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Remember the Alamo DANGER AND HELP
DANGER AND HELP
"A curious creed they weave,
"The Church may loose and bind;
Dr. Worth had set his daughter a task of no light magnitude. It was true, that Rachela and Fray Ignatius could no longer disturb the household by their actual presence, but their power to cause unhappiness was not destroyed. Among the Mexican families loyal to Santa Anna the dismission of the priest and the duenna had been a source of much indignant gossip; for Rachela was one of those women who cry out when they are hurt, and compel others to share their trouble. The priest had not therefore found it necessary to explain why the Senora had called upon a new confessor. He could be silent, and possess his dignity in uncomplaining patience, for Rachela paraded his wrongs as a kind of set-off to her own.
Such piety! Such virtues! And the outrageous conduct of the Senor Doctor! To be sure there was cause for anger at the Senorita Antonia. Oh, yes! She could crow her mind abroad! There were books--Oh, infamous books! Books not proper to be read, and the Senorita had them! Well then, if the father burned them, that was a good deed done. And he had almost been reviled for it--sent out of the house--yes, it was quite possible that he had been struck! Anything was possible from those American heretics. As for her own treatment, after twenty years service, it had been cruel, abominable, more than that--iniquitous; but about these things she had spoken, and the day of atonement would come. Justice was informing itself on the whole matter.
Such conversations continually diversified, extended, repeated on all hands, quickly aroused a prejudice against the doctor's family. Besides which, the Senora Alveda resented bitterly the visits of her son Luis to Isabel. None of the customs of a Mexican betrothal had taken place, and Rachela did not spare her imagination in describing the scandalous American familiarity that had been permitted. That, this familiarity had taken place under the eyes of the doctor and the Senora only intensified the insult. She might have forgiven clandestine meetings; but that the formalities due to the Church and herself should have been neglected was indeed unpardonable.
It soon became evident to the Senora that she had lost the good-will of her old friends, and the respect that had always been given to her social position. It was difficult for her to believe this, and she only accepted the humiliating fact after a variety of those small insults which women reserve for their own sex.
She was fond of visiting; she valued the good opinion of her caste, and in the very chill of the gravest calamities she worried her strength away over little grievances lying outside the walls of her home and the real affections of her life. And perhaps with perfect truth she asserted that SHE had done nothing to deserve this social ostracism. Others had made her miserable, but she could thank the saints none could make her guilty.
The defeat of Cos had been taken by the loyal inhabitants as a mere preliminary to the real fight. They were very little disturbed by it. It was the overt act which was necessary to convince Mexico that her clemency to Americans was a mistake, and that the ungrateful and impious race must be wiped out of existence. The newspapers not only reiterated this necessity, but proclaimed its certainty. They heralded the coming of Santa Anna, the victorious avenger, with passionate gasconading. It was a mere question of a few days or weeks, and in the meantime the people of San Antonio were "making a little profit and pleasure to themselves out of the extravagant reprobates." There was not a day in which they did not anticipate their revenge in local military displays, in dances and illuminations, in bull-fights, and in splendid religious processions.
And Antonia found it impossible to combat this influence. It was in the house as certain flavors were in certain foods, or as heat was in fire. She saw it in the faces of her servants, and felt it in their indifference to their duty. Every hour she watched more anxiously for some messenger from her father. And as day after day went by in a hopeless sameness of grief, she grew more restless under the continual small trials that encompassed her.
Towards the end of January, General Urrea, at the head of the vanguard of the Mexican army, entered Texas. His destination was La Bahia or Goliad, a strong fortress garrisoned by Americans under Colonel Fanning. Santa Anna was to leave in eight days after him. With an army of twenty thousand men he was coming to the relief of San Antonio.
The news filled the city with the wildest rejoicing. The little bells of the processions, the big bells of the churches, the firing of cannon, the hurrahs of the tumultuous people, made an uproar which reached the three lonely women through the closed windows of their rooms.
"If only Lopez Navarro would come! If he would send us some little message! Holy Mary, even he has forgotten us!" cried the Senora in a paroxysm of upbraiding sorrow.
At that moment the door opened, and Fray Ignatius passed the threshold with lifted hands and a muttered blessing. He approached the Senora, and she fell on her knees and kissed the hand with which he crossed her.
"Holy father!" she cried, "the angels sent you to a despairing woman."
"My daughter, I have guided you since your first communion; how then could I forget you? Your husband has deserted you-- you, the helpless, tender lamb, whom he swore to cherish; but the blessed fold of your church stands open. Come, poor weary one, to its shelter."
"Listen to me! The Mexican troops are soon to arrive. Vengeance without mercy is to be dealt out. You are the wife of an American rebel; I cannot promise you your life, or your honor, if you remain here. When soldiers are drunk with blood, and women fall in their way, God have mercy upon them! I would shield even your rebellious daughter Antonia from such a fate. I open the doors of the convent to you all. There you will find safety and peace."
Isabel sat with white, parted lips and clasped hands, listening. Antonia had not moved or spoken. But with the last words the priest half-turned to her, and she came swiftly to her mother's side, and kissing her, whispered:
"Remember your promise to my father! Oh, mi madre, do not leave Isabel and me alone!"
"You, too, dear ones! We will all go together, till these dreadful days are past."
"No, no, no! Isabel and I will not go. We will die rather."
"The Senorita talks like a foolish one. Listen again! When Santa Anna comes for judgment, it will be swift and terrible. This house and estate will be forfeited. The faithful Church may hope righteously to obtain it. The sisters have long needed a good home. The convent will then come to you. You will have no shelter but the Church. Come to her arms ere her entreaties are turned to commands."
"My husband told me--"
"Saints of God! you have no husband. He has forfeited every right to advise you. Consider that, daughter; and if you trust not my advice, there is yet living your honorable uncle, the Marquis de Gonzaga."
Antonia caught eagerly at this suggestion. It at least offered some delay, in which the Senora might be strengthened to resist the coercion of Fray Ignatius.
"Mother, it is a good thought. My great-uncle will tell you what to do; and my father will not blame you for following his advice. Perhaps even he may offer his home. You are the child of his sister."
Fray Ignatius walked towards the fire-place and stood rubbing slowly his long, thin hands before the blaze, while the Senora and her daughters discussed this proposal. The half-frantic mother was little inclined to make any further effort to resist the determined will of her old confessor; but the tears of Isabel won from her a promise to see her uncle.
"Then, my daughter, lose no time. I cannot promise you many days in which choice will be left you. Go this afternoon, and to-morrow I will call for your decision."
It was not a visit that the Senora liked to make. She had deeply offended her uncle by her marriage, and their intercourse had since been of the most ceremonious and infrequent kind. But surely, at this hour, when she was left without any one to advise her steps, he would remember the tie of blood between them.
He received her with more kindness than she had anticipated. His eyes glittered in their deep sockets when she related her extremity and the priest's proposal, and his small shrunken body quivered with excitement as he answered:
"Saints and angels! Fray Ignatius is right about Santa Anna. We shall see that he will make caps for his soldiers out of the skins of these infidel ingrates. But as for going into the convent, I know not. A miserable marriage you made for yourself, Maria. Pardon, if I say so much! I let the word slip always. I was never one to bite my tongue. I am all old man--very well, come here, you and your daughters, till the days of blood are over. There is room in the house, and a few comforts in it also. I have some power with Santa Anna. He is a great man--a great man! In all his wars, good fortune flies before him."
He kissed her hands as he opened the door, and then went back to the fire, and bent, muttering, over it: "Giver of good! a true Yturbide; a gentle woman; she is like my sister Mercedes--very like her. These poor women who trust me, as I am a sinner before God, I am unhappy to deceive them."
Fray Ignatius might have divined his thoughts, for he entered at the moment, and said as he approached him:
"You have done right. The soul must be saved, if all is lost. This is not a time for the friends of the Church and of Mexico to waver. The Church is insulted every day by these foreign heretics--"
"But you are mistaken, father; the Church holds up her head, whatever happens. Even the vice-regal crown is not lost--the Church has cleft it into mitres."
Fray Ignatius smiled, but there was a curious and crafty look of inquiry on his face. "The city is turbulent, Marquis, and there is undoubtedly a great number of Mexicans opposed to Santa Anna."
"Do you not know Mexicans yet? They would be opposed to God Almighty, rather than confess they were well governed. Bah! the genius of Mexico is mutiny. They scarcely want a leader to move their madness. They rebel on any weak pretence. They bluster when they are courted; they crouch when they are oppressed. They are fools to all the world but themselves. I beg the Almighty to consider in my favor, that some over- hasty angel misplaced my lot. I should have been born in--New York."
The priest knew that he was talking for irritation, but he was too politic to favor the mood. He stood on the hearth with his hands folded behind him, and with a delightful suavity turned the conversation upon the country rather than the people. It was a glorious day in the dawn of spring. The tenderest greens, the softest blues, the freshest scents, the clearest air, the most delightful sunshine were everywhere. The white old town, with its picturesque crowds, its murmur of voices and laughter, its echoes of fife and drum, its loves and its hatreds, was at his feet; and, far off, the hazy glory of the mountains, the greenness and freshness of Paradise, the peace and freedom of the vast, unplanted places. The old marquis was insensibly led to contemplate the whole; and, in so doing, to put uppermost that pride of country which was the base of every feeling susceptible to the priest's influence.
"Such a pleasant city, Marquis! Spanish monks founded it. Spanish and Mexican soldiers have defended it. Look at its fine churches and missions; its lovely homes, and blooming gardens."
"It is also all our own, father. It was but yesterday I said to one of those insolent Americans who was condescending to admire it: `Very good, Senor; and, if you deign to believe me, it was not brought from New York. Such as you see it, it was made by ourselves here at San Antonio.' Saints in heaven! the fellow laughed in my face. We were mutually convinced of each other's stupidity."
"Ah, how they envy us the country! And you, Marquis, who have traveled over the world, you can imagine the reason?"
"Father, I will tell you the reason; it is the craving in the heart to find again the lost Eden. The Almighty made Texas with full hands. When He sets his heart on a man, he is permitted to live there."
"Grace of God! You speak the truth. Shall we then give up the gift of His hand to heretics and infidels?"
"I cannot imagine it."
"Then every one must do the work he can do. Some are to slay the unbelievers; others; are to preserve the children of the Church. Your niece and her two daughters will be lost to the faith, unless you interfere for their salvation. Of you will their souls be required."
"By Saint Joseph, it is a duty not in agreement with my desire! I, who have carefully abstained from the charge of a wife and daughters of my own."
"It is but for a day or two, Marquis, until the matter is arranged. The convent is the best of all refuges for women so desolate."
The marquis did not answer. He lifted a book and began to read; and Fray Ignatius watched him furtively.
In the mean time the Senora had reached her home. She was pleased with the result of her visit. A little kindness easily imposed upon this childlike woman, and she trusted in any one who was pleasant to her.
"You may believe me, Antonia," she said; "my uncle was in a temper most unusual. He kissed my hands. He offered me his protection. That is a great thing, I assure you. And your father cannot object to our removal there."
Antonia knew not what answer to make. Her heart misgave her. Why had Fray Ignatius made the proposal? She was sure it was part of an arrangement, and not a spontaneous suggestion of the moment. And she was equally sure that any preconcerted plan, having Fray Ignatius for its author, must be inimical to them.
Her mother's entry had not awakened Isabel, who lay asleep upon a sofa. The Senora was a little nettled at the circumstance. "She is a very child! A visit of such importance! And she is off to the land of dreams while I am fatiguing myself! I wish indeed that she had more consideration!" Then Antonia brought her chocolate, and, as she drank it and smoked her cigarito, she chatted in an almost eager way about the persons she had seen.
"Going towards the Plaza, I met judge Valdez. I stopped the carriage, and sent my affections to the Senora. Would you believe it? He answered me as if his mouth were full of snow. His disagreeable behavior was exactly copied by the Senora Silvestre and her daughter Esperanza. Dona Julia and Pilar de Calval did not even perceive me. Santa Maria! there are none so blind as those who won't see! Oh, indeed! I found the journey like the way of salvation--full of humiliations. I would have stopped at the store of the Jew Lavenburg, and ordered many things, but he turned in when he saw me coming. Once, indeed, he would have put his hat on the pavement for me to tread upon. But he has heard that your father has made a rebel of himself, and what can be expected? He knows when Santa Anna has done with the rebels not one of them will have anything left for God to rain upon. And there was a great crowd and a great tumult. I think the whole city had a brain fever."
At this moment Isabel began to moan in her sleep as if her soul was in some intolerable terror or grief; and ere Antonia could reach her she sprang into the middle of the room with a shriek that rang through the house.
It was some minutes before the child could be soothed. She lay in her mother's arms, sobbing in speechless distress; but at length she was able to articulate her fright:
"Listen, mi madre, and may the Holy Lady make you believe me! I have had a dream. God be blessed that it is not yet true! I will tell you. It was about Fray Ignatius and our uncle the Marquis de Gonzaga. My good angel gave it to me; for myself and you all she gave it; and, as my blessed Lord lives! I will not go to them! SI! I will cut my white throat first!" and she drew her small hand with a passionate gesture across it. She had stood up as she began to speak, and the action, added to her unmistakable terror, her stricken face and air of determination, was very impressive.
"You have had a dream, my darling?"
"Yes, an awful dream, Antonia! Mary! Mary! Tender Mary, pity us!"
"And you think we should not go to the house of the marquis?"
"Oh, Antonia! I have seen the way. It is black and cold, and full of fear and pain. No one shall make me take it. I have the stiletto of my grandmother Flores. I will ask Holy Mary to pardon me, and then--in a moment--I would be among the people of the other world. That would be far better than Fray Ignatius and the house of Gonzaga."
The Senora was quite angry at this fresh complication. It was really incredible what she had to endure. And would Antonia please to tell her where else they were to go? They had not a friend left in San Antonio--they did not deserve to have one--and was it to be supposed that a lady, born noble, could follow the Americans in an ox-wagon? Antonia might think it preferable to the comfortable house of her relation; but blessed be the hand of God, which had opened the door of a respectable shelter to her.
"I will go in the ox-wagon," said Isabel, with a sullen determination; "but I will not go into my uncle's house. By the saint of my birth I swear it."
"Mother, listen to Antonia. When one door shuts, God opens another door. Our own home is yet undisturbed. Do you believe what Fray Ignatius says of the coming of Santa Anna? I do not. Until he arrives we are safe in our own home; and when the hour for going away comes, even a little bird can show us the way to take. And I am certain that my father is planning for our safety. If Santa Anna was in this city, and behaving with the brutality which is natural to him, I would not go away until my father sent the order. Do you think he forgets us? Be not afraid of such a thing. It cannot take place."
Towards dusk Senor Navarro called, and the Senora brought him into her private parlor and confided to him the strait they were in. He looked with sympathy into the troubled, tear- stained faces of these three helpless women, and listened with many expressive gestures to the proposal of the priest and the offer of the old marquis.
"Most excellent ladies," he answered; "it is a plot. I assure you that it is a plot. Certainly it was not without reason I was so unhappy about you this afternoon. Even while I was at the bull-fight, I think our angels were in a consultation about your affairs. Your name was in my ears above all other sounds."
"You say it is a plot, Senor. Explain to us what you mean?"
"Yes, I will tell you. Do you know that Fray Ignatius is the confessor of the marquis?"
"We had not thought of such a thing."
"It is the truth. For many years they have been close as the skin and the flesh. Without Fray Ignatius the marquis says neither yes or no. Also the will of the marquis has been lately made. I have seen a copy of it. Everything he has is left to the brotherhoods of the Church. Without doubt, Fray Ignatius was the, lawyer who wrote it."
"Senor, I always believed that would happen. At my marriage my uncle made the determination. Indeed, we have never expected a piastre--no, not even a tlaco. And to-day he was kind to me, and offered me his home. Oh, Holy Mother, how wretched I am! Can I not trust in the good words of those who are of my own family?"
"The tie of race will come before the tie of the family. The tie of religion is strongest of all, Senora. Let me tell you what will take place. When you and your children are in the house of the marquis, he will go before the Alcalde. He will declare that you have gone voluntarily to his care, and that he is your nearest and most natural guardian. Very well. But further, he will declare, on account of his great age, and the troubled state of the time, he is unable to protect you, and ask for the authority to place you in the religious care of the holy sisterhood of Saint Maria. And he will obtain all he wants."
"But, simply, what is to be gained by such treachery? He said to-day that I was like his sister Mercedes, and he spoke very gently to me."
"He would not think such a proceeding really unkind. He would assure himself that it was good for your eternal salvation. As to the reason, that is to be looked for in the purse, where all reasons come from. This house, which the good doctor built, is the best in the city. It has even two full stories. It is very suitable for a religious house. It is not far from the Plaza, yet secluded in its beautiful garden. Fray Ignatius has long desired it. When he has removed you, possession will be taken, and Santa Anna will confirm the possession."
"God succor our poor souls! What shall we do then, Senor? The Mexican army has entered Texas, it will soon be here."
"Quien sabe? Between the Rio Grande and the San Antonio are many difficulties. Urrea has five thousand men with him, horses and artillery. The horses must graze, the men must rest and eat. We shall have heavy rains. I am sure that it will be twenty days ere he reaches the settlements; and even then his destination is not San Antonio, it is Goliad. Santa Anna will be at least ten days after him. I suppose, then, that for a whole month you are quite safe in your own home. That is what I believe now. If I saw a reason to believe what is different, I would inform you. The good doctor, to whom I owe my life many times, has my promise. Lopez Navarro never broke his word to any man. The infamy would be a thing impossible, where the safety of three ladies is concerned."
"And in a month, mi madre, what great things may happen! Thirty days of possibilities! Come, now, let us be a little happy, and listen to what the Senor has to tell us. I am sure this house has been as stupid as a convent"; and Isabel lifted the cigarette case of the Senora, and with kisses persuaded her to accept its tranquilizing consolation.
It was an elegant little golden trifle studded with gems. Her husband had given it to her on the anniversary of their twenty-fifth wedding day; and it recalled vividly to her the few sweet moments. She was swayed as easily as a child by the nearest or strongest influence, and, after all, it did seem the best to take Isabel's advice, and be a little happy while she could.
Lopez was delighted to humor this mood. He told them all the news of their own social set; and in such vivid times something happened every day. There had been betrothals and marriages, quarrels and entertainments; and Lopez, as a fashionable young man of wealth and nobility, had taken his share in what had transpired.
Antonia felt unspeakably grateful to him. After the fretful terror and anxiety of the day--after the cruel visit of Fray Ignatius--it was indeed a comfort to hear the pleasant voice of Navarro in all kinds of cheerful modulations. By and by there was a slow rippling laugh from Isabel, and the Senora's face lost its air of dismal distraction.
At length Navarro had brought his narrative of small events down to the afternoon of that day. There had been a bull- fight, and Isabel was making him describe to her the chulos, in their pale satin breeches and silk waist-scarfs; the toreros in their scarlet mantles, and the picadores on their horses.
"And I assure you," he said, "the company of ladies was very great and splendid. They were in full dress, and the golden- pinned mantillas and the sea of waving fans were a sight indeed. Oh, the fans alone! So many colors; great crescents, growing and waning with far more enchantments than the moons. Their rustle and movement has a wonderful charm, Senorita Isabel; no one can imagine it.
"Oh, I assure you, Senor, I can see and feel it. But to be there! That, indeed, would make me perfectly happy."
"Had you been there to-day you would have admired, above all things, the feat of the matadore Jarocho. It was upon the great bull Sandoval--a very monster, I assure you. He came bellowing at Jarocho, as if he meant his instant death. His eyeballs were living fire; his nostrils steamed with fury; well, then, at the precise moment, Jarocho put his slippered feet between his horns, and vaulted, light as a bird flies, over his back. Then Sandoval turned to him again. Well, he calmly waited for his approach, and his long sword met him between the horns. As lightly as a lady touches her cavalier, he seemed to touch Sandoval; but the brute fell like a stone at his feet. What a storm of vivas! What clapping of hands and shouts of `valiente!' And the ladies flung their flowers, and the men flung their hats into the arena, and Jarocho stepped proudly enough on them, I can tell you, though he was watching the door for the next bull."
"Ah, Senor, why will men fight each other, when it is so much more grand and interesting to fight bulls?"
"Senorita Isabel, if you could only convince them of that! But then, it is not always interesting to the matadore; for instance, it is only by the mercy of God and the skill of an Americano that Jarocho is at this moment out of purgatory."
The Senora raised herself from among the satin pillows of her sofa, and asked, excitedly; "Was there then some accident, Senor? Is Jarocho wounded? Poor Jarocho!"
"Not a hair of his head is hurt, Senora. I will tell you. Saint Jago, who followed Sandoval, was a little devil. He was light and quick, and had intelligence. You could see by the gleam in his eyes that he took in the whole scene, and considered not only the people in the ring, but the people in the amphitheatre also, to be his tormentors. Perhaps in that reflection he was not mistaken. He meant mischief from the beginning; and he pressed Jarocho so close that he leaped the barrier for safety. As he leaped, Saint Jago leaped also. Imagine now the terror of the spectators! The screams! The rush! The lowered horns within an inch of Jarocho, and Fray Joseph Maria running with the consecrated wafer to the doomed man! At that precise moment there was a rifle-shot, and the bellowing brute rolled backward into the arena--dead."
"Oh, Maria Purissima! How grand! In such moments one really lives, Senor. And but for this absurd rebellion I and my daughters could have had the emotion. It is indeed cruel."
"You said the shot was fired by an American?"
"Senorita Antonia, it was, indeed. I saw him. He was in the last row. He had stood up when Saint Jago came in, and he was watching the man and the animal with his soul in his eyes. He had a face, fine and thin as a woman's--a very gentle face, also. But at one instant it became stern and fierce, the lips hard set, the eyes half shut, then the rifle at the shoulder like a flash of light, and the bull was dead between the beginning and the end of the leap! The sight was wonderful, and the ladies turned to him with smiles and cries of thankfulness, and the better part of the men bowed to him; for the Mexican gentleman is always just to a great deed. But he went away as if he had done something that displeased himself, and when I overtook him at the gates of the Alamo, he did not look as if he wished to talk about it.
"However, I could not refrain myself, and I said: "Permit me, Colonel Crockett, to honor you. The great feat of to-day's fight was yours. San Antonio owes you for her favorite Jarocho."
"`I saved a life, young man,' he answered and I took a life; and I'll be blamed if I know whether I did right or wrong.' `Jarocho would have been killed but for your shot.' `That's so; and I killed the bull; but you can take my hat if I don't think I killed the tallest brute of the two. Adjourn the subject, sir'; and with that he walked off into the fort, and I did myself the pleasure of coming to see you, Senora."
He rose and bowed to the ladies, and, as the Senora was making some polite answer, the door of the room opened quickly, and a man entered and advanced towards her. Every eye was turned on him, but ere a word could be uttered he was kneeling at the Senora's side, and had taken her face in his hands, and was kissing it. In the dim light she knew him at once, and she cried out: "My Thomas! My Thomas! My dear son! For three years I have not seen you."
He brought into the room with him an atmosphere of comfort and strength. Suddenly all fear and anxiety was lifted, and in Antonia's heart the reaction was so great that she sank into a chair and began to cry like a child. Her brother held her in his arms and soothed her with the promise of his presence and help. Then he said, cheerfully:
"Let me have some supper, Antonia. I am as hungry as a lobos wolf; and run away, Isabel, and help your sister, for I declare to you girls I shall eat everything in the house."
The homely duty was precisely what was needed to bring every one's feelings to their normal condition; and Thomas Worth sat chatting with his mother and Lopez of his father, and Jack, and Dare, and Luis, and the superficial events of the time, with that pleasant, matter-of-course manner which is by far the most effectual soother of troubled and unusual conditions.
In less than half an hour Antonia called her brother, and he and Lopez entered the dining-room together. They came in as brothers might come, face answering face with sympathetic change and swiftness; but Antonia could not but notice the difference in the two men. Lopez was dressed in a suit of black velvet, trimmed with many small silver buttons. His sash was of crimson silk. His linen was richly embroidered; and his wide hat was almost covered with black velvet, and adorned with silver tags. It was a dress that set off admirably his dark intelligent face.
Thomas Worth wore the usual frontier costume; a dark flannel shirt, a wide leather belt, buck-skin breeches, and leather boots covering his knees. He was very like his father in figure and face--darker, perhaps, and less handsome. But the gentleness and strength of his personal appearance attracted every one first, and invested all traits with their own distinctive charm.
And, oh! What a change was there in the Senora's room. The poor lady cried a little for joy, and then went to sleep like a wearied child. Isabel and Antonia were too happy to sleep. They sat half through the night, talking softly of the danger they had been in. Now that Thomas had come, they could say had. For he was a very Great-heart to them, and they could even contemplate the expected visit of Fray Ignatius without fear; yes, indeed, with something very like satisfaction.
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