July 16, 1833.—This is a memorable anniversary for me; on it I
complete my three hundred and twenty-third year!
The Wandering Jew?—certainly not. More than eighteen centuries
have passed over his head. In comparison with him, I am
a very young Immortal.
Am I, then, immortal? This is a question which I have asked
myself, by day and night, for now three hundred and three
years, and yet cannot answer it. I detected a grey hair amidst
my brown locks this very day—that surely signifies decay. Yet
it may have remained concealed there for three hundred
years—for some persons have become entirely white-headed
before twenty years of age.
I will tell my story, and my reader shall judge for me. I will
tell my story, and so contrive to pass some few hours of a long
eternity, become so wearisome to me. For ever! Can it be? to
live for ever! I have heard of enchantments, in which the victims
were plunged into a deep sleep, to wake, after a hundred
years, as fresh as ever: I have heard of the Seven Sleepers—thus
to be immortal would not be so burthensome: but,
oh! the weight of never-ending time—the tedious passage of
the still-succeeding hours! How happy was the fabled Nourjahad!—But
to my task.
All the world has heard of Cornelius Agrippa. His memory is
as immortal as his arts have made me. All the world has also
heard of his scholar, who, unawares, raised the foul fiend during
his master's absence, and was destroyed by him. The report,
true or false, of this accident, was attended with many inconveniences
to the renowned philosopher. All his scholars at
once deserted him—his servants disappeared. He had no one
near him to put coals on his ever-burning fires while he slept,
or to attend to the changeful colours of his medicines while he
studied. Experiment after experiment failed, because one pair
of hands was insufficient to complete them: the dark spirits
laughed at him for not being able to retain a single mortal in
I was then very young—very poor—and very much in love. I
had been for about a year the pupil of Cornelius, though I was
absent when this accident took place. On my return, my friends
implored me not to return to the alchymist's abode. I trembled
as I listened to the dire tale they told; I required no second
warning; and when Cornelius came and offered me a purse of
gold if I would remain under his roof, I felt as if Satan himself
tempted me. My teeth chattered—my hair stood on end;—I ran
off as fast as my trembling knees would permit.
My failing steps were directed whither for two years they
had every evening been attracted,—a gently bubbling spring of
pure living water, beside which lingered a dark-haired girl,
whose beaming eyes were fixed on the path I was accustomed
each night to tread. I cannot remember the hour when I did not
love Bertha; we had been neighbours and playmates from infancy,—her
parents, like mine were of humble life, yet respectable,—our
attachment had been a source of pleasure to them.
In an evil hour, a malignant fever carried off both her father
and mother, and Bertha became an orphan. She would have
found a home beneath my paternal roof, but, unfortunately, the
old lady of the near castle, rich, childless, and solitary, declared
her intention to adopt her. Henceforth Bertha was clad
in silk—inhabited a marble palace—and was looked on as being
highly favoured by fortune. But in her new situation among her
new associates, Bertha remained true to the friend of her humbler
days; she often visited the cottage of my father, and when
forbidden to go thither, she would stray towards the neighbouring
wood, and meet me beside its shady fountain.
She often declared that she owed no duty to her new protectress
equal in sanctity to that which bound us. Yet still I was
too poor to marry, and she grew weary of being tormented on
my account. She had a haughty but an impatient spirit, and
grew angry at the obstacle that prevented our union. We met
now after an absence, and she had been sorely beset while I
was away; she complained bitterly, and almost reproached me
for being poor. I replied hastily,—
"I am honest, if I am poor!—were I not, I might soon become
This exclamation produced a thousand questions. I feared to
shock her by owning the truth, but she drew it from me; and
then, casting a look of disdain on me, she said,—
"You pretend to love, and you fear to face the Devil for my
I protested that I had only dreaded to offend her;—while she
dwelt on the magnitude of the reward that I should receive.
Thus encouraged—shamed by her—led on by love and hope,
laughing at my later fears, with quick steps and a light heart, I
returned to accept the offers of the alchymist, and was instantly
installed in my office.
A year passed away. I became possessed of no insignificant
sum of money. Custom had banished my fears. In spite of the
most painful vigilance, I had never detected the trace of a
cloven foot; nor was the studious silence of our abode ever disturbed
by demoniac howls. I still continued my stolen interviews
with Bertha, and Hope dawned on me—Hope—but not
perfect joy: for Bertha fancied that love and security were enemies,
and her pleasure was to divide them in my bosom.
Though true of heart, she was something of a coquette in manner;
I was jealous as a Turk. She slighted me in a thousand
ways, yet would never acknowledge herself to be in the wrong.
She would drive me mad with anger, and then force me to beg
her pardon. Sometimes she fancied that I was not sufficiently
submissive, and then she had some story of a rival, favoured by
her protectress. She was surrounded by silk-clad youths—the
rich and gay. What chance had the sad-robed scholar of Cornelius
compared with these?
On one occasion, the philosopher made such large demands
upon my time, that I was unable to meet her as I was wont. He
was engaged in some mighty work, and I was forced to remain,
day and night, feeding his furnaces and watching his chemical
preparations. Bertha waited for me in vain at the fountain. Her
haughty spirit fired at this neglect; and when at last I stole out
during a few short minutes allotted to me for slumber, and
hoped to be consoled by her, she received me with disdain, dismissed
me in scorn, and vowed that any man should possess
her hand rather than he who could not be in two places at once
for her sake. She would be revenged! And truly she was. In my
dingy retreat I heard that she had been hunting, attended by
Albert Hoffer. Albert Hoffer was favoured by her protectress,
and the three passed in cavalcade before my smoky window.
Methought that they mentioned my name; it was followed by a
laugh of derision, as her dark eyes glanced contemptuously towards
Jealousy, with all its venom and all its misery, entered my
breast. Now I shed a torrent of tears, to think that I should
never call her mine; and, anon, I imprecated a thousand curses
on her inconstancy. Yet, still I must stir the fires of the alchymist,
still attend on the changes of his unintelligible medicines.
Cornelius had watched for three days and nights, nor closed
his eyes. The progress of his alembics was slower than he expected:
in spite of his anxiety, sleep weighted upon his eyelids.
Again and again he threw off drowsiness with more than human
energy; again and again it stole away his senses. He eyed
his crucibles wistfully. "Not ready yet," he murmured; "will another
night pass before the work is accomplished? Winzy, you
are vigilant—you are faithful—you have slept, my boy—you
slept last night. Look at that glass vessel. The liquid it contains
is of a soft rose-colour: the moment it begins to change hue,
awaken me—till then I may close my eyes. First, it will turn
white, and then emit golden flashes; but wait not till then;
when the rose-colour fades, rouse me." I scarcely heard the
last words, muttered, as they were, in sleep. Even then he did
not quite yield to nature. "Winzy, my boy," he again said, "do
not touch the vessel—do not put it to your lips; it is a philtre—a
philtre to cure love; you would not cease to love your Bertha—beware
And he slept. His venerable head sunk on his breast, and I
scarce heard his regular breathing. For a few minutes I
watched the vessel—the rosy hue of the liquid remained unchanged.
Then my thoughts wandered—they visited the fountain,
and dwelt on a thousand charming scenes never to be renewed—never!
Serpents and adders were in my heart as the
word "Never!" half formed itself on my lips. False girl!—false
and cruel! Never more would she smile on me as that evening
she smiled on Albert. Worthless, detested woman! I would not
remain unrevenged—she should see Albert expire at her
feet—she should die beneath my vengeance. She had smiled in
disdain and triumph—she knew my wretchedness and her
power. Yet what power had she?—the power of exciting my
hate—my utter scorn—my—oh, all but indifference! Could I attain
that—could I regard her with careless eyes, transferring
my rejected love to one fairer and more true, that were indeed
A bright flash darted before my eyes. I had forgotten the
medicine of the adept; I gazed on it with wonder: flashes of
admirable beauty, more bright than those which the diamond
emits when the sun's rays are on it, glanced from the surface
of the liquid; and odour the most fragrant and grateful stole
over my sense; the vessel seemed one globe of living radiance,
lovely to the eye, and most inviting to the taste. The first
thought, instinctively inspired by the grosser sense, was, I
will—I must drink. I raised the vessel to my lips. "It will cure
me of love—of torture!" Already I had quaffed half of the most
delicious liquor ever tasted by the palate of man, when the
philosopher stirred. I started—I dropped the glass—the fluid
flamed and glanced along the floor, while I felt Cornelius's
gripe at my throat, as he shrieked aloud, "Wretch! you have
destroyed the labour of my life!"
The philosopher was totally unaware that I had drunk any
portion of his drug. His idea was, and I gave a tacit assent to it,
that I had raised the vessel from curiosity, and that, frightened
at its brightness, and the flashes of intense light it gave forth, I
had let it fall. I never undeceived him. The fire of the medicine
was quenched—the fragrance died away—he grew calm, as a
philosopher should under the heaviest trials, and dismissed me
I will not attempt to describe the sleep of glory and bliss
which bathed my soul in paradise during the remaining hours
of that memorable night. Words would be faint and shallow
types of my enjoyment, or of the gladness that possessed my
bosom when I woke. I trod air—my thoughts were in heaven.
Earth appeared heaven, and my inheritance upon it was to be
one trance of delight. "This it is to be cured of love," I thought;
"I will see Bertha this day, and she will find her lover cold and
regardless; too happy to be disdainful, yet how utterly indifferent
The hours danced away. The philosopher, secure that he had
once succeeded, and believing that he might again, began to
concoct the same medicine once more. He was shut up with his
books and drugs, and I had a holiday. I dressed myself with
care; I looked in an old but polished shield which served me for
a mirror; methoughts my good looks had wonderfully improved.
I hurried beyond the precincts of the town, joy in my
soul, the beauty of heaven and earth around me. I turned my
steps toward the castle—I could look on its lofty turrets with
lightness of heart, for I was cured of love. My Bertha saw me
afar off, as I came up the avenue. I know not what sudden impulse
animated her bosom, but at the sight, she sprung with a
light fawn-like bound down the marble steps, and was hastening
towards me. But I had been perceived by another person.
The old high-born hag, who called herself her protectress, and
was her tyrant, had seen me also; she hobbled, panting, up the
terrace; a page, as ugly as herself, held up her train, and
fanned her as she hurried along, and stopped my fair girl with
a "How, now, my bold mistress? whither so fast? Back to your
cage—hawks are abroad!"
Bertha clasped her hands—her eyes were still bent on my approaching
figure. I saw the contest. How I abhorred the old
crone who checked the kind impulses of my Bertha's softening
heart. Hitherto, respect for her rank had caused me to avoid
the lady of the castle; now I disdained such trivial considerations.
I was cured of love, and lifted above all human fears; I
hastened forwards, and soon reached the terrace. How lovely
Bertha looked! her eyes flashing fire, her cheeks glowing with
impatience and anger, she was a thousand times more graceful
and charming than ever. I no longer loved—oh no! I adored—worshipped—idolized
She had that morning been persecuted, with more than usual
vehemence, to consent to an immediate marriage with my
rival. She was reproached with the encouragement that she
had shown him—she was threatened with being turned out of
doors with disgrace and shame. Her proud spirit rose in arms
at the threat; but when she remembered the scorn that she had
heaped upon me, and how, perhaps, she had thus lost one
whom she now regarded as her only friend, she wept with remorse
and rage. At that moment I appeared. "Oh, Winzy!" she
exclaimed, "take me to your mother's cot; swiftly let me leave
the detested luxuries and wretchedness of this noble dwelling—take
me to poverty and happiness."
I clasped her in my arms with transport. The old dame was
speechless with fury, and broke forth into invective only when
we were far on the road to my natal cottage. My mother received
the fair fugitive, escaped from a gilt cage to nature and
liberty, with tenderness and joy; my father, who loved her, welcomed
her heartily; it was a day of rejoicing, which did not
need the addition of the celestial potion of the alchymist to
steep me in delight.
Soon after this eventful day, I became the husband of Bertha.
I ceased to be the scholar of Cornelius, but I continued his
friend. I always felt grateful to him for having, unaware, procured
me that delicious draught of a divine elixir, which, instead
of curing me of love (sad cure! solitary and joyless remedy
for evils which seem blessings to the memory), had inspired
me with courage and resolution, thus winning for me an
inestimable treasure in my Bertha.
I often called to mind that period of trance-like inebriation
with wonder. The drink of Cornelius had not fulfilled the task
for which he affirmed that it had been prepared, but its effects
were more potent and blissful than words can express. They
had faded by degrees, yet they lingered long—and painted life
in hues of splendour. Bertha often wondered at my lightness of
heart and unaccustomed gaiety; for, before, I had been rather
serious, or even sad, in my disposition. She loved me the better
for my cheerful temper, and our days were winged by joy.
Five years afterwards I was suddenly summoned to the bedside
of the dying Cornelius. He had sent for me in haste, conjuring
my instant presence. I found him stretched on his pallet,
enfeebled even to death; all of life that yet remained animated
his piercing eyes, and they were fixed on a glass vessel, full of
"Behold," he said, in a broken and inward voice, "the vanity
of human wishes! a second time my hopes are about to be
crowned, a second time they are destroyed. Look at that liquor—you
may remember five years ago I had prepared the
same, with the same success;— then, as now, my thirsting lips
expected to taste the immortal elixir —you dashed it from me!
and at present it is too late."
He spoke with difficulty, and fell back on his pillow. I could
not help saying,—
"How, revered master, can a cure for love restore you to
A faint smile gleamed across his face as I listened earnestly
to his scarcely intelligible answer.
"A cure for love and for all things—the Elixir of Immortality.
Ah! if now I might drink, I should live for ever!"
As he spoke, a golden flash gleamed from the fluid; a well-remembered
fragrance stole over the air; he raised himself, all
weak as he was—strength seemed miraculously to re-enter his
frame— he stretched forth his hand—a loud explosion startled
me—a ray of fire shot up from the elixir, and the glass vessel
which contained it was shivered to atoms! I turned my eyes towards
the philosopher; he had fallen back—his eyes were
glassy—his features rigid—he was dead!
But I lived, and was to live for ever! So said the unfortunate
alchymist, and for a few days I believed his words. I remembered
the glorious intoxication that had followed my
stolen draught. I reflected on the change I had felt in my
frame—in my soul. The bounding elasticity of the one—the
buoyant lightness of the other. I surveyed myself in a mirror,
and could perceive no change in my features during the space
of the five years which had elapsed. I remembered the radiant
hues and grateful scent of that delicious beverage—worthy the
gift it was capable of bestowing—I was, then, IMMORTAL!
A few days after I laughed at my credulity. The old proverb,
that "a prophet is least regarded in his own country," was true
with respect to me and my defunct master. I loved him as a
man—I respected him as a sage—but I derided the notion that
he could command the powers of darkness, and laughed at the
superstitious fears with which he was regarded by the vulgar.
He was a wise philosopher, but had no acquaintance with any
spirits but those clad in flesh and blood. His science was
simply human; and human science, I soon persuaded myself,
could never conquer nature's laws so far as to imprison the
soul for ever within its carnal habitation. Cornelius had brewed
a soul-refreshing drink—more inebriating than wine— sweeter
and more fragrant than any fruit: it possessed probably strong
medicinal powers, imparting gladness to the heart and vigour
to the limbs; but its effects would wear out; already they were
diminished in my frame. I was a lucky fellow to have quaffed
health and joyous spirits, and perhaps a long life, at my
master's hands; but my good fortune ended there: longevity
was far different from immortality.
I continued to entertain this belief for many years. Sometimes
a thought stole across me—Was the alchymist indeed deceived?
But my habitual credence was, that I should meet the
fate of all the children of Adam at my appointed time—a little
late, but still at a natural age. Yet it was certain that I retained
a wonderfully youthful look. I was laughed at for my vanity in
consulting the mirror so often, but I consulted it in vain—my
brow was untrenched—my cheeks—my eyes—my whole person
continued as untarnished as in my twentieth year.
I was troubled. I looked at the faded beauty of Bertha—I
seemed more like her son. By degrees our neighbors began to
make similar observations, and I found at last that I went by
the name of the Scholar bewitched. Bertha herself grew uneasy.
She became jealous and peevish, and at length she began
to question me. We had no children; we were all in all to each
other; and though, as she grew older, her vivacious spirit became
a little allied to ill-temper, and her beauty sadly diminished,
I cherished her in my heart as the mistress I idolized,
the wife I had sought and won with such perfect love.
At last our situation became intolerable: Bertha was fifty—I
twenty years of age. I had, in very shame, in some measure adopted
the habits of advanced age; I no longer mingled in the
dance among the young and gay, but my heart bounded along
with them while I restrained my feet; and a sorry figure I cut
among the Nestors of our village. But before the time I mention,
things were altered—we were universally shunned; we
were—at least, I was—reported to have kept up an iniquitous
acquaintance with some of my former master's supposed
friends. Poor Bertha was pitied, but deserted. I was regarded
with horror and detestation.
What was to be done? we sat by our winter fire—poverty had
made itself felt, for none would buy the produce of my farm;
and often I had been forced to journey twenty miles to some
place where I was not known, to dispose of our property. It is
true, we had saved something for an evil day—that day was
We sat by our lone fireside—the old-hearted youth and his
antiquated wife. Again Bertha insisted on knowing the truth;
she recapitulated all she had ever heard said about me, and added
her own observations. She conjured me to cast off the
spell; she described how much more comely grey hairs were
than my chestnut locks; she descanted on the reverence and
respect due to age—how preferable to the slight regard paid to
mere children: could I imagine that the despicable gifts of
youth and good looks outweighed disgrace, hatred and scorn?
Nay, in the end I should be burnt as a dealer in the black art,
while she, to whom I had not deigned to communicate any portion
of my good fortune, might be stoned as my accomplice. At
length she insinuated that I must share my secret with her, and
bestow on her like benefits to those I myself enjoyed, or she
would denounce me—and then she burst into tears.
Thus beset, methought it was the best way to tell the truth. I
reveled it as tenderly as I could, and spoke only of a very long
life, not of immortality—which representation, indeed, coincided
best with my own ideas. When I ended I rose and said,—
"And now, my Bertha, will you denounce the lover of your
youth?— You will not, I know. But it is too hard, my poor wife,
that you should suffer for my ill-luck and the accursed arts of
Cornelius. I will leave you—you have wealth enough, and
friends will return in my absence. I will go; young as I seem
and strong as I am, I can work and gain my bread among
strangers, unsuspected and unknown. I loved you in youth; God
is my witness that I would not desert you in age, but that your
safety and happiness require it."
I took my cap and moved toward the door; in a moment
Bertha's arms were round my neck, and her lips were pressed
to mine. "No, my husband, my Winzy," she said, "you shall not
go alone—take me with you; we will remove from this place,
and, as you say, among strangers we shall be unsuspected and
safe. I am not so old as quite to shame you, my Winzy; and I
daresay the charm will soon wear off, and, with the blessing of
God, you will become more elderly-looking, as is fitting; you
shall not leave me."
I returned the good soul's embrace heartily. "I will not, my
Bertha; but for your sake I had not thought of such a thing. I
will be your true, faithful husband while you are spared to me,
and do my duty by you to the last."
The next day we prepared secretly for our emigration. We
were obliged to make great pecuniary sacrifices—it could not
be helped. We realized a sum sufficient, at least, to maintain us
while Bertha lived; and, without saying adieu to any one, quitted
our native country to take refuge in a remote part of western
It was a cruel thing to transport poor Bertha from her native
village, and the friends of her youth, to a new country, new language,
new customs. The strange secret of my destiny
rendered this removal immaterial to me; but I compassionated
her deeply, and was glad to perceive that she found compensation
for her misfortunes in a variety of little ridiculous circumstances.
Away from all tell-tale chroniclers, she sought to decrease
the apparent disparity of our ages by a thousand feminine
arts—rouge, youthful dress, and assumed juvenility of manner.
I could not be angry. Did I not myself wear a mask? Why
quarrel with hers, because it was less successful? I grieved
deeply when I remembered that this was my Bertha, whom I
had loved so fondly and won with such transport—the darkeyed,
dark-haired girl, with smiles of enchanting archness and
a step like a fawn—this mincing, simpering, jealous old woman.
I should have revered her grey locks and withered cheeks; but
thus!—It was my work, I knew; but I did not the less deplore
this type of human weakness.
Her jealously never slept. Her chief occupation was to discover
that, in spite of outward appearances, I was myself growing
old. I verily believe that the poor soul loved me truly in her
heart, but never had woman so tormenting a mode of displaying
fondness. She would discern wrinkles in my face and decrepitude
in my walk, while I bounded along in youthful vigour,
the youngest looking of twenty youths. I never dared address
another woman. On one occasion, fancying that the belle of the
village regarded me with favouring eyes, she brought me a
grey wig. Her constant discourse among her acquaintances
was, that though I looked so young, there was ruin at work
within my frame; and she affirmed that the worst symptom
about me was my apparent health. My youth was a disease, she
said, and I ought at all times to prepare, if not for a sudden and
awful death, at least to awake some morning white-headed and
bowed down with all the marks of advanced years. I let her
talk—I often joined in her conjectures. Her warnings chimed in
with my never-ceasing speculations concerning my state, and I
took an earnest, though painful, interest in listening to all that
her quick wit and excited imagination could say on the subject.
Why dwell on these minute circumstances? We lived on for
many long years. Bertha became bedrid and paralytic; I nursed
her as a mother might a child. She grew peevish, and still
harped upon one string—of how long I should survive her. It
has ever been a source of consolation to me, that I performed
my duty scrupulously towards her. She had been mine in
youth, she was mine in age; and at last, when I heaped the sod
over her corpse, I wept to feel that I had lost all that really
bound me to humanity.
Since then how many have been my cares and woes, how few
and empty my enjoyments! I pause here in my history—I will
pursue it no further. A sailor without rudder or compass,
tossed on a stormy sea —a traveller lost on a widespread
heath, without landmark or stone to guide him—such I have
been: more lost, more hopeless than either. A nearing ship, a
gleam from some far cot, may save them; but I have no beacon
except the hope of death.
Death! mysterious, ill-visaged friend of weak humanity! Why
alone of all mortals have you cast me from your sheltering
fold? Oh, for the peace of the grave! the deep silence of the
iron-bound tomb! that thought would cease to work in my
brain, and my heart beat no more with emotions varied only by
new forms of sadness!
Am I immortal? I return to my first question. In the first
place, is it not more probably that the beverage of the alchymist
was fraught rather with longevity than eternal life? Such is
my hope. And then be it remembered, that I only drank half of
the potion prepared by him. Was not the whole necessary to
complete the charm? To have drained half the Elixir of Immortality
is but to be half-immortal—my For-ever is thus truncated
But again, who shall number the years of the half of eternity?
I often try to imagine by what rule the infinite may be divided.
Sometimes I fancy age advancing upon me. One grey hair I
have found. Fool! do I lament? Yes, the fear of age and death
often creeps coldly into my heart; and the more I live, the more
I dread death, even while I abhor life. Such an enigma is
man—born to perish—when he wars, as I do, against the established
laws of his nature.
But for this anomaly of feeling surely I might die: the medicine
of the alchymist would not be proof against
fire—sword—and the strangling waters. I have gazed upon the
blue depths of many a placid lake, and the tumultuous rushing
of many a mighty river, and have said, peace inhabits those waters;
yet I have turned my steps away, to live yet another day. I
have asked myself, whether suicide would be a crime in one to
whom thus only the portals of the other world could be opened.
I have done all, except presenting myself as a soldier or duelist,
an objection of destruction to my—no, not my fellow mortals,
and therefore I have shrunk away. They are not my fellows.
The inextinguishable power of life in my frame, and their
ephemeral existence, places us wide as the poles asunder. I
could not raise a hand against the meanest or the most powerful
Thus have I lived on for many a year—alone, and weary of
myself—desirous of death, yet never dying—a mortal immortal.
Neither ambition nor avarice can enter my mind, and the ardent
love that gnaws at my heart, never to be returned—never
to find an equal on which to expend itself—lives there only to
This very day I conceived a design by which I may end all—
without self-slaughter, without making another man a Cain—an
expedition, which mortal frame can never survive, even endued
with the youth and strength that inhabits mine. Thus I shall put
my immortality to the test, and rest for ever—or return, the
wonder and benefactor of the human species.
Before I go, a miserable vanity has caused me to pen these
pages. I would not die, and leave no name behind. Three centuries
have passed since I quaffed the fatal beverage; another
year shall not elapse before, encountering gigantic
dangers—warring with the powers of frost in their home—beset
by famine, toil, and tempest—I yield this body, too tenacious
a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom, to the destructive
elements of air and water; or, if I survive, my name
shall be recorded as one of the most famous among the sons of
men; and, my task achieved, I shall adopt more resolute
means, and, by scattering and annihilating the atoms that compose
my frame, set at liberty the life imprisoned within, and so
cruelly prevented from soaring from this dim earth to a sphere
more congenial to its immortal essence.
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