Story 10 - the Gold Bug by Spitoufs
Story 10 - the Gold Bug by Spitoufs
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
Sullivans 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 Sullivans 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 Jupiters 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 its
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!
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 Jupiters 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 deaths head,
which it more nearly resembles than anything else that has come
under my observation.
A deaths 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 dont 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 dont 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 deaths 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 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 friend.
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 be.
Not well! I am truly sorry to hear it. What does he complain of?
Dar! dots it! -him neber plain of notin -but him berry sick
for all dat.
Very sick, Jupiter! -why didnt you say so at once?
Is he confined to bed?
No, dat he aint! -he aint find nowhar -dats 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. Hasnt he told you what ails him?
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 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 deuced good beating when he did
come -but Ise sich a fool dat I hadnt 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 -dont flog him, Jupiter -he cant
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 Im feared -twas de berry day you was dare.
How? what do you mean.
Why, massa, I mean de bug -dare now.
The what?
De bug -Im 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 didnt like de look ob de bug mouff, myself, nohow, so I
wouldnt 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 dont 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 -dats
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 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.
Ever yours,
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? Jupiters 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 moments 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 debbils 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?
Dats more dan I know, and debbil take me if I dont blieve tis
more dan he know too. But its 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 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? Id 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 Legrands
concordance 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 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?
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
oclock-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 friends 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 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
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 to go?
How high up are you? asked Legrand.
Ebber so fur, replied the negro can see de sky fru de top
oh 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
friends 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, Jupiters 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
quavering voice.
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!-thats a fine fellow.
Its 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 venture out leetle way
pon de limb by myself, dats 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 wont 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 Ill break your neck.
Look here, Jupiter, do you hear me?
Yes, massa, neednt hollo at poor nigger dat style.
Well! now listen!-if you will venture out on the limb as far as
as you think safe, and not let go the beetle, Ill make you a present
of a silver dollar as soon as you get down.
Im 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 -dares 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! dats good! why dey aint 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 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 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 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 dare below!
During this colloquy no portion of Jupiters 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 friends equanimity by a refusal.
Could I have depended, indeed, upon Jupiters 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 negros 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 Jupiters 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 fellows
speech about the beetles 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 brutes 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 masters 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 games 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 dropped the
beetle? here Legrand touched each of Jupiters 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 Jupiters 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
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. Jupiters countenance
wore, for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in
the nature of things, for any negros 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!
Aint 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 oclock in the morning.
Worn out as we were, it was not in human nature to do more
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
deaths 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 deaths 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
nights 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 ships 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 peculiar force.
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 deaths head, is the well-known emblem of the pirate.
The flag of the deaths 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 deaths
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 deaths 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 deaths 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 deaths 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 Jupiters 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 deaths 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 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
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 the coast?
But that Kidds 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 deaths 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 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 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 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 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.
4 19.
+ 16.
* 13.
5 12.
6 11.
!1 8.
0 6.
92 5.
:3 4.
? 3.
-. 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 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, etc. In the present instance we see it
doubled no 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 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 being48. 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-
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 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
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 44+?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,
8388, 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
? 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 bishops hostel
in the devils seat forty-one degrees and
thirteen minutes northeast and by north main
branch seventh limb east side shoot from
the left eye of the deaths 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
devils seats, deaths heads, and bishops 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
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 bishops hostel in the devils seat -forty-
one degrees and thirteen minutes -northeast and by north- main
branch seventh limb east side -shoot from the left eye of the
deaths 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
Sullivans Island, for any building which went by name of the
Bishops 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 Bishops 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 Bessops 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
devils 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 deaths 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 Bishops Hotel,
what then?
Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the tree, I turned
homeward. The instant that I left the devils 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 Bishops 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 Jupiters 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 vain.
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 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
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 shall tell?