Poe Day 4: The Gold-Bug

Jewelry bug brooch with gemstone on yellow leaves  background

Synopsis: Our storyteller, another of Poe's unnamed men, begins by introducing us to his friend, Mr. William Legrand. Will came from a family that had once been wealthy, but a series of misfortunes had him living in a hut on Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. Will had an old negro named Jupiter, who acted as his valet, footman, and care giver. Sullivan's Island was long and narrow, separated from the mainland by a river. A fort occupied one end, while the rest was natural and thick with growth.

Our storyteller, who we will again call Eap, visits his friend, who is very excited about a gold bug he found while exploring the island. He had loaned the bug to a Lieutenant at the fort, so he could not show it to Eap. So excited was he, that he attempted to draw it. After hunting fruitlessly for paper, he pulls a scrap from his pocket and sketches the scarab. Will is certain it is a new species of beetle, describing in detail the bug from its spots to its antenna. Jupiter disagrees it is a beetle at all, telling Eap how heavy the bug was and how shiny the scales were. Eap takes the sketch but his examination is delayed by the arrival of Will's affectionate Newfoundland. Saving the paper from the floor and near by fire, he examines the sketch and comments that it resembles a skull, not a beetle, and there were no antennae. Will snatches back the sketch and sinks into a melancholy, all but ignoring his guest.

Eap returns home and puts the saga of the beetle from his mind until, some days later, Jupiter shows up at his door. Will is sick, Jupiter tells him, sick in his head from this gold-bug. He brings a letter from Will asking Eap to return with Jupiter and help him with a task. Eap returns to the island, expecting to find his friend ill. Instead he finds him nearly mad with excitement and a plan for an expedition that night to one of the wildest parts of the island. Eap agrees, humoring his friend after a promise that when this results in nothing, the man will put himself to bed.

The three men and Will's Newfoundland travel through the late afternoon and find a large tulip tree. Will gives Jupiter the beetle, now tied to a string, and directs him to climb the tree. Jupiter climbs to the fifth branch, then higher to the seventh. He moves to the outer reaches of the limb where he finds a skull nailed to the branch. Will directs him to put the beetle through the left eye of the skull and let it drop to the ground. Measurements are made from the spot where it lands and the three men begin to dig. At this point, Eap is all but convinced that Jupiter's concerns are valid. They dig well into the night. On the verge of giving up, they hit something that should not be beneath the ground. What they find changes the direction of the three men's lives forever.


This is a hard one not to spoil.  Here is a link to the story. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/POE/gold_bug.html   This is truly a story for anyone who loves puzzles.

Several things caught my interest here. The story was published in 1843 and, of course, the language surrounding Jupiter is far from modern. The devotion between the two men is worth writing about. While Jupiter is described as some type of servant, he threatens to take a switch to Will when he gives him the slip and is gone for a day. While Will may be the master/leader/whatever, he is the dependent in the relationship.

While Will may not be sane, he is insane enough to believe in treasure and follow the clues he believes were left by none other than the infamous pirate, Captain Kidd. The key to the puzzle is found in these lines:

53++!305))6*;4826)4+.)4+);806*;48!8`60))85;]8*:+*8!83(88)5*!; 46(;88*96*?;8)*+(;485);5*!2:*+(;4956*2(5*-4)8`8*; 4069285);)6 !8)4++;1(+9;48081;8:8+1;48!85;4)485!528806*81(+9;48;(88;4(+?3 4;48)4+;161;:188;+?;

This is not a typo, but the clue that circumstance and luck dropped into Will's lap. It is a cipher and solving it requires understanding the English language (and hoping that the message itself is in English.) As Will explains to Eap, e is the letter which most frequently occurs. Then comes a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z. At least, that was the order in the 1840s! Can you crack Captain Kidd's code? For the answer, use the link to the story.

In Part 2, we will have fun with ciphers!


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