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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter VII. The Wandering Jew

Chapter VII. The Wandering Jew.

An early hour the next morning found the two friends at the same seat which they had occupied the night before.

"I like to come to this seat, because it is the place from which I last saw her," said Mandevil, "and it may be for the last time. Who knows what may happen within three years?"

"Don't talk so despairingly. 'Faint heart never won,'—you know," said Norval. "But now put me out of suspense about the Wandering Jew, that celebrated—as I once thought—Myth; but with a representative of whom, by wonderful fortune, it seems I am privileged to come in contact!"

"Beware!" said Mandevil, with a faint smile, "or perhaps like the sperrets, I shall be hurt by your unbelief, and decline to divulge anything. However to begin. But first of all look at this, and tell me whether you see anything remarkable about it," he continued, drawing from off his finger a ring with a beautiful opal in it.

"First of all," said Norval, with a knowing squint, "this opal is the most beautiful I have ever seen. I have always had a partiality for the opal; I think it is the most poetical and mystically associated of all stones. And the setting is not at all of a modern fashion, and there is also some very fine lettering on the inside."

"That is Hebrew, as you might see with a magnifying glass, and page 27if you understood such characters," said Mandevil. "I have been told it is a sort of pedigree of our family. That ring was given to me when I was first old enough to understand the importance of an earnest request, with the injunction never to part with it or lose it, as it might be of the greatest value to me some time."

"I declare you are beginning to interest me," said Norval; "it looks quite promising already, like the commencement of a sensation novel. It verifies my instinct of discernment too. I knew it was nothing common which attracted me so to you the first day I saw you."

"Have you read Eugene Sue's novel of the 'Wandering Jew'?" asked Mandevil.

"Yes, only a short time ago," said Norval "I found it horribly exciting. Though spoilt by his usual amount of nastiness, it is masterlily developed. That old Rodin—I should have liked to have had the pleasure of shoving him into a bone-mill. How jolly to have heard his old bones crunch!"

"I only asked you," said Mandevil, "as it will save time by alluding to it; for the groundwork of the story is founded on facts, though many parts of it are overdrawn, and the seeming omniscience and talent of the Jesuits overrated. I don't believe in their wonderful talent, and for the reason that any special society, in order to command talent, should be able to draw men of genius to it,—and men of genius could not be found to reconcile themselves to creeping, slimy work. In fact, this is a natural, I may say, divine dispensation of rectification, or else we should have a universal 'Long live the devil;' so that our friends are obliged to put up with the next best article, of which low cunning forms the chief ingredient. Thackeray, in his 'Esmond,' gives a much better gauge of them than Sue with his intensity of hate does. The Father—what's-his-name—who makes his little information go such a long way, trying to overpower Esmond with his affectation of omniscience; but Esmond's common sense detected him to be a mere smatterer. Common sense with these fellows is what they say holy water is to the devil. But to return to the other thing—this is what I have been told, mind: all that part of the tale was founded on fact—that about the large sum of money let out at compound interest to accumulate for several generations in the hands of trustees—of whom old Samuel was the representative—and then to be divided among the different page 28members of the family when a certain period should have arrived. It is true, too, that shortly before that time did arrive, all the different members of the family mysteriously died off, with the exception of the one whom they had safely got within their own fold. Well, you know the ending, how the good old Samuel had to give up all the wealth into the hands of the arch-fiend Rodin; and then came almost the only bit of retribution in the book. Samuel indeed shows him the iron box, in which the notes and securities representing the immense sum of money are, but while the old wretch's hands are convulsively clutching with impatient eagerness to grasp the prize, he hears a rushing noise as of fire burning, and at the same time sees smoke issuing from holes in the box; Samuel standing by like an inexorable judge, and calmly informing him that all he shall get will be the ashes. Then comes the agony of rage, horror, and frustrated greed of Rodin, mingled with the commencing death pains caused by the poison which has been administered to him a short time before by his co-religionist the Thug.

"All this you know; I come now to the part which yon don't know.

"The different characters whom Sue brings in as members of the family, vary considerably from the reality. He in fact only makes use of the true groundwork, and half invents a set of people to serve the purpose of the glorification of his nation and of his own special theories. I do not altogether know the real particulars; but I have been led to believe that a sum of money was left in the manner described, in trust to the family of Samuel (who is a reality), to be divided among the living representatives of the deviser's family at a certain date. That all these with the exception of one—a member of the Jesuit society—mysteriously died off shortly before the appointed time; and also that Samuel told the Jesuit who claimed the money—answering to Rodin in the novel—that though he represented the sole remaining heir, yet still the whole trust was an affair of honour and not of law, and that his honour would be best satisfied by destroying it before his eyes rather than allow it to be devoted to the service of wickedness and idolatry. And now comes the strange part of the affair. Samuel never destroyed the notes and securities; and he still lives—for I have seen him."

"Nonsense! you don't say so?" broke in Norval. "Why! page 29what did he do it for then? did he make up his mind to stick to it himself?"

"The reason was this," returned Mandevil; "one branch of the family, represented by a single person—namely, my mother— was in England, married to an Englishman. My father kept a yacht, and in cruising off the coast of Spain he made my mother's acquaintance, and they became mutually attached. She was an orphan, and her guardians, who were in league with the Jesuits, wanted to force her into a convent; doubtless, in order to have another hold on the property, of the existence of which she had been kept in ignorance.

"My father, who was a man of decision, ended the matter very quickly by carrying her off in his yacht to a British man-of-war in the neighbourhood and being married by its chaplain, and then sailing away for a two years' cruise from one place to another, so as to avoid pursuit.

"Well—Samuel, who had his secret agents who continually kept him informed of the whereabouts of the different members of our family, was enabled to follow my mother's traces, and knew of her existence in England, but was not certain whether the Jesuits knew of it also. In like manner the Jesuits knew of her existence, but were not sure whether Samuel knew of it. It seems that Samuel, when these deaths occurred, was determined to make an effort to save the last representative—which was my mother; and who, being in England, could not be reached so easily by their machinations. So he determined to meet them with some of their own cunning, and affected to believe that all the heirs to the property were dead, with the exception of the one who was a member of their society. Then, as my informants suppose, he got up this scene of the burning; but it was only waste paper that was burned, the notes were all safe in Samuel's strong box. Samuel then intended to have waited till the affair was forgotten, and then have quietly delivered the property to my mother. But, though the plan succeeded completely in deceiving the Jesuits, yet they were determined to be revenged, and shortly afterwards managed to administer poison to the old man. He had an excellent knowledge of medicine, and was enabled to take an antidote in time to save his life, but not his reason, which has been affected by the poison ever since in a most remarkable manner. His memory is clean gone, except at certain times, page 30when he has intervals that only last for a day or two, in which he begins to call things to mind, but the relapse soon comes on again.

"The doctors say that this state of mental oblivion has served to prolong his life; and that his waking out of it completely' which they have no doubt will happen before his death, will be the immediate forerunner of that event."

"But how did you come to know all this?" asked Norval.

"When I was in Paris last autumn, I was accosted in one of the parks by a stranger, who turned out to be a member or connection of Samuel's family. After examining me as to my identity, and seeing my ring, he informed me of what I have told you. At the time of the occurrence of this affair of the pretended burning of the notes, I was about two years old. My poor father was lost in his yacht a short time after. My mother survived him about eight years. She gave me the ring, enjoining me never to lose it or part with it. She didn't know anything about it, except that there was some mystery connected with its possession, and she had a vague idea that its safe-keeping might be of the greatest importance.

"The first time that Samuel experienced one of those partial regainings of his memory happened about five years after the time of the loss of it. He managed to let his family understand the importance of keeping my mother and myself in sight, but they could get nothing conclusive from him. They were then upon the point of sending for us, thinking our appearance might recall his memory more completely; but, while they were deliberating relapse came on."

"Well!" said Norval, "I must confess that this is all very bewildering to me. It must have been stunning to you, who had so much interest in it, if true. Had any stranger addressed such information to me, I should have set him down for some fellow escaped from a lunatic asylum."

"That was my first thought," said Mandevil; "and yet I was very much shaken in my opinion by all that I heard and saw afterwards."

"But if the money was there," said Norval, "could not his family manage it without the old man? Could they not look into his books and clear up the uncertainty?"

"That is what I am about to explain," said Mandevil. "They page 31say that everything relating to the trust is in one strong chest; books, money, and all; that is, supposing that the money was not destroyed, as Samuel's vague hints have led them to suspect. Well, the key of this Samuel keeps always hung round his neck. All the faculties he has left seem concentrated on the one point of keeping it safe. The slightest approach towards taking it from him is sufficient to produce symptoms of danger to his life. He keeps the box always in his sleeping-room."

"But he can't live for ever, you know," said Norval; "and when he dies they can see what's in it then."

"Yes," said Mandevil; "but his family are afraid that he may destroy everything connected with it before he dies. In some of his reasonable intervals he has hinted at it. He seems to have a dread, as far as they can make out, that if he dies leaving the property unappropriated, the Jesuits will get hold of it; and that sooner than suffer the possibility of such a thing, he will leave none of it after him. His relations have entreated me then not to be out of the way of telegraphic communication with Paris, for some time to come, as they noticed then that a change was coming over him, symptomatic of a final breaking up.

"The stranger who had accosted me, told me that Samuel even then was experiencing one of his reasonable fits, and that they had already sent to England for me. You know I had returned to England the spring before last, after five or six years of travel. They were informed that I was in the Tyrol, and in consequence, were giving the affair up for the time, when they saw my name announced at one of the hotels. Inquiring there, they were told the direction I had taken, and with the help of a description of my dress and person had found me.

"He, the stranger, after being satisfied as to my identity, begged me to hasten with him to Samuel's house, as the time was precious. The old man, he said, had already experienced three days of change, and his lucid state rarely lasted longer. It was too late however, unfortunately. When we arrived at the door, we were met by a granddaughter of the old man's, named Rachel—such a lovely creature, Randolph—who told us that the change for the bad had come on again. I was shown into the room nevertheless, where the old man was sitting. At the first sight of me a flash of intelligence appeared in his intense black eyes, and we began to hope that the experiment would be successful. But the next page 32moment a watery wavering expression came over his forehead. It reminded me of the surface of a pond just after a stone has been thrown into it. They addressed him, telling him who I was; but to no purpose. He simply cast down his eyes to the floor, while a vacuous smile played over his features. He then commenced to walk backwards and forwards, with the same smile, occasionally muttering to himself, but vouchsafing no words to anybody else."

"Poor old beggar!" said Norval "But, excepting that he can't help it, it's too bad of him to keep you in a state of such suspense."

"He has not kept me in much suspense," answered Man-devil, "for since then, I can assure you, I have thought very little of it. It certainly made some impression on me at the time; but after I left Paris and had reflected over it, I set it down as a chimera, and banished it from my mind. To show you what store I set upon it, a month ago I had determined to depart on distant travel for four or six years. It is only this last affair that has set me dreaming again."