The events just narrated occurred in the prime of my life, and are partly matters of publicity. My attempted breach of faith in the way of disclosing their secrets was naturally infamous in the eyes of my society brethren, who endeavored to prevail upon me to relent of my design which, after writing my "Confession," I made no endeavor to conceal. Their importunities and threatenings had generally been resisted, however, and with an obliquity that can not be easily explained, I persisted in my unreasonable design. I was blessed as a husband and father, but neither the thought of home, wife, nor child, checked me in my inexplicable course. I was certainly irresponsible, perhaps a monomaniac, and yet on the subject in which I was absorbed, I preserved my mental equipoise, and knowingly followed a course that finally brought me into the deepest slough of trouble, and lost to me forever all that man loves most dearly. An overruling spirit, perhaps the shade of one of the old alchemists, possessed me, and in the face of obstacles that would have caused most men to reflect, and retrace their steps, I madly rushed onward. The influence that impelled me, whatever it may have been, was irresistible. I apparently acted the part of agent, subject to an ever-present master essence, and under this dominating spirit or demon my mind was powerless in its subjection. My soul was driven imperiously by that impelling and indescribable something, and was as passive and irresponsible as lycopodium that is borne onward in a steady current of air. Methods were vainly sought by those who loved me, brethren of the lodge, and others who endeavored to induce me to change my headstrong purpose, but I could neither accept their counsels nor heed their forebodings. Summons by law were served on me in order to disconcert me, and my numerous small debts became the pretext for legal warrants, until at last all my papers (excepting my "Confession"), and my person also, were seized, upon an execution served by a constable. Minor claims were quickly satisfied, but when I regained my liberty, the aggression continued. Even arson was resorted to, and the printing office that held my manuscript was fired one night, that the obnoxious revelation which I persisted in putting into print, might be destroyed. Finally I found myself separated by process of law from home and friends, an inmate of a jail. My opponents, as I now came to consider them, had confined me in prison for a debt of only two dollars, a sufficient amount at that time, in that state, for my incarceration. Smarting under the humiliation, my spirit became still more rebellious, and I now, perhaps justly, came to view myself as a martyr. It had been at first asserted that I had stolen a shirt, but I was not afraid of any penalty that could be laid on me for this trumped-up charge, believing that the imputation and the arrest would be shown to be designed as willful oppression. Therefore it was, that when this contemptible arraignment had been swept aside, and I was freed before a Justice of the Peace, I experienced more than a little surprise at a rearrest, and at finding myself again thrown into jail. I knew that it had been decreed by my brethren that I must retract and destroy my "Confession," and this fact made me the more determined to prevent its destruction, and I persisted sullenly in pursuing my course. On the evening of August 12th, 1826, my jailer's wife informed me that the debt for which I had been incarcerated had been paid by unknown "friends," and that I could depart; and I accepted the statement without question. Upon my stepping from the door of the jail, however, my arms were firmly grasped y two persons, one on each side of me, and before I could realize he fact that I was being kidnapped, I was thrust into a closed coach, which immediately rolled away, but not until I made an outcry which, if heard by anyone, was unheeded.
"For your own sake, be quiet," said one of my companions in confinement, for the carriage was draped to exclude the light, and was as dark as a dungeon. My spirit rebelled; I felt that I was on the brink of a remarkable, perhaps perilous experience, and I indignantly replied by asking:
"What have I done that you should presume forcibly to imprison me? Am I not a freeman of America?"
"What have you done?" he answered. "Have you not bound yourself by a series of vows that are sacred and should be inviolable, and have you not broken them as no other man has done before you? Have you not betrayed your trust, and merited a severe judgment? Did you not voluntarily ask admission into our ancient brotherhood, and in good faith were you not initiated into our sacred mysteries? Did you not obligate yourself before man, and on your sacred honor promise to preserve our secrets?"
"I did," I replied; "but previously I had sworn before a higher tribunal to scatter this precious wisdom to the world."
"Yes," he said, "and you know full well the depth of the self-sought solemn oath that you took with us—more solemn than that prescribed by any open court on earth."
"This I do not deny," I said, "and yet I am glad that I accomplished my object, even though you have now, as is evident, the power to pronounce my sentence."
"You should look for the death sentence," was the reply, "but it has been ordained instead that you are to be given a lengthened life. You should expect bodily destruction; but on the contrary, you will pass on in consciousness of earth and earthly concerns when we are gone. Your name will be known to all lands, and yet from this time you will be unknown. For the welfare of future humanity, you will be thrust to a height in our order that will annihilate you as a mortal being, and yet you will exist, suspended between life and death, and in that intermediate state will know that you exist. You have, as you confess, merited a severe punishment, but we can only punish in accordance with an unwritten law, that instructs the person punished, and elevates the human race in consequence. You stand alone among mortals in that you have openly attempted to give broadly to those who have not earned it, our most sacred property, a property that did not belong to you, property that you have only been permitted to handle, that has been handed from man to man from before the time of Solomon, and which belongs to no one man, and will continue to pass in this way from one to another, as a hallowed trust, until there are no men, as men now exist, to receive it. You will soon go into the shadows of darkness, and will learn many of the mysteries of life, the undeveloped mysteries that are withheld from your fellows, but which you, who have been so presumptuous and anxious for knowledge, are destined to possess and solve. You will find secrets that man, as man is now constituted, can not yet discover, and yet which the future man must gain and be instructed in. As you have sowed, so shall you reap. You wished to become a distributor of knowledge; you shall now by bodily trial and mental suffering obtain unsought knowledge to distribute, and in time to come you will be commanded to make your discoveries known. As your pathway is surely laid out, so must you walk. It is ordained; to rebel is useless."
"Who has pronounced this sentence?" I asked.
"A judge, neither of heaven nor of earth."
"You speak in enigmas."
"No; I speak openly, and the truth. Our brotherhood is linked with the past, and clasps hands with the antediluvians; the flood scattered the races of earth, but did not disturb our secrets. The great love of wisdom has from generation to generation led selected members of our organization to depths of study that our open work does not touch upon, and behind our highest officers there stand, in the occult shades between the here and the hereafter, unknown and unseen agents who are initiated into secrets above and beyond those known to the ordinary craft. Those who are introduced into these inner recesses acquire superhuman conceptions, and do not give an open sign of fellowship; they need no talisman. They walk our streets possessed of powers unknown to men, they concern themselves as mortals in the affairs of men, and even their brethren of the initiated, open order are unaware of their exalted condition. The means by which they have been instructed, their several individualities as well, have been concealed, because publicity would destroy their value, and injure humanity's cause."
Silence followed these vague disclosures, and the carriage rolled on. I was mystified and alarmed, and yet I knew that, whatever plight be the end of this nocturnal ride, I had invited it—yes, merited it—and I steeled myself to hear the sentence of my judges, in whose hands I was powerless. The persons on the seat opposite me continued their conversation in low tones, audible only to themselves. An individual by my side neither moved nor spoke. There were four of us in the carriage, as I learned intuitively, although we were surrounded by utter darkness. At length I addressed the companion beside me, for the silence was unbearable. Friend or enemy though he might be, anything rather than this long silence. "How long shall we continue in this carriage?"
He made no reply.
After a time I again spoke.
"Can you not tell me, comrade, how long our journey will last? When shall we reach our destination?"
Putting out my hand, I ventured to touch my mate, and found that he was tightly strapped,—bound upright to the seat and the back of the carriage. Leather thongs held him firmly in position; and as I pondered over the mystery, I thought to myself, if I make a disturbance, they will not hesitate to manacle me as securely. My custodians seemed, however, not to exercise a guard over me, and yet I felt that they were certain of my inability to escape. If the man on the seat was a prisoner, why was he so reticent? why did he not answer my questions? I came to the conclusion that he must be gagged as well as bound. Then I determined to find out if this were so. I began to realize more forcibly that a terrible sentence must have been meted me, and I half hoped that I could get from my partner in captivity some information regarding our destination. Sliding my hand cautiously along his chest, and under his chin, I intended to remove the gag from his mouth, when I felt my flesh creep, for it came in contact with the cold, rigid flesh of a corpse. The man was dead, and stiff.
The shock unnerved me. I had begun to experience the results of a severe mental strain, partly induced by the recent imprisonment and extended previous persecution, and partly by the mysterious significance of the language in which I had recently been addressed. The sentence, "You will now go into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and learn the mysteries of life," kept ringing through my head, and even then I sat beside a corpse. After this discovery I remained for a time in a semi-stupor, in a state of profound dejection,—how long I can not say. Then I experienced an inexplicable change, such as I imagine comes over a condemned man without hope of reprieve, and I became unconcerned as a man might who had accepted his destiny, and stoically determined to await it. Perhaps moments passed, it may have been hours, and then indifference gave place to reviving curiosity. I realized that I could die only once, and I coolly and complacently revolved the matter, speculating over my possible fate. As I look back on the night in which I rode beside that dead man, facing the mysterious agents of an all-powerful judge, I marvel over a mental condition that permitted me finally to rest in peace, and slumber in unconcern. So I did, however, and after a period, the length of which I am not able to estimate, I awoke, and soon thereafter the carriage stopped, and our horses were changed, after which our journey was resumed, to continue hour after hour, and at last I slept again, leaning back in the corner. Suddenly I was violently shaken from slumber, and commanded to alight. It was in the gray of morning, and before I could realize what was happening, I was transferred by my captors to another carriage, and the dead man also was rudely hustled along and thrust beside me, my companions speaking to him as though he were alive. Indeed, as I look back on these maneuvers, I perceive that, to all appearances, I was one of the abducting party, and our actions were really such as to induce an observer to believe that this dead man was an obstinate prisoner, and myself one of his official guards. The drivers of the carriages seemed to give us no attention, but they sat upright and unconcerned, and certainly neither of them interested himself in our transfer. The second carriage, like that other previously described, was securely closed, and our journey was continued. The darkness was as of a dungeon. It may have been days, I could not tell anything about the passage of time; on and oh we rode. Occasionally food and drink were handed in, but my captors held to their course, and at last I was taken from the vehicle, and transferred to a block-house.
I had been carried rapidly and in secret a hundred or more miles, perhaps into another state, and probably all traces of my journey were effectually lost to outsiders. I was in the hands of men who implicitly obeyed the orders of their superiors, masters whom they had never seen, and probably did not know. I needed no reminder of the fact that I had violated every sacred pledge voluntarily made to the craft, and now that they held me powerless, I well knew that, whatever the punishment assigned, I had invited it, and could not prevent its fulfillment. That it would be severe, I realized; that it would not be in accordance with ordinary human law, I accepted.
Had I not in secret, in my little room in that obscure Stone Tavern, engrossed on paper the mystic sentences that never before had been penned, and were unknown excepting to persons initiated into our sacred mysteries? Had I not previously, in the most solemn manner, before these words had been imparted to my keeping, sworn to keep them inviolate and secret? and had I not deliberately broken that sacred vow, and scattered the hoarded sentences broadcast? My part as a brother in this fraternal organization was that of the holder only of property that belonged to no man, that had been handed from one to another through the ages, sacredly cherished, and faithfully protected by men of many tongues, always considered a trust, a charge of honor, and never before betrayed. My crime was deep and dark. I shuddered. "Come what may," I mused, reflecting over my perfidy, "I am ready for the penalty, and my fate is deserved; it can not but be a righteous one."
The words of the occupant of the carriage occurred to me again and again; that one sentence kept ringing in my brain; I could not dismiss it: "You have been tried, convicted, and we are of those appointed to carry out the sentence of the judges."
The black silence of my lonely cell beat against me; I could feel the absence of sound, I could feel the dismal weight of nothingness, and in my solitude and distraction I cried out in anguish to the invisible judge: "I am ready for my sentence, whether it be death or imprisonment for life"; and still the further words of the occupant of the carriage passed through my mind: "You will now go into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and will learn the mysteries of Life."
Then I slept, to awake and sleep again. I kept no note of time; it may have been days or weeks, so far as my record could determine. An attendant came at intervals to minister to my wants, always masked completely, ever silent.
That I was not entirely separated from mankind, however, I felt assured, for occasionally sounds of voices came to me from without. Once I ventured to shout aloud, hoping to attract attention; but the persons whom I felt assured overheard me, paid no attention to my lonely cry. At last one night, my door opened abruptly, and three men entered.
"Do not fear," said their spokesman, "we aim to protect you; keep still, and soon you will be a free man."
I consented quietly to accompany them, for to refuse would have been in vain; and I was conducted to a boat, which I found contained a corpse—the one I had journeyed with, I suppose—and embarking, we were silently rowed to the middle of the river, our course being diagonally from the shore, and the dead man was thrown overboard. Then our boat returned to the desolate bank.
Thrusting me into a carriage, that, on our return to the river bank we found awaiting us, my captors gave a signal, and I was driven away in the darkness, as silently as before, and our journey was continued I believe for fully two days. I was again confined in another log cabin, with but one door, and destitute of windows. My attendants were masked, they neither spoke to me as they day after day supplied my wants, nor did they information on any subject, until at last I abandoned all hope of ever regaining my liberty.