White-hooded figures crouched, waiting for three blasts from a penny whistle.
Ned Winthrop hunkered down, too. He was supposed to be praying, but he kept thinking about that line in his fathers last letter: Men with clenched fists cannot shake hands.
A series of fervent amens pierced the stagnant air.
Ned didnt amen. Instead, he clenched his fists until his nails threatened to gash his palms.
Look up at the sky, Winthrop, whispered Richard Reed. Gawd, its inspirin.
Whats inspiring? Ned watched his friend undulate like a hooded Cobra. The sky?
The clouds. Look at the clouds. Louder. See how they form white men on white horses? Its an omen.
WE MUST KEEP THIS A WHITE MANS COUNTRY! decreed a pamphlet inside Neds shirt pocket. Rather than comment on Richards sky-vision, Ned tried to subdue his erection. Luckily, it was enshrouded by his sheet.
From the open window of the one-room schoolhouse, he could hear children singing. A-B-C-D-E-F-Geee... H-I-J-K...
K-K-K, he thought. Ku Klux Klan.
A nucleus banded together at his university. For the initiation ritual, Ned had been blindfolded, led over obstacles placed inside a musty cellar, finally brought before Richard—-the Grand Cyclops. After answering silly, senseless questions, Ned had felt his blindfold stripped away. He faced a large mirror. On his head were donkey ears. Klansmen had burst into laughter. Ned had laughed, too, aware that the rites were patterned after the Klans original ceremonies. He had been welcomed with handshakes and shoulder hugs, then sworn to secrecy about the club, its liturgies, and the identity of his companions.
He had joined because he thirsted for adventure, excitement, and some rollicking good fun. It had been Richards idea to attack the schoolhouse. Well scare them nigras ghost-white. What dya say? Ned had said yes. So had eight others. Now, they knelt behind a grove of Western yellow pine trees, anticipating Richards signal. Twenty knees mashed pink and violet phlox while the gurgling rush from a nearby stream mingled with the sound of droning insects. Close to the stream, crushing clumps of wild plum, lay a huge wooden cross.
Through raggedy eye-holes, Ned watched Richard clamber up. Ned followed, lurching to his feet, his legs all pins and needles.
Children emerged from the schoolhouse. Recess.
Richards hand crept beneath his hood, and Ned heard the penny whistles triple blast. Three Klansmen hefted the cross. Drawing their revolvers from bootstraps, others shot toward the sky.
The happy cadence of youthful voices abruptly ceased. One elderly man, white, bolted through the doorway, into the school yard. A young, beautiful colored woman practically breathed down his neck.
Run, children! shouted the woman, stepping away from the man. David, Leon, Gabriel, carry the littlest babies! Run!
Fetch help, Lily Ann! Above a full beard, the schoolmasters nostrils flared, and his eyes burned with a feverish glow. In his fist he clutched a wooden ruler.
But I want to stay, help you fight.
Youll never be a teacher if youre dead.
Lily Ann grasped the hem of her calico skirt. Petticoats swirled as she followed the children.
With an effort, Ned resisted the urge to capture the girl. Chocolate candy would taste mighty fine after his sparse breakfast of corn pone and grits. His hood restricted vision so he yanked it off. He didnt give a damn if a crackbrained schoolmaster described black hair, blue eyes, and a cleft chin to the sheriff. Tonight hed leave Texas and return to his Denver home.
The cross had been erected, doused with kerosene, and lit. Several Klansmen entered the schoolhouse. Ned heard the sound of splintering wood. Shifting his gaze, he saw the sheriffs son lift his white sheet, drop his trousers, and urinate against the buildings facade.
Richard was dodging blows from the schoolmasters ruler, and Ned recalled the well-placed clouts delivered by his fathers gnarled walking cane. He considered joining forces with his friend.
Suddenly, the sound of splintering wood became the angry buzz of hornets.
Shit! It wasnt a swarm of bees.
Children returned with their parents. Men and women raced down the trail, holding aloft sticks, shovels, hoes and brooms.
Rather than shoot toward the furious crowd, Neds companions chose to turn tail. The blazing cross cast flame-licked shadows across their hooded gowns as they scattered in all directions, looking like the vanes on a pinwheel.
Ned was no coward, of course, but those black men and woman looked invincible. Im outnumbered, he justified.
Sweat poured down his face as he stomped his way through the woods, heading toward his horse.
He experienced a momentary gut-wrench, fearing his father, the honorable Edward Winthrop, would be livid at his only sons expulsion from the university. The Chancellor had been extremely rude while expressing displeasure at young Mr. Winthrops lack of attendance and failing grades. Naturally, Ned had told the Chancellor to stick his university where the sun dont shine. If Ned had licked the Chancellors boots, he might have been given a second chance. But Ned wasnt one to lick boots.
The honorable Edward wasnt one to lick boots, either. On the other hand, Father would never sanction the Ku Klux Klan. Father had Jewish and Catholic business associates. Father was friends with Congressman George Henry White, an ex slave from North Carolina.
Directing his gaze toward Richard Reeds portentous clouds, now drifting across the sky, Ned realized that his thirst for rollicking good fun had become a goal, an ambition, a purpose. Despite his fathers wrath, Ned would use his wealth and social position to disseminate the Klans doctrine throughout Colorado.
But first he wanted to dig up some gold.
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