|Book IV—The Ku Klux Klan
The Hunt for the Animal
Aunt Cindy came at seven o’clock to get breakfast, and finding the house closed and no one at home, supposed Mrs. Lenoir and Marion had remained at the Cameron House for the night. She sat down on the steps, waited grumblingly an hour, and then hurried to the hotel to scold her former mistress for keeping her out so long.
Accustomed to enter familiarly, she thrust her head into the dining-room, where the family were at breakfast with a solitary guest, muttering the speech she had been rehearsing on the way:
“I lak ter know what sort er way dis—whar’s Miss Jeannie?”
Ben leaped to his feet.
“Isn’t she at home?”
“Been waitin’ dar two hours.”
“Great God!” he groaned, springing through the door and rushing to saddle the mare. As he left he called to his father: “Let no one know till I return.”
At the house he could find no trace of the crime he had suspected. Every room was in perfect order. He
searched the yard carefully and under the cedar by the window he saw the barefoot tracks of a negro. The white man was never born who could make that track. The enormous heel projected backward, and in the hollow of the instep where the dirt would scarcely be touched by an Aryan was the deep wide mark of the African’s flat foot. He carefully measured it, brought from an outhouse a box, and fastened it over the spot.
It might have been an ordinary chicken thief, of course. He could not tell, but it was a fact of big import. A sudden hope flashed through his mind that they might have risen with the sun and strolled to their favourite haunt at Lover’s Leap.
In two minutes he was there, gazing with hard-set eyes at Marion’s hat and handkerchief lying on the shelving rock.
The mare bent her glistening neck, touched the hat with her nose, lifted her head, dilated her delicate nostrils, looked out over the cliff with her great soft half-human eyes and whinnied gently.
Ben leaped to the ground, picked up the handkerchief, and looked at the initials, “M. L.,” worked in the corner. He knew what lay on the river’s brink below as well as if he stood over the dead bodies. He kissed the letters of her name, crushed the handkerchief in his locked hands, and cried:
“Now, Lord God, give me strength for the service of my people!”
He hurriedly examined the ground, amazed to find no trace of a struggle or crime. Could it be possible they had ventured too near the brink and fallen over?
He hurried to report to his father his discoveries, instructed his mother and Margaret to keep the servants quiet until the truth was known, and the two men returned along the river’s brink to the foot of the cliff.
They found the bodies close to the water’s edge, Marion had been killed instantly. Her fair blonde head lay in a crimson circle sharply defined in the white sand. But the mother was still warm with life. She had scarcely ceased to breathe. In one last desperate throb of love the trembling soul had dragged the dying body to the girl’s side, and she had died with her head resting on the fair round neck as though she had kissed her and fallen asleep.
Father and son clasped hands and stood for a moment with uncovered heads. The doctor said at length:
“Go to the coroner at once and see that he summons the jury you select and hand to him. Bring them immediately. I will examine the bodies before they arrive.”
Ben took the negro coroner into his office alone, turned the key, told him of the discovery, and handed him the list of the jury.
“I’ll hatter see Mr. Lynch fust, sah,” he answered.
Ben placed his hand on his hip pocket and said coldly:
“Put your cross-mark on those forms I’ve made out there for you, go with me immediately, and summon these men. If you dare put a negro on this jury, or open your mouth as to what has occurred in this room, I’ll kill you.”
The negro tremblingly did as he was commanded.
The coroner’s jury reported that the mother and daughter had been killed by accidentally failing over the cliff.
In all the throng of grief-stricken friends who came to the little cottage that day, but two men knew the hell-lit secret beneath the tragedy.
When the bodies reached the home, Doctor Cameron placed Mrs. Cameron and Margaret outside to receive visitors and prevent any one from disturbing him. He took Ben into the room and locked the doors.
“My boy, I wish you to witness an experiment.”
He drew from its case a powerful microscope of French make.
“What on earth are you going to do, sir?”
The doctor’s brilliant eyes flashed with a mystic light as he replied:
“Find the fiend who did this crime—and then we will hang him on a gallows so high that all men from the rivers to ends of the earth shall see and feel and know the might of an unconquerable race of men.”
“But there’s no trace of him here.”
“We shall see,” said the doctor, adjusting his instrument.
“I believe that a microscope of sufficient power will reveal on the retina of these dead eyes the image of this devil as if etched there by fire. The experiment has been made successfully in France. No word or deed of man is lost. A German scholar has a memory so wonderful he can repeat whole volumes of Latin, German, and French without an error. A Russian officer has been known to repeat the roll-call of any regiment by reading it twice. Psychologists hold that nothing is lost from the memory of man. Impressions remain in the brain like
words written on paper in invisible ink. So I believe of images in the eye if we can trace them early enough. If no impression were made subsequently on the mother’s eye by the light of day, I believe the fire-etched record of this crime can yet be traced.”
Ben watched him with breathless interest.
He first examined Marion’s eyes. But in the cold azure blue of their pure depths he could find nothing.
“It’s as I feared with the child,” he said. “I can see nothing. It is on the mother I rely. In the splendour of life, at thirty-seven she was the full-blown perfection of womanhood, with every vital force at its highest tension——”
He looked long and patiently into the dead mother’s eye, rose and wiped the perspiration from his face.
“What is it, sir?” asked Ben.
Without reply, as if in a trance, he returned to the microscope and again rose with the little, quick, nervous cough he gave only in the greatest excitement, and whispered:
“Look now and tell me what you see.”
Ben looked and said:
“I can see nothing.”
“Your powers of vision are not trained as mine,” replied the doctor, resuming his place at the instrument.
“What do you see?” asked the younger man, bending nervously.
“The bestial figure of a negro—his huge black hand plainly defined—the upper part of the face is dim, as if
obscured by a gray mist of dawn—but the massive jaws and lips are clear—merciful God—yes—it’s Gus!”
The doctor leaped to his feet livid with excitement.
Ben bent again, looked long and eagerly, but could see nothing.
“I’m afraid the image is in your eye, sir, not the mother’s,” said Ben sadly.
“That’s possible, of course,” said the doctor, “yet I don’t believe it.”
“I’ve thought of the same scoundrel and tried blood hounds on that track, but for some reason they couldn’t follow it. I suspected him from the first, and especially since learning that he left for Columbia on the early morning train on pretended official business.”
“Then I’m not mistaken,” insisted the doctor, trembling with excitement. “Now do as I tell you. Find when he returns. Capture him, bind, gag, and carry him to your meeting-place under the cliff, and let me know.”
On the afternoon of the funeral, two days later, Ben received a cypher telegram from the conductor on the train telling him that Gus was on the evening mail due at Piedmont at nine o’clock.
The papers had been filled with accounts of the accident, and an enormous crowd from the county and many admirers of the fiery lyrics of the poet father had come from distant parts to honour his name. All business was suspended, and the entire white population of the village followed the bodies to their last resting-place.
As the crowds returned to their homes, no notice was taken of a dozen men on horseback who rode out of town
by different ways about dusk. At eight o’clock they met in the woods near the first little flag-station located on McAllister’s farm four miles from Piedmont, where a buggy awaited them. Two men of powerful build, who were strangers in the county, alighted from the buggy and walked along the track to board the train at the station three miles beyond and confer with the conductor.
The men, who gathered in the woods, dismounted, removed their saddles, and from the folds of the blankets took a white disguise for horse and man. In a moment it was fitted on each horse, with buckles at the throat, breast, and tail, and the saddles replaced. The white robe for the man was made in the form of an ulster overcoat with cape, the skirt extending to the top of the shoes. From the red belt at the waist were swung two revolvers which had been concealed in their pockets. On each man’s breast was a scarlet circle within which shone a white cross. The same scarlet circle and cross appeared on the horse’s breast, while on his flanks flamed the three red mystic letters, K. K. K. Each man wore a white cap, from the edges of which fell a piece of cloth extending to the shoulders. Beneath the visor was an opening for the eyes and lower down one for the mouth. On the front of the caps of two of the men appeared the red wings of a hawk as the ensign of rank. From the top of each cap rose eighteen inches high a single spike held erect by a twisted wire. The disguises for man and horse were made of cheap unbleached domestic and weighed less than three pounds. They were easily folded within a blanket and kept under the saddle in a crowd without discovery. It
required less than two minutes to remove the saddles, place the disguises, and remount.
At the signal of a whistle, the men and horses arrayed in white and scarlet swung into double-file cavalry formation and stood awaiting orders. The moon was now shining brightly, and its light shimmering on the silent horses and men with their tall spiked caps made a picture such as the world had not seen since the Knights of the Middle Ages rode on their Holy Crusades.
As the train neared the flag-station, which was dark and unattended, the conductor approached Gus, leaned over, and said: “I’ve just gotten a message from the sheriff telling me to warn you to get off at this station and slip into town. There’s a crowd at the depot there waiting for you and they mean trouble.”
Gus trembled and whispered:
“Den fur Gawd’s sake lemme off here.”
The two men who got on at the station below stepped out before the negro, and as he alighted from the car, seized, tripped, and threw him to the ground. The engineer blew a sharp signal, and the train pulled on.
In a minute Gus was bound and gagged.
One of the men drew a whistle and blew twice. A single tremulous call like the cry of an owl answered. The swift beat of horses’ feet followed, and four white-and-scarlet clansmen swept in a circle around the group.
One of the strangers turned to the horseman with red-winged ensign on his cap, saluted, and said:
“Here’s your man, Night Hawk.”
“Thanks, gentlemen,” was the answer. “Let us know when we can be of service to your county.”
The strangers sprang into their buggy and disappeared toward the North Carolina line.
The clansmen blindfolded the negro, placed him on a horse, tied his legs securely, and his arms behind him to the ring in the saddle.
The Night Hawk blew his whistle four sharp blasts, and his pickets galloped from their positions and joined him.
Again the signal rang, and his men wheeled with the precision of trained cavalrymen into column formation three abreast, and rode toward Piedmont, the single black figure tied and gagged in the centre of the white-and-scarlet squadron.