The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe


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1843
THE GOLD-BUG
by Edgar Allan Poe

What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad!
He hath been bitten by the Tarantula.
All in the Wrong.

MANY years ago, I contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand.
He was of an ancient Huguenot family, and had once been wealthy; but a
series of misfortunes had reduced him to want. To avoid the
mortification consequent upon his disasters, he left New Orleans,
the city of his forefathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan’s
Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.
This Island is a very singular one. It consists of little else
than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no
point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the main
land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a
wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The
vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No
trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity,
where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame
buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston
dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the
whole island, with the exception of this western point, and a line
of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense
undergrowth of the sweet myrtle, so much prized by the horticulturists
of England. The shrub here often attains the height of fifteen or
twenty feet, and forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burthening
the air with its fragrance.
In the inmost recesses of this coppice, not far from the eastern
or more remote end of the island, Legrand had built himself a small
hut, which he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his
acquaintance. This soon ripened into friendship –for there was much
in the recluse to excite interest and esteem. I found him well
educated, with unusual powers of mind, but infected with
misanthropy, and subject to perverse moods of alternate enthusiasm and
melancholy. He had with him many books, but rarely employed them.
His chief amusements were gunning and fishing, or sauntering along the
beach and through the myrtles, in quest of shells or entomological
specimens;-his collection of the latter might have been envied by a
Swammerdamm. In these excursions he was usually accompanied by an
old negro, called Jupiter, who had been manumitted before the reverses
of the family, but who could be induced, neither by threats nor by
promises, to abandon what he considered his right of attendance upon
the footsteps of his young “Massa Will.” It is not improbable that the
relatives of Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in
intellect, had contrived to instil this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a
view to the supervision and guardianship of the wanderer.
The winters in the latitude of Sullivan’s Island are seldom very
severe, and in the fall of the year it is a rare event indeed when a
fire is considered necessary. About the middle of October, 18–, there
occurred, however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just before
sunset I scrambled my way through the evergreens to the hut of my
friend, whom I had not visited for several weeks –my residence being,
at that time, in Charleston, a distance of nine my miles from the
Island, while the facilities of passage and re-passage were very far
behind those of the present day. Upon reaching the hut I rapped, as
was my custom, and getting no reply, sought for the key where I knew
it was secreted, unlocked the door and went in. A fine fire was
blazing upon the hearth. It was a novelty, and by no means an
ungrateful one. I threw off an overcoat, took an arm-chair by the
crackling logs, and awaited patiently the arrival of my hosts.
Soon after dark they arrived, and gave me a most cordial welcome.
Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear, bustled about to prepare some
marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his fits –how else shall
I term them? –of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown bivalve, forming
a new genus, and, more than this, he had hunted down and secured, with
Jupiter’s assistance, a scarabaeus which he believed to be totally
new, but in respect to which he wished to have my opinion on the
morrow.
“And why not to-night?” I asked, rubbing my hands over the blaze,
and wishing the whole tribe of scarabaei at the devil.
“Ah, if I had only known you were here!” said Legrand, “but it’s
so long since I saw you; and how could I foresee that you would pay me
a visit this very night of all others? As I was coming home I met
Lieutenant G–, from the fort, and, very foolishly, I lent him the
bug; so it will be impossible for you to see it until morning. Stay
here to-night, and I will send Jup down for it at sunrise. It is the
loveliest thing in creation!”
“What? –sunrise?”
“Nonsense! no! –the bug. It is of a brilliant gold color –about
the size of a large hickory-nut –with two jet black spots near one
extremity of the back, and another, somewhat longer, at the other. The
antennae are –”
“Dey aint no tin in him, Massa Will, I keep a tellin on you,” here
interrupted Jupiter; “de bug is a goole bug, solid, ebery bit of
him, inside and all, sep him wing –neber feel half so hebby a bug
in my life.”
“Well, suppose it is, Jup,” replied Legrand, somewhat more
earnestly, it seemed to me, than the case demanded, “is that any
reason for your letting the birds burn? The color” –here he turned to
me –“is really almost enough to warrant Jupiter’s idea. You never saw
a more brilliant metallic lustre than the scales emit –but of this
you cannot judge till tomorrow. In the mean time I can give you some
idea of the shape.” Saying this, he seated himself at a small table,
on which were a pen and ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a
drawer, but found none.
“Never mind,” said he at length, “this will answer”; and he drew
from his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty
foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. While he
did this, I retained my seat by the fire, for I was still chilly. When
the design was complete, he handed it to me without rising. As I
received it, a loud growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at
the door. Jupiter opened it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to
Legrand, rushed in, leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with
caresses; for I had shown him much attention during previous visits.
When his gambols were over, I looked at the paper, and, to speak the
truth, found myself not a little puzzled at what my friend had
depicted.
“Well!” I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, “this is
a strange scarabaeus, I must confess: new to me: never saw anything
like it before –unless it was a skull, or a death’s-head –which it
more nearly resembles than anything else that has come under my
observation.”
“A death’s-head!” echoed Legrand –“Oh –yes –well, it has
something of that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black
spots look like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a
mouth –and then the shape of the whole is oval.”
“Perhaps so,” said I; “but, Legrand, I fear you are no artist. I
must wait until I see the beetle itself, if I am to form any idea of
its personal appearance.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said he, a little nettled, “I draw tolerably
–should do it at least –have had good masters, and flatter myself
that I am not quite a blockhead.”
“But, my dear fellow, you are joking then,” said I, “this is a
very passable skull –indeed, I may say that it is a very excellent
skull, according to the vulgar notions about such specimens of
physiology –and your scarabaeus must be the queerest scarabaeus in
the world if it resembles it. Why, we may get up a very thrilling
bit of superstition upon this hint. I presume you will call the bug
scarabaeus caput hominis, or something of that kind –there are many
titles in the Natural Histories. But where are the antennae you
spoke of?”
“The antennae!” said Legrand, who seemed to be getting unaccountably
warm upon the subject; “I am sure you must see the antennae. I made
them as distinct as they are in the original insect, and I presume
that is sufficient.”
“Well, well,” I said, “perhaps you have –still I don’t see them;”
and I handed him the paper without additional remark, not wishing to
ruffle his temper; but I was much surprised at the turn affairs had
taken; his ill humor puzzled me –and, as for the drawing of the
beetle, there were positively no antennae visible, and the whole did
bear a very close resemblance to the ordinary cuts of a death’s-head.
He received the paper very peevishly, and was about to crumple it,
apparently to throw it in the fire, when a casual glance at the design
seemed suddenly to rivet his attention. In an instant his face grew
violently red –in another as excessively pale. For some minutes he
continued to scrutinize the drawing minutely where he sat. At length
he arose, took a candle from the table, and proceeded to seat
himself upon a sea-chest in the farthest corner of the room. Here
again he made an anxious examination of the paper; turning it in all
directions. He said nothing, however, and his conduct greatly
astonished me; yet I thought it prudent not to exacerbate the
growing moodiness of his temper by any comment. Presently he took from
his coat pocket a wallet, placed the paper carefully in it, and
deposited both in a writing-desk, which he locked. He now grew more
composed in his demeanor; but his original air of enthusiasm had quite
disappeared. Yet he seemed not so much sulky as abstracted. As the
evening wore away he became more and more absorbed in reverie, from
which no sallies of mine could arouse him. It had been my to pass
the night at the hut, as I had frequently done before, but, seeing
my host in this mood, I deemed it proper to take leave. He did not
press me to remain, but, as I departed, he shook my hand with even
more than his usual cordiality.
It was about a month after this (and during the interval I had
seen nothing of Legrand) when I received a visit, at Charleston,
from his man, Jupiter. I had never seen the good old negro look so
dispirited, and I feared that some serious disaster had befallen my
friend.
“Well, Jup,” said I, “what is the matter now? –how is your master?”
“Why, to speak de troof, massa, him not so berry well as mought be.”
“Not well! I am truly sorry to hear it. What does he complain of?”
Dar! dat’s it! –him neber plain of notin –but him berry sick for
all dat.”
“Very sick, Jupiter! –why didn’t you say so at once? Is he confined
to bed?”
“No, dat he ain’t! –he ain’t find nowhar –dat’s just whar de
shoe pinch –my mind is got to be berry hebby bout poor Massa Will.”
“Jupiter, I should like to understand what it is you are talking
about. You say your master is sick. Hasn’t he told you what ails him?”
“Why, massa, taint worf while for to git mad bout de matter
–Massa Will say noffin at all ain’t de matter wid him –but den
what make him go about looking dis here way, wid he head down and he
soldiers up, and as white as a gose? And den he keep a syphon all de
time –”
“Keeps a what, Jupiter?”
“Keeps a syphon wid de figgurs on de slate –de queerest figgurs I
ebber did see. Ise gittin to be skeered, I tell you. Hab for to keep
mighty tight eye pon him noovers. Todder day he gib me slip fore de
sun up and was gone de whole ob de blessed day. I had a big stick
ready cut for to gib him d–d good beating when he did come –but
Ise sich a fool dat I hadn’t de heart arter all –he look so berry
poorly.”
“Eh? –what? –ah yes! –upon the whole I think you had better not
be too severe with the poor fellow –don’t flog him, Jupiter –he
can’t very well stand it –but can you form no idea of what has
occasioned this illness, or rather this change of conduct? Has
anything unpleasant happened since I saw you?”
“No, massa, dey ain’t bin noffin onpleasant since den –‘t was
fore den I’m feared –‘t was de berry day you was dare.”
“How? what do you mean?”
“Why, massa, I mean de bug –dare now.”
“The what?”
“De bug –I’m berry sartain dat Massa Will bin bit somewhere bout de
head by dat goole-bug.”
“And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition?”
“Claws enoff, massa, and mouff too. I nabber did see sich a d–d bug
–he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will cotch
him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick, I tell you –den
was de time he must ha got de bite. I didn’t like de look ob de bug
mouff, myself, no how, so I wouldn’t take hold ob him wid my finger,
but I cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him up in de
paper and stuff piece ob it in he mouff –dat was de way.”
“And you think, then, that your master was really bitten by the
beetle, and that the bite made him sick?”
“I don’t tink noffin about it –I nose it. What make him dream
bout de goole so much, if tain’t cause he bit by de goole-bug? Ise
heerd bout dem goole-bugs fore dis.”
“But how do you know he dreams about gold?”
“How I know? why cause he talk about it in he sleep –dat’s how I
nose.”
“Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate
circumstance am I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-day?”
“What de matter, massa?”
“Did you bring any message from Mr. Legrand?”
“No, massa, I bring dis here pissel;” and here Jupiter handed me a
note which ran thus:
My DEAR —
Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope you have not been
so foolish as to take offence at any little brusquerie of mine; but
no, that is improbable.
Since I saw you I have had great cause for anxiety. I have something
to tell you, yet scarcely know how to tell it, or whether I should
tell it at all.
I have not been quite well for some days past, and poor old Jup
annoys me, almost beyond endurance, by his well-meant attentions.
Would you believe it? –he had prepared a huge stick, the other day,
with which to chastise me for giving him the slip, and spending the
day, solus, among the hills on the main land. I verily believe that my
ill looks alone saved me a flogging.
I have made no addition to my cabinet since we met.
If you can, in any way, make it convenient, come over with
Jupiter. Do come. I wish to see you tonight, upon business of
importance. I assure you that it is of the highest importance.
Ever yours,
WILLIAM LEGRAND.

There was something in the tone of this note which gave me great
uneasiness. Its whole style differed materially from that of
Legrand. What could he be dreaming of? What new crotchet possessed his
excitable brain? What “business of the highest importance” could he
possibly have to transact? Jupiter’s account of him boded no good. I
dreaded lest the continued pressure of misfortune had, at length,
fairly unsettled the reason of my friend. Without a moment’s
hesitation, therefore, I prepared to accompany the negro.
Upon reaching the wharf, I noticed a scythe and three spades, all
apparently new, lying in the bottom of the boat in which we were to
embark.
“What is the meaning of all this, Jup?” I inquired.
“Him syfe, massa, and spade.”
“Very true; but what are they doing here?”
“Him de syfe and de spade what Massa Will sis pon my buying for
him in de town, and de debbil’s own lot of money I had to gib for em.”
But what, in the name of all that is mysterious, is your ‘Massa
Will’ going to do with scythes and spades?”
“Dat’s more dan I know, and debbil take me if I don’t blieve ’tis
more dan he know, too. But it’s all cum ob de bug.”
Finding that no satisfaction was to be obtained of Jupiter, whose
whole intellect seemed to be absorbed by “de bug,” I now stepped
into the boat and made sail. With a fair and strong breeze we soon ran
into the little cove to the northward of Fort Moultrie, and a walk
of some two miles brought us to the hut. It was about three in the
afternoon when we arrived. Legrand had been awaiting us in eager
expectation. He grasped my hand with a nervous empressement which
alarmed me and strengthened the suspicions already entertained. His
countenance was pale even to ghastliness, and his deep-set eyes glared
with unnatural lustre. After some inquiries respecting his health, I
asked him, not knowing what better to say, if he had yet obtained
the scarabaeus from Lieutenant G–.
“Oh, yes,” he replied, coloring violently, “I got it from him the
next morning. Nothing should tempt me to part with that scarabaeus. Do
you know that Jupiter is quite right about it?”
“In what way?” I asked, with a sad foreboding at heart.
“In supposing it to be a bug of real gold.” He said this with an air
of profound seriousness, and I felt inexpressibly shocked.
“This bug is to make my fortune,” he continued, with a triumphant
smile, “to reinstate me in my family possessions. Is it any wonder,
then, that I prize it? Since Fortune has thought fit to bestow it upon
me, I have only to use it properly and I shall arrive at the gold of
which it is the index. Jupiter, bring me that scarabaeus!”
“What! de bug, massa? I’d rudder not go fer trubble dat bug –you
mus git him for your own self.” Hereupon Legrand arose, with a grave
and stately air, and brought me the beetle from a glass case in
which it was enclosed. It was a beautiful scarabaeus, and, at that
time, unknown to naturalists –of course a great prize in a scientific
point of view. There were two round, black spots near one extremity of
the back, and a long one near the other. The scales were exceedingly
hard and glossy, with all the appearance of burnished gold. The weight
of the insect was very remarkable, and, taking all things into
consideration, I could hardly blame Jupiter for his opinion respecting
it; but what to make of Legrand’s agreement with that opinion, I could
not, for the life of me, tell.
“I sent for you,” said he, in a grandiloquent tone, when I had
completed my examination of the beetle, “I sent for you, that I
might have your counsel and assistance in furthering the views of Fate
and of the bug”–
“My dear Legrand,” I cried, interrupting him, “you are certainly
unwell, and had better use some little precautions. You shall go to
bed, and I will remain with you a few days, until you get over this.
You are feverish and”–
“Feel my pulse,” said he.
I felt it, and, to say the truth, found not the slightest indication
of fever.
“But you may be ill and yet have no fever. Allow me this once to
prescribe for you. In the first place, go to bed. In the next”–
“You are mistaken,” he interposed, “I am as well as I can expect
to be under the excitement which I suffer. If you really wish me well,
you will relieve this excitement.”
“And how is this to be done?”
“Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an expedition into
the hills, upon the main land, and, in this expedition, we shall
need the aid of some person in whom we can confide. You are the only
one we can trust. Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which you
now perceive in me will be equally allayed.”
“I am anxious to oblige you in any way,” I replied; “but do you mean
to say that this infernal beetle has any connection with your
expedition into the hills?”
“It has.”
“Then, Legrand, I can become a party to no such absurd proceeding.
“I am sorry –very sorry –for we shall have to try it by
ourselves.”
“Try it by yourselves! The man is surely mad! –but stay! –how long
do you propose to be absent?”
“Probably all night. We shall start immediately, and be back, at all
events, by sunrise.”
“And will you promise me, upon your honor, that when this freak of
yours is over, and the bug business (good God!) settled to your
satisfaction, you will then return home and follow my advice
implicitly, as that of your physician?”
“Yes; I promise; and now let us be off, for we have no time to
lose.”
With a heavy heart I accompanied my friend. We started about four
o’clock –Legrand, Jupiter, the dog, and myself. Jupiter had with
him the scythe and spades –the whole of which he insisted upon
carrying –more through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of
the implements within reach of his master, than from any excess of
industry or complaisance. His demeanor was dogged in the extreme,
and “dat d–d bug” were the sole words which escaped his lips during
the journey. For my own part, I had charge of a couple of dark
lanterns, while Legrand contented himself with the scarabaeus, which
he carried attached to the end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to
and fro, with the air of a conjuror, as he went. When I observed
this last, plain evidence of my friend’s aberration of mind, I could
scarcely refrain from tears. I thought it best, however, to humor
his fancy, at least for the present, or until I could adopt some
more energetic measures with a chance of success. In the mean time I
endeavored, but all in vain, to sound him in regard to the object of
the expedition. Having succeeded in inducing me to accompany him, he
seemed unwilling to hold conversation upon any topic of minor
importance, and to all my questions vouchsafed no other reply than “we
shall see!”
We crossed the creek at the head of the island by means of a
skiff, and, ascending the high grounds on the shore of the mainland,
proceeded in a northwesterly direction, through a tract of country
excessively wild and desolate, where no trace of a human footstep
was to be seen. Legrand led the way with decision; pausing only for an
instant, here and there, to consult what appeared to be certain
landmarks of his own contrivance upon a former occasion.
In this manner we journeyed for about two hours, and the sun was
just setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary than
any yet seen. It was a species of table land, near the summit of an
almost inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and
interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the
soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves
into the valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against
which they reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an
air of still sterner solemnity to the scene.
The natural platform to which we had clambered was thickly overgrown
with brambles, through which we soon discovered that it would have
been impossible to force our way but for the scythe; and Jupiter, by
direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the
foot of an enormously tall tulip-tree, which stood, with some eight or
ten oaks, upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other
trees which I had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage and
form, in the wide spread of its branches, and in the general majesty
of its appearance. When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to
Jupiter, and asked him if he thought he could climb it. The old man
seemed a little staggered by the question, and for some moments made
no reply. At length he approached the huge trunk, walked slowly around
it, and examined it with minute attention. When he had completed his
scrutiny, he merely said,
“Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he ebber see in he life.”
“Then up with you as soon as possible, for it will soon be too
dark to see what we are about.”
“How far mus go up, massa?” inquired Jupiter.
“Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way
to go –and here –stop! take this beetle with you.”
“De bug, Massa Will! –de goole bug!” cried the negro, drawing
back in dismay –“what for mus tote de bug way up de tree? –d–n if I
do!”
“If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you, to take hold of
a harmless little dead beetle, why you can carry it up by this
string –but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I shall
be under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel.”
“What de matter now, massa?” said Jup, evidently shamed into
compliance; “always want for to raise fuss wid old nigger. Was only
funnin’ anyhow. Me feered de bug! what I keer for de bug?” Here he
took cautiously hold of the extreme end of the string, and,
maintaining the insect as far from his person as circumstances would
permit, prepared to ascend the tree.
In youth, the tulip-tree, or Liriodendron Tulipiferum, the most
magnificent of American foresters, has a trunk peculiarly smooth,
and often rises to a great height without lateral branches; but, in
its riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short
limbs make their appearance on the stem. Thus the difficulty of
ascension, in the present case, lay more in semblance than in reality.
Embracing the huge cylinder, as closely as possible, with his arms and
knees, seizing with his hands some projections, and resting his
naked toes upon others, Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes
from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork,
and seemed to consider the whole business as virtually accomplished.
The risk of the achievement was, in fact, now over, although the
climber was some sixty or seventy feet from the ground.
“Which way mus go now, Massa Will?” he asked.
Keep up the largest branch –the one on this side,” said Legrand.
The negro obeyed him promptly, and apparently with but little trouble;
ascending higher and higher, until no glimpse of his squat figure
could be obtained through the dense foliage which enveloped it.
Presently his voice was heard in a sort of halloo.
“How much fudder is got for go?”
“How high up are you?” asked Legrand.
“Ebber so fur,” replied the negro; “can see de sky fru de top ob
de tree.”
“Never mind the sky, but attend to what I say. Look down the trunk
and count the limbs below you on this side. How many limbs have you
passed?”
“One, two, tree, four, fibe –I done pass fibe big limb, massa, ‘pon
dis side.”
“Then go one limb higher.”
In a few minutes the voice was heard again, announcing that the
seventh limb was attained.
“Now, Jup,” cried Legrand, evidently much excited, “I want you to
work your way out upon that limb as far as you can. If you see
anything strange, let me know.”
By this time what little doubt I might have entertained of my poor
friend’s insanity, was put finally at rest. I had no alternative but
to conclude him stricken with lunacy, and I became seriously anxious
about getting him home. While I was pondering upon what was best to be
done, Jupiter’s voice was again heard.
“Mos’ feerd for to ventur ‘pon dis limb berry far –’tis dead limb
putty much all de way.”
“Did you say it was a dead limb, Jupiter?” cried Legrand in a
quavering voice.
“Yes, massa, him dead as de door-nail –done up for sartain –done
departed dis here life.”
“What in the name of heaven shall I do?” asked Legrand, seemingly in
the greatest distress.
“Do!” said I, glad of an opportunity to interpose a word, “why
come home and go to bed. Come now! –that’s a fine fellow. It’s
getting late, and, besides, you remember your promise.”
“Jupiter,” cried he, without heeding me in the least, “do you hear
me?”
“Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain.”
“Try the wood well, then, with your knife, and see if you think it
very rotten.”
“Him rotten, massa, sure nuff,” replied the negro in a few
moments, “but not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought ventur out
leetle way pon de limb by myself, dat’s true.”
“By yourself! –what do you mean?”
“Why I mean de bug. ‘Tis berry hebby bug. Spose I drop him down
fuss, and den de limb won’t break wid just de weight ob one nigger.”
“You infernal scoundrel!” cried Legrand, apparently much relieved,
“what do you mean by telling me such nonsense as that? As sure as
you let that beetle fall! –I’ll break your neck. Look here,
Jupiter! do you hear me?”
“Yes, massa, needn’t hollo at poor nigger dat style.”
“Well! now listen! –if you will venture out on the limb as far as
you think safe, and not let go the beetle, I’ll make you a present
of a silver dollar as soon as you get down.”
“I’m gwine, Massa Will –deed I is,” replied the negro very promptly
–“mos out to the eend now.”
“Out to the end!” here fairly screamed Legrand, “do you say you
are out to the end of that limb?”
“Soon be to de eend, massa, –o-o-o-o-oh! Lor-gol-a-marcy! what is
dis here pon de tree?”
“Well!” cried Legrand, highly delighted, “what is it?”
“Why taint noffin but a skull –somebody bin lef him head up de
tree, and de crows done gobble ebery bit ob de meat off.”
“A skull, you say! –very well! –how is it fastened to the limb?
–what holds it on?”
“Sure nuff, massa; mus look. Why dis berry curous sarcumstance,
pon my word –dare’s a great big nail in de skull, what fastens ob
it on to de tree.”
“Well now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you –do you hear?”
“Yes, massa.”
“Pay attention, then! –find the left eye of the skull.”
“Hum! hoo! dat’s good! why dar ain’t no eye lef’ at all.”
“Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand from your left?”
“Yes, I nose dat –nose all bout dat –’tis my left hand what I
chops de wood wid.”
“To be sure! you are left-handed; and your left eye is on the same
side as your left hand. Now, I suppose, you can find the left eye of
the skull, or the place where the left eye has been. Have you found
it?”
Here was a long pause. At length the negro asked,
“Is de lef’ eye of de skull pon de same side as de lef’ hand of de
skull, too? –cause de skull ain’t got not a bit ob a hand at all
–nebber mind! I got de lef’ eye now –here de lef’ eye! what mus do
wid it?”
“Let the beetle drop through it, as far as the string will reach
–but be careful and not let go your hold of the string.”
“All dat done, Massa Will; mighty easy ting for to put de bug fru de
hole –look out for him dar below?”
During this colloquy no portion of Jupiter’s person could be seen;
but the beetle, which he had suffered to descend, was now visible at
the end of the string, and glistened, like a globe of burnished
gold, in the last rays of the setting sun, some of which still faintly
illumined the eminence upon which we stood. The scarabaeus hung
quite clear of any branches, and, if allowed to fall, would have
fallen at our feet. Legrand immediately took the scythe, and cleared
with it a circular space, three or four yards in diameter, just
beneath the insect, and, having accomplished this, ordered Jupiter
to let go the string and come down from the tree.
Driving a peg, with great nicety, into the ground, at the precise
spot where the beetle fell, my friend now produced from his pocket a
tape-measure. Fastening one end of this at that point of the trunk
of the tree which was nearest the peg, he unrolled it till it
reached the peg, and thence farther unrolled it, in the direction
already established by the two points of the tree and the peg, for the
distance of fifty feet –Jupiter clearing away the brambles with the
scythe. At the spot thus attained a second peg was driven, and about
this, as a centre, a rude circle, about four feet in diameter,
described. Taking now a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and
one to me, Legrand begged us to set about one to digging as quickly as
possible.
To speak the truth, I had no especial relish for such amusement at
any time, and, at that particular moment, would most willingly have
declined it; for the night was coming on, and I felt much fatigued
with the exercise already taken; but I saw no mode of escape, and
was fearful of disturbing my poor friend’s equanimity by a refusal.
Could I have depended, indeed, upon Jupiter’s aid, I would have had no
hesitation in attempting to get the lunatic home by force; but I was
too well assured of the old negro’s disposition, to hope that he would
assist me, under any circumstances, in a personal contest with his
master. I made no doubt that the latter had been infected with some of
the innumerable Southern superstitions about money buried, and that
his phantasy had received confirmation by the finding of the
scarabaeus, or, perhaps, by Jupiter’s obstinacy in maintaining it to
be “a bug of real gold.” A mind disposed to lunacy would readily be
led away by such suggestions –especially if chiming in with
favorite preconceived ideas –and then I called to mind the poor
fellow’s speech about the beetle’s being “the index of his fortune.”
Upon the whole, I was sadly vexed and puzzled, but, at length, I
concluded to make a virtue of necessity –to dig with a good will, and
thus the sooner to convince the visionary, by ocular demonstration, of
the fallacy of the opinions he entertained.
The lanterns having been lit, we all fell to work with a zeal worthy
a more rational cause; and, as the glare fell upon our persons and
implements, I could not help thinking how picturesque a group we
composed, and how strange and suspicious our labors must have appeared
to any interloper who, by chance, might have stumbled upon our
whereabouts.
We dug very steadily for two hours. Little was said; and our chief
embarrassment lay in the yelpings of the dog, who took exceeding
interest in our proceedings. He, at length, became so obstreperous
that we grew fearful of his giving the alarm to some stragglers in the
vicinity; –or, rather, this was the apprehension of Legrand; –for
myself, I should have rejoiced at any interruption which might have
enabled me to get the wanderer home. The noise was, at length, very
effectually silenced by Jupiter, who, getting out of the hole with a
dogged air of deliberation, tied the brute’s mouth up with one of
his suspenders, and then returned, with a grave chuckle, to his task.
When the time mentioned had expired, we had reached a depth of
five feet, and yet no signs of any treasure became manifest. A general
pause ensued, and I began to hope that the farce was at an end.
Legrand, however, although evidently much disconcerted, wiped his brow
thoughtfully and recommenced. We had excavated the entire circle of
four feet diameter, and now we slightly enlarged the limit, and went
to the farther depth of two feet. Still nothing appeared. The
gold-seeker, whom I sincerely pitied, at length clambered from the
pit, with the bitterest disappointment imprinted upon every feature,
and proceeded, slowly and reluctantly, to put on his coat, which he
had thrown off at the beginning of his labor. In the mean time I
made no remark. Jupiter, at a signal from his master, began to
gather up his tools. This done, and the dog having been unmuzzled,
we turned in profound silence towards home.
We had taken, perhaps, a dozen steps in this direction, when, with a
loud oath, Legrand strode up to Jupiter, and seized him by the collar.
The astonished negro opened his eyes and mouth to the fullest
extent, let fall the spades, and fell upon his knees.
“You scoundrel,” said Legrand, hissing out the syllables from
between his clenched teeth –“you infernal black villain! –speak, I
tell you! –answer me this instant, without prevarication! which
–which is your left eye?”
“Oh, my golly, Massa Will! ain’t dis here my lef’ eye for
sartain?” roared the terrified Jupiter, placing his hand upon his
right organ of vision, and holding it there with a desperate
pertinacity, as if in immediate dread of his master’s attempt at a
gouge.
“I thought so! –I knew it! –hurrah!” vociferated Legrand,
letting the negro go, and executing a series of curvets and
caracols, much to the astonishment of his valet, who, arising from his
knees, looked, mutely, from his master to myself, and then from myself
to his master.
“Come! we must go back,” said the latter, “the game’s not up yet;”
and he again led the way to the tulip-tree.
“Jupiter,” said he, when we reached its foot, come here! was the
skull nailed to the limb with the face outward, or with the face to
the limb?”
“De face was out, massa, so dat de crows could get at de eyes
good, widout any trouble.”
“Well, then, was it this eye or that through which you let the
beetle fall?” –here Legrand touched each of Jupiter’s eyes.
“‘Twas dis eye, massa –de lef’ eye –jis as you tell me,” and
here it was his right eye that the negro indicated.
“That will do –we must try it again.”
Here my friend, about whose madness I now saw, or fancied that I
saw, certain indications of method, removed the peg which marked the
spot where the beetle fell, to a spot about three inches to the
westward of its former position. Taking, now, the tape-measure from
the nearest point of the trunk to the peg, as before, and continuing
the extension in a straight line to the distance of fifty feet, a spot
was indicated, removed, by several yards, from the point at which we
had been digging.
Around the new position a circle, somewhat larger than in the former
instance, was now described, and we again set to work with the spades.
I was dreadfully weary, but, scarcely understanding what had
occasioned the change in my thoughts, I felt no longer any great
aversion from the labor imposed. I had become most unaccountably
interested –nay, even excited. Perhaps there was something, amid
all the extravagant demeanor of Legrand –some air of forethought,
or of deliberation, which impressed me. I dug eagerly, and now and
then caught myself actually looking, with something that very much
resembled expectation, for the fancied treasure, the vision of which
had demented my unfortunate companion. At a period when such
vagaries of thought most fully possessed me, and when we had been at
work perhaps an hour and a half, we were again interrupted by the
violent howlings of the dog. His uneasiness, in the first instance,
had been, evidently, but the result of playfulness or caprice, but
he now assumed a bitter and serious tone. Upon Jupiter’s again
attempting to muzzle him, he made furious resistance, and, leaping
into the hole, tore up the mould frantically with his claws. In a
few seconds he had uncovered a mass of human bones, forming two
complete skeletons, intermingled with several buttons of metal, and
what appeared to be the dust of decayed woollen. One or two strokes of
a spade upturned the blade of a large Spanish knife, and, as we dug
farther, three or four loose pieces of gold and silver coin came to
light.
At sight of these the joy of Jupiter could scarcely be restrained,
but the countenance of his master wore an air of extreme
disappointment. He urged us, however, to continue our exertions, and
the words were hardly uttered when I stumbled and fell forward, having
caught the toe of my boot in a large ring of iron that lay half buried
in the loose earth.
We now worked in earnest, and never did I pass ten minutes of more
intense excitement. During this interval we had fairly unearthed an
oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation, and
wonderful hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing
process –perhaps that of the Bi-chloride of Mercury. This box was
three feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half
feet deep. It was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron, riveted,
and forming a kind of trellis-work over the whole. On each side of the
chest, near the top, were three rings of iron –six in all –by
means of which a firm hold could be obtained by six persons. Our
utmost united endeavors served only to disturb the coffer very
slightly in its bed. We at once saw the impossibility of removing so
great a weight. Luckily, the sole fastenings of the lid consisted of
two sliding bolts. These we drew back –trembling and panting with
anxiety. In an instant, a treasure of incalculable value lay
gleaming before us. As the rays of the lanterns fell within the pit,
there flashed upwards, from a confused heap of gold and of jewels, a
glow and a glare that absolutely dazzled our eyes.
I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed.
Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared exhausted with
excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter’s countenance wore,
for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in the
nature of things, for any negro’s visage to assume. He seemed
stupefied –thunder-stricken. Presently he fell upon his knees in
the pit, and, burying his naked arms up to the elbows in gold, let
them there remain, as if enjoying the luxury of a bath. At length,
with a deep sigh, he exclaimed, as if in a soliloquy.
“And dis all cum ob de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! de poor little
goole-bug, what I boosed in dat sabage kind ob style! Ain’t you shamed
ob yourself, nigger? –answer me dat!”
It became necessary, at last, that I should arouse both master and
valet to the expediency of removing the treasure. It was growing late,
and it behooved us to make exertion, that we might get every thing
housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done;
and much time was spent in deliberation –so confused were the ideas
of all. We, finally, lightened the box by removing two thirds of its
contents, when we were enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from
the hole. The articles taken out were deposited among the brambles,
and the dog left to guard them, with strict orders from Jupiter
neither, upon any pretence, to stir from the spot, nor to open his
mouth until our return. We then hurriedly made for home with the
chest; reaching the hut in safety, but after excessive toil, at one
o’clock in the morning. Worn out as we were, it was not in human
nature to do more just then. We rested until two, and had supper;
starting for the hills immediately afterwards, armed with three
stout sacks, which, by good luck, were upon the premises. A little
before four we arrived at the pit, divided the remainder of the booty,
as equally as might be, among us, and, leaving the holes unfilled,
again set out for the hut, at which, for the second time, we deposited
our golden burthens, just as the first streaks of the dawn gleamed
from over the tree-tops in the East.
We were now thoroughly broken down; but the intense excitement of
the time denied us repose. After an unquiet slumber of some three or
four hours’ duration, we arose, as if by preconcert, to make
examination of our treasure.
The chest had been full to the brim, and we spent the whole day, and
the greater part of the next night, in a scrutiny of its contents.
There had been nothing like order or arrangement. Every thing had been
heaped in promiscuously. Having assorted all with care, we found
ourselves possessed of even vaster wealth than we had at first
supposed. In coin there was rather more than four hundred and fifty
thousand dollars –estimating the value of the pieces, as accurately
as we could, by the tables of the period. There was not a particle
of silver. All was gold of antique date and of great variety –French,
Spanish, and German money, with a few English guineas, and some
counters, of which we had never seen specimens before. There were
several very large and heavy coins, so worn that we could make nothing
of their inscriptions. There was no American money. The value of the
jewels we found more difficulty in estimating. There were diamonds
–some of them exceedingly large and fine –a hundred and ten in
all, and not one of them small; eighteen rubies of remarkable
brilliancy; –three hundred and ten emeralds, all very beautiful;
and twenty-one sapphires, with an opal. These stones had all been
broken from their settings and thrown loose in the chest. The settings
themselves, which we picked out from among the other gold, appeared to
have been beaten up with hammers, as if to prevent identification.
Besides all this, there was a vast quantity of solid gold ornaments;
–nearly two hundred massive finger and ear rings; –rich chains
–thirty of these, if I remember; –eighty-three very large and
heavy crucifixes; –five gold censers of great value; –a prodigious
golden punch-bowl, ornamented with richly chased vine-leaves and
Bacchanalian figures; with two sword-handles exquisitely embossed, and
many other smaller articles which I cannot recollect. The weight of
these valuables exceeded three hundred and fifty pounds avoirdupois;
and in this estimate I have not included one hundred and
ninety-seven superb gold watches; three of the number being worth each
five hundred dollars, if one. Many of them were very old, and as
time keepers valueless; the works having suffered, more or less,
from corrosion –but all were richly jewelled and in cases of great
worth. We estimated the entire contents of the chest, that night, at a
million and a half of dollars; and, upon the subsequent disposal of
the trinkets and jewels (a few being retained for our own use), it was
found that we had greatly undervalued the treasure.
When, at length, we had concluded our examination, and the intense
excitement of the time had, in some measure, subsided, Legrand, who
saw that I was dying with impatience for a solution of this most
extraordinary riddle, entered into a full detail of all the
circumstances connected with it.
“You remember,” said he, “the night when I handed you the rough
sketch I had made of the scarabaeus. You recollect also, that I became
quite vexed at you for insisting that my drawing resembled a
death’s-head. When you first made this assertion I thought you were
jesting; but afterwards I called to mind the peculiar spots on the
back of the insect, and admitted to myself that your remark had some
little foundation in fact. Still, the sneer at my graphic powers
irritated me –for I am considered a good artist –and, therefore,
when you handed me the scrap of parchment, I was about to crumple it
up and throw it angrily into the fire.”
“The scrap of paper, you mean,” said I.
“No; it had much of the appearance of paper, and at first I supposed
it to be such, but when I came to draw upon it, I discovered it, at
once, to be a piece of very thin parchment. It was quite dirty, you
remember. Well, as I was in the very act of crumpling it up, my glance
fell upon the sketch at which you had been looking, and you may
imagine my astonishment when I perceived, in fact, the figure of a
death’s-head just where, it seemed to me, I had made the drawing of
the beetle. For a moment I was too much amazed to think with accuracy.
I knew that my design was very different in detail from this
–although there was a certain similarity in general outline.
Presently I took a candle, and seating myself at the other end of
the room, proceeded to scrutinize the parchment more closely. Upon
turning it over, I saw my own sketch upon the reverse, just as I had
made it. My first idea, now, was mere surprise at the really
remarkable similarity of outline –at the singular coincidence
involved in the fact, that unknown to me, there should have been a
skull upon the other side of the parchment, immediately beneath my
figure of the scarabaeus and that this skull, not only in outline, but
in size, should so closely resemble my drawing. I say the
singularity of this coincidence absolutely stupefied me for a time.
This is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind struggles to
establish a connection –a sequence of cause and effect –and, being
unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis. But, when I
recovered from this stupor, there dawned upon me gradually a
conviction which startled me even far more than the coincidence. I
began distinctly, positively, to remember that there had been no
drawing on the parchment when I made my sketch of the scarabaeus. I
became perfectly certain of this; for I recollected turning up first
one side and then the other, in search of the cleanest spot. Had the
skull been then there, of course I could not have failed to notice it.
Here was indeed a mystery which I felt it impossible to explain;
but, even at that early moment, there it seemed to glimmer, faintly,
within the most remote and secret chambers of my intellect, a
glow-worm-like conception of that truth which last night’s adventure
brought to so magnificent a demonstration. I arose at once, and
putting the parchment securely away, dismissed all farther
reflection until I should be alone.
“When you had gone, and when Jupiter was fast asleep, I betook
myself to a more methodical investigation of the affair. In the
first place I considered the manner in which the parchment had come
into my possession. The spot where we discovered the scarabaeus was on
the coast of the main land, about a mile eastward of the island, and
but a short distance above high water mark. Upon my taking hold of it,
it gave me a sharp bite, which caused me to let it drop. Jupiter, with
his accustomed caution, before seizing the insect, which had flown
towards him, looked about him for a leaf, or something of that nature,
by which to take hold of it. It was at this moment that his eyes,
and mine also, fell upon the scrap of parchment, which I then supposed
to be paper. It was lying half buried in the sand, a corner sticking
up. Near the spot where we found it, I observed the remnants of the
hull of what appeared to have been a ship’s long boat. The wreck
seemed to have been there for a very great while; for the
resemblance to boat timbers could scarcely be traced.
“Well, Jupiter picked up the parchment, wrapped the beetle in it,
and gave it to me. Soon afterwards we turned to go home, and on the
way met Lieutenant G–. I showed him the insect, and he begged me to
let him take it to the fort. On my consenting, he thrust it
forthwith into his waistcoat pocket, without the parchment in which it
had been wrapped, and which I had continued to hold in my hand
during his inspection. Perhaps he dreaded my changing my mind, and
thought it best to make sure of the prize at once –you know how
enthusiastic he is on all subjects connected with Natural History.
At the same time without being conscious of it, I must have
deposited the parchment in my own pocket.
“You remember that when I went to the table, for the purpose of
making a sketch of the beetle, I found no paper where it was usually
kept. I looked in the drawer, and found none there. I searched my
pockets, hoping to find an old letter –and then my hand fell upon the
parchment. I thus detail the precise mode in which it came into my
possession; for the circumstances impressed me with peculiar force.
“No doubt you will think me fanciful –but I had already established
a kind of connexion. I had put together two links of a great chain.
There was a boat lying on a sea-coast, and not far from the boat was a
parchment –not a paper –with a skull depicted on it. You will, of
course, ask ‘where is the connexion?’ I reply that the skull, or
death’s-head, is the well-known emblem of the pirate. The flag of
the death’s-head is hoisted in all engagements.
“I have said that the scrap was parchment, and not paper.
Parchment is durable –almost imperishable. Matters of little moment
are rarely consigned to parchment; since, for the mere ordinary
purposes of drawing or writing, it is not nearly so well adapted as
paper. This reflection suggested some meaning –some relevancy –in
the death’s-head. I did not fail to observe, also, the form of the
parchment. Although one of its corners had been, by some accident,
destroyed, it could be seen that the original form was oblong. It
was just such a slip, indeed, as might have been chosen for a
memorandum –for a record of something to be long remembered and
carefully preserved.”
“But,” I interposed, “you say that the skull was not upon the
parchment when you made the drawing of the beetle. How then do you
trace any connexion between the boat and the skull –since this
latter, according to your own admission, must have been designed
(God only knows how or by whom) at some period subsequent to your
sketching the scarabaeus?”
“Ah, hereupon turns the whole mystery; although the secret, at
this point, I had comparatively little difficulty in solving. My steps
were sure, and could afford but a single result. I reasoned, for
example, thus: When I drew the scarabaeus, there was no skull apparent
on the parchment. When I had completed the drawing, I gave it to
you, and observed you narrowly until you returned it. You,
therefore, did not design the skull, and no one else was present to do
it. Then it was not done by human agency. And nevertheless it was
done.
“At this stage of my reflections I endeavored to remember, and did
remember, with entire distinctness, every incident which occurred
about the period in question. The weather was chilly (oh rare and
happy accident!), and a fire was blazing on the hearth. I was heated
with exercise and sat near the table. You, however, had drawn a
chair close to the chimney. Just as I placed the parchment in your
hand, and as you were in the act of inspecting it, Wolf, the
Newfoundland, entered, and leaped upon your shoulders. With your
left hand you caressed him and kept him off, while your right, holding
the parchment, was permitted to fall listlessly between your knees,
and in close proximity to the fire. At one moment I thought the
blaze had caught it, and was about to caution you, but, before I could
speak, you had withdrawn it, and were engaged in its examination. When
I considered all these particulars, I doubted not for a moment that
heat had been the agent in bringing to light, on the parchment, the
skull which I saw designed on it. You are well aware that chemical
preparations exist, and have existed time out of mind, by means of
which it is possible to write on either paper or vellum, so that the
characters shall become visible only when subjected to the action of
fire. Zaire, digested in aqua regia, and diluted with four times its
weight of water, is sometimes employed; a green tint results. The
regulus of cobalt, dissolved in spirit of nitre, gives a red. These
colors disappear at longer or shorter intervals after the material
written on cools, but again become apparent upon the re-application of
heat.
“I now scrutinized the death’s-head with care. Its outer edges –the
edges of the drawing nearest the edge of the vellum –were far more
distinct than the others. It was clear that the action of the
caloric had been imperfect or unequal. I immediately kindled a fire,
and subjected every portion of the parchment to a glowing heat. At
first, the only effect was the strengthening of the faint lines in the
skull; but, on persevering in the experiment, there became visible, at
the corner of the slip, diagonally opposite to the spot in which the
death’s-head was delineated, the figure of what I at first supposed to
be a goat. A closer scrutiny, however, satisfied me that it was
intended for a kid.”
“Ha! ha!” said I, “to be sure I have no right to laugh at you –a
million and a half of money is too serious a matter for mirth –but
you are not about to establish a third link in your chain –you will
not find any especial connexion between your pirates and goat
–pirates, you know, have nothing to do with goats; they appertain
to the farming interest.”
“But I have just said that the figure was not that of a goat.”
“Well, a kid then –pretty much the same thing.”
“Pretty much, but not altogether,” said Legrand. “You may have heard
of one Captain Kidd. I at once looked on the figure of the animal as a
kind of punning or hieroglyphical signature. I say signature;
because its position on the vellum suggested this idea. The
death’s-head at the corner diagonally opposite, had, in the same
manner, the air of a stamp, or seal. But I was sorely put out by the
absence of all else –of the body to my imagined instrument –of the
text for my context.”
“I presume you expected to find a letter between the stamp and the
signature.”
“Something of that kind. The fact is, I felt irresistibly
impressed with a presentiment of some vast good fortune impending. I
can scarcely say why. Perhaps, after all, it was rather a desire
than an actual belief; –but do you know that Jupiter’s silly words,
about the bug being of solid gold, had a remarkable effect on my
fancy? And then the series of accidents and coincidences –these
were so very extraordinary. Do you observe how mere an accident it was
that these events should have occurred on the sole day of all the year
in which it has been, or may be, sufficiently cool for fire, and
that without the fire, or without the intervention of the dog at the
precise moment in which he appeared, I should never have become
aware of the death’s-head, and so never the possessor of the
treasure?”
“But proceed –I am all impatience.”
“Well; you have heard, of course, the many stories current –the
thousand vague rumors afloat about money buried, somewhere on the
Atlantic coast, by Kidd and his associates. These rumors must have had
some foundation in fact. And that the rumors have existed so long
and so continuously could have resulted, it appeared to me, only
from the circumstance of the buried treasure still remaining entombed.
Had Kidd concealed his plunder for a time, and afterwards reclaimed
it, the rumors would scarcely have reached us in their present
unvarying form. You will observe that the stories told are all about
money-seekers, not about money-finders. Had the pirate recovered his
money, there the affair would have dropped. It seemed to me that
some accident –say the loss of a memorandum indicating its locality
–had deprived him of the means of recovering it, and that this
accident had become known to is followers, who otherwise might never
have heard that treasure had been concealed at all, and who, busying
themselves in vain, because unguided attempts, to regain it, had given
first birth, and then universal currency, to the reports which are now
so common. Have you ever heard of any important treasure being
unearthed along the coast?”
“Never.”
“But that Kidd’s accumulations were immense, is well known. I took
it for granted, therefore, that the earth still held them; and you
will scarcely be surprised when I tell you that I felt a hope,
nearly amounting to certainty, that the parchment so strangely
found, involved a lost record of the place of deposit.”
“But how did you proceed?”
“I held the vellum again to the fire, after increasing the heat; but
nothing appeared. I now thought it possible that the coating of dirt
might have something to do with the failure; so I carefully rinsed the
parchment by pouring warm water over it, and, having done this, I
placed it in a tin pan, with the skull downwards, and put the pan upon
a furnace of lighted charcoal. In a few minutes, the pan having become
thoroughly heated, I removed the slip, and, to my inexpressible joy,
found it spotted, in several places, with what appeared to be
figures arranged in lines. Again I placed it in the pan, and
suffered it to remain another minute. On taking it off, the whole
was just as you see it now.”
Here Legrand, having re-heated the parchment, submitted It my
inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red
tint, between the death’s-head and the goat:

53++!305))6*;4826)4+.)4+);806*;48!8`60))85;]8*:+*8!83(88)5*!;
46(;88*96*?;8)*+(;485);5*!2:*+(;4956*2(5*-4)8`8*; 4069285);)6
!8)4++;1(+9;48081;8:8+1;48!85;4)485!528806*81(+9;48;(88;4(+?3
4;48)4+;161;:188;+?;

“But,” said I, returning him the slip, “I am as much in the dark as
ever. Were all the jewels of Golconda awaiting me on my solution of
this enigma, I am quite sure that I should be unable to earn them.”
“And yet,” said Legrand, “the solution is by no means so difficult
as you might be led to imagine from the first hasty inspection of
the characters. These characters, as any one might readily guess, form
a cipher –that is to say, they convey a meaning; but then, from
what is known of Kidd, I could not suppose him capable of constructing
any of the more abstruse cryptographs. I made up my mind, at once,
that this was of a simple species –such, however, as would appear, to
the crude intellect of the sailor, absolutely insoluble without the
key.”
“And you really solved it?”
“Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness ten thousand times
greater. Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to
take interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted whether
human ingenuity can construct an enigma of the kind which human
ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve. In fact, having
once established connected and legible characters, I scarcely gave a
thought to the mere difficulty of developing their import.
“In the present case –indeed in all cases of secret writing –the
first question regards the language of the cipher; for the
principles of solution, so far, especially, as the more simple ciphers
are concerned, depend on, and are varied by, the genius of the
particular idiom. In general, there is no alternative but experiment
(directed by probabilities) of every tongue known to him who
attempts the solution, until the true one be attained. But, with the
cipher now before us, all difficulty is removed by the signature.
The pun on the word ‘Kidd’ is appreciable in no other language than
the English. But for this consideration I should have begun my
attempts with the Spanish and French, as the tongues in which a secret
of this kind would most naturally have been written by a pirate of the
Spanish main. As it was, I assumed the cryptograph to be English.
“You observe there are no divisions between the words. Had there
been divisions, the task would have been comparatively easy. In such
case I should have commenced with a collation and analysis of the
shorter words, and, had a word of a single letter occurred, as is most
likely, (a or I, for example,) I should have considered the solution
as assured. But, there being no division, my first step was to
ascertain the predominant letters, as well as the least frequent.
Counting all, I constructed a table, thus:

Of the character 8 there are 33.
; ” 26.
4 ” 19.
+ ) ” 16.
* ” 13.
5 ” 12.
6 ” 11.
! 1 ” 8.
0 ” 6.
9 2 ” 5.
: 3 ” 4.
? ” 3.
` ” 2.
– . ” 1.

“Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e.
Afterwards, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l
m w b k p q x z. E however predominates so remarkably that an
individual sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not
the prevailing character.
“Here, then, we have, in the very beginning, the groundwork for
something more than a mere guess. The general use which may be made of
the table is obvious –but, in this particular cipher, we shall only
very partially require its aid. As our predominant character is 8,
we will commence by assuming it as the e of the natural alphabet. To
verify the supposition, let us observe if the 8 be seen often in
couples –for e is doubled with great frequency in English –in such
words, for example, as ‘meet,’ ‘fleet,’ ‘speed, ‘seen,’ ‘been,’
‘agree,’ &c. In the present instance we see it doubled less than
five times, although the cryptograph is brief.
“Let us assume 8, then, as e. Now, of all words in the language,
‘the’ is the most usual; let us see, therefore, whether they are not
repetitions of any three characters in the same order of
collocation, the last of them being 8. If we discover repetitions of
such letters, so arranged, they will most probably represent the
word ‘the.’ On inspection, we find no less than seven such
arrangements, the characters being ;48. We may, therefore, assume that
the semicolon represents t, that 4 represents h, and that 8 represents
e –the last being now well confirmed. Thus a great step has been
taken.
“But, having established a single word, we are enabled to
establish a vastly important point; that is to say, several
commencements and terminations of other words. Let us refer, for
example, to the last instance but one, in which the combination ;48
occurs –not far from the end of the cipher. We know that the
semicolon immediately ensuing is the commencement of a word, and, of
the six characters succeeding this ‘the,’ we are cognizant of no
less than five. Let us set these characters down, thus, by the letters
we know them to represent, leaving a space for the unknown–

t eeth.

“Here we are enabled, at once, to discard the ‘th,’ as forming no
portion of the word commencing with the first t; since, by
experiment of the entire alphabet for a letter adapted to the
vacancy we perceive that no word can be formed of which this th can be
a part. We are thus narrowed into

t ee,

and, going through the alphabet, if necessary, as before, we arrive at
the word ‘tree,’ as the sole possible reading. We thus gain another
letter, r, represented by (, with the words ‘the tree’ in
juxtaposition.
“Looking beyond these words, for a short distance, we again see
the combination ;48, and employ it by way of termination to what
immediately precedes. We have thus this arrangement:

the tree ;4(+?34 the,

or substituting the natural letters, where known, it reads thus:

the tree thr+?3h the.

“Now, if, in place of the unknown characters, we leave blank spaces,
or substitute dots, we read thus:

the tree thr…h the,

when the word ‘through’ makes itself evident at once. But this
discovery gives us three new letters, o, u and g, represented by + ?
and 3.
“Looking now, narrowly, through the cipher for combinations of known
characters, we find, not very far from the beginning, this
arrangement,

83(88, or egree,

which, plainly, is the conclusion of the word ‘degree,’ and gives us
another letter, d, represented by !.
“Four letters beyond the word ‘degree,’ we perceive the combination

;46(;88*.

“Translating the known characters, and representing the unknown by
dots, as before, we read thus:

th.rtee.

an arrangement immediately suggestive of the word ‘thirteen,’ and
again furnishing us with two new characters, i and n, represented by 6
and *.
“Referring, now, to the beginning of the cryptograph, we find the
combination,

53++!.

“Translating, as before, we obtain

.good,

which assures us that the first letter is A, and that the first two
words are ‘A good.’
“To avoid confusion, it is now time that we arrange our key, as
far as discovered, in a tabular form. It will stand thus:
5 represents a
! ” d
8 ” e
3 ” g
4 ” h
6 ” i
* ” n
+ ” o
( ” r
; ” t

“We have, therefore, no less than ten of the most important letters
represented, and it will be unnecessary to proceed with the details of
the solution. I have said enough to convince you that ciphers of
this nature are readily soluble, and to give you some insight into the
rationale of their development. But be assured that the specimen
before us appertains to the very simplest species of cryptograph. It
now only remains to give you the full translation of the characters
upon the parchment, as unriddled. Here it is:
‘A good glass in the bishop’s hostel in the devil’s seat
twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes northeast and by north main
branch seventh limb east side shoot from the left eye of the
death’s-head a bee line from the tree through the shot fifty feet
out.'”

“But,” said I, “the enigma seems still in as bad a condition as
ever. How is it possible to extort a meaning from all this jargon
about ‘devil’s seats,’ ‘death’s-heads,’ and ‘bishop’s hostel’?”
“I confess,” replied Legrand, “that the matter still wears a serious
aspect, when regarded with a casual glance. My first endeavor was to
divide the sentence into the natural division intended by the
cryptographist.”
“You mean, to punctuate it?”
“Something of that kind.”
“But how was it possible to effect this?”
“I reflected that it had been a point with the writer to run his
words together without division, so as to increase the difficulty of
solution. Now, a not overacute man, in pursuing such an object,
would be nearly certain to overdo the matter. When, in the course of
his composition, he arrived at a break in his subject which would
naturally require a pause, or a point, he would be exceedingly apt
to run his characters, at this place, more than usually close
together. If you will observe the MS., in the present instance, you
will easily detect five such cases of unusual crowding. Acting on this
hint, I made the division thus:

‘A good glass in the bishop’s hostel in the devil’s –twenty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes –northeast and by north –main branch
seventh limb east side –shoot from the left eye of the death’s-head
–a bee-line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.'”

“Even this division,” said I, “leaves me still in the dark.”
“It left me also in the dark,” replied Legrand, “for a few days;
during which I made diligent inquiry, in the neighborhood of
Sullivan’s Island, for any building which went by the name of the
‘Bishop’s Hotel'; for, of course, I dropped the obsolete word
‘hostel.’ Gaining no information on the subject, I was on the point of
extending my sphere of search, and proceeding in a more systematic
manner, when, one morning, it entered into my head, quite suddenly,
that this ‘Bishop’s Hostel’ might have some reference to an old
family, of the name of Bessop, which, time out of mind, had held
possession of an ancient manor-house, about four miles to the
northward of the Island. I accordingly went over to the plantation,
and reinstituted my inquiries among the older negroes of the place. At
length one of the most aged of the women said that she had heard of
such a place as Bessop’s Castle, and thought that she could guide me
to it, but that it was not a castle, nor a tavern, but a high rock.
“I offered to pay her well for her trouble, and, after some demur,
she consented to accompany me to the spot. We found it without much
difficulty, when, dismissing her, I proceeded to examine the place.
The ‘castle’ consisted of an irregular assemblage of cliffs and
rocks –one of the latter being quite remarkable for its height as
well as for its insulated and artificial appearance. I clambered to
its apex, and then felt much at a loss as to what should be next done.
“While I was busied in reflection, my eyes fell upon a narrow
ledge in the eastern face of the rock, perhaps a yard below the summit
on which I stood. This ledge projected about eighteen inches, and
was not more than a foot wide, while a niche in the cliff just above
it, gave it a rude resemblance to one of the hollow-backed chairs used
by our ancestors. I made no doubt that here was the ‘devil’s-seat’
alluded to in the MS., and now I seemed to grasp the full secret of
the riddle.
“The ‘good glass,’ I knew, could have reference to nothing but a
telescope; for the word ‘glass’ is rarely employed in any other
sense by seamen. Now here, I at once saw, was a telescope to be
used, and a definite point of view, admitting no variation, from which
to use it. Nor did I hesitate to believe that the phrases, ‘twenty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes,’ and northeast and by north,’ were
intended as directions for the levelling of the glass. Greatly excited
by these discoveries, I hurried home, procured a telescope, and
returned to the rock.
“I let myself down to the ledge, and found that it was impossible to
retain a seat on it unless in one particular position. This fact
confirmed my preconceived idea. I proceeded to use the glass. Of
course, the ‘twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes’ could allude
to nothing but elevation above the visible horizon, since the
horizontal direction was clearly indicated by the words, ‘northeast
and by north.’ This latter direction I at once established by means of
a pocket-compass; then, pointing the glass as nearly at an angle of
twenty-one degrees of elevation as I could do it by guess, I moved
it cautiously up or down, until my attention was arrested by a
circular rift or opening in the foliage of a large tree that
overtopped its fellows in the distance. In the centre of this rift I
perceived a white spot, but could not, at first, distinguish what it
was. Adjusting the focus of the telescope, I again looked, and now
made it out to be a human skull.
“On this discovery I was so sanguine as to consider the enigma
solved; for the phrase ‘main branch, seventh limb, east side,’ could
refer only to the position of the skull on the tree, while shoot
from the left eye of the death’s-head’ admitted, also, of but one
interpretation, in regard to a search for buried treasure. I perceived
that the design was to drop a bullet from the left eye of the skull,
and that a bee-line, or, in other words, a straight line, drawn from
the nearest point of the trunk through ‘the shot,’ (or the spot
where the bullet fell,) and thence extended to a distance of fifty
feet, would indicate a definite point –and beneath this point I
thought it at least possible that a deposit of value lay concealed.”
“All this,” I said, “is exceedingly clear, and, although
ingenious, still simple and explicit. When you left the Bishop’s
Hotel, what then?”
“Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the tree, I turned
homewards. The instant that I left ‘the devil’s seat,’ however, the
circular rift vanished; nor could I get a glimpse of it afterwards,
turn as I would. What seems to me the chief ingenuity in this whole
business, is the fact (for repeated experiment has convinced me it
is a fact) that the circular opening in question is visible from no
other attainable point of view than that afforded by the narrow
ledge on the face of the rock.
“In this expedition to the ‘Bishop’s Hotel’ I had been attended by
Jupiter, who had, no doubt, observed, for some weeks past, the
abstraction of my demeanor, and took especial care not to leave me
alone. But, on the next day, getting up very early, I contrived to
give him the slip, and went into the hills in search of the tree.
After much toil I found it. When I came home at night my valet
proposed to give me a flogging. With the rest of the adventure I
believe you are as well acquainted as myself.”
“I suppose,” said I, “you missed the spot, in the first attempt at
digging through Jupiter’s stupidity in letting the bug fall through
the right instead of the left of the skull.”
“Precisely. This mistake made a difference of about two inches and a
half in the ‘shot’ –that is to say, in the position of the peg
nearest the tree; and had the treasure been beneath the ‘shot,’ the
error would have been of little moment; but the ‘shot,’ together
with the nearest point of the tree, were merely two points for the
establishment of a line of direction; of course the error, however
trivial in the beginning, increased as we proceeded with the line, and
by the time we had gone fifty feet, threw us quite off the scent.
But for my deep-seated convictions that treasure was here somewhere
actually buried, we might have had all our labor in vain.”
“I presume the fancy of the skull, of letting fall a bullet
through the skull’s eye –was suggested to Kidd by the piratical flag.
No doubt he felt a kind of poetical consistency in recovering his
money through this ominous insignium.”
“Perhaps so; still I cannot help thinking that common-sense had
quite as much to do with the matter as poetical consistency. To be
visible from the devil’s-seat, it was necessary that the object, if
small, should be white; and there is nothing like your human skull for
retaining and even increasing its whiteness under exposure to all
vicissitudes of weather.”
“But your grandiloquence, and your conduct in swinging the beetle
–how excessively odd! I was sure you were mad. And why did you insist
on letting fall the bug, instead of a bullet, from the skull?”
“Why, to be frank, I felt somewhat annoyed by your evident
suspicions touching my sanity, and so resolved to punish you
quietly, in my own way, by a little bit of sober mystification. For
this reason I swung the beetle, and for this reason I let it fall from
the tree. An observation of yours about its great weight suggested the
latter idea.”
“Yes, I perceive; and now there is only one point which puzzles
me. What are we to make of the skeletons found in the hole?”
“That is a question I am no more able to answer than yourself. There
seems, however, only one plausible way of accounting for them –and
yet it is dreadful to believe in such atrocity as my suggestion
would imply. It is clear that Kidd –if Kidd indeed secreted this
treasure, which I doubt not –it is clear that he must have had
assistance in the labor. But, the worst of this labor concluded, he
may have thought it expedient to remove all participants in his
secret. Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock were sufficient,
while his coadjutors were busy in the pit; perhaps it required a dozen
–who shall tell?”
-THE END-

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