Howard Roark Laughed.
He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.
The lake below was only a thin steel ring that cut the rocks in half. The rocks went on into the depth, unchanged. They began and ended in the sky. So that the world seemed suspended in space, an island floating on nothing, anchored to the feet of the man on the cliff.
His body leaned back against the sky. It was a body of long straight lines and angles, each curve broken into planes. He stood, rigid, his hands hanging at his sides, palms out. He felt his shoulder blades drawn fight together, the curve of his neck, and the weight of the blood in his hands. He felt the wind behind him, in the hollow of his spine. The wind waved his hair against the sky. His hair was neither blond nor red, but the exact color of ripe orange rind.
He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.
He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it. He knew also that he would not think, because everything was clear to him already, because the plan had been set long ago, and because he wanted to laugh.
He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite.
He did not laugh as his eyes stopped in awareness of the earth around him. His face was like a law of nature a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint.
He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of iron ore under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky.
These rocks, he thought, are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them.
Then he shook his head, because he remembered that morning and that there were many things to be done. He stepped to the edge, raised his arms, and dived down into the sky below.
He cut straight across the lake to the shore ahead. He reached the rocks where he had left his clothes. He looked regretfully about him. For three years, ever since he had lived in Stanton, he had come here for his only relaxation, to swim, to rest, to think, to be alone and alive, whenever he could find one hour to spare, which had not been often. In his new freedom the first thing he had wanted to do was to come here, because he knew that he was coming for the last time. That morning he had been expelled from the Architectural School of the Stanton Institute of Technology.
He pulled his clothes on: old denim trousers, sandals, a shirt with short sleeves and most of its buttons missing. He swung down a narrow trail among the boulders, to a path running through a green slope, to the road below.
He walked swiftly, with a loose, lazy expertness of motion. He walked down the long road, in the sun. Far ahead Stanton lay sprawled on the coast of Massachusetts, a little town as a setting for the gem of its existence the great institute rising on a hill beyond.
The township of Stanton began with a dump. A gray mound of refuse rose in the grass. It smoked faintly. Tin cans glittered in the sun. The road led past the first houses to a church. The church was a Gothic monument of shingles painted pigeon blue. It had stout wooden buttresses supporting nothing. It had stained-glass windows with heavy traceries of imitation stone. It opened the way into long streets edged by tight, exhibitionist lawns. Behind the lawns stood wooden piles tortured out of all shape: twisted into gables, turrets, dormers; bulging with porches; crushed under huge, sloping roofs. White curtains floated at the windows. A garbage can stood at a side door, flowing over. An old Pekinese sat upon a cushion on a door step, its mouth drooling. A line of diapers fluttered in the wind between the columns of a porch.
People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people. Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern.
He crossed the heart of Stanton, a broad green edged by shop windows. The windows displayed new placards announcing: WELCOME TO THE CLASS OF '22! GOOD LUCK, CLASS OF '22! The Class of '22 of the Stanton Institute of Technology was holding its commencement exercises that afternoon.
Roark swung into a side street, where at the end of a long row, on a knoll over a green ravine, stood the house of Mrs. Keating. He had boarded at that house for three years.
Mrs. Keating was out on the porch. She was feeding a couple of canaries in a cage suspended over the railing. Her pudgy little hand stopped in mid-air when she saw him. She watched him with curiosity. She tried to pull her mouth into a proper expression of sympathy; she succeeded only in betraying that the process was an effort.
He was crossing the porch without noticing her. She stopped him.
"Mr. Roark, I'm so sorry about " she hesitated demurely " about what happened this morning."
"What?" he asked.
"Your being expelled from the Institute. I can't tell you how sorry I am. I only want you to know that I feel for you."
He stood looking at her. She knew that he did not see her. No, she thought, it was not that exactly. He always looked straight at people and his damnable eyes never missed a thing, it was only that he made people feel as if they did not exist. He just stood looking. He would not answer.
"But what I say," she continued, "is that if one suffers in this world, it's on account of error. Of course, you'll have to give up the architect profession now, won't you? But then a young man can always earn a decent living clerking or selling or something.
He turned to go.
"Oh, Mr. Roark!" she called.
"The Dean phoned for you while you were out."
For once, she expected some emotion from him; and an emotion would be the equivalent of seeing him broken. She did not know what it was about him that had always made her want to see him broken.
"Yes?" he asked.
"The Dean," she repeated uncertainly, trying to recapture her effect. "The Dean himself through his secretary."
"She said to tell you that the Dean wanted to see you immediately the moment you got back."
"What do you suppose he can want now?"
"I don't know."
He had said: "I don't know." She had heard distinctly: "I don't give a damn." She stared at him incredulously.
"By the way," she said, "Petey is graduating today." She said it without apparent relevance.
"Today? Oh, yes."
"It's a great day for me. When I think of how I skimped and slaved to put my boy through school. Not that I'm complaining. I'm not one to complain. Petey's a brilliant boy."
She stood drawn up. Her stout little body was corseted so tightly under the starched folds of her cotton dress that it seemed to squeeze the fat out to her wrists and ankles.
"But of course," she went on rapidly, with the eagerness of her favorite subject, "I'm not one to boast. Some mothers are lucky and others just aren't. We're all in our rightful place. You just watch Petey from now on. I'm not one to want my boy to kill himself with work and I'll thank the Lord for any small success that comes his way. But if that boy isn't the greatest architect of this U.S.A., his mother will want to know the reason why!"
He moved to go.
"But what am I doing, gabbing with you like that!" she said brightly. "You've got to hurry and change and run along. The Dean's waiting for you."
She stood looking after him through the screen door, watching his gaunt figure move across the rigid neatness of her parlor. He always made her uncomfortable in the house, with a vague feeling of apprehension, as if she were waiting to see him swing out suddenly and smash her coffee tables, her Chinese vases, her framed photographs. He had never shown any inclination to do so. She kept expecting it, without knowing why.
Roark went up the stairs to his room. It was a large, bare room, made luminous by the clean glow of whitewash. Mrs. Keating had never had the feeling that Roark really lived there. He had not added a single object to the bare necessities of furniture which she had provided; no pictures, no pennants, no cheering human touch. He had brought nothing to the room but his clothes and his drawings; there were few clothes and too many drawings; they were stacked high in one corner; sometimes she thought that the drawings lived there, not the man.
Roark walked now to these drawings; they were the first things to be packed. He lifted one of them, then the next, then another. He stood looking at the broad sheets.
They were sketches of buildings such as had never stood on the face of the earth. They were as the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him. There was nothing to be said of them, except that each structure was inevitably what it had to be. It was not as if the draftsman had sat over them, pondering laboriously, piecing together doors, windows and columns, as his whim dictated and as the books prescribed. It was as if the buildings had sprung from the earth and from some living force, complete, unalterably right. The hand that had made the sharp pencil lines still had much to learn. But not a line seemed superfluous, not a needed plane was missing. The structures were austere and simple, until one looked at them and realized what work, what complexity of method, what tension of thought had achieved the simplicity. No laws had dictated a single detail. The buildings were not Classical, they were not Gothic, they were not Renaissance. They were only Howard Roark.
He stopped, looking at a sketch. It was one that had never satisfied him. He had designed it as an exercise he had given himself, apart from his schoolwork; he did that often when he found some particular site and stopped before it to think of what building it should bear. He had spent nights staring at this sketch, wondering what he had missed. Glancing at it now, unprepared, he saw the mistake he had made.
He flung the sketch down on the table, he bent over it, he slashed lines straight through his neat drawing. He stopped once in a while and stood looking at it, his finger tips pressed to the paper; as if his hands held the building. His hands had long fingers, hard veins, prominent joints and wristbones.
An hour later he heard a knock at his door.
"Come in!" he snapped, without stopping.
"Mr. Roark!" gasped Mrs. Keating, staring at him from the threshold. "What on earth are you doing?"
He turned and looked at her, trying to remember who she was.
"How about the Dean?" she moaned. "The Dean that's waiting for you?"
"Oh," said Roark. "Oh, yes. I forgot."
"Yes." There was a note of wonder in his voice, astonished by her astonishment.
"Well, all I can say," she choked, "is that it serves you right! It just serves you right. And with the commencement beginning at four-thirty, how do you expect him to have time to see you?"
"I'll go at once, Mrs. Keating."
It was not her curiosity alone that prompted her to action; it was a secret fear that the sentence of the Board might be revoked. He went to the bathroom at the end of the hall; she watched him washing his hands, throwing his loose, straight hair back into a semblance of order. He came out again, he was on his way to the stairs before she realized that he was leaving.
"Mr. Roark!" she gasped, pointing at his clothes. "You're not going like this?"
"But it's your Dean!"
"Not any more, Mrs. Keating."
She thought, aghast, that he said it as if he were actually happy.
The Stanton Institute of Technology stood on a hill, its crenelated walls raised as a crown over the city stretched below. It looked like a medieval fortress, with a Gothic cathedral grafted to its belly. The fortress was eminently suited to its purpose, with stout, brick walls, a few slits wide enough for sentries, ramparts behind which defending archers could hide, and corner turrets from which boiling oil could be poured upon the attacker should such an emergency arise in an institute of learning. The cathedral rose over it in lace splendor, a fragile defense against two great enemies: light and air.
The Dean's office looked like a chapel, a pool of dreamy twilight fed by one tall window of stained glass. The twilight flowed in through the garments of stiff saints, their arms contorted at the elbows. A red spot of light and a purple one rested respectively upon two genuine gargoyles squatting at the corners of a fireplace that had never been used. A green spot stood in the center of a picture of the Parthenon, suspended over the fireplace.
When Roark entered the office, the outlines of the Dean's figure swam dimly behind his desk, which was carved like a confessional. He was a short, plumpish gentleman whose spreading flesh was held in check by an indomitable dignity.
"Ah, yes, Roark," he smiled. "Do sit down, please."
Roark sat down. The Dean entwined his fingers on his stomach and waited for the plea he expected. No plea came. The Dean cleared his throat.
"It will be unnecessary for me to express my regret at the unfortunate event of this morning," he began, "since I take it for granted that you have always known my sincere interest in your welfare."
"Quite unnecessary," said Roark.
The Dean looked at him dubiously, but continued:
"Needless to say, I did not vote against you. I abstained entirely. But you may be glad to know that you had quite a determined little group of defenders at the meeting. Small, but determined. Your professor of structural engineering acted quite the crusader on your behalf. So did your professor of mathematics. Unfortunately, those who felt it their duty to vote for your expulsion quite outnumbered the others. Professor Peterkin, your critic of design, made an issue of the matter. He went so far as to threaten us with his resignation unless you were expelled. You must realize that you have given Professor Peterkin great provocation."
"I do," said Roark.
"That, you see, was the trouble. I am speaking of your attitude towards the subject of architectural design. You have never given it the attention it deserves. And yet, you have been excellent in all the engineering sciences. Of course, no one denies the importance of structural engineering to a future architect, but why go to extremes? Why neglect what may be termed the artistic and inspirational side of your profession and concentrate on all those dry, technical, mathematical subjects? You intended to become an architect, not a civil engineer."
"Isn't this superfluous?" Roark asked. "It's past. There's no point in discussing my choice of subjects now."
"I am endeavoring to be helpful, Roark. You must be fair about this. You cannot say that you were not given many warnings before this happened."
The Dean moved in his chair. Roark made him uncomfortable. Roark's eyes were fixed on him politely. The Dean thought, there's nothing wrong with the way he's looking at me, in fact it's quite correct, most properly attentive; only, it's as if I were not here.
"Every problem you were given," the Dean went on, "every project you had to design what did you do with it? Every one of them done in that well, I cannot call it a style in that incredible manner of yours. It is contrary to every principle we have tried to teach you, contrary to all established precedents and traditions of Art. You may think you are what is called a modernist, but it isn't even that. It is...it is sheer insanity, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
"When you were given projects that left the choice of style up to you and you turned in one of your wild stunts well, frankly, your teachers passed you because they did not know what to make of it. But, when you were given an exercise in the historical styles, a Tudor chapel or a French opera house to design and you turned in something that looked like a lot of boxes piled together without rhyme or reason would you say it was an answer to an assignment or plain insubordination?"
"It was insubordination," said Roark.
"We wanted to give you a chance in view of your brilliant record in all other subjects. But when you turn in this " the Dean slammed his fist down on a sheet spread before him "this as a Renaissance villa for your final project of the year really, my boy, it was too much!"
The sheet bore a drawing a house of glass and concrete. In the corner there was a sharp, angular signature: Howard Roark.
"How do you expect us to pass you after this?"
"You left us no choice in the matter. Naturally, you would feel bitterness toward us at this moment, but..."
"I feel nothing of the kind," said Roark quietly. "I owe you an apology. I don't usually let things happen to me. I made a mistake this time. I shouldn't have waited for you to throw me out. I should have left long ago."
"Now, now, don't get discouraged. This is not the right attitude to take. Particularly in view of what I am going to tell you."
The Dean smiled and leaned forward confidentially, enjoying the overture to a good deed.
"Here is the real purpose of our interview. I was anxious to let you know as soon as possible. I did not wish to leave you disheartened. Oh, I did, personally, take a chance with the President's temper when I mentioned this to him, but...Mind you, he did not commit himself, but...Here is how things stand: now that you realize how serious it is, if you take a year off, to rest, to think it over shall we say to grow up? there might be a chance of our taking you back. Mind you, I cannot promise anything this is strictly unofficial it would be most unusual, but in view of the circumstances and of your brilliant record, there might be a very good chance."
Roark smiled. It was not a happy smile, it was not a grateful one. It was a simple, easy smile and it was amused.
"I don't think you understood me," said Roark. "What made you suppose that I want to come back?"
"I won't be back. I have nothing further to learn here."
"I don't understand you," said the Dean stiffly.
"Is there any point in explaining? It's of no interest to you any longer."
"You will kindly explain yourself."
"If you wish. I want to be an architect, not an archeologist. I see no purpose in doing Renaissance villas. Why learn to design them, when I'll never build them?"
"My dear boy, the great style of the Renaissance is far from dead. Houses of that style are being erected every day."
"They are. And they will be. But not by me."
"Come, come, now, this is childish."
"I came here to learn about building. When I was given a project, its only value to me was to learn to solve it as I would solve a real one in the future. I did them the way I'll build them. I've learned all I could learn here in the structural sciences of which you don't approve. One more year of drawing Italian post cards would give me nothing."
An hour ago the Dean had wished that this interview would proceed as calmly as possible. Now he wished that Roark would display some emotion; it seemed unnatural for him to be so quietly natural in the circumstances.
"Do you mean to tell me that you're thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?"
"My dear fellow, who will let you?"
"That's not the point. The point is, who will stop me?"
"Look here, this is serious. I am sorry that I haven't had a long, earnest talk with you much earlier....I know, I know, I know, don't interrupt me, you've seen a modernistic building or two, and it gave you ideas. But do you realize what a passing fancy that whole so-called modern movement is? You must learn to understand and it has been proved by all authorities that everything beautiful in architecture has been done already. There is a treasure mine in every style of the past. We can only choose from the great masters. Who are we to improve upon them? We can only attempt, respectfully, to repeat."
"Why?" asked Howard Roark.
No, thought the Dean, no, he hasn't said anything else; it's a perfectly innocent word; he's not threatening me.
"But it's self-evident!" said the Dean.
"Look," said Roark evenly, and pointed at the window. "Can you see the campus and the town? Do you see how many men are walking and living down there? Well, I don't give a damn what any or all of them think about architecture or about anything else, for that matter. Why should I consider what their grandfathers thought of it?"
"That is our sacred tradition."
"For heaven's sake, can't you stop being so naive about it?"
"But I don't understand. Why do you want me to think that this is great architecture?" He pointed to the picture of the Parthenon.
"That," said the Dean, "is the Parthenon."
"So it is."
"I haven't the time to waste on silly questions."
"All right, then." Roark got up, he took a long ruler from the desk, he walked to the picture. "Shall I tell you what's rotten about it?"
"It's the Parthenon!" said the Dean.
"Yes, God damn it, the Parthenon!"
The ruler struck the glass over the picture.
"Look," said Roark. "The famous flutings on the famous columns what are they there for? To hide the joints in wood when columns were made of wood, only these aren't, they're marble. The triglyphs, what are they? Wood. Wooden beams, the way they had to be laid when people began to build wooden shacks. Your Greeks took marble and they made copies of their wooden structures out of it, because others had done it that way. Then your masters of the Renaissance came along and made copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Why?"
The Dean sat watching him curiously. Something puzzled him, not in the words, but in Roark's manner of saying them.
"Rules?" said Roark. "Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it's made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn't borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn't borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway to express it."
"But all the proper forms of expression have been discovered long ago."
"Expression of what? The Parthenon did not serve the same purpose as its wooden ancestor. An airline terminal does not serve the same purpose as the Parthenon. Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right so long as it's not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don't know. I've never known it. I'd like to understand."
"For heaven's sake," said the Dean. "Sit down....That's better....Would you mind very much putting that ruler down?...Thank you....Now listen to me. No one has ever denied the importance of modern technique to an architect. We must learn to adapt the beauty of the past to the needs of the present. The voice of the past is the voice of the people. Nothing has ever been invented by one man in architecture. The proper creative process is a slow, gradual, anonymous, collective one, in which each man collaborates with all the others and subordinates himself to the standards of the majority."
"But you see," said Roark quietly, "I have, let's say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I've chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I'm only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one."
"How old are you?" asked the Dean.
"Twenty-two," said Roark.
"Quite excusable," said the Dean; he seemed relieved. "You'll outgrow all that." He smiled. "The old standards have lived for thousands of years and nobody has been able to improve upon them. What are your modernists? A transient mode, exhibitionists trying to attract attention. Have you observed the course of their careers? Can you name one who has achieved any permanent distinction? Look at Henry Cameron. A great man, a leading architect twenty years ago. What is he today? Lucky if he gets once a year a garage to remodel. A bum and a drunkard, who..."
"We won't discuss Henry Cameron."
"Oh? Is he a friend of yours?"
"No. But I've seen his buildings."
"And you found them..."
"I said we won't discuss Henry Cameron."
"Very well. You must realize that I am allowing you a great deal of...shall we say, latitude? I am not accustomed to hold a discussion with a student who behaves in your manner. However, I am anxious to forestall, if possible, what appears to be a tragedy, the spectacle of a young man of your obvious mental gifts setting out deliberately to make a mess of his life."
The Dean wondered why he had promised the professor of mathematics to do all he could for this boy. Merely because the professor had said: "This," and pointed to Roark's project, "is a great man." A great man, thought the Dean, or a criminal. The Dean winced. He did not approve of either.
He thought of what he had heard about Roark's past. Roark's father had been a steel puddler somewhere in Ohio and had died long ago. The boy's entrance papers showed no record of nearest relatives. When asked about it, Roark had said indifferently: "I don't think I have any relatives. I may have. I don't know." He had seemed astonished that he should be expected to have any interest in the matter. He had not made or sought a single friend on the campus. He had refused to join a fraternity. He had worked his way through high school and through the three years here at the Institute. He had worked as a common laborer in the building trades since childhood. He had done plastering, plumbing, steel work, anything he could get, going from one small town to another, working his way east, to the great cities. The Dean had seen him, last summer, on his vacation, catching rivets on a skyscraper in construction in Boston; his long body relaxed under greasy overalls, only his eyes intent, and his right arm swinging forward, once in a while, expertly, without effort, to catch the flying ball of fire at the last moment, when it seemed that the hot rivet would miss the bucket and strike him in the face.
"Look here, Roark," said the Dean gently. "You have worked hard for your education. You had only one year left to go. There is something important to consider, particularly for a boy in your position. There's the practical side of an architect's career to think about. An architect is not an end in himself. He is only a small part of a great social whole. Co-operation is the key word to our modern world and to the profession of architecture in particular. Have you thought of your potential clients?"
"Yes," said Roark.
"The Client," said the Dean. "The Client. Think of that above all. He's the one to live in the house you build. Your only purpose is to serve him. You must aspire to give the proper artistic expression to his wishes. Isn't that all one can say on the subject?"
"Well, I could say that I must aspire to build for my client the most comfortable, the most logical, the most beautiful house that can be built. I could say that I must try to sell him the best I have and also teach him to know the best. I could say it, but I won't. Because I don't intend to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don't intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build."
"How do you propose to force your ideas on them?"
"I don't propose to force or be forced. Those who want me will come to me."
Then the Dean understood what had puzzled him in Roark's manner.
"You know," he said, "you would sound much more convincing if you spoke as if you cared whether I agreed with you or not."
"That's true," said Roark. "I don't care whether you agree with me or not." He said it so simply that it did not sound offensive, it sounded like the statement of a fact which he noticed, puzzled, for the first time.
"You don't care what others think which might be understandable. But you don't care even to make them think as you do?"
"But that's...that's monstrous."
"Is it? Probably. I couldn't say."
"I'm glad of this interview," said the Dean, suddenly, too loudly. "It has relieved my conscience. I believe, as others stated at the meeting, that the profession of architecture is not for you. I have tried to help you. Now I agree with the Board. You are a man not to be encouraged. You are dangerous."
"To whom?" asked Roark.
But the Dean rose, indicating that the interview was over.
Roark left the room. He walked slowly through the long halls, down the stairs, out to the lawn below. He had met many men such as the Dean; he had never understood them. He knew only that there was some important difference between his actions and theirs. It had ceased to disturb him long ago. But he always looked for a central theme in buildings and he looked for a central impulse in men. He knew the source of his actions; he could not discover theirs. He did not care. He had never learned the process of thinking about other people. But he wondered, at times, what made them such as they were. He wondered again, thinking of the Dean. There was an important secret involved somewhere in that question, he thought. There was a principle which he must discover.
But he stopped. He saw the sunlight of late afternoon, held still in the moment before it was to fade, on the gray limestone of a stringcourse running along the brick wall of the Institute building. He forgot men, the Dean and the principle behind the Dean, which he wanted to discover. He thought only of how lovely the stone looked in the fragile light and of what he could have done with that stone.
He thought of a broad sheet of paper, and he saw, rising on the paper, bare
walls of gray limestone with long bands of glass, admitting the glow of the sky
into the classrooms. In the corner of the sheet stood a sharp, angular signature
Excerpted from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand Copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand. Excerpted by permission.
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