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The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

by James Fenimore Cooper

INTRODUCTION

It is believed that the scene of this tale, and most of the
information necessary to understand its allusions, are
rendered sufficiently obvious to the reader in the text
itself, or in the accompanying notes. Still there is so
much obscurity in the Indian traditions, and so much
confusion in the Indian names, as to render some explanation
useful.

Few men exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express
it, greater antithesis of character, than the native warrior
of North America. In war, he is daring, boastful, cunning,
ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted; in peace, just,
generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and
commonly chaste. These are qualities, it is true, which do
not distinguish all alike; but they are so far the
predominating traits of these remarkable people as to be
characteristic.

It is generally believed that the Aborigines of the American
continent have an Asiatic origin. There are many physical
as well as moral facts which corroborate this opinion, and
some few that would seem to weigh against it.

The color of the Indian, the writer believes, is peculiar to
himself, and while his cheek-bones have a very striking
indication of a Tartar origin, his eyes have not. Climate
may have had great influence on the former, but it is
difficult to see how it can have produced the substantial
difference which exists in the latter. The imagery of the
Indian, both in his poetry and in his oratory, is oriental;
chastened, and perhaps improved, by the limited range of his
practical knowledge. He draws his metaphors from the
clouds, the seasons, the birds, the beasts, and the
vegetable world. In this, perhaps, he does no more than any
other energetic and imaginative race would do, being
compelled to set bounds to fancy by experience; but the
North American Indian clothes his ideas in a dress which is
different from that of the African, and is oriental in
itself. His language has the richness and sententious
fullness of the Chinese. He will express a phrase in a
word, and he will qualify the meaning of an entire sentence
by a syllable; he will even convey different significations
by the simplest inflections of the voice.

Philologists have said that there are but two or three
languages, properly speaking, among all the numerous tribes
which formerly occupied the country that now composes the
United States. They ascribe the known difficulty one people
have to understand another to corruptions and dialects. The
writer remembers to have been present at an interview
between two chiefs of the Great Prairies west of the
Mississippi, and when an interpreter was in attendance who
spoke both their languages. The warriors appeared to be on
the most friendly terms, and seemingly conversed much
together; yet, according to the account of the interpreter,
each was absolutely ignorant of what the other said. They
were of hostile tribes, brought together by the influence of
the American government; and it is worthy of remark, that a
common policy led them both to adopt the same subject. They
mutually exhorted each other to be of use in the event of
the chances of war throwing either of the parties into the
hands of his enemies. Whatever may be the truth, as
respects the root and the genius of the Indian tongues, it
is quite certain they are now so distinct in their words as
to possess most of the disadvantages of strange languages;
hence much of the embarrassment that has arisen in learning
their histories, and most of the uncertainty which exists in
their traditions.

Like nations of higher pretensions, the American Indian
gives a very different account of his own tribe or race from
that which is given by other people. He is much addicted to
overestimating his own perfections, and to undervaluing
those of his rival or his enemy; a trait which may possibly
be thought corroborative of the Mosaic account of the
creation.

The whites have assisted greatly in rendering the traditions
of the Aborigines more obscure by their own manner of
corrupting names. Thus, the term used in the title of this
book has undergone the changes of Mahicanni, Mohicans, and
Mohegans; the latter being the word commonly used by the
whites. When it is remembered that the Dutch (who first
settled New York), the English, and the French, all gave
appellations to the tribes that dwelt within the country
which is the scene of this story, and that the Indians not
only gave different names to their enemies, but frequently
to themselves, the cause of the confusion will be
understood.

In these pages, Lenni-Lenape, Lenope, Delawares, Wapanachki,
and Mohicans, all mean the same people, or tribes of the
same stock. The Mengwe, the Maquas, the Mingoes, and the
Iroquois, though not all strictly the same, are identified
frequently by the speakers, being politically confederated
and opposed to those just named. Mingo was a term of
peculiar reproach, as were Mengwe and Maqua in a less
degree.

The Mohicans were the possessors of the country first
occupied by the Europeans in this portion of the continent.
They were, consequently, the first dispossessed; and the
seemingly inevitable fate of all these people, who disappear
before the advances, or it might be termed the inroads, of
civilization, as the verdure of their native forests falls
before the nipping frosts, is represented as having already
befallen them. There is sufficient historical truth in the
picture to justify the use that has been made of it.

In point of fact, the country which is the scene of the
following tale has undergone as little change, since the
historical events alluded to had place, as almost any other
district of equal extent within the whole limits of the
United States. There are fashionable and well-attended
watering-places at and near the spring where Hawkeye halted
to drink, and roads traverse the forests where he and his
friends were compelled to journey without even a path.
Glen's has a large village; and while William Henry, and
even a fortress of later date, are only to be traced as
ruins, there is another village on the shores of the
Horican. But, beyond this, the enterprise and energy of a
people who have done so much in other places have done
little here. The whole of that wilderness, in which the
latter incidents of the legend occurred, is nearly a
wilderness still, though the red man has entirely deserted
this part of the state. Of all the tribes named in these
pages, there exist only a few half-civilized beings of the
Oneidas, on the reservations of their people in New York.
The rest have disappeared, either from the regions in which
their fathers dwelt, or altogether from the earth.

There is one point on which we would wish to say a word
before closing this preface. Hawkeye calls the Lac du Saint
Sacrement, the "Horican." As we believe this to be an
appropriation of the name that has its origin with
ourselves, the time has arrived, perhaps, when the fact
should be frankly admitted. While writing this book, fully
a quarter of a century since, it occurred to us that the
French name of this lake was too complicated, the American
too commonplace, and the Indian too unpronounceable, for
either to be used familiarly in a work of fiction. Looking
over an ancient map, it was ascertained that a tribe of
Indians, called "Les Horicans" by the French, existed in the
neighborhood of this beautiful sheet of water. As every
word uttered by Natty Bumppo was not to be received as rigid
truth, we took the liberty of putting the "Horican" into his
mouth, as the substitute for "Lake George." The name has
appeared to find favor, and all things considered, it may
possibly be quite as well to let it stand, instead of going
back to the House of Hanover for the appellation of our
finest sheet of water. We relieve our conscience by the
confession, at all events leaving it to exercise its
authority as it may see fit.

CHAPTER 1

"Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared: The worst is
wordly loss thou canst unfold:--Say, is my kingdom lost?"
--Shakespeare

It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North
America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were
to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A
wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests
severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France
and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European
who fought at his side, frequently expended months in
struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in
effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an
opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial
conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of
the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome
every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was
no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so
lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of
those who had pledged their blood to satiate their
vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the
distant monarchs of Europe.

Perhaps no district throughout the wide extent of the
intermediate frontiers can furnish a livelier picture of the
cruelty and fierceness of the savage warfare of those
periods than the country which lies between the head waters
of the Hudson and the adjacent lakes.

The facilities which nature had there offered to the march
of the combatants were too obvious to be neglected. The
lengthened sheet of the Champlain stretched from the
frontiers of Canada, deep within the borders of the
neighboring province of New York, forming a natural passage
across half the distance that the French were compelled to
master in order to strike their enemies. Near its southern
termination, it received the contributions of another lake,
whose waters were so limpid as to have been exclusively
selected by the Jesuit missionaries to perform the typical
purification of baptism, and to obtain for it the title of
lake "du Saint Sacrement." The less zealous English thought
they conferred a sufficient honor on its unsullied
fountains, when they bestowed the name of their reigning
prince, the second of the house of Hanover. The two united
to rob the untutored possessors of its wooded scenery of
their native right to perpetuate its original appellation of
"Horican."*

* As each nation of the Indians had its language or
its dialect, they usually gave different names to the same
places, though nearly all of their appellations were
descriptive of the object. Thus a literal translation of
the name of this beautiful sheet of water, used by the tribe
that dwelt on its banks, would be "The Tail of the Lake."
Lake George, as it is vulgarly, and now, indeed, legally,
called, forms a sort of tail to Lake Champlain, when viewed
on the map. Hence, the name.

Winding its way among countless islands, and imbedded in
mountains, the "holy lake" extended a dozen leagues still
further to the south. With the high plain that there
interposed itself to the further passage of the water,
commenced a portage of as many miles, which conducted the
adventurer to the banks of the Hudson, at a point where,
with the usual obstructions of the rapids, or rifts, as they
were then termed in the language of the country, the river
became navigable to the tide.

While, in the pursuit of their daring plans of annoyance,
the restless enterprise of the French even attempted the
distant and difficult gorges of the Alleghany, it may easily
be imagined that their proverbial acuteness would not
overlook the natural advantages of the district we have just
described. It became, emphatically, the bloody arena, in
which most of the battles for the mastery of the colonies
were contested. Forts were erected at the different points
that commanded the facilities of the route, and were taken
and retaken, razed and rebuilt, as victory alighted on the
hostile banners. While the husbandman shrank back from the
dangerous passes, within the safer boundaries of the more
ancient settlements, armies larger than those that had often
disposed of the scepters of the mother countries, were seen
to bury themselves in these forests, whence they rarely
returned but in skeleton bands, that were haggard with care
or dejected by defeat. Though the arts of peace were
unknown to this fatal region, its forests were alive with
men; its shades and glens rang with the sounds of martial
music, and the echoes of its mountains threw back the laugh,
or repeated the wanton cry, of many a gallant and reckless
youth, as he hurried by them, in the noontide of his
spirits, to slumber in a long night of forgetfulness.

It was in this scene of strife and bloodshed that the
incidents we shall attempt to relate occurred, during the
third year of the war which England and France last waged
for the possession of a country that neither was destined to
retain.

The imbecility of her military leaders abroad, and the fatal
want of energy in her councils at home, had lowered the
character of Great Britain from the proud elevation on which
it had been placed by the talents and enterprise of her
former warriors and statesmen. No longer dreaded by her
enemies, her servants were fast losing the confidence of
self-respect. In this mortifying abasement, the colonists,
though innocent of her imbecility, and too humble to be the
agents of her blunders, were but the natural participators.
They had recently seen a chosen army from that country,
which, reverencing as a mother, they had blindly believed
invincible--an army led by a chief who had been selected
from a crowd of trained warriors, for his rare military
endowments, disgracefully routed by a handful of French and
Indians, and only saved from annihilation by the coolness
and spirit of a Virginian boy, whose riper fame has since
diffused itself, with the steady influence of moral truth,
to the uttermost confines of Christendom.* A wide frontier
had been laid naked by this unexpected disaster, and more
substantial evils were preceded by a thousand fanciful and
imaginary dangers. The alarmed colonists believed that the
yells of the savages mingled with every fitful gust of wind
that issued from the interminable forests of the west. The
terrific character of their merciless enemies increased
immeasurably the natural horrors of warfare. Numberless
recent massacres were still vivid in their recollections;
nor was there any ear in the provinces so deaf as not to
have drunk in with avidity the narrative of some fearful
tale of midnight murder, in which the natives of the forests
were the principal and barbarous actors. As the credulous
and excited traveler related the hazardous chances of the
wilderness, the blood of the timid curdled with terror, and
mothers cast anxious glances even at those children which
slumbered within the security of the largest towns. In
short, the magnifying influence of fear began to set at
naught the calculations of reason, and to render those who
should have remembered their manhood, the slaves of the
basest passions. Even the most confident and the stoutest
hearts began to think the issue of the contest was becoming
doubtful; and that abject class was hourly increasing in
numbers, who thought they foresaw all the possessions of the
English crown in America subdued by their Christian foes, or
laid waste by the inroads of their relentless allies.

* Washington, who, after uselessly admonishing the
European general of the danger into which he was heedlessly
running, saved the remnants of the British army, on this
occasion, by his decision and courage. The reputation
earned by Washington in this battle was the principal cause
of his being selected to command the American armies at a
later day. It is a circumstance worthy of observation, that
while all America rang with his well-merited reputation, his
name does not occur in any European account of the battle;
at least the author has searched for it without success. In
this manner does the mother country absorb even the fame,
under that system of rule.

When, therefore, intelligence was received at the fort which
covered the southern termination of the portage between the
Hudson and the lakes, that Montcalm had been seen moving up
the Champlain, with an army "numerous as the leaves on the
trees," its truth was admitted with more of the craven
reluctance of fear than with the stern joy that a warrior
should feel, in finding an enemy within reach of his blow.
The news had been brought, toward the decline of a day in
midsummer, by an Indian runner, who also bore an urgent
request from Munro, the commander of a work on the shore of
the "holy lake," for a speedy and powerful reinforcement.
It has already been mentioned that the distance between
these two posts was less than five leagues. The rude path,
which originally formed their line of communication, had
been widened for the passage of wagons; so that the distance
which had been traveled by the son of the forest in two
hours, might easily be effected by a detachment of troops,
with their necessary baggage, between the rising and setting
of a summer sun. The loyal servants of the British crown
had given to one of these forest-fastnesses the name of
William Henry, and to the other that of Fort Edward, calling
each after a favorite prince of the reigning family. The
veteran Scotchman just named held the first, with a regiment
of regulars and a few provincials; a force really by far too
small to make head against the formidable power that
Montcalm was leading to the foot of his earthen mounds. At
the latter, however, lay General Webb, who commanded the
armies of the king in the northern provinces, with a body of
more than five thousand men. By uniting the several
detachments of his command, this officer might have arrayed
nearly double that number of combatants against the
enterprising Frenchman, who had ventured so far from his
reinforcements, with an army but little superior in numbers.

But under the influence of their degraded fortunes, both
officers and men appeared better disposed to await the
approach of their formidable antagonists, within their
works, than to resist the progress of their march, by
emulating the successful example of the French at Fort du
Quesne, and striking a blow on their advance.

After the first surprise of the intelligence had a little
abated, a rumor was spread through the entrenched camp,
which stretched along the margin of the Hudson, forming a
chain of outworks to the body of the fort itself, that a
chosen detachment of fifteen hundred men was to depart, with
the dawn, for William Henry, the post at the northern
extremity of the portage. That which at first was only
rumor, soon became certainty, as orders passed from the
quarters of the commander-in-chief to the several corps he
had selected for this service, to prepare for their speedy
departure. All doubts as to the intention of Webb now
vanished, and an hour or two of hurried footsteps and
anxious faces succeeded. The novice in the military art
flew from point to point, retarding his own preparations by
the excess of his violent and somewhat distempered zeal;
while the more practiced veteran made his arrangements with
a deliberation that scorned every appearance of haste;
though his sober lineaments and anxious eye sufficiently
betrayed that he had no very strong professional relish for
the, as yet, untried and dreaded warfare of the wilderness.
At length the sun set in a flood of glory, behind the
distant western hills, and as darkness drew its veil around
the secluded spot the sounds of preparation diminished; the
last light finally disappeared from the log cabin of some
officer; the trees cast their deeper shadows over the mounds
and the rippling stream, and a silence soon pervaded the
camp, as deep as that which reigned in the vast forest by
which it was environed.

According to the orders of the preceding night, the heavy
sleep of the army was broken by the rolling of the warning
drums, whose rattling echoes were heard issuing, on the damp
morning air, out of every vista of the woods, just as day
began to draw the shaggy outlines of some tall pines of the
vicinity, on the opening brightness of a soft and cloudless
eastern sky. In an instant the whole camp was in motion;
the meanest soldier arousing from his lair to witness the
departure of his comrades, and to share in the excitement
and incidents of the hour. The simple array of the chosen
band was soon completed. While the regular and trained
hirelings of the king marched with haughtiness to the right
of the line, the less pretending colonists took their
humbler position on its left, with a docility that long
practice had rendered easy. The scouts departed; strong
guards preceded and followed the lumbering vehicles that
bore the baggage; and before the gray light of the morning
was mellowed by the rays of the sun, the main body of the
combatants wheeled into column, and left the encampment with
a show of high military bearing, that served to drown the
slumbering apprehensions of many a novice, who was now about
to make his first essay in arms. While in view of their
admiring comrades, the same proud front and ordered array
was observed, until the notes of their fifes growing fainter
in distance, the forest at length appeared to swallow up the
living mass which had slowly entered its bosom.

The deepest sounds of the retiring and invisible column
had ceased to be borne on the breeze to the listeners, and
the latest straggler had already disappeared in pursuit; but
there still remained the signs of another departure, before
a log cabin of unusual size and accommodations, in front of
which those sentinels paced their rounds, who were known to
guard the person of the English general. At this spot were
gathered some half dozen horses, caparisoned in a manner
which showed that two, at least, were destined to bear the
persons of females, of a rank that it was not usual to meet
so far in the wilds of the country. A third wore trappings
and arms of an officer of the staff; while the rest, from
the plainness of the housings, and the traveling mails with
which they were encumbered, were evidently fitted for the
reception of as many menials, who were, seemingly, already
waiting the pleasure of those they served. At a respectful
distance from this unusual show, were gathered divers groups
of curious idlers; some admiring the blood and bone of the
high-mettled military charger, and others gazing at the
preparations, with the dull wonder of vulgar curiosity.
There was one man, however, who, by his countenance and
actions, formed a marked exception to those who composed the
latter class of spectators, being neither idle, nor
seemingly very ignorant.

The person of this individual was to the last degree
ungainly, without being in any particular manner deformed.
He had all the bones and joints of other men, without any of
their proportions. Erect, his stature surpassed that of his
fellows; though seated, he appeared reduced within the
ordinary limits of the race. The same contrariety in his
members seemed to exist throughout the whole man. His head
was large; his shoulders narrow; his arms long and dangling;
while his hands were small, if not delicate. His legs and
thighs were thin, nearly to emaciation, but of extraordinary
length; and his knees would have been considered tremendous,
had they not been outdone by the broader foundations on
which this false superstructure of blended human orders was
so profanely reared. The ill-assorted and injudicious
attire of the individual only served to render his
awkwardness more conspicuous. A sky-blue coat, with short
and broad skirts and low cape, exposed a long, thin neck,
and longer and thinner legs, to the worst animadversions of
the evil-disposed. His nether garment was a yellow nankeen,
closely fitted to the shape, and tied at his bunches of
knees by large knots of white ribbon, a good deal sullied by
use. Clouded cotton stockings, and shoes, on one of the
latter of which was a plated spur, completed the costume of
the lower extremity of this figure, no curve or angle of
which was concealed, but, on the other hand, studiously
exhibited, through the vanity or simplicity of its owner.

From beneath the flap of an enormous pocket of a soiled vest
of embossed silk, heavily ornamented with tarnished silver
lace, projected an instrument, which, from being seen in
such martial company, might have been easily mistaken for
some mischievous and unknown implement of war. Small as it
was, this uncommon engine had excited the curiosity of most
of the Europeans in the camp, though several of the
provincials were seen to handle it, not only without fear,
but with the utmost familiarity. A large, civil cocked hat,
like those worn by clergymen within the last thirty years,
surmounted the whole, furnishing dignity to a good-natured
and somewhat vacant countenance, that apparently needed such
artificial aid, to support the gravity of some high and
extraordinary trust.

While the common herd stood aloof, in deference to the
quarters of Webb, the figure we have described stalked into
the center of the domestics, freely expressing his censures
or commendations on the merits of the horses, as by chance
they displeased or satisfied his judgment.

"This beast, I rather conclude, friend, is not of home
raising, but is from foreign lands, or perhaps from the
little island itself over the blue water?" he said, in a
voice as remarkable for the softness and sweetness of its
tones, as was his person for its rare proportions; "I may
speak of these things, and be no braggart; for I have been
down at both havens; that which is situate at the mouth of
Thames, and is named after the capital of Old England, and
that which is called 'Haven', with the addition of the word
'New'; and have seen the scows and brigantines collecting
their droves, like the gathering to the ark, being outward
bound to the Island of Jamaica, for the purpose of barter
and traffic in four-footed animals; but never before have I
beheld a beast which verified the true scripture war-horse
like this: 'He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his
strength; he goeth on to meet the armed men. He saith among
the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting' It would seem
that the stock of the horse of Israel had descended to our
own time; would it not, friend?"

Receiving no reply to this extraordinary appeal, which in
truth, as it was delivered with the vigor of full and
sonorous tones, merited some sort of notice, he who had thus
sung forth the language of the holy book turned to the
silent figure to whom he had unwittingly addressed himself,
and found a new and more powerful subject of admiration in
the object that encountered his gaze. His eyes fell on the
still, upright, and rigid form of the "Indian runner," who
had borne to the camp the unwelcome tidings of the preceding
evening. Although in a state of perfect repose, and
apparently disregarding, with characteristic stoicism, the
excitement and bustle around him, there was a sullen
fierceness mingled with the quiet of the savage, that was
likely to arrest the attention of much more experienced eyes
than those which now scanned him, in unconcealed amazement.
The native bore both the tomahawk and knife of his tribe;
and yet his appearance was not altogether that of a warrior.
On the contrary, there was an air of neglect about his
person, like that which might have proceeded from great and
recent exertion, which he had not yet found leisure to
repair. The colors of the war-paint had blended in dark
confusion about his fierce countenance, and rendered his
swarthy lineaments still more savage and repulsive than if
art had attempted an effect which had been thus produced by
chance. His eye, alone, which glistened like a fiery star
amid lowering clouds, was to be seen in its state of native
wildness. For a single instant his searching and yet wary
glance met the wondering look of the other, and then
changing its direction, partly in cunning, and partly in
disdain, it remained fixed, as if penetrating the distant
air.

It is impossible to say what unlooked-for remark this short
and silent communication, between two such singular men,
might have elicited from the white man, had not his active
curiosity been again drawn to other objects. A general
movement among the domestics, and a low sound of gentle
voices, announced the approach of those whose presence alone
was wanted to enable the cavalcade to move. The simple
admirer of the war-horse instantly fell back to a low,
gaunt, switch-tailed mare, that was unconsciously gleaning
the faded herbage of the camp nigh by; where, leaning with
one elbow on the blanket that concealed an apology for a
saddle, he became a spectator of the departure, while a foal
was quietly making its morning repast, on the opposite side
of the same animal.

A young man, in the dress of an officer, conducted to their
steeds two females, who, as it was apparent by their
dresses, were prepared to encounter the fatigues of a
journey in the woods. One, and she was the more juvenile in
her appearance, though both were young, permitted glimpses
of her dazzling complexion, fair golden hair, and bright
blue eyes, to be caught, as she artlessly suffered the
morning air to blow aside the green veil which descended low
from her beaver.

The flush which still lingered above the pines in the
western sky was not more bright nor delicate than the bloom
on her cheek; nor was the opening day more cheering than the
animated smile which she bestowed on the youth, as he
assisted her into the saddle. The other, who appeared to
share equally in the attention of the young officer,
concealed her charms from the gaze of the soldiery with a
care that seemed better fitted to the experience of four or
five additional years. It could be seen, however, that her
person, though molded with the same exquisite proportions,
of which none of the graces were lost by the traveling dress
she wore, was rather fuller and more mature than that of her
companion.

No sooner were these females seated, than their attendant
sprang lightly into the saddle of the war-horse, when the
whole three bowed to Webb, who in courtesy, awaited their
parting on the threshold of his cabin and turning their
horses' heads, they proceeded at a slow amble, followed by
their train, toward the northern entrance of the encampment.
As they traversed that short distance, not a voice was heard
among them; but a slight exclamation proceeded from the
younger of the females, as the Indian runner glided by her,
unexpectedly, and led the way along the military road in her
front. Though this sudden and startling movement of the
Indian produced no sound from the other, in the surprise her
veil also was allowed to open its folds, and betrayed an
indescribable look of pity, admiration, and horror, as her
dark eye followed the easy motions of the savage. The
tresses of this lady were shining and black, like the
plumage of the raven. Her complexion was not brown, but it
rather appeared charged with the color of the rich blood,
that seemed ready to burst its bounds. And yet there was
neither coarseness nor want of shadowing in a countenance
that was exquisitely regular, and dignified and surpassingly
beautiful. She smiled, as if in pity at her own momentary
forgetfulness, discovering by the act a row of teeth that
would have shamed the purest ivory; when, replacing the
veil, she bowed her face, and rode in silence, like one
whose thoughts were abstracted from the scene around her.



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