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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 41. Chapter 41

Happy Holidays!

February 7, 1801

Stroganov Palace

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Granger sat in the anteroom with Pavel, enjoying a glass of wine. He’d had a very pleasant morning, which had started with sex with Pavel, followed by an excellent breakfast, and then a detailed tour of this palace. Granger was duly impressed by the edifice, which had obviously been crafted to display the incredible wealth and taste of the Stroganov family.

“If you do not mind, I will excuse myself to attend to business,” Pavel said.

“That is fine,” Granger said, as he stood up and took Pavel’s hands in his, in what was a loving gesture. He exited the room and Granger sat back down, only to stand again abruptly when Stroganov’s wife entered.

“I hope I am not intruding,” she said as she curtsied. Granger bowed and kissed her hand, admiring her beauty as he did. She seemed as if she would be more at home in Paris than St. Petersburg.

“Your presence is not an interruption, but a delight,” he said. He guided her to the chair that Pavel had just vacated, then poured her a glass of wine before taking his seat.

“I am sorry I was not here to welcome you last night. I was needed at the palace,” she said.

“One can hardly refuse the Empress,” Granger said.

“It was not the Empress I was with, it was the Tsar,” she said, and looked very distraught.

“Are you alright?” Granger asked. She looked at him and could see the real concern and compassion in his eyes, just as she heard it in his voice.

“I am not sure who decided it was an honor to sleep with His Imperial Majesty,” she said. “But if I find her, I will kill her.”

Granger laughed at that, and she saw the humor and laughed with him. “I suspect I will be feeling similar to you in the next few days.”

“I fear that is true,” she said. “Her Imperial Majesty commands you to attend her at the Pavlosk Palace on Monday at 10:00 in the morning.”

Granger swallowed nervously. “I will do as she wishes.”

“Neither one of us has much choice,” she said resignedly. “I suppose at least in my case, some benefit will come to my family.”

“In the form of Imperial favor?” he asked.

She nodded. “I am not sure the Stroganovs need it. We are one of the richest families in Russia, perhaps the richest. Centuries ago that fortune was started with the acquisition of salt mines, then more recently we have developed iron works and smelting operations. It is not money that we need.”

“You would need allies at Court to protect your interests,” Granger said.

“Yes,” she agreed. “In a country such as Russia, where the Tsar’s will is unchallenged, all that we have is subject to his whim. And he is not the most stable of men.”

“So I gathered,” Granger said. “Only an insane person would want me to join their church.”

She laughed with him, a beautiful laugh. “You do not seem so unholy. Your friend Lord Daventry seems much more likely to need the help of God.” That made Granger chuckle.

“He is probably my best friend and like a brother to me, but when it comes to women, he is less than reputable.”

“I think he will have an easier time with the Empress than you will,” she said, raising an eyebrow.

“And why do you say that?” Granger asked, since that statement bordered on being insulting.

“I love Pavel dearly, and I know him better than he knows himself. I know he is infatuated with you, and the way you look at him, I see that the feeling is mutual.”

Granger stared at her, completely flummoxed, and unsure of what to say. His instincts told him to deny it and diffuse her accusations, but as he looked in her eyes, he realized that would be futile. “That does not bother you?” he finally managed to stammer.

“This is not the first time he has been enamored with another man,” she said. “He was quite intimate with Baron von Beckendorf, but they had a falling out of sorts.”

“How did you find this out?” he asked.

“Sometimes one overhears conversations, and sometimes one bribes servants,” she said, showing that she was not naïve and indeed, probably quite the sleuth.

“That is quite clever,” he said. “Have you confronted him with your suspicions?”

“I have not,” she said. “Perhaps I will, someday.”

“I think it would be good if you did,” Granger opined. He opted to trust this woman with his personal life, something that was quite foreign to him. “I had a conversation like that with my wife, and it has made the bond between us much stronger.”

“If I was the sleuth you think I am, then it is possible I had no real knowledge of you and Pavel and yet you have now confirmed it for me,” she said a bit coldly. “You are lucky I am not.”

“Indeed,” Granger said. “I am usually a good judge of character, and for you to use what I have just told you in a malicious way, you would have to be much more evil than the woman sitting here with me.”

“Thank you, and you are correct,” she said with a smile. “Was your wife angry with you?”

“She was not. She has had affairs as well, one that resulted in a child I have claimed as my own. She has resigned herself to me having other men in my life, and I have resolved myself to the same with her.”

“She must be a remarkable woman,” she said.

“She is remarkable, in almost the same way you are,” Granger replied. “I often wondered if she resented those liaisons and the men I was with, and I was thinking of one man in particular. It dawned on me that my wife was not angry that I was with another man, she simply didn’t like the man I was with.”

She laughed at that. “Indeed, that may be a challenge. It was difficult to smile at von Beckendorf.”

“Why?” Granger asked, since he had grown quite fond of the man.

“He is honest and trustworthy, but not very smart, and given to panic and dramatics when facing a crisis,” she observed shrewdly.

Granger smiled at her. “I think you and I will become good friends.”

“We are not already?” she asked in a coquettish way, making Granger chuckle.

“You have warmed up to me that quickly?”

“Anyone who can put the Countess von Lieven in her place has already won a place in my heart,” she said, making them both laugh loudly. “She is so proud and haughty, yet she is so young.”

“Perhaps she needs a mentor, someone to teach her not to be such a petulant bitch,” Granger said, letting down his guard with her. She laughed even harder at that.

“Perhaps,” she replied. “She has been trained by her mother, and she has now almost become her.”

The butler, or whatever the Russians called such a chap, entered the room and bowed formally. “Madame, Lord Granger has a caller. The Duc de Richelieu.”

“Please escort the Duc in,” she said. After he left, she stood up and kissed Granger on the cheek. “I think I will go talk to Pavel.”

Granger had met a cousin of Richelieu’s when he’d been a prisoner in Paris and had arranged to buy some beautiful sapphires from her based on his pledge to transfer money to this Richelieu here in Russia, which he had done. He was interested to meet this man with whom he’d had only a commercial relationship. The butler ushered the Duc in and paused to announce him with his stentorian voice. “Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc of Richelieu and Fronsac.” He was of average height with a handsome face containing high cheekbones and a beak-like nose that gave him a strong bearing. Granger knew him to be in his mid-30s.

“What an honor you do me by calling on me, Monsieur de Richelieu,” Granger said, using the classic French honorary style of address, and bowing in his well-practiced way.

“Lord Granger, I have wanted to meet you and personally thank you for assisting me in my hour of need,” he said pleasantly, even as he returned Granger’s bow. “I had no idea you would make it so easy for me by trekking to St. Petersburg in the dead of winter.” They both laughed at that.

“Please join me for a glass,” Granger said, gesturing to the chair the Countess Stroganov had just vacated and poured the Duc a glass of wine.

“You certainly picked a good place to stay,” the Duc said jovially.

“As in many things in my life, it was luck that gifted me with this lodging and gave me the Stroganovs as friends,” Granger said. “How is your cousin?”

“I have not heard from her lately,” he said sadly. “As you might imagine, it is difficult to get a courier from Paris to St. Petersburg. In the past, I have been able to rely on friendly diplomats for that service, but alas the Ambassadors from Spain and Portugal are now gone.”

“I heard of their expulsion,” Granger said with sympathy. “We do not have an ambassador to help you either, and in any event, he would be hard pressed to transmit letters to Paris.”

“This much is certain,” the Duc said. “There is a rumor that the Comte d'Hédouville is en route to serve as France’s ambassador, and while he serves this new government, I am confident he will be useful for communicating with those I have left behind in France.”

“I do not know of him,” Granger said, more of a question.

“He is one of Monsieur de Talleyrand’s stooges, but also a good general, and it is rumored he has monarchist sympathies, so there is hope,” he said.

“I had a chance to call on His Most Christian Majesty while I was in Riga,” Granger said. “His Court seemed in good but cautious spirits.”

“I wonder how they handled their expulsion from Mitau,” Richelieu mused with a frown. “It was a horrible thing for the Tsar to do, but His Most Christian Majesty’s advisors were most impolitic on how they handled the Order of St. John’s. They should have learned from the examples of Spain and Portugal.”

“I broached that issue with Monsieur le Comte d’Artois, who mirrored your views with the exception that he thought matters of religion must not be compromised,” Granger said.

“They have been thrown from opulence into poverty, but it has not changed them,” Richelieu groused. Granger opted not to argue about whether living in Mitau counted as ‘poverty’. “Perhaps that is a good thing.”

“Perhaps, but I doubt it,” Granger said honestly.

“And why is that?” Richelieu challenged assertively.

“Because should the day come when His Most Christian Majesty returns to his throne, it is unlikely that things will be as they were before he left France,” Granger said firmly.

The Duc became more thoughtful. “I fear you are right. I have kept my distance from the King and the emigres for the most part, because they are full of anger and resentment. It does not bode well for poor France.”

“When I was in Paris, Monsieur de Talleyrand observed to me of the emigres that they had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing,” Granger said.

“Talleyrand is a snake,” Richelieu said bitterly.

“I learned it was impolitic to raise Monsieur de Talleyrand’s name at the Court at Mitau,” Granger said. “It was made clear to me that he was not to be spoken of, at least not in a kind way.” Richelieu seemed to relax his posture a bit.

“It is hard to forgive him for betraying his class, but at least with Talleyrand you know what you are dealing with,” Richelieu said. “A man who is cultured, charming, and witty, with absolutely no scruples and full of lust, especially for gold.”

“I think you have put that quite succinctly,” Granger said with a smile. “I understand your animosity, but Monsieur de Talleyrand has been a friend to me and enabled me to survive the politics of the Directory.”

“I understand. I suspect that my general dislike for him is a view that is still more charitable than that of the Court,” Richelieu said with a chuckle.

“I would hope so,” Granger said. “I had posited him as a useful bridge between the ancien regime and a restored monarchy, but they did not find that suggestion useful.”

“It was a good effort, and although I am not sure I agree with you, your heart is clearly in the right place,” he said.

“Thank you,” Granger said sincerely. “Evidently Her Royal Highness the Duchesse d’Angoulême had heard of my purchase of jewels from your family and requested that I buy the diamonds His Imperial Majesty had given her for her wedding.”

“And did you?”

“I did and got such a good deal I feel as if I have stolen them,” Granger said. “I offered to transmit additional funds to her in the future, but she seemed almost offended by my words.”

“A member of the Royal Family does not accept gifts as such, she gives them,” he said with a rueful grin. “The thought that she could be in your debt would be almost painful, while now you are, at least in your own mind, in hers. She would prefer it that way.”

Granger chuckled. “Now I feel less guilty and more worried.” The Duc laughed with him at that. “I was not aware you were still in Russia.”

“I have adopted this country as my second home, and I have served it well and been rewarded for my efforts,” he said obliquely. “I am not on the best of terms with the current Tsar. He reprimanded me for actions which were not mine, and unlike the usual Russian nobles, who are more like serfs to him, I would not stomach such injustice. It cost me his favor, and my position as Major General in the army.”

“I am sorry,” Granger said sympathetically.

“It is not so horrible,” he said quickly, to let Granger know he was not in desperate straits. “I have remained here in St. Petersburg where I have many friends, and the Tsar’s animosity is largely benign, and in a way beneficial.”

“I am unclear as to why his animosity is beneficial,” Granger said. “I have hazarded a lengthy journey in order to convince him not to hate me.”

Richelieu laughed again. “I heard about your trek, and how terrible it was in your luxurious vozok.”

“One must make the best of one’s situation,” Granger joked.

“Indeed,” the Duc agreed. “To answer your question, it is a good thing because he does not hate me enough to persecute me, but since he does not like me, I am not welcome in his presence, which means I can avoid showing up at Court.”

“I am impressed with how skillfully you have managed to position yourself,” Granger said with admiration.

“I spent my youth at Versailles, where position was everything, and learned much from my father in that regard,” he said.

Granger smiled, which drew a puzzled reaction from Richelieu. “Your words made me think of my own father, who trained me in a similar way.”

“My father is no longer alive for me to thank him,” Richelieu said philosophically. “I hope you will not make that same mistake.”

“I have not, and I do not,” Granger said. “I think at this point, we have come to rely on each other.”

“That is as it should be,” Richelieu said. “I would encourage you to spend time such as it is possible with the Tsarevich. I think you will find him a fascinating man.”

“I met him briefly yesterday, and would certainly take advantage of any opportunity to be with him, but I am wondering why you think that?” Granger asked.

“He was not raised as your typical Tsar,” Richelieu said. “He was raised by Catherine the Great, who made sure that the teachings of Voltaire and his ilk were ingrained into the young boy.”

Granger was surprised by that. “I would hardly have expected such liberal ideas to be planted in the head of a future Tsar.”

“Yet they have been, and we will have to hope that those ideas were good ones,” Richelieu said. “They have certainly not done poor France much good.”

“They have not,” Granger agreed. He and Richelieu chatted at length about Granger’s time in France, and Granger was so engrossed in their conversation he was almost surprised when Alexei strode into the room. He and Richelieu rose in the smooth way that was proper.

“I hope you gentlemen will pardon me for interrupting,” he said. “What a pleasure to see you again, Monsieur de Richelieu, and what an honor you do by calling on us.”

“The honor you speak of is mine in being received by Your Excellency,” Richelieu said. “But your presence reminds me that I have already stayed beyond what is considered polite.”

“That is nonsense, and you are going nowhere,” Alexei said in a playful yet firm way. “Dinner is just now ready, and you would offend me if you did not join us.”

Richelieu bowed and smiled. “I would never want to offend Your Excellency.” Dinner ended up being a lively affair, with good conversation and good food. Granger, Daventry, Alexei, Pavel, and Richelieu were perhaps more restrained than they otherwise might have been due to the presence of the Countess, but her vivacious charm added a liveliness to the event that would otherwise have been lacking.

 

February 8, 1801

Stroganov Palace

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Granger stood in front of the full-length mirror, smiling back at himself and the familiar reflection. “I think you were right this time, my lord,” Winkler said.

“Right about what?” Granger asked, even as Winkler hung the gaudy Spanish collar around his neck.

“This uniform does look much better on your lordship,” Winkler said.

“My lordship is trying to decide if that is because the blue is more complimentary or because it is more familiar,” Granger said in a joking way.

“Perhaps, my lord, it is both,” Winkler noted sagely, even as he adjusted the red ribbon across his chest. “This certainly looks much better. It didn’t quite go with the red uniform.”

“I suppose if I decide to transfer to the army I will have to acquire a blue ribbon,” Granger said vapidly, as if becoming a Knight of the Garter was an easy prize to win.

“That would be preferable, my lord,” Winkler said with fake seriousness. Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Pavel.

“Good morning,” he said pleasantly. “You look most handsome in your naval uniform.”

“Winkler and I have decided that is true,” Granger joked, making both of them snicker.

“Did you need anything else, my lord?” Winkler asked.

“I think I am quite ready for the palace,” Granger said, even as he adjusted his wig slightly.

“Let us hope, my lord, your soul is ready for church,” Winkler said, being cheeky. He left the room with Granger frowning after him.

“I am sorry I did not come to see you last night,” Pavel said earnestly.

“You are not required to make yourself available to sate my carnal desires,” Granger said with a slightly seductive tone.

“You make it sound as if something that is so pleasurable is actually a task to accomplish,” he said with a smile. “I had a lengthy conversation with Sophia, one that you were responsible for.”

“And did it go well?” Granger asked nervously.

“It went better than I ever could have imagined,” he said with a huge smile. “I never imagined she would be so supportive of me and my mixed desires.”

“She is an extraordinary woman,” Granger said honestly.

“She is indeed, and I wanted to take time to show her how special she was,” he said with a leer.

Granger laughed. “Hopefully you accomplished that.”

“Hopefully,” he agreed. It was impossible not to notice how he was glowing this morning. Granger’s happiness for him fortunately offset the jealousy he felt.

“We must retrieve Lord Daventry and head to the palace, lest we be late,” Pavel said with a sudden sense of urgency as he glanced at the clock on the wall. They walked into the main room to find Daventry waiting for them, then descended the stairs and entered Granger’s vehicle, joined by Alexei and the Countess.

“This vozok is truly wonderful,” Alexei said, as the sleigh/carriage trundled toward the palace. “I may have to buy it from you when you leave Russia.”

“We will first have to see if I am allowed to leave Russia,” Granger said, getting a smile from the others.

“Your comment allows me to transition to a different topic,” Alexei said. “I anticipate that the Tsar will appoint a tutor to guide you two gentlemen into the Orthodox church today, or in the very near future.”

“I can hardly wait,” Daventry said with audible sarcasm.

“His Imperial Majesty has long had spies in my household, but I am sure that he sees this as an opportunity to have a spy in your midst as well,” Alexei said. Pavel nodded in agreement. “I am not sure who will be appointed, but I suspect that individual will want to take up residence with us, and after he does, we must be on our guard about what we say.”

“If our presence causes risk to you and your family, we must find another place to stay,” Granger insisted, horrified that he and Daventry could end up causing the Stroganovs problems with the Tsar.

“You are kind to think of us, but we will use his presence to our advantage to showcase our loyalty to His Imperial Majesty,” Alexei said glibly.

“You said he already has spies in your household?” Daventry asked.

“He has two of them, both of whom have been co-opted by me,” Alexei replied. “The Tsar is not as pleasant to work for as I am, and by getting paid to file innocuous reports they make extra money, and by the bribes I pay them, they make even more.”

“That is quite Machiavellian of you,” Granger said, since he knew Alexei was quite fond of that man’s treatises on power.

“It is not so ingenious as you would make it sound,” Alexei said with a small smile. “I am worried about who they will appoint to be your tutor, and the candidates that come to mind are most unpleasant. If I was as Machiavellian as you presume, I would have figured out a way to thwart them.”

“I think that is actually quite easy,” the Countess said. Everyone turned their attention to her. “While you both speak French as if you were raised at Versailles, it is not unreasonable for such a momentous undertaking as changing your faith to request a tutor who speaks English.”

Alexei smiled at his daughter in law. “I think, my dear, that you are the brightest of all of us. That is a marvelous idea.”

“There are not unpleasant priests who speak English?” Daventry asked, throwing a bit of a damper on Alexei’s compliments to Sophia.

“I do not know of any priest here in St. Petersburg who speaks English,” Alexei said.

“Neither do I,” Pavel agreed.

“In that case, I would submit that they would have to send for someone,” the Countess said with a self-satisfied smile.

“Indeed,” Granger agreed. They arrived at the palace and trooped up the ornate staircase. They found courtiers milling about, much as they had yesterday, so the five of them made their way through, meeting people as they went. Having Alexei lead their group indicated that he had befriended the two Englishmen and cast the power and resources of the Stroganov family over them like a shield.

It had been made clear to Granger that the Tsar ran his Court with a rigid and predictable time schedule, much as he must imagine the military did. Granger grinned to himself, thinking that military timing was probably much less exact than His Imperial Majesty imagined. But the Courtiers knew his way, and as the clocks began to chime, they formed themselves up in orderly rows, lining a pathway that the Tsar would presumably walk down on his way to the chapel.

In what was a bit too much fanfare, trumpeters advanced into the rooms preceding the Tsar and Tsarina, but thankfully they muted their instruments a bit to account for the acoustics in the galleries. They were followed by drummers beating military time. As they entered the gallery Granger was in, everyone bowed or curtsied to their Imperial Majesties, who walked along regally. When the Tsar got to Granger and Daventry, he scowled in a menacing way, surprising Granger who had not experienced this side of the Tsar’s mood.

“I see that despite your words to us a day ago, you are wearing a different uniform, presumably the uniform of your navy, representing the pirates who would prey on innocent neutral nations trying to engage in commerce,” he all but shouted at Granger. Granger could sense the courtiers around him moving away from him, as if to avoid guilt by association, with the exception of the Stroganovs, who stayed closely by his side.

“I apologize profusely if I have offended Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said, bowing again. “I know you are quite an expert on military attire, and I was not sure if you have had a chance to see the uniform for the Royal Navy.”

“It is too simple and utilitarian, like one would expect peasants who had become officers to wear,” he growled.

“Begging Your Imperial Majesty’s pardon, but that utilitarian nature is most useful when one is climbing the rigging or dealing with storms,” Granger said.

“Officers must climb up among the masts?” he asked, shocked.

“Indeed they must, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger affirmed. “I have spent much time at the mastheads of my ships, but fortunately I have not had to walk out on the yards since I was a midshipman.”

The Tsar stared at him, his look steely, then relented a bit. “We can see how that would be useful, to have truncated tails and skirts.”

“Now that I have shown you this uniform, I will not wear it again in Your Imperial Majesty’s presence,” Granger vowed.

“You are a naval officer, you should wear your correct uniform, even if it is rather ugly,” the Tsar said.

“Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said, then took a huge gamble. He usually knew when to inject humor into a conversation, and hoped his timing was right this time. “That is especially good news since I have been told it looks better on me as it matches my blue eyes.”

The Tsar smiled. “I fear, Lord Granger, that you are surrounded by more sycophants than I am.” Granger smiled broadly, the closest thing to laughing that was proper in the Imperial presence. “We have not found a religious tutor for you yet, but we will in good time.”

That shocked Granger, since he had expected the Tsar to push that as a priority. “We will of course follow Your Imperial Majesty’s directives, but would request, if possible, that we could work with a cleric who speaks English.”

“We shall see,” he said, then moved on. The other courtiers looked at Granger with an appraising eye, and accepted him back into their midst. Granger rolled his eyes at their fickle nature.

They followed the Tsar and Tsarina into the chapel and found seats. The service itself reminded Granger more of a Catholic mass than anything, and just like during those services, he took his cues from his hosts, in this case the Stroganovs. He and Daventry stood and knelt when they did, and muttered incomprehensible words when the others spoke. Granger distracted himself by studying the Tsar and his wife. The Tsar faced toward the front of the chapel, but periodically moved his head to peer back behind him and make sure everyone else was paying attention. The Tsarina looked back at Granger and Daventry with a different form of attention, and all but leered at the two of them. Granger was frustrated that she had picked him to satisfy her instead of Daventry, who would be much more enthusiastic, but there was no use arguing about it. To deny her request would make her an eternal enemy. While she was significantly older than they were, she was still very attractive.

When it came time for communion, the congregation stood to go up and receive the sacrament. “As you are not baptized Orthodox Christians, you will not be given the host, but will be given bread that has been blessed,” Pavel said to them sotto voce.

“That will be most welcome, since I am a bit hungry,” Daventry said irreverently.

“I doubt that will satisfy your hunger,” Pavel said. They went up to the altar and the priest, or whatever the Russians called the chap, made an ostentatious show of giving them the blessed bread and not the sacrament. After they were done, Granger watched intently to see who else got only blessed bread.

“Are those people not Orthodox?” Granger asked Pavel.

“Some are not good with the church, while others are foreigners,” he replied. “That is the Austrian ambassador, and a few people behind him is the Prussian Envoy. You will also notice Count von Stedingk, the Swedish ambassador, and Niels Rosenkrantz, the Danish ambassador.”

Granger and Daventry followed the Stroganovs up to the altar and ate their blessed bread, and were relieved when the mass was over and their first Orthodox service had ended.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.

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On 12/15/2020 at 10:18 AM, Will Hawkins said:

It is my understanding that the Russians constructed their wooden ships from pine rather than the oak that the British used, trading the strength of oak for the availability and economy of pine even though it shattered into splinters at a cannon shot and required frequent replacement because of its sensitivity to marine worms. I feel that I should feel a great deal more secure behind a hull of good English oak rather then Continental pine. In either case I can have nothing but admiration for British topmen running barefoot out along spars coated with ice. In this era, my reading leads me to believe that even the 'deck apes' of the Portuguese navy ran barefoot about the decks 'because the officers of the government of Brazil required quiet for their negotiations'. I know that, as a Yankee currently living in Brazil, it is difficult to get shoes on me as well! Even as an older man (88), I find the Brazilian habit of wearing flip-flops only to go into the village a very easy habit to get into.

Mister Will

I'm most comfortable in flip-flops too, but I attribute that to growing up in California. 🙂

You're right about Russian ship construction using pine, although with the way warships were constructed (with multiple layers of wood) the splintering probably had less of an effect than you think.

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