“The Pot of Gold,” Youth’s Companion, 4 Jan 1872, pp 1-2.

Dublin Core


“The Pot of Gold,” Youth’s Companion, 4 Jan 1872, pp 1-2.


Spiritualism; medium; wealth; buried treasure; William Kidd



By Rebecca Harding Davis.

Lieut. Calderwood was at his sister’s house on a visit, during his two weeks’ furlough. He was sitting with her one evening in the parlor, while her two children were studying their lessons at the table in the back room.

“So Paul is a lazy scholar, eh?” said the lieutenant, lowering his voice.

“No, not all. He is diligent enough, provided his studies suit his fancy. But what are they? if you look over his shoulder now, you’ll find him poring over some Book of Dreams, or History of Capt. Kyd and his Treasures, instead of his school books.[1] The boy is deranged on the subject of growing rich suddenly, at some bold. master-stroke. I wish you would talk to Him. You are supreme with him just now. It may be you could ridicule him out of his absurdity; I cannot.”

“But ought he to be ridiculed?”


“Well, call Clara in, and I’ll go talk to him awhile.”

Mrs. Forbes beckoned her little girl to her, and the lieutenant sauntered into the back room, and, I am sorry to say, lighted a cigar.

“Well, Paul, my boy, hard at it? What’s the book? Latin or algebra?”

Paul colored a little. “0, I can run over my lessons in the morning. They're so horridly dull! I’m reading now.”

“Head of your classes, I hope, aren’t you?”

Paul laughed. “No, indeed, nearer the other end. Well, the truth is,” throwing down his book, and leaning over confidentially, “I‘ve got: it into my head to make money. Mother has hard work to get along with Clara and me.”

“I know, Paul," said the lieutenant, gravely.

“Now, what good does this scanning of dead languages and poring over cube roots do? How much meat will that put in the pot?”

“How do you propose to help your mother?”

“Well, sir,” whispered Paul, eagerly, for this was his first patient listener, “if I had a large sum of money that I could get all at once, without any delay,—a large sum, then, afterwards, I could make a scholar or what I pleased of myself.”

The lieutenant drew the book Paul had been reading toward him. "Revelations by Clairvoyance and Spiritualism regarding hidden Treasures.”[2] Paul watched him keenly, as he read the title, but not the vestige of a smile flitted over the lieutenant's face.

“I’ll tell you candidly, uncle, about it,” hitching his chair nearer. “Fred Parker came from Jersey, near where Kyd buried his treasure. You know the place ?”

"Not precisely; do you?”

“Not the exact spot, but it is near Burlington. Kyd buried the chest, and then called on his men

to know who would stand guard over it for a hundred years. So one fellow stepped out, and stood firm till Kyd shot him through the heart. So they buried him standing over the chest, with his drawn sword in his hand. You've heard the incident?”

“Yes; but”—

“How will I find the place? Well”—Paul began to fidget a little, turning over the leaves of the book.

“Perhaps you will laugh at me, uncle, but I don’t see why you should. The ancients called in the aid of oracles and dreams. They knew how to read coming events in the flight of birds, or by the entrails of beasts. If we cannot do so, too, it seems to me it is because we have lost the power, not because the signs are not there to read. The wisest men have not been ashamed to be superstitious. it is only fools who think- there is nothing in the world but what they can see and handle.”

“I quite agree with you with regard to the fools, Paul.”

Paul, who had been defiant hitherto, blushed with pleasure. “I don't know,” he continued, “what credit to give to spiritual mediums. Fact is, I've run after them till I'm about tired. They've got all my last two quarters’ allowance, and so I’ve had to go without new clothes this winter. But if I could succeed! If I could only find the pot or chest! Just think! It would make mother easy for life!”

“Very true,” said his uncle.

They were both silent for awhile, the lieutenant quietly smoking, and Paul turning over the leaves of his book with feverish haste, glancing up, now and then, furtively, at his uncle.

“What first put this matter in your head, Paul?"

“I don't know. We really need money so often. And then Fred Parker told his stories of Kyd’s treasures, and I see these clairvoyant advertisements in the paper every day”—

“As to those mediums,” said Lieut. Calder- wood, thoughtfully, “my opinion is that they will take your money, and you will get no information in return. I have never had any intercourse with them, for I have no belief in their ability to tell any thing you do not already know yourself. A friend of mine, Capt. Johns, told me of a woman, a fortune teller, whom be consulted here as to his future life, who made some remarkable predictions, very remarkable, indeed. She sketched out his whole career for him.”

“Who was she? Where is she to be found?” cried Paul, forgetting to ask whether the prophecies proved true or not,—and they were most ridiculously absurd and untrue.

“At 81 Poplar Street," said his uncle, after several moments of hesitation. “She was to be consulted only at night. But that was several years ago.”

“I’ll go and see her to-morrow night," said Paul. He was more nervous and unsettled than usual that evening, and sat looking in the fire for a long time.

“The boy is ruined,” sighed his mother. “Nothing will ever restore him to common sense or usefulness.”

“‘It is a long day until sunset,’” said her brother, quoting his favorite proverb.

The next night, Paul put on his overcoat just after supper, and his last dollar in his pocket. His uncle had not been at home during the after- noon. Paul kissed his mother good-by once or twice.

"Where are you going, my son?”

“To make our fortune,” he said, gayly, as he ran out.

No. 81 Poplar Street was soon found. Beside it was a dark, narrow entry, lighted by a red lamp, which gave a ghostly and murderous light. Paul went up the winding stairs, and found at the top a door with a placard, on which was printed with a common pen,—


Paul tapped. No answer. He tapped again.

“Enter!” said a hoarse voice.

He pushed the door open, and went in. The room was bare 0f furniture, except another red lamp, which shed its bloody glare over the gray walls, and a black antique chair, in which sat a tall, gaunt woman. She was robed in a loose, falling habit of black from head to foot. Her face, of which Paul could see little but the chin, was deathly pale. Now and then, he caught a glimpse of a pair of keen eyes, which he thought were both fierce and threatening.

She did not how or rise. He remained standing before her. The very assumption of authority which this implied impressed and awed Paul.

“I came to consult you,” he stammered.

The black-covered head nodded. “It is un- necessary for you to explain yourself further. Your name is Paul Forbes. You desire to know by what means you may obtain a certain treasure.”

Paul was terrified. The other mediums that he had consulted had never told him actual facts.

"When do you hold a seance?”

“Now,” in a hoarse, grating voice. "I need no trumpery tables, or cards, or machinery. Do you ask whether I can see into futurity? You have a scar on your shoulder beneath your clothes, and an unhealed wound below your knee. If I can tell you about these things that others’ eyes cannot see, you can afford to trust me for the truth of whatever else I may say. Ask what you will, and I will answer.”

“How am I to obtain the treasure?” said Paul, trying to speak boldly. “How should I know what treasure you mean? But pause!" The figure moved her hand slowly to her forehead, muttered for a few moments, then took it slowly down, and looked piercingly at the terrified Paul.

“The pot of gold waits for you, enough to give you fortune and power. Here are the directions by which you are to obtain it.” She placed a small slip of paper in his hand.

“On these conditions," she said, in a hollow whisper, “that you solve the mystery of this paper alone. You are to receive no assistance in reading it; if you do, all is lost. Begone! you are answered.”

Paul placed his money in her outstretched hand, and went stumbling down the stairs under the red lamp.

The next morning by daybreak he was knocking at the door of his uncle’s chamber. “What is this?” showing him a paper full of figures, lines and diagrams. “Don’t read it to me. Only tell me what sort of a puzzle it is.”

The lieutenant raised himself on his elbow, smothering a yawn. “It seems to be a mathematical puzzle, Paul; the description of some locality, l think. I won’t interpret it to you. It would need a good topographical engineer to do that. Where did you pick it up?"

Paul mumbled out something, and disappeared.

A week after, the lieutenant returned to his regiment. He noticed Paul busy every night with his mathematics, and his slate and pencil. The dream book was laid on the shelf.

Several months after, Mrs. Forbes, writing to her brother, said,—

“I have something to tell you of Paul which I know will please you. Much to my surprise, he took the first prize in mathematics at school last term. Finding prize-taking agreeable, I presume, he has devoted himself to all his studies, with renewed assiduity. But mathematics appear to be a passion with the boy. He told me that he designed studying topographical engineering, the very profession I would have chosen for him. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for his sudden change.”

The lieutenant laughed, but made no other sign.

He heard from his sister but at long intervals, as he was stationed on the frontier, but every letter brought accounts of Paul’s incessant, steady labor in the one direction.

Whether the hope of the treasure still urged him on, or whether he found that mathematics were his proper work, and that for which his talents and real tastes best fitted him, we cannot say. But it is certain that, at the end of three years, he was ready to enter the highest class in Practical Surveying of the Polytechnic College.

A year later, Lieut. Calderwood was seated in the door of his tent, when two or three strangers dashed up, and a stout, bearded, bright-eyed young fellow jumped off his horse, caught him by the shoulders, shook him, laughed, and ended by kissing him like a girl.

“Paul Forbes! Bless you, boy! how did you come here?”

“Been appointed assistant surveyor of this Territory, sir! Attached to the Exploration Party under Gen. Hay. I can't tell you all now, only that I have the position for ten years, at a fine salary; and mother and Clara are sung and happy as they never were before. What do you think of that, Uncle Jem?”

Uncle Jem wrung his hand. “Think? Why, that you must have worked hard to achieve so much, Paul.”

“Yes, yes, it took hard work!” nodding. “it’s queer, too, what trifles will drive a fellow on a road, eh?”

Several months after, the lieutenant came upon Paul one day, who was looking at a bit of yellow paper, covered with figures and lines.

"Do you know," said he, looking up, “there’s a puzzle that took me years to work out? I did it just before I left home, and found the answer to it,—nothing.”

The lieutenant paused, —smiled. “Hard, healthful study, a good profession, and a good income will not serve for a pot of gold, then, Paul?” he said, with a shrewd twinkle in his eye.

Paul jumped to his feet, turned red, and then burst into a shout of laughter.

“You were the seeress? I know you were!”

The lieutenant nodded. “Do you begrudge the dollar for his prophecy ?" he said. “As I look back now, I don't quite approve of my manner of teaching you your lesson, but you have shown yourself a better scholar than I feared.”

[1]William Kidd (1655-1701) was a sailor and pirate believed to have left buried treasure in the northeastern United States. The story of buried treasure circulated widely in the 19th century with references in popular songs and fiction such as Poe’s “The Gold Bug.”

[2] Spiritualism is a belief that mediums or other individuals can communicate with the dead; this movement flourished in the United States from the 1840s to the early twentieth century.


Alicia Mischa Renfroe


Updated 4/1/2021


Alicia Mischa Renfroe, ““The Pot of Gold,” Youth’s Companion, 4 Jan 1872, pp 1-2.,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed March 31, 2023, https://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/220.

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