In Cassidy's canoe, driving himself with steady strokes deeper into the mystery of the starlit waters of Wollaston, Jolly Roger felt the night suddenly filled with an exhilarating tonic. Its deadness was gone. Its weight had lifted. A ripple broke the star gleams where an increasing breeze touched the surface of the lake. And the thrill of adventure stirred in his blood. He laughed as he put his skill and strength in the sweep of his paddle, and for a time the thought that he was an outlaw, and in losing Nada had lost everything in life worth righting for, was not so oppressive. It was the old, joyous laugh, stirred by his sense of humor, and the trick he had played on Cassidy. He could imagine Cassidy back on the shore, his temper redder than his hair as he cursed and tore up the sand in his search for another canoe.

"We're inseparable," Jolly Roger explained to Peter. "Wherever I go, Cassidy is sure to follow. You see, it's this way. A long time ago someone gave Cassidy what they call an assignment, and in that assignment it says 'go get Jolly Roger McKay, dead or alive'—or something to that effect. And Cassidy has been on the job ever since. But he can't quite catch up with me, Pied-Bot. I'm always a little ahead."

And yet, even as he laughed, there was in Jolly Roger's heart a yearning to which he had never given voice. Half a dozen times he might have killed Cassidy, and an equal number of times Cassidy might have killed him. But neither had taken advantage of the opportunity to destroy. They had played the long and thrilling game like men, and because of the fairness and sportsmanship of the man who hunted him Jolly Roger thought of Cassidy as he might have thought of a brother, and more than once he yearned to go to him, and hold out his hand in friendship. Yet he knew Corporal Cassidy was the deadliest menace the earth held for him, a menace that had followed him like a shadow through months and years—across the Barren Lands, along the rim of the Arctic, down the Mackenzie, and back again—a menace that never tired, and was never far behind in that ten thousand miles of wilderness they had covered. Together in the bloodstirring game of One against One they had faced the deadliest perils of the northland. They had gone hungry, and cold, and more than once a thousand miles of nothingness lay behind them, and death seemed preferable to anything that might lie ahead. Yet in that aloneness, when companionship was more precious than anything else on earth, neither had cried quits. The game had gone on, Cassidy after his man—and Jolly Roger McKay fighting for his freedom.

As he headed his canoe north and east, Jolly Roger thought again of the wager made weeks ago down at Cragg's Ridge, when he had turned the tables on Cassidy and when Cassidy had made a solemn oath to resign from the service if he failed to get his man in their next encounter. He knew Cassidy would keep his word, and something told him that tonight the last act in this tragedy of two had begun. He chuckled again as he pictured the probable course of events on shore. Cassidy, backed by the law, was demanding another canoe and a necessary outfit of Slim Buck. Slim Buck, falling back on his tribal dignity, was killing all possible time in making the preparations. When pursuit was resumed Jolly Roger would have at least a mile the start of the red-headed nemesis who hung to his trail. And Wollaston Lake, sixty miles from end to end, and half as wide, offered plenty of room in which to find safety.

The rising of the wind, which came from the south and west, was pleasing to Jolly Roger, and he put less caution and more force into the sweep of his paddle. For two hours he kept steadily eastward, and then swung a little north, guiding himself by the stars. With the breaking of dawn he made out the thickly wooded shore on the opposite side of the lake from Slim Buck's camp, and before the sun was half an hour high he had drawn up his canoe at the tip of a headland which gave him a splendid view of the lake in all directions.

From this point, comfortably encamped in the cool shadows of a thick clump of spruce, Jolly Roger and Peter watched all that day for a sign of their enemy. As far as the eye could reach no movement of human life appeared on the quiet surface of Wollaston. Not until that hazy hour between sunset and dusk did he build a fire and cook a meal from the supplies in Cassidy's pack, for he knew smoke could be discerned much farther than a canoe. Yet even as he observed this caution he was confident there was no longer any danger in returning to Yellow Bird and her people.

"You see, Pied-Bot," he said, discussing the matter with Peter, while he smoked a pipeful of tobacco in the early evening, "Cassidy thinks we're on our way north, as fast as we can go. He'll hit for the upper end of the Lake and the Black River waterway, and keep right on into the Porcupine country. It's a big country up there, and we've always taken plenty of space for our travels. Shall we go back to Yellow Bird, Peter? And Sun Cloud?"

Peter tried to answer, and thumped his tail, but even as he asked the questions there was a doubt growing in Jolly Roger's mind. He wanted to go back, and as darkness gathered about him he was urged by a great loneliness. Only Yellow Bird grieved with him in his loss of Nada, and understood how empty life had become for him. She had, in a way, become a part of Nada; her presence raised him out of despair, her voice gave him hope, her unconquerable spirit—fighting for his happiness—inspired him until he saw light where there had been only darkness. The impelling desire to return to her brought him to his feet and down to the pebbly shore of the lake, where the water rippled softly in the thickening gloom. But a still more powerful force held him back, and he went to his blankets, spread over a thick couch of balsam boughs. For hours his eyes were wide open and sleepless.

He no longer thought of Cassidy, but of Yellow Bird. Doubt—a charitable inclination to half believe—gave way in him to a conviction which he could not fight down. More than once in his years of wilderness life strange facts had compelled him to give some credence to the power of the Indian conjurer. Belief in the mastery of the mind was part of his faith in nature. It had come to him from his mother, who had lived and died in the strength of her creed.

"Think hard, and with faith, if you want anything to come true," she had told him. And this was also Yellow Bird's creed. Was it possible she had told him the truth? Had her mind actually communed with the mind of Nada? Had she, through the sheer force of her illimitable faith, projected her subconscious self into the future that she might show him the way? His eyes were staring, his ears unhearing, as he thought of the proof which Yellow Bird had given to him. A few hours ago she had brought him warning of impending danger. There had been no hesitation and no doubt. She had come to him unequivocal and sure. Without seeing, without hearing, she knew Cassidy was stealing upon him through the night.

In the darkness Jolly Roger sat up, his heart beating fast. Without effort, and with no thought of the necessity of proof, Yellow Bird had given him a test of her power. It had been a spontaneous and unstaged thing, a woman's heart reaching out for him—as she had promised that it would. And yet, even as the simplicity and truth of it pressed upon him, doubt followed with its questions. If, after this, Yellow Bird had told him to return to Nada as swiftly as he could, he would have believed, and this night would have seen him on his way. But she had warned him against this, predicting desolation and grief if he returned. She had urged him to go on, somewhere, anywhere, seeking for an illusion and an unreality which the spirits had named, to her as the Country Beyond. And when he reached this Country Beyond, wherever it might be, he would possess Nada again, and happiness for all time. After all, there was something archaically crude in what he was trying to believe, when he came to analyze it. Yellow Bird possessed her powers, but they were definitely limited. And to believe beyond those limitations, to ride upon the wings of superstition and imagination, was sheer savagery.

Jolly Roger stretched himself upon his blankets again, repeating this final argument to himself. But as the night drew closer about him, and his eyes closed, and sleep came, there was a lightness in his heart which he had not known for many days. He dreamed, and his dream was of Nada. He was with her again and it seemed, in this dream, that Yellow Bird was always watching them, and they could not quite get away from her. They ran through the jackpine openings where the strawberries and blue violets grew, and he always ran behind Nada, so he could see her brown curls flying about her.

But they never could rid themselves of Yellow Bird, no matter how fast they ran or where they tried to hide. From somewhere Yellow Bird's dark eyes would look out at them, and finally, laughing at his own discomfiture, he drew Nada down beside him in a little fen, white and yellow and blue with wildflowers, and boldly took her head in his arms and kissed her—with Yellow Bird looking at them from behind a banksian clump twenty feet away. So real was the kiss, and so real the warm pressure of Nada's slim arms about his neck that he awoke with a glad cry—and sat up to find the dawn had come.

For a few moments he sat stupidly, looking about him as if not quite believing the unreality of it all. Then with Peter he went down to the edge of the lake.

All that day Peter sensed a quiet change in his master. Jolly Roger did not talk. He did not whistle or laugh, but moved quietly when he moved at all, with a set, strange look in his face. He was making his last big fight against the desire to return to Cragg's Ridge. Yellow Bird's predictions, and her warning, had no influence with him now. He was thinking of Nada alone. She was back there, waiting for him, praying for his return, ready and happy to become a fugitive with him—to accept her chances of life or death, of happiness or grief, in his company. A dozen times the determination to return for her almost won. But each time came the other picture—a vision of ceaseless flight, of hiding, of hunger and cold and never ending hardship, and at the last, inevitable as the dawning of another day—prison, and possibly the hangman.

Not until late that afternoon did Peter see the old Jolly Roger in the face of his master. And Jolly Roger said:

"We've made up our mind, Pied-Bot. We can't go back. We'll hit north and spend the winter along the edge of the Barren Lands. It's the biggest country I know of, and if Cassidy comes—"

He shrugged his shoulders grimly.

In half an hour they had started, with the sun beginning to sink in the west.

For two days Jolly Roger and Peter paddled their way slowly up the eastern shore of Wollaston. That he had correctly analyzed the mental arguments which would guide Cassidy in his pursuit Jolly Roger had little doubt. He would keep to the west shore, and up through the Hatchet Lake and Black River waterways, as his quarry had never failed to hit straight for the farther north in time of peril. Meanwhile Jolly Roger had decided to make his way without haste up the east shore of Wollaston, and paddle north and east through the Du Brochet and Thiewiaza River waterways. If these courses were followed, each hour would add to the distance between them, and when the way was safe they would head straight for the Barren Lands.

Peter, and only Peter, sensed the glory of that third afternoon when they paddled slowly ashore close to the shimmering stream of spring water that was called Limping Moose Creek. The sun was still two hours high in the west. There was no wind, and Wollaston was like a mirror; yet in the still air was the clean, cool tang of early autumn, and shoreward the world reached out in ridges and billows of tinted forests, with a September haze pulsing softly over them, fleecy as the misty shower of a lady's powder puff. It was destined to be a memorable afternoon for Peter, a going down of the sun that he would never forget as long as he lived.

Yet there was no warning of the thing impending, and his eyes saw only the mystery and wonder of the big world, and his ears heard only the drowsing murmur of it, and his nose caught only the sweet scents of cedars and balsams and of flowering and ripening things. Straight ahead, beyond the white shore line, was a low ridge, and this ridge—where it was not purple and black with the evergreen—was red with the crimson blotches of mountain-ash berries, and patches of fire flowers that glowed like flame in the setting sun.

From out of this paradise, as they drew near to it, came softly the voice and song of birds and the chatter of red squirrels. A big jay was screeching over it all, and between the first ridge and the second—which rose still higher beyond it—a cloud of crows were circling excitedly over a mother black bear and her half grown cubs as they feasted on the red ash berries. But Peter could not smell the bears, nor hear them, and the distant crows were of less interest than the wonder and mystery of the shore close at hand.

He turned from his place in the bow of the canoe, and looked at his master. There was little of inspiration in Jolly Roger's face or eyes. The glory of the world ahead gave him no promise, as it gave promise to Peter. Beyond what he could see there lay, for him, a vast emptiness, a chaos of loneliness, an eternity of shattered hopes and broken dreams. Love of life was gone out of him. He saw no beauty. The sun had changed. The sky was different. The bigness of his wilderness no longer thrilled him, but oppressed him.

Peter sensed sharply the change in his master without knowing the reason for it. Just as the world had changed for Jolly Roger, so Jolly Roger had changed for Peter.

They landed on a beach of sand, soft as a velvet carpet. Peter jumped out. A long-legged sandpiper and her mate ran down the shore ahead of him. He perked up his angular ears, and then his nose caught a fresh scent under his feet where a porcupine had left his trail. And he heard more clearly the raucous tumult of the jay and the musical chattering of the red squirrels.

All these things were satisfactory to Peter. They were life, and life thrilled him, just as it had thrilled his master a few days ago. He adventured a little distance up to the edge of the green willows and the young birch and the crimson masses of fire flowers that fringed the beginning of the forest. It had rained recently here, and the scents were fresh and sweet.

He found a wild currant bush, glistening with its luscious black berries, and began nibbling at them. A gopher, coming to his supper bush, gave a little squeak of annoyance, and Peter saw the bright eyes of the midget glaring at him from under a big fern leaf. Peter wagged his tail, for the savagery of his existence was qualified by that mellowing sense of humor which had always been a part of his master. He yipped softly, in a companionable sort of way.

And then there smote upon his ears a sound which hardened every muscle in his body.

"Throw up your hands, McKay!"

He turned his head. Close to him stood a man. In an instant he had recognized him. It was the man whose scent he had first discovered down at Cragg's Ridge, the man from whom his master was always running away, the man whose voice he had heard again at Yellow Bird's Camp a few nights ago—Corporal Terence Cassidy, of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

Twenty paces away stood McKay. His dunnage was on his back, his paddle in his hand. And Cassidy, smiling grimly, a dangerous humor in his eyes, was leveling an automatic at his breast. It was, in that instant, a tableau which no man could ever forget. Cassidy was bareheaded, and the sun burned hotly in his red hair. And his face was red, and in the pale blue of his Irish eyes was a fierce joy of achievement. At last, after months and years, the thrilling game of One against One was at an end. Cassidy had made the last move, and he was winner.

For half a minute after the command to throw up his hands McKay did not move. And Cassidy did not repeat the command, for he sensed the shock that had fallen upon his adversary, and was charitable enough to give him time. And then, with something like a deep sigh from between his lips, Jolly Roger's body sagged. The dunnage dropped from his shoulder to the sand. The paddle slipped from his hand. Slowly he raised his arms above his head, and Cassidy laughed softly.

A few days ago McKay would have grinned back, coolly, good humoredly, appreciative of the other's craftsmanship even in the hour of his defeat. But today there was another soul within him.

His eyes no longer saw the old Cassidy, brave and loyal to his duty, a chivalrous enemy, the man he had yearned to love as brother loves brother, even in the hours of sharpest pursuit. In Cassidy he saw now the hangman himself. The whole world had turned against him, and in this hour of his greatest despair and hopelessness a bitter fate had turned up Cassidy to deal him the finishing blow.

A swift rage burned in him, even as he raised his hands. It swept through his brain in a blinding inundation. He did not think of the law, or of death, or of freedom. It was the unfairness of the thing that filled his soul with the blackness of one last terrible desire for vengeance. Cassidy's gun, leveled at his breast, meant nothing. A thousand guns leveled at his breast would have meant nothing. A choking sound came from his lips, and like a shot his right hand went to his revolver holster.

In that last second or two Cassidy had foreseen the impending thing, and with the movement of the other's hand he cried out:

"Stop! For God's sake stop—or I shall fire!"

Even into the soul of Peter there came in that moment the electrical thrill of something terrific about to happen, of impending death, of tragedy close at hand. Once, a long time ago, Peter had felt another moment such as this—when he had buried his fangs in Jed Hawkins' leg to save Nada.

In that fraction of a second which carried Peter through space, Corporal Cassidy's finger was pressing the trigger of his automatic, for McKay's gun was half out of its holster. He was aiming at the other's shoulder, somewhere not to kill.

The shock of Peter's assault came simultaneously with the explosion of his gun, and McKay heard the hissing spit of the bullet past his ear. His arm darted out. And as Peter buried his teeth deeper into Cassidy's leg, he heard a second shot, and knew that it came from his master. There was no third. Cassidy drooped, and something like a little laugh came from him—only it was not a laugh. His body sagged, and then crumpled down, so that the weight of him fell upon Peter.

For many seconds after that Jolly Roger stood with his gun in his hand, not a muscle of his body moving, and with something like stupor in his staring eyes. Peter struggled out from under Cassidy, and looked inquisitively from his master to the man who lay sprawled out like a great spider upon the sand. It was then that life seemed to come back into Jolly Roger's body. His gun fell, as if it was the last thing in the world to count for anything now, and with a choking cry he ran to Cassidy and dropped upon his knees beside him.

"Cassidy—Cassidy—" he cried. "Good God, I didn't mean to do it! Cassidy, old pal—"

The agony in his voice stilled the growl in Peter's throat. McKay saw nothing for a space, as he raised Cassidy's head and shoulders, and brushed back the mop of red hair. Everything was a blur before his eyes. He had killed Cassidy. He knew it. He had shot to kill, and not once in a hundred times did he miss his mark. At last he was what the law wanted him to be—a murderer. And his victim was Cassidy—the man who had played him fairly and squarely from beginning to end, the man who had never taken a mean advantage of him, and who had died there in the white sand because he had not shot to kill. With sobbing breath he cried out his grief, and then, looking down, he saw the miracle in Cassidy's face. The Irishman's eyes were wide open, and there was pain, and also a grin, about his mouth.

"I'm glad you're sorry," he said. "I'd hate to have a bad opinion of you, McKay. But—you're a rotten shot!"

His body sagged heavily, and the grin slowly left his lips, and a moan came from between them. He struggled and spoke.

"It may be—you'll want help, McKay. If you do—there's a cabin half a mile up the creek. Saw the smoke—heard axe—I don't blame you. You're a good sport—pretty quick—but—rotten shot! Oh, Lord—such—rotten—shot—"

And he tried vainly to grin up into Jolly Roger's face as he became a lifeless weight in the other's arms.

Jolly Roger was sobbing. He was sobbing, in a strange, hard man-fashion, as he tore open Cassidy's shirt and saw the red wound that went clean through Cassidy's right breast just under the shoulder. And Peter still heard that strange sound coming from his lips, a moaning as if for breath, as his master ran and brought up water, and worked over the fallen man. And then he got under Cassidy, and rose up with him on his shoulders, and staggered off with him toward the creek. There he found a path, a narrow foot trail, and not once did he stop with his burden until he came into a little clearing, out of which Cassidy had seen the smoke rising. In this clearing was a cabin, and from the cabin came an old man to meet him—an old man and a girl.

At first something shot up into Peter's throat, for he thought it was Nada who came behind the grizzled and white-headed man. There was the same lithe slimness in her body, the same brown glint in her hair, and the same—but he saw then that it was not Nada. She was older. She was a bit taller. And her face was white when she saw the bleeding burden on Jolly Roger's back.

"I shot him," panted McKay. "God knows I didn't mean to! I'm afraid—"

He did not finish giving voice to the fear that Cassidy was dead—or dying, and for a moment he saw only the big staring eyes of the girl as the gray-bearded man helped him with his burden. Not until the Irishman was on a cot in the cabin did he discover how childishly weak he had become and what a terrific struggle he had made with the weight on his shoulders. He sank into a chair, while the old trapper worked over Cassidy.

He heard the girl call him grandfather. She was no longer frightened, and she moved like a swift bird about the cabin, getting water and bandages and pillows, and the sight of fresh blood and of Cassidy's dead-white face brought a glow of tenderness into her eyes. McKay, sitting dumbly, saw that her hands were doing twice the work his own could have accomplished, and not until he heard a low moan from the wounded man did he come to her side.

"The bullet went through clean as a whistle," the old man said. "Lucky you don't use soft nosed bullets, friend."

A deep sigh came from Cassidy's lips. His eyelids fluttered, and then slowly his eyes opened. The girl was bending over him, and Cassidy saw only her face, and the brown sheen of her hair.

"He'll live?" Jolly Roger said tremulously.

The older man remained mute. It was Cassidy, turning his head a little, who answered weakly.

"Don't worry, McKay. I'll—live."

Jolly Roger bent over the cot, between Cassidy and the girl. Gently he took one of the wounded man's hands in both his own.

"I'm sorry, old man," he whispered. "You won, fair and square. And I won't go far away. I'll be waiting for you when you get on your feet. I promise that. I'll wait."

A wan smile came over Cassidy's lips, and then he moaned again, and his eyes closed. The girl thrust Jolly Roger back.

"No—you better not go far, an' you better wait," she said, and there was an unspoken thing in the dark glow of her eyes that made him think of Nada on that day when she told him how Jed Hawkins had struck her in the cabin at Cragg's Ridge.

That night Jolly Roger made his camp close to the mouth of the Limping Moose. And for three days thereafter his trail led only between this camp and the cabin of old Robert Baron and his granddaughter, Giselle. All this time Cassidy was telling things in a fever. He talked a great deal about Jolly Roger. And the girl, nursing him night and day, with scarcely a wink of sleep between, came to believe they had been great comrades, and had been inseparable for a long time. Even then she would not let McKay take her place at Cassidy's side. The third day she started him off for a post sixty miles away to get a fresh supply of bandages and medicines.

It was evening, three days later, when Jolly Roger and Peter returned. The windows of the cabin were brightly lighted, and McKay came up to one of these windows and looked in. Cassidy was bolstered up in his cot. He was very much alive, and on the floor at his side, sitting on a bear rug, was the girl. A lump rose in Jolly Roger's throat. Quietly he placed the bundle which he had brought from the post close up against the door, and knocked. When Giselle opened it he had disappeared into darkness, with Peter at his heels.

The next morning he found old Robert and said to him:

"I'm restless, and I'm going to move a little. I'll be back in two weeks. Tell Cassidy that, will you?"

Ten minutes later he was paddling up the shore of Wollaston, and for a week thereafter he haunted the creeks and inlets, always on the move. Peter saw him growing thinner each day. There was less and less of cheer in his voice, seldom a smile on his lips, and never did his laugh ring out as of old. Peter tried to understand, and Jolly Roger talked to him, but not in the old happy way.

"We might have finished him, an' got rid of him for good," he said to Peter one chilly night beside their campfire. "But we couldn't, just like we couldn't have brought Nada up here with us. And we're going back. I'm going to keep that promise. We're going back, Peter, if we hang for it!"

And Jolly Roger's jaw would set grimly as he measured the time between.

The tenth day came and he set out for the mouth of the Canoe River. On the afternoon of the twelfth he paddled slowly into Limping Moose Creek. Without any reason he looked at his watch when he started for old Robert's cabin. It was four o'clock. He was two days ahead of his promise, and there was a bit of satisfaction in that. There was an odd thumping at his heart. He had faith in Cassidy, a belief that the Irishman would call their affair a draw, and tell him to take another chance in the big open. He was the sort of man to live up to the letter of a wager, when it was honestly made. But, if he didn't—

Jolly Roger paused long enough to take the cartridges from his gun. There would be no more shooting'—on his part.

The mellow autumn sun was flooding the open door of the cabin when he came up. He heard laughter. It was Giselle. She was talking, too. And then he heard a man's voice—and from far off to his right came the chopping of an axe. Old Robert was at work. Giselle and Cassidy were at home.

He stepped up to the door, coughing to give notice of his approach. And then, suddenly, he stopped, staring thunderstruck at what was happening within.

Terence Cassidy was sitting in a big chair. The girl was behind him. Her white arms were around his neck, her face was bent down, her lips were kissing him.

In an instant Cassidy's eyes had caught him.

"Come in," he cried, so suddenly and so loudly that it startled the girl. "McKay, come in!"

Jolly Roger entered, and the girl stood up straight behind Cassidy's chair, her cheeks aflame and her eyes filled with the glow of the sunset. And Terence Cassidy was grinning in that old triumphant way as he leaned forward in his chair, gripping the arms of it with both hands.

"McKay, you've lost," he cried. "I'm the winner!"

In the same moment he took the girl's hand and drew her from behind his chair.

"Giselle, do as you said you were going to do. Prove to him that I've won."

Slowly she came to Jolly Roger. Her cheeks were like the red of the sunset. Her eyes were flaming. Her lips were parted. And dumbly he waited, and wondered, until she stood close to him. Then, swiftly, her arms were around his neck, and she kissed him. In an instant she was back on her knees at the wounded man's side, her burning face hidden against him, and Cassidy was laughing, and holding out both hands to McKay.

"McKay, Roger McKay, I want you to meet Mrs. Terence Cassidy, my wife," he said. And the girl raised her face, so that her shining eyes were on Jolly Roger.

Still dumbly he stood where he was.

"The Missioner from Du Brochet was here yesterday, and married us," he heard Cassidy saying. "And we've written out my resignation together, old man. We've both won. I thank God you put that bullet into me down on the shore, for it's brought me paradise. And here's my hand on it, McKay—forever and ever!"

Half an hour later, when McKay stumbled out into the forest trail again, his eyes were blinded by tears and his heart choked by a new hope as big as the world itself. Yellow Bird was right, and God must have been with her that night when her soul went to commune with Nada's. For Yellow Bird had proved herself again. And now he believed her.

He believed in the world again. He believed in love and happiness and the glory of life, and as he went down the narrow trail to his canoe, with Peter close behind him, his heart was crying out Nada's name and Yellow Bird's promise that sometime—somewhere—they two would find happiness together, as Giselle and Terence Cassidy had found it.

And Peter heard the chopping of the distant axe, and the song of birds, and the chattering of squirrels—but thrilling his soul most of all was the voice of his master, the old voice, the glad voice, the voice he had first learned to love at Cragg's Ridge in the days of blue violets and red strawberries, when Nada had filled his world.

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