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ProjectGutenberg'sTheSafetyCurtain,andOtherStories,byEthelM Dell ThiseBookisfortheuseofanyoneanywhereatnocostandwith almostnorestrictionswhatsoever Youmaycopyit,giveitawayor re-useitunderthetermsoftheProjectGutenbergLicenseincluded withthiseBookoronlineatwww.gutenberg.net Title:TheSafetyCurtain,andOtherStories Author:EthelM Dell ReleaseDate:September4,2005[EBook#16651] [Lastupdated:August10,2013] Language:English ***STARTOFTHISPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKTHESAFETYCURTAIN*** ProducedbySuzanneShell,PaulEreautandtheOnline DistributedProofreadingTeamathttp://www.pgdp.net "Youmaytakethemtothedevil!"Merryonsaid "Youmaytakethemtothedevil!"Merryonsaid DrawnbyArthurIKeller (Seepage85) THE SAFETYCURTAIN ANDOTHERSTORIES by ETHELM DELL AUTHOROF:TheHundrethChance Greatheart TheLampintheDesert TheTidalWave TheTopoftheWorld TheObstacleRace TheWayofanEagle TheKnaveofDiamonds TheRocksofValpré TheSwindler TheKeeperoftheDoor BarsofIron RosaMundi Etc GROSSET&DUNLAPPUBLISHERSNEWYORK MadeintheUnitedStatesofAmerica Thiseditionisissuedunderarrangementwiththepublishers G.P Putnam'sSons,NewYorkandLondon MadeintheUnitedStatesofAmerica TheKnickerbockerPress,NewYork CONTENTS TheSafetyCurtain TheExperiment ThoseWhoWait TheEleventhHour ThePlaceofHonour ETHELM DELL'SNOVELS TheSafetyCurtain CHAPTERI THEESCAPE A great shout of applause went through the crowded hall as the Dragon-Fly Dance came to an end, and the Dragon-Fly, with quivering, iridescent wings, flashedaway It was the third encore The dance was a marvellous one, a piece of dazzling intricacy, of swift and unexpected subtleties, of almost superhuman grace It musthaveprovedutterlyexhaustingtoanyordinarybeing;buttothatcreature offireandmagicitwasnomorethanaglitteringfantasy,awhirltooswiftfor theeyetofolloworthebraintograsp "Isitaboyoragirl?"askedamaninthefrontrow "It'saboy,ofcourse,"saidhisneighbour,shortly He was the only member of the audience who did not take part in that third encore Hesatsquarelyinhisseatthroughouttheuproar,watchingthestagewith piercing grey eyes that never varied in their stern directness His brows were drawnabovethem—thick,straightbrowsthatbespokeaformidablestrengthof purpose He was plainly a man who was accustomed to hew his own way through life, despising the trodden paths, overcoming all obstacles by grim persistence Louderandlouderswelledthetumult Itwasevidentthatnothingbutarepetition ofthewonder-dancewouldcontenttheaudience Theyyelledthemselveshoarse forit;andwhen,lightasair,incrediblyswift,thegreenDragon-Flydartedback, they outdid themselves in the madness of their welcome The noise seemed to shakethebuilding Onlythemaninthefrontrowwiththeiron-greyeyesandiron-hardmouthmade no movement or sound of any sort He merely watched with unchanging intentness the face that gleamed, ashen-white, above the shimmering metallic greentightsthatclothedthedancer'sslimbody Thenoiseceasedasthewildtarantellaproceeded Therefelladeephush,broken only by the silver notes of a flute played somewhere behind the curtain The dancer's movements were wholly without sound The quivering, whirling feet scarcely seemed to touch the floor, it was a dance of inspiration, possessing a strange and irresistible fascination, a weird and meteoric rush, that held the onlookerswithbatedbreath Itlastedforperhapstwominutes,thatintenseandtrancelikestillness;then,like, a stone flung into glassy depths, a woman's scream rudely shattered it, a piercing,terror-strickenscreamthatbroughttheraptaudiencebacktoearthwith ashockastheliquidmusicoftheflutesuddenlyceased "Fire!"criedthevoice "Fire!Fire!" Therewasaninstantofhorrifiedinaction,andinthatinstantatongueofflame shot like a fiery serpent through the closed curtains behind the dancer In a momentthecrywascaughtupandrepeatedinadozendirections,andevenasit wentfrommouthtomouththesafety-curtainbegantodescend Thedancerwasforgotten,sweptasitwerefromthemindsoftheaudienceasan insectwhoselifewasofnoaccount Fromthebackofthestagecamearoarlike theroarofanopenfurnace Agreatwaveofheatrushedintothehall,andpeople turnedliketerrified,stampedinganimalsandmadefortheexits TheDragon-Flystillstoodbehindthefootlightspoisedasifforflight,glancing thiswayandthat,shimmeringfromheadtofootintheawfulglarethatspread behindthedescendingcurtain Itwasevidentthatretreatbehindthesceneswas impossible,andinanothermomentortwothatfallingcurtainwouldcutoffthe onlywayleft Butsuddenly,beforethedancer'shuntedeyes,amanleaptforward Heheldup his arms, making himself heard in clear command above the dreadful babel behindhim "Quick!"hecried "Jump!" Thewildeyesflasheddownathim,wavered,andwerecaughtinhiscompelling gaze For a single instant—the last—the trembling, glittering figure seemed to hesitate,thenlikeastreakoflightningleaptstraightoverthefootlightsintothe outstretchedarms Theycaughtandheldwithunwaveringironstrength Inthemidstofaturmoil indescribable the Dragon-Fly quivering on the man's breast, the gauze wingsshatteredinthatclose,sustaininggrip Thesafety-curtaincamedownwith a thud, shutting off the horrors behind, and a loud voice yelled through the buildingassuringtheseethingcrowdofsafety Butpanichadsetin Theheatwasterrific Peoplefoughtandstruggledtoreach theexits The dancer turned in the man's arms and raised a deathly face, gripping his shoulderswithclinging,convulsivefingers Twowilddarkeyeslookeduptohis, desperatelyafraid,seekingreassurance Heansweredthatlookbrieflywithsterncomposure "Bestill!IshallsaveyouifIcan." Thedancer'sheartwasbeatinginmadterroragainsthisown,butathiswordsit seemedtogrowalittlecalmer Quiveringlythewhitelipsspoke "Thereisadoor—closetothestage—alittledoor—behindagreencurtain—if wecouldreachit." "Ah!"themansaid Hiseyes wentto thestage,fromtheproximityofwhichtheaudiencehadfled affrighted Heespiedthecurtain Only a few people intervened between him and it, and they were struggling to escapeintheoppositedirection "Quick!"gaspedthedancer He turned, snatched up his great-coat, and wrapped it about the slight, boyish figure Thegreatdarkeyesthatshoneoutofthesmallwhitefacethankedhim for the action The clinging hands slipped from his shoulders and clasped his arm Togethertheyfacedthefearfulheatthatragedbehindthesafety-curtain They reached the small door, gasping It was almost hidden by green drapery Butthedancerwasevidentlyfamiliarwithit Inamomentitwasopen Agreat burstofsmokemetthem Themandrewback Butaquickhandcloseduponhis, drawinghimon Hewentblindly,feelingasifheweresteppingintotheheartof afurnace,yetstrangelydeterminedtogoforwardwhatevercameofit Thesmokeandtheheatwerefrightful,suffocatingintheirintensity Theroarof theunseenflamesseemedtofilltheworld Thedoorswungtobehindthem Theystoodinseethingdarkness Butagainthesmallclinginghandpulledupontheman "Quick!"thedancercriedagain Chokedandgasping,butresolutestill,hefollowed Theyranthroughapassage thatmusthavebeenontheveryedgeofthevortexofflame,forbehindthemere theyleftitaredlightglared It showed another door in front of them with which the dancer struggled a moment,thenflungopen Theyburstthroughittogether,andthecoldnightwind metthemlikeanangelofdeliverance The man gasped and gasped again, filling his parched lungs with its healing freshness His companion uttered a strange, high laugh, and dragged him forth intotheopen Theyemergedintoanarrowalley,surroundedbytallhouses Thenightwasdark and wet The rain pattered upon them as they staggered out into a space that seemeddeserted Thesuddenquietaftertheawfulturmoiltheyhadjustleftwas likethesilenceofdeath Themanstoodstillandwipedthesweatinadazedfashionfromhisface The littledancerreeledbackagainstthewall,pantingdesperately Foraspaceneithermoved Then,terribly,thesilencewasrentbyacrashandthe roarofflames Anawfulrednessleaptacrossthedarknessofthenight,revealing eachtoeach Thedancerstoodupsuddenlyandmadeanoddlittlegestureoffarewell;then, swiftly, to the man's amazement, turned back towards the door through which theyhadburstbutafewsecondsbefore He stared for a moment—only a moment—not believing he saw aright, then with a single stride he reached and roughly seized the small, oddly-draped figure Heheardafaintcry,andthereensuedasharpstruggleagainsthishold;buthe pinioned the thin young arms without ceremony, gripping them fast In the IhopebythetimeyoureadthistohaveprocuredyoungTurner'srelease,ifhe stilllives—atnoverygreatcost,Ibegyoutobelieve Idesiretheletterthatyou will find on my writing-table to be sent at once to the colonel There is also a note for Mrs Raleigh which I want you to deliver yourself God bless you, Audrey E.T Audreylookedupfromtheletterwithstartledeyesandwhitecheeks Whatdid it mean? What had he been doing in the night while she slept? How was it possibleforhimtohavesavedPhil? Trembling,shesprangfromherbedandbegantodress PossiblythenotetoMrs Raleighmightexplainthemystery Shewouldrideroundwithitatonce ShewentintoTudor'sroombeforestartingandfoundtheletterforthecolonel It wasaddressedandsealed Shegaveittoasycewithorderstodeliveritintothe colonel'sownhandswithoutdelay Then,stillquiveringwithanapprehensionshewouldnotown,shemountedand rodeawaytothesurgeon'sbungalow Mrs Raleighreceivedherwithsomesurprise "Ah,comein!"shesaidkindly "I'mdelightedtoseeyou,dear;but,sure,youare ridingverylate Andisthereanythingthematter?" "Yes," gasped Audreybreathlessly "Imeanno,Ihopenot Myhusbandhas— hasgonetotrytosavePhilTurner;and—andheleftanoteforyou,whichIwas todeliver Hewentawayinthenight,buthe—ofcoursehe'll—beback—soon!" Her voice faltered and died away There was a look on Mrs Raleigh's face, hiddenasitwerebehindhersmile,thatstruckterrortoAudrey'sheart Shethrust outtheletterinananguishofunconcealedsuspense "Readit!Readit!"sheimplored,"andtellmewhathashappened—quickly,forI —Idon'tunderstand!" Mrs Raleightooktheletter,passingasupportingarmaroundthegirl'squivering form "Sitdown,dear!"shesaidtenderly Audrey obeyed, but her face was still raised in voiceless supplication as Mrs Raleigh opened the letter The pause that followed was terrible to her She endureditinwrungsilence,herhandsfastgrippedtogether ThenMrs Raleighturned,andinhereyeswasadeepcompassion,amotherly tendernessofpity,thatwastoAudreytheconfirmationofherworstfears Shedidnotspeakagain Herheartfeltconstricted,paralysed ButMrs Raleigh saw the entreaty which her whole body expressed, and, stooping, she took the rigidhandsintohers "Mydear,"shesaid,"hehasgoneintotheHillsindisguise,uptothenativefort beyond Wara, as that is where he expects to find Phil Heaven help him and bringthembothback!" Audreystaredatherwithastunnedexpression Herlipswerequitewhite,and Mrs Raleighthoughtshewasgoingtofaint ButAudreydidnotloseconsciousness Shesatthereasifturnedtostone,trying tospeakandfailingtomakeanysound Atlast,convulsively,wordscame "Theywilltakehimforaspy,"shesaid,bothhandspressedtoherthroatasif somethingtherehurtherintolerably "TheWaris—torture—spies!" "Mydarling,mydarling,wemusthope—hopeandpray!"saidtheIrishwoman, holdingherclosely Audreyturnedsuddenly,passionately,intheenfoldingarmsandclungtoheras ifinphysicalagony "You may, you may," she said in a dreadful whisper, "but I can't—for I don't believe Doyouinyourheartbelievehewillevercomeback?" Mrs Raleighdidnotanswer Audreywenton,stillholdinghertightly: "DoyouthinkIdon'tknowwhyhewrotetoyou?Itwastoputmeinyourcare, because—becauseheknewhewasnevercomingback AndshallI—shallItell youwhyhewent?" "Darling,hush—hush!"pleadedMrs Raleigh,hervoiceunsteadywithemotion "There, don't say any more! Put your head on my shoulder, love Let me hold youso." ButAudrey'sconvulsiveholddidnotrelax Shehadbeenachildallherlifeup to that moment, but, like a worn-out garment, her childhood had slipped from her,andshehademergedawoman Theold,happyignorancewasgoneforever, andtherevelationthathaddispelleditwasalmostmorethanshecouldbear Her newlydevelopedwomanhoodsufferedaswomanhoodalonecansuffer Andyet,couldshehavedrawntheveiloncemorebeforehereyesandsohave deadenedthatagonisingpain,shewouldnothavedoneso She was awake now The long, long sleep with its gay dreams, its careless illusions,wasover Butitwasbettertobeawake,bettertoseeandknowthings as they were, even if the anguish thereof killed her And so she refused the hushingcomfortthatonlyachild—suchachildasshehadbeenbutyesterday— couldhavefoundsatisfying "Yes,Icantellyou—now—whyhewent,"shesaid,inthattensewhisperwhich sowrungMrs Raleigh'sheart "Hewent—formysake!Thinkofit!Thinkofit! He went because I was fretting about Phil He went because—because he thought—-thatPhil'ssafety—meant—myhappiness,andthathissafety—his— hispreciouslife—didn't—count!" Theawfulwordssankintobreathlesssilence Mrs Raleighwascryingsilently Shewaspowerlesstocopewiththis ButAudreyshednotears Itwasbeyond tears and beyond mourning—this terrible revelation that had come to her Byand-by,itmightbe,bothwouldcometoher,ifshelived Sherosesuddenlyatlengthwithasharpgasp,asofoneseekingair "Iamgoing,"shesaid,inaclear,strongvoice,"tothecolonel Hewillhelpme tosavemyhusband." Andwiththatsheturnedtotheveranda,andmetthecommanding-officerfaceto face There was another man behind him, but she did not look at him She instantly,withoutasecond'spause,addressedthecolonel "Iwascomingtoyou,"shesaidthroughherwhitelips "Youwillhelpme You must help me My husband is a prisoner, and I am going into the Hills to find him You must follow with men and guns He must be saved—whatever it costs." The colonel laid his hand on her shoulder, looking down at her very earnestly, verykindly "My dear Mrs Tudor," he said, "all that can be done shall be done, all that is humanly possible I have already told Turner so Did you know that he was safe?" He drew her forward a step, and she saw that the man behind him was Phil Turnerhimself—PhilTurner,grave,strong,resolute,withallhismanhoodstrung up to the moment's emergency, all his boyhood submerged in a responsibility thatoverwhelmedthelesserpartofhim,leavingonlythatwhichwasgreat He went straight up to Audrey and took the hands she stretched out to him Neitherofthemfeltthepresenceofonlookers "Hesavedmylife,Mrs Tudor!"hesaidsimply "Heforcedmetotakeitathis hands ButI'mgoingbackwithsomementofindhim YoustayherewithMrs Raleightillwecomeback Weshallbequickeralone." AgreatsobburstfromAudrey Itwasasifthefewgallantwordshadloosened theawfulconstrictionatherheart "Oh,Phil,Phil!"shecriedbrokenly "Youunderstand—whatthisistome—how Ilovehim—howIlovehim!Bringhimbacktome!Promise,Phil,promise!" AndPhilbenttillhislipstouchedthehandsheheld "Iwilldoit,"hesaidwithreverence—"sohelpme,God!" CHAPTERXII AWOMAN'SAGONY AllthroughthedayandthenightthatfollowedAudreywatchedandwaited ShespenttheterriblehoursattheRaleighs'bungalow,scarcelyconsciousofher surroundingsinheranguishofsuspense Itpossessedherlikearagingfever,and she could not rest At times it almost seemed to suffocate her, and then she wouldpacetoandfro,toandfro,hardlyknowingwhatshedid Mrs Raleighneverlefther,caringforherwithamaternaltendernessthatnever flagged But for her Audrey would almost certainly have collapsed under the strain "If he had only known! If he had only known!" she kept repeating "But how couldheknow?forInevershowedhim Howcouldheevenguess?Andnowhe nevercanknow It'stoolate,toolate!" Futile, bitter regret! All through the night it followed her, and when morning came the haggard misery it had wrought upon her face had robbed it of all its youth Mrs Raleightriedtocomfortherwithhopefulwords,butshedidnotseemso muchastohearthem Shewaslistening,listeningintently,foreverysound ItwasaboutnoonthatyoungTraversracedin,hotandbreathless,buthestopped short in evident dismay when he saw Audrey He would have withdrawn as precipitatelyashehadentered,butshesprangafterhimandcaughthimbythe arms "Youhavenews!"shecriedwildly "Whatisit?Oh,whatisit?Tellmequickly!" HehesitatedandglancednervouslyatMrs Raleigh "Yes,tellher,"thelattersaid "Itisbetterthansuspense." Andsobriefly,jerkily,theboyblurtedonhisnews: "Phil'sbackagain;buttheyhaven'tgotthemajor Thefortwasdeserted,except foroneoldman,andtheyhavebroughthimalong Theyareoveratthecolonel's bungalownow." He paused, shocked by the awful look his tidings had brought into Audrey's eyes The next instant she had sprung past him to the open door and was gone, bareheadedanddistraught,intotheblazingsunshine Howshecoveredthedistanceofthelong,whiteroadtothecolonel'sbungalow, Audreyneverrememberedafterwards Heragonyofmindwastoogreatforher brain to register any impression of physical stress She only knew that she ran andranasonerunsinanightmare,tillsuddenlyshewasontheverandaofthe colonel'sbungalow,stumbling,breathless,cryinghoarselyfor"Phil!Phil!" Hecametoherinstantly "Where is he?" she cried, in high, strained tones "Where is my husband? You promisedtobringhimbacktome!Youpromised—youpromised—" Hervoicefailed Shefeltchoked,asifanironhandwereslowly,remorselessly, crushingthelifeoutofherpantingheart Thickdarknesshoveredaboveher,but shefoughtitfromherwildly,frantically "Youpromised—"Shegaspedagain Hetookhergentlybythearm,supportingher "Mrs Tudor,"hesaidveryearnestly,"Ihavedonemybest." Heledherunresistingintoaroomcloseby Thecolonelwasthere,andwithhim amaninflowing,nativegarments "Mrs Tudor," said Phil, his hand closing tightly upon her arm, "before you blame me, I want you to speak to this man He can tell you more about your husbandthanIcan." Hespokeveryquietly,verysteadily,almostasifhewereafraid shemight not understandhim Audrey made an effort to collect her reeling senses The colonel bent towards her "Don't be afraid of him, Mrs Tudor," he said kindly "He is a friend, and he speaksEnglish." But Audrey did not so much as glance at the native, who stood, silent and impassive, waiting to be questioned The agony of the past thirty hours had reacheditslimit Shesankintoachairbythecolonel'stableandhidherfacein hershakinghands "I've nothing to ask him," she said hopelessly "Eustace is dead—dead—dead, withouteverknowinghowIlovedhim Nothingmattersnow Thereisnothing leftthatevercanmatter." Deadsilencesucceededherwords,thenaquietmovement,thensilenceagain She did not look up or stir Her passion of grief had burnt itself out She was exhaustedmentallyandphysically Minutespassed,butshedidnotmove Whatwastheretorouseher?Therewas nothingleft Shehadnotearstoshed Tearswereforsmallthings Thisgriefof herswastooimmense,tooinfinitefortears Onlyatlastsomething,someinnerprompting,stirredher,andasifatthetouch ofahandthatcompelled,sheraisedherhead She saw neither the colonel nor Phil, and a sharp prick of wonder pierced her lethargyofdespair Sheturnedinherchair,obedientstilltothatinnerforcethat compelled Yes, they had gone Only the native remained—an old, bent man, whohumblyawaitedherpleasure Hisfacewasalmosthiddeninhischuddah Audreylookedathim "Thereisnothingtowaitfor,"shesaidatlength "Youneednotstay." Hedidnotmove Itwasasifhehadnotheard Herwondergrewintoasortof detached curiosity What did the man want? She remembered that the colonel hadtoldherthatheunderstoodEnglish "Is there—something—you wish to say to me?" she asked, and the bare utteranceofthewordskindledafeeblesparkofhopewithinher,almostinspite ofherself Heturnedveryslowly "Yes,onething,"hesaid,pausedaninstantasshesprangtoherfeetwithagreat cry,thenstraightenedhimself,pushedthechuddahbackfromhisface,andflung outhisarmstoherpassionately "Audrey!"hesaid—"Audrey!" CHAPTERXIII HAPPINESSAGAIN ByslowdegreesAudreylearntthestoryofherhusband'sescape ItwasPhil'sdoinginthemain,hetoldhersimply,andsheunderstoodthatbut forPhilhewouldnothavetakenthetrouble SomethingPhilhadsaidtohimthat nighthadstuckinhismind,andithadfinallydecidedhimtomaketheattempt Circumstances had favoured him Moreover it was by no means the first time that he had been among the Hill tribes in native guise One sentinel alone had returnedtoguardthehutafterPhil'sdeparture,andthismanhehadsucceededin overpoweringwithoutraisinganalarm Then,disguisinghimselfoncemore,hehadmanagedtoescapejustbeforethe dawn,andhadlainhiddenforhoursamongthebouldersoftheriver-bed,fearing toemergebydaylight Butintheeveninghehadlefthishiding-place,andfound the fort to be occupied by British troops The Waris had gone to earth before theiradvance,andtheyhadfoundtheplacedeserted HehadforthwithpresentedhimselfinhisdisguiseandbeentakenbeforePhil, theofficer-in-command "Butsurelyheknewyou?" "Yes,heknewme ButIsworehimtosecrecy." Shedrewalittleclosertohim "Eustace,why?"shewhispered Hisarmtightenedabouther "Ihadtoknowthetruthfirst,"hesaid "Oh!"shemurmured "Andnow—areyousatisfied?" Hebentandkissedherforeheadgravely,tenderly "Iamsatisfied,"hesaid "Well,didn'tItellyouso?"laughedPhil,whentheyshookhandslater Audreydidnotaskhimwhathemeant,for,withallhishonesty,Philcouldbe enigmatical when he chose Moreover, it really didn't much matter, for, as she tacitly admitted to herself, fond as she was of him, he no longer occupied the placeofhonourinherthoughts,andshewasnotvitallyinterestedinhimnow thatthetroublewasover Sowhen,afewweekslater,Philcheerilypackedhisbelongingsanddepartedto Poonah, having effected an exchange into the other battalion stationed there, onlyhismajorunderstoodwhy,andwassorry ETHELM DELL'SNOVELS Maybehadwhereverbooksaresold AskforGrosset&Dunlap'slist THELAMPINTHEDESERT ThesceneofthissplendidstoryislaidinIndiaandtellsofthelampoflovethat continuestoshinethrough allsortsoftribulationstofinalhappiness GREATHEART Thestoryofacripplewhosedeformedbodyconcealsanoblesoul THEHUNDREDTHCHANCE Aherowhoworkedtowinevenwhentherewasonly"ahundredthchance." THESWINDLER Thestoryofa"badman's"soulrevealedbyawoman'sfaith THETIDALWAVE Talesofloveandofwomenwholearnedtoknowthetruefromthefalse THESAFETYCURTAIN AveryvividlovestoryofIndia Thevolumealsocontainsfourotherlongstories ofequalinterest GROSSET&DUNLAP,PUBLISHERS,NEW YORK EndoftheProjectGutenbergEBookofTheSafetyCurtain,andOtherStories byEthelM Dell ***ENDOFTHISPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKTHESAFETYCURTAIN*** *****Thisfileshouldbenamed16651-h.htmor16651-h.zip***** Thisandallassociatedfilesofvariousformatswillbefoundin: http://www.gutenberg.org/1/6/6/5/16651/ ProducedbySuzanneShell,PaulEreautandtheOnline DistributedProofreadingTeamathttp://www.pgdp.net Updatededitionswillreplacethepreviousone theoldeditions willberenamed Creatingtheworksfrompublicdomainprinteditionsmeansthatno oneownsaUnitedStatescopyrightintheseworks,sotheFoundation (andyou!)cancopyanddistributeitintheUnitedStateswithout permissionandwithoutpayingcopyrightroyalties Specialrules, 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