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Bennett, Emerson, 1822-1905 [1851], The league of the Miami. (Lorenzo Stratton, Cincinnati) [word count] [eaf470T].
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The struggle of the Wildens to regain
their liberty, after being set upon in the

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manner already shown, was a terrible
one; and as the party in concealment
had anticipated, it proved no easy matter
to overpower them, albeit they were
taken at great advantage, and there were
two against one. A severe scuffle ensued,
during which Jarvis and Morford were
knocked down, and both of their companions
thrown violently against the logs
of the barn; but the party of the League
was in the end triumphant—though they
did not succeed in gagging Jake Wilden,
till he had twice shouted for help, at the
top of his iron lungs.

But the gags were finally brought into
use, and the ropes also, and both were
silenced, and bound hand and foot. The
moment this was effected, Jarvis applied
his fingers to his lips, and gave a low
peculiar whistle; and immediately after
the door opening from without into the
stable, was thrown back on its wooden
hinges, and a dozen men rushed in. Then
each seized a horse and led him out, and
slipping on a bridle already prepared, at
once vaulted upon his back and began to
ride away.

But the cry of the elder Wilden had
been heard by the inmates of the house,
who now came running out, three in
number, to learn what had occurred—
each, as a natural precaution, bringing a
ritle with him. It was difficult for any
one to make out objects distinctly at any
distance; but the party from the dwelling
readily understood what was taking
place; and hearing the tramping and
snorting of the horses, and dimly perceiving
several dark figures moving briskly
about, they felt themselves justified in
using extreme measures; and simultaneously
bringing their rifles to their
shoulders, they glanced along the barrels
as well as the darkness would permit, and
fired toward the thickest of the group.

“Hell's curses on them!” cried a
voice, savagely; “they have shot my
horse under me.”

“Hit me on the arm,” said another.

“Put a hole through my hat,” added
a third.

“Away, men—away!” cried a fourth;
“and each take care of himself as best
he can;” and at the same moment every
horse was lashed into a run, and away
thundered the mounted party, and quickly

“After them as is afoot, and let's kill
every devil we can get our hands on!”
shouted another voice from the party of
the dwelling; and immediately the three
persons who had fired, came bounding up
to the barn. “Whar's Jake and Bob?”
continued the same voice. “I'm feared
they're killed; but you two follow up
them as you can see running yonder,
and I'll stop and look, and then come on
arter ye;” and as the comrades of the
speaker, faithful to his instructions, darted
away in pursuit of the fugitives, some of
whom could just be seen running across
a clearing to the nearest wood, he fancied
he heard a groan just within the barn.

Anxious to learn the fate of his sons—
for this was the senior Wilden, and father
to Jake and Bob—he bounded to the
door, and threw it open. There was just
light enough to enable him to perceive
the outlines of two huge, dark forms
stretched upon the floor; and as they did
not speak nor move, his first impression
was that they were dead, and a cry of
agony burst from his ashy lips. But
scarcely was it uttered, when one of the
huge figures came rolling over and over
toward him, and even on to his very feet,
and a noise like a heavy groan strangled
in one's throat issued from him. Immediately
the father stooped down, to ascertain
in what way his son was wounded,
and his hand instantly encountered the
cord that bound him. The whole truth

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now flashed upon him; and whipping out
his knife, with a cry of joy, he quickly
severed the ligaments, even to the one
that held the gag in his mouth.

The moment Jake Wilden was free—
for this was the elder brother—he sprang
to his feet, and then bounding up from
the floor, uttered a loud peculiar noise,
which we can liken to nothing but the
discordant whistle of a steam engine.
Then drawing a long breath, as of relief,
he bounded up again, cracked his heels
together, and shouted:

“Hell, dad, whar is they? I'm cantankerous—
I'm for a fight—I'm mad—
I can whip the hull beastly crew—I
can, by—! whoop!” and before his
father had time for a reply, he darted
along the hay-mow, caught up his rifle,
which the robbers had left in the very
place where they found it, and rushed out
of the barn, again giving utterance to
another of his discordant screams, as
though his lungs were overcharged with
pent up sounds, which must perforce find
vent or collapse.

The father now turned to his younger
son, and, on cutting him loose, he went
through gyrations, and gave vent to
sounds, in all respects so much like his
brother, that one might easily fancy the
elder was repeating his ventilating and
gymnastic exercises. As Bob was as
eager for a fight as Jake, he was not long
in finding his rifle, and the outside of the
barn, whither he was followed by his

“Which way, dad?” cried Bob—
“case I'll hev to fetch a cuss or die.”

“That way, thar, to the right,” said
his father.

“Yes, and thar's Jake, as I'm a sinner,
streaking on't across the open lot
like chain lightning greased. Come on,
dad, and let's see what your legs can do
at fifty;” and away they both started in
pursuit of Jake, who was in pursuit of his
father's guests, who were in pursuit of
the robbers, who were striving to make
good their escape.

Literally speaking, the three Wilden's
and the two guests, were all in pursuit of
the horse-thieves; but we mentioned
them in the order they were running,
forming an unequal line of a half a mile.
And this line was just long enough to
reach the woods—so that at the very-moment
when the two last—Bob Wilden
and his father—set forward in the
chase, the horse-thieves, among whom
were Jarvis and comrades, were entering
the outskirts of the forest, and disappearing
from their nearest pursuers.

Thinking it worse than useless to follow
them longer; under the cover of night
and an extensive forest, the two persons
who had reaohed the wood in advance of
the Wildens, waited for the latter to
come up, in order to hold a consultation
and determine on further proceedings.
In a few minutes Jake Wilden joined
them, puffing and blowing like a porpoise,
or an overcharged Mississippi steamboat
boiler; and after giving vent to another
of his peculiar lung-puffs—if we may be
permitted to coin a word expressive of
what we mean—he exclaimed:

“Whar's the thieving skunks by this
time?—whar is they, I say? I'm outlandish—
I'm cantankerous—and I want
to lick the hull capoodle on 'em, all by
myself, I does. Just set 'em afore me
one't, and take notice how the fur flies,
will yer? O, I'm slick—I'm greasy—
I'm biling—and I wants to fight something,
jest afore I lays down and makes a
die on't—I do, by—!—whoop!”

“Well, you'll have to catch 'em afore
you can fight 'em,” said one of the two
whom he addressed; “and I dont think
it's likely you'll do that to-night, being
as how they've got into these here woods.

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But ef you was so fierce for a fight, why
didn't you do something when they was

“Do thunder!—why, how in h—l
d'ye 'spose I could do anything with my
arms and legs all bound, and a gag in my

“So, then, you were bound, eh?” said
the one who had not before spoken, and
who made use of better language than
his companion. “Pray, tell us how it

“Tell h—l!” grumbled Jake Wilden.
“All I knows 'bout it is, that me and
Bob had been out to help Ira Pottenger
hunt up a diamond as he'd drapped down
in the road thar; and when we got back
into the barn, we was pitched upon afore
we knowed it, and used up quicker nor I
can tell ye about it. O, ef I'd jest a
knowed them thar skunks was in thar,
wouldn't thar a been a heap of fun?
May be not; but you mought bet your
old bob-tail colt on't, Mr. Munger, and I
reckon you wouldn't lose, nother.”

“Yes,” rejoined the other, with a
vexed laugh, “it's all very well to say I
might bet my colt on your exploits; but
it unfortunately happens that I've got no
colt to bet, as the thieves have played
their game and got him already.”

“Yes, and I'll hev thar hearts' best
blood for't, and other things,” cried Jake,
with a burst of fury. “They may git
away to-night, and be—to 'em!—
but my time 'll come one of these here
days, and then look out for a breeze.
The—scamps aint a-going to catch
me, and tie me down, and gag me, and
steal all the hosses I'm set to watch, and
then git off without no trouble! No, by—!
I'll hev the heart's blood o' the
best of 'em, or I'll lose my own—so
mark that, now, and don't forgit it—for
it's big Jake as sez it.”

By this time the father and brother of
Jake had come up to the party; and mmediately
a consultation was held, regarding
what was best to be done. It was
of course decided as useless to pursue the
outlaws any further that night—for in the
deep wood it would be impossible to tell
a man from the trunk of a tree a yard
from the eye. And then, how could the
pursuit be continued on following day,
since it was not known who were the robbers?—
not one of them having been
seen, so as to make it possible, if the
right ones were found, that they could be
recognized and identified.

The truth was, it was believed by all the
settlers, throughout the Great Miami Valley,—
that there was a league, or hand of
men—who passed themselves off as farmers,
doctors, traders, store-keepers, and
mechanics—whose real occupation was to
steal horses, make and pass counterfeit
money. And to sustain them in this
belief, the settlers had the evidence of
several circumstances of a suspicious
character, some of which were, that certain
men, owning horses, and living
among them, never had one stolen; and
that several persons in the country, who
had at different times, in different places,
and on different charges, been arrested,
were always proved to be innocent,
through the testimony of certain men who
had till then maintained a high place in
the esteem of all honest persons who
knew them. And here was the difficulty
in attempting to bring the guilty to justice:
there was no positive proof against
them, and nothing of course could be
done on mere suspicion. By a wonderfully
adroit management, not one of the
League had ever been taken in the act of
stealing, or passing counterfeit coin; and
so all that the honest settlers could do,
was to suspect certain neighbors of having
a hand in the crimes that were daily
being enacted against the laws of the

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community. And of late these crimes
had become bolder, more startling, and
more numerous; and the honest settlers,
alarmed for their personal safety, as well
as that of their property, had found it
necessary to organize a society for the
extinction of the depredators. And to
guard against placing themselves in the
power of their enemies, it formed a part
of their constitution that no one should be
allowed to become a member, but such
persons as were known to have lost horses,
or been otherwise troubled with marauders,
previous to its organization. Hence
the caution, as the reader has already
seen, of those who were members, with
regard to giving strangers, or those
known not to be members, any information
concerning the society, lest it might
be used to their disadvantage.

As yet this society had never acted in
concert—it having been but a few weeks
since its organization; but the events of
the night of which we are speaking, were
well calculated to stir its members up to
prompt and decisive action. Knowing it
was to meet on the following night,
it was judged advisable by the party in
consultation, to wait quietly till then, lay
the whole facts before the meeting, and
be guided in their further proceedings
by the judgment of the majority. And
in taking this course, it was thought not
improbable that another good might result
from it—inasmuch as it was certain
that one of the outlaws was wounded, and
it was not possible, by keeping a sharp
look out, that some person might, in the
course of the day, be discovered with a
bandaged arm. It was finally agreed,
therefore, between the Wildens and their
guests, that there should be no further
pursuit of the outlaws till after the next
meeting of the Anti-League Society.

Scarcely was this settled, when all
were startled by a loud cry, followed by
shouts, reports of fire-arms, and soon by
a rustling of the bushes of the forest,
near where the party stood, as if some
persons were approaching them. Silently
drawing back, under cover of a thicket,
they had just fixed themselves in a position
where they could see and not be
seen, when a man burst out of the wood,
and started to run across the clearing, in
the direction of Wilden's house. But
scarcely had he advanced forty yards
beyond the limits of the forest, when four
others came bounding after, in hot pursuit,
and spread themselves out to the
right and left, evidently with the design
of completely cutting him off from the
wood, should he change his course and
attempt to regain a cover.

“Dod rot it!” said Jake Wilden, in a
low tone, “I do believe it's some o' them
cussed hoss-stealers. Let's arter 'em,
and gin 'em thunder!”

“I'll go my death on that move,”
returned the younger brother.

“Here's arter 'em, then,” rejoined the
senior Wilden; and the next moment the
whole party was in motion, and each
selecting his man, all darted forward in
pursuit of the strangers, Jake and Bob at
the same time uttering loud whoops, not
unlike those made by Indians when
rushing down upon an enemy. The moment
the four pursuers of the foremost
runner heard these cries in their rear, and
beheld the party giving chase, they appeared
to become alarmed for their own
safety; and changing their course, they
sought to gain the forest to avoid being
overtaken. Three of them being near
the wood, succeeded in their attempt, and
escaped; but the fourth one—a giant of
a fellow, not unlike Jake Wilden in his
huge proportions—being farther in advance,
and nearer the foremost runner
than the others, was completely cut off
from gaining a cover, and therefore had

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no means to avoid a collision with his
adversaries, but to outrun them on a
dead race. It so chanced that Jake
Wilden had singled out this giant for his
object in the pursuit; and being a fleet
runner, and fresh withal, he bounded on
after him, rifle in hand, and soon began
to gain on him, and leave the others
behind. Perceiving how matters stood,
the giant redoubled his exertions, and
kept directly in the tracks of the first
fugitive, who, not having noticed the
change in the pursuers, believed himself
the sole object of all their exertions, and
consequently strained every limb and
sinew to escape. But in the same ratio
that Jake gained on the giant, the giant
gained on the foremost; and a quarter of
a mile, hard running, brought the three
advance parties near together, but considerably
increased the distance between
them and those behind.

“Stop, you bloody thief!” now thundered
Jake, “or I'll lodge the insides of
this here rifle into the place yer set down
on—I will, by thunder!”

The giant seemed to pay no heed to
this call, but still pressed forward with
all his might. Not so the foremost fugitive,
who, thinking the language was
addressed to him, and now believing it
impossible for him to escape, suddenly
came to a halt, and drawing forth a large
Spanish knife, threw open the blade, by
means of a spring, and otherwise prepared
to sell his life as dearly as possible.
But judge of his surprise, when, instead
of beholding the huge fellow close behind
rush upon him, as he had expected, the
latter suddenly bounded one side, and
went panting by, followed by another as
huge as himself, who appeared in the act
of raising his rifle to shoot him down.
Such, doubtless, was his intention; for
the next moment the snap of the lock
was heard, but the piece did not go off;
and with a “D—n the thing! I can do
without it,” it was cast upon the ground,
and the same voice, addressing the now
stationary personage, with whom the
speaker had come along side, demanded
to know who he was.

“My name is Butterman,” was the

“Good!” cried the other; “so you're
one of us; and now, arter being pursued
yourself, you can join in pursuit. Who's
this fellow ahead?”

“Don't know—only I know he belongs
to the villainous gang of horse-thieves.”

“Good agin!” cried Jake, who by
this time was considerably past the other,
and still running hard. “I told 'em so—
I knowed it—and I'll give him thunder
yit!—whoop! hurray!”

“Who are you?” cried Butterman.

“I'm Jake Wilden.”

“Is it possible, and I not know you!
And who are those behind?”

“Dad, Bob, and two other friends,”
answered Jake, who by this time was too
far beyond the other to permit of any
further conversation.

“And I have all this time been running
away from my friends,” soliloquised
Butterman—“thinking they were enemies!
O, what an ass! But I am sure
they fired upon me, and gave chase, when
I run that fellow in among them. I do
not understand it; but here come those,
I suppose, that can explain the mystery;”
and Butterman turned to the others, who,
running toward him, were fast lessening
the distance between himself and them.

Meantime Jake was in close pursuit of
the flying fugitive, more than ever eager
to overtake him, since he had learned, to
a certainty, that he was one of that gang
whom he now hated with a bitterness
which blood alone could appease. And
if truth must be told, he did not regret
that he and his intended victim were now

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by themselves, as it were, where he could
wreak his signal vengeance upon him
without interruption—it never once occarring
to him, that his foe was his equal
in strength, and that, in a hand-to-hand
encounter, the latter might possibly get
the advantage, and become master of the
ground. No, he thought nothing of this;
he only considered that he had been
tricked, overpowered, and disgraced, by
a portion of that same band of which the
pursued was a member, and his whole
soul was now concentrated upon one dark
desire, revenge.

We have said that Jake had gradually
been gaining upon the giant, who was no
other than big Ben Thrasher, the man
who had been deputised to poison Butterman's
spring—but whom the latter,
warned of his purpose, had watched, and
fired upon, and chased through the country,
till, having run him in among a portion
of his own band, they had in turn
tired at and joined in pursuit of him,
with what result the reader has already
seen,—we say Jake had gradually been
gaining upon Thrasher, and when, at last,
only a rod or so divided them, the former,
indignant at what he conceived to be the
latter's cowardice, tauntingly exclaimed:

“You're a thundering coward, you
over-grown lummox! to be running away,
this here way, from a feller as wants to
lick ye beautiful. Thar's nobody near—
so turn about and stand up like a man,
ef you've got the spunk of a owl in ye!”

“You're right, old boy,” growled
the other, coming to a halt; “and I'll
jest stop and see what you're made

“I can lick you, and all your cussed
band!” shouted Jake, as he came within
reaching distance of the other; and quick
as lightning, dealt him a blow with his
fist, which staggered him back a couple
of paces, and which, bestowed on a man
of ordinary physical strength, would assuredly
have knocked him down.

“Thar's two on us as can play at this
game,” cried the other, as he furiously
gave back a blow, that in turn staggered.

Jake instantly recovered, and bounding
forward, with a yell of rage, struck right
and left at his opponent, who returned
the blows in the same manner, neither
appearing to gain any decided advantage.
For a few moments the blows on both
sides rained fast and heavy,—each one
of which, if rightly directed, would have
brought an ox to his knees—but which,
in the present instance, failed to prostrate
either of these well-matched young Samsons.
But at length, the near approach
to each other clogged the blows, and each
simultaneously grappled his opponent,
and then indeed came the “tug of war.”
For a few moments there was a terrible
struggle, then Thrasher was thrown violently
upon the earth, and Jake Wilden
fell heavily upon him, for the moment
fairly knocking the breath from his body.

“Now die, you ugly lummox of a
horse-thief, and be—to ye!” cried
Jake, grasping the other by the throat,
and endeavoring with all his might to
strangle him.

In vain Thrasher resisted, and attempted
to remove the vice-like grasp of his
opponent from his throat; he had been
too much stunned by his fall; and already
the other had too much weakened
him, by the advantage he had gained in
seizing his throat while in a state of comparative
inaction. Every moment he now
felt his strength deserting him; the blood
seemed ready to burst from the swollen
veins of his countenance; his tongue
already protruded; and his eyes seemed
emitting sparks of fire, as the force of
strangulation almost pressed them from
their sockets. Vainly had he clutched,

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convulsively, the hands of Jake Wilden,
and attempted to remove them from his
throat; and at last, in his despair and
agony, he threw them about at random.
Suddenly, by accident, they came in contact
with the handle of a knife which
Jake carried with him, but which, in the
present rencounter, he had either forgotten,
or disdained to use. A gleam of
hope and vengeance now animated the
dying giant; and using all his remaining
strength, he drew the weapon from its
sheath, and plunged it into the heart of
his antagonist, who suddenly uttered a
groan, unclenched his hands, and, rolling
over upon the earth, expired.

As soon as the weight of his opponent
had left his body, Thrasher, knowing that
the friends of the slain were close at
hand, and that his life was in imminent
danger, unless he could escape their vengeance,
made a vigorous effort to regain
his feet, but succeeded only in gaining his
knees, when a sudden vertigo caused him
to fall over, just at the moment the party
behind, headed by the senior Wilden,
reached the spot of the fatal combat.

“Eh! Jake! how's this?” cried the
father of the dead, stooping down to feel
of the body, and ascertain the cause of
his remaining so quiet. “My God! he's
killed! he's murdered!” he exclaimed
the next moment, in tones of agonized
horror, as his hands came in contact with
the warm blood that had gushed from his

“Killed? murdered?” exclaimed all,
in amazement, terribly shocked at the
horrid truth.

“Yes, my God! he's stabbed through
the heart,” rejoined the agonized father.

“And here's his devilish murderer,
with the bloody knife still in his grasp,”
cried Bob, springing upon Thrasher, and
wrenching the weapon from him.

“I did it in self-defense,” returned
Thrasher, faintly. “He got me down,
and was strangling me, and I'd no other
way to escape death.”

“Villain! you shan't escape death as
it is!” rejoined the now infuriated father.
“Oh, God! that Jake—my son—my first
born—should die sich a death!” groaned
the nearly distracted parent, violently
wringing his hands, and shedding bitter
tears at his irreparable loss.

“Shall I finish the — scoundrel,
dad?” asked Bob, planting his knee
upon Thrasher's breast, and holding the
knife just above his throat.

“No, no—not in this manner!” interposed

“Let's hang him, then!” vociferated
the younger Wilden.

“Ay, string him up at onc't—who's
got a rope?” exclaimed the senior Wilden,
with an excitement of manner that
amounted almost to a frenzy.

“Here's one, dad,” replied Bob Wilden,
drawing a strong cord from his
pocket. “It's the same these here
cusses of thieves bound me with in the
barn. It's lucky I fetched it along—but
I kinder thought as how may be it 'ud
sarve some on 'em the next turn.”

“Quick, then, make a noose, and let's
drag him to the nearest tree!” said his

“Thar's a tree, not mor'n twenty
yards—I can just see it,” returned

“But had we not better try him first?”
suggested Butterman. “If we hang him,
methinks we ought to constitute ourselves
a court, and make a show of legal

“D—n legal proceedings!” rejoined
Wilden; “I'll take the responsibility.
Aint it enough that he's killed poor Jake,
right afore our eyes, arter trying to pizen
your spring, as you said he did? Take
hold, Bob, and help fetch him along;”

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and as he spoke, the father grasped one
arm of Thrasher, and Bob the other.

“Mercy! mercy!” gasped the trembling

“Shut your mouth, or I'll cut your
throat!” exclaimed Bob, making a flourish
with his knife, as, assisted by his
father, he began to drag the other
toward the fatal tree.

“Witness all, that I take no part in
this,” said Butterman, solemnly, as, in
company with Munger and Dicker, the
companions of Wilden, he followed after
the near relations of the deceased, who
were dragging Thrasher, without the
least resistance on his part, toward the
place designed for his execution. “It is
true,” continued Butterman, “I think the
fellow deserves to die; and could I have
killed him at the spring, or when in pursuit
of him, I should have done so, and
felt myself justified; but somehow this
illegal way of meting out justice, has to
me much the appearance of murder.”

“Wall, I said I'd take the responsibility—
so don't trouble yourself in the
matter!” growled the senior Wilden,
doggedly. “A villain shan't murder a
son o' mine, and git into my clutches,
without getting his desarts; and as he
said this, his grasp tightened on the arm
of the culprit, and he gave him a savage
jerk, by way of enforcing his assertion.

The party had now reached within a
few steps of the tree, and thus far
Thrasher had made not the least resistance,
but had allowed his captors to drag
him along with his feet trailing on the
ground. But he had evidently been
regaining and harboring his strength for
a final desperate effort; and had they
been prudent, or gifted with proper forethought,
they would have bound his legs
at the start—well knowing that such
unnatural quiet, in one about to be hung,
foretokened something of a very opposite
nature ere he should be attached to the
tree by a cord around his neck. At
length the tree was reached, and the limb
selected from which to suspend the
victim. Thrasher still remaining quiet,
Bob Wilden now let go his hold, in order
to throw the rope over the limb; but
scarcely had he turned his head for this
purpose, when, quick as lightning, the
giant sprang to his feet, knocked the
elder Wilden down with his brawny fist,
and, uttering a savage yell, bounded away
with the fleetness of a deer. Instantly
each man drew up his rifle and fired; but
every ball missed the fugitive, who, uttering
a taunting laugh of defiance,
gradually disappeared—not one of the
astonished party thinking it of any use to
attempt to overtake him.

Bitterly, savagely, did Bob and his
father curse the good fortune of the thief
in escaping from their Lynch-law justice;
but all their abusive spleen availed
nothing in the way of restoring him to
their possession; and so at last their loud
invectives settled down to a species of
under-tone grumbling, and finally ceased
altogether, as they turned their attention
toward removing the dead body of their
near relative to their dwelling, preparatory
to consigning his mortal remains to
earth forever.

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Bennett, Emerson, 1822-1905 [1851], The league of the Miami. (Lorenzo Stratton, Cincinnati) [word count] [eaf470T].
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