Story Fifteen

THE BEAUTIFUL QUEEN OF PERSIA
WHEN Dā̇-rī́ us, the great king, died, his son Xe͂ŕ xes̝, who is called in the Bible Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs, took his place upon the throne of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ. Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs was not, like his father Dā̇-rī́ us, a wise man. He was hasty in his temper and did many foolish acts.
At that time the palace where the king of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ, lived was I to longer at Băb́ y̆-lon, but at a city named Shṳ́ shan, among the mountains of a region called Ḗ lăm. King Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs held at Shṳ́ shan a great feast with his nobles. When the king and his company were all drunken with wine, he sent for his queen, Văsh́ tī, that he might let all the nobles see how beautiful she was. Among the Pe͂ŕ s̝ians̝ it was held to be very wrong for a woman ever to allow her face to be seen by any man except her husband. Queen Văsh́ tī refused to come to the feast that these drunken men might stare at her. This made the king very angry. He said that because Văsh́ ti would not obey him, she should not be queen any longer, and he put her away from him and from his house.
After this King A-hăs̝-ū-ē-rŭs thought to choose another woman to be his queen instead of Văsh́ tī. He sent commands throughout all the kingdom that in every land and province they should find the most beautiful young women and bring them to the royal city of Shṳ́ shan. There the king would see them all, and among them he would choose the one that pleased him best, and would take her as his queen. So from every land in the great empire of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ, the loveliest young women were brought to Shṳ́ shan, and there they were left in the care of Hĕǵ a-ī, the chief of the king's palace.
At that time many Jews were living in the cities of Pēŕ s̝iȧ, for we have seen that only a small part of the Jews went back to the land of Ĭś̝ ra-el when King Cȳ́ rus allowed them to return. There was a Jew living in Shṳ́ shan, named Môŕ de-cāi. He belonged to the tribe of Bĕń ja-Mĭn, and came from the same family and line with Sa̤ul, the first of the kings of Ĭś̝ ra-el. At the house of Môŕ-de-cāi lived his cousin, a young girl named Hā̇-dăś sah, or Ĕś thēr, a name which means "Star." Her father and mother had died, and she had been left alone; so Môŕ de-cāi took her to his house, and brought her up as his own daughter. Ĕś the͂r was very beautiful, and was as lovely in her heart as she was in her face. Among the other beautiful young women she was taken to the palace as one of those who were to be brought before the king.
When King Ā̇-hăs̝.-ū-ḗ rŭs saw Ĕś the͂r, the Jeẃ ĭsh girl, he loved her, and chose her out of all the young women to be his queen, and set upon her head the royal crown of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ. Ĕś thēr was taken into the king's palace; rooms and servants were given to her, and she lived in the state of a queen. When the king wished to see her he sent for her, and she came to his room. No one could go to the king or could see him unless sent for. And if any one, man or woman, came before the king without being called, that person was seized by the guards, and was led away to death, unless the king held out toward him his golden scepter, the rod which he held.
In the palace Môŕ de-cāi could no longer meet his cousin Ĕś the͂r, for no man except the king could enter the rooms set apart for the women. But Ĕś the͂r from her window could see Môŕ de-cāi as he walked by, and by her servants she could send word to him, and in the same way could hear word from him. Môŕ de-cāi loved the lovely young queen who was to him as a daughter, and every day sat at the gate of the palace to hear from her.
While Môŕ de-cāi was sitting by the gate he saw two men who were keepers of the gate often whispering together. He watched them closely, and found that they had made a plan to kill King Ā̇-hăs̝-u-ḗ rŭs. He sent word of this to Queen Ĕś the͂r, and Ĕś the͂r told the king of it. The men were taken, and, as Môŕ de-cāi's word was found to be true, they were both slain by being hanged on a tree. And an account or story of all their plan, of how they were found out by Môŕ de-cāi the Jew, and how they were punished by death, was written in the book of records of the kingdom.
After this a man named Hā́ man arose to great power in the kingdom. The king gave him a seat above all the other princes, and asked his advice in all matters, and allowed Hā́ man to do whatever he pleased. Of course everybody in the palace showed great respect to Hā́ man, the man who stood next to the king. When he came near, all the men in the palace and in the city bowed down before him, and many fell on their faces, even in the very dust. But Môŕ de-cāi was a worshipper of God, and he would not fall upon his face before any man. Hā́ man noticed that there was one man who did not bow down, as did the others around him. He said to his servants, "Who is that man sitting by the gate, who does not bow down when I pass by?”
They answered Hā́ man, "That is Môŕ de-cāi the Jew.” But they did not tell Hā́ man, for they did not know, that Môŕ de-cāi was the cousin of Queen Ĕś the͂r, and that the queen of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ herself was a Jewess.
When Hā́ man found that Môŕ de-cāi was a Jew he became very angry, not only at Môŕ de-cāi, but at all his people. He hated the Jews, and he resolved to have revenge on Môŕ de-cāi, and on his account to make all Môŕ de-cāi's people suffer. Hā́ man went in to the king, and said to him, "O King Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs, there is a certain people scattered abroad through your kingdom and apart from all other peoples. Their laws are different from those of every other nation, and they do not keep the king's laws. It is not well to allow such a people to live. If it is pleasing to the king, let a law be made that this strange people be destroyed. I will myself pay all the cost of putting them to death, and will place the money in the king's treasury.”
The king, living in his palace and never going out among his people, knew nothing of the Jews, and believed Hā́ man's words. He took from his hand the ring on which was the royal seal, and gave it to Hā́ man, saying:
"Do as you please; write whatever law you wish, and stamp it with the king's seal. The money is yours, and I give this strange people to you. You can do with them as you please.”
Then, by Hā́ man's command, a law was written, and sealed with the king's seal, that on a certain day, which was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, all the Jews in every part of Pe͂ŕ s̝ia might be slain. Anyone who chose to kill them might do so; and those who killed them might take for their own all their money, the gold, and silver, and garments which they might find in the houses of the Jews.
The copies of this law were sent to every city of the empire of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ, to be read everywhere, so that all might know that the Jews̝ were to be destroyed. Everybody who heard of it was filled with wonder, for no one knew of any evil against the king that the Jews had done to deserve death. They could not understand why the law had been made; but everywhere the enemies of the Jews̝ made ready to destroy them, that they might have the Jews̝' riches; for in those times, even as now, there was great wealth among the Jews.
The news of this terrible law came to Môŕ de-cāi, as it came to all the Jews̝ in Shṳ́ shan. Môŕ de-cāi tore his clothes, as was the manner of those in deep grief; he put on garments of sackcloth; he covered his head with ashes, and he went forth in front of the palace, crying a loud and bitter cry. Queen Ĕś the͂r saw him and heard his voice. She sent one of her servants, named Hā́ tăch, to Môŕ de-cāi, to find why he was in such deep trouble. Hā́ tăch came to Môŕ-de-cāi, and Môŕ de-cāi told him of the law for killing the Jews on a certain day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, and gave him a copy of it to show to Queen Ĕś the͂r; and he told Hā́ tăch to ask the queen, in his name, to go in to King Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs and beg him to spare the lives of her people. Queen Ĕś the͂r heard Hā́ tăch's words, and sent this message to Môŕ de-cāi:
"It is the rule of the palace that if any man or woman shall go in to the king in his own room, without being sent for by the king, he shall be slain unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter. But I have not been called to meet the king for thirty days.”
When Môŕ de-cāi heard this message he sent word again by Reach to Queen Ĕś the͂r:
"Do not think that in the king's palace you are safe, and shall escape the fate of your people. If you keep still, and do nothing to save your people, God will surely save them in some other way; and you and your father's family shall be destroyed. Who can tell whether God has not raised you up and given you your royal place for such a time as this?”
Then Ĕś the͂r sent this answer to Môŕ de-cāi, "Go, and bring together all the Jews̝ in Shṳ́ shan, and let them all pray for me, eating and drinking nothing, for three days. I and my maids in the palace will pray and fast also at the same time. And then I will go in to the king, even though it is against the law; and if it be God's will that I should die in trying to save my people, then I will die.”
When Môŕ de-cāi heard these words he was glad, for he felt sure that God would save his people through Queen Ĕś the͂r. For three days all the Jews̝ in Shṳ́ shan met together, praying; and in the palace Ĕś the͂r and her servants were praying at the same time.
The third day came, and Ĕś the͂r dressed herself in all her robes as queen. She went out of her own rooms, and across the open court, and entered the door in front of the throne where the king was sitting. The king saw her standing before him, in all her beauty, and his heart was touched with love for her. He held out toward her the golden rod or scepter that was in his hand. Ĕś the͂r came near, and touched the top of the scepter. The king said to her:.
"What do you wish, Queen Ĕś thēr? It shall be given to you, even to the half of my kingdom.”
But Ĕś thēr did not at once ask for all that was in her heart. She was very wise, and she said, "If it pleases the king, I have come to ask that the king and Holman, the prince, shall come this day to a dinner that I have made ready for them.”
The king said, "Send word to Hā́ man that he haste, and come to dine with the king and queen.”
So that day King Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rus and Hā́ man sat at the table with the queen. She was covered with a veil, for even Hā́ man was not allowed to look upon her face. While they were sitting together, the king said, "Queen Ĕś the͂r, is there anything that you wish? It shall be given to you, whatever it is, even to half of the kingdom.”
"My wish," answered the queen, "is that the king and Hā́ man shall come again to a dinner with me to-morrow.”
Há̄ man walked out of the palace that day happy at the honor that had come to him, but when he saw Môŕ de-cāi sitting by the gate, and not rising up to bow before him, all his gladness passed away, and he was angry in his heart. When he came to his own house he told his wife Zḗ resh, and his friends, how the king and the queen had honored him, and then he said, "But all this is as nothing to me when I see that man, Môŕ de-cāi the Jew, sitting at the king's gate.”
But his wife said to him, "That is nothing. Before you go to the feast to-morrow, have a gallows made, and then ask the king to command that Môŕ de-cāi be hanged upon it. The king will do whatever you wish, and then, when you have sent Môŕ de-cāi to death, you can be happy at your feast with the king and the queen.”
This was very pleasing to Hā́ man; and on that very day he caused the gallows to be set up, ready for hanging Môŕ de-cāi on the next day.
It so happened that on that night the king could not sleep. He told them to read in the book of records of the kingdom, hoping that the reading might put him to sleep. They read in the book how Môŕ de-cāi had told of the two men who had sought to murder the king. The king stopped the reading, and said, "What reward has been given to Môŕ de-cāi for saving the life of the king from these men?”
"O king," they answered, "nothing has been done for Môŕ de-cāi.”
Then said the king, "Is any, one of the princes standing outside in the court?”
"Yes, O king," was answered; "the noble Hā́ man is in the court.”
Hā́ man had come in at that very moment to ask the king that Môŕ de-cāi might be put to death. The king sent word to Hā́ man to come in, and as soon as he entered said to him, "What shall be done to any man whom the king wishes especially to honor?”
Now Hā́ man thought within himself, "There is no man whom the king will wish to honor more than myself." Then he said, "The man whom the king wishes especially to honor, let him be dressed in the garments of the king, and let him sit on the horse that the king rides upon, and let the royal crown be set upon his head; let him ride through the main street of the city, and let one of the nobles call out before him, 'This is the man whom the king delights to honor.'”
Then the king said to Hā́ man, "Make haste, and do all this that you have said to Môŕ de-cāi the Jew, who sits in the king's gate. See that nothing is left out of what you have spoken.”
Hā́ man was astonished, and was cut to the heart, but he did not dare to speak as he felt. He obeyed the king's command, sent for the king's horse, his robes, and his crown; dressed Môŕ de-cāi like a king, mounted him on the horse, and went before him through the street of Shṳ́ shan, calling aloud, "This is the man whom the king delights to honor!" And after that Hā́ man hid his anger and his sorrow of heart, and sat down to the feast in the queen's palace. He had not said a word to the king of having Môŕ de-cāi hanged upon the gallows which he had set up the day before.
King Ā̇-hăs̝-ū-ḗ rŭs knew very well that his queen had still some favor to ask; and at the feast he said to her, "What do you wish, Queen Ĕś the͂r? Tell me, and I will give it to you, even though it be half of my kingdom.”
Then Ĕś the͂r saw that her time had come. She said to the king: If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please you, let my life be given me, and the lives of my people. For we have been sold, I and all my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. If only we had been sold as slaves, I would have said nothing; but we are to be slain, in order to please our enemy.”
Then said the king, "Who is the man, and where is he, that has dared to do this thing?”
"The enemy," said Queen Ĕś the͂r, "is this wicked Hā́ man!"
As the king heard this he was so angry that he rose up from the table, and walked out into the garden. In a moment he came back and saw Hā́ man fallen down upon his face, begging the queen to spare his life. The king looked at him in anger, and the servants at once covered Hā́ man's face, as of one doomed to death. One of the officers standing near said, "There stands the gallows, seventy-five feet high, which Hā́ man set up yesterday for Môŕ de-cāi to be hanged upon it.”
"Hang Hā́ man himself on it," commanded the king. So Hā́ man died upon the very gallows that he had made for Môŕ de-cāi. And on that day the king gave Hā́ man's place to Môŕ de-cāi, and set him over the princes. He gave to Môŕ de-cāi his own ring, with its seal. And all the family of Hā́ man, his sons, were put to death for their father's evil-doing, according to the cruel usage of those times.
The law for killing the Jews̝ on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month had been made and sent abroad; and no law of the Pe͂ŕ s̝ians̝ could be changed. But though this law could not be taken back, another law was made that the Jews could defend themselves against any who might try to do them harm. When the day came most of their enemies feared to harm the Jews̝, for now they were under the care of the king, and Môŕ de-cāi, a Jew, stood next to the king; and such of their enemies as tried to kill them on that day were soon destroyed.
So everywhere, instead of sorrow and death, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews̝ had joy and gladness. And on the day following, the fourteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews̝ kept a feast of thanksgiving to God for his mercy in saving them from their enemies. The same feast was kept on that day every year afterward, and it is still kept among the Jews̝ in all lands, and is called the feast of Pū́ rim. On that feast the story of Ĕś thēr, the beautiful queen, is read by all the Jewish people.
Lesson 43. Queen Esther.
(Tell Story 15 in Part Fifth.)
1. In what city did the king of Persia live? In the city of Shushan.
2. What beautiful Jewish girl lived in Shushan? Esther.
3. Who cared for Esther and brought her up? Her cousin Mordecai
4. Who was the king of Persia at that time? Ahasuerus.
5. What did king Ahasuerus do when he saw Esther? He made her queen.
6. Who stood next to the king in power? A man named Haman.
7. What law did Haman cause king Ahasuerus to make? That all the Jew should be killed.
8. What did Queen Esther do when she heard that this law had been made? She went to the king in his palace.
9. What did she ask the king to do? To spare the lives of her people
10. What became of Haman, the Jews' enemy? He was put to death.