Here Legrand, having re-heated the parchment, submitted It my
inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red
tint, between the death's-head and the goat:
"But," said I, returning him the slip, "I am as much in the dark as
ever. Were all the jewels of Golconda awaiting me on my solution of
this enigma, I am quite sure that I should be unable to earn them."
"And yet," said Legrand, "the solution is by no means so difficult
as you might be led to imagine from the first hasty inspection of
the characters. These characters, as any one might readily guess, form
a cipher --that is to say, they convey a meaning; but then, from
what is known of Kidd, I could not suppose him capable of constructing
any of the more abstruse cryptographs. I made up my mind, at once,
that this was of a simple species --such, however, as would appear, to
the crude intellect of the sailor, absolutely insoluble without the
"And you really solved it?"
"Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness ten thousand times
greater. Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to
take interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted whether
human ingenuity can construct an enigma of the kind which human
ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve. In fact, having
once established connected and legible characters, I scarcely gave a
thought to the mere difficulty of developing their import.
"In the present case --indeed in all cases of secret writing --the
first question regards the language of the cipher; for the
principles of solution, so far, especially, as the more simple ciphers
are concerned, depend on, and are varied by, the genius of the
particular idiom. In general, there is no alternative but experiment
(directed by probabilities) of every tongue known to him who
attempts the solution, until the true one be attained. But, with the
cipher now before us, all difficulty is removed by the signature.
The pun on the word 'Kidd' is appreciable in no other language than
the English. But for this consideration I should have begun my
attempts with the Spanish and French, as the tongues in which a secret
of this kind would most naturally have been written by a pirate of the
Spanish main. As it was, I assumed the cryptograph to be English.
"You observe there are no divisions between the words. Had there
been divisions, the task would have been comparatively easy. In such
case I should have commenced with a collation and analysis of the
shorter words, and, had a word of a single letter occurred, as is most
likely, (a or I, for example,) I should have considered the solution
as assured. But, there being no division, my first step was to
ascertain the predominant letters, as well as the least frequent.
Counting all, I constructed a table, thus:
Of the character 8 there are 33.
; " 26.
4 " 19.
+ ) " 16.
* " 13.
5 " 12.
6 " 11.
! 1 " 8.
0 " 6.
9 2 " 5.
: 3 " 4.
? " 3.
` " 2.
- . " 1.
"Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e.
Afterwards, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l
m w b k p q x z. E however predominates so remarkably that an
individual sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not
the prevailing character.
"Here, then, we have, in the very beginning, the groundwork for
something more than a mere guess. The general use which may be made of
the table is obvious --but, in this particular cipher, we shall only
very partially require its aid. As our predominant character is 8,
we will commence by assuming it as the e of the natural alphabet. To
verify the supposition, let us observe if the 8 be seen often in
couples --for e is doubled with great frequency in English --in such
words, for example, as 'meet,' 'fleet,' 'speed, 'seen,' 'been,'
'agree,' &c. In the present instance we see it doubled less than
five times, although the cryptograph is brief.
"Let us assume 8, then, as e. Now, of all words in the language,
'the' is the most usual; let us see, therefore, whether they are not
repetitions of any three characters in the same order of
collocation, the last of them being 8. If we discover repetitions of
such letters, so arranged, they will most probably represent the
word 'the.' On inspection, we find no less than seven such
arrangements, the characters being ;48. We may, therefore, assume that
the semicolon represents t, that 4 represents h, and that 8 represents
e --the last being now well confirmed. Thus a great step has been
"But, having established a single word, we are enabled to
establish a vastly important point; that is to say, several
commencements and terminations of other words. Let us refer, for
example, to the last instance but one, in which the combination ;48
occurs --not far from the end of the cipher. We know that the
semicolon immediately ensuing is the commencement of a word, and, of
the six characters succeeding this 'the,' we are cognizant of no
less than five. Let us set these characters down, thus, by the letters
we know them to represent, leaving a space for the unknown--
"Here we are enabled, at once, to discard the 'th,' as forming no
portion of the word commencing with the first t; since, by
experiment of the entire alphabet for a letter adapted to the
vacancy we perceive that no word can be formed of which this th can be
a part. We are thus narrowed into
and, going through the alphabet, if necessary, as before, we arrive at
the word 'tree,' as the sole possible reading. We thus gain another
letter, r, represented by (, with the words 'the tree' in
"Looking beyond these words, for a short distance, we again see
the combination ;48, and employ it by way of termination to what
immediately precedes. We have thus this arrangement:
the tree ;4(+?34 the,
or substituting the natural letters, where known, it reads thus:
the tree thr+?3h the.
"Now, if, in place of the unknown characters, we leave blank spaces,
or substitute dots, we read thus:
the tree thr...h the,
when the word 'through' makes itself evident at once. But this
discovery gives us three new letters, o, u and g, represented by + ?
"Looking now, narrowly, through the cipher for combinations of known
characters, we find, not very far from the beginning, this
83(88, or egree,
which, plainly, is the conclusion of the word 'degree,' and gives us
another letter, d, represented by !.
"Four letters beyond the word 'degree,' we perceive the combination
"Translating the known characters, and representing the unknown by
dots, as before, we read thus:
an arrangement immediately suggestive of the word 'thirteen,' and
again furnishing us with two new characters, i and n, represented by 6
"Referring, now, to the beginning of the cryptograph, we find the
"Translating, as before, we obtain
which assures us that the first letter is A, and that the first two
words are 'A good.'
"To avoid confusion, it is now time that we arrange our key, as
far as discovered, in a tabular form. It will stand thus:
5 represents a
! " d
8 " e
3 " g
4 " h
6 " i
* " n
+ " o
( " r
; " t
"We have, therefore, no less than ten of the most important letters
represented, and it will be unnecessary to proceed with the details of
the solution. I have said enough to convince you that ciphers of
this nature are readily soluble, and to give you some insight into the
rationale of their development. But be assured that the specimen
before us appertains to the very simplest species of cryptograph. It
now only remains to give you the full translation of the characters
upon the parchment, as unriddled. Here it is:
'A good glass in the bishop's hostel in the devil's seat
twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes northeast and by north main
branch seventh limb east side shoot from the left eye of the
death's-head a bee line from the tree through the shot fifty feet
"But," said I, "the enigma seems still in as bad a condition as
ever. How is it possible to extort a meaning from all this jargon
about 'devil's seats,' 'death's-heads,' and 'bishop's hostel'?"
"I confess," replied Legrand, "that the matter still wears a serious
aspect, when regarded with a casual glance. My first endeavor was to
divide the sentence into the natural division intended by the
"You mean, to punctuate it?"
"Something of that kind."
"But how was it possible to effect this?"
"I reflected that it had been a point with the writer to run his
words together without division, so as to increase the difficulty of
solution. Now, a not overacute man, in pursuing such an object,
would be nearly certain to overdo the matter. When, in the course of
his composition, he arrived at a break in his subject which would
naturally require a pause, or a point, he would be exceedingly apt
to run his characters, at this place, more than usually close
together. If you will observe the MS., in the present instance, you
will easily detect five such cases of unusual crowding. Acting on this
hint, I made the division thus:
'A good glass in the bishop's hostel in the devil's --twenty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes --northeast and by north --main branch
seventh limb east side --shoot from the left eye of the death's-head
--a bee-line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.'"
"Even this division," said I, "leaves me still in the dark."
"It left me also in the dark," replied Legrand, "for a few days;
during which I made diligent inquiry, in the neighborhood of
Sullivan's Island, for any building which went by the name of the
'Bishop's Hotel'; for, of course, I dropped the obsolete word
'hostel.' Gaining no information on the subject, I was on the point of
extending my sphere of search, and proceeding in a more systematic
manner, when, one morning, it entered into my head, quite suddenly,
that this 'Bishop's Hostel' might have some reference to an old
family, of the name of Bessop, which, time out of mind, had held
possession of an ancient manor-house, about four miles to the
northward of the Island. I accordingly went over to the plantation,
and reinstituted my inquiries among the older negroes of the place. At
length one of the most aged of the women said that she had heard of
such a place as Bessop's Castle, and thought that she could guide me
to it, but that it was not a castle, nor a tavern, but a high rock.
"I offered to pay her well for her trouble, and, after some demur,
she consented to accompany me to the spot. We found it without much
difficulty, when, dismissing her, I proceeded to examine the place.
The 'castle' consisted of an irregular assemblage of cliffs and
rocks --one of the latter being quite remarkable for its height as
well as for its insulated and artificial appearance. I clambered to
its apex, and then felt much at a loss as to what should be next done.
"While I was busied in reflection, my eyes fell upon a narrow
ledge in the eastern face of the rock, perhaps a yard below the summit
on which I stood. This ledge projected about eighteen inches, and
was not more than a foot wide, while a niche in the cliff just above
it, gave it a rude resemblance to one of the hollow-backed chairs used
by our ancestors. I made no doubt that here was the 'devil's-seat'
alluded to in the MS., and now I seemed to grasp the full secret of
"The 'good glass,' I knew, could have reference to nothing but a
telescope; for the word 'glass' is rarely employed in any other
sense by seamen. Now here, I at once saw, was a telescope to be
used, and a definite point of view, admitting no variation, from which
to use it. Nor did I hesitate to believe that the phrases, 'twenty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes,' and northeast and by north,' were
intended as directions for the levelling of the glass. Greatly excited
by these discoveries, I hurried home, procured a telescope, and
returned to the rock.
"I let myself down to the ledge, and found that it was impossible to
retain a seat on it unless in one particular position. This fact
confirmed my preconceived idea. I proceeded to use the glass. Of
course, the 'twenty-one degrees and thirteen minutes' could allude
to nothing but elevation above the visible horizon, since the
horizontal direction was clearly indicated by the words, 'northeast
and by north.' This latter direction I at once established by means of
a pocket-compass; then, pointing the glass as nearly at an angle of
twenty-one degrees of elevation as I could do it by guess, I moved
it cautiously up or down, until my attention was arrested by a
circular rift or opening in the foliage of a large tree that
overtopped its fellows in the distance. In the centre of this rift I
perceived a white spot, but could not, at first, distinguish what it
was. Adjusting the focus of the telescope, I again looked, and now
made it out to be a human skull.
"On this discovery I was so sanguine as to consider the enigma
solved; for the phrase 'main branch, seventh limb, east side,' could
refer only to the position of the skull on the tree, while shoot
from the left eye of the death's-head' admitted, also, of but one
interpretation, in regard to a search for buried treasure. I perceived
that the design was to drop a bullet from the left eye of the skull,
and that a bee-line, or, in other words, a straight line, drawn from
the nearest point of the trunk through 'the shot,' (or the spot
where the bullet fell,) and thence extended to a distance of fifty
feet, would indicate a definite point --and beneath this point I
thought it at least possible that a deposit of value lay concealed."
"All this," I said, "is exceedingly clear, and, although
ingenious, still simple and explicit. When you left the Bishop's
Hotel, what then?"
"Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the tree, I turned
homewards. The instant that I left 'the devil's seat,' however, the
circular rift vanished; nor could I get a glimpse of it afterwards,
turn as I would. What seems to me the chief ingenuity in this whole
business, is the fact (for repeated experiment has convinced me it
is a fact) that the circular opening in question is visible from no
other attainable point of view than that afforded by the narrow
ledge on the face of the rock.
"In this expedition to the 'Bishop's Hotel' I had been attended by
Jupiter, who had, no doubt, observed, for some weeks past, the
abstraction of my demeanor, and took especial care not to leave me
alone. But, on the next day, getting up very early, I contrived to
give him the slip, and went into the hills in search of the tree.
After much toil I found it. When I came home at night my valet
proposed to give me a flogging. With the rest of the adventure I
believe you are as well acquainted as myself."
"I suppose," said I, "you missed the spot, in the first attempt at
digging through Jupiter's stupidity in letting the bug fall through
the right instead of the left of the skull."
"Precisely. This mistake made a difference of about two inches and a
half in the 'shot' --that is to say, in the position of the peg
nearest the tree; and had the treasure been beneath the 'shot,' the
error would have been of little moment; but the 'shot,' together
with the nearest point of the tree, were merely two points for the
establishment of a line of direction; of course the error, however
trivial in the beginning, increased as we proceeded with the line, and
by the time we had gone fifty feet, threw us quite off the scent.
But for my deep-seated convictions that treasure was here somewhere
actually buried, we might have had all our labor in vain."
"I presume the fancy of the skull, of letting fall a bullet
through the skull's eye --was suggested to Kidd by the piratical flag.
No doubt he felt a kind of poetical consistency in recovering his
money through this ominous insignium."
"Perhaps so; still I cannot help thinking that common-sense had
quite as much to do with the matter as poetical consistency. To be
visible from the devil's-seat, it was necessary that the object, if
small, should be white; and there is nothing like your human skull for
retaining and even increasing its whiteness under exposure to all
vicissitudes of weather."
"But your grandiloquence, and your conduct in swinging the beetle
--how excessively odd! I was sure you were mad. And why did you insist
on letting fall the bug, instead of a bullet, from the skull?"
"Why, to be frank, I felt somewhat annoyed by your evident
suspicions touching my sanity, and so resolved to punish you
quietly, in my own way, by a little bit of sober mystification. For
this reason I swung the beetle, and for this reason I let it fall from
the tree. An observation of yours about its great weight suggested the
"Yes, I perceive; and now there is only one point which puzzles
me. What are we to make of the skeletons found in the hole?"
"That is a question I am no more able to answer than yourself. There
seems, however, only one plausible way of accounting for them --and
yet it is dreadful to believe in such atrocity as my suggestion
would imply. It is clear that Kidd --if Kidd indeed secreted this
treasure, which I doubt not --it is clear that he must have had
assistance in the labor. But, the worst of this labor concluded, he
may have thought it expedient to remove all participants in his
secret. Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock were sufficient,
while his coadjutors were busy in the pit; perhaps it required a dozen
--who shall tell?"