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When he had sent away Mendoza, the King remained standing and began to pace the floor, while Don John stood by the table watching him and waiting for him to speak. It was clear that he was still angry, for his anger, though sometimes suddenly roused, was very slow to reach its height, and slower still to subside; and when at last it had cooled, it generally left behind it an enduring hatred, such as could be satisfied only by the final destruction of the object that had caused it. That lasting hate was perhaps more dangerous than the sudden outburst had been, but in moments of furious passion Philip was undoubtedly a man to be feared.
He was evidently not inclined to speak until he had ascertained that no one was listening in the next room, but as he looked from time to time at Don John his still eyes seemed to grow almost yellow, and his lower lip moved uneasily. He knew, perhaps, that Mendoza could not at once find the servant in whose keeping the key of the door was supposed to be, and he grew impatient by quick degrees until his rising temper got the better of his caution. Don John instinctively drew himself up, as a man does who expects to be attacked. He was close to the table, and remained almost motionless during the discussion that followed, while Philip paced up and down, sometimes pausing before his brother for a moment, and then turning again to resume his walk. His voice was muffled always, and was hard to hear; now and then it became thick and indistinct with rage, and he cleared his throat roughly, as if he were angry with it, too. At first he maintained the outward forms of courtesy in words if not in tone, but long before his wrath had reached its final climax he forgot them altogether.
"I had hoped to speak with you in privacy, on matters of great importance. It has pleased your Highness to make that impossible by your extraordinary behaviour."
Don John raised his eyebrows a little incredulously, and answered with perfect calmness.
"I do not recollect doing anything which should seem extraordinary to your Majesty."
"You contradict me," retorted Philip. "That is extraordinary enough, I should think. I am not aware that it is usual for subjects to contradict the King. What have you to say in explanation?"
"Nothing. The facts explain themselves well enough."
"We are not in camp," said Philip. "Your Highness is not in command here, and I am not your subordinate. I desire you to remember whom you are addressing, for your words will be remembered."
"I never said anything which I wished another to forget," answered Don John proudly.
"Take care, then!" The King spoke sullenly, and turned away, for he was slow at retort until he was greatly roused.
Don John did not answer, for he had no wish to produce such a result, and moreover he was much more preoccupied by the serious question of Dolores' safety than by any other consideration. So far the King had said nothing which, but for some derogation from his dignity, might not have been said before any one, and Don John expected that he would maintain the same tone until Mendoza returned. It was hard to predict what might happen then. In all probability Dolores would escape by the window and endeavour to hide herself in the empty sentry-box until the interview was over. He could then bring her back in safety, but the discussion promised to be long and stormy, and meanwhile she would be in constant danger of discovery. But there was a worse possibility, not even quite beyond the bounds of the probable. In his present mood, Philip, if he lost his temper altogether, would perhaps be capable of placing Don John under arrest. He was all powerful, he hated his brother, and he was very angry. His last words had been a menace, or had sounded like one, and another word, when Mendoza returned, could put the threat into execution. Don John reflected, if such thought could be called reflection, upon the situation that must ensue, and upon the probable fate of the woman he loved. He wondered whether she were still in the room, for hearing that the door was to be opened, she might have thought it best to escape at once, while her father was absent from the terrace on his errand. If not, she could certainly go out by the window as soon as she heard him coming back. It was clearly of the greatest importance to prevent the King's anger from going any further. Antonio Perez had recognized the same truth from a very different point of view, and had spent nearly three-quarters of an hour in flattering his master with the consummate skill which he alone possessed. He believed that he had succeeded when the King had dismissed him, saying that he would not see Don John until the morning. Five minutes after Perez was gone, Philip was threading the corridors, completely disguised in a long black cloak, with the ever-loyal Mendoza at his heels. It was not the first time that he had deceived his deceivers.
He paced the room in silence after he had last spoken. As soon as Don John realized that his liberty might be endangered, he saw that he must say what he could in honour and justice to save himself from arrest, since nothing else could save Dolores.
"I greatly regret having done anything to anger your Majesty," he said, with quiet dignity. "I was placed in a very difficult position by unforeseen circumstances. If there had been time to reflect, I might have acted otherwise."
"Might have acted otherwise!" repeated Philip harshly. "I do not like those words. You might have acted otherwise than to defy your sovereign before the Queen! I trusted you might, indeed!"
He was silent again, his protruding lip working angrily, as if he had tasted something he disliked. Don John's half apology had not been received with much grace, but he saw no way open save to insist that it was genuine.
"It is certainly true that I have lived much in camps of late," he answered, "and that a camp is not a school of manners, any more than the habit of commanding others accustoms a man to courtly submission."
"Precisely. You have learned to forget that you have a superior in Spain, or in the world. You already begin to affect the manners and speech of a sovereign--you will soon claim the dignity of one, too, I have no doubt. The sooner we procure you a kingdom of your own, the better, for your Highness will before long become an element of discord in ours."
"Rather than that," answered Don John, "I will live in retirement for the rest of my life."
"We may require it of your Highness," replied Philip, standing still and facing his brother. "It may be necessary for our own safety that you should spend some time at least in very close retirement--very!" He almost laughed.
"I should prefer that to the possibility of causing any disturbance in your Majesty's kingdom."
Nothing could have been more gravely submissive than Don John's tone, but the King was apparently determined to rouse his anger.
"Your deeds belie your words," he retorted, beginning to walk again. "There is too much loyalty in what you say, and too much of a rebellious spirit in what you do. The two do not agree together. You mock me."
"God forbid that!" cried Don John. "I desire no praise for what I may have done, but such as my deeds have been they have produced peace and submission in your Majesty's kingdom, and not rebellion--"
"And is it because you have beaten a handful of ill-armed Moriscoes, in the short space of two years, that the people follow you in throngs wherever you go, shouting for you, singing your praises, bringing petitions to you by hundreds, as if you were King--as if you were more than that, a sort of god before whom every one must bow down? Am I so simple as to believe that what you have done with such leisure is enough to rouse all Spain, and to make the whole court break out into cries of wonder and applause as soon as you appear? If you publicly defy me and disobey me, do I not know that you believe yourself able to do so, and think your power equal to mine? And how could that all be brought about, save by a party that is for you, by your secret agents everywhere, high and low, forever praising you and telling men, and women, too, of your graces, and your generosities, and your victories, and saying that it is a pity so good and brave a prince should be but a leader of the King's armies, and then contrasting the King himself with you, the cruel King, the grasping King, the scheming King, the King who has every fault that is not found in Don John of Austria, the people's god! Is that peace and submission? Or is it the beginning of rebellion, and revolution, and civil war, which is to set Don John of Austria on the throne of Spain, and send King Philip to another world as soon as all is ready?"
Don John listened in amazement. It had never occurred to him any one could believe him capable of the least of the deeds Philip was attributing to him, and in spite of his resolution his anger began to rise. Then, suddenly, as if cold water had been dashed in his face, he remembered that an hour had not passed since he had held Dolores in his arms, swearing to do that of which he was now accused, and that her words only had held him back. It all seemed monstrous now. As she had said, it had been only a bad dream and he had wakened to himself again. Yet the thought of rebellion had more than crossed his mind, for in a moment it had taken possession of him and had seemed to change all his nature from good to bad. In his own eyes he was rebuked, and he did not answer at once.
"You have nothing to say!" exclaimed Philip scornfully. "Is there any reason why I should not try you for high treason?"
Don John started at the words, but his anger was gone, and he thought only of Dolores' safety in the near future.
"Your Majesty is far too just to accuse an innocent man who has served you faithfully," he answered.
Philip stopped and looked at him curiously and long, trying to detect some sign of anxiety if not of fear. He was accustomed to torture men with words well enough, before he used other means, and he himself had not believed what he had said. It had been only an experiment tried on a mere chance, and it had failed. At the root of his anger there was only jealousy and personal hatred of the brother who had every grace and charm which he himself had not.
"More kind than just, perhaps," he said, with a slight change of tone towards condescension. "I am willing to admit that I have no proofs against you, but the evidence of circumstances is not in your favour. Take care, for you are observed. You are too much before the world, too imposing a figure to escape observation."
"My actions will bear it. I only beg that your Majesty will take account of them rather than listen to such interpretation as may be put upon them by other men."
"Other men do nothing but praise you," said Philip bluntly. "Their opinion of you is not worth having! I thought I had explained that matter sufficiently. You are the idol of the people, and as if that were not enough, you are the darling of the court, besides being the women's favourite. That is too much for one man to be--take care, I say, take care! Be at more pains for my favour, and at less trouble for your popularity."
"So far as that goes," answered Don John, with some pride, "I think that if men praise me it is because I have served the King as well as I could, and with success. If your Majesty is not satisfied with what I have done, let me have more to do. I shall try to do even the impossible."
"That will please the ladies," retorted Philip, with a sneer. "You will be overwhelmed with correspondence--your gloves will not hold it all"
Don John did not answer, for it seemed wiser to let the King take this ground than return to his former position.
"You will have plenty of agreeable occupation in time of peace. But it is better that you should be married soon, before you become so entangled with the ladies of Madrid as to make your marriage impossible."
"Saving the last clause," said Don John boldly, "I am altogether of your Majesty's opinion. But I fear no entanglements here."
"No--you do not fear them. On the contrary, you live in them as if they were your element."
"No man can say that," answered Don John.
"You contradict me again. Pray, if you have no entanglements, how comes it that you have a lady's letter in your glove?"
"I cannot tell whether it was a lady's letter or a man's."
"Have you not read it?"
"And you refused to show it to me on the ground that it was a woman's secret?"
"I had not read it then. It was not signed, and it might well have been written by a man."
Don John watched the King's face. It was for from improbable, he thought, that the King had caused it to be written, or had written it himself, that he supposed his brother to have read it, and desired to regain possession of it as soon as possible. Philip seemed to hesitate whether to continue his cross-examination or not, and he looked at the door leading into the antechamber, suddenly wondering why Mendoza had not returned. Then he began to speak again, but he did not wish, angry though he was, to face alone a second refusal to deliver the document to him. His dignity would have suffered too much.
"The facts of the case are these," he said, as if he were recapitulating what had gone before in his mind. "It is my desire to marry you to the widowed Queen of Scots, as you know. You are doing all you can to oppose me, and you have determined to marry the dowerless daughter of a poor soldier. I am equally determined that you shall not disgrace yourself by such an alliance."
"Disgrace!" cried Don John loudly, almost before the word had passed the King's lips, and he made half a step forward. "You are braver than I thought you, if you dare use that word to me!"
Philip stepped back, growing livid, and his hand was on his rapier. Don John was unarmed, but his sword lay on the table within his reach. Seeing the King afraid, he stepped back.
"No," he said scornfully, "I was mistaken. You are a coward." He laughed as he glanced at Philip's hand, still on the hilt of his weapon and ready to draw it.
In the next room Dolores drew frightened breath, for the tones of the two men's voices had changed suddenly. Yet her heart had leapt for joy when she had heard Don John's cry of anger at the King's insulting word. But Don John was right, for Philip was a coward at heart, and though he inwardly resolved that his brother should be placed under arrest as soon as Mendoza returned, his present instinct was not to rouse him further. He was indeed in danger, between his anger and his fear, for at any moment he might speak some bitter word, accustomed as he was to the perpetual protection of his guards, but at the next his brother's hands might be on his throat, for he had the coward's true instinct to recognize the man who was quite fearless.
"You strangely forget yourself," he said, with an appearance of dignity. "You spring forward as if you were going to grapple with me, and then you are surprised that I should be ready to defend myself."
"I barely moved a step from where I stand," answered Don John, with profound contempt. "I am unarmed, too. There lies my sword, on the table. But since you are the King as well as my brother, I make all excuses to your Majesty for having been the cause of your fright."
Dolores understood what had happened, as Don John meant that she should. She knew also that her position was growing more and more desperate and untenable at every moment; yet she could not blame her lover for what he had said. Even to save her, she would not have had him cringe to the King and ask pardon for his hasty word and movement, still less could she have borne that he should not cry out in protest at a word that insulted her, though ever so lightly.
"I do not desire to insist upon our kinship," said Philip coldly. "If I chose to acknowledge it when you were a boy, it was out of respect for the memory of the Emperor. It was not in the expectation of being called brother by the son of a German burgher's daughter."
Don John did not wince, for the words, being literally true and without exaggeration, could hardly be treated as an insult, though they were meant for one, and hurt him, as all reference to his real mother always did.
"Yes," he said, still scornfully. "I am the son of a German burgher's daughter, neither better nor worse. But I am your brother, for all that, and though I shall not forget that you are King and I am subject, when we are before the world, yet here, we are man and man, you and I, brother and brother, and there is neither King nor prince. But I shall not hurt you, so you need fear nothing. I respect the brother far too little for that, and the sovereign too much."
There was a bad yellow light in Philip's face, and instead of walking towards Don John and away from him, as he had done hitherto, he began to pace up and down, crossing and recrossing before him, from the foot of the great canopied bed to one of the curtained windows, keeping his eyes upon his brother almost all the time.
"I warned you when I came here that your words should be remembered," he said. "And your actions shall not be forgotten, either. There are safe places, even in Madrid, where you can live in the retirement you desire so much, even in total solitude."
"If it pleases your Majesty to imprison Don John of Austria, you have the power. For my part, I shall make no resistance."
"Who shall, then?" asked the King angrily. "Do you expect that there will be a general rising of the people to liberate you, or that there will be a revolution within the palace, brought on by your party, which shall force me to set you free for reasons of state? We are not in Paris that you should expect the one, nor in Constantinople where the other might be possible. We are in Spain, and I am master, and my will shall be done, and no one shall cry out against it. I am too gentle with you, too kind! For the half of what you have said and done, Elizabeth of England would have had your life to-morrow--yes, I consent to give you a chance, the benefit of a doubt there is still in my thoughts about you, because justice shall not be offended and turned into an instrument of revenge. Yes--I am kind, I am clement. We shall see whether you can save yourself. You shall have the chance."
"What chance is that?" asked Don John, growing very quiet, for he saw the real danger near at hand again.
"You shall have an opportunity of proving that a subject is at liberty to insult his sovereign, and that the King is not free to speak his mind to a subject. Can you prove that?"
"Then you can be convicted of high treason," answered Philip, his evil mouth curling. "There are several methods of interrogating the accused," he continued. "I daresay you have heard of them."
"Do you expect to frighten me by talking of torture?" asked Don John, with a smile at the implied suggestion.
"Witnesses are also examined," replied the King, his voice thickening again in anticipation of the effect he was going to produce upon the man who would not fear him. "With them, even more painful methods are often employed. Witnesses may be men or women, you know, my dear brother--" he pronounced the word with a sneer--"and among the many ladies of your acquaintance--"
"There are very few."
"It will be the easier to find the two or three, or perhaps the only one, whom it will be necessary to interrogate--in your presence, most probably, and by torture."
"I was right to call you a coward," said Don John, slowly turning pale till his face was almost as white as the white silks and satins of his doublet.
"Will you give me the letter you were reading when I came here?"
"Not to save yourself from the executioner's hands?"
"Not to save--" Philip paused, and a frightful stare of hatred fixed his eyes on his brother. "Will you give me that letter to save Dolores de Mendoza from being torn piecemeal?"
By instinct Don John's hand went to the hilt of his sheathed sword this time, as he cried out in rage, and sprang forward. Even then he would have remembered the promise he had given and would not have raised his hand to strike. But the first movement was enough, and Philip drew his rapier in a flash of light, fearing for his life. Without waiting for an attack he made a furious pass at his brother's body. Don John's hand went out with the sheathed sword in a desperate attempt to parry the thrust, but the weapon was entangled in the belt that hung to it, and Philip's lunge had been strong and quick as lightning.
With a cry of anger Don John fell straight backwards, his feet seeming to slip from under him on the smooth marble pavement, and with his fall, as he threw out his hands to save himself, the sword flew high into the air, sheathed as it was, and landed far away. He lay at full length with one arm stretched out, and for a moment the hand twitched in quick spasms. Then it was quite still.
At his feet stood Philip, his rapier in his hand, and blood on its fine point. His eyes shone yellow in the candlelight, his jaw had dropped a little, and he bent forwards, looking intently at the still, white face.
He had longed for that moment ever since he had entered his brother's room, though even he himself had not guessed that he wanted his brother's life. There was not a sound in the room as he looked at what he had done, and two or three drops of blood fell one by one, very slowly, upon the marble. On the dazzling white of Don John's doublet there was a small red stain. As Philip watched it, he thought it grew wider and brighter.
Beyond the door, Dolores had fallen upon her knees, pressing her hands to her temples in an agony beyond thought or expression. Her fear had risen to terror while she listened to the last words that had been exchanged, and the King's threat had chilled her blood like ice, though she was brave. She had longed to cry out to Don John to give up her letter or the other, whichever the King wanted--she had almost tried to raise her voice, in spite of every other fear, when she had heard Don John's single word of scorn, and the quick footsteps, the drawing of the rapier from its sheath, the desperate scuffle that had not lasted five seconds, and then the dull fall which meant that one was hurt.
It could only be the King,--but that was terrible enough,--and yet, if the King had fallen, Don John would have come to the door the next instant. All was still in the room, but her terror made wild noises in her ears. The two men might have spoken now and she could not have heard them,--nor the opening of a door, nor any ordinary sound. It was no longer the fear of being heard, either, that made her silent. Her throat was parched and her tongue paralyzed. She remembered suddenly that Don John had been unarmed, and how he had pointed out to Philip that his sword lay on the table. It was the King who had drawn his own, then, and had killed his unarmed brother. She felt as if something heavy were striking her head as the thoughts made broken words, and flashes of light danced before her eyes. With her hands she tried to press feeling and reason and silence back into her brain that would not be quieted, but the certainty grew upon her that Don John was killed, and the tide of despair rose higher with every breath.
The sensation came upon her that she was dying, then and there, of a pain human nature could not endure, far beyond the torments Philip had threatened, and the thought was merciful, for she could not have lived an hour in such agony,--something would have broken before then. She was dying, there, on her knees before the door beyond which her lover lay suddenly dead. It would be easy to die. In a moment more she would be with him, for ever, and in peace. They would find her there, dead, and perhaps they would be merciful and bury her near him. But that would matter little, since she should be with him always now. In the first grief that struck her, and bruised her, and numbed her as with material blows, she had no tears, but there was a sort of choking fire in her throat, and her eyes burned her like hot iron.
She did not know how long she knelt, waiting for death. She was dying, and there was no time any more, nor any outward world, nor anything but her lover's dead body on the floor in the next room, and his soul waiting for hers, waiting beside her for her to die also, that they might go together. She was so sure now, that she was wondering dreamily why it took so long to die, seeing that death had taken him so quickly. Could one shaft be aimed so straight and could the next miss the mark? She shook all over, as a new dread seized her. She was not dying,--her life clung too closely to her suffering body, her heart was too young and strong to stand still in her breast for grief. She was to live, and bear that same pain a lifetime. She rocked herself gently on her knees, bowing her head almost to the floor.
She was roused by the sound of her father's voice, and the words he was speaking sent a fresh shock of horror through her unutterable grief, for they told her that Don John was dead, and then something else so strange that she could not understand it.
Philip had stood only a few moments, sword in hand, over his brother's body, staring down at his face, when the door opened. On the threshold stood old Mendoza, half-stunned by the sight he saw. Philip heard, stood up, and drew back as his eyes fell upon the old soldier. He knew that Mendoza, if no one else, knew the truth now, beyond any power of his to conceal it. His anger had subsided, and a sort of horror that could never be remorse, had come over him for what he had done. It must have been in his face, for Mendoza understood, and he came forward quickly and knelt down upon the floor to listen for the beating of the heart, and to try whether there was any breath to dim the brightness of his polished scabbard. Philip looked on in silence. Like many an old soldier Mendoza had some little skill, but he saw the bright spot on the white doublet, and the still face and the hands relaxed, and there was neither breath nor beating of the heart to give hope. He rose silently, and shook his head. Still looking down he saw the red drops that had fallen upon the pavement from Philip's rapier, and looking at that, saw that the point was dark. With a gesture of excuse he took the sword from the King's hand and wiped it quite dry and bright upon his own handkerchief, and gave it back to Philip, who sheathed it by his side, but never spoke.
Together the two looked at the body for a full minute and more, each silently debating what should be done with it. At last Mendoza raised his head, and there was a strange look in his old eyes and a sort of wan greatness came over his war-worn face. It was then that he spoke the words Dolores heard.
"I throw myself upon your Majesty's mercy! I have killed Don John of Austria in a private quarrel, and he was unarmed."
Philip understood well enough, and a faint smile of satisfaction flitted through the shadows of his face. It was out of the question that the world should ever know who had killed his brother, and he knew the man who offered to sacrifice himself by bearing the blame of the deed. Mendoza would die, on the scaffold if need be, and it would be enough for him to know that his death saved his King. No word would ever pass his lips. The man's loyalty would bear any proof; he could feel horror at the thought that Philip could have done such a deed, but the King's name must be saved at all costs, and the King's divine right must be sustained before the world. He felt no hesitation from the moment when he saw clearly how this must be done. To accuse some unknown murderer and let it be supposed that he had escaped would have been worse than useless; the court and half Spain knew of the King's jealousy of his brother, every one had seen that Philip had been very angry when the courtiers had shouted for Don John; already the story of the quarrel about the glove was being repeated from mouth to mouth in the throne room, where the nobles had reassembled after supper. As soon as it was known that Don John was dead, it would be believed by every one in the palace that the King had killed him or had caused him to be murdered. But if Mendoza took the blame upon himself, the court would believe him, for many knew of Dolores' love for Don John, and knew also how bitterly the old soldier was opposed to their marriage, on the ground that it would be no marriage at all, but his daughter's present ruin. There was no one else in the palace who could accuse himself of the murder and who would be believed to have done it without the King's orders, and Mendoza knew this, when he offered his life to shield Philip's honour. Philip knew it, too, and while he wondered at the old man's simple devotion, he accepted it without protest, as his vast selfishness would have permitted the destruction of all mankind, that it might be satisfied and filled.
He looked once more at the motionless body at his feet, and once more at the faithful old man. Then he bent his head with condescending gravity, as if he were signifying his pleasure to receive kindly, for the giver's sake, a gift of little value.
"So be it," he said slowly.
Mendoza bowed his head, too, as if in thanks, and then taking up the long dark cloak which the King had thrown off on entering, he put it upon Philip's shoulders, and went before him to the door. And Philip followed him without looking back, and both went out upon the terrace, leaving both doors ajar after them. They exchanged a few words more as they walked slowly in the direction of the corridor.
"It is necessary that your Majesty should return at once to the throne room, as if nothing had happened," said Mendoza. "Your Majesty should be talking unconcernedly with some ambassador or minister when the news is brought that his Highness is dead."
"And who shall bring the news?" asked Philip calmly, as if he were speaking to an indifferent person.
"I will, Sire," answered Mendoza firmly.
"They will tear you in pieces before I can save you," returned Philip, in a thoughtful tone.
"So much the better. I shall die for my King, and your Majesty will be spared the difficulty of pardoning a deed which will be unpardonable in the eyes of the whole world."
"That is true," said the King meditatively. "But I do not wish you to die, Mendoza," he added, as an afterthought. "You must escape to France or to England."
"I could not make my escape without your Majesty's help, and that would soon be known. It would then be believed that I had done the deed by your Majesty's orders, and no good end would have been gained."
"You may be right. You are a very brave man, Mendoza--the bravest I have ever known. I thank you. If it is possible to save you, you shall be saved."
"It will not be possible," replied the soldier, in a low and steady voice. "If your Majesty will return at once to the throne room, it may be soon over. Besides, it is growing late, and it must be done before the whole court."
They entered the corridor, and the King walked a few steps before Mendoza, covering his head with the hood of his cloak lest any one should recognize him, and gradually increasing his distance as the old man fell behind. Descending by a private staircase, Philip reŽntered his own apartments by a small door that gave access to his study without obliging him to pass through the antechamber, and by which he often came and went unobserved. Alone in his innermost room, and divested of his hood and cloak, the King went to a Venetian mirror that stood upon a pier table between the windows, and examined his face attentively. Not a trace of excitement or emotion was visible in the features he saw, but his hair was a little disarranged, and he smoothed it carefully and adjusted it about his ears. From a silver box on the table he took a little scented lozenge and put it into his mouth. No reasonable being would have suspected from his appearance that he had been moved to furious anger and had done a murderous deed less than twenty minutes earlier. His still eyes were quite calm now, and the yellow gleam in them had given place to their naturally uncertain colour. With a smile of admiration for his own extraordinary powers, he turned and left the room. He was enjoying one of his rare moments of satisfaction, for the rival he had long hated and was beginning to dread was never to stand in his way again nor to rob him of the least of his attributes of sovereignty.
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