Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

asked him, not knowing what better to say, if he had yet obtained the scarabæus from Lieutenant G—.

66

'Oh, yes," he replied, colouring violently, "I got it from him the next morning. Nothing should tempt me to part with that scarabæus. Do you know that Jupiter is quite right about it ?"

"In what way?" I asked, with a sad foreboding at heart.

"In supposing it to be a beetle of real gold." He said this with an air of profound seriousness, and I felt inexpressibly shocked.

This beetle is to make my fortune," he continued, with a triumphant smile,-" to reinstate me in my family possessions. Is it any wonder, then, that I prize it? Since Fortune has thought fit to bestow it upon me, I have only to use it properly, and I shall arrive at the gold of which it is the index. Jupiter, bring me that scarabæus."

fer

"What! de beetle, massa? I'd rudder not go trubble dat beetle-you mus git him for your own self." Hereupon Legrand arose, with a grave and stately air, and brought me the beetle from a glass case in which it was enclosed. It was a beautiful scarabæus, and at that time unknown to naturalists-of course a great prize in a scientific point of view. There were two round, black spots near one extremity of the back, and a long one near the other. The scales were exceedingly hard and glossy, with all the appearance of burnished gold. The weight of the insect was very remarkable, and, taking all things into consideration, I could hardly blame Jupiter for his opinion respecting it; but what to make of Legrand's concordance with that opinion, I could not, for the life of me, tell.

66

I sent for you," said he, in a grandiloquent tone, when I had completed my examination of the beetle,— "I sent for you, that I might have your counsel and assistance in furthering the views of Fate and of the beetle-"

66

"My dear Legrand," I cried, interrupting him, you are certainly unwell, and had better use some little precautions. You shall go to bed, and I will remain with you a few days, until you get over this. You are feverish and

[blocks in formation]

I felt it, and, to say the truth, found not the slightest indication of fever.

"But you may be ill and yet have no fever. Allow me this once to prescribe for you. In the first place, go to bed. In the next"

"You are mistaken," he interposed; "I am as well as I can expect to be under the excitement which I suffer. If you really wish me well, you will relieve this excitement."

"And how is this to be done?

[ocr errors]

"Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an expedition into the hills, upon the main land, and, in this expedition we shall need the aid of some person in whom we can confide. You are the only one we can trust. Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which you now perceive in me will be equally allayed."

66

"I am anxious to oblige you in any way," I replied; "but do you mean to say that this infernal beetle has any connection with your expedition into the hills? "It has."

[ocr errors]

"Then, Legrand, I can become a party to no such absurd proceeding.

66

[ocr errors]

"I am sorry-very sorry-for we shall have to try it by ourselves."

66

[ocr errors]

"Try it by yourselves! The man is surely mad!but stay!-how long do you propose to be absent? "Probably all night. We shall start immediately, and be back, at all events, by sunrise."

"And will you promise me, upon your honour, that when this freak of yours is over, and the beetle business (good God!) settled to your satisfaction, you will then

return home and follow my advice implicitly, as that of your physician?"

"Yes; I promise; and now let us be off, for we have no time to lose."

With a heavy heart I accompanied my friend. We started about four o'clock-Legrand, Jupiter, the dog, and myself. Jupiter had with him the scythe and spades-the whole of which he insisted upon carrying

[ocr errors]

-more through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of the implements within reach of his master, than from any excess of industry or complaisance. His demeanour was dogged in the extreme, and "dat deuced beetle were the sole words which escaped his lips during the journey. For my own part, I had charge of a couple of dark lanterns, while Legrand contented himself with the scarabæus, which he carried attached to the end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to and fro, with the air of a conjuror, as he went. When I observed this last plain evidence of my friend's aberration of mind, I could scarcely refrain from tears. thought it best, however, to humour his fancy, at least for the present, or until I could adopt some more energetic measures with a chance of success. In the mean time I endeavoured, but all in vain, to sound him in regard to the object of the expedition. Having succeeded in inducing me to accompany him, he seemed unwilling to hold conversation upon any topic of minor importance, and to all my questions vouchsafed no other reply than 66 we shall see!"

I

We crossed the creek at the head of the island by means of a skiff, and ascending the high grounds on the shore of the main land, proceeded in a northwesterly direction through a tract of country excessively wild and desolate, where no trace of a human footstep was to be seen. Legrand led the way with decision; pausing only for an instant, here and there, to consult what appeared to be certain landmarks of his own contrivance upon a former occasion.

In this manner we journeyed for about two hours, and the sun was just setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary than any yet seen. It was a species of table land, near the summit of an almost inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves into the valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against which they reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an air of still sterner solemnity to the scene.

The natural platform to which we had clambered was thickly overgrown with brambles, through which we soon discovered that it would have been impossible to force our way but for the scythe; and Jupiter, by direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the foot of an enormously tall tulip-tree, which stood. with some eight or ten oaks, upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other trees which I had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage and form, in the wide spread of its branches, and in the general majesty of its appearance. When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to Jupiter, and asked him if he thought he could climb it. The old man seemed a little staggered by the question, and for some moments made no reply. At length he approached the huge trunk, walked slowly around it, and examined it with minute attention. When he had completed his scrutiny, he merely said:

66

Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he eber see in he life."

"Then up with you as soon as possible, for it will soon be too dark to see what we are about."

"How far mus go up, massa?" inquired Jupiter. "Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way to go-and here-stop! take this beetle with you."

66

De beetle, Massa Will!-de goole beetle!" cried

the negro, drawing back in dismay-" what for mus tote de beetle way up de tree?-d-n if I do!"

"If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you, to take hold of a harmless little dead beetle, why you can carry it up by this string-but, if you do not take with you in some way, I shall be under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."

it up

"What de matter now, massa?" said Jup, evidently shamed into compliance; "always want for to raise fuss wid old nigger. Was only funnin any how. Me feered de beetle! what I keer for de beetle?" Here he took cautiously hold of the extreme end of the string, and, maintaining the insect as far from his person as circumstances would permit, prepared to ascend the tree.

Thus

In youth, the tulip-tree, or Liriodendron Tulipiferum, the most magnificent of American foresters, has a trunk peculiarly smooth, and often rises to a great height without lateral branches; but, in its riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short limbs make their appearance on the stem. the difficulty of ascension, in the present case, lay more in semblance than in reality. Embracing the huge cylinder, as closely as possible, with his arms and knees, seizing with his hands some projections, and resting his naked toes upon others, Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and seemed to consider the whole business as virtually accomplished. The risk of the achievement was, in fact, now over, although the climber was some sixty or seventy feet from the ground.

66

"Which way mus go now, Massa Will?" he asked. Keep up the largest branch-the one on this side," said Legrand. The negro obeyed him promptly, and apparently with but little trouble; ascending higher and higher, until no glimpse of his squat figure could be obtained through the dense foliage which enveloped Presently his voice was heard in a sort of halloo.

it.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »