Colonel Rankin's Lancers


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 21, 1861

You are viewing a page from the original December 21, 1861 Harper's Weekly newspapers. We have posted our entire Harper's Weekly collection online for your study and research. These old documents allow you to gain unique insight into the critical aspects of this important period of American History.


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Beaufort Slaves

Beaufort Contrabands

Cost of the Civil War

Fugitive Slaves

Fugitive Slave Issue

New York Mayor Opdyke

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Ericsson Battery

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Rankin's Lancer Regiment

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Slavery Cartoon

Battle of Hunter's Mill

Battle of Hunter's Mill

San Juan Vera Cruz

Castle San Juan D'ulloa

US Man of War

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Homer's Bivouac Fire on the Potomac

Homer's Bivouac Fire



DECEMBER 21, 1861.]



than (one person has told me that you are looking ill and jaded So you are ! And the town now is hot and unhealthy. You must come to Derval Court for a week or so. You can ride into town every day to see your patients. Don't refuse. Margrave, who is still with me, sends all kind messages, and bade me say that he entreats you to come to the house at which he also is a guest !"

I started. What had the Scin-Laeca required of me, and obtained to that condition my promise ? "If you are asked to the house at which I also am a guest, you will come ; you will meet and converse with me as guest speaks to guest in the house of a host !" Was this one of the coincidences which my reason was bound to accept as coincidences and nothing more ? Tut, tut ! Was I returning again to my "hallucinations?" Granting that Faber and common sense were in the right, what was this Margrave? A man to whose friendship, acuteness, and energy I was under the deepest obligations ; to whom I was indebted for active services that had saved my life from a serious danger, acquitted my honor of a horrible suspicion. "I thank you," I said to Strahan, "I will come; not, indeed, for a week, but, at all events, for a day or two."

"That's right ; I will call for you in the carriage at six o'clock. You will have done your day's work by then!"

"Yes, I will so arrange."

On our way to Derval Court that evening Strahan talked much about Margrave, of whom, nevertheless, he seemed to be growing weary.

"His high spirits are too much for one," said he; "and then so restless—so incapable of sustained quiet conversation. And, clever though he is, he can't help me in the least about the new house I shall build. He has no notion of construction. I don't think he could build a barn."

"I thought you did not like to demolish the old house, and would content yourself with pulling down the more ancient part of it ?"

"'True. At first it seemed a pity to destroy so handsome a mansion ; but you see, since poor Sir Philip's manuscript, on which he set such store, has been too mutilated, I fear, to allow me to effect his wish with regard to it, I think I ought at least scrupulously to obey his other whims. And, besides—I don't know—there are odd noises about the old house. I don't believe in haunted houses, still there is something dreary in strange sounds at the dead of night, even if made by rats, or winds through decaying rafters. You, I remember at college, had a taste for architecture, and can draw plans. I wish to follow out Sir Philip's design, but on a smaller scale, and with more attention to comfort."

Thus he continued to run on, satisfied to find me a silent and attentive listener. We arrived at the mansion an hour before sunset, the westering light shining fall against the many windows cased in mouldering pilasters, and making the general dilapidation of the whole place yet more mournfully evident.

It was but a few minutes to the dinner hour. I went up at once to the room appropriated to me—not the one I had before occupied. Strahan had already got together a new establishment. I was glad to find in the servant who attended me an old acquaintance. He had been in my own employ when I first settled at L-, and left me to get married. He and his wife were now both in Strahan's service. He spoke warmly of his new master and his contentment with his situation, while he unpacked my carpet-bag and assisted me to change my dress. But the chief object of his talk and his praise was Mr. Margrave.

" Such a bright young gentleman, like the first fine day in May!"

Margave was always popular with common

people-common people in any class—popular with those who did not see nor converse much with him.

When I came into the dining-room Margrave and Strahan were both there. The former was blithe and genial, as usual, in his welcome. At dinner, and during the whole evening till we retired severally to our own rooms, he was the principal talker ; recounting incidents of travel, always very loosely strung together, jesting, good-humoredly enough, at Strahan's sudden hobby for building, then putting questions to me about mutual acquaintances, but never waiting for an answer, and every now and then, as if at random, startling us with some brilliant aphorism or some suggestion drawn from abstract science or unfamiliar erudition. The whole effect was sparkling, but I could well understand that, if long continued, it would become oppressive. The soul has need of pauses of repose—intervals of escape not only from the flesh, but even from the mind. A man of the loftiest intellect will experience times when mere intellect not only fatigues him, but amidst its most original conceptions, amidst its proudest triumphs, has a something trite and commonplace compared with one of those vague intimations of a spiritual destiny which are not within the ordinary domain of reason ; and, gazing abstractedly into space, will leave suspended some problem of severest thought, or uncompleted some golden palace of imperial poetry, to indulge in hazy reveries that do not differ from those of an innocent, quiet child! The soul has a long road to travel—from time through eternity. It demands its halting hours of contemplation. Contemplation is serene. But with such wants of an immortal immaterial spirit, Margrave had no fellowship, no sympathy ; and for myself, I need scarcely add that the lines I have just traced I should not have written at the date at which my narrative has now arrived.


I HAD no case that necessitated my return to L— the following day. The earlier hours of the forenoon I devoted to Strahan and his building plans. Margrave flitted in and out of the room fitfully as an April sunbeam, sometimes flinging himself on a sofa and reading for a few minutes one of the volumes of the ancient mystics, in which Sir Philip's library was so rich. I remember it was a volume of Proclus. He read that crabbed and semi-barbarous Greek with a fluency that surprised me. " I picked up the ancient Greek," said he, "years ago in learning the modern." But the book soon tired him ; then he would come and disturb us, archly enjoying Strahan's peevishness at interruption; then he would throw open the window and leap down, chanting one of his wild savage airs ; and in another moment he was half hid under the drooping boughs of a broad lime-tree, amidst the antlers of deer that gathered fondly round him, In the afternoon my host was called away to attend some visitors of importance, and I found myself on the sward before the house, right in view of the mausoleum, and alone with Margrave.

I turned my eyes from that dumb House of Death wherein rested the corpse of the last lord of the soil, so strangely murdered, with a strong desire to speak out to Margrave the doubts respecting himself that tortured me. But, setting aside the promise to the contrary, which I had given, or dreamed I had given, to the Luminous Shadow—to fulfill that desire would have been impossible—impossible to any one gazing on that radiant youthful face!—I think I see him now as I saw him then ; a white doe, that even my presence could not scare away from him, stood patiently by his side, looking up at him with her

soft eyes, He stood there like the incarnate principle of mythological sensuous life. I have before applied to him that illustration ; let the repetition be pardoned. Impossible, I repeat it, to say to that creature, face to face, "Art thou the master of demoniac arts and the instigator of secret murder ?" As if from redundant happiness within himself, he was humming, or rather cooing, a strain of music, so sweet, so sweet, so wildly sweet, and so unlike the music one hears from tutored lips in crowded rooms ! I passed my hand over my forehead in bewilderment and awe.

"Are there," I said, unconsciously—"are there, indeed, such prodigies in Nature?"

"Nature!" he cried, catching up the word ; " talk to me of Nature ! Talk of her, the wondrous blissful Mother ! Mother I may well call her. I am her spoiled child, her darling— But oh, to die, ever to die, ever to lose sight of Nature!—to rot, senseless, whether under these turfs or within those dead walls—"

I could not resist the answer :

"Like yon murdered man ! murdered, and by whom ?"

" By whom ? I thought that was clearly proved!"

"'The hand was proved; what influence moved the hand ?"

"'Tush ! the poor wretch spoke of a Demon! Who can tell? Nature herself is a grand destroyer. See that pretty bird, in its beak a writhing worm ! All Nature's children live to take life;* none, indeed, so lavishly as man. What hecatombs slaughtered, not to satisfy the irresistible sting of hunger, but for the wanton ostentation of a feast, which he may scarcely taste, or for the mere sport that he finds in destroying. We speak with dread of the beasts of prey ; what beast of prey is so dire a ravager as man? So cruel and so treacherous? Look at von flock of sheep, bred and fattened for the shambles, and this hind that I caress, when the season comes, were I the park-keeper, should I refuse to shoot her because of the caress ?"

"It is true," said I, "a grim truth. Nature, on the surface so loving and so gentle, is full of terror in her deeps when our thought descends into their abyss !"

Strahan now joined us with a party of country visitors.

" Margrave is the man to show you the beauties of this park," said he " Margrave knows every bosk and dingle, twisted old thorn-tree, or opening glade, in its intricate, undulating ground."

Margrave seemed delighted at this proposition, and as he led us through the park, though the way was long, though the sun was fierce, no one seemed fatigued. For the pleasure he felt in pointing out detached beauties which escaped an ordinary eye was contagious. He did not talk as talks the poet or the painter; but at some lovely effect of light among the tremulous leaves, some sudden glimpse of a sportive rivulet below, he would halt, point it out to us in silence, and with a kind of childlike ecstasy in his own bright face that seemed to reflect the life and the bliss of the blithe summer-day itself.

Thus seen, all my doubts in his dark secret nature faded away ; all my horror, all my hate; it was impossible to resist the charm that breathed round him, not to feel a tender, affectionate yearning toward him as to some fair, happy child. Well might he call himself the Darling of Nature ! Was he not the mysterious likeness of that awful Mother, beautiful as Apollo in one aspect, direful as Typhoon in another ?


"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, of Margrave's is worth looking at. He 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 till 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 can not tell you its name," said Margrave ; "but it is said to cure the bite of serpents,*

* May I be pardoned, since Allen Fenwick does not confute, in his reply, the trite fallacy contained in Margrave's remarks on the destroying agency of Nature, if I earnestly commend to the general reader the careful perusal of chapter xiii., page 129, of Dr. Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise (Geology and Mineralogy) on the "Aggregate of animal enjoyment increased and that of pain diminished by the existence of carnivorous races." Nothing to my mind can surpass the terseness and simplicity with which the truth of that proposition is worked out to the vindication of the great drama of universal life.

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 BLUE STONE.—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 long ways, 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, where-upon 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 are unknown.

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 re-entered 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 en the mantle-piece. 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 will 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 toward another table in the room, placed before me one of his favorite mystic books, and, pointing to an old wood-cut, said,

"I will ask you to copy this for me ; it pretends to be a fac-simile 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 hook. 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 that principle in which consists the most positive of all the sciences, viz., 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 went out of the room, chanting the serpent-charmer's song.


 WE publish on page 805 an illustration of COLONEL RANKIN'S REGIMENT OF LANCERS, now in quarters at Detroit, Michigan, from a sketch kindly sent us by Mr. B. R. Erman. This is the regiment about which the Canadian authorities have made such a noise, and on account of which Colonel Rankin has been dismissed from the Canadian militia. It is to be 1600 strong, armed and equipped like the 16th Regiment of British Lancers. The principal weapon used will be the lance, whose haft will be 15 feet long, and the blade 11 inches. It is held upright when marching, the end resting on a portion of the stirrup. In charging, it is thrust forward so as to project considerably beyond the horse's head, the haft being attached to the rider's arm by a strong cord. In addition to the lance, each man will be provided with sabre rifle, and pistol. The lance is known as "la reine des armes blanches," and well-drilled regiments of lancers have always been deemed very formidable in the field. It is understood that Colonel Rankin's Regiment will be incorporated into the Regular army, and will be retained in service after the war. It is to take the field during the present month.

The French Lancers have always been considered the flower of their cavalry. The men are the tallest and finest in the service, the horses equal to those of the famous cuirassiers. It is understood that General McClellan, during his tour of inspection in Europe, was much impressed with the value of lancers as an adjunct to other cavalry, and recommended the adoption of the weapon by our War Department. Colonel Rankin's regiment is the first-fruit of this opinion; and from all that we hear about it is likely to give a good account of itself, and make the old cavalry regiments look to their fame.

"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 color is so dark as not to be distinguished from black.   P. M. COLQUHOUN.

"CORFU, 7th Nov., 1860."

Sir Emerson Tennant, 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 capello.

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 that of a cobra capello?





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