The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert
Chapter 13 b

“Tell us about the Grandmaster Mason fellow,” said Ivan.  “He lived near here I suppose.” 

“In the city, but not that close.  His home was mentioned in a story, ‘Sunset on the Wissahickon,’ that may have been by Edgar Allen Poe.”

“May have?” asked Hapgood.

“It’s a story about floating down a river.  That’s a common enough Poe theme.  But the story ends with a reverse.  Poe doesn’t really do that.  Reading him is like being crushed by a python.  He never changes his pressure.  Besides, he almost never identifies a real place he is talking about in his stories.”

Ivan said, “In Florida they say Poe was stationed at Jacksonville when he was in the service.  He may have floated down the Silver River near my home or down the Ichtucknee.  That’s still popular.”

“Well he does happen to mention the Ichtucknee in his story ‘Landor’s Cottage.’”

“What happens in the story about the Wissahickon?” asked Jon.

“A man sees a stag and thinks it’s wild, and it seems very romantic for it to be posing by the river.  But it turns out to be a pet.  The conspiracy buffs think it’s some sort of secret code.  They think the deer represents the Elks or the Moose, two men’s clubs.  And being a pet of a Grandmaster Mason, it would mean that those two clubs were in fact controlled by a secret organization.  I doubt it, though.  For all I know those two clubs aren’t even as old as the story.”

“Secret code?”

“Symbolic, allegory if you like.  But secret code would be your basic Edgar Allen Poe.  He was the greatest cryptographer who ever lived.  He was the first one who ever declared that he could break a code.  And his work was the best on the subject until computers showed up and changed everything.”

“But the Masons are a secret organization?” Jon asked.

“Just about any organization will have its secrets.  That’s only prudent.  In the case of the Masons there is no secret that there are secrets.  But nobody believes there is anything bad behind it all.

“What they are willing to give out publicly is that they started as an authentic masons’ guild during the Middle Ages.  They were involved in building the great Gothic churches, which are still a wonder to behold.  The organization spread, particularly in Britain, and then expanded with the British Empire.  That meant that there were a lot of Freemason’s involved in the founding of the United States.”

“Freemasons,” said Ivan.  “The free people.”

“Quite.  Not very common in the Middle Ages.”

“Isn’t there some sort of connection with the Knights Templar?” asked Hapgood.

“Well there certainly is in somebody’s mind.  The Templars started during the crusades.  They were a voluntary organization with the goal of protecting pilgrims who were going to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then in Western hands.  They were given permission to set up a barracks on the grounds of the Temple of Solomon, and they were so delighted with the honor that they took their name from it.  They protected pilgrims, set up hospitals and fought vigorously against non-Christians.  They accumulated a great deal of wealth and power, which apparently aroused enough jealousy so that they were ultimately denounced and attacked by the church.

“So far as having to do with Freemasons, there is no direct evidence I know of, but they have existed over much the same time, and there are thematic similarities.  Both are secret men’s organizations.  Both are related to the temple, which the Masons ultimately claimed – or revealed – that they had built.  Both set up hospitals, the Masons or their Shriner offshoot, still do.  Both had connections with Scotland.  There is a boys’ branch of Freemasonry called “Molay,” which just happens to be the name of a Templar Grandmaster who was burned at the stake at the time of the persecutions.  And the Mason Grandmaster’s badge is a Maltese cross.  Malta was a great stronghold of the Templars.

“I doubt there is much in it.  Again, it would be like saying the Moose and the Elk are the same organization because the European moose is called ‘elk’ or rather the American elk is called ‘moose.’  They may be two organizations that have shared ideas, maybe shared members, or there may be an organizational link.  It’s their own business.”

“Thanks,” said Hapgood.

Beale went on, though.  “Then there are the superstitions.  The Templars were accused of heresy, which just means the church didn’t like them.  They were accused of witchcraft, which was the standard excuse for doing horrible things to people they didn’t like.  And they were accused of homosexuality.  There might have been a plausible element in that.  By and large they were tolerant people for their time.  For instance they took no part in the crusade against the Cathars, and that might have won them some enemies.  But if they were tolerant of homosexuals, that would have given them the chance to recruit very capable people who could not find acceptance anywhere else.  That could help to account for their amazing power and the loyalty they commanded.

“It is also darkly hinted – sorry – screamed from the rooftops by some of your New Age brothers that while staying on the Temple grounds they discovered ‘something’ that gave them enormous power and cohesiveness.  Of course everything from the Holy Grail to the Ark of the Covenant has been proposed.  But it seems to have vanished if it ever existed.”

“But the Freemasons survive,” said Ivan.

“The Freemasons are flourishing.  It’s hard to say how long after the persecutions began the Templars as such stayed organized; in some form they survive to this day.  Every signer of the Declaration of Independence, for instance attended law school at a college called ‘Middle Temple.’  So go figure.  At all events one still hears of Templar fund raising for hospitals.  But you don’t hear of them building forts these days or fighting for the Holy Land.”

Jon stood, “Well you certainly have been more than kind.”

“Did you bring anyone else with you?” inquired Beale.

“No, it’s just the five of us,” said James.  “Isn’t that enough?”

“Probably, but there are a couple of men in black cloaks who are taking a lot of interest in your car.  Three more just slipped around the far side of the house.  And I think I hear a scratch on the driveway out back.  I’m not expecting anyone.”

“Have they tampered with the car?” asked Jon.

“No, they’ve been keeping their distance.  It’s no more attention than such a conspicuous car might get anywhere.  It’s just that there are so many of them, and they all have the same cloaks.”

“Please keep an eye on the car,” said Ivan.  The five scattered throughout the downstairs of the house peering out of windows.  They could confirm the occasional glimpse of a black hem or a shadow cast by a figure in hiding, but learned nothing new.

Hapgood said, “It doesn’t look like there is much point in running out the back, does it?  Most of them are probably there.”

They reported back to Beale.

“Surrounded,” said Ivan.  “If you hold the door we can bolt and try to make it to the car.  Long run down those steps, though.”

“Oh, if you want to be shed of them, that’s no problem,” said Beale.  “I just thought they might be friends.  They are acting neutral at worst.  I do have the power of dispersing them.”  He smiled as if he had an inner secret.  He picked up the telephone.

“Reverend Beale at the Tyson Memorial here.  Could you send someone around?  I just might have prowlers.  Some people have been hanging around and acting a bit strangely.”

They had a chance to glance over the dark grandeur of the manse while they waited.  There was a painting of the Last Supper over the great fireplace.  There was meticulous woodwork.  There were stained glass windows.  There was a massive wooden staircase.  At last a prowl car pulled up at the curb.

Beale led them out.  “Thanks for coming, officer.  They seemed to be acting strange, as if they had nowhere better to go.  And I was afraid for my guests’ car here.” 

“No problem, sir.”

“Probably something to do with Halloween tomorrow.  If you like, we can stroll around back to make sure it’s clear.  First let me say goodbye.”

The intruders had melted into the morning sun like mist.  As Beale and his guests approached the car, the minister fished a card out of his pocket.  “If you get to England, you might look this man up.  He’s an old friend.  Used to take some interest in this kind of thing.  Cheerio!”  And they were away.  The GPS still pointed north and east. 


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