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Dave, Tex, and Bud were in the yard talking to Uncle Ed. Bud was holding a guitar in a case. A short distance away Shorty lounged against the horse trailer, which had been hitched to the back of the ranch wagon.

As the girls came up, they heard Uncle Ed say, “You go ahead, boys, and have a good time. You’ve earned a holiday.”

“You might need help with those palominos when the vet comes,” said Dave. He glanced uneasily at Nancy and she understood at once how he felt.

“I’ll be glad to excuse you, Dave, if you feel you ought to stay,” she said.

“No, that’s not necessary,” Ed Rawley said.

As Dave thanked him, Nancy noticed Tex talking quietly to Alice. Flushed with excitement, she smiled happily and hurried to Nancy’s side. “Tex’s brother Jack is going to be in the rodeo and Tex says Jack would like to take me to the barbecue and dance. He’s fifteen-Jack, I mean. Is it all right, Uncle Ed?” she asked, blushing.

The rancher nodded and chuckled. “I’ve met the young man. Go ahead.”

As Alice went back to tell Tex, Nancy and George looked knowingly at Bess, who dimpled. “Now how did you fix that, Miss Cupid?” her cousin asked.

“It was easy,” Bess replied. “I remembered Tex had mentioned his brother was coming into Tumbleweed for the rodeo.”

“Come on!” called Tex. “Let’s roll!” The others hastened to the ranch wagon.

Bud, carrying his guitar, climbed in the back of the wagon, and Shorty joined him. Tex, George, and Bess sat in the middle, while Nancy and Alice took seats next to Dave, who was at the wheel.

“I’ve never been to a rodeo,” Alice said as they started out. “What’s it like?”

Tex grinned. “Well, Dave here is going to flip some fancy loops and so’s Bud.”

“He means they’re going to rope cows,” said Bess.

“Steers,” Tex corrected.

Bess asked Tex what he was going to do. “Dog a steer,” was his reply.

Dave chuckled at Alice’s puzzled look. “He’ll ride his horse alongside a running steer and leap aboard.”

“Then he’ll bite the dust,” Bud teased.

“Not Tex!” Dave rejoined. “He’s a real salty bulldogger!”

“And Shorty there is a broncobuster,” Tex added.

“And I’m fixin’ to win, too,” Shorty declared. “Wouldn’t be the first time.” He went on to brag about several occasions when he had won prizes in rodeos.

While he talked, Nancy was quiet, thinking hard about the phantom horse. “Oh, how I wish Chief could talk!” she said to herself. “He’s been closer to it than anyone.” She wondered again why the dog had been held prisoner.

Suddenly Nancy thought of the light she had seen in the spring house shortly before the ghost horse had appeared. With a thrill of excitement, Nancy suddenly figured out how the trick could have been done! It was all she could do to keep from exclaiming aloud. She decided to say nothing to prove her theory. “And I can’t do that until after dark,” she thought.

When they reached Tumbleweed, Dave drove slowly through the streets crowded with visitors. Many of the men had on fringed buckskin jackets and some of the women wore long pioneer dresses with sunbonnets. Others wore graceful squaw dresses.

Suddenly Nancy spotted a drably dressed grayhaired man standing in the doorway of a store-the man who called himself Bursey! At that moment his eyes met hers and he darted away in the crowd.

Nancy’s heart sank. The sheriff, who was on his way to or from the cabin, had missed his quarry!

Nancy wondered what to do-get word to the authorities? Dave interrupted her thoughts by saying that the rodeo would not start for an hour. “We have to go and check in,” he said. “What do you girls want to do in the meantime?”

“Oh, we’ll keep busy,” Nancy replied.

When the cowboys had left, she suggested that Bess take Alice and hunt for Bursey. She and George would go in another direction. “Let’s meet at Mary Deer’s shop.”

They all arrived half an hour later. There had been no trace of the man. “He probably left town in a hurry,” George declared.

The store was crowded and Mary Deer had an assistant working behind the counter. While the other girls looked at jewelry, Nancy beckoned her Indian friend aside and asked if she would keep a secret. When Mary promised, Nancy told her that she hoped to find the treasure in the cliff dwellings, and inquired the best way to get to them.

“There are stairs up the front,” said Mary, “but they are not safe. You had best come down from above.”

She explained that at the far end of the cliff apartments there was a huge slab of rock which had been used as a lookout point by the ancient Indians. Stairs led from the rock down to the top row of dwellings. Nancy thanked Mary and promised to let her know if she discovered anything.

By this time the other girls had bought Indian jewelry, and after Nancy had purchased a turquoise pillbox for Hannah, they left the shop. The foursome followed the arrows to the far end of town where they found the rodeo arena, a short distance from the stockyard. Nancy bought tickets at the front gate, and they all found seats in the stands.

Bess sighed. “I’m so hot, I’d like to have a cold drink and I think I need a hot dog to go with it.” George grinned. “Eating is really a very fattening hobby, dear cousin.”

Before Bess could retort, a voice came from the loud-speaker. “Telephone call for Miss Nancy Drew in the booth next to the refreshment stand.” The girls looked at one another in amazement. Afraid that something had gone wrong at the ranch, Nancy excused herself and hurried off. She made her way through the crowd to the first telephone booth beside the hot-dog stand. As she reached it, the door opened and Bursey stepped out with a grin. At the same moment a tall figure in black glided to her side-Mr. Diamond!

Bursey’s strong fingers closed on Nancy’s wrist. “You’re coming with us!” he growled. “And don’t yell or you’ll be sorry!”

CHAPTER XVII

An Interrupted Program

Before Nancy could say anything to the two men, Bess’s voice rang out. “She is not going with you!”

“Let her go!” George ordered.

As Bursey whirled in surprise, Nancy jerked her wrist from his grasp. Diamond’s startled look changed to a scowl and the two ran away fast, disappearing under the grandstand.

“Girls, you were wonderful!” Nancy exclaimed, recovering from her shock. “But those men must be caught!”

The three friends dashed after the fugitives, all the while looking for a deputy but saw none. Finally they gave up the chase-the two men had vanished.

“I’ll go to the sheriff’s office and report this,” Nancy said.

“Not alone!” George declared. “We’re sticking close to you for the rest of the afternoon. It’s a good thing I let Bess talk me into coming down for a hot dog.”

Bess thought she had better go back to Alice, who was holding their seats in the grandstand. George accompanied Nancy to Sheriff Curtis’ office, where the young sleuth left a note for the absent lawman about the kidnapping attempt.

When they returned to the rodeo arena, they heard a burst of cheering. “Dave just won the roping contest!” cried Alice as Nancy and George took their seats. The delighted girls clapped loudly.

“Bud was good too,” Bess put in loyally, as Dave walked to the judges’ stand. Modestly he accepted the first prize, a pair of silver spurs, and left the arena to another burst of applause.

Next came the broncobusters. The girls watched, thrilled, as one after another of the contestants hurtled into the arena on the bucking horses.

Shorty came last. Shrill whistles filled the air as he tried to stick in the saddle for the required number of minutes.

“Look at ‘im sunfish!” came a shout from the stands as the frantic horse pitched high into the air, his back arched.

Suddenly a shot rang out from the judges’ stand. “Time’s up! Shorty won!” George exclaimed.

The stands erupted into cheers. At the same time, the bronc shook his rider loose. The winner rolled over in the dust, picked himself up, retrieved his hat and waved it at the spectators. As the bronc was shunted out of the arena by attendants, Shorty strode to the judges’ stand. He claimed his prize, a silver buckle, and held it up for all to see. Then he swaggered out of the arena.

After the rodeo the girls met their dates outside the front gate. Tex introduced his brother Jack, a tall freckle-faced boy, whose friendly manner immediately put Alice at ease. Quickly Nancy warned the boys about Bursey and Diamond.

Dave looked worried and Jack spoke up. “I don’t know what this is all about, but no one will get Alice away from me until I turn her over to Nancy after the dance!”

Nancy and Dave led the way to the ranch wagon. “Shorty said he’d come along later,” he remarked.

On the drive to the barbecue grounds, Nancy quietly told him her deduction about the treasure. Dave was excited and said he hoped she was right.

About a mile beyond Tumbleweed he parked in a grove of willow trees beside a narrow stream. The grounds were set with many long wooden tables and benches, and overhead were strings of small electric lights.

“Come on, gals,” said Tex. “We’re goin’ to put on a big feed!” He led them toward a long serving table. Four men passed by, each carrying a shovel bearing a big burlap-wrapped package. These were dumped onto the table.

“There goes the meat,” said Bud. “It’s been buried in the barbecue pit since last night.” “Cookin’ nice an’ slow over hot stones,” Tex added.

“When the burlap fell away, the fragrance of the steaming meat was irresistible. All the girls enjoyed generous servings, with a spicy relish and potato salad.

By the time they had finished their desserts of ice cream and Nancy’s chocolate cake, the colored lights overhead came on. A stout middle-aged man mounted the dance platform in the center of the grove and announced that he was master of ceremonies. Seeing Bud’s guitar, he called on him for some cowboy songs.

Bud played “I’m a Lonesome Cowboy,” and everyone joined in enthusiastically. He followed with a number of other old favorites. Finally he strummed some Gold Rush songs, including “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”

The cheers and applause had not yet died down when Shorty stepped onto the platform. Ignoring the master of ceremonies, he leaned toward the microphone and said, “Folks, how’d you like me to do my imitations”

At the scattered handclapping and whistles, the stout man nodded and stepped back. Shorty cupped his hands around his mouth, closed his eyes, and the long mournful hoot of an owl filled the night.

“He’s really good,” Bess whispered.

“I’ll bet he can also do a whining dog,” Nancy said meaningfully.

Next, the cowboy announced a coyote and produced several realistic howls. Suddenly in midhowl he spotted Nancy in the audience. His jaw dropped and he stood silent before the microphone. Staring at her, he stammered that his act was over and left the platform. The girls exchanged baffled glances.

Dave grinned. “That was one surprised coyote, all right! He thought his pals had got rid of you, Nancy.”

Just then a band of three musicians began tuning up and a square-dancing contest was announced. Alice suggested that the four couples enter as a set, and the others agreed enthusiastically.

Of the four groups in the contest, Nancy’s was called first. The young people lined up on the platform, facing each other in couples. At the sound of the lively music they began to dance. The fiddle player called the steps and played his tunes fast.

“Swing your partners and a do-si-do!”

Whirling past the edge of the platform, Nancy glimpsed Shorty glowering at her.

When the breathless dancers returned to their table, Nancy told the others of the incident. “It’s going to be hard to shake Shorty from now on. I’m afraid he and his pals will watch us so closely we’ll have no chance to go after the treasure.”

While the other sets of dancers competed, Nancy pondered on how to make sure the girls were not followed to the cliff houses.

At the end of the contest, the crowd voted by applause and the Shadow Ranch group won easily. Nancy was sent to the platform to claim the prize.

The master of ceremonies handed her a pink slip of paper. “You take this to the food table over yonder, young lady, and they will give you and your friends a big ice-cold watermelon!”

Nancy thanked the man, then turned to the audience and said, “I would like to make an announcement that I believe will interest everybody in this area. My friends and I think we know where the famous long-lost Valentine treasure is hidden.”

An excited rustle ran through the crowd and cries of “Where?”

Nancy smiled. “I won’t say anything more about it now, but tomorrow a few Shadow Ranch men are going out to do some digging.”

As Nancy hurried from the platform, she saw Sheriff Curtis making his way toward her. He spoke of his futile search on the mountain and his regret that the desperadoes were still at large. “I’m sure glad you outwitted ‘em this afternoon Watch your step.”

Then he joined the young people at their table.

George asked Nancy, “What was the meaning of that announcement you made?”

In a low voice the young sleuth said, “Everybody look happy-not as if we’re talking about anything important-and I’ll explain.”

Dave obligingly gave a broad grin. “I’ll collect our prize.”

He soon returned and began cutting and serving the watermelon. Meanwhile, the others listened, smiling and laughing as Nancy told them that the Shadow Ranch cowboys were to act as decoys while the girls went to the cliff dwellings to search for the treasure.

“Shorty will no doubt alert Bursey and Diamond and they’ll be keeping an eye on the ranch.”

Sheriff Curtis praised Nancy for her plan and said he would follow the decoy group. “I’ll nab the varmints when they move against the cowboys.”

His blue eyes were sober as he said, “I can see you’re a capable gal, Miss Drew, but you got to be extra careful from now on, ‘cause those thievin’ hombres’ll want to keep all o’ you tenderfeet quiet.”

“We’ll stay close to the girls,” Dave promised, and the cowboys permitted no one to cut in during the dancing that followed.

When the party was over, Jack said good night to Alice at the ranch wagon and promised to telephone her soon. As Nancy and her friends climbed into the car, Shorty came hurrying up to join them.

Dave drove to the corrals behind the arena where Tex and Bud picked up the horses and trailer. Shorty got out, too, and walked into a phone booth at the edge of the parking area. He did not stay long.

“I’ll bet he called Diamond and Bursey to tell them what I said,” Nancy declared.

As Dave started the drive home, Shorty questioned Nancy about her announcement. She laughed and replied that he would see later what she meant. Before he could ask any more questions, Bud struck a chord on his guitar and started a cowboy song. Shorty gave up talking and sat sullenly while the others sang all during the ride.

Although she joined in the songs, Nancy’s thoughts dwelled on the plan she had made for proving to Mrs. Thurmond that the phantom horse was a trick. She was pleased to note that the moon had gone behind heavy clouds and the night was very dark.

When they reached the ranch, the cowboys hurried off to relieve Ed Rawley and the foreman who had done guard duty during their absence. The girls went to the house where they found Mrs. Rawley in the lighted living room. Chief lay by the fireplace.

“I felt safer with him in here,” Aunt Bet explained.

Nancy asked the others to accompany her to the kitchen. There they found Mrs. Thurmond seated at the big table reading a magazine.

“I believe I can show you now how the phantom was made to appear,” Nancy said.

The cook looked skeptical, then exclaimed nervously as Nancy turned out the lights. With a mysterious smile, she slipped outside and hurried down the portico. Soon she returned. “All set? Look through the screen door.”

Her friends complied and stared into the darkness. Suddenly Mrs. Thurmond gave a scream and Mrs. Rawley gasped. Bobbing toward them, about three feet above the portico, were tiny glowing specks!

“Oh!” moaned the cook. “Phantom spots! Take ‘em away!”

Nancy opened the door and the shining specks floated into the room!

CHAPTER XVIII

The Black Phantom

As the watchers stared amazed, the glowing specks stopped floating forward and hung in the darkness.

“Oh!” Mrs. Thurmond quavered. “They shine just like the ghost horse!”

Nancy switched on the light. Before them stood Chief, a large rubber ball clutched in his jaws. Smiling at the flabbergasted onlookers, Nancy said, “Do you see how the phantom trick was worked?”

“I do,” George said promptly. “Phosphorescent paint on the dog’s teeth.”

“Where are the specks now?” Mrs. Thurmond asked as Chief dropped the ball.

“They don’t show when the lights are on. At the time Chief disappeared-after he chased the phantom horse-the spots were on his teeth,” the young sleuth explained. “I thought perhaps he had bitten the ghost, but when I examined him in daylight, of course I found no evidence.” “The gang must have washed him,” remarked Bess.

“But they never thought of his teeth,” Nancy said, “and fragments of the paint remained.” “How did you get onto the idea?” Aunt Bet asked.

Nancy reminded the others of her suspicion that Chief had been muzzled and taken away because the gang feared there was a clue to the apparition on him.

“I learned in chemistry class that phosphorescent paint glows in the dark after it first has been exposed to light,” she went on. “I remembered that each time I’d seen the phantom horse there had been a light in the spring house just before. I put two and two together and decided that the apparition was a real horse. He was covered with a soft thin material which had been coated with phosphorescent paint and exposed to light in the spring house by one of the gang members.”

Mrs. Thurmond drew a deep breath and turned to Nancy. “You’re a downright marvel, that’s what you are, young lady!”

Nancy blushed. “You’ll stay now, won’t you?” And the others all added their pleas.

“‘Course I will,” Mrs. Thurmond declared stoutly. “You just show me the varmint that’s been doing this no-good trick and I’ll give him a piece o’ my mind!”

Before going to bed, Nancy told Aunt Bet and Uncle Ed of her plan for tire following day. The rancher assured her he would cooperate. At breakfast the girls talked lightheartedly of their all-day horseback ride.

“Where you gals fixin’ to go?” Shorty asked. “We’ll start up Shadow Mountain,” Nancy replied vaguely. “After that, we’ll see.”

Mr. Rawley broke in to appoint Tex and Bud as his helpers on the “treasure” expedition. When the meal was over, Nancy took Dave aside and told him that if she and the other girls found Valentine’s hoard, they would light a fire on the lookout rock.

“Good,” he replied. “Then I’ll drive down the valley in the truck and climb up to the cliff houses by the front steps to help you bring the treasure back to the ranch.”

Half an hour later Uncle Ed, Tex, and Bud saddled up for their trip. Shorty hung around, eager to help as two pack horses were led out. One was loaded with digging tools and the other with supplies.

“What’s the second animal for?” asked Sanders, who had been told the secret.

The rancher owner grinned. “For the treasure.”

The trio headed down the valley away from Tumbleweed. Shorty watched them for a minute, then hurried into the woods behind the ranch house. Strolling toward the stable, Nancy suspected that Bursey and Diamond were hiding among the trees, waiting to see which way the “treasure” party had gone.

In the tack room, Dave helped Nancy pack small digging tools into a saddlebag and roll a spade in a blanket. The cowboy then saddled the girls’ horses and slung the gear aboard two of them. Mrs. Thurmond brought lunches which Dave added to a pack as Nancy called to her companions that everything was ready.

Before they mounted, Nancy suggested that they cross the big meadow. “We’ll ride up Shadow Mountain from there.”

“But it’s in the opposite direction from the cliff dwellings,” Alice whispered.

“That’s the idea,” Nancy replied. “Just in case Shorty suspects a trick and decides to follow us.” Dave pulled out a stub of pencil and drew a map for Nancy on the back of an envelope. It showed a trail going east across the mountain to the cliff dwellings.

Twenty minutes later the girls were heading up

Shadow Mountain. As they jogged along the trail, Nancy studied the map and noted that Dave’s route began not far from the cabin.

“We can go there first,” she said. “If the gang is on a wild-goose chase, now would be a good time to search for their hiding place.”

Though the girls were eager to go on with their real purpose, they spent the morning wandering over various trails. “If anyone is following us, I hope he’ll think we’re just out for pleasure and give up the chase,” Nancy remarked.

In early afternoon they stopped beside a stream to eat their lunch, then rode straight for the cabin. After half an hour, however, they were brought up short by huge boulders on the path.

“A rockfall!” George exclaimed. “We’ll have to detour.”

The riders backtracked, then crossed a steep stony slope, so treacherous that they were forced to dismount and lead their horses slowly. Finally, they reached clear trail again. It was midafternoon when Alice cried out, “There’s the cabin! I see the roof.”

The foursome rode up the slope and groundhitched their horses. Cautiously they made their way toward the cabin. The door was open and no one was inside.

Nancy led the way behind the cabin and noticed again how close the back window was to the brush screen and rock wall.

“What a funny place to put a window!” Bess remarked.

“Yes. That’s one of the reasons I feel sure a hiding place is back here somewhere,” Nancy replied. “I think the window was used as an escape exit from the cabin.”

The girls examined the close-growing chaparral. A few feet to the side of the window, George discovered a break in the thorny brush.

Nancy slipped into it, and one by one the girls struggled through and entered a narrow cleft is the rock wall.

A few yards inside the opening Nancy pointed out horseshoe, paw, and shoe prints. “Let’s follow the prints,” she suggested. “I have a hunch, this path might lead to Valentine’s hideout.”

The girls hurried to their mounts, and soon were riding through the narrow pass with only a; strip of blue sky visible above them.

After a while even that was blotted out by an overhang. The path grew gloomy and wound sharply around jagged outcrops.

By the time the riders saw daylight again, the sun was low in the sky. They rode up a gentle slope and found themselves on a high plateau. Some distance ahead was a long, straight rocky, parapet about twelve feet high.

Nancy reined up sharply. “Look!” she cried out. Built against the wall was a three-sided stone enclosure with an old wooden gate. Inside pranced a handsome black stallion.

“The phantom horse!” Nancy exclaimed.

As the four riders approached, the animal, whinnied and reared, backing toward a crude lean-to stable.

“Maybe the trick trappings are in there,” George said.

Nancy dismounted quickly, opened a wooden gate, and slipped into the enclosure. The black steed nickered nervously and shied away, but Nancy talked soothingly to him as she walked forward.

There was a pile of hay in the corner of the stable. Nancy felt under it. In a few moments her fingers encountered something soft and she pulled out a bundle of white material. She carried it outside and closed the gate behind her.

“The phantom costume!” Bess exclaimed as Nancy shook out the filmy cloth.

“It’s Japan silk, a very thin material used for theatrical effects,” Nancy told the girls. She tucked the cloth into her saddlebag.

“This stable looks old,” Bess remarked. “I don’t think the gang built it.”

“You’re right!” Alice exclaimed, and pointed to a barely discernible heart scratched on the gate. “Then Valentine’s hideout must be near here,” Nancy said.

As the girls looked around, Nancy noticed a huge rock jutting from the far end of the parapet. With a thrill of excitement she recognized the lookout point. “We’re on top of the cliff houses!”

she exclaimed. “Let’s get the wood ready for the fire, then start searching for the treasure.”

Beyond the lookout rock the girls could see a grove of trees. They rode over and tethered their horses. The wind moaned through the fir trees and Nancy shivered. She took her sweater from the saddle horn and threw it over her shoulders. It was nearly dusk, so the girls hung flashlights on their belts.

Then they collected wood for the signal fire and carried it to the lookout rock just as the sun set. Nancy was the last to make her way off the rock. To one side of it was a short flight of worn steps going down to the top row of cliff apartments.

Nancy was about to lead the descent when they heard the howl of a coyote. She stopped short. “What’s the matter?” asked Alice. “Sh-listen!” Everyone froze. “I hope that’s a real coyote,” said Nancy.

Bess gasped. “You mean Shorty-“

“If the gang has discovered our ruse, they may have backtracked and traced us here,” George said.

Nancy nodded. “We’d better not turn our lights on.”

Hugging the parapet, the girls went down the steps to the narrow walk which ran in front of the apartments. To their left was a sheer drop-off.

For a moment they stood still, breathless at the height and the silence. Suddenly there came a thump from the first room.

Bess grabbed George’s arm and Alice gasped. Quietly Nancy stepped to the open doorway and peered into the gloom.

A man was lying on the floor!

CHAPTER XIX

The Cliff’s Secret

“Help!” called a feeble voice as Nancy shone her flashlight into the dim room.

“Daddy!” cried Alice and brushed past Nancy. She threw herself beside a thin gray-haired man who was bound hand and foot.

“Uncle Ross!” exclaimed Bess and George. The older girls swiftly untied his bonds. Crying for joy, Alice helped her father sit up and the two embraced.

After introductions, Mr. Regor explained that he had made the thumping noise by kicking his heels. “My throat was so parched I couldn’t yell out to you.”

Then Alice’s father told his story. “I’ve been a prisoner in the cabin for six months-ever since they kidnapped me at the time of the bank robbery. But this morning the gang intended to go after the Rawley treasure party, so they moved me here, where they thought I wouldn’t be discovered.”

“Why did you go to the bank the night of the robbery, Daddy?” Alice asked.

“To get some important papers I had left there. I was working at home and needed them.” He said he had interrupted the robbery, and the gang took him along to keep him from identifying them.

“They’re Westerners,” he went on, “and have used this cabin hideout before. The idea was to, stay here for a cooling-off period.”

“How many are in the gang?” Nancy asked. “Three. At first Shorty and Sid Brice stayed in the cabin with me while Al Diamond lived in Tumbleweed and brought us supplies.”

“Who’s Sid Brice, Uncle Ross?” Bess asked. “The gray-haired fellow who looks like me.” “He calls himself Bursey,” Nancy told him.

“I know,” said Mr. Regor. “One day Al Diamond came to the cabin all excited. He’d talked to an Indian girl named Mary Deer and learned all about Valentine’s treasure. So Diamond decided that the gang should go after it and sent Shorty to get a job on the ranch. He was supposed to spread the phantom-horse story and drive the Rawleys off.”

Nancy looked troubled. “Mr. Regor, what happened to the bank loot?”

“It was hidden in the cabin until Shorty reported that you girls had spotted the place. “The next day Diamond and Brice moved the money to the ghost town and made me go along. They had just finished hiding the loot in the old hotel when we heard your horses approaching. Brice hustled me down the hill. All I could do was drop one of my crayons and hope somebody would find it.”

“Oh, we did, Daddy!” exclaimed Alice.

Mr. Regor said Diamond had remained in the ghost town to spy on the girls. “Later he told us he had caused a rockslide.”

Nancy mentioned finding the coffee cups on the table in the cabin.

“Yes. We heard your horses clattering up the slope, so Brice forced me out the window in back and into the little rocky passage. He had the dog on a rope and made him go too. But later he broke loose.”

“We found one of your pictures on the table, Uncle Ross,” said George.

The man smiled. “I’ve been drawing pictures to keep myself busy. Brice has been selling them and keeping the money for himself,” he added.

“Those terrible men l Have they mistreated you, Daddy?”

The bank president said he had not been hurt, but had been underfed and was weak. “I once heard Brice say there was time enough to get rid of me when they left Shadow Mountain.”

While Alice told her father all that had happened so far, Nancy, Bess, and George flashed their lights about Mr. Regor’s prison.

The floor was littered with pieces of broken pottery and rock. Beside the door Nancy noticed a flat-topped boulder. “The Indians probably used it for a table, or a seat,” she thought. Nearby was a large rectangular chunk of stone.

The three girls switched off their lights and stepped outside. With Nancy in the lead, the three friends walked close to the wall of the cliff dwellings. They searched one apartment after another for the treasure, but always found the same thing: shards and crumbled rocks.

As the girls emerged from one of the middle rooms, Nancy noticed a crude wooden ladder resting against the wall and leading to the roof.

“It’s just an old ladder-probably put there by the cliff dwellers,” said Bess.

Nancy did not agree. “There are nails in this. Perhaps Valentine brought it here. I’d like to climb up.”

“Let’s finish searching the rooms,” George said.

“Okay.”

As they neared the end of the row, the young sleuth exclaimed, “Look!” The last doorway was, neatly blocked with an enormous stone.

“Valentine’s hideout!” exclaimed George. “He must have put that rock there to keep intruders out!”

“But how did he get in?” Bess asked, puzzled. “The stone’s too big to be moved much on this, little ledge.”

“I know!” exclaimed Nancy. “Come on!” She hastened back to the ladder. Swiftly she attached her flashlight to her belt and slipped her arms, into her sweater.

By the time Bess and George caught up to Nancy, she had begun to climb. Breathlessly they watched her as she cautiously tested each rung. One splintered before she finally reached the roof.

“Nancy, be careful!” Bess cried fearfully. Shading her flashlight, Nancy moved toward the end chamber and found a column of ancient footholds to the plateau above.

“Probably there’s another set like them on the other side,” she reasoned. “The ladder was Valentine’s extra escape route.”

Playing her flashlight over the surface, Nancy walked a dozen steps toward the end of the roof. Suddenly she spotted a large hole.

Shining her light into it, Nancy saw a pile of broken rock directly below. She gripped the sides of the opening and lowered herself into the chamber.

“O-oo, it’s musty in here!”

In one corner lay a moldering blanket and saddle. Nearby was a pickax. On the wall above these Nancy found an indistinct carved letter. She brushed away the dust.

V -for Valentine!

Nancy’s pulse pounded with joy and excitement.

But where was the treasure? “It can’t be buried,” she thought. “The floor is solid stone.” When Nancy lifted the blanket, it fell into shreds at her touch. There was nothing beneath it. Her eyes fell upon a large pottery vase in the corner. The vessel was nearly three feet high and had a wide mouth. Nancy beamed her light into it.

Standing on end and level with the top of the vase was a metal box!

“This might be it!” Nancy exulted. She put down her flashlight, reached in, and lifted out the heavy box. It slipped from her grasp and hit the floor, jolting off a rusted padlock.

Nancy pulled open the lid. Before her lay hundreds of small shining gold hearts!

“Oh!”

United States bank notes, and a chamois bag. It contained an assortment of precious jewels!

“It can’t be real!” Nancy said aloud. “I’m dreaming!”

But Nancy’s mind clicked back to reality. “I can’t get this chest back through the ceiling, that’s for sure.” She eyed the pickax. “Maybe I can pry the rock away from the door.”

Nancy worked the point of the pickax beneath the rock. She pulled hard. The slab moved a trifle! She tried again. This time the rock moved about a foot. Nancy pushed the treasure box through the opening, turned off her flashlight, and squeezed outside.

“George! Bess!” The girls came running and Nancy told of her find. “Take the treasure back to Alice and Mr. Regor,” she directed. “I’ll light the signal fire.”

Cautiously Nancy crawled out onto the jutting rock and took a packet of matches from her pocket. She struck one, shielding it from the wind, and held it to the kindling.

As the smoke arose, a gruff voice behind her suddenly barked, “Put out that fire!”

CHAPTER XX

Daring Tactics

The voice was Al Diamond’s. Nancy was trapped on the jutting rock, far above the valley!

“Stamp out that blaze!” the man repeated sharply, “or I’ll knock you off there!”

“All right!” Nancy’s brain was in a whirl. She delayed until Diamond bellowed again, then she kicked the pile of smoldering wood from the rock. It burst into a shower of sparks and flame on the way down.

Diamond snarled, “Come here!” When Nancy made her way back to the cliff, he said gloatingly: “You think you’re smart. As for those phony treasure hunters, we cut out of that trap when I spotted the sheriff trailing us.”

Nancy’s spirits sank as Al continued to storm. “You’ve made it too hot for us here, and you’ll pay for it.”

He said the gang was on its way to the ghost town to pick up the bank loot when they stopped at the cabin. Shorty found fresh horse tracks and figured the girls had a line on the treasure.

“He saw you gathering wood and gave us his coyote signal.”

Nancy’s captor bragged that he and his partners had hurried to the top of the steps and watched from above. Seeing the girls emerging from Regor’s prison, the three men had sneaked down into one of the cliff-dwelling rooms to spy on them.

“Finally we saw you hurry by, and then your friends showed up carrying something heavy. I said to myself, `There goes the treasure. How nice to have Nancy Drew do all the work for us!”

“You didn’t harm Bess and George!” Nancy said hotly.

“Oh no,” came the sarcastic reply. “My boys let ‘em get to Regor’s prison, then they closed in.”

Nancy fumbled for her flashlight and switched it on.

“Turn that off! I don’t want anybody getting nosy. Hurry up! Get going!”

Nancy hoped desperately that Dave had seen the signal fire. In order to give him time to make the treacherous ascent, Nancy hugged the wall and moved as slowly as possible.

“Step on id” Diamond barked. Finally he pushed her into the prison room. In one corner she saw the red glow of a flashlight shaded by a cloth, and near it the dark figures of two men. But she could see nothing else in the room. “We’re okay, Nancy,” came George’s voice. “They made us sit on the floor.”

“And smashed our flashlights,” said Bess. Diamond spoke up sharply. “Shorty, where’s that treasure?”

“Can’t see it, Boss. You told me to keep the light covered.”

Diamond fumbled about before giving an exclamation of disgust. “Regor, are you hiding it?” “Let my father alone!” Alice cried out. “He doesn’t have anything.”

Instantly Nancy’s foot reached for the large chunk of stone she had seen near the door. Quickly she shrugged her sweater from her shoulders and it dropped over the stone.

“All right, Mr. Diamond. Here it is!”

As she spoke, Nancy stooped and gathered the rock into her sweater.

“I’ll take id”

“No, you won’t!” With a mighty lunge Nancy hurled the stone through the door and over the side of the cliff. Seconds later it crashed on the rocks below.

For a moment there was a stunned silence. Then Diamond exploded. “You’ve played your last trick on me, Nancy Drew. Brice! Shorty! Tie ‘em up!”

Nancy sat on the stone bench beside the door and waited coolly while Shorty lashed her ankles together.

Diamond said, “Brice, you and I’ll go down to the valley and find the treasure. Shorty, guard these girls till you get my signal.”

At this Nancy chuckled. “Poor Shorty! By the time you reach the valley, your pals and the treasure will be gone.”

The cowboy stopped his tying and turned to Diamond. “Let Brice stay. I’m through stickin’ my neck out!”

“Yes,” Nancy declared, “suspicion was on you from the beginning. You wrecked the pump and cut the telephone wire.”

“All right,” Shorty said resentfully. “And I put the generator out of whack and pulled the nettle trick.”

“Shut up!” Diamond ordered.

George spoke up. “They kept you busy, Shorty. After you imitated poor Chief you found the clue in Nancy’s watch and later stole the green liniment bottle.”

Out of the darkness came Bess’s voice. “Who ransacked our room?”

“Brice,” replied Shorty, “and that’s about all he did!”

“Is that so!” Diamond spluttered angrily. “Without my brains, you’d both be nowhere!” “What do you mean?” Brice interrupted. “I cut the fences and knocked down the windmill!” Now the men’s voices shrilled in anger as each claimed importance for his part in the conspiracy.

Diamond’s voice rose with fury. “Listen,” he raged, “I got the idea for the phantom horse. I bought the silk and paint and trained the stallion to come to my whistle.”

“We helped you!” Shorty retorted. He reminded Diamond that he and Brice had put the trappings on the stallion for the phantom performance.

Ross Regor cut in. “You almost caught them at it one night, Nancy. Scared them so badly they called off the phantom. I heard Brice say he had to slip from the spring house into the cellar through the secret opening.”

“Quit wasting time,” Diamond shrieked. “We’ve got to clear out of here!”

“Now take it easy, Diamond,” Shorty said with a ring of authority. “It’s me and Brice agin you. We’ll go for the treasure. You stay here.”

Diamond fumed. “Okay. But don’t try any funny business. And come right back.” Without a word, the other two men went out the door, taking the light with them. The captives heard Diamond make his way through the darkness to the back of the chamber, then heard the creak of a hinge.

A soft laugh came from the gang leader. “In case you’re wondering, I’m opening a wooden box where we keep dynamite and fuses.”

Gasps came from the prisoners. “You can’t do that!” George cried out.

“I’m forced to. Ross Regor knows too much, and I can’t afford to let him go. Too bad, Nancy

Drew, that you butted into my affairs.”

“I’ll stay,” Mr. Regor cried out. “But don’t harm these girls!”

“No! And as soon as I light the fuse, I’ll lam out of here.”

Crack! A match flared in Diamond’s hand. “Wait!” Nancy exclaimed. “You’ll blow up the treasure!”

The match hovered in mid-air. “What?” “That was just a big stone I threw over the cliff,” Nancy admitted.

She turned on her flashlight and swept it about the room, making certain the beam hit the entrance several times. Someone just might notice it.

“Here! Give me that!” Diamond snatched the light. “Now where’s the thing you girls carried?” “Here,” said Bess, “we’re sitting on it.” Diamond pushed her and George aside and flipped open the chest. “Good night!” He grabbed a handful of the gold hearts and let them run through his fingers. Then he closed the lid and began to carry the box toward the entrance.

Just then the rattle of falling stones came from below. Flushed with success, Diamond called out, “Shorty! Brice! I have the treasure! Fellows, we’re rich!”

Voices! Then a light flashed into the room. “Hold it, Diamond!”

“Dave!” Nancy cried out.

Diamond made a break for freedom, but George put out her foot and the criminal fell into the strong arms of Sheriff Curtis. Handcuffs clicked shut.

The girls and Mr. Regor gave shouts of joy at the sight of Dave, the sheriff, his deputy, and Mr. Rawley. As the captives were untied, Ross Regor told how cleverly Nancy had played for time.

Dave smiled. “She’s the smartest little tenderfoot I ever saw.” Then he related how the decoys and the sheriff’s party had lost the gang and gone back to Shadow Ranch.

“When we saw the fire falling, I figured something like this had happened.”

Mr. Rawley said, “We didn’t want to give ourselves away, so we drove up the valley with our lights off.”

Dave added that Brice and Shorty had been caught on the way down. “But where’s the treasure?”

“Here.” George grinned.

Half an hour later, the party reached the valley floor just as the moon rose. Dave put Valentine’s fortune in the ranch wagon while Nancy gave Sheriff Curtis a brief report. It was agreed that he would recover the stolen bank money from the ghost-town hotel in the morning and the cowboys were to bring in the girls’ horses and the “phantom.” The sullen prisoners were driven off in the sheriff’s car.

As Dave headed the ranch wagon down the valley, he said he thought Nancy should have a share of the treasure. “I know the gold must be turned over to the state,” Dave added. “But the jewels and bank notes should be worth a good sum. Nancy, since you found them, I feel a share rightfully belongs to you.”

The young detective smiled, then graciously but firmly declined to accept any part of the find. “It was fun,” she said.

The grateful cowboy grinned. “My brother and sister sure will be excited by the news.”

A little later they turned into the gate. The ranch, bathed in silvery moonlight, looked peaceful.

Alice squeezed her father’s hand. “Everything has turned out happily!”

“Thanks to Nancy Drew.” Mr. Regor smiled. “What are you going to do now, Nancy, without a mystery to solve?” Bess teased.

Her friend smiled. “Work on the sweater I’m knitting for Ned.” She did not know then that soon she would become involved in The Secret of Red Gate Farm.

But George knew that Nancy and mystery were never far apart. She gave a sigh of mock sadness. “Poor Ned! I hope he doesn’t need that sweater very soon!”

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