William Legrand has been reduced to poverty by a series of misfortunes. In order to avoid the embarrassment of meeting friends from his more prosperous days, he leaves New Orleans and goes to live on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. It is a small island, usually uninhabited except for Legrand and his black servant, Jupiter. Jupiter will not leave his master, even though he is a free man and could find work to support himself in comfort.
Winters on the island are mild and fires are usually unnecessary, but on a night in October when a friend from Charleston visits, he finds Legrand and Jupiter away from the house and a fire blazing in the fireplace. The two soon return from a quest for entomological specimens. Legrand is in rare good humor. He has stumbled upon an entirely new specimen, a bug of gold. On his way home, he meets Lieutenant G——, who takes the bug to examine it. Because the friend cannot examine it before morning, Legrand takes an old piece of parchment from his pocket and draws a picture of the specimen.
As the friend takes the drawing, Legrand’s dog enters, jumps upon the guest, and licks his face in joy. When the friend finally looks at the paper, he finds that the drawing resembles a human skull. Legrand, somewhat disgruntled at this slur on his drawing, takes the paper back and prepares to throw it into the fire. After one last glance, however, he pales visibly, rises, and seats himself at the table. Then he carefully places the paper in his wallet. As Legrand appears distracted and a little sulky, the friend cancels his plans for spending the night and returns to Charleston.
About a month later, the friend receives a visit from old Jupiter. The servant reports that his master is not well. Going around as if in a daze, Legrand works constantly at a cipher. Once he had eluded Jupiter and stayed away the whole day. Jupiter knows that the gold bug is to blame, for it bit Legrand on the day he captured it, and he knows that the bug is the reason for Legrand’s talk about gold in his sleep. He produces a letter from his master begging the friend to return to the island with Jupiter.
At the island, the friend finds Legrand in a state of great excitement. Filled with plans for an expedition to the mainland, he asks the friend to accompany him. After getting Legrand’s promise that he will consult a doctor before long, for the man is obviously deranged, the friend joins Legrand and Jupiter in their adventure. Taking the dog with them, they leave that evening. Jupiter carries picks and shovels for the three. Legrand takes with him the gold bug, attached to a long cord.
After traveling about two hours, they stop at the foot of a huge tulip tree situated near an almost inaccessible hill. There Legrand commands Jupiter to take the bug and climb the tree to the seventh limb. Jupiter obeys, climbing out to the very tip of the limb. On the outer edge, he finds a human skull, nailed to the wood. Then Legrand tells him to drop the bug through the left eye of the skull. After this strange act, Jupiter climbs down. Legrand, working in feverish anxiety, then begins a series of measurements. By the light of lanterns, the men, following Legrand’s lead, dig out a hole four feet wide and seven feet deep. When they fail to unearth the treasure Legrand obviously thinks he will find, he questions Jupiter again about the eye through which he dropped the gold bug. The old man, they learn, mistakenly dropped the bug through the right eye. Again, Legrand measures and draws circles. By that time the...
(The entire page is 981 words.)
Owl Eyes subscribers get unlimited access to our expert annotations, analyses, and study guides on your favorite texts. Master the classics for less than $5/month!