Wednesday, May 9, 2012

T. E. Story # 81

Josh and I  walked the horse the last mile before entering the village.  The little town is sure to grow once the commerce begins getting better here in the South, just as long as the ferry runs, I suppose.  I sent "JJ" up one of the side roads along the river bank.  There are a couple of landings along the river bank that I wanted to have him take a look at as well as the fishery.  He will go on back to Washington City from there and report to Col. Abert about what has happened so far, in relation to the Engineer Captain and the attempt to stop this expedition.  As we enter the little town, we see that is only a single street which is the Telegraph Road going through the center of the village,  There is a saddler here, and we have a broken trace strap, so we will take care of that problem while we are here.  I will give Josh a paper and pen and let him handle getting a new trace strap.  Meanwhile I think that I will go into the general store here and see if there are any fresh fruits or vegetables available.  I enjoy going through old general stores since there is always a surprise around each corner.  Besides, it is the best way to advertise ourselves, and our services, while we make notes about the town.  Aquia has about 15 buildings, approximately half of them are private homes, and the rest are some kind of commercial buildings.  There is a stage stop here at the General Store.  At the edge of town there is a mule mill for grinding corn, and at the other end of town is a blacksmith shop. There is a combination restaurant and road house with what looks like rooms on the second floor, and a small bank building, "The First Virginia Bank,"  a stone building which is the Sheriff's / Marshall's  office, (and presumably a jail), and a stable.  The telegraph office stood by itself with the lone telegraph line coming down from the line of wire and poles that disappeared off to the North and south.  There is also a dry goods store with a fairly wide selection of cloth, ladies dresses and such.
We pull the wagon up to the General store , and there are several old men seated along the plank walk.  At the main entrance is a large pickle barrel and just inside the door a wooden indian holding a both of broken wooden cigars.  I will leave the wagon at this point, and let Josh take the wagon over to the saddler whose set up is in the same building as the blacksmith.
I greet the men seated on the porch of the general store and they all return my greeting,  There appears in the doorway a gentleman with a dark canvas apron.  He looks over the rig as Josh moves it away and asks, " What's the sign all about mister?"  This in a loud enough voice to insure that all the men along the wall can hear.
"Just a traveling Secretary," I reply.  "You know, for those folks who need a letter written, read, or copied."
One of the old men speaks up and asks, "Is the writing on your letters fanciful writing or just a no nonsense letter for business?"
I turn to the speaker and reply," Whichever way that you want it sir.  I can write in copperplate, which is the accepted business script, or Spencerian, for those who enjoy a more fanciful and flowing script.  I also do a Spencerian kind of drawing if the letter is  to be sent t a lady of your heart.  Do you have such a need sir?"   I ask of the man .  He is at least sixty years of age with a white beard and a large shock of white hair, long and windblown.
The other men erupt into laughter, at this, and the storekeeper says, " He's got you there Charlie,  We always knowed you had a secret love tucked in that tent a-hint yer house."
Charlie flushed at this gibe, and I hurriedly said, "My apologies sir, I did not mean to embarrass you.  But some people do have a need for such, and that is one of the things that I can do."  Charlie, looks my way, and asks can you read as good as you write," he asks.
My response is, "Why yes, I think so, as long as the text is in English.  I don't do so well in a foreign language."  I grin at this and the others including Charlie laugh and nod their heads.  A man next to Charlie says, "Hey, Charlie what about that letter you got  the other day."  The gentleman turned to me and said, "Charlie here is the head of the local militia hereabouts.  You know, the home guard and we get together once a month  and drill with our wooden rifles and then finish the day with a big feast , fiddle dancing, and lots of games.  It's a kind of holiday for everybody ."
I nod my head, I have seen such in my own hometown in the West.
"Wal he got this here letter from the govamint, and we've been kind of wondering what it had to say.  We-uns here didn't want to show it around cause we didn't want to upset the people in town, but we should know what the govamint is wantin' with us.  There's been some strange stuff in the newspapers that come through here and we are a little concerned.”
"Shut yer fool trap Pete, this man we don't know nothin' bout him.  Beside the letter came to me.  If there's any reading or decidin’ to be done . I'll be the one to do it.  I command the militia here!"
"Well, then do somethin’, you old fool, and let's see what the letter says.  We got as much right as you do to know what is in it."  Pete turns to me and asks, "You look like you might have done some time in the military, can you keep shut about what you read in the letter?"
I ponder for a moment," Yes," I reply," I have served in the military during the Mexican War.  If you decide to let me assist you, Yes, I can promise you that no one else here will hear of anything in that letter."
Charlie slowly reached inside his vest and pulled out a long envelope with a swatch of Sealing Wax on the back.  The envelope looked as though it had been handled a great deal.  "What do the rest of you think about this?"Charlie asked the others.
The other men all raised their voices in agreement and Charlie said," Alright! alright! we'll do it.  But Cass we need yer back room."  Charlie addressed this last to the man in the apron.
Cass replied, " Sure , we only use it fer poker and such.  I reckon that it will serve for a readin""  He laughed, "Come on," he waved his arm, and then looked at me, “follow me mister, it ain't fancy but it is secure."  We walked through the store, and out onto a porch in the back.  The land fell away into a revene in the back of the store, and just off the porch was a small room, obviously added after the original building was constructed.  It stood on stilts about ten ft high over the slope, and was isolated except for the access through the porch.  "It's the "Poker Room" built this way to keep certain people's old ladies from peekin in to see what's goin' on," Cass explained looking back at the other men.  He took a large key out of his pocket and unlocked the door.  Inside the room was a table and about eight or ten chairs.
"Charlie spoke up, and said, "Alright, now you all have a seat, " and he motioned me to take the chair next to him.  "Before we start, I want all here to pledge to me that what is revealed here will stay here.  Nobody else is to know anything about this.  All here swear!"  All the men held up their right hands and swore to keep the information to themselves.  Then Charlie turned to me, “We don't know nuthin' about you mister, except that you do this fer a livin'.  I reckon yer word is good since you served in the Mex War.  Who did you serve with?"
"I was an engineer then, and I was lucky enough to be with Lt. Col. Lee when he surprised the Mexican Troops with his artillery, " I replied, curious as to how that would go over here.
"Hell!, said Cass. "Anybody who was with Col. Lee on that little trick, has got my vote.  I was in the batch of fellers that would've got ticked off bad if he hadn't been so dang clever!!”  Everyone in the room nodded their head.
Charlie said," Wal, I reckon then you is one of us."  He handed me the letter and said,
" Read it out and let's see what kind of trouble that the derned govamint has got us into this time!"

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