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Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
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In the dark winter of affliction's hour,
When summer, friends, and pleasures haste away,
And the wrecked heart perceives how frail each power
It made a refuge, and believed a stay;
When man, all wild and weak is seen to be—
There's none like Thee, O Lord! there's none like Thee!
Mrs. Jewsbury.

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The morning of departure came. The landlord of the
hotel had been summoned, and on Mabel's expressing her
regret that her funds were only sufficient for her present
wants, had cordially assured her of his perfect readiness to
wait Mr. Vaughan's convenience for the settlement of his
accounts, and had himself accompanied her to the steamboat.
Mrs. Hope was there with shawls over her arm, and parcels
in her hand; Jack was there with a huge basket of cakes and
candy, provided by his thoughtful mother; Lydia was there,
her eyes red with crying, and her hands busy in giving the
finishing touch to Murray's curls; and Owen Dowst was at
the further end of the wharf attending to the baggage.

At length they took their places, Mabel and the boys in the
centre of the deck, where they were protected by an ample
awning, and Owen modestly choosing a seat at the stern of
the boat, where, without intrusion, he could keep the little
party in sight. The bell rang and they moved off;—Jack
waved his cap, Mrs. Hope cried out “Good-bye,” and Lydia
timidly threw a kiss,—not at Mabel, however, or the boys,
but in response to one from the stern of the vessel, where
Owen stood, leaning over the railing, and looking back with a
tear in his honest eye.

The first day's journey passed without any important incident.
The weather, which had promised to be fair, soon

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became dull, and at length a pouring rain drove the passengers
to the cabin, where, for many successive hours, they were
crowded together, deprived of fresh air, and with no prospect
of being able to venture again on deck.

Here all Mabel's powers were called into action, for the
diversion and entertainment of Murray, whose restlessness
could ill brook the restraint to which he was subjected in the
ladies' saloon, and who continually threatened to stray beyond
its limits. Fortunately, however, Owen, who had stationed
himself in the vicinity of the door, contrived to decoy him to
a place on his knee, and amused and entertained him there
until the bell sounded for dinner. While watching the good-natured
youth, as he cut an apple into a fanciful shape, or
whittled a figure from a bit of wood, the child was completely
happy, and Mabel was freed from all anxiety concerning him.

These ingenious and friendly devices, however, though not
lost upon Alick, had no power to win him from his position
beside Mabel, where, with the basket of provisions at his
feet, and his arm passed through the handle of the carpet
bag, he sat upright and firm as a sentinel at his post. Whether
Father Noah's exhortation, to “behave like a little man,”
still influenced him, or whether he felt a proud and instinctive
consciousness of being in some degree his aunt's protector, he
manifested no sign of weariness, and never once during the
day uttered a single complaint.

They dined and supped on board the boat, the thoughtful
Owen having secured seats, and recommended them to the
care of one of the waiters, whom he chanced to know, and
with whom he afterwards took his own repasts at the second

But although the gentle motion of the boat, the comparative
privacy of the ladies' cabin, and the respectful devotion of her
attendant, contrived to render this first day's experience satisfactory
to Mabel and soothing to her anxieties, the interval
between the arrival of the party in Albany, and their departure
in the night-train for Buffalo, was replete with those
incidents which constitute the trials of the traveller, and

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render journeying an uncertain and hazardous experiment. The
boat was late at her wharf; there was some delay and difficulty
in the distribution of baggage; noise and confusion
prevailed in every direction, and before Owen could collect
his own boxes and Mabel's trunks, the carriages, loaded with
passengers for the cars, had all driven off. Among the coaches
that remained, all had one or more occupants bound in a different
direction, and none of the drivers would agree to reach
the station in season for the Western train. Mabel's countenance
betrayed her agitation and alarm, Alick looked piteously
from one rough face to another, and Murray, dimly comprehending
that something was the matter, as usual began to

“Look here—I say,” cried Owen, catching a burly, roundfaced
fellow by the button, and glancing significantly towards
Mabel, “don't disappoint that lady now,—it's too bad,—her
folks were hurt,—one on 'em killed by that bad accident last
week,—she's a goin' out there to her father,—don't you be
the means of her losin' the train.”

What a revulsion of feeling such an appeal will oftentimes
produce. “Do tell,” said the man. “Now that's a case.
Hullo, Sam,—haul those trunks up here, will yer? Give a
hand, boy,—her father” (in his turn, nodding at Mabel,)
“was killed on the cars last week. Look here, you,” speaking
to a gaily dressed fop inside, who, seeing his valise unceremoniously
thrown on to the sidewalk, was already preparing
to alight; “this gentleman,” (waving his hand towards Sam)
“will take you up to the hotel; I'm bound to get these tother
folks down to the Buffalo cars; in with you, Bub,” and he
lifted Alick, basket, carpet-bag and all, into the carriage;
Mabel and Murray followed; Owen sprung up outside, and
they were off.

There are few things more trying to the patience, and more
exciting to the nerves, than driving through the crowded
streets of a city, with the apprehension that every moment's
delay may be fatal to one's hopes. During the ten minutes
that they were hurrying and rattling over the pavements,

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Mabel endeavored in vain to quiet her disturbed feelings, and
strove, with equal want of success, to soothe the weeping Murray,
while Alick silently watched his aunt's countenance, as
if it were the dial-plate of destiny. They were barely in season
after all; there was just time for the luggage to be thrown
hastily on board, and the last bell was sounding as Owen
entered a car, with Murray in his arms, followed by Mabel
and Alick, almost breathless with the haste they had made,
and carrying between them the basket and travelling bag,
which Alick could not transport alone, but which the sturdy
boy was unwilling to relinquish.

This little incident served at once to excite Mabel's anxieties
for the future, and to impress her with a sense of her
dependence on Owen. She felt sick at heart, as imagination
conjured up the possible disasters and delays which might
ensue before the termination of the journey, and, as the darkness
of the night came on, and a thick gloom settled over
every object, an undefined dread took possession of her; and
when Murray exclaimed with convulsive sobbing, “Auntie,
Murray is tired,—Murray can't ride all night,” she was
tempted to fold the child to her bosom, and weep with him
over their multiplied misfortunes.

Her weakness was rebuked, however, by the confiding tone
in which Alick responded to his brother's complaint,—“I
ain't tired, Murray,” said he,—“I would n't mind going anywhere
with Aunt Mabel.”

“I would,” said Murray. “I want to go home.”

“Let me take him a little while, Miss Vaughan,” said
Owen, who had observed his fretfulness; “I see he's getting
pretty uneasy. Will you come and sit by me, Murray?”

The child hesitated, too thoroughly weary to have any preference.

“I'll coax the little fellow off to sleep,” said Owen, lifting
him in his strong arms, and bearing him to his own seat at the
further end of the car, where, wrapped in a heavy pilot-cloth
coat, and with his head resting on Owen's shoulder, he soon
fell into a quiet slumber. Two or three hours passed away,

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Alick, despite his efforts to the contrary, had fallen asleep,
though still sitting as upright as a grenadier, and Mabel had
once or twice forgotten her anxieties, and enjoyed a few moments'
repose, when a bright light shone in their faces, and
suddenly awaking, they discovered that the train was stopping
at a place of some importance, if one might judge by the
bustle which pervaded the platform in front of the station.
Murray, also, awakened by the noise and lights, ran to his
aunt, rubbing his eyes, and petitioning for something to eat.

“Milk, too, Auntie—I must have some milk,” he cried, as
she proceeded to open the luncheon-basket.

“No, Murray, I have no milk for you,” was the reply; “a
cake will do without milk, won't it?”

“I can get him a glass of milk, or some water, at least, Miss
Vaughan,” said Owen, who was about to leave the car, and
paused to offer his services. “The train stops here five
minutes—plenty of time, Miss. I'll hand it in at the window.”

“Take my purse, Owen,” said Mabel, “and pay for it, if
you please.”

The milk was brought to the window in a pitcher. Owen
had a tumbler in his hand, and all were by turns refreshed
with the sweet and wholesome beverage. There was still a
moment or two of delay at the station—ample time for the
young man to return, pay for the milk, and take his place in
the cars. Still, the bell rang, and the train proceeded on its
way without his having made his appearance. Mabel looked
back with some anxiety, but supposing that he had entered a
rear car and would soon make his way to them, she did not
feel any positive alarm and was therefore wholly taken by
surprise when a few moments after, the conductor, as he passed
with his lantern in hand, held it up to her face and said inquiringly,
“Wasn't that young fellow in the pilot-cloth coat with
you, ma'am?”

“Yes,” answered Mabel. “Why?”

“He got left behind at the last station,” said the man coolly.

“Got left!” exclaimed Mabel, repeating his words in

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astonishment and fright, while Alick groaned aloud and Murray set
up a shrill and prolonged cry.

“Yes, they took some of his boxes out there by mistake, so
the baggage-master says, and he caught sight of'em and sprung
off the platform just as we were starting.”

“Couldn't you stop for him?” asked Mabel, in a tone of
mingled appeal and reproach.

“Couldn't, no how,” said the man, though speaking in a tone
of regret. “We're behind our time now. If there's any
mistake it ain't our fault; he couldn't have had his things
marked right in Albany. He'll come on to-morrow, I reckon.”

“To-morrow,” thought Mabel, “but where shall we be by
that time?” And at the same instant the remembrance flashed
upon her that he was in possession of her purse, containing all
the money she had in the world.

“What shall I do?” was the involuntary exclamation which
burst from her lips as, trembling with agitation, she started up
impulsively, then in a despairing manner sank back into her

“Can't we go on without him, Auntie?” asked Alick anxiously,
while Murray continued to cry, loudly threatening, amid
his sobs, to “beat that old conductor, and make him go back
for Owen.”

“Oh, I don't know, Alick, what we shall do,” said Mabel, the
self-command which she had hitherto maintained in the presence
of the children forsaking her at this unforeseen crisis.

The interest and compassion of the other passengers were
evidently awakened. Many outstretched forms were suddenly
raised from a recumbent position, and many sleepy eyes turned
in the direction of our little group of travellers, while a murmur
of inquiry and response ran through the car. The conductor,
however, had passed hastily out with his lantern, and as the
feeble and expiring light from an ill-trimmed lamp above
afforded little satisfaction to curiosity, most of the weary company
soon subsided into their former dreamy state of uncon

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“God will take care of us, Auntie,” said Alick, in a comforting
tone; “that old minister said so, and I believe him.”

“So do I,” answered Mabel, drawing both the children as
closely to her as possible, and feeling, for the second time,
rebuked by Alick's child-like faith—first in her, and now in a
higher power.

At the same instant, a voice proceeding from the seat directly
behind them, addressed Mabel in a tone of gentle but earnest
inquiry. “I have been asleep, my dear; but, if I understand
right, your servant has got left at Utica.”

“Not my servant, except by free-will, ma'am,” answered
Mabel, her face as she turned being brought close to that of
the person who was leaning forward to speak to her, but whose
features were undistinguishable in the dim light.

“Oh, I was mistaken, then,” said the lady, apologetically. “I
only judged from appearances, when you came into the car at

“Yes, ma'am, it is not strange,” said Mabel; “I don't
wonder at it, he was so kind to the boys and so civil to me.
He was a good friend, and we depended upon him, and now,—

Her voice choked; she could not go on.

The old lady—for the stranger was advanced in years—
quietly rose, came forward, and taking the seat beside Mabel
from which Alick had risen in the moment of excitement, said
kindly, “And do you need a friend now, my dear?”

Mabel could not answer except by putting her hand into that
of the old lady, who pressed it tenderly.

“Little brothers?” said she, drawing Alick toward her, and
gently soothing Murray with the words, “Poor boy! there,
don't cry!”

“She's our auntie,” said Alick, proudly.

“And where's mamma?”

“She's gone to another world,” answered Murray, promptly.

“She died last Saturday,” whispered Alick.

Their new friend uttered an exclamation of pity, and, grieved

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at the result of her natural inquiry, forbore all further questioning.

“Poor little fellows! you must both be tired,” said she.
“Come, I will put you to bed.” And rising, she beckoned to
a woman just behind them, and with her assistance proceeded
to carry her purpose into execution. “Don't stir; we will
make them very comfortable,” she added, as Mabel proposed
to assist her. And taking advantage of some vacant seats
opposite, she spread upon them her own and the woman's surplus
supply of shawls, and in a few moments the exhausted
children were disposed of for the rest of the night.

“My child, you have seen trouble, I fear,” said the benevolent
lady, as, resuming her seat by Mabel, she passed one arm
round the young girl's waist, and drew her head upon her

Mabel had in some degree steeled herself against the hardships
and trials which she might encounter, but this unexpected
kindness wholly overpowered her; the floodgates of her soul
were opened, and her tears poured forth like rain. Her judicious
comforter did not attempt to restrain her. She well
knew the relief it sometimes is to weep, and without interrupting
her by a word, suffered her feelings to have vent.

“Lie still, dear,” said she, as Mabel, having at length become
more composed, made a movement to sit upright.

“You are very good; but I shall fatigue and distress

“Do not disturb yourself on my account,” was the reply.
“I only require a few hours sleep, and I have had that already.
I want to see you take some rest.”

“Oh, I cannot sleep,” said Mabel, “I am too unhappy.”

“Perhaps I can help you,” said the old lady. “There are
two sides to trouble,—let us try and look at the bright side.”

“I never gave up so before,” said Mabel, “and I know I
ought not to now, but this seemed too much.”

“Was this young man so essential to you, then, that you
cannot get on without him?”

“He was very considerate and kind,” said Mabel. “I shall

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miss him, and so will the boys; but that is not the worst,—he
has got all my money. I gave him my purse to pay for some
milk for the children just before he left the cars.”

“Well, that is bad,” said the old lady, “but not beyond remedy.
How far are you expecting to travel?”

Mabel named the town and county in the eastern part of
Illinois, which were her destination.

“And you were to take the steamer at Buffalo?”

“Yes, to-morrow night.”

“There is no boat until the night following,” said the old
lady, confidently. “I have made particular inquiries, as I am
to pursue the same route myself. So you see Owen will have
time to join you, and, meanwhile, you shall be under my care;
and afterwards, too,” added she, “if you can feel confidence in
an old lady who is a stranger to you, but who has seen much
of the world, and is an experienced traveller.”

Mabel thanked her heartily in her own name and the children's.

“Do not thank me,” said her kind friend, “the benefit will
be mutual. I am fond of young people, and glad to be of use in
the world. If my three score years and ten can afford you
comfort and protection, then I have not grown old in vain.”

“Oh, I cannot tell you the relief it will be, if you will only
let me keep within sight of you,” exclaimed Mabel, eagerly.
Then, as she recalled the lady's previous allusion to her being
a stranger, she added, with simple candor, at the same time
lifting her head, and speaking with great earnestness, “But
you are very good, ma'am, to feel confidence in me. It must
seem strange to you that I should be travelling so far, with the
charge of these children, and dependent myself upon a young
man who is not of my own station in life.”

“Yes, a little singular, perhaps,” answered the lady, “but no
more so than many things which admit of easy explanation; or,
even if I were still left to wonder at the circumstance, it would
not deter me from offering my aid to one who seems to need

“May I tell you how it happened?” asked Mabel.

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“Certainly, my child, if you please to do so. Tell me anything
that you feel willing to confide to one old enough to be a
safe, but not too old to be a sympathizing friend.”

Thus encouraged, Mabel suffered her head to drop once
more upon the shoulder of the tall and strongly-framed, though
venerable lady, and in the darkness of the night, and amid the
hush which prevailed among the sleepers who were stretched
around, she poured into her willing ear, in a low and broken
voice, the story of her recent family bereavements, and the
sufferings, responsibilities, and perplexities, which had ensued.
Her bitterest griefs and anxieties were such, indeed, as can be
breathed only in the ear of Heaven, but the partial revelation
which she made was enough and more than enough to excite
all the tender compassion of her aged friend, as was evident
from the gentle expressions of condolence which escaped her,
and the affectionate solicitude with which she drew a cloak
round the weary girl, and now and then pressed her closer to
her side. So sweet, indeed, was this welcome assurance of
protection and sympathy, that, at length, the tale being ended,
and the aching heart, in some measure, relieved of its burden,
tired nature asserted its claims, and a soft and refreshing sleep
stole over Mabel's senses.

It was daylight when she awoke. The sun was streaming
through the car; most of the passengers were sitting bolt upright
in their seats, their firm attitudes seeming to defy any one
who should accuse them of having slept a wink on the journey;
and the whole scene was so different from that which had prevailed
a few hours before, that Mabel could not for a moment
realize where she was, or whether the events of the previous
night had not all been a dream. There could be nothing
imaginary, however, in the friendly shoulder on which her
head was comfortably pillowed, nor could anything be more
kind and cordial than the smile which reassured her, as starting
up, she suddenly exclaimed, “Why, how long I have lain
here! How I must have tired you!”

“No, you have not tired me in the least. I am rejoiced

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that you have slept so long. How do you feel this morning,
my dear?”

But Mabel did not seem to heed the kind inquiry. Her
eyes were fixed earnestly on the face of her new friend, while
a glow of pleasure radiated her features. There could be no
mistaking that benevolent countenance, that dignified form,
those silver curls peeping from the snowy fluting of the widow's
cap, above all, that cheering and animating smile; and, snatching
the hand of the good lady, Mabel pressed it to her lips,
exclaiming, “You are not a stranger after all! I have seen
you before. You are Mrs. Abraham Percival!”

“Do you know me, then?” was the reply. “That is pleasant.
I have been studying your face, my dear, and thought
it seemed familiar, but you must help my memory a little. I
cannot recall the name.”

“Mabel Vaughan; but perhaps you have never heard the
whole name.”

Madam Percival shook her head. “No,” said she, after a
moment's thought, “never; but I once knew a Miss Vaughan,
possibly a relative of yours. She must be somewhat advanced
if she is still living, which I presume to be the case, as I exchanged
cards with her in New York last winter, though we
had not the pleasure of meeting. We used to call her Sabiah,
in her younger days.”

“My aunt,” faltered Mabel, a new light dawning upon her
in reference to the memorable visit, which had, as it proved,
been so wholly misinterpreted.

“Ah! then you are a daughter of her brother John. You
see,” added she, with her winning smile, “we old-fashioned
folks are always acquainted with the family tree; however, I
lived in your father's native town some years; I was an assistant
teacher in the village academy, and your aunt was one of
my pupils.”

“Was she, indeed?” said Mabel, with interest. “Dear
aunt Sabiah, how she would like to see you!”

“I was in hopes to revive our acquaintance last winter,”
said Madam Percival. “I have always continued to feel an

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interest in your aunt, and as I happened to learn her address
in New York, through one of her village friends, I took an
early opportunity to call; but I think it probable she has
nearly or wholly forgotten me, or perhaps would only recognize
me by my maiden name.”

“She never knew of your visit,” said Mabel, with a blush
of mortification, “she never had a chance to know. I had the
vanity to take it to myself, and I was the Miss Vaughan who
left a card at your door. Oh, how sorry I am!”

A shade of disappointment passed over Madam Percival's
countenance also, for a moment, then she exclaimed quickly, as
if anxious to relieve Mabel's evident regret, “It was very
natural, however. Your aunt probably lived a retired life.”

“Yes, very,” said Mabel, “but she would have been so glad
to see you.”

“Ah, well!” said Madam Percival, “do not lament it too
seriously, my child. Time has made great changes with us
both, and the meeting might not have been wholly pleasurable.
But tell me, my dear, where it is that I have seen your face

Mabel named the occasion.

“Yes, indeed, I remember now,” said Madam Percival, with
evident pleasure in the recollection. “You were my grandson's
partner in the country-dance. Ah! that was a pleasant
evening. We all enjoyed it much.”

This reference to her own enjoyment, and that of her
friends, led Mabel to speak in grateful terms of one of their
number, the good clergyman, to whom she was so much indebted.
Madam Percival was deeply interested by the young
girl's narrative of his deeds of Christian charity, and by the
time it was concluded, the boys awoke, eager to make an attack
upon the luncheon. Madam Percival left room for the children
beside their aunt, by herself returning to the seat next the
female attendant, who was the companion of her journey, and
for some hours the ordinary events of travelling succeeded.

“We shall soon be in Buffalo, my dear,” said Madam

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Percival at length, leaning forward and laying her hand on Mabel's
shoulder, to attract her attention.

Mabel, thus suddenly roused from a sad and painful reverie,
into which she had fallen, a train of thought superinduced no
doubt by the disclosures and coincidences of the morning,
started, turned, and said, in an abstracted manner, “Yes, and
what shall we do then?”

“Whatever you like, my poor, tried child; you need rest
and refreshment for body and mind. I was thinking where
we could best find it?”

“Wherever you please,” said Mabel. “I shall be only too
contented and thankful to stay with you.”

“Have you ever been to Niagara?”

“Never, ma'am,” answered Mabel, with a slight tremulousness
in her voice, at the mention of a spot she had once so
yearned to visit, but which was now associated with many a
bitter memory.

“We shall have twenty-four hours to spare before the steam
boat leaves,” said Madam Percival. “I have consulted my
little friend here (and she tapped with her spectacles the railroad
guide which she held in her hand), and find that we can,
if we choose, proceed directly to Niagara, and remain there
until within a few hours of the boat's sailing. It will be an
uncomfortable night in the city. I am well known at the Cataract
House, and we shall be sure of every outward comfort, to
say nothing of the inexpressible pleasure of having a glimpse
at the Falls. Do you like the plan?”

“I don't know,” said Mabel, hesitating. “I would rather
you should decide.”

“You can scarcely be expected to have any preference under
the circumstances, my dear,” said Madam Percival, laying her
hand anxiously on Mabel's flushed cheek, “but I am convinced
there could be no better prescription for you than the one I recommend.
The boys require rest and fresh cool air to invigorate
them after the journey, but you need something more; it is the
tired heart and brain which sends this feverish blood to your
cheek, rather than any physical fatigue, though you have had

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your share of that. You are my guests for the present,—my
adopted children I would say,—and so I feel myself at liberty
to study your wants, and endeavor to supply them. Besides,”
added she, with a persuasive smile and tone, which made it
almost appear that she was begging, instead of conferring a
favor, “we old folks, who pride ourselves on our experience,
love to try our favorite remedies; so, if you leave the decision
to me, we will keep on to Niagara, and risk the additional
fatigue in consideration of the benefits we hope to derive from
the effort.”

Comprehending at once the disinterestedness of this scheme
to divert her troubled mind from the contemplation of its corrows,
Mabel hastened to deprecate the idea of her aged friend's
incurring any unnecessary fatigue on her account; but Madam
Percival assured her that she never suffered from the effects
of travelling, and that in the present case, the necessity for one
day's delay rendered the temptation to visit the Falls irresistible,
apart from the satisfaction it would be to introduce her
young friends to one of the grandest wonders of nature, in
which, as Americans, they had all a common birthright.

So the excursion was determined on; and night found them
established in a comfortable hotel, where, within hearing of the
roar of the mighty cataract, they all experienced the welcome
refreshment and repose which weary travellers crave.

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Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
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