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Ten Years Later

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Chapter LXIV. Madame’s Four Chances.


Anne of Austria had begged the young queen to pay her a visit. For some time past suffering most acutely, and losing both her youth and beauty with that rapidity which signalizes the decline of women for whom life has been one long contest, Anne of Austria had, in addition to her physical sufferings, to experience the bitterness of being no longer held in any esteem, except as a surviving remembrance of the past, amidst the youthful beauties, wits, and influential forces of her court. Her physician’s opinions, her mirror also, grieved her far less than the inexorable warnings which the society of the courtiers afforded, who, like rats in a ship, abandon the hold into which on the very next voyage the water will infallibly penetrate, owing to the ravages of decay. Anne of Austria did not feel satisfied with the time her eldest son devoted to her. The king, a good son, more from affectation than from affection, had at first been in the habit of passing an hour in the morning and one in the evening with his mother; but, since he had himself undertaken the conduct of state affairs, the duration of the morning and evening’s visit had been reduced by one half; and then, by degrees, the morning visit had been suppressed altogether. They met at mass; the evening visit was replaced by a meeting, either at the king’s assembly or at Madame’s, which the queen attended obligingly enough, out of regard to her two sons.

The result of this was, that Madame gradually acquired an immense influence over the court, which made her apartments the true royal place of meeting. This, Anne of Austria perceived; knowing herself to be very ill, and condemned by her sufferings to frequent retirement, she was distressed at the idea that the greater part of her future days and evenings would pass away solitary, useless, and in despondency. She recalled with terror the isolation in which Cardinal Richelieu had formerly left her, those dreaded and insupportable evenings, during which, however, she had both youth and beauty, which are ever accompanied by hope, to console her. She next formed the project of transporting the court to her own apartments, and of attracting Madame, with her brilliant escort, to her gloomy and already sorrowful abode, where the widow of a king of France, and the mother of a king of France, was reduced to console, in her artificial widowhood, the weeping wife of a king of France.

Anne began to reflect. She had intrigued a good deal in her life. In the good times past, when her youthful mind nursed projects that were, ultimately, invariably successful, she had by her side, to stimulate her ambition and her love, a friend of her own sex, more eager, more ambitious than herself,—a friend who had loved her, a rare circumstance at courts, and whom some petty considerations had removed from her forever. But for many years past—except Madame de Motteville, and La Molena, her Spanish nurse, a confidante in her character of countrywoman and woman too—who could boast of having given good advice to the queen? Who, too, among all the youthful heads there, could recall the past for her,—that past in which alone she lived? Anne of Austria remembered Madame de Chevreuse, in the first place exiled rather by her wish than the king’s, and then dying in exile, the wife of a gentleman of obscure birth and position. She asked herself what Madame de Chevreuse would have advised her to do in similar circumstances, in their mutual difficulties arising from their intrigues; and after serious reflection, it seemed as if the clever, subtle mind of her friend, full of experience and sound judgment, answered her in the well-remembered ironical tones: “All the insignificant young people are poor and greedy of gain. They require gold and incomes to supply means of amusement; it is by interest you must gain them over.” And Anne of Austria adopted this plan. Her purse was well filled, and she had at her disposal a considerable sum of money, which had been amassed by Mazarin for her, and lodged in a place of safety. She possessed the most magnificent jewels in France, and especially pearls of a size so large that they made the king sigh every time he saw them, because the pearls of his crown were like millet seed compared to them. Anne of Austria had neither beauty nor charms any longer at her disposal. She gave out, therefore, that her wealth was great, and as an inducement for others to visit her apartments she let it be known that there were good gold crowns to be won at play, or that handsome presents were likely to be made on days when all went well with her; or windfalls, in the shape of annuities which she had wrung from the king by entreaty, and thus she determined to maintain her credit. In the first place, she tried these means upon Madame; because to gain her consent was of more importance than anything else. Madame, notwithstanding the bold confidence which her wit and beauty inspired her, blindly ran head foremost into the net thus stretched out to catch her. Enriched by degrees by these presents and transfers of property, she took a fancy to inheritances by anticipation. Anne of Austria adopted the same means towards Monsieur, and even towards the king himself. She instituted lotteries in her apartments. The day on which the present chapter opens, invitations had been issued for a late supper in the queen-mother’s apartments, as she intended that two beautiful diamond bracelets of exquisite workmanship should be put into a lottery. The medallions were antique cameos of the greatest value; the diamonds, in point of intrinsic value, did not represent a very considerable amount, but the originality and rarity of the workmanship were such, that every one at court not only wished to possess the bracelets, but even to see the queen herself wear them; for, on the days she wore them, it was considered as a favor to be admitted to admire them in kissing her hands. The courtiers had, even with regard to this subject, adopted various expressions of gallantry to establish the aphorism, that the bracelets would have been priceless in value if they had not been unfortunate enough to be placed in contact with arms as beautiful as the queen’s. This compliment had been honored by a translation into all the languages of Europe, and numerous verses in Latin and French had been circulated on the subject. The day that Anne of Austria had selected for the lottery was a decisive moment; the king had not been near his mother for a couple of days; Madame, after the great scene of the Dryads and Naiads, was sulking by herself. It is true, the king’s fit of resentment was over, but his mind was absorbingly occupied by a circumstance that raised him above the stormy disputes and giddy pleasures of the court.

Anne of Austria effected a diversion by the announcement of the famous lottery to take place in her apartments on the following evening. With this object in view, she saw the young queen, whom, as we have already seen, she had invited to pay her a visit in the morning. “I have good news to tell you,” she said to her; “the king has been saying the most tender things about you. He is young, you know, and easily drawn away; but so long as you keep near me, he will not venture to keep away from you, to whom, besides, he is most warmly and affectionately attached. I intend to have a lottery this evening and shall expect to see you.”

“I have heard,” said the young queen, with a sort of timid reproach, “that your majesty intends to put in the lottery those lovely bracelets whose rarity is so great that we ought not to allow them to pass out of the custody of the crown, even were there no other reason than that they had once belonged to you.”

“My daughter,” said Anne of Austria, who read the young queen’s thoughts, and wished to console her for not having received the bracelets as a present, “it is positively necessary that I should induce Madame to pass her time in my apartments.”

“Madame!” said the young queen, blushing.

“Of course: would you not prefer to have a rival near you, whom you could watch and influence, to knowing the king is with her, always as ready to flirt as to be flirted with by her? The lottery I have proposed is my means of attraction for that purpose; do you blame me?”

“Oh, no!” returned Maria Theresa, clapping her hands with a childlike expression of delight.

“And you no longer regret, then, that I did not give you these bracelets, as I at first intended to do?”

“Oh, no, no!”

“Very well; make yourself look as beautiful as possible that our supper may be very brilliant; the gayer you seem, the more charming you appear, and you will eclipse all the ladies present as much by your brilliancy as by your rank.”

Maria Theresa left full of delight. An hour afterwards, Anne of Austria received a visit from Madame, whom she covered with caresses, saying, “Excellent news! the king is charmed with my lottery.”

“But I,” replied Madame, “am not so greatly charmed: to see such beautiful bracelets on any one’s arms but yours or mine, is what I cannot reconcile myself to.”

“Well, well,” said Anne of Austria, concealing by a smile a violent pang she had just experienced, “do not look at things in the worst light immediately.”

“Ah, Madame, Fortune is blind, and I am told there are two hundred tickets.”

“Quite as many as that; but you cannot surely forget that there can only be one winner.”

“No doubt. But who will that be? Can you tell?” said Madame, in despair.

“You remind me that I had a dream last night; my dreams are always good,—I sleep so little.”

“What was your dream?—but are you suffering?”

“No,” said the queen, stifling with wonderful command the torture of a renewed attack of shooting pains in her bosom; “I dreamed that the king won the bracelets.”

“The king!”

“You are going to ask me, I think, what the king could possibly do with the bracelets?”

“Yes.”

“And you would not add, perhaps, that it would be very fortunate if the king were really to win, for he would be obliged to give the bracelets to some one else.”

“To restore them to you, for instance.”

“In which case I should immediately give them away; for you do not think, I suppose,” said the queen, laughing, “that I have put these bracelets up to a lottery from necessity. My object was to give them without arousing any one’s jealousy; but if Fortune will not get me out of my difficulty—well, I will teach Fortune a lesson—and I know very well to whom I intend to offer the bracelets.” These words were accompanied by so expressive a smile, that Madame could not resist paying her by a grateful kiss.

“But,” added Anne of Austria, “do you not know, as well as I do, that if the king were to win the bracelets, he would not restore them to me?”

“You mean he would give them to the queen?”

“No; and for the very same reason that he would not give them back again to me; since, if I had wished to make the queen a present of them, I had no need of him for that purpose.”

Madame cast a side glance upon the bracelets, which, in their casket, were dazzlingly exposed to view upon a table close beside her.

“How beautiful they are,” she said, sighing. “But stay,” Madame continued, “we are quite forgetting that your majesty’s dream was nothing but a dream.”

“I should be very much surprised,” returned Anne of Austria, “if my dream were to deceive me; that has happened to me very seldom.”

“We may look upon you as a prophetess, then.”

“I have already said, that I dream but very rarely; but the coincidence of my dream about this matter, with my own ideas, is extraordinary! it agrees so wonderfully with my own views and arrangements.”

“What arrangements do you allude to?”

“That you will get the bracelets, for instance.”

“In that case, it will not be the king.”

“Oh!” said Anne of Austria, “there is not such a very great distance between his majesty’s heart and your own; for, are you not his sister, for whom he has a great regard? There is not, I repeat, so very wide a distance, that my dream can be pronounced false on that account. Come, let us reckon up the chances in its favor.”

“I will count them.”

“In the first place, we will begin with the dream. If the king wins, he is sure to give you the bracelets.”

“I admit that is one.”

“If you win them, they are yours.”

“Naturally; that may be admitted also.”

“Lastly;—if Monsieur were to win them!”

“Oh!” said Madame, laughing heartily, “he would give them to the Chevalier de Lorraine.”

Anne of Austria laughed as heartily as her daughter-in-law; so much so, indeed, that her sufferings again returned, and made her turn suddenly pale in the very midst of her enjoyment.

“What is the matter?” inquired Madame, terrified.

“Nothing, nothing; a pain in my side. I have been laughing too much. We were at the fourth chance, I think.”

“I cannot see a fourth.”

“I beg your pardon; I am not excluded from the chance of winning, and if I be the winner, you are sure of me.”

“Oh! thank you, thank you!” exclaimed Madame.

“I hope that you look upon yourself as one whose chances are good, and that my dream now begins to assure the solid outlines of reality.”

“Yes, indeed: you give me both hope and confidence,” said Madame, “and the bracelets, won in this manner, will be a hundred times more precious to me.”

“Well! then, good-bye, until this evening.” And the two princesses separated. Anne of Austria, after her daughter-in-law had left her, said to herself, as she examined the bracelets, “They are, indeed, precious; since, by their means, this evening, I shall have won over a heart to my side, at the same time, fathomed an important secret.”

Then turning towards the deserted recess in her room, she said, addressing vacancy,—“Is it not thus that you would have acted, my poor Chevreuse? Yes, yes; I know it is.”

And, like a perfume of other, fairer days, her youth, her imagination, and her happiness seemed to be wafted towards the echo of this invocation.






Chapter LXV. The Lottery.


By eight o’clock in the evening, every one had assembled in the queen-mother’s apartments. Anne of Austria, in full dress, beautiful still, from former loveliness, and from all the resources coquetry can command at the hands of clever assistants, concealed, or rather pretended to conceal, from the crowd of courtiers who surrounded her, and who still admired her, thanks to the combination of circumstances which we have indicated in the preceding chapter, the ravages, which were already visible, of the acute suffering to which she finally yielded a few years later. Madame, almost as great a coquette as Anne of Austria, and the queen, simple and natural as usual, were seated beside her, each contending for her good graces. The ladies of honor, united in a body, in order to resist with greater effect, and consequently with more success, the witty and lively conversations which the young men held about them, were enabled, like a battalion formed in a square, to offer each other the means of attack and defense which were thus at their command. Montalais, learned in that species of warfare which consists of sustained skirmishing, protected the whole line by a sort of rolling fire she directed against the enemy. Saint-Aignan, in utter despair at the rigor, which became almost insulting from the very fact of her persisting in it, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente displayed, tried to turn his back upon her; but, overcome by the irresistible brilliancy of her eyes, he, every moment, returned to consecrate his defeat by new submissions, to which Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente did not fail to reply by fresh acts of impertinence. Saint-Aignan did not know which way to turn. La Valliere had about her, not exactly a court, but sprinklings of courtiers. Saint-Aignan, hoping by this maneuver to attract Athenais’s attention towards him, approached the young girl, and saluted her with a respect that induced some to believe that he wished to balance Athenais by Louise. But these were persons who had neither been witnesses of the scene during the shower, nor had heard it spoken of. As the majority was already informed, and well informed, too, on the matter, the acknowledged favor with which she was regarded had attracted to her side some of the most astute, as well as the least sensible, members of the court. The former, because they said with Montaigne, “How do I know?” and the latter, who said with Rabelais, “Perhaps.” The greatest number had followed in the wake of the latter, just as in hunting five or six of the best hounds alone follow the scent of the animal hunted, whilst the remainder of the pack follow only the scent of the hounds. The two queens and Madame examined with particular attention the toilettes of their ladies and maids of honor; and they condescended to forget they were queens in recollecting that they were women. In other words, they pitilessly picked to pieces every person present who wore a petticoat. The looks of both princesses simultaneously fell upon La Valliere, who, as we have just said, was completely surrounded at that moment. Madame knew not what pity was, and said to the queen-mother, as she turned towards her, “If Fortune were just, she would favor that poor La Valliere.”

“That is not possible,” said the queen-mother, smiling.

“Why not?”

“There are only two hundred tickets, so that it was not possible to inscribe every one’s name on the list.”

“And hers is not there, then?”

“No!”

“What a pity! she might have won them, and then sold them.”

“Sold them!” exclaimed the queen.

“Yes; it would have been a dowry for her, and she would not have been obliged to marry without her trousseau, as will probably be the case.”

“Really,” answered the queen-mother, “poor little thing: has she no dresses, then?”

And she pronounced these words like a woman who has never been able to understand the inconveniences of a slenderly filled purse.

“Stay, look at her. Heaven forgive me, if she is not wearing the very same petticoat this evening that she had on this morning during the promenade, and which she managed to keep clean, thanks to the care the king took of her, in sheltering her from the rain.”

At the very moment Madame uttered these words the king entered the room. The two queens would not perhaps have observed his arrival, so completely were they occupied in their ill-natured remarks, had not Madame noticed that, all at once, La Valliere, who was standing up facing the gallery, exhibited certain signs of confusion, and then said a few words to the courtiers who surrounded her, who immediately dispersed. This movement induced Madame to look towards the door, and at that moment, the captain of the guards announced the king. At this moment La Valliere, who had hitherto kept her eyes fixed upon the gallery, suddenly cast them down as the king entered. His majesty was dressed magnificently and in the most perfect taste; he was conversing with Monsieur and the Duc de Roquelaure, Monsieur on his right, and the Duc de Roquelaure on his left. The king advanced, in the first place, towards the queens, to whom he bowed with an air full of graceful respect. He took his mother’s hand and kissed it, addressed a few compliments to Madame upon the beauty of her toilette, and then began to make the round of the assembly. La Valliere was saluted in the same manner as the others, but with neither more nor less attention. His majesty then returned to his mother and his wife. When the courtiers noticed that the king had only addressed some ordinary remark to the young girl who had been so particularly noticed in the morning, they immediately drew their own conclusion to account for this coldness of manner; this conclusion being, that although the king may have taken a sudden fancy to her, that fancy had already disappeared. One thing, however, must be remarked, that close beside La Valliere, among the number of the courtiers, M. Fouquet was to be seen; and his respectfully attentive manner served to sustain the young girl in the midst of the varied emotions that visibly agitated her.

M. Fouquet was just on the point, moreover, of speaking in a more friendly manner with Mademoiselle de la Valliere, when M. Colbert approached, and after having bowed to Fouquet with all the formality of respectful politeness, he seemed to take up a post beside La Valliere, for the purpose of entering into conversation with her. Fouquet immediately quitted his place. These proceedings were eagerly devoured by the eyes of Montalais and Malicorne, who mutually exchanged their observations on the subject. De Guiche, standing within the embrasure of one of the windows, saw no one but Madame. But as Madame, on her side, frequently glanced at La Valliere, De Guiche’s eyes, following Madame’s, were from time to time cast upon the young girl. La Valliere instinctively felt herself sinking beneath the weight of all these different looks, inspired, some by interest, others by envy. She had nothing to compensate her for her sufferings, not a kind word from her companions, nor a look of affection from the king. No one could possibly express the misery the poor girl was suffering. The queen-mother next directed the small table to be brought forward, on which the lottery-tickets were placed, two hundred in number, and begged Madame de Motteville to read the list of the names. It was a matter of course that this list had been drawn out in strict accordance with the laws of etiquette. The king’s name was first on the list, next the queen-mother, then the queen, Monsieur, Madame, and so on. All hearts throbbed anxiously as the list was read out; more than three hundred persons had been invited, and each of them was anxious to learn whether his or her name was to be found in the number of privileged names. The king listened with as much attention as the others, and when the last name had been pronounced, he noticed that La Valliere had been omitted from the list. Every one, of course, remarked this omission. The king flushed as if much annoyed; but La Valliere, gentle and resigned, as usual, exhibited nothing of the sort. While the list was being read, the king had not taken his eyes off the young girl, who seemed to expand, as it were, beneath the happy influence she felt was shed around her, and who was delighted and too pure in spirit for any other thought than that of love to find an entrance either to her mind or her heart. Acknowledging this touching self-denial by the fixity of his attention, the king showed La Valliere how much he appreciated its delicacy. When the list was finished, the different faces of those who had been omitted or forgotten fully expressed their disappointment. Malicorne was also left out from amongst the men; and the grimace he made plainly said to Montalais, who was also forgotten, “Cannot we contrive to arrange matters with Fortune in such a manner that she shall not forget us?” to which a smile full of intelligence from Mademoiselle Aure, replied: “Certainly we can.”

The tickets were distributed to each according to the number listed. The king received his first, next the queen-mother, then Monsieur, then the queen and Madame, and so on. After this, Anne of Austria opened a small Spanish leather bag, containing two hundred numbers engraved upon small balls of mother-of-pearl, and presented the open sack to the youngest of her maids of honor, for the purpose of taking one of the balls out of it. The eager expectation of the throng, amidst all the tediously slow preparations, was rather that of cupidity than curiosity. Saint-Aignan bent towards Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente to whisper to her, “Since we have each a number, let us unite our two chances. The bracelet shall be yours if I win, and if you are successful, deign to give me but one look of your beautiful eyes.”

“No,” said Athenais, “if you win the bracelet, keep it, every one for himself.”

“You are without any pity,” said Saint-Aignan, “and I will punish you by a quatrain:—

“Beautiful Iris, to my vows You are too opposed—”

“Silence,” said Athenais, “you will prevent me hearing the winning number.”

“Number one,” said the young girl who had drawn the mother-of-pearl from the Spanish leather bag.

“The king!” exclaimed the queen-mother.

“The king has won,” repeated the queen, delightedly.

“Oh! the king! your dream!” said Madame, joyously, in the ear of Anne of Austria.

The king was the only one who did not exhibit any satisfaction. He merely thanked Fortune for what she had done for him, in addressing a slight salutation to the young girl who had been chosen as her proxy. Then receiving from the hands of Anne of Austria, amid the eager desire of the whole assembly, the casket inclosing the bracelets, he said, “Are these bracelets really beautiful, then?”

“Look at them,” said Anne of Austria, “and judge for yourself.”

The king looked at them, and said, “Yes, indeed, an admirable medallion. What perfect finish!”

Queen Maria Theresa easily saw, and that, too at the very first glance, that the king would not offer the bracelets to her; but, as he did not seem the least degree in the world disposed to offer them to Madame, she felt almost satisfied, or nearly so. The king sat down. The most intimate among the courtiers approached, one by one, for the purpose of admiring more closely the beautiful piece of workmanship, which soon, with the king’s permission, was handed about from person to person. Immediately, every one, connoisseurs or not, uttered various exclamations of surprise, and overwhelmed the king with congratulations. There was, in fact, something for everybody to admire—the brilliance for some, and the cutting for others. The ladies present visibly displayed their impatience to see such a treasure monopolized by the gentlemen.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” said the king, whom nothing escaped, “one would almost think that you wore bracelets as the Sabines used to do; hand them round for a while for the inspection of the ladies, who seem to have, and with far greater right, an excuse for understanding such matters!”

These words appeared to Madame the commencement of a decision she expected. She gathered, besides, this happy belief from the glances of the queen-mother. The courtier who held them at the moment the king made this remark, amidst the general agitation, hastened to place the bracelets in the hands of the queen, Maria Theresa, who, knowing too well, poor woman, that they were not designed for her, hardly looked at them, and almost immediately passed them on to Madame. The latter, and even more minutely, Monsieur, gave the bracelets a long look of anxious and almost covetous desire. She then handed the jewels to those ladies who were near her, pronouncing this single word, but with an accent which was worth a long phrase, “Magnificent!”

The ladies who had received the bracelets from Madame’s hands looked at them as long as they chose to examine them, and then made them circulate by passing them on towards the right. During this time the king was tranquilly conversing with De Guiche and Fouquet, rather passively letting them talk than himself listening. Accustomed to the set form of ordinary phrases, his ear, like that of all men who exercise an incontestable superiority over others, merely selected from the conversations held in various directions the indispensable word which requires reply. His attention, however, was now elsewhere, for it wandered as his eyes did.

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente was the last of the ladies inscribed for tickets; and, as if she had ranked according to her name upon the list, she had only Montalais and La Valliere near her. When the bracelets reached these two latter, no one appeared to take any further notice of them. The humble hands which for a moment touched these jewels, deprived them, for the time, of their importance—a circumstance which did not, however, prevent Montalais from starting with joy, envy, and covetous desire, at the sight of the beautiful stones still more than at their magnificent workmanship. It is evident that if she were compelled to decide between the pecuniary value and the artistic beauty, Montalais would unhesitatingly have preferred diamonds to cameos, and her disinclination, therefore, to pass them on to her companion, La Valliere, was very great. La Valliere fixed a look almost of indifference upon the jewels.

“Oh, how beautiful, how magnificent these bracelets are!” exclaimed Montalais; “and yet you do not go into ecstasies about them, Louise! You are no true woman, I am sure.”

“Yes, I am, indeed,” replied the young girl, with an accent of the most charming melancholy; “but why desire that which can never, by any possibility, be ours?”

The king, his head bent forward, was listening to what Louise was saying. Hardly had the vibration of her voice reached his ear than he rose, radiant with delight, and passing across the whole assembly, from the place where he stood, to La Valliere, “You are mistaken, mademoiselle,” he said, “you are a woman, and every woman has a right to wear jewels, which are a woman’s appurtenance.”

“Oh, sire!” said La Valliere, “your majesty will not absolutely believe in my modesty?”

“I believe you possess every virtue, mademoiselle; frankness as well as every other; I entreat you, therefore, to say frankly what you think of these bracelets?”

“That they are beautiful, sire, and cannot be offered to any other than a queen.”

“I am delighted that such is your opinion, mademoiselle; the bracelets are yours, and the king begs your acceptance of them.”

And as, with a movement almost resembling terror, La Valliere eagerly held out the casket to the king, the king gently pushed back her trembling hand.

A silence of astonishment, more profound than that of death, reigned in the assembly.

And yet, from the side where the queens were, no one had heard what he had said, nor understood what he had done. A charitable friend, however, took upon herself to spread the news; it was Tonnay-Charente, to whom Madame had made a sign to approach.

“Good heavens!” explained Tonnay-Charente, “how happy that La Valliere is! the king has just given her the bracelets.”

Madame bit her lips to such a degree that the blood appeared upon the surface of the skin. The young queen looked first at La Valliere and then at Madame, and began to laugh. Anne of Austria rested her chin upon her beautiful white hand, and remained for a long time absorbed by a presentiment that disturbed her mind, and by a terrible pang which stung her heart. De Guiche, observing Madame turn pale, and guessing the cause of her change of color, abruptly quitted the assembly and disappeared. Malicorne was then able to approach Montalais very quietly, and under cover of the general din of conversation, said to her:

“Aure, your fortune and our future are standing at your elbow.”

“Yes,” was her reply, as she tenderly embraced La Valliere, whom, inwardly, she was tempted to strangle.

End of Ten Years Later. 

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