WHEN the Preacher took the train in Boston for the South, his friendly merchant, a deacon, was by his side.
"Now, you put my name and address down in your note book, William Crane. And don't forget about us."
"I'll never forget you, deacon."
"Say, I just as well tell you," whispered the deacon bending close, "we are not going to allow you to stay down South. We'll be down after you before long—just as well be packing up."
The Preacher smiled, looked out of the car window, and made no reply.
"Well, good-bye, Doctor, good-bye. God bless you and your work and your people! You've brought me a message warm from God's heart. I'll never forget it."
As the train whirled southward through the rich populous towns and cities of the North, again the sharp contrast with the desolation of his own land cut him like a knife. He thought of Legree and Haley, Perkins and Tim Shelby robbing widows and orphans and sweeping the poverty-stricken Southland with riot, pillage, murder and brigandage, and posing as the representatives of the conscience of the North. And his heart was heavy with sorrow.
On reaching Hambright he was thunderstruck at the
news of the sale of Mrs. Gaston's place and her tragic death.
"Why, my dear, I sent the money to her on the first Monday I spent in Boston!" he declared to his wife.
"It never reached her."
"Then Dave Haley, the dirty slave driver, has held that letter. I'll see to this." He hurried to the post-office.
"Mr. Haley," he exclaimed, "I sent a money order letter to Mrs. Gaston from Boston on Monday a week ago."
"Yes, sir," answered Haley in his blandest manner, "it got here the day after the sale."
"You're an infamous liar!" shouted the Preacher.
"Of course! Of course! All Union men are liars to hear rebel traitors talk."
"I'll report you to Washington for this rascality."
"So do, so do. Mor'n likely the President and the Post-Office Department 'll be glad to have this information from so great a man."
As the Preacher was leaving the post-office be encountered the Hon. Tim Shelby dressed in the height of fashion, his silk hat shining in the sun, and his eyes rolling with the joy of living. The Preacher stepped squarely in front of Tim.
"Tim Shelby, I hear you have moved into Mrs. Gaston's home and are using her furniture. By whose authority do you dare such insolence?"
"By authority of the law, sir. Mrs. Gaston died intestate. Her effects are in the hands of our County Administrator, Mr. Ezra Perkins. I'll be pleased to receive you, sir, any time you would like to call!" said Tim with a bow.
"I'll call in due time," replied the Preacher, looking Tim straight in
Haley had been peeping through the window, watching and listening to this encounter.
"'These charmin' preachers think they own this county, brother Shelby," laughed Haley as he grasped Tim's outstretched hand.
"Yes, they are the curse of the state. I wish to God they had succeeded in burning him alive that night the boys tried it. They'll get him later on. Brother Haley, he's a dangerous man. He must be put out of the way, or we'll never have smooth sailing in this county."
"I believe you're right, he's just been in here cussin' me about that letter of the widder's that didn't get to her in time. He thinks he can run the post-office."
"Well, we'll show him this county's in the hands of the loyal!" added Tim.
"Heard the news from Charleston?"
"Heard it? I guess I have. I talked with the commanding General in Charleston two weeks ago. He told me then he was going to set aside that decision of the Supreme Court in a ringing order permitting the marriage of negroes to white women, and commanding its enforcement on every military post. I see he's done it in no uncertain words."
"It's a great day, brother, for the world. There'll be no more colour line."
"Yes, times have changed," said Tim with a triumphant smile. "I guess our white hot-bloods will sweat and bluster and swear a little when they read that order. But we've got the bayonets to enforce it. They'd just as well cool down."
"That's the stuff," said Haley, taking a fresh chew of tobacco.
"Let 'em squirm. They're flat on their backs. We are on top, and we are
going to stay on top. I expect to lead a fair white bride into my house before
and have poor white aristocrats to tend my lawn." Tim worked his ears and looked up at the ceiling in a dreamy sort of way.
"That'll be a sight won't it!" exclaimed Haley with delight. "Where's that scoundrel Nelse that lived with Mrs. Gaston?"
"Oh, we fixed him," said Tim. "The black rascal wouldn't join the League, and wouldn't vote with his people, and still showed fight after we beat him half to death, so we put a levy of fifty dollars on his cabin, sold him out, and every piece of furniture, and every rag of clothes we could get hold of. He'll leave the country now, or we'll kill him next time."
"You ought to a killed him the first time, and then the job would ha' been over."
"Oh, we'll have the country in good shape in a little while, and don't you forget it."
The news of the order of the military commandant at "District No. 2," comprising the Carolinas, abrogating the decisions of the North Carolina Supreme Court, forbidding the intermarriage of negroes and whites, fell like a bombshell on Campbell county. The people had not believed that the military authorities would dare go to the length of attempting to force social equality.
This order from Charleston was not only explicit, its language was peculiarly emphatic. It apparently commanded intermarriage, and ordered the military to enforce the command at the point of the bayonet.
The feelings of the people were wrought to the pitch of fury. It needed but a word from a daring leader, and a massacre of every negro, scalawag and carpet-bagger in the county might have followed. The Rev. John Durham was busy day and night seeking to allay excitement and prevent an uprising of the white population.
Along with the announcement of this military order,
came the startling news that Simon Legree, whose infamy was known from end to end of the state, was to be the next Governor, and that the Hon. Tim Shelby was a candidate for Chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Legree was in Washington at the time on a mission to secure a stand of twenty thousand rifles from the Secretary of War, with which to arm the negro troop he was drilling for the approaching election. The grant was made and Legree came back in triumph with his rifles.
Relief for the ruined people was now a hopeless dream. Black despair was clutching at every white man's heart. The taxpayers had held a convention and sent their representatives to Washington exposing the monstrous thefts that were being committed under the authority of the government by the organised band of thieves who were looting the state. But the thieves were the pets of politicians high in power. The committee of taxpayers were insulted and sent home to pay their taxes.
And then a thing happened in Hambright that brought matters to a sudden crisis.
The Hon. Tim Shelby as school commissioner, had printed the notices for an examination of school teachers for Campbell county. An enormous tax had been levied and collected by the county for this purpose, but no school had been opened. Tim announced, however, that the school would be surely opened the first Monday in October.
Miss Mollie Graham, the pretty niece of the old doctor, was struggling
to support a blind mother and four younger children. Her father and brother
had been killed in the war. Their house had been sold for taxes, and they
were required now to pay Tim Shelby ten dollars a month for rent. When she
saw that school notice
her heart gave a leap. If she could only get the place, it would save them from beggary.
She fairly ran to the Preacher to get his advice.
"Certainly, child, try for it. It's humiliating to ask such a favour of that black ape, but if you can save your loved ones, do it."
So with trembling hand she knocked at Tim's door. He required all applicants to apply personally at his house. Tim met her with the bows and smirks of a dancing master.
"Delighted to see your pretty face this morning, Miss Graham," he cried enthusiastically.
The girl blushed and hesitated at the door.
"Just walk right in the parlour, I'll join you in a moment."
She bravely set her lips and entered.
"And now what can I do for you, Miss Graham?"
"I've come to apply for a teacher's place in the school."
"Ah indeed, I'm glad to know that. There is only one difficulty. You must be loyal. Your people were rebels, and the new government has determined to have only loyal teachers."
"I think I'm loyal enough to the old flag now that our people have surrendered," said the girl.
"Yes, yes, I dare say, but do you think you can accept the new régime of government and society which we are now establishing in the South? We have abolished the colour line. Would you have a mixed school if assigned one?"
"I think I'd prefer to teach a negro school outright to a mixed one," she said after a moment's hesitation.
Tim continued, "You know we are living in a new world. The supreme law
of the land has broken down every barrier of race and we are henceforth to
be one people. The struggle for existence knows no race or
colour. It's a struggle now for bread. I'm in a position to be of great help to you and your family if you will only let me."
The girl suddenly rose impelled by some resistless instinct.
"May I have the place then?" she asked approaching the door.
"Well, now you know it depends really altogether on my fancy. I'll tell you what I'll do. You're still full of silly prejudices. I can see that. But if you will overcome them enough to do one thing for me as a test, that will cost you nothing and of which the world will never be the wiser, I'll give you the place and more, I'll remit the ten dollars a month rent you're now paying. Will you do it?"
"What is it?" the girl asked with pale quivering lips.
"Let me kiss you—once!" he whispered.
With a scream, she sprang past him out of the door, ran like a deer across the lawn, and fell sobbing in her mother's arms when she reached her home.
The next day the town was unusually quiet. Tim had business with the Commandant of the company of regulars still quartered at Hambright. He spent most of the day with him, and walked about the streets ostentatiously showing his familiarity with the corporal who accompanied him. A guard of three soldiers was stationed around Tim's house for two nights and then withdrawn.
The next night at twelve o'clock two hundred white-robed horses assembled around the old home of Mrs. Gaston where Tim was sleeping. The moon was full and flooded the lawn with silver glory. On those horses sat two hundred white-robed silent men whose close-fitting hood disguises looked like the mail helmets of ancient knights.
It was the work of a moment to seize Tim, and bind
him across a horse's back. Slowly the grim procession moved to the court house square.
When the sun rose next morning the lifeless body of Tim Shelby was dangling from a rope tied to the iron rail of the balcony of the court house. His neck was broken and his body was hanging low—scarcely three feet from the ground. His thick lips had been split with a sharp knife and from his teeth hung this placard:
"The answer of the Anglo-Saxon race to Negro lips that dare pollute with words the womanhood of the South. K. K. K."
And the Ku Klux Klan was master of Campbell county.
The origin of this Law and Order League which sprang up like magic in a night and nullified the programme of Congress though backed by an army of a million veteran soldiers, is yet a mystery.
The simple truth is, it was a spontaneous and resistless racial uprising of clansmen of highland origin living along the Appalachian mountains and foothills of the South, and it appeared almost simultaneously in every Southern state produced by the same terrible conditions.
It was the answer to their foes of a proud and indomitable race of men driven to the wall. In the hour of their defeat they laid down their arms and accepted in good faith the results of the war. And then, when unarmed and defenceless, a group of pot-house politicians for political ends, renewed the war, and attempted to wipe out the civilisation of the South.
This Invisible Empire of White Robed Anglo-Saxon Knights was simply the
old answer of organised manhood to organised crime. Its purpose was to bring
order out of chaos, protect the weak and defenseless, the widows and orphans
of brave men who had died for their country, to drive from power the thieves
who were robbing
the people, redeem the commonwealth from infamy, and reestablish civilisation.
Within one week from its appearance, life and property were as safe as in any Northern community.
When the negroes came home from their League meeting one night they ran terror stricken past long rows of white horsemen. Not a word was spoken, but that was the last meeting the "Union League of America" ever held in Hambright.
Every negro found guilty of a misdemeanor was promptly thrashed and warned against its recurrence. The sudden appearance of this host of white cavalry grasping at their throats with the grip of cold steel struck the heart of Legree and his followers with the chill of a deadly fear.
It meant inevitable ruin, overthrow, and a prison cell for the "loyal" statesmen who were with him in his efforts to maintain the new "republican form of government" in North Carolina.
At the approaching election, this white terror could intimidate every negro in the state unless he could arm them all, suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus, and place every county under the strictest martial law.
Washington was besieged by a terrified army of the "loyal" who saw their occupation threatened. They begged for more troops, more guns for negro militia, and for the reestablishment of universal martial law until the votes were properly counted.
But the great statesmen laughed them to scorn as a set of weak cowards and fools frightened by negro stories of ghosts. It was incredible to them that the crushed, poverty stricken and unarmed South could dare challenge the power of the National Government. They were sent back with scant comfort.
The night that Ezra Perkins and Haley got back from
Washington, where they had gone summoned by Legree and Hogg, to testify to the death of Tim Shelby, they saw a sight that made their souls quake.
At ten o'clock, the Ku Klux Klan held a formal parade through the streets of Hambright. How the news was circulated nobody knew, but it seemed everybody in the county knew of it. The streets were lined with thousands of people who had poured in town that afternoon.
At exactly ten o'clock, a bugle call was heard on the hill to the west of the town, and the muffled tread of soft shod horses came faintly on their ears. Women stood on the sidewalks, holding their babies and smiling, and children were laughing and playing in the streets.
They rode four abreast in perfect order slowly through the town. It was utterly impossible to recognise a man or a horse, so complete was the simple disguise of the white sheet which blanketed the horse fitting closely over his head and ears and falling gracefully over his form toward the ground.
No citizen of Hambright was in the procession. They were all in the streets watching it pass. There were fifteen hundred men in line. But the reports next day all agreed in fixing the number at over five thousand.
Perkins and Haley had watched it from a darkened room.
"Brother Haley, that's the end! Lord I wish I was back in Michigan, jail er no jail," said Perkins mopping the perspiration from his brow.
"We'll have ter dig out purty quick, I reckon," answered Haley.
"And to think them fools at Washington laughed at us!" cried Perkins clinching his fists.
And that night, mothers and fathers gathered their children to bed with a sense of grateful security not felt through years of war and turmoil.