Ezra woke with a start, not sure at first what had disturbed him. The room was dark, but a faint aura of light leaked in from the hallway, probably cast by the lamp in the sickroom next door. He sat up, listening. There was a shrill squeak of bedsprings, a breathless grunt, a thrashing sound, and underlying it all a womans voice murmuring something the boy couldnt make out. He threw back his quilt and padded to the door; the sounds were definitely coming from Bucks room. Cautiously he peered around the doorframe.
It would have been comical if it hadnt seemed so horrific: two adults--Mr. and Mrs. Larabee, he in his longjohns, she in her nightgown and wrapper--struggling with a small fighting boy. Buck was kicking and flailing in his bed while Chris tried to hold him down and Sarah bent over him, apparently trying to calm him. The man finally managed to pin Bucks arms, then raised one leg just in time to ward off a blanket-muffled but still potentially very painful kick to a very sensitive region and placed his knee across Bucks legs. "I think I gotim now," he said. "Now do like Vin told you and get a hold of his nose--if he cant breathe hell have to swallow."
"Whatever are you doin?!" cried Ezra in dismay, and both adults heads swung around to face him. Mr. Larabee looked not only sleepy and angry but very uncomfortable, with his neck twisted like that and one knee up on the bed, forcing him to balance his weight on the other foot.
Sarah, her hair come half loose from the ribbon at her nape and falling into her eyes, looked past his shoulder at the indignant and furious small boy. "Oh, Everett, were just trying to give Buck the tea Nathan left for him. I dont know whether its just the taste of it, or that hes confused and frightened with the fever and the darkness and all, but hes been fighting it every time, and this is the worst yet."
"You neednt treat him like an animal!" Ezra objected. "Let me try." He really knew very little about dealing with sick people, but he had offered to give Buck his supper earlier that evening while Sarah washed the dishes and put Katie to bed and the men and Adam did a turn around the yard making sure everything was settled in for the night. Buck had seemed relieved to see him and had willingly accepted the soft-boiled eggs, bread and milk, and hot chocolate, things that would go down his sore throat without bumping it, like the thick beef broth hed had for his dinner and the corn mush and molasses hed been given for breakfast. Taking advantage of the fact that they were alone in the room, Ezra had explained where they were, how they had come there, and the story he had told of their supposed origins. Buck had seemed confused by the lie until he was reminded that they mustnt let word filter back to Broken Bow of where they were. "It was you," Ezra had reminded him, "who observed that if I stole Mr. Whittingtons horse I would hang. And you are an accomplice. We must not permit them to discover the truth. Mr. Larabee is a lawman. He will almost certainly consider it his duty to inform on us if he knows what we have done."
That had silenced the younger boys misgivings and he had promised to try to remember that they were brothers off a homestead, that Ezras name was Everett, that they were Wallaces and their parents had been killed by Apaches. Ezra hadnt told him about any of the things Mr. Tanner had said in the loft. There was no point in upsetting Buck while he was ill. He hadnt told the lies for which Mr. Tanner had taken Ezra to task, after all; coming up with a suitable response to the Texans insights wasnt his responsibility.
Now the Larabees exchanged quizzical glances before Sarah drew back from the bedside and gestured to him to come forward. He advanced gingerly, skirting her husband in as wide an arc as he dared. Buck was wide-eyed and panting harshly, his breathing broken by occasional strangled coughs. "Buck?" Ezra said quietly, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. "Buck, its Everett--do you hear me?"
"E...Ev?" the younger boy choked out.
"Yes. Buck, do you trust me? Do you remember how I took care of you on the trail?"
Hesitation, then: "I...I member, Ev."
"Do you believe I would do anythin that would hurt you, Buck?"
Longer hesitation, then a very faint: "N...no."
"Then you must do as Mrs. Larabee says and drink the tea she gives you. Mr. Jackson, the healer--I told you all about him, you remember that, dont you?--Mr. Jackson left it for her; he says it will help your fever. You dont like having the fever, do you?"
"Hot," Buck mumbled.
"I am aware of that. If you drink the tea the fever will go down, and then you wont be so hot any more."
"Tases bitter," Buck objected.
"Its medicine, all medicine tastes bad. The more you fight, the worse it will seem. Besides, you will make your fever rise, and that will mean you have to take more of it. You need to stop strugglin, Buck, so Mr. Larabee doesnt have to hold you down."
Bucks eyes darted past Ezras shoulder to the mans face looking on above it. "Said nobody was gonna hurt me," he complained.
"And nobody is. They only want to help you, as I do. The tea wont hurt, it will only taste terrible for a moment."
"Buck?" Sarah offered. "Buck, if you take the tea and your cough syrup, Ill get you a cup of milk and molasses--that should kill the taste. Will you do that?"
Buck thought it over for a moment, but he was watching Ezra, who noticed that his eyes seemed red and inflamed. " Kay," he whispered at last.
"You promise not to struggle?" Ezra insisted.
Hesitation again, then: "Promise."
"Let him go, Mr. Larabee," said Ezra, not turning his gaze from his friends. "He will comply now. Buck doesnt lie."
He felt the mattress give and bounce a little as the man slowly removed his weight from it and stepped back. Sarah sat down on the edge of it beside him with a steaming crockery cup in her hand. Buck let her lift his shoulders so he could drink, took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes shut, and swallowed the contents in one long resigned gulp. He coughed once or twice, grimacing, as Sarah retreated long enough to pour out a spoonful of her homemade cough syrup. This, perhaps because of the lemon and sugar in it, he didnt object to so strenuously, and it slid down quickly. "Ill go down and get the milk," Larabee said quietly, and his bare feet padded out the door and down the passage to the stairs.
Sarah put the spoon in a tumbler of water and stirred it around a bit to clean it off. "Youre very strong, Buck. Adam doesnt fight us that hard when hes sick."
Buck blinked, apparently not quite sure how or if he should respond to the remark. "Buck," said Ezra, "shall I tell you another story while you wait for your milk?"
"Lambs?" asked Buck.
"No, not the Lambs this time. This is a story of a bold outlaw who lived in England a long, long time ago. His name was Robin Hood, and he stole from the rich to give to the poor, because his good King, Richard, was away on a crusade and the throne was being held by greedy Prince John, who taxed the people more than they could bear..."
He paraphrased the meeting of Robin and Little John as he had read it out of Childs Popular Ballads, and Buck listened in sleepy fascination even after hed had his milk and molasses and was licking the sweetness of it off his lips. Somewhere around the baptizing scene he drifted off to sleep again, and the Larabees looked first at each other and then at Ezra, surprised and impressed and, he thought, a little bewildered. "Youre very good with him, Everett," said Sarah.
"Yes, maam, I know." He didnt mention the pleasant feeling it gave him to know that Buck put such total trust in him. He wasnt used to being trusted, and he found it difficult to accept, or to visualize as continuing.
"Come on," Chris suggested, putting a gentle hand on the back of his neck and turning him toward the door. "You better get back to bed."
Like many larger ranchers, if there wasnt a lot of work piled up, Chris liked to set Sunday aside as a day of rest: there were always chores, but once these were out of the way the family would relax and even loaf a bit. Everyone had a hot tub bath on Saturday night, Sarah in the kitchen and the men in the washhouse; while weekly baths had been required at the orphanage, the water had usually been lukewarm at best and the soap harsh, and Ezra found the Larabees Sapolio and abundant steaming water a wonderful change from the routine. On Sunday they enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast feast of oatmeal, antelope chops, eggs, potatoes, waffles, hot rolls, and pie, after which, since they were still under quarantine and couldnt go to church, Sarah played hymns on the piano and they sang, and Chris read from the Bible. This done, much to Ezras surprise, Vin said what the boy supposed was an Indian-style prayer. "Earth and sky, mountain and stream, plain and forest are gifts thatre here for all people," he said, standing erect with his face turned skyward and his hands held palm-up to either side. "They come down to us from them that come afore us, along with a sacred trust--that we take care of the world and respect the holiness of all life. Its our job to remember the needs of our world and of all the children thatre born to live on it. Mother Earth sustains us, but only if we walk in balance and live in harmony with her rhythms. As dwellers on the land, who take our livin from it, weve gotta work to make our connection with the Earth and the spirit in each of us stronger every day. As five-fingered humans, were given the gift of thought and the power to make a beautiful life. Its in our hands to change the world. We need to change it for the better, always. With this, we can be well forever."
Ezra was surprised to note that the Larabees listened in silent respect to the young Texans words. Having grown up in "Christian" households, he had observed that a great many of them considered every religion except their own "heathen," unworthy of recognition. They didnt want to hear about it or know about it or even think of other people practising it. Often they didnt even tolerate any permutation of Christianity except the one they followed. That the Larabees would do the opposite made him wonder whether they would so willingly accept the truth about the young guests in their midst if they heard it. Religion, he knew, had probably caused more suffering and bloodshed than anything except the quest for economic power. If a family was open to the beliefs of other cultures, might it also be willing to listen to the reasons why Ezra and Buck had run? Might it allow for all the things Ezra had been taught to believe regarding humanity in general, and understand why he had been reluctant to give his true history until he had time to get a better idea of their character?
But habit was strong, and the knowledge that Chris was an officer of the law made him hesitate. Chris had posted a handmade sign at the front gate--QUARANTINE, it read, Possible Scarlet Fever--and no Sunday visitors could be expected, so the family made ready to create their own good times. Adam invited Ezra up to his room to see his things, and Ezra politely went. The room was deeper by a good four feet than his own or Bucks, at least half again as wide, and shared with Vin, who slept directly opposite the door in a Jenny Lind-type spool-turned cherry bed; a second like it was tucked into the opposite corner, where the light from the hallway wouldnt reach it and disturb Adams sleep. A set of longhorns was mounted above the lintel, Indian lances slanted at each side; elsewhere were displayed colorful Navajo and Mexican hangings, a buckskin arrow quiver and bowcase (Adam said they were Mescalero, a gift from Vins friend Kojay, the headman of one of the local bands) with a strap beaded to represent the four winds, a Lone Star flag, a Comanche headdress of polished heifer horns on a browband of black and white beads, and an Apache bow almost five feet long, the tips of its wings bent back like Cupids, the outside painted a bright red, the inside with stars and crosses. Goat, calf, and wild animal skins and one brown burro-hide served as rugs. In the far corner, out from under foot, Adam kept his toys--a boy-size sword and scabbard, wooden pistols, balls, tops, a kite, vehicles of tin, cast-iron, and pewter, lead soldiers, Charles Crandalls building blocks, Acrobats, Menagerie, and Country Schoolhouse, a Noahs Ark patiently whittled out by his father with dozens of tiny animals to go with it, wooden horses and cattle and Western wild creatures. Here too was a square trunk in which, neatly categorized in a number of cigar boxes, were his collections: arrowheads, intriguing stones, oddly shaped roots, moths and butterflies and beetles impaled on pins and nested in cotton, birds eggs, snakes rattles, animal bones, a skin shed by a snake complete even unto the clear scales over the eyes, a horses skull with every tooth in it, tobacco tags, reward posters, a mouse skelton in a thread box. There were double dormer windows on either side, front and back, and tucked under them shelves for books--Mother Goose, Andersen and Grimm, C. P. Cranchs two fantasies about the Huggermuggers, the original fairy tales of Mrs. Gatty and Mrs. Ewing, the collections of Montalba and Hauff, Sir George Dasents Popular Tales from the North and Laboulayes Fairy Tales of All Nations; the books about the Bodleys, Edward Lears nonsense, Mopsa the Fairy, The Adventures of a Brownie and The Little Lame Prince, The Water-Babies, Grannys Wonderful Chair, The Rose and the Ring, A Dog of Flanders, The Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and the Goblin, Tales from Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, Black Beauty, The Story of a Bad Boy, Tom Sawyer, Tom Browns School Days, and the Algers, Optics, and Castlemans in series; Captain Marryat, R. M. Ballantyne, W. H. G. Kingston, Captain Mayne Reid, Charles Asbury Stephens, Grace Greenwoods volumes of historical tales and legends, Hawthornes Grandfathers Chair, Famous Old People, and The Liberty Tree, Charlotte Yonges historical novels, Elijah Kelloggs Good Old Times, J. T. Trowbridges Jack Hazard series; Jules Vernes Five Weeks in a Balloon, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Michael Strogoff; Jane Andrewss Seven Little Sisters; even the ten volumes of Jacob Abbotts Franconia Stories, which were old enough for Adams mother to have grown up on. Beside them sat dog-eared bound copies of St. Nicholas and The Youth's Companion, and even a number of dime novels, openly displayed, which many parents condemned as dangerous trash. "Pas in some of these," Adam declared proudly, "from back before the War, when he was a gunfighter."
Ezra was at once impressed and distressed by this intelligence, though he was careful not to show either one. "Do you like to read?" he asked.
"Sure," said Adam at once. "Books are wonderful. They can take you anywhere. Ive read about feuds in books like Lorna Doone and Romeo and Juliet and in the stories about the Ozark Mountain families and the Scottish clans in the magazines we get, about the French Wars and the first pioneers in James Fenimore Coopers books, and about castles in some of Sir Walter Scotts. I read all kinds of stuff--Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Iliad, Tennyson, Thackeray, A Tale of Two Cities, Don Quixote, Shakespeare; I think Julius Caesar is my favorite, but Falstaffs a corker, as real as you or me. Ma and Pa read aloud most every night, and they buy me a new book all my own a couple times a month."
"Where do you go to school?"
"Well, I dont, really," Adam admitted. "There aint any regular schools in these parts yet, and if there were it might be too far for me to go back and forth each day--its ten miles to town, you know. But Ma taught me to read and write, and weve got an arithmetic and a geography that Pa ordered through Mr. Potter, and Mr. Higginsons History of the United States--I like that near as much as I do the Odyssey."
"Do you enjoy livin here?"
Adam considered the question. "Its all I know. I was born downstairs, Pa told me. But, yeah, I think its a pretty good place. Theres chores, but everybodys got those, even the Potter kids and the rest in town. Pa takes me fishing and plays checkers with me, and he says hell teach me chess next year. Ma and I play cribbage and euchre and dominoes, and I go riding with Vin--hes teachin me all about followin trails and how animals behave. Im strong enough now to really help out with the shoeing and the branding and halter-breaking the little colts. Ive got a teeterboard and a swing in the yard, and my own pony, and the dogs and barn cats to play with. And Katie, though shes kinda small yet." He sighed wistfully. "Reckon about the only thing Id like to have that I dont is a brother near enough my size to have fun with."
Yes, thought Ezra, Buck would definitely like it here. And he is two years younger than Adam, though he doesnt look it, and has never been West before; there is much Adam could teach him. He would fit well in this family. If Mr. Larabee knew of the money that Whittington, or perhaps Sheriff Addison, took from his mother--if there was some prospect of recoverin it--surely that would remove the last possible misgivins he might have about takin Buck in; four thousand dollars is enough to support a grown man, let alone a boy, for more than seven years.
For a moment he found himself thinking that even he might like to live at the ranch, but he quelled the idea immediately. He had his mother, and his kin, where Buck had no one. And his path had already been chosen: he would be a gambler and a grifter. Why would the Larabees want him anyway? His own relatives had never seemed particularly delighted at his presence, except perhaps for the Ainslies, and Aunt Arabella, his fathers sister, in Alexandria. Yet the prospect of life on a horse ranch intrigued him. Ainslies Delight, while primarily a farm, raising sheep, cattle, fruit and grain, had also bred good Thoroughbreds on a small scale, and he had taken the natural endless delight of a Southern child in learning how it was done and working with the beautiful animals. This land might be broader, less green, shorter on neighbors, but he doubted that the principles would have changed very much in being transferred to the frontier. It was at least something he was familiar with and enjoyed.
Then, looking out the back window, he saw Chris and Vin in the corral, apparently examining Whittingtons blood bay mare. He watched with a sinking feeling; Vin had said that his partner had already seen her and knew her to be stolen, so why would they be looking her over again unless Vin had decided not to wait any longer before telling the truth about how she had come onto their land? After a moment or two Larabee paused and looked up, as if he had felt the boys eyes on him. Ezra didnt think the man could see him, but he ducked back from the window anyway. No, there was no chance for him, he was sure of that now.
At two oclock Sarah called everyone to Sunday dinner, the centerpiece of which was chicken and dumplings, along with three or four fresh vegetables plus radishes and green onions, a choice of hot crusty biscuits or three-inch-thick squares of cornbread with fresh-churned butter, watermelon preserves, and quince jelly, and a peach cobbler for dessert. Buck, still bedbound, had had thick potato soup and fresh bread, followed by a chilled custard, and then been dosed with his medications again and encouraged to take a nap. Chris gave no outward sign that he was aware of Ezras crime, and served him the same as he did his own son. Ezra for his part debated inwardly for much of the meal before daring to address the man. "Mr. Larabee," he ventured at last, "Mr. Tanner told me that you are the sheriff in these parts. How far does your authority extend?"
He saw the quick glance traded between the rancher and his partner, and then Larabee responded thoughtfully, without asking why he wanted to know, "Well, Everett, the questions never exactly come up yet. I was appointed by a Federal circuit-court judge, so I guess technically I could act anywhere within his area, which is close to eighteen thousand square miles. But the other towns around here, Eagle Bend and the rest, mostly have peace officers of their own, and I dont like the idea of horning in unless Im asked for help. So mostly the boys and I--Vin and JD and the others--stay pretty much within a circle about sixty miles across. Someday if the Legislature ever gets around to organizing this part of the Territory, or better yet breaking it up into several smaller counties, I might run for regular election, and by then thered be a clearer picture in everyones mind of just where I was supposed to work."
His specific rejection of "horning in" was enough to assure Ezra that he would be extremely reluctant to intervene in the affairs of Rincon County, even if he thought he was authorized to do so. If anyone is to recover Bucks money, it must be myself. And if my suspicions of Addison are correct, while he may not have that exact money in his possession, he certainly has more than enough to make up the amount--which Whittington does not, at least not in the orphanage safe. He almost certainly has the jewelry; he is often obliged to travel on official business, so it would be easier for him to dispose of than it would be for Whittington, who hardly ever so much as visits Broken Bow. It will be best to attempt to regain it from him, if I can see my way clear to doin so. He wondered that he was even considering the idea. Addison was clearly a swindler like Mother, though not on exactly the same scale. Why should he ponder turning against one of his own kind? Because this time I was injured too? Because he is usin his authority and the laws of his county in ways he should not? What concern is that of mine? No, it is sheer selfishness. I want revenge for my own ill treatment, and as I was not carryin very much of value which I have not contrived to recover already, I must strike at him by some other means. Men such as he are most vulnerable in their pocketbooks, and four-thousand-plus dollars, to say nothin of Mrs. Wilmingtons jewelry, would represent a very sizeable blow to his.
But I cannot go until I am certain of what ails Buck. Even though the Larabees and Mr. Jackson are carin for him, he is still in some sense my responsibility; I brought him here, after all.
He put aside the picture of himself remaining among this contented, self-sufficient, quietly successful family, playing with Adam and Buck, learning the horse business, trekking to town once a week like an honest country boy. Like having a pet, it was only a childish dream, and he was old enough to know that such things were a waste of time.
Four Corners wasnt a large town, but as its name suggested, it was a nexus of travel, a crossroads. Monday was its busiest day for stagecoach arrivals, with one southbound from Pueblo, via Walsenburg and Trinidad, scheduled at one P.M., and another, eastbound from Santa Fe, around six. There was another Pueblo coach on Thursday, and a second Santa Fe on Friday. Settlement was somewhat sparser to the east, and the coach from that direction came only once a week, on Wednesday. And on Sunday (despite occasional fulminations by old-fashioned preachers who thought that running any kind of public transportation on the Sabbath was a desecration of Gods commandments) there arrived the northbound from El Paso, by way of Alamogordo, Carrizozo, and Broken Bow, the last being a matter of about thirteen and a half hours travel.
When Jarrod Addison arrived in Four Corners on Friday, he had telegraphed his chief deputy so the man would know where to contact him in case of some catastrophic emergency. The deputy remained mute, but on the Sunday coach, which pulled in around seven-thirty in the evening, there was a letter addressed to Addison care of the Gem. The post office was of course closed, but the express agent, who was making his temporary headquarters at the hotel until a suitable facility could be prepared, saw the letter when he emptied the pouch. He passed it on to the desk clerk, who put it in the pigeonhole for Addisons room and gave it to him the following morning, Monday.
Addison was feeling quite pleased with the world when he went down to breakfast. Maude Standishs ransom money for her son should, with luck, arrive on the one oclock southbound. The fact that the boy hadnt shown up here yet--almost a week after his escape from the Home--suggested that, for whatever reason, he wasnt going to; all hed have had to do was pick up the stage road and follow it, and if hed failed in that, it was probably because the desert had killed him, and the Wilmington boy as well. Given that he was an Eastern greenhorn, Addison was hardly surprised at this. Certainly the boys mother couldnt blame him--a well-meaning intermediary--if the villains who had kidnapped her son didnt hold up their end of the bargain. Hed stay prominently visible in Broken Bow just in case she came looking, and be properly sympathetic, and point out that almost anything could have gone wrong: the boy had been bit by a rattler while in the outlaws hands, had tried to escape and gotten thrown or lost, had maybe even been caught in the middle of a gun battle, between two gang members or between the gang and some posse from another jurisdiction. And in so vast a country, with the mountains so close by, where was a search party to look for his body? She might suspect there was something improbable about it, but shed have no proof.
The letter the clerk handed him changed his humor rather drastically. It was from Albert Whittington, the director of the orphanage. He had discovered on Thursday that certain very sensitive documents were missing from his safe, along with the petty cash and young Standishs derringer and jewelry. Had it been only the cash, or even only the cash and Standishs possessions, Whittington might have figured hed been victimized by a common burglar. But the fact that two boys and a horse had also gone missing was a little thick for coincidence. How Standish had managed to get into the safe Whittington didnt know (Addison had his suspicions: the thing was a crackerbox), but he was almost certain the boy had absconded with the documents. If he figured out what they were (as he well might--he was too smart for his own good) and decided to share them with the law, Whittington would be in big trouble--and so would Addison. Whittington had decided to cut his losses while he could, and head for California; hed already purchased a horse and planned to put this letter in the mail as his last act before departing. He figured that since Addison had steered so much "business" his way, the least he owed the sheriff was a warning. The postscript regarding the outbreak of measles which had first shown itself in the Home on Wednesday was anticlimactic, though it did suggest to Addison another possible reason for the boys failure to arrive.
Coolheadedness being a necessary trait for survival as a gunfighter, Addison didnt let the news fluster him, but it
didnt take him much thought to decide what kind of "documents" Whittington was referring to. The man was too much of a coward to indulge in direct confrontations, but he was also very fond of his own skin and very detail-oriented. If hed contrived to assemble proof of even a tenth of Addisons sub-rosa dealings in an effort to cover his ass, and the law got hold of it, theyd have enough to put him in Yuma Prison for the next twenty years or more--not that hed be likely to survive the experience. The two boys were probably dead, but they might not be--and even if they were, someone might come upon their bodies and find the proof, and that would be just as bad. Better not to take unnecessary chances, but to cut his losses and get out while he had the chance. Fortunately he had always allowed for such an eventuality and had his ill-gotten gains safely hidden in a strongbox buried under the floor of his woodshed, safe from fire and sneak-thieves. He even still had the Wilmington womans jewelry, which he had planned to take up to Denver as soon as the opportunity offered; well, he could sell it just as well in Mexico--he might not get as much money for it there, but his American dollars would be worth a not-so-small fortune. He could still set himself up pretty nicely, even if he did end up having to live out his life as an exile. It wasnt that bad a deal.
For a moment he considered leaving now and getting a good start, but then he reconsidered. Maude Standish would be expecting him to be around when she got her money; if he wasnt, she would almost certainly start to get suspicious--and, besides, an extra thousand dollars wasnt something he was ready to give up. She knew, or thought she knew, that the kidnappers planned to pick up their money in Broken Bow on Saturday; she wouldnt anticipate any news regarding her son much before next Sunday. That would give Addison the best part of a week to clear out his stash and get gone--and if he took the most direct route he could be over the Border in four days time. Even if she decided to go to Broken Bow herself, in order to get quicker word of the boys fate, she wouldnt be able to get another stage going that way till Thursday, and by the time she arrived hed be well on his way.
His decision made, Addison finished his breakfast and headed upstairs to pack. Checkout time was at three P.M.; hed be able to have his meet with Mrs. Standish and be gone well before then.
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