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Payne: The Christian Broker's Story

[Go back to Story of the Hunchback]

I am by birth a Copt, and a native of Cairo, where I was brought up. My father was a broker, and when I came to man's estate, he died and I became a broker in his stead. One day, as I was sitting in my shop, there came up to me a young man as handsome as could be, richly clad and riding on an ass. When he saw me, he saluted me, and I rose to do him honour. Then he pulled out a handkerchief, containing a sample of sesame, and said to me, "What is the worth of an ardebb of this?" "A hundred dirhems," replied I; and he said, "Take porters and measures and come to-morrow to the Khan of El Jaweli, by the Gate of Victory, where thou wilt find me." Then he went away, leaving with me the handkerchief containing the sample of sesame; and I went round to the buyers and agreed for a hundred and twenty dirhems an ardebb. Next day, I took four gaugers and carried them to the Khan, where I found him awaiting me. As soon as he saw me, he rose and opened his magazines, and we measured the contents and found them fifty ardebbs of sesame, making five thousand dirhems. Then said he to me, "Thou shalt have ten dirhems an ardebb to thy brokerage; so take the price and lay by four thousand five hundred dirhems for me; and when I have made an end of selling my other goods, I will come to thee and take the amount." "It is well," replied I, and kissed his hand and went away, having made that day a profit of a thousand dirhems, besides the brokerage. I saw no more of him for a month, at the end of which time he came to me and said, "Where is the money?" I rose and saluted him and said to him, "Wilt thou not eat somewhat with me?" But he refused, saying, "Get the money ready, and I will come back for it." So I brought out the money and sat down to await his return, but saw no more of him for another month, at the end of which time he came to me and said, "Where is the money?" I rose and saluted him and said, "Wilt thou not eat a morsel with me?" But he refused, saying, "Have the money ready against my return," and rode away. So I fetched the dirhems and sat awaiting him; but he did not come near me for another month, and I said, "Verily, this young man is the incarnation of liberality." At the end of the month, he came up, riding on a mule and clad in sumptuous raiment. His face shone like the moon at its full and he seemed as if he had just come from the bath, with his rosy cheeks and flower-white forehead and mole like a grain of ambergris, even as says the poet:

Within one mansion of the sky the sun and moon combine; With all fair fortune and delight of goodliness they shine. Their beauty stirs all those that see to passion and to love: Good luck to them, for that they move to ravishment divine! In grace and beauty they increase and aye more perfect grow: All souls yearn out to them for love, all hearts to them incline. Blessed be God, whose creatures are so full of wonderment! Whate'er He wills He fashions forth, even as He doth design.

When I saw him, I rose and saluted him and kissed his hand, saying, "O my lord, wilt thou not take thy money?" "What hurry is there?" replied he; "wait till I have made an end of my business, when I will come and take it." Then he went away, and I said to myself, "By Allah, when he comes next time, I must press him to eat with me," for I had traded with his money and profited largely by it. At the end of the year he came again, dressed even more richly than before, and I conjured him to dismount and eat of my victual; and he said to me, "I consent, on condition that what thou expendest on me shall be of my money in thy hands." "So be it," replied I, and made him sit down, whilst I made ready what was needful of meat and drink and so forth and set the tray before him, saying, "In the name of God." So he came to the table and put out his left hand and ate with me; and I wondered at his using his left hand. When we had done eating, I poured water on his hand and gave him wherewith to wipe it. Then we sat talking, after I had set sweetmeats before him, and I said to him, "O my lord, I prithee relieve my mind by telling me why thou eatest with thy left hand. Belike something ails thy right hand?" When he heard my words, he recited the following verses:

Ask not, I prithee, my friend, of the anguish that burns in my heart 'Twould but the infirmities show that now in my bosom lie hid. If with Selma I company now and harbour with Leila no more, Believe me, 'tis none of my will; needs must, if necessity bid.

Then he drew his right arm out from his sleeve, and behold, it was a stump without a hand, the latter having been cut off at the wrist. I was astonished at this, and he said to me, "Thou seest that my eating with the left hand arose, not from conceit, but from necessity; and there hangs a strange story by the cutting off of my right hand." "And how came it to be cut off?" asked I. "Know," answered he, "that I am a native of Baghdad and the son of one of the principal men of that city. When I came to man's estate, I heard the pilgrims and travellers and merchants talk of the land of Egypt, and this abode in my thought till my father died, when I laid out a large sum of money in the purchase of stuffs of Baghdad and Mosul, with which I set out on my travels and God decreed me safety, till I reached this your city." And he wept and recited the following verses:

It chances oft that the blind man escapes a pit, Whilst he that is clear of sight falls into it: The ignorant man can speak with impunity A word that is death to the wise and the ripe of wit: The true believer is pinched for his daily bread, Whilst infidel rogues enjoy all benefit. What is a man's resource and what shall he do? It is the Almighty's will: we must submit.

"So I entered Cairo," continued he, "and put up at the Khan of Mesrour, where I unpacked my goods and stored them in the magazines. Then I gave the servant money to buy me something to eat and lay down to sleep awhile. When I awoke, I went to the street called Bein el Kesrein and presently returned and passed the night at the Khan. Next morning, I said to myself, 'I will walk through the bazaars and see the state of the market.' So I opened a bale and took out certain stuffs, which I gave to one of my servants to carry, then repaired to the Bazaar of Jergis, where I was accosted by the brokers, who had heard of my arrival. They took my stuffs and cried them for sale, but could not get the prime cost of them. I was vexed at this; but the chief of the brokers said to me, 'O my lord, I will tell thee how thou mayst make a profit of thy goods. Thou shouldst do as the other merchants do and sell thy goods on credit, for a fixed period, on a contract drawn up by a scrivener, and duly witnessed, and employ a money-changer and take thy money every Monday and Thursday. So shalt thou profit two dirhems for every one; and besides this, thou canst amuse thyself meanwhile at leisure in viewing Cairo and the Nile.' Quoth I, 'This advice is good,' and carried the brokers to the Khan. They took my stuffs and transported them to the bazaar, where I sold them to various merchants, taking their bonds for the value. These bonds I deposited with a money-changer, who gave me an acknowledgment in writing, with which I returned to my Khan. Here I abode a month, breaking my fast with a cup of wine every morning and sending out for mutton and sweetmeats, till the time came when my receipts began to fall due. So, every Monday and Thursday, I used to repair to the bazaar and sit in the shop of one or other of the merchants, whilst the scrivener and money-changer went round to collect the money from the different merchants, till after the time of afternoon-prayer, when they brought me the amount, and I counted it and gave receipts for it, then took it and returned to my Khan. One day I went to the bath and retured to the Khan, where I broke my fast on a cup of wine, after which I slept a little. When I awoke, I ate a fowl, and scenting myself, repaired to the shop of a merchant called Bedreddin el Bustani, who welcomed me; and I sat talking with him till the market should open. Presently, there came up a lady of stately figure, wearing a magnificent head-dress and exhaling perfumes, as she walked along with a swimming gait. She stopped before Bedreddin and saluted him, raising her kerchief and showing a pair of large black eyes. He returned her salute and stood talking with her; and when I heard her speech, the love of her got hold upon my heart. Then she said to Bedreddin, 'Hast thou any stuffs of figured cloth of gold?' So he brought out to her a piece that he had had of me and she bought it of him for twelve hundred dirhems, saying, 'I will take it with me and send thee the price.' 'It may not be, O my lady,' answered he. 'This is the owner of the stuff and I owe him the price of it.' 'Out on thee!' said she. 'Do I not use to take great store of costly stuffs of thee, at a greater profit than thou askest, and send thee the money?' 'Yes,' rejoined he; 'but I am in pressing need of the price to-day.' With this she took the piece of stuff and threw it back into his lap, saying, 'You merchants have no respect for any one!' Then she turned to go, and I felt as if my soul went with her; so I rose and stopped her, saying, 'O my lady, favour me by retracing thy gracious steps!' She smiled and saying, 'For thy sake, I will return,' came back and sat down in the shop opposite me. Then I said to Bedreddin, 'What is the price set upon this piece?' And he replied, 'Eleven hundred dirhems.' 'The other hundred shall be thy profit,' rejoined I. 'Give me a piece of paper and I will write thee a discharge for it! So I wrote him a docket to that effect and gave the piece of stuff to the lady, saying, 'Take it and, if thou wilt, bring me the price next market-day; or, better still, accept it as a gift from me to thee.' 'May God requite thee with good,' answered she, 'and make thee my husband and master of my property!' (And God heard her prayer.) 'O my lady,' replied I, 'this piece of stuff is thine and another like it, if thou wilt but let me see thy face.' So she lifted her veil, and I took one look at her face, that caused me a thousand regrets, and fell so violently in love with her, that I was no longer master of my reason. Then she let down her veil and taking the piece of stuff, said, 'O my lord, leave me not desolate!' and went away, whilst I remained sitting in the shop till the time of afternoon-prayer was past, lost to the world and fairly distraught for love; and the violence of my passion prompted me to make enquiries about her of the merchant, who replied, 'She is a lady of wealth, the daughter of an Amir, who died and left her a large fortune.' Then I took leave of him and returned to the Khan, where they set the evening meal before me; but I could not eat, for thinking of her, and laid down to rest. But sleep came not to me and I lay awake till daylight, when I rose and changed my dress. I broke my fast on a cup of wine and a morsel of bread and going to the market, saluted Bedreddin and sat down by him in his shop. Presently up came the lady, followed by a slave-girl, and more richly dressed than before, and saluting me, instead of Bedreddin, said to me, in a voice than which I never heard a sweeter or softer, 'Send with me some one to take the twelve hundred dirhems, the price of the stuff.' 'What hurry is there?' asked I. And she said, 'May we never lose thee!' And gave me the money. Then I sat talking with her, and presently I made signs to her, by which she understood that I desired to enjoy her and rose hastily, as if vexed with me, and went away. My heart clung to her and I rose and followed in her track; but as I went along, a slave-girl accosted me, saying. 'O my lord, my mistress would speak with thee.' At this I was astonished, and said, 'There is no one who knows me here.' 'O my lord,' answered the slave, 'how quickly thou hast forgotten her! My mistress is she who was to-day at the shop of the merchant Bedreddin.' So I followed her to the money-changer's, where I found the lady, who drew me to her side and said to me, 'O my beloved, thou hast made prize of my heart, and love of thee has conquered my soul. Since the day I saw thee first, I have taken no delight in sleep nor in meat nor drink.' 'My sufferings have been still greater than thine,' answered I; 'and my state dispenses me from complaint.' Then said she, 'O my lord, shall I come to thee or wilt thou come to me?' Quoth I, 'I am a stranger here and have no lodging but the Khan; so by thy favour, it shall be at thy house.' 'It is well,' replied she; 'to-night is Friday eve, and nothing can be done; but to-morrow, after the morning-prayer, mount thine ass and enquire for the house of Berekat the Syndic, known as Abou Shameh, in the Hebbaniyeh quarter; for I live there; and do not delay, for I shall be expecting thee.' At this, I rejoiced greatly and took leave of her and returned to the Khan, where I passed a sleepless night. As soon as it was day, I rose and changed my clothes and perfumed myself with essences and sweet-scented smoke. Then I took fifty dinars in a handkerchief and went out to the Zuweyleh Gate, where I hired an ass, bidding the driver carry me to the Hebbaniyeh. So he set off with me and brought me in the twinkling of an eye to a by-street called El Munkeri, where I bade him go in and enquire for the Syndic's house. After a little he returned and said, 'Alight.' But I made him guide me to the house, where I dismounted and giving him a quarter-dinar, said, 'Come back to-morrow at daybreak and fetch me away.' 'In the name of God,' answered he, and went away. Then I knocked at the gate and there came out two young girls, high-bosomed maids, as they were moons, and said to me, 'Enter, for our mistress awaits thee, and she slept not last night for joyance in thee.' So I entered and they brought me, through a vestibule, into an upper chamber with seven doors, paved with vari-coloured marbles and furnished with hangings and carpets of coloured silk. The walls were plastered with stucco-royal, in which one might see his own face, and the roof was ribbed with gold and bordered with inscriptions emblazoned in ultramarine. All around were latticed windows overlooking a garden, full of fruits of all colours, with streams running and birds singing on the branches, and midmost the hall was a fountain, at whose angles stood birds fashioned in red gold, spouting forth water as it were pearls and jewels; and indeed the place comprised all kinds of beauty and dazzled the beholder with its radiance. I entered and sat down; but hardly had I done so, when the lady came up to me, crowned with a diadem of pearls and jewels and having her eyebrows pencilled and her hands stained with henna. When she saw me, she smiled on me and embraced me and pressed me to her bosom; and she set her mouth to mine and sucked my tongue, and I did the like with her. Then she said, 'Can it be true that thou art indeed come to me?' 'I am thy slave,' answered I; and she said, 'Welcome, a thousand times! By Allah, since I first saw thee, sleep has not been sweet to me nor food pleasant!' Quoth I, 'So has it been with me also.' Then we sat down to converse, and I bowed my head for bashfulness. Presently, she set before me a tray of the most exquisite meats, such as ragouts and fritters soaked in honey and fricassees and fowls stuffed with sugar and pistachio-nuts, and we ate till we were satisfied. Then they brought ewer and basin and I washed my hands, after which we scented ourselves with rose-water mingled with musk and sat down again to converse. We complained to each other of the sufferings we had undergone, and my love for her took such hold on me, that all my wealth was of little account to me, in comparison with her. We passed the time in toying and kissing and dalliance, till nightfall, when the damsels set before us a banquet of food and wine and we sat carousing half the night. Then we went to bed and I lay with her till the morning, never in my life saw I the like of that night. As soon as it was day, I arose and took leave of her, after having slipped under the mattress the handkerchief containing the dinars; and she wept and said 'O my lord, when shall I see that fair face again?' 'I will be with thee at eventide,' answered I, and going out, found the ass-man waiting for me at the door. So I mounted and rode to the Khan of Mesrour, where I alighted and gave the driver half a dinar, saying, 'Come back at sun down.' And he said, 'Good.' Then I broke my fast and went out to seek the price of my stuffs, after which I returned and taking a roast lamb and some sweetmeats, called a porter and despatched them by him to the lady, paying him his hire in advance. I occupied myself with my affairs till sunset, when the ass-driver came for me and I took fifty dinars in a handkerchief and rode to the house, where I found the marble floor swept, the brass burnished, the lamps filled and the candles lighted, the meats ready dished and the wines strained. When my mistress saw me, she threw her arms round my neck and exclaimed, 'Thou hast desolated me by thine absence!' Then they set the tables and we ate till we were satisfied, when the serving-maids took away the tray of food and set on wine. We gave not over drinking till midnight, when we went to the sleeping-chamber and lay together till morning. Then I rose and went away, leaving the fifty dinars with her as before. I found the ass-driver at the door and mounting, rode to the Khan, where I slept awhile, then went out to prepare the evening-meal. I took a brace of geese with broth on two platters of dressed rice, together with colocasia-roots, fried and soaked in honey, and wax candles and fruits and conserves and flowers and nuts and almonds, and sent them all to her. As soon as it was night, I mounted the ass as usual, taking with me fifty dinars in a handkerchief, and rode to the house, where we ate and drank and lay together till morning, when I left the handkerchief and dinars with her and rode back to the Khan. I ceased not to lead this life, till one fine morning I found myself without a single dirhem and said, 'This is Satan's doing!' And I repeated the following verses:

When a rich man grows poor, his lustre dies away, Like to the setting sun that pales with ended day. Absent, his name is not remembered among men: Present, he hath no part in life and its array. He passes through the streets and fain would hide his head And pours out floods of tears in every desert way. By Allah, when distress and want descend on men, But strangers midst their kin and countrymen are they.

Then I left the Khan and walked along Bein el Kesrein till I came to the Zuweyleh Gate, where I found the folk crowded together and the gate blocked up for the much people. As Fate would have it, I saw there a trooper, against whom I pressed, without meaning it, so that my hand came on his pocket and I felt a purse inside. I looked and seeing a string of green silk hanging from the pocket, knew that it belonged to the purse. The crowd increased every moment and just then, a camel bearing a load of wood jostled the trooper on the other side and he turned to ward it off from him, lest it should tear his clothes. When I saw this, Satan tempted me; so I pulled the string and drew out a little purse of blue silk, full of something that chinked like money. Hardly had I done so, when the soldier turned and feeling his pocket lightened, put his hand to it and found it empty; whereupon he turned to me and raising his mace, smote me on the head I fell to the ground, whilst the people came round us and seizing the soldier's horse by the bridle, said to him, 'Is it because he pushed against thee in the throng, that thou smitest this young man such a blow?' But he cried out at them and said, 'This fellow is an accursed thief!' With this I came to myself and stood up, and the folk looked at me and said, 'This is a comely youth and would not steal aught.' Some took part for me and others against me and there was a great clamour, and the people pulled at me and would have rescued me from the trooper; but as Fate would have it, the chief of the police and the captain and officers of the watch entered by the gate at this moment; and the prefect, seeing the crowd about the soldier and myself, enquired what was the matter. 'O my lord,' replied the soldier, 'this fellow is a thief. I had a blue purse in my pocket, containing twenty dinars, and he took it, whilst I was in the crush.' 'Was any one else by thee?' asked the magistrate, and the trooper answered, 'No.' Then the prefect cried out to the officers of the watch, who seized me and stripping me by his order, found the purse in my clothes. He took it and found in it twenty dinars, as the soldier had said, whereat he was wroth and calling to the officers to bring me before him, said to me, 'O young man tell me the truth. Didst thou steal this purse?' At this I hung down my head and said to myself, 'It is useless for me to say I did not steal the purse, for they found it in my clothes: and if I confess to the theft, I fall into trouble.' So I raised my head and said, 'Yes: I took it.' When the prefect heard what I said, he wondered and called for witnesses, who came forward and attested by confession. Then he bade the hangman cut off my right hand, and he did so; after which he would have cut off my left foot also; but the trooper took pity on me and interceded for me with the prefect, who left me and went away; whilst the folk remained round me and gave me a cup of wine to drink. As for the trooper, he gave me the purse, saying, 'Thou art a comely youth, and it befits not that thou be a thief.' And I repeated the following verses:

By Allah, trusty brother mine, I am indeed no thief, Nor, O most bountiful of men, a highwayman am I. But the vicissitudes of fate overthrew me suddenly, And care and stress and penury full sorely did me try. It was not thou, but God who cast the fatal shaft at me, The shaft that made from off my head the crown of honour fly.

Then he left me, and I went away, after having wrapt my hand in a piece of rag and thrust it into my bosom. I betook me to my mistress's house, faint and ill at ease and pale by reason of what had befallen me, and threw myself on the couch. She saw that my colour was changed and said to me, 'What ails thee and why do I see thee thus changed?' 'My head irks me,' answered I; 'I am not well.' When she heard this, she was vexed and concerned for me and said to me, 'Fret not my heart, O my lord! Sit up and raise thy head and let me know what has happened to thee to-day, for thy face tells me a tale.' 'Spare me this talk,' replied I. But she wept and said, 'Meseems thou art tired of me, for I see that thou art contrary to thy wont.' But I was silent, and she continued to talk to me, though I made her no answer, till nightfall, when she brought me food: but I refused it, fearing to let her see me eat with my left hand, and said to her, 'I do not care to eat at present.' Quoth she 'Tell me what has befallen thee to-day and what ails thee, that thou art troubled and broken in heart and spirit.' 'Presently,' replied I; 'I will tell thee at my leisure.' Then she brought me wine, saying, 'Take it for it will dispel thy care: thou must indeed drink and tell me what is thy matter with thee.' 'Must I tell thee?' said I; and she answered, 'Yes.' Then said I, 'If it must be so, give me to drink with thine own hand.' So she filled and drank then filled again and gave me the cup. I took it from her with my left hand and repeated the following verses with tears running from my eyes:

When God would execute His will in anything On one endowed with sight, hearing and reasoning, He stops his ears and blinds his eyes and draws his wit From him, as one draws out the hairs to paste that cling; Till, His decrees fulfilled, He gives him back his wit, That therewithal he may receive admonishing.

At this she gave a loud cry and said to me, 'What makes thee weep? Thou settest my heart on fire. And what ails thee to take the cup with thy left hand?' 'I have a boil on my right hand,' answered I; and she said, 'Put it out and I will lance it for thee.' 'It is not ripe for lancing,' answered I; 'so do not torment me, for I will not show it thee at present.' Then I drank off the cup, and she plied me with wine till I became drowsy and fell asleep in my place; whereupon she looked at my right arm and saw that it was but a stump without a hand. So she searched me and found the purse of gold and my severed hand wrapt in a piece of rag. With this, there overcame her such grief as none ever knew, and she ceased not to lament for my sake till the morning. When I awoke, I found she had made me a dish of broth of four boiled fowls, which she brought to me, together with a cup of wine. I ate and drank and laying down the purse, would have gone out; but she said to me, 'Whither goest thou?' 'Where my business calls me,' replied I; and she said, 'Thou shalt not go: sit down.' So I sat down, and she said, 'Has thy love for me brought thee to such a pass, that thou hast wasted thy substance and lost thy hand on my account? Since this is so, I call God to witness against me that I will never part with thee: and thou shalt see the truth of my words.' Then she sent for the Cadi and the witnesses and said to them, 'Draw up a contract of marriage between me and this young man and bear witness that I have received the dowry.' So they drew up our marriage contract, and she said to them, 'Be witness that all my money that is in this chest and all that belongs to me and all my slaves, male and female, are the property of this young man.' So they took act of this and withdrew, after having received their fees. Then she took me by the hand and leading me to a closet, opened a large chest and said to me, 'See what is herein.' I looked and behold, it was full of handkerchiefs. Quoth she, 'This is the money I had of thee; for every time thou gavest me a handkerchief, with fifty dinars in it, I wrapped it together and threw it into this chest; so now take thy money, for indeed it returns to thee, and thou to-day art become of high estate. Fate afflicted thee, so that thou didst lose thy right hand for my sake, and I can never requite thee: nay, though I gave my life, it were little and I should still remain thy debtor.' Then she said to me, 'Take possession of thy property!' and transferred the contents of the other chest to that which contained the money I had given her. At this, my heart was gladdened and my grief forsook me, and I rose and kissed and thanked her. Quoth she, 'Thou hast lost thy hand for love of me, and how can I requite thee? By Allah, if I gave my life for thy love, it were far short of thy due!' Then she made over to me by deed all her clothes and jewels and other property and lay not down to sleep that night, being in sore concern on my account, till I told her all that had befallen me. I passed the night with her; but before we had lived together a month's time, she fell grievously ill and sickness was upon her, by reason of her grief for the loss of my hand; and she endured but fifty days before she was numbered of the folk of the other world. So I laid her in the ground and had recitations of the Koran made over her tomb and gave much money in alms for her; after which I returned to the house and found that she had left much substance in money and houses and lands. Among her storehouses was one full of sesame, whereof I sold part to thee; and it was the fact of my being busied in selling the rest of my goods and all that was in the storehouses, that diverted my attention from thee; nor have I till now made an end of receiving the price. This, then, is the reason of the cutting off of my right hand and of my eating with the left. Now thou shalt not baulk me in what I am about to say, for that I have eaten of thy victual; and it is that I make thee a gift of the money that is in thy hands." "Indeed," replied I, "thou hast shown me the utmost kindness and liberality." Then said he, "Wilt thou journey with me to my native country, whither I am about to return with a lading of Cairo and Alexandria stuffs?" "I will well," answered I, and appointed with him for the end of the month. So I sold all I had and bought merchandise; then we set out, he and I, and journeyed till we came to this town, where he sold his goods, and buying others in their stead, set out again for Egypt. But it was my lot to abide here, so that there befell me in my strangerhood what befell last night. This, then, is my story, O King of the age. Is it not more marvellous than that of the hunchback?' 'Not so,' answered the King; 'and needs must you all be hanged.' Then came forward the controller of the Sultan's kitchen and said, 'With thy leave, I will tell thee what happened to me but lately and if it be more marvellous than the story of the hunchback, do thou grant us our lives.' 'So be it,' answered the King. Then said the controller, 'Know, O King, that...

[Go to The Controller's Story]


Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.


1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM


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