The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 37
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In the journeys that Wauna and I took during the college vacation, we were constantly meeting strangers, but they never appeared the least surprised at my dark hair and eyes, which were such a contrast to all the other hair and eyes to be met with in Mizora, that I greatly wondered at it until I learned of the power of the reflector. I requested permission to examine one of the large ones used in a theater, and it was granted me. Wauna accompanied me and signaled to a friend of hers. As if by magic a form appeared and moved across the stage. It bowed to me, smiled and motioned with its hand, to all appearances a material body. I asked Wauna to approach it, which she did, and pa.s.sed her hand through it. There was nothing that resisted her touch, yet I plainly saw the figure, and recognized it as the perfect representation of a friend of Wauna's, an actress residing in a distant city. When I ascended the stage, the figure vanished, and I understood that it could be visible only at a certain distance from the reflector.
In traveling great distances, or even short ones where great speed was desired, the Mizoraens used air s.h.i.+ps; but only for the transportation of pa.s.sengers and the very lightest of freight. Heavy articles could not be as conveniently carried by them as by railroads. Their railroads were constructed and conducted on a system so perfect that accidents were never known. Every engineer had an electric signal attached to the engine, that could signal a train three miles distant.
The motive power for nearly all engines was compressed air. Electricity, which was recognized by Mizora scientists as a force of great intensity, was rarely used as a propelling power on railroads. Its use was attended by possible danger, but compressed air was not. Electricity produced the heat that supplied the air s.h.i.+ps and railroads with that very necessary comfort. In case there should be an accident, as a collision, or thrown from the track, heat could not be a source of danger when furnished by electricity. But I never heard of a railroad accident during the whole fifteen years that I spent in Mizora.
Air-s.h.i.+ps, however, were not exempt from danger, although the precautions against it were ingenious and carefully observed. The Mizora people could tell the approach of a storm, and the exact time it would arrive. They had signal stations established for the purpose, all over the country.
But, though they were skilled mechanics, and far in advance of my own world, and the limits of my comprehension in their scientific discoveries and appliances, they had not yet discovered the means of subduing the elements, or driving unharmed through their fury. When nature became convulsed with pa.s.sion, they guarded themselves against it, but did not endeavor to thwart it.
Their air-s.h.i.+ps were covered, and furnished with luxurious seats. The whole upper part of the car was composed of very thin gla.s.s. They traveled with, to me, astonis.h.i.+ng rapidity. Towns and cities flew away beneath us like birds upon the wing. I grew frightened and apprehensive, but Wauna chatted away with her friends with the most charming unconcern.
I was looking down, when I perceived, by the increasing size of objects below, that we were descending. The conductor entered almost immediately, and announced that we were going down to escape an approaching storm. A signal had been received and the s.h.i.+p was at once lowered.
I felt intensely relieved to step again on solid earth, and hoped I might escape another trial of the upper regions. But after waiting until the storm was over we again entered the s.h.i.+p. I was ashamed to refuse when everyone else showed no fear.
In waiting for the storm to pa.s.s we were delayed so long that our journey could have been performed almost as speedily by rail. I wondered why they had not invented some means by which they could drive through a tempest in perfect safety. As usual, I addressed my inquiries to Wauna. She answered: "So frail a thing as an air-s.h.i.+p must necessarily be, when compared with the strength of a storm, is like a leaf in the wind. We have not yet discovered, and we have but little expectation of discovering, any means by which we can defy the storms that rage in the upper deeps.
"The electricity that we use for heat is also a source of danger during a storm. Our policy is to evade a peril we cannot control or destroy. Hence, when we receive a signal that a storm is approaching we get out of its way. Our railroad carriages, having no danger to fear from them, ride right through the storm."
The people of Mizora, I perceived, possessed a remarkable acuteness of vision. They could see the odor emanating from flowers and fruit. They described it to me as resembling attenuated mist. They also named other colors in the solar spectrum than those known to me. When I first heard them speak of them, I thought it a freak of the imagination; but I afterward noticed artists, and persons who had a special taste for colors, always detected them with greater readiness. The presence of these new colors were apparent to all with whom I spoke upon the subject. When I mentioned my own inability to discern them, Wauna said that it was owning to my inferior mental development.
"A child," she said, "if you will observe, is first attracted by red, the most glaring color known. The untutored mind will invariably select the gaudiest colors for personal adornment. It is the gentle, refined taste of civilization that chooses the softened hues and colors."
"But you, as a nation, are remarkable for rich warm colors in your houses and often in your dress," I said.
"But they are never glaring," she replied. "If you will notice, the most intense colors are always so arranged as to present a halo, instead of sharply defined brilliancy. If a gorgeous color is worn as a dress, it will be covered with filmy lace. You have spoken of the splendor of the Aurora Borealis. It is nature's most gorgeous robe, and intense as the primal colors are, they are never glaring. They glow in a film of vapor. We have made them our study. Art, with us, has never attempted to supercede nature."
The sense of smell was also exceedingly sensitive with the Mizora people. They detected odors so refined that I was not aware of them. I have often seen a chemist take a bottle of perfumery and name its ingredients from the sense of smell only. No one appeared surprised at the bluntness of my senses. When I spoke of this Wauna tried to explain it.
"We are a more delicately organized race of beings than you are. Our intellects, and even sense that we possess, is of a higher and finer development. We have some senses that you do not possess, and are unable to comprehend their exquisite delicacy. One of them I shall endeavor to explain to you by describing it as impression. We possess it in a highly refined state, both mentally and physically. Our sensitiveness to changes of temperature, I have noticed, is more marked than yours. It is acute with all of my people. For this reason, although we are free from disease, our bodies could not sustain, as readily as yours could, a sudden and severe shock to their normal temperature, such as a marked change in the atmosphere would occasion. We are, therefore, extremely careful to be always appropriately clothed. That is a physical impression. It is possessed by you also, but more obtusely.
"Our sensitiveness to mental pleasure and pain you would p.r.o.nounce morbid on account of its intensity. The happiness we enjoy in the society of those who are congenial, or near and dear to us through family ties, is inconceivable to you. The touch of my mother's hand carries a thrill of rapture with it.
"We feel, intuitively, the happiness or disappointment of those we are with. Our own hopes impress us with their fulfillment or frustration, before we know what will actually occur. This feeling is entirely mental, but it is evidence of a highly refined mentality. We could not be happy unless surrounded, as we are, by cultivated and elegant pleasures. They are real necessities to us.
"Our appreciation of music, I notice, has a more exquisite delicacy than yours. You desire music, but it is the simpler operas that delight you most. Those fine and delicate harmonies that we so intensely enjoy, you appear incapable of appreciating."
I have previously spoken of their elegance in dress, and their fondness for luxury and magnificence. On occasions of great ceremony their dresses were furnished with very long trains. The only prominent difference that I saw in their state dresses, and the rare and costly ones I had seen in my own and other countries, was in the waist. As the women of Mizora admired a large waist, their dresses were generally loose and flowing. Ingenuity, however, had fas.h.i.+oned them into graceful and becoming outlines. On occasions of great state and publicity, comfortably fitting girdles confined the dress at the waist.
I attended the Inaugural of a Professor of Natural History in the National College. The one who had succeeded to this honor was widely celebrated for her erudition. It was known that the ceremony would be a grand affair, and thousands attended it.
I there witnessed another of these marvelous achievements in science that were constantly surprising me in Mizora. The inauguration took place in a large hall, the largest I had ever seen. It would accommodate two hundred thousand people, and was filled to repletion. I was seated far back in the audience, and being a little short-sighted anyway, I expected to be disappointed both in seeing and hearing the ceremonies. What was my astonishment then, when they began, to discover that I could see distinctly every object upon the stage, and hear with perfect accuracy every word that was uttered.
Upon expressing myself to Wauna as being greatly pleased that my eyesight and hearing had improved so wonderfully and unexpectedly, she laughed merrily, and asked me if I had noticed a curious looking band of polished steel that curved outward from the proscenium, and encircled its entire front? I had noticed it, but supposed it to be connected with some different arrangement they might have made concerning the footlights. Wauna informed me that I owed my improved hearing to that.
"But my eyesight," I asked, "how do you account for its unusual penetrativeness?"
"Have you ever noticed some seasons of the year display a noticeably marked transparency of the atmosphere that revealed objects at great distances with unusual clearness? Well, we possess a knowledge of air that enables us to qualify it with that peculiar magnifying condition. On occasions like this we make use of it. This hall was built after the discovery, and was specially prepared for its use. It is seldom employed in smaller halls."
Just then a little flutter of interest upon the stage attracted my attention, and I saw the candidate for the professors.h.i.+p entering, accompanied by the Faculty of the National College.
She wore a sea-green velvet robe with a voluminous train. The bottom of the dress was adorned with a wreath or band of water lilies, embroidered in seed pearls. A white lace overdress of filmiest texture fell over the velvet, almost touching the wreath of lilies, and looked as though it was made of sea foam. A girdle of large pink pearls confined the robe at the waist. Natural flowers were on her bosom and in her hair.
The stage was superbly decorated with flowers and sh.e.l.ls. A large chair, constructed of beautiful sh.e.l.ls and cus.h.i.+oned with green velvet, rested upon a dais of coral. It was the chair of honor. Behind it was a curtain of sea-moss. I afterward learned that the moss was attached to a film of gla.s.s too delicate to detect without handling.
In the midst of these charming surroundings stood the applicant for honor. Her deep blue eyes glowed with the joy of triumph. On the delicate cheek and lip burned the carmine hue of perfect health. The golden hair even seemed to have caught a brighter l.u.s.tre in its coiled ma.s.ses. The uplifted hand and arm no marble G.o.ddess could have matched, for this had the color and charm of life. As she stood revealed by the strong light that fell around her, every feature enn.o.bled with the glory of intellect, she appeared to me a creature of unearthly loveliness, as something divine.
I spoke to Wauna of the rare beauty and elegance of her dress.
"She looks like a fabled Naiad just risen from the deep," was my criticism on her.
"Her dress," answered Wauna, "is intended to be emblematical of Nature. The sea-green robe, the water lilies of pearls, the foamy lace are all from Nature's Cradle of Life."
"How poetical!" I exclaimed.
But then Mizora is full of that charming skill that blends into perfect harmony the beautiful and useful in life.
On my return to college, after the close of vacation, I devoted myself exclusively to history. It began with their first President; and from the evidence of history itself, I knew that the Nation was enjoying a high state of culture when its history began.
No record of a more primitive race was to be found in all the Library, a.s.siduously as I searched for it. I read with absorbing interest their progress toward perfect enlightenment, their laborious searchings into science that had resulted in such marvelous achievements. But earnestly as I sought for it, and anxiously as I longed for it, I found and heard no mention of a race of men. From the most intimate intercourse with the people of Mizora, I could discover no attempt at concealment in anything, yet the inquiry would crowd itself upon me. "Where are the men?" And as constantly would I be forced to the conclusion that Mizora was either a land of mystery beyond the scope of the wildest and weirdest fancy, or else they were utterly oblivious of such a race. And the last conclusion was most improbable of all.
Man, in my country, was a necessity of government, law, and protection. His importance, (as I viewed it from inherited ideas) was incalculable. It could not be possible that he had no existence in a country so eminently adapted to his desires and ability.
The expression, "domestic misery," that the Preceptress made use of one day in conversation with me, haunted my imagination with a persistent suspicion of mystery. It had a familiar sound to me. It intimated knowledge of a world I knew so well; where ill-nature, malice, spite, envy, deceit, falsehood and dishonesty, made life a continual anxiety.
Locks, bolts and bars shut out the thief who coveted your jewels; but no bolts nor bars, however ingeniously constructed or strongly made, could keep out the thief who coveted your character. One little word from a pretended friend might consummate the sorrow of your whole life, and be witnessed by the perpetrator without a pang--nay, even with exultation.
There were other miseries I thought of that were common in my country. There were those we love. Some who are woven into our lives and affections by the kins.h.i.+p of blood; who grow up weak and vacillating, and are won away, sometimes through vice, to estrangement. Our hearts ache not the less painfully that they have ceased to be worthy of a throb; or that they have been weak enough to become estranged, to benefit some selfish alien.
There were other sorrows in that world that I had come from, that brought anguish alike to the innocent and the guilty. It was the sorrow of premature death. Diseases of all kinds made lives wretched; or tore them asunder with death. How many hearts have ached with cankering pain to see those who are vitally dear, wasting away slowly, but surely, with unrelievable suffering; and to know that life but prolongs their misery, and death relieves it only with inconsolable grief for the living.
Who has looked into a pair of youthful eyes, so lovely that imagination could not invent for them another charm, and saw the misty film of death gather over them, while your heart ached with regret as bitter as it was unavailing. The soft snows of winter have fallen--a veil of purity--over the new made graves of innocence and youth, and its wild winds have been the saddest requiem. The dews of summer have wept with your tears, and its zephyrs have sighed over the mouldering loveliness of youth.
I had known no skill in my world that could s.n.a.t.c.h from death its unlawful prey of youth. But here, in this land so eminently blessed, no one regarded death as a dreaded invader of their household.
"We cannot die until we get old," said Wauna, naively.
And looking upon their bounding animal spirits, their strong supple frames, and the rich, red blood of perfect health, mantling their cheeks with its unsurpa.s.sable bloom, one would think that disease must have strong grasp indeed that could destroy them.
But these were not all the sorrows that my own country knew. Crimes, with which we had no personal connection, shocked us with their horrible details. They crept, like noxious vapors, into the moral atmosphere of the pure and good; tainting the weak, and annoying the strong.
There were other sorrows in my country that were more deplorable still. It was the fate of those who sought to relieve the sufferings of the many by an enforced government reform. Misguided, imprudent and fanatical they might be, but their aim at least was n.o.ble. The wrongs and sufferings of the helpless and oppressed had goaded them to action for their relief.
But, alas! The pale and haggard faces of thousands of those patriot souls faded and wasted in torturing slowness in dungeons of rayless gloom. Or their emaciated and rheumatic frames toiled in speechless agony amid the horrors of Siberia's mines.
In this land they would have been recognized as aspiring natures, spreading their wings for a n.o.bler flight, seeking a higher and grander life. The smile of beauty would have urged them on. Hands innumerable would have given them a cordial and encouraging grasp. But in the land they had sought to benefit and failed, they suffered in silence and darkness, and died forgotten or cursed.
My heart and my brain ached with memory, and the thought again occurred: "Could the Preceptress ever have known such a race of people?"
I looked at her fair, calm brow, where not a wrinkle marred the serene expression of intellect, although I had been told that more than a hundred years had touched with increasing wisdom its broad surface. The smile that dwelt in her eyes, like the mystic sprite in the fountain, had not a suspicion of sadness in them. A nature so lofty as hers, where every feeling had a generous and n.o.ble existence and aim, could not have known without anguish the race of people I knew so well. Their sorrows would have tinged her life with a continual sadness.
The words of Wauna had awakened a new thought. I knew that their mental life was far above mine, and that in all the relations of life, both business and social, they exhibited a refinement never attained by my people. I had supposed these qualities to be an endowment of nature, and not a development sought and labored for by themselves. But my conversation with Wauna had given me a different impression, and the thought of a future for my own country took possession of me.
"Could it ever emerge from its horrors, and rise through gradual but earnest endeavor to such perfection? Could a higher civilization crowd its sufferings out of existence and, in time, memory?"
I had never thought of my country having a claim upon me other than what I owed to my relatives and society. But in Mizora, where the very atmosphere seemed to feed one's brain with grander and n.o.bler ideas of life and humanity, my nature had drank the inspiration of good deeds and impulses, and had given the desire to work for something beside myself and my own kindred. I resolved that if I should ever again behold my native country, I would seek the good of all its people along with that of my nearest and dearest of kin. But how to do it was a matter I could not arrange. I felt reluctant to ask either Wauna or her mother. The guileless frankness of Wauna's nature was an impa.s.sable barrier to the confidence of crimes and wretchedness. One glance of horror from her dark, sweet eyes, would have chilled me into painful silence and sorrowful regret.
The mystery that had ever surrounded these lovely and n.o.ble blonde women had driven me into an unnatural reserve in regard to my own people and country. I had always perceived the utter absence of my allusion to the masculine gender, and conceiving that it must be occasioned by some more than ordinary circ.u.mstances, I refrained from intruding my curiosity.
That the singular absence of men was connected with nothing criminal or ign.o.ble on their part I felt certain; but that it was a.s.sociated with something weird and mysterious I had now become convinced. My efforts to discover their whereabouts had been earnest and untiring. I had visited a number of their large cities, and had enjoyed the hospitality of many private homes. I had examined every nook and corner of private and public buildings, (for in Mizora nothing ever has locks) and in no place had I ever discovered a trace or suggestion of man.
Women and girls were everywhere. Their fair faces and golden heads greeted me in every town and city. Sometimes a pair of unusually dark blue eyes, like the color of a velvet-leaved pansy, looked out from an exquisitely tinted face framed in flossy golden hair, startling me with its unnatural loveliness, and then I would wonder anew: "Why is such a paradise for man so entirely devoid of him?"
I even endeavored to discover from the conversation of young girls some allusion to the male s.e.x. But listen as attentively and discreetly as I could, not one allusion did I hear made to the mysteriously absent beings. I was astonished that young girls, with cheeks like the downy bloom of a ripe peach, should chatter and laugh merrily over every conversational topic but that of the lords of society. The older and the wiser among women might acquire a depreciating idea of their worth, but innocent and inexperienced girlhood was apt to surround that name with a halo of romance and fancied n.o.bility that the reality did not always possess. What, then, was my amazement to find them indifferent and wholly neglectful of that (to me) very important cla.s.s of beings.
Conjecture at last exhausted itself, and curiosity became indifferent. Mizora, as a nation, or an individual representative, was incapable of dishonor. Whatever their secret I should make no farther effort to discover it. Their hospitality had been generous and unreserved. Their influence upon my character--morally--had been an incalculable benefit. I had enjoyed being among them. The rhythm of happiness that swept like a strain of sweet music through all their daily life, touched a chord in my own nature that responded.
And when I contrasted the prosperity of Mizora--a prosperity that reached every citizen in its vast territory--with the varied phases of life that are found in my own land, it urged me to inquire if there could be hope for such happiness within its borders.
To the Preceptress, whose sympathies I knew were broad as the lap of nature, I at last went with my desire and perplexities. A sketch of my country's condition was the inevitable prelude. I gave it without once alluding to the presence of Man. She listened quietly and attentively. Her own land lay like a charming picture before her. I spoke of its peaceful happiness, its perfected refinement, its universal wealth, and paramount to all its other blessings, its complete ignorance of social ills. With them, love did not confine itself to families, but encircled the Nation in one embrace. How dismal, in contrast, was the land that had given me birth.
"But one eminent distinction exists among us as a people," I added in conclusion. "We are not all of one race."
I paused and looked at the Preceptress. She appeared lost in reverie. Her expression was one of solicitude and approached nearer to actual pain than anything I had ever noticed upon it before. She looked up and caught my eye regarding her. Then she quietly asked: "Are there men in your country?"
I answered in the affirmative, and further added that I had a husband and a son.
The effect of a confession so simple, and so natural, wounded and amazed me.
The Preceptress started back with a look of loathing and abhorrence; but it was almost instantly succeeded by one of compa.s.sion.
"You have much to learn," she said gently, "and I desire not to judge you harshly. You are the product of a people far back in the darkness of civilization. We are a people who have pa.s.sed beyond the boundary of what was once called Natural Law. But, more correctly, we have become mistresses of Nature's peculiar processes. We influence or control them at will. But before giving you any further explanation I will show you the gallery containing the portraits of our very ancient ancestors."
She then conducted me into a remote part of the National College, and sliding back a panel containing a magnificent painting, she disclosed a long gallery, the existence of which I had never suspected, although I knew their custom of using ornamented sliding panels instead of doors. Into this I followed her with wonder and increasing surprise. Paintings on canvas, old and dim with age; paintings on porcelain, and a peculiar transparent material, of which I have previously spoken, hung so thick upon the wall you could not have placed a hand between them. They were all portraits of men. Some were represented in the ancient or mediaeval costumes of my own ancestry, and some in garbs resembling our modern styles.
Some had n.o.ble countenances, and some bore on their painted visages the unmistakable stamp of pa.s.sion and vice. It is not complimentary to myself to confess it, but I began to feel an odd kind of companions.h.i.+p in this a.s.sembly of good and evil looking men, such as I had not felt since entering this land of pre-eminently n.o.ble and lovely women.
As I gazed upon them, arrayed in the armor of some stern warrior, or the velvet doublet of some gay cavalier, the dark eyes of a debonair knight looked down upon me with familiar fellows.h.i.+p. There was pride of birth, and the pa.s.sion of conquest in every line of his haughty, sensuous face. I seemed to breathe the same moral atmosphere that had surrounded me in the outer world.
They had lived among n.o.ble and ign.o.ble deeds I felt sure. They had been swayed by conflicting desires. They had known temptation and resistance, and reluctant compliance. They had experienced the treachery and ingrat.i.tude of humanity, and had dealt in it themselves. They had known joy as I had known it, and their sorrow had been as my sorrows. They had loved as I had loved, and sinned as I had sinned, and suffered as I had suffered.
I wept for the first time since my entrance into Mizora, the bitter tears of actual experience, and endeavored to convey to the Preceptress some idea of the painful emotion that possessed me.
"I have noticed," she said, "in your own person and the descriptions you have given of your native country, a close resemblance to the people and history of our nation in ages far remote. These portraits are very old. The majority of them were painted many thousands of years ago. It is only by our perfect knowledge of color that we are enabled to preserve them. Some have been copied by expert artists upon a material manufactured by us for that purpose. It is a transparent adamant that possesses no refractive power, consequently the picture has all the advantage of a painting on canvas, with the addition of perpetuity. They can never fade nor decay."
"I am astonished at the existence of this gallery," I exclaimed. "I have observed a preference for sliding panels instead of doors, and that they were often decorated with paintings of rare excellence, but I had never suspected the existence of this gallery behind one of them."
"Any student," said the Preceptress, "who desires to become conversant with our earliest history, can use this gallery. It is not a secret, for nothing in Mizora is concealed; but we do not parade its existence, nor urge upon students an investigation of its history. They are so far removed from the moral imbecility that dwarfed the nature of these people, that no lesson can be learned from their lives; and their time can be so much more profitably spent in scientific research and study."
"You have not, then, reached the limits of scientific knowledge?" I wonderingly inquired, for, to me, they had already overstepped its imaginary pale.
"When we do we shall be able to create intellect at will. We govern to a certain extent the development of physical life; but the formation of the brain--its intellectual force, or capacity I should say--is beyond our immediate skill. Genius is yet the product of long cultivation."
I had observed that dark hair and eyes were as indiscriminately mingled in these portraits as I had been accustomed to find them in the living people of my own and other countries. I drew the Preceptress' attention to it.
"We believe that the highest excellence of moral and mental character is alone attainable by a fair race. The elements of evil belong to the dark race."
"And were the people of this country once of mixed complexions?"
"As you see in the portraits? Yes," was the reply.
"And what became of the dark complexions?"
"We eliminated them."
I was too astonished to speak and stood gazing upon the handsome face of a young man in a plumed hat and lace-frilled doublet. The dark eyes had a haughty look, like a man proud of his lineage and his s.e.x.
"Let us leave this place," said the Preceptress presently. "It always has a depressing effect upon me."
"In what way?" I asked.
"By the degradation of the human race that they force me to recall."
I followed her out to a seat on one of the small porticoes.
In candidly expressing herself about the dark complexions, my companion had no intention or thought of wounding my feelings. So rigidly do they adhere to the truth in Mizora that it is of all other things pre-eminent, and is never supposed to give offense. The Preceptress but gave expression to the belief inculcated by centuries of the teachings and practices of her ancestors. I was not offended. It was her conviction. Besides, I had the consolation of secretly disagreeing with her. I am still of the opinion that their admirable system of government, social and political, and their encouragement and provision for universal culture of so high an order, had more to do with the formation of superlative character than the elimination of the dark complexion.
The Preceptress remained silent a long time, apparently absorbed in the beauty of the landscape that stretched before us. The falling waters of a fountain was all the sound we heard. The hour was auspicious. I was so eager to develop a revelation of the mystery about these people that I became nervous over my companion's protracted silence. I felt a delicacy in pressing inquiries concerning information that I thought ought to be voluntarily given. Inquisitiveness was regarded as a gross rudeness by them, and I could frame no question that I did not fear would sound impertinent. But at last patience gave way and, at the risk of increasing her commiseration for my barbarous mental condition, I asked: "Are you conversant with the history of the times occupied by the originals of the portraits we have just seen?"
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 37
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