Joel Chandler Harris.

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of it, he shivered and closed the volume. He had
never read anything so grim and ghastly. His
feelings called loudly for companionship, and he
sought it in the pilot-house.

" We are passing Smith's Island," said a voice,
which Doyle recognised as that of the gentleman
who was playing such an important part in his
career. The voice came from outside the pilot-
house. They had passed two of the blockading
vessels.

" A rocket's gone up behind us," cried the Cap-
tain from the bridge.

A moment later another rocket went up far
ahead and to the right.

In half an hour the man at the wheel was told
to signal for full speed, and the Sarah Bolton,
which had now become The Morning Star, ran by
the grim sentinel which was lying near the entrance
of the Northern Channel.

In no long time, and without further incident,
The Morning Star reached Wilmington. Doyle,
determined to make the best of a bad situation,
went to bed and dreamed of " The Green Mantle
of Venice." When he awoke it was daylight,
304



THE WHIMS OF CAPTAIN MCCARTHY

but he made no movement to arise. He was sur-
prised to find how calmly a man can face the
worst when he knows that it is inevitable. He
tried to account for this, and so fell asleep again,
and the sun was high when he awoke from his
morning nap. He heard a voice calling from
the wharf :

" Hey, there ! Is Captain McCarthy aboard ? "

Captain McCarthy! Doyle did not hear the
reply. He did not listen. He had indulged in a
hope that his friend, his companion on the voyage,
would, at the last moment, employ some influence
powerful enough to save him from the gallows.
He had supposed that this hope was only a faint
one ; but now he knew how strong it had been.
For an instant his courage died away completely.
He held up his hand and it was shaking ; his lips
were dry. He made no effort to rise from his
bunk.

He heard the voices of men, as they approached
the shaded portion of the deck, which was right at
his stateroom window. Whoever the men might
be, they placed their chairs so that he could hear
every word they said, and he lay with his hands
clasped behind his head, listening to the most
interesting conversation that had ever reached his
ears.

" I heard you were on the boat and I hurried
305



ON THE WING OF OCCASIONS

down to give you a piece of information that may
be worth something to you. We had a man in one
of the departments named Phil Doyle. He had
the run of the whole business, and everybody
thought he was all right; why, he was a ranker
secesh in his talk than Bob Toombs. But he was
a spy ; yes, sir, a Yankee spy, and now he's gone !
Disappeared just as though the ground had opened
and swallowed him ; and he carried away with him
some of the most valuable papers from the secret
archives of the Government. Yes, sir! The
matter's been hushed up so the general public
won't get hold of it ; but you'd better believe the
Government is stirred up over it. That's why I'm
here now. Some one has been sent to every sea-
port town in the South. They believe in Rich-
mond that he'll go to one of these towns and hire
a couple of negroes to row him out to one of
the Yankee ships.

" You may laugh," continued the speaker, though
Doyle had heard no sound of laughter, " but if
you don't keep both eyes open Phil Doyle will put
a big finger in your pie." Evidently the silent
person had made some gesture expressive of doubt
or disdain, for the man who was doing all the
talking raised his voice and spoke with more ear-
nestness. " Oh, I know you're a good one, Cap-
tain, we all know that, but Doyle's a mighty

306



THE WHIMS OF CAPTAIN MCCARTHY

slick duck. What if I were to tell you that
among the papers he carted off (he must have
taken a bushel from the fuss they've been making)
he had all the records relating to your work, an
outline of your general plan, and a list of the
names of the men who are working under you ?

"Well, you may shake your head as hard as
you please, Captain McCarthy, but Phil Doyle has
the record, and he's liable to make the Yankee
climate mighty hot for you if you don't mind your
eye. You don't seem to believe it," said the
speaker, with a touch of distress in his voice, " but
I tell you it's so."

" And I tell you," answered Captain McCarthy,
speaking for the first time, " that you people in
Richmond are labouring under a serious misappre-
hension."

The sound of Captain McCarthy's voice gave
Doyle a shock of surprise that caused his heart to
jump in his throat. The firm, level tones, the
clear enunciation, and the mild, mellowing touch
of Irish accent were perfectly familiar. He had
heard that voice every day during his involuntary
voyage. Captain McCarthy had been his travel-
ling companion.

" Misapprehension, Captain ? " cried the other
in astonishment ; " why, what can you mean ? "

" Why, with respect to Mr. Doyle. I am toler-
307



ON THE WING OF OCCASIONS

ably well acquainted with that gentleman, and I
am convinced he took no papers beyond the
records referring to my work and plans. And in
doing that, he did me a real service."

" A service ? " cried the other.

",A real service," persisted Captain McCarthy.
" He opened my eyes to the loose methods that
are prevalent in the departments at Richmond. If
those records and documents had fallen into other
hands, I would not be here to-day."

In that statement Doyle thought he found a
grim satire on his own bungling, and he smiled
over it.

" But he has the papers all the same," said the
other, almost triumphantly, " and he's sure to use
them against you."

"On the contrary," remarked Captain Mc-
Carthy, " I have the papers in my own posses-
sion."

"Captain McCarthy," said the other, he evi-
dently arose from his chair, " allow me to take
off my hat to you."

" No flourishes, my friend. Here are the docu-
ments; take them in your hands and examine
them, and when you return to Richmond, reassure
my friends by the account you will give. No, I'll
not return the papers. But for Mr. Doyle, they
would still be exposed in the departments ; in

308



THE WHIMS OF CAPTAIN MCCARTHY

fetching them away he has done me a signal ser-
vice. And there's another matter if Mr. Doyle
has carried away any documents besides these,
they will be duly returned by a trustworthy mes-
senger."

" Then all this fuss is about nothing ? "

"No, it is about something. Mr. Doyle no
doubt learned some facts from the inside that
make it desirable for a few individuals to close his
mouth. At least two of these persons are not
friendly to me. Now when you return, my
friend, publish it throughout the departments that
McCarthy declared to you that Mr. Doyle's mouth
will not be closed, and that some interesting facts
will get into the papers if certain persons do not
cease their meddling with affairs under my con-
trol."

" Oh, I see ! " exclaimed the other. " Captain
McCarthy, may I take off my hat again ? "

" Certainly, my friend, if your head is too warm."

A long silence was broken by the person who
had called to see Captain McCarthy. " You are
not going to Richmond then ? "

"Not if you will kindly give my friends an
account of our conversation. I had intended to
go, but you can save me the journey."

" With the greatest pleasure in the world, Cap-
tain. But your friends will be disappointed."

309



ON THE WING OF OCCASIONS

" If no worse disappointment befalls them, they
will have few troubles in this world, and this is the
lot to which my affection commends them."

"Well, I must rush off a despatch," said the
other. " How shall I put it ? "

" Just say : ' Doyle was with McCarthy in New
York five days ago/ That will cover the
ground."

The two men went down to the main deck, and
Mr. Doyle arose and dressed himself very hur-
riedly. There was much in his mind for which
he could not find words. He was not elated over
what seemed to be his escape ; he was simply re-
joicing over the fact that his travelling companion,
to whom he had become very much attached, and
Captain McCarthy were one and the same indi-
vidual; and he was grateful, as one friend is to
another, for his singular escape from a fate which
he himself had courted. He thought of a thousand
things to say when he should meet his friend, but
what he did say was very tame and commonplace.

" Captain McCarthy, you have been very good
to me."

" 'Twas a mere whim of mine," returned the
other, with a quizzical expression in his face, "a
desire to please my little girl." But Doyle knew
by the hearty grip the Captain gave him that he
had been saved by something more than a whim.

310



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Online LibraryJoel Chandler HarrisOn the wing of occasions → online text (page 16 of 16)