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.