Joel Chandler Harris.

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one. Francis Bethune had a great many fine
qualities to sustain him, and he fell back on these
instead of giving way to despair. But it was a
trying time for the young man. His vanity took
wings, and with it nearly all his youthful folly.
Yet it was not his native strength that saved him
at last, but the thought of two women and a girl.
One of these was Sarah Clopton, his aunt, who
had been the only mother he had ever known ;
another was Miss Puella Gillum, a little old maid ;
and the girl was Nan Dorrington. He had good
reason to think of these two women. His aunt
had received him in her arms a few weeks after
his father and mother had perished in an epidemic
in one of the cities of the South Atlantic coast,
and had nourished him from his infancy with an
affection as absolute as a mother could entertain
for her child. The little old maid, Miss Puella
Gillum, was not old enough to be ugly and
withered ; indeed, young Bethune thought she
was very beautiful. When he was a boy and after
he was far in his teens, he used to call on Miss
Puella at least twice a week. Before he was



twelve, he made these visits mainly to get a cup of
Miss Puella's tea and a couple of her flaky biscuits,
as white as snow; but when he grew older he
went for the sake of spending an hour with Miss
Puella, and he always came away stronger and
with a firmer purpose to do his duty in whatever
shape it came to him.

Yes there were 'good reasons why he should
think of these women, each so different from the
other, and both with such high and noble views of
life. But why he should think of Nan Dorrington,
that awful hoyden, with a feeling of friendliness,
he could not explain. Why should he ask himself
what Nan Dorrington would think and say when
she heard of his latest performance on the wide
stage of folly ? He had been expelled from col-
lege, and he had good reason for knowing what Nan
thought of that, though she was but twelve years
old at the time. Now he was practically expelled
from the Army, and what would Miss Spindle-
shanks think of that ?

Spindleshanks ! He had good reason to remem-
ber the name, and to remember Nan, too. He had
returned from college, wearing the uniform of a
cadet, he was nearly eighteen then, and, as he
strutted along through the one street in the small
village of Harmony Grove, trying to maintain a
bold front, in spite of his inward misery, he heard



some of the native humorists laughing uproar-
iously. He was crossing toward the old tavern,
and, casting an eye behind him, he beheld Nan
Dorrington marching a few paces in his rear,
carrying a small stick as a gun. She had caught
the young gentleman's swagger to a T, and the
whole town appeared to be enjoying the spectacle.
He turned suddenly, his face as red as the wattles
of a turkey-cock. His anger strangled him and
he stood speechless for ten seconds or more.

" Thank you, Miss Spindleshanks ! " he cried in
a loud voice.

" You're welcome, Blackleg ! " Nan replied as
loudly, and with that she whacked him over the
head with the small stick she carried, and his
military cap rolled in the dust.

It was all done like snapping your fingers, and
the blow was so sudden and unexpected that
Bethune could only stare at the child. His coun-
tenance showed anger, but it also betrayed grief
and dismay, and as he stood there Nan re-
membered him for many a long day with bitter
sorrow. Her face was very white, and not with
anger, as Bethune turned on his heel and went his

For many weeks, yes, long months, Francis
Bethune hated Nan, and Nan hated him just as
heartily, not because he had called her " spindle-



shanks," though that term was all the more dread-
ful on account of its truth, but because (as she
explained to herself) he had made her forget that
she was a lady.

But Bethune felt, on this April day, as he sat
crumpled up in his chair, that everything like hate,
or envy, or vainglory, had gone clean out of his
mind. He thought about Nan as she really was,
and as his aunt had described her in letters a
girl of wonderful beauty, living in a world of
romance all her own, and yet remarkably practi-
cal, too, generous, sensitive, and tender-hearted,
a womanly nature pitched in a high key in
which not a false note could be discerned. All
this might be so, as his aunt had assured him it
was, but still it did not explain why, in his extrem-
ity, his mind had turned to Nan Dorrington.

However He was about to pursue some
argument or other connected with the subject
when his attention was attracted by voices behind
him. Apparently two men were holding a sort
of half-confidential conversation. They were not
whispering, but their voices were pitched in a low

Bethune sat with his eyes closed. He had not
heard the men come in, and he could not remember
whether they were sitting in the room when he
arrived or not. Indeed, he was too miserable to



try to remember. But what he heard arrested
his attention and held it.

" A pass, you say through the Yankee lines ? "
The voice of the speaker was charged with aston-

"Yes, sir," replied the other; "that's what I
said : a pass through the Yankee lines. More than
that, it's signed by Old Abe himself."

" Whew ! " whistled the first speaker. " Doesn't
that seem like treason's brewing on this side ? If
there's somebody down here thick enough with Old
Abe to be carrying on a correspondence, don't you
think he ought to be looked after ? The favors
can't be all on one side, you know."

" Ho, ho, ho ! he, he, he ! " chuckled the other.
He was immensely tickled. " Why, when it comes
to affairs of state and matters of that kind, you are
not knee-high to a duck. It's like the etiquette of
the Code," he went on, his voice becoming more
formal. " The same courtesy that exists between
strangers must be maintained between enemies
about to engage under the Code. And it is so
with this bigger duel we see going on before our
eyes. Why, there's but I can't talk; my mouth
is closed; I've said too much now. If Albert
Lamar had a mind to, he could tell you some
tales that would open your eyes."

" You don't mean to say that there's a regular


traffic in information and a swapping of passes to
carry it on ? "

" Oh, fiddlesticks ! your suspicions jump farther
and quicker than a bull-frog," declared the other,
with a note of contempt or disgust in his voice.
"Take this pass as an instance. What does it
mean ? Precisely this : that a young woman from
Georgia, with kinfolks in Maryland, has been
caught spying. She was arrested by Stanton's
crowd, and would have been hanged if Old Abe
hadn't taken her out of Stanton's hands. He had
her carried to the White House."

"Well, I wonder!"

" Yes, sir ! Had her carried to the White House,
and either she's giving trouble, or Mrs. Lincoln is
tired of the arrangement. Anyhow, Old Abe wants
some Southern man to come after her and take
her through the lines. That's what I'm told, and
I got it pretty straight."

" Well, that takes the rag off the bush ! "

" Now, do you know what I'd do if I didn't have
a family ? I'd take this pass, go right straight to
Washington, watch for a chance, and fetch Old Abe
home with me. That'd end the war, in my judg-
ment. If it didn't, it would make a big man of
me. It's a rqighty fine chance for some chap
that doesn't give a red whether school keeps
or not."



"That description fits me to a T," said Francis
Bethune, rising from his chair.

One of the parties to the conversation arose also.
He was the man who had been dealing out the con-
fidential information. " Well here ! hold on, my
friend ! You are a gentleman, I hope."

Bethune straightened himself and threw back his

" My label is on my valise. Where is yours ? "

" Oh, folderol ! don't fly up. My name is Phil

" Mine is Francis Bethune."

" Very good," said Mr. Doyle. " I reckon I've
heard of you. If you belong to the Bethune
family, you ought to know something about the

" Meriwether Clopton is my grandfather."

" Then you can draw on me for all the good-will
you want, and good-will goes a long ways some-

" I had no intention of listening to your conver-
sation, up to a certain point, and then I listened for
a reason that I'll be glad to explain to you at a
more convenient place and time."

" In my room, for instance ? " suggested Doyle.

" Certainly, and the present time is as convenient
for me as any other."

Excusing himself to the friend with whom he


had been talking, Mr. Doyle led the way to his
room. He was evidently a man of some impor-
tance about the Confederate capital, for his apart-
ments were, for that period, perfect in their

No long time was required for young Bethune
to explain to Mr. Doyle his position and his lack
of prospects, and the reasons why he was willing to
undertake the adventure which had been suggested.

" Do you mean to tell me," Mr. Doyle exclaimed,
after the explanation had been made, "that you
propose to make an effort to fetch Mr. Lincoln
out of Washington ? "

" Certainly ; what else can I do ? Look at my
position and prospects."

Mr. Doyle drummed on the table as though lost
in thought. Bethune' s imagination conjured up
the face of Nan Dorrington, and she seemed to
be looking at him through a vague mist, not
angrily or contemptuously, as was her habit, but
with surprise and sorrow.

At that moment there came a sharp rap on the
door, and Colonel Albert Lamar walked in.

" Excuse me, Doyle ; I didn't know you had
company. Why, hello, Bethune ! " he exclaimed,
recognising the young man. "What are you
doing here? By the by, did you know "
He paused, took his cigar from his mouth, care-



fully removed the ash with a wooden toothpick,
and blew his breath softly against the glowing end.
He evidently had something on his mind which he
had intended to speak of.

" Did I know what, Colonel ? " Bethune asked.

" We'll speak of it later. Tell me about your-
self ; how you are getting on, and everything; in
short, give me the news. A man who has had to
sit up all night with a newspaper to see if his
editorial articles have been put in right side up,
never knows the value of news after it is in print.
To print it is to kill it dead. Tell me something
fresh ; give me the latest army scandal. Has
General been on another jag?"

In answer to this volley of inquiries, Francis
Bethune told the story of his own troubles, and
when he was quite through, Colonel Lamar
looked at him seriously for some moments and
then indulged in a fit of hearty laughter.

"Some folks might think you get your touchi-
ness from the Huguenot strain, but you don't ;
you get it from your great-grandfather, Matthew
Clopton. Did you ever hear the upshot of his
efforts to get justice for Eli Whitney, the inventor
of the cotton-gin ? "

" Yes, I have heard my grandfather speak of it,"
said Bethune, laughing.

"What was it ? " asked Mr. Doyle.


"Well, the farmers and men with money in
Georgia and other cotton states combined to rob
Whitney. They managed to get some of the
judges on their side, and their scheme succeeded
completely. Whitney came back to Georgia to
fight for his rights, and he was taken up by your
great-grandfather, who had plenty of money. But
the courts were too much for him. He got hold of
one judge and f railed him out, slapped the jaws of
another, denounced a third in a public tavern, and
then took Whitney home with him to Shady Dale,
where he stayed for some time. Old Matt was a
war-horse, so the old folks say."

" He must have been," Doyle assented.

"What was the name of the Maryland lady one
of your uncles married ? " inquired Colonel Lamar,
in a reminiscent way.

A barely perceptible smile crept into Bethune's
countenance. " Elise, she calls herself, but I think
the entry in the Bible is Elizabeth. She went back
to Maryland when the war came on."

Colonel Lamar nodded his head two or three
times. "How old is she?" he asked.

"Why, she must be thirty-five," replied Bethune ;
" but the last time I saw her she didn't look older
than twenty-five, and her head was just as full of
romantic stuff as a schoolgirl's. She said she was
going back home to be a Confederate spy."


"Just so," responded the Colonel.

Thereupon, as there was a lull in the conver-
sation, Mr. Doyle informed Colonel Lamar that
young Bethune had expressed a desire to go to
Washington in response to the invitation implied
in the pass which had been forwarded to Rich-

The Colonel looked at Bethune with wide-open
eyes, in which there was a twinkle of amuse-

"Well, well!" he exclaimed; "it's quite a co-

"What is?"

" Why, the fact that you should be the man to
accept the mission."

"What does it coincide with ? "

" With well, you'll find out when you get

" I'm not going after the woman," said Bethune.
" It is my purpose to bring Mr. Lincoln back with

Colonel Lamar threw his head back and laughed

" If you do that," he remarked, " you'll have a
name in history, sure enough. Old Matt Clopton
might have done it, or John Clark, or any of the
chaps that flourished in Revolutionary days, but
we don't measure up to such things these times.


We're about half a head too low, or we lack some
of the muscles that hold a man's gizzard in the
right place."

" Well, I may fail," said Bethune, "but I'm not
going with the idea of failure in my head."

" In that case, I'd advise you not to go," Colonel
Lamar suggested.

But Bethune shook his head. He had made up
his mind ; he had counted the cost, and all that he
asked was that he should be provided with a com-
panion of his own selection.

" Now that makes the business more ticklish than
it would otherwise be," said Mr. Doyle. "Whom
would you suggest ? "

" Billy Sanders. He belongs to Company B, of
the Third Georgia."

"Why, I used to know Billy," remarked Colonel
Lamar, laughing. " He's what they call a ' char-
acter,' and if he sizes up with my recollection, he's
just the man that I wouldn't like to take along on
such an expedition. Why, he must be sixty years
old, and if he hasn't joined the Sons of Temperance,
he's likely to get you into trouble. The last time
I saw him he was sitting on the courthouse steps
in Harmony Grove, telling the world at large that
he was the grandson of Nancy Hart."

" Can you have him detailed for special duty ? "
Bethune asked.


" I can yes," replied Colonel Lamar, hesitating ;
" but there's a pass for one only."

" With Billy Sanders along, there'll be no need
for a pass," said Bethtme.

" Well, you'd better take it along as a matter of
form," suggested the Colonel. "At a pinch it'll
save one of you, but it won't save both."


And so the matter was arranged. Mr. Billy
Sanders, who had for years been overseer at Shady
Dale, as the Clopton plantation was called, was
overjoyed to be with Bethune once more. He had
entered the army to be near the young man, but
Bethune's company had been transferred to another
regiment, and so they had been separated.

" Dog my cats ! " exclaimed Billy when they met,
" it's like eatin' a slice of biled ham to git a glimpse
of you. They tell me you've been cuttin' up jest
like you useter when you was a boy. If I'd 'a'
been your Colonel, I'd 'a' sent for Nan when you
got to cuttin' up be dogged if I wouldn't! "

Bethune blushed at the allusion to Nan's youth-
ful attack on him, but he said nothing in reply.
He simply turned his conversation to the adven-
ture to which he was committed, and canvassed it
as far as he could. He had never before consulted
with Mr. Sanders on any matter more serious than
fishing-rods and hooks, and traps for birds or rab-



bits, and he was therefore surprised at the shrewd
common sense which the older man possessed.
Every suggestion he made was marked by that
strange intuition which some men possess in
moments of great excitement or peril, and which
is the everyday equipment of a few minds. On a
large and important field of action and endeavor
it is called genius; in ordinary affairs it goes by
the name of shrewdness, or common sense, or

It would be a very gratifying thing to make a
hero of young Bethune, with his black hair, his
brilliant eyes, and his swarthy complexion ; but let
justice be done in spite of appearances. Mr. Billy
Sanders was a very commonplace-looking man at
best. He carried a smile on his red and rotund
countenance that gave him the appearance of
childishness or weakness, and he was childish
and weak about some things, but in general this
bland and innocuous smile was deceitful. It was
as complete a mask, indeed, as ever man wore.
There was an innocent stare in the mild blue eyes
and a general air of helplessness about the man
that went far to confirm the smile.

The most cunning reader of character would have
placed Mr. Billy Sanders in the category of weak-
minded people a helpless countryman, ready to
be victimised or imposed upon by any chance comer.



But in fact, Mr. Sanders was a man of far different
mould and mettle. He was old enough to be a
good judge of human nature, and the fact that he
was born and bred in the country, and had little or
no book education, had not interfered a particle
with the growth and development of those ele-
mental qualities which are the basis and not the
result of book education. He had, as it were, good
blood and strong bones. His grandmother was as
perfect a type of the American heroine as has ever
been seen, and " Old Bullion " Benton was named
after one of his great uncles, Thomas Hart. One
who knew Mr. Sanders well remarked of him :
"He looks like a busted bank, don't he? all
buildin' and no assets. Well, don't fool yourself.
There ain't a day in the year, nor an hour in the
day, when he ain't on a specie basis."

And yet it was not on account of these things
that young Bethune selected Mr. Sanders to be his
comrade in his projected adventure. His main
reason was that he had known Mr. Sanders and
had been familiar with him all his life. He knew
that his old friend could be depended on.

It had been arranged that young Bethune should
receive the pay of a Captain while detailed for
special service, on learning which Mr. Billy San-
ders remarked with a broad grin, "You'll be the
Cap'n and I'll be the Commissary." It was when


they met with Mr. Doyle to lay out a definite pro-
gramme that the true character of Mr. Sanders
made itself apparent. Doyle had mapped out the
whole route in the most careful manner, and had
reproduced it with the accuracy of an engineer or
an architect. Mr. Sanders put on his spectacles,
examined it patiently, and asked a number of ques-
tions, which were glibly answered. Then, looking
over his glasses at Mr. Doyle, he inquired,

"Are you comin' along wi' us to keep us on this
track ? "

"Well, no," replied Mr. Doyle, somewhat taken
aback. " There's no necessity for that."

"Then this conflutement," Mr. Sanders remarked,
holding the tracing up and smiling benevolently,
" ain't wuth shucks. The paper's so stiff an' onruly
you can't even light your pipe wi' it." With that
he crumpled the document in his fist and dropped
it in a wooden cuspidor filled with sand and cigar

" Well, I'll be ! " said Mr. Doyle under his


"Me too me too!" exclaimed Mr. Sanders,
cheerfully. "I'm truly glad you said the word;
it helps me more'n it does you, I reckon." He
paused and grew a trifle serious, though he still
smiled. " I'll tell you how it is, Colonel," he went
on, " if you was to come down yan-way where I



live at, an' lay off to hunt wild turkeys, an' I was
to come an' fetch you a map of the road you oughter
foller, what'd be the state an' feelin's of your senti-
ments ? I'll allow the cases ain't the same, but
you'd jest as well try to map out the road a bird'll
foller when he gits on the wing. Every time he
sees a hawk or hears a gun he'll change his

Bethune, who had been somewhat vexed at the
cavalier way in which Mr. Sanders had disposed
of the map, saw at once that the reasoning was
sound. Mr. Doyle seemed to see it, too. At any
rate, he assented to the proposition without argu-
ment, and after some further conversation in regard
to the necessary funds, of which he appeared to
have an abundant supply, he took his leave. Later,
when he saw Bethune alone, he took occasion to
pay a passing tribute to the good sense of Mr.
Billy Sanders. And it is a fact that, while Mr.
Sanders would have been placed in the illiterate
class by a census-taker, he had more real know-
ledge and native sagacity than one-half the people
we meet every day. Some such concession Mr.
Doyle made to young Bethune.

But Mr. Sanders insisted on having his sus-
picions of Mr. Doyle. It was in vain that Bethune
pointed out how he had solicited the adventure.
"That's as may be," Mr. Sanders remarked.



" Albert Lamar don't know enough about him to
tell us what he's up to. But don't fret ; it'll pop
up an' fly out, an' when it does I'll put my finger
on it an* let you tell it howdye. I ain't afeard of
his capers any more'n if he was a hoss, but I want
to know what's behind all this correspondin' wi'
the common enemy, as you may say."

Mr. Doyle tried hard to find out by which route
they proposed to reach Washington, but Mr. San-
ders hadn't made up his mind, and refused flatly
to decide until after they had left Richmond.
"The reason I ask," Mr. Doyle explained, "is
because I have friends who could help you along,
and give you assistance at a pinch."

This was reasonable enough, but it had no effect
on Mr. Sanders, who remarked that there couldn't
be two congresses in the same town at the same
time, and he informed Mr. Doyle that the Bethune
congress (Billy Sanders, doorkeeper) would hold
its first session in another county.

When everything was ready for their departure,
Mr. Doyle was informed that they would leave the
next morning between midnight and dawn. Shortly
after supper he sought them out and confided to
their care a sealed document, with instructions how
and where to deliver it. Later, Colonel Albert
Lamar saw them, and -when Bethune told him
about the sealed document, he leaned back in his



chair, looked at the ceiling and smoked awhile in
silence. Finally he remarked :

" I've tried to get under the cover with Doyle,
but I can't. He's a head clerk in one of the
departments, but I can't find out where he came
from nor how he got in. But he's in, and nobody
seems to know anything about him."

" As sure as you're born there's something dead
up the creek," Mr. Sanders declared.

" Well, on your way to Washington, go to New
York," said Colonel Lamar, "put up at the New
York Hotel, and make it a point to bow to the head
waiter ; ask him when he comes to you if his name
is McCarthy, then when opportunity offers turn the
document over to him. He'll know precisely what
to do."

"The head waiter! " exclaimed Bethune, laughing.

" Yes ; you won't laugh at him when you come
to know him. He's an Irishman."

" Hadn't we better burn the thing now an' be
done wi' it ? " asked Mr. Sanders.

" No," replied the Colonel ; " if the paper's what
I think it is, it won't hurt you to have it on you
should you chance to be arrested."


Now, when Francis Bethune and Mr. Sanders
were ready to retire, that is to say, when Mr. Billy
Sanders was on the point of putting a red flannel



cap over his head to keep the bald spot from
catching cold, there came a gentle tap on the door,
a tiny tap, as if some one had knocked with a
pencil or a pipe stem. As the two made no
response, but sat listening, the tap was repeated
as gently as before. Whereupon Bethune opened
the door, and saw a big, overgrown boy standing
there, smiling as though he were embarrassed.
He seemed to be younger than Bethune by a year
or two, and the freshness and innocence of a

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Online LibraryJoel Chandler HarrisOn the wing of occasions → online text (page 7 of 16)