Dick [Whittington] and Pussy

by N Fourbois

Chapter 4

On the Monday morning Dick started work in the Fitzwarrens' textile business, in what was called the counting-house. The work was physically easier and mentally more demanding. He took to it and he and Master Leofric made a formidable team. The days stretched into weeks, weeks glided into months and months into years. Our two youths grew into handsome and capable young men and were rarely to be seen apart. They had no reason to conceal their relationship, except from the young ladies whose hearts they broke. No doubt some seven hundred years later Leofric would have worn a tee shirt with the slogan 'Sorry, girls. I suck Dick'. But that is beyond fantasy.

Tom, who was barely out of kittenhood when he left Pauntley to join Dick on his adventures was becoming a mature cat and honing his skills as a mouser day by day. Little had been heard from either Fairy Rosebud or King Rat and they were almost forgotten in Dick's mind, apart from on Sundays, when the bells rang out from the City's churches.

Alderman Fitzwarren was delighted with the way Master Dick had adapted to the textile trade and he soon trusted him in every respect. He watched the relationship with his son blossom. In those far days there were n o laws for gay marriage, indeed none preventing gay partnerships – even the former king, who lay entombed in the abbey church and cathedral in Gloucester, had been famously partial to a young lad's charms. Of course, the Alderman was disappointed that he would never become a grandfather, that eventually there would be no heir to his financial empire, but his rich humanity suppressed his personal feelings and he just wanted happiness for his son Leofric and his swain. In due time he made Master Dick a full business partner for during those years the Alderman's business demands were gradually being eclipsed by his civic duties. And so we move on five years.


By this time King Richard II was on the throne. The Alderman called a board meeting. He was concerned that one of his ships, the Griffin, was overdue. Naturally this was a risk for all merchant venturers, and why when a venture was successful it paid so handsomely, but bad news travelled quickly, either via other merchant ships or overland. His good friend Alderman Lloyd, whose insurance company underwrote much of the export-import trade, had gained no intelligence on the matter. Another of Alderman Fitzwarren's ships, the Unicorn, was due to unload in the Port of London in a couple of days. It had already been sighted in the English Channel, and so the decision was taken to unload and load it as quickly as possible and send it to the African coast with all haste to make due enquiries. Dick and Leofric volunteered to sail with the Unicorn. At first the Alderman was loath to send both of his executives on the same ship, but realised these young men were yearning for adventure and to see the world and it would have been difficult to part them and so he finally gave his consent, and empowered them to sell the cargo and purchase goods to bring back to England at a profit. They had been schooled in the African ways of bargaining, offering at a price well above what was required and never accepting the first price offered.

A week later Dick and Leofric, accompanied of course by Tom Cat, embarked from the Port of London for Africa. They were berthed in a cabin second only in size to the captain's own. The first two days were the worst. Although they were sailing on a calm sea, our two landlubbers suffered from seasickness, which set them up to withstand the rough seas and storms of the Bay of Biscay by which time they had found their sea legs. Realising he would receive no attention from his master while he was in such a poorly state, Tom had set about his routine duties of ridding the ship of its mice and rats. He soon became a victim of his own success and apart from the occasional patrol during the hours of darkness, he spent most of the day asleep. This did not go unnoticed by his master who remarked "Tom, you are becoming lazy, and fat and heavy too, I notice. We must find you some employ for you when we hit land."

Dick and Leofric had no idea how long they had been at sea. As first class passengers and representatives of the Unicorn's owner they had little to do but enjoy the voyage. They had few demands laid upon them. They were briefed each day by the ship's captain. They would mix with the men who too were having a relatively easy time, steering the ship, trimming the sails, keeping watch, swabbing the decks and keeping the whole vessel shipshape and Bristow fashion. They rather enjoyed the ribald comments from the crew, the occasional hand groping their bottoms and the less frequent hand feeling their balls. But as London lads, one a Cockney, the other a country boy accustomed to the ways of the City, they coped with good humour, returned the ribald remarks and became popular with the lower deck. It was all good fun and never got out of hand. The pair were too in love with each other to countenance the attentions of a randy Jack Tar. For our two heroes it was the equivalent of 'taking a trip on Daddy's yacht'.

One morning towards midday there was a knock at the door of Dick and Leofric's cabin. Unexpected as it was, it startled both boys, making them jump, almost with dire consequences for Dick had just sucked Leofric's left testicle into his mouth and could easily have bitten into it. "Wait," shouted Leofric. Dick mumbled something similar. Leofric quickly re-arranged his clothing and Dick went to the door and opened it a crack. Although not undressed, he was still chubbed up from his previous activity and he had no tunic to conceal it.

"Master Dick." It was the mate. "Sorry to disturb, but I think you ought to come and see this." He gave no more explanation, but turned to go. Dick followed him. Leofric followed Dick to the galley. "There, Master Dick, Master Leofric," and he pointed at some sacking in the warmest corner of the galley. There was Tom stretched out with six blind, deaf and naked kittens suckling at his… er… at her teats.

The two young men stood there, struck dumb at the sight before them. Finally Dick stuttered "I had no idea." He bent down and stroked Tom who was purring away contentedly. "I suppose we had better call you Tomasina." Wistfully Dick's mind went back to that time in his boyhood at Pauntley when he had been charged with taking the house cat's kittens and drowning them. Never had he been more pleased with himself for disobeying an order. Whatever happened to these kittens, they would be permitted to live their lives.


However, at sea the weather rarely remains set fair for long. In those days a ship would normally hug the coast and it was when the ship was preparing to adopt a course to port off the south of Portugal, heading for the Straits of Gibraltar, that a storm blew up and carried the Unicorn south-westerly out into the Atlantic with the fear that it would sail off the edge of the world.

The following morning the tempest had abated and the captain set a course due east. The Unicorn slowly headed eastwards, tacking against the south east trades. Little did our voyagers know it, least of all the captain, but the ship was no longer under his control. Unbeknown to them – all will become clear – Alderman Fitzwarren's lost ship, the Griffin, had taken on three stowaways in the London, the third of whom was Fairy Rosebud, and it was he who was steering the Unicorn, and impeding her progress, waiting for a propitious moment.

Tom and her kittens were quartered in Dick and Leofric's cabin. They could watch the kittens grow, open their eyes and sprout their fur, two jet black ones like the mother, one pure marmalade and three of varying hues. Dick wondered at the company she had been keeping in London.

And so the days went on until they heard the cry of 'land ahoy' from the crow's nest. The sea was calm and visibility good. Through his spyglass the captain discerned a harbour full of ships and with the buildings of a city surrounding it. Sailing closer to land, he drew on his experience and recognised the port of Tangiers on the Barbary Coast and ruled over by the King of Morocco who took a particular interest in maritime trade. The Unicorn entered the harbour and tied up in one of the berths. The King's Guards came aboard and after the usual formalities the ship was cleared. The Captain of the Guard in conversation with the captain of the ship, Dick and Leofric, and after looking through the papers, asked if they knew anything about a ship called the Griffin, also registered to the Port of London. Of course they knew something and the skipper said that was the prime reason for setting sail, that any trade was secondary and was there to finance their search and rescue mission. The Captain of the Guard pointed across the harbour, saying "Then you will recognise that ship moored on the far side of the harbour." They did indeed.

"What's it doing there?"

"It's in quarantine. Strange story, really. It sailed into port and before we could clear it, an army of mice and rats disembarked, too many for us to deal with, especially as we were unprepared. Down the gangplank, down the mooring ropes and now we have a problem, infestation, and so the Griffin was put in quarantine and will not be allowed to sail until his Majesty gives his personal assent."

"Are we allowed to visit the ship?"

"I'll arrange for the necessary papers. I take it all three of you will want to go.

At that moment Tom slipped through the open cabin door and deposited a dead rat at the Guard captain's feet. "You haven't brought that with you?" he asked rather bemused.

"No, we have a ship's cat and she makes sure our ship is clear," said Dick. "She must have slipped ashore."

"I have heard of these creatures," said the Guard captain, "but never seen one. They have them in Egypt, I believe. I must report this to his Majesty."

Once the Unicorn had been cleared, work began. Dick and Leofric's priority was to network with the merchants and sell the cargo. At the earliest opportunity, the captain left the Unicorn to make a courtesy visit to the captain of the Griffin. After the usual courtesies the two skippers got down to talking about the ship's present situation. "In all my seafaring years I have never known anything like it. We were in Tilbury awaiting the midnight tide when the look out reported seeing mice and rats climbing up the mooring ropes, and one large rat in particular. Well, you know how important it is to catch the tide. So we set sail, thinking the look out had had one gin too many in Mincing Lane when he was ashore, particularly when he reported a hazy light with sparkles join the ship as it sailed down the Thames. Hazy light with sparkles apart, he was eventually proved right, but not until we had docked in Tangiers. We watched in amazement as the rodents disembarked and that's when our troubles began. We were immediately placed in quarantine. Our cargo was ruined and couldn't be sold and now the money is running out."

"I've got two of the directors on board," said the Unicorn's captain. "So I think that will be the easiest of the problems to sort out. We might have way to solve rodent problem too."


The captain reported his conversation to Dick and Leofric. They had had rather a successful day selling the cargo and were supervising its unloading and payment. They would spend the following day buying goods to sell in England, and hopefully take back a fat profit. All trade was done in gold and silver and although the Berbers were tough negotiators, they were honest and once the bargain was struck, it was, as it were, set in stone.

Masters Dick and Leofric had heard tales in the counting house about the adventures to be had in the port and city of Tangiers and so with the captain's leave they sought to spend the night in the city. They started out sightseeing and ended up in the Kasbah. It was difficult to ward off the street sellers for they stood out in their English clothes and with their light skins. At least they had one another for moral support. One street merchant, however, they could not resist.

"Psst, messieurs, ahlan wa sahlan, welcome, Eenglish? Come inside. I have something special for you. Pretty girls."

"Certainly not!" said Leofric indignantly. "We're English gentlemen."

"Ah, then pretty boys? Come with me," and the Berber led the boys into a back room and there sat two extraordinarily beautiful teenagers at the peak of their adolescent beauty. Then the haggling began. From his own experience Dick refused to pay more than an English silver penny. Eventually the bargain was struck and Dick and Leofric were free, with a chaperone, to take the boys back to their hotel. After an amazing night of foursomes and twosomes the Moroccan Adonises were collected by the chaperone and they left with a handsome tip. Dick and Leofric reported back at the Unicorn and then set about purchasing cargo for the return voyage.


At the end of the day they returned to the ship to be greeted by the captain who had been impatiently awaiting their return. A messenger from the royal palace had delivered a Regal Command that he, Dick and Leofric should appear before his Majesty the following evening at sunset, but more importantly so should Tom the Cat. They would be escorted by the King's Own Guard. The king had received due report from his own captain.

Duly, next day, Dick, Leofric and the skipper waited on deck for the arrival of the Guard, along with Tom, and where Tom went the kittens were sure to follow.

The ten of them arrived at the palace and were briefed on the purpose of the meeting and the expected etiquette, particularly when eating sheep's eyes. There would be a banquet, followed by a business meeting. Fitzwarren's executives were not sure what kind of business meeting since their trade was complete and they were due set sail for England the next day.

After the reception they were summoned to the banquet. They took their seats on cushions on the floor and the food was served. The conversation dealt with descriptions of life in the Kingdoms of Morocco and England. As the banquet went on, there was a slight distraction. A mouse appeared and scuttled across the chamber to the eating area and stole a morsel from the king's plate. Immediately Tom was on the job and despatched the animal immediately, presenting the lifeless creature to his Majesty. The king was both delighted and amazed at what had happened. The kittens were purring with delight at what their mother had done. The royal entourage and their guests settled down to their meal again, only to find another mouse, and yet another scrabbling towards the food and yet more, too many for Tom to control. It was then that the kittens came into their own and ran to the four corners of the hall until a rat appeared among them, too big for the kittens and so Tom had to take over. Soon the situation had grown to epidemic proportions and the court was in disarray. Master Dick looked up from his cat's labours to see not only King Rat himself, but next to him Harry the stable boy, sword in hand, at his side. Finally ominous trio of Tom, Dick and Harry had come together. But only Dick and Tom could hear the tinkles and see the sparkles that heralded the arrival of Fairy Rosebud.

King Rat commanded silence from his subjects. The room also went completely silent. "I am King Rat and now I am speaking king to king." The King of Morocco's bodyguard made a move towards King Rat, but was held back by an army of hundreds of rats. King Rat spelt out his demands and the consequences of not receiving them. This was too much for Dick. He took the sword from the Unicorn's captain's scabbard and made to attack King Rat. Tom and the kittens protected him from the defensive efforts of the rats, but he had not reckoned on the swordsmanship of King Rat's stable lad henchman. After a short bout of fencing Harry disarmed Dick and his sword fell to the floor. Now Harry was holding his sword in two hands. He took an almighty swing to behead his old adversary. As quick as a flash of lightning Fairy Rosebud flew down and headbutted Dick in the nuts. He bent double with the pain, but with the result that the stable boy's sword missed him and sliced through the neck of King Rat. His head rolled across the floor, his body slumped to the ground bleeding profusely and his subject rodents fled. The shock of what he had done was sufficient to disarm Harry and he was now physically held by the King's bodyguard. Fairy Rosebud became visible to all present at the banquet and apologised for what he had done to Dick, re-assuring him he would do all in his magical powers to ensure that Dick recovered as quickly and as painlessly as possible.


Order was quickly restored. The King of Morocco expressed his personal gratitude and that of the Kingdom to Dick and Tom. He declared the banquet to be over since the food had been rendered unhygienic by the invasion of mice and rats. He commanded that the discussions should begin immediately in another room and he dispatched his servants to the Kasbah to bring in a takeaway. Kebabs were the order of the day, but at least that spared the Europeans from the sheep's eyes.

The opening formalities over, the king settled down to the business, set naturally to his agenda. Item one concerned Tom and the kittens. He wanted to buy them. Dick told how he and Tom had teamed up and said that he was absolutely not for sale. However, retelling the story of Tom reminded Dick that he would need to find good homes for the kittens, lest they be put into a sack and drowned, and when the king offered one hundred gold ducats per kitten, there seemed little cause to haggle. Even Tom realised the inevitability of losing her offspring. The king then issued a decree that in future Alderman Fitzwarren's harbour dues could be paid in cats. Tom did not know whether to approve or disapprove.

The next item on the agenda was the Griffin. The Unicorn's captain did not feel empowered to act on behalf of another skipper's ship, but as the representatives of the owner, Master Dick and Master Leofric took over negotiations. They were arduous, but finally it was stipulated that Tom should ensure the Griffin was rodent free, all debts would be paid by the Fitzwarren executives, the cargo would be salvaged at the expense of the shipping line and after thorough cleansing the Griffin would be released and permitted to sail laden with goods purchased in Tangiers.

Before the meeting and the 'mini banquet' drew to a natural conclusion, the fate of the captured stable boy needed to be settled. Dick had pleaded once on his behalf and he had returned to his evil ways by putting in his lot with King Rat, and he refused to intercede a second time. "Sire, you must act as you think fit." The king reserved his decision and withdrew, taking the six kittens with him. His chamberlain completed the business, including Dick's payment of six hundred gold ducats. "His Majesty is so delighted with what has happened, he wishes to present you with two of his slaves, to be of your choosing." He took Dick and Leofric to the harem where the king's concubines lived with their children and where the young orphaned slaves were brought up. Dick chose one that was jet black and was told that he was a Nubian from beyond the Kingdom of Egypt. Leofric selected one of Persian origin, but was taken on one side by the chamberlain and warned that he was a eunuch and that he might like to make a different choice. He then opted for one of strikingly northern European appearance and was told he had been purchased from a Swedish slave master for his blond hair and blue eyes, a rarity on the Barbary Coast. Neither boy could have been older than ten. Slavery was common in England at the time, but the pair's intention was to release them from their bondage on arriving in London and bring them up as the free born sons they would never have.

Finally the Englishmen were escorted back to the Unicorn, carrying written trade accords between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Fitzwarren shipping line of the City of London.

Despite a late night the Fitzwarrens and the crew – tut, there I am getting ahead of my self – Master Dick Whittington, Master Leofric Fitzwarren and the crew were on stand by before dawn. Leaving just the watch behind, they headed for the Griffin. Master Leofric informed the captain of the negotiations the line had made on his ship's behalf. The two crews immediately set to, clearing and cleaning the holds. Dick and Leofric went into the city to trade and find a cargo for the Griffin. Tom went about his work, but had nothing to do. Having already created havoc on board, the rodents had been sent ashore by King Rat to do his bidding there. Now leaderless, they had dispersed to do whatever mice and rats did on a daily basis, unaware that the realm had purchased six effective and potentially dangerous mousers.

Within less than a week the Unicorn and the Griffin set sail from Tangiers. The king had sent his chamberlain to give them a regal and official send off. The two ships sailed all the way within sight of one another. Invisibly Fairy Rosebud, hitching a lift and a welcome stowaway, set the weather fair and the winds blowing behind them. Dick and Leofric spent much of their time teaching their slaves English, while Tom was yearning to get back to London and get on with her rodent operations. They were soon spotted in the English Channel, off Plymouth, off Spithead, off Dover. Each time news of their impending arrival was carried to London and in due time the wharf at the Port of London was lined with well wishers to cheer them home on the flood tide. Among them were Alderman Fitzwarren and Alderman Lloyd, who was now Lord Mayor, and incidentally pleased that his insurance company only had to pay out for a jettisoned cargo rather than a whole ship, although he wasn't privy to that yet.

The celebrations on board the ships were short lived because they had to be unloaded and loaded for the transportation of further wares. The following evening Alderman Fitzwarren organised a private dinner in honour of the captains and his own two executives where they were able to tell the story of their adventures. Fairy Rosebud attended, invisible to all except Dick, the Fitzwarrens and, of course, Tom. Also present were the two slaves Dick and Leofric had brought back as gifts from the King of Morocco. As part of the celebrations they were given back their freedom, witnessed by many of the most notable citizens of the City of London. The guests were enthralled and the party extended into the small hours of Sunday morning. The two ships' captains had to make their excuses because they had to catch the midnight tide. On the Sunday morning the household as a body attended church in an act of thanksgiving for the safety of those who returned from the adventure.

Epilogue

Life would never be the same for Dick Whittington. After the sale of Tom's kittens and his cut of the profits from the Fitzwarren company, he became a very rich young man in his own right. Alongside the Fitzwarrens he founded his own banking concern. The two boys, William and Edward, so renamed after their guardians' respective fathers, were officially adopted by Dick and Leofric, who publicly proclaimed their life long devotion to one another and were married in every respect apart from in the eyes of the Church and the law. They sent their sons away to school, to a college in the middle of Hampshire which had recently been founded and which was rapidly gaining a good reputation.

At the end of five years' education William and Edward came home for their last summer holidays. They had to present their fathers with their final reports, which took place the following day. Because they were written in Latin the boys needed to translate. They were good, excellent in fact, and finished with a personal recommendation that they should continue their studies at the University of Cambridge. Dick and Leofric were pleased with what their sons had achieved and agreed that if the opportunity of university was there, the boys should be encouraged to take it. However, they sensed that all was not well. The boys were shuffling uncomfortably from one foot to another. Finally they plucked up courage, looked at each other and then said in unison in a well rehearsed speech "Father, I have something to tell you." Dick and Leofric looked at one another, fearing the teenagers might have become involved in some criminal activity. William was the first to continue.

"We've been thinking hard how to say this to you and thought it would be better to tell you at the first opportunity." Edward went on hesitatingly.

"After five years at an English public boarding school we have to tell you that we are straight…"

"Completely and utterly heterosexual," said William. They waited for the shock… or the explosion, whichever came first, but both fathers got up and took their sons in a tight hug.

"We accept you for who you are and what you are," said Dick.

"We adopted you for better or for worse," said Leofric "and while we are grateful to you for telling us, we accept you and love you for being yourselves," and they embraced again and then hugged the other's son.

"And as for Cambridge, if you are accepted, you will receive our full backing," said Dick.

"We must celebrate this," said Leofric.

Each year Dick and Leofric would sail on a company ship bound for Tangiers, making sure that they took a box of kittens with them as a gift for the King of Morocco. It became their tradition to spend at least one night ashore in a hotel with two comely boys from the Kasbah. On their first return they discovered the fate of Harry the stable lad, the henchman of King Rat. The king had spared his life, but had had him castrated and sent to work in the royal harem, a double punishment in a way. Evidently, in those days, castration and enslavement were common punishments for prisoners who had been fortunate enough to have their lives spared.

The years rolled by. Alderman Fitzwarren passed away and in due time Master Richard and Master Leofric were made aldermen of the City of London in their own right. Tom eventually reached the end of his ninth life, after leading what was for a country born cat and survivor of many adventures a comfortable city life. Dick did indeed become Lord Mayor of London on three separate occasions. Not only that. He was knighted by King Richard II, ostensibly for his charitable works, which were prodigious, but he had come to the king's notice from bank rolling his wars. After the death of Alderman Fitzwarren senior Sir Richard and Alderman Leofric moved into the family home in Cheapside, from where Buttons had retired, and they took on Mrs Miggins as housekeeper.

To round off the story there remained one further incident. It was spring time and the sun had just set leaving that glow in a sky which scarcely darkens on a fine night. Dick and Leofric were having a little rare and well deserved mediaeval 'us-time' on the couch in the drawing room, when there was a knock at the door. They immediately sprang up and sat in separate armchairs with cushions over their laps. "Come in," shouted Leofric. The door opened and in came Mrs Miggins.

"Begging your pardon, sirs, but there is a young man on the doorstep. Says he needs to see you, Master Dick." (Old habits die hard.)

"Did he say his name, Mrs Miggins?"

"Beringar, Luke Beringar." Leofric looked completely mystified, Dick just puzzled.

"You did say young man, Mrs Miggins?"

"That's right, sir."

"Bring him in and ask him the wait in the hall."

"Shall I watch the silver, sir?"

"No, Mrs Miggins. I have a feeling we can trust this 'young man'. Perhaps you could provide some refreshment, please? And bring some extra lanterns."

Dick and Leofric quickly re-arranged the cushions and their hose. Their boners had by now gone completely limp. Leofric went out to receive the stranger. Dick heard voices. "Sir Richard Whittington of Pauntley?"

"No, sir, come and meet him." Leofric took the stranger into the drawing room. When Dick first saw him, his jaw dropped. In that light he could have sworn it was his former boyhood friend Luke standing in front of him. He looked him up and down. Same face, almost the same clothes, certainly the same cut of his hose.

"You are Luke Beringar?"

"Yes, sir."

"I don't understand. My boyhood friend Luke Beringar?"

"No, sir. That is my father."

"And how fares your father?"

"He died before Yuletide."

"Not the plague, I trust?"

"No, sir. We have been fortunate in Gloucestershire as far as the plague is concerned. It was consumption. It's been very wet in the shire.

"And your business that brings you to me?"

"May I sit, sir?" Dick motioned him towards an armchair. "I hardly know where to begin."

"Take your time, young man." Dick's attitude was softening.

"My father had a dying wish, something that was troubling him. He told me that you and he were good friends and that something happened between you and two days later you disappeared from the village."

"Did your father tell you why?"

"No, sir, but since his death I think I am beginning to understand why. You see, I'm gay. When I had told the family, my mother said my father almost rejected me, wanted to kick me out of the house, told me I could follow Dick Whittington's footsteps. My mother wouldn't let him do that. I know the Whittington family, of course I did, but no one ever spoke about Dick. It was as if he had never existed in Pauntley. Time went on. Somehow our family stuck together and eventually my mother told me it was not so much my being gay, but something that Dick and my father had done and now he was dying, he wanted to make amends." A knock at the door and Mrs Miggins brought in refreshments.

"If it helps you, let me introduce Alderman Fitzwarren. You see, we are life partners. In Pauntley it was May time with all the festivities. Two nights before I left, Luke… that is your father… and I took a flagon of cider up into the hayloft of our barn. With drink inside us one thing led to another and I tried to kiss him. He hit me, hard I might add, and said he never wanted to speak to me again. I loved your father, but I knew I was finished in Pauntley and so I came to London to seek my fortune."

"And found it, if I may so, sir." He took a sip of his brew. "So that was the cause. Ah, it's becoming clearer. My father's remorse stems from rejecting you for being gay and then having to accept a gay son. May I assure you, sir, that my father suffered a great deal of sorrow over this and it was his dying and express wish to say sorry and make amends."

"Luke, will you let me hug you?" Luke consented. It was like holding Luke senior in his arms. Meanwhile it had grown completely dark outside.

"How did you travel to London?"

"On horseback."

"Have you found a hostelry?"

"Not yet, sir."

"We have stables behind the house. I'll ask Mrs Miggins to instruct the stable lad and to prepare a room for you. Tomorrow we must talk some more. Over dinner, for we have business and a Corporation meeting to attend during the day. Mrs Miggins!"

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