Murder at the Falls

 

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Corra Linn Falls Lanark Scotland

The Case of the Murder at the Falls.

Morag sat on a boulder and pulled her coat sleeves down over her hands, while she waited. She was sure he had said tonight. There was a rustling on the slope down to the river and she stood up to stare into the darkness. Someone moved through the ferns and willow weeds that grew across the path leading to the rocky clearing. Above the cliff a cloud shifted and the moonlight glimmered on the pools among the stones of the riverbed. A soft whistle of an intermittent pheeing came from behind the birch scrub where the path opened out onto the gravel.

‘Angus?’ Morag called and peered towards the dark space between the trees and brambles.

She saw him stepping out from the shadows and ran across the clearing, kissed his cheek, then hugged him tight.

‘Have you got it?’ he said and pushed off her embrace.

‘Aye.’ She unbuttoned her coat and took out the lacquered, jewellery box. He grabbed it from her, snapped the lid open and lifted out a silver chain with a pendant that dangled and glinted in the subdued light. She smiled.

‘You’re a wee darling,’ he said and gave a throaty chuckle. He pulled a woollen sock from his pocket, and tipped in the contents from the box. He took care to place the pedant in last. With a double swing of his arm he threw the empty box away. It landed among the brambles on the slope of the embankment.

‘I told my mither.’ Morag grasped his coat sleeve.

‘Whit!’ He thrust his arm aside. ‘You shouldn’t have done that ma wee lass.’

A button came away from his sleeve in her hand; she would have to stitch it back on later. ‘But Angus, she needs to ken.’

‘Ken about the box?’

‘No, about America I mean.’ She took hold of his hand. ‘Are we going like you said?’

‘Aye, did I say America?’ He pulled her in against his body and removed her knitted headscarf. ‘Oh my sweet, sweet Morag.’ He stroked and played with her long hair, forming it into a tail in his hands.

     ‘Married in the Americas,’ she said, ‘imagine!’ She rubbed at the stubble on his face. ‘We’ll have our own ranch away from all this. Do you remember what you said?’

     He rolled her hair around his hand closing the strands in his fist. ‘Aye, I did.’ With a strong grip on the ponytail and a violent tug, he bashed her head down onto the rocks. ‘Aye I did, ma sweet lass.’

 With ease, he carried her to the river and pushed her unconscious body out towards the middle of the pool. He sat down like a silent silhouette among the rocks and watched her floating on the dark surface. The moon floodlit the castle ruins above the cliff and reflected on the sheen of the watery surface surrounding Morag’s pale face.

The current slipped the water between a narrow channel and floated Morag over a small fall. Regaining consciousness she gasped for air, fear and anger blazed in the space between life and death as she looked towards Angus.

 He was jolted to a sense of momentary shock from her helplessness and stood up aghast, but committed to what he’d done. He blew a kiss, a solemn gesture. ‘Bye now ma sweet lass,’ he whispered.

The flow of the river increased its intensity through the gorge, and Morag thrashed with her arms but failed to find a grip on the smooth sides. The water jostled her against a jutting granite edge that split her head. Unconscious and swarming in blood her limp body bobbled onwards in the full force of the current, and she was thrown over the falls high into the air. Her coat opened wide, and underneath the white petticoat flapped, as she plummeted like a sparrow hawk focused to strike on a pheasant’s chick. The hundred feet fall of water cascading over Corra Linn on the Clyde roared and masked the sound of her body hitting the frothing pool below.

***

Holmes flung his coat and slouch hat behind the door of his study. The sudden downpour of hailstones curtailed his morning walk in the Botanic Gardens and the brisk dash across the street had aggravated his headache. He whipped at the newspaper on his chair with his walnut walking stick, sending it flying across the floor. He sat down in front of the open fire and massaged his temples, to ease the dull pounding throb.

     There was a soft knock on the door and Mrs Fergus carried in a black floral tray. ‘Here ye are. I’ve made ye a hot toddy with lemon, cloves and honey for yer cold.’

     ‘Thank you Mrs Fergus.’ He looked up at her and grimaced. ‘But it’s a headache.’

     ‘It’s all the same.’ She put the tray on the side table. ‘There’s also a letter.’ On the way out she picked up his hat and coat, and she shook them. ‘Really!’ She expressed loudly and carried them at arm’s length out of the room.

     Holmes looked at the envelope with its lilac stamp. Today’s date was embossed along the top so it must be urgent. He took it to the bay window and slid the blade of his silver snap knife beneath its sealed edge. Holding it up to the daylight, he read the letter and felt the throb from his headache ease. It was an intriguing puzzle indeed.

     ‘Morning, Holmes.’ Major Wilson strode into the study. ‘What have you done to the Herald?’ He picked up the broad sheets off the carpet and reassembled the newspaper.

     ‘Ah, Wilson, what would you say to a weekend in the country?’

     ‘Ridiculous in this weather.’

     ‘Here read this.’ Holmes gave him the letter and went to the door and shouted, ‘Mrs Fergus where’s my portmanteau?’

     Wilson read through the letter and shook his head. ‘It’s common theft. Not your cup of tea.’

     ‘Ah, yes, what about the maid?’

     ‘It was an accident, poor girl was probably suffering from hysteria.’ He nodded. ‘Dosed up with laudanum no doubt.’

     ‘Apparent Wilson, apparent, you read the words but you don’t assimilate, look how Lady May writes; she has suspicions.’

     ‘But to Lanark in this weather, Holmes, do we have to?’

     ‘Of course.’ Holmes took the letter and threw it into the fire. ‘There’s nothing like a murderous act to cure a headache.’ He smiled. ‘Don’t forget your ammunition.’

***

The ten-o-clock Glasgow train eased into Carstairs Junction. Holmes and Wilson alighted from a first class carriage and were engulfed in a cloud of hissing steam from the Royal Scot locomotive.

     Wilson checked his pocket watch. ‘Good grief, only an hour and forty minutes!’ He looked around and saw that Holmes had already dashed off and was ascending the iron staircase leading to the exit.

‘Ridiculous weather.’ He shouted but didn’t get Holmes’ attention. Alone on the platform, he tightened the collar of his Marlowe coat against a flutter of sleet and picked up both suitcases. ‘Uncivilised, not a single porter.’ He grunted and headed up the steps.

     Holmes kept rubbing at his temples as he was jostled around in the carriage, its wheels bouncing in and out of potholes along the rough track. The juddering rattled through his bones and his headache pulsated with every shudder. Wilson offered him a small spirit flask, which he refused.

‘Ah, Wilson, I wouldn’t want a foul breath when I meet Lady May. Now would you?’

‘I’d rather have a sweet breath than a constant shiver.’ Wilson took a swig. He lifted the flap on the side of the Clarence carriage and shouted up to the driver. ‘Is it much further?’

The driver ignored his shout and turned the horse team off the Lanark road onto a lane, lined with beech trees. The sleet had drifted away with the clouds and the low winter sun glared across the sky. The carriage slowed as the horses snorted to pull it through a mudded corner and up a gentle slope to the front of Bonnington House.

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Bonnington House

The doorman wearing a purple waistcoat took their luggage and directed them into the front room. Lady May waited by the tall windows gazing out over the woods that stretched down the valley. She turned and smiled.

‘Mr Holmes I am glad you’ve come.’ She raised her hand towards him. ‘It’s such a tragic shame that those people blame me, you know. Not a word about my charity … not a word.’

Holmes shook her hand. ‘My dear Lady I am delighted to meet you.’

Wilson stepped forward. ‘Major Wilson, at your service.’

She ignored his outstretched hand and sat by the fire. ‘Major, will you pour our tea, lemon for me.’ She said and indicated to the pot.

Holmes took a place on the settee opposite and resisted the urge to rub his temples.

     ‘Mrs McKay was most vicious towards me, such disrespect. As if … As ifI didn’t understand her loss.’ She took the cup and saucer from Wilson. ‘There was a fire at one of the Mills, you know, and out of my own goodness I gave those girls a chance …you know, a chance to better themselves.’

     Holmes took the cup offered by Wilson. ‘Lady May, tell me why do you believe it’s a murder?’

     ‘You read my letter.’ She looked at Wilson. ‘Major, pass that newspaper to Holmes, it’s over there.’

‘Where?’

‘The Hamilton Advertiser, over there on the sideboard.’

Lady May slipped a small scrap of paper into Holmes’ hand and said, ‘be careful with this.’

He read the note, “Te nicht at wallaces leep.”

‘I found it near the Pavilion, only yesterday.’ She smiled. ‘You see, what I mean, Mr Holmes.’

‘Indeed,’ said Holmes, not really certain what she meant and he folded the paper into his waistcoat pocket.

Wilson came back with the newspaper. ‘My goodness! It’s front page news.’

‘Major, please read the article out loud.’ Holmes smiled at Lady May and nodded. ‘It helps me to digest the facts, while I contemplate the details.’

“The Sheriff Court in Lanark has concluded the inquest on the case of Miss Morag McKay of New Lanark. A verdict of accidental death has been recorded in the court of justice proceedings to the fact that Miss Morag McKay whilst walking home along the path above the Clyde Crags from her place of employment in Lady May’s Pavilion did without doubt in the dark trip and fall into the river. Miss Morag McKay sustained severe head injuries from the fall and in an unconscious state her lungs filled with water causing death by drowning. This determination was concluded by the medical investigation conducted by Dr Iain Williamson of the Royal Infirmary. The predication that Miss Morag McKay was the culprit in the theft of items of jewellery from Lady May of Bonnington House was not proven.”

‘I made it quite clear, Holmes, I would never employ a thief.’ Lady May said. ‘Disgraceful to think such a thing.’ She stood up. ‘Neither would I direct such a terrible revenge, you know.’ She pulled the cord by the mantle piece. ‘Now, I’m expected at the Lanimers’ committee meeting in the Toll Booth and must leave you.’

Both Holmes and Wilson stood up.

‘Where is that girl?’ She tugged at the cord. ‘I’ll arrange lunch in the pavilion. You’ll have a wonderful view of the falls from there.’

A young girl in a black skirt, white pinny and scullery bonnet entered the room, and curtsied.

‘There you are, Shona. These gentlemen are to have lunch in the pavilion.’

The girl nodded and left.

‘Well Holmes.’ said Lady May, ‘dinner is at seven, and that should give you enough time to snoop around.’ She went to the door and looked back. ‘Major, we are decent folk in Lanark; you are to dress for dinner.’ She left, leaving the door open.

‘She’s irritating me Holmes,’ said Wilson and he walked over to the window.

‘Perhaps it’s your sweet breath that’s offensive.’ Holmes joined him at the window. ‘What glorious countryside, don’t you think?’

Half an hour later the doorman entered. ‘Excuse me gentlemen; I am to direct you to the pavilion. Here are your coats.’

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Remains of the pavilion.

Three hundred yards from the house the pavilion stood on the crags with a view over the Corra Linn falls, to the left. On top of the opposite cliff face stood the remains of a castle. A series of angled mirrors on the pavilion ceiling gave the illusion of being immersed within the river by looking up into the falling water. Holmes smiled, a folly of ridiculous indulgence indeed!

Shona was already prepared for them. ‘Tea sirs.’ She poured without waiting for a reply.

Wilson helped himself to a slice of rough bread, cold sliced lamb and cheese.

‘You were Morag’s friend?’ Holmes nodded towards her.

‘Like sisters, sir.’ She passed him the tea in a delicate china cup.

‘Is this the way you’d both go home to New Lanark?’ He pointed to the path along the rocky ledge leading away from the building.

‘From here it’s a shortcut, sir.’

‘Where would Morag have fallen?’

‘Nowhere along the path, sir, it’s not too near the water.’ She offered him some bread and cheese. ‘I mean … I don’t know sir. It was getting dark. She wanted to go home early, and I said I’d finish up.’

‘No wonder!’ Wilson gasped. He stood in front of a small mirror. ‘I forgot to shave this morning.’ He laughed and took the tea offered by Shona.

‘Yes, Wilson and what a sight for Lady May,’ said Holmes. ‘Now Shona, did you see anyone on the path on your way home that night?’

‘I was too scared, sir. I went by the road.’

‘Scared you’d trip and fall?’

‘No sir, of the ghost.’

‘No such thing.’ Wilson helped himself to some strawberries.

‘It was sir, sitting in the moonlight. It was William Wallace sir. We all know he mourns by the river for his murdered wife.’

‘It was just a shadow, a trick of the mirrors.’ Scoffed Wilson. ‘Your imagination, my girl.’

‘It wasn’t that what scared me, sir. It was the angel flying above the falls. I really wet myself. Sorry sir, I didn’t mean to say that.’ Shona lowered her head. ‘My mither said it was just a hobgoblin owl.’

‘Yes probably.’ Holmes nodded. ‘Come, Shona, can you point out where William Wallace was?’

‘Dear me Holmes, you don’t believe such nonsense.’ Wilson picked up a small jug and poured the thick cream into his bowl. ‘This is splendid, where do you get strawberries at this time of year?’

‘Lady May gets them from abroad sir. My mither says it’s a sin.’

‘Thank you Shona.’ Holmes smiled. ‘When you’re quite finished Wilson, we’ll investigate the path to New Lanark.’

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View of New Lanark

Holmes and Major Wilson walked down the path above the river to a weir. There the water was directed into a tunnel through the jutting embankment. They walked further and passed under the archway in the boundary wall where they stopped and looked down on the village of New Lanark. The water flowed out from underneath the hillside and was directed into channels towards the wheels of the mills. Muffled sounds came out from the sandstone buildings of machinery clattering. Teams of Shire horses with their tails flaying about stood shackled to carts, they snorted and shook their heads to ward off flies. Bales of cotton and wool were being hoisted into the mills and there were shouts of “all clear”, followed by a racket of rattling chains that were pulled by men with their sleeves rolled up.

‘Well, even in the dark I don’t see how anyone could fall into the river,’ said Wilson. ‘She must have been chased, perhaps by one of those rouges down there no doubt.’

‘Well observed Wilson. She couldn’t have fallen even on a moonlit night.’ Holmes rubbed his temples. ‘Do you have any particular rogue in mind?’

They saw a group of women come out of the village post office.

‘Come on Wilson, keep up.’ Holmes strode off down the cobbled street towards them.

A woman with a black shawl turned and shouted. ‘Nae tourists here, away to hell.’

‘I’m looking for Mrs McKay.’ Holmes docked his hat. ‘I’m investigating her daughter’s misfortune.’

‘Misfortune my arse, them gentry murdered the poor wee lass.’ She pulled her scarf across her face. ‘Are you the sheriff’s men?’

‘Where would I find Mrs McKay?’

‘Away to hell.’ The woman turned her back and walked away.

‘Now look here, you foul-mouthed hag.’ Wilson shook his stick. ‘I’ll bash some manners into you. If you don’t mind your tongue.’

‘Ah Wilson, let her be,’ Holmes sighed.

‘She’s at the grave, mister.’ A boy in a cotton jacket shouted from the post office doorway.

‘Surely not! What a double tragedy.’ Wilson took off his cap.

‘She’s took some flowers to the grave,’ said the boy and he laughed. He pointed the way up the hillside.

The footpath started with granite steps and then changed to loose stones and pebbles that led through a gully towards a depression among the trees. Wilson was wheezing as he struggled to keep pace with Holmes.

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Crofter’s Graveyard – New Lanark

A hooded woman in a dark coat was kneeling by a gravestone beside the fresh flowers piled upon the earth mound.

‘Give her a moment.’ Holmes stretched out his arm to stop Wilson from walking forward. They took off their hats. The woman stood and came towards them averting her eyes.

‘Our condolences, Mrs McKay.’

‘Aye.’ She walked past them towards the village path.

‘Mrs McKay may I talk with you?’ Holmes called to her. ‘Please, just a moment of your time.’

She turned. ‘Who are you?’

‘My Name is Russell Holmes, I’m a private investigator and this is Major Wilson.’

‘Not the sheriff’s men then?’

‘May we walk back with you, and you can tell us about your daughter.’

Mrs McKay explained she was shocked when Morag announce she was going to the Americas with Angus. She was surprised because she hadn’t met this man, a gardener for the gentry at the big house in Bonnington. Morag had said she was going to find her Uncle Hamish and stay with him in Pennsylvania. Poor Hamish, he fell overboard and drowned when the boat crashed on the rocks by Benbecula and he never got to the Atlantic, never mind the Americas.

‘That was ten years ago, Mr Holmes. Morag was only a wee bairn just turned three.’ Mrs McKay continued her story.

‘The McKay’s were chased off their crofts by the highland Lords and told to seek a new life elsewhere. So it was a new start in the Americas for them all until the weather hit their ship. Despite the damage they made it to Glasgow for repairs that would take months. The passengers were offered jobs in the New Lanark mills and they were so grateful, really, as everybody was terrified of the sea.’

‘I lied to the wee lass that Uncle Hamish was safe in the Americas. I shouldn’t have, but she was so wee.’ Mrs McKay stopped at the top of the steps. ‘She was a wee cherish, that one, with a wild imagination, Mr Holmes.’ She pulled her hood down. ‘It’s the fault of education and all that reading filling her head with adventure and treasure islands.’

‘What about Angus what do you -.’

 ‘He can go to hell.’ She spat into the air. ‘That boy wouldn’t show his face at the church.’ She stared at Wilson. ‘What kind a person does that, Mister?’

‘Major, if you don’t mind.’

‘Well, mister Major, you can all go to hell.’ She stomped off down the steps leaving Holmes and Wilson watching her go.

‘Wilson let’s have a look at the grave.’ Holmes turned back up the path.

“Taken by the Lord our beloved daughter Morag Anne McKay aged 13 years.”

Holmes picked up a scrappy note attached to some withered snowdrops and he noted the familiarity of the scrawl. “Te ma sweet lass so sory”.

‘Let’s go back, Wilson. You’ll need to smarten up before dinner.’

***

After dinner they sat by the fire drinking Assam tea.

‘It has a fine smooth taste, don’t you think, Major Wilson?’ Lady May dabbed her lips with a silk napkin. ‘I offer all my guests this flavour of India.’

‘I’ll add a little more sugar if you don’t mind.’ Wilson helped himself.

Holmes placed his cup on a side table. ‘Lady May how much do you know about Angus, one of your gardeners?’

‘Mr Charlie McCabe’s boy, oh yes.’ She reached for a chocolate truffle. ‘He works on the estate. Mostly in the walled garden at this time … you know, preparing the ground … I’ve no idea.’ She offered the plate of truffles to Wilson. ‘Yes, Angus, he seems a bit secretive to me.’

‘No thank you,’ said Wilson, waving the truffles away, and added another sugar lump to his tea.

‘Tomorrow I want to have a look around Wallace’s Leap. Do you know the exact spot?’

‘Oh yes, Holmes, it’s on one of my tourist routes.’ She picked up another truffle. ‘Tomorrow will be a nice day for an early stroll, after breakfast.’

***

The path led down to a bend in the river where the water formed a deep pool trapped by the rocks against the cliff; above were the castle ruins. Wallace’s leap was over the small fall where the water escaped into the gorge.

‘You know you can only leap across in the summer.’ Lady May stood with her hands on her hips. ‘If you trip, the water will drag you into the gorge and over the falls. Can you swim Holmes?’

 ‘Of course, Lady May.’ Holmes crouched to pick up a carved horn button and a woollen scarf half covered in gravel. He held it up.

‘Oh, that poor girl!’ Lady May gasped. ‘That is Morag’s. I remember her mother knitted it as a birthday gift.’

Wilson sat on a large boulder with his face turned up towards the winter sun.

‘Wilson.’ Holmes shouted. ‘Can you get over here and help search. Why don’t you look around the path?’

Using his stick, Wilson went poking around the vegetation. ‘Over here,’ he shouted and scrambled into a bramble patch thrashing away with excited vigour and came back out with a jewellery box held high.

 ‘I think we need to speak to Mr Angus McCabe, don’t you Lady May?’ Holmes tapped the box with his finger.

Lady May nodded. ‘He lives in the cottage at the Tulliford. Its not too far.’

‘Is this another one of your tourist walks, my Lady?’ said Wilson as he followed her up the path.

On the way, Lady May, informed them about some of the local history. The cottage was set back from the river ford, which was once a main route into Lanark from the south. The stagecoach from London to Glasgow would pass using the shallow crossing, until the bridge was built at Hyndford. Then came the railways. However, the ford remained a convenient shortcut to drive cattle and sheep to the Lanark market, and Mrs McCabe in Tulliford cottage once sold soup and bread to the drovers.

‘Mrs McCabe, it is said had been swept away by a sudden flood.’ Lady May pointed to the peaceful river. ‘More likely, swept away by one of the drovers from Douglas … a romantic rumour I like to tell my visitors.’

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Remains of Tulliford Cottage

Mr McCabe was sitting outside by the cottage door watching them come up the path between the freshly dug ground of his garden. ‘Lady May!’ He stood up and brushed his hands down his jacket.

‘Hello Charlie.’ She smiled. ‘These gentlemen would like to speak with Angus.’

‘Are you the sheriff’s men?’ Charlie McCabe stared at Wilson.

‘Mr Holmes at your service.’ Holmes docked his hat. ‘Is your son at home, Mr McCabe?’

‘What do you want with him?’

‘He was planning a trip to America with Miss Morag McKay, and -,’ said Wilson.

‘To America,’ interrupted McCabe, ‘now that’s fanciful.’ He gave a wide grin that changed to a stern glance at Wilson, then a solemn nod. ‘I was sorry to hear about the wee lass, and such a bonny creature.’

Holmes persisted. ‘Your son, Mr McCabe is he here?’

‘He’s no at hame.’

Angus came out of the cottage front door. ‘Whit’s going on dad?’ He stared at the jewellery box in Wilson’s hand. He looked up. ‘Ah Lady May, I didn’t see you there.’ He snatched off his cap.

‘Have you seen this box before?’ Holmes pointed at it.

‘No. Why should I?’

Wilson grabbed at Angus’ arms and pulled on the jacket sleeves, one of the buttons was missing. Holmes matched the button he had found.

‘Now, Angus tell us about Morag.’

‘I don’t ken her, why should I?’

‘But you have seen her at Bonnington house, perhaps in the gardens.’ Holmes raised his voice. ’Have you not?’

‘Oh her, well maybe once.’

‘Did you leave this note on her grave?’ Holmes showed him the scrap of paper. ‘Is this your scribble?’

Angus nodded. ‘Aye, well, she was a lively dreamer. I felt sorry for her.’

‘And you met her at Wallace’s leap, did you Angus?’ He held up another scrap of paper for him to read. ‘It’s your scribble, is it not?’

‘Did she tell you that, why should I.’

‘Angus, wits this about America?’ Mr McCabe pushed his son.

‘No, dad.’ He turned to his father. ‘I never said I was going to America, it was Morag she … why should I?’

Mr McCabe took off his bonnet and started to smack his son over his head. ‘You stupid wee bugger.’

‘I’ll have him whipped.’ Lady May shouted and stomped off.

Angus landed a solid punch in his father’s face and then sprinted off towards the ford. Wilson and Holmes dashed after him. Wilson slipped on the mud and fell onto his back. Winded, he reached into his coat, pulled out the revolver and shot into the air. Holmes had already caught Angus mid-river and held his head under the shallow water to knock the fight out of him.

***

Holmes gave up reading about African artefacts and dropped the book onto the side table. He sat back in his favourite chair by the fire.

‘It’s here.’ Wilson called from the bay window. He folded the Herald in half. ‘Listen to this.’

“The mill employees from New Lanark threatened to withdraw their labour unless there was justice, that McCabe be hanged. The cause of their unrest was the verdict of not guilty for murder reached on the scoundrel Angus George McCabe of Tulliford Cottage. He was found guilty of the enticement of Miss McKay to steal. The judge pronounced a life sentence and transportation to the Colonies, namely Port Jackson in Australia. A foreman for the mill workers expressed his anger and said it was an injustice since the statement from the gentry of Bonnington House had influenced the judge. Lady May appeared as a witness and declared that under no circumstances would she employ a thief or a murderer.”

‘Ah, Wilson, perhaps the reputation of a Lady is above the law.’ Holmes warmed his hands then massaged his temples.

 

***

This story is taken from the collection “The Case of the Mahjong Dragon”

Please note this story is fiction, however, many of the places named are real.

Learn more about the true history of the area in a local report .Bonnington History

 

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