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The Adventures of Timothy Peacock, Esquire; or, Freemasonry Practically Illustrated
Daniel P. Thompson
"Off with his head: so much for Buckingham."
Once more change we the scene of our eventful drama. On the same evening during which the events described in our last chapter transpired, another scene having an important bearing on the catastrophe of our tale was acting in a different quarter. Of this scene, it is our next purpose to lift the curtain.
In a spacious hall, situated in one of our flourishing seaports, and consecrated to the uses of the mystic order, now sat a small circle of the brotherhood in deep consultation on some matter evidently of high import to the interests of their revered institution. Though few in numbers, they were obviously, from their dress, age, and deportment, a select and chosen band composed of the high and honored, and the wise and trusty of the fraternity. They appeared to be intently engaged in examining various books, manuscripts and papers, which lay spread on the table before them, and which, after having been perused by one, were handed on to another, with a low, passing remark, and sometimes with a direction by the finger to some particular passage, till they were thus passed round the whole circle. After having been engaged awhile in this manner, an elderly personage, who appeared to be acting as the presiding dignitary on the occasion, giving a rap on the table with his small ivory gavel, now rose and observed,—
"This charge, Brothers Knights—this charge, or accusation, which has been presented by our illustrious visiting companion in behalf of our respected brethren of Mugwump, against this poor infatuated man, being amply proved and established by testimony which, by the usages of the craft, has always been admitted in similar cases, it remains only for us now to consider what order shall be taken in regard to this unpleasant transaction. And involving, as I scarcely need tell you it does, a crime of the foulest turpitude, and touching, in the most vital part, the interests and safety of our exalted institution, it is meet that we proceed with due caution, and proper deliberation, in determining what punishment should be awarded to the execrable wretch who has thus dared to violate his oaths, and trample under foot one of the most sacred and essential jewels of masonry. To this end, a full expression of the individual opinions of all present is highly desirable."
So saying, and shaking back his silvery locks with impressive dignity, he resumed his seat; when, after a moment of profound silence, a tall and somewhat youthful looking person arose, and extending forth his hand, while his elbow gracefully rested on his side, addressed the listening conclave as follows:—
"Illustrious Companions, and
"Brothers most puissant and powerful:
"I will own that I am imbued with the most deep and momentous indignation at the constipated atrocity of this most unheard-of, unthought-of, and diabolical instigation which we are now congregated to nullify and dissertate. And while I candidly confess, that I have drank deep of the hallucinating fountains of masonry, and mounted high its perpendicular glories, that I have often sat in learned ostentation with the most illustrious Grand Kings, holy and illustrious Knights, and Potentates and their exalted Princes of our celestial order, in the circumambient State of New-York, where masonry has arrived to such a pitch of cohesive perfection as to monopolize all the most ponderous offices of their government, and embrace by far the most inflated portion of their society. While I confess all these great and exulting advantages for masonic developements, I feel a more qualified presumption in obtruding my delectable opinions on your obsequious attention. And as regards the proper and punishable infliction which ought to be fulminated on the head of this indelible reptile, I have but one concentrated opinion. We swear and solemnize in all the subordinate degrees that we will suffer our lives to be abolished if we violate our obligations; and in the higher and more mystified exaltations of masonry, we are commanded to bring all others who violate their infringements to the most speedy and condign punishment. In the obligation of Knight Adepts of the Eagle or Sun, which I, and some of you, I comprehend, have been superlatively glorified in taking, we find these sentimental commands: We are bound to cause their death, and take vengeance on the treason by the destruction of the traitor, all of which is beautifully illustrified in that evangelical degree, by the fate of the man peeping. Now my conclusive opinion forces me to the most inveterate belief, that as the perjured wretch, who is now under investigation for betraying the secrets of masonry, has not had the honorable conscience, like Jubela, Jubelo, Jubelum, to deliver himself up to be excruciated by the penalties of his obligation, it is our most nefarious duty to execute them ourselves, and blot out the monster from the face of his existence."
With this burst of eloquent indignation and brilliant display of masonic erudition, our hero, (who, having lived through his Green-Mountain ramification as he probably, in his own flowing language, would have expressed it, had now arrived at the scene of action, and, as the reader I presume has already discovered, was no other than the gifted speaker,) slowly sunk back into his seat, not fainting, like the great Pinckney at the close of his speech, but calmly adjusting his ruffles over a bosom heaving with the proud consciousness that his zeal and faithfulness in the cause of masonry could only be equalled by the eloquence and ability with which he had enforced its divine precepts.
As soon as the hum of applause which followed this powerful appeal had a little subsided, a member; who had not appeared to join in these manifestations of approbation, hesitatingly arose, and, with the marks of doubt, irresolution and perplexity, deeply depicted on his countenance, timidly observed,
"I am very fearful, respected Brothers, that we shall act too precipitately in this painful business. I am aware that most of our obligations conclude with penalties or imprecations of death; but these are ancient forms, and adopted probably in the dark ages, when laws and customs were altogether different from those of the present day. And I am not, I confess, without some misgivings and doubts whether we are authorized, in these times of civilization and wholesome laws, to execute these penalties according to their literal meaning. Indeed I believe that some intelligent masons are of the opinion that an expulsion is all the punishment that we now have any right to inflict for betraying the secrets or"—
Here a general sneer of contempt and indignation interrupted the speaker, and "Who thinks so?"—"who says so?"—"where are the cowardly traitors that dare avow it?" hastily demanded half a dozen members at once, starting on to their feet and bending their angry and almost withering looks full on the abashed and shrinking speaker.
"Order!" exclaimed the Master, giving a loud rap on the table—"Order, Brethren! Our councils vouchsafe a free expression of opinion, and each member has a right to utter his sentiments, however erroneous and unmasonic they may be. And it is the duty of the brethren to curb and circumscribe their passions within due bounds, and endeavor to enlighten the erring by reason rather than with the language of menace."
Thus rebuked by the Master, the brotherhood, restraining their agitated forms and disturbed feelings, again sunk into silence—not however, without throwing many a dark and meaning look, and many a glance of suspicion on the weak and erring brother who now sat mute and trembling and seemingly sinking to the floor under the weight of his own conscious unworthiness.
Order having now been restored in the conclave, the discussion was resumed. Several speeches of a very determined tone, and full of fiery declamation, were now made in opposition to the remarks of the doubting brother. After which, a member of the conclave who had been a cool and dispassionate, and so far a silent observer of the scene, now rose and calmly observed,
That for one he never approved of the use of harsh terms in expressing the performance of those disagreeable duties which justice sometimes required at their hands. They often served to alarm the timid and faint hearted; besides, they were not in accordance with the general policy of the craft. Such things should be expressed, he said, as they should be done, with that caution and prudence which constituted some of the most cardinal virtues of the true mason. But as to the principle laid down by his illustrious and eminently gifted brother Peacock, aside from the terms in which it was expressed, he was surprised that any doubts should be entertained by any intelligent mason on a point which he considered so well settled by the precedents and examples to be found in the history of the institution. So saying he then took up a book, and, turning to a passage at which he had previously turned down a leaf, proceeded to read the history of the degree of Elected Knights of Nine, also of the degree of Elected Grand Master, or Illustrious Elected of Fifteen; the former giving an account of the death of Akirop, who, having been guilty of some crime of an enormous nature, had fled from Jerusalem and concealed himself in a cavern, where he was seized by a band of trusty brethren, allotted to that honorable service by their Grand Master Solomon, and slain by Joabert, who in his impatient zeal thus anticipated that justice on the traitor which of right belonged to the Grand Master to execute. The latter passage described a similar transaction.
"Now, Right Worshipful Brethren," said the speaker, closing the book and looking down upon it with a sort of embarrassing modesty as he stood carelessly balancing it in his hands,—"this work, although perhaps it does not become me to speak of its merits, yet having been diligently compiled from the best historical authorities, and carefully compared with all the traditional accounts on the subject, and moreover having been fully approved and recommended by competent judges, whose names are hereto prefixed, as a true and authentic history—this work, I say, it seems to me, is calculated to throw all the light on the subject now under consideration which can possibly be needed to indicate the course of our operations. We here see that the brethren were so anxious for the honor of bringing the traitor to justice for this crime, which, whatever it might have been, is ranked in the oath of the degree the same as the crime of divulging the secrets, and subject to the same punishment, that Solomon was compelled to restrain their commendable zeal, and decide by lot who should be the favored few to perform this important and glorious service. And we further see that when Joabert, in his just indignation against the traitor, had too impatiently slain him, Solomon was even offended with this zealous brother, not on account of the act, but because he had deprived him of the enviable chance of meting out justice to the villain with his own hands; but by proper intercession, however, he not only became appeased and forgave Joabert, but invested him with the highest honors in reward for this heroic service to the institution! Now will any mason dare attempt to impeach this high example, or question the rectitude of the conduct of that eminent Grand Master of antiquity? And are we, who are but the dust of the balance in the comparison, are we sitting here coldly hesitating, and doubting the right and justice of the act which the illustrious King Solomon, who has so long and so proudly been hailed by our admiring order as the great and shining light of the East to guide their humble footsteps in the paths of masonic wisdom— the right and justice of the act, I say, which the illustrious Solomon thus esteemed and thus rewarded? Is this such a specimen of light and improvement as you should be willing the shade of that mighty man, looking down from his lofty seat in heaven, should behold in his followers? I beg leave to close my remarks with a quotation from the same work:"
"King Solomon, our patron, Transmitted this command— The faithful and praiseworthy True light MUST understand. And my descendants also, Who're seated in the East, Have not fulfilled their duty, Till light has reached the West."
Closing his observations with this beautiful little specimen of the inspiration of the mystic muse, here so appositely introduced, the learned speaker sat down amidst the warm, deep, rapturous, and long-continued applauses of the approving brotherhood, who thus, with almost united acclaim, pronounced the sense of the conclave on the subject matter in debate.
Nothing further being offered in opposition to the affirmative of this important question, and there having been such decided indications that the arguments and cited authorities of the last speaker had, in the minds of the conclave, unanswerably and irrevocably settled the fate of the victim, this part of the discussion was now dropped, and the mode of disposing of the unfortunate man was next brought under consideration. Here there appeared to be some diversity of opinion: Some proposed that lots should be cast, after the example of King Solomon, for designating the performers of this important duty: Some that the villain should be put out of the way by the first of their number who should meet him alone in some by-place to which he might be easily allured: Some thought that he should be dealt with by the full council in the lodge-room where the penalties should be executed in a true and strictly masonic manner, else it would be but little better than actual murder; and others that it should be done by volunteers who should be left to choose their own time, place and manner of performing the meritorious deed. None of these however seemed fully to answer the minds of all present. It was in this emergency that the genius of our hero, which often seemed to be masonically intuitive, shone conspicuous. He proposed that as many balls as there were members present should be put into an urn, three of which should be stained with blood, or some red substance, as indicative of the duty of those who should draw them: and that the urn should then be passed round, when each member should draw out one of these balls, and, without examining it, put it in his pocket till he had left the lodge room, when those who, by inspecting their respective balls when alone, discovered themselves to be the fortunate men, should meet each other at midnight in the most central church-yard, hold a private meeting, and concert measures for the execution of their duty, which was however to be performed according to masonic technics, though in some secret place, and without the knowledge of any other of the members.
This ingenious and truly masonic plan of our hero was received by the conclave generally with the most flattering approbation. Some praised it because it embraced in substance the plan they had suggested: Some because it was better calculated than any other way to prevent giving rise to any of those little jealousies and feelings of envy which might be created towards those who had the superior good fortune to be designated for the honor; and yet others of the prudent and cautious cast approved of the measure on account of the safety it insured to all concerned, in case of discovery and a meddlesome interference of the civil authorities, who would thereby be deprived of witnesses except in the immediate actors, or principals, who could not be compelled to criminate themselves. In short, all saw the advantages of the proposed plan, and it was immediately adopted.
The several members of the conclave now commenced, with great alacrity, making preparations for carrying the plan of operations into instant effect. An urn, containing a number of the marbles used in the common ballotings of the lodge-room, corresponding to the number of members present, was brought forth and set upon the table—when Timothy, heroically pricking a vein in his own wrist, took three of the balls and bathed them all over with the blood thus produced, till they were deeply and indelibly stained with the significant and ominous color. After which they were returned and shaken up with the balls remaining in the urn. The brethren were then formally arranged at equal distances from each other round the long, eliptical table, about which the conclave had been irregularly gathered during their discussion, and the solitary lamp, which had set in the midst, was removed to a distant corner of the room. The fate-holding urn was then taken by a Warden and passed slowly and silently along the gloomy circle, and, while the distant and feeble light dimly threw its sidelong and flickering rays athwart the livid and ghastly-looking visages of the darkly grouped brotherhood, displaying the varying indications of the deep and contrasted emotions with which they were respectively agitated—from the demoniac smile of anticipated vengeance, to the cold and settled gravity of predetermined justice—from the stern and fiery glance of the headlong and danger-daring, to the hesitating start or convulsive shudder of the misgiving and doubtful—all, in turn, were subjected to the test, and successively put forth their tremulous hands and drew out their uncertain allotments.
This fearful ceremony being now concluded, the Master then stated to the conclave that this meeting not having been a regularly opened and conducted lodge, but acting as a select investigating tribunal, and the criminal not having been present, it had been deemed advisable to hold on the following evening a Grand Council of Knights, before which the guilty wretch, (measures having been taken to have him in town,) would be arraigned to answer to the dreadful charge which had been preferred and proved against him,—this mode of procedure being considered most conformable to ancient usages when one of the craft had been found guilty of treasonable or other heinous offences against the institution. And here, if he did not, like some of the ancient traitors, imprecate his own doom, the fearful sentence which had this evening been matured, would be pronounced against the perjured offender, and he would be left to those on whom the high duty might devolve of meting out the measure of justice adequate to the enormity of the crime. The conclave then broke up, and the brethren, after lingering awhile to make arrangements and devise measures for the operations of the next day and evening, stealthily retired to their respective abodes.
No sooner had our hero reached his lodgings and found himself alone, than he eagerly pulled forth the uncertain ball—when, to the unspeakable delight of his aspiring soul, he saw himself one of the honored and fortunate three who were commissioned for the important duty—a duty which the lapse of ages might not again afford the enviable chance of performing.
With such heroic and exalted feeling glowing in his devoted bosom, he sat off at the appointed hour for the designated rendezvous of the chosen trio, the result of whose deliberations will be seen in our following and final chapter.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014