Infomotions, Inc.Campfire Girls in the Allegheny Mountains or, A Christmas Success against Odds / Francis, Stella M.



Author: Francis, Stella M.
Title: Campfire Girls in the Allegheny Mountains or, A Christmas Success against Odds
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): stanlock; marion; hollyhill; helen; ernie; miss ladd; clifford; camp fire; flamingo camp; hiawatha institute; camp; girls
Contributor(s): Johnson, Percy D. [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 36,383 words (really short) Grade range: 9-12 (high school) Readability score: 61 (easy)
Identifier: etext15133
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Title: Campfire Girls in the Allegheny Mountains
       or, A Christmas Success against Odds

Author: Stella M. Francis

Release Date: February 21, 2005 [EBook #15133]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CAMPFIRE GIRLS IN THE MOUNTAINS ***




Produced by Suzanne Shell, Riikka Talonpoika and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net






[Illustration: CAMP-FIRE GIRLS _In the_ ALLEGHANY MOUNTAINS

_or_

A CHRISTMAS SUCCESS AGAINST ODDS]

[Illustration: Campfire Girls in the Mountains]




Campfire Girls in the

Allegheny Mountains;

OR,

A Christmas Success Against Odds

By

STELLA M. FRANCIS

M.A. DONOHUE & CO.

CHICAGO NEW YORK




CAMPFIRE GIRLS' SERIES


    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS IN THE ALLEGHENY MOUNTAINS;
      or, A Christmas Success Against Odds.=

    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS IN THE COUNTRY; or, The Secret
      Aunt Hannah Forgot.=

    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS' TRIP UP THE RIVER; or, Ethel
     Hollister's First Lesson.=

    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS' OUTING; or, Ethel Hollister's Second
      Summer in Camp.=

    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS' ON A HIKE; or, Lost in the Great
      North Woods.=

    =CAMPFIRE GIRLS AT TWIN LAKES; or, The Quest of
      a Summer Vacation.=

    1918

    M.A. DONOHUE & COMPANY

    MADE in U.S.A.




CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER

    I     The Grand Council Fire

    II    The Boy Scouts' Invasion

    III   The Skull and Cross-Bones

    IV    Studying the Mystery

    V     Girls Courageous

    VI    The Punster Makes a Find

    VII   To the Rescue

    VIII  The Eavesdropper

    IX    Mr. Stanlock Surprised

    X     Mr. Stanlock Amused

    XI    A Man of Big Heart and Queer Notions

    XII   A Mysterious Disappearance

    XIII  "Find Her, or I'll Find Her Myself"

    XIV   Trapped

    XV    A Pile of Scrap Lumber

    XVI   Helen and the Strike Leader's Wife

    XVII  Helen Declares Herself

    XVIII Helen in the Mountains

    XIX   The Subterranean Avenue

    XX    Twelve Girls in the Mountains

    XXI   Thirteen Girls in the Mountains

    XXII  A Sleighride Home




"Camp Fire Girls in the Allegheny Mountains"

OR

"A Christmas Success Against Odds"

By STELLA M. FRANCIS.


       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER I.

THE GRAND COUNCIL FIRE.


    "Wo-he-lo for aye,
    Wo-he-lo for aye,
    Wo-he-lo, Wo-he-lo, Wo-he-lo for aye!
    Wo-he-lo for work,
    Wo-he-lo for health,
    Wo-he-lo, Wo-he-lo, Wo-he-lo for love."

Two hundred and thirty-nine girl voices chanted the Wo-he-lo Cheer
with weird impressiveness. The scene alone would have been impressive
enough, but Camp Fire Girls are not satisfied with that kind of
"enough." Once their imagination is stimulated with the almost
limitless possibilities of the craft, they are not easily pleased with
anything but a finished product.

The occasion was the last Grand Council Fire of Hiawatha Institute for
Camp Fire Girls located in the Allegheny city of Westmoreland. The
classroom work had been rushed a day ahead, examinations were made
almost perfunctory, and for them also the clock had been turned
twenty-four hours forward. The curriculum was finished, and the day
just closed had been devoted to preparation for a Grand Council
wind-up for the fifteen Fires of the Institute, which would "break
ranks" on the following day and scatter in all directions for home and
the Christmas holidays.

And there was literal truth in this "break ranks" method of dismissing
school at the Institute. Since the United States entered the European
war on the side of the anti-frightfulness allies, Hiawatha had become
something of a military school. The girls actually drilled with guns,
and they would shoot those guns with all the grim fatality of so many
boys. Not that they expected to go to war and descend into the
trenches and fire hail-storms of steel-coated death-messengers at the
enemy. Oh, no. They might, but they were sensible enough not to let
their imagination carry them so far. But preparedness was in the air,
and the girls voted to a--a--girl (I almost said man, for they were as
brave as men in many respects) to take up military drill and tactics
two hours a week as a part of their curriculum.

Madame Cleaver, head of the Institute, did not start the military
movement rashly. She was carefully diplomatic in the conduct of her
school, for she must satisfy the critical tastes and ideas of a
high-class parentage clientele. But she also kept her fingers on the
pulse of affairs and knew pretty well how to strike a popular vein.
Hence the membership of her classes was always on the increase.
Indeed, at the beginning of this school year, she had to turn away
something like forty applicants, for want of room and accommodations.

Hiawatha Institute was founded as a Camp Fire Girls' school, and when
Uncle Sam became involved in the European war, the national need for
nurses appealed strongly to Camp Fire Girls everywhere. What could
they do? The very nature of the training of the girls from Wood
Gatherer to Torch Bearer made the question, so far as they were
concerned, a self-answering one. They had all the broad commonsense
rudiments of nursing. With some advanced science on top of this, they
would be experts.

But military authorities said that the nurses ought to have some
military drill. War nurses must be organized, and there was no better
method of effecting this orderly requisite than by military training.

One well-known captain of infantry informed Madame Cleaver that war
nurses could not reach the highest grade of efficiency unless they
were able to march in columns from one camp to another and be
distributed in squads at the points needed.

With all this information at her tongue's end, the madame put the
matter to her uniformed girls in the assembly hall. Rumor of what was
coming had reached them in advance, so that it did not fall as a
surprise. The vote was unanimous in favor of the plan. The needed
nursing expert was already a member of the faculty. The classes were
formed a few days later.

These were the girls that gathered around a big out-door campfire--it
was really a bonfire--in the snow of mid-winter on the evening of the
opening of this story. Most of them were rich men's daughters, but
there were no snobs among them. They were girls of vigor and vim,
intelligence and imagination, practical and industrious. They were
lively and fond of a good time, but--most of them, at least,--would
not slight a duty for pleasure. Behind every enjoyment was a pathway
of tasks well done.

Madame Cleaver was Chief Guardian of the fifteen Camp Fires of the
Institute. The faculty was not large enough to supply all the adult
guardians required, but that fact did not prove by any means an
insurmountable difficulty. More than enough young women in
Westmoreland, well qualified to fill positions of this kind,
volunteered to donate their services in order to make the Camp Fire
organization of the school complete. Indeed, these volunteer Guardians
added materially to their influence and rank in the community by
becoming connected with the Institute. There was, in fact, a waiting
list of volunteers constantly among the social leaders of the place.

The Chief Guardian was mistress of ceremonies at the Grand Council
Fire. Two hundred and thirty-nine girls in uniform, brown coats,
campfire hats, and brown duck hiking boots, stood around the fire
answering "Kolah" in unison by groups as the roll of the Fires was
called. As each Fire was called and the answer returned, the Guardian
stepped forward and gave a little recitation of current achievements.
This program was varied here and there with music by a girls' chorus
and a girls' orchestra. Everything went along with the smoothness,
although with some of the deep dips and lofty lifts, of Grand Opera,
until the name of the last Camp Fire, Flamingo, was called. Miss
Harriet Ladd, the Guardian, stepped forward and said:

"Madame Chief Guardian, associate guardians, and Camp Fire Girls of
Hiawatha Institute, I bring to you a message of things planned by
Flamingo Camp Fire Girls, thirteen in number. As you know, there is in
an adjoining state a strike of coal miners that has caused much
suffering among the poor families of the strikers. High Peak lives in
a mountain mining district. Her father is a mine owner and has given
his consent to the extending of an invitation to Flamingo Camp Fire to
work among these poor families and give them relief during the
Christmas holidays. The arrangements have been completed, and the
girls will start for Hollyhill tomorrow."

"Hooray, hooray, hooray! Hooray for High Peak! Hooray for Marion
Stanlock! Hooray for Flamingo Camp Fire."

The cheers, shrill on the sharp winter air, now in unison, now in
confusion, came not from the assembled Camp Fire Girls, although from
nearly as many voices. Out from the timber thicket to the west of the
campus rushed a small army of khaki-clad figures. There were a few
screams among the girls, but not many. To be sure, everybody was
thrilled, but nobody fainted. There were a few moments of suspense,
followed by bursts of laughter and applause from the girls.

"It's the Spring Lake Boy Scouts," cried Marion Stanlock, who was
first to announce an explanation of the surprise. "Clifford, Clifford
Long, are you responsible for this?"

The Boy Scout patrol leader thus addressed did not reply, though he
recognized the challenge with a wave of his hand.

He was busy bringing his patrol in matching line with the other
patrols. As if realizing their purpose, the circle around the camp
fire was broken at a point nearest the newly arrived invaders, and an
avenue of approach was formed by the lining up of some of the girls in
two rows extended out towards the Boy Scouts. In double file a hundred
and fifty boys marched in and around the campfire; then faced toward
the outer ring of Camp Fire Girls and bowed acknowledgment of the
courteous reception.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER II.

THE BOY SCOUTS' INVASION.


That was a grand surprise that the Boy Scouts of Spring Lake academy
"put over" on the Camp Fire Girls of Hiawatha Institute. They had been
planning it for several weeks, or since they first received
information of the Grand Council Fire as a closing event of the first
semester of the girls' school. The two institutions were located in
municipalities only fifteen miles apart, connected by both steam
railroad and electric interurban lines.

Spring Lake academy, located on a lake of the same name at the
southern outskirt of Kingston, was originally a boys' military school,
and it still retained that primal distinction. But the success of
Hiawatha Institute as a Camp Fire Girls' school set the imaginative
minds of some of the leaders of the boys at Spring Lake to work along
similar lines, with the result that the faculty's cooperation was
petitioned for the organization of the student body into a troop of
Boy Scout patrols. The scheme was successful, and as it served to
inject new life into the academy, the business end of the institution
had no ground for complaint.

This innovation at Spring Lake was due largely to the activities of
Clifford Long, one of the students. He was a cousin of Marion
Stanlock, and naturally this relationship served to direct his
personal interest toward Hiawatha Institute. Not a few other students
in these two schools were similarly related, some of them being
brothers and sisters.

And so it is not to be wondered at if these two places of learning
became, as it were, twin schools, with much of interest in common and
many of their activities interassociated. They had rival debating
teams between which were held more or less periodic contests, and in
the numerous social events there were frequently exchanges of
invitational courtesies.

The boys plotted their big surprise on the girls in true scout
fashion. There was no real secret in the fact that the Camp Fire Girls
of Hiawatha Institute were planning a big event, but girl-like they
affected secrecy to stimulate interest. The result was more than could
have been expected, although the girls did not realize this until
after it was all over. The curiosity of the Spring Lake boys was
thoroughly alive as soon as they learned of a mysterious "something
big" going on at the institute. True to the character of real scouts
they delegated emissaries, commonly denominated spies, to visit the
stronghold of the Camp Fire Girls, get all the details of their plans
discoverable and report back to headquarters. Greater success than
that which rewarded their efforts could hardly have been wished for.
Half a dozen boys went and returned and then put their heads and their
reports together with the result that the Scouts of the school had
all the information they needed.

They mapped out their plans and scheduled their prospective movements
by the calendar and the clock. They chartered an interurban train for
the run to and from the Institute. The arrival on the scene of the
Grand Council Fire was, as we have seen, a complete surprise to the
girls. The Scouts well knew that their presence would not be regarded
as an intrusion, for a Grand Council Fire, according to the handbook,
"is for friends and the public."

The interruption of the program by the marching of the Boy Scouts
within the circle of the Camp Fire Girls was permitted to continue for
ten or fifteen minutes, while a number of short speeches were made by
some of the boy leaders, in which they gloried over the way they had
"put one over on the girls."

"And we're not through yet," announced Harry Gilbert prophetically.
"Some of us are going to put over another surprise just about as
thrilling as this, and we want to challenge you to find out what it
is."

Of course this statement produced the very result the boys desired.
Naturally they wished the girls to think they were pretty bright
fellows. They got just what they were looking for as a result of their
"surprise," namely, volumes of praise. To be sure, this did not come
in the form of undisguised admiration. That isn't the way a clever
girl signifies her approval of this sort of thing. It just burst into
evidence through such mock jeers as, "You boys think you are so
smart," or "It's a wonder you wouldn't have gone to enough pains to
build a railroad or sink a submarine."

To which, on one occasion in the course of the evening, Earl Hamilton
replied:

"Thank you, ladies; we always do things thorough."

"-_ly_!" screamed Katherine Crane. Yes, it was really a scream, an
explosion, too, if the indelicacy may be excused. But the opportunity
for a come-back struck her so keenly, so swiftly, that she just could
not contain her eagerness to beat somebody else to it.

Well, the laugh that followed also was of the nature of an explosion.
And it was on poor Katherine quite as much as on Earl, who had tripped
up on an adjective in place of an adverb. The girl's eagerness was so
evident that it struck everybody as funnier than the boy's mistake in
grammar. Anyway, she recovered quite smartly and followed up her
attack with this pert addendum as the laughter subsided:

"You evidently don't do your lessons thorough-_ly_." The emphasis on
the "-ly" was so pronounced, almost spasmodic, as to bring forth
another laughing applause.

This exchange of repartee took place in the large school auditorium,
to which all repaired as soon as the outdoor exercises had been
finished.

The program of the evening was punctuated by interruptions of this
kind every now and then. Of course, the fun-makers waited for
suitable opportunities to spring their "quips and cranks," so that no
merited interest in the doing could be lost. And none of it was lost.
The presence of the bold invaders seemed to add zest to the most
routine of the Camp Fire performances, and when all was over everybody
was agreed that there had not been a dull minute during the whole
evening.

At the close of the Camp Fire Girls' program the 150 Boy Scouts arose
and, with heroic unison of voices peculiar to much practice in the
delivery of school yells, they chanted a clever parody of Wo-he-lo
Cheer, a Boy Scout's compliment to the Camp Fire Girls, and then
marched out of the auditorium and away toward the interurban line,
where their chartered train was waiting for them, and all the while
they continued the chant with variations of the words, the rhythmic
drive of their voices pulsing back to the Institute, but becoming
fainter and more faint until at last the sound was lost with the
speeding away of the trolley train in the distance.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER III.

THE SKULL AND CROSS-BONES.


If Marion Stanlock, "High Peak" in the trait and a torch bearer, had
read one of two letters, signed with a "skull and cross-bones," which
she found lying on the desk in her room after the adjournment of the
Grand Council Fire, doubtless there would have been an interruption,
and probably a change, in the holiday program of the Flamingo Camp
Fire. She saw the letters lying there and under ordinary circumstances
would have torn them open and read them, however hastily, before
retiring. But on this occasion she was rather tired, owing to the
activities and the excitement of the day and evening. Moreover, she
realized that she could not hope for anything but a wearisome journey
to Hollyhill on the following day unless she refreshed herself with as
many hours sleep as possible before train time.

So she merely glanced at the superscriptions on the envelopes to see
if the letters were from any of her relatives or friends, and, failing
to recognize either of them, she put them into her handbag, intending
to read them at the first opportunity next morning. Then she went to
bed and fell asleep almost instantly.

Marion was awakened in the morning by her roommate, Helen Nash, who
had quietly arisen half an hour earlier. The latter was almost ready
for breakfast when she woke her friend from a sleep that promised to
continue several hours longer unless interrupted. She had turned on
the electric light and was standing before the glass combing her hair.
Marion glanced at the clock to see what time it was, but the face was
turned away from her and the light in the room made it impossible for
her to observe through the window shades that day was just breaking.

"What time is it, Helen?" she asked. "Did the alarm go off? I didn't
hear it. What waked you up?"

Helen did not answer at once. For a moment or two her manner seemed to
indicate that she did not hear the questions of the girl in bed. Then,
as if suddenly rescuing her mind from thoughts that appealed to have
carried her away into some far distant abstraction, she replied thus,
in a series of disconnected utterances:

"No, the alarm didn't go off--a--Marion. I got up at 6 o'clock. I
turned the alarm off. It is 6:30 now. I don't know what woke me. I
just woke up."

Marion arose, wondering at the peculiar manner of her roommate and the
strained, almost convulsive, tone of her voice. She asked no further
questions, but proceeded with her dressing and preparation for
breakfast. For the time being, she forgot all about the two letters in
her handbag that lay on her dresser.

In some respects Helen was a peculiar girl. If her speech and action
had been characterized with more vim, vigor and imagination,
doubtlessly she would generally have been known as a pretty girl. As
it was, her features were regular, her complexion fair, her eyes blue,
and her hair a light brown. Marion thought her pretty, but Marion had
associated with her intimately for two or three years, and had
discovered qualities in her that mere acquaintances could never have
discovered. She had found Helen apparently to be possessed of a
strong, direct conception of integrity, never vacillating in manner or
sympathies. Moreover, she exhibited a quiet, unwavering capability in
her work that always commanded the respect, and occasionally the
admiration, of both classmates and teachers.

Not only was Helen quiet of disposition, but strangely secretive on
certain subjects. For instance, she seldom said anything about her
home or relatives. She lived in Villa Park, a small town midway
between Westmoreland and Hollyhill. Her father was dead, and, when not
at school, she had lived with her mother; these two, so far as Marion
knew, constituting the entire family.

Marion had visited her home, and there found the mother and daughter
apparently in moderate circumstances. Naturally, she had wondered a
little that Mrs. Nash should be able to support her daughter at a
private school, even though that institution made a specialty of
teaching rich men's daughters how to be useful and economical, but
the reason why had never been explained to her. Helen got her
remittances from home regularly, and seemed to have no particular
cause to worry about finances. She had spent parts of two vacations at
the Stanlock home and there conducted herself as if quite naturally
able to fit in with luxurious surroundings and large accommodations.

Only a few days before the Christmas holidays, something had occurred
that emphasized Helen's secretive peculiarity to such an extent that
Marion was considerably provoked and just a little mystified. A young
man, somewhere about 25 or 27 years old, fairly well but not
expensively dressed, and bearing the appearance of one who had seen a
good deal of the rough side of life, called at the Institute and asked
for Miss Nash. He was ushered into the reception room and Helen was
summoned. One of the girls who witnessed the meeting told some of her
friends that Miss Nash was evidently much surprised, if not
unpleasantly disturbed, when she recognized her caller. Immediately
she put on a coat and hat and she and the young man went out. An hour
later she returned alone, and to no one did she utter a word relative
to the stranger's visit, not even to her roommate, who had passed them
in the hall as they were going out.

Helen Nash was a member of the Flamingo Camp Fire and accompanied the
other members on their vacation trip to the mountain mining district.
The other eleven who boarded the train with Marion, the holiday
hostess, were Ruth Hazelton, Ethel Zimmerman, Ernestine Johanson,
Hazel Edwards, Azalia Atwood, Harriet Newcomb, Estelle Adler, Julietta
Hyde, Marie Crismore, Katherine Crane, and Violet Munday.

Miss Ladd, the Guardian, also was one of Marion's invited guests. The
party took possession of one end of the parlor car, which,
fortunately, was almost empty before they boarded it. Then began a
chatter of girl voices--happy, spirited, witty, and promising to
continue thus to the end of the journey, or until their kaleidoscopic
subjects of conversation were exhausted.

Every thrilling detail of the evening before was gone over, examined,
given its proper degree of credit, and filed away in their memories
for future reference. There was more catching of breath, more
cheering, more clapping of hands; but no mock jeers, now that the boys
were absent, as the events of the Boy Scouts' invasion and the many
incidental and brilliant results were recalled and repictured.

"I wonder what Harry Gilbert meant when he said some of them were
planning another surprise nearly as thrilling as the one they sprung
last night," said Azalia Atwood, with characteristic excitable
expectation. "He addressed himself to you, Marion, when he said it;
and he's a close friend of your cousin, Clifford Long. Whatever it
is, I bet anything it will fall heaviest on this Camp Fire when it
comes."

"Maybe it was just talk, to get us worked up and looking for something
never to come," suggested Ethel Zimmerman. "It would be a pretty good
one for the boys to get us excited and looking for something clear up
to April 1, and then spring an April fool joke, something like a big
dry goods box packed with excelsior."

"Oh, but that wouldn't measure up to expectations," Ruth Hazelton
declared. "It wouldn't be one-two-three with what they did last night,
and they promised something just about as interesting."

"You don't get me," returned Ethel. "The dry goods box filled with
excelsior would be the anti-climax of wondering expectations."

"You're too deep for a twentieth century bunch of girls, Ethel," Hazel
Edwards objected. "That might easily be mistaken for the promised big
stunt. They might compose a lot of ditties and mix them up with the
packing, something like this:

    "'Believe not all big things that boys may tell thee, for
    Great expectations may produce excelsior'."

"Very clever, indeed, only it sounds like an impossible combination of
Alice in Wonderland and an old maid," said Harriet Newcomb, with a
toss of her head. "I'm surprised at you, Hazel, for suggesting such a
thing. If the boys should put over anything like that, we'd break off
diplomatic relations right away. If they wanted to call us a lot of
rummies, they couldn't do it as effectively by the use of direct
language. Cleverness usually makes a hit with its victims, unless it
contains an element of contempt."

"That is really a brilliant observation," announced the Guardian who
had been listening with quiet interest to the spirited conversation.
"Continued thought along such lines ought to result in a Keda National
Honor for you, Harriet."

"I'll agree to all that if Harriet will take back what she said about
my being an old maid," said Hazel with mock dignity.

"I didn't call you an old maid, my dear," denied the impromptu poet
pertly. "I merely said, or meant to say, that the idea you expressed
might better be expected from an old maid, although I doubt if many
old maids could have expressed it as well as you did."

"Girls, Girls, are you going to turn our vacation into a two-weeks
repartee bee?" Marion broke in with affected desperation. "If you do,
you will force your hostess to go way back and sit down, and that
wouldn't be polite, you know. By the way, if you'll excuse me I'll do
that very thing now for another reason. I've got two letters in my
hand bag that I forgot all about. I'm going to read them right now.
You girls are making too much chatter. I can't read in your midst."

So saying, Marion retired to a chair just far enough away to lend
semblance of reality to her "go way back and sit down" suggestion, and
settled back comfortably to read the two missives that arrived with
the last evening's mail at the Institute.

"Settled back comfortably"--yes, but only for a short time. Marion
never before in her life received two such letters. Both were
anonymous. The first one that she opened aroused enough curiosity to
"unsettle" her. She thought she knew whom it was from--those ingenious
Boy Scouts of Spring Lake--perhaps it was written by cousin Clifford
himself. It was just like him. He was a natural leader among boys, and
often up to mischief of some sort. Marion was sure he was one of the
prime movers of the Scout invasion of Hiawatha Institute.

But the next letter was the real thriller, or rather cold chiller. She
knew very well what it meant. From the point of view of the writer it
meant "business," a threat well calculated to work terror in her own
heart and the heart of every other member of Flamingo Fire. It was a
threat couched in direful words, warning her and her friends not to go
to Hollyhill on their charity mission, as announced, and predicting
serious injury if not death to some of them. It was signed with a
skull and cross-bones.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER IV.

STUDYING THE MYSTERY.


Is there any wonder that Marion Stanlock, after reading letter No. 2
was seriously in doubt as to whether No. 1 was from the Scouts who had
promised another surprise for the Camp Fire Girls in the near future?
Judge for yourself--here is No. 1:

    Something Doing Soon
         Look Out
    SOMETHING DOING SOON
         LOOK OUT
    =SOMETHING DOING SOON
         LOOK OUT!=

That was all. The second letter read thus:

"Miss Stanlock: This is to serve you with warning not to take your
friends with you to Hollyhill this vacation to work among the poor
families of the striking miners. We know that move of yours is
inspired by the rankest hypocrisy, that you have no genuine desire to
do anything for our starving families. This move of yours, we know,
was planned by that villainous father of yours to cloud the big issue
of our fight. If you do carry out your plans, some of you are liable
to get hurt, and it need not surprise anybody if some of you never get
back to Westmoreland alive.

    Go Slow! Be Careful! Look Out!"

Marion was not easily panic-stricken, but it is of the nature of a
truism to say that this letter applied the severest test to her
nerves. That the writer was in deep earnest she had no reason to
doubt. She had read of so many crimes preceded by threatening letters
of this sort that the suggestion did not come to her to regard this
one lightly. Although there was no common basis for comparing the
handwriting of the two missives, one being lettered in Roman capitals
and the other in ordinary script, nevertheless she quickly dismissed
the first suspicion that letter No. 1 was written by Clifford Long or
some other Scout of Spring Lake academy. Both ended with the words
"Look Out." Plainly this was a result of carelessness on the part of
the writer. Evidently he had planned to cause her to believe that the
two letters were written by different persons, for he had taken the
pains of differentiating the superscriptions on the envelopes as well
as the contents within.

But now the question was, What should she do? It was no more than fair
and just for her to inform the girls what they might expect if they
attempted to carry out their original plan, but what method should she
pursue to convey to them this information? She might go at the matter
bluntly and create something of a panic; then again she might so
handle it that the best possible result could be obtained in a quiet
and orderly manner.

Marion felt in this crisis that a great responsibility rested on her
to handle the problem with all the skill and intelligence at her
command. She longed for the counsel of an older and more experienced
head, but there was none present, except Miss Ladd, the Guardian of
the Fire, to whom she might go with her story. The latter, though she
came well within the requirements of the national board to fill the
position which she held, was nevertheless a young woman in the
sensitive sense of the phrase and could hardly be expected to give the
best of executive advice under the circumstances. Marion realized that
it was her duty to exhibit to Miss Ladd the letters she had received,
but if she did this at once, the act would amount to turning the whole
matter over to her and relinquishing the initiative herself, she
reasoned.

Marion was naturally aggressive, and she was not favorably impressed
with the idea of leaving the affair in the hands of another unless
that person were peculiarly fitted to handle it. As she sat studying
over the problem she suddenly became conscious of the presence of
another person close beside her, and looking up she saw Helen Nash,
with an expression of startled intelligence in her eyes. Apparently
her attention had been attracted by the crude drawing of a skull and
cross-bones at the close of the letter lying open in her lap.

"I beg your pardon, Marion," said Helen with an evident effort at
self-control. "I didn't mean to intrude. I hope you'll forgive me for
something quite unintentional."

"Certainly, Helen," Marion replied generously, "and since a chance
look has informed you of the nature of these letters and I want to
talk this affair over with somebody, I think I may as well talk it
over with you. Let's go down to the other end of the car where we
aren't likely to be disturbed."

Accordingly they moved up to the front of the car where they took
possession of two chairs and soon were so deeply absorbed in the
problem at hand as to excite the wonder and curiosity of the other
Camp Fire Girls.

Marion handed the two anonymous letters to her friend without
introductory remark, and the latter read them. As Marion watched the
expression on the reader's face, she was forced to admit to herself
that right then, under those seemingly impersonal circumstances,
Helen's habitual strangeness of manner was more pronounced than she
had ever before known it to be. This girl of impenetrable secrecy read
the letters, seemingly with an abstraction amounting almost to
inattention, while physically she appeared to shrink from something
that to her alone was visible and real.

As she finished reading, Helen looked up at her friend and the gaze of
penetrating curiosity that she saw in Marion's eyes caused her to
blush with confusion. Unable to meet her friend's gaze steadily, she
shifted her eyes toward the most uninteresting part of the car, the
floor, and said:

"That looks like a dangerous letter. It ought to be turned over to the
police as soon as possible."

"Both of them, don't you think?" Marion inquired.

"Why? I don't see anything in this shorter one. My guess would be that
it was written by your cousin or one of his friends."

"But do you notice the way they both end?--the same words," Marion
insisted.

"Yes, I noticed that," Helen replied slowly. But that is such a
common, ordinary expression, almost like 'a,' 'an,' or 'the,' that it
doesn't mean much to me here. Where are the letters postmarked?"

"Both in Westmoreland."

"That's something in favor of your suspicion that both letters were
written by the same person," Helen admitted. "Still it doesn't
convince me. You wouldn't expect the Spring Lake boys to mail a letter
like the shorter one at Spring Lake, would you? That would stamp its
identity right away."

"You are sure those letters were written by different persons?" Marion
inquired curiously.

"I don't think it makes any difference whether they were or not,"
Helen answered more decisively than she had spoken before. "It is in
that skull-and-cross-bones letter that you are most interested. I
think you can disregard the other entirely. I would say this,
however, that if both were written by one person, you have less to
fear than if the shorter one was written by your cousin or one of his
friends."

"Why?"

"Because if one person wrote both of them, he is probably suffering
from softening of the brain. But if the person who wrote the longer
one did not write the shorter one, there is more likelihood that he
means business and will attempt to carry out his threat."

"I never realized that you were such a Sherlock Holmes," Marion
exclaimed enthusiastically, while the suggestion came to her that
perhaps a genius for this sort of thing accounted for her friend's
peculiarities. "You ought to be a detective for a department store to
catch shoplifters."

"Thanks, Marion, for the compliment, but I am not inclined that way.
I'd rather do something in this case to keep our vacation plans from
ending in trouble."

"I was looking for someone who could advise me," Marion said; "and I
am now convinced that you are just the person I was looking for. What
do you think I ought to do, Helen?"

"All the girls ought to know about this letter," Helen replied. "But
you can't go to them and blurt out anything so sensational. We must
break the news gently, as they say in melodrama. I wish we hadn't
come."

"So do I," Marion replied, but with just a suggestion of
disappointment in her voice.

"Not that I am afraid of getting hurt," Helen added hastily, realizing
the suspicion of cowardice that might rest against her. "Still, if my
advice had been asked, I would have argued against this very dangerous
vacation scheme of yours."

"Why?" inquired Marion in a tone of disappointment.

"Because of the very situation complained of in that
skull-and-cross-bones letter. I hope I don't hurt your feelings,
Marion, but it is very natural for some of these rough miners to
suspect that your plan was cooked up by your father to pull the wool
over their eyes, and to regard you as a tool employed by him to put
the scheme into operation."

"Some of the girls' parents raised the objection that there might be
danger in a mining district during a strike, but none of them
suggested anything of this sort," Marion remarked with humble anxiety.
"I explained to them that there could hardly be any danger even if the
strikers should get ugly, as the mines are some distance from where we
live and any violence on the part of the miners would surely be
committed at the scene of their labors. This seemed to satisfy them.
Most of the miners live at the south end of the town or along the
electric line running from Hollyhill to the mines."

"That doesn't make much difference if the miners once get it into
their heads that the girls are being used to put over a confidence
game on them," Helen argued authoritatively. "Miners are peculiar
people, especially if they are lead by radical leaders of aggressive
purpose. They believe that they are a badly misused set, turning out
the wealth of the wealthy, who repay them by holding them in contempt,
keeping their wages down to a minimum and pressing them into social
and political subjection."

"Where did you learn all that, Helen?" Marion asked wonderingly. "You
are not even studying sociology at school. You talk like a person of
experience."

"My father was a miner," Helen began. Then she stopped, and Marion saw
from the expression in her eyes and the twitch of her mouth that a big
lump in her throat had interrupted her explanation. She seemed to be
making an effort to continue, but was unable to do so.

"Never mind, Helen," said Marion, taking her hand tenderly in her own.
"I am more convinced than ever that I found just the right person to
advise me when I laid this matter before you. We will try to work this
problem out together. Meanwhile we must take Miss Ladd into our
confidence. Why, here she is now."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER V.

GIRLS COURAGEOUS.


"What's the matter, girls? You look as if you had the weight of the
world on your shoulders."

Miss Ladd spoke these words lightly as if to pass judgment on the
conference as entirely too serious for a Christmas holiday occasion.
Marion and Helen did not respond in tones of joviality, as might have
been expected. They met her jocular reproach with expressions of such
serious portent that the Guardian of the Fire could no longer look
upon it as calling for words of levity.

"What's the matter, girls?" she repeated more seriously. "You look
worried."

"Sit down, Miss Ladd, and read these letters I received last night,"
said Marion without any change of tone or manner. "They will explain
the whole thing. We were just about to call you aside and lay our
trouble before you."

"Trouble," Miss Ladd repeated deprecatingly, "I hope it isn't as bad
as that."

She drew an upholstered armchair close to the girls and began at once
to examine the letters that Marion handed to her. Marion and Helen
watched her closely as she read, but the Guardian of Flamingo Fire
indicated her strength of character by a stern immobility of
countenance until she had finished both letters. Then she looked at
Marion steadily and said inquiringly:

"I suppose you have no idea who wrote these letters?"

"Not the slightest," replied the girl addressed, "unless the shorter
one was written and mailed by some of the Boy Scouts at Spring Lake.
Helen thinks it was, and I am inclined to believe with her that it
doesn't make much difference to us who wrote it. The other letter is
the one we are most interested in."

"I agree with you thoroughly," said Miss Ladd energetically. "And we
have got to do something to prevent him from carrying out his threat."

"Ought we to inform the other girls now?" asked Marion with a sense of
growing courage, for she felt that in the Camp Fire's Guardian she had
found elements of wise counsel extending even beyond that young
woman's experience.

"Why, yes," Miss Ladd replied. "I see no reason for delay. I'd rather
tell them now than just before or after we get to Hollyhill. If we
tell them now they'll have a couple of hours in which to stiffen their
courage. There are eleven girls besides you two. Suppose you call them
here in three lots in succession, four, four, and three, and we'll
tell them quietly what has occurred and give them a little lecture as
to how they should meet this crisis."

"All right," said Marion, rising. "I'll bring the first four and you
get your lecture ready."

"It's ready already," said the guardian reassuringly. "It is so simple
that I have no need of preparation."

"I'm afraid I need some drill in the best means and methods of reading
character," Marion told herself as she walked back to the rear of the
car. "I was really afraid to take the matter up with Helen or Miss
Ladd for fear lest they recommend something foolish. Now it appears
that each of them has a very clever head on her shoulders. Maybe I'll
find the other girls possessed of just as good qualities. If I do,
this day will have brought forth an important revelation to me, that
the average girl, after all, is a pretty level-headed sort of person.
Well, here's hoping for the best."

Marion selected the four girls farthest in front and asked them to
approach the forward end of the car. They did so with some appearance
of apprehension, for by this time all the girls had begun to suspect
that something unusual was doing. This appeared to be evident also to
the half-dozen other passengers in the car, whose curious attention
naturally was directed toward the forward group of girls.

All of the girls received the information relative to the anonymous
letters so calmly that Marion felt just a little bit foolish because
of her groundless misjudgment of them. After the last group had read
the letters and discussed the situation with the trio of informants,
she spoke thus to them:

"Girls, you are real heroines, or have in you the stuff that makes
heroines, and that is about the same thing. You take this as calmly as
if it were an ordinary every-day affair in the movies. I'm proud of
you."

"We ought to be wearing Carnegie medals, oughtn't we, girls?" said
Julietta Hyde, blinking comically. "We can throttle anything from a
black-hand agent to a ghost."

"No, you ought to be wearing honor pins, for things well done," Miss
Ladd corrected. "We'll leave the Carnegie medals for those who haven't
any Camp Fire scheme of honors. But really, girls, you have all
conducted yourselves admirably in this affair. We will hope it won't
result in anything very serious, but meanwhile we must take proper
precautions."

"Shall we have to give up our vacation at Hollyhill on account of
this?" asked Katherine Crane almost as dejectedly as if she were being
sentenced to prison for violating a Connecticut blue law.

"That is up to you girls and the conditions that develop," answered
Miss Ladd. "As soon as we get to Hollyhill we will take the matter up
with the proper authorities and try to determine what the outlook is."

"My father will get busy as soon as he hears about this," said Marion.
"I think we can leave everything to his management. He will probably
advise us to give up the idea of doing anything for the strikers'
families and have as good a time as we can entertaining ourselves at
home."

"Oh, I hope not!" Katherine exclaimed, and the manner in which she
spoke indicated how much she had set her heart on the work they had
planned to do.

"It would be too bad to give it up," Marion said earnestly, "for I
understand some of those people are greatly in need of assistance.
There is not only much hunger and privation among them, but
considerable sickness among the children. We can't do a whole lot in
two weeks, but we can do something, and our training as Camp Fire
Girls and in our nursing classes fits us to be of much assistance to
them. It is a shame that they should take an attitude so hostile to
their own interests."

"They probably don't understand your father or they wouldn't be
striking now," said Miss Ladd.

"I'm sure they wouldn't," Marion testified vigorously. "I've often
heard father say he'd like to do more for the men and their families
but conditions tied his hands. Many of the miners are good fellows,
but they get mistaken ideas in their heads and it's impossible for
anybody whom they once put under suspicion to convince them that they
are in the wrong."

"Do you know, girls," interposed Violet Munday enthusiastically; "I
believe we are going to get a lot out of this vacation experience,
whatever happens. I'm interested in what Marion tells us about the
miners. Let's make a study of coal mining, hold up everybody we can
for information and watch our chance to help the poor families and
their sick children whenever we can without doing anything foolhardy."

"That's a good idea," said Miss Ladd. "We'll keep that in mind and if
Marion's father's advice is favorable, we'll take it up."

The train arrived at Hollyhill shortly after 2 p.m. Mr. Stanlock's
touring car and two taxicabs were waiting at the station to convey the
girls to Marion's home. The run to the spacious, half-rustic Stanlock
residence at the northeast edge of the city occupied about fifteen
minutes, and was without notable incident.

The cars passed through a massive iron gateway, up a winding
gravel-bedded drive, and stopped near a white pillared pergola
connected with the large colonial house by a vine-covered walk running
up to a porticoed side entrance.

Mrs. Stanlock met them at the door and the travelers were speedily
accommodated with the usual journey-end attentions. Marion then
inquired for her father, but Mr. Stanlock had gone to his office early
in the day and would not return until dinnertime. So the girl hostess
decided that she must let the problem uppermost in her mind rest
unsettled a few hours longer.

Evening came, but still Mr. Stanlock did not appear. Wondering at his
delay, Mrs. Stanlock called up his office, but learned that he had
left an hour and a half before, supposedly for home.

"How did he leave?" Mrs. Stanlock inquired nervously.

"In his automobile," was the answer.

That being the case, he ought to have been home more than an hour ago.
His office was in the city and he could easily make the run in fifteen
minutes.

Thoroughly alarmed, Mrs. Stanlock called up the police, stated the
circumstances and asked that a search be made for her husband.

Two hours more elapsed and the whole neighborhood was alarmed. The
news spread rapidly and was communicated by phone to most of Mr.
Stanlock's friends and acquaintances throughout the city. The search
was growing in scope and sensation. Treachery was suspected, a tragedy
was feared.

Then suddenly and calmly, Mr. Stanlock reappeared at home, driving the
machine himself. He had a thrilling story to tell of his experiences.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER VI.

THE PUNSTER MAKES A FIND.


When Marion Stanlock selected the term High Peak as her Camp Fire
name, her deliberations carried her back from Hiawatha Institute to
the scene of most of the years of her child life in Hollyhill.
Confronted with the task of choosing a name, she first consulted her
ideals to determine what associations she wished to have in mind when
in after years she recalled the motive and circumstances of her
selection.

Home surroundings had always had much of beauty for Marion. From the
beginning of his business career, Mr. Stanlock had had a large income
and was able to supply his family with many of the expensive luxuries,
as well as all the so-called necessities of life. But for Marion the
artificial luxuries had little special attraction. She accepted them
as a matter of course, but that is about all the claim they had upon
her. She enjoyed the use of her father's automobiles, but she wondered
sometimes at the scheme of things which entitled her to an electric
runabout or a limousine and a chauffeur, while thousands of other
quite as deserving girls were not nearly as well favored.

The ability and the disposition to look at things occasionally from
this point of view contributed much to the generosity of Marion's
nature. She was a favorite among rich and poor alike, except among
those rich who could "understand" why the wealthy ought to be
specially favored, and those poor too narrow and circumscribed to
credit any wealthy person with genuine generosity.

Being of this artless and unartificial trend of mind, Marion must
naturally turn to either nature or human merit for the selection of
her Camp Fire name. She was not sufficiently mature to pick a poetic
idea from the achievements of men, and so it fell to nature to supply
a quaint notion as a foundation for her "nom-de-fire."

Seated in her room at Hiawatha Institute one evening, Marion cast
about her mental horizon for some scene or association in her life
that would suggest the desired name. The first that came to her was
the picture of a towering mountain, conspicuous not so much for its
actual loftiness as for its deceptive appearance of great height. In
all her experiences at home, it had never occurred to Marion to think
of this individual portion of prehistoric geologic upheaval as a mass
of earth and stones. She thought of it only as the most beautiful
expression of nature she had ever seen, graceful of form, rich in the
seasons' decorations.

This mountain was probably about as slender as it is possible for a
mountain to be. Compared, or contrasted, with a nearby and
characteristic mountain of the range, it was as a lady's finger to a
telescoped giant's thumb. High Peak, as the tapering sugar-loaf of
earth was called, was located west of Hollyhill, close to the town. In
fact the portion of the city inhabited by the main colony of miners'
families was built on the sloping ground that formed a foothill of the
mountain.

And so when Marion named herself as a Camp Fire Girl after this
mountain she had in mind an ideal expressed in the first injunction of
the Law of the Camp Fire, which is to

    "Seek Beauty."

High Peak was her ideal of beauty and grandeur. It stood also, with
her, for lofty aspiration. Thus she pictured the physical
representation of the name she chose as a member of the great army of
girls who seek romance, beauty, and adventure in every-day life.

On the day when the Flamingo Camp Fire arrived at Hollyhill, another
train pulled in at the principal station several hours earlier. It
came from the same direction and might, indeed, have borne the
thirteen girls and their guardian if they had seen fit to get up early
enough to catch a 3 o'clock train.

But the thirteen girls would have been much interested if they could
have beheld the eight boy passengers as they got off in a group and
looked around to see if there was anyone at the depot who knew any of
them.

Relieved at the apparent absence of anybody who might recognize the
one of their number whose home was in Hollyhill or another who had
been a frequent visitor there, the eight boys hastened to a corner
half a square away from the depot and boarded a street car that was
waiting for the time to start from this terminal point. The car
started almost immediately after they had seated themselves, moving in
a southwesterly direction through the business section of the city and
then directly west toward High Peak, passing along the northern border
of the mining colony and then making a curve to the north through a
more prosperous residence district.

The eight boys all wore Scout uniforms. They were the full membership
of one Spring Lake patrol, the leader of which was Ernest Hunter,
whose home was in Hollyhill, and who had invited all the Scouts of his
patrol to be his guests during the holidays. This invitation followed
the receipt of information that Marion Stanlock had invited the
members of her Camp Fire to spend the Christmas holidays with her.

Ernest Hunter was well prepared to entertain his guests in real scout
fashion. His parents' home was not large enough to afford sleeping
quarters and other ordinary conveniences for seven visitors in
addition to the regular personnel of the family, but the boy had taken
care of this deficiency long before he had ever dreamed that it might
occur. The Hunter home included a large tract of land running clear up
to the foot of the mountain, which, at this point, was rocky and
covered with a plentiful growth of white pine, hemlock and black
spruce. Hidden behind an irregular heap of boulders and a small timber
foreground was a cave, formed by nature and nature's anarchistic
elements, that could not fail to delight the most fastidious
wonder-seeker. The entrance was about the size of an ordinary doorway,
flanked by twin boulders like columns for an arched shelter. Within
was a large room with fairly smooth walls and ceiling of Silurian rock
and sandstone.

The cave as it now appeared would hardly have been recognized by its
aboriginal frequenters. It had been converted into a place of civil
abode or resort, retaining only enough of its pristine wildness for
romantic effect. Ernie Hunter had done his work well. He had provided
for heat for the cave by running a galvanized stovepipe up through a
crevice in the rocks and filling with stones and cement all the
surrounding vents to guard against the draining in of water from the
mountain side. He also collected and stored at home a supply of old
mattresses, blankets, kitchen utensils, a laundry stove, and other
domestic conveniences usable in a place of this kind. A week before
vacation he wrote thus to his 12-year-old brother, Paul:

"I'm going to bring seven boys home with me. We are going to spend the
vacation in the mountains, with the cave as headquarters. Will you
have the stove hauled there and set up and keep a fire in it a good
deal of the time to dry the place out thoroughly? We will come to
Hollyhill on an early train, so as to have plenty of time to haul the
mattresses and other outfittings to the cave and get it ready for
habitation. We will all have guns and will have some great times
shooting game. Of course, you will be in on all this."

Paul did as requested. When the patrol arrived at the Hunter home, he
reported to his brother that the latter's instructions had been
carried out and all was in readiness for the removal of the outing
outfit from the storeroom over the garage to the cave. Everything but
the mattresses were piled into Mr. Hunter's seven-passenger touring
car, the eight boys piled in on top and the first run to their holiday
headquarters was made.

As the machine drove up toward the mouth of the cave, the boys were
startled at seeing two rough looking men emerge from the entrance and
slink away to the south, half hidden by the unevenness of the ground
and the thick shrubbery. Their hurried movements and evident desire to
avoid meeting the boys marked them as suspicious characters. Fearing
that they might have committed some malicious act to render the place
uninhabitable, Ernie hastened toward the cave, followed by the other
boys, to make an inspection.

Before entering, however, Ernie, who was the patrol leader, asked four
of the boys to return and watch the automobile. Division of the
patrol with this in view was quickly arranged, and Ernie, Clifford
Long, Harry, Gilbert, and Jerry McCracken proceeded into the cave.

The entrance of the cave was protected against the cold by a heavy
blanket hung over a pole anchored at either end in the rocky side at
the top. Pushing aside this wilderness portiere, the four
investigators stepped in, lighting their way with two or three
electric flash lights.

They were relieved to discover that no damage had been done to the
cave or to the stove set up within. After satisfying themselves on
this score they proceeded to replenish the fire, by putting in several
cuts of spruce, a good supply of which had been provided by Ernie's
brother. The cave was still warm and had been well dried out by the
steady fire kept up by Paul for two or three days.

The entire patrol now reassembled and mapped out a plan for completing
their day's work. It was decided that Ernie should return in the
automobile to his home a mile and a half away and bring the mattresses
and a supply of food that was being prepared for them at the house,
while the others took upon themselves the task of cutting a supply of
brushwood to lay on the floor of the cave as a kind of spring support
for the mattresses. Accordingly Ernie got into the machine and drove
away, while the other boys got busy with the task assigned to them.

The patrol leader returned, in less than an hour, accompanied by Paul
and a farm hand employed by Mr. Hunter. They brought with them not
only four mattresses, but the shotguns and rifles shipped by the boys
from the academy for their mid-winter hunting. Ernie announced that
their trunks and valises also had arrived and that George, the farm
hand, would return for them in the automobile.

The work progressed rapidly and by the time the trunks and valises
arrived the mattresses were all in position, the food and cooking
utensils were stored away in the narrowest compass of space that could
be arranged for them and a large pile of resinous wood had been
gathered.

It was now 4 o'clock and the boys felt that they were entitled to a
rest. A large boulder with a flat end two and a half feet in diameter
was rolled into the cave and propped into position, with slabs of
stone for a table. On this was placed a large kerosene lamp, which,
when burning, lighted up the cave very well. A supply of camp chairs
had been brought with the first load, so that everybody had a seat.

"I call this something swell, from the point of view of a smart rustic
who hasn't absorbed any city nonsense," observed Miles Berryman,
seating himself comfortably in a chair and gazing about with great
satisfaction. "I think, Ernie, that we must all agree that you are a
very wide-awake opportunist."

"Is that the kind of musician who plays an opportune at every
opportunity?" inquired John St. John in a tone of gravity as deep as
the cavern in which they were housed.

"Now, see here, Johnnie Two Times," exclaimed Miles portentously: "you
know what we came near doing to you six months ago for springing that
kind of stuff."

"We came near ducking him in the lake," reminded Earl Hamilton.

"Yes," continued Miles in the attitude of a stage threat, "and if we
can't find a lake around here we can find a deep snowdrift to throw
him into."

"I wonder if he catches the drift of that argument," said Clifford
Long, with a wink at Miles.

"He not only catches it, but he understands, and hence he does snow
drift (does know drift) of what the menacing Miles means," declared
John, who had long answered to the nickname of "Johnnie Two Times,"
because of the combination of baptismal and family names by which he
was legally known.

A roar of pun-protesting groans filled the cavern, and as several of
the boys arose in attitudes of vengeance, the punster made a dive for
the exit and disappeared beyond the blanket portiere. None of the
protestors followed. They did not feel like engaging in any vigorous
sport following the strenuous exercises they had had.

Five minutes later "Johnnie Two Times" returned. One glance at his
face was sufficient guarantee that he had lost all his punning
facetiousness. He held in his hand a bit of paper which he laid on the
stone table by the lamp.

"Read that, boys!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "I found it outside. Those
men must have dropped it. They're after Mr. Stanlock--going to hold
him up."

The ten other boys needed no second bidding. They crowded around so
eagerly that nobody could read.

"Here, I'll read it aloud," said Clifford, picking up the paper and
holding it close to the lamp. Here is what he read:

"I will bring Old Stanlock along the foothill pike. Will slow up in
the sand stretch. Be there ready to grab him. Jake."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER VII.

TO THE RESCUE.


"Boys, we've got to do something," declared Patrol Leader Ernie
Hunter, breaking the gaping silence that followed the reading of the
note.

"What shall we do?" asked Harry Gilbert, who was a good soldier, but
no leader.

"We must go to Mr. Stanlock's rescue," Ernie replied. "There is no
telling what those rascals are plotting. They may kill him if we don't
get there in time to prevent it."

"It's a long hike, and we may not be able to get there in time," Paul
Hunter warned.

"That means we've got to move mighty fast," Ernie said. "Boys, get
your guns and a supply of shells. I hope we won't have to use them,
but we'd better be well prepared. We're going to be late getting back,
so you may as well grab some bread and dried beef and anything else
you can find in a jiffy to eat on the way. We've got to start in three
minutes. Now everybody hustle.

"Paul, you and Jerry had better run home and stay there till morning,"
Ernie added, turning to his brother. Jerry was scarcely any larger
than Paul, although the latter was a year younger. Ernie felt a
slightly nervous responsibility for the safety of the "twin babies of
the bunch," as some one had already referred to them in the course of
the day. Jerry, who, like Paul, was an extremely likable fellow,
resented being called the baby of the patrol, a term sometimes applied
to him when the Scouts were dealing in jocular personalities.

"Not much are we goin' home," declared Paul, energetically; "are we,
Jerry? I'm goin' along and carry my target rifle with the rest. What
do you say, Jerry?"

"I'm with you," the latter announced with spirit. "They can't leave us
behind."

"But you can't make the trip fast enough," Ernie insisted.

"We'll have to run part of the way, and the ground is rough, and the
snow and ice on the road make it hard traveling. We've got over two
miles of that kind of hiking to do, and less than an hour to do it
in."

"We can make it just as well as anybody else in this bunch," declared
Paul, stoutly.

"Well, come along, then; but you will have to obey orders," said
Ernie, speaking as one with military authority. "We're operating under
martial law tonight, and if you insist on coming along you must expect
to be treated like a soldier. Everybody bring your gun and flashlight.
It's cloudy now and will be dark before long."

In scarcely more time than it takes to tell it, the boys had possessed
themselves of their guns, flashlights, overcoats, hats, and "a bite to
eat on the run," and were dashing out along the path leading down to
the road that skirted the foothill to the southward. Presently,
however, they slowed down to a "dog trot" at the suggestion of
Clifford Long, who warned his fellow Scouts against "tuckering
themselves out."

They continued along in this manner half a mile and then, by common
consent, reduced their pace to a walking long stride. As they
proceeded thus, Ernie said to Clifford Long and one or two others
nearest him:

"I'm afraid we've made a mistake in not doing one thing that has just
occurred to me. What I ought to have done was to hurry home, got the
automobile and made a race for the police station while you boys made
this trip. In that way we could 'ave had a double chance of catching
those bandits. If everything had gone smoothly, I might even have
beaten you boys to the scene of the hold-up with an auto load of
police. I could 'ave left word, too, for someone to call up Mr.
Stanlock's office and warn him, if by any cause he had been delayed."

"I don't think much of that suggestion," replied Clifford; "for, if
they haven't got him started by this time, they're not likely to get
him going their way tonight. But the other'd 'a' been a good one. It's
too bad you didn't think of it sooner."

"Too late now," said Ernie. "We've got to make the best of it."

"Who do you suppose those two men are that we saw come out of the
cave?" Miles Berryman inquired.

"The chances are ninety-nine out of a hundred that this affair is
connected directly with the strike," Clifford replied, with confident
assurance. "The highwaymen who plotted this scheme doubtless belong to
the rougher element of the strikers. They are really dangerous men,
and the community would be much safer if they were lodged in prison."

"How do you suppose they got your uncle to come away out here at the
time when he usually starts home for dinner--that is, if he really
came this way?" asked Hal Ettelson.

"That's the very thing that's bothering me most," Clifford replied,
with puzzled air. "Uncle is usually pretty shrewd, and I am pretty
certain that people who try to put anything over on him generally find
that they have a hard job on their hands."

"I'd take it, from the note Jerry found, that this is a decoy game
they're trying to work," Ernie remarked.

"It'd have to be a sharp one to get my uncle," declared Clifford.
"He's a very clever business man."

"The smartest men get caught once in a while," was Ernie's sage
remark.

"That must have been a chauffeur who wrote that note," observed Johnny
St. John. "It read as if a chauffeur was the brains of this plot. If
we get there on time, he won't have much to chauffeur it" (show for
it).

"Oh, Johnny Twice!" groaned Earl Hamilton. "Don't spoil your good
deed of finding that note by springing any more of that stuff. You're
taking an unfair advantage of us, for we can't stop now to duck you in
a snowdrift."

The road was not broken all the way for good walking, so that the boys
were forced to put forth their best efforts in order to reach the
place of the plotted ambush on time.

Their pace therefore varied from a rapid walk to a run, according as
their "wind" and leg muscles supplied the needed endurance. Paul and
Jerry found it pretty hard to keep up with the other boys during the
last three-quarters of a mile, especially when they struck a poorly
broken snowdrift or a stretch of ground covered with rocks or rough
ice. They were quite elated, however, at their ability to keep their
feet in these rough places, after seeing two of the larger boys slip
and fall.

It was almost dark by the time they reached the vicinity of the "sand
stretch" referred to in the note found by "Johnny Two-Times." This
stretch was a sand bed of several acres in extent, between which and
High Peak was a large stone quarry. The road ran between the "sand
stretch," which, of course, was now frozen and covered with snow, and
the quarry. The approach to this was sheltered, fortunately for the
concealment of the boy rescuers, by a growth of timber extending down
the mountain slope to the road.

Ernie called a halt about two hundred yards from the point in the
road which appeared the most favorable place for an ambush.

"Let's leave the road and make our way through the trees," he
suggested.

"There comes the automobile!" exclaimed Paul, excitedly, pointing down
the highway to the southwest.

Yes, a machine was approaching, about two miles away. The long stream
of light from the electric lamps could be seen, almost hitting the
sky, as the auto began to climb a steep hill. Evidently it had just
turned into this highway from another thoroughfare leading direct from
the city.

"Come on! We must hurry," said Ernie, dashing into the timber. "Be
careful; don't fall or run any branches in your eyes."

They made fairly good progress, considering the difficulties before
them and the darkness in the woods. However, they kept close to the
edge, where the tree growth was not very heavy and where the snow
reflected sufficient light to guide their feet. Ernie ordered that
none of the flashlights be used, and perhaps it was fortunate for the
success of the expedition that this order was issued and obeyed.

The efforts of the boys were well timed. Everything went like
clockwork, or so it afterward seemed. Two shadowy forms were discerned
standing in the thicker darkness under the trees as the automobile
arrived near the Southern edge of the quarry. The boys were within
easy attacking distance from the place where the two men stood. Ernie
whispered the word "Halt" loud enough for his companions to hear him.
They gathered around their leader, who hurriedly spoke thus:

"Now, everybody listen to me for orders. When I give the word, 'fire,'
you, Paul, John, Harry and Jerry, fire your guns into the air. Be
careful, and shoot up toward the tops of the trees, so as not to hit
anyone. Then I'll give the order to charge, and everybody let out an
Indian war-whoop or something of the sort. We won't have to do any
more shooting. Now, come on; we'll get closer. Those fellows are
starting now."

Even as he spoke, the two villainous individuals, with masks on their
faces, dashed out from the timber and planted themselves in front of
the automobile, with pistols leveled at the driver. The latter,
according to the plan outlined in his note discovered by "Johnny
Two-Times," slowed down the machine before the highwaymen appeared. At
the command to halt he came to a sudden stop and threw up his hands.

"Ready!--Fire!" commanded Ernie in a loud voice.

Two magazine shotguns and two target rifles exploded in quick
succession. Without giving the two hold-up men time to determine
whether they had been hit or not, the patrol leader issued his second
order, thus:

"Now, boys, after them! Charge! No quarter for the rascals!"

Then followed a scene that, for rapidity of action, is not often
surpassed by motion picture speed artists.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER VIII.

THE EAVESDROPPER.


If the two masked highwaymen had been crouching in position for a
footrace to be started at the shot of a pistol, they could hardly have
sprung forward more suddenly or have sped down the road more rapidly.
One glance over their shoulders at what doubtless appeared to them to
be something like a regiment of armed men was pouring out of the
timber, as one of the boys afterward put it, was enough to make them
"hot-foot along hot enough to melt all the ice and snow in their
path."

All of the boys now produced the flashlights which they had carried in
their pockets and turned them on to their own faces, in order that Mr.
Stanlock might see who they were and have no doubt that they were
friends. This was according to one detail of their pre-arranged plan,
and worked successfully. The owner of the automobile recognized his
nephew, Clifford Long, and the Scout uniforms worn by the boys, and
realized at once that he had been rescued from the hands of a pair of
unscrupulous rascals by a company of real boy heroes. He threw open
the door, sprang out, and began shaking the hands of his rescuers in
grateful appreciation of what they had done for him.

"I don't know what all this means," he said; "but I've got wits
enough to understand there's been some pretty tough rascality on foot,
and you boys have done me a very great service."

"We were hiking along this way and saw those two men with guns in
their hands stop your machine" exclaimed Clifford, who thought it best
not to reveal the discovery of the note in the presence of the
chauffeur.

"You did mighty good work" declared the wealthy mine operator,
enthusiastically.

"Does your Boy Scout training teach you to use your heads so
successfully? One would think that this hold-up and the rescue were
both plotted and planned some time ahead, judging by the skill with
which you worked."

"Don't flatter us too much, uncle, or you may tempt us to help along
the deception by leading you to believe that we really are a
remarkable bunch of boys," Clifford warned, slyly.

"I not only believe it, but I know it," replied Mr. Stanlock with
stubborn generosity. "So, if I am deceived, the fault is all my own.
But, Clifford, I didn't know you were in town. When did you come? You
haven't been over at the house yet, have you?"

"No, not yet, uncle," Clifford answered, slowly. "And I'm not coming
over for a few days. The fact is, we are here on a hunting trip and a
mystery mission, and we want you to help us keep our secret. Since we
have proved ourselves to be a very unusual lot of boys, perhaps you
will take special care to favor us in this respect. We are planning a
surprise on the girls, and we don't want you to tell them we are in
town."

"My lips are sealed until you unseal them," Mr. Stanlock assured them.
"But where are you staying?"

"All of us are members of one patrol of Scouts at Spring Lake Academy,
all except Paul Hunter. We came here on an invitation from Ernie
Hunter, and we are living in a cave at the west end of Mr. Hunter's
farm."

"In a cave!" Mr. Stanlock exclaimed with some concern. "Isn't that
rather an unhealthful place for you to live? You don't sleep there, I
hope?"

"We certainly do, uncle; or, rather, we are going to, for this is our
first night. I wish you could come over and see it. It's as dry and
warm as can be. Paul dried it out by keeping a stove burning in it for
several days."

"A stove in a cave!" was Mr. Stanlock's astonished comment. "That is
surely some combination of wild nature and mechanical civilization. I
shall certainly inspect your domesticated wild-and-woolly retreat.
When am I invited to come?"

"Any time, Mr. Stanlock," Ernie interposed, with the hospitality of
host. "Name your time and we'll be there to receive you."

"You'll have quite a walk to the cave tonight, and the walking isn't
very good, I venture. Pile in and I'll take you in the machine."

"I'm afraid we'll make more of a load than you can carry," said
Ernie.

"This machine can carry seven, nine in a pinch, and eleven in a case
of life and death," assured Mr. Stanlock. "But I've got an idea that
will cut off the life and death. I am bringing home a large sled that
a young manual training student made for my seven-year-old son,
Harold. It has a good, strong rope attached, and we will hitch it on
behind, and two of you boys can ride on that."

"Let's you and me hitch," said Paul to Jerry, eagerly. Jerry was just
as eager, and the problem of carrying ten passengers and the chauffeur
was settled.

"One of you boys get in front with Jake and show him the way,"
suggested the owner of the automobile.

"Jake!" The utterance of that name sent a thrill through every one of
the boys, all of whom recognized it as the name signed to the note
that "Johnny Two-Times" had found near the cave.

Ernie climbed up with the driver, the sled was taken out and hitched
on behind, and six of the boys "piled in" with Mr. Stanlock. As soon
as Paul and Jerry called out "Go ahead," they started.

It was not quite as jolly an adventure for the two boys on the sled as
they had expected. The road was pretty rough and, although the
chauffeur, obeying his employer's instruction, drove carefully, the
"hitchers" were twice thrown off.

But they refused to give up, declaring it to be the most fun they had
had "in a coon's age," which was really a boys' bravery fib, and
finally the machine drew up within a hundred and fifty feet of the
cave.

The boys and Mr. Stanlock left the automobile in charge of the driver
and proceeded to the Scouts' hunting headquarters. The visitor proved
that he had not lost all sympathy for his youthful days, for he
declared that he would like nothing better than to return to his
'teens and spend a mid-winter vacation with the young hunters in their
cave. After the inspection was completed, Clifford again broached the
subject of the highwaymen's attack, saying:

"Uncle, we didn't tell you how we happened to be present when those
two men stopped you tonight, because we didn't want the chauffeur to
hear what we had to say. The whole story is contained in this note,
which one of the boys found after we had seen those men come out of
the cave and hurry away. Here it is; read it. As you are more
interested in it than anybody else, you may keep it."

Clifford drew the folded paper from his vest pocket and gave it to Mr.
Stanlock. The latter held it close to the lamp and read.

"That's Jake, my driver; it's his handwriting I'm certain. What did be
want to do that for? He must be in league with the worst element of
the strikers. Probably they paid him well for this, or promised him a
tempting bribe."

Mr. Stanlock mused thus aloud as he studied over the note. The
situation puzzled him. What ought he to do? Of course, he must have
the driver arrested, and there must be an investigation by the police.
But, would it be safe for him to trust Jake to drive him home?
Probably it would be safe enough, for doubtless the driver had no
desire to be openly connected with the plot.

He was about decided to return home with the driver and say nothing to
him about the note, when a slight noise at the entrance attracted the
attention of all. Listening carefully, they could hear the sound of
retreating footsteps.

"That's Jake," Mr. Stanlock exclaimed. "He overheard us. After him, or
he'll run away with the machine."

The rush for the entrance threatened to cause some confusion and delay
in getting out. Fortunately, however, the delay, if any, was not
serious, and the pursuit soon indicated that there were some real
sprinters among the boys. As they emerged from the cave, the driver
was already within fifty feet of the machine. But he looked back over
his shoulder and evidently thought better of his original purpose, for
he turned to the left and raced down the hill toward the road at
another point, leaping and striding with such recklessness that it
seemed almost miraculous that he should escape a fall and serious
injury.

Mr. Stanlock had no desire to attempt a capture of the traitorous
chauffeur by physical force, and when he saw that Jake had given up
the idea of fleeing in the automobile, he called the pursuit off. Then
he announced his intention to drive the machine home himself, taking
the route that led past Mr. Hunter's home. He had no fear of further
trouble with the driver or his confederates, for he was certain that
Jake was a coward at heart and the two highwaymen could hardly have
arrived in the vicinity of the cave on foot, since they were driven
off in mad haste in the opposite direction, even if they had been
disposed to make another attack.

"Well, good-night, boys," he said, taking his place in the driver's
seat. "You've done me a service tonight that I won't forget very soon.
Come and see me, all of you, after you have sprung your surprise on
the girls. I'll remember to keep your secret all right. Good night."

He put his foot on the starter, gave the steering wheel a few turns,
and the throbbing machine moved over the sloping stretch of ground
between the cave and the road. The boys, several of them with guns in
their hands, followed him to the road and stood there ready to run to
his assistance if they should see any evidences of another attack.
They continued the watch for fifteen or twenty minutes, until the
lights of the automobile, which pierced the darkness far ahead,
indicated that he had proceeded between one and two miles without
interference.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER IX.

MR. STANLOCK SURPRISED.


Perhaps it were better not to attempt to describe with faithfulness of
detail the reception given Mr. Stanlock by his wife and family on his
return home shortly before 9 o'clock that night. The fear that
something of serious nature had intervened to prevent his appearing at
the usual dinner hour had taken firm hold of Mrs. Stanlock, Marion,
sister Kathryn, and brother Harold. The fact that the police had been
searching for him for two hours or more and had been unable to make
any hopeful report, had not tended in the least to relieve the tension
of suspense, which became almost unbearable.

Then came the vague announcement from Mr. Stanlock's stenographer at
the latter's home that he had been called away somewhere, but left no
definite information. He had been called unexpectedly and left in a
hurry. That was all the stenographer could say.

This information was communicated to the police, who increased the
family's alarm by asking a string of questions over the telephone
indicating the most direful suspicions. Had Mr. Stanlock seen or heard
anything which caused him to believe that the strikers might do him
bodily harm if they had an opportunity? Had he received any
threatening letters? Had he appeared nervous or was there anything in
his manner which indicated that he was apprehensive of trouble not
already well known to the public?

Marion and her mother answered some of these questions over the
telephone and half an hour later a police lieutenant called at the
house and made further inquiry. There was no longer any possibility of
dodging the most logical suspicions, namely, that Mr. Stanlock was the
victim of a decoy plotted by some criminal element working with or
under the shadow of the coal miners' strike.

And so the relief from this dread suspense was very great when he
drove up to the house and walked in, smiling as if nothing unusual had
happened. Marion fairly flew into her father's arms as if she had not
seen him for sixteen months.

"Papa!" she cried almost hysterically; "where have you been? We've
been telephoning all over the city, and the police have been searching
for you for nearly two hours. Why didn't you call us up and let us
know you were going to be late?"

"I was intending to call you, my dear," replied Mr. Stanlock, as he
greeted her and the other members of the family with a rapid
succession of hugs and kisses, indicating, in spite of his attempts to
appear composed, that he had returned home not under the most ordinary
circumstances.

"Why didn't you?" Marion insisted. "Do you know what a state of mind
you had us in during the last two or three hours?"

"I delayed calling you because I wanted to find out how late I was
going to be," Mr. Stanlock explained. "Then something happened, and I
wasn't near a telephone, and something more delayed me, and I decided
to come directly home without stopping on the way to telephone."

"What was it that happened, papa?" Marion demanded. "Was it anything
serious?"

"Pretty serious, girlie," answered her father, pinching her cheek;
"but your daddy is an awfully brave man, you know, and he can't tell
his daughter any of his blood-curdling experiences unless she can
listen to the roaring of cannons and the yelling of Indians without
flinching."

"Now, papa, you're making fun of me," Marion protested. "Didn't
anything really serious happen? The police thought you must have been
waylaid."

"I see there's no way out of it, and I shall have to tell you girls a
story that will make you all scream and dream nightmares filled with
revolvers and skulking figures and masked faces and lonely highways."

All of the thirteen members and the Guardian of Flamingo Camp Fire,
Marion's mother, sister, and brother were present at this scene in the
big living room of the Stanlock home. Mr. Stanlock covertly watched
the faces of his auditors and was pleased to note that his bandying
words were rapidly bringing the tension back to normal. Young Master
Harold at this point helped his father's purpose along remarkably by
piping forth:

"It's mighty funny if a man can't be out after dark without a lot o'
women jumpin' on 'im."

Nobody with a grain of humor in his soul, if that is where the sense
of fun is located, could have restrained a laugh at that remark. In a
moment it would have been difficult for any one of those present to
realize how tragically serious they had all been a few minutes before.

After the chorus of laughter had subsided, Mr. Stanlock sat down in a
large upholstered armchair, and remarked to his unconsciously
brilliant son:

"You are a great protector of women-oppressed man, aren't you, Harold.
Your chief virtue along this line is your ability to get the
philosophical high spots of every-day gossip. But don't stop there, my
able young advocate. Do you realize that your father has had no dinner
and that this exacting bevy of girls is going to force me to suffer
the pangs of hunger until I have told my story?"

"I just told Mary (the head maid) to get your dinner ready," Mrs.
Stanlock interposed smilingly. "You won't need to go hungry more than
fifteen minutes longer."

"I see that you don't appreciate an eager and attentive audience,"
Marion remarked, affecting to be deeply offended in behalf of her
guests. "Very well, we'll wait until after you have satisfied a mere
man's appetite, and then we'll condescend to listen."

"Oh, I can tell it in fifteen minutes while Mary is warming over the
meat and potatoes. Now, get ready, all you young ladies, for the first
shock. I was really and truly held up."

"Held up!" exclaimed several of the girls in chorus.

"Yes, held up, with guns pointed at the chauffeur's head by two masked
men on a lonely highway."

"You're joking," said Marion, dubiously.

"All right," said the mine owner, settling back comfortably in his
chair. "You insisted on my telling my story, and now that I have begun
it, you won't believe my first sentence."

"Yes, I do believe it, papa," Marion said repentantly, going close to
her father's chair and putting her arm around his neck. "I believe you
were held up by two masked highwaymen with guns in a lonely spot, as
you say. But how did you escape?"

"We were rescued by some boys!"

Although at the end of a sentence, Mr. Stanlock stopped so quickly
that only a dull person could fail to notice it. His sudden stop, of
course, was occasioned by the return to his mind of his promise to
keep the secret of the Boy Scouts.

"Boys," said Mrs. Stanlock, wonderingly. "I didn't know that we had
any heroes of that type in Hollyhill."

"They were some young fellows out hunting," explained the narrator.
"They witnessed the hold-up and leveled their guns at the rascals and
drove them away."

"Who are those boys?" Marion demanded, and one might almost have
imagined from her manner that she had half a kingdom to bestow on the
rescuers of her father.

"I'm afraid I can't give you their names," Mr. Stanlock replied
slowly.

"You don't mean to say that you let them get away without finding out
who they were, do you?" his daughter inquired with just a shade of
indignation.

"No, not exactly that, for I can easily get all their names any time I
want them. But I know also that they don't wish to get into the
newspapers in connection with this affair."

"Can't you tell me who some of them are, papa?" Marion pleaded. "I
want to know who it was that, perhaps, saved the life of my father."

"I can't tell you now, Marion. I have promised faithfully not to
reveal their identity at present for very good reasons which they gave
to me."

"Where is Jake, the driver, Henry?" asked Mrs. Stanlock. "I see you
drove home alone."

"Jake proved himself to be a scoundrel and a traitor and when he
discovered that I had found him out he vamoosed. I expect to swear
out a warrant for his arrest tomorrow. Shortly before my usual time
for coming home, I received a letter by messenger, supposedly from Mr.
Mills, chairman of a special hospital committee that is looking after
the sick members of striking miners' families. I had been expecting a
call of a meeting and this letter stated that it was important that I
be present. He lives out on the Foothill pike near the quarries. I
thought that I would make a quick run out there and call you up from
his home and let you know how late I would be. Well, I didn't get
there. It seems that Jake was one of the conspirators in a plot to get
me out there and waylay me. By the way, that makes me think I ought to
call Mills up and find out if he did call a meeting. The notice was on
his stationery and it is just possible that wasn't a fake."

In a few moments Mr. Stanlock was talking with Mills on the phone. The
latter was astonished, declared that he had no idea of calling a
meeting that night.

"Well, it's lucky I kept the notice," the mining president muttered.
"That'll be something interesting to show to the police tomorrow."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER X.

MR. STANLOCK AMUSED.


"I understand now how a mathematician could write 'Alice in
Wonderland'," Helen Nash remarked to Marion after Mr. Stanlock had
withdrawn to the diningroom and his belated meal.

"How is that?" the hostess inquired, looking curiously at her friend.

"Why, your father, I suppose, has been thinking in terms of tons of
coal all day--"

"Carloads," Marion corrected, with a toss of levity.

"Well, make it carloads," Helen assented. "That's better to my
purpose, more like a multiplication table, instead of addition. But it
must be about as dry as mathematics."

"Oh, I get you," Marion exclaimed delightedly. "You mean that it is
quite as remarkable for a coal operator, with carloads of coal and
soot weighing down his imagination all day, to come home in the
evening and spin off a lot of nonsense like a comedian as it is for a
mathematician to have written 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'."

"Precisely," answered Helen.

"Well, I don't know but you're right. Anyway, I wouldn't detract from
such a nice compliment paid to the dearest daddy on earth. Still,
after leaving the atmosphere of his carloads of coal he had
experienced the diversion of being held up."

"By two masked men with guns on a lonely highway," supplemented Helen.

"Yes."

"And later found that his driver had turned traitor and planned to
deliver him into the hands of the enemy."

"Yes."

"I don't see any diversion or inspiration in that sort of experience.
Many a man would have come home in a very depressed state of mind
after such an adventure. And yet he came home, found everybody scared
to death, and before he even began his story had us all laughing just
as Alice would at some of the contortions behind the looking glass.
And he kept us smiling even when he told of the masked would-be
kidnappers standing in the middle of the road and pointing pistols at
the driver of his automobile."

"Kidnappers," repeated Marion in puzzled surprise. "Why do you say
kidnappers?"

The two girls were alone in the library when this conversation took
place. All of the other guests, feeling that the members of the family
would prefer to be left alone following the startling occurrences of
the evening, had withdrawn to their rooms. Helen was about to bid her
friend good-night when her remark regarding Mr. Stanlock's happy
personal faculties opened the discussion as here recorded. She
hesitated a few moments before answering the last inquiry; then she
said:

"Don't you think that those men intended to kidnap your father? What
other explanation can you find for their actions?"

"I hadn't tried to figure out their motive," Marion replied
thoughtfully. "Father called it a hold-up and I took his word for it."

"But he had no money with him, did he?"

"No, I think not. He seldom carries much money."

"And it is hardly reasonable to suppose that this plot between the
chauffeur and the two highwaymen was for the purpose of murder. They
would have gone about it in some other way. This one leaves too many
traces behind."

"Yes," Marion admitted.

"Well, the only reasonable conclusion you can reach with the robbery
and murder motives out of the way, is that the plotters wished to take
your father prisoner and hold him some place until they got what they
wanted."

"But what did they want?" asked the bewildered Marion.

"That's for your father to suspect and the police to find out," said
Helen shrewdly. "Personally, I haven't a doubt that the strike has
everything to do with it."

"What makes you think so?"

"The threatening letter that you received at the Institute. Show that
to your father tonight and suggest that he turn it over to the
police."

"I will," Marion promised. "In this new excitement I forgot all about
it. I didn't even show it to mother. Just as soon as papa finishes his
dinner, I'm going to show that letter to him. I'll go upstairs now and
get it. You wait here and be present when we talk it over, Helen.
You're so good at offering suggestions that maybe with you present we
can all work out some kind of solution of what has been going on."

Marion hastened up to her room and returned presently with both of the
anonymous letters she had received in Westmoreland. A few minutes
later her father and mother both entered the library with the evident
purpose in mind of holding a lengthy conference on the problems
growing out of Mr. Stanlock's business troubles.

"Papa, do you think those men tried to kidnap you?" Marion inquired by
way of introducing the subject.

Mr. Stanlock laughed heartily.

"Kidnap me!" he exclaimed. "Well, that's a good one. I thought they
only kidnapped kids."

"Father," the girl pleaded; "do be serious with me. I've got something
very important to show you, something I forgot all about until Helen
reminded me. Helen thinks those men tried to kidnap you, and she's a
pretty wise girl, as I've had occasion to find out."

"If Helen said that, she surely must be a wise girl or else she has
made a pretty accurate guess," was the mine owner's reply.

"Then they did want to kidnap you?"

"Absolutely no doubt of it. They've got some kind of retreat in the
mountains, and planned to carry me off there and keep me prisoner."

"What for?"

"Why, to force me to yield to some of their demands, which are utterly
impossible and unreasonable. First, they demand an increase of wages
that would force us into a receivership sooner or later and again they
demand the adoption of a cooperative plan which eventually would make
them owners of the mines, if there were any possibility of it working,
and there isn't. It's a most ridiculous hold-up, the responsibility
for which rests with a few fanatical leaders of doubtful integrity."

"What do you think of these letters?" Marion asked, handing the two
anonymous missives to her father. "I received them by mail at the
Institute last night, but neglected to read them until we were all on
the train this morning."

As Mr. Stanlock read them, his brow contracted sternly. He could treat
lightly any hostile attack on himself, but when danger threatened
members of his family or their intimate friends, all signs of levity
disappeared from his manner and he was ready at once to meet with all
his energy the source of the danger, whether it be human or an element
of inanimate nature.

"This" he said, as he finished reading and held up the letter signed
with a skull and cross-bones, "undoubtedly came from the source where
the plot to kidnap me originated. They are pretty well organized and
determined to go the limit. Of course, you girls must give up your
plans to work among the strikers' families. It would be foolhardy and
probably would result in somebody's getting hurt."

"How about the other letter?" Marion asked.

"I don't know," was the reply. "It doesn't seem to amount to much. I
hardly think it is to be taken as a threat. Have you no idea who sent
it?"

"Some of the girls think it was sent by some of the Boy Scouts at
Spring Lake. You see they came up in full force to Hiawatha on the
night when we held our Grand Council Fire. It was a complete surprise
on us, exceedingly well done and about as clever as you could expect
from the cleverest boys. Before they left, several of them boasted
openly that they were planning another surprise for some of us, and
they dared us to find out in advance what it was."

"No doubt that is what this note means," Mr. Stanlock declared so
positively and such a gleam of interest in his eyes that Marion
could not help wondering just a little.

"What makes you so certain about it?" she inquired. "I don't see any
real proof in those words as to what they mean or who wrote them."

"No, no, of course not," agreed Mr. Stanlock with seemingly uncalled
for glibness; "but then, you see, it is more reasonable to suspect
that this note came from the boys than from the strikers. If it is
between the two,--the boys and the strikers,--I say forget the
strikers and be sure that the boys sent this note."

"I wish that the boys would spring their surprise tonight and settle
the question of that note," said Marion.

"Why?" inquired her father with the faint light of a smile in his
eyes.

"Because I don't like the uncertainty of the thing. Uncertainty always
bothers me, and this is a more than ordinary case."

"But how could the boys spring their surprise without coming to
Hollyhill?" her father asked.

"That's just it," she returned with a quick glance of suspicion toward
both her father and her mother. "Do you know, I found myself wondering
several times if Clifford wouldn't bring some of those boys down here
some time during the holidays."

Mr. Stanlock laughed, but he would have given a good deal to be able
to recall the noise he made. It was really a noise, as he must have
admitted himself, and so hollow as to indicate something decidedly
unlike spontaneous amusement.

Marion caught herself in a brown study several times over these
circumstances and her father's manner before she went to sleep that
night.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XI.

A MAN OF BIG HEART AND QUEER NOTIONS.


Christmas was a big event at Hollyhill. Hollyhill was well named.
Perhaps some old patriarch a century or two back conceived the
inspiration of the name while playing Santa Claus with the little tots
of the household and pretending to have slid down the chimney without
getting a speck of soot on his bulging vestments.

Perhaps he imagined, while mother woke the children and had them peek
through a "crack in the door" at the white whiskered visitor stuffing
their stockings full of presents, that he had tethered his prancing
team of reindeer to a holly tree outside. Certainly there seemed to
have been material for such imagination, for tradition said that the
hill on which the first houses of the first settlement were built had
at one time been richly adorned with a species of American Ilex, and
even now there remained here and there carefully preserved remnants of
that reported original wealth of the wilderness.

Whether or not this conjectural history of the settlement had anything
to do with the cheerful mid-winter holiday developments of the
community need not be argued at length. An argument would render the
truth flat and insipid if it should prove to be in accord with poetic
tradition. So what's the use?

In mid-winter everybody just knew that Hollyhill as a child had been
nursed in the snow trimmed evergreen lap of Christmas. Not that this
municipality had a corner on mid-winter holiday generosity to the
exclusion of all other communities. The chief outstanding fact in this
relation was that the inhabitants, or those so fortunate as to be in a
position to give and receive abundantly, believed Hollyhill to be the
most generous Christmas town on earth, and there was nobody
sufficiently interested to make a denial and follow it up with proof.

Much of the credit for this condition was due to the leading man of
the place, Richard P. Stanlock, president and controlling power of the
Hollyhill Coal Mining company, which owned a string of mines in the
mountain district near the divisional line of two states. Besides
being the leading citizen, Mr. Stanlock was the "biggest" man in town,
because of the position to which he had risen, his ability to hold it,
and the influence that went with it. What he said usually went, but
his hand was not always evident. He liked to see things done,
doubtless enjoyed the realization that his was the great moving power
that produced results, but didn't give a fig to have anybody else know
it. To his intimate friends, who were few, and to the many with whom
he would pass the time of day, he was as common in word and manner as
the average householder with nothing more pretentious in life than
the earning of his daily bread.

But in spite of all this simplicity and personal retirement Mr.
Stanlock was a good deal of a mystery to many citizens who knew really
little about him. Or perhaps he was a mystery to these fellow
townsfolk because of his modest qualities. Knowing little about him,
they imagined more. Leading citizens who knew his good qualities were
ever ready with a word of praise for him. But the trouble was, the
needed tangible evidence of his broad philanthropy was utterly
lacking. Seldom was there a visible connecting link between him and a
good deed. And so the praise of his work in pulpit, press and other
public and semi-public places fell as platitudes before a considerable
number of skeptics, whose favorite reply to this sort of thing was
something like--

"Bunk."

But Marion knew that it wasn't "bunk." She was one of the few
confidants that gained an intimate understanding of the wealthy mine
owner's character. She knew that he was the secret financial backer of
an organization of settlement workers which kept close watch on the
needs of the miners and their families, many of whom were so woefully
ignorant that about the only way to handle them was by appealing to
their appetites, their sympathies and their prejudices. She knew, too,
that he had strong connections constantly at work fostering and
promoting the best of activities for advancement of the civic welfare,
that Christmas was one of his secret hobbies and that it was
practically impossible for this city of 40,000 inhabitants to neglect
this opportunity for a revival of good fellowship and good cheer so
long as her father had his hand on the electric key of public
generosity.

Christmas was a blaze of glory every year in Hollyhill. Public halls,
churches, and theaters were the scenes of the liveliest activities for
several days and nights before and after this biggest event of the
winter season. Nor was the celebration confined to the more prosperous
sections of the town, but extended into the heart of the mining
settlement, where Christmas tinsel and lights were lavished without
consideration of cost and nobody was allowed to pass the season
without being impressively reminded as to just what turkey roast and
cranberry sauce tasted like.

So skilfully were these programs put into effect that seldom was a
hint dropped from any source that Richard Perry Stanlock was entitled
to the slightest credit for these magnificent doings. He spent
Christmas at home in a quiet unassuming way amid the family
decorations of holly and mistletoe, and a vast litter of presents,
oranges, apples, nuts, and candy.

Marion knew that her father's greatest vanity was his secret pride in
his ability to put over the biggest generosity of the year without
its being traceable to him. One day a girl acquaintance of her asked
her if she knew that her father spent $25,000 every year for
Christmas. Marion laughed; later she laughingly reported the query to
Mr. Stanlock. Next day this girl friend's uncle, one of the
philanthropist's agents, was called in on the carpet and given a
lecture on the wisdom of guarding his remarks such as he had never
before dreamed of receiving.

"Papa," the millionaire's older daughter said to him one day; "don't
you think it is foolish to keep secret all these generous things that
you are doing?"

"Why do you think it is foolish, my dear?" he replied with an
expression of shrewd amusement. He was certain that she would have
difficulty in answering his question.

"Well," she began slowly, then admitted: "I don't know."

"I'm very glad you don't know," said her father with evident
satisfaction. "If you had tried to give a reason, I should have been
greatly disappointed. No explanation of that suggestion could be based
on anything but family pride, which is one form of vanity."

"No," Marion differed thoughtfully. "There is one explanation based on
human caution and wisdom. I am afraid that you are misunderstood by
the very people whose confidence you should seek to cultivate, that is
the miners. Some of them don't like you very well. They think that
you personally are a hard taskmaster and that the attentions and
relief which really come from you in times of need, are bestowed on
them by persons who feel that they have to help them because of your
failure to do the right thing by them. Why don't you, papa, go right
among them and tell them that you are going to do everything you can
for them, raise their wages, maybe, and make them love you
personally?"

"It isn't my nature, Marion, to do it that way," Mr. Stanlock replied.
"There is nothing in the world that would be so distasteful to me as
assuming the role of a philanthropist or a hero. It spoils every man
to some extent who tries it. Personal vanity is the greatest enemy
that man has to guard against. I've guarded myself against it thus far
successfully, I think, and I'm not going to let it get me in the
future if I can help it."

Marion felt like saying that her father's fear of vanity might some
day get him into trouble with his men, but she refrained from so
expressing herself. On the occasion before us she recalled that
conversation, for she realized that the strike was a result, in part,
of the very misunderstanding that she had anticipated. Several clever
leaders among the miners had spread the report about that Mr. Stanlock
had become immensely wealthy by overworking and underpaying his men,
while he caused to be circulated through various channels numerous
undetailed reports of his generosity, philanthropy and public spirit.

When she invited the members of Flamingo Camp Fire to be her guests
and work with her among the poor and hunger-suffering families of the
strikers she did not realize the seriousness of the situation with
reference to the feeling of the miners toward her father. Now she felt
that the condition of affairs was more than she could cope with and
from the day of her arrival home she was constantly in fear lest some
dread catastrophe should befall the family because the "biggest man"
in Hollyhill kept himself severely fortified against the adulation of
his fellow townsmen and the character weakening influence of personal
vanity.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XII.

A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.


The Flamingo Camp Fire arrived at the Stanlock home on Friday.
Christmas was scheduled on the calendar to fall on the following
Wednesday.

From the day of their arrival all of the girls were busy with
Christmas preparations. Every one of them, several weeks before, had
taken on her the task of making, buying, or assembling from parts
purchased a score or more of presents. As one of the chief aims of
Hiawatha Institute was to teach wealthy men's daughters how to be
economical, it goes without saying that each of these girls had on
hand no enviable Winter Task.

Madame Cleaver laid the matter very plainly before her two hundred and
forty-odd girls. She had observed that the Christmas problem had a
tendency to make some of the students of her school sympathize with
Old Scrooge. If Christmas wasn't a humbug it could very easily be made
a nuisance.

Madame Cleaver agreed with them in this respect. She told them so.
Furthermore, she added:

"I don't wish you to understand that there is anything compulsory in
the giving of presents on such occasions. One of the dangers of this
sort of thing is that it is likely to become a perfunctory affair with
thousands taking part because they feel they have to. Also Christmas
is exploited by many people. Their sympathy for the good-fellowship of
the occasion is measured largely by the dollars and cents that it
pours into their coffers.

"You should see all these drawbacks and then decide for yourselves
whether the advantages of Christmas overbalance the drawbacks. For my
part I believe that they do and I enjoy the day and the season. But
don't take my word for it. Decide for yourselves."

The result was that everybody at the Institute got busy several weeks
before the holiday season, and the manner in which the products of
girl ingenuity began to pile up must have been satisfying indeed to
the head of the school. But the work was not all done when the Camp
Fire arrived at Hollyhill, most of the girls still having enough to do
to keep them busy almost up to Christmas eve.

Mr. Stanlock advised the girls not to leave the house under any
consideration after night, and engaged three detectives, who were
given instructions to follow and protect any of Marion's guests who
might desire to go shopping or make other journeys about the city in
the day time. Automobiles, with drivers, were within ready call for
these men at any time. It was understood, also, that no journeys were
to be made into the section of the city inhabited by the miners and
their families.

Thus far the strike had not been attended by violence of any sort or
the destruction of property. The men had simply ceased to work and had
submitted their demands to the president of the company. The latter
realized at once that the employees were being led by an unusual type
of labor agitators, who might be expected to employ unusual methods to
gain their ends. The man who appeared to be the leader was as unusual
in appearance as he was in methods pursued. He was about thirty-five
years old, but looked five or eight years younger. He had first been
employed in the mines about six months before as an operator of an
electric chain-cutter machine, but he had not long been connected with
the work before his influence among the men began to be felt. To the
casual observer, he was a quiet sharp-eyed man, who seldom spoke,
under ordinary circumstances, unless he was first spoken to. But he
got in communication with all his fellow workers in some mysterious
manner and before long, in spite of the fact that he was not what is
popularly known as a "mixer," everybody from shovelers to machine men
knew him as Dave, the chain-cutter man. He had the reputation of being
able to do "half again as much work as any man in the slope." Although
Mr. Stanlock knew of the influence of this man on the miners almost
from the day when the strike was called, the only name by which he
heard him spoken of during almost the entire period of the tie-up was
"Dave, the chain-cutter man."

Little of special interest relative to the strike, so far as the girls
were concerned, took place on the last Saturday and Sunday before
Christmas. Mr. Stanlock reported the recent occurrences to the police
in detail, but what the police planned to do was not communicated in
the form of hint or suggestion to the members of Flamingo Fire. If Mr.
Stanlock knew, he kept the information a close secret. In harmony with
his habitual reticence on business matters, he sought to avoid further
discussion of the subject.

On Saturday, however, there was added to the events of the season one
item of great importance, which would have caused Marion no little
uneasiness could she have caught more than the most superficial hint
concerning it. This hint was so superficial that it consisted merely
of a glimpse at the address and postmark on a letter that arrived at
the house with the early mail. Marion took the letters and papers from
the mail box, and as she was distributing them she observed the
Hollyhill postmark on an envelope addressed in a man's handwriting to
Helen Nash.

"I wonder who it can be," the hostess mused as she laid the letter on
Helen's dresser. "I didn't know that she was on specially friendly
terms with any of the boys of Hollyhill. But then you can never know
what to expect of her. You find out what she is going to do when she
does it."

In spite of the paradox, no truer statement of Helen's nature had ever
been made. She said nothing to any of the girls about the letter she
had received and if subsequent events had not recalled the incident,
Marion probably would have forgotten it entirely.

The three detectives employed by Mr. Stanlock were housed in the now
vacant sleeping quarters of the chauffeur over the garage. A buzzer
connected with the house and an agreed signal system of "1," "2," "3"
served as a means of quick information as to how many of the men were
wanted at any given time. Sunday morning another chauffeur, engaged by
Mr. Stanlock, arrived and was housed with the detectives.

It was not the duty of the latter, of course, to accompany or follow
anybody leaving the house unless they were called. Hence it was quite
possible for any of the guests to start out alone and make a trip to
any part of the city without the protection of a watchful guard. The
possibility that any of the guests might desire to take such a course
did not occur to Marion or any other member of the household. It was
presumed that everybody would gladly accept such protection on every
occasion when it seemed advisable.

As a matter of fact, however, the detectives had little to do on
Saturday and Sunday. Only three of the girls made shopping trips on
Saturday and all took an automobile ride Sunday afternoon. This was
the sum total of their activities away from the Stanlock home, with
the exception of one instance, of which there was no hint until late
in the afternoon.

About six o'clock Marion suddenly became mindful of the fact that she
had not seen Helen since their return from the automobile drive three
hours earlier, and she began a search for her. She first went upstairs
to her room to see if her friend were there. Probably she was tired
and had lain down to rest and fallen asleep. But an inspection of the
room failed to discover Helen.

Considerably puzzled, Marion now hunted up every other person in the
house and inquired for the missing girl. Not one of them remembered
seeing her since the return from the drive. The girl hostess was now
thoroughly alarmed and her fears were speedily communicated to the
others. Everybody joined in the search and every nook and corner
capable of concealing a human form was examined.

Helen Nash was not in the house and there seemed to be no reasonable
explanation of her disappearance.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XIII.

"FIND HER, OR I'LL FIND HER MYSELF."


Mr. Stanlock came home from a meeting of mining stockholders about the
time when consternation over the disappearance of Helen was at its
height. After the particulars of the affair, so far as they were
known, had been explained to him, he asked:

"Where are the detectives?"

The question fell with something of a shock on the ears of the
assembled searchers who had just completed a second fruitless hunt
through the house. Why had they not thought of the trio of "mystery
masters" before?

"We ought to have called them in at once," Mrs. Stanlock said. "I
suppose they've gone by this time, but I'll see."

She pushed the buzzer button in the hall and soon the new chauffeur
appeared at the side entrance. Yes, the detectives had gone, but he
knew where they could be found--at the High Peak Athletic Club.

Mr. Stanlock at once called up the club and soon had one of the
detectives on the wire.

"Can you men come over at once?" he inquired. "One of the girls has
disappeared and we are afraid that something serious has happened."

"Yes, we'll be there right away," was the answer.

Twenty minutes later there was a ring at the door and the three
detectives, a tall thin man, a short heavy man, and a squarely built
angular man, were ushered in.

The short heavy man, named Meyers, was the most talkative of the
three. He put forth a string of questions as to when and where Helen
was last seen and what she was doing. Had anybody seen her go out of
the house? Nobody had. Was there anything peculiar in her manner in
the course of the day? Nothing peculiar. What kind of a girl was she?
What were her most noticeable characteristics? Had she any pronounced
likes and dislikes? Was she in the habit of doing things just to be
contrary? Was she a girl of good judgment, or flighty and
light-headed?

These questions brought out nothing of tangible advantage, and No. 1
rested apparently well satisfied with the keenness of his record thus
far made. No. 2 now took up the inquiry. He was the squarely built
angular fellow with deep-set eyes, quiet demeanor and few words. His
first question was:

"Has Miss Nash any other friends living in Hollyhill?"

"No, I think not," Marion replied; "no particular friends."

"None that she ever corresponds with?" persisted the man with the
deep-set eyes.

Marion started visibly. Sudden recollection of the letter received by
Helen the day before came to her.

"She got a letter postmarked Hollyhill yesterday," the young hostess
replied.

"Who was it from?"

"I don't know. I didn't know that she was corresponding with anybody
in the town. But the address on the envelope looked as if it was
written by a man."

"Do you suppose you could find that letter?"

"I'll go upstairs and look," Marion said, suiting the action to the
word.

In a few minutes she returned with a waste paper basket in her hands.

"Helen was sharing my room with me," she said. "A letter has been torn
up and thrown in the basket. As I didn't do it, it must be Helen's."

"This begins to look like something," the tall man said with a nod of
approval, picking up several bits of paper from the basket. "She's
torn it up in pretty small pieces, but if we all get busy we ought to
be able to put them together in a short time."

"Let's go out to the dining room table," Mrs. Stanlock proposed,
leading the way as she spoke.

In a few moments all were seated around the large fumed oak table from
which the spread had been removed as the hard wood surface was much
better for the task of piecing the letter together.

It was, indeed, a tedious task, but with so many working together
progress was fairly rapid. Within fifteen minutes half a dozen
sentence sections of several words each had been joined in their
phrase order. These were soon followed by three or four more and
presently one of the girls found a connecting link between two
sections thus forming a complete sentence. Imagine the thrill that
went through everyone as Mr. Stanlock read the following:

"Get your friends out of Hollyhill as soon as possible."

"I bet this letter was written by the same person who wrote the
skull-and-cross-bones letter to me," Marion ventured confidently.

"That's the very idea that just occurred to me," Miss Ladd declared as
she fitted "no" and "difference" together and then tried to find a
connecting edge on the pieces held by her neighbor to the left.

Fortunately the letter had been written on only one side of a large
sheet of paper, so that they could be pasted in correlative positions
on another sheet provided for the purpose.

Finally the patchwork was completed, in so far as the material at hand
made completeness possible. A few of the bits of torn paper were
missing, so that a word was wanting here and there in the text, but
apparently the idea and purpose of the writer did not suffer from
these vacancies. The letter as read at last by Mr. Stanlock was as
follows:

"Dear ...r

"You have failed to do what I ... you to do. I told you that it was
... dangerous to bring the girls here. The letter of warning to Miss
Stan ... did no good.... I want to warn you again and ... ... last time.
Get your friends out of Hollyhill as soon as possible. I won't be
responsible for what occurs. It makes no difference if you have given
up your original purpose. Some of the men are so worked up that they
are liable to do almost anything. If you can't get the rest out of
town go yourself, or you may get hurt.

"D...."

"Ah, ha!" exclaimed the short, heavy and loquacious detective, "That
explains the whole thing. Miss Nash has gone out of town."

"She hasn't done any such thing," Marion exclaimed indignantly,
springing to her feet. "Helen isn't that kind of a girl. I know she is
peculiar, but she isn't a coward. It's evident now that she knew
something about affairs here that resulted in the sending of that
threatening letter to me, and she kept her information secret for some
reason. Whatever her reason was, she meant all right."

"Did she at any time urge or suggest that it would not be well for the
girls to come here in the holidays?" Mr. Stanlock inquired.

"Never a word," Marion replied, positively. "I admit that once or
twice I noticed that there was something peculiar in her manner, and
it may have had something to do with her condition back of these
developments, but that is all."

"How do you account for her disappearance?" asked Detective Meyer,
with puzzled humility.

"I don't pretend to account for it," Marion replied, quickly. "That's
a problem for you men to solve. All I know is that Helen did not
intentionally desert us. She's gone, and she went for some reason, and
I believe that reason is connected with the letter. Now, it's up to
you men to find her, and, if you don't find her pretty quick, I'll go
and find her myself."

A murmur of applause swept the room.

"We'll do it," declared the tall, thin detective.

"If it's within human power," conditioned the square-built, deep-eyed
man.

The talkative gentleman of genius said nothing. All three of them left
the house a few minutes later.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XIV.

TRAPPED.


There was little sleep for anyone at the Stanlock home that night. The
mystery of the patched-up letter, coupled with Helen's apparently
voluntary disappearance and the fear that she had been led into a
trap of some sort, in line with the threat contained in the
skull-and-cross-bones letter, kept everybody up until long after
midnight. Meanwhile, Mr. Stanlock called up the police station and
asked the lieutenant in charge to come over and begin work on a new
angle of the strike developments.

"One of the girls has disappeared, and we are afraid that something
serious has happened," he told the officer over the telephone.

The latter soon drove up to the house in an automobile and was
admitted by Mr. Stanlock. The conference lasted half an hour, but
before half this time had elapsed Lieut. Larkin had the station on the
wire and was giving instructions to the desk sergeant.

To add to the difficulty of the problem, snow began to fall about 5
o'clock, and developed almost into a blizzard in three or four hours.

Next morning the two newspapers of Hollyhill carried big headlines and
column-and-a-half stories of the new strike development, suggestive of
a far-reaching plot that might result in tragedy. Mr. Stanlock had
during the evening received all newspaper calls over a special wire
in his private room, so as not to disturb the guests with the
publicity end of the affair.

In the afternoon Mrs. Stanlock announced that she, being an officer of
the woman's club with an important duty to perform, must attend a
committee meeting from 3 until 4:30 o'clock, and she asked Miss Ladd
to accompany her. The latter consented, but cautioned the girls
against leaving the house, inasmuch as the three detectives were no
longer available for guard duty, having been directed to devote their
entire time to the search for Helen.

There were now at the house only the twelve remaining Camp Fire Girls
and the kitchen maid, Kitty Koepke.

Marion's younger sister and brother were attending a children's
afternoon party a few blocks away. The new chauffeur had been summoned
by Mrs. Stanlock to take her and Miss Ladd to the club rooms where the
committee meeting was to be held.

About 3 o'clock a newspaper photographer and a reporter arrived. The
girls allowed a group picture to be taken and the reporter was granted
an interview.

Half an hour after the newspaper men departed, there came a ring at
the front door. As Mary, the head servant, was out, Marion answered
the ring and found at the entrance a woman of middle age, dressed in
plain black, who spoke to her, in quick, eager accents, thus:

"Is this Miss Marion Stanlock?"

"It is," the girl answered.

"I am Mrs. Eddy, who moved into one of those vacant houses two blocks
from here," the woman explained. "I have some information of interest
to you."

"Is it about Helen Nash?" Marion asked, so eagerly that there could be
no mistaking the subject nearest her heart.

The woman nodded and smiled, and Marion seized her by the arm and
almost dragged her into the hall and thence into the reception room.

"Where is she?--tell me quickly!" Two of the other girls in the
drawing-room, hearing these words and surmising their significance,
came rushing in and caught the visitor's answer, thus:

"She's over at my house. She came there last night. I had no idea who
she was until I saw the articles in the newspaper--I didn't get it
until late--and then I came right over."

"But," said Marion, apprehensively, "why didn't she come right home?
What was the matter--couldn't she explain who she was?"

"The girl was not in her right mind," Mrs. Eddy said. "She was in a
delirium. It was about 10 o'clock at night, and evidently she had been
tramping the streets for hours in the storm."

"How is she now? Oh! I must go right to her! Did she get lost in the
storm? Girls, girls! Come here! Helen's found! Is she--is
she--ill--very ill, Mrs. Eddy?"

"I don't think she is seriously ill," the woman replied, with an
expression of sweet encouragement. "I had a doctor call, and he didn't
seem to think there was any immediate danger, although she hasn't
talked rationally yet. She is in bed, and has considerable fever."

"Would it be all right for me to go and see her--is it against the
doctor's orders? I'd be very careful; and, besides, I'm a nurse--in
fact, we all are nurses."

"Oh, to be sure--it will be all right for you to come--all of you may
come if you wish. You can go in one at a time, quietly. Then a couple
of you may remain and help nurse her. I really need help, for I am all
alone, and sat up all night with her, and have been close to her most
of the day. Perhaps it would be well for you girls to make
arrangements for relief nursing watches. You are perfectly welcome to
keep her at my home until she is well, if you will relieve me of the
necessity of nursing her."

"Come on, girls; get your wraps; we will all go over. It's only a
couple of blocks. Hurry, everybody!"

"Wait, and I'll tell Kitty we're going out," Marion said.

She ran through several rooms, calling "Kittie! Kittie!" but received
no response.

"I wonder where she is," the hostess said, in a puzzled manner. "Well,
we haven't time to find her. Come on."

"I think I saw her go out more than half an hour ago," Harriet
Newcomb said. "She called someone up on the telephone, and then put
her hat and coat on and went out the side way, and I haven't seen her
since."

"That's strange," Marion commented. Then the subject was forgotten.
The twelve girls and their leader were walking rapidly toward the
place where Mrs. Eddy, the good Samaritan, had taken in and cared for
the girl whom every one of them loved as they would have loved a
sister.

The house they stopped in front of was rather dingy and forbidding. It
was a large brick structure, set back a hundred feet from the street
on a plot of ground nearly an acre in extent. Most of the windows were
darkened with green blinds two generations out of date.

Mrs. Eddy put a key into the lock and opened the door. Then she
stepped aside and motioned the girls to enter, and they did so as if
moved by a spell that they were unable to resist. Then the woman
herself entered, closed the door and put the key into the lock and
turned it. If the twelve Camp Fire Girls had no suspicions as to the
genuineness of the motives of the woman up to this time, they had good
and sufficient reason to anticipate something dreadful when they saw
her take the key from the lock and put it in her coat pocket.

And still if there were any doubts in their minds after this act,
they were effectively dispelled by the sound of a man's voice coming
through a doorway from a dimly lighted room to the right, speaking
thus:

"Now, young ladies, let me warn you to be quiet. You have been led
into a trap; but you will not be hurt in any way if you obey orders.
One scream from any of you will be followed by a blow with a club that
will silence you for a long time--maybe, forever. This way, please.
Everybody be quiet and sensible, and you will be well treated."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XV.

A PILE OF SCRAP LUMBER.


Conditions and developments seemed to work favorably for the
mysterious trappers of the Camp Fire Girls. In the first place, when
Mrs. Stanlock returned home and found the house without an occupant,
except Kittie Koepke, who was working away very quietly in the
kitchen, it was difficult for her to suspect anything wrong.

"Where are the girls, Kittie?" she inquired, and the other replied,
with a suggestion of foreign accent:

"Oh, they just gone out for a walk. They be back soon, I guess."

"I hope they didn't go far," Mrs. Stanlock said, concernedly. "They
ought to be very careful. It will be getting dark before very long.
It's cloudy and looks like more snow. How long have they been gone?"

"About half an hour," Kittie answered. "I went out to the drug store
to get something for my toothache, and when I came back they was
gone."

This was the first reference that Mrs. Stanlock heard regarding
Kittie's toothache, but she accepted the statement for its face value
and waited hopefully for an early return of her daughter and her
daughter's guests. Half an hour went by and the girls did not appear.
Darkness was now visibly gathering. Mrs. Stanlock was becoming uneasy
and called up her husband's office, but Mr. Stanlock had already
started for home. By the time he arrived, the good woman was almost
prostrated, so rapidly were fear and apprehension taking possession of
her.

The big coal operator scented danger at once. Immediately after
gathering the principal details of the day's occurrences, he got the
police station on the wire and communicated them to the officer in
charge.

Drastic measures were resorted to at once. The day shift of uniformed
and ununiformed guardians of the law was summoned back to duty, and a
posse of available citizens were sworn in.

About 7 o'clock a posse of citizen policemen, led by three or four
uniformed members of the regular force, began a canvass of the
neighborhood to discover information that might suggest a clew as to
the whereabouts of the missing girls. Half an hour later a woman
informed one of the canvassers that she had seen eight or ten girls
enter the yard of the old Buckholz place between 3 and 4 o'clock, but
had not noticed whether they went into the house or not. The man to
whom this statement was made blew a whistle as an agreed signal to the
other searchers that he had important information and soon a score of
them were running toward him from all directions.

A comparison of notes disclosed the fact that another member of the
party of canvassers had received a similar statement from another
resident in the neighborhood. It was decided, therefore, to delay no
further but to proceed at once to the house in question, while one of
the men hastened to Mr. Stanlock with news of developments in order
that he might be present and direct the next move.

The latter was waiting at home, ready to answer a telephone or
personal call from any of the central points of investigation. The
nervous strain of the apparent certainty, by this time, that the
disappearance of Marion and her guests portended serious developments
had compelled Mrs. Stanlock to take to her bed and summon a physician
and a nurse. The call from the searchers in the neighborhood took Mr.
Stanlock from her bedside, and so speedily did he respond to it that
he was at the entrance of the Buckholz house almost as soon as the
party of citizens and uniformed policemen.

"Don't hesitate, men," he urged. "I know the owner of this house very
well and will take all responsibility for damages on my own shoulders.
If the door won't give, break it down."

"Maybe there is somebody at home," Lieutenant Larkin suggested. "Let's
ring the bell first"

"Well, come on," said Mr. Stanlock. "We'll soon find out if there's
anyone in the house."

He led the way up the weather-beaten but fairly well preserved steps
and pulled the knob of the old fashioned doorbell. Then they waited
expectantly, straining their ears to catch the sound of the approach
of someone within. But no such sound reached them.

It appearing evident now that the house was temporarily without an
inmate, the searchers for the thirteen mysteriously vanished girls
decided to force their way in. Under ordinary conditions, this act
would have been recognized as burglary, but the present circumstances
were so extraordinary that legal consequences had no terrors for any
of those present. Accordingly an examination was made of the two first
story windows, two of which were found unlocked. With the aid of a box
discovered under the rear porch, several of the men climbed in one by
one and found themselves in a large unfurnished room, architecturally
intended, perhaps, as a dining room. Each of the three uniformed
policemen carried an electric flashlight and with the aid of these an
examination of the house was begun.

But not a trace of the missing girls could be found.

"What next?" one of the men asked.

"The basement," suggested Lieut. Larkin.

Mr. Stanlock opened the door at the head of the stairway and flashed
his light down the steps.

"Wait a minute," he said, barring the entrance. "Let's examine the
ground as we go. These steps have dust on them, and there are shoe
prints in the dust, and, yes, sir, as sure as you are alive, they are
the prints of women's shoes, and there are a lot of 'em, unless I'm
mistaken. Be careful now, men. Follow me single file and come down
along the left side of the stairway as close the wall as possible so
as not to spoil those footprints in the dust."

"Look out," said Mr. Stanlock. "There may be some desperate characters
down there with guns. Better let me go first--I have most at stake."

"Not much!" replied the lieutenant. "We'll never win the European war
without charging the trenches. All I ask is that you get the fellow
that gets me. So here goes."

Cautiously he descended the stairs, followed by the five men who had
entered the house with him. But their anticipations were groundless.
Not a sign of human life did they find in the large, square, deep
basement, or cellar, more properly.

Some of the men looked puzzled, Mr. Stanlock was evidently laboring
under increasing distress, but Lieut Larkin's curiosity seemed to
grow.

"Some queer stories have been told about this place," he said; "and
I'm wondering if now is not the time to put them to a test. They are
pretty wild stories, almost as wild as haunted house yarns, but there
may be thing to them."

"I've heard something about them myself," said Mr. Stanlock. "You
refer to the stories about the building of this house over an old
mine, I suppose? This cellar was said to have been the mouth of the
shaft of the mine enlarged."

"That's it," the lieutenant replied. "Now, let's look about and see if
there is anything to it."

He began to flash his light over the floor, walls, and contents of the
cellar. The latter consisted principally of barrels, boxes and a
nondescript pile of scrap lumber. Most of this was heaped against the
south wall.

Presently something in the pile of lumber held the attention of the
lieutenant, who began to examine it more closely.

"Look here," he said, addressing Mr. Stanlock. "Do you see any
difference between this pile of lumber and that dry goods box over
there?"

"I was just noticing that there was a heavy covering of dust on the
box and little or none on the top pieces of lumber," the mine owner
answered.

"That's just it," continued Lieut. Larkin, "and it can mean only one
thing, that this pile of lumber has been moved recently. Now, the
question, in view of the fact that the missing girls were seen
entering this place today and in view of the shoe prints on the cellar
stairway and the fact that they are not in the basement now is, Why?"

"The best way to find out is to move it again," suggested Sergeant
Higgins.

"Exactly," agreed his superior officer. "Now, Johnson, you go upstairs
and inform the other men what we are doing. We don't want them down
here, for there's nothing they can do. Moreover, we don't want any
more traveling up and down those steps than is absolutely necessary.
Be careful, Johnson, on your way up."

"Excuse me, lieutenant," interposed Mr. Stanlock in a weak voice that
bespoke the distress under which he was laboring. "I think I won't
remain down here just now. I'll go up and carry that message to the
men, if you wish. Let me know as soon as you can what you find."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XVI.

HELEN AND THE STRIKE LEADER'S WIFE.


But what had become of Helen Nash?

It was a very determined little woman who stole out of the Stanlock
residence, with the contents of the last threatening letter fresh in
her memory, after the return of the members of Flamingo Camp Fire from
their Sunday afternoon drive. She walked briskly four blocks east and
boarded a street car.

A twenty-minutes' ride took her into the heart of the mining tenement
district. Reference to an address memorandum on a slip of paper that
she carried in her handbag and a question to the conductor determined
where she should get off.

Heaver street, the conductor told her, was three blocks east. With no
evidence of a slackening of resolution, she proceeded as directed and
was soon searching a long row of cottages, built along almost
identical lines, for number 632.

Reaching this number, she ascended a flight of seven or eight steps
and gave a quick turn to the old-fashioned fifteen-or-twenty-cent
trip-action door bell. A pale-faced, care-worn woman of about 30
years, who might have been mistaken for 40, answered the ring. At
sight of the caller she exclaimed in a voice that echoed years of toil
and suffering:

"Helen!"

"Nell," was the greeting returned by the caller.

The woman stepped aside, and Helen stepped into a hall, whose sole
furnishing consisted of a rag rug on the floor and a cheap hall-tree
with a cracked mirror. Evidently it was the chief wardrobe of the
house, for upon the twenty or more nails driven into the walls in
fairly regular order were articles of both men's and women's wear,
most of them bearing evidence of contact with hard labor. From the
hall, Helen was conducted into the "front room," the only name it was
ever known by, which communicated with the dining room through a cased
opening without portieres. These two rooms were about as barely
furnished as possible under a minimum of necessary articles and
quality. A threadbare ingrain carpet covered the floor of the front
room. A few rag rugs hid probably some of the worst gaps in the
matching of the yellow-pine floor of the dining room.

As for human life in this house of pinch and poverty, it was hardly
vigorous enough to attract attention ahead of the furnishings.
Clinging to the faded skirts of their mother were three hungry-eyed
anaemic children, a girl and two boys.

"How are you, Nell?" inquired Helen, giving the woman a kiss that
seemed almost to frighten her. "It's been two years since I've seen
you."

"I'm not very well, Helen," the other replied, wearily. "I've about
given up all hope of ever seeing any better days. But what brings you
here? I didn't expect ever to see you again."

"Now, Nell, don't talk that way," Helen protested. "You know--or maybe
you don't know it--that I would do anything in the world to help you
out of this unhappy condition, but Dave's way of looking at things
makes it impossible. If you had any vitality I would urge you to leave
him and earn your own living."

"But I haven't any left, Helen," said the discouraged woman; "and I
don't believe I'll ever recover any. I've rested hope after hope on
Dave's assurances of his ability to make a success in life. Really he
is a queer genius, and I don't use the word genius entirely with
disrespect. In some ways he's clever, very clever, but in other ways
he is the most impossible man you ever knew. I believe he is
thoroughly honest, but he has no idea of the value of money or what it
means to his family. I believe he is by far the strongest leader among
the men, but it does neither him nor his family any good. Many a labor
leader would make such power and position a source of revenue for
himself, but not Dave. Instead, half of his earnings, when he works,
are devoted to the labor cause."

"How does he get such a hold on the miners?" Helen inquired.

"By talk, just talk, and really, I must admit he is the cleverest
speaker I ever heard. I've seen an audience of a thousand working men
and women stand on their tiptoes and cheer him as if they would burst
their lungs. I was proud of him on such occasions, but when we got
home to our stale bread and soup I could not help wondering if it was
not all a dream and I had not just waked up to the reality of things."

"When will he be home?"

"I wish I could tell you," the woman said, helplessly. "He may be here
in five minutes and he may not come before 12 or 1 o'clock tonight."

"Right here is where the holiday charity work of the Flamingo Camp
Fire begins," she told herself. Then aloud she added:

"I haven't had much to eat since morning, couldn't eat much this noon
in my condition of mind, and I'm hungry; what have you in the house
for a Sunday evening lunch, Nell?"

"Not much, Helen," was the reply. "Only a half a loaf of rye bread and
some corn molasses. The children used to be very fond of that, but
they've had it so often since the strike began, that they're almost
sick of it."

"Is there any store open near here where I can go and buy something?"

"There's a bakery and delicatessen over on the street where the car
line runs. It's probably open now."

"Will I find a drug store over there, too? I want to use the
telephone."

"Yes, you'll find a drug store on that street, a block north."

"I'll go at once and you set the table while I'm gone. We'll have a
feast that will delight the hearts and stomachs of these little ones."

"God bless you, Helen," were the last words that fell on her ears as
she went out.

"I must call up Marion and tell her where I am," she mused as she
hastened toward the drug store. "I would have told her where I was
going before I left, but I was afraid she wouldn't let me go. Besides,
I don't feel like telling her everything yet."

A few minutes later she was in the drug store applying for permission
to use the telephone.

"The phone is out of order," the druggist replied.

"Oh," Helen exclaimed in disappointment. "Where is there another in
the neighborhood?"

"There is none within half a mile that I know of, except in the
saloons," was the reply.

"I can't go there," the girl said desperately. "And I must have a
telephone soon. Won't yours be fixed before long?"

"I hope so," said the druggist. "I've sent in a call for a repair man.
Can't you come back in an hour or two?"

"Yes, I think so," Helen said, turning to go. "I do hope it is
repaired then, because it's very important."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XVII.

HELEN DECLARES HERSELF.


Twenty minutes later Helen returned to her brother's home, her arms
loaded with cured meats, bread, a pie, some frosted cup-cakes, a glass
of jam, and a bottle of stuffed olives.

"There," she said, as she deposited her bounteous burden on the table.
"I couldn't get any tea or sugar or butter, but even without those we
can have quite a feast in a very short jiffy."

"I have some tea and some light brown sugar, which the children like
on their bread for a change after they've got tired of corn syrup,"
Mrs. Nash said.

"Good!" exclaimed Helen with genuine enthusiasm. "That's fine! Butter
and white sugar are unnecessary luxuries sometimes. Now we'll get busy
and will soon be feasting like a royal family."

And there was no mistake in her prediction. True, it was an extremely
democratic royalty--proletariat, to be more exact--but no child prince
or princess ever enjoyed the richest viands in a king's dining room
more than little Margaret, Ernest and Joseph Nash enjoyed the feast
spread before them by the girl auntie they had not seen for two years.

The conversation between Helen and Mrs. Nash, interrupted by the
former's errand to the delicatessen and drug stores, was taken up
again at the table of the royal feast. The way the children laughed
and "um-um-ed" over the "goodies" did Helen's heart good and rendered
even cheerful her discussion of a distressing subject.

"What in the world ever brought you here, Helen?" was the question put
by Mrs. Nash, after full confidence in the sincerity of Helen's
mission, whatever it was, had supplied her with courage to converse
with her sister-in-law with perfect frankness. "You didn't come to
Hollyhill just to visit us, did you?"

"No, I didn't," Helen answered slowly, "and that fact need not hurt
your feelings any, Nell. You'll understand what I mean when I've
finished my story. I am attending a girl's school at Westmoreland. We
are all Camp Fire Girls, and thirteen of us and a guardian came to
Hollyhill on a mission in harmony with Camp Fire teachings, that is,
to work among the poor and suffering families of the strikers during
the holidays."

"What?" exclaimed Mrs. Nash. "Do you mean to tell me that you are one
of the girls visiting at the home of Old Stanlock, the mine owner?"

"Yes, I am," Helen replied, looking curiously at the startled woman.

"Then you mustn't stay here any longer. You must hurry right back. You
are in great danger, I tell you, very great danger. The fact of your
being my husband's sister won't do you any good. There are some bad
men around here, and they're as smart as they are bad. Sometimes I
wonder if they are really miners, or if they are not an accomplished
bunch of professional crooks."

"What makes you think that?" Helen inquired.

"Well, for one reason, I've been told it. But before anybody uttered
such a suspicion in my hearing, I suspected something wrong. You see,
while Dave seems to be the leader in the strike, he is in fact only a
puppet in the hands of a band of the worst kind of crooks, who are
using him to keep the miners in line."

"Who are they?" asked Helen.

"I don't know them all. I know of only half a dozen. They have been
here at the house a number of times. The man who seems to dominate
them all is a man known as 'Gunpowder' Gerry, a powerful, cunning,
sly-eyed fellow about 45 years old. He is the business agent of the
union and runs everything, although few persons know it. In some
mysterious way he has got a very strong hold on Dave and can make him
do anything he wants him to."

"Why do you think I am in danger here?" was Helen's next question.

"Because I've heard some talk here about what would happen if you
girls attempted to carry out your plans. They had a spy, a chauffeur,
in Mr. Stanlock's home, and he found out all about it. Gerry used this
to work up bad blood among the strikers, using Dave as his tool as
usual. The threat reached my ears that if you girls came down here in
Mining Town, you would never get out alive. They think it is just a
move to put something over."

"Did you know that Dave came to Westmoreland a few weeks ago and
called at the institute to see me?" Helen asked.

"No, did he? What for? I thought he didn't have any use for you.
Excuse me for putting it that way, but it's the way he talks."

"I suppose so. That's because we objected so much to his way of doing.
But I found out on that occasion that there really was a tender place
in his heart for us. He wanted me to do something to call off our
vacation plans, as he was afraid something would happen."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because I didn't take him very seriously. But when on the day before
we started for Hollyhill I happened into the postoffice at
Westmoreland and caught him in the act of mailing a letter to Marion
Stanlock, I became somewhat alarmed. I forced the truth from him after
the letter was mailed. He said he was sending her a threatening letter
in the hope that it would break up our plans. I asked him why he came
to Westmoreland to mail it. He replied that he was afraid it would be
traced to him if he mailed it in Hollyhill. Then he urged me, almost
commanded me, to prevent our plans from being carried out. He declared
that every one of us would probably be killed if we came. I promised
to do my best. I watched Marion, hoping to see her read the
threatening letter. I saw it after it was laid on her desk in her
room. I saw her glance at it and put it into her handbag before she
went to bed. Next morning I waked her early and laid the handbag right
before her eyes, hoping she would take the letter out and read it. I
did not dare to do anything more, but resolved to watch the events
closely. Marion read the letter on the train. It was signed with a
skull and cross-bones. We decided to give up our original plans, but
came on to Hollyhill."

"What did you hope to accomplish by coming to see Dave?" Mrs. Nash
inquired.

"I am going to put the matter right square up to him and demand that
he lay bare the whole plot that he has been hinting at. If he doesn't,
I'm going to tell him that I am going to lay the whole matter before
the police."

"You'll probably have to do it. I don't believe he'll ever betray the
men who control his gifts and his weaknesses as they would handle a
child."

"He really is a child in some respects, isn't he?"

"Absolutely. In fact, I believe he is half sane and half insane, and
he is just smooth enough to conceal his insanity from the miners."

"Have you any objection, Nell, to my going after him good and strong?"
Helen asked.

"Not in the least. I wish you would, only I'm afraid the results
won't be of much advantage to any of us. And I wish you wouldn't stay
here late, for I am afraid to have you start back alone after dark."

"I'll make him take me back," Helen said resolutely. "And I want to
reassure you in one respect, if you are afraid of consequences to
yourself and the children."

"Oh, don't let that bother you," Mrs. Nash interrupted. "You couldn't
make conditions much worse than they are now, and you may accidentally
make them better."

"But I have something to say that you ought to know," Helen continued.
"When father died, it was generally supposed that he left nothing for
his family. For years he drew a good salary as a mining
superintendent. Well, he didn't leave much, except about $5,000
insurance, but mother had been saving for years secretly, not even
letting him know how much she had. He supposed we were living up his
salary of $10,000 a year as we went along, for it wasn't in him to
save a cent. Mother took a good deal of delight in her secret. For a
while she had done her best to induce him to save something, and then,
realizing that her plea was futile, she got busy herself in a
systematic manner and in the course of seven or eight years she laid
aside something like $25,000.

"But shortly before father's death something happened that caused her
to guard her secret up to the present time. A large amount of money
was stolen from the company that employed father, and mother realized
at once that if it were discovered that she had so much money,
suspicion might be directed toward him. In fact, she took me into her
confidence only about a year ago.

"Now, mother has often said that she would like to do something for
you and the children, but Dave's peculiarities always stood in the
way. I just wanted to tell you that mother is able and willing to help
you and will not let you or her grandchildren suffer as a result of
what I may be forced to do."

The conversation went along in this manner for more than an hour.
Neither of the sisters-in-law realized how rapidly the time was flying
until dusk fell so heavily that it became necessary to light the gas
in order to see each other's faces.

"My, what time is it?" Helen questioned, looking at her watch. "Why,
it's nearly seven o'clock, and I haven't telephoned to Marion yet.
They'll have the whole police force out looking for me if I don't get
her on the wire pretty soon. I'll run over and see if that phone is
repaired yet. If it isn't I'll have to take a car and ride on to the
next drug store; but I'll be back before very long."

"I wish you wouldn't come back tonight, Helen," Mrs. Nash pleaded.
"I'm so afraid of those men. Why not go straight to Stanlocks' and
send word to Dave that you wish to meet him somewhere tomorrow?"

"I'd rather handle it this way," the girl answered a little
stubbornly. "I tell you what I'll do--I'll have them send the
chauffeur with the automobile over here after me. That'll be the best
way."

With this reassuring announcement, Helen put on her coat and hat and
went out. But she would not have proceeded so confidently if she could
have caught a glimpse of the figure of a man dashing far up the alley
in the rear and have realized that this man had crouched in an
eavesdropping attitude for an hour or more at the kitchen door and
overheard most of the conversation between her and her sister-in-law.

One, two blocks he ran, then through a gateway and into a house
similar to nearly every other house in the street. Two men, a woman,
and a child 10 years old looked expectantly toward him as he entered.

"All ready!" cried the latter. "She's coming down the street on this
side. Hurry up, Lizzie. Get your coat and hood on. Remember what you
are to say: father gone, mother sick. If she won't come in with a
little begging, make a big fuss, cry and plead for all you're worth.
There you are, all ready. Remember, you get a new coat if you bring
her in here."

The speaker opened the door and almost shoved the pale-faced,
trembling child out upon her strange mission.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XVIII.

HELEN IN THE MOUNTAINS.


It was snowing. The flakes that fell were not large fluffy ones; they
were small and compact, so that as the northwest wind drove them into
Helen's face, she realized that she was being pelted with something
more substantial than eiderdown.

The severity of the storm startled the girl. It spurred her to a
fuller consciousness of her obligation to her friends, that she remove
from their minds all occasion for worry as to her whereabouts as soon
as possible.

Putting her muff up to shield her face from the cutting blast, Helen
set out bravely up the street. She was not a timid or timorous girl.
In fact, the words of warning uttered by her sister-in-law had made no
lasting impression on her mind, so far as her own personal safety was
concerned. She scarcely thought of looking out for danger from any
human agency as she left the house.

As the storm was beating into her face, she did not attempt to look
ahead much farther than each step as it was taken. It was necessary
for her to lean forward slightly and push her head, as it were, right
into the storm, and before she had reached the nearest corner it
became evident that she must undergo no little inconvenience, if not
actual suffering, before her evening's mission were completed.

"Well, maybe this exercise will give me just the life I need to talk
real business to Dave when he comes," she mused, punctuating her
conjecture with a gasp or two as she fought against a gust of wind
that forced her almost to a standstill. Winning this skirmish with the
storm, she pressed forward again, when suddenly another gasp was
forced from her by an entirely different cause. She almost stumbled
over an object directly in her way, and as she recovered her
equilibrium she recognized before her the form of a small girl
scantily clad in a short-sleeved coat much too small for her and a
hood that came down scarcely far enough to cover her ears. Her hands
were bare and she held them up pitifully before the comfortably--to
her richly--clad maiden so out of her element in this poverty-stricken
district.

"Please, Miss," the girl pleaded; "won't you come and help me? Ma's
sick--she fainted--and pa's gone away. I'm all alone with her. Ma's
down on the floor an' don't move--I'm afraid she's dead. Oh, please do
come, Miss, just a minute, and--"

"Where do you live?" Helen interrupted, indicating by her tone of
sympathy that she would do as requested.

"Right there," the little girl replied, pointing with her hand toward
one of the houses a short distance ahead. "Come on, please. Just a
minute--help me get ma on the bed. I'll find one of the neighbors to
help after that."

"All right, go ahead," Helen directed.

"It seems that I am fated to do at least a little of the work that we
set out to do, but were prevented from doing by some unfriendly
interests. It's a pity some of these people are so prejudiced, for we
could really do a lot for them."

Helen's small conductress led the way to the entrance of a miner's
cottage that, to all outward appearance from the front, was dark
within.

"Haven't you any light?" she asked a little apprehensively, drawing
back as if hesitating to enter.

"Oh, yes," the other replied almost eagerly, it seemed. "There's a
lamp burning in the kitchen, and I'll light the gas in the front room.
Come on, please."

"Where is your mother?"

"She's layin' down on the floor in the kitchen. Come on, I've got a
match. I'll light the gas in the front room."

If Helen had obeyed a strong impulse that was tugging within her to
hold her back, she would have refused to enter. Perhaps the reason she
did not obey that impulse was the fact that a desperate effort to
think of another reasonable method of procedure was fruitless and she
must either go ahead as she had started or turn away in confusion and
leave the little girl in her distress and without an explanation. The
latter opened the door and Helen followed her inside.

It was difficult for the visiting Camp Fire girl to figure out any
reason why she should be fearful of anything this slip of a child
might do, and yet the first act of the latter after they were inside
sent through her a chill of terror. Slipping around her like an eel,
the little emissary of trouble pushed the door to and turned the key
in the lock. Helen was certain also that she heard the key withdrawn
from the lock.

Still her conductress, clever little confidence girl that she was,
spoke words of reassurance that dispelled some of her victim's fears.

"Wait," she said; "I dropped my match. I'll have to go in the kitchen
for another."

Helen's eyes followed the dim form of the child, as the latter moved
across the room, and observed for the first time a line of light under
what appeared to be a door between the front room and the kitchen. A
moment later the door swung open, and she was considerably relieved
when she saw lying on the floor the apparently limp and unconscious
form of a woman.

Instantly the rescuer's Camp Fire training in the reviving of a person
from a faint stimulated in her a sort of professional interest in the
task before her, and she started forward to begin work at once. First
she must loosen her patient's clothing to make it as easy as possible
for her to breathe. Then she must get her in a supine position with
her head slightly lower than any other part of her body in order that
the brain might get a plentiful supply of blood. The air in the house
was heavy and stuffy--the front and rear doors must be thrown open.
She must dash cold water upon the face and chest of the patient and
rub her limbs toward her body. She ought to have some smelling salts
or ammonia, but as these were lacking she must get along without them,
unless the daughter of the unconscious woman were able to supply
something of the sort.

These things flashed through Helen's well-trained mind as she moved
rapidly toward the kitchen. All apprehension of treachery left her as
she beheld the evidence corroborating the story of distress that had
brought her into the house. Then suddenly the whole apparent situation
was transformed into one of the most terrifying character.

A slight noise to her right caused her to turn. Then a piercing scream
escaped her lips as she saw a door open and beheld the dim outlines of
two burly men approaching her. At the sound of her cry of alarm, they
dashed forward like two wild beasts.

The first one seized her around the neck to shut off further alarm. As
those muscular fingers closed in upon her throat, it seemed suddenly
as if her head were about to burst. Then as the thumping in her ears
almost completed the deadening of her auditory nerves, she
indistinctly heard these words uttered in a hoarse voice:

"Look out, Bill; don't kill her."

As if surprised back into his senses, "Bill" loosened his hold on
Helen's throat. She did not struggle or attempt to cry out again.
Evidently the purpose of the ruffians did not contemplate murder, and
she realized that there was no wisdom in anything but submission on
her part now.

But she was not given time to recover completely before the next move
of her captors was made. While one of them held her in a vise-like
grip, the other shoved a gag into her mouth and tied the attached
strings tightly around the base of her head. Then he bound her hands
together in front of her with a strip of cloth.

"There," said the man whom the other had addressed as Bill, "you set
down in that chair and keep still and you won't get hurt. But the
instant you go to makin' any racket you're liable to breathe your
last. All right, Jake, go and get the machine."

"Jake!" The exclamation, though not uttered, was real enough in her
mind. Even with the deafening pulse of choking confusion in her head,
it had seemed that there was something familiar in the man's voice
when he warned "Bill" not to kill her. Was it possible that this was
Mr. Stanlock's former automobile driver?

Jake went out the back way, closing the door between the front room
and the kitchen as he went. Helen was now left alone in darkness with
Bill, who, she thankfully observed, seemed disposed to pay no
attention to her so long as she remained quietly in the old
loose-jointed rockingchair in which she was seated.

Ten minutes later an automobile drove up in front of the house and
Jake reappeared.

"It's almost stopped snowing, luckily," he remarked, "or we'd have our
troubles makin' this trip tonight. A little more snow and a little
more drifting and we'd be in a pretty pickle."

Helen was certain she recognized Jake's voice now. How she wished she
could get a glimpse of his face in even the poorest candle light.

Bill now threw a large shawl over her head and brought it around so
that it concealed both the gag over her mouth and the rag manacle on
her wrists. Then he pinned it carefully so that it might not slip
awry, and ordered her to go with him quietly out to the automobile.
Jake had just made an inspection up and down the street and reported
the coast clear.

"Now, mind you, young lady," Bill warned significantly; "not a word or
a wiggle out o' the ordinary or you'll get your final choke, and you
know what that means."

Yes, Helen knew, and she had no intention of futilely provoking a
repetition of such punishment. She accompanied her captors
submissively and was assisted into the machine. Then something
happened which might almost be said to have delighted her if it were
not for the strain of benumbing fear that was gripping her.

Jake went around in front of the machine to crank it. For one moment
the strong acetylene light from one of the lamps fell full upon his
face. Helen recognized it. Her surmise as to his identity was not a
mistake.

A minute later the automobile was traveling at a high rate of speed
over the streets. Ten minutes later it passed the city limits and was
kicking the three inches of snow up along a country highway. On, on it
sped, one mile, two miles, on, on, until the probable distance Helen
was unable to conjecture, on, on, over smooth roads and rough roads,
up hill and down hill, into the mountains. Then suddenly "Bill," who
sat in the seat beside her, pulled a light-weight muffler from his
pocket and tied it over Helen's eyes, saying coarsely:

"Not that I'm afraid you'll do any mischief with those pretty eyes of
yours, but we may as well guard against accidents. You couldn't trace
this route again, anyway, could you?"

Helen did not attempt to answer with either a shake or a nod of her
head. She was disappointed at the act of her captor in blindfolding
her, for she had been watching their course as closely as possible in
order to photograph it upon her mind for future reference.

Jake was a good driver--that much must be said for him; and yet, after
they struck the mountain road the progress was much slower. From the
time when her eyes were bandaged, Helen's only means of determining
the character of the road over which they were traveling was the speed
or slowness of the automobile. Nor could she compute satisfactorily
the time that passed during the rest of the trip.

But it ended at last. The machine stopped, Helen knew not where, and
she was assisted out by the two men, who led her, still blindfolded,
along a fairly smooth trail, up the side of a mountain or steep hill,
then along a fairly level stretch, until at last the prisoner knew
that she was passing under a canopy or roof of some sort, for there
was no snow under foot. Moreover their footfalls produced a sound,
somewhat of the nature of a soft resonant reverberation of a million
tiny echoes.

But presently they were out in the open again, as evidenced by the
snow and the brisker atmosphere, and Helen shrewdly observed to
herself:

"That was a tunnel, I bet anything."

Two hundred feet farther up another gentle incline they reached a
place of habitation and entered. Helen had no idea as to the
appearance of the exterior, but when the bandage was removed from her
eyes, and she was able to look about her, she made a clever surmise,
not very far from the truth, that she was in a log cabin.

Every inch of the walls and ceiling, except the windows and doors,
was plastered. The doors and windows were fitted in the crudest kind
of casing. A few unframed, colored pictures were pasted on the walls.
The furniture of the room consisted of a few chairs, a table and an
old trunk. A kerosene lamp on the table lighted the room.

"Here's one of them, Mag," said Bill, addressing a large, coarse
featured, but remarkably shrewd-eyed woman who opened the door and
received them. "Can you keep her safe?"

"You bet your bottom dollar I can keep her safe as long as there is
any dough in it for me," was the reply in almost a man's voice.

"Well, get into good practice on this one a-keepin' prisoners," the
first speaker advised. "We're goin' to have a dozen more here before
long, and then you will have some job."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XIX.

THE SUBTERRANEAN AVENUE.


For more than half an hour Mr. Stanlock waited upstairs nervously,
eagerly, expectantly, apprehensively, for a report from Lieut. Larkin
and the four men who remained in the cellar of the Buchholz house to
move the pile of scrap lumber, under which it was suspected might be
found a clew as to the whereabouts of the missing twelve girls.
Interest in the search within the building had suspended other
activities in the neighborhood, as it was felt that further progress
must depend upon results at this point.

So the score or more of uniformed and citizen policemen waited as
patiently as they could in or around the house of mystery, becoming
more and more impatient as the minutes grew into the twenties and then
the thirties, and still nobody came upstairs to announce indications
of success or failure. The noise of the striking pieces of lumber
against one another had not been heard for more than twenty minutes.
In fact, no sound of any kind came up the cellarway following the
first quarter of an hour of rapid labor on the part of the five active
searchers below.

At last one of the men, more nervously eager for information than the
rest, shouted down the cellarway to the lieutenant, inquiring how he
and his helpers were getting on. There was no answer.

He shouted again. Still no reply. Then he announced his intention to
descend into the cellar to investigate.

"Wait," said Mr. Stanlock. "There are some tracks in the dust on the
steps, and Lieut. Larkin doesn't want them disturbed. Let me go."

Although his apprehensions had not diminished, the mine owner's nerve
was considerably strengthened by this time, perhaps as a result of his
return from a stuffy basement atmosphere into a region of better
ventilation. As he started down the steps with the flashlight of one
of the policemen in his hand, he was surprised to feel a strong
current of wind blowing upward into his face.

"They must have opened one of the windows," he surmised; but he
quickly dismissed the suggestion after flashing his light around the
cellar. The pile of lumber had been moved to the opposite side and in
the section of the floor it had formerly occupied was a hole three
feet in diameter.

"That's where the wind comes from," Mr. Stanlock decided. "It's the
mouth of the old mine we used to hear about years ago. But where's the
other opening? Funny nobody knows about that. This end has been
covered up with that old heavy door and concealed with a layer of
earth. When our men moved the pile of lumber, they observed that the
earth had been disturbed recently and shoveled it away and found this
hole."

Mr. Stanlock directed the rays of light into the hole and discovered a
flight of steps cut in the hard clay.

"The lieutenant and his men are down in there," he concluded. "I think
I'll follow them."

He descended cautiously into the hole. Half a dozen irregularly formed
steps brought him to a slope leading downward on an inclined plane of
six or seven degrees. He was astonished at the degree of preservation
of the walls, ceiling, and supports, considering the years that had
elapsed since the mine was last worked. The passage continued as a
downward slope for about fifty yards and then became almost level for
a like distance. Only in two places had the walls or ceiling fallen in
to any considerable extent, and in neither of those places was the
obstruction so great as to constitute an impassable barrier.

As he proceeded, Mr. Stanlock peered ahead anxiously, in the hope that
he would discover the lights of Lieutenant Larkin and his companions.
But he walked nearly 100 yards through an irregular and
characteristically jagged passage before he caught sight of anything
indicating that there was anybody besides himself in the abandoned
mine. Then suddenly, rounding a sharp point he came upon the advance
party of searchers approaching him.

"What did you find?" the mine owner inquired before any surprise
greetings could be exchanged. "There's another outlet to this place
somewhere, isn't there?"

"Yes, there is," was the reply of the officer in charge. "This gallery
runs on for another hundred yards, piercing Holly Hill right through
the center. You know the bluff and the rocky slope behind the old
mill. Well, it seems that this mine was cut right through at that
point, but there was a cave-in that filled up that opening. These
rascals that kidnapped the girls evidently were associated with the
people that rented the Buchholz place and cut the passage through. The
girls have been here all right, but they're gone. They've been taken
out of this end of the mine and spirited away in some manner. This
means that the scoundrels have a larger and more effective
organization than we have ever suspected. Such a case of wholesale
kidnapping was never heard of before."

"How can you tell they passed through here?" Mr. Stanlock asked.

"By this principally," the lieutenant answered, holding up a woman's
handkerchief that he had picked up; "and by the fact that there is a
trail in the snow from the opening of the mine to the alley behind the
old mill."

Mr. Stanlock's face shone deathly pale in the glare of the flash
lights. The new element of suspense had brought him again to the
danger-point of a collapse that had compelled him to withdraw from
the active search nearly an hour before.

His voice reflected the distressing strain under which he was laboring
as he put his next question:

"What became of them then?"

"That's the problem we've got to solve," Larkin replied. "Apparently
they were loaded in automobiles and rushed off to some retreat of the
scoundrels."

"How in the world could they do it without somebody's seeing or
hearing what was going on?"

"Oh," said the lieutenant without a suggestion of doubt in his voice;
"that wasn't very difficult if there were enough of them working
together. The evidence of cleverness and skill is not nearly so much
in the handling of this affair at the mill end of the mine as at the
house end. That was a mighty smooth piece of work, getting all of
those girls into that old house, however it was done. Mark my word,
you'll find that a very clever trap was set for them. But come on,
we've got to get busy before the snow makes it impossible to follow
them."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XX.

TWELVE GIRLS IN THE MOUNTAINS.


Ethel Zimmerman and Ernestine Johnson fainted. All of the rest of the
twelve girls who had been decoyed into the Buchholz house by the
"sympathetic Mrs. Eddy" were thrown into a panic. And the terror of
the situation was not mollified in the least by the sudden appearance
on the scene of five men.

Where the men came from so suddenly was not at all clear. Undoubtedly
they had been hidden somewhere, but that place could not be
determined, for none of the girls remembered from what direction they
had made their appearance, north, south, east, west, up, or down. They
were just there, and that was all there was to it.

The men did not look like ruffians exactly, although they were not
clad in "gentlemen's clothes." The girls were huddled together in the
dark scantily-furnished front room, which at some time probably had
served the purpose of a combined parlor and reception room. The next
apartment, probably designed as a living room, was lighted by a single
gas jet turned low.

Ethel and Ernestine fainted in the midst of the address of warning and
command from the spokesman of the plotters. This was a signal for a
rally to their aid on the part of the other Camp Fire Girls best
gifted with presence of mind. Marion led this move, and was quickly
assisted by Ruth Hazelton, Julietta Hyde, and Marie Crismore. No
objection was offered by the men to this proceeding, as they were
intelligent enough to realize that the success of their plot depended
largely on a careful guard against a noisy panic that would attract
attention from without.

"Somebody get some water quick," Marion directed, as she proceeded to
go through the reviving formula in which all of them had been
thoroughly drilled.

"I'll get some," "Mrs. Eddy" volunteered, indicating by her offer and
actions that she was an efficient ally of the kidnappers. She hastened
into the kitchen and soon returned with a large dipper of water.
Marion took it from her and sprinkled some of the liquid on the faces
of the unconscious girls. The latter quickly recovered and sat up.

But meanwhile the five men were not idle. The leader addressed the
girls again with more gentle words and manner, realizing, as only an
intelligent criminal may do, that a confidence man's method is the
best method for producing a desired illegal effect. In a degree, he
was successful, attempting to reassure the captives in the following
manner:

"Now, girls, you have nothing to fear from us, if you obey orders. We
don't wish to harm a hair on any of your heads. We are merely
determined to get what we have set out for, and we are going to use
you to help us get it. If you try to balk our purpose, you must take
the consequences. Otherwise you will suffer only such inconveniences
as go naturally with the experience of being kidnapped. And try to
realize this, that being kidnapped isn't such a terrible thing if you
are in the custody of gentlemen kidnappers. That's what we
are--gentlemen kidnappers. All we ask of you is that you prove
yourselves to be what gentlemen kidnappers prefer above all others,
namely, real ladylike prisoners.

"Now," he added after a pause during which he surveyed his audience as
if to determine the effect of his words; "as soon as the two young
ladies who were so unfortunate as to make the mistake of connecting a
tragic prospect with this affair have fully recovered, we will
proceed."

"That fellow is disguised," declared Marion in a whisper to the girls
nearest her. "In fact, all of them are. Observe that every one of them
wears a beard, moustache or short side whiskers. Watch their eyes and
mouths and every expression on their faces so that we may be able to
identify them if we are ever called upon to do so."

"Now, girls," said the spokesman with well simulated gentleness, "no
more of that. We don't want to be unduly rude with you, but if there
is any more whispering, we'll have to resort to measures that will
make it impossible. Now, I think you are all ready, so just follow
the leader and some of us will bring up the rear. We will proceed
first into the basement."

Tremblingly the twelve Camp Fire Girls followed two of the men down
the cellar steps. It was evident to them that resistance would be
worse than useless. A single blow from the fist of one of those
powerful men would stun any of the girls, if it did not knock her
unconscious. In fact their captors could make quick work of them if
necessary, and, cooped up as they were in this isolated prison, they
could scarcely hope to send forth an effective cry of distress before
they were rendered physically incapable of sounding further alarm.

All of the "gentlemen kidnappers" were supplied with electric flash
lights, with which they illuminated the cellar and revealed to their
captives a hole three feet in diameter in the ground floor and
seemingly a flight of steps leading downward.

"Don't get scared, young ladies," advised the "gentlemanly leader" of
the "gentleman kidnappers" softly. "That hole is merely the mouth of
an old coal mine. We will conduct you through the mine to the other
end, which is concealed from public view at a distance, and there we
will find four automobiles waiting for you. Lead the way, comrad
kidnappers."

The two head men descended into the hole, and the girls followed
Indian file. The spokesman and one other man descended last as a rear
guard. One of the men remained in the cellar with "Mrs. Eddy" and
together they hurriedly replaced the old door over the mouth of the
mine, shoveled some loose earth over this and then covered the earth
with eight or ten thicknesses of scrap lumber loosely tossed in a
heap.

Meanwhile the girls, guided by the lights ahead and aided by the two
lights behind, which were directed helpfully along their path, made
their way laboriously down the slope and along the many-angled gallery
to the opening at the other side of Holly Hill, as the high, rounded
elevation on and around which the city was built was called. Under
different circumstances undoubtedly they would have been much
interested in this experience as a subterranean exploration. And they
had all the time they might need for such exploration, for the dusk of
evening had not yet developed into darkness and they had to wait in
the mine over an hour before it was deemed safe to venture out with
the captives.

Near the opening at the foot of the bluff behind the abandoned flour
mill, gags were tied tightly over the girls' mouths and their hands
were bound in front of them, and they were assisted one by one down a
gradual, but rough, incline and into the waiting machines. Snow
falling in millions of huge flakes, a fact that evidently caused the
kidnappers more worry than the possibility of detection by persons in
the vicinity, for remarks escaped some of them relative to the
importance of haste before the roads became impassable to automobiles.
But the storm served them one good purpose if it menaced them in
another respect. It rendered the darkness of the night more
impenetrable and kept the streets almost free of pedestrians.
Moreover, the plotters were well supplied with means and methods of
guarding against escape or rescue. The gags and cloth manacles were so
well made that one might have suspected them of being products of a
manual training school of burglars' wives. During the passage from the
mine to the automobiles each of the girls wore a shawl thrown over her
head and pinned close in front, thus concealing both the gags and the
manacled condition of their hands.

At last they were all in the machines, each of which was in charge of
a driver. Three of the girls were put into each automobile and one of
the men got in with them to see that their conduct was as per
scheduled program. Then the start was made.

On, on they went, out into the country and along a road that Marion
knew led into the heart of the mountains. She could see the dim,
shadowy form of High Peak in the distance. Meanwhile, as she peered
out eagerly into the darkness with an irrational longing for rescue
from some miraculous source--for this was the only kind of rescue
that seemed possible under the circumstances--she kept working at the
bonds about her wrists and the gag in her mouth slyly and without
obvious effort, until with joy she realized that she was at least
partly successful.

"I am certain I could shove that thing right out of my mouth and give
the most piercing scream ever heard if somebody would only come along
and hear me," she told herself.

The snow kept on falling heavily, much to the alarm of the kidnappers
and the joy of the kidnapped, but the automobiles reached the
mountains before there was any serious delay. It looked indeed as if
the trip would be successful from the point of view of the captors of
the Camp Fire Girls. But at last the snow became so deep that the
girls could feel that the automobiles were laboring under almost
insurmountable difficulties. Marion heard several curses uttered by
the chauffeur, and the man inside the car echoed them once or twice.
Finally the automobile came to a full stop and the driver could force
it along no further. A consultation, with all three of the men taking
part, was held.

In the midst of their debate, something happened that changed the
aspect of things almost as completely as might have been accomplished
if Marion's dream of a miraculous rescue had been realized. Other
persons were on the scene and they were talking to the driver,
inquiring if they could be of any assistance.

"We're a patrol of Boy Scouts," one of the new arrivals said. "We've
lost our way, but that doesn't need hinder our helping you out of your
scrape. Maybe you can direct us how to find our way back."

Marion never felt a more intense thrill in her life than she felt at
the sound of that voice. She looked out of the window and saw a group
of eight or ten boys, each of them carrying a gun, close to the
automobile.

With an effort that had behind it all of the power of the most joyous
impulse of her life, she swung her bound clinched fists right through
the pane of glass, pushed the gag from her mouth, and shouted:

"Clifford! Clifford! This is Marion. All of us girls are being
kidnapped by these men. Shoot these rascals and shoot to kill."

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XXI.

THIRTEEN GIRLS IN THE MOUNTAINS.


Marion's plea for aid did not reach Clifford and the other Boy Scouts
to whom it was addressed without interruption. The latter half of it
came in jerked and disjointed phrases, and the tone of utterance was
one of extreme fear and distress. Clifford and Ernie Hunter, the
leader of the patrol, although amazed beyond description, realized
that this appeal for assistance was no idle one, and it was up to them
to do something quickly or action on their part might soon be too
late.

"You boys take care of the men in front, and Clif and I will settle
this affair back here," Ernie shouted. "Don't let them escape."

With these words, the patrol leader seized the latch of the nearest
auto door and pressed down on it. As he did this, the door flew open
with a heavy swing, and Ernie jumped aside just in time to ward off a
body-lunge blow from the fist of a man who sprang out of the machine
like a beast leaping with all fours.

In less time than it takes to tell it, two of the men had broken
through the cordon of Boy Scouts around the automobile and disappeared
in the darkness. The third, Mr. Stanlock's chauffeur, was not so
desperately courageous. The menace of two or three gun muzzles held
within a few feet of his face was more than he cared to oppose, so he
remained a prisoner.

"Look out, boys," called out Hazel Edwards. "There are three more
automobiles coming along behind with desperate men in them. Each of
those autos has three girl prisoners in charge of two men, one of them
the driver."

"Miles, you and Hal and Jerry stay here and guard the prisoner and
protect the girls against those rascals if they return," Ernie
directed. "The rest of us will run back a short distance and meet the
next machine before they suspect something wrong."

As he finished speaking, Ernie led the way, followed by four other
boys, back through the snow twenty or thirty yards, and then stopped
and listened. A short distance further, they heard a sound the cause
of which could not be mistaken. It was the rapid, pulsating chug-chug
of an automobile engine. They waited a few minutes, but it appeared to
be coming no nearer.

"The snow has stopped this one, too," said Clifford. "Come on and
we'll give them a surprise."

A few paces farther brought the boys in view of a machine with the
engine running idle and no driver visible in front. Naturally this
made them suspicious and a halt was called for a little
circumspection. Then, carefully, cautiously, they advanced toward the
automobile, keeping nervous watch on all sides to avoid a surprise.

They reached the machine, which they had been able to locate by the
noise of the engine, and found it also deserted, save for the three
prisoners, bound and gagged, in the car. While the other four in the
party of rescuers kept watch against a surprise, Clifford cut the
bonds on the wrists of the girls and removed the gags from their
mouths.

"Where did the villains in charge of this car go?" was the first
question he put to the released prisoners.

"They skipped," replied Violet Munday. "Two men who had been in the
machine ahead came back and said the game was up, that they were
discovered by a force of Boy Scouts armed with guns and they couldn't
afford to put up a fight, for even if they won, the whole country
would be aroused and they couldn't hope to carry out their original
plans. They went back to warn the other men. No doubt you'll find the
other machines abandoned, too."

"All right," said Ernie; "you girls stay here in the car and keep
warm. We'll be back as soon as we can find the others."

The boys found the other two automobiles also abandoned and released
six more Camp Fire prisoners.

"Now let's return and get the head auto started back first," Ernie
proposed.

This plan was adopted. Arrived at the machine in which Marion, Hazel
and Julietta had been prison-passengers, they found a new and
important development in affairs. Jake, the chauffeur, had confessed.
He had offered to conduct the boys to Helen's place of detention and
effect her release if the boys would let him go. It was less than half
a mile away. The boys agreed. Clifford suggested that the girls remain
in the automobile while the Scouts made the proposed raid, but they
objected strenuously.

In a short time the rest of the girls were brought forward, informed
of the plan, and the start was made. All of the girls insisted on
taking part in the expedition. In less than half an hour they were at
the door of Helen's prison, where Jake gave the "open sesame" knock.

An uncouth woman opened the door. Behind her stood a man, who proved
to be her husband. Jake pushed the astonished pair aside, and went
directly to the side of the room opposite the entrance and lifted a
bar across a door opening into another department. As he opened this
door, Marion rushed forward and was first to greet a slender,
pale-faced girl, who stepped out eagerly toward her rescuers.

"Helen!" cried the girls in a chorus.

Jake slipped out and was seen no more.

       *       *       *       *       *




CHAPTER XXII.

A SLEIGHRIDE HOME.


That was a meeting not soon to be forgotten. It was a signal for the
casting away of every element of secrecy, and Helen told her story.

She told the story of her brother, of his sickness when a child, of
the resultant distortion of his character into that of a man of
strange and incongruous genius and weakness, and of the embarrassment
he had caused her and her mother. He, it was, she said, who had
written the skull-and-cross-bones letter.

"Who wrote the other anonymous letter that you received at the
Institute?" Hazel Edwards inquired.

"I don't know," Helen replied with a faint smile. "Perhaps these boys
can answer that question."

"I must plead guilty to that," announced Clifford, advancing with a
bow.

"But what's the surprise you were going to spring?" inquired Ruth
Hazelton, mischievously. "Is this it?"

"Now, never you mind," said Clifford. "Things didn't go just right.
This kidnapping affair interfered with our plans, and they are hereby
called off. We didn't want you to know we were here."

Two of the boys had been dispatched as messengers to Hollyhill for
vehicles to take the girls back to Marion's home. About 2 o'clock in
the morning Mr. Stanlock, several of his neighbors, and three
policemen, led by the two Scout messengers, burst into the room and
announced that they had brought three bob-sleds to give them all a
sleighride.

And a glorious sleighride home it was for all except the two
prisoners, whom the police took into custody.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story of the CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE MOUNTAINS is told, all but the
subtitle, "A Christmas Success Against Odds." There was a real success
in store for them. The police made a raid, but found that the criminal
element that had gained a throttle hold on the labor organization in
the mines had cleared out so clean that not a living vestige of them
could be discovered. The way was now clear, and the Camp Fire Girls
carried out their original plans, successfully and much to the benefit
of the poverty stricken families of the strikers.

But the history of Flamingo Camp Fire is by no means complete with
this narrative. It seemed to be a peculiar lot of these girls to
become associated or in touch with events of novel, interesting, and
sometimes thrilling character, and those who would follow their
further experiences along these lines should read the second volume of
this series, entitled:

CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE COUNTRY;

or

The Secret Aunt Hannah Forgot.





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