Erasmus W. Jones.

The Young Captives: A Story of Judah and Babylon online

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while endeavoring to entertain our own dignitaries, and the visiting
nobles of other nations, than to witness the blundering ignorance of our
attendants? In this I cast no blame on my worthy and noble officer - by no
means.

"In my last campaign I gave orders to convey to Babylon a number of young
men of the kingly line, both from Egypt and Judah. From the conversation
I had with Barzello, I am led to believe that there are among them some
very superior minds. Now, it is the wish of thy king that a number of
these youths be taken, and, in company with some of our own young men, be
trained up in the knowledge of our arts and sciences, and receive,
moreover, particular instruction in all the laws of etiquette, and court
customs and maxims, so as to be of efficient service to the king, and at
the same time reflect honor on their stations. About their instruction
there must be nothing shallow or superficial. There must be thorough
work. For this they must have reasonable time. I therefore appoint the
period of their studying to be three years, at the end of which let them
be brought before the king for examination; and let those who will be
able to give satisfaction be permitted to stand before the king.
Moreover, as diet of the best sort contributes both to the beauty of the
body and the improvement of the mind, let them have their daily portion
of the king's meat and the wine which he drinketh. Now, Ashpenaz, for
further information thou art to consult Barzello. He will select a
certain number of young men, and deliver them over to thee, and thou art
to lose no time in placing them under suitable instructors."

"Thy servant," replied Ashpenaz, "is ever happy to obey the orders of his
illustrious sovereign, which are always issued in that profound wisdom
derived only from the gods."

This officer stood high in the estimation of the king. He was calm,
dignified, and deeply experienced in all things pertaining to the duties
of his office. For a long time he had served as a confidential servant of
the king's father, and was highly honored by young and old at the court.
This dignitary was soon on his way towards the house of his friend
Barzello.

"Good-morning to my friend Ashpenaz," said Barzello, with a welcome
smile.

"And a good-morning to our excellent Barzello," was the hearty response.

"And how do things move on at the palace?"

"Oh, pleasantly. Our young monarch is bent on thorough reform in all
deficient quarters."

"Babylon needs reforming; and may he never pause until the work is
perfected. Long life to our good monarch!"

"Ah! my good Barzello, if all that is to be accomplished, he needs a long
life indeed. But I have but a short time to tarry. The king desires a
number of the royal captives of Judah and Egypt to be placed under proper
instructions to prepare them, after three years' training, to be royal
waiters at the palace. In thy wisdom thou art to select from among them
the most perfect in body and mind, and deliver them over to my charge;
and, according to the orders of his majesty, I shall immediately place
them under suitable teachers."

"This will be attended to without delay," answered Barzello. "Of those
from Egypt, there are quite a number of youths of high origin, and who,
for aught I know, may possess superior powers of mind. I have had no
great facilities to test their capacities. Of those from Judah, there are
only four that I can with confidence recommend to the care and charge of
my worthy friend. These four are noble specimens of humanity - beautiful in
bodily form and complexion, and truly amiable and excellent in mind. I
will assure my worthy friend that, of all the acquaintances I ever formed
among men, and they have been quite numerous in different lands, none
ever impressed me so favorably as these four youths from the land of
Judah. They worship no god but the God of the Hebrews. In this they show
but their faithfulness and their consistency. My worthy friend will
pardon my warmth in speaking of these children, for there are incidents
connected with their history, which I need not now mention, that have
greatly endeared them to thine unworthy friend; and I have no doubt that
thou wilt find them to be all they are recommended to be."

"I have all confidence in the judgment and wisdom of my worthy friend,"
answered Ashpenaz, "and it affords me much pleasure to hear such a
favorable report of those who are to be placed under my charge; and I
assure my good Barzello, that their worth and excellence will be duly
noticed and appreciated."

"If thou art in haste, I will accompany thee without delay to the young
men's apartments; perhaps thou wouldst be pleased to see them."

"After such a warm recommendation, it will certainly be quite a favor - but
where is thy sweet Jupheena? This call will hardly recompense me, if I
must leave without a glance at that little beauty."

"Ah, indeed! Perhaps our good friend Ashpenaz will have no objection to
gaze on two beauties instead of one."

"All the better, my friend."

A female servant was sent to the young ladies' room to inform them that
they were wanted below, and in a few minutes the two girls were seen,
side by side, marching into the presence of the delighted officers.
Perreeza never appeared lovelier. Attired in the rich, flowing simplicity
of her Hebrew costume, with a degree of blushing modesty on her yet
animated countenance, she appeared almost angelic. Jupheena, perfectly
acquainted with her father's friend, felt not the least embarrassment.

"Two beauties instead of one, surely," said Ashpenaz, gazing with wonder
on the fair form of Perreeza.

Barzello took the maid of Judah by the hand, and, approaching his friend,
said:

"This is young Perreeza, of the royal line of Judah, who, of her own
accord, accompanied her brothers to the land of the Chaldeans, and has
seen fit to favor us with her company."

"No very small favor, Barzello," cried Ashpenaz, bowing low. "I hope the
partiality of the gods will not make us quarrel."

"Let not my noble friend be unjust to the gods. If the maid of Judah is
an inmate of the house of Barzello, I trust that three brothers and a
cousin, given to the sole charge of Ashpenaz, will convince him that the
gods are not partial."

"Ah! that will do," said Ashpenaz, still gazing on the maid of Judah.

"Perreeza," said Barzello, "from pure love for her three brothers, of
whom I spake, saw fit to leave her native land and venture her future
destiny among strangers."

"I trust," answered Ashpenaz, "they are indeed worthy of such a sister's
pure affection."

"That is a point soon settled in the minds of all who have the pleasure
of their acquaintance."

"Permit me to congratulate my young friend, Jupheena, on the happy
addition to the number of her youthful friends."

"Our beloved Ashpenaz may well congratulate," replied the young beauty;
"and let him be assured that his congratulations are warmly appreciated."

"And how does our young friend from Judah enjoy the society of her
Chaldean friends?"

"Thy young handmaiden enjoys their society much," modestly replied
Perreeza. "If she stands in any danger, it must be from an excess of
kindness."

"I trust the maid of Judah will sustain no material injury from any
amount of kindness received in my house," said Barzello, laughing. "If
she does, she must charge it to herself; for, under the circumstances, to
be less kind is entirely out of our power."

"Barzello," cried the visitor, "thy house is a famous spot for officers
to forget their great hurry. Come, my good friend, business is pressing;
let us be away. A good-day to the 'two beauties instead of one.'"

And the two officers hurried from the apartment, entered a chariot, and
were on their way to the appointed place.

"A charming damsel that, Barzello."

"All of that, my worthy friend."

"What are her literary attainments?"

"All that Judah's capital could bestow."

"How will she compare with the refined maids of Babylon?"

"She will compare favorably with the most polished in Chaldea."

"Verily. And the brothers?"

"All thy richest fancies could paint them."

"And yet captives of war!"

"Yea - captives of war."

"The captivity of genius must be of short duration."

The chariot halted. The two officers alighted, and without delay they
hastened to the apartments of the Hebrew youths.

"A happy day to the youths of Judah," said Barzello, in a lively tone.
"This is my noble friend, Ashpenaz, a high officer of the king at the
palace. From this hour ye are to be under his special directions."

"Thy servants," replied Daniel, bowing gracefully, "will be greatly
delighted to be placed in any spot where they can be of service to their
worthy superiors."

"To-morrow, then," said Ashpenaz, "ye shall enter upon new duties, and
commence your important studies. Your teachers are in readiness - men of
superior powers of mind, and well versed in the art of teaching. The king
himself will be greatly interested in your progress, and therefore has
prepared apartments for the students within the royal enclosures, where
he will at times appear personally to learn of their advancement.
To-morrow, at the third hour, ye will hold yourselves in readiness to be
conveyed thither."

"Thy servants will be in readiness at the appointed hour," said Daniel.

"Now for the Egyptians, Barzello," said Ashpenaz, smiling, as they left
the apartment.



CHAPTER XI.

AT THE appointed hour, our youths, in company with many others, were
conveyed to their new habitation, which was a beautiful building, erected
in the vicinity of the king's palace. Here all the students were received
with great civility, and commended to their different apartments. The
four Hebrews were not separated, but were permitted to remain as
heretofore. They found that everything conducive to their comfort and
enjoyment had been provided here as well as at the apartments they had
left. Hitherto they had no knowledge of the manner in which they were to
receive instruction, or the precise nature of their studies. They knew
the Chaldeans to be noted for their learning, and they were not without
their fears lest the Babylonian youths who were to be their
fellow-students should outstrip them, and leave them far in the distance;
however, they were fully determined to acquit themselves to the utmost of
their ability, and leave the result with the God of their fathers.
Nothing could have given them greater satisfaction than the course marked
out for them by the king. Indeed, if it had been left to their own choice
to select, it could not have been otherwise. From the days of their early
childhood they had been close students, and they had become well versed
in Hebrew lore, and had a fair knowledge of Chaldee, which was often
studied in Judah, as an ornamental branch of education. This proved a
very favorable item in their experience, but there were numerous studies
before them, to which, as Jews, they were utter strangers, and to acquire
even a respectable knowledge of which demanded much time and
perseverance. The king was aware of this when he appointed the time of
their probation to be three years. The Egyptian youths were of royal
descent, and had some knowledge of the Chaldee, and were well acquainted
with several branches of learning pertaining to their native land. The
Chaldean portion of the students were mostly of the city of Babylon, and
already somewhat advanced in what was considered the higher branches.

When conducted to their respective rooms, they were given to understand
that, at a certain signal, they were all to assemble below, where
Ashpenaz would meet them, address them, and enlighten them in regard to
the duties of their future course.

The four Hebrews were quietly seated in one of their apartments, each one
engaged in satisfying his curiosity by gazing at the richly carved
casings and highly ornamented articles of furniture.

"Well, cousins," said Daniel, with a smile, "I trust they will not
un-Hebrew us with their Chaldean mysteries."

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!" said Azariah, with feeling, "let my
right hand forget her cunning."

"Let my tongue be palsied if I forget, for a day, the loved ones at
home," said Hananiah.

"When the sweet memories of our beloved Prophet shall be obliterated from
this bosom," said Mishael, laying his hand upon his breast, "then let me
be utterly forsaken."

"The law of Jehovah shall be the rule of our actions," said Daniel; "to
him we yield our hearty and willing obedience."

The grand signal was heard below, and, without delay, the young men, from
different parts of the building, were seen hurrying to the commodious
apartment set apart for the occasion. Here they found a number of the
king's officers assembled, among whom the youths of Judah recognized the
pleasant countenance of Barzello. They were soon seated in perfect order,
and Babylon never witnessed, in personal appearance, a more interesting
group of youths. They were received by the officers with a smile of
satisfaction, and with a look of admiration. Presently, the dignified
form of Ashpenaz was seen moving slowly towards the rostrum; he ascended,
gracefully bowed to the officers on either side, and proceeded:

"It is of the utmost importance that those who are destined to minister
in the king's presence should be well initiated into the ways and
manners, maxims and customs of our nation, and be well versed in all the
learning of the Chaldeans. Nothing short of this can meet the demands and
reasonable expectations of our great monarch; and for this he has
carefully provided every facility. Your teachers are of the most superior
in the realm, and an ample period is appointed for the perfection of your
accomplishments.

"In addition to literary attainments, the king looks for moral integrity,
uprightness of character, and true amiability of deportment. Without
these, the most learned can never add to the real dignity of the court,
nor to the stability of the Empire; but, on the contrary, such a one
destitute of moral principle must prove a dangerous element in any and
all communities. Let this be deeply impressed on your youthful minds, and
seek earnestly to cultivate those nobler powers of the mind, as well as
the intellectual faculties.

"Those of you from Egypt, and especially those of you from Judah, have no
faith in our gods, or sympathy with our mode of worship. From your
infancy ye have been taught to do homage to the God of your fathers and
to his worship ye have pledged your future lives. The King of Babylon, in
his great wisdom, has seen fit to put no obstacles between you and the
worship of your deities. Ye are at liberty to serve your gods and adore
after the dictates of your own consciences; and, moreover, ye are not
required to perform any act that may be contrary to your religious
convictions. I trust that this great favor will be rightly appreciated,
and never abused. While ye are thus kindly permitted to worship your own
gods, show no disrespect to those who may differ from you, and on whose
good-will and favor your future success must greatly depend.

"As a proof of his high regard for your physical and intellectual
prosperity, the king has appointed your meat and drink to be conveyed
from his own table. This, indeed, is an honor conferred on but few in
Babylon. Thus, ye readily perceive that nothing is wanting that is in the
least calculated to enhance your comfort or speed your literary progress.
Ye have but to apply yourselves diligently to your studies and be careful
to maintain a correct deportment, and ye shall reap the reward of
fidelity, in being permitted to stand in the presence of the king.

"It is the desire of your sovereign that those from Egypt and Judah be
known hereafter by names more suitable to the country in which ye now
abide. These names ye shall hereafter learn from your teachers. Ye may
now return in perfect order to your respective apartments. To-morrow at
the second hour, at a given signal, ye will appear at this place again,
and formally enter upon your studies."

The four youths, after having reached their rooms, for a while sat in
silence; and from the countenance of Daniel it might have been easily
gathered that all was not well. The brothers were not slow to notice
this, and it caused them some uneasiness. Usually their cousin took the
lead in all conversation, but at this time Daniel was mute.

"Well, cousin," said Azariah, "how wast thou pleased with the address of
our new master?"

"Highly pleased, upon the whole. He surely is a man of kind feelings and
refined taste."

"But my dear cousin seems somewhat disconsolate and much less cheerful
than when we left this apartment one hour ago. We are at a loss to find a
cause for this sudden change."

"I perceive that a certain part of the address, which struck me as rather
unfortunate for us, was not looked upon in that light by my worthy
cousins."

"I suppose thou hast reference to that part relating to the change of
names. For my part, I am not overtenacious on that point, for to me thou
wilt always remain 'Cousin Daniel,' and to thee, I trust, I shall always
be 'Cousin Azariah;' and if the Chaldeans prefer to call me
Bel-sha-bo-raze-ba-phoo, and my Cousin Daniel Sha-go-mer-zalta-ba-phee,
or some other long name, let them by all means be gratified."

"My worthy cousin is mistaken in regard to this point," said Daniel,
smiling, while the three brothers, for the first time in Babylon, joined
in a hearty laugh. "As far as names are concerned, they are welcome to
add on the syllables to their hearts' content; but, seriously, cousins,
there is a point that, if not rightly managed, will entangle us in
serious difficulties. I have reference to that part which made mention of
our meat and drink. How can we, as Hebrews, defile ourselves with meats,
portions of which are offered to idols, and with wine sacrificed to the
gods of Chaldea? This would be in direct violation of the law of our God.
To this we can never consent; and, moreover, we are not accustomed to
these dainties, and such high living can never be conducive to our health
and happiness. Ye know, cousins, that from beholding the drunken
degradation of those in high authority in Judah, our parents, many years
ago, arrived at the wise conclusion that their children, in order to
escape the pit-falls into which others had fallen, should never be
counted among wine-drinkers. To this desire of our fond parents we
strictly adhered while in Jerusalem, although often ridiculed by drunken
wit, and frowned upon by countenances flushed with strong drink. Shall
we, then, in a strange land, forget the covenant of our God, and violate
our sacred obligations to our beloved parents? No, cousins, this must
never be. I trust we may yet be excused, for we were informed that we
would not be required to perform any act against our religious
convictions. Our food must remain simple, as in Judah; and by this we
shall not only adhere to the requirements of Jehovah, but we shall also
be better able to master those arduous studies which stand before us in
such formidable array."

"Right, noble cousin," cried Azariah, hastening up to Daniel and grasping
him affectionately by the hand; "always right! On thee be the sole
management of the business; and we are confident that, as usual, under
the blessing of our God, we shall come forth triumphantly."

"First of all, then, I must have an interview with our kind master."

Footsteps were now heard approaching their apartment. Daniel opened the
door, and, finding there a servant of Ashpenaz, addressed him:

"Will the servant of our noble master have the kindness to convey to him
a message, in few words, from one of the youths of Judah?"

"The servant of my lord Ashpenaz will always be happy to do all in his
power for the comfort and happiness of those from Judah; and any message
to my lord I am ready to convey."

"The message is this: Daniel, of the captivity of Judah, asks the favor
of a short interview with his kind lord, Ashpenaz."

The servant respectfully bowed and departed, and, in a few moments,
Daniel stood in the presence of his kind friend.

"And what is the pleasure of my young friend from Judah?"

Here Daniel explained, in an eloquent manner, the objections he and his
three companions had to partaking of the portion of the king's meat and
the wine which he drank.

"This is rather a delicate point, my young friend," answered Ashpenaz,
with a degree of perplexity visible on his countenance. "If your meat and
drink were of my own appointment, your request could be granted with the
greatest ease and pleasure; but since the order comes from the king, I
see not how it can be granted without disobedience to superior orders.
The king desires to give you every opportunity to improve, if possible,
your appearance. I fear my lord the king. For why should he see your
faces worse looking than the children which are of your degree? Then
shall ye make me endanger my head to the king."

"Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days," said Daniel, turning
towards Melzar, "and let them give us vegetable food, and pure cold water
to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the
countenances of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat;
and as thou seest, deal with thy servants."

"Well," replied Ashpenaz, smiling, "if the king's object is accomplished,
I trust he is not tenacious about the article of food; so, Melzar, let
our young friends be gratified in this respect. Let them have a trial of
ten days, and, if at the end of that time they have retained their beauty
and freshness, let them be fed with vegetables."

"Permit me, in the absence of my three cousins, to offer their gratitude,
with my own, to our noble lord for his kind favor," said Daniel,
gracefully bowing himself out of the apartment.

The morning of the tenth day dawned upon our Hebrew captives. Their days
of trial were soon over, and they felt no fear of the scrutinizing gaze
of Melzar. Health and beauty played on their fair cheeks, and they were
well prepared for the inspection; and Melzar declared, with due humility,
in their presence, that such countenances were not to be found in all
Babylon. Now, Melzar was an excellent judge of beauty.

Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they
should drink, and gave them pulse.



CHAPTER XII.

AS BOTH Barzello and his daughter were highly esteemed in Babylon,
Perreeza made many delightful acquaintances and was much sought after.
She was happy in her new life, and by her many accomplishments and sweet
disposition greatly endeared herself to her new found friends.

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,


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