“This meeting will now come to order! We, the Freemasons, have gathered as brothers to discuss many important matters. We have with us tonight, President Washington and Ben Franklin, who continue to be at the forefront of this important process. Please help me to welcome them both to the podium!” The Freemasons erupted with applause as their most famous members made their way to the front of the hall. Ben kept his left hand deep within the pocket of his vest.
Once the applause wore down, the men exchanged some quick words.
“You should speak first Mr. President. They will be expecting it.” Ben said.
“If you would like to go first Ben, I have no objection.”
“It is an honor simply to share the stage.” With that, Ben took a seat.
“I would like to first ask that you join me in recognizing Benjamin Franklin for his past diplomatic works in France, and for the way he has embodied every good and right aspect of this enlightened American ideal.” Everyone stood up from their chairs and clapped. “He is a true American and an example for us all.” George waited for silence before continuing. “In my first two months in office I have witnessed firsthand the promise that our new government has to offer. Countless difficulties have threatened our young nation, but we have had strength to meet every challenge. I acknowledge that this new government has been created on a foundation of reason. I also acknowledge that this system is not perfect because men are not perfect beings. That being said, it is not the government that will carry this country into a future of prosperity, but the citizens who work and live in this land. The common man and his family are the only hope for this nation. If the government forgets this vital truth, America will fall, just as great nations of the past. We must have faith that the heart of the common man can support the weight of our society.”
The hall broke out in deafening applause. Ben remained still. When George offered him the stage, Ben smiled exposing all of his teeth. Only after Ben stood at the podium did the Freemasons in attendance begin to settle.
“Well spoken Mr. President. He is absolutely correct to view the common man as the life blood of this society. The common man lives, works, and dies for the greater good of his country.” A man in the front row loosened his collar. “That being said, this country also depends on men of greatness. America must continue to be a land that allows the few outstanding individuals to rise above the rest in order to lead us through times of trial. I see before me great men of promise and purpose. I see men destined to rise higher than their common brethren. This is a truth that will ensure the safety of all. The strong are meant to carry the weak. The young are meant to care for the old. If this country prevents the brightest lights among us from shining through the darkness of common ignorance, we will be blinded from within. Consider for a moment the witch hunts of our past. Blind faith of the masses is dangerous when the reasonable and the strong do nothing. We must lift up those with superior sight so that the individuals walking below will know the right path to travel. Fellow Freemasons, we have been gifted with sight!”
This speech was followed with the standard applause, but not all in attendance joined in approval. George put his hands together in the name of etiquette. He watched Ben press his hand to his chest and take a few deep breaths.
The Master of Ceremonies returned to the podium.
“Great words from great men. Our country is in good hands. Thank you both for the honor. Now, I would like to propose a small challenge to President Washington and Mr. Franklin.” Shouts of approval rang around the hall. “We have gathered three true stories from this region. I will tell you most of the story, but you must complete it. How well do you know your countrymen? Do you both accept?”
“I accept this challenge, good man.” Ben said.
“An honest effort is all I can offer.” George said.
“Good. Please stand on either side of the podium. I ask that all of you remain silent as to ensure the validity of the game. Good. Let us begin. A young man of sixteen stole his father’s only pen to write a love letter to a much older woman of thirty-four. Before the letter was sent, the boy’s mother found it. Finish the story gentlemen. Mr. President, please answer first.”
“Perhaps the mother found the letter and suspected her husband guilty, but eventually the boy admitted his actions, redeeming his father.” Ben struggled to hold back laughter. “What do you think Mr. Franklin?”
“Sixteen from thirty-four is eighteen. The mother was a good age for giving birth. Her son wrote the letter to her. I would say we have a young Oedipus.”
“Impressive. Mr. Franklin is absolutely correct. And, from what I hear, the boy has very good taste.” George did not join in on the laughter between Ben and the Master of Ceremonies. “On to the next story, gentlemen. A widower had twin sons. When he realized that his health was slipping away, he decided to turn his property over to one of them. They both had large families of their own and had an equal claim to the inheritance. Adam Jr. wrote a formal letter to his father, but Daniel made no effort to obtain his father’s property. Mr. Franklin, what do you think?”
“Well, I must say this is more difficult than the first. The formal letter may indicate that he does not share a close bond with his father. On the other hand, no effort may mean that the other son has an even more severed connection. I will say that the father wished to offer his inheritance to Daniel, but before it could be finalized, Adam took it for himself.”
“I am sorry Mr. Franklin, but that is not quite how it happened. You have missed a key point. Mr. President, would you please attempt an answer?” asked the Master of Ceremonies.
“Perhaps there is something about the names. Adam has his father’s name. I will say that he gave his property to Daniel, but only because his wife named and favored him.”
“Excellent, Mr. President, that is correct. His wife had hoped for a girl, and she had planned to name her Danielle. This is quite a game, gentlemen. Now, for the final story. There were two young lovers. The young man proposed to the young woman and she accepted. Days before the wedding, the woman nearly died in a fire. Her face and much of her body were burned to the degree of deep scaring. The young man could barely recognize her.”
“He left her.” Ben said.
“He married her.” George said.
“You’re both wrong. This woman was known by many to be the most beautiful they had ever laid eyes on. When the young man saw what she had become, he was filled with despair. They found him on the day of his wedding, dead, with a recently fired musket at his side. Such a sad story but let us not dwell on it long. Tonight is for good company and good food.” The Master of Ceremonies waved toward the back of the room and over a dozen servants came forward with sparkling silver platters. They marched around the long tables, placing the elements of the feast on top of the white table cloth. “May your conversations be as well seasoned as the food.”
The Freemasons seated themselves at the long tables. Before Ben could take his seat, the Master of Ceremonies put a hand on his shoulder and spoke to the assembly once again.
“Mr. Franklin, before we eat would you please say a prayer over the food?”
Ben, forgetting himself, grabbed the man with his left hand, and for a moment the Master of Ceremonies felt his life force diminish in the form of an intense chill. After releasing the man, Ben turned to his shocked brothers.
“What? What is it?” Ben took a few steps away from them. “This is a free country, is it not? I will not do it!”
George stood up from his seat.
“Ben, what is wrong? We are your brothers.”
Ben’s wild hair now covered most of his face. Without a response, he stormed out of the hall. George rushed over to the Master of Ceremonies, who still felt the chill of death.
“What happened?” George asked.
“I have not the heart.”