Based on recently discovered diaries penned by the 17th Vice President of the United States (1869-1873). Said diaries were discovered in a storage closet at the Odd Fellows Hall in South Bend, Indiana.
April 28, 1870: A Troubling Discovery!
"Good morning, Mr. Vice President!"
Schuyler Colfax lowered the newspaper he was reading, folded it in his lap, and turned his head to regard his visitor.
"Jenkins! A hearty good morning to you as well," said the Vice President. Colfax smiled. His man Jenkins, he assumed, brought him good news from the Executive Mansion. But as he studied the younger man's face, he could see that the smile was fraudulent.
"What say you, Jenkins? Has President Grant acted on my request?" Colfax rose from his chair and began to pace the wooden floor of the modest house he occupied with his wife, Ellen, and Schuyler III. The Vice President was a patient man, but he had been waiting six months for an appointment with the Chief Executive to discuss important matters of state.
"I'm afraid I bear disappointing news, sir," Jenkins began. Colfax regarded him carefully. Jenkins was the best aide-de-camp he had employed during his time in the District. If he bore bad tidings, Colfax was certain that Jenkins himself was not at fault.
"Mr. Vice President, I did indeed travel to the Executive Mansion this morning, as per your instructions," Jenkins said. He paused, almost as if he had lost his train of thought. "It was a glorious sight to behold, the mansion shining white on a luxuriant lawn of green grass...a sight you, yourself, sir, have gazed upon many a time over these years of public service."
Colfax nodded, urging him to continue.
"I knocked on the front door to announce my presence, as the hour was early. Though I bided my time upon the front step, no answer was forthcoming from inside. The door, I discovered, was unlocked, so after much deliberation I let myself into the interior."
Curious, Colfax thought, as he stroked his full, luxuriant beard with the fingers of his right hand. The old general liked to have an armed guard detailed to the mansion's entrance. An unguarded door? Curious indeed.
Jenkins was perspiring, the vice president could see. The aide turned toward the open window near Colfax's reading chair, pulled a laced handkerchief from his vest pocket and mopped his brow.
"I walked inside that stately White House, Mr. Vice President, and it was the strangest thing: a great stillness befell the hallways of the great manse," Jenkins said in a low tone. "Had the day not been clearly in the ante-meridian, I would have thought myself a night-time intruder in that place.
"As I made my way slowly through the foyer, I called out: 'How now! I bear important tidings for President Grant himself!' But there was no reply. I continued on in the direction of the President's offices, as you have sent me there on business previously and I remembered the route.
"At one point, I heard a low moaning sound issuing from a place I could not identify. And, still, no one came to greet me...."
Colfax exhaled loudly, as he was wont to do in troubling situations. He hooked his thumbs in his vest pockets before speaking.
"Most unusual, Jenkins. Most unusual. But what of President Grant?"
Jenkins swallowed hard, and reached out to steady himself against a sideboard table under the window.
"When I approached the Great Man's offices, the door was ajar! Though I was most fearful of invading his privacy, or intruding on the inner workings of state, I pushed the door open. I stood in the hallway and again announced my presence, through the open doorway.
"No answer was forthcoming, so I stepped inside. The tableau that greeted me was - oh, sir! Would that I had never seen it!"
The vice president's alarm grew.
"Out with it, Jenkins! What of Grant? Am I to exercise my Constitutional duty?" Colfax exhaled loudly again, and cast an expectant gaze on his aide.
"I...I can scarcely describe what I saw, sir." Jenkins voice was barely above a whisper now, his eyes cast toward the floor. "There were bodies everywhere, and at first I thought a great murderous rampage had made its ugly mark. I saw men in uniform laying on the floor all around me...women in various stages of undress, some with their ankles clearly visible to me. Toward the back of the room, I could see President Grant, still seated in his chair, but slumped over his oak desk.
"But they were not dead! I observed that there were a great many empty glass bottles scattered among the slumbering masses, and then the olfactory evidence accosted me...."
Colfax recoiled in horror.
"Demon rum? No!"
"Whiskey, actually, sir. At least, that's what the empty bottle clutched in President Grant's hand appeared to be."
There it was. The ugly, unfortunate truth. Colfax, being a man of the world, was surprised and disheartened at the news. He knew, however, that he must put on a brave facade for the sake of young Jenkins, who must be devastated by the revelation.
"You must be strong, Jenkins," Colfax said slowly. "I am afraid that President Grant - our Commander in Chief - is a most intemperate man!"
Jenkins swooned, falling back into the vice president's reading chair.
"But sir! How can it be? The Savior of the Union? The Victor of Appomattox?" Jenkins buried his face in his hands. "What will we do?"
Colfax reared back and slapped Jenkins, hard, across the face.
"Pull yourself together, man! Tell me: how did you leave the scene? Are you known to anyone there?" Colfax knew that word of President Grant's intemperance must not be made known to the public, lest the Union suffer.
"No sir!" Jenkins rose from the chair, his employer's slap returning him to the moment. "I quickly left that grim office, and searched the rest of the mansion for signs of some consciousness. I found many more, in the same condition as before, and just as many empty bottles. As I made my way back to the front door, so as to escape this hellish scene, I found an opened letter on the floor which explained everything.
"Yesterday was President Grant's birthday, sir. The celebration of that milestone seems to have exceeded the bounds of common decency."
Great Jubilee! Colfax exclaimed to himself. How is it that I was not invited?
"Jenkins! Have the carriage brought around. I wish to ride out into the country, and let the sweet natural breezes clear my head. Only then shall I decide what to do next."
Next week: A Day in the Country