Robert E. Lee: A Story and a Play
By Ruth Hill
Scene: Alexandria, Va., the garden in front of the Lees' home in the spring of 1819.
Robert Lee, aged 12
Bud, his chum, aged 11
Slats, a friend, aged 12
Fat, another friend, aged 13
(Enter ROBERT and BUD. BUD has a fishing rod. ROBERT is carrying his school books. SLATS follows tossing a ball in the air and catching it. FAT trails along last, as usual.)
BUD—An say, Rob, get your pole and come on fishing. They say they're biting great. Have you asked your mother if you could go?
ROBERT—No, I haven't.
SLATS—Well what do you think she is, a mind reader or something?
FAT—No, probably he thinks if he waits long enough, somebody will ask her for him.
BUD—Don't judge everybody by yourself. Rob always does everything for himself and a lot of things for other people, and you know it, unless your head's too fat.
SLATS—Well, aren't you going to ask her Rob?
ROBERT—No, I told you before, I couldn't go fishing.
FAT—Well, how do you know you can't if you haven't even asked? Talk about my head being fat!
BUD—You better be careful what you say to Rob. He could trim the life out of you, and you know it.
ROBERT—I don't see what you boys are making all this fuss about. I just can't go fishing, that's all. You fellows go ahead and have a good time and tomorrow tell me all about that biggest fish that got away.
BUD—Don't you want to go, Rob?
ROBERT—Of course I want to go, but I simply can't this afternoon, that's all.
BUD—Aw what's the secret, Rob? Aren't you and I pardners?
ROBERT—There isn't any secret, Bud. I'm just going to take mother out to ride just as I always do.
SLATS—Well say, can't she stay home just for once?
ROBERT—She does stay home all the time except when I take her out to ride. Now be careful, or she might hear you, and not want me to take her out.
FAT—Say, if I'd thought of that sooner, I'd have talked at the top of my lungs.
BUD—Be careful, Fat, or Rob'll have you yelling at the top of your lungs.
ROBERT—Good luck, boys. Run along and have a good time. I hope the fish bite as fast as snapping turtles. (He goes in the house.)
BUD—Come on boys, no use trying to get Rob. When he makes up his mind, you might just as well not try to budge him.
FAT—Aw, he's tied to his mother's apron strings.
SLATS—You shut up before I make you!
BUD (To FAT)—Say if you were half as manly as he is, no one would know you.
FAT—I didn't mean anything. I like Rob just as well as the rest of you, but if I did all the things for my mother that he does for his, everyone'd call me a sissy.
SLATS—Yes, and probably they'd be right. Come on, Fat, I mean “Sissy.”
(BUD, SLATS and FAT go on their way. Negro servant leads out horse and carriage. ROBERT comes out of the house helping his mother down the stairs.)
MRS. LEE—Don't strain yourself, Robert.
ROBERT—You don't know how strong I am, Mother. Lean harder. I don't feel you at all.
MRS. LEE—I don't know what I'd do without you Robert. You're both sons and daughters to me.
(ROBERT helps her into the carriage.)
ROBERT—There, are you quite comfortable, mother? (He arranges the cushions for her.)
MRS. LEE—Yes thank you dear, but I do feel as if you ought to be out playing instead of taking an old invalid like me out to ride.
ROBERT—You aren't old and you must get well so fast that you won't be an invalid any longer, and both of us are going to have the best possible ride. (They drive away.)
The Harbor of St. Louis, banks of the Mississippi River, 1839.
Captain Robert E. Lee
First Lieutenant Smith
Buck Brown, Town Bully
Coyote Jim, his pal, a half-breed
Soldiers at work
Eight friends of Buck and Coyote Jim
BUCK—I'm a-lookin' for the boss of these diggin's.
LIEUTENANT? You want Captain Lee. (Pointing to him.)
BUCK—Be you Captain Lee?
LEE—That's my name. What can I do for you?
BUCK—You can't do nothin' for me. Me and my friends can do anything we want for ourselves. We ain't helpless, see?
LEE—That being the case, I wish you would proceed to your own affairs and allow me to attend to mine.
BUCK—We'd be happy to have you, but this here you're doing now, don't happen to be none of your business.
LEE—Evidently you are looking for trouble, but I am much too busy to oblige you.
BUCK—Unless you leave off being busy right here and now, you're pretty liable to land in a heap o' trouble.
LEE—I am not in the least interested in your threats and I will ask you to be kind enough to leave in order to save me the trouble of having you put out.
BUCK—I reckon you don't know who you're talking to. I'm Buck Brown and this is Coyote Jim, my running mate, and all the rest of these here is our pals and have come to back us up in anything we say.
LEE—I am here to work not to argue. If you are not away from these works in three minutes, I will take means to see that you are.
BUCK—Did you know the city gov'ment wasn't going to give you no money for your work?
LEE—They can do as they like with their own, but I was sent here to do certain work, and I will do it.
BUCK—(Pointing.) Do you see them cannons up there? Unless you quit your dirty meddlin', you'll have a chance to get acquainted with them.
LEE—Do you think I'd be kept from doing my duty by a pack of bullies and cowards? Go back and hide behind your cannon. You'll need more than those to protect you if you meddle again.
(BUCK and his friends skulk out.)
Banquet Hall of the Palace, City of Mexico, after its conquest by the American forces. Officers sitting around the table.
Thirty other officers
WILCOX—Well, I must say I'm thankful it's all over and I do hope it isn't long before we can get back to God's own country. Furthermore, I for one am thankful enough to be sitting here enjoying myself.
SCOTT—I am inclined to believe that if it had not been for one Captain Robert E. Lee, you and I would still be fighting those slippery Mexicans.
PIERCE—Yes, I have the utmost confidence in the skill and judgment of Captain Lee.
TWIGGS—His gallantry and good conduct deserve the highest praise.
WILCOX—(Rising and raising his glass.) Gentlemen, I wish to propose a toast that I know you will all drink heartily. I propose the health of the Captain of Engineers who found a way for our army into the city. Gentlemen, (Raising his glass again) the health of Captain Robert E. Lee!
(All the officers rise at once and lift their glasses. Then look around for LEE.)
WILCOX—Why he isn't here. What can be the matter.
MAGRUDER—I'll go and fetch him.
SCOTT—You might know Lee would be first in the battle and last at a banquet.
TWIGGS—I thought all of the crowd were here.
SCOTT—They are all here but Lee. Evidently we were all too much interested in our food to notice anything else. Let's sing a song to welcome him. (They sing two stanzas of “Yankee Doodle.”)
TWIGGS—Here comes Magruder alone (MAGRUDER enters.) Why, what's the matter? Couldn't you find him?
MAGRUDER—Oh, I found him all right, but that was all the good it did me.
SCOTT—Is he ill?
MAGRUDER—If he is, I wish I had the same thing the matter with me. He's suffering from a sense of duty.
TWIGGS—You don't have to worry then.
WILCOX—Tell us all about it.
MAGRUDER—You might as well sit down first because he isn't coming. (They all sit down but MAGRUDER.) You see I found him in a little room in a corner of the palace hard at work on a map. I asked him why he wasn't at the banquet and he said he was too busy. I told him it was just drudgery and to let some one else do it, but he looked up at me with that mild, calm gaze we all know so well and said, “No, I'm just doing my duty.”
General Scott's office, Washington, April 18, 1861.
SCOTT—The nation is in a terrible condition.
LEE—As far as I can judge from the papers we are between a state of anarchy and civil war. May God avert from us both!
I see that four States have declared themselves out of the Union. Four more apparently will follow their example. Then if the border States are dragged into the gulf of revolution, one half of the country will be arrayed against the other.
I must try to be patient and wait the end, for I can do nothing to hasten or retard it.
SCOTT—I don't quite see why conditions have become so serious.
LEE—The position of the two sections which they hold to each other has been brought about by the politicians of the country. The great masses of the people, if they understood the real question would avoid it. I believe that it is an unnecessary condition of affairs and might have been avoided, if forbearance and wisdom had been practised on both sides.
SCOTT—Which side do you think is more to blame?
LEE—The South, in my opinion, has been aggrieved by the act of the North. I feel the aggression and am willing to take every proper step for redress. It is the principle I contend for, not individual or private interest. As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity, and her institutions. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for this country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. Still a Union that can be maintained only by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind.
SCOTT—But do you think slavery is just?
LEE—If all the slaves of the South were mine, I would surrender them all without a struggle to avert this war.
SCOTT—Then your sympathies are with the North?
LEE—Though opposed to secession and war, I can take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.
SCOTT—But surely you could not desert the United States army?
LEE—I deeply regret being obliged to separate myself from the service to which I have devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possessed.
SCOTT—But I have been given to understand that in case you remained loyal, you would be given a very exalted command.
LEE—Yes, Blair has just been talking to me in regard to the matter, but no consideration on earth could induce me to act a part however gratifying to me, which could be construed into disregard of, or faithlessness to the Commonwealth. If I am compelled to resign I cannot consult my own feelings in the matter. Virginia is my country, her will I obey, however lamentable the fate to which it may subject me. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in her defence, will draw my sword no more.
Convention of Virginia, Richmond, April 23, 1861.
Robert E. Lee
Mr. Janney, President of the Convention
Convention members and citizens
JANNEY—In the name of the people of our native State, here represented, I bid you a cordial and heartfelt welcome to this hall, in which we may almost hear the echoes of the voices of the statesmen, the soldiers, and the sages of bygone days who have borne your name and whose blood now flows in your veins. We met in the month of February last charged with the solemn duty of protecting the rights, the honor, and the interests of the people of this commonwealth. We differed for a time as to the best means of accomplishing that object, but there never was at any moment a shade of difference among us as to the great object itself; and now, Virginia having taken her position, we stand animated by one impulse, governed by one desire and one determination, and that is, that she shall be defended, and that no spot on her soil shall be polluted by the foot of an invader.
When the necessity of having a leader for our forces became apparent, all hearts and all eyes turned to the old county of Westmoreland. We knew how prolific she had been in other days of heroes and statesmen; we knew she had given birth to the Father of his country, to Richard Henry Lee, to Monroe, and last, though not least, to your own gallant father; and we knew well by your deeds that her productive power was not exhausted. Sir, we watched with the most profound and intense interest the triumphal march of the army led by General Scott, to which you were attached, from Vera Cruz to the capital of Mexico. We read of the conflicts and blood-stained fields, in all of which victory perched upon our banners. We knew of the unfading lustre which was shed upon the American arms by that campaign, and we know also what your modesty has always disclaimed, that no small share of the glory of those achievements was due to your valor and your military genius.
Sir, one of the proudest recollections of my life will be that I yesterday had the honor of submitting to this body the confirmation of the nomination, made by the governor of this State, of you as commander-in-chief of the naval and military forces of this commonwealth. I rose to put the question and when I asked if this body would advise and consent to that appointment, there rushed from the hearts to the tongues of all the members an affirmative response, which told with an emphasis that could leave no doubt of the feeling whence it emanated. I put the negative of the question for form's sake, but there was an unbroken silence.
Sir, we have by this unanimous vote expressed our convictions that you are at this day, among the living citizens of Virginia, first in war, and we pray God most fervently that you may so conduct the operations committed to your charge that it may soon be said of you that you are first in peace, and when that time comes you will have gained the still prouder distinction of being first in the hearts of your countrymen.
Yesterday your mother, Virginia, placed her sword in your hands upon the implied condition—which we knew you will keep to the letter and in the spirit—that you will draw it only in defence, and that you will fall with it in your hand rather than the object for which it was placed there shall fail. (Long applause from convention members and citizens.)
LEE—Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Profoundly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, for which I must say I was not prepared, I accept the positiori assigned me by your partiality. I would have much preferred it had your choice fallen upon an abler man. Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.
General Lee's Tent.
Major W. H. Fitzhugh Lee, his son
Hon. B. H. Hill
HILL—I have come to ask your advice. Do you think it would be wise to move the Southern capital farther South?
LEE—That is a political question and you politicians must answer it. I am only a soldier.
HILL—That is the proudest name today.
LEE—Yes, there never were such men in an army before. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.
HILL—They could have no commander equal to General Lee.
LEE—No, we made a great mistake Mr. Hill
in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear in
spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal
HILL—What mistake is that General?
LEE—Why sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers. As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles. I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes when my plans were completed, so far as I could see they seemed perfect. But when I have fought them through I have discovered defects, and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance. When it was all over I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor-generals saw all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not communicate this knowledge to me until it was too late.
I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy and do all I can to win our independence. I am willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me. I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I should wish. I am willing to yield my place to the best generals, and will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.
Even as poor a soldier as I am can generally discover mistakes after it is all over. But if I could only induce these wise gentlemen, who see.
them so clearly beforehand, to communicate with me in advance, instead of waiting till the evil has come upon us—to let me know what they knew all the time—it would be far better for my reputation, and, what is of more consequence, far better for the cause.
HILL—Don't let those waspish editors annoy you. The South is behind you to a man. They know what General Lee cannot accomplish, no man can.
(ORDERLY enters and salutes.)
LEE—What is it?
ORDERLY—General Starke wishes to see you.
HILL—I must leave you General, I am grateful for the audience.
LEE—I am always glad to talk to those interested in our common cause. Good day, Mr. Hill.
HILL—Good day, General. (Exit.)
LEE—Show General Starke in.
(Enter GEN. STARKE. He salutes.)
LEE—(Saluting.) Good morning, General, what can I do for you.
STARKE—Nothing for me sir, but a good deal for yourself.
LEE—This is no time to think of private benefits.
STARKE—But General your reputation is suffering, the press is denouncing you, your own State is losing confidence in you, and the army needs a victory to add to its enthusiasm.
LEE—I cannot afford to sacrifice five or six hundred of my people to silence public clamor. When it is time to strike, we will strike with a will.
STARKE—I wish those Northerners were all dead.
LEE—How can you say so?
Now I wish they were all at home attending to their own business, and leaving us to do the same. They also are my countrymen. General, there is a good old book which says, “Love your enemies.” What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of the beautiful world.
STARKE—But think of our men who have laid down their lives so bravely.
LEE—The loss of our gallant officers and men throughout the army causes me to weep tears of blood and to wish that I might never hear the sound of a gun again.
STARKE—I am sorry to have worried you General, you are right, good day!
(Salutes and exit. Enter MAJOR W. H. FITZHUGH LEE.)
W. H. F. LEE—Father!
LEE—Fitzhugh, how good it is to see you. You don't know how much I have missed you and your mother and your brothers and sisters.
W. H. F. LEE—Won't it be wonderful when the war will be over and we can all be together again.
LEE—God grant that it may be so!
W. H. F. LEE—I can't stay any longer, Father. I just came in to see you a moment before starting. I must be about my duty.
LEE—I know that wherever you may be placed, you will do your duty. That is all the pleasure, all the comfort, all the glory we can enjoy in this world.
Duty is the sublimest word in the language. There is a true glory and a true honor, the glory of duty done, the honor of integrity of principles.
LBattlefield, the Southern Lines. Shells falling all around.
(Enter squad of Soldiers with three Northern prisoners. One without a cap.)
LEE—(Addressing prisoner without cap.) Where is your cap? Did the Rebels shoot it off?
PRISONER—(Saluting.) No, General, but one of them took it off.
LEE—(Noticing a blue cap on one of the Confederate soldiers.) Give him back his cap, even if your own is ragged.
Men, you had better go farther to the rear, they are firing up here, and you are exposing yourselves. (Exeunt soldiers and prisoners.)
(Enter General Gracie who places himself directly in front of General Lee in the direction of the firing.)
LEE—Why General Grade, you will certainly be killed.
GRACIE—It is better, General, that I should be killed than you. When you go to the rear, I will.
(Enter General Gordon with company of men.)
GORDON—General Lee, this is no place for you. Do go to the rear. These are Virginians and Georgians, sir—men who have never failed—and they will not fail now—Will you boys? Is it necessary for General Lee to lead this charge.
SOLDIERS—No! no! General Lee to the rear. General Lee to the rear! We will drive them back, if General Lee will only go to the rear.
GORDON—Forward! Charge! and remember your promise to General Lee. (Exeunt.)
GEN. STUART—General, this is no place for you, do go away at once to a safe place.
LEE—I wish I knew where my place is on the battlefield: wherever I go some one tells me it is not the place for me to be.
LEE—(To soldiers.) Soldiers, I am more than satisfied with you. Your country will thank you for the heroic conduct you have displayed,—conduct worthy of men engaged in a cause so just and sacred, and deserving a nation's gratitude and praise. Now you must go farther back, you are exposing yourselves unnecessarily. (As they pass back a little, slowly and unwillingly, Lee goes farther forward, stoops down and picks up something.)
FIRST SOLDIER—What is he doing?
SECOND SOLDIER—Why he's picking up a
little bird that had fallen from its nest.
FIRST SOLDIER—“He who heeds the sparrow's fall.”
SECOND SOLDIER—I've heard of God, but here is General Lee!
Outside Appomatox Courthouse during Lee's conference with Grant.
Ragged Confederate soldiers on one side. Northern troops on the other.
1ST CONFEDERATE—Their uniforms don't look much like ours, do they?
2ND CONFEDERATE—No, nor their General doesn't look much like ours either.
3RD CONFEDERATE—Didn't Marse Robert look wonderful when he went through that door? Just naturally hating to go in, but going just the same, because he knew it was right.
1ST CONFEDERATE—Of course he had to go in, we couldn't have stood another day without any rations.
2ND CONFEDERATE—You mean you couldn't. I could have gone till I dropped without rations, if Marse Robert had said so.
3RD CONFEDERATE—But he wouldn't let his men suffer any longer when he saw it was no use. Sh! Here he comes now.
(Soldiers stand at attention. The door slowly opens and LEE steps out. He looks up to the hills and sky. Silently clasps his hands together, then slowly and almost bent, walks down the steps. For a moment the men are silent. Then the sight of GEN. LEE is too much for them and they crowd around him cheering him.)
LEE—(Lifting his hand for silence.) Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done my best for you. My heart is too full to say more.
Scene—Lee's Parlor at Richmond.
PAT—(Bursting through door with a huge basket of provisions, salutes.) Sure, sir, you're a great soldier and it's I that knows it. I've been fighting against you all these years, and many a hard knock we've had. But, General, I honor you for it, and now they tell me you are poor and in want, and I've brought you this basket. Please take it from a soldier.
Mrs. Jackson, a family friend
Jack Sharpe, a former Confederate soldier
Sam, an old negro servant
G. W. Custis Lee, Gen. Lee's son
Mr. Brown, representative of an Insurance Company
Judge Brockenborough, Trustee of Washington College
LEE—I thank you comrade, but I'm glad to tell you I am not in need. But there are plenty of poor fellows over at the hospital who would be only too glad to get food from so generous a foe.
PAT—Just as you say, sir, but if ever you are in need just let Pat Murphy know, that's all. (Exit.)
(Enter MRS. JACKSON.)
LEE—How do you do, Mrs. Jackson.
MRS. JACKSON—Good morning General, and how are all the family?
LEE—We are all as usual, the women of the family very fierce and the men very mild.
MRS. JACKSON—I think every woman of the South is fierce now. I am bringing up all my sons to hate the Yankees.
LEE—Madam, don't bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all this local hatred and make your sons Americans.
MRS. JACKSON—How can you talk that way after the way you have been treated.
LEE—General Grant has acted with magnanimity.
MRS. JACKSON—If there ever was a saint on earth, you are one. Now I must go upstairs and tell your wife so, but I reckon she knows it. Good morning. (Exit MRS. JACKSON. Enter JACK SHARPE dressed in ragged clothes, he looks all around, then goes up to Lee and salutes.)
SHARPE—General, I'm one of your soldiers, and I've come here as the representative of four of my comrades who are too ragged and dirty to venture to see you. We are all Virginians, General, from Roanoke County, and they sent me here to see you on a little business.
They've got our President in prison and now—they—talk—about—arresting—you. And, Gen-
eral, we can't stand—we'll never stand and see that.
Now, General, we five men have got about two hundred and fifty acres of land in Roanoke—very good land, too, it is, sir—and if you'll come up there and live, I've come to offer you our land, all of it and we five men will work as your field hands, and you'll have very little trouble in managing it with us to help you.
And, General, there are near about a hundred of us left in old Roanoke, and they could never take you there, for we could hide you in the hollows of the mountains, and the last man of us would die in your defense.
LEE—I thank you and your friends, but my place is among the people of Virginia. If ever they needed me, it is now. (He goes to the door and calls SAM. Enter SAM.)
LEE—Sam I want you to find all the clothes I can do without and give them to this soldier for his friends.
SHARPE—I thank you general, and if ever you change your mind, just let Jack Sharpe hear from you. (Exit JACK and SAM. Enter Lee's oldest son, G. W. CUSTIS LEE.)
G. W. LEE—Well, Father, hard at work entertaining visitors as usual, I suppose.
LEE—Yes, I don't see how so many find the time to come here.
G. W. C. LEE—Lots of the poor soldiers are out of work.
LEE—I am sorry. Tell them they must all set to work, and if they cannot do what they prefer, do what they can. Virginia wants all their aid, all their support, and the presence of all her sons to sustain her now.
G. W. C. LEE—I don't quite know what I'm going to do myself yet.
LEE—You can work for Virginia, to build her up again. You can teach your children to love and cherish her.
G. W. C. LEE—You are right, Father, all my life you have never failed to give me inspiration. (Exit. Enter SAM and hands LEE a letter. He opens it and reads.)
LEE—“Dear General: we have been fighting hard for four years, and now the Yankees have got us in Libby Prison. The boys want you to get us out if you can, but, if you can't, just ride by the Libby, and let us see you and give you a cheer. We will all feel better after it.”
SAM—Will you all go for to see 'em, Marse Robert?
LEE—They would make too much fuss over the old rebel. Why should they care to see me? I am only a poor old Confederate. (Exit SAM, shaking his head. Enter MR. BROWN, a well-dressed business man.)
BROWN—I have not the honor of your acquaintance, General, except as all the world knows you. My name is Brown and I represent a well known Insurance Company.
LEE—I am afraid my life is hardly worth insuring, Mr. Brown.
BROWN—It is not about that I came to see you. I understand you are not as yet permanently employed and I have come, therefore, to offer you the presidency of our company at a yearly salary of $50,000.
LEE—I thank you, sir, but I would be of no value to your company, as I know nothing whatever in regard to insurance.
BROWN—But, General, you will not be expected to do any work, what we wish is the use of your name.
LEE—My name is not for sale. I thank you, sir. Good morning. (Exit BROWN. Enter Judge Brockenborough.)
GEN. LEE—Good morning, Judge, what a pleasure to see an old friend!
JUDGE—Good morning, General, I should not have dared to call on so busy a man if I did not have a special mission. I have come to offer you the presidency of Washington College, at a salary of $1,500 a year. I am sorry we can offer no more, but the war has left the college in a wretched condition.
LEE—I am afraid because of my many enemies that my connection with the college would make its condition far more wretched.
JUDGE—No, General, the whole South loves and respects you, and if you will only accept this position you will make us the happiest of all colleges.
LEE—I would have much preferred that your choice had fallen upon an abler man. But if you really want me, I will be only too glad to come. I have led the young men of the South in battle. I have seen many of them die on the field. I shall try to devote my remaining energies to training young men to do their duty in life.
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