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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 quivering 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 your knife, and see if you think it is very rotten.”
“ 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 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 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, Mass Will --- deed I is,” replied the negro, very promptly mos out to the end 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, 0-0-0-0-oh! Lor-gol-amarcy! 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 cumstance, 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?"
“ Yes, massa. “ Pay attention, then ! -find the left eye of the skull.”
“Hum! hool dat's good! why, dare aint no eye lef at all.” “ Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand
left ? " “ Yes, I nose dat nose all bout dat 'tis
lef hand what I chops de wood wid.” “ To be sure! you are left-handed; and your left
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 with 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, Mass Will; mighty easy ting for to put de bug frue de hole — look out for him dare 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 scarabæus 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 fantasy had received confirmation by the finding of the scarabeus, 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 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 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 further 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