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The Captain's Toll-Gate by Frank R. Stockton

Part 6 out of 6

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Olive was listening, looking steadily at him.

"No," she said, "I did not love you."

He paid no attention to this remark, as if it related to something which
he knew all about, but went on, "I resolved to speak to you some time,
but not until I had some little bit of a reason for supposing you would
listen to me; but when I read the account of what you did in Washington,
I knew you to be so far above even the girl I had supposed you to be;
then my love came down upon me and carried me away. And all that has
since appeared in the papers has made me so long to stand by your side
that I could not resist this longing, and I felt that no matter what
happened, I must come and tell you all."

"And now?" asked Olive.

"There is nothing more," said Dick. "I have told you all there is. I
love you so truly that it seems to me as if I had been born, as if I had
lived, as if I had grown and had worked, simply that I might be able to
come to you and say, I love you. And now that I have told you this, I
hope that I have not pained you."

"You have not pained me," said Olive, "but it is right that I should say
to you that I do not love you." She said this very quietly and gently,
but there was sadness in her tones.

Dick Lancaster sprang up, and stood before her. "Then let me love you"
he cried. "Do not deny me that! Do not take the life out of me! the soul
out of me! Do not turn me away into utter blackness! Do not say I shall
not love you!"

Olive's clear, thoughtful eyes were looking into his. "I believe you
love me," she answered slowly. "I believe every word you say. But what I
say is also true. I will admit that I have asked myself if I could love
you. There was a time when I was in great trouble, when I believed that
it might be possible for me to marry some one without loving him, but I
never thought that about _you_. You were different. I could not have
married you without loving you. I believe you knew that, and so you did
not ask me."

His voice was husky when he spoke again.

"But you do not answer me," he said. "You have seen into my very soul.
May I love you?"

She still looked into his glowing eyes, but she did not speak. It was
with herself she was communing, not with him.

But there was something in the eyes which looked into his which made his
heart leap, and he leaned forward.

"Olive," he whispered, "can you not love me?"

Her lips appeared as if they were about to move, but they did not, and
in the next moment they could not. He had her in his arms.

Poor foolish, lovely Olive! She thought she was so strong. She imagined
that she knew herself so well. She had seen so much; she had been so
far; she had known so many things and people that she had come to look
upon herself as the decider of her own destiny. She had come to believe
so much in herself and in her cold heart that she was not afraid to
listen to the words of a burning heart! _Her_ heart could keep so cool!

And now, in a flash, the fire had spread! The coolest hearts are often
made of tinder.

Poor foolish, lovely, happy Olive! She scarcely understood what had
happened to her. She only knew that she had been born and had lived, and
had grown, that he might come to her and say he loved her. What had she
been thinking of all this time?

"You are so quick," she said, as she put back some of her disheveled

"Dearest," he whispered, "it seems to me as if I had been so slow, so
slow, so very slow!"

It was a long time before Captain Asher returned, and when he entered
the parlor he found these two still there. They had been sitting by the
window, and when they came forward to meet him Dick's arm was around the
waist of Olive. The captain looked at them for a moment, and then he
gave a shout, and encircled them both in his great arms.

When they were cool enough to sit down and Olive and Dick had ceased
trying to persuade the captain that he was not the happiest of the
three, Olive said to him: "I have told Dick everything--about the
air-gun and all. Of course, he must know it."

"And I have been looking at you," said Dick, putting his hand upon the
captain's shoulder, "as the only hero I have ever met. Not only for what
you have done, but for what you have refrained from doing."

"Nonsense!" said the captain. "Olive now--"

"Oh! Olive is Olive!" said Dick. And he did not mind in the least that
the captain was present.

* * * * *

It was on the next afternoon that the Broadstone carriage stopped at the
toll-gate. Mrs. Easterfield sprang out of it, asking for nobody, for she
had spied Olive in the arbor.

"It seems to me," she said, as she burst into tears and took the girl
into her arms, "it does seem to me as if I were your own mother!"

"The only one I have," said Olive, "and very dear!"

It was some time after this that Mrs. Easterfield was calm enough to
stop the flow of exciting conversation and to say to Olive, taking both
her hands tenderly within her own: "My dear, we have been talking a
great deal of sentiment, and now I want seriously to speak to you on a
matter of business."

"Business!" asked Olive in surprise.

"Yes, it is really business from your point of view; and I have come
round to that point of view myself. Olive, I want you to marry!"

"Oh," said Olive, "that is it, is it? That is what you call business?"

"Yes, dear; I am now looking at your future, and at marriage in the very
sensible way you regarded those matters when you were staying with me."

"But," said Olive, who could scarcely help laughing, "there was a good
reason then for my being so sensible, and that reason no longer exists.
I can now afford single-blessedness."

"No, Olive, dear, you can not. Circumstances are all against that
consummation. You are not made for that sort of thing. And your uncle is
an old man, and even with him you need a young protector. I want you to
marry Richard Lancaster. You know my heart has been set on it for some
time, and now I urge it. You could never bring forth a single objection
to him."

"Except that I did not love him."

"Neither did you love the young men you were considering as eligible.
Now, do try to be a sensible girl."

"Mrs. Easterfield, are you laughing at me?" asked Olive.

"Far from it, my dear. I am desperately in earnest. You see, recent

"Dick Lancaster and I are engaged to be married," said Olive demurely,
not waiting for the end of that sentence. "And," she added, laughing at
Mrs. Easterfield's astonished countenance, "I have not yet considered
whether or not it is sensible."

After Mrs. Easterfield had given a half dozen kisses to partly express
her pleasure, she said: "And where is he now? I must see him!"

"He went back to his college late last night; it was impossible for him
to stay here any longer at present."

As Mrs. Easterfield was going away--she had waited and waited for the
captain who had not come--Olive detained her.

"You are so dear," she said, "that I must tell you a great thing." And
then she told the story of the two men in the barouche.

Mrs. Easterfield turned pale, and sat down again. She had actually lost
her self-possession. She made Olive tell her the story over and over
again. "It is too much," she said, "for one day. I am glad the captain
is not here, I would not know what to say to him. I may tell Tom?" she
said. "I must tell him; he will be silent as a rock."

Olive smiled. "Yes, you may tell Tom," she said.

"I have told Dick, but on no account must Harry ever know anything
about it."

Mrs. Easterfield looked at her in amazement. That the girl could joke at
such a moment!

When the captain came home Olive told him how she had entrusted the
great secret to Mrs. Easterfield and her husband.

"Well," said he, "I intended to tell you, but haven't had a chance yet,
that I spoke of the matter to Mrs. Faulkner. So I have told two persons
and you have told three, and I suppose that is about the proportion in
which men and women keep secrets."


_In which Some Great Changes are Recorded._

A few days after his return to his college Prof. Richard Lancaster found
among his letters one signed "Your backer, Claude Locker."

The letter began:

"You owe her to me. You should never forget that. If I had done
better no one can say what might have been the result. This
proposition can not be gainsaid, for as no one ever saw me do
better, how should anybody know? I knew I was leaving her to you.
She might not have known it, but I did. I did not suppose it would
come so soon, but I was sure it would ultimately come to pass. It
has come to pass, and I feel triumphant. In the great race in which
I had the honor to run, you made a most admirable second. The best
second is he who comes in first. In order for a second to take
first place it is necessary that the leader in the race, be that
leader horse, man, or boat, should experience a change in
conditions. I experienced such a change, voluntary or involuntary
it is unnecessary to say. You came in first, and I congratulate you
as no living being can congratulate you who has not felt for a
moment or two that it was barely possible that he might, in some
period of existence, occupy the position which you now hold.

"Do not be surprised if you hear of my early marriage. Some woman no
better-looking than I am may seek me out. If this should happen, and
you know of it, please think of me with gratitude, and remember that
I was once

"Your backer,


Olive also received a letter from Mr. Locker, which ran thus:

"Mrs. Easterfield told me. She wrote me a letter about it, and I
think her purpose was to make me thoroughly understand that I was
not in this matter at all. She did not say anything of the kind,
but I think she thought it would be a dreadful thing, if by any act
of mine, I should cause you to reconsider your arrangement with
Professor Lancaster. I have written to the said professor, and have
told him that it is not improbable that I shall soon marry. I don't
know yet to what lady I shall be united, but I believe in the truth
of the adage, 'that all things come to those who can not wait.'
They are in such a hurry that they take what they can get.

"If you do not think that this is a good letter, please send it back
and I will write another. What I am trying to say is, that I would
sacrifice my future wife, no matter who she may be, to see you
happy. And now believe me always

"Your most devoted acquaintance,


"P.S.--Wouldn't it be a glorious thing if you were to be married in
church with all the rejected suitors as groomsmen and Lancaster as
an old Roman conqueror with the captive princess tied behind!"

Now that all the turmoil of her life was over, and Olive at peace with
herself, her thoughts dwelt with some persistency upon two of her
rejected suitors. Until now she had had but little comprehension of the
love a man may feel for a woman--perhaps because she herself never
loved--but now she looked back upon that period of her life at
Broadstone with a good deal of compunction. At that time it had seemed
to her that it really made very little difference to her three lovers
which one she accepted, or if she rejected them all. But now she asked
herself if it could be possible that Du Brant and Hemphill had for her
anything of the feeling she now had for Dick Lancaster. (Locker did not
trouble her mind at all.) If so, she had treated them with a cruel and
shameful carelessness. She had really intended to marry one of them, but
not from any good and kind feeling; she was actuated solely by pique and
self-interest; and she had, perhaps, sacrificed honest love to her
selfishness; and, what was worse, had treated it with what certainly
appeared like contempt, although she certainly had not intended that.

She felt truly sorry, and cast about in her mind for some means of
reparation. She could think of but one way: to find for each of them a
very nice girl--a great deal nicer than herself--and to marry them all
with her blessing. But, unfortunately for this scheme, Olive had no
girl friends. She had acquaintances "picked up here and there," as she
said, but she knew very little about any of them, and not one of them
had ever struck her as being at all angelic or superior in any way.
Neither of the young men who were lying so heavily on her mind had
written to any one, either at the toll-gate or at Broadstone, since the
very public affair in which she had played a conspicuous part; and her
consolation was that as each one had read that account he had said to
himself: "I am thankful that girl did not accept me! What a fortunate
escape!" But still she wished that she had behaved differently at

She said nothing to any one of these musings, but she ventured one day
to ask Mr. Easterfield how Mr. Hemphill was faring. His reply was only
half satisfactory. He reported the young man as doing very well, and
being well; he was growing fat, and that did not improve his looks; and
he was getting more and more taciturn and self-absorbed. "Why was he
taciturn?" Olive asked herself. "Was he brooding and melancholy?" She
did not know anything about the fat, and what might be its primal cause;
but her mind was not set at ease about him.

Things went on quietly and pleasantly at the toll-gate, and at
Broadstone. Dick came down as often as he could and spent a day or two
(usually including a Sunday) with Olive and her uncle. It was now
October, and colleges were in full tide. It was also the hunting season,
and that meant that Mr. Tom would be at Broadstone for a couple of
weeks, and Mrs. Easterfield said she must have Olive at that time. And,
in order to make the house lively, she invited Lieutenant Asher and his
wife at the same time, as Olive and her young stepmother were now very
good friends. Then the captain invited his old friend Captain Lancaster,
Dick's father, to visit him at the toll-gate.

These were bright days for these old shipmates; and, strange to say, as
they sat and puffed, they did not talk so much of things that had been,
as they puffed and made plans of things which were to be. And these
plans always concerned the niece of one, and the son of the other.
Captain Asher was not at all satisfied with Dick's position in the
college. He could not see how eminence awaited any young man who taught
theories; he would like Dick's future to depend on facts.

"Two and two make four," said he; "there is no need of any theory about
that, and that's the sort of thing that suits me."

Captain Lancaster smiled. He was a dry old salt, and listened more than
he talked.

"Just now," he remarked, "I guess Dick will stick to his theories, and
for a while he won't be apt to give his mind to mathematics very much,
except to that kind of figuring which makes him understand that one and
one makes one."

There was a thing the two old mates were agreed upon. No matter-what
Dick's position might be in the college, his salary should be as large
as that of any other professor. They could do it, and they would do it.
They liked the idea, and they shook hands over it.

Olive was greatly pleased with Captain Lancaster. "There is the scent of
the sea about him," she wrote to Dick, "as there is about Uncle John and
father, but it is different. It is constant and fixed, like the smell
of salt mackerel. He would never keep a toll-gate; nor would he marry a
young wife. Not that I object to either of these things, for if the one
had not happened I would never have known you; and if the other had not
happened, I might not have become engaged to you."

The two captains dined at Broadstone while Olive was there, and Captain
Lancaster highly approved of Mrs. Easterfield. All seafaring men did--as
well as most other men.

"It is a shame she had to marry a landsman," said Captain Lancaster,
when he and Captain John had gone home. "It seems to me she would have
suited you."

"You might mention that the next time you go to her house," said Captain
Asher. "I don't believe it has ever been properly considered."

It was at this time that Olive's mind was set at rest about one of her
discarded lovers. Mr. Du Brant wrote her a letter.

"MY DEAR MISS ASHER--It is very long since I have had any
communication with you, but this silence on my part has been the
result of circumstances, and not owing, I assure you upon my honor,
to any diminution of the great regard (to use a moderate term)
which I feel for you. I had not the pleasure of seeing you when I
left Broadstone, but our mutual friend, Mrs. Easterfield, told me
you had sent to me a message. I firmly (but I trust politely)
declined to receive it. And so, my dear Miss Asher, as the offer I
made you then has never received any acknowledgment, I write now
to renew it. I lay my heart at your feet, and entreat you to do me
the honor of accepting my hand in marriage.

"And let me here frankly state that when first I read of your great
deed--you are aware, of course, to what I refer--I felt I must
banish all thought of you from my heart. Let me explain my position,
I had just received news of the death of my uncle, Count Rosetra,
and that I had inherited his title and estates. It is a noble name,
and the estates are great. Could I confer these upon one who was
being so publicly discussed--the actor in so terrible a drama? I
owed more to society, and to my noble race, and to my country than I
had done before becoming a noble. But ah, my torn heart! O Miss
Asher, that heart was true to you through all, and has asserted
itself in a vehement way. I recognized your deed as noble; I thought
of your beauty and your intellect; of your attractive vivacity; of
your manner and bearing, all so fine; and I realized how you would
grace my title and my home; how you would help me to carry out the
great ambitions I have.

"Will you, lady, deign to accept my homage and my love? A favorable
answer will bring me to make my personal solicitations.

"Your most loving and faithful servant,


"(Now Count Rosetra.)"

"What a bombastic mixture!" thought Olive, as she read this effusion. "I
wonder if there is any real love in it! If there is, it is so smothered
it is easily extinguished."

And she extinguished it; and thoughts of Count Rosetra troubled her no

She did not show Dick this letter, but she thought it due to Mrs.
Easterfield to read it to her. "He has got it into his head that an
American woman, such as you, will make his house attractive to people he
wants there," commented that lady. "You have not considered me at all,
you ungrateful girl! Only think how I could have exploited 'my friend,
the countess'! And what a fine place for me to visit!"

It had been arranged by the two houses that Dick and Olive should be
married in the early summer when the college closed; and Mrs.
Easterfield had arranged in her own mind that the wedding should be in
her city house. It would not be too late in the season for a stylish
wedding--a thing Mrs. Easterfield had often wished she could arrange,
and it was hopeless to think of waiting until her little ones could help
her to this desire of her heart. She held this great secret in reserve,
however, for a delightful surprise at the proper time.

But she and Olive both had a wedding surprise before Olive's visit was
finished. It was, in fact, the day before Olive's return to the
toll-gate that Mr. Easterfield walked in upon them as they were sitting
at work in Mrs. Easterfield's room. He had been unexpectedly summoned to
the city three days before, and had gone with no explanation to his
wife. She did not think much about it, as he was accustomed to going and
coming in a somewhat erratic manner.

"It seems to me," she said, looking at him critically after the first
greetings, "that you have an important air."

"I am the bearer of important news," he said, puffing out his cheeks.

In answer to the battery of excited inquiries which opened upon him he
finally said: "I was solemnly invited to town to attend a solemn
function, and I solemnly went, and am now solemnly returned."

"Pshaw!" said Mrs. Easterfield. "I don't believe it's anything."

"A wedding is something. A very great something. It is a solemn thing;
and made more solemn by the loss of my secretary."

"What!" almost screamed his wife. "Mr. Hemphill?"

"The very man. And, O Miss Olive, if you could but have seen him in his
wedding-clothes your heart would have broken to think that you had lost
the opportunity of standing by them at the altar."

"But who was the bride?" asked Mrs. Easterfield impatiently.

"Miss Eliza Grogworthy."

"Now, Tom, I know you are joking! Why can't you be serious?"

"I am as serious as were that couple. I have known her for some time,
and she was very visible."

"Why, she is old enough to be his mother!"

"Not quite, my dear. In such a case as this, one must be particular
about ages. She is a few years older than he is probably, but she is not
bad looking, and a good woman with a nice big house and lots of money.
He has walked out of my office into a fine position, and I unselfishly
congratulated him with all my heart."

"Poor Mr. Hemphill!" sighed Olive. She was thinking of the very young
man she had sighed for when a very young girl.

"He needs no pity," said Mr. Easterfield seriously. "I should not be
surprised if he feels glad that he was not--well, we won't say what," he
added, looking mischievously at Olive. "This is really a great deal
better thing for him. He is not a favorite of my wife, but he is a
thoroughly good fellow in his way, and I have always liked him. There
were certain things necessary to him in this life, and he has got them.
That can not be said about everybody by a long shot! No, he is to be

Olive was silent. She was trying to make up her mind that he was really
to be congratulated, and to get rid of a lingering doubt.

"Well, that is the end of him in our affairs!" exclaimed Mrs.
Easterfield. "Why didn't you tell us what you were going to town for?"

"Because he asked me not to mention it to any one. And, besides, that is
not all I went to town for."

"Oh," said his wife, "any more weddings?"

"No," said Mr. Easterfield, helping himself to an easy chair. "You know
I have lately been so much with nautical people I have acquired a taste
for the sea."

"I did not know it," said his wife; "but what of it?"

"Well, as Lieutenant Asher and his wife are here yet, and have no
earthly reason for being anywhere in particular; and as Captain Asher
seems to be tired of the toll-gate; and as Captain Lancaster doesn't
care where he is; and as Miss Olive doesn't know what to do with herself
until it is time for her to get married; and as you are always ready to
go gadding; and as the children need bracing up; and as you can not get
along without Miss Raleigh; and as Mrs. Blynn is a good housekeeper; and
as I have an offer for renting our town house; I propose that we all go
to sea together."

The two ladies had listened breathlessly to these words, and now Olive
sprang up in great excitement, and Mrs. Easterfield clapped her hands in

"How clever you are, Tom!" she exclaimed. "What a splendid idea! How can
we go?"

"I have leased a yacht, and we are going to the Mediterranean."


"_It has just Begun!_"

This wonderful scheme which Mr. Easterfield had planned and carried out
met with general favor. Perhaps if they had all been consulted before he
made the plan there would have been many alterations, and discussions,
and doubts. But the thing was done, and there was nothing to say but
"Yes" or "No." The time had come for the house party at Broadstone to
break up, and the lieutenant and Mrs. Asher had arranged to spend the
next few months in the city, but they gladly accepted Mr. Easterfield's
generous invitation and would return to the toll-gate alter a few weeks
preparatory to sailing, that the party might get together, for Captain
Lancaster was to remain at the tollhouse. Mr. Easterfield also invited
Claude Locker "to make things lively in rough weather," and that young
man accepted with much alacrity.

Mrs. Easterfield was in such a state of delight that she nearly lost her
self-possession. Sometimes, her husband told her, she scarcely spoke
rationally. If she had been asked to wish anything that love or money
could bring her, it would have been this very thing; but she would not
have believed it possible. She was busy everywhere planning for
everybody, and making out various lists. But, as she said, there is a
little black spot in almost every joy. And her little black spot was
Dick Lancaster.

"Poor Professor Lancaster!" she said to her husband. "We to have such a
great pleasure, and he shut up in close rooms! And Olive far away!"

"Are you sure about Olive?" asked Mr. Easterfield. "She has never said
positively that she is going. I most earnestly hope that she will not
back out because Lancaster can not go. If she stays her uncle will

"And for that very reason she will go," said Mrs. Easterfield. "And I
think Professor Lancaster will urge her to go. He is unselfish enough, I
am sure, to wish her to have this great pleasure. And, talking of Olive,
one thing is certain, Tom, we must be back early in the spring. There
will be a great deal to do before the wedding. And, O Tom, I will tell
you--but you must not tell any one, for I am keeping it for a
surprise--I am going to give them a fine wedding. They will be married
in church, of course, but the reception will be at our house. You will
like that, I know."

"Will there be good eating?"

"Plenty of it."

"Then I shall like it."

All this was very well, but, nevertheless, this talk made the
enthusiastic lady a little uneasy. It was true Olive had never said in
words conclusively whether she would go or not. But she was extremely
anxious that her father should go, and she implicitly followed Mrs.
Easterfield's directions in making preparations for him, and was just as
earnest in making her own; and her friend was certainly justified in
thinking all this was a tacit consent.

As for the two captains, they were so delighted at this heavenly
prospect that they gave up talking about Dick and Olive, and read
guide-books to each other, and studied maps, and sea-charts until their
brains were nearly addled. They were a source of great amusement to the
young people when Dick came for his frequent short visits.

It was evident to all interested that Professor Lancaster approved of
the expedition, for he entered heartily into all the talk about the
various places to be visited, and all that was to be done on the vessel;
and he did not bore them with any lamentations in regard to the coming
separation between him and Olive. And, of course, every one respected
his feelings, and said nothing to him about it.

The weeks went by; all the preparations were made; and at last the time
came when the company were to assemble at the toll-gate and Broadstone
before the final plunge into the unknown. Olive wished to have them all
to dinner on the first day of this short visit.

"Our house is a little one," she said to Mrs. Easterfield, "but we can
make it big enough. You know nautical people understand how to do that.
What a jolly company we shall have! You know Dick will be there."

"Yes, poor Dick!" sighed Mrs. Easterfield, when Olive had left.

The Easterfields, with Lieutenant Asher and his wife, arrived very
promptly at the toll-gate on that important day, and their drive
through the bright, crisp air put them in a merry mood. They had hoped
to bring Mr. Locker, but he had not arrived. They found two captains at
the toll-gate in even merrier mood. Dick Lancaster was there, having
arrived that morning, and they were none of them surprised that he
looked serious. The ladies were not immediately asked to go up-stairs to
remove their wraps, for Olive was not there to receive them. She soon,
however, made her appearance in a lovely white dress that had been made
for the trip under Mrs. Easterfield's supervision. Dick Lancaster
immediately got up from his chair and joined her; and the Reverend Mr.
Faulkner appeared from some mysterious place, and the astonished guests
were treated to a very pretty marriage ceremony.

It was soon over, and the two jolly captains laughed heartily at the
bewilderment of the Broadstone party. And then there was a wild time of
hand-shaking and congratulations and embracing. By his wife's orders,
Mr. Tom kissed Olive, which seemed perfectly proper to everybody except
Mrs. Lieutenant Asher. She was also a young bride, with no similar

Later, when all were composed, Olive explained. "What has happened just
now is all on account of Mr. Easterfield's invitation. I wrote
immediately to Dick, and we settled it between us that he would ask for
a vacation--they always give vacations when professors are married, and
he knew of some one to take his place--and then we would be married, and
ask Mr. and Mrs. Easterfield to invite us to take our wedding trip with
them. Dick had to stay at the college until the last minute almost, and
so we didn't say anything about the wedding--and we were both afraid
of--well, we don't like a fuss--and so we planned this. And when Dick
came he brought the license and Mr. Faulkner. And now I don't see how
Mr. Easterfield can help inviting us."

Mr. Easterfield was standing by his wife, and as Olive finished her
explanation he took his wife's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze of
sympathy; and that heroic woman never flinched; nor did she ever say one
word about that pretty wedding she had planned for the spring.

They had all nearly finished the fried chicken with white sauce, when
Claude Locker arrived. He had missed the regular train and had come on a
freight; had got a horse when he reached Broadstone.

"I am more tired than if I had walked," he grumbled. "I am always in bad
luck! I am an unlucky dog! But you are so good you will excuse me, Miss

"That is not my name," said Olive gravely.

And with both eyes of the same size, Mr. Locker looked around, wondering
why everybody was laughing.

"Let me introduce Mrs. Lancaster," said Dick with a bow.

"Do you mean," cried Locker, starting up, "that this thing is really

"No," said Olive. "It has just begun."


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