The Masonic Trowel

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The American Freemason - September 1913

One has need to be in the company of ghosts for some time, as I found, and during the hours of more serious occupation, before rightly entering into the spirit of their relaxed moments. Sundry interruptions during progress of the Lodge meeting to which the shade of my great-great grandfather invited me, had prepared me in a measure to expect the period of diversion which followed, according to the ancient custom of the Craft. I was, however, surprised and amused to note how dexterously the evidences of Masonic labor were whisked aside. Benches, chairs and tables were speedily put into place, that so the refreshment consequent to labor might proceed to the liking, the comfort and the custom of our ancient brothers. Whether the clumsy furniture of the inn, which appeared to me as of very solid oak and iron, did indeed possess any qualities of weight and substance; is beyond my telling. It is most likely that they were but shadows of wood and metal, as best befitting their uses. But the ponderability of ghosts, and their domestic and other conveniences was not then, nor is it now, a matter of great concern. I was chiefly interested to note how the accoutrements of cheer were so quickly disposed, as being the chief business that had called these to "revisit the pale glimpses of the moon.

"Egad, sir," said one of the truculent individuals before mentioned, but whom I found, upon acquaintance, to be mild-mannered as the most timid could wish; "egad, sir, it is to be hoped that our host has more than cold ale such as we drank here a fortnight agone. By my faith, but I came near to expiring a second time because of the chill and windiness of that same. A ghost of right taste and touchy vitals, and he but drank thrice of such brew, might come to a lightness of constitution that even mortal air would prove a coarse intoxicant - which may the Fates forefend! In days of earth it took good body and zest of wine to stir me from a devilish melancholy humor to a proper mood. As for the raw spirits, or even Nantes of proof, they are fit only for new-fledged ghosts; we who are seasoned with a century or two of use, look with discernment on the bottle or the cask. But pray thee, brother," thus he continued, "in thy own Lodge of mortal place and time dost drink wines that are well ripened and chosen with care, and is the ale of thy ordinary cheer of such quality and strength as befits the drinking by brothers of our ancient fraternity"?

So here had I started to tell this inquisitive shade that the age had greatly changed, bringing other sentiments and changes even into the Craft of Freemasonry; that brothers could no longer bring refreshments, within his meaning, into their places of gathering. I rather plumed myself, as I now recall, on the sobriety and decorum of our solemn feasts, making comparison somewhat to the discredit of that other age. But all my moralizing was lost upon this poor ghost, who appealed on the spot to his fellows whether they could indeed be Masons who refused at any time, and especially after Lodge, their proper food and drink. And these, having been men accounted wise in their own time, held to the unanswerable force of his arguments, and were of accord that no other years could improve upon the settled and satisfactory habits of their own generation. Very like you and me, again, in cocksureness as to the superiority of their own ways and the impossibility of betterment.

I am glad, brother," quoth a lean ghost, sliding up unperceived, "to know that the godlessness of our time has not continued to your own. I am so informed by sundry pious ghosts who make shift to know the latest news of earthly life, and what our descendants are doing in London and even beyond the seas. You are, as I take it, and all your fellows in the colonies, strong for the Protestant succession, the crucifying of the flesh and the coming of the kingdom? The blood in thy veins is of a righteous sort, for though this grandfather of thine here present is light-minded, his father was a stern and godly man."

But here was I immensely relieved to avoid answer, as a roisterer came shoving in to declare that the tables were prepared, and that the Master Mason was ready to start in with the round of toasts and songs. For it might easily have happed, in my ignorance, to have stirred rancor even upon the edge of conviviality. "The last of the Fifth Monarchy men," I fancied that my ancestor whispered, as he passed me with beckoning finger and a gesture of warning.

An oddly-assorted company, truly! So I thought as those about me pushed their knees beneath the tables. Yet there they sat, cheek by jowl, as if never a dividing interest in life had kept them erstwhile apart in all but the bond of Masonic brotherhood. What else could there have been in common to the mortality of yon sedate citizen, exchanging gossip as to the lading of ships that had foundered or rotted at the wharfs many years ago with another of his kind, and this nearer one who would have died more happily on a stricken field than in his bed, could he but have given blows to the enemies of an exiled king! Yet, after all, not so greatly different from our own meetings and the diverse individuals that come together in them for an hour's fraternizing, going thence to do and to be done, even by each other.

Very excellent ghosts, too, so far as a mere mortal might presume to judge of ghostly company. With some petty notions and a few prejudices wore deeply engrained, perhaps, because of long disseverance from the changing flesh, though at bottom not so much unlike ourselves. And, as showing in themselves the changes in common thought that Time had effected, these jovial shades were for the time more interesting and amusing to me than any gathering of living men could possibly have been.

Our forbears of the eighteenth century, if we have been rightly informed, and as was now proven to me by example of their doings, needed but small excuse for their potations. A toast or a song of any sort seemed to be provocative of an instant thirst. And as for these toasts, I could not but notice they were carefully arranged and recited in order to stir loyalty to the reigning house and to pledge support to those in power. Yet I caught some sly glances exchanged, indicative of mental evasion, and that the "king over the water" was substituted in the minds of a few for "Farmer George," in their time upon the throne of England. But so long as the drink was to all their likings it was not wise for one to question his neighbor as to unexpressed subterfuges, nor to quarrel 'with sentiments that gave such frequent occasion for acquaintance of lips and pewter mugs. As for the songs, for the most part they went to rollicking airs, and what more was to be asked. The words were as negligible as those strung together in Masonic poetry of our own times, though perhaps some of our own verses might take the more readily if hitched to tunes that could hide the lack of ideas and the rude measure of the lines.

Are ghosts concupiscent? I would have thought before that with the laying off of flesh there was thenceforth a freedom from the carnalities. But here were the shadows of men exchanging witticisms, that may have passed muster in another time, the sole point of which for the telling was some vulgar situation or intrigue. Just such jests, unwholesome in words and suggestion, have I heard when a knot of men, salaciously-minded, gathered in a remote corner of the Tyler's room of our own days and Lodges. And, as I noted, they had the selfsame stories then as are now in currency. Tradition holds best, apparently, to the worst rather than the best.

What subtle stimulating essence was in this their drink would, as I imagine, defy any earthly analysis to detect. But it sufficed to put into these shadows at least the semblance of a great hilarity. Perhaps this was the sole event worth mentioning in their colorless existence, and for the next fortnight it is likely that they hail but the memories of their thin potations. Be that as it may I failed altogether to note the passing of time - if indeed there be any time for men disembodied - until the antique Tyler proposed the famous closing toast, "to all poor, distressed and wandering brothers, whithersoever dispersed on sea or land. May they have speedy relief and a safe return to home and friends."

How, after this, those present slipped away, or perhaps just faded from my sight, I cannot say. My great-great grandfather alone remained, and with him I went through the shadowy hall, past the wide stairs that ran up to guest chambers never occupied, unless by some ghost the worse for his liquor, and back for a moment to the ancient chimney corner seat.

"It is time for thee now to be gone, for the hospitality of my inn goes not to beds for those of flesh and blood." So spake this respectable ancestor, and then he added, as in a tone of a final farewell: "Thou art altogether too unchancy in humor and speech to mix rightly, and to my credit, with decent and God-fearing ghosts. Yet am I glad that thou hast been to our Lodge, and I would wish thee and all thy brothers well."

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