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

raid.



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

mountains.



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

first-rate condition.



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

obey.



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

looked in.



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

death.



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

long."



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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