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Chapter 7 – The Lion And The Lamb

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

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When the boys were gone a lull fell upon Plumfield, and the family
scattered to various places for brief outings, as August had come and
all felt the need of change. The Professor took Mrs Jo to the
mountains. The Laurences were at the seashore, and there Meg’s family
and the Bhaer boys took turns to visit, as someone must always be at
home to keep things in order.

Mrs Meg, with Daisy, was in office when the events occurred which we
are about to relate. Rob and Ted were just up from Rocky Nook, and
Nan was passing a week with her friend as the only relaxation she
allowed herself. Demi was off on a run with Tom, so Rob was man of
the house, with old Silas as general overseer. The sea air seemed to
have gone to Ted’s head, for he was unusually freakish, and led his
gentle aunt and poor Rob a life of it with his pranks. Octoo was worn
out with the wild rides he took, and Don openly rebelled when ordered
to leap and show off his accomplishments; while the girls at college
were both amused and worried by the ghosts who haunted the grounds at
night, the unearthly melodies that disturbed their studious hours,
and the hairbreadth escapes of this restless boy by flood and field
and fire. Something happened at length which effectually sobered Ted
and made a lasting impression on both the boys; for sudden danger and
a haunting fear turned the Lion into a lamb and the Lamb into a lion,
as far as courage went.

On the first of September – the boys never forgot the date – after a
pleasant tramp and good luck with their fishing, the brothers were
lounging in the barn; for Daisy had company, and the lads kept out of
the way.

‘I tell you what it is, Bobby, that dog is sick. He won’t play, nor
eat, nor drink, and acts queerly. Dan will kill us if anything
happens to him,’ said Ted, looking at Don, who lay near his kennel
resting a moment after one of the restless wanderings which kept him
vibrating between the door of Dan’s room and the shady corner of the
yard, where his master had settled him with an old cap to guard till
he came back.

‘It’s the hot weather, perhaps. But I sometimes think he’s pining for
Dan. Dogs do, you know, and the poor fellow has been low in his mind
ever since the boys went. Maybe something has happened to Dan. Don
howled last night and can’t rest. I’ve heard of such things,’
answered Rob thoughtfully.

‘Pooh! he can’t know. He’s cross. I’ll stir him up and take him for a
run. Always makes me feel better. Hi, boy! wake up and be jolly’; and
Ted snapped his fingers at the dog, who only looked at him with grim
indifference.

‘Better let him alone. If he isn’t right tomorrow, we’ll take him to
Dr Watkins and see what he says.’ And Rob went on watching the
swallows as he lay in the hay polishing up some Latin verses he had
made.

The spirit of perversity entered into Ted, and merely because he was
told not to tease Don he went on doing it, pretending that it was for
the dog’s good. Don took no heed of his pats, commands, reproaches,
or insults, till Ted’s patience gave out; and seeing a convenient
switch near by he could not resist the temptation to conquer the
great hound by force, since gentleness failed to win obedience. He
had the wisdom to chain Don up first; for a blow from any hand but
his master’s made him savage, and Ted had more than once tried the
experiment, as the dog remembered. This indignity roused Don and he
sat up with a growl. Rob heard it, and seeing Ted raise the switch,
ran to interfere, exclaiming:

‘Don’t touch him! Dan forbade it! Leave the poor thing in peace; I
won’t allow it.’

Rob seldom commanded, but when he did Master Ted had to give in. His
temper was up, and Rob’s masterful tone made it impossible to resist
one cut at the rebellious dog before he submitted. Only a single
blow, but it was a costly one; for as it fell, the dog sprang at Ted
with a snarl, and Rob, rushing between the two, felt the sharp teeth
pierce his leg. A word made Don let go and drop remorsefully at Rob’s
feet, for he loved him and was evidently sorry to have hurt his
friend by mistake. With a forgiving pat Rob left him, to limp to the
barn followed by Ted, whose wrath was changed to shame and sorrow
when he saw the red drops on Rob’s sock and the little wounds in his
leg.

‘I’m awfully sorry. Why did you get in the way? Here, wash it up, and
I’ll get a rag to tie on it,’ he said quickly filling a sponge with
water and pulling out a very demoralized handkerchief. Rob usually
made light of his own mishaps and was over ready to forgive if others
were to blame; but now he sat quite still, looking at the purple
marks with such a strange expression on his white face that Ted was
troubled, though he added with a laugh: ‘Why, you’re not afraid of a
little dig like that, are you, Bobby?’

‘I am afraid of hydrophobia. But if Don is mad I’d rather be the one
to have it,’ answered Rob, with a smile and a shiver.

At that dreadful word Ted turned whiter than his brother, and,
dropping sponge and handkerchief, stared at him with a frightened
face, whispering in a tone of despair:

‘Oh, Rob, don’t say it! What shall we do, what shall we do?’

‘Call Nan; she will know. Don’t scare Aunty, or tell a soul but Nan;
she’s on the back piazza; get her out here as quick as you can. I’ll
wash it till she comes. Maybe it’s nothing; don’t look so staggered,
Ted. I only thought it might be, as Don is queer.’

Rob tried to speak bravely; but Ted’s long legs felt strangely weak
as he hurried away, and it was lucky he met no one, for his face
would have betrayed him. Nan was swinging luxuriously in a hammock,
amusing herself with a lively treatise on croup, when an agitated boy
suddenly clutched her, whispering, as he nearly pulled her overboard:

‘Come to Rob in the barn! Don’s mad and he’s bitten him, and we don’t
know what to do; it’s all my fault; no one must know. Oh, do be
quick!’

Nan was on her feet at once, startled, but with her wits about her,
and both were off without more words as they dodged round the house
where unconscious Daisy chatted with her friends in the parlour and
Aunt Meg peacefully took her afternoon nap upstairs.

Rob was braced up, and was as calm and steady as ever when they found
him in the harness-room, whither he had wisely retired, to escape
observation. The story was soon told, and after a look at Don, now in
his kennel, sad and surly, Nan said slowly, with her eye on the full
water-pan:

‘Rob, there is one thing to do for the sake of safety, and it must be
done at once. We can’t wait to see if Don is – sick – or to go for a
doctor. I can do it, and I will; but it is very painful, and I hate
to hurt you, dear.’

A most unprofessional quiver got into Nan’s voice as she spoke, and
her keen eyes dimmed as she looked at the two anxious young faces
turned so confidingly to her for help.

‘I know, burn it; well, do it, please; I can bear it. But Ted better
go away,’ said Rob, with a firm setting of his lips, and a nod at his
afflicted brother.

‘I won’t stir; I can stand it if he can, only it ought to be me!’
cried Ted, with a desperate effort not to cry, so full of grief and
fear and shame was he that it seemed as if he couldn’t bear it like a
man.

‘He’d better stay and help; do him good,’ answered

Nan sternly, because, her heart was faint within her, knowing as she
did all that might be in store for both poor boys. ‘Keep quiet; I’ll
be back in a minute,’ she added, going towards the house, while her
quick mind hastily planned what was best to be done.

It was ironing day, and a hot fire still burned in the empty kitchen,
for the maids were upstairs resting. Nan put a slender poker to heat,
and as she sat waiting for it, covered her face with her hands,
asking help in this sudden need for strength, courage, and wisdom;
for there was no one else to call upon, and young as she was, she
knew what was to be done if she only had the nerve to do it. Any
other patient would have been calmly interesting, but dear, good
Robin, his father’s pride, his mother’s comfort, everyone’s favourite
and friend, that he should be in danger was very terrible; and a few
hot tears dropped on the well-scoured table as Nan tried to calm her
trouble by remembering how very likely it was to be all a mistake, a
natural but vain alarm.

‘I must make light of it, or the boys will break down, and then there
will be a panic. Why afflict and frighten everyone when all is in
doubt? I won’t. I’ll take Rob to Dr Morrison at once, and have the
dog man see Don. Then, having done all we can, we will either laugh
at our scare – if it is one – or be ready for whatever comes. Now for
my poor boy.’

Armed with the red-hot poker, a pitcher of ice-water, and several
handkerchiefs from the clotheshorse, Nan went back to the barn ready
to do her best in this her most serious ’emergency case’. The boys
sat like statues, one of despair, the other of resignation; and it
took all Nan’s boasted nerve to do her work quickly and well.

‘Now, Rob, only a minute, then we are safe. Stand by, Ted; he may be
a bit faintish.’

Rob shut his eyes, clinched his hands, and sat like a hero. Ted knelt
beside him, white as a sheet, and as weak as a girl; for the pangs of
remorse were rending him, and his heart failed at the thought of all
this pain because of his wilfulness. It was all over in a moment,
with only one little groan; but when Nan looked to her assistant to
hand the water, poor Ted needed it the most, for he had fainted away,
and lay on the floor in a pathetic heap of arms and legs.

Rob laughed, and, cheered by that unexpected sound, Nan bound up the
wound with hands that never trembled, though great drops stood on her
forehead; and she shared the water with patient number one before she
turned to patient number two. Ted was much ashamed, and quite broken
in spirit, when he found how he had failed at the critical moment,
and begged them not to tell, as he really could not help it; then by
way of finishing his utter humiliation, a burst of hysterical tears
disgraced his manly soul, and did him a world of good.

‘Never mind, never mind, we are all right now, and no one need be the
wiser,’ said Nan briskly, as poor Ted hiccoughed on Rob’s shoulder,
laughing and crying in the most tempestuous manner, while his brother
soothed him, and the young doctor fanned both with Silas’s old straw
hat.

‘Now, boys, listen to me and remember what I say. We won’t alarm
anyone yet, for I’ve made up my mind our scare is all nonsense. Don
was out lapping the water as I came by, and I don’t believe he’s mad
any more than I am. Still, to ease our minds and compose our spirits,
and get our guilty faces out of sight for a while, I think we had
better drive into town to my old friend Dr Morrison, and let him just
take a look at my work, and give us some quieting little dose; for we
are all rather shaken by this flurry. Sit still, Rob; and Ted, you
harness up while I run and get my hat and tell Aunty to excuse me to
Daisy. I don’t know those Penniman girls, and she will be glad of our
room at tea, and we’ll have a cosy bite at my house, and come home as
gay as larks.’

Nan talked on as a vent for the hidden emotions which professional
pride would not allow her to show, and the boys approved her plan at
once; for action is always easier than quiet waiting. Ted went
staggering away to wash his face at the pump, and rub some colour
into his cheeks before he harnessed the horse. Rob lay tranquilly on
the hay, looking up at the swallows again as he lived through some
very memorable moments. Boy as he was, the thought of death coming
suddenly to him, and in this way, might well make him sober; for it
is a very solemn thing to be arrested in the midst of busy life by
the possibility of the great change. There were no sins to be
repented of, few faults, and many happy, dutiful years to remember
with infinite comfort. So Rob had no fears to daunt him, no regrets
to sadden, and best of all, a very strong and simple piety to sustain
and cheer him.

‘Mein Vater,’ was his first thought; for Rob was very near the
Professor’s heart, and the loss of his eldest would have been a
bitter blow. These words, whispered with a tremble of the lips that
had been so firm when the hot iron burned, recalled that other Father
who is always near, always tender and helpful; and, folding his
hands, Rob said the heartiest little prayer he ever prayed, there on
the hay, to the soft twitter of the brooding birds. It did him good;
and wisely laying all his fear and doubt and trouble in God’s hand,
the boy felt ready for whatever was to come, and from that hour kept
steadily before him the one duty that was plain – to be brave and
cheerful, keep silent, and hope for the best.

Nan stole her hat, and left a note on Daisy’s pincushion, saying she
had taken the boys to drive, and all would be out of the way till
after tea. Then she hurried back and found her patients much better,
the one for work, the other for rest. In they got, and, putting Rob
on the back seat with his leg up drove away, looking as gay and
care-free as if nothing had happened.

Dr Morrison made light of the affair, but told Nan she had done
right; and as the much-relieved lads went downstairs, he added in a
whisper: ‘Send the dog off for a while, and keep your eye on the boy.
Don’t let him know it, and report to me if anything seems wrong. One
never knows in these cases. No harm to be careful.’

Nan nodded, and feeling much relieved now that the responsibility was
off her shoulders, took the lads to Dr Watkins, who promised to come
out later and examine Don. A merry tea at Nan’s house, which was kept
open for her all summer, did them good, and by the time they got home
in the cool of the evening no sign of the panic remained but Ted’s
heavy eyes, and a slight limp when Rob walked. As the guests were
still chattering on the front piazza they retired to the back, and
Ted soothed his remorseful soul by swinging Rob in the hammock, while
Nan told stories till the dog man arrived.

He said Don was a little under the weather, but no more mad than the
grey kitten that purred round his legs while the examination went on.

‘He wants his master, and feels the heat. Fed too well, perhaps. I’ll
keep him a few weeks and send him home all right,’ said Dr Watkins,
as Don laid his great head in his hand, and kept his intelligent eyes
on his face, evidently feeling that this man understood his trials,
and knew what to do for him.

So Don departed without a murmur, and our three conspirators took
counsel together how to spare the family all anxiety, and give Rob
the rest his leg demanded. Fortunately, he always spent many hours in
his little study, so he could lie on the sofa with a book in his hand
as long as he liked, without exciting any remark. Being of a quiet
temperament, he did not worry himself or Nan with useless fears, but
believed what was told him, and dismissing all dark possibilities,
went cheerfully on his way, soon recovering from the shock of what he
called ‘our scare’.

But excitable Ted was harder to manage, and it took all Nan’s wit and
wisdom to keep him from betraying the secret; for it was best to say
nothing and spare all discussion of the subject for Rob’s sake. Ted’s
remorse preyed upon him, and having no ‘Mum’ to confide in, he was
very miserable. By day he devoted himself to Rob, waiting on him,
talking to him, gazing anxiously at him, and worrying the good fellow
very much; though he wouldn’t own it, since Ted found comfort in it.
But at night, when all was quiet, Ted’s lively imagination and heavy
heart got the better of him, and kept him awake, or set him walking
in his sleep. Nan had her eye on him, and more than once administered
a little dose to give him a rest, read to him, scolded him, and when
she caught him haunting the house in the watches of the night,
threatened to lock him up if he did not stay in his bed. This wore
off after a while; but a change came over the freakish boy, and
everyone observed it, even before his mother returned to ask what
they had done to quench the Lion’s spirits. He was gay, but not so
heedless; and often when the old wilfulness beset him, he would check
it sharply, look at Rob, and give up, or stalk away to have his sulk
out alone. He no longer made fun of his brother’s old-fashioned ways
and bookish tastes, but treated him with a new and very marked
respect, which touched and pleased modest Rob, and much amazed all
observers. It seemed as if he felt that he owed him reparation for
the foolish act that might have cost him his life; and love being
stronger than will, Ted forgot his pride, and paid his debt like an
honest boy.

‘I don’t understand it,’ said Mrs Jo, after a week of home life, much
impressed by the good behaviour of her younger son. ‘Ted is such a
saint, I’m afraid we are going to lose him. Is it Meg’s sweet
influence, or Daisy’s fine cooking, or the pellets I catch Nan giving
him on the sly? Some witchcraft has been at work during my absence,
and this will-o’-the-wisp is so amiable, quiet, and obedient, I don’t
know him.’

‘He is growing up, heart’s-dearest, and being a precocious plant, he
begins to bloom early. I also see a change in my Robchen. He is more
manly and serious than ever, and is seldom far from me, as if his
love for the old papa was growing with his growth. Our boys will
often surprise us in this way, Jo, and we can only rejoice over them
and leave them to become what Gott pleases.’

As the Professor spoke, his eyes rested proudly on the brothers, who
came walking up the steps together, Ted’s arm over Rob’s shoulder as
he listened attentively to some geological remarks Rob was making on
a stone he held. Usually, Ted made fun of such tastes, and loved to
lay boulders in the student’s path, put brickbats under his pillow,
gravel in his shoes, or send parcels of dirt by express to ‘Prof. R.
M. Bhaer’. Lately, he had treated Rob’s hobbies respectfully, and had
begun to appreciate the good qualities of this quiet brother whom he
had always loved but rather undervalued, till his courage under fire
won Ted’s admiration, and made it impossible to forget a fault, the
consequences of which might have been so terrible. The leg was still
lame, though doing well, and Ted was always offering an arm as
support, gazing anxiously at his brother, and trying to guess his
wants; for regret was still keen in Ted’s soul, and Rob’s forgiveness
only made it deeper. A fortunate slip on the stairs gave Rob an
excuse for limping, and no one but Nan and Ted saw the wound; so the
secret was safe up to this time.

‘We are talking about you, my lads. Come in and tell us what good
fairy has been at work while we were gone. Or is it because absence
sharpens our eyes, that we find such pleasant changes when we come
back?’ said Mrs Jo, patting the sofa on either side, while the
Professor forgot his piles of letters to admire the pleasing prospect
of his wife in a bower of arms, as the boys sat down beside her,
smiling affectionately, but feeling a little guilty; for till now
‘Mum’ and ‘Vater’ knew every event in their boyish lives.

‘Oh, it’s only because Bobby and I have been alone so much; we are
sort of twins. I stir him up a bit, and he steadies me a great deal.
You and father do the same, you know. Nice plan. I like it’; and Ted
felt that he had settled the matter capitally.

‘Mother won’t thank you for comparing yourself to her, Ted. I’m
flattered at being like father in any way. I try to be,’ answered
Rob, as they laughed at Ted’s compliment.

‘I do thank him, for it’s true; and if you, Robin, do half as much
for your brother as Papa has for me, your life won’t be a failure,’
said Mrs Jo heartily. ‘I’m very glad to see you helping one another.
It’s the right way, and we can’t begin too soon to try to understand
the needs, virtues, and failings of those nearest us. Love should not
make us blind to faults, nor familiarity make us too ready to blame
the shortcomings we see. So work away, my sonnies, and give us more
surprises of this sort as often as you like.’

‘The liebe Mutter has said all. I too am well pleased at the friendly
brother-warmth I find. It is good for everyone; long may it last!’
and Professor Bhaer nodded at the boys, who looked gratified, but
rather at a loss how to respond to these flattering remarks.

Rob wisely kept silent, fearing to say too much; but Ted burst out,
finding it impossible to help telling something:

‘The fact is I’ve been finding out what a brave good chap Bobby is,
and I’m trying to make up for all the bother I’ve been to him. I knew
he was awfully wise, but I thought him rather soft, because he liked
books better than larks, and was always fussing about his conscience.
But I begin to see that it isn’t the fellows who talk the loudest and
show off best that are the manliest. No, sir! quiet old Bob is a hero
and a trump, and I’m proud of him; so would you be if you knew all
about it.’

Here a look from Rob brought Ted up with a round turn; he stopped
short, grew red, and clapped his hand on his mouth in dismay.

‘Well, are we not to "know all about it"?’ asked Mrs Jo quickly; for
her sharp eye saw signs of danger and her maternal heart felt that
something had come between her and her sons. ‘Boys,’ she went on
solemnly, ‘I suspect that the change we talk about is not altogether
the effect of growing up, as we say. It strikes me that Ted has been
in mischief and Rob has got him out of some scrape; hence the lovely
mood of my bad boy and the sober one of my conscientious son, who
never hides anything from his mother.’

Rob was as red as Ted now, but after a moment’s hesitation he looked
up and answered with an air of relief:

‘Yes, mother, that’s it; but it’s all over and no harm done, and I
think we’d better let it be, for a while at least. I did feel guilty
to keep anything from you, but now you know so much I shall not worry
and you needn’t either. Ted’s sorry, I don’t mind, and it has done us
both good.’

Mrs Jo looked at Ted, who winked hard but bore the look like a man;
then she turned to Rob, who smiled at her so cheerfully that she felt
reassured; but something in his face struck her, and she saw what it
was that made him seem older, graver, yet more lovable than ever. It
was the look pain of mind, as well as body, brings, and the patience
of a sweet submission to some inevitable trial. Like a flash she
guessed that some danger had been near her boy, and the glances she
had caught between the two lads and Nan confirmed her fears.

‘Rob, dear, you have been ill, hurt, or seriously troubled by Ted?
Tell me at once; I will not have any secrets now. Boys sometimes
suffer all their lives from neglected accidents or carelessness.
Fritz, make them speak out!’

Mr Bhaer put down his papers and came to stand before them, saying in
a tone that quieted Mrs Jo, and gave the boys courage:

‘My sons, give us the truth. We can bear it; do not hold it back to
spare us. Ted knows we forgive much because we love him, so be frank,
all two.’

Ted instantly dived among the sofa pillows and kept there, with only
a pair of scarlet ears visible, while Rob in a few words told the
little story, truthfully, but as gently as he could, hastening to add
the comfortable assurance that Don was not mad, the wound nearly
well, and no danger would ever come of it.

But Mrs Jo grew so pale he had to put his arms about her, and his
father turned and walked away, exclaiming: ‘Ach Himmel!’ in a tone of
such mingled pain, relief, and gratitude, that Ted pulled an extra
pillow over his head to smother the sound. They were all right in a
minute; but such news is always a shock, even if the peril is past,
and Mrs Jo hugged her boy close till his father came and took him
away, saying with a strong shake of both hands and a quiver in his
voice:

‘To be in danger of one’s life tries a man’s mettle, and you bear it
well; but I cannot spare my good boy yet; thank Gott, we keep him
safe!’

A smothered sound, between a choke and a groan, came from under the
pillows, and the writhing of Ted’s long legs so plainly expressed
despair that his mother relented towards him, and burrowing till she
found a tousled yellow head, pulled it out and smoothed it,
exclaiming with an irrepressible laugh, though her cheeks were wet
with tears:

‘Come and be forgiven, poor sinner! I know you have suffered enough,
and I won’t say a word; only if harm had come to Rob you would have
made me more miserable than yourself. Oh, Teddy, Teddy, do try to
cure that wilful spirit of yours before it is too late!’

‘Oh, Mum, I do try! I never can forget this – I hope it’s cured me; if
it hasn’t, I am afraid I ain’t worth saving,’ answered Ted, pulling
his own hair as the only way of expressing his deep remorse.

‘Yes, you are, my dear; I felt just so at fifteen when Amy was nearly
drowned, and Marmee helped me as I’ll help you. Come to me, Teddy,
when the evil one gets hold of you, and together we’ll rout him. Ah,
me! I’ve had many a tussle with that old Apollyon, and often got
worsted, but not always. Come under my shield, and we’ll fight till
we win.’

No one spoke for a minute as Ted and his mother laughed and cried in
one handkerchief, and Rob stood with his father’s arm round him so
happy that all was told and forgiven, though never to be forgotten;
for such experiences do one good, and knit hearts that love more
closely together.

Presently Ted rose straight up and going to his father, said bravely
and humbly:

‘I ought to be punished. Please do it; but first say you forgive me,
as Rob does.’

‘Always that, mein Sohn, seventy time seven, if needs be, else I am
not worthy the name you give me. The punishment has come; I can give
no greater. Let it not be in vain. It will not with the help of the
mother and the All Father. Room here for both, always!’

The good Professor opened his arms and embraced his boys like a true
German, not ashamed to express by gesture or by word the fatherly
emotions an American would have compressed into a slap on the
shoulder and a brief ‘All right’.

Mrs Jo sat and enjoyed the prospect like a romantic soul as she was,
and then they had a quiet talk together, saying freely all that was
in their hearts, and finding much comfort in the confidence which
comes when love casts out fear. It was agreed that nothing be said
except to Nan, who was to be thanked and rewarded for her courage,
discretion, and fidelity.

‘I always knew that girl had the making of a fine woman in her, and
this proves it. No panics and shrieks and faintings and fuss, but
calm sense and energetic skill. Dear child, what can I give or do to
show my gratitude?’ said Mrs Jo enthusiastically.

‘Make Tom clear out and leave her in peace,’ suggested Ted, almost
himself again, though a pensive haze still partially obscured his
native gaiety.

‘Yes, do! he frets her like a mosquito. She forbade him to come out
here while she stayed, and packed him off with Demi. I like old Tom,
but he is a regular noodle about Nan,’ added Rob, as he went away to
help his father with the accumulated letters.

‘I’ll do it!’ said Mrs Jo decidedly. ‘That girl’s career shall not be
hampered by a foolish boy’s fancy. In a moment of weariness she may
give in, and then it’s all over. Wiser women have done so and
regretted it all their lives. Nan shall earn her place first, and
prove that she can fill it; then she may marry if she likes, and can
find a man worthy of her.’

But Mrs Jo’s help was not needed; for love and gratitude can work
miracles, and when youth, beauty, accident, and photography are
added, success is sure; as was proved in the case of the unsuspecting
but too susceptible Thomas.

 

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