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Gala-Days by Gail Hamilton

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folly, no refuge from their injustice, but living on through
thick and thin right under their guns.

"Oh!" but you say, "this is a very one-sided view. You leave
out entirely the natural tenderness that comes in to temper the
matter. Without that, a child's situation would of course be
intolerable; but the love that is born with him makes all
things smooth."

No, it does not make all things smooth. It does wonders, to
be sure, but it does not make cross people pleasant, nor
violent people calm, nor fretful people easy, nor obstinate
people reasonable, nor foolish people wise,--that is, it may
do so spasmodically, but it does not hold them to it and keep
them at it. A great deal of beautiful moonshine is written
about the sanctities of home and the sacraments of marriage and
birth. I do not mean to say that there is no sanctity and no
sacrament. Moonshine is not nothing. It is light,--real,
honest light,--just as truly as the sunshine. It is sunshine
at second-hand. It illuminates, but indistinctly. It
beautifies, but it does not vivify or fructify. It comes
indeed from the sun, but in too roundabout a way to do the
sun's work. So, if a woman is pretty nearly sanctified before
she is married, wifehood and motherhood may accomplish the
work; but there is not one man in ten thousand of the writers
aforesaid who would marry a vixen, trusting to the sanctifying
influences of marriage to tone her down to sweetness. A
thoughtful, gentle, pure, and elevated woman, who has been
accustomed to stand face to face with the eternities, will see
in her child a soul. If the circumstances of her life leave
her leisure and adequate repose, that soul will be to her a
solemn trust, a sacred charge, for which she will give her own
soul's life in pledge. But how many such women do you suppose
there are in your village? Heaven forbid that I should even
appear to be depreciating woman! Do I not know too well their
strength, and their virtue which is their strength? But,
stepping out of idyls and novels, and stepping into American
kitchens, is it not true that the larger part of the mothers
see in their babies, or act as if they saw, only babies? And
if there are three or four or half a dozen of them, as there
generally are, so much the more do they see babies whose bodies
monopolize the mother's time to the disadvantage of their
souls. She loves them, and she works for them day and night;
but when they are ranting and ramping and quarrelling, and
torturing her over-tense nerves, she forgets the infinite, and
applies herself energetically to the finite, by sending Harry
with a round scolding into one corner, and Susy into another,
with no light thrown upon the point in dispute, no principle
settled as a guide in future difficulties, and little
discrimination as to the relative guilt of the offenders. But
there is no court of appeal before which Harry and Susy can lay
their case in these charming "happiest days"!

Then there are parents who love their children like wild
beasts. It is a passionate, blind, instinctive, unreasoning
love. They have no more intelligent discernment, when an
outside difficulty arises with respect to their children, than
a she-bear. They wax furious over the most richly deserved
punishment, if inflicted by a teacher's hand; they take the
part of their child against legal authority; but observe, this
does not prevent them from laying their own hands heavily on
their children. The same obstinate ignorance and narrowness
that are exhibited without exist within also. Folly is folly,
abroad or at home. A man does not play the fool outdoors and
act the sage in the house. When the poor child becomes obnoxious,
the same unreasoning rage falls upon him. The object of a ferocious
love is the object of an equally ferocious anger. It is only he
who loves wisely that loves well.

The manner in which children's tastes are disregarded, their
feelings ignored, and their instincts violated, is enough to
disaffect one with childhood. They are expected to kiss all
flesh that asks them to do so. They are jerked up into the
laps of people whom they abhor. They say, "Yes, ma'am," under
pain of bread and water for a week, when their unerring nature
prompts them to hurl out emphatically, "No." They are sent out
of the room whenever a fascinating bit of scandal is to be
rehearsed, packed off to bed just as everybody is settled down
for a charming evening, bothered about their lessons when their
play is but fairly under way, and hedged and hampered on every
side. It is true, that all this may be for their good, but
what of that? So everything is for the good of grown-up
people; but does that make us contented? It is doubtless for
our good in the long run that we lose our pocket-books, and
break our arms, and catch a fever, and have our brothers
defraud a bank, and our houses burn down, and people steal our
umbrellas, and borrow our books and never return them. In
fact, we know that upon certain conditions all things work
together for our good, but, notwithstanding, we find some
things very unpleasant; and we may talk to our children of
discipline and health by the hour together, and it will never
be anything but an intolerable nuisance to them to be swooped
off to bed by a dingy old nurse just as the people are
beginning to come, and shining silk, and floating lace, and
odorous, fragrant flowers are taking their ecstatic young souls
back into the golden days of the good Haroun al Raschid.

Even in this very point lies one of the miseries of childhood,
that no philosophy comes to temper their sorrow. We do not
know why we are troubled, but we know there is some good, grand
reason for it. The poor little children do not know even that.
They find trouble utterly inconsequent and unreasonable. The
problem of evil is to them absolutely incapable of solution.
We know that beyond our horizon stretches the infinite
universe. We grasp only one link of a chain whose beginning
and end is eternity. So we readily adjust ourselves to
mystery, and are content. We apply to everything inexplicable
the test of partial view, and maintain our tranquillity. We
fall into the ranks, and march on, acquiescent, if not
jubilant. We hear the roar of cannon and the rattle of
musketry. Stalwart forms fall by our side, and brawny arms are
stricken. Our own hopes bite the dust, our own hopes bury
their dead; but we know that law is inexorable. Effect must
follow cause, and there is no happening without causation. So,
knowing ourselves to be only one small brigade of the army of
the Lord, we defile through the passes of this narrow world,
bearing aloft on our banner, and writing ever on our hearts,
the divine consolation, "What thou knowest not now thou shalt
know hereafter." This is an unspeakable tranquillizer and
comforter, of which, woe is me! the little ones know nothing.
They have no underlying generalities on which to stand. Law
and logic and eternity are nothing to them. They only know
that it rains, and they will have to wait another week before
they go a-fishing; and why couldn't it have rained Friday just
as well as Saturday? and it always does rain or something when
I want to go anywhere,--so, there! And the frantic flood of
tears comes up from outraged justice as well as from
disappointed hope. It is the flimsiest of all possible
arguments to say that their sorrows are trifling, to talk about
their little cares and trials. These little things are great
to little men and women. A pine bucket full is just as full
as a hogshead. The ant has to tug just as hard to carry a
grain of corn as the Irishman does to carry a hod of bricks.
You can see the bran running out of Fanny's doll's arm, or the
cat putting her foot through Tom's new kite, without losing
your equanimity; but their hearts feel the pang of hopeless
sorrow, or foiled ambition, or bitter disappointment,--and the
emotion is the thing in question, not the event that caused it.

It is all additional disadvantage to children in their
troubles, that they can never estimate the relations of things.
They have no perspective. All things are at equal distances
from the point of sight. Life presents to them neither
foreground nor background, principal figure nor subordinates,
but only a plain spread of canvas, on which one thing stands
out just as big and just as black as another. You classify
your desagrements. This is a mere temporary annoyance, and
receives but a passing thought. This is a life-long sorrow,
but it is superficial; it will drop off from you at the grave,
be folded away with your cerements, and leave no scar on your
spirit. This thrusts its lancet into the secret place where
your soul abideth, but you know that it tortures only to heal;
it is recuperative, not destructive, and you will rise from it
to newness of life. But when little ones see a ripple in the
current of their joy, they do not know, they cannot tell, that
it is only a pebble breaking softly in upon the summer flow,
to toss a cool spray up into the white bosom of the lilies, or
to bathe the bending violets upon the green and grateful bank.
It seems to them as if the whole strong tide is thrust fiercely
and violently back, and hurled into a new channel, chasmed in
the rough, rent granite. It is impossible to calculate the
waste of grief and pathos which this incapacity causes.
Fanny's doll aforesaid is left too near the fire, and waxy
tears roll down her ruddy cheeks, to the utter ruin of her
pretty face and her gay frock; and anon poor Fanny breaks her
little heart in moans and sobs and sore lamentations. It is
Rachel weeping for her children. I went on a tramp one May
morning to buy a tissue-paper wreath of flowers for a little
girl to wear to a May-party, where all the other little girls
were expected to appear similarly crowned. After a long and
weary search, I was forced to return without it. Scarcely had
I pulled the bell, when I heard the quick pattering of little
feet in the entry. Never in all my life shall I lose the
memory of those wistful eyes, that did not so much as look up
to my face, but levelled themselves to my hand, and filmed with
disappointment to find it empty. _I_ could see that the wreath
was a very insignificant matter. I knew that every little
beggar in the street had garlanded herself with sixpenny roses,
and I should have preferred that my darling should be content
with her own silky brown hair; but my taste availed her
nothing, and the iron entered into her soul. Once a little
boy, who could just stretch himself up as high as his papa's
knee, climbed surreptitiously into the store-closet and upset
the milk-pitcher. Terrified, he crept behind the flour-barrel,
and there Nemesis found him, and he looked so charming and so
guilty that two or three others were called to come and enjoy
the sight. But he, unhappy midget, did not know that he looked
charming; he did not know that his guilty consciousness only
made him the more interesting; he did not know that he seemed
an epitome of humanity, a Liliputian miniature of the great
world; and his large, blue, solemn eyes were filled with
remorse. As he stood there silent, with his grave, utterly
mournful face, he had robbed a bank, he had forged a note, he
had committed a murder, he was guilty of treason. All the
horror of conscience, all the shame of discovery, all the
unavailing regret of a detected, atrocious, but not utterly
hardened pirate, tore his poor little innocent heart. Yet
children are seeing their happiest days!

These people--the aforesaid three fourths of our acquaintance--
lay great stress on the fact that children are free from care,
as if freedom from care were one of the beatitudes of Paradise;
but I should like to know if freedom from care is any blessing
to beings who don't know what care is. You who are careful and
troubled about many things may dwell on it with great
satisfaction, but children don't find it delightful by any
means. On the contrary, they are never so happy as when they
can get a little care, or cheat themselves into the belief that
they have it. You can make them proud for a day by sending
them on some responsible errand. If you will not place care
upon them, they will make it for themselves. You shall see a
whole family of dolls stricken down simultaneously with
malignant measles, or a restive horse evoked from a passive
parlor-chair. They are a great deal more eager to assume care,
than you are to throw it off. To be sure, they may be quite
as eager to be rid of it after a while; but while this does not
prove that care is delightful, it certainly does prove that
freedom from care is not.

Now I should like, Herr Narr, to have you look at the other
side for a moment: for there is a positive and a negative
pole. Children not only have their full share of misery, but
they do not have their full share of happiness; at least, they
miss many sources of happiness to which we have access. They
have no consciousness. They have sensations, but no
perceptions. We look longingly upon them, because they are so
graceful, and simple, and natural, and frank, and artless; but
though this may make us happy, it does not make them happy,
because they don't know anything about it. It never occurs to
them that they are graceful. No child is ever artless to
himself. The only difference he sees between you and himself
is, that you are grown-up and he is little. Sometimes I think
he does have a dim perception that when he is ill, it is
because he has eaten too much, and he must take medicine, and
feed on heartless dry toast, while, when you are ill, you have
the dyspepsia, and go to Europe. But the beauty and sweetness
of children are entirely wasted on themselves, and their
frankness is a source of infinite annoyance to each other. A
man enjoys HIMSELF. If he is handsome, or wise, or witty, he
generally knows it, and takes great satisfaction in it; but a
child does not. He loses half his happiness because he does
not know that he is happy. If he ever has any consciousness,
it is an isolated, momentary thing, with no relation to
anything antecedent or subsequent. It lays hold on nothing.
Not only have they no perception of themselves, but they have
no perception of anything. They never recognize an exigency.
They do not salute greatness. Has not the Autocrat told us of
some lady who remembered a certain momentous event in our
Revolutionary War, and remembered it only by and because of the
regret she experienced at leaving her doll behind when her
family was forced to fly from home? What humiliation is this!
What an utter failure to appreciate the issues of life! For
her there was no revolution, no upheaval of world-old theories,
no struggle for freedom, no great combat of the heroisms. All
the passion and pain, the mortal throes of error, the glory of
sacrifice, the victory of an idea, the triumph of right, the
dawn of a new era,--all, all were hidden from her behind a lump
of wax. And what was true of her is true of all her class.
Having eyes, they see not; with their ears they do not hear.
The din of arms, the waving of banners, the gleam of swords,
fearful sights and great signs in the heavens, or the still,
small voice that thrills when wind and fire and earthquake have
swept by, may proclaim the coming of the Lord, and they stumble
along, munching bread-and-butter. Out in the solitudes Nature
speaks with her many-toned voices, and they are deaf. They
have a blind sensational enjoyment, such as a squirrel or a
chicken may have, but they can in no wise interpret the Mighty
Mother, nor even hear her words. The ocean moans his secret
to unheeding ears. The agony of the underworld finds no speech
in the mountain-peaks, bare and grand. The old oaks stretch
out their arms in vain. Grove whispers to grove, and the robin
stops to listen, but the child plays on. He bruises the happy
butter-cups, he crushes the quivering anemone, and his cruel
fingers are stained with the harebell's purple blood. Rippling
waterfall and rolling river, the majesty of sombre woods, the
wild waste of wilderness, the fairy spirits of sunshine, the
sparkling wine of June, and the golden languor of October, the
child passes by, and a dipper of blackberries, or a pocketful
of chestnuts, fills and satisfies his horrible little soul.
And in face of all this people say,--there are people who DARE
to say,--that childhood's are the "happiest days."

I may have been peculiarly unfortunate in my surroundings, but
the children of poetry and novels were very infrequent in my
day. The innocent cherubs never studied in my school-house,
nor played puss-in-the-corner in our backyard. Childhood, when
I was young, had rosy checks and bright eyes, as I remember,
but it was also extremely given to quarrelling. It used
frequently to "get mad." It made nothing of twitching away
books and balls. It often pouted. Sometimes it would bite.
If it wore a fine frock, it would strut. It told lies,-
-"whoppers" at that. It took the larger half of the apple.
It was not, as a general thing, magnanimous, but "aggravating."
It may have been fun to you who looked on, but it was death to
us who were in the midst.

This whole way of viewing childhood, this regretful retrospect
of its vanished joys, this infatuated apotheosis of doughiness
and rank unfinish, this fearful looking-for of dread old age,
is low, gross, material, utterly unworthy of a sublime manhood,
utterly false to Christian truth. Childhood is pre-eminently
the animal stage of existence. The baby is a beast--a very
soft, tender, caressive beast,--a beast full of promise,--a
beast with the germ of an angel,--but a beast still. A
week-old baby gives no more sign of intelligence, of love, or
ambition, or hope, or fear, or passion, or purpose, than a
week-old monkey, and is not half so frisky and funny. In fact,
it is a puling, scowling, wretched, dismal, desperate-looking
animal. It is only as it grows old that the beast gives way
and the angel-wings bud, and all along through infancy and
childhood the beast gives way and gives way and the angel-wings
bud and bud; and yet we entertain our angel so unawares, that
we look back regretfully to the time when the angel was in
abeyance and the beast raved regnant.

The only advantage which childhood has over manhood is the
absence of foreboding, and this indeed is much. A large part
of our suffering is anticipatory, much of which children are
spared. The present happiness is clouded for them by no
shadowy possibility; but for this small indemnity shall we
offset the glory of our manly years? Because their narrowness
cannot take in the contingencies that threaten peace, are they
blessed above all others? Does not the same narrowness cut
them off from the bright certainty that underlies all doubts
and fears? If ignorance is bliss, man stands at the summit of
mortal misery, and the scale of happiness is a descending one.
We must go down into the ocean-depths, where, for the
scintillant soul, a dim, twilight instinct lights up gelatinous
lives. If childhood is indeed the happiest period, then the
mysterious God-breathed breath was no boon, and the Deity is
cruel. Immortality were well exchanged for the blank of

We hear of the dissipated illusions of youth, the paling of
bright, young dreams. Life, it is said, turns out to be
different from what was pictured. The rosy-hued morning fades
away into the gray and livid evening, the black and ghastly
night. In especial cases it may be so, but I do not believe
it is the general experience. It surely need not be. It
should not be. I have found things a great deal better than
I expected. I am but one; but with all my oneness, with all
that there is of me, I protest against such generalities. I
think they are slanderous of Him who ordained life, its
processes and its vicissitudes. He never made our dreams to
outstrip our realizations. Every conception, brain-born, has
its execution, hand-wrought. Life is not a paltry tin cup
which the child drains dry, leaving the man to go weary and
hopeless, quaffing at it in vain with black, parched lips. It
is a fountain ever springing. It is a great deep, which the
wisest has never bounded, the grandest never fathomed.

It is not only idle, but stupid, to lament the departure of
childhood's joys. It is as if something precious and valued
had been forcibly torn from us, and we go sorrowing for lost
treasure. But these things fall off from us naturally; we do
not give them up. We are never called upon to give them up.
There is no pang, no sorrow, no wrenching away of a part of
our lives. The baby lies in his cradle and plays with his
fingers and toes. There comes an hour when his fingers and
toes no longer afford him amusement. He has attained to the
dignity of a rattle, a whip, a ball. Has he suffered a loss?
Has he not rather made a great gain? When he passed from his
toes to his toys, did he do it mournfully? Does he look at his
little feet and hands with a sigh for the joys that once
loitered there but are now forever gone? Does he not rather
feel a little ashamed, when you remind him of those days? Does
he not feel that it trenches somewhat on his dignity? Yet the
regret of maturity for its past joys amounts to nothing less
than this. Such regret is regret that we cannot lie in the
sunshine and play with our toes,--that we are no longer but one
remove, or but few removes, from the idiot. Away with such
folly! Every season of life has its distinctive and
appropriate enjoyments, which bud and blossom and ripen and
fall off as the season glides on to its close, to be succeeded
by others better and brighter. There is no consciousness of
loss, for there is no loss. There is only a growing up, and
out of; and beyond.

Life does turn out differently from what was anticipated. It
is an infinitely higher and holier and happier thing than our
childhood fancied. The world that lay before us then was but
a tinsel toy to the world which our firm feet tread. We have
entered into the undiscovered land. We have explored its ways
of pleasantness, its depths of dole, its mountains of
difficulty, its valleys of delight, and, behold! it is very
good. Storms have swept fiercely, but they swept to purify.
We have heard in its thunders the Voice that woke once the
echoes of the Garden. Its lightnings have riven a path for the
Angel of Peace.

Manhood discovers what childhood can never divine,--that the
sorrows of life are superficial, and the happiness of life
structural; and this knowledge alone is enough to give a peace
which passeth understanding.

Yes, the dreams of youth were dreams, but the waking was more
glorious than they. They were only dreams,--fitful, flitting,
fragmentary visions of the coming day. The shallow joys, the
capricious pleasures, the wavering sunshine of infancy, have
deepened into virtues, graces, heroisms. We have the bold
outlook of calm, self-confident courage, the strong fortitude
of endurance, the imperial magnificence of self-denial. Our
hearts expand with benevolence, our lives broaden with
beneficence. We cease our perpetual skirmishing at the
outposts, and go upward to the citadel. Down into the secret
places of life we descend. Down among the beautiful ones, in
the cool and quiet shadows, on the sunny summer levels, we walk
securely, and the hidden fountains are unsealed.

For those people who do nothing, for those to whom Christianity
brings no revelation, for those who see no eternity in time,
no infinity in life, for those to whom opportunity is but the
hand maid of selfishness, to whom smallness is informed by no
greatness, for whom the lowly is never lifted up by indwelling
love to the heights of divine performance,--for them, indeed,
each hurrying year may well be a King of Terrors. To pass out
from the flooding light of the morning, to feel all the
dewiness drunk up by the thirsty, insatiate sun, to see the
shadows slowly and swiftly gathering, and no starlight to break
the gloom, and no home beyond the gloom for the unhoused,
startled, shivering soul,--ah! this indeed is terrible. The
"confusions of a wasted youth" strew thick confusions of a
dreary age. Where youth garners up only such power as beauty
or strength may bestow, where youth is but the revel of
physical or frivolous delight, where youth aspires only with
paltry and ignoble ambitions, where youth presses the wine of
life into the cup of variety, there indeed Age comes, a thrice
unwelcome guest. Put him off. Thrust him back. Weep for the
early days: you have found no happiness to replace their joys.
Mourn for the trifles that were innocent, since the trifles of
your manhood are heavy with guilt. Fight to the last. Retreat
inch by inch. With every step you lose. Every day robs you
of treasure. Every hour passes you over to insignificance; and
at the end stands Death. The bare and desolate decline drops
suddenly into the hopeless, dreadful grave, the black and
yawning grave, the foul and loathsome grave.

But why those who are Christians and not Pagans, who believe
that death is not an eternal sleep, who wrest from life its
uses and gather from life its beauty,--why they should dally
along the road, and cling frantically to the old landmarks, and
shrink fearfully from the approaching future, I cannot tell.
You are getting into years. True. But you are getting out
again. The bowed frame, the tottering step, the unsteady hand,
the failing eye, the heavy ear, the tremulous voice, they will
all be yours. The grasshopper will become a burden, and desire
shall fail. The fire shall be smothered in your heart, and for
passion you shall have only peace. This is not pleasant. It
is never pleasant to feel the inevitable passing away of
priceless possessions. If this were to be the culmination of
your fate, you might indeed take up the wail for your lost
youth. But this is only for a moment. The infirmities of age
come gradually. Gently we are led down into the valley.
Slowly, and not without a soft loveliness, the shadows
lengthen. At the worst these weaknesses are but the
stepping-stones in the river, passing over which you shall come
to immortal vigor, immortal fire, immortal beauty. All along
the western sky flames and glows the auroral light of another
life. The banner of victory waves right over your dungeon of
defeat. By the golden gateway of the sunsetting,

"Through the dear might of Him who walked the waves,"

you shall pass into the "cloud-land, gorgeous land," whose
splendor is unveiled only to the eyes of the Immortals. Would
you loiter to your inheritance?

You are "getting into years." Yes, but the years are getting
into you,--the ripe, rich years, the genial, mellow years, the
lusty, luscious years. One by one the crudities of your youth
are falling off from you,--the vanity, the egotism, the
isolation, the bewilderment, the uncertainty. Nearer and
nearer you are approaching yourself. You are consolidating
your forces. You are becoming master of the situation. Every
wrong road into which you have wandered has brought you, by the
knowledge of that mistake, so much closer to the truth. You
no longer draw your bow at a venture, but shoot straight at the
mark. Your purposes concentrate, and your path is cleared. On
the ruins of shattered plans you find your vantage-ground.
Your broken hopes, your thwarted schemes, your defeated
aspirations, become a staff of strength with which you mount
to sublimer heights. With self-possession and self-command
return the possession and the command of all things. The
title-deed of creation, forfeited, is reclaimed. The king has
come to his own again. Earth and sea and sky pour out their
largess of love. All the past crowds down to lay its treasures
at your feet. Patriotism stands once more in the breach at
Thermopylae,--bears down the serried hosts of Bannockburn,--
lays its calm hand in the fire, still, as if it felt the
pressure of a mother's lips,--gathers to its heart the points
of opposing spears, to make a way for the avenging feet behind.
All that the ages have of greatness and glory your hand may
pluck, and every year adds to the purple vintage. Every year
comes laden with the riches of the lives that were lavished on
it. Every year brings to you softness and sweetness and
strength. Every year evokes order from confusion, till all
things find scope and adjustment. Every year sweeps a broader
circle for your horizon, grooves a deeper channel for your
experience. Through sun and shade and shower you ripen to a
large and liberal life.

Yours is the deep joy, the unspoken fervor, the sacred fury of
the fight. Yours is the power to redress wrong, to defend the
weak, to succor the needy, to relieve the suffering, to
confound the oppressor. While vigor leaps in great tidal
pulses along your veins, you stand in the thickest of the fray,
and broadsword and battle-axe come crashing down through helmet
and visor. When force has spent itself; you withdraw from the
field, your weapons pass into younger hands, you rest under
your laurels, and your works do follow you. Your badges are
the scars of your honorable wounds. Your life finds its
vindication in the deeds which you have wrought. The possible
tomorrow has become the secure yesterday. Above the tumult and
the turbulence, above the struggle and the doubt, you sit in
the serene evening, awaiting your promotion.

Come, then, O dreaded years! Your brows are awful, but not
with frowns. I hear your resonant tramp far off, but it is
sweet as the May-maidens' song. In your grave prophetic eyes
I read a golden promise. I know that you bear in your bosom
the fullness of my life. Veiled monarchs of the future,
shining dim and beautiful, you shall become my vassals,
swift-footed to bear my messages, swift-handed to work my will.
Nourished by the nectar which you will pour in passing from
your crystal cups, Death shall have no dominion over me, but
I shall go on from strength to strength and from glory to glory.

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