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   Chapter 9 THE LAMP THAT NEVER WENT OUT

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 29183

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Have you seen her?" asked Bones.

He put this question with such laboured unconcern that Hamilton put down his pen and glared suspiciously at his partner.

"She's rather a beauty," Bones went on, toying with his ivory paper-knife. "She has one of those dinky bonnets, dear old thing, that makes you feel awfully braced with life."

Hamilton gasped. He had seen the beautiful Miss Whitland enter the office half an hour before, but he had not noticed her head-dress.

"Her body's dark blue, with teeny red stripes," said Bones dreamily, "and all her fittings are nickel-plated--"

"Stop!" commanded Hamilton hollowly. "To what unhappy woman are you referring in this ribald fashion?"

"Woman!" spluttered the indignant Bones. "I'm talking about my car."

"Your car?"

"My car," said Bones, in the off-handed way that a sudden millionaire might refer to "my earth."

"You've bought a car?"

Bones nodded.

"It's a jolly good 'bus," he said. "I thought of running down to

Brighton on Sunday."

Hamilton got up and walked slowly across the room with his hands in his pockets.

"You're thinking of running down to Brighton, are you?" he said. "Is it one of those kind of cars where you have to do your own running?"

Bones, with a good-natured smile, also rose from his desk and walked to the window.

"My car," he said, and waved his hand to the street.

By craning his neck, Hamilton was able to get a view of the patch of roadway immediately in front of the main entrance to the building. And undoubtedly there was a car in waiting-a long, resplendent machine that glittered in the morning sunlight.

"What's the pink cushion on the seat?" asked Hamilton.

"That's not a pink cushion, dear old myoptic," said Bones calmly; "that's my chauffeur-Ali ben Ahmed."

"Good lor!" said the impressed Hamilton. "You've a nerve to drive into the City with a sky-blue Kroo boy."

Bones shrugged his shoulders.

"We attracted a certain amount of attention," he admitted, not without satisfaction.

"Naturally," said Hamilton, going back to his desk. "People thought you were advertising Pill Pellets for Pale Poultry. When did you buy this infernal machine?"

Bones, at his desk, crossed his legs and put his fingers together.

"Negotiations, dear old Ham, have been in progress for a month," he recited. "I have been taking lessons on the quiet, and to-day-proof!" He took out his pocket-book and threw a paper with a lordly air towards his partner. It fell half-way on the floor.

"Don't trouble to get up," said Hamilton. "It's your motor licence.

You needn't be able to drive a car to get that."

And then Bones dropped his attitude of insouciance and became a vociferous advertisement for the six-cylinder Carter-Crispley ("the big car that's made like a clock"). He became double pages with illustrations and handbooks and electric signs. He spoke of Carter and of Crispley individually and collectively with enthusiasm, affection, and reverence.

"Oh!" said Hamilton, when he had finished. "It sounds good."

"Sounds good!" scoffed Bones. "Dear old sceptical one, that car…"

And so forth.

All excesses being their own punishment, two days later Bones renewed an undesirable acquaintance. In the early days of Schemes, Ltd., Mr. Augustus Tibbetts had purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Flame. Apart from the losses he incurred during its short career, the experience was made remarkable by the fact that he became acquainted with Mr. Jelf, a young and immensely self-satisfied man in pince-nez, who habitually spoke uncharitably of bishops, and never referred to members of the Government without causing sensitive people to shudder.

The members of the Government retaliated by never speaking of Jelf at all, so there was probably some purely private feud between them.

Jelf disapproved of everything. He was twenty-four years of age, and he, too, had made the acquaintance of the Hindenburg Line. Naturally Bones thought of Jelf when he purchased the Flame.

From the first Bones had run the Flame with the object of exposing things. He exposed Germans, Swedes, and Turks-which was safe. He exposed a furniture dealer who had made him pay twice for an article because a receipt was lost, and that cost money. He exposed a man who had been very rude to him in the City. He would have exposed James Jacobus Jelf, only that individual showed such eagerness to expose his own shortcomings, at a guinea a column, that Bones had lost interest.

His stock of personal grievances being exhausted, he had gone in for a general line of exposure which embraced members of the aristocracy and the Stock Exchange.

If Bones did not like a man's face, he exposed him. He had a column headed "What I Want to Know," and signed "Senob." in which such pertinent queries appeared as:

"When will the naughty old lord who owns a sky-blue motor-car, and wears pink spats, realise that his treatment of his tenants is a disgrace to his ancient lineage?"

This was one of James Jacobus Jelf's contributed efforts. It happened on this particular occasion that there was only one lord in England who owned a sky-blue car and blush-rose spats, and it cost Bones two hundred pounds to settle his lordship.

Soon after this, Bones disposed of the paper, and instructed Mr. Jelf not to call again unless he called in an ambulance-an instruction which afterwards filled him with apprehension, since he knew that J. J. J. would charge up the ambulance to the office.

Thus matters stood two days after his car had made its public appearance, and Bones sat confronting the busy pages of his garage bill.

On this day he had had his lunch brought into the office, and he was in a maze of calculation, when there came a knock at the door.

"Come in!" he yelled, and, as there was no answer, walked to the door and opened it.

A young man stood in the doorway-a young man very earnest and very mysterious-none other than James Jacobus Jelf.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" said Bones unfavourably "I thought it was somebody important."

Jelf tiptoed into the room and closed the door securely behind him.

"Old man," he said, in tones little above a whisper, "I've got a fortune for you."

"Dear old libeller, leave it with the lift-man," said Bones. "He has a wife and three children."

Mr. Jelf examined his watch.

"I've got to get away at three o'clock, old man," he said.

"Don't let me keep you, old writer," said Bones with insolent indifference.

Jelf smiled.

"I'd rather not say where I'm going," he volunteered. "It's a scoop, and if it leaked out, there would be the devil to pay."

"Oh!" said Bones, who knew Mr. Jelf well. "I thought it was something like that."

"I'd like to tell you, Tibbetts," said Jelf regretfully, "but you know how particular one has to be when one is dealing with matters affecting the integrity of ministers."

"I know, I know," responded Bones, wilfully dense, "especially huffy old vicars, dear old thing."

"Oh, them!" said Jelf, extending his contempt to the rules which govern the employment of the English language. "I don't worry about those poor funny things. No, I am speaking of a matter-you have heard about G.?" he asked suddenly.

"No," said Bones with truth.

Jelf looked astonished.

"What!" he said incredulously. "You in the heart of things, and don't know about old G.?"

"No, little Mercury, and I don't want to know," said Bones, busying himself with his papers.

"You'll tell me you don't know about L. next," he said, bewildered.

"Language!" protested Bones. "You really mustn't use Sunday words, really you mustn't."

Then Jelf unburdened himself. It appeared that G. had been engaged to

L.'s daughter, and the engagement had been broken off….

Bones stirred uneasily and looked at his watch.

"Dispense with the jolly old alphabet," he said wearily, "and let us get down to the beastly personalities."

Thereafter Jelf's conversation condensed itself to the limits of a human understanding. "G" stood for Gregory-Felix Gregory; "L" for Lansing, who apparently had no Christian name, nor found such appendage necessary, since he was dead. He had invented a lamp, and that lamp had in some way come into Jelf's possession. He was exploiting the invention on behalf of the inventor's daughter, and had named it-he said this with great deliberation and emphasis-"The Tibbetts-Jelf Motor Lamp."

Bones made a disparaging noise, but was interested.

The Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp was something new in motor lamps. It was a lamp which had all the advantages of the old lamp, plus properties which no lamp had ever had before, and it had none of the disadvantages of any lamp previously introduced, and, in fact, had no disadvantages whatsoever. So Jelf told Bones with great earnestness.

"You know me, Tibbetts," he said. "I never speak about myself, and I'm rather inclined to disparage my own point of view than otherwise."

"I've never noticed that," said Bones.

"You know, anyway," urged Jelf, "that I want to see the bad side of anything I take up."

He explained how he had sat up night after night, endeavouring to discover some drawback to the Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp, and how he had rolled into bed at five in the morning, exhausted by the effort.

"If I could only find one flaw!" he said. "But the ingenious beggar who invented it has not left a single bad point."

He went on to describe the lamp. With the aid of a lead pencil and a piece of Bones's priceless notepaper he sketched the front elevation and discoursed upon rays, especially upon ultra-violet rays.

Apparently this is a disreputable branch of the Ray family. If you could only get an ultra-violet ray as he was sneaking out of the lamp, and hit him violently on the back of the head, you were rendering a service to science and humanity.

This lamp was so fixed that the moment Mr. Ultra V. Ray reached the threshold of freedom he was tripped up, pounced upon, and beaten until he (naturally enough) changed colour!

It was all done by the lens.

Jelf drew a Dutch cheese on the table-cloth to Illustrate the point.

"This light never goes out," said Jelf passionately. "If you lit it to-day, it would be alight to-morrow, and the next day, and so on. All the light-buoys and lighthouses around England will be fitted with this lamp; it will revolutionise navigation."

According to the exploiter, homeward bound mariners would gather together on the poop, or the hoop, or wherever homeward bound manners gathered, and would chant a psalm of praise, in which the line "Heaven bless the Tibbetts-Jelf Lamp" would occur at regular intervals.

And when he had finished his eulogy, and lay back exhausted by his own eloquence, and Bones asked, "But what does it do?" Jelf could have killed him.

Under any other circumstances Bones might have dismissed his visitor with a lecture on the futility of attempting to procure money under false pretences. But remember that Bones was the proprietor of a new motor-car, and thought motor-car and dreamed motor-car by day and by night. Even as it was, he was framing a conventional expression of regret that he could not interest himself in outside property, when there dawned upon his mind the splendid possibilities of possessing this accessory, and he wavered.

"Anyway," he said, "it will take a year to make."

Mr. Jelf beamed.

"Wrong!" he cried triumphantly. "Two of the lamps are just finished, and will be ready to-morrow."

Bones hesitated.

"Of course, dear old Jelf," he said, "I should like, as an experiment, to try them on my car."

"On your car?" Jelf stepped back a pace and looked at the other with very flattering interest and admiration. "Not your car! Have you a car?"

Bones said he had a car, and explained it at length. He even waxed as enthusiastic about his machine as had Mr. Jelf on the subject of the lamp that never went out. And Jelf agreed with everything that Bones said. Apparently he was personally acquainted with the Carter-Crispley car. He had, so to speak, grown up with it. He knew its good points and none of its bad points. He thought the man who chose a car like that must have genius beyond the ordinary. Bones agreed. Bones had reached the conclusion that he had been mistaken about Jelf, and that possibly age had sobered him (it was nearly six months since he had perpetrated his last libel). They parted the best of friends. He had agreed to attend a demonstration at the workshop early the following morning, and Jelf, who was working on a ten per cent. commission basis, and had already drawn a hundred on account from the vendors, was there to meet him.

In truth it was a noble lamp-very much like other motor lamps, except that the bulb was, or apparently was, embedded in solid glass. Its principal virtue lay in the fact that it carried its own accumulator, which had to be charged weekly, or the lamp forfeited its title.

Mr. Jelf explained, with the adeptness of an expert, how the lamp was controlled from the dashboard, and how splendid it was to have a light which was independent of the engine of the car or of faulty accumulators, and Bones agreed to try the lamp for a week. He did more than this: he half promised to float a company for its manufacture, and gave Mr. Jelf fifty pounds on account of possible royalties and commission, whereupon Mr. Jelf faded from the picture, and from that moment ceased to take the slightest interest in a valuable article which should have been more valuable by reason of the fact that it bore his name.

Three days later Hamilton, walking to business, was overtaken by a beautiful blue Carter-Crispley, ornamented, it seemed from a distance, by two immense bosses of burnished silver. On closer examination they proved to be nothing more remarkable than examples of the Tibbett-Jelf Lamp.

"Yes," said Bones airily, "that's the lamp, dear old thing. Invented in leisure hours by self and Jelf. Step in, and I'll explain."

"Where do I step in," asked Hamilton, wilfully dense-"into the car or into the lamp?"

Bones patiently smiled and waved him with a gesture to a seat by his side. His explanation was disjointed and scarcely informative; for Bones had yet to learn the finesse of driving, and he had a trick of thinking aloud.

"This lamp, old thing," he said, "never goes out-you silly old josser, why did you step in front of me? Goodness gracious! I nearly cut short your naughty old life"-(this to one unhappy pedestrian whom Bones had unexpectedly met

on the wrong side of the road)-"never goes out, dear old thing. It's out now, I admit, but it's not in working order-Gosh! That was a narrow escape! Nobody but a skilled driver, old Hamilton, could have missed that lamp-post. It is going to create a sensation; there's nothing like it on the market-whoop!"

He brought the car to a standstill with a jerk and within half an inch of a City policeman who was directing the traffic with his back turned to Bones, blissfully unconscious of the doom which almost overcame him.

"I like driving with you, Bones," said Hamilton, when they reached the office, and he had recovered something of his self-possession. "Next to stalking bushmen in the wild, wild woods, I know of nothing more soothing to the nerves."

"Thank you," said Bones gratefully. "I'm not a bad driver, am I?"

"'Bad' is not the word I should use alone," said Hamilton pointedly.

In view of the comments which followed, he was surprised and pained to receive on the following day an invitation, couched in such terms as left him a little breathless, to spend the Sunday exploiting the beauties of rural England.

"Now, I won't take a 'No,'" said Bones, wagging his bony forefinger. "We'll start at eleven o'clock, dear old Ham, and we'll lunch at what-you-may-call-it, dash along the thingummy road, and heigho! for the beautiful sea-breezes."

"Thanks," said Hamilton curtly. "You may dash anywhere you like, but

I'm dashed if I dash with you. I have too high a regard for my life."

"Naughty, naughty!" said Bones, "I've a good mind not to tell you what

I was going to say. Let me tell you the rest. Now, suppose," he said

mysteriously, "that there's a certain lady-a jolly old girl named

Vera-ha-ha!"

Hamilton went red.

"Now, listen, Bones," he said; "we'll not discuss any other person than ourselves."

"What do you say to a day in the country? Suppose you asked Miss

Vera--"

"Miss Vera Sackwell," replied Hamilton a little haughtily, "if she is the lady you mean, is certainly a friend of mine, but I have no control over her movements. And let me tell you, Bones, that you annoy me when--"

"Hoity, toity!" said Bones. "Heaven bless my heart and soul! Can't you trust your old Bones? Why practise this deception, old thing? I suppose," he went on reflectively, ignoring the approaching apoplexy of his partner, "I suppose I'm one of the most confided-in persons in London. A gay old father confessor, Ham, lad. Everybody tells me their troubles. Why, the lift-girl told me this morning that she'd had measles twice! Now, out with it, Ham!"

If Hamilton had any tender feeling for Miss Vera Sackwell, he was not disposed to unburden himself at that moment. In some mysterious fashion Bones, for the first time in his life, had succeeded in reducing him to incoherence.

"You're an ass, Bones!" he said angrily and hotly. "You're not only an ass, but an indelicate ass! Just oblige me by shutting up."

Bones closed his eyes, smiled, and put out his hand.

"Whatever doubts I had, dear old Ham," he murmured, "are dispelled.

Congratulations!"

That night Hamilton dined with a fair lady. She was fair literally and figuratively, and as he addressed her as Vera, it was probably her name. In the course of the dinner he mentioned Bones and his suggestion. He did not tell all that Bones had said.

The suggestion of a day's motoring was not received unfavourably.

"But he can't drive," wailed Hamilton. "He's only just learnt."

"I want to meet Bones," said the girl, "and I think it a most excellent opportunity."

"But, my dear, suppose the beggar upsets us in a ditch? I really can't risk your life."

"Tell Bones that I accept," she said decisively, and that ended the matter.

The next morning Hamilton broke the news.

"Miss Sackwell thanks you for your invitation, Bones."

"And accepts, of course?" said Bones complacently. "Jolly old Vera."

"And I say, old man," said Hamilton severely, "will you be kind enough to remember not to call this lady Vera until she asks you to?"

"Don't be peevish, old boy, don't be jealous, dear old thing.

Brother-officer and all that. Believe me, you can trust your old

Bones."

"I'd rather trust the lady's good taste," said Hamilton with some acerbity. "But won't it be a bit lonely for you, Bones?"

"But what do you mean, my Othello?"

"I mean three is a pretty rotten sort of party," said Hamilton.

"Couldn't you dig up somebody to go along and make the fourth?"

Bones coughed and was immensely embarrassed.

"Well, dear old athlete," he said unnecessarily loudly, "I was thinking of asking my-er--"

"Your-er-what? I gather it's an er," said Hamilton seriously, "but which er?"

"My old typewriter, frivolous one," said Bones truculently. "Any objection?"

"Of course not," said Hamilton calmly. "Miss Whitland is a most charming girl, and Vera will be delighted to meet her."

Bones choked his gratitude and wrung the other's hand for fully two minutes.

He spent the rest of the week in displaying to Hamilton the frank ambitions of his mind toward Miss Marguerite Whitland. Whenever he had nothing to do-which seemed most of the day-he strolled across to Hamilton's desk and discoursed upon the proper respect which all right-thinking young officers have for old typewriters. By the end of the week Hamilton had the confused impression that the very pretty girl who ministered to the literary needs of his partner, combined the qualities of a maiden aunt with the virtues of a grandmother, and that Bones experienced no other emotion than one of reverential wonder, tinctured with complete indifference.

On the sixty-fourth lecture Hamilton struck.

"Of course, dear old thing," Bones was saying, "to a jolly old brigand like you, who dashes madly down from his mountain lair and takes the first engaging young person who meets his eye--"

Hamilton protested vigorously, but Bones silenced him with a lordly gesture.

"I say, to a jolly old rascal like you it may seem-what is the word?"

"'Inexplicable,' I suppose, is the word you are after," said Hamilton.

"That's the fellow; you took it out of my mouth," said Bones. "It sounds inexplicable that I can be interested in a platonic, fatherly kind of way in the future of a lovely old typewriter."

"It's not inexplicable at all," said Hamilton bluntly. "You're in love with the girl."

"Good gracious Heavens!" gasped Bones, horrified. "Ham, my dear old boy. Dicky Orum, Dicky Orum, old thing!"

Sunday morning brought together four solemn people, two of whom were men, who felt extremely awkward and showed it, and two of whom behaved as though they had known one another all their lives.

Bones, who stood alternately on his various legs, was frankly astounded that the meeting had passed off without any sensational happening. It was an astonishment shared by thousands of men in similar circumstances. A word of admiration for the car from Vera melted him to a condition of hysterical gratitude.

"It's not a bad old 'bus, dear old-Miss Vera," he said, and tut-tutted audibly under his breath at his error. "Not a bad old 'bus at all, dear old-young friend. Now I'll show you the gem of the collection."

"They are big, aren't they?" said Vera, properly impressed by the lamps.

"They never go out," said Bones solemnly. "I assure you I'm looking forward to the return journey with the greatest eagerness-I mean to say, of course, that I'm looking forward to the other journey-I don't mean to say I want the day to finish, and all that sort of rot. In fact, dear old Miss Vera, I think we'd better be starting."

He cranked up and climbed into the driver's seat, and beckoned Marguerite to seat herself by his side. He might have done this without explanation, but Bones never did things without explanation, and he turned back and glared at Hamilton.

"You'd like to be alone, dear old thing, wouldn't you?" he said gruffly. "Don't worry about me, dear old lad. A lot of people say you can see things reflected in the glass screen, but I'm so absorbed in my driving--"

"Get on with it!" snarled Hamilton.

It was, nevertheless, a perfect day, and Bones, to everybody's surprise, his own included, drove perfectly. It had been his secret intention to drive to Brighton; but nobody suspected this plan, or cared very much what his intentions had been, and the car was running smoothly across Salisbury Plain.

When they stopped for afternoon tea, Hamilton did remark that he thought Bones had said something about Brighton, but Bones just smiled. They left Andover that night in the dusk; but long before the light had faded, the light which was sponsored by Mr. Jelf blazed whitely in the lamp that never went out. And when the dark came Bones purred with joy, for this light was a wonderful light. It flooded the road ahead with golden radiance, and illuminated the countryside, so that distant observers speculated upon its origin.

"Well, old thing," said Bones over his shoulder, "what do you think of the lamps?"

"Simply wonderful, Bones," agreed Hamilton. "I've never seen anything so miraculous. I can even see that you're driving with one hand."

Bones brought the other hand up quickly to the wheel and coughed. As for Miss Marguerite Whitland, she laughed softly, but nobody heard her.

They were rushing along a country road tree-shaded and high-hedged, and

Bones was singing a little song-when the light went out.

It went out with such extraordinary unexpectedness, without so much as a warning flicker, that he was temporarily blinded, and brought the car to a standstill.

"What's up, Bones?" asked Hamilton.

"The light, dear old thing," said Bones. "I think the jolly old typewriter must have touched the key with her knee."

"Indeed?" said Hamilton politely; and Bones, remembering that the key was well over on his side of the car, coughed, this time fiercely.

He switched the key from left to right, but nothing happened.

"Most extraordinary!" said Bones.

"Most," said Hamilton.

There was a pause.

"I think the road branches off a little way up I'll get down and see

which is the right road to take," said Bones with sudden cheerfulness.

"I remember seeing the old signpost before the-er-lamp went out.

Perhaps, Miss Marguerite, you'd like to go for a little walk."

Miss Marguerite Whitland said she thought she would, and they went off together to investigate, leaving Hamilton to speculate upon the likelihood of their getting home that night.

Bones walked ahead with Marguerite, and instinctively their hands sought and found one another. They discovered the cross-roads, but Bones did not trouble to light his match. His heart was beating with extraordinary violence, his lips were dry, he found much difficulty in speaking at all.

"Miss Marguerite," he said huskily, "don't think I'm an awful outsider and a perfect rotter, dear old typewriter."

"Of course I don't," she said a little faintly for Bones's arm was about her.

"Don't think," said Bones, his voice trembling, "that I am a naughty old philanderer; but somehow, dear old miss, being alone with you, and all that sort of stuff--"

And he bent and kissed her, and at that moment the light that never went out came on again with extraordinary fierceness, as though to make up for its temporary absence without leave.

And these two young people were focused as in a limelight, and were not only visible from the car, but visible for miles around.

"Dear me!" said Bones.

The girl said nothing. She shaded her eyes from the light as she walked back. As for Bones, he climbed into the driver's seat with the deliberation of an old gentleman selecting a penny chair in the park, and said, without turning his head:

"It's the road to the left."

"I'm glad," said Hamilton, and made no comment even when Bones took the road to the right.

They had gone a quarter of a mile along this highway when the lamp went out. It went out with as unexpected and startling suddenness as before. Bones jingled the key, then turned.

"You wouldn't like to get out, dear old Ham, and have a look round, would you?"

"No, Bones," said Hamilton drily. "We're quite comfortable."

"You wouldn't like to get down, my jolly old typewriter?"

"No, thank you," said Miss Marguerite Whitland with decision.

"Oh!" said Bones. "Then, under the circumstances, dear old person, we'd all better sit here until--"

At that moment the light came on. It flooded the white road, and the white road was an excellent wind-screen against which the bending head of Bones was thrown into sharp relief.

The car moved on. At regular intervals the light that never went out forsook its home-loving habits and took a constitutional. The occupants of the ear came to regard its eccentricities with philosophy, even though it began to rain, and there was no hood.

On the outskirts of Guildford, Bones was pulled up by a policeman, who took his name because the lights were too bright. On the other side of Guildford he was pulled up by another policeman because he had no light at all. Passing through Kingston, the lamp began to flicker, sending forth brilliant dots and dashes, which continued until they were on Putney Common, where the lamp's message was answered from a camp of Boy Scouts, one signalman of the troop being dragged from his bed for the purpose, the innocent child standing in his shirt at the call of duty.

"A delightful day," said Hamilton at parting that night. (It was nearly twelve o'clock.) "I'm sorry you've had so much trouble with that lamp, Bones. What did you call it?"

"I say, old fellow," said Bones, ignoring the question, "I hope, when you saw me picking a spider off dear old Miss Marguerite's shoulder, you didn't-er-think anything?"

"The only thing I thought was," said Hamilton, "that I didn't see the spider."

"Don't stickle, dear old partner," said Bones testily. "It may have been an earwig. Now, as a man of the world, dear old blasé one, do you think I'd compromise an innocent typewriter? Do you think I ought to--" He paused, but his voice was eager.

"That," said Hamilton, "is purely a question for the lady. Now, what are you going to do with this lamp. Are you going to float it?"

Bones scowled at the glaring headlight.

"That depends whether the naughty old things float, Ham," he said venomously. "If you think they will, my old eye-witness, how about tyin' a couple of bricks round 'em before I chuck 'em in. What?"

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