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Matt the Holy by Ludwig Thoma


The remarkable fortunes of the Reverend Matthew Fottner of
Eynhofen, Studiosus, Soldier, and later Pastor at Rappertswyl

Assistant Professor of German, University of Wisconsin

Whoso has six horses in the stable is a freeholder, and he sits next to the burgomaster in the tavern and is a burgess. When he sees fit to open his head and grumble about the hard times and the taxes, his words are heeded, and the small fry go about the next day telling how Harlanger, or whatever his name is, has spoken his mind for once.

Whoso has five horses or less is a farmer, and he grumbles too. But it does not have the same weight, and is not worth spreading.

But whoso has no horses, and makes a pair of lean oxen draw his plow, is a cotter and must hold his tongue. In the tavern, in the town meeting, and everywhere. His opinion is worthless, and no regular farmer pays any attention to the poor beggar.

The professor of the Cobbler-Sebastian property, house number eight in Eynhofen, George Fottner by name, was a cotter. And a beggarly one at that. As to oxen, he had one, of cows very few, but a swarm of children. Four girls and three boys, making seven according to Adam Reese[A]; and when there was scarce enough food for the two old folks, it took good figuring and dividing to give the young ones something.

[Footnote A: popular arithmetic primer—TRANSLATOR.]

But in the country no one ever starved yet, and so the Fottners managed to pull their children through. As soon as one of them was eight or nine years old, it could begin to earn a bit, and of course there was no danger after it could quit school.

The girls soon went into service; of the boys the oldest, Georgie, stayed at home, the second, Vitus by name, went to the Shuller Farm, and the third—well, I am going to tell you about him.

Matthew his name was, and he came into the world long after the sixth child, and quite unexpectedly.

At that time Fottner was already fifty, and his wife was in the forties.

So in the opinion of all acquaintances there was absolutely no necessity of getting a seventh child to add to their six.

In its early years this child was weakly and puny to boot; its parents often thought it looked sickly and would soon become a little angel in Heaven. But it was not so; Matthew thrived, became a priest subsequently, and weighed in his prime two hundred and fifty, and not a pound less.

His choice of a clerical profession was unforeseen, and caused by nothing less than the pricks of conscience of the Upper-Bridge Farmer in Eynhofen.

The same had much money, no children, and a grievous sin that weighed on his heart. Years before he had perjured himself in a lawsuit with his neighbor and had won thereby.

At first he did not care much, for in swearing he had taken the precaution of turning down the fingers of his left hand. Venerable tradition has it that in this way the oath passes downward through the body into the ground, like a bolt striking a lightning-rod, and so can do no harm.

[Illustration: LUDWIG THOMA]

But the Bridge Farmer was a timid person, and as he grew older he brooded frequently over the affair, and resolved to repair the damage. That is, not the damage which the neighbor had suffered, but the disadvantages that might accrue to his own immortal soul.

Because we know nothing for certain, and because the Almighty Judge perhaps thought differently about the lightning-rod oath, and did not observe the Eynhofen tradition.

So he considered what and how much he must give in order to balance the account and make his merit outweigh his badness.

That was not simple and easy, for no one could tell him: So and so many masses will square you; but it was possible that he might make a miscount of one and lose everything.

The Bridge Farmer had never been stupid in his earthly affairs, and had often given too little, but never too much.

But in this deal with Heaven he thought more would be better, and as he had often read in the paper that nothing afforded a better claim on the next world than assistance in supplying priests for the many empty posts, he resolved to have a boy study for holy orders entirely at his own expense.

His choice fell upon Matthew Fottner, and this he rued more than once.

He should have considered more carefully the quality of the Fottner boy's intellectual endowments.

And he would have saved himself much vexation and much anxiety if he had taken more time and picked out some one else.

He was in too much of a hurry, and because the teacher said nothing against it and old man Fottner at once agreed with joy, he was satisfied.

Doubtless he took the priest at Eynhofen as an example, thinking that what he knew couldn't be hard to learn.

Now Matthew was not exactly stupid; but he had no very good head for studying, and his pleasure in it was not immoderate either.

When they told him that he was to become a priest, he was content, for the first thing he grasped was that he could then eat more and work less.

And so he went to the Latin School at Freising. The first three years were all right. Nothing brilliant, but good enough so he could show his reports at the parsonage when he came home for vacations.

And when the priest read that Matthew Fottner was of moderate talent and industry and was making sufficient progress, he would say each time in his fat voice: magnos progressus fecisti, discipule!

Matthew did not understand; nor did his father, who stood beside him. But the priest did not care for that.

He only said it for the sake of his reputation, so that certain doubters might see that he was a learned gentleman.

When folks talked about it in Eynhofen and told each other that Fottner's Matt could already talk Latin like a Roman, no one rejoiced more intensely than the Bridge Farmer.

That is comprehensible. For he had speculated in the scholarship of the lad, and watched him with rapt attention, as he would anything else that he had put money into.

So he was glad on general grounds, and especially so when Matt came home after the third year with glasses on his nose and an actually priestly look.

This tickled him to death, and he asked the teacher whether, in view of this circumstance, and inasmuch as Matt knew Latin, after all—more than was needed to read mass—whether it mightn't be possible to shorten the time.

When the teacher told him that such exceptions could not be made, he found it intelligible; but when the schoolmaster tried to explain the reason, saying that a priest didn't merely have to know the reading of the mass by heart, but must know even more, the Bridge Farmer shook his head and laughed a bit. He wasn't such a fool as to swallow that. Why did anybody have to learn more'n what he needed? Hey?

No, this is the way it was: them perfessers in Freising wanted to keep Matt a good long while, because they made money on him.

In this belief he was very much strengthened when Matthew Fottner flunked the fourth year in the Latin school. 'Count o' Greek. Because he couldn't learn Greek.

That made it as clear as day, for now the Bridge Farmer asked anybody, what did a priest have to know Greek for, when services and mass were celebrated in Latin?

They must be slick fellows, those gentlemen in Freising, reg'lar pickpockets.

He was all-fired mad at them, for he couldn't put any blame on the Fottner boy.

Matt told him that all he'd ever thought and known was that he'd simply have to study what the priest in Eynhofen knew. But he'd never heard him say a word of Greek all his life long, and so he hadn't been prepared for anything like that.

To this no objection could be made; on Matt's part the deal was straight and O. K. The rascality was on the part of the others, off there in Freising. The Bridge Farmer went to the priest and made complaint.

But thieves stand by each other, and the farmer gets done every time. The priest laughed at first, and said that was simply the law and he had had to learn it too; but when the Bridge Farmer doubted that, and told the priest, if that was the case, to celebrate mass once in Greek, and he would pay whatever it cost, his Reverence grew abusive and called the Bridge Farmer an impudent clod-hopper. Because he didn't know what to say, ye see?

Now things had come to the point where the Bridge Farmer had to make up his mind whether to try Matt again, or send somebody else to Freising who would figure on the Greek from the start.

If he did the latter, it would take three years more, and the money for the Fottner boy would be completely lost. And besides, nobody could tell whether they wouldn't think up something else there in Freising, if they couldn't trip up the new pupil on Greek. Therefore he resolved to have Matt try the thing once more, and admonished him that he'd just have to take a fresh hold and keep it.

This to be sure Fottner did not do, for he was no friend of toilsome head-work, but his teacher was himself a clergyman, who knew that the servants of God could officiate without learning, if need be. Therefore he preferred, purely from a sense of duty, not to injure Matt, and with Christian charity he let him be promoted the second year.

Matt came home as a member of the fifth form, and looked for all the world like a student.

He was already seventeen, and physically very much developed.

The Vicar of Aufhausen he overtopped by a head, and all his limbs were coarse and uncouth. And at this time also he lost his boyish voice and assumed a rasping bass.

When he foregathered with his school friends Joseph Scharl of Pettenbach and Martin Zollbert of Glonn, it was clear that he could drink vastly more than they, and that he already was well informed on all convivial regulations.

His class spirit was strong, and he would sing with his boon companions such college songs as “Vom hoh'n Olymp herab ward uns die Freude” or “Drum Brüderchen er-her-go biba-ha-mus“[A] so powerfully and loudly that the Bridge Farmer at the next table would be astonished at the scholarly attainments of the former village lad.

[Footnote A: Familiar drinking songs.—TRANSLATOR.]

And when Matt made his visit at the parsonage, he did not as in previous years request the cook to announce him, but handed her his calling card, on which was neatly printed:

                     Matthew Fottner
stud. lit. et art.

Which means studiosus litterarum et artium, a devotee of letters and fine arts.

Old Fottner was proud of his son, on whom a faint reflection of his future dignity already rested, who was invited to dinner by the priest, took walks with the Vicar, and played tarot with the teacher and the chief of the constabulary.

And the Bridge Farmer was satisfied, too, even though he occasionally found the expenditures of his young protégé somewhat large. But he said nothing, fearing that the latter might still lie down in the traces if he put too little oats before him.

So Matt spent a merry vacation, and marched back to Freising in October with renewed strength.

Unfortunately he was destined to fall on evil days. The master of the fifth form was a disagreeable man: strict and very caustic and sarcastic to boot.

The first time he saw this sky-scraping farmer lad, who did look queer enough on the school benches, he laughed and asked him whether he towered equally high above his fellow pupils in intellect. That this was not the case could not remain a secret, and then the bantering never ceased. At first the teacher really tried to strike sparks out of this stone; but when he found he could not, he soon enough gave up all hope.

Matthew Fottner made no objection at all when they no longer consulted his opinion on the Gallic War or Caius Julius Caesar, and conjugated the Greek verbs without his cooperation.

He laughed good-humoredly when every word in his exercises was underscored with red, and he marveled at the ambition of the little fellows before and beside him, disputing as to whether something was right or wrong.

But to be sure, given such a point of view, the end was easy to foresee, and in August the Bridge Farmer faced the same choice as two years before, whether or not to maintain his confidence in the Fottner youth.

That is, he really no longer had any choice, for now, after six years, he could not very well begin a new experiment with somebody else.

So he comforted himself with the reflection that a good horse pulls twice, and swallowed his bitter pill.

Doubtless he did make a wry face over it, and his joy of Matt had become diminished by a good bit; grave doubts began to stir in his heart as to whether a bona fide priest could be made out of this gawky Goliath.

But his bad humor was not contagious, at least not for Mr. Matthew Fottner.

The latter was a welcome guest during his vacation at all the taverns for ten miles around; and when he got out of money and was far from home, he remembered that a parsonage stands near every church, and would go in and ask for a viaticum (traveling money), which was due him as studiosus litterarum, a devotee of letters and fine arts.

And in so doing he would now and then encounter a young vicar, neophyte, or undergraduate, who would exchange reminiscences of Freising with him, and who, after the fifth pint of beer, would join in the fine songs: “Vom hoh'n Olymp herab ward uns die Freude” and “Brüderchen, er-her-go bi-ba-hamus.

When he again entered the seat of culture in October, his head was considerably thicker, his bass appreciably deeper, but otherwise everything was as before.

In the meantime he had not learned to love Caius Julius Cæsar, nor to appreciate the Greek verbs; his teacher was as disagreeable as before, and the result at the close of the year was that Matt must once more forego promotion.

At the same time he was notified that he had passed the age limit and might not come back again. Now wouldn't that beat all?

So they were all out in the cold: old Fottner who had been so proud, the tavern-keeper who had already been joyfully looking forward to Matt's first mass, and the Catholic Church, which was losing such a pillar.

But most of all the Upper-Bridge Farmer of Eynhofen, whose whole deal with our Lord God was off. By all the devils, if that wasn't enough to madden a man and make him curse!

For seven long years he had had to pay over the nail, do nothing but pay, and no small sum, either; you can believe that. A mile away you could tell the quality of the fodder Matt had been standing in. And everything was in vain; on the heavenly record of the Bridge Farmer that lightning-rod oath was still written down, but there wasn't an ink-spot on the credit side.

For after all, nobody could suppose that our Lord God would let Matt's scholarly training be set down as anything to the good.

Such a miserable, outrageous piece of rascality surely had never existed before in the history of the world!

This time the rage of the Bridge Farmer was directed not merely against the teachers at Freising; the priest had enlightened him as to the fact that Matt was deficient in everything except tarot playing and beer-drinking. The ragamuffin, the good-for-nothing!

Now he was running around Eynhofen with glasses on his nose and a belly like an alderman. He looked like a regular Vicar, sure enough, who was going to begin reading mass the next day. And all the time he was nothing, absolutely nothing.

The only person who remained calm under these blows of fate was the quondam stud. lit. Matthew Fottner.

If he had studied longer and more, I should be fain to think he had learned this calm of soul from the seven wise men.

As it is, I must assume that it was inborn.

He had, to be sure, gained no treasure of classical learning for his future life, but he figured that in any case seven fat years had been accorded him, which no one could ever take from him again. Not even the Bridge Farmer with all his rage.

Why should man torment himself with thoughts of the future? The past is worth something, too, and especially such a jolly one as he had had in the secret tap-room of the Star Brewery, where he had sat with his boon-companions and had gradually mastered the art of draining a glass of beer at a draught. Where he had sung all the bully songs in the collection, such as “Crambambuli” and the “Bier la la,” and the ever memorable and eternally beautiful “Drum Brüderchen er-her-go bi-ba-hamus.

Such recollections are also a treasure for life; and even if the sun-dried country bumpkins didn't understand it, jolly it had been all the same.

And the future couldn't be so terribly bad either.

For the time being he resolved to go into the army; he would have to serve his three years anyhow, and so it would be better if he reported right now. In this way he would get out of the Bridge Farmer's sight and be left in peace. He tried for the First Regiment of His Majesty's Grenadiers, and was accepted.

And if the Bridge Farmer wanted to, he could now sit in the Hofgarten and look with pride at the file-leader of the second company.

That head, which stuck up so big and red out of the collar of his uniform, had been fattened at the farmer's expense; and if it might have looked good over the black cassock, with the tonsure on the back of it, yet any just man must have admitted that it didn't make such a bad appearance over the white braid and the bright blue uniform.

To be sure, the present calling of the Fottner lad was not pleasing to God; but he himself liked it.

The food was not bad, and the one-year volunteers willingly treated the big fellow to a glass of beer when he introduced himself as fellow-student, boasting that he had not been left behind when his former confratres had had a little convivial matin celebration.

And as he showed himself apt in the drill manual, he gained the favor of the captain, and after only eight months he was duly appointed a petty officer.

All this would have been correct and pleasing, and all mankind, including Eynhofen, might have been satisfied with the life destiny of Matthew Fottner.

But a worm was gnawing at the heart of the Bridge Farmer.

It ate and ate and gave him no peace by day or night.

When other people lose all their prospects, they sigh, tie a heavy stone to their hopes, and sink them in the sea of forgetfulness.

A tenacious farmer does not do so; he keeps turning them over in his mind to see whether he cannot save a part, if he is not to have the whole.

And when the Bridge Farmer's anger had lost its edge, he again began to brood and plan.

But because it was a matter that concerned book-learning, his own wisdom did not satisfy him; so he resolved to go straight to the right shop and ask a priest's advice.

The one at Eynhofen he did not trust; not since that time long ago, when the priest had told him such barefaced lies about Greek.

But in Sintshausen, twelve miles off, there was a priest, the Reverend Joseph Shoebower, that one could put confidence in.

Oh, but he was a shrewd one; a deputy in the diet, three times as Catholic as the other “shepherds,” and a hotheaded fighting-cock, who regularly chewed up Liberals with his salad and who set the king's Ministers dancing to the very maddest of tunes, until he finally got the best-paid post in the whole bishopric. To him our farmer went, for he would surely know some means of preventing such a robust churl as Matthew Fottner from being lost to the Church.

So he asked him whether you couldn't grease some one's palm,—the school at Freising, or the bishop, or some one.

“It is always a meritorious work,” said the Reverend Shoebower, “when one invests his money for Catholic purposes; but in this case it would not do much good, for the certificate for admission to the university can only be got by an examination. At least as long as the civil power—I am sorry to say—still has the right to put in its oar in educational matters. But something else can be done, Bridge Farmer,” he said, “if you are set on having Matt Fottner enter the ministry at all costs. There is a Collegium Germanicum in Rome, where German youths are trained by the Jesuits. They are very particular about faith, but as to education they close one eye in the interest of the faith.”

“Hm,” remarked the Bridge Farmer, “but I wonder if the masses that such a one reads, who's come all the way from Rome, have the same force.”

“A bigger one, if anything, supposing that was possible at all,” said the Reverend, “for you mustn't forget, Bridge Farmer, that the school in Rome is right near the Holy Father.”

“Well, but I wonder if they require Greek there, too, and such like gammon.”

“Only for the sake of appearances. Nobody will flunk on that account if he's all right in his faith, and pays his money correctly and in due season. But here in Germany Matthew Fottner can't be ordained.”

“Well, I'd like to know why not?”

“Because those scoundrelly Prussians have made a law against it.”

“Well now, aren't they a bad lot?”

“Right you are; and a lot worse than you think for. Probably Fottner would simply have to become a missionary. That ought to fill you with joy, for that's actually more deserving than to become priest here.”

“Oh, but are you quite sure of that? I wouldn't want to have all those big expenses again and then have it turn out only a half-way business.”

“It is certain and indisputable, for the messengers of the faith were always most highly honored.”

The Bridge Farmer was happy, and went home from Sintshausen with his tail in the air.

Now everything must surely go right, and his plan would succeed.

They should make eyes in Freising when Matt Fottner got ordained in spite of them, or actually became a missionary who converts the Hindians, and whose masses count even more.

And the Eynhofen folks that were forever quizzing him in the tavern about his Latin officer, they should open their eyes, too, one of these days.

On the very next day he took the train to Munich. No joy is complete, and the palm of victory is never to be gained with easy toil.

This was the experience of the Bridge Farmer when he communicated his plan to the royal corporal Matthew Fottner.

The latter declared roundly that he neither wished to study nor to go out among the Hindians.

When the old man represented to him that he would only have to study a very little, he remarked that nothing at all was still better; and when the Bridge Farmer asseverated by all that was holy that he would become a saint, just like those plaster men in the church at Eynhofen, he replied that he didn't care a straw.

Everything was fruitless. The Bridge Farmer had to withdraw with his business undone, and with the old, gnawing worm in his heart. Nevertheless, he did not give up hope, but got after old Fottner and promised him the nicest things for his Matt.

For a long time it was in vain, but after about two years Heaven itself interposed and brought about a favorable turn of affairs.

The captain of the second company of His Majesty's Grenadiers was made a major. Into his position came a venomous gentleman who fairly pestered both troops and petty officers, and thus became an instrument of Holy Church.

For when Matthew Fottner was punished with solitary confinement for the second time, he resolved to serve no longer in the army and to give up altogether his purpose of reenlisting. Just at this time he received a letter from his father, which read as follows:


After waitin fur a long time I'll finely rite you the brijfarmer wuz heer agen Yestiddy an sez you cud becum a sanet an woodn haf to lern enythin ixcep that yood go to roam, deer matty think it over ef youd bee prest mung the hindeens but the furst mas sellabrayshun wood bee in the tavrn an by the way the brijfarmer sez hel pay you threthowzen marx too boot when yor dun. deer matty think it over wel and how mutch it wood pleez yor father. I didn rite this letter. Sensi rote it. I mus stop my ritin cuz the lite didn burn eny mor. With meni regards I reemane yor luving father. Good nite. Slepe wel and swete dreems. O revor mayx ushapy. Rite mee at wuns fur I cant wate fur yor ansur.

The letter had its effect. Corporal Fottner reflected that it woudn't be a bad life among the clerical gentlemen in Rome, better at any rate than in barracks under a captain who was so generous with the guard-house.

So he agreed, and when his time was up at the close of the summer maneuvres, he went to Eynhofen and got in writing the Bridge Farmer's promise relative to the three thousand marks.

When this matter had been arranged, and he had received a handsome sum for traveling expenses into the bargain, he set off for Rome.

For seven years he was not seen again; for seven years he dwelt as Fottnerus Eynhofenensis in the German College among the gentle Jesuits, who filed and polished at this four-square block for dear life. A high polish he did not get, but the worthy fathers thought it would suffice for the savages, and told him that the power of his faith would very well make amends for the lack of science.

Matthew Fottner had his own thoughts and said nothing.

For seven years old Fottner sat in his house, number eight in Eynhofen village, rejoicing over the future sanctity of his son; for seven years the inn-keeper kept figuring out in advance how many gallons of beer would be drunk at a first-class first-mass celebration; and for seven long years the Bridge Farmer went every month to the express office in Pettenbach and sent a postal money order to Roma, Collegio Germanico.

People grew old and gray; now there was a wedding and now a funeral; old Haberlschneider's house burned down, and Kloyber went bankrupt.

Little events in Eynhofen grew in numbers just like the big ones out in the world.

Until one day the priest—the new priest, for the old one had died three years before—announced from the chancel that on the 25th of July, the day of St. James the Apostle, the Reverend Licentiate Matthew Fottner would celebrate Holy Mass for the first time in Eynhofen. Then there was excitement and astonishment in the whole country round! In all the taverns men talked about it, and the old Bridge Farmer, who rarely went out any more since he had had his stroke, now sat in the barroom every day and gave back the taunts that he had had to take in times gone by.

A week before the celebration Matthew Fottner arrived. He was met at the station with a decorated carriage, and thirty lads on horseback escorted him.

A mile and a half from Eynhofen stood the first triumphal arch, which was adorned with fresh fir-branches and with blue and white flags.

At the entrance to the village another arch stood, and a third was set up near the tavern. From the steeple floated the yellow and white banner, salutes were crashing on the hill behind the Stackel Farm, and the Aufhausen band pealed out its ringing airs.

Now the carriage halted before the parental estate of the licentiate; Matthew Fottner descended and gave his father, his mother, and their other children his first blessing.

I must say he did have a clerical appearance and manner. His eyes had a mild glance, his chin was already double, and the movements of his fat hands had something well rounded, something actually dainty about them.

His speech was literary, emphasizing every syllable; he would now say that he had had a suf-fi-ci-en-cy, and that people had ma-ni-fest-ed much love to-ward him.

Of the file-leader in the second company of His Majesty's Grenadiers there was nothing left but the height and the uncouth feet and paws.

His sentiments were mild and kind. He forgave all who had in former days led him as-tray into temp-ta-tion, he forgave his parents and relatives and neighbors for having doubted him, he forgave the Bridge Farmer for having ut-ter-ed angry words to him, and he forgave everybody everything.

And he looked down with compassion and mercy on those sons of men who did not stand so close to the throne of God as he.

During the week preceding the first mass he paced from house to house and blessed all the people; the Bridge Farmer among them, who from that hour was unshaken in the belief that he was now square with our Lord God in the matter of that lightning-rod oath.

The first mass was celebrated with rare splendor; folks came from far and wide, for the blessing of a newly consecrated priest has especial power, and an old proverb says it is worth wearing out a pair of shoe-soles to get it.

The festival sermon was preached by the Very Reverend Joseph Shoebower, who had for years been Councillor for Spiritual Affairs and Papal Prelate.

He informed the awe-struck congregation into what a high, exalted, holy, incomparably holy, incomparably blessed calling the young priest was entering, and praised him in the most extravagant terms.

For you must know that Jesus Christ never was so praised on earth as a four-square young licentiate is praised nowadays.

After the spiritual feast came the secular one in the tavern, and no one can hope to imagine the magnificence of it.

Two oxen, three cows, a steer, eighteen calves, and twenty swine had been slaughtered by the host; and in addition countless geese, chickens, and ducks had to lose their lives. Two thousand gallons of beer were drunk, almost nine hundred more than the host had figured.

When the dishes were passed around to take up offerings during the festival dinner, the gifts flowed in so copiously that two thousand marks were left over for the licentiate.

It was an elevating occasion.

The people of Eynhofen thought the newly consecrated priest would board the very next ship and go off to the wild Hindians. Old Mrs. Fottner shed tears in advance, and all over the village they were telling tales of the dangers the missionaries had to undergo among the cannibals, who are wont to take such a martyr, stick a spit right through him, and then twist him slowly over the fire until he turns nice and brown.

But they little knew the honored son of Eynhofen, Matthew Fottner by name, if they thought he would have anything to do with that sort of enterprise.

He now had a fortune of five thousand marks; three thousand from the Bridge Farmer and two thousand from the special offering. With this capital he migrated to Switzerland and became a pastor in the Canton of Graubünden. In those parts the people speak German as well as in Eynhofen, and they roast chickens and ducks on the spit, but no missionaries.

There Fottner spent his days in peace and contentment, and soon weighed two hundred and fifty, not a pound less.

For the Bridge Farmer, who would have liked to see Matt as a saint, this was a disappointment.

And for the Hindians too.

For they will never again enjoy the prospect of having a corporal of the Bavarian Royal Grenadiers come out to them as a missionary.


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