that family it is held as a priceless treasure; and its melody shall sweetly fall on ears yet unborn, when the hands that now so skillfully sweep its well-tuned strings shall be palsied, and the sweet voices that blend with its thrilling chords shall be silent in the grave.