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One Saturday morning the doctor was called to a place a good many miles distant, and Juliet was left with the prospect of being longer alone than usual. She felt it almost sultry although so late in the season, and could not rest in the house. She pretended to herself she had some shopping to do in Pine Street, but it was rather a longing for air and motion that sent her out. Also, certain thoughts which she did not like, had of late been coming more frequently, and she found it easier to avoid them in the street. They were not such as troubled her from being hard to think out. Properly speaking, she thought less now than ever. She often said nice things, but they were mostly the mere gracious movements of a nature sweet, playful, trusting, fond of all beautiful things, and quick to see artistic relation where her perception reached.
As she turned the corner of Mr. Drew's shop, the house-door opened, and a lady came out. It was Mr. Drew's lodger. Juliet knew nothing about her, and was not aware that she had ever seen her; but the lady started as if she recognized her. To that kind of thing Juliet was accustomed, for her style of beauty was any thing but common. The lady's regard however was so fixed that it drew hers, and as their eyes met, Juliet felt something, almost a physical pain, shoot through her heart. She could not understand it, but presently began to suspect, and by degrees became quite certain that she had seen her before, though she could not tell where. The effect the sight of her had had, indicated some painful association, which she must recall before she could be at rest. She turned in the other direction, and walked straight from the town, that she might think without eyes upon her.
Scene after scene of her life came back as she searched to find some circumstance associated with that face. Once and again she seemed on the point of laying hold of something, when the face itself vanished and she had that to recall, and the search to resume from the beginning. In the process many painful memories arose, some, connected with her mother, unhappy in themselves, others, connected with her father, grown unhappy from her marriage; for thereby she had built a wall between her thoughts and her memories of him; and, if there should be a life beyond this, had hollowed a gulf between them forever.
Gradually her thoughts took another direction.--Could it be that already the glamour had begun to disperse, the roses of love to wither, the magic to lose its force, the common look of things to return? Paul was as kind, as courteous, as considerate as ever, and yet there was a difference. Her heart did not grow wild, her blood did not rush to her face, when she heard the sound of his horse's hoofs in the street, though she knew them instantly. Sadder and sadder grew her thoughts as she walked along, careless whither.
Had she begun to cease loving? No. She loved better than she knew, but she must love infinitely better yet. The first glow was gone--already: she had thought it would not go, and was miserable. She recalled that even her honeymoon had a little disappointed her. I would not be mistaken as implying that any of these her reflections had their origin in what was peculiar in the character, outlook, or speculation of herself or her husband. The passion of love is but the vestibule--the pylon--to the temple of love. A garden lies between the pylon and the adytum. They that will enter the sanctuary must walk through the garden. But some start to see the roses already withering, sit down and weep and watch their decay, until at length the aged flowers hang drooping all around them, and lo! their hearts are withered also, and when they rise they turn their backs on the holy of holies, and their feet toward the gate.
Juliet was proud of her Paul, and loved him as much as she was yet capable of loving. But she had thought they were enough for each other, and already, although she was far from acknowledging it to herself, she had, in the twilight of her thinking, begun to doubt it. Nor can she be blamed for the doubt. Never man and woman yet succeeded in being all in all to each other.
It were presumption to say that a lonely God would be enough for Himself, seeing that we can know nothing of God but as He is our Father. What if the Creator Himself is sufficient to Himself in virtue of His self-existent creatorship? Let my reader think it out. The lower we go in the scale of creation, the more independent is the individual. The richer and more perfect each of a married pair is in the other relations of life, the more is each to the other. For us, the children of eternal love, the very air our spirits breathe, and without which they can not live, is the eternal life; for us, the brothers and sisters of a countless family, the very space in which our souls can exist, is the love of each and every soul of our kind.
Such were not Juliet's thoughts. To her such would have seemed as unreal as unintelligible. To her they would have looked just what some of my readers will pronounce them, not in the least knowing what they are. She was suddenly roused from her painful reverie by the pulling up of Helen's ponies, with much clatter and wriggling recoil, close beside her, making more fuss with their toy-carriage than the mightiest of tractive steeds with the chariot of pomp.
"Jump in, Juliet," cried their driver, addressing her with the greater abandon that she was resolved no stiffness on her part should deposit a grain to the silting up of the channel of former affection. She was one of the few who understand that no being can afford to let the smallest love-germ die.
Juliet hesitated. She was not a little bewildered with the sudden recall from the moony plains of memory, and the demand for immediate action. She answered uncertainly, trying to think what was involved.
"I know your husband is not waiting you at home," pursued Helen. "I saw him on Ruber, three fields off, riding away from Glaston. Jump in, dear. You can make up that mind of yours in the carriage as well as upon the road. I will set you down wherever you please. My husband is out too, so the slaves can take their pleasure."
Juliet could not resist, had little inclination to do so, yielded without another word, and took her place beside Helen, a little shy of being alone with her, yet glad of her company. Away went the ponies, and as soon as she had got them settled to their work, Helen turned her face toward Juliet.
"I am so glad to see you!" she said.
Juliet's heart spoke too loud for her throat. It was a relief to her that Helen had to keep her eyes on her charge, the quickness of whose every motion rendered watchfulness right needful.
"Have you returned Mrs. Bevis's call yet!" asked Helen.
"No," murmured Juliet. "I haven't been able yet."
"Well, here is a good chance. Sit where you are, and you will be at Nestley in half an hour, and I shall be the more welcome. You are a great favorite there!"
"How kind you are!" said Juliet, the tears beginning to rise. "Indeed, Mrs. Wingfold,----"
"You used to call me Helen!" said that lady, pulling up her ponies with sudden energy, as they shied at a bit of paper on the road, and nearly had themselves and all they drew in the ditch.
"May I call you so still?"
"Surely! What else?"
"You are too good to me!" said Juliet, and wept outright.
"My dear Juliet," returned Helen, "I will be quite plain with you, and that will put things straight in a moment. Your friends understand perfectly why you have avoided them of late, and are quite sure it is from no unkindness to any of them. But neither must you imagine we think hardly of you for marrying Mr. Faber. We detest his opinions so much that we feel sure if you saw a little further into them, neither of you would hold them."
"But I don't--that is, I--"
"You don't know whether you hold them or not: I understand quite well. My husband says in your case it does not matter much; for if you had ever really believed in Jesus Christ, you could not have done it. At all events now the thing is done, there is no question about it left. Dear Juliet, think of us as your friends still, who will always be glad to see you, and ready to help you where we can."
Juliet was weeping for genuine gladness now. But even as she wept, by one of those strange movements of our being which those who have been quickest to question them wonder at the most, it flashed upon her where she had seen the lady that came from Mr. Drew's house, and her heart sunk within her, for the place was associated with that portion of her history which of all she would most gladly hide from herself. During the rest of the drive she was so silent, that Helen at last gave up trying to talk to her. Then first she observed how the clouds had risen on all sides and were meeting above, and that the air was more still and sultry than ever.
Just as they got within Nestley-gate, a flash of lightning, scarcely followed by a loud thunder-clap, shot from overhead. The ponies plunged, reared, swayed asunder from the pole, nearly fell, and recovered themselves only to dart off in wild terror. Juliet screamed.
"Don't be frightened, child," said Helen. "There is no danger here. The road is straight and there is nothing on it. I shall soon pull them up. Only don't cry out: that will be as little to their taste as the lightning."
Juliet caught at the reins.
"For God's sake, don't do that!" cried Helen, balking her clutch. "You will kill us both."
Juliet sunk back in her seat. The ponies went at full speed along the road. The danger was small, for the park was upon both sides, level with the drive, in which there was a slight ascent. Helen was perfectly quiet, and went on gradually tightening her pull upon the reins. Before they reached the house, she had entirely regained her command of them. When she drew up to the door, they stood quite steady, but panting as if their little sides would fly asunder. By this time Helen was red as a rose; her eyes were flashing, and a smile was playing about her mouth; but Juliet was like a lily on which the rain has been falling all night: her very lips were bloodless. When Helen turned and saw her, she was far more frightened than the ponies could make her.
"Why, Juliet, my dear!" she said, "I had no thought you were so terrified! What would your husband say to me for frightening you so! But you are safe now."
A servant came to take the ponies. Helen got out first, and gave her hand to Juliet.
"Don't think me a coward, Helen," she said. "It was the thunder. I never could bear thunder."
"I should be far more of a coward than you are, Juliet," answered Helen, "if I believed, or even feared, that just a false step of little Zephyr there, or one plunge more from Zoe, might wipe out the world, and I should never more see the face of my husband."
She spoke eagerly, lovingly, believingly. Juliet shivered, stopped, and laid hold of the baluster rail. Things had been too much for her that day. She looked so ill that Helen was again alarmed, but she soon came to herself a little, and they went on to Mrs. Bevis's room. She received them most kindly, made Mrs. Faber lie on the sofa, covered her over, for she was still trembling, and got her a glass of wine. But she could not drink it, and lay sobbing in vain endeavor to control herself.
Meantime the clouds gathered thicker and thicker: the thunder-peal that frightened the ponies had been but the herald of the storm, and now it came on in earnest. The rain rushed suddenly on the earth, and as soon as she heard it, Juliet ceased to sob. At every flash, however, although she lay with her eyes shut, and her face pressed into the pillow, she shivered and moaned.--"Why should one," thought Helen, "who is merely and only the child of Nature, find herself so little at home with her?" Presently Mr. Bevis came running in from the stable, drenched in crossing to the house. As he passed to his room, he opened the door of his wife's, and looked in.
"I am glad to see you safely housed, ladies," he said. "You must make up your minds to stay where you are. It will not clear before the moon rises, and that will be about midnight. I will send John to tell your husbands that you are not cowering under a hedge, and will not be home to-night."
He was a good weather-prophet. The rain went on. In the evening the two husbands appeared, dripping. They had come on horseback together, and would ride home again after dinner. The doctor would have to be out the greater part of the Sunday, and would gladly leave his wife in such good quarters; the curate would walk out to his preaching in the evening, and drive home with Helen after it, taking Juliet, if she should be able to accompany them.
After dinner, when the ladies had left them, between the two clergymen and the doctor arose the conversation of which I will now give the substance, leaving the commencement, and taking it up at an advanced point.
"Now tell me," said Faber, in the tone of one satisfied he must be allowed in the right, "which is the nobler--to serve your neighbor in the hope of a future, believing in a God who will reward you, or to serve him in the dark, obeying your conscience, with no other hope than that those who come after you will be the better for you?"
"I allow most heartily," answered Wingfold, "and with all admiration, that it is indeed grand in one hopeless for himself to live well for the sake of generations to come, which he will never see, and which will never hear of him. But I will not allow that there is any thing grand in being hopeless for one's self, or in serving the Unseen rather than those about you, seeing it is easier to work for those who can not oppose you, than to endure the contradiction of sinners. But I know you agree with me that the best way to assist posterity is to be true to your contemporaries, so there I need say no more--except that the hopeless man can do the least for his fellows, being unable to give them any thing that should render them other than hopeless themselves; and if, for the grandeur of it, a man were to cast away his purse in order to have the praise of parting with the two mites left in his pocket, you would simply say the man was a fool. This much seems to me clear, that, if there be no God, it may be nobler to be able to live without one; but, if there be a God, it must be nobler not to be able to live without Him. The moment, however, that nobility becomes the object in any action, that moment the nobleness of the action vanishes. The man who serves his fellow that he may himself be noble, misses the mark. He alone who follows the truth, not he who follows nobility, shall attain the noble. A man's nobility will, in the end, prove just commensurate with his humanity--with the love he bears his neighbor--not the amount of work he may have done for him. A man might throw a lordly gift to his fellow, like a bone to a dog, and damn himself in the deed. You may insult a dog by the way you give him his bone."
"I dispute nothing of all that," said Faber--while good Mr. Bevis sat listening hard, not quite able to follow the discussion; "but I know you will admit that to do right from respect to any reward whatever, hardly amounts to doing right at all."
"I doubt if any man ever did or could do a thing worthy of passing as in itself good, for the sake of a reward," rejoined Wingfold. "Certainly, to do good for something else than good, is not good at all. But perhaps a reward may so influence a low nature as to bring it a little into contact with what is good, whence the better part of it may make some acquaintance with good. Also, the desire of the approbation of the Perfect, might nobly help a man who was finding his duty hard, for it would humble as well as strengthen him, and is but another form of the love of the good. The praise of God will always humble a man, I think."
"There you are out of my depth," said Faber. "I know nothing about that."
"I go on then to say," continued the curate, "that a man may well be strengthened and encouraged by the hope of being made a better and truer man, and capable of greater self-forgetfulness and devotion. There is nothing low in having respect to such a reward as that, is there?"
"It seems to me better," persisted the doctor, "to do right for the sake of duty, than for the sake of any goodness even that will come thereby to yourself."
"Assuredly, if self in the goodness, and not the goodness itself be the object," assented Wingfold. "When a duty lies before one, self ought to have no part in the gaze we fix upon it; but when thought reverts upon himself, who would avoid the wish to be a better man? The man who will not do a thing for duty, will never get so far as to derive any help from the hope of goodness. But duty itself is only a stage toward something better. It is but the impulse, God-given I believe, toward a far more vital contact with the truth. We shall one day forget all about duty, and do every thing from the love of the loveliness of it, the satisfaction of the rightness of it. What would you say to a man who ministered to the wants of his wife and family only from duty? Of course you wish heartily that the man who neglects them would do it from any cause, even were it fear of the whip; but the strongest and most operative sense of duty would not satisfy you in such a relation. There are depths within depths of righteousness. Duty is the only path to freedom, but that freedom is the love that is beyond and prevents duty."
"But," said Faber, "I have heard you say that to take from you your belief in a God would be to render you incapable of action. Now, the man--I don't mean myself, but the sort of a man for whom I stand up--does act, does his duty, without the strength of that belief: is he not then the stronger?--Let us drop the word noble."
"In the case supposed, he would be the stronger--for a time at least," replied the curate. "But you must remember that to take from me the joy and glory of my life, namely the belief that I am the child of God, an heir of the Infinite, with the hope of being made perfectly righteous, loving like God Himself, would be something more than merely reducing me to the level of a man who had never loved God, or seen in the possibility of Him any thing to draw him. I should have lost the mighty dream of the universe; he would be what and where he chose to be, and might well be the more capable. Were I to be convinced there is no God, and to recover by the mere force of animal life from the prostration into which the conviction cast me, I should, I hope, try to do what duty was left me, for I too should be filled, for a time at least, with an endless pity for my fellows; but all would be so dreary, that I should be almost paralyzed for serving them, and should long for death to do them and myself the only good service. The thought of the generations doomed to be born into a sunless present, would almost make me join any conspiracy to put a stop to the race. I should agree with Hamlet that the whole thing had better come to an end. Would it necessarily indicate a lower nature, or condition, or habit of thought, that, having cherished such hopes, I should, when I lost them, be more troubled than one who never had had them?"
"Still," said Faber, "I ask you to allow that a nature which can do without help is greater than a nature which can not."
"If the thing done were the same, I should allow it," answered the curate; "but the things done will prove altogether different. And another thing to be noted is, that, while the need of help might indicate a lower nature, the capacity for receiving it must indicate a higher. The mere fact of being able to live and act in more meager spiritual circumstances, in itself proves nothing: it is not the highest nature that has the fewest needs. The highest nature is the one that has the most necessities, but the fewest of its own making. He is not the greatest man who is the most independent, but he who thirsts most after a conscious harmony with every element and portion of the mighty whole; demands from every region thereof its influences to perfect his individuality; regards that individuality as his kingdom, his treasure, not to hold but to give; sees in his Self the one thing he can devote, the one precious means of freedom by its sacrifice, and that in no contempt or scorn, but in love to God and his children, the multitudes of his kind. By dying ever thus, ever thus losing his soul, he lives like God, and God knows him, and he knows God. This is too good to be grasped, but not too good to be true. The highest is that which needs the highest, the largest that which needs the most; the finest and strongest that which to live must breath essential life, self-willed life, God Himself. It follows that it is not the largest or the strongest nature that will feel a loss the least. An ant will not gather a grain of corn the less that his mother is dead, while a boy will turn from his books and his play and his dinner because his bird is dead: is the ant, therefore, the stronger nature?"
"Is it not weak to be miserable?" said the doctor.
"Yes--without good cause," answered the curate. "But you do not know what it would be to me to lose my faith in my God. My misery would be a misery to which no assurance of immortality or of happiness could bring any thing but tenfold misery--the conviction that I should never be good myself, never have any thing to love absolutely, never be able to make amends for the wrongs I had done. Call such a feeling selfish if you will: I can not help it. I can not count one fit for existence to whom such things would be no grief. The worthy existence must hunger after good. The largest nature must have the mightiest hunger. Who calls a man selfish because he is hungry? He is selfish if he broods on the pleasures of eating, and would not go without his dinner for the sake of another; but if he had no hunger, where would be the room for his self-denial? Besides, in spiritual things, the only way to give them to your neighbors is to hunger after them yourself. There each man is a mouth to the body of the whole creation. It can not be selfishness to hunger and thirst after righteousness, which righteousness is just your duty to your God and your neighbor. If there be any selfishness in it, the very answer to your prayer will destroy it."
"There you are again out of my region," said Faber. "But answer me one thing: is it not weak to desire happiness?"
"Yes; if the happiness is poor and low," rejoined Wingfold. "But the man who would choose even the grandeur of duty before the bliss of the truth, must be a lover of himself. Such a man must be traveling the road to death. If there be a God, truth must be joy. If there be not, truth may be misery.--But, honestly, I know not one advanced Christian who tries to obey for the hope of Heaven or the fear of hell. Such ideas have long vanished from such a man. He loves God; he loves truth; he loves his fellow, and knows he must love him more. You judge of Christianity either by those who are not true representatives of it, and are indeed, less of Christians than yourself; or by others who, being intellectually inferior, perhaps even stupid, belie Christ with their dull theories concerning Him. Yet the latter may have in them a noble seed, urging them up heights to you at present unconceived and inconceivable; while, in the meantime, some of them serve their generation well, and do as much for those that are to come after as you do yourself."
"There is always weight as well as force in what you urge, Wingfold," returned Faber. "Still it looks to me just a cunningly devised fable--I will not say of the priests, but of the human mind deceiving itself with its own hopes and desires."
"It may well look such to those who are outside of it, and it must at length appear such to all who, feeling in it any claim upon them, yet do not put it to the test of their obedience."
"Well, you have had your turn, and now we are having ours--you of the legends, we of the facts."
"No," said Wingfold, "we have not had our turn, and you have been having yours for a far longer time than we. But if, as you profess, you are doing the truth you see, it belongs to my belief that you will come to see the truth you do not see. Christianity is not a failure; for to it mainly is the fact owing that here is a class of men which, believing in no God, yet believes in duty toward men. Look here: if Christianity be the outcome of human aspiration, the natural growth of the human soil, is it not strange it should be such an utter failure as it seems to you? and as such a natural growth, it must be a failure, for if it were a success, must not you be the very one to see it? If it is false, it is worthless, or an evil: where then is your law of development, if the highest result of that development is an evil to the nature and the race?"
"I do not grant it the highest result," said Faber. "It is a failure--a false blossom, with a truer to follow."
"To produce a superior architecture, poetry, music?"
"Perhaps not. But a better science."
"Are the architecture and poetry and music parts of the failure?"
"Yes--but they are not altogether a failure, for they lay some truth at the root of them all. Now we shall see what will come of turning away from every thing we do not know."
"That is not exactly what you mean, for that would be never to know any thing more. But the highest you have in view is immeasurably below what Christianity has always demanded of its followers."
"But has never got from them, and never will. Look at the wars, the hatreds, to which your gospel has given rise! Look at Calvin and poor Servetus! Look at the strifes and divisions of our own day! Look at the religious newspapers!"
"All granted. It is a chaos, the motions of whose organization must be strife. The spirit of life is at war with the spasmatical body of death. If Christianity be not still in the process of development, it is the saddest of all failures."
"The fact is, Wingfold, your prophet would have been King of the race if He had not believed in a God."
"I dare not speak the answer that rises to my lips," said Wingfold. "But there is more truth in what you say than you think, and more of essential lie also. My answer is, that the faith of Jesus in His God and Father is, even now, saving me, setting me free from my one horror, selfishness; making my life an unspeakable boon to me, letting me know its roots in the eternal and perfect; giving me such love to my fellow, that I trust at last to love him as Christ has loved me. But I do not expect you to understand me. He in whom I believe said that a man must be born again to enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
The doctor laughed.
"You then are one of the double-born, Wingfold?" he said.
"I believe, I think, I hope so," replied the curate, very gravely.
"And you, Mr. Bevis?"
"I don't know. I wish. I doubt," answered the rector, with equal solemnity.
"Oh, never fear!" said Faber, with a quiet smile, and rising, left the clergymen together.
But what a morning it was that came up after the storm! All night the lightning had been flashing itself into peace, and gliding further and further away. Bellowing and growling the thunder had crept with it; but long after it could no more be heard, the lightning kept gleaming up, as if from a sea of flame behind the horizon. The sun brought a glorious day, and looked larger and mightier than before. To Helen, as she gazed eastward from her window, he seemed ascending his lofty pulpit to preach the story of the day named after him--the story of the Sun-day; the rising again in splendor of the darkened and buried Sun of the universe, with whom all the worlds and all their hearts and suns arose. A light steam was floating up from the grass, and the raindrops were sparkling everywhere. The day had arisen from the bosom of the night; peace and graciousness from the bosom of the storm; she herself from the grave of her sleep, over which had lain the turf of the darkness; and all was fresh life and new hope. And through it all, reviving afresh with every sign of Nature's universal law of birth, was the consciousness that her life, her own self, was rising from the dead, was being new-born also. She had not far to look back to the time when all was dull and dead in her being: when the earthquake came, and the storm, and the fire; and after them the still small voice, breathing rebuke, and hope, and strength. Her whole world was now radiant with expectation. It was through her husband the change had come to her, but he was not the rock on which she built. For his sake she could go to hell--yea, cease to exist; but there was One whom she loved more than him--the one One whose love was the self-willed cause of all love, who from that love had sent forth her husband and herself to love one another; whose heart was the nest of their birth, the cradle of their growth, the rest of their being. Yea, more than her husband she loved Him, her elder Brother, by whom the Father had done it all, the Man who lived and died and rose again so many hundred years ago. In Him, the perfect One, she hoped for a perfect love to her husband, a perfect nature in herself. She knew how Faber would have mocked at such a love, the very existence of whose object she could not prove, how mocked at the notion that His life even now was influencing hers. She knew how he would say it was merely love and marriage that had wrought the change; but while she recognized them as forces altogether divine, she knew that not only was the Son of Man behind them, but that it was her obedience to Him and her confidence in Him that had wrought the red heart of the change in her. She knew that she would rather break with her husband altogether, than to do one action contrary to the known mind and will of that Man. Faber would call her faith a mighty, perhaps a lovely illusion: her life was an active waiting for the revelation of its object in splendor before the universe. The world seemed to her a grand march of resurrections--out of every sorrow springing the joy at its heart, without which it could not have been a sorrow; out of the troubles, and evils, and sufferings, and cruelties that clouded its history, ever arising the human race, the sons of God, redeemed in Him who had been made subject to death that He might conquer Death for them and for his Father--a succession of mighty facts, whose meanings only God can evolve, only the obedient heart behold.
On such a morning, so full of resurrection, Helen was only a little troubled not to be one of her husband's congregation: she would take her New Testament, and spend the sunny day in the open air. In the evening he was coming, and would preach in the little chapel. If only Juliet might hear him too! But she would not ask her to go.
Juliet was better, for fatigue had compelled sleep. The morning had brought her little hope, however, no sense of resurrection. A certain dead thing had begun to move in its coffin; she was utterly alone with it, and it made the world feel a tomb around her. Not all resurrections are the resurrection of life, though in the end they will be found, even to the lowest birth of the power of the enemy, to have contributed thereto. She did not get up to breakfast; Helen persuaded her to rest, and herself carried it to her. But she rose soon after, and declared herself quite well.
The rector drove to Glaston in his dog-cart to read prayers. Helen went out into the park with her New Testament and George Herbert. Poor Juliet was left with Mrs. Bevis, who happily could not be duller than usual, although it was Sunday. By the time the rector returned, bringing his curate with him, she was bored almost beyond endurance. She had not yet such a love of wisdom as to be able to bear with folly. The foolish and weak are the most easily disgusted with folly and weakness which is not of their own sort, and are the last to make allowances for them. To spend also the evening with the softly smiling old woman, who would not go across the grass after such a rain the night before, was a thing not to be contemplated. Juliet borrowed a pair of galoshes, and insisted on going to the chapel. In vain the rector and his wife dissuaded her. Neither Helen nor her husband said a word.
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