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A CONVERSATION

Dale "Vandor" Robinson

He had served in the armies of several European powers prior to joining the American army. After fifteen years of diligent service the soldier walked with his commanding officer as the dark clouds of civil war lay on the horizon.

Washington, D.C., April 1861

"Walk with me, John."

"Yes, sir."

The two Army officers walked along the streets of Washington. The sweet scent of the blossoming cherry trees filled the air.

"We've known each other a long time, haven't we, John?"

"Since Vera Cruz, Colonel."

"And you've been my aide since then. Fourteen, fifteen years now."

"It has been my pleasure to serve in your command, Robert."

"You could have had a command of your own long ago."

The younger man said nothing.

The colonel went on. "You've turned down promotions, content to remain a captain, while those around you have risen to high rank. I know why, of course."

The men paused.

"Look at me, John. I've aged in the last fifteen years. My hair has gone gray; I'm 54 years old. But you! You look as young today as you did at Vera Cruz!"

The captain made no reply at first, then began "Robert, I ..."

"No, no, don't tell me, John. That's not what I wanted to talk about anyway."

They resumed their stroll. The early spring sun was setting now.

"The president offered me command of the Army, you know."

"Yes, sir. There'd be no finer commander, sir."

The colonel looked at his aide sharply. "Did you know that Fort Sumter was fired on today?"

"Then the war has begun," John said.

"I told Lincoln no," the colonel added. "And handed him my resignation. I'm going home to Virginia. I can't fight my own kinfolk in this wrong-headed war, John."

"The Abolitionists have turned a states rights issue into a slavery issue," the captain said.

"Slavery be damned! It's an abomination, but it's not what this war will be about, John. It will be about brother against brother, son against father, neighbor against neighbor! May God have mercy upon us!"

The two men walked in silence down the lamp-lit streets of the capitol.

Finally, the older man spoke again. "I leave for home in the morning. What will you do John?"

"I'm a Virginian, as you well know, Robert. I have family in Richmond. Like you, I can't fight against my family. It's a sad time in this nation's history."

"That it is, John, that it is." The two men clasped hands. "Perhaps we'll meet again, John."

"Perhaps, sir." The younger man stepped back and saluted. "Goodnight, Colonel Lee."

The older man returned the salute. "Goodnight and Godspeed, Captain Carter."