The Deserter, a Masonic Tale
IN one of the dungeons of Potsdam, were seated three
persons: the first, a young soldier, scarce eighteen, whose
jacket, stripped of its facings, told that the sentence of the
court-martial had already passed - a sentence which for his
of fence (that of desertion) Frederick the Great seldom
inclined to mercy.
Beside him was seated a female, her hands clasped in
convulsive firmness her lips quivering with suppressed
emotion the tears streaming consciously from her eyes,
which were riveted, with mournful tenderness, upon the
prisoner, soon to be led forth to death. The third inmate of
that dreary cell was the chaplain of the prison, whose
self-possessed, yet mild demeanor, told that long familiarity
with scenes of wretchedness, while it had enabled him to
suppress all outward demonstration of sorrow, had not
blunted his heart to the miseries of his fellow creatures.
Fritz! exclaimed the heart-broken mother, this is not the
spirit in which a Christian should meet death: listen to the
exhortation of God's minister.
Mother, I am innocent, replied the youth. My captain gave
me permission to absent myself two days, the very night
before he fell, but my judges would not believe me.
I believe you, sobbed the heart-broken parent but is the
injustice of man an excuse for neglect of Heaven. Though
guiltless of this one fault, how many thousands are unatoned
- are unrepented of? and you would die in this hardened
spirit? - the sense of human injury is stronger than the sense
of human sinfulness. Hear, Fritz, she continued, bend thy
stubborn knees. When your poor father died, you were an
infant, helpless and sickly - I forgot myself, hushed my own
grief to remember you. I commanded back my tears, stifled
my sighs, divorced my grief from your father's grave, and
lived through many a grievous hour, because thou didst live.
'Twas a bitter grief but, oh! 't was happiness to this. My boy,
my thoughts grow frantic when I behold thee blotted from the
book of life! Bend, bend thy stubborn knees and ask for
Mother! exclaimed the young soldier, his frame writhing
with emotion, spare me.
Spare me, and save thyself, answered the unhappy
woman humble thy haughty spirit nor deem, that because
an unjust sentence has been pronounced against thee, thou
mayest unprepared stand before the judgment seat of the
Fritz, whose face was covered with his hands, wept bitterly -
his sobs were audible.
Blest tears! exclaimed the priest, they are the harbingers
of contrition - the penitential waters of the soul, which
cleanse it from impurities:
The rest of the night was passed in prayer and religious
exercises. The unhappy youth was brought to feel that
earthly injustice was no expiation for his offences against
Heaven, and that ere he could look for pardon from his
offended Creator, he must endeavor to merit it by penitence
Mother, said the youth, after his feelings had been soothed
by the hope which so lately was a stranger to his breast, I
thank thee - thou hast given me life, nurtured me, expended
on my early years all the rich treasures of a parent's love as
cares, as watchfulness, as tenderness: thou halt done more,
thou halt taught me how to die-to quit the world in peace.
And to pardon it, interrupted the minister, to extend
Christian forgiveness to your enemies, if such thou hast.
What! exclaimed the young man - the infirmity of human
passion for a moment subduing the dictates of religion -
forgive my enemies! - forgive Hubert and Carle, whose lies
condemned me! - never, father, never!
How else wilt thou hope to be forgiven? demanded the
good old man. Shall man dare ask forgiveness of his Maker,
and yet refuse it to his fellow worm?
But, Hubert and Carle, father-
Have injured thee, my son, said his mother, calmly had
they not, where would be the merit of forgiving them? Has
thou forgot the first prayer I taught thee to pronounce:
'Dimitte nobis debits nostra: sicut et nos dimittimus
debitoribus nostris.' Forgive them, my child, as thou hopest
to be forgiven.
Mother, the last feeling is rooted from by heart, I do forgive
Thanks! thanks! exclaimed the now happy parent the
bitterness of losing thee is past our separation will be short,
Fritz, I am already bowed more by sorrow than by years. The
grave now orating to receive thee will not be long without a
The hour will soon arrive, mother, when we must part but
let me fulfil my last earthly duty. The captive reached from
the shelf above his rude hard couch, a military knapsack,
and began arranging its contents. Here, dear mother, is my
bible keep it for my sake it was my father's and you will not
prize it less that it has been your unhappy son's. Would, he
added, turning to the priest, I had aught worthy of your
acceptance, but the captive's prayer must be your only
guerdon unless, he continued, this trinket, which seems
marked in curious characters and Hebrew letters, be worthy
of your attention. He placed in the old man's hands a small
medallion of silver gilt, as he spoke.
Where got you this? demanded the priest, eyeing it with
surprise and curiosity.
It was my father's - it has his name upon it
Fritz Kineberg, said the inquirer, reading the legend
engraved on the rim - the speaker paused for a moment and
then resumed - my son, I have a duty to attend to another
wretched prisoner awaits my ministry but at the hour of the
last trial of your firmness, I will be with you.
Leave us not, holy priest, exclaimed the mother, Heaven
knows we have need of consolation and support.
'Tis the sacrifice of duty, daughter, answered the old man,
and mast be made.
The inmates of the prison bowed in resignation, and again
were deep in prayer, as the good priest left the cell.
Morn at length broke, and all was prepared for the execution
of Fritz-still the priest returned not - his arms were pinioned,
and the guard about to conduct him from his cell, when the
door was gently opened, and the chaplain entered.
You are late, said the young man, but duty, doubtless
detained you. Un-loose my mother's arms from about my
neck, father, and give me your blessing comfort her when I
Fritz, said the old man, solemnly, you stand upon the
verge of eternity. Is thy mind subjected to the will of God ?
I am contented to die. God's will be done.
The sobs of the wretched mother, whose fortitude had quite
forsaken her, were irrepressible.
Unsearchable are His ways, my child inscrutable are His
decrees. Lost and wretched as you stand, were it well, He
still could save you.'
I am hopeless, father, of all earthly mercy, replied the
Hope, answered the priest, with a tone approaching to
cheerfulness, should never leave us. Should it please
Providence to spare thy life-
Priest! exclaimed the mother, who had been listening to his
words, Is there hope? Thou art a holy man, and would'st not
trifle with a soul upon the verge of time. Shall I not be left a
childless mother ? Has Heaven in mercy to my prayer,
spared me my age's prop - my boy - my only one ?
It has, replied the priest, producing the pardon he is free:'
In an instant, mother and son were folded in each other's
arms, while the messenger of mercy bestowed on them his
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