A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 50.

“What a strange-looking cane you have, sir!” said a little girl, who was one of the party, and who had entwined her arm round Margrave’s. “Let me look at it.”

“Yes,” said Strahan, “that cane, or rather walking-staff, is worth looking at. Margrave bought it in Egypt, and declares that it is very ancient.”

This staff seemed constructed from a reed: looked at, it seemed light, in the hand it felt heavy; it was of a pale, faded yellow, wrought with black rings at equal distances, and graven with half obliterated characters that seemed hieroglyphic. I remembered to have seen Margrave with it before, but I had never noticed it with any attention until now, when it was passed from hand to hand. At the head of the cane there was a large unpolished stone of a dark blue.

“Is this a pebble or a jewel?” asked one of the party.

“I cannot tell you its name or nature,” said Margrave; “but it is said to cure the bite of serpents25, and has other supposed virtues — a talisman, in short.”

He here placed the staff in my hands, and bade me look at it with care. Then he changed the conversation and renewed the way, leaving the staff with me, till suddenly I forced it back on him. I could not have explained why, but its touch, as it warmed in my clasp, seemed to send through my whole frame a singular thrill, and a sensation as if I no longer felt my own weight — as if I walked on air.

Our rambles came to a close; the visitors went away; I reentered the house through the sash-window of Forman’s study. Margrave threw his hat and staff on the table, and amused himself with examining minutely the tracery on the mantelpiece. Strahan and myself left him thus occupied, and, going into the adjoining library, resumed our task of examining the plans for the new house. I continued to draw outlines and sketches of various alterations, tending to simplify and contract Sir Philip’s general design. Margrave soon joined us, and this time took his seat patiently beside our table, watching me use ruler and compass with unwonted attention.

“I wish I could draw,” he said; “but I can do nothing useful.”

“Rich men like you,” said Strahan, peevishly, “can engage others, and are better employed in rewarding good artists than in making bad drawings themselves.”

“Yes, I can employ others; and — Fenwick, when you have finished with Strahan I will ask permission to employ you, though without reward; the task I would impose will not take you a minute.”

He then threw himself back in his chair, and seemed to fall into a doze.

The dressing-bell rang; Strahan put away the plans — indeed, they were now pretty well finished and decided on. Margrave woke up as our host left the room to dress, and drawing me towards another table in the room, placed before me one of his favourite mystic books, and, pointing to an old woodcut, said,

“I will ask you to copy this for me; it pretends to be a facsimile of Solomon’s famous seal. I have a whimsical desire to have a copy of it. You observe two triangles interlaced and inserted in a circle? — the pentacle, in short. Yes, just so. You need not add the astrological characters: they are the senseless superfluous accessories of the dreamer who wrote the book. But the pentacle itself has an intelligible meaning; it belongs to the only universal language, the language of symbol, in which all races that think — around, and above, and below us — can establish communion of thought. If in the external universe any one constructive principle can be detected, it is the geometrical; and in every part of the world in which magic pretends to a written character, I find that its hieroglyphics are geometrical figures. Is it not laughable that the most positive of all the sciences should thus lend its angles and circles to the use of — what shall I call it? — the ignorance? — ay, that is the word — the ignorance of dealers in magic?”

He took up the paper, on which I had hastily described the triangles and the circle, and left the room, chanting the serpent-charmer’s song.

25 The following description of a stone at Corfu, celebrated as an antidote to the venom of the serpent’s bite, was given to me by an eminent scholar and legal functionary in that island:—

DESCRIPTION of THE BLUESTONE. — This stone is of an oval shape 1 2/10 in. long, 7/10 broad, 3/10 thick, and, having been broken formerly, is now set in gold.

When a person is bitten by a poisonous snake, the bite must be opened by a cut of a lancet or razor longways, and the stone applied within twenty-four hours. The stone then attaches itself firmly on the wound, and when it has done its office falls off; the cure is then complete. The stone must then be thrown into milk, whereupon it vomits the poison it has absorbed, which remains green on the top of the milk, and the stone is then again fit for use.

This stone has been from time immemorial in the family of Ventura, of Corfu, a house of Italian origin, and is notorious, so that peasants immediately apply for its aid. Its virtue has not been impaired by the fracture. Its nature or composition is unknown.

In a case where two were stung at the same time by serpents, the stone was applied to one, who recovered; but the other, for whom it could not be used, died.

It never failed but once, and then it was applied after the twenty-four hours.

Its colour is so dark as not to be distinguished from black.

P. M. COLQUHOUN.

Corfu, 7th Nov., 1860.

Sir Emerson Tennent, in his popular and excellent work on Ceylon, gives an account of “snake stones” apparently similar to the one at Corfu, except that they are “intensely black and highly polished,” and which are applied, in much the same manner, to the wounds inflicted by the cobra-capella.

QUERY.-Might it not be worth while to ascertain the chemical properties of these stones, and, if they be efficacious in the extraction of venom conveyed by a bite, might they not be as successful if applied to the bite of a mad dog as to that of a cobra-capella?

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31