Adventures in Friendship/Chapter I
AN ADVENTURE IN FRATERNITY
This, I am firmly convinced, is a strange world, as strange a one as I was ever in. Looking about me I perceive that the simplest things are the most difficult, the plainest things, the darkest, the commonest things, the rarest.
I have had an amusing adventure—and made a friend.
This morning when I went to town for my marketing I met a man who was a Mason, an Oddfellow and an Elk, and who wore the evidences of his various memberships upon his coat. He asked me what lodge I belonged to, and he slapped me on the back in the heartiest manner, as though he had known me intimately for a long time. (I may say, in passing, that he was trying to sell me a new kind of corn-planter.) I could not help feeling complimented—both complimented and abashed. For I am not a Mason, or an Oddfellow, or an Elk. When I told him so he seemed much surprised and disappointed.
"You ought to belong to one of our lodges," he said. "You'd be sure of having loyal friends wherever you go."
He told me all about his grips and passes and benefits; he told me how much it would cost me to get in and how much more to stay in and how much for a uniform (which was not compulsory). He told me about the fine funeral the Masons would give me; he said that the Elks would care for my widow and children.
"You're just the sort of a man," he said, "that we'd like to have in our lodge. I'd enjoy giving you the grip of fellowship."
He was a rotund, good-humoured man with a shining red nose and a husky voice. He grew so much interested in telling me about his lodges that I think (I think) he forgot momentarily that he was selling corn-planters, which was certainly to his credit.
As I drove homeward this afternoon I could not help thinking of the Masons, the Oddfellows and the Elks—and curiously not without a sense of depression. I wondered if my friend of the corn-planters had found the pearl of great price that I have been looking for so long. For is not friendliness the thing of all things that is most pleasant in this world? Sometimes it has seemed to me that the faculty of reaching out and touching one's neighbour where he really lives is the greatest of human achievements. And it was with an indescribable depression that I wondered if these Masons and Oddfellows and Elks had in reality caught the Elusive Secret and confined it within the insurmountable and impenetrable walls of their mysteries, secrets, grips, passes, benefits.
"It must, indeed," I said to myself, "be a precious sort of fraternity that they choose to protect so sedulously."
I felt as though life contained something that I was not permitted to live. I recalled how my friend of the corn-planters had wished to give me the grip of the fellowship—only he could not. I was not entitled to it. I knew no grips or passes. I wore no uniform.
"It is a complicated matter, this fellowship," I said to myself.
So I jogged along feeling rather blue, marveling that those things which often seem so simple should be in reality so difficult.
But on such an afternoon as this no man could possibly remain long depressed. The moment I passed the straggling outskirts of the town and came to the open road, the light and glow of the countryside came in upon me with a newness and sweetness impossible to describe. Looking out across the wide fields I could see the vivid green of the young wheat upon the brown soil; in a distant high pasture the cows had been turned out to the freshening grass; a late pool glistened in the afternoon sunshine. And the crows were calling, and the robins had begun to come: and oh, the moist, cool freshness of the air! In the highest heaven (never so high as at this time of the year) floated a few gauzy clouds: the whole world was busy with spring!
I straightened up in my buggy and drew in a good breath. The mare, half startled, pricked up her ears and began to trot. She, too, felt the spring.
"Here," I said aloud, "is where I belong. I am native to this place; of all these things I am a part."
But presently—how one's mind courses back, like some keen-scented hound, for lost trails—I began to think again of my friend's lodges. And do you know, I had lost every trace of depression. The whole matter lay as clear in my mind, as little complicated, as the countryside which met my eye so openly.
"Why!" I exclaimed to myself, "I need not envy my friend's lodges. I myself belong to the greatest of all fraternal orders. I am a member of the Universal Brotherhood of Men."
It came to me so humorously as I sat there in my buggy that I could not help laughing aloud. And I was so deeply absorbed with the idea that I did not at first see the whiskery old man who was coming my way in a farm wagon. He looked at me curiously. As he passed, giving me half the road, I glanced up at him and called out cheerfully:
"How are you, Brother?"
You should have seen him look—and look—and look. After I had passed I glanced back. He had stopped his team, turned half way around in his high seat and was watching me—for he did not understand.
"Yes, my friend," I said to myself, "I am intoxicated—with the wine of spring!"
I reflected upon his astonishment when I addressed him as "Brother." A strange word! He did not recognize it. He actually suspected that he was not my Brother.
So I jogged onward thinking about my fraternity, and I don't know when I have had more joy of an idea. It seemed so explanatory!
"I am glad," I said to myself, "that I am a Member. I am sure the Masons have no such benefits to offer in their lodges as we have in ours. And we do not require money of farmers (who have little to pay). We will accept corn, or hen's eggs, or a sandwich at the door, and as for a cheerful glance of the eye, it is for us the best of minted coin."
(Item: to remember. When a man asks money for any good thing, beware of it. You can get a better for nothing.)
I cannot undertake to tell where the amusing reflections which grew out of my idea would finally have led me if I had not been interrupted. Just as I approached the Patterson farm, near the bridge which crosses the creek, I saw a loaded wagon standing on the slope of the hill ahead. The horses seemed to have been unhooked, for the tongue was down, and a man was on his knees between the front wheels.
Involuntarily I said:
"Another member of my society: and in distress!"
I had a heart at that moment for anything. I felt like some old neighbourly Knight travelling the earth in search of adventure. If there had been a distressed mistress handy at that moment, I feel quite certain I could have died for her—if absolutely necessary.
As I drove alongside, the stocky, stout lad of a farmer in his brown duck coat lined with sheep's wool, came up from between the wheels. His cap was awry, his trousers were muddy at the knees where he had knelt in the moist road, and his face was red and angry.
A true knight, I thought to myself, looks not to the beauty of his lady, but only to her distress.
"What's the matter, Brother?" I asked in the friendliest manner.
"Bolt gone," he said gruffly, "and I got to get to town before nightfall."
"Get in," I said, "and we'll drive back. We shall see it in the road."
So he got in. I drove the mare slowly up the hill and we both leaned out and looked. And presently there in the road the bolt lay. My farmer got out and picked it up.
"It's all right," he said. "I was afraid it was clean busted. I'm obliged to you for the lift."
"Hold on," I said, "get in, I'll take you back."
"Oh, I can walk."
"But I can drive you faster," I said, "and you've got to get the load to town before nightfall."
I could not let him go without taking tribute. No matter what the story books say, I am firmly of the opinion that no gentle knight (who was human) ever parted with the fair lady whose misery he had relieved without exchanging the time of day, or offering her a bun from his dinner pail, or finding out (for instance) if she were maid or married.
My farmer laughed and got in.
"You see," I said, "when a member of my society is in distress I always like to help him out."
He paused; I watched him gradually evolve his reply:
"How did you know I was a Mason?"
"Well, I wasn't sure."
"I only joined last winter," he said. "I like it first-rate. When you're a Mason you find friends everywhere."
I had some excellent remarks that I could have made at this point, but the distance was short and bolts were irresistibly uppermost. After helping him to put in the bolt, I said:
"Here's the grip of fellowship."
He returned it with a will, but afterward he said doubtfully.
"I didn't feel the grip."
"Didn't you?" I asked. "Well, Brother, it was all there."
"If ever I can do anything for you," he said, "just you let me know. Name's Forbes, Spring Brook."
And so he drove away.
"A real Mason," I said to myself, "could not have had any better advantage of his society at this moment than I. I walked right into it without a grip or a pass. And benefits have also been distributed."
As I drove onward I felt as though anything might happen to me before I got home. I know now exactly how all old knights, all voyageurs, all crusaders, all poets in new places, must have felt! I looked out at every turn of the road; and, finally, after I had grown almost discouraged of encountering further adventure I saw a man walking in the road ahead of me. He was much bent over, and carried on his back a bag.
When he heard me coming he stepped out of the road and stood silent, saving every unnecessary motion, as a weary man will. He neither looked around nor spoke, but waited for me to go by. He was weary past expectation. I stopped the mare.
"Get in, Brother," I said; "I am going your way."
He looked at me doubtfully; then, as I moved to one side, he let his bag roll off his back into his arms. I could see the swollen veins of his neck; his face had the drawn look of the man who bears burdens.
"Pretty heavy for your buggy," he remarked.
"Heavier for you," I replied.
So he put the bag in the back of my buggy and stepped in beside me diffidently.
"Pull up the lap robe," I said, "and be comfortable."
"Well, sir, I'm glad of a lift," he remarked. "A bag of seed wheat is about all a man wants to carry for four miles."
"Aren't you the man who has taken the old Rucker farm?" I asked.
"I'm that man."
"I've been intending to drop in and see you," I said.
"Have you?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes," I said. "I live just across the hills from you, and I had a notion that we ought to be neighbourly—seeing that we belong to the same society."
His face, which had worn a look of set discouragement (he didn't know beforehand what the Rucker place was like!), had brightened up, but when I spoke of the society it clouded again.
"You must be mistaken," he said. "I'm not a Mason!"
"No more am I," I said.
"Nor an Oddfellow."
As I looked at the man I seemed to know all about him. Some people come to us like that, all at once, opening out to some unsuspected key. His face bore not a few marks of refinement, though work and discouragement had done their best to obliterate them; his nose was thin and high, his eye was blue, too blue, and his chin somehow did not go with the Rucker farm. I knew! A man who in his time had seen many an open door, but who had found them all closed when he attempted to enter! If any one ever needed the benefits of my fraternity, he was that man.
"What Society did you think I belonged to?" he asked.
"Well," I said, "when I was in town a man who wanted to sell me a corn-planter asked me if I was a Mason----"
"Did he ask you that, too?" interrupted my companion.
"He did," I said. "He did----" and I reflected not without enthusiasm that I had come away without a corn-planter. "And when I drove out of town I was feeling rather depressed because I wasn't a member of the lodge."
"Were you?" exclaimed my companion. "So was I. I just felt as though I had about reached the last ditch. I haven't any money to pay into lodges and it don't seems if a man could get acquainted and friendly without."
"Farming is rather lonely work sometimes, isn't it?" I observed.
"You bet it is," he responded. "You've been there yourself, haven't you?"
There may be such a thing as the friendship of prosperity; but surely it cannot be compared with the friendship of adversity. Men, stooping, come close together.
"But when I got to thinking it over," I said, "it suddenly occurred to me that I belonged to the greatest of all fraternities. And I recognized you instantly as a charter member."
He looked around at me expectantly, half laughing. I don't suppose he had so far forgotten his miseries for many a day.
"What's that?" he asked.
"The Universal Brotherhood of Men."
Well, we both laughed—and understood.
After that, what a story he told me!—the story of a misplaced man on an unproductive farm. Is it not marvellous how full people are—all people—of humour, tragedy, passionate human longings, hopes, fears—if only you can unloosen the floodgates! As to my companion, he had been growing bitter and sickly with the pent-up humours of discouragement; all he needed was a listener.
He was so absorbed in his talk that he did not at first realize that we had turned into his own long lane. When he discovered it he exclaimed:
"I didn't mean to bring you out of your way. I can manage the bag all right now."
"Never mind," I said, "I want to get you home, to say nothing of hearing how you came out with your pigs."
As we approached the house, a mournful-looking woman came to the door. My companion sprang out of the buggy as much elated now as he had previously been depressed (for that was the coinage of his temperament), rushed up to his wife and led her down to the gate. She was evidently astonished at his enthusiasm. I suppose she thought he had at length discovered his gold mine!
When I finally turned the mare around, he stopped me, laid his hand on my arm and said in a confidential voice:
"I'm glad we discovered that we belong to the same society."
As I drove away I could not help chuckling when I heard his wife ask suspiciously:
"What society is that?"
I heard no word of his answer: only the note in his voice of eager explanation.
And so I drove homeward in the late twilight, and as I came up the lane, the door of my home opened, the light within gleamed kindly and warmly across the darkened yard: and Harriet was there on the step, waiting.