The Mountain: An Event Group Thriller
presence.”
    “Thank you, Major. Would you excuse us, please?”
    Major Taylor bowed and left the room. The rain was still falling and Seward could hear it drumming off the roof of the farmhouse. General Lee slowly sank into his rocker, folded the letter, and started to place it in his tunic, but Seward quickly placed the cup and saucer down and held out his hand, which had finally stopped shaking since the warm homemade whiskey was flowing steadily through his old and tired system.
    “Yes, I would presuppose the president would not like the contents of that letter getting out to the press, as it would surely mean the end of his political career and more than likely the beginnings of a long stay in a sanitarium.”
    Seward took the letter and without a word tossed it into the large fireplace. He watched the last of the note go up in flames and the red wax seal melt into the flaming wood. In just a few seconds the message was nothing but ashes. Seward then took the poker and smashed the ashes until there was nothing left. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath as he reached for the fortifying home-brewed whiskey once more. He held the cup in the air in a mock toast.
    “To the president of the United States, for as insane as he is, he has managed to surprise even myself.” Seward finished the cup as Lee watched him in silence.
    The general finally ceased rocking and looked toward the fire. In the flames he could see the burning of southern cities. He could smell the lives of many a family going up in smoke just like the firewood he was watching. After reading the letter he knew that the world had finally gone insane.
    “General Lee, would you please put pen to paper telling the president that his wild plan is not acceptable to you at any cost or in any form? That you, Robert E. Lee, agree with the many of us in his own cabinet that this … this … proposition is pure folly.” Seward closed his eyes momentarily and then they opened once again as he tried to control his passion. “Getting more boys killed for something as foolish as this makes both sides in this loathsome conflict seem desperate and insane to the rest of the world and would generate a contempt among civilized nations as to our childish ways. All to bind wounds at the end of this conflict. Believe me, General Lee, there is no salve in the world that we as a nation can apply to our wounds that will ever allow either side to forget this madness. Far too many an American boy has died to just forget.”
    Lee stood and walked to a large table where the battle maps of his campaign had been covered with a bedsheet in anticipation of Seward’s arrival. He took up a pen, dipped the tip into an ornate inkwell, and started writing. He finished by placing his own seal on the envelope and then paced back to Seward, who was now standing and donning his coat, holding his hat in his hand. General Lee handed the American secretary of state the sealed envelope with his own crest on the seal.
    “Then the world will believe both Mr. Lincoln and myself insane, Mr. Seward. Tell the president I have given him reluctant permission to use volunteers only”—he lowered his eyes—“as I figure my boys would rather go to their deaths that way than dying off in a northern prison camp.”
    Seward looked at Lee with astonishment written across his lined and tired face. “You are acquiescing to the president’s request?”
    Lee turned away from the stricken secretary of state. “I have explained my actions in my response to Mr. Lincoln.” He turned back to face Seward. “The president is right, Mr. Secretary. The nation will be devastated after this conflict has played out to its final passion play, and something will desperately be needed as a balm to every American’s soul.”
    “The president is a fool, and I expected you to tell him so in not so many written words, to deny him permission to use your men in this folly that will only see embarrassment and

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