The Lady Freemason by H. T. Craven

Vainly we seek it, Sanscrit or Greek writ
In hist'ry, the myst'ry of Solomon's secret:—
The dark queen of Sheba p'raps tried to get hold of it,
But didn't; at least if she did, we're not told of it.
If McAbel of Lodge number one lets it slip,
His brother O'Cain of Lodge two, gives the grip
À la garotte they say. Be that as it may,
The Cowan is somehow put out of the way.
So now if you've fear for my prudence, dispel it;
First place, I don't know—next, I don't mean to tell it
But praise a shrewd guess, if you think I deserve it,
The cream of the secret is—how to preserve it!
A sworn brother mason who'd ever disseminate
His knowledge, or blab, would be worse than effeminate!
On feminine weakness, though, let me be reticent,
Rememb'ring the tale of the famous Miss Betty St.
Ledger, whose name sheds a permanent grace on
One fifty—the Lodge of the Lady Freemason.
My Lord Doneraile, Ne'er known to fail
In duties masonic, held land in entail
With a mansion near Dublin, of such wide dimension,
That a Freemason's Lodge of no little pretension
Was warranted, charter'd, and duly appointed,
And worshipful ruler my lord was anointed.
No master, 'twas said, ever laid down the law so;
No masons kept secrets so sacred—or swore so!
None drill'd and so skill'd were, in sep'rate degree,
By the P. M. presiding (of course my Lord D.)
It beggars description—you'd fail to appreciate
The hubbub within when they met to 'initiate.'
Such tyling and tapping, Such knocking and rapping,
Such shrieks and such squeaks—such clapping and slapping
Such mauling and hauling and tearing and swearing,
Such whisp'ring of secrets and 'tell-if-you-dare'-ing—
Such groans and such yells, And such roast-goosey smells,
When the poker was used—like the scene in 'The Bells'
You doubtless have thought so appalling—enerving—
You'd think 'twas some madman, who thought himself Irving;
The cauterization, On good information,
Amounted, I say, to a partial cremation;
And sore on the subject were all Erin's gay sons
Next day, when the boys gave 'em sauce for 'fried masons.'
Be it known that Miss Betty was Doneraile's daughter,
And one Richard Aldworth aspired to court her,
Yet made his advances with progress so scanty,
He really remain'd much in statu quo ante;
His motto was 'Spero,' But hope was at zero;
In the lady's eye Dick didn't pose as a hero
When her father, Lord Doneraile, ask'd of him, whether
He'd join the F.M.'s; he had shown the white feather!
Whereat the proud beauty declared that no other
Should e'er be her slave than 'a man and a brother':
So Dick, having dined, and not quite compos mentis,
Agreed to go in for an 'entered apprentice.'
The eve had arrived, and the hall so baronial,
Was deck'd in due form for the night's ceremonial;
Miss Betty, in passing downstairs, chanced to see
Tho' the Chubb had been lock'd, they had left in the key
Of a small ante-room of some minor utility,
But prized by the Lodge for its accessibility:
Miss said to herself, 'Tho' I fear the attempt, I
'Should like just to see what a Lodge is like—empty!'
Oh! daughters of Eve, There are some who believe
Your tongues are your weakness—your failing, verbosity;
While others contend, You'll never amend
Of that fault Mrs. Bluebeard possess'd—curiosity!
Now I—though I'd fain dub such slanders as petty—
Own they do say as much of dear, charming Miss Betty:
Tho' found to be equal, To hold tongue or speak well
With other good masons—but wait for the sequel!
In through this outer door—closing it warily;
Out through an inner door—softly and fairyly—
She's there! In the Lodge, where wax tapers are blazing,
All deftly arranged with precision amazing:—
In the east for the Worshipful Boss is a throne.
In the west, Senior Warden—the places all shown
(No doubt to prevent any squabbles or wrangles)
Initiall'd on chair-backs, in gilded triangles;
On a table deep myst'ries we must not unravel—
The Mallet, the Plumb, and the Gauge, and the Gavel!
Other engines whose uses we fear to unriddle—
The Thumb-screw—the Pincers—a Poker—a Griddle!
With tapers and papers and paraphernalia,
Blue ribbons and jewels and things call'd 'Regalia!'
The silence and solitude there were delicious;
And any one caring to feel superstitious,
Might fancy the ghosts of freemasons, translated
To Lodges above—or below—reinstated,
Array'd in their mouldy old aprons; each brother
Past Master, who'd passed from this world to another.
But horror of horrors! whilst here she was musing,
Came footsteps without, and—oh! sound most confusing!
She heard the key turned. (That same key that beguiled
In the first-mention'd door.) Now 'twas lock'd and fast tyled!
She rush'd to the ante-room, wild to get back,
But this cooled her courage, 'twas now cul de sac;
And hark! In the Lodge—to augment her disaster—
The Masons assembling, escorting the Master!
To hide while she thought how to 'scape from mishap,
She closed t'other door of this snug little trap;
That door has a crevice, and thereby new woes arise,
To secrets forbidden in vain 'tis to close her eyes;
How can she but note the masonic particulars,
With no cotton-wool to cram in her auriculars?
She heard her dad ask, most distinctly—and trembled
At Dogberry's words—"Are we here all dissembled?"
Then commenced ceremonials misty and mystical,
Questions and answers in form catechistical.
My lord, in a tone both emphatic and sonorous,
Impressing on each that his duties were onerous;
(One duty, to Betty, seem'd highly improper—
'Twas 'kill, without questioning, any eavesdropper!')
When the master, with sudden and well-feigned dismay,
For he very well knew that he'd got it to say,
Cried 'Hark, there is danger, I feel that a stranger
'Who's seeking for knowledge is coming this way!'
Each took up a napkin—the end dipt in water,
And cried 'Porkitotius! Give him no quarter!'
While outside the door sundry knocks loud and clamorous
(As Vulcan might deal when in humour sledge-hammerous)
Were echoed within by three knocks—just the same,
With the pertinent query—'How now! What's your game?'
And a chap (déshabillé) in great perturbation
Is 'run in,' very much like a prig to a station.
Disguised as he was, through the à-propos hole
The lady identified Aldworth's red poll,
And thought, 'Well, I wish you, poor fellow, good luck,
'Or—more to the purpose—I wish you, good pluck!'
For her father was urging in solemn oration,
'You need, my young friend, for your fearful probation
'Endurance—true Courage—and strong Veneration!
'We commence with (don't grin, sir!) a pleasant frivolity:—
'Just give of Endurance a taste of your quality;
''Tis nothing—a towelling. Brothers, prepare!'
Then each had a flick at Dick's legs—which were bare:
He danced and he pranced at each cut of the towel
And prod from the rear with a sharp-pointed trowel,
And look'd—as he caper'd in lily-white kilt—
The ghost of a Highlander dancing a lilt.
To Scotch eyes, however, The steps might seem clever,
Dick show'd less a hero in Betty's than ever,
And shock'd, when he cried—cutting up rather rough—
'D longstroke your optics—hold hard! That's enough!'
'Enough?' said the worshipful, 'Yes, of this fun!
'Stern proof of your courage has not yet begun;
'D'ye hear, sir, those knocks? Brothers, let in the stoker,
'And form a procession to bring in the poker!
'See the surgeon is ready to make all secure
'With lancet and tourniquet, bandage and ligature!'
But why freeze your marrow—Your feelings why harrow?
Your hearts are too soft and our space is too narrow
To tell all the horrors! 'Twould fill you with awe
To listen to half that Elizabeth saw:—
Let us come to Dick's howl—such a howl!—which as soon
As she heard it, Miss Betty fell down in a swoon
All in a lump, With a bump and a thump
That made all the brothers to gape and to jump.
And turn pale and cry, 'Bedad there's a spy
Shut up in that closet, and there he shall die!
To rush to the chamber—to find what was in it
And seize the eavesdropper—was the work of a minute;
To lift up and shake her, To rouse up and wake her
To consciousness—then in the Lodge-room to take her,
Was work for six brothers, who cried as they brought her,
'We've sought her and caught her!' My lord cried, 'My daughter!'
And sunk down as needing, himself, a supporter:—
In rush'd the tylers, Crusty old file-ers!
With anger 'a busting their blessed old bilers;'
Looking so grim at her, One raised his cimeter,
And to very short shift was advancing to limit her,
As 'Hold!' cried my lord, 'Hear your master—or rather,
'I'd speak to you all, as her judge—not her father!
'Perchance she knows nothing, and, if she will swear it,
'Her life shall be spared—I, your Master, will spare it!
'Oh, tell me, my child, what you've seen—what you've heard?'
The truthful girl sobb'd, 'Ev'ry act! ev'ry word!'
'Alas,' faltered he, 'you have seal'd your own doom!'
And 'Down with the spy!' cried each one in the room;
One raised a dagger, Some shouted 'Scrag her!'
Some raised a trap-door, and rush'd forward to drag her,
When a voice like a thunder-clap topp'd all the rest,
And Dick semi-dress'd Presented his breast
Before her, 'Strike here!' was his manly request:
'Strike me if you dare, By jingo, I swear
'Of her you shall touch not so much as a hair!
'I mean, my good sirs, Whatever occurs
'To your lives or mine, you shall not take hers!
'Her white arm how dare you place finger or fist on?'
And Dick, shooting out his own arm like a piston,
Knock'd over a senior warden who held her;
Sent spinning a middle-aged junior—his elder,
Hit out at a tyler, A blatant reviler,
Mash'd the mug of a masher call'd 'Tim' the Beguiler;'
'Look out!' cried another, 'The Saxon's a bruiser!'
And straightway got one on his 'conk'—a confuser!
A dozen unitedly Shouted excitedly
'Fell him, or else this young fellow will wallop us!'
Down went two deacons, Not very weak ones,
And a blow on the nose of the third burst a polypus,
When the hero (Dick now at the title arrives,
Denied him before he had handled his fives,
So many bawling, Reeling and sprawling,
For each brother knocked down another in falling),
Had 'flutter'd the Voices' from east to the west,
He paused like a warrior taking his rest,
Or Spartan who'd caused lots of Persians to topple, he
Took breath—as he did at a place call'd Thermopylæ.
 
Now outspoke my lord in a masterful way,
'A truce and a parley! I've something to say!
''Tis writ in our laws "If an eavesdropper pries
'And filches our secrets, he (mark the HE!) dies!"
'Now this is a she—therefore not an eavesdropper;
'To kill her, I say, would be highly improper
'Unless she objects. To do as directs
'The master (c'est moi!). Now mark what I say next!
'Let's make her a mason, And put a good face on
'The matter, believing she'll prove not a base one;
'I'll take on myself—ending doubt and confusion—
'To write to Great Queen Street and get absolution!'
Then upspake the stoker—A regular croaker,
'I'd like to know how you'll get over the poker!'
'Long ago,' said my lord—-the precise annus mundi
'I can't call to mind—regno Coli Jucundi,
('A monarch whose province was Pipo-cum-Fiddlum—
'A part of the region of Great Tarrididdlom)
'Sundry by-laws were pass'd for emergencies various
'Whereby the submission to brand is vicarious:
'Will some volunteer (Her substitute here)
'Submit to the crucial test? 'Tis severe!'
Dick on now spake, 'E'en to the stake
'I'll go, like a martyr, as proxy to take
'All over again for the dear lady's sake;—
'That is (here he tenderly glanced), she approving?'
'I do!' said the maiden, in accent quite loving.
'Agreed!' shouted all who'd been punch'd, 'Be it so!'
Glad, no doubt, of the chance to give Dick quid pro quo.
The lady withdrew, in well-guarded condition;
The deck's quickly clear'd for the second edition
Of flicks and of kicks, Pinching and licks,
Twingeing and singeing—but murmur of Dick's
None heard e'en a word; he was truly heroic,
And went through it all with a smile, like a stoic;
And when he—so rumpled from processes recent—
Retired to make himself decently decent,
Miss St. Ledger return'd—resolution her face on—
Took the oaths, and was enter'd a 'Prenticed Freemason!

Moral.

When you meet with a mason, just mention this lass;
I warrant she'll prove an excuse for a glass!
If he's a true brother, the toast is a favourite,
He's good for a bottle, but mind you don't pay for it!
You've but to edge her Name in, and pledge her,
The Lady Freemason—Miss Betty St. Ledger!