Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 10
MR. VERDANT GREEN IS MADE A MASON.
R. VERDANT GREEN and Mr. Bouncer were once more in Oxford, and on a certain morning had turned into the coffee-room of "The Mitre" to "do bitters," as Mr. Bouncer phrased the act of drinking bitter beer, when said the little gentleman, as he dangled his legs from a table,
"Giglamps, old feller! you ain't a mason."
"A mason! of course not."
"And why do you say 'of course not'?"
"Why, what would be the use of it?"
"That's what parties always say, my tulip. Be a mason, and then you'll soon see the use of it."
"But I am independent of trade."
"Trade? Oh, I twig. My gum, Giglamps! you'll be the death of me some fine day. I didn't mean a mason with a hod of mortar; he'd be a hod-fellow, don't you see?—there's a fine old crusted joke for you—I meant a mason with a petticut, a freemason."
"Oh, a freemason. Well, I really don't seem to care much about being one. As far as I can see, there's a great deal of mystery and very little use in it."
"Oh, that's because you know nothing about it. If you were a mason you'd soon see the use of it. For one thing, when you go abroad you'd find it no end of a help to you. If you'll stand another tankard of beer I'll tell you an apropos tale."
So when a fresh supply of the bitter beverage had been ordered and brought, little Mr. Bouncer, perched upon the table, and dangling his legs, discoursed as follows:—
"Last Long, Billy Blades went on to the continent, and in the course of his wanderings he came across some gentlemen who turned out to be bandits, although they customers for all that, and they laid hands upon Master Billy, and politely asked him for his money or his life. Billy wasn't inclined to give them either, but he was all alone, with nothing but his knapsack and a stick, for it was a frequented road, and he had no idea that there were such things as banditti in existence. Well, as you're aware, Giglamps, Billy's a modern Hercules, with an unusual development of biceps, and he not only sent out left and right, and gave them a touch of Hammer Lane and the Putney Pet combined, but he also applied his shoemaker to another gentleman's tailor with considerable effect. However, this didn't get him kudos, or mend matters one bit; and, after being knocked about much more than was agreeable to his feelings, he was forced to yield to superior numbers. They gagged and blindfolded him, formed him into a procession, and marched him off; and when in about half-an-hour they again let him have the use of his eyes and tongue, he found himself in a rude hut, with his banditti friends around him. They had pistols, and poniards, and long knives, with which they made threatening demonstrations. They had cut open his knapsack and tumbled out its contents, but not a sou could they find; for Billy, I should have told you, had left the place where he was staying, for a few days' walking tour, and he had only taken what little money he required; of this he had one or two pieces left, which he gave them. But it wouldn't satisfy the beggars, and they signified to him—for you see, Giglamps, Billy didn't understand a quarter of their lingo—that he must fork out with his tin unless he wished to be forked into with their steel. Pleasant position, wasn't it?"dressed in tall hats and ribbons, and scarves, and watches, and velvet sit-upons, like you see them in pictures and at theatres; but they were rough
"Well, they searched him, and when they found that they really couldn't get anything more out of him, they made him understand that he must write to some one for a ransom, and that he wouldn't be released until the money came. Pleasant again, wasn't it?"
"Excessively. But what has all this to do with freemasonry?"
"Giglamps, you're as bad as a girl who peeps at the end of a novel before she begins to read it. Drink your beer, and let me tell my tale in my own way. Well, now we come to volume the third, chapter the last. Master Billy found that there was nothing for it but to obey orders, so he sent off a note to his banker, stating his requirements. As soon as this business was transacted, the amiable bandits turned to pleasure, and produced a bottle of wine, of which they politely asked Billy to partake. He thought at first that it might be poison, and he wasn't very far wrong, for it was most stuff. However, the other fellows took to it kindly, and got more amiable than ever over it; so
much so that they offered Billy one of his own weeds, and they all got very jolly, and were as thick as thieves. Billy made himself so much at home—he's a beggar that can always adapt himself to circumstances—that at last the chief bandit proposed his health, and then they all shook hands with him. Well, now comes the moral of my story. When the captain of the bandits was drinking Billy's health in this flipper-shaking way, it all at once occurred to Billy to give him the masonic grip. I must not tell you what it was, but he gave it, and, lo and behold! the bandit returned it. Both Billy and the bandit opened their eyes pretty considerably at this. The bandit also opened his arms and embraced his captive; and the long and short of it was that he begged Billy's pardon for the trouble and delay they had caused him, returned him his money and knapsack, and all the weeds that were not smoked, set aside the ransom, and escorted him back to the high road, guaranteeing him a free and unmolested passage if he should come that way again. And all this because Billy was a mason; so you see, Giglamps, what use it is to a feller. But," said Mr. Bouncer, as he ended his tale, "talking's monstrously dry work. So, I looks to-wards you, Giglamps! to which, if you wish to do the correct thing, you should reply 'I likewise bows!'" And, little Mr. Bouncer, winking affably to his friend, raised the silver tankard to his lips, and kept it there for the space of ten seconds.
"I suppose," said Verdant, "that the real moral of your story is, that I must become a freemason, because I might travel abroad and be attacked by a scamp who was also a freemason. Now, I think I had better decline joining a society that numbers banditti among its members."
"Oh, but that was an exceptional case. I dare say, if the truth was known, Billy's friend had once been a highly respectable party, and had paid his water-rate and income-tax like any other civilized being. But all masons are not like Billy's friend, and the more you know of them the more you'll thank me for having advised you to join them. But it isn't altogether that. Every Oxford man who is really a man is a mason, and that, Giglamps, is quite a sufficient reason why you should be one."
So Verdant said, Very well, he had no objection; and little Mr. Bouncer promised to arrange the necessary preliminaries. What these were will be seen if we advance the progress of events a few days later.
Messrs. Bouncer, Blades, Foote, and Flexible Shanks—who were all masons, and could affix to their names more letters than members of far more learned societies could do—had undertaken that Mr. Verdant Green's initiation into the mysteries of the craft should be altogether a private one. Verdant felt that this was exceedingly kind of them; for, if it must be confessed, he had adopted the popular idea that the admission of members was in some way or other connected with the free use of a red-hot poker, and though he was reluctant to breathe his fears on this point, yet he looked forward to the ceremony with no little dread. He was therefore immensely relieved when he found that, by the kindness of his friends, his initiation would not take place in the presence of the assembled members of the Lodge.
For a week Mr. Verdant Green was benevolently left to ponder and speculate on the ceremonial horrors that would attend his introduction to the mysteries of freemasonry, and by the appointed day he had worked himself into such a state of nervous excitement that he was burning more with the fever of apprehension than that of curiosity. There was no help for him, however; he had promised to go through the ordeal, whatever it might be, and he had no desire to be laughed at for having abandoned his purpose through fear.
The Lodge of Cemented Bricks, of which Messrs. Bouncer and Co. had promised to make Mr. Verdant Green a member, occupied spacious rooms in a certain large house in a certain small street not a hundred miles from the High Street. The ascent to the Lodge-room, which was at the top of the house, was by a rather formidable flight of stairs, up which Mr. Verdant Green tremblingly climbed, attended by Mr. Bouncer as his fidus Achates. The little gentleman, in that figurative Oriental language to which he was so partial, considerately advised his friend to keep up his pecker and never say die; but his exhortation of "Now, don't you be frightened, Giglamps, we shan't hurt you more than we can help," only increased the anguish of our hero's sensations; and when at the last he found himself at the top of the stairs, and before a door which was guarded by Mr. Foote, who held a drawn sword, and was dressed in unusually full masonic costume, and looked stern and unearthly in the dusky gloom, he turned back, and would have made his escape had he not been prevented by Mr. "Footelights'" naked weapon. Mr. Bouncer had previously cautioned him that he must not in any way evince a recognition of his friends until the ceremonies of the initiation were completed, and that the infringement of this command would lead to his total expulsion from his friends' society. Mr. Bouncer had also told him that he must not be surprised at anything that he might see or hear; which, under the circumstances, was very seasonable as well as sensible advice. Mr. Verdant Green, therefore, submitted to his fate, and to Mr. Footelights' drawn sword.
"The first step, Giglamps," whispered Mr. Bouncer, "is the blindfolding; the next is the challenge, which is in Coptic, the original language, you know, of the members of the first Lodge of Cemented Bricks. Swordbearer and Deputy Past Pantile Foote will do this for you. I must go and put my things on. Remember, you mustn't recognise me when you come into the Lodge. Adoo, Samiwel! keep your pecker up." Mr. Verdant Green wrung his friend's hand, pocketed his spectacles, and submitted to be blindfolded.
Mr. Footelights then took him by the hand, and knocked three times at the door. A voice, which Verdant recognised as that of Mr. Blades, inquired, "Kilaricum luricum tweedlecum twee?"
To which Mr. Footelights replied, "Astrakansa siphonia bostrukizon!" and laid the cold steel blade against Mr. Verdant Green's cheek in a way which made that gentleman shiver.
Mr. Blades' voice then said, "Swordbearer and Deputy Past Pantile, pass in the neophyte who seeks to be a Cemented Brick;" and Mr. Verdant Green was thereupon guided into the room.
"Gropelos toldery lol! remove the handkerchief," said the voice of Mr. Blades.
The glare from numerous wax-lights, reflected as it was from polished gold, silver, and marble, affected Mr. Verdant Green's bandaged eyes, and prevented him for a time from seeing anything distinctly, but on Mr. Foote motioning to him that he might resume his spectacles, he was soon enabled by their aid to survey the scene. Around him stood Mr. Bouncer, Mr. Blades, Mr. Flexible Shanks, and Mr. Foote. Each held a drawn and gleaming sword; each wore aprons, scarves, or mantles; each was decorated with mystic masonic jewellery; each was silent and preternaturally serious. The room was large and was furnished with the greatest splendour, but its contents seemed strange and mysterious to our hero's eyes.
"Advance the neophyte! Oodiny dulipy sing!" said Mr. Blades, who walked to the other end of the room, stepped upon a dais, ascended his throne, and laid aside the sword for a sceptre. Mr. Foote and Mr. Flexible Shanks then took Mr. Verdant Green by either shoulder, and escorted him up the room with their drawn swords turned towards him, while Mr. Bouncer followed, and playfully prodded him in the rear.
In the front of Mr. Blades' throne there was a species of altar, of which the chief ornaments were a large sword, a skull and cross-bones, illuminated by a great wax light placed in a tall silver candlestick. Silver globes and pillars stood upon the dais on either side of the throne; and luxuriously-velveted chairs and rows of seats were ranged around. Before the altar-like erection a small funereal black and white carpet was spread upon the black and white lozenged floor; and on this carpet were arranged the following articles:—a money chest, a ballot box (very like Miss Bouncer's Camera), two pairs of swords, three little mallets, and a skull and cross-bones—the display of which emblems of mortality confirmed Mr. Verdant Green in his previously-formed opinion, that the Lodge-room was a veritable chamber of horrors, and he would willingly have preferred a visit to that "lodge in some vast wilderness," for which the poet sighed, and to have foregone all those promised benefits that were to be derived from Fremasonry.
But wishing could not save him. He had no sooner arrived in front of the skull and cross-bones than the procession halted, and Mr. Blades, rising from his throne, said, "Let the Sword-bearer and Deputy Past Pantile, together with the Provincial Grand Mortar-board, do their duty! Ramohun roy azalea tong! Produce the poker! Past Grand Hodman, remain on guard!"
Mr. Foote and Mr. Flexible Shanks removed their hands and swords from Mr. Verdant Green, and walked solemnly down the room, leaving little Mr. Bouncer standing beside our hero, and holding the drawn sword above his head. Mr. Foote and Mr. Flexible Shanks returned, escorting between them the poker. It was cold! that was a relief. But how long was it to remain so?
"Past Grand Hodman!" said Mr. Blades, "instruct the neophyte in the primary proceedings of the Cemented Bricks."
At Mr. Bouncer's bidding, Mr. Verdant Green then sat down upon the lozenged floor, and held his knees with his hands. Mr. Flexible Shanks then brought to him the poker, and said, "Tetrao urogallus orygometra crex!" The poker was then, by the assistance of Mr. Foote, placed under the knees and over the arms of Mr. Verdant Green, who thus sat like a trussed fowl, and equally helpless.
"Recite to the neophyte the oath of the Cemented Bricks!" said Mr. Blades.
"Ramphastidinæ toco scolopendra tinnunculus cracticornis bos!" exclaimed Mr. Flexible Shanks.
"Do you swear to obey through fire and water, and bricks and mortar, the words of this oath?" asked Mr. Blades from his throne.
"You must say, I do!" whispered Mr. Bouncer to Mr. Verdant Green, who accordingly muttered the response.
"Let the oath be witnessed and registered by Swordbearer and Deputy Past Pantile, Provincial Grand Mortar-board, and Past Grand Hodman!" said Mr. Blades; and the three gentlemen thus designated stood on either side of and behind Mr. Verdant Green, and, with theatrical gestures, clashed their swords over his head.
"Keemo kimo lingtum nipcat! let him rise," said Mr. Blades; and the poker was thereupon withdrawn from its position, and Mr. Verdant Green, being untrussed, but somewhat stiff and cramped, was assisted upon his legs.
He hoped that his troubles were now at an end; but this pleasing delusion was speedily dispelled, by Mr. Blades saying—"The next part of the ceremonial is the delivery of the red-hot poker. Let the poker be heated!"
Mr. Verdant Green went chill with dread as he watched the terrible instrument borne from the room by Mr. Foote and Mr. Flexible Shanks, while Mr. Bouncer resumed his guard over him with the drawn sword. All was quiet save a smothered sound from the other side of the door, which, under other circumstances, Verdant would have taken for suppressed laughter; but, the solemnity of the proceedings repelled the idea.
At length the poker was brought in, red-hot and smoking, whereupon Mr. Blades left his throne and walked to the other end of the room, and there took his seat upon a second throne, before which was a second altar, garnished—as Mr. Verdant Green soon perceived, to his horror and amazement—with a human head (or the representation of one) projecting from a black cloth that concealed the neck, and, doubtless, the marks of decapitation. Its ghastly features were clearly displayed by the aid of a wax light placed in a tall silver candlestick by its side.
Mr. Blades received the poker from Mr. Foote, and commanded the neophyte to advance. Mr. Verdant Green did so, and took up a trembling position to the left of the throne, while Mr. Foote and Mr. Flexible Shanks proceeded to the organ, which was to the right of the entrance door. Mr. Blades then delivered the poker to Mr. Verdant Green, who, at first, imagined that he was required to seize it by its red-hot end, but was greatly relieved in his mind when he found that he had merely to take it by the handle, and repeat (as well as he could) a form of gibberish that Mr. Blades dictated. Having done this he was desired to transfer the poker to the Past Grand Hodman—Mr. Bouncer.
He had just come to the joyful conclusion that the much-dreaded poker portion of the business was now at an end, when Mr. Blades ruthlessly cast a dark cloud over his gleam of happiness, by saying—"The next part of the ceremony will be the branding with the red-hot poker. Let the organist call in the aid of music to drown the shrieks of the victim!" and, thereupon, Mr. Foote struck up (with the full swell of the organ) a heart-rending air that sounded like "the cries of the wounded" from the Battle of Prague.
Now, it happened that little Mr. Bouncer—like his sister—was subject to uncontrollable fits of laughter at improper seasons. For the last half-hour he had suffered severely from the torture of suppressed mirth, and, now, as he saw Mr. Verdant Green's climax of fright at the anticipated branding, human nature could not longer bear up against an explosion of merriment, and Mr. Bouncer burst into shouts of laughter, and, with convulsive sobs, flung himself upon the nearest seat. His example was contagious; Mr. Blades, Mr. Foote, and Mr. Flexible Shanks, one after another, joined in the roar, and relieved their pent-up feelings with a rush of uproarious laughter.
At the first Mr. Verdant Green looked surprised, and in doubt whether or no this was but a part of the usual proceedings attendant upon the initiation of a member into the Lodge of Cemented Bricks. Then the truth dawned upon him, and he blushed up to his spectacles.
"Sold again, Giglamps!" shouted little Mr. Bouncer. "I didn't think we could carry out the joke so far. I wonder if this will be hoax the last for Mr. Verdant Green?"
"I hope so indeed!" replied our hero; "for I have no wish to continue a Freshman all through my college life. But I'll give you full liberty to hoax me again—if you can." And Mr. Verdant Green joined good-humouredly in the laughter raised at his own expense.
Not many days after this he was really made a Mason; although the Lodge was not that of the Cemented Bricks, or the forms of initiation those invented by his four friends.