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.