فصل 22

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فصل 22

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CHAPTER 22

By Candlelight

The steady humming of the car, flying high above the earth, lulled Margarita, and the moonlight warmed her pleasantly. Closing her eyes, she offered her face to the wind and thought with a certain sadness about the unknown river bank she had left behind, which she sensed she would never see again. After all the sorceries and wonders of that evening, she could already guess precisely whom she was being taken to visit, but that did not frighten her. The hope that there she would manage to regain her happiness made her fearless. However, she was not to dream of this happiness for long in the car. Either the rook knew his job well, or the car was a good one, but Margarita soon opened her eyes and saw beneath her not the forest darkness, but a quivering sea of Moscow lights. The black bird-driver unscrewed the right front wheel in flight, then landed the car in some completely deserted cemetery in the Dorogomilovo area.

Having deposited the unquestioning Margarita by one of the graves along with her broom, the rook started the car, aiming it straight into the ravine beyond the cemetery. It tumbled noisily into it and there perished. The rook saluted deferentially, mounted the wheel, and flew off.

A black cloak appeared at once from behind one of the tombstones. A fang flashed in the moonlight, and Margarita recognized Azazello. He gestured to Margarita, inviting her to get on the broom, jumped on to a long rapier himself, they both whirled up and in a few seconds, unnoticed by anyone, landed near no. 302-bis on Sadovaya Street.

When the companions passed through the gateway, carrying the broom and rapier under their arms, Margarita noticed a man languishing there in a cap and high boots, probably waiting for someone. Light though Azazello’s and Margarita’s footsteps were, the solitary man heard them and twitched uneasily, not understanding who had produced them.

By the sixth entrance they met a second man looking surprisingly like the first. And again the same story repeated itself. Footsteps … the man turned and frowned uneasily. And when the door opened and closed, he dashed after the invisible enterers, peeked into the front hall, but of course saw nothing.

A third man, the exact copy of the second, and therefore also of the first, stood watch on the third-floor landing. He smoked strong cigarettes, and Margarita had a fit of coughing as she walked past him. The smoker, as if pricked with a pin, jumped up from the bench he was sitting on, began turning around uneasily, went to the banister, looked down. Margarita and her companion were by that time already at the door of apartment no. 50. They did not ring the bell. Azazello noiselessly opened the door with his own key.

The first thing that struck Margarita was the darkness in which she found herself. It was as dark as underground, so that she involuntarily clutched at Azazello’s cloak for fear of stumbling. But then, from far away and above, the light of some little lamp flickered and began to approach. Azazello took the broom from under Margarita’s arm as they walked, and it disappeared without a sound in the darkness.

Here they started climbing some wide steps, and Margarita began to think there would be no end to them. She was struck that the front hall of an ordinary Moscow apartment could contain this extraordinary invisible, yet quite palpable, endless stairway. But the climb ended, and Margarita realized that she was on a landing. The light came right up to them, and Margarita saw in this light the face of a man, long and black, holding a little lamp in his hand. Those who in recent days had been so unfortunate as to cross paths with him, would certainly have recognized him even by the faint tongue of flame from the lamp. It was Koroviev, alias Fagott.

True, Koroviev’s appearance was quite changed. The flickering light was reflected not in the cracked pince-nez, which it had long been time to throw in the trash, but in a monocle, which, true, was also cracked. The little moustache on his insolent face was twirled up and waxed, and Koroviev’s blackness was quite simply explained — he was in formal attire. Only his chest was white.

The magician, choirmaster, sorcerer, interpreter - devil knows what he really was — Koroviev, in short, made his bows and, with a broad sweep of the lamp in the air, invited Margarita to follow him. Azazello disappeared.

‘An amazingly strange evening,’ thought Margarita, ‘I expected anything but this. Has their electricity gone off, or what? But the most striking thing is the size of the place … How could it all be squeezed into a Moscow apartment? There’s simply no way it could be! …’ However little light Koroviev’s lamp gave out, Margarita realized that she was in an absolutely enormous hall, with a colonnade besides, dark and on first impression endless. Koroviev stopped by some sort of little settee, placed his lamp on some sort of post, gestured for Margarita to sit down, and settled himself beside her in a picturesque attitude, leaning his elbow on the post.

‘Allow me to introduce myself to you,’ creaked Koroviev, ‘Koroviev. You are surprised there’s no light? Economy, so you think, of course? Unh-unh! May the first executioner to come along, even one of those who later this evening will have the honour of kissing your knee, lop my head off on this very post if it’s so! Messire simply doesn’t like electric light, and we’ll save it for the very last moment. And then, believe me, there’ll be no lack of it. Perhaps it would even be better to have less.’ Margarita liked Koroviev, and his rattling chatter had a soothing effect on her.

‘No,’ replied Margarita, ‘most of all I’m struck that there’s room for all this.’ She made a gesture with her hand, emphasizing the enormousness of the hall.

Koroviev grinned sweetly, which made the shadows stir in the folds of his nose.

‘The most uncomplicated thing of all!’ he replied. ‘For someone well acquainted with the fifth dimension, it costs nothing to expand space to the desired proportions. I’ll say more, respected lady — to devil knows what proportions! I, however,’ Koroviev went on chattering, ‘have known people who had no idea, not only of the fifth dimension, but generally of anything at all, and who nevertheless performed absolute wonders in expanding their space. Thus, for instance, one city-dweller, as I’ve been told, having obtained a three-room apartment on Zemlyanoy Val, transformed it instantly, without any fifth dimension or other things that addle the brain, into a four-room apartment by dividing one room in half with a partition.

‘He forthwith exchanged that one for two separate apartments in different parts of Moscow: one of three rooms, the other of two. You must agree that that makes five. The three-room one he exchanged for two separate ones, each of two rooms, and became the owner, as you can see for yourself, of six rooms — true, scattered in total disorder all over Moscow. He was just getting ready to perform his last and most brilliant leap, by advertising in the newspapers that he wanted to exchange six rooms in different parts of Moscow for one five-room apartment on Zemlyanoy Val, when his activity ceased for reasons independent of him. He probably also has some sort of room now, only I venture to assure you it is not in Moscow. A real slicker, you see, ma’am, and you keep talking about the fifth dimension!‘ Though she had never talked about the fifth dimension, and it was Koroviev himself who kept talking about it, Margarita laughed gaily, hearing the story of the adventures of the apartment slicker. Koroviev went on: ‘But to business, to business, Margarita Nikolaevna. You’re quite an intelligent woman, and of course have already guessed who our host is.’

Margarita’s heart thumped, and she nodded.

‘Well, and so, ma’am,‘ Koroviev said, ’and so, we’re enemies of any sort of reticence and mysteriousness. Messire gives one ball annually. It is called the spring ball of the full moon, or the ball of the hundred kings. Such a crowd! …‘ here Koroviev held his cheek as if he had a toothache. ’However, I hope you’ll be convinced of it yourself. Now, Messire is a bachelor, as you yourself, of course, understand. Yet a hostess is needed,‘ Koroviev spread his arms, ’ithout a hostess, you must agree …‘ Margarita listened to Koroviev, trying not to miss a single word; she felt cold under her heart, the hope of happiness made her head spin.

‘The tradition has been established,’ Koroviev said further, ‘that the hostess of the ball must without fail be named Margarita, first, and second, she must be a native of the place. And we, you will kindly note, are travelling and at the present moment are in Moscow. We found one hundred and twenty-one Margaritas in Moscow, and, would you believe it,’ here Koroviev slapped himself on the thigh with despair, ‘not one of them was suitable! And, at last, by a happy fate …’ Koroviev grinned expressively, inclining his body, and again Margarita’s heart went cold.

‘In short!’ Koroviev cried out. ‘Quite shortly: you won’t refuse to take this responsibility upon yourself?’

‘I won’t refuse!’ Margarita replied firmly.

‘Done!’ said Koroviev and, raising the little lamp, added: ‘Please follow me.’

They walked between the columns and finally came to another hall, in which for some reason there was a strong smell of lemons, where some rustlings were heard and something brushed against Margarita’s head. She gave a start.

‘Don’t be frightened,’ Koroviev reassured her sweetly, taking Margarita under the arm, ‘it’s Behemoth’s contrivances for the ball, that’s all. And generally I will allow myself the boldness of advising you, Margarita Nikolaevna, never to be afraid of anything. It is unreasonable. The ball will be a magnificent one, I will not conceal it from you. We will see persons the scope of whose power in their own time was extremely great. But, really, once you think how microscopically small their possibilities were compared to those of him to whose retinue I have the honour of belonging, it seems ridiculous, and even, I would say, sad … And, besides, you are of royal blood yourself.’ ‘Why of royal blood?’ Margarita whispered fearfully, pressing herself to Koroviev.

‘Ah, my Queen,’ Koroviev rattled on playfully, ‘questions of blood are the most complicated questions in the world! And if we were to question certain great-grandmothers, especially those who enjoyed a reputation as shrinking violets, the most astonishing secrets would be uncovered, my respected Margarita Nikolaevna! I would not be sinning in the least if, in speaking of that, I should make reference to a whimsically shuffled pack of cards. There are things in which neither barriers of rank nor even the borders between countries have any validity whatsoever. A hint: one of the French queens who lived in the sixteenth century would, one must suppose, be very amazed if someone told her that after all these years I would be leading her lovely great-great-great-granddaughter on my arm through the ballrooms of Moscow. But we’ve arrived!’ Here Koroviev blew out his lamp and it vanished from his hands, and Margarita saw lying on the floor in front of her a streak of light under some dark door. And on this door Koroviev softly knocked. Here Margarita became so agitated that her teeth chattered and a chill ran down her spine.

The door opened. The room turned out to be very small. Margarita saw a wide oak bed with dirty, rumpled and bunched-up sheets and pillows. Before the bed was an oak table with carved legs, on which stood a candelabrum with sockets in the form of a bird’s claws. In these seven golden claws1 burned thick wax candles. Besides that, there was on the table a large chessboard with pieces of extraordinarily artful workmanship. A little low bench stood on a small, shabby rug. There was yet another table with some golden bowl and another candelabrum with branches in the form of snakes. The room smelled of sulphur and pitch. Shadows from the lights criss-crossed on the floor.

Among those present Margarita immediately recognized Azazello, now dressed in a tailcoat and standing at the head of the bed. The dressed-up Azazello no longer resembled that bandit in whose form he had appeared to Margarita in the Alexandrovsky Garden, and his bow to Margarita was very gallant.

A naked witch, that same Hella who had so embarrassed the respectable barman of the Variety, and - alas — the same who had so fortunately been scared off by the cock on the night of the notorious seance, sat on a rug on the floor by the bed, stirring something in a pot which gave off a sulphurous steam.

Besides these, there was also a huge black tom-cat in the room, sitting on a high tabouret before the chess table, holding a chess knight in his right paw.

Hella rose and bowed to Margarita. The cat, jumping off the tabouret, did likewise. Scraping with his right hind paw, he dropped the knight and crawled under the bed after it.

Margarita, sinking with fear, nevertheless made all this out by the perfidious candlelight. Her eyes were drawn to the bed, on which sat he whom, still quite recently, at the Patriarch’s Ponds, poor Ivan had tried to convince that the devil does not exist. It was this non-existent one who was sitting on the bed.

Two eyes were fixed on Margarita’s face. The right one with a golden spark at its bottom, drilling anyone to the bottom of his soul, and the left one empty and black, like the narrow eye of a needle, like the entrance to the bottomless well of all darkness and shadow. Woland’s face was twisted to one side, the right corner of the mouth drawn down, the high, bald forehead scored by deep wrinkles running parallel to the sharp eyebrows. The skin of Woland’s face was as if burned for all eternity by the sun.

Woland, broadly sprawled on the bed, was wearing nothing but a long nightshirt, dirty and patched on the left shoulder. One bare leg was tucked under him, the other was stretched out on the little bench. It was the knee of this dark leg that Hella was rubbing with some smoking ointment.

Margarita also made out on Woland’s bared, hairless chest a beetle artfully carved2 from dark stone, on a gold chain and with some inscriptions on its back. Beside Woland, on a heavy stand, stood a strange globe, as if alive, lit on one side by the sun.

The silence lasted a few seconds. ‘He’s studying me,’ thought Margarita, and with an effort of will she tried to control the trembling in her legs.

At last Woland began to speak, smiling, which made his sparkling eye as if to flare up.

‘Greetings to you, Queen, and I beg you to excuse my homely attire.’

The voice of Woland was so low that on some syllables it drew out into a wheeze.

Woland took a long sword from the sheets, leaned down, poked it under the bed, and said:

‘Out with you! The game is cancelled. The guest has arrived.’

‘By no means,’ Koroviev anxiously piped, prompter-like, at Margarita’s ear.

‘By no means …’ began Margarita.

‘Messire …’ Koroviev breathed into her ear.

‘By no means, Messire,’ Margarita replied softly but distinctly, gaining control over herself, and she added with a smile: ‘I beg you not to interrupt your game. I imagine the chess journals would pay good money for the chance to publish it.’ Azazello gave a low but approving grunt, and Woland, looking intently at Margarita, observed as if to himself:

‘Yes, Koroviev is right. How whimsically the deck has been shuffled! Blood!’

He reached out and beckoned Margarita to him with his hand. She went up, not feeling the floor under her bare feet. Woland placed his hand, heavy as if made of stone and at the same time hot as fire, on Margarita’s shoulder, pulled her towards him, and sat her on the bed by his side.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘since you are so charmingly courteous - and I expected nothing else - let us not stand on ceremony.’ He again leaned over the side of the bed and cried: ‘How long will this circus under the bed continue? Come out, you confounded Hans!’3 ‘I can’t find my knight,’ the cat responded from under the bed in a muffled and false voice, ‘it’s ridden off somewhere, and I keep getting some frog instead.’

‘You don’t imagine you’re at some fairground, do you?’ asked Woland, pretending to be angry. ‘There’s no frog under the bed! Leave these cheap tricks for the Variety. If you don’t appear at once, well consider that you’ve forfeited, you damned deserter!’ ‘Not for anything, Messire!’ yelled the cat, and he got out from under the bed that same second, holding the knight in his paw.

‘Allow me to present…’ Woland began and interrupted himself: ‘No, I simply cannot look at this buffoon. See what he’s turned himself into under the bed!’

Standing on his hind legs, the dust-covered cat was meanwhile making his bows to Margarita. There was now a white bow-tie on the cat’s neck, and a pair of ladies’ mother-of-pearl opera glasses hung from a strap on his neck. What’s more, the cat’s whiskers were gilded.

‘Well, what’s all this now?’ exclaimed Woland. ‘Why have you gilded your whiskers? And what the devil do you need the bow-tie for, when you’re not even wearing trousers?’

‘A cat is not supposed to wear trousers, Messire,’ the cat replied with great dignity. ‘You’re not going to tell me to wear boots, too, are you? Puss-in-Boots exists only in fairy tales, Messire. But have you ever seen anyone at a ball without a bow-tie? I do not intend to put myself in a ridiculous situation and risk being chucked out! Everyone adorns himself with what he can. You may consider what I’ve said as referring to the opera glasses as well, Messire!’ ‘But the whiskers? …’

‘I don’t understand,’ the cat retorted drily. ‘Why could Azazello and Koroviev put white powder on themselves as they were shaving today, and how is that better than gold? I powdered my whiskers, that’s all! If I’d shaved myself, it would be a different matter! A shaved cat - now, that is indeed an outrage, I’m prepared to. admit it a thousand times over. But generally,’ here the cat’s voice quavered touchily, ‘I see I am being made the object of a certain captiousness, and I see that a serious problem stands before me — am I to attend the ball? What have you to say about that, Messire?’ And the cat got so puffed up with offence that it seemed he would burst in another second.

‘Ah, the cheat, the cheat,’ said Woland, shaking his head. ‘Each time his game is in a hopeless situation, he starts addling your pate like the crudest mountebank on a street comer. Sit down at once and stop slinging this verbal muck.’ ‘I shall sit down,’ replied the cat, sitting down, ‘but I shall enter an objection with regard to your last. My speeches in no way resemble verbal muck, as you have been pleased to put it in the presence of a lady, but rather a sequence of tightly packed syllogisms, the merit of which would be appreciated by such connoisseurs as Sextus Empiricus, Martianus Capella,4 and, for all I know, Aristotle himself.’ ‘Your king is in check,’ said Woland.

‘Very well, very well,’ responded the cat, and he began studying the chessboard through his opera glasses.

‘And so, donna,’ Woland addressed Margarita, ‘I present to you my retinue. This one who is playing the fool is the cat Behemoth. Azazello and Koroviev you have already met. I present to you my maid-servant, Hella: efficient, quick, and there is no service she cannot render.’ The beautiful Hella was smiling as she turned her green-tinged eyes to Margarita, without ceasing to dip into the ointment and apply it to Woland’s knee.

‘Well, that’s the lot,’ Woland concluded, wincing as Hella pressed especially hard on his knee. ‘A small, mixed and guileless company, as you see.’ He fell silent and began to spin the globe in front of him, which was so artfully made that the blue oceans moved on it and the cap at the pole lay like a real cap of ice and snow.

On the chessboard, meanwhile, confusion was setting in. A thoroughly upset king in a white mantle was shuffling on his square, desperately raising his arms. Three white pawn-mercenaries with halberds gazed in perplexity at the bishop brandishing his crozier and pointing forward to where, on two adjacent squares, white and black, Woland’s black horsemen could be seen on two fiery chargers pawing the squares with their hoofs.

Margarita was extremely interested and struck by the fact that the chessmen were alive.

The cat, taking the opera glasses from his eyes, prodded his king lightly in the back. The king covered his face with his hands in despair.

Things aren’t so great, my dear Behemoth,‘ Koroviev said quietly in a venomous voice.

The situation is serious but by no means hopeless,‘ Behemoth responded. ’What’s more, I’m quite certain of final victory. Once I’ve analysed the situation properly.‘

He set about this analysing in a rather strange manner — namely, by winking and making all sorts of faces at his king.

‘Nothing helps,’ observed Koroviev.

‘Aie!’ cried Behemoth, ‘the parrots have flown away, just as I predicted!’

Indeed, from somewhere far away came the noise of many wings. Koroviev and Azazello rushed out of the room.

‘Devil take you with your ball amusements!’ Woland grunted without tearing his eyes from his globe.

As soon as Koroviev and Azazello disappeared, Behemoth’s winking took on greater dimensions. The white king finally understood what was wanted of him. He suddenly pulled off his mantle, dropped it on the square, and ran off the board. The bishop covered himself with the abandoned royal garb and took the king’s place.

Koroviev and Azazello came back.

‘Lies, as usual,’ grumbled Azazello, with a sidelong glance at Behemoth.

‘I thought I heard it,’ replied the cat.

‘Well, is this going to continue for long?’ asked Woland. ‘Your king is in check.’

‘I must have heard wrong, my master,’ replied the cat. ‘My king is not and cannot be in check.’

‘I repeat, your king is in check!’

‘Messire,’ the cat responded in a falsely alarmed voice, ‘you are overtired. My king is not in check.’

The king is on square G-2,‘ said Woland, without looking at the board.

‘Messire, I’m horrified!’ howled the cat, showing horror on his mug. There is no king on that square!‘

‘What’s that?’ Woland asked in perplexity and began looking at the board, where the bishop standing on the king’s square kept turning away and hiding behind his hand.

‘Ah, you scoundrel,’ Woland said pensively.

‘Messire! Again I appeal to logic!’ the cat began, pressing his paws to his chest. ‘If a player announces that the king is in check, and meanwhile there’s no trace of the king on the board, the check must be recognized as invalid!’ ‘Do you give up or not?’ Woland cried in a terrible voice.

‘Let me think it over,’ the cat replied humbly, resting his elbows on the table, putting his paws over his ears, and beginning to think. He thought for a long time and finally said: ‘I give up.’ ‘The obstinate beast should be killed,’ whispered Azazello.

‘Yes, I give up,’ said the cat, ‘but I do so only because I am unable to play in an atmosphere of persecution on the part of the envious!’ He stood up and the chessmen climbed into their box.

‘Hella, it’s time,’ said Woland, and Hella disappeared from the room. ‘My leg hurts, and now this ball …’ he continued.

‘Allow me,’ Margarita quietly asked.

Woland looked at her intently and moved his knee towards her.

The liquid, hot as lava, burned her hands, but Margarita, without wincing, and trying not to cause any pain, rubbed it into his knee.

‘My attendants insist it’s rheumatism,’ Woland was saying, not taking his eyes off Margarita, ‘but I strongly suspect that this pain in my knee was left me as a souvenir by a charming witch with whom I was closely acquainted in the year 1571, on Mount Brocken,5 on the Devil’s Podium.’ ‘Ah, can that be so!’ said Margarita.

‘Nonsense! In another three hundred years it will all go away! I’ve been recommended a host of medications, but I keep to my granny’s old ways. Amazing herbs she left me, my grandam, that vile old thing! Incidentally, tell me, are you suffering from anything? Perhaps you have some sort of sorrow or soul-poisoning anguish?’ ‘No, Messire, none of that,’ replied the clever Margarita, ‘and now that I’m here with you, I feel myself quite well.’

‘Blood is a great thing …’ Woland said gaily, with no obvious point, and added: ‘I see you’re interested in my globe.’

‘Oh, yes, I’ve never seen anything like it.’

‘It’s a nice little object. Frankly speaking, I don’t enjoy listening to the news on the radio. It’s always reported by some girls who pronounce the names of places inarticulately. Besides, every third one has some slight speech defect, as if they’re chosen on purpose. My globe is much more convenient, especially since I need a precise knowledge of events. For instance, do you see this chunk of land, washed on one side by the ocean? Look, it’s filling with fire. A war has started there. If you look closer, you’ll see the details.’ Margarita leaned towards the globe and saw the little square of land spread out, get painted in many colours, and turn as it were into a relief map. And then she saw the little ribbon of a river, and some village near it. A little house the size of a pea grew and became the size of a matchbox. Suddenly and noiselessly the roof of this house flew up along with a cloud of black smoke, and the walls collapsed, so that nothing was left of the little two-storey box except a small heap with black smoke pouring from it. Bringing her eye still closer, Margarita made out a small female figure lying on the ground, and next to her, in a pool of blood, a little child with outstretched arms.

‘That’s it,’ Woland said, smiling, ‘he had no time to sin. Abaddon’s6 work is impeccable.‘

‘I wouldn’t want to be on the side that this Abaddon is against,’ said Margarita. ‘Whose side is he on?’

The longer I talk with you,‘ Woland responded amiably, ’the more I’m convinced that you are very intelligent. I’ll set you at ease. He is of a rare impartiality and sympathizes equally with both sides of the fight. Owing to that, the results are always the same for both sides. Abaddon!‘ Woland called in a low voice, and here there emerged from the wall the figure of some gaunt man in dark glasses. These glasses produced such a strong impression on Margarita that she cried out softly and hid her face in Woland’s leg. ’Ah, stop it!‘ cried Woland. ’Modern people are so nervous!‘ He swung and slapped Margarita on the back so that a ringing went through her whole body. ’Don’t you see he’s got his glasses on? Besides, there has never yet been, and never will be, an occasion when Abaddon appears before someone prematurely. And, finally, I’m here. You are my guest! I simply wanted to show him to you.‘ Abaddon stood motionless.

‘And is it possible for him to take off his glasses for a second?’ Margarita asked, pressing herself to Woland and shuddering, but now from curiosity.

‘Ah, no, that’s impossible,’ Woland replied seriously and waved his hand at Abaddon, and he was no more. ‘What do you wish to say, Azazello?’

‘Messire,’ replied Azazello, ‘allow me to say - we’ve got two strangers here: a beauty who is whimpering and pleading to be allowed to stay with her lady, and with her, begging your pardon, there is also her hog.’ ‘Strange behaviour for a beauty!’ observed Woland.

‘It’s Natasha, Natasha!’ exclaimed Margarita.

‘Well, let her stay with her lady. And the hog - to the cooks.’

‘To slaughter him?’ Margarita cried fearfully. ‘For pity’s sake, Messire, it’s Nikolai Ivanovich, the ground-floor tenant. It’s a misunderstanding, you see, she daubed him with the cream …’ ‘But wait,’ said Woland, ‘why the devil would anyone slaughter him? Let him stay with the cooks, that’s all. You must agree, I cannot let him into the ballroom.’

‘No, really …’ Azazello added and announced: ‘Midnight is approaching, Messire.’

‘Ah, very good.’ Woland turned to Margarita: ‘And so, if you please … I thank you beforehand. Don’t become flustered and don’t be afraid of anything. Drink nothing but water, otherwise you’ll get groggy and it will be hard for you. It’s time!’ Margarita got up from the rug, and then Koroviev appeared in the doorway.

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