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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow

Index

CHAPTER FOUR

"ENDETH THE FIRST LESSON"

A STRANGE BED FELLOW

How long I remained somnolent I am unable to say. I only know that I was startled out of "the balmy" by what appeared to be a heavy thump on the outside of the wooden partition close to which my bed was placed. I sat up and listened for a few moments; but all was as silent as it was dark. "Who's there I said In a shaky voice, for I felt nervous." No answer - no sound whatever. Then, remembering that I had duly locked the door, I felt more confidence, was Inclined to believe I had been dreaming, and lay down again. I fell asleep, but, it could not have been for long, when again I was awakened, and In a manner sufficiently startling. It was by the feeling of some heavy substance thrown violently across my feet on the bed-clothes, where It remained motionless. This was no dream - no imagination. A heavy body had fallen upon my feet, and there remained Immovable! I had not the power to call out. I had instinctively pulled the clothes over my head at the shock,half-asleep and scarcely aware of what had taken place, and now, as I became more conscious of the situation, I began to recall all the horrors of the last night. What was It that still held my feet down ? I was afraid to attempt to move them - what could it be ? - Was it a midnight visit from the poor girl I had so cruelly, although unintentionally, disturbed on Friday night ? and had her spirit followed me, to haunt, and worry, and torment me as long as I lived ? For at this time I believed in ghosts. During all this thinking my head was still buried beneath the clothes - I felt nearly suffocated; and this, together with the frightful state of alarm and perspiration I was in, sent me into a state of unconsciousness, in which I must have remained for some hours.

On awaking, I found it was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining brightly through the window. It was evident, that I had never moved from the position in which I had fallen over asleep, for I could feel the load still on my feet. Gradually I mustered up courage to slightly raise may head and look, down to see what it was, when a frightful sight met my eyes. Slowly I drew one foot from under the weighty form, which seemed to me to stir, and I was correct. For, upon withdrawing the other, with equal caution, it appeared to elongate itself and slightly to raise its head. It was then I discovered all - the cause of all my horror and alarm, in the shape of - a fully-developed and villainous tom - cat! I determined on immediate and dire revenge; so, with one vigorous kick from under the clothes, I sent it spinning into the middle of the room. I jumping out after it, it ran under the bed, from which I pelted it out with my boots. Then it leaped on to the bed again, and thence flew up the wooden partition and out through the bars at the top. This mode of exit explained all. The brute had got into the room during the night by the same way in which he now left it to the morning. I then got into my bed again, saying to myself as I did so - "I wonder what next!".

AN END TO THE THAXTED ENGAGEMENT

At about nine o'clock I was roused by a knocking at my room door. "Who's there?" I called out savagely, for I was worried and wild with these disturbances. A voice replied - "Mr.Locke, Mr. Smith sent me to say that there will be a rehearsal of 'She Stoops to Conquer' at 11 o'clock to-morrow". This message was delivered to me through the aforesaid bars overhead, by way of which the tom-cat had skedaddled. The messenger had got on to a table or tall chair outside and looking up, I could just see his nose projecting through. I told him to let Mr. Smith know that I did not mean to act with him, and intended leaving for London immediately. The poor fellow said he was very glad to hear it, as he had a long part in the piece, and if it wasn't to be played, it would save him the study. "I only wish I was going to London with you" he added. I asked him why he didn't go. "Ah" was the reply; "no money for grub, sir, let alone paying for travelling - good morning". As I could see no hope now for further repose this morning , I got up and dressed, and going downstairs, wrote to my father, requesting him to send me money to take me home at once, went out and posted the letter, and then came back for breakfast. On telling the landlord my adventure with the cat, he informed me that the latter always slept at the foot of their bed; and that, therefore on this occasion, my having locked the door obliged poor Tom to find ingress through the bars overhead. I gave "poor Tom" my blessing (mentally); but, not being desirous of a second nocturnal visit from him, I asked my friend to let me have another bed-room for this night (Sunday), which he promised to do.

You may like to visit the Thaxted Website here.

IN LOVE ONCE MORE

Apropos of promising, the reader may remember that on leaving home I had promised my parents to keep a diary. That promise I kept, and as I shall have frequent occasion to drawn upon it for extracts, I may as well commence with the first which "makes note on" some of the proceedings of this same morning I have been writing about. Here it is:-

"Thaxted,-June 1829, Sunday Morning. After posting Father's letter, breakfast at 10 with constable, wife, daughter. Very nice country girl, and very pretty. Splendid breakfast-table laid out with cold roast beef, cold fowl, eggs and bacon, a fine Irish ham, home made bread, home brewed ale, tea and coffee. All displayed at once on a large round table, with a table-cloth white as snow and smelling like new mown hay. Began to think I should have to pay dearly for all this. Never mind- made a terrific meal-was afraid I shouldn't be able to eat any dinner. 12 o'clock.- Constable and wife went to church. I took a walk with constable's daughter-fell in love with her-prommised to marry her, and gave her my silk handkerchief as a pledge of my constancy. She placed it in her bossom-would I had been that handkerchief. She sawed off a lock of her hair with my pen-knife as a pledge for me. Am afraid it will get mixed up with some other locks, so that there may be difficulty in picking it. 3 o'clock.-Got home to dinner-a capital one-and ate heartily, notwithstanding the breakfast. Don't think love takes away the appetite. After dinner, landlord, on my account, draws a bottle of his best port-private stock. Really good, and no mistake. Then over this a little quiet chat as to where I came from-if parents knew where I had come-what I was going to do, &c."

You may like to visit the Thaxted Website here.

ADVICE FROM THE CONSTABLE

Here endeth the extract from my diary, and I resume the narrative form of recording my experiences. We chatted away on this Sunday afternoon until tea was ordered. A portion of our colloquy was quite interesting enough to be set here. After a good deal of preliminary "humming and hawing" -now putting down his pipe as if going to say something important, and then taking it up again and pulling vigorously - in short, after exhibiting symptoms generally of having something on his mind which he wanted to get off it, my good host at last made a plunge, and fairly broke the ice.

" I say my lad "-he began - " I want to speak to you about something"

I felt my face flushing up; expecting he was about to ask me if my intentions were honourable. His daughter, thinks I , has told him that I have promised her marriage. But I was wrong. He continued-

"I don't suppose you've been long at this 'ere acting trade - have you?"

"No; I never tried it before; this is the first place I ever came to."

"I thought so, and if you'll take a fool's advice it will be the last. Have you got a good home to go to?"

"Yes."

"And a good father and mother?"

"Oh, yes-very."

"Then, what the deuce (getting excited) - what the deuce do you leave a good home and good parents for to come to such a d--------d hole as this? Why, if I was your father, I'd horsewhip you all the way to------ Where do you come from?"

"London."

" All the way to London, then."

He lighted his pipe again, and puffed away furiously. Here was a situation to be placed in ! A man - as I thought myself - to be threatened with a horsewhipping by the father of the girl whom only two or three hours before he had promised to marry. I looked over to my affianced and blushed.

" Now look here." Resumed the constable, putting down his pipe again-"Take advice from me, Go back to your father, and go and learn some respectable trade. A mason, now, ain't bad-or a blacksmith - (I laughed)- oh! of course - that ain't genteel enough . Well - any honest business you like; only drop all thoughts of this mumiaery. Look at the poor, half - starved, ragged, devils down yonder; look at the lazy life they leads. Go past when you will, there you seen 'em at the public - house door smoking' and drinkin' with any, as 'll treat 'em, for they don't get much to eat. My brother gives 'em all the broken victuals that's left, and I do the same - ay, and my old woman shoves a loaf or two amongst it. I can't give all to the pigs and see human beings starvin' - though it serves 'em right. Why one of 'em, a great hulkin' fellow, told me that he gave up a situation of £60 a-year in a draper's shop! He wanted, he said, to belong to a purfession! - and he calls this acting a purfession! - Oh my! - Hows'ever, as for this chap his-self, he looks like an idle vagabond that would rather have fifty pence a week to do nothing, than fifty shillings to turn a grin'stone. I'll bet a pound, he ain't gettin' a shilling a week where he is, by his blessed purfession - bah! Do you know where they all sleep? Why, in a big loft over the theayter - as they calls it - divided into three, with blankets throwed over clothes lines. The manager and his wife, has one division; the men actors another; and the women, the third. That's a pretty state o'things - ain't it! Is that a part o' their purfession? I don't know what a purfession means - but I suppose it means something a great deal better than another. Look here - you only go round to the back o' that hall, or theayter or whatever you calls it - only go now - Sunday afternoon - and you'll see the women with their stockings off, and other things, - a-washin' 'em in the horse-trough, and usin' sand for soap. We seen 'em as we came from church today; didn't us, wife? I was a bit makin' up my mind to tell you all this, but now I've began, I can go on like winkin'. I don't mean no offence; it's all for your own good. I wonder your father let a boy of your age, make such a d..d donkey of himself - excuse my way of puttin' it, but I couldn't help it; I talks what I thinks. I ain't got no son - wish I had! - but I've a daughter and there she sits. A better gal never lived; I love her, and she knows it, too. She knows how to get over her old daddy when she wants a new dress or a ribbon. I've done my dooty by her. But I'm a hot-tempered chap when I'm up; and if ever she does anything without mine and her mother's consent - anything what we objects to - I'll wring her neck for her. I'll never forgive her - never! Off she goes - like 'an old woman's wig in a high wind', as the sayin' is; off she goes, and no notice given."

(Here, a certain fond pair, looked at each other, and didn't feel over comfortable.)

"And now," continued the Constable, "I've done. Go home, like a good lad, and make your parents happy; or - stay here with these miserable, mountebanks, and become a d--d, undutiful, disobedient scamp. There! - that's a lecture for you, my boy. Now I'll have a glass o' brandy and water to keep it down; and you - take another glass o' port, and tell me what you think o' the matter."

I gave a long sigh; and again the same fond pair looked at each other; their mutual thought probably being - If we part, shall we ever meet again? In reply to the Constable's desire to know what I thought of the matter, I told him that what he had remarked about the company here, was perfectly correct, so far as I could judge; that after what I had seen and heard last night, I had made up my mind to return home, and had accordingly that morning, written to my father for money to take me back, and posted the letter before breakfast and that I expected a reply on the morrow. The Constable was delighted to hear it, and shook me heartily by the hand. We spent a very pleasant evening, retiring to our rooms at 10 o'clock, and, thank goodness, for the first time since leaving home, I enjoyed, as my diary has it, "a glorious night's rest."

I RETURN HOME, SADDER AND WISER

Monday Morning, 9 o'clock - I arose fresh as a lark. Of course, there was no reply yet from my dear daddy; but, about three in the afternoon came his letter, enclosing a couple of pounds, and a request that I should take the first conveyance home. After dinner, after all having been prepared for my departure, I asked the landlord for my bill. "We don't rum bills here, lad; ours is a ready-money business. This ain't a hotel. We don't keep beds here, on'y for friends; and o'course, we don't expect them to pay anything." I said, I could not find words to thank him as I could wish; to which he replied that he was glad of it, as he didn't like that sort o' thing. I then went out, and walked over to a shop in the village where I had noticed they sold everything almost - ready-made clothing - corn plasters - silks, satins and woollens - Rowland's Maccassar Oil - mouse-traps and candles, Bath-brick and blacking. Here I went in and bought what I thought a very pretty muslin dress, with which I returned to the inn and presented it to the object of my affections. Also I had procured a purse for the mother, whilst to the governor, I gave a warm invitation - whenever he came up to London, to call and see my father, which he promised he would do. My luggage having been put into a cart, as before, I shook hands with the old folks, and then, going up to my betrothed, I turned to papa and said, "May I?"

"Oh, yes," said he, "fire away," and I gave Betsy a hearty salute. I saw more than one tear in her eye; and I am sure there were some in mine. Then, with a general "good-bye," we were off. As we approached the Temple of the Muses, I observed the whole of the players, male and female, congregated outside the doors and at the windows, as if waiting to give me a farewell greeting. I was correct in this surmise, for on arriving just opposite, they set up a most discordant mingling of huzzas, yelling, and loud laughter, as if in ecstasies of delight at my ignoble exit from the town of Thaxted and my rejection of its model Theatre Royal. I say 'rejection,' because the Constable had informed me that, on receiving my message in the morning that I declined to appear at his theatre, the truthful manager at once sent his actors all over the village to say that, "finding I was only a novice - a mere imposter - he (the manager) had refused to allow me to appear before an enlightened and intelligent Thaxted audience." If the ovation was a sweet one, it was also a short one. In half a minute I was round the corner, out of sight; and, putting the pony to its paces, we got to Dunmow, in time for me to catch the coach for London. A rather curious incident occurred here; As I drew up I saw a hearse just leaving the inn door, with, as I was informed, the poor girl's corpse that had given me such a fright and caused such sensation in the house on the preceding Friday night. Almost as the coach was starting with me for town, the hearse, with its "poor inhabitant," was starting for the churchyard. The coincidence caused me a very curious feeling. I fancied it foreboded some trouble - perhaps bad news at home. I was happy at finding, however, that these forebodings were not fulfilled. On my safe arrival there, I found my dear father and mother and all the family quite well. All sat up late with me, listening to the narration of my adventures during my short time I had been away. At some portions of the story, naturally, they screamed with laughter; but my mother, who was of a rather superstitious turn, occasionally put in a word or two of a serious cast, such as "Oh! something's going to happen depend upon it;" or, "Well, it's very odd; but now I recollect, I couldn't sleep at all on Saturday night," &c. After I had told all, my dad wound up by saying, "You should have acted there, just for the fun of having something to talk about hereafter." Then we wished each other a good night, and retired. Oh! Happy, happy home! Dear Strand - Sweet bed! I am with you once again; and all thoughts of a vagabond life - "in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

You may like to visit the Thaxted Website here.

I CROSS THE BORDER

AN HONEST THEATRICAL AGENT

What is bred in the bone, we know, will come out in the flesh; and I had only been a short time at home again when the irrepressible predilection came back upon me with as much force as ever.

My father – who, as he told me afterwards, was still willing that I should have my ‘fling’ out, and get a sickener of it – advised me to try some other agent this time than the one who had played on me such a cruel sell as sending me to the forlorn Thaxted lot. I did so accordingly having been advised to try a Mr Smithson; who, in addition to his business as a theatrical agent, kept a public-house in the near neighbourhood of Drury Lane. I found him to be quite a character, and as honest as he was eccentric. He had been himself an actor and retained all the conventional attributes of the leading man to an alarming extent. Pompous in the style of addressing his customers, even of giving change for the price of a pot of porter, he was full of harmless humbug and flattery, with quotations apt and ready for every occasion or situation which he delivered with the air of a teacher of elocution. On my going into the shop, I stopped short, thinking I had made a mistake, as I had expected to find something like a business office. I was turning to retire, when, from behind the bar, a stentorian voice exclaimed – ‘Approach, my youthful friend. What ho! Ricardo! (to the barman) a seat for the noble stranger; and see thou the tankards of our guests sitting amongst the sawdust, in the tapestry corner be replenished with the good cheer of this our hospital mansion. And now sir-‘addressing me- ‘how can I serve you? Is it to be Shakespeare or sherry-Goldsmith or gin? Say which. We are all attention. What will thou partake off?’

‘Nothing, thank you.’

‘Nothing! l'er Jovum, it is not. I can live on that. Nothing comes of nothing. Speak again. I presume, Sir, you are anxious to become a mummer-or, to speak plainly, you want to act?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘I knew it. And the line of business you require is-’

‘Comedy, Sir.’

‘I thank the Gods! I feared me, sir, you wished to be a Kean or a Kemble. Sir, I never in my life saw a man so cut out by nature for low com. As yourself. You have the proboscis of a Farley the optics of a Mumlen, and in the masticatory organ of a Liston or a Mathews, with this exception that they both have a natural twist in their mouths. This, sir, you must acquire by practice, for a low comedian without a twist in the mouth, is most intolerable, and not to be endured."

"But, Sir, how can I make a twist?"

"Well, I would suggest that you sleep with your finger in one corner of your mouth, and give it an occasional jerk downwards until it forms an acute angle. You will have plenty of time for practice, Sir, for I fancy you will put your finger in your mouth oftener than you will put anything else. So, practice the twist. Understand me, Sir. In speaking of a 'twist', I don't allude to your appetite, as you will find that salaries are sometimes scarce, the less practice you give it (the appetite), the better. I speak to you as, a Chesterfield to his son. And now Sir, let me come to the commercial part of the entertainment. I can offer you 10s. per week, no more, no less! Can you live upon that?"

"Yes, Sir - if I get it."

"Good - excellent good; much virtue in that. And if you don't get it, why, you must practice the twist more, and suck your fingers. Is it a bargain?"

"Yes," said I. "but where am I going to?"

Upon this, a drunken voice from a corner of the room, exclaimed - "To h--ll, and say I sent thee thither."

This brought the speaker instantly to his feet and, in a controlled voice, he called out to the bar - "Quickly order in the gendarme, and forthwith remove this desecrator of the temple of Thespians.

You may like to visit the Thaxted Website here.

SCOTLAND FROM THE COCKNEY POINT OF VIEW

Turning to me, he continued -

"You must be in Scotland this day week sir."

"Scotland? How far is it?"

"Some five or six hundred miles, sir; near to the well-known castle of John of Groats, baronet."

"Is it a healthy place?"

"Well, sir, I know but little of this New-foundland, excepting that it is called 'the land of cakes.' Whether it is they are supposed to live on cakes, and therefore the inhabitants are called 'cakes,' I know not. As to the climate, there is, I am given to believe, only one complaint to fight against - of a rather pestilential character; one of a cutaneous nature, giving the unfortunate patient a pleasing and tickling sensation - at first, but ending in a frightful irritation of the hide, which causes him to keep perpetually scratching the part affected. In polite society this affection is called 'the itch.' It is historically stated that it was introduced into Scotland by a great duke, for the purpose of worrying the Saxon armies when they crossed the border. But this ? sir, came home to himself and his countrymen. By way of punishment, King ? compelled him to plant posts throughout the land, on which the native might carry on their backs as a counter-irritant. Hearing the well-known and endearing exclamation native to blessing the Duke of Argyll, as uttered, the patient during the postal operation - would, I am given to believe, sometimes push him (the patient) into such an excited state of mind that he would sometimes frantically sing Tullochgorum to the strains of an imagined Scotch fiddle. And now, sir - after this digression - To be or not to be! that is the question. Thirty bob - or exit! For him, the rude disturber of my pillow, comes the charming Desdemona! I am ready to ? you, dear" - this to his wife; a big ? dressed woman who had come down to the bar attired for her afternoon walk.

"But sir," said I - "What is your price?"

"Nothing sir. If you succeed, send me what you like, if you don't like - keep it; and I can spy a little into futurity, methinks you'll want it yourself. And now - friends, country men, and lovers - farewell. Drink deep as you depart; but don't forget to pay ? to Ricardo! look to the till; and remember no tick. Adieu (to me) most reverend sight - don't forget to cultivate the artificial ?. Then off he went with the gentle Desdemona, leaving me in a state of bewilderment, for I really had not understood more than the half of what he said. I had even forgot to ask for formation on the somewhat important point of what part of Scotland I was to go to, and the manager's name.

NB: ? = unreadable word.

A THEATRICAL WAIF

Resolving to come back next morning, I was moving towards the door when a man of a trio, who were standing at the bar, came forward and addressed me. His appearance generally was a miserable one. He wore a faded frock-coat, half-buttoned, half-pinned up to the neck, a threadbare black neck-tie surrounded by a collar; his leg-casings had a fine ragged frill round the bottom of each, whilst pale, much down-at-the-heel shoes did not conceal one or two holes in a pair of red "stage" stockings. A hungered-looking and unshaven figure surmounted by a hat, fit for the Artful Dodger, cocked on one side in knowing style, completed the tout ensemble. In a free-and-easy manner, he held forth to me a very dirty hand and said, "Good day, Sir - an aspirant for the Thespian honour, I presume! A noble art, Sir, - a noble art, but sadly abused." Talking continued in the background.

"These Kembles and Keans keep us aware of the patent theatres; but a time will come, Sir, when I shall have an opportunity of standing under the porticos of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and after a triumphant appearance, exclaim - "Behold, your future lord. Dick (to the barman), - a quarter of your gin."

"Down with the dust, then." said Ricardo; to whom the seedy man replied indignantly,

"Bring the liquor first, Sir."

"You tick here, my covey," said Dick.

"I won't so tick," was the answer to this.

Ricardo then brought the liquor, and, holding it in his hand, extended the other for the money, saying - "Now, fork out!"

The seedy man, mumbling something to himself, unfastened his coat front whereby I could see that he had no waistcoat, and that his trousers were supported by a black theatrical sword-belt and buckle, and made a show of searching his pockets.

"Hum!" he said - "very odd; where the deuce can I have put it. I'm sure that I had it when I came in." "Tom," (he enquired to another poor fellow, smoking a long pipe in the corner) - did you see my purse?"

"Never in my life," was the reply.

"Most extraordinary, eh?" and turning suddenly to me - "could you lend me sixpence? I'll give it to you before I leave."

"Certainly," said I and I handed him the only coin I had in my pocket, which was a shilling. With this he paid for the gin, which he disposed of at once by himself and then, calling his friend Tom, from the corner, he called for another, which they put away jointly; I declining to have any share of it. I then said that I must take my leave.

"Stop!" said the seedy one. "I've got to give you a shilling. I expect a friend every moment who will let me have one, and I shall repay you."

Accordingly I did wait a little longer; but, there being no signs of anybody coming, I quietly slipped out at the door, hearing as I did so, the sound of laughter behind me, which I had no doubt was at my expense!

THE 'DEATH WARRANT'

Having so far made arrangements for Scotland with my eccentric agent, I retraced my steps homeward, cogitating as I walked whether I should let my father know of the strange characters I had just met, and the peculiar character of my interview with Mr Smythson, or whether I had not better keep silent on these subjects. I determined in favour of the latter course; and therefore acquainted only with the success of my application. He was pleased with the result, simply because I was pleased. I commenced without delay to make preparations for this fresh start towards the life of an actor by getting my ‘traps’ ready for the journey; and next morning I went back to Mr Smythson to get the necessary information, which I had omitted to procure on the day previous. He was engaged writing when I went up and spoke to him. He stopped me abruptly, exclaiming, ‘I’m bust-thou troublest me. I’m not ’i the vein! Ah-one moment, sir, I am even now in the act of drawing out your death-warrant. But first-where do you hang out? And what is your patronymic?’ I told him. ‘Thank you and there is the fatal document- the warrant for your execution. On the exterior you will find the name of your executioner, and the great Hurlothrumbo’s whereabouts.’ He then handed me a letter bearing the following address:- Charles Bass, Esq., Caledonian Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, Isle of Itchington.’ Then taking me by the hand and giving it a hearty shake, he said, ‘And now sir, adieu. I trust to see you at the top of the Thallan tree in the theatre of old Drury before the end of the century. Farewell sir, and may good digestion wait on appetite, and plenty of grub on both, for, without the later, the two former blessings had better be dispensed with. Au revoir, and don’t forget the ‘twist’.’ I came away in the highest of spirits; I had now got a real engagement. I felt certain that my eccentric friend would turn out to be an honest agent- and he did.

MY EXPERIENCE OF THE SCOTTISH DIALECT

It was on a fine frosty morning, in the month of November, 1829, that I rose at five o'clock, and, after having dressed, went straight to my Father's bed-room to bid him and my mother good-by before leaving for, as I thought, a foreign land. My luggage was all in readiness for the Hackney-coach that was to convey it and myself to the old White Horse coaching establishment in Fetter Lane. Between them, my parents gave me a long lecture as to my future conduct, which included injunctions to be sure and keep a note of all I saw on the way and send them full particulars, and to be sure and avoid acquiring the "Scotch dialect." I faithfully promised to observe both, a promise as faithfully fulfilled. In connection with the latter I may here state that I never attempted to play a Scotch part in all my life-excepting on one occasion only. This was on a benefit night of mine in Edinburgh, when I sang a song in character called "The Newhaven Fishwife." To the end that this effort should be as true to nature as possible in regards of pronunciation, a copy of the words was written for me phonetically by the late Andrew Nimmo, and carefully studied by me for the occasion. Nimmo was then a call-boy at the Theatre Royal; and, going afterwards to London, he became head-manager at Mitchell's, St James's Street, a faithful servant of which he remained until his death, some fifteen to twenty years ago.

...Chapter Three - Chapter Five...

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