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STRING OF PEARLS
[the original 1846/47 penny dreadful featuring SWEENEY TODD
THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, ed.]
THE COLONEL AND HIS FRIEND
Colonel Jeffery was not at all satisfied with the state of affairs, as regarded the disappearance of Mr Thornhill, for whom he entertained a very sincere regard, both on account of the private estimation in which he held him, and on account of actual services rendered by Thornhill to him.
Not to detain Johanna Oakley in the Temple-gardens, he had stopped his narrative, completely at the point when what concerned her had ceased, and had said nothing of much danger which the ship Neptune and its crew and passengers has gone through, after Mr Thornhill had been taken on board with his dog.
The fact is, the storm which he had mentioned was only the first of a series of gales of wind that buffeted the ship for some weeks, doing it much damage, and enforcing almost the necessity of puffing in somewhere for repairs.
But a glance at the map will be sufficient to show, that situated as the Neptune was, the nearest port at which they could at all expect assistance, was the British colony, at the Cape of Good Hope; but such was the contrary nature of the winds and waves, that just upon the evening of a tempestuous day, they found themselves bearing down close in shore, on the eastern coast of Madagascar.
There was much apprehension that the vessel would strike on a rocky shore; but the water was deep, and the vessel rode well; there was a squall, and they let go both anchors to secure the vessel, as they were so close in shore, lest they should be driven in and stranded.
It was fortunate they had so secured themselves, for the gale while it lasted blew half a hurricane, and the ship lost some of her masts, and some other trifling damage, which, however, entailed upon them the necessity of remaining there a few days, to cut timber to repair their masts, and to obtain a few supplies.
There is but little to interest a general reader in the description of a gale. Order after order was given until the masts and spars went one by one, and then the orders for clearing the wreck were given.
There was much work to be done, and but little pleasure in doing it, for it was wet and miserable while it lasted, and there was the danger of being driven upon a lee shore, and knocked to pieces upon the rocks.
This danger was averted, and they anchored safe at a very short distance from the shore in comparative safety and security.
'We are safe now,' remarked the captain, as he gave his second in command charge of the deck, and approached Mr Thornhill and Colonel Jeffery.
'I am happy it is so,' replied Jeffery.
'Well, captain,' said Mr Thornhill, 'I am glad we have done with being knocked about; we are anchored, and the water here appears smooth enough.'
'It is so, and I dare say it will remain so; it is a beautiful basin of deep water - deep and good anchorage; but you see it is not large enough to make a fine harbour.'
'True; but it is rocky.'
'It is; and that may make it sometimes dangerous, though I don't know that it would be so in some gales. The sea may beat in at the opening, which is deep enough for anything to enter - even Noah's ark would enter there easily enough.'
'What will you do now?'
'Stay here for a day or so, and send boats ashore to cut some pine trees, to refit the ship with masts.'
'You have no staves, then?'
'Not enough for such a purpose; and we never do go out stored with such things.'
'You obtain them wherever you may go to.'
'Yes, any part of the world will furnish them in some shape or other.'
'When you send ashore, will you permit me to accompany the boat's crew?' said Jeffery.
'Certainly; but the natives of this country are violent and intractable, and, should you get into any row with them, there is every probability of your being captured, or some bodily injury done you.'
'But I will take care to avoid that.'
'Very well, colonel, you shall be welcome to go.'
'I must beg the same permission,' said Mr Thornhill, 'for I should much like to see the country, as well as to have some acquaintance with the natives themselves.'
'By no means trust yourself alone with them,' said the captain, 'for if you live you will have cause to repent it - depend upon what I say.'
'I will,' said Thornhill; 'I will go nowhere but where the boat's company goes.'
'You will be safe then.'
'But do you apprehend any hostile attack from the natives?' enquired Colonel Jeffery.
'No, I do not expect it; but such things have happened before today, and I have seen them when least expected, though I have been on this coast before, and yet I have never met with any ill-treatment; but there have been many who have touched on this coast, who have had a brush with the natives and come off second best, the natives generally retiring when the ship's company muster strong in number, and calling out the chiefs, who come down in great force that we may not conquer them.'
The next morning the boats were ordered out to go ashore with crews, prepared for the cuffing of timber, and obtaining such staves as the ship was in want of.
With these boats Mr Thornhill and Colonel Jeffery went both of them on board, and after a short ride, they reached the shore of Madagascar.
It was a beautiful country, and one in which vegetables appeared abundant and luxuriant, and the party in search of timber, for shipbuilding purposes, soon came to some lordly monarchs of the forest, which would have made vessels of themselves.
But this was not what was wanted; but where the trees grew thicker and taller, they began to cut some tall pine trees down.
This was the wood they most desired; in fact it was exactly what they wanted; but they hardly got through a few such trees, when the natives came down upon them, apparently to reconnoitre.
At first they were quiet and tractable enough, but anxious to see and inspect everything, being very inquisitive and curious.
However, that was easily borne, but at length they became more numerous, and began to pilfer all they could lay their hands upon, which, of course, brought resentment, and after some time a blow or two was exchanged.
Colonel Jeffery was forward and endeavouring to prevent some violence being offered to one of the woodcutters; in fact, he was interposing himself between the two contending parties, and tried to restore order and peace, but several armed natives rushed suddenly upon him, secured him, and were hurrying him away to death before anyone could stir in his behalf.
His doom appeared certain, for, had they succeeded, they would have cruelly and brutally murdered him.
However, just at that moment aid was at hand, and Mr Thornhill, seeing how matters stood, seized a musket from one of the sailors, and rushed after the natives who had Colonel Jeffery.
There were three of them, two others had gone on to apprise, it was presumed, the chiefs. When Mr Thornhill arrived, they had thrown a blanket over the head of Jeffery; but Mr Thornhill in an instant hurled one with a blow from the butt-end of his musket, and the second met the same fate, as he turned to see what was the matter.
The third seeing the colonel free, and the musket levelled at his own head, immediately ran after the other two, to avoid any serious consequences to himself. 'Thornhill, you have saved my life,' said Colonel Jeffery, excitedly.
'Come away, don't stop here - to the ship! - to the ship!' And as he spoke, they hurried after the crew; and they succeeded in reaching the boats and the ship in safety; congratulating themselves not a little upon so lucky an escape from a people quite warlike enough to do mischief, but not civilised enough to distinguish when to do it.
When men are far away from home, and in foreign lands, with the skies of other climes above them, their hearts become more closely knit together in those ties of brotherhood which certainly ought to actuate the whole universe, but which as certainly do not do so, except in very narrow circumstances.
One of these instances, however, would probably be found in the conduct of Colonel Jeffery and Mr Thornhill, even under any circumstances, for they were most emphatically what might be termed kindred spirits; but when we come to unite to that fact the remarkable manner in which they had been thrown together, and the mutual services that they had had it in their power to render to each other, we should not be surprised at the almost romantic friendship that arose between them.
It was then that Thornhill made the colonel's breast the repository of all his thoughts and all his wishes, and a freedom of intercourse and a community of feeling ensued between them, which, when it does take place between persons of really congenial dispositions, produces the most delightful results of human companionship.
No one who has not endured the tedium of a sea voyage can at all be aware of what a pleasant thing it is to have someone on board in the rich stores of whose intellect and fancy one can find a never-ending amusement.
The winds might now whistle through the cordage, and the waves toss the great ship on their foaming crests; still Thornhill and Jeffery were together, finding, in the midst of danger, solace in each other's society, and each animating the other to the performance of deeds of daring that astonished the crew.
The whole voyage was one of the greatest peril, and some of the oldest seamen on board did not scruple, during the continuance of their night watches, to intimate to their companions that the ship, in their opinion, would never reach England, and that she would founder somewhere along the long stretch of the African coast.
The captain, of course, made every possible exertion to put a stop to such prophetic sayings, but when once they commenced, in short time there is no such thing as completely eradicating them; and they, of course, produced the most injurious effect, paralysing the exertions of the crew in times of danger, and making them believe that they are in a doomed ship, and, consequently, all they can do is useless.
Sailors are extremely superstitious on such matters, and there cannot be any reasonable doubt but that some of the disasters that befell the Neptune on her homeward voyage from India may be attributable to this feeling of fatality getting hold of the seamen, and inducing them to think that, let them try what they might, they could not save the ship.
It happened that after they had rounded the Cape, a dense fog came on, such as had not been known on that coast for many a year, although the western shore of Africa, at some seasons of the year, is subject to such a species of vaporous exhalation.
Every object was wrapped in the most profound gloom, and yet there was a strong eddy or current of the ocean, flowing parallel with the land, and as the captain hoped, rather off than on the shore.
In consequence of this fear, the greatest anxiety prevailed on board the vessel, and lights were left burning on all parts of the deck, while two men were continually engaged making soundings. It was about half an hour after midnight, as the
chronometer [sic, ed] indicated a storm, that suddenly the men, who were on watch on the deck, raised a loud cry of alarm.
They had suddenly seen, close to the larboard bow, lights, which must belong to some vessel that, like the Neptune, was encompassed in the fog, and a collision was quite inevitable, for neither ship had time to put about.
The only doubt, which was a fearful and an agonising one to have solved, was whether the stronger vessel was of sufficient bulk and power to run them down, or they it; and that fearful question was one which a few moments must settle.
In fact, almost before the echo of that cry of horror, which had come from the men, had died away, the vessels met. There was a hideous crash - one shriek of dismay and horror, and then all was still. The Neptune, with considerable damage, and some of the bulwarks stove in, sailed on; but the other ship went with a surging sound, to the bottom of the sea.
Alas! nothing could be done. The fog was so dense, that, coupled, too, with the darkness of the night, there could be no hope of rescuing one of the ill-fated crew of the ship; and the officers and seamen of the Neptune, although they shouted for some time, and then listened to hear if any of the survivors of the ship that had been run down were swimming, no answer came to them; and when, in about six hours more they sailed out of the fog into a clear sunshine, where there was not so much as a cloud to be seen, they looked at each other like men newly awakened from some strange and fearful dream.
They never discovered the name of the ship they had run down, and the whole affair remained a profound mystery. When the Neptune reached the port of London, the affair was repeated, and every exertion made to obtain some information concerning the ill-fated ship that had met with so fearful a doom.
Such were the circumstances which awakened all the liveliest feelings of gratitude on the part of Colonel Jeffery towards Mr Thornhill; and hence it was that he was in London, and had the necessary leisure so to do, to leave no stone unturned to discover what had become of him.
After deep and anxious thought, and feeling convinced that there was some mystery which it was beyond his power to discover, he resolved upon asking the opinion of a friend, likewise in the army, a Captain Rathbone, concerning the whole of the facts.
This gentleman, and a gentleman he was in the fullest acceptation of the term, was in London; in fact, he had retired from active service, and inhabited a small but pleasant house in the outskirts of the metropolis.
It was one of those old-fashioned cottage residences, with all sorts of odd places and corners about it, and a thriving garden full of fine old wood, such as are rather rare near to London, and which are daily becoming more rare, in consequence of the value of the land immediately contiguous to the metropolis not permitting large pieces to remain attached to small residences.
Captain Rathbone had an amiable family about him, such as he was and might well be proud of, and was living in as great a state of domestic felicity as this world could very well afford him.
It was to this gentleman, then, that Colonel Jeffery resolved upon going to lay all the circumstances before him concerning the possible and probable fate of poor Thornhill.
This distance was not so great but that he could walk it conveniently, and he did so, arriving towards the dusk of the evening, on the day following that which had witnessed his deeply interesting interview with Johanna Oakley in the Temple-gardens.
There is nothing on earth so delightfully refreshing, after a dusty and rather a long country walk, as to suddenly enter a well-kept and extremely verdant garden; and this was the case especially to the feelings of Colonel Jeffery, when he arrived at Lime Tree Lodge, the residence of Captain Rathbone.
He was met with a most cordial and frank welcome - a welcome which he expected, but which was none the less delightful on that account; and after sitting awhile with the family in the house, he and the captain strolled into the garden, and then Colonel Jeffery commenced with his revelation.
The captain, with very few interruptions, heard him to the end; and when he concluded by saying, 'And now I have come to ask your advice upon all these matters,' the captain immediately replied, in his warm, offhand manner, 'I'm afraid you won't find my advice of much importance; but I offer you my active co-operation in anything you think ought to be done or can be done in this affair, which, I assure you, deeply interests me, and gives me the greatest possible impulse to exertion. You have but to command me in the matter, and I am completely at your disposal.'
'I was quite certain you would say as much. But notwithstanding the manner in which you shrink from giving an opinion, I am anxious to know what you really think with regard to what are, you will allow, most extraordinary circumstances.'
'The most natural thing in the world,' said Captain Rathbone, 'at the first flush of the affair, seemed to be that we ought to look for your friend Thornhill at the point where he disappeared.'
'At the barber's in Fleet-street?'
'Precisely. Did he leave, or did he not?'
'Sweeney Todd says that he left him, and proceeded down the street towards the city, in pursuance of a direction he had given to Mr Oakley, the spectacle-maker, and that he saw him get into some sort of disturbance at the end of the market; but to put against that, we have the fact of the dog remaining by the barber's door, and his refusing to leave it on any amount of solicitation. Now the very fact that a dog could act in such a way proclaims an amount of sagacity that seems to tell loudly against the presumption that such a creature could make any mistake.'
'It does. What say you, now, to going into town tomorrow morning, and making a call at the barber's, without proclaiming we have any special errand except to be shaved and dressed? Do you think he would know you again?'
'Scarcely, in plain clothes; I was in my undress uniform when I called with the captain of the Neptune, so that his impression of me must be decidedly of a military character; and the probability is, that he would not know me at all in the clothes of a civilian. I like the idea of giving a call at the barber's.'
'Do you think your friend Thornhill was a man likely to talk about the valuable pearls he had in his possession?'
'I merely ask you, because they might have offered a great temptation; and if he has experienced any foul play at the hands of the barber, the idea of becoming possessed of such a valuable treasure might have been the inducement.'
'I do not think it probable, but it has struck me that, if we obtain any information whatever of Thornhill, it will be in consequence of these very pearls. They are of great value, and not likely to be overlooked; and yet, unless a customer be found for them, they are of no value at all; and nobody buys jewels of that character but from the personal vanity of making, of course, some public display of them.'
'That is true; and so, from hand to hand, we might trace those pearls until we come to the individual who must have had them from Thornhill himself, and who might be forced to account most strictly for the manner in which they came into his possession.'
After some more desultory conversation upon the subject, it was agreed that Colonel Jeffery should take a bed there for the night at Lime Tree Lodge, and that, in the morning, they should both start for London, and, disguising themselves as respectable citizens, make some attempts, by talking about jewels and precious stones, to draw out the barber into a confession that he had something of the sort to dispose of; and, moreover, they fully intended to take away the dog, with the care of which Captain Rathbone charged himself.
We may pass over the pleasant, social evening which the colonel passed with the amiable family of the Rathbones, and skipping likewise a conversation of some strange and confused dreams which Jeffery had during the night concerning his friend Thornhill, we will presume that both the colonel and the captain have breakfasted, and that they have proceeded to London and are at the shop of a clothier in the neighbourhood of the Strand, in order to procure coats, wigs, and hats, that should disguise them for their visit to Sweeney Todd.
Then, arm-in-arm, they walked towards Fleet-street, and soon arrived opposite the little shop within which there appears to be so much mystery.
'The dog you perceive is not here,' said the colonel; 'I had my suspicions, however, when I passed with Johanna Oakley that something was amiss with him, and I have no doubt but that the rascally barber has fairly compassed his destruction.'
'If the barber be innocent,' said Captain Rathbone, 'you must admit that it would be one of the most confoundedly annoying things in the world to have a dog continually at his door assuming such an aspect of accusation, and in that case I can scarcely wonder at his putting the creature out of the way.
'No, presuming upon his innocence, certainly; but we will say nothing about all that, and remember we must come in as perfect strangers, knowing nothing whatever of the affair of the dog, and presuming nothing about the disappearance of anyone in this locality.'
'Agreed, come on; if he should see us through the window, hanging about at all or hesitating, his suspicions will be at once awakened, and we shall do no good.'
They both entered the shop and found Sweeney Todd wearing an extraordinary singular appearance, for there was a black patch over one of his eyes, which was kept in its place by a green ribbon that went round his head, so that he looked more fierce and diabolical than ever; and having shaved off a small whisker that he used to wear, his countenance, although to the full as hideous as ever, certainly had a different character of ugliness to that which had before characterised it, and attracted the attention of the colonel.
That gentleman would hardly have known him again anywhere but in his own shop, and when we come to consider Sweeney's adventures of the preceding evening, we shall not feel surprised that he saw the necessity of endeavouring to make as much change in his appearance as possible for fear he should come across any of the parties who had chased him, and who, for all he knew to the contrary, might, quite unsuspectingly, drop in to be shaved in the course of the morning, perhaps to retail at that acknowledged mart for all sorts of gossip - a barber's shop - some of the very incidents which he was so well qualified himself to relate.
'Shaved and dressed, gentlemen,' said Sweeney Todd, as his customers made their appearance.
'Shaved only,' said Captain Rathbone, who had agreed to be the principal spokesman, in case Sweeney Todd should have any reminiscence of the colonel's voice, and so suspect him.
'Pray be seated,' said Sweeney Todd to Colonel Jeffery. 'I'll soon polish off your friend, sir, and then I'll begin upon you. Would you like to see the morning paper, sir? I was just looking myself, sir, at a most mysterious circumstance, if it's true, but you can't believe, you know, all that is put in the papers.'
'Thank you - thank you,' said the colonel.
Captain Rathbone sat down to be shaved, for he had purposely omitted that operation at home, in order that it should not appear a mere excuse to get into Sweeney Todd's shop.
'Why, sir,' continued Sweeney Todd, 'as I was saying, it is a most remarkable circumstance.
'Yes, sir, an old gentleman of the name of Fidler had been to receive a sum of money at the west-end of the town, and has never been heard of since; that was only yesterday, sir, and there is a description of him in the papers of today.'
'"A snuff-coloured coat, and velvet smalls - black velvet, I should have said - silk stockings, and silver shoe-buckles, and a golden-headed cane, with W. D. F. upon it, meaning William Dumpledown Fidler" - a most mysterious affair, gentlemen.'
A sort of groan came from the corner of the shop, and, on the impulse of the moment, Colonel Jeffery sprang to his feet, exclaiming, 'What's that -what's that?'
'Oh, it's only my apprentice, Tobias Ragg. He has got a pain in his stomach from eating too many of Lovett's pork pies. Ain't that it, Tobias, my bud?'
'Yes, sir,' said Tobias, with another groan.
'Oh, indeed,' said the colonel, 'it ought to make him more careful for the future.'
'It's to be hoped it will, sir; Tobias, do you hear what the gentleman says: it ought to make you more careful in future. I am too indulgent to you, that's the fact. Now, sir, I believe you are as clean shaved as ever you were in your life.'
'Why, yes,' said Captain Rathbone, 'I think that will do very well, and now, Mr Green,' - addressing the colonel by that assumed name - 'and now, Mr Green, be quick, or we shall be too late for the duke, and so lose the sale of some of our jewels.'
'We shall indeed,' said the colonel, 'if we don't mind. We sat too long over our breakfast at the inn, and his grace is too rich and too good a customer to lose - he don't mind what price he gives for things that take his fancy, or the fancy of his duchess.'
'Jewel merchants, gentlemen, I presume,' said Sweeney Todd.
'Yes, we have been in that line for some time; and by one of us trading in one direction, and the other in another, we manage extremely well, because we exchange what suits our different customers, and keep up two distinct connections.'
'A very good plan,' said Sweeney Todd. 'I'll be as quick as I can with you, sir. Dealing in jewels is better than shaving.'
'I dare say it is.'
'Of course it is, sir; here have I been slaving for some years in this shop, and not done much good - that is to say, when I talk of not having done much good, I admit I have made enough to retire upon, quietly and comfortably, and I mean to do so very shortly. There you are, sir, shaved with celerity you seldom meet with, and as clean as possible, for the small charge of one penny. Thank you, gentlemen - there's your change; good-morning.'
They had no resource but to leave the shop; and when they had gone, Sweeney Todd, as he stropped the razor he had been using upon his hand, gave a most diabolical grin, muttering,-
'Clever - very ingenious - but it wouldn't do. Oh dear no, not at all! I am not so easily taken in - diamond merchants, ah! ah! and no objection, of course, to deal in pearls - a good jest that, truly a capital jest. If I had been accustomed to be so defeated, I had not now been here a living man. Tobias, Tobias, I say!'
'Yes, sir,' said the lad, dejectedly.
'Have you forgotten your mother's danger in case you breathe a syllable of anything that has occurred here, or that you think has occurred here, or so much as dream of?'
'No,' said the boy, 'indeed I have not. I never can forget it, if I were to live a hundred years.'
'That's well, prudent, excellent, Tobias. Go out now, and if those two persons who were here last waylay you in the street, let them say what they will, and do you reply to them as shortly as possible; but be sure you come back to me quickly, and report what they do say. They turned to the left, towards the city - now be off with you.'
'It's of no use,' said Colonel Jeffery to the captain; 'the barber is either too cunning for me, or he is really innocent of all participation in the disappearance of Thornhill.'
'And yet there are suspicious circumstances. I watched his countenance when the subject of jewels was mentioned, and I saw a sudden change come over it; it was but momentary, but still it gave me a suspicion that he knew something which caution alone kept within the recesses of his breast. The conduct of the boy, too, was strange; and then again, if he has the string of pearls, their value would give him all the power to do what he says he is about to do -viz., to retire from business with an independence.'
'Hush! there did you see the lad?'
'Yes; why it's the barber's boy.'
'It is the same lad he called Tobias - shall we speak to him?'
'Let's make a bolder push, and offer him an ample reward for any information he may give us.'
They both walked up to Tobias, who was listlessly walking along the streets, and when they reached him, they were both struck with the appearance of care and sadness that was upon the boy's face.
He looked perfectly haggard, and careworn - an expression sad to see upon the face of one so young, and, when the colonel accosted him in a kindly tone he seemed so unnerved that tears immediately darted to his eyes, although at the same time he shrank back as if alarmed.
'My lad,' said the colonel, 'you reside, I think, with Sweeney Todd, the barber. Is he not a kind master to you that you seem so unhappy?'
'No, no, that is, I mean yes, I have nothing to tell. Let me pass on.'
'What is the meaning of this confusion?'
'I say, my lad, here is a guinea for you, if you will tell us what became of the man of a seafaring appearance, who came with a dog to your master's house, some days since to be shaved.'
'I cannot tell you,' said the boy, 'I cannot tell you, what I do not know.'
'But, you have some idea, probably. Come, we will make it worth your while, and thereby protect you from Sweeney Todd. We have the power to do so, and all the inclination; but you must be quite explicit with us, and tell us frankly what you think, and what you know concerning the man in whose fate we are interested.'
'I know nothing, I think nothing,' said Tobias. 'Let me go, I have nothing to say, except that he was shaved, and went away.'
'But how came he to leave his dog behind him?'
'I cannot tell, I know nothing.'
'It is evident that you do know something, but hesitate either from fear or some other motive to tell it; as you are inaccessible to fair means, we must resort to others, and you shall at once come before a magistrate, which will force you to speak out.'
'Do with me what you will,' said Tobias, 'I cannot help it. I have nothing to say to you, nothing whatever. Oh, my poor mother, if it were not for you -'
'Nothing! nothing! nothing!'
It was but a threat of the colonel to take the boy before a magistrate, for he really had no grounds for so doing; and if the boy chose to keep a secret, if he had one, not all the magistrates in the world could force words from his lips that he felt not inclined to utter; and so, after one more effort, they felt that they must leave him.
'Boy,' said the colonel, 'you are young, and cannot well judge of the consequences of particular lines of conduct; you ought to weigh well what you are about, and hesitate long before you determine keeping dangerous secrets; we can convince you that we have the power of completely protecting you from all that Sweeney Todd could possibly attempt. Think again, for this is an opportunity of saving yourself perhaps from much future misery that may never arise again.'
'I have nothing to say,' said the boy, 'I have nothing to say.'
He uttered these words with such an agonised expression of countenance, that they were both convinced he had something to say, and that, too, of the first importance - a something which would be valuable to them in the way of information, extremely valuable probably, and yet which they felt the utter impossibility of wringing from him.
They were compelled to leave him, and likewise with the additional mortification, that, far from making any advance in the matter, they had placed themselves and their cause in a much worse position, in so far as they had awakened all Sweeney Todd's suspicions if he were guilty, and yet advanced not one step in the transaction.
And then to make matters all the more perplexing, there was still the possibility that they might be altogether upon a wrong scent, and that the barber of Fleet-street had no more to do with the disappearance of Mr Thornhill than they had themselves.
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