Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Gold-Bug” (abridgement), Saturday Museum (Philadelphia), July 8, 1843, vol. I, no. 31, p. 2, cols. 2-4


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[page 2, column 2, continued:]

THE GOLD-BUG,

This remarkable story opens with some account of a misanthropic sort of gentleman, who, from the dilapidated state of his fortunes, choses to make his residence in company with his former slave, Jupiter, on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, S. C. Mr. Wm. Legrand, while occupying a small, out of the way hut, chances to find a bug, about which there turns out to be something very mysterious and which Jupiter gives the following account of in speaking to the writer of the moody disposition of his master: —

“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 blame bug — he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will cotch him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick, I tell you — den was de time he must ha got de bite. I did’nt like de look of de bug’s mouff, myself, no how, so I would’nt take hold ob him wid my finger, but cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him up in de paper and stuff piece ob it in he mouff — dat was de way.”

“And you think, then, that your master was really bitten by the beetle, and that the bite made him sick?”

“I do’nt tink noffin bout 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.”

*    *    *    “It is of a brilliant gold color — about the size of a large hickory nut — with two jet black spots near one extremity of the back, and another, somewhat longer, at the other. The antennæ are” —

“Dey aint no tin in him, Massa Will, I keep a tellin on you,” here interrupted Jupiter; “de bug is a gole [[goole]] bug, solid, ebery bit of him, inside and all, sep him wing — neber feel half so hebby a bug in my life.”

“Well, suppose it is, Jup,” replied Legrand, somewhat more earnestly, it seemed to me, than the occasion demanded, “is that any reason for your letting the birds burn? The color” — here he turn [[turned]] to me — “is really almost enough to warrant Jupiter’s idea. You never saw a more brilliant metallic lustre than the scales emit — but of this you cannot judge till to-morrow. In the mean time I can give you some idea of the shape.” Saying this, he seated himself at a small table, on which were a pen and ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer, but found none.

“Never mind,” said he at length, “this will answer;” and he drew from his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. — While he did this I retained my seat by the fire, for I was still chilly. When the design was complete he handed it to me without rising. As I received it a loud growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at the door. Jupiter opened it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to Legrand, rushed in, leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses; for I had shown him much attention during previous visits. When his gambols were over, I looked at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself a little puzzled at what my friend had depicted.

“Well!” I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, “this is a strange scarabæus, I must confess: new to me: never saw anything like it before — unless it was a skull, or a death’s-head — which it more nearly resembles than anything else that has come under my observation.”

The bug was found upon the seashore, near on old, decayed boat, and the piece of paper with which Jupiter catches the bugs turns out, in fact, to [column 3:] be a scrap of parchment. This contains certain mysterious characters, written between a death’s head and a goat or kid (Captain Kidd?) These invisible characters are made apparent by means of certain ingenious appliances, and prove [[to]] be directions, in cipher, for finding out buried treasures. This gives the writer an opportunity for exercising the talent for solving the most abstruse cryptographs, for which he has acquired such distinguished celebrity. Having in this way obtained the necessary information, he proceeds to test its value by a midnight excursion in search of the buried treasures, accompanied by the servant Jupiter, and his particular friend, the Narrator. This portion of the story, the whole of which is confined to the simple groundwork here condensed, is told in the following works [[words]] —

Here my friend, about whose madness I now saw, or fancied that I saw, certain indications of method, removed the peg nearest the tree, 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, 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 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, and intermingled with several buttons of metal, and what appeared to be the dust of decayed woollen. One or two strokes of a spade upturned the blade of a large Spanish knife, and, as we dug farther, three or four loose pieces of gold and silver coin came to light.

At sight of these the joy of Jupiter could scarcely be restrained, but the countenance of his master wore an air of extreme disappointment. He urged us, however, to continue our exertions, and the words were hardly uttered when I stumbled and fell forward, having caught the toe of my boot in a large ring of iron that lay half buried in the oose [[loose]] earth.

We now worked in good earnest, and never did I pass ten minutes of more intense excitement. During this interval we had fairly unearthed an oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation and wonderful hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing process — perhaps that of the Bi-chloride of Mercury. This box was three feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half feet deep. — It was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron, riveted, and forming a kind of open trellis-work over the whole. On each side of the chest, near the top, were three rings of iron — six in all — by means of which a firm hold could be obtained by six persons. Our utmost united endeavours served only to disturb the coffer very slightly in its bed. We at once saw the impossibility of removing so great a weight. Luckily, the sole fastenings of the lid consisted of two sliding bolts. These we drew back — trembling and panting with anxiety. In an instant, a treasure of incalculable value lay gleaming before us. As the rays of the lanterns fell within the pit, there flashed upwards a glow and a glare, from a confused heap of gold and of jewels that absolutely dazzled our eyes.

I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed. Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared exhausted with excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter’s countenance wore, for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in nature of things, for any negro’s visage to assume. He seemed stupified — thunderstricken. Presently he fell upon his knees in the pit, and, burying his naked arms up to the elbows in gold, let them there remain, as if enjoying the luxury of a bath. At length, with a deep sigh, he exclaimed, as if in a soliloquy, [column 4:]

“And dis all cum ob de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! de poor little goole-bug, what I boosed in dat sabage kind ob style! Aint you shamed ob yourself, nigger? — answer me dat!”

It became necessary, at last, that I should arouse both master and valet to the expediency of removing the treasure. It was growing late, and it behooved us to make exertion, that we might get every thing housed before daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done, and much time was spent in deliberation — so confused were the ideas of all. We, finally, lightened the box by removing two-thirds of its contents, when we were enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from the hole. The articles taken out were deposited among the brambles, and the dog left to guard them, with strict orders from Jupiter neither, upon any pretence, to stir from the spot, nor to open his mouth until our return. We then hurriedly made for home with the chest; reaching the hut in safety, but after excessive toil, at one o’clock in the morning. Worn out as we were, it was not in human nature to do more immediately. — We rested until two, and had supper; starting for the hills immediately afterwards, armed with three stout sacks, which, by good luck, were upon the premises. A little before four we arrived at the pit, divided the remainder of the booty, as equally as might be, among us, and, leaving the holes unfilled, again set out for the hut, at which, for the second time, we deposited our golden burthens, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn gleamed from over the tree-tops in the East.

We were now thoroughly broken down; but the intense excitement of the time denied us repose. After an unquiet slumber of some three or four hours’ duration, we arose, as if by preconcert, to make examination of our treasure.

The chest had been full to the brim, and we spent the whole day, and the greater part of the next night, in a scrutiny of its contents. There had been nothing like order or arrangement. Every thing had been heaped in promiscuously. Having assorted all with care, we found ourselves possessed of even vaster wealth than we had at first supposed. In coin there was rather more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars — estimating the value of the pieces, as accurately as we could, by the tables of the period. There was not a particle of silver. All was gold of antique date and 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 difficult [[difficulty]] inh [[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; — fine [[five]] gold censers of great value’ [[;]] — a prodigious 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 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, &c.

 


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Notes:

This is essentially an abridgement of the first part of the story from the Dollar Newspaper, although the second half had already been published by this time.

Under a section (p. 2, col. 1) bearing the heading “The Literary World,” and subtitled “Critical Notices — Comments upon Literary Matters, &c. &c.” appears the following paragraph:

THE GOLD BUG.

This is the title of the story written by our friend Edgar A. Poe, Esq., which has been very justly designated as the most remarkable “American work of fiction that has been published within the last fifteen years.” The period might very safely have been extended back to a period much more remote for so singular a concatenation of incongruous and improbable, nay, impossible absurdities, were never before, interwoven in any single or half dozen works of fancy, fact or fiction; and never before we venture to say, were such mysterious materials so adroitly managed, or a train of incongruity dove-tailed together with such masterly ingenuity. Indeed the intense interest which the fiction awakens arises from the skillful management of the several improbabilities, which are so presented as to wear all the semblance of sober reality. It is the unique work of a singularly constituted, but indutibly great intellect, and we give, in another part of our paper, the substance of the “Gold Bug,” omitting the abstruse and elaborate details in which the plot is involved. We may add that the train of reasoning is throughout of a clear, strong, and highly ingenious character, such in fact as would do credit to the highest order of talent that ever puzzled a judge or mystified a jury.

 

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[S:1 - SM, 1843 (microfilm)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - The Gold-Bug (abridgement)