The Gold Bug
by Edgar Allen Poe, 1809-1849
Written in 1843
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What ho! what ho!
this fellow is dancing mad!
He hath been bitten by the Tarantula
-- All in the Wrong
Many years ago, I contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand
. He was of an ancient Huguenot
family, and had once been wealthy; but a series of misfortunes had reduced him to want. To avoid the mortification consequent upon his disasters, he left New Orleans
, the city of his forefathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan's Island
, near Charleston, South Carolina.
This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime
, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen
. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish
. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie
stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston
dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard, white beach on the sea-coast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle
so much prized by the horticulturists
of England. The shrub here often attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burthening the air with its fragrance.
In the inmost recesses of this coppice
, not far from the eastern or more remote end of the island, Legrand
had built himself a small hut, which he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his acquaintance. This soon ripened into friendship -- for there was much in the recluse to excite interest and esteem. I found him well educated, with unusual powers of mind, but infected with misanthropy
, and subject to perverse moods of alternate enthusiasm and melancholy
. He had with him many books, but rarely employed them. His chief amusements were gunning and fishing, or sauntering along the beach and through the myrtles, in quest of shells or entomological
specimens -- his collection of the latter might have been envied by a Swammerdamm
. In these excursions he was usually accompanied by an old negro, called Jupiter
, who had been manumitted before the reverses of the family, but who could be induced, neither by threats nor by promises, to abandon what he considered his right of attendance upon the footsteps of his young "Massa Will." It is not improbable that the relatives of Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in intellect, had contrived to instil this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a view to the supervision and guardianship of the wanderer
The winters in the latitude of Sullivan's Island are seldom very severe, and in the fall of the year it is a rare event indeed when a fire is considered necessary. About the middle of October, 18 -- , there occurred, however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just before sunset I scrambled my way through the evergreens
to the hut of my friend, whom I had not visited for several weeks -- my residence being, at that time, in Charleston, a distance of nine miles from the island, while the facilities of passage and re-passage were very far behind those of the present day. Upon reaching the hut I rapped, as was my custom, and getting no reply, sought for the key where I knew it was secreted, unlocked the door, and went in. A fine fire was blazing upon the hearth. It was a novelty, and by no means an ungrateful one. I threw off an overcoat, took an arm-chair by the crackling logs, and awaited patiently the arrival of my hosts.
Soon after dark they arrived, and gave me a most cordial welcome. Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear
, bustled about to prepare some marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his fits -- how else shall I term them? -- of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown bivalve, forming a new genus, and, more than this, he had hunted down and secured, with Jupiter's assistance, a 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!"
"What? -- sunrise
"Nonsense! no! -- the bug. It is of a brilliant gold color -- about the size of a large hickory-nut
-- with two jet black spots near one extremity of the back, and another, somewhat longer, at the other. The antennae
are -- "
"Dey aint no tin in him, Massa Will
, I keep a tellin' on you," here interrupted Jupiter; "de bug is a goole-bug, solid, ebery bit of him, inside and all, sep him wing -- meber feel half so hebby a bug in my life."
"Well, suppose it is, Jup," replied Legrand, somewhat more earnestly, it seemed to me, than the case demanded; "is that any reason for you letting the birds burn? The color" -- here he turned to me -- "is really almost enough to warrant Jupiter's idea. You never saw a more brilliant metallic lustre
than the scales emit -- but of this you cannot judge till tomorrow. In the meantime I can give you some idea of the shape." Saying this, he seated himself at a small table, on which were a pen and ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer, but found none.
"Never mind," he said at length, "this will answer"; and he drew from his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. While he did this, I retained my seat by the fire, for I was still chilly. When the design was complete, he handed it to me without rising. As I received it, a loud growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at the door. Jupiter opened it, and a large Newfoundland
, belonging to Legrand, rushed in, leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses
; for I had shown him much attention during previous visits. When his gambols were over, I looked at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself not a little puzzled at what my friend had depicted.
"Well!" I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, "this is a strange scarabaeus
, I must confess; new to me; never saw anything like it before -- unless it was a skull, or a death's-head, which it more nearly resembles than any thing else that has come under my observation."
!" echoed Legrand. "Oh -- yes -- well, it has something of that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black spots look like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth -- and then the shape of the whole is oval."
"Perhaps so," said I; "but, Legrand, I fear you are no artist. I must wait until I see the beetle itself, if I am to form any idea of its personal appearance."
"Well, I don't know," said he, a little nettled, "I draw tolerably -- should do it at least -- have had good masters, and flatter myself that I am not quite a blockhead
"But, my dear fellow, you are joking then," said I, "this is a very passable skull -- indeed, I may say that it is a very excellent skull, according to the vulgar notions about such specimens of physiology -- and your scarabaeus must be the queerest scarabaeus
in the world if it resembles it. Why, we may get up a very thrilling bit of superstition upon this hint. I presume you will call the bug scarabaeus caput hominis
, or something of that kind -- there are many similar titles in the Natural Histories
. But where are the antennae you spoke of?"
"The antennae!" said Legrand, who seemed to be getting unaccountably warm upon the subject; "I am sure you must see the antennae. I made them distinct as they are in the original insect, and I presume that is sufficient."
"Well, well," I said, "perhaps you have -- still I don't see them"; and I handed him the paper
without additional remark, not wishing to ruffle his temper
; but I was much surprised at the turn affairs had taken; his ill humor
puzzled me -- and, as for the drawing of the beetle, there were positively no antennae visible, and the whole did bear a very close resemblance to the ordinary cuts of a death's-head.
He received the paper very peevishly
, and was about to crumple it, apparently to throw it in the fire, when a casual glance at the design seemed suddenly to rivet his attention. In an instant his face grew violently red -- in another as excessively pale. For some minutes he continued to scrutinize the drawing
minutely where he sat. At length he arose, took a candle from the table, and proceeded to seat himself upon a sea-chest in the farthest corner of the room. Here again he made an anxious examination of the paper; turning it 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, placing 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 adsorbed 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 dat."
, Jupiter! -- why didn't you say so at once? Is he confined to bed?"
"No, dat he aint! -- he aint 'fin'd nowhar -- dat's just whar de shoe pinch -- my mind is got to be barry hebby 'bout poor Massa Will."
"Jupiter, I should like to understand what it is you are talking about. You say your master is sick. Hasn't he told you what ails him?"
"Why, massa, 'taint worf while for to git mad about de matter -- Massa Will say noffin at all aint de matter wid him -- but den what make him go about looking dis here way, wid he head down and he soldiers up, and as white as a gose? And den he keep a syphon all de time -- "
"Keeps a what, Jupiter?"
"Keeps a syphon
wid de figgurs on de slate -- de queerest
figgurs I ebber did see. Ise gittin' to be skeered, I tell you. Hab for to keep mighty tight eye 'pon him 'noovers. Todder day he gib me slip 'fore de sun up and was gone de whole ob de blessed day. I had a big stick ready cut for to gib him deuced good beating when he did come -- but Ise sich a fool dat I hadn't de heart arter all -- he looked so berry poorly."
"Eh? -- what? -- ah yes! -- upon the whole I think you had better not be too severe with the poor fellow -- don't flog him, Jupiter -- he can't very well stand it -- but can you form no idea of what has occasioned this illness, or rather this change of conduct? Has any thing unpleasant happened since I saw you?"
"No, massa, dey aint bin noffin onpleasant since den -- 'twas 'fore den I'm feared -- 'twas de berry day you was dare."
"How? what do you mean?"
"Why, massa, I mean de bug
-- dare now."
"De bug -- I'm berry sartain dat Massa Will bin bit somewhere 'bout de head by dat goole-bug."
"And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition
"Claws enuff, massa, and mouff too. I nebber did see sich a deuced bug -- he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will cotch him fuss, but had for to let him go 'gin mighty quick, I tell you -- den was de time he must ha' got de bite. I didn't like de look ob de bug mouff, myself, nohow, 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 a piece of it in he mouff -- dat was de way."
"And you think, then, that you master was really bitten by the beetle, and that the bite made him sick?"
"I don't think noffin' about it -- I nose it. What make him dream 'bout de goole so much, if 'taint cause he bit by de goole-bug
? Ise heerd 'bout dem goole-bugs 'fore dis."
"But how do you know he dreams about gold?"
"How I know? why, 'cause he talk about it in he sleep -- dat's how I nose."
"Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate circumstance am I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-day?"
"What de matter, massa?"
"Did you bring any message from Mr. Legrand?"
"No, massa, I bring dis here pissel"; and here Jupiter handed me a note which ran thus:
"My Dear -- --
"Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope you have not been so foolish as to take offence at any little brusquerie of mine; but no, that is improbable.
"Since I saw you I have had great cause for anxiety. I have something to tell you, yet scarcely know how to tell it, or whether I should tell it at all.
"I have not been quite well for some days past, and poor old Jup annoys me, almost beyond endurance, by his well-meant attentions. Would you believe it? -- he had prepared a huge stick, the other day, with which to chastise me for giving him the slip, and spending the day, solus, among the hills on the main land. I verily believe that my ill looks alone saved me a flogging.
"I have made no addition to my cabinet since we met.
"If you can, in any way, make it convenient, come over with Jupiter. Do come. I wish to see you to-night, upon business of importance
. I assure you that it is of the highest
There was something in the tone of this note which gave me great uneasiness. Its whole style differed materially from that of Legrand. What could he be dreaming of? What new crotchet
possessed his excitable brain
? What "business of the highest importance" could he possibly have to transact? Jupiter's account of him boded no good. I dreaded lest the continued pressure of misfortune had, at length, fairly unsettled the reason of my friend. Without a moment's hesitation, therefore, I prepared to accompany the negro.
Upon reaching the wharf
, I noticed a scythe and three spades, all apparently new, lying in the bottom of the boat in which we were to embark.
"What is the meaning of all this, Jup?" I inquired.
"Him syfe, massa, and spade."
"Very true; but what are they doing here?"
"Him de syfe and de spade what Massa Will sis 'pon me 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 b'lieve 'tis more dan he know too. But it's all cum ob de bug."
Finding that no satisfaction was to be obtained of Jupiter, whose whole intellect seemed to be absorbed by "de bug," I now stepped into the boat, and made sail. With a fair and strong breeze we soon ran into the little cove to the northward of Fort Moultrie
, and a walk of some two miles brought us to the hut. It was about three in the afternoon when we arrived. Legrand had been waiting 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 enquiries 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 ossessions
. 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 concordance
with that opinion, I could not, for the life of me, tell.
"I sent for you," said he, in a grandiloquent
tone, when I had completed my examination of the beetle, "I sent for you that I might have your counsel and assistance in furthering the views of Fate
and of the bug -- "
"Feel my pulse," said he.
I felt it, and, to say the truth, found not the slightest indication of fever.
"But you may be ill and yet have no fever. Allow me this once to prescribe for you. In the first place go to bed. In the next -- "
"You are mistaken," he interposed, "I am as well as I can expect to be under the excitement which I suffer. If you really wish me well, you will relieve this excitement."
"And how is this to be done?"
"Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an expedition into the hills, upon the main land, and, in this expedition, we shall need the aid of some person in whom we can confide. You are the only one we can trust. Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which you now perceive in me will be equally allayed."
"I am anxious to oblige you in any way," I replied; "but do you mean to say that this infernal beetle
has any connection with your expedition into the hills?"
"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
. His demeanor was dogged in the extreme, and "dat deuced bug" were the sole words which escaped his lips during the journey. For my own part, I had charge of a couple of dark lanterns, while Legrand contented himself with the scarabaeus, which he carried attached to the end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to and fro, with the air of a conjuror, as he went. When I observed this last, plain evidence of my friend's aberration of mind, I could scarcely refrain from tears
. I thought it best, however, to humor his fancy, at least for the present, or until I could adopt some more energetic measures with a chance of success. In the meantime I endeavored, but all in vain, to sound him in regard to the object of the expedition. Having succeeded in inducing me to accompany him, he seemed unwilling to hold conversation upon any topic of minor importance, and to all my questions vouchsafed no other reply than "we shall see!"
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