Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"I know that there are angry spirits And turbulent mutterers of stifled treason, Who lurk in narrow places, and walk out Muffled to whisper curses to the night. Disbanded soldiers, discontented ruffians And desperate libertines who lurk in taverns." --BYRON.
A bright, warm day, some hours after sunrise. A man of rather gentlemanly appearance, well, though not handsomely dressed, is riding leisurely along the public highway. He wears a broad-brimmed straw hat as a protection from the sun, and a linen duster somewhat soiled by the dust of travel. He has a shrewd though not unkindly face, and a keen grey eye whose quick glances seem to take in everything within its range of vision.
It is a lonely bit of road he is traveling and he moves with caution evidently on the alert for any appearance of danger.
Presently he perceives another solitary horseman approaching from the opposite direction, and at the sight lays his hand on the pistols in his belt concealed by the duster, to make sure that they are ready for instant use; but at the same time keeping steadily on his way.
The new comer is a slender boy of eighteen or twenty, not at all dangerous looking.
As the two near each other each lifts his hat with a courteous, "Good morning, sir," the lad at the same time carelessly sliding his right hand down the left lappel of his coat.
The movement, slight as it was, had not escaped the watchful grey eyes, and instantly their owner replied by sliding his left hand in the same manner down the right lappel of his coat.
The lad then ran his fingers lightly through his hair; the other imitated his action; the lad opened his coat and seemed to be searching for a pin; the man opened his, took out a pin and handed it to him with a polite bow.
"Thanks! all right sir; I perceive you are one of us," said the boy, drawing a paper from his pocket and presenting it to the man. "Miller's Woods!" and touching his hat he galloped away.
There was a twinkle in the grey eyes as they shot one swift glance after him; then the paper was opened and examined with minute care.
On it was a half moon with several dates written in different places about it, and that was all; yet its new possessor regarded it with great satisfaction, and after a careful scrutiny bestowed it safely in his breast pocket.
"I'll be on hand without fail," he said, in a low, confidential tone, perhaps addressing his horse, as there was no one else within hearing. "To-night! they're late serving my notice; but better late than never; for me, though perhaps not for themselves," he added with a grim smile. "Well, my preparations won't take long: dress-suit's all ready."
He kept on his way at the old leisurely pace, presently came in sight of Fairview, passed it, then Ion, diligently using his eyes as he went, made a circuit of several miles and returned to the town which he had left some hours previously.
Dismounting at the village tavern, he gave his horse into the care of the hostler, and joined a group of idlers about the bar-room door. They were talking politics and one appealed to him for his opinion.
"Don't ask me," he said with a deprecatory gesture! "I'm no party man and never meddle with politics."
"On the fence, hey? Just the place for a coward and a sneak," returned his interlocutor contemptuously.
The other half drew his bowie knife, then thrusting it back again, said good-humoredly, "I'll let that pass, Green; you've taken a drop too much and are not quite compos mentis just now."
"Be quiet, will you, Green;" spoke up one of his companions, "you know well enough Snell's no coward. Why didn't he risk his life the other day, to save your boy from drowning?"
"Yes; I'd forgot. I take that back, Snell. Will you have a glass?"
"Thank you, no, it's too hot, and your wife and babies need the money, Green."
The words were half drowned in the clang of the dinner bell, and the group scattered, Snell, and most of the others hurrying into the dining-room in answer to the welcome call.
After dinner Snell sauntered out in the direction of the stable, passed with a seemingly careless glance in at the door, and strolled onward; but in that momentary glimpse had noted the exact position of his horse.
About ten o'clock that night he stole quietly out again, made his way unobserved to the stable, saddled and bridled his steed, all in the dark, mounted and rode away, passing through the village streets at a very moderate pace, but breaking into a round trot as soon as he had fairly reached the open country.
He pressed on for several miles, but slackened his speed as he neared the forest known as Miller's Woods.
For the last mile or more he had heard, both in front and rear, the thumping of horses' hoofs, and occasionally a word or two spoken in an undertone, by gruff voices.
He was anxious to avoid an encounter with their owners, and on reaching the outskirts of the wood, suddenly left the road, and springing to the ground, took his horse by the bridle, and led him along for some rods under the trees; then fastening him securely, opened a bundle he had brought with him, and speedily arrayed himself in the hideous Ku Klux disguise.
He stood a moment intently listening. The same sounds still coming from the road; evidently many men were traveling it that night; and Snell reflected with grave concern, though without a shadow of fear, that if seen and recognized by any one of them his life would speedily pay the forfeit of his temerity; for spite of his acquaintance with their secret signs, he was not a member of the order.
He was, in fact, a detective in pursuit of evidence to convict the perpetrators of the outrages which had been so frequent of late in that vicinity.
Making sure that his arms were in readiness for instant use, he hastened on his way, threading the mazes of the wood with firm, quick, but light step.
He had proceeded but a short distance, when he came upon a sentinel who halted him.
Snell slapped his hands together twice, quick and loud.
The sentinel answered in the same manner, and permitted him to pass; the same thing was repeated twice, and then a few steps brought him into the midst of the assembled Klan; for it was a general meeting of all the camps in the county which together composed a Klan.
Snell glided, silently and unquestioned, to a place among the others, the disguise and the fact of his having passed the sentinels, lulling all suspicion.
Most of those present were in disguise, but some were not, and several of these the officer recognized as men whom he knew by name and by sight, among them Green and George Boyd.
A good deal of business was transacted; several raids were decided upon, the victims named, the punishment to be meted out to each prescribed, and the men to execute each order appointed.
One member after another would mention the name of some individual who had become obnoxious to him personally, or to the Klan, saying that he ought to be punished; and the matter would be at once taken up, and arrangements made to carry out his suggestion.
Boyd mentioned the name of "Edward Travilla, owner of Ion," cursing him bitterly as a scalawag, a friend of carpet-baggers, and of the education and elevation of the negroes.
"Right! his case shall receive prompt attention!" said the chief.
"Let it be a severe whipping administered to-morrow night, between the hours of twelve and two," proposed Green, and the motion was put to vote and carried without a dissenting voice.
"And let me have a hand in it!" cried Boyd, fiercely.
"You belong to the neighborhood and might be recognized," objected the chief.
"I'll risk it. I owe him a sound flogging, or something worse," returned Boyd.
"We all do, for he'd have every mother's son of us sent to jail or hanged, if he could," growled another voice on Snell's right, while from a mask on the left there came in sepulchral tones, the words, "It had better be hands off with you then, man," the speaker pointing significantly to Boyd's maimed member.
"It shall!" cried he, "but I flatter myself this right hand, mutilated though it be, can lay on the lash as vigorously as yours, sir."
After a little more discussion, Boyd's wish was granted, his fellow raiders were named, and presently the meeting was closed, and the members began to disperse.
Snell thought he had escaped suspicion thus far, but his heart leaped into his mouth as a man whom he had heard addressed as Jim Blake, suddenly clapped his hand on his shoulder, exclaiming, "Ah, ha, I know you, old chap!"
"You do? who am I then?" queried the spy in a feigned, unnatural voice, steady and cool, spite of the terrible danger that menaced him.
"Who? Hal Williams, no disguise could hide you from me."
Snell drew a breath of relief. "Ha! ha! Jim, I didn't think you were so cute," he returned in his feigned voice, and glided away presently disappearing, as others were doing, in the deeper shadows of the wood.
He thought it not prudent to go directly to the spot where he had left his horse, but reached it by a circuitous route, doffing his disguise and rolling it into a bundle again as he went.
He paused a moment to recover breath and listen. All was darkness and silence; the conspirators had left the vicinity.
Satisfied of this, he led his horse into the road, mounted and rode back to the town.
There every one seemed to be asleep except in a drinking saloon, whence came sounds of drunken revelry, and the bar room of the tavern where he put up. A light was burning there, but he avoided it attended to his horse himself, returning it to the precise spot where he had found it, then slipped stealthily up to his room, and without undressing threw himself upon the bed and almost immediately fell into a profound slumber.