What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad !
He hath been bitten by the Tarantula.
—ALL IN THE WRONG
MANY years ago, I contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand. He was of an
ancient Huguenot family, and had once been wealthy; but a series of misfortunes
had reduced him to want. To avoid the mortification consequent upon his
disasters, he left New Orleans, the city of his forefathers, and took up
his residence at Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.
This Island is a very singular one. It consists of
little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth
at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the main
land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness
of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation,
as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude
are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands,
and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer,
by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed,
the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this
western point, and a line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered
with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle, so much prized by the horticulturists of England. The shrub here often
attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and forms an almost impenetrable
coppice, burthening the air with its fragrance.
In the inmost recesses of this coppice, not far from
the eastern or more remote end of the island, Legrand had built himself
a small hut, which he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his
acquaintance. This soon ripened into friendship—for there was much in
the recluse to excite interest and esteem. I found him well educated, with
unusual powers of mind, but infected with misanthropy, and subject to perverse
moods of alternate enthusiasm and melancholy. He had with him many books,
but rarely employed them. His chief amusements were gunning and fishing,
or sauntering along the beach and through the myrtles, in quest of shells
or entomological specimens;—his collection of the latter might have been
envied by a Swammerdamm. In these excursions he was usually accompanied
by an old negro, called Jupiter, who had been manumitted before the reverses
of the family, but who could be induced, neither by threats nor by promises,
to abandon what he considered his right of attendance upon the footsteps
of his young "Massa Will." It is not improbable that the relatives of Legrand,
conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in intellect, had contrived to
instil this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a view to the supervision and
guardianship of the wanderer.
The winters in the latitude of Sullivan's Island
are seldom very severe, and in the fall of the year it is a rare event
indeed when a fire is considered necessary. About the middle of October,
18, there occurred, however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just before
sunset I scrambled my way through the evergreens to the hut of my friend,
whom I had not visited for several weeks—my residence being, at that
time, in Charleston, a distance of nine miles from the Island, while the
facilities of passage and re-passage were very far behind those of the
present day. Upon reaching the hut I rapped, as was my custom, and getting
no reply, sought for the key where I knew it was secreted, unlocked the
door and went in. A fine fire was blazing upon the hearth. It was a novelty,
and by no means an ungrateful one. I threw off an overcoat, took an arm-chair by the crackling logs, and awaited patiently
the arrival of my hosts.
Soon after dark they arrived, and gave me a most
cordial welcome. Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear, bustled about to prepare
some marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his fits—how else shall
I term them?—of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown bivalve, forming
a new genus, and, more than this, he had hunted down and secured, with
Jupiter's assistance, a scarabæus which he believed to be
totally new, but in respect to which he wished to have my opinion on the
"And why not to-night?" I asked, rubbing my hands
over the blaze, and wishing the whole tribe of scarabæi at
"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 antennæ are—"
"Dey aint no tin in him, Massa Will, I keep
a tellin on you," here interrupted Jupiter; "de bug is a goole bug, solid,
ebery bit of him, inside and all, sep him wing—neber feel half so hebby
a bug in my life."
"Well, suppose it is, Jup," replied Legrand, somewhat
more earnestly, it seemed to me, than the case demanded, "is that any reason
for your letting the birds burn? The color"—here he turned to me—"is
really almost enough to warrant Jupiter's idea. You never saw a more brilliant
metallic lustre than the scales emit—but of this you cannot judge till
to-morrow. In the mean time I can give you some idea of the shape." Saying
this, he seated himself at a small table, on which were a pen and ink,
but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer, but found none.
"Never mind," said he at length, "this will answer;"
and he drew from his waistcoat pocket a scrap
of what I took to be very dirty foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing
with the pen. While he did this, I retained my seat by the fire, for I
was still chilly. When the design was complete, he handed it to me without
rising. As I received it, a loud growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching
at the door. Jupiter opened it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to
Legrand, rushed in, leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses;
for I had shown him much attention during previous visits. When his gambols
were over, I looked at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself
not a little puzzled at what my friend had depicted.
"Well!" I said, after contemplating it for some minutes,
"this is a strange scarabæus, 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
"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 scarabæus must be the queerest
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 scarabæus
caput hominis, or something of that kind—there are many similar titles
in the Natural Histories. But where are the antennæ you spoke
"The antennæ!" said Legrand, who seemed
to be getting unaccountably warm upon the subject; "I am sure you must
see the antennæ. 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 antennæ visible, and
the whole did bear a very close resemblance to the ordinary cuts
of a death's-head.
He received the paper very peevishly, and was about
to crumple it, apparently to throw it in the fire, when a casual glance
at the design seemed suddenly to rivet his attention. In an instant his
face grew violently red—in another as excessively pale. For some minutes
he continued to scrutinize the drawing minutely where he sat. At length
he arose, took a candle from the table, and proceeded to seat himself upon
a sea-chest in the farthest corner of the room. Here again he made an anxious
examination of the paper; turning it in all directions. He said nothing,
however, and his conduct greatly astonished me; yet I thought it prudent
not to exacerbate the growing moodiness of his temper by any comment. Presently
he took from his coat pocket a wallet, placed the paper carefully in it,
and deposited both in a writing-desk, which he locked. He now grew more
composed in his demeanor; but his original air of enthusiasm had quite
disappeared. Yet he seemed not so much sulky as abstracted. As the evening
wore away he became more and more absorbed in reverie, from which no sallies
of mine could arouse him. It had been my 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 de troof, massa, him not so berry
well as mought be."
"Not well! I am truly sorry to hear it. What does
he complain of?"
"Dar! dat's it!—him neber plain of notin—but
him berry sick for all dat."
"Very sick, Jupiter!—why didn't you say
so at once? Is he confined to bed?"
"No, dat he aint!—he aint find nowhar—dat's just
whar de shoe pinch—my mind is got to be berry hebby bout poor Massa Will."
"Jupiter, I should like to understand what it is
you are talking about. You say your master is sick. Hasn't he told you
what ails him?"
"Why, massa, taint worf while for to git mad 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 gose? And den he keep a syphon all de time—"
"Keeps a what, Jupiter?"
"Keeps a syphon wid de figgurs on de slate—de queerest
figgurs I ebber did see. Ise gittin to be skeered, I tell you. Hab for
to keep mighty tight eye pon him noovers. Todder day he gib me slip fore
de sun up and was gone de whole ob de blessed day. I had a big stick ready
cut for to gib him deuced good beating when he did come—but Ise sich
a fool dat I hadn't de heart arter all—he look so berry poorly."
"Eh?—what?—ah yes!—upon the whole I think you
had better not be too severe with the poor fellow—don't flog him, Jupiter—he can't very well stand it—but can you form no idea of what has occasioned
this illness, or rather this change of conduct? Has anything unpleasant
happened since I saw you?"
"No, massa, dey aint bin noffin unpleasant 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 sartain dat Massa Will bin bit
somewhere bout de head by dat goole-bug."
"And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition?"
"Claws enuff, massa, and mouff too. I nebber did
see sich a deuced bug—he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him.
Massa Will cotch him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick,
I tell you—den was de time he must ha got de bite. I did n't like de
look ob de bug mouff, myself, no how, so I would n't take hold ob him wid
my finger, but I cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him
up in de paper and stuff piece ob it in he mouff—dat was de way."
"And you think, then, that your master was really
bitten by the beetle, and that the bite made him sick?"
"I do n't tink noffin about it—I nose it. What
make him dream bout de goole so much, if taint cause he bit by de goole-bug?
Ise heerd bout dem goole-bugs fore dis."
"But how do you know he dreams about gold?"
"How I know? why cause he talk about it in he sleep—dat's how I nose."
"Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate
circumstance am I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-day?"
"What de matter, massa?"
"Did you bring any message from Mr. Legrand?"
"No, massa, I bring dis here pissel;" and here Jupiter
handed me a note which ran thus:
Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope
you have not been so foolish as to take offence at any little brusquerie
of mine; but no, that is improbable.
Since I saw you I have had great cause for anxiety.
I have something to tell you, yet scarcely know how to tell it, or whether
I should tell it at all.
I have not been quite well for some days past, and
poor old Jup annoys me, almost beyond endurance, by his well-meant attentions
Would you believe it?—he had prepared a huge stick, the other day, with
which to chastise me for giving him the slip, and spending the day, solus,
among the hills on the main land. I verily believe that my ill looks alone
saved me a flogging.
I have made no addition to my cabinet since we met.
If you can, in any way, make it convenient, come
over with Jupiter. Do come. I wish to see you 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 embark.
"What is the meaning of all this, Jup?" I inquired.
"Him syfe, massa, and spade."
"Very true; but what are they doing here?"
"Him de syfe and de spade what Massa Will sis pon
my buying for him in de town, and de debbils own lot of money
I had to gib for em."
"But what, in the name of all that is mysterious,
is your 'Massa Will' going to do with scythes and spades?"
"Dat's more dan I know, and debbil take me
if I don't blieve 'tis more dan he know, too. But it's all cum ob do bug."
Finding that no satisfaction was to be obtained of
Jupiter, whose whole intellect seemed to be absorbed by "de bug," I now
stepped into the boat and made sail. With a fair and strong breeze we soon
ran into the little cove to the northward of Fort Moultrie, and a walk
of some two miles brought us to the hut. It was about three in the afternoon
when we arrived. Legrand had been awaiting us in eager expectation. He
grasped my hand with a nervous empressement which alarmed me and
strengthened the suspicions already entertained. His countenance was pale
even to ghastliness, and his deep-set eyes glared with unnatural lustre.
After some inquiries respecting his health, I asked him, not knowing what better to say, if he had yet obtained the
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
Do you know that Jupiter is quite right about it?"
"In what way?" I asked, with a sad foreboding at
"In supposing it to be a bug of real gold."
He said this with an air of profound seriousness, and I felt inexpressibly
"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 scarabæus!"
"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 scarabæus, 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, 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
"You are mistaken," he interposed, "I am as well
as I can expect to be under the excitement which I suffer. If you really
wish me well, you will relieve this excitement."
"And how is this to be done?"
"Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an
expedition, into the hills, upon the main land, and, in this expedition
we shall need the aid of some person in whom we can confide. You are the
only one we can trust. Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which
you now perceive in me will be equally allayed."
"I am anxious to oblige you in any way," I replied;
"but do you mean to say that this infernal beetle has any connection with
your expedition into the hills?"
"Then, Legrand, I can become a party to no such absurd
"I am sorry—very sorry—for we shall have to try
it by ourselves."
"Try it by yourselves! The man is surely mad!—but
stay!—how long do you propose to be absent?"
"Probably all night. We shall start immediately,
and be back, at all events, by sunrise."
"And will you promise me, upon your honor, that when
this freak of yours is over, and the bug business (good God!) settled to
your satisfaction, you will then return home and follow my advice implicitly,
as that of your physician?"
"Yes; I promise; and now let us be off, for we have
no time to lose."
With a heavy heart I accompanied my friend. We started
about four o'clock—Legrand, Jupiter, the dog, and myself. Jupiter had
with him the scythe and spades—the whole of which he insisted upon carrying—more through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of the implements
within reach of his master, than from any excess of industry or complaisance.
His demeanor was dogged in the extreme, and "dat 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 scarabæus, which he carried attached to the
end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to and fro, with the air of a conjuror,
as he went. When I observed this last, plain evidence of my friend's aberration
of mind, I could scarcely refrain from tears. I thought it best, however,
to humor his fancy, at least for the present, or until I could adopt some
more energetic measures with a chance of success. In the mean time I endeavored,
but all in vain, to sound him in regard to the object of the expedition.
Having succeeded in inducing me to accompany him, he seemed unwilling to
hold conversation upon any topic of minor importance, and to all my questions
vouchsafed no other reply than "we shall see!"
We crossed the creek at the head of the island by
means of a skiff, and, ascending the high grounds on the shore of the main
land, 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
"Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he ebber see in he
"Then up with you as soon as possible, for it will
soon be too dark to see what we are about."
"How far mus go up, massa?" inquired Jupiter.
"Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell
you which way to go—and here—stop! take this beetle with you."
"De bug, Massa Will!—de goole bug!" cried the negro,
drawing back in dismay—"what for mus tote de bug way up de tree?—d—n if I do!"
"If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you,
to take hold of a harmless little dead beetle, why you can carry it up
by this string—but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I
shall be under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."
"What de matter now, massa?" said Jup, evidently
shamed into compliance; "always want for to raise fuss wid old nigger.
Was only funnin any how. 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 Tulipferum,
the most magnificent of American foresters, has a trunk peculiarly smooth,
and often rises to a great height without lateral branches; but, in its
riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short limbs
make their appearance on the stem. Thus the difficulty of ascension, in
the present case, lay more in semblance than in reality. Embracing the
huge cylinder, as closely as possible, with his arms and knees, seizing
with his hands some projections, and resting his naked toes upon others,
Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes
from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and
seemed to consider the whole business as virtually accomplished. The risk
of the achievement was, in fact, now over, although the climber was some
sixty or seventy feet from the ground.
"Which way mus go now, Massa Will?" he asked.
"Keep up the largest branch—the one on this side,"
said Legrand. The negro obeyed him promptly, and apparently with but little
trouble; ascending higher and higher, until no glimpse of his squat figure
could be obtained through the dense foliage which enveloped it. Presently
his voice was heard in a sort of halloo.
"How much fudder is got for go?"
"How high up are you?" asked Legrand.
"Ebber so fur," replied the negro; "can see de sky
fru de top ob de tree."
"Never mind the sky, but attend to what I say. Look
down the trunk and count the limbs below you on this side. How many limbs
have you passed?"
"One, two, tree, four, fibe—I done pass fibe big
limb, massa, pon dis side."
"Then go one limb higher."
In a few minutes the voice was heard again, announcing
that the seventh limb was attained.
"Now, Jup," cried Legrand, evidently much excited,
"I want you to work your way out upon that limb as far as you can. If you
see anything strange, let me know."
By this time what little doubt I might have entertained
of my poor friend's insanity, was put finally at rest. I had no alternative
but to conclude him stricken with lunacy, and I became seriously anxious
about getting him home. While I was pondering upon what was best to be
done, Jupiter's voice was again heard.
"Mos feerd for to ventur pon dis limb berry far—tis dead limb putty much all de way."
"Did you say it was a dead limb, Jupiter?"
cried Legrand in a quavering voice.
"Yes, massa, him dead as de door-nail—done up for
sartain—done departed dis here life."
"What in the name of heaven shall I do?" asked Legrand,
seemingly in the greatest distress.
"Do!" said I, glad of an opportunity to interpose
a word, "why come home and go to bed. Come now!—that's a fine fellow.
It's getting late, and, besides, you remember your promise."
"Jupiter," cried he, without heeding me in the least,
"do you hear me?"
"Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain."
"Try the wood well, then, with your knife, and see
if you think it very rotten."
"Him rotten, massa, sure nuff," replied the negro
in a few moments, "but not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought ventur
out leetle way pon de limb by myself, dat's true."
"By yourself!—what do you mean?"
"Why I mean de bug. 'Tis berry hebby bug.
Spose I drop him down fuss, and den de limb won't break wid just de weight
ob one nigger."
"You infernal scoundrel!" cried Legrand, apparently
much relieved, "what do you mean by telling me such nonsense as that? As
sure as you 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
"Why taint noffin but a skull—somebody bin lef
him head up de tree, and de crows done gobble ebery bit ob de meat off."
"A skull, you say!—very well!—how is it fastened
to the limb?—what holds it on?"
"Sure nuff, massa; mus look. Why dis berry curous
sarcumstance, pon my word—dare's a great
big nail in de skull, what fastens ob it on to de tree."
"Well now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you—do
"Pay attention, then!—find the left eye of the
"Hum! hoo! dat's good! why dare aint no eye lef at
"Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand
from your left?"
"Yes, I nose dat—nose all bout 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 ob a hand
at all—nebber mind! I got de lef eye now—here de lef eye! what mus
do wid it?"
"Let the beetle drop through it, as far as the string
will reach—but he 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 scarabæus
hung quite clear of any branches, and, if allowed to fall, would have fallen
at our feet. Legrand immediately took the scythe, and cleared with it a
circular space, three or four yards in diameter, just beneath the insect,
and, having accomplished this, ordered Jupiter to let go the string and
come down from the tree.
Driving a peg, with great nicety, into the ground,
at the precise spot where the beetle fell, my friend now produced from
his pocket a tape-measure. Fastening one end of this at that point of the
trunk of the tree which was nearest the peg, he unrolled it till it reached the peg, and thence farther unrolled it, in the
direction already established by the two points of the tree and the peg,
for the distance of fifty feet—Jupiter clearing away the brambles with
the scythe. At the spot thus attained a second peg was driven, and about
this, as a centre, a rude circle, about four feet in diameter, described.
Taking now a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and one to me, Legrand
begged us to set about digging as quickly as possible.
To speak the truth, I had no especial relish for
such amusement at any time, and, at that particular moment, would most
willingly have declined it; for the night was coming on, and I felt much
fatigued with the exercise already taken; but I saw no mode of escape,
and was fearful of disturbing my poor friend's equanimity by a refusal.
Could I have depended, indeed, upon Jupiter's aid, I would have had no
hesitation in attempting to get the lunatic home by force; but I was too
well assured of the old negro's disposition, to hope that he would assist
me, under any circumstances, in a personal contest with his master. I made
no doubt that the latter had been infected with some of the innumerable
Southern superstitions about money buried, and that his phantasy had received
confirmation by the finding of the scarabæus, or, perhaps,
by Jupiter's obstinacy in maintaining it to be "a bug of real gold." A
mind disposed to lunacy would readily be led away by such suggestions—especially if chiming in with favorite preconceived ideas—and then I
called to mind the poor fellow's speech about the beetle's being "the index
of his fortune." Upon the whole, I was sadly vexed and puzzled, but, at
length, I concluded to make a virtue of necessity—to dig with a good
will, and thus the sooner to convince the visionary, by ocular demonstration,
of the fallacy of the opinions he entertained.
The lanterns having been lit, we all fell to work
with a zeal worthy a more rational cause; and, as the glare fell upon our
persons and implements, I could not help thinking how picturesque a group
we composed, and how strange and suspicious our labors must have appeared
to any interloper who, by chance, might have stumbled upon our whereabouts.
We dug very steadily for two hours. Little was said;
and our chief embarrassment lay in the yelpings of the dog, who took exceeding interest in our proceedings. He, at length, became
so obstreperous that we grew fearful of his giving the alarm to some stragglers
in the vicinity;—or, rather, this was the apprehension of Legrand;—for myself, I should have rejoiced at any interruption which might have
enabled me to get the wanderer home. The noise was, at length, very effectually
silenced by Jupiter, who, getting out of the hole with a dogged air of
deliberation, tied the brute's mouth up with one of his suspenders, and
then returned, with a grave chuckle, to his task.
When the time mentioned had expired, we had reached
a depth of five feet, and yet no signs of any treasure became manifest.
A general pause ensued, and I began to hope that the farce was at an end.
Legrand, however, although evidently much disconcerted, wiped his brow
thoughtfully and recommenced. We had excavated the entire circle of four
feet diameter, and now we slightly enlarged the limit, and went to the
farther depth of two feet. Still nothing appeared. The gold-seeker, whom
I sincerely pitied, at length clambered from the pit, with the bitterest
disappointment imprinted upon every feature, and proceeded, slowly and
reluctantly, to put on his coat, which he had thrown off at the beginning
of his labor. In the mean time I made no remark. Jupiter, at a signal from
his master, began to gather up his tools. This done, and the dog having
been unmuzzled, we turned in profound silence towards home.
We had taken, perhaps, a dozen steps in this direction,
when, with a loud oath, Legrand strode up to Jupiter, and seized him by
the collar. The astonished negro opened his eyes and mouth to the fullest
extent, let fall the spades, and fell upon his knees.
"You scoundrel," said Legrand, hissing out the syllables
from between his clenched teeth—"you infernal black villain!—speak,
I tell you!—answer me this instant, without prevarication!—which—which is your left eye?"
"Oh, my golly, Massa Will! 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 his master.
"Come! we must go back," said the latter, "the game's
not up yet;" and he again led the way to the tulip-tree.
"Jupiter," said he, when we reached its foot, "come
here! was the skull nailed to the limb with the face outwards, 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 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
Around the new position a circle, somewhat larger
than in the former instance, was now described, and we again set to work
with the spades. I was dreadfully weary, but, scarcely understanding what
had occasioned the change in my thoughts, I felt no longer any great aversion
from the labor imposed. I had become most unaccountably interested—nay,
even excited. Perhaps there was something, amid all the extravagant demeanor
of Legrand—some air of forethought, or of deliberation, which impressed
me. I dug eagerly, and now and then caught myself actually looking, with
something that very much resembled expectation, for the fancied treasure,
the vision of which had demented my unfortunate companion. At a period
when such vagaries of thought most fully possessed me, and when we had
been at work perhaps an hour and a half, we were again interrupted by the
violent howlings of the dog. His uneasiness, in the first instance, had been, evidently, but the result of playfulness
or caprice, but he now assumed a bitter and serious tone. Upon Jupiter's
again attempting to muzzle him, he made furious resistance, and, leaping
into the hole, tore up the mould frantically with his claws. In a few seconds
he had uncovered a mass of human bones, forming two complete skeletons,
intermingled with several buttons of metal, and what appeared to be the
dust of decayed woollen. One or two strokes of a spade upturned the blade
of a large Spanish knife, and, as we dug farther, three or four loose pieces
of gold and silver coin came to light.
At sight of these the joy of Jupiter could scarcely
be restrained, but the countenance of his master wore an air of extreme
disappointment. He urged us, however, to continue our exertions, and the
words were hardly uttered when I stumbled and fell forward, having caught
the toe of my boot in a large ring of iron that lay half buried in the
We now worked in earnest, and never did I pass ten
minutes of more intense excitement. During this interval we had fairly
unearthed an oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation
and wonderful hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing
process—perhaps that of the Bi-chloride of Mercury. This box was three
feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half feet deep. It
was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron, riveted, and forming a kind
of open trellis-work over the whole. On each side of the chest, near the
top, were three rings of iron—six in all—by means of which a firm hold
could be obtained by six persons. Our utmost united endeavors served only
to disturb the coffer very slightly in its bed. We at once saw the impossibility
of removing so great a weight. Luckily, the sole fastenings of the lid
consisted of two sliding bolts. These we drew back—trembling and panting
with anxiety. In an instant, a treasure of incalculable value lay gleaming
before us. As the rays of the lanterns fell within the pit, there flashed
upwards 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 nature of things, for any negro's visage to assume.
He seemed stupified—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 ob de goole-bug! de putty goole
bug! de poor little goole-bug, what I boosed in dat sabage kind ob style!
Aint you shamed ob yourself, nigger?—answer me dat!"
It became necessary, at last, that I should arouse
both master and valet to the expediency of removing the treasure. It was
growing late, and it behooved us to make exertion, that we might get every
thing housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done,
and much time was spent in deliberation—so confused were the ideas of
all. We, finally, lightened the box by removing two thirds of its contents,
when we were enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from the hole. The
articles taken out were deposited among the brambles, and the dog left
to guard them, with strict orders from Jupiter neither, upon any pretence,
to stir from the spot, nor to open his mouth until our return. We then
hurriedly made for home with the chest; reaching the hut in safety, but
after excessive toil, at one o'clock in the morning. Worn out as we were,
it was not in human nature to do more 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
burthens, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn gleamed from over
the tree-tops in the East.
We were now thoroughly broken down; but the intense
excitement of the time denied us repose. After an unquiet slumber of some
three or four hours' duration, we arose, as if by preconcert, to make examination
of our treasure.
The chest had been full to the brim, and we spent
the whole day, and the greater part of the next night, in a scrutiny of
its contents. There had been nothing like
order or arrangement. Every thing had been heaped in promiscuously. Having
assorted all with care, we found ourselves possessed of even vaster wealth
than we had at first supposed. In coin there was rather more than four
hundred and fifty thousand dollars—estimating the value of the pieces,
as accurately as we could, by the tables of the period. There was not a
particle of silver. All was gold of antique date and of great variety—French, Spanish, and German money, with a few English guineas, and some
counters, of which we had never seen specimens before. There were several
very large and heavy coins, so worn that we could make nothing of their
inscriptions. There was no American money. The value of the jewels we found
more difficulty in estimating. There were diamonds—some of them exceedingly
large and fine—a hundred and ten in all, and not one of them small; eighteen
rubies of remarkable brilliancy;—three hundred and ten emeralds, all
very beautiful; and twenty-one sapphires, with an opal. These stones had
all been broken from their settings and thrown loose in the chest. The
settings themselves, which we picked out from among the other gold, appeared
to have been beaten up with hammers, as if to prevent identification. Besides
all this, there was a vast quantity of solid gold ornaments;—nearly two
hundred massive finger and earrings;—rich chains—thirty of these, if
I remember;—eighty-three very large and heavy crucifixes;—five gold
censers of great value;—a prodigious golden punch-bowl, ornamented with
richly chased vine-leaves and Bacchanalian figures; with two sword-handles
exquisitely embossed, and many other smaller articles which I cannot recollect.
The weight of these valuables exceeded three hundred and fifty pounds avoirdupois;
and in this estimate I have not included one hundred and ninety-seven superb
gold watches; three of the number being worth each five hundred dollars,
if one. Many of them were very old, and as time keepers valueless; the
works having suffered, more or less, from corrosion but all were richly
jewelled and in cases of great worth. We estimated the entire contents
of the chest, that night, at a million and a half of dollars; and, upon
the subsequent disposal of the trinkets and jewels (a few being retained for our own use), it was found that we had greatly undervalued
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 scarabæus. 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 scarabæus,
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 stupified me for a time. This is the usual effect of such coincidences.
The mind struggles to establish a connexion—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 scarabæus.
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-worm-like conception of that
truth which last night's adventure brought to so magnificent a demonstration.
I arose at once, and putting the parchment securely away, dismissed all
farther reflection until I should be alone.
"When you had gone, and when Jupiter was fast asleep,
I betook myself to a more methodical investigation of the affair. In the
first place I considered the manner in which the parchment had come into
my possession. The spot where we discovered the scarabæus
was on the coast of the main land, about a mile eastward of the island,
and but a short distance above high water mark. Upon my taking hold of
it, it gave me a sharp bite, which caused me to let it drop. Jupiter, with
his accustomed caution, before seizing the insect, which had flown towards
him, looked about him for a leaf, or something of that nature, by which
to take hold of it. It was at this moment that his eyes, and mine also,
fell upon the scrap of parchment, which I then supposed to be paper. It
was lying half buried in the sand, a corner sticking up. Near the spot
where we found it, I observed the remnants of the hull of what appeared
to have been a ship's long boat. The wreck seemed to have been there for
a very great while; for the resemblance to boat timbers could scarcely
"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 connexion. I had put together two
links of a great chain. There was a boat lying upon a sea-coast, 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 connexion?' I reply that
the skull, or death's-head, is the well-known emblem of the pirate. The
flag of the death's-head is hoisted in all engagements.
"I have said that the scrap was parchment, and not
paper. Parchment is durable—almost imperishable. Matters of little moment
are rarely consigned to parchment; since, for the mere ordinary purposes
of drawing or writing, it is not nearly so well adapted as paper. This
reflection suggested some meaning—some relevancy—in the death's-head.
I did not fail to observe, also, the form of the parchment. Although
one of its corners had been, by some accident, destroyed, it could be seen
that the original form was oblong. It was just such a slip, indeed, as
might have been chosen for a memorandum—for a record of something to
be long remembered and carefully preserved."
"But," I interposed, "you say that the skull was
upon the parchment when you made the drawing
of the beetle. How then do you trace any connexion between the boat and
the skull—since this latter, according to your own admission, must have
been designed (God only knows how or by whom) at some period subsequent
to your sketching the scarabæus?"
"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 scarabæus, 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 nitre, gives a red. These
colors disappear at longer or shorter intervals after the material written upon cools, but again become apparent upon the
re-application of heat.
"I now scrutinized the death's-head with care. Its
outer edges—the edges of the drawing nearest the edge of the vellum—were far more distinct than the others. It was clear that the action
of the caloric had been imperfect or unequal. I immediately kindled a fire,
and subjected every portion of the parchment to a glowing heat. At first,
the only effect was the strengthening of the faint lines in the skull;
but, 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 connexion between your pirates and a goat—pirates, you know, have nothing to do with goats; they appertain to the
"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 signature."
"Something of that kind. The fact is, I felt irresistibly
impressed with a presentiment of some vast good fortune impending. I can
scarcely say why. Perhaps, after all, it was rather a desire than an actual
belief;—but do you know that Jupiter's silly words, about the bug being
of solid gold, had a remarkable effect upon my fancy? And then the series
of accidents and coincidences—these were so very extraordinary.
Do you observe how mere an accident it was
that these events should have occurred 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 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 treasure still remaining entombed. Had
Kidd concealed his plunder for a time, and afterwards reclaimed it, the
rumors would scarcely have reached us in their present unvarying form.
You will observe that the stories told are all about money-seekers, not
about money-finders. Had the pirate recovered his money, there the affair
would have dropped. It seemed to me that some accident—say the loss of
a memorandum indicating its locality—had deprived him of the means of
recovering it, and that this accident had become known to his followers,
who otherwise might never have heard that treasure had been concealed at
all, and who, busying themselves in vain, because unguided attempts, to
regain it, had given first birth, and then universal currency, to the reports
which are now so common. Have you ever heard of any important treasure
being unearthed along the coast?"
"But that Kidd's accumulations were immense, is well
known. I took it for granted, therefore, that the earth still held them;
and you will scarcely be surprised when I tell you that I felt a hope,
nearly amounting to certainty, that the parchment so strangely found, involved
a lost record of the place of deposit."
"But how did you proceed?"
"I held the vellum again to the fire, after increasing
the heat; but nothing appeared. I now thought it possible that the coating
of dirt might have something to do with the failure; so I carefully rinsed
the parchment by pouring warm water over it, and, having done this, I placed it in a tin pan, with the skull downwards, and
put the pan upon a furnace of lighted charcoal. In a few minutes, the pan
having become thoroughly heated, I removed the slip, and, to my inexpressible
joy, found it spotted, in several places, with what appeared to be figures
arranged in lines. Again I placed it in the pan, and suffered it to remain
another minute. Upon taking it off, the whole was just as you see it now."
Here Legrand, having re-heated 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 lead to imagine from the first hasty inspection
of the characters. These characters, as any one might readily guess, form
a cipher—that is to say, they convey a meaning; but then, from what is
known of Kidd, I could not suppose him capable of constructing any of the
more abstruse cryptographs. I made up my mind, at once, that this was of
a simple species—such, however, as would appear, to the crude intellect
of the sailor, absolutely insoluble without the key."
"And you really solved it?"
"Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness
ten thousand times greater. Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind,
have led me to take interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted
whether human ingenuity can construct an enigma of the kind which human
ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve. In fact, having once
established connected and legible characters, I scarcely gave a thought
to the mere difficulty of developing their import.
"In the present case—indeed in all cases of secret
writing—the first question regards the language of the cipher;
for the principles of solution, so far, especially, as the more simple
ciphers are concerned, depend 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
"You observe there are no divisions between the words.
Had there been divisions, the task would have been comparatively easy.
In such case I should have commenced with a collation and analysis of the
shorter words, and, had a word of a single letter occurred, as is most
likely, (a or I, for example,) I should have considered the
solution as assured. But, there being no division, my first step was to
ascertain the predominant letters, as well as the least frequent. Counting
all, I constructed a table, thus:
Of the character 8 there are 33.
4 " 19.
* " 13.
5 " 12.
6 " 11.
9 2 "
: 3 "
"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,' &c.
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
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 juxtaposition.
"Looking beyond these words, for a short distance,
we again see the combination ;48, and employ it by way of termination
to what immediately precedes. We have thus this arrangement:
the tree ;4(?34 the,
or, substituting the natural letters, where known, it reads thus:
the tree thr?3h the.
"Now, if, in place of the unknown characters, we
leave blank spaces, or substitute dots, we read thus:
the tree thr...h the,
when the word 'through' makes itself evident at once. But this
discovery gives us three new letters, o, u and g,
represented by ? and 3.
"Looking now, narrowly, through the cipher for combinations
of known characters, we find, not very far from the beginning, this arrangement,
83(88, or egree,
which, plainly, is the conclusion of the word 'degree,' and gives us
another letter, d, represented by .
"Four letters beyond the word 'degree,' we perceive
"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 combination,
"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
"We have, therefore, no less than ten of the most
important letters represented, and it will be unnecessary to proceed with
the details of the solution. I have said enough to convince you that ciphers
of this nature are readily soluble, and to give you some insight into the
of their development. But be assured that the specimen before us appertains
to the very simplest species of cryptograph. It now only remains to give
you the full translation of the characters upon the parchment, as unriddled.
Here it is:
'A good glass in the bishop's hostel in the devil's
seat twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes northeast and by north main
branch seventh limb east side shoot from the left eye of the death's-head
a bee line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.' "
"But," said I, "the enigma seems still in as bad
a condition as ever. How is it possible to extort a meaning from all this
jargon about 'devil's seats,' 'death's heads,' and 'bishop's hotels?' "
"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 over-acute 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:
good glass in the Bishop's hostel in the Devil's seat twenty-one degrees
and thirteen minutes northeast and by north main branch seventh limb
east side shoot from the left eye of the death's-head a bee-line from
the tree through the shot fifty feet out.' "
"Even this division," said I, "leaves me still in
"It left me also in the dark," replied Legrand, "for
a few days; during which I made diligent inquiry, in the neighborhood of
Sullivan's Island, for any building which went by the name of the 'Bishop's
Hotel;' for, of course, I dropped the obsolete word 'hostel.' Gaining no
information on the subject, I was on the point of extending my sphere of
search, and proceeding in a more systematic manner, when, one morning,
it entered into my head, quite suddenly, that this 'Bishop's Hostel' might
have some reference to an old family, of the name of Bessop, which, time
out of mind, had held possession of an ancient manor-house, about four
miles to the northward of the Island. I accordingly went over to the plantation,
and re-instituted 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, "twenty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes,' and 'northeast and by north,' were intended
as directions for the levelling of the glass. Greatly excited by these
discoveries, I hurried home, procured a telescope, and returned to the
"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 'twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes' could allude to
nothing but elevation above the visible horizon, since the horizontal direction
was clearly indicated by the words, 'northeast and by north.' This latter
direction I at once established by means of a pocket-compass; then, pointing
the glass as nearly at an angle of twenty-one degrees of elevation as I
could do it by guess, I moved it cautiously up or down, until my attention
was arrested by a circular rift or opening in the foliage of a large tree
that overtopped its fellows in the distance. In the centre of this rift
I perceived a white spot, but could not, at first, distinguish what it
was. Adjusting the focus of the telescope, I again looked, and now made
it out to be a human skull.
"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
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,
"Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the
tree, I turned homewards. The instant that I left 'the devil's seat,' however,
the circular rift vanished; nor could I get a glimpse of it afterwards,
turn as I would. What seems to me the chief ingenuity in this whole business,
is the fact (for repeated experiment has convinced me it is a fact)
that the circular opening in question is visible from no other attainable
point of view than that afforded by the narrow ledge upon the face of the
"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
"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 vain."
"I presume the fancy of the skull, of letting fall a bullet through the skull's eye—was suggested to Kidd by the piratical flag. No doubt he felt a kind of poetical consistency in recovering his money through this ominous insignium."
"Perhaps so; still I cannot help thinking that common-sense had quite as much to do with the matter as poetical consistency. To be visible from the devil's seat, it was necessary that the object, if small, should be white; and there is nothing like your human skull for retaining and even increasing its whiteness under exposure to all vicissitudes of weather."
"But your grandiloquence, and your conduct in swinging
the beetle—how excessively odd! I was sure you were mad. And why did
you insist 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, the worst of this labor concluded, he may have thought it expedient to remove
all participants in his secret. Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock
were sufficient, while his coadjutors were busy in the pit; perhaps it
required a dozen—who shall tell?"