“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.”
* * * * *
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.