Section One [Section Two] Section Three Section Four
We crossed the creek at the head of the island by means of a skiff
, and, ascending the high grounds on the shore of the main land, proceeded in a northwesterly
direction, through a tract of country excessively wild and desolate
, where no trace of a human footstep was to be seen. Legrand led the way with decision; pausing only for an instant, here and there, to consult what appeared to be certain landmarks of his own contrivance upon a former occasion.
In this manner we journed for about two hours, and the sun was just setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary
than any yet seen. It was a species of table-land, near the summit of an almost inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and interspersed with huge crags
that appeared to lie loosely upon the soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating
themselves into the valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against which they reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an air of still sterner solemnity to the scene.
The natural platform to which we had clambered was thickly overgrown with brambles
, through which we soon discovered that it would have been impossible to force our way but for the scythe
; and Jupiter, by direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the foot of an enormously tall tulip-tree
, which stood, with some eight or ten oaks, upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other trees which I had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage
and form, in the wide spread of its branches, and in the general majesty of its appearance. When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to Jupiter, and asked him if he thought he could climb it. The old man seemed a little staggered
by the question, and for some moments made no reply. At length he approached the huge trunk
, walked slowly around it, and examined it with minute attention. When he had completed his scrutiny
, he merely said:
"Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he ebber see in he life."
"Then up with you as soon as possible
, for it will soon be too dark to see what we are about."
"How far mus' go up, massa?" inquired Jupiter.
"Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way to go -- and here -- stop! take this beetle with you."
"De bug, Massa Will! -- de goole-bug!" cried the negro, drawing back in dismay -- "What for mus' tote de bug way up de tree? -- d -- n if I do!"
"If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro
like you, to take hold of a harmless little dead beetle
, why you can carry it up by this string -- but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I shall be under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."
"What de matter now, massa?" said Jup, evidently shamed into compliance
; "always want for to raise fuss wid old nigger
. Was only funnin anyhow. Me feered de bug! what I keer for de bug?" Here he took cautiously hold of the extreme end of the string, and, maintaining the insect as far from his person as circumstances would permit, prepared to ascend the tree.
In youth, the tulip-tree, or Liriodendron Tulipiferum
, the most magnificent of American foresters
, has a trunk peculiarly smooth, and often rises to a great height without lateral branches; but in its riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short limbs make their appearance on the stem. Thus the difficulty of ascension, in the present case, lay more in semblance than in reality. Embracing the huge cylinder, as closely as possible, with his arms and knees, seizing with his hands some projections, and resting his naked toes upon others, Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and seemed to consider the whole business as virtually accomplished. The risk of the achievement was, in fact, now over, although the climber was some sixty or seventy feet from the ground.
"Which way mus' go now, Massa Will?" he asked.
"Keep up the largest branch -- the one on this side," said Legrand. The negro obeyed him promptly, and apparently with but little trouble; ascending higher and higher, until no glimpse of his squat figure
could be obtained through the dense foliage which enveloped it. Presently his voice was heard in a sort of halloo.
"How much fudder is got for go?"
"How high up are you?" asked Legrand.
"Ebber so fur," replied the negro; "can see de sky fru de top ob de tree."
"Never mind the sky, but attend to what I say. Look down the trunk and count the limbs below you on this side. How many limbs have you passed?"
"One, two, tree, four, fibe -- I done pass fibe big limb, massa 'pon dis side."
"Then go one limb higher."
In a few minutes the voice was heard again, announcing that the seventh limb was attained.
"Now, Jup," cried Legrand, evidently much excited, "I want you to work your way out upon that limb as far as you can. If you see any thing 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 venture 'pon dis limb berry far -- 'tis dead limb putty much all de way."
"Did you say it was a dead limb, Jupiter?" cried Legrand in a quavering voice.
"Yes, massa, him dead as de door-nail -- done up for sartain -- done departed dis here life."
"What in the name of heaven shall I do?" asked Legrand, seemingly in the greatest distress.
"Do!" said I, glad of an opportunity to interpose
a word, "why come home and go to bed. Come now! -- that's a fine fellow. It's getting late, and, besides, you remember your promise
"Jupiter," cried he, without heeding me in the least, "do you hear me?"
"Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain."
"Try the wood well, then, with you knife, and see if you think it very rotten."
"Him rotten, massa, sure nuff," replied the negro in a few moments, "but not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought venture out leetle way 'pon the limb by myself, dat's true."
"By yourself! -- what do you mean?"
"Why I mean de bug. 'Tis berry hebby bug. Spose I drop him down fuss, and den de limb won't break wid just de weight ob one nigger."
"You infernal scoundrel!
" cried Legrand, apparently much relieved, "what do you mean by telling me such nonsense as that? As sure as you drop that beetle I'll break your neck. Look here, Jupiter, do you hear me?"
"Yes, massa, needn't hollo at poor nigger dat style."
"Well! now listen! -- if you will venture out on that 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 left him head up de tree, and de crows done gobble ebery bit ob de meat off."
"A skull, you say! -- very well, -- how is it fastened to the limb? -- what holds it on?"
"Sure nuff, massa; mus' look. Why dis berry curous sarcumstance, 'pon my word -- dare's a great big nail in de skull
, what fastens ob it on to de tree."
"Well now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you -- do you hear?"
"Pay attention, then -- find the left eye of the skull."
"Hum! hoo! dat's good! why dey aint no eye lef' at all."
"Curse your stupidity
! do you know your right hand from your left?"
"Yes, I knows dat -- know all bout dat -- 'tis my lef' hand what I chops de wood wid."
"To be sure! you are left-handed; and your left eye is on the same side as your left hand. Now, I suppose, you can find the left eye of the skull, or the place where the left eye has been. Have you found it?"
Here was a long pause. At length the negro asked:
"Is de lef' eye ob de skull 'pon de same side as de lef' hand ob de skull too? -- cause de skull aint got not a bit ob a hand at all -- nebber mind! I got de lef' eye now -- here de lef' eye! what mus' do wid it?"
"Let the beetle drop through it, as far as the string will reach -- but be careful not to let go your hold of the string."
"All dat done, Massa Will; mighty easy ting for to put the 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 not visible at the end of the string, and glistened, like a globe of burnished gold
, in the last rays of the setting sun, some of which still faintly illumined the eminence
upon which we stood. The scarabaeus hung quite clear of any branches and, if allowed to fall, would have fallen at our feet. Legrand immediately took the scythe, and cleared with it a circular space, three or four yards in diameter, just beneath the insect, and, having accomplished this, ordered Jupiter to let go the string, and come down from the tree.
Driving a peg, with great nicety, into the ground, at the precise spot where the beetle fell, my friend now produced from his pocket a tape-measure. Fastening one end of this at that point of the trunk of the tree which was nearest the peg, he unrolled it till it reached the peg and thence further unrolled it, in the direction already established by the two points of the tree and the peg, for the distance of fifty feet -- Jupiter clearing away the brambles with the scythe. At the spot thus attained a second peg was driven, and about this, as a centre, a rude circle, about four feet in diameter, described. Taking now a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and one to me, Legrand begged us to set about digging as quickly as possible.
To speak the truth, I had no special relish
for such amusement at any time, and, at that particular moment, would most willingly have declined it; for the night was coming on
, and I felt much fatigued with the exercise already taken; but I saw no mode of escape
, and was fearful of disturbing my poor friend's equanimity
by a refusal. Could I have depended, indeed upon Jupiter's aid, I would have had no hesitation in attempting to get the lunatic home by force; but I was too well assured of the old negro's disposition, to hope that he would assist me, under any circumstances, in a personal contest with his master. I made no doubt that the latter had been infected with some of the innumerable Southern superstitions
about money buried, and that his phantasy
had received confirmation by the finding of the 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
The lanterns having been lit, we all fell to work with a zeal worth a more rational cause
; and, as the glare fell upon our persons and implements, I could not help thinking how picturesque a group we composed, and how strange and suspicious our labors must have appeared to any interloper who, by chance, might have stumbled upon our whereabouts.
We dug very steadily for two hours. Little was said; and our chief embarrassment lay in the yelpings of the dog, who took exceeding interest in our proceedings. He, at length, became so obstreperous
that we grew fearful of his giving the alarm to some stragglers in the vicinity, -- or, rather, this was the apprehension of Legrand; -- for myself, I should have rejoiced at any interruption
which might have enabled me to get the wanderer home. The noise was, at length, very effectually silenced by Jupiter, who, getting out of the hole with a dogged air of deliberation, tied the brute's mouth up with one of his suspenders, and then returned, with a grave chuckle
, to his task.
When the time mentioned had expired, we had reached a depth of five feet, and yet no signs of any treasure became manifest
. A general pause ensued, and I began to hope that the farce was at an end. Legrand, however, although evidently much disconcerted, wiped his brow thoughtfully and recommenced. We had excavated the entire circle of four feet diameter, and now we slightly enlarged the limit, and went to the farther depth of two feet. Still nothing appeared. The gold-seeker, whom I sincerely pitied, at length clambered from the pit, with the bitterest disappointment
imprinted upon every feature, and proceeded, slowly and reluctantly, to put on his coat, which he had thrown off at the beginning of his labor. In the meantime I made no remark. Jupiter, at a signal from his master, began to gather up his tools. This done, and the dog having been unmuzzled, we turned in profound silence toward home.
We had taken, perhaps, a dozen steps in this direction, when, with a loud oath, Legrand strode up to Jupiter, and seized him by the collar. The astonished negro opened his eyes and mouth to the fullest extend, let fall the spades, and fell upon his knees.
" said Legrand, hissing out the syllables from between his clenched teeth -- "you infernal black villain!
-- speak, I tell you! -- answer me this instant, without prevarication
! -- which -- which is your left eye?"
"Oh, my golly, Massa Will! aint dis here my lef' eye for sartain?" roared the terrified Jupiter, placing his hand upon his right organ of vision, and holding it there with a desperate pertinacity, as if in immediate dread of his master's attempt at a gouge.
"I thought so! -- I knew it! hurrah!" vociferated
Legrand, letting the negro go and executing a series of curvets and caracols, much to the astonishment of his valet, who arising from his knees, looked, mutely, from his master to myself, and then from myself to his master.
"Come! we must go back," said the latter, "the game's not up yet"; and he again led the way to the tulip-tree.
"Jupiter," said he, when we reached its foot, "come here! was the skull nailed to the limb with the face outward, or with the face to the limb?"
"De face was out, massa, so dat de crows could get at de eyes good, widout any trouble."
"Well, then, was it this eye or that through which you dropped the beetle?" -- here Legrand touched each of 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 again."
Here my friend, about whose madness I now saw, or fancied I saw, certain indications of method, removed the peg which marked the spot where the beetle fell, to a spot about three inches to the westward of its former position. Taking, now, the tape measure from the nearest point of the trunk to the peg, as before, and continuing the extension in a straight line to the distance of fifty feet, a spot was indicated, removed by several yards, from the point at which we had been digging.
Around the new position a circle, somewhat larger than in the former instance, was now described, and we again set to work with the spade. I was dreadfully weary
, but, scarcely understanding
what had occasioned the change in my thoughts, I felt no longer any great aversion from the labor imposed. I had become most unaccountably interested -- nay, even excited. Perhaps there was something, amid all the extravagant demeanor of Legrand -- some air of forethought, or of deliberation, which impressed me. I dug eagerly, and now and then caught myself actually looking, with something that very much resembled expectation, for the fancied treasure
, the vision of which had demented my unfortunate companion. At a period when such vagaries of thought moust 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 mound 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 wollen. One or two strokes of the spade up-turned the blade of a large Spanish knife
, and, as we dug farther, three or four loose pieces of gold and silver
coin came to light.
At the 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 bi-chloride
. This box was three feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half feet deep. It was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron
, riveted, and forming a kind of open trellis-work
over the whole. On each side of the chest, near the top, were three rings of iron -- six in all -- by means of which a firm hold could be obtained by six persons. Our utmost united endeavors served only to disturb the coffer very slightly in its bed. We at once saw the impossibility of removing so great a weight. Luckily, the sole fastenings of the lid consisted of two sliding bolts. These we drew back -- trembling and panting with anxiety. In an instant, a treasure of incalculable value
lay gleaming before us. As the rays of the lanterns fell within the pit, there flashed upward a glow and a glare, from a confused heap of gold and of jewels, that absolutely dazzled our eyes.
I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed. Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared exhausted with excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter's countenance wore, for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in the nature of things, for any negro's visage to assume. He seemed stupefied -- thunderstricken
. Presently he fell upon his knees in the pit, and burying his naked arms up to the elbows in gold, let them there remain, as if enjoying the luxury of a bath
. At length, with a deep sigh, he exclaimed, as if in a soliloquy
"And dis all cum ob de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! the poor little goole-bug, what I boosed in tat sabage kind ob style! Aint you shamed ob yourself, nigger? -- answer me dat!"
It became necessary, at last, that I should arouse both master and valet to the expediency of removing the treasure. It was growing late, and it behooved us to make exertion, that we might get every thing housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done, and much time was spent in deliberation
-- so confused were the ideas of all. We, finally, lightened the box by removing two thirds of its contents, when we were enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from the hole. The articles taken out were deposited among the brambles, and the dog left to guard them, with strict orders from Jupiter neither, upon any pretence, to stir from the spot
, nor to open his mouth until our return. We then hurriedly made for home with the chest; reaching the hut in safety, but after excessive toil
, at one o'clock in the morning. Wore out as we were, it was not in human nature
to do more immediately. We rested until two, and had supper; starting for the hills immediately afterward, 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 wholes unfilled, again set out for the hut, at which, for the second time, we deposited our gold burthens, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn gleamed from over the tree-tops in the East.
Section One [Section Two] Section Three Section Four