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Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

Part 15 out of 15

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on the other hand, he will become all life and animation if
required, pouring forth a torrent of words without sense or
meaning, throwing himself into the wildest and most fantastic
contortions, and even grovelling on the earth and licking up the
dust. These exhibitions are more curious than pleasing; indeed,
they are rather disgusting than otherwise, except to the admirers
of such things, with whom we confess we have no fellow-feeling.

Strange tricks--very strange tricks--are also performed by the
harlequin who holds for the time being the magic wand which we have
just mentioned. The mere waving it before a man's eyes will
dispossess his brains of all the notions previously stored there,
and fill it with an entirely new set of ideas; one gentle tap on
the back will alter the colour of a man's coat completely; and
there are some expert performers, who, having this wand held first
on one side and then on the other, will change from side to side,
turning their coats at every evolution, with so much rapidity and
dexterity, that the quickest eye can scarcely detect their motions.
Occasionally, the genius who confers the wand, wrests it from the
hand of the temporary possessor, and consigns it to some new
performer; on which occasions all the characters change sides, and
then the race and the hard knocks begin anew.

We might have extended this chapter to a much greater length--we
might have carried the comparison into the liberal professions--we
might have shown, as was in fact our original purpose, that each is
in itself a little pantomime with scenes and characters of its own,
complete; but, as we fear we have been quite lengthy enough
already, we shall leave this chapter just where it is. A
gentleman, not altogether unknown as a dramatic poet, wrote thus a
year or two ago -

'All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:'

and we, tracking out his footsteps at the scarcely-worth-mentioning
little distance of a few millions of leagues behind, venture to
add, by way of new reading, that he meant a Pantomime, and that we
are all actors in The Pantomime of Life.


We have a great respect for lions in the abstract. In common with
most other people, we have heard and read of many instances of
their bravery and generosity. We have duly admired that heroic
self-denial and charming philanthropy which prompts them never to
eat people except when they are hungry, and we have been deeply
impressed with a becoming sense of the politeness they are said to
display towards unmarried ladies of a certain state. All natural
histories teem with anecdotes illustrative of their excellent
qualities; and one old spelling-book in particular recounts a
touching instance of an old lion, of high moral dignity and stern
principle, who felt it his imperative duty to devour a young man
who had contracted a habit of swearing, as a striking example to
the rising generation.

All this is extremely pleasant to reflect upon, and, indeed, says a
very great deal in favour of lions as a mass. We are bound to
state, however, that such individual lions as we have happened to
fall in with have not put forth any very striking characteristics,
and have not acted up to the chivalrous character assigned them by
their chroniclers. We never saw a lion in what is called his
natural state, certainly; that is to say, we have never met a lion
out walking in a forest, or crouching in his lair under a tropical
sun, waiting till his dinner should happen to come by, hot from the
baker's. But we have seen some under the influence of captivity,
and the pressure of misfortune; and we must say that they appeared
to us very apathetic, heavy-headed fellows.

The lion at the Zoological Gardens, for instance. He is all very
well; he has an undeniable mane, and looks very fierce; but, Lord
bless us! what of that? The lions of the fashionable world look
just as ferocious, and are the most harmless creatures breathing.
A box-lobby lion or a Regent-street animal will put on a most
terrible aspect, and roar, fearfully, if you affront him; but he
will never bite, and, if you offer to attack him manfully, will
fairly turn tail and sneak off. Doubtless these creatures roam
about sometimes in herds, and, if they meet any especially meek-
looking and peaceably-disposed fellow, will endeavour to frighten
him; but the faintest show of a vigorous resistance is sufficient
to scare them even then. These are pleasant characteristics,
whereas we make it matter of distinct charge against the Zoological
lion and his brethren at the fairs, that they are sleepy, dreamy,
sluggish quadrupeds.

We do not remember to have ever seen one of them perfectly awake,
except at feeding-time. In every respect we uphold the biped lions
against their four-footed namesakes, and we boldly challenge
controversy upon the subject.

With these opinions it may be easily imagined that our curiosity
and interest were very much excited the other day, when a lady of
our acquaintance called on us and resolutely declined to accept our
refusal of her invitation to an evening party; 'for,' said she, 'I
have got a lion coming.' We at once retracted our plea of a prior
engagement, and became as anxious to go, as we had previously been
to stay away.

We went early, and posted ourselves in an eligible part of the
drawing-room, from whence we could hope to obtain a full view of
the interesting animal. Two or three hours passed, the quadrilles
began, the room filled; but no lion appeared. The lady of the
house became inconsolable,--for it is one of the peculiar
privileges of these lions to make solemn appointments and never
keep them,--when all of a sudden there came a tremendous double rap
at the street-door, and the master of the house, after gliding out
(unobserved as he flattered himself) to peep over the banisters,
came into the room, rubbing his hands together with great glee, and
cried out in a very important voice, 'My dear, Mr.--(naming the
lion) has this moment arrived.'

Upon this, all eyes were turned towards the door, and we observed
several young ladies, who had been laughing and conversing
previously with great gaiety and good humour, grow extremely quiet
and sentimental; while some young gentlemen, who had been cutting
great figures in the facetious and small-talk way, suddenly sank
very obviously in the estimation of the company, and were looked
upon with great coldness and indifference. Even the young man who
had been ordered from the music shop to play the pianoforte was
visibly affected, and struck several false notes in the excess of
his excitement.

All this time there was a great talking outside, more than once
accompanied by a loud laugh, and a cry of 'Oh! capital! excellent!'
from which we inferred that the lion was jocose, and that these
exclamations were occasioned by the transports of his keeper and
our host. Nor were we deceived; for when the lion at last
appeared, we overheard his keeper, who was a little prim man,
whisper to several gentlemen of his acquaintance, with uplifted
hands, and every expression of half-suppressed admiration, that--
(naming the lion again) was in SUCH cue to-night!

The lion was a literary one. Of course, there were a vast number
of people present who had admired his roarings, and were anxious to
be introduced to him; and very pleasant it was to see them brought
up for the purpose, and to observe the patient dignity with which
he received all their patting and caressing. This brought forcibly
to our mind what we had so often witnessed at country fairs, where
the other lions are compelled to go through as many forms of
courtesy as they chance to be acquainted with, just as often as
admiring parties happen to drop in upon them.

While the lion was exhibiting in this way, his keeper was not idle,
for he mingled among the crowd, and spread his praises most
industriously. To one gentleman he whispered some very choice
thing that the noble animal had said in the very act of coming up-
stairs, which, of course, rendered the mental effort still more
astonishing; to another he murmured a hasty account of a grand
dinner that had taken place the day before, where twenty-seven
gentlemen had got up all at once to demand an extra cheer for the
lion; and to the ladies he made sundry promises of interceding to
procure the majestic brute's sign-manual for their albums. Then,
there were little private consultations in different corners,
relative to the personal appearance and stature of the lion;
whether he was shorter than they had expected to see him, or
taller, or thinner, or fatter, or younger, or older; whether he was
like his portrait, or unlike it; and whether the particular shade
of his eyes was black, or blue, or hazel, or green, or yellow, or
mixture. At all these consultations the keeper assisted; and, in
short, the lion was the sole and single subject of discussion till
they sat him down to whist, and then the people relapsed into their
old topics of conversation--themselves and each other.

We must confess that we looked forward with no slight impatience to
the announcement of supper; for if you wish to see a tame lion
under particularly favourable circumstances, feeding-time is the
period of all others to pitch upon. We were therefore very much
delighted to observe a sensation among the guests, which we well
knew how to interpret, and immediately afterwards to behold the
lion escorting the lady of the house down-stairs. We offered our
arm to an elderly female of our acquaintance, who--dear old soul!--
is the very best person that ever lived, to lead down to any meal;
for, be the room ever so small, or the party ever so large, she is
sure, by some intuitive perception of the eligible, to push and
pull herself and conductor close to the best dishes on the table;--
we say we offered our arm to this elderly female, and, descending
the stairs shortly after the lion, were fortunate enough to obtain
a seat nearly opposite him.

Of course the keeper was there already. He had planted himself at
precisely that distance from his charge which afforded him a decent
pretext for raising his voice, when he addressed him, to so loud a
key, as could not fail to attract the attention of the whole
company, and immediately began to apply himself seriously to the
task of bringing the lion out, and putting him through the whole of
his manoeuvres. Such flashes of wit as he elicited from the lion!
First of all, they began to make puns upon a salt-cellar, and then
upon the breast of a fowl, and then upon the trifle; but the best
jokes of all were decidedly on the lobster salad, upon which latter
subject the lion came out most vigorously, and, in the opinion of
the most competent authorities, quite outshone himself. This is a
very excellent mode of shining in society, and is founded, we
humbly conceive, upon the classic model of the dialogues between
Mr. Punch and his friend the proprietor, wherein the latter takes
all the up-hill work, and is content to pioneer to the jokes and
repartees of Mr. P. himself, who never fails to gain great credit
and excite much laughter thereby. Whatever it be founded on,
however, we recommend it to all lions, present and to come; for in
this instance it succeeded to admiration, and perfectly dazzled the
whole body of hearers.

When the salt-cellar, and the fowl's breast, and the trifle, and
the lobster salad were all exhausted, and could not afford
standing-room for another solitary witticism, the keeper performed
that very dangerous feat which is still done with some of the
caravan lions, although in one instance it terminated fatally, of
putting his head in the animal's mouth, and placing himself
entirely at its mercy. Boswell frequently presents a melancholy
instance of the lamentable results of this achievement, and other
keepers and jackals have been terribly lacerated for their daring.
It is due to our lion to state, that he condescended to be trifled
with, in the most gentle manner, and finally went home with the
showman in a hack cab: perfectly peaceable, but slightly fuddled.

Being in a contemplative mood, we were led to make some reflections
upon the character and conduct of this genus of lions as we walked
homewards, and we were not long in arriving at the conclusion that
our former impression in their favour was very much strengthened
and confirmed by what we had recently seen. While the other lions
receive company and compliments in a sullen, moody, not to say
snarling manner, these appear flattered by the attentions that are
paid them; while those conceal themselves to the utmost of their
power from the vulgar gaze, these court the popular eye, and,
unlike their brethren, whom nothing short of compulsion will move
to exertion, are ever ready to display their acquirements to the
wondering throng. We have known bears of undoubted ability who,
when the expectations of a large audience have been wound up to the
utmost pitch, have peremptorily refused to dance; well-taught
monkeys, who have unaccountably objected to exhibit on the slack
wire; and elephants of unquestioned genius, who have suddenly
declined to turn the barrel-organ; but we never once knew or heard
of a biped lion, literary or otherwise,--and we state it as a fact
which is highly creditable to the whole species,--who, occasion
offering, did not seize with avidity on any opportunity which was
afforded him, of performing to his heart's content on the first


In the parlour of the Green Dragon, a public-house in the immediate
neighbourhood of Westminster Bridge, everybody talks politics,
every evening, the great political authority being Mr. Robert
Bolton, an individual who defines himself as 'a gentleman connected
with the press,' which is a definition of peculiar indefiniteness.
Mr. Robert Bolton's regular circle of admirers and listeners are an
undertaker, a greengrocer, a hairdresser, a baker, a large stomach
surmounted by a man's head, and placed on the top of two
particularly short legs, and a thin man in black, name, profession,
and pursuit unknown, who always sits in the same position, always
displays the same long, vacant face, and never opens his lips,
surrounded as he is by most enthusiastic conversation, except to
puff forth a volume of tobacco smoke, or give vent to a very
snappy, loud, and shrill HEM! The conversation sometimes turns
upon literature, Mr. Bolton being a literary character, and always
upon such news of the day as is exclusively possessed by that
talented individual. I found myself (of course, accidentally) in
the Green Dragon the other evening, and, being somewhat amused by
the following conversation, preserved it.

'Can you lend me a ten-pound note till Christmas?' inquired the
hairdresser of the stomach.

'Where's your security, Mr. Clip?'

'My stock in trade,--there's enough of it, I'm thinking, Mr.
Thicknesse. Some fifty wigs, two poles, half-a-dozen head blocks,
and a dead Bruin.'

'No, I won't, then,' growled out Thicknesse. 'I lends nothing on
the security of the whigs or the Poles either. As for whigs,
they're cheats; as for the Poles, they've got no cash. I never
have nothing to do with blockheads, unless I can't awoid it
(ironically), and a dead bear's about as much use to me as I could
be to a dead bear.'

'Well, then,' urged the other, 'there's a book as belonged to Pope,
Byron's Poems, valued at forty pounds, because it's got Pope's
identical scratch on the back; what do you think of that for

'Well, to be sure!' cried the baker. 'But how d'ye mean, Mr.

'Mean! why, that it's got the hottergruff of Pope.

"Steal not this book, for fear of hangman's rope;
For it belongs to Alexander Pope."

All that's written on the inside of the binding of the book; so, as
my son says, we're BOUND to believe it.'

'Well, sir,' observed the undertaker, deferentially, and in a half-
whisper, leaning over the table, and knocking over the
hairdresser's grog as he spoke, 'that argument's very easy upset.'

'Perhaps, sir,' said Clip, a little flurried, 'you'll pay for the
first upset afore you thinks of another.'

'Now,' said the undertaker, bowing amicably to the hairdresser, 'I
THINK, I says I THINK--you'll excuse me, Mr. Clip, I THINK, you
see, that won't go down with the present company--unfortunately, my
master had the honour of making the coffin of that ere Lord's
housemaid, not no more nor twenty year ago. Don't think I'm proud
on it, gentlemen; others might be; but I hate rank of any sort.
I've no more respect for a Lord's footman than I have for any
respectable tradesman in this room. I may say no more nor I have
for Mr. Clip! (bowing). Therefore, that ere Lord must have been
born long after Pope died. And it's a logical interference to
defer, that they neither of them lived at the same time. So what I
mean is this here, that Pope never had no book, never seed, felt,
never smelt no book (triumphantly) as belonged to that ere Lord.
And, gentlemen, when I consider how patiently you have 'eared the
ideas what I have expressed, I feel bound, as the best way to
reward you for the kindness you have exhibited, to sit down without
saying anything more--partickler as I perceive a worthier visitor
nor myself is just entered. I am not in the habit of paying
compliments, gentlemen; when I do, therefore, I hope I strikes with
double force.'

'Ah, Mr. Murgatroyd! what's all this about striking with double
force?' said the object of the above remark, as he entered. 'I
never excuse a man's getting into a rage during winter, even when
he's seated so close to the fire as you are. It is very
injudicious to put yourself into such a perspiration. What is the
cause of this extreme physical and mental excitement, sir?'

Such was the very philosophical address of Mr. Robert Bolton, a
shorthand-writer, as he termed himself--a bit of equivoque passing
current among his fraternity, which must give the uninitiated a
vast idea of the establishment of the ministerial organ, while to
the initiated it signifies that no one paper can lay claim to the
enjoyment of their services. Mr. Bolton was a young man, with a
somewhat sickly and very dissipated expression of countenance. His
habiliments were composed of an exquisite union of gentility,
slovenliness, assumption, simplicity, NEWNESS, and old age. Half
of him was dressed for the winter, the other half for the summer.
His hat was of the newest cut, the D'Orsay; his trousers had been
white, but the inroads of mud and ink, etc., had given them a pie-
bald appearance; round his throat he wore a very high black cravat,
of the most tyrannical stiffness; while his tout ensemble was
hidden beneath the enormous folds of an old brown poodle-collared
great-coat, which was closely buttoned up to the aforesaid cravat.
His fingers peeped through the ends of his black kid gloves, and
two of the toes of each foot took a similar view of society through
the extremities of his high-lows. Sacred to the bare walls of his
garret be the mysteries of his interior dress! He was a short,
spare man, of a somewhat inferior deportment. Everybody seemed
influenced by his entry into the room, and his salutation of each
member partook of the patronizing. The hairdresser made way for
him between himself and the stomach. A minute afterwards he had
taken possession of his pint and pipe. A pause in the conversation
took place. Everybody was waiting, anxious for his first

'Horrid murder in Westminster this morning,' observed Mr. Bolton.

Everybody changed their positions. All eyes were fixed upon the
man of paragraphs.

'A baker murdered his son by boiling him in a copper,' said Mr.

'Good heavens!' exclaimed everybody, in simultaneous horror.

'Boiled him, gentlemen!' added Mr. Bolton, with the most effective
emphasis; 'BOILED him!'

'And the particulars, Mr. B.,' inquired the hairdresser, 'the

Mr. Bolton took a very long draught of porter, and some two or
three dozen whiffs of tobacco, doubtless to instil into the
commercial capacities of the company the superiority of a gentlemen
connected with the press, and then said -

'The man was a baker, gentlemen.' (Every one looked at the baker
present, who stared at Bolton.) 'His victim, being his son, also
was necessarily the son of a baker. The wretched murderer had a
wife, whom he was frequently in the habit, while in an intoxicated
state, of kicking, pummelling, flinging mugs at, knocking down, and
half-killing while in bed, by inserting in her mouth a considerable
portion of a sheet or blanket.'

The speaker took another draught, everybody looked at everybody
else, and exclaimed, 'Horrid!'

'It appears in evidence, gentlemen,' continued Mr. Bolton, 'that,
on the evening of yesterday, Sawyer the baker came home in a
reprehensible state of beer. Mrs. S., connubially considerate,
carried him in that condition up-stairs into his chamber, and
consigned him to their mutual couch. In a minute or two she lay
sleeping beside the man whom the morrow's dawn beheld a murderer!'
(Entire silence informed the reporter that his picture had attained
the awful effect he desired.) 'The son came home about an hour
afterwards, opened the door, and went up to bed. Scarcely
(gentlemen, conceive his feelings of alarm), scarcely had he taken
off his indescribables, when shrieks (to his experienced ear
MATERNAL shrieks) scared the silence of surrounding night. He put
his indescribables on again, and ran down-stairs. He opened the
door of the parental bed-chamber. His father was dancing upon his
mother. What must have been his feelings! In the agony of the
minute he rushed at his male parent as he was about to plunge a
knife into the side of his female. The mother shrieked. The
father caught the son (who had wrested the knife from the paternal
grasp) up in his arms, carried him down-stairs, shoved him into a
copper of boiling water among some linen, closed the lid, and
jumped upon the top of it, in which position he was found with a
ferocious countenance by the mother, who arrived in the melancholy
wash-house just as he had so settled himself.

'"Where's my boy?" shrieked the mother.

'"In that copper, boiling," coolly replied the benign father.

'Struck by the awful intelligence, the mother rushed from the
house, and alarmed the neighbourhood. The police entered a minute
afterwards. The father, having bolted the wash-house door, had
bolted himself. They dragged the lifeless body of the boiled baker
from the cauldron, and, with a promptitude commendable in men of
their station, they immediately carried it to the station-house.
Subsequently, the baker was apprehended while seated on the top of
a lamp-post in Parliament Street, lighting his pipe.'

The whole horrible ideality of the Mysteries of Udolpho, condensed
into the pithy effect of a ten-line paragraph, could not possibly
have so affected the narrator's auditory. Silence, the purest and
most noble of all kinds of applause, bore ample testimony to the
barbarity of the baker, as well as to Bolton's knack of narration;
and it was only broken after some minutes had elapsed by
interjectional expressions of the intense indignation of every man
present. The baker wondered how a British baker could so disgrace
himself and the highly honourable calling to which he belonged; and
the others indulged in a variety of wonderments connected with the
subject; among which not the least wonderment was that which was
awakened by the genius and information of Mr. Robert Bolton, who,
after a glowing eulogium on himself, and his unspeakable influence
with the daily press, was proceeding, with a most solemn
countenance, to hear the pros and cons of the Pope autograph
question, when I took up my hat, and left.



To recount with what trouble I have brought you up--with what an
anxious eye I have regarded your progress,--how late and how often
I have sat up at night working for you,--and how many thousand
letters I have received from, and written to your various relations
and friends, many of whom have been of a querulous and irritable
turn,--to dwell on the anxiety and tenderness with which I have (as
far as I possessed the power) inspected and chosen your food;
rejecting the indigestible and heavy matter which some injudicious
but well-meaning old ladies would have had you swallow, and
retaining only those light and pleasant articles which I deemed
calculated to keep you free from all gross humours, and to render
you an agreeable child, and one who might be popular with society
in general,--to dilate on the steadiness with which I have
prevented your annoying any company by talking politics--always
assuring you that you would thank me for it yourself some day when
you grew older,--to expatiate, in short, upon my own assiduity as a
parent, is beside my present purpose, though I cannot but
contemplate your fair appearance--your robust health, and unimpeded
circulation (which I take to be the great secret of your good
looks) without the liveliest satisfaction and delight.

It is a trite observation, and one which, young as you are, I have
no doubt you have often heard repeated, that we have fallen upon
strange times, and live in days of constant shiftings and changes.
I had a melancholy instance of this only a week or two since. I
was returning from Manchester to London by the Mail Train, when I
suddenly fell into another train--a mixed train--of reflection,
occasioned by the dejected and disconsolate demeanour of the Post-
Office Guard. We were stopping at some station where they take in
water, when he dismounted slowly from the little box in which he
sits in ghastly mockery of his old condition with pistol and
blunderbuss beside him, ready to shoot the first highwayman (or
railwayman) who shall attempt to stop the horses, which now travel
(when they travel at all) INSIDE and in a portable stable invented
for the purpose,--he dismounted, I say, slowly and sadly, from his
post, and looking mournfully about him as if in dismal recollection
of the old roadside public-house the blazing fire--the glass of
foaming ale--the buxom handmaid and admiring hangers-on of tap-room
and stable, all honoured by his notice; and, retiring a little
apart, stood leaning against a signal-post, surveying the engine
with a look of combined affliction and disgust which no words can
describe. His scarlet coat and golden lace were tarnished with
ignoble smoke; flakes of soot had fallen on his bright green shawl-
-his pride in days of yore--the steam condensed in the tunnel from
which we had just emerged, shone upon his hat like rain. His eye
betokened that he was thinking of the coachman; and as it wandered
to his own seat and his own fast-fading garb, it was plain to see
that he felt his office and himself had alike no business there,
and were nothing but an elaborate practical joke.

As we whirled away, I was led insensibly into an anticipation of
those days to come, when mail-coach guards shall no longer be
judges of horse-flesh--when a mail-coach guard shall never even
have seen a horse--when stations shall have superseded stables, and
corn shall have given place to coke. 'In those dawning times,'
thought I, 'exhibition-rooms shall teem with portraits of Her
Majesty's favourite engine, with boilers after Nature by future
Landseers. Some Amburgh, yet unborn, shall break wild horses by
his magic power; and in the dress of a mail-coach guard exhibit his
TRAINED ANIMALS in a mock mail-coach. Then, shall wondering crowds
observe how that, with the exception of his whip, it is all his
eye; and crowned heads shall see them fed on oats, and stand alone
unmoved and undismayed, while counters flee affrighted when the
coursers neigh!'

Such, my child, were the reflections from which I was only awakened
then, as I am now, by the necessity of attending to matters of
present though minor importance. I offer no apology to you for the
digression, for it brings me very naturally to the subject of
change, which is the very subject of which I desire to treat.

In fact, my child, you have changed hands. Henceforth I resign you
to the guardianship and protection of one of my most intimate and
valued friends, Mr. Ainsworth, with whom, and with you, my best
wishes and warmest feelings will ever remain. I reap no gain or
profit by parting from you, nor will any conveyance of your
property be required, for, in this respect, you have always been
literally 'Bentley's' Miscellany, and never mine.

Unlike the driver of the old Manchester mail, I regard this altered
state of things with feelings of unmingled pleasure and

Unlike the guard of the new Manchester mail, YOUR guard is at home
in his new place, and has roystering highwaymen and gallant
desperadoes ever within call. And if I might compare you, my
child, to an engine; (not a Tory engine, nor a Whig engine, but a
brisk and rapid locomotive;) your friends and patrons to
passengers; and he who now stands towards you in loco parentis as
the skilful engineer and supervisor of the whole, I would humbly
crave leave to postpone the departure of the train on its new and
auspicious course for one brief instant, while, with hat in hand, I
approach side by side with the friend who travelled with me on the
old road, and presume to solicit favour and kindness in behalf of
him and his new charge, both for their sakes and that of the old



{1} This paper was written before the practice of exhibiting
Members of Parliament, like other curiosities, for the small charge
of half-a-crown, was abolished.

{2} The regulations of the prison relative to the confinement of
prisoners during the day, their sleeping at night, their taking
their meals, and other matters of gaol economy, have been all
altered-greatly for the better--since this sketch was first
published. Even the construction of the prison itself has been

{3} These two men were executed shortly afterwards. The other was
respited during his Majesty's pleasure.

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