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The Home Monthly

by Helen Delay. [Willa Cather]

From The Home Monthly,  (December 1897):  19.

The Wandering Jew

Let us all go back for a moment to the time when, with the reckless audacity of youth, we began "The Wandering Jew." We didn't know the value of time then, at least not the money value, and the hours only counted for the pleasure they brought and five hundred pages were as nothing to us. I wonder if any other book ever boasted of so complicated a plot, I wonder if so many things ever happened in five hundred pages. It outstrips even the "Count of Monte Christo" in innumerable incidents. Of course the political and religious purposes of the book have lost their meaning, the world has grown broader and more liberal in the last quarter of a century, but the story has all the youth of yesterday and will charm generations yet to be. I wonder how many young fellows in days to come will shudder at Goliath and his beasts and weep over the fate of poor Jovial the pony? When my brother and I first read the book we were at the age when children unconsciously dramatize and enact what they read. I remember that for some days we abstained from our usual food and subsisted on radishes and bread, like old Rodin, with a vague notion that we might be popes some day. The fact that I was a girl never damaged my ambitions to be a pope or an emperor—and I used to spend hours together trying to imagine just how badly it hurt Rodin when the doctors burned his breast with ignited cotton to free his lungs and larynx. Next winter when my brother had the croupe they put a mustard plaster on his chest and he called me to his bed and whispered that it felt just like Rodin; and I realized that for once he had the centre of the stage, and wept bitterly because I had no plaster.

Then we always liked the scene in the Indian jungle where the thugs tattooed the fatal mark on Prince Djalma's arm, and ah! that glorious last scene where Djalma and Adrienne die so blissfully together! Of course there was no use at all in their dying, and under the circuumstances it was a supremely idiotic thing to do, but that never bothered us then. We became enamoured, too, of the poor old Jew himself and the mark on his shoe. Since we couldn't have a cross in nails on the sole of our shoes we took to making crosses in chalk all over the barn and coal house and in pencil on our books, and even cut them on our slate rims and on our desks at school. We called it "our mark." And then of course every child in our grade originated a "mark" of some kind for themselves.