Chapter 200: Tremble, Scumbag 9
“Miss, have you sold out all your red bean cakes?”
Just as Bai Lan was packing up her stall and preparing to leave with Jiang Liu, the first aunt who had bought red bean cakes from her returned.
“Yes, Auntie. They’re all sold out.”
Bai Lan looked at the silly boy beside her, still grinning because she had promised to make him red bean cakes when they got home and smiled at the old lady.
“Oh dear, how did they all sell out quickly?”
The old lady sighed and stamped her foot.
“Auntie, are her red bean cakes tasty?”
The person next to her, who had initially thought Bai Lan’s red bean cakes were too expensive and hadn’t bought any, couldn’t resist the old lady’s show of interest and began to feel tempted.
“They’re delicious, even better than Wu Fang Zhai‘s red bean cakes.”
The old lady nodded. She had been unwilling to buy a piece of Bai Lan’s red bean cake for three coins but had eventually caved into her grandson’s whining for a taste. After letting the boy hold the cake, she went to the nearby vegetable market to buy the ingredients she needed for the day. As she was about to head home, she casually asked if the red bean cake was good. She never expected her grandson to say it was even better than the famous Wu Fang Zhai cakes.
At the time, the old lady was somewhat sceptical because Wu Fang Zhai was a well-known pastry shop in the area, and it was said that even the local nobles and officials would send their servants to buy the signature pastries and seasonal specialities. She looked at the woman selling cakes, dressed like a rural woman and couldn’t believe she could make red bean cakes better than Wu Fang Zhai’s.
The old lady couldn’t resist biting a piece of the red bean cake in her grandson’s hand and was immediately impressed by its taste.
Red bean cake is a traditional pastry that seems simple but challenging. If the ingredients are not proportioned correctly, the cake will become too soft or too hard. Apart from that, controlling the amount of sugar content is also essential. Red bean cake that is too sweet can make people feel nauseous, while cakes with insufficient sugar taste bland and lack the essence of desserts.
Another essential step in making red bean cake is the sensation it gives when eaten. The old lady has made red bean cake several times, but each time there were too many impurities and insufficient stirring during the boiling process resulted in a poor taste. She thought that Wu Fang Zhai had already taken this traditional pastry to the extreme, but after tasting the red bean cake made by this farmer’s daughter, she realized what “delicate” and “smooth” really meant.
In addition to the preserved red bean particles, the rest of the cake can quickly melt in the mouth with a gentle sip of the tongue. Even the old lady, who had lost some teeth, could easily chew it.
The old lady would have wanted to finish the whole thing if it weren’t for fear of making her grandson cry by eating his red bean cake.
Now, she turned back halfway to buy more red bean cakes to take home so her family could try them. But she didn’t expect to be late, and all the red bean cakes were sold out quickly.
“Better than Wu Fang Zhai‘s red bean cake!”
Although Wu Fang Zhai‘s red bean cakes were also three cents each, strictly speaking, the red bean cakes sold by Bai Lan were cheaper because each cake was thicker and larger than those sold by Wu Fang Zhai.
If the red bean cakes sold by Bai Lan were also better than those sold by Wu Fang Zhai, then it would be a great deal.
“Will you come to the market to sell red bean cakes tomorrow?”
The old lady looked at Bai Lan and asked.
“Yes, I will come here these days.”
Bai Lan thought she could still manage the farm work for now, but the income from selling pastries was much higher than from farming. As long as the pastry sales were good, she would come to the market to sell for some time.
“By the way, is it true that the more you buy, the cheaper the price is?”
The old lady continued to ask.
“Yes, one cake costs three cents, three cakes cost only eight, and six cakes cost fifteen cents. The more you buy, the cheaper the price.”
When Bai Lan was at the Marquis’s mansion, she learned some commonly used characters and arithmetic from the old woman in charge of procurement. Now she’s using what she learned in her previous life to sell cakes.
“To make it clear, originally, three cakes cost nine coins; now they only cost eight coins. If you buy three red bean cakes, it’s like earning one coin. Originally, fifteen coins could only buy five cakes, but now you can buy six, which is like getting a free red bean cake, which means you’ve earned three coins.”
Seeing that the people nearby didn’t understand her meaning, Bai Lan explained it again more straightforwardly.
After she explained, everyone understood. Especially when Bai Lan didn’t mention how much money you could save by buying more but used the word “earn,” it made people subconsciously feel that buying more was making money, and they felt that buying more was more cost-effective than buying less.
“I wish I had bought one more just now.”
The person who originally bought two cakes was pounding his chest and stamping his feet on the side.
“Then you must remember to come tomorrow. I’ll buy a few more by then.”
The people around said that red bean cakes could be stored well and such pastries could be presented to relatives with pride.
Bai Lan smiled and agreed, then packed their belongings and squeezed through the crowd with Jiang Liu, leaving.
“Ten coins, ten coins, ten coins… One hundred coins.”
Jiang Miaoshi is not good at arithmetic or proficient in counting numbers beyond two digits. So she counts ten copper coins and stacks them together. After counting one stack, she bends one finger. When all ten fingers are curled, she piles up the ten stacks of copper coins to form a stack of one hundred coins.
“One hundred coins, two hundred coins, three hundred coins… plus thirty-seven coins, a total of three hundred and thirty-seven coins.”
Looking at the pile of copper coins before her, Jiang Miaoshi’s breathing became rapid, and she felt breathless.
“Why is there so much money? Does this red bean cake make that much money?”
Jiang Miaoshi never thought that the red bean cakes would sell so well. In just one morning, they earned over three hundred coins. After deducting the cost of ingredients, they at least made a net profit of two hundred and sixty to seventy coins.
If it continues for ten days, add another zero. If it continues for one hundred days, add two more zeros. And in a year, there are three hundred and sixty-five days.
“Hoo… hoo… hoo…”
Jiang Miaoshi dared not think any further because that number seemed like a massive sum that would take her half a lifetime to earn.
“Lan’er, our family relies on you. It’s my blessing to have you as a daughter-in-law.”
Economic status determines one’s family status. Since Bai Lan could earn even a lot of money, Jiang Miaoshi naturally treated her differently.
“Mother, besides red bean cake, I think we can make other pastries to sell. After all, the recipes left by my grandmother are all good, and we won’t have trouble selling them. Also, since pastries sell well, we don’t need to plant other crops on our three acres of land. We can grow glutinous rice, sesame, red and green beans, and other crops that can be used to make pastries. This way, we can save money on buying ingredients.”
It was a good thing that the old lady had changed her attitude. Besides, Bai Lan was also carrying her granddaughter in her belly. According to the old lady’s superstitions, if the family could live a prosperous life when the baby was born, her granddaughter would be a lucky little star. This way, her granddaughter’s position in the family would also improve. Although she might not be able to compare with Jiang Liu and her son Dahu in the old lady’s heart, she would at least be more valued than the granddaughters of the first and second houses.
“Okay, okay, we’ll do as you say.”
Jiang Miaoshi nodded repeatedly. After all, green beans and red beans were good ingredients, and many pastry shops would buy them. Even if she stopped making pastries herself, she didn’t have to worry about being unable to sell them.
The only trouble was taking care of these crops, but now, to earn money for her son’s medical treatment, the old lady had a passion that could be used in the fields. Even if tending to those valuable crops was troublesome, it was not difficult for her.
“We haven’t bought any meat since we separated. Lan’er, go to Zhu Dahu-zi‘s house at the village entrance and buy a small piece of pork. We’ll have pork stewed with noodles later.”
Jiang Miaoshi took out twenty copper coins from the few hundred coins and asked her daughter-in-law to buy meat from the village butcher.
Seeing that the family finally had some hope because of her daughter-in-law’s good cooking skills, the old lady was generous for once.
Bai Lan smiled and took the twenty coins. She hadn’t had any meat since she returned to this era, and now she was craving it.
Moreover, Bai Lan heard that if a pregnant woman ate well, her child in the womb would be healthier. Her daughter Zhuhua had been small and thin since she was young, and Bai Lan felt that it might be because she had been too exhausted during her pregnancy. She had decided to take good care of Zhuhua this time, and naturally, it would start from her pregnancy.
“Husband, what do you think the third family is doing?”
The familiar fragrance drifted over from the next room again, and Xu Xiaocao put down her chopsticks and asked Jiang Hai disapprovingly.
“I don’t know what they did yesterday afternoon. The smell made Meihua cry and whine. Today, at noon, they bought pork from Zhu Dahuzi’s house. The smell of the pot of pork and cabbage stewed with noodles made your two children clamour for meat. It’s already dinner time, and they’re still not quiet. The fragrance I smelled yesterday afternoon also has appeared again.”
Xu Xiaocao couldn’t understand it. Although the third family got the best things when they separated, even the discerning eye could see that their future life would be the worst. After all, the third family has no labour force. Jiang Liu, the only male in the third family, was useless, and Jiang Dahu was only two and a half years old. It will take at least another ten years for him to be able to work and support the family. The two women, Bai Lan and Jiang Miaoshi kept the household during these years.
If Jiang Liu could repent and change his ways, perhaps the days of the third family could thrive. But didn’t Jiang Liu suffer brain damage? Logically speaking, the future of the Jiang family should be bleak and in decline, shouldn’t it?
But in the past few days, there hasn’t been a shortage of food aroma from the third household’s kitchen. There are pastries and meat, and life has become much better than before the separation.
Xu Xiaocao couldn’t help but suspect that Jiang Miaoshi had hidden some private resources during the separation. The Jiang family’s wealth was far more than they had imagined, and Jiang Liu unfairly took advantage of that.
But upon careful calculation, Xu Xiaocao also knew how much money the family had earned over the years. Even if Mother-in-law Jiang Miaoshi had withheld a portion of it, it wouldn’t be enough to support the third household’s good food and clothing, at least not to that extent.
“Someone saw the third brother and sister-in-law taking the old third to town this morning, carrying things like they were going to sell them.”
Jiang Hai was also confused. He had always thought he was the most capable of the three brothers, but now the third household was living better than him, making him uncomfortable.
“What are they selling? What valuable things could the third household possibly have left to sell? After Jiang Liu hit his head and had to go to the city for treatment, Jiang Miaoshi sold all the old laying hens. What else could be of value in the house besides the house and land?”
“How would I know? You’re the one staying at home every day. Can’t you find out?”
Jiang Hai felt that the prosperous days of the third household were likely related to what the third daughter-in-law took to sell in town.
“I haven’t been idle either. I wash clothes, cook for you, and feed the chickens and ducks at home. Do you know how much pig feed the two pigs we brought after the separation need every day? Do you think I don’t work?”
Xu Xiaocao felt that her contributions were being overlooked, so she explained in a huff.
“I didn’t say you don’t do any work, but since we’re still living under the same roof, you should pay more attention to what’s happening next door.”
Jiang Hai didn’t want to argue with Xu Xiaocao. He was afraid of losing face in front of the neighbours.
“I will pay more attention from now on.”
Jiang Hai softened his tone, and Xu Xiaocao was no longer angry. She decided to keep an eye on the third household and see what profitable business they were engaged in.
Ever since she tasted the sweetness of selling pastries for the first time, Bai Lan would make some pastries every day and sell them in the town early the next morning. Of course, she wouldn’t forget to bring her trademark, Jiang Liu.
Besides picking things, Jiang Liu didn’t have to do anything. He just sat next to the stall and enjoyed the pastries that Bai Lan gave him.
The beautiful wife who sold tofu was called Tofu Xishi, so Bai Lan’s pastry stall should at least have a nickname like Pastry Pan’ An.
Realizing Jiang Liu’s marketing power, Bai Lan was generous with him during pastry sales. Usually, by the end of the morning, Jiang Liu could eat three or four pieces of pastries.
Since those pastries used good ingredients like flour and sugar, Jiang Liu immediately gained a little weight after a while, making him look even more fair and delicate.
The dumb and chubby boy who looked good was especially liked by old ladies, who were most customers. They were happy to support Bai Lan’s business, especially when they knew that Jiang Liu was not good with his mind and the whole family relied on Bai Lan’s business.
Besides the famous red bean cake, Bai Lan introduced a new product today – honeycomb cake.
This was a recipe that Bai Lan learned from a cook in the Marquis Mansion who came from the South. Honeycomb cake, also known as golden cake, is made of cassava, coconut milk and eggs and is golden all over, hence the name.
Bai Lan only discovered this type of pastry in that previous life, so when she introduced this new pastry, the regular customers were hesitant to buy it because they had never tasted it before.
As a result, the pastries sold slower than usual today, and when the red bean cakes were sold out, there was still more than half of the golden cakes remaining.
Jiang Liu tore a piece of honeycomb cake and handed it to Bai Lan’s mouth. Bai Lan was stunned because she never thought that one day she would be able to eat the food that Jiang Liu voluntarily fed her.
This man was always selfish. He thought of himself first when there was something good, followed by Meng Jiao-niang and his illegitimate son. She and her two children were at the bottom of his mind. Bai Lan had always felt that Jiang Liu would rather throw away something he didn’t need than give it to them.
“Eat. The cake is delicious.”
Seeing that Bai Lan didn’t open her mouth, Jiang Liu pushed the pastry in his hand forward until it was almost at Bai Lan’s mouth.
Bai Lan instinctively opened her mouth and put the golden cake into her mouth.
Her pastry-making skills were excellent, and the golden cake had a unique texture and taste different from traditional cakes. It was already delicious when she tasted it last night, but the piece in her mouth now seemed sweeter.
Bai Lan blinked and took a deep breath.
She told herself that she couldn’t be soft-hearted. She couldn’t be soft-hearted!
Even if Jiang Liu is good now, what’s the point? When he sobers up, he will become that heartless and ruthless beast again. If she is soft-hearted now, she will be heartbroken later.
Bai Lan thought she couldn’t be so hopeless as to fall for the same man twice.
“My wife told me that I have to treat her well, and Lucky Star is being good.”
In these past few days, the education that Bai Lan and Jiang Dahu gave Lucky Star has been quite effective. Children at the age of four or five learn whatever the adults teach them, and Bai Lan and Jiang Dahu taught him to love and care for his wife as a husband and to take care of his children as a father. Now, Jiang Liu’s behaviour aligns with what they have taught him, as he shares what he thinks is good with his wife.
Bai Lan praised him casually, then looked away and couldn’t help but think if she was too harsh on this little fool. After all, it wasn’t entirely his fault for what he did.
Perhaps to avoid overthinking this problem, Bai Lan shook her head and refocused her attention on the unsold golden cakes. Suddenly, an idea struck her.
Jiang Liu’s act of feeding her the pastry gave her an idea. Many regular customers were hesitant to buy golden cakes because they had never tasted this kind of pastry before and were afraid it wouldn’t taste good, making them waste their money.
So why not cut one of the golden cakes into smaller pieces and let those regular customers try it?
Bai Lan has confidence in her craftsmanship. She believes that if people taste the Golden Cake, at least six or seven out of ten people will be willing to buy it.
No one will refuse to try something that doesn’t cost money. Under Bai Lan’s promotion, many people came to taste the Golden Cake.
Soon, the sales of Golden Cake opened up. Bai Lan was busy collecting money and had no time to think about other things.
“Did that little woman steal our business?”
Not far away, at a restaurant, several people pointed and talked about Bai Lan.
“It’s not stealing our business. This little woman only sells one type of pastry. Before today, she only sold red bean cake. Today, there is a new type of pastry, but I have been making pastries for more than ten years and have never seen that kind of pastry. I have already sent someone to buy it and will taste it later.”
The person standing by the window was the manager of Wu Fang Zhai, the largest pastry shop in this area. He heard from his regular customers that a little woman in the market made red bean cakes that were better than theirs, so he paid attention to White Lan.
“What about the taste of the red bean cake? Is it better than what we sell in our shop?”
It’s not that the manager was too arrogant, but their signature red bean cake was well-known. Many wealthy families would come to their shop to buy red bean cake to entertain their guests, so he didn’t believe that a country woman could make red bean cake that matched the craftsmanship passed down for a hundred years.
The pastry chef hesitated for a moment.
“It’s a little better than what we sell in the store.”
Although he didn’t want to admit it, this was the truth. His taste buds couldn’t lie, and the customers’ reactions couldn’t deceive anyone.
The manager was surprised. He pondered for a moment. This was not a trivial matter. He had to inform the owner. After all, Wu Fang Zhai was not the only big player in the city. Several other old brands could compete with them.
If any of them bought the recipe for red bean cake from that woman, it would negatively impact the reputation of their Wu Fang Zhai.
After thinking about it, if he could buy the recipe for red bean cake from the woman and then offer it to the owner, Wu Fang Zhai‘s strength would inevitably be raised to a new level. As the manager, he would naturally be a great contributor to Wu Fang Zhai.
However, he couldn’t be too hasty. The manager looked at the errand boy beside him.
“You go and find out about that woman’s background.”
He needed to know the other party’s background to determine how much money he should spend to acquire that recipe.
The messenger man stepped back after hearing the order, while Bai Lan, who had finally sold out the basket of golden cakes, was still unaware that she had caught someone’s attention.
“Jiang-san‘s wife, did you take Jiang-san to the town again?”
After a while, the villagers learned that Bai Lan was selling food in the town. Many people envied Jiang’s family for marrying a capable daughter-in-law, but their envy was significantly reduced when they thought of the stupid Jiang Liu.
Bai Lan greeted everyone. Unlike her original self, she had a good reputation in the village. Now that Jiang Liu has gone crazy, she still stays with him day and night, and for a while, Bai Lan’s reputation has become even better.
Everyone felt sorry for her for marrying such a man as Jiang Liu.
Meng Jiao-niang stood nearby, watching Jiang Liu follow behind Bai Lan like a child. She twisted the flowers in her hand into a juice bundle in anger.
Meng Jiao-niang coldly threw the flowers aside and walked away.
“What is she hmphing about? She doesn’t even look at herself. Compared to Jiang-san‘s wife, she is far worse.”
“Yeah, Jiang-san’s wife is just unlucky to have Jiang Liu. Someone like Jiang-san should be with Meng Jiao-niang so that they can harm each other.”
The people nearby assumed that Meng Jiao-niang didn’t like hearing others praise someone else. After she walked away, they looked at her receding figure with disdain and spoke.
But Meng Jiao-niang couldn’t hear any of it. She angrily returned to her room, opened the wardrobe, and rummaged inside to find an exquisite small box. Opening the box, she took out a pickled plum and put it in her mouth, which helped calm down the surging acidity in her stomach.
“Who made you angry?”
A man embraced her from behind, his hands freely roaming around her body and his lower body pressing against Meng Jiao-niang‘s buttocks, showing some signs of arousal.
“Who is bothering me? Who is bothering me!”
Meng Jiao-niang was startled by the man’s sudden appearance, and only after hearing his familiar voice did she relax. She snorted and pushed the man’s hands away, then turned around and sat on the edge of the bed.
“If you don’t tell me, how would I know who is bothering you.”
Jiang Dezhu was not angry. He happily sat beside Meng Jiao-niang and couldn’t wait to unbutton her clothes.
“Sweetheart, I missed you so much. These days when I was away, day and night, I could only think of you, my little enchantress.”
Jiang Dezhu is the second son of Jiang Youcai, the head of the Jiang family village. He is considered one of the few capable people in the town. When he was young, he saved up some money as a travelling salesman and bought a small shop in the county town to sell groceries. Later, he married the daughter of the neighbouring cloth shop owner, which made Jiang Youcai, his father, very proud compared to his two brothers, who still worked in the fields.
Usually, Jiang Dezhu lived in town and rarely returned to the village, except when he went out to buy goods. Therefore, nobody knew that he had been in a relationship with Meng Jiao-niang for a long time.
Jiang Dezhu dared not let others know about their relationship because his wife’s family had power and money, and her uncle was a government constable with some official connections. Therefore, Jiang Dezhu was somewhat intimidated. Hence, even though he had some wealth, he dared not take a concubine or mistress.
“Don’t touch me. I’m pregnant.” Meng Jiao-niang pushed away Jiang Dezhu’s hand again.
“Pregnant? Whose?” Jiang Dezhu stood up abruptly, staring at Meng Jiao-niang with wide eyes.
“Of course, it’s yours.” Meng Jiao-niang said indignantly, “Since we started our relationship, have I been with any other man? Do you think I’m that kind of woman?”
That was true. Because Jiang Dezhu was generous and could provide for Meng Jiao-niang‘s needs, she had not been with any other man in the past few months. At most, she would let them touch her hand or grab some slight advantages. So Meng Jiao-niang was sure the baby in her belly was Jiang Dezhu’s.
“That’s not what I meant,” Jiang Dezhu said, still somewhat doubtful.
Besides, he already had children, so he did not need this child of unknown paternity in Meng Jiao-niang‘s belly.
“This child cannot be kept,” Jiang Dezhu gazed at Meng Jiao-niang‘s belly, thinking he could play around with her, but he would never let such a woman enter his home. Besides, he already had a shrewish wife in his family. He dared not let her know about Meng Jiao-niang‘s existence.
“I know you are in a difficult situation, so I never thought of being your concubine.” Meng Jiao-niang said.
Meng Jiao-niang was quietly sobbing. She was not young anymore. Many women her age were already mothers of two or three children. Meng Jiao-niang knew that relying on her beauty would not sustain her forever, and she needed a child to take care of her in old age.
So she didn’t want to have an abortion and instead wanted to find a father for her child. At the same time, out of guilt, she believed she could receive compensation from Jiang Dezhu. The man she had chosen to be the father of her child was the original owner.
Meng Jiao-niang had observed the men in the village for a long time, and Jiang Liu was the one who best fit her criteria. Firstly, he was highly favoured, and most of the Jiang family’s assets were distributed to him. Secondly, Jiang Liu was dull-witted enough to be confident she could make him unwittingly fall for her and be willing to take on the father’s role. Lastly, and most importantly, he was sufficiently infatuated with her.
Meng Jiao-niang knew her reputation was not good, and many men were willing to have fun with her but not willing to marry her. But Jiang Liu was different. He liked her and believed her bad reputation was due to jealousy from other women. With this in mind, Meng Jiao-niang was confident she could capture Jiang Liu’s heart and make him grant her every wish.
Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Before she could do anything with Jiang Liu, he suffered a brain injury and became a fool.
“Jiao-niang, you have suffered so much.”
Hearing that Meng Jiao-niang did not plan to marry him, Jiang Dezhu breathed a sigh of relief.
“By the way, I remember that Jiang San had become a fool recently.”
Jiang Dezhu did not visit the village often, but he had heard about Jiang Liu’s brain injury, which had regressed him to the mind of a four-year-old child.
“Yes, he’s foolish now. I can’t have a fool be the father of our child.”
Meng Jiao-niang sighed. In one or two months, her pregnancy would be noticeable, and she wondered where she could find a simple-minded man to be the father of her child.
“Well, being a fool has its advantages.”
Unlike Meng Jiao-niang‘s disappointment, Jiang Dezhu felt the now foolish Jiang Liu was the best shield.
Upon further reflection, what can a fool do? He probably can’t even tell the difference between a man and a woman. If Meng Jiaoniang marries the Jiang family, it would be much easier for him and Meng Jiao-niang to have an affair. Moreover, since Jiang Liu is so foolish, he could easily stand guard at the door while they are doing their business, and they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone suspecting them.
Jiang Dezhu told his plan to Meng Jiao-niang.
“If the child in your belly is mine, don’t worry. I will never mistreat you. Besides, is there anyone better than Jiang-san? Now that he’s become a fool, who can defend him if you say that the child in your belly is his? I’m afraid he can’t even explain it himself.”
Jiang Dezhu tried to persuade Meng Jiaoniang.
Meng Jiaoniang was a bit hesitant. But if they did this, wouldn’t her lie be exposed when Jiang Liu regained his senses?
“Don’t worry; it’s not easy to recover from insanity.”
Jiang Dezhu was experienced and had never heard of someone recovering from insanity.
“Think about our child.”
Jiang Dezhu touched Meng Jiao-niang‘s belly. As long as it doesn’t threaten his stable life, if the child in her belly is his, he is willing to love and cherish the child.
Meng Jiao-niang was persuaded.
She originally planned to climb onto Jiang Liu’s bed and push the child onto him. Now that Jiang Liu has become a fool, she can say that she and Jiang Liu have already been intimate and that the child in her belly is Jiang Liu’s. Who could refute her?
If anyone is to blame, it is Jiang Liu’s foolishness. He was foolish before, and now he’s even more ludicrous.
In the evening of that day, when the people working in the fields returned home, Meng Jiao-niang appeared outside the Jiang family courtyard, looking at the people in the yard with tears.
Jiang Hai and Jiang Hu came back carrying hoes and saw Meng Jiao-niang‘s dramatic appearance, making them uneasy.
Jiang Hai/Jiang Hu is in trouble!
The brothers looked at each other, and this was the only thought in their minds.
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