Windy McPherson's Son

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book II - Chapter 2

It was a wonderful place, that South Water Street in Chicago where Samcame to make his business start in the city, and it was proof of the dryunresponsiveness in him that he did not sense more fully its meaning andits message. All day the food stuff of a vast city flowed through thenarrow streets. Blue-shirted, broad-shouldered teamsters from the tops ofhigh piled wagons bawled at scurrying pedestrians. On the sidewalks inboxes, bags, and barrels, lay oranges from Florida and California, figsfrom Arabia, bananas from Jamaica, nuts from the hills of Spain and theplains of Africa, cabbages from Ohio, beans from Michigan, corn andpotatoes from Iowa. In December, fur-coated men hurried through theforests of northern Michigan gathering Christmas trees that found theirway to warm firesides through the street. And summer and winter a millionhens laid the eggs that were gathered there, and the cattle on a thousandhills sent their yellow butter fat packed in tubs and piled upon trucks toadd to the confusion.

Into this street Sam walked, thinking little of the wonder of these thingsand thinking haltingly, getting his sense of the bigness of it in dollarsand cents. Standing in the doorway of the commission house for which hewas to work, strong, well clad, able and efficient, he looked through thestreets, seeing and hearing the hurry and the roar and the shouting ofvoices, and then with a smile upon his lips went inside. In his brain wasan unexpressed thought. As the old Norse marauders looked at the citiessitting in their splendour on the Mediterranean so looked he. "What loot!"a voice within him said, and his brain began devising methods by which heshould get his share of it.

Years later, when Sam was a man of big affairs, he drove one day in acarriage through the streets and turning to his companion, a grey-haired,dignified Boston man who sat beside him, said, "I worked here once andused to sit on a barrel of apples at the edge of the sidewalk thinking howclever I was to make more money in one month than the man who raised theapples made in a year."

The Boston man, stirred by the sight of so much foodstuff and moved toepigram by his mood, looked up and down the street.

"The foodstuff of an empire rattling o'er the stones," he said.

"I should have made more money here," answered Sam dryly.

The commission firm for which Sam worked was a partnership, not acorporation, and was owned by two brothers. Of the two Sam thought thatthe elder, a tall, bald, narrow-shouldered man, with a long narrow faceand a suave manner, was the real master, and represented most of theability in the partnership. He was oily, silent, tireless. All day he wentin and out of the office and warehouses and up and down the crowdedstreet, sucking nervously at an unlighted cigar. He was a great worker ina suburban church, but a shrewd and, Sam suspected, an unscrupulousbusiness man. Occasionally the minister or some of the women of thesuburban church came into the office to talk with him, and Sam was amusedat the thought that Narrow Face, when he talked of the affairs of thechurch, bore a striking resemblance to the brown-bearded minister of thechurch in Caxton.

The other brother was a far different sort, and, in business, Sam thought,a much inferior man. He was a heavy, broad-shouldered, square-faced man ofabout thirty, who sat in the office dictating letters and who stayed outtwo or three hours to lunch. He sent out letters signed by him on thefirm's stationery with the title of General Manager, and Narrow Face lethim do it. Broad Shoulders had been educated in New England and even afterseveral years away from his college seemed more interested in it than inthe welfare of the business. For a month or more in the spring he tookmost of the time of one of the two stenographers employed by the firmwriting letters to graduates of Chicago high schools to induce them to goEast to finish their education; and when a graduate of the college came toChicago seeking employment, he closed his desk and spent entire days goingfrom place to place, introducing, urging, recommending. Sam noticed,however, that when the firm employed a new man in their own office or onthe road it was Narrow-Face who chose the man.

Broad-shoulders had been a famous football player in his day and wore aniron brace on his leg. The offices, like most of the offices on thestreet, were dark and narrow, and smelled of decaying vegetables andrancid butter. Noisy Greek and Italian hucksters wrangled on the sidewalkin front, and among these went Narrow-Face hurrying about making deals.

In South Water Street Sam did well, multiplying his thirty-six hundreddollars by ten during the three years that he stayed there, or went outfrom there to towns and cities directing a part of the great flowing riverof foodstuff through his firm's front door.

With almost his first day on the street he began seeing on all sides ofhim opportunity for gain, and set himself industriously at work to get hishand upon money with which to take advantage of the chances that hethought lay so invitingly about. Within a year he had made much progress.From a woman on Wabash Avenue he got six thousand dollars, and he plannedand executed a coup that gave him the use of twenty thousand dollars thathad come as a legacy to his friend, the medical student, who lived at thePergrin house.

Sam had eggs and apples lying in warehouse against a rise; game, smuggledacross the state line from Michigan and Wisconsin, lay frozen in coldstorage tagged with his name and ready to be sold at a long profit tohotels and fashionable restaurants; and there were even secret bushels ofcorn and wheat lying in other warehouses along the Chicago River ready tobe thrown on the market at a word from him, or, the margins by which hekept his hold on the stuff not being forthcoming, at a word from a LaSalleStreet broker.

Getting the twenty thousand dollars out of the hands of the medicalstudent was a turning point in Sam's life. Sunday after Sunday he walkedwith Eckardt in the streets or loitered with him in the parks thinking ofthe money lying idle in the bank and of the deals he might be turning withit in the street or on the road. Daily he saw more clearly the power ofcash. Other commission merchants along South Water Street came runninginto the office of his firm with tense, anxious faces asking Narrow-Faceto help them over rough spots in the day's trading. Broad-Shoulders, whohad no business ability but who had married a rich woman, went on monthafter month taking half the profits brought in by the ability of his tall,shrewd brother, and Narrow-Face, who had taken a liking for Sam and whooccasionally stopped for a word with him, spoke of the matter often andeloquently.

"Spend your time with no one who hasn't money to help you," he said; "onthe road look for the men with money and then try to get it. That's allthere is to business--money-getting." And then looking across to the deskof his brother he would add, "I would kick half the men in business out ofit if I could, but I myself must dance to the tune that money plays."

One day Sam went to the office of an attorney named Webster, whosereputation for the shrewd drawing of contracts had come to him fromNarrow-Face.

"I want a contract drawn that will give me absolute control of twentythousand dollars with no risk on my part if I lose the money and nopromise to pay more than seven per cent if I do not lose," he said.

The attorney, a slender, middle-aged man with a swarthy skin and blackhair, put his hands on the desk before him and looked at the tall youngman.

"What collateral?" he asked.

Sam shook his head. "Can you draw such a contract that will be legal andwhat will it cost me?" he asked.

The lawyer laughed good naturedly. "I can draw it of course. Why not?"

Sam, taking a roll of bills from his pocket, counted the amount upon thetable.

"Who are you anyway?" asked Webster. "If you can get twenty thousand andwithout collateral you're worth knowing. I might be getting up a gang torob a mail train."

Sam did not answer. He put the contract in his pocket and went home to hisalcove at the Pergrins. He wanted to get by himself and think. He did notbelieve that he would by any chance lose Frank Eckardt's money, but heknew that Eckardt himself would draw back from the kind of deals that heexpected to make with the money, that they would frighten and alarm him,and he wondered if he was being honest.

In his own room after dinner Sam studied carefully the agreement drawn byWebster. It seemed to him to cover what he wanted covered, and having gotit well fixed in his mind he tore it up. "There is no use his knowing Ihave been to a lawyer," he thought guiltily.

Getting into bed, he began building plans for the future. With more thanthirty thousand dollars at his command he thought that he should be ableto make headway rapidly. "In my hands it will double itself every year,"he told himself and getting out of bed he drew a chair to the window andsat down, feeling strangely alive and awake like a young man in love. Hesaw himself going on and on, directing, managing, ruling men. It seemed tohim that there was nothing he could not do. "I will run factories andbanks and maybe mines and railroads," he thought and his mind leapedforward so that he saw himself, grey, stern, and capable, sitting at abroad desk high in a great stone building, a materialisation of JohnTelfer's word picture--"You will be a big man of dollars--it is plain."

And then into Sam's mind came another picture. He remembered a Saturdayafternoon when a young man had come running into the office on South WaterStreet, a young man who owed Narrow-Face a sum of money and could not payit. He remembered the unpleasant tightening of the mouth and the suddenshrewd hard look in his employer's long narrow face. He had not heard muchof the talk, but he was aware of a strained pleading quality in the voiceof the young man who had said over and over slowly and painfully, "But,man, my honour is at stake," and of a coldness in the answering voicereplying persistently, "With me it is not a matter of honour but ofdollars, and I am going to get them."

From the alcove window Sam looked out upon a vacant lot covered withpatches of melting snow. Beyond the lot facing him stood a flat building,and the snow, melting on the roof, made a little stream that ran down somehidden pipe and rattled out upon the ground. The noise of the fallingwater and the sound of distant footsteps going homeward through thesleeping city brought back thoughts of other nights when as a boy inCaxton he had sat thus, thinking disconnected thoughts.

Without knowing it Sam was fighting one of the real battles of his life, abattle in which the odds were very much against the quality in him thatgot him out of bed to look at the snow-clad vacant lot.

There was in the youth much of the brute trader, blindly intent upon gain;much of the quality that has given America so many of its so-called greatmen. It was the quality that had sent him in secret to Lawyer Webster toprotect himself without protecting the simple credulous young medicalstudent, and that had made him say as he came home with the contract inhis pocket, "I will do what I can," when in truth he meant, "I will getwhat I can."

There may be business men in America who do not get what they can, whosimply love power. One sees men here and there in banks, at the heads ofgreat industrial trusts, in factories and in great mercantile houses ofwhom one would like to think thus. They are the men who one dreams havehad an awakening, who have found themselves; they are the men hopefulthinkers try to recall again and again to the mind.

To these men America is looking. It is asking them to keep the faith, tostand themselves up against the force of the brute trader, the dollar man,the man who with his one cunning wolf quality of acquisitiveness has toolong ruled the business of the nation.

I have said that the sense of equity in Sam fought an unequal battle. Hewas in business, and young in business, in a day when all America wasseized with a blind grappling for gain. The nation was drunk with it,trusts were being formed, mines opened; from the ground spurted oil andgas; railroads creeping westward opened yearly vast empires of new land.To be poor was to be a fool; thought waited, art waited; and men at theirfiresides gathered their children around them and talked glowingly of menof dollars, holding them up as prophets fit to lead the youth of the youngnation.

Sam had in him the making of the new, the commanding man of business. Itwas that quality in him that made him sit by the window thinking beforegoing to the medical student with the unfair contract, and the samequality had sent him forth night after night to walk alone in the streetswhen other young men went to theatres or to walk with girls in the park.He had, in truth, a taste for the lonely hours when thought grows. He wasa step beyond the youth who hurries to the theatre or buries himself instories of love or adventure. He had in him something that wanted achance.

In the flat building across the vacant lot a light appeared at a windowand through the lighted window he saw a man clad in pajamas who propped asheet of music against a dressing-table and who had a shining silver hornin his hand. Sam watched, filled with mild curiosity. The man, notreckoning on an onlooker at so late an hour, began an elaborate andamusing schedule of personation. He opened the window, put the horn to hislips and then turning bowed before the lighted room as before an audience.He put his hand to his lips and blew kisses about, then put the horn tohis lips and looked again at the sheet of music.

The note that came out of the window on the still air was a failure, itflattened into a squawk. Sam laughed and pulled down the window. Theincident had brought back to his mind another man who bowed to a crowd andblew upon a horn. Getting into bed he pulled the covers about him and wentto sleep. "I will get Frank's money if I can," he told himself, settlingthe matter that had been in his mind. "Most men are fools and if I do notget his money some other man will."

On the next afternoon Eckardt had lunch down town with Sam. Together theywent to a bank where Sam showed the profits of deals he had made and thegrowth of his bank account, going afterward into South Water Street whereSam talked glowingly of the money to be made by a shrewd man who knew theways of the street and had a head upon his shoulders.

"That's just it," said Frank Eckardt, falling quickly into the trap Samhad set, and hungering for profits; "I have money but no head on myshoulders for using it. I wish you would take it and see what you can do."

With a thumping heart Sam went home across the city to the Pergrin house,Eckardt beside him in the elevated train. In Sam's room the agreement waswritten out by Sam and signed by Eckardt. At dinner time they had thedrygoods buyer in to sign as witness.

And the agreement turned out to Eckardt's advantage. In no year did Samreturn him less than ten per cent, and in the end gave back the principalmore than doubled so that Eckardt was able to retire from the practice ofmedicine and live upon the interest of his capital in a village nearTiffin, Ohio.

With the thirty thousand dollars in his hands Sam began to reach out andextend the scope of his ventures. He bought and sold constantly, not onlyeggs, butter, apples, and grain, but also houses and building lots.Through his head marched long rows of figures. Deals worked themselves outin detail in his brain as he went about town drinking with young men, orsat at dinner in the Pergrin house. He even began working over in his headvarious schemes for getting into the firm by which he was employed, andthought that he might work upon Broad-Shoulders, getting hold of hisinterest and forcing himself into control. And then, the fear of NarrowFace holding him back and his growing success in deals keeping his mindoccupied, he was suddenly confronted by an opportunity that changedentirely the plans he was making for himself.

Through Jack Prince's suggestion Colonel Tom Rainey of the great RaineyArms Company sent for him and offered him a position as buyer of all thematerials used in their factories.

It was the kind of connection Sam had unconsciously been seeking--acompany, strong, old, conservative, known throughout the world. There was,in the talk with Colonel Tom, a hint of future opportunities to get stockin the company and perhaps to become eventually an official--these thingswere of course remote--to be dreamed of and worked toward--the companymade it a part of its policy.

Sam said nothing, but already he had decided to accept the place, and wasthinking of a profitable arrangement touching percentages on the amountsaved in buying that had worked out so well for him during his years withFreedom Smith.

Sam's work for the firearms company took him off the road and confined himto an office all day long. In a way he regretted this. The complaints hehad heard among travelling men in country hotels with regard to thehardship of travel meant nothing to his mind. Any kind of travel was akeen pleasure to him. Against the hardships and discomforts he balancedthe tremendous advantages of seeing new places and faces and getting alook into many lives, and he looked back with a kind of retrospective joyon the three years of hurrying from place to place, catching trains, andtalking with chance acquaintances met by the way. Also, the years on theroad had given him many opportunities for secret and profitable deals ofhis own.

Over against these advantages the place at Rainey's threw him into closeand continuous association with men of big affairs. The offices of theArms Company occupied an entire floor of one of Chicago's newest andbiggest skyscrapers and millionaire stockholders and men high in theservice of the state and of the government at Washington came in and wentout at the door. Sam looked at them closely. He wanted to have a tilt withthem and try if his Caxton and South Water Street shrewdness would keepthe head upon his shoulders in LaSalle Street. The opportunity seemed tohim a big one and he went about his work quietly and ably, intent uponmaking the most of it.

The Rainey Arms Company, at the time of Sam's coming with it, was stilllargely owned by the Rainey family, father and daughter. Colonel Rainey, agrey-whiskered military looking man with a paunch, was the president andlargest individual stockholder. He was a pompous, swaggering old fellowwith a habit of making the most trivial statement with the air of a judgepronouncing the death sentence, and sat dutifully at his desk day afterday looking very important and thoughtful, smoking long black cigars andsigning personally piles of letters brought him by the heads of variousdepartments. He looked upon himself as a silent but very important spokein the government at Washington and every day issued many orders which themen at the heads of departments received with respect and disregarded insecret. Twice he had been prominently mentioned in connection with cabinetpositions in the national government, and in talks with his cronies atclubs and restaurants he gave the impression of having actually refused anoffer of appointment on both occasions.

Having got himself established as a factor in the management of thebusiness, Sam found many things that surprised him. In every company ofwhich he knew there was some one man to whom all looked for guidance, whoat critical moments became dominant, saying "Do this, or that," and makingno explanations. In the Rainey Company he found no such man, but, instead,a dozen strong departments, each with its own head and each more or lessindependent of the others.

Sam lay in his bed at night and went about in the evening thinking of thisand of its meaning. Among the department heads there was a great deal ofloyalty and devotion to Colonel Tom, and he thought that among them were afew men who were devoted to other interests than their own.

At the same time he told himself there was something wrong. He himself hadno such feeling of loyalty and although he was willing to give lip serviceto the resounding talk of the colonel about the fine old traditions of thecompany, he could not bring himself to a belief in the idea of conductinga vast business on a system founded upon lip service to traditions, orupon loyalty to an individual.

"There must be loose ends lying about everywhere," he thought and followedthe thought with another. "A man will come along, pick up these looseends, and run the whole shop. Why not I?"

The Rainey Arms Company had made its millions for the Rainey and Whittakerfamilies during the Civil War. Whittaker had been an inventor, making oneof the first practical breech-loading guns, and the original Rainey hadbeen a dry-goods merchant in an Illinois town who backed the inventor.

It proved itself a rare combination. Whittaker developed into a wonderfulshop manager for his day, and, from the first, stayed at home buildingrifles and making improvements, enlarging the plant, getting out thegoods. The drygoods merchant scurried about the country, going toWashington and to the capitals of the individual states, pulling wires,appealing to patriotism and state pride, taking big orders at fat prices.

In Chicago there is a tradition that more than once he went south of theDixie line and that following these trips thousands of Rainey-Whittakerrifles found their way into the hands of Confederate soldiers, but thisstory which increased Sam's respect for the energetic little drygoodsmerchant, Colonel Tom, his son, indignantly denied. In reality Colonel Tomwould have liked to think of the first Rainey as a huge, Jove-like god ofarms. Like Windy McPherson of Caxton, given a chance, he would haveinvented a new ancestor.

After the Civil War, and Colonel Tom's growing to manhood, the Rainey andWhittaker fortunes were merged into one through the marriage of JaneWhittaker, the last of her line, to the only surviving Rainey, and uponher death her fortune, grown to more than a million, stood in the name ofSue Rainey, twenty-six, the only issue of the marriage.

From the first day, Sam began to forge ahead in the Rainey Company. In thebuying end he found a rich field for spectacular money saving and moneymaking and made the most of it. The position as buyer had for ten yearsbeen occupied by a distant cousin to Colonel Tom, now dead. Whether thecousin was a fool or a knave Sam could never quite decide and did notgreatly care, but after he had got the situation in hand he felt that theman must have cost the company a tremendous sum, which _he_ intended tosave.

Sam's arrangement with the company gave him, besides a fair salary, halfhe saved in the fixed prices of standard materials. These prices had stoodfixed for years and Sam went into them, cutting right and left, and makingfor himself during his first year twenty-three thousand dollars. At theend of the year, when the directors asked to have an adjustment made andthe percentage contract annulled, he got a generous slice of companystock, the respect of Colonel Tom Rainey and the directors, the fear ofsome of the department heads, the loyal devotion of others, and the titleof Treasurer of the company.

The Rainey Arms Company was in truth living largely upon the reputationbuilt up for it by the first pushing energetic Rainey, and the inventivegenius of his partner, Whittaker. Under Colonel Tom it had found newconditions and new competition which he had ignored, or met in a halfhearted way, standing on its reputation, its financial strength, and onthe glory of its past achievements. Dry rot ate at its heart. The damagedone was not great, but was growing greater. The heads of the departments,in whose hands so much of the running of the business lay, were many ofthem incompetent men with nothing to commend them but long years ofservice. And in the treasurer's office sat a quiet young man, barelyturned twenty, who had no friends, wanted his own way, and who shook hishead over the office traditions and was proud of his unbelief.

Seeing the absolute necessity of working through Colonel Tom, and having ahead filled with ideas of things he wanted done, Sam began working to getsuggestions into the older man's mind. Within a month after his elevationthe two men were lunching together daily and Sam was spending many extrahours behind closed doors in Colonel Tom's office.

Although American business and manufacturing had not yet achieved themodern idea of efficiency in shop and office management, Sam had many ofthese ideas in his mind and expounded them tirelessly to Colonel Tom. Hehated waste; he cared nothing for company tradition; he had no idea, asdid the heads of other departments, of getting into a comfortable berthand spending the rest of his days there, and he was bent on managing thegreat Rainey Company, if not directly, then through Colonel Tom, who, hefelt, was putty in his hands.

From his new position as treasurer Sam did not drop his work as buyer,but, after a talk with Colonel Tom, merged the two departments, put incapable assistants of his own, and went on with his work of effacing thetracks of the cousin. For years the company had been overpaying forinferior material. Sam put his own material inspectors into the west sidefactories and brought several big Pennsylvania steel companies scurryingto Chicago to make restitution. The restitution was stiff, but whenColonel Tom was appealed to, Sam went to lunch with him, bought a bottleof wine, and stiffened his back.

One afternoon in a room in the Palmer House a scene was played out thatfor days stayed in Sam's mind as a kind of realisation of the part hewanted to play in the business world. The president of a lumber companytook Sam into the room, and, laying five one thousand dollar bills upon atable, walked to the window and stood looking out.

For a moment Sam stood looking at the money on the table and at the backof the man by the window, burning with indignation. He felt that he shouldlike to take hold of the man's throat and press as he had once pressed onthe throat of Windy McPherson. And then a cold gleam coming into his eyeshe cleared his throat and said, "You are short here; you will have tobuild this pile higher if you expect to interest me."

The man by the window shrugged his shoulders--he was a slender, younglooking man in a fancy waistcoat--and then turning and taking a roll ofbills from his pocket he walked to the table, facing Sam.

"I shall expect you to be reasonable," he said, as he laid the bills onthe table.

When the pile had reached twenty thousand, Sam reached out his hand andtaking it up put it in his pocket. "You will get a receipt for this when Iget back to the office," he said; "it is about what you owe our companyfor overcharges and crooked material. As for our business, I made acontract with another company this morning."

Having got the buying end of the Rainey Arms Company straightened out tohis liking, Sam began spending much time in the shops and, through ColonelTom, forced big changes everywhere. He discharged useless foremen, knockedout partitions between rooms, pushed everywhere for more and better work.Like the modern efficiency man, he went about with a watch in his hand,cutting out lost motion, rearranging, getting his own way.

It was a time of great agitation. The offices and shops buzzed like beesdisturbed and black looks followed him about. But Colonel Tom rose to thesituation and went about at Sam's heels, swaggering, giving orders,throwing back his shoulders like a man remade. All day long he was at it,discharging, directing, roaring against waste. When a strike broke out inone of the shops because of innovations Sam had forced upon the workmenthere, he got upon a bench and delivered a speech--written by Sam--on aman's place in the organisation and conducting of a great modern industryand his duty to perfect himself as a workman.

Silently, the men picked up their tools and started again for theirbenches and when he saw them thus affected by his words Colonel Tombrought what threatened to be a squally affair to a hurrahing climax bythe announcement of a five per cent increase in the wage scale--that wasColonel Tom's own touch and the rousing reception of it brought a glow ofpride to his cheeks.

Although the affairs of the company were still being handled by ColonelTom, and though he daily more and more asserted himself, the officers andshops, and later the big jobbers and buyers as well as the rich LaSalleStreet directors, knew that a new force had come into the company. Menbegan dropping quietly into Sam's office, asking questions, suggesting,seeking favours. He felt that he was getting hold. Of the departmentheads, about half fought him and were secretly marked for slaughter; theothers came to him, expressed approval of what was going on and asked himto look over their departments and to make suggestions for improvementsthrough them. This Sam did eagerly, getting by it their loyalty andsupport which later stood him in good stead.

In choosing the new men that came into the company Sam also took a hand.The method used was characteristic of his relations with Colonel Tom. If aman applying for a place suited him, he got admission to the colonel'soffice and listened for half an hour to a talk anent the fine oldtraditions of the company. If a man did not suit Sam, he did not get tothe colonel. "You can't have your time taken up by them," Sam explained.

In the Rainey Company, the various heads of departments were stockholdersin the company, and selected from among themselves two men to sit upon theboard, and in his second year Sam was chosen as one of these employeedirectors. During the same year five heads of departments resigning in amoment of indignation over one of Sam's innovations--to be replaced laterby two--their stock by a prearranged agreement came back into thecompany's hands. This stock and another block, secured for him by thecolonel, got into Sam's hands through the use of Eckardt's money, that ofthe Wabash Avenue woman, and his own snug pile.

Sam was a growing force in the company. He sat on the board of directors,the recognised practical head of the business among its stockholders andemployees; he had stopped the company's march toward a second place in itsindustry and had faced it about. All about him, in offices and shops,there was the swing and go of new life and he felt that he was in aposition to move on toward real control and had begun laying lines withthat end in view. Standing in the offices in LaSalle Street or amid theclang and roar of the shops he tilted up his chin with the same odd littlegesture that had attracted the men of Caxton to him when he was a barefootnewsboy and the son of the town drunkard. Through his head went bigambitious projects. "I have in my hand a great tool," he thought; "with itI will pry my way into the place I mean to occupy among the big men ofthis city and this nation."

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