Part 3 out of 5
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters
wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian
geographer's account of the _Mare Tenebrarum_. A panorama more
deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right
and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like
ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff,
whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the
surf which reared high up against it its white and ghastly crest,
howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite the promontory upon whose
apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out
at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island; or, more
properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge
in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land arose
another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed
at various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant
island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although,
at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the
remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly
plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like
a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water
in every direction--as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of
foam there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.
"The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by the
Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the
northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Iflesen, Hoeyholm, Kieldholm,
Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off--between Moskoe and Vurrgh--are
Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Skarholm. These are the true names
of the places--but why it has been thought necessary to name them at
all is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything?
Do you see any change in the water?"
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which
we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no
glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the
old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing
sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American
prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the
_chopping_ character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing
into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this
current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its
speed--to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as
far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between
Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast
bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting
channels, burst suddenly into frenzied convulsion--heaving, boiling,
hissing--gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all
whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water
never elsewhere assumes, except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical
alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the
whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam
became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at
length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into
combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided
vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more
vast. Suddenly--very suddenly--this assumed a distinct and definite
existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of
the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no
particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose
interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining,
and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of
some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a
swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an
appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty
cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.
The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw
myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of
"This," said I at length, to the old man--"this _can_ be nothing else
than the great whirlpool of the Maelstrom."
"So it is sometimes termed," said he. "We Norwegians call it the
Moskoe-strom, from the island of Moskoe in the midway." The ordinary
accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I
saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most circumstantial of
any, cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence
or of the horror of the scene--or of the wild bewildering sense of
_the novel_ which confounds the beholder. I am not sure from what
point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at what time;
but it could neither have been from the summit of Helseggen, nor
during a storm. There are some passages of his description,
nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, although their
effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression of the
"Between Lofoden and Moskoe," he says, "the depth of the water is
between thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward
Ver (Vurrgh), this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient
passage for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks,
which happens even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the
stream runs up the country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a
boisterous rapidity; but the roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is
scarce equalled by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts, the noise
being heard several leagues Off; and the vortices or pits are of such
an extent and depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is
inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to
pieces against the rocks; and when the water relaxes, the fragments
thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquillity are
only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last
but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the
stream is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is
dangerous to come within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships
have been carried away by not guarding against it before they were
within its reach. It likewise happens frequently that whales come too
near the stream, and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is
impossible to describe their howlings and bellowings in their
fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. A bear once, attempting
to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was caught by the stream and borne
down, while he roared terribly, so as to be heard on shore. Large
stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed by the current,
rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles grew upon
them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks, among
which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the
flux and reflux of the sea--it being constantly high and low water
every six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima
Sunday, it raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones
of the houses on the coast fell to the ground."
In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could
have been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the
vortex. The "forty fathoms" must have reference only to portions of
the channel close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The
depth in the centre of the Moskoe-strom must be immeasurably greater;
and no better proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained
from even the sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be
had from the highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this
pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling
at the simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a
matter difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears;
for it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing that the largest
ships of the line in existence, coming within the influence of that
deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the
hurricane, and must disappear bodily and at once.
The attempts to account for the phenomenon--some of which, I remember,
seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal--now wore a very
different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is
that this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Feroe Islands,
"have no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling,
at flux and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which
confines the water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and
thus the higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the
natural result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction
of which is sufficiently known by lesser experiments."--These are the
words of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." Kircher and others imagine
that in the centre of the channel of the Maelstrom is an abyss
penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part--the Gulf
of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This
opinion, idle in itself, was the one to which, as I gazed, my
imagination most readily assented; and, mentioning it to the guide, I
was rather surprised to hear him say that, although it was the view
almost universally entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it
nevertheless was not his own. As to the former notion he confessed his
inability to comprehend it; and here I agreed with him--for, however
conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even
absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.
"You have had a good look at the whirl now," said the old man, "and if
you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden
the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you
I ought to know something of the Moskoe-strom."
I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.
"Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of
about seventy tons burden, with which we were in the habit of fishing
among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent
eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one
has only the courage to attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden
coastmen we three were the only ones who made a regular business of
going out to the islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great
way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours,
without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The
choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the
finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we often got in
a single day what the more timid of the craft could not scrape
together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate
speculation--the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage
answering for capital.
"We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than
this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of
the fifteen minutes' slack to push across the main channel of the
Moskoe-strom, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage
somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so
violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for
slack-water again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set out
upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and
coming--one that we felt sure would not fail us before our return--and
we seldom made a miscalculation upon this point. Twice, during six
years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a dead
calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and once we had to
remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing to a
gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel too
boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have been
driven out to sea in spite of everything (for the whirlpools threw us
round and round so violently, that, at length, we fouled our anchor
and dragged it) if it had not been that we drifted into one of the
innumerable cross currents--here to-day and gone to-morrow--which
drove us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.
"I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we
encountered 'on the ground'--it is a bad spot to be in, even in good
weather--but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the
Moskoe-strom itself without accident; although at times my heart has
been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or
before the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought
it at starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish,
while the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother
had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my
own. These would have been of great assistance at such times, in using
the sweeps, as well as afterward in fishing--but, somehow, although we
ran the risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get
into the danger--for, after all said and done, it _was_ a horrible
danger, and that is the truth.
"It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to
tell you occurred. It was on the tenth of July, 18--, a day which the
people of this part of the world will never forget--for it was one in
which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the
heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the
afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west,
while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seamen among us could
not have forseen what was to follow.
"The three of us--my two brothers and myself--had crossed over to the
islands about two o'clock P.M., and soon nearly loaded the smack with
fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we
had ever known them. It was just seven, _by my watch,_ when we weighed
and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Strom at slack
water, which we knew would be at eight.
"We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some
time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for
indeed we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we
were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most
unusual--something that had never happened to us before--and I began
to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat
on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and I
was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when,
looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular
copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
"In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we
were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of
things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think
about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us--in less than
two the sky was entirely overcast--and what with this and the driving
spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in
"Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The
oldest seaman in Norway never experienced anything like it. We had let
our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first
puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed
off--the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed
himself to it for safety.
"Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon
water. It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the
bow, and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when
about to cross the Strom, by way of precaution against the chopping
seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once--for
we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped
destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of
ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I
threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of
the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the
foremast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this--which was
undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done--for I was too much
flurried to think.
"For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this
time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it
no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my
hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave
herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and
thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to
get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my
senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my
arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had
made sure that he was overboard--but the next moment all this joy was
turned into horror--for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed
out the word '_Moskoe-strom_!'
"No one-will ever know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook
from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I
knew what he meant by that one word well enough--I knew what he wished
to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were
bound for the whirl of the Strom, and nothing could save us!
"You perceive that in crossing the Strom _channel_, we always went a
long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had
to wait and watch carefully for the slack--but now we were driving
right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! 'To be
sure,' I thought, 'we shall get there just about the slack--there is
some little hope in that--but in the next moment I cursed myself for
being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well
that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.
"By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or
perhaps we did not feel it so much as we scudded before it; but at all
events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and
lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular
change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it
was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all
at once, a circular rift of clear sky--as clear as I ever saw--and of
a deep bright blue--and through it there blazed forth the full moon
with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up
everything about us with the greatest distinctness--but, oh God, what
a scene it was to light up!
"I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother--but, in some
manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I
could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top
of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale
as death, and held up one of his fingers, as if to say _listen_!
"At first I could not make out what he meant--but soon a hideous
thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not
going. I glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into
tears as I flung it far away into the ocean. _It had run down at seven
o'clock! We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the
Strom was in full fury!_
"When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the
waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip
from beneath her--which appears very strange to a landsman--and this
is what is called _riding_ in sea phrase.
"Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a
gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us
with it as it rose--up--up--as if into the sky. I would not have
believed that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with
a sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as
if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we
were up I had thrown a quick glance around--and that one glance was
all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The
Moskoe-strom whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead--but
no more like the every-day Moskoe-strom, than the whirl as you now see
it is like a mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we
had to expect, I should not have recognized the place at all. As it
was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched
themselves together as if in a spasm.
"It could not have been more than two minutes afterwards until we
suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat
made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new
direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of
the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek--such a
sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many
thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were
now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I
thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the
abyss--down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the
amazing velocity with which we were borne along. The boat did not seem
to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the
surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on
the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a
huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.
"It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the
gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching
it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal
of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair
that strung my nerves.
"It may look like boasting--but what I tell you is truth--I began to
reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and
how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my
own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God's
power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed
my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest
curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a _wish_ to
explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my
principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old
companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt,
were singular fancies to occupy a man's mind in such extremity--and I
have often thought, since, that the revolutions of the boat around the
pool might have rendered me a little light-headed.
"There was another circumstance which tended to restore my
self-possession; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could
not reach us in our present situation--for, as you saw yourself, the
belt of surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean,
and this latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous
ridge. If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no
idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray
together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all
power of action or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure,
rid of these annoyances--just as death-condemned felons in prison are
allowed petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet
"How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We
careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than
floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the
surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this
time I had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at stern,
holding on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed
under the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had
not been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached
the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the
ring, from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force
my hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure
grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this
act--although I new he was a madman when he did it--a raving maniac
through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point
with him. I knew it could make no diference whether either of us held
on at all; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the
cask. This there was no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew
round steadily enough, and upon an even keel--only swaying to and fro,
with the immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I
secured myself in my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to
starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried
prayer to God, and thought all was over.
"As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively
tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some
seconds I dared not open them--while I expected instant destruction,
and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the
water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of
falling had ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had
been before, while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she
now lay more along. I took courage and looked once again upon the
"Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration
with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by
magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in
circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides
might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity
with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance
they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift
amid the clouds, which I have already described, streamed in a flood
of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the
inmost recesses of the abyss.
"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The
general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I
recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively
downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view,
from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the
pool. She was quite upon an even keel--that is to say, her deck lay in
a plane parallel with that of the water--but this latter sloped at an
angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying
upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I
had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in
this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I
suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.
"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound
gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a
thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which
there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering
bridge which Mussulmans say is the only pathway between Time and
Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing
of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the
bottom--but the yell that went up to the heavens from out of that
mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
"Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above,
had carried us to a great distance down the slope; but our farther
descent was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept--not
with any uniform movement but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent
us sometimes only a few hundred yards--sometimes nearly the complete
circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was
slow, but very perceptible.
"Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were
thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the
embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments
of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with
many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken
boxes, barrels, and staves. I have already described the unnatural
curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It
appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful
doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous
things that floated in our company. I _must_ have been delirious--for
I even sought _amusement_ in speculating upon the relative velocities
of their several descents toward the foam below. 'This fir tree,' I
found myself at one time saying, 'will certainly be the next thing
that takes the awful plunge and disappears,'--and then I was
disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook
it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of
this nature, and being deceived in all--this fact--the fact of my
invariable miscalculation, set me upon a train of reflection that made
my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.
"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more
exciting _hope_. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from
present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant
matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and
then thrown forth by the Moskoe-strom. By far the greater number of
the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way--so chafed
and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of
splinters--but then I distinctly recollected that there were _some_ of
them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for
this difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were
the only ones which had been _completely absorbed_--that the others
had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, from some
reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not
reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as
the case might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that
they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without
undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early or
absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The
first was, that as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the
more rapid their descent; the second, that, between two masses of
equal extent, the one spherical, and the other _of any other shape,_
the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere; the third,
that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the
other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly.
Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with
an old schoolmaster of the district; and it was from him that I
learned the use of the words 'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to
me--although I have forgotten the explanation--how what I observed
was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating
fragments, and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in
a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in
with greater difficulty, than an equally bulky body, of any form
[Footnote 1: See Archimedes, _De iis Ques in Humido Vehuntur_, lib
"There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in
enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to
account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed something
like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of
these things, which had been on our level when I first opened my eyes
upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and
seemed to have moved but little from their original station.
"I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely
to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the
counter, and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my
brother's attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that
came near us, and did everything in my power to make him understand
what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my
design--but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head
despairingly, and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt.
It was impossible to reach him; the emergency admitted of no delay;
and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened
myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the
counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another
"The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is
myself who now tell you this tale--as you see that I _did_ escape--and
as you are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was
effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to
say--I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been
an hour, or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having
descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild
gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it,
plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam
below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther
than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at
which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the
character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel
became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew,
gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the
rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to
uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon
was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface
of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the
spot where the pool of the Moskoe-strom _had been._ It was the 20 hour
of the slack, but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the
effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently into the channel of
the Strom, and in a few minutes was hurried down the coast into the
'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat picked me up--exhausted from
fatigue--and (now that the danger was removed) speechless from the
memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates
and daily companions, but they knew me no more than they would have
known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair, which had been
raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say
too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told
them my story--they did not believe it. I now tell it to you--and I
can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry
fishermen of Lofoden."
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had
ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and its
seal--the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains,
and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with
dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body, and especially upon the
face, of the victim were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid
and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure,
progress, and termination of the disease were the incidents of half an
But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When
his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a
thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and
dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of
one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent
structure, the creation of the Prince's own eccentric yet august
taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of
iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy
hammers, and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of
ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from
within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the
courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could
take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to
think. The Prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There
were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers,
there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and
security were within. Without was the "Red Death."
It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion,
and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince
Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most
It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of
the rooms in which it was held. There were seven--an imperial
suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight
vista, while the folding-doors slide back nearly to the walls on
either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely
impeded. Here the case was very different, as might have been expected
from the Prince's love of the bizarre. The apartments were so
irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one
at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards,
and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle
of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed
corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were
of stained glass, whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing
hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at
the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue--and vividly blue
were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and
tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green
throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and
lighted with orange, the fifth with white, the sixth with violet. The
seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that
hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds
upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But, in this chamber only,
the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations.
The panes here were scarlet--a deep blood-color. Now in no one of the
seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion
of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the
roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle
within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the
suite there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a
brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and
so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of
gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber
the effect of the firelight that streamed upon the dark hangings
through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and
produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered
that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its
precincts at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western
wall a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a
dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the
circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from
the brazen lungs of the clock a sounct which was clear and loud and
deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiars note and emphasis
that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were
constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to
the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and
there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the
chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew
pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows
as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully
ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians
looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and
folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next
chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and
then, after the lapse of sixty minutes (which embrace three thousand
and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies) there came yet another
chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and
tremulousness and meditation as before.
But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The
tastes of the Prince were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and
effects. He disregarded the _decora_ of mere fashion. His plans were
bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There
are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he
was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be _sure_
that he was not.
He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the
seven chambers, upon occasion of this great _fete_; and it was his own
guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure
they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy
and phantasm--much of what has been since seen in _Hernani_. There
were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There
were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of
the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of
the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited
disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a
multitude of dreams. And these--the dreams--writhed in and about,
taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra
to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony
clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment,
all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The
dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die
away--they have endured but an instant--and a light, half-subdued
laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music
swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than
ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the
rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly
of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the
night is waning away, and there flows a ruddier light through the
blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appalls;
and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from
the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any
which reaches _their_ ears who indulge in the more remote gayeties of
the other apartments.
But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat
feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until
at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And
then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the
waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things
as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell
of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought
crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among
those who revelled. And thus too it happened, perhaps, that before the
last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there
were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become
aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the
attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new
presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at
length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of
disapprobation and surprise--then, finally, of terror, of horror, and
In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be
supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such
sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly
unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone
beyond the bounds of even the Prince's indefinite decorum. There are
chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched
without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death
are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The
whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume
and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The
figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the
habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made
so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the
closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And
yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad
revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type
of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in _blood_--and his broad
brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the
When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which
with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its
_role_, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be
convulsed, in the first moment, with a strong shudder either of terror
or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.
"Who dares?" he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near
him--"who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and
unmask him--that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the
It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince
Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven
rooms loudly and clearly--for the Prince was a bold and robust man,
and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.
It was in the blue room where stood the Prince, with a group of pale
courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight
rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who
at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and
stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain
nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired
the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize
him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the Prince's
person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank
from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way
uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had
distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the
purple--through the purple to the green--through the green to the
orange--through this again to the white--and even thence to the
violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was
then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the
shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six
chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that
had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached,
in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating
figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet
apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a
sharp cry--and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet,
upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince
Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the
revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and,
seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless
within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at
finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled
with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come
like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the
blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing
posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with
that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired.
And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion
THE GOLD BUG
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 fore-fathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan's
Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.
This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than
the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point
exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a
scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of
reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation,
as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any
magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort
Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings,
tenanted during summer by the fugitives from Charleston dust and
fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the whole
island, with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard
white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of
the sweet myrtle, so much prized by the horticulturists of England.
The shrub here often attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and
forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burdening the air with its
In the utmost 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 armchair by the crackling logs, and
awaited patiently the arrival of my hosts.
Soon after dark they arrived, and gave me a most cordial
welcome. Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear, bustled about to prepare
some marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his fits--how else
shall I term them?--of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown bivalve,
forming a new genus, and, more than this, he had hunted down and
secured, with Jupiter's assistance, a _scarabaeus_ which he believed to
be totally new, but in respect to which he wished to have my opinion
on the morrow.
"And why not to-night?" I asked, rubbing my hands over the blaze, and
wishing the whole tribe of _scarabaei_ at the devil.
"Ah, if I had only known you were here!" said Legrand, "but it's so
long since I saw you; and how could I foresee that you would pay me a
visit this very night of all others? As I was coming home I met
Lieutenant G----, from the fort, and, very foolishly, I lent him the
bug; so it will be impossible for you to see it until the
morning. Stay here to-night, and I will send Jup down for it at
sunrise. It is the loveliest thing in creation!"
"Nonsense! no!--the bug. It is of a brilliant gold color--about the
size of a large hickory-nut--with two jet black spots near one
extremity of the back, and another, somewhat longer, at the other. The
"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
"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 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
"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
low growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at the door. Jupiter
opened it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to Legrand, rushed in,
leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses; for I had shown
him much attention during previous visits. When his gambols were
over, I looked at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself not
a little puzzled at what my friend had depicted.
"Well!" I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, "this _is_ a
strange _scarabaeus_, I must confess; new to me: never saw anything
like it before--unless it was a skull, or a death's-head, which it
more nearly resembles than anything else that has come under _my_
"A death's-head!" echoed Legrand--"oh--yes--well, it has something of
that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black spots look
like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth--and then
the shape of the whole is oval."
"Perhaps so," said I; "but, Legrand, I fear you are no artist. I must
wait until I see the beetle itself, if I am to form any idea of its
"We'll, I don't know," said he, a little nettled, "I draw
tolerably--_should_ do it at least--have had good masters, and flatter
myself that I am not quite a blockhead."
"But, my dear fellow, you are joking then," said I; "this is a very
passable _skull_,--indeed, I may say that it is a very _excellent_
skull, according to the vulgar notions about such specimens of
physiology--and your _scarabaeus_ must be the queerest _scarabaeus_
in the world if it resembles it. Why, we may get up a very thrilling
bit of superstition upon this hint. I presume you will call the bug
_scarabaeus caput hominis_, or something of that kind--there are
many similar titles in the Natural Histories. But where are the
_antennae_ you spoke of?" "The _antennae_!" said Legrand, who seemed
to be getting unaccountably warm upon the subject; "I am sure you must
see the _antennae_. I made them as distinct as they are in the
original insect, and I presume that is sufficient."
"Well, well," I said, "perhaps you have--still I don't see them;" and
I handed him the paper without additional remark, not wishing to
ruffle his temper, but I was much surprised at the turn affairs had
taken; his ill humor puzzled me--and as for the drawing of the
beetle, there were positively _no antennae_ visible, and the whole
_did_ bear a very close resemblance to the ordinary cuts of a
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 revery, 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
"_Very_ sick, Jupiter!--why didn't you say so at once? Is he confined
"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
"Why, massa, taint worf while for to git mad bout 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 d------d good beating when he did come--but
Ise sich a fool dat I hadn't de heart arter all--he look so berry
"Eh?--what?--ah yes!--upon the whole I think you had better not be too
severe with the poor fellow--don't flog him, Jupiter--he can't very
well stand it--but can you form no idea of what has occasioned this
illness, or rather this change of conduct? Has anything unpleasant
happened since I saw you?"
"No, massa, dey aint bin noffin onpleasant _since_ den--it 'twas
_fore_ den I'm feared--'twas de berry day you was dare."
"How? what do you mean?"
"Why, massa, I mean de bug--dare now."
"De bug--I'm berry sartin dat Massa Will bin bit somewhere bout de
head by dat goole-bug."
"And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition?"
"Claws enuff, massa, and mouff too. I nebber did see sich a d------d
bug--he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will
cotch him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick, I tell
you--den was de time he must ha got de bite. I didn't like de look ob
de bug mouff, myself, no how, so I wouldn't take hold ob him wid my
finger, but I cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him up
in de paper and stuff piece of it in he mouff--dat was de way."
"And you think, then, that your master was really bitten by the
beetle, and that the bite made him sick?"
"I don't 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
"Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate circumstance
am I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-day?"
"What de matter, massa?"
"Did you bring any message from Mr. Legrand?"
"No, massa, I bring dis here pissel;" and here Jupiter handed me a
note which ran thus:
"MY DEAR ----, Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope you
have not been so foolish as to take offence at any little _brusquerie_
of mine; but no, that is improbable.
"Since I saw you I have had great cause for anxiety. I have something
to tell you, yet scarcely know how to tell it, or whether I should
tell it at all.
"I have not been quite well for some days past, and poor old Jup
annoys me, almost beyond endurance, by his well-meant attentions.
Would you believe it?--he had prepared a huge stick, the other day,
with which to chastise me for giving him the slip, and spending the
day, _solus_, among the hills on the mainland. I verily believe that
my ill looks alone saved me a flogging.
"I have made no addition to my cabinet since we met.
"If you can, in any way, make it convenient, come over with Jupiter.
_Do_ come. I wish to see you _to-night_, upon business of importance.
I assure you that it is of the _highest_ importance.
There was something in the tone of this note which gave me great
uneasiness. Its whole style differed materially from that of Legrand.
What could he be dreaming of? What new crotchet possessed his
excitable brain? What "business of the highest importance" could _he_
possibly have to transact? Jupiter's account of him boded no good. I
dreaded lest the continued pressure of misfortune had, at length,
fairly unsettled the reason of my friend. Without a moment's
hesitation, therefore, I prepared to accompany the negro.
Upon reaching the wharf, I noticed a scythe and three spades, all
apparently new, lying in the bottom of the boat in which we were to
"What is the meaning of all this, Jup?" I inquired.
"Him syfe, massa, and spade."
"Very true; but what are they doing here?
"Him de syfe and de spade what Massa Will sis pon my buying for him in
de town, and de debbil's own lot of money I had to gib for em."
"But what, in the name of all that is mysterious, is your 'Massa Will'
going to do with scythes and spades?"
"Dat's more dan _I_ know, and debbil take me if I don't blieve 'tis
more dan he know, too. But it's all cum ob de bug."
Finding that no satisfaction was to be obtained of Jupiter, whose
whole intellect seemed to be absorbed by "de bug," I now stepped into
the boat and made sail. With a fair and strong breeze we soon ran into
the little cove to the northward of Fort Moultrie, and a walk of some
two miles brought us to the hut. It was about three in the afternoon
when we arrived. Legrand had been awaiting us in eager expectation.
He grasped my hand with a nervous _empressement_, which alarmed me and
strengthened the suspicions already entertained. His countenance was
pale even to ghastliness, and his deep-set eyes glared with unnatural
lustre. After some inquiries respecting his health, I asked him, not
knowing what better to say, if he had yet obtained the _scarabaeus_
from Lieutenant G----.
"Oh, yes," he replied, coloring violently, "I got it from him the next
morning. Nothing should tempt me to part with that _scarabaeus_. Do
you know that Jupiter is quite right about it?"
"In what way?" I asked, with a sad foreboding at heart.
"In supposing it to be a bug of _real gold_." He said this with an air
of profound seriousness, and I felt inexpressibly shocked.
"This bug is to make my fortune," he continued, with a triumphant
smile, "to reinstate me in my family possessions. Is it any wonder,
then, that I prize it? Since Fortune has thought fit to bestow it upon
me, I have only to use it properly and I shall arrive at the gold of
which it is the index. Jupiter, bring me that _scarabaeus_!"
"What! de bug, massa? I'd rudder not go fer trubble dat bug--you mus
git him for your own self." Hereupon Legrand arose, with a grave and
stately air, and brought me the beetle from a glass case in which it
was enclosed. It was a beautiful _scarabaeus_, and, at that time,
unknown to naturalists--of course a great prize in a scientific point
of view. There were two round, black spots near one extremity of the
back, and a long one near the other. The scales were exceedingly hard
and glossy, with all the appearance of burnished gold. The weight of
the insect was very remarkable, and, taking all things into
consideration, I could hardly blame Jupiter for his opinion respecting
it; but what to make of Legrand's agreement with that opinion, I could
not, for the life of me, tell.
"I sent for you," said he, in a grandiloquent tone, when I had
completed my examination of the beetle, "I sent for you that I might
have your counsel and assistance in furthering the views of Fate and
of the bug--"
"My dear Legrand," I cried, interrupting him, "you are certainly
unwell, and had better use some little precautions. You shall go to
bed, and I will remain with you a few days, until you get over
this. You are feverish and--"
"Feel my pulse," said he.
I felt it, and, to say the truth, found not the slightest indication
"But you may be ill, and yet have no fever. Allow me this once to
prescribe for you. In the first place, go to bed. In the next--"
"You are mistaken," he interposed, "I am as well as I can expect to be
under the excitement which I suffer. If you really wish me well, you
will relieve this excitement."
"And how is this to be done?"
"Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an expedition into the
hills, upon the mainland, and, in this expedition, we shall need the
aid of some person in whom we can confide. You are the only one we can
trust. Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which you now
perceive in me will be equally allayed."
"I am anxious to oblige you in any way," I replied; "but do you mean
to say that this infernal beetle has any connection with your
expedition into the hills?"
"Then, Legrand, I can become a party to no such absurd proceeding."
"I am sorry--very sorry--for we shall have to try it by ourselves."
"Try it by yourselves! The man is surely mad!--but stay--how long do
you propose to be absent?"
"Probably all night. We shall start immediately, and be back, at all
events, by sunrise."
"And will you promise me, upon your honor, that when this freak of
yours is over, and the bug business (good God!) settled to your
satisfaction, you will then return home and follow my advice
implicitly, as that of your physician?"
"Yes; I promise; and now let us be off, for we have no time to lose."
With a heavy heart I accompanied my friend. We started about four
o'clock--Legrand, Jupiter, the dog, and myself. Jupiter had with him
the scythe and spades--the whole of which he insisted upon carrying,
more through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of the
implements within reach of his master, than from any excess of
industry or complaisance His demeanor was dogged in the extreme, and
"dat d----d bug" were the sole words which escaped his lips during the
journey. For my own part, I had charge of a couple of dark lanterns,
while Legrand contented himself with the _scarabaeus,_ which he
carried attached to the end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to and
fro, with the air of a conjurer, as he went. When I observed this
last, plain evidence of my friend's aberation 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
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 tableland, near the summit of an almost
inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and
interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the
soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves
into the valleys below merely by the support of the trees against
which they reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an air
of still sterner solemnity to the scene.
The natural platform to which we had clambered was thickly overgrown
with brambles, through which we soon discovered that it would have
been impossible to force our way but for the scythe; and Jupiter, by
direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the foot
of an enormously tall tulip tree, which stood, with some eight or ten
oaks, upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other trees
which I had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage and form, in
the wide spread of its branches, and in the general majesty of its
appearance. When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to Jupiter, and
asked him if he thought he could climb it. The old man seemed a little
staggered by the question, and for some moments made no reply. At
length he approached the huge trunk, walked slowly around it, and
examined it with minute attention. When he had completed his scrutiny,
he merely said:
"Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he ebber see in he life."
"Then up with you as soon as possible, for it will soon be too dark to
see what we are about."
"How far mus go up, massa?" inquired Jupiter.
"Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way to
go--and here--stop! take this beetle with you."
"De bug, Massa Will!--de goole-bug!" cried the negro, drawing back in
dismay--"what for mus tote de bug way up de tree?--d--n if I do!"
"If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you, to take hold of a
harmless little dead beetle, why, you can carry it up by this
string--but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I shall be
under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."
"What de matter now, massa?" said Jup, evidently shamed into
compliance; "always want fur 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 Tulipifera_, 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
"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
"One, two, tree, four, fibe--I done pass fibe big limb, massa, pon dis
"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
"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
"Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain."
"Try the wood well, then, with your knife, and see if you think it
"Him rotten, massa, sure nuff," replied the negro in a few moments,
"but not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought ventur out leetle way
pon de limb by myself, dat's true."
"By yourself?--what do you mean?"
"Why, I mean de bug. 'Tis _berry_ hebby bug. Spose I drop him down
fuss, and den de limb won't break wid just de weight ob one nigger."
"You infernal scoundrel!" cried Legrand, apparently much relieved,
"what do you mean by telling me such nonsense as that? As sure as you
let that beetle fall, I'll break your neck. Look here, Jupiter! do
you hear me?"
"Yes, massa, needn't hollo at poor nigger dat style."
"Well! now listen!--if you will venture out on the limb as far as you
think safe, and not let go the beetle, I'll make you a present of a
silver dollar as soon as you get down."
"I'm gwine, Massa Will--deed I is," replied the negro very
promptly--"mos out to the eend now."
"_Out to the end!_" here fairly screamed Legrand, "do you say you are
out to the end of that limb?"
"Soon be to de eend, massa,--o-o-o-o-oh! Lor-gol-a-marcy! what _is_
dis here pon de tree?"
"Well!" cried Legrand, highly delighted, "what is it?"
"Why taint noffin but a skull--somebody bin lef him head up de tree,
and de crows done gobble ebery bit ob de meat off."
"A skull, you say!--very well!--how is it fastened to the limb?--what
holds it on?"
"Sure nuff, massa; mus look. Why, dis berry curous sarcumstance, pon
my word--dare's a great big nail in de skull, what fastens ob it on to
"Well now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you--do you hear?"
"Pay attention, then!--find the left eye of the skull."
"Hum! hoo! dat's good! why, dar ain't no eye lef at all."
"Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand from your left?"
Yes, I nose dat--nose all bout dat--'tis my lef hand what I chops de
"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
Here was a long pause. At length the negro asked, "Is de lef eye of de
skull pon de same side as de lef hand of de skull, too?--cause de
skull ain't got not a bit ob a hand at all--nebber mind! I got de lef
eye now--here de lef eye! what mus do wid it?"
"Let the beetle drop through it, as far as the string will reach--but
be careful and not let go your hold of the string."
"All dat done, Massa Will; mighty easy ting for to put de bug fru de
hole--look out for him dar below!"
During this colloquy no portion of Jupiter's person could be seen; but
the beetle, which he had suffered to descend, was now visible at the
end of the string, and glistened like a globe of burnished gold in the
last rays of the setting sun, some of which still faintly illumined
the eminence upon which we stood. The _scarabaeus_ hung quite clear of
any branches, and, if allowed to fall, would have fallen at our
feet. Legrand immediately took the scythe, and cleared with it a
circular space, three or four yards in diameter, just beneath the
insect, and, having accomplished this, ordered Jupiter to let go the
string and come down from the tree.
Driving a peg, with great nicety, into the ground at the precise spot
where the beetle fell, my friend now produced from his pocket a
tape-measure. Fastening one end of this at that point of the trunk of
the tree which was nearest the peg, he unrolled it till it reached the
peg, and thence farther unrolled it, in the direction already
established by the two points of the tree and the peg, for the
distance of fifty feet--Jupiter clearing away the brambles with the
scythe. At the spot thus attained a second peg was driven, and about
this, as a centre, a rude circle, about four feet in diameter,
described. Taking now a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and
one to me, Legrand begged us to set about digging as quickly as
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 fantasy had received confirmation by the finding of the
_scarabaeus_, or, perhaps, by Jupiter's obstinacy in maintaining it to
be "a bug of real gold." A mind disposed to lunacy would readily be
led away by such suggestions, especially if chiming in with favorite
preconceived ideas; and then I called to mind the poor fellow's speech
about the beetle's being "the index of his fortune." Upon the whole, I
was sadly vexed and puzzled, but at length I concluded to make a
virtue of necessity--to dig with a good will, and thus the sooner to
convince the visionary, by ocular demonstration, of the fallacy of the
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
We dug very steadily for two hours. Little was said; and our chief
embarrassment lay in the yelpings of the dog, who took exceeding
interest in our proceedings. He, at length, became so obstreperous
that we grew fearful of his giving the alarm to some stragglers in the
vicinity; or, rather, this was the apprehension of Legrand; for
myself, I should have rejoiced at any interruption which might have
enabled me to get the wanderer home. The noise was, at length, very
effectually silenced by Jupiter, who, getting out of the hole with a
dogged air of deliberation, tied the brute's mouth up with one of his
suspenders, and then returned, with a grave chuckle, to his task.
When the time mentioned had expired, we had reached a depth of five
feet, and yet no signs of any treasure became manifest. A general
pause ensued, and I began to hope that the farce was at an end.
Legrand, however, although evidently much disconcerted, wiped his brow
thoughtfully and recommenced. We had excavated the entire circle of
four feet diameter, and now we slightly enlarged the limit, and went
to the farther depth of two feet. Still nothing appeared. The
gold-seeker, whom I sincerely pitied, at length clambered from the
pit, with the bitterest disappointment imprinted upon every feature,
and proceeded, slowly and reluctantly, to put on his coat, which he
had thrown off at the beginning of his labor. In the meantime I made
no remark. Jupiter, at a signal from his master, began to gather up
his tools. This done, and the dog having been unmuzzled, we turned in
profound silence 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 caracoles, much to the
astonishment of his valet, who, arising from his knees, looked mutely
from his master to myself, and then from myself to his master.
"Come! we must go back," said the latter, "the game's not up yet;" and
he again led the way to the tulip tree.
"Jupiter," said he, when we reached its foot, "come here! Was the
skull nailed to the limb with the face outward, or with the face to
"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
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 he dug farther, three or
four loose pieces of gold and silver coin came to light.
At sight of these the joy of Jupiter could scarcely be restrained, but
the countenance of his master wore an air of extreme
disappointment. He urged us, however, to continue our exertions, and
the words were hardly uttered when I stumbled and fell forward, having
caught the toe of my boot in a large ring of iron that lay half buried
in the loose earth.
We now worked in earnest, and never did I pass ten minutes of more
intense excitement. During this interval we had fairly unearthed an
oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation and
wonderful hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing
process--perhaps that of the bichloride of mercury. This box was three
feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half feet
deep. It was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron, riveted, and
forming a kind of trellis-work over the whole. On each side of the
chest, near the top, were three rings of iron--six in all--by means of
which a firm hold could be obtained by six persons. Our utmost united
endeavors served only to disturb the coffer very slightly in its
bed. We at once saw the impossibility of removing so great a weight.
Luckily, the sole fastenings of the lid consisted of two sliding
bolts. These we drew back--trembling and panting with anxiety. In an
instant, a treasure of incalculable value lay gleaming before us. As
the rays of the lanterns fell within the pit, there flashed upwards,
from a confused heap of gold and of jewels, a glow and a glare that
absolutely dazzled our eyes.
I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I
gazed. Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared
exhausted with excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter's
countenance wore, for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is
possible, in the nature of things, for any negro's visage to assume.
He seemed stupified--thunder-stricken. Presently he fell upon his
knees in the pit, and, burying his naked arms up to the elbows in
gold, let them there remain, as if enjoying the luxury of a bath. At
length, with a deep sigh, he exclaimed, as if in a soliloquy:
"And dis all cum ob de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! de poor little
goole-bug, what I boosed in dat sabage kind ob style! 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 everything
housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done,
and much time was spent in deliberation--so confused were the ideas of
all. We finally lightened the box by removing two-thirds of its
contents, when we were enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from
the hole. The articles taken out were deposited among the brambles,
and the dog left to guard them, with strict orders from Jupiter
neither, upon any pretence, to stir from the spot, nor to open his
mouth until our return. We then hurriedly made for home with the
chest; reaching the hut in safety, but after excessive toil, at one
o'clock in the morning. Worn out as we were, it was not in human
nature to do more just now. We rested until two, and had supper;
starting for the hills immediately afterwards, armed with three stout
sacks, which by good luck were upon the premises. A little before four
we arrived at the pit, divided the remainder of the booty, as equally
as might be, among us, and, leaving the holes unfilled, again set out
for the hut, at which, for the second time, we deposited our golden
burdens, just as the first 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
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 ear-rings; rich chains--thirty
of these, if I remember; eighty-three very large and heavy crucifixes;
five gold censers of great value; a prodigious golden punch-bowl,
ornamented with richly chased vine-leaves and Bacchanalian figures;
with two sword-handles exquisitely embossed, and many other smaller
articles which I cannot recollect. The weight of these valuables
exceeded three hundred and fifty pounds avoirdupois; and in this
estimate I have not included one hundred and ninety-seven superb gold
watches; three of the number being worth each five hundred dollars, if
one. Many of them were very old, and as time-keepers valueless, the
works having suffered more or less from corrosion; but all were richly
jewelled and in cases of great worth. We estimated the entire contents
of the chest, that night, at a million and a half of dollars; and,
upon the subsequent disposal of the trinkets and jewels (a few being
retained for our own use), it was found that we had greatly
undervalued the treasure.
When, at length, we had concluded our examination, and the intense
excitement of the time had in some measure subsided, Legrand, who saw
that I was dying with impatience for a solution of this most
extraordinary riddle, entered into a full detail of all the
circumstances connected with it.
"You remember," said he, "the night when I handed you the rough sketch
I had made of the _scarabaeus_. You recollect, also, that I became
quite vexed at you for insisting that my drawing resembled a
death's-head. When you first made this assertion I thought you were
jesting; but afterwards I called to mind the peculiar spots on the
back of the insect, and admitted to myself that your remark had some
little foundation in fact. Still, the sneer at my graphic powers
irritated me--for I am considered a good artist--and, therefore, when
you handed me the scrap of parchment, I was about to crumple it up and
throw it angrily into the fire."
"The scrap of paper, you mean," said I.
"No: it had much of the appearance of paper, and at first I supposed
it to be such, but when I came to draw upon it, I discovered it, at
once, to be a piece of very thin parchment. It was quite dirty, you
remember. Well, as I was in the very act of crumpling it up, my glance
fell upon the sketch at which you had been looking, and you may
imagine my astonishment when I perceived, in, fact, the figure of a
death's-head just where, it seemed to me, I had made the drawing of
the beetle. For a moment I was too much amazed to think with accuracy.
I knew that my design was very different in detail from this--although
there was a certain similarity in general outline. Presently I took a
candle and, seating myself at the other end of the room, proceeded to
scrutinize the parchment more closely. Upon turning it over, I saw my
own sketch upon the reverse, just as I had made it. My first idea,
now, was mere surprise at the really remarkable similarity of
outline--at the singular coincidence involved in the fact that,
unknown to me, there should have been a skull upon the other side of
the parchment, immediately beneath my figure of the _scarabaeus_, and
that this skull, not only in outline, but in size, should so closely
resemble my drawing. I say the singularity of this coincidence
absolutely stupified me for a time. This is the usual effect of such
coincidences. The mind struggles to establish a connection--a sequence
of cause and effect--and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of
temporary paralysis. But, when I recovered from this stupor, there
dawned upon me gradually a conviction which startled me even far more
than the coincidence. I began distinctly, positively, to remember
that there had been _no_ drawing on the parchment when I made my
sketch of the _scarabaeus_. I became perfectly certain of this; for I
recollected turning up first one side and then the other, in search of
the cleanest spot. Had the skull been then there, of course I could
not have failed to notice it. Here was indeed a mystery which I felt
it impossible to explain; but, even at that early moment, there seemed
to glimmer, faintly, within the most remote and secret chambers of my
intellect, a glow-worm-like conception of that truth which last
night's adventure brought to so magnificent a demonstration. I arose
at once, and, putting the parchment securely away, dismissed all
farther reflection until I should be alone.
"When you had gone, and when Jupiter was fast asleep, I betook myself
to a more methodical investigation of the affair. In the first place I
considered the manner in which the parchment had come into my
possession. The spot where we discovered the _scarabaeus_ was on the
coast of the 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
towards him, looked about him for a leaf, or something of that nature,
by which to take hold of it. It was at this moment that his eyes, and
mine also, fell upon the scrap of parchment, which I then supposed to
be paper. It was lying half-buried in the sand, a corner sticking
up. Near the spot where we found it, I observed the remnants of the
hull of what appeared to have been a ship's long boat. The wreck
seemed to have been there for a very great while; for the resemblance
to boat timbers could scarcely be traced.
"Well, Jupiter picked up the parchment, wrapped the beetle in it, and
gave it to me. Soon afterwards we turned to go home, and on the way
met Lieutenant G----. I showed him the insect, and he begged me to
let him take it to the fort. On my consenting, he thrust it forthwith
into his waistcoat pocket, without the parchment in which it had been
wrapped, and which I had continued to hold in my hand during his
inspection. Perhaps he dreaded my changing my mind, and thought it
best to make sure of the prize at once--you know how enthusiastic he
is on all subjects connected with Natural History. At the same time,
without being conscious of it, I must have deposited the parchment in
my own pocket.
"You remember that when I went to the table, for the purpose of making
a sketch of the beetle, I found no paper where it was usually kept. I
looked in the drawer, and found none there. I searched my pockets,
hoping to find an old letter, and then my hand fell upon the
parchment. I thus detail the precise mode in which it came into my
possession; for the circumstances impressed me with peculiar force.
"No doubt you will think me fanciful--but I had already established a
kind of _connection_. I had put together two links of a great chain.
There was a boat lying on a seacoast, and not far from the boat was a
parchment--_not a paper_--with a skull depicted on it. You will, of
course, ask 'where is the connection?' I reply that the skull, or
death's-head, is the well-known emblem of the pirate. The flag of the
death's-head is hoisted in all 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
"Ah, hereupon turns the whole mystery; although the secret, at this
point, I had comparatively little difficulty in solving. My steps were
sure, and could afford but a single result. I reasoned, for example,
thus: When I drew the _scarabaeus,_ there was no skull apparent on the
parchment. When I had completed the drawing I gave it to you, and
observed you narrowly until you returned it. _You_, therefore, did not
design the skull, and no one else was present to do it. Then it was
not done by human agency. And nevertheless it was done.
"At this stage of my reflections I endeavored to remember, and _did_
remember, with entire distinctness, every incident which occurred
about the period in question. The weather was chilly (O rare and happy
accident!), and a fire was blazing on the hearth. I was heated with
exercise and sat near the table. You, however, had drawn a chair close
to the chimney. Just as I placed the parchment in your hand, and as
you were in the act of inspecting it, Wolf, the Newfoundland, entered,
and leaped upon your shoulders. With your left hand you caressed him
and kept him off, while your right, holding the parchment, was
permitted, to fall listlessly between your knees, and in close
proximity to the fire. At one moment I thought the blaze had caught
it, and was about to caution you, but, before I could speak, you had
withdrawn it, and were engaged in its examination. When I considered
all these particulars, I doubted not for a moment that _heat_ had been
the agent in bringing to light, on the parchment, the skull which I
saw designed on it. You are well aware that chemical preparations
exist, and have existed time out of mind, by means of which it is
possible to write on either paper or vellum, so that the characters
shall become visible only when subjected to the action of fire.
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
"I now scrutinized the death's-head with care. Its outer edges--the
edges of the drawing nearest the edge of the vellum--were far more
_distinct_ than the others. It was clear that the action of the
caloric had been imperfect or unequal. I immediately kindled a fire,
and subjected every portion of the parchment to a glowing heat. At
first, the only effect was the strengthening of the faint lines in the
skull; but, on persevering in the experiment, there became visible at
the corner of the slip, diagonally opposite to the spot in which the
death's-head was delineated, the figure of what I at first supposed to
be a goat. A closer scrutiny, however, satisfied me that it was
intended for a kid."
"Ha! ha!" said I, "to be sure I have no right to laugh at you--a
million and a half of money is too serious a matter for mirth--but you
are not about to establish a third link in your chain: you will not
find any especial connection between your pirates and a goat; pirates,
you know, have nothing to do with goats; they appertain to the farming
"But I have just said that the figure was _not_ that of a goat."
"Well, a kid, then--pretty much the same thing."
"Pretty much, but not altogether," said Legrand. "You may have heard
of one _Captain_ Kidd. I at once looked on the figure of the animal as
a kind of punning or hieroglyphical signature. I say signature,
because its position on the vellum suggested this idea. The
death's-head at the corner diagonally opposite had, in the same
manner, the air of a stamp, or seal. But I was sorely put out by the
absence of all else--of the body to my imagined instrument--of the
text for my context."
"I presume you expected to find a letter between the stamp and the
"Something of that kind. The fact is, I felt irresistibly impressed
with a presentiment of some vast good fortune impending. I can
scarcely say why. Perhaps, after all, it was rather a desire than an
actual belief;--but do you know that Jupiter's silly words, about the
bug being of solid gold, had a remarkable effect on my fancy? And then
the series of accidents and coincidences--these were so _very_
extraordinary. Do you observe how mere an accident it was that these
events should have occurred on the _sole_ day of all the year in which
it has been, or may be, sufficiently cool for fire, and that without
the fire, or without the intervention of the dog at the precise moment
in which he appeared, I should never have become aware of the
death's-head, and so never the possessor of the treasure?"
"But proceed--I am all impatience."
"Well; you have heard, of course, the many stories current--the
thousand vague rumors afloat about money buried, somewhere on the
Atlantic coast, by Kidd and his associates. These rumors must have
had some foundation in fact. And that the rumors have existed so long
and so continuously, could have resulted, it appeared to me, only from
the circumstance of the buried treasure still _remaining_ entombed.
Had Kidd concealed his plunder for a time, and afterwards reclaimed
it, the rumors would scarcely have reached us in their present
unvarying form. You will observe that the stories told are all about
money-seekers, not about money-finders. Had the pirate recovered his
money, there the affair would have dropped. It seemed to me that some
accident--say the loss of a memorandum indicating its locality--had
deprived him of the means of recovering it, and that this accident had
become known to 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 reheated the parchment, submitted it to my
inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red
tint, between the death's-head and the goat:--
"But," said I, returning him the slip, "I am as much in the dark as
ever. Were all the jewels of Golconda awaiting me on my solution of
this enigma, I am quite sure, that I should be unable to earn them."
"And yet," said Legrand, "the solution is by no means so difficult as
you might be led to imagine from the first hasty inspection of the
characters. These characters, as any one might readily guess, form a
cipher--that is to say, they convey a meaning; but then, from what is
known of Kidd, I could not suppose, him capable of constructing any of
the more abstruse cryptographs. I made up my mind, at once, that this
was of a simple species--such, however, as would appear, to the crude
intellect of the sailor, absolutely insoluble without the key."
"And you really solved it?"
"Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness ten thousand times
greater. Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to
take interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted whether
human ingenuity can construct an enigma of the kind which human
ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve. In fact, having
once established connected and legible characters, I scarcely gave a
thought to the mere difficulty of developing their import.
"In the present case--indeed in all cases of secret writing--the first
question regards the _language_ of the cipher; for the principles of
solution, so far, especially, as the more simple ciphers are