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Chapter 7 – Good-By

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"OH, dear! Must you really go home Saturday?" said Fan, some
days after what Tom called the "grand scrimmage."

"I really must; for I only came to stay a month and here I ‘ve been
nearly six weeks," answered Polly, feeling as if she had been
absent a year.

"Make it two months and stay over Christmas. Come, do, now,"
urged Tom, heartily.

"You are very kind; but I would n’t miss Christmas at home for
anything. Besides, mother says they can’t possibly do without me."

"Neither can we. Can’t you tease your mother, and make up your
mind to stay?" began Fan.

"Polly never teases. She says it ‘s selfish; and I don’t do it now
much," put in Maud, with a virtuous air.

"Don’t you bother Polly. She ‘d rather go, and I don’t wonder. Let ‘s
be just as jolly as we can while she stays, and finish up with your
party, Fan," said Tom, in a tone that settled the matter.

Polly had expected to be very happy in getting ready for the party;
but when the time came, she was disappointed; for somehow that
naughty thing called envy took possession of her, and spoiled her
pleasure. Before she left home, she thought her new white muslin
dress, with its fresh blue ribbons, the most elegant and proper
costume she could have; but now, when she saw Fanny’s pink silk,
with a white tarlatan tunic, and innumerable puffings, bows, and
streamers, her own simple little toilet lost all its charms in her
eyes, and looked very babyish and old-fashioned.

Even Maud was much better dressed than herself, and looked very
splendid in her cherry-colored and white suit, with a sash so big
she could hardly carry it, and little white boots with red buttons.
They both had necklaces and bracelets, ear-rings and brooches; but
Polly had no ornament, except the plain locket on a bit of blue
velvet. Her sash was only a wide ribbon, tied in a simple bow, and
nothing but a blue snood in the pretty curls. Her only comfort was
the knowledge that the modest tucker drawn up round the plump
shoulders was real lace, and that her bronze boots cost nine
dollars.

Poor Polly, with all her efforts to be contented, and not to mind
looking unlike other people, found it hard work to keep her face
bright and her voice happy that night. No one dreamed what was
going an under the muslin frock, till grandma’s wise old eyes spied
out the little shadow on Polly’s spirits, and guessed the cause of it.
When dressed, the three girls went up to show themselves to the
elders, who were in grandma’s room, where Tom was being helped
into an agonizingly stiff collar.

Maud pranced like a small peacock, and Fan made a splendid
courtesy as every one turned to survey them; but Polly stood still,
and her eyes went from face to face, with an anxious, wistful air,
which seemed to say, "I know I ‘m not right; but I hope I don’t look
very bad."

Grandma read the look in a minute; and when Fanny said, with a
satisfied smile, "How do we look?" she answered, drawing Polly
toward her so kindly.

"Very like the fashion-plates you got the patterns of your dresses
from. But this little costume suits me best."

"Do you really think I look nice?" and Polly’s face brightened, for
she valued the old lady’s opinion very much.

"Yes, my dear; you look just as I like to see a child of your age
look. What particularly pleases me is that you have kept your
promise to your mother, and have n’t let anyone persuade you to
wear borrowed finery. Young things like you don’t need any
ornaments but those you wear to-night, youth, health, intelligence,
and modesty."

As she spoke, grandma gave a tender kiss that made Polly glow
like a rose, and for a minute she forgot that there were such things
as pink silk and coral ear-rings in the world. She only said, "Thank
you, ma’am," and heartily returned the kiss; but the words did her
good, and her plain dress looked charming all of a sudden.

"Polly ‘s so pretty, it don’t matter what she wears," observed Tom,
surveying her over his collar with an air of calm approval.

"She has n’t got any bwetelles to her dwess, and I have," said
Maud, settling her ruffled bands over her shoulders, which looked
like cherry-colored wings on a stout little cherub.

"I did wish she ‘d just wear my blue set, ribbon is so very plain;
but, as Tom says, it don’t much matter;" and Fanny gave an
effective touch to the blue bow above Polly’s left temple.

"She might wear flowers; they always suit young girls," said Mrs.
Shaw, privately thinking that her own daughters looked much the
best, yet conscious that blooming Polly had the most attractive
face. "Bless me! I forgot my posies in admiring the belles. Hand
them out, Tom;" and Mr. Shaw nodded toward an interesting
looking box that stood on the table.

Seizing them wrong side-up, Tom produced three little bouquets,
all different in color, size, and construction.

"Why, papa! how very kind of you," cried Fanny, who had not
dared to receive even a geranium leaf since the late scrape.

"Your father used to be a very gallant young gentleman, once upon
a time," said Mrs. Shaw, with a simper.

"Ah, Tom, it ‘s a good sign when you find time to think of giving
pleasure to your little girls!" And grandma patted her son’s bald
head as if he was n’t more than eighteen.

Thomas Jr. had given a somewhat scornful sniff at first; but when
grandma praised his father, the young man thought better of the
matter, and regarded the flowers with more respect, as he asked,
"Which is for which?"

"Guess," said Mr. Shaw, pleased that his unusual demonstration
had produced such an effect.

The largest was a regular hothouse bouquet, of tea-rosebuds,
scentless heath, and smilax; the second was just a handful of
sweet-peas and mignonette, with a few cheerful pansies, and one
fragrant little rose in the middle; the third, a small posy of scarlet
verbenas, white feverfew, and green leaves.

"Not hard to guess. The smart one for Fan, the sweet one for Polly,
and the gay one for Pug. Now, then, catch hold, girls." And Tom
proceeded to deliver the nosegays, with as much grace as could be
expected from a youth in a new suit of clothes and very tight boots.

"That finishes you off just right, and is a very pretty attention of
papa’s. Now run down, for the bell has rung; and remember, not to
dance too often, Fan; be as quiet as you can, Tom; and. Maud,
don’t eat too much supper. Grandma will attend to things, for my
poor nerves won’t allow me to come down."

With that, Mrs. Shaw dismissed them, and the four descended to
receive the first batch of visitors, several little girls who had been
asked for the express purpose of keeping Maud out of her sister’s
way. Tom had likewise been propitiated, by being allowed to bring
his three bosom friends, who went by the school-boy names of
Rumple, Sherry, and Spider.

"They will do to make up sets, as gentlemen are scarce; and the
party is for Polly, so I must have some young folks on her
account," said Fanny, when sending out her invitations.

Of course, the boys came early, and stood about in corners,
looking as if they had more arms and legs than they knew what to
do with. Tom did his best to be a good host; but ceremony
oppressed his spirits, and he was forced to struggle manfully with
the wild desire to propose a game of leap-frog, for the long
drawing-rooms, cleared for dancing, tempted him sorely.

Polly sat where she was told, and suffered bashful agonies as Fan
introduced very fine young ladies and very stiff young gentlemen,
who all said about the same civil things, and then appeared to
forget all about her. When the first dance was called, Fanny
cornered Tom, who had been dodging her, for he knew what she
wanted, and said, in an earnest whisper: "Now, Tom, you must
dance this with Polly. You are the young gentleman of the house,
and it ‘s only proper that you should ask your company first."

"Polly don’t care for manners. I hate dancing; don’t know how. Let
go my jacket, and don’t bother, or I ‘ll cut away altogether,"
growled Tom, daunted by the awful prospect of opening the ball
with Polly.

"I ‘ll never forgive you if you do. Come, be clever, and help me,
there ‘s a dear. You know we both were dreadfully rude to Polly,
and agreed that we ‘d be as kind and civil to her as ever we could. I
shall keep my word, and see that she is n’t slighted at my party, for
I want her to love me, and go home feeling all right."

This artful speech made an impression on the rebellious Thomas,
who glanced at Polly’s happy face, remembered his promise, and,
with a groan, resolved to do his duty.

"Well, I ‘ll take her; but I shall come to grief, for I don’t know
anything about your old dances."

"Yes, you do. I ‘ve taught you the steps a dozen times. I ‘m going to
begin with a redowa, because the girls like it, and it ‘s better fun
than square dances. Now, put on your gloves, and go and ask Polly
like a gentleman."

"Oh, thunder!" muttered Tom. And having split the detested gloves
in dragging them on, he nerved himself for the effort, walked up to
Polly, made a stiff bow, stuck out his elbow, and said, solemnly,
"May I have the pleasure, Miss Milton?"

He did it as much like the big fellows as he could, and expected
that Polly would be impressed. But she was n’t a bit; for after a
surprised look she laughed in his face, and took him by the hand,
saying, heartily, "Of course you may; but don’t be a goose,
Tommy."

"Well, Fan told me to be elegant, so I tried to," whispered Tom,
adding, as he clutched his partner with a somewhat desperate air,
"Hold on tight, and we ‘ll get through somehow."

The music struck up, and away they went; Tom hopping one way
and Polly the other, in a most ungraceful manner.

"Keep time to the music," gasped Polly.

"Can’t; never could," returned Tom.

"Keep step with me, then, and don’t tread on my toes," pleaded
Polly.

"Never mind; keep bobbing, and we ‘ll come right by and by,"
muttered Tom, giving his unfortunate partner a sudden whisk,
which nearly landed both on the floor.

But they did not "get right by and by"; for Tom, In his frantic
efforts to do his duty, nearly annihilated poor Polly. He tramped,
he bobbed, he skated, he twirled her to the right, dragged her to the
left, backed her up against people and furniture, trod on her feet,
rumpled her dress, and made a spectacle of himself generally.
Polly was much disturbed; but as everyone else was flying about
also, she bore it as long as she could, knowing that Tom had made
a martyr of himself, and feeling grateful to him for the sacrifice.

"Oh, do stop now; this is dreadful!" cried Polly, breathlessly, after
a few wild turns.

"Is n’t it?" said Tom, wiping his red face with such an air of intense
relief, that Polly had not the heart to scold him, but said, "Thank
you," and dropped into a chair exhausted.

"I know I ‘ve made a guy of myself; but Fan insisted on it, for fear
you ‘d be offended if I did n’t go the first dance with you," said
Tom, remorsefully, watching Polly as she settled the bow of her
crushed sash, which Tom had used as a sort of handle by which to
turn and twist her; "I can do the Lancers tip-top; but you won’t ever
want to dance with me any more," he added, as he began to fan her
so violently, that her hair flew about as if in a gale of wind.

"Yes, I will. I ‘d like to; and you shall put your name down here on
the sticks of my fan. That ‘s the way, Trix says, when you don’t
have a ball-book."

Looking much gratified, Tom produced the stump of a lead-pencil,
and wrote his name with a flourish, saying, as he gave it back,
"Now I ‘m going to get Sherry, or some of the fellows that do the
redowa well, so you can have a real good go before the music
stops."

Off went Tom; but before he could catch any eligible partner,
Polly was provided with the best dancer in the room. Mr. Sydney
had seen and heard the whole thing; and though he had laughed
quietly, he liked honest Tom and good-natured Polly all the better
for their simplicity. Polly’s foot was keeping time to the lively
music, and her eyes were fixed wistfully on the smoothly-gliding
couples before her, when Mr. Sydney came to her, saying, in the
pleasant yet respectful way she liked so much, "Miss Polly, can
you give me a turn?"

"Oh, yes; I ‘m dying for another." And Polly jumped up, with both
hands out, and such a grateful face, that Mr. Sydney resolved she
should have as many turns as she liked.

This time all went well; and Tom, returning from an unsuccessful
search, was amazed to behold Polly circling gracefully about the
room, guided by a most accomplished partner.

"Ah, that ‘s something like," he thought, as he watched the bronze
boots retreating and advancing in perfect time to the music. "Don’t
see how Sydney does the steering so well; but it must be fun; and,
by Jupiter! I ‘ll learn it!" added Shaw, Jr., with an emphatic gesture
which burst the last button off his gloves.

Polly enjoyed herself till the music stopped; and before she had
time to thank Mr, Sydney as warmly as she wished, Tom came up
to say, with his most lordly air, "You dance splendidly, Polly.
Now, you just show me any one you like the looks of, and I ‘ll get
him for you, no matter who he is."

"I don’t want any of the gentlemen; they are so stiff, and don’t care
to dance with me; but I like those boys over there, and I ‘ll dance
with any of them if they are willing," said Polly, after a survey.

"I ‘ll trot out the whole lot." And Tom gladly brought up his
friends, who all admired Polly immensely, and were proud to be
chosen instead of the "big fellows."

There was no sitting still for Polly after that, for the lads kept her
going at a great pace; and she was so happy, she never saw or
suspected how many little manoeuvres, heart-burnings, displays of
vanity, affectation, and nonsense were going on all round her. She
loved dancing, and entered into the gayety of the scene with a
heartiness that was pleasant to see. Her eyes shone, her face
glowed, her lips smiled, and the brown curls waved in the air, as
she danced, with a heart as light as her feet.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Polly?" asked Mr. Shaw, who looked
in, now and then, to report to grandma that all was going well.

"Oh, such a splendid time!" cried Polly, with an enthusiastic little
gesture, as she chass,ed into the corner where he stood.

"She is a regular belle among the boys," said Fanny, as she
promenaded by.

"They are so kind in asking me and I ‘m not afraid of them,"
explained Polly, prancing, simply because she could n’t keep still.

"So you are afraid of the young gentlemen, hey?" and Mr. Shaw
held her by one curl.

"All but Mr. Sydney. He don’t put on airs and talk nonsense; and,
oh! he does ‘dance like an angel,’ as Trix says."

"Papa, I wish you ‘d come and waltz with me. Fan told me not to
go near her, ’cause my wed dwess makes her pink one look ugly;
and Tom won’t; and I want to dwedfully."

"I ‘ve forgotten how, Maudie. Ask Polly; she ‘ll spin you round like
a teetotum." "Mr. Sydney’s name is down for that," answered
Polly, looking at her fan with a pretty little air of importance." But
I guess he would n’t mind my taking poor Maud instead. She has
n’t danced hardly any, and I ‘ve had more than my share. Would it
be very improper to change my mind?" And Polly looked up at her
tall partner with eye which plainly showed that the change was a
sacrifice.

"Not a bit. Give the little dear a good waltz, and we will look on,"
answered Mr. Sydney, with a nod and smile.

"That is a refreshing little piece of nature," said Mr. Shaw, as Polly
and Maud whirled away.

"She will make a charming little woman, if she is n’t spoilt."

"No danger of that. She has got a sensible mother."

"I thought so." And Sydney sighed, for he had lately lost his own
good mother.

When supper was announced, Polly happened to be talking, or
trying to talk, to one of the "poky" gentlemen whom Fan had
introduced. He took Miss Milton down, of course, put her in a
corner, and having served her to a dab of ice and one macaroon, he
devoted himself to his own supper with such interest, that Polly
would have fared badly, if Tom had not come and rescued her.

"I ‘ve been looking everywhere for you. Come with me, and don’t
sit starving here," said Tom, with a scornful look from her empty
plate to that of her recreant escort, which was piled with good
things.

Following her guide, Polly was taken to the big china closet,
opening from the dining-room to the kitchen, and here she found a
jovial little party feasting at ease. Maud and her bosom friend,
"Gwace," were seated on tin cake-boxes; Sherry and Spider
adorned the refrigerator; while Tom and Rumple foraged for the
party.

Here ‘s fun," said Polly, as she was received with a clash of spoons
and a waving of napkins.

"You just perch on that cracker-keg, and I ‘ll see that you get
enough," said Tom, putting a dumbwaiter before her, and issuing
his orders with a fine air of authority.

"We are a band of robbers in our cave, and I ‘m the captain; and we
pitch into the folks passing by, and go out and bring home plunder.
Now, Rumple, you go and carry off a basket of cake, and I ‘ll
watch here till Katy comes by with a fresh lot of oysters; Polly
must have some. Sherry, cut into the kitchen, and bring a cup of
coffee. Spider, scrape up the salad, and poke the dish through the
slide for more. Eat away, Polly, and my men will be back with
supplies in a jiffy."

Such fun as they had in that closet; such daring robberies of
jelly-pots and cake-boxes; such successful raids into the
dining-room and kitchen; such base assaults upon poor Katy and
the colored waiter, who did his best, but was helpless in the hands
of the robber horde. A very harmless little revel; for no wine was
allowed, and the gallant band were so busy skirmishing to supply
the ladies, that they had not time to eat too much. No one missed
them; and when they emerged, the feast was over, except for a few
voracious young gentlemen, who still lingered among the ruins.

"That ‘s the way they always do; poke the girls in corners, give ’em
just one taste of something, and then go and stuff like pigs,"
whispered Tom, with a superior air, forgetting certain private
banquets of his own, after company had departed.

The rest of the evening was to be devoted to the German; and, as
Polly knew nothing about it, she established herself in a window
recess to watch the mysteries. For a time she enjoyed it, for it was
all new to her, and the various pretty devices were very charming;
but, by and by, that bitter weed, envy, cropped up again, and she
could not feel happy to be left out in the cold, while the other girls
were getting gay tissue-paper suits, droll bonbons, flowers,
ribbons, and all manner of tasteful trifles in which girlish souls
delight. Everyone was absorbed; Mr. Sydney was dancing; Tom
and his friends were discussing base-ball on the stairs; and Maud’s
set had returned to the library to play.

Polly tried to conquer the bad feeling; but it worried her, till she
remembered something her mother once said to her, "When you
feel out of sorts, try to make some one else happy, and you will
soon be so yourself."

"I will try it," thought Polly, and looked round to see what she
could do. Sounds of strife in the library led her to enter. Maud and
the young ladies were sitting on the sofa, talking about each other’s
clothes, as they had seen their mammas do.

"Was your dress imported?" asked Grace.

"No; was yours?" returned Blanche.

"Yes; and it cost oh, ever so much."

"I don’t think it is as pretty as Maud’s."

"Mine was made in New York," said Miss Shaw, smoothing her
skirts complacently.

"I can’t dress much now, you know, ’cause mamma’s in black for
somebody," observed Miss Alice Lovett, feeling the importance
which affliction conferred upon her when it took the form of a jet
necklace.

"Well, I don’t care if my dress is n’t imported; my cousin had three
kinds of wine at her party; so, now," said Blanche.

"Did she?" And all the little girls looked deeply impressed, till
Maud observed, with a funny imitation of her father’s manner,
"My papa said it was scan-dill-us; for some of the little boys got
tipsy, and had to be tooked home. He would n’t let us have any
wine; and gwandma said it was vewy impwoper for childwen to do
so."

"My mother says your mother’s coup, is n’t half so stylish as ours,"
put in Alice.

"Yes, it is, too. It ‘s all lined with gween silk, and that ‘s nicer than
old wed cloth," cried Maud, ruffling up like an insulted chicken.

"Well, my brother don’t wear a horrid old cap, and he ‘s got nice
hair. I would n’t have a brother like Tom. He ‘s horrid rude, my
sister says," retorted Alice.

"He is n’t. Your brother is a pig."

"You ‘re a fib!"

"So are you!"

Here, I regret to say, Miss Shaw slapped Miss Lovett, who
promptly returned the compliment, and both began to cry.

Polly, who had paused to listen to the edifying chat, parted the
belligerents, and finding the poor things tired, cross, and sleepy,
yet unable to go home till sent for, proposed to play games. The
young ladies consented, and "Puss in the corner" proved a
peacemaker. Presently, in came the boys; and being exiles from
the German, gladly joined in the games, which soon were lively
enough to wake the sleepiest. "Blind-man’s-buff" was in full swing
when Mr. Shaw peeped in, and seeing Polly flying about with
band-aged eyes, joined in the fun to puzzle her. He got caught
directly; and great merriment was caused by Polly’s bewilderment,
for she could n’t guess who he was, till she felt the bald spot on his
head.

This frolic put every one in such spirits, that Polly forgot her
trouble, and the little girls kissed each other good-night as
affectionately as if such things as imported frocks, coup,s, and
rival brothers did n’t exist "Well, Polly, do you like parties?" asked
Fan when the last guest was gone.

"Very much; but I don’t think it would be good for me to go to
many," answered Polly, slowly.

"Why not?"

"I should n’t enjoy them if I did n’t have a fine dress, and dance all
the time, and be admired, and all the rest of it."

"I did n’t know you cared for such things," cried Fanny, surprised.

"Neither did I till to-night; but I do; and as I can’t have ’em, it ‘s
lucky I ‘m going home tomorrow."

"Oh, dear! So you are! What shall I do without my ‘sweet P.,’ as
Sydney calls you?" sighed Fanny, bearing Polly away to be
cuddled.

Every one echoed the exclamation next day; and many loving eyes
followed the little figure in the drab frock as it went quietly about,
doing for the last time the small services which would help to
make its absence keenly felt. Polly was to go directly after an early
dinner, and having packed her trunk, all but one tray, she was told
to go and take a run while grandma finished. Polly suspected that
some pleasant surprise was going to be put in; for Fan did n’t offer
to go with her, Maud kept dodging about with something under her
apron, and Tom had just whisked into his mother’s room in a
mysterious manner. So Polly took the hint and went away,
rejoicing in the thought of the unknown treasures she was to carry
home.

Mr. Shaw had not said he should come home so early, but Polly
thought he might, and went to meet him. Mr. Shaw did n’t expect
to see Polly, for he had left her very busy, and now a light snow
was falling; but, as he turned into the mall there was the round hat,
and under it the bright face, looking all the rosier for being
powdered with snow-flakes, as Polly came running to meet him.

"There won’t be any one to help the old gentleman safely home
to-morrow," he said, as Polly took his hand in both hers with an
affectionate squeeze.

"Yes, there will; see if there is n’t," cried Polly, nodding and
smiling, for Fan had confided to her that she meant to try it after
her friend had gone.

"I ‘m glad of it. But, my dear, I want you to promise that you will
come and make us a visit every winter, a good long one," said Mr.
Shaw, patting the blue mittens folded round his hand.

"If they can spare me from home, I ‘d love to come dearly."

"They must lend you for a little while, because you do us all good,
and we need you."

"Do I? I don’t see how; but I ‘m glad to hear you say so," cried
Polly, much touched.

"I can’t tell you how, exactly; but you brought something into my
house that makes it warmer and pleasanter, and won’t quite vanish,
I hope, when you go away, my child."

Polly had never heard Mr. Shaw speak like that before, and did n’t
know what to say, she felt so proud and happy at this proof of the
truth of her mother’s words, when she said that "even a little girl
could exert an influence, and do some good in this big, busy
world." She only gave her friend a grateful look sweeter than any
words, and they went on together, hand in hand, through the
"soft-falling snow."

If Polly could have seen what went into that top tray, she would
have been entirely overcome; for Fanny had told grandma about
the poor little presents she had once laughed at, and they had all
laid their heads together to provide something really fine and
appropriate for every member of the Milton family. Such a mine of
riches! and so much good-will, affection, and kindly forethought
was packed away in the tempting bundles, that no one could feel
offended, but would find an unusual charm about the pretty gifts
that made them doubly welcome. I only know that if Polly had
suspected that a little watch was ticking away in a little case, with
her name on it, inside that trunk, she never could have left it
locked as grandma advised, or have eaten her dinner so quietly. As
it was, her heart was very full, and the tears rose to her eyes more
than once, everyone was so kind, and so sorry to have her go.

Tom did n’t need any urging to play escort now; and both Fan and
Maud insisted on going too. Mrs. Shaw forgot her nerves, and put
up some gingerbread with her own hands; Mr. Shaw kissed Polly
as if she had been his dearest daughter; and grandma held her
close, whispering in a tremulous tone, "My little comfort, come
again soon"; while Katy waved her apron from the nursery
window, crying, as they drove, away, "The saints bless ye, Miss
Polly, dear, and sind ye the best of lucks!"

But the crowning joke of all was Tom’s good-by, for, when Polly
was fairly settled in the car, the last "All aboard!" uttered, and the
train in motion, Tom suddenly produced a knobby little bundle,
and thrusting it in at the window, while he hung on in some
breakneck fashion, said, with a droll mixture of fun and feeling in
his face, "It ‘s horrid; but you wanted it, so I put it in to make you
laugh. Good-by, Polly; good-by, good-by!"

The last adieu was a trifle husky, and Tom vanished as it was
uttered, leaving Polly to laugh over his parting souvenir till the
tears ran down her cheeks. It was a paper bag of peanuts, and
poked down at the very bottom a photograph of Tom. It was
"horrid," for he looked as if taken by a flash of lightning, so black,
wild, and staring was it; but Polly liked it, and whenever she felt a
little pensive at parting with her friends, she took a peanut, or a
peep at Tom’s funny picture, which made her merry again.

So the short journey came blithely to an end, and in the twilight
she saw a group of loving faces at the door of a humble little
house, which was more beautiful than any palace in her eyes, for it
was home.

 

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