The Indiana wagon train had crept up one of the long slopes of the Nevada spurs, its front pointed due westward. As the vanguard reined up their jaded mules on the summit, the level rays of the setting sun reminded them that they were full late for encamping; for by the time the three grand requisites of caravan travel could be secured, (wood, water, and grass,) and their own supper prepared, the full moon would be high in the heavens.
All day they had journeyed without delay, tarrying not to look at the drifts of human wrecks, the broken wagons, the putrid carcasses, the rifled boxes, or the wolf opened graves of humanity. Such objects were too familiar to excite the curiosity of men twelve hundred miles advanced on the California road, and even had their curiosity been aroused, the necessity of reaching camp by sunset was too obvious to justify the least delay. So when a tottering beast fell from exhaustion he had been hastily stripped of his saddle or harness and left to the wolves. When a wheel gave way, the contents of the stranded wagon were transferred to the others, and the vehicle, whose iron and wood had been fashioned in the best shops of Indiana, was deserted to the Camanches.
Much suffering had been experienced since morning. Eyes seared with heat and blinded with dust had looked all day wishfully forward to the Nevada peaks that seemed like some evil enchantment to recede as the caravan advanced. Tongues swollen with thirst and past articulate speech, murmured indistinctly of the gushing waters whose moisture and coolness they so coveted. Death was behind, life and hope before, and every nerve was strained to attain the goal of their attempts.
The sun went down as wagon after wagon drew up in its appointed place in the encampment. The animals too weary to satisfy any craving of nature save the want of rest, fell in their harness, soon as the sting of the long wagon whips ceased to urge them on, and not a few dropped to rise no more. But water and food were now ready for all. Swollen lips and jaded limbs were soon forgotten. The jest and laugh began to ring merrily through the echoes of the hills. With a ready adaptation to emergencies, the Indiana train that had defied all the toils and dangers of the prairies, and sustained their spirits and the ties of their organization, when other companies had broken up, now seated themselves near the Totem spring, and in the merriment of supper banished all recollections of the day. An hour had passed and the whole train might have been seen, dispersed ill groups reclining upon the matted grass at supper.
The commander of the train, whose mess embraced
six stalwart fellows, was loudly called for to come and join them.
The word was passed from group to group but no response was heard.
"Captain Glass! Captain Glass" wax shouted, until his
companions, too hungry for further ceremony, filled their huge
tin cups with coffee and set themselves voraciously to work. Old
Clarke, whose gray head had dodged bullets at Packenham's defeat
thirty five years before, shook it with a sage air, as he held
out his hand for a slice of fat bacon and hazarded the remark:
"Reckon he's in the wagon with Tolliver yet; he's been with
him most all day." "Yes," responded Tilly Iikes,
the mule driver, "he's a blamed sight more particular with
that chap than he was with me, when the blasted mule kicked me;"
referring to an incident that happened a month back, wherein the
brute aforesaid shattered three of Hikes' ribs and changed the
native graces of his countenance, so that his own mother would
hardly know him should he live to get back to her again. "'Tis
said they's both Freemasons," suggested Cooney Wackes, the
Dutch boy. "Oh dang your masonry on the prairies," pursued
Old Clarke, pouring out his second cupful of coffee so strong
that shot would almost have floated on the surface, "that
thing called masonry may do in the settlements, and they had a
heap of it in Jackson's army at the cotton bags, but it's frostbit
in a caravan.
It can't blossom here. I knowed a case of a British officer that was tuck prisoner and brought into New Orleans arter the fight, with all his legs shot off, and the Masons just spread themselves too" "I knows one of the masons' signs," interrupted Dutch Cooney. "I got it from a boat man at Cairo for two dimes. It's this'er way;" and the squabby little chap went into some pantomimic spasms, so hideous that the whole mess broke into a simultaneous roax at the idea of his paying out his money for what any frog could do. In the midst of their merriment the voice of their commander, Capt. Glass, was heard issuing from a wagon at some distance, "Wackes, Cooney Wackes, a cup of water here, quick! move yourself, you lazy hound. No, not that bring it from the spring;" and as the stupid boy moved along, much too slow for the crisis, the captain jumped down from the wagon, and ran to the ravine in person.
The front part of the vehicle was opened towards the west so that the ice cooled breezes from that quarter might fan the sick man's brow. Through the vacancy thus left, there was a view of the splendid colors that reddened the sky long after the sun went down. The unfortunate man already referred to under the name of Tolliver, lay there in the last struggles of life. Poor fellow, he had borne up manfully against the hardships of the journey but the flesh, not the soul, yielded at last.
The dreadful fatigues of that long day's march had exhausted his remaining strength. He felt that this encampment was to be his last. His languid eye was fixed vacantly upon the scarlet west and the snowy peaks, but his thoughts went back far toward the east, to the land where wife and babes were patiently enduring his absence and praying for his safe return. Oh the unwritten thoughts of humanity in such an hour as that! Oh the vision, the keen pangs of memory, the despairing cries, the agonized prayers. Who shall know them? who shall presume to describe them?
The all seeing eye that searches man's heart, it alone reads them, and in the day when all secrets shall become known, we shall understand them too. The cool draught which the commander brought fresh from the fountain head, revived the dying man for an hour. He expressed a desire to be taken out of the wagon and to lie on the bosom of his mother earth once more. It was granted.
A dozen strong men united their hands to form a living couch, and he was placed tenderly as the sick child on its mother's breast, upon a pile of blankets beneath a thorntree hard by. The word had gone around the encampment that Tolliver was dying, and immediately each brother in the fraternity of Masons came up to render him the last kind offices. These kind offices of Masonry had been freely dispensed to him ever since his sickness, now of more than a week's duration. The gourd had never been quite emptied by any, for poor Tolliver must have a drink, though others remained thirsty.
The strongest mules must be hitched to his wagon, (the one with the square and compass painted upon the canvas covering,) even if other wagons dropped out of line and were loft. The care of the company was left much to the lieutenant, so that Capt. Glass might remain by his side to support his languid frame and to hinder him from inflicting any self injury while under the influence of delirium. And there was good cause for all this; for Laban Tolliver had been one who in his days of prosperity had brightly exemplified the work and lectures of Masonry by good deeds.
The various lodges in his district owed many of them their existence, all of them their illumination to his self sacrificing efforts. Upon the rolls of the Grand Lodge his name was honorably recorded. Upon the memory of the widow and fatherless, the distressed brother, and the neglected orphan, it was indelibly engraved. But misfortune had come in the end. The evil day arrived; the checkered pavement had its squares of gloom. False friends, in whose affairs he had interested himself, for whose pecuniary stability he had become guarantee, made business failures of such a character that while their own property was selfishly secured, the pledge of their endorser was sacrificed.
A tornado destroyed a valuable mill upon which he had expended tens of thousands. A boat load of produce that he had shipped to New Orleans was lost, while running the gauntlet of that river of wrecks. The four messengers, who in one day brought to Job the intelligence of Satan's dealings in the loss of his cattle, his sheep, tis camnels, and his children, had their counterparts in the hard experience of Laban Tolliver; and when as he sat amidst his beloved family, a letter came to his hand, that the Bank in which he was a Director, had failed and involved him to the amount of thousands beyond his remaining means, it was to the Masonic credit of the man that he too could say with the patriarch," the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord." Well, everything was at once given up. Houses, lands, furniture, even the wardrobe of his family were resigned to his insatiable creditors.
All was done that time and talents and experience permitted, to raise money and pay off the balance; for Laban Tolliver felt that indolence at such a time would be in God's judgment a high misdemeanor. But when three years had elapsed, and he found that hard toil and anxious scheming scarcely sufficed to pay the interest on the debt, while his family was neglected, and his children were growing up without education, a sense of duty prompted him to engage in something more promising, even though considerable hazard were attached to it. It was the time of golden dreams relating to California. One of those wild epidemics that statedly pervade our country, had fevered every mind, and a company of his neighbors was organizing to glean in the golden harvest. Mr. Tolliver offered himself as a volunteer, and the proposal was eagerly accepted.
His wife, resigning herself with woman's
patience to necessity's stern decree, set herself at once to prepare
for him the most comfortable outfit in her power. His friends
came nobly forward and advanced the necessary funds, not by way
of loan, but gift, and so privately, that he could not discover
the names of the donors. But they are known in heaven, and a bounteous
usury shall be awarded them there.
The last word - the last embrace the last look oh! that they should be the last! And here, on Sierra Nevada, lay Laban Tolliver the point within a circle the point a dying mason the circle a sun burnt company, whose hands had not unfrequently pressed his, in the distant Indiana Lodges, with fraternal grips.
As death approached, his soul brightened. His speech, which had been quite indistinct for several days, was suddenly restored. Many a thankful word did he say to each of those who had made him their debtor in his past week's illness. Many a good wish was uttered for their prosperous journey; for a full realization of their hopes; for a safe return to their friends. Many a little token of remembrance was distributed amongst them. Then came the farewell. It was in silence; not a word expressed it: but by the grip, emblem of the Christian's hope in the resurrection of the body, and the immortality of the soul by the strong grip, known and valued by all enlightened Masons, the dying man said more than tongue could say, of the comfort that filled his heart that hour. And now a word to Brother Glass, the patient, the indefatigable, the true brother Mason, who, day and night, had watched over him as the nurse attends her helpless charge.
It was a brief word, but quite enough; for the strong man suddenly bowed himself; big sighs shook his whole frame; a shower of womanish tears bathed his cheeks, and he could only beseech, "No more, Brother Tolliver, not a word more! I am more than repaid!" The world recedes; it disappears: heaven opens on his eyes: his ears with sounds seraphie ring. He is done with time. He is shaking off the remembrances of earth, even while he casts off the well worn garment, his body. His treasure was in an earthen vessel, which is about to be broken, and then he will be free to employ it. A thought of his absent family, never more to hear his returning steps oh! nothing but that could convulse his face with such an expression of grief! It is over now. Doubtless he has commended the widow and the fatherless to God. Or may be, the solemn pledge made to him by every member in that circle, "to consider his family as their own," has had a soothing influence. For now, all is calm again, and the clay shall be no more convulsed. His eyes turn inward. A few sentences, incoherent, but hopeful, can be heard by those around; "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: thou hast covered all their sin: the emblem of Providence is fixed in the center; the symbol of Deity in the east; the Messiah taught the doctrine of a resurrection from the dead: arise and call on the name of the Lord: having done all, to stand come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach: though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death; but Masonry shines: hand to back Father, into thy hand I commit my spirit: this body again the tribe of Judah" Midnight arrived.
All in the encampment were buried in profound sleep, despite the howling of the wolves, who had gathered that night in immense bands, as if the demon whom they served, had notified them of a corpse in the camp. All were asleep, save the brotherhood, who were engaged at this solemn hour in the burial of their dead. One had decently sewed a shroud, his own best garments forming the materials, and enwrapped the body therein. One had made a headboard, the gate of his wagon furnishing him with a proper plank, and by the light of his last candle, had neatly engraved the name, and age, and Masonic character of the deceased, resting not his hand until it had also executed a striking copy of that Masonic symbol which should mark the resting place of every Mason. A grave had been dug, east and west, deep enough to bury the remains far beneath the eye of mortal man. A procession was then formed. Two by two the wearied brothers interlocked their arms, and walked slowly to the grave.
The bright moonlight glittered on their fronts, and revealed the Masonic jewels, and the regalia, worn in honor of LABAN TOLLIVER, as they had often before worn them in funeral processions at home. The body was lowered with fitting reverence. A roll, containing the name of the deceased, was cast upon it; then the apron he had so often worn; then the sprigs of evergreen, plucked from the shrubbery which abundantly adorns the ranges of the Sierra Nevada. Heavy flat stones were next laid upon the corpse, that the ravening wolves might be disappointed of their death feast. And now, the solemn words of a Mason prayer broke the midnight silence. Never will a member of that funeral group forget the thrilling sentences read that hour above the remains of their Brother. For, at this instant, a band of Indians, who had dogged them all the day, broke out in a yell that curdled the blood of each hearer, and a spiteful volley of arrows was fired upon them from a neighboring hill. And then the wolves, with their glittering eyes fixed upon the clear moon, howled louder than before, while far above them in the west, could be seen the snow peaks of Sierra Nevada, as she looked down upon the unaccustomed rites.
"Unto the grave we resign the body
of our deceased friend, there to remain until the general resurrection,
in favorable expectation that his immortal soul may then partake
of joys which have been prepared for the righteous from the beginning
of the world And may Almighty God, of his infinite goodness, at
the grand tribunal of unbiased justice, extend his mercy toward
him, and all of us, and crown our hope with everlasting bliss
in the expanded realms of a boundless eternity This we beg for
the honor of His name, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
And from each fill heart there went up the solemn response So
MOTE IT BE.
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