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Updated   16th May 2021

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                                                                My Lady Love, My Love  by Roahl Dahl

 

It has been my habit for many years to take a nap after lunch. I settle myself in a chair in the living‑room with a cushion behind my head and my feet up on a small square leather stool and I read until I drop off. On this Friday afternoon, I was in my chair and feeling as comfortable as ever with a book in my hands ‑ an old favourite, Doubleday and Westwood’s The Genera of Diurnal  Lepi­doptera ‑ when my wife, who has never been a silent lady, began to talk to me from the sofa opposite. “These two people,” she said, “what time are they coming?”

 I made no answer, so she repeated the question, louder this time.

I told her politely that I didn’t know.

“I don’t think I like them very much,” she said . ”Especially him.” “No dear, all right.”

“Arthur. I said I don’t think I like them very much.”

I lowered my book and looked across at her lying with her feet up on the sofa, flipping over the pages of some fashion magazine .”We’ve only met them once,” I said.

“A dreadful man, really. Never stopped telling jokes, or stories, or something.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage them very well, dear.”

“And she’s pretty frightful, too. When do you think they’ll arrive?”

“Somewhere around six o’clock.” I guessed.

“But don’t you think they’re awful?” she asked, pointing at me with her finger.

“Well ...”

“They’re too awful, they really are.”

“We can hardly put them off now. Pamela.”

“They’re absolutely the end,” she said.

“Then why did you ask them?” The question slipped out before I could stop myself and I regretted it at once, for it is a rule with me never to provoke my wife if I can help it. There was a pause, and I watched her face, waiting for the answer ‑the big white face that to me was something so strange and fascinating there were occasions when I could hardly bring myself to look away from it. In the evenings sometimes - work­ing on her embroidery, or painting those small intricate flower pictures ‑ the face would tighten and glimmer with a subtle inward strength that was beautiful beyond words, and I would sit and stare at it minute after minute while pretending to read. Even now, at this moment, with that compressed acid look, the frowning forehead, the petulant curl of the nose, I had to admit that there was a majestic quality about this woman, something splendid, almost stately; and so tall she was, far taller than I ‑although today, in her fifty‑first year, I think one would have to call her big rather than tall.

“You know very well why I asked them,” she answered sharply. “For bridge,  that’s all. They play an absolutely first­-class game, and for a decent stake.” She glanced up and saw me watching her. “Well,” she said, “that’s about the way you feel too, isn’t it?”

Well, of course, I .….”

“Don’t be a fool, Arthur.”

“The only time I met them I must say they did seem quite nice.”

“So is the butcher.”

“Now Pamela, dear - please. We don’t want any of that.”

 

“Listen,” she said, slapping down the magazine on her lap, “you saw the sort of people they were as well as I did. A pair of stupid climbers who think they can go anywhere just because they play good bridge.”

“I’m sure you’re right dear, but what I don’t honestly under­stand is why ‑ “

“I keep telling you - so that for once we can get a decent game. I’m sick and tired of playing with rabbits. But I really can’t see why I should have these awful people in the house.“

 

“Of course not, my dear, but isn’t it a little late now –“

“Arthur ?”

“Yes ?”

“Why for God’s sake do you always argue with me. You know you disliked them as much as I did”

“Arthur don’t be pompous.” She was looking at me hard

wide those wide grey eyes of hers, and to avoid them ‑ they sometimes made me feel  quite uncomfortable ‑ I got un and walked over to the French windows that led into the garden.

The big sloping lawn out in front of the house was newly mown, striped with pale and dark ribbons of green. On the far side, the two laburnums were in full flower at last, the long golden chains making a blaze of colour against the darker trees beyond. The roses were out too, and the scarlet in the long begonias herbaceous border of all my lovely lupins,  columbine, delphinium, sweet‑william, and the huge ‑ pale. scented iris. One of the gardeners was coming up the drive from his lunch. I could see the roof of his cottage through the trees, and beyond it to one side, the place where the drive went out through the iron gates on the Canterbury Road

My wife’s house. Her garden. How beautiful it all was! How peaceful ! Now, if only Pamela would try to be a little less soli­citous of my welfare, less prone to coax me into doing things for my own good rather than for my own pleasure, then every­thing would be heaven. Mind you. I don’t want to give the impression that I do not love her ‑ I worship the very air she breathes ‑ or that I can’t manage her, or that I am not the captain of my ship. All I am trying to say is that she can be a trifle irritating at times, the way she carries on. For example, those little mannerisms of hers ‑ I do wish she would drop them all, especially the way she has of pointing a finger at me to emphasise a phrase. You must remember that I am a man who is built rather small, and a gesture like this, when used to excess by a person like my wife, is apt to intimidate. I some­times find it difficult to convince myself that she is not an over­bearing woman.

 

 

“Arthur!” she called. Come here.”

“What?”

“I’ve just had a most marvellous idea. Come here.”

I turned and went over to where she was lying on the sofa.

“Look,” she said, “do you want to have some fun?”

“What sort of fun? ”

“With the Snapes ? ”

“Who are the Snapes?”

“Come on, ”she said. “Wake up. Henry and Sally Snape. Our week‑end guests.”

“Well?”

“Now listen. I was lying here thinking how awful they really are .... the way they behave ... him with his jokes and her like a sort of love‑crazed sparrow ...” She hesitated, smiling slyly, and for some reason, I got the impression she was about to say a shocking thing‑ “Well ‑ if that’s the way they behave when they’re in front of us, then what on earth must they be like when they’re alone together?”

“Now wait a minute, Pamela –“

“Don’t be an ass, Arthur. Let’s have some fun ‑ some real fun for once - tonight.” She had half raised herself up off the sofa, her face bright with a kind of sudden recklessness, the mouth slightly open, and she was looking at me with two round grey eyes, a spark dancing slowly in each.

“Why shouldn’t we ? ”

“What do you want to do ? ”

“Why, it’s obvious. Can’t you see?”

“No, I can’t.”

“All we’ve got to do is put a microphone in their room.” I admit I was expecting something pretty bad, but when she said this I was so shocked I didn’t know what to answer.

“That’s exactly what we’ll do,” she said.

“Here!” I cried. “No. Wait a minute. You can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“That’s about the nastiest trick I ever heard of‑ It’s like ‑why, it’s like listening at keyholes, or reading letters, only far far worse. You don’t mean this seriously, do you?”

 

 

“Of course I do.”

I knew how much she disliked being contradicted, but there were times when I felt it necessary to assert myself, even at considerable risk. “Pamela,” I said, snapping the words out sharply, “I forbid you to do it!”

She took her feet down from the sofa and sat up straight. “What in God’s name are you trying to pretend to be, Arthur? I simply don’t understand you.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Tommyrot ! I’ve known you do lots of worse things than this before now.”

“Never !”

“Oh yes I have. What makes you suddenly think you’re a so much nicer person than I am ?”

“I’ve never done things like that.”

“All right, my boy,” she said, pointing her finger at me like a pistol. “What about that time at the Milfords’ last Christmas ? Remember ? You nearly laughed your head off and I had to put my hand over your mouth to stop them hearing us. What about that for one?”

“That was different,” I said. “It wasn’t our house. And they weren’t our guests.”

“It doesn’t make any difference at all.” She was sitting very upright, staring at me with those round grey eyes. and the chin was beginning to come up high in a peculiarly con­temptuous manner. “Don’t be such a pompous hypocrite,” she said. ”What on earth’s come over you?”

“I really think it’s a pretty nasty thing, you know, Pamela. I honestly do.”

“But listen, Arthur. I’m a nasty person. And so are you ‑ in a secret sort of way. That’s why we get along together.”

“I never heard such nonsense.”

“Mind you. if you’ve suddenly decided to change your character completely, that’s another story! “

“You’ve got to stop talking this way, Pamela.”

“You see,” she said, “if you really have decided to reform, then what on earth am I going to do?”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

 “Arthur, how could a nice person like you want to associate with a stinker?”

I sat myself down slowly in the chair opposite her, and she was watching me all the time. You understand, she was a big woman, with a big white face, and when she looked at me hard, as she was doing now, I became ‑ how shall I say it ‑surrounded, almost enveloped by her, as though she were a great tub of cream and I had fallen in.

“You don’t honestly want to do this microphone thing, do you?”

“But of course I do. It’s time we had a bit of fun around here. Come on. Arthur. Don’t be so stuffy.”

“It’s not right, Pamela.”

“It”s just as right” - up came the finger again ‑ “just as right as when you found those letters of Mary Probert’s in her purse and you read them through from beginning to end.”

“We should never have done that.”

We!”

“You read them afterwards, Pamela.”

“It didn’t harm anyone at all. You said so yourself at the time. And this one’s no worse.”

“How would you like it if someone did it to you?”

“How could I mind if I didn’t know it was being done? Come on, Arthur. Don’t be so flabby.”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

“Maybe the great radio engineer doesn’t know how to connect the mike to the speaker?”

“That’s the easiest part.”

“Well, go on then. Go on and do it.”

“I’ll think about it and let you know later.”

“There’s no time for that. They might arrive any moment”

“Then I won’t do it. I’m not going to be caught red‑handed.”

“If they come before you’re through, I’ll simply keep them down here. No danger. What’s the time, anyway?”

It was nearly three o’clock.

“They’re driving down from London,” she said, “and they certainly won’t leave till after lunch. That gives you plenty of time.”

 

“Which room are you putting them in?”

“The big yellow room at the end of the corridor. That’s not too far away, is it ?”

“I suppose it could be done.”

“And by the by,” she said, “where are you going to have the speaker?”

“I haven’t said I’m going to do it yet.”

“My God!” she cried, “I’d like to see someone try and stop you now. You ought to see your face. It’s all pink and excited at the very prospect. Put the speaker in our bedroom, why not? But go on ‑ and hurry.”

I hesitated. It was something I made a point of doing when­ever she tried to order me about, instead of asking nicely. “I don’t like it, Pamela.”

She didn’t say any more after that; she just sat there, absolutely still, watching me, a resigned, waiting expression on her face, as though she were in a long queue. This, I knew from experience, was a danger signal. She was like one of those bomb things with the pin pulled out, and it was only a matter of time before - bang! and she would explode. In the silence that followed, I could almost hear her ticking.

So I got up quietly and went out to the workshop and col­lected a mike and a hundred and fifty feet of wire. Now that I was away from her, I am ashamed to admit that I began to feel a bit of excitement myself, a tiny warm prickling sensa­tion under the skin, near the tips of my fingers. It was nothing much, mind you ‑ really nothing at all. Good heavens, I ex­perience the same thing every morning of my life when I open the paper to check the closing prices on two or three of my wife’s larger stockholdings. So I wasn’t going to get carried away by a silly joke like this. At the same time, I couldn’t help being amused.

I took the stairs two at a time and entered the yellow room at the end of the passage. It had the clean, unlived‑in appear­ance of all guest rooms, with its twin beds, yellow satin bed­spreads, pale‑yellow walls, and golden‑coloured curtains. I began to look around for a good place to hide the mike. This was the most important part of all, for whatever happened, it must not be discovered. I thought first of the basket of logs by the fireplace. Put it under the logs. No ‑ not safe enough.  Behind the radiator?  On top of the wardrobe?  Under the desk? None of these seemed very professional to me. All might be subject to chance inspection because of a dropped collar stud or something like that. Finally, with considerable cunning, I decided to put it inside of the springing of the sofa. The sofa was against the wall, near the edge of the carpet, and my lead wire could go straight under the carpet over to the door.

I tipped up the sofa and slit the material underneath. Then I tied the microphone securely up among the springs, making sure that it faced the room. After that, I led the wire under the carpet to the door. I was calm and cautious in everything I did. Where the wire had to emerge from under the carpet and pass out of the door, I made a little groove in the wood so that it was almost invisible.

All this, of course, took time, and when I suddenly heard the crunch of wheels on the gravel of the drive outside, and then the slamming of car doors and the voices of our guests  I was still only half‑way down the corridor, tacking the wire along the skirting. I stopped and straightened up, hammer in hand, and I must confess that I felt afraid. You have no idea how unnerving that noise was to me. I experienced the same sudden stomachy feeling of fright as when a bomb once dropped the other side of the village during the war, one after­noon, while I was working quietly in the library with my butterflies.

Don’t worry, I told myself. Pamela will take care of these people. She won’t let them come up here.

Rather frantically. I set about finishing the job, and soon I had the wire tacked all along the corridor and through into our bedroom. Here, concealment was not so important, al­though I still did not permit myself to get careless because of the servants. So I laid the wire under the carpet and brought it up unobtrusively into the back of the radio. Making the final connexions was an elementary technical matter and took me no time at all.

Well ‑ I had done it. I stepped back and glanced at the little radio. Somehow, now, it looked different ‑ no longer a silly box for making noises but an evil little creature that crouched on the table top with a part of its own body reaching out secretly into a forbidden place far away. I switched it on. It hummed faintly but made no other sound. I took my bed­side clock, which had a loud tick, and carried it along to the yellow room and placed it on the floor by the sofa. When I returned, sure enough the radio creature was ticking away as loudly as if the clock were in the room ‑ even louder.

I fetched back the clock. Then I tidied myself up in the bathroom, returned my tools to the workshop, and prepared to meet the guests. But first, to compose myself, and so that I would not have to appear in front of them with the blood, as it were, still wet on my hands, I spent five minutes in the library with my collection. I concentrated on a tray of the lovely Vanessa cardui ‑ the “painted lady” ‑ and made a few notes for a paper I was preparing entitled “The Relation be­tween Colour Pattern and Framework of Wings”, which I intended to read at the next meeting of our society in Canter­bury‑ In this way I soon regained my normal grave, attentive manner.

When I entered the living‑room, our two guests, whose names I could never remember, were seated on the sofa. My wife was mixing drinks.

“Oh, there you are, Arthur,” she said. “Where have you been?,

I thought this was an unnecessary remark. “I’m so sorry,” I said to the guests as we shook hands. “I was busy and forgot the time.”

“We all know what you’ve been doing,” the girl said, smiling wisely. “But we’ll forgive him, won’t we, dearest?”

“I think we should,” the husband answered.

I had a frightful, fantastic vision of my wife telling them, amidst roars of laughter, precisely what I had been doing up­stairs‑ She couldn’t ‑ she couldn’t have done that! I looked round at her and she too was smiling as she measured out the gin.

“I’m sorry we disturbed you,” the girl said.

I decided that if this was going to be a joke then I’d better join in quickly, so I forced myself to smile with her.

“You must let us see it,” the girl continued,

“See what?”

“Your collection. Your wife says that they are absolutely beautiful.”

I lowered myself slowly into a chair and relaxed. It was ridiculous to be so nervous and jumpy. “Are you interested in butterflies ?” I asked her.

“I’d love to see yours, Mr Beauchamp.”

The Martinis were distributed and we settled down to a couple of hours of talk and drink before dinner. It was from then on that I began to form the impression that our guests were a charming couple. My wife, coming from a titled family, is apt to be conscious of her class and breeding, and is often hasty in her judgement of strangers who are friendly towards her - particularly tall men. She is frequently right - but in this case I felt that she might be making a mistake. As a rule, I myself do not like tall men either they are apt to be super­cilious and omniscient. But Henry Snape ‑ my wife had whispered his name ‑ struck me as being an amiable simple young man with good manners whose main preoccupation, very properly. was Mrs Snape. He was handsome in a long­faced, horsy sort of way, with dark‑brown eyes that seemed to be gentle and sympathetic. I envied him his fine mop of black hair. and caught myself wondering what lotion he used to keep it looking so healthy. He did tell us one or two jokes,  but they were on a high level and no one could have objected.

“At school,” he said, “they used to call me Scervix. Do you know why?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” my wife answered.

“Because cervix is Latin for nape.”

This was rather deep and it took me a while to work out.

“What school was that, Mr Snape?” my wife asked.

“Eton,” he said. and my wife gave a quick little nod of approval. Now she will talk to him, I thought, so I turned my attention to the other one, Sally Snape. She was an attractive girl with a bosom. Had I met her fifteen years earlier I might well have got myself into some sort of trouble. As it was. I had a pleasant enough time telling her all about my beautiful butterflies. I was observing her closely as I talked, and after a while I began to get the impression that she was not, in fact. quite so merry and smiling a girl as I had been led to believe at first. She seemed to be coiled in herself, as though with a secret she was jealously guarding. The deep‑blue eyes moved too quickly about the room, never settling or resting on one thing for more than a moment; and over all her face. though so faint that they might not even have been there, those small downward lines of sorrow.

“I’m so looking forward to our game of bridge.” I said. finally changing the subject.

“Us too,” she answered. “You know we play almost every night we love it so.”

“You are extremely expert, both of you. How did you get to be so good?”

“It’s practice,” she said. “That’s all. Practice,  practice, prac­tice.”

“Have you played in any championships?”

“Not yet. but Henry wants very much for us to do that. It’s hard work, you know. to reach that standard. Terribly hard work.” Was there not here, I wondered, a hint of resignation in her voice? Yes, that was probably it; he was pushing her too hard, making her take it too seriously, and the poor girl was tired of it all.

At eight o’clock. without changing, we moved in to dinner. The meal went well, with Henry Snape telling us some very droll stories. He also praised my Richebourg ‘34 in a most knowledgeable fashion, which pleased me greatly. By the time coffee came, I realized that I had grown to like these two youngsters immensely, and as a result I began to feel uncom­fortable about this microphone business. It would have been all right if they had been horrid people, but to play this trick on two such charming young persons as these filled me with a strong sense of guilt. Don’t misunderstand me. I was not getting cold feet. It didn’t seem necessary to stop the opera­tion. But I refused to relish the prospect openly as my wife seemed now to be doing, with covert smiles and winks and secret little noddings of the head.

Around nine‑thirty, feeling comfortable and well fed, we returned to the large living‑room to start our bridge. We were playing for a fair stake ‑ ten shillings a hundred ‑ so we decided not to split families, and I partnered my wife the whole time. We all four of us took the game seriously, which is the only way to take it, and we played silently, intently, hardly speak­ing at all except to bid. It was not the money we played for. Heaven knows, my wife had enough of that, and so apparently did the Snapes. But among experts it is almost traditional that they play for a reasonable stake.

That night the cards were evenly divided, but for once my wife played badly, so we got the worst of it. I could see that she wasn’t concentrating fully, and as we came along towards midnight she began not even to care. She kept glancing up at me with those large grey eyes of hers, the eyebrows raised, the nostrils curiously open. a little gloating smile around the corner of her mouth.

Our opponents played a fine game. Their bidding was masterly, and all through the evening they made only one mis­ take. That was when the girl badly overestimated her partner’s hand and bid six spades. I doubled and they went three down, vulnerable, which cost them eight hundred points. It was just a momentary lapse, but I remember that Sally Snape was very put out by it, even though her husband forgave her at once,

kissing her hand across the table and telling her not to worry.

Around twelve‑thirty my wife announced that she wanted to go to bed.

“Just one more rubber?” Henry Snape said.

“No, Mr Snape, I’m tired tonight. Arthur’s tired, too. I can see it. Let’s alI go to bed.”

She herded us out of the room and we went upstairs, the four of us together. On the way up, there was the usual talk about breakfast and what they wanted and how they were to call the maid. “I think you’ll like your room,” my wife said. “It has a view right across the valley, and the sun comes to you in the morning around ten o’clock.”

We were in the passage now, standing outside our own bed­room door, and I could see the wire I had put down that after­noon and how it ran along the top of the skirting down to their room Although it was nearly the same colour as the paint, it looked very conspicuous to me. “Sleep well.” my wife said. “Sleep well, Mrs Snape. Good night, Mr Snape.” I followed her into our room and shut the door.

“Quick !” she cried. “Turn it on!” My wife was always like that, frightened that she was going to miss something. She had a reputation, when she went hunting ‑ I never go myself ‑of always being right up with the hounds whatever the cost to herself or her horse for fear that she might miss a kill. I could see she had no intention of missing this one.

The little radio warmed up just in time to catch the noise of their door opening and closing again.

“There !” my wife said. “They’ve gone in.” She was standing in the centre of the room in her blue dress, her hands clasped before her, her head craned forward, intently listening, and the whole of the big white face seemed somehow to have gathered itself together, tight like a wineskin.

Almost at once the voice of Henry Snape came out of the radio, strong and clear. “You’re just a goddam little fool,” he was saying, and this voice was so different from the one I re­membered, so harsh and unpleasant, it made me jump. “The whole bloody evening wasted ! Eight hundred points ‑ that’s eight pounds between us!”

“I got mixed up,” the girl answered. “I won’t do it again, I promise.”

“What’s this ?”my wife said. “What’s going on?” Her mouth was wide open now, the eyebrows stretched up high, and she came quickly over to the radio and leaned forward, ear to the speaker. I must say I felt rather excited myself.

“I promise, I promise I won’t do it again.” the girl was saying.

“We’re not taking any chances.” the man answered grimly. “We’re going to have another practice right now.”

“Oh no, please! I couldn’t stand it!”

“Look,” the man said, “all the way out here to take money off this rich bitch and you have to go and mess it up.”

My wife’s turn to jump.

“The second time this week, ” he went on.

“I promise I won’t do it again.”

“Sit down. I’ll sing them out and you answer.”

“No, Henry, please! Not all five hundred of them. It’ll take three  hours.”

“All right, then. We”ll leave out the finger positions. I think you’re sure of those. We’ll just do the basic bids showing honour tricks.”

“Oh, Henry, must we? I’m so tired.”

“It’s absolutely essential you get them perfect,” he said. “We have a game every day next week, you know that. And we’ve got to eat.”

“What is this?” my wife whispered. “What on earth is it?”

“Shhh ! ”I said. ”Listen!”

“All right,” the man’s voice was saying. “Now well start from the  beginning. Ready?”

“Oh Henry, please!” She sounded very near to tears.

“Come on, Sally. Pull yourself together.”

Then, in a quite different voice, the one we had been used to hearing in the living‑room, Henry Snape said, “One club.” I noticed that there was a curious lilting emphasis on the word one”, the first part of the word drawn out long.

“Ace queen of clubs,” the girl replied wearily. “King jack of spades. No hearts, and ace jack of diamonds.”

“And how many cards to each suit? Watch my finger posi­tions carefully.”

“You said we could miss those.”

“Well - if you’re quite sure you know them?”

“Yes, I know them.”

A pause, then “A club.”

“King, jack of clubs,” the girl recited. “Ace of spades. Queen jack of hearts, and ace queen of diamonds.”

Another pause, then I’ll say one club”

“Ace king of clubs . . .”

“My heavens alive !” I cried. “It’s a bidding code! They show every card in the hand!”

“Arthur, it couldn’t be !”

 “It’s like those men who go into the audience and borrow something from you and there’s a girl blindfolded on the stage, and from the way he phrases the question she can tell him exactly what it is ‑ even a railway ticket, and what station it’s from.”

“It’s impossible !”

“Not at all. But it’s tremendous hard work to learn. Listen to them.”

“I’ll go one heart,” the man’s voice was saying.

“King queen ten of hearts. Ace jack of spades. No diamonds. Queen jack of clubs . . “

“And you see,” I said, “he tells her the number of cards he has in each suit by the position of his fingers.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. You heard him saying about it.”

“My God, Arthur! Are you sure that’s what they’re doing?”

“I’m afraid so.” I watched her as she walked quickly over to the side of the bed to fetch a cigarette. She lit it with her back to me and then swung round, blowing the smoke up at the ceiling in a thin stream. I knew we were going to have to do something about this, but I wasn’t quite sure what because we couldn’t possibly accuse them without revealing the source of our information. I waited for my wife’s decision.

“Why, Arthur,” she said slowly. blowing out clouds of smoke. “Why, this is a marvellous idea. Do you think we could learn to do it?”

“What!”

“Of course. Why not?”

“Here! No! Wait a minute, Pamela . . .”but she came swiftly across the room, right up close to me where I was standing, and she dropped her head and looked down at me ‑ the old look of a smile that wasn’t a smile, at the corners of the mouth. and the curl of the nose, and the big  full grey eyes staring at me with their bright black centres, and then they were grey, and all the rest was white flecked with hundreds of tiny red veins ‑and when she looked at me like this, hard and close, I swear to you it made me feel as though I were drowning.

“Yes,” she said. “Why not?”

 “But Pamela ... Good heavens ... No ... After all

“Arthur, I do wish you wouldn’t argue with me all‑the time. That’s exactly what we’ll do. Now, go fetch a deck of cards, we’ll start right away.”

 

 

   
 

 

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