“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.”