The Gold Bug by Edgar
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
mainland 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, burdening 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 instill 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
miles from the island, while the facilities of passage and
repassage 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 armchair 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 the
morning. Stay here to-night, and I will send Jup down for it at
sunrise. It is the loveliest thing in creation!"
"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 ain't 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 luster than the scales emit—
but of this you cannot judge till to-morrow. In the meantime 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," he said 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
"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 similar 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
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 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 intention 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
"Well, Jup," said I, "what is the matter now?—how is your master?"
"Why, to speak the troof, massa, him not so berry well as mought
"Not well! I am truly sorry to hear it. What does he complain
"Dar! dot's it!—him neber 'plain of notin'—but him berry sick for
"VERY sick, Jupiter!—why didn't you say so at once? Is he
confined to bed?"
"No, dat he aint!—he aint 'fin'd 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
"Why, massa, 'taint worf while for to git mad about de matter—
Massa Will say noffin at all aint 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 goose? And den he keep a syphon all
"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 deuced good beating when he did
come—but Ise sich a fool dat I hadn't de heart arter all—he
looked 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 aint bin noffin onpleasant SINCE den—'twas 'FORE
den I'm feared—'twas de berry day you was dare."
"How? what do you mean."
"Why, massa, I mean de bug—dare now."
"De bug—I'm berry sartin dat Massa Will bin bit somewhere 'bout de
head by dat goole-bug."
"And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition?"
"Claws enuff, massa, and mouff, too. I nebber did see sich a
deuced bug—he kick and he bite eberyting 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, nohow, so I wouldn't take hold oh
him wid my finger, but I cotch him wid a piece oh paper dat I
found. I rap him up in de paper and stuff a piece of 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 think noffin about it—I nose it. What make him dream
'bout de goole so much, if 'taint cause he bit by the goole-bug?
Ise heered '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
"Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate
circumstance am I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-
"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 offense 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 mainland. 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 TO-NIGHT, upon business of importance. I assure
you that it is of the HIGHEST importance.
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
"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
"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 b'lieve '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 luster. After some
inquiries respecting his health, I asked him, not knowing what
better to say, if he had yet obtained the scarabaeus from
"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
"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
concordance with that opinion, I could not, for the life of me,
"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 mainland, 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?"
"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
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 deuced 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 whipcord; twirling
it to and fro, with the air of a conjurer, 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 meantime 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
"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
"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 to go?"
"How high up are you?" asked Legrand.
"Ebber so fur," replied the negro; "can see de sky fru de top oh de
"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
"One, two, tree, four, fibe—I done pass fibe big limb, massa, 'pon
"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 feered 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
"Yes, massa, him dead as de door-nail—done up for sartin—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
"Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain."
"Try the wood well, then, with your knife, and see if you think it
"Him rotten, massa, sure nuff," replied the negro in a few moments,
"but not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought venture 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, an den de limb won't break wid just de weight of 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 drop that beetle 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 curious 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?"
"Pay attention, then—find the left eye of the skull."
"Hum! hoo! dat's good! why dey ain't no eye lef at all."
"Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand from your left?"
"Yes, I knows dat—knows all about dat—'tis my lef 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
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 aint got not a bit oh a hand at all—
nebber mind! I got de lef eye now—here de lef eye! what mus do
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 dare 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 further 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 center, 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 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 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 fantasy 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 opinion 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 meantime 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 toward 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! aint 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
"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
"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 dropped the
beetle?" 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 spade. 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
mold 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 woolen. 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 bichloride 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 open trelliswork 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 upward a glow and a
glare, from a confused heap of gold and of jewels, 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—thunderstricken. 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 of de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! de poor
little goole-bug, what I boosed in that sabage kind oh style!
Ain't you shamed oh 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
everything housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what
should he 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 pretense, 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 immediately. 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
burdens, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn gleamed from
over the treetops 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.
Everything 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 ears
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 timekeepers valueless; the works having suffered,
more or less, from corrosion—but all were richly jeweled 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 upon 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 seemed to glimmer, faintly, within the most remote and secret
chambers of my intellect, a glow-wormlike 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 further 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 mainland, 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 toward 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 longboat. 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. Upon 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, when 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
"No doubt you will think me fanciful—but I had already established
a kind of CONNECTION. I had put together two links of a great
chain. There was a boat lying upon a seacoast, and not far from
the boat was a parchment—NOT A PAPER—with a skull depicted upon
it. You will, of course, ask 'where is the connection?' 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
"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 connection 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 upon 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 upon 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,
upon the parchment, the skull which I saw designed upon 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 upon
either paper or vellum, so that the characters shall become visible
only when subjected to the action of fire. Zaffre, 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 niter, gives a red. These colors disappear
at longer or shorter intervals after the material written upon
cools, but again become apparent upon the reapplication 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, upon 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 connection between your pirates and a 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 upon the figure of the
animal as a kind of punning or hieroglyphical signature. I say
signature; because its position upon 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
"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 upon my
fancy? And then the series of accidents and coincidents—these
were so VERY extraordinary. Do you observe how mere an accident it
was that these events should have occurred upon 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
"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 upon 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 continuous, could have resulted, it appeared to me,
only from the circumstance of the buried treasures 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 his
followers, who otherwise might never have heard that the 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
"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 downward, 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. Upon taking
it off, the whole was just as you see it now."
Here Legrand, having reheated the parchment, submitted it to my
inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red
tint, between the death's head and the goat:
"But," said I, returning him the slip, "I am as much in the dark as
ever. Were all the jewels of Golconda awaiting me upon my solution
of this enigma, I am quite sure that I should be unable to earn
"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 anyone 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
"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 upon, 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 was removed by the
signature. The pun upon 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 cases 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.
92 " 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 predominates so remarkably, that an individual
sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not the
"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,' etc. In the present instance we
see it doubled no less than five times, although the cryptograph is
"Let us assume 8, then, as e. Now, of all WORDS in the language,
'the' is most usual; let us see, therefore, whether there 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.' Upon inspection, we find no less than seven such
arrangements, the characters being ;48. We may, therefore, assume
that ; represents t, 4 represents h, and 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 ; 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—
"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
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
"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(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
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
"Translating the known characters, and representing the unknown by
dots, as before, we read thus:
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
"Translating as before, we obtain
which assures us that the first letter is A, and that the first two
words are 'A good.'
"It is now time that we arrange our key, as far as discovered, in a
tabular form, to avoid confusion. It will stand thus:
5 represents a
! " d
8 " e
3 " g
4 " h
6 " i
* " n
+ " o
( " r
; " t
? " u
"We have, therefore, no less than eleven 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 forty-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 hostels'?"
"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 upon this hint I made the division thus:
"'A good glass in the bishop's hostel in the devil's seat—forty-
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
"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 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
upon 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,
'forty-one degrees and thirteen minutes,' and 'northeast and by
north,' were intended as directions for the leveling 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 upon it except in one particular position. This
fact confirmed my preconceived idea. I proceeded to use the glass.
Of course, the 'forty-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 forty-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 center 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.
"Upon 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 upon 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
"Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the tree, I turned
homeward. 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 upon 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 through the left eye 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 impressions that treasure was here
somewhere actually buried, we might have had all our labor in
"But your grandiloquence, and your conduct in swinging the beetle—
how excessively odd! I was sure you were mad. And why did you
insist upon letting fall the bug, instead of a bullet, from the
"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 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