The legend of the Wandering Jew is somewhat uncertain in its origin and its significance. It is to the effect that when Christ was on the way to Calvary, bearing His cross, He wished to rest before the house of a Jew named Ahasuerus, who drove Him away; that the Saviour then said to the Jew, ” Thou shalt wander on the earth till I come,” and that he has wandered ever since, falling into a trance once in a hundred-years an’ finding his youth renewed when he awakes. A variation of the legend makes him a servant of Pontius Pilate and his name Cartaphilus. Also in the fourteenth century he was called Isaac Lakedion. The tradition has been interpreted as an allegoryone commentator taking it to represent heathenism, another applying it to the dispersion of the Hebrew race.
IN the confines of Poland the last rays of the setting sun shine on a desolate hill. As the darkness deepens the sound of funeral bells and hymns wails up from the valley where funeral torches glow in the deepening gloom. The dread scourge of cholera is over the stricken land, advancing day by day at a pace such as a man would make in a day’s journey.
Down the rocky declivity comes a strange, weird figure. His countenance is noble, gentle, and sad; his jet-black eyebrows, united in one, extend in a curve from one temple to the other over his high forehead and give to his face one ray of sinister aspect. Wherever he passes the cholera accompanies his footsteps. There are seven large nails in his shoes, and when he walks they imprint the figure of a cross in the soil.
As he passes on he is absorbed in these thoughts: “The thirteenth of February approachesthey come, those days when the descendants of my sister, those last branches of our race, will assemble in Paris. One hundred and fifty years ago persecution scattered over the earth for the third time that family over which I have watched for eighteen centuries. When they are in danger instinct tells me, and I would go to them; but too often an invisible power hurries me on, and I cannot save them.”
Then he hears a voice: “Onward! Onward!” and caught in a sudden blackness of storm the weird figure is hurried down the slope.
It is the wandering Jew, that artisan of Jerusalem who smote Christ and bade Him ” Go on!” Condemned to wander undying over the face of the earth, he is journeying now with his face set toward Paris.
From the farthest wilds of America journeys another undying creature, a woman, with her face likewise toward Paris. About twenty-five years of age in appearance, with a face of great beauty and great sadness, she is impelled Onward! On-ward! by the same mysterious power that drives, as with a tempest, the steps of the Wandering Jew. It is Herodias, condemned for demanding John the Baptist’s head on a charger to the same punishment as Ahasuerus, the artisan of Jerusalem.
Strong in the heart of both these strangely accursed beings is the desire to protect the heirs of Marius Rennepont, the seven surviving representatives of the scattered race of the sister of the Wandering Jew; but also strong in them is the agony which tells them that little will be permitted them to achieve.
Shortly before, in far Siberia, the mystic being whom we have seen descending a hill on the confines of Poland had appeared to François Badouin, called Dagobert, a faithful old soldier of the Empire, and warned him that it was time for him to take to the French capital the daughters of General Simon, Rose and Blanche, twins of fifteen years, whose mother, a Polish lady, had just died in exile there, and whose father was far off in Java, where he had fled upon the overthrow of an Indian king whose army he commandedfled with the King’s son, Prince Djalma, who had also been mysteriously warned that he should be in Paris on the thirteenth of February.
“Once before,” Dagobert was saying to his charges as they journeyed, “has this strange man with the black, arched brow crossed the path of your family. It was on the field of battle. A gunner was aiming a cannon point-blank at your father, my beloved general. Suddenly appeared this strange man and threw himself between my general and the gun. The gun was fired; but when the stroke had cleared away the strange man stood there unharmedand then, with a look of sorrow and resignation, he went on.”
“And this medal; this strange medal!” asked Rose. “What, my Dagobert, do you imagine this to mean?”
“What it says,” answered Dagobert.
Rose raised the medal that was attached to a chain around her neck and teach “In a century and a half you will be in Paris, on February 13, 1832, at No. 3 Rue St. François. Pray for me,”
Far, far away from the northern wilds, under the tropic sun a beautiful Indian youth, the Prince Djalmai was reading the same inscription on a similar medal as he took ship for France from Batavia, grieving at the same time that his father’s faithful friend, General Simon, who had gone to a neighboring island, was not to accompany him on his mysterious journey, but comforted by the General’s assurance that he would follow him soon.
Another traveler to whom had descended a like medal was also sailing across the Waves to keep the tryst made by his an-tester, Marius Rennepont, the exiled Huguenot, at the old walled-up house in the Rue St. François. It was Gabriel Rennepunt, a young Jesuit missionary, returning from his labors in America.
In Paris itself were living already three others to whom similar medals had descended. One was the beautiful Adrienne de Cardoville, orphaned daughter of the Count-Duke de Cardoville; the other two were Monsieur Hardy, a manufacturer of Plessis, and Jacques Rennepont, a drunken vagabond.
A century and a half earlier Marius Rennepont had in-trusted the remnant of his fortune, 50 ,000 crowns, to a faithful Jew to be invested; and the resulting fortune was to be distributed among his heirs on February 13, 1832, But an evil power more formidable than the passionate good wishes of Herodias and the Wandering few was actively opposing itself to the assembling of the Rennepont heirs on the designated date.
In a large and plainly furnished room in an unpretentious house in the Rue du Milieu-des-Ursins, Monsieur Rodin sat at an ebony table littered with papers, writing. M. Rodin was fifty years old. His gray hairs fell limp and flat on his temples and crowned his bald forehead; his eyebrows were hardly marked; his upper eyelids were shriveled and fell low like the membrane of a serpent’s eye. His eyes were small and black, sharp and piercing; his lips, thin and absolutely colorless, were lost in the wan hue of his lank visage. His finger-nails needed cleaning and his hands washing.
Within that unlovely exterior was concealed a boundless ambition, a strong and remorseless will, and such an absolute penetration into the hearts of men that he could play upon them as upon stringed instruments.
M. Rodin was secretary to Monsieur l’Abbé d’Aigrigny, Provincial of the Jesuits, who presently entered the room and haughtily began dictating letters. M. l’Abbé was formerly Monsieur le Marquis d’Aigrigny, an emigré in the days of the Revolution and the Empire, a colonel serving against France, who received his reward upon the Restoration. But though not yet forty, the Marquis d’Aigrigny had suddenly taken the habit of a Jesuit.
The Abbé d’Aigrigny fancied himself powerful and a master of intrigue. As a matter of fact, he was a tool in the hands of Rodin, who used him until the time should come to destroy him.
“Well, Rodin,” said the Marquis, ” all goes well with regard to the Rennepont inheritance. The daughters of General Simon have arrived in Paris in spite of my endeavors, it is true; but the wife of Dagobert is a pious woman, and in her husband’s temporary absence I have persuaded her to place the girls in a con-vent for religious instructionwhere they will be kept until after to-morrow.”
“And Monsieur Hardy,” insinuated the secretary, “is, I believe, now traveling in the south of France?”
“Yes,” replied D’Aigrigny, “I have certain incriminating papers concerning his bosom friend, Monsieur de Blessac, and by this means have induced that estimable person to lure Monsieur Hardy away from Paris. Jacques Rennepont is in jail for debt and Adrienne de Cardoville has been placed by her aunt, the Princess Saint-Dizier, in an insane asylum. Prince Djalma, as you know, will not trouble us, though my agent in Batavia blundered and let him arrive in Paris. Gabriel has returned from his mission to America, is now in Paris and awaits my orders to appear to-morrow and receive the inheritance which he has already assigned to me. It is success, Rodin, success!”
The snaky little eyes of the secretary regarded the vain Marquis with a sidelong glance of contempt. Ah, that Rodin!
This master of intrigue conspired against his own order, the Jesuits, and against the papacy. He would first become General of the order, then Pope; and being Pope he would destroy the order. He was using the order now; subsequently he would be to it what Mahmud II was to the Janizaries and Mehemet Ali to the Mamelukes.
The possession of the Rennepont inheritance, which must now have grown to an enormous sum, was the lever by which he would move those wheels that had not already been set in motion in his complicated machinery. The vast wealth once in his hands, added to his own marvelous skill in intrigue, would give him that which alone he covetedpower.
The morning of February thirteenth saw the custodian of the closed house in the Rue St. François, an aged Jew named Samuel, seated in the porter’s lodge in the wall that divided the disused garden from the street, and putting his papers in final order for the ceremonies of the day. For three generations his family had been the custodians of the walled-up house and of the inheritance of the Renneponts. Owing to their remark-able longevity this guardianship had extended over one hundred and fifty years.
“Bathsheba,” said the old man to his wife, “check off the items as I read,” and when this had been done he said: “That is all. The inheritance has grown from the fifty thousand crowns intrusted to my ancestor to two hundred and twelve million one hundred and seventy-five thousand francs” (more than $40,000,000).
Soon arrived M. l’Abbé d’Aigrigny and his secretary, Rodin. Then arrived Father Gabriel, the good priest, the missionary recently returned from the Rocky Mountains; and following him came the notary and workmen to open the doors of the house in the courtyard and take the leaden covering from the windows of one room, the red chamber, according to the written instructions left by Marius Rennepont a century and a half before.
Gabriel Rennepont had the countenance of an angel and a disposition as sweet as his countenance. His virtues were solid and rare, and though now only twenty-five years old, he had done heroic work as a missionary in the wilds of America.
With no regard for worldly wealth, he had given up willingly to the Marquis d’Aigrigny his part of the family inheritance, but now announced to the Provincial that he desired to leave the order and henceforth be a country curate.
The house having been opened by the workmen, the aged Jew conducted his visitors to the red chamber. A table covered with crimson velvet stood in the center of the salon.
“Here,” said the Jew, “is the account, and according to the instructions of my father I am to place it on this table before the arrival of the heirs.” A bright ray of light streaming through the window shone full upon two portraits. Opp was the portrait of that strange being whom we have seen, his footsteps dogged by cholera, descending the barren hill on the confines of Poland. The Other portrait was that of a woman of twenty-five or thirty years old, with a face at once beautiful and sad, expressive of supplication and resignation.
Gabriel Rennepont started as he beheld it and uttered a slight cry. “It is just eight months since!” said he, in a voice profoundly agitated. “I was in the power of the Indians in the Rocky Mountains. They had fastened me to a cross and had begun to scalp me when Divine Providence sent me unexpected succor. It was that woman who saved me. Or at least,” he added, recollecting the century and a half the old house had been sealed up and confronted with the apparent age of the painting, “it was a woman who was her exact counterpart in face and form.”
The hour of ten having arrivedthe hour appointedthe notary declared that the only heir of Marius Rennepont who had arrived being Gabriel, he opened the will in his presence. The will was read. Rodin, forgetting himself in his exultation, clasped the box in which the securities were contained with both arms and could hardly refrain from a cry of triumph. But just at that moment came the noise of an opening door, and a woman glided into the salon.
She approached a desk, and, taking from it a paper, placed it on the table. Then casting a look upon Gabriel, she left the room amid a profound silence.
This was she who had saved Gabriel in the Rocky Mountains, the original of the picture over the mantelpiece. It was Herodias. With trembling hands Samuel took the paper and with the notary compared the signature with that affixed to the will.
It is a codicil,” he said, “signed by Marius Rennepont, and it adjourns till June 1, 1832, the dispositions mentioned in the will.”
Adrienne de Cardoville would undoubtedly be released upon the return of the Count de Montbron, a close friend of her father. General Simon was about to arrive in Paris and would claim his children; Djalma, who had been drugged the day be-fore by his attendant, must be already awakening; M. Hardy was on his way home; and Jacques Rennepont might be re-leased from prison by some relative.
So when Rodin and the Marquis were again alone together, and the latter said, “We are defeated!” the former, pointing to the table, said, “Write!” and took from his pocket an order from the General of the Jesuits appointing him Provincial, with D’Aigrigny as his secretary.
Rodin now began to work on a plan to destroy the heirs, each by his own passions and vices, his loves and his hates. First, he hastened to release Adrienne de Cardoyille, who was nearly twenty-one years of age, with a countenance of remarkable beauty. Her love of beauty was almost overwhelming, her for-tune immense. Her independent mode of life and her free thought had made it comparatively easy for her aunt, the Princess St. Dizier, under D’Aigrigny’s. influence, to spread reports of her niece’s strange actions, and then, by bribing a. doctor, to have her conveyed to an asylum.
From documents in her possession Adrienne knew that Prince Djalma and the daughters of General Simon were her relatives, and learning that they were on their way to Paris she had ordered one part of the house then occupied by her aunt, the Princess, to be prepared for the residence of the Prince, and another part for that of Blanche and Rose Simon. But before these orders could be executed she had been spirited away to the asylum.
On the ship from Batavia had sailed with Djalma an East Indian, Faringhea, whom the Prince, not knowing his antecedents, had taken into his personal service. This man was of the sect of the Stranglers, who kill for the love of killing. He had found on the corpse of one of his victims certain letters that let him into the secret of Rodin’s conspiracy against Djalma and, outlawed in India and Java, he was seeking Paris with the idea of seeing Rodin and reaping advantage from this knowledge.
D’Aigrigny had sent a man to poison Djalma, but the wily Indian had prevented the deed and given the Prince a strong narcotic instead, which, unless the antidote he himself alone knew was applied, would keep Djalma asleep until after February thirteenth. This he had done upon their arrival in Paris, and had reported at once to Rodin. But on the morning of February fourteenth of what avail were the expedients by which D’Aigrigny had managed to bridge over the preceding day?
“The fool!” sneered Rodin. “But he has some usefulness.”
Rodin worked quickly. When he repaired to the asylum where Adrienne was confined he took a magistrate with him, to whom he made a charge of conspiracy against D’Aigrigny, the Princess St. Dizier and the doctor who kept the institution.
“Ah, Mademoiselle,” said he in honeyed tones, “I have been forced through poverty long to remain in the employ of a most unscrupulous rascal, the Marquis d’Aigrigny. But his machinations against you were too much. I have left his employ and will, through God’s help, now attempt to undo some of the wrong in which I have been an unwilling participant.”
The old rascal knew that his charge against D’Aigrigny and the Princess could not be proved without his testimony, and that testimony, of course, he never would give. He knew, also, that if either of them dared to do anything except acquiesce in what he did he could bring charges against them which could be proved and ruin them. And he knew that they knew it.
“And, my dear young lady,” continued Rodin, “I wish also to make my work of repentance more complete by restoring to General Simon his two charming daughters, who are confined in the neighboring convent. I have therefore written to him to be here, where this reunion will take place.”
Adrienne, who had instinctively feared and distrusted him, now hailed him as the deliverer and preserver of her family. Rodin then visited the convent and returned, leading Rose and Blanche, just as General Simon entered the room.
This happy group, amid their tears and embraces, hailed Rodin as their liberator and confided to him in their gratitude the deepest secrets of their hearts.
“Ah,” sighed Rodin, “that I ever should have been the tool of that wicked D’Aigrigny!”
“D’Aigrigny,” cried General Simon, starting, “that villain! I will have his life!”
“Yes, in due time,” thought Rodin, as he saw his way clear to one “removal.” D’Aigrigny and Simon were old enemies.
“My next duty,” purred Rodin, “is toward that injured man, the Prince Djalma.”
“Djalma!” cried Adrienne. “Is he, then, safe in Paris?”
“Yes,” replied Rodin, “he is at a hotel where he is recovering from a dose of narcotics administered to him by an agent of the wicked Marquis.”
” Go to him at once; my kind preserver,” said Adrienne. And then she gave directions that Djalma should be taken to a house that she had been fitting up for her own occupancy.
When M. Hardy arrived at his factory at Plessis accompanied by his bosom friend, M. Blessac, he was met by Rodin. “I would speak with you alone,” said Rodin.
“I have no secrets from Monsieur Blessac,” replied Hardy, “speak on.”
“Well, then, you are betrayed by a man whom you regard as your friend. I refer to Monsieur Blessac.” Blessac’s shaking hands and faltering tongue admitted his guilt. At the same moment a letter was handed to M. Hardy which informed him that a woman with whom he was deeply in love, and who had a husband in America, had been suddenly stricken with remorse and had taken ship for the New World. With hypocritical tears Rodin poured out to Hardy the entire and true story of the machinations of D’Aigrigny against the Rennepont heirs.
Shortly afterward trouble fomented by Rodin broke out in the form of strikes and discontent in the factory of Hardy, and finally riots in which his property was destroyed.
“Ah,” sighed the crushed and miserable man as he sat in the gloom of a religious retreat to which Rodin had taken him. “I have no longer the power nor the desire to encounter the world again.”
“Then why do so, my dear friend?” said Rodin gently. “Seek some remote monastery, where the woes of this sinful world can never enter. Come, my brother, prayers, vigils, macerations, fastsand joy ineffable. Come.”
In less than two months the half-crazed penitent, worn out by his penances and fasts, died in the most gloomy monastery in France, leaving his share of the Rennepont inheritance to Rodin “for the good of the order.”
“Take one from seven, and six remain. Serb papal” (” I shall be Pope “) said Rodin.
As for Jaques Rennepont, his destruction was too easy. He was simply supplied with all the money he wanted and drank himself to death in short order. “Two from seven, and five remain;” said Rodin.
Next to his children General Simon worshiped the memory of that splendid dream, the Empire, that throne-toppling demigod, Napoleon. Skilfully playing upon this loyalty to the heir of his beloved Emperor, Rodin arranged that General Simon should depart for a personal interview with the captive Prince, leaving his daughters behind.
Just at that time a scourge fell upon Paris. That weird figure which we have seen descending a hill on the confines of Poland came down the slopes of Montmartre, and with him came cholera. Rodin was one of the first to be attacked. He was in the salon of the Princess St. Dizier, where she was entertaining the Cardinal Malipieri, when the attack came on.
As he fell to the floor, writhing in agony, he fixed his eye upon the Cardinal and cried out: “You have poisoned me! You are of the race of Borgia.”
The Cardinal was astonished and perplexed. What was this man plotting, that he fancied himself poisoned by a prince of the Church? That Rodin was a thorough-paced rascal the Cardinal had abundant proof. Ile visited the sick man.
“How are you feeling to-day?” inquired his Eminence.
“Oh, I am suffering all the tortures of the damned,” groaned Rodin.
“What! Already?” murmured the Cardinal; but he surprised no secrets from M. Rodin; and by sheer force of will the plotter recovered from his illness.
Rodin skilfully appealed to the kind hearts of Rose and Blanche Simon. A faithful attendant was sick in a cholera hospital; would they not go to soothe her last moments? Such an appeal was an imperative command to the gentle girls; and in the loathsomeness of the temporary hospital to which they were taken Rodin saw to it that they were exposed to every danger of infection, Thus their tender feelings destroyed them, and they died in agony.
“Four from seven, and three remain,” said Rodin, “Serb papa.”
General Simon, returning to France, was frantic at the news of his loss, and an anonymous letter, added to his own suspicions, caused him to charge the death of his daughters to the Abbe* d’Aigrigny, with whom he at once sought an interview.
“Here are swords!” said the bereaved father. “You have been a soldier! Fight!”
” My sacred profession forbids,” replied the Abbe, and broke the sword the General had handed him.
“Coward!” cried Simon, snapping his own sword off to a length with that broken by D’Aigrigny. “It is now a matter of poniards” and he slapped the Marquis in the face. The two men fell upon each other with fury. Soon Simon sank to the floor, stabbed through the heart, while the Abbe fell dying beside him.
Just at that moment came a knock at the door. A voice said: “May one come in?” and the face of Rodin appeared.
“Fiend! You have killed me!” cried D’Aigrigny.
“I think I hear the bells of Saint Peter’s striking the hour,” said Rodin.
It was Rodin’s plan that Djalma and Adrienne should love each other. If they did that, with their passionate, wild natures, a jealousy created between them would cause their ruin. They did love each other wildly, fiercely, as Rodin wished; but the black clouds of jealousy which he threw continually between them were ever and again swept away by the bright sun of their passion.
“Ah, Djalma,” said Adrienne, as the young Indian knelt at her feet and devoured her hands with fevered kisses, “in a few days we shall be united. We will live or die together.”
The very next day Faringhea told Djalma that the woman he adored would meet that night a clandestine lover. If he doubted it let him be at a certain house in the Rue de Clinchy. The Oriental allowed himself to be conducted to the designated place, and there, through an opening in the wall, saw a figure, apparently that of Adrienne, enter an adjoining room. After her came a youth dressed as a mechanic. Hardly had he entered when Djalma sprang into the room and with his dagger struck the woman dead at his feet and so injured the man that he also fell, apparently lifeless. Then the Indian attendant hurried him away, whispering: “You are avenged.”
In a frenzy, Djalma rushed to the house of Adrienne and forced his way into her bedroom, which he found vacant. Standing beside the bed, he put a vial of poison to his lips and drank. As he did so, the door opened and Adrienne appeared. In wild, incoherent words he told of what he had done, and the lovers realized that what he had witnessed was a scene arranged by Rodin.
“It is murder!” cried Adrienne. “And I am dying!” said Djalma.
“You shall not die alone,” said Adrienne, and, seizing the vial, she drank what remained of the contents.
“My husband!” sighed Adrienne.
“My wife!” murmured Djalmaand the lovers expired in each other’s arms.
“Take six from seven, and one remainsand I have his assignment of the Rennepont millions,” said Rodin, “Serb papa.”
The next day was the first of June, and the old house of the Renneponts saw another gathering. Just as Rodin came forward to claim his prize, smoke was observed coming from the box of lattice iron that contained the Rennepont securities, and in another moment they were consumed before his eyes.
“This property is not mine, but the codicil gave me power to destroy it, and I have exercised that power,” said Samuel. Before Rodin could speak a tremor ran through his body, he fell writhing to the floor and died in agony. Faringhea, the Indian attendant of Djalma, had poisoned him.
The dawning light shone on a giant crucifix set high upon a lonely hill. Below the raised cross two figures metthe Wandering Jew and Herodias. As they gazed at each other they saw that for the first time age had set its mark upon them. Before each other’s eyes the life and youth to which they had been doomed fled from them.
“Our punishment is ended!” said the man. “Glory to God!”
“Yes, glory to Him!” said the woman. “After the centuries of wandering we shall find rest at last.”
“And for you, also, my brothers,” said the Jew, extending his arms toward the land below, “who for the long centuries have been ever driven onward by the cry of `Work! Work! Work!’ for you also the day of relief is approaching; for God is just and oppression shall cease!”