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JUST at that time Gallardo received several letters from Don José and from Carmen. The manager tried to encourage his matador, counselling him to walk straight up to the bulls—"Zas! a thrust and thou wilt put him in thy pocket." But underlying his enthusiasm a certain depression might be detected, as if his faith were dwindling and he had begun to doubt that Gallardo was "the greatest man in the world." He knew of the discontent and hostility with which the public received him. The last bull-fight in Madrid disheartened Don José completely. No; Gallardo was not like other swordsmen who went on in spite of public derision, satisfied with earning money. His matador had bull-fighter pride and could only show himself in the ring to advantage when received with great enthusiasm.
Don José pretended to understand what ailed his swordsman. Want of courage? Never. He would suffer death before he would recognize this defect in his hero. It was because he was tired, because he was not yet recovered from his goring. "And so," he advised in all his letters, "it would be better for thee to retire and rest a season. Afterward thou wilt fight again like thine old self." He offered to arrange everything. A doctor's certificate was enough to certify his temporary weakness, and the manager would settle with the plaza impresarios to arrange the pending contracts by sending a matador from the beginners' ranks, who would substitute Gallardo for a modest sum. They would still make money by this arrangement.
Carmen was more vehement in her petitions. He must retire immediately; he must "cut his queue." She was more afraid now than in the first years of her married life, when the bull-fights and the fearful suspense seemed to her conditions of existence that destroyed her peace of mind. Her heart told her, with that feminine instinct seldom mistaken in its forebodings, that something grave was going to happen. She scarcely slept; she dreaded the night hours, broken as they were by sanguinary visions. She waxed furious at the public in her letters—a crowd of ingrates who forgot what the bull-fighter had done when he was himself; evil-minded people who wished to see him die for their diversion, as though she did not exist, as though he had no mother. "Juan, Mamita and I ask it of thee. Retire. Why go on bull-fighting? We have enough to live on and it pains me to have to see thee insulted by people who are beneath thee. And if another accident should happen—Heavens!—I believe I should go mad."
Gallardo remained thoughtful after reading these letters. Retire! What nonsense! Women's notions! They could say this easily on the impulse of affection, but it was impossible. "Cut his queue" at thirty! How his enemies would laugh! He had no right to retire while his members were sound and he could fight. Such an absurd thing had never happened. Money was not all. How about glory? And professional pride? What would the thousands and thousands of enthusiastic partisans who admired him say of him? What answer would they make to the enemies who threw it in their faces that Gallardo had retired through cowardice?
Moreover, the matador stopped to consider whether his fortune would permit this solution. He was rich, and yet he was not. His social position was not established. What he possessed was the work of the early years of his married life, when one of his greatest joys consisted in saving, and in surprising Carmen and the mamita with news of fresh acquisitions. Later he had gone on earning money, maybe in greater quantity, but it was wasted and had disappeared through various leaks in his new existence. He had gambled a great deal and had lived a life of splendor. His gambling had caused him to ask loans of various devotees in the provinces. He was rich, but if he retired, thus losing the income of the corridas (some years two hundred thousand pesetas, others three hundred thousand) he would have to retrench, after paying his debts, by living like a country gentleman off the product of La Rinconada, practising economies and overseeing the estate himself, for up to that time the plantation, abandoned to mercenary hands, had produced almost nothing.
In former times he would have considered himself extremely wealthy with a small part of what he actually possessed. Now he seemed almost a poor man if he gave up bull-fighting. He would have to forego the Havana cigars which he distributed prodigally, and the high-priced Andalusian wines; he would have to curtail the impulses of a gran señor and no longer shout in cafés and taverns, "It's all paid for!" with the generous impulse of a man accustomed to defy death, which led him to conduct his life with mad extravagance. He would have to dismiss the troop of parasites and flatterers that swarmed around him, making him laugh with their whining petitions; and when a smart woman of equivocal class came to him (if any would come, after he had retired), he could no longer make her turn pale with emotion by putting into her ears hoops of gold and pearls, nor could he amuse himself by spotting her rich Chinese shawl with wine to surprise her afterwards with a finer one.
So had he lived, and so must he continue to live. He was a bull-fighter of the good old times, such as the people represent a matador of bulls to be, liberal, proud, a reveller in scandalous extravagances and quick to succor the unfortunate with princely alms whenever they touched his rude sentiments.
Gallardo jested at many of his companions, bull-fighters of a new kind, vulgar members of the guild of the industry of killing bulls, who journeyed from plaza to plaza like commercial travellers, and were careful and mean in all their expenditures. Some of them, who were almost boys, carried in their pocket an account book of income and expenses, marking down even the five centimes for a glass of water at a station. They only mingled with the rich to accept their attentions and it never occurred to them to treat anybody. Others boiled great pots of coffee at home when the travelling season came on and carried the black liquid with them in bottles, having it reheated, to avoid this expense in hotels. The members of certain cuadrillas endured hunger and growled in public about the avarice of their maestros.
Moreover, he thought of the necessities of his own house, where all were accustomed to an easy existence; the full and unembarrassed life of a family which does not count money or worry about its coming in, seeing it drip ceaselessly as from a faucet. Besides his wife and mother, he had taken upon himself another family, his sister, his chattering brother-in-law as idle as though his relationship to a celebrated man gave him the right to vagrancy, and all the troop of little nephews who were growing up and becoming constantly more expensive. He would have to call to an order of economy and parsimony all these people accustomed to live at his cost in merry and open-handed carelessness! And everybody, even poor Garabato, would have to go to the plantation, to parch in the sun and become brutish as rustics! Poor Mamita could no longer gladden her last days with pious generosity dispensing money among the needy women in the ward, shrinking like a bashful girl when her son pretended to be angry at finding she had nothing left of the hundred duros he had given her two weeks before! Carmen naturally would try to cut down expenses, sacrificing herself first, depriving her existence of many frivolities that made it bright.
"Curse it!" All this meant the degradation of his family—on his account. Gallardo felt ashamed that such a thing might happen. It would be a crime to deprive them after having accustomed them to luxury. And what must he do to avoid it? Simply get closer to the bulls; to go on fighting as in former times.
He would get closer!
He was resolved to be the same as ever, he swore it to Don José. He would follow his advice. "Zas! A thrust, and the beast in his pocket." His courage rose, and he felt equal to taking care of all the bulls in the universe no matter how big they might be.
He was gay toward his wife, although his pride was rather hurt because she doubted his strength. She should hear news after the next corrida! He meant to astonish the public to shame it for its injustice. If the bulls were good, he would be like the very Roger de Flor himself!
Good bulls! This was Gallardo's worry. It used to be one of his vanities that he never gave them a thought, and he never went to see them in the plaza before the corrida.
"I kill everything they let out to me," he used to say arrogantly. And he beheld the bulls for the first time when he saw them enter the ring.
Now he wished to examine them, to choose them, to prepare for success by a careful study of their condition.
The weather had cleared, the sun shone; the following day the second bull-fight was to take place.
In the afternoon Gallardo went alone to the plaza. The amphitheatre of red brick, with its Moorish windows, stood by itself at the base of green hills. In the background of this broad and monotonous landscape something resembling a distant flock of sheep shone white on the slope of a hill. It was a cemetery.
Seeing the bull-fighter in the vicinity of the plaza some slovenly individuals, parasites of the ring, vagabonds who slept in the stables through charity, living at the cost of devotees and on the leavings of patrons of the nearby taverns, approached him. Some of them had come from Andalusia with a shipment of bulls and hung about in the vicinity of the plaza. Gallardo distributed some coins among these beggars, who followed him cap in hand, and entered the ring through the door of the Caballerizas.
In the corral he saw a group of devotees watching the picadores testing horses. Potaje, with great cowboy spurs on his heels, was grasping a spear, preparing to mount. Those in charge of the stables escorted the manager of the horses, an obese man in a great Andalusian hat, slow of speech, who responded calmly to the insulting and abusive wrangling of the picadores.
The "wise monkeys," with arms bared were pulling the hacks by the bridle reins for the riders to try them. For several days they had been riding and training these miserable horses which still bore on their flanks the red gashes of the spurs. They brought them out to trot over the clearings adjacent to the plaza, making them acquire an artificial energy with the iron on their heels and obliging them to make turns to accustom them to running in the ring. They came back to the plaza with their sides dyed with blood, and before entering the stables they received a baptism of several bucketfuls of water. Near the trough not far away the water standing between the stones was dark red, like spilled wine.
The horses destined for the bull-fight the following day were almost dragged out of the stables to be examined and passed upon by the picadores. These worn-out remnants of wretched horse-flesh advanced, with tremulous flanks drooping with old age and sickness, a reproach to human ingratitude so forgetful of past service. Some were mere skeletons with sharp protruding ribs that seemed about to break through their hairy hide. Others walked proudly, stamping their strong hoofs, their coats shining and their eyes bright; beautiful animals that it was hard to imagine among outcasts destined to death, magnificent beasts that seemed to have been recently unharnessed from a luxurious carriage. These were the most dreaded, for they were horses afflicted with vertigo and other maladies, and behind these specimens of misery and infirmity, rang the sad hoof-beats of steeds past work, mill and factory horses, farm horses, public cab nags, all dulled by years of pulling the plough or the cart, unhappy pariahs who were going to be exploited until the last instant, forced to provide diversion to men with their pawing and springing when the bull's horns gored their shrinking bodies. To mount this miserable horse-herd, tremulous with madness or ready to drop with misery, as much courage was needed as to stand before the bull. Heavy Moorish saddles with high pommel, yellow seat, and cowboy stirrups were thrown upon them, and as they received this weight their legs almost gave way.
Potaje wore a haughty mien in his discussions with the overseer of the horses, speaking for himself and for his comrades, making even the "wise monkeys" laugh with his gypsy-like maledictions. Let the other picadores leave it to him to come to an understanding with the horse-traders. Nobody knew better than he how to make these people stand around.
A servant approached him, dragging after him a dejected hack with long hair and ribs in painful relief.
The phlegmatic contractor answered with grave calmness. If Potaje dared not mount him it was because the piqueros now-a-days were afraid of everything. With a horse like this, kind and gentle, Señor Calderón, Trigo, or any of the good-old-time horsemen could have fought bulls two consecutive afternoons without getting a fall and without the animal receiving a scratch. But now! Now there was much fear and very little shame.
The picador and the contractor insulted one another with friendly calmness, for among them abusive language lost significance from force of habit.
"What thou art," answered Potaje, "is a freshy, a bigger thief than José María the Earlybird. Get out, and let thy bald-headed grandmother that rode on a broom every Saturday at the stroke of twelve get on that raw-boned, hard-gaited beast."
Those present laughed and the contractor merely shrugged his shoulders.
"But what's the matter with that horse?" he said coolly. "Look at him, thou evil soul. Better is he than others that have glanders, or get dizzy and that have thrown thee off over their ears before thou wast even near the bull. He is sounder than an apple, for he has been twenty-eight years in a gas factory doing his duty like a decent person, without ever being found fault with. And now along comest thou, thou street-crier, abusing him with thy 'buts' and thy fault finding, as if he were a bad Christian."
"But I don't want him! Get out! Keep him!"
The contractor slowly approached Potaje, and with the ease of a man expert in these transactions whispered in his ear. The picador, pretending to be offended, finally walked up to the hack. He shouldn't miss the sale on his account! He didn't want to be taken for an intractable man, capable of injuring a comrade.
Putting a foot in the stirrup he swung the weight of his body upon the poor horse. Then, holding the spear under his arm, he thrust it into a great post embedded in the wall, spearing it several times with tremendous force, as if he had a stout bull at the end of his lance. The poor hack trembled and bent his legs under these shocks.
"He don't turn badly," said Potaje with conciliating tone. "The penco is better than I thought. He's got a good mouth, good legs. Thou hast won. Let him be kept."
The picador dismounted, disposed to accept anything the contractor offered him after his mysterious "aside."
Gallardo left the group of devotees who had laughingly witnessed this performance. A porter of the plaza went with him to where the bulls were kept. He passed through a little door entering the corrales.
A rubble wall that reached the height of a man's neck surrounded the corral on three sides, strengthened by heavy posts united to the little upper balcony. Passages so narrow that a man could only go through them side-wise opened at certain distances. Eight bulls were in the spacious corral, some lying down, others standing with lowered heads sniffing at the pile of hay before them. The bull-fighter walked the length of these galleries examining the animals. At times he would come outside the barricade, his body looming up through the narrow openings. He waved his arms, giving savage whoops of challenge that stirred the bulls out of their immobility. Some sprang nervously, attacking with lowered head this man who came to disturb the peace of their enclosure. Others stood firm on their legs, waiting with raised heads and threatening mien for the rash being to approach them.
Gallardo, who quickly hid himself again behind the barricades, examined the appearance and character of the wild beasts, without deciding which two he desired to choose.
The plaza overseer was near him; a big athletic man, with leggings and spurs, dressed in coarse cloth and wearing a broad hat held by a chin strap. They had nicknamed him Young Wolf; he was a rough rider who spent the greater part of the year in the open country, coming to Madrid like a savage, with no curiosity to see its streets nor desire to pass beyond the vicinity of the plaza.
To his mind the capital of Spain was a ring with clearings and waste lands in its environs, and beyond these a mysterious series of houses with which he had felt no desire to become acquainted. The most important establishment in Madrid was, in his opinion, Gallina's tavern, situated near the plaza, a pleasant realm of joy; an enchanting palace where he supped and ate at the manager's cost, before returning to the pastures mounted on his steed, with his dark blanket over the pommel, his saddle bags on the croup, and his spear over his shoulder. He rejoiced in terrifying the servants of the tavern with his friendly greetings; terrible hand-clasps that made the bones crack and drew shrieks of terror. He smiled, proud of his strength and proud to be called "brute," and seated himself before his meal, a plate the size of a dishpan, full of meat and potatoes, besides a jug of wine.
He tended the bulls acquired by the manager, sometimes in the pasture grounds of Muñoza, or, when the heat was excessive, in the meadows among the Guadarramas. He brought them to the enclosure two days before the corrida, at midnight, crossing the arroyo Abroñigal, at the outskirts of Madrid, accompanied by horsemen and cowboys. He was in despair when bad weather prevented the bull-fight and the herd had to remain in the plaza, and he could not return immediately to the tranquil solitudes where he pastured the other bulls.
Slow of speech, dull of thought, this centaur who smelled of hide and hay expressed himself with warmth when he talked of his pastoral life herding wild beasts. The sky of Madrid seemed to him narrow and to have fewer stars. He described with picturesque loquacity the nights in the pasture with his bulls sleeping in the diffused light of the firmament and in the dense silence broken only by the mysterious noises from the thickets. The mountain snakes sang with a strange voice in this stillness. They sang, sí, señor! No one cared to dispute Young Wolf; he had heard it a thousand times, and to doubt this were to call him a liar, exposing oneself to feel the weight of his heavy hands. And as the reptiles sang, so the bulls talked, only that he had not managed to penetrate all the mysteries of their tongue. They were Christians although they walked on four legs and had horns. It was a fine sight to see them awaken when the morning light appeared. They sprang up joyfully like children; they played, pretending to attack, locking horns; they tried to ride one another with a noisy joy, as if they greeted the presence of the sun which is God's glory. Then he told of his long excursions through the Guadarramas, following the course of the stream of liquid snow that flowed down from the mountain peaks, like transparent crystal, feeding the rivers and the meadows with their herbage dotted with tiny flowers; of the flapping of the wings of the birds that came and perched on the sleeping bulls' horns; of the wolves that howled through the night, ever far away, very far away, as if frightened by the procession of primeval beasts that followed the leader's bell to dispute with them the wild solitude. Let them not talk to him of Madrid, where the people were suffocated! The only acceptable things in this forest of houses were Gallina's wine and his savory stews.
Young Wolf talked to the swordsman and helped him by his advice to choose two animals. The overseer showed neither respect nor wonder in the presence of this famous man, so admired by the people. The bull-herder almost hated the bull-fighter. Kill one of those noble animals, with all kinds of deceptions! A braver man was he who lived among them, passing before their horns in the solitude, without other defence than his arm, and with no applause whatever.
As Gallardo left the corral another joined the group, greeting the maestro with great respect. He was an old man, charged with the cleanliness of the plaza. He had spent many years in this employment and had known all the famous bull-fighters of his time. He went poorly clad, but frequently women's rings glistened on his fingers, and he blew his nose upon a dainty lace-edged linen handkerchief, which he drew out of the depths of his blouse.
Alone during the week he swept the immense ring, the tiers of seats and the boxes, without complaint as to the magnitude of this task. Whenever the manager found fault and threatened to punish him by opening the door to the vagabonds who idled around outside the plaza, the poor man in desperation promised to mend, so that this unwelcome irruption of scavengers might not cheat him of his spoil. At the most, he admitted half a dozen rogues, bull-fight apprentices, who were faithful to him in exchange for his permitting them on festal days to see the corrida from "the dogs' box," a door with a grille situated near the bull-pens, through which the wounded combatants were carried out. These assistants, clutching the iron bars, witnessed the corrida, struggling and fighting like monkeys in a cage to occupy the front row.
The old man distributed them skilfully during the week as the cleaning of the plaza progressed. The youngsters worked in the seats in the sun occupied by the poor and dirty public, which leaves in its wake a scrap-heap of orange skins, papers, and cigar stubs.
"Look out for the tobacco," he ordered his troop. "Any one that holds on to a single cigar stub won't see the bull-fight Sunday."
He patiently cleaned the shady side, bending over like a treasure-seeker in the mystery of the boxes to put the findings in his pockets; ladies' fans, rings, handkerchiefs, lost coins, all that an invasion of fourteen thousand persons leaves in its wake. He heaped up the smokers' leavings, mincing the stubs and selling them for pulverized tobacco after exposing them to the sun. The valuables were for a pawnbrokeress who bought these spoils of a public forgetful or overcome by emotion.
Gallardo answered the old man's pleasant greetings by giving him a cigar, and he took leave of Young Wolf. It was agreed with the overseer that he should shut up the two chosen bulls for him. The other swordsmen would not protest. They were boys in good luck, in the flower of their youthful bravery, who killed whatever was put before them.
Going out into the courtyard again where the horse-testing was going on Gallardo saw a man move away from the group of spectators; he was tall, spare, and of a coppery complexion, dressed like a bull-fighter. Beneath his black hat locks of grayish hair fell over his ears, and he was wrinkled around the mouth.
"Pescadero! How art thou?" said Gallardo, pressing his hand with sincere effusion.
He was an old-time swordsman who had had hours of glory in his youth, but whose name few remembered. Other matadores coming after had obscured his poor fame, and Pescadero, after fighting bulls in America and suffering various wounds, had retired with a small capital of savings. Gallardo knew that he was the owner of a tavern in the vicinity of the ring where he vegetated far from the devotees and bull-fighters' trade. He did not expect to see him in the plaza, but Pescadero said with a melancholy expression: "What brings me here? Devotion to the game. I seldom come to the bull-fights, but affairs of the trade still attract me, and I come in a neighborly fashion to see these things. Now I am nothing but a tavern keeper."
Gallardo, contemplating his forlorn appearance, thought of the Pescadero he had known in his youth, one of his most admired heroes, arrogant, favored by the women, a notable figure in Campana Street when he went to Seville, with his velvet hat, his wine-colored jacket, and his silken girdle, leaning on a gold-headed cane. And thus would he become, common and forgotten if he retired from bull-fighting.
They discussed professional matters a long time. Pescadero, like all old men embittered by bad luck, was a pessimist. There were no good bull-fighters any more. Only Gallardo and a few others killed bulls in classic style. Even the beasts seemed less powerful. And after these lamentations he insisted on his friend accompanying him to his house. Since they had met, and the matador had nothing to do, he must visit his establishment.
Gallardo smiled, and asked about the school of tauromachy established by Pescadero near his tavern.
"What wouldst thou, son!" said the latter apologetically. "One has to help oneself, and the school yields more than all the customers of the tavern. Very good people come, young gentlemen who want to learn so as to shine in bullock-fights, foreigners that grow enthusiastic at the bull-fights and get a crazy notion to become bull-fighters in their old age. I have one taking a lesson now. He comes every afternoon. Thou shalt see."
After taking a glass of wine at the tavern they crossed the street and entered a place surrounded by a high wall. On the boards nailed together, that served as a door, was posted a great bill which announced, "School of Tauromachy."
They entered. The first thing that claimed Gallardo's attention was the bull, an animal made of wood and rushes, mounted on wheels, with a tail of tow, head of braided straw, a section of cork in place of a neck, and a pair of genuine and enormous horns which inspired the pupils with terror.
A bare-breasted youth, wearing a cap and two hanks of hair over his ears, communicated activity to the beast by pushing it when the students stood before it cape in hand.
In the centre of the enclosure a round, corpulent old man with a red face stood in his shirt-sleeves holding an armful of banderillas. Near the wall, slouching in one chair and resting her arms on another, was a lady of about the same age and not less voluminous, wearing a beflowered hat. Her florid face, with spots as yellow as chaff, dilated with enthusiasm every time her companion performed a good feat. The roses on her hat, and her false curls of a ridiculous blonde hue, shook with laughter as she applauded.
Standing in the doorway Pescadero explained these people to Gallardo. They must be French, or natives of some other foreign country—he was not sure where they were from nor did it matter to him. They were a married couple who travelled about the world and seemed to have lived everywhere. He had had a thousand trades, to judge from his tales; miner in Africa; colonist in distant isles; hunter of horses with a lasso in the solitudes of America. Now he wished to fight bulls—to earn money as did the Spaniards; and he attended the school every afternoon, with the determination of a stubborn child, paying generously for his lessons.
"Imagine it; a bull-fighter with that shape and well past fifty years of age!"
When the pupil saw the two men enter, he lowered his arms laden with banderillas, and the lady arranged her skirt and flowery hat. Oh, cher maître!—
"Good-afternoon Mosiú; greetings, Madame," said the master, raising his hand to his hat. "Let us see, Mosiú, how the lesson is getting on. You know what I have told you. Firm on your ground, you stir up the beast, you let him come on, and when you have him beside you, aim, and put the barbs in his neck. You don't have to worry yourself about anything; the bull will do everything for you. Attention! Are we ready?"
The master moved away, and the pupil faced the terrible bull, or rather the gamin who was behind it, his hands on its hind quarters to push it.
"A-a-a-a! Come on, Morito!"
Pescadero gave a frightful bellow to cause the animal to charge, exciting, with yells and with furious stamping on the ground, this animal with entrails of air and rushes, and a head of straw. Morito charged like a wild beast, with great clatter of wheels, bobbing his head up and down as he moved, the page who pushed him bringing up the rear. Never could bull of famous breed compare in intelligence with this Morito, immortal beast, stuck full of barbs and sword-thrusts thousands of times, suffering no other wounds than such insignificant ones as a carpenter cures. He seemed as wise as man. On drawing near the pupil, he changed his course so as not to touch him with his horns, moving away with the barbs lodged in his cork neck.
An ovation greeted this heroic feat, the banderillero remaining firm in his place, arranging the suspenders of his trousers and the cuffs of his shirt.
"Masterful, Mosiú!" shouted Pescadero. "That pair is first class!"
The foreigner, moved by the professor's applause, responded with modesty, beating his breast:
"Me got the most important. Courage, mucho courage."
Then, to celebrate his deed, he turned to Morito's page, who seemed to lick his lips in anticipation of the order. Let a bottle of wine be fetched. Three empty ones lay on the ground near the lady, who was constantly growing more purple in the face, wriggling in her clothing, greeting her companion's tauromachic exploits with great shouts of laughter.
On learning that he who had just arrived with the teacher was the famous Gallardo, and on recognizing his countenance so often admired by her in the newspapers and on match-boxes, the foreign woman lost color and her eyes grew tender. Oh, cher maître! She smiled at him, she rubbed against him, desiring to fall into his arms with all the weight of her voluminous and flabby person.
Glasses were clinked to the glory of the new bull-fighter. Even Morito took part in the feast, the steward who acted as nurse drinking in his name.
"Before two months, Mosiú," said Pescadero, with his Andalusian gravity, "you will be sticking banderillas in the plaza of Madrid like the very God himself, and you will have all the applause, all the money, and all the women—with your lady's permission."
The lady, without ceasing to gaze upon Gallardo with tender eyes, was moved with joy, and a noisy laugh shook her waves of fat.
Pescadero accompanied Gallardo down the street.
"Adios, Juan," he said gravely. "Maybe we'll see each other in the plaza to-morrow. Thou seest what I have come to—to earn my bread by these frauds and clown-tricks."
Gallardo walked away, thoughtful. Ah! that man whom he had seen throw money around in his good times with the arrogance of a prince, sure of his future! He had lost his savings in bad speculations. A bull-fighter's life was not one in which to learn the management of a fortune. And yet they proposed that he retire from his profession! Never.
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