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A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire - The Camp Fire Girls In the Woods
by Jane L. Stewart
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"I think you're mistaken, General—that's all. I'm sure Bessie is telling the truth. Why shouldn't she? You've told her that she needn't be afraid to confess if she did frighten the birds, and that was very kind and generous of you. So, if she had, she wouldn't have anything to lose by saying so, and promising not to be careless that way again."

"What do you know about her, ma'am? Isn't it true that she's one of the two girls you told me about last night—that Miss Mercer had found? If—"

"I know she's a brave, honest girl, General. She's proved that already."

"I disagree with you, Mrs. Chester," said the general, stiffly. "You're a lady, and you naturally think well of everyone. I've learned by bitter experience that we can't always do that. I've trusted men, and had them go wrong, despite that. If she was one of the girls like the others, that you'd always known about, it would be different. Then I'd be happy to take your word for it. But when I think you aren't in any better position to judge than I am, I've got to use my own judgment."

"I'm sorry, General," said Mrs. Chester. "I can't tell you how sorry I am—but I'm sure you're wrong."

"She can't stay here, that's certain," said the general, testily. "I can't have a girl about the place who frightens my birds and then tells—lies—"

Bessie cried out sharply at that word.

"Oh—oh!" she said. "Really, I've told the truth—I have, indeed! If I said what you want me to say, than I'd be lying—but I'm not."

"Silence, please!" said General Seeley, sternly. "I'm talking with Mrs. Chester now, young woman. You've had your chance—and you wouldn't take it. Now I'm done with you!"

"What do you mean, General?" asked Mrs. Chester, looking very grave.

"You'll have to send her away—where she came from, Mrs. Chester. You and the girls you can vouch for are welcome, but I can't have her here."

"I can't do that, General," said Mrs. Chester, not angrily, but gravely, and looking him straight in the eyes.

"But you must! I won't let her stay here! And these are my grounds, aren't they?"

"Certainly! But if Bessie goes, we all go with her. It's not our way to desert those we've once befriended and taken in, General."

"That is for you to decide, ma'am," he said, stiffly. He got up and bowed to her. "I'm sorry that this should cause a quarrel—"

"It hasn't," said Mrs. Chester, smiling. "It takes two to make a quarrel, and I simply won't quarrel with you, General. I know you'll be sorry for what you've said when you think it over. Come, Bessie!"

Bessie, quite stunned by the trouble that had come upon them so suddenly out of a clear sky, couldn't speak for a minute.

"Oh," she said, then, "you don't mean that all the girls will have to leave this lovely place because of me?"

"Not because of you, but because of a mistake that's not your fault, Bessie. You mustn't worry about it. Just leave it to me. I'm sure you're telling the truth, and I'm going to stick by you."



CHAPTER XIV

THE TRUTH AT LAST

But Bessie, despite Mrs. Chester's kind words, was terribly downcast.

"Really, Mrs. Chester," she said miserably, "it's awfully unfair to make all the other girls suffer on account of me."

"You mustn't look at it that way, Bessie. You couldn't tell a lie, you know, even to prevent this trouble."

"No, but I'm sure he thinks I did that. He's not an unkind man, and he really doesn't want to make me unhappy, and drive you all away, I know. Mrs. Chester, won't you send me away?"

"Nonsense, Bessie! If you haven't done anything wrong, why shouldn't we stand by you? Even if you had, we'd do that, and we ought to do it all the more when you're in the right, and unjustly suspected. Don't you worry about it a bit! Everything will be all right."

"But I really think you ought to let me go. I'm just a trouble maker—I make trouble for everyone! If it hadn't been for me, Jake Hoover would never have burnt his father's barn—don't you know that?"

"That isn't so, Bessie. If you hadn't been there, something else would have happened. And it's the same way here. You haven't anything to do with all this trouble here. It would have come just the same if you hadn't arrived at all, I'm sure of that. And then one of the girls would have been accused, and everything would have happened just the same."

"Oh, I'm afraid not!"

"But I'm sure of it, Bessie, and I really know better than you. You mustn't take it so hard. No one is going to blame you. Rest easy about that. I'll see to it that they all understand just how it is."

"I wish I could believe that!"

Mrs. Chester told Eleanor what General Seeley had said as soon as they returned to the camp, and Eleanor, after a moment, just laughed.

"Well, it can't be helped," she said. "If he wants to act that way, we can't stop him, can we? And I'm so glad that you're going to stick by poor Bessie. I know she feels as bad as she can feel about it—and it's so fine for her to know that she really has some friends who will trust her and believe her at last. She's never had them before."

"She has them now, Eleanor. And it's because you're so fond of her already that I'm so sure she's telling the truth. I think I'd trust her, anyhow, but, even if I'd never seen her, I'd take your word."

"Will you tell all the girls why we're going?"

"I think not—just at first, anyhow. We'll just say that we're going to move on. I'm pretty sure that the people over at Pine Bridge will have some place where we can make camp, and that we can have our Council Fire to-night just the same. It won't be as nice as it is here, of course, but we'll make it do, somehow."

So Mrs. Chester went around to the different Guardians of the Camp Fires, and told them of the change in the plans. At once the order to strike the tents and pack was given, and then Mrs. Chester went to make arrangements for carrying the baggage over to Pine Bridge and for getting a camping place there.

"I'll get back as soon as I can, Eleanor," she said, "but I may be delayed in finding a camping place. If I am, I'll send the wagons over—I don't want to use General Seeley's, while he's angry at us. And you can take charge and see that everything goes as it should. You'll just take my place."

"No one can do that, Mrs. Chester, but I'll do my best."

Bessie, forlorn and unhappy, helped in the work of packing, and longed for someone to talk to. She didn't want to tell Zara, who had troubles enough of her own to worry her, and Eleanor, of course, was too busy, with all the work of seeing that everything was done properly. She had to keep a watchful eye on the preparations of the other Camp Fires as well as of her own. And then, suddenly, Bessie got a new idea.

"All this trouble is for me," she said. "Suppose I weren't here—suppose I just went away? Then they could all stay."

The more she thought of that, the more the idea grew upon her.

"I will do that—I will!" she said to herself, with sudden determination. "I'm just like a sign of bad luck—I make trouble for everyone who's good to me. Like Paw Hoover! He was always good—and the fire hurt him more than it did anyone else, though it was Maw Hoover and Jake who made all my trouble. I won't stay here and let them suffer for me any longer."

And, very quietly, since she wanted no one to know what she was doing, Bessie went into the tent, which had not yet been taken down, and changed from the blouse and skirt, which had been lent to her, into the old dress she had worn when she had jumped into the water to rescue Minnehaha.

Then, moving as silently and as cautiously as she could, Bessie slipped into the woods behind the camp. She dared not go the other way, which was the direct route to the main road outside of General Seeley's estate, because she knew that if any of the girls, or one of the Guardians saw her, she would be stopped. She didn't know the way by the direction she had to take, but she was sure that she could find it, and she wasn't afraid. Her one idea was to get away and save trouble for the others.

Of course, if Bessie had stopped to think, she would have known that it was wrong to do what she planned. But her aim was unselfish, and she didn't think of the grief and anxiety that would follow her disappearance. She was sensitive, in any case, and General Seeley's stern manner, although he had not really meant to be unkind, had upset her dreadfully.

To her surprise, the woods that she followed grew very thick. And she was still more surprised, presently, to come upon a wire fence. In such woods, it seemed very strange to her. Then, as she saw a bird with a long, brilliantly colored tail strutting around on the other side of the fence, she suddenly understood. This must be the place where the precious pheasants she was supposed to have frightened were kept. And she hadn't even known where they were!

Bessie wondered, as she looked at the beautiful bird, how anyone could have the heart to frighten it, or any like it.

"I don't blame General Seeley a bit for being angry if he really thought I had done that," she said to herself. "And he did, of course. They don't know anything about me, really. He was quite right."

Then she remembered, too, what he had said about the game-keepers. Probably, after what had happened, they would be more careful than ever, and Bessie decided that she had better move along as fast as she could, lest someone find her and think she was trying to get at the birds again.

But, anxious as she was to get away from the dangerous neighborhood, she found that, to move at all, she had to stick close to the fence, since the going beyond it was too rough for her. Then, too, as she went along, she heard strange noises—as if someone was moving in the woods near her, and trying not to make a noise. That frightened and puzzled her, so she moved very quietly herself, anxious to find out who it was. A wild thought came to her, too—perhaps it was the real poacher, for whom she had been mistaken, that she heard!

Presently the fence turned out, and she had to circle around, following it, to keep to the straight path. And, as the fence turned in again, she gave a sudden gasping little cry, that she had the greatest difficulty in choking down, lest it betray her at once.

For she saw a dark figure against the green background, bending over, and plucking at something that lay on the ground.

"It is! It really is—the poacher!" she whispered to herself.

She longed to know what to do. There was no way of telling whether there was anyone about. If she lifted her voice and called for help, it might bring a game-keeper quickly—and it might simply give the poacher the alarm, and enable him to escape, leaving the evidence of the crime to be turned against her. And this time no one, not even Mrs. Chester, would believe in her innocence.

Slowly Bessie crept toward the crouching figure. At least she would try to see his face, so that she would recognize him again, if she was lucky enough to see him. For Bessie was determined that some time, no matter how far in the future, she would clear herself, and make General Seeley admit that he had wronged her.

And then, when she was scarcely ten feet from him, she stepped on a branch that crackled under her feet, and the poacher turned and faced her, springing to his feet. Bessie screamed as she saw his face, for it was her old enemy—Jake Hoover!

For a moment he was far more frightened than she. He stared at her stupidly. Then he recognized her, and his face showed his evil triumph.

"Ah, here, are yer?" he cried, and sprang toward her, his hands full of the feathers he had plucked from the tail of the pheasant he had snared.

That move was Jake's fatal mistake. Had he run at once, he might have been able to escape. But now, Bessie, brave as ever, sprang to meet him. He was far stronger than she, but she had seen help approaching—a man in velveteens, and for just a moment after Jake, too, had seen the game-keeper, Bessie was able to keep him from running. She clung to his arms and legs, and though Jake struck at her, she would not let go. And then, just in time, the game-keeper's heavy hand fell on Jake's shoulder.

"So you're the poacher, my lad?" he said. "Well I've caught you this time, dead to rights."

Squirm and wriggle as he would, Jake couldn't escape now. He was trapped at last, and for once Bessie saw that he was going to reap the reward of his evil doing.

The game-keeper lifted a whistle to his lips, and blew a loud, long blast upon it. In a moment the wood filled with the noise of men approaching, and, to Bessie's delight, she saw General Seeley among them.

"What? At it again?" he said, angrily, as he saw Bessie. Jake was hidden by the game-keeper, and General Seeley thought at first that it was Bessie who had fallen to the trap he had set. Bessie said nothing—she couldn't.

"No, General. It wasn't the girl, after all," said the game-keeper. "Never did seem to me as if it could be, anyhow. Here's the lad that did it all—and I caught him in the act. The feathers are all over him still."

"It wasn't me! She did it! I saw her, and I took the feathers from her," wailed Jake, anxious, as ever, to escape himself, no matter how many lies he had to tell, or who had to suffer for his sins. But the game-keeper only laughed roughly.

"That won't do you no good, my boy. You'd better own up and take your medicine. Here, see this, General."

He plunged his hands into Jake's pockets, and produced the wire and other materials Jake had used in making his snare.

"I guess that's pretty good evidence, ain't it, sir?"

"It is, indeed," said the general, grimly. "Take him up to the house, Tyler. I'll attend to his case later. Go on, now. I want to talk to this girl."

Then he turned to Bessie and took off his hat.

"I was wrong and you were right this morning," he said, pleasantly. "I want to apologize to you, Bessie. And I shall try to make up to you for having treated you so badly. How can I do that?"

"Oh, there's nothing to make up, General," said Bessie, tearfully. "I'm so glad you know I didn't do that!"

"But what are you doing here—and in that dress?"

"I—I was going away—so that the others could stay."

"I see—so that they wouldn't have to suffer because I was so brutally unkind to you. Well, you come with me! Why didn't you wear the other clothes, though? They're nicer than these."

"They're not mine. These are all I have, of my own."

"Is that so? Well, you shall have the best wardrobe money can buy, Bessie, just as soon as Mrs. Chester can get it for you. I'll make that my present to you—as a way of making up, partly, for the way I behaved to you. How will you like that?"

"That's awfully good of you, but you mustn't—really, you mustn't!"

"I guess I can do as I like with my own money, Bessie. And I'm going to be one of your friends—one of your best friends, if you'll let me. Will you shake hands, to show that you don't bear any hard feelings?"

And Bessie, unable to speak, held out her hand.

General Seeley wrung it—then he started, suddenly.

"Here, here, what am I thinking of?" he said, briskly. "I must find Mrs. Chester and ask her to forgive me. Do you think she will do it, Bessie? Or haven't you known her long enough—"

"Why should she forgive you, sir? You just thought what anyone else would have thought. What I don't understand is why she was willing to believe me. She didn't know anything about me—"

"I'll tell you why, Bessie. It's because she knows human nature, and I, like the old fool I am, wouldn't acknowledge it! But I've learned my lesson—I'll never venture to disagree with her again. And I'm going to hunt her up and tell her so."

So Bessie, as happy as she had been miserable a few minutes before, went with the general, while he looked for Mrs. Chester. She returned from Pine Bridge just as they reached the camp, and she listened to General Seeley's apologies with smiling eyes.

"I knew I was right," was all she said. "And I'm more than glad that the real culprit was found. But, my dear, you oughtn't to have tried to leave us that way. It wasn't your fault, and we should have gone, just the same, and we would have had to look for you until we found you. When we once make friends of anyone, we don't let them get away from us. That wouldn't be true to the spirit of the Camp Fire—not a bit of it!"

Then, while Bessie changed again into the clothes Ayu had lent her, Mrs. Chester gave the welcome order to unpack, and explained to the Guardians that Bessie was cleared, and they were going to stay in camp, and have the Council Fire just as it had been planned. Everyone was delighted, Eleanor Mercer most of all, because she had had real faith in Bessie, and it was a triumph for her to know that her faith had not been misplaced.



CHAPTER XV

THE COUNCIL FIRE

The girls of the Manasquan Camp Fire did little that day except to cook their meals and keep the camp in order. The order to unpack had come, fortunately, in time to save a lot of trouble, since very little had been done toward preparing to move, and, when it was all over, Eleanor called the girls together, and told them just what had happened.

"There is a fine lesson for all of us in that," she said. "If Bessie had been weak, she might very well have been tempted to say what General Seeley wanted her to say. She knew she hadn't done anything wrong—and she said so. But she was told that if she would confess she wouldn't be punished, or even scolded, and still she would not do it, even when she found that it meant trouble for her and for us. And, you see, she earned the reward of doing the right thing, for the truth came out. And it will happen that way most of the time—ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I believe."

"I should think you'd be perfectly furious at Jake Hoover, Bessie," said Zara. "He makes trouble for you all the time. Here he got you blamed for something he'd done again, and nearly spoiled things just when they were beginning to look better."

"But he didn't know that, Zara. He did something wrong, but he couldn't have known that I was going to be blamed for it, you know."

"Aren't you angry at him at all?"

"Yes, for killing that beautiful bird with his horrid snare. But I'm sorry for him, too. I think he didn't know any better."

"What will happen to him, do you think, Bessie! Will he be sent to prison?"

"I don't believe so. General Seeley is a kind man, and I think he'll try to make Jake understand how wrong it was to act so, and send him home. I certainly hope so."

"I don't see why. I should think you'd want him to be punished. He's done so many mean things without being found out that when he is caught, he ought to get what he deserves."

"But it wouldn't be punishing just him, you see, Zara. It would be hard for Paw Hoover, too, and you know how good he was to us. If it hadn't been for him I don't believe we'd ever have got to Pine Bridge at all."

"Yes, that's so. He was good to us, Bessie. I'd like to see him again, and tell him so. But I can't—not if Farmer Weeks can get me if I ever go back into that state."

"There's another thing to think of, too, Zara, about Jake. He's more likely to be found out now, when he does something wrong."

"Oh, yes, that's true, isn't it? I hadn't thought of that. He won't be able to make Maw Hoover think you did everything now, when you're not there, will he?"

"That's just what I mean. And maybe, when she finds that the things she used to blame me for keep on happening just the same, though I'm not there, she'll see that I never did do them at all. It looked pretty bad for me this morning, Zara, but you see it came out all right. And I'm beginning to think now that other things will turn out right, too, just as Miss Eleanor's been saying they would."

"Oh, I do hope so! There's Miss Eleanor coming now."

"Well, girls, have you chosen your fire names yet?" asked the Guardian. "You'll have to be ready to tell us to-night at the big fire you know, when you get your rings."

"Why, I hadn't thought about it, even. Had you, Zara?"

"Yes, I had. I think I'd like to be called by a name that would make people think of being happy and cheerful. Is there an Indian word that would do that?"

"Perhaps. But why don't you make up a new word for yourself, as we made up Wo-he-lo? You could take the first letters of happy and cheerful, and call yourself Hachee. That sounds like an Indian word, though it really isn't. And what for a symbol?"

"I think a chipmunk is the happiest, cheerfulest thing I know."

"That's splendid! You can be Hachee, and your symbol shall be the chipmunk. You've done well, Zara. I don't think you'll ever want to burn your name."

"What is that? Burning one's name?" inquired Zara.

"Sometimes a girl chooses a name and later she doesn't like it. Then, at a Council Fire, she writes that name, the one she wants to give up, on a slip of paper, and it's thrown into the fire. And after that she is never called by it again."

"Oh, I see. No, I like my new name and I'll want to keep that, I know."

"I've always liked the name of Stella—that means a star, doesn't it?—so that my name and my symbol could be the same, if I took that."

"Yes, Bessie. That's a good choice, too. You shall be Stella, when we are using the ceremonial names. Well, that's settled, then. You must learn to repeat the Wood-Gatherer's desire to-night—and after that you will get your rings, and then you will be real Camp Fire Girls, like the rest of us."

Then she left them, because there was much for her to do, and that afternoon Bessie and Zara made very sure that they knew the Wood-Gatherer's desire, and learned all that the other girls could tell them about the law of the fire, and all the other things they wanted to know. But they waited anxiously for it to be time to light the great Council Fire.

All afternoon the Wood-Gatherers worked, gathering the fagots for the fire, and arranging them neatly. They were built up so that there was a good space for a draught under the wood, in order that the fire, once it was lighted, might burn clear and bright. A cloudless summer sky gave promise of a beautiful starlit night, so that there was no danger of a repetition of the disappointment of the previous night—which, however, everyone had already forgotten.

After supper, when it was quite dark, the space around the pile was left empty. Then Mrs. Chester, in her ceremonial Indian robes, stood up in the centre, near the fire, and one by one the different Camp Fires, led by their Guardians, came in, singing slowly.

As each girl passed before her, Mrs. Chester made the sign of the Fire, by raising her right hand slowly, in a sweeping gesture, after first crossing its fingers against those of the left hand. Each girl returned the sign and then passed to her place in the great circle about the fagots, where she sat down.

When all the girls were seated, Mrs. Chester spoke.

"The Manasquan Camp Fire has the honor of lighting our Council Fire to-night," she said. "Ayu!"

And Ayu stepped forward. She had with her the simple tools that are required for making fire in the Indian fashion. It is not enough, as some people believe, to rub two sticks together, and Bessie and Zara, who had never seen this trick played before, watched her with great interest. Ayu had, first, a block of wood, not very thick, in which a notch had been cut. In this notch she rested a long, thin stick, and on top of that was a small piece of wood, in which the stick or drill rested. And, last of all, she had a bow, with a leather thong, which was slipped around the drill.

When everything was ready Ayu, holding down the fire block with one foot, held the socket of the drill with the left hand, while with the right she drew the bow rapidly back and forth. In less than a minute there was a tiny spark. Then rapidly growing, flame appeared and a moment later, along the carefully prepared tinder, the fire ran to the kindling beneath the fagots. And then, as the flames rose and began to curl about the fagots all the girls began to sing together the Camp Fire Girl Ode to Fire:

"Oh Fire! Long years ago when our fathers fought with great animals you were their protection. From the cruel cold of winter you saved them. When they needed food you changed the flesh of beasts into savory food for them. During all the ages your mysterious flame has been a symbol to them for Spirit. So to-night we light our fire in remembrance of the Great Spirit who gave you to us."

Then each Guardian called the roll of her Camp Fire, and as each girl's ceremonial name was called she answered, "Kolah!"

"That means friend," someone whispered to Bessie and Zara.

"We are to receive two new members to-night," said Mrs. Chester, then. "Wanaka, they come in your Camp Fire. Will you initiate them into the Camp Fire circle?"

Then she sat down, and Wanaka took her place in the centre. Bessie and Zara understood that it was time for them to step forward, and they stood out in the dancing light of the fire, which was roaring up now, and casting its light into the shadows about the circle. All the girls stood up.

Bessie came first, and Wanaka turned to her.

"Is it your desire to become a Camp Fire Girl and follow the law of the Fire?"

And Bessie, who had been taught the form to be followed, answered:

"It is my desire to become a Camp Fire Girl and to obey the law of the Camp Fire, which is to Seek Beauty, Give Service, Pursue Knowledge, Be Trustworthy, Hold on to Health, Glorify Work, Be Happy. This law of the Camp Fire I will strive to follow."

Then she held out her left hand, and Eleanor took it, saying:

"In the name of the Camp Fire Girls of America, I place on the little finger of your left hand this ring, with its design of seven fagots, symbolic of the seven points of the law of the Fire, which you have expressed your desire to follow, and of the three circles on either side, symbolic of the three watchwords of this organization—Work, Health, and Love. And—

"As fagots are brought from the forest Firmly held by the sinews which bind them, So cleave to these others, your sisters, Whoever, whenever, you find them.

"Be strong as the fagots are sturdy; Be pure in your deepest desire; Be true to the truth that is in you; And—follow the law of the Fire."

Then, as Bessie, or Stella, as, at the Council Fire she was to be known thereafter, made her way back to her place, all the girls sang the Wo-he-lo song by way of welcoming her as one of them.

Then it was Zara's turn, and the same beautiful ceremony was repeated for her.

"Now the Snug Harbor Camp Fire is going to entertain us with some new Indian dances they have learned," said Mrs. Chester. "I am sure we will all enjoy that."

And they did. No Indian girls ever danced with the grace and beauty that those young American girls put into their interpretation of the old-fashioned dances, which made all the other Camp Fires determine to try to learn them, too. And after that there was a talk from Mrs. Chester on the purpose of the organization. Then, finally, taps sounded, and the Council Fire was over.

"So you really are Camp Fire Girls," said Eleanor, to the two new members. "Soon we shall be back in the city and there I am sure that many things will happen to you. Some of them will be hard, but you will get through them all right. And remember we mean to help you, no matter what happens. Zara shall have her father back, and we will do all we can, Bessie, to help you find your parents. Good-night!"

"Good-night!"



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* * * * *

As Originated by

FRANCES TREGO MONTGOMERY

Mrs. Montgomery has the happy faculty of knowing just what the small boy and his sister like in stories, and the added ability of giving it to them. Her ideas are touched with the sparkle of real genius and little folks find it a delight to travel in her company. These adventures of a frolicsome goat never fail to please.

Twenty-five Volumes

BILLY WHISKERS BILLY WHISKERS' KIDS BILLY WHISKERS, JUNIOR BILLY WHISKERS' TRAVELS BILLY WHISKERS AT THE CIRCUS BILLY WHISKERS AT THE FAIR BILLY WHISKERS' FRIENDS BILLY WHISKERS, JR., AND HIS CHUMS BILLY WHISKERS' GRANDCHILDREN BILLY WHISKERS' VACATION BILLY WHISKERS KIDNAPPED BILLY WHISKERS' TWINS BILLY WHISKERS IN AN AEROPLANE BILLY WHISKERS IN TOWN BILLY WHISKERS OUT WEST BILLY WHISKERS IN THE SOUTH BILLY WHISKERS' ADVENTURES BILLY WHISKERS IN THE MOVIES BILLY WHISKERS OUT FOR FUN BILLY WHISKERS' FROLICS BILLY WHISKERS AT HOME BILLY WHISKERS' PRANKS BILLY WHISKERS IN MISCHIEF BILLY WHISKERS AND THE RADIO BILLY WHISKERS' TREASURE HUNT

Quarto, six full color illustrations and many black-and-white drawings, bound in cloth, colored jacket. Price, $1.25 each.

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THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY,

AKRON, OHIO

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Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

THE END

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