Campfire Girls in the
A Christmas Success Against Odds
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.
M.A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
MADE in U.S.A.
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"
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"
"A Christmas Success Against Odds"
By STELLA M. FRANCIS.
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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."
"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."
* * * * *
"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.
* * * * *
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
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."
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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."
* * * * *
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.
"And later found that his driver had turned traitor and planned to deliver him into the hands of the enemy."
"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."
"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."