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The Adventures of Timothy Peacock, Esquire; or, Freemasonry Practically Illustrated
Daniel P. Thompson
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio," Than any but Freemasons ever dreamed of. Shakespeare improved.
The next morning, Timothy, having passed a night of much crural uneasiness, rose early, and went down to the bar, with a view of getting some brandy to bathe his shins. Here he encountered Van Stetter, who, being just in the act of taking his morning potation, warmly pressed the former to join him, telling him that the internal application of a double fog-cutter, would prove a much more pleasant and effective medicine, to one in his condition. But our hero rather declined the prescription, observing that he usually drank but little spirits, and he had always thought that the habit of daily drinking was inconsistent with correct morals. Van Stetter at first endeavored to laugh Timothy out of such countryfied whims, but finding him serious in what he had said, recourse was next had, to argument.
"I did not expect," said Van Stetter, "to hear such silly scruples from so bright a Mason as you are, Mr. Peacock."
`I was not under the awarement,' observed Timothy, `that masonry propelled its approbation towards drinking.'
"There is where you are sadly in the dark," replied the other. "Do not the highest and brightest of our sublime order, set us the example of a free use of the enlivening bowl? And do not the precepts of the most approved writers among the craft directly sanction the practice? You cannot have forgotten those soul-cheering lines in the Book of Constitutions—
"The world is all in darkness, About us they conjecture, But little think, A song and drink, Succeeds the Mason's lecture. Fill to him, To the brim, Then, Landlord, bring a hogshead, And in a corner place it, Till it rebound with hallow sound, Each Mason here will face it."
`It is very true,' observed Timothy, his early impressions beginning to give way before the direct, and not to be mistaken, meaning of this quotation, `it is true I have read the lines, and often heard them songnified in the lodge-room; and would not be understood to nullify, or extenuate their veracity; but I had supposed that they applied only to the circumvented potables of the craft in lodge-meetings, where I take it the liquor is in a sort sanctified by the ratification of its use in masonic purposes, after the similified example of the wine in sacramental churchifications. '
"That cannot be the case," said the merchant, "for if it was as you suppose, drinking would have been made a part of the ceremonies, instead of being resorted to, as it always is, only in time of refreshment. No, brother Peacock, you entertain very erroneous notions on the subject. The meaning of these lines, and numerous other passages of the same import, to be found in this great guide and teacher of all true Masons, evidently is, that the craft are particularly privileged to indulge in the luxury of good liquors, on all proper occasions, when they should never prove cravens at the bumper."
`I begin to see through my perceptions more clearly,' said our hero, `and I am free to confess that your remarks have transfused so much rationality into the matter, that it is now transparent to my cogitations. But I take it that there is nothing in the Book of Constitutions, that inclines to a recommendment of morning drams, which I have been taught to believe are injurious to the obstetrical department of the stomach.'
"Now hear that," exclaimed Van Stetter, laughing,— "was there ever such a scrupulous animal for a man of your cloth;—such a doctor of doubts and divinity preaching and hesitating over a fog-cutter! Why, man, it is the very thing for the stomach, to correct the crudities and keep out the fog and chill in such dark mornings as these. But to put the matter at rest in your mind, I can refer you to a verse in one of the odes in the Book of Constitutions, which expressly gives its approbation to the wholesome practice of moistening our systems with a good glass of a morning. It runs thus:—
"When the sun from the east salutes mortal eyes, And the sky-lark melodious bids us arise, With our hearts full of joy, we the summons obey, Straight repair to our work, and to moisten our clay."
Timothy could no longer withstand such arguments, backed as they were by these palpable quotations, taken directly from the very scriptures of Masonry. And with that frankness, which is the peculiar characteristic of noble minds, when convinced of the truth, he freely gave up the point in dispute, making many apologies for his unjust prejudices, and manitesting no little chagrin at this detection of his ignorance of masonic principles. But my readers in general, I trust, will hold him at least excusable, when it is recollected that as yet he had enjoyed but limited opportunities of imbibing the true spirit of masonic philosophy to free him from those prejudices which he had received from the feeble light of uninitiated wisdom, and to correct those narrow notions which had been implanted in his mind by the lessons of the nursery. And even my masonic readers, I cannot but indulge the hope, will extend their charity, and kindly overlook this sin of ignorance in a brother; and more especially so, when they learn, how cheerfully he now gave evidence of the sincerity of his conviction, in the manful acceptance of the proffered glass, and never afterwards, either in theory or practice, had the slightest indication to relapse into that error from which he had been thus kindly rescued.
Time, with our hero, now rolled pleasantly away. His days were spent in the most assiduous devotion to his masonic studies; and his evenings at the lodge-room, or at the store of Van Stetter, in company of a few choice spirits of the mystic tie, occasionally diversified, however, by visiting places of public resort, and taking moonlight rambles about the city. In one of these rambles, a little incident occurred, which, as it may serve to illustrate some of the less known principles of Divine Masonry, is perhaps worthy of a place in these instructive adventures. As Timothy was returning homeward one night, at a rather late hour, and passing a house, which Van Stetter had before pointed out to him as the residence of a new star in the courts of pleasure, he heard a great outcry within; while at the same time, a lady appeared at the door, crying aloud for assistance. Rushing immediately into the apartment from which the noise proceeded, he beheld two men in a desperate conflict, which was instantly brought to a close, however, by one felling the other to the floor with a heavily loaded cane. At the first glance which Timothy cast at the conqueror, (who paused a moment over the apparently lifeless body of his prostrate foe,) he knew he had seen the man somewhere before—a second look told him, to his surprise, it was no other than the pious dignitary, whose deep and devotional tones of voice, on the evening of his own exaltation to the Royal Arch degree, had filled his mind with such solemn reverence. The recognition was mutual, but attended with evident confusion on the part of the man in the broil, who making the Royal Arch sign to Timothy, instantly glided out of the house, leaving the latter in care of the dead or wounded man, still lying on the floor without the least sign of reanimation. Scarcely had our hero time to recover from his surprise, when the lady, who had run out for help, returned with two men, all of whom eagerly inquired for the aggressor. On finding he had just escaped, they sharply interrogated Timothy respecting his name, abode, and his knowledge of the person who had committed the deed. To all of which he gave true answers, except the last item in the catechism, which he well knew his obligation required him to conceal. Being convinced that Timothy was no accomplice in the transaction, they proceeded to take up the yet lifeless man, and put him on to a bed, suffering the former to depart unmolested. As soon as our hero reached his lodgings, he took his friend Van Stetter aside and informed him of the whole adventure, expressing his surprise that a man so gifted and apparently devotional in the prayers and other religious exercises of the lodge-room, should be found visiting such establishments.
Van Stetter could scarcely refrain from laughing at the last observation of Timothy, but kindly attributing it to inexperience in the indulgences vouchsafed by the liberal principles of Masonry, he immediately undertook the task of setting the matter in its proper light. "In the very prayer to which you have alluded, brother Peacock," said he, "you may infer a sanction of the indulgences which you seem so inclined to censure in our illustrious companion. You will recollect, probably, this passage in the prayer in question: `We bless thee that when man had fallen from his innocence and his happiness, thou didst leave him the powers of reasoning, and capacity of improvement, and of pleasure.' Here you must see that the capacity for pleasure which our exalted brother was improving, is accounted as a privilege to the craft, for which they should be thankful to heaven. And again the same prayer says, `Give us grace diligently to search thy word in the book of nature, wherein the duties of our high vocation are inculcated with divine authority.' Now if we are to look to the book of nature for our guide, as is here directly intimated, where is the brother whose nature does not occasionally point to these pleasures in which you seem to doubt the propriety of indulging?"
Timothy could not gainsay this argument, drawn as he knew it was from the most solemn part of the mystic creed; and he silently acquiesced in the views of his more experienced brother. "I see how it is with you," continued Van Stetter, after a short pause, and it was the same with me before my mind received the full light of Masonry. You cannot at once break through the mists of early prejudices and notions, which are perhaps wisely enough too, intended to restrain and govern the uninitiated world, who, in their blinded condition, have nothing better to guide them. But we, who have been admitted to the true light, have laws and rules to guide as superior to all others, and whatever they sanction, we need have no scruples in practicing. But as I see you are now convinced of all this, let us return to our first subject. There may something grow out of this affair that will require consideration on another point. You say the man scarcely gave signs of life when you left him?"
`I certainly considered the poor fellow,' replied Timothy, `but little better than totally extinguished.'
"Did you learn who he was, and what gave rise to the squabble," asked Van Stetter?
`I heard the lady say,' said the other, `that he lived with a saddler in the upper part of the city; and, as far as I could digest a legible conjecture as to the causes of the belligerent catasterophy, from all I heard devised and intimated on the subject, I opinionate that the man had a premature engagement with the lady, which she nullified in favor of the more superfine embellishments of our worthy companion.'
"Nothing more likely," observed Van Stetter, "but did you learn whether they knew who our brother was?"
`I suppose not,' replied Timothy, `as the lady said it was a Mr. Montague.'
"Good!" exclaimed the other, "he had the caution to go under an assumed name. Perhaps all may go well, but I fear the wounded man may know our companion, and expose his name, should the poor creature get so as to speak. Now what I have been coming at, brother Peacock, is this—suppose this man dies, or is like to die, and our exalted brother in the difficulty should be discovered and arrested; and you should be summoned as a witness against him, what should you swear to?"
`Swear to?' replied Timothy, `why I should swear to all I knew, why not?'
"What!" said Van Stetter, "would you betray a brother Royal Arch, when the other party does not even belong to the craft in any degree?"
`Why how could I help it,' said Timothy, surprised at the earnest and censorious manner of the other, `how could I help telling all I know about this casual dilemma; for I shall be under bodily oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?'
"Would you dare to break your solemn obligations?" said the other, with a withering frown. "Have you not sworn, under the dreadful penalty of having your scull cleaved from your head, that you will aid and assist a companion, Royal Arch Mason, when engaged in any difficulty; and espouse his cause, so far as to extricate him from the same, if in your power, whether he be right or wrong? And would not your companion be in difficulty in such a case? and would it not be in your power to extricate, or clear him, by swearing that he was not the man that you saw knock down the other in the broil? And again have you not sworn in the same fearful oath, that a companion, Royal Arch Mason's secrets, given you in charge as such, and you knowing them to be such, shall remain as secure and inviolable in your breast, as his own, murder and treason not excepted? And did not your companion in this case, make you the sign, and thus give you in charge the secret of his being at that place, and of the deed he had committed? What say you to all this? Speak! for we must know who there is among us that will dare to betray the secrets of the craft."
Our hero was dumbfounded. The difficulties of the supposed case, now for the first time, flashed vividly across his mind. On the one hand was his civil oath, a breach of which he had been taught to hold as the most heinous of crimes—while on the other, stood his masonic obligations with their terrible penalties, in direct conflict with his civil duties, staring him full in the face! It was a dilemma which he had never foreseen; and now as it was a situation in which probably he would soon be placed, his heart sunk within him at the distressing thought. Troubled and confused, he knew not what to say or think, and he humbly threw himself on the mercy of his friend, imploring forgiveness if he had done wrong, and asking advice how to act in case he should be called into court, and wishing to hear explained how these two conflicting obligations were reconciled with each other.
Van Stetter, now instantly softening down to the most soothing and friendly tones, assured Timothy that there was no doubt or difficulty at all in the case. That it was an undoubted duty to protect a brother in trouble, whatever might become of his civil oath, which every true Mason took, when it was forced upon him in these cases, with the mental reservation, that he would tell all except what might be inconsistent with his more sacred masonic obligation. And when he did this, he would commit no crime in stating what would be necessary to extricate a companion from difficulty, while at the same time he could save himself from the awful guilt of breaking the oaths of his order. Saying this, and exhorting Timothy to be true and steadfast, should any thing happen to put his fidelity to the test, Van Stetter bid his friend good night, and retired to his own apartment.
The events of the following day showed that the fears and anticipations of our two friends were not unfounded. Their luckless companion was arrested and brought before a city magistrate, on the charge of assault with intent to kill. And Timothy was summoned to appear forthwith as a witness against him. Scarcely had the officer finished reading his summons, before Van Stetter, who had early been apprised of what was going forward, appeared, and requesting a moment's indulgence of the former, while he transacted some important business with his friend, took Timothy aside, and informed him that the brethren had already held a hasty consultation on the business, which began to wear, he said, rather a serious appearance. "The fellow is scarcely expected to live," he continued, "and they have found a new witness in a man who was most unluckily going by the door as the accused was coming out, when he left you, and what was still worse, this witness caught a glimpse of his face, and knew him, which led to his arrest. Now if this man appears, as he doubtless will, as well as the girl, we fear it will be a tough case. But, as good luck will have it, the magistrate is a Royal Arch, and if you prove true, Timothy, we think all will turn out right. We have concluded that the only safe way will be for you to swear plumply, as I intimated last night, that the accused is not the person you saw engaged in the affray. This will save him. And now, brother Peacock, in one word, can we trust you? All eyes will be upon you, and it is the very time for you to immortalize yourself with the brotherhood of this city."
Our hero having mastered all his scruples on this subject, and being most anxious to retrieve his masonic character, which he feared had suffered in the eyes of Van Stetter, by his late doubts, now felt proud by the opportunity of evincing his fidelity to the brotherhood; and assuring his friend of his fixed resolution to be true, he joined the officer and proceeded to the place of trial. On the way, several of his masonic acquaintances, falling in with him, still more encouraged him to persevere in his determinations by their looks and by whispering in his ear, as apportunities presented, their brief exhortations to be steadfast in the good purpose. On arriving at the court room, our hero found the trial was already in progress. The grounds of the prosecution having been stated, the girl, at whose house the broil happened, was called on for her testimony. Besides the particulars which led to the quarrel, she plumply and positively swore to the identity of the prisoner at the bar, with the person who gave the deadly blow. This testimony, of itself, so clear and full as it was, very evidently impressed the minds of the by-standers, with the opinion of the prisoner's guilt; and being strongly confirmed by the next witness, who was equally positive that the person whom he saw coming out of the house at the time and place mentioned by the other witness, was no other than the accused, the cause began now to be considered a clear one, and not an individual present, except the brotherhood, supposed that there was the slightest chance for the acquittal of the accused. But how little did they know of the saving virtues of Freemasonry— of the power and strength of its mystic tie. Events soon told them that they had reckoned without their host. Our hero was now called on to the stand. Casting his eyes around on the spectators, he met the riveted and meaning glances of many a brother, waiting in breathless solicitude, for that important testimony which was to furnish the promised proof of his fidelity. He read at once in their looks, their expectations and requirements, and he was happy in feeling that they were not to be disappointed— that they were about to behold so conspicuous an example of his devotion to the glorious principles of Freemasonry. He then, with an air big with the consciousness of the responsibility which devolved upon him, proceeded to give in his testimony, stating that he was present at the affray when a man was struck down and wounded by a severe blow from another man, but positively denied that the accused was the person who committed the deed, or that he was present at the time or before or after it happened. The girl looked at our hero with undissembled amazement. And the council for the prosecution would not believe that the witness testified as he intended, till he had put the same question over and over again, and as often received the same positive answers. A murmur of surprise and suspicion ran through the crowd, and the low muttered words, "perjury, bribery" &c. from the friends of the wounded man occasionally became audible. But Timothy regarded not these out-breakings of malice and blinded ignorance, for he saw that in the grateful and approving looks of his brethren around him, that assured him of their protection and a safe immunity from the operation of any of those narrow rules of local justice, which the uninitiated might attempt to enforce against him. The trial was now soon brought to a close. The accused bringing one other witness to prove him at another part of the city, within a few minutes of the time when the broil was stated to have taken place, there rested his defence. The council for the prosecution, having been so taken by surprise, by the testimony of Timothy, his own witness, as to throw him into confusion, and spoil his premeditated speech, proposed to his brother to submit the facts without argument, which being acceded to, the court now took the case. When the magistrate, taking up the only point, at issue, whether the accused was or was not, the person who committed the deed, and balancing the testimony of the last witness, proving the accused in another part of the city at or near the time, against that of the man passing by, who was greatly liable to be mistaken in deciding upon personal identity by moonlight, and weighing the assertions of Timothy, an unimpeached witness against those of a girl of ill fame, was at no loss in perceiving which way the scales of justice preponderated; and he therefore pronounced a full acquittal of the prisoner.
There was no noisy exultation on the part of the brotherhood at this triumph of their principles; but though every thing was conducted with that prudence and caution so characteristic of the order; though scarcely a sign of rejoicing was visible among them; yet Timothy, on leaving the house, and on his way homeward, soon discovered, in the silent and cordial grasp of the hand, in the speaking look, or the low whispered "Well done thou faithful," how important that triumph was considered, and how highly estimated were those services by which it was accomplished.
Our hero was ever after the favorite of his city brotherhood.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014