The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter LXI: The Cataclysm

And now at last Chicago is really facing the thing which it has most feared. A giant monopoly is really reaching out to enfold it with an octopus-like grip. And Cowperwood is its eyes, its tentacles, its force! Embedded in the giant strength and good will of Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb & Co., he is like a monument based on a rock of great strength. A fifty-year franchise, to be delivered to him by a majority of forty-eight out of a total of sixty-eight aldermen (in case the ordinance has to be passed over the mayor's veto), is all that now stands between him and the realization of his dreams. What a triumph for his iron policy of courage in the face of all obstacles! What a tribute to his ability not to flinch in the face of storm and stress! Other men might have abandoned the game long before, but not he. What a splendid windfall of chance that the money element should of its own accord take fright at the Chicago idea of the municipalization of public privilege and should hand him this giant South Side system as a reward for his stern opposition to fol-de-rol theories.

Through the influence of these powerful advocates he was invited to speak before various local commercial bodies—the Board of Real Estate Dealers, the Property Owners' Association, the Merchants' League, the Bankers' Union, and so forth, where he had an opportunity to present his case and justify his cause. But the effect of his suave speechifyings in these quarters was largely neutralized by newspaper denunciation. "Can any good come out of Nazareth?" was the regular inquiry. That section of the press formerly beholden to Hand and Schryhart stood out as bitterly as ever; and most of the other newspapers, being under no obligation to Eastern capital, felt it the part of wisdom to support the rank and file. The most searching and elaborate mathematical examinations were conducted with a view to showing the fabulous profits of the streetcar trust in future years. The fine hand of Eastern banking-houses was detected and their sinister motives noised abroad. "Millions for everybody in the trust, but not one cent for Chicago," was the Inquirer's way of putting it. Certain altruists of the community were by now so aroused that in the destruction of Cowperwood they saw their duty to God, to humanity, and to democracy straight and clear. The heavens had once more opened, and they saw a great light. On the other hand the politicians—those in office outside the mayor—constituted a petty band of guerrillas or free-booters who, like hungry swine shut in a pen, were ready to fall upon any and all propositions brought to their attention with but one end in view: that they might eat, and eat heartily. In times of great opportunity and contest for privilege life always sinks to its lowest depths of materialism and rises at the same time to its highest reaches of the ideal. When the waves of the sea are most towering its hollows are most awesome.

Finally the summer passed, the council assembled, and with the first breath of autumn chill the very air of the city was touched by a premonition of contest. Cowperwood, disappointed by the outcome of his various ingratiatory efforts, decided to fall back on his old reliable method of bribery. He fixed on his price—twenty thousand dollars for each favorable vote, to begin with. Later, if necessary, he would raise it to twenty-five thousand, or even thirty thousand, making the total cost in the neighborhood of a million and a half. Yet it was a small price indeed when the ultimate return was considered. He planned to have his ordinance introduced by an alderman named Ballenberg, a trusted lieutenant, and handed thereafter to the clerk, who would read it, whereupon another henchman would rise to move that it be referred to the joint committee on streets and alleys, consisting of thirty-four members drawn from all the standing committees. By this committee it would be considered for one week in the general council-chamber, where public hearings would be held. By keeping up a bold front Cowperwood thought the necessary iron could be put into his followers to enable them to go through with the scorching ordeal which was sure to follow. Already aldermen were being besieged at their homes and in the precincts of the ward clubs and meeting-places. Their mail was being packed with importuning or threatening letters. Their very children were being derided, their neighbors urged to chastise them. Ministers wrote them in appealing or denunciatory vein. They were spied upon and abused daily in the public prints. The mayor, shrewd son of battle that he was, realizing that he had a whip of terror in his hands, excited by the long contest waged, and by the smell of battle, was not backward in urging the most drastic remedies.

"Wait till the thing comes up," he said to his friends, in a great central music-hall conference in which thousands participated, and when the matter of ways and means to defeat the venal aldermen was being discussed. "We have Mr. Cowperwood in a corner, I think. He cannot do anything for two weeks, once his ordinance is in, and by that time we shall be able to organize a vigilance committee, ward meetings, marching clubs, and the like. We ought to organize a great central mass-meeting for the Sunday night before the Monday when the bill comes up for final hearing. We want overflow meetings in every ward at the same time. I tell you, gentlemen, that, while I believe there are enough honest voters in the city council to prevent the Cowperwood crowd from passing this bill over my veto, yet I don't think the matter ought to be allowed to go that far. You never can tell what these rascals will do once they see an actual cash bid of twenty or thirty thousand dollars before them. Most of them, even if they were lucky, would never make the half of that in a lifetime. They don't expect to be returned to the Chicago City Council. Once is enough. There are too many others behind them waiting to get their noses in the trough. Go into your respective wards and districts and organize meetings. Call your particular alderman before you. Don't let him evade you or quibble or stand on his rights as a private citizen or a public officer. Threaten—don't cajole. Soft or kind words won't go with that type of man. Threaten, and when you have managed to extract a promise be on hand with ropes to see that he keeps his word. I don't like to advise arbitrary methods, but what else is to be done? The enemy is armed and ready for action right now. They're just waiting for a peaceful moment. Don't let them find it. Be ready. Fight. I'm your mayor, and ready to do all I can, but I stand alone with a mere pitiful veto right. You help me and I'll help you. You fight for me and I'll fight for you."

Witness hereafter the discomfiting situation of Mr. Simon Pinski at 9 P.M. on the second evening following the introduction of the ordinance, in the ward house of the Fourteenth Ward Democratic Club. Rotund, flaccid, red-faced, his costume a long black frock-coat and silk hat, Mr. Pinski was being heckled by his neighbors and business associates. He had been called here by threats to answer for his prospective high crimes and misdemeanors. By now it was pretty well understood that nearly all the present aldermen were criminal and venal, and in consequence party enmities were practically wiped out. There were no longer for the time being Democrats and Republicans, but only pro or anti Cowperwoods—principally anti. Mr. Pinski, unfortunately, had been singled out by the Transcript, the Inquirer, and the Chronicle as one of those open to advance questioning by his constituents. Of mixed Jewish and American extraction, he had been born and raised in the Fourteenth and spoke with a decidedly American accent. He was neither small nor large—sandy-haired, shifty-eyed, cunning, and on most occasions amiable. Just now he was decidedly nervous, wrathy, and perplexed, for he had been brought here against his will. His slightly oleaginous eye—not unlike that of a small pig—had been fixed definitely and finally on the munificent sum of thirty thousand dollars, no less, and this local agitation threatened to deprive him of his almost unalienable right to the same. His ordeal took place in a large, low-ceiled room illuminated by five very plain, thin, two-armed gas-jets suspended from the ceiling and adorned by posters of prizefights, raffles, games, and the "Simon Pinski Pleasure Association" plastered here and there freely against dirty, long-unwhitewashed walls. He stood on the low raised platform at the back of the room, surrounded by a score or more of his ward henchmen, all more or less reliable, all black-frocked, or at least in their Sunday clothes; all scowling, nervous, defensive, red-faced, and fearing trouble. Mr. Pinski has come armed. This talk of the mayor's concerning guns, ropes, drums, marching clubs, and the like has been given very wide publicity, and the public seems rather eager for a Chicago holiday in which the slaughter of an alderman or so might furnish the leading and most acceptable feature.

"Hey, Pinski!" yells some one out of a small sea of new and decidedly unfriendly faces. (This is no meeting of Pinski followers, but a conglomerate outpouring of all those elements of a distrait populace bent on enforcing for once the principles of aldermanic decency. There are even women here—local church-members, and one or two advanced civic reformers and W. C. T. U. bar-room smashers. Mr. Pinski has been summoned to their presence by the threat that if he didn't come the noble company would seek him out later at his own house.)

"Hey, Pinski! You old boodler! How much do you expect to get out of this traction business?" (This from a voice somewhere in the rear.)

Mr. Pinski (turning to one side as if pinched in the neck). "The man that says I am a boodler is a liar! I never took a dishonest dollar in my life, and everybody in the Fourteenth Ward knows it."

The Five Hundred People Assembled. "Ha! ha! ha! Pinski never took a dollar! Ho! ho! ho! Whoop-ee!"

Mr. Pinski (very red-faced, rising). "It is so. Why should I talk to a lot of loafers that come here because the papers tell them to call me names? I have been an alderman for six years now. Everybody knows me."

A Voice. "You call us loafers. You crook!"

Another Voice (referring to his statement of being known). "You bet they do!"

Another Voice (this from a small, bony plumber in workclothes). "Hey, you old grafter! Which way do you expect to vote? For or against this franchise? Which way?"

Still Another Voice (an insurance clerk). "Yes, which way?"

Mr. Pinski (rising once more, for in his nervousness he is constantly rising or starting to rise, and then sitting down again). "I have a right to my own mind, ain't I? I got a right to think. What for am I an alderman, then? The constitution..."

An Anti-Pinski Republican (a young law clerk). "To hell with the constitution! No fine words now, Pinski. Which way do you expect to vote? For or against? Yes or no?"

A Voice (that of a bricklayer, anti-Pinski). "He daresn't say. He's got some of that bastard's money in his jeans now, I'll bet."

A Voice from Behind (one of Pinski's henchmen—a heavy, pugilistic Irishman). "Don't let them frighten you, Sim. Stand your ground. They can't hurt you. We're here."

Pinski (getting up once more). "This is an outrage, I say. Ain't I gon' to be allowed to say what I think? There are two sides to every question. Now, I think whatever the newspapers say that Cowperwood—"

A Journeyman Carpenter (a reader of the Inquirer). "You're bribed, you thief! You're beating about the bush. You want to sell out."

The Bony Plumber. "Yes, you crook! You want to get away with thirty thousand dollars, that's what you want, you boodler!"

Mr. Pinski (defiantly, egged on by voices from behind). "I want to be fair—that's what. I want to keep my own mind. The constitution gives everybody the right of free speech—even me. I insist that the street-car companies have some rights; at the same time the people have rights too."

A Voice. "What are those rights?"

Another Voice. "He don't know. He wouldn't know the people's rights from a sawmill."

Another Voice. "Or a load of hay."

Pinski (continuing very defiantly now, since he has not yet been slain). "I say the people have their rights. The companies ought to be made to pay a fair tax. But this twenty-year-franchise idea is too little, I think. The Mears bill now gives them fifty years, and I think all told—"

The Five Hundred (in chorus). "Ho, you robber! You thief! You boodler! Hang him! Ho! ho! ho! Get a rope!"

Pinski (retreating within a defensive circle as various citizens approach him, their eyes blazing, their teeth showing, their fists clenched). "My friends, wait! Ain't I goin' to be allowed to finish?"

A Voice. "We'll finish you, you stiff!"

A Citizen (advancing; a bearded Pole). "How will you vote, hey? Tell us that! How? Hey?"

A Second Citizen (a Jew). "You're a no-good, you robber. I know you for ten years now already. You cheated me when you were in the grocery business."

A Third Citizen (a Swede. In a sing-song voice). "Answer me this, Mr. Pinski. If a majority of the citizens of the Fourteenth Ward don't want you to vote for it, will you still vote for it?"

Pinski (hesitating).

The Five Hundred. "Ho! look at the scoundrel! He's afraid to say. He don't know whether he'll do what the people of this ward want him to do. Kill him! Brain him!"

A Voice from Behind. "Aw, stand up, Pinski. Don't be afraid." Pinski (terrorized as the five hundred make a rush for the stage). "If the people don't want me to do it, of course I won't do it. Why should I? Ain't I their representative?"

A Voice. "Yes, when you think you're going to get the wadding kicked out of you."

Another Voice. "You wouldn't be honest with your mother, you bastard. You couldn't be!"

Pinski. "If one-half the voters should ask me not to do it I wouldn't do it."

A Voice. "Well, we'll get the voters to ask you, all right. We'll get nine-tenths of them to sign before to-morrow night."

An Irish-American (aged twenty-six; a gas collector; coming close to Pinski). "If you don't vote right we'll hang you, and I'll be there to help pull the rope myself."

One of Pinski's Lieutenants. "Say, who is that freshie? We want to lay for him. One good kick in the right place will just about finish him."

The Gas Collector. "Not from you, you carrot-faced terrier. Come outside and see." (Business of friends interfering).

The meeting becomes disorderly. Pinski is escorted out by friends—completely surrounded—amid shrieks and hisses, cat-calls, cries of "Boodler!" "Thief!" "Robber!"

There were many such little dramatic incidents after the ordinance had been introduced.

Henceforth on the streets, in the wards and outlying sections, and even, on occasion, in the business heart, behold the marching clubs—those sinister, ephemeral organizations which on demand of the mayor had cropped out into existence—great companies of the unheralded, the dull, the undistinguished—clerks, working-men, small business men, and minor scions of religion or morality; all tramping to and fro of an evening, after working-hours, assembling in cheap halls and party club-houses, and drilling themselves to what end? That they might march to the city hall on the fateful Monday night when the street-railway ordinances should be up for passage and demand of unregenerate lawmakers that they do their duty. Cowperwood, coming down to his office one morning on his own elevated lines, was the observer of a button or badge worn upon the coat lapel of stolid, inconsequential citizens who sat reading their papers, unconscious of that presence which epitomized the terror and the power they all feared. One of these badges had for its device a gallows with a free noose suspended; another was blazoned with the query: "Are we going to be robbed?" On sign-boards, fences, and dead walls huge posters, four by six feet in dimension, were displayed.


against the

Every citizen of Chicago should
come down to the City Hall

and every Monday night
thereafter while the Street-car
Franchises are under consideration,
and see that the interests
of the city are protected against

Citizens, Arouse and Defeat the Boodlers!

In the papers were flaring head-lines; in the clubs, halls, and churches fiery speeches could nightly be heard. Men were drunk now with a kind of fury of contest. They would not succumb to this Titan who was bent on undoing them. They would not be devoured by this gorgon of the East. He should be made to pay an honest return to the city or get out. No fifty-year franchise should be granted him. The Mears law must be repealed, and he must come into the city council humble and with clean hands. No alderman who received as much as a dollar for his vote should in this instance be safe with his life.

Needless to say that in the face of such a campaign of intimidation only great courage could win. The aldermen were only human. In the council committee-chamber Cowperwood went freely among them, explaining as he best could the justice of his course and making it plain that, although willing to buy his rights, he looked on them as no more than his due. The rule of the council was barter, and he accepted it. His unshaken and unconquerable defiance heartened his followers greatly, and the thought of thirty thousand dollars was as a buttress against many terrors. At the same time many an alderman speculated solemnly as to what he would do afterward and where he would go once he had sold out.

At last the Monday night arrived which was to bring the final test of strength. Picture the large, ponderous structure of black granite—erected at the expense of millions and suggesting somewhat the somnolent architecture of ancient Egypt—which served as the city hall and county court-house combined. On this evening the four streets surrounding it were packed with thousands of people. To this throng Cowperwood has become an astounding figure: his wealth fabulous, his heart iron, his intentions sinister—the acme of cruel, plotting deviltry. Only this day, the Chronicle, calculating well the hour and the occasion, has completely covered one of its pages with an intimate, though exaggerated, description of Cowperwood's house in New York: his court of orchids, his sunrise room, the baths of pink and blue alabaster, the finishings of marble and intaglio. Here Cowperwood was represented as seated in a swinging divan, his various books, art treasures, and comforts piled about him. The idea was vaguely suggested that in his sybaritic hours odalesques danced before him and unnamable indulgences and excesses were perpetrated.

At this same hour in the council-chamber itself were assembling as hungry and bold a company of gray wolves as was ever gathered under one roof. The room was large, ornamented to the south by tall windows, its ceiling supporting a heavy, intricate chandelier, its sixty-six aldermanic desks arranged in half-circles, one behind the other; its woodwork of black oak carved and highly polished; its walls a dark blue-gray decorated with arabesques in gold—thus giving to all proceedings an air of dignity and stateliness. Above the speaker's head was an immense portrait in oil of a former mayor—poorly done, dusty, and yet impressive. The size and character of the place gave on ordinary occasions a sort of resonance to the voices of the speakers. To-night through the closed windows could be heard the sound of distant drums and marching feet. In the hall outside the council door were packed at least a thousand men with ropes, sticks, a fife-and-drum corps which occasionally struck up "Hail! Columbia, Happy Land," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," and "Dixie." Alderman Schlumbohm, heckled to within an inch of his life, followed to the council door by three hundred of his fellow-citizens, was there left with the admonition that they would be waiting for him when he should make his exit. He was at last seriously impressed.

"What is this?" he asked of his neighbor and nearest associate, Alderman Gavegan, when he gained the safety of his seat. "A free country?"

"Search me!" replied his compatriot, wearily. "I never seen such a band as I have to deal with out in the Twentieth. Why, my God! a man can't call his name his own any more out here. It's got so now the newspapers tell everybody what to do."

Alderman Pinski and Alderman Hoherkorn, conferring together in one corner, were both very dour. "I'll tell you what, Joe," said Pinski to his confrere; "it's this fellow Lucas that has got the people so stirred up. I didn't go home last night because I didn't want those fellows to follow me down there. Me and my wife stayed down-town. But one of the boys was over here at Jake's a little while ago, and he says there must 'a' been five hundred people around my house at six o'clock, already. Whad ye think o' that?"

"Same here. I don't take much stock in this lynching idea. Still, you can't tell. I don't know whether the police could help us much or not. It's a damned outrage. Cowperwood has a fair proposition. What's the matter with them, anyhow?"

Renewed sounds of "Marching Through Georgia" from without.

Enter at this time Aldermen Ziner, Knudson, Revere, Rogers, Tiernan, and Kerrigan. Of all the aldermen perhaps Messrs. Tiernan and Kerrigan were as cool as any. Still the spectacle of streets blocked with people who carried torches and wore badges showing slip-nooses attached to a gallows was rather serious.

"I'll tell you, Pat," said "Smiling Mike," as they eventually made the door through throngs of jeering citizens; "it does look a little rough. Whad ye think?"

"To hell with them!" replied Kerrigan, angry, waspish, determined. "They don't run me or my ward. I'll vote as I damn please."

"Same here," replied Tiernan, with a great show of courage. "That goes for me. But it's putty warm, anyhow, eh?"

"Yes, it's warm, all right," replied Kerrigan, suspicious lest his companion in arms might be weakening, "but that'll never make a quitter out of me."

"Nor me, either," replied the Smiling One.

Enter now the mayor, accompanied by a fife-and-drum corps rendering "Hail to the Chief." He ascends the rostrum. Outside in the halls the huzzas of the populace. In the gallery overhead a picked audience. As the various aldermen look up they contemplate a sea of unfriendly faces. "Get on to the mayor's guests," commented one alderman to another, cynically.

A little sparring for time while minor matters are considered, and the gallery is given opportunity for comment on the various communal lights, identifying for itself first one local celebrity and then another. "There's Johnnie Dowling, that big blond fellow with the round head; there's Pinski—look at the little rat; there's Kerrigan. Get on to the emerald. Eh, Pat, how's the jewelry? You won't get any chance to do any grafting to-night, Pat. You won't pass no ordinance to-night."

Alderman Winkler (pro-Cowperwood). "If the chair pleases, I think something ought to be done to restore order in the gallery and keep these proceedings from being disturbed. It seems to me an outrage, that, on an occasion of this kind, when the interests of the people require the most careful attention—"

A Voice. "The interests of the people!"

Another Voice. "Sit down. You're bought!"

Alderman Winkler. "If the chair pleases—"

The Mayor. "I shall have to ask the audience in the gallery to keep quiet in order that the business in hand may be considered." (Applause, and the gallery lapses into silence.)

Alderman Guigler (to Alderman Sumulsky). "Well trained, eh?"

Alderman Ballenberg (pro-Cowperwood, getting up—large, brown, florid, smooth-faced). "Before calling up an ordinance which bears my name I should like to ask permission of the council to make a statement. When I introduced this ordinance last week I said—"

A Voice. "We know what you said."

Alderman Ballenberg. "I said that I did so by request. I want to explain that it was at the request of a number of gentlemen who have since appeared before the committee of this council that now has this ordinance—"

A Voice. "That's all right, Ballenberg. We know by whose request you introduced it. You've said your little say."

Alderman Ballenberg. "If the chair pleases—"

A Voice. "Sit down, Ballenberg. Give some other boodler a chance."

The Mayor. "Will the gallery please stop interrupting."

Alderman Horanek (jumping to his feet). "This is an outrage. The gallery is packed with people come here to intimidate us. Here is a great public corporation that has served this city for years, and served it well, and when it comes to this body with a sensible proposition we ain't even allowed to consider it. The mayor packs the gallery with his friends, and the papers stir up people to come down here by thousands and try to frighten us. I for one—"

A Voice. "What's the matter, Billy? Haven't you got your money yet?"

Alderman Hvranek (Polish-American, intelligent, even artistic looking, shaking his fist at the gallery). "You dare not come down here and say that, you coward!"

A Chorus of Fifty Voices. "Rats!" (also) "Billy, you ought to have wings."

Alderman Tiernan (rising). "I say now, Mr. Mayor, don't you think we've had enough of this?"

A Voice. "Well, look who's here. If it ain't Smiling Mike."

Another Voice. "How much do you expect to get, Mike?"

Alderman Tiernan (turning to gallery). "I want to say I can lick any man that wants to come down here and talk to me to my face. I'm not afraid of no ropes and no guns. These corporations have done everything for the city—"

A Voice. "Aw!"

Alderman Tiernan. "If it wasn't for the street-car companies we wouldn't have any city."

Ten Voices. "Aw!"

Alderman Tiernan (bravely). "My mind ain't the mind of some people."

A Voice. "I should say not."

Alderman Tiernan. "I'm talking for compensation for the privileges we expect to give."

A Voice. "You're talking for your pocket-book."

Alderman Tiernan. "I don't give a damn for these cheap skates and cowards in the gallery. I say treat these corporations right. They have helped make the city."

A Chorus of Fifty Voices. "Aw! You want to treat yourself right, that's what you want. You vote right to-night or you'll be sorry."

By now the various aldermen outside of the most hardened characters were more or less terrified by the grilling contest. It could do no good to battle with this gallery or the crowd outside. Above them sat the mayor, before them reporters, ticking in shorthand every phrase and word. "I don't see what we can do," said Alderman Pinski to Alderman Hvranek, his neighbor. "It looks to me as if we might just as well not try."

At this point arose Alderman Gilleran, small, pale, intelligent, anti-Cowperwood. By prearrangement he had been scheduled to bring the second, and as it proved, the final test of strength to the issue. "If the chair pleases," he said, "I move that the vote by which the Ballenberg fifty-year ordinance was referred to the joint committee of streets and alleys be reconsidered, and that instead it be referred to the committee on city hall."

This was a committee that hitherto had always been considered by members of council as of the least importance. Its principal duties consisted in devising new names for streets and regulating the hours of city-hall servants. There were no perquisites, no graft. In a spirit of ribald defiance at the organization of the present session all the mayor's friends—the reformers—those who could not be trusted—had been relegated to this committee. Now it was proposed to take this ordinance out of the hands of friends and send it here, from whence unquestionably it would never reappear. The great test had come.

Alderman Hoberkorn (mouthpiece for his gang because the most skilful in a parliamentary sense). "The vote cannot be reconsidered." He begins a long explanation amid hisses.

A Voice. "How much have you got?"

A Second Voice. "You've been a boodler all your life."

Alderman Hoberkorn (turning to the gallery, a light of defiance in his eye). "You come here to intimidate us, but you can't do it. You're too contemptible to notice."

A Voice. "You hear the drums, don't you?"

A Second Voice. "Vote wrong, Hoberkorn, and see. We know you."

Alderman Tiernan (to himself). "Say, that's pretty rough, ain't it?"

The Mayor. "Motion overruled. The point is not well taken."

Alderman Guigler (rising a little puzzled). "Do we vote now on the Gilleran resolution?"

A Voice. "You bet you do, and you vote right."

The Mayor. "Yes. The clerk will call the roll."

The Clerk (reading the names, beginning with the A's). "Altvast?" (pro-Cowperwood).

Alderman Altvast. "Yea." Fear had conquered him.

Alderman Tiernan (to Alderman Kerrigan). "Well, there's one baby down."

Alderman Kerrigan. "Yep."

"Ballenberg?" (Pro-Cowperwood; the man who had introduced the ordinance.)


Alderman Tiernan. "Say, has Ballenberg weakened?"

Alderman Kerrigan. "It looks that way."





Alderman Tiernan (nervously). "There goes Fogarty."



Alderman Tiernan. "And Hvranek!"

Alderman Kerrigan (referring to the courage of his colleagues). "It's coming out of their hair."

In exactly eighty seconds the roll-call was in and Cowperwood had lost—41 to 25. It was plain that the ordinance could never be revived.

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