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The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 7 The Dwellers by the Sea

You soon get used to things. It seemed quite natural and homelike to Philip to be wakened in bright early out-of-door's morning by the gentle beak of the parrot at his ear.

'You got back all right then,' he said sleepily.

'It was rather a long journey,' said the parrot, 'but I thought it better to come back by wing. The Hippogriff offered to bring me; he is the soul of courteous gentleness. But he was tired too. The Pretenderette is in gaol for the moment, but I'm afraid she'll get out again; we're so unused to having prisoners, you see. And it's no use putting her on her honour, because----'

'Because she hasn't any,' Philip finished.

'I wouldn't say that,' said the parrot, 'of anybody. I'd only say we haven't come across it. What about breakfast?'

'How meals do keep happening,' said Lucy, yawning; 'it seems only a few minutes since supper. And yet here we are, hungry again!'

'Ah!' said the parrot, 'that's what people always feel when they have to get their meals themselves!'

When the camel and the dogs had been served with breakfast, the children and the parrot sat down to eat. And there were many questions to ask. The parrot answered some, and some it didn't answer.

'But there's one thing,' said Lucy, 'I do most awfully want to know. About the Hippogriff. How did it get out of the book?'

'It's a long story,' said the parrot, 'so I'll tell it shortly. That's a very good rule. Tell short stories longly and long stories shortly. Many years ago, in repairing one of the buildings, the masons removed the supports of one of the books which are part of the architecture. The book fell. It fell open, and out came the Hippogriff. Then they saw something struggling under the next page and lifted it, and out came a megatherium. So they shut the book and built it into the wall again.'

'But how did the megawhatsitsname and the Hippogriff come to be the proper size?'

'Ah! that's one of the eleven mysteries. Some sages suppose that the country gave itself a sort of shake and everything settled down into the size it ought to be. I think myself that it's the air. The moment you breathe this enchanted air you become the right size. You did, you know.'

'But why did they shut the book?'

'It was a book of beasts. Who knows what might have come out next? A tiger perhaps. And ravening for its prey as likely as not.'

'I see,' said Philip; 'and of course beasts weren't really needed, because of there being all the Noah's Ark ones.'

'Yes,' said the parrot, 'so they shut the book.'

'But the weather came out of books?'

'That was another book, a poetry book. It had only one cover, so everything that was on the last page got out naturally. We got a lot out of that page, rain and sun and sky and clouds, mountains, gardens, roses, lilies, flowers in general, "Blossoms of delight" they were called in the book and trees and the sea, and the desert and silver and iron--as much of all of them as anybody could possibly want. There are no limits to poets' imaginations, you know.'

'I see,' said Lucy, and took a large bite of cake. 'And where did you come from, Polly, dear?'

'I,' said the parrot modestly, 'came out of the same book as the Hippogriff. We were on the same page. My wings entitled me to associate with him, of course, but I have sometimes thought they just put me in as a contrast. My smallness, his greatness; my red and green, his white.'

'I see,' said Lucy again, 'and please will you tell us----'

'Enough of this,' said the parrot; 'business before pleasure. You have begun the day with the pleasures of my conversation. You will have to work very hard to pay for this privilege.'

So they washed up the breakfast things in warm water obligingly provided by the camel.

'And now,' said the parrot, 'we must pack up and go on our way to destroy the fear of the Dwellers by the Sea.'

'I wonder,' Brenda said to Max in an undertone, 'I wonder whether it wouldn't be best for dear little dogs to lose themselves? We could turn up later, and be so very glad to be found.'

'But why?' Max asked.

'I've noticed,' said Brenda, sidling up to him with eager affectionateness, 'that wherever there's fear there's something to be afraid of, even if it's only your fancy. It would be dreadful for dear little dogs to be afraid, Max, wouldn't it? So undignified.'

'My dear,' said Max heavily, 'I could give seven noble reasons for being faithful to our master. But I will only give you one. There is nothing to eat in the desert, and nothing to drink.'

'You always were so noble, dearest,' said Brenda; 'so different from poor little me. I've only my affectionate nature. I know I'm only a silly little thing.'

So when the camel lurched forward and the parrot took wing, the dogs followed closely.

'Dear faithful things,' said Lucy. 'Brenda! Max! Nice dogs!'

And the dogs politely responding, bounded enthusiastically.

The journey was not long. Quite soon they found a sort of ravine or gully in the cliff, and a path that led through it. And then they were on the beach, very pebbly with small stones, and there was the home of the Dwellers by the Sea; and beyond it, broad and blue and beautiful, the sea by which they dwelt.

The Dwelling seemed to be a sort of town of rounded buildings more like lime-kilns than anything else, with arched doors leading to dark insides. They were all built of tiny stones, such as lay on the beach. Beyond the huts or houses towered the castle, a vast rough structure with towers and arches and buttresses and bastions and glacis and bridges and a great moat all round it.

'But I never built a city like that, did you?' Lucy asked as they drew near.

'No,' Philip answered; 'at least--do you know, I do believe it's the sand castle Helen and I built last summer at Dymchurch. And those huts are the moulds I made of my pail--with the edges worn off, you know.'

Towards the castle the travellers advanced, the camel lurching like a boat on a rough sea, and the dogs going with cat-like delicacy over the stones. They skirted large pools and tall rocks seaweed covered. Along a road broad enough for twelve chariots to have driven on it abreast, slowly they came to the great gate of the castle. And as they got nearer, they saw at every window heads leaning out; every battlement, every terrace, was crowded with figures. And when they were quite near, by throwing their heads very far back, so that their necks felt quite stiff for quite a long time afterwards, the children could see that all those people seemed quite young, and seemed to have very odd and delightful clothes--just a garment from shoulder to knee made, as it seemed, of dark fur.

'What lots of them there are,' said Philip; 'where did they come from?'

'Out of a book,' said the parrot; 'but the authorities were very prompt that time. Only a line and a half got out.

'Happy troops

Of gentle islanders.

Those are the islanders.'

'Then why,' asked Philip naturally, 'aren't they on an island?'

'There's only one island, and no one is allowed on that except two people who never go there. But the islanders are happy even if they don't live on an island--always happy, except for the great fear.'

Here the travellers began to cross one of the bridges across the moat, the bridge, in fact, which led to the biggest arch of all. It was a very rough arch, like the entrance to a cave.

And from out its dark mouth came a little crowd of people.

'They're savages,' said Lucy, shrinking till she seemed only an extra hump on the camel's back.

They were indeed of a dark complexion, sunburnt in fact, but their faces were handsome and kindly. They waved friendly hands and smiled in the most agreeable and welcoming way.

The tallest islander stepped out from the crowd. He was about as big as Philip.

'They're not savages,' said Philip; 'don't be a donkey. They're just children.'

'Hush!' said the parrot; 'the Lord High Islander is now about to begin the state address of welcome!'

He was. And this was the address.

'How jolly of you to come. Do get down off that camel and come indoors and have some grub. Jim, you might take that camel round to the stable and rub him down a bit. You'd like to keep the dogs with you, of course. And what about the parrot?'

'Thanks awfully,' Philip responded, and slid off the camel, followed by Lucy; 'the parrot will make his own mind up--he always does.'

They all trooped into the hall of the castle which was more like a cave than a hall and very dark, for the windows were little and high up. As Lucy's eyes got used to the light she perceived that the clothes of the islanders were not of skins but of seaweed.

'I asked you in,' said the Lord High Islander, a jolly-looking boy of about Philip's age, 'out of politeness. But really it isn't dinner time, and the meet is in half an hour. So, unless you're really hungry----?'

The children said 'Not at all!'

'You hunt, of course?' the Lord High Islander said; 'it's really the only sport we get here, except fishing. Of course we play games and all that. I do hope you won't be dull.'

'We came here on business,' the parrot remarked--and the happy islanders crowded round to see him, remarking--'these are Philip and Lucy, claimants to the Deliverership. They are doing their deeds, you know,' the parrot ended.

Lucy whispered, 'It's really Philip who is the claimant, not me; only the parrot's so polite.'

The Lord High Islander frowned. 'We can talk about that afterwards,' he said; 'it's a pity to waste time now.'

'What do you hunt?' Philip asked.

'All the different kinds of graibeeste and the vertoblancs; and the blugraiwee, when we can find him,' said the Lord High Islander. 'But he's very scarce. Pinkuggers are more common, and much bigger, of course. Well, you'll soon see. If your camel's not quite fresh I can mount you both. What kind of animal do you prefer?'

'What do you ride?' Philip asked.

It appeared that the Lord High Islander rode a giraffe, and Philip longed to ride another. But Lucy said she would rather ride what she was used to, thank you.

When they got out into the courtyard of the castle, they found it full of a crowd of animals, any of which you may find in the Zoo, or in your old Noah's ark if it was a sufficiently expensive one to begin with, and if you have not broken or lost too many of the inhabitants. Each animal had its rider and the party rode out on to the beach.

'What is it they hunt?' Philip asked the parrot, who had perched on his shoulder.

'All the little animals in the Noah's ark that haven't any names,' the parrot told him. 'All those are considered fair game. Hullo! blugraiwee!' it shouted, as a little grey beast with blue spots started from the shelter of a rock and made for the cover of a patch of giant seaweed. Then all sorts of little animals got up and scurried off into places of security.

'There goes a vertoblanc,' said the parrot, pointing to a bright green animal of uncertain shape, whose breast and paws were white, 'and there's a graibeeste.'

The graibeeste was about as big as a fox, and had rabbit's ears and the unusual distinction of a tail coming out of his back just half-way between one end of him and the other. But there are graibeestes of all sorts and shapes.

You know when people are making the animals for Noah's arks they make the big ones first, elephants and lions and tigers and so on, and paint them as nearly as they can the right colours. Then they get weary of copying nature and begin to paint the animals pink and green and chocolate colour, which in nature is not the case. These are the chockmunks, and vertoblancs and the pinkuggers. And presently the makers get sick of the whole business and make the animals any sort of shape and paint them all one grey--these are the graibeestes. And at the very end a guilty feeling of having been slackers comes over the makers of the Noah's arks, and they paint blue spots on the last and littlest of the graibeestes to ease their consciences. This is the blugraiwee.

'Tally Ho! Hark forrad! Yoicks!' were some of the observations now to be heard on every side as the hunt swept on, the blugraiwee well ahead. Dogs yapped, animals galloped, riders shouted, the sun shone, the sea sparkled, and far ahead the blugraiwee ran, extended to his full length like a grey straight line. He was killed five miles from the castle after a splendid run. And when a pinkugger had been secured and half a dozen graibeeste, the hunt rode slowly home.

'We only hunt to kill and we only kill for food,' the Lord High Islander said.

'But,' said Philip, 'I thought Noah's ark animals turned into wood when they were dead?'

'Not if you kill for food. The intention makes all the difference. I had a plum-cake intention when we put up the blugraiwee, the pinkugger I made a bread and butter intention about, and the graibeestes I intended for rice pudding and prunes and toffee and ices and all sorts of odd things. So, of course, when we come to cut them up they'll be what I intended.'

'I see,' said Philip, jogging along on his camel. 'I say,' he added, 'you don't mind my asking--how is it you're all children here?'

'Well,' said the Lord High Islander, 'it's ancient history, so I don't suppose it's true. But they say that when the government had to make sure that we should always be happy troops of gentle islanders, they decided that the only way was for us to be children. And we do have the most ripping time. And we do our own hunting and cooking and wash up our own plates and things, and for heavy work we have the M.A.'s. They're men who've had to work at sums and history and things at College so hard that they want a holiday. So they come here and work for us, and if any of us do want to learn anything, the M.A.'s are handy to have about the place. It pleases them to teach anything, poor things. They live in the huts. There's always a long list waiting for their turn. Oh yes, they wear the seaweed dress the same as we do. And they hunt on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They hunt big game, the fierce ambergris who is grey with a yellow stomach and the bigger graibeestes. Now we'll have dinner the minute we get in, and then we must talk about It.'

The game was skinned and cut up in the courtyard, and the intentions of the Lord High Islander had certainly been carried out. For the blugraiwee was plum-cake, and the other animals just what was needed.

And after dinner the Lord High Islander took Lucy and Philip up on to the top of the highest tower, and the three lay in the sun eating toffee and gazing out over the sea at the faint distant blue of the island.

'The island where we aren't allowed to go,' as the Lord High Islander sadly pointed out.

'Now,' said Lucy gently, 'you won't mind telling us what you're afraid of? Don't mind telling us. We're afraid too; we're afraid of all sorts of things quite often.'

'Speak for yourself,' said Philip, but not unkindly. 'I'm not so jolly often afraid as you seem to think. Go ahead, my Lord.'

'You might as well call me Billy,' said the Lord High Islander; 'it's my name.'

'Well, Billy, then. What is it you're afraid of?'

'I hate being afraid,' said Billy angrily. 'Of course I know no true boy is afraid of anything except doing wrong. One of the M.A.'s told me that. But the M.A.'s are afraid too.'

'What of?' Lucy asked, glancing at the terrace below, where already the shadows were lengthening; 'it'll be getting dark soon. I'd much rather know what you're afraid of while it's daylight.'

'What we're afraid of,' said Billy abruptly, 'is the sea. Suppose a great wave came and washed away the castle, and the huts, and the M.A.'s and all of us?'

'But it never has, has it?' Lucy asked.

'No, but everything must have a beginning. I know that's true, because another of the M.A.'s told it me.'

'But why don't you go and live somewhere inland?'

'Because we couldn't live away from the sea. We're islanders, you know; we couldn't bear not to be near the sea. And we'd rather be afraid of it, than not have it to be afraid of. But it upsets the government, because we ought to be happy troops of gentle islanders, and you can't be quite happy if you're afraid. That's why it's one of your deeds to take away our fear.'

'It sounds jolly difficult,' said Philip; 'I shall have to think,' he added desperately. So he lay and thought with Max and Brenda asleep by his side and the parrot preening its bright feathers on the parapet of the tower, while Lucy and the Lord High Islander played cat's cradle with a long thread of seaweed.

'It's supper time,' said Billy at last. 'Have you thought of anything?'

'Not a single thing,' said Philip.

'Well, don't swat over it any more,' said Billy; 'just stay with us and have a jolly time. You're sure to think of something. Or else Lucy will. We'll act charades to-night.'

They did. The rest of the islanders were an extremely jolly lot, and all the M.A.'s came out of their huts to be audience. It was a charming evening, and ended up with hide-and-seek all over the castle.

To wake next morning on a bed of soft, dry, sweet-smelling seaweed, and to know that the day was to be spent in having a good time with the jolliest set of children she had ever met, was delightful to Lucy. Philip's delight was dashed by the knowledge that he must, sooner or later, think. But the day passed most agreeably. They all bathed in the rock pools, picked up shell-fish for dinner, played rounders in the afternoon, and in the evening danced to the music made by the M.A.'s who most of them carried flutes in their pockets, and who were all very flattered at being asked to play.

So the pleasant days went on. Every morning Philip said to himself, 'Now to-day I really must think of something,' and every night he said, 'I really ought to have thought of something.' But he never could think of anything to take away the fear of the gentle islanders.

It was on the sixth night that the storm came. The wind blew and the sea roared and the castle shook to its very foundations. And Philip, awakened by the noise and the shaking, sat up in bed and understood what the fear was that spoiled the happiness of the Dwellers by the Sea.

'Suppose the sea did sweep us all away,' he said; 'and they haven't even got a boat.'

And then, when he was quite far from expecting it, he did think of something. And he went on thinking about it so hard that he couldn't sleep any more.

And in the morning he said to the parrot:

'I've thought of something. And I'm not going to tell the others. But I can't do it all by myself. Do you think you could get Perrin for me?'

'I will try with pleasure,' replied the obliging bird, and flew off without further speech.

That afternoon, just as a picnic tea was ending, a great shadow fell on the party, and next moment the Hippogriff alighted with Mr. Perrin and the parrot on its back.

'Oh, thank you,' said Philip, and led Mr. Perrin away and began to talk to him in whispers.

'No, sir,' Mr. Perrin answered suddenly and aloud. 'I'm sorry, but I couldn't think of it.'

'Don't you know how?' Philip asked.

'I know everything as is to be known in my trade,' said Mr. Perrin, 'but carpentry's one thing, and manners is another. Not but what I know manners too, which is why I won't be a party to no such a thing.'

'But you don't understand,' said Philip, trying to keep up with Mr. Perrin's long strides. 'What I want to do is for you to build a Noah's ark on the top of the highest tower. Then when the sea's rough and the wind blows, all the Sea-Dwellers can just get into their ark and then they'll be quite safe whatever happens.'

'You said all that afore,' said Mr. Perrin, 'and I wonder at you, so I do.'

'I thought it was such a good idea,' said poor Philip in gloom.

'Oh, the idea's all right,' said Mr. Perrin; 'there ain't nothing to complain of 'bout the idea.'

'Then what is wrong?' Philip asked impatiently.

'You've come to the wrong shop,' said Mr. Perrin slowly. 'I ain't the man to take away another chap's job, not if he was to be in the humblest way of business; but when it comes to slapping the government in the face, well, there, Master Pip, I wouldn't have thought it of you. It's as much as my place is worth.'

'Look here,' said Philip, stopping short in despair, 'will you tell me straight out why you won't help me?'

'I'm not a-going to go building arks, at my time of life,' said Mr. Perrin. 'Mr. Noah'd break his old heart, so he would, if I was to take on his job over his head.'

'Oh, you mean I ought to ask him?'

"Course you ought to ask him. I don't mind lending a hand under his directions, acting as foreman like, so as to make a good job of it. But it's him you must give your order to.'

The parrot and the Hippogriff between them managed to get Mr. Noah to the castle by noon of the next day.

'Would you have minded,' Philip immediately asked him, 'if I'd had an ark built without asking you to do it?'

'Well,' said Mr. Noah mildly, 'I might have been a little hurt. I have had some experience, you know, my Lord.'

'Why do you call me that?' Philip asked.

'Because you are, of course. Your deed of slaying the lions counts one to you, and by virtue of it you are now a Baron. I congratulate you, Lord Leo,' said Mr. Noah.

He approved of Philip's idea, and he and Perrin were soon busy making plans, calculating strains and selecting materials.

Then Philip made a speech to the islanders and explained his idea. There was a great deal of cheering and shouting, and every one agreed that an ark on the topmost tower would meet a long-felt want, and that when once that ark was there, fear would for ever be a stranger to every gentle island heart.

And now the great work of building began. Mr. Perrin kindly consented to act as foreman and set to work a whole army of workmen--the M.A.'s of course. And soon the sound of saw and hammer mingled with the plash of waves and cries of sea-birds, and gangs of stalwart M.A.'s in their seaweed tunics bent themselves to the task of shaping great timbers and hoisting them to the top of the highest tower, where other gangs, under Mr. Noah's own eye, reared a scaffolding to support the ark while the building went on.

The children were not allowed to help, but they loved looking on, and almost felt that, if they looked on earnestly enough, they must, in some strange mysterious way, be actually helping. You know the feeling, I daresay.

The Hippogriff, who was stabled in the castle, flew up to wherever he was wanted, to assist in the hauling. Mr. Noah only had to whisper the magic word in his ear and up he flew. But what that magic word was the children did not know, though they asked often enough.

And now at last the ark was finished, the scaffolding was removed, and there was the great Noah's ark, firmly planted on the topmost tower. It was a perfect example of the ark-builder's craft. Its boat part was painted a dull red, its sides and ends were blue with black windows, and its roof was bright scarlet, painted in lines to imitate tiles. No least detail was neglected. Even to the white bird painted on the roof, which you must have noticed in your own Noah's ark.

A great festival was held, speeches were made, and every one who had lent a hand in the building, even the humblest M.A., was crowned with a wreath of fresh pink and green seaweed. Songs were sung, and the laureate of the Sea-Dwellers, a young M.A. with pale blue eyes and no chin, recited an ode beginning--

Now that we have our Noble Ark No more we tremble in the dark When the great seas and the winds cry out, For we are safe without a doubt.

At undue risings of the tide Within our Ark we'll safely hide, And bless the names of those who thus Have built a painted Ark for us.

There were three hundred and seventeen more lines, very much like these, and every one said it was wonderful, and the laureate was a genius, and how did he do it, and what brains, eh? and things like that.

And Philip and Lucy had crowns too. The Lord High Islander made a vote of thanks to Philip, who modestly replied that it was nothing, really, and anybody could have done it. And a spirit of gladness spread about among the company so that every one was smiling and shaking hands with everybody else, and even the M.A.'s were making little polite old jokes, and slapping each other on the back and calling each other 'old chap,' which was not at all their habit in ordinary life. The whole castle was decorated with garlands of pink and green seaweed like the wreaths that people were wearing, and the whole scene was the gayest and happiest you can imagine.

And then the dreadful thing happened.

Philip and Lucy were standing in their seaweed tunics, for of course they had, since the first day, worn the costume of the country, on the platform in the courtyard. Mr. Noah had just said, 'Well, then, we will enjoy this enjoyable day to the very end and return to the city to-morrow,' when a shadow fell on the group. It was the Hippogriff, and on its back was--some one. Before any one could see who that some one was, the Hippogriff had flown low enough for that some one to catch Philip by his seaweed tunic and to swing him off his feet and on to the Hippogriff's back. Lucy screamed, Mr. Perrin said, 'Here, I say, none of that,' and Mr. Noah said, 'Dear me!' And they all reached out their hands to pull Philip back. But they were all too late.

'I won't go. Put me down,' Philip shouted. They all heard that. And also they heard the answer of the person on the Hippogriff--the person who had snatched Philip on to its back.

'Oh, won't you, my Lord? We'll soon see about that,' the person said.

Three people there knew that voice, four counting Philip, six counting the dogs. The dogs barked and growled, Mr. Noah said 'Drop it;' and Lucy screamed, 'Oh no! oh no! it's that Pretenderette.' The parrot, with great presence of mind, flew up into the air and attacked the ear of the Pretenderette, for, as old books say, it was indeed that unprincipled character who had broken from prison and once more stolen the Hippogriff. But the Pretenderette was not to be caught twice by the same parrot. She was ready for the bird this time, and as it touched her ear she caught it in her motor veil which she must have loosened beforehand, and thrust it into a wicker cage that hung ready from the saddle of the Hippogriff who hovered on his wide white wings above the crowd of faces upturned.

'Now we shall see her face,' Lucy thought, for she could not get rid of the feeling that if she could only see the Pretenderette's face she would recognise it. But the Pretenderette was too wily to look down unveiled. She turned her face up, and she must have whispered the magic word, for the Hippogriff rose in the air and began to fly away with incredible swiftness across the sea.

'Oh, what shall I do?' cried Lucy, wringing her hands. You have often heard of people wringing their hands. Lucy, I assure you, really did wring hers. 'Oh! Mr. Noah, what will she do with him? Where will she take him? What shall I do? How can I find him again?'

'I deeply regret, my dear child,' said Mr. Noah, 'that I find myself quite unable to answer any single one of your questions.'

'But can't I go after him?' Lucy persisted.

'I am sorry to say,' said Mr. Noah, 'that we have no boats; the Pretenderette has stolen our one and only Hippogriff, and none of our camels can fly.'

'But what can I do?' Lucy stamped her foot in her agony of impatience.

'Nothing, my child,' Mr. Noah aggravatingly replied, 'except to go to bed and get a good night's rest. To-morrow we will return to the city and see what can be done. We must consult the oracle.'

'But can't we go now,' said Lucy, crying.

'No oracle is worth consulting till it's had its night's rest,' said Mr. Noah. 'It is a three days' journey. If we started now--see it is already dusk--we should arrive in the middle of the night. We will start early in the morning.'

But early in the morning there was no starting from the castle of the Dwellers by the Sea. There was indeed no one to start, and there was no castle to start from.

A young blugraiwee, peeping out of its hole after a rather disturbed night to see whether any human beings were yet stirring or whether it might venture out in search of yellow periwinkles, which are its favourite food, started, pricked its spotted ears, looked again, and, disdaining the cover of the rocks, walked boldly out across the beach. For the beach was deserted. There was no one there. No Mr. Noah, no Lucy, no gentle islanders, no M.A.'s--and what is more there were no huts and there was no castle. All was smooth, plain, bare sea-combed beach.

For the sea had at last risen. The fear of the Dwellers had been justified. Whether the sea had been curious about the ark no one knows, no one will ever know. At any rate the sea had risen up and swept away from the beach every trace of the castle, the huts and the folk who had lived there.

A bright parrot, with a streamer of motor veiling hanging to one claw, called suddenly from the clear air to the little blugraiwee.

'What's up?' the parrot asked; 'where's everything got to?'

'I don't know, I'm sure,' said the little blugraiwee; 'these human things are always coming and going. Have some periwinkles? They're very fine this morning after the storm,' it said.

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