Joel Chandler Harris.

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versatility of the SK code.

The upshot of it was that a document which
appeared to be, on the face of it, a very cordial
introduction, was about as follows, after the illu-
mination of the SK code had been shed on it :

"The bearer of this is dangerous. Under pretext of
bringing a woman from Washington he proposes to kidnap



the President. He has a pass from Lincoln. His com-
panion harmless. Will tell truth if pressed. Take initiative.
Have both arrested, and then tell Secretary. This should
help both of us. Let woman be brought South by (aught)
(naught) rye."

It was over the conclusion of this translation
that the elderly clerk growled and snorted, and
finally gave it up.

"That's all I can get out of the Code," he
grumbled. " The last scratch stands for a cipher,
an aught or a naught."

" Could it be Awtry Waldron Awtry ? " asked
Bethune, turning to Sanders.

" Why, certain an' shore ! I heard some of the
boys say that Waldron went over to the Yankees
right arter the war begun. All his mammy's folks
live in Massachusetts. Why, don't you remember
the chap that come to Harmony Grove in 'sixty,
preachin' freedom to the niggers, an' how the boys
got behind him an' come mighty nigh puttin' out
his lights ? Well, that chap was Madame Awtry's
Massachusetts nevvew."

"Then that is the man," remarked Captain Mc-
Carthy with emphasis. " For some reason or other
this man Doyle wants to get Awtry South again,
or he knows that Awtry wants to go."

Reflecting a moment, he turned to the elderly
clerk. " Mr. Crampton, that despatch must be



re-copied and re-scratched so as to give a better
account of these gentlemen. Why, the nonsense
about kidnapping Mr. Lincoln would send both of
you to the gallows if Mr. Stanton's eye fell on it.
Of course, such a thing was never contemplated."
He paused, and fixed an inquiring eye on Bethune.

"Well " Bethune began, but he paused; he
seemed to be too busy copying the translation of
the original despatch to complete the remark.

"Why, of course not," exclaimed Captain Mc-
Carthy. "The scheme is preposterous. That
man Doyle is simply fiendish."

Leaving Mr. Crampton, the elderly clerk, growl-
ing and grumbling over his task, which was by no
means an unusual one, Captain McCarthy ac-
companied young Bethune and Mr. Sanders to
their room again, where they discussed the situa-
tion at some length. Mr. Awtry became a new
factor in the problem. Mr. Sanders and Bethune
both knew him well, and he knew them. Until
1858, with the exception of two college years, he
had lived all his life with his mother in Harmony
Grove, and there was every reason to believe that
he would recognise either one of his fellow-towns-
men the moment he laid eyes on him.

"What do you propose to do about it? " Captain
McCarthy inquired. He had been fully informed
by this time of the plan to kidnap the President,



but he did not repeat his assertion that it was pre-
posterous. That was for the ears of his clerks.

" I'm going right ahead," replied Bethune.
" There's nothing else to do."

" Yes, sir ! " said Mr. Sanders. " We'll go right
ahead an' brazen it out. An' if you hear I've been
strung up, why jest drap a line to Meriwether
Clopton, Esquire, that William H. Sanders, late of
said county, deceased, bein' of sound mind an' dis-
posin' memory, has up'd and kicked the bucket.
Frank, there, has got a paper that'll take him
through. Ef he didn't have, I wouldn't go a
step wi' him."

Captain McCarthy leaned back in his chair and
looked at Mr. Sanders with great interest. The
steadiness of his gaze was tempered by a pleasant
smile, which lit his strong and handsome face.

" I intended to advise you not to carry out your
original plan, but that is not necessary. I intended,
also, to beg you by all means not to harm a hair of
Mr. Lincoln's head ; but that, too, is unnecessary.
You will find that the President is a man after
your own heart."

" Not every which-a-way, I reckon," remarked
Mr. Sanders, making a wry face.

" Yes, in all ways except politics," replied Mc-
Carthy. "He is the only man of them all who sees
his way clear, or who knows precisely what he



wants to do. Outwardly, he is a plain, rough man,
with a kindly nature. If you get in any trouble,
simply demand to be carried to Mr. Lincoln. I
have more than one reason for giving you this
advice. If Stanton's crowd get you, and are
able to keep your case from Mr. Lincoln's ears,
you will surely be hanged."

A few hours afterward Bethune and his com-
panion had crossed the river to Jersey City, and
were on their way to Washington. The first man
they saw as they entered the train was Waldron
Awtry. He was walking about by the side of the
coach talking to some one. He had a light mili-
tary cape hung across his arm, and his tall figure
and haughty bearing made him conspicuous in the
multitude that swarmed about the station. Un-
doubtedly Mr. Awtry saw the two Southerners.
He paused in his promenade and looked them in
the face, under pretence of transferring his cape
from one arm to the other. But he made no sign
of recognition, nor did they.

When the train was under way, Mr. Awtry
came back into the car. He spoke to one or two,
and then seated himself near Bethune and Mr.
Sanders, who occupied seats facing each other.
After a while a lady came in, whereupon Awtry
promptly arose, hat in hand, and gave her his



"May I sit by you, sir ? " he asked of Mr.

"Why,.tooby shore," replied that worthy; "but
I'll have to tell you what the old 'oman told the
feller in the stage-coach, 'You can scrouge as
much as you please, but I don't want no hunchin'."

Awtry threw back his head and smiled broadly.
Bethune was occupied in reading the Herald, and
seemed to be paying no attention to the newcomer.
Finally he put it down and glanced at Awtry and
caught his eye, but saw no sign of recognition
there. Indeed, Awtry took the opportunity of the
glance to borrow Bethune' s copy of the Herald,
which he read for some minutes with apparent
interest. Presently he said to Mr. Sanders in a
low tone :

" Do you see the small man in the farther end
of the car the man with the eye-glasses? Well,
he took dinner with you yesterday."

"You don't say! Is that the chap? Why,
how in the world do you know ? " inquired Mr.

" I was the big fellow with side-whiskers. He
had a good deal of fun out of me yesterday, and
now I want to turn the joke on him. I'm going
to move my seat in a moment, and presently he'll
be back here. If you catch his eye, speak to him,
and let him see that you know him. But don't



expose him. Talk to him in a confidential way.
You know what I mean ; don't make an enemy of
him. Another thing, when you get off the train
in Washington, follow me. I have something to
say to both of you."

All this time Mr. Awtry pretended to_ be reading
the paper, and his voice was so low that Bethune,
sitting four feet away, could only catch a few
words. He was very curious, but Mr. Sanders
had no opportunity to appease his curiosity, for as
Awtry joined the group at the rear end of the car,
some were standing, while others were sitting
on the arms of the seats, a small man detached
himself from the group and walked down the aisle.
He glanced casually at Mr. Sanders and would
have passed on, but the man who was so well
acquainted with the Webb family of Salem, In-
jianny, wouldn't permit it. He seized the detec-
tive by the hand and shook it.

" Whyn't you tell me you was comin' down ? "
he inquired. Then, as if making a sudden dis-
covery, he lowered his voice, "Why, what's the
matter ? Why, sakes alive, man ! what have you
been doin' to yourself ? "

" I beg your pardon, sir," said the other, with
some asperity. " You have the advantage of me.
I have missed a good deal, no doubt, but I have
not the pleasure of your acquaintance."



Mr. Sanders drew himself up and swelled out as
if he were about to make some loud exclamation.
Then he suddenly caught himself and subsided.
" Oh, that's the game, is it ? Well, whyn't you
sorter gi* me a hint-like, yistiddy ? No offence
none give an' none took. If you ever come to
Salem, come right out to the farm."

Waldron Awtry had followed the detective down
the aisle, passed him as he stood talking to Mr.
Sanders, and now stood waiting for him out of

"Who's your friend?" Awtry asked noncha-
lantly, as his companion came up to him. " Oh, I
see : it's the old duck we saw at the hotel yester-
day. He knew me ; did he know you ? "

" He certainly did," replied the detective.
"What's wrong with me? How did the old
blunderbuss know me ? Am I losing my grip ? "

" Why, no ; not the least in the world," said
Awtry, soothingly. " The old man is simply a
shrewd countryman with horse sense. Did you
ever try to deceive Mr. Lincoln with your dis-
guises? Well, just try it, and you'll find you can't
do it. You can fool Stanton, but Mr. Lincoln
will see through you with one eye shut. Anyhow,
I'm going to hang on to this old man and his son
for an hour or so after we get to Washington. I
may be able to pick up some information."



When the train rolled into the station at the
Capital, Waldron Awtry managed to be near
Bethune and Mr. Sanders, and he insisted that
they should go with him. They hesitated ; they
had not the least confidence in him, but he knew
them. He could have them imprisoned by a word
or a gesture ; and once immured, their lives would
be in danger, for Bethune had made up his mind,
in case of arrest, to destroy Mr. Lincoln's pass and
take his chances with the man who was so cheer-
fully risking his life as the result of one of Bethune's
madcap whims. They had small choice, therefore ;
in fact, none at all ; and all the hesitation they
betrayed manifested itself in Mr. Sanders's good-
humoured protest.

"We don't want to pester you, we don't want
to be in the way. You jest show us a good place to
eat and sleep, and we'll be mighty much obliged to

But no, Mr. Awtry would not have it so. He
insisted, and they gave a ready if not a cheerful
assent. He was stopping at a hotel, and he put
himself to a little trouble to secure them a room
next to the one occupied by himself. In short, he
was fertile in all those little attentions which do
not look important, but which add so much to the
comfort of those who are the objects of them.

They had a late but a very good dinner. Mr.


Awtry wanted to order wine, knowing the character
and extent of Mr. Sanders's chief weakness, but
they positively refused. Mr. Sanders, indeed, made
no bones of explaining why he wouldn't touch the

"It's a little stronger'n water an' not quite as
strong as dram. But it flies to my tongue, an' no
sooner does it do that than I begin to make a speech
about my fam'ly affairs, good an' bad. An' folks
say that I'm every bit an' grain as proud of the
black spots as I am of the white uns."

So, for the time being, Mr. Sanders was a tee-
totaller, much to Mr. Awtry's disgust, for that
gentleman had fully made up his mind to get into
the confidence of his former fellow-townsman, and,
if he could advance his own ends by doing so, to
turn them over to Mr. Stanton as spies. But he
saw at once that Mr. Sanders's unexpected fit of
temperance stood mightily in the way. Under the
circumstances, he thought it would be best to go
about the business in a straightforward manner.
It was just possible, he thought, that Bethune and
Mr. Sanders, being in the enemy's country, sur-
rounded by all sorts of dangers, and beset by
fears, real or imaginary, would turn for advice to
an old acquaintance a man who had been born
and raised in the same community.

Mr. Awtry had long been what is called a man
172 <


of the world. He had travelled abroad, he had
seen life in all its various manifestations, and under
social forms widely different, and he considered
himself, not without reason, to be a pretty good
judge of human nature. The trouble in this case
was that he underrated the intellectual resources
of Mr. Sanders. He made the mistake that so
many sensible men make, namely, that a person
who is practically illiterate with respect to text-
books and to the kind of education furnished in
the schools, must necessarily be deficient in all
those qualities that are said to be the result of
learning. Therefore, Mr. Awtry started out with
a contempt for Bethune as a " cub," and for Mr.
Sanders as an ignoramus.

Bethune was, indeed, young in years and in ex-
perience, but he was wise enough to submit to the
initiative of an older head. And Mr. Sanders was
ignorant of Greek and Latin, algebra, rhetoric, and
the like, but he was very familiar with the Bible,
and his judgment of men (as well as horses and
dogs) was all but infallible. He had known Wal-
dron Awtry a long time, and knew that he had no
fixed principles of any kind whatsoever. Conse-
quently, Mr. Sanders was prepared for any move
that might be made.

The very first trial of wits between the old
Georgia cracker and the man of the world should


have been sufficient to convince Awtry that he had
no ordinary man to deal with, but he never even
suspected that the occurrence was other than an
awkward accident.

It happened in this way : When darkness had
fallen, and the lights had been lit, the three sat for
a while in Mr. Awtry's room, talking about the
homef oik. Suddenly the latter suggested that they
adjourn to the next room, which had been assigned
to Bethune and Mr. Sanders.

" Walls have ears, you know," remarked Awtry,
"and we don't know who may be in the room

Mr. Sanders noticed that there was no connect-
ing door between Mr. Awtry's apartment and the
one he desired to avoid, whereas there was a door
between Awtry's room and the one he had secured
for them, and the transom was wide open. There
was nothing to do but to act on the suggestion that
had been made, but as Awtry turned out his light,
Mr. Sanders laid his pocket-knife softly on the
table. It was a big knife with a horn handle.

Once in their own room, Bethune and Mr. San-
ders became the hosts, and Mr. Sanders became
unusually talkative. He wanted to know particu-
larly what Waldron Awtry was doing in this " neck
of the woods," as he phrased it. How was he
getting on ?



" You know, Waldron, the folks at home will be
mighty glad to hear news about you," Mr. Sanders

Awtry laughed bitterly. " Oh, I dare say," he
replied. " They'd show their fondness for me if I
went back there now."

"They would they certainly would," replied
Mr. Sanders, solemnly.

" I'd go back this minute if I could," said Awtry,
in a low tone.

"Why can't you?" asked Mr. Sanders. "If
you think that me an' Frank are goin' back there
an* tell everything we've seen an' heard, you're
mighty much mistaken. We don't owe you no
grudge, an' as for me, I allers make allowances for
men under forty."

" Now, tell me about yourselves," urged Awtry,
raising his voice. " What under the sun has
brought you two, of all men in the world, to
Washington ? "

"Well, I'll tell you honestly and candidly, Wal-
dron," replied Mr. Sanders ; " we are here on the
most ticklish piece of business you ever heard of,
and the foolishest." Mr. Sanders was sitting with
his chair careened backward, his hands in his pock-
ets. Suddenly he arose to his feet with an excla-
mation. "Be jigged if I ain't lost my knife!
Now, I wouldn't take a purty for that knife."


He searched in all his pockets, frowning and
grumbling. Then his countenance cleared up.
"I know where it is; I left it on the table in
the next room."

He was moving toward the door, but Waldron
Awtry was quicker. "I'll get it for you," he

" Don't le' me trouble you," insisted Mr. Sanders ;
" I can put my hand right on it."

He made as if to follow Awtry, but as the latter
hurried into the room, Mr. Sanders made two strides
to the door leading into the hall, opened it softly,
and was just in time to see a well-dressed man slip
from Awtry's apartment, close the door behind him,
and take the attitude of a listener.

" Hello ! " exclaimed Mr. Sanders. " How long
you been knockin' there ? "

" Some time," replied the man, trying to conceal
his surprise.

" Well, I thought I heard a knockin'," remarked
Mr. Sanders, " but when I git to talkin' my tongue
runs like a flutter-mill. Waldron ! there's a gentle-
man at your door. - He says he's been knockin'
there for the longest, an' I shouldn't wonder."

Awtry went to the door, and he and the new-
comer greeted each other effusively. It was,
"When did you get here?" and "You must be
terribly busy not to hear a fellow hammering on



the door," and " You'll have to excuse me ; I was
talking to some old friends I haven't seen before
in years.' 1

While this was going on, Mr. Sanders was shak-
ing with silent laughter, but he was the picture
of childlike innocence when Waldron Awtry re-
turned to his chair, after dismissing his casual

" You forgot my knife, I reckon," said Mr. San-
ders, laughing, " but if I hadn't pestered you we'd
never heard that chap knockin'. Friend of yours?
Well, whyn't you fetch him in ? Any of your
friends is more than welcome."

"You were about to tell me something of the
business that brought you here," suggested Mr.

" Yes, I was," said Mr. Sanders, and with that
he related, in a way more or less graphic, the cir-
cumstances that had caused Francis Bethune to
resign his commission, and that finally brought
him to Washington. Mr. Awtry asked to see the
pass, and when he had examined it, he said it was
as good as gold.

"But where is your pass?" he asked Mr.

"My pass," replied Mr. Sanders, "is like the
gal's fortune."

For the first time, Mr. Awtry indulged in laugh-


ter, and it was so becoming to him that Mr. San-
ders remarked it and said, " You oughter laugh a
heep more'n you do, Waldron. It makes you look
like you was a boy ag'in."

" Now about the letter or despatch. Can you lay
your hand on it ? " said Awtry.

Francis Bethune drew forth a package of letters
and papers, and proceeded to search for the de-
spatch. Among the papers was half of a daguer-
rotype case which contained the picture of a lady.
The tones of the picture had been somewhat sub-
dued by time, but this added to the soft beauty of
the face. It was the picture of Miss Puella Gil-
lum. The gentle eyes had an appealing glance in
them, and there was just the suspicion of a smile
playing around the mouth. The picture had slipped
from the papers and lay under the light, face up.

Mr. Awtry saw it. " Ah, your sweetheart ? "

"Oh, no!" replied Bethune; "not my sweet-
heart, but the best friend I ever had in the world."

Mr. Awtry took the picture in his hand, looked
at it, and drew a long breath.

" Puella Gillum ! " he said softly.

"Yes," remarked Mr. Sanders in his matter-of-
fact way, " she's still a-waitin' for you, Waldron."

" For me ? "

"That's what we all think."

" Oh, no ! no, you are mistaken. The man good


enough for her has never been born. She's the
only woman that could have made me different
from what I am."

"Why didn't you let her try her hand?" Mr.
Sanders inquired.

" If ever a man tried to marry a woman, I tried
to marry her," replied Awtry. There was a touch
of boyish frankness in his voice.

" Well, you was a purty wild colt, an' I'm afeard
you ain't broke to harness yet."

All this time, Mr. Awtry had never lifted his
eyes from the picture. Finally he laid it down
with a sigh. Mr. Sanders, regarding him closely,
saw that all the insolence had died out of his eyes.
Instead of the sneer that usually hovered around
his mouth, there" was a whimsical, half-petulant
expression, as when a boy has a grievance of some

Bethune had found the despatch, and now laid
it before him.

Awtry took the picture in one hand and the
paper in the other and held them up side by side.
Then he threw his head back and smiled brightly.

" Here is the angel," said he, holding the picture
higher, "and here is the serpent. If the angel
could talk, it would approve what I am now going
to do." He struck a match, and held the despatch
in the flame. The paper burned with some diffi-



culty, being thick and heavy, but Mr. Awtry per-
sisted until the last vestige had been reduced to

" If you had presented that despatch to the man
to whom it is addressed," he said to Bethune, "you
would never have seen your home and friends
again. You don't know what a devil Doyle is."
He paused and looked at Mr. Sanders with a pecul-
iar smile. " And I am worse a hundred times
worse. Doyle and I are trying to make a record
in the secret service," Awtry continued, " and we
seized on the opportunity offered by Mr. Lincoln's
desire to get a dangerous woman off his hands.
But for the President, the woman would be in the
Old Capital prison at this moment, but he heard
of her arrest and sent for her. He desired to send
her South under the escort of an officer, but the
woman declared that she wouldn't trust herself to
the care of any enemy of her country. Mrs. Lin-
coln, who is a Southern woman, understood the
situation from that standpoint, and sympathised
with the demand yes, demand. You wouldn't
think a woman who was in prison a few weeks
ago with evidence enough against her to send
her to the gallows would be bold enough to make
demands ; but that is just what has happened."

" Well, there ain't no accountin' for the wimmen,"
remarked Mr. Sanders.



" Do you know who this woman is ? " inquired
Awtry, turning to Bethune.

" I have not the slightest idea," was the reply.

" Up here she calls herself Estelle Brandon, but
at home she is known as Mrs. Elise Clopton."

" My aunt ? " cried Bethune, the blood rushing
to his face.

" The same," said Awtry, with a smile.

" Well, if you'd 'a' gi' me three guesses, I'd 'a*
called her name," exclaimed Mr. Sanders. " It's
'most like knowin' folks's han'-writin'. I'll tell you
what's the solemn truth, Waldron," Mr. Sanders
went on gravely, " for a 'oman that's got a heap of
sense, Leese Clopton is the biggest fool that ever
trod shoe-leather. I don't reckon I oughter talk
that-away, but it's the naked truth. I've got a
right to say it, too, bekaze I'd knock down and
drag out anybody else that said it outside the
fam'ly. Fool as she is, I'm mighty fond of

Bethune made a grimace. " I don't like her
much, but I'm glad I came. I hope her experi-
ence will take some of the silly romance out of her

" Shucks ! you couldn't git it out'n her onless
you changed her head. I'll bet you right now that
she thinks she's done wonders," remarked Mr.



" That's true," said Mr. Awtry, laughing. " She
thinks she is quite a heroine." All of a sudden his
manner changed. "Come, we've been here too
long. They're expecting me to carry you to head-
quarters, and some of the boys will come here pretty
soon to see what's the matter. We have no time
to waste. I'll take you to Mr. Lincoln at once.
After that, you'll be safe."

He hustled around with a great display of energy,
and seemed to be really anxious and uneasy. Mr.
Sanders, who had developed a copious supply of
what he called " good, healthy suspicion," put sev-
eral questions to Mr. Awtry. The latter finally
handed Mr. Sanders a loaded pistol.

" Take this," he said, " and if things don't go to
suit you, put a ball through my head."

"All right, Waldron. So be it. I'll do as you
say," Mr. Sanders remarked in a tone of relief.

Awtry ordered a carriage, and in a very few
minutes they were on their way to the White
House. The hour was not late, and when they
arrived there was considerable bustle about the
doors. Congressmen were coming and going, and
"big bugs," as Mr. Sanders expressed it, of various
degrees of importance, were moving to and fro.

There seemed to be some difficulty about seeing

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Online LibraryJoel Chandler HarrisOn the wing of occasions → online text (page 9 of 16)