(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A solitary figure stalks down a bleak hill in Poland. He is an old man, his face gentle and sad. His footsteps leave in the soil imprints of a cross made by the several large nails in his shoes. He is hurrying, for he has to be in Paris on the thirteenth of February, 1832, when the surviving descendants of his sister will gather in that city—the last members of that family over whom he watched for eighteen centuries. The lonely traveler is the Wandering Jew, that artisan of Jerusalem who mocks Christ on the day of the Crucifixion, the sinner condemned to wander undying through the centuries over all the world. Far in the wilds of America a woman also turns toward Paris, driven by that same power that guides the Wandering Jew. She is Herodias, who demanded the head of John the Baptist on a charger, also condemned to live through the centuries of sorrow.

François Baudoin, called Dagobert, a faithful friend of Marshal Simon and an old Bonapartist hero, never falters in his loyalty toward the Simon family. Years before, he followed the marshal’s Polish wife into Siberia, where she was exiled, and after her death he set out with her twin daughters, Blanche and Rose, for Paris, where, on a certain day in February, 1832, a legacy awaits the two girls. This is the legacy of Marius de Rennepont, an ancestor who, despoiled by the Jesuits, salvaged out of his ruined estate a house and a small sum of money. He placed the money in the hands of a faithful Jewish friend named Samuel, who promised to invest it profitably. One hundred fifty years later the descendants of this ancestor are to gather at a house where each is to receive a share of the legacy. Blanche and Rose Simon are only half-aware of the fortune awaiting them, for they were too young to understand what Dagobert told them about their inheritance.

If these heirs of Marius de Rennepont do not know of the legacy, others nevertheless do. For many years the Jesuits, masters of an intricate and diabolical conspiracy, plot to prevent the descendants from acquiring the money. They are responsible for Marshal Simon’s exile and for his wife’s banishment to Siberia.

The plotters are so meticulous and so thorough in their scheming that they persuade young Gabriel de Rennepont to become a priest and a member of the Society of Jesus. Through Gabriel they hope to acquire the tremendous fortune, for by preventing the other heirs from reaching Paris—and the society has agents all over the world who will do its bidding under any conditions—they can ensure that Gabriel will inherit the legacy. Then, since he is forbidden by his vow of poverty to possess money, the funds will revert to the society. With that money the Jesuits will be able to reestablish their supremacy over the French people and will be able once more to govern countries and guide the destiny of Europe.

As soon as Dagobert and the two girls arrive in Paris, the Jesuits arrange to have them spirited away to a convent. Adrienne de Cardoville, another descendant of the de Rennepont family, is declared insane and committed to an asylum. Jacques de Rennepont, a good-hearted sensualist named Couche-tout-Nud, is jailed for debt. Prince Djalma, who left India...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)