Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A Day in the Country!

The Adventures of Schuyler Colfax: Vice President!
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.

Our story so far (Part 1)...

April 28, 1870: A Day in the Country!

Schuyler Colfax tilted his head back, carefully, so as to not skew his hat atop his head, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply of the warmish spring air. The vice president's carriage was drawn by two magnificent horses, their brown coats glistening as they trotted steadily down the rutted country road. Jenkins, Colfax's aide-de-camp, held the reins.

"Sir, I must again protest," Jenkins began, his voice unsteady as he bounced in the seat next to his employer.  "Amos is a much better driver than I -"

"Balderdash!" Colfax shouted. "You're doing fine, Jenkins. While Amos is most accomplished at the rein, we have matters to discuss that need not trouble his unsophisticated ears. Now, keep your eyes on the road, my boy, and deliver us into the country!"

As Jenkins dutifully complied, Colfax again breathed deeply of the untainted air of the Virginia countryside. He smiled widely. We spend so much time in the District, contemplating the business of the Union, Colfax thought, that we fall victim to that realm's natural swampiness and staleness.

"It is only here, and, of course, in my native Indiana, that I can truly clear my head and think, Jenkins," Colfax sighed. There was much to think about.

The news that President Grant fell victim to the demons of liquor took a backseat to the news that Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States, had been denied invitation to the old general's birthday celebration.

"What am I to make of this, Jenkins? Has the President lost faith in me, heaven forbid? How can one so close to the ministrations of governance, such as myself, still be so far from the issuance of that power?

"Am I not an able solon? Have I not served well as Speaker? Indeed, I can boast of a powerful friendship with martyred Lincoln himself! And yet Grant would seem to deny my very existence? What am I to think, Jenkins?"

Jenkins cast a quick sideways glance at the vice president. Prudence required that he keep his own counsel. Besides, Colfax was speaking again.

"Did I not invite Grant to the most recent celebration of my own birth?" He turned in his seat to face Jenkins. "Did I not?"

Jenkins could keep silent no longer.

"You did, sir. But President Grant sent his regrets -"

"That's not the point, confound it! Jenkins, I have made every effort to reach out to the man...to be a part of his team...and this is the payment I am to receive? Oh, it is bitter indeed, Jenkins!" Colfax shook his head slowly and began wringing his hands. Jenkins, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, wisely kept his eyes focused on the road ahead.

The pair rode in silence for a long time. Colfax rode much of the way with his eyes closed, seemingly deep in thought. Jenkins brooded silently beside him, the tightness of his grip on the reins threatening to send cramps cascading down his forearms.

"I stood for him and ensured his acceptance in the Lodge, for mercy's sake!"

"I know, sir. I know."

The pair rode on, as the sun ascended the morning sky. Jenkins noticed that the terrain had flattened, and more trees lined the road. As the vice president wished, they were truly in the country now.

"Jenkins! Stop! Stop immediately!" The aide nearly jumped out of his seat; the silence had lulled Jenkins, and, he had been almost certain, Colfax had been asleep. Clearly, that was not the case. Jenkins pulled on the reins and yelled "Whoa!" at the horses, who grudgingly slowed to a halt. Colfax barely waited for the carriage to stop before he jumped to the ground.

The vice president walked quickly along the road, one hand holding onto his hat. He retraced the carriage's route for 50 yards before stopping.

"Jenkins! Come this instant!"

Colfax removed his hat and bent down to study an object lying by the side of the road.  As Jenkins approached warily, he could see that the vice president had found a leather satchel.

"Did that fall from our carriage, sir?" Jenkins did not recall the vice president carrying any baggage when their impromptu journey began. Colfax shook his head slowly.

"No, Jenkins. This did not issue from our carriage," Colfax said. He reached down, picked up the satchel by its leather strap, and ran his fingers over the bag. Brown leather...supple...cow hide, clearly. His suspicion mounting, he turned over the satchel to view the opposite side.

"Great blessings, Jenkins! I knew it!" He turned to his assistant and held the satchel so that the brand of the United States Post Office was clearly visible.

“A postman’s satchel? I don’t understand, sir,” Jenkins said.

“Aye, lad, ‘tis the sacred vessel of one of our nation’s finest - a postman! And it is heavily laden with correspondence,” Colfax said, hefting the satchel with both hands. A troubled look crossed the vice president’s brow.

“Surely a postman would not part with his civic burden, though Death himself may block his route,” Colfax said. “Foul play has made its mark on this scene, I am sure of it.”

Jenkins thought for a moment and turned on his heel to survey the treeline alongside the road. He spied nothing amiss.

“Sir, perhaps the postman left the satchel in order to lighten his load...perhaps to venture into the forest for a brief respite.”

Colfax turned his gaze upon his young aide. A look of compassionate pity came over his bearded face.

“Jenkins, my boy, I will excuse your foul utterance in deference to your relative youth and naivete,” Colfax began. “As a man of the world, and as the former chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, I consider myself something of an expert in matters such as these.

“A postman would no sooner cut off his own arm than would he abandon his dutiful burden. A postman takes an oath, Jenkins!” Colfax paused, looked back at the road they had already trod, then ahead.

“This is most definitely NOT a Postal Road. By my recollection, the nearest settlement with a post office is Fort Buffalo, which lies on the road ahead. Come, Jenkins. We shall continue on to Fort Buffalo, in search of answers.”

Jenkins reached for the satchel. “Allow me, sir, to carry this back to the carriage for you.”

Colfax recoiled as if Jenkins were a serpent.

“Heaven forbid! A civilian may NOT handle the U.S. Mail, Jenkins,” Colfax shouted. “No. This satchel shall not leave my side until its rightful carrier is found, or I’ll take it to the Postmaster General himself!”

Next week: The Plot Thickens!

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