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Samuel Brohl and Company By Victor Cherbuliez Characters: 30491

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Abbe Miollens hastened to repair to Cormeilles, where he gave a faithful circumstantial account of his conference with Count Larinski. He was still warm from the interview, and he gave free vent to the effusions of his enthusiasm. He struck up a Canticle of Zion in honour of the antique soul, the celestial soul, which had just been revealing to him all its hidden treasures. M. Moriaz, both astonished and scandalized, observed, dryly:

"You are right, this Pole is a prodigy; he should either be canonized or hanged, I do not know which."

Antoinette said not a word; she kept her reflections to herself. She retired to her chamber, where she paced to and fro for some time, uncertain regarding what she was about to do, or, rather more restless than uncertain. Several times she approached her writing-table, and gazed earnestly at her inkstand; then, seized with a sudden scruple, she would move away. At last she formed a resolute decision, seized her pen, and wrote the following lines:

"MONSIEUR: Before setting out for Vienna, will you be so good as to come and pass some moments at Cormeilles? I desire to have a conversation with you in the presence of my father.

"Accept, monsieur, I beg of you, the expression of my most profound esteem.

"ANTOINETTE MORIAZ."

The next morning she received by the first mail the response she awaited, and which was thus fashioned:

"This test would be more than my courage could endure. I never shall see you again, for, should I do so, I would be a lost man."

This short response caused Mlle. Moriaz a disappointment full of bitterness, and blended with no little wrath. She held in her hand a pencil, which she deliberately snapped in two, apparently to console herself for not having broken the proud and obstinate will of Count Abel Larinski. And yet can one break iron or a diamond? The carrier had brought her at the same time another letter, which she opened mechanically, merely to satisfy her conscience. She ran through the first lines without succeeding in comprehending a single word that she read. Suddenly her attention became riveted, her face brightened up, her eyes kindled. This letter, which a kind Providence had sent her as a supreme resource in her distress, was from the hand of Mlle. Galet, and here was what this retired florist of the Rue Mouffetard wrote:

"MA CHERE DEMOISELLE: I learn that you have returned. What happiness for me! and how I long to see you! You are my good angel, whom I should like to see every day of my life, and the time has seemed so long to me without you. When you enter the garret of the poor, infirm old woman, it seems to her as though there were three suns in the heavens; when you abandon her, the blackness of midnight surrounds her. Mme. de Lorcy has been very good to me. As my angel requested her, she came a fortnight since to pay me the quarter due of my pension. She is a very charitable lady, and she dresses beautifully; but she is a little hard on poor people. She asks a great many questions; she wants to know everything. She reproached me with spending too much, being too fond of luxury, and you know how that is. She forgets that everything is higher priced than it used to be, that meat and vegetables are exorbitant, and that just now eggs cost one franc and fifty centimes a dozen. Besides, a poor creature, deprived of the use of her limbs, as I am, cannot go to market herself, and it is quite possible that my femme de menage does not purchase as wisely as she might. I know I have great scenes with her sometimes for bringing me early vegetables; le bon Dieu can, at least, bear me witness that I am no glutton.

"The good Mme. de Lorcy scolded me about a bouquet of camellias she saw on my table, just like those for which I have been grateful to my angel. I don't know what notions she got into her head about them. Ah! well, ma chere demoiselle, I have learned since that these double camellias-they are variegated, red and white-came to me from a man, for, at present, as it would appear, men have taken to give me bouquets and making me visits; it is rather late in the day. The particular man to whom I refer presented himself one fine morning, and, telling me that you had spoken to him of me, said that he wished to assure himself that I was well and wanted nothing. He returned several times, always pampering me with some attention or other. But the best of all was when he came to tell me that my angel had returned. What a man he is! he has surely dropped right down from the skies! One evening when I was sick he gave me my medicine himself, and would have sat up with me all night if I had been willing to let him. You must tell me who he is, for it puzzles me greatly. He has the head of some grand lion; he is as generous as he is handsome, but very sad. He must have some great sorrow on his heart. The misfortune, so far as I am concerned, is that he cannot spoil me much longer-it is almost over now. He expects to leave here in two days; and he has announced to me that he will come to make his adieus, to-morrow afternoon.

"You will come soon, won't you, ma chere demoiselle? I burn with impatience to embrace you, since you permit me to embrace you. You are my angel and my sunshine, and I am your very humble and devoted servant,

"LOUISE GALET."

This letter of Mlle. Louise Galet continued nothing definite, beyond, perhaps, the passage relative to the early vegetables, and the supposed scenes with her chambriere. Whatever may have been the good demoiselle's past record, she certainly was not void of principles, and she prided herself on her truthfulness; only she did not always see the necessity of telling everything she knew; in her narratives she frequently omitted certain details. She had written at the instigation of Samuel Brohl, who had not explained to her his motives. To be sure, she had partially divined these, being shrewd and sly. He had commended himself to her discretion, for which he had paid liberally. Mlle. Galet had at first refused the round sum he had offered her; she had ended by accepting it with tender gratitude. These little pampering attentions make good friends.

An audacious idea suddenly came to Mlle. Moriaz; there was no time to recoil from it. She ordered up her coupe. M. Moriaz had just gone out to make a call in the neighbourhood. She determined to profit by his absence, and besought Mlle. Moiseney to make ready in haste to accompany her to Paris, where she had to confer with her dressmaker. Ten minutes later she stepped into her carriage, having ordered her coachman to drive like the wind.

Her dressmaker did not detain her long; from the Rue de la Paix she ordered to be driven to No. 27 Rue Mouffetard. She never was in the habit of permitting Mlle. Moiseney, who was very short of breath, to climb with her to the fifth story, where Mlle. Galet lodged; upon this occasion she indicated to her an express order to remain peaceably below in the coupe to await her return.

She slowly mounted the stairs; on her way up she encountered a servant, who informed her that Mlle. Galet was lying down taking a nap, being somewhat indisposed, but that the key was in the door. The apartment of which Mlle. Moriaz was in quest was composed of three rooms, a vestibule serving as a kitchen, a tiny salon, and a bed-chamber. She paused a few moments in the vestibule to regain her breath, to gather together all her courage, to compose her mind; she had at once divined that there was some one in the salon. She entered; Mlle. Galet was not there, but he was there, the man whom she had come to seek. Apparently, he awaited the awakening of the mistress of the place. In perceiving the woman whom he had sworn never to see again, he trembled violently, and his eyes sought some loophole of escape; there was none. Standing upon the threshold, Antoinette barred the passage. She looked fixedly at him and felt certain of her victory; he had the air of one vanquished, and his defeat resembled a complete routing.

She crossed her arms, she smiled, and, in a firm, half-mocking tone, said:

"So this is the way you rob me of my poor people! They flourish under it, I am well aware. Confess now that there is a little hypocrisy in your virtue. Mlle. Galet never for a moment doubted that these famous camellias were given for my sake. Bouquets costing sixty francs! absolute folly! How you despise money! Why, then, do you not despise mine? You are afraid of it, you fear to burn your fingers by touching it. You will not aid me to throw it out of the windows? Your poor and mine will surely pick it up. Say, will you not? My fortune is not such a great affair; but it is certain that I alone do not suffice to spend it properly; there is plenty for two-for two would really only be one. You cannot consent to share it with me? You are too proud-that is it. The day before yesterday you were playing comedy; you do not love me. It costs little to owe something to those we love."

He made a gesture of despair and cried:

"I implore you, let me go!"

"Presently; I propose telling you first all that is in my mind. I do not place much reliance on your boasted nobility of spirit; it is pride, egotistical pride. Yes, your pride is your god-a pitiful sort of a god! And as to Poland-" He winced at this word. After a pause, Antoinette continued: "It is she herself who will give, or rather lend, you to me. I solemnly promise that if ever she has need of you I will say to her, 'Here he is, take him'; and to you, yourself, I will say, 'She calls you-go.' But speak to me and look at me; you will not die of so doing. Are you so very much afraid of me? Come, have courage to repeat to me what you have said to others?"

He fell back into a chair, where he remained, his arms hanging helplessly at his sides, his head drooping on his breast, and he murmured:

"I knew well that if I saw you again I should be lost."

"Say, rather, saved. Your mind was sick; I have cured you. I work miracles; you once took the pains to write me so. Will you touch my hand? That will not bind you to anything; you can return it to me if you choose."

He took the hand she extended to him; he did not carry it to his lips, but he held it within his own.

"Listen to me," she resumed. "To-day, this very hour, you will set out for Cormeilles, and you will say to my father: 'She has given me her hand; it has seemed good to me to keep it; allow me to do so?' Is it agreed upon? Will you obey me?"

He exclaimed: "You are here, you speak to me, the world has disappeared; henceforth I believe only in you!"

"Well done! You see when two people frankly discuss matters they soon come to an understanding; but the main essential is to see each other. Since you are so wise when you see me, I naturally desire to have you see me always. There-take that!" And she handed him a medallion containing her portrait; then she moved towards the door. On the threshold she turned. "Please tell Mlle. Galet," said she, "that I respect her nap, and will return to-morrow. Mlle. Moiseney awaits me, and must be growing impatient. I have your word of honour? Adieu, then, until this evening. I must hasten away."

And she did hasten, or, rather, she flew away.

Returning from as well as driving into Paris, the coachman put his horses to full speed, and Cormeilles was reached before the soup was cold. Nevertheless, M. Moriaz had had abundant time for anxiety. He did not take his seat at table without first questioning Mlle. Moiseney; knowing nothing, she could give him no information; but she responded indefinitely to his queries with that air of mystery beneath which it was her wont to disguise her ignorance. He resolved to question Antoinette after dinner. She anticipated him, taking him aside and recounting to him what had occurred.

"I presume," said she, "that henceforth you will believe in his pride and his disinterestedness. Did I not foretell you that I should have to put myself on my knees to compel him to marry me?"

He could not repress a movement of indignation.

"Oh, reassure yourself!" she resumed; "that is only my way of speaking. He was at my feet and I was standing."

M. Moriaz opened his lips and closed them again three times without speaking. He finally contented himself with a gesture, which signified, "The die is cast, let come what must."

Samuel Brohl religiously kept his word. After having made a most faultless toilet, he repaired by the railway to Argenteuil, where he took a carriage. He reached Cormeilles as the clock struck nine. He was ushered into the salon, where M. Moriaz was reading his journal. Samuel was pale, and his lips trembled with emotion. He greeted M. Moriaz with profound respect, saying:

"I feel, monsieur, like a criminal. Be merciful, and refuse her to me."

M. Moriaz replied: "The fact is, you come, monsieur, in the words of the evangelist, 'like a thief in the night'; but I have nothing to refuse you. You are not the son-in-law I frankly avow, whom I should have chosen. This matters not; my daughter belongs to herself, she is mistress of her own actions, and I have no reason to believe that she errs in her choice. You are a man of taste and of honour, and you know the worth of what she has given you. If you render Antoinette happy, you will find in me a warm friend. I have said all that is necessary; let us suppose that you have replied to me, and talk of something else."

Samuel Brohl considered the matter settled; he insisted no longer, and entered at once upon another topic. He knew how to be agreeable and dignified at the same time. He was as amiable and gracious as his lively emotion would permit. M. Moriaz was obliged to confess to himself that Count Larinski was as good company at Cormeilles as he had been at Saint Moritz, and had no other fault than having taken it into his head to become his son-in-law.

Their interview was a prolonged one. During this time Antoinette had been promenading the walk in front of the house, inhaling the jasmine-perfumed air, pouring out her heart to the night and to the stars. Her happy reverie was troubled only by the presence of a bat, flitting incessantly from one end of the terrace to the other, flapping its wings about her head. The loathsome creature seemed to be especially in quest of her, circling around and above her with obstinate persistency, even venturing to graze her hair in passing; Antoinette even fancied that she could distinguish its hideous face, with deep pouches and long ears, and she moved away, quivering with disgust.

She heard a step on the gravel-walk. Samuel Brohl had taken leave of M. Moriaz and was crossing the terrace to regain his carriage. He recognised Antoinette, approached her and clasped on her wrist a bracelet he held in his hand, saying as he did so: "What could I give you that would equal in value the medallion you deigned to offer me and that should never leave me? However, here is a trinket by which I set great store. My mother loved it; she always refused to part with it, even in the time of her greatest distress; she wore it on her arm when she died."

We are not all moulded alike; and there is no

human clay in which are not intermingled some spangles of gold. Intriguers as well as downright knaves are often capable of experiencing moments of sincere and pure sentiments; in certain encounters every human being rises superior to him-or herself. The upper part of Mlle. Moriaz's face was shaded by her red hood, the lower part lit up by the moon, which was slowly rising above the hills. Samuel Brohl contemplated her in silence; she seemed to him as beautiful as a dream. During two entire minutes he forgot that she had an income of a hundred thousand livres, and that, according to all probabilities, M. Moriaz would die one day. His head was completely turned by the thought that this woman loved him, that soon she would be his. Yes, for precisely two minutes, Samuel Brohl was as passionately in love with Mlle. Moriaz as might, perchance, have been Count Larinski.

He could not resist the impulse that transported him. He folded in his arms the slender, supple form of Antoinette, and imprinted upon her hair a kiss of flame, a true Polish kiss. She offered no resistance; but at this moment the bat that had already forced upon her its distasteful company renewed the attack, struck her full in the face, and stuck fast in her hood. Antoinette felt the touch of its cold, clammy wings, of its hooked claws. She tore the hood from her head and flung it away in horror. Samuel Brohl sprang forward to pick it up, pressed it to his lips, and made his escape, like a thief carrying off his booty.

When Antoinette re-entered the salon, she found there Mlle. Moiseney, whose boisterous, overwhelming joy had just put M. Moriaz to flight. This time Mlle. Moiseney knew everything. She had seen Samuel Brohl arrive, she had been unable to control her overweening curiosity, and, without the slightest scruples, she had listened at the door. She cast herself into Antoinette's arms, pressed her to her heart, and cried: "Ah, my dear! oh, my dear! Did I not always say that it would end thus?"

Mlle. Moriaz hastened to free herself from her embraces; she felt the need of being alone. On entering her chamber she took a hasty survey of it: her furniture, her pretty knick-knacks, her rose-tined tapestry, the muslin hangings of her bed, the large silver crucifix hanging on the extreme wall, all seemed to regard her with astonishment, asking, "What has happened?" And she replied:

"You are right, something has happened."

She remained in contemplation before a portrait of her mother, whom she had lost very young.

"I have been told," she mused, "that you were a great romance-reader. I do not care for romances at all-I scarcely ever read them; but I have just been making one myself, with which you would not be discontented. This man would astonish you a little; he would please you still more. Some hours ago he seemed lost to me forever. I brazened it out. I went in search of him, and when he saw me he surrendered. Only now he was with me on the terrace; his lips touched me here on my hair, and thrilled me from head to foot. Do not feel displeased with me-his are pure and royal lips! They have been touched by the sacred fire; they never have lied; never have there fallen from them other than proud and noble words; they modestly recount the history of a life without blemish Ah! why are you not here? I have a thousand things to say to you, which you alone could comprehend; others do not comprehend me."

She began her toilet for the night. When she had unfastened her hair, she remembered that there was One in her chamber who could comprehend everything, and to whom she had yet said nothing. She knelt down, her wealth of hair streaming over her beautiful shoulders, her hands reverently clasped, her eyes fixed on the silver crucifix, and she said, in a low tone:

"Forgive me that I have forgotten thee, thou who never hast forgotten me! I return thanks to thee that thou hast granted my desires; thou hast given me the happiness of which I have dreamed without daring to ask it. Ah, yes, I am happy, perfectly happy! I promise thee that I will cast the reflection of my joy among the poor and unfortunate of this world: I will love them as I have never loved them before! When we give them food and drink, we give it also unto thee; and when we give them flowers, this crown of thorns that has wounded thy brow bursts into bloom. I will give them flowers and bread. It is vain to say that thou art a jealous God. Full as may be my heart, thou knowest that there is always room for thee, and that thou never canst knock at the door without my crying: 'Enter; the house and all that therein is belong unto thee! My happiness blesses thee: oh, bless thou it!'"

While Mlle. Moriaz thus held communion with her crucifix, Samuel Brohl was rolling along the great highway from Cormeilles to Argenteuil, a distance of six kilometres. His head was held erect, his face was radiant, his eyes were like balls of fire, his temples throbbed, and it seemed to him that his dilated chest might have held the world. He was speaking to himself-murmuring over and over again the same phrase. "She is mine!" he repeated to the vines bordering the road, to the mill of Trouillet, to the Sannois Hills, whose vague outlines loomed up against the sky. "She is mine!" he cried to the moon, which this evening shone for him alone, whose sole occupation was to gaze upon Samuel Brohl. It was plain to see that she was in the secret, that she knew that before long Samuel Brohl would marry Mlle. Moriaz. She had donned her festal garments to celebrate this marvellous adventure; her great gleaming face expressed sympathy and joy.

Although he had exhorted his coachman to make haste, Samuel missed the train, which was the last. He decided to put up for the night at Argenteuil, and sought hospitality at the inn of the Coeur-Volant, where he ordered served forthwith a great bowl of punch, his favourite drink. He betook himself to bed in the full expectation of enjoying most delicious dreams; but his sleep was troubled by a truly disagreeable incident. Glorious days are at times succeeded by most wretched nights, and the inn of Coeur-Volant was destined to leave most disagreeable reminiscences with Samuel Brohl.

Towards four o'clock he heard some one knocking at his door, and a voice not unknown to him cried:

"Open, I beseech you!"

He was seized with an insupportable anguish; he felt like one paralyzed, and it was with great difficulty that he rose up in a sitting posture. He remembered that the bolt was drawn, and this reassured him. What was not his stupefied amazement to see the bolt glide back in its shaft! The door opened; some one entered, slowly approached Samuel, drew back the curtains of his bed, and bent towards him, fixing upon him great eager eyes that he recognised. They were singular eyes, these, at once full of sweetness and full of fire, of audacity and of candour; a child, a grand soul, an unbalanced weakling-all this in one was in this gaze.

Samuel Brohl quailed with horror. He tried to speak, but his tongue was powerless to move. He made desperate efforts to unloose it; he finally succeeded in moving his lips, and he murmured:

"Is it you, Abel? I believed you dead."

Evidently Count Abel, the veritable Abel Larinski, was not dead. He was on his feet, his eyes were terribly wide open, and his face never had worn more life-like colouring. Nothing remained but to believe that he had been buried alive, and that he had been resuscitated. In coming forth from the tomb, he had carried with him a portion of its dust; his hair was covered with a singular powder of an earthy hue, and at intervals he shook himself as though to make it fall from him.

With the exception of this there was nothing alarming in his appearance; but a mocking, half-crafty smile played about his lips. After a long pause, he said to Samuel:

"Yes, it is indeed I. You did not expect me?"

"Are you sure that you are not dead?" rejoined Samuel.

"Perfectly sure," he replied, once more shaking a mass of dust from his head. "Does my return incommode you, Samuel Brohl?" he added. "Your name is Samuel, I believe; it is a pretty name. Why have you taken mine? You must give it back to me."

"Not to-day," pleaded Samuel, in a stifled voice, "nor to-morrow, nor the day after to-morrow; but after the marriage."

Count Abel burst out laughing, which was by no means his habit, and which therefore greatly surprised Samuel. Then he cried:

"It is I she will marry-she will be the Countess Larinski."

Suddenly the door opened again, and Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz appeared, robed in white like a bride, a crown on her head, a bouquet in her hand. She bent her steps towards Samuel, but the apparition arrested her progress, saying:

"It is not he whom you love; it is my history. Do you not see that this is a false Pole? His father was a German Jew, who kept a tavern. Here it was that this hero grew up. I will relate to you how."

Here Samuel put his hand over his mouth, and stammered: "Oh, for mercy's sake, say nothing!"

Heeding him not, the apparition continued: "Yes, Samuel Brohl is a hero. For five years he was the pledged lover of an old woman, and he fulfilled all the duties of his post. This cherished hero well earned his money. Are you not eager to be called Mme. Brohl?"

With these words, he opened wide his arms to Mlle. Moriaz, who fixed upon him a gaze at the same time astonishing and tender, and straining her to his bosom, kissed her hair and her crown.

Then Samuel Brohl recovered strength, life, movement; clinching his hands, he sprang forward to dispute with Abel Larinski his prey. Suddenly, with a shiver of terror and dismay, he paused; he had heard proceeding from a distant corner of the chamber a shrill, malignant laugh. He turned, and distinctly perceived his father-a greasy cap on his head, wrapped in a forlorn, threadbare, dirty caftan. This was unquestionably Jeremiah Brohl, and this night it seemed truly that the whole world had arisen from the dead. The little old man continued to laugh jeeringly; then in a sharp, peevish voice, he cried: "Schandbube! vermaledeiter Schlingel! ich will dich zu Brei schlagen!" which signifies: "Scoundrel! accursed blackguard! I will beat you to a jelly!" It was a mode of address that Samuel had heard often in his infancy; but familiar though he might be with paternal amenities, when he saw his father uplift a withered, claw-like hand, a cry escaped his lips; he started back to evade the blow, entangled his feet in the legs of a chair, stumbled, and flung himself violently against a table.

He opened his eyes and saw no one. He ran to the window and threw open the shutter; the growing dawn illumined the chamber with its grayish light. Thank God! there was no one there. The vision had been so real that it was some time before Samuel Brohl could fully regain his senses, and persuade himself that his nightmare was forever dissipated, that phantoms were phantoms, that cemeteries do not surrender their prey. When he had once acquired this rejoicing conviction, he spoke to the dead man who had appeared to him, and whose provoking visit had indiscreetly troubled his sleep, and with considerable hauteur he said, in a tone of superb defiance: "We must be resigned, my poor Abel; we shall see each other again only in the valley of Jehosaphat; I have seen twenty shovelfuls of earth cast upon you-you are dead; I live, and she is mine!"

Thereupon he hastened to settle his account, and to quit the Coeur-Volant, within whose walls he promised himself never again to set foot.

At the very same moment, M. Moriaz, who had risen early, was engaged in writing the following letter:

"It is done, my dear friend-I have yielded. Pray, do not reproach me with my weakness; what else could I do? When one has been for twenty years the most submissive of fathers, one does not emancipate one's self in a day; I never have been in the habit of erecting barriers, and it is scarcely likely that I could learn to do so at my age. Ah! mon Dieu! who knows if, after all, her heart has not counselled her well, if one day she will not satisfy us all that she was in the right. It must be confessed that this diable of a man has an indescribable charm about him. I can detect only one fault in him: he has committed the error of existing at all; it is a grave error, I admit, but thus far I have nothing else with which to reproach him.

"When one loses a battle, nothing remains but to plan an orderly retreat. Count Larinski, I regret to inform you, is armed with all needful weapons; he carries with him his certificate of birth, and certificate of the registry of death of both his parents. No pretext can be made on this score, and my future son-in-law will not aid me to gain time. The sole point upon which we must henceforth direct our attention is the contract. We scarcely can take too many precautions; we must see that this Pole's hands are absolutely tied. If you will permit me, I will one day ask you to confer with me and my notary, who is also yours. I venture to hope that upon this point Antoinette will consent to be guided by our counsels.

"I am not gay, my friend; but, having been born a philosopher, I bear my misfortunes patiently, and I will forthwith reread Le Monde comme il va, ou la Vision de Babouc, in order to endeavour to persuade myself that, if all is not well, all is at least supportable."

The evening of the same day, M. Moriaz received the following response:

"I never will pardon you. You are a great chemist, I grant, but a pitiful, a most deplorable father. Your weakness, which well merits another name, is without excuse. You should have resisted; you should have stood your ground firmly. Antoinette, although she is of age, never in the world would have decided to address to you a formal request of consent to this marriage. She would have made some scenes; she would have pouted; she would have endeavoured to soften you by assuming the airs of a tearful, heart-broken widow; she would have draped herself in black crape. And after that? Desperate case! These Artemisias are very tiresome, I admit; but one can accustom one's self to anything. Should philosophers, who plead such sublime indifference about the affairs of this mundane sphere, be at the mercy of a fit of the sulks, or a dress of black crape? Besides, black is all the fashion just now, even for those who are not in mourning.

"You speak of contracts! You are surely jesting! What! distrustful of a Pole? take precautions against an antique man?-I quote from Abbe Miollens-against a soul as noble as great? Think what you are doing! At the mere thought of his disinterestedness being called into question, M. Larinski would swoon away as he did in my salon. It is a little way he has, which is most excellent, since it proves successful. Do not think of such trifles as contracts; marry them with equal rights, and leave the consequences to Providence! Follies have neither beauty nor merit, unless they are complete. Ah, my good friend, Poland has its charm, has it? Admirable! But you must swallow the whole thing. I am your obedient servant."

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