A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine
by Jean de La Fontaine
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Look wheresoever we will, we see No creature from opponents free. 'Tis nature's law for earth and sky; 'Twere vain to ask the reason why: God's works are good,—I cannot doubt it,— And that is all I know about it.

The Wolf and the Fox.

"Dear wolf," complain'd a hungry fox, "A lean chick's meat, or veteran cock's, Is all I get by toil or trick: Of such a living I am sick. With far less risk, you've better cheer; A house you need not venture near, But I must do it, spite of fear. Pray, make me master of your trade. And let me by that means be made The first of all my race that took Fat mutton to his larder's hook: Your kindness shall not be repented." The wolf quite readily consented. "I have a brother, lately dead: Go fit his skin to yours," he said. 'Twas done; and then the wolf proceeded: "Now mark you well what must be done, The dogs that guard the flock to shun." The fox the lessons strictly heeded. At first he boggled in his dress; But awkwardness grew less and less, Till perseverance gave success. His education scarce complete, A flock, his scholarship to greet, Came rambling out that way. The new-made wolf his work began, Amidst the heedless nibblers ran, And spread a sore dismay. The bleating host now surely thought That fifty wolves were on the spot: Dog, shepherd, sheep, all homeward fled, And left a single sheep in pawn, Which Renard seized when they were gone. But, ere upon his prize he fed, There crow'd a cock near by, and down The scholar threw his prey and gown, That he might run that way the faster— Forgetting lessons, prize and master.

Reality, in every station, Will burst out on the first occasion.

The Lobster and her Daughter.

The wise, sometimes, as lobsters do, To gain their ends back foremost go. It is the rower's art; and those Commanders who mislead their foes, Do often seem to aim their sight Just where they don't intend to smite. My theme, so low, may yet apply To one whose fame is very high, Who finds it not the hardest matter A hundred-headed league to scatter. What he will do, what leave undone, Are secrets with unbroken seals, Till victory the truth reveals. Whatever he would have unknown Is sought in vain. Decrees of Fate Forbid to check, at first, the course Which sweeps at last the torrent force. One Jove, as ancient fables state, Exceeds a hundred gods in weight. So Fate and Louis would seem able The universe to draw, Bound captive to their law.— But come we to our fable. A mother lobster did her daughter chide: "For shame, my daughter! can't you go ahead?" "And how go you yourself?" the child replied; "Can I be but by your example led? Head foremost should I, singularly, wend, While all my race pursue the other end." She spoke with sense: for better or for worse, Example has a universal force. To some it opens wisdom's door, But leads to folly many more. Yet, as for backing to one's aim, When properly pursued The art is doubtless good, At least in grim Bellona's game.

The Ploughman and his Sons.

The farmer's patient care and toil Are oftener wanting than the soil.

A wealthy ploughman drawing near his end, Call'd in his sons apart from every friend, And said, "When of your sire bereft, The heritage our fathers left Guard well, nor sell a single field. A treasure in it is conceal'd: The place, precisely, I don't know, But industry will serve to show. The harvest past, Time's forelock take, And search with plough, and spade, and rake; Turn over every inch of sod, Nor leave unsearch'd a single clod." The father died. The sons—and not in vain— Turn'd o'er the soil, and o'er again; That year their acres bore More grain than e'er before. Though hidden money found they none, Yet had their father wisely done, To show by such a measure, That toil itself is treasure.

The Ass Dressed in the Lion's Skin.

Clad in a lion's shaggy hide, An ass spread terror far and wide, And, though himself a coward brute, Put all the world to scampering rout: But, by a piece of evil luck, A portion of an ear outstuck, Which soon reveal'd the error Of all the panic terror. Old Martin did his office quick. Surprised were all who did not know the trick, To see that Martin, at his will, Was driving lions to the mill!

In France, the men are not a few Of whom this fable proves too true; Whose valour chiefly doth reside In coat they wear and horse they ride.

The Woods and the Woodman.

A certain wood-chopper lost or broke From his axe's eye a bit of oak. The forest must needs be somewhat spared While such a loss was being repair'd. Came the man at last, and humbly pray'd That the woods would kindly lend to him— A moderate loan—a single limb, Whereof might another helve be made, And his axe should elsewhere drive its trade. O, the oaks and firs that then might stand, A pride and a joy throughout the land, For their ancientness and glorious charms! The innocent Forest lent him arms; But bitter indeed was her regret; For the wretch, his axe new-helved and whet, Did nought but his benefactress spoil Of the finest trees that graced her soil; And ceaselessly was she made to groan, Doing penance for that fatal loan.

Behold the world-stage and its actors, Where benefits hurt benefactors!— A weary theme, and full of pain; For where's the shade so cool and sweet, Protecting strangers from the heat, But might of such a wrong complain? Alas! I vex myself in vain; Ingratitude, do what I will, Is sure to be the fashion still.

The Fox, the Wolf, and the horse.

A fox, though young, by no means raw, Had seen a horse, the first he ever saw: "Ho! neighbour wolf," said he to one quite green, "A creature in our meadow I have seen,— Sleek, grand! I seem to see him yet,— The finest beast I ever met." "Is he a stouter one than we?" The wolf demanded, eagerly; "Some picture of him let me see." "If I could paint," said fox, "I should delight T' anticipate your pleasure at the sight; But come; who knows? perhaps it is a prey By fortune offer'd in our way." They went. The horse, turn'd loose to graze, Not liking much their looks and ways, Was just about to gallop off. "Sir," said the fox, "your humble servants, we Make bold to ask you what your name may be." The horse, an animal with brains enough, Replied, "Sirs, you yourselves may read my name; My shoer round my heel hath writ the same." The fox excus'd himself for want of knowledge: "Me, sir, my parents did not educate,— So poor, a hole was their entire estate. My friend, the wolf, however, taught at college, Could read it were it even Greek." The wolf, to flattery weak, Approach'd to verify the boast; For which four teeth he lost. The high raised hoof came down with such a blow, As laid him bleeding on the ground full low. "My brother," said the fox, "this shows how just What once was taught me by a fox of wit,— Which on thy jaws this animal hath writ,— 'All unknown things the wise mistrust.'"

The Fox and the Turkeys.

Against a robber fox, a tree Some turkeys served as citadel. That villain, much provoked to see Each standing there as sentinel, Cried out, "Such witless birds At me stretch out their necks, and gobble! No, by the powers! I'll give them trouble." He verified his words. The moon, that shined full on the oak, Seem'd then to help the turkey folk. But fox, in arts of siege well versed, Ransack'd his bag of tricks accursed. He feign'd himself about to climb; Walk'd on his hinder legs sublime; Then death most aptly counterfeited, And seem'd anon resuscitated. A practiser of wizard arts Could not have fill'd so many parts. In moonlight he contrived to raise His tail, and make it seem a blaze: And countless other tricks like that. Meanwhile, no turkey slept or sat. Their constant vigilance at length, As hoped the fox, wore out their strength. Bewilder'd by the rigs he run, They lost their balance one by one. As Renard slew, he laid aside, Till nearly half of them had died; Then proudly to his larder bore, And laid them up, an ample store.

A foe, by being over-heeded, Has often in his plan succeeded.

The Wallet.

From heaven, one day, did Jupiter proclaim, "Let all that live before my throne appear, And there if any one hath aught to blame, In matter, form, or texture of his frame, He may bring forth his grievance without fear. Redress shall instantly be given to each. Come, monkey, now, first let us have your speech. You see these quadrupeds, your brothers; Comparing, then, yourself with others, Are you well satisfied?" "And wherefore not?" Says Jock. "Haven't I four trotters with the rest? Is not my visage comely as the best? But this my brother Bruin, is a blot On thy creation fair; And sooner than be painted I'd be shot, Were I, great sire, a bear." The bear approaching, doth he make complaint? Not he;—himself he lauds without restraint. The elephant he needs must criticise; To crop his ears and stretch his tail were wise; A creature he of huge, misshapen size. The elephant, though famed as beast judicious, While on his own account he had no wishes, Pronounced dame whale too big to suit his taste; Of flesh and fat she was a perfect waste. The little ant, again, pronounced the gnat too wee; To such a speck, a vast colossus she. Each censured by the rest, himself content, Back to their homes all living things were sent.

Such folly liveth yet with human fools. For others lynxes, for ourselves but moles. Great blemishes in other men we spy, Which in ourselves we pass most kindly by. As in this world we're but way-farers, Kind Heaven has made us wallet-bearers. The pouch behind our own defects must store, The faults of others lodge in that before.

The Woodman and Mercury.

A man that labour'd in the wood Had lost his honest livelihood; That is to say, His axe was gone astray. He had no tools to spare; This wholly earn'd his fare. Without a hope beside, He sat him down and cried, "Alas, my axe! where can it be? O Jove! but send it back to me, And it shall strike good blows for thee." His prayer in high Olympus heard, Swift Mercury started at the word. "Your axe must not be lost," said he: "Now, will you know it when you see? An axe I found upon the road." With that an axe of gold he show'd. "Is't this?" The woodman answer'd, "Nay." An axe of silver, bright and gay, Refused the honest woodman too. At last the finder brought to view An axe of iron, steel, and wood. "That's mine," he said, in joyful mood; "With that I'll quite contented be." The god replied, "I give the three, As due reward of honesty." This luck when neighbouring choppers knew, They lost their axes, not a few, And sent their prayers to Jupiter So fast, he knew not which to hear. His winged son, however, sent With gold and silver axes, went. Each would have thought himself a fool Not to have own'd the richest tool. But Mercury promptly gave, instead Of it, a blow upon the head.

With simple truth to be contented, Is surest not to be repented; But still there are who would With evil trap the good,— Whose cunning is but stupid, For Jove is never duped.

The Lion and the Monkey.

The lion, for his kingdom's sake, In morals would some lessons take, And therefore call'd, one summer's day, The monkey, master of the arts, An animal of brilliant parts, To hear what he could say. "Great king," the monkey thus began, "To reign upon the wisest plan Requires a prince to set his zeal, And passion for the public weal, Distinctly and quite high above A certain feeling call'd self-love, The parent of all vices, In creatures of all sizes. To will this feeling from one's breast away, Is not the easy labour of a day; By that your majesty august, Will execute your royal trust, From folly free and aught unjust." "Give me," replied the king, "Example of each thing." "Each species," said the sage,— "And I begin with ours,— Exalts its own peculiar powers Above sound reason's gauge. Meanwhile, all other kinds and tribes As fools and blockheads it describes, With other compliments as cheap. But, on the other hand, the same Self-love inspires a beast to heap The highest pyramid of fame For every one that bears his name; Because he justly deems such praise The easiest way himself to raise. 'Tis my conclusion in the case, That many a talent here below Is but cabal, or sheer grimace,— The art of seeming things to know— An art in which perfection lies More with the ignorant than wise."

The Shepherd and the Lion.

The Fable AEsop tells is nearly this:— A shepherd from his flock began to miss, And long'd to catch the stealer of, his sheep. Before a cavern, dark and deep, Where wolves retired by day to sleep, Which he suspected as the thieves, He set his trap among the leaves; And, ere he left the place, He thus invoked celestial grace:— "O king of all the powers divine, Against the rogue but grant me this delight, That this my trap may catch him in my sight, And I, from twenty calves of mine, Will make the fattest thine." But while the words were on his tongue, Forth came a lion great and strong. Down crouch'd the man of sheep, and said, With shivering fright half dead, "Alas! that man should never be aware Of what may be the meaning of his prayer! To catch the robber of my flocks, O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee: If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me, I'll raise my offering to an ox."

The Horse and the Wolf.

A wolf who, fall'n on needy days, In sharp look-out for means and ways, Espied a horse turn'd out to graze. His joy the reader may opine. "Once got," said he, "this game were fine; But if a sheep, 'twere sooner mine. I can't proceed my usual way; Some trick must now be put in play." This said, He came with measured tread, And told the horse, with learned verbs, He knew the power of roots and herbs,— Whatever grew about those borders,— He soon could cure of all disorders. If he, Sir Horse, would not conceal The symptoms of his case, He, Doctor Wolf, would gratis heal; For that to feed in such a place, And run about untied, Was proof itself of some disease, As all the books decide. "I have, good Doctor, if you please," Replied the horse, "as I presume, Beneath my foot, an aposthume." "My son," replied the learned leech, "That part, as all our authors teach, Is strikingly susceptible Of ills which make acceptable What you may also have from me— The aid of skilful surgery." The fellow, with this talk sublime, Watch'd for a snap the fitting time. Meanwhile, suspicious of some trick, The weary patient nearer draws, And gives his doctor such a kick, As makes a chowder of his jaws. Exclaim'd the Wolf, in sorry plight, "I own those heels have served me right. I err'd to quit my trade, as I will not in future; Me Nature surely made for nothing but a butcher."

The Eagle and the Owl.

The eagle and the owl, resolved to cease Their war, embraced in pledge of peace. On faith of king, on faith of owl, they swore That they would eat each other's chicks no more. "But know you mine?" said Wisdom's bird. "Not I, indeed," the eagle cried. "The worse for that," the owl replied: "I fear your oath's a useless word; I fear that you, as king, will not Consider duly who or what: Adieu, my young, if you should meet them!" "Describe them, then, and I'll not eat them," The eagle said. The owl replied: "My little ones, I say with pride, For grace of form cannot be match'd,— The prettiest birds that e'er were hatch'd; By this you cannot fail to know them; 'Tis needless, therefore, that I show them." At length God gives the owl a set of heirs, And while at early eve abroad he fares, In quest of birds and mice for food, Our eagle haply spies the brood, As on some craggy rock they sprawl, Or nestle in some ruined wall, (But which it matters not at all,) And thinks them ugly little frights, Grim, sad, with voice like shrieking sprites. "These chicks," says he, "with looks almost infernal, Can't be the darlings of our friend nocturnal. I'll sup of them." And so he did, not slightly:— He never sups, if he can help it, lightly. The owl return'd; and, sad, he found Nought left but claws upon the ground. He pray'd the gods above and gods below To smite the brigand who had caused his woe. Quoth one, "On you alone the blame must fall; Thinking your like the loveliest of all You told the eagle of your young ones' graces; You gave the picture of their faces:— Had it of likeness any traces?"

The Miser and the Monkey.

A Man amass'd. The thing, we know, Doth often to a frenzy grow. No thought had he but of his minted gold— Stuff void of worth when unemploy'd, I hold. Now, that this treasure might the safer be, Our miser's dwelling had the sea As guard on every side from every thief. With pleasure, very small in my belief, But very great in his, he there Upon his hoard bestow'd his care. No respite came of everlasting Recounting, calculating, casting; For some mistake would always come To mar and spoil the total sum. A monkey there, of goodly size,— And than his lord, I think, more wise,— Some doubloons from the window threw, And render'd thus the count untrue. The padlock'd room permitted Its owner, when he quitted, To leave his money on the table. One day, bethought this monkey wise To make the whole a sacrifice To Neptune on his throne unstable. I could not well award the prize Between the monkey's and the miser's pleasure Derived from that devoted treasure. One day, then, left alone, That animal, to mischief prone, Coin after coin detach'd, A gold jacobus snatch'd, Or Portuguese doubloon, Or silver ducatoon, Or noble, of the English rose, And flung with all his might Those discs, which oft excite The strongest wishes mortal ever knows. Had he not heard, at last, The turning of his master's key, The money all had pass'd The same short road to sea; And not a single coin but had been pitch'd Into the gulf by many a wreck enrich'd.

Now, God preserve full many a financier Whose use of wealth may find its likeness here!

The Vultures and the Pigeons.

Mars once made havoc in the air: Some cause aroused a quarrel there Among the birds;—not those that sing, The courtiers of the merry Spring, But naughty hawk and vulture folks, Of hooked beak and talons keen. The carcass of a dog, 'tis said, Had to this civil carnage led. Blood rain'd upon the swarded green, And valiant deeds were done, I ween. Suffice to say, that chiefs were slain, And heroes strow'd the sanguine plain. 'Twas sport to see the battle rage, And valiant hawk with hawk engage; 'Twas pitiful to see them fall,— Torn, bleeding, weltering, gasping, all. Force, courage, cunning, all were plied; Intrepid troops on either side No effort spared to populate The dusky realms of hungry Fate. This woful strife awoke compassion Within another feather'd nation, Of iris neck and tender heart. They tried their hand at mediation— To reconcile the foes, or part. The pigeon people duly chose Ambassadors, who work'd so well As soon the murderous rage to quell, And stanch the source of countless woes. A truce took place, and peace ensued. Alas! the people dearly paid Who such pacification made! Those cursed hawks at once pursued The harmless pigeons, slew and ate, Till towns and fields were desolate.

The safety of the rest requires The bad should flesh each other's spears: Whoever peace with them desires Had better set them by the ears.

The Stag and the Vine.

A stag, by favour of a vine, Which grew where suns most genial shine, And form'd a thick and matted bower Which might have turn'd a summer shower, Was saved from ruinous assault. The hunters thought their dogs at fault, And call'd them off. In danger now no more The stag, a thankless wretch and vile, Began to browse his benefactress o'er. The hunters, listening the while, The rustling heard, came back, With all their yelping pack, And seized him in that very place. "This is," said he, "but justice, in my case. Let every black ingrate Henceforward profit by my fate." The dogs fell to—'twere wasting breath To pray those hunters at the death. They left, and we will not revile 'em A warning for profaners of asylum.

The Earthen Pot and the Iron Pot.

An iron pot proposed To an earthen pot a journey. The latter was opposed, Expressing the concern he Had felt about the danger Of going out a ranger. He thought the kitchen hearth The safest place on earth For one so very brittle. "For thee, who art a kettle, And hast a tougher skin, There's nought to keep thee in." "I'll be thy body-guard," Replied the iron pot; "If anything that's hard Should threaten thee a jot, Between you I will go, And save thee from the blow." This offer him persuaded. The iron pot paraded Himself as guard and guide Close at his cousin's side. Now, in their tripod way, They hobble as they may; And eke together bolt At every little jolt,— Which gives the crockery pain; But presently his comrade hits So hard, he dashes him to bits, Before he can complain.

Take care that you associate With equals only, lest your fate Between these pots should find its mate.

The Bear and the Two Companions.

Two fellows, needing funds, and bold, A bearskin to a furrier sold, Of which the bear was living still, But which they presently would kill— At least they said they would, And vow'd their word was good. The bargain struck upon the skin, Two days at most must bring it in. Forth went the two. More easy found than got, The bear came growling at them on the trot. Behold our dealers both confounded, As if by thunderbolt astounded! Their bargain vanish'd suddenly in air; For who could plead his interest with a bear? One of the friends sprung up a tree; The other, cold as ice could be, Fell on his face, feign'd death, And closely held his breath,— He having somewhere heard it said The bear ne'er preys upon the dead. Sir Bear, sad blockhead, was deceived— The prostrate man a corpse believed; But, half suspecting some deceit, He feels and snuffs from head to feet, And in the nostrils blows. The body's surely dead, he thinks. "I'll leave it," says he, "for it stinks;" And off into the woods he goes. The other dealer, from his tree Descending cautiously, to see His comrade lying in the dirt, Consoling, says, "It is a wonder That, by the monster forced asunder, We're, after all, more scared than hurt. But," addeth he, "what of the creature's skin? He held his muzzle very near; What did he whisper in your ear?" "He gave this caution,—'Never dare Again to sell the skin of bear Its owner has not ceased to wear.'"

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

A Lion, old, and impotent with gout, Would have some cure for age found out. This king, from every species,— Call'd to his aid the leeches. They came, from quacks without degree To doctors of the highest fee. Advised, prescribed, talk'd learnedly; But with the rest Came not Sir Cunning Fox, M.D. Sir Wolf the royal couch attended, And his suspicions there express'd. Forthwith his majesty, offended, Resolved Sir Cunning Fox should come, And sent to smoke him from his home. He came, was duly usher'd in, And, knowing where Sir Wolf had been, Said, "Sire, abused your royal ear Has been by rumours insincere; To wit, that I've been self-exempt From coming here, through sheer contempt. But, sire, your royal health to aid, I vow'd to make a pilgrimage, And, on my way, met doctors sage, In skill the wonder of the age, Whom carefully I did consult About that great debility Term'd in the books senility, Of which you fear, with reason, the result. You lack, they say, the vital heat, By age extreme become effete. Drawn from a living wolf, the hide Should warm and smoking be applied. Sir Wolf, here, won't refuse to give His hide to cure you, as I live." The king was pleased with this advice. Flay'd, jointed, served up in a trice, Sir Wolf first wrapped the monarch up, Then furnish'd him whereon to sup.

Beware, ye courtiers, lest ye gain, By slander's arts, less power than pain.

The Battle of the Rats and Weasels.

The weasels live, no more than cats, On terms of friendship with the rats; And, were it not that these Through doors contrive to squeeze Too narrow for their foes, The animals long-snouted Would long ago have routed, And from the planet scouted Their race, as I suppose.

One year it did betide, When they were multiplied, An army took the field Of rats, with spear and shield, Whose crowded ranks led on A king named Ratapon. The weasels, too, their banner Unfurl'd in warlike manner. As Fame her trumpet sounds, The victory balanced well; Enrich'd were fallow grounds Where slaughter'd legions fell; But by said trollop's tattle, The loss of life in battle Thinn'd most the rattish race In almost every place;

And finally their rout Was total, spite of stout Artarpax and Psicarpax, And valiant Meridarpax, Who, cover'd o'er with dust, Long time sustain'd their host Down sinking on the plain. Their efforts were in vain; Fate ruled that final hour, (Inexorable power!) And so the captains fled As well as those they led; The princes perish'd all. The undistinguish'd small In certain holes found shelter; In crowding, helter-skelter; But the nobility Could not go in so free, Who proudly had assumed Each one a helmet plumed; We know not, truly, whether For honour's sake the feather, Or foes to strike with terror; But, truly, 'twas their error. Nor hole, nor crack, nor crevice Will let their head-gear in; While meaner rats in bevies An easy passage win;— So that the shafts of fate Do chiefly hit the great.

A feather in the cap Is oft a great mishap. An equipage too grand Comes often to a stand Within a narrow place. The small, whate'er the case, With ease slip through a strait, Where larger folks must wait.

The Animals Sick of the Plague.

The sorest ill that Heaven hath Sent on this lower world in wrath,— The plague (to call it by its name,) One single day of which Would Pluto's ferryman enrich,— Waged war on beasts, both wild and tame. They died not all, but all were sick: No hunting now, by force or trick, To save what might so soon expire. No food excited their desire; Nor wolf nor fox now watch'd to slay The innocent and tender prey. The turtles fled; So love and therefore joy were dead. The lion council held, and said: "My friends, I do believe This awful scourge, for which we grieve, Is for our sins a punishment Most righteously by Heaven sent. Let us our guiltiest beast resign, A sacrifice to wrath divine. Perhaps this offering, truly small, May gain the life and health of all. By history we find it noted That lives have been just so devoted. Then let us all turn eyes within, And ferret out the hidden sin. Himself let no one spare nor flatter, But make clean conscience in the matter. For me, my appetite has play'd the glutton Too much and often upon mutton. What harm had e'er my victims done? I answer, truly, None. Perhaps, sometimes, by hunger press'd, I've eat the shepherd with the rest. I yield myself, if need there be; And yet I think, in equity, Each should confess his sins with me; For laws of right and justice cry, The guiltiest alone should die." "Sire," said the fox, "your majesty Is humbler than a king should be,

And over-squeamish in the case. What! eating stupid sheep a crime? No, never, sire, at any time. It rather was an act of grace, A mark of honour to their race. And as to shepherds, one may swear, The fate your majesty describes, Is recompense less full than fair For such usurpers o'er our tribes."

Thus Renard glibly spoke, And loud applause from flatterers broke. Of neither tiger, boar, nor bear, Did any keen inquirer dare To ask for crimes of high degree; The fighters, biters, scratchers, all From every mortal sin were free; The very dogs, both great and small, Were saints, as far as dogs could be.

The ass, confessing in his turn, Thus spoke in tones of deep concern:— "I happen'd through a mead to pass; The monks, its owners, were at mass; Keen hunger, leisure, tender grass, And add to these the devil too, All tempted me the deed to do. I browsed the bigness of my tongue; Since truth must out, I own it wrong."

On this, a hue and cry arose, As if the beasts were all his foes: A wolf, haranguing lawyer-wise. Denounced the ass for sacrifice— The bald-pate, scabby, ragged lout, By whom the plague had come, no doubt. His fault was judged a hanging crime. "What? eat another's grass? O shame! The noose of rope and death sublime, For that offence, were all too tame!" And soon poor Grizzle felt the same.

Thus human courts acquit the strong, And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.


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