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Title: The Joinville Tunnel
Author: Fred M White
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Title: The Joinville Tunnel
Author: Fred M White


Published in the Launceston Examiner, Monday, 8 May, 1899.



The sergeant was obdurate. He had his orders, which were as Holy Writ in
his eyes. They were cold grey eyes in a face hammered hard on the anvil
of officialism. There were more important things than Red Cross stores.

"Your stores cannot proceed by this train, Major," said the Bavarian.

The whole of the cases consigned to Versailles lay piled up on one
another on the narrow platform of St. Quentin station. It was all the
more annoying because the horses and wagons had been sent on by Eustace
to a point some thirty miles further along the line to Paris, and he had
been promised a fair conveyance to Joinville by the general commanding
the Prussian forces in the district.

But General Deganfeld was not available at present. It was many miles
over the frozen country to his base. A strong French force under General
de la Jonge had pushed forward from Arras, and their advent was keeping
Deganfeld's hands full. There were rumours that a smaller force of
Frenchmen had forced the lines behind Joinville, and had thus obtained
command of the railway line beyond the famous tunnel.

But of this the Bavarian sergeant professed to know nothing. A train
load of provisions strongly guarded had left for Joinville two hours
ago. The sergeant was inclined to flout the idea that this same had
fallen into the hands of the enemy.

Another train would pass through shortly. This Eustace and Huddlestone
had hoped to make use of. They could only sit on their cases now and
bemoan their ill fortune. Scattered over the good-sheds beyond the
station, a company of Bavarian Infantry held the line. If there were
officers, they did not show themselves.

"Nothing of the Chesterfield about these fellows," Huddlestone grumbled.
"What on earth shall we do now?"

Eustace was at a loss for a reply. Sad as it may seem, the Red Cross
carried suspicion in its train. Doubtless the sacred cause had been
abused by spies and others; indeed, the history of the war testifies to
the fact. There was the ghost of a grin on the sergeant's face as he
clanked away. Eustace looked along the blackness of the Orloy woods
rising to the crest of the hill under which the great tunnel of
Joinville bored its way.

"Hang me if I know," he said. "We must leave the stores here and get
them to pass us on to Joinville. Then we can send the wagons back----"

Something came like the hum of a home-flying bee between the two men,
and thudded into a wooden sentry box behind them. Along the dark belt of
the bending woods a score of smoke jets puffed. Crack, crack, came the

Then a bugle rang out, and from the goods-sheds the Bavarians poured
forth like angry grey wasps. Hardly had they formed into line before a
cloud of Francs-tireurs broke from under cover and dashed down upon the
station. They were as two to one to the Germans.

A raking volley barely served to check their headlong progress. They
shot through the thin Bavarian line as if it had been so much brown
paper. Then, as the Francs-tireurs came hurling down on the left flank
of the doomed Bavarians, Eustace saw the big sergeant borne down and his
skull shattered by the sweeping glance of a sword. Then the Bavarians
broke like sheen, and ran for the upper spur of the woods, pursued by
the victorious horse men.

It was a mere affair of minutes. The affray was barely over before a
heavy train came puffing into the station. In less time than it takes to
tell, every German aboard, to the number of two score, were prisoners.

"That was well done." said a gay voice as the French cavalry officer in
command strode up. "Deganfeld has had the feather drawn over his eye
this time. What have we here?"

The speaker saluted Eustace and his comrade politely. Huddlestone

"Surely you are Captain Armand?" he concluded. "I recollect meeting you
after the fall of Metz."

"Ah, yes. Pardon that I did not recognise Captain Huddlestone. I owe you
one good turn, which fortune has enabled me to return. Your stores shall
go on to Joinville, and I will accompany them. Indeed, I have strong
reasons for getting to Joinville myself. I may say that we only hold the
line on sufferance. Deganfeld is closer up than those Bavarians imagine.
There are four trains at Martay yonder bringing up supports for the
German force beyond Joinville, and the first of these trains may follow
on at any moment. So you see I am really between the devil and the deep
sea. Still, if I can only get to Joinville----"

"Would it not be better to lose no further time?" Eustace suggested. "We
have the train here all ready to proceed. With the assistance of your
men we could get our stores aboard in a few minutes."

Armand agreed. Anxious and worried as he was, nothing appeared to
deprive him of his gay manner. It was more than possible that on
emerging from the far side of Joinville tunnel he would find himself and
his company of infantry prisoners. What had happened beyond the hills
nobody knew. And Armand had his own urgent reasons for a flying visit

Acting upon the instructions of their captain, the troop of cavalry
deployed again under the cover of the wood. By this time the stores were
aboard the train, together with the handful of infantry that Armand had
at his command. Eustace felt his spirits rising.

"What a slice of luck for us," he said, gleefully. "Personally, it
doesn't matter a scrap to us what happens when we are on the other side
of the tunnel. Once there, it is no far cry to our wagons."

"Wish we were out of it all the same," Huddlestone muttered. "Tunnels in
war time are best avoided. And there are four miles of this one."

Armand swaggered up gaily. The adventure had found him in spirits.

"May I ask what your object is?" said Eustace.

"Who knows?" responded the volatile captain. "Joinville is my
destination. Mayhap we shall steam into the hands of the Germans. If you
had been waiting, waiting as I have been--driven from pillar to
post--you would understand my thirst for action."

"Meanwhile a train load of German troops may be up to us at any moment,"
said Huddlestone. "This is a mere coup de maine of yours."

Armand responded serenely that such was the fact. Even as he spoke the
shrill note of a distant whistle cleft the frosty air. The railway was a
winding one, and as the crow flies the approaching train was not distant
more than a mile--twice that distance as the track went. A thin jet of
steam trailed along the valley.

"We must go on," Armand cried. "There are troops coming, I hear. All
aboard there. We shall have a race for it yet. Laden down as we are, the
other train will have the pull of us."

A moment later, and the engine was jolting forward. Armand had spoken
truly. His little strategy could not remain successful for long, added
to which his knowledge told him that the approaching train was laden
with German troops. But it was a race between a passenger and a goods
train. Doubtless by this time one of the Bavarian fugitives had
explained matters.

Full speed ahead was the order of the day. Despite his gay air and
careless smile, Armand gazed from time to time behind him. There were
the most urgent reasons why he should reach Joinville without delay.

"They are gaining on us," he cried.

The Englishmen responded nothing. The truth was painfully apparent. And
the jolt and rattle of the heavy goods trucks rendered conversation a
difficulty. So far as Eustace and his colleagues were concerned, the
ultimate issue mattered little, as long as they eventually cleared the

But this was anything but a certainty. A mile or more of line level as a
billiard table and straight as a gunbarrel lay before them, ending in
the small circular bore that meant the entrance to the tunnel. And by
the time Armand and his party were half way to this, he could see behind
them the buffers of the approaching engine.

"A stern chase is a long chase,'" said Eustace.

Armand smiled grimly. Gone was his butterfly manner; no longer did he
cherish his moustache. There were enough soldiers on the approaching
train to cut his little force to pieces ten times over.

"They will be up to us before we are through," said Huddlestone.

"You are fond of sport," Armand cut in swiftly. "You bet a little, of
course--all Englishmen do. Then I will bet you what you call six to four
if that yonder engine never catches us at all."

"You can't prevent it," said Eustace.

By way of reply Armand scrambled to the front of the truck where the
three were standing. He gave a quick, crisp command to the engine
driver, and the train immediately commenced to slacken speed. When
finally it came to a standstill, its whole length was secreted in the
blackness of the tunnel, like a worm underground.

"Are you mad?" Eustace cried. "Man alive, in three minutes that other
train will be on to us. To destroy them is very well, but why allow us
to perish?"

"Enough," Armand responded curtly, "I know my business. You will see
what you shall see. Uncouple the last three trucks there."

The situation looked desperate enough for anything. There was any odds
on a fight between the two trains, with the balance faintly in favour of
the Germans. To bring this matter to an issue in the black suffocation
of a tunnel was horrible.

The train stood fast inside the grim, smoky tunnel. Already, some eight
hundred yards away, the pursuing engine forged steadily onward. Eustace
would have interfered had he dared. In a wondering sort of way he
watched a handful of sappers uncoupling the last three trucks, he felt
the jolt and jerk as the locomotive slowly moved on, and then he saw a
pair of rails with their sleepers wrenched away, leaving an ugly hole in
the track.

"Now do you understand?" Armand whispered, fiercely.

Eustace held his breath in the excitement of the moment. He could
distinctly hear the thud, thud of the coming train. Then its whistle
shrieked hideously, there was a resounding crash as the two solid masses
met, and in less time than it takes to tell the mouth of the tunnel was
packed, jammed with hundreds of tons of wood and steel. There was a
scream of escaping steam, the thud of an explosion, a few yells and
groans, and all was still. Armand had left behind him a rampart welded
into a solid mass like liquid iron is forged under a hammer. Many an
hour would necessarily elapse before the way would be cleared again.

"This is horrible!" Huddlestone cried.

"It may not be war, perhaps," Armand said coolly; "but you will admit
that this is no time for the exchange of social amenities. But for my
little stratagem you would have been a long time getting your stores to

The train was jolting and pounding forward again. For some minutes
nobody spoke. The Englishmen were peering somewhat anxiously ahead. Away
down the line Eustace could see two lights travelling.

"Surely there is something on the track," he cried. "The driver----"

But the driver was already aware of the fact. Armand shortly demanded of
him what was wrong.

"A train backing along the tunnel," came the startling reply, "and on
the same line of rails as ourselves. Mon Dieu, it----"

The rest of the speech was drowned in the shrill whistle of the engine.


For a brief space something like consternation reigned supreme. The
peculiar horror of the situation struck home with full force. Armand had
been hoist with his own petard: he had fallen headlong into the trap he
had laid for another.

"I don't understand it at all," he muttered.

"I do," said Huddlestone grimly. "Less than an hour before you made your
successful raid just now, a German train passed through. Without doubt
she has been headed off by a force of your men, and has risked
everything, to the extent of running back on her tracks, for

Armand nodded moodily. The explanation seemed reasonable; indeed it was
the only one possible under the circumstances.

"We shall have to fight her," said the Frenchman, "since retreat is out
of the question. There are troops aboard, of course?"

"Not more than a score," Huddlestone replied. "Their goods are mainly
camp stores for the garrison occupying Fort Bazan."

"Ah! Then our task is lighter than I anticipated," said Armand.

All this was a mere matter of moments. Already the lights on the
approaching engine were growing more steady, plain proof of the fact
that the other train was coming to a standstill. When, finally, the two
trains pulled up, not more than five yards separated them.

"Back there," a guttural German voice smote out into the smoky darkness.
"You cannot get through. A force of French infantry with two guns holds
the valley below Joinville."

"That is good hearing, indeed," Armand cried in the same language.
"Learn that we too are French, and that we have not the same objection
to proceeding. You oblige us by showing the way."

The German officer in charge of the other train wasted no time in idle
questions. He knew enough of the game of war to be surprised at nothing.
A response came in the shape of a score of bullets fired haphazard in
the thick darkness. Nothing loth, the French replied. For some minutes
the desultory and useless war of small arms continued. Ever and anon a
bullet would thud into a case or the side of a truck--it would tinkle
against the masonry of the tunnel. But, on the whole, the fusilade was
absolutely futile.

Still, the situation was thrilling enough in all conscience. To retreat
was out of the question; to proceed, for the present at any rate, was
equally impossible. Add to the inky darkness of the tunnel, its horror
solely illuminated by the sudden flash of the rifles, and an atmosphere
of burnt paper and smoke that tasted acrid on the tongue, and stung the
eyes and nose like needles.

Standing behind the shelter of a big packing case, Eustace and
Huddlestone took no part in the affray. What the end of this alarming
adventure would be it was impossible to say. And as the moments passed
the atmosphere grew thick and oppressive. Eustace was conscious of an
unusual moisture on his forehead.

"This is stifling," he said. "I can hardly breathe."

"Same here," gasped Huddlestone. "My nose is dripping with blood."

Gradually the firing slackened and died sullenly away. Perhaps the utter
uselessness of it appealed to both sets of combatants simultaneously.
Doubtless they, too, were fearsome of the deadly poisonous atmosphere.
More or less, the meaning of this was a mystery. The tunnel contained
two lines of rails, the roof was fairly high, and generally a strong
current of air passed through.

But not now. The seal of wood and iron brought about by Armand's
ingenuity at the far end of the tunnel had prevented the free ingress of
pure air, and the dense volumes of acrid smoke had done the rest.

Armand fairly sobbed and struggled for his breath. He fought his way
over to the cab of the engine, and in a hoarse whisper asked for a piece
of cotton waste. This he proceeded to soak in the oil from the stoker's
can. Then he placed the mass upon the boiler and applied a light.

A flaring yellow flame flashed out. Within its ring of radiance could be
seen the engines and leading trucks of both trains. On the fore part of
either the troops had gathered. Numerically, the proportion was greatly
on the side of the French.

"Rush them," Armand cried, "rush them whilst the flare lasts."

Like rats, the nimble little Gauls leapt on the metals. A few shots at
short range were exchanged, in the midst of which the yellow light
suddenly died away. By the time Armand had replenished it, his men were
cheering hoarsely in possession of the German train. A dead body or two
lay on the track; from a truck here and there came the gurgle and groan
of the wounded.

"This is worse than murder," said the stripling officer in charge of the
German train. "There is reason in all things, Captain. Pray command me.
Circumstances place me entirely at your service."

"You will recollect that you brought this entirely upon yourself,"
Armand replied dryly. "Meanwhile, we may pay too highly for the time
wasted in the interchange of politeness. We shall be asphyxiated. Pray
precede us, so that we may get out of this without delay."

No time was lost in getting under way again. The mere motions of the
trains fanned up a slight breeze, which, languid as it was, came sweetly
and soothingly to breasts literally bursting for the want of it.
Armand's spirits rose, a soft whistle escaped his lips.

"Eh, bien," he said, "but this is something to remember, something to
tell one's friends in after life and----"

"Be received with polite incredulity," said Huddlestone. "This is
literally the hottest place I have ever been in. The air is better, but
not much less stifling than it was before. Captain, I trust your friends
have not been trying on a little amateur sapping of their own at the
other end of this confounded tunnel."

The melodious lilt faded suddenly from Armand's lips. "I don't quite
understand you," he said.

"Don't you," said Huddlestone. "Supposing your friends towards Joinville
are not particularly strong in numbers. They appear to be masters of the
situation for the time being, but their position would be immensely
strengthened by possession of the railway. And how would they proceed to
make sure of the railway? Why, by blowing up the mouth of the tunnel
directly they had driven back the train."

"Then you mean to suggest----?"

"That the thing is un fait accompli. I feel certain that what I say is
correct, and that we are literally sealed up here like sardines in a
tin. Otherwise, the atmosphere would not be so insufferably close. You
see the gravity of the situation?"

Armand shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not lost upon me," he said. "Fortunately, the suspense will not
be unduly prolonged. We shall soon know."

Both trains were moving slowly on. Calculating by moments, the cars
should not have been remote from the exit over against Joinville. And
yet, hanging anxiously over the side, the two Englishmen could discern
nothing beyond the purple, shot darkness.

There was no circular focus of light, no welcome rays penetrating the
exit from the tunnel. Either some calamity had happened, or they were
the victims of a cruel misfortune.

"The exit is assuredly blocked up," Eustace muttered.

Armand's reply was unheard. The pilot train, forging slowly ahead,
bumped and clattered, the trucks came thudding together along its entire
length, and then suddenly came to a standstill.

"For heaven's sake shut off steam there, or you will be into us," came a
harsh voice from the pioneers. "There is something on the line."

The second train also came to its brakes. Armand hastened to the scene
of the trouble. The young German in charge of the other transport was
already examining his surroundings with the aid of a lantern.

"What has happened?" Armand asked, anxiously.

"The whole line is strewn with masonry," was the reply. "Look for
yourself, and see if it is not so, Monsieur le Capitaine."

Armand took the lantern which the other proffered, and flashed its
sickly yellow rays upwards. Not only was the line strewn with masses of
rock and earth and twisted brickwork, but the serried mass rose upward
till roof and floor came together. Huddlestone had guessed it. Both
exits from the tunnel had been destroyed.

"A most amazing thing," Armand cried. "A marvellous coincidence."

The young German smiled somewhat grimly.

"I guessed this," he said, "though I had no need to tell you. It becomes
necessary to go back in the direction of Orloy."

"Into the hands of your countrymen, who have doubtless regained the lost
ground there," Armand said, dryly. "My friend, to prevent accidents I
contrived to seal up the entrance of this tunnel after my train

"Then we are caught like rats in a pipe."

"So it seems. But can you inform me how my brilliant scheme came to be
so speedily pirated as this?"

"That is merely conjecture," the youthful German replied. "I only know
that my train was headed back by troops two miles this side of
Joinville. They were in force, and I feared derailment. For the time, at
any rate, the valley seemed to have fallen into your hands. The enemy
bore me back into the tunnel, and that is all I know. The position is
anything but a pleasing one."

Armand agreed sullenly. He understood perfectly what had happened. A
body of troops had made a dash for Joinville, and they had destroyed a
portion of the tunnel, with a view of checking any advance on the part
of General Deganfeld. By an amazing chance both exits had gone

Apparently there was nothing to be done but sit down and endure it.
Sooner or later the Bavarian advance from Marlay must result in
communications being opened up again. But Deganfeld was by no means over
strong, and a large French force--the force Armand was so anxious to
touch--hovered menacingly in the country about Joinville.

Under these circumstances, many days might elapse before the tunnel was
cleared. That Deganfeld would make desperate efforts to do so was
certain. That the French would do their best to prevent him was
inevitable. To force the obstacle from within, aided by a mere handful
of men without tools was practically impossible.

"And we are without stores," said Armand. "We might hold out for a
couple of days. Major, your cases are----"

"Not mine," Eustace said, hurriedly. "Besides, we cannot get much
nourishment out of surgical appliances. In any case we shall perish
miserably ere long for want of air. The atmosphere is insufferable."

Eustace spoke truly. The air was hot and heavy, a sense of languor and
fatigue lay upon every man there. As yet, they hardly realised the full
extent of the danger. Unless relief came speedily, a horrible death lay
before them. The black darkness was in itself a terror.

"Something must be done," Armand said, hoarsely. "Come, is there not one
of you that can suggest anything?"

The young German officer touched Armand's elbow.

"There is one desperate chance," he said. "If you follow me, I will show
you the way."

"Lead on," said Armand. "Nothing can be more desperate than this."


Lantern in hand, the German plunged forward. He was followed by Armand,
together with the Englishmen. No word was spoken on either side, the
journey being undertaken in grim silence. At some distance from the
trains and the troops the air was a little less vitiated, and oppressed
lungs drew breath more freely. At the end of a mile the guide paused.

"Do you notice anything?" he asked.

They all had, almost at the same moment. They noticed a purer, cooler
air, like champagne to their jaded senses.

"And there seems to be an absolute draught," said Huddlestone.

"Hardly that," said the German. "It has gone again. Half a dozen men
might manage to exist here for a time, but no more."

"I can't understand whence comes the air," said Armand.

"It seems to me that we Germans know your country better than you know
it yourselves," said the other, with a dryness that brought the blood to
Armand's cheek. "But that is by the way. As a matter of fact, we are
exactly under the ventilating shaft of the tunnel. It passes through the
hill, rising to a round tower of stone beyond--a capital landmark."

"You are right," Armand cried, eagerly. "I remember now."

"Very good, Captain. I saw that we had one desperate chance, and that is
a fact. It may be just possible for us to climb up the shaft and seek
assistance. There is no other way."

Armand was eager for the attempt, and the Englishmen were nothing loth
to follow. The German proceeded, lantern in hand.

"How did you learn this?" Armand asked.

"We left nothing to chance," was the reply. "Do you suppose an important
detail like this would be overlooked?"

"Never mind that," Armand growled. "How do you propose to ascend?"

By way of reply, the German flashed his lantern along the slimy walls of
the tunnel. Presently he found what he wanted--a square wooden trap,
which he proceeded to pull away from the wall. This done, a hole barely
large enough for a man to squeeze into was disclosed.

"More charming than it seems," the German explained. "The semi-circular
pipe leads on to the roof of the tunnel. There is an iron grating above
us, if you will take the trouble to look."

Sure enough, as the Lantern's rays flashed on the roof, a rusty, sooty
grating came in the line of the light. Like a cat, the German wriggled
himself into the hole, pushing his lantern before him, the others

It was a dusty, dingy, horrible, choky business, resulting in hands and
faces being smothered in soot and cinders, but it was accomplished at
last. When, finally, the four adventurers stood on the grating, they
could see the brilliant shield of the blue sky far above them as a
cerulean circle clear cut by the funnel, and they could breathe again.

The pure frosty air ran like quicksilver along Armand's veins. "It is
good to live, after all," he cried. "Still, there is much to be done.
Herr Lieutenant, how do you propose to reach the summit?"

"Nothing easier," said the other. "The way is provided, sir." A flight
of iron ladders led upwards. It was a long and tedious business, for the
shaft was many hundreds of feet through the heart of the hill, and the
ladders were of iron and absolutely perpendicular.

The intense cold struck, even down there. Each of the adventurers could
feel the chill grip of the metal as it struck through their gloves. As
they toiled up, foot by foot, the pace gradually slackened. It was
fortunate, perhaps, that darkness reigned supreme, and thus veiled the
real danger of the undertaking.

"I'm glad I can't see anything," Huddlestone panted. "Looking down from
a height always makes me confoundedly giddy. And we must be up----"

"Don't think of it," Eustace replied. "I'm trying not to, and I never
was in such a blue funk in all my life. Sebastopol was nothing to this."

All things come to an end, and the weary climb was over at last. When
the four reached the top of the shaft a brief terror awaited them. Over
the entire surface a network of iron completed the semblance of a cage.

"Good heavens!" Huddlestone groaned. "Have we come all this way to be
baffled like this? How maddening!"

Armand swore volubly. Then annoyance took the place of anger, as the
German reached up and lifted the centre of the grill. The latter seemed
to know perfectly well that the grill possessed a swinging doorway.

"It is the way we have beaten you all along," he said. "We know
everything, you know nothing--except how to fight."

Armand turned away bitterly mortified. The truth stung like a whiplash.
Ere he could think of a suitable reply, the boom of a gun, followed by
the quick rattle of musketry fire, smote on the air. Evidently, sharp
work was in progress down in the valley towards Joinville.

A risky jump of some fifteen feet, on to snow frozen as hard as granite,
made a fitting termination to the hazardous side of the adventure. The
volatile Armand burst out laughing as he surveyed his companions.

"Did one ever see four such disreputable scarecrows?" he cried. "Still,
we can afford to smile at our misfortunes now. Forward, mes amis."

A brisk run of some twenty minutes brought the quartette on the scene of
action. A miniature pitched battle between a Prussian regiment, hurried
up by General Deganfeld and a cloud of Francs-tireurs was in full blast.
Armand ran forward to an eminence, and waved aloft his handkerchief,
which he had tied to his sword. The German lieutenant followed his

At the unexpected spectacle of a French and Prussian officer standing
amicably side by sire, and waving miniature flags of truce, the firing
ceased. Then, by mutual consent, Armand and the German respectively
returned to their own lines. A few minutes later, and a hurried
conference between the leaders of both forces had taken place.

The scene which followed was not the least strange incident of that
marvellous campaign. Amongst the wreckage at the mouth of the tunnel,
hundreds of French and German troops worked side by side. From either
set of rails their respective officers watched them in silence. Up the
slopes the arms were piled.

At the end of two hours the way was practically clear. A rousing cheer
went up as the last block of brickwork was rolled aside, and then there
staggered from the tunnel four score of men, grim and pallid, and
gasping in the pure air of the afternoon. There was nothing for it now
but to bring out the trains, which was done accordingly.

"Whom do they belong to?" asked the German leader.

"The problem is not yet solved, Colonel," responded the French
commander. "Let them form part of the stake we were playing for when we
were so strangely interrupted two hours ago."

The German saluted grimly. He desired nothing better. Within two minutes
of this polite interchange of courtesies, the roar of conflict had
recommenced. From a snug vantage ground, Eustace and Huddlestone watched
the progress of the fray. They saw the tide of victory ebb and flow,
they saw the Germans gradually beaten back and retire sullenly to the
cover of the woods. Then, a little time later, Armand came up with a gay
smile upon his face.

"Ah," he cried, "we have to be grateful for small mercies in these dark
days. Your sympathy was with us, I am sure."

"You," said Eustace. "I was thinking of my stores, you know."

"Quite so. Then you are fortunate, for these two trains are going right
through to Joinville at once. We are well out of the adventure, my

And Eustace heartily concurred.


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