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کتاب های فوق متوسط

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The Gold-Bug

My friendship with Mr William Legrand began many years ago.

He had once been wealthy, but a number of misfortunes had made him poor; and to avoid the shame of his situation, he had gone to live at Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.

He had built himself a small hut, and was living there with an old servant called Jupiter, when I first met him. He was an educated man and had unusual powers of mind which interested me greatly. His chief amusements were shooting and fishing, and he was a keen collector of shells and insects.

One cold afternoon, about the middle of October, 18—, I went to the island to visit my friend. On reaching the hut I knocked, as was my custom. Getting no reply, I looked for the key where I knew it was hidden, unlocked the door, and went in.

I was glad to see that a fine fire was burning. I threw off my coat, and settled down by the fire to wait for my hosts.

They arrived as it was getting dark, and gave me the warmest of welcomes. Jupiter hurried to prepare a duck for supper, while Legrand began to describe a strange insect which he had found that afternoon, and which he believed to be of a completely new kind.

‘If I had only known you were here!’ said Legrand. ‘I would have kept it to show you. But on the way home I met my friend G—, and very foolishly I lent him the insect. It is of a bright gold colour — about the size of a large nut — with two black spots near one end of the back, and another, a little longer, at the other.

Jupiter here thinks the bug is solid gold and, improbable as it seems, I’m not sure that he is wrong.’

Here Jupiter interrupted with, ‘That I do; I never felt half so heavy a bug in all my life.’

‘Really,’ said Legrand, ‘you never saw gold that shone brighter than this little thing; but let me give you some idea of the shape.’

He sat down 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, ‘this will do.’ And he took from his pocket a piece of what looked like dirty notepaper, on which he made a rough drawing with the pen. When he had finished, he brought the paper over to where I was still sitting by the fire, and gave it to me. While I was studying the drawing we were interrupted by the arrival of Legrand’s dog, which jumped on my shoulders and covered me with affection; I was one of his favourite visitors. When he had finished, I looked at the paper and was confused by what my friend had drawn.

‘Well!’ I said,’this is a strange insect. It looks like a skull to me.’

‘A skull!’ repeated Legrand. ‘Oh — yes — well, it may look like that on paper. The two black spots look like eyes, I suppose, and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth.’

‘Perhaps so,’ I said,’but, Legrand, you are a poor artist.’

‘No,’ he said, a little annoyed, ‘I draw quite well; at least my teachers used to think so.’

‘Well, my dear friend, you must be joking then,’ I said. ‘This is a very good skull, but a very poor insect.’

I could see that Legrand was becoming quite angry, so I handed him the paper without further remark. His bad temper surprised me - and, as for the drawing, it did look exactly like a skull.

He took the paper roughly, and was going to throw it into the fire when something about the drawing suddenly seemed to hold his attention. His face grew violently red - then as pale as death.

For some minutes he continued to examine the paper, turning it in all directions, but saying nothing. At last he took from his coat pocket an envelope, placed the paper carefully in it, and locked both in the drawer of his desk.

This behaviour of Legrand was strange, and I was disappointed that, for the rest of the evening, he remained lost in thought. When I rose to leave, he did not invite me to stay the night, as he usually did, but he shook my hand with more than ordinary feeling.

It was about a month after this (during which I had seen nothing of Legrand) that Jupiter visited me at Charleston. He brought bad news; his master was ill and in need of help. The sickness, according to Jupiter, was caused by a bite which Legrand had received from the gold-bug on the day when he had caught the insect. Jupiter himself, had escaped being bitten only through taking hold of the creature in a piece of paper. The old man then produced a letter from Legrand addressed to me.

My dear —

Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope you have not been foolish enough to take offence at anything I said last time we met. I have something to tell you, but I hardly know how to tell it, or whether I should tell it at all.

I have not been well for some days, and poor old Jupiter annoys me with his attentions. I find the greatest difficulty in getting away from him in order to spend some time among the hills on the mainland.

If it is convenient, come over with Jupiter. Do come. I wish to see you tonight, on business of importance, of the highest importance.

Ever yours,


This note caused me great anxiety. What business ‘of the highest importance’ could he possibly have to deal with? I feared that the continued weight of misfortune had at last brought him close to losing his mind. I decided immediately that I must go with the servant.

Jupiter, I noticed, was carrying three new spades, which, he said, Legrand had ordered him to buy in Charleston, though for what purpose the old man had no idea at all. ‘It’s the bug, sir,’ he said to me. ‘All this nonsense comes from the bug.’

It was about three in the afternoon when we arrived at the hut. Legrand looked terribly pale and ill, and his dark eyes shone with a strange, unnatural light. At his first words, my heart sank with the weight of lead.

‘Jupiter is quite right about the bug. It is of real gold, and it will make my fortune,’ he said seriously.

‘How will it do that?’ I asked sadly.

He did not answer, but went to a glass case against the wall, and brought me the insect. It was very beautiful, and, at that time, unknown to scientists. It was very heavy, and certainly looked like gold, so that Jupiter’s belief was quite reasonable; but I simply failed to understand Legrand’s agreement with that opinion.

‘My dear friend,’ I cried,’you are unwell, and —’

‘You are mistaken,’ he interrupted, ‘I am as well as I can be under the excitement from which I am suffering. If you really wish me well, you will take away this excitement.’

‘And how can I do this?’

‘Very easily. Jupiter and I are going on a journey into the hills, and we shall need the help of some person whom we can trust.

Whether we succeed or fail in our purpose, the weight of the excitement which I now feel will be removed.’

‘I am anxious to help you in any way,’ I replied; ‘but I believe this business of the insect is complete nonsense. I want you to promise me, on your honour, that when this journey is over, you will return home and follow my advice, as if I were your doctor.’

‘Yes; I promise,’ said Legrand; ‘and now let us go, for we have no time to lose.’

With a heavy heart I set out with my friend. We started at about four o’clock — Legrand, Jupiter, the dog and myself. Jupiter was carrying the three spades; I was in charge of two lamps; Legrand took only the goldbug, tied to the end of a long piece of string, which he swung as he walked. Tears came to my eyes when I saw this last, clear proof of my friend’s mental sickness.

Our path led across to the mainland, and on to the high ground to the north-west. We walked for about two hours, and the sun was just setting when we arrived at a natural platform towards the top of a hill, which was surrounded by forest and large rocks. The place was overgrown with bushes. Legrand went straight towards a great tree, which stood, with about eight or ten others, on the level ground. This tree was taller and more beautiful than any I have ever seen, and the wide spread of its branches threw shadows over its smaller neighbours. When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to Jupiter, and asked him if he thought he could climb it. The old man seemed surprised by the question, and for some moments made no reply. At last, after a careful examination of the tree, he simply said: ‘Yes, I can climb it. How far up must I go, master?’

‘Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way to go - and here — stop! Take the bug with you.’

‘The gold-bug, master!’ cried Jupiter, in some fear. ‘Why must I take that?’

‘Do as I tell you,’ said Legrand, handing him the string to which the insect was still tied; ‘now, up you go.’

The servant took hold of the string and began to climb. This part of the strange business was not difficult; the tree was old, and its trunk uneven, with a number of good footholds. Within a short time, the climber was sixty or seventy feet from the ground.

‘Keep going up the main trunk,’ shouted Legrand,’on this side — until you reach the seventh branch.’

Soon Jupiter’s voice was heard, saying that he could count six branches below the one on which he was sitting.

‘Now, Jupiter,’ cried Legrand, with much excitement, ‘climb out along that branch as far as you can. Tell me if you see anything strange.’

When I heard these words, I decided, with great sorrow, that there could now be no doubt about the state of my friend’s mind. I felt seriously anxious about getting him home. While I was wondering what was best to be done, Jupiter’s voice was heard again.

‘I’m getting along, master; soon be near the … o-o-oh! God have mercy! What is this here?’

‘Well!’ cried Legrand, highly excited. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s a skull,’ said Jupiter,’and it’s fixed to the tree with a nail.’

‘Well now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you - do you hear?’

‘Yes, master.’

‘Give me your attention, then — find the left eye of the skull, and let the bug drop through it, as far as the string will reach — but be careful and do not let go of the string.’

‘The left eye, master? Yes, yes, I have it! It’s a very easy thing to put the bug through this hole — can you see it there below?’

We could now see the insect at the end of the string, shining, like a little ball of gold, in the last light of the setting sun. Legrand immediately used one of the spades to beat back the bushes and clear a circular space, three or four yards across, just below the insect. He ordered Jupiter to let go of the string and come down from the tree.

My friend now pressed a small stick into the ground at the exact place where the insect fell. He took from his pocket a long tape measure, one end of which he fixed to the trunk of the tree at its nearest point to the stick. He then unrolled the tape, so that it touched the stick and continued outwards for a distance of fifty feet. Jupiter went in front of him, clearing away the bushes with a spade. At fifty feet a second stick was pressed into the ground; and around this the ground was again cleared in a rough circle about four feet across. Taking a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and one to me, Legrand begged us to begin digging as quickly as possible.

To tell the truth, I had no wish for further exercise. I would have refused if I could have done so without upsetting my poor friend. But he was now wildly excited, and I judged it wiser to take the spade with at least a show of being helpful.

By the light of the lamps we dug very steadily for two hours, and reached a depth of five feet without meeting anything of greater interest than soil and stones. Then we rested, and I began to hope that the nonsense was at an end. But Legrand, although clearly very disappointed, wiped his face thoughtfully and began again. We had dug out the whole circle, and now we dug deeper for another two feet. Still nothing appeared. At last my friend climbed up to the surface, with a look of bitter defeat on his face.

He slowly put on his coat, which he had thrown off at the beginning of his work. Jupiter picked up the tools, and we turned in deep silence towards home.

We had taken a few steps in this direction, when, with a loud cry, Legrand seized Jupiter by the collar.

‘You stupid fool!’ he shouted. ‘You good-for-nothing - answer me at once — which — which is your left eye?’

‘Oh, my God, master! Isn’t this my left eye?’ cried the old man, placing his hand on his right eye, and holding it there as if afraid that his master might try to tear it out.

‘I thought so! — I knew it! Hurrah!’ cried Legrand. ‘Come! We must go back.’ Then, speaking more calmly, he said, ‘Jupiter, was it this eye or that,’ - here he touched each of the poor man’s eyes — ‘through which you dropped the bug?’

‘It was this eye, master — the left eye — just as you told me,’ — and here it was again his right eye that the servant touched.

‘All right; that is enough; we must try it again.’

We returned to the tree. My friend moved the stick which marked the place where the insect had fallen to a place slightly west of its former position. He took the tape measure again from the tree to the stick, as before, and continued in a straight line to the distance of fifty feet. We now reached a point several yards away from the hole which we had dug. Around this new position another circle was marked, and we again set to work with the spades.

We had been digging in silence for, perhaps, an hour and a half, when we were interrupted by the violent crying of the dog.

Suddenly he jumped into the hole, and began digging wildly. In a few seconds we saw human bones, the remains of two complete bodies. These were mixed with dust which appeared to be decayed clothing. One or two more spadefuls brought up the blade of a large knife. As we dug further, three or four loose pieces of gold and silver coin suddenly shone in the light of our lamps.

Legrand urged us to continue, and he had hardly spoken when a large ring of iron appeared; we soon found that this was part of a strong wooden box. We worked hard, and the ten minutes that followed were the most exciting in my life. The box was three and a half feet long, three feet wide, and two and a half feet deep. The ring was one of six — three on each side - by means of which six persons might have carried the box. But we could hardly move it.

Luckily the lid was held shut by only two sliding bars. Breathless and trembling with anxiety, we pulled these back. A treasure of the greatest value lay shining before us. As the beams of our lamps fell on the box, the light from the pile of gold and jewels flashed upward and caused us to turn our eyes away in pain.

I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I looked on that wealth. We said nothing, and made no movement, I suppose, for two minutes. Then Jupiter, as if in a dream, fell down on his knees. He buried his arms up to his shoulders in gold, and said quietly: ‘And all this comes from the gold-bug; all from the little gold-bug!’

It was necessary at last to think of moving the treasure before daylight. After a short discussion, we decided to lighten the box by taking out, and hiding in the bushes, more than half of the heavier pieces. Leaving the dog to guard them, we hurried away with the box. After an extremely tiring journey, we reached the hut in safety at one o’clock in the morning. We rested until two, and had supper; and then we returned to the hills with three strong bags. A little before four o’clock we arrived at the hole, where we divided the rest of the treasure, as equally as possible, among us. We reached the hut, for the second time, just as the faint light of day appeared over the treetops in the east.

After a further rest, we examined and sorted the treasure with great care. We soon found that we now possessed wealth far greater than we had originally imagined. In coins there was more than 450,000 dollars. There was not one piece of silver; it was all ancient gold of great variety — money from all the countries of Europe. The value of the jewels and the hundreds of golden plates and cups and rings was more difficult to judge. Their total weight of almost 400 English pounds did not include 197 beautiful gold watches, three of which were worth at least 500 dollars each. We calculated that the whole treasure was worth a million and a half dollars, but we later found that the actual value was far greater.

The following evening Legrand gave me a full account of what had led him to this discovery. ‘You remember,’ he said, ‘the piece of paper on which I drew for you a picture of the insect.’

‘The insect that looked like a skull?’ I asked.

‘Yes; well, the paper was, in fact, a piece of very fine animal skin. When you gave it back to me, I, too, saw a skull where I had drawn the bug. But a moment later I saw my drawing on the back of the skin. This was strange; I was sure that both sides of the skin, though dirty, had been unmarked when I made my drawing.

‘That night, after you had gone, and when Jupiter was fast asleep, I tried to solve the mystery. I remembered that the piece of skin had been found half buried in the sand, near the place where we had caught the insect. Jupiter had picked it up, and used it to take hold of the creature, which he was afraid might bite him. I had wrapped the insect in the skin, and carried it like that until we met my friend G—. Then, after lending him the bug, I must have put the skin, without thinking, into my pocket.

‘As I sat in deep thought, I remembered another strange fact.

It was this: at the place where we had found the insect, I had noticed the ancient wreck of a boat — only a few pieces of wood remained — on the shore. So here was a sort of connection — a wrecked boat, and, near it, a piece of skin — not paper - with a skull drawn on it. You know, of course, that the skull is the usual sign of those who rob at sea — that a flag with the skull on it is raised as they attack.’

‘But,’ I interrupted, ‘you say that the paper — or skin - was unmarked when you made your drawing of the insect. How, and when, then, did the skull appear?’

‘Ah, that was the whole mystery; although it did not remain one for long. Every detail of the chain of events came back to my mind. On the evening of your visit the weather was cold (oh, lucky accident!), and you were sitting close to the fire. Just as I placed the skin in your hand, and as you were about to examine my drawing, the dog entered, and jumped on you. With one hand you played with him, while your other hand, holding the skin, must have fallen towards the fire. When at last you looked at the skin, you saw a skull drawn there; but my drawing of the insect was on the other side - the side which you did not look at. It seemed reasonable to me, when I thought about the matter that night, to suppose that the heat of the fire had brought out the drawing of the skull. It is well known that certain substances exist, by means of which it is possible to write on paper or skin, so that the letters can be seen only when the paper is heated. The writing disappears, sooner or later, when the material is removed from heat, but always reappears when it is heated.

‘To test the strength of this idea I immediately built up the fire, and thoroughly heated the piece of skin. In a few minutes there appeared in the corner opposite to the skull the figure of a baby goat - a kid. Well, you must have heard of the famous Captain Kidd, and I immediately decided that the drawing of the animal must represent his signature. I say signature, because its position in the bottom right-hand corner of the piece of skin strongly suggested this idea. In the same way, the skull at the top appeared as a kind of official stamp.’

‘But was there no message,’ I asked, ‘between the stamp and the signature?’

‘Not at first; but my belief that some great good fortune lay near was so strong that I continued to examine the skin. Piling wood on the fire, I warmed some water, and carefully washed it.

It was coated with dirt, and I thought that this might have something to do with the failure. While it was drying, I thought about Captain Kidd and the treasure that he is said to have buried somewhere along this coast. He was a daring and successful robber, and the stories of his hidden wealth would not have existed so long and so continuously without at least some truth in them. You will remember that the stories are all about searching for money, not about finding it; and this suggested to me that the gold remained buried. I thought that some accident - such as the loss of a note showing its position - might have prevented Kidd or the other robbers from finding it again. I now felt a hope, nearly amounting to certainty, that the piece of skin so strangely found contained a lost record of the place of burial.’

‘What did you do next?’

‘I placed the skin in a pan, with the figures of the skull and the kid face down, and put the pan on the burning wood. In a few minutes, I took off the pan, and examined the skin. To my great joy, the whole was just as you see it now.’

Here Legrand, having heated the skin again, as he was speaking, handed it to me. In red print, between the skull and the goat, the following signs appeared:

‘It is beyond my power,’ I said, returning the skin to him, ‘to understand what this means.’

‘And yet,’ said Legrand, ‘the solution is not very difficult; for Kidd, as you might imagine, was not a very clever man. The figures and signs have a meaning; and a little practice with mysteries of this sort has made it easy for me to understand them.

I have solved others a thousand times more difficult than this.

‘The first question that one must usually ask is this: in what language is the message written? In this case it is no problem at all; for the drawing of a goat, or kid, in place of Kidd’s real signature, makes it clear that the language used is English.

‘The next step is to find the figure, or sign, that appears most frequently in the message. I saw at once that the figure 8 is the most common, but perhaps it is best to count them all if you are in doubt. Now, in English, the most common letter is e. Let us suppose, then, that the figure 8 stands for the letter e. Let us see next if the 8 often appears in pairs — for the e is very often doubled in English, in such words, for example as “meet”, “speed”, “seen”, “been”, “agree”, etc. We find that the 8 is doubled three times in this short message. We may now feel quite sure that the figure 8 represents e.

‘Of all the words in the English language, the most common is “the”. We should now look at the message to see if we can find any groups of three characters, in the same order each time, the last character being 8. We see immediately that the group ;48 is repeated, in that order, not less than five times. We may believe, then, that ;48 represents the word “the”. We now know that ; represents t and that the figure 4 stands for h.

‘Look next at the last but one appearance of the group ;48 towards the end of the message. We may write the known letters, like this:

; 4 8 ; ( 8 8 ; 4

t h e t . e e t h

‘We have here the word “the”, followed by parts of two other words. I say two, because there is no single word of six letters in English that begins with t and ends with eeth. By trying all the possible letters, we find that the missing letter must be r, giving us the word “tree”. The sign ( , then, represents the letter r.

‘The group ;48 helps us again if we examine its last use in the message. We see this arrangement:

‘The missing letters are, quite clearly, oug, giving us the word “through”, and we now have three more letters, o, u, and g, represented by

?, and 3.

‘I continued in this way to find the other letters, making full use of those already known to me. I wrote down, for example, the group 83(88, which is not far from the beginning of the note:

‘This can only be the word “degree”, giving me the letter d, represented by the sign

‘It is hardly necessary, I think, for me to go on with the details of the solution. I have said enough to give you an idea of how a solution is reached, and to show you that it was not particularly difficult to translate into words. But I did have to make use of my knowledge of this area. Here is my translation:

A good glass in Bessop’s Castle in the devil’s seat — forty one degrees — north-east and by north — seventh branch east side - shoot from the left eye of the death’s head — a line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.

‘I had heard of a family named Bessop, who were great landowners, at one time, in this part of the country. I made careful enquiries among the older people of the place, and at last met a woman of great age who had been in service with the family very many years ago. She had heard of a place called Bessop’s Castle, and thought that she could guide me to it, but said that it was not a castle at all, but a high rock.

‘We found it without much difficulty. It was an irregular group of rocks — one of the rocks being far higher than the others and quite like the tower of a castle in its general shape. I climbed to the top of this tower, and sat there wondering what should be done next.

‘Suddenly my eyes fell on a narrow shelf of rock, about a yard below where I sat. It was shaped exactly like a chair with a back and a seat, and I had no doubt that here was the “devil’s seat”

mentioned in the note. I lowered myself to it, and found that it was impossible to sit on it except in one particular position. Now I understood the meaning of the message.

‘The “good glass” did not mean a drinking glass at all, but a seaman’s glass — or telescope — to be used from the only possible sitting position in the “devil’s seat”. And the words “forty-one degrees — north-east and by north” were directions for pointing the glass. Greatly excited, I hurried home, found my telescope, and returned to the rock.

‘Judging the direction as best I could by my watch and the position of the sun, I moved the telescope slowly up and down.

My attention was drawn to a circular opening in the leaves at the top of a great tree in the distance. In the centre of this opening, I saw a white spot, which, in a moment or two, I recognized as a human skull.

‘All was now clear to me. The skull was to be found on the seventh branch on the east side of that particular tree. I had to “shoot”, or drop something, from the left eye of the skull to the ground; and then to mark a line from the tree, through the place where “the shot” fell, and outwards to a distance of fifty feet.

Beneath that point, I thought it possible that a treasure lay hidden.

‘The next day, with some difficulty, I found the tree and sent for you; and you know the rest of the adventure as well as I do myself.’

‘I suppose,’ I said, ‘that you missed the treasure, in the first attempt at digging, through Jupiter’s stupidity in letting the bug fall through the right eye instead of through the left.’

‘Exactly That mistake made a difference of five or six yards in the position of the gold.’

‘Yes, I see; and now there is only one thing that I don’t understand. How do you explain the bones found in the hole?’

‘There seems only one way of explaining them — though it is terrible to believe in such cruelty. Kidd must have had help in burying the treasure. Then, when the work was finished, perhaps he thought it better that no one should share the secret with him. Two shots, while his men were busy in the hole, may have been enough; or perhaps it required more - who can tell?’

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