“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.”