Project Canterbury

John Walmsley, Ninth Bishop of Sierra Leone

A Memoir for His Friends

Arranged by E.G. Walmsley, M.A.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.

Chapter VIII. The Last Tour

THE following letters, written to his sister, give an account of the tour which the Bishop took in October 1922, a few weeks before his death. It covered a distance of just over 1,000 miles.

"October 1st, 1922.

"I spent last Wednesday night at Hill Station with the Judge, who seemed to be very seedy: my visit apparently cheered him up. After a pretty full day on Thursday I went to Waterloo by the evening train and stayed the night with the Jameses. The weather, which one expects to be fine now in the daytime, was pretty bad, but I reached Waterloo dry. I caught the Bo train at nine the next morning, and had a very pleasant journey up to Makomp, which I reached at 5.45, only a quarter of an hour late! I travelled as far as Boia with Wratislaw, a new Education man, who seems to be a very nice fellow, an old Oundle boy, devoted to the memory of Sanderson. After Boia I was alone in my glory in the first-class carriage. There was a deluge of rain, then a lull, then another as we reached Makomp. I thought that we should just manage to cross the river in the interval between that storm and the next; but the ferry was delayed, and the storm fell on us as we crossed, and there were about two inches of water in the dug-out when we reached the other side. The anticipation of a crossing like that, when the river is up about fifteen feet, is not a pleasant one; but the native boatman manages the boat wonderfully, and the tremendous current does not seem to disturb the steadiness of the boat one bit.

"Langley, the District Commissioner, who met me at Makomp, came over with me, and we both stayed the night with the Rupps at the American Mission. Their two boys are jolly little chaps, and they had a tremendous rag with Langley. ... I came on here yesterday morning with Langley and the Hookers, who are staying here a few days. We reached here about 8.30. Three officers are here, Fowkes, Salter, and Robertson, a very nice trio, and a Sergeant called Kemp. Yesterday was fine till about seven, and then made up for it! The sunset was wild and very beautiful.

"I went round and called on various people, including our schoolmaster-catechist, Scott, and his wife: she is a nice little thing, who can't do enough for me. There is one other Englishman here, at a store (Radcliffe & Co.), but I missed him. There are one or two French, a Swiss who looks very ill, and a German. Trade, I fear, is very slack. This morning was very wet, but it cleared in time for church at 9.30, and we had five white people, and about fifty Sierra Leoneans, and a few natives. I am having Evening Prayer at 3.30, and then an open-air service in the Market Place. We had twenty-two communicants. Scott has just started a school, and so far has twenty-eight children.

"(Monday morning.) Yesterday afternoon was a busy time, and very interesting. First we had service in church; then an open-air gathering of a large number of the Timne people, where I spoke by an interpreter; and then, just as they were finishing, an informal Church Parade of the soldiers, who wanted a service for themselves. They were mostly Mendi, but they told me they could understand my English; it is very touching how they appreciate a service. Afterwards I had supper with the Hookers and Langley: the sunset was wonderful, and it has been fine ever since.

"I was at school this morning; they really are starting very well. Mrs. Scott has washed beautifully everything of mine that wants washing, and now has just brought me a little looking-glass because she found I had not got one."

"KONIADUGA DISTRICT, "October 4th, 1922.

"I am starting this letter at Kanaki, on my way to Kaballa. Soon after I sent off your letter on Monday we had very heavy rain which lasted for hours, and I could not make the visits which I wanted to make; there was a tremendous lot of thunder and lightning. I suppose the wonderful sunset of the night before told of the presence of electricity.

"I left on Tuesday morning at 8.30. The Scotts came to see me off. I wish you could have seen the farewell of a little girl of ten called Patricia; she leads the drill at school, and brought some of the movements into her salute as the train passed her; it was indeed the poetry of motion, so pretty because so natural. It was only twenty-one miles to the railhead, but the train is given an hour and a half. Money ran out, or the contractor tired, one and a half miles from Kamabai, so the station, like New Radnor, is in a field away from everything. A few struggling stores have planted themselves on the road to the town--Swiss, French, and Sierra Leonean; but the traffic on the line is very small. One station, Mafuri, is no more; and I believe that on Saturday I was on the last train to stop at Rosanda, notwithstanding its pretty name and an urgent plea from the chief. Dr. Payne--with strange ignorance of my habits, or mindful of my illness last year--sent a hammock to the station for me: I certainly did not need it, as the day was not very hot. The glorious rocky hills, which refract the heat so much in the dry season, seemed to be clad in green--a sort of moss on the rocks in many places, but certainly they were not so hot. I had a warm welcome from the Doctor and Miss Tanner, who has done many years out here. They are splendid women, the very best that America can produce, so fresh and with such sanctified common sense; it does one good to have a day with them. The rain came about 4 o'clock, but not as heavy as usual. We had a short service at seven, when it was still damp, and most of the congregation were patients. I spoke by an interpreter.

"I started this morning at six with Fodi and two carriers; we met a court-messenger on the way, who had been sent by Hodgson to meet me. I feared that there would be a good deal of water on the road, but found things much better than I expected. Nearly all the bridges had been made afresh for the Governor in August, and most of them were still intact. The first, I am quite sure, was not as he found it: it was one narrow and round tree-trunk; I crossed it d cheval, to the joy and (I fear) contempt of several onlookers. At one place I waded; and at one, where a big torrent rushed over stones, I was carried halfway by a court-messenger, who with wonderful adroitness, landed me on a big stone in the middle, as he found he could not get foothold further; with his help I did the rest all right. I reached here, about fifteen miles over a great hill, by 10.30, and wonderfully fresh; it was a cool morning, bright, but with no actual sunshine. After a rest I had a splendid bathe and swim in a swollen stream, and am now awaiting dinner--and a storm.

"(October 5th.) I got my dinner, and the storm; the lightning was very brilliant and savage--it seemed to strike the hills on both sides of the valley, but only one flash was very near to us. It was all over by 8.30, and we had a quiet night and started before six. I am writing this at Kafogo--a pretty hard walk of five hours--where I have had an ample lunch. It is now thundering (1 p.m.) and threatening rain, so we are waiting, though I want, if possible, to reach Lengecoro, another two hours. The country is beautifully green, and I passed many nice farms, where the rice is nearly ripe; it looks like young wheat: I suppose there is no soil in the world where so much is grown to the acre. The birds are very brilliant, and so are the flowers. One sees glorious masses of Gloriosa superba, as lovely as you ever see it in a hot-house, in the wildest bush. The old chief here is most industrious; he has, during my visit, made a very good broom, and with his own hand brushed and cleared a good bit of his compound.

"(5.30, LENGECORO.) I reached here about 3.30; we crossed the pathway of the storm, and found the road very wet, but did not get a drop of rain. About half an hour before reaching here I thought we must have another storm, but it missed us by less than a mile in the most wonderful way. My boys were half an hour later, and a few drops fell just after they arrived, but that is all so far. Two tremendous storms have broken, one on each side of us, and thunder has pealed antiphonally with awful vibrations. I have just had a very good tea--bread and guava jelly--which ought to spoil my dinner which is so soon to follow, but probably will not. "New milk" of this morning has just been brought me; alas, it might as well have been new milk of last month! But the cows are going to try what they can do to-night. I have just had a delicious bathe; the water was rather cold, as there was no sun, and this place must be more than a thousand feet up. The flowers this afternoon were very fine; a lot of the richest purple convolvulus, and masses of a tree with brilliant red leaves. The ladies here have not much touch with Paris, but they exploit the 'bandeau'--that is right, isn't it?--with great effect; and they are a very friendly lot, though it is hard to interpret into Koranko.

"(October 6th, KABALLA). The cows did well last night, and I had some delicious fresh milk; what a difference it makes! This morning I started at 4.55, and reached here, pretty nearly fourteen miles, by 8.30, followed by a panting court-messenger, who will, I fear, greatly exaggerate my speed. The boys were later. At first we had moonlight; early dawn was like a hopping morning at home, and the wooded hillsides looked lovely in the haze; but later the fog became thicker, and it was more like a Scotch mist than anything I have seen here. It was wonderfully cool for walking. I am staying here with Hodgson, who has lately killed an elephant with the second largest tusk ever got in West Africa. I have just been looking at it; it is about 125 Ib. It is hard luck it isn't the biggest, but Major Palmer got one up here a bit bigger in 1909. The odd thing is that the elephant had only one tusk; this is the second one-tusked one that he has shot. The native theory is that they are twins. Hodgson calculates the age to be something over three hundred! "

"SONKONIA, October 9th, 1922.

"I don't know how I shall get an envelope for this letter, so you will probably see a strange handwriting on it, as I shall probably have to send it back without envelope to Kaballa. I have also grave doubts that the ink will run out, and I shall not get any more till I cross the frontier. We are here to-day, about nineteen miles from Kaballa, and twelve from Falaba, which I hope to reach early tomorrow. During and Coker, our two missionaries at Kaballa, are with me, and we hope to meet several chiefs at Falaba to-morrow; the station is to be reopened as soon as During can have the house built. It was a pretty easy walk this morning; we reached here about eleven, and there was not much sun till then. From twelve to two it was intensely hot; I have had a nice bathe since.

"On Wednesday I hope to reach Heramakono, over the border, a fairly long trek, and on Thursday, Parana, a big place on or nearly on the Niger. That will be a very long day; but by starting early, with a good moon, I think we ought to do it. I hear--but the authority is not a very safe one--that there is a motor on Fridays from Parana to Dabola. If I reach the railway then, as I hope, a letter from Conakry may reach you as soon as this, but mails from here are very uncertain. I had a very pleasant time at Kaballa. Hodgson is the only other B.N.C. man in Sierra Leone, and he was most kind. We had varied services on Sunday: morning in English, with eleven communicants, Hodgson reading one lesson, and the head-clerk, whom I afterwards licensed as a lay-reader, the other. Then we went to the jail, and I saw all the prisoners, most of them thieves from Freetown. Then afternoon service at church at 3 o'clock, when, among others, sixteen court-messengers came; then, after some rain, which has not failed every evening so far, a meeting with about a hundred present, at the Limbah Chief's compound, with one of the court-messengers interpreting.

"(Tuesday, FALABA.) We started this morning just before 4 o'clock, with the dim light of a clouded moon, and occasional flashes of lightning, which were ominous. It took an hour and a half to reach the first town, and the 'road' was very rough, half elephant-grass and half patches of wood, very dark. It was a bit alarming at one point to be shown where an elephant shortly before had made its path through the dense ten-feet-high grass. The rain came just before Tarasandia, as day began to dawn; it cleared about seven, and we had a very cool walk here; it is a dull day. Tarasandia is a typical small hunting village; nearly every hut is covered in calabash gourd, with the enormous fruit (the very thing for a Harvest Festival) ripening. In the middle is an orange-tree, chock full, and a post on which are hung bones, etc., trophies of the chase. Ink has run out, and paper nearly! I could write a lot more, but have not tune nor means; and I am writing this with a dozen youngsters at least within two feet of my head.

"This afternoon it cleared, and we have had lovely soft sunshine with beautiful lights. The place is very beautiful with its girdle of cotton trees. I have just spoken in the chief's compound, where six hundred and twenty people were counted: three paramount chiefs, Salipi of here, Dosu Sori of Mussaya, and the P.C. of Sinkunia, as well as Fodi Yalla of Kaballa, were there, and they seemed to be really glad that we are opening the station again, and so genuinely glad to see us. Dosu Sori has just been to tea; he doesn't think any visit of mine to these parts complete without that. I have just had a great present of rice, eggs, yams, oranges, and a large fowl; but alas! the cows are not giving milk at present. The children are most affectionate, and you feel that the Yalunkas are one of the finest races in the Protectorate; and yet work among them has always been so difficult. I am very well, and I hope to write as soon as I reach a French P.O.; but mails may be long delayed at Conakry, as boats are few. Dosu Sori says I never look any older; I tell him he should look at my hair. I hope you will be able to read this; if you saw where I am writing it, you would think I am doing well."

"FARANA, October 13th, 1922.

"There is a Post Office at this 'ultima Thule,' but I don't think I will send this letter through it, as I hope I may be able to send earlier when I reach the railway. I wrote last from Falaba, and I hope you will have got the letter by the mail leaving Freetown on the i8th. I thought when I arrived here yesterday that they sent their mails by motor, but I find they do not, and they have to be carried by a postman seventy miles. I think I told you of our gathering at Falaba. After the service there was a stripping of the big orange tree in the middle of the town--not, I think, in my honour! It was a regular Sunday-school scramble; and it was very pretty to find two or three bringing their hauls to me. I parted with During and Coker next morning at 4 o'clock, and we started for Heramakono--not as imposing as it sounds. The road was not brushed, and my tender skin suffered at times from the sharp elephant-grass; in places, too, there was a lot of water, and I had to be 'toted.' We only passed one town of any size, Gberia Fatumbe, well situated on a hill and surrounded' with cotton trees. It is still in the Falaba chiefdom, and the chief had sent word of my coming, so they were prepared with many gifts; there we had breakfast. We crossed the frontier about a mile further on, and did not at once find the French roads any better. We reached H. at one o'clock, and I at once went to the Customs to report myself; I had 'nothing to declare' and was invited to dinner by the douanier, a nice, simple Frenchman from Dauphiny, with a delicate wife. They were most kind, but could not talk a word of English, so I had to do my best; there was a delightful homeliness about them, as there is so often about provincial French. They gave me bread and a huge calabash of oranges, also paper and ink. I was prepared to start yesterday at 2 a.m.--4.55, 4, 4, and 2 in four days is pretty good for me--but we had to wait till 5, as rain fell. It was a gorgeous sunrise, and as we walked due east we had a splendid view of it. The road was like the curate's egg, only the bad parts were very bad; I had to walk through water for quite half a mile in one place, as the rain must have been phenomenal in that part. I walked for some miles barefoot, to my great comfort. It was a very long trek to Parana, well-nigh 50 kilos. There are only two towns on the way, Dantilia (2 3/4 hours), Sulimanyeh (3 1/4 hours more), and then nearly two hours to the river and about a mile after. We took exactly twelve hours to the river, with--for me--one hour at Dantilia and three at Sulimanhey, where we had lunch. Dantilia is the capital of what is said to be the largest chiefdom in Sierra Leone or French Guinea, but the chief resides here. His vice-regent met me, and seemed as though he could not do enough for me: he brought 'fundi'--a sort of semolina--ready cooked, which rejoiced the boys' hearts, oranges, a chicken, and, best of all, milk straight from the cow. He also wanted me to take one or two of his children to teach!--which I could hardly do. He escorted me on the way, and brought also a young giant--they were tremendously tall people--to carry me over a deep river. On the way to S. there was a very fine halo round the sun; the court-messenger told me that any child born on that day was bound to get great power; rather strange! At Sulimanyeh we had breakfast; the town must evidently lie on the edge of the two watersheds, Scarcies and Niger. It was a long steady climb at the finish, and I left my poor court-messenger standing: I arrived fifty minutes before my boys, and a few minutes before him. The chief was most anxious to do all he could for me, and kept bringing me eggs by twos and threes at intervals, apparently just as they were being laid. They were certainly very fresh and large.

"We started again at 3 o'clock, and at 4.50 I had my first view of the Niger, even here a big river 'strong without rage, without o'erflowing full,' though only just in each case. We all got over in one dug-out--a pretty big one. Parana is a biggish place, and begins about five hundred yards from the river; the intervening land is flooded some years, but has not been this year. I went up a stiffen hill to the Residence of the Commandant and the French officials. He was most amusing over Hodgson's letter of introduction, which the latter had thought he had written in excellent French. He said that it was 'moitié Française, moitié Anglaise,' and sent for a youth to translate it. He was not of the same type as the man at Heramakono, and had not much room for bishops; but his two subalterns, a Corsican and a man named Vincent, whose wife had just gone home to France, were very nice and kind; and I was taken by the Corsican to dinner and given a house near him on the hill. The view from the hill over the Niger was pretty, but not like Kaballa; some distant hills stood out well to the north-west, and the Niger looked very pretty flowing through wide grass-fields in an open valley. I found that my story of a Friday motor-car was a myth; that instead of there being many cars there was only one, others were derelicts; and unfortunately for me the one was at Dabola. So the only thing for me to do was to wire for it, and the Syrian who owned it wired back that he could send it back specially for me, but it would be 200 francs: the usual fare was 40 francs a head, and extra for luggage. My journey so far had been a very cheap one, so I consented, and the car came in the afternoon, and I started after heavy rain about 6.10 on Saturday morning. We did the seventy miles in three hours and twenty minutes, and reached Dabola at 9.30, not bad for a Ford lorry on a road which was often deeply grass-grown. We crossed the Niger by a big ferry which was very cleverly worked by an overhead rope and a pulley and chain; I am bound to confess that I could not understand the principle, but we crossed very fast. The country at first was featureless, with no distant view; but the last twenty miles were through beautiful wooded hills, crowned by rocky escarpments. There was plenty of wild life, beautiful antelopes on the road, and one family of tawny monkeys, unlike any I have seen before. There were only two or three small villages on the way. At Dabola I got some breakfast, and found a man--a mulatto--whom I met in Sierra Leone. I also had quite a glib conversation with the station-master's wife, a bright little woman from the Pyrenees. The train left at 11.37 on the tick of time.

"We reached Kouroussa at 3.45, where I met Gallagher of Walkden's at the station, and I hope I may get a day with him on the way back. At Kouroussa we crossed the Niger by a great bridge, and a little farther on there is a bridge, nearly if not quite as big, over a larger tributary, which--as it was in flood--looked the larger river of the two. From Kouroussa to Kankan is about forty-six miles, and we did it with two stops in two hours. I wish they could do that in Sierra Leone. It is the terminus here, and I am spending Sunday with Walkden's man, Coventon, an old Manchester Grammar School boy, who is very lonely here. I have just been to see a missionary named Myers, and his wife (Americans), who have just come; also a Sierra Leonean, George, from Gloucester, who has been here fourteen years, a nice man. The people are nearly all Mohammedans, a mixed race. It is the largest town in French Guinea, the largest purely native town I have seen; there is an enormous market, but one does not see many things of interest. There is always something pathetic, I think, about a rail-head; one feels it a bit at New Radnor, but out here it seems a sort of end of civilisation. ... I have now (Monday) got leave to travel to Kouroussa on a goods train with a kinema-show! The fare is less than four shillings for forty-six miles for the two of us."

"CONAKRY, October 23rd, 1922.

"Here I am at last! I reached here on Saturday evening at 5.45, and was welcomed by a lot of people at the station. I did all that I had set out to do, and had the greatest kindness shown me everywhere.

"On Monday I travelled by special, with a kinema-show and the 'chef de transportation.' I thought that my lot would be in a baggage-van, but the wife of the latter was gracious, and I travelled in their luxurious coach, paying fourth class. Gallagher met me at Kouroussa, which I reached at 2.45, after an hour and three-quarters (forty-six miles). We went for a walk in the evening and saw the Niger and its great bridge; it becomes navigable for small steamers here. I had been sorely tempted to make the trip from here to Bamako, about two to three days, and thence to Timbuctu, about six more, which can be done easily this time of the year by steamer, not at great cost. But I felt that I ought not to take so much time; at each place of course there might be some days' delay. At Kouroussa there were very few people I could see; there was one very nice young Greek, brought up at the American College at Smyrna, all of whose people lived there, who had heard nothing of them as yet, and who was in great suspense.

"I left the next morning at 7.38 and reached Mamon at 5.20. The distance is nearly two hundred miles, and the train ran very well; but there is a foolish stop of three-quarters of an hour at Dabola, where you are expected to 'chop'--there used to be a buffet, but there is none now. The country at first is flat, but round Dabola it is prettier, and it becomes more varied after; we passed one very fine waterfall. It is a steady rise for the last hour or two, and Mamon is 2,300 feet above the sea. There I stayed with Walkden's man, Kelsey: he was very kind to me; I stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The Sierra Leoneans have built a little church, which I dedicated; there was one child for baptism, and I had five communicants. The handful of people gave me a very warm welcome; their leader is a man named Edwin (his Christian name is Walmsley!), who seems a very nice and true man,' with a nice wife. He is a mason, and the rest are either on the railway or artisans, with one or two women-traders, like Lydia of old, who must have trekked to small out-stations. I came prepared to use at least two blankets, and to eat strawberries; but alas! the night was quite warm, and strawberries do not come till December. However I got a game of tennis, and saw a beautiful sunset. It was hard to realise you were so high up, as the place is in a valley and the country round is even higher.

"On Thursday morning I started at 7.10 for Kindia, by goods train, with no compensation, save that I paid fourth class, which is about a penny for two and a half miles. The journey to Kindia is one of the most remarkable and beautiful I have ever taken, though a covered baggage-truck is not the best means of travelling; still we could have the doors open when there was not a deluge. You start at 2,300 feet, and Kindia is about 1,300; but at a station halfway you are barely 300 feet above sea-level. (The French have an excellent habit of always putting heights at their stations, as in Italy.) So you may imagine that we climbed a bit. Much of the journey lay along a terrace on a hillside with glorious views across an immense plain of woods and grass-fields to fantastic hills, often rising absolutely sheer, with bare sides of rock and wooded summits. The last twenty miles were the best, but for twenty minutes or so everything was blotted out by a terrific storm, which nearly stopped the train. Huge cataracts came down the rock-faces on the hillsides, and in one place the rocks were so near the line that the waterfall played on the train like a gigantic firehose. Our doors were nearly shut, but we got some! The storm cleared just in time for us to see the gigantic amphitheatre round which we had slowly climbed. I reached Kindia at 5.20, and had fine weather in which to go up to the town, but it poured in torrents again later. I stayed with McAllister of Walkden's, who was very kind. Several of the Church members met me, and I had a service for them on Friday evening, with one baptism. We had eleven at Holy Communion the next morning; two of three women I had confirmed were there with their husbands; the third was in Conakry ill.

"I had a pleasant day on Friday and saw many people. I left on Saturday at 12.20, and was here in just over five hours. It was a lovely day, and the great cataract at Grandes Chules was stupendous; there was also another big fall, and one very graceful one, like gossamer, over a rock quite 300 feet high.

"People are most kind. One nice young woman met me yesterday on the way to church, and told me that of her two sons one is called Walmsley (her surname is John) and the other has asthma! What could devotion do more? We had a large congregation, especially in the afternoon, when I confirmed thirty-six--twenty-five boys and eleven girls, twenty-five Sierra Leoneans and eleven Susus. All say how well I look: I certainly am. I feel very hot here, after the bracing of the hills."

"FREETOWN, November 5th, 1922.

"I reached here about 6.30 on Thursday evening. The Bata was very late, and then she was delayed a whole day in Conakry, because France--infidel France!--refused to work on All Saints' Day. The Bata had had bad weather, and in addition to being very slow at her best, had a list of about twelve degrees, which was bad enough in a calm sea, but must have been much worse in a storm. There was plenty of room; but as I was only on board in the daytime, it did not make much difference.

"There was not much more to record of my visit to Conakry. I think I told you that I went to Fotoba and had eighteen Confirmation candidates there. I also motored to Dubreka, thirty-two miles, and visited the few people in that decayed place.

"I lived five days in Conakry without a trace of asthma, but then I got it, spasmodically. The second Sunday I was quite free; it was disappointing to get it again, because I have been, and am, so remarkably well.

"I found all well here, but the place looked sadly changed. All coconuts and palm-trees have had to be stripped of every leaf except the young budding ones, in the hope that the blight will be destroyed; the effect, in a country where trees never lose their leaves, is most pathetic."

The Ven. C. W. Farquhar, Archdeacon of the Pongas, who resides in Conakry and supervises the Missions in French Guinea, wrote to a friend in Freetown about the visit to Conakry, shortly after the news came of the Bishop's death:

"When he arrived here on October 21st, after his long and most interesting trek, I thought he never looked more fit. There was absolutely no evidence of his having overtaxed his strength. The following day he was in excellent form at Mattins; and his Confirmation addresses in the afternoon were full of power and extraordinary tenderness. On the Tuesday we crossed over to Fotoba, Isles de Los. The following day we went by car thirty-one miles to Dubreka, and the outing was thoroughly enjoyed. On Sunday, the 29th, he occupied the pulpit again at Mattins, and gave us a most inspiring message. His last labour here was an address and Celebration on All Saints' Day, at the close of which we sang together, 'God be with you till we meet again,' and, standing at the west door, he shook hands with all the worshippers. I saw him off the next morning, never for a moment suspecting that it was a last good-bye. But as we look back now, we can appreciate the fact that the Bishop's course here had been brought to a perfect finish, rounded off complete. He visited the houses of nearly all the members of our Church, not excluding the blind and the halt. I picture him now, sitting bunched up on a very low bench at the door of Blind Nancy's mud hut, his knees almost up to his face, speaking comforting words to the old woman. Surely our Bishop has gone to a rich reward!"

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