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He who has worshipped a woman, even against his will and conscience, knows well how storm may follow storm, and earthquake earthquake, before his idol be utterly overthrown. And so Philammon found that evening, as he sat pondering over the strange chances of the day; for, as he pondered, his old feelings towards Hypatia began, in spite of the struggles of his conscience and reason, to revive within him. Not only pure love of her great loveliness, the righteous instinct which bids us welcome and honour beauty, whether in man or woman, as something of real worth--divine, heavenly, ay, though we know not how, in a most deep sense eternal; which makes our reason give the lie to all merely logical and sentimental maunderings of moralists about 'the fleeting hues of this our painted clay'; telling men, as the old Hebrew Scriptures tell them, that physical beauty is the deepest of all spiritual symbols; and that though beauty without discretion be the jewel of gold in the swine's snout, yet the jewel of gold it is still, the sacrament of an inward beauty, which ought to be, perhaps hereafter may be, fulfilled in spirit and in truth. Not only this, which whispered to him--and who shall say that the whisper was of the earth, or of the lower world?--'She is too beautiful to be utterly evil'; but the very defect in her creed which he had just discovered, drew him towards her again. She had no Gospel for the Magdalene, because she was a Pagan .... That, then, was the fault of her Paganism, not of herself. She felt for Pelagia. but even if she had not, was not that, too, the fault of her Paganism? And for that Paganism who was to be blamed? She? .... Was he the man to affirm that? Had he not seen scandals, stupidities, brutalities, enough to shake even his faith, educated a Christian? How much more excuse for her, more delicate, more acute, more lofty than he; the child, too of a heathen father? Her perfections, were they not her own?--her defects, those of her circumstances? .... And had she not welcomed him, guarded him, taught him, honoured him? .... Could he turn against her? above all now in her distress--perhaps her danger? Was he not bound to her, if by nothing else, by gratitude? Was not he, of all men, bound to believe that all she required to make her perfect was conversion to the true faith? .... And that first dream of converting her arose almost as bright as ever .... Then he was checked by the thought of his first utter failure .... At least, if he could not convert her, he could love her, pray for her .... No, he could not even do that; for to whom could he pray? He had to repent, to be forgiven, to humble himself by penitence, perhaps for years, ere he could hope to be heard even for himself, much less for another .... And so backwards and forwards swayed his hope and purpose, till he was roused from his meditation by the voice of the little porter summoning him to his evening meal; and recollecting, for the first time, that he had tasted no food that day, he went down, half-unwillingly, and ate.
But as he, the porter, and his negro wife were sitting silently and sadly enough together, Miriam came in, apparently in high good humour, and lingered a moment on her way to her own apartments upstairs.
'Eh? At supper? And nothing but lentils and water-melons, when the flesh-pots of Egypt have been famous any time these two thousand years. Ah! but times are changed since then! .... You have worn out the old Hebrew hints, you miserable Gentiles, you, and got a Caesar instead of a Joseph! Hist, you hussies!' cried she to the girls upstairs, clapping her hands loudly. 'Here! bring us down one of those roast chickens, and a bottle of the wine of wines--the wine with the green seal, you careless daughters of Midian, you, with your wits running on the men, I'll warrant, every minute I've been out of the house! Ah, you'll smart for it some day--you'll smart for it some day, you daughters of Adam's first wife!'
Down came, by the hands of one of the Syrian slave-girls, the fowl and the wine.
'There, now; we'll all sup together. Wine, that maketh glad the heart of man!--Youth, you were a monk once, so you have read all about that, eh? and about the best wine which goes down sweetly, causing the lips of them that are asleep to speak. And rare wine it was, I warrant, which the blessed Solomon had in his little country cellar up there in Lebanon. We'll try if this is not a very fair substitute for it, though. Come, my little man-monkey, drink, and forget your sorrow! You shall be temple-sweeper to Beelzebub yet, I promise you. Look at it there, creaming and curdling, the darling! purring like a cat at the very thought of touching human lips! As sweet as honey, as strong as fire, as clear as amber! Drink, ye children of Gehenna; and make good use of the little time that is left you between this and the unquenchable fire!'
And tossing a cup of it down her own throat, as if it had been water, she watched her companions with a meaning look, as they drank.
The little porter followed her example gallantly. Philammon looked, and longed, and sipped blushingly and bashfully, and tried to fancy that he did not care for it; and sipped again, being willing enough to forget his sorrow also for a moment; the negress refused with fear and trembling--'She had a vow on her.'
'Satan possess you and your vow! Drink, you coal out of Tophet! Do you think it is poisoned? You, the only creature in the world that I should not enjoy ill-using, because every one else ill-uses you already without my help! Drink, I say, or I'll turn you pea-green from head to foot!'
The negress put the cup to her lips, and contrived, for her own reasons, to spill the contents unobserved.
'A very fine lecture that of the Lady Hypatia's the other morning, on Helen's nepenthe,' quoth the little porter, growing philosophic as the wine-fumes rose. 'Such a power of extracting the cold water of philosophy out of the bottomless pit of Mythus, I never did hear. Did you ever, my Philammonidion?'
'Aha! she and I were talking about that half an hour ago,' said Miriam.
'What! have you seen her?' asked Philammon, with a flutter of the heart.
'If you mean, did she mention you,--why, then, yes!'
'Talked of a young Phoebus Apollo--without mentioning names, certainly, but in the most sensible, and practical, and hopeful way--the wisest speech that I have heard from her this twelvemonth.'
Philammon blushed scarlet.
'And that,' thought he, in spite of what passed this morning!--Why' what is the matter with our host?'
'He has taken Solomon's advice, and forgotten his sorrow.'
And so, indeed, he had; for he was sleeping sweetly, with open lack- lustre eyes, and a maudlin smile at the ceiling; while the negress, with her head fallen on her chest, seemed equally unconscious of their presence.
'We'll see,' quoth Miriam; and taking up the lamp, she held the flame unceremoniously to the arm of each of them; but neither winced nor stirred.
'Surely your wine is not drugged?' said Philammon, in trepidation.
'Why not? What has made them beasts, may make us angels. You seem none the less lively for it! Do I?'
'But drugged wine?'
'Why not? The same who made wine made poppy-juice. Both will make man happy. Why not use both?'
'It is poison!'
'It is the nepenthe, as I told Hypatia, whereof she was twaddling mysticism this morning. Drink, child, drink! I have no mind to put you to sleep to-night! I want to make a man of you, or rather, to see whether you are one!'
And she drained another cup, and then went on, half talking to herself--
'Ay, it is poison; and music is poison; and woman is poison, according to the new creed, Pagan and Christian; and wine will be poison, and meat will be poison, some day; and we shall have a world full of mad Nebuchadnezzars, eating grass like oxen. It is poisonous, and brutal, and devilish, to be a man, and not a monk, and an eunuch, and a dry branch. You are all in the same lie, Christians and philosophers, Cyril and Hypatia! Don't interrupt me, but drink, young fool!--Ay, and the only man who keeps his manhood, the only man who is not ashamed to be what God has made him, is your Jew. You will find yourselves in want of him after all, some day, you besotted Gentiles, to bring you back to common sense and common manhood.--In want of him and his grand old books, which you despise while you make idols of them, about Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Solomon, whom you call saints, you miserable hypocrites, though they did what you are too dainty to do, and had their wives and their children, and thanked God for a beautiful woman, as Adam did before them, and their sons do after them--Drink, I say--and believed that God had really made the world, and not the devil, and had given them the lordship over it, as you will find out to your cost some day.'
Philammon heard, and could not answer; and on she rambled.
'And music, too? Our priests were not afraid of sackbut and psaltery, dulcimer and trumpet, in the house of the Lord; for they knew who had given them the cunning to make them. Our prophets were not afraid of calling for music, when they wished to prophesy, and letting it soften and raise their souls, and open and quicken them till they saw into the inner harmony of things, and beheld the future in the present; for they knew who made the melody and harmony, and made them the outward symbols of the inward song which runs through sun and stars, storm and tempest, fulfilling his word-- in that these sham philosophers the heathen are wiser than those Christian monks. Try it!--try it! Come with me! Leave these sleepers here, and come to my rooms. You long to be as wise as Solomon. Then get at wisdom as Solomon did, and give your heart first to know folly and madness .... You have read the Book of the Preacher?'
Poor Philammon! He was no longer master of himself. The arguments --the wine--the terrible spell of the old woman's voice and eye, and the strong overpowering will which showed out through them, dragged him along in spite of himself. As if in a dream, he followed her up the stairs.
'There, throw away that stupid, ugly, shapeless philosopher's cloak. So! You have on the white tunic I gave you? And now you look as a human being should. And you have been to the baths to-day? Well-- you have the comfort of feeling now like other people, and having that alabaster skin as white as it was created, instead of being tanned like a brute's hide. Drink, I say! Ay--what was that face, that figure, made for? Bring a mirror here, hussy! There, look in that and judge for yourself? Were those lips rounded for nothing? Why were those eyes set in your head, and made to sparkle bright as jewels, sweet as mountain honey? Why were those curls laid ready for soft fingers to twine themselves among them, and look all the whiter among the glossy black knots? Judge for yourself!'
Alas! poor Philammon!
'And after all,' thought he, 'is it not true, as well as pleasant?'
'Sing to the poor boy, girls!--sing to him! and teach him for the first time in his little ignorant life, the old road to inspiration!'
One of the slave-girls sat down on the divan, and took up a double flute; while the other rose, and accompanying the plaintive dreamy air with a slow dance, and delicate twinklings of her silver armlets and anklets, and the sistrum which she held aloft, she floated gracefully round and round the floor and sang--
Why were we born but for bliss? Why are we ripe, but to fall? Dream not that duty can bar thee from beauty, Like water and sunshine, the heirloom of all.
Lips were made only to kiss; Hands were made only to toy; Eyes were made only to lure on the lonely, The longing, the loving, and drown them in joy!
Alas, for poor Philammon! And yet no! The very poison brought with it its own anti-dote; and, shaking off by one strong effort of will the spell of the music and the wine, he sprang to his feet....
'Never! If love means no more than that--if it is to be a mere delicate self-indulgence, worse than the brute's, because it requires the prostration of nobler faculties, and a selfishness the more huge in proportion to the greatness of the soul which is crushed inward by it--then I will have none of it! I have had my dream--yes! but it was of one who should be at once my teacher and my pupil, my debtor and my queen--who should lean on me, and yet support me--supply my defects, although with lesser light, as the old moon fills up the circle of the new--labour with me side by side in some great work--rising with me for ever as I rose: and this is the base substitute! Never!'
Whether or not this was unconsciously forced into words by the vehemence of his passion, or whether the old Jewess heard, or pretended to hear, a footstep coming up the stair, she at all events sprang instantly to her feet.
'Hist! Silence, girls! I hear a visitor. What mad maiden has come to beg a love-charm of the poor old witch at this time of night? Or have the Christian bloodhounds tracked the old lioness of Judah to her den at last? We'll see!'
And she drew a dagger from her girdle, and stepped boldly to the door. As she went out she turned--
'So! my brave young Apollo! You do not admire simple woman? You must have something more learned and intellectual and spiritual, and so forth. I wonder whether Eve, when she came to Adam in the garden, brought with her a certificate of proficiency in the seven sciences? Well, well--like must after like. Perhaps we shall be able to suit you after all. Vanish, daughters of Midian!'
The girls vanished accordingly, whispering and laughing; and Philammon found himself alone. Although he was somewhat soothed by the old woman's last speech, yet a sense of terror, of danger, of coming temptation, kept him standing sternly on his feet, looking warily round the chamber, lest a fresh siren should emerge from behind some curtain or heap of pillows.
On one side of the room he perceived a doorway, filled by a curtain of gauze, from behind which came the sound of whispering voices. His fear, growing with the general excitement of his mind, rose into anger as he began to suspect some snare; and he faced round towards the curtain, and stood like a wild beast at bay, ready, with uplifted arm, for all evil spirits, male or female.
'And he will show himself? How shall I accost him?' whispered a well-known voice--could it be Hypatia's? And then the guttural Hebrew accent of the old woman answered-
'As you spoke of him this morning--'
'Oh! I will tell him all, and he must--he must have mercy! But he?--so awful, so glorious!--'
What the answer was, he could not hear but the next moment a sweet heavy scent, as of narcotic gums, filled the room--mutterings of incantations--and then a blaze of light, in which the curtain vanished, and disclosed to his astonished eyes, enveloped in a glory of luminous smoke, the hag standing by a tripod, and, kneeling by her, Hypatia herself, robed in pure white, glittering with diamonds and gold, her lips parted, her head thrown back, her arms stretched out in an agony of expectation.
In an instant, before he had time to stir, she had sprung through the blaze, and was kneeling at his feet.
'Phoebus! beautiful, glorious, ever young! Hear me! only a moment! only this once!'
Her drapery had caught fire from the tripod, but she did not heed it. Philammon instinctively clasped her in his arms, and crushed it out, as she cried--
'Have mercy on me! Tell me the secret! I will obey thee! I have no self--I am thy slave! Kill me, if thou wilt: but speak!'
The blaze sank into a soft, warm, mellow gleam, and beyond it what appeared?
The negro-woman, with one finger upon her lips, as with an imploring, all but despairing look, she held up to him her little crucifix.
He saw it. What thoughts flashed through him, like the lightning bolt, at that blessed sign of infinite self-sacrifice, I say not; let those who know it judge for themselves. But in another instant he had spurned from him the poor deluded maiden, whose idolatrous ecstasies he saw instantly were not meant for himself, and rushed desperately across the room, looking for an outlet.
He found a door in the darkness--a room-a window--and in another moment he had leapt twenty feet into the street, rolled over, bruised and bleeding, rose again like an Antaeus, with new strength, and darted off towards the archbishop's house.
And poor Hypatia lay half senseless on the floor, with the Jewess watching her bitter tears--not merely of disappointment, but of utter shame. For as Philammon fled she had recognised those well- known features; and the veil was lifted from her eyes, and the hope and the self-respect of Theon's daughter were gone for ever.
Her righteous wrath was too deep for upbraidings. Slowly she rose; returned into the inner room; wrapped her cloak deliberately around her; and went silently away, with one look at the Jewess of solemn scorn and defiance.
'Ah! I can afford a few sulky looks to-night!' said the old woman to herself, with a smile, as she picked up from the floor the prize for which she had been plotting so long--Raphael's half of the black agate.
'I wonder whether she will miss it! Perhaps she will have no fancy for its company any longer, now that she has discovered what over- palpable archangels appear when she rubs it. But if she does try to recover it .... why--let her try her strength with mine--or, rather, with a Christian mob.'
And then, drawing from her bosom the other half of the talisman, she fitted the two pieces together again and again, fingering them over, and poring upon them with tear-brimming eyes, till she had satisfied herself that the fracture still fitted exactly; while she murmured to herself from time to time--'Oh, that he were here! Oh, that he would return now--now! It may be too late to-morrow! Stay--I will go and consult the teraph; it may know where he is....'
And she departed to her incantations; while Hypatia threw herself upon her bed at home, and filled the chamber with a long, low wailing, as of a child in pain, until the dreary dawn broke on her shame and her despair. And then she rose, and rousing herself for one great effort, calmly prepared a last oration, in which she intended to bid farewell for ever to Alexandria and to the schools.
Philammon meanwhile was striding desperately up the main street which led towards the Serapeium. But he was not destined to arrive there as soon as he had hoped to do. For ere he had gone half a mile, behold a crowd advancing towards him blocking up the whole street.
The mass seemed endless. Thousands of torches flared above their heads, and from the heart of the procession rose a solemn chant, in which Philammon soon recognised a well-known Catholic hymn. He was half minded to turn up some by-street, and escape meeting them. But on attempting to do so, he found every avenue which he tried similarly blocked up by a tributary stream of people; and, almost ere he was aware, was entangled in the vanguard of the great column.
'Let me pass!'cried he in a voice of entreaty.
'Pass, thou heathen?'
In vain he protested his Christianity.
'Origenist, Donatist, heretic! Whither should a good Catholic be going to-night, save to the Caesareum?'
'My friends, my friends, I have no business at the Caesareum!' cried he, in utter despair. 'I am on my way to seek a private interview with the patriarch, on matters of importance.'
'Oh, liar! who pretends to be known to the patriarch, and yet is ignorant that this night he visits at the Caesareum the most sacred corpse of the martyr Ammonius!'
'What! Is Cyril with you?'
'He and all his clergy.'
'Better so; better in public,' said Philammon to himself; and, turning, he joined the crowd.
Onward, with chant and dirge, they swept out through the Sun-gate, upon the harbour esplanade, and wheeled to the right along the quay, while the torchlight bathed in a red glare the great front of the Caesareum, and the tall obelisks before it, and the masts of the thousand ships which lay in the harbour on their left; and last, but not least, before the huge dim mass of the palace which bounded the esplanade in front, a long line of glittering helmets and cuirasses, behind a barrier of cables which stretched from the shore to the corner of the museum.
There was a sudden halt; a low ominous growl; and then the mob pressed onward from behind, surged up almost to the barrier. The soldiers dropped the points of their lances, and stood firm. Again the mob recoiled; again surged forward. Fierce cries arose; some of the boldest stooped to pick up stones: but, luckily, the pavement was too firm for them....Another moment, and the whole soldiery of Alexandria would have been fighting for life and death against fifty thousand Christians....
But Cyril had not forgotten his generalship. Reckless as that night's events proved him to be about arousing the passions of his subjects, he was yet far too wary to risk the odium and the danger of a night attack, which, even if successful, would have cost the lives of hundreds. He knew well enough the numbers and the courage of the enemy, and the certainty that, in case of a collision, no quarter would be given or accepted on either side .... Beside, if a battle must take place--and that, of course, must happen sooner or later--it must not happen in his presence and under his sanction. He was in the right now, and Orestes in the wrong; and in the right he would keep--at least till his express to Byzantium should have returned, and Orestes was either proscribed or superseded. So looking forward to some such chance as this, the wary prelate had schooled his aides-de-camp, the deacons of the city, and went on his way up the steps of the Caesareum, knowing that they could be trusted to keep the peace outside.
And they did their work well. Before a blow had been struck, or even an insult passed on either side, they had burst through the front rank of the mob, and by stout threats of excommunication, enjoined not only peace, but absolute silence until the sacred ceremony which was about to take place should be completed; and enforced their commands by marching up and down like sentries between the hostile ranks for the next weary two hours, till the very soldiers broke out into expressions of admiration, and the tribune of the cohort, who ad no great objection, but also no great wish, fight, paid them a high-flown compliment on their laudable endeavours to maintain public order, and received the somewhat ambiguous reply, that the 'weapons of their warfare were not carnal, that they wrestled not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,' .... an answer which the tribune, being now somewhat sleepy, thought it best to leave unexplained.
In the meanwhile, there had passed up the steps of the Temple a gorgeous line of priests, among whom glittered, more gorgeous than all, the stately figure of the pontiff. They were followed close by thousands of monks, not only from Alexandria and Nitria, but from all the adjoining towns and monasteries. And as Philammon, unable for some half hour more to force his way into the church, watched their endless stream, he could well believe the boast which he had so often heard in Alexandria, that one half of the population of Egypt was at that moment in 'religious orders.'
After the monks, the laity began to enter but even then so vast was the crowd, and so dense the crush upon the steps, that before he could force his way into the church, Cyril's sermon had begun.
--'What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Nay, such are in kings' palaces, and in the palaces of prefects who would needs be emperors, and cast away the Lord's bonds from them-- of whom it is written, that He that sitteth in the heavens laugheth them to scorn, and taketh the wicked in their own snare, and maketh the devices of princes of none effect. Ay, in king's palaces, and in theatres too, where the rich of this world, poor in faith, deny their covenant, and defile their baptismal robes that they may do honour to the devourers of the earth. Woe to them who think that they may partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. Woe to them who will praise with the same mouth Aphrodite the fiend, and her of whom it is written that He was born of a pure Virgin. Let such be excommunicate from the cup of the Lord, and from the congregation of the Lord, till they have purged away their sins by penance and by almsgiving. But for you, ye poor of this world, rich in faith, you whom the rich despise, hale before the judgment seats, and blaspheme that holy name whereby ye are called--what went ye out into the wilderness to see? A prophet?--Ay, and more than a prophet--a martyr! More than a prophet, more than a king, more than a prefect whose theatre was the sands of the desert, whose throne was the cross, whose crown was bestowed, not by heathen philosophers and daughters of Satan, deceiving men with the works of their fathers, but by angels and archangels; a crown of glory, the victor's laurel, which grows for ever in the paradise of the highest heaven. Call him no more Ammonius, call him Thaumasius, wonderful! Wonderful in his poverty, wonderful in his zeal, wonderful in his faith, wonderful in his fortitude, wonderful in his death, most wonderful in the manner of that death. Oh thrice blessed, who has merited the honour of the cross itself! What can follow, but that one so honoured in the flesh should also be honoured in the life which he now lives, and that from the virtue of these thrice-holy limbs the leper should be cleansed, the dumb should speak, the very dead be raised? Yes; it were impiety to doubt it. Consecrated by the cross, this flesh shall not only rest in hope but work in power. Approach, and be healed! Approach, and see the glory of the saints, the glory of the poor. Approach, and learn that that which man despises, God hath highly esteemed; that that which man rejects, God accepts; that that which man punishes, God rewards. Approach, and see how God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the weak things of this world to confound the strong. Man abhors the cross: The Son of God condescended to endure it! Man tramples on the poor: The Son of God hath not where to lay His head. Man passes by the sick as useless: The Son of God chooses them to be partakers of His sufferings, that the glory of God may be made manifest in them. Man curses the publican, while he employs him to fill his coffers with the plunder of the poor: The Son of God calls him from the receipt of custom to be an apostle, higher than the kings of the earth. Man casts away the harlot like a faded flower, when he has tempted her to become the slave of sin for a season; and the Son of God calls her, the defiled, the despised, the forsaken, to Himself, accepts her tears, blesses her offering, and declares that her sins are forgiven, for she hath loved much; while to whom little is forgiven the same loveth little....'
Philammon heard no more. With the passionate and impulsive nature of a Greek fanatic, he burst forward through the crowd, towards the steps which led to the choir, and above which, in front of the altar, stood the corpse of Ammonius, enclosed in a coffin of glass, beneath a gorgeous canopy; and never stopping till he found himself in front of Cyril's pulpit, he threw himself upon his face upon the pavement, spread out his arms in the form of a cross, and lay silent and motionless before the feet of the multitude.
There was a sudden whisper and rustle in the congregation: but Cyril, after a moment's pause, went on--
'Man, in his pride and self-sufficiency, despises humiliation, and penance, and the broken and the contrite heart; and tells thee that only as long as thou doest well unto thyself will he speak well of thee: the Son of God says that he that humbleth himself, even as this our penitent brother, he it is who shall be exalted. He it is of whom it is written that his father saw him afar off, and ran to meet him, and bade put the best robe on him, and a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and make merry and be glad with the choir of angels who rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. Arise, my son, whoso-ever thou art; and go in peace for this night, remembering that he who said, "My belly cleaveth unto the pavement," hath also said, "Rejoice not against me, Satan, mine enemy, for when I fall I shall arise!"'
A thunder-clap of applause, surely as pardonable as any an Alexandrian church ever heard, followed this dexterous, and yet most righteous, turn of the patriarch's oratory: but Philammon raised himself slowly and fearfully to his knees, and blushing scarlet endured the gaze of ten thousand eyes.
Suddenly, from beside the pulpit, an old man sprang forward, and clasped him round the neck. It was Arsenius.
'My son! my son!' sobbed he, almost aloud.
'Slave, as well as son, if you will!' whispered Philammon. 'One boon from the patriarch; and then home to the Laura for ever!'
'Oh, twice-blest night,' rolled on above the deep rich voice of Cyril, 'which beholds at once the coronation of a martyr and the conversion of a sinner; which increases at the same time the ranks of the church triumphant, and of the church militant; and pierces celestial essences with a twofold rapture of thanksgiving, as they welcome on high a victorious, and on earth a repentant, brother!'
And at a sign from Cyril, Peter the Reader stepped forward, and led away, gently enough, the two weepers, who were welcomed as they passed by the blessings, and prayers, and tears even of those fierce fanatics of Nitria. Nay, Peter himself, as he turned to leave them together in the sacristy, held out his hand to Philammon.
'I ask your forgiveness,' said the poor boy, who plunged eagerly and with a sort of delight into any and every self-abasement.
'And I accord it,' quoth Peter; and returned to the church, looking, and probably feeling, in a far more pleasant mood than usual.
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