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It was undoubtedly this which won the favor of Hegai, the chamberlain, under whose care Esther remained from one to three years. He knew her virtues. She rose before him in moral beauty, which even the luxurious monarch could not fail to appreciate. How fascinating, how permanent, how inspiring is this sort of beauty! How it gradually throws into the shade all sensual charms! Moral beauty never decays, but remains through life radiant with the glories of heaven, — the beauty of Ruth and Rachel, that beauty which Raphael and Murillo sought to paint in the faces of their Madonnas. No woman has this beauty unless her character has been formed in the school of domestic duties, and her soul fed on the certitudes of religion and charity.
It would seem that Esther, although elevated to royal dignity, continued to receive counsel from Mordecai, and was still under his influence. Following his advice, she had not revealed her parentage and nation to the king. Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women, in order to learn of Esther's welfare and to keep in communication with her. It was to her that he communicated information concerning a conspiracy against the king, — for it was by assassination only that the monarchs of antiquity could be removed. The conspirators were hanged; but Mordecai, who had rendered so great a service, was not rewarded. That the Hebrew was as ambitious as he was able, is not improbable. But his ambition yielded to his pride ; he would not do reverence to the royal favorite, Haman, although the king demanded it from all his servants. This Haman belonged to the race of Amalek, - a race blasted with the malediction of Jehovah, between whom and the Jews there had existed the fiercest hostility from the time of Moses. Owing to royal caprice, Haman had been advanced to the highest position in the empire, above all the Persian nobles and princes. This favorite and prime minister was vain, artful, cruel, and malignant. All the servants of the king fell prostrate before him as he entered the royal palace, — all but Mordecai, who would not bow to him. His brother officers expostulated with Mordecai for his disobedience to a royal command, and for his open insult to the most powerful man in the kingdom; but neither policy nor fear nor duty swerved him from his course, for he hated the Agagite, or Amalekite, with more than national hatred; he probably despised his character as much as he scorned his race. At first it would seem that Haman, in his lofty bearing, did not notice the conduct of Mordecai; but when the insult was reported to him, and when he learned that the person who slighted him was a Jew, his anger knew no bounds. He determined to destroy, not only Mordecai, but all his people in Persia. He planned his revengo with exceeding art. He represented to his royal master that there were a people within his dominions who were hostile to his authority and full of treasons and cabals; that even their religion and laws forced them to treasonable and dangerous conspiracies; and he requested that they should be destroyed. But as the destruction of a large body of subjects would be an injury to any government, especially from a financial point of view a blow to industries, Haman, with seeming patriotism and magnanimity, offered to pay ten thousand talents as a remuneration to the king for the loss of revenue. He knew well enough that the confiscation of the property of the Jews would furnish him ample means to raise the ten thousand talents (about twelve million dollars) to repay the king, even if he had not accumulated that sum as prime minister.
So tempting an offer, appealing at once to the avarice and the patriotism of the king, was readily accepted; and royal edicts were at once issued and sent to the one hundred and twenty-seven governors of the provinces to kill all the Jews, male and female, high and low, old and young, within their dominions, on a certain day, and to take all their property as spoil. When this diabolical edict had been promulgated, the king and Haman sat down to drink.
It is easy to imagine the consternation of Mordecai and the despair of the Jews when the news reached
them of this intended massacre. The whole body went into mourning and fasting and wailing and weeping. Mordecai cast himself on a heap of ashes, and put on sackcloth. Perhaps self-reproach was added to his other miseries, when he reflected that his own pride and scorn had brought upon his people this overwhelming calamity. If he had only bowed to the haughty favorite as others did, as the laws enjoined, this evil would not have happened. He and his house and his whole nation now must surely perish, unless some extraordinary interference, little short of divine and miraculous power, should take place. And he, a Godfearing man, was the author of this calamity! Is there anything in Grecian tragedy more touching and more awful? What terrible despair and anguish! What was he to do? How could he avert the catastrophe ? To whom should he look for aid? What would grief and sackcloth avail ?
Esther, within the recesses of the palace, had not at first received intelligence of the heart-rending calamity, but learned that Mordecai sat at the gate clothed in sackcloth, against all law and custom. She sent him more suitable raiment, which he would not receive. Why was he thus cast down ? She sent the chamberlain, appointed especially to attend her, to inquire the cause of this strange grief; and Mordecai told him of all that had happened, which Hegai in turn
reported to the queen. Mordecai also sent a message to her, and charged her to go unto the king, and make supplication unto him. She returned this answer : “ All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces do know that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king in the inner court who is not called, there is one law of his to put him or her to death, except to such as he shall hold out his golden sceptre that he may live.”
This stringent rule was rendered necessary from the danger of assassination. The mightiest monarch was obliged to seclude himself and guard himself against the treacherous and murderous dagger. This very king subsequently perished by assassination. No law of the empire was more rigorously enforced, and even Esther dared not violate it. Moreover, she was apparently out of favor, — she had not been called to the king for thirty days; so she informed Mordecai of the law, of the imminent risk of life, of the king's neglect of her, and said she dared not do as he had commanded.
But Mordecai, with the energy of despair and with a persistency worthy of the crisis, indignantly sent word to the queen : “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape, more than any other Jew; and further, if thou holdest thy peace at this time, then there shall be deliverance to the Jews from another quarter, but