Diadema, wife of Jot Bascom, was sitting at the window of the village watch-tower, so called because it commanded a view of nearly everything that happened in Pleasant River; those details escaping the physical eye being supplied by faith and imagination working in the light of past experience. She sat in the chair of honor, the chair of choice, the high-backed rocker by the southern window, in which her husband’s mother, old Mrs. Bascom, had sat for thirty years, applying a still more powerful intellectual telescope to the doings of her neighbors. Diadema’s seat had formerly been on the less desirable side of the little light-stand, where Priscilla Hollis was now installed.
Mrs. Bascom was at work on a new fore-room rug, the former one having been transferred to Miss Hollis’s chamber; for, as the teacher at the brick schoolhouse, a graduate of a Massachusetts normal school and the daughter of a deceased judge, she was a boarder of considerable consequence. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and the two women were alone. It was a pleasant, peaceful sitting-room, as neat as wax in every part. The floor was covered by a cheerful patriotic rag carpet woven entirely of red, white, and blue rags, and protected in various exposed localities by button rugs—red, white, and blue disks superimposed one on the other.
Diadema Bascom was a person of some sentiment. When her old father, Captain Dennett, was dying, he drew a wallet from under his pillow, and handed her a twenty-dollar bill to get something to remember him by. This unwonted occurrence burned itself into the daughter’s imagination, and when she came as a bride to the Bascom house she refurnished the sitting-room as a kind of monument to the departed soldier, whose sword and musket were now tied to the wall with neatly hemmed bows of bright red cotton.
The chair cushions were of red-and-white glazed patch, the turkey wings that served as hearth brushes were hung against the white-painted chimney-piece with blue skirt braid, and the white shades were finished with home-made scarlet “tossels.” A little whatnot in one corner was laden with the trophies of battle. The warrior’s brass buttons were strung on a red picture cord and hung over his daguerreotype on the upper shelf; there was a tarnished shoulder strap, and a flattened bullet that the captain’s jealous contemporaries swore he never stopped, unless he got it in the rear when he was flying from the foe. There was also a little tin canister in which a charge of powder had been sacredly preserved. The scoffers, again, said that “the cap’n put it in his musket when he went into the war, and kep’ it there till he come out.” These objects were tastefully decorated with the national colors. In fact, no modern æsthete could have arranged a symbolic symphony of grief and glory with any more fidelity to an ideal than Diadema Bascom, in working out her scheme of red, white, and blue.
Rows of ripening tomatoes lay along the ledges of the windows, and a tortoiseshell cat snoozed on one of the broad sills. The tall clock in the corner ticked peacefully. Priscilla Hollis never tired of looking at the jolly red-cheeked moon, the group of stars on a blue ground, the trig little ship, the old house, and the jolly moon again, creeping one after another across the open space at the top.
Jot Bascom was out, as usual, gathering statistics of the last horse trade; little Jot was building “stickin’” houses in the barn; Priscilla was sewing long strips for braiding; while Diadema sat at the drawing-in frame, hook in hand, and a large basket of cut rags by her side.
Not many weeks before she had paid one of her periodical visits to the attic. No housekeeper in Pleasant River save Mrs. Jonathan Bascom would have thought of dusting a garret, washing the window and sweeping down the cobwebs once a month, and renewing the camphor bags in the chests twice a year; but notwithstanding this zealous care the moths had made their way into one of her treasure-houses, the most precious of all—the old hair trunk that had belonged to her sister Lovice. Once ensconced there, they had eaten through its hoarded relics, and reduced the faded finery to a state best described by Diadema as “reg’lar riddlin’ sieves.” She had brought the tattered pile down into the kitchen, and had spent a tearful afternoon in cutting the good pieces from the perforated garments. Three heaped-up baskets and a full dish-pan were the result; and as she had snipped and cut and sorted, one of her sentimental projects had entered her mind and taken complete possession there.
“I declare,” she said, as she drew her hooking-needle in and out, “I wouldn’t set in the room with some folks and work on these pieces; for every time I draw in a scrap of cloth Lovice comes up to me for all the world as if she was settin’ on the sofy there. I ain’t told you my plan, Miss Hollis, and there ain’t many I shall tell; but this rug is going to be a kind of a hist’ry of my life and Lovey’s wrought in together, just as we was bound up in one another when she was alive. Her things and mine was laid in one trunk, and the moths sha’n’t cheat me out of ’em altogether. If I can’t look at ’em wet Sundays, and shake ’em out, and have a good cry over ’em, I’ll make ’em up into a kind of dumb show that will mean something to me, if it don’t to anybody else.
“We was the youngest of thirteen, Lovey and I, and we was twins. There’s never been more’n half o’ me left sence she died. We was born together, played and went to school together, got engaged and married together, and we all but died together, yet we wa’n’t a mite alike. There was an old lady come to our house once that used to say, ‘There’s sister Nabby, now: she’n’ I ain’t no more alike ’n if we wa’n’t two; she’s jest as dif’rent as I am t’other way.’ Well, I know what I want to put into my rag story, Miss Hollis, but I don’t hardly know how to begin.”
Priscilla dropped her needle, and bent over the frame with interest.
“A spray of two roses in the center—there’s the beginning; why, don’t you see, dear Mrs. Bascom?”
“Course I do,” said Diadema, diving to the bottom of the dish-pan. “I’ve got my start now, and don’t you say a word for a minute. The two roses grow out of one stalk; they’ll be Lovey and me, though I’m consid’able more like a potato blossom. The stalk’s got to be green, and here is the very green silk mother walked bride in, and Lovey and I had roundabouts of it afterwards. She had the chicken-pox when we was about four years old, and one of the first things I can remember is climbing up and looking over mother’s footboard at Lovey, all speckled. Mother had let her slip on her new green roundabout over her nightgown, just to pacify her, and there she set playing with the kitten Reuben Granger had brought her. He was only ten years old then, but he’d begun courting Lovice. The Grangers’ farm joined ours. They had eleven children, and mother and father had thirteen, and we was always playing together. Mother used to tell a funny story about that. We were all little young ones and looked pretty much alike, so she didn’t take much notice of us in the daytime when we was running out ’n’ in; but at night, when the turn-up bedstead in the kitchen was taken down and the trundle-beds were full, she used to count us over, to see if we were all there. One night, when she’d counted thirteen and set down to her sewing, father come in and asked if Moses was all right, for one of the neighbors had seen him playing side of the river about supper-time. Mother knew she’d counted us straight, but she went round with a candle to make sure. Now, Mr. Granger had a head as red as a sumac bush; and when she carried the candle close to the beds to take another tally, there was thirteen children, sure enough, but if there wa’n’t a red-headed Granger right in amongst our boys in the turn-up bedstead! While father set out on a hunt for our Moses, mother yanked the sleepy little red-headed Granger out o’ the middle and took him home, and father found Moses asleep on a pile of shavings under the joiner’s bench.
“They don’t have such families nowadays. One time when measles went all over the village, they never came to us, and Jabe Slocum said there wa’n’t enough measles to go through the Dennett family, so they didn’t start in on ’em. There, I ain’t going to finish the stalk; I’m going to draw in a little here and there all over the rug, while I’m in the sperit of plannin’ it, and then it will be plain work of matching colors and filling out.
“You see the stalk is mother’s dress, and the outside green of the moss roses is the same goods, only it’s our roundabouts. I meant to make ’em red, when I marked the pattern, and then fill out round ’em with a light color; but now I ain’t satisfied with anything but white, for nothing will do in the middle of the rug but our white wedding dresses. I shall have to fill in dark, then, or mixed. Well, that won’t be out of the way, if it’s going to be a true rag story; for Lovey’s life went out altogether, and mine hasn’t been any too gay.
“I’ll begin Lovey’s rose first. She was the prettiest and the liveliest girl in the village, and she had more beaux than you could shake a stick at. I generally had to take what she left over. Reuben Granger was crazy about her from the time she was knee-high; but when he went away to Bangor to study for the ministry, the others had it all their own way. She was only seventeen; she hadn’t ever experienced religion, and she was mischievous as a kitten.
“You remember you laughed, this morning, when Mr. Bascom told about Hogshead Jowett? Well, he used to want to keep company with Lovey; but she couldn’t abide him, and whenever he come to court her she clim’ into a hogshead, and hid till after he’d gone. The boys found it out, and used to call him ‘Hogshead Jowett.’ He was the biggest fool in Foxboro’ Four Corners; and that’s saying consid’able, for Foxboro’ is famous for its fools, and always has been. There was thirteen of ’em there one year. They say a man come out from Portland, and when he got as fur as Foxboro’ he kep’ inquiring the way to Dunstan; and I declare if he didn’t meet them thirteen fools, one after another, standing in their front dooryards ready to answer questions. When he got to Dunstan, says he, ‘For the Lord’s sake, what kind of a village is it that I’ve just went through? Be they all fools there?’
“Hogshead was scairt to death whenever he come to see Lovice. One night, when he’d been there once, and she’d hid, as she always done, he come back a second time, and she went to the door, not mistrusting it was him. ‘Did you forget anything?’ says she, sparkling out at him through a little crack. He was all taken aback by seeing her, and he stammered out, ‘Yes, I forgot my han’k’chief; but it don’t make no odds, for I didn’t pay out but fifteen cents for it two year ago, and I don’t make no use of it ’ceptins to wipe my nose on.’ How we did laugh over that! Well, he had a conviction of sin pretty soon afterwards, and p’r’aps it helped his head some; at any rate, he quit farming, and become a Bullockite preacher.
“It seems odd, when Lovice wa’n’t a perfessor herself, she should have drawed the most pious young men in the village, but she did; she had good Orthodox beaux, Free and Close Baptists, Millerites and Adventists, all on her string together; she even had one Cochranite, though the sect had mostly died out. But when Reuben Granger come home, a full-feathered-out minister, he seemed to strike her fancy as he never had before, though they were always good friends from children. He had light hair and blue eyes and fair skin (his business being under cover kep’ him bleached out), and he and Lovey made the prettiest couple you ever see; for she was dark complexioned, and her cheeks no otherways than scarlit the whole durin’ time. She had a change of heart that winter; in fact, she had two of ’em, for she changed hers for Reuben’s, and found a hope at the same time. ’Twas a good, honest conversion, too, though she did say to me she was afraid that if Reuben hadn’t taught her what love was or might be, she’d never have found out enough about it to love God as she’d ought to.
“There, I’ve begun both roses, and hers is ’bout finished. I sha’n’t have more’n enough white alapaca. It’s lucky the moths spared one breadth of the wedding dresses; we was married on the same day, you know, and dressed just alike. Jot wa’n’t quite ready to be married, for he wa’n’t any more forehanded ’bout that than he was ’bout other things; but I told him Lovey and I had kept up with each other from the start, and he’d got to fall into line or drop out of the percession. Now what next?”
“Wasn’t there anybody at the wedding but you and Lovice?” asked Priscilla, with an amused smile.
“Land, yes! The meeting-house was cram jam full. Oh, to be sure! I know what you’re driving at! Well, I have to laugh to think I should have forgot the husbands! They’ll have to be worked into the story, certain; but it’ll be consid’able of a chore, for I can’t make flowers out of coat and pants stuff, and there ain’t any more flowers on this branch, anyway.”
Diadema sat for a few minutes in rapt thought, and then made a sudden inspired dash upstairs, where Miss Hollis presently heard her rummaging in an old chest. She soon came down, triumphant.
“Wa’n’t it a providence I saved Jot’s and Reuben’s wedding ties! And here they are—one yellow and green mixed, and one brown. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to draw in a butterfly hovering over them two roses, and make it out of the neckties—green with brown spots. That’ll bring in the husbands; and land! I wouldn’t have either of ’em know it for the world. I’ll take a pattern of that lunar moth you pinned on the curtain yesterday.”
Miss Hollis smiled in spite of herself. “You have some very ingenious ideas and some very pretty thoughts, Mrs. Bascom, do you know it?”
“It’s the first time I ever heard tell of it,” said Diadema cheerfully. “Lovey was the pretty-spoken, pretty-appearing one; I was always plain and practical. While I think of it, I’ll draw in a little mite of this red into my carnation pink. It was a red scarf Reuben brought Lovey from Portland. It was the first thing he ever give her, and aunt Hitty said if one of the Abel Grangers give away anything that cost money, it meant business. That was all fol-de-rol, for there never was a more liberal husband, though he was a poor minister; but then they always are poor, without they’re rich; there don’t seem to be any half-way in ministers.
“We was both lucky that way. There ain’t a stingy bone in Jot Bascom’s body. He don’t make much money, but what he does make goes into the bureau drawer, and the one that needs it most takes it out. He never asks me what I done with the last five cents he give me. You’ve never been married, Miss Hollis, and you ain’t engaged, so you don’t know much about it; but I tell you there’s a heap o’ foolishness talked about husbands. If you get the one you like yourself, I don’t know as it matters if all the other women folks in town don’t happen to like him as well as you do; they ain’t called on to do that. They see the face he turns to them, not the one he turns to you. Jot ain’t a very good provider, nor he ain’t a man that’s much use round a farm, but he’s such a fav’rite I can’t blame him. There’s one thing: when he does come home he’s got something to say, and he’s always as lively as a cricket, and smiling as a basket of chips. I like a man that’s good comp’ny, even if he ain’t so forehanded. There ain’t anything specially lovable about forehandedness, when you come to that. I shouldn’t ever feel drawed to a man because he was on time with his work. He’s got such pleasant ways, Jot has! The other afternoon he didn’t get home early enough to milk; and after I done the two cows, I split the kindling and brought in the wood, for I knew he’d want to go to the tavern and tell the boys ’bout the robbery up to Boylston. There ain’t anybody but Jot in this village that has wit enough to find out what’s going on, and tell it in an int’resting way round the tavern fire. And he can do it without being full of cider, too; he don’t need any apple juice to limber his tongue!
“Well, when he come in, he sees the pails of milk, and the full wood-box, and the supper laid out under the screen cloth on the kitchen table, and he come up to me at the sink, and says he, ‘Diademy, you’re the best wife in this county, and the brightest jewel in my crown—that’s what you are!’ (He got that idee out of a duet he sings with Almiry Berry.) Now I’d like to know whether that ain’t pleasanter than ’tis to have a man do all the shed ’n’ barn work up smart, and then set round the stove looking as doleful as a last year’s bird’s-nest? Take my advice, Miss Hollis: get a good provider if you can, but anyhow try to find you a husband that’ll keep on courting a little now and then, when he ain’t too busy; it smooths things consid’able round the house.
“There, I got so int’rested in what I was saying, I’ve went on and finished the carnation, and some of the stem, too. Now what comes next? Why, the thing that happened next, of course, and that was little Jot.
“I’ll work in a bud on my rose and one on Lovey’s, and my bud’ll be made of Jot’s first trousers. The goods ain’t very appropriate for a rosebud, but it’ll be mostly covered with green on the outside, and it’ll have to do, for the idee is the most important thing in this rug. When I put him into pants, I hadn’t any cloth in the house, and it was such bad going Jot couldn’t get to Wareham to buy me anything; so I made ’em out of an old gray cashmere skirt, and lined ’em with flannel.”
“Buds are generally the same color as the roses, aren’t they?” ventured Priscilla.
“I don’t care if they be,” said Diadema obstinately. “What’s to hender this bud’s bein’ grafted on? Mrs. Granger was as black as an Injun, but the little Granger children were all red-headed, for they took after their father. But I don’t know; you’ve kind o’ got me out o’ conceit with it. I s’pose I could have taken a piece of his baby blanket; but the moths never et a mite o’ that, and it’s too good to cut up. There’s one thing I can do: I can make the bud with a long stem, and have it growing right up alongside of mine—would you?”
“No, it must be stalk of your stalk, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, so to speak. I agree with you, the idea is the first thing. Besides, the gray is a very light shade, and I dare say it will look like a bluish white.”
“I’ll try it and see; but I wish to the land the moths had eat the pinning-blanket, and then I could have used it. Lovey worked the scallops on the aidge for me. My grief! what int’rest she took in my baby clothes! Little Jot was born at Thanksgiving time, and she come over from Skowhegan, where Reuben was settled pastor of his first church. I shall never forget them two weeks to the last day of my life. There was deep snow on the ground. I had that chamber there, with the door opening into this setting-room. Mother and father Bascom kep’ out in the dining-room and kitchen, where the work was going on, and Lovey and the baby and me had the front part of the house to ourselves, with Jot coming in on tiptoe, heaping up wood in the fireplaces so ’t he ’most roasted us out. He don’t forget his chores in time o’ sickness.
“I never took so much comfort in all my days. Jot got one of the Billings girls to come over and help in the housework so ’t I could lay easy ’s long as I wanted to; and I never had such a rest before nor since. There ain’t any heaven in the book o’ Revelations that’s any better than them two weeks was. I used to lay quiet in my good feather bed, fingering the pattern of my best crochet quilt, and looking at the fire-light shining on Lovey and the baby. She’d hardly leave him in the cradle a minute. When I didn’t want him in bed with me, she’d have him in her lap. Babies are common enough to most folks, but Lovey was diff’rent. She’d never had any experience with children, either, for we was the youngest in our family; and it wa’n’t long before we come near being the oldest, too, for mother buried seven of us before she went herself. Anyway, I never saw nobody else look as she done when she held my baby. I don’t mean nothing blasphemious when I say ’twas for all the world like your photograph of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“The nights come in early, so it was ’most dark at four o’clock. The little chamber was so peaceful! I could hear Jot rattling the milk-pails, but I’d draw a deep breath o’ comfort, for I knew the milk would be strained and set away without my stepping foot to the floor. Lovey used to set by the fire, with a tall candle on the light-stand behind her, and a little white knit cape over her shoulders. She had the pinkest cheeks, and the longest eyelashes, and a mouth like a little red buttonhole; and when she bent over the baby, and sung to him—though his ears wa’n’t open, I guess, for his eyes wa’n’t—the tears o’ joy used to rain down my cheeks. It was pennyrial hymns she used to sing mostly, and the one I remember best was:
“‘Daniel’s wisdom may I know, Stephen’s faith and spirit show; John’s divine communion feel, Moses’ meekness, Joshua’s zeal, Run like the unwearied Paul, Win the day and conquer all. “‘Mary’s love may I possess, Lydia’s tender-heartedness, Peter’s fervent spirit feel, James’s faith by works reveal, Like young Timothy may I Every sinful passion fly.’
“‘Oh, Diademy,’ she’d say, ‘you was always the best, and it’s nothing more’n right the baby should have come to you. P’r’aps God will think I’m good enough some time; and if he does, Diademy, I’ll offer up a sacrifice every morning and every evening. But I’m afraid,’ says she, ‘He thinks I can’t stand any more happiness, and be a faithful follower of the cross. The Bible says we’ve got to wade through fiery floods before we can enter the kingdom. I don’t hardly know how Reuben and I are going to find any to wade through; we’re both so happy, they’d have to be consid’able hot before we took notice, says she, with the dimples all breaking out in her cheek.
“And that was true as gospel. She thought everything Reuben done was just right, and he thought everything she done was just right. There wa’n’t nobody else; the world was all Reuben ’n’ all Lovey to them. If you could have seen her when she was looking for him to come from Skowhegan! She used to watch at the attic window; and when she seen him at the foot of the hill, she’d up like a squirrel, and run down the road without stopping for anything but to throw a shawl over her head. And Reuben would ketch her up as if she was a child, and scold her for not putting a hat on, and take her under his coat coming up the hill. They was a sight for the neighbors, I must confess, but it wa’n’t one you could hardly disapprove of neither. Aunt Hitty said it was tempting Providence and couldn’t last, and God would visit his wrath on ’em for making idols of sinful human flesh.
“She was right one way—it didn’t last; but nobody can tell me God was punishing of ’em for being too happy. I guess he ain’t got no objection to folks being happy here below, if they don’t forget it ain’t the whole story.
“Well, I must mark in a bud on Lovey’s stalk now, and I’m going to make it of her baby’s long white cloak. I earned the money for it myself, making coats, and put four yards of the finest cashmere into it; for three years after little Jot was born I went over to Skowhegan to help Lovey through her time o’ trial. Time o’ trial! I thought I was happy, but I didn’t know how to be as happy as Lovey did; I wa’n’t made on that pattern.
“When I first showed her the baby (it was a boy, same as mine), her eyes shone like two evening stars. She held up her weak arms, and gathered the little bundle o’ warm flannel into ’em; and when she got it close she shut her eyes and moved her lips, and I knew she was taking her lamb to the altar and off’ring it up as a sacrifice. Then Reuben come in. I seen him give one look at the two dark heads laying close together on the white piller, and then go down on his knees by the side of the bed. ’Twa’n’t no place for me; I went off, and left ’em together. We didn’t mistrust it then, but they only had three days more of happiness, and I’m glad I give ’em every minute.”
The room grew dusky as twilight stole gently over the hills of Pleasant River. Priscilla’s lip trembled; Diadema’s tears fell thick and fast on the white rosebud, and she had to keep wiping her eyes as she followed the pattern.
“I ain’t said as much as this about it for five years,” she went on, with a tell-tale quiver in her voice, “but now I’ve got going, I can’t stop. I’ll have to get the weight out o’ my heart somehow.
“Three days after I put Lovey’s baby into her arms the Lord called her home. ‘When I prayed so hard for this little new life, Reuben,’ says she, holding the baby as if she could never let it go, ‘I didn’t think I’d got to give up my own in place of it; but it’s the first fiery flood we’ve had, dear, and though it burns to my feet I’ll tread it as brave as I know how.’
“She didn’t speak a word after that; she just faded away like a snowdrop, hour by hour. And Reuben and I stared one another in the face as if we was dead instead of her, and we went about that house o’ mourning like sleep-walkers for days and days, not knowing whether we et or slept, or what we done.
“As for the baby, the poor little mite didn’t live many hours after its mother, and we buried ’em together. Reuben and I knew what Lovey would have liked. She gave her life for the baby’s, and it was a useless sacrifice, after all. No, it wa’n’t neither; it couldn’t have been! You needn’t tell me God’ll let such sacrifices as that come out useless! But anyhow, we had one coffin for ’em both, and I opened Lovey’s arms and laid the baby in ’em. When Reuben and I took our last look, we thought she seemed more’n ever like Mary, the mother of Jesus. There never was another like her, and there never will be. ‘Nonesuch,’ Reuben used to call her.”
There was silence in the room, broken only by the ticking of the old clock and the tinkle of a distant cowbell. Priscilla made an impetuous movement, flung herself down by the basket of rags, and buried her head in Diadema’s gingham apron.
“Dear Mrs. Bascom, don’t cry. I’m sorry, as the children say.”
“No, I won’t more’n a minute. Jot can’t stand it to see me give way. You go and touch a match to the kitchen fire, so ’t the kettle will be boiling, and I’ll have a minute to myself. I don’t know what the neighbors would think to ketch me crying over my drawing-in frame; but the spell’s over now, or ’bout over, and when I can muster up courage I’ll take the rest of the baby’s cloak and put a border of white everlastings round the outside of the rug. It’ll always mean the baby’s birth and Lovey’s death to me; but the flowers will remind me it’s life everlasting for both of ’em, and so it’s the most comforting end I can think of.”
It was indeed a beautiful rug when it was finished and laid in front of the sofa in the fore-room. Diadema was very choice of it. When company was expected, she removed it from its accustomed place, and spread it in a corner of the room where no profane foot could possibly tread on it. Unexpected callers were managed by a different method. If they seated themselves on the sofa, she would fear they did not “set easy” or “rest comfortable” there, and suggest their moving to the stuffed chair by the window. The neighbors thought this solicitude merely another sign of Diadema’s “p’ison neatness,” excusable in this case, as there was so much white in the new rug.
The fore-room blinds were ordinarily closed, and the chillness of death pervaded the sacred apartment; but on great occasions, when the sun was allowed to penetrate the thirty-two tiny panes of glass in each window, and a blaze was lighted in the fireplace, Miss Hollis would look in as she went upstairs, and muse a moment over the pathetic little romance of rags, the story of two lives worked into a bouquet of old-fashioned posies, whose gay tints were brought out by a setting of somber threads. Existence had gone so quietly in this remote corner of the world that all its important events, babyhood, childhood, betrothal, marriage, motherhood, with all their mysteries of love and life and death, were chronicled in this narrow space not two yards square.
Diadema came in behind the little school-teacher one afternoon.
“I cal’late,” she said, “that being kep’ in a dark room, and never being tread on, it will last longer ’n I do. If it does, Priscilla, you know that white crape shawl of mine I wear to meetings hot Sundays: that would make a second row of everlastings round the border. You could piece out the linings good and smooth on the under side, draw in the white flowers, and fill ’em round with black to set ’em off. The rug would be han’somer than ever then, and the story—would be finished.”
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