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CHAPTER XV. 


There is no moment in the life of man, when he is so keenly sensitive on the subject of the perfection of his mistress, as that in which he completely admits her power. All his jealousy is actively alive to the smallest shade of fault, although his feelings so much indispose him to see any blemish. Betts Shoreham felt an unpleasant pang, even--yes, it amounted to a pang--for in a few moments he would have offered his hand--and men cannot receive any drawback with indifference at such an instant--he felt an unpleasant pang, then, as the idea crossed his mind that Mademoiselle Hennequin could be so violently affected by a feeling as unworthy as that of envy. He had passed several years abroad, and had got the common notion about the selfishness of the French, and more particularly their women, and his prejudices took the alarm. But his love was much the strongest, and soon looked down the distrust, however reasonable, under the circumstances, the latter might have appeared to a disinterested and cool-headed observer. He had seen so much meek and pure-spirited self-denial; so much high principle in the conduct of Mademoiselle Hennequin, during an intimacy which had now lasted six months, that no passing feeling of doubt, like the one just felt, could unsettle the confidence created by her virtues. I know it may take more credit than belongs to most pocket-handkerchiefs, to maintain the problem of the virtues of a French governess--a class of unfortunate persons that seem doomed to condemnation by all the sages of our modern imaginative literature. An English governess, or even an American governess, if, indeed, there be such a being in nature, may be every thing that is respectable, and prudent, and wise, and good; but the French governess has a sort of ex-officio moral taint about her, that throws her without the pale of literary charities. Nevertheless, one or two of the most excellent women I have ever known, have been French governesses, though I do not choose to reveal what this particular individual of the class turned out to be in the end, until the moment for the denouement of her character shall regularly arrive.

There was not much time for Betts Shoreham to philosophize, and speculate on female caprices and motives, John Monson making his appearance in as high evening dress as well comported with what is called "republican simplicity." John was a fine looking fellow, six feet and an inch, with large whiskers, a bushy head of hair, and particularly white teeth. His friend was two inches shorter, of much less showy appearance, but of a more intellectual countenance, and of juster proportions. Most persons, at first sight, would praise John Monson's person and face, but all would feel the superiority of Betts Shoreham's, on an acquaintance. The smile of the latter, in particular, was as winning and amiable as that of a girl. It was that smile, on the one hand, and his active, never dormant sympathy for her situation, on the other, which, united, had made such an inroad on the young governess's affections.

"It's deuced cold, Betts," said John, as he came near the fire; "this delightful country of ours has some confounded hard winters. I wonder if it be patriotic to say, OUR winters?"

"It's all common property, Monson--but, what have become of your sister and Mademoiselle Hennequin? They were both here a minute since, and have vanished like--"

"What?--ghosts!--no, you dare not call them THAT, lest their spirits take it in dudgeon. Julie is no ghost, though she is sometimes so delicate and ethereal, and as for Henny--"

"Who?" exclaimed Betts, doubting if his ears were true.

"Henny, Tote and Moll's governess. Whom do you think I could mean, else? I always call her Henny, en famille, and I look upon you as almost one of us since our travels."

{en famille = at home}

"I'm sure I can scarcely be grateful enough, my dear fellow--but, you do not call her so to her face?"

"Why--no--perhaps not exactly in her very teeth--and beautiful teeth she has, Betts--Julie's won't compare with them."

"Miss Monson has fine teeth, notwithstanding. Perhaps Mademoiselle Hennequin--"

"Yes, Henny has the best teeth of any girl I know. They are none of your pearls--some pearls are yellowish, you know--but they are teeth; just what ought to be in a handsome girl's mouth. I have no objection to pearls in a necklace, or in the pockets, but TEETH are what are wanted in a mouth, and Henny has just the finest set I know of."

Betts Shoreham fidgetted at the "Henny," and he had the weakness, at the moment, to wish the young governess were not in a situation to be spoken of so unceremoniously. He had not time to express this feeling, before John Monson got a glimpse of me, and had me under examination beneath the light of a very powerful lamp. I declare that, knowing his aversion to our species, I felt a glow in all my system at the liberties he was taking.

"What have we here?" exclaimed John Monson, in surprise; "has Miss Flowergarden made a call, and is this her card?"

"I believe that pocket-handkerchief belongs to your sister," answered Betts, drily, "if that be what you mean."

"Jule! well, I am sorry to hear it. I did hope that no sister of MINE would run into any such foolish extravagance--do you own it, Jule?" who entered the room at that instant--"is this bit of a rag yours, or is it not more likely to be Henny's?"

"Bit of a rag!" cried the sister, snatching me dexterously out of the spoiler's hands; "and 'Henny,' too! This is not a bit of a rag, sir, but a very pretty pocket-handkerchief, and you must very well know that Mademoiselle Hennequin is not likely to be the owner of any thing as costly."

"And what did it cost, pray? At least tell me THAT, if nothing else."

"I shall not gratify your curiosity, sir--a lady's wardrobe is not to be dissected in this manner."

"Pray, sir, may I ask," Mr. Monson now coming in, "did you pay for Jule's handkerchief? Hang me, if I ever saw a more vulgar thing in my life."

"The opinion is not likely to induce me to say yes," answered the father, half-laughing, and yet half-angry at his son's making such allusions before Betts--"never mind him, my dear; the handkerchief is not half as expensive as his own cigars."

"It shall be as thoroughly smoked, nevertheless, rejoined John, who was as near being spoilt, and escaping, as was at all necessary. "Ah, Julie, Julie, I'm ashamed of thee."

This was an inauspicious commencement for an evening from which so much happiness had been anticipated, but Mrs. Monson coming down, and the carriages driving to the door, Mademoiselle Hennequin was summoned, and the whole party left the house.

As a matter of course, it was a little out of the common way that the governess was asked to make one, in the invitations given to the Monsons. But Mademoiselle Hennequin was a person of such perfect bon ton, had so thoroughly the manners of a lady, and was generally reputed so accomplished, that most of the friends of the family felt themselves bound to notice her. There was another reason, too, which justice requires I should relate, though it is not so creditable to the young lady, as those already given. From some quarter, or other, a rumor had got abroad that Miss Monson's governess was of a noble family, a circumstance that I soon discovered had great influence in New York, doubtless by way of expiation for the rigid democratical notions that so universally pervade its society. And here I may remark, en passant, that while nothing is considered so disreputable in America as to be "aristocratic" a word of very extensive signification, as it embraces the tastes, the opinions, the habits, the virtues, and sometimes the religion of the offending party--on the other hand, nothing is so certain to attract attention as nobility. How many poor Poles have I seen dragged about and made lions of, merely because they were reputed noble, though the distinction in that country is pretty much the same as that which exists in one portion of this great republic, where one half the population is white, and the other black; the former making the noble, and the latter the serf.

{make one = be included; bon ton = superior manners and culture; notice her = include her socially; "aristocratic" = Cooper was hypersensitive to accusations of being "aristocratic"; poor Poles = since his days in Paris in the early 1830s, Cooper had befriended and aided Poles fleeing Russian domination of their homeland}

"What an exceedingly aristocratic pocket-handkerchief Miss Monson has this evening," observed Mrs. G. to Mr. W., as we passed into Mrs. Leamington's rooms, that evening; "I don't know when I've seen any thing so aristocratic in society."

"The Monsons are very aristocratic in all things; I understand they dine at six."

"Yes," put in Miss F., "and use finger bowls every day."

"How aristocratic!"

"Very--they even say that since they have come back from Europe, the last time, matters are pushed farther than ever. The ladies insist on kneeling at prayers, instead of inclining, like all the rest of the world."

"Did one ever hear of any thing so aristocratic!"

"They DO say, but I will not vouch for its truth, that Mr. and Mrs. Monson insist on all their children calling them 'father' and 'mother,' instead of 'pa' and 'ma.' "

"Why, Mr. W., that is downright monarchical, is it not?"

"It's difficult to say what is, and what is not monarchical, now-a-days; though I think one is pretty safe in pronouncing it anti-republican."

"It is patriarchal, rather," observed a wit, who belonged to the group.

Into this "aristocratical" set I was now regularly introduced. Many longing and curious eyes were drawn toward me, though the company in this house was generally too well bred to criticise articles of dress very closely. Still, in every country, aristocracy, monarchy, or democracy, there are privileged classes, and in all companies privileged persons. One of the latter took the liberty of asking Julia to leave me in her keeping, while the other danced, and I was thus temporarily transferred to a circle, in which several other pocket-handkerchiefs had been collected, with a view to compare our several merits and demerits. The reader will judge of my surprise, when, the examination being ended, and the judgment being rendered altogether in my favor, I found myself familiarly addressed by the name that I bore in the family circle, or, as No. 7; for pocket-handkerchiefs never speak to each other except on the principle of decimals. It was No. 12, or my relative of the extreme cote gauche, who had strangely enough found his way into this very room, and was now lying cheek by jowl with me again, in old Mrs. Eyelet's lap. Family affection made us glad to meet, and we had a hundred questions to put to each other in a breath.

{cote gauche = left wing, politically}

No. 12 had commenced life a violent republican, and this simply because he read nothing but republican newspapers; a sufficiently simple reason, as all know who have heard both sides of any question. Shortly after I was purchased by poor, dear Adrienne, a young American traveler had stepped into the magasin, and with the recklessness that distinguishes the expenditures of his countrymen, swept off half a dozen of the family at one purchase. Accident gave him the liberal end of the piece, a circumstance to which he never would have assented had he known the fact, for being an attache of the legation of his own country, he was ex officio aristocratic. My brother amused me exceedingly with his account of the indignation he felt at finding himself in a very hot-bed of monarchical opinions, in the set at the American legation. What rendered these diplomates so much the more aristocratic, was the novelty of the thing, scarcely one of them having been accustomed to society at home. After passing a few months in such company, my brother's boss, who was a mere traveling diplomatist, came home and began to run a brilliant career in the circles of New York, on the faith of a European reputation. Alas! there is in pocket-handkerchief nature a disposition to act by contraries. The "more you call, the more I won't come" principle was active in poor No.

12's mind, and he had not been a month in New York society, before he came out an ultra monarchist. New York society has more than one of these sudden political conversions to answer for. It is such a thorough development of the democratic principle, that the faith of few believers is found strong enough to withstand it. Every body knows how much a prospect varies by position. Thus, you shall stand on the aristocratic side of a room filled with company, and every thing will present a vulgar and democratic appearance; or, vice versa, you shall occupy a place among the oi polloi, and all is aristocratic, exclusive, and offensive. So it had proved with my unfortunate kinsman. All his notions had changed; instead of finding the perfection he had preached and extolled so long, he found nothing to admire, and every thing to condemn. In a word, never was a pocket-handkerchief so miserable, and that, too, on grounds so philosophical and profound, met with, on its entrance into active life. I do believe, if my brother could have got back to France, he would have written a book on America, which, while it overlooked many vices and foibles that deserve to be cut up without mercy, would have thrown even de Tocqueville into the shade in the way of political blunders. But I forbear; this latter writer being unanswerable among those neophytes who having never thought of their own system, unless as Englishmen, are overwhelmed with admiration at finding any thing of another character advanced about it. At least, such are the sentiments entertained by a very high priced pocket-handkerchief.

{magasin = shop; ex-officio = by virtue of his position--Cooper frequently criticized American diplomats for taking on the conservative views of the monarchial governments to which they were accredited; oi polloi = common people, rabble (Greek); de Tocqueville = Alexis de Tocqueville = French writer (1805-1859), famous for his account of American culture, "Democracy in America" (1835 and 1840)--Cooper had provided Tocqueville with letters of introduction for his 1832 American visit, but resented the extreme admiration accorded his book}

Mademoiselle Hennequin, I took occasion to remark, occupied much of the attention of Betts Shoreham, at Mrs. Leamington's ball. They understood each other perfectly, though the young man could not get over the feeling created by the governess's manner when she first met with me. Throughout the evening, indeed, her eye seemed studiously averted from me, as if she struggled to suppress certain sentiments or sensations, that she was unwilling to betray. Now, these sentiments, if sentiments they were, or sensations, as they were beyond all dispute, might be envy--repinings at another's better fortunes--or they might be excited by philosophical and commendable reflections touching those follies which so often lead the young and thoughtless into extravagance. Betts tried hard to believe them the last, though, in his inmost heart, he would a thousand times rather that the woman he loved should smile on a weakness of this sort, in a girl of her own age, than that she should show herself to be prematurely wise, if it was wisdom purchased at the expense of the light-heartedness and sympathies of her years and sex. On a diminished scale, I had awakened in his bosom some such uneasy distrust as the pocket-handkerchief of Desdemona is known to have aroused in that of the Moor.

{Shakespeare, "Othello"}

Nor can I say that Julia Monson enjoyed herself as much as she had anticipated. Love she did not Betts Shoreham; for that was a passion her temperament and training induced her to wait for some pretty unequivocal demonstrations on the part of the gentleman before she yielded to it; but she LIKED him vastly, and nothing would have been easier than to have blown this smouldering preference into a flame. She was too young, and, to say the truth, too natural and uncalculating, to be always remembering that Betts owned a good old-fashioned landed estate that was said to produce twenty, and which did actually produce eleven thousand a year, nett; and that his house in the country was generally said to be one of the very best in the state. For all this she cared absolutely nothing, or nothing worth mentioning. There were enough young men of as good estates, and there were a vast many of no estates at all, ready and willing to take their chances in the "cutting up" of "old Monson," but there were few who were as agreeable, as well mannered, as handsome, or who had seen as much of the world, as Betts Shoreham. Of course, she had never fancied the young man in love with herself, but, previously to the impression she had quite recently imbibed of his attachment to her mother's governess, she had been accustomed to think such a thing MIGHT come to pass, and that she should not be sorry if it did.

I very well understand this is not the fashionable, or possibly the polite way of describing those incipient sentiments which form the germ of love in the virgin affections of young ladies, and that a skillful and refined poet would use very different language on the occasion; but I began this history to represent things as they are, and such is the manner in which "Love's Young Dream" appears to a pocket-handkerchief.

{"Love's Young Dream" = popular poem by Thomas Moore (1780-

1852)}

Among other things that were unpleasant, Miss Monson was compelled to overhear sundry remarks of Betts's devotion to the governess, as she stood in the dance, some of which reached me, also.

"Who is the lady to whom Mr. Shoreham is so devoue this evening?" asked Miss N. of Miss T. "'Tis quite a new face, and, if one might be so presuming, quite a new manner."

{devoue = devoted, attentive}

"That is Mademoiselle Henny, the governess of Mrs. Monson's children, my dear. They say she is all accomplishments, and quite a miracle of propriety. It is also rumored that she is, some way, a very distinguished person, reduced by those horrid revolutions of which they have so many in Europe."

"Noble, I dare say!"

"Oh! that at least. Some persons affirm that she is semi-ROYAL. The country is full of broken-down royalty and nobility. Do you think she has an aristocratic air?"

"Not in the least--her ears are too small."

"Why, my dear, that is the very symbol of nobility! When my Aunt Harding was in Naples, she knew the Duke of Montecarbana, intimately; and she says he had the smallest ears she ever beheld on a human being. The Montecarbanas are a family as old as the ruins of Paestum, they say."

{Paestum = ancient Roman city outside Naples}

"Well, to my notion, nobility and teaching little girls French and Italian, and their gammes, have very little in common. I had thought Mr. Shoreham an admirer of Miss Monson's."

{gammes = musical scales}

Now, unfortunately, my mistress overheard this remark. Her feelings were just in that agitated state to take the alarm, and she determined to flirt with a young man of the name of Thurston, with a view to awaken Betts's jealousy, if he had any, and to give vent to her own spleen. This Tom Thurston was one of those tall, good-looking young fellows who come from, nobody knows where, get into society, nobody knows how, and live on, nobody knows what. It was pretty generally understood that he was on the look-out for a rich wife, and encouragement from Julia Monson was not likely to be disregarded by such a person. To own the truth, my mistress carried matters much too far--so far, indeed, as to attract attention from every body but those most concerned; viz. her own mother and Betts Shoreham. Although elderly ladies play cards very little, just now, in American society, or, indeed, in any other, they have their inducements for rendering the well- known office of matron at a ball, a mere sinecure. Mrs. Monson, too, was an indulgent mother, and seldom saw any thing very wrong in her own children. Julia, in the main, had sufficient retenue, and a suspicion of her want of discretion on this point, was one of the last things that would cross the fond parent's mind at Mrs. Leamington's ball. Others, however, were less confiding.

{retenue = discretion}

"Your daughter is in HIGH SPIRITS to-night," observed a single lady of a certain age, who was sitting near Mrs. Monson; "I do not remember to have ever seen her so GAY."

"Yes, dear girl, she IS happy,"--poor Julia was any thing but THAT, just then--"but youth is the time for happiness, if it is ever to come in this life."

"Is Miss Monson addicted to such VERY high spirits?" continued one, who was resolute to torment, and vexed that the mother could not be sufficiently alarmed to look around.

"Always--when in agreeable company. I think it a great happiness, ma'am, to possess good spirits."

"No doubt--yet one needn't be always fifteen, as Lady Wortley Montague said," muttered the other, giving up the point, and changing her seat, in order that she might speak her mind more freely into the ear of a congenial spirit.

{Lady Wortley Montague = Lady Mary Wortley Montague (1689-

1762), English essayist and letter-writer}

Half an hour later we were all in the carriages, again, on our way home; all, but Betts Shoreham, I should say, for having seen the ladies cloaked, he had taken his leave at Mrs. Leamington's door, as uncertain as ever whether or not to impute envy to a being who, in all other respects, seemed to him to be faultless. He had to retire to an uneasy pillow, undetermined whether to pursue his original intention of making the poor friendless French girl independent, by an offer of his hand, or whether to decide that her amiable and gentle qualities were all seeming, and that she was not what she appeared to be. Betts Shoreham owed his distrust to national prejudice, and well was he paid for entertaining so vile a companion. Had Mademoiselle Hennequin been an American girl, he would not have thought a second time of the emotion she had betrayed in regarding my beauties; but he had been taught to believe all French women managing and hypocritical; a notion that the experience of a young man in Paris would not be very likely to destroy.

{managing = manipulative}

"Well," cried John Monson, as the carriage drew from Mrs. Leamington's door, "this is the last ball I shall go to in New York;" which declaration he repeated twenty times that season, and as often broke.

"What is the matter now, Jack?" demanded the father. "I found it very pleasant--six or seven of us old fellows made a very agreeable evening of it."

"Yes, I dare say, sir; but you were not compelled to dance in a room eighteen by twenty-four, with a hundred people treading on your toes, or brushing their heads in your face."

"Jack can find no room for dancing since the great ball of the Salle de l'Opera, at Paris," observed the mother smiling. "I hope YOU enjoyed yourself better, Julia?"

{Salle de l'Opera = Paris Opera House--the building referred to by Cooper served as Opera House from 1821-1873 and was replaced by the present building in 1874}

My mistress started; then she answered with a sort of hysterical glee--

"Oh! I have found the evening delightful, ma'am. I could have remained two hours longer."

"And you, Mademoiselle Hennequin; I hope you, too, were agreeably entertained?"

The governess answered meekly, and with a slight tremor in her voice.

"Certainly, madame," she said, "I have enjoyed myself; though dancing always seems an amusement I have no right to share in."

There was some little embarrassment, and I could perceive an impulse in Julia to press nearer to her rival, as if impelled by a generous wish to manifest her sympathy. But Tom's protest soon silenced every thing else, and we alighted, and soon went to rest.

The next morning Julia sent for me down to be exhibited to one or two friends, my fame having spread in consequence of my late appearance. I was praised, kissed, called a pretty dear, and extolled like a spoiled child, though Miss W. did not fail to carry the intelligence, far and near, that Miss Monson's much-talked-of pocket-handkerchief was nothing after all but the THING Miss Halfacre had brought out the night of the day her father had stopped payment. Some even began to nick-name me the insolvent pocket-handkerchief.

I thought Julia sad, after her friends had all left her. I lay neglected on a sofa, and the pretty girl's brow became thoughtful. Of a sudden she was aroused from a brown study--reflective mood, perhaps, would be a more select phrase--by the unexpected appearance of young Thurston. There was a sort of "Ah! have I caught you alone!" expression about this adventurer's eye, even while he was making his bow, that struck me. I looked for great events, nor was I altogether disappointed. In one minute he was seated at Julia's side, on the same sofa, and within two feet of her; in two more he had brought in play his usual tricks of flattery. My mistress listened languidly, and yet not altogether without interest. She was piqued at Betts Shoreham's indifference, had known her present admirer several months, if dancing in the same set can be called KNOWING, and had never been made love to before, at least in a manner so direct and unequivocal. The young man had tact enough to discover that he had an advantage, and fearful that some one might come in and interrupt the tete a tete, he magnanimously resolved to throw all on a single cast, and come to the point at once.

"I think, Miss Monson," he continued, after a very beautiful specimen of rigmarole in the way of love-making, a rigmarole that might have very fairly figured in an editor's law and logic, after he had been beaten in a libel suit, ''I think, Miss Monson, you cannot have overlooked the VERY particular attentions I have endeavored to pay you, ever since I have been so fortunate as to have made your acquaintance?"

"I!--Upon my word, Mr. Thurston, I am not at all conscious of having been the object of any such attentions!"

"No?--That is ever the way with the innocent and single-minded! This is what we sincere and diffident men have to contend with in affairs of the heart. Our bosoms may be torn with ten thousand distracting cares, and yet the modesty of a truly virtuous female heart shall be so absorbed in its own placid serenity as to be indifferent to the pangs it is unconsciously inflicting!"

"Mr. Thurston, your language is strong--and--a little--a little unintelligible."

"I dare say--ma'am--I never expect to be intelligible again. When the

'heart is oppressed with unutterable anguish, condemned to conceal that passion which is at once the torment and delight of life'--when 'his lip, the ruby harbinger of joy, lies pale and cold, the miserable appendage of a mang--' that is, Miss Monson, I mean to say, when all our faculties are engrossed by one dear object we are often incoherent and mysterious, as a matter of course."

Tom Thurston came very near wrecking himself on the quicksands of the romantic school. He had begun to quote from a speech delivered by Gouverneur Morris, on the right of deposit at New Orleans, and which he had spoken at college, and was near getting into a part of the subject that might not have been so apposite, but retreated in time. By way of climax, the lover laid his hand on me, and raised me to his eyes in an abstracted manner, as if unconscious of what he was doing, and wanted to brush away a tear.

{Gouverneur Morris = American Federalist leader and diplomat (1752-

1816)--a 1795 American treaty with Spain granted the United States the right of navigation on the Mississippi River and to deposit goods at New Orleans without paying customs duties}

"What a confounded rich old fellow the father must be," thought Tom, "to give her such pocket-handkerchiefs!"

I felt like a wren that escapes from the hawk when the rogue laid me down.

Alas! Poor Julia was the dupe of all this acting. Totally unpracticed herself, abandoned by the usages of the society in which she had been educated very much to the artifices of any fortune-hunter, and vexed with Betts Shoreham, she was in the worst possible frame of mind to resist such eloquence and love. She had seen Tom at all the balls in the best houses, found no fault with his exterior and manners, both of which were fashionable and showy, and now discovered that he had a most sympathetic heart, over which, unknown to herself, she had obtained a very unlimited control.

"You do not answer me, Miss Monson," continued Tom peeping out at one side of me, for I was still at his eyes--"you do not answer me, cruel, inexorable girl!"

"What WOULD you have me say, Mr. Thurston?"

"Say YES, dearest, loveliest, most perfect being of the whole human family."

"YES, then; if that will relieve your mind, it is a relief very easily bestowed."

Now, Tom Thurston was as skilled in a fortune-hunter's wiles as Napoleon was in military strategy. He saw he had obtained an immense advantage for the future, and he forbore to press the matter any further at the moment. The "yes" had been uttered more in pleasantry than with any other feeling, but, by holding it in reserve, presuming on it gradually, and using it in a crisis, it might be worth--"let me see," calculated Tom, as he went whistling down Broadway, "that 'yes' may be made to yield at least a cool $100,000. There are John, this girl, and two little ones. Old Monson is worth every dollar of $700,000--none of your skyrockets, but a known, old fortune, in substantial houses and lands-- let us suppose the old woman outlive him, and that she gets her full thirds; THAT will leave $466,660. Perhaps John may get a couple of hundred thousand, and even THEN each of the girls will have $88,888. If one of the little things should happen to die, and there's lots of scarlet fever about, why that would fetch it up at once to a round hundred thousand. I don't think the old woman would be likely to marry again at her time of life. One mustn't calculate too confidently on THAT, however, as I would have her myself for half of SUCH thirds."

{full thirds = Old Monson's widow would under American common law receive a life interest in one-third of his real property, called a dower right, which would revert to his children if she died without remarrying.}

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