The Black Cross
A black cross had been set against Judge Hawkins' name; why, it is not
for me to say. We were not accustomed to explain our motives or to
give reasons for our deeds. The deeds were enough, and this black
cross meant death; and when it had been shown us, all that we needed
to know further was at what hour we should meet for the contemplated
A word from the captain settled that; and when the next Friday came, a
dozen men met at the place of rendezvous, ready for the ride which
should bring them to the Judge's solitary mansion across the
I was amongst them, and in as satisfactory a mood as I had ever been
in my life; for the night was favorable, and the men hearty and in
But after we had started, and were threading a certain wood, I began
to have doubts. Feelings I had never before experienced assailed me
with a force that first perplexed and then astounded me. I was afraid,
and what rather heightened than diminished the unwonted sensation, was
the fact that I was not afraid of anything tangible, either in the
present or future, but of something unexplainable and peculiar, which,
if it lay in the skies, certainly made them look dark indeed; and if
it hid in the forest, caused its faintest murmur to seem like the
utterance of a great dread, as awful as it was inexplicable.
I nevertheless proceeded, and should have done so if the great streaks
of lightning which now and then shot zigzag through the sky had taken
the shape of words and bid us all beware. I was not one to be daunted,
and knew no other course than that of advance when once a stroke of
justice had been planned, and the direction for its fulfilment marked
out. I went on, but I began to think, and that to me was an
experience; for I had never been taught to reflect, only to fight and
The house towards which we were riding was built on a hillside, and
the first thing we saw on emerging from the forest, was a light
burning in one of its distant windows. This was a surprise; for the
hour was late, and in that part of the country people were accustomed
to retire early, even such busy men as the Judge. He must have a
visitor, and a visitor meant a possible complication of affairs; so a
halt was called and I was singled out to reconnoitre the premises, and
bring back word of what we had a right to expect.
I started off in a strange state of mind. The fear I had spoken of had
left me, but a vague shadow remained, through which, as through a
mist, I saw the light in that far away window beckoning me on to what
I felt was in some way to make an end of my present life. As I drew
nearer to it, the feeling increased; then it, too, left me, and I
found myself once more the daring avenger. This was when I came to the
foot of the hill and discovered I had but a few steps more to take.
The house, which had now become plainly visible, was a solid one of
stone, built as I have said, on the hillside. It faced the road, as
was shown by the large portico, dimly to be discerned in that
direction; but its rooms were mainly on the side, and it was from one
of these that the light shone. As I came yet nearer, I perceived that
these rooms were guarded by a piazza, which, communicating with the
portico in front, afforded an open road to that window and a clear
sight of what lay behind it.
I was instantly off my horse and upon the piazza, and before I had had
time to realize that my fears had returned to me with double force, I
had crept with stealthy steps towards that uncurtained window and
What did I see? At first nothing but a calm, studious figure, bending
above a batch of closely written papers, upon which the light shone
too brightly for me to perceive much of what lay beyond them. But
gradually an influence, of whose workings I was scarcely conscious,
drew my eyes away, and I began to discover on every side strange and
beautiful objects which greatly interested me, until suddenly my eyes
fell upon a vision of loveliness so enchanting that I forgot to look
elsewhere, and became for the moment nothing but sight and feeling.
It was a picture, or so I thought in that first instant of awe and
delight. But presently I saw that it was a woman, living and full of
the thoughts that had never been mine; and at the discovery a sudden
trembling seized me; for I had never seen anything in heaven or earth
like her beauty, while she saw nothing but the man who was bending
over his papers.
There was a door or something dark behind her, and against it her tall
strong figure, clad in a close white gown, stood out with a
distinctness that was not altogether earthly. But it was her face that
held me, and made of me from moment to moment a new man.
For in it I discerned what I had never believed in till now, devotion
that had no limit, and love which asked nothing in return. She seemed
to be faltering on the threshold of that room, like one who would like
to enter but does not dare, and in another moment, with a smile that
pierced me through and through, she turned as if to go. Instantly I
forgot everything but my despair, and leaned forward with an
impetuosity that betrayed my presence, for she glanced quickly towards
the window, and seeing me, turned pale, even while she rose in height
till I felt myself shrink and grow small before her.
Thrusting out her hand, she caught from the table before her what
looked like a small dagger, and holding it up, advanced upon me with
blazing eyes and parted lips, not seeing that the Judge had risen to
his feet, not seeing anything but my face glued against the pane, and
staring with an expression that must have struck her to the heart as
surely as her look pierced mine. When she was almost upon me I turned
and fled. Hell could not have frightened me, but Heaven did; and for
me that woman was Heaven whether she smiled or frowned, gazed upon
another with love, or raised a dagger to strike me to the ground.
How soon I met my mates I cannot say. In a few minutes, doubtless, for
they had stolen after me and had detected me running away from the
window. I was forced to tell my tale, and I told it unhesitatingly,
for I knew I could not save him--if I wanted to--and I knew I should
save her or die in the attempt.
"He is alone there with a girl," I announced. "Whether she is his wife
or not I cannot say, but there is no cross against her name, and I
ask that she be spared not only from sharing his fate, but from the
sight of his death, for she loves him."
This from me! No wonder the captain stared, then laughed. But I did
not laugh in return, and being the strongest man in the band and the
surest with my rifle, he did not trifle long, but listened to my plans
and in part consented to them, so that I retreated to my post at the
gateway with something like confidence, while he, approaching the
door, lifted the knocker and let it fall with a resounding clang that
must have rung like a knell of death to the hearts within.
For the Judge knew our errand. I saw it in his face when he rose to
his feet, and he had no hope, for we had never failed in our attempts,
and the house, though strongly built, was easily assailable.
* * * * *
While the captain knocked, three men had scaled the portico and were
ready to enter the open windows, if the Judge refused to appear or
offered any resistance to what was known as the captain's will.
"Death to the Judge!" was the cry; and it was echoed not only at the
door, but around the house, where the rest of the men had drawn a
cordon ready to waylay any one who sought to escape. Death to the
Judge! And the Judge was loved by that woman and would be mourned by
her till--But a voice is speaking, a voice from out that great house,
and it asks what is wanted and what the meaning is of these threats of
And the captain answers short and sharp:
"The Ku-Klux commands but never explains. What it commands now is for
Judge Hawkins to come forth. If he shrinks or delays his house will be
entered and burnt; but if he will come out and meet like a man what
awaits him, his house shall go free and his family remain unmolested."
"And what is it that awaits him?" pursued the voice.
"Four bullets from four unerring rifles," returned the captain.
"It is well; he will come forth," cried the voice, and then in a
huskier tone: "Let me kiss the woman I love. I will not keep you
And the captain answered nothing, only counted out clearly and
steadily, "One--two--three," up to a hundred, then he paused, turned,
and lifted his hand; when instantly our four rifles rose, and at the
same moment the door, with a faint grating sound I shall never forget,
slowly opened and the firm, unshrinking figure of the Judge appeared.
We did not delay. One simultaneous burst of fire, one loud quick
crack, and his figure fell before our eyes. A sound, a cry from
within, then all was still, and the captain, mounting his horse, gave
one quick whistle and galloped away. We followed him, but I was the
last to mount, and did not follow long; for at the flash of those guns
I had seen a smile cross our victim's lip, and my heart was on fire,
and I could not rest till I had found my way back to that open doorway
and the figure lying within it.
There it was, and behind it a house empty as my heart has been since
that day. A man's dress covering a woman's form--and over the
motionless, perfect features, that same smile which I had seen in the
room beyond and again in the quick glare of the rifles.
I had harbored no evil thought concerning her, but when I beheld that
smile now sealed and fixed upon her lips, I found the soul I had never
known I possessed until that day.
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