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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWyandotte; Or, The Hutted Knoll: A Tale - Chapter 10
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Wyandotte; Or, The Hutted Knoll: A Tale - Chapter 10 Post by :Patrick_Carlow Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :809

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Wyandotte; Or, The Hutted Knoll: A Tale - Chapter 10

Chapter X

Ho! Princes of Jacob! the strength and the stay
Of the daughters of Zion;--now up, and away;
Lo, the hunters have struck her, and bleeding alone
Like a pard in the desert she maketh her moan:
Up with war-horse and banner, with spear and with sword,
On the spoiler go down in the might of the Lord!

Lunt.


The succeeding fortnight, or three weeks, brought no material changes, beyond those connected with the progress of the season. Vegetation was out in its richest luxuriance, the rows of corn and potatoes, freshly hoed, were ornamenting the flats, the wheat and other grains were throwing up their heads, and the meadows were beginning to exchange their flowers for the seed. As for the forest, it had now veiled its mysteries beneath broad curtains of a green so bright and lively, that one can only meet it, beneath a generous sun, tempered by genial rains, and a mountain air. The chain-bearers, and other companions of Beekman, quitted the valley the day after the wedding, leaving no one of their party behind but its principal.

The absence of the major was not noted by Joel and his set, in the excitement of receiving so many guests, and in the movement of the wedding. But, as soon as the fact was ascertained, the overseer and miller made the pretence of a 'slack-time' in their work, and obtained permission to go to the Mohawk, on private concerns of their own. Such journeys were sufficiently common to obviate suspicion; and, the leave had, the two conspirators started off, in company, the morning of the second day, or forty-eight hours after the major and Nick had disappeared. As the latter was known to have come in by the Fort Stanwix route, it was naturally enough supposed that he had returned by the same; and Joel determined to head him on the Mohawk, at some point near Schenectady, where he might make a merit of his own patriotism, by betraying the son of his master. The reader is not to suppose Joel intended to do all this openly; so far from it, his plan was to keep himself in the back-ground, while he attracted attention to the supposed toryism of the captain, and illustrated his own attachment to the colonies.

It is scarcely necessary to say that this plan failed, in consequence of the new path taken by Nick. At the very moment when Joel and the miller were lounging about a Dutch inn, some fifteen or twenty miles above Schenectady, in waiting for the travellers to descend the valley of the Mohawk, Robert Willoughby and his guide were actually crossing the Hudson, in momentary security at least. After remaining at his post until satisfied his intended prey had escaped him, Joel, with his friend, returned to the settlement. Still, the opportunity had been improved, to make himself better acquainted with the real state of the country; to open communications with certain patriots of a moral calibre about equal to his own, but of greater influence; to throw out divers injurious hints, and secret insinuations concerning the captain; and to speculate on the propriety of leaving so important a person to work his will, at a time so critical. But the pear was not yet ripe, and all that could now be done was to clear the way a little for something important in future.

In the meantime, Evert Beekman having secured his gentle and true- hearted wife, began, though with a heavy heart, to bethink him of his great political duties. It was well understood that he was to have a regiment of the new levies, and Beulah had schooled her affectionate heart to a degree that permitted her to part with him, in such a cause, with seeming resignation. It was, sooth to say, a curious spectacle, to see how these two sisters bent all their thoughts and wishes, in matters of a public nature, to favour the engrossing sentiments of their sex and natures; Maud being strongly disposed to sustain the royal cause, and the bride to support that in which her husband had enlisted, heart and hand.

As for captain Willoughby, he said little on the subject of politics; but the marriage of Beulah had a powerful influence in confirming his mind in the direction it had taken after the memorable argument with the chaplain. Colonel Beekman was a man of strong good sense, though without the least brilliancy; and his arguments were all so clear and practical, as to carry with them far more weight than was usual in the violent partisan discussions of the period. Beulah fancied him a Solon in sagacity, and a Bacon in wisdom. Her father, without proceeding quite as far as this, was well pleased with his cool discriminating judgment, and much disposed to defer to his opinions. The chaplain was left out of the discussions as incorrigible.

The middle of June was passed, at the time colonel Beekman began to think of tearing himself from his wife, in order to return into the active scenes of preparation he had quitted, to make this visit. As usual, the family frequented the lawn, at the close of the day, the circumstance of most of the windows of the Hut looking on the court, rendering this resort to the open air more agreeable than might otherwise have been the case. Evert was undecided whether to go the following morning, or to remain a day longer, when the lawn was thus occupied, on the evening of the 25th of the month, Mrs. Willoughby making the tea, as usual, her daughters sitting near her, sewing, and the gentlemen at hand, discussing the virtues of different sorts of seed-corn.

"There is a stranger!" suddenly exclaimed the chaplain, looking towards the rocks near the mill, the point at which all arrivals in the valley were first seen from the Hut. "He comes, too, like a man in haste, whatever may be his errand."

"God be praised," returned the captain rising; "it is Nick, on his usual trot, and this is about the time he should be back, the bearer of good news. A week earlier might have augured better; but this will do. The fellow moves over the ground as if he really had something to communicate!"

Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters suspended their avocations, and the gentlemen stood, in silent expectation, watching the long, loping strides of the Tuscarora, as he came rapidly across the plain. In a few minutes the Indian came upon the lawn, perfectly in wind, moving with deliberation and gravity, as he drew nearer to the party. Captain Willoughby, knowing his man, waited quite another minute, after the red-man was leaning against an apple-tree, before he questioned him.

"Welcome back, Nick," he then said. "Where did you leave my son?"

"He tell dere," answered the Indian, presenting a note, which the captain read.

"This is all right, Nick; and it shows you have been a true man. Your wages shall be paid to-night. But, this letter has been written on the eastern bank of the Hudson, and is quite three weeks old--why have we not seen you, sooner?"

"Can't see, when he don't come."

"That is plain enough; but why have you not come back sooner? That is my question."

"Want to look at country--went to shore of Great Salt Lake."

"Oh!--Curiosity, then, has been at the bottom of your absence?"

"Nick warrior--no squaw--got no cur'osity."

"No, no--I beg your pardon, Nick; I did not mean to accuse you of so womanish a feeling. Far from it; I know you are a man. Tell us, however, how far, and whither you went?"

"Bos'on," answered Nick, sententiously.

"Boston! That has been a journey, indeed. Surely my son did not allow you to travel in his company through Massachusetts?"

"Nick go alone. Two path; one for major; one for Tuscarora. Nick got dere first."

"That I can believe, if you were in earnest. Were you not questioned by the way?"

"Yes. Tell 'em I'm Stockbridge--pale-face know no better. T'ink he fox; more like wood-chuck."

"Thank you, Nick, for the compliment. Had my son reached Boston before you came away?"

"Here he be"--answered the Indian, producing another missive, from the folds of his calico shirt.

The captain received the note which he read with extreme gravity, and some surprise.

"This is in Bob's handwriting," he said, "and is dated 'Boston, June 18th, 1775;' but it is without signature, and is not only Bob, but Bob Short."

"Read, dear Willoughby," exclaimed the anxious mother. "News from _him_, concerns us all."

"News, Wilhelmina!--They may call this news in Boston, but one is very little the better for it at the Hutted Knoll. However, such as it is, there is no reason for keeping it a secret, while there is _one reason, at least, why it should be known. This is all. 'My dearest sir--Thank God I am unharmed; but we have had much to make us reflect; you know what duty requires--my best and endless love to my mother, and Beulah--and dear, laughing, capricious, _pretty Maud. Nick was present, and can tell you all. I do not think he will extenuate, or aught set down in malice."' And this without direction, or signature; with nothing, in fact, but place and date. What say _you to all this, Nick?"

"He very good--major dere; he know. Nick dere--hot time--a t'ousand scalp--coat red as blood."

"There has been another battle!" exclaimed the captain; "that is too plain to admit of dispute. Speak out at once, Nick--which gained the day; the British or the Americans?"

"Hard to tell--one fight, t'other fight. Red-coat take de ground; Yankee kill. If Yankee could take scalp of all he kill, he whip. But, poor warriors at takin' scalp. No know how."

"Upon my word, Woods, there does seem to be something in all this! It can hardly be possible that the Americans would dare to attack Boston, defended as it is, by a strong army of British regulars."

"That would they not," cried the chaplain, with emphasis. "This has been only another skirmish."

"What you call skirmge?" asked Nick, pointedly. "It skirmge to take t'ousand scalp, ha?"

"Tell us what _has happened, Tuscarora?" said the captain, motioning his friend to be silent.

"Soon tell--soon done. Yankee on hill; reg'lar in canoe. Hundred, t'ousand, fifty canoe--full of red-coat. Great chief, dere!--ten--six-- two--all go togeder. Come ashore--parade, pale-face manner--march-- booh--booh--dem cannon; pop, pop--dem gun. Wah! how he run!"

"Run!--who ran, Nick?--Though I suppose it must have been the poor Americans, of course."

"Red-coat run," answered the Indian, quietly.

This reply produced a general sensation, even the ladies starting, and gazing at each other.

"Red-coat run"--repeated the captain, slowly. "Go on with your history, Nick--where was this battle fought?"

"T'other Bos'on--over river--go in canoe to fight, like Injin from Canada."

"That must have been in Charlestown, Woods--you may remember Boston is on one peninsula, and Charlestown on another. Still, I do not recollect that the Americans were in the latter, Beekman--you told me nothing of that?"

"They were not so near the royal forces, certainly, when I left Albany, sir," returned the colonel. "A few direct questions to the Indian, however, would bring out the whole truth."

"We must proceed more methodically. How many Yankees were in this fight, Nick?--Calculate as we used to, in the French war."

"Reach from here to mill--t'ree, two deep, cap'in. All farmer; no sodger. Carry gun, but no carry baggonet; no carry knapsack. No wear red-coat. _Look like town-meetin'; _fight like devils."

"A line as long as from this to the mill, three deep, would contain about two thousand men, Beekman. Is that what you wish to say, Nick?"

"That about him--pretty near--just so."

"Well, then, there were about two thousand Yankees on this hill--how many king's troops crossed in the canoes, to go against them?"

"Two time--one time, so many; t'other time, half so many. Nick close by; count _him_."

"That would make three thousand in all! By George, this does look like work. Did they all go together, Nick?"

"No; one time go first; fight, run away. Den two time go, fight good deal--run away, too. Den try harder--set fire to wigwam--go up hill; Yankee run away."

"This is plain enough, and quite graphical. Wigwam on fire? Charlestown is not burnt, Nick?"

"Dat he--Look like old Council Fire, gone out. Big canoe fire--booh-- booh--Nick nebber see such war before--wah! Dead man plenty as leaves on tree; blood run like creek!"

"Were you in this battle, Nick? How came you to learn so much about it?"

"Don't want to be in it--better out--no scalp taken. Red-man not'in' to do, dere. How know about him?--_See him--dat all. Got eye; why no see him, behind stone wall. Good see, behind stone wall."

"Were you across the water yourself, or did you remain in Boston, and see from a distance?"

"Across in canoe--tell red-coat, general send letter by Nick--major say, he _my friend--let Nick go."

"My son was in this bloody battle, then!" said Mrs. Willoughby. "He writes, Hugh, that he is safe?"

"He does, dearest Wilhelmina; and Bob knows us too well, to attempt deception, in such a matter."

"Did you see the major in the field, Nick--after you crossed the water, I mean?"

"See him, all. Six--two--seven t'ousand. Close by; why not see major stand up like pine--no dodge he head, _dere_. Kill all round him-- no hurt _him_! Fool to stay dere--tell him so; but he no come away. Save he scalp, too."

"And how many slain do you suppose there might have been left on the ground--or, did you riot remain to see?"

"Did see--stay to get gun--knapsack--oder good t'ing--plenty about; pick him up, fast as want him." Here Nick coolly opened a small bundle, and exhibited an epaulette, several rings, a watch, five or six pairs of silver buckles, and divers other articles of plunder, of which he had managed to strip the dead. "All good t'ing--plenty as stone--have him widout askin'."

"So I see, Master Nick--and is this the plunder of Englishmen, or of Americans?"

"Red-coat nearest--got most t'ing, too. Go farder, fare worse; as pale- face say."

"Quite satisfactory. Were there more red-coats left on the ground, or more Americans?"

"Red-coat so," said Nick, holding up _four fingers--Yankee, so; "holding up _one_. Take big grave to hold red-coat. Small grave won't hold Yankee. Hear what he count; most red-coat. More than t'ousand warrior! British groan, like squaw dat lose her hunter."

Such was Saucy Nick's description of the celebrated, and, in some particulars, unrivalled combat of Bunker Hill, of which he had actually been an eye-witness, on the ground, though using the precaution to keep his body well covered. He did not think it necessary to state the fact that he had given the _coup-de-grace_, himself, to the owner of the epaulette, nor did he deem it essential to furnish all the particulars of his mode of obtaining so many buckles. In other respects, his account was fair enough, "nothing extenuating, or setting down aught in malice." The auditors had listened with intense feeling; and Maud, when the allusion was made to Robert Willoughby, buried her pallid face in her hands, and wept. As for Beulah, time and again, she glanced anxiously at her husband, and bethought her of the danger to which he might so soon be exposed.

The receipt of this important intelligence confirmed Beekman in the intention to depart. The very next morning he tore himself away from Beulah, and proceeded to Albany. The appointment of Washington, and a long list of other officers, soon succeeded, including his own as a colonel; and the war may be said to have commenced systematically. Its distant din occasionally reached the Hutted Knoll; but the summer passed away, bringing with it no event to affect the tranquillity of that settlement. Even Joel's schemes were thwarted for a time, and he was fain to continue to wear the mask, and to gather that harvest for another, which he had hoped to reap for his own benefit.

Beulah had all a young wife's fears for her husband; but, as month succeeded month, and one affair followed another, without bringing him harm, she began to submit to the anxieties inseparable from her situation, with less of self-torment, and more of reason. Her mother and Maud were invaluable friends to her, in this novel and trying situation, though each had her own engrossing cares on account of Robert Willoughby. As no other great battle, however, occurred in the course of the year '75, Beekman remained in safety with the troops that invested Boston, and the major with the army within it. Neither was much exposed, and glad enough were these gentle affectionate hearts, when they learned that the sea separated the combatants.

This did not occur, however, until another winter was passed. In November, the family left the Hut, as had been its practice of late years, and went out into the more inhabited districts to pass the winter. This time it came only to Albany, where colonel Beekman joined it, passing a few happy weeks with his well-beloved Beulah. The ancient town mentioned was not gay at a moment like that; but it had many young officers in it, on the American side of the question, who were willing enough to make themselves acceptable to Maud. The captain was not sorry to see several of these youths manifesting assiduity about her he had so long been accustomed to consider as his youngest daughter; for, by this time, his opinions had taken so strong a bias in favour of the rights of the colonies, that Beekman himself scarce rejoiced more whenever he heard of any little success alighting on the American arms.

"It will all come right in the end," the worthy captain used to assure his friend the chaplain. "They will open their eyes at home, ere long, and the injustice of taxing the colonies will be admitted. Then all will come round again; the king will be as much beloved as ever, and England and America will be all the better friends for having a mutual respect. I know my countrymen well; they mean right, and will do right, as soon as their stomachs are a little lowered, and they come to look at the truth, coolly. I'll answer for it, the Battle of Bunker's Hill made _us_"--the captain had spoken in this way, now, for some months--"made _us a thousand advocates, where we had one before. This is the nature of John Bull; give him reason to respect you, and he will soon do you justice; but give him reason to feel otherwise, and he becomes a careless, if not a hard master."

Such were the opinions captain Willoughby entertained of his native land; a land he had not seen in thirty years, and one in which he had so recently inherited unexpected honours, without awakening a desire to return and enjoy them. His opinions were right in part, certainly; for they depended on a law of nature, while it is not improbable they were wrong in all that was connected with the notions of any peculiarly manly quality, in any particular part of christendom. No maxim is truer than that which teaches us "like causes produce like effects;" and as human beings are governed by very similar laws all over the face of this round world of ours, nothing is more certain than the similarity of their propensities.

Maud had no smiles, beyond those extracted by her naturally sweet disposition, and a very prevalent desire to oblige, for any of the young soldiers, or young civilians, who crowded about her chair, during the Albany winter mentioned. Two or three of colonel Beekman's military friends, in particular, would very gladly have become connected with an officer so much respected, through means so exceedingly agreeable; but no encouragement emboldened either to go beyond the attention and assiduities of a marked politeness.

"I know not how it is," observed Mrs. Willoughby, one day, in a _tete-a-tete with her husband; "Maud seems to take less pleasure than is usual with girls of her years, in the attentions of your sex. That her heart is affectionate--warm--even tender, I am very certain; and yet no sign of preference, partiality, or weakness, in favour of any of these fine young men, of whom we see so many, can I discover in the child. They all seem alike to her!"

"Her time will come, as it happened to her mother before her," answered the captain. "Whooping-cough and measles are not more certain to befall children, than love to befall a young woman. You were all made for it, my dear Willy, and no fear but the girl will catch the disease, one of these days; and that, too, without any inoculation."

"I am sure, I have no wish to separate from my child"--so Mrs. Willoughby always spoke of, and so she always felt towards Maud--"I am sure, I have no wish to separate from my child; but as we cannot always remain, it is perhaps better this one should marry, like the other. There is young Verplanck much devoted to her; he is everyway a suitable match; and then he is in Evert's own regiment."

"Ay, he would do; though to my fancy Luke Herring is the far better match."

"That is because he is richer and more powerful, Hugh--you men cannot think of a daughter's establishment, without immediately dragging in houses and lands, as part of the ceremony."

"By George, wife of mine, houses and lands in moderation, are very good sweeteners of matrimony!"

"And yet, Hugh, I have been very happy as a wife, nor have you been very miserable as a husband, without any excess of riches to sweeten the state!" answered Mrs. Willoughby, reproachfully. "Had you been a full general, I could not have loved you more than I have done as a mere captain."

"All very true, Wilhelmina, dearest," returned the husband, kissing the faithful partner of his bosom with strong affection--"very true, my dear girl; for girl you are and ever will be in my eyes; but _you are one in a million, and I humbly trust there are not ten hundred and one, in every thousand, just like myself. For my part, I wish dear, saucy, capricious little Maud, no worse luck in a husband, than Luke Herring."

"She will never be _his wife; I know her, and my own sex, too well to think it. You are wrong, however, Willoughby, in applying such terms to the child. Maud is not in the least capricious, especially in her affections. See with what truth and faithfulness of sisterly attachment she clings to Bob. I do declare I am often ashamed to feel that even his own mother has less solicitude about him than this dear girl."

"Pooh, Willy; don't be afflicted with the idea that you don't make yourself sufficiently miserable about the boy. Bob will do well enough, and will very likely come out of this affair a lieutenant-colonel. I may live yet to see him a general officer; certainly, if I live to be as old as my grandfather, Sir Thomas. As for Maud, she finds Beulah uneasy about Beekman; and having no husband herself, or any over that she cares a straw about, why she just falls upon Bob as a _pis aller_. I'll warrant you she cares no more for him than any of the rest of us--than myself, for instance; though as an old soldier, I don't scream every time I fancy a gun fired over yonder at Boston."

"I wish it were well over. It is _so unnatural for Evert and Robert to be on opposite sides."

"Yes, it is out of the common way, I admit; and yet 'twill all come round, in the long run. This Mr. Washington is a clever fellow, and seems to play his cards with spirit and judgment. He was with us, in that awkward affair of Braddock's; and between you and me, Wilhelmina, he covered the regulars, or we should all have laid our bones on that accursed field. I wrote you at the time, what I thought of him, and now you see it is all coming to pass."

It was one of the captain's foibles to believe himself a political prophet; and, as he had really both written and spoken highly of Washington, at the time mentioned, it had no small influence on his opinions to find himself acting on the same side with this admired favourite. Prophecies often produce their own fulfilment, in cases of much greater gravity than this; and it is not surprising that our captain found himself strengthened in his notions by the circumstance.

The winter passed away without any of Maud's suitors making a visible impression on her heart. In March, the English evacuated Boston, Robert Willoughby sailing with his regiment for Halifax, and thence with the expedition against Charleston, under Sir Henry Clinton. The next month, the family returned to the Knoll, where it was thought wiser, and even safer to be, at a moment so critical, than even in a more frequented place. The war proceeded, and, to the captain's great regret, without any very visible approaches towards the reconciliation he had so confidently anticipated. This rather checked his warmth in favour of the colonial cause; for, an Englishman by birth, he was much opposed at bottom to anything like a dissolution of the tie that connected America with the mother country; a political event that now began seriously to be talked of among the initiated.

Desirous of thinking as little as possible of disagreeable things, the worthy owner of the valley busied himself with his crops, his mills, and his improvements. He had intended to commence leasing his wild lands about this time, and to begin a more extended settlement, with an eye to futurity; but the state of the country forbade the execution of the project, and he was fain to limit his efforts by their former boundaries. The geographical position of the valley put it beyond any of the ordinary exactions of military service; and, as there was a little doubt thrown around its owner's opinions, partly in consequence of his son's present and his own previous connection with the royal army, and partly on account of Joel's secret machinations, the authorities were well content to let the settlement alone, provided it would take care of itself. Notwithstanding the prominent patriotism of Joel Strides and the miller, they were well satisfied, themselves, with this state of things; preferring peace and quietness to the more stirring scenes of war. Their schemes, moreover, had met with somewhat of a check, in the feeling of the population of the valley, which, on an occasion calculated to put their attachment to its owner to the proof, had rather shown that they remembered his justice, liberality, and upright conduct, more than exactly comported with their longings. This manifestation of respect was shown at an election for a representative in a local convention, in which every individual at the Hutted Knoll, who had a voice at all, the two conspirators excepted, had given it in favour of the captain. So decided was this expression of feeling, indeed, that it compelled Joel and the miller to chime in with the cry of the hour, and to vote contrary to their own wishes.

One, dwelling at the Hutted Knoll, in the summer of 1776, could never have imagined that he was a resident of a country convulsed by a revolution, and disfigured by war. There, everything seemed peaceful and calm, the woods sighing with the airs of their sublime solitude, the genial sun shedding its heats on a grateful and generous soil, vegetation ripening and yielding with all the abundance of a bountiful nature, as in the more tranquil days of peace and hope.

"There is something frightful in the calm of this valley, Beulah!" exclaimed Maud one Sunday, as she and her sister looked out of the library window amid the breathing stillness of the forest, listening to the melancholy sound of the bell that summoned them to prayers. "There is a frightful calm over this place, at an hour when we know that strife and bloodshed are so active in the country. Oh! that the hateful congress had never thought of making this war!"

"Evert writes me all is well, Maud; that the times will lead to good; the people are right; and America will now be a nation--in time, he thinks, a great, and a very great nation."

"Ah! It is this ambition of greatness that hurries them all on! Why can they not be satisfied with being respectable subjects of so great a country as England, that they must destroy each other for this phantom of liberty? Will it make them wiser, or happier, or better than they are?"

Thus reasoned Maud, under the influence of one engrossing sentiment. As our tale proceeds, we shall have occasion to show, perhaps, how far was that submission to events which she inculcated, from the impulses of her true character. Beulah answered mildly, but it was more as a young American wife:

"I know Evert thinks it all right, Maud; and you will own he is neither fiery nor impetuous. If _his cool judgment approve of what has been done, we may well suppose that it has not been done in too much haste, or needlessly."

"Think, Beulah," rejoined Maud, with an ashen cheek, and in trembling tones, "that Evert and Robert may, at this very moment, be engaged in strife against each other. The last messenger who came in, brought us the miserable tidings that Sir William Howe was landing a large army near New York, and that the Americans were preparing to meet it. We are certain that Bob is with his regiment; and his regiment we know is in the army. How can we think of this liberty, at a moment so critical?"

Beulah did not reply; for in spite of her quiet nature, and implicit confidence in her husband, she could not escape a woman's solicitude. The colonel had promised to write at every good occasion, and that which he promised was usually performed. She thought, and thought rightly, that a very few days would bring them intelligence of importance; though it came in a shape she had little anticipated, and by a messenger she had then no desire to see.

In the meantime, the season and its labours advanced. August was over, and September with its fruits had succeeded, promising to bring the year round without any new or extraordinary incidents to change the fortunes of the inmates of the Hutted Knoll. Beulah had now been married more than a twelvemonth, and was already a mother; and of course all that time had elapsed since the son quitted his father's house. Nick, too, had disappeared shortly after his return from Boston; and throughout this eventful summer, his dark, red countenance had not been seen in the valley.

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