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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter X - A Startling Letter from Adelaide


In 1847 Norman received a letter from his son Donald which startled St. Ann’s. It was written from Adelaide, South Australia, and graphically described the great island continent under the Southern Cross. It was, he said, an immense and empty continent lying in latitudes that never saw frost nor snow. The climate was warm and genial, the soil rich and prolific, with gold in its rocks and rivers. He strongly advised his father and his people to leave the cold and bleak shores of St. Ann’s and set out for this wonderful sunny land in the Southern Seas.

Books were examined and maps explored as to the position of this new land. For months everyone talked of Australia and its potential stores of wealth. A few of their number who had been sailors and heard of or had visited this distant country were eagerly pressed for information. They described the country as very pleasing, with a climate somewhat tropical. As to gold, they merely heard that some English and American miners had found some nuggets on the surface as large as a man’s head. All this whetted the appetite of the people for more information. Letters were sent abroad, and books and newspapers scanned for information. One day Norman announced to his people that the Lord had beckoned to him to proceed to Australia. There was work to do there, and he must obey the call. The people naturally hesitated, as they knew very little of this great land or how to get there. Of money they had little, but of faith they had abundance. If it were ordained that they were to proceed to Australia, then God would open a door for them, and there they left it. Norman called them together to engage in prayer and seek guidance from Heaven. He, himself, was convinced the call came from God, and that means to go there would be forthcoming. In 1848 another letter came from Captain McLeod. This time he wrote from Melbourne, and intimated to his father that so pleased was he with the endless opportunities in this wonderful new country that he had decided to settle in Adelaide. He said that land could be had in abundance by merely occupying it, as there were neither natives nor Europeans to dispute camping rights. The forests were all open with no undergrowth as in Canada, so that cattle and sheep throve splendidly in forest lands. Then, after describing his own prospects he wound up by again pressing his father and his people to pack up and join him in Australia.

MIGRATION TO ADELAIDE.

The people looked upon this letter as a message from Heaven that they were to proceed to Australia. Norman and they were so bound together that they would not be parted. They believed him to be the "Man of God," their temporal and spiritual guide, and the servant of the Lord. His influence over many of them was unbounded and, indeed, they were helpless in his hands. After many days of consideration and prayer they decided to set out on this new pilgrimage. Once their anchors were lifted from the land of their ancestors, what mattered it to them to which land their barque would steer. Some of them had thought that some day they would return to Caledonia; but now their hopes in that direction must be abandoned for ever. In every home could be heard the sad strains of:-

Farewell to Lochaber, farewell to my Jean,
Where heartsorne wi’ her I hae mony days been.
To Lochaber no more, to Lochaber no more,
We’ll maybe return to Lochaber no more.

At this time the potato blight appeared in Cape Breton and completely destroyed all the potato crops. As a consequence some degree of famine was threatened, and hence some of the St. Ann’s people looked upon the call to Australia as an interposition of Providence. Then, too, the winters in Cape Breton were long and severe. Their young people were leaving them, whilst most of the aged ones had crossed the Jordan. They were here in the midst of bitter memories; their lives were circumscribed; whilst that ray of hope which springs eternal in the human breast had almost disappeared. With one accord they visited their revered pastor, and in the words of Ruth said to him:"Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried, the Lord do so to me and mine also if ought but death part thee and me."

Norman was much touched at the abounding homage of his people, and invoked for them the blessings of Heaven.

BUILDING A SHIP.

The days of miracles and faith in God were not over. Upon Norman’s advice they determined to build their own ship and to provision and sail her themselves. At this juncture four men appeared upon the scene who afterwards played a great part in the life and adventures of these people. They were Duncan and Murdoch McKenzie, John Fraser, and John McKay. The brothers McKenzie were sailors and rose to be master mariners. Tiring of the sea, they returned to St. Ann’s and set up as storekeepers and traders up and down the coast. John Fraser was the son of a soldier who fought under Woolf on the Plains of Abraham, and so also was John McKay. Each of these men were small capitalists and tradesmen, who were familiar with the great outside world. As the new migration scheme took shape they became Norman’s chief supporters. When the minister was closeted in prayer they carried his behests to the people. Duncan McKenzie gradually assumed the role of Moses, and Norman that of Aaron. With these capable men at the helm the people were assured that their labours and quest would be successful. They were well enured to difficulties, whilst their wanderings since leaving Caledonia fitted them for any mode of life.

During all the years that Norman preached at St. Ann’s he never once dispensed the Lord’s Supper. It is equally surprising that he rarely administered the Sacrament of Baptism. This was not due to any disregard for these ordinances. On the contrary, he held them in the very highest esteem, but believed that few men could rise to that degree of holiness which warranted their celebration. He could not have imbibed such ideas from his training or the practice in Scotland, for there in his day every parishioner who desired it participated in them. It is true that under the new dispensation of the Free Church, especially in the Highlands, very few people participated in the Lord’s Supper. The clergy surrounded this ordinance with such awe, such solemnity, such preparation, and such inspiring of fear, that few but old and experienced Christians partook of it. In practice they taught that only after years of striving after a Christian life was one entitled to partake of it, or, indeed, to speak in public of their Christian experiences. Indeed, the people were in fear that they might "eat and drink unworthily," and ever after wards bear the evil consequences. There is little doubt that this attitude of mind of the clergy towards the people and the ordinances of the Church had a very depressing effect upon church membership. From the one extreme they seem to have gravitated to the other, and hence they largely failed in their calling. The common people were more or less afraid of them and of religion, and as a consequence they went to church and honoured their minister as much from fear as from a knowledge of or love for religion or its teacher. Norman seems to have been imbued with much the same ideas, though probably he would resent any such imputation. As he advanced in years he became more and more of a religious recluse. He was teacher, preacher, and law-giver for so many years that his rule became imperious.

He prohibited use of every form of alcohol, and never permitted the sale of it amongst his people. He took care that all violations of the moral and civil law were duly inquired into and punished. His people were distinguished for their intelligence, sobriety, and rectitude. He himself set the example, and he expected his people to follow him. He seems to have lived in biblical days, and made the patriarchs of old his example. He could draw men unto himself and inbue them with his ideas. He did not appreciate some of the methods of his fellow clerics, and his interpretation of the Bible and of religion were matters peculiar to himself.

In 1843 he published a book of some 300 odd octavo pages named "Normanism." So far as is known no copies are now procurable, and probably it is extinct. Those who have read it refer to it as a jumble of his inteirretations of portions of the Scriptures, and the relation of man to the civil and religious law. Here it may be well to quote the words of the Rev. John Murray, the historian of Presbyterianism in the Island of Cape Breton :—

Sydney, Cape Breton,
July 7, 1873.

The jubilee of organized Presbyterianism in Cape Breton was celebrated at South Gut, or Black Cove (Norman’s old church), St. Ann’s, to-day, by a representative gathering of Presbyterian divines from all over this great Gaelic Island. The Rev. Norman McLeod was the first Presbyterian Minister that made his home on the Island of Cape Breton. He was also the most unique personality that we have had amongst us during the 50 years of our history as a Presbyterian Church on this Island. We date our jubilee as a Church from his arrival in St. Ann’s harbour on the 20th day of May, 1820. This pioneer of pioneers came here so long ago and he left for the other side of the world so long ago that there are few living men who ever saw him. Tradition has handed down many very extraordinary stories of this remarkable man, but many of these are to be received with a good deal of hesitation. He had enemies as well as friends, like every other strong character that has ever lived. His enemies magnified his faults and failings and depreciated his virtues, while his friends regarded him as an oracle and saint.

He left no autobiography, and so far as we know the life story ‘ of this remarkable man has not been written by anyone.

Hence, in order to get at the truth regarding his person, life, character, and work, it is necessary to sift the traditions that have come down to us and preserve only what is fairly well authenticated.

When we have done this there is presented to us a man of very remarkable character, independent, self-reliant, and autocratic. A man of outstanding personality and of dominating influence over his fellow men, and withal a man who devoted his life unselfishly to the temporal, social, moral, and spiritual interests of his fellow men.

He was so constituted that he could not work with anyone else; could not do team work. He hoed his own row and hoed it in his own way. He would not suffer any interference or restraint from any human source. If any man or body of men attempted to dictate to him he flung defiance in their faces, and took the course that he thought to be right and best.

This peculiarity of his temperament was the secret of his antagonistic attitude to the Church of Scotland and her ministers, both in the Old Country as well as on this Island.

In the year 1842 Mr. McLeod published a book entitled "Normanism," that throws a great deal of light upon his personality and character, as well as upon his opinions regarding questions on which he differed from his contemporaries. This book is now quite rare and, moreover, hard to read on account of the peculiarity of its style; but anyone who reads it through carefully will have no difficulty in discovering the uprightness, straight forwardness, outspokenness, and fearlessness of this much misunderstood man.

Here it ought to be stated that Mr. McLeod had always the greatest admiration for the Church of Scotland as she was in the days of Knox, Henderson, Gillespie, and Guthrie; but for the Church of Scotland as she was at the beginning of the last century, with her patronage, intrusion, moderatism, and lack of discipline, he had nothing but supreme contempt.

On page 271 of his book we find him using the following words :—" Presbytery is in my sincerest view the nearest existent form of government to the Apostolic standard."

He withdrew from the Church of Scotland; but he was still a Presbyterian in conviction. He claimed that the Church of Scotland had fallen from her former nobility and purity, and that his conscience would not suffer him to continue in her fellowship.

Indeed Norman McLeod may be regarded as a forerunner of the movement in the Church of Scotland that issued in her disruption in the year 1843 on account of intrusion, patronage, and moderatism.

The above record from the Rev. Mr. Murray is an excellent testimonial to a man whom probably he never saw, and whose only opportunity of forming an opinion rested upon hearsay evidence, and the reading of a book.

It may be stated that Mr. Murray was born at Scotsburn, Pictou County, Cape Breton, in September, 1843. He therefore, was merely a child when Norman McLeod and his people left St. Ann’s in 1851. He received his general education in Canada, but studied divinity at Edinburgh, Scotland, and returned and was ordained by the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island in 1873. His sketch of the character of Norman must, therefore, have been written at or about the time he was ordained.

Unfortunately the whole of Norman’s library, writings, and papers were accidentally destroyed by fire at Waipu shortly after his death. A few letters, however, escaped the general conflagration, and one which came into our possession while writing this story vividly corroborates the Rev. Mr. Murray’s estimation of him.

Writing to his friend, the Rev. Dr. John McDonald, Ferintosh, Ross-shire, Scotland, who was a man of immense influence in the Highlands and known throughout the Presbyterian Church as "The Apostle of the North," he says :—

St. Ann’s, Cape Breton,
October 28, 1843.

Rev, and Dear Sir,— Soon after my settlement at Picton I wrote you some sketch of my circumstances to which I have never received any return, for which I ever since have doubted your receipt of it. Neither forgetfulness nor indifference has prevented my repetition, for I still bear grateful and lively remembrance of your steady and generous kindness, for which I pray the Lord to repay you. My long and strange silence has, therefore, resulted from grounds the very reverse of either neglect or disregard. And without any further preamble, my earnest concern for your best interest, and yet my serious view of your awfully dangerous and responsible circumstance, both spiritually and ecclesiastically, have ever held my mind in unreleased suspense how to act on the subject. For though I have always known your critical stand, I have ever found and still find it impracticable for myself how to show you my real respect and due deference; and at the same time to use that free and unreserved liberty necessary to give proper birth to my pregnant thoughts on the score of your general conduct both as a man and minister. I feel aware that any possible remarks of mine, however just and sincere, on your carriage, are like to prove but void and ineffectual; for you are naturally on this ground—but, alas, like the generality of your desperate, official brethren—too wise to be corrected and yet too unwise to be unimproved. I sadly regret to have since we parted met with several and serious opportunities to understand that you still bear the same easy, harmless, and efficient character as previously to answer the views and feelings of the bulk of religious professors. This, my respectful friend, is a sad and sorry sign of the alarming spiritual death and darkness of your mind. Besides your testimonial approbation of such pitiful characters as the Rev. Mr. McIntosh at Pictou, I have at my hand a pamphlet of Mr. Burns, published at the request of the Presbytery of Glasgow, giving a sketch of the late revival at Kilsyth and its neighbourhood. But oh, sir, what a desperately shameful and sorrowful ignorance of all ministers concerned in that wild and fanatic, roving and roaring, feigned and foolish work to be once supposed and far less described as the gracious operation of the spirit of the Gospel. And, yet, I find your name among the spectators, instruments, and approvers of that contemptible bustle and confusion—far more worthy of a drunken ball or a Bridewell than a Bethel or a Beulah. We have had 50 successive years now past of similar revivals without finding one gracious convert, according to Scripture signs, among their subjects; and recently the very counter of Kilsyth’s here in Cape Breton, as the result of the singular ministry of that rare fanatic, the unfortunate McLean, who, I see by the "Scottish Guardian "—which familiarly styles yourself " The Apostle of the North "—was one of your functionary associates at Ardchatten. Had not you and the most popular of your unhappy brethren any surer stamp or sadder sign of being perfectly and fatally left of Heaven to the evil and error, power and blindness of your own spring and spume, spy and spirit, than your snoring and stumbling indulgence to and approval of such abhorrent and abortive, ruinous and rantipole revivals as have taken place of long or late years under your shallow and sinful, though shaking and sounding ministry; and among your duped and dismal people it would sufficiently indicate it in the balance of all Scriptural wisdom and more especially when none of you are ever found the wiser for previous and palpable, frequent and fatal, daub or data damp or disappointments on this score; which, on your part, necessarily argues—and that in a high degree, either judicial and dreadful dotage or wilful ignorance (if not even both)—-as some of the active and awful results of unregeneracy, pseudo-conversion, misordination, misadministration, etc., thc rank smell and rending sound of which, reaching even our distant shores, cannot fail to rouse the compassion or contempt, irony or indignation of all who are not stupefied under the same death and doom as yourselves. Nor does it in the least amend your spiritual circumstance, but the rather aggravate your own guilt, and heighten the delusion of your adherents and sympathizers, that your pompous disruptions so stupidly imposes upon the credulous world, without any sense or shame, admission or remorse on your part for the long and loathsome, sad and sinful period of your ecclesiastic union with your now abandoned associates; and equally destitute with them as a body of any intrinsic virtues beyond the mere farcical snort and sound of a Free Church !—a church, by the by, which is, alas, openly found to be as wide-throated in her admission of ministers and members (whether good or giddy, fair or foul) as ever she was in her combined frame or former constitution. It is a maxim, both in morality and divinity, that without repentance there is neither proper reform nor any real sanity or safety: lnitium est salutis, notitia peccati; narn qui peccare se nescit corrigi non vult (Sen. Epist.). "He that hideth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Ah, "Free Church !" Oh, partial and pitiful, though boastful and boisterous, freedom! "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." "Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption."

This is the very picture of the "Free Church." We have some of her pompous ministers in this country as not only mere doodles and ding-dongs, weather-cocks and worldlings, fanatics and formalists, flatterers and fugitives, but also suckers and swindlers, tipplers and tavern-hunters, pokers and persecutors, bankrupts and bigamists; and all of them bearing the open mark of their unregeneracy in the very forefront of all their care and conduct. The Lord in sovereign mercy convince you, my dear but doted friend, of your awful responsibility and guilt! "The companion of fools shall be destroyed."

You are, sir, and have long been, a companion of the worst sort of fools—wolves in sheep’s clothing; the blind leading the blind in the concerns of life and death eternal! And your self, personally, perhaps the greatest stumbling block in all the Highlands of Scotland on this awful ground. Oh! how my very soul sinks and shivers, regrets and recoils to think of your present sound and sad delusion and your furious and fast approaching undeception! For who can conceive, and far less describe, the final fire and foil, rue and rage, rack and ruin of religious self-deceivers and divine tantlings! And much more especially those, like yourself, at the very pinnacle of ministerial and ecclesiastical celebrity and popularity. "The Apostle of the North !" Dangerous and deadly designation, vain and vulgar, stum and stupefaction; but yet quite apt and appropriate to ish or indicate the religious spawn and spirit of the times. "Like people, like priest." "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets." "Clouds without water, feeding themselves without fear, trees without fruit, twice dead." "They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying peace, peace, when there is no peace." "A zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle." "Without proper warning, the blood of the sinner is required at the watchman’s hand." "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."

Now, sir, these remarks are quite foreign to your thoughts of yourself and your popular brethren, and as far from the balance of your numerous adherents in your favour. And they are probably more than the stock of your good natural temper and disposition should be expected to brook or bear with patience, and I feel very distant from a desire to offend you, if I knew otherwise how to deal freely and faithfully with your gracious and petrified soul. Your spiritual dream and drought are exceedingly fearful in my very soberest and steadiest judgment. And I, therefore, fully believe the Scriptures just quoted to be quite applicable on this ground. Not that I suppose you will be anywise likely to admit my serious application of them—unless the Lord should see meet to convince you beyond anything of the kind ever yet known by you, which is but a most precarious point in this world—but that I would most earnestly wish to do you good, not only as an esteemed friend but as one to whom I ever feel under loud and lasting obligations; and, likewise, that in whatever part—good or grave, cross or kind—you may chance to take my sound and sharp reflections, my long premeditated essay—this so far now accomplished—is a means of exonerating my own conscience before God, against the day of judgment, to Whose righteous arbitration and decision I sincerely resign this most serious and solemn subject.

After the freedom I have already taken, I do not choose to intrude on your indulgence by any account of my own circumstances further than merely to suggest that, with all the ordinary or incidental troubles and temptations of this world, I find every reason to bless and praise the Lord for His great and gracious benefits and His sovereign and singular mercies to me and partly to my family. If you, sir, would have any pleasure to hear it, and that I could treat of it with humility and discretion, I might tell you in earnest that the Grace of God, which bringeth salvation, has ever followed me with light and life and with point and power in conviction and correction or instruction and comfort through every variety and vicissitude of my condition and concerns since I came to this foreign country, which is the sun and shield, tower and topstone, pith and paramount of all my other means and mercies, prospects, and providence. And that, upon the whole, therefore, I view and feel myself to be a truly happy man.

I had three trips to the United States since about a score of years back where I passed about a twelvemonth, and was licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of Geneva in the State of New York—of which the Rev. Mr. Denoon, one of your quondam fellow students, as he told me, is a member—according to the fundamental principles of the Church of Scotland. My privilege on this ground is both singular and sure, for, being placed at this distance from the body of the clergy— besides the particular lenity of those of them with whom I had more immediate concern—I have never yet on this score experienced the least restraint or control, but ever enjoyed the full and free liberty of my own conscience; otherwise I could never have thought of joining any clergy for all my life in the world. I did not expect to trouble you on this subject, but it had occurred to my mind while writing the preceding paragraph that my total silence on this point in my communication with you, as one of my respected and familiar friends, might happily, either by yourself or some others there concerned, be construed to want of candour or conscience on the subject.

Before I conclude, please to know that I own a little volume, just about to be out of the press for circulation, of a thousand copies in the impression and three hundred odd octavo pages, which treats of various subjects, but chiefly of the religious degeneracy of the times—and more particularly on the score of the Church of Scotland, both in her previous conjoined form and present disjoined parts—with some short and sharp strictures on the pamphlet of Kilsyth and other points connected with such spurious revivals as that in the said performance so evidently treated of. If I knew any proper correspondent, I would send a few hundred copies of the work to Scotland. But I suppose the famous old lady, "The Church," and her very facsimile, her bold and proud young daughter, "The Free," with all their feint and fond admirers, would both equally far more desire to see the whole pack together burnt than ever perused if some coy or curiosity might not mark a difference. But perhaps several others would feel disposed to read the humble work with a degree of interest.

I should feel heartily desirous of hearing from you on any subjects of your own choosing, though at the same time it would be perhaps more than it should be expected at your hands after my apparent independence of freedom on so tender points as the main drift of this communication. Although, no doubt, I humbly hope the sacred proverb is here truly applicable: "The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy." My dear and tender spouse, who is still and has for several years been confined to the house and generally to her bed, and to whom the Lord is very gracious in all her afflictions, begs to join in offering our very humble and sincere regards to you, and in earnestly regretting that your many amiable qualities would not be braced and braided, girded and guided with real spiritual and discriminating knack and knowledge according to your leading note and lofty name.

I am, my Reverend and very Dear Sir,

Your most sincere friend and humble servant,

NORMAN MCLEOD.

We present this letter verbatim et literatim. it is long, involved, alliterative, and difficult to follow. It is, however, an extraordinary epistle, well worthy of reproduction, and an excellent mirror of the man’s mind. It also reveals his character faithfully, and a careful study of it will amply repay the reader.

It must be remembered that throughout the whole of his ministerial life he never accepted any stipend from the Church. He stated openly that a minister to be effective must be independent of all questions of gain. He stated that his gift of speech, capacity to preach, and call to the ministry came from God, and hence must not be sold for mere self. He was a farmer and a fisherman to start with, and he continued as a farmer all his days. He attached to his home one or two retainers. These men, with the help of his neighbours, did most of the farm work, and found their living thereby. This patriarchal phase of life was common in his day throughout the Highlands. Indeed, at one time it was common throughout the British Isles. The retainers found a home, a living, and friendship in the house of their patron, so that money or wages were frequently non-existent.

SHIPBUILDING.

The days of miracles and faith in Heaven were not over. They had formerly built a ship and they could do so again. Norman spent much of his time in prayer and meditation. He looked for a sign from Heaven and he was not disappointed. The brothers McKenzie compiled a list of all those willing to join in the expedition, and it was found that some 300 people were willing to migrate. In those circumstances it was deemed expedient owing to their lack of facilities to build two ships of about 300 tons each. The people set about felling trees, erecting sawpits, collecting tools, and pooling their funds so as to purchase tools and the necessary outfit. Duncan and Murdo McKenzie, with John Fraser and John McKay, were the instructors and intermediaries between the minister and the people. Norman invoked the blessings of Heaven upon his people, and they worked with a will. The non-Normanites around could not understand the diligence and enthusiasm of their neighbours. They looked upon them as religious fanatics. Some said they were possessed of the Devil, and others that they were full of the Holy Ghost. They sang psalms and offered up prayers while at work. If the building of "The Ark" was a mad project, the building of these ships demanded restraint. Norman poured out his prayers upon them, and if God were favourable to their enterprise why trouble about the raillery and jibes of men.

The building of the ships went on steadily and smoothly, so that in the summer of 1851 they were ready for launching. One of them was named the "Margaret" out of compliment to the minister’s eldest daughter, and the other the "Highland Lass," out of compliment to the maidens of the settlement. Margaret at this time was the idol of St. Ann’s and her father’s right hand. She was wont to carry food and messages to the workers, and by her happy and cheerful disposition, her gentle and guileless manners, she endeared herself to the whole community. What more appropriate, therefore, than to carve her image in oak and use it to adorn the prow of one of their gallant ships. Though the ships were ready to be launched, they had to remain on the stocks for twelve months owing to lack of funds wherewith to purchase the necessary gear and fittings. In the interval, Norman frequently called his people together for prayer and meditation. He assured them that God, who had hitherto guided them in all their wanderings, would in His own time come to their rescue. "Have ye faith" was his advice to them. Of land they had abundance, but no one seemed to want it. Such stock as they had was sold for the necessary clothing and articles of food. The people around who possessed some money would neither lend it nor purchase their land. Australia was a far country of which they knew little, while the chances of these people ever arriving there seemed very remote. Indeed, they looked upon the whole project as a myth and the work of a demented people.

In the spring of 1851 a Mr. John Robertson offered to purchase Norman’s house and land for 3,000 dollars. The offer was immediately accepted, and as it became known others came forward and purchased the land of all those who wished to depart. Norman looked upon this as a special interposition of Providence and a mark of Divine approval of their enterprise. The people were delighted. for now their prayers had been answered, and the words of their minister had come to pass. Indeed, the circumstances had so appealed to the people that many of them believed Norman held intercourse with God, and they honoured him accordingly.


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