“And what is the pleasure of my lord the king?”
“Ashpenaz,” said the king, in a familiar voice, “thou knowest well that there is a painful scarcity of waiters to stand in the presence of the king; and even those we have are not what I could desire them to be in point of intelligence and cultivation. This must be remedied without delay. My father’s taste in this matter was somewhat different from mine. Far be it from me to cast any reflection on the judgment of my illustrious father; but the glory and splendor of my empire are on the forward march, and things at the royal palace must not be permitted to fall in the rear. I am about to lay a foundation to a measure that will yet shed glory and luster on my reign. What is more mortifying, Ashpenaz, 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.