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Birdie’s Pet

From Ailenroc鈥檚 Book, by Cornelia Alexander

Quietness reigned in the town of C鈥斺. The hum of busy everyday life was hushed in the streets, while the closed doors and the sound of church bells proclaimed to the traveler that it was the Lord鈥檚 day. Even the green parrot which hung in its gay cage over Jim Carter鈥檚 door seemed subdued by the sweet stillness of the morning, and held its tongue where it belonged鈥攊n its head.

I said the doors were closed. They were, all but one, and that was where the parrot hung. 鈥淏ar鈥 was written over it in big letters, and there was a tall green screen standing just inside to hide the thirsty caller from the passers-by.

鈥淏ut,鈥 says one, 鈥渢he law of the land does not allow whisky shops open on Sunday.鈥 But the law only imposes a fine, you see, for so doing; and Jim Carter didn鈥檛 care for fines.

鈥淚 makes it up in the long run, he said, winking his one eye. 鈥淏less you, Sunday is as good a day as any! I buys my liquors, and sells when I gets ready. I pays my fines, and it鈥檚 nobody鈥檚 business. Old Jim and the law has a tussle occasionally; but what of it? I does as I pleases.鈥

On this particular morning he sat sunning himself, like a great, big, bloated spider at the door of his den, and, as usual, a crowd of loafers had collected to keep him company.

鈥淭he new parson holds forth to-day, I suppose,鈥 said Joe Bently, a young limb of the law, whose shaky hands and watery eyes proclaimed his habits. He did not add that he had fled from home by the way of a back window, fearing that his pious widowed mother would ask his company to the house of God.

鈥淵es,鈥 drawled old Jim, 鈥渁nd I thought you鈥檇 a-been there; but 鈥榖irds of a feather,鈥 you know,鈥 he added, with a wink of his eye, giving Joe, at the same time, a dig in the ribs.

Joe scarcely knew whether to be offended or not. He held himself above his associates in a great many things, and yet their company held a great charm for him.

鈥淚 was up late last night,鈥 he said, in a surly tone, 鈥渁nd did not feel like going out to-day. If I did, I should go to sleep, sure as fate.鈥

鈥淚 sleeps of a night and stays awake of a day,鈥 said Jim, with a grin.

鈥淲hy don鈥檛 you go, Jim?鈥 said one of the crowd, who sat on a box whittling a pine stick.

鈥淒idn鈥檛 want to,鈥 Jim answered. 鈥淥ld preachers and new preachers are all the same to me. The old judge is about all that I can stand. I believe in every tub standin鈥 on its own bottom, and every man 鈥榯endin鈥 to to his own affairs. I 鈥榯end to mine; but I don鈥檛 have to go out on the street, take a man by the collar, and make him drink. If a man wants a dram, though, he knows where to get it;鈥 and Jim laughed as though it were the richest joke in the world.

鈥淵onder comes the preacher now,鈥 said the man on the box, rising and going in behind the screen for some water, whereat they all laughed, and old Jim winked till he did not appear to have even one eye.

They all knew that John Barton鈥檚 name was on the church book, and they knew, too, that it had no right there; for wicked men despise religious hypocrites.

The minister passed on, touching his hat with gentle courtesy to the idlers. He was a pale, kind-looking man; and to his hand clung a little girl, who chattered like a magpie, and smiled so sweetly in old Jim鈥檚 face that he was quite bewildered.

鈥淏less my soul!鈥 he ejaculated, when he had time to catch his breath. 鈥淢y! That鈥檚 the sweetest little one I鈥檝e seen in many a day. Blow me, if it ain鈥檛 so!鈥

鈥淪he is a pretty little thing,鈥 the other men assented; and John Barton, having assuaged his thirst, came out, and looking after them, said so, too.

When the father and daughter came on by after service, the group had scattered, and old Jim sat within the doorway, with his chair tilted back, reading a newspaper.

鈥淥, papa,鈥 cried a little piping voice, 鈥渓et me see the pitty Poll.! Do, papa, hold me up!鈥

鈥淣ot to-day, my dear,鈥 her father answered.

鈥淐an I see it to-morrow, papa?鈥 and he said, absently, as fathers will: 鈥淵es, yes, my dear.鈥

Great was old Jim鈥檚 surprise on the next morning when a tiny apparition walked into his den.

鈥淧lease, sir,鈥 she said, folding her hands and glancing around, 鈥淚 come to see the pitty Poll., but he is gone.鈥

鈥淏less my soul!鈥 said Jim. 鈥淭he old rascal is in the back room. I鈥檒l have him out; yes, yes鈥攂less my soul!鈥攖hat I will.鈥 And he dived into a little apartment and brought out the old bird.

The little girl clapped her hands delightedly, and laughed with such glee that old Jim joined in for company; but the parrot ruffled his feathers and buried his beak in his breast, till he looked like a great ball.

鈥淧olly, want your breakfast?鈥 said his master; but Polly answered never a word.

鈥淧olly, Polly, want your breakfast?鈥 But no answer.

鈥淲on鈥檛 he talk?鈥 said the child.

鈥淣o, my dear, only just when he pleases. He is like me鈥攐ld, contrary, and mean;鈥 and Jim laughed and winked.

鈥淚s you mean?鈥 said the child, seriously. 鈥淚f you is, I doin鈥 home.鈥

鈥淣o, no,鈥 said Jim hastily; 鈥淚 was jokin鈥. What might your name be, little girl?鈥

鈥淢y name鈥檚 鈥楤irdie.鈥 I鈥檓 a bird, too,鈥 she said, laughing and shaking her yellow locks; 鈥渂ut not like that one. I ain鈥檛聽 green, and I鈥檒l talk.鈥

鈥淐ome, little Birdie,鈥 said old Jim, 鈥渁nd have a seat. I鈥檓 a mannerly old sight鈥攈ave a lady to come to see me and never offer her a cheer;鈥 and he wheeled a rocker out of the back room and placed Birdie in it. 鈥淣ow,鈥 said he, 鈥渋t鈥檚 my treat. What will you have?鈥 But she did not understand. 鈥淒o you like candy, Birdie, and oranges, and such things? You see, I don鈥檛 know what children likes.鈥

鈥淵ou dot no little dirl?鈥 Birdie asked, full of pity.

鈥淣o, no little girl; I lives by myself.鈥

鈥淒on鈥檛 you dit 鈥榦nesome?鈥 said the child, with her mouth full.

鈥淵es, sorter鈥攕orter鈥攕ometimes,鈥 said Jim, not laughing now.

鈥淏ut den,鈥 said Birdie, striving to comfort this man who was lonely and had no little girl, 鈥淕od is with you all the time.鈥

She said it seriously because of her strong childish faith, because of her training; she said it impressively, because, like all children, her tongue was inclined to trip lightly over the letter 鈥済;鈥 but she invariably took time to say 鈥淕od,鈥 dwelling with emphasis upon the sacred name.

鈥淣ow, I be blessed if it don鈥檛 git away with me!鈥 said Jim, watching Birdie put her white teeth into the rosy cheek of an apple. 鈥淚 guess,鈥 he muttered, 鈥渢hat he is with her all the time.鈥

鈥淣ow,鈥 she went on, confidentially, 鈥渨e鈥檙e not 鈥榦nesome at our house. I鈥檝e dot papa, and papa鈥檚 dot me, and then we鈥檝e dot mamma, and she鈥檚 dot de baby, and he is a sweet baby. He sleeps all day and all night, and he鈥檚 a boy,鈥 she added, as though that fact must not be overlooked, 鈥渁nd some day he will be a man, and then鈥攁nd then鈥斺 But the outlook was too vast; she returned to her apple. 鈥淚 wish you鈥檇 come to our house and see him,鈥 she resumed. 鈥淧apa said he鈥檇 have his picture token, and I鈥檒l div you one. I love goodies,鈥 glancing suggestively at the glass jars.

鈥淵ou shall have goodies every day,鈥 said old Jim. 鈥淣ow, hold your apron, for you must take some to the baby. Did yer pa know you come?鈥 he asked, shaking some raisins out of a box.

鈥淣o, sir; I didn鈥檛 ast him. He said to-morrow I might come and see pitty Polly, and I dest walked out. Nobody saw me but Nero鈥攖hat鈥檚 our dog鈥攁nd he was asleep, or he would have come, too. Nero is a good dog. O,鈥 jumping out of the chair, 鈥渢here he is! Here, Nero; here, sir!鈥

A great shaggy Newfoundland dog ran in, whining for joy, and after him came Mr. Stephens.

鈥淲hy, Birdie!鈥 he said, too amazed for further utterance.

鈥淚 come to see the pitty Polly, papa,鈥 she said, gathering up her treasures in her big apron, 鈥渁nd I dest stayed long enough to eat some lots of things and talk to this good man. He not dot any little dirl, papa.鈥

Mr. Stephens smiled. What else could he do? Birdie was so small and innocent that she did not know that a barroom was forbidden ground to women and children.

鈥淵ou must not carry off the gentleman鈥檚 sweetmeats in that style, my dear. I fear鈥濃攖o old Jim鈥斺渢hat she has been troublesome.”

But the barkeeper hastened to reassure him. 鈥淥 no, sir; not in the least! I鈥檝e enjoyed her visit鈥攊ndeed I have鈥攆or she 鈥榤inds me of a little sister that died when I was a lad. I鈥檝e been thinkin鈥 of her all mornin鈥. Let her carry home the little tricks I gave her鈥攄o, now,鈥 as the minister hesitated. 鈥淚t鈥檚 not often I have such good company. You鈥檇 hardly believe how she has talked this mornin鈥欌攍ike a 鈥榩ostle, I might say.鈥

鈥淲ell, thank the gentleman, Birdie, and let us go to mamma; she is uneasy about her little daughter.鈥

Then Birdie made her little bow, as she had been taught, lisped her thanks, and stooped to offer Polly a tempting morsel, which he took, to her great delight; and then, escorted by her papa and Nero, she set out for home.

Her mamma was shocked.

鈥淏een to the grocery, Birdie? O dear! What will the people think of their minister鈥檚 little daughter, to run away and go to a place where they drink whisky and say bad words?鈥

鈥淣o, mamma; you is mistooken. I didn鈥檛 see no drunk mans nor no whisky. Why, mamma, it鈥檚 a pitty place, and the man is too funny! He wears hankers, like our cook, and God didn鈥檛 let him have but one eye, and he鈥檚 dot a big鈥攁 big rocking-chair, and lots of goodies and things, and a big bird, mamma, what won鈥檛 talk, with red legs, and it鈥檚 green.鈥

鈥淎 splendid description,鈥 said her mother, laughing. 鈥淏ut, Birdie, you must not go there any more; if you do, I shall have to punish you. Do you hear me, Birdie?

鈥淵es, mamma, I hear,鈥 sorting her treasures. 鈥淣ow you put 鈥榚m up and give me some next day. I don鈥檛 want any now.鈥

So her mamma put by the nuts and candies. They lasted two or three days, then Birdie began to pine for more.

She asked several times: 鈥淚s there one orange?鈥

鈥淣o, dear.鈥

鈥淎pple?鈥

鈥淣o, dear.鈥

鈥淐andy?鈥

鈥淣o, Birdie.鈥

鈥淣ot a single nut?鈥

鈥淣o, none.鈥

鈥淣othin鈥, mamma?鈥

鈥淟ook in the drawer, Birdie. They are all gone.鈥

After a while Birdie was missing. Her mother searched the house, while the cook and the nurse girl searched the yard and garden; but no Birdie answered their calls.

鈥淐an it be possible,鈥 said Mrs. Stephens, 鈥渢hat she has gone to that grocery again? Ann, run down there and see.鈥

Ann departed in hot haste, and presently returned, leading the truant.

鈥淎n鈥 it鈥檚 there I found her, to be sure, a-settin鈥 in a high chair as large as loife, a-fadin鈥 that ugly birrud which is part human, part imp, I鈥檓 thinkin鈥. 鈥楽hiver me splinters!鈥 says the baste the same minit I puts me foot to the door, and this child here鈥攂egorra!鈥攋ust scr鈥檃med wid the laughter. Yez ought to have seen the men standin鈥 and waitin鈥 on her, and the man wid but one eye 鈥榯wixt him an鈥 heaven must fill her apron wid a bushel o鈥 things, and every mother鈥檚 son of them must give her some gimcrack or other; and at last I got off wid her, and here she is; and it鈥檚 sorry enough I am that I had to go to sech a place. I shall confess it to the praste before me conscience can rest aisy.鈥

鈥淎re you doin鈥 to punish me, mamma?鈥 said Birdie, seeing her mother look very grave.

鈥淵es, my daughter. I told you I would if you went back there any more. Why will you disobey me, Birdie? That is the way bad girls do; and my little daughter does not wish to be a bad girl, does she?鈥

鈥淣o, mamma; but I wanted to see the big bird so bad. Why, mamma, he talks; he is better鈥檔 our baby to talk to. If you鈥檇 go see him, mamma, I鈥檇 not punish you.鈥

When Mr. Stephens returned, he held a consultation with his wife, and they decided to make Birdie go without her supper and stay indoors鈥攁 prisoner鈥攁ll the next day.

Birdie looked very sober, but shed no tears. Indeed, the thought of supper was all that hurt, for she had eaten so much at Jim Carter鈥檚 that she was not hungry in the least.

The next day passed off slowly enough, but, on the whole, it was light punishment.

Sunday morning came again, and as old Jim bustled around, he muttered: 鈥淚鈥檝e a good mind to keep shet up to-day; but the boys would laugh at me, if I did. Dogged if I hain鈥檛 a good will to go to church! Wonder what the mighty high and pious folks would say?鈥 And he laughed and winked to himself at the thought.

Directly he paused, duster in hand. 鈥淭hat was curious what the little one said to me鈥斺楪od with me all the time.鈥 If that鈥檚 so, I guess he has got a good many marks ag鈥檌n me about his day, as well as other things. After all, it鈥檚 a good thing on dumb brutes to have one day in the week to rest, and on folks, too, I reckon. If men didn鈥檛 have one day set apart, I calculate that they would wear out a heap sooner; but when they want something to recuperate, they know where to come to鈥攐ld Jim is reliable.鈥

The old parrot was hung out in the sun. The church bells began to ring; groups of bright-faced children flocked by, followed by their elders; and lastly, holding to her father鈥檚 hand, went Birdie. Mr. Stephens had a pleasant salutation for old Jim, sitting there spiderlike, while Birdie laughed and nodded her bright head many times.

鈥淗owdy, Polly!鈥 Birdie said; and Polly, mindful of her sea voyage, responded, in a deep guttural: 鈥淧olly, Polly; splinter my timbers!鈥

Old Jim heaved a sigh. Somehow it did not make him feel good to see respectable age and joyous youth passing by on their way to church, and he sitting there, left out entirely. He glanced up at his sign, and was struck with a new significance. A bar it was, truly鈥攁 bar to all the pleasures of life. The idlers found him dull company that morning, so they all sauntered off.

He did not see Birdie for several days; then she came, saying, as she entered the room: 鈥淚鈥檝e comed again. Ann watches, but I runned away, if I do have to do wivout my supper. Mamma says ladies don鈥檛 come here; but little dirls can come. O Polly, pitty Polly! Let me feed him.鈥

Old Jim placed her in the big chair, and the parrot on the table, where she fed him in an ecstasy of delight when he accepted a bite, and of fear lest he should take one out of her fingers.

While she was engaged thus, old Jim was making up a packet of sweets such as she loved best, and surprised her by putting it in her apron, and saying: 鈥淩un along home now, Birdie; your folks don鈥檛 want you to come here, and I guess they are about right. I like for you to come, but it ain鈥檛 just the proper place for good little girls like you.鈥

鈥淲hat for do you stay here, then?鈥 she said, her eyes big with wonder.

鈥淢e? O, it鈥檚 my business; I make money.鈥

鈥淪elling good things?鈥

鈥淵es.鈥 Then, under his breath: 鈥淏ad things, too.鈥

鈥淕uess I鈥檒l go,鈥 said the child, looking at him in doubt. 鈥淚 loves good people; God loves good people. Bad people don鈥檛 go to heaven.鈥 Then she soberly walked out.

Birdie鈥檚 father met her, and she told him she was not going there any more; so he persuaded his wife to forgive the small sinner once more.

Old Jim had not seen the inside of a church for many years. All thought on the subject of religion had faded from his mind, but the words of the innocent child struck a chord in his breast which vibrated strangely. 鈥淕od loves good people, but bad folks don鈥檛 go to heaven,鈥 rang in his ears time and again. He followed a low calling鈥攁lmost the lowest on earth鈥攖hat of making drunkards, and growing rich on the traffic; but all good was not dead in the man鈥檚 nature, and, through his love of pets and a fancied resemblance to his dead sister, little Birdie had found a place in his heart.

Before the next day of rest came around a startling rumor had reached Jim: the minister鈥檚 daughter lay at death鈥檚 door with diphtheria. He was so much disturbed that he ran out to hail the doctor to ask after his little patient.

鈥淪carcely any chance for her,鈥 was the answer.

Men wondered after that to see old Jim so forgetful and absent-minded, and old Polly saw what no one else did鈥攁 tear in his eye鈥攚hen he fed the ancient bird.

It was night鈥擲unday night鈥攁nd death seemed to hover very near to Mr. Stephens鈥 home. A minister from a neighboring town, hearing of his affliction, had ridden over to offer his condolences; but every word was a stab in place of a comfort.

鈥淢y dear sir,鈥 he said to the troubled father, 鈥測ou must not give way so; you must practice what you preach. If it be God鈥檚 will to take your child from you, you can only submit like a man and a Christian. Indeed, it is unmanly to weep. I am shocked at your grief.鈥

鈥淛esus wept,鈥 said Mr. Stephens, raising his pale, tear-stained face. 鈥淚 am not stronger than my Master. O, it seems that I cannot give her up鈥攎y precious child!鈥

鈥淣erve yourself, my brother. You have preached patience and resignation to others; you must not give way.鈥

鈥淚 am only a man,鈥 cried the stricken father, 鈥渁nd my child is dying鈥攎y firstborn, my darling daughter!鈥

鈥淒ear, dear! What can I say?鈥 said the reverend visitor. 鈥淗e will not listen to reason.鈥

Reason, when the heart is breaking and the floods of affliction are pouring in on the soul!

Just then Ann opened the library door, and, in a hushed voice, announced, 鈥淪ome one to see Mr. Stephens,鈥 and a man in a big coat came in.

Mr. Stephens looked up. He saw as through a mist, and his ears were filled with the sound of labored breathing in the next room; so he was scarcely surprised to see in the man before him Jim Carter, the barkeeper.

Jim fumbled awkwardly with his hat a moment; then, reaching out, he took the hand of the sorrowing father in his own, and the man within him spoke, though his sentences were few and disjointed.

鈥淚 heard of your trouble, sir, and I were troubled, too. I couldn鈥檛 sleep last night, and I says to myself, 鈥業鈥檒l go up;鈥 and anything I can do, or anything I鈥檝e got, is at your command. If the little angel can just live, it鈥檚 all I ask, sir. If there is any arrants to run, or anything I can do, I want to be told of it.鈥

He ceased and wiped away the tears that trickled down his face.

O blessed human sympathy! How it flashes from heart to heart! Mr. Stephens鈥 grasp tightened over the hand of the liquor dealer, and he accepted his offer with thanks, for he knew it came from the heart.

Jim Carter spoke again after they had sat in silence for some time: 鈥淚f you鈥檝e no objection, I鈥檇 like to see her again. If she鈥攄on鈥檛鈥攍ive鈥攜ou know, I may not see her any more.鈥

鈥淢y friend,鈥 said Mr. Stephens, while an expression of heavenly rapture overspread his face, 鈥渋f she dies, I expect to see her again. O blessed be God,鈥 he continued, 鈥渇or the hope that lies beyond the grave! Come, you shall see her.鈥

Opening a door, he ushered old Jim into the chamber where Birdie lay battling for life.

The doctor sat close by, Mrs. Stephens hung over the bed in the agony which none but a mother knows, two kind neighbors sat by the fire, and Ann knelt, sobbing, at the foot of the bed.

Old Jim felt strangely awed and humbled. The silence in the room was broken only by the suppressed sobs of the mother and the hoarse breathing of the child, who tossed restlessly, with swollen, bandaged throat, upon her fevered pillow.

鈥淏irdie,鈥 said Mr. Stephens鈥攁nd O the love and despair in his voice!鈥斺渉ere is Mr. Carter come to see you.鈥

She turned her restless eyes and the feverish lips shaped themselves into a word; but no word came.

鈥淵our friend, Birdie, who gave you so many 鈥榩itties.鈥欌

A gleam of intelligence came into the violet eyes, and she held out one hot and trembling hand. Old Jim took it, scarcely seeing for the tears that almost blinded him, and bent over the child.

鈥淧itty Polly,鈥 she said. 鈥淲here鈥檚 pitty Polly?鈥

鈥淵ou shall see Polly to-morrow,鈥 said Jim, soothingly; then you鈥檒l get better.鈥

鈥淚 is better now,鈥 she said, pantingly. 鈥淧apa, ask God to make me well again.鈥

Down on his knees dropped the father, and the others followed his example. When old Jim knelt by the bed and buried his face in his hands, it seemed to him, as he afterwards expressed it, that he entered on a new existence. Certain it is that it was a new experience to find himself bowed before God and following every word uttered by the agonized father. Mr. Stephens poured out his soul in prayer. Humble and heart-sore, he began; triumphing in Christ, he closed; and as they arose from their knees, they saw that Birdie was sleeping quietly.

All night old Jim remained in the library, pondering his past life; he felt his condition as he never had before. 鈥淚f death should come to me鈥斺 Jim shuddered at the thought. 鈥淚f trouble comes to me, I cannot go to God with my afflictions as Mr. Stephens did. Not as I am;鈥 he said, 鈥渂ut I can reform, and I will.鈥 When the east began to grow rosy with the dawn, Mr. Stephens came out of the sick room with a hopeful look, and whispered that she was better; then Jim Carter took his leave.

When Birdie awoke from a long and restful slumber, she saw on a table the familiar cage, while through the bars peeped the wondering eyes of the (to her) wonderful bird. She broke into a faint laugh, and through the long hours of her convalescence she petted Polly to her heart鈥檚 content.

One day Jim Carter came and had a long conversation with Mr. Stephens. 鈥淵ou see, sir,鈥 he said, 鈥淚 have a mind to change my way of doing business. I鈥檝e a notion to quit the place where women and children cannot come, and open a store where they can come. Bless you, sir, I鈥檓 ashamed to think (and I never looked at it that way till lately) that I鈥檝e followed so low-down a calling that nobody but men鈥攁nd the bad, low-down kind at that鈥攃an come where I keep. I thought I would talk to you about it, as you are the father of that dear child who has said things to me that set me to thinkin鈥.鈥

鈥溾極ut of the mouths of babes and sucklings,鈥欌 said Mr. Stephens, with thankful heart and tear-wet eyes; but seeing old Jim staring, he said: 鈥淵ou are right, Mr. Carter. I honor you for what you have said, and will render you every assistance in my power. You can sell eatables, and make a good living without trafficking in liquors.鈥

Great was the wonder when it was noised abroad that Jim Carter鈥攚icked Jim Carter鈥攈ad shut up his saloon for good; had given his precious pet to a sick child; had gone into the family grocery business鈥攁 business where good women and good men, pure young girls and innocent children might come.

Another surprise awaited the town. Jim Carter went to church; Jim Carter, whose feet had not crossed the threshold of God鈥檚 house in long years, went to church. He went again and again; the man鈥檚 heart within him was melted鈥攚on by the sweet, simple truths of the Bible鈥攁nd, with the courage of a soldier, he gave in his allegiance.

Again a startling rumor filled the town. Old Jim Carter had joined the church, was baptized, and, clothed in his right mind, sat around the Lord鈥檚 table with his brethren.

鈥淗e will not hold out,鈥 said one, sneeringly. 鈥淗e鈥檚 been too bad a feller to change out and out, and I鈥檒l bet that he鈥檒l be keepin鈥 grocery open on Sunday by another year.鈥

鈥淚 think he is a converted man,鈥 said another; 鈥淚鈥檒l tell you why. Well, you know Ned Parker died a drunkard, and now Jim is sending Ned鈥檚 children to school. Yes, sir, Jim Carter鈥檚 got money put aside for his old customers to draw on when in need. He gives away provisions every week to the poor souls that he has helped to injure, and he works in a quiet way to get men to give up whisky. Whenever a man鈥檚 religion gets down into his pocket, I think it鈥檚 got a hold deep enough to do good.鈥

Jim Carter did hold out faithful. He lived long the honored friend of Mr. Stephens and his wife, and trusted and respected by his fellow-citizens. But between the one-eyed exsailor and beautiful Birdie, there always existed a sincere friendship; and pretty Polly, their joint possession, lived to a green old age.

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