"It happened," said brother Callis, "but a few months after I was raised to the Master's degree, that a serious and unexpected misfortune befell me in my pecuniary affairs. It would be of no interest to you to be told its origin or the circumstances connected with it. It is enough that it was a serious affair and threatened to involve the loss, not only of all the property I possessed, but also that of several orphans which had been entrusted to my keeping by order of court. For a while I made no mention of the matter, but looked cautiously about me for a door of escape.
The public had no initiation of it; for, from motives of policy, I had thought best to hold it back as long as possible. You know how a man will act under such circumstances. He will delay, and delay, and shuffle it on a little further, in hopes that some unexpected good fortune will turn up, he knows not what. I actually caught myself dreaming, sometimes, that I should find a bag of silver, or a gold mine, or something of the sort, that would pay the whole debt in a jiffy! Yet the end of the year was drawing nigh, when the year's debts were all to be provided for; and several thousands would be demanded of me on New Year's day, where I was only prepared with hundreds. "Miserable days and sleepless nights what sufferings ye brought me! Why will these worms of the dust thus fret out their little life for such trivial matters? My beloved wife endeavored in vain to win from me the secret of my uneasiness. For the first and last time in my life, I sealed my lips to the partner of my bosom; and the few hints which I incautiously threw out, so far from satisfying her mind, only rendered her more unhappy, unhappy in a double sense; because she saw that I was so; again, because I seemed to think her unworthy of my confidence.
Later experience in life has convinced me
that it is both cruelty and weakness to conceal pecuniary difficulties
in this way. The wife has a right to know what is impending; for
who, more than she, needs time to brace up her mind against it?
And it is certainly an evidence of weakness to hide it from her;
for it must come to her at last; and who so competent to break
it gently to her mind as he whom fortune has involved in the same
difficulty. Misfortune has no Masonic secrets in which woman may
not share. But to return. "My neighbors readily saw that
I was in some sort of distress; but, as no one seamed of my pecuniary
embarrassments my property preparing ample, and my business calculations
having been heretofore made with great deliberation it was put
to the charge of ill health, and passed off as such. There are
months in which we live years.
There are seasons when every hour is fraught with uneasiness, and the mental strength, most needed on such occasions, is frittered away in vain schemes for release or forgetfulness. So it was with me. The month of October arrived too near the close of the year for further procrastination and I began to contemplate my approaching ruin with fearful distinctness. I commenced preparing a schedule of property, contemplating, on New Year's day, to place it in the hands of trustees for equitable distribution among my creditors. While thus engaged, a gentleman called upon me to ask my advice in pointing out and valuing some wild lands in the vicinity, which he wished to purchase. Glad at any opportunity to escape from my disagreeable task, and my more disagreeable thoughts, I took my horse, and, after riding over the lands with him, I proposed a week's excursion further out, proffering to show him more valuable, unoccupied tracts than those he had seen. This offer he gladly accepted. His name was Walcott. He was a native of Massachusetts, and, as I afterward discovered, an enthusiastic Mason. He was remarkably reserved in his manner.
It was not till we became somewhat intimate that he imparted to me the following particulars of his life. When quite a young man, he was engaged in marriage to me with whom he had been acquainted from boyhood. The marriage day was set. The parties were already upon those familiar terms comprehended in New England by the expression, 'ENGAGED.' A sailing excursion upon one of the lovely inland lakes of Massachusetts terminated in an accident which cost several of the party their lives, and, among the rest, his betrothed. From that hour, Walcott, who had not remitted his exertions to save her, till she sank to the bottom, senseless, became a moody, reserved man, not minanthropic, but eccentric particularly so in his attachments.
As an instance this, I have observed him in company with men for a whole day, not uttering a word, except briefly in the way of reply. At other times, he would single out some chain carrier, and make him a subject for conversation. But to Masons, and upon the subject of Freemasonry, his heart was ever ready to open affectionately. He observed to me, there was no place, to a lonely man like him, which seemed like home, but the Lodge; there was no person who appeared like a brother, save a Mason. "Talking of the Order, its principles, progress and developments, he would never weary, though night ran into day, while he expatiated. And when he found that I had but lately entered the Fraternity, and was eager to improve although ignorant as a child (for, to tell the truth, our Lodges, in those days, were very ignorant in every thing save the ritual, and too much so in that) he exerted himself to instruct me. It was from him that I learned the things which have been most valuable to me in my Masonic career. lie had traveled much, and visited many foreign countries, with the view to investigate this single subject. He had seen the Order as well in its vigor of operations as where it languished in obscurity, or existed, as in some parts of Europe, under the ban of religious and civil persecution. From him, I first received the true exposition of that secret language of signs, or marks, much in vogue among foreign brothers, so erroneously laid down in Allyn's Exposition, and so foolishly ascribed to Aaron Burr! From him, also, I gained the true lectures, and learned to walk, understandingly, over the Master's carpet. "When the object of our investigations was accomplished, he accepted my invitation to remain another week with me, and gave me tokens, in all his actions, that he had formed a remarkable attachment for me. It was necessary for me to impart to you these facts concerning Mr. Walcott, that you might understand what follows."
When he was about to leave, he, to my great surprise, informed me that he had concluded to purchase the lands we had been examining, to the amount of some thirty thousand dollars, and wished me to act as his agent, to get the title deeds, and pay over the money. Upon my accepting the trust, he counted out the necessary funds into my hand, taking only my simple receipt, unattested by witnesses, and departed, as he said, for Massachusetts; first, however, enjoining the strictest secrecy as to the whole transaction. "The very next day the painful intelligence reached me, that the boat on which he had embarked had been burnt, and every passenger, twenty two in number, lost either in the fire or water. I immediately hastened to the river, and spent many days ranging the banks upon both sides, examining the sandbars and the river bottom, and making every possible effort to discover his body. All was in vain. His trunk was found, and delivered to me. It contained a few articles of clothing, some Masonic books, and the identical receipt I had executed for more than thirty thousand dollars. Everything conspired to convince me that he was dead. I advertised in all the journals of the vicinity, and in several of the eastern papers, that his relatives might come forward and receive his effects; but there was no reply. I knew that he had no relatives except distant ones. Public interest soon declined, and then Mr. Walcott was forgotten. In the meantime, the beginning of a new year arrived. I made an unexpected arrangement, by which my payments were postponed five months longer; and this, too, without exciting any suspicion, on the part of my creditors, hat all was not right in my affairs. Why I thus procrastinated, I cannot, at this late day, explain; but this temporary halting spell availed me nothing. The fatal first of May arrived. My creditors were to call early in the evening. The drama was to be wound up, and no one yet had dreamed of the embarrassments of my position. I retired to my room to deliberate. My Deed of Trust, which had lain so long unexecuted, now demanded attention.
I commenced turning over the papers in my portfolio, to find it. While doing so, my eyes fell upon a soiled and crumpled slip of paper, the receipt from Walcott's trunk, the only existing voucher that I had eves received his minds. Those funds had not, of course, been applied to the original purpose, nor had I said a word to any one about their being in my possession, for I was for bidden by himself to do so. Yet, here they were, and more than enough to extricate me from all my embarrassments, and to make me a free man again! Like lightning the thought traversed my mind. My dear brother, may God spare you from such a moment! Ever, Oh! Gracious One, be merciful, and lead us not into temptation! It nearly overcame me. I rushed to the door, and locked it, trembling in every limb; feeling, and doubtless looking, like a murderer, who is seeking to conceal his victim. Then I sat down, pale and exhausted, and for a while my mind vacillated with inconceivable rapidity. Then I walked to and fro violently; tore up the Draft of Trusteeship; regretted the act the next moment; commenced another; bowed down and prayed; my mental faculties in the greatest confusion.
I will spare you a detail of all the absurdities I committed. "At last I came to a decision. Blush for me, if you will, dear brother; I have blushed for myself a thousand times, when I reflected upon it; I resolved to appropriate the sacred deposit, and to clear myself from encumbrances. I need not tell you all the arguments I maintained against my better nature; they will readily occur to you. It was no part of my intention, I solemnly avow it, to use this property as my own. On the contrary, I resolved to make my will immediately, so that the heirs, if any ever appeared, should be able, some day, to receive their rights, with usury.' "As soon as my mind was made up, I became calm, though as weak as if I had passed through an attack of sickness; and then I prepared to put my design into execution. With this view, I brought out the money from the iron chest, in which I had deposited it six months before. I counted it out into the various sums that in a few hours would be demanded. This being done, I awaited in solemn silence the coming of my creditors. "And here, now, is the triumph the suggestive triumph of Freemasonry. The turning of the scale of my life now depended upon a grain of dust. All that I had ever done; all that was laid out for me in the future, by the Divine Designer; the happiness of my family; my own usefulness in society; all, all was placed where a breath could di8splace it. "For as I leaned back in my seat, and closed my eyes, the thought occurred to me in a phrase of fire, I was pledged to deal honestly by my Brother Mason! It electrified me! I sprang from my seat in horror! Where was I? What had I done? Was it too late? Could the mischief be recalled? The very last lecture that Walcott had given me, the parting words, prophetic as they now appeared to my mind, related to this subject, Honesty, the grand Cable Tow of the Fraternity. Could he have been aware of my embarrassments, and placed this sum in my hands to prove me? Alas! how had the fine gold become dimmed? How had I fallen? How should I ever dare again to look an honest man in the face? But, it was not yet too late!
The die was not cast; for Freemasonry herself,
fair vision, had hovered over me, and dropped this good thought,
in due season, to save me deal honestly by thy Brother!' I seemed
to hear those parting words in which he recapitulated, in his
most beautiful and impressive style, all the bearings of this
great subject. "It was enough. I was saved. All my good powers,
only dormant, not dead, were awakened into action. The combination
of selfishness and policy that had so well nigh overcome me, was
overcome; and I stood once more in the might of manhood and Masonry,
determined to let God rule my affairs, and to do what was right.
From that moment my mind was irrevocably fixed. My first action
was, of course, to restore the money to the chest. Then I drew
a second draft of the Deed of Trust, executed it before witnesses,
and sent it to town to be recorded. Now, it was time that my long
silence to my dear wife, should be broken, and I informed her,
but with great mental trepidation, of all that had been done:
and how we must leave our happy home to begin the world anew.
Vain fears! She received the tidings without a sigh; she only
chided me for my unkindness in keeping her so long in ignorance,
and kissed away my doubts. Then, with a smile that an angel might
covet, she declared we were yet rich, very ch, for we had one
another's love! and hand in hand we would go, as our first parents
did, and all would be well with us. I cannot recollect any more,
except that I wept like a child, while she thus played the man
over my weakness. "So the day passed on while we waited for
the creditors, who were hourly expected.
But now, I pray you, mark the providence of God! Some delay, in the falling in of a bridge, hindered their coming until the next morning.
And then, before those dreaded guests arrived, there came one, who, of all the living or dead, was least looked for, even Archibold Walcott himself the lost one found! After our astonishment, not unmixed with awe, was over, he informed us that he had been almost miraculously preserved, in the burning of the boat, by lashing himself to a box, and floating for a long, distance down the river. Upon landing, and finding that the receipt I had given him, was lost in his trunk, he concluded, in one of his fits of waywardness, to make trial of my Masonic integrity, by leaving me free to act as I would with his money.
He had returned to the vicinity of my residence,
but kept himself concealed from me, and now, being fully satisfied,
he had come back to claim the deposit. "With what a gush
of pleasurable emotions I restored it to his hands, none can tell.
But imagine my surprise when he said that he had become cognizant
of my pecuniary embarrassments, and that it was now his request
that I should borrow of him the sum of thirty thousand dollars,
on an annual interest, for ten years, and apply a sufficiency
of it to clear myself of embarrassments! Furthermore, as this
was a small part of his means, he should ask me to carry out his
original plan of land purchases, for which he would place other
funds in my hands. And, to crown the whole, he added, that, as
henceforward he should consider my interest his, I was at liberty
to draw upon him in all my business operations, and that my drafts
should be duly honored. "Henceforward my way of life was
smooth. God smiled upon me in all my turnings, my goings out,
and my comings in. Long ere the ten years expired I had cleared
myself of embarrassment, and was again well to do in the world,
with experience to warn me, with ready finger, against all rash
speculations. "My benefactor died in my arms, leaving me
a legacy. The world, that had forgotten my narrow escape from
ruin, gave me credit far too much credit for the possession of
every virtue; and you have seen how Masonic theory, aided by Masonic
practice, has crowned my life with blessings. "And now, dear
and friendly brother, farewell! May the blessings of the Supreme
Grand Master crown your life with goodness, length of days, and
a comfortable departure to the region of light! Remember that
God rules; that his laws, though rigid, are just; that these laws,
as so many parts of the spiritual temple which we are erecting
to his honor, are laid down upon the Trestle Board of his revealed
will; that there is a woe pronounced, in this world and in the
next, against those who violate them; that honesty, the best policy,
even to the own, is to the Freemason a principle, never to be
broken, nor to be slighted, nor to be forgotten. Fare well; and
if, in the change of time, strong temptations should ever beset
your path, let my experience weigh upon your recollection, and,
believe me, that all I am, and have, and expect to be in this
world, is the result, under God, of one Masonic thought at the
turning of the can!"
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