by Isabel Grant (c1870-1952)

A “pre-millennial” horror story by Isabel Grant, published in 1909. A “new-chum” Scottish nurse working in a mental asylum keeps her cool when a patient suffering from religious mania threatens to wreak destruction.

IT was a cold night in June, and the scrupulously clean room—the women’s ward in a Reception House for the Insane—seemed in its bareness, its austere Public Institution air, to intensify the rigour of the night. The walls, painted in a light tint of blue, the spotless uncovered pine boards, the beds, tenantless save one, lying primly straight under snowy counterpanes, even the clear wood fire, flickering behind its polished guard upon fresh white-wash, all contributed to form one harmony of deadly colourlessness. The only comforting human touch in the room—and the sparkles from the prisoned fire seemed stealthily reaching towards it—was to be found in the rosy “new chum” face of the nurse sewing beneath the enclosed high gas jet.

But Maggie Fraser, for all the round good humour of her pretty face, was not in a pleasant frame of mind to-night, as the jerking of the needle and the snapping of the cotton attested. It was scarcely the fault of the Matron, for emergencies will arise in the best regulated Institution; but it is particularly annoying to a nurse to be sent back to uniform when she has made arrangements to spend the time elsewhere, and Maggie felt she did well to be angry. So, doubtless, did Donald Macintosh, waiting at that moment on the damp steps of the Post Office, with two con-cert tickets in his pocket.

The nurse looked rather small and young for her post, but there was plenty of muscle in the neat, com-pact little body, while the blue eyes hinted the possibility of no slight share of nerve and ready tact. Above all, the girl, though simple, as one brought up in a remote Highland village could not fail to be, possessed a fund of common sense and self reliance that had brought her, a penniless orphan, to the far land of Australia, and had kept her, in spite of her private joy in his devotion, from yielding to the importunities of the lover who had followed her across the seas, until she had earned for herself the modest “plenishing” every self-respecting Highland woman considers fitting for entrance into the state of matrimony. “For what is a year or two, when one is but twenty. The work is not what a body could call hard, for all it is somewhat wearing on the spirits, if one has feelings. The pay is good, and there is plenty of time for sewing. Forbye, Donald is in a fine job, and can well wait.” Thus had Maggie decided, and, moreover, held to her decision.

“Nurse! Nurse!”—the patient, who had wakened up with a start, drew herself in alarm to the edge of the bed—“the firelight is coming over this way. Look! It is falling right on me.”

Mrs. Whitlands’ delusion was that her body had become a block of ice, requiring the utmost care to be preserved from melting. Her case had taken, in the usual probationary period at the Reception House, so favourable a turn that it had been thought advisable not to re move her from her present surroundings. A short time ago the woman had been a popular Society leader, and her face, tragic now with its look of perverted intelligence, had the worn remains of uncommon beauty. “Nurse!”—the voice grew shrill with painful apprehension as the girl paused to secure her needle— “Can’t, you see the firelight is shining over me? Push my bed right against the wall and open the door so that I’ll be in the shadow. Quick, oh, quick! I can feel myself melting.” As the door opened inwards it formed with the corner of the room a darkened alcove. and when the nurse complied with her urgent request Mrs. Whitlands sank back with a sigh of satisfaction. But through the open door the raw night air came in, and even the warm blooded girl shivered. She bent to touch the thin hand lying on the coverlet, and found it cold as ice. Searching for the cause, she came upon a heap of blankets under the counterpane at the foot of the bed, This was the first time her patient had discarded warm clothing; her sole dread, hitherto, had been direct light from sun or fire. Whether this proof of further reasoning along the fixed line was a good or bad symptom, Maggie did not know, but she hoped for the best, as today had been one of Mrs. Whitland’s quietest days.

“Wouldn’t you like another blanket? It is very cold, to-night, whatever,” she said, pretending not to have noticed the heaped up bundle. “I can get you one from the next bed.”

“Another blanket!” Mrs. Whitlands almost shrieked. “When you know my greatest danger is heat of any kind! If you are tired of looking after me say so; but don’t try to murder me on the sly like that!”

Oh, very well, very well,” said Maggie soothingly, “I did forget, that was all. Of course, I will not be putting another blanket on you, now I think of it, but neither must I let you catch a chill, or the matron will be scolding me, and you would not want that, would you now?”

“No, I should be very sorry to see you get scolded, for I believe you mean to be kind, in spite of your ignorance. You are a new-chum, but surely you know that ice melts with us even in winter?” was the melancholy reply.

“‘Deed, then, and I do,” said the girl brightly; “but have you never heard of the grand new way of keeping ice, so it won’t melt at all, at all?”

The woman’s glance was suspicious, rather than interrogative, but Maggie went on: “Why, then, I will tell you. You wrap it up in red flannel, just ordinary red flannel. And haven’t you the finest red flannel wrapper in the chest of drawers yonder? I will put it right on top of the counterpane; and then, take my word for it, there will be no fear of your melting this night!”

Mrs. Whitlands’ large eyes followed the girl’s movements uneasily, but when the wrapper was brought, it was allowed to be put on without demur, and Maggie noticed as she tucked in the voluminous folds round the neck, how gratefully the shrunken shoulders nestled to the warmth.

She stood beside the bed chatting until the feverish light died out of the tired eyes, and she saw them closed in sleep once more. The drawn face, pathetically white against the dark hair and the bright hued wrapper, appealed to the girl’s tenderness, and she breathed a prayer that the poor creature might soon be restored to the home her sad absence must be disorganising, to the gray-haired husband, to the tall sons and daughters who called at the Reception House with such anxious yet shamed faces, as if the mother’s misfortune were their disgrace.

The room grew cooler, and Maggie went to attend to the fire. She had just replaced the guard, when a strange thrill, like an electric shock, ran through her. For a minute or two she could not move, and it was only by a strong effort of will that at last she forced herself to turn round. Her unreasoning panic left her as she did so, for in the open doorway she saw only McLeod, a harmless patient from the men’s ward; and surely she was not going to be frightened of “Rod McLeod”— little Rod whom she had known all her days?

“An old man’s child hath often a touch of madness,” says the Gaelic proverb; but no one in Glen Cruachan. while deploring the impish tricks, or exulting over the cleverness of the “ae bairn of the manse,” son, grandson, great grandson of ministers, ever dreamed that, developing lung trouble in his first session at the University, and being sent on a health trip to an uncle in Australia, the poor lad should require six months after his arrival to be sent to a Reception House for the Insane. It had given Maggie, with her inherited respect for the manse, a shock to discover in the new patient the son of her old minister, but she was much relieved to learn that though he was suffering from a touch of religious mania—the most obstinate of all brain disorders —the doctors held out strong hopes of recovery.

McLeod had been now a fortnight in the institution, and his case was showing marked improvement. But according to Robinson, who was in charge of the men’s ward, this one patient, with his capacity for mischief, and his ingenuity in it, was more trouble than the rest of the ward put together. At the same time, the warder admitted, it was impossible to help liking the lad, or refrain from laughing at his vagaries.

Though he insisted that he was the Archangel Michael, McLeod on every other point could talk rationally, indeed could argue brilliantly.

Oliver Wendell Holmes says somewhere “Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked,” and certainly, like many another monomaniac, McLeod was both logical and consistent even in his delusion. His mission he believed to be a crusade against the Roman Catholic Church, and no Covenanting follower of Calvin could render more well reasoned-out denunciations of the dogmas of that Church than he. He could always be depended on “to bite,” in Robinson’s phrase, by any mention, no matter how indirect, of the hated religion.

This last week a new patient had arrived, Father Hagan, a round faced, gentle, elderly priest, suffering from intermittent brain trouble, and from his entrance Robinson’s work was doubled in keeping McLeod and the newcomer apart. The mere sight of the priest at his devotions seemed to drive the young Highlander frantic, and unless Robinson were on the alert he would rush up to the harmless cleric, snatch at his beads of his breviary, and even lay violent hands on his person; or, if he found himself unable to prevent the religious exercises, he got even by setting up some of his own in opposition.

They were a diverting pair, those two, for the spirit of emulation seemed to enter at such times into the mild old father himself and he refused to be beaten. McLeod would follow him from spot to spot, under the watchful but amused eyes of the keeper, kneel where he knelt, and try by sheer force of lungs or power of endurance to out-pray his rival. But McLeod’s stock would give out long before the priest’s. Latin petitions showed no sign of slackening in their steady flow, and in despair the young man would turn to his native Gaelic, pouring out a stream of wild sounding words, in which Maggie, hurrying past the grated windows, could distinguish ungodly Highland imprecations.

But apart from his obsession, and his inherent love of mischief, McLeod, though requiring careful watching, was not considered a dangerous patient, and when Maggie saw that it was he who stood in the door way, she felt ashamed of her momentary fright. She glanced to the corner and saw that Mrs. Whitlands was still sound asleep.

“Now, Mr. Rod,” she said in a quiet, but stern tone, walking towards the doorway to bar him from coming further into the room, “you have no business round this side, and that you know full well, so the sooner you take yourself off the better. Robinson will be ill-pleased if he has to come after you.”

McLeod burst into a fit of laughter, so loud and so prolonged that the girl’s easy confidence received a slight shock.

“Robinson!” he laughed again. “Oh, I am not at all fearing for Robinson, nor for you either, Maggie Fraser, if it comes to that.” Maggie’s hand flew to her belt, but dropped in dismay. In the hurry of changing at such short notice into her uniform, she had forgotten the whistle she was accustomed to carry at her belt. McLeod nodded glee fully. “The luck is on my side, you see! You could not summon help if you wanted to, and 1 would not counsel you to try conclusions with me on your own.”

The girl was silent, but her uneasiness grew; there was something disconcerting in the lad’s masterfulness, though he made no attempt to enter the ward.

“Robinson is all right,” he continued, “quite safe and sound, I promise you. Oh, but I had him fine! He came round to see was I snug for the night. He bent to tuck the clothes round the bolster I had put in my place, and there was I ready to burst with laughing, watching him behind the curtains. Losh! It was grand. I was down on him before he knew what it was struck him; and there he is now lying on the bed. trussed like a fowl for the pot—gagged too, bat I left him a chance to breathe. Yes, I am pretty sure I left him a chance to breathe,” he grinned with malicious enjoyment.

Maggie made a move to slip past him, but stopped with a start, for the look that sprang into McLeod’s eyes was not good to meet. He had in one hand some loose strips of white calico, evidently torn from a sheet, and probably part of the bandages by which he had secured his keeper.

“No, my bonnie woman, no! You just bide here and leave Robinson alone, if you know what is good for your health. I’d be loth to twist that pretty neck of yours, but I’d do it as easy as this, if you counter me.”

He turned the strips round slowly, once, twice, in his long nervous fingers. There was little colour left in the girl’s face when he had finish ed his significant pantomime.

McLeod was barely twenty, and under rather than over the medium height, but he was well built, with a wiry, muscular, frame. Maggie herself was fairly strong, but her strength would be no more than a child’s against his, reinforced, as it was now, by the mysterious power of his disease.

“That is all right then, Maggie; I see we understand one another. You will not be so foolish as to try to oppose me. But as you have a good head on your shoulders, for all it is but the head of a lassie, I will tell you my secret, and if I think fit, maybe, I will let you help me.”

To listen to the even, natural voice it seemed almost impossible to realise that the speaker was insane. But Maggie was not deceived; short as had been her experience in the Reception House, she knew enough to recognise that a climax of some sort had arrived in McLeod’s disorder. She read in the glittering eyes, heard in the voice with its undercurrent of stress and latent savagery, something that told her there was mischief brewing.

“A secret, Mr. Rod? Let us hear tell of it,” she said, steadying her voice, with an effort, for her heart was beginning to beat more rapidly than was pleasant.

McLeod leant forward, and she observed that the pupils of his eyes were abnormally dilated.

“I have had a revelation,” he said “a revelation from heaven, and a work has been given me to do, a work that will affect the church throughout the world, that may mean the commencement of the Millennium. You wonder at my words, Maggie, and indeed I was inclined to be taken aback myself at first; but when I remembered that though I was Roderick McLeod, sometime student of the University of Edinburgh, I was also Michael, the Archangel, my wonder ceased.”

He darted a sidelong look at her, so sly, so full of watchful intelligence, that Maggie drew a breath of relief. After all there might be nothing to fear. McLeod probably was only trying to tease or frighten her, in the impish way she knew to be so characteristic of him. Some instinct, nevertheless, warned her to be on her guard, and while humoring him by listening to his talk, to repress, as far as in her lay, his excitement without hurting his irritable pride. In any case she must not betray whatever uneasiness she felt, for the least sign of nervousness would be fatal to her chances of managing him. With a perfectly unmoved face, therefore, and a smile of mere polite interest, she turned to him when she had brought her chair close to the door and had resumed her sewing.

“And what was the revelation?” she said pleasantly. She then bent her eyes upon the seam, but though she could not see, she felt as the lad began again to speak that his face and manner were changing to an earnestness that boded ill for her hopes.

The boyishness left his speech; he spoke like one who feels himself, in truth, inspired; while through every word there ran a note of mental hurry, of growing excitement that told how strong a hold upon him the hallucination had gained, and was gaining every moment.

“It was in this way,” he said. “A light shone on my bed tonight, and it was not the moon though it is now at the full. It was a light other than that strange wonderful shining as no light on earth could shine. I looked through my barred window, and there stood an angel before me. He called to me “Michael, Michael!” Then he pointed three times with, hi sword. It was a sword of fire and I knew what I was given to do. Three enemies—the three great enemies of the church—I have to destroy, and by fire. Two of them I have found, and the third will not long escape mc. The first is the Beast with the seven heads and the ten horns. He is here. You call him Mr. Grahame, the Superintendent, but I know him for what he is— the Beast that carried the Scarlet Woman into the Wilderness. He is cunning that Beast, but he does not know that the one who is matched against him, even Michael, the Archangel, is more cunning still. He does not wear the heads or horns. I chanced to see them in the hall, though it needed not that for me to detect in him the Evil One.”

In spite of her anxiety Maggio could have laughed aloud, for the hall of Mr. Grahame’s private house was indeed decorated with the heads and horns of many animals. The Superintendent, a quiet, genial man, of a scientific turn of mind, had rather a hobby for collecting these. No doubt McLeod had now and then caught a glimpse of the array of heads, and it had made a strong impression on his diseased mind. “I have found out the Antichrist, too,” went on the lad. “He is no other than Robinson, who keeps that pestilent papist under his protection. I knew him by the three infallible signs, and to-night I will burn him and the Beast together, the whole building I will destroy utterly by fire. There is none to say me nay, and the elect will rejoice with me to see the destruction of the wicked.”

McLeod spoke truly, thought the now thoroughly alarmed girl—there was none to hinder, for the whole house and its helpless inmates had been to-night, of all nights, left entirely to her charge, and Robinson’s. It was at the mercy of this crazed boy, for what could she single-handed do against him? The building was of wood, old and dry, it would, once the fire got a firm hold, burn like tinder. At the thought her courage faltered, but her Highland blood was up, and Maggie gave no sign. She sewed on placidly for a few moments, then she laid down her work, and without a word, but with an air of assured authority, fixed her eyes an McLeod’s face.

For a moment or two he tried to brave the steadfast regard, then his glance wavered, and he began to fidget. He twisted awkwardly, his expression became lowering, but almost immediately, with the fickle change of mood so common in mental cases, even while an under lying purpose persists, he burst out laughing, his inspired tone and voice departed, and he resumed his ordinary manner, seeming now the irresponsible, mischief-loving tease he had been since he came into the Institution. Maggie, saw, however, that for all this surface in inconsequence, the lad’s mind was still bent on his plans.

“It would be grand to have a big blaze, Maggie, a big bonnie blaze, and I could soon set it going, but,” he looked at her with an aggrieved droop of the lip, “I have not a single match, and how then can I start the fire? Could you not get me a box, just a little box of matches, Maggie?” he said, coaxingly.

The way of escape seemed opened. “I have no matches here, but I can run to my room and bring you some in half a minute,” Maggie spoke casually, but her breath came more quickly. Let her once get clear of the room, it would not take her long to fly to the Police Barracks at the corner and summon help. The hope was soon quenched.

“I have often heard tell that the race of the foxes was the clan Fraser.” McLeod grimaced, In perfect comprehension of the working of her mind. “Not so fast, my bonnie woman, not so fast. I am no a scone of yesterday’s baking, either; so do not think I will be lotting you out of my sight. You stay where you are, matches or no matches, and do not be more foolish than you can help.”

He was so mad, yet at the same time so provokingly sane and observant, that the girl felt she must scream aloud in sheer exasperation. To appeal to his reason was clearly useless; to oppose him might be worse. There seemed for her nothing to do but look on stupidly while he attempted to carry out his dreadful plans. He stood before her in the doorway, and she knew she had not the courage to pit her strength against his, or make an attempt to escape. She thought with a shudder of the strips of strong sheeting in those sinewy fingers, and gave up all idea of a struggle.

The most she could do was to hide her fears, keep her wits about her, and be ready to seize any opportunity that offered itself. “I have no matches here for you” she said, meeting his angry eyes with a look of quiet determination.

Nonplussed by her bold front, McLeod turned half round; irresolutely then, as if on second thoughts, advanced into the room and shut door after him.

He gave a sharp triumphant cry, for, as he did so, the bed behind the door was fully disclosed. “The Scarlet Woman! The Scarlet Woman!” he cried, and at his tone Maggie’s glance followed his in a fresh access of fear. Against the pallid face of the woman, and the cold whiteness of the room, the Scarlet wrapper caught the eye like a stain.

“The message did not lie!”—his voice broke with the tension, but he rushed on—“Three times the Angel pointed, and there she is, the last, the worst of the three! The Scarlet Woman! The abomination of Desolation! The time is come! I have found the three. Tophet is prepared; they shall all burn in it together! The wrongs of the Ages shall be righted in one night!  I alone shall do it—l, Michael, the Archangel!”

His previous state of excitement was nothing to this; the unexpected sight of the woman, with the unlucky conjunction of the scarlet wrapper adding one more to the coincidences conjured up by his mad imagination, had brought his delusion to a head. For the moment it had complete control of him, his whole face was illumined, he was beyond himself.

Maggie could only stare in a daze from his wild eyes and violent gestures to the blanched face of her who had drawn herself, the fatal wrapper still hugged closely to her shaking body, to a huddled heap against the wall. It was cruel to think that with this unlooked-for fright, the poor clouded mind, struggling so pitifully towards sanity, should be again overthrown; but it was useless at this stage for Maggie to attempt to interfere. If the worst came to the worst she promised herself that she would not be found wanting.

After a couple of minutes of incoherent raving, McLeod seemed to pull himself together with a strong effort, and the very fact that he retained sufficient sense to realise that he must keep his excitement under, and not give way yet, if he wished to carry out his designs, to the wild exultation his new discovery had roused in him, disturbed Maggie almost more than if he had allowed his frenzy to get the better of him. She sat silently watching him, cold to the very heart.

“Well, if you will not help me. I must even do what I can alone,” he said, walking up to the nearest bed and stripping it of everything inflammable. Keeping a wary eye upon both women, he went from bed to dismantling each. Then throwing the whole into a heap beside the fire, he tried to pull the guard from before it. The solid brass resisted his efforts, and his quick glance went flashing round the room till it rested on the curtain rod of one of the bods. Loosening it smartly, he found it would pass easily between the bars. He nodded spitefully io the nurse.

“Now, my lass, I will not need to be beholden to you after all. It will not take me long to start a blaze. I will begin with this room and with the Scarlet Woman first of all. I will make certain she does not escape the punishment, of her sins.”

It almost seemed to Maggie that in the glance of terror and entreaty the poor woman flung at her there was no longer the unmistakable look of madness, only the physical fear that any sane person might well show in such an extremity. But beyond giving a reassuring, if pale, smile, she did not venture to reply further to the silent appeal.

Carefully and methodically McLeod wound one of the lightest of the sheets round the rod, and thrust it through the bars. The fire had sunk into glowing embers, and though the sheet smouldered, it was slow in breaking into flame.

As he pushed and turned the rod impatiently, absorbed for the moment in his task, an idea darted into Magpie’s mind, and with the courage of desperation, giving herself no time for further thought, she acted upon it. She stole from her place, caught up a sheet, and throwing it over the stooping figure, flung herself upon it with all her might.

“Scream, Mrs. Whitlands! Scream for your life!” she cried, and her own piercing shriek was followed by a still wilder outcry from her patient, and a smothered yell from McLeod, who found himself so hampered by the clinging folds of calico that his strength was to no avail.

There was an answering cry, like an echo, from outside, a rush of hurrying feet, and as the sheet between the bars blazed up, two men, Donald Macintosh and Mr Grahame, dashed into the room.

“Maggie Fraser!” cried Donald in horror, and at the sound of his voice the girl let go her hold and sprang back from the rush of flames, for the great bundle had by this time taken fire, McLeod, released by the jerk, fell forward, and the flames enveloped him.

Mechanically, for there was no time for thought, each man snatched up a blanket, and flung it upon the burning mass. Maggie followed suit, and very soon the flames were extinguished, the danger was over. Part of the wall and the floor were charred, but no further damage was done to the building.

McLeod lay where he had fallen, his arms shielding his face. He was so motionless that for the moment the Superintendent hesitated even to examine him, but when he had done so, he turned to the nurse. “Run, and ring up Dr. Andrews. I’m off round for Robinson to give me a stretcher to take this poor fellow away. I’m afraid he’s done for.”

“Better get Donald Macintosh here to help you. Robinson’s gagged and tied on McLeod’s bed,” said d Maggie, faintly.

“Good Heavens! What next?” But Mr. Grahame’s hurry would not allow him to wait further explanations, and he rushed away beckoning to Macintosh, who followed him obediently, waiting only to say in a sharp whisper, “This settles it, Maggie; we will be married to-morrow, not a day later.”

Even in the reaction from her terror Maggie could not help wondering what had brought Donald on the scene so opportunely. The explanation was simple enough, and if it did not reflect credit on Donald, probably neither he nor Maggie would see much amiss with his actions. When Maggie failed to keep her appointment, Donald’s jealousy suggested that she might be spending her “evening out” with one or the other admirer his lover’s fears supplied; and, as his primitive code of chivalry did not forbid espionage, he resolved at length to make his way to the Reception House, there to await the girl’s return, to expose and denounce her perfidy. He walked fast, for the night was cold, if his heart was hot, and took his station under the shelter of the hedge that hid the house. It was a weary vigil, but at last, with swelling anger, he saw two people—a man and a woman—slowly approaching the gate, and talking confidentially in the moonlight. Scarcely had he discovered them to be Mr. Grahame and his wife when Maggie’s cry for help, followed by Mrs. Whitlands’ agonized screams sent him flying to the gate. As he fumbled with the latch, he was joined by Mr. Grahame, who, having sent his wife running for help to the police barracks, came hurrying after, and the two men rushed together for the ward.

“It is quite true”—Dr. Andrews was talking next morning to the Superintendent—“Mrs. Whitlands is as sane now as you or I. She can go home when she likes, it is a complete cure. The brain is a queer thing, Grahame; the longer I study it the queerer I think it. By every law of physiology or pathology last night’s experience should have settled that poor woman’s case for good, and what do we find? It’s as if a bowstring, weak to the point of breaking, were subjected to a strain, and instead of snapping, it became taut and strong again. Marvellous! There is something in the instinct of self-preservation, it seems to me, that acts when the ordinary channels of the brain are blocked.”

“What, about poor young McLeod? Ts there any hope of his pulling through?”

“Oh, I think so; the shock is passing away, and is not followed by collapse. More than that, I think his mind will recover its balance as the body heals. How lucky for him his face was untouched. I have seen some dreadful things left to go about the world after such an accident as he has had. I’ll write to his father, and see the uncle, old Jock McLeod —good old sort he is! I’ll get them to put the lad to some hard work, engineering or farming, or something like that. By all accounts the boy comes of a splendid stock, but one that has used up its capacity for further sedentary, bookish work, having become, in a sense, degenerate. By going back to first principles, to the soil, it may work out its salvation, if it has still got in it the virility I seem to fancy there.”

“Will his brain be all right then— permanently, I mean?” asked Mr. Grahame.

“Oh, I think so; as right as most of ours,” replied the doctor, grimly; then he laughed. “By the by, I am sorry to hear from Mrs. Grahame that you are losing that pretty little Scotch nurse of yours. Pity! She was a pleasant variation on the usual style of nurse for the insane. I believe Michael the Archangel satisfied her as to her true vocation!”

Mr. Grahame joined in the laugh. Last night’s experience had left little more than a memory of its ridiculous side, and this not through callousness, but through the working of the same instinct of self-preservation to which the doctor had referred. For if in places such as these tragedies did not become commonplaces, if they did not at times provoke mirth itself, human nature could not endure the ministry to minds diseased.

Isabel Grant, “The Archangel Michael”, The Queenslander (4 Dec 1909): 22-23.